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

Wide-eyed Wondering

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

Keep wakeful watch, praying that you do not enter the time of trial.

Mark 14:38

Seeker,
Does prayer lift you above or let you loose to explore the land of the living?

Decades ago,
when my eyes were
sharp and fresh,

I was blessed
to participate in an indigenous convocation
along the Xingu River in the Amazonian State of Pará.

Gathered in a remote rainforest encampment,
I wondered at the diversity displayed
by these drastically different forest folk.

Amid the hubbub of camp activity,
I noticed a pair of young men
excitedly pointing and chattering.

At their gentle encouragement
I hunkered with them,
trying to follow their raptured focus.

One youngster leaned over
and gingerly lifted a leathery leaf
to reveal a nest, small as an acorn cap.

Instantly three tiny gaping beaks emerged,
pink gullets readied for a nectar drip
from hovering hummingbird parents.

My astonishment at this natural wonder
was matched by awe and admiration
for these keen-eyed greenwood guardians.

Observation is
our portal
to fuller participation,

and walking with these
native communities
awakened in me wild childhood enchantments.

Eco-awakening is a truly profound moment
for the people blessed to have had this experience.
It rocks your world.
You now realize you had previously been a kind of refugee,
existentially and ecologically homeless,
disconnected from the very world from which you emerged at birth.

Bill Plotkin

No longer can nature be
mere display
for distant, detached appreciation.

Neither is life simply a backdrop,
raw material for hollowing out,
squaring circles and clear-cutting tangles.

For, in this grand cosmic affirmation,
whether awake or slumbering,
are we not already wrapped into endless cycles of giving?

The moment we step outside,
draw breath and walk into the wild
we are no longer observers, we are participants.

Joe Grant, Wandering and Welcome

I remember wondering,
as a pious child,
why we closed our eyes to pray,

lids shut tight,
no effort spared
to squeeze out a holy thought or saintly insight.

This broken world, I was taught,
was at best a pale distortion,
at worst a tempting testing ground.

Fallen angles all were we,
longing to be lifted up or,
through long-suffering, set free.

Wonder offers another way
of being consciously engaged
with the miracle of being.

Joe Grant, Still in the Storm

Saved from such spurious sanctimony
by irrepressible curiosity
and undisciplined distractibility,

I always cracked my good eye,
to sneak a peek at more intriguing
living revelations and interesting relations.

When prayerful presence shifted
into wild welcome,
resistance turned to receptivity,
and this motivational movement,
from discipline to desire,
transformed attention-dissipation
into mutual loving attraction,
drawing back a curtain
to hospitality,
holy, brightened wide-awake-ness.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

May you fearlessly focus
loving attention on the tragic,
marvelous mysteries of life,

and with wide-eyed wondering,
let light in and love out
with every gracious gaze.

The practice of mindfulness is very simple.
You stop, you breathe,
and you still your mind.
You come home to yourself
so that you can enjoy the here
and now in every moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh

joe

Available here

Joe Grant is a seer and a sayer, a prophet and a poet. He divines the divine in the everyday stuff of life and speaks the essential truth that every place can be a thin place, every time Kairos time. Scratchings is Joe at his alliterative best, offering us a beautiful sacramental vision in which Spirit weaves us into a great, timeless community with each other and with the more-than-human world. This quiet, gentle, but powerful book is absolutely necessary medicine for our troubled times.

  • Kyle Kramer, Executive Director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center,
    author of Making Room: Soul-Deep Satisfaction Through Simple Living
    (Franciscan Media, 2021)

Becoming Human

Images and text by Joe Grant © 2022

Foxes have holes,
birds of the air have nests,
but humankind
finds no place to lay its head.

Matthew 8:20

Seeker,
Where do you find restful restoration?

Being schooled in the art of becoming human
by tribal villagers
in the Amazonian heartland,

I learned an ancient truth
heretofore known only
to my primal forest-dwelling minders,

that this wooded, now-threatened expanse
is no accidental wilderness,
but rather the fruit of eons of deliberate, careful cultivation.

Imperceptibly, over uncountable seasons,
indigenous communities, in symbiotic collaboration,
shaped dense forest into lush, overabundant garden.

Woven into the weft
of this evergreen tapestry,
humans became integral balancers of interbeing.

Ethnobotanists attest that
wherever such original inhabitants
are removed from ancestral habitats,

forest, river, and mountains suffer,
biodiversity diminishes,
and shocked motherland mourns her helpers.

The natural world is the maternal source of our being…
the larger sacred community to which we belong.
To be alienated from this community is to become destitute
in all that makes us human.

Thomas Berry

Our self-inflicted extinction looming,
we wrestle with the existential question:
who are we becoming?

Facing a consequential crisis of identity
myriad daily decisions affect the quality of life,
ours and every other in the global garden.

And it is our most endangered indigenous kin,
guardians of planetary biodiversity,
who tend that narrow trail to human reclamation.

Scattered small-scale societies, sprung from soil,
cry out to us to cease and desist
from wanton devastation

and reclaim our birthright
as blessing rather than blight
on the face of the earth.

Why is it taking so long to believe
that if we hurt Nature
we hurt ourselves?

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Through story, ritual, and timeless practice,
artfully they illuminate intimate relationships
within a sacred web of interconnection,

re-minding us that the root and remedy
for chronic, soul-deep alienation
and restless homesickness

lies beneath our soles
before our eyes
and the tips of our fingers.

Everything that is in the heavens,
on the earth, and under the earth,
is penetrated with connectedness,
penetrated with relatedness.

Hildegard von Bingen

Like most of our kindred creatures,
human beings arrive
naked and needy.

