Beauty Entering Winter

Schlumbergera truncataThe snow was yet thin on the lawn, and the gusts of wind kept birds from flight. Even the feeder remained unattended.

I watched the squalls swirl past my windows. The cloud breaks to the west allowed the sun’s light to tint the falling snow. Outside the winter-white storm turned a delicate coral. The hermitage glowed as if lit by ten thousand candles. I imagined it to be like the light of heaven and offered prayers for a few friends, recently deceased, that their purgatory be short.

From behind the cabinet I pulled the small olive green watering can and filled it with tepid water, adding a pinch of fertilizer—turning my fingertips blue. With the furnace running the houseplants dry more rapidly and, thankfully, they add humidity to this old house.

White Christmas CactusThe crab cacti (Schlumbergera truncata) were entering into full bloom—as they always do come November. I find these plants to be sturdy and beautiful with their flat scalloped branches arching up and over with abundant flowers held horizontal at the tips. The white cultivar in my office is my favorite—I’m very fond of white—and the rare yellow in my bedroom most prized. Earlier this year I gave a friend the twenty-three year old red one, which had grown too large for my small space.

The oratory window gives a softer northern light to two African violets and the white-edged Persian Cyclamen ‘Snowridge mini wine’. The violets are resting from a long summer of flowering so I let the soil dry a bit more. The cyclamen has recently shot up in all its glory. This houseplant is a rare visitor in my home. It is brash and unmistakable in its loveliness.Cyclamen

At the top of the stairs is a west window with two glass shelves, the top shelf shaded by the awning. This dimmest location is reserved for the white phalaenopsis orchid. Orchids fascinate me in their unconventional growth. The species are mostly epiphytic, growing in the crotches of trees, and  live shaded in the canopy of the rain forest. The good Lord created them to flourish above the earth with flowers reminiscent of heaven.

Look for the budding stalk five leaves down just left of center. See it? Good.

Look for the budding stalk five leaves down just left of center. See it? Good.

Unlike the crab cacti I am never sure when the orchid will reblossom. I’m delighted on this winter’s day to see a new budding stalk. Sometimes it takes three years to flower, and then again it’s only been five months since the last bud fell off. There may be flowers by the Epiphany!

In the quietness of my days the grace of peace of Our Lord replenishes my soul.

It is the flowering of friends that shapes my solitude and keeps prayers and love alive. There are the prolific writing friends who are prayed for to maintain moral stamina. Other writers who are brash in their unmistakable beauty receive prayers for spiritual courage. The unconventional orchid perseveres in flowering and I offer prayers for just such a woman whom I’ve spiritually adopted for a year.

All around there is love in the simplest of things. They are constant reminders of the affections from and to friends, to and from God.

There is beauty in the hardness of winter.

(I will be off line for the remainder Thanksgiving week, Please remember to pray for our Priests, Sisters and Nuns, and for all those discerning a vocation in a consecrated life.)

All images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB

 

 

Impenetrability and Stagnant Love

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Image morguefile.com

The morning was dense with fog—the kind of fog so thick you can taste it when you breathe. Even stepping off the porch would be an act of faith. I would be lost between the car and the door. Rather than go into the unknown—well, to the mail box—I went back to my rooms.

This week a lot of energy has been spent trying to focus through a fog. I have found myself unwilling to step off the platform of undeserving of love and must choose either to remain as I am or fall into the unknown.

The experience of being unloved and rejected is, obviously, painful. For some it began as children. As adults it can come from within a marriage, or being shunned by individuals that dislike who we aren’t—not necessarily who we are.

No matter how justified the wariness is, once a pattern of self preservation is set it is hard to move beyond the security of denial. It is especially challenging as a Christian to reconcile this—the absence and denial of being loved—with Holy Love. We want to know the intimacy of God and for one reason or another we lack the emotional resources to claim it.

I came across this comment in Magnificat (V. 16, No. 8, P. 164) and felt a waggling finger of shame:

This is the phenomenon of impenetrability: the refusal to let ourselves be struck even by the most beautiful thing that is put before us. We prefer instead to let ourselves remain all closed—we do not let our “I” be touched by anything, even the “You” of God.

This phenomenon of impenetrability is the denial of fully receiving God’s love because we are protecting ourselves from connection with human love.

Many of us have experienced the cutting edges of love and rage, desire and apathy, genuinely cared for or groomed for abuse. We lack the carefree notion of affection and are cautious, resistive, and watchful.

If for all of our life we have found seeking love to be unfulfilling, and even dangerous, then its beauty is lost to us, though its value is still appreciated. The fullness of love is refused on the grounds of survival. The pain of being repeatedly unwanted, brings on a protectiveness of the heart—not necessarily its hardening.

