When I was a young child growing up in small towns, my preacher dad would take breaks from ministry pressures by going fishing. My sister and I happily followed him down trout streams as he sought the perfect fishing hole. We jumped from boulder to boulder or waded in the clear, cold water and delighted in discovering colorful, shiny rocks on the creek bottom. I saved some pretty pebbles and was disappointed when they dried and lost their shine. But a few came home in my pocket, nevertheless.
Now, my children and grandchildren know I’m likely to pick up rocks anywhere I go. I examine special ones that catch my eye as I dig in the garden, walk in the neighborhood, hike in the mountains, and comb the beaches. I’m likely to have rocks in my pockets as well as a few rocks in the car, interesting rocks lining shelves and filling jars and boxes here and there in my home.
A few years ago, my son gave me a rock tumbler for Christmas. Then I felt more like a collector, amateur though I am. When my first batch of stones came out of the tumbling process smooth, glowing, and glassy—much like the creek-bottom pebbles of my childhood—I was hooked on collecting, learning about, creating with, even “meditating” on rocks.
I have learned more about rocks in the process, and my children and grandchildren admire the polished rocks with me. Sometimes we look for pictures in their designs. I’ve even made a few Christmas gifts with polished stones.
My favorite stones to polish are beach agates and jasper.
Here is my husband searching for semi-precious stones on Agate Beach at Patrick’s Point State Park in Northern California.
As I have said elsewhere, looking for agates on the beach is what it’s like for me, as a poet, to be present to the thoughts, emotions, winds, and waves of gritty life… to dig into my heart in the moment and find metaphors that seem to reveal themselves to me: reflecting light, shaped by experiences and observations, by forces of the environment, by the workings of Love
Rocks appeal to us for many reasons:
- The joy of discovering treasures.
- Rocks tell a story, often an ancient story, about where they have come from and where we have come from and where we are headed. And we sing, “On Christ, the solid rock I stand.” Rocks preserve, encapsulate, and speak of history (for instance, fossilized rocks, moss agates, picture rocks, volcanic rocks, and precious gems).
- Rocks feel solid and permanent, when so much in life and in the world is fleeting and fragile. One of the prayers attributed to St. Patrick begins, “I arise today through the strength of heaven; light of the sun, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of the wind, depth of the sea, stability of the earth, firmness of the rock….” Similarly, the prophet Isaiah exclaimed, “He will be the stability of your times” (Is. 33:6).
- Rocks remind us of things hidden. We try to clear our vegetable garden of rocks, but every spring we find more rocks that have worked their way up from the deeps. Small rocks seem to appear out of nowhere; but they remind me that rock makes up much of our earth’s outer layers, and rocks have a constant cycle of breaking down and being re-formed.
- Rocks can speak to us. Even as a child, the famed Jesuit geologist and mystic theologian, Teilhard de Chardin delighted in the hardness and stability of translucent and glittering stones. He later wrote and taught how to see God everywhere, to “see him in all that is most hidden, most solid, and most ultimate in the world” (from Teilhard’s The Divine Milieu). When religious leaders opposed the people praising Jesus, he told them, “I tell you … if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).
- Stones are sometimes symbols of difficulties and trials. We might say, “I’ve been traveling a rocky road lately.” But rocks can remind us that while constant change is a given in nature and in our lives, God who is everywhere, including in the cycles and changes of seasons, is also unchanging in essence. God’s love will always endure and keep rising and getting our attention and sending us reminders. Though God’s loving reminders may sometimes feel like obstacles when we want an easy path … If we give heed, the very rocks in our path will speak and have the potential to help form us. Beautiful rocks and fine gemstones were formed by extreme pressures over long periods of time. These gems uniquely encapsulate the effects of pressures and changes in the formation of our earth home. Examine the depth and design of many stones and you’ll see exemplified the beauty and creativity of God.
