Monday, January 31, 2011

I am fully absorbed in Spring Anticipation; my reading recently has been almost exclusively the gardening sections of Homesteader's Handbook, Back to Basics, and Polish Herbs and Folk Medicine. The Homesteader's Handbook is particuarly fun. It was written by a couple of hippies, and includes advice on "growing your own 'stuff,' " as well as more applicable planting tips on organic vegetable gardening, getting fruit trees to thrive, and the many ways to enrich soil.

Back to Basics is a very basic book to cover the basic aspects of homesteading. I've had it since college and love going back to remember a recipe, or redesign the garden-to-come. It's the sort of book that, if you were to go "back to the land" with just this book and a prayer, you'd be in a bit of trouble, but supplementally, it's very good.

My husband gave me Polish Herbs and Folk Medicine a couple years ago and I'm still discovering new ideas in it. The book is mostly historical, but the garden designs and herb uses are fantastic! Though, a note of warning: in many herb books, including all three of the ones I mentioned, the herbal recommendations don't always include a warning for when the herbs should not be taken. Some herbs are wonderful in general, but should not be give to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or to people with certain health conditions. So study up, and don't take the word of any one book, no matter how good it may be overall.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"I hear from afar things whispering...

How small is what we contend with a fight;
how great what contends with us;"

My soul is wrapped - dreamlike - in the symbolism of things; each by it's nature offering a blessing or a curse. It comforts me to know the meaning of things: that birch twigs bring babies, that salt drives away devil, crows call in blessings, and strange dogs steal them away. These little mysteries fill my life with tiny signposts. If I allowed them to grow large, they would swallow faith in fear and become Superstition, but small the serve to remind me that the whole world is a mystery - pointing always to the great mystery of God.

Superstition is a dangerous and overwhelming habit. It makes objects into idols and pits the will of man agianst God. Superstition forgets that God made all things in love, it offers man only a sad faith, "where all would fold their fingers out of fear" (Rilke), in hopes of placating a god who cannot love, a god who is bound to ritual. Though superstition itself is an evil, the way of watching the world that often accompanies it - seeing the symbolism of things, is not. It is good and natural to hear God whisper promises through His creation, to try to understand the living parable. This way of seeing avoids superstition by remaining small and submissive. It absorbs into the Christian life like balm, soothing our rough patches with the reminder of divine mystery, and divine love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I thought I'd share some photos of our home - deep in snow. I'm nearly done with a brief post on superstition, but I want my husband to look it over first, and clear it of the abundant commas, mis-spellings, and sudden distractions that often litter my drafts. After 'superstition,' I'm thinking of continuing along the theme with a few posts on the relationship of certain saints to herbs, my relation to particular saints, and the Christian myths that woodland-living have restored to us. I hope these posts will actually be completed, and I hope they turn out to be somewhat interesting to everyone! Let me know if you'd like to add topics, or if the posts I'm planning sound too boring for words.

Our Lady of the Outdoors: bravely weathering the cold.

The path to the outhouse. Doesn't it look cozy nestled among the trees!

Our little home, just shoveled out after the storm.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"All who go in beauty
will resurrect in beauty.."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I spent all of Wednesday at home, feeding the stove and watching the grey skies pour snow; the whole day was a grey dusk. Tucked away in the woods, our little house seemed a world apart. I saw no one but my husband, no car save our own. It was a day of blessed silence, a retreat, a hermitage. I lit candles for my saints and read beneath a window while soup cooked slowly on the stove and tea steamed beside me.

I am still absorbed in "Christmas Reading." I received an abundance of good books, and recently became completely absorbed in Kathleen Norris' Acedia and Me: a marriage, monks, and a writer's life. The book is primarily an examination of "the noonday demon: acedia," which is a "non-caring state," spiritual boredom. In examining acedia, Norris also delves into the vocation of marriage, the life of a writer, and the similarities these two vocations share with the monastic life. I find if helpful, both in directing myself to see with fresh eyes the beauty of my own life: my marriage, my writing, and my little "domestic monastery," which keeps me busy creating a space in which the grace of God can find welcome.

Norris draws extensively from the writing of the desert fathers and the psalms; I'm thrilled to find myself immersed in psalms I've often overlooked. It is a book rich in thought and full of inspiration.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"I find you, Lord, in all things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in what is vast you vastly yield yourself."

