Listen

An exercise I assigned my kids long ago in home school was to go outdoors with a notepad and pen, and to write down all they heard. I did it, too. This is when we lived in a mountain hollow.

At first we wrote down the sounds we were always conscious of: the neighbor’s hogs grunting, trucks rumbling by, dogs barking. Then we heard the birds and insects, the breeze rustling the trees. Then we noticed particular birds singing particular songs. We heard the way the wind made the leaves sound in the hickory leaves as opposed to the more crackly oaks and the tall brown grasses of the field. 

It helped to close our eyes, to block out the sense of sight, so that we were not looking for sounds, just hearing them. Just listening.

Have you ever sensed a call from somewhere deep inside you to listen? To pull away from all daily distractions and listen?

“There is a hunger in my heart tonight,

A longing in my soul, to hear

The voice of heaven o’er the noise of earth

That doth assail mine ear”

(from “Music” by Charles Phillips).

If we do not listen, how do we know there is nothing else to hear? How do we know what our own heart is saying? How do we know what others really mean?

We must knock it down a level and listen deeply.

In the process of learning to hear myself, I am realizing that I am not who I thought I was. “We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves to be like other people,” said Arthur Schopenhauer.

There is so much pressure to fit in, to please our parents, impress our teachers, attract our boyfriends, conform to our church teachings, behave according to our culture’s sacred doctrines, never doing or saying anything out of the norm. To do so is to experience rejection. Period.  

For instance, for years I listened to heavy metal music because all my friends liked it. You know what? I hate it.

For years I defined myself as religiously and politically conservative. Then I said to a co-worker, “I’m basically conservative.” As the words came out, a voice inside me said, “No! No I’m not! Why are you saying that?”

Later that day, I did some thinking, reading and listening. I began to see that I identified myself as conservative out of habit, and that it had started in order to conform to a group. By doing so, I put myself into a box, prevented my own personal growth by not listening to other perspectives, and caused others to label and dismiss me. It just wasn’t me.    

Until we learn to listen to, know and accept ourselves, we cannot know and accept others. How can we when we’re not even being real with ourselves?

In listening, we learn there is more to ourselves, more to others, more to the world and more to God than what we hear everyday.

As a child, I knew how to listen. I lived on the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and they had much to say. I lived played in a wooded lot, and the trees and earth had much to say. On my way home from school, I left the sidewalk and took the path down to Corey Creek, where I sat alone, watching and listening to the water.

Out there in nature, somewhere deep inside my child’s heart, I heard beyond what I could see and hear. I never went to church, was not taught about a deity, had no religious instruction, yet I knew about God.

“Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made,” says Romans 1:20. 

Perhaps, in the process of learning to listen, we may find that God is not who we thought God was either. Listen.

Daffodils, Onion Grass & Spring Peepers Appear

Daffodils, Onion Grass & Spring Peepers Appear

What an early spring we’re having.

Here at 2 Pond Farm, our maple syrup-making was shorter than usual because the maple trees started budding. It’s during that interim period between winter and spring, when the nights are still cold and the days get warm, that the sap flows. Some years, this weather has remained for up to five weeks, but this year it lasted only two weeks.

Still, we did get a few gallons of syrup. Now spring is here.        

Through the stand of still-bare trees, a patch of daffodils is blooming in the woods. The forsythia outside my kitchen window is aflame with yellow. Onion grass (delicious chopped into mashed potatoes) grows in tufts around the yard. The budding lilacs are waiting their turn.

The husband has plowed the fields. When it stops raining for a few days, he can finish tilling the large plots. However he did plant some peas. Lots of other early-planting seeds have yet to go in. Next week, we’ll put 200 strawberry plants in the ground, as well as some new berry vines.

Last weekend I planted some Tennessee orchid ferns, given to me by some friends. In the early spring they are supposed to pop from the ground as fiddleheads, a delicacy in some states similar to the way we enjoy morel mushrooms here.

