Wednesday, January 30, 2013

deeply connecting

When I was younger and raising my children,I had the sense that I was skimming through life.Reading quickly,running here and there,half listening to others because I had "things to do".
I was unsettled by the feeling.What really mattered ,as I thrashed around like a balloon with its helium escaping.

Then I started running.How I fit it in,I'll never know but it was just what I needed.A mindless activity whose time and length of doing depended only on my goal for the day.And this is the strange part,the streets and paths that I ran on became more to me than asphalt and dirt.I owned these precious paths in an inexplicable way.I had paid for them with my effort.

Writing is the same phenomena in my view.When I take the time to look, really wander around an object or a place for what story it wants told,like the Pict cross ,and a scene flows from outside of me onto a page,I own that object,that place.It is mine.We are deeply connected.

I never know what it will be that calls to be part of me.How could I know that a Pict cross on a church wall in Aberdeen Scotland would introduce me to its carver.Or a mottled cow would bring tears to my eyes.That when I would write about one of my children, not only would tears flow,but my love deepen.

There is a downed tree by the river that held my tired body one afternoon last year.It is clean and grey with interesting holes here and there.I sat with my journal and just "was".Within fifteen minutes,my pen was dashing across the page with praise for the beauty of this neglected bank of the Flint.That tree is now my most favorite writing bench.

Would love be too strong a word ?I think not.I love the Pict cross,cow,children,downed tree ,fluffy grey cat ,Jonesboro streets,and all the wonders put at my feet,deeply.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

a tree grows....

I hold a small black and white snapshot in my hand.There is no date on the back but the words written stay with me."Aunt Kate,Al and the old Beech.Gone forever."The Kate was my grandmother's sister and Al was my father at age 7 or so.This picture was taken in 1914 or there abouts. I never knew Kate but I know that she died before my grandmother and left her enough money to buy the country house in the Catskills.

I have wondered often about that old Beech.Why was it mentioned along with the family members?What hold did it have on the family whose yard it grew in but is no more?Gone forever.

We have beeches in our woods behind the house.In winter, they are the only identifiable trees as they are marcescents,they keep their leaves ,losing them only when new sprouts push them off the branches.They have smooth grey trunks.A perfect tree for carving initials.Is that why the Wantagh Beech died?

I have an old copy of a book published in 1945,"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". The torn cover shows a tenement in Brooklyn and I will not recycle it at Goodwill.The novel tells the story of one young Francis Nolan and ,as I read her story later in my life, I knew that she and I were sisters.She grew up in a poverty that I didn't know but with her alcoholic father and escape into books,I had found my childhood essence.Her trips to the holy temple of the library were my own..".and there on the librarian's desk was a brown chipped pot with bright orange and red nasturtiums. "

Do librarians have any idea that they are a beacon for a lonely,troubled child?That under a small girl's arm is hope in a brown bag?Smile, at your desk, you have been given a great privilege.

The trees that grew so lushly in Brooklyn in 1914 were called the Tree of Heaven,Ailanthus Altissma.I am sure the altissma means high because this tree grew to heights of over 80 feet .Francie was shaded by one while she read her books in the summer on the fire escape.It  grew without help ,seemingly without much of anything and only in the tenement district.Pure gift while everything else was such a struggle.

The tan/copper leaves of the Beeches in my woods provide cover for songbirds and small mammals in the winter when the woods have opened up.It is a great wood for benches.I wonder if the Long Island Beech was used for any of these things or burned in a hard New York winter.Gone forever.

Francie's tree and my beeches.And maples when young.Strong arms reaching for the sky.Small eyes see the first glimpse of  beauty from a second story window: lamplight shining through the light green leaves at night.The second beauty:the colors of the last leaves,red,crimson,yellow,orange.

"A new tree had grown from the stump and its trunk had grown along the ground until it reached a place where there were no wash lines above it then it had started to grow towards the sky again....this tree in the yard -this tree that men had chopped down,this tree that they built  a bonfire around,trying to burn the stump-this tree had lived".Betty Smith

Sunday, January 27, 2013

that which cannot be described.....

