Life

As I’ve shared before, for Hilary’s nature study, we’re walking the same trail once a month this year…recording the changes; looking for the nuances of the seasons.  Well, I think we’ll be going twice in May, because April just did not happen.  I put the walk off too long, and with the end of the month falling during Holy Week…  So, we had a lovely Bright Week visit to our trail to check on things.  Last time, the geese were attentively building their nests, so we had high hopes for what we would find.  We weren’t disappointed.

 

Babies, babies everywhere.  Admittedly, not as many as in years past.  Lots of adults with no babies, but we were glad to see what we did.

I don’t have to reach far to make connections between Pascha and all the new life we saw.  This late Pascha has fit in quite well with the arrival of spring here in the north.  Winter has been a challenging season.  Birth, resurrection, and the smell of green clinging to the world around me are such welcome visitors.

The adult geese were doing a lovely cooperative parenting job, minding each other’s babies in one collective group.  This poor little guy caught my eye as he got separated from the others and ran at near lightning speed to rejoin the safety of the flock.  But why the urgency?  What did he have to be so afraid of?

Now, she said she wouldn’t actually try to pick one up.  She said it multiple times quite emphatically.  The geese and I weren’t so confident of her intentions.

Great Lent is the time to get us back on track.  A kick in the rear.  A motivation.  I welcome that time, but I admit, it seems to be that the real motivation sometimes doesn’t come until Pascha.  Holy Week runs like a freight train of service after service, immersing me in the awareness that all my efforts weren’t even close to all I have to give.  The work isn’t over.  It’s just time to fight these spiritual battles in a different season, reminded of and comforted by the glorious weapons of the Cross and the empty tomb.

New life is here.  Time pushes on and the daily struggle goes on.  Daily struggle, but also daily celebration.  As I looked around me at the new babies and my own babies all grown up, I thanked God for life.  As hard and as dirty and as ugly as it can be, it’s a beautiful thing.  Even when tragedy and death and destruction abound, there is life everywhere…perhaps hidden, perhaps hard to recognize, but still there.  Lord, thank you for birth, rebirth and resurrection.  I’ve walked with You to the Cross.  I’ve sat by Your tomb.  I’ve rejoiced at Your Resurrection.  Let me be resurrected today.  Let me be new.  I’ve been in the tomb.  But You have given me life!

Christ is Risen!  Indeed, He is Risen!

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Hope Springs

For part of Hilary’s nature study this year, we’re walking the same trail once a month for twelve months.  Each month, she draws or photographs the conditions of the trail.  Then, she completes this log sheet:

This is a trail that we love and usually visit often, but it’s so enlightening to systematically track the changes.  I picked this particular trail, because it has a bit of everything.  It’s wooded, has a lake, and it has a lot of wildlife.  The wildlife this time of year is predominately of the black-headed, brown-feathered, honking variety.  This area is a Canadian goose nesting ground.

Now, Canadian geese are quite the polarizing topic around here.  Bring up geese, and it’s like mentioning politics.  Everyone has an opinion…a very strong opinion.  They either are pretty much oblivious to geese or really, really don’t like geese.  Mostly due to their noise and mess.  I am a goose lover.  I admit it.  I adore hearing them honk as they fly overhead and flinging my head back to admire the V-formation.  I smile to watch them feed in the open spaces.  And I am head over heels in love with their babies.  Very soon, this trail will be covered with family after family of fuzzy little goslings learning to swim, eat, and fly.  The cuteness, oh the cuteness!

Yesterday, we got March’s walk in just under the wire.  We headed out on a welcome mild day to see what’s going on at the trail and in the goose romance department.  Pairs of geese everywhere.  Pairs eating.  Pairs yelling at eat other to stay away from their mates.  Pairs yelling at each other for no apparent reason.  And pairs diligently working to build nests.

We started this same study two years ago, but we didn’t make it past April.  That March, we watched as the geese paired up, nested up, and laid their eggs.  Then, disaster came.  Our area had extensive flooding that lasted for weeks.  Geese build their nests on the ground, in this case, little islands in the middle of the lake.  The entire area ended up covered in water.  When the water receded, we went to check on the trail.  Massive, fallen trees littered the path, their roots no longer able to find support in the saturated land.  Everything looked so different, and everything sounded so different.  Something very distinct was missing.  No geese.  The nests had flooded as well, and not one single gosling hatched that spring.  We kept going back to check, but there were none.  A few geese stuck around for awhile, but it wasn’t long before the area was empty.  One duck pair did manage to have two babies, and we watched them swim around the lake they now had to themselves.  But no geese.  After that, our monthly study just kind of fell away.  We still visited the trail, but we lost our taste for formal study.

Hilary was extremely sad.  Two years later, every time we go down this trail, she still points out one certain spot.  A goose had built it’s nest very close to the trail, and we had enjoyed catching glimpses of the eggs and watching the parents sit on the nest.  After the flood, we saw the remnants of that nest with no parents…and broken, abandoned eggs.  Hilary still says that she thinks the babies turned out just fine.  They probably just hatched early and got away from the flood in the nick of time.  Hope springs, I guess.

