Monday, October 12, 2020

a river of goodness


There is a river behind my house that flows southward. The Indians who lived here before  called it Thronateeska, which means flint picking up. A swampy flood plain separates us from the Flint when it rises. In the winter, I bundle up and walk to a spot on the bank of the river to see what come to mind. There is an old dead tree that has fallen that is perfect for sitting. It takes about 15 minutes for my mind to slip to a different gear. This is the place from which I write. This is the place where the winter white sun becomes a candle perched in a tree of my wooded chapel.

Walking a labyrinth is another way to reach this place. I once walked a small one in Woodstock, New York and I took my estranged sister with me in my mind. Before long, I heard this: "Your sister has never felt loved for a day in her life." I knew this was true and wept inwardly for all the years that she carried this burden like a dead corpse on her shoulders. Never loved.  

On the West coast of the island of Iona in Scotland, I stepped foot on a labyrinth on the beach. The path was made of round stones of the most amazing colors. This is where Columba landed centuries ago to bring the good news to this rough land. Immediately, my shoulders lowered, every muscle in my body relaxed in a way I have never felt before. And then I heard this: "Your center is goodness: a fountain of goodness. Do what you can to let it flow: how can you prime it and make it more?"

What an extraordinary thing to hear. Do I believe that my center is one of goodness ? Do you believe that about yourself?

Within a few days of this, a poem came to hand by Antonio Machado called "Last Night I had  Dream" 

"Last night I had a dream-

a blessed illusion it was-

I dreamt of a fountain flowing

deep down in my heart.

Water, by what hidden channels

have you come to me, tell me, to me,

welling up with new life

I never tasted before?.................

Last night I had a dream-

a blessed illusion it was-

I dreamed it was God I'd found

deep down in my heart."

Monday, September 21, 2020

All things spare, strange...



 The Red Sun Gnaws at the Spider-Joan Miro

   Nowhere in this painting by Joan Miro do I find a sun or a spider but I do see something else that jars a wonderful memory.

  My dear daughter-in-law loves squirrels. They are fluffy and busy and nothing like it lives in her home country of Australia. Most of us see them as pests, gnawing on a shed door, or hanging upside down from a bird feeder but not her.

 I was in Australia once walking a path to the beach when I heard a rustling in the leaves behind me. I turned, expecting to see Sammy the Squirrel. I was stunned to see what was headed towards me; a 5 foot long Lizard with his beady eyes scoping me out as he charged. I ran like someone possessed. I later found out that if you stand still they will climb you thinking you are a tree. Yay!!!!

 But this is about squirrels and the unforgettable brave one in my yard that Fall day. He was rooting around near our bird bath when a red shinned hawk catapulted to the ground holding a red winged black bird in his talons. His intent was to bear down while the bird struggled to breathe. The squirrel watched, twitched back and forth, and then unbelievably charged the hawk, ten times his size. The hawk let go and off flew the bird. I can only think that the squirrel deliberately rescued the blackbird. How amazing. What a wonderful creature!

  "Glory be to God for dappled things-

For rose moles all in stipple upon trot that swim,  for finches wings; All things counter, original, spare, strange: Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, dim;

He fathers forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him."

Pied Beauty-Hopkins

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

It was Spring..

  It is Spring, it is Long Island and we are young.

The road winds through tall oaks and shadows move over our bus. We are headed for a retreat house that perches above the Long Island Sound. It comes into view, a  huge grey stone building with many windows reflecting the afternoon sun.We see white turrets hanging from the building and are impressed. All smiles and giggles, we take down our suitcases and head for the tall wooden door. Before we know it we are assigned a room on the top floor and lugging our stuff we climb.I fell in love with the room the minute we opened the door. Sloping ceilings, bright white walls, black square key holder and beyond, the still water of the Sound.

We are four high school friends.Patti and I are besties, Carole and Maureen are too and the four of us find delight in almost everything we do.To be together for a week-end seems almost too much. We can read each others minds and a raised eyebrow will send us into fits of glee.

