Saturday, March 30, 2013

this Lent

Lent is almost over and I am left with some simple images.The Bradford Pear flowers drifting down like a spring snow.The unused coffee cup that a dear friend gave me that has been empty of the bliss and warmth for these forty days as I deprived myself .The statues in church covered in purple.The rock waterfall behind the altar that has been shut off for this penitential season.Lent:pared down,simple and profound.

It was in this season that ,with great gentleness,the Lord led me to ask forgiveness of my deceased parents.That I was to face my lack of love towards them.With his hand for support, such knowledge would be bearable.And after doing this, a breeze lifted my spirit and I felt that nothing stood between me and my Lord anymore.

Images.Of the new Pope kissing a handicapped man.His head bent backward, the man's face shown with God's glory.And then the foot washing.Not of fellow priests but young juveniles,male and female. And the kissing of this most disregarded part of the body.What could this mean for the young people and the staff?How do we know the power of this act?

Once, when I was meeting a Mercy Sister to pray with homeless women at a day shelter in Atlanta , we offered this foot washing to the clients in the sitting area.This poor safe room of worn chairs and sofas.The one spot they could call their own for a few hours.None of the ladies seemed interested but the staff at the shelter said we could wash their feet.There were about eight ladies and they had difficult jobs;providing services to scared,angry and some deranged women, at minimum wage.Day after day.

I recall the first staff member falling into the wooden chair with a weary sigh, taking her shoes off and closing her eyes.We not only washed her feet but massaged them gently for several minutes as her tears fell.It was a holy act and she knew it.We knew it.Each of the staff cried in the same soft way.It may have been one of the best days of my life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

homage to a grey squirrel

The turkeys are back,shuffling up the path from the river to our yard.They all leave just before hunting season and where they go is a mystery.We had four today pecking at the corn that my husband puts out for the squirrels, to keep them from the bird feeders.Ha!

 We have two feeders,one with sunflower seeds and the other mixed seed and 6 suet cages that are strung up high to keep the raccoons from stealing them and hiding them in the woods.They are masters at opening the cages in their leisure and eating every greasy morsel.Migrating birds and winter birds are in abundance to my husband's delight.This great plenty of winged creatures also has attracted hawks, large and small.

One afternoon a few years ago, I was summoned to look out the window by an unearthly racket,screaming blue jays.There on the lawn ,trapped by a big hawk, was one of their fellows.I was horrified and ran out the door.The jay flew into the trees and the hawk grumbled off.This scene has happened a few more times.Sometimes,the hawk comes up empty taloned and just sits on a post and looks around.They fall out of the sky with such speed that the birds are paralyzed and many times caught.

But yesterday something so remarkable happened, I couldn't catch my breath.I looked out to see a tan sharp shinned hawk, a smallish bird , on the ground and crushed under his talons was a small black bird.I couldn't tell what it was.The hawk just crouched there looking around.To my right, I saw a grey squirrel.Usually, the squirrels will either ignore a hawk and keep eating the corn or if it seems too big for their comfort,they flatten themselves against tree bark and watch.

This squirrel was closely observing the sharp shin, and he moved closer to drink some water from a puddle ,eyes fixed on the hawk.Then, he ran at it and the hawk let go.The red winged blackbird flew toward the pines but was caught in flight and the hawk blazed away with it into the sky.

What unfolded in seconds,tells my heart that the grey squirrel saw a fellow creature in trouble and tried to help.I can think of no other reason for what I saw.And it almost worked.

Think of this the next time you don't slow down for a squirrel darting in front of your car.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

what stands between me and Thee

"God wants the whole person and He will not rest until he gets us in entirety.No part of man will do." A.W.Tozer

This Lent has been nothing like what I expected.I have kept to my fasting from creme brulee laden coffee and have occasionally felt deprived.None of the companions that I expected to travel with showed up.Merton,Manning, Gwen John and John Von Ruysbroeck must have trod with others because they weren't with me.

There is such an important lesson in this for me.Stop planning and wait on the Lord.This Lent was about a  healing that I didn't know that I needed.I am humbled beyond words.

This March,I have been unable to go to my spot on the river bank to pray and write.We have had so much rain, the path is blocked.The turkeys have come back looking for corn.And,inexplicably,my gorgeous red Christmas cactus is blooming again.It usually blooms brightly in November and when I came back from Australia,I saw its dead blooms.It must have known that missing it flower made me sad because it is throwing bright red into my kitchen now.Mystery.

The Lord wants us whole.He wants us healed.He wants us perfectly unblemished in soul.

Last week,I attended a mission at a church near here.The first night, the speaker asked this question: "What is keeping you from letting the love of God flow through you."I wrote:"My judgmental and unloving attitude towards my parents."What I wrote surprised me as it seemed to come from someplace else.I was unaware that I even thought this.He also talked about hardness of heart and I thought,"Phew!Not me."

After the mission was over, I thought little of what I had written until the young man approached me at church to say that he saw that my Mother was near.Now, I had to pay attention.But how would I remove this impediment ;my parents dead for years ?Waiting to go to confession yesterday, it became clear;"Ask for their forgiveness".And later,"pray to them not just for them."A way had been found.

