The Outdoors is for the Birds

Image result for st. francis of assisi

By Joe LaGuardia

St. Francis of Assisi is not my patron saint. You remember St. Francis? He was the 13th-century monk who preached to all of nature, including animals. He spoke of creation in moving prayers and poetry. He celebrated God’s care over all creation, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon. If you’re interested, you can purchase a statue of St. Francis at your local hardware or garden store.

But St. Francis is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like to garden. I spent several weekends this month working on my garden. When we have work days at church, the mulching is always my job.

For all that enjoyment, however, I have yet to make gardening the spiritual exercise it is for many Christians who echo the sentiments of St. Francis. When I weed, I curse the ground of my toil–namely, calling the weeds, “Idiots!” for being there in the first place. Some of the weeds look beautiful, actually, but they are stupid because they keep growing. And why do weeds grow so much better and faster than the things that I want to grow in the garden?

Today, when I was laying mulch in my front yard, there was a brief rain shower. This is what happens in a typical coastal Florida shower: It is a beautiful day that turns more beautiful when it becomes slightly overcast. A welcome breeze comes through for a few minutes, ushering in the clouds. It rains for a few minutes and stops as abruptly as it began.

Then things change. The beauty ceases, the breeze stops, and it turns deathly humid. You are drenched not from the rain, but from heavy moisture in the air. Your shirt clings to your body, and the mulch-stains on your shorts become mud stains, and you can’t wear your glasses because they become foggy, and you can’t wipe your brow because your arms are like slip-n-slides, and although the sun still isn’t out, the heat rises from concrete and from the damp, and you get a taste of what hell is like.

It is then that I realized I was not a Franciscan at heart. I do better with my nose in a book while in air-conditioned housing then in the beauty of nature that turns bleak and cranky.

St. Francis can guard other gardens, thank you very much. Instead, I’ll stick with a saint I fell in love with long ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius popularized using one’s imagination while reading the Bible, and his daily “spiritual exercises” include reflecting on the day as a contemplative form of prayer– a prayer best served indoors.

I had an email bearing Ignatius’s name at one point in my life, when Hotmail was all the rage. And although he is Spanish and I am Italian like St. Francis, I still think that the Jesuits have done more for the Catholic Church than most monastic movements in recent days.

So let St. Francis preach to the birds. I’d rather spend time asking where I find myself in scripture and reflecting on the face of Christ during long periods of solitude and silence. At least I won’t smell like a big, wet sock and have to bath seven times a day.

The weeds will have to contend with another nemesis for now, but at least they won’t face the verbal abuse that I hurl in their direction. Stupid weeds.

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God’s Mercy Lasts Forever

CYPRESS VINE Quamoclit pennata

CYPRESS VINE
Quamoclit pennata

By Orrin Morris

Psalm 107 begins, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth forever” (KJV). This verse reminds us of God’s mercy. It is not temporary, that is, here today and gone tomorrow. It is applied to all sins, not favoring one infraction over another. It is available to all, not to only one nation or culture but to all people. God’s grace and mercy is available forever to everyone who will yield to His love and forgiveness.

The wildflower for today is one whose blooming season endures over many months, even until today.

Another name for the cypress vine is the humming bird vine. I like that name because it has became a major attraction for humming birds on my garden fence.

Cypress vine blooms are very similar to the red morning glory, but smaller. The primary difference is the leaves. The cypress vine has a delicate leaf structure that reminds me of miniature palm tree fronds, as illustrated. Technically they are called “even pinnate leaves.”

Cypress vine is a tropical plant imported for commercial distribution. As a very hardy species of the starglories in the Convolvulaceae Family, it soon went wild. This is not a recent phenomenon since one of my resources, copyright 1931, documents this fact (Seymour).

The flowers are scarlet red stars with a 1 1/2 inch tube, proportionately long for most similar shaped blooms, such as trumpet vine, yellow Jessamine, and dame’s rocket.

The vines are thin and twining. They may be as long as 15 feet or ascend to that height if an appropriate host is available. The preferred habitat is waste places where they may bloom from July to October. If you find one of these plants don’t try to cultivate it. It likes to be left alone, and when so treated rewards the owner generously.

The seeds may be taken to start a new vine but don’t make a fuss about it. Cast the seeds at the base of a fence and forget about them. It is highly likely you will have a cluster of vines with beautiful scarlet blooms next summer. However, one word of caution, the cypress vine can become invasive and difficult to eradicate except with a strong herbicide.

Remember again the Psalm, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”  Mercy is unmerited favor and God offers forgiveness to all who call upon His name. May you express your thankfulness for God’s mercy in a place of worship this Sunday.

Eastern Sweetshrub reminds us to “be still and know”

east

EASTERN SWEETSHRUB Calycanthus floridus

By Orrin Morris

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 ).

Wildflowers are objects of beauty to some and weeds to others. To some of us they are another example of God’s grace. That is, gifts from God that favor us though we do not merit such blessing.  They exalt God’s “in the earth” by their presence.

One of the unique delights we can look forward to in spring is the blooming of the Eastern sweetshrub. It was introduced to our colonial forefathers in 1726 but from what country or region is unclear.

The sweetshrub in my yard blooms for only a week or 10 days, but ooh what pleasure. To me, the flowers are the most redolent of all the spring scents. They waft the fragrance of apple butter cooking in Mama’s kitchen; however, others declare that the scent reminds them of strawberries. If you’ve never been around this unique blossom you’ve missed a treat.

This shrub grows to about 10 feet in wooded areas. Ours is among some pines, but most thrive on hills and stream banks on the edge of hardwood groves. The blooms are deep reddish-brown and measure from 1 1/2 to 2 inches across when fully opened. The dark glossy leaves are opposites and the blooms appear at the axil of each pair of leaves. The chocolate colored branches are smooth.

Two other common names for this shrub are Carolina allspice and sweet Betsy. The Eastern sweetshrub needs moist soil, so like most plants, they don’t do well during extended dry spells.

If you miss seeing and smelling the sweetshrub in our local area this spring, may I suggest you take a trip into North Georgia in June and watch for the shrubs along stream banks. One of the sure places to go is Amicalola Falls State Park above Dahlonega toward Ellijay, Ga.

Eastern sweetshrub can be found from New York and Massachusetts to Florida and westward to Louisiana and Missouri.  Wherever found, they remind us to be still and remember that God is exalted above all.

Rev. Orrin Morris is an artist and retired minister.  This article first appeared in The Rockdale Citizen and is reprinted with permission by the author.