#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part II: Shadow and Light

We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates…Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.  –Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, 1933

I don’t know about you, but I really need time to slow down a bit. How are we already at the end of June? I am trying to savor this summer, but it’s almost impossible since I really haven’t begun my summer break yet (meetings and tying up too many loose ends of a crazy COVID semester). I will have to work a lot of tree love into the remaining five weeks if I am to face a new academic year with at least a little sanity.

Anyway, I’m back, as promised, with the second installment of TreeArt. The photos aren’t spectacular, but I I was drawn to these particular shots because of the interplay of shadow and light.

I failed to mention in TreeArt Part I that the photos for this three-part series were shot at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville, Alabama.

If you want way more Burritt tree love [and autumn loveliness] you should check out my November 2016 post, Walk to the Cross.

Until next time…


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

The Gift of the Resurrection | “The Blessing of the Morning Light”

As usual, around this time of year, I have been thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—about what it means for humanity but also what it means in other ways. Scripture says that Christ came that we might have life abundantly—not a life of material riches, but a life richly transformed by the power of Christ, one which, despite the vagaries of human life, rest in the joy and strength of His presence.

This is also a gift of the resurrection of Christ.

We have been learning over these few weeks of sheltering-in-place that, generally, we have been living shadow lives, chasing the entrapments of what others consider a good life. We’ve also been learning that we can actually live without much of the clutter and noise, that—no matter how much we want to be out and doing with the throngs—we are content with our simpler, streamlined lives.

We have time for thought. For listening. For embracing joy and sorrow outside the rush of our normal everyday existence.

We are experiencing a mass removal of “masks” that unfortunately cannot be handed over to health professionals. This presents us with an amazing opportunity to grapple with the messiness of our experiences in ways that lead to authentic connection with ourselves and others.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to David Whyte read one of his poems, “The Blessing of Morning Light,” during session 1 of his workshop, The Courage in Poetry. The words coincided so intensely with my thoughts over the last couple of weeks that I almost exited the live workshop just to sit and process those few moments.

We have a genuine opportunity through this global travesty to allow Light to illuminate the dark places so that we may rise to morning light.

[The poem was written one Easter morning (2015) in memory of his friend John O’Donohue].

THE BLESSING OF THE MORNING LIGHT (Or, “Easter Blessing”)
David Whyte

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.

From the David Whyte, The Bell and the Blackbird (2018).

From the Shadows…Into the Light

I did not come to photography looking for magic. I came looking for a way to speak my pain. In the process of finding images to portray my darkness, I passed through the shadows into light. Now, I am one of photography’s many lovers, devoted to the art of seeing and revealing. […] There’s something holy about this work, something healing about this search for light. Like the pilgrim’s journey, it’s heaven all the way.

–Jan Phillips, God Is at Eye Level

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

–Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”

Through a casual Facebook post featuring some of her favorite books, my pen friend Connie F, introduced me to Jan Phillip’s book, God Is at Eye Level [Thanks, Connie!]. With Amazon [birthday] gift card in hand [Thanks, Tee!], I ordered the book and two others on creative and contemplative photography. 

The photograph of the wilted sunflower is the result of an exercise in God Is at Eye Level that invites readers to use an entire [pretend] 24-exposure roll of film to explore one strong emotion. It is my attempt to capture the tension between the darkness that walks with me as I deal with grief and trauma and the light I feel I need to project.  

But I am learning, day by day, there is value in darkness, particularly if we are using it to move toward Light.

In the quote above, Phillips underscores the usefulness of darkness, its role in our creativity and healing. Darkness is a “gift,” a necessary part of process; therefore, it’s critical that we face the darkness, wrestle with it, deal, so that we might emerge whole, or maybe not as fractured. Running away from it—creating some inauthentic happy place—only imprisons us. The operative word is emerge. Eventually, we “pass through” darkness and into the fullness of Light.

Cloudy Days and Sunflowers

Alcohol Ink Sunflower, Made by Christine B.

I’ve been receiving sunflower cards all year, and there are many I have yet to share on the blog, so I’ve decided to end NaBloPoMo 2019 with Sunflower Week.

This is the perfect day to begin, since I ended my last Sunflower Week exactly a year ago.

The card above was made by Love Noter Christine B, my most prolific pen friend. She seems to always know when to send a sunflower, when I need a reminder of Light. This one came right at the beginning of the academic year as I was navigating a lot of stuff.

