A Good Friday Reflection

As the rain comes down today and I see my packages of seeds awaiting the earth of my garden, being prepared for the death of a seed in the soil to bring up the resurrection of something new and green–with the un-watering of the sky above.  I see the correlation of Jesus’ death on the cross–to bring about a resurrection of hope and redemption offered to us all.

Today our church had a good Friday service in which we contemplate the last 7 words of Christ from the cross. I was asked to participate and I chose Jesus’ words “I thirst” as the focus of my sharing:

I Thirst

By Loretta Goddard, Good Friday 2019

“Jesus, seeing that everything had been completed so that the Scripture record might also be complete, then said, ‘I’m thirsty.’ A jug of sour wine was standing by, someone put a sponge soaked with wine on a javelin and lifted it to his mouth.” John 19:28, 29 (The Msg)

I have been with three people as they died. One, we were trying to keep alive. I gave CPR to him as we awaited an ambulance. The other two were in hospice—one a friend, the other, my father. There were distinct differences in the death we were fighting and the others we were resigned to accept—even welcome.

Jesus’ death was one of acceptance at this point. Those who had eyes to see would even have welcomed it—for it was bringing about their way to redemption! To the Romans and most Jews at the crucifixion, Jesus was the “Dead Man Walking”* —the death row inmate already in the electric chair. To the disciples, the dismayed disciples, it was a horror they were resigned to accept. To Jesus it was the completion of something that began in the garden of Eden when Love, Who wouldn’t let go, began to formulate this plan. Moses wrote about it—the serpent’s head crushed by this woman’s seed* ; as did David, in Psalm 69*, prophesying of this very moment when Jesus would thirst and be offered sour wine.

When I sat with my friend and my father, as they lay dying, I observed that death is:
• an un-breath-ing and
• an un-water-ing.

When we fight death, we start IV lines and push fluids—we know that dehydration is part of dying. When we receive death, ice chips only are offered—or very small sips. Every breath “un-waters.” We offer moistened cotton swabs to cracked lips.

So here on the cross, Living Water was being poured out.

Just a few years prior to this, Jesus sat near a well and told a Samaritan woman: “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” He said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”*

So now, on the cross, the Giver of Living Water Himself is thirsting. He is dry—parched—poured out—in order to quench our thirst. To bring us the living, gushing waters of saving grace, He is being un-watered with every breath.

Since this “Rock of Ages” gave water for the Israelites in the wilderness* —
Since this God-baby was birthed from amniotic fluid in a stable—
Since coming up from the waters of His baptism* —
Since that day with the woman at the watering well—
Since the dehydrated, un-watered, bleeding woman’s touch of the hem of His garment*-Since the moisture of a kiss of betrayal from Judas to His cheek—
Living, Loving, Water was being poured out.

This Word of God who formed the earth “out of water and through water,”* now allowed Himself, to be un-watered.
Life Himself became “Dead Man Walking.”
The Healer, the Great Physician, was passive. This is the “passion” of the Christ*:                 He became a patient—a hospice patient—submitting to death —
Allowing the un-breath-ing, the un-water-ing, of His death;
to bring us—
to offer us—
fresh living water.

Jesus said, “I thirst” so that we, can be filled with poured out Living Water, and “will never thirst—not ever.”

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*Footnotes:
1. Dead man walking definition: a condemned man walking from his prison cell to a place of execution. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/dead-man-walking
2. Gen 3:15
3. “They gave me poison for food and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Ps. 69:2
4. John 4:10 Message, John 4:13/14 Message, italics mine
5. “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them and the Rock was Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:4
6. Matthew 3:16
7. Matthew 9:20
8. “…the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God….” 2 Peter 3:5b.
9. “The English word passion takes it root in the Latin, passio, meaning passivity, and that’s its real connotation here. The word “patient” also derives from this. Hence what the Passion narratives describe is Jesus’ passivity, his becoming a “patient”. He gives his death to us through his passivity, just as he had previously given his life to us through his activity.” http://ronrolheiser.com/the-passion-of-jesus/

Bonsai

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Yesterday I bought a bonsai.  I’ve been waiting years to have one–nearly since I have heard of them.  My bonsai is not one long cultivated by a master gardener and sold for hundreds of dollars.  Mine came in a little porcelain dish from my local Lowe’s store for $22.98.  The 20-something woman watering all the plants said she had always wanted one too.  The checkout lady admired it thinking it was a gift.

