Friday, December 31, 2010

holy places


I just came back from a brief walk in the undeveloped subdivision next to ours.Five years ago they cleared the field,put in a road and then,nothing happened.I wish you could see how tall the bronze grass is and the acres of Loblolly pines that have sprung up.It's peaceful;bird song and the waving grass is all you hear.


As I neared the end of my walk, this thought came,"I should write about the holy places in my life:places where I have received insight,felt extraordinary love,places of unimaginable co-incidences."And so I will do that and in the doing I will be blessed again.

It is not always in chapels that these things happen but they occur there too.As examples let me list some of them:

-The Painted Desert

-my sister's hospital room

-the labyrinth at a retreat house in Still Point, New York

-a side chapel at the Basilica of St.Clare in Assisi.

-the snow covered trees behind my house.

These are a few places.Perhaps by reading about this, you may think of your own or start looking for them.This visible world is a sacred place and the invisible world is so close to it that only the thickness of a butterfly's wing separates the two.

Hnag on,it's going to be a bumpy ride !

Saturday, December 11, 2010

tenderness of trees


This writing is about questions that have no answers.

In the early 70s ,we lived in Aurora,Colorado,a suburb east of Denver.I missed so many things I had left behind.Maple trees were the greatest lost after family and friends.

Where I grew up on Long Island, the streets were lined with maples.We grew up together.Whatever I knew of beauty, I learned from them.The soft snow resting on filigreed limbs,the reds,yellows and oranges of Fall that we tried to hold in paraffin wax,the first light green buds of spring.Especially, I remember the corner lamppost shining through the green summer leaves.Magic.

Denver is on the Great Plains and trees there are almost non-existent.You have to go West to the mountains to see pines and aspen.However, down on the plain there were cottonwoods that grew along the High Line Canal, east of the city,that is feed by water from the South Platte river.They were not maples,not as full and a lighter green but they stood grandly ,following the canal and they were treasured by tree lovers.As I would drive by,they would give me pleasure.

One night, a chain saw came out and in darkness,a resident cut down the ones that blocked his view of the peaks,it is assumed.All of Denver mourned.The canal now has a 66 mile green space next to it for recreation and I am sure the trees are legally protected but then the vandalism went unchecked.

I thought of this when a friend sent an article describing another travesty,this time in England.

Thursday morning the people of Glastonbury woke up as usual,put on their whistling tea kettles and looked up to Wearyall hill and the Thorn Tree that grows there high above their houses.The tree was planted in 1951 from the roots of a tree that sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea stuck in the ground 2000 years ago in this town.

A thorn tree lives for about 100 years and so the locals keep planting sprigs to keep the tree going, all from the same root and it is from antiquity. The tree is a site for pilgrims and is the anchor,the surety of the small town.

Each year a branch is cut from the tree and sent to the Queen to rest on her Christmas table and she always send a thank-you note.Continuity.History.

Thursday morning the tree was no more.In the dark,someone had cut off all the branches and left them around the tree.And the people look up at the absence.

This reminds me of the New Yorkers who could see Manhattan from their homes in Brooklyn,the Bronx and other points.They look over now and the skyline is off, not balanced and they remember.The sheer waste and pointless destruction.Still.

There is a lack in some human hearts,a hatred that springs from a misalignment with the Creator.These are the people who torture cats or cut trees for the malice of it.Or take down towers because they can.

Where is the tenderness?The gratitude.


The thorn tree in England has been cut before by dolts and cowards who come at night.But I have this vision of April 25,2011.The townspeople are walking up the hill with strollers;old people are coming with walkers,girls with daisy chains on their flaxen hair and boys on bikes will come and stand around the tree.And then Life will reveal what it is.Pushing out green,renewing, regenerating as it always does.And the crowd in the hushed air will look down and see the new sprouts and start to clap and the applause will build.Maybe we should do this every time we see a new bud or a sprout that we don't deserve.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

plants that speak


At my feet was a large blue tub.It was Christmas morning at my son's house in the Georgia mountains and this was my gift from another son who had drawn my name.I was mystified and also unaware that my husband was in terror,thinking that it contained an unwanted(by him)puppy.We had buried our last dog the summer before and I was glad I hadn't thought it was a pet or I would have been very disappointed.

I finally opened the tub and found two large Christmas cactus with no blooms but alot of potential.This November, they are gloriously in bloom in my kitchen window.One bright velvet red,the other shining pink and I love the way they cascade over the pot rims.The kitchen feels warmer,friendlier in this crisp November.And I always think of my son when I take pleasure in them.

I am afraid that I have too many plants and this summer my husband will have to drag them up to New York with us but they are my scrap books.My straggly Crown of Thorns was purchased over twenty years ago on a trip my youngest son,a friend of his and I took to the monastery in Conyers when he was ten years old.How can I forget the story told by a young priest we met there about the Holy Thursday that had just passed.His blue eyes glowed as he told how an elderly man came up to him after the service with tears and told him that his sight had been restored in that hour.He had lost his sight many years before from diabetes.

I also have a huge Peace Plant that I bought in 1990 when it was small and non-descript,for two dollars.I used it to reward myself for a promotion.It speaks to me of that satisfying day when my hard work paid off.My four orchids each have shoots and buds of unknown colored flowers and I think of Brenda buying them for me and how we both will enjoy when they finally bloom in the spring.

When I reconnected with a childhood friend,I gave her a lovely shoot with roots from my wax plant.This fast grower gets the most unusual and strange looking purple flowers.Rosemary called it the friendship vine.I think hers died but as a symbol,I have another for her.

The morning glories that volunteered in the front garden gave me so much joy this summer.How the seeds got to my shade garden, I have no idea but I like to think of the birds that we feed,gifting us back.Not to mention the divine fecundity that brought them to flower.

Walt Whitman knew.I feel his grateful heart in this:"A morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books."

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Stairway of Heaven


Some connections take awhile to come together,at least for me.These two events happened over twenty-five years apart and when the first popped up the other day,unexamined for years,it cleaved to the second and said,"See what you can make out of this."

When my nine year old grandson Riley was about four ,he came to his Dad with a serious look on his face.This boy is a red-head,cute as a button,with a sweetness about him that I can't describe without tearing up. Anyway, he said to my son,"Dad,when I left the other place,I was told that I had to go down the steps by myself,to come into Mommy and come to Earth.No one else could come with me,God said." My son asked him if he was afraid,he said,"No,I was O.K."

It was shortly after that that I found this picture on line.Nowhere,have I ever heard of this experience being taught or discussed.My son had to call me right away the day it happened and we both decided that it sounded like an eyewitness account,a memory.Then the other night, this happening came to mind.

My youngest son was about the same age as Riley in 1981;we were visiting relatives in Washington D.C.and had gone into the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.All of us were stunned at the mosaic behind the grand altar.It is mostly in red and depicts a fierce,ferocious face of Christ.My son was not in Sunday School and had no exposure to Christian art but he said,very matter-of-factly ,"That is not Jesus".
That was it,but said with such authority.I pondered his certainty then.

I asked Riley about this the other day and he has forgotten it.I wonder how many other accounts there might be that we aren't privy to, because we don't know to ask.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the blue notebook


In early September of this year, I went to the Trappist Monastery in Conyers,Georgia,for a retreat.The theme was to be "Finding God in Word and Image".This seemed perfect for me as I love to write and take pictures.

There were about thirty of us of different levels of interest in writing or picture taking.Some had just wanted to get away.

On the table in the front of the room were notebooks for our taking.I noticed there were some marbled composition books that had color along with the black marbling and some other plain notebooks.By the time I got to the table there was just one colored one left and I happily took it.It was blue,my sister's favorite color.

I went back to my room and began to write about the only retreat my sister and I attended together.I was heavily pregnant with my first child and missing my husband of one year,It was June 1969; where it was and whose idea it was,is lost to me.

