Wednesday, January 24, 2018

the quiet by the river..

At the Basilica of St.Francis in Assisi, there was a tall, thin priest whose duty appeared to be one thing. Every few minutes, as the din from the voices of many tourists became annoying, he says :"Silencio".Poor man with a hopeless task. Not hard to know what he is requesting. I appreciated his efforts because I didn't travel thousands of miles to talk but to soak up the sacredness and it was difficult with the chatter. Talking to and hearing from the Spirit , for me, requires some quiet.

And so again , with snake proof boots on and an extraordinary blue sky above , I went to the river seeking "silencio.".

Journal notes 2-14-2014.

..".the log holds a writer who comes as a witness to silence. Just water, trees and bird trills. Nothing else is here but an emptiness that feeds my spirit. I need this. The sun wraps its rays around my face and hands and glistens on the brown water...."

"This is the silence that poets and saints yearn after. Only the birds are busily present. A Barred Owl and something else explode in sound across the river .This must have aroused the cows over there to complain but only for a minute and it is still again."

"There is one lone Beech here that refuses to drop its leaves and they stand out in tan/beige among all the other bare trees. A very strange green bush is growing out there in the water, attached to a dead log. Floating southward , a small thin brown leaf turns sideways .Alone, drifting."

This land that I live on was once a huge farm and there are still places where rusted barbed wire goes from tree trunk to tree trunk.The cows are long gone, the farmer , a memory,   and one day this writer will be shuffled off to somewhere else. But this spot, this dead log that sits by the river's edge, has been my church for years and I breathe in its air with gratitude.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

the net of your heart....the joy journal.

The fog seems to be lifting, a flu fog that has left me capable of only the barest activities. I haven't even noticed my winter trees and their grey trunks that always bring me calm.Thanksgiving, Christmas and then the beginning of January.A blur.

Now, the calm of January is here, where I hoped to get back to my routine, the one that holds me on this Fourth Hill of Life. Praying and writing. The rosary, that for weeks has been my safe place, centering prayer that gives me the exact same feeling of being held above the turmoil. How blessed I am in these. Then the routine of desert time, using a pen for praising, thanking, and asking and then the precious Word.What gifts to my soul but so many distractions render these untouched. My own fault.

The only thing that I have been faithful to completely is my Joy Journal. I found this lovely quote from Sister Wendy that reveals the truth of what joy is: "Joy is not a constant condition. Most people manage a settled cheerfulness, but this, however admirable, has nothing to do with joy, which flashes suddenly upon our does not merely illuminate our interior landscape, it transforms it .The world becomes different, marvelous, and unique."

I think of a morning after Christmas.I noticed a man who I have seen for years, but never met ,walking towards church from a different direction.than myself. I went over to him, he opened his arms for a hug and then he proudly lifted his foot to show me his gorgeous new boots."Wow," I said, "someone knows you well". He said:, "my wife". I nodded, and he said,"I'm just a country boy."Then from my heart, passing  through the rest, came this: "Country boys are the best". We both beamed. The light shines again as I type.

An e-mail that I received before Christmas from a wonderful new friend, Liz, made my journal note for 12-13-17.She attached a recording of "Jesus is Love", by the very upbeat Commodores."My spirit soared as I listened and because I transcribed it, it's back.What a gift.

Stick your head out, walk out of your way, keep your eyes open, you can capture joy with the net of your heart.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas in Purple

Christmas at my son's house. A tradition, but each one, each precious gathering, has its own unique flavor.This was no different.

We gathered around the table for Brunswick Stew, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese and potato salad.The glorious ham that had been forgotten to be picked up was missed by no one.Those who chose to drink the traditional gingerbread martinis found each other much more interesting after just a few swigs. It was for the best that half of mine got spilled. And I never did see my gingerbread man cookie.Perhaps it was with the ham at the North Pole.

My grandchildren, son and his wife joined us at the evening Mass and the joy I felt as I coerced my middle grand, Riley, 16, into singing the carols made my heart swell. My husband, in the spirit of the season, demanded that we all sing Silent Night instead of saying grace at dinner and my son's two huskies found that most appealing as they came and slurped on our faces with tails wagging.The had the spirit, did Murphy and Thor.

Maddie pictured above in her purple jacket had wanted all things purple:so we gave her two purple journals, a purple watch and a doll with purple hair.She seemed delighted but later whispered that she hadn't gotten everything she wanted. Her sad face broke my heart and I asked what was missing.She had wanted to get a ball for her small, old dog Keiko and didn't have one to give him. My son Michael overheard and in the spirit of Christmas that is always in his heart, came to the rescue. In a flash, an unexpected gift was found for Maddie.A black dog ball that he had stolen from Thor was wrapped and handed to her.It struck me how both their concerns focused on another.

