“Headfirst”

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Today is Good Friday, a day Christians remember the crucifixion of Christ. It is a solemn day as we realize that the disciples had no idea what would happen next. They really believed that all was lost, that the Roman empire was not about to be overthrown, that all their efforts had been in vain, and that they had been taken for fools. Many of us can identify with those feelings, no matter the circumstances.

And yet, here is the nuthatch, a frequent visitor to our feeders. She goes headfirst down the tree, heedless of the way most of the birds move head up. She looks foolish, I suppose, to one who thinks birds are meant to go up trees, not down them. Nuthatches seem to demonstrate an unusual sense of trust. I admire their headlong journey.

As for me, I have the advantage of knowing, as the disciples didn’t, how the story ends for Christians in the Resurrection. I look forward to our Easter Vigil Mass tomorrow night after sundown. But right now I probably look foolish to some. I’m going headfirst into Good Friday, trusting that Easter will arrive once again.

“Dirty Feet?”

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The human head of the Catholic Church(Christ is the Head of the Church)washed the feet of prisoners today, part of the Maundy Thursday observances. Here, without his hat, with a simple basin and towel, he is going from foot to foot in this process.

Are their feet dirty? Why else would he do such a strange act? Rituals are very different from one religion to another. Something might seem strange to me in a normal Hindu observance, and I have learned about that faith from fellow bloggers. For anyone confused by this activity, I give a brief explanation.

The Tridium–three days that lead up to the Feast of Easter–are dedicated to immersing the believer in the life of Jesus. One of Jesus’ last acts was to wash the feet of his disciples. They were baffled by this. Why was their leader stooping to wash the filth off their feet? It was unseemly and a task only for servants. Which was Jesus’ point. He was demonstrating that we are to serve, not dominate, one another.

So on Maundy Thursday, we allow our feet(usually hidden)to be seen and washed. We wash one another’s feet. We are reminded that we are all equal. Domination is not the way of Christ. Despite the frequently misunderstood message of the Gospel, it really is meant to be good news. For each person on the earth. God loves us all. ALL.

“For The Birds”

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The first thing I wanted in the house we bought in New England was a window over the kitchen sink. I was blessed with this double window seen above which provides a perfect view over the back yard. I have placed these four different bird feeders just outside the window so I can see them when I am at the sink. Ironically enough, this home has a dishwasher, so I am not at the sink as often as in previous years. Still, I frequently am there for briefer times and able to catch sight of the birds.

This time of year we are visited by black capped chickadees, house sparrows, house finches, nuthatches and tufted titmice who eat at the large feeder filled with an assortment of seed, primarily sunflower. Goldfinches, some just on the cusp of turning yellow, feed on the tiny niger seed from the front feeder. Downy and red bellied woodpeckers like the suet hanging in the front. Mourning doves like to perch on top of the large feeder and scrounge the ground under it for missed seeds.

Of course, our greediest eaters are the squirrels. You can buy all sorts of squirrel baffles or you can just enjoy their antics. Long ago I quit despairing of the squirrels’ appetites and just enjoy watching them hang upside down eating from the “squirrel-proof” devices.

Our yard provides all sorts of food for the birds come spring through early winter. Since we use no herbicides or pesticides, I am delighted to see them scour the yard for treats. But the feeders don’t seem to dissuade them from feasting in the yard. They happily eat in both places. And I delight in their presence.

 

“Seeing Frost Anew”

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Another one of Frost’s poems never fully landed for me until I moved to New England. “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” offers the line “Nature’s first green is gold.”

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 

Since the rest of the poem goes quite abstract(or so I thought for years) I never really took in the literal truth of Frost’s lines. In Oregon where we lived, the preponderance of trees are evergreens. True to their name, they don’t change colors. But in New England, the majority of trees are deciduous. This accounts, of course, for the splendid fall displays of leaves that people flock here to admire. But it also proves the truth of Frost’s lines.

