The Mighty Oak (Quercus spp.), A Garden Catechism

lindas oak

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

The oak is a long lived tree, often exceeding 500 years. With a trunk and limbs that are thick and sturdy, it’s rarely damaged by storms—the leaves are marcescent in the north, not dropping until spring, and hold snow loads of impressive weights! Wind shears have been known to strip the tree bare, leaving the branches intact. About the only feat of nature to regularly damage an oak is lightning—of all the tree species struck by lightening, the oak is most frequently hit.

Because of its endurance this tree came to symbolize the profound and unyielding strength and steadfastness of Christians’ faith in the face of adversity. St. Sebastian is depicted as being lashed to an oak.

San_Sebastian_El_Greco

(San Sebastian, El Greco, image public domain)

With its nearly incorruptible wood it came to connote salvation, and is symbolic of physical and moral vigor. And this explains its association to the Virgin Mary.

Madonna of the Oaks Wikimedia(The Holy Family of the Oak Tree, Raphael Sanzio, image public domain)

According to legend, the Christianization of heathen druidic tribes in Germany by Saint Boniface was marked by his felling of an oak, where upon a fir tree immediately grew and whose triangular shape symbolizes the Trinity—more on the fir in another column.

In the Bible, Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:18). Later we read that Joshua erects a large stone under an oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24:26). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.

And now you know that an image of a saint with an oak alludes to the saint’s firm incorruptible faith.

'St__Paul_the_Hermit_Fed_by_the_Raven',_after_Il_Guercino,_Dayton_Art_Institute

 (St. Paul the Hermit fed by the Raven, II Guercino, image public domain.)

 

 

In the Shadow of Birds

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Image morguefile.com

I did not see the migrating birds as they flew past, nor did I hear their calls. What I did see was fifty, maybe a hundred, small darting shadows cross over the lawn and my arms. Suddenly I felt heavy in the shadow of birds and my heart longed for home.

Where I live is within the flyway of several species of birds. It’s not unusual in the fall to stop the car when driving along farm lanes and wait on cranes coming in low, legs down, wings cupped, landing easily in marshes or corn fields.

The timing of their migrations are controlled primarily by the changes in sunlight. The day length signals the seasonal movement from the region of spring breeding to the place of wintering rest.

There is an instinctive stirring of such birds to migrate, an internal movement of the spirit towards a home. It is not the same as a journey, which is an irregular and singular event. Migration is done seasonally, aroused by light, and usually follows a path of food along the route.

There is seasonality to my prayer life as well; aroused by The Light my spirit yearns towards an eternal home. It too follows a route of nourishment.

As daylight hours decrease, a faith-filled migration draws me towards the Feast of Christ the King and Advent, and the contemplative resting in the abundance of His gifts. I am just as drawn in a few months, in the lengthening of days, to an active Lent and will long for new life and fresh air in my faith.

Like the flock of little birds that passed overhead, I am heartened by the coming winter—seasonally and temporally—to find rest.

(Image by Alvimann at morguefile.com)

Mouse in the House

It’s turning cold outside, and with it comes that scratching sound that distracts me from my prayers. They’re running up the chimney wall and across the ceiling. With any luck the rodents will run under the bathroom sink and into the cheese-filled trap.

I’m conflicted. I really hate having to kill mice. They are funny little things. One late summer evening sitting in the yard, I watched a pair of them scurry, hop, and tumble with one another under the sunflowers, gathering fallen seeds from birds.

I remember from childhood sleeping on the floor in the back room and, having saved tiny pieces of bread or corn from dinner, would place it under the radiator. Soon enough my “pet” field mouse would run up and snatch my gift. It wasn’t long until the little rodent was waiting for me to feed it. It would tickle my finger tip with its tiny paws, eat, and eventually dart off. The mouse was always aware of any danger to its tiny being and would run for cover at the slightest threat.

Having grown up in Detroit in an area where personal threat was a very real thing, I am (still) uncomfortable and distracted in public. For the love of God, I set that fear aside. It is not just the opportunity for physical harm that keeps me mindful of my surroundings, but mental and spiritual peril as well.

I fret over what my responsibility is in public situations—of men being sarcastic and mean to women, mothers being verbally abusive to energetic and misbehaving children, cell phone users speaking inappropriately (ignoring their companions or children) in public spaces—and the general rudeness of people living under stress and the oppression of being without a sense of God. My confidence of being a good Christian often wanes in public.

To be some sort of a presence of Christ we all work at being attentive to people and their wants, confusions, challenges, and stories. It is in our silence that they reveal their needs. I attempt to be a source of calm, offering prayer so the Holy Spirit can work in them.

I sidestep sharing on the same level. The encounter is not about me. They needn’t know more than I am a gardener, Benedictine Oblate, and that I love to pray—the people I meet fuel my desire to do so.

I see myself as a mouse, scurrying about the perimeter of life to avoid detection, and at the same time aware of what is going on around me. I snatch up little morsels of food I find—those little bits and pieces of human sorrows, needs, and emptiness that are dropped—and carry them back to a place of safety for prayer.

Meanwhile, the devil prowls about ready to pounce, and sometimes I get caught in his claws. Wounded, I know where to find healing. And from the wounding I learn to be more vigilant, to circle sooner behind the Holy and wait.

It’s not about being perfect in our encounters, or praying more. It’s about doing and being our best no matter how small we are.

(Photo by Rama, Wikimedia)

Tuesday’s Prayer for Sisters and Nuns

Beloved Mother Mary,

Take the hand of your daughters, our Sisters and Nuns, and guide them to remain outside their personal wants and to desire only the repose in your son’s loving arms. Help them to place their hearts in his eternal joy, and protect these holy women when the hardness of this world tries to draw them away from his peace. Through your example of trust in God, may our Sisters and Nuns always persevere in fulfilling their call to consecrated lives.

Amen

 

 

Pomegranates, A Garden Catechism

A new offering on my blog is the Garden Catechism. In these posts we will look at the symbolism of plants in Christian art.

I’ll begin with one of my favorite fruits, the pomegranate.

When I was a kid I thought the pomegranate was popular in October because of its Halloweenish looks. Crack it open and its membrane looked like brains and the sarcotesta—a scary sounding word—the juicy part around the seed, was a bloody red!

The Pomegranate, Punica granatum, is native to Iran, found throughout the world, and fortunate for us, thrives in California and Arizona. It is called India’s (Indian) Apple, and from the French, grenade (yep, like the little hand bombs), comes the word for the beverage syrup, grenadine. In Latin we combine pomum, apple, and granatum, seeded.

In Judaism the seeds are said to symbolize sanctity, fertility, and abundance. One of the seven sacred varieties of plants mentioned in the Bible, the pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. Depictions of the fruit have also been featured in Judaic architecture and design. They decorated the pillars of King Solomon’s temple and the robes of Jewish kings and priests. It is traditional to consume pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah because, with its numerous seeds, it symbolizes fruitfulness.

In the hands of the Christ child it is a symbol of the resurrection.

Placed in a still life alongside apples—the forbidden fruit of paradise—it symbolizes the Eucharist.

When the fruit is seen held by the hands of the child Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary it carries a twofold meaning of chastity and resurrection.

There are pomegranates on each side of the Chi Rho and depiction of Christ as an older child in the Hinton St. Mary Mosaic of Christ from the British Museum. Roman emperors thought it disgraceful to have the depiction of Jesus beneath ones feet, being disrespectful to walk or spill food on him, so banned and removed mosaic floors.

It can also indicate the church, the union of many under one authority.