Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas in Purple

Christmas at my son's house. A tradition, but each one, each precious gathering, has its own unique flavor.This was no different.

We gathered around the table for Brunswick Stew, sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese and potato salad.The glorious ham that had been forgotten to be picked up was missed by no one.Those who chose to drink the traditional gingerbread martinis found each other much more interesting after just a few swigs. It was for the best that half of mine got spilled. And I never did see my gingerbread man cookie.Perhaps it was with the ham at the North Pole.

My grandchildren, son and his wife joined us at the evening Mass and the joy I felt as I coerced my middle grand, Riley, 16, into singing the carols made my heart swell. My husband, in the spirit of the season, demanded that we all sing Silent Night instead of saying grace at dinner and my son's two huskies found that most appealing as they came and slurped on our faces with tails wagging.The had the spirit, did Murphy and Thor.

Maddie pictured above in her purple jacket had wanted all things purple:so we gave her two purple journals, a purple watch and a doll with purple hair.She seemed delighted but later whispered that she hadn't gotten everything she wanted. Her sad face broke my heart and I asked what was missing.She had wanted to get a ball for her small, old dog Keiko and didn't have one to give him. My son Michael overheard and in the spirit of Christmas that is always in his heart, came to the rescue. In a flash, an unexpected gift was found for Maddie.A black dog ball that he had stolen from Thor was wrapped and handed to her.It struck me how both their concerns focused on another.

Maddie later told me that the purple haired doll was one of a group and she was one of the bad ones.Opps!
Then I heard myself say this:"Maybe if you love her enough, you can help her to be a good doll." No one at the Christmas table had purple hair and, by grace, they are all the very best dolls and  love flowed in all directions.Merry Christmas indeed.:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Joy Journal

How it came about, I am not even sure. Meeting with a special friend, talking about Godly things and the idea was there. Picking up a notebook at Goodwill with a brilliant yellow cover was part of this.Yellow and white flowers, so unusual,  it whispered, "you must take me home."Perhaps that was the first step.

On the inside cover, I put a card from the same friend , a thank you card that stated that in my honor a tree would be planted in a National Forest.The card reminded her of a story that I wrote that was shared in our writing group. That card was the second step. And now, here I am reporting to my journal every day about the joy that comes my way.

I want to give you an example of how profound this is: I have occasionally seen a young girl at Mass and she has a smile that lights up Georgia.The other Sunday, she sat next to me and after Mass I asked her name and then told her this: "Mary Ann, your smile gives me joy and I want you to know that I keep a Joy Journal and today, you will appear on it's pages."She lit up, we hugged and the experience deepened into one I will never forget.

If you look for joy and identify what is giving you joy, you will just become more aware of it in your life.Small things like the bouquets of flowers that Sprouts was giving away because they were passed their dates although still beautiful."Joy".Then I gave one to a friend. Joy spreading.

The happiness when someone I knew in High School appreciates my humble stories and tells me to write a book. A message from a far-away friend that let's me know he is thinking of me.When you recognize these joyful moments, stop and savor them and smile because you know they will be written down and kept. My notebook seems to glow while it sits on my desk;  it is so full of good things.We are meant for this. It's our soul's food. In five years, when I have forgotten the joys of November-December 2017, reading in my journal , I will feel the joy again.What a profound gift to ourselves.

Isaiah knew a thing or two about all this:

The desert and the parched land shall exult; 
the steppe will rejoice and bloom
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
And rejoice with joyful song....
Say to those whose hearts are frightened
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God"...Is 35:1-10 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

the black lion

The day seemed quite ordinary for what was about to happen.

It was a bright summer morning in 2008, when I took my journal down the hill to the brook in the mountains of upstate New York. I had a few moments alone and planned to write haiku in order to savor the wildness around me. As I approach the rocks, I saw a small white feather swaying back and forth in the breeze.It was on a flat rock and seemed attached. My first thought shocked me: "There must be an angel around."

I must tell you that I don't think that way. I don't collect angels or draw them or think much about them although 6 months earlier I did have the thought to ask my angel her name.The answer came back: "Ariel." That was it.

An inchworm and several butterflies were brought to life in my poems during that hour or so of solitary bliss. As I made my way back to the path, I saw that the tiny feather was there although it was still quite windy.That in itself seem remarkable to me so I scooped it up and returned to the house.That night I had a dream that was so vivid, I wish I could paint and bring it to life in color.

"My dog Cooper and I were going down the path to the brook to sit on a flat rock and watch the sunlight dance on the water. As we approached the brook, I saw large grey slimy serpents on the other side, slithering and undulating along the steep bank. For some reason, I was not afraid.We sat down and immediately from up the stream, I saw a huge black lion headed our way.This made me quite afraid. I bent over to whisper in Cooper's ear; "Don't move.".Even in the dream I chuckled because my poor old dog was as deaf as a stone. He stayed still and the lion passed by and the dream ended.How odd and how real it seemed.

The next day, a niece came to visit and brought with her a book about angels and casually I leafed through wondering what it would say about Ariel. First, it said that angels are spiritual beings appointed by God to guide, protect and help us.O.K. Then what I read next caused me to sit down hard in my chair.:

Ariel is an Archangel closely related to nature .She is particularly helpful for teachers, healers and assists with psychic development .This archangel may be associated with the wind .Water is sacred to Ariel; she is the protector of waters. If a lion appears, you know Archangel Ariel is near.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Art by Jan Oliver Schultz-Trail of the Ancestors

They are still with us; they care about us. I know, I have seen them.

Some of the most exciting years of my life were spent tracking down those elusive people who came before me. Looking for headstones in an old Vermont cemetery which required hoisting my sister over a chain linked fence and crawling up and over myself. Hunting headstones with precious dates. Finding the burial spot of Prindle Rising,  a Union soldier mentioned in a letter from my Civil War great grandfather dated 1863. Hooray.

