“Beginning [this week], Orthodox Christians abstain from meat; has it any meaning apart from the ascetic, the disciplinary? Yes, it has, I think. There is a frightening passage in the ninth chapter of Genesis. After the flood, when mankind has become even weaker than before, less rooted in God, more tragically alone, more tragically dependent upon the created because it has lost communion with the uncreated, God says to Noah and his people:
“‘From now on all living creatures are delivered unto you as food; they will be your meat, and you will be their terror….’ That is the relationship which human sin, the loss of God in our lives, has established between us and all the created world, but particularly, in a particularly painful, monstrous way with the animal world. And our abstention from meat in the time of Lent is our act of recognition; it is also — oh, to such a small extent! — an act of reparation. We are the terror of the created world, we are those who destroy it, we are those who mar and pollute it, yet we are called originally to be its guide into eternity, into God’s glory, into the perfect beauty which God has intended for it.
“We were called to makeof this world of ours God’s own world, God’s own Kingdom — in the sense that it is His family, the place where He lives among His creatures, and where the creatures of God can rejoice in Him and in one another. Let us therefore, to the extent to which we are faithful to the call of the Church, remember that apart from being an act by which we try to free ourselves from slavery to the material world, our fasting is an act of recognition of our sin against the world and, however small, a real attempt to make reparation for it, bring a testimony that we understand, that we are heartbroken, and that even if we cannot live otherwise, we live with a pain and a shame, and turn to God and to the world, which we treat so atrociously, with a broken and contrite heart. Amen.”
O God, forever I turn in this hard crystal, so transparent, yet I can find no way out. Lord, deliver me from the cramp of this water and these terrifying things I see through it. Put me back in the play of Your torrents, in Your limpid springs. Let me no longer be a little goldfish in its prison of glass, but a living spark in the gentleness of Your reeds.
– Carmen Bernos de Gasztold Prayers from the Ark Translated from the French by Rumer Godden.
Dear Mrs. Bread gave me this book “some time” ago. I did not peruse it much until this week when I was feeling the need of poetry and wondered if I had any on my mobile bookshelf here in the kitchen/family room. It was the only book of poems there currently.
When did I move it downstairs? It is a constant wonder how various boons (I did mean boons and not only books) are organized and lined up so as to come to me at the perfect time. I know Who does it, and so does Mrs. Bread, but I bet even she is surprised to find how long it took Him to arrange this one by means of my constantly re-jumbling the jumble.
If you read French you might like to read or listen to these prayer poems in that language in which they were written. Rumer Godden was very motivated to do her best, but she writes in the foreword how difficult and not completely satisfying it was. One example she gives is the use of encense in “The Old Horse”:
Ma pauvre tête encense toute la solitude de mon coeur!
…which she understands as giving “in two syllables, the double picture of the old horse’s swinging head and a censer swinging to ‘offer up’ in the Catholic sense [I might say, the Orthodox as well] all that he has left, his loneliness? The dictionary translation of encenser, which, when used of a horse, means ‘to toss,’ is too young and gay.” She ends up writing it as, “my poor head swings.”
The old horse’s prayer, and that of the butterfly and the lark and a couple of others, are especially meaningful to me among the more than two dozen animals featured. Oh, and Noah prays as well, you will be glad to know! Certain personalities or complaints resonate with my own human self. Imagining how the animal might pray does engender a feeling of fellow-creatureliness, and their heartfelt prayers teach me how to talk to God about my longings and sufferings. The animal whose prayer I will share in closing might be the one I fly – I mean pray! – with most of all; I can always relate to:
THE PRAYER OF THE BUTTERFLY
Lord! Where was I? Oh yes! This flower, this sun, thank You! Your world is beautiful! This scent of roses… Where was I? A drop of dew rolls to sparkle in a lily’s heart. I have to go… Where? I do not know! The wind has painted fancies on my wings. Fancies… Where was I? Oh yes! Lord, I had something to tell you:
…it’s magic. Or if you will, a gracious gift of God.
Wild animals frequent this space. In the past, I’d seen only the orange type of dragonflies on the property, but now, a different guy was just relaxing on a fig leaf. I walked all around the insect and talked to him, and he didn’t appear to flinch, so I stood right in front and met him face-to-face. His giant eyes did move about cartoon-like, seemingly trying to focus on my face, and his head side to side. Evidently I did not pose a threat; he remained calm, and I went back to work.
But then there was my own cabbage white hanging on a stem of lavender:
This next garden animal is so tiny, I am amazed that I even noticed him perched on a helianthemum flower that was an inch across. He came into focus once the photo was saved on my phone.
The birds are not tame. This morning, we were sitting or standing by the kitchen windows when Clunk! a smallish bird flew into the slider, and we looked up to see only a flash of vast patterned wings, as a raptor swooped under the patio arbor and with a whoosh carried off the little bird. That is the wildest event ever.