A soft knock comes right after we are settled into our spots.A  black robed nun comes in with a companion. The girl is thin, has white hair and thick glasses.We are asked if we have room for her as she has come alone.We are good Catholic girls and know what we should do but I must say I am extremely  disheartened  that our foursome will be invaded. It was not me who said: "sure, we'll be glad to have her."And now we were five.

The rest of the retreat is a blur to me but this moment, this moment,  I hold in my heart. The stranger, I wish I could recall her name, is walking alone along the beach towards the rock jetty the next afternoon. To understand what came next, I must self critique. I know this auburn haired slender girl who is me, She is shy, introverted, uncomfortable socially in most instances and was taught never to speak until spoken to. And yet, in that moment she goes and engages with the girl. This is totally out of character. We chatted, laughed a bit. Does she remember?

I think of this girl coming alone to a retreat. How did she feel? What drew her ?. I can still see her solemn face. I now know this: that was the first time the Spirit made a request. It is so clear to me.

Now, I offer this prayer: "Thank you, Spirit, for being there that day. For the urging then and since that have borne fruit. Today, I pray for those two girls, both shy strangers, who You showed a way to be friends."

Sunday, August 9, 2020


 I have known her for most of my life.She is dear to me in a way I cannot describe.A smile that warms, and a heart that beats with only love. A spiritual friend who seeks, wonders and serves.A servant of goodness. 

 A message on Facebook started a new relationship. Someone she knew years ago found her and they shared hours of talk and text. He seemed special, divinely sent? She has been single for a long time, had relationships that weren't the right ones. This new person seemed to be something different. So understanding, so full of promises and wishes, alot of "if only." Could love come calling this late in the game?

 She took a chance to meet and then this star of the universe said he was confused and didn't know if this was right. Blah,blah,blah. In wisdom and with a heart heavy with tears she wrote that she longer wanted to be in this "game".A good letter explaining her sorrow and disappointment.

 Yesterday she sat with the e-mail she had sent, let the tears stream and then the phone rang. She and I both rarely pick up the phone when it rings and the caller I.D. was of no help.Against her long held patterns, she answered and a young voice asked if she had a minute. She said : " I am Meagan and I know alot of people are suffering at this time and I wanted to offer a scripture to you.Would that be alright?"And in a sure and strong voice she said this:

" He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.:Rev 21:4.

Meagan, a stranger, had no way of knowing that my friend was bereft or that this was the Scripture reading that she and her siblings had selected for the prayer cards given out at their Mother's Mass. But the Holy One knew. At that funeral, this was also read: "who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial or distress or persecution or hunger....neither height not depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus..." Romans 8:35-39

Monday, June 29, 2020

before we ever existed..

Obedience. Oh, how we chaff at the word. 

"You're not the boss of me, "a child shrieks at another. "Don't tell me what to do",  another, a teen, yells through her closed room door. So when I saw the title of Merton's mediation for today, my interest was about a -2 on the Richter scale."The Sacrifice of Obedience" was the title and as he usually does, Merton brings me around. The following quote did me it:

" Blessed are the pure of heart who leave everything to God now as they did before they ever existed." Meister Eckhart. What???

 What was it like for us before we existed? Immediately, a memory so pure, so precious,  surfaced. A phone call from my son many years ago that told of a conversation he and his three year old had the night before. Riley told his Dad that God told him that the time was right for him to leave heaven and go to earth by entering his mother's tummy. He had to go down the long flight of stairs alone and start his new life.So, leaving everything to God, he did just that and was born here with us 19 years ago. My son, asked if he was afraid and Riley said: "No. but he had to do this alone."

 So that's what it was like before he existed.God spoke and Riley obeyed and that was the beginning.How many children have memories like this before they forget?Maybe this is why we are exhorted to be like little children.God speaks, we obey and His will is done.And earth become heaven, here and now.And the fists unfurl, the brick are dropped, smiles appear and love flows freely like the great Hudson River and touches each of us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

trail angels


  If  there has been one gift of this, stay at home, wash your hands, don't stand that close, pandemic, it has been time to read.One book by Scott Peck, led me to type up journal notes from a trip to Great Britain 6 years ago.The last two have connected me to my youngest son in a way that leaves me breathless.

