The title above is taken from a little book (A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary) by Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, who was a Benedictine monastic of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. (While writing this I discovered that she had died just five days ago on April 24, 2020, at the age of 81). If you are searching for God in your life and in your experiences I recommend you read any of her books. In them you will find examples of everyday spirituality, and creative rituals for investing your life with meaning.
The reason that title came to mind was as a result of a challenge I was given on Facebook. If you dont do social media (and Im a fairly recent participant myself) this particular challenge involves posting a photo online for 10 days of a person or place that means something to you (but without giving an explanation). Its a nice challenge really as you get to share some aspects of your life (as much as you wish to) with friends you are connected with online. Of course I could easily have found recent photos and put them up one after another. But for some reason this challenge set me off down memory lane. Perhaps because we are still in lockdown at home, and I have some time on my hands, or maybe because I am missing family that I haven’t seen for weeks – for whatever reason I took down the photo albums and spent some happy hours trawling through the years of my life. I looked at pictures of Mam and Dad (both passed on many years ago) sisters and brothers, friends, pets and all the decades of my life – highs, lows, sadness, gladness and all in between.
What struck me more than anything was how blessed I have been. I was spoiled for choice in picking out pictures of people who meant something to me. I am a people “picture taker” – I know people who go on holidays to take pictures of famous sites etc and if someone steps into that picture, it is ruined; whereas for me, a person in the picture makes all the difference. So I found my pictures easily enough – my son as a toddler, making his First Holy Communion, my sisters and myself in a school photo, an adult photo of my seven brothers and two sisters and myself, the first time we have been together in many years.
The memories evoked by this simple challenge were wonderful. For the first time in a long time, I sat and reflected on my life’s journey, how wonderful it has been, the wonderful people God has placed in my life through family and friends, the many blessings and love that has been showered on me, and the adventures, relationships, experiences and sometimes disappointments that have shaped me. I saw the direction and twists and turns of each decade and I remembered my anxiety at particular times, but looking back I can see that a better hand than mine was steering me along the journey. And I have no doubt that the same hand is supporting me and steering me through this time of uncertainty and worry about the future. So a simple challenge on Facebook has become for me an occasion of reassurance, and an opportunity to acknowledge that I too have been given the gift of a life that contains its own tree full of angels. For that I am truly grateful!
It’s the evening of Tues 15th April, and it has been such a beautiful day with sunshine practically all day, but still cool in the shade. I was out in the back garden weeding and watering most of the evening. I love watering as the evening draws in and the sun starts to edge towards the horizon. I find it’s a time where I reflect a lot on God, nature, creation, something I read somewhere or the Scripture reading of the day. Because I am leading a Prayer Service tomorrow, I was actually thinking about the Gospel Reading for tomorrow and what I might say about it in my Reflection.
The peace and quiet was interrupted at intervals by birdsong here and there. At some stage, I realized there was one particular song which was soaring high above all the others, and it had been going on for a while. I looked up but could not see any particular bird, so I walked round to the front of the house – and there it was, a thrush, on a tv aerial, singing his heart out. I just had to try to capture some of it. (Be sure to turn the sound up high) Enjoy!
Jesus tells us: “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matt 17;20
Jesus said this to the apostles in response to their plea “Lord increase our faith”. So Jesus is happy if we have even the smallest amount of faith because the mustard seed is very small indeed (1 to 2 mms in diameter). But if we truly have even this small amount of faith we can do amazing and wonderful things, because of course these things happen through the power of God. Did you ever find yourself talking about your faith, feeling that you have a deep faith and then when something painful or bad happens it feels like your faith goes out the window? You just cannot connect with it and God can seem so very far away. It is very hard to trust at these times and yet these are the times that Jesus is talking about – if we can only hold on by our fingertips, if we can hold on to the tiniest amount of trust, in spite of our doubts, God will bring us through.
We are born trusting – our parents, our care-givers – until such time as we learn, by our experiences, not to trust. And our image of God can be influenced by our experiences also, which may not help us to trust God either. Our faith is not static – we need to water the tiny seed, feed it, protect it. We can do this by prayer, by asking, like the apostles did, for an increase in faith, by truly getting to know Jesus through the Scriptures so that we can replace any unhealthy images with more life-giving ones. Just as the mustard seed grows into a tree giving shade to the birds, so will our faith and trust in God grow if we nurture it and feed it through prayer and Scripture, helping to develop roots that will sustain us through the tough times. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matt 13:32
On a final coincidental note I received a photo today from a parishioner, a member of our Bible study group. Last year after my return from a trip to the Holy Land I distributed some mustard seeds to the group and Eddie planted them. Here is the proof that they are doing well because he has nurtured them and looked after them well. Let us nurture our own seeds of faith even in these tough times. I hope this picture will inspire you to help your faith grow even a little bit each day!