There is something spiritual about trying to connect with these long dead folks.I felt that deeply as I worked. It started with the death certificate of my grandmother with the names and dates of her parents and where they had been born.It was like pulling a colorful thread that slowly unwinds, gifting precious knowledge.

I am sure of this: their grit stiffens by backbone.Try to imagine coming to Plymouth in the winter of 1638 with a husband and 4 children under the age of ten.You did that Abigail, oh woman of courage.The colony there was barely settled, a few homes carved out of the wilderness.You left everything behind."Oh, beautiful for spacious skies," it called you.

Amanda, my great aunt, I have your picture, in tight bonnet and long skirt.You moved from Vermont and raised a family in Minnesota. In the 1880's a tornado blew through Duluth and a baby was ripped from your arms.She was never found and yet, you lived.You went on. I have proof , a letter you wrote in 1900 telling of hearing William Jennings Bryan speak.You kept in touch with your family back east in Vermont.We will meet some day.

Catherine,  how did you leave beautiful Ireland with four teen-agers in 1848 and arrive here with nothing ?You were tenant farmers and when the only crop, the sorrowful potato, got blight, your life was over.The English government would have fed you if you gave up your faith.Not you,Catherine, you sailed to an unknown place where signs appeared in shop windows that said :"Irish need not apply".You lived and your children became Americans. I am one of yours.

Johnann, my Scottish grandmother, had a third grade education and never drove a car. Always a sweet smile on your face, such busy hands knitting and tatting.Your life was limited to travel to from NY to New Jersey, and no vacations that I ever heard about.I never appreciated how limited your life was. I am telling you that I am sorry.

Strong women, were you all in that vision of six years ago?

I was on a bench in the woods behind our house when I saw you. My eyes were closed as I prayed for my unborn granddaughter.There was bleeding and a safe delivery was not guaranteed. In the quiet, I saw two lines of ancestors on either side of my beautiful, pregnant daughter-in-law. Each person would stop, place a hand on her womb and pass on.The lines were long and from many different parts of this earth; all with one desire, that Maddie be born. It was all so clear, their intention and concern.Then a bell softly rang and they were gone.

She is here, Catherine, Amanda, Johnann, Mary, Abigail,.At the age of five, you will be happy to know,  she loves to pray.My love for her is beyond telling.Thank you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

the writing group

The richness, the joy of it all. Writing in a group; using art to poke around in the roots of who we are.

I wish I had starting writing sooner.What a balm to a soul with so many secrets , so much turmoil. But I must put that aside and be grateful for the beginning. It started, my journal, as a bare bones running log.Weather, sights, ease or hardship, with or without dogs.That was the beginning in the 1980s. This has morphed into a writing group with individuals as unique as five colorful birds on a branch.

There was the time that I took a piece of art, Sisley I believe, and wrote a story that pulled all of me into it. More stories and then for at least seven years, I wondered how I could share this with others and how would that start? And now it has been almost three years of stories and deep connecting.

Writing is a joy; that's all I want anyone to know. And using art deepens the experience profoundly.So, a member of the class goes to Las Vegas and sees a purse with a Van Gogh art print and she and we are transformed by the thought of it. Amid the glitz and glamour, she found timeless beauty. A poem by a Native American is read and the author reaches through the page to bestow an image of great comfort to those on the fourth hill of life.We are not alone, we stand with courage,and the bald eagle as celebrate that we made it this far.

A postcard of an old abandoned tractor in a Nebraska wheat field in winter recalls the warmth of being held there on a similar machine by a father before it all changed. Family members here and gone are recalled in beautiful language and they become ours. Lovely sunsets are captured and held by a haiku of gentleness and colors that please. Long ago childhoods are recalled, some beautiful enough to envy. Risks are taken in poetry form with extraordinary colors of red. Stories of lives so different from others enrich our experience; music on a bus that taught a new language and a kind word on a playground. Someone new joins and, in a flash, has us all soaring like fireflies above a pond in the magical night air.. Delightful.

Would we know any of this about each other without writing? We are awash in unforgettable tales.

Our writing has turned us into watchers, listeners, drifters, people of the finger counting. We travel about with an invisible net ready to snare any wisp of a story, any beauty that can be etched on a page.We are no longer cleaners, scrubbers, helpers; oh, we are that, but we are also this: artists. Long may we be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

haiku 10-11-17

                                                                        amidst the roses
                                                                 the sound of bird calls far away
                                                                         an orange leaf falls

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kevin....always proud of you.

When we found out that there would be a third child coming to the family, I was thrilled.We had the cutest three and one year olds and I couldn't wait .I also prayed for a good person, a happy baby, because three children under the age of 4 would be a circus. He was and is.

I could have posted one of his running pictures because without a doubt he was one of the best high school/college runners in Georgia but he is so much more.There is a goodness to this man, this second son, that shines like a sunrise.

At his 20th high school reunion, he was so aware of those standing around with no one to talk with.In my mind I can see him drifting here and there, including., listening , paying attention.Kevin still weighs under 160 pounds but 100 of that is heart.I will never forget the banquet where he was to be honored for his running career with the retiring of his high school singlet. His track coach was also be honored as he moved on to a different school and no one had thought to get him a card. Kevin left and missed being  honored because his coach mean that much.

Who else would stop a run in mid stride to help a senior break sticks in her driveway, a stranger. And the dark night that I called sobbing at the airport because I was alone and my car wouldn't start, he arrived all smiles, driving through a terrific storm.

Where this kind man came from puzzles me but I used to sing this to him: "Kevin, Kevin, straight from heaven." Surrounded by Honduran children on a mission trip, he is in his happy place.Making them laugh, dancing with the old folks at a senior center, I can see it now.

Happy birthday to one of the best people that I know.Tears and love. Here they come.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

musings on the Rhine

Each time John stumbled, a person, usually a man, came forward to help push his little wheeled walker. Strangers in a strange land. Once, our enemies.

We recently went on a cruise up the Rhine river. I wish there was some way to avoid jet lag because it seems we had just recovered when the Captain was saying good-bye.The Black Forest, that deep, dark hinterland that I have longed to explore.We walked its path in the rain. Heidelberg, Cologne, magical sounding names, safe and enchanting.