Yesterday, as we rounded the corner to that same spot, a lump caught in my throat.  In the exact same, infamous spot, a goose was carefully, diligently, and determinedly…building a nest.

Now, I don’t know for sure that this is the same goose.  It might not be.  But, I’m assuming it is.  I’m also assuming that this is the female, because I admit I can’t tell the male and female apart in geese.

I stood there and watched her.  Counseled her that this same spot, so unnervingly close to the water’s edge, probably isn’t the best place for a nest.  Rejoiced with her that another year, and another chance, has come.

I thank God for the encounter with this goose.  Yes, it’s an animal.  An animal driven by instinct.  Not  like me making my decisions and facing adversity with human reasoning.  But just because I’m more intelligent than this goose, it doesn’t necessarily make me all that much smarter.  This goose lives it’s life exactly how God created it to live.  Success or failure.  Joy or sorrow.  It just picks back up where it left off.  Hope springs, I guess.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 70 (71): “But I will hope continually, and I will praise You yet more and more.”  The setbacks, the challenges, and the regular ol’ day-in-day-out drudgery of life.  We don’t praise God and hope in spite of them.  They are in fact the things that should make us praise and hope in Him even more.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I fall into despair over the challenges in my life.  Forgive me for losing hope.  Renew in me this day the hope that springs from You.  I praise You in my success.  I praise You in my failure.  I praise You in my sorrow.  I praise You, for You are my joy.  Teach me to live in the peace of complete trust in You.  Teach me to live in the safety of total hope in You.  Teach me to praise You yet more and more.

Holy Week Journal: Holy Thursday

No morning service today.  Poor Lonna stayed home from school sick.  We took advantage of a slow morning.  We’ve been limping through the week school-wise, trying to still get the basics in.  After today, though, we’ll take off until next Tuesday.

We prayed the Canon to the Lord for a Sick Child for Lonna, and anointed her with oil.  She has been suffering from a bad cold-like virus for the last few days.

In the afternoon, we went on a nature walk.  I had vowed that we would walk the same trail once a month for an entire year, tracking the progression of seasons, etc.  We never made it there in January or March, so we’re off to a horrible start!  On our February trip, it was an icy tundra, but yesterday, the signs of spring were evident.  Although it was about 42 degrees, it seemed much warmer.  There was this bright, glowing orb in the sky…I think I vaguely remember it, but it’s been so, so long since I’ve seen it…yes, I believe it’s called the sun!

The sun shone and showed off the pond swelling from spring rains.

Spring waters and buds are nice, but the real attraction was the wildlife.  This preserve is Canadian Goose Central in the spring.  Here, dozens of geese lays their eggs and hatch their young.  The air thundered with the honk…honk of the geese on water, land, and sky.  No goslings yet, but one mama for some reason built her nest out in the open by the trail, so we watched her for a bit (or was it the dad???).  Then, we were treated to bath and show off time from the rest of the crowd.

I always try to get out in nature during Holy Week.  The natural world is not separate from us.  In our modern society, where we spend most of our days indoors, we have forgotten our close ties to nature.  God is present in His Creation…all of His Creation…and by learning about the world around us, we learn more and more about God and more and more about ourselves.  Pascha is in the spring for a reason.  The parallels between the awakenings of the trees and the awakenings of our souls; the birth of baby animals and our deliverance from death; these should not be missed.

At Vesperal Liturgy in the afternoon, we remembered the Last Supper.  Also, Father put Communion in the tabernacle on the altar.  On every Orthodox altar is a container called the tabernacle.  Every year on Holy Thursday, the priest takes some of the bread and wine consecrated at the Liturgy and places it in the tabernacle.  That way, throughout the year, if someone is sick or dying and needs to take Communion right away, the gifts are there and available.  They are the body and blood of Christ, so they do not spoil or rot.  They are mystically preserved in case the need arises.

Of Your Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today, as a Communicant.  For I will not speak of Your mysteries to Your enemies, neither like Judas will I give You a kiss, but like the thief will I confess You, Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom.

Lonna felt better by evening, and we all returned in the evening for the service of The Twelve Passion Gospels.  Remember, Orthodox liturgical time runs from evening to evening, not morning to morning, so this is a service for Holy Friday.  My first year as Orthodox, the whole week was jolting and seemed off kilter.  It just seemed wrong to remember things on the “wrong” day.  Now, though, I enjoy this wise arrangement. On Thursday night, we remember the Crucifixion.  Your heart contemplates the mysteries of the events all throughout your sleep, and when you wake up Friday morning, it is fresh in your mind.  You go through the day already in remembrance, rather than living a day and then only talking about it at its conclusion.

Today He Who hung the earth on the waters is hung upon the tree.  The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.  He Who wraps the heavens with clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.  He Who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.  The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.  The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.  We worship Your passion, O Christ.  We worship Your passion, O Christ.  We worship Your passion, O Christ.  Show us also Your glorious Resurrection.

15th Antiphon— The Twelve Passion Gospels

This service is one of layers.  The accounts of the Passion in all four Gospels are read in one service.  In between each of the twelve readings, we sing about what we’ve read.  There’s one layer.  And then another.  And then another.