Most of the Gospel Readings we heard in the past week are about Jesus trying to convince the Jews in the temple about who He is, the long awaited Messiah, but they are not hearing him – they are not ready to hear him. Then on Thurs in the first reading we heard the story of God’s third appearance to Abraham where God announced that he was making an everlasting covenant with Abraham to make him the father of a multitude of nations. And Abraham received God’s word and listened to God’s voice.
Are we ready? Next week is Holy Week, and throughout Lent God has been preparing us to hear the Easter message – have we sat before the Lord quietly and opened our ears and our hearts? God knows with all that is happening in our lives at the moment we have a right to feel off-balance or unmotivated, perhaps even about prayer, and that’s very understandable in these very difficult times. Perhaps we could make an effort as we approach Holy Week to make some space (as Abraham did) to listen to God and to receive his word with open hearts. God has Good News for you and for me. I read somewhere recently – when God has good news for us he does not want to call and get voicemail – you don’t leave exciting, good news in a voicemail message – you want to speak directly to the other person. Is that God’s experience with us sometimes when he is trying to get through to our hearts? Am we too busy, too distracted, too worried, sometimes even too caught up in saying prayers that we forget to leave space for God to reply?
If you feel that you cannot do this at the moment, remember that St. Paul tells us that even when we cannot pray, “the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) And if all you can do is sit and breathe then do that; because every breath is a prayer in itself. Allow the Lord to speak to you this Holy Week – listen for his gentle voice.
You will have heard the news this evening that we must stay home for the next two weeks at least until Easter to try to reduce the number of Corona virus cases that are ending up in hospital. Intensive care units are under pressure as it is and are likely to be overwhelmed if the numbers continue to rise. So we must take personal responsible and act in the way that is best for everyone and stay home. Yes we can only go out for food and medicine and some exercise, but when you think about what our health workers are doing, it is not too much to expect us to support them in whatever way we can. And yes it is hard that families are being separated at this time and grandparents cannot see and hug their grandchildren but in the long run it means they will be able to do that at some stage in the future.
So how can we best get through this time of isolation and worry especially if you are on your own, as many people are? There have been many hints and tips online over the past weeks about how to look after yourself – all very sensible like trying to keep to a schedule, eating properly, getting some exercise every day, doing some relaxation/meditation, getting plenty of sleep etc. All of these are really useful and it will sustain us if we can adhere to them as much as possible.
For myself, I dont know how I would cope mentally and emotionally if I didnt have faith – faith in something greater than myself that sustains me and keeps me balanced and rooted, especially in these times when I might otherwise feel like giving in to despair or extreme worry. Im not saying I dont ever feel worry – I do, and anxiety about the future at times but faith has taught me to live one day at a time, to hand it over to God (there’s nothing I can do to fix it!) and to look for ways to keep myself rooted in that relationship through regular prayer and quiet time (and also very little watching of bad news videos and continuous news channels!) I have certain twitter accounts that I follow and other newsletters that I have signed up to – all positive, spiritual and offering hope and encouragement. I also try to reach out to parishioners every day either through phone calls, working on this blog or putting information and resources up on our parish website www.malahideparish.ie or @malahideparish (Twitter) or on our facebook page Malahide Parish of St. Sylvester
Someone sent me this poem this morning while I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by Coronavirus news and “worse-case scenario” thinking! It gave me a lift and a sense of hope – perhaps it will help you too?
Oh do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy
and very important day for the goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles
for a musical battle, to see who can sing the highest note, or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth, or the most tender? Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air
as they strive melodiously not for your sake and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude – believe us, they say, it is a serious thing
just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world. I beg of you,
do not walk by without pausing to attend to this rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something. It could mean everything. It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote: You must change your life.
Yesterday I had to bring my two cats to the vet. I didnt really want to as I have been trying to stay home as much as possible,but they needed more than the normal flea treatment so I had to venture out. The cats roam in the field behind my house most days so I think they get bites of some sort or another, which they then scratch and that makes it worse. Its a fairly regular occurrence every six months or so. I really hate bringing them to the vet as they fight and struggle not to go into their carry baskets for the trip. By the time I got them both into their baskets and into the car I was hot and bothered and almost late. Then I have to listen to them both crying all the way in the car.
