“Consider the lilies of the field” Matthew 6:28

Repost from 2014 in honor of Pope Francis’ new encyclical [an excerpt of which I include at the end]

This past Thursday I took a day away from work to recoup some energy after a multi-week blitz of activities and just enjoy doing nothing especially productive. It was a truly a Sabbath that allowed me to pause with God, look with him at creation and join him in saying, “Very good.” And I find it’s only when I keep Sabbath that I can receive and echo his “very good” during the other six days of work.

Please allow me to be indulgent in today’s post and share some of my enjoyment of mid-March glory.

I went outside before dawn and breathed deep the cool, clean and dry air that settled over us in the wake of a recent cold front that drenched us with heavy rains. As I was bathed by the majesty of the dawn I concluded one cannot fully love the day without being fully present to its awakening! The sunlight was just beginning to illumine the highest heavens with a grey-blue hue, and near our house, concealed in the tangled branches of a budding tree, a mockingbird was canting away with his lovely, unoriginal repertoire. I sat there in the quiet for a time and reveled in the solitude. No one talking. Yet, how interesting that when I begin my day in this wakeful solitude, and with prayer, I find myself far more ready — even desirous — to wade into a world of words and noise and busy rush. Mission flows from communion.

After getting the kids off to school, I set off to my favorite local Eden: the grassy levee by Lake Pontchartrain. I walked up the slope of the levee far down west of where our house is and snuck into the backyard of a local retreat house. I was greeted by an expansive, fenced-in prayer meadow that was ablaze with tiny yellow blooms mixed into the greening grass, while the trees were frosted with innumerable white flowers.

It’s Spring.

I sat on one of the wooden patio chairs, with no book in hand — how rare! — setting aside sacred Writ to read liber naturae, the “book of nature,” which bears round about us, in refracted splendor, the traced vestiges of the seemingly shy FarNear Creator.

I listened to the songs of the warbler, chickadee, blue jay, starling, and mourning dove whose haunting lament always makes me think of my childhood. When I was probably eight, a pair of robins built a nest right outside my window, and every morning for a few weeks the hatchlings would wake me early in the morning with their insistent, plaintive cries for nourishment.

The air was crisp and breezy, tossing about the remaining dead winter leaves across a verdant blaze spotted with darting flares of purple deadnettle. There were honeybees all over, consuming secret nectar from impossibly tiny flowers — how do they find anything in there to drink? What carefree patience. The bees made a wonderful buzzing sound that, when there are dozens of them, sounds almost symphonic. It was as if there were some hidden conductor deftly calling them into a sonorous harmony.

My phone rang and passed into voice mail.

Then I wandered again out the retreat house property and hiked back up the levee’s gentle slope. It also was blanketed in a floral blaze, tinted by splashes of yellow painted into the deepest greens, and — wow! — the grass had just been mowed, filling the air with that delicious smell that has no worthy analogue. Why does the grass reward us for striking her down? Yet she does.

I stopped and just looked, listening to the silence only to discover in my state of mindful attention yet another sacrament: a chorus of crickets! Invisible, ubiquitous, hymning for sheer joy in unbroken melodies — as long as I remained still. Blissfully oblivious to the raging tumult of the world, persisting endlessly in their oscillating buzz beneath the still gentle mid-morning sunlight. They seemed especially jubilant that winter had passed.

I crept up to the crest of the levee and had my breath stolen by the flashing gleam of rolling blue water and the laughing joy of an azure sky. Too much to take in! I collapsed for sheer joy down in the lush vegetation, remembering at once all five of my senses were alive. How I forget!

Abounding beauty, glory’s eternal secrets finally being broken as God, like a child, seems only able to hide himself so long when we sit in still wonder, waiting in faith for him to appear.

I heard a purple martin’s throaty chirps and creaky rattles. It is my very favorite of all birds. The first of the season for me to spy. My heart leapt as he soared by with his pulsed and carefree flutters, diving and shooting back up again in search, no doubt, of his morning meal. But my attention was stolen at once by a tiny pewee that landed nearby in the grass — so close! I recognized his pitiful song: “pee-a-wee!”

