Shelter and Refuge– Prayers and Ponderings

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Psalm 91:1-4

As I mentioned last week, I loved hearing this psalm read in Hebrew when I was at a funeral recently. Psalm 91 is one of my favorite psalms and I especially I love the imagery of the first few verses. Seeing a small tree growing in the shadow of a large one or a mother bird sitting on her nest sheltering her young always brings the words of this psalm to mind for me. Here in New York, we tend to welcome sunshine most of the time (except maybe for this week of blazing heat), but the idea of a shadow being a safe place makes a lot of sense when I remember that David, who wrote this, lived in the blazing sunshine of the Middle East, where shade could mean the difference between life and death. This week let’s meditate on these images and also look for reminders of God’s care for us in the natural world.

I was halfway through writing this last week, when I got a call that a deer had leaped onto the driver’s side of the windshield of my parents’ car, when they were going 60mph on a highway (which is why this didn’t get posted last week). Amazingly, despite the shattered windshield and many small pieces of glass in his eyes, my almost 92 year-old father was able to drive 100+ yards till there was a safe place to pull over. There also just happened to be an EMT right behind them, so they got immediate assistance. Both my parents are doing fine now, and this was a big reminder to me of how God doesn’t keep us from hassles and difficulties, but is with us through them.

Of course we are all very thankful for how this experience turned out, but even when things don’t turn out as we would like, God is, in some way, our refuge and fortress, our God in whom we can trust. I haven’t always understood or recognized God’s care at the time, but, looking back, I know he has sheltered me and brought me through to the present.

Monday: From what do you need or want protection? Think about what it means that God is the Most High, greater than anything that could threaten us, and that he offers us shelter.

Tuesday: Throughout Scripture we are urged to dwell in God’s love, care, and presence. Meditate on what it might mean in your life to dwell in God’s shelter.

Wednesday: Are you tired, weary? God invites us to rest. How can you accept that invitation and rest in his refreshing shadow?

Thursday: Meditate on the imagery of a hen watching over and sheltering her chicks- they run to her whenever danger threatens and find safety and comfort under her wings.

Friday: Where do you run when you feel threatened or afraid? Take some time today to think about the things that stress or frighten you, and then imagine how you could find shelter, comfort, and peace in God’s care, even while the danger lurks nearby.

Saturday: Let’s look for images in nature or the world around us that can remind us of God’s care and protection– a Robin covering her young with her wings; a sapling standing in the shadow of larger tree; a woodchuck standing guard at the mouth of her burrow… and please comment if you have images to suggest.

“In the Shadow”

The Voice of the Moon

The moon shines her silver fingers through my open window and gently touches my cheek. I open my eyes to see the time; it’s 3AM. I roll over, snuggle into my covers, and close my eyes again. But I can’t close out the moon’s invitation, her call to go outside and join her in the magic of the night.

I slip into a warm fleece jacket and muck shoes, leash Petra, and step into the night. Hovering over the high-reaching branches of the black locust tree, the moon moves in brilliant rhythm with Mars, her partner for tonight’s dance. The two of them shine so brightly they have the sky to themselves, other than the Big Dipper, who watches from his spot in the northern sky. I watch as the dancers flow with the cheerful music of the stream, or is that the voice of the moon, rich with the fullness of her joy?

A Catbird, perhaps confused by the silver light, sings continuously somewhere through the woods. In the distance a Barred Owl calls twice, as if to welcome me to his world. All else is still. Too cool for insects, there is no chirping of cricket or flash of firefly, just the stillness that reigns when the sun is down and the moon shines her silver light over the world.

The dance ends as the moon slips behind the trees, leaving the picnic table before me in shadow. I lay my pen down, no longer able to see my page, and sit quietly, savoring the darkness that thrums with silent life. Then, my visit over, I head back inside to snuggle into warm covers and dream of silver light and birdsong.

Moon Shine

(This painting is currently featured in my Etsy shop.)

Of Woodchucks and Titmice…

Yesterday I saw three cute, little woodchuck babies emerging from the brush pile at the edge of our yard. They wandered around, climbed on some fallen limbs, and foraged in the grass. This afternoon I took a camp chair and sketching supplies down to the path where it goes into the woods near the brush pile, settled myself more or less comfortably, and waited. For a while there was no sign of the woodchucks, so I watched and sketched a vociferous House Wren who tirelessly spills his son through the woods nearly all day long.

After a half hour or so, I saw Momma Woodchuck’s head appear from the hole under the brush. She stayed motionless, just her head showing, for a long time, while I ever so slowly lowered my binoculars, avoiding any sudden move that would alert her to my presence. After a while I saw an adorable little baby woodchuck appear under Momma’s chin, then another baby on the other side of her. They looked around briefly, then lacking the highly suspicious nature of their mother, they emerged fully and began to climb on the piled up branches. Momma remained motionless and alert. A third baby appeared beside Momma, then ducked under her chin and began nosing at her mouth. She still didn’t move, and finally Baby #3 moved away to forage in the weeds. At that point I noticed a fourth baby approaching from the direction of another hole I’d noticed. Maybe Baby #4 is more independent and had decided to make his own way out into the world?

