Sunday, December 30, 2012

walking with the saints




                                                              GWEN JOHN


They are not in our realm,these friends whose lives glow with love of God.We actually have photos of some of  them;St.Therese of Lisieux who died at the end of the last century at the frighteningly young age of 24.And soon to be declared saint,Mother Teresa,she of the craggy,lined face and bent posture.

Some heroes await official sainthood like Damian of the lepers whose foul language and other suspect behavior has engendered careful scrutiny.He who lived and died for the least of us,the maimed,sick, limbless and contagious.For the love of God.





Gwen John


Last year ,a few saint companions made themselves known to me,popping up as if to say,"I'm here and I have something to show you."Gwen John, the Welsh artist,Blessed John Ruysbroeck and St.Catherine of Bologna,a writer.Thomas Becket seems to be gently pressing his hand in mine these days so for the New Year,I think I'll add him to the others.What will they have to say ?

Ruysbroeck was a Flemish mystic who wandered in the woodlands and never wrote a word unless he felt he was writing  God's words.I like him,this ascetic born in 1293.Walk with me.

Gwen John was a wonderful painter in my view and a person of deep sometimes harmful attachments.
Somehow, she came to faith and through the writings of St.Therese of Lisieux,came to know God and love Him.Charles de Foucauld ,he who came to faith by falling on his knees .He who was martyred by the people he served in the desert of Africa.

His words gladden my heart:"Have confidence that the destiny God has reserved for you will be the best for His glory, for your soul and the souls of others."

2013 and I will not walk alone .

Sunday, December 23, 2012

eternal ornaments

Last night at Mass for the fourth Sunday of Advent,the deacon offered this:what acts of love,of kindness have you offered this Advent.Are you ready for the Coming of the Lord of Gifts ?I was struck by this ,the labelling of kindnesses as ornaments and I see it in my mind.





This Christmas tree stands with bare bone white limbs on a strong stately trunk.Lifted high to the heavens on these filigreed branches are shining puffs of light the size of regular round ornaments but ephemeral.They turn in the winter breeze emitting colored sparks of light -yellow,green,pink,violet.And the sky reaches down to scoop them up for the eternal pleasure of the angels and all of heaven.

Tomorrow,my husband will deliver Communion to a hospice resident whose daughter worked for him thirty years ago.Then, to a church friend who he drives to doctor's appointments.On the way to my son's house, we will stop at his elderly, chess playing friend's apartment and drop off his favorite foods-thin sliced bread,brown bread,smoked salmon and spumoni.Ornaments.

In one of the cards we received this season,we learned of the death of the father of a New York friend.We dug out a photo we took of them both two years ago,had a copy made, and sent that off.I will call him Christmas morning to tell him how sorry I am.And I am, terribly ,as I know how close they were.

To a nephew's small daughter, a singing card with pop out figures.When she opened it she said:"How did she know I liked singing cards?"I have never met her but as I passed the Christmas cards,a whisper and I knew.Ornament.

I don't think we are alone in this ornament production.How lovely to know that nothing can ever break or erase these hanging acts of love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Skye-Isle of Cloud





It would be hard for me to tell how many treasures I have found at the Goodwill store in Fayetteville.A paperback,"The Hills Is Lonely" was there the other day for $1.50.It is selling new for $138.64 on Amazon.When I flipped through the book, I saw Hebrides and I put it in my cart..

It tells the story of a woman who left London in the 60s to find some peace and arrived in a terrible storm to a Scottish island in the Hebrides where she rented a room.I cannot wait to dip into her adventure having found myself on two such islands a few years ago.Mull and Skye,picked out of a travel book ,became our home when we went to Scotland in 2010.

Perhaps, I picked Syke because of the Skye Boat Song whose title I have known my whole life.I found it on "youtube" and it's lilting melody haunts.It tells the story of the sailors taking Bonnie Prince Charles away from the killing fields of Culloden to the safety of Skye.They were the brave and those who would capture them hadn't the courage to set off in chase, in the wild, roaring seas of Skye.
                                   
                                   " Speed bonnie boat ,like a bird on the wing,
                                                  onward the sailors cry.
                                        Carry the lad that's born to be king,
                                                   over the sea to Skye".


The B&B on this island was at the end of  the street where the bus left us,having come over a bridge from the mainland .It was late in the day and the train/bus trip had left us exhausted.We dragged our bags up the lane and knocked.A smiling, silver haired man let us in and showed us to our second floor room.I teared up when I looked out the bay window that was behind the bed.There in the distance was the swirling sea,whitecaps,mountains.Just an enchanting view that I still see in my mind.

