Tag Archives: flowers

Roused out of dreams.

This morning I attended the lovely Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week, cherished because it uniquely expresses the “bright sadness” of our preparations for the joy and victory of Pascha. In my parish we are able to hold these penitential services early in the morning, at a time when people might be able to attend before going to work. Even on my drive to church I felt the grace of the clear sky, a pre-dawn blue, with a friendly gibbous moon shining down on me.

 

 

Eight years ago after attending this very service I wrote a blog post about laziness, standing up straight, and what it means to be human. Whew! I feel a bit lazier of mind these days, so that I am amazed at all I learned from Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead and from just one chapter of Leon Kass’s book The Hungry Soul. I do often still remember the gist of the lesson, mostly when I am standing in church. If you don’t remember it well, I urge you to read it.

The article focuses on being physically upright, which helps us to be alert and attentive, ultimately to God and His will. It’s not hard to get distracted even in church, but at least we have in the Orthodox services many things to bring us back; for me it’s often necessary every minute or two, as I might simultaneously remember to put my shoulders back again and fix my gaze toward the altar. And especially during this week when we follow Christ to His voluntary sacrifice, our reverent attentiveness is facilitated by prostrating ourselves before God, which, though it is not upright posture, is the opposite of reclining in bed or watching whatever’s on TV.

When we are not in church, our Enemy probably has an easier time helping us to slouch away from Life, his methods so vividly portrayed in C.S. Lewis’s tale of correspondence between devils:

“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep [your target] from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do…. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say… ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’”

One theme of Holy Week comes from Christ’s cursing of the barren fig tree, in the days just preceding his crucifixion. We exhort our own souls in the hymns of Bridegroom Matins:

Why art thou idle, my wretched soul?
What useless cares cause thee to be lost in dreams?
Why busy thyself with things that pass away?
The last hour is at hand, and we shall be parted from all earthly things.
Therefore, while there is time, rouse thyself and cry:
“I have sinned before Thee, O my Savior!
Do not cut me off like the barren fig tree!”
In Thy compassion, O Christ, take pity on me who call out in fear:
Let us not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ!”

Busying myself “with things that pass away”… yes… I mean, No! I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me to rouse myself!

After the service — I’ve also done this before and made a blog post out of it! — I walked around the church gardens and took pictures, with which I decorated this page. Wherever you are in your liturgical cycle or in your heart’s journey, I pray that your souls may flower and bear fruit after the manner of these beautiful blooms.

Book Bits of India

A couple of friends asked me last fall if I were reading about India in preparation for traveling here, and I had to admit that I wasn’t. I’ve always been like this, before school field trips or grownup camping trips, unable to focus in an academic way on a future and therefore theoretical event with its vast possibilities. It seems to me to be putting the answers ahead of the questions that I haven’t yet been stimulated to ask; the likelihood that I would have wasted my time reading material that would turn out to be irrelevant to my personal experience is high.

I did try a little. First I started in on Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie, but I couldn’t get interested. And through Great Courses I listened to a professor of Indian history lecture tediously for some hours, until I couldn’t bear him any longer. Just before my trip, I began to listen to Michael Wood’s The Story of India, and he was very engaging and promising.

But once I arrived and had several days’ worth of experiences under my belt, I started reading lots of articles online, and delving into the many books on the subject of India that are in this house. I’m sure I won’t finish reading any of them, but they have all contributed to my understanding and made my stay here richer. I’ll share somewhat random quotes from a few of them in my list below.

Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower edited by McKinsey & Company     This collection of essays by dozens of writers, mostly Indian, ranges from hard-core economic and trade issues to a discussion of how India became the world leader in the game of cricket. I will probably refer to some of the articles in future posts.

Eyewitness Travel: India     “Consisting of seven swampy islands when the Portuguese acquired it in 1534, Bombay (from the Portuguese Bom Bahia or ‘Good Bay’) came to the British Crown in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II. Finding little use for the islands, the British leased them to the East India Company, which quickly realized their potential as an excellent natural harbour in the Arabian Sea. The rise of Bombay began in the late 1600’s, when the company relocated its headquarters here. By the 18th century, Bombay had become the major city and shipbuilding yard on the western coast, and by the 19th century, land reclamations had joined the islands into the narrow promontory that it is today.”

Culture Shock! India by Gitanjali Kolanad c. 1994    “You may meet with the invitation to ‘drop by anytime.’ In E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Mrs. Moore meets with a situation where she tries to pin down a specific time with a Mrs. Bhattacharya, who is gracious but vague. In the end Mrs. Moore settles with her on the coming Thursday, only to find that the Bhattacharyas are leaving for Calcutta the following morning.

“Mrs. Moore is bewildered by the exchange, but one Indian friend to whom I told the story understood the situation perfectly. She said, ‘The guest is blessing you, doing you a great honor by visiting you. How can you be so rude as to try to restrict them to a certain time?'”

The Story of India by Michael Wood (frontispiece above)     Quoting Sir William Jones: “‘The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing on both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.'”

“The question is very complex, but there is one thing on which all competent linguists agree: Jones was right — the languages are connected; and the time depth of the ‘family tree’ of the Indo-European languages precludes the idea of India as the place of origin. The Sanskrit language must have originated outside India. But how far back? And from where? Was it brought by invaders or travelers, by elites or mass migration?

“This is now one of the hottest arguments in modern India, where the battle over history that began under the British in the nineteenth century is now at the heart of politics and education because it bears on central questions of identity.”

