The Daily Muse
Thoughts from an Austin Garden -- November 2007
Last update: November 29
More images of Lost Maples below!
November 6 - morning
Sulfur Butterfly on flame acanthus.
I almost always find that when I am asked to do something, whether it is a produce a television program or present a class, that I grow from the experience. So often, if left to our own devices, we just keep plowing the same terrain and wonder why our horizons never change. This weekend I had the opportunity to grow a little thanks to a request from my church to lead a class on the recent PBS program, The Mystery of Love. (There is a strong Austin tie-in to the program courtesy of Betty Sue Flowers, one the glowing lights of our city, who also presented a sermon on the program in our church several weeks ago.)
As I started preparing for the class, I kept coming back to the oft-quoted Christian dogma that "God is love." This seems like a radical notion when compared to the more standard belief that God is an all-powerful mirror of us in the sky, or some sort of indescribable cosmic force for good. God is love? What does that mean? Some Christian clergy have confided in me that they feel that saying "God is love," is a theological cop-out - a fall-back position to retreat to when they are pressed on a question that they feel very uncomfortable trying to answer. But, what if God is love? What is love?
The Mystery of Love program begins with a very wise teenage girl wrestling with that question: what is love? One of her responses is "It is definitely a verb." Love is something we do. Of course, most love talk in our culture revolves around the idea of romantic love, Valentine card / pop song love. Here, love is not necessarily something we do but some sort of near mystical state of being, we are "in" love. But anyone who has maintained a marriage or a long term relationship based on love understands that love is a practice, it is very definitely a verb - it is something that is done over and over again. If we do not practice love, even in a relationship that starts out with torrents of passion, love dries up, it dies. So, again, love is an action, a practice, something we do... and "God is love." Is God something we do? Does the existence of God depend on how we practice or "make" love?
My friend, Michael Benedikt is a Professor at the University of Texas. He just published a book called God is the Good We Do. At the beginning of the book he has written a series of poems that he calls "Declarations." The last of the declarations is an exhortation to the readers to teach our children to love, to do good as if the whole world and God depend on it:
Tell your children that they matter to you,
that they matter to others,
that they matter to every living thing
that feels their touch.
Teach them that they have a sacred and ancient mission
to turn sun and rain into seed and flower,
to turn foe into friend
and harm into harmlessness.
Benedikt's "Declaration" ends:
Teach them that God is not the oldest and strongest force
in the universe,
but the youngest and the weakest one,
not a storm but a breeze,
not expended in might but persistent in direction,
not anywhere on a throne but everywhere in a choice.
Send them to read all things about God,
that they may hear God's praises in every land
and love "him."
But bid them remember this:
that in the end
God is the good they do;
God is in their hands too.
Perhaps that oft-quoted but rarely reflected upon bit of theology, that classic "fall-back position" really is the key to understanding the Mystery of God - the Mystery of Love. Love is a verb - like growing. May you grow in peace. Amen.
November 7 - morning
My entry here yesterday seems to have provoked a powerful response in quite a few people. I received notes containing song lyrics, poems, and verses of scripture. Here is a sampling:
And, in the end, the love you take / Is equal to the love you make.
- The Beatles (Paul McCartney) from the song The End
And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.
- American short-story writer and poet Raymond Carver’s last writing, a poem called Last Fragment
Love comes from God, and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God; those who don't know love, don't know God; for God is love.
- John (the Evangelist)
The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing , one knowing, one love.
- Meister Eckhart
November 13 - morning
Along the West Trail at Lost Maples State Natural Area.
We just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Lost Maples State Natural Area and, as always, I have a few pictures to share...
A spring along the East Trail - one of the Park's highlights.
Maples cascading down a slope.
There was some color in spots along the West Trail, though this was not a great color year.
Wood fern beside a creek.
Red Oak leaf.
One of the canyons of the Nueces north of Camp Wood.
Brushy bluestem grass.
No, they are not native!
Hill Country sunset.
November 14 - morning
Part of the "Lost Maples Gang."
A few thoughts about pilgrimage...
It seems that we live in the age of "been there, done that." When it comes to travel, we are encouraged to rush from one location to the other as if we are in a competition to check items off the list of "one thousand places to see before you die." As a result, few of us really see anything. While I am not immune to the competitive travel impulse, I also recognize the value of returning time after time to places that speak to my heart.