I remember the quiet;the fountain in the middle of a lush garden.The summer sun was liquid pouring heat over our shoulders.The air was still,languid and bees lazily worked the flowers.When we went inside ,the paneled foyer flickered with small votive candles.It felt like an embrace in warm,scented arms.I remember this so well.What spiritual benefits we gained I cannot say but I know this;I missed my husband and savored the time with my sister.Sharing our usual skewed humor,we passed the days in delight.

In a year or so,my family of three moved to Colorado.Time,distance and misunderstanding drove a wedge between my sister and I that only dissolved as she lay dying 39 years later.So many years of laughter and delight missed.This is my burden,I wrote.

At the next session, someone mentioned that when she is troubled,writing releases her and takes her pain away.I said that I wished that was how it worked for me and I explained about the blue notebook and the retreat and I fought tears.

After the session,a lovely young woman asked if she could pray with me.We went to the church,she knowing nothing of the burden of my regret.As we held hands,tears flowed and we were in a scared space beyond the church.She left me and I knelt to thank God for her caring prayer.These words then flooded my heart,"All the missed time will be given back to you".I was stunned.I never, ever considered this.I have no idea what that really means,how this will be, but a lightness filled me as I walked outside.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

the pict cross


On the wall of the St. Machar's Cathedral in Aberdeen is a block of stone held by four black spikes.On the face of the stone is what is described as a pict cross dated 580 A.D.The stone was found in a dyke in 1923,somewhere in the city ,and was turned over to King's College who loaned it to the Cathedral.

I couldn't stop staring at it.This carving was done over 1400 years ago and is still here.How many things can that be said about? What tools were used to make the smooth grooves?How many years was it hidden in that dyke as just another piece of stone? Was the artist a believer or had he been commissioned?I think it is still here because it was a labor of love.

I visualize approaching the artist as he worked.Long stringy hair hides his eyes.He is in his late 30s and probably will not live past his 40s but at this moment he is strong and very focused on gently hammering the stone.His muscles ripple and he is thin and wiry.I sit on a log next to him and try to speak.He turns and his face shows puzzlement.The Pict language he speaks will die out and I have no way to communicate.He sees my laptop and I want to tell him that I am e-mailing my family in America.He would think ,"What is America?"It would be 1200 years before the United States will exist.How to explain 9-11? Tall, glass buildings;airplanes flown by Saudis ? This man has never seen a book.His concerns are getting enough peat or wood for a winter fire,food for his family and finishing his cross.

What did that cross mean to the man? Over 500 years,on foot, boat, horse, the gospel had been carried from the Middle East to Scotland.And its symbol was now being carved by this simple man.What was his understanding of its meaning ?How different or similiar is the faith that we share?So many questions.

I love old things.The Book of Kells in Dublin was transcribed in beautiful color in 800 A.D.It is in Dublin at Trinity College and you may view it for two seconds before you are urged to move on because of the crowds.My family Bible, which was given by my grandfather to my grandmother in 1890,rests on my table.My great-grandfather sent letters home from his ships during the the Civil War dated 1860 through 1865.I have had them laminated to keep them intact for another 500 years.Things that last.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

iona


The trip to Scotland was a pilgrimage of sorts;I wanted to see and experience the land which my dear Grandmother had left as an infant and to set foot on the holy island of Iona.This is the place where Columba landed in 563 A.D.,determined to spread the Christian faith beyond Ireland.

In August,while in prayer,I experienced the impression that I would be given something on the trip.My response was to honestly think that I deserved nothing but would happily receive anything given.And that was that.

We travelled through Scotland,or Caledonia, for 14 days.It rained on and off for 13 of those days and it was windy and cold.I had to buy a hat,woolen scarf and gloves to fend off this unexpectedly bitter weather.But, the only day that we would spend on Iona, the sun was brilliant.Thus we were able to hike the two miles to the labyrinth at the southern end of the island.To get there,we walked down a country road that turned into a sheep pasture,then a rocky path over steep hills and finally to the beach.

The setting for this prayer path was indescribable.Hills,ocean, rocky beach,heather,and glorious sunshine.Finally, after laying on the beach and recovering from the hike,I stepped onto the labyrinth.I tried to empty myself of all thought and just "be" on the path.This labyrinth is like no other.Not only do wet rocks mark the path,but the path itself is strewn with kelp,sheep and cow droppings,some shells and a bit of heather.Scotland!

As I slowly walked ,saying a brief prayer,I was overtaken with peace.I do not know any other way to say this.I was not thinking of peace or relaxation,it just came and my whole body eased.It was as if I was being told this: "you are not in charge,do not worry about trains/buses and accomodations.This is not your trip to manage,I am in charge."

Perhaps ,this is the difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage.I had been so uptight about getting around,contracting a cold which would instantly turn into pneumonia,catching the right bus,ducking out of the rain, that I forgot that I was seeking the One who is in charge.The rest of the trip was a breeze.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

the scots


If you are descended from the Scots race,I encourage you to walk a wee bit taller this morning.These are a good and gracious people.I know that this is cheeky of me to suggest after only two weeks strolling through the heather but I want to tell you why;what I saw.

On the interminable ferry ride from Mull to Oban, a young woman came up to a man she had noticed, and insisted that she take one of his bags.He had several,was bent,white haired and struggling.When he got off the ferry, she came over and gave it back,having taken it up and down several flights of stairs.He glowed as he introduced this kind stranger to his waiting sister.He will never forget her and neither will I.

On the bus ride to Fort William, an older gentlemen told the bus driver that he wanted to get off the bus to go to another stop and on to Glasgow.He wondered if there would be room for him.The driver pulled over, called the other bus to check for seat availability and assured the man there was space and let him off to be picked up in minutes.The bus drivers in Scotland should get medals.The roads are narrow, buses huge and for him to listen to that man much less help him in that way,was startling.

I am not going to dwell on the constant rain that plagued our two weeks but when I got caught in a mini-monsoon and was soaked to the skin, Ian, our B and B host offered to dry my clothes,which saved the day.With his white hair, ruddy cheeks and smile, he was Scotland to me.The room in that B and B which was on Skye, took my breath away when we entered.Three windows looking out on mountains, harbor, hills and clouds.Wonderful.

When we arrived there,after two buses,I begged off another bus trip around the island and sat in the small stone bench park with my journal.In the distance was the remains of a castle,hills and a huge sky.I was wrapped in my new tartan scarf, hat, gloves and 2 coats.A thin young man in his twenties,dressed in a parka,knitted hat and jeans came over to see if I was a statue.We laughed and started to chat.Scott had come from Glasgow for a holiday with his much loved spaniel.We shared our love of dogs and laughed over the book "Braveheart" which was in my lap.He said he hoped that I knew it was mostly fiction.

We also talked about the Brits who he humbly characterized as arrogant.He loathed how they looked down on the Scots.He said perhaps it was soccer that made him feel this way or maybe it's genetic.The Scots suffered terribly under English rule.One town,Berwick on Tweed,which we never got to, was completely destroyed by the tall, odious English King Eward Longshanks;he who threw his son's lover out the window to his death in Mel Gibson's movie.17,000 men,women and children were left to rot in that town;he refused to allow them to be buried.Then he brought Scot nobles to view the scene as a lesson.

What struck me about Scott was his friendliness.Most hormone charged young men would find little value in chatting with a white haired,wrapped up like a mummy, woman.A good Scot.

I wasn't looking for these things;in fact I was so tired most of the time, my eyes were little slits and I was just trying to get through the day.But like the bits of sunshine that every once in awhile painted the hills,these graces came.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

scotland


a bench on Skye Isle,
curled in my lap in the wind,
a warm white/grey cat.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Brenda and the orchid


For at least twenty years, I have been meeting with a group of friends to share our faith.
I don't know if we are steel magnolias, but we have seen each other through deaths of spouses and siblings,illnesses ,dramas of our children and many good times.Mostly, we share what the Lord is doing in our lives and how we might be serving Him.There are five of us.

Two weeks ago, we met at my house to celebrate a birthday of one of the other members and when Brenda arrived, she handed me an orchid in a pot and one in water.I got chills up my arms,down my back and in my feet.I am getting them again as I type.Let me explain.