The castles were stunning, the river itself, busy, quiet and clean. But what I remember now that I am home is the goodness of people.We went with a couple that we have known forever and his sister and brother-in-law.The brother-in-law, the man with the walker, has had a stroke and yet, there he was smiling and toddling along. His wife, ever attentive, ever caring and my friend Elaine, offering help despite her own desires to do this or that.

I can see my husband taking the arm of a fellow passenger , a woman struggling up a hill. More than once.

I am not a care taker but this role may fall to each of us. I hope I have the loving patience shown by these new and old friends and by a random German here and there who jumped in.

The theme for me of this cruise beyond the beauty was summed up in a small statue in a park in Cologne.We had the most delightful college-aged guide, Danielle, and the way she explained the statute to us led me to believe that it stirs her as it did me. It is a small statue on a tall pedestal and it depicts this: St.Martin of Tours  riding on a huge horse and below him is a thin naked man. Martin splits his cloak in half with his sword and gives half to the man and rides away.That night, he has a dream in which he sees Christ wearing the cloak of the beggar.Isn't that just like Christ to pop up in a dream to show us such a profound truth. Martin's life was never the same after that. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers".......1700 years have gone by and Martin's act still speaks.

On the last day, at the Cologne Cathedral, I bought a white rosary for John's wife and wrote her a note. .I hoped she would meet with Mary in those moments when she needed space and an oasis. I got very emotional for some reason and I am now. Mary Queen of the Angels , pray for us.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

you are my sunshine

Well, there she is, sitting in the grass, at home in the world. Our first born. The beginning of a family that stirs my heart. She loves her brothers, does Jessica. So much so that after being away at school for two years, she wanted to come home to go to Georgia State because she missed them so. Do they know that?

Brave and true. Off she went to a performing arts camp when just 15.When I called , missing her so, they found her under a bed, so homesick and yet, she went off to college in the mountains where she graduated first in her class. Determined.

The day we dropped her off at Brevard, I got in the wrong car to go home and only the growling of a large dog clued me in. I was lost and numb and thought I would never recover but I did and she did.

I always marveled at her goodness; forever seeing the good in people and helping with an open heart, guiding girl runners as a mother would, tutoring other classmates to the detriment of her own studies and cheering on her brother's many accomplishments. I used to wonder; where did this person come from, what cloud did she step off to come and be the best of us ? Jessica.

And I was not alone in seeing this. A few years back she heard from an old high school acquaintance.This young woman  just wanted Jessica to know that she had named her daughter after her. She wanted her daughter to be a good , kind, caring child of God and so she named her after the one girl she remembered as being all those things. Can you imagine the honor of hearing that ?That a beautiful girl bears your name because of your unforgettable goodness? That old friend got it right.

One Mother's Day, many years ago, she played a Jermaine Jackson  record entitled "Mother" for me.I still have the words in my treasure box. That moment touched me in a place that I guard and so I will sing a song back to her:

                                    "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
                                      you make me happy when skies are grey.
                                        you'll never know dear, how much I love you,
                                          please don't take my sunshine away."

Saturday, August 19, 2017

happy talk

Merrily, I was changing Maddie's diaper as I sang, "Happy Talk, keep talkin' happy talk, talk about things you like to do" from South Pacific. Her black eyes were watching intently and then I stopped. She looked at me, smiled , and went ca, ca, ca in the back of her throat, singing along. I knew then we would be best friends.

She is five today and we celebrate with quiet joy.She who doesn't like stickers but loves to draw.She who always has a special someone who she wants to sit by when we eat and don't count on it being you more than once a year. I gain that honor when our numbers are few. It is often her cousin McKenna, 15 , who loves her and all little ones, and always has. If you should sit by her when another has caught her eye, she will quietly tell you that she has other plans for that seat. Never embarrassing you but firm in what she wants.

Maddie is very interested in things of the spirit (and why not, she is from there) and for some reason I am the designated God person.When she is read to from her Bible book and has a question, the answer seems to be, we'll ask Grandma Graham. I find this amusing because she wanted to know why God made ears that you can't close but you can close your eyes and mouth. I got that question. Really?

The other day she asked why God made us.This caught me off guard to be sure but isn't that the first question in the old blue Baltimore Catechism? The answer then was; ", to know,  love and serve Him in this life so that we can be with Him for eternity in the next."That little book may have been the most important book that I ever owned. Anyway, I told her that God was lonely and made us so He could love us and have a family.

Recently she was visiting and I gave her some pencils and paper and she started to draw. All things purple. Tree, flower, bird and then she drew the outline of a heart in purple. I thought to say," why not fill it with pink "when she took a pink pencil and filled it in. I have it framed on my desk.

Maddie is here for a special reason as we all are.Her ancestors were intent on her being among us. I saw them praying for her. I tell her how much Mary loves her and today, I will put a small wooden rosary with colored beads into her hand, she who was born on the Feast of the Assumption. May she always be aware of the Love that charges the universe.

Friday, August 18, 2017

small blessings

My mother didn't have an easy life living with an alcoholic and often mean tempered husband, but what I noticed, even when young, was that she had a cheery disposition. That was who she as, someone who viewed life with sunny eyes. I think she passed that gene down to me. I am grateful beyond measure that my mind doesn't regularly slide into despairing thoughts. What a burden that must be.To be fine one minute and then although nothing has changed, a gloom descends and shoulders slump and bear.

So it is that I recall waking up on three different days, over several years, feeling the blahs. Just an off feeling buzzing around in my brain . One time, a pale pink, newly blooming,  Catherine Woodbury lily met me on the way to my car and smiled up at me as if to say: "Really ? Look at me, so pale pink and fluffy as a cloud tinged with the sunset, and you can be glum?" I almost laughed and went happily on my way.

