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Friday, September 23, 2011

Perpetually Perfect

I have spent a good deal of time around artists in the few years I've walked this earth. And whenever I come away from an experience with an artist, I feel a sense of awe. Whether they are a photographer, painter, or poet, they all generally posses a skill most of us long for; the ability to capture a perfect moment in time. The artwork these talents hand down to us are monuments to the moments in time we cherish; those rare spaces in life where everything seems to fit just right. Those who capture these rare harmonious happenings are the artists whose influence stands the longest. Here are three of my favorite pieces of art.


This pull-along, male Wood Duck was my first toy. Ever. It was hand-made by a neighbor; a kindly woman who eventually succumbed to breast cancer. As it stands, this duck holds a lot of significance in my life; it serves as a reminder of the giving soul who took so much time and energy to produce a well crafted toy for a newborn down the street.

It also serves as a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us in the natural world. I forgot I still had this toy when I started exploring wildlife; before I rediscovered it, the Wood Duck had become my favorite waterfowl. When I look on this simple pull-along, I am reminded of the many times I've encountered this bird, serenely floating along some wooded pond. Such sudden instances of peace and calm keep me grounded as life goes by at a frantic pace.


Twenty-two years later, I would receive this intricate carving of an American Avocet for a birthday present. It was one those pieces of art that demands your attention. I remember showing this gift to one of the world's finest birders soon after receiving it. His strong shows of approval over the carver's merit were well founded. But even more impressive than the carving would have to be the paint job. Every fine plumage detail is captured in all its glory here. I have seen countless other carvings of the same bird, and none come close to this fine piece of workmanship.


My most recent acquisition is this painting of a Blackburnian Warbler painted by a friend from my church. Titled "Alert" it shows a fine spring-plumage "fire-throat" on the outlook for potential danger.

When I received this painting a few weeks ago, I stood a bit paralyzed by the attention to detail expended upon my commission. The depth of field, the stark colors, the single dead leaf, all these intricacies added up to a phenomenal purchase. I had always complimented my friend on her distinctive artwork; with this picture, she had raised the bar significantly.

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With all these perpetually perfect moments stored in my mind, I find a quiet place and take a walk with a Friend. Not just any Friend, but the Name above all Names, the Friend above all Friends. In some cool, verdant region, I stroll along with the Creator in a perfect abode. An area where the squeals of Wood Ducks ring like pleasant melodies in their Maker's ears. A region where American Avocets fly by with all the freedom they were intended to have. A special place where Blackburnian Warblers no longer sing for the sake of survival, but for the sake of glory.

We walk along, talking about the topics that are near and dear to our hearts. In the cool of the evening, we find communion as natural as if we were never separated.

Somewhere along our stroll, I look to His face, and ask Him the question that sits somewhere within each believer, "How can I walk with you?"

"Because I love you," comes the concise reply.

"But I swear, by accident, now and then," I confess involuntarily.

"I know," the cool, unaffected response returns.

"Don't you know how prideful I can act," I question, hoping to see some sign of pity, but only finding looks of knowledge.

"I know you were prideful a few days ago. I know you will be so tomorrow, too," comes the unexpected response.

"Then how can I walk with you?" I ask again, with undertones of bewilderment.

"Because you're perpetually perfect, my friend." A response that cuts through my tired questions, bringing balm to my tired spirit.

"Because of the love and dedication of my son, you are washed and holy in my sight. I see you through the blood of my son; I have captured you as you were always meant to be."

I pause, reeling in the truth of who I am. I have been captured perpetually perfect; I have good standing with my Friend of Friends, Lord Of Lords.

We exchange glances; mine expressing my overwhelmed emotions, His, expressing his faithfulness and grace.

We then continue on, confident that this is a walk that will never end.

I am sharing this with Brag on God Fridays.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In The Form of a Dove

Whenever a rare bird shows up around Cape May, it can expect its privacy to be invaded within minutes of its discovery.


Like a well-oiled machine, instant communication devices alert birders of these avian anomalies with a speed unimaginable.

I am often the benefactor of these high-tech reports, and when I heard of a Eurasian Collared-Dove nearby, I wasted no time in jumping in my car and following the precise directions to the location of interest.

On the way over, I formulated a mental picture of the bird so I could have a head start on finding it. I imagined myself standing there, like a ninny, in front of the houses of Cape May Point, helplessly scanning the telephone wires. You never know how rare birds will act; they're rare, they have free reign to act however they feel fit.

I slowly coasted up to the address, and quietly got out of my car. In synchronization with my body leaving my driver's seat, the bird non-nonchalantly flew up on a wire, staring at me as if I had been late for some long-standing appointment.

You never know how rare birds will act, I noted, sardonically.

