Wednesday, August 29, 2012

quiet waters

The retreat house sat on a hill surrounded by deep woods.Across the front lawn and to the North were mountain tops with a wisp of fog at the peaks.I was to stay at the House of Prayer in North Carolina for four days.The Appalachian Trail wound its way above, close to the house and the Jesuits had built a hiker's refuge on the retreat grounds for their free use.The thought of that kindness set the tone for my stay.

Since I had never been on such a long retreat before,I had packed thirteen,yes ,that many ,books to keep my mind occupied.After putting my purse and bag in my room ,I turned to go back to the car for the books and suddenly heard distinctly this guidance:"Leave the books and be just with Me."Oh,how do I do that?

For four days,I spoke with no one,read not a word.I wandered the grounds,gazed at the mountain tops,sat with a friendly cat on a grey slab bench,went up the trail,wrote in my journal,all in silence.Once, at a silent lunch, I picked up a magazine and the words brought me back to the commonness,the plane of real life.It was like the warm silver cloud of Presence that wrapped me in It's arms had disappeared.I put the magazine down and left the room to find my way back.

What comes to mind is a rest in music-that space where the previous ,soaring note hangs in quiet to be savored by the listener.The notes before and after gain a deeper beauty from that stop.

I thought of all this today when I received an e-mail from my friends at Heron Dance, with this quote:

"We are all joined in the holiness of the mind that God created.I therefore never consider myself alone in the silence.I'm 90 and live alone in a four room house surrounded by open space.I have no T.V. and have always luxuriated in silence.The exterior silence is here.The interior silence is a work in progress"-Hazel,with thanks to Friends of Silence.

I love Hazel's word,luxuriate.That is exactly what I did for those days.One could do worse than to be a "swinger of birches "or a friend of silence.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"the most sweet spirited girl"

She sits at my feet with her puzzle.It is a green felt dog puzzle of only 5 pieces because she is a little girl,not walking yet.Her feet are splayed in a way that I could never do and I think she must be double jointed and perhaps a future ballet star.She is focused on her puzzle and I pat my center where her baby brother lives for the moment.I am making her a dress on my sewing machine to pass the time.I am friendless and very lonely in this new city .The little pink and green sleeveless dress will fit her perfectly when finished and she will look like a blond doll.I still have that dress through moves all over the country.

She looks up as I sew and says ;"zuh,zuh,zuh."...:and it is a perfect match for the sound of the machine I am using.I laugh and she laughs and I wonder if her perfect pitch and mimicry will mean she will become a musician.

When her Dad comes home,we put on her cap and bathing suit and she gets taken to the pool where she jumps from the edge right into his arms in the water.May she hold that reckless confidence in herself and him.

She grows in age and grace and under, through and around her golden nature is the sound of music.Her clarinet, tape recorder and her voice.It is as much a part of her as her smile .

Jessica is eleven now and for Mother's Day, she has me sobbing at the kitchen table.Her gift is a tape of Jermaine Jackson's song "Mother".The music plays as I hold her handwritten lyrics in my hand."Have I ever told you that you are my river?That never stops for a rest...have I thanked you for having our family...that I love you?Have I told you today?..."I still have that paper.

A senior in high school now is the blond ,lithe girl.Her cross country friend's mother is in the hospital with a terminal diagnosis.We visit and she brings her tape recorder.She gently puts the earphones on Martha's head and turns on the classical music that she so loves,that has touched her deeply.Martha closes her eyes and goes to another place ,taken there by my daughter.

The years tumble forward and the achievements pile up.Valedictorian at Brevard College,scholarships,Masters in Music.I stand in awe at all that has come from this girl ,from her own warm blood rich soul.Her own.

