Eastern Sweetshrub reminds us to “be still and know”

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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.

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.

Thanksgiving Reflection: The Fragility of Life and Gratitude

give_thanks_with_a_grateful_heart

By Joe LaGuardia – A Thanksgiving reflection.

Reflecting on the fragility of life and the significance of gratitude, the poet of Psalm 39 wrote, “Hear my prayer, O Lord . . . for I am your passing guest, a sojourner, like my ancestors” (v. 12).

This author is not alone in facing the finality of life, the gloom of grief, and the dark of night.  Most of us, be it at a funeral, in solitude with God, or even driving down the interstate while in prayer, have contemplated the brief existence that all of us share on our tiny planet in the cosmos.

When that realization comes, people take one of two paths:  Some take the path of despair and resignation, forgetting to give thanks to God.  They brood on the morbid and slowly isolate themselves under the dark clouds of negativity and regret.

This path often ends at the bottom of a spiritual well, where the only light that provides any rescue is far overhead.

The second path is that of gratitude and appreciation.

Even when great calamity strikes, these folks ride above the storms of hardship and thank God for every breath that comes with the gift of life.

Things are not perfect, but hope is accessible.   There may be doubt, but that does not lead to despair.

Happiness may be hard to find, but joy continues to define a life well-seated in trust and faith in God.

People on that second path know that all of life is a movement of worship, even when worship is expressed in lament.  (It is unfortunate we forget that lamentation is a part of worship, not solely reserved for funerals or memorial services.)

St. Paul is an example for those who choose to follow in the second path.  He made an intentional effort to approach all of life in a state of worship even when conflict and the threat of death overshadowed his desire to spread the Gospel of Christ.

In the second letter to Corinthian churches, he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2:14-15).

A pleasant fragrance passes through space and time briefly.  A person enjoys it for a moment, and it dissipates as soon as one feels its breezy touch.  The author of Psalm 39 wrote, “You have made my days a few handbreaths…we go about like shadows” (v. 5, 6).

From Paul’s perspective, even a moment in the presence of God provides an eternity of bliss and fulfillment.  Each passing instance was a gift from the Lord.

Do you see life (as fleeting as it is) as a breath that passes through the universe or like a sweet fragrance rising before the very throne of God?

In his commentary on Psalm 39, scholar F. B. Meyer noted that the good news in this poetry, even for those who face uncertain days and have but miniscule joy, is that God will never leave our side:  “We are sojourners ‘with God,’ he is our constant companion…We may be strangers [in life], but we are not solitary.  The Father is with us.”

After spending many years in ministry and too many days beside the beds of loved ones facing hardship, I have come to realize that all of us face a choice each day: Will this day be lived out in desperation and self-centered striving, or will the day be welcomed as a gift to be enjoyed, one filled with the promise of hope and gratitude, held firmly in the embrace of the God who promises eternal life?