Twice this month, I was at Kroger when I passed their plant department.Amassed there were gorgeous orchids with white, pink and purple blooms and one marked a bit lower in price because it had lost it's flowers.I wanted that orphan.Both times,I left the store without it because I didn't need it.I really wanted it,though.

What Brenda handed me was exactly the plant I had wanted.How does this happen?

I first met Brenda when her daughter was 15 years old and in my Sunday school class.She was one of my favorite students,a loving ,sweet girl; sadly her father was dying during that year.Her fellow students formed a loving community around her and I felt blessed to be part of that.Her daughter is now 38 years old,so Brenda and I have a long history.It is so easy to love Brenda.She is possessed of a wonderful smile,a gold medal hug and is constantly looking for ways to serve her Lord.The stunning thing about what happened is that this is not the first time Brenda has known my wishes without my saying a word.

Twelve years ago,I was driving home from work on the freeway and I saw a billboard sign for Noritake china and glass products.The ad was attractive and I thought,"Oh, I would like a piece of that." Two days later, our group met for my birthday and I unwrapped Brenda's gift, a perfect bud vase.The box said Noritake.

Are these coincidences? How does this work?Brenda had probably purchased the vase before I had that thought.But I had passed that sign hundreds of times without even noticing it very much.Is there a special connection between people that pray together?Or does the Lord know the desires of our hearts and uses others to show His love?

This is what I believe to be true. Brenda,being open,was the vessel the Lord used to let me know that He sees and the desire of His heart is to bless me.This plant is much more than an orchid.It is a mystery and a sign and I am humbled by it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Steve Jones,Jennifer Capriati and the human race


Whenever I see a picture or a film clip of Serena Williams, I get choked up.You see, I am Serena's' biggest fan although she doesn't know it.

In 2004,I watched Serena play in the U.S. Open against Jennifer Capriati.The match was a long one and they were playing an important point when it happened;a call in Capriati's favor that was so egregious that I almost put my shoe through the T.V screen.A Serena shot was called out that was so obviously in, the fans could do nothing but groan.Capraiti won the match and Serena walked towards the stands, head down with tears in her eyes and not a word from her lips.I was so angry and sad.I wanted to hop a flight and go hug her in the locker room.I will never forget that feeling and that I was watching greatness.

In the after game interview,Capriati was asked why she didn't say something about the terrible call,which she could plainly see was in ,to the judge.Her answer was that she had her own share of bad calls.Jennifer, Jennifer, you missed your chance.Who but you remembers that you won that quarter-final?But if you had been a real sportsman, your name would be in lights.

Let me tell you what I mean.There is a Welsh runner named Steve Jones.He is the former world marathon record holder.A great runner but in the sports world he is also remembered for what he did in one race that he was winning.It was an important race,they all are at his level, and close to the end a competitor in his line of vision stumbled and fell.Jones stopped running ,dashed over and helped the guy up and they both ran on.Jones didn't win that race but he is winning the Human Race.This is the one where we will be asked to review our "race" and how we helped the brothers and sisters with whom we share this place and time.

My second son is a wonderful runner, state champ in cross country twice and track champion as well.They used to call him Q-tip in high school because he was skinny with a crop of almost white hair.In his Sophomore year he came in third at the state meet so we knew great things were coming.But when he meets the Creator, I don't see Him slapping His forehead and saying,"You came in first, here, there and there.". What I see being replayed is the morning he stopped a great run in Atlanta to help an elderly lady who was trying to put sticks in her trash and couldn't break them over her knee.Or the time he gave a free pair of running shoes that he had won, to a disabled runner he knew who couldn't afford a new pair.Or the extra care he gave to a shy and lonely boy at running camp that freed this boy to be a kid.

What I see is him standing amidst Perfect Love and being shown the times when he came so close to that.This is a race he is running very well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the Drowning

It is not clear to me now what the lifeguards saw that summer afternoon in 1962;why four of them leapt from their high white stands and dragging ropes and floaters headed for the water.As they ran, everything seemed to stop,the cries of children,music from transistor radios,the languor of the beach itself,was swept away.

Other lifeguards raced to put up green flags as warning to call swimmers out of the water.A sudden undertow had developed in the surf and like a beast was clawing at the sand and pulling everything out and out and under.The man they saw was helpless, overcome and under.

As they brought the man out of the water, a hushed crowd assembled ,drawn by the impossible.This was Jones Beach and this doesn't happen.A corridor in the midst of the crowd was left for the lifeguards to bring him up and try to revive him.

Near where I was standing, a young woman in her late twenties stood up and started to turn in circles crying,"That's my husband,that's my husband."Out of the crowd,five strangers moved towards her as if summoned.We took her hands and gently lead her to sit in the sand and one young man began to pray the rosary.We all joined in, over and over, the Our Father ,the Hail Mary.The woman had her back to the man and the lifeguards as they worked .They had him over a big blue barrel and kept pounding and pushing ,sea water spewing from his eyes,mouth and his ears.I watched to see some ,any ,small movement,a hand thrust up or a turn of his head, but there was nothing.

I don't know how long we stayed with her as they worked until she saw two people walking our way.She recognized them and ran into their arms.The small circle of strangers got up and without a word or a nod ,walked away.My friend and I left the beach.Our 20 minute ride home was somber.The next day, I read that the man had indeed drowned,the first person to do so at Jones Beach.I thought of those well trained ,dedicated lifeguards and how diligently they had worked to bring that man back.How they must have felt about this first drowning on their watch.

But now, from a distance of more than 40 years ,I also think of those five strangers who happened to be the same religion as the victim's wife.Who stepped out of the crowd and held her together until she was with friends when she finally learned the truth.I think of the old hymn."You are the Body of Christ"and believe that,by grace,on that day,we were.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

haiku

Yellow and night black,
jostling for the perfect perch,
finches at feeder.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

haiku


blue morning glory,
surprise in my shade garden,
climbs the white string.

Friday, May 28, 2010

the mission


As we sit on the grey stone bench,a squirrel comes over for his peanut.He is not shy nor is he in a hurry.He seems at peace in the shade.We never tire of this oasis.Tall trees shade joggers as they make their way through the mission property.Shorter trees and bushes have been planted in memory of a loved one.In the chapel I found a Mother's Day card,put there by a family for their sister,mother,friend,who had passed on;left in love in this holy place.

While writing in my journal on our last visit,I gazed around.Things that give me a special joy were all there.The bell above the arched door of the small chapel.In my mind I hear it calling believers to kneel in peace with it's slight small ringing.The blue stained glass windows in arched casements.What monk made these beautiful little pieces ?Did he pray for those who would see the sunlight turn blue coming onto the chapel floor ?The vine covered chapel itself was warmed on this cool day by the lighted candles and the breaths of those who prayed.The benches placed here and there along the path drew me.Benches are for resting, praying, writing and stillness.Statues of angels keep us company as we walk the path through the trees.The breeze feels good on our cheeks.

This sacred acre in Florida is called the Mission De Nombre De Dios,Mission of the Name of God,in St.Augustine.The first Mass was celebrated on American soil in September of 1565 on this spot.It has history. My thoughts go in this direction:What name do I call God? What words do I use to say who He is to me?

Beauty....Company....Stillness....Loved One...Peace...Oasis.....Joy...Holy,Holy,Holy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

the perfect gift


My wonderful youngest son is about to get his doctorate in biology and the way this all worked out just astounds me.A small thing can make such a difference.

When he was 6 years old, my mother mailed his Christmas present to us in Georgia.It was a large Golden book about dinosaurs that had wonderful colored pictures and script that told everything you would ever want to know about those incredible creatures.He just sat there ,enchanted to think that they once walked on the earth.He was bitten by the nature bug and wanted to know more.

In 1985,he and I went to Maggy Valley,N.C. for a few days when he was 8 years old and there found a small zoo that had a book store.As we wandered around,I picked up a nature guide on reptiles and amphibians that cost 13 dollars.I rarely spent money back then but I so wanted for him to have it.I walked around the store thinking long and hard on the expense and finally bought it.He was immediately hooked on finding all the species in the book.He still has that book, held together with duct tape;it has been used more than any other book in the history of literature.