The lifelong pilgrimage into personhood
requires regular inoculations from
the hubris of self-infatuated mastery,

for the wholeness we sorely seek
will not be found
in fruitless attempts at delusional dominion.

Before we can become who we really are,
we must become conscious of the fact
that the person who we think we are,
here and now, is at best an impostor and a stranger.

Thomas Merton

In a geological blink we find ourselves on the brink,
rudely awakening to the reality
that, beyond continued co-existence,

our soul-scape is defined by
how deeply we are willing to fall in love with,
to live into, and to learn from the very ground of our being.

No matter where wandering takes you,
sauntering on Sante Terre, may you
reverence holy ground, ever ready to welcome you home.

Wholly Grounded

Pilgrim feet find home,
each step gracing Holy Land
where sole touches soil.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

joe

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

Uplook

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

And there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars,
and upon earth distress among nations
perplexed by the roaring, roiling surge of the seas.

Luke 21:25

Seeker,
Where do you go to glimpse timeless brilliance?

I cherish the unclouded memory
of an Amazonian night,
when I lay on the boat roof

before a bejeweled blanket
that pulsed with the powdery glow of Milky Way
and shimmering Southern Cross.

Sitting up to scan the broad obscurity
of the oily river, I was star-struck
by celestial scintillations reflected below.

For the first time in my firefly existence,
as we navigated spangled infinity,
I realized that we live in a limitless sky.

With the advent of artificial light, nighttime
has been demystified and the preoccupations as well as
those lessons presented only by winter’s long-lingering
shadow are now chased back and warmed away.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Decades of inner city living
beneath buzzing glare
that blinds eternity’s skylight,

my floodlit senses
are nightly numbed,
by dancing arcs of artificial illumination.

How I have longed to resume
that quiet conversation
with the wilderness above,

to sense the subtle resonance of the spheres,
welcome timeless twinkling photons,
and savor the magnetic delights of the Northern Lights.

In necessary darkness we perceive
inconspicuous constellations,
trillions of tiny loving kindnesses,
whispered blessings, quiet, impassioned petitions,
conspiring about a better world
forever in the re-making.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Like every voyager before us
we rely on the sky
to find our bearings,

to witness the echoes of fiery origins
and explosive new beginnings
through swirling stellar illumination.

Without this cosmic canvas,
like misguided moths we are blunted
by our own flickering luminosity,

cut off from nocturnal reconnections
to our elemental essence
as bright, brief reflections of ancient radiance.

your body contains at least a liter of sunlight
and stardust radiating from every smile.

Hakim Bellamy

How can we hope
to perceive our place
in the sacred sweep of unfathomable space

if we never stand beneath
the pitch black span of sky
and reclaim our night vision.

May you make a break for the quiet dark,
dim your headlights
and open wide the shutters of your heart.

Up Look
Life will get you down.
So, tilt your head, raise your gaze,
let your spirit soar.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

joe

Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
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

Hermitage

Photo and text by Joe Grant © 2022


Come away all by yourselves to a wild place and rest a while.

Mark 6:31

Seeker,
Where do you find reclamation, the welcome of the wilds?

Whether in the woods or by the water,
among the hills or on the rolling plains,
in desert, parkland, garden, or field,

there is no greater urgency
for us and all earth’s children
than to seek reclamation in the wilds.

The ancients who fled chocking cities
sought sanctuary in deserted places,
and in wildness found hermitage.

Here they listened
to living land and re-sourced themselves
in the deeper drift of wild time.

Here too, friendship they found,
solidarity in solitude,
communion in creaturehood.

And in the classroom of Creation,
received rest
and restoration.

Only by going alone in silence, without baggage,
can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness.

John Muir

Contemplating untamed wonders and spacious sky,
poets, artists, mystics, and primal communities
affirm nature as our native sanctuary,

holy ground whereupon we commune
with multiple mysterious and apparent
dimensions of being.

Here we find hermitage
not in the remote ‘holy house’ or shelter,
but in the wide-open that welcomes us home.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

John Muir

Our wayfaring ancestors
covered continents, navigated oceans,
scanned skies in search of self-understanding,

restlessly reaching for connection,
hoping to come into our own
in blessed, beautiful belonging.

I now inhabit an overcrowded world,
where solitude is rarely found,
and loneliness abounds.
So, when shades of separation
seep through the screen,
I steal myself beyond
the reach of restlessness
to the enchanted green.
Here, in wholesome communion,
aloneness is transfigured as isolation
melds into congregation.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

In constant communion with sacred ground
indigenous wisdom
attests that nature-deprived cultures

who colonize to “civilize”
have exacerbated
rootless dislocation

with otherworldly spiritualities
that widen the wedge,
by desecrating and debasing our essential earthiness.

Such soul-sickness
has spawned a self-alienation
that threatens our very existence.

Reclamation

We cannot save Earth.
We can let the land reclaim
and welcome us home.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

Still hermitage is calling us home,
ever ready to re-wild, body, spirit, soul,
waiting to re-enchant, wanting to make whole.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.

David Wagoner

May you make your way
to the quiet solitude of hermitage
and as you tread the sacred turf, let it lead you home.

joe

Visit my website: inthestormstill.com
Available here.

Joe Grant is a seer and a sayer, a prophet and a poet. He divines the divine in the everyday stuff of life and speaks the essential truth that every place can be a thin place, every time Kairos time. Scratchings is Joe at his alliterative best, offering us a beautiful sacramental vision in which Spirit weaves us into a great, timeless community with each other and with the more-than-human world. This quiet, gentle, but powerful book is absolutely necessary medicine for our troubled times.

  • Kyle Kramer, Executive Director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center,
    author of Making Room: Soul-Deep Satisfaction Through Simple Living
    (Franciscan Media, 2021)