Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Audible Pause

Today I walk the pond slowly, meditatively, as one searching not so much for nature, but as one searching for a sign. I lift my eyes to the heavens, a dome of clear blue sky stretching endlessly, neatly tucked around the corners of the earth. Well, almost clear. One, tiny little cloud floats in isolation. It seems silly, that lone cloud in a sea of blue. Doesn't he know this is a cloudless day?

I study that cloud and try to make out its shape. A semicolon. That's it. A tidy, Times New Roman semicolon. A pause in the clear blue. The grammar book tells us that semicolons indicate "an audible pause." The grammar book also tells us that semicolons are often feared. How and when to use them?

Yes, that seems fitting. An audible pause. And a little scary. The narrative that is my life right now seems to have come to a rather audible pause. Where to go next? The questions in my mind are so loud I'm convinced others must be able to hear them. And why the pause when what I really would prefer is clear blue skies? A little scary.

I continue to circle the pond and the corner of my eye catches a flash of white. Spinning around, I see a Great Egret take off from his hiding place in the pond. Has he been here before? I don't think so, at least not that I've seen.

My eyes follow the flash -- soaring, circling, spiraling -- until it vanishes. "They shall mount up with wings like eagles," I recall. My mind reaches back for the prior phrase. Who is it that shall mount up with wings? Ah, yes. Those who wait for the Lord.

So a semicolon . . . and a reminder to wait for the Lord.

My final stretch takes me through the wild apple trees. One branch hangs especially low, a cluster of small apples well within reach. I can't resist, and I pluck the fruit. Holding it to my nose, I inhale deeply. Scent is a marvelous thing, and I'm transported to fall and applesauce and cinnamon and books and all things lovely. Perhaps I'm to pause, waiting for the fall? I like to think such tidy thoughts. But perhaps not. Perhaps this narrative pause will take me beyond the fall. Either way I know that it is through waiting on the Lord that I will find renewed strength.

I come home and tuck the apple atop a cozy row of fall-ish books. I look up Isaiah 40:31 to catch the words once again, and it leaps from the page like the egret from the pond: a semicolon.

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

This pause, this waiting, is good. Ann Voskamp chooses her words well: "Waiting is just a gift of time in disguise -- a time to pray wrapped up in a ribbon of patience."  

First the wait, and then the soaring. And when I walk or soar or run again -- toward whatever the future holds -- I will have gained the strength that comes from the gift of time, the gift of being invited to wait upon the Lord. 


Friday, July 22, 2016

Ordinary Time

The rain kept up a steady rhythm throughout the night, causing my thoughts to wander toward the approaching fall. Ordinarily, fall is my favorite time of year. Back to school excitement, new books, sharpened pencils, blank pages waiting to be filled.

This year is more uncertain. We haven't determined for sure how or where our children will be educated. Much of this depends on my own work schedule; we may be entering a new season in which my work hours will extend beyond the home in different ways. Am I preparing to home school, or am I preparing to branch out? Am I looking for the yellow Ticonderoga pencils in our school room, or am I looking for the yellow bus down the road? I don't know.

It was this uncertainty that relentlessly pushed itself to the front of my mind as I circled the pond this morning. Toward what am I walking this fall? Again, I don't know.

Even the pond felt uncertain, awkward, and ordinary today. Not quite summer, not quite fall. The landscape workers contributed to the tedium. A steady drone of weed-eaters reminded me that time marches on and there is work to be done, even if we don't always know the object toward which we are working.

A disassembled fence, dusty lupine, rain drenched grasses . . . all so ordinary.

I'm currently reading Christie Purifoy's lovely, lyrical memoir, Roots and Sky. She devotes a thought-provoking chapter to the church calendar's season called "Ordinary Time." This is a time unmarked by the more "exciting" events such as Advent or Lent. These are the ordinary days -- not ordinary as in plain, but ordinary as in ordinal, or "ordered." One day falling after another.

Interestingly, the book I've just finished, Emily Freeman's Simply Tuesday, also devotes a section to this idea of Ordinary Time. Freeman writes, "to learn to live well in Ordinary Time is to keep company with Christ on our simple Tuesdays and remember how He delights in keeping company with us."