Then there’s the chore of cleaning the yard: raking up leaves, pine needles and small sticks; clearing the dead growth in the flower beds; pulling out honeysuckle before it goes rampant. 

The nights are warm enough now to keep the bedroom window open a crack. The breeze carries with it the all-night broadcast of Virginia peepers (thanks to the “front pond” the husband created years ago).

I found a few eloquent quotes about this annual event online in people’s blogs:

            “And there is now a grand chorus of Virginia peepers in all the ponds and creeks around us!”

            “As I drove in our nearly half-mile long driveway, the sound of the Virginia peepers overpowered my radio, even with my truck windows rolled-up. What a beautiful sound.”

I wanted to see a spring peeper but they are hard to spot, so I looked them up in our book, “Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia,” published by the UNC Press Chapel Hill. We bought this book when we lived in the hollow, where the spring peepers were loud enough to keep you awake at night. That is, until you got used to the sound. At first I thought they were insects.

The scientific name for these little guys is hyla crucifer, so named because of the prominent dark X marking on their backs. They can be tan, brown or gray. They also have large toepads to help them get a grip as they climb.  

The beautiful sound is a mating call. It is the male peeper calling for a female, all night long. The females come to the male, mate, and then lay eggs on underwater sticks and plants. In 12 days, the baby peepers are born. The tadpoles eat algae and tiny organisms in the water.

In three to four months, the tadpoles undergo metamorphosis and become adults. Then they take up residence in the woods, where they come out at night to look for food: beetles, ants, flies and spiders. In the winter, they hibernate under logs or loose bark on trees. For their size, they are quite sturdy: They can survive having most of their body frozen.

Getting a bit off subject here, the list of the peepers’ prey I found on a website contains some fascinating names. Like daring jumping spider, rabid wolf spider, horned fungus beetle, six-spotted tiger beetle and Asian tiger mosquito.

So much for Virginia peepers.

On the farm, the next thing we’ll harvest (I think) is asparagus. The husband has always remembered that it comes up around the time of his father’s birthday in late April. In years past, we’ve had asparagus through July, enough for ourselves and to share with other family members. However, the husband has been expanding the patch, so it will be exciting to see what comes up this year. The roots take three years to get established, so it takes patience.

We also have wild asparagus growing along the fencerows on the property. These are especially delicious. One plant by the “back pond” grows very thick and tall stalks, but tender as butter. Go figure.

Ah, Spring! All around us and in our hearts!

The Serpent’s Sales Pitch

The Serpent’s Sales Pitch

Did you read that article in Saturday’s paper about studies being done on how to “brand” our brains?

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology are using MRI technology to find out what triggers us to buy products. They believe real, live people can be molded into “consumers.”

All this money and time being spent on research, when all they have to do is read the third chapter of Genesis.

The sales techniques used by the Serpent Advertising Agency caused the very first humans to “consume” a product they really didn’t want. Like the modern day consuming experience, it looked so good in the store, but once they got it home they were sorry they’d bought it. 

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent used three selling points on Eve. First he convinced her he was the expert on the product, then that consuming it was a savvy thing to do and would give her a big edge over other people.

This tree God told the first two humans not to touch was the “tree of the consciousness of good and evil,” according to Genesis 2:9. At that point, Eve was conscious only of good. She wanted to do the right thing.

So the serpent had quite a task: to convince the woman that something very bad for her was actually very good.

This is the way of evil. This has always been the tactic in convincing people to do wrong. They must first be convinced it is good.

Hitler was sure he was doing the right thing and convinced a whole nation it was good, too. Paul Hill was convinced he was doing good by killing John Britton, an abortion doctor.

Every day, husbands and wives become convinced that a smarter, more caring or good-looking person will make a better spouse for them than the one they have. Divorce is the good and right thing to do (heh heh).

Every day, Americans are convinced into buying all kinds of crap they don’t need.

With Eve, the serpent’s first tactic was to suggest doubting what God had said.