A couple of weeks before receiving Christine’s sunflowers, another pen friend, Eileen V, tagged me in a Facebook post about sunflower behavior on cloudy days. Whereas sunflowers turn toward the sun when it is shining bright, the poster, Jodi H, announced–skeptically–that sunflowers turn toward each other to share their energy when there is no sun.

Jodi went on:

Now, let’s apply this reflection to our lives. Many people become low-spirited, and the most vulnerable ones, sometimes become depressed. How about following the example of the beautiful sunflowers, i.e., supporting and empowering each other.

This is a beautiful thought and it creates a moving image, but it is not accurate. Sunflowers do not turn toward each other on cloudy days. Instead, they face the direction of the sun regardless.

See these “sciencey” articles for more information:

There is truth in the idea that we don’t have to walk through dark moments alone. We can turn to our loved ones and friends for energy and light when we face difficulties. And we can be sure to make ourselves available to help others as they go through their own challenges.

Whenever I receive a sunflower, it serves as a reminder to “face the Sun.” It is also a gift, an offering of strength and light.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Knot So Beautiful

There is good in life every day.
Take a few minutes to distract yourself
from your concerns–
long enough to draw strength from a tree…
–Pamela Owens Renfro, “Reach for the Good”

August has been a strange month so far. I have felt “out of sorts” most days and have been so swamped with “things to do” that I’ve found far too little time for the things that add color to my days. This has made me even more grateful to be back on campus with the trees. The heat makes my time outdoors brief, but a [literal] moment with the trees every now and then does much to right my spirit.

The knotty tree above caught my eye as I walked past it with one of my colleagues. Naturally, I paused to take a snapshot with my phone camera. Although my colleague was grossed out by the knots, I was intrigued. I wondered about the tree’s story.

Trees develop knots in response to “stress”—weather, insects, injury, viruses. The knots are evidence of healing and repair. They give the trees character, and if we think about it for a second, it’s pretty amazing that trees are capable of creating beauty from something that can potentially destroy them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were more like trees? Perhaps, we are more like them.

To some degree, how we respond to tension is a matter of choice. Instead of internalizing our stress and creating destructive knots that can lead to mental and physical illness, we can respond to it in productive ways–praying, meditating, journaling, creating, crafting, singing, speaking up for ourselves, setting healthy boundaries.

If left unchecked, stress can leave us damaged and unhealthy. We transform these undesirable effects when we work through our stressors in ways that create beauty in our hearts and lives.

As for my colleague—no worries about her. If she continues to hang around me, she’ll be looking at trees in a different way very soon. 😉


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Be the Light!

My home office is a complete, utter mess. The books and papers are literally closing in on me. There is a narrow path from the door to the desk and my favorite thinking place–the window. Other than that, every space is covered with stacks of books and piles of paper.

At some point, I’ll spend a day or two getting things back in order. For now, I’m glad I kept the many beautiful works of art created by swap-bot and Love Notes pals separate from the madness–especially since I have a lot of “catch-up sharing” to do this summer.

Today, I’m sharing a couple of postcards that remind us of the [potential] role we play in the life of each person we encounter.

The first card came from Martha S. of Postcards in the Air.

“Be the Light.” Artwork by Martha S.

Martha’s cheerful watercolor urges us to “be a light in someone’s life.” Her work has been featured on Pics and Posts many times. My favorites are her autumn leaves and the über cute raccoon watercolor.  Be sure to check out her blog for more of her work and musings.

The card below, also a watercolor, came from Rae L. I hadn’t seen her in my mailbox in ages, so I was overjoyed to receive this pretty card.

“Flowers.” Artwork by Rae L.

Rae included a Mother Teresa quote with her flowers:

Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love. –Mother Teresa

I truly appreciate the messages of love and light. The world can be lonely, dark, and cold, so the work of light workers is critical. If you think you have very little to offer, remember, even the smallest flicker radiates tremendous light.

Mini Lesson in Creative Photography

During my hour-long escape from my office last week, I ran into Amanda, a photographer friend who does amazing work. Naturally, we started talking about photography. She exclaimed she needed motivation and inspiration. I remarked that I wanted to do “creative photography.” In that instant she gave me a one-minute lesson on adjusting my position and camera settings and using the sun to “light” an object. After a few failed attempts with my iPhone, I nailed it with my Canon. The DSLR for the win!

After “containing” the sun, I shot again to leave space for words.

After Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow”. . .

and a bit of post-processing. . .

Voila! A few looks I like…

and of course, the last one…because it’s purple.