I sat as still as possible, only barely moving my right hand to sketch the woodchucks, occasionally glancing down to see my page. Suddenly I heard a whirr of wings behind my head, then again, this time so close I could feel the air moving against my hair. And then I felt a bird land on my head! I resisted the temptation to move, and the bird began yanking at my hair. I felt a couple of hairs get pulled out, and from the corner of my eye, I saw one of my white hairs floating to the ground. At least whoever it was had the decency to pull out white hair and leave my few remaining dark hairs.

I continued sketching the woodchucks and the bird continued to yank at my hair for a little while, then seemed to be trying to rearrange my hair with much twisting and scratching, but no more yanking. I was a little concerned he was checking out my head as a potential nesting site, since obviously that would prove disappointing for him, but after perhaps five minutes he hopped off my head and onto the back of the chair beside me. I turned slightly, curious to see who this was who so appreciated my hair, and he took off, landing in a nearby tree– a Tufted Titmouse.

Meanwhile, Family Woodchuck continued to roam, climb, and explore, with Momma watching closely. Finally, after I had been sketching for an hour (sitting for an hour and a half), I heard a quick whistle, and all the babies and Momma ran into the burrow. I came in and added color to some of my woodchuck sketches and did a quick memory sketch of a Common Yellowthroat who had landed briefly right in front of me. I had already sketched the House Wren in watercolor, while waiting for the woodchucks to appear.

Field sketches of House Wren and woodchucks (click image to see it larger)

Happy Birthday, Petra!

It doesn’t seem possible, but my sweet Petra is eleven today. She doesn’t act her age, but she has settled down a little. I haven’t seen her leaping up trees recently, and she hasn’t soared off any cliffs as she once did with her friend Lucy (really a rock outcropping about six feet high, but it seemed like a cliff when the two dogs were midair and we were watching them fly from over our heads) , but she is still always up for action, always ready to charge across the yard, always eager for a walk or hike. She also loves to snuggle on my lap while I have my first cup of tea in the morning, and she sings her happy songs to Stephen every day. I’ve never had a dog who sings quite so eloquently as Petra does, and we enjoy her whole variety of songs that express emotions from sad to contented to overcome with joy.

Happy Birthday, Petra Sweetie! I love the combination of energy, joy, and love you add to our home, and I am thankful for you every day.

Here are a few pictures I took today of my happy birthday girl.

Petra, Come! :)
Milo, Petra, and Rowan

The Lord is my Shepherd– Prayers and Ponderings

This past week I attended the first Jewish funeral I’ve been to–a moving experience, as it was the funeral of a gentle and kind man, whom I met through dog training. The prayers and psalms were read in both Hebrew and English, and as I listened to the 23rd Psalm and Psalm 91, of course I didn’t understand the words in Hebrew, but I listened to those words with a feeling of awe, knowing that these were the words as they were originally written, thousands of years ago, and as Jesus would have heard and prayed them in his time on earth.

The 23rd Psalm, with which we are so familiar, was written by David about 3,000 years ago. Psalm 91, one of my favorite psalms, was written by Moses about 3,400 years ago. Hearing these psalms read in Hebrew reminded me that we are part of a long, long history of people of faith. This week I’d like to ponder and pray through a few verses of Psalm 23, and next week we might look at Psalm 91.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:1-3, 6

God loves us with a nurturing love that meets our deepest needs, by providing rest and refreshment so that our souls will be restored. This week let’s avail ourselves of what God so graciously offers us—his leadership as a shepherd who leads us to what we most need.

Monday: Good shepherds are gentle with their flock, as well as strong and protective of them when danger threatens. Thank God for being both gentle and protective, and entrust yourself to his care for the day.

Tuesday: Because our shepherd meets our deepest needs, we can truly be content. Thank God for the many riches he’s blessed you with— a sense of belonging, friends, forgiveness, access to him, love, peace, and much more.

Wednesday: As shepherds want their sheep to feel safe enough to lie down and rest, God wants us to trust him, so that we can rest from our work and not live with constant stress. Ask God to help you trust him more fully and let go of your anxiety.

Thursday: Take time today to drink deeply of God’s thirst-quenching water for your soul as you read your Bible and spend time in prayer.

Friday: Think about the many ways God has restored your soul in the past. Allow him to refresh and restore your soul today. Praise and thank him!

Saturday: Take some time today to meditate on God’s goodness and mercy. Rest quietly, knowing that you are loved and cared for and will be always.

He makes me lie down in green pastures…

What do I NOT want to change about my life?

A friend and I have been doing some writing together, working from prompts that we each use as jumping off points for wherever they lead us. Usually I find that my writing fairly logically follows from the prompt. Sometimes, though, my brain takes an interesting detour that in the end often speaks to the prompt in an unexpected way. This is one such piece, where I let my pen follow my train of thought as it veered unexpectedly to some musings on nature. At first I thought I had missed the prompt, but later realized I ended up with a reflection that I think will help me evaluate how I might respond to the inevitable pressures of life and our culture.

The prompt was “What do I NOT want to change about my life?”

