Olive Trees

I drove over the hills yesterday to be with friends for the afternoon. It was the most glorious day for it; the pastures were green as green, with sheep or black cows grazing, or just full of mustard at its peak of brightness. Little yellow-green leaves decorated some of the oaks, and in the middle of a mixed forest of oak and bay I came upon this venerable and silent grove of olives.

The moral is short — one word.

“Turn your cares into prayers and you will change ice to flowing water.”

This is my paraphrase of a quote from St. Nikolai that we heard in church this morning. His feast day is March 18. St. Nikolai Velimiroviç was born in Serbia in 1880. He graduated from seminary in Belgrade in 1905, and then got two doctorate degrees. The doctoral thesis in theology was presented in German; his thesis in philosophy was prepared at Oxford and defended in Geneva, in French. I am amazed at the academic intensity represented by these facts.

At about the same time he was also entering a monastery and advancing from monk to priest to archimandrite, and becoming a professor at St. Sava Seminary in Belgrade. St. Nikolai was ordained Bishop of Žiča in Serbia in 1919. The Nazis arrested him in 1941 and he was confined and possibly tortured until the end of the war, when he came to the United States and taught at Orthodox seminaries. He has often been referred to as Serbia’s “New Chrysostom.”

Many times I have quoted from his Prologue of Ohrid, but today I offer in his honor a portion of one of his Prayers by the Lake (Lake Ohrid). This is from Number 13:

Stories are long, too long; the moral is short — one word. You are that word, O Word of God. You are the moral of all stories.

What the stars write across heaven, the grass whispers on earth. What the water gurgles in the sea, fire rumbles beneath the sea. What an angel says with his eyes, the imam shouts from his minaret. What the past has said and fled, the present is saying and fleeing.

There is one essence for all things; there is one moral for all stories. Things are tales of heaven. You are the meaning of all tales. Stories are Your length and breadth. You are the brevity of all stories. You are a nugget of gold in a knoll of stone.

When I say Your name, I have said everything and more than everything….

Lake Ohrid in Macedonia

Boundaries and Ages

A few weeks ago I tagged these two poems from the Japanese, to read again. Just now I notice that the poets were contemporaries of each other, and that in both poems there is the needed attention to the poet’s experience, but also reference to political or historic settings. Even though I probably miss many poetic allusions and metaphors because of my unfamiliarity with the realm of Japanese literature, I find these more interesting and thought-provoking than the more minimalist haiku.

The writers who create and give us their creations are also fascinating to me. It’s nice to be able to read a bit of biography, but you know that they are telling the most important things in their poetry. Both here are considered haiku poets. Takami was arrested for Marxist writings and communist activities while at university, but later recanted, and years later became director of the Japanese Literature Patriotic Association. In addition to his poetry he published various memoirs including 3000 pages of wartime diaries.

The minor planet Kusatao was named for Kusatao Nakamura in 1994.

 

AT THE BOUNDARY of LIFE and DEATH

At the boundary of life and death
what exists I wonder?
For instance, concerning the boundary of county and country,
during the war, on the border of Thailand and Burma,
although I saw it when I crossed through the jungle,
nothing unusual was found in that place.
There was nothing like a boundary line drawn.
Also at sea when passing directly over the equator
nothing special like a beacon mark was visible.
No, at that place was the wonderful dark blue sea.
On the Thailand-Burma border was a wonderful sky.
On the life-death boundary too might there not be something hung like a wonderful rainbow,
even though my surroundings
and also my self
were a devastated jungle?

-Jun Takami (1907-1965)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing in autumn,
being inside
one huge and deep blue disk.

In the baby carriage,
onto the joggled apple
continuing to hold.

Falling snow!
The Meiji period, far
away it has gone.

Greenness everywhere
and inside it my own child’s
teeth starting to grow out.

-Kusatao Nakamura (1901-1983)

 

(The ocean painting is detail from a print by Hiroshige, “The Whirlpools of Awa.”)

In the depths of your being.

During Lent our women’s book club at church is reading Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Merely reading the words of this 20th-century saint as he tells about his life is “wounding” me with his own love, which of course flows from God Himself through that human life that received much grace.

Yesterday was sunny and the biting winds had calmed. When I went out to cut some asparagus and then to look more closely at the plum blossoms, the orange chair invited me to sit down; immediately the ergonomics of the Adirondack design and the enclosed spot between the rosemary and the fava beans began to apply a balm to my body and soul, and before my face started to burn I went back to the house to get my book and sun hat.

This is what the view was like, from my cozy corner:

Did you notice that black chair by the rosemary above? I actually got too hot after a while and moved to that one. Then I was closer to the tray bird feeder and I took this picture; it was almost as hard for me to see the birds as they are to see in this shot, everything was so sunny bright.

I alternated between being lost in the saint’s tale of his youth in Greece, and being conscious of the deliciousness of my situation and how it seemed to be the perfect lenten activity and food for the soul that had been given to me. Truly, if it were not Lent I no doubt would be busy about more “useful” work. But here I was, enjoying the first days of springtime, watching the bees — the first sighted this year — working the rosemary.

And then, what was that –?  on my hat, making a rustling noise and scratching feeling through the weave. I raised my hand, and a bird flew off into the redwood tree. I could see his profile up there, smaller than a dove but larger than a finch… and then he was right back down to the feeder, and he was a sparrow. Did he land on me because he didn’t recognize me as a human, or because he did recognize me as the lady who fills the feeders?

In the front garden the pale yellow California poppies have sprouted all over the place, and one bloom opened. This picture of plum flowers shows my bedroom window up above.

As my bones warmed from the solar heat, my heart soaked up joy from Father Porphyrios. There is so much I want to share with you about him, but for now I’ll just offer this quote from the second part of the book, which collects some of his teachings. Then I need to get out of this cold corner of my house and into the sunshine again.

“Man seeks joy and happiness in heaven. He seeks what is eternal far from everyone and everything. He seeks to find joy in God. God is a mystery. He is silence. He is infinite. He is everything. Everyone possesses this inclination of the soul for heaven. All people seek something heavenly. All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously.

“Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].”

–St. Porphyrios

[I’m sorry to give you the same quote that I see I posted before, when there are so many other good ones! Well, they will come, God willing.]