To the North, viewed from another window ,was the ruin of a castle on a hill above a bay. My husband wanted to take another bus to tour the island but I wanted to just walk around Skye and write in my journal.He went off hiking to the castle and I sat in a small park by the water to absorb the smells and sights of this green place.

Within moments, a plump grey and white long haired cat jumped in my lap and we cuddled against the cold wind.That sweet warm visitor stayed with me in my reverie until it started to rain and I had to go back to our room.On our day of leaving,we were waiting at the sheltered bus stop ,when I saw her across the road.I called her and she dashed over to once again share a bench with me.

I have never been so affected; I just loved that cat.She lives on a magic island in a mystical land.

Monday, December 17, 2012

the people who walk in darkness....


picture by Kris


The last two days have been mild but rainy.The river is way up and  the ground is soaked.In my neighborhood there seems to be fewer lights on the houses this winter.It would seem to me that a person who suffers from depression would find these days a burden.Where do we look for light in a world of killers loose among us?

We have to keep our eyes wide open for the glimmers of light.They are there.

I went to a local rehab center today to visit a church friend.I don't know her very well but her daughter was once in my Sunday School class.Barbara is in her 50s and tragically,she contracted meningitis.She is unable to leave her bed and there was no chair for me to sit in the small ,stark room.It was an awkward visit.

Months ago, Barbara's family expected her death but she survived ,although damaged in many ways.

Barbara remembered who I was which surprised me and we talked a bit.Then she began experiencing pain and the doctors came to check her.I left as they entered the room.It is difficult to describe how sad her situation has become and how dreary is the facility that is her home.

As I drove home,I couldn't help gloomy thoughts about her future and her long days.

She has a roommate ,an older African-American lady ,who is bedridden but very sharp.I was thinking that at 85 years she has out-lived many relatives when she offered that she has no children or any family who live in Georgia. Ginny was bright eyed and kind,a most likable lady and as I was leaving she pointed to the two stockings hanging on the wall that Barbara's grown children had hung.One for their Mother and one for dear Ginny.

Kindness glows in the darkness like a star in the sky.

Friday, December 14, 2012

no,I don't deserve this joy...





   The sun streams in the woods but it is December so the air is clear,cold.Advent is half over and it has been so joyful that I cringe a bit as I don't deserve it.

    If I were to closely examine this warm cloud of joy that rests in my heart,it might fly away.But it is such a gift that nothing seems to disturb ,that I want to share it..Have joy,we are loved by a mighty God.Have peace, because he holds us in his hands and has a purpose for our life.Surrender to all the love that there is.Soak it in through his beautiful words.Rejoice!

  I once watched a show with my husband a long time ago, around this time of year.The documentary was focusing on a group of monks in the Northeast and the oldest among them was being interviewed.I have no idea his age but as he spoke,his eyes shone and sparkled like a small excited child.We were struck by this child-like joy that flowed from those ancient eyes.My husband said:"How do you get that?"Neither of us have forgotten his face and speak of him once in awhile.

Today,I saw those eyes again as my husband brought home a small chess set from Wal-Mart.He had this twinkle.Every week,he visits an elderly man from our church  to shop for him and now he has started playing chess with him to assuage the 89 year old's loneliness.And he is more joyful than I have seen in a long time.

I wrote this year about two friends, one who helped a lost elderly woman and another who helped an older woman with her packages at the store.What struck me when I read both of these on Facebook was the deep joy in the telling.It comes flowing into our lives,disrupting our usual thoughts and filling our spirits ,this joy.

These words:"These things have I spoken unto you ,that my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full."John 15:11.

So ,no, I don't deserve this joy but it is this free gift that comes when we throw in our lot with Him.

"Joy is not a flag Jesus plants in us;it is a fruit that he grows in us."Dan Land

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the blue of comfort and protection





It is finally cold in Georgia and an overcast sky frames the woods in grey.It almost looks like mist. The only color left is of the beech leaves still clinging in copper clusters.

But today's color is blue.Mary blue, as this is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.I never thought much of the story of the apparition in Mexico in 1531 that caused over 5 million conversions in the following years.It seemed too far away in time and place.I always liked the image though, with Mary's closed eyes, her inward pose and the extraordinary color of blue ,muted ,with beige and browns.There is much symbolism in the things on this image that appear on the tilma (cloak)of Don Diego, a Mexican peasant after she spoke to him.

Several years ago, a group of friends and I began to meet occasionally to pray together and seek His will for our lives.The night before the first meeting, I had a vivid dream.A group of ladies dressed in simple blue were kneeling in a hushed and dim chapel.In the front row was the Lord kneeling prayerfully, with the blue ladies right behind.It was a peaceful scene and when I awoke I knew that the "prayers" were us.