How wonderful to begin to know your life's work at a young age and have the focus,determination and intelligence to pursue it.

When we were kids,my sister and I used to laugh at my mother's gifts. Mea culpa.I recall the year when I was 15 that I got a red wallet with my name and a large ruby(not real) on the outside.Yuck.One year my sister burst into tears when she got a coat for Christmas instead of a much wanted watch,.Then there were the brown slippers shaped like bear's claws.Oh, my.
Ingrates,both of us.

I still have his dinosaur book and wish that my mother could be at his graduation to see what she began with her wonderful gift.Thanks,Mom.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When in Rome...


I didn't like Rome. O.K., I know it's the Eternal City and the seat of the Church but I found it to be irritating.It was June of 2003 and I got a sunburn walking in the shade on the streets.The motorcyclists didn't care who was crossing the roads;they aimed for pedestrians.It's noisy and not very clean.BUT,

As we walked to the convent where we were to spend several nights, I passed an old, gray stone wall with a pipe that gushed water into a stone basin.This aqueduct came from the Italian mountains and was put there before Christ and the water is cold and simply delicious.This pipe has been bringing water to this street for over 2000 years.I was impressed.

And then there is this:the community of Sant'Egidio,a group founded in 1968 by a 19 year old, Andrea Riccardi, who decided to put the gospel into practice.And they have since,this group of ordinary people who feed and befriend the poor,teach school children and just go into the neglected places in Rome to do whatever needs to be done.

They meet once a week in the incredibly beautiful Church of Saint Mary in Travestere and we joined in their prayers and praise one beautiful evening.There are now groups of these people doing their work in more than 30 countries.We never hear of them,but it warms me to think of what they do and how they started;inspired by a 19 year old.

St.Peter's Basilica has to be seen to be believed but that is not what touched me,it's size and beauty.It was on the two occasions that I went down below the church to the dark ancient tomb of St.Peter.I knelt down on a hard wooden bench.There was a line to kneel so I couldn't stop for long.I knelt next to a stranger, a middle aged man in a brown jacket and slacks who had his face in his hands ,weeping.I prayed for him in support of whatever he was feeling.Then I left.

Before we departed Rome ,I again went to the tomb and knelt next to a different man who was unabashedly crying.I had trouble believing it.Again ?What were they thinking? Why were they so moved? I will never know but I wonder if it doesn't have to do with betrayal;perhaps theirs and the saint's.Or maybe they were given hope by this stumbling and cowardly disciple who yet gained salvation.

It is only in the writing that I see the hidden wonders of Rome.I can only imagine what else I might have missed as I focused on the heat and the rude drivers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gwen, desks and a stone....


I love the English painter,Gwen John.Her best known work, "Corner of the Room" speaks to me in so many ways.The colors are subtle,a small violet on a desk, a window with white sheer cutains,pale yellow walls ,a wooden desk and to make the scene more homey,a blue shawl on the wicker-like chair.This is a writer's corner.

Writers love desks, especially ones with some character.I purchased one in 2005 at a now defunct shop in Woodstock,N.Y.for ten dollars.It was left outside,has gashes,peeling paint.Wouldn't I love to know who owned it before me ?Did they love blank paper, pens and quiet?

Adding to the uniqueness of this purchase, when the shop owner ,who is a welder by trade, heard that we were from Georgia ,she grabbed her guitar and sang "Georgia On My Mind",down by the stream.I teared up.

This desk is meant for stories.

After I write a story, I own that person, place or object,that memory, in a new way.I have gone deeper to the roots and moved them around,looked closely and found the true meaning for me.I can't find this truth any other way.

This new truth has been called out of my center where the Spirit lives and I can no longer see just a wind chime, painting ,lilacs.They have spoken something new to me.If I shed tears over a chime that whispers to me of my sister ,that thing becomes holy.

On my desk is a plain grey stone,picked up on a trip to Germany in 1997.I took it from under a bench that was a quarter of a mile from the Bed and Breakfast that was our home for the night.I had taken a bike ride with my book of Psalms and sat in the deep shade of an oak next to the path.This time of just sitting and praying seemed like a miracle to me.I gazed across the field and could see the lady who was our hostess.She was stooped and bent over her garden in the hot sun.No shade for her.

An impression came and would not leave;a request from the One whose praise is sung in my psalms.I wrestled for a minute;the breeze,the oak and the bench were so agreeable.I gathered my stuff,rode back to the B&B,got a glass of cold water and went to the garden to offer my help.The hostess politely declined and went back to her gardening.I had carried out my mission.

This stone is more than that,it points to a moment."Every moment is holy ...do not soil the moments."-Gwen John, painter 1876-1939

Sunday, May 2, 2010

sing, wind chime


The porch where I type is screened and looks out over our back yard.As I gaze around all I see are trees.A large box turtle is sitting in the grass and I put a blackberry out for him.He just sits in the sun;his shell is light brown from dried mud and he must have come up from the floodplain.He is in no hurry and neither am I.

To my right is a small garden that is shaded by a Japanese maple tree.The tips of the branches are light green and the rest of the leaves are darker.In the fall, the leaves turn brilliant red and then you must notice this smallish,shy tree.I have made this my memory garden.My yellow lab, who we had to put down two years ago had a silver collar and it now hangs and rusts on a branch.Another branch has an ornament that is a Celtic angel playing a harp that was my mother's.It sways gently in the breeze.The clay cross was a gift from my precious niece who went to Sedona,Arizona.She breaths out generosity to the all who know her, and this cross brings her essence to my tree.

Under the tree, which gently shades the area,is a bog garden that my youngest son created.He brought plants and bushes that he admires when he canoes along the river so that I could see and enjoy them.Cardinal flowers that are a startling red attract hummingbirds and the sugar bush has purple straw flowers that are just so unique one must admire them.He worked hard to put all that in and it is the base for all the rest.

I had nothing that I could hang that was a momento of my sister until I found a wind chime with an amethyst stone that hangs in its center .This was her February birthstone.The purple plastic circle at the end of the middle string also calls to mind her favorite flower,the lilac.There is a song,"Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time".I think my mother named her after that very old song.So now this chime hangs in the tree.My sister lived to create beauty and she would have loved the colors.

The card that came with the wind chime says that the Amethyst represents the Crown Chakra,which is related to thought and self-knowledge.This stone also enhances peace of mind,and bestows stability,strength and contentment.Where she is now,she is bathed in these things and more and when the gentle chime sings I am reminded of this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

hummingbirds and orchids



The picture attached is a painting by Martin Johnson Heade.I am struck by the lovely pink of the orchid and the fuzziness of the background.This is a quiet,restful painting and it brings to mind the hot summer of 2007 that I spent in Georgia hosting 13 hummingbirds.

It was wonderful to watch them swirl and dive towards the two feeders that I put out.I had to clean and replenish those feeders every day and eventually,I looked foward to their departure to Mexico or Peru where someone else would take care of them.More than likely they would find jungle flowers to sustain themselves.

What has always surprised me is the way a hummer will come back to the very spot where the feeder was although now nothing is there.How do they remember?They always manage to arrive before I have even thought of putting the red feeders out.

That year,all but two left for points south.I thought the two would never leave but I did have more time between cleaning and feeding.Two things happened that year that caused me to be concerned for these tiny birds.

One lodged in the screen of our porch and I had no idea what to do.Is the beak strong enough for me to poke it out?He flapped and whirred frantically before getting loose.The other close call happened when a spider web in my garden began to swing madly back and forth .I looked and something large was caught and the spider was already starting to wrap the body up.How awful for a hummer to die that way.Closer inspection revealed the body belonged to a cicada who would die soon anyway.I left them alone.

The hummer in the picture is very still looking towards the other bird.I know they are at their winter feeding ground,my yard looks nothing like this .I do have honeysuckle and they seem to favor the yellow flowers of the bougainvillea raintree but they are only temporary here.I am sure they prefer the jungle.If I move will they still come?