  The first,"Girl in the Woods", is a memoir of an 19 year old , who after a sexual assault by a fellow student, dropped out of college and walked the Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada.What a story! But the most riveting moments for me were the appearances of the gifts of trail angels. A plastic bag hanging from a tree with sweet peaches, a meal here and there, a shaded hammock, a roof over  the hiker's head just because; with no charge and no expectation of repayment. A wooden shed filled with plastic jugs of water that someone lugged up the mountainside and left for the hikers coming off the desert part of the trail Amazing..

 I remember a trail angel on the Camino in Spain. We at dinner were talking about the loud snoring in the hostels we stayed in and he dug in his backpack and produced two ear plugs for a stranger-me.I told him he was an angel and he said no one had ever called him that before.

 Finishing that book, I picked up another, "What Stands in A Storm.", written about the tornadoes that touched down in the South on April 27, 2011.When it was over 384 people had died and whole towns were wiped off the map.The forward by Rick Bragg suggests that this is not just a story of destruction but of the many stories of kindnesses and courage.

There is one story not in the book but it should be.I tell it the day after wishing my youngest son a Happy 43rd Birthday. It is his story of making friends with a family on their spread in Alabama as he looked for salamander species in their ponds. His sad trip back to the property after that 2011 tornado onslaught. How he couldn't find the place because all the trees were laying down like pick up sticks in every direction. Where houses had stood were foundations. Finally  he found the grandfather who had survived but his son in another house had eventually died in his arms. How the flowers he bought and offered touched the older man as they both stood crying together.

 I was not surprised by the flowers and the tears from this son.He, who hopped in his truck after Hurricane Katrina and drove to Louisiana with a friend and some dog food.They drove around trailer parks knocking on doors and asking how they could help.The first disheveled survivor said' "Hey man, I need beer and cigarettes", and off Sean went on his mission.

If life is a journey, and it is and if we are all on some path, which we are, then we all have met trail angels. 

And so it was at Thanksgiving that Sean spoke of his one year old son at his feet, how deep beyond description did he love that boy.All he wanted for his son was not great grades , not a high paying job but that he be a good person, one who shares with others. I looked down at this bright eyed, smiling little guy who was staring up at his Dad "Look", I said," he is watching you and he will be fine."

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Looking For Jesus

 Photo by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

If this has ever happened to you, you know the feeling of terror. I was at the beach with my small children, 5 and 3 at the time. I never liked to go to the beach with them because I was obsessive about watching their every move.So much could happen in the blink of an eye. They were playing right at the shoreline so I took a chance, grabbed my Newsweek, and settled in to read one article.When I looked up only one child was there, my son was not.One can't describe what it feels like. Sheer terror.I was about to scream when I looked to my right and there he came toddling along having gone who knows where.Incredible relief poured over me and I hugged him, weeping.

I never pray the rosary and come to the Fifth Joyful Mystery, The Finding in the Temple, that I don't think of that day. His parents looking for days for Jesus and then the sheer joy of seeing him. I understand.

And now I am going to make a bold statement: We are all looking for Jesus.No matter who you are, what you believe , how you were raised, we are all looking for Jesus.For the Love that will be with us into infinity, without measure and who wants only our good.And like the Mother I was at the beach, He is looking for us too.

I think of Heather King , an atheist, alcoholic, ex- lawyer and ex-wife who stumbles into a church one day looking for a place to hide her tears, or maybe some peace? And found Jesus .I just read her inspiring book, "Ravished". She now has a God centered life. Or Barbara Hall, producer, author and director of the series "Joan of Arcadia" who, after a brutal rape, sneaked into a church and found the peace that passes all understanding.

 It was a summer day in California in the early 70s when I turned back to the One who I had dumped a few years before. I knew what I was missing and just said:"Help" and with a leap of joy He came back into my life.We look for Him and the experience of that love when we hoist a drink, fall in love, try to succeed in business, all the things we chase that somehow don't measure up to our expectations. Because we are meant for the Big Love.And eternal things.

The most precious moments during this quarantine has been sitting with John in the woods reading scripture, praying for others and then sharing what the Lord has been doing in our lives.Looking for Jesus and what he wants us to do.Now is the time, now is the moment. Just ask:"Where are You ? I need you, help."