Ordinary Life

Keeping Vigil in the Storm

A few days after Easter
It is very windy today. I can hear it whooshing past the house. The sky is bright with sunshine but the air is cracking cold. The bare, black limbs of the trees sway outside my window. The crows have landed on the rocking branches and are making a racket as they have spied something down in the ravine that concerns them. What it is, I can’t tell.

Crows are nature’s alarm calls warning danger away. I’ve watched an owl – apparently crows don’t like owls, especially a large, gray-barred owl – who sat nonchalantly on a branch ignoring their raucous calls. I’ve seen the crows follow a coyote through the woods, flying from tree to tree screeching obscenities at while she pays them no heed as she slinks into the dense undergrowth.

Like crows, we often observe danger coming from many directions and in spite of our cries and threats we aren’t able to scare it away for good. No. We often feel quite helpless in the face of things that threaten to take us down.

One of the collects from the Easter Vigil remains lodged in my heart, and I pray it for myself, for others:

“O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.”

Two weeks after Easter
It is Friday, April 13, and the weather people, who are notoriously alarmist, predict we are heading into an epic storm. I do not believe them. Except for small piles of snow in our front yard that had once been white mountains, the days are hinting of spring, the ground in its brown bareness is visible everywhere, even down through the woods and ravines behind us. Water drips and runs in rivulets past the house and down the hill.

However, I begin paying attention as the wind spikes, the pine trees bow up and down and the sky spits rain. Being a Faux Chicken Farmer, I hurry out to check on my hens who are doing just fine. They greet me with their normal greediness for the kitchen scraps I carry. I am concerned they might get wet and cold from rain and sleet since I’d removed the plastic from their door in the mistaken notion that spring was here and they need more fresh air.

Then I notice the plastic covering on the back wall is torn and whipping like a flag in the wind so I scurry to duct tape it down hoping the temporary fix will hold during the storm.

That night it rained and sleeted for the next twelve hours. On Saturday morning it turned to snow.

About 10 A.M. I run to check on the girls again and find a small snow drift has built up inside their door, but the back plastic is still holding. They were all chipper and had even bothered to lay their daily eggs, although Eudora is annoyed and pecked me when I reach under her. (She was still on the nest inspecting the eggs and wasn’t ready to move off.) I quickly clean out their roosting hutch, fill the feeder and the waterer. They are as tucked in and ready for the storm as they can be.

All day the snow has piled. We fill the bird feeders. As they bounce and sway in the snow squalls, all our regulars frantically vacuum up the seeds as if there is no tomorrow. Fine with us. They squabble and collide mid-air, and even the gentle doves are nasty to one another.

The sweet juncos with their small dusky bodies, white breasts, and creamy beaks are coming in flocks. They are mostly ground feeders and have a comical way of lightly bouncing along the surface of the snow doing little double-footed back kicks to uncover fallen seeds.

Twenty-four hours of snow and harsh wind have turned to forty-eight and I wonder where these dear little creatures will find safe places to rest. Sometime late Saturday afternoon with snow piled high in drifts I look out our bedroom window and notice the small gap between the wall and the evergreen hedge below. The tops of the shrubs are solid umbrellas of snow, but beneath them a network of branches form a shelter that is almost cozy. A sudden movement catches my eye and several juncos appear, hopping into the branches and hanging from the twigs in complete refuge from the storm. On the ground beneath them, another revelation: tracks prove that even wild bunnies are finding protection right under my bedroom window.

Prayers, analogies and other metaphors
I apologize for my fondness of analogies, but I can’t help it. It has always been like this: I love  them. And metaphors, and comparisons because they are reminders from life that lead me directly back to the creator. And during the days of the storm the reminders were compelling.

Each time we read together from the book Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the liturgy ends with a prayer we say together which goes like this:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing, at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing, once again into our doors.

So there it was. The link. The analogy. The storm. The need for protection. The desire for Home and reasons to rejoice. It had been a difficult week. And I am so aware there are degrees of difficulty and mine hardly move the gauge for anyone but me. Again, my apologies to those of you whose difficulties are far worse! But the way of it for us was: on that Monday before the storm we had moved Denis’ mother to a memory care center only five minutes from us. (What an improvement just in commuting time. For example, whenever we had her come to our house for her weekly outing, there and back twice took two hours from the day.) Her move had taken a lot of planning and time for Anita and me. It’s tons better than the previous dismal place where she has been living for two years. Now her room is clean and cheery and bright. It has new comforts, ones she’d been without ever since she’d moved into that old nursing home. The staff are skilled and friendly. The food is better. We told ourselves this would be good for her. We reminded ourselves that any change for a person suffering dementia causes more confusion and setbacks. Still, I wasn’t prepared for it to be so much worse. She has cried continuously. She sits in her darkened room and refuses to join any activities. She doesn’t like the residents and considers the staff with suspicion and anger.

Adding to the stormy week I came down with a vicious stomach flu and for a few days I really thought now would be a good time to depart this life.

Safely shut-in
The blizzard snowbound us for two days, but gifted us with stunning views of a snow-covered world and forced quietness upon us. Looking around we could only wonder and appreciate the amazing shelter we have. And not only that, I had time to ponder a God who guides even the smallest creatures to places of shelter in the storm. He gives hope that the ugly storms we face in life contain some kind of refuge where God protects us from the perils that threaten to undo us.  (Please don’t hear me saying that tired old adage “When God closes a door he always opens a window.” Please!) But I loved this reminder. It was like pressing the “reset button” and getting a new vision – finding that yes, indeed, I have been protected. I actually found strength to get out of bed and stand upright. There was much to rejoice over. I need the prayers, the shelter, the juncos and the rabbits hiding under the hedge. I need God to see us through that door rejoicing. I’m sure you need him, too. And so, amen.