“Did God say you can’t eat of any of the trees in the garden?” he asked.

Eve answered him correctly, repeating what God had actually said, that all the trees were OK, but they must not eat or touch the one in the middle or else they would die. 

“You won’t die,” the serpent told her. 

 Eve’s first mistake was to listen to this guy. Though that alone was not an act of disobedience, she knew at this point he was contradicting what God said. 

Maybe Eve thought, “Well, the serpent should know, after all, he played an apple farmer in that sitcom.”

The serpent is also insinuating that you shouldn’t take what God or the Bible says literally. Only ignorant people do that. After all, God is love, and he wants you to be happy. He wouldn’t let you die.

“God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened,” continued the serpent. In other words, God is the one doing the deceiving, not him.

Consuming this fruit is the smart thing to do. All young women who are educated, liberated and empowered can make their own decisions about what they want. You really have come a long way, baby. It’s everywhere you want to be.

 “You will be like God, knowing good from evil,” the serpent promised.

Owning this $500 handbag would give Eve an edge over all the other women at work. She would be omniscient, admired and respected above all others.

All this time, Eve is listening. Women are most influenced by words, and boy is this guy a smooth talker.

So Eve decides to take a look. Looking can’t hurt, can it?

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

And thus is the first consumer molded.

“The creation of belief is the essence of marketing,” said the LA Times article. 

The brains of the Cal Tech volunteers responded to “cool” products and celebrities with an involuntary surge in the motor cerebellum to move the hand. The brain was reaching out for what it wanted. Researchers call these responders “cool fools.”

What should Eve have done? Arguing with the guy didn’t work, as he obviously knew her vulnerability.

She should never have listened in the first place. She should have walked away, turned it off, close the pages, logged off and changed screen names. 

Does she really want goodness, wisdom and power? She should choose what to watch, what to read and who to listen to, rather than having it foisted upon and into and through her.

She and we must choose what messages our brains receive.

Then corporate billionaires will not be allowed to prey upon our human needs to mold us into consumers, and we will be contented women and men.

Deep Change is Hard Work

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. — Albert Einstein             

Years ago, the husband and I befriended a man I’ll call Rick. Rick was living in a rehabilitation center and participating in a successful program. By the age of 40, when we met him, he’d been in and out of jail numerous times since the age of 17. He seemed unable to quit his life of crime.

When he left the center, he had a low-paying job and a place to live. But making a living proved difficult, as it does for many of us. Finally, he chose to go stay with his mother, who lived out in the country, still insisting that his stealing days were behind him. He was starting over.

We met Rick’s mother. She told us a few more things about his history, including the times when he’d stolen money from her and other family members.

He’s no good, she told us. She told him that too.   

A few months went by and we got a call from Rick’s mother.

Keep your place locked up, she said. Rick’s gone and he took my checkbook with him. He’s probably headed to your place.

Rick did not rob us at that time, but he did rob others and ended up right back in jail.

What happened?

I don’t claim to understand all the circumstances of Rick’s compulsion to steal and get caught, but I do know that returning to the home and neighborhood that had shaped him into a criminal was not conducive to starting a new life.  

The husband and I were raised by parents who knew little about disciplining children. When we stepped out of line, we were smacked, beaten and/or verbally humiliated. Some parents back then were heard to say, “I’ll show you who’s boss.”

After we were married for a year or two, we started going to church. We learned about other ways to raise kids and discipline them. We moved 400 miles away from our families. While we were far from perfect as parents, at least we did not subject our children to the outright abuse we’d been subjected to.

It was more than just learning new parenting skills. It was also about being in a community of other families who were also trying to be good parents. We read books and talked to each other about our kids.

When I needed advice about child-rearing, I did not ask my parents or my husband’s parents. I never asked them for marriage advice either. My parents had never gotten along and ended up divorcing. His parents had never gotten along but stayed married.

With all the counseling, support groups, classes, books and websites available today that show us a different way to approach life and relationships from the way we were raised, there seems little excuse to be carbon copies of our families of origin.

