Noticing Nature

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

In seeing they fail to perceive and in hearing fail to listen,
nor do they truly understand.

Matthew 13:13

Seeker,
How much do you notice when you let life come into focus?

Beneath clamoring commerce,
despite the bombed-out sacrilege of war,
spring continues to sing.

And through every concrete crack
relentless reclamation
bravely outbreaks.

Abandoned lots, littered alleys,
rusted railyards, blasted buildings,
all emerald spackled with tenacious tendrils.

Seasonal softening
coaxes birds to turn twists of trash
into baskets for little shelled miracles,

as once again,
drains and ditches
are dappled with delicate wildflower blossoms.

So, out of wastage and neglect,
Nature brings
spectacular newness to life.

With gratuitous displays of gentle resilience
in resplendent beauty, Creation calls out,
willing, waiting, wanting to be noticed.

Always surprising, vibrant, and verdant,
irrepressible spring softens winter sharpness.
So long we languished,
in urgent anticipation
of this stunning revolutionary season.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Yet, how many work-a-days
blur passed
with scarcely a sideways rearview glance?

Thus, the seasonal details and brilliant illustrations
of hard, healing wisdom are lost
to unseeing, unhearing, uncaring appetites.

Is this not the exuberant way of wisdom, where
losses fuel and fertilize disparate awakenings? And
here perhaps lies a distinction between fecundity
and productivity. In broad dispersal, not every effort
need come to fruition, not every idea conceived lead
to invention, not every initiative achieve realization,
for not all hatchlings are destined to fledge, nor every
seed take root.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

A first blush of wakefulness
naturally stops at the stain, balks at the blemish,
punctured by sorrow, arrested by travesty.

But persevering in the practice of noticing
presents other soul-penetrating perspectives
in all-surrounding scent, sight, and sound.

Only from the mire
of failure, death, and defeat
is hope resurrected.

The hardest part of giving
is not giving up, but giving in
to relentless resurgence.

And yes,
to believe again,
with a necessary change in hindsight,
that nothing is ever really lost,
for the worst and worn-out and wasted
still are needed
to fertilize the freshly seeded.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Out of spare soil
and cold starkness,
tender possibilities erupt

and springtide becomes
our most reliable parable,
a living illumination of enduring love.

How surprising,
uncontrollable and inconceivable
this slowly expanding explosion.

How could we miss its message,
overlook its wonders
or fail to receive its earth-shattering revelation?

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

e.e. cummings

May your days be interrupted
detoured and delightfully disrupted
by the largesse of lifegiving abundance.

May you be stopped and stunned
heartsore at malignance,
breathless before magnificence.

Yet, from the smallest sparkling smidgen of
radiation, a life-making planet redeems gracious self-giving
with miraculous expressions of life in myriad form.

All this snatched
from glancing solar breezes,
so life might endlessly endure, less concerned
for harvest, resolutely focused
on bountiful
seeding.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

joe

Available here

Scratchings by Joe Grant provides a fascinating journey showing the extraordinary wisdom and beauty found in the most ordinary of events. While appreciating events such as the beauty of a leaf falling and the often-unnoticed activities in the backyard of his inner city neighborhood, the journey also takes us far and wide from his childhood in Scotland, to his mission experience in the Amazon rainforest, and even to the site of genocidal massacre in Rwanda. Each episode draws the reader in with exquisite language and creates a picture that engages the imagination. The word play, rhyming, cadence and alliteration are delightful and evocative.

In a powerful section of his book called Epiphany, Joe reflects on the in-breaking moments of graced awareness:

To the awakened,
every sunrise is a first
brilliant blush of brand-new creation
each frigid breath suspended,
a sacramental exhalation
in conspiration of
spirit holy.

He goes on to write, “sometimes a singular ray pierces perception to jolt us into wakefulness with a radiant revelation that all ground is hallowed.”

This beautiful book is for me a meditation on our amazing yet troubled world. Joe’s book helps me to see the sacred mysteries which are all around us.

  • The Rev. Karl Ruttan, Ph.D., Episcopal priest and spiritual director

Homecoming

Photo and Text by Joe Grant © 2021

People who dwell in darkness have seen great light,
and daylight has dawned on those who in death’s shadowland abide.

