By Kenton W. Smith
In the dark blue deep of a restless night
nine hundred thousand dead.
COVID misery torments my faith.
Then a serenade of great horned owls.
The soothing sound of beauty
wooes me to sleep.
When it is darkest
Beauty sings a lullaby.
Is this a contradiction
or a holy chorus announcing,
“Peace on earth, do not be afraid.”
Dark blue deep is a reference to the longest night of the year (December 21 in the northern hemisphere). The Season of Advent lights a candle in the presence of the deep dark announcing something longed for is about to be born.
In the Gospel of Luke (2:8-14) a choirof angels sing to shepherds in the middle of the night announcing the birth of the Christ Child. The image of night in scripture often refers to divine help coming to humans in trouble. The trouble in this case is the oppression of the Roman Empire and the collaboration of the Jewish King Herod.
But then is now.
The ritual practice of the longest night during Christmas for those who have lost loved ones or dwell in fear is not a single day for much of the world but every day. The New Year is no exception. Violence, hatred, racism, xenophobia, intolerance, dualisms/divisions (us versus them), homophobia, misogyny, abuse, the weaponization of politics and religion, poverty, deadly viruses and an endless cycle of all the things that are killing us infects our psyches and fevers our sleep. In The Divine Milieu Pierre Teilhard de Chardin describes the cosmos as the location (more poetically: the womb) in which the Mystery we call God is actively present, living, moving, being.
Inexplicably and unbidden into the darkness of my tormented sleep Beauty sings an owl’s lullaby and calms my fear. What is that? What is that soft prompting that taps my imagination and brings my fear to an end without effort? Without effort is important to notice. I wasn’t practicing or praying. The magnitude of real suffering compared to my sleep disturbance was inconsequential. I was wooed by a life not me yet not other than me.
There is nothing to do here, nothing to measure, the Life within all life comes by itself.
*By February 21, 2022 over 900,000 deaths from Covid 19 were recorded by the CDC Data Tracker.
**The poem is from Sitting Still Doing Nothing: Contemplative Poetics in a Cultivated Garden and Wild Landscape by Kenton W. Smith, D.Min., DASD, Entry 12.15.20, p. 100.
By Brooke Maffia Wang
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and
give strength to body and soul.
My shoulders drop, the corners of my mouth rise, and I exhale deeply in an enfolding sense of welcome just as I am. Awe is healing. My body felt a resounding yes when I read this in a research study. And, again, this past week when my now 10 year old daughter and I made a 5.5 mile trek through the damp familiar redwoods.
The redwood forests in Henry Cowell State Park have played a part in raising me. They are as much my home as any house I’ve lived in. Creek walks, bike rides, runs, picnics on the riverbed, ducking and crowding into the Fremont Tree, walking the tracks to the Garden of Eden, gathering in the “family circle," riding the steam engine to Bear Mountain, viewing the stars and the ocean from the observation deck after having gone through three ecosystems to get there, prayer in the Cathedral of Redwoods, the horn of the beach train as it rumbles through the forest. Oh, and the intoxicating smell that is like a hug on a hot summer day. Each time I leave a little more grounded, aware of our interconnectedness, and filled with a lighter and bigger perspective.
Awe is one reason I continue to find my way home to this sacred awe filled forest. How about you?
As we enter this season of holidays that are beautiful and messy, may you find places to play and pray, moments of awe that sink deeply into your bones as they bring healing and strength as they remind you of the unique gift of you to this world.