However, it is difficult work.

It takes recognizing that we’re walking a well-worn path that we swore (usually as teenagers) we’d never take.  It takes reaching out beyond our walls to get help with making changes. It takes finding new role models. It takes surrounding ourselves with people who will be honest with us about our shortcomings and support us in a new way of being. 

For some of us, it takes hitting bottom before we can find the way up.

Rick did go to jail again. When he got out, he robbed us and was arrested for the crime within 48 hours. And back to jail he went.

But something must have happened to him there.

The last time I heard about him, he was living 100 miles away from home and doing well.

Living Inside the Grace of Our Own Day

Photo courtesy of Great South Bay Images

“Many of us have never learned to live and stay inside the grace of our own day,” writes Wm. Paul Young, author of “The Shack.”            

The grace of our own day. I like that.

We can take on the fears that the news and social media attempt to instill in us, or not. It’s our choice.

Whenever I hear an NPR reporter ask a source their favorite question—“What should we be worried about?”—I think, “You worry about it, honey. Pas moi.”

Life is too short to spend it worrying about things that may never happen, things that don’t concern me, things that “the media” wants me to be afraid of and things that are plain not true. For that matter, why ever worry about anything?

Fear sells. It goes right to the limbic (reactive) part of our brains.

Fear can lead to panic, and panic leads to actions such as rushing to the grocery store for a pallet’s-worth of toilet paper, thus creating a shortage, or to the gas station to fill anything that looks like a container with gas, thus creating a shortage.

If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it should be that panic can create the very situation we fear. 

Maybe watching and reading the news 24/7 isn’t a way to stay “informed,” but to be programmed with fear.

Some worry is more personal. When I was young, a relative used to tell me, “I’m worried about you,” as if that meant, “I love you.” But if you truly are concerned about me, then pray for me, trust God that all will be well for me, envision a good outcome for me.  

“We think we can live another’s grace for them,” writes Young; “that by worrying on their behalf we are being helpful.”

I am not immune to worry. Many are the sleepless nights I’ve spent worrying about loved ones, about money, about daily difficulties, about ongoing situations. To the point of it affecting my daily functioning, health and relationships.

The definition of worry is “to afflict with mental distress or agitation; make anxious.” I can surely testify to that. Sometimes I’ve even referred to my bed as a torture rack.

Then I realized that I hadn’t been intentionally praying, entrusting people and situations into God’s care each day. Each today.

In an episode of “The Heat of the Night,” Bishop William Prinn is forced off the road in a racially-motivated act to hurt him. A police officer visiting him in the hospital is puzzled by Prinn’s cheerfulness.

Prinn says, “We live with sadness, but we needn’t live sadly.

“Today,” the writer of Hebrews says, we are to encourage (add courage to) one another, so that our hearts do not become hardened by the brokenness we see all around us.

There’s no denying our world is broken. Here, there and everywhere. Out in the world and inside our homes.

Young points out that, “‘The poor you have with you always’ is not Jesus dismissing the plight of the poor, but resisting the temptation to get dragged into the illusion that he, that day, was a resolution to the global issue of poverty. He chose to love the actual poor person who was in front of him, not the imagined masses of poor people who were not.”

Remember the manna? In Exodus, when the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, God fed them with manna. Each morning they gathered it to be consumed that day.

Trust is for today, now, this moment.

May we learn to live and stay inside the grace of our own days.  

Planting a Grove of Fruit Trees

Sunday began with a flock of hundreds of sparrows swirling in a huge wave in the blue sky overhead. Around and up and down and over and down again, alighting in my neighbor’s woods. They scattered about in the trees, cackling and chattering and squawking.

I stood and watched, leaning on a shovel, from the small field beside my house. By the end of the day, the far side of the field would be transformed into a young grove.

The husband needed help planting fruit trees. The week before, he set out for a couple of nearby nurseries with the intention of buying a half dozen trees, two each of three types. He came home with 15.

