Featuring Mother Earth and her little root children, as well as our Lent garden. Old King Winter is still hanging around above ground, but he’ll be leaving soon I think. During Holy Week we’ll add wheatgrass seeds to the Lent garden, and on Easter morning there will be a miraculous crop of new green shoots sprouting!
. . . each soul is both a kingdom in itself
And part of some incorporating whole that
Feels and has a face and lets it live forever . . .
. . . an unseen presence
Tracing out the contours of a world erased . . .
—from “Falling Water” by John Koethe
The New England Aster is a lovely wildflower. Its scientific name, Aster novae-angliae, employs the latin root aster or star to gesture toward the frame of delicate petals that radiate from each golden face. Asters are blooming right now where I live, and probably inherited their common name—Michaelmas daisy—from a cousin that grows in Europe and blooms around the same time—that is, the Michaelmas season.
The Michaelmas daisy is startlingly beautiful to behold and yet its splendor so often goes unseen. Its colors are striking, and range from deep purple, to pink, to a glorious pale lavender. And, still, as often as not we walk—or drive—right past them. They flourish in thickets of weeds that gird disused industrial buildings, in clumps of foliage that spring up in abandoned lots, along the sunlit edges of highways and byways, concealed in out-of-the-way places where no one thinks to look for beauty. There they wait in the shadows of showier blooms, patiently growing taller as the summer months tick along, before they suddenly burst into color just as the growing year comes to an end. They are stars on Earth, the last glorious rays of warmth and light in a darkening world.
As the name suggests, the Michaelmas daisy blooms simultaneously with the Church’s annual celebration of angels, the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or St. Michael and All Angels), also known as Michaelmas (pron. Mick-el-mas). It is one of my favorite feast days of the Church year. We are so often preoccupied with human endeavors, and it’s wonderful to take a whole day and remember that we’re not alone down here. More than ever, we need the angels’ guidance and protection—St. Michael, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!
Like the Michaelmas daisy hiding in plain sight the angels also are hidden from us, though their work is visible in our lives if we look for it. St. Jerome, in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, wrote, ” . . . How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” It is reassuring to know that despite the strife, devastating loneliness, frustration, disappointment, and anguish that seems to accompany modern life, there are heavenly beings watching over us and aiding us in our struggles.
Even if we can’t see something, can we be sure it doesn’t exist? Does the Michaelmas daisy not bloom in spite of our disregard for it? We might someday catch a glimpse of an angel—perhaps in the same way we might see the flash of purple petals on a hillside in early autumn as we drive by—but not be quite sure just exactly what it was that we saw. Once I learned to see the Michaelmas daisy, I could see them everywhere. Perhaps the same is true of angels; we simply need to learn how to see them.
Yes, I believe that angels are among us—do you?
Dank fens of cedar; hemlock-branches gray
With trees and trail of mosses, wringing-wet;
Beds of the black pitchpine in dead leaves set
Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;
Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let
Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday . . .
Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,
The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?
—from Sonnets, First Series (Sonnet VI) by Frederick Goddard Tuckerman
Northern white-cedar, eastern hemlock, soft white pine . . . I gather them in the quiet afternoon hours of the first Sunday in Advent. In early December the sun rests low in the sky, mostly hidden behind the leaves and needles of the conifers that half-ring our yard. Not one of these trees belongs to me—they sit just outside what I might call my own—but I do not think these stolid natives of the eastern lands much mind the quick snips of my shears, or my pilfering just a few sprigs from their still-lush beauty. The trees are who they have always been and I do what we have always done, as the wheel of the year turns and the darkness descends. The evergreens bear on, and we fragile creatures of the earth gather their boughs and wait for the Light.
The Homely Hours is featuring a guest post I wrote for their Book of Common Prayer in Daily Life series. Click on the image below to read my thoughts (link is also at the bottom of this post).
My dad has always been great at off-the-cuff prayers. No matter what the occasion—Easter dinner or just a family meal—he can pull together a prayer on the spot that is both authentic and meaningful. I am not blessed with my dad’s talent for spontaneous prayer, but I can still offer up words of praise or petitions for intercession, thanks to the Book of Common Prayer. . .
Read more via The Homely Hours.
America celebrates its birthday on July 4th each year. Typically, it is a festive occasion, with fireworks, parades, and barbecues. All of this is fine, and it is nice to celebrate during the good times. However, there is also a gravity to the day, often overlooked amid all the excitement, and the deeper meaning of this holiday is worth exploring.
