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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Maternal Intolerance

Mother Nature has been putting on quite a performance these last few days of summer.

The latest drama involves a nest ('rookery') of Blue Heron chicks which recently hatched here in the trees of the marsh on the Cove in front of Llangollen.

It looks like there are two chicks and their Mama, who has lost her patience and tolerance with her neighbors, the Snowy White Egrets and Sea Gulls.

The usual quiet of this place has been interrupted more and more these days by her hoarse croak.

I've come to expect - and, some mornings, anticipate with excitement - the early morning and late evening feeding times. The Egrets and Herons stalk the outer edges of the marsh. They move with deliberate, predatory intensity, studying the water carefully before charging their bills at small fish and snakes and swallowing them whole.

The Gulls, on the other hand, fly low over the water, looking for any quick movement before they swoop and dive and pluck out a crab who has unwittingly come to the water's surface.

A great cheer from the other Gulls then greets the Lucky Gull who flies a little victory dance over the water, crab wiggling and writhing out of her bill, before she lands atop our roof to feast on her breakfast.

Our deck is often littered with the carcass remains of their breakfast or dinner. Sweeping broken crab legs, body shells, and assorted pincher claws off the deck has become part of our morning ritual.

Lately, however, the hoarse croak of the Heron can be heard throughout the day. I've been watching her as she chases away the Egrets and the Gulls right to the edge of the marsh.

She pursues them hotly and croaks at them repeatedly as if to say, "And don't come back," before she returns to stalk her marsh prey.

The peace and quiet of her solitary hunt lasts a few minutes, only to be interrupted again by another intruder.

Over the past two days, this one has even been croaking at boats that go by. Her flight pattern is clearly menacing, although she hasn't actually attacked a boat.


Her intolerance is rapidly reaching maximum capacity. You can see it in her flight and hear it in her croak.

I must say, however, that she looks positively majestic - if not altogether prehistoric - when in flight. It always takes my breath away to see her spread her wings and take to the air with an oddly graceful expansion of her wings.

What must God have been thinking when she was created?

The usual peaceful co-existence of the Neighborhood Fowl has been shattered by 'Maternal Intolerance'.

Her single-minded purpose is to get food for her chicks, which she takes back to the rookery to regurgitate into their open, eager, incessantly hungry mouths.

Woe be unto those who interrupt her at her task!

It's been all 'Mother Nature Drama', all the time.

Reflecting on "Mother Nature" has led me to ponder a bit on the Nature of God.

It is easy to fall into the simplistic exercise of projecting our human emotions onto God's creatures and then use that as "proof" of the characteristics and nature of God.

The Psalmists do it all the time. So did Jesus - or, at least, the evangelists report that he did ("Like a mother hen tries to gather chicks under her wing . . .")

Jesus, being One with God, is the only one with authority and credibility to do that.

We mold and shape God into our own image, often forgetting that it is we who have been shaped and formed into the image and likeness of God.

I don't know who wouldn't love it if God, our Great Blue Heron Mother, would swoop down to protect and defend us against the invaders and infidels of hunger, poverty, war and disease.

I'm quite sure the folks in the Los Angeles area would deeply appreciate a little visit from the Great Blue Heron Mother God, who might spit on the fires and put them out for good.

I know I would love Great Blue Heron Mother God to fly into my brother's brain, pick out all the plaque that builds up from Alzheimer's disease and restore him to health and wholeness again.

I could tolerate a little of that sort of 'maternal intolerance' from God, thank you very much.

Actually, as I've gone about my morning chores and rituals, I've been thinking that I've gotten the wrong message - or, at least, interpreted it incorrectly.

Instead of ascribing magical thinking to God's Maternal Intolerance, perhaps I should learn to embrace my own and put it to good use.

When the impotence of my sorrow over my brother's illness turns to tears and my tears give way to anger, perhaps it is my own Intolerance over the the intrusion of disease into his life - our lives - that can be put to some good.

If harnessed, it may provide the energy needed to advocate for better medical intervention and support systems.

Or, perhaps, embracing my own 'maternal intolerance' may help, not so much to fly into a solution, but to learn how to fall into the mystery that is God, and to find there some sense of peace and solace.

There is so much to be learned from Mother Nature - about the Great Mystery of the nature of God's and God's creation as well as our own human nature.

There is a sublime order that lurks just beneath the chaos and drama of our lives. The essential task of being human is not about being in control of it, but understanding that we must embrace the mystery of creation and our own nature as a reflection of the mystery of the nature of God.

'Maternal Intolerance' may not be so much about the impulse to learn to fly, but also, to learn how to fall.

I found this quote from Learning To Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons which spoke to me today. Simmons wrote the book before he died of ALS.

I hope you are as nourished by it as I was.

"There’s a well known Zen parable about the man who was crossing a field when he saw a tiger charging at him. The man ran, but the tiger gained on him, chasing him toward the edge of a cliff. When he reached the edge, the man had no choice but to leap. He had one chance to save himself: a scrubby branch growing out of the side of the cliff about halfway down. He grabbed the branch and hung on. Looking down, what did he see on the ground below? Another tiger."

"Then the man saw that a few feet off to his left a small plant grew out of the cliff, and from it there hung one ripe strawberry. Letting go with one hand he found that he could stretch his arm out just far enough to pluck the berry with is fingertips and bring it to his lips."

"How sweet it tasted!"

"I suppose I could stop here and wrap this all up with a neat moral . . . but . . . I’m writing . . .to say that life is not a problem to be solved. . . .at it’s deepest levels life is not a problem but a mystery."

" . . .And, what does a mystery ask of us? Only that we be in its presence, that we fully, consciously, hand ourselves over."

"That is all, and that is everything. We can participate in mystery only by letting go of solutions. This letting go is the first lesson of falling, and the hardest."

"I offer my stories not as illustrations of a problem but as entrances into the mystery of falling."

"• If spiritual growth is what you seek, don’t ask for more strawberries, ask for more tigers.
• The threat of tigers, the leap from the cliff, are what give the strawberries its savor. They cannot be avoided, and the strawberry can’t be enjoyed without them. No tigers, no sweetness.
• In falling we somehow gain what means most. In falling we are given back our lives even as we lose them."


sharon said...

I've been reading your blog for a long time, and it's quite a coincidence (or not)that we have both read Learning To Fall and have had it speak to us recently. One of your tigers is your brother's Alzheimer's; one of mine is that my daughter has had a recurrence of ovarian cancer. I'm sure you and I both have cried buckets of tears, and we aren't over it yet. But the words you quote resonate so truly in my heart, as I know they do in yours. Blessings. Sharon

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Sharon, for stopping by and leaving your comment. I will pray for your tiger as I know you pray for mine.

From EBB:

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Elizabeth, I think of that dream I had that I told you about of that bobcat accompanied by "the little girl who would not speak." As the bobcat approached, I was afraid but did not waver from my path. I thought it would eat me, but my surprise was it wanted me to pet it. Then it left me with "the little girl who would not speak," which in the dream, I knew it was "me"--the part of me that needs no words.

My dear, you are just now starting to pet your own bobcat, toothed and fearsome. And in the end, you will be left with the "you" that needs no words to understand the gift you had been given. God's blessings upon you and Ms. Conroy and your brother and the rest of your family at this time!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Kirke. I know you speak the truth. It makes me weep.

Fran said...

I spent all my time reading this - no time for a long comment. Simply - thank you and wow. Many prayers.