Since it’s the end of the season, the nurseries offered him deals he could not refuse, so that he spent less on 15 trees than he’d planned to spend on six.

So he came home with six apple trees, three cherries, three peaches, two pears and a nectarine.

“What are we going to do with all that fruit?” I asked. I envisioned laboring for 14-hour days, faithfully filling canning jars of applesauce, apple pie filling and apple butter. And I don’t eat sugar, so how am I going to concoct this stuff?

Perhaps we can sell some at a farmer’s market, give some away and save some in a root cellar. But all this fruitful harvest is yet a few years away, after the trees start bearing.

Today my job was to run the tractor back and forth to pick up manure. Our old barn floor has decades’ worth of horse and cow manure, now dry and light. Good stuff. 

But starting out in the morning, we weren’t quite ready for the manure. The husband enlarged the holes he’d started during the week, loosening the dirt with a digging iron. I followed behind with a shovel, scooping out soil and rocks.

My old brown garden gloves protected my palms from blistering, but the fingers were holey and loose, so I cut them off. Then I busted a fingernail. I informed the husband immediately of my injury, but he stared blankly, unresponsive.

As I worked, throwing the big rocks along the fence line, I thought, what if our lives depended on this? What if we needed these fruits to survive? Right now it’s a nice hobby. But what if when we get old and retire, we need to survive off our 12 acres? I began to imagine we were planting these trees prophetically.

Finally, the holes were ready to receive the trees, so, after a refresher lesson on how to operate the tractor – a four-wheel drive Case – I zoomed off to the barn to shovel, um, manure.

Cruising around the property on the tractor was exhilarating. I could understand why the husband enjoyed it so much. It felt so … rural.

After shuttling manure back and forth for awhile and getting some trees in the ground, I had to fetch water. Our hose did not reach the grove, about 200 feet from our house. So I filled five-gallon plastic containers with water, lifted them into the tractor bucket, drove them to the grove and watered the baby trees.

I uttered a silent prayer for each tree.

Then it was time to fetch mulch from the big pile in the middle field. As I drove toward the mound, a large brown bird with a red fanned-out tail swirled and swooped in the wind overhead. He reminded me of he way I used to play in the waves of the ocean. He zoomed straight into the wind, then lifted his wings and let it take him up and up. Then he dropped down and zoomed back in again.

Since I’m not real proficient with the bucket, my first scoop of mulch was paltry. But as I got more skilled with the controls and timing, the loads got so they were overflowing.

It was a good thing I didn’t take a long walk or lift weights that morning. I needed all my energy for this work. Gee, I thought, if I labored like this everyday, I wouldn’t have to work out. Then I thought of some of the older farm wives I knew, women who looked haggard before their time. I would have no fingernails. Hmmm, maybe not such a good idea.

As the afternoon drew on, I got really tired. The fun work became just plain hard work that needed to be done, and I was ready to be done with it.

“Are you tired?” I asked the husband.

“Yeah,” he said as he dumped another bucket of manure in a hole. But he didn’t stop working or even slow down.

As we watered and mulched the last tree, the sun sank low in the west on this first day of daylight savings time. The sparrows returned, passing in the sky overhead in a swarm that seemed endless. I stood and watched, leaning on a garden rake, from our new grove of fruit trees.

Judging the Past

A wise professor used to tell my American history class, “Don’t judge the people of the child laborpast by the standards of the present.”

What does he think now of all the judgement going on of those we once respected for their courage, compassion, determination, talent, imagination. We behave as if were spotless.

Yet how will we be judged 100 years from now?

What about the many ways in which we are violating our fellow humans and the Earth we were given to tend and care for?

Take, for instance, modern slavery.

Just like the slavery of early American history, modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain. Modern slavery is all around us, but often just out of sight.

“Modern slavery,” “trafficking in persons” and “human trafficking” are umbrella terms that refer to both sex trafficking and compelled labor, according to the U.S. Dept. of State.