Now, in learning to love God, we often begin with a sense of working towards it. We choose to be virtuous because that is what Our Lord desires from us. We discover the gifts of the Spirit and become active in exemplifying them.

I imagine this to also be true when people marry; initial behaviors of practicing what a good marriage should look like. But then there is a transition. The spouse who once did this or that because it should be so, transitions into actively doing something because it pleases the other. Love creates movement from conscious effort to innate response.

It is in the innate loving that my effort of maintaining impenetrability breaks down. I am able to express love, and can receive it from others to a level of tolerable—which translates as keeping a safe distance. I prefer detachment. My vision is clearer the wider the scope.

But this week I have found my greatest sin: my refusal to let myself be struck by the fullness of love. Impenetrability.

I am the person at the wedding feast in Matthew 22:11-12, eager to attend and excited to be there, but am not clothed in the proper garment. I know what the proper attire is—clothed in love—and know what is expected for the momentous occasion of my death. My own fear of the beauty of wearing such a garment denies me the full joy in the final celebration.

It all falls back to self preservation. The fear of…well most every human encounter offering even the slightest fragrance of intimacy. I like people and their company; I fall short loving them as freely as I love Christ.

It is here that I realize my behaving in a manner to please our Lord, which is not a bad thing. But now I have entered into the space, as most spouses eventually do, of behaving out of love and not responsibility or need.

A whole new road awaits—one where I must travel fearlessly, though not recklessly, among the robbers, praying the fog will lift.

Walnuts, Thanksgiving, and A Garden Catechism

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Image from morguefile.com

If we are busy with families, we usually prepare or share in a Thanksgiving Day fare. One of the popular ingredients for that day is often the walnut. I love it in apple or broccoli salads, autumn harvest pies, or—as my grandmother often did with her Henry Quackenbush nutcrackers—unshelled in a bowl.

The black walnut, Jugulan nigra, is native to the eastern United States and the bane of most gardeners. The walnuts we are more accustomed to eating are the English walnut, Jugulans regia, which are not native, being introduced on the west coast by Franciscan monks in 1769.

Because of its tough outer hull and woody shell, the nut symbolizes the protection of precious contents. It can also symbolize the Holy Trinity, Christ, matrimony, and fertility because of it copious amounts of fruit!

Lucia Impelluso writes, in Nature and Its Symbols:

In Christian culture in general, the image of the walnut, with its three parts, is associated with the Trinity. Saint Augustine…asserts that the nut may be considered a symbol of Jesus Christ. According to this interpretation, the outer hull represents the flesh, the wood shell stands for the cross, and the kernel alludes to Christ’s divine nature. Generally speaking, the image of the walnut in art should be read in this light.

Many scholars assume that the grove of nut trees that Solomon went into searching for love (Song 11:6) were Persian walnuts, now commonly called English.

The green hull encasing the shelled nut can be steeped to produce a rich brown dye. During Jesus time the walnut trees grew around the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars propose that his cloak was dyed, probably by his mother, from the walnut casings.

The single walnut at the bottom of this painting indicates the divine child in Mary’s arms. Wallraf-RichartzMuseum, Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, The Virgin of the Walnut, 1500-1510. (Image public domain)walnut virgin

Jesus standing under a walnut tree represents his divine nature and the fruitfulness of his ministry. National Gallery of London, The Baptism of Christ, Piero della Francesca, 1448-1450. (Image public domain)walnut baptism

St. Anthony near the end of his life, and from his desire for solitude, had a tree house built in a walnut tree as a hideaway in Camposampiero, Italy. The tree, symbolizing the Holy Trinity, sheltered him halfway between heaven and earth. This paining, being one of many portraying his hideaway in the branches, is Saint Anthony in the Walnut Tree (with two saints: St. Jerome, St. Francis of Assisi), Lazzaro Bastiani, 1505. (Image public domain)

walnut st anthony

 

Seeds of Wisdom from Saints and Curious Sinners

thumbnailIt’s one of my procrastination techniques.

I need to get blog posts written before I get a project back from my editor that’ll need all my attention.

Instead, I’m rummaging.

It began innocently enough. The little cubbies of my desk were stuffed, layered with dust and tiny paper tabs from spiral notebooks that looked like cookie crumbs.

I tossed the old notes and greeting cards, and cardstock bookmarks, but there was a good sized handful of quotes, written on scraps of paper, that I wanted to keep. Which took me to the files…too many files. And then I wanted to find the envelope with all the little sweet comments written from friends.

I sifted through boxes and drawer after drawer—picking at this, reading that, pulling starters for columns—and not coming up for air until three hours later. What was I thinking?

