f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 08/01/2012 - 09/01/2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer 2012 (May 2011) Fragrant Memories

(Being at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference in Texas this week, I am using a column from Spring of 2011 that will appear in my book due out in 2013.)

Fragrant Memories 

Each spring when the air is rich with fragrance I am taken back to days of wonder when I ambled alone through my childhood neighborhood just outside Detroit. As a youth I was fascinated by the natural world. Even in an environment of black-top and tar, nature still persisted.
It seemed every block I would walk down had at least one lilac bush in lavender, white or dark reddish-purple. Most of the mothers in the neighborhood with this shrub in their yard would have a mason jar spilling over with cut blooms on the kitchen table, perfuming the house.
On the way to school I remember one yard along Martin Road had a lovely and strongly perfumed white flowering shrub, which as an adult I learned was a Viburnum ‘burkwoodii’. It flowered just before the lilacs and its scent was so strong in the mornings that I could enjoy it from several blocks away. I’m sure the elderly woman who lived there thought it strange that I, a little girl, would keep walking back and forth in front of her house, lifting my arms like a slow moving bird so I could breathe deeper the sweet scent of spring.
There are many scents that evoke childhood moments of delight. There was the heady odor from wasteland ponds coming back to life, and I knew that soon pollywogs would be skimming the edges of the murky water.  There was the tickling smell of grass being mowed and the rich musty scent of blackcurrant bushes with yellow flowers that mimicked forsythias. With my head tipped back I would often follow my nose, deeply drawing in a scent as I tried to find its source.
Other smells stir my heart. The smell of fresh dill still carries me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and when we would pickle hot dilled green tomatoes. I’m always mindful to plant this herb in with my perennials. Each time I rub against it I think of my grandmother, after whom I am named, and who nurtured my love of gardening. She and I would also make hundreds of jars of jellies and jams for Christmas gifting. The aroma from black raspberries reducing for jelly would cling to my clothes for hours after we had finished waxing the jars.
There are two distinct fragrances that stir my memory of being loved. On my grandmother’s dresser there was always a round pink box of Chantilly dusting powder. I have a small piece of cloth salvaged from her favorite sun dress, cut up for quilting, which rests in a memory box. That little piece of material still carries her delicate fragrance and lightens my heart each time I open the lid. The other memory is of her husband, my grandfather whom we called Buddy. He was a barrel-chested Irishman with an unflappable joy and love affair with life. He would nab and lift me by my waist, calling out “It’s the Margaret Rose!” as I squealed and giggled, being hugged close to his neck and deeply inhaling his Old Spice cologne.
Scent is a wondrous thing, a curious gift from God. He gave us many gifts through which to find joy and pleasure. The sense of smell is only one, but it was the first of my senses that I realized as a child brought me delight independent of the city around me. Scent cannot be dreamed or imagined. It startles us into the present and in the same moment can carry us adrift into memories of heaven on earth.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer 2012 LBBs

Seeking Food

The little birds chirp and titter, vibrating their wings in greeting to one another and flutter about unafraid of human presence. Many people call the multitude of sparrows LBBs, short for little brown birds. Where I live we have three different kinds and they are everywhere; in my yard, at the feeder, hopping along sidewalks and in shopping center parking lots.
Charlie Harper
City dwelling LBBs are very resourceful when it comes to finding food. They’ll hop about three feet from where you sit and dart in to grab even the smallest morsel dropped from your lunch.  I have watched them from my car as I waited for fast food service, and laughed at their over-burdened flight after nabbing a discarded French fry longer than their little body.
I am impressed by the cleverness of the LBBs to find food in an area crowded with buildings and covered with cement. One afternoon while walking across the parking lot of a mall, I stopped and delightedly watched a bizarre sight of several LBBs hanging from the grille of a dirty Dodge Ram truck. They were eating dead bugs from the grille! By the number of birds hopping beneath the bumper, impatiently waiting their turn, it was obviously a feast.
The next week at a parking lot to a grocery store, I see near the cart corral colorful patches of what looks to be crushed chalk with a few of these little birds pecking at it. I thought it odd and rather sad that the LBBs would be so hungry that they would try to eat chalk. That was until I entered through the sliding glass doors to the store and saw on a display rounder mini sugar cookies died vibrant primary colors.
The little brown birds were able to seek nourishment skillfully and promptly no matter how difficult or challenging their situation. They were cautious and unafraid to look for food in unfamiliar places. Am I at least as courageous as these sparrows in seeking spiritual food?
There are times in all of our lives when we find ourselves surrounded by a world that seems devoid of love, the essential food for our heart and soul. But are we willing to explore new means of nourishment? Are we open to seeking God in unexplored ways? It is easy to become discouraged in times of drought, when all the usual means of sustenance seem to have dried up. I have often sought and received heavenly nourishment through reading scripture, praying the rosary, attending Adoration and Mass. And have also experienced times when I perceived that these were not enough.
When my heart hungers for God beyond the solitude of prayer, I am often too anxious and shy to move into the world and seek His manna. I become pigeon-hearted and scurry away from any unfamiliar movement no matter how tempting the food.
Maybe I need to pray to be like those little brown birds; courage to seek, cautious in trying, and persistent in my quest to find what will nourish and give me strength for the day.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer 2012 Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets

From childhood and for most of my life I had been a morning person. Rising early I would soon be out the door to greet the day. Whether going to a job, tending the gardens or walking my dogs I was a bundle of energy. Not so true anymore. The youthful Suzie-Sunshine no longer lives in this body, being replaced by the more determined Little Switch Engine pulling a load uphill. I need time to get myself moving physically and mentally.
I had an appointment on this particular day and it took effort to rise early. On the road, the morning drive was familiar; four miles past farms, misty swamps and a river, to the stop at the four corners, turn south and straight on into the breaking dawn. I was still feeling pretty sluggish; the coffee’s caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet.  My usual morning routine was hampered and I felt off balance attempting to progress into a day started without prayers. With energy level low and bones stiff and aching, I was on automatic pilot and hoping that there would be no need for a sudden cognitive response.
Halfway to town, just before a subdivision are wetlands that I have passed hundreds of times in the past twenty-some years. The marshy area has a clearing next to the road where a small pond exists.  Because of its proximity to traffic and people it is rare to find more than a couple of ducks or geese floating about. Approaching this pond and still at a distance I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at on the water. Whatever it was was white, unmoving and completely the wrong shape for swans. Had someone planted white plastic flamingos as a joke?
As I got closer I was startled by what I was seeing standing there. In the crisp morning sun surrounded by a thin rising mist was a flock of Great Egrets, glowing a startling white against the blackish-green of the water. I felt a surge of immense delight at the vision of these fifty-some birds as still as statues, yellow bills perfectly horizontal to the water. I came to a stop (grateful there was no one behind me) and kept whispering “Oh my God, oh my God…” as I stared at the amazing sight.
It is rare that these birds deviate this far north and west of their summer grounds. With the excessive heat this summer, they apparently thought it warm enough to migrate into our area.
After I had soaked in their beauty, and realizing that several cars had pulled around, I continued on to town. I felt exhilarated from the experience; a gift of living and breathing art at the side of a black-topped two lane road.
God does this in our lives. When we least expect it, and are wholly unprepared, He whispers…and sometimes shouts…Here! I AM. We are often startled by His nearness when we recognize His hand. Bumbling in amazement and at a loss for words we experience goose bumps three layers deep. And I think God delights in His delighting us, smiling at our surprise.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Drought