But before I could finish my thought, the unexpected happened. My car door slipped from my grip, causing a loud bang to echo through the vinyl canyons of Cape May Point.

Ahh!, I grunted, shamed at my lack of discipline, and expecting the worst.

But it was no matter to my long-lost friend. He simply stretched his neck and preened a few feathers.

That didn't startle you, did it? And if doves understand rhetorical questions, I imagine he found it very profound.

If my lack of vigilance didn't scare this bird from his roost, the BMW roaring down the street surely would.

I leaped behind my car to avoid being a fatality of such a nice vehicle. The man continued to talk on his phone, completely unaware that he was doing well above the speed limit.

Once past, I rose from behind my shelter, only to be serenely greeted by my European visitor yet again.

You're made of sterner stuff than I, my friend. If doves understand compliments, I'm sure his ego must have swelled a little.

After a few more moments of observation, I got in my car and left the Arnold Schwarzenegger of doves behind. As I drove off along the tourist stocked streets, I thought of the importance of doves in Biblical literature.

They acted as assurances of floods gone by.

They were an integral element of the romance between King Solomon and his beloved.

They were a picture of innocence to our Lord.

But perhaps most importantly, we're told at the beginning of Christ's ministry, the Holy Spirit was sent to Him in "like a dove." This picture of the peaceful power of the Holy Ghost has been a familiar visual to the saved and unsaved alike. Whether it's used as an emblem for the Quakers or a Calvary Chapel, the impact the picture of the dove has had on Christianity is profound.

I need that Dove in my life; I need the Holy Spirit more than bread, more than water.

I find a life invaded by the Holy Spirit is just like that dove on the wire; no matter how many "door slams" life throws at me, I can sit in perfect peace.

I also find that encounters with the Holy Ghost are predictable; He's available to meet with me whenever I choose to seek him. Like the dove greeting me like a long lost friend, a search for this Helper is always fruitful.

I couldn't imagine winning any battles without this crucial comforter. It's with his help the Word of God leaps off the page and cuts straight through my heart. It's his coming along side that takes the fleshly tendencies that were once so dominant, and keeps them far away from my mind. It's his gentle leading that shepherds me along this earthly pilgrimage.

I remember once chatting with a friend, when a white dove flew by, probably released from a wedding. This apparently prompted some long lost religious memory, as he quickly asked, What's the point of the Holy Spirit? From all I remember, all he did was put tongues of fire on people's heads.

I shrugged my shoulders, knowing a sufficient explanation would be lost on my friend. That knowledge can only be attained empirically.

That information can only be known by those who have had an experience with God's Comforter.

I'm sharing this with Spiritual Sundays and Brag on God Fridays.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In the Shade of The Mimosa Tree

I wasn't really shaded by the Mimosas in the area that humid August afternoon, but the title sounds like it should be an Eugene O'Neill play, and it's been rattling around my head for the past several weeks.

Through this blog, I am opening a doorway for you to view my special place; a place of refuge that is closed to the rest of humanity. I'm not the only with this type of hide-away; most, if not all, people have a place for safe observation and contemplation. The idea even has biblical precedent in the concept of a "prayer closet."

And so, let's take a walk through my secluded spot, and hopefully you'll be inspired to leave no corner unexplored in your secret space.


Upon leaving my car, my ears are suddenly assaulted by the electric tones of an Eastern Kingbird. This bird may be small, but it seems to be infected with Napoleon's Disease (small, but big chip on its shoulder.) His scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus, meaning tyrant of tyrants, and I'm sure the number of birds that he harassed could attest to this designation.


From the small and bossy, to the small and gentle, this Common Buckeye sat waiting for the sun to peek over the cloud, giving him a bit of an energy boost. Butterflies need their internal body temperatures around eighty degrees in order to maintain optimum flight. This poor fellow has a bit of his wing missing. (Maybe he met the Kingbird.)


This rusty-colored Dragonfly is probably a Needham's Skimmer. Dragonflies are cool. At once aloof and alert, they roam the air with an intensity that is hard to imagine. Dragonflies are also our good friends, since they eat a lot of mosquitoes.


I'm always surprised at how quickly the trees betray Fall's coming. It seems earlier every year, but it must be my memory playing tricks on me. Here's a Sassafras Tree showing the struggle between Autumn and Summer, life and death. (You can make Sassafras Tea and Root Beer from the roots of this gorgeous plant.)


Let's take a pause and enjoy the Eastern Comma in repose. He may be practicing for the long overwintering stage that could come for him later on. Upon finding a hollow tree or clump of leaf litter, these beautiful bugs will spend the colder months in our area.