I long to be faithful in this time, whether it's uncertain, ordinary, awkward, or celebratory. Lately, my morning Bible reading has taken me to the book of Esther. Today I was reminded that "these days should be remembered." (9:28) The context refers to Purim, and therefore "these days" were marked for God's people by celebration, feasting and joy. But shouldn't also these ordinary days be remembered? For God is with us -- God is Emanuel -- whether we find ourselves in Advent or Ordinary Time.

The last bend of the pond path is often ordinary. Drying grasses bent by their own weight, decaying bushes giving up the last of their blossoms. But this morning, one stretch was marked by something slightly out of the ordinary. A cluster of Queen Anne's lace bowed before me, scepters stretching across the path. My mind went back to Esther, to King Xerxes extending his scepter before Queen Esther. She boldly approached the king at Mordecai's request: "Urge her to go into the king's presence . . . ." (4:8) She approached, and her people were blessed.

Surely it is no ordinary thing to come before a king. Yet I am invited to do so every day. The scepter was extended long ago, and there it remains. I am urged -- yes even warmly beckoned -- to go into the King's presence. And this makes any time -- ordinary or uncertain as it may be -- a holy time to be remembered.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cedar Waxwing

Sunday evening I often long for a quiet stroll around the pond. The goal is not exercise this time, but more of a sauntering reflection. I quietly made a lap or two, when I noticed a new bird. Well, it appeared to be new to this area in that I hadn't yet seen one at the pond. A Cedar Waxwing sat perched on the dead branches of an old tree. He sat for long enough that I could study his coloring, and then darted off. But much to my surprise, he made a swooping hairpin turn and then came right back to the branch. I watched as he made this same route several times. Swoop, turn, alight. Swoop, turn, alight. When he came back with iridescent insect wings peeking from his beak, I realized this must be his feeding pattern. I watched more closely, and sure enough, each swoop and turn coincided with the mid-air demise of a winged insect.

I wondered if I might have time to run home for Jamie's camera so I could get some close-up shots. Maybe the waxwing would stay long enough? I headed home, and as I rounded the bend, Jamie was just arriving to join me. I was happy to change my plans, and we took a few lingering laps instead. But as we came to the same old tree, the waxwing was still there. Maybe I could grab the camera yet?

We headed home, grabbed the fancy-pants Canon, and Jamie gave me a quick lesson about ISO and shutter speed and f-stop as we again approached the tree. Our faithful waxwing was still there, bless his heart. Occasionally he was joined by another, and between the two of them and their predictable swoop, turn, alight pattern, I was able to catch a few shots.

I tiptoed into the brush to get a bit closer. Usually I try to avoid walking through the vegetation. The signs reminding visitors to "please retain in natural state" suggest that heavy traffic is not welcome. But I figured if the maintenance crew can storm through with weed-eaters (which they do), surely I could tip-toe through with a camera (which I did). A few families paused in their own Sunday strolls to admire the birds I had zeroed in on. Kids pointed and wondered, parents welcomed the wonder. "Look at all the birds!" The pond was a hum of activity as a dozen bird species darted and swooped and chirped. I half expected David Attenborough to provide a moving British commentary, but the delight of children and chatter of birds proved to be just what the moment called for.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Slowly Waning

A squirrel hops in arcs across our backyard and then stops for a moment. Poised on his back legs, paws daintily pressed together, he peers through the window, looking at me as though he's about to deliver a quaint little speech. I listen very intently, and I'm almost certain I can hear his oration:

The year has tipped beyond its peak,
Another summer wanes,
We see it in the Queen Anne's lace
And in the drizzly rains.

I start my scurries to and fro,
As nuts and fruit expand,
(But still we'll have warm days ahead,
in this fickle pacific land.)

I walked the pond yesterday, and couldn't help but notice the signs of an ever-so-gradually waning summer. (Even more so today, which is grey and drizzly.) I love the fall, so it's with joy and anticipation that I notice the tidings that declare: autumn will come in its time. The first of the Queen Anne's lace . . . the blackberries turning from green to red to purple . . . the filberts expanding slowly but surely.

How lovely and reassuring to watch the seasons bend from one to the next, generously sharing their glories with each other.