I get an e-mail occasionally from Heron Dance,an art and writing blog that I found many years ago.Often,I have used the site's musings to trigger my own.They are in Vermont(where else?) and I have purchased many gifts from them.Maybe,this summer,I'll drop by.

Today,I read this:"The Tao suggests that we seek harmony with that which cannot be described or explained,the wisdom beyond words ,the silence deeper than quiet.The emptiness beyond empty."Heron Dance.

These words touched a chord in my soul.Have I been reading the author's mind,or he ,mine ?

Just last night while talking to a beloved niece, I shocked her(not really) by telling her that I believe that our true happiness is not found by seeking it but by divining the will of the Creator and lining up with it.Harmony.Somehow, we all know when we are not there,but often we don't have the words.

Harmony with the silence beyond quiet.The winds that blow gently through the colors of the Painted Desert.Speaking.This is me,this deep,eternal quiet that causes the earth to hang like an ornament in space.One has never seen stars 'til you gaze at the Southern Cross in the middle of nowhere, Australia.In the silence of a field.Harmony.

That which cannot be described.But we try don't we?January 21,1989.On the floor of my bedroom.Eyes closed ,lotus position.One word:"Jesus".And a flood of what I cannot name reached into me and filled me.The power of it so great that I thought,"I am dying in this bliss and soon my head will spin into the air."I got up before the filling could continue ,so afraid of the unknown was I.
I still don't know the name of what happened.Jesus.

The emptiness deeper than empty.The emptiness of God is the exact opposite of what we expect.
The emptiness of my mind in Centering Prayer that I trust is being filled with this Lord, who is empty.
This trust is all we have in our feebleness of understanding.

When the great thinker  St. Thomas Aquinas, was near the end of his life,he who wrote myriad tomes on theological matters,a fellow monk found him in the chapel levitating with his face drenched in tears.Apparently, he had an encounter with the Lord but never spoke of it.He stopped writing and when pressed, said that all he had written before was straw.That which cannot be described or explained.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

.....come with me into the desert

Hanging on the wall of my writing/praying/daydreaming room ,is a picture that my son took and  framed for me as a gift.It is of the Painted Desert in Arizona.I first saw the desert from a roadside viewing area many years ago.

The trip we were on must have taken place over thirty years ago and I retain no memories except for that precious moment when nothing happened.The fact that we stopped is remarkable enough because we usually rush from place to place and stops are a waste of time in the Graham book of travel rules.But there we were, staring out at an eternity of rolling, colored hills.Being used to hemmed in areas of pines and oaks,I was enchanted ."This is the West,"I thought
and then I heard this:"This is Who I am.This great empty silence."

Those words are carved in my soul.So many have been called by this great silence from the beginnings of the Christian faith.Stumbling,long haired ,wild eyed men and women,running from the noise,the deadening distractions.Seeking the "I,who am" in the howling wilderness.

Today's Thomas Merton reading quotes the Rules for Recluses:"Nothing is more necessary than to adore the living God."And recluses from all the ages have heard the call of the desert ,summoning their unshod feet to leave all,shun all, shuck all and go out to the silence.

I think that the soul craves this.

I keep tripping over Charles de Foucald, one of my 2013 companions.When Charles was murdered by the very people he had served for so long,he left no one to carry out his work.It looked as though his call had borne little fruit.But now ,I keep finding people that were drawn to the desert in his footsteps. Brennan Manning went there on a sabbatical from the Franciscans and lived in a cave in prayer.I read his meditations every day.Today, ushered onto my path is one Carlo Carretto,who gave up his life in his 40s and joined The Little Brothers of Jesus, the followers of Charles ,in the ministry of loving the people of desert Africa.

The call of Carlo came to him while in prayer:"Come with Me into the desert.There is something much greater than human action-prayer.And it has a power much stronger than the words of men-love."Carlo packed his bag and left.And the silent sands of the desert swallowed him up.