The second time I remember  this happening,  I went out onto our porch early one morning and there was a newly emerged monarch butterfly. Absolutely stunning, as it hung from the plant where it had attached itself 900 miles away in New York.The chrysalis had endured the long ride home in a bouncing, blowy old truck and there it was. I had seen a green stem-like thing hanging off the plant and had almost flicked it off. In all its orange and black glory, this butterfly didn't have to say a word.

The other day , it happened again, right on time. Next to a red, pink and green Caladium that we  planted because some Caladium corms we ordered hadn't come up, were a few little green and red shoots. When I bent down to dig it up and put this small colorful plant in better soil, I realized it was laying on top of the hard ground with one small shoot below. The forgotten corm had sprouted in the worst possible soil. I plucked it up and put it in my window box where I tend it lovingly.

I can't help but hum the old Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts" and think of these words.

.                                     ........"and when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
                                             'twill be in the valley of love and delight,
                                                  When true simplicity is gained.."

An affirmation came in prayer on August 14:

"Joy is your birthright as a daughter of the Kingdom. What you put in as holy works, you take out as flashes of joy.Keep looking for the small blessings designed only for you." 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I loved that cat....

One of the highlights of our trip to Scotland for me was the cat.

If you don't keep a journal now, I would say " please start." Mysteries happen that can only be seen when we look back.

We arrived in Aberdeen in September of 2010 and I noticed, over the next couple of days, that I was having vivid, unforgettable dreams which I transcribed in my journal. Here is one of the first:

Sunday, 9-12-2010 :

 "'My whole family and I were getting out of bed to stretch. My little grey and white cat (which I don't own) was playing with us and I kept an eye on him to be sure he didn't run away.
  Then, Juanita came over to tell me of the money gift that she received from her boss, which enabled her to buy lunch out and then a statue of Mary. She was so happy, she kept saying: "she's white and she's my lady". I was glad for her but tried to concentrate on the cat and stretching."

As I look at that dream it seems like a true telling of what was important to me; running, animals, and then maybe, in an off hand way, Mary.

What comes next has only been revealed as extraordinary because I reread my notes, looking for something else that happened on the trip. On the 16th , we were on the other side of Scotland, on the Isle of Skye. John went off for a hike and I was happy to sit in a small park outside our B and B and write in my journal and read. A young man , Scott,  from Glasgow came by and asked me if the cat that was sitting in my lap was mine. I laughed and said:  "No, he just appeared, hopped up and we are keeping each other warm." The cat stayed for an hour until it rained and I went in. The next day, as we waited at the bus stop, he came by and sat on the bench until we left. I have never had an experience like that before and you will note his colors.

I must tell you that I never made a connection to the dream that happened four days before until I read over my old journal notes. How mysterious. I loved that cat and think of him often but he was a sign .His appearance and that dream is the second bead of a rosary story that spans 13years.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rose of Hildesheim

Day 18 Glorious Mysteries-------The Rose of Hildesheim_

How did I not know about this; about this wonderful rose bush that has been blooming in Germany for over a thousand years ? It hugs the wall of an old cathedral in Hildesheim and although the church was destroyed in a bombing raid in World War 11, this rose bush managed to survive.

I have to tell my granddaughter about it. She and I talk about important things . I want her to know about this Cathedral which is dedicated to Our Lady's Assumption into Heaven and this rose bush which has survived for so long.She is five years old; will a thousand years mean much to her?

I try to imagine the strength of this particular bush that blooms and thrives.

The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated by the Church on August 15th which is also my Maddie's birthday.I can't tell you how beautiful Maddie is with her big black eyes, her long black wavy hair and her serious look. She will be getting a colorful wooden child's rosary for her birthday .At Mass last Sunday, I suggested that she talk to Mary in her mind. She looked puzzled and then said ;"show me".So I closed my eyes and talked to my Mother and wondered if she could understand what I was doing. She, Mary and I have this connection ..

I am sure that I will never see the wonderful German rose bush  but knowing it is there gives me inordinate pleasure.To complete the circle, my mother, whose green and gold beads were never far from her hands, passed away on the feast of the Assumption, August 15th, in 1996.

As we approach the green sward that leads to the cathedral wall,; I hold an old gnarled hand and a sweet smooth one. We approach with quiet reverence. Although Maddie is only a little girl, she is subdued as if she knows we are doing something special. My mother knows that this moment means so much to me and I am so happy that she is with us. We bow at the beauty and hardiness of this plant and ask that it will continue to thrive and I pray this in gratitude:

"Mary,  protect my sweet girl, hold her to your breast and guide her life. I am so glad that she is my granddaughter. For my mother of the green beads, eternal gratitude for her faithfulness to your Son. For your unexpected entrance into my life, Mary, I consecrate myself to you."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

oh, the places you will go..

Safe spaces, that's a constant theme when college kids are faced with a challenging thought or two.Where can I go and hide? I actually think that this response is probably the first one when confronted with danger.If a bear were chasing me, I would look for a huge carved out log and crawl inside.Wouldn't you ?Ah, a safe place.
I have a wonderful postcard of a hero's safe space,  Rob Roy's cave on Loch Lomond in Scotland: one can see the cleft in the jagged rocks where he would slip in and wait. Safe.

When I was a kid, riding on the U.S.S. Chaos with my four family members, I found a way to escape. I so enjoyed going to bed because there, in my mind, I entered a place I called 'thinkland" where I was in charge and could have anything I wanted. As I type this, I see how important it must have been for a shy, powerless, unworthy girl to have some control. In Thinkland, I steered the ship and all came to me at my beck and call. I would go into a large house and each room was filled with anything I desired. It was organized by room. Exquisite fabrics in one; silk, gold and red, satin yellow and blue, mauve gauzy material, all mine to play with and feel.That for some reason was my favorite. Other rooms with perfect colorful gems, all for me. Bright red rubies, gorgeous sparkling purple amethysts, diamonds to wear, turquoise rings.  .Any jewel that I could imagine belonged to me. Those are the two rooms I remember. Perhaps another held hundreds of dollhouses or another, Nancy Drew books.A room with beautiful music playing. Oh, the pleasure of walking from room to room in my thoughts.

