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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Dandelion more than a pest, a delight of God’s goodness

COMMON DANDELION Taraxacum officinale

COMMON DANDELION
Taraxacum officinale

By Orrin Morris

In Psalm 65:12, the Psalmist rejoices in the beauty of the natural world God has provided. We can easily apply his words to the beauty we anticipate each year in the coming of spring.

The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.”

One of the harbingers of spring is the common dandelion. Once they start blooming, they are like medallions of sun shining about us. In fact, this season I saw several clusters in bloom.

Eight different names are used for dandelion, depending on the region or culture group you visit. These common names include blowball, cankerwort, lion’s tooth (after the shape of the leaves, which is the meaning of the common name), priest’s crown, swine snout, and wild endive.

Most children view the dandelion as a yellow delight of the natural world, spreading its joyous sunshine. We adults call it a pest because we want uniform grassy lawns. Of course, we adults overrule the children’s delight and the battle to eradicate the dandelion never ends.

Dandelions have a very long blooming season in the South. During a mild winter they may bloom all year. The long tap root must be completely dug up before a plant can be successfully eradicated naturally, otherwise a broadleaf herbicide must be applied.

Dandelions are widely distributed. They have been documented in every state and territory of the United States and Canada. They are in the Yukon, above the arctic circle.

Besides the effects of severe drought on the plant population, dandelions are also adversely affected by soils permeated with salt water and dense shade, as in hardwood forests with heavy undergrowth.

We should be grateful that dandelions are not the pest here that they are up North. As a kid growing up in Omaha, I learned there was a strict code of conduct regarding dandelions.  Mother would scold me if I picked a fluff-ball and blew on it to see the “parachutes” float in the wind.  People who were known as good neighbors taught their children better manners than that. Of course kids will be kids.

As a very young child, my baby-sitter introduced me to dandelions with the promise that if I let her show me a trick I would “get some butter.” In my mind that meant the greasy yellow stuff I put on toast for breakfast. That was not the case. It was a trick. She picked a bloom and rubbed it on my chin. The yellow pollen stuck to my chin like rouge.

During cold weather, the stem holding the bloom is very short. Those I saw earlier this spring were flush with the ground. In hot weather, the soft greenish-white stem may rise 6 inches.

The plant has been useful in spite of its pesky reputation. The young leaves can be picked and boiled as one of the “greens.” Its leaves, before the flowers form, have been squeezed into milk and warmed for a spring tonic. In the fall, the root has been steeped in boiling water as a tea.  Just another sign that, even when inconvenient, the many things God provides is something to behold.

“His Majesty’s Palette”: A Sermon on Faith and Art

art

By Jackson Thomas

Jackson Thomas preached this sermon, based on Isaiah 64 and Jeremiah 18, during Christival at Trinity Baptist Church, October 25, 2015.  An audio version of the sermon may also be found online at Trinity’s website.  Jackson Thomas serves as Youth Events Coordinator and Resident Artist at Trinity Baptist Church.

We have a multi-faceted God who has many titles.  Among these titles the Holy Trinity: God the Spirit who lives within us, God the Son who came and died for us and God the Father who sired all of creation.

Still, perhaps one of the most relatable facets of God is God the Creator who carefully and artistically crafted all of creation.  We acknowledge Him from time to time, but it seems we too often fail to fully appreciate and experience this facet of God.  And it seems such a shame since we could so easily feel connected to this God, even more so, perhaps, than any other facet of God.

In a mission trip to France I took recently, we were surrounded by the Alps.  Everywhere we were in France, we saw them – brilliant and magnificent.  It sounds like a cliché, but there is no way to capture the majesty that the mountains impress.  That majesty is something man has been trying to reproduce for ages.

Back in eras past, it was done through the mixture of art and architecture.   The architecture of many buildings was meant to impress and inspire in the same way as the natural wonders of the world.  We have an innate desire to connect with our Creator God and bring about the same wonder He did in the creation of the world.  When I look at the beauty of the Alps or Niagara Falls, or look out over the ocean I see a level of beauty that would not be possible without a God with a sense of art and we, being made in His image, have been gifted with that same sense and a desire to express ourselves through that art.

Despite these things, art is no longer in our everyday architecture.  Christival gives us a month to recognize the art in worship, where it used to be an everyday part of worship.  It seems such a shame because art is such a universal language. Art is appreciated across the globe, even if what different cultures see as art changes.

This is true for all art though. Let’s take music for example. While traveling in France and Italy we had a number of these experiences, but the best I remember was in Belley.  After the concert so many people came up and would – as best they could – express their gratitude and that, even though they didn’t know English – even though they couldn’t even understand the words of the message – the music really touched them.  The message was clear to them even though the language barrier existed and, in that moment of truth, the barrier was broken.  It was an amazing experience to see how the music could be used as a conduit for the universal message of Christ’s love.

Isaiah 64:8 says “. . . we are the clay, you are the Potter”; and Jeremiah’s prophecy states that Israel is like clay in God’s hand:  “Can I not shape you how I please?” God asks.

