The “dog days of summer” are here. The days are hot and uncomfortable, and the garden is suffering from the heat. The dog days got their name from the brightest star in the sky, Sirius or the Dog Star, which rose on July 17 according to the Julian calendar. The Romans and Greeks attributed the unpleasant aspects of late summer to the rising of the Dog Star.
However, good things also appear in late summer, and St. Dominic was one of them. There is a curious connection between the saint and the dog days. When she was pregnant, his mother had a vision of a dog springing from her womb with a flaming torch in his mouth that would set the world on fire. At his baptism, in another vision, she saw a star shining from his chest. Not surprisingly, St. Dominic became the patron saint of astronomy.
St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) as a remedy against the Albigensian heresy, which taught that the physical world was evil and only the spiritual world was good. (Hence, procreation was considered evil, and suicide was considered good.) Today is St. Dominic’s feast day. He was born on August 8, 1170, a blessing in the dog days of summer to all those who believe in the underlying goodness of creation.
The pictures say it all. At first glance, the trees all look the same, but a closer look reveals that each is unique. People are much the same. There is a certain tension between our desire for unity and our need to express ourselves as individuals. Another life-long, mysterious pursuit of balance.
Ever since my conversion to Catholicism, I have been fascinated by the mystery of the Incarnation, regardless of the time of year. Christ among us as true God and true man – this mystery seems completely illogical, and at the same time, a stroke of Godly genius. How else could we, who had lost our original connection to God, find him again unless we had a human person, who was also God, to bridge the gap.
One Christmas morning a few years ago, I had a startling realization. Prior to that, I had unconsciously believed that God gave us his Son in the Incarnation, only to take him back in the Ascension. That morning, I suddenly realized that God gave Jesus to be our very own forever. How can I understand the magnitude of this gift? Now my prayer is that God will give me to Jesus to be his very own forever.
In Southern New Mexico we have two summer seasons. From the end of May to mid-July it is hot and dry. Then, sometime in July, the monsoon season begins. The days are slightly cooler. In the afternoons, tall, white cumulous clouds form in the sky. Then in the evenings, if we are lucky, it begins to rain. If we are really lucky, it pours.
The duality of our summers reminds me of the perplexing experience of contemplative prayer. There can be long periods of dryness, when prayer is difficult and unenjoyable. Then, when we least expect it, God pours down an abundance of grace, and prayer becomes delightful again. The dry periods purge us of our arrogance and self-satisfaction. The blessings remind us of God’s marvelous forgiveness and love.
Gazing at a pond of calm water instantly gives me a sense of peace and well-being. It reminds me of the blessings of contemplative prayer. There is quiet goodness in gazing at the Peace that is Christ. If you look closely at the picture above, you will see the beginnings of a fountain near the center of the pond. That too reminds me of Christ:
“The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14b)
This morning as I walked in the mountains, I was enjoying the scent of the pines and the cool morning breeze. It took awhile before I began to notice the blossoming weeds that periodically graced the edges of the path. How often do I miss the small treasures in life because I am focused on the big picture? I have a feeling that each little blossom is as cherished by God as the towering Ponderosa.
Today is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for Carmelites all around the world. The images above were taken this morning at the monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Once again, the nuns provided a beautiful display with Our Lady floating on a cloud of pink and white roses, hydrangea, and baby’s breath. Her mantle stretched out behind her, forming a tent under which her children could ask for prayers on their behalf.
When Jesus gave Mary to the beloved disciple, Catholics believe He also gave her to all of His disciples down through the ages, and so we love her as our own spiritual Mother.
This week I stopped at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in Southern New Mexico. The mission was originally established by the Franciscans in 1887, and the current church was built in 1920. It rises on a hill half way up and set against the backdrop of the Sacramento Mountains. I love the icon of Christ above the altar and the depiction of the Last Supper on the altar, both with images that represent the Mescalero Apache Nation. The images remind me of some lines from another one of my favorite poems:
"...Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces."
From “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Summer is in full swing in the garden. Many of the flowering plants that bloomed so lushly in the spring have dwindled, although the geraniums are doing well. Last week I had to pull out the wilting Morning Glory vines, and I had to cut back the Cherry Sage so the mosquitos couldn’t hide under it. The garden looks better now after a good trim.
And then there’s my diet. Over the last few months I have been cutting back on how much food I eat. To my surprise, it is actually possible to lose weight. There are times when I feel HUNGRY, but for the most part, cutting back feels better than over-indulging. One thing is certain. I won’t be over-indulging on tomatoes.
A few years ago, I discovered scented geraniums (technically pelargoniums). My favorite is the rose-scented specimen pictured above. This is the variety generally used to make geranium-scented essence oils. In mid-summer it will bloom with tiny pink flowers. The plants are difficult to keep alive during winter, so I always look for one to buy in early summer. I love to brush the leaves and take away the scent on my fingers. Once again, the Master Gardener has delighted me.
The citronella variety looks much like the rose geranium, and it’s supposed to keep the mosquitos away, so I bought one of those as well. This week I had a chance to test it. After our recent deluge, there was a lot of standing water in the drainage ponds, so the mosquitos had a chance to hatch in mass. Yesterday, I took my prayer book into the garden and placed the citronella plant at my feet. Within minutes I had four bites. I could almost hear the little monsters laughing at the citronella plant.