Modern slaves make our clothes, serve our food, pick our crops, work in factories, work in prostitution and sex trades, and work in houses as cooks, cleaners or nannies. From the outside, it may look like a normal job. But the people are being controlled.

They can face violence or threats, be forced into inescapable debt, or have had their passport taken away and threatened with deportation. Many have fallen into this oppressive trap simply because they were trying to escape poverty or insecurity, improve their lives and support their families.

Forced labor—debt bondage or bonded labor—is the world’s most widespread form of slavery. People trapped in poverty borrow money and are forced to work to pay off the debt, losing control over both their employment conditions and the debt.

Who benefits from this? We American “consumers” want our bargains at big box stores and big box websites. Yet how did that shirt appear on that rack for $8? Did you ever stop to think how they can sell those goods so cheaply? How is it possible to keep down those manufacturing costs?

We’ve heard for decades that our clothing may be traced back to child labor. It’s far more common than many of us realize. Hundreds of millions of children work across the clothing industry supply chain, from cotton fields to mills to garment factories, in horrendous conditions. Their rights are nonexistent.

They often are paid a fraction of a living wage, working 14-16 hours per day, seven days per week. They work with no ventilation, breathing in toxic substances, inhaling fiber dust or blasted sand in unsafe buildings. Accidents, fires, injuries, and disease occur frequently on textile production sites. They suffer verbal and physical abuse. Often, they are not allowed to take breaks in order to meet their quota.

In South India, for example, 250,000 girls work under the “Sumangali scheme,” a practice that involves sending young girls from poor families to work in a textile factory for three or five years in exchange for a basic wage and a lump sum payment at the end to pay for their dowry. Girls are overworked and live in appalling conditions that are classified as modern slavery.

Enslaved children made some of your favorite brands of clothing: Nike, Puma, Under Armour, Prada ($2,000 for a handbag), Gucci and Victoria’s Sweatshops, er, Secret, for example.

This, my friends, is slavery as real as it’s ever been. And it’s our fault.

Don’t you think it’s time we pulled those idolized brands off of their pedestals?

I’m not saying that we should not consider our heroes and heroines of the past more critically. I’m not saying that early American slavery was not evil. I’m not saying that history does not need to be rewritten to include all voices.

But rather than pointing our fingers to the past, we can view historic figures as what they were, human being just like us: a mix of good and bad, light and shadow, compassion and cruelty.

And, to avoid the judgement and condemnation of our descendants 100 years from now, we can eliminate modern slavery.

Prayer for Troubled Times

PrayerTroubledTimesAh, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a human: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal… At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks—the thing which we try hard to forget is always there, separated from us by a flimsy partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love.

Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this … teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it.

~ Teilhard de Chardin

Of Wild Violets and Biting Trees

Meanwhile, nature here is being spring.

Yesterday I made a tiny bouquet of wild violets and lily-of-the-valley, which grow in a patch behind my house. Also known as May lily, each bell in the pendent spray is finely shaped and sweetly scented.

The lilies bloom among the wee blue violets. The first is highly poisonous, the latter an edible herbaceous plant.

Wild violets—the flowers and greens—can be eaten in salads and on sandwiches, and to decorate desserts as well. They are rich in vitamins A and C, with more vitamin C by weight than oranges.

Several years ago, while shopping at a toy store in Staunton, I found violet hard candies. Curious, I bought a pack. The flavor was definitely floral. My granddaughters, who were with me, did not care for the taste.

Perhaps my enjoyment of the violet mints was bolstered by what I read on the label. They were made in a town I lived in as a child, Bellport, N.Y., by C. Howard and Company. The company also makes violet gum, along with many other unusual confections.

Violets also grow profusely down the center of a track through the woods near my home. Since the lockdown began, I’ve forayed into the forest nearly every day. Something I don’t always have time for when traveling back and forth to work.

At first I was tromping among the trees in the woods, but now that the understory is growing up I stick to the trail. The forest floor has been covered for weeks with (what I think are) anemones. They look like stars in the sky.