All sorted eventually and I headed home with both cats and a number of treatments and a noticeably lighter wallet. But a couple of things struck me later one – one that I am incredibly lucky to be able to afford to give animals this quality of treatment. Of course we should treat all animals with humanity, but it feels bad to spend so much when we know so many people don’t have access to basic medical treatment in the first place, and one wonders how the coronavirus in going to impact on countries that dont have a proper medical system. The contrast between developed countries and developing countries could not be starker – even in the fight against this virus. It is a reminder to contribute financially where I can to Trocaire, Concern or other aid agencies helping them in this fight.
My second thought was to give thanks for my cats. As I live alone it could get very lonely over the next while, but the company of an animal is such a reassuring thing. At the very least you have someone to talk to – yes, seriously! Rufus, the beige one is a home lover – he only goes out the door to want to get back in five minutes later. Sometimes if I ignore him, he raps imperiously on the window and cries until I have to let him in. Then he spends his time wanting to climb on my lap, my shoulders, my keyboard – my dinner plate, if he could! And he has plenty to say for himself, if ignored. The other one, Nero, is more of a loner, staying away most of the day, but curling up quietly near my feet on the sofa in the evening. No drama queen here!! They both make me happy and are great company. I am sure many people are saying the same thing these days about their cats, dogs, parrots, guinea pigs etc. Thank God for pets!
Sunshine makes such a difference doesn’t it? Being at home during these strange times of Covid-19 can make one very lazy but the sunshine today drew me out, at least into the back garden . Just standing there looking at the regrowth of flowers and plants and listening to the birds singing, even feeling the tiniest bit of heat from the sun on my face, was like balm for the soul – so soothing. As I potted some flowers that I was given weeks ago as a birthday gift, I even managed to forget for moments at a time the strange world we inhabit just now. Funny to think that as the human world is being turned upside down, the world of nature is getting on with life as usual, birds building nests, looking for food, singing their hearts out as the sun sets…. (See video below)
Perhaps if we hadn’t interfered so much in the world of nature we would not be where we are today! Who knows?
But the main thing is that just as God keeps the sparrows and the blackbirds and the pigeons close to His heart, so He also keeps us close too. If He cares for the birds of the air, will He not as much, or even more care for us – we, who are also the work of His hands, His creation?
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26
Ok so this is the strangest St. Patrick’s Day I have ever experienced. Since starting over as a Pastoral Worker in 2010, I have always spent the day either in the parish working or with family members, or usually, a mixture of both. Today with no public Masses available I stayed home and followed the Mass from Portmarnock Parish at 11.00am, and as most people are probably saying, its not the same! And how could it be? I was subsequently invited to be part of a Prayer Service online – I got an email from the person who invited me, which told me how to download something called ZOOM. Anyway once I had that done I received another email just before 12.00 and when I followed those instructions I found myself online with another group of people (many of whom I know). What a joy to actually see people when one is talking! It was a lovely experience and I felt I prayed!
Just to put it in context I have had a cold for over a week (nothing worse, thank God) and I have kept myself away from everyone, so Ive already had a bit of isolation (except for the company of my two cats!) That’s why I really appreciated the opportunity to interact with real people this morning. Other than that, the family whatsapp group has been pinging away regularly and the Liturgy whatsapp group from the parish are prolific texters too. Thank God for family and friends – even from a distance. I must also get to grips with this ZOOM software – I can see how useful it will be in the next days and weeks.
If you are looking for something to lift your heart a little today here is our choir soloist singing the Deer’s Cry which she recorded yesterday in the almost empty church so that we could all hear it today. Please God, next year we will hear it at Mass in our own church, as we usually do. Thank you Jennifer, and Sharon for recording.
And if your looking for something comforting and reflective – here is a lovely interview with Bro. Richard (Hendricks) where he discusses St. Patrick, pandemic, and how to have peace in these strange times; and he’s also really interesting to listen to! (If you dont know anything about Bro Richard, he is a priest-friar of the Capuchin Franciscan Order. For over twenty years he has worked to promote the Christian contemplative tradition – he sometimes gives courses at the Sanctuary (Sr. Stan). He is currently guardian of the Ards Friary and Retreat Centre in Donegal). Enjoy!