Category Archives: nature

Barely touching the morning star.

Until I read the article below, I didn’t know that anyone considered the Bethlehem star to be something other than a “dead astronomical body.” I copied here a rich kind of Advent food, from our recent church bulletin, a meditation on light and stars.

variable star

One of the pictures I found was of a “variable star,” which I had also not heard of before. That name got me thinking about how constant our Light of the World is by contrast, and never waning.

Though the stars we see in our skies are only dead shadows of the living realities, they too have their glory, which is only faintly conveyed by these pictures, though they do decorate this post nicely. We often hear that God is the True Light; this is not theoretical or a mere intellectual fact. Fr. Artemy exhorts us to know a taste of that Reality even in this life, in prayer:

The closer we come to the end of the [Nativity] fast, the brighter the wondrous Bethlehem star is enkindled above our heads, proclaiming to the Magi the time of the Infant’s birth, and the place where He lay…The rays of this rational star (according to the holy fathers, this star was actually an angelic power, and not a dead astronomical body) illumine with their incorruptible, unfading light the twilight in the Cave — the rib cage encasing each of our hearts…

The rays of this star bring the soul, which has but scarcely touched it, to inexplicable trembling and joy, the likes of which we shall not find here on this sinful world with its sensuous, quickly passing pleasures, disappearing like smoke.

I am…the bright and morning star (Rev. 22:16), testifies the Lord. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give…the morning star. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Revelations 2:26, 28-29).

Ye do well, repeats the Apostle Peter, that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). The morning star is hidden prayer of the heart! It is made not with lips or fingers, but with the mind and heart; it turns all of man’s existence to the Lord, and places the disciple before the most radiant face of his Teacher…

Illumined by the unwaning light of the Nativity star, let us pass…under the canopy of the very cave in Bethlehem…There He is, the Angel of Great Counsel, the King of the world, the Father of the age to come, as the “Old Testament Evangelist,” the Holy Prophet Isaiah, exclaimed in prophetic, sober inebriation. There He is, the Yearning of the nations, the Expectation of all peoples, the Great Light that has come into the world to enlighten those sitting in darkness! Already celebrating the Forefeast of the Nativity night that is bright as day, let us sing…with the whole Church, “Christ is born, give ye glory…Christ is on earth, let us be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the earth…” [Nativity hymn].

–Father Artemy Vladimirov

 

Tears in my paint box.

As I walked this morning, I took pictures of beautiful things, and mused.

As I thought about Christmas season heartache, I couldn’t  remember any teary sessions last Christmas over missing my husband. I was too busy navigating airports, interacting with family, dealing with extreme temperatures low and then high, ending the season in India of all places.

But it’s true what they say, that the holidays are the hardest. And now I’m back at it, though even what is hardest gets a little easier all the time. I suppose it helps that my life has been awfully busy again this December, though with an entirely different set of challenges that consume my attention and distract me from dwelling on things I can’t have. The challenges are much less than most people I know have to deal with! They can be grouped under two categories: 1) Being a single homeowner and 2) Getting older.

It’s also true, that I am creating my new life. At first, when I read that phrase in Fr. Alexis Trader‘s series on grief, which had providentially been written in time for my initial bereavement, I questioned it from my philosophical viewpoint. We can view our existence primarily as a given, as in, each breath that we breathe is a gift from God; our DNA is what it is, the home that nurtured us was not a result of our efforts. Or we can go with the modern idea that life is what we make it, we create our own reality.

But now we’re not  talking about a philosophical stance; rather, it is each person standing with their heart before God in humility and thanksgiving. Every decision I make, at every fork in the road every moment of the day, is like choosing to dip my paintbrush in one color or another, to apply the paint in a unique way to the canvas that is my life. This imperative to choose is also a gift from God, an aspect of our humanity that can’t be avoided. The first choice to be made is whether to accept our life from God and thank Him for it.

As to the opportunities, limitations, paints allotted, it appears that some of us have only a few colors to choose from, while others seem to have thousands. And the palette changes daily. This was always true; I don’t know if something about the process changed when I became a widow, or if I have only needed to keep reminding myself of it to be assured that something creative is still going on.