Much has been said about the American Revolution and its aftermath, but I’d like to suggest two exceptional pieces on the subject, both of which are excerpted in the July 2016 newsletter.
Below is the full text of a speech given by Mark Twain more than a century ago, enumerating the steps that were necessary to secure the America we know today. For Twain, our Fourth of July is not a stand-alone event, but one which occurred as the natural result of an impulse that began with the Magna Carta, a document created more than 800 years ago that attempted to hold the king accountable to the law, and to protect the rights of all free men.
The American Society in London gave a banquet, July 4, 1907, at the Hotel Cecil. Ambassador Choate called on Mr. Clemens to respond to the toast “The Day We Celebrate.”
MR. CHAIRMAN, MY LORD, AND GENTLEMEN,—Once more it happens, as it has happened so often since I arrived in England a week or two ago, that instead of celebrating the Fourth of July properly as has been indicated, I have to first take care of my personal character. Sir Mortimer Durand still remains unconvinced. Well, I tried to convince these people from the beginning that I did not take the Ascot Cup; and as I have failed to convince anybody that I did not take the cup, I might as well confess I did take it and be done with it. I don’t see why this uncharitable feeling should follow me everywhere, and why I should have that crime thrown up to me on all occasions. The tears that I have wept over it ought to have created a different feeling than this—and, besides, I don’t think it is very right or fair that, considering England has been trying to take a cup of ours for forty years—I don’t see why they should take so much trouble when I tried to go into the business myself.
Sir Mortimer Durand, too, has had trouble from going to a dinner here, and he has told you what he suffered in consequence. But what did he suffer? He only missed his train, and one night of discomfort, and he remembers it to this day. Oh! if you could only think what I have suffered from a similar circumstance. Two or three years ago, in New York, with that Society there which is made up of people from all British Colonies, and from Great Britain generally, who were educated in British colleges and British schools, I was there to respond to a toast of some kind or other, and I did then what I have been in the habit of doing, from a selfish motive, for a long time, and that is, I got myself placed No, 3 in the list of speakers—then you get home early.
I had to go five miles up-river, and had to catch a particular train or not get there. But see the magnanimity which is born in me, which I have cultivated all my life. A very famous and very great British clergyman came to me presently, and he said: “I am away down in the list; I have got to catch a certain train this Saturday night; if I don’t catch that train I shall be carried beyond midnight and break the Sabbath. Won’t you change places with me?” I said: “Certainly I will.” I did it at once. Now, see what happened.
Talk about Sir Mortimer Durand’s sufferings for a single night! I have suffered ever since because I saved that gentleman from breaking the Sabbath-yes, saved him. I took his place, but I lost my train, and it was I who broke the Sabbath. Up to that time I never had broken the Sabbath in my life, and from that day to this I never have kept it.
Oh! I am learning much here to-night. I find I didn’t know anything about the American Society—that is, I didn’t know its chief virtue. I didn’t know its chief virtue until his Excellency our Ambassador revealed it—I may say, exposed it. I was intending to go home on the 13th of this month, but I look upon that in a different light now. I am going to stay here until the American Society pays my passage.
Our Ambassador has spoken of our Fourth of July and the noise it makes. We have got a double Fourth of July—a daylight Fourth and a midnight Fourth. During the day in America, as our Ambassador has indicated, we keep the Fourth of July properly in a reverent spirit. We devote it to teaching our children patriotic things—reverence for the Declaration of Independence. We honor the day all through the daylight hours, and when night comes we dishonor it. Presently—before long—they are getting nearly ready to begin now—on the Atlantic coast, when night shuts down, that pandemonium will begin, and there will be noise, and noise, and noise—all night long—and there will be more than noise there will be people crippled, there will be people killed, there will be people who will lose their eyes, and all through that permission which we give to irresponsible boys to play with firearms and fire-crackers, and all sorts of dangerous things: We turn that Fourth of July, alas! over to rowdies to drink and get drunk and make the night hideous, and we cripple and kill more people than you would imagine.