“No,” I said.  “It is for me.”

Like the genuine and respectable Enneagram 5 personality type that I am, the Investigator or Analyzer, over time I’ve studied the art of bonsai thoroughly.  I’ve checked out books from the library, visited several Japanese gardens, drooled over these intricate shapes at numerous horticultural events and landscape stores.  I even took a bonsai class and purchased bonsai pruning shears–but alas–no bonsai for me…until yesterday.

It’s likely my Enneagram 4-wing, the Romantic, that draws me to these little miniature windswept masterpieces–kind of in the way that I am fascinated with Tiny Houses, and have spent many hours watching shows on designing and building them…and yet do not own one.

To me, a bonsai is a metaphor for life– the Master Gardener trimming and twisting, pruning and shaping, bending and supporting–hence strengthening,

the plant:

me–

us–

makes us into lovely masterpieces.

I’m going through the Ignatian Exercises for a second time in my life.  I am doing the longer version and one that follows the Liturgical Calendar.  We are headed toward Lent–the time when, like my bonsai, we bend down–to receive ashes and remember that we are dust.  We trust Hands to our roots and branches–even in the valley of the shadow of death.  We know that we are a beautiful creation with the training eyes and touch of our Master Gardener.

To prepare for the exercises, the book I’m following invited me to pray a prayer by Thomas Merton:

My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

(The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life, Kevin O’Brien, SJ, Loyola Press, Chicago, 2011, page 37)

After reading Merton’s prayer, I wrote my own–and my new bonsai reminds me of my prayer during this time of spiritual cultivation and training:

God,

I want to do this for us–

for our relationship to grow.

I feel like a kindergartener*:

I the kinder

You the Teacher;

I the branch

You the Gardener.

I am wild,

and prone to return to the wild

whenever I look away

or leave your training twine.

Handle me.

Touch me, O Gardener.

Apply me to your training espalier.

Help me stay pliable–

not to stiffen up in my “knowing”

but to remain supple;

not to resist your twists

upward and outward.

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*https://www.etymonline.com/word/kindergarten

Our Jessamine Garden

Today I heave a sigh as I see three new ears of corn sitting on the washer.  Like the trophy voles our cat used to leave on our doorstep, my husband has brought in 3 new gifts from the garden.

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Weeks ago we were delighting in our first ears.  I carefully shucked and cleaned them and took pictures of the miraculous cobs.

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Last year we mourned that either the deer, coons, or our neighbors’ wandering pigs had eaten every ear before our first harvest, so I read up on gardening websites and Pinterest about how to keep animals from chowing down on our produce before we could.  I planted my squash vines around the periphery because apparently it is reported that raccoons don’t like to bother themselves with stepping through the vines to get to the dainty nectarous morsels…. Slovenly coons!  I also read about putting out pie tins to toss around in the wind and scare away the critters…. We did that too.  We read about putting duct tape over each ear to keep the varmints from banqueting on our harvest, but that seemed extreme and not very “organic” so I didn’t pursue that option.  My husband made a makeshift scarecrow, which sounds good, but it was a pretty pitiful example of one and when I saw my neighbor’s example down Handys Bend, I felt a ting of scarecrow-envy.  I set an old Ale-8 hat on the freezer and suggested to my husband that it be added to the effigy, but it never was. There was another suggestion which we kind of tried which I don’t care to delineate here, but if you ever saw the movie Never Cry Wolf you might get the idea…. Lastly, I planted tall corn varieties which others said would make it hard for little coon paws to reach.  Part of our strategy was to harvest early, as soon as the kernels seemed ready, so as not to tempt the apparent menagerie out there gathering with drooling tongues every night–but I will admit that we have eaten a few “preemie” ears as a consequence.