Do I have legs? A home and a bank account? An idea, an urge, health, or pain? Did I sleep well, or am I suffering from foggy brain because of sleep deprivation? I can “paint” a prayer with everything, and that is the most divine creation; most days I make some kind of outward “picture” as well that is more or less satisfying. It’s not profitable to spend much time looking at the painting, but rather to keep the given tools in hand and keep working.

Walking in the fog this  morning, I was trying to get through the Lord’s Prayer without my thoughts flying off in a hundred directions. I must have started over five times and was as far as “Give us this day our daily bread,” when I was brought up sharp by a sensation, and all my thoughts vanished. I stopped and looked around, to see where the scent was coming from, and there was the juniper hedge along the sidewalk, pouring out its essence via every drop of drizzle.

Daily bread. If the sky is bread for the eyes, this intense juniper aroma, rich with memories of walks with my grandma, is certainly bread for my nose, and it goes right to my soul. I closed my eyes and stood next to the juniper long enough to take several deep breaths, and then continued on my way, and the fog continued to turn into something thicker and wetter. My flannel shirt was all fuzzy-misty, and water trickled down my face.

As I walked I kept thinking about my grandma, whose husband died when she was over 80 years old. She immediately sold the house that they had shared for 40 years, which everyone thought was hasty. The apartment she moved to was not smaller, and she still had three floors of stairs to climb, until she was over 100. But she could call the landlord about problems instead of calling the handyman directly. I’m not sure that was an improvement.

But wait — Didn’t that juniper smell get painted directly by God on to my life’s canvas? It was given as a completely whole and splendid thing; I contributed nothing.

And while I began this preachy ramble in the morning, by evening I could not understand the metaphor that seemed clear at noon, because I was feeling so achingly the absence of my husband. It was as though my tears spilled all over my paintbox and my vision was muddied. But I had planned to go to church, and I went. My spiritual father said that if I weren’t emotional during this season, he would worry that my heart had hardened to a stone. At times, my grief is the only color available.

When I came out of church, the full (solstice) moon was still rising. I drove down the road toward home and away from other lights, and the moon straight ahead of me became huge and clear and bright. It took my breath away, and as Christmas carols automatically started playing over my Bluetooth, I felt that the moon was also singing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Before I reached my house the Kingston Trio were singing, “All Through the Night,” which they had made into a Christmas carol by tweaking a couple of lines. If you’d like to hear the music, sung in the original Welsh, this is a nice rendition. One version I found online has a verse that expressed how I was feeling this evening:

Love, to thee my thoughts are turning
All through the night
All for thee my heart is yearning,
All through the night.
Though sad fate our lives may sever
Parting will not last forever,
There’s a hope that leaves me never,
All through the night.

But for the first time ever I heard the traditional two verses of the lullaby not as something to sing to my child, but as God singing to me, and though the moon had gone behind a cloud, I knew that it, too, had been painted on my canvas.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.

Now that the days are growing…

Do you know that the Pre-Festal Hymns begin on the twentieth of December? light palm & xmas tree sf 2012 - CopyThe Church has also wisely set the last day in which the night grows longer. On the twenty-first of the month the day begins to grow longer. The nights and noetic darknesses leave while light and days increase. Let us ask God to take away from us the darkness of our hearts now that the days are growing and they become completely illumined, now that the time of the year is changing. The Church announces this to us with the rising of the true light, the Sun of our souls.

-Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra

He paints in fairy lines.

JACK FROST

The door was shut, as doors should be,
Before you went to bed last night;
Yet Jack Frost has got in, you see,
And left your window silver white.

He must have waited till you slept;
And not a single word he spoke,
But penciled o’er the panes and crept
Away again before you woke.

And now you cannot see the hills
Nor fields that stretch beyond the lane;
But there are fairer things than these
His fingers traced on every pane.

Rocks and castles towering high;
Hills and dales, and streams and fields;
And knights in armor riding by,
With nodding plumes and shining shields.

And here are little boats, and there
Big ships with sails spread to the breeze;
And yonder, palm trees waving fair
On islands set in silver seas,

And butterflies with gauzy wings;
And herds of cows and flocks of sheep;
And fruit and flowers and all the things
You see when you are sound asleep.

For, creeping softly underneath
The door when all the lights are out,
Jack Frost takes every breath you breathe,
And knows the things you think about.

He paints them on the window-pane
In fairy lines with frozen steam;
And when you wake you see again
The lovely things you saw in dream.

~ Gabriel Setoun (1861-1930)