We probably began to celebrate our Fourth-of-July night in that way one hundred and twenty-five years ago, and on every Fourth-of-July night since these horrors have grown and grown, until now, in our five thousand towns of America, somebody gets killed or crippled on every Fourth-of-July night, besides those cases of sick persons whom we never hear of, who die as the result of the noise or the shock. They cripple and kill more people on the Fourth of July in America than they kill and cripple in our wars nowadays, and there are no pensions for these folk. And, too, we burn houses. Really we destroy more property on every Fourth-of-July night than the whole of the United States was worth one hundred and twenty-five years ago. Really our Fourth of July is our day of mourning, our day of sorrow. Fifty thousand people who have lost friends, or who have had friends crippled, receive that Fourth of July, when it comes, as a day of mourning for the losses they have sustained in their families.
I have suffered in that way myself. I have had relatives killed in that way. One was in Chicago years ago—an uncle of mine, just as good an uncle as I have ever had, and I had lots of them—yes, uncles to burn, uncles to spare. This poor uncle, full of patriotism, opened his mouth to hurrah, and a rocket went down his throat. Before that man could ask for a drink of water to quench that thing, it blew up and scattered him all over the forty-five States, and—really, now, this is true—I know about it myself—twenty-four hours after that it was raining buttons, recognizable as his, on the Atlantic seaboard. A person cannot have a disaster like that and be entirely cheerful the rest of his life. I had another uncle, on an entirely different Fourth of July, who was blown up that way, and really it trimmed him as it would a tree. He had hardly a limb left on him anywhere. All we have left now is an expurgated edition of that uncle. But never mind about these things; they are merely passing matters. Don’t let me make you sad.
Sir Mortimer Durand said that you, the English people, gave up your colonies over there—got tired of them—and did it with reluctance. Now I wish you just to consider that he was right about that, and that he had his reasons for saying that England did not look upon our Revolution as a foreign war, but as a civil war fought by Englishmen.
Our Fourth of July which we honor so much, and which we love so much, and which we take so much pride in, is an English institution, not an American one, and it comes of a great ancestry. The first Fourth of July in that noble genealogy dates back seven centuries lacking eight years. That is the day of the Great Charter—the Magna Charta—which was born at Runnymede in the next to the last year of King John, and portions of the liberties secured thus by those hardy Barons from that reluctant King John are a part of our Declaration of Independence, of our Fourth of July, of our American liberties. And the second of those Fourths of July was not born until four centuries later, in, Charles the First’s time, in the Bill of Rights, and that is ours, that is part of our liberties. The next one was still English, in New England, where they established that principle which remains with us to this day, and will continue to remain with us—no taxation without representation. That is always going to stand, and that the English Colonies in New England gave us.
The Fourth of July, and the one which you are celebrating now, born, in Philadelphia on the 4th of July, 1776—that is English, too. It is not American. Those were English colonists, subjects of King George III., Englishmen at heart, who protested against the oppressions of the Home Government. Though they proposed to cure those oppressions and remove them, still remaining under the Crown, they were not intending a revolution. The revolution was brought about by circumstances which they could not control. The Declaration of Independence was written by a British subject, every name signed to it was the name of a British subject. There was not the name of a single American attached to the Declaration of Independence—in fact, there was not an American in the country in that day except the Indians out on the plains. They were Englishmen, all Englishmen—Americans did not begin until seven years later, when that Fourth of July had become seven years old, and then, the American Republic was established. Since then, there have been Americans. So you see what we owe to England in the matter of liberties.
We have, however, one Fourth of July which is absolutely our own, and that is that great proclamation issued forty years ago by that great American to whom Sir Mortimer Durand paid that just and beautiful tribute—Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s proclamation, which not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also. The owner was set free from the burden and offence, that sad condition of things where he was in so many instances a master and owner of slaves when he did not want to be. That proclamation set them all free. But even in this matter England suggested it, for England had set her slaves free thirty years before, and we followed her example. We always followed her example, whether it was good or bad.
And it was an English judge that issued that other great proclamation, and established that great principle that, when a slave, let him belong to whom he may, and let him come whence he may, sets his foot upon English soil, his fetters by that act fall away and he is a free man before the world. We followed the example of 1833, and we freed our slaves as I have said.
It is true, then, that all our Fourths of July, and we have five of them, England gave to us, except that one that I have mentioned—the Emancipation Proclamation, and, lest we forget, let us all remember that we owe these things to England. Let us be able to say to Old England, this great-hearted, venerable old mother of the race, you gave us our Fourths of July that we love and that we honor and revere, you gave us the Declaration of Independence, which is the Charter of our rights, you, the venerable Mother of Liberties, the Protector of Anglo-Saxon Freedom—you gave us these things, and we do most honestly thank you for them.
