This morning, in Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World, I am reading about the importance of paying attention. Which is fun, because that's one of the gifts of being a photographer -- we notice things; we pay attention. So here's a little story about the gift of noticing.
Background: when we went to New England in September for all those family birthdays, our daughter drove us to New Jersey and back. Since it was her car, we listened to her music, which, at that point in time, was Paul Simon's Graceland album. I had loved it, too, when it first came out, so -- no hardship there!
Fast forward a couple of months -- though perhaps I should mention that our flight to New Orleans took us to the Memphis airport, where we spent time in the Elvis store learning about -- you guessed it -- Graceland...
So on our first night in New Orleans, we ate in a little pizza place, and there was some terrific photography on the walls. One piece in particular -- a photo of an old guitar and a hand, nothing else -- caught my eye. I liked it so much I took a picture of it. Just a record shot, because I loved it. Two days later we were walking down the street, a couple of blocks from our hotel, and there was a terrific street band playing. Our daughter was very taken with them, and borrowed money to purchase one of their CD's. I was very taken with the guitarist; I loved the intensity of his work, the angle of his head, his hat, his hands, his guitar -- so I took several pictures.
Processing the photos later, I realized the guitar in this picture was the same guitar whose photo had appeared on the wall of the restaurant: the curious perforations and the odd splashes of paint were unmistakably the same. So I sent a copy of my picture to a guitarist friend, and he wrote back to tell me it was a "National brand resophonic guitar," created out of metal with a resonator to enhance the sound.
So I went online to look up these guitars, and they're mostly very shiny; they don't have the glorious texture of this one. So it's still clear it's the same one I saw in the restaurant photo. But here's what brings this story to a circle: as an afterthought in his note, my guitarist friend wrote this: "From Paul Simon's "Graceland": "The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar."
And suddenly I could hear the song and see the Mississippi Delta -- which was of course where we had just been -- and it all came together for me in a burst of joy; it just felt like the whole experience of New Orleans was peaceful, and right. It was, I believe, an experience of Grace.
In her curator's statement for the new ECVA Exhibition for Advent, gifted musician Ana Hernandez begins with a quote from pianist Glenn Gould (to whom my mother listened extensively when I was growing up): “The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline, but is, rather, the lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”
I think both Gould and Hernandez are talking about Grace -- and that's certainly what I'm feeling, both in this story, and in this GORGEOUS exhibit. So in the time-honored tradition of re-gifting (and in case Graceland isn't a familiar song for you), here's a video of Graceland; those key lines are right at the beginning.
And for a final dessert helping of Grace, I invite you to visit ECVA's new Advent exhibition, entitled "Imaging the Sacred Art of Chant." Drink in the grace of these glorious images (you might even want Ana's music playing in the background as you browse through them). I feel certain they will feed your soul.
Having finished Barbara Brown Taylor's reassuring and inspiring book, Leaving Church, I am now reading her sequel: An Altar in the World. In it she speaks of the mistake so many of us make -- thinking God lives only inside the walls of a church.
"As important as it is to mark the places where we meet God, I worry about what happens when we build a house for God. I am speaking... of the house of worship on the corner, where people of faith meet to say their prayers, because saying them together reminds them of who they are better than saying them alone.
This is good, and all good things cast shadows. Do we build God a house so we can choose when to go see God? Do we build God a house in lieu of having God stay at ours? Plus, what happens to the rest of the world when we build four walls -- even four gorgeous walls -- cap them with a steepled roof, and designate that the House of God? What happens to the riverbanks, the mountaintops, the deserts, and the trees? What happens to the people who never show up in our houses of God?"
I suspect that when she titled her book "An Altar in the World," Taylor wasn't necessarily thinking of building or finding actual altars in the world -- like this Mary icon, which hovered over us as we stood in line to buy tickets for Zydeco Night at the New Orleans Rock 'n' Bowl (a combination bowling alley, dance hall, restaurant and bar).
But I do believe she was advocating the practice of awareness, of presence; of being conscious that God is with us wherever we go. Watching the smiles on the faces of my brothers-in-law and their wives as they danced, I'd have to agree that's true: God IS everywhere -- even in a noisy bowling alley. If I didn't already suspect it, I could hear it in the music, and see it in their smiles, and in the lightness of their feet as they waltzed, spinning around the room.