India: The Cultural Companion by Richard Waterston     This book focuses on the history and tradition of India’s many indigenous religions.

“[It is] common to read in Hindu texts of attempts to ‘cheat’ or ‘vanquish’ time. A verse from the Mahabharata advises that ‘time “cooks” all beings’ and ‘destroys all creatures;’ when everything else sleeps ‘time is awake, time is hard to overcome.'”…. “The present age (Kali Yuga) is the last in the cycle and marks the point at which spiritual intelligence and morality have reached their lowest ebb.”

“The most striking aspect of Jain karma is that it is perceived as a material entity, like a subtle dust that clogs the soul, binding it to the body. Many lifetimes are required to rid the soul of karmic dust and so liberate it.”

Indian Nationalism: A History by Jim Masselos     I enjoyed this book for its thorough overview of the people and events by which the first stirrings of the will to independence multiplied in various places around the subcontinent and overcame the many differences of culture and religion to become a unified force strong enough to oust the British.

Indian Breads by G. Padma Vijay     This was a Christmas present from Kate and Tom. How did they know I would love the Indian flatbreads of which there are enough varieties to fill a book? Just last night we ate garlic or lassoon paratha, one of many paratha recipes that are joined by instructions for naan, chapattis, rotis and many breads you’ve probably never heard of even if you love to eat Indian food. The smoke alarm always goes off here when Kareena makes her wonderful chapattis, so when I go home I may have to limit my experiments to days of open windows.

Flowers of India by Helmut Wolf      A board book on this subject is just about my speed. I found it in a fancy shop that sells children’s clothes, and I will put it in my suitcase as one concrete item among all the intangible smidgens of knowledge I have collected from books.

Lazarus and Flowers

In the West it is the end of Good Friday as I write, but this year for us Orthodox it issymp white roses the beginning of Lazarus Saturday, when we remember an event that starts out very poignantly, with Jesus’s friends lamenting the death of their brother, and Jesus Himself weeping.

This story of a death and of friends and family sorrowing is timely in my own life right now, and of course I have done some weeping lately – but mostly I wanted to write about the flowers that have come to me, and I may be stretching a bit to connect all these thoughts together.

Flowers have been coming into our house nearly every day for more than two weeks. They are beautiful bouquets and arrangements and plants, and when the first one arrived, before my husband died and on our wedding anniversary, the circumstances made it obvious that God had sent it by the hand of an angel, to convey His love and to assure me that Hebouquet CMc 2 will be my Husband, as it says in Isaiah 54: “For your Maker is your husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel….” I cried a good deal over that bouquet, and as the florist delivery man and I became better acquainted day by day, I received every new gift with joy.

We know flowers not just as symbols, but primarily as real and exquisite works of art, lovely in themselves. I think the florist noticed the repeated name on each order and tried to make every creation a little different; we have been enjoying dozens of varieties and species of blooms, ferns, branches of shrubs, succulents in ever-changing combinations, all gorgeous.

Other friends brought their own original and unique arrangements, or sometimes just a contribution to a nosegay. Each was given a place in the house where it could minister to the crowd of family who were coming and going for a fortnight and often sleeping here (One night 15 of us slept under this roof.), but I think I was the symp mix w lupinemost nourished of anyone by all the sweet flower-love. These real and aromatic things helped to keep me aware of God’s presence as much as did the kind messages in cards, and the care packages of fruit and candy.

They also gave me a job to do. While my children took over the more difficult practical matters of phone calls, shopping, cooking and organizing a funeral, I was able to wander about tending my flowers, trimming the stems, changing the water, removing spent ones and recombining the longer-lasting blooms (Carnations win the prize for aging well.). It was and is an easy sort of gardening, and very soothing.

People have given our family flowers and other kindnesses because they love us; that makes them feel our sorrow with us. We don’t really need any more explanation than that, but there is another aspect to our sorrowing. I find what Fr. Alexander Schmemannsymp azalea says about Jesus’s tears to be helpful:

He weeps because He contemplates the miserable state of the world, created by God, and the miserable state of man, the king of creation… “It stinketh,” say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this “it stinketh” can be applied to the whole of creation. God is Life and He called the man into this Divine reality of life and “he stinketh.” At the grave of Lazarus Jesus encounters Death — the power of sin and destruction, of hatred and despair. He meets the enemy of God. And we who follow Him are now introduced into the very heart of this hour of Jesus, the hour, which He so often mentioned. The forthcoming darkness of the Cross, its necessity, its universal meaning, all this is given in the shortest verse of the Gospel — “and Jesus wept.”
….

symp tulips The power of Resurrection is not a Divine “power in itself,” but the power of love, or rather, love as power. God is Love, and it is love that creates life; it is love that weeps at the grave and it is, therefore, love that restores life… This is the meaning of these Divine tears. They are tears of love and, therefore, in them is the power of life.

Perhaps Mary and Martha didn’t have as many flowers as I do when Lazarus died. They likely did have flower essences in the ointment they would have used to prepare their brother’s body for burial.

And they had the Lord, not just weeping with them for the wrongness of death, but in His love giving the ultimate gift, His own Self. Without the knowledge of that Love and the assurance of a coming Resurrection, what flowers can give wouldn’t be very satisfying. But while my husband walked this earth he and I shared Christ’s life-creating Love, and we still do. Flowers are one more reminder of that reality to my still-weeping heart.

symp w carnation