This painting suggests languid heat ,muted color and peace.I rest in its beauty with the orchids and hummingbirds.

dinner with Linda


Last night, we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant to discuss my husband's Ghana trip and other things.The last time we were there we met the owner's daughter who is ten.Her name is Linda and she had told us about this boy who keeps poking her on the bus.We advised her Mom to tell the teacher.

We found out that the teacher is now keeping this boy under control.Linda's mother told her to tell us.Well, I burst out laughing when she pulled up a chair and joined us for dinner.We chatted and she showed me her favorite book .She is going to be a scientist.We also found out that her father was very poor in China and that Linda's older two brothers speak very little English.This means that Linda, at ten, is the family spokesperson,because her parents speak very little as well.

Well, "the best laid plans" as they say...we spent the evening with this talkative, sweet girl and had a bunch of laughs.She is very bright and wanted to know why my husband was drinking a beer.Didn't he know that it would make him walk sideways? She then demonstrated to our amusement.

When I go to the Salvation Army for used books this week, I know I'll be looking for a kid's book for Linda.A new friend in an unexpected place.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

listening benches


It's been cool and breezy in Helen,Georgia where I have spent a few days in solitude.I love that word.April is a good time to come up to the North Georgia mountains as there are few tourists.

Today, I drove to Anna Ruby Falls.From the parking lot,it is a quarter of a mile hike to the viewing area and it is quite steep.The rhododendrons haven't bloomed but there are wild violets of deep purple and white,feathery white flowers called foamflowers and some trillium with reddish purple flowers.It was an invigorating hike and the crashing falls, two of them, are things of beauty.

On the trip back to the car, I took pictures of the stone benches that are next to the trail.I thought, these are poet's benches where you can waste time,muse and try to paint a picture with words of what you see around you.The enormous ancient trees shading the trail, the hemlock somehow growing out of a huge boulder,the wildflowers adding color to the grey and brown of the hillsides,the sound of the water rushing over the rocks.

As I went to my car, I noticed a separate trail along Smith Creek.This trail was placed by the Lion's Club.It is a path for the blind.At the entrance, a metal board has Braille and English messages welcoming walkers.There are posts down the trail that hold a thick metal cord that a blind person can follow.It takes them along the trail and here and there, a plaque in Braille will suggest that the person lean down and touch the log to his left. He will be told that this was a chestnut that used to grow profusely before the blight killed most of them.Another sign suggested that the walker touch the bark of the tree behind the plaque and see how smooth it is and this is a beech.What stuck me however, was the sign that suggested the walker step 4 paces back.He will find a bench where he can sit and enjoy the sounds.It's called a listening bench.How marvelous.A bench to sit and just listen.

Then my mind went off wandering as it does and I thought that there should be listening benches in every major town and city but for a different reason.This would be a place to sit and someone would listen to you.A volunteer listener would be assigned to be there for a couple of hours a day in case someone wanted to talk.Everyone would know about the benches and where they were and anyone who needed to unload would come by;especially the elderly and shut-ins.They would be brought and given a volunteer's undivided attention for however long it took.What a gift.

I know what you're thinking.This is crazy and dangerous and they'll be lawsuits.I know.If there can't be listening benches then the next time someone is talking to me, I'll pretend to be on a bench and give them my undivided attention.A small gift.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

a small white hand


My first memory is of a small white hand being thrust under the green lake water in my direction.We were in Winsted,Connecticut on a dock at my aunt's house and I am four years old.I don't know where my parents were.I had leaned over the lake too far and fallen into deep water.The person on the other end of the white hand was my sister who reached down and pulled me up.She was eight years old.

Before she died in 2008, I sent her a card with an angel on the front and thanked her for saving my life.We weren't speaking and hadn't for four years but I think she read it.I told her that she was a hero because at that young age she could have easily just run to get my parents.Instead, she acted.

When she was in the hospital ,I went to see her.My husband and niece stood outside the door in case screaming started.All she said when I entered was ,"Oh."I took her hand in mine and refused to let go until it was time to leave.It was a different hand, cold as marble,and if I had held it for a week it wouldn't have warmed.Her heart was failing.

My sister left us on December 13, the feast of Saint Lucy whose name means "light" and I think of the sunlight that shone through the green water that day in Winsted and the hand that was the only one around to save me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

loving the languor of lakeland


My sister,mother and I are surrounded by luggage on the platform at Penn Station in New York City.We are about to board the East Coast Champion for a two day train ride to Florida.It is the middle of the school year and it's either January or February.I am 6 years old ,my sister, almost ten.My mother's double pneumonia is not clearing up so we are headed for warmer climes.We will not see my Father for months.I have no idea if I welcomed this change or not.

My childless aunts and uncles live in Lakeland,Florida and that is our destination.This city is in central Florida and when we arrive we will be enrolled in a Catholic grammar school and finish first and fourth grades there.I am a stranger in a strange land.

The sisters at the school are delightfully mellow .We have hot lunches every day ;I can still see rice and gravy.Since the teaching is behind where we were in the school up North, we find school relaxed and very easy.Conversation with new friends is slow and comfortable.People smile alot.The attached picture shows our first day of school and another liberation;we don't have to wear uniforms!


At that time, the city aerated the water supply to purify it.This was accomplished by shooting it into the air and to my eyes, this display looked like wonderful fountains.I was enchanted.

Lakeland is so named because there are over 38 lakes in the city and I recall 3 of them ;Lake Bonny,Lake Parker and Lake Beulah.They must have been the ones closest to my aunts' houses.They are fraught with terror,these lakes, as every year a few people disappear ,grabbed in a careless moment by alligators.On Long Island, where we live, there is no place that a six year old could pass or be near where a 15 foot creature might leap at you to devour your body.And yet, this danger is part of the wonder of being dropped down into another world.

Palm trees speak when the wind hits their fronds.The pink and purple bougainvillea
take over trellises and red hibiscus grow everywhere.The highways are lined with pink or white oleander.Spanish moss hangs from the tall trees and sways in the breezes. And if you have never driven passed an orange grove in full flower,you must stop everything and head South.The scent is subtle, rich and unforgettable.

My relatives are patient and so kind.As I type ,something I hadn't thought of surfaces.They don't drink ,so neither does my Mother.The people you sit down with at breakfast are the same ones that show up for dinner.Nothing has happened to change them into surly,slurring aliens.In the evening there are no arguments, just canasta under the whirring fan on the back porch, with my dear aunt saying, "Oh boys,"each time she gets a bad hand.This is a languid land ,dreamy ,colorful and slow; I blossom there.

What I felt about going home is lost to my memory but I think I carried the colors,easy smiles,warm days,the ease of it with me.When my husband said we were moving to Georgia from Denver in the '70s,it felt right.Moonlight through the pines has replaced oleander and the sun is on kissing terms with the earth.Always on my mind.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

missy and I by the sea


We walk slowly up the sandy path bordered by petunias that catch the breeze.It is our first day in our new home, these cottages at Saintes-Maries.They are small and not too rich in windows ,in my view ,but we are as happy as kids.We have come here to write and to be.

Saintes Maries is noted for being a meeting place for gypsies and that is what we are.Missy is my alter ego.My writing leans to the serious ,hers is full of humor and wonderful insights.We met at Bellsouth Mobility in 1996, where we struggled to satisfy irate customers and wrestled with emotionally unbalanced employees.Not a day would go by that we didn't dash into each other's office,shrieking,"You're not going to believe this!"She got me through.

Missy is about twenty years younger than I and we met when her son was 6years old. She brought his youth into my life with pokemon cards and beanie babies.

Missy is the perfect friend.She reads my stuff, makes me laugh, is a spiritual being and knows it and she posseses the whimsy that I lack.This is a friend that gives me children's books for my birthday because she likes them and they turn out to be such a joy.She loves the writings of Ferrol Sams and swooned when I told her he was my General Practitioner.I gained great friend status that day.When I gave her a book by Sams, she clutched it to her chest like the Grail.