Corn is in my blood.  We used to play in the big corn cob bin at Grandpa’s farm from which they fed the pigs.  I’m an Illinois girl raised in a town surrounded by corn and everybody knows that corn fresh from the garden is better than anything bought at the store, so I had motivation enough to try.

Another inspiration for our corn nursery was from Wendell Berry, one of my favorite writers.  He is from Kentucky and is also a gardener and farmer. Our land adjoins the Kentucky River as does his and it is fun to think, in maybe a neighborly way,  if I floated a message in a bottle upstream from our property, since the KY flows north instead of south, he could retrieve my note from the shore outside his “long-legged” writing cabin.    The Mad Farmer Poems are wonderful and  one of those poems, “A Man born to Farming”, was inscribed on my chalkboard as soon as we moved onto our farm.  Below I quote part of the poem:

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,

whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,

to him the soil is a divine drug.  He enters into death

yearly, and comes back rejoicing.  He has seen the light lie down

in the dung heap and rise again in the corn.

His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.

What miraculous seed has he swallowed…

So I buried miraculous seeds with my own hands reaching into our Maury silt loam and sat back awaiting God’s light to rest among the rows and His rain to quench the parch…which they did.  Like a zygote in a woman’s uterus, the kernel with endosperm and an embryo inside of cotyledon, radicle and coleoptile, was implanted.  Then comes the monocot, leaflets unfurled; stalks, leaves, ears with silks, tassels follow.  It’s a slow-motion enchantment to observe.  Finally comes the picking, shucking, de-silking, boiling, buttering, serving, gracing, reaching, biting, tasting. MMMMMMMmmmmmm.

When God made us and put us in the garden as our home, he assigned our primarily given occupation.  It was pre-fall that our hands belonged in the soil:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15 (NIV)

As the weeks of harvest have rolled on, I’ll admit that I have lessened in my enthusiasm somewhat.  Isn’t this the way of humans?  But my husband came in from a walk out back excited that he had seen a 10 point buck heading toward our field up front where the garden is.  Part of me sighed, but the other part wanted to shout out to our guest,

“Come on ahead, we’ve set the table for you. Feast!”

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Perhaps that’s how Adam and Eve felt in their garden too?

A Healing Place

We disappear in trauma.

Not all of us–the outsides stay whether they want to or not.

The insides stone up, wall up, shut down.

They’re like Addison…”What the…?”  or less sophisticated, “Ouch!”

When or whether we reappear is up for grabs.  Sometimes the healing necessitates, or dictates, staying inside the shell.  Changing routine, changing bandages, changing hope–they all cost and our insides pay a high price–often more than what is in the wallet.

But God is there.  And He has the extra we need.  We need only ask…if we can keep from walling up on Him.

There are places, spaces, where it is easier to open to Him:

walking the woods or pasture,

standing near a mossy log,

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counting dew drops on soft plant leaves,

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revisiting a field full of memories,

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smelling mist, hearing trees, admiring all He has made.

Here He invites our bidding–our reawakening.

Here He brings our healing.

 

A Frost Flower Bouquet

My husband often brings me flowers from his walks back to our pasture.  I don’t expect much from his winter walks, but the other day he surprised me with a bouquet of flowers…not in a vase, but on his iPhone.  They were frost flowers.

Before we moved to our farm I had never seen or heard of frost flowers.  The first winter we walked the land and saw these ice formations dotting the ground.  Since then we’ve learned that they come only with certain plant species and just at particular times of the year–when the unfrozen ground meets the freezing atmosphere and the capillary action of freezing water creates these fleeting frosty blossoms.

It’s kind of a miraculous sight–easy to miss.  If we didn’t walk by those particular flowers at that certain hour on that certain day, we would never see the icy display.  And as soon as it comes it is gone.  Like with the ephemeral trilliums that fill our woods in the spring, we must seize the day…carpe the big fat diem, as I might say…in order to behold this bouquet of icy petals.