Over the water there were terns diving for fish, which drew me at last down to the waterside to sit on the barrier rocks and soak in the rhythmic sounds. It was that kind of moment, so fleeting, when the heart overtakes the mind and demands supremacy. That must be what Paradise is. I closed my eyes and listened to the rolling waves slapping and dashing against the boulders. Unrelenting. Faithful. Spending themselves in a forgotten finale. I opened my eyes and watched. They seemed to be playing, dancing and hiding amid the crags and cracks, and on occasion would conspire to douse me with a dozen or so drops.

How thin at this moment was the veil of the Kingdom that longs to be torn.

I looked all around me. Black swallowtail butterflies were skipping over the grass while striped cucumber beetles in ridiculously large numbers, mixed in with a few ladybugs, carpeted the rocks around me. Where did they come from? Random. Beauty, almost too much to take in, everywhere. The book was open, the script was super-abundant, the meanings were beyond language.

As these are still a foretaste of the Age to Come, I had to leave them all behind. But before I stepped off of the rocks to make my way back to the car, I noticed a tiny ant mound. I stopped and stooped. They were working furiously in their excavation project, each worker tireless, single-minded in her selfless devotion to the good of the colony.

It was time to return to my work again, wiser for my Sabbath. Deo gratias.

Four things are among the smallest on the earth,
and yet are exceedingly wise:
Ants—a species not strong,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
Badgers—a species not mighty,
yet they make their home in the crags;
Locusts—they have no king,
yet they march forth in formation;
Lizards—you can catch them with your hands,
yet they find their way into kings’ palaces. — Proverbs 30:24-28

+ + +

From Pope Francis’ Laudato Si #11-12: 

Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

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15 comments on ““Consider the lilies of the field” Matthew 6:28

  1. Lisa says:

    Absolutely beautiful Tom, spiritually, visually, emotionally, gratefully. In other news, it snowed again here in Iowa last night ….

  2. Pat Veters says:

    You and Gerard Manley Hopkins said it best : the world is charged with the grandeur of God. Unlike you, most of us never simply set aside enough time in the day to observe and enjoy it. You have inspired me to enjoy a cup of coffee in the backyard with Susie and listen to the birds — just as soon as the rain stops :). Beautiful post.

  3. Chrissy says:

    Beautiful! What retreat center is this? I’d love to see it. That reading totally helps me understand my sons autism sprectrum perspective of the world that stops to look at nature…why it takes two hours to walk 2 miles

  4. Rev. Mark Moretti says:

    Thou art a modern-day William Wordsworth my friend!!! Great post and I am glad you got some R&R!!

  5. Hi Tom,

    Thank you so much for sharing your spring day with us. Your description of it all reminded me of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, A Summer Day, which reads (in part):
    “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.”

    By the way, this past weekend, I was back in my home town of Monroe, Louisiana, and also heart the Purple Martins (which are one of my favorites as well). It was a joy to hear the caroling, burbling, soaring songs in the air above me.

    With love,
    Tara

  6. amyansaturday says:

    “Let’s see”…will the grave marker of Doctor Thomas Neal read “A Brilliant Theologian” or a “Magnificent Poet”? Perhaps both “I think”!

  7. Kathy Grobe says:

    Not only did I find poetry, I found love, love for all of God’s creation. How wise you are to have taken this time to refresh and renew yourself.We are all the better for it.

  8. Tatia Eischeid says:

    You are an incredible writer and always an inspiration! God bless you and your family! I miss you all dearly!

  9. Jennifer says:

    You are such a fantastic writer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and visualizing the splendor. Now, to head outside with the kiddos to soak in our own corner of His glorious creation. Praise Him! – J

  10. n.o.s. says:

    Thomas, you need to do a better job of depicting your moments with nature. I couldn’t quite get the visual from your meager description. May the four gifts GOD gave you and Patty give you a beautiful dads day .
    P.B.W.Y.

    • Like St. Teresa, I generally have no imagination, but when i write, somehow it all comes alive. She said of herself, “I have never succeeded to picture him within myself no matter how much I read about his beauty or how many images I have seen of him. I am then like a person who is blind or in darkness.” Yes! God is good to supply for our lack in such creative ways! Peace, NOS

  11. Louise says:

    My absolute favorite of yours (so far). I wrote down “Mission flows from communion”. So simple but so profound. Your words are truly a delight to read – thank you

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