Snowflakes and Blackberries

It’s snowing this morning, and coincidentally, I ran across a few words I jotted down about snow, several years ago. It was one of those moments that stretches your mind and reminds you of divinity and cosmos.

This reminded me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her words on blackberries.

Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries…

From Aurora Leigh, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Searching for this quote, I rediscovered the longer poem of which it is a part, and found that it articulates my own belief about the spiritual nature of art. I kept reading, and Elizabeth kept building out the thesis in keeping with my own sense of things.

Human beings are inescapably spiritual. We are inescapably natural. We are created in the image of God, incarnated as He was, fully human and whole-souled just as He was fully human and fully divine. As an Orthodox Christian, I believe all creation is lifted up in Christ. ALL CREATION. This means I see God as much in a tiny snowflake as in a book of theology. I love that.

As a writer, I know I can’t let go of spirit to write about natural life. They are not separate. Not in the smallest detail. Some writing is more obviously “spiritual” or “religious” than others, but I believe all good art, perhaps I would say all “genuine” art, has as much spiritual as natural content. The measure of its greatness is the extent to which the fire of heaven shines through it.

Elizabeth says this more beautifully than I could, so here are her words to feed your thoughts on this snowy morning.

From ‘Aurora Leigh’
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

TRUTH, so far, in my book;—the truth which draws
Through all things upwards,—that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos. Natural things
And spiritual,—who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift 5
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points. We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,
The perfect round which fitted Venus’ hand
Has perished as utterly as if we ate
Both halves. Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural’s impossible,—no form,
No motion: without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable,—no beauty or power:
And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(For still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it,—fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal, to the antetype
Some call the ideal,—better call the real,
And certain to be called so presently
When things shall have their names. Look long enough
On any peasant’s face here, coarse and lined,
You’ll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
As perfect featured as he yearns at Rome
From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
And, if your apprehension’s competent,
You’ll find some fairer angel at his back,
As much exceeding him as he the boor,
And pushing him with empyreal disdain
For ever out of sight. Aye, Carrington
Is glad of such a creed: an artist must,
Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone
With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
Why else do these things move him, leaf, or stone?
The bird’s not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;
Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:
But man, the twofold creature, apprehends
The twofold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him,
A mere itself,—cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And built up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God. ‘There’s nothing great
Nor small’, has said a poet of our day,
Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell:
And truly, I reiterate, nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim;
And (glancing on my own thin, veinèd wrist),
In such a little tremor of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more from the first similitude.

Close to God in Nature

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel by Cheryl Anne TuggleThis week, I ran a giveaway on my Facebook page, featuring a novel called Lights on the Mountain (Paraclete Press 2019). My friend Cheryl Anne Tuggle wrote it, and it’s beautiful. To enter the giveaway, I asked people to comment with a time they’d felt close to God in nature. It’s a theme in the novel, beginning with an experience the main character has in the first chapter that changes his life. (Find out what and why! Get a copy here.)

The comments were beautiful! I don’t want them to scroll away into the land of yesterday’s news feed. So I’m gathering them up and sharing them here.

“Comment with a Time You Felt Close to God in Nature”

Sarah Frye Gingrich: It was one our last nights in Chile as missionaries, and we were camping on a local island with youth for a retreat. As night fell the bay began to glow where the lapping waves hit the shore. Bioluminescent plankton. We donned our suits and ran into the water, wherever we moved there was green light. I lay back and kicked through the light, staring up at bright stars against the endless black. I felt that God is both beyond and nearer than my breath.

Rebecca Stasia Braswell: Rain. Stick with me, a moment. I grew up in the San Joaquin valley in California, which produces about 80% of the country’s produce and goods on approx 12 inches of rain a year. I love, love, love rain. It still has that childlike marvel attached to it, even as an adult who sees a lot more rain. When thunder rolls and crashes, I’m reminded of a powerful, sovereign God that sends good to the just, and thankfully for me, to the unjust alike.