In stumbling through my piles of email yesterday I found a sweet note from a young Canadian woman who mentioned how hard she found it to make time for contemplative moments while caring for three children.
I had actually led a workshop on this subject a couple of years ago, and thought I'd send her a copy of the handouts. But as I began walking through them, I could see ways to update them and clarify some of the points.
One thing led to another, and I ended up spending much of my day turning the whole thing into a little book -- which continued calling to me as I sat in meditation this morning, until I realized that it was written when I still thought God was something outside us that we beckoned in.
Now what I believe is that each of us has a permanent spark of God-ness within us (I feel it in my heart, if I pay attention), and the function of meditation, of being present, even of breathing is to fan that spark into a flame. Somehow, thinking of that during meditation, I came to see Mary as an icon for all humanity, carrying that God-given spark to maturity, nurturing and feeding and birthing it into being...
When I opened my eyes, it was to see the candle burning in the lap of my Buddha, and when I rose this was the sight that greeted me -- that spark of light on the horizon that gifts us every day with light. And then I went to take a final pass at the new ECVA exhibit which will go up shortly, and found in the curator's statement this wonderful quote from Thoreau: "“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”
May today find you fully awake, alert to the spark within, and aware of your many blessings...
"Through him we have access in one spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." -- Ephesians 2:18-19
I suppose it is irreverent of me to put this here, given that while we were in New Orleans there was a Saints game; does that make us -- for however short a time -- fellow citizens with the Saints?
I suspect not: New Orleans is markedly different from Seattle, and though the weather wasn't warm enough for us to have dressed this way, we were still quite obviously tourists, not citizens.
So for a time we have been sojourners in the land of Saints, and now we are back home (having arrived shortly after midnight); is this place, our home, what the household of God feels like?
The house smells a bit musty, but the animals are delighted to see us and the neighbors who cared for them are, I'm sure, looking forward to re-connecting and hearing about our travels. We slept easily and well, happy to be back in our own beds, and -- still (though it's after noon) in our robes and jammies -- are now busy catching up on emails, snail mail, and to-do lists, waiting to hear that our one daughter still in flight has safely landed. Perhaps the household of God is equally filled with the little details of life, and each of them has its own gift to bring to the journey...
But all last night New Orleans continued to weave its magical spell over my dreams. I wonder if that's true for the saints who die and make their way to the promised land, to find their home in the arms of God: do they continue to dream, for a time, of the journey they left behind?
I know. This picture doesn't do it justice; my laptop can't give you the fidelity I can get from my desktop. But I saw this picture in a gallery in New Orleans and just fell in love with it. I don't know why -- I never quite know why things sing to me the way they do sometimes; they just do.
So I asked the young man if I could photograph it (since it's sold) and he said yes. I took a picture, then asked who the artist was, and it was him! His name is Kalle Siekkinen, and he'd been studying for six years under another artist named Bill Hemmerling (for whom the gallery was named); he'd mostly just been making frames; never had the courage to paint.
But then Bill died two years ago, so he started painting and VOILA! Amazing work -- perhaps not yet as consistent as Hemmerling's work (which I also love, though I've never seen it before), but I just adore it. He was a lovely young man, sweet and shy, and his spirit totally suffuses his work.
So if you're ever in New Orleans, pay a visit to Hemmerling Gallery on Royal Street to see Kalle and his beautiful work -- it's DEFINITELY worth a visit! And if you happen to find yourself in San Diego December 2, 3, or 4, stop by the Holiday Art Festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds to see more of Kalle's work... SO GREAT!
"The parts of the Christian story that had drawn me into the Church were not the believing parts but the beholding parts:
"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy..." "Behold the Lamb of God..." "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..."
Whether the narratives starred hayseed shepherds confronted by hosts of glittering angels or desert pilgrims watching something like a dove descend upon a man in a river as a voice from heaven called him "Beloved," Christian faith seemed to depend on beholding things that were clearly beyond belief, including Jesus's own teaching that acts of mercy toward perfect strangers were acts of mercy toward him. While I understood both why and how the early church had decided to wrap those mysteries in protective layers of orthodox belief, the beliefs never seized my heart the way the mysteries did."