In the Roman Catholic church, the month of May is devoted to a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason she is sometimes called the Queen of May—she is given the title “queen” in Eastern Orthodox and Anglican faith traditions, as well. Traditionally associated with the birth of new life, May is a natural month to celebrate the Mother of God.
Crown Mary Queen of May
There are many Roman Catholic traditions associated with Mary in the month of May, but perhaps none so beautiful as the “May Crowning,” also popular in the Orthodox Church, in which an icon or statue of the Virgin Mary in the parish church receives ornamentation on May 1st. Garlands of flowers are a popular choice. May Crowning can also be done by families at home. A crown is constructed of wire and children could add flowers and leaves to it. Once finished, the crown could be placed on the head of a Marian statue, or secured around an icon of Mary. Children will also enjoy making flower crowns for themselves, a long-standing spring tradition and perfect for wearing to a May Day celebration or gathering.
Create a May Altar
Another activity that can be done with children is the construction of a home May Altar. If you already have a designated altar area, the addition of flowers and imagery showing the Queenship of Mary would be a nice addition. This could also be done with a nature table. If you don’t have a home altar or nature table, May is the perfect time to set aside some sacred space in your home. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, home altars can be a place for prayer, reading Scripture, journaling, or enjoying daily devotionals. Even a tiny space can become sacred by its use.
Plant a Mary Garden
For those that enjoy spending time outdoors, planting a Mary garden might be the perfect activity for the month of May. Dating to medieval times, the practice of dedicating a garden space to Mary was revived in the early twentieth century. A statue of Mary, alone or holding the baby Jesus, is central to the Marian garden. Mary has long been associated with flowers, and has been linked to the phrase “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” from the Song of Songs. More than 30 flowers and herbs are associated with Mary, including: Lilies of the valley, peonies, violets, irises, columbine, lavender, and marigolds. Nurturing plants is a wonderful spiritual practice, and a Marian garden is a calm, serene place to engage in prayer and contemplation.
For a wealth of information about Mary visit www.udayton.edu
So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight
—from “The True Dragon” by Brian Patten
The Feast of Saint George is celebrated in Western countries on April 23rd each year. As the patron saint of their country, George is particularly popular with the English (and those anglophiles among us who love their culture, history, and “valleys full of light”). Though nothing certain is known about George’s life, there are some “facts” that are generally accepted. St. George was born in the third century A.D. in Cappodocia (modern-day Turkey). Raised in a Christian home, George joined the Roman army and served in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian. When confronted by the emperor and asked to renounce his faith, he refused. He was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed in Lydda, Palestine on 23 April 303 A.D.
The most popular legend connected to the life of St. George is his defeat of an evil dragon that was terrorizing the countryside. This story became wildly popular in England, mostly due to the publication in the fifteenth century of a book called The Golden Legend. George’s signature look—a suit of armor and white shield emblazoned with a red cross—grew out of this legend. The romantic image of St. George rescuing a fair maiden from a terrifying monster is in line with the medieval masculine ideal, the miles Christi or “knight of Christ.” Though obviously not an entirely factual account of a true historic event, the legend of St. George and the dragon has deep roots in Christian theology: Christ (the knight victorious) triumphs over the horrors of evil.
At our house, we celebrate St. George’s Day with an English-style tea party and a reading of St. George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges and beautifully illustrated by Tina Schart Hyman. We like to make Cream Tea scones and sip Twinings’ Prince of Wales tea. We serve everything on beautiful English china I got at a second-hand store. As always, I’d like to stress that celebrating the Christian year should be fun, meaningful, and strengthen our connection to God—no need to get stressed or break the budget. The beauty is in the mess.
Celebrate George and England with some tasty scones!
Cream Tea Scones
adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 12 scones
3 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
additional heavy cream, for brushing on scones
additional sugar, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Sprinkle the vanilla over the dry ingredients, then drizzle in the cream, tossing and stirring gently all the while and adding just enough to make a cohesive dough. There shouldn’t be any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl, but the dough shouldn’t be particularly sticky, either.