Victor and I both feel a very profound connection to the Hill Country canyons surrounding Lost Maples State Natural Area. Our annual treks there have a ritualistic side to them that help strengthen our relationship as well as our love for that region. Likewise, inviting our friends to join us there year after year renews the bonds of our little extended family. This is travel with a purpose.
I think we could all use a little practice of pilgrimage. No matter which place you choose, the "destination" will be a more deeply lived life.
November 22 - morning
Camellia sasanqua "Yuletide" on our back deck.
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that you find sometime during the course of this day to reflect on William Blake's comment that, "Gratitude is Heaven itself." Blessings to you wherever you are.
It is a chilly morning here in Austin. A strong cold front blew through yesterday afternoon - banishing some record-setting heat. The pictures below were all taken in my garden yesterday. The butterfly migration is in full swing and the backyard was filled with many different species, some of which I could not identify. Perhaps some of the butterfly aficionados out there could help me? I guess they were stocking up on nectar and are now riding the cold front breezes south.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. - Meister Eckhart
Close-up of Camelia "Yuletide."
This little guy was really enjoying our Tithonias (Mexican sunflowers.) Can anyone identify him?
Where does the butterfly begin and the flower end? This is another new species to me, a "Julia Heliconian. " I also saw an "Isabella's Heliconian," very striking.
There were quite a few Monarchs in hte garden - on their way back to Mexico, I suppose.
Lots of Zebras...
...and Gulf Frittilaries.
Basho - the boss of our pride. (Who is pestering me right now for more breakfast.)
Victor snuggling Basho and his brother Issa.
November 27 - morning
Along the banks of the Missouri River in North Dakota (photo by my sister, Diana.)
We are a landscape of all we have seen. - Isamu Noguchi, sculptor and designer of gardens
As a people, Americans have become famous as the world's most gluttonous consumers. Among the things we consume most voraciously are images. Whether we are sitting in front of computers, televisions, or looking out of the windows of our cars - we are confronted by an avalanche of imagery. Studies have shown that on average each of us is exposed to 60,000 "commercially-driven visual and audio impressions" every single day! No wonder we have also become world famous for our short attention spans.
I didn't start this website to add to the clutter. In fact, my greatest hope for Soul of the Garden is that it may become your refuge from the visual and mental chaos that we call modernity. In a very real sense, we are what we consume, and here, it is my goal to offer something that you can pay attention to and actually grow as a result. During my Sunday school class this week, we had a discussion about Joel Osteen's contention that our greatest challenge as modern humans is "getting stuck," of finding ourselves in a rut where we are no longer growing. This is very basic, but it is also a critically important observation. We are quite literally exhausted by the tsunami of images and information surging over and around us and most of our energy is spent simply trying to keep our heads above the water - we get "stuck."
Of course, we also get stuck when we succumb to the disorienting stories and "news" that is embedded within all of those "commercially-driven images." Where does sit-com / Fox news reality end and real life begin? Many of us can no longer tell. As a result, even the stories we tell ourselves can be as scattered and crazy as the average television commercial break.
Paying attention is a counter-cultural activity in modern America, and it absolutely requires practice. Soul of the Garden is not the antidote to the landscape of greed and disorientation, but I hope it will become a part of your daily practice. If we truly are "the landscape of all we have seen," then why not carve out a little time every day to "see" some beauty? Go back to the image that started this entry and allow yourself to sink into that beautiful sunset image along the banks of the Missouri River, imagine the harsh calls of the geese and the chill in the air. Plug in to something real and vital and blessed every single day wherever you can find it - make that a part of your practice and you may just become that hidden landscape that calls to you from deep within your own heart. Pass this along to a friend. Peace.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Couldn't resist sharing one more image of the Julia Heilconian butterfly from last week.
November 29 - morning
Another beautiful image of the Missouri River from my sister!
Just a quick note... Michael Benedikt, the author of God is the Good We Do will have a book-signing event at 7 P.M. tonight at Bookpeople downtown. God is the Good We Do is one of the best books of theology that I have ever read. I hope to see you at the signing!