West Virginia Morning: Hidden (and a giveaway)

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‘As if you could kill time without injuring eternity,’ Thoreau wrote. You don’t want to kill time but to welcome it, to pick off its leaves and petals one by one, second by second.” ~Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

It’s the time of year when I can’t go outside without getting caught in a spider web. I no sooner walk out in the yard and I am wrapped in bands of light, clawing at my face and limbs to wipe off the sticky threads. I cannot be irritated, though, for the spider has long held my admiration. What beauty she gives us on these dewy mornings. This is the best time to go out and see—star shards left behind in the night, captured in the silken webs.

I found her hiding place this morning while filling the finch feeders. Black oil sunflower seeds dropped down plastic tubes and out of the corner of my eye I saw the morning breeze exhale across silken threads. One does not usually get to enjoy such artwork before sunrise so I padded over to gawk, wet grass clinging to bare feet.

She wasn’t home but I made myself comfortable anyway, let my eyes linger on light-studded gossamer as a cardinal complained noisily in a nearby tree.

There it was again—faint ripple in the design and as the toile-work lifted and fell it was as if an invisible string joined my soul to its gentle rise. In your light, we see light, the Psalm I read this morning said, and I can feel eternity stir inside of me—the place that beauty always touches.

Things are changing around here. Teddy decided not to come home this weekend for fall break and the emptiness of these rooms echoes deep in my heart. I wonder what he is doing with his time, long for a text that says more than, “hi,” feel this new kind of mothering like being caught in a spiderweb. Flailing.  But there is something else, too, in this restless season. The fire of expectation burns the empty into promise. The earth models for us how to handle these transitions with grace and my hungry eyes seek its tutelage. Autumn whispers on the edges of the days and last night I noticed the fireflies have finally made themselves scarce.

“From now on we lose two minutes of daylight every day,” my friend Frankie told me yesterday at work. “And in November, we lose an hour.”

Later today I will pull up my ramshackle beans, what’s left of the tomatoes and squash. Then I will plant the fall crop of greens. I texted my mother-in-law this morning, “Am I too late?” And she said, no, there is still time.

As I wait for the spider to appear, the sun burns off the morning dew. I feel time move over me—my shoulders, my neck, the curve of my cheek. I have a million things to do today, my only day off from the day job. It’s like that, I try to crowd too much into this one small gap of time. And yet, here I stand, lost in the wonder of a light-studded web.

An allowance for unbridled joy through playdates with God on Sabbath can provide the same result as a quiet, meditative retreat.” Shelly Miller says, in her lovely new book Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. “Extravagant wastefulness with time might prove the most productive thing you choose for yourself.”

As I read her words I am feeling seen, for the first time in a long time, perhaps. And I know this tender ache of missing my boy is something beautiful, something to be celebrated, just as is the coming of light each day.

Slowly, sweetly, the light saturates the morning, and my unseen spider friend’s hiding place becomes invisible once again.

To celebrate my friend Shelly’s new book release, I’m giving away a copy of Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. I’m also including a copy of my book Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, which Shelly so graciously quotes in Rhythms of Rest. But wait! There’s more. Also included in the gift pack is a copy of Francine Rivers’ new devotional Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature.  Simply leave a comment for a chance to win. I’ll announce the winner Wednesday, Oct. 12.

This post is a partial reprint from the archives.

On Sleeping Trees and Sabbath-Keeping

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Last week I read an article about a study that indicates trees may actually sleep at night. Scientists have discovered that from about two hours after sunset to right before sunrise, a sample of trees studied drooped their branches and leaves about four inches in a posture of rest.

The researchers hypothesize that this droop is either caused by a loss of water pressure inside the trees due to the absence of photosynthesis at night (turgor pressure), or they speculate, trees may have a natural circadian rhythm—just as humans do. That means, the tree was designed to need rest.

Apparently, and this is something I’ve not given much thought to but it makes perfect sense, circadian rhythms in plant life are well documented and known. But until recently, we haven’t had the technology to study a plant as large as a tree.

Why does it surprise me that science is discovering how much of creation has a built in need for rest?  I read about the drooping trees at a time when I am struggling to find more rest in my life. This morning, to remind myself how I have managed this in the past, I re-read the chapter on Sabbath from my book Playdates with God. I thought I’d share a tiny portion of that chapter here—a gift reminder for me and for you.

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I remember long afternoons under the shade of the apple tree—cooling our tongues with the juice of green apples, drifting in and out as the sun played chiaroscuro over eyelids. And I remember the scent of summer rain through open windows as my little brother and I lay whispering on my bed—waiting for our bodies and minds to drift into our afternoon nap.