What do I not want to change about my life? There is very little I would want to change. I don’t want to change my solitude-loving, quiet observer nature. I prefer to blend into the background, though I will speak up when necessary. I guess I would ideally be a trout lily or a Chickadee.

The trout lily doesn’t advertise her presence with large, showy blossoms, but she adds subtle beauty to the forest floor. She’s easily overlooked and, alas, sometimes trampled, but if you pause to look, she has intricate blossoms and subtly distinctive leaves. Categorized as a “spring ephemeral,” she is here briefly, then appears to be gone, while in reality her life is hidden in the rich soil wherein she dwells beside a creek.

Trout Lily watercolor with ink

The Chickadee is much more bold and perennially present, but nonetheless is subtle rather than showy, not bright in color like the Cardinal or pushy like the Wren. She is cheerful and willing to trust when trust has been earned, but nearly always yields her ground when conflict comes, retreating to a safe shrub or tree until peace returns. Hardy, she perseveres through heat and cold, singing her cheerful notes, despite cloud or rain or snow. The Chickadee is also a curious creature, investigating, learning, and remembering.

Chickadee watercolor sketches

What do I not want to change about my life?

The trout lily blooms in early spring, then is soon overshadowed by the leaves of the trees, but she will bloom again when her season comes, once again enriching the forest with her subtle beauty. The Chickadee, pert and friendly, delights in life and shares her joy, not outstanding in size or color or song, but adding her grace notes to the chorus of birds throughout the seasons.

Chickadee singing (watercolor)

Garlic Mustard Saute

Organic without sticker shock. Garden-fresh vegetables without planting, cultivating, or weeding… oh wait, it is the weed! As we all know, weeds grow faster and more successfully than most of the crops we plant and carefully cultivate. Garlic mustard, an invasive weed that spreads seemingly everywhere here in the northeast, is free for the pulling, organic, delicious, and high in nutrients.

Garlic Mustard

I’ve been tossing a few garlic mustard leaves in my salads and sauteing handfuls of leaves and, in the process, happily decreasing the numbers of these plants that are crowding out native plants on our land. I’ve also had garlic mustard pesto, that one of my sons made last year.

Garlic Mustard

Like many common foods, including lima beans, spinach, almonds,  garlic mustard contains cyanide, so it is recommended that one not eat large quantities more than a couple of times a week. However, cyanide is reduced or eliminated by cooking, and since I eat most of my garlic mustard sauteed, rather than in salads, I’m not too concerned. It is also reported to be high in vitamin C, carotenoids, minerals, and fiber, so good for you as well as tasty.

Garlic mustard is a biennial plant, meaning it has a two year life cycle. The first year the plant germinates in the spring and grows as a low-growing rosette, and supposedly the leaves of first year plants are higher in cyanide and therefore more bitter. Second year plants grow as a stalk with triangular-shaped leaves of varying sizes growing off the full height of the stalk, with the larger leaves at the base. I’ve only been eating the leaves of second year plants, and I haven’t found them to be particularly bitter, but rather nicely flavorful. I’ve also read that summer heat can make the leaves more bitter, and so it’s best to choose shaded plants, once summer comes. I’ll be sampling throughout the summer and will report back.

The way I’ve been cooking my garlic mustard is to saute it briefly in extra virgin olive oil,

Garlic mustard sauteing

…then I add a few tablespoons of chicken broth, cover the pan, and let it cook for about five minutes, or until the broth is cooked down. And then I eat!

Dinner!

I would love to hear other recipes and thoughts about eating garlic mustard (or other invasive plants), so please comment if you have a favorite recipe.

Fingerprints of God in Springtime– Prayer Guide

Last year’s Robin’s nest

This time of year is exciting for birders, as spring bird migration is in full swing, and there are also numerous birds courting, gathering nesting material, and sitting on eggs. I’ve been watching a pair of Robins in my yard in the past week; each day for four days the female laid an egg, then sat on them keeping them warm. Now there are two little nestlings and two eggs, which I expect will be hatching over the next couple of days. As I see new life unfolding with the leafing out of shrubs and trees, the blooming of all sorts of flowers, and the exuberant life of birds, I am reminded of God’s creative work that is constantly happening in this world. This week let’s look at some passages that tell of God’s work in the natural world and how creation can speak to us about God.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work…
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests…
Psalm 104: 12-13, 16-17

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made… Romans 1:20

Monday: Ask God to open your eyes and heart to see his invisible qualities in the ways he makes them apparent through his creation.

Tuesday: Think about ways in which God’s eternal power has been made evident in creation recently. Let your mind dwell on God’s power. Worship him in awe!

Wednesday: Look around at springtime unfolding. Meditate on what you see and ask yourself what it tells you of God’s divine nature. Praise God for the ways he reveals his nature in nature.

Thursday: Ask God to renew a sense of wonder in you, so that as you observe his creation, you will be seeing reminders of God and be drawn closer to him.

Friday: Look for opportunities to share about God’s nurturing and creative nature with others as you share your appreciation of and joy in springtime.

Saturday:  Praise God that he leaves his fingerprints in the world as a means of revealing himself to those who have eyes to see. Take time today with God, enjoying some aspect of his creation with him.

This year’s Robin’s nest