Amanda’s own sun-fired dandelion is amazing (linked).  If you have a moment, click over and check out her IG feed. Lots of beauty for your soul.


Today marks the beginning of NaBloPoMo. I haven’t quite committed to writing blog posts every day this November because I have other pressing writing goals. However, since I was anticipating using this month’s posts to get caught up on pretty mail [and such], I have already drafted at least 10 of them. I figure I can manage posting daily if I can find a few minutes each day–outside of my designated “serious” writing time and away from the general madness of the end of the semester.

We’ll see. Tomorrow [and the next 28 tomorrows] will tell. 😉

Light and Miracles

My friend Kemi gave me a handout on navigating grief written by Chrystal Evans Hurst. One of the tips is to “keep going;” another is “get to work,” to keep doing life. Although it seems easier to curl into a ball and hide under the covers till the worst of the grief passes, the reality is the longer I stay down, the more difficult it will be for me to get up. Besides, too much life requires my actual presence. In an effort to “keep doing,” I’m at work seeing students and working on a report that’s due in less than a week.

In that same effort, I’m blogging today because “Microblog Mondays” are part of my normal, and writing and blogging provide healing and escape, when necessary.

As part of our “Brothers’ and Sisters’ Tribute” at my sister’s “Celebration of Life” service, I read an excerpt from e.e. cummings’ poem, ‘i carry your heart with me’ and a brief “statement” about Lori’s gift. Many people asked for a copy, so I decided to share here so that they–and any others–can read it whenever they wish to do so.


Photo by Soorelis

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;

[…]

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) –e.e. cummings

After I told Ramona, one of my colleagues, about Lori’s being moved to hospice and my utter despair that her situation had so progressed, she suggested that I focus on the gift Lori gave. That instead of focusing on the possibility of her end, I hone in on the gift she gave me.

This was apropos because Lori loved giving gifts. She was particularly tickled by finding unique sister gifts. But, of course, I was to look for Lori’s intangible gift to me and to the world. As I contemplated Lori’s gift, I came face to face with it during our last visit with her, mere days before she expired. Lori’s cancer had metastasized and covered 90% of her brain, but there was so much light emanating from her that it gave me pause.

Throughout her entire ordeal, Lori kept her mind stayed on Christ. There were times when I’d check in on her and she’d tell me she’d just had a high time in praise and worship.

She was so filled with the light of Christ that I firmly believe that though we didn’t get the miracle we prayed for, we received a miracle of light. It was no less than divine intervention that allowed her to have such peace throughout her trial, no less than a miracle that she clung so fiercely to Christ, no less than a miracle that she trusted His Sovereignty above all else. No less than a miracle that with only 10% of her brain spared this dreaded disease she recognized us, acknowledged our presence, and responded with the little physical strength she had. No less than a miracle that as the life was waning from her body, she still reflected light. She still reflected Christ.

Lori’s gift was her light. She taught us how to walk in light through impenetrable darkness.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Chase the Light

Chase the light,
whatever
and wherever
it may be
for you.
Chase it.

Tyler Knott Gregson, Typewriter Series #586


Since I must “consider the trees” regularly to preserve my sanity, I am joining Parul Thakur every second and fourth Thursday for #ThursdayTreeLove. When I’m too exhausted for words, the trees speak for themselves.

About the Image: “Look to the Light,” New Orleans (my parents’ backyard), iPhone Photo

“He Comes Walking”

During my prayer and meditation period this morning, I ran across a Sheila Walsh quote printed in my Women of Faith Study Bible, a couple of pages away from the psalm I was studying. I am moved to share it here:

When emotions beat against our souls like wave after wave in the worst of a storm, there is nowhere to turn but to Christ. As I sit for a while and think about Him, I hear the loneliest words in the world: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). On that brutal tree Christ embraced total isolation so that you and I never have to be alone. I am learning that doesn’t mean that life will be free of pain; it means that in the midst of the darkest night, He comes walking. Along the bleakest hospital corridors, He comes walking. When you think the world has left you all alone, listen closely. He comes walking. –Sheila Walsh

It is natural for us to feel alone when we’re struggling with everything that comes against us, when we’re desperately seeking answers that make sense. Rest assured. Things are not as hellish as they seem. We are not alone. Christ our Strength is walking with us, standing us upright, carrying us through.

I hope Walsh’s words rest deep within your soul. I hope when you are in the darkest places of human loneliness–where it seems no one knows or understands–you will remember Christ. He is well acquainted with human suffering. His light penetrates. His love and comfort reach even there.

He comes walking…