One day in early spring, mid-March here, I looked out at a forest of maples and saw that they were gleaming gold. While they turn quickly to green as the leaves unfold, they are in fact first gold. Frost is right about the hue being hard to hold. In fact, they seem to change very quickly to green. But  for a short and lovely time, the trees shine luminously.

 

“Seeing Frost’s Poem”

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I taught Robert Frost’s poems for many years, including “Birches.” While I was familiar with birch trees and thought I understood the poem, I was taken aback on a recent drive through southern Connecticut. We had several snow and ice storms in the last three weeks, and all along the highway there were hundreds of young birch trees, bent over from the weight.

Suddenly, I recalled Frost’s description of the trees:

They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
I realized that he was being precise in his image of the trees and their spindly branches with just the beginnings of leaves. They did indeed look like the long hair of girls thrown over their heads to dry. I recalled my own years(pre blow dryers) of drying my long hair, occasionally in the sun. I knew that Frost had first seen some girl drying her hair and then seen the trees, making a visual connection.
The longer I live in New England, the more clearly I see the meaning of some of Frost’s lines.  I was always “outside” his verse living in Oregon. Now, from the “inside” I connect even more strongly with his poetry. And I am reminded how often I bring limited experience to literature, appreciating it nonetheless, but missing some of its richness because it is based on places “I have never traveled.”

 

“Why The Boom in Mindfulness?”

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After reflecting on the inability of people to wait, I wondered about the widespread promotion of “mindfulness.” I don’t remember hearing this word so widely used until the last couple of years. I was always familiar with prayer, meditation and contemplation, but not “mindfulness.” As far as I can tell it is a gentler name for the practice of paying attention to the moment. In the moment, one is expected to just “be.”

Now as far as I can tell, this is what waiting used to do for people. You had to “just be,” since there was nothing else to do. Perhaps mindfulness is a perfect antidote to the frantic pace of life with its 24 hour news cycle and instant everything. I realize that there is more to mindfulness than just “being,” though that skill alone seems to be absent in many people. It also, as far as I understand it, asks you to accept what is at that moment. Again, that is the opposite of the pace of American life. Again, that is the same as the old routine of waiting.

Apparently just sitting still is anxiety producing for many people. I would guess that is from lack of experience. All around I see people staring at their phones when they are in line, at their kids dance practice, in the dentist office, or sitting at a traffic light. They look like great opportunities to practice accepting  what is and just being. And you can avoid having to buy the book, the CD, the course or the seminar. Mindfulness for free.

“Learning to Wait”

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I have been reflecting on the demand for immediacy in today’s American culture. You can get “instant credit,” “priority boarding” on planes, “Minute Clinic” for a virus, and “12 items or less” at the grocery store. It is clear that people are expected to dislike waiting and feel that they should not be asked to wait.

I realize that in my growing up years and through most of my adult life, waiting was necessary for many occasions. I built up my “waiting” skill. I remember, among others:

Waiting for a long distance phone call to be put through by the operator.

Waiting from September to April to find out if I had gotten into college.

Waiting to find out if I was pregnant until I thought I was three months along.

Waiting to find out if my baby was a girl or a boy.

Waiting for labor to begin.

Waiting for the bank to open Monday morning if I ran out of cash on the weekend.

Waiting for the store to open Monday if I ran out of needed groceries on a Sunday.

Waiting for a credit application to be approved before I could make a purchase.

Each one of these is no longer necessary. I can dial long distance myself. Students can check on line to see if they have been accepted to college. In home tests allow women to find out if they are pregnant almost immediately. People have to opt out of knowing the sex of their baby before birth. Women schedule inductions for delivery. ATM machines mean money is always available. Stores are open every day. The last time I opened an account it took five minutes at a machine inside the store.

We have been led to expect, at least in the U.S., that we can have what we want when we want it. It has led to the atrophy of waiting muscles in us all.