In our house, bedtime prayers follow Anne Lamott’s essentials: “Help. Thanks. Wow.” It’s not because this is the best or only way to pray, but for us it takes a very abstract practice into a lived liturgy.
Help. Thanks. Wow. Some days, we can manage that. However, we usually begin with thanks. On a good night, it includes Legos and family and drums.
Help prayers are sweet, complicated moments of elementary school concern and a parent’s attempt to teach compassion, empathy, and a longing for justice. For now, the content is less important to me than the practice of holding a space to ask for help for oneself and for neighbors near and far.
Wow has been surprisingly tricky to catch hold, but yesterday, when I asked, “Did you have a ‘Wow!’ today?” The response was a wide-eyed twinkle and, “Yes!”
“Wow! Maple Trees.”
To which, I could only smile and reply, “Amen.”
We spent the morning on a school field trip to North Park Village Nature Center. It was the first nature center in the city of Chicago. It was almost strip malls and condos. Instead, it is a glorious pocket of urban wild with swales and wetlands and deer and amazing educators who could teach an excited group of 7-year olds how maple syrup is made.
We got to tap a maple tree – which we learned has to be at least 40 years old. This fun fact prompted my kiddo to shout: “You can tap my mom. She’s over 40!”
Everyone got a turn drilling the tapping hole and pounding in the spile. We tasted straight-from-the-tree sap, which was flowing because of an unseasonably warm late winter/early spring day.
We saw generations of trees some in their twenties, some in their forties, some in their sixties. The ones marked with blue ribbons were the centenarians.
We saw individual trees making their way through the seasons. These majestic, “Wow, Maple Trees” seem to be resting, simply waiting for the arrival of spring and leafy canopies. Now, we have proof of an unseen vitality coursing through them, root to tree tops, just under the bark.
If you’re inspired to give it a try, the Maple Syrup festival is coming up in March.
Sure, wilderness in the form of mountains and ocean sunsets and star-filled skies can be the stuff of “wow,” but wilderness is a relative state of affairs. It is found in the dance between a place and its human and nonhuman creatures.
Maple trees too big to get your arms all the way around, surviving longer than your grandparents, and sharing sap that can be boiled into syrup for popcorn. This is urban wilderness as classroom, and it, too, can be nature for us. “Wow.”