I wonder now if this wasn't a form of prayer, as shallow as it seems.Now that I pray for the desires of my heart, wasn't "thinkland" a trip there? Was I led to do this musing by a benevolent Spirit who knew that I needed some brightness in the haze of sadness all around? I think so and what's more, as I reflect back, there was much beauty sustaining me that at the time I took for granted.

I will now add them to the house.:

A room full of pale purple lilacs that grew next to the house that never failed to produce blossoms whose scent would make a marble statue swoon.
A side porch of Lily of the Valley that grew by the front door whose scent transported .
A front stoop with of a passel of good kids, friends, who never failed to bring the enjoyment of sports and the joy of laughter.
Azaleas, red, orange, white all clustered around the front to the house, never failing to appear in May.
A room where faith was taught that gave hope in the dismal times.A radio program called, I Heard the Master Speak.

Our thoughts are heard, our prayers are heard and we are loved and lifted beyond measure and the only response can be, Deo Gracias.

Art -Fairy Land-Tom Anholt

Saturday, June 17, 2017

live gently, oh dragonfly.

  When I take time to sit in my garden, I am always rewarded by something; a color, a bird, and often a visit. A dragonfly will perch on the steel pole that anchors the hose. I like to think it is checking me out,  another garden sprite like him,  but it may be the heat feels good to its delicate feet. I have seen brown, green and even a special color of blue on their bodies.When I was a kid we called them darning needles.Who knows why?

The dragonfly will be so still, so poised with their transparent , delicate wings occasionally changing position  for balance.What is the world to them as they pose? Where do they go in winter and what is their life span? From reading, I see that this insect's lifespan is 7 months so no need to worry about winter. I saw a dead one the other day curled up in the dirt. Sad.

Eighty percent of the dragonfly's brain is taken up with sight and it can see 360 degrees around. In some cultures, it is thought that it's appearance signifies change, and an uninhibited vision of the mind and an ability to see beyond the limitations of the human self. Such a rich interpretation of this wonderful creature and so it is that this all comes together, this meditation.

In prayer, I was given this: 

"When the time comes each step will be revealed. Each builds on each and nowhere is a moment of grace lost. It is all around. It seeps through every moment , every thing . It shines as it seeps but only those who look for it can see it.
Your work is to reveal it subtly, warmly, lovingly, in the places where you are put. Be gentle in those places, gentle also with yourself. Your job is to be there, show up while the grace flows. Peace and no worries."

Friday, June 9, 2017

desecration and redemption..

Kusama-Fireflies on the Water

It was a sunny, mild June day when we arrived at the mountain cabin. The first thing we did, as always, was to go to the small pond down the road to look for beaver.My young son had often said that this beautiful spot was his favorite place in the world. Surrounded by his three huge favorite maples,  it was a shaded paradise. His freckled face beamed whenever we talked about it .We only went to the cabin once a year, so this trip to the pond was special.

As we started to approach, something seemed very wrong. There was the pond, but two of the trees had been chopped down and lay in pieces around the pond. My young son 11 at the time, sat down on a log and started to cry. He was inconsolable over this desecration. He turned and ran to his room in the cabin. As slow as a funeral procession, I walked back alone, sat at the old kitchen table and mourned.

As I often do, I started to read some psalms and then write in my journal. My hand flew across the blank pages with words of wisdom that were not mine:.

"Take heart, this is a most important lesson. How much empathy do you have for those who have suffered a loss greater than the death of two trees? Talk to your son about some losses you have had.Tell him about the card you sent to an acquaintance who almost died in surgery and how that note brought a wonderful new friend into your life. See if he remembers the sympathy card that meant so much to you that your other children sent when your special friend, the Lab, had to be put down. Use this heart break to lead your young son to understand that he has the power to help those suffering as he is suffering. Ask if he would like to help to plant two new trees, renewing the pond place with your own hands. Do you see the beauty of living ?"

I wiped my tears, and called my son to the table. In my mind I could see the acts of empathy that we could do, together or apart, as a field of bright lighted fireflies, dancing and following our souls into eternity.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

we have given our hearts away...

St.Kevin and the Blackbird.-Michael Cook.

The Creator must have a special place in his heart for the blackbird.

I once saw a squirrel try to rescue a blackbird who was trapped under the claws of a hawk four times his size. Like a tiger, he charged the hawk who released the blackbird only to catch him in mid-flight. I will never forget this action, this seeming kindness by the furry grey animal that steals our bird food.

Today is the feast of St.Kevin. My second son bears his name.This Celtic saint of 1400 years ago had an encounter with a female blackbird who started to build her nest in his palm, outstretched in prayer. Seeing her efforts, he held his arms out til the baby birds fledged. I love that story.

It does seem a bit of a stretch doesn't it ? But the saint was a real pray-er, hours of it and he withdrew from all contact to keep the connection with God firm and all important. Off he would go, into the woods for years but always someone would find him. Maybe he glowed. He would eventually be dragged back to preach about what he had found in God's presence. He founded a monastery in Glendalough, Ireland and brought Christ to the thousands of pilgrims who made their way there in the 600s A.D.

As I contemplate the long gone Kevin, words of a poem keep coming to mind:.

"The world is too much with us: late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;-
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.".....

Standing at Wordsworth's grave in England two years ago, I could  hear his words, smell his golden daffodils. The quiet under those tall trees was Wordsworth quiet.The meandering stream across the way knew his gaze. Poets and saints, they know.

In my mind is a painting. It is an American woman in her fifties, sitting on a rock circle in Glendalough where the quiet was a pale blue. A yellow September sun shone around her and with eyes closed she prayed, overlaying hers with the many that Kevin had uttered. Knowing peace that could only be described as a Presence, she wanted to put down green spreading roots and never leave. Along came a young British girl who sat down for a chat. Our older tourist looked up, nodded, and engaged. (You never know when a bird might land in your hand.)

