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Snow on Good Friday
We grieve when snow falls
on Good Friday eve.
What about the greening,
the beginnings of spring? when
like manna fallen from Heaven—
“My body broken for you” into
flakes and crumbs—
soft, pure-white flesh
spread upon all that lies
both dormant and sprouting,
at morn reflects the rising sun;
except for rockiest places
saturates fallow and seeded,
both broken and wasted ground.
During the month of April we are Celebrating:
- National Poetry Month
- and Spring!
Take time to experience, appreciate, and meditate on Re-awakenings and Renewal:
- in Nature all around us;
- in our Relationships to God and each other;
- of our Spiritual Life and Eternal Hope.
Reading inspirational poems can help you focus, “be still and know.”
Carol O’Casey was born to be wild. As a field biologist, pastor’s wife, and author she says:
As soon as I could walk I toddled outdoors to watch tadpoles knit themselves into frogs and clouds quilt the skies. I was at home in nature. Connecting it all to God would come later. Much later.
Those childhood years as an amateur naturalist fueled my passion for nature and led me to pursue a degree in marine biology. Yet, somewhere in the middle of a hardcore science education, I met a man studying to be a pastor. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Suddenly my world of science collided with the world of religion. Little did I know I would soon become a biologist and a pastor’s wife.
While God doesn’t promise us a life of comfort, he does promise to walk beside us. So I navigated the road of the ministry, rough edges and all. Along the way, God provided rich rest stops that soothed my soul. I found hope in his gift of nature as I escaped the expectations of ministry and took a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I was transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experienced God’s presence.
What about you? Are you burdened with expectations? Do you feel drained from the demands of the day? God’s creation has the power to restore wonder. And wonder connects us with the divine.
Renowned agricultural researcher George Washington Carver experienced awe in his encounters with the natural world and exclaimed,
“I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour and every moment of our lives, if we will only tune in…”
In a society obsessed with speed, we must slow down, tune in. How often during an average day do you tune in—or tune out? What daily distractions can scramble your signal?
Perhaps Moses, the ancient futurist, could be considered the pioneer of tuning in to the God frequency. Moses was a murder convict on the lam, wandering in the wilderness, when he stumbled upon wonder. He could have missed the whole shebang. I’m thankful he didn’t. Consider Moses’s journey en route to wonder:
Moses sees: To avoid murder charges and Pharaoh’s pursuit, Moses escapes to the wilderness. While tending the sheep on the far side of the desert (read: the middle of nowhere) Moses sees a sight that piques his curiosity: “Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up” (Exodus 3:2).
Moses slows: Moses moves into step two of his journey to wonder as he intentionally veers off course and investigates. In our frantic, time-starved lives, we often fail to notice what we are seeing. Not Moses. Moses, in the act of holy wondering, pursues this sight of wonder. This burning bush intrigues him and he desires to know more.
Granted, this is probably easy for him to do. After all, what else do you do in a desert in the days before Kindle, Internet, cell phones—conveniences that, while helpful on one front, distract us from the wonder of nature on the other. Moses entertains himself with the world around him—in this case, a burning bush that does not stop. I guess he had become tired of counting sheep (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Moses connects: Because Moses slows to see, he experiences step three on the journey to wonder: Moses connects in a conversation with the God of the universe. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look…” (Exodus 3:4). Whoa. Let’s just park there for a minute. Did you catch that? God was watching him the whole time!
God was watching and waiting to see what Moses would do with this wonder created to catch his attention. Imagine God, in eager anticipation, peering out from behind the curtain of his magnificence, waiting to see how Moses would respond. Would Moses look? Would he divert his attention from his everyday duties to notice this amazing sight sparked into existence especially for him? He did.
What happens next dazzles the mind. God calls to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And so begins a personal conversation with the Creator of the universe. How amazing. While Moses leads the sheep through a wasteland of wilderness, dutifully engaged in the ho-hum routine of life, the Creator of the cosmos calls to him. God calls to Moses the murderer, Moses the runaway, Moses the coward hiding in the desert.
Let’s be real. There is no hiding from God. When God wants us, he finds us. His presence goes before us, wherever we go. His presence waits for our attention.
Notice how Moses responds to God: “Here I am.” Three simple words. Honest. Concise. To the point. Through wonder, the burning bush is seared into Moses’s mind; God gets his attention and Moses is ready to listen. No excuses (those come later). Perhaps Moses is stunned speechless. I know I would be. What would be your response to such a call?
“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). As a “wonderologist” (one who studies the wonders of nature), I delight in the details of creation. From the bumblebee that manages to fly on wings that appear too small for its ungainly body; to the dragonfly that rises from its waterlogged larval form and morphs to a powerful airborne adult; to the barnacle that literally stands on its head and snatches its meals with its legs, God entertains and delights us with the endless wonders he has created.