On La Mer,where these cottages were in Van Gogh's time, we are going to get up early and have prayer time.Then, a lovely swim in our bikinis(not);after that refreshment, we will begin our 3 hour writing session at crude tables by the windows.The tables have to be crude and have uneven legs for the muse to be present.

Her room in the cottage will be neat except for the sand.Her desk will have little boxes of various shapes and sizes and underneath on a shelf will be old games.On the wall will be pictures of her 2 loves and her siblings and she will write of them often in various stories in different guises.Her favorite themes will be family and growing up.

On a shelf above her desk is her camera and her excitement at capturing the sea in all its moods will often be frenetic.I share her love of taking pictures so I see us racing down the beach over the dunes to get the first picture of the day,the sun coming up over La Mer.

I don't recall a single time in the years that we have been friends that we haven't gotten along but living together is another matter.When the lean ,tall beach boys come to call, (carrying Sangria)after noticing us on the sand ,we better have rules for sharing.Sorry, this is ,after all, fiction.

We will go to market,observe and collect stories.She will find humor and I, lessons.

Evening will find us at peace and feeling that a day of writing is a day well spent.
We will drift off to sleep with hopes of a vivid dream that will turn into a story.Everything is grist for the mill.

Bard,the owl


The first time I heard a barred owl was on the day we moved into his neighborhood by the Flint River.The floodplain behind our new house is thick with trees and it darkens earlier than does our back yard.That night...hoot...hoot..hoot came from the dark and it was more than a little frightening.What was that?

Today, I hear the owls calling to each other in the woods in mid-afternoon and they have become one of the many voices that sing to me of Georgia.The Cornell University Bird site notes that their numbers are increasing and I am glad to know that.This information would have been of little comfort on that sad spring day when my youngest son came back from canoeing to tell that in the woods he found a dead barred owl on its back with its feet cut off. This was so upsetting to him,the lover of all living things,the defender of snakes,the naturalist.

Was the bird killed for his feet? For what?This was 15 years ago and what happened perches in the back of my mind and festers there.And I didn't even see the poor creature.What I do recall is the utter powerlessness that I felt to say anything to make it better.To make sense of it.

I remember reading about a woman who wrote to a local paper advising that no one should look for the first robin of Spring because she had just found him shot by the creek.Why do people do these things? Look at those brown eyes encased there in that beautiful feathered head, all innocence and majesty.We are privileged to share space with such a wonderful creature.Do I hear an "Amen?"

Monday, April 5, 2010

that one moment


I have carried this memory around with me forever it seems; sometimes it is a small yellow stone heated by a warm fire and other times I look at it with mild suspicion.I am five years old and my mother is hanging the wash on a clothesline in the the back yard.I have just finished my cheese sandwich and I run out of the kitchen on my small legs.I want permission to go out to the front yard and beyond that to play.My excitement knows no bounds.It is a lovely spring day.The apple tree is awash in blossoms that fall like snowflakes when the breeze stirs.

My mother is in a house dress,those drab,cheap dresses that women wore before shorts and pants liberated our sex.Her hair is brown and permed and she turns as she hears me running up behind her. As she turns, she starts to smile in a way that can only be described as beatific and she says,"Sure and have fun",with a love that I cannot describe.As I turn to leave, I am floating above the ground,my shoes grazing the tops of the dandelions,my heart swelling.

I found this experience described in a book by Fae Malania ,"The Quantity of a Hazelnut", when she recalls an encounter with her great grandmother at a screened door on a blistering hot day in Southern Illinois.She was two at the time and kept what happened to her in her heart for all her years.She says.." I remember her presence, and a deep still happiness to be in her presence....so there was nothing else to do but look at her and grow in the warmth of her sun." Yes, that is it !

For many years, I inspected this moment;I turned it upside down and battered it with logic.The reason,I thought, that I remembered it so vividly is because it was so unusual.The usual was much less warming as my mother's unhappiness grew and she became a different person.The daughter who has taken child psychology classes,told me that a child's first memory is of the thing that is different ,unique.I suppose I was right in my judgement.And yet,the fact that I remember it 60 years later may be because it was perfect.

I have read that in order to have a belief in the transcendent ,a person must have experienced a numinous moment.There in the small grassy yard, in the shadow of the lilacs, I was smiled on by the Almighty.Cynicism is not a good fit for me in this Easter season when daffodils shout out yellow praise and birds call to their loves .So, I hold the warm stone to my heart as a gift and a promise of things to come.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

for the scarf maker


When I was ten years old, I was forced to go to the Freeport pool on Long Island with my family.Usually, that would have been a great treat if I didn't have to wear
it. The it was a blue/green crotcheted bathing suit that my aunt made.She lived in Florida and when the package arrived for my birthday, I was pretty leery.For my 8th birthday,she had sent underwear ,which when I opened the box, thought were doll clothes.Then I saw the crotches.I was so disappointed.For Christmas, we were sent oranges and grapefruit.Well, she didn't miss this occasion either.This year, it was the suit.I wanted a pink polka dotted store bought suit!I was miserable.

But I do remember that on that day, a pretty teenage girl deliberately came over to admire my suit.Did she see my unhappiness and guessed or did she really like it?In any case,I felt better,just a little.Kindness.

In all those years,until today,I never thought of what came before the suit arrived.Did my aunt take pleasure in selecting the pattern?She didn't have children;did it please her to make a gift for a child? They didn't have much money; was this the cheapest way to be sure that her favorite niece had a gift? How many times did her blind husband interrupt her in making it? Did she pray in her love for me,as she created this gift?And I, pouting with all my might ,hated her gift.How awful.I'm glad that she never knew.

On my lap is another gift that triggered these memories.It is a blue/green knitted scarf that I love.The maker says that it matches my eyes.How thoughtful a gift!Kris made this while going to school and working so I cannot imagine where she found the time and I treasure her,her effort and the scarf.When I put it around my neck, it feels like a hug.

I am so grateful that I have received enough grace to appreciate the gift and the giver and the fact that all three of these things seem to me to be blessings from the Hand of God. As the psalmist says:"Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life"Ps.23.Amen.
P.S.If you click on the picture you can see how beautiful the scarf is.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lilacs in La Verna


Lilacs in La Verna ,Italy May,2005

I found these lilacs not by sight.As I slowly walked passed the high stone wall, they were trying to get my attention by cascading over and showering me in their perfume.This is the scent of my childhood.Purple lilacs grew to be tall bushes by the door of my parent's bedroom and they found me again in Italy.

But La Verna is more than lilacs.It is where the most loved saint received the stigmata.A small chapel is built around the spot and I found myself there on that bright day in May, while on a Franciscan pilgrimage.A fellow traveller handed me a book to read about the place but I wanted to just BE there.We were seated in heavy wooden stalls that made a rectangle around the chapel wall with the stigmata site in the middle.I closed my eyes and asked what this stigmata is all about.

And then I perceived that I was being answered by Someone in the seat to my left.I could feel it. We both were looking ahead to where the small hole in the floor reveals the stigmata site.And then I heard this..."The stigmata is just an outward sign of the inward change that takes place when a person so wants to be transformed into Me that they don't mind the pain or disfigurement,they only want Me in whatever form that takes........complete surrender to the transformation...an inner consent to the change..that anyone who wishes may obtain...

There was more but as this was transpiring, the sense of another person being next to me was so strong that when a young friar went to sit down in that spot, I almost
waved him off.Since he lives there ,I gathered my senses and let him sit.

They say that Assisi is a "thin spot" where the spirit world is separated from the physical world by the width of the edge of a butterfly's wing.It is that and so too is La Verna.

Sea Glass


Every morning,the people in the houses by the shore see her go out,bending and stooping,looking for her sea glass.It is what gets her out of bed on some days, this obsession of hers.If she didn't do this,what would she do? Her desperate loneliness is the other constant but she brushes that thought aside.