So, take a walk and look for Beauty in beautiful rocks, Stability in solid, hard rocks, Creativity in interesting rocks, maybe even listen to—and consider—what the rocks might be saying as they “cry out.”
This post (slightly revised) was first published for “Collect Rocks Day” 9-16-23 at Godspace HERE.
My dog Jasper loves taking walks and spending time with me in my gardens. He doesn’t even know he is mentioned in some of my books and poems, but I think he would approve. He would also approve of this fun thing that arrived in the mail this week: a recognition for a humorous canine poem in my mostly otherwise serious collection of poetry, Glimpsing Glory.
Do “humor” and “poetry” go together in your mind?
Well, we might ask, why do we write and read poems, anyway? I found a few famous answers to the question “why poetry?”:
I think most of my poems in Glimpsing Glory do reflect “a homesickness, a love sickness,” they “probe deepest emotions and longings,” and express a kind of “prayer.” But sometimes we need our hearts lifted and loads lightened as well as our souls elevated, something to help us tilt our heads and look at circumstances with a different perspective. Sometimes everyday experiences cause my sense of humor to erupt in fun poems. When these are included in a volume of poetry, they are like lucky limericks teasing Irish elegies or perky wildflowers surprising in cultivated gardens. These things I find delightful, and I hope my readers do also.
Do you have a favorite humorous poem that brings a smile to your face and quickens your step? Perhaps it’s a folk song or ditty, or a poem like this one for which I received the above recognition:
CANINE SOCIAL MEDIA
My dog, Jasper, reads
pee mail with his nose.
And he’s a dexterous texter
as he lifts four toes.
Some moms dole out tech time;
but me? I give trek time.
Each bush, post, and bench
offers doggy wifi.
When he wiggles and whines
and starts to holler,
I lace up my shoes, click
the links of his collar.
When he meets other dogs, it’s
‘Will you be my friend?
Follow me in the net-erhood,
my hashtag’s a trend.’
Dogs carry screen names
on their behinds;
Cuz that’s where they sniff,
their profiles to find.
With his nose he scans lawns
for the latest chatter
from cute Lily on the corner
or Bruce the Irish Setter.
Here’s to soul-elevating and prayerful, as well as playful poetry!
Who doesn’t love animals and animal stories!
Photos of furry creatures and social-media videos of cute animal antics … books and movies of animal adventures … these are popular because they evoke feelings of wonder, memories of beloved pets, joy and excitement of wildlife sightings, or sensory experiences of a trip to the farm. Here is what I believe about our relationship to animals:
• Animals are our fellow creatures, loved by the Creator.
• Animals can provide companionship, inspiration, and comfort.
• Animals can teach us about the Creator and how to relate to God.
• Animals provide metaphors of our lives that help us understand ourselves.
• Animals (especially those in the wild) represent elements of Mystery.
God cares for his earthly creatures. He created them, blessed them, called them “good.” He saved the animals from the Flood and then made a covenant with “every living creature.” Many Scriptures display God’s care for animals. Old Testament laws protected animals. Jesus’ parables affirmed and spotlighted them.
In God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals, Susan Bulanda asks: “Is it possible that God has put the desire to care for all animals in the hearts of many people … God’s love for his creation showing through humans?” Later, she adds: “Could there be subtle lessons of love God gives us through our pets?”
I think you will recognize these reciprocal lessons of love—some subtle and some not so subtle—in the stories, poems, anecdotes, and reflections included in this volume.
Sometimes animals are mirrors for us to see ourselves more clearly. I have found my dog to be a barometer of my emotions. His responses tell me when I am getting anxious or when my words sound too harsh; he responds much differently when my tone of voice is sweet and cheerful. It makes me feel bad to see him put his ears back and watch me with a worried expression. It makes me feel good to see him wag his tail and smile at me.
Animals, both wild and domestic, also help us by calling forth our sense of awe. As Thomas Berry has said, we need all of creation, including the animals “to evoke a world of mystery, to evoke the sacred.”