The world is always too much with us. Rambling William knew, holy Kevin knew. But those who seek that quiet, that solitude, have much to say when they come back.

Monday, May 29, 2017

walking through the gate

Gateway Tangier-Tanner

A slight breeze grazes my cheek as I stand with uncertainty at the gate.The sun is beyond and here, the chatter of voices , the grinding of wheels, are checked by the walls around me.The blues and other soft colors are as refreshing and comforting as a spring rain. Everything here is so familiar and under my control but a nagging voice keeps asking for more. Go out, let go, let Me handle everything. Be alert, and follow.

I don't know for how long I knew that I was being asked for more than just weekly church, good deeds and prayer. When did I realize that I was using all these "good" things to keep a distance between me and the One who wanted everything? The date of capitulation is unknown to me. The hour when I decided to jump off that cliff and fly through the air, trusting that strong arms awaited. It had taken at least 7 years to realize that all my small little hidden corners could be exposed to the light without  me, myself, disappearing.

So here I am, His servant. Watching in wonder at the things that has been asked. Start a writing group.Me?Start a prayer group. Me? And as if a wall has been breached, that step into the sun has lead me to places never thought of. There is a plan. A good plan. A perfect plan that once assented to can change everything.
Or we can go our own way, never knowing the best.

I once told an old friend that God loves us and has a perfect plan.Those words changed his life. Powerful words, life saving words.I have walked through the gate to tell you that.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

study in marigolds

Study in Marigolds , Gwen John
There are simple moments that define who we become. Moments when a "yes" is said and you can trace a pattern for good or ill.

It was such a moment when my 15 year old oldest son asked his older sister if he could join her friends on a trip to the ice skating rink at Stone Mountain. He had been hanging with some friends that I didn't care for and when she said yes, I was thrilled.Jessica had found a peer group by joining the cross country team and these were good kids who worked hard at being the best they could be in that sport. I saw her hesitate when he asked and then nod in assent.I was proud of her and of him for asking .Shortly after that, he joined the team and by the end of his first season had run an awesome mile time.He and she still run to this day.In his heart he knows that this decision to run probably saved his life in many ways.

Another "yes" comes to mind that I had forgotten.When my youngest son was 9 or 10, he and I went to Maggie Valley,S.C. to stay for a few days in a cabin by a small lake.Nearby was the Soho Zoo, a place of refuge for snakes and other herps. At the zoo, was a small gift shop. We wandered around and then my son spotted a Petersen's Field guide to Reptiles and Amphibians and asked if he could have it. My habit, even after going to work ,was to spend as little money as possible on anything. I recall the price of 13 dollars seemed like a lot.Sean told me later that I kept wandering around the store with the book and a tight mouth and furrowed brow until I finally said yes.It is true that this small book changed a boy's life and gave him a passion that he still holds for the natural world. At that age, he became a scientist and he now teaches young adults to honor and respect all of the natural world.

The above painting, "Study in Marigolds" by Gwen John caught my eye as I looked for a piece of art to bring a story to my mind. In her later years , Gwen followed her lover, Rodin, to a town in France where she began dropping into Mass to sketch young girls in their Breton costumes. Eventually, she said "yes" to the love of God who was embracing her in the quiet of her desperate life. She left us with a quote that touches me to my depths;

"Every moment is holy; don't soil the moments.".

I was so delighted to come across this simple painting of hers; these marigolds of such subtle colors. Did she love them as I do?

The first shoots appeared and my joy was uncontained.The plain black dirt was being brought to life from the dead looking seeds that I had planted in a small patch on Long Island. I was 11 when my mother had assented to my request to buy three packets of seeds; marigolds, nasturtiums and bachelor buttons.The first to appear were the marigolds and I have a cache of them here by the door of my Georgia home. When I got older, I recall thanking my mother more than once for investing that dollar in my new passion, one that grabbed my heart in that sprouting moment and has never let go.This story is for you, Mom.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

baby blue bird

    stumbling and tumbling 

                                                               new from a square wooden box

                                                                      the baby bluebird

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

lost and found

One of the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary focuses on the story of Mary and Joseph looking for Jesus and finding him in the temple but only after three days of frantic searching. This story always brings to mind two things; when my oldest son was lost at the beach and my own lostness.

This is a mystery that evokes gratitude. And that is where it takes me every time. I had gone to a small beach with four year old daughter and my two year old son near where we were living in Georgia. I never liked doing this as I was nervous the whole time.This is water after all and they were just little children. I remember the day so clearly. I had brought a People magazine which I never intended to read because my eyes had to be glued to those little bodies. But this time , just for a minute, I read a few lines.When I looked up, my son was gone.The feeling that came over me was hard to describe; a prickly rush went up my spine and my mind went blank.What do I do? I got up and looked around and saw only my daughter. Do I start screaming? What? I headed for the water and out of the corner of my eye, here came my sweet boy with his big smile.Without a care, coming from I don't know where, he was miraculously there. My relief and joy was without end. I feel it now.

My own lostness, chasing illusions and empty things to fill the God size hole in my heart would take a longer writing. I just hum Amazing Grace and know that, for all of us, grace is available to find our way back. Another reason to be grateful.

These things came to mind as I pondered something that happened yesterday as I left the Goodwill store. I went to stock up on treasures and I had found many.I was happy when leaving, especially after getting the senior discount. As I walked to my car this thought came with great force;"You are going to find something soon."Well, I figured a dime might be on the ground, or I would find a penny and consider it a gift from the Creator. Instead, while putting the bags in the back, there it was , the earring that I had lost the Sunday before after church. How it got there, I don't know since I always sit in the front. An earring you say? Big deal ! But it actually was because I was very sad about this particular earring that my wonderful daughter-in-law had made for me from some beads I found in a thrift store.I always think of her with love when I wear them.The earrings are silver with three small blue beads hanging down on thin links, so perfect. And it was gone. How did I know that I was going to find something special? It is a mystery to add to the others.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

high on a lonely cliff edge

His story haunts me. The tale of a wanderer who had seen beauty and couldn't live without it.

