Ordinary Blessings

We are in Ordinary Time.  Did you know?  To be precise, we are in the 29th week of Ordinary Time.  Perhaps this phrase conjures images of Madeleine L’Engle’s young heroine Meg and tesseracts, or perhaps it reminds you of Seattle’s notorious slick-wet grey days and how indeed, they have returned-in all their ordinary Northwestness-for months to come.  Ordinary Time is actually a season within the Christian liturgical calendar; this English name translates the Latin term Tempus per annum (literally “time through the year”).  This time (and there are two) bookends the Christian holy periods of the weeks following Christmas and Lent, and Pentecost and Advent.

While I have grown to truly appreciate the rhythms of the church calendar, I am just a wee bit frustrated with the word association of our current season.  Hum-drum and run-of-the-mill are two words that come to mind; they certainly don’t sparkle and bellow with bright lights.  This phrase seems to denote days that are some how lesser-than, weeks that begin to lose themselves in count beyond 20.  When we are told that we are in the 29th week of Ordinary Time, one can almost hear a collective sigh of consternation, “*sigh* Really?!  Still just in Ordinary Time?!  When will it be Christmas?!”  And how can we not long for these stand-apart sacred seasons when their semblances are splashed all over shopping malls and online retail markets as early as late September?  The holidays, Christmas, winter break, all seem to be calling out to us from glossy catalog covers to long for their festive, fun-filled days.

Far from ordinary, I prefer to consider this current season a time of quiet and happened-upon blessings.  A period when we are challenged to look for the divine in our day-to-day, mundane activities.  There are extraordinary things going on all around us, all the time!  Do we have the eyes to see?  Do we have the ears to hear?  A public charge from Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, says it this way:

Then [Jesus] turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you   say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now. (Luke 12:54, The Message)

Ordinary Time is a God-season, just as much as the holy days of Christmas and Easter are.  Look to the signs that are all around you.  They won’t be covered in Christmas lights or available for purchase from the store.  Look to your immediate places, your normal pathways; the plants, people and publications that surround your life could be whispering their own important inspirations for how to find meaning and truth as time passes through the year.

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Following are three significant blessings that came my way this week; they were excellent reminders that my seemingly mundane days are filled with the extraordinary!

Blessing of Abundance

backyard rainbow chard

Times are financially tight in our household.  These seasons of restraint challenge us to make-do with the abundance we already have readily available at home.  This week, in particular, there weren’t even quarters to spare on healthy greens to augment our dinner.  I’ve taken to simply watching my garden from the inside kitchen windows as the rains and damp cold have taken their grip on our city.  However, I remembered that my now grey and nodding sunflowers were planted over my rainbow chard…I grabbed my rain boots and coat and quickly left the kitchen through the back door to examine the gifts at the feet of my dear sunflowers.  Indeed, in these dark and interior-living days, my rainbow chard had shot up more lovely stalks, a challenging statement of bright and vibrant color to the ordinary, clouded Seattle weather.  We feasted well that night.  We were blessed.

Blessing of Life

This week we celebrated the seventh year of my first born son.  We lit seven candles representing each year of his life; each lit candle corresponding to a memory of that particular year.  We noted that with each year of life, the candlelight became brighter and brighter.  So too should it be with our lives.  With every year of life, every experience lived through, adventure had, wisdom won, we too should be shining all the brighter.  Our lives become beacons of light for those who are in dark places, for we are given Light/Life to give it away.  Furthermore, our task is to perceive the Light in which all exists, and to live from that perception.  Our luminescence can be cleared and become brighter when we go through challenging times as well; tears of sorrow for our callousness towards ourselves, others and the earth allow us to behold one another (and the universe!) as a sacred whole.

We delighted in the candle light on our son’s birthday evening.  We are blessed by the light of his life and the reminder to be light to others all the time!

Blessing of Story

Charlett'e Web by E.B. White (1952)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)

A couple weeks ago, we began reading E.B.White’s Charlotte’s Web with our boys.  Being the city-kids that they are, this 1952 classic took a bit of warming up time.  However, by Chapter 10–what with rope swings and exploding rotten eggs–the boys were hooked.  More importantly, their hearts were hooked.  Through this tale of adventurous friendship, they have been reminded that relationship is risky; connections with others call you to give of your life and energy on behalf of each other, no matter what.  This is what living life together means.  Because we are in one another’s life, we choose to risk: we risk our time, resources and energy for the sake of someone else.  Why?  Quite simply, I believe it is because of Love.  The essentials of life, of which friendship most definitely is, can always be boiled down to the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself.  The web that weaves all of us together-including the miraculous web that entwines Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider and Templeton the rat-is one based in Love and expressed in relationship.

I hugged my boys all the tighter after we finished the book this week.  As tears streamed down their young, fresh cheeks (and mine as well, to be honest), we talked about what it means to be a friend, and concluded that it is the most precious thing to be.

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.  I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  After all, what’t a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.  A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.  By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little bit of that.” (Charlotte’s Web, E.B.White)

Sunflowers-Their Gift

Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus

The Chickadees are back.  They come back every Autumn when our hedgerow of sunflowers begin to go to seed.  Their sweet, lilting “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” is heard just beyond our kitchen windows and we all stop mid-whatever to catch a glimpse of their stealth seed-gathering as Chickadees seldom remain anywhere long.