Now I confess, I’ve never seen a burning bush; but then, I’m no Moses. I’m a regular old child of God hiking through creation for a glimpse of the Master. Mind you, nature doesn’t solve my problems, but it does reset my “worry-ometer.” When I explore his wonders, I worry less. Care to join me? You don’t need a degree in science or a month in the rain forest to find wonder. All you need is a willing heart and a few minutes of time to intentionally see, slow, and connect with God and creation.
from the Introduction to the book, Unwrapping Wonder: Finding Hope in the Gift of Nature
Are you delighting in, and pondering, the wonders around you?
“For the Lord searches all hearts and minds, and understands all the wanderings of the thoughts. If you seek him … you will find him” (1 Chronicles 28:9, AMP).
On Memorial Day we decided to get clear away from office, computers, books, and other projects. My husband and I enjoy birding and wildflower viewing, especially after such a wet spring. So we drove out to the Pawnee National Grassland, bringing our dog Jasper with us. This protected habitat on the prairie of Northern Colorado provides nesting ground to a colorful variety of migratory birds.
Some years the grassland—vast solitude under changing skies—is hot and dry. This time we found it cool and green. Wildflowers dotted the native plant life. Prickly Pear had started opening their blooms. And the birds! They foraged in the grasses, perched on fence posts, did aerial gymnastics to catch flying insects, scratched in the sandy roadside, hunted from the sky, and paddled on small ponds.
We walked a little ways on a trail through the grasses. Larry took a picture of Jasper and me:
We identified 25 bird species, including Vesper Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. At one point along the gravel road we spotted a bird that looked like a miniature roadrunner. It ran on the ground with its tail held high. We watched it through binoculars and checked our bird guide (and the birding app on my cell phone, the only technology we used that day). It appeared to be a Sage Thrasher. Then the bird lifted into the air and we thought our chance to observe it was over. But it landed on a fence post just ahead of where we had stopped our car in the narrow road (The occasional approaching car or pickup could be seen miles away and we could pull over). As the breeze ruffled its feathers, the Sage Thrasher lifted its head and sang! And sang and sang. What a show. It felt like a gift to have this bird—uncommon in our area—perch and sing for us. I took a picture the best I could with my iphone 6:
Here’s a better (borrowed) photo of a Sage Thrasher singing:
In the wonder of this bird perching and singing so close to us, we felt even more connected with nature around us.
Connection is important. We connect with people, share ideas, express creativity, and conduct business through keyboard, screen, digital images and sounds, artificial light and wifi. This virtual world is full of potential and fascination. But experiencing life through technology can gradually drain our souls. One way I know this soul drain is happening is, when I go to bed, close my eyes and, instead of drifting to a peaceful sleep, I see images and text, web pages and video flashing across the screen of my mind. (This is why I generally turn off my computer well before 10:00 p.m.)
King David said, “He leads me in green pastures and beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23).
Once in a while we need to unplug, go out into a world that engages all the senses, and let our souls be restored. Nature and the rediscovery of wonder offer a gateway to a restored soul. Carol O’Casey, author of Unwrapping Wonder, writes, “I escape the expectations of ministry and take a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I am transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experience God’s presence.”
That night, after a day of birding on the prairie, my husband and I went to bed. When I lay my head on the pillow, I began to realize what a gift I had brought home with me from the grassland. When I closed my eyes, my mind wasn’t filled with a screen through which virtual images came at me. No. Instead, I was still seeing Lark Buntings, Horned Larks, and Longspurs winging, swooping, twirling in the air. I was still hearing the songs of Meadow Larks, Brown Thrashers, and Mountain Plovers. I was still watching Swainson’s Hawks soar on high and kite in the breezes. I was still enjoying the yellow, blue, and red wildflowers and smelling the sweet grasses. With these images, sounds and smells came a peaceful, delighted and deep sense of Presence—the presence of our Creator, our Redeemer, the Restorer of our souls.
Gifts are always better when shared. To my surprise, when Larry got in bed and turned off the light, after just a few moments he said, “I’m still seeing birds.” Lying side by side in the darkness, we compared notes and agreed that it had been a wonderful day.
A special sense of attunement and restoration has stayed with me all week—even as I am typing this at my computer.
One story in the book Faithful Friends tells about a little mixed-breed, playful dog named Bogar, loved by the Rubin family in Hungary. In 1944 “the unthinkable happened.” Cathy Rubin, a little girl at the time says, “We heard a commotion outside. On a loud-speaker the soldiers told all Jews to line up in the street. We had no place to run or hide. … We only had time to leave Bogar free outside. I prayed to God that he would be safe.”
Here is what happened as told from the dog’s point of view:
Bogar did not understand. He watched his family line up and march with everyone else. He had often gone on walks with his people; perhaps this was a walk of some kind. But he could smell the fear and sense the tension, so he knew it wasn’t a family outing like before.
When his loved ones went into the ghetto, the guards shooed him away. When he would not leave and tried to get inside to be with his family, they threw stones at him that hurt him so badly he yelped. He quickly learned not to linger near the gate. He had been left at home before, but his family had always come back, and it was rare for everyone to be gone at the same time.