I can't  remember how I stumbled upon Everett Reuss, his art and poetry. He, though brought up in California, found himself in the Southwest, and was so smitten by what he saw that he lived for going back. . With a glint in his eye , and art supplies in his pack, he left his family, bought two burros and drifted across the desert like an aimless tumbleweed. Through New Mexico, Colorado, Utah  and Arizona.; he would be gone for months and then show up to restock and take off again. His first solo trip commenced when he was 17. I imagine him now in things like a hawk circling above on a breeze or on a windblown, desert trail.

In Everett, I see my son Sean, my last child,  who was never as much at home as he was on the Flint River and now in the deserts of West Texas. He made a film once when he was 15 years old about the Flint that flowed behind our house.The hours he spent exploring the woods and river created the man he is today. A wanderer, teacher, explorer, who takes students to Mexico looking for undiscovered species of snakes and lizards. I can feel his excitement, see the glint in his eyes as he packs for the next adventure and I worry about the desert.

Everett's poetry and art are not regarded as more than average by some, but I see them with my own eyes, those of a minor would be drifter. Everett was full of life and had no confusion over what  he wanted to do. There were no  roots to be put down beside a stream for him. His was the wanderer's path.He sought out beauty and tried to express it; his works touch me.

The following is the last paragraph of a poem that he wrote when he was 15.It is a moving and heart-breaking harbinger of a short and well lived life. It is called "Pledge to the Wind"
.."By the strength of my arm, by the sight of my eyes,
By the skill of my fingers, I swear,
As long as life dwells in me, never will I
Follow any way but the sweeping of the wind"

In 1934, the poet and artist disappeared among the red rocks of Utah and has never been found. He was 21.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

we soar together

The scene before me takes my breath away. The enchanting colors, turquoise, deep green ,stunning white.I am drawn in by the stillness.The cranes are regal, guardians of this oasis. They are elders who stand in silence.They seem so centered and composed, as I watch from the bank. I want to wade out to them with my toes in the mud and stand stone still beside them. I long to look in their yellow eyes and see what wisdom is there as a gentle breeze ruffles our feathers.

A crane will sleep standing in the water, so the story goes, with a stone held in the one claw that he keeps up by his side.If he falls deeply asleep, the claw will open, the stone plops and he awakens to alertness again. .Aesop told the tale of a peacock taunting the more bland crane about his lack of beauty.The crane answers that he, unlike the earth bound peacock, can soar to the heavens and what price can one put on that?.

The crane is a popular symbol in Asian culture.There is a practice of making chains of paper cranes for good luck, healing,  happiness and success and taking them as offerings to shrines and temples..How lovely. If you see a crane flying, it may be drawing your eyes to the heavens, lifting your spirits and inspiring you to trust in the universe.If you notice one standing, it may be advising vigilance and alertness.

Soon, I notice one of the cranes bending to fly and  I creep like a child unto his back and hold on to his feathered shoulders. As he lifts, for a second my breath leaves at such height, but I settle in and we are drifting, flowing , free to ascend.We are over the trees now and I want to just rest here and go wherever this creature takes me.I feel so free and alive.

My crane is the Spirit and I have turned my soul over to it; my destination and safety are in His hands.I have no idea where I am going, but we, all of us, are made for this journey.My hands grab the tops of His wings and we soar.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

the last time I saw Paris..

Where else can you spend 86 dollars on two truffle omelets and juice? And I actually read the sign in the window telling the price in French, did the math and still ate there anyway. Delicious.

Paris is the city of poets, painters and kisses galore.The buildings are low, pace is slow  and everyone you see looks relaxed.This is not the New York of tall skyscrapers and business; Paris is love, museums, cafes, bridges, a clean river. We stayed in a small room where the bed touched both walls that year in September. Hemingway's ghost kept drifting along the avenues we trod.

Some memories linger: the moments of prayer in Notre Dame where despite the din of Japanese tourists, I felt God's presence as I gazed up toward the rose colored window.The trip to Giverny, Monet's home.The lovely pink stucco walls and green shutters of that house made me so happy.The ponds, the tired fall gardens, an enchanted place.We went to Versailles where those same tourists inside the palace made me hastily head for the gardens where I sat on a stone bench under a sweet willow and read the psalms.Nearby a young artist in a blue blouse and khaki skirt with hair twirled on her head, was drawing with such amazing concentration; it was a scene I will never forget.

So when we were deciding where to go for our anniversary, Paris beckoned.  Reservations were made for a small studio apartment in a courtyard with potted trees.The pictures looked lovely.I couldn't wait to write at the little wrought iron table in that small enclosed space; me and Hemingway's ghost. But Paris is no longer the City of Light but one of riots, fires and attacks on women.I have cancelled my dream.

So many places I wanted to see; Louveciennes, to gaze down the alley where Sisley painted that lonely figure in the snow, the Louvre, Sacre Coeur. Instead, we are heading for the wide open skies of Montana, New Mexico and perhaps some of the Lewis and Clark Trail.I am now getting excited about this and a coincidence happened that leads me to believe what we are doing is the right path. I had mentioned to John that I wanted to go to Chimayo in New Mexico, a place with a small chapel and sacred healing sand that has mystical properties, it is said. An hour later, someone on the prayer group that I joined wrote about praying and lighting a candle at that very place the day before. Her prayers were for each one of us on that Rosary group site.How wonderful, how affirming.

....Adieu, dear Paris, the last time I saw you , your  heart was warm and gay.No matter how they change you,, I'll remember you that way.

Friday, March 24, 2017

happiness in rivers

The woods have finally lost their winter grey and here and there is the light green of spring. How gratifying to see this every year.The lone turkey who comes to my window is no longer moping as he has a lady friend.This new relationship causes his brown sunlit plumage to flair out in a protective, threatening way. He is at his strutting best and I am happy for him. It's spring and thoughts turn to love.