I continually wonder at the wilds of nature that can thrive alongside, often in spite of and struggling to adjust in the midst of, the civilized, tamed, domestic world. When a bird comes close and sings, when a deer steps out of the forest; these surprise sightings thrill. Finding myself sharing space with a wild creature, aware of each other, watching each other even for a moment, is a reminder of not only how different we are, but of what we have in common. Both the animal kind and my kind have breath. We communicate with body language and voice. We walk, run, choose mates, nurture families, search for food, seek shelter. And when we share moments of awareness and attention, the resulting experiential knowledge surely changes or affects us both in some way (hopefully not making us more fearful of each other), perhaps increasing our appreciation of our common creation.
We also share our lives with pets and, sometimes, farm animals. Our human friends learn to accept our animals as “part of the deal.” In a deeper application, the slogan often seen on kitchen towels or plaques, “Love me, love my dog” could, I think, be re-phrased “Love God, love God’s creatures.” Theologians have said as much, and more.
- Celtic saint Columbanus exhorted, “Understand, if you want to know the Creator, created things.”
- Orthodox scholar Maximus the Confessor taught the idea that creation (as well as Scripture) is God’s book. “God is ‘encoded’ for us in everything he has made. We are surrounded on every side by his ‘letters,’ his ‘analogies’ in creatures….” Our part is to care for, as well as give attention and respect to, the creatures, and even to praise God on their behalf.
- Protestant evangelical theologian (and bird watcher) John Stott wrote, “God has given to human beings a midway position between himself and the animals. … In consequence, we combine the dependence on God that is common to all his creatures with a responsible dominion over the [animals] that is unique.”
- Catholic writer Charles Camosy adds, “Nearly all theologians now agree that the biblical dominion God has given human beings over creation is not a license to use and dominate, but rather a command to be caretakers and stewards.”
I am thankful for all the dogs, cats, fish, chickens, ducks, birds, as well as the rabbits, squirrels, and deer that have been part of my life at different stages. I have cared for them, learned from them, and shared life with them. Many times when I or my family were facing challenging times, our hearts and spirits were lightened because the animals were there.
God, of course, is always there, everywhere, ever present to us; but God, who is spirit, does not have a corporeal body with skin, hands, and feet. Animals (as well as people) help God help us feel our loving, relational God’s presence.
With all this in mind, I enjoyed compiling, editing (and writing a number of) these often-funny, sometimes sad, and always awe-inspiring experiences with animals. I hope our readers enjoy these stories, too. You may find yourself laughing, crying, and appreciating more than ever God’s creatures, the animals in our lives.
This post first published Jul 29, 2021. It was extracted from the Introduction to the book, The Animals In Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe.The book contains delightful accounts of people with their dogs, cats, sheep, horses, backyard birds, woodland deer, and many other creatures. Our animals—pets, farm animals, and wildlife—inspire our awe, entertain us, help us, teach us, play with us, mourn with us, even work with us. Any animal lover will enjoy this very readable book.
Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / Gajus
What is “mother love”?
For me, mother love first felt like a baptism washing over me and flooding my heart when I held my newborn baby in my arms. I fed that child when she was hungry, washed, clothed, carried, rocked, protected, trained, enfolded, and then released her. And while I identify with the words of the Irish poet, “Lord, thou art hard on mothers: We suffer in their coming and in their going,”¹ I believe that mother love seldom dwells on the pain or counts the cost. Instead, this caring, nurturing, self-sacrificing force “protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres”² on behalf of this miracle of life, this product of our own body, this heaven-sent mystery of a helpless suckling developing into independent womanhood (or manhood) in their own right.
Sadly, along the way, many obstacles may arise to block the effective expression of mother love. “Although most mothers instinctively love their children, learning to properly nurture them is a process,” wrote Grace Ketterman.³ When that process is sabotaged, Mother love doesn’t come easy; it isn’t expressed in healthy ways; and though the mother may feel it, she may not communicate to her children in a way they can receive the secure attachment the child needs.