Midway through, the clergy come out from behind the altar carrying a life-size icon of Christ, as well as a cross.  They lay Christ on the cross and nail Him to it.

The sound of the rock hitting the nail pierces the air in the room.  My breath catches in my throat.  They raise up the cross, and we all come forward to prostrate before it and kiss the feet of the Lord.

By the end of the service, I cannot explain the feelings.  All I can say is that I truly feel.  They crucified Christ.  They spit on and slapped Him.  They killed the King.  And I am the one to blame…

As I lay down in bed on Holy Thursday, I mourn.  The Lord is dead.  Indeed, the anticipation of Resurrection is in the air.  It’s not a mysterious ending to this story.  We all know what happens in the final act of the play.  But today, today is not a day to celebrate.  It is not a day to jump ahead.  I try to live like the Apostles of Jesus who did not understand what was happening at the time.  I try to stand beside that Cross in misery.  Christ is dead.  Let the whole world weep.

The most memorable song of The Twelve Gospels service refers to the thieves crucified alongside Christ.  One jeers at the Lord, but the other sees that this man beside him is not just any man.  He utters the words on my lips as I drift off to sleep, “Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom”.

The wise thief, You made worthy of Paradise, in a single moment, O Lord.  By the wood of Your Cross illumine me as well, and save me.

By the Waters of Babylon

Jared is studying a mix of meteorology, ornithology, and botany this year in science.  Our local park system did a program last year where they hiked the same trail once a month for twelve months.  That is just an excellent idea, and I thought it would be a great way for Jared to apply all three of his science disciplines in one project.  So, I decided back in August that we would do our own version as a 2011 event.

And then January came…  It snowed, and snowed, and snowed.  Not that I haven’t gotten used to snow in the time we’ve lived here.  But the snow piled upon snow and ice and cold just did not inspire us to nature walk.  Before I knew it, January had slipped away.  I thought about the plan a couple times in early February and decided we had plenty of time.  Then, last week happened.  We hadn’t seen grass in months for the snow pack, but it all reappeared in just a few short days of warm weather.  The creeks and rivers swelled and flooded and the lovely whiteness turned to wet, muddy yuckiness seemingly overnight.  I lamented our project plan.  I already missed January and now we have to start out with ugly, dead snow melt?

No worries…spring isn’t here quite yet!  The snow returned, introduced by an ice storm.  The whole world seemed to glitter in crystal glass, the sun shining through the multi-faceted jewel of tree branches.  We put on our layers and headed out to our chosen trail for the first monthly visit.

I picked this trail, because it has both woods and water.  They call it a lake, but I would probably use pond as the term.  In the fall and winter, the water level dwindles to near nothingness, but that snow melt and refreeze really helped create a lovely frozen wonderland.

The light was so glaringly bright and the ice so dazzling, that I felt like we had been transported inside a prism.  Made me wish I’d gotten out more this winter.  No matter how many layers it took.

Lent is coming.  Even though it is starting late this year, it seems like it snuck up on us.  We Orthodox never celebrate without preparing, and Lent is such a glorious preparation that we even prepare for it.  So we prepare to prepare with the weeks leading up to Lent.  The stories tell us where we’re going…Zacchaeus…the Publican and the Pharisee…the Prodigal Son.  That’s where we are this week, with just two Sunday’s to go.  This week it really starts to sound like Lent, as we sing the mournful song of Psalm 136(137).

By the waters of Babylon,

there we sat down, we sat down and wept,

when we remembered Zion.  Alleluia.

The Israelites were carried off to captivity in Babylon, and the pain of that move ripped the soul.  Their captors expected life to just go on in a different place, but the Israelites knew it wasn’t about the body…it was about the soul.  “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  As I looked at the depths of winter around me, surrounded by ice and barrenness, I said those words out loud…How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

Babylon is not just a Biblical place from long ago.  Babylon is the world right here and now.  It is a symbol of all sin.  Extreme separation from God.  Extreme rejection of God.  The winter of the soul.

Lent is coming.  The chance to rip out of the bonds of iciness.  The opportunity to breathe the warm breeze of spring.  But we have to start here.  We have to acknowledge the freeze, or we’ll never recognize the thaw.

The Psalm and the song end with a battle cry.

Blessed is He who takes your little ones and

dashes them against the stones.

The evils of Babylon.  The offspring of darkness that sets up in our lives and entangles itself in our souls.  Little ones who destroy in a catastrophic way.  Sin…it is everywhere in me.

There is a victory, though.  There is One…the One…who takes the death, and sin, and frozen darkness and crushes it.  Who tramples down death by His death.  Who grants life to all those in the tombs.  Dashing evil against the stones.

Everything and everyone seems asleep around me in this world so cold.  Yet it shines and glimmers and quickens with days like this, when God shows Himself in full color…using only shades of white.

Lent is coming.  The Resurrection is coming.  Blessed is Christ who destroys the power of sin in explosive triumph.  The world is in icy slumber, but soon we will wake up.  Spring is coming.  Pascha is coming.  We’ll sing again in Zion.  We’ll celebrate again in the purity of a different kind of whiteness.  Blessed is He who battles.  Blessed is He who conquers.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!