"Where other people see acreage, timber, soil and river frontage, I see God's body, or at least as much of it as I am able to see. In the only wisdom I have at my disposal, the Creator does not live apart from creation but spans and suffuses it. When I take a breath, God's Holy Spirit enters me. When a cricket speaks to me, I talk back. Like everything else on earth, I am an embodied soul, who leaps to life when I recognize my kin. If this makes me a pagan, then I am a grateful one." Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church
As usual, Thanksgiving Week brings blustery weather: fierce winds, driving rains, and high tides for some reason seem to dominate this particular week in the Northwest. So some part of us is glad to leave, but another part longs to stay and watch over the home front as the storm gods roll in...
Though I get that God loves me, I have a lot of trouble trusting that everything will be okay in my absence. After all, what's okay for me may not be what's best for my growth, or my neighbors, or the planet. The problem is: I've never thought I should or could presume to understand God's plans or the workings of God's mind... Which doesn't necessarily give me the sense of security so readily available to the more evangelical Christians of my acquaintance.
But I do understand that there are people -- our dear neighbors in particular -- who will watch over our home and our animals in the event of severe difficulties, just as we will watch over theirs when they leave for Christmas. But there are actually nice people everywhere who have a way of stepping up to the plate in a storm: for example -- the first big high tide hit yesterday, enhanced by a low barometer, and the guys working the construction project down the street, hampered by the water, spent their time filling in some of the new potholes their trucks have created, as well as some of the old ones their trucks have significantly enhanced. We were surprised and pleased, and thanked them profusely.
So what do YOU do when circumstances prohibit you from spending your time as planned? When the power goes out, or the weather or illness keep you housebound? Grumble? Enjoy some unexpected bath, reading, or breathing time? Take a walk? Shop? Offer to help out a friend?
What we choose to do in moments like these says a lot about who we are...
"Despair comes from trying to control matters over which you have no power. Hope comes from taking responsibility for yourself.
If you cannot find security by your grasping, then you look around for others to blame for your discomfort. All these actions build walls within you, and the wind of the Spirit cannot move through you.
You add more walls until you have built a solid prison for yourself... But remember: every prison has a chapel. Travel through the corridors of your own dark stillness until you come to a little room. Inside that room is a tiny spark that never goes out. If you blow on the spark with your full attention, you will be able to make a flame.
Then light a torch. Examine the walls. See how fragile they are. Look at the face of the jailer. You are the jailer.... If there is within you a nostalgia for freedom, you will hold your torch high. You will not allow yourself to be dominated by desires to have and to control. You will not let yourself be possessed by things and thoughts. Then you will stand and watch the walls of your prison melt away like clay in the rain."
I woke up this morning intending to go to church, but as I sat with my coffee at the dining room table, reading the final (and extraordinarily uplifting) pages of Cynthia Bourgeault's little gem, Mystical Hope, I found I was having a lot of trouble staying on task.
It's been an unusually clear fall here (normally by now the sky would have been cloudy for weeks), and we had our first hard frost last night. So I kept getting distracted -- first by the fog rising off the water into the cold air, then by the color of the rising sun on the Olympics, and finally by the cacophony of the seagulls at their morning feeding.
This, then, was the view through my dining room window this morning: is it any wonder I found it hard to think about leaving? Especially when I knew both my front steps and the roads would be icy...
And so I decided to meditate instead of going off to church. But as I sat I realized the seagulls were echoing a sort of internal cacophony: I was feeling really fragmented, with a lot of different voices competing for attention, both in my head and in my body. Some of this is because I have a mountainous to-do list today (we leave for the annual Walker Family Thanksgiving on Tuesday) but some of it is also just that I'm learning to listen to all the parts of me that are clamoring for attention.
For some reason it came to me that perhaps the reason I've always been so fond of Winnie-the-Pooh stories is because all those characters are alive and well in my psyche. Perhaps if I could identify the different voices, I could begin to choose -- or at least question -- who might be in charge at any time.
So here they are, not necessarily in order of appearance or preference:
Piglet: whiny, huffy, frequently annoyed, wishing he were more important or valued than he is; his is the voice that snarled so unattractively when I realized my husband hadn't put away the leftovers he brought in from the car after our dinner out with friends last night.
