Let’s be honest. My springtime reading looks less like reading and more like one hour spent weeding the perfect reading spot under the sour cherry tree and then fifteen minutes given to sitting under that tree watching the peonies dance and catching my book as it just slips from my lap.
So, not a great deal of actual reading.
But books are food for me and even in springtime I manage to take a few bites here and there. Lately, these quick bites have been all about the letter P: pruning, poetry, and prayer.
(You can find more information about my occasional Saturday series of book recommendations here. These posts do include affiliate links. Thank you for clicking and buying. Thank you for reading along. And thank you for sharing your own recommendations in the comments!)
I learned about Lee Reich’s Pruning Book, The: Completely Revised and Updated by listening to a radio call-in gardening show. Since then I’ve seen his name everywhere (well, everywhere you might expect to find mention of a pruning expert). This is an award-winning, highly-praised reference book. It is also beautifully made, comprehensive, and a joy to browse. Best of all? It makes pruning seem easy.
If you’ve ever wondered what to do with that old apple tree (or the apple whip you recently planted), or how to keep your tomatoes from sprawling into a disease-ridden mess, or how to keep your clematis vine blooming then you really should own this book. I first checked out a copy from the library, but it only took me about five minutes of flipping pages to realize I needed this one on my shelf.
If anyone could turn pruning into poetry that someone would be Verlyn Klinkenborg. His eloquent observations of life on his New York farm are deservedly famous. The Rural Life is nature writing as poetry.
You might think you don’t have much interest in nature or country living (and I should mention that just the words nature documentary put me straight to sleep), but if you appreciate language and metaphor, if you want to learn how to see to the depths of what is always right in front of our eyes, then you should be reading Klinkenborg.
I haven’t yet read his follow-up collection More Scenes from the Rural Life but simply holding the book makes me happy. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, the jacket design and interior illustrations are perfect. Beautifully old-fashioned but also minimalist and modern. Choose this gorgeous hardcover for yourself and as a gift. It’s that kind of book.
Everyone reaches for fullness in summer, but the fullness that most of us know best belongs to the memory of childhood. What was it that made summer days so long back then and made the future seem so distant? What was the thing we knew or didn’t know? – Verlyn Klinkenborg
Phyllis Tickle’s prayer books are year-round favorites of mine, but I love them especially during the busyness of spring and summer. I don’t pray the hours (morning, noon, and night) regularly, but when I only have a few minutes and don’t even know where to begin with prayer or Bible-reading I almost always find myself reading the morning office in Prayers for Springtime.
The Divine Hours (Volume Three): Prayers for Springtime: A Manual for Prayer (Tickle, Phyllis) and The Divine Hours (Volume One): Prayers for Summertime: A Manual for Prayer are part of a three-volume set. Whether or not you are familiar with the Benedictine practice of fixed-hour prayer, I think you will find Tickle’s contemporary selections of prayers, psalms, and Scriptures easy to use either regularly or (like me) irregularly as the need or mood strikes.
I sometimes think that fifteen minutes spent sitting under the sour cherry tree observing the birds and noticing the breeze is a form of prayer. Reading a bit from this book as I sit only makes it more official.
And you? Which books are you reading on the patio as the sun begins to set?
“We thank and praise you, Lord, for the gift of your victory over death, for the gift of holy awe that comes upon us as we enter into our Easter joy. Christ has passed from death to life, may we always know you as our way through the desert, our food and drink as we thirst. You are our safe passage through treacherous waters and the home that awaits us at the end of all our journeys.”
– an Easter prayer, from God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter
From my kitchen window I can see a blue plastic sled stranded at the top of a small hill.
Last year, our first spring at Maplehurst, we edged the hill on one side with blueberry bushes. We shored up the other side with an asparagus patch. We planted a peach tree and a cold-hardy fig like two flags at the top, but the kids have carved a downward path that manages, usually, to carry their sleds around their mother’s precious plants.
The snowcover on the hill is shrinking, and the sled is marooned. I can imagine it still sitting there in July, nearly forgotten in the weeds.
The sled I see clearly, but it is much harder for me to imagine July’s green abundance. Here, in early March, there are no signs of new life. Instead, the snow seems to be coughing up rusted buckets and wilted kickballs.
These hinge weeks between winter and spring are always ugly, but, thanks to February’s ice storm, this one is particularly awful. Brown grass and mud are mixed with splintered wood; our world looks as if it has only just survived some disaster.
From my kitchen window, I see a waste land.
The trees, still bare, no longer remind me of elegant bones against the sky. Instead, they look naked, and I am ashamed for them.
At church, it is the first Sunday of Lent. The cross carried in procession is veiled in purple, as if we cannot yet bear the sight of our redemption. Easter, like spring, is still too good to be true.
The reading from the Old Testament this day is from Genesis. Adam and Eve discover their nakedness, and they are ashamed.
This season I am following my friend Sue’s example and praying daily one simple prayer: Search me, God, and know my heart.
This prayer is simple and brief, but it isn’t easy to pray. It feels like a deliberate stepping out into the open with no clothes. Not even a fig leaf.
I thought this prayer would open my eyes to some sin. Instead, my eyes have been opened to something much more complicated.
T. S. Eliot describes it in his own meditation on a wasted, blasted land:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow …
Winter’s rest is melting away, and I am waking up to a great desire. And I find this terrifying. Exhilarating, too.
Spring won’t truly arrive until I have dreamed and ached to pick asparagus, blueberries, peaches and figs. First, the longing. Then, the feast.
And the new plans God has for my life can’t be realized unless I first recognize the desire planted in my heart. Certain dreams will never come true unless I first wake up and remember them. But to remember them enough to pray for them is to stand naked before God. There is no more hiding the depth of my desire. There is no shrinking from the fear that he will say no or not yet. Sometimes spring is interrupted by a killing freeze.
God is tugging me – and you – towards resurrection.
But the road is a cruel one.
Are you visiting from Jennifer’s place today? You are welcome here.
I’m an English PhD who traded the university classroom
for an old farmhouse and a writing desk.
I write about dreams and desire, I write about family and faith.
I write to remember that life is magical.
Her smile is even more dazzling in person.
Which means she stands out in this family. For the most part, we Purifoys are deep thinkers and deep feelers. Quick to notice trouble and pain, more than a little inclined to grumpiness first thing in the morning.
But not this one. We all dote on her because she’s the smallest, the cutest, but I think we dote on her for another reason: she is, more often than not, the happiest. She is a candle, a bouquet of flowers, a breath of fresh, spring air. Our happy, smiley baby girl.
And there’s a story behind that. A prayer, too.
I tend to pray vague, intangible prayers. They are halting, more than a bit ragged. But I think they are my best prayers. They are so full of holes, of all I don’t know and cannot quite see, there is plenty of room for God to come and live in them.
I know this because I once prayed for happiness.
Sometimes we live with a story for quite a while before it occurs to us to share it. Sometimes we need a nudge. An invitation.
I am grateful to the writer and blogger Jennifer Dukes Lee for giving me that nudge. I am grateful for the invitation to share a story with her readers. Today, I’m sharing the story of this prayer. It was a surprising prayer with an even more unexpected answer.
I’d like to share this story with you, too.
Will you follow me here to read along?
A prayer for this, the fourth Sunday of Advent:
In the dark of the year
I will light a candle …
for Christmas coming soon …
for Jesus born in Bethlehem …
for the angels’ message of peace and goodwill …
for the star that leads us all to Jesus …
May the light of my Christmas candle remind me of heaven’s light.
– from A Child’s First Book of Prayers, by Lois Rock and Alison Jay