You know that I love the internet and especially Facebook.How this vehicle is used by the Spirit to bless us and unite us with old friends.This happened in 2010.A high school acquaintance of my daughter got in touch with her.This was her message:"I had to share something with you after all these years.I named my daughter after you.You were the absolute most sweet spirited person I knew in high school.I had hoped that my daughter would be as sweet as you -and years later she is such a sweet young lady with a heart for God.I thought you should know."-Donna

Sunday, August 26, 2012

deep ,so deep is lake baikal

I held out my wooden begging bowl today and this is what tumbled in:

The walls of my computer/writing/praying room are now a rich pale blue and as I note the difference this color makes I think of a lake,the most famous in the world,Lake Baikal in Russia.Famous because it is the oldest,some 25 million years it is thought ,and for sure,the deepest at 2,442 feet to the bottom.It is also the clearest,its blue startling to the eye.

If one tumbled into this lake from a boat in its center and went down ,down, you would never reach the bottom alive.You could never touch the silt and push yourself upward to fresh air.Terrible thought. And yet, here at that level, in the silt,He is.

It is hard to see the bottom of the Grand Canyon from its rim.My son and his girlfriend hiked down there one hot summer day.It is a long hike.That very day, a healthy young girl went down and drinking water all the way,died at the bottom from a  lack of the minerals which she lost on the path.The canyon,so incredible at first sight,its pink,purple and grey walls amid the beige sand of the rim.If you don't shed tears,the sun must not be shining.And here, He is.

The universe is unimaginable in its reach.We see a star that stop shining 15 million light years ago. How can we wrap our minds around the depth of the universe as we learn each new day how far it goes ?And yet,here He is.

No wonder we tend to run from God.The idea of not being able to get away from Him is awful.We like our fences,walls and endings.How terrified the sailors must have been to launch out into the new unknown world.No wonder they thought the earth flat.It had to have an end.Their minds could grasp that.God is just too big.I like my little world,the one I can control.I like my coloring book to have lines that I can't go outside.I like that rule.I won't get in trouble that way,inside the lines.And so I run.

We are made of His "stuff" like we are from our Mother's stuff.Her blood,her cell.His spirit.And like a child who is snatched, stolen from her Mother's arms,we ,consciously or not, spend the rest of our lives looking for Him.For that Love that is bottomless,endless.We can't imagine it.We think:what do I have to do to earn that love ?Unbelievably,nothing.Wherever we travel,He is there,with gold and pastel ,shimmering ,brilliant eyes looking just for us.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

centering on the trail

 When my husband and I leave for a hike,we have to get up early to beat the heat and face at least an hour drive to the trails.This leaves no time for morning prayer or my usual twenty minutes of Centering Prayer.I miss that quiet time.

Yesterday, as we began our hike,I sought to at least do the centering as I walked;bringing my mind back to my sacred word each time it strayed.This seemed to slow my step.Each footfall felt like prayer .

The trail is hard packed and dry with grey /beige sand and neutral looking rocks and one's eyes must be glued to it to keep from tripping over these and the myriad roots that criss-cross.And yet,the Creator of the universe has sprinkled some marvelous things right near the path..Amid all the bland colors will flash a light blue and it is:wonder of wonders, a mushroom.Further along a green mushroom will appear to surprise and then a sweet purple flower like a scoop and then some red or brown mushrooms.Amazing colors.And on a tall tree,someone has carved a smiling face with lots of hair.I laughed out loud on this trail of hills and trees.

I thought of something after we got home.It happened a long time ago and it relates to Centering Prayer.When my sister was eleven and I was eight, a party was going on in our house.Ten couples gathered for their monthly fun and the dishes and glasses,(especially those) were piling up in the small kitchen.My sister was at the sink washing away and I, having excess energy at 2 A.M., offered to help.In her most dismissive tone,I was told to get lost.And even at that young age,I knew why.Should a stray,intoxicated adult come into the kitchen, there would be praise for her efforts and she,desperate for a dollop of that ,wanted it all.

And what would my motive have been to offer?Wanting to help my beloved sister?I think not: mine was hers,affirmation.But ,maybe I have misjudged her.How do I know what was really in her mind or my own or any one's. This is why we have been admonished not to judge because how do we know what any one's motive might be?It's a relief to me not to have to make that call on such a small amount of information.

