On Pentecost, trees clap in church.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the human will to live, and how it is a gift of God, and not a mere “survival instinct,” as scientific materialists might term it. We do not bring ourselves into being, and we can’t keep ourselves alive; and yet, most of the time we try to survive. It’s because God has given us LIFE. I also think about trees most days 🙂 so these words of Fr. Stephen Freeman are a joy to me, as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost.

I had fun searching for photos of trees in church. The first photo I believe is from the author’s own parish church in Tennessee. The snippets below, which were included in our church bulletin this week, are from his blog post several years ago on Pentecost and Creation.

PENTECOST and CREATION

There is something about life, at least in our earthly experience, that is inexorable. Any individual case of life may be fragile, but life itself endures. In the Genesis account we are told that God blessed this planet and said:

Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:11-12 NKJ)

The Feast of Pentecost…focuses as much on the Holy Spirit’s work in Creation as it does on the Spirit’s work in the Church. The Church is decorated in green. In Russian tradition, branches of birch are brought into the Church; fresh green grass is placed on the floor; flowers are everywhere. In Soviet times a secular version of the festival remained, called the Day of Trees.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church is not something separate from Creation—nor are the trees a distraction from the Church. They are, together, a proper reminder of the role God’s Spirit plays always, everywhere. He is the “Lord and Giver of Life.” Just as the Spirit moved over the face of the waters in the beginning of creation, so He moves over the face of all things at all times, bringing forth life and all good things.

Though I am frequently assaulted with bouts of pessimism, despairing over various aspects of our distorted civilization, the truth is that like the planet itself, civilization with its drive for beauty and order seem inexorable. The history of humanity is not the story of a fall from a great civilization with increasing instances of barbarism and cave dwelling. Great civilizations have risen and fallen, but civilizations continue to occur. Some may already have begun in the ruins that surround us now. The story told in Scripture is not the story of collapse and decay. There are certainly dire warnings of terrible trials and great catastrophes. But these things do not reveal the mystery of God’s will. These things are cracks in the pavement while life continues to burst forth:

God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him (Ephesians 1:9-10).

What appeared as tongues of flame upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost was a manifestation of this Divine Purpose at work. With the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the Holy Spirit filled the room. The fullness of the Church burst into the streets proclaiming the Gospel in a multitude of languages. Being birthed in Jerusalem was the New Jerusalem, where there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Instead there is the fullness that fills all things bringing forth all things in one—in the One Christ Himself. The voice of Pentecost is the voice of creation’s groans being transformed into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” Stones cry out, trees clap their hands and the song of creation rejoices in the One Christ.

—Fr. Stephen Freeman

Not random but various.

Not infrequently the feeling of unreality comes upon me: It doesn’t compute that I am living a full life without my husband. He has not lent his strength to the shovel, or played music while I made dinner, or given me an opinion about one single thing. For three years. Really?? My mind does its best to go along with my body as it sleeps alone, and wakes up alone, walks alone, and makes always unilateral decisions. But occasionally it says, “Wait a minute! I’m confused… Who are we…? I don’t like change!”

I think that’s part of the reason I act as though every little thing I think and do must be documented here or in my bullet journal, or my garden journal, or a letter to someone. I am watching myself, noticing that this strange woman does get up every day so far, and worships, and comes up with new ideas for the garden; she has friends who act as though she is as normal a person as can be.

Of course I mostly go with that assessment without thinking about it. My, do I have friends! They are the greatest. Since Mr. and Mrs. Bread gave me a new Chapel Birdfeeder for my birthday, I also have blue jays enjoying my garden like never before.

Book friends! Several women readers at church have started a reading group. They read Jane Eyre first, but I didn’t join their ranks until this spring when they are giving themselves six weeks to read Work by Louisa May Alcott, a book I’d never heard of. How can I even finish Middlemarch and write about it, much less finish Work? It does seem that I am testing the limits of this new life I am creating, and I act at times like a silly crazy woman. Would I rather spend time on Work or housework? I don’t even know!

My friend “Mr. Greenjeans” and his wife gave me a tour of their garden the other day, and quiche afterward. He is an encyclopedia of plants and loves to experiment with exotic seeds in his greenhouse. This year he has potato towers that have an upper storey that will be for melons!

I was interested in his mystery tree, which he thinks sprouted from one of the seeds in a packet that was a South American mixture. I was thinking “Africa” when I went home and searched online for some tree from that part of the world that had these green-tipped narrow trumpet flowers, and the same kind of leaves. I couldn’t find anything. (My friend Father C. in Kenya said they have this tree, but he doesn’t know the name, and his pictures didn’t look very similar.)

Soon Mrs. Greenjeans clarified that the source was likely South America, not Africa.

Update: Lucky for me Anna in Mexico saw my post and in her comment below she identified it as nicotiana glauca or Tree Tobacco, originating in Argentina.