It has been five years since her husband died ;some say rather unkindly that it was to get away from her constant talking. From the minute her feet hit the floor in the morning, she would chatter,draping complaints over all the chairs,tables and walls.To listen to her was so tiring;but he had to stay alert in case she said,"What do you think?" Of course, she never did but paying attention and holding back any random thought that he had just wore him out and he died.He had read that constant talking was a way of keeping people and pain at bay and he tried to discuss this with her to no avail.She thought herself witty,learned and very interesting.When her family joked about her talking too much she smiled at the attention.

As she walks, she thinks of the child that she encountered on the beach yesterday.He asked so many questions..."what are you doing...have you found many...what do you do with them?" She had found three pieces of glass and she showed them to the small ,red-headed boy with the bright eyes.He was rather cute but such a bother.

He took the pale blue one that is shaped like a diamond and looked through it at the sun and then the swirling gulls.He shrieked,"blue gulls" and fell down laughing. He held it to his ear and then sniffed it."Such foolishness," she thought."This looks like the kite that my Dad and I fly ,it twirls and dashes like this",he cried, and he spun around and fell to the sand and laughed.

He felt the edges of the glass ,the smooth edges and wondered why he doesn't get cut.He wondered how long it had been out there and who lost it.His eyes lit up when he pictures a boy like himself heaving a bottle into the water and the big splash it would make.

He hiked up his wet shorts ,brushed sand from his knees and handed the glass back to the lady.He looked to see if he might pick another one.She handed him a yellow glass that is the color and size of a lemon drop.The boy rubbed it between his hands and listened to the sound.He thought that maybe a ray of sunshine had come down, thrown to earth by a huge man the size of a giant like in the story his mother read to him, "Jack and the Beanstalk".He ran around looking for beans but didn't find any.The yellow glass might be his favorite,he just loved the brightness of it.It seemed like happy glass.

He told the lady that;she just shrugged and handed him the third.This time he was in deep thought,holding the green one.The color seemed to calm him.He smelled the glass to see if it was like the lawn that he lays on when it is summer and the grass has been cut.He thinks of how the grass holds him while he looks to the sky and checks to see if the clouds are lazy or grumpy and mean.

The green glass really holds his attention."Maybe it is an eye of a princess who lost it here and I will find her and give it to her and be a big hero,"he thought.He smiles with pleasure at this.The boy really wanted to keep this one and he hesitates a minute ,hoping, but then he hands it back.

She didn't know this but the small boy was sorry to see her go ,this lady with the much admired collection of sea glass.But she hurried up the beach to keep looking and he didn't know but she was hoping he wouldn't follow.He liked her and as he ran home he was so excited at the idea of telling his family about the glass.

That night, with his sandy feet curled up, he would fall into a deep sleep that came very quickly.She rocks in her chair as she thinks of all the sea glass in the cold plain jar,and for her sleep is far away.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mrs. Black



When I was a child in the summers we spent in the Catskills, my Mother and I would occasionally ride up the valley road to the ramshackled house where we would buy eggs from Mrs. Black.On the way back to our house, we would rip her to shreds with our sharp tongues.Did you see her plaid men's shirt that was held closed by a big safety pin?And she had no shoes!She walked through the chicken manure in her bare feet with it squishing between her toes.Yuck!She never went to church and her house was rumored to be wallpapered with the New Your Daily News.Shall I go on?

In 2005 , I stood at Mrs.Black's grave on a hill that overlooks the peaceful town of West Kill and whimpered my apologies.I now know the whole story and It's a wonder that I can get out of bed.

I have met and talked to some of the people who actually lived in the Spruceton valley back in the '50s.There were many farms and people did live there all year round.When they were kids, they knew Mrs. Black.They said that she was the most loving and kindest person they had ever met(but she didn't go to church!)She always was glad to see the valley children and made them feel special.

And then there was her life with Mr.Black.He used to beat his farm animals.Of course, he was a drunk and when a cow knocked over a bucket of milk,he beat her bloody with the milking stool.The kids witnessed this and were horrified.It gets worse.

Mrs. Black was delighted when she found out that she was pregnant with her first child.Since Mr. Black was away alot working on the railroad, he determined ,in his drink sotted mind ,that this could not be his child. After it was born, he took it from her and gave it to a relative and since Mrs. Black couldn't drive , she had no way to leave the valley. After that, when he did leave , he would chain her in the basement 'til he got back.You don't believe this? This was the forties after all and we never know what goes on behind doors do we ?

In the '50s, my Mother told me that Mrs. Black had breast cancer and refused to go to the hospital.This was not true as I have her death certificate.She had surgery, contracted pneumonia and subsequently died.Her child never knew her.

I hope that Mrs. Black was unaware of what we thought of her.To me, her grave is holy ground and I had to go there.If I visited all the graves of people that I have judged, I would constantly be on the road.

I don't want this good woman forgotten.Bertha Black you lived a saintly life with your chickens.

poem


i thank you God
for this most amazing day;
for the leaping of greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.

e.e. cummings

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

spring haiku




Van Gogh must have come,
splashing his yellow here,there,
the sun is jealous.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

love for a stranger


It was a bitter cold winter day,when our high school Senior class went on retreat.I can see the old ,grey stone mansion that had become a retreat house in my memory.It stands at the end of a tree lined drive and it had high casement windows that reflected the white winter sun.It looked like a castle to me and I know that someone must have donated it to the Church to be used for this purpose.It must be worth a fortune because it is on a strip of stony beach on the North Shore of Long Island.I loved being there for those few days because I always wanted to be a princess.Fortunately,unlike many old things on the Island,this building remains.

Our bus pulled up to the front door and we four friends stumbled out with our stuffed bags and high hopes.Our room was on the third floor and we laughed as we searched for it.I recall that is was cosy and charming with a white slanted ceiling and a stunning view of trees and the Long Island Sound.The door was old oak wood and heavy and had an old black latch that reminded me of my summer home in the mountains.Perfect.

I am sure that we were anticipating a good time and not too much holiness.

As we put away our things,there was a gentle knock on the door and a smiling nun opened it.
Behind her was a frightened,unsmiling stranger our age, with straight white hair and glasses with huge lenses.We were asked to take her in because she had come alone.I was appalled.How could this nun impose on our happy foursome ? We had become such close friends that no one had to finish a joke; we read each other's minds.Carole could raise an eyebrow and we would fall down laughing.This would ruin everything !

I have no idea who said that this would be fine with us but I will bet the farm that it wasn't me.I sulked and she came in and put her stuff away.I am telling this story because,despite what we felt, we were good to her.We really took her in.Even me.

The next day she was at the jetty walking alone and I actually went up to her and started to talk and I remember loving her in those moments.

It is hard to describe how impressed I was with all of us.I know now that it was the Spirit that gave each of us the opportunity and the desire to love a stranger.It was the first time that I had reached out in that way and the fact that it is so vivid tells me how profound it was.

Years later, I saw her on a public bus and we didn't speak .I guess I had reverted back to my smaller self.I wonder where she is and I say a prayer that she is happy.Because of what happened to me on that retreat, she is more important than many people who I have known for years.And as I type,I feel that love again.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

gratitude


It seems to me that very few of us would be unable to relate to Thoreau's statement:"most men led lives of quiet desperation."I recall getting out of bed in 1971,in California, and feeling this gaping hole,this emptiness in the center of my being.And on that day, "I turned my gaze."

In meditation yesterday, this thought came to me and it feels right so I'll share it.

If you are aware of this "hole",this feeling that your life has no purpose that you can discern,it may be time to hoist yourself up on the Path.Oh, that's scary.I'm a sinner, I don't belong on the Path.Or what will I have to give up? I want to do what I want to do.How is that working for me? What will people say?I don't want to become a Jesus Freak.What will I have to do?

I have a suggestion...just for this day,express gratitude.Tell Someone that you are happy for the trees, siblings, friends,talent,work, health ,all those things that please you.See how that feels.You have begun the conversation that can radically change your life.We were meant for this Mystery and something in us knows it.