Matthew 4:16

As we welcome
the gratuitous gift
of one more daystar pilgrimage,

and the northern sweep of sphere
wobbles us back
into golden glare,

as we relentlessly roll on,
it is fitting to review ways and means
we need to leave in the shadows that stretch behind us.

For, together and apart,
long have we traversed a lonely wasteland
of extremes in climate, calamity, and confusion.

As ice melts, cultural crevasses expand
heated fissures in the fragile façade
of social and spiritual convention.

With raw humanity exposed,
our hurtful, vulnerable hearts on show,
we each must decide which way to go.

You know, now that anything can happen,
it’s hard to know what will, and what will you
do now that you know? What words will you say
now that you could say anything? What hands
will you hold? Whose heart will beat inside you?

Joyce Sutphen

Now the promised light returns
to beckon us from clammy caves,
burn off fever dreams and delusions,

and entice us with the amazing grace
of being brought back together,
from isolation to congregation under the same sun.

In the reclamation of relationship,
we find our way out of the dumps,
and uncover treasure that truly matters
amid the rest of the mess.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

In the wilds we are taught
to trust and listen to earth
who longingly waits to welcome us all home.

Yet the rocky road to homeland reclamation
is uneven terrain
that requires us to lighten the load.

In this lightening, lengthening season
may you cultivate contemplation and choose compassion,
in celebration of our whole earth community.

May you freely gift attention
to the needs of neighbors and nature
and decline the addictive poisons of distraction and division.

And may your come into your own
in a green and growing and goodly
sanctuary home.

What would you harvest from heartache and pain
if you understood loss as a way to regain
the never-forsaken terrain of belonging?

Bernadette Miller

Let this be your homecoming year
as you embrace a slower, lower, gentler,
quieter quality of presence,

so nature might reclaim you
and lead you to the rest
and restoration you sorely seek.

joe


A Personal Note
After ten years, this Still In The Storm blog will reflect a personal shift in my own life to include time shared in a new rural hermitage in the Holy Hills of Kentucky. You may notice this shift in focus and format in the year ahead.

I offer this poetic illustration as a grateful blessing to you for this new year.

Just when you think
you’re all by yourself by Joe Grant 

After a week of home internment
I stole away from my downtown hermitage
to a wilder woody place,
where I was sure no one else would be.

There, for some time I stood
by the pond where once a wood drake
dazed me
with red-eyed iridescence.

While drinking in delight
re-baptized by nature,
the raucous complaints of crows
roused me from reflection.

Looking up, I met the yellow stare
of a red-tailed hawk,
proudly perched,
pale breast to the wind,
as she monitored her domain.

Quietly we communed
before she swept majestically away,
and the song of Amergin,
ancient bard of the Celts, flew to mind:

I am Wind on Sea,
I am Ocean-wave,
I am Roar of Sea,
I am Stag of Seven Tines,
I am Hawk on a Cliff,
I am shining tear of the Sun
I am fairest of flowers ... 

Realization came to light
as clouds shifted,
flooding land
with a brilliance that narrowed
eyes to a peep.

Here was I,
solitary but not alone,
and with slightest transmutation,
isolation evolved into solitude.

While no thing essentially changed,
everything glowed
with the golden welcome of the wilds.

Getting out of my head,
distance dissolved
to let me
let everything come near.

Though nothing had become clear,
I found myself
communing with congregations
of fair wildflowers
that glistened back
with smiles of sun-sparkled dew.
Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
Available here.

Scratchings is so much more than a collection of poetry and reflective verse. It is eye-opener, mindfulness-maker, veil-lifter, kinship-keeper. It is a portal into the sacred arising through the ordinary, an entryway into the soul-full-ness of every single thing. Joe’s in-sight and perception not only show us, they teach us: scratch the surface of any single thing and, indeed, you’ll find it lit from within; only “pay dues of attention” to any experience and you’ll find burning bushes at every turn. If you’re wanting a quick read, opt for a different book; if you want to linger with life and swim out into mystery, let Scratchings be your companion.

  • JoAnn Gates, Director of Knobs Haven Retreat Center, Loretto, Kentucky