Roo: naive, squeaky, bouncy, always demanding attention -- a bit of a lightweight.
Tigger: enthusiastic, fearless, with a strong tendency to accidentally offend by just bouncing into other people's anxiety zones; seems to thrive on prickly situations.
Pooh: shy, insecure, anxious, not very self-aware, eager to be helpful but socially awkward.
Rabbit: officious know-it-all who really doesn't; always tripped up by his own ego.
Kanga: motherly, protective, with a pretty narrow view of the world, alert to danger; can be vindictive if threatened.
Owl: detached, a bit pretentious and scholarly; not as wise as he thinks he is.
Eeyore: depressed, negative, martyred, always assuming the worst, manipulates with his victimhood.
Christopher Robin: bright, aware, amused, affectionate; loves the others despite their foibles and serves as the uniting link between them all.
Obviously I would prefer to be a more unified being. And, lacking that, I would LIKE Christopher Robin to be in charge. But at the very least, I wish I could feel the way he does about the others when they take over... So what holds me back? Cynthia has some final thoughts about that:
"What holds us back from unified action is fear, the inevitable product of being trapped in that smaller, isolated self; of being in "egoic consciousness." But in the contemplative journey, as we swim down into those deeper waters toward the wellsprings of hope, we begin to experience and trust what it means to lay down self, to let go of ordinary awareness and surrender ourselves to the mercy of God. And as hope, the hidden spring of mercy deep within us, is released in that touch and flows out from the center, filling us with the fullness of God's own purpose living itself into action, then we discover within ourselves the mysterious plenitude to live into action what our ordinary hearts and minds could not possibly sustain.
In plumbing deeply the hidden rootedness of the whole, where all things are held together in the Mercy, we are released from the grip of personal fear and set free to minister with skillful means and true compassion to a world desperately in need of reconnection.
Hope is not imaginary or illusory. It is that sonar by which the body of Christ holds together and finds its way. If we, as living members of the body of Christ, can surrender our hearts, and listen for that sonar with all we are worth, it will again guide us, both individually and corporately, to the future for which we are intended. And the body of Christ will live, and thrive, and hold us tenderly in belonging."
... not unlike Christopher Robin. Perhaps there's a reason his name begins with Christ...
"Hope's home is at the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as a pulse of truth that sends us forth. When our innermost being is attuned to this pulse it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives. Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us."
"When we are in a true way of being -- that is, attuned to the homing beacon of our innermost ground, of the point vierge -- hope is the current that flows through, carrying us toward the future. As we let ourselves yield and go with it, it will open us toward the authentic unfolding of our being.
The opposite is also just as true: any form of resistance, be it nostalgia, clinging, bitterness, self-pity, or self-justification, will make it impossible to find that current of hope, impossible for hope to carry us to our true becoming. We become stones in the riverbed. But as far as we are able to yield, we yield objectively into hope."
"If only we could see and trust that all our ways of getting there, all our courses over time -- our good deeds, our evil deeds, our regrets, our compulsive choosings and the fallout from those choosings, our things left undone and paths never actualized -- are quietly held in an exquisite fullness that simply poises in itself, then pours itself out in a single glance of the heart.
If we could only glimpse that, even for an instant, then perhaps we would be able to sense the immensity of the love that seeks to meet us at the crossroads of the Now, when we yield ourselves entirely into it."
It's that time of year again -- busy days, busy weeks, busy months, lots to do and the clock always ticking. The body doesn't like all that stress, so it begins sending out signals to slow down -- which just seems to add to the tension. We think, "I can't deal with that right now" and so we put things on the back burner, but they have a way of simmering that seems to interfere with our efforts to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish...
At least, I THINK that's where this image comes from; it's certainly how I've been feeling these last few days...
So what do we do when those seasonal pressures put a few cracks in the competence facade?
Take a deep breath.
Go for a walk.
Stop and have a cup of tea.
Look at your list and see if there's something you could just cross off this year.
"Our spiritual awareness seems to be given to us in order to hone in on and not lose touch with that spark of pure truth at the core of our being, from which both the true compass track of our life and our existential conviction of belonging emanate. That is what the magnetic pull is all about.