I have thought it actually quite smart, being the mother that I am, to arrange the kitchen table in such a way that the children face the windows in the morning while eating their breakfast.  What would normally be somewhat of a hectic pre-school-send-off dining affair turns into quiet contemplation as they witness these tiny birds swoop and swoon for their food.  While I watch this particular bunch munch on their meal, I too am stopped.  I am staggered.  I am held by a lesson from which I continue to learn every Autumn when the sunflower seeds I diligently plant in the early summer–so to enjoy the heady vibrancy of their yellow faces while picking from the veggie patch at their feet–continue to feed in beauty not only my soul, but the neighborhood collective of Chickadees.

And the lesson is simply this: GIVING. Relentless, unconditional, No-matter-what, giving. And it comes by way of the sunflowers.  And it really is quite simple.  I plant these little seeds (and I always plant way more than I need at weekly intervals as the early summer bird-types love these seeds) for their beauty: for their yellow-splash of sunshine in my Northwest-green yard, and because they are now my children’s mutual annual favorite.  And they never fail me.  Their thick, fibrous stalks always shock me; how can this strength come from such smallness?  And, of course-as it always is with the natural world-there is a whole other homily! And then there is the budding heads; these tightly wrapped packages of summer-essence, waiting to open and sway over the tended gardens below.  I just love it!  Every time, which in the summer is all the time, I walk beside my sun flowers I slow my pace, I gaze, I wonder, I receive the gift that their simple existence provides.

But their giving doesn’t stop there.  Once our shadows begin to lengthen towards the north and the sun just doesn’t quite crest the southern hill behind our home, these lusty heads of summer begin to transform to a smorgasbord of seed.  They become somewhat bedraggled looking and I have had more than one visitor ask when I will cut them down to “clean up my garden for the Autumn.”  Their lost lustre (petal-less, drooping and dismal) is but a facade for this is the season of their true crowning glory; this is when they give!

While I know many who harvest their sunflowers at these signs, I choose to let them continue their stand.  These silent sentinels quietly call out to the local Chickadees (its always the Chickadees; and we have birds of prey and many other woodland birds in our neighborhood) that their seasonal feast has been prepared.  And they get plucked!  Oh, my!  How they are plucked, prodded and put away!  And yet they stand there…in our darkening days, dampened by our autumnal rains, offering their essence, giving back to the great community of life to which we all belong.

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And while my children clank their spoons against their cereal bowls and begin the mad-dash towards shoes, packed lunches and back packs, I stand–back against counter, facing these truth-telling windows–plumbed with the question of how am I giving of myself? I mean, truly, really, in-the-most-authentic-ways offering who I am to the world? I am myself a seed…and one with particular characteristics and genetical properties, a product the result of my mother (and father) “plant”.  I have an intended purpose for which I was created, right?  *long, sip of hazelnut-flavored coffee*  I am created to be more than just a burst of seasonal summer color.  I am called to be more than just the beautiful backdrop to the hard and glorious efforts of the produce growing at my feet.  My seed, my quintessence, is to continue to feed other populations by virtue of my life and my energy.

Those who hang out with me long enough know that this is the dropping-in point to highly passionate talks around gift-sets and vocational callings.  And *sip-of-coffee* truly, this is the heart of the matter: we were given life so that our lives might enable LIFE for others.  We are called and challenged to live our lives on behalf of something other and greater than ourselves.  There are populations that need us to make ourselves available to them, whether through advocacy, voting-lines, or straight-up presence.  Our beauty and external prowesses will fade, most certainly.  And ironically enough, it is in the quiet, brown, dry, almost wilted, seasons of life when our offering is at its best.

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Following is great advice for what to do with your sunflowers if you don’t intend to leave them for the birds!

Drying Sunflowers – On the Stem

You can easily let nature take its course when it comes to drying sunflowers, and allow the drying process to occur naturally on the stem. If you are drying sunflowers this way you should keep an eye out for when the backside of the sunflower’s head turns yellow and the petals have fallen off. Once this has happened you need to act fast if you do not wish to lose all of your sunflower seeds to the ground! Use a brown paper bag to cover the head and this will also protect it from birds, squirrels and other critters that are interested in the sunflower seeds too. The paper bag helps the sunflower head still “breathe” and prevents moisture from accumulating in the bag and turning the seeds moldy. (If it rains, you may need to replace the bag with another in case the bag gets soggy or tears.) Dry your sunflowers like this until their heads turn brown on the backside – then it is time for harvesting. Simply collect the head by cutting the sunflower off one foot down on the stem, making sure you don’t lose the paper bag off the top in the process!

Drying Sunflowers – Early Harvesting

If you do not want to struggle against birds, squirrels and other critters competing to get a taste of your sunflower seeds before you do, there is another way to dry your sunflowers. When you see the signs of the yellowing of the backside of the sunflower head you simply harvest them right at that point. Cut the heads down leaving about one foot of stem below the head. You can then dry your sunflowers where ever you want to, as long as it is warm and dry with good ventilation to prevent molding. A small shed might be perfect, or even in your house. You may still want to cover the seed heads with paper bags, especially if drying in an outdoor shed! But primarily, as long the sunflowers are kept warm, dry and sheltered, you’ll be able to successfully harvest the seeds. Simply run your hand over the sunflower head and the seeds will pop right out.

(from the online resource, Sunflower Guide)