The next day,at the gathering,I told the group of my dream and one said that the blue was of Mary and that she would be our protectoress.I thought,"Maybe". Then I received this:...."there is a shadow over you." I spoke it and it seemed strange and a bit off putting.

That evening, I saw in the news that Hillary Clinton had gone to Guadalupe ,and had seen the ancient tilma with the above picture on it and had asked the Bishop:"Who painted this?"The Bishop responded that the Lord had put it there.I "googled" the tilma to see a picture of it and there I found the words that the Lady had given to Diego:"Let nothing discourage you,nothing depress you......Am I not here who am your Mother?Are you not under my shadow and protection.......?"

Under my shadow........

Thursday, December 6, 2012

slow down







Years ago, we had a wonderful and gifted choir director/soprano at church.No one has forgotten her.Friends at church still say;"Remember when Meg would sing this?"At this time of year she would sing a hymn,"Slow Down."She sang with such feeling and so contemplatively that  my shoulders would lower,check muscles relax and a letting go of all that hung over me would happen.

......."In the midst of my confusion,In the time of desperate need,when I'm thinking not too clearly,a gentle voice does intercede......slow down,slow down,be still and wait..."

I think of the journey of a snowflake,drifting silently from the sky.White, glistening and falling slowly..."slow down,slow down..."

Then,the smile of my newest granddaughter that you really have to work for and ....the sun shines through her eyes."Slow down and wait...".

A leaf on the Flint River,swirling,moving ......."slow down..."

"In the time of tribulation,when I'm feeling so unsure,when things are pressing in about me,comes a gentle voice so still,...so pure.Slow down..."

Once on Iona ,off the coast of Scotland,I sauntered along the winding path of a beautiful rock labyrinth.It took us a few hours to find the labyrinth and it was the only time on our ten day trip that it didn't rain.It is laid out on the beach where St.Columba landed so many centuries ago.The rocks that form the path are round and of colors that were quite extraordinary to my eye.Red and green rocks.And white,black and brown.

.Burdened by thoughts of bus and train schedules,I began my slow journey along the path.After a few turns,I heard this clearly:"Let go.I am in charge".My whole body sunk into the grass.It will take a lifetime to figure out how to do this but the message is there for all  of us:"Be still and wait on the Spirit of the Lord.Slow down and hear His voice and know that He is God."

-song Slow Down by Chuck Girard.....can be found on "youtube"


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

who notices little girls ?





I have written before of the immense good that can come to a child from a mere moment of kindness.I told of the stranger in our neighborhood who said precious words to me many years ago that warm me still.

When we were on our way home from Down Under,we stayed by the Sydney airport for the night and in the tiny lobby of our hotel they had a unique offering.A small bookshelf was labelled "books for exchange".What a great idea.I was already deep into a book and had no need but I picked up a hardback anyway that was entitled,"Just One Minute".As I leafed through, I was astounded.The author said this:"I have become convinced that if God stands a child before you for even just a minute,it is a divine appointment."Would I have even noticed this quote if not for what had happened two days before on Tomaree Head? 

It was a hot day as we ascended the steep path that had ben labelled "moderate"by the sign nearby.It was brutal and we rested many times on the way up.This was a tree covered mini-mountain outside of Shoal Bay and we knew that the top offered lovely ocean views.We plodded on and then sat on a bench.

Up the trail came a Dad,a Granddad,a small boy and a young girl.She looked to be about 12 years old and had brown hair held up on her head by a pink bow.She was unsmiling,a bit chunky and we barely noticed her.But my husband high-fived the little brother and gave him lavish praise for his efforts.The Dad winked and said,"I've had him on my shoulders alot of the way."We all laughed and the family passed on.

At the top, I sat on a rock to ready my camera for the incredible ocean views below.The girl sat across from me and the Spirit moved.I asked her what she had in her backpack, whether she knew what she wanted to do with her life(she didn't know),where she lived(Maryland,NSW).and then said,"Well you're pretty and fit so you are doing just fine."Not my words,nor my intent.It all happened above me.

In these couple of days,I have realized a purpose.I am to be a smiling,warm hand patting gently the backs of little girls.Not to be leaping from behind tall buildings every time I see one,but to be very aware of the ones who come by divine appointment. Like Missy,the hiker and Misha,the artist.