What other flowers have I spotted in there? As near as I can tell from my wildflower identification guide, trilliums, cutleaf toothwart, Robin’s plantain, red columbine, blue phlox, Quaker ladies. The mayapples have now covered large sections.

Of course, wild onions are everywhere around our property, but they grow larger and fatter in the woods. I cut and use them like scallions in salads, Oriental meals and mashed potatoes.

When you spend enough time in the woods, you begin to notice things. Like the maple-looking trees that split low into three or four trunks. At some point years ago, a young nearby tree fell through the center of a trunk quadrangle and one of its branches was incorporated into one of the trunks. The trunk spreads out sideways right there. So it looks like a persons’ wide mouth gripping a stick running out either side.

Another oddity is the form of a dry length of thick branch lying on the ground. It looks like a water bird, like a great blue heron that’s been petrified.

Around our property, there’s mint growing everywhere, which I occasionally steep for tea. It’s good for calming stress and digestion.

Another part of my daily traipse is harvesting asparagus around our property. The husband planted it where it likes to grow, along the fence lines. Once it pops up, it grows quickly, so you have to check for it every day. Our favorite way to eat it is roasted in the oven or grilled, usually with other vegetables like zucchini and onions.

Finally, we daily feed the fish in the “back pond” (we have three small ponds). It’s fun to watch them bite the bits of food on the water’s surface, especially the catfish. They swirl the water as they eat.

Spending more time being a part of the environment here in rural Virginia is one of the good things that’s come from this lockdown.

I hope all o’ y’all are spending more time outdoors too.

A Reason to Turn on the Lights

December 1. On the precipice of winter. House Lit

My Aunt Joan says when the long, dark nights of winter begin, she turns on all the lights.

Being so budget conscious, I have always been the type to keep on only the lights I need, turning them off when leaving otherwise unoccupied rooms. Letting all the lights shine seems extravagant.

But Aunt Joan has gotten me to thinking about light. Perhaps I need it more than I know. Perhaps it’s an extravagance I should allow myself.

As Francis Carlin writes in the poem, “Alchemy”:                                                              Because of the light of the moon,                                                                                                 Silver is found on the moor,                                                                                                            And because of the light of the sun,                                                                                            There is gold on the walls of the poor.

The light allows us to see what would otherwise be hidden from our eyes. Light does, after all, banish darkness.

And my how I do struggle with darkness. Sometimes I feel I am walking a precipice between two realms. On the one side is utter chaos. The other is the cosmos.

A few days ago I came across this “prayer for troubled times” by Teilhard de Chardin.

Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a human: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal… At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks—the thing which we try hard to forget is always there, separated from us by a flimsy partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love.

Terrible things have lately been breaking through the flimsy partition: hurricanes, earthquakes, public shootings, foreign threats, revelations of sexual molestation.

I cannot go into a store these days without seeing through the veneer to the decadent greed it appeals to. I can’t see a TV commercial for a $75,000 car without remembering the billions of people in the world who cannot afford it. I can’t see a politician speaking without thinking of the selfish ego that drives his or her every word.

Here is the conclusion to de Chardin’s prayer:

Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this … teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it.

This does not mean that God makes all these bad things happen. It’s not in God’s nature to do bad things to us. But it does mean that God is here.

A few weeks ago, at dinner with friends, the host began the meal by stating: “In this house, we acknowledge God’s presence.”

Carl Jung, the eminent psychologist, had this carved in Latin over the front door of his Zurich home: “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

Jung did this to remind those who entered that “awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10).

We need not ever ask God to be with us: God is always with us.

So even in the midst of dark times, horrific events and personal tragedy, we can ask God to show us redemption. Where is God concealed? What good can come of this bad situation? How can this not be a total waste?

Even without the answers to those questions, to trust that God is present and that good can come.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Like my 87-year-old Aunt Joan, I can—must!—turn on all the lights.