3. Divide the dough in half, and gently pat each half into a 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.
4. Brush each circle with heavy cream, and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
5. Place the two circles of dough on the baking sheet, and cut each into 6 wedges. Pull the wedges apart a bit, leaving them in a circular pattern with about 1″ space between each wedge.
6. Bake scones for about 15 minutes, until starting to brown and baked all the way through.
Serve warm, split and spread with a bit of sweet butter and jam or preserves.
8 Ask the plants of the earth,and they will teach you;
9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.
Gardening is a wonderful activity for children that can last from early spring until late summer, even here in the frosty Northeast. Before the snow even begins to melt, we’re already excitedly poring over our seed and garden supply catalogs, trying to decide what tasty veggies we will plant this year.
While gardening is one of my favorite warm-weather activities, I just want to note that this page is not meant to be taken as expert advice about growing a garden—there are so many resources for that already, and I am still a beginning gardener, myself. However, I thought it might be nice to touch on some of the ways that children can play a role in planning, nurturing, and enjoying a family garden.
Seed or Starter Plant?
We’ve had success creating gardens straight from seed and also with started plants. I think both methods have their benefits and drawbacks. Starting from seed allows children the opportunity to really understand the life cycle of plants, which is wonderful, but there is a lot of waiting involved and not everything you plant will be successful—we constructed a beautiful pea and bean teepee one year that really didn’t thrive and that was disappointing to all of us.
Using started plants from a nursery generally guarantees a higher rate of success, and there’s a feeling of almost instant gratification, especially with fast-growers like zucchini! The downside is that buying started plants skips one whole stage of the plant life cycle, and sometimes the plants aren’t as healthy as one would hope. Always buy your seeds and started plants from reputable growers.
Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?
Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.
—Henry David Thoreau
Start with a Good Foundation
Vegetable gardens need a lot of sun, so it’s important to take some time to find the right spot for planting. I highly recommend using containers and/or raised beds to start, as they are so much easier to manage (i.e. less weeding), and you have a lot more control over growing conditions.
We actually have two raised beds (4x’8′) in our front yard because that’s the sunniest spot—they’re off to one side, so they’re not too obtrusive. We’ve also added a 1/2-sized bed (4’x4′) that we call the “Child’s Garden” for our youngest, most avid gardener. He has a space all his own to tend, and I think that is really special for him.
More Advice for Beginners
If you’re new to gardening, start with some tried-and-true favorites like herbs (basil is a good one to try) or greens like kale and Swiss chard—they’re almost impossible to kill, and they’ll keep growing until you rip them out in the fall. If you find your greens are really prolific, you can always make smoothies with the surplus!
My favorite recipe is very simple: Cube a fresh pineapple, divide into four servings, and freeze in Ziploc baggies. When you’re ready to make a smoothie, blend one serving of frozen pineapple with a peeled banana and two handfuls of greens; add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water until smoothie is desired consistency. Kids love these smoothies, even when made with strongly-flavored kale.
I will reiterate that there are many, many resources out there for beginning gardeners, and it can be a lot to weed through (pun intended). I recommend starting with a university extension—this excellent utility will help you find your local office. I always print out the planting schedule from my extension, which gives me a rough timeline for getting my plants in the ground, and ensures I won’t end up planting too early or too late.
Get Kids Involved
Besides selecting what to plant, there are many ways that children can help with the family garden. With supervision, they can excel at weeding, watering, and harvesting, to name a few of the many tasks that need doing throughout the growing season. We often have itinerant helpers (neighborhood kids) who stop by to assist and to enjoy a ripe tomato or two—depending on the circumstances, planting a garden can be a community affair, and even a form of ministry.
What was paradise, but a garden full of vegetables
and herbs and pleasure? Nothing there but delights.
Number One Tip? Be Prepared to Fail
My final words of advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself if things go all “pear-shaped,” as the Brits say. Gardening can be very rewarding, and also very frustrating. Sometimes plants die, or get covered in downy mildew, or have blight, and that’s all part of the experience. There are ways to prevent these things, but the solutions can be expensive and/or involve chemicals you don’t really want your family to ingest. For added reassurance, I will confess that I’ve had tomato plants with nothing left but yellowing stalks and a handful of shriveled, brown leaves and yet they still produced delicious fruit. Things don’t have to be pretty to be tasty!
Happy gardening, friends!