She was Missy to her little brother but her Dad called her Jane.She took our picture and I took one of her with her family and her glorious smile and I saw how pretty she was.A moment.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

a good cow




In the past,I have seen horses running in their paddocks.Sometimes, a foal will gambol about ,racing here and there with spring fever but cows don't seem to move much.When I see them,they are usually still;chomping,munching and then maybe shuffling forward.A herd always seems to be facing the same direction,I don't know why.Occasionally,I will hear one bellow from across the river where there is a small farm.That's all I know about cows .

Until Australia.

We stayed at a thousand acre farm at Carrabolla ,four hours North of Sydney for a week.The owner and worker of this farm is my son's new father-in-law.It is a beautiful place and is theirs for as far as the eye sees.A river runs through it and the mountains hold it.It is so far from the city that at night the stars are multitudinous and close.

On the second day there,the new bride and her sisters went to town to collect chairs for the reception.As they passed a near-by paddock, they noticed a calf stumbling about.They went back to the farmhouse and gathering recruits,went to fetch the sick calf.He was brown but with white hair on his neck and back and next to him was a brown,apparently healthy calf that was paralyzed in his hind quarters.They scooped them both up and brought them to a pen near the house for treatment.Both little things had paralyzing ticks attached that had to be removed and the weaker one had intestinal problems.They were given shots of anti-venin and antibiotics.Untreated ,all their organs would stop working from the nasty poison of the tick and death would follow.

Two days later, the brown calf was up and bellowing and we took him in the truck to find his mother.As we went up the road ,a huge cow came racing down the hill towards us.She knew the truck had taken her calf and hoped to see him in the back.We drove past her ,around the bend and up another hill,where my son-in-law released the healthy cow who ambled over to the staring herd and found his mother.Out of the corner of my eye,I saw something charging down the hill from the road,past a stand of trees and up the hill to where we were.Charging, with eyes blazing and focused on the truck,hoping.The other mother.

The farmer said how good a mother this cow was as many pay little attention to their calves and if lost, seem not to care.There she stood in front of us,staring,waiting.We drove off ,cheered by the first rescue.On the way back to the house,we mused how in two days perhaps we could do the same thing and we vowed to cheer the second mother as she took back her baby.

It was not to be.Two days later,the farmer took the dead calf back to the paddock,laid it in the grass hoping the mother would find it,stop looking for it and start her grieving.Those were his words.

The last time I saw the herd they were headed up a ridge;twenty or so brown cows ,most with a calf  following, and the last cow,the good mother.An image that I carry.

Monday, December 3, 2012

most unusual woodland find






I have seen Autumn leaves before that are multi-colored with just a spot of green left but the leaf attached struck me with its green symmetry.Lines of green standing at attention as they march on and give way to color.

On Facebook, under the leaf picture,a young friend remarked about the death to life theme that we believers hold close.I am always grateful for his grace-filled words.I pondered all of this and thought about the other death.My friend knows deeply that in order to really live, we have to die to who we were and taking heart in hand,give it to the One to remake it in His image.That is His joy and it requires our assent.

I recall walking my dog on winter's nights on Long island when I was teenager.The cold was bone crushing.As my pal took his time with the walk,I would lean on one of the sentinel maples that lined our street.They ,at that bitter cold moment, felt less like a living thing, more like a solid iron post. Tree, ha,this is a dead wall of cement.But in April, the light green shoots appeared ,lit from behind by the streetlamp and all I felt was aliveness.Joyfilled,liberated,alive.

While on vacation in Australia ,I had the opportunity to talk about death with a new, older friend.He spoke movingly to me of his Mother's last years and how content she was and at peace with dying."When God is ready,I'll be ready ,"she often said.This touched him deeply.Maybe she had seen enough of the eternal song  in her own heart and in creation, to be perfectly at ease with what the future held.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

advent






Here we are and I am going to get effusive once more.I just love Advent.

The leaves have mostly dropped ,the abundance of summer is spent.We are down to bare branches now and a bare silver trunk of the beech,the tree that I hug when I get the mood.The sun can clearly be seen through the woods,white now as it descends.Cold ,winter light.

It seemed so strange to me to see wreaths hanging on doors in Australia in the heat and yellow sun.

This Advent,I plan to focus each day on what this waiting season means for my life.How different my life would be without the promises and whispers of the One who came and comes.And how different would be the world.I am going to watch for the Stars that shine over us here and now.Pointing,showing.And I will share those.

Why does this story even touch those who are non-believers ?This ,too good to be, story.

I have a dearly loved friend that is a non-believer.I have gotten her a small Christmas ornament that I found.It says;"I believe in snow angels".It makes me smile and I know that we can shake on that.

And the quiet, bare weeks of December stretch out before us and say:"Come into this silence and see if I am not here in the joy of snow angels."