Rest.

As I gently touch these memories with the finger of my heart, a pit of longing wells up inside of me and I wonder, when did I forget the way the slowing down leads me into the arms of the Father?

My Jewish friends would not be surprised at this tender ache that pulses inside of me. “You are missing the keeping of Sabbath,” one tells me. “Your life is too busy. How can you hear the voice of God amidst all that noise?” He believes this longing for rest is built deep into my spirit; he believes God put it there. Indeed, Judith Shulevitz in her book The Sabbath World, tells us, “[A]t the core of Sabbath lies an unassuageable longing…”

It is a longing, she goes on to say, for something that is unattainable. For, in this fallen world we live in exile—separated from a perfect union with God or with one another. Yet, in Sabbath-keeping we experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come.

…  And so I began to sit with the longing. I started small—Sabbath moments. With each setting sun I would gather a bit of the day together at its edges and be still. Light a candle, play some music, contemplate beauty, and meditate on the pure and lovely things in my life.

These moments took me back under the apple tree—looking up through the branches at the clouds moving slowly across the sky. And I felt the promise of new life; the hunger was sated for just those short moments.

The rabbis speak of the additional soul that is granted on the eve of the Sabbath—the neshamah yeterah. In his beautiful book The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “Neshamah yeterah means additional spirit. It is usually translated ‘additional soul’…Some thinkers took the term neshamah yeterah as a figurative expression for increased spirituality or ease and comfort. Others believed that an actual spiritual entity, a second soul, becomes embodied in man on the seventh day…”

This is a soul which is all perfection, he says, and when the Sabbath day is over, this soul ascends once again into the heavens from which it came.

I do not know about such things. But when I remember those Sabbath moments from my youth—and when I capture them now in this old skin—I am tempted to receive this rich lore into my heart. For, those moments are counted the sweetest in my mind and are perhaps the closest to perfection I will ever come.

**This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

Bark Butter and other Small Joys


Flowers—and other growing things—like water. It’s amazing how much more they cooperate with being beautiful when they get some. So this morning I get up early to water the flowers and my tiny vegetable garden. There is a new raised bed in the back yard, waiting for me to fill. Yesterday, my father-in-law brought me a load of soil and we spent the afternoon shoveling and mixing and dreaming that empty bed full. All night long I slept on images of earth and roots and good things to eat.

This morning, I comb my hands through the loose soil—locating any stones or sticks or large clods of dirt. I break up the lumps of dirt, letting the soil stain my fingers; letting the smell of earth fill my lungs. I find some broken pieces of pottery, a bit of a tin can, and some unidentifiable plastic. Already it’s the kind of day that has a drop of sweat trickling down the small of my back. There’s a Cardinal in the maple tree making a fuss, asking me to please leave so she might visit the feeder in peace.

I pick some green onions and look over the wilted lettuce. It will need pulled up in the next couple days if it is to be worth anything. At that thought I feel my heart make room for squash and cucumbers.

I need to cut the dried blooms off the lilac, but already it’s getting too hot for that. I pull a few weeds around the bee balm; shake my head at how quickly they grow. The feeder needs filled so mamma Cardinal can have some breakfast so I go back inside and get the sunflower seeds. I pull out a container of bark butter—a recipe one of my patients told me about—and carefully place the block in the suet pocket.

My boys are sleeping in. Teddy is finished with school for the year and I can almost feel the contentment of his breathing through the walls. Jeffrey still has three days next week.

“NO ONE goes to school on the last day, mom,” he said to me yesterday. And he had that look on his face that I have seen on my own in pictures of a young me. Monday will be Step-up Day—the day all the eighth graders go to the high school to see what they are in for next year. I shake my head again. How quickly they grow.

Later, Jeff and I will go to the nursery to pick out some more pepper plants and blue lake pole beans. And who knows what else. This is the happy: being together, moving slow through the day, tending the earth.

How about you? What does Sabbath look like for you?

Bark Butter Recipe

2 cups of crisco
2 cups of peanut butter (I used crunchy, but it doesn’t matter)
4 cups cornmeal
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups bird seed or sunflower seeds (I put some overripe berries in too)
1 tsp. of honey

Stir it all together. I then pressed mine into small Tupperware containers to shape them into a size similar to the store bought suet cakes. Then I just pop them into the suet pockets of my feeder and let the birds enjoy!