My farmer friend has also been successful in growing several seedling trees of Red Mahogany Eucalyptus, which makes great lumber, and the Australian Tea Tree, which puts on a gorgeous display of white blooms, and from which he explained how I could make tea tree oil, if I would accept one of the trees he was offering me. But I took home a lovely columbine instead, which I know can find a small place in my garden.

Mr. Greenjeans also makes dough at least half the time for our Communion bread baking teams at church. For some months I have tried to pick tiny pink specks out of the dough as I am rolling it; today I heard that they are from Himalayan salt that he uses! So now I am happy to see them.

I was able to do all these kneading-rolling-cutting things because my sprained finger is finally better! Here is our team leader putting some prosphora into the oven this morning:

Team Leader and my friend (Nun) Mother S. have invited me to go walking or hiking a few times lately. Once we went to the same park I last visited the day of Jamie’s birth, the day after my husband’s funeral! Because of a downed tree blocking the trail …

 

… we weren’t able to take the shady route by the creek, and the sun was hot, so I lent Mother S. my hat.

Not as many wildflowers caught our attention in May as three years ago in March, but I did find a few.

Back home in my garden, the red poppies have opened, later than the pale yellow by a month. My skirt blew into the frame for contrast.

 

The last time I walked by the creek – at least a week ago! – I cut these roses, which because of the way they naturally fall over a fence are curved all funny and do not work very well in a vase, unless you put them on the top of the hutch the way I did, so that they hang down above my head as I sit here at the computer. Sweet things!

Last weekend son Soldier and his family were here, which made for a splendid couple of days. Liam is nearly six years old. He reads everything, and I saw him poring over a few books from my shelf…. That was a new thing, and a little sad, because he never asked me to read to him, but he did help me cut up my snowball clippings. He is good with the loppers or rose pruners.

P1000485Tomorrow I’m showing one elderly lady from church my India pictures. The next day I’m visiting my friend E. who is 102 now and who gave me the knitting needles that her mother-in-law gave her when she got married! This weekend my friend O. has engaged me to feed his cat Felafel while he is on a trip, and give him thyroid pills in tasty pill pouches. I met Felafel tonight and he is very friendly and agreeable.

For Soul Saturday I’ll make a koliva because my goddaughter Kathie’s 3-year memorial is near. And Holy Spirit Day, the day after Pentecost, is the same as Memorial Day this year; we have a prayer service at a cemetery. It’s quite a week, busy with various good things. And this is really me!

Snowball and I have a glorious history.

While I was hiding my splotchy face from public, I pruned my snowball bush. This tree is one of only two plants that remain on the property from when we bought our house in 1990. I enjoyed doing a sort of pictorial historical study as part of composing this post, and will share some pictures from the last ten years, for my own nostalgic reference, I suppose.

This viburnum had not been dealt with thoroughly for a long time! As I squeezed between it and the fence, and maneuvered my loppers between the branches here and there, I recalled similar intimate springtime engagements through the years. We have a long history, Snowball and I, of me trimming and grooming, and him responding ten months later by adorning my garden with a glorious display. I’ve even been given flowers with which to decorate graves at appropriate times.

It took several hours over two days to do a thorough job of thinning the branches evenly, and shortening the whole enough that I can manage it more easily in the future. Now it’s so thin it was hard to get a good picture. I must have removed 80% of the plant mass; the piles of clippings all over the place attest to that. But I bet the flowers will be bigger next year!

I think Alejandro my sometimes landscaper/garden worker will come soon to remove the offending spurge after all, and he should have time to help me clean up the prunings. I don’t mind doing that, either, but I also have books to read and meals to cook and walks to take… I’m satisfied that I was able to do the pruning itself, in a way I don’t think anyone but me has ever done it in the past or would be willing to do it ever. I count myself the most blessed of women to have time and strength, and a garden to work in, where in the back  corner lives an enduring snowball bush!

To the oar your strength bringing.

When I was in India I browsed through the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, because it would have been so natural and fitting to share from this favorite literary man of that nation. I did not find anything that resonated with me then, but just today I stumbled on this. I don’t know if the swelling waves are felt in the original; certainly the translator has done a good work in any case.

FROM JOY’S LOVELIEST OCEAN

From joy’s loveliest ocean
there’s a flood springing.
Embark all, and set to –
to the oar your strength bringing.
No matter its burden,
our boat sorrow-laden
(if death comes, so let it)
moves through the waves winging.
From joy’s loveliest ocean

there’s a flood springing.

Who cries from behind us
of doubt or of danger?
Who harps on their fear now,
where fear is no stranger?
What curse, or star’s showing
has frowned on our going?
Hoist a sail to the wind now
and we’ll move on singing.
From joy’s loveliest ocean
there’s a flood springing.

– Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941 – translated by Joe Winter