Monday, September 15, 2008

Listen With Your Heart

For many of us, and as I have written before, autumn is a season that sparks restlessness and the urge to explore. It brings the kinds of days that are well described in a line from a favorite childhood book, Champion Dog, Prince Tom, ( paraphrased since I can't remember the exact words)...days that make you feel as though you could "walk across the top of the world without getting tired". And these days bring to mind a poem that I have been reciting to myself for almost than 30 years now, a poem I came across in a British magazine while living in Botswana in the late 1970's. I hope you enjoy it and even more, take it to heart.

Listen With Your Heart (Edna Jaques)
Go out, go out I beg of you,
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of Earth
With all the wonder of a child.
Walk hand in hand with nature's God
Where scarlet lilies brightly flame.
Make footprints in the virgin sod
By some clear lake without a name.

Listen not only with your ears,
But make your heart a listening post.
Travel above the timber line,
Make fires along some lonely coast.
Breathe the high air of snow-crowned peaks,
Taste fog and kelp and salty tides.
Go pitch your tent among the pines
Where golden sun and peace abide.

Follow the trail of moose and deer,
The wild goose on her lonely flight.
Savor the fragrance of the wild,
The sweetness of a northern night.
Drink deep of distance, rest your eyes
Where centuries of peace have lain.
And let your thoughts go winging out,
Beyond the realm of man's domain.

Lay hold upon the out-of-doors
With heart and soul and seeking brain.
You'll find the answers to all life
Held in the sun and wind and rain.
Where'er you walk, by land or sea,
The page is clear for all who seek.
If you will listen with your heart
And let the voice of nature speak.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Stuff of Earth

Many readers know Rich Mullins' song "If I Stand" and the chorus is usually pointed to as having particular significance. The chorus proclaims standing firm in faith and God's grace when we fail, good messages of course. It is the verses that have special significance for me, however, and the words are printed below.

There's more that rises in the morning than the sun
And more that shines in the night than just the moon
It's more than just this fire here that keeps me warm
In a shelter that is larger than this room

And there's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs that I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance
I owe only to the giver of all good things

There's more that dances on the prairies than the wind
More that pulses in the ocean than the tide
There's a love that is fiercer than the love between friends
More gentle than a mother's when her baby's at her side

And there's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs that I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance
I owe only to the giver of all good things

All who follow God wrestle at times with that which tends to draw them away from Him, with that which compromises "following hard after God". Sometimes it is clearly sin or willful pursuit of something we should avoid.
A friend of mine has just written a thoughtful blog post about "Issues of Personal Holiness" that speaks directly to the matter. (A link to his blog, Heart for God, appears on my Blog links.) But other times what pulls us away is what Rich Mullins has called "the stuff of Earth"...that which is good and beautiful, noble and commendable... that which in and of itself is not a stumbling block to faith nor to seeking God. What I appreciate about these lyrics is the recognition that sometimes what moves me the most deeply...literally the stuff of the physical earth and of relationships can "compete for the allegiance" that is due God alone. And when allegiance to the Giver is challenged by allegiance to the gift I need to be reminded that the two are not the same... that as much as I love and appreciate the gifts, the Giver stands separate and above them all.

Because I am finite, many times what I can see and touch, what I can experience with my senses looms largest in my mind and heart. I am captivated by images of dancing prairie grasses and ocean currents, sun and moon rises. I am captivated by the natural wonders I so often write about and appreciate every day. And because I am finite and because I am moved by music that sinks Truth into my very heart, I appreciate this poetic reminder to exalt the "Giver of all good things" above all else. This reminder is a needed call to personal holiness as I live out my days in wonder of the world around me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Parable of the Late Summer's Song

Do you ever stand outside in your back yard at night in the late summer and listen to the myriad crickets and katydids calling? Do you ever listen closely to the individual calls and try to count the species? A few minutes ago I was out in the yard doing just that and after listening a while tried to imagine just how many noisy creatures might have been calling within the borders of our yard. It isn't always easy, discerning the various pitches and cadences of these nocturnal mating invitations but with practice I have become better at recognizing some of them. Tonight I counted 12 species, though there could easily be more since many of them sound similar. I have a CD entitled Songs of Crickets and Katydids of the Mid-Atlantic States that I listen to each year before the seasonal chorus begins in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the various voices. As difficult as it is for me to pick out and remember each call, I have a friend who knows them intimately and recognizes them all without effort. I also have a couple of friends who are knowledgeable about the nocturnal flight calls of migrating thrushes. They position themselves in a quiet spot well before sunrise and sit and just listen to the various thrushes calling far up in the darkness as they fly overhead. Sometimes the listeners tally what they have heard and will report that they counted 400 wood thrushes, 100 veeries, and 50 Swainson thrushes in the pre-dawn migration flight on a given day. While I am pretty good at recognizing many bird songs in the daylight, I have not yet even attempted to learn the nocturnal flight calls. And yet, I have no doubt that others can do it.

As I was outside listening a little while ago, my mind turned to thinking about God's ability to listen to the prayers of so many of us all at the same time, knowing not only who we are, but our very hearts as well. Whenever I have previously wondered about this I must have been sitting indoors rather than outside listening. When outdoors, I need only pay attention to realize that each voice is different even within the same species. It seems to me that the reason God recognizes of each our prayers is because He listens attentively and expectantly... just like I do when I'm out birding or mentally tallying birds while I am busy doing something else. It is their voice that reveals their identity and their proximity.

This evening I was part of a small group that meets to pray and encourage one another and as with any group, the members came together each with their own concerns, needs, fears and joys. And as we prayed God listened and attended to our cries, spoken and unspoken. He listens to our prayer because He loves us and He attends to our prayer because He knows us even better than we know ourselves. In future years when this late summer season rolls around, or when the spring avian migration begins and I once again have to tune my ears to recognize bird calls, I will be reminded to thank God yet again for His ability and His willingness to stoop to listen to the cries my heart, knowing that at the same time He is doing so for all who call on Him.