Mothers (and fathers) aren’t perfect; we all make mistakes. And we were all parented imperfectly. But we each go through our entire lives being the child of our parents.
The Lord in infinite wisdom designed us in such a way that we continue to carry within us the child we were. What, then, do we do with this inner child who is forever part of us? What about the times she cries, feels neglected, forsaken, or fearful … when trauma has occurred and/or when her emotional needs have not been met in healthy ways? Francis and Judith MacNutt, of Christian Healing Ministries, state,
“Unfortunately, in our fallen humanity, there are no perfect parents. Subsequently, many people carry wounds or voids they incurred early in life from one or both of their parents, such as unmet needs, absence, neglect, harsh words, or abusive behavior … Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord can go back and fill in any of those wounds with his perfect love.”4
Like all other parts of our selves, we bring that inner child to Jesus. We let Jesus love that child. His presence begins a process, an unfolding of acceptance, nurturing, healing, trust (and for some this process requires professional counseling/therapy, as in the case of Janyne McConnaughey, author of Jeannie’s Brave Childhood). It is possible to begin to experience joyful wholeness in our relationships.
Much has been written about “father wounds.” But our mothers are in many ways the ground of our beings. “Mother is the home we come from. She is nature, soil, ocean,” said psychologist Erich Fromm.5 Mother love goes deep; and mother wounds go deep.
The Bible describes God’s nurturing character in terms of mother love:
- “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13a, NRSV).
- “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
- “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:4).
- “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4a).
- “He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft … (Deuteronomy 32:10b-11).
And Jesus, as recorded in the gospels, said, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings….” (Luke 13:34).
In the book Journeys to Mother Love nine women writers representing four generations share personal stories of difficult and challenging mother-love journeys. They come from various backgrounds and places. One woman felt all her life the impact of being the lesser-loved sibling until finally, after many years, she found it in her heart to be thankful for both her favored brother and her mother. Another young woman had difficulty showing love to her little children until she was healed of the memories of an earlier abortion, and until she forgave herself and experienced a heart connection with the aborted baby. A third woman was distanced from her mother because of her fear of being like her, until she was enabled to see her mother in new light and to serve her in new ways. More than one story touches on the concept of generational patterns that needed to be broken in order to allow a new way of mother-child relating.
These personal memoirs, one of which I wrote, are testimonies of God’s grace. They don’t offer pat answers. The stories are simply and openly told in hopes that many readers—mothers and daughters alike—will be helped. We believe the power of prayer, the Word of God, the working of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ are transforming every area of our lives. So we offer hope by sharing what helped us and what may renew your relationships as well.
Because God’s own nurturing, protective, life-giving love is exemplified in the love of a mother for her child, I believe the Lord desires to work in our mother-child relationships to make them a more true representation, a clearer picture of his love. He makes a way for us to experience deep healing even—as the experiences of these nine women illustrate—when death, disease, disobedience, or distance has separated us from our mothers.
God’s love—often made tangible in mother love—is that strong!
This post is a revision of the Introduction to the book:
1. From “The Mother” by Padraig Pearse, in A Little Book of Irish Verse (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1991), p. 51.
2. 1 Corinthians 13:7
3. Grace Ketterman, Call Me Blessed: Becoming a Mother of Honor (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press), 1997, p. 3.
5. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, (Harper & Row, 1956, HarperCollins, 1984, Harper Perennial Modern Classic, 2006), p. 38.
Poetry Helps Us Open Our Hearts to God
by Catherine Lawton
In our experience of God’s presence, poetry can help us focus and engage our senses and entire being. Poetry can help us process life and emotions—and see ourselves—in new ways, and thus be open to hearing God say fresh, new things to us. Scripture does this also, of course. In fact, much of the Bible was written as poetry. I have long found soul nourishment and renewed perspective in the Psalms. And how can a person read Song of Solomon and not believe God seeks to woo and reach us through the five senses he has given us? The prophet Isaiah wrote often in poetry. Sometimes poetic expression reaches straight to the heart more effectively than prose.