What I have discovered about Centering Prayer is that it moves one beyond the realm of motive.One acts out of love and that is all.I will not do this thing because another will love me or God will love me but because this is what becomes the most natural thing to do.It is as if the Lord now uses my lips to smile,hands to serve,without my assent.But that is not quite correct for when I sit with Christ at the beginning of the day,I am consenting that He fill the empty spot I leave open for Him in the center.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

words matter...duh

When I worked in the Jonesboro office of BellSouth many years ago,I worked with mostly women,mothers like me supplementing income or forging a career.Two stand out because of something that happened in Kroger today.

The first lady,Connie, always replied to the query of:"How are you ?",with "Just wonderful".Always ,every day,the same.Some days ,if needed ,one would seek her out for those lovely words of hers.I feel the glow still.The other lady,Cindy ,always said with great dreariness,"I'm here."Always the same.

I wonder who has better health now.Is there a connection?

Anyway,today as I pushed my cart down an aisle to get tuna fish, a middle aged woman with black hair  was selecting soup from across the aisle and her cart blocked my way.Good for both of us that I had plenty of time.Eventually, she saw me and moved over with a smile.I asked her how she was ,and she said:"Thankful".Wow!We beamed at each other and went our ways.

Think of that: as she strolled the aisle instead of thinking of the price of apples,maybe she was thankful that there are apples,that she has eyes to see them and hands to reach for one. Thankful.

My mind goes to a revelation that I had regarding a difficult family time recently.ONLY,only, when I thanked God for it, did my heart calm and my view become hopeful.When I did this,I became part of the current of the river of grace flowing from God, instead of an impediment.

"In all things give thanks..."not just the ones that please me.

Turning, is a constant turning towards the Good and the blessings that hang from every branch and
cloud;that come from every face in every place.Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

a day surrounded by light

Some days in the calendar are surrounded by light.August 15th is such a day.The Catholic Church holds that Mary was assumed into heaven on this date and never faced the corruption that human bodies endure.This day is set aside by the Church to honor her special role in salvation history.

My Mother passed from this life on that day in 1996 after having pneumonia.I had been told by my sister that she was recovering.I assume this is a painless death and one that takes many at her golden age of 83 but still it was a shock.Her funeral was a disappointment.So few people there .She had moved away from her Long Island home and few knew her in Connecticut.One cousin came, my sister,brother-in-law,many nieces and my children and husband.This is all that filed into the first few pews.But after the Mass, a group of ladies from the church said the rosary together and I felt such comfort.Strangers saying good-bye with prayer.The Body of Christ.

And now in 2012, on this shimmering ,shining ,light filled day, a new granddaughter entered our world.A delicate, beautiful girl with tiny nose and fingers and long black hair that asks for a pink bow.We saw her last night and most reluctantly ,I left her.I could have stared all night.

She,the little sprite, whose healthy birth was so in question.This little being whose ancestors prayed for her and desperately wanted her here,as I saw in a vision.She is here,ancient ones,and so beautiful.

I wouldn't have written this indulgence had it not been for an e-mail I received today.I have a writer friend who means so much to me.She isn't Catholic but she knows Mary and loves her.She recently has struggled to get a book published.I cannot imagine the work and frustration. She wrote:"I was so  discouraged,dis-couraged ,until Assumption Day.... as always,our Blessed One saved me again......she never rejects anyone.... and so I felt calm when I thought of her. Ave Maria."

Friday, August 10, 2012

through the crease

picture by Kris

Today, my husband and I went on our weekly date.Mexican food in a clean,quiet place in the next town over and then to Goodwill for books at a dollar each.Stop me!!

"When is human nature so weak as in a bookstore ?"Henry Ward Beecher."When the books are used and a dollar each."Sharon Graham.

As I filled my cart with  tomes by Somerset Maugham,Paul Tillich and two others,a woman approached my husband and I heard her ask for money so she could buy the big black leather tote in her hand that she would use to carry her Bibles.He declined and I followed him to the next aisle and asked to borrow a dollar to give her as my purse was home.He relented and I went back,patted her bag and told her to enjoy her find.She hugged me,blessed me and joyfully went on her way.With a frown, he later told me that he saw her asking others for money.Did she need more for the bag or was it all a scam?Did she indeed have Bibles that she wanted to carry and give away as part of what God was asking of her?Who knows.But this I do know: what he was asking of me.

