Dyed Orchids and Dying to Self

In the west window atop the stairs are shelves for growing houseplants, one being a white phalaenopsis orchid. I am drawn to the simple elegance of its white flowers along a gently arching stem.

Shopping at Meijer’s a few days ago I walked through the florist section. On a three tiered table were white orchids that had had their stems injected with dye. Their flowers were a garish crayon blue or purple and the leaves a greenish-black. I thought they looked absurd.

A woman shuffled into the area. Her thin and sunken appearance offended me—she smelled like a hangover from a two day binge, and her clothes told the same story. With exaggerated gestures she loudly proclaimed the beauty of the blue-dyed orchids.

When she had finished her monologue I looked at her, and without care told her they were an abomination and ugly. She prepared to do battle. Perfectly annoyed, I rolled my eyes and walked away.

It wasn’t until I was half way across the store that I stopped…what had I just done? Why in the world had I thought it permissible to be so rude? So judgmental? It would have been so easy to simply nod in agreement and allowed her continued happiness over blue orchids.

It is the irregular kind of people that bring out the worst in me. There are times when my reaction is not very Christian, and immediately after I think, “Who am I?!” My heart holds one truth and my actions speak much louder of another.

It’s the problem of duplicity, which again had come to the surface while I prepared to become an oblate. What is the identity, the wholeness of my true self that I will bring to the altar on the day I profess? Who am I as a gift offered to God?

Not a very good one when I behave like that.

A lot of this questioning is about regaining an identity that was not nurtured. An identity lost in formative years when patterns of dysfunction were laid down and cemented with doubts. I remember a day when I had come early to Adoration and unexpectedly found the therapist I had been working with was also there to pray. I felt compelled to express my gratitude for his guidance, and the words I spoke surprised me. I thanked him “for healing who I am.”

Who is the “I am” that I bring to God? Before the altar, in Adoration, or in receiving communion there is a singularity to my personhood—I am fully exposed, fully vulnerable, and fully intimate with Our Lord. In the presence of an unfamiliar world much of who I am is hidden on the stage of anxiety.

My gift of self being offered to God was first his gift, whole and complete, to me. It is not for him to discover who I am, but for me to find and give back what I can of that wholeness. To be the entire person he imagined into existence is to live an honest identity.

I question myself often. Are decisions fear based or grounded in truth? Do I embrace the identity of celibacy because I have not outgrown the fear of intimacy? Is my comfort with solitude in line with my nature or an avoidance of further harm? Do I choose being anonymous in the process of bringing souls to God out of humility or because I am apprehensive to proclaim The Word? I believe my striving is in earnest and that Truth will bear out—eventually.

Today’s ugly truth is that I judged the Love-Blue-Orchids-Lady. I regret my uncharitable behavior and pray the Lord never considers me with such flippancy.



Starving to be Fed

Image morguefile.com.

I was surprised this year by the return of migratory birds. It felt like the first week in February was too early with night temperatures still running near zero. With over two feet of snow on the ground there was very little food for the birds to forage or materials for building nests.

Last week I wrote about going belly first into the snow for blue birds. To my delight the blue birds stayed in the yard and were checking out the birdhouse that, while I stood waist deep in snow, had been cleaned.

When I wrote this column, it was snowing…again…lightly…but still. Many of you know how much I love the snow, but this year the love affair is so over—I want a divorce! The weather had been hard on the song birds, too. There were days—and nights—of blizzard conditions where chickadees were under my awnings, fluffed out and holed-up.  A sweet but pitiful sight.

Red-winged blackbirds are usually the first to return to our area in the spring. They like open fields and are seen perched on teasel stalks. This week the only parts of the teasel showing above the field of snow are a few dried pods. There hasn’t been a sighting of the red-wings yet. These may be the wiser of the birds this year.

The bluebirds and robins, the poor dears, have arrived.

Robins are solitary birds and have territorial battles often. This week I saw them in a way as never seen before—in a flock.

While doing breakfast dishes, I looked out the kitchen window and was amazed to see 12-15 robins in the dwarf apple tree. The whole flock of them each had an apple and were pecking it frantically as if starved—which they probably were. The apples looked like bells as they swung back and forth with the robins rapid jabbing. The whole tree appeared to quiver.

