The Lilies and the Birds


“Was it not Galileo, when the light of some great astronomical law broke on him – or was it Newton? – who fell on his knees and said, ‘I praise Thee, O God, that Thou has let me think a thought that Thou has been thinking.'” 19 September 1908

Summer heat and humidity envelops Central Florida.  Flora and fauna flourish, lush and luxuriant.  We welcome familiar flowers – lilies and hibiscus, periwinkle and roses – and a host of other blooms that colorfully accent the summer green.

This season has brought an unexpected phenomena:  the leafing out of my dogwood tree, deemed barren (dead?) having resisted the seasonal leaf and bloom of early spring.

No ordinary tree, my pink flowering dogwood, planted in memory of my mother and rich with associations from childhood.  I had planted that tree in the face of past experience (failure to thrive in sub-tropical clime) and against the advice of two trusted friends, my husband and our neighbor who just happens to be a horticulturist by trade (“Not a good idea,” he warns).

I persisted.  We’d plant the tree and I’d risk the loss.  I watched it take root and hold its own through the fall.  It dropped its leaves (on schedule) and, well, they never grew back.  I observed other dogwoods bloom out and on.  Mine sprouted nary a leaf.

Until last week.  Dave, gardener/husband, announces, “Did you see your tree?  It has leaves!”  Craig, skeptic/horticulturist, warns, “It just might be its last gasp.”  Swan song.  I check it daily. Many times.  Count the leaves, ((More each day.)  And I wonder, what will become of my tree?

I wonder what Lilias would say about my tree?  “A dogwood blossom spoke to me this morning…”  Would she read a message in the unique leaf configuration?  Would she anticipate, like many before and after her, the lessons from its cross-shaped petals:  “nail prints” in the middle of each petal; crown of thorns in its center?  Or (tell me “no”!) would she think me just plain foolish,  attempting to plant against the odds?

Lilias “read” creation to “learn” its Creator.  She, like Francis Bacon, understood that God wrote two books:  Scripture and Creation – and that we did well to study both.  She was in agreement with Soren Kierkegaard who wrote, “So in accord with the directions of the Gospel let us consider seriously the lilies and the birds as teachers… and imitate them.” (“The Lilies of the Field and the Birds of the Air” 1849)

Furthermore, she found nature a continual text for teaching others about God, from the illuminated treatise, Parables of the Cross, to spontaneous conversation with children.  Margaret Ross recounts an encounter she had as a child with Lilias.  “Once when about five and my brother three, we were staying at Dar Naama and were told to go and play in the garden but not to speak to L.T. and worry her.  She was sitting painting a flower.  She called me and I did not go, but when she called again, my brother went up and said, ‘We mustn’t worry you.’  ‘Oh you’re not.  Tell your sister to come; I want to show you something.’ That was a beautiful flower, and she told us all about it – all the parts – then spoke of God’s creation and love for the beautiful things He gave to us whom He loved dearly.  She went on to speak of Jesus and his love.  We knew she prayed for us and felt her love for the two little M.K’s whose father had died of typhus.”

John Stott, noted Anglican pastor and scholar, draws upon a Psalm to underscore the importance of being attentive to nature:  “‘Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.’ (Psalm 111:2)  Since the works of the Lord refer to both creation and redemption, it seems to me that nature study and Bible study should go together.  Many Christians have a good doctrine of redemption, but need a better doctrine of creation.  We ought to pursue at least one aspect of natural history.”  (The Birds Our Teacher)

When the Creator’s works are the subject of our study, it follows naturally that the Creator is the object of our worship – and witness.

Give thanks for the Lord, call on him.

Many know among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him;

Tell of all his wonderful works.

(Psalm 105:1-2)

Back to the opening quote.  It was neither Galileo nor Newton who uttered the words she penned in her 1908 diary (without the aid of search engines!).  Rather, it was Johannes Kepler, 17th century father of modern astronomy, who observed when studying the universe:  “I praise Thee, O God, that Thou has let me think a thought that Thou has been thinking.”

Is it not wonderful that God chose to communicate with us?  That He chose to reveal Himself through His inspired words and through His extraordinary works. . .  that no one – learned scholar nor simple child – would be without knowledge of Creator God?  A God of infinite beauty, truth and love.

The heavens declare the glory of God,

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech.

Night after night they display knowledge.

Psalm 19:1-2

Painting:  Travel Journal 1895

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6 Responses to The Lilies and the Birds

  1. Lisa Case says:

    “I wonder what Lilias would say about my tree? “A dogwood blossom spoke to me this morning…” Would she read a message in the unique leaf configuration? Would she anticipate, like many before and after her, the lessons from its cross-shaped petals: “nail prints” in the middle of each petal; crown of thorns in its center? Or (tell me “no”!) would she think me just plain foolish, attempting to plant against the odds?”

    Surely not! She was a woman who spent her life “planting against the odds”!
    All we can do is plant and trust God for the increase!

  2. Donna Lobs says:

    Enjoyed this.Called to my mind Joyce Kilmer’s poem..”only God can make a tree”.Blessings Donna

    • mhrockness says:

      Glad you enjoyed this. My father used to quote (rather dramatically) the Kilmer poem, he and Mother both being of a generation that memorized poetry. He, of course, included the line preceding the one that you quoted: “Poems are made by fools like me – but only God can make a tree!” Thanks for bringing that lovely poem to mind!

  3. Jayne Linton says:

    Loved it as usual. Makes me want to paint wildlife again. She was so talented in so many ways.

  4. mhrockness says:

    Yes! Start painting “wildlife again”! Your work is so beautiful.

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