And as we learn gradually to trust it and let it draw us along, we discover that those core fears of the egoic level -- that something terrible can happen to us, that we can fall out of God or suffer irreparable harm -- do not compute in these deeper waters of being. Try as we will, we simply cannot find them there. They can only affect us when we are at the surface of ourselves."
The other day I mentioned something about the big-leaf maples that turned color last week. And though we have none of these trees in our yard (all we have is dune grass), one of the leaves from the tree across the lagoon from us floated up on our beach yesterday, so I thought I'd show those of you who do not hail from the left coast what I mean by big-leaf maple... and, yes, the stem of this one extends to my elbow -- and I am NOT a small woman.
That I would write about this tree and that her leaf would wash up on my beach the next day is not really such a huge coincidence. But somehow, for me, it serves as a gentle reminder of the constancy of Divine Presence. Which brings me to this morning's quotation from Cynthia Bourgeault's book, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God.
"Mercy is always with us; it is the ground and wellspring of our being. But unless we can connect with it, we miss the whole show -- and we do not really understand the "good news" that our gospel is founded upon. It is possible to be swimming in a sea of mercy and still experience ourselves as stranded on shore. This distorted perception is what meditation is intended to fix."
Living by the water as I do, this metaphor seems particularly apt -- and a lovely description of how I've been feeling lately; i.e., stranded on the shore. So for this leaf to wash up has been helpful, and -- oddly enough -- it indirectly led me to Cynthia's post on her blog about the Fall Triduum. Her post is definitely worth a read, and helps me to understand that the shadow space into which I've fallen lately, though it results initally from the recent series of deaths in my circle of acquaintance, is actually a natural response to the shifting seasons. Here's a tiny piece of her post to whet your appetite:
"In the quiet, brown time of the year, these fall Triduum days are an invitation to do the profound inner work: to face our shadows and deep fears (death being for most people the scariest of all), to taste that in ourselves which already lies beyond death, drink at its fountain, then to move back into our lives again, both humbled and steadied in that which lies beyond both light and dark, beyond both life and death. What better tilling of the inner soil for the mystery of the Incarnation, which lies just ahead?"
And so, having read her words, I went again into meditation -- which hasn't been providing much solace lately -- but this time I carried with me the mercy of acceptance; that the shadows which have been coming to the fore of late are normal and natural, and not some failure on my part. And with that sense of mercy -- and this leaf -- comes the trust that despite this stranded feeling I am not alone on the journey. Thank you, Cynthia, for giving me a hand to hold.
I'm back from a 2 day visit to Shaw Island. Something in me needed the down time; I'm thinking it was a chance to process the recent deaths and the inevitable ripples they've caused.
It was great to be with friends, and great to be in such a quiet space. But great, also, to have a sense of humor about the whole peace and quiet schtick. Somehow the contradiction implicit in this image (the first thing a visitor sees as she drives away from the ferry dock) echoes the contradiction I've been struggling with: how do we carry the peace of meditation back into this noisy troubled world? How do I carry the peace I find on Shaw back into my busy life?
It's easy to get tangled up and self-critical in our efforts to live out the spirituality within us; I'm thinking the best way to avoid that tangle is to stay loose and keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. I keep thinking of the Dalai Lama's smile; wishing I could be that gracious; wishing I could carry that sense of joyful acceptance into all the parts of my life.
Cynthia Bourgeault often speaks of what she calls "The Welcoming Practice," and I think that's a piece that's always been a bit difficult for me. Humor, I think, makes the act of welcoming just a little easier.
It seems odd to be thinking about hope when all the leaves are falling; driving back today from Shaw the roads and lawns were just carpeted with leaves -- mostly yellow, as all the big-leaf maples decided to turn this week.
But I just finished reading what I think may be one of the finest books of fiction I've read in a REALLY long time, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and one of the protagonists thinks we really do ourselves a disservice by hoping. She's only 12, but she thinks we should stop encouraging our children to pursue possibility, and just tell them up front they'll never amount to much.
She bases this thought on the fact that so many of the grownups she knows are too busy trying to prove how important they are to actually get down to the business of living, let alone living well. Perhaps, she thinks, they might be more present if they could just stop trying so hard...