"I wonder..why, if we have effectively banished the word demon, we are still so demon-haunted."
~Kathleen Norris

I am in love with magic. Its presence in the world fascinates and inspires me. I love to find it hidden among the trees or flickering in the votives. I love the sacramental magic that leads me to decorate my altar with beads and flowers, or offer my icons silk and herbs. It is my love of magic that encourages my love of the woods and stream that make up my homestead, for there is an inherent magic in the elements of nature - one reason the church has never abandoned their use: flame, water, salt, and oil.

Magic itself is not witchcraft - it is merely the activity of the supernatural on nature; because the supernatural includes both the Divine and the demonic, magic includes both as well. The Divine, "God-magic," is acted out in a special way in the sacraments, particuarly the Eucharist - when God becomes bread and is consumed. But God-magic is not limited to the sacraments: it is there in our saints, our beads, candles, incense, and prayers. In God-magic we entreat, and He chooses, to act in the world for the Good. It is a blessing that ripens in each recipient.

I can't discuss magic without addressing witchcraft, or demonic magic. Witchcraft is the attempt by an individual to manipulate the supernatural to accomplish his will. The use and promotion of witchcraft is always at odds with divine magic because witchcraft creates in the practitioner a troubling state of both vunerability before the powers he seeks to control without understanding, and power over those he seeks to act upon but not love. Acting upon the will of another is reprehensible. It is something God Himself refuses to do, and whenever man seeks to dominate or direct his fellow man he is denying that individuals personhood and setting himself up as an idol.

Witchcraft also creates a mistaken understanding of how we ought to relate to one another. In witchcraft (even that which avoids dealing in domination) man still imposes himself on another. He "acts on" rather than entreats - demands rather than desires - and this destroys him.

The line between God-magic and witchcraft appears thin at times; especially times like these, when the demonic is so comfortably incorporated into popular culture and the belief in demons is so easily cast aside. It is necessary for us to immerse ourselves in goodness and beauty, becoming so familiar with it that evil, in comparison is easy to see and reject. Otherwise, we lose the distinction between ritual prayer and ritual spells, and the darkness of the latter overshadows and impairs our ability to see clearly.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, but we cannot take from him the need for mythology."
~ Carl Jung

I have been asked to explain my understanding of myth. What is it? Why is it important? I should clarify first that when I refer to myth, I am not refering specifically to the myths we studied in school: to Zeus and Hera, Isis and Osiris. Those are myths, yes, but Myth is beyond these stories - it includes them and transcends them. Myth itself is both Christian and Pagan, fact and fiction, new and old. It is made up of the tales that enable us to fully enter into the life of "mystery, by which I mean a profound simplicity that allows for paradox and poetry" (Kathleen Norris).

As I understand it, we need and experience two types of Myth. There Myth as man makes it - lush images of an unrevealed, or semi-revealed god, directed by man's self-knowledge and his longing for eternity. Then there is Myth as God makes it, written on the living page of His created world. This is the Myth written in the lives of men, and in the Life of God Himself. Both are aspects of Myth, touching and overlapping each other at times, forming the soul in paradox and poetry, and reminding us at all times that "with God all things are possible."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."
~Rainer Maria Rilke

The new year has begun! For us it has been born in cool, wet snow, slim birch trees, and the hidden, almost unnoticed scent of woodsmoke that infuses every bit of our lives. I am looking forward, eagerly, to this new year - anticipating the joys that will be new-born each and every day. I was told once that I am able to enjoy life so much because I don't have an expectation that life will unfold in any particular pattern - that I allow it to blossom around me and enjoy the surprise as much as the pattern itself. I appreciated the compliment of this, but I'm not certain it's entirely true. There have been a good many times in my life when I have not been able to enjoy the pattern or the surprise, when my expectations have not been met and the beauty of life seems diminished. When this happens, my saving grace has not been my lack of expectation, but the fluidity of my expectations, in other words: the gift of Hope. I can't help but see in the opening of a new year, all the blessings that have only waited on this particular year to come into being.

Each year that greets us, fresh and young as a child, encourages each of us to see the world around us with childlike wonder and joyful hope - in anticipation of the love God will shower us with, whether that gift of love is the very one we'd longed for, or the love He has planned to make us over more fully in His image.

I hope that this new year unfolds in beauty for each of us!