Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ascension thursday

what's going on in the hills, this may morning?
look at it all, the gold on the broom and the laburnum,
the shoulders of the thorntree bright with its surplice,
the ready emerald of grass, the quiet calves;

the chestnut trees have their candlesticks alight,
hedgerows are kneeling, the birch is still as a nun,
the cuckoo's two notes over the hush of bright streams
and a ghost mist bending away from the mead's censer;

from the council houses men come--oh come out before
the rabbits all scatter! with the weasel come and see
a wafer immaculate lifted from the earth
and the father kiss the son in the white dew.

--saunders lewis

Saturday, May 16, 2009

16 may: st. brendan's journey and ours

st. brendan is one of the best-known of all celtic saints. had he never made his famous journey, the account of which was as popular in the twelth century as angels and demons will be next week, he would still be remembered as a founder of monasteries, the total population of which has been claimed to be 3,000 monks.

but he did make his journey. whether it is history or legend has been discussed often, but it is still celebrated today in music, and tim severin has proved it could have been done.

still, the most important part of the journey as it is recorded in written account is not the facts so much as the structure of the facts.

before he embarks on his journey, the saint makes a forty-day fast and a trip up a mountain where he prays:

"shall i abandon the comforts and benefits of my home,
seeking the island of promise our fathers knew long ago,
sail on the face of the deep where no riches or fame
or weapons protect you, and nobody honours your name?
shall i take leave of my friends
and my beautiful native land,
tears in my eyes
as my knees mark my final prayer in the sand?
king of the mysteries, can i trust you on the sea?

christ of the heavens,
and christ of the ravenous ocean wave,
i will hold fast to my course
through the dangers i must brace,
king of the mysteries, angels will watch over me,
christ of the mysteries, when i trust you on the sea."
(celtic daily prayer, p. 179)

then he sets out in a coracle made of cow hides for the land of the blessed of which he has heard. his journey on the sea is uncharted, but his way through it is marked by the festivals of the church year. most famous of his stops is the great three days of pascha, which he and his companions celebrate on the back of a great beast, reminding us of the hymn "christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life."

he is told by a holy man whom he meets, and who brings them what they need for their liturgies, that he will find his goal in seven years. after five years, he returns home, where st. ida, who had fostered brendan, tells him that he will never reach his destination "on these soft, dead skins . . . build boats of timber, and you will find the country your are seeking from god." after another two years of celebrating the feasts, they reach their goal. "when they saw paradise in the midst of the ocean waves, they marvelled at the wonders of god and his power." wisdom of the celtic saints, pp. 62-63.

brendan's journey parallels our own, celebrating the wonders of god and his power through the cycles of the year as we come to find the goal not attainable in the skins that clothed the old adam, but only in the wood of the cross.

"brendan's example speaks to us each: have i the courage to leave the familiar and journey into the unknown? to journey beyond the way i have prayed, the life i have lived, the sensible and the secure? to trust god to take me beyond these familiar shores?

"christ of the mysteries, can i trust you on the sea?" (celtic daily prayer, p. 179)

Friday, May 15, 2009

14 may: seeing a blue jay

for those of us who are slackers and pray the psalter monthly rather than weekly, this morning"s psalms included these lines:

"thy name . . . is so nigh;
and that do thy wondrous works declare." (75:2)

i read these lines sipping my coffee on the edge of the great holler, with many oaks and one most magnificant sycamore swaying gently, graciously letting me share their lauds, and so i thought upon reading these words, amen, amen.

but then i walked down into another holler, and looked down upon a blue jay, eating his breakfast. he was a wondrous work indeed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

my place of resurrection

today is the first warm, humid day of summer this year in eureka springs, a kind of weather no one seems to have described so well as thomas merton in the sign of jonas, writing about fire watch on the fourth of july. it will be hotter, perhaps, on the fourth of july, but the muggy embrace of the pine-scented air will be the same.

i find today to be a special gift to me. for the second time, i have tried to leave this place, and found myself unable to do it. three years ago, when i first visited this land of limestone for what i thought would be a week's retreat, i could not force myself to the ticket office in fayetteville to buy a ticket back. now, after telling myself and my landlord and my friends that i was moving back to the pacific northwest, i find i cannot. i will visit. but for reasons which i do not understand but which i trust to be the compulsion of the spirit, this is where i will stay. and today i remember last summer in the cool fir-scented air of bellingham, missing the heat of the lime-stone hills while watching whatcom creek rush over georgeous sandstone.

early celtic christians sought out what they called the place of their resurrection: the place where they would be buried, and therefore where they would be resurrected. it seems i have found mine. now the task is to be faithful in the time before my burial.