Back to birds, this Mockingbird demonstrated his heartiness by continuing to sing well into the afternoon, well past the time when birds need to sing. Mockingbirds are our most talented mimics, and are adept at imitating other species of birds. But birds are not the only things subject to this mimicry; Mockingbirds can mimic anything from car alarms to police sirens.


And finally, though I didn't take refuge under the shade of the Mimosa, others utilized this colorful non-native plant. This Spicebush Swallowtail has found some intriguing nectar in the pink flowers of the Mimosa. Though it doesn't belong in our area, it is beautiful, and wildlife has adapted to its presence.


Finally, here's hoping you get a chance to sail away on the tides of discovery. And discovery starts right in your own back yard.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Ship, For New Horizons, She Sails

It is a habit to watch the boats come in to port. We love to see their sails unfolded, shining a glorious white against the backdrop of the green marsh. With a gentle breeze, the ships seem to move without effort, like a dream from when the world was young. There can be no more calming, reassuring sight than that of a ship heading for home.


But the habit turns to heartbreak when a ship is witnessed leaving home for different ports; ports unknown.

I dedicate this blog to the wonderful journey of a dear friend and mentor; a joyous tutor in the things of life. She's heading for new ports, so I thought a retrospective of how she influenced my life would be a fitting tribute at this season of change.



--

I was 17 when I first performed in a play; some heady, Victorian comedy by Oscar Wilde. I had no idea what to expect from my first opening night; the sensation of a huge audience watching me become someone else was a totally bewildering experience. As I ambled on stage, trying my best to keep my cool, I could sense doubt emanating from some wicked, dark corner of my imagination. I questioned every move I made, but the audience seemed to eat it up. Laughter roared from every angle of the auditorium.

But from two discerning eyes came something deeper than laughter; from the faculties of Kathryn Ross issued forth "potential signals." She sensed in me a talent that needed to awake. This would impact my formative years in ways I could never have imagined. And Kathryn Ross would be behind most of the changes that lay in store.

For the next six years of my life, I would find myself graced with opportunities to participate in a number of activities that this saint of a woman would put on in her local community of Vineland. Each endeavor was a gift from God, a molding tool to shape me in His image.

Her most noted dramatic activity would have to be the numerous Melodrama's performed each summer. These quality, handcrafted scripts were tailor-made for a handful of young people, showcasing their gifts and abilities in avenues that might have otherwise been closed. For four years, I had the distinct privilege of forming life-long friendships with similar souls, all under the watchful eye of our gracious den-mother, "Miss Kathy."


Those threads in the fabric of time are admittedly small; but each has a warm glow all it's own. A vibrant feeling resonates from each moment, drawing me back to a simpler time. A time when the self-sacrifice of one talented, gracious lady made a world of difference in the lives of a dozen young people. Those days need not be remembered; the lessons learned from those four years are lights unto our daily paths.


The number of other events Miss Kathy had her hands in around Vineland is truly admirable; it sometimes seemed as if the entire cultural livelihood of this Southern New Jersey Town rested upon her shoulders: an artistic Atlas for the 21st century. The opportunities she presented to me were wonderful and character building: entertaining children at Talespin Story, dressing as a pig for a Christmas Parade, interpreting nature for third graders at Vineland's Founders Day. All these events are the building blocks of memories; to think they originated in the hearts of two dear people like Ed and Kathryn Ross only cements the value of each experience.

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The ship is leaving. With a few bursts of wind, the sails bellow and aim for the cool blue ocean, leaving the comforts of the green marsh behind. Soon nothing but water surrounds; nothing but horizon lies ahead. But that's okay, the white and blue, the tested and the new, go well together. The sails flap in the breeze, sounding out the possibilities waiting to be born as the future draws near.

--

Things are changing for this dear lady and her literary endeavors. Gone is the Story-Time for toddlers; gone are the carefree days of Melodrama; the days of parades and dramas are slowly fading away into the dust of the past.

But that doesn't worry me. The future for Kathryn Ross is full of artistic adventures, designed to impact the lives of her disciples forever.

And I know that as I move forward with the lessons she has instilled into my being, I have her full support. I know she has a world of confidence in me, and that inspires me to sail onto horizons I've only dreamed about. With such secure backing, failure is a word long out of fashion; success is the word of the day.


And I have Kathryn to thank for that.

"The instruction of the wise is like a life-giving fountain..." Proverbs 13:13a

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Kathryn Ross is a Literary Enhancement Artist in Southern New Jersey. Along with her husband Ed Ross, they seek to instill in students of all ages principles of truth and beauty. Check out her blog: The Writer's Reverie. To leave such a deep well of inspiration untouched shows a lack of appreciation for a good word, fitly spoken.

Felicitations Miss Kathy, as you sail onto new horizons. And Happy Birthday!

I am sharing this with "Brag on God" Fridays. and Simple Pleasures Thursdays.
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