Nancy Athanasia Parcels: I was 15 years old and experiencing some pretty serious health issues, my family and I were in Greece. I was hiking in Crete on a mountain and came across this amazing view of the ocean. I sat down with the sun on my skin, wind in my hair and smelling the ocean. I was praying to God to heal me. I then sat there with my eyes closed just listening to nature. I felt a hand on my shoulder I turned and no one was there. I closed my eyes again and I am pretty sure I heard God tell me that everything was going to be alright. A few months later I was back in the States and with a clean bill of health.

I felt so close to God at that moment. I felt uplifted, loved and beyond grateful for this life.

Christine Rogers: The Northern Lights!

Elina Pelikan: My youth living by the sea.. sweatshirt and jeans and a journal on a cliff alone with the enormity of the ocean… sometimes I would bring my guitar and belt the church songs into the wind and waves…. sometimes I would just sit and scribble nonsense and breathe in the salty air and seaspray.

I love to soak in His presence in a beautiful church, but sitting with Him in a forest or by the water brings another experience that is rich and nourishing.

Christina Bournelis Blankenstein: Anytime that I’m at the Oregon coast- especially if I wake up early enough in the morning and I’m at scout camp. So, surrounded by trees,looking out at the ocean. I feel as if I have entered a small piece of the heavenly kingdom!

Sian Williams: I live close enough to the sea to be able to hear the crash of waves at high tide on a quiet still night if I go outside. Always moves me to tears and to prayer.

Sarah Brangwynne: Gardening and Spring. I am always amazed at the beauty of trees and plants coming to life after a period of dormancy and looking pretty dead all winter.

Rachel Stevens: My grandparents own 20 acres in VA. On that 20 acres they have a pond. As a teenager I sit on a concrete bench next to the pond with a journal in hand. I also loved riding their horse around alone too. So peaceful and easy to pray 🙂

Abby Kreckel: As a teenager, I would sneak into my empty but unlocked childhood parish and sit on the floor in the dark, singing hymns and hearing them echo around the dark space.

Katherine Bolger Hyde: At the first Orthodox Writers Week at the Beach, I walked on the beach each morning and was filled with a holy joy. This is only one of many times I have felt close to God in nature. “The world is shot through with the grandeur of God” (G. M. Hopkins).

Kristina Michelle: Nature has been a huge part of my life. I was fortunate that my parents made sure we were out and about in the forest every week. One summer I drove an hour each way on the prairie every day for work. That consistent, great amount of time watching the prairie and listening to Christian music (I’d never even heard of Orthodoxy at that point!) created a deep peace throughout the entire summer.

Vassi M Haros: I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was just a kid… staring at the clouds as they floated by. It was so peaceful to not be aware or influenced by the people or things around me. It was just me and God.

Sandra Glisic: The time that I felt most close to God in nature was one spring day where I picked up a book and sat on the grass by the lake on monastery grounds to read. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to my book because the picture in front of me was truly a book on its own. The birds were chirping, the water peacefully moving, the trees rustled from the wind, flowers were slowly growing and the wind brought freshness into everything including me. I realized at that moment what it means for life to renew and resurrect and I realized at that moment how wonderful God truly is and how amazing are all the things He created. And most of all, how amazing was it that He blesses us all with that and me in that moment.

Anastasia Dimassis-Benbow: Not one specific time… But every time I’m going through something, and I realize I haven’t touched God’s “home plate“ in a while, I sit by the water. I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and the sound of the shore. I can literally feel God wrap his arms around me, and I leave with a renewed sense of strength, love, and pure hope. ❤️

 

Photo by Greg Nunes on Unsplash

Seasons

Sprout growing in fine sand casting a shadow

Seasons of the year are practice. That’s what I think. We practice death and resurrection over and over again.

The natural world changes to show us that time is in motion. Summer will come. You can’t stop it. And winter will follow. But spring follows, too.

None of the seasons are permanent. The motion never ceases, and motion is one of the signs of life.

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