Maddie later told me that the purple haired doll was one of a group and she was one of the bad ones.Opps!
Then I heard myself say this:"Maybe if you love her enough, you can help her to be a good doll." No one at the Christmas table had purple hair and, by grace, they are all the very best dolls and  love flowed in all directions.Merry Christmas indeed.:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Joy Journal

How it came about, I am not even sure. Meeting with a special friend, talking about Godly things and the idea was there. Picking up a notebook at Goodwill with a brilliant yellow cover was part of this.Yellow and white flowers, so unusual,  it whispered, "you must take me home."Perhaps that was the first step.

On the inside cover, I put a card from the same friend , a thank you card that stated that in my honor a tree would be planted in a National Forest.The card reminded her of a story that I wrote that was shared in our writing group. That card was the second step. And now, here I am reporting to my journal every day about the joy that comes my way.

I want to give you an example of how profound this is: I have occasionally seen a young girl at Mass and she has a smile that lights up Georgia.The other Sunday, she sat next to me and after Mass I asked her name and then told her this: "Mary Ann, your smile gives me joy and I want you to know that I keep a Joy Journal and today, you will appear on it's pages."She lit up, we hugged and the experience deepened into one I will never forget.

If you look for joy and identify what is giving you joy, you will just become more aware of it in your life.Small things like the bouquets of flowers that Sprouts was giving away because they were passed their dates although still beautiful."Joy".Then I gave one to a friend. Joy spreading.

The happiness when someone I knew in High School appreciates my humble stories and tells me to write a book. A message from a far-away friend that let's me know he is thinking of me.When you recognize these joyful moments, stop and savor them and smile because you know they will be written down and kept. My notebook seems to glow while it sits on my desk;  it is so full of good things.We are meant for this. It's our soul's food. In five years, when I have forgotten the joys of November-December 2017, reading in my journal , I will feel the joy again.What a profound gift to ourselves.

Isaiah knew a thing or two about all this:

The desert and the parched land shall exult; 
the steppe will rejoice and bloom
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
And rejoice with joyful song....
Say to those whose hearts are frightened
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God"...Is 35:1-10 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

the black lion

The day seemed quite ordinary for what was about to happen.

It was a bright summer morning in 2008, when I took my journal down the hill to the brook in the mountains of upstate New York. I had a few moments alone and planned to write haiku in order to savor the wildness around me. As I approach the rocks, I saw a small white feather swaying back and forth in the breeze.It was on a flat rock and seemed attached. My first thought shocked me: "There must be an angel around."

I must tell you that I don't think that way. I don't collect angels or draw them or think much about them although 6 months earlier I did have the thought to ask my angel her name.The answer came back: "Ariel." That was it.

An inchworm and several butterflies were brought to life in my poems during that hour or so of solitary bliss. As I made my way back to the path, I saw that the tiny feather was there although it was still quite windy.That in itself seem remarkable to me so I scooped it up and returned to the house.That night I had a dream that was so vivid, I wish I could paint and bring it to life in color.

"My dog Cooper and I were going down the path to the brook to sit on a flat rock and watch the sunlight dance on the water. As we approached the brook, I saw large grey slimy serpents on the other side, slithering and undulating along the steep bank. For some reason, I was not afraid.We sat down and immediately from up the stream, I saw a huge black lion headed our way.This made me quite afraid. I bent over to whisper in Cooper's ear; "Don't move.".Even in the dream I chuckled because my poor old dog was as deaf as a stone. He stayed still and the lion passed by and the dream ended.How odd and how real it seemed.

The next day, a niece came to visit and brought with her a book about angels and casually I leafed through wondering what it would say about Ariel. First, it said that angels are spiritual beings appointed by God to guide, protect and help us.O.K. Then what I read next caused me to sit down hard in my chair.:

Ariel is an Archangel closely related to nature .She is particularly helpful for teachers, healers and assists with psychic development .This archangel may be associated with the wind .Water is sacred to Ariel; she is the protector of waters. If a lion appears, you know Archangel Ariel is near.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Art by Jan Oliver Schultz-Trail of the Ancestors

They are still with us; they care about us. I know, I have seen them.