The other day,my young friend Kris, posted on Facebook about an incident in a store in Atlanta.A woman in her eighties came in,looking very upset and frassled asking for driving directions to Clairmont Road.Kris'
first thought was: she shouldn't be driving.But then she stepped through the crease in the universe and told the woman to follow her as she would lead her there in her car.When you have slipped through the crease,the air is bright ,glittering silver.You have gone to a place beyond intellect and flesh,a realm of spirit.And the spirit responds with joy so much so that you have to share it on Facebook.

This is why Scripture says:"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."It's for show you what the crease is like......

I gave Kris an angel a while back.It sits on her bookcase in her bright living room.She's had it long enough that she doesn't notice it anymore but this day,she saw it again.Was that smile new?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

the island

When you step off the small boat onto the windswept island,you remove your shoes.You will stay unshod for the three days that you are there and as I type this,I can't know what that will mean.I like the security of my shoes and was never one to frolic in the green grass all summer with bare feet.That is the first requirement but there are others as daunting.

No cameras,phones,PCs or radios.No sleep for the first 24 hours and alot of communal praying.Fasting is the norm and once a day you get a piece of bread and black tea.This is retreat on the island of Lough Derg,in Northern Ireland.The island itself is only two acres in the middle of a lake with the remnants of monk's beehive cells called"beds" and a basilica.A retreatant spends time in prayer at ,in and around these cells.For more than a  thousand years pilgrims have been doing this including St.Patrick, so we are told.

The point is to remove yourself from the world and distractions and turn your mind toward God.How hard would that be if one was hungry,sleepy and foot sore?I once stayed up all night at a slumber party at Bernadette Myers house in Hempstead.I was 15 and the next day, I could hardly crawl through the front door and to bed.

But here's the thing:I don't know how I know about this strange,desolate island in the first place.It's booked as one of my Favorites but how did I come to know about their site?The other day a brochure came from Ignatius press and the first several books offered were very wallet friendly.There it was again:a book about Lough Derg for 3 dollars.It came today and is quite wonderful to read.

Have you ever just known that you were to go to a particular place?

"The wind holds no terror,the sun need not shine,
alone,with no shield
no make-up,no mask.

underfoot energy is loose,
just my bare wispy soul
in the cavern within,

seeking with old hands in the
damp,empty cave:
the Candle."


Friday, August 3, 2012

Gabby,Bob Costas and me

I don't know how some people can write every day.Maybe they are real writers.The creative,poetic part of my soul has been crusted over by burnt creme brulee and nothing is stirring.The field lies fallow with brown stalks instead of rich yellowing corn.The crows don't even come by because they know there is no seed.Dormant,stagnant water and the rocks that usually shine underwater with green and cooper colors are dried in the sun and grey.

My elderly soul has experienced these times before.I flail looking for a reason: am I staying up too late,watching the Olympic Games?Has the hiking in 95 degrees drained me ?Has the terrible rancor that I see in this country where different views are greeted with name-calling finally done me in? Always,always comes a light bringer, so I am patient and wait....

Late last night,Bob Costas said something that really made me wince.The All Around Gold Medal in Women's Gymnastics went to Gabby Douglas who left her family in Virginia at the age of 14 to go to Iowa to get the best training for her sport.In that state, a family with a passel of kids, took her in,sat her at their table and made her their own.Both families were watching her excel last night.

As the show was winding down,Bob made this observation; that she was the first African-American to win that title and now other little African-American girls could strive to do the same.Really?Any American girl could strive after what she had done.I thought we were beyond this.It never occured to me that she might be the first anything.

Maybe I'm too sensitive.Maybe that bothered no other person watching.Sue me.

Perhaps Bob could have talked about this:when Gabby was interviewed after her win she said:"When I honor God ,the blessings fall down on me."Thank you,sixteen year old for shining the light to lead me home.