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.

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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.

 

The Moment before the Moment

Christmas tree 2011

Christmas tree 2011

Christopher Robin asked Winnie the Pooh what he liked doing best in all the world. “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”

Anticipation, as Winnie astutely realizes, can be the best part of any activity. The moment between the knocking on the door and its opening. The moment between holding the gift and opening it. In that moment all is still possible. It’s intoxicating, to have that hope of possibility, to be at that moment just before fruition. Just before momentum kicks in and time moves forward.  It is a great and wonderful feeling in its own right.

And yet anticipation can be tricky.  So much of our lives is out of our control: weather, social systems, other people. Media offers us stories and images that have little relation to reality, which can trap us with distorted expectations. To have expectations can be an invitation to disappointment and disaster.  The Christmas season is especially fraught. Another great philosopher, Anne of Green Gables, said: “When I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud.”

Coming down hard in reality, dropping with a thud, is painful. And yet I would hate to live without the promise of anticipation. Anne of Green Gables herself says  “But really… the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts… it’s like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud.” I think so too.

In fact, anticipation can be good for us. By delighting in future possibilities the present becomes more enjoyable. Psychological studies suggest that those who are able to savour the moment, whether it be a fond remembrance of the past, pleasure in an current experience, or anticipation of the future, are more optimistic, and better able to deal with stress and depression.  Soaring through the sunset is good for us.

I admit that I love Christmas celebrations. I don’t love everything about the season, but enough that I am glad when it comes around again.  I want Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song. I love going out to the tree farm, tramping through the snow finding just the right spruce for our small living room. I love mince pies and candy canes and Cadbury’s milk tray. The smell of clementines and cinnamon beckons me.  It is feast for the senses. Christmas is also a chance to reconnect with my distant relatives, to my british heritage of festive crackers with tissue paper hats. I love that it is a day out of the ordinary, outside of dull routine, belonging to a grander, timeless time.

What do you anticipate most about the holiday?  Can you separate out the joy of anticipation from the burden of expectation?

Adapted from a recent sermon.

Hatching the Wondrous

But when we begin to tell stories,

our imagination begins to flow out through our eyes and our ears to inhabit the breathing earth once again.

Suddenly, the trees along the street are looking at us,

and the clouds crouch low over the city as though they are trying to hatch something wondrous.

We find ourselves back inside the same world that the squirrels and the spiders inhabit,

along with the deer stealthily munching the last plants in our garden,

and the wild geese honking overhead as they flap south for the winter.

Linear time falls away, and we find ourselves held, once again, in the vast cycles of the cosmos —

the round dance of the seasons,

the sun climbing out of the ground each morning and slipping down into the earth every evening,

the opening and closing of the lunar eye whose full gaze attracts the tidal waters within and all around us.

David Abram  excerpt from Storytelling and Wonder