I love this imagery.   Working with clay is not an easy task.  Many things can go wrong almost to the point where it seems a more apt analogy could have been made with almost any other form of art.  However, these prophecies choose to use pottery to illustrate the love and care God must put into making each single person.  This image implies care and painstaking amounts of work to make a piece of art exactly as we are to be made.  It paints a picture of God not only as a father, siring man and then guiding us towards our destiny, but also as a careful constructor controlling every aspect of our creation – designing us to reach our potential way before we were even born.

So, in a way, by being an artist is a way of participating in the glorious act of creation.  It is perhaps the purest form of worship.  True art is inspired by the spirit of God. It is imbedded in our soul.  Every Sunday we utilize art for worship in the form of song, but all art should be utilized. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, writing stories, every type of art we can produce is a reflection of God within us.  Every bit of art can be a testament of God’s glory, and this is true even of so-called “secular” art.

To say that art cannot be used for Christ if it is created by someone who did not feel led by the Christian spirit is to undermine the power of God’s love and the relevance of art in Christian ministry.  Art itself is a conduit of God’s presence in us, whether it is recognized as such or not.  True art has underlying spirituality to it regardless of the artist.  We can call the moving of the Holy Spirit anything we wish and can even explain it in such a way that it seems to take the godhood out of it. But inspiration was once thought to come from the muse.  Now it is simply inspiration or maybe divine intervention or some other longing from within.  All of these movements are movements of the Spirit, regardless of whether we, as humans who have very little understanding of the spiritual, classify it as such.

Perhaps the ancient Greeks were more correct that the science we currently “understand”.  Perhaps there are some messengers of God coming down and filling us with inspiration. Maybe there are still angels among us every day and we simply no longer recognize them.  Without a spiritual movement, how do we actually explain what causes inspiration?  Why does Chaucer’s use of words – English words that we hear every day – inspire us any more than everyday conversation?  Why are we inspired by grand mountains when we stand on a much larger piece of land?  Why do certain frequencies that we probably hear over and over again, arranged in a particular pattern become music to us?

There is an aesthetic aspect to art that should not be overlooked because we have an instinctive desire to make that aesthetic please us and yet there is no apparent reason why it should unless we are created with an artistic mindset.  And adults are not the only ones who understand and appreciate art. In fact, it often seems children grasp the concepts of art much more quickly than adults.  Perhaps it is the gift of a still in-tact imagination.  Regardless what this means is that artistry must be instilled at birth. and it gives us a mindset with which to approach worship.  Art is a glorious link that God gave us to bind us with the spiritual realm, since art cannot exist without a spiritual movement within the artist.  Art is a glorious way to glorify our Creator, and any art that is made with that spiritual movement – whether it is recognized or not – is spiritual in nature and is glorifying to God.

So what does this mean for us as Christians?  Better yet, what does it mean for us as artists?  Surely we can’t be expected to draw only crosses or paint only pictures of the acts of the apostles.  Our music must be more than hymns.  Diversity is the spice of life after all.  The only thing, really, we can be expected to do is create.  Create not what we think is glorifying to God, but instead letting that spiritual movement happen within us.

Take a quiet moment to reflect on life and let that image take form.  Listen to the silence and hear the symphony moving within you.  Then put that image to paper or sculpture or whatever other form it must take.  Take the message that has been forming within you and write it down.  Take an instrument and play that melody, or even put it on paper.  I truly believe that every person is an artist, because we are created as artistic beings by an artistic God.

We understand art because it was instilled in us.  Not everyone is a painter or an illustrator.  Not everyone is a singer or a songwriter. Your art may not even fall under a classic definition of what art is.  But Sir Isaac Newton was inspired to make his discoveries on momentum.  Albert Einstein advanced our understanding of Physics.  By looking just so, you can realize that all things are art, because all of creation is a magnificent piece of art. And art as we understand is our invitation to take part in Creation. It is God allowing us to see a bit of His perspective – allowing us to understand that we are perfect creations he hand-crafted just as we craft all of our artistic endeavors.  And just as an artist works diligently and tirelessly making every corner just so and every part of the painting the exact image he expects it to be, God has diligently and tirelessly made each and every person with all of our unique eccentricities. Each quirk was hand-designed by God to tell some story.  Because as God’s artwork, we are more than just a sculpture, or a painting; we are characters in the story of the universe.

God is the epitome of what it is to be an artist.  He is more than just a sculptor, He is a writer, writing the story of each and every person.  He is a musician.  If you never have, listen some time to the sound of nature.  The birds are obvious, but the sound of wind blowing through channels made my trees and the rustles of their leaves and the chatters of small animals and the percussion of falling acorns – all of these are part of a great orchestra created by God, singing His praises. It is the rocks crying out to worship their Creator in the moments where we are silent.  It is the muse desperately calling out to the artist on all of us. God created the science we study to work in the way it does so that each new discovery can be just as exciting as the one before.

All of creation reaches out to man to make us want to learn more about this universe in which we live. The grandiosity of creation brings out a longing in all mankind to understand it in some small way, be it through images or words or science; that is the grand design behind creation. That is the Creator God beckoning us.  It is, after all, His Majesty’s palette.