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

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