A few apples had fallen on top of the snow and a couple of robins were sharing in the meal, unmindful of each other. Not a single bird was disturbed nor gave up their fruitful dining when joined by a squirrel.

The territorial nature of the robins was cast aside when they were desperate and their world harsh. The birds that first found food were a signal to the others who then followed. It is in times of hardship that they looked to one another for guidance and relief.

When things are tough we often come together, and by our actions point the way to what is good. When we act in community with what God has provided, all are fed. 


Blue Blue Birds

One of the delights of living a single life in silence is hearing the change in the songs of song birds. I had noticed over the past week that the black capped chickadees had started their flocking call. Their two-note whistle, after which the species in named, is the familiar chica-dee-dee-dee-dee. I had seen a few of them in the apple tree over the winter.

The blue jays often shoot by the prayer room window in their usual hurry. When they land on the branches nearby I can watch their bobbing display. They change their tune from jeering to a sweet bell-like tool-ool. At times I hear them mimic a hawk.

There are other birds of winter—cardinals, juncos, sparrows—that will fly into my yard. There are fewer since I no longer feed and water them through the winter—a disadvantage of living in an upstairs flat. Still they use the backyard trees for social gatherings and stop-overs between neighborhood food supplies.

Lately the afternoons are filled with the chirps and whistles of the non-migratory species. They are calling to form flocks for spring mating.  

I had been at my computer researching on St. Hildegard von Bingen. It is her name that I will take at my Final Oblate Profession. She was a Benedictine sister, who, like most Benedictines, was in tune with nature. I had thought her music was her only gift. I have since learned she wrote extensively, and those writings included volumes on the medicinal use of plants. Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 canonized her a saint and named her a doctor of the church. There is so much more to learn about this woman who will be my patron.

My eyes were tired from staring at the monitor, and I looked out the window. The winter sky was a clear cerulean. Just below across the drive was movement in the dormant lilac bushes. The little brown birds that hopped up and over and around branches made me think of Hildegard’s musical notes.

Then I noticed a bird on the wire running to the neighbor’s house. It was a blue bird…and there on the peak of the house was another. My heart leapt with joy! Then dismay…what the heck?! It wasn’t even the second week in February, temperatures were still running below zero at night, there was neither food nor shelter enough for them. Sometimes if winters are mild, a few of the sturdier birds might stay in the area. But this winter has been the polar opposite. I was astonished.

I left the office and looked out the bedroom window on the south side of the house. I could see the blue birds were inspecting the birdhouses. I was negligent last fall in not cleaning them—assuming early spring would be fine.

I headed downstairs, put on my boots, tucked in pant legs, zipped up my coat, and slipped on some gloves. I planned to clean out the houses. What I hadn’t planned on was traversing a snow bank nearly as tall as I was—and I stand at almost five feet. I looked over my shoulder…the blue birds were still there. I sighed and walked along the drive then out on to the road looking for a low spot in the mound.  

A section of the snow bank at the west end of the yard was, I calculated, just less than four feet. If I pushed the toe of my boots into the side, I imagined I could walk up it like stairs. I had not anticipated the summit would be soft and tumbled forward belly deep, and completely hidden, behind the wall of snow. I splayed around sinking deeper until I regained my footing. I was unprepared for standing waist deep in thirty inches of snow! The potential headline was chilling—sixty year old woman found in spring thaw. I started to laugh. Now what?

I am nothing if not determined…just ask my housemate. I managed to trudge my way across the yard to the birdhouses. Unscrewing the panels I removed the old nesting material. Grabbing the trunk of the small tree I hopped up and down until turned back the way I had come. To get back over the snow bank I had to belly slide over the top.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

I headed into the house covered in snow and left white clumps across the carpet and floor. Once in the kitchen I pulled the pink cake-plate off a shelf, sprinkled it with dried fruit, smashed peanuts, and added sunflower kernels.  Setting the plate on the snow, I climbed back over and slid the plate across the yard near the houses.

I must have been the comic relief to my neighbors that afternoon as I slid once more on my belly over the mound and on to the road.

Sometimes what comes as a gift, or a surprise, may also have a directive. We have knowledge of what is the responsible thing to do, though we may lack knowing what to expect in doing it. No matter how slow…just keep moving forward and all will be well.

Sometimes I think I’m more Franciscan than Benedictine. Just sayin…


(Blue bird image is from morguefile.com)