So Bogar waited outside the gates of the ghetto for his family to return, being careful to stay far enough away so that no one paid much attention to him. Every now and then a soldier would toss him some scraps to eat. There was a stream nearby where he was able to drink water, and when it rained he had the puddles.
After what seemed like a lifetime, Bogar saw people coming out of the gates in a long line. He ran up and down the line until he found them, his people. Then he jumped and wiggled with joy—now they would all go home!
But they did not go home. They marched again. So, being a loyal dog, Bogar followed them.
Finally they reached the train station and he saw his family climb into a big square train car with lots of other people. There was crying. Occasionally a gun shot made him cringe; the hair rose up on his back and a deep growl rumbled in his throat.
Again, he was forced apart from his family. The soldiers shouted and shoved people. Once in a while a boot would swing in Bogar’s direction. The people getting on the train did not pay attention to him and he had to run a distance away to avoid being trampled. As he hid in some bushes, he whimpered softly, sensing that his people were going far away, leaving him for good.
Once everyone was gone, he slowly wandered around trying to figure out what had happened. He was hungry, thirsty and tired. At first he ran after the train; but he could not catch up to it. Next he went back to the ghetto, hoping that he would find his people and food there, but gone were the few soldiers who had been kind to him. He headed back to his home.
Time passed, and he found it harder to get food. There were no food scraps in the streets or garbage heaps. One time he went up to a man and the man grabbed him and hurt him. He bit the man and got away, but he instinctively knew that the man would have killed him. He became fearful of all people and avoided them, running each time someone saw him or hiding when he detected them first.
Things were not much better when he got back to his home. Some of the neighbors who were still there and knew him would leave a scrap of bone for him or some rotted food. He was not accustomed to eating vegetables but he was so hungry that he ate anything he could find. Once he even chewed the soles of a boot that he found. He went from being a clean dog with a shiny coat to a dirty, matted dog whose ribs stuck out. Even the rats, rabbits and mice became scarce. Once in a while he would catch a bird and would even eat bugs. The days wore on.
Kathy Rubin’s family survived forced labor in Austria. She writes:
On that glorious day in May, 1945, we were free! We were herded up and sent out to fend for ourselves, but we were free. We were alive and all of my family had survived. We started the long walk back to our home. It was the only place we could go.
I’ll never forget walking that final mile. Because we were all so weak, we did not talk. But in our hearts, we wondered if Bogar would be there for us….
… Every day I would walk around our community, hoping to see Bogar, praying that God would bring him home to me and my family. I asked everyone I met if they had seen him, but most people were not sure; they did not remember what he looked like. They were busy trying to survive and did not pay much attention to stray dogs. Many dogs roamed the area. Some people I asked thought Bogar was dead, others thought they saw him run away. This was understandable, since they may have seen him follow us to the ghetto and thought he was gone.
The days passed and I could not find him. I was not strong enough to walk far or I would have walked back to the ghetto and train station to look for him. Slowly my hopes diminished. We were all thankful that we made it through the war and that we were still alive. We were joyful to be reunited with some of our neighbors and friends and to be able to worship at the synagogue again. But we mourned the loss of one family member: Bogar.
We had heard stories of dogs being caught and eaten, or being beaten or shot by soldiers. The bigger dogs would attack the smaller dogs as they starved to death. It wrenched my heart to hear these stories. I kept thinking that Bogar hated the sounds of war and the soldiers so much that he would try to escape. But how could he find food? I knew that, to survive, people had caught and eaten all the animals they could get. I wondered, What will be left for Bogar? Then I remembered that he was small and he would not need much food to live.
A month later, I was walking down the road about a mile from home, still hoping to find Bogar when I saw a dog that looked like Bogar. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. My heart skipped a beat and I held my breath. I hesitated to call his name, for fear it was not him and the disappointment would hurt so much.
Hesitantly, I called, “Bogar! Bogar!”
The dog stopped and looked, frozen in place. Then like a shooting star, he ran to me, jumping and licking my hands and face. It was Bogar—my sweet, wonderful Bogar!
I knelt and hugged him for a long time. What joy and relief. I thanked God for taking care of him. For the first time since we were taken away, I felt peace and hope. God did care.
The two of us hurried home as fast as our weak bodies could, and I burst through the door shouting to the family, “Bogar’s home! Bogar’s home!”
We all hugged and kissed him, then we all hugged each other, tears in everyone’s eyes. Next we gave him some of our precious little food, water and a soft, warm place to sleep. After we got over our excitement, we saw that Bogar had had a rough life while we were gone. He was thin, his coat did not shine, and it seemed that there was a haunted look in his eyes. … For the next year we had our wonderful Bogar with us, then he got sick and died and we all mourned deeply.
Read Kathy’s story and the stories of nine other Holocaust survivors in the book (from which this post is excerpted):