Friday, January 25, 2013

hearing the Voice

I want to tell you of something that has been way back in my mind for a long time.It relates to giving our hearts,our wills to Christ ,to be fashioned by Him.And obedience.These things are quite difficult in my view and out of fear, I have done it half way for a long time.I take comfort in knowing that He knows what a wimp I am.

My husband and I took a trip to Italy several years ago.Perhaps it was 2002.We stayed in stark convents in several lovely cities and toward the end of the trip, we found ourselves in Cortona ,of "Under the Tuscan Sun" fame.It was June and very hot.We kept seeing clouds in the distance across the poplar studded plain.Grey clouds that we hoped would move our way, as we drank wine ,ate cheese and felt pretty happy about ourselves.This is a medieval town situated on a hillside with steep ,narrow streets.

One our last day,we decided to walk to Le Celle, a monastery outside of town, and off we went.The name means Convent of the Cells and we saw the tiny one that St.Francis often stayed in,with its stone bed and wooden pillow.Comfy.

The trip there was arduous,hilly and hot.It took over 45 minutes and I knew there was no way I could hike back without expiring amid the cobble stones.When we arrived, I said to my husband,".You'll have to get a cab for the return trip,I can't hike back".Speaking no Italian and not having a cell phone, he was less than pleased.We both stomped off in different directions.

I found myself in the small, dim and very quiet church where the great saint prayed and I added my prayers to all those through the centuries that had been offered there. Then I heard this so distinctly that I was stunned."Walk Back".Well, no I can't .But......something in me shifted and softened and I said ,"O.K."

This was not an audible voice but an interior one.I have heard it before and now I recognize it like the little sheep who know the shepherd's call from all the other noise in the background.I am no one  special.It is my belief that He wishes to speak with everyone but one must be quiet and attentive.

No one was more surprise than I to hear myself tell my husband that we could walk back.Relief shown in his face and we headed for the gate and road.Within two minutes, a car pulled over and the driver asked if we wanted a ride.All faces climbing up from Le Celle must have the same haggard look.Our angel took us back and as we got out, I handed her a holy picture from the store at the monastery and thanked her.I ponder all of these things.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

small and simple.....

I have been more faithful than usual this winter in praying the Liturgy of the Hours.Two other books companion my prayer time;reflections of Thomas Merton,the writer /monk and Brennan Manning,the ex-priest,alcoholic/radical lover of Christ.Their words are so honest and true.In this lifetime,I doubt I will be humble enough to be so self revealing.

Merton was a monk in Kentucky, so his writings for January often mention being snowed in at his hermitage and how this is perfect for his soul .In this confinement and solitude ,he is more able to indulge "my joy and my only importance,"praising God.

"The Lord is king,let the earth rejoice,
let the coastlands be glad.
Cloud and darkness are his raiment;
his throne,justice and right......
.......Rejoice you just in the Lord;give glory to his holy name"".Ps 97

As I write these words, I realize how uncomfortable I am with praising God.The Liturgy of the Hours is mainly praise but these are not my words although I believe them .As I ruminate on this, I take heart that there is probably a good reason, not a fatal flaw ,for my discomfort. Praise was given out in my family,extended and close,not at all or never.Sarcasm was their way of communicating and slight flaws never went unexplored.It is how it was for these descendants of tough immigrants.One must never flirt with getting a big head.One should be humbled by being pummeled.Oh, the college girl misspelled a word.Tsk.Tsk.

It has taken me a lifetime to be open enough to hand ,on a small silver plate, simple words of affirmation.What I think ,now leaves my lips and embraces another.It is so freeing.

Perhaps I am intimidated by the grand praise of other writers who see God's beneficence more clearly than I.I need to improve in this area because I believe, along with the monk, that this is my purpose and my joy.I mean to start small and with a simple view.