Here is my short list ...Van Gogh's life, my niece,Teresa, mountains, health, nothing hurts, writing,colors,old friends from 50 years ago, daffodils,trees, birds,John, new friends, I could go on.How does it feel when I do this...joyful.
And that is where God meets me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cranes


The peace of the light green pond is momentarily disturbed as the single crane takes flight.His wings are enormous as he glides a few feet above the water.The other two cranes are ankle deep in the pond as he lifts off and flies away.What are they thinking in their beauty and stillness?

I would like to be standing where they are with the cool water about my feet and the soft air brushing lightly against my feathers.I would try to gaze in their eyes and see what is there.

To see these large birds safe and enduring in this pond gives me pleasure.

The painting is by an American artist,N.C.Wyeth but the art seems Japanese in its quietness,gentleness. When the crane takes flight, you hear nothing.The cardinals that come to my feeder create more wing noise.I would like to be as self contained,still and at peace as these cranes appear to be.

I will take a moment now and picture my soul lifting with the crane.Oh, for a split second I felt actual fear at the height but now we are just drifting and flowing and free to ascend.We are over the trees now and I want to just rest on these wings and go
wherever this creature takes me.Since I am just spirit, I have no fear up here.How wonderful to feel this free and alive.

Gratitude washes over me and I know that in a very mysterious way, this is eternity I am feeling.

The crane is Spirit and I have turned my soul and safety to it and ,of course, I have no idea where I am going. We, all of us ,are made for this journey.How long and where we will go together is unknown, but my hands grab around the tops of the wings and we soar.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

labyrinth walking


This message came in November, as I sat on a chair outside this labyrinth.People were walking slowly around the path as I meditated.We were at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in N.C.It is too good not to share what I heard.

"My love, all of you on the chairs,My love,you holding the labyrinth,My love, the chairs, the birds,My love....

Long have I waited for you to love Me back-fully, completely.Be Mine here and now and tomorrow.That is all I ask and all will follow.
In this sacred space My hands cup and hold all of you.Can you not feel My presence and love?I am here-you have found Me.Walk with Me now ,here in this place and tomorrow.
This is the fullness of your time and Mine,intersected-together.Love Me, nothing else matters."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

In the Woods


It is hard to describe how wonderful a snowfall is to a snow deprived former New Yorker.My childhood memories are richly dotted with snow scenes, snow forts, and sledding.
In Georgia,where we live now,it is such a long time between snow storms.

I watched a you-tube video yesterday with adults sledding down a big hill somewhere up North and the laughter as they played was wonderful to hear.And then the storm of February 12,2010 came and I enjoyed every minute of being in the woods behind our house as the snow gently fell.It's magic,it's Narnia,it is all peace and silence and beauty.

I took alot of pictures and the one above is not the prettiest but there is a story.The tan leaves of the beech don't fall to the ground when autumn comes ;they hang on.As I was standing a few feet away from this tree , one of the branches started to sway back and forth.There was no wind, no bird had landed or taken off, no snow was falling in clumps from other trees yet.Not one other branch of that tree moved.And as I watched, I knew what it was and as I type this ,I am getting chills.It was my angel letting me know that she was with me in this incredible beauty.

The spirit world is subtle and you have to be still and watching.The snow is melting now but I know what I know and I won't soon forget the snow of February 12,2010.

snow


"He hurls down hailstones like crumbs.
The waters are frozen at His touch;
he sends forth his word and it melts them:
at the breath of his mouth the waters flow." Ps 147

snow


Come, let us worship God who holds the world and its wonders in his creating hand.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Graden of Saint-Paul Hospital


The painting above is a Van Gogh.I have found a great website with all his works and I print the ones that I like and put them in a binder;looking at them always lifts my spirits.My daughter says,"That's what art is supposed to do,Mom." Well, I guess so.

I wasn't exposed to much art growing up and it is a pleasure to have the time now to see what I missed.I like to sit with a painting from the website and let it tell me a story.While I write the story,it usually moves me in some way.And it reveals things that are just below the surface of my mind that need to be released.It's a mysterious process.

I just love the one above,it is telling a story that I just need to write.The title of the painting is "The Garden of St-Paul Hospital".This is where Van Gogh was to spend time at the end of his life when his mind was breaking.How could someone whose colors are so alive, have been so unhinged?

A consensus has formed that Van Goh was proably bi-polar and that a certain medicine he took to control seizures also caused yellow spots to appear before his eyes.Perhaps the wonderful yellow that he recreated in his paintings.

It is tragic that he left us by his own hand.What other wonders did he have drifting around inside his soul that he could have shared? Maybe the colors and forms of his work,the beauty of it, was passed to another artist, and the wonder found its way into the world at a table in a small hut in Peru.

I like to imagine Vincent on this bench, under those crooked, strange trees.Perhaps a warm June breeze touches his face and for a moment he is at peace.

The hospital and ,I assume ,the garden are still there and I want very much to go and sit in the quiet and write.

Monday, February 1, 2010

who awaits our rain ?


Every other month, I meet with five friends and we pray and seek His leadings.We met last week and this word was given to me to speak aloud;"Encourage someone;it is a small thing, but it matters."

This has been buzzing around in my head for days now."Encouragement".'My mind drifts back to my childhood and how bereft it was of anything like that.My sister and I were expected to get good grades,be home on time, do the dishes etc.The "atta boys" and the "warm fuzzies" were padlocked in a steel trunk in the basement.Interest in my self esteem was neither high nor low but non-existent.Maybe it was the Depression or the trip in steerage from Scotland or the poverty that made it so hard for anyone in my family to praise or express positive feelings.But, there was a day that I remember.

A girl had moved in down the street when I was around ten or eleven.I can neither see her face nor remember her name.She must have been only visiting because she was gone after a short while.We got to know each other and one warm summer evening , we were chatting on the sidewalk on Bedford Avenue,when she said, "You know what,I like you".What?

I was wearing brown penny loafers and crew socks that day.I know because I was staring at them after she spoke.I had neither the facility nor the words to answer her.This was rain falling on a parched desert.As I walked home at dusk ,I believe that her words slowly seeped into my psyche on the plus side of the ledger.I wish I knew her name.

For Lent, I am going to work on this leading .Between now and then, I am going to pray that I will recognize opportunties to encourage.And now ,I would like to ask
you to tell me when you have received encouragement and what the result has been?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rosemary


Spinning,twirling ,what great fun for the girls of my youth.Riding our English Racers with the chains that always fell off and singing with the joy of summer and the breeze in our hair.We knew how to squander and plumb the depths of warm weather.We were sexless and thus willing to try anything; baseball,kick ball and daring jumps across open spaces in houses under construction.We'd pick up snails with none of the phony squealing of girls.We wanted to look and to know and we did.

Later, we would learn to be coy and tamp down our intelligence and fore swear things that weren't feminine.But for now, we swirl and get dizzy and laugh and fall down.I recall competing in baseball and running.We wanted to be the best and be strong and show off.The best compliments came from the boys ,"Good hit". And we would beam.We traded baseball cards and marbles and had treasures we hung onto well after we would grow up.

My best pal in all of this was Rosemary.We loved the same things, especially the outdoors.When the snow and cold finally left,we would burst outside in the first shorts of summer and hail each other like ecstatic escapees.

She was also my companion for the first weeks of Lent when, in short uniforms,and bundled to the teeth, we would meet on the corner before school and walk the bone chilling blocks to church for morning Mass.It was dark and very early in the morning.We never made the whole six weeks but I like to think that those days we did get up early to make this sacrifice did not go unnoticed and that our souls were stretched by this.

Rosemary forgave me last summer when I confessed that the time we went swimming in our early twenties and she was struggling to get to shore at the beach,I couldn't have saved her.I had fought to get in myself and feared I was drowning and even though I was scared silly for her,I was paralyzed at the thought of going out to get her.

And she stood with me at my sister's gravesite and prayed and comforted me with her hand and her heart.

What a pleasure it was to see Rosemary walking up the mountain road last summer ,enjoying again the outdoors,and knowing that this precious friend of youth is here ,in my life,still.