Winter’s Harsh Beauty

For the UU Spiritual Practices blog I curate for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, where I am the Consulting Minister, I spend some time each week reading and watching and listening to meditations. A few weeks ago, I found this magnificent video of an unusually cold winter in Holland filmed by Paul Klaver at a nature reserve. Death and life are present in the snowy landscape. In the midst of this brutal cold snap, this ode to winter’s strength makes me appreciate my warm house, but also reminds me that the bare bones of winter are strangely beautiful.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/81372566″>Winter</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pklaver”>Paul Klaver</a> on.</p>

 

Advertisements

Winter solitude…

Waterloo, like much of southern Ontario, is grey, icy, and quiet after the big storm and power outages of the weekend. Here are some beautiful winter images for this moment after the storm.

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
Basho

Caspar-David-Friedrich_Winter-Landscape

Winter Landscape by Casper David Friedrich

Midnight-Mass-Edward-Timothy-Hurley

Midnight Mass by Edward T. Hurley

Winter-bernie-fuchs-wolves

Winter wolves by Bernie Fuchs

Paintings found via Tor.com Picturing Winter

Be Like Trees

I live in a maple-pine ecosystem with many sugar maples, with maple syrup a popular product at the farmer’s markets.  This is an excerpt from a reflection on the wonder of maple trees.

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magicDSCN4690
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.
Karen I. Shragg
Scott Russell Sanders, an American essayist and naturalist, once wrote: “It occurs to me that meditation is an effort to become for a spell more like a tree, open to whatever arises, without judging, without remembering the past or anticipating the future, fully present in the moment. The taste of that stillness refreshes me.  When we surface from meditation, however, we are not turning from reality to illusion, as some spiritual traditions would have us believe; we are reclaiming the full powers of mind, renewed by our immersion in the realm of mountains and rivers, wind and breath.”

The full powers of mind.  This is one of the strengths of our faith as Unitarian Universalists. We come together seeking transcendence – and knowledge – in both science and spiritual traditions.  We become like trees and we learn from trees. Like Madonna, we know we live in a material world, so we seek to pay attention to the everyday, like a sugar maple in spring.  As UUs, we explore, celebrate, and struggle with that tension of living both on the earth and within the mystery. We follow Earth Scholar Thomas Berry, who said:  “The universe, the solar system, and the planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.” 

The earth and the mystery – the yin and yang that frame our faith – are intertwined.  We are grateful for both.

We are grateful for the wondrous presence of maple trees.

silver rain

icy crocus

Spring has receded as winter returns in the form of freezing rain and icy snow.  Trees, cars, mailboxes – every surface slicked over with ice.  Even the crocuses, which were merrily blooming yesterday, are closed up against the ice.  I have been thinking of poet Langston Hughes’ poem In Time of Silver Rain, which has been adapted into a Unitarian Universalist hymn.  I love this gentle song, and while Hughes was writing about a much warmer spring, the silver rain has been in abundance here in South-western Ontario.  But even with the freezing rain, spring is lurking, waiting to return.  Robins, cardinals, finches, sparrows, and blue jays are busy in the gardens, and the first pale mist of green is emerging from grass and shrubs.  Life, life, life, indeed.

In time of silver rain the earth puts forth new life again,

green grasses grow and flowers lift their heads,

and over all the plain the wonder spreads of life, of life, of life!
In time of silver rain the butterflies lift silken wings,

and trees put forth new leaves to sing in joy

beneath the sky in time of silver rain,

when spring and life are new.
from the hymnal Singing in the Living Tradition
adapted from the Langston Hughes poem.

And I believe, without doubt…

I find myself longing for spring, so grateful for the lengthening daylight as we head towards the equinox.  In anticipation, I offer this delightful excerpt from Pattiann Roger’s poem Rolling Naked in the Morning Dew (1989).

Lillie Langtry practiced it, when weather permitted,
Lying down naked every morning in the dew,
With all of her beauty believing the single petal
Of her white skin could absorb and assume
That radiating purity of liquid and light.
And I admit to believing myself, without question,
In the magical powers of dew on the cheeks
And breasts of Lillie Langtry believing devotedly
In the magical powers of early morning dew on the skin
Of her body lolling in purple beds of bird’s-foot violets,
Pink prairie mimosa. And I believe, without doubt,
In the mystery of the healing energy coming
From that wholehearted belief in the beneficent results
Of the good delights of the naked body rolling
And rolling through all the silked and sun-filled,
Dusky-winged, sheathed and sparkled, looped
And dizzied effluences of each dawn
Of the rolling earth.

Just consider how the mere idea of it alone
Has already caused me to sing and sing
This whole morning long.

Pattiann Rogers

Lillie Langtry - 1899 "The Degenerates"

Lillie Langtry – 1899 “The Degenerates” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starlings in Winter

Starling image from wired.com

Starling image from wired.com

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to be a guest minister at the Peterborough Unitarian Fellowship.   My reflection was based in part on Starlings in Winter; Mary Oliver’s beautiful and astute observations on that marvellous “wheel of many parts” that is starlings in flight.  Watching that dance renews my spirit as Oliver captures so well.

 
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard.  I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.