All praise to the Lord of the Universe for:

-the plump robin in the birdbath...remembered innocence..
-.the grey in the woods that looks like enchanting mist.
-the travelling bluebird at the box in January.....
-the nodding daffodils that lay forgotten for months...
-the small brass bell ,a Welsh lady ,that sits near where I write and watches...
-sunshine after days of drench...
 ..............................................................For these I give you glory.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I posted a picture on Facebook today from a monastery calendar.It is a green ,poor ,falling down shack somewhere on the grounds of the Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers,Georgia.Embraced by snow and vines, it was once a place of complete solitude.This picture speaks to me profoundly.

What would I hear should I spend time alone there?The wind,an unearthly cry from the peacocks,leaves rustling in Fall,perhaps the distant chant from the monks in the church.Eventually, in my wooden chair by the small fire,I would open God's word and let it flow through my mind.The candle light would flicker often and a settling would occur.Like the tinkling of a gentle chime, words like "forgiveness","let it go", "this is all that matters","seek Me,love Me," would fill my mind  because here, in this solitude, whispers can be heard.

I once went for a solitary retreat at the monastery and while walking the grounds, encountered a young woman from the county paper.She interviewed me about why I was there(solitude),what it was like(refreshing ), and took my picture.I must have been affected by swimming in the grace of important things because ,surprising myself,I never sought out the paper and my name and face in it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

adorning her tomb with sacred poetry

Today, my feet are firmly planted between two worlds.Here,the sky is clear,daffodil shoots reach up for the blue ,so blue, sky. Buds appear at the top as pale green nubs,holding back the startlingly bright yellow to come.A crisp breeze has the buds and the green shoots swaying and rippling in the garden.I am here with them,swaying and grateful.Present in the cold.With praise.

The present is where our happiness is.And yet the today, the Church encourages us to look back.A long way back ,to 304 A.D. and to celebrate the 12 year old girl whose death on this day, inspired her time.She, who loved the Christ so much that, without compromise, she went to her death singing His praises.It is clear that the Pope of her time was inspired.History says that he engraved sacred poems on her tomb.Sweet Agnes of the iron will.

When I was in grammar school, there was another Agnes.Mulligan was her last name and she was two years older than I.When she would pass the altar in our hushed church ,she would stop,look at the cross and pray with lips moving and eyes full of love.Her visage could only be described as beatific.I have never forgotten her extraordinary lack of care for what anyone around her thought of her actions;she seemed utterly caught up in what she was witnessing at the altar.I wonder if she still sees with those eyes of love?

My husband and I are to be buried in a lovely "green" cemetery on the grounds of the Trappist Monastery in Conyers ,Georgia.I have a deep connection to this holy ground and we will have a space in a green meadow with trees, streams and flat stone markers.If you come by to say hello, how grand it would be if you left a poem.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

a table by the window

The New York couple had looked forward to this evening for weeks.Lobster,dripping in butter, french fries and dessert at their favorite local restaurant.It was New Years' Eve but an early evening celebration: they had a football game to watch together.This was to be a lovely time of feasting with no bother.They felt fortunate to be going after all these married years together.Still enjoying the company of each other.

While praying for guidance for the year to come,the grey haired woman seemed to be nudged to practise the much misunderstood virtue of humility.What? Be a doormat?No, just think of yourself second.There is a beautiful prayer that helps with this effort: ..."From the desire of being praised,deliver me Oh,Lord.From the desire of being extolled,Deliver me oh,Lord." And so on. Daily,she had been sitting with this prayer.

They made reservations which would guarantee their favorite window table overlooking the spilling mill water and pond.When they arrived, they found the table not yet ready so they sat elsewhere.Then, the table was cleared and something happened.A warm glow began as the wife had a startling thought.She would let their table go for the next person that came in.Unknown to them, she would bless them with the view.

"That's not my thinking",she mused."Not me at all.What's mine is mine and I deserve it";but the glow grew and filled her as she acquiesced to this alien idea.

This story is so very subtle that it seems like nothing.A small thing that no one noticed.A summer breeze.A pink dogwood blossom drifting down onto the pond.But for her,monumental.