“Poetry, in capturing the moment, captures the soul,” says poet Mary Harwell Sayler.
I believe God still speaks through poets today. Sometimes with a prophetic voice. Sometimes imparting wisdom. Sometimes bringing clarity. Sometimes lifting the soul to hope and love.
Even if you think you aren’t, you probably are more “into” poetry than you realize. Song lyrics are a type of poetry. Along with the instruments and voices, the words of songs can pierce or soothe our hearts as well as our minds.
Voltaire called poetry “the music of the soul.”
On World Poetry Day (March 21) and every day I encourage you to begin the practice of including poetry in your devotional reading, meditative prayer, quiet times, and soul care.
Eugene Peterson stated, “People who pray, need to learn poetry.”
But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to these comments from readers who have found poems help them focus on, and open their hearts to, God’s presence and love:
“In our own seasons of suffering, [these poems give us] words to explain the pain, to cry out to God, or to get a grip on our faith.” –Elaine Wright Colvin (after reading I Cry Unto You, O Lord by Sarah Suzanne Noble
“This book is a steady and wise companion for those who read the Bible with real devotion and honest questions.” –Connie Wanek (after reading Bible Poems by Donna Marie Merritt)
“Each one [of these poems] lifts my heart towards God. They have become a part of my morning devotions.” –Bev Coons (reader of PRAISE! Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler)
“So many of the poems provided moments of prayer for me.” ~Jimmie Kepler (speaking of Glimpsing Glory by Catherine Lawton)
Poetry, and all the feelings it represents, connects us to all of humanity’s longings and searchings for God. Here is one of my favorite poems of devotion, written by Irish poet Thomas Moore, about 200 years ago:
MY GOD! SILENT TO THEE!
As, down in the sunless retreats of the ocean,
Sweet flowers are springing no mortal can see,
So, deep in my heart, the still prayer of devotion,
Unheard by the world, rises, silent, to Thee,
My God! Silent, to Thee,—
Pure, warm, silent, to Thee.
As still to the start of its worship, though clouded,
The needle points faithfully o-er the dim sea,
So, dark as I roam, thro’ this wintry world shrouded,
The hope of my spirit turns, trembling, to Thee,
My God! Trembling, to Thee,—
True, fond, trembling, to Thee.
(Photo by Thomas Jay Oord. Used with permission.)
(This post was revised and expanded from one I first published here 5 years ago. In this form, it first appeared on the Godspace Blog to celebrate World Poetry Day, 2023).
I took this photo of a viewpoint sign in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?!
This brings questions to my mind:
- Where/how do we find silence?
- Why is silence important/needed?
- What can we learn in silence?
- Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?
My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound. She was my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”
Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.
Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:
“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”
Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.
Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?
Awe, wonder, and gratitude.
That’s what I feel when I consider these contrasts of the Christmas story:
- Angelic heavenly hosts—A cold, rocky hillside
- Sophisticated, wealthy visitors—Rugged sheep herders
- Riding high on camels—Trudging over hills with lambs
- A king killing babies—A baby born to be king
- The maker of heaven and earth born into his creation
- On the shortest, darkest days of the year, celebrating life and hope
What other Christmas contrasts come to mind? What emotions do they call forth in you? What hope do they give you?
Take a little time during holiday activities and read something together: a story, a poem, an Advent devotional, a Psalm, Luke chapter 2, a children’s book. You’ll create closeness, meaningful traditions, and enrich your Christmas celebration.
A few book suggestions:
Listen to / read this poem prayer for those weeping in the night, struggling emotionally and spiritually, perhaps physically, during this season.
Listen to the poem:
Encourage each one,
their heart desire
Distill the cry
to nesting purr
so they can face
and all it holds…
and all it hides…
in darkness, treasures,
with second sight.