Years ago, I had forgiven my parents for what was less than a happy childhood but now I was to ask for their forgiveness and I did.

The stone has been rolled away from my heart.How it happened is a miracle of grace.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

let's soar....

It is cold again today in the South, after a few mild days that coaxed the Bradford Pears to bloom in pure white.The daffodils are curled up,completely dried out and the next act in my rock garden is the iris,my very favorite flower.In this warmer air I have even seen a hurried butterfly darting around the backyard.What do they do when it freezes again as it will tonight?

 There is a story that I have hesitated to tell .It has been swirling around my mind.Perhaps today we  need something of spirit .Something of mystery.So let's be brave and step out of what we know and can prove.Let's put on some fluffy wings and rip skyward,dipping,twirling, soaring in the infinite blue above us.

 The first thing that my family did when we went to Australia was to take a hike.Now, I had been hiking and felt confident that I could do this. We started up the road ,crossed the river and began a path that went up,up.This ordeal was straight up with no switchbacks and the sun had come out to bake our bones.I was not having fun but had committed to go to the gate.If I turned back alone, I would have to cross a bridge where my daughter had seen a very large snake.On we went and reached the gate but not the right one.I was exhausted but undeterred.Finally, we arrived and rested at the second gate.Nirvana.

 The view from there was stunning.Land that rolled and curved beautifully away, dotted with strangely shaped trees and inspiring vistas.Australia.

 On the way down, I stopped to rest on some rocks and urged the others to go on;I needed some solitude.I sat down,and looking around ,my gaze fell on a beautiful yellow butterfly.It seemed to fly close to me ,landing and flying off but not far.The whole time I was there,it never left.What I felt was comfort.So much so that I had to take a picture from that spot,butterfly eyes watching me.I wrote on the back of the picture..."it seemed like a visit and I was comforted."

 I put the picture away in my album and thought little of it.On Sunday, a young man who I know slightly, came up to me after Mass and said that he felt strongly that my Mother was with me in church.Very near.He hesitated to tell me but he had to.And then he said he saw a butterfly and would that mean anything to me.Did I have an encounter with one?If so, it was my Mom telling me she's near.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

view from the artist's room

                                                                                                art by Jakob Alt

  Free from the sounds of the street.High above the lower levels,the geranium pots lined on the ledges and the cats creeping.It is early morning and a storm gathers in the east.The light on the grey walls is muted.The whitewashed walls across the way look dull in morning cloudiness.

 The air is fresh,clean from yesterday's rain.The trees stir giving a rustling sound to the dawn.The green shade is curled upward to allow the most light. The curve of the window moulding,the clean shiny window,the small wooden table ,frame the mountains in the distance.

 On the table,under the blank paper is a thin volume of poems.The cover is rich yellow with a few blue bachelor buttons seemingly pressed into the golden background.The poems are spare in words;simple like the room.

Below the window,wet clothes snap in the breeze on a thin white line strung between two windows.They hang waiting for breezes or even the sun.Mostly white,they give some brightness to these early hours.The sound of them is not unpleasant to the ear of the artist.

The everlasting peace of the mountains,the trees and the light speak their own words to the heart of the one who hears the wash and the leaves .Who sits in the morning air and waits.

It will take awhile for the artist's conscious thinking to settle.Eventually the sluice opens by itself and words, not summoned ,come from another place and make their way into the writer's thoughts.And morning blesses the cats,the poet,and the woman who washes.

monastery story

It was July in the Catskill mountains; we were high above the valley and the town of Roxbury,walking slowly along a rock path to a grave.John Burroughs, the naturalist, is buried by a rock that he often mused on when a young boy.This land was his family's farm and he knew every rock,stream and bird.And enveloped and possessed by beauty ,wrote of them.

Before reaching the grave ,we passed a small field of wildflowers.The only sound was from heavy laden bees moving from stem to stem.The field gave off a sultry heat and the bees and butterflies took turns tasting the wildflowers.This is how Burroughs was able to enchant a blank white page with his words.In this mind clearing,word appearing ,silence.

In April,I will be driving 25 miles to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit to spend 3 days on a  solitary retreat.The silence will envelope me and I feel its welcome as I type.My room will be on the second floor overlooking a small garden.Pink dogwoods will be visible from the desk that is under the window.True darkness will descend after the last prayers of the day.The rhythm of prayer and rest
existing in monasteries like this one for over a thousand years,will be my cadence for a few blessed days.

I have so many memories of graced times at this monastery.The Monday of the the week after Easter,years ago, I took my then ten year old son and a friend for a visit.We were down by the lake near the church , which is home to geese and descendants of Flannery O'Connor's peacocks.As we whiled away some time,I happened to notice a young priest walking towards us.His face glowed. We spoke and he told his story.He was from Massachusetts, on retreat in Georgia for a few days.We got to know each other a bit and then he shared his glow and some tears.It seems that at Holy Thursday Mass ,which he had just recently celebrated,an elderly man came up to communion.The priest noticed tears in the eyes of the man and after Mass learned why.His sight,gone for years,had just been restored.Holy Thursday,indeed.