Some of the most exciting years of my life were spent tracking down those elusive people who came before me. Looking for headstones in an old Vermont cemetery which required hoisting my sister over a chain linked fence and crawling up and over myself. Hunting headstones with precious dates. Finding the burial spot of Prindle Rising,  a Union soldier mentioned in a letter from my Civil War great grandfather dated 1863. Hooray.

There is something spiritual about trying to connect with these long dead folks.I felt that deeply as I worked. It started with the death certificate of my grandmother with the names and dates of her parents and where they had been born.It was like pulling a colorful thread that slowly unwinds, gifting precious knowledge.

I am sure of this: their grit stiffens by backbone.Try to imagine coming to Plymouth in the winter of 1638 with a husband and 4 children under the age of ten.You did that Abigail, oh woman of courage.The colony there was barely settled, a few homes carved out of the wilderness.You left everything behind."Oh, beautiful for spacious skies," it called you.

Amanda, my great aunt, I have your picture, in tight bonnet and long skirt.You moved from Vermont and raised a family in Minnesota. In the 1880's a tornado blew through Duluth and a baby was ripped from your arms.She was never found and yet, you lived.You went on. I have proof , a letter you wrote in 1900 telling of hearing William Jennings Bryan speak.You kept in touch with your family back east in Vermont.We will meet some day.

Catherine,  how did you leave beautiful Ireland with four teen-agers in 1848 and arrive here with nothing ?You were tenant farmers and when the only crop, the sorrowful potato, got blight, your life was over.The English government would have fed you if you gave up your faith.Not you,Catherine, you sailed to an unknown place where signs appeared in shop windows that said :"Irish need not apply".You lived and your children became Americans. I am one of yours.

Johnann, my Scottish grandmother, had a third grade education and never drove a car. Always a sweet smile on your face, such busy hands knitting and tatting.Your life was limited to travel to from NY to New Jersey, and no vacations that I ever heard about.I never appreciated how limited your life was. I am telling you that I am sorry.

Strong women, were you all in that vision of six years ago?

I was on a bench in the woods behind our house when I saw you. My eyes were closed as I prayed for my unborn granddaughter.There was bleeding and a safe delivery was not guaranteed. In the quiet, I saw two lines of ancestors on either side of my beautiful, pregnant daughter-in-law. Each person would stop, place a hand on her womb and pass on.The lines were long and from many different parts of this earth; all with one desire, that Maddie be born. It was all so clear, their intention and concern.Then a bell softly rang and they were gone.

She is here, Catherine, Amanda, Johnann, Mary, Abigail,.At the age of five, you will be happy to know,  she loves to pray.My love for her is beyond telling.Thank you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

the writing group

The richness, the joy of it all. Writing in a group; using art to poke around in the roots of who we are.

I wish I had starting writing sooner.What a balm to a soul with so many secrets , so much turmoil. But I must put that aside and be grateful for the beginning. It started, my journal, as a bare bones running log.Weather, sights, ease or hardship, with or without dogs.That was the beginning in the 1980s. This has morphed into a writing group with individuals as unique as five colorful birds on a branch.

There was the time that I took a piece of art, Sisley I believe, and wrote a story that pulled all of me into it. More stories and then for at least seven years, I wondered how I could share this with others and how would that start? And now it has been almost three years of stories and deep connecting.

Writing is a joy; that's all I want anyone to know. And using art deepens the experience profoundly.So, a member of the class goes to Las Vegas and sees a purse with a Van Gogh art print and she and we are transformed by the thought of it. Amid the glitz and glamour, she found timeless beauty. A poem by a Native American is read and the author reaches through the page to bestow an image of great comfort to those on the fourth hill of life.We are not alone, we stand with courage,and the bald eagle as celebrate that we made it this far.

A postcard of an old abandoned tractor in a Nebraska wheat field in winter recalls the warmth of being held there on a similar machine by a father before it all changed. Family members here and gone are recalled in beautiful language and they become ours. Lovely sunsets are captured and held by a haiku of gentleness and colors that please. Long ago childhoods are recalled, some beautiful enough to envy. Risks are taken in poetry form with extraordinary colors of red. Stories of lives so different from others enrich our experience; music on a bus that taught a new language and a kind word on a playground. Someone new joins and, in a flash, has us all soaring like fireflies above a pond in the magical night air.. Delightful.

Would we know any of this about each other without writing? We are awash in unforgettable tales.

Our writing has turned us into watchers, listeners, drifters, people of the finger counting. We travel about with an invisible net ready to snare any wisp of a story, any beauty that can be etched on a page.We are no longer cleaners, scrubbers, helpers; oh, we are that, but we are also this: artists. Long may we be.