So much of life is ephemeral…transitory: a newborn’s first days; the burst of a sunrise; a newlyweds’ honeymoon; a meteor shower; a blustery summer thunderstorm; a glorious sunset.  But because it is short-lived we do not reject it, but cherish it all the more.

At this Christmas season I’m thinking of the sudden short-lived sights that the shepherds saw on their walk back on the pasture land that night–a blaze of heavenly light, a talking angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, a young virgin mother and her husband, a newborn King in a feeding trough.  This was their ephemeral bouquet on that night.

And so at this wintery, frosty season when busyness could take my attention away from the miraculous sights and insights in front of me, I want to be open-eyed, open-handed,  open-hearted, to receive what will only be offered in this fleeting time we have on earth.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  Luke 2:14 ESV

Advent

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The farm quiets with deep frosts. Yellow and brown leaves give up the ghost and fly down. The wild flowers we planted in the fields lie down to sleep. Coyotes roam naked acres. My garden boasts skeletons of corn stalks and woody okra pods.

We have given thanks to God above and received His cornucopia of bounty.

We find our winter coats and gloves and stack wood. The stovepipe bellows again and we pull out purple and pink candles arranged in circular wreaths. Focus on the coming is about to begin:
Advent…a new year dawns.

Our Wabi-sabi Shed

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When we first acquired our Jessamine farmstead, the house, shed, and fences could all have been marketed as being in “as is” condition.  This is typically realtor-speak meaning “somewhat run down and probably lots of things will need to be repaired or replaced.”

We were not daunted.  Our thrill was with the land and location. When friends and family came to visit they often commented on the shack–a leaning structure with bowed out barn wood on the sides and two small low-slung entrances on front and side.  Indeed we discovered in the first winter that snow was easily blown through the boards so that its contents were only slightly protected from the elements.

All this is reality and yet I’m enchanted by the beauty of this little deteriorating historic structure in our backyard.  It serves as trellis to vines of colored leaves in the fall and supports pink peonies likely planted about the time of its construction every spring. In the winter it shelters stacks of wood that Hule splits in just the right size for our wood stove and in the summer it holds our mowers, garden tools, and a bird nest or two.

A few years ago I was introduced to a series of words that are conjectured by some as  “untranslatable” from other languages into English.  So many of these words intrigue me and challenge me to appreciate the cultures that nurtured and created them.  One such word is wabi-sabi from the Japanese.  Wabi-sabi is said to refer to an appreciation of a beauty inherent in objects of transience and a respect of imperfection and admiration toward an essentially natural cycle of decay or deterioration.  While I believe that one must study a culture more thoroughly to truly know the full meaning of such words, what I read of this concept reminds me of how I feel about our little lean-to.  In fact I have now named it our wabi-sabi shed.

Maybe it is our stage or season of life that gives me this perspective.  In my 2nd half of life I am choosing to focus on the value of an unfading beauty of the inner spirit rather than the fleeting beauty of my outer form.  A few years ago when at the beach I looked down at my hands and hardly recognized them…age spots, crinkled skin, protruding veins…these were not the hands of my youth.

When I was dating my Mississippi boyfriend (later to become my husband, Hule) and he held my hand for the first time he said, “Wooo!  Your skin is softer than a catfish’s belly!”  At first, this Illinois girl wondered if that was a slam, but pretty quickly I discovered it was indeed high praise. Remembering that, I considered the history that each scar and spot and rough patch represented.  A new perspective valued my hands’ natural decay to reveal a sort of beauty.

With this perspective, which now I might call a wabi-sabi perspective, I wrote this poem to my husband:

Take my hand, my love

“Softer than a catfish’s belly!”

Held

Caressed

Joined

Bejeweled

Writing, underlining, studying,

Washing dishes and laundry

Changing diapers

Planting herbs

Days on the beach

Sun-leathered

Still held–

but now

Constellations of pigment

Calloused from work

And years from wearing your ring

I still choose to put my hand in yours