Indeed, what was I thinking? When rummaging we look with an intent of finding something. Often going back to the same place a couple of times, certain that “it” is there, somewhere, we are sure of it.grouping

It was a surprise to find multiple folders—in two drawers—tabbed as something spiritual. And to find within the folders hundreds of prayers, sayings, Bible quotes, insights, pages torn from Magnificat, tiny brochures, instructional booklets—some in triplicate in different locations—and handwritten 3×5 cards dated some twenty-five years ago. A Holy accumulation of impressive size!

I was searching, yes, and avoiding what I had to do, but why…for what?

A few days ago I had driven along farm lanes to the country church for morning Mass. There are only the four of us regulars. Walking in the nave was dark, altar candles unlit, and my three compatriots were absent. It wouldn’t be the first time that only Father and I shared communion. I waited and prayed as I watched the sunlight move across the stained glass of Jesus depicted kneeling against a rock, the Agony in the Garden.

As the tower bells rang out, and still no priest, I knew Mass would not be celebrated. I was caught off guard by my tears—no communion, no Jesus. I hungered for the Eucharist. It was too late to go into town and receive at another church. Reluctantly I stepped out of the pew and stood looking to the crucifix a few moments longer. Driving home I prayed the priest was okay…and felt sad.

Not so many years ago, before my reversion, it never occurred to me that people could hunger for Mass. This day I discovered that during those years of coming home I was rummaging for God.

In my seeking I gathered words and thoughts that guided. Incremental scraps tucked in a dozen different places, seeds of wisdom gleaned from saints and curious sinners. I stored them away for anticipated days of winter, those times of darkness when my soul would be adrift.

grouping 2My decades long rummaging was not a wide eyed scanning of places “it” could be found. But more like the hand in the drawer feeling about back in the corners, shoving things aside, a little frantic at the not-finding-the-sought.

And about my procrastination day? Well, I think I am still searching for a few lost keys.

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

Quandary of Self Loathing

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Image morguefile.com

In Luke 10:27 a young lawyer answers Jesus with a statement that has convicted me throughout adulthood: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

The loving heart, soul, mind and body I’m okay with.

And, unlike the lawyer, I’m not confused about who my neighbor is. It is everyone beyond my personhood. The one who is spiritually or mentally challenged, the dysfunctional family, and the physically needy—and it seems too often that those who are easiest to help are always at the back of the line.

What convicts me in the lawyer’s answer is to love these people as myself. Some days loving myself is lacking. And if what the lawyer said is true (and Christ said it was), then I should be ashamed of my paltry offering to others.

This Bible passage, also present in Mt 22:39, makes me ask: How much do I love myself? How gentle, understanding, patient, kind, and encouraging am I toward my own endeavors? Would I behave as coarsely toward someone who has made mistakes like my own? Would I speak to them in similar self-deprecating or angry words?

Whatever the level of care I give to myself is the same level I can give to my neighbor. The same dignity and charity expressed for others can be no greater than what I express toward my own being.

If I have but little love for myself—being part of the family as one who is made in the image and likeness of God, one who is the hands and feet of Christ, one who brings the Holy Spirit into a moment—then my ability to share that love is negligible. I cannot give away what I do not have. To fake that love is to bring deceit instead of Christ. As sad as it is to admit, I have been deceitful on occasion.

To the extent that I believe in and am open to the love from God, the more readily I can give the same to others. But here’s the rub: when I see myself as undeserving, the little holiness that manages to get in to my soul is all I have to give out. The selfishness of seeing my self as unworthy limits my ability to serve Our Lord fully.

Those failures I fear in myself—the brokenness, helplessness, and anguish—cause me to reject the people I encounter. These faults become interior mirrors that halt forward movement and cause a turning away from the same in the world.

If I loath myself for my shortcomings, I will direct that loathing toward my neighbor. To the level in which I can forgive and accept my blunders and breaks, so too is the level I can bring Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.

For, if I block my true self, I block the presence of Christ.

Like the neighbor left on the road by the robbers (Luke 10:30) I fear seeing my own nakedness, and being laid bare to others. I fear my vulnerability and of being exposed and helpless beyond my own ability. I fear the debilitating attack that will leave me repulsive and rejected by others—and myself.

Walking among the destitute has chafed against these fears. I’ve gratefully begun to see the person behind the poorness: The not-so-old single woman with no one to care that she is impaired by a stroke, the man that fixed school busses now homeless, hopeless, and suicidal, the lady who worked the flower shop lost to Alzheimer’s. These are my siblings in whom I see the nakedness of need.

It is among them that I realize I want to give more but I come up lacking.

Christ desires mercy. The trick is to have that for one’s self in sufficient amounts to offer it to others. And when I see this in myself, I find my spiritual belligerence unbecoming.

(Image from morguefile.com.)