And she got me thinking. I mean, yes, I do what I do -- photography and blogging and meditating -- because I love it. But there's some part of me that always thinks I should do more, or sell it better, or wonders what else I could be doing, or how I could be doing it differently -- always (I suspect, though of course I would prefer not to admit it) in hopes of broader recognition. And there's that hope word again. It feels like things have gotten off-track, somehow.
So I decided to go back to Cynthia Bourgeault's little miracle of a book, Mystical Hope. And thankfully she redefines hope, taking me back to a better place, a place where I can honor those hopeful feelings I have without tying them to success or recognition.
"Jesus hints at this other kind of hope in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman... The day is hot, and Jesus pauses by a well to ask a woman for a drink of water... he suddenly announces, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life...
In contrast to our usual notions of hope [she continues]:
1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.
2. It has something to do with presence -- not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.
3. It bears fruit within us at the psychological level in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction, an "unbearable lightness of being." Bu mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within."
It's not wrong to hope. It's just not especially helpful to let those hopeful thoughts get all tangled up with external possibilities. It's a bit like the difference between the kind of passion that's filled with drama and emotion and angst and the kind of passion that burns pure and inspires creativity and acts of compassion and sacrifice. The line between the two can get pretty thin sometimes. But the right stuff is this kind of joyful surge from within, a sort of waterfall of rightness and light that can wash over you and carry you through, so that even when life is really difficult you can still find it in you to smile, to love, to be generous and gracious...
That's the mystical kind of hope. Maybe they call it mystical because it doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense.
But it's good stuff. I need to get back into that space.
One of the many things I've learned, watching my daughters over the years, is that we humans tend to have conflicting desires. This is true in a lot of arenas, but the one I'm thinking of this morning, in response to this picture, is the conflict between wanting to stand out, to be unique and special, and wanting to blend in; to fit in, be part of the crowd.
Some part of us desperately yearns to be seen for who and what we are, and another part of us has learned, not just that there can be comfort and support in community, but that "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down." And so there's always this dance between the two extremes.
... which seems to me to be both a gift and quite reasonable: we need both extremes, in ourselves and in society. This tree helps me understand that: I might not have taken the photo if it hadn't been for that yellow leaf. But I need all the red leaves to set off the yellow one; the photo would be just as boring if all the leaves were yellow as if all the leaves were red.
And what really makes this picture pop is that all those red leaves have yellow tips -- and, of course, those black black branches, the dark threads that knit them together...
There is a quality of light that seems capable of making everything appealing -- even the peeling paint on this little seaside cottage.
What I don't really know for sure is if this is so appealing to me because light doesn't tend to be this strong where I'm living; it's usually filtered -- especially this time of year -- through the clouds.
But then that same filtering is what makes it so easy for me to shoot pictures I like here, whereas when I go back east my camera can't seem to take in the range of highs and lows.
Maybe it's just that my camera is no fonder of drama than I am; perhaps we both prefer a somewhat narrower range of light to dark. Certainly it's true that if we cut ourselves off from our darker feelings we also limit our ability to sense the brighter emotions...
Did someone say that there would be an end, An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning? Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend, The cold bleak voices of the early morning When all the birds are dumb in dark November- Remember and forget, forget, remember.
After the false night, warm true voices, wake! Voice of the dead that touches the cold living, Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak. Tell me again, while the last leaves are falling: "Dear child, what has been once so interwoven Cannot be raveled, nor the gift ungiven."
Now the dead move through all of us still glowing, Mother and child, lover and lover mated, Are wound and bound together and enflowing. What has been plaited cannot be unplaited- Only the strands grow richer with each loss And memory makes kings and queens of us.
Dark into light, light into darkness, spin. When all the birds have flown to some real haven, We who find shelter in the warmth within, Listen, and feel new-cherished, new-forgiven, As the lost human voices speak through us and blend Our complex love, our mourning without end.
Once you learn to be fully present, says Anthony Bloom in Beginning to Pray, "there is no situation which can prevent you from praying. What can prevent you from praying is that you allow yourself to be in the storm, or you allow the storm to come inside you instead of raging around you."
Remembering the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat with the disciples while the storm rages, Bloom goes on to say that we are like the disciples: in the face of the storm we wake God up and shake our fists, saying "Why don't you DO SOMETHING?"
