Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Have Been a Child Today

But for the birds in my yard today I think I might be overwhelmed with sadness as a result of the recent, disturbing news on the international,national and local level. It seems the longer I live the more deeply the world's hurts bore into my daily consciousness and I do not know what to do with their effects, especially since most of the situations are far beyond my control. Fortunately for me, the birds are here and being that we are in "the bleak midwinter", they are hungry...which is really why they come, of course. Out my living room window, where I am writing, I can look up and see downy woodpeckers, goldfinches, pine siskins, Carolina chickadees, and tufted titmice in the tree branches of the front yard. The siskins and goldfinches are feeding from feeders, but also from the tiny seeds of the sweet gum balls that are still hanging on the tree. The woodpeckers, chickadees and titmice are feeding from a homemade peanut butter suet mixture but also from dead branches and a large hollowed out piece of tree trunk we attached to the sweet gum a couple of years ago hoping to attract screech owls . From this window I have watched the Carolina wren, the chickadees, the titmice and the woodpeckers going in and out of the large hole all morning and I wonder what they are finding inside.

Pennsylvania has been invaded by pine siskins and by white-winged crossbills this winter. Both are usually a northerly species that sometimes come this far south when the cone crops fail in their home range. Both have found refuge and nourishment from Pennsylvania's trees and people and we who watch birds are delighted to have them as part of our avian neighborhood this winter. Come spring they will be gone and probably won't be back in numbers like we are now having for decades. Because of today's extremely cold and windy conditions I spent a good part of the morning taking care of my feeders and thinking about where to add new ones and I finally got around to installing our old Christmas tree in the front yard as a temporary winter shelter. It is also a good place to hang pine cones covered with peanut butter and sunflower seeds as high energy treats. I will be watching through the day to see which birds first figure out that the cones are edible and start feeding.

It was in the process of making the peanut butter pine cones that I thought about feeling like a child again today. Making them took a good bit of time and effort...there was the gathering of the pine cones, the making of hangers out of some thin wire I bought this morning, the mixing of the peanut butter, lard, pecan meal and cornmeal, the rolling of the sticky cones in sunflower seed bits and finally braving the wind and taking them out to the newly installed Christmas tree to hang them....just what I needed to get through this frigid windy day in good humor. I thought about how children feel when they are happily working on a project, no matter how humble. Until they reach an age of worrying about other people's opinions they are proud and pleased with their creative prowess, and then delighted in the final result. I felt the same sense of satisfaction with my own efforts. It was a balm for my sadness to be doing something constructive, something that would tangibly benefit the creatures in my tiny bit of the world. Small an effort though it may be, I know that what I can provide sustains beings that come to find nourishment here and in the result warms and enriches me as well. On this cold, blustery and inhospitable day I feel once again the old delight in partnering with God in caring for what He has made. I only wish I could do the same for the inhabitants of rest of the world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Winter's Invitation

One of my favorite books “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer contains some good advice as we head into winter. He says, “In the Upper Midwest, newcomers often receive a classic piece of wintertime advice: “The winters here will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Here people spend good money on warm clothing so that they can get outdoors and avoid the “cabin fever” that comes from huddling fearfully by the fire during the hard-frozen months. If you live here long, you learn that a daily walk into the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly to the very heart of the season you fear.”

Even though many of us would not choose winter as our favorite season, it is hard to deny that winter has a beauty and an invitation all its own. It is a time to soak up the silence of a snowy landscape, to be awed at the architecture of the trees we so often overlook when all is green and to joyfully welcome back the birds that call our land their home for these cold winter months. In the coming days, take the time and make the effort to heed Parker Palmer’s advice to “get out” into winter. Go for walks and watch the familiar juncos and white-throated sparrows as they scurry through the underbrush. Go search for the harder-to-find rough-legged hawks and flocks of horned larks, American pipits and snow buntings in the farm fields or the elusive hermit thrush in the woodlands. May the winter season, even as it sometimes tries the soul, bring us a sense of joy and of gratitude for the birds we will miss and fondly remember when they leave us in May. Get out and go look for them while they are with us and enjoy the seeking as much as the finding.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

End of Life and Living On

A man I have respected for many years passed away yesterday, the result of an unexpected accident on Christmas day. His life touched so many people both locally and around the world and his passing leaves a hole in the faith community and church of which he was a part. We are all grappling with that hole, with his absence, not quite believing it is real yet, not able to believe he is really gone.

Once again I am struck with the uncertainty of our lives...the fact that we can never really know what the next moment may hold. I am left with the familiar and well-worn question of how to live my life to the fullest. Not full in the accumulation of things, nor in recognition nor fame, nor in doing whatever I want to do. In my mind, living life to the fullest means living in communion with God...with knowing and serving Him as I am able, whatever that be. Everyone who thinks on this friend who died will think of him with fondness and with gratitude, whether they were actually personally close to him or not. He was the kind of person who enriched everyone around him by his caring and compassion and by his vital relationship with Jesus. He pointed people to God, just by being around them and everyone who knew him was richer for having come in contact with him. What more can anyone ask for as they leave their mark on this world?

I am reminded of the similarities between death of plants and animals in the natural world and such a person's passing beyond this life. In the woodlands or fields when something dies it leaves sustenance for the life around it in its remains. As its body is broken down, nutrients are made available to strengthen and nourish what takes its place in the ecosystem. My friend's life was like that as well, though in the spiritual realm. His legacy is a reminder of what a life consecrated to God and dedicated to loving people looks like. While we surely recognize those traits in people while they are living, oft times their character hits us with renewed force when they are no longer with us. Sometimes it is when we are keenly aware of their absence that the seeds they have scattered abroad into the lives around them take root and begin to grow into their likeness. May we all live lives, as our friend did, that cause others to see God and His invitation in us. May we grow in our communion with Jesus and encourage that same growth in those with whom we come in contact. And when our own passing comes, may we be remembered as ones whose lives and deaths pointed people to life in our Lord.