The Trees or the Well 

                It’s a hard question for gardeners when there is a severe drought: Do the trees get watered or the well be saved? Both seem essential to life.
                The news report said that the drought in my area mimicked the intensity and duration of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s. It was crippling. Driving the back roads of surrounding counties I saw the crops fail on the family farms of Hannewald, Sweet, and Katz. Their fields of soy and corn are stunted, curled and dull. I pass by dark black holes that use to be their irrigation ponds, now lined with a cracked layer of dried mud. This insidious disaster is stealing their livelihood, leaving nothing but the violation of loss and hopelessness.
                I noticed the other day the rigidness of the corn stalks. Their hard and desiccated leaves are no longer a supple green, but dull silver and only a day or two away from turning dark tan. They looked pained as their leaves roll tightly in upon themselves, pointing toward the heavens, a congregation begging in prayer. The final act of violence by this vandal of summer was to lay low the stalks. A stiff breeze blew hot at 104 degrees, and the stalks unable to stand against the searing wind fell to the ground one against the other like dominoes.
                The trees are no less devastated; their suffering is just less obvious. The tips of limbs are flaccid, and hanging from them are dull limp leaves curling in. Towards the interior of the canopy are shards of vivid red and yellow leaves clinging uselessly by dried-out stems.
                Massive oak trees that were seedlings after the last 100 Year Drought are now in decline. Other beautiful mature trees that gave us shelter, shade and food are also on a slow march towards death. My bright yellow honeylocust, the aged apple tree, the crabapple and serviceberry—all in need of water. They are like dear friends, who all at once, are stricken by the same disaster. So many in need, can I not at least save one?
                Returning home after morning Mass I notice the homes of other parishioners with yards and gardens as devastated as mine. Before I reach the turn onto my road I see the homes of two families whose shallow wells have run dry. Equipment trucks are parked on what use to be green lawns. With attached derricks rotated and posted thirty feet high, the rotary drill cuts through rocks and despair. My heart aches for these not-so-distant neighbors.
                My heart also cries for my trees, for my neighbor’s woodlot behind the fence, for the stately evergreens at the retreat center that have sheltered four generations of souls into spiritual development. It is an obvious but disconcerting choice of who lives from what water remains underground. It is hard for a gardener to resign oneself to the loss of a mature tree whether from disease or drought.
The right choice may be to conserve water for families and to surrender one’s own wants for their well-being. It doesn’t make the decision any easier. Choosing what is right is not always so obvious, but it is easy to spot absolute truth, wanting what is best for another.
Like the corn stalks, I too will raise my arms in supplication for rain. I will pray not only for my neighbors’ wells, but also for our trees.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Summer 2012 Wider Focus

Wider Focus
Depression is a place where hopelessness prevails, where a deep sadness can’t be shaken. People feel despondent, inadequate, lack energy and have difficulty maintaining concentration or interest in life. There are a lot of reasons people struggle with this darkness; a traumatic event in the past, inability to manage oneself in a present situation, or chemical imbalances brought on by stress. Severe depression can create a sense that there is no way out, a narrowing of options, a profound and deep despair. It is grounded in a sense of purposelessness.
Like a lot of other people, I had struggled with depression. My world became dark and narrowed. I doubted myself and in doubting, my faith began to slip away. I had been told that to despair is to turn your back on God. I was despairing and couldn’t see My Lord. The storm of depression circled like a contracting funnel cloud, soon to be a tornado. 
Initially I didn’t recognize the warning signs. My vision was myopic and the focus intense on the “me” getting out of bed, getting through work, breathing. On my own I was not able to find what kept me from the peace I needed.  Finally I sought a therapist, one who shared the same religion and who I hoped would reignite my faith.
We had worked together for a while and on this day our session was challenging and seemed particularly long. A lot was covered and attempts were made to incorporate concepts from previous appointments. I was discouraged and believed I had lost momentum in the healing process. I felt drained, more so than usual, and was eager to return home.
                It was a warm August day and the heat seemed as oppressive as my thoughts. It took effort, but I decided to go outside and wander about the gardens. Focusing on spent flowers, I deadheaded by hand as I walked, tossing the exhausted seed heads to the ground.
                I heard a clear sharp trilling and looked up.     I didn’t recognize the high sweet melody of the bird that was on the other side of the yard.  I scanned the area from where I thought the sound had come.
The bird sent out another set of notes from the direction of the lilac bushes. My eyes kept trying to pin point where the little bird was, but I simply could not see it. Again it trilled its lovely song and again I scanned the lilac, to no avail. I was focusing intensely in one spot, sure the bird was there.
Then it came to me—on a lot of different levels—widen my field of vision and I will see movement. I realized how this applied to today’s therapy. From the first session and on, there were incremental advancements toward healing. I did not recognize the progression because I was only concentrating on the issues.
I also saw that this was true with my faith. My limited perspective was met by God’s panoramic view. Once I stop trying to focus in on one small area, a snapshot in time, then I saw the movement of God in my life and the movement of my life toward God.
I took a slow deep breath, calmly stood up straight and relaxed my focus. As my field of view widened to encompass what was in front of me, sure enough, movement became apparent.