Signs of Hope

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Today I found these three nests—hornet’s nests, I think— stacked up neatly on the ground outside the church. I don’t know how long they have been there, but we have had several good rainstorms lately and these humble dwellings have been sturdy enough to withstand them. I am assuming they did not fall out of a tree or get dislodged from the eaves of the roof and land with just this precision. My guess is someone found them, maybe during some termite treatments we had, and set them aside. Still, it has been two weeks of snow and rain and there they are, like a little fairy house, a condo for small beings.

These nests seem to me to be signs of how our lives are fragile and yet resilient. Today in our morning Bible study, someone remarked that the clay vessels of antiquity were easily broken and yet their shards remained for thousands of years for us to dig up and study as relics of their age.

Last month I said I would follow up that post with some suggestions of books to read for spiritual support during times of fragility. One of the books I recommend a lot is Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan brother, and a teacher who draws on nature, poetry, Christian teaching and mysticism of many kinds. Falling Upward begins with the idea that the values you need in the first part of life—drive, determination, assertiveness: all the things that help you build a bigger nest—are not so useful in the second part of life, when our nest is built, but emptier, when more degrees or titles or flashier cars don’t seem to fix the ache we have inside. Many of us come to this place because we fail in some way, our marriage fails, our career dead-ends, and this falling seems like loss. Rohr tells us that these failures might be just what we need to find the values we need for the next bit of work we have to do, to find our spiritual self and give back to the world.

Another book worth checking out is Beginner’s Grace by Kate Braestrup. The author is a chaplain in the Maine Game Warden’s Service who writes with refreshing honesty about her own difficulties with prayer. Ideas about how to pray, when to pray and what to pray are offered alongside her experiences.

Or if you want to make the classics of spirituality a part of your Lenten path, you might try The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. A 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence learned how to find God in every moment, even washing dishes in the monastery kitchen. While not written in modern terms, the desire of the monk to find God will speak to every seeking heart. You can read the book online here.

You can also make the world your book, and look at  the way nature shines forth the trace of its creator’s hand. It is visible in the stormy skies of not-quite-spring, in small green things poking through the leaf mold, and in empty hornet’s nests stacked in the grass.