But if we have taken the time to learn to be still, to be present, then we can bring that stillness into the storm. "If you are silent, you can rest in the eye of the cyclone or the hurricane, in the calm there, leaving the storm around you to rage while you stand at the only point of total stability. But this point of total stability is not a point where nothing happens. It is the point where all conflicting tensions meet and are counter-balanced by one another."
And if, he adds, you find it troubling to be still, "Go to your room after breakfast, put it right...light the lamp before your icon, and first of all take stock of your room. Just sit, look round, and try to see where you live... and then take your knitting and for fifteen minutes knit before the face of God. I forbid you to say one word of prayer. Just knit, and try to enjoy the peace of your room."
Now THERE's a practice I could do -- although I might be crocheting instead...
"Can you imagine that only one minute goes by every minute? That is exactly what happens. It is strange, but it is true, though from the way we behave one might think that five minutes could rush past in thirty seconds.
No, every minute counts as much as the next, every hour as much as the next... You may say, 'Shall I have time to do it all?' I will answer you in a very Russian way: 'If you do not die first, you will have time to do it. If you die before it is done, you don't need to do it.' "
-- Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray
I don't know about you, but even though life has slowed down a bit it still feels like I am always rushing from one thing to the next. Except in the mornings. Then -- because I know I am slow to wake up -- I take my time and don't load up with to-do lists. Which means that when I'm walking through the standard morning tasks -- like taking the dog out to pee -- I have time to notice.
This morning, in the dark sky above our deck, I saw Orion. Not such a big deal to you, I'm sure, but to see Orion in November, however briefly, is amazing in my part of the world. Because this time of the year, the sky is ALWAYS cloudy.
But there it was -- though unphotographable with the little camera I use these days -- the stars of that distinctive belt stark against the night sky, the whole constellation delicately framed in a circle of cloud wisps, their edges lit lightly by the half moon, though the rest of the sky was cloudy. The blessing was -- I saw it. Breathed in the clarity and the light, paused on the steps and just thanked the sky for showing me her beauty.
... and then my husband called to say he'd run out of gas on the way to the ferry; could I bring the gas can? And so the rush begins again -- but there was, at the beginning, that lovely deep breath of wonder...
I know, this image has little to say about any of this -- except, well -- I like looking at it. The colors feel to me the same way Orion felt: like a breath of joy.
I went out again with my camera yesterday -- fall is particularly beautiful this year -- and caught this lovely little surprise by the side of the road.
We just assume at times like this that something as simple as a yellow leaf falling on a red bush is merely a happy accident. But Anthony Bloom, in his Beginning to Pray, suggests otherwise:
"If you accept that this day was blessed of God, chosen by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift of God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like or dislike it. It is God's own gift to you and if you take it that way, then you can face any situation..."
I'm surely a person of faith, and yet something in me rebels against this idea. It might, of course, just be the language... or it might be that I can't handle the challenge of it; haven't yet achieved that level of commitment. And it is rather painfully reminiscent of the predestination stuff that I absorbed in my childhood.
But it's good to think of things in this way. If I accept that everything that happens to me today -- good or bad -- is a gift from God, how will I behave differently?
"It's another day in the neighborhood," I hear Mr. Rogers singing, another ordinary day in the neighborhood. The sun rose, the clouds puffed up and reflected in the lagoon, and yet... It's just not an ordinary day at all for some people -- especially not for a couple I know who pulled the plug -- at 11:11 on 11-1-11, as per their daughter's wishes -- this morning.
Lauren, or Lala as she is known by friends and family, had just turned 21, and succumbed to her third bout of cancer this week. It was, by all accounts, a beautifully handled death, but still -- it's got to be hard to bear; hard for her friends and family to deal with the fact that the sun still rises and life goes on for the rest of the world.
I keep hearing that old song -- I think it came out while I was in grade school --
Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? Don't they know it's the end of the world. It ended when I lost your love.
I wake up in the morning and I wonder, Why everything's the same as it was. I can't understand. No, I can't understand, How life goes on the way it does.
Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don't they know it's the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye.
Why does my heart go on beating? Why do these eyes of mine cry? Don't they know it's the end of the world. It ended when you said goodbye.
I'm so sorry. I know all things come to an end at some point. But some things just end too soon.