An old friend from New York has a grandson that has recently been diagnosed with a terrible condition. It is not life threatening but it will limit his life profoundly and he just turned two years old.This is a beautiful boy with blond curls and big brown eyes.The road ahead looks so grim and empty. I struggle to understand what his life will be like and how he will be cared for. This is a stone lying on my heart.

In prayer, I received this heartening answer which I hold unto amid the swirling waters of sadness: "This child will  be cared for and will know My love and Me for his whole life.The people who will suffer mostly in this situation are those who don't know Me.They need your prayers."

I wasn't going to write about this until  today when I found something that Thomas Merton wrote about the Prodigal Son story that felt so in line with all of this...." the lost sheep, the lost drachma, the Prodigal Son.Our dearest Lord is showing that he means everything about the fatted calf and the rejoicing to be taken literally, that He means to pour out every kind of happiness in rivers upon those who ran away from His Mercy but could not escape it."All saints, pray for us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

the singing revolution

Tallinn, Estonia

Is it possible to describe how delightful it is to have a bit of solitude in my life ? A small retreat from the noise of life with others? The feeling that comes over me as I read in the quiet of this room that is my own is one of ease and gratitude. Quiet, no obligations, no reason to rush. Oh, the first 13 years where I stayed and raised the children, then twenty years of satisfying work; these I wouldn't trade for any gift; but this, this is the time to read a book just because you want. There is no warm coffee, Lent deprivation, but I will live.

 The book I am reading is by a poet, Jane Kenyon ; the essay I am about to read is of her trip to Estonia. I like her writing, it is lyrical and about things that I enjoy, like hiking ,church and people in her town in New Hampshire.

Certain places just settle in your heart and Estonia, little brave place, is one. The  people there, ruled for too long by the USSR, had a soft revolution once, a strictly small country one, that moves me deeply.On our Baltic trip two years ago, we went to the stadium where they have monstrous concerts and during the occupation thousands of Estonians would gather there and sing national songs. Just to keep their country. Just to keep their souls.They actually were forbidden to sing some of the songs but they did anyway.Even the Russians weren't stupid or cruel enough to open fire on families lifting their voices.

They are free now, these good people but nervous because they have lost their country before.I took a picture of their flag because they impressed me so. They were forbidden to fly it during the communists years and no wonder.Here is what the colors signify:

The blue stands for faith, loyalty, devotion and also the lakes, sea and sky.and endurance"until the skies last". Love that line.The black is for the soil and the dark past.The white represents striving towards enlightenment and virtue and is also the color of birch bark and snow.

In 1989, it flew again over black dirt,  birches, lakes.It was unfurled and flapped gloriously over the sea, snow and sky.It's my second favorite flag.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

the blessings found in bookstores.......

Nether Springs Retreat House,U.K.

My first penny for today came before 9 A.M. when I opened a special book.

I have written before about a great bookstore just south of us in Zebulon,Georgia where they sell new and used books with a fireplace, coffee machine and cozy chairs for visitors.We make a pilgrimage to this place on the square at least twice a year.Number one book store with titles you will see nowhere else.

Number two bookstore is a small room attached to a little library in Alpine, Texas where my youngest son lives. He can walk to it amid the granite mountains and desert that surrounds the town. One main street, a train that goes through and some small shops with a western flavor.The small Catholic church is up the hill and as usual in church, we found quiet.

The bookstore was a magnet for us in our pursuit of the perfect read. And so I found an oddity." Celtic Night Prayer" is the title of this plain little book with a Celtic Knot on the cover.You had me at Celtic Knot. And 75 cents.It is published by the Northumbria Community of Felton,U.K .How this book came across the pond and into my hands is worthy of a fiction story. However it came to be, I am grateful.

Each day there is a reading and today's thought by Frederick Buechner made me snicker.He talks about:
" the invisible power of God working not just through the sacraments but in countless hidden ways to make even slobs like us loving and whole beyond anything we could conceivably pull off by ourselves." Ha.

Buechner also says that although we may desire this transformation we are very committed to our slobbery and hold on to it for dear life.I totally agree. It seems to me that we are quite content being the inferior slobs that we are until some crisis comes along and we realize our slobbery isn't enough and we cry out. He hears but requires our cooperation.We think, why doesn't he just fix it! ?Because if He fixed the mess, we would stay in our constant state of slobbery. He seems to want us to be more like Him. Quelle Horreur!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

turkey talk ..

Perching in the fresh air, the sun warming. Six feet away is the lone turkey. I know he comes for corn and bird seed, but I 'd like to think that we are friends. I always talk to him and tell him how pretty he is. If you have never seen a turkey with the sun lighting him up, you won't understand.The neck that is loaded with colorful plastic beads, the feathers which are luminous, all beautiful.The turkey was once our national bird and well he should be. O.K,.if you want to project power , the eagle is better although I have seen the turkeys chase deer twice their size.

My turkey is today's penny. And as if he wasn't enough, a note from a friend who says that our writing class has brought her great joy.Yes.

Are we grateful enough ?This morning my left eyeball hurts when I bend over. Probably sinus issues. But 364 days out of the year, my eyeball is just there, letting me know that my turkey is here, allowing me to read my friend's note and lets me see my blue Indian bedspread with the white circles that I love. How often to I thank God for my left eyeball?

Gratitude is a practice.We have to be aware to be grateful. It is not our default position. Looking for the negative is. I believe that. If you run into ten friends and nine pay you a compliment and the tenth cuts you down, what do you ponder for the next three day ? It is an evolutionary construct. We watch out for danger and thus develop negative thinking.Can we get over this and be grateful people? Scripture says: "Rejoice in the Lord, always." If it was not possible, it would not be asked of us. It's a choice and today I choose to rejoice.

Monday, March 6, 2017

pennies from heaven

Under the yellow vine that is hanging near my writer's desk is a male cardinal. What a striking bird he is. I don't even mind that he is grabbing some of the flowers for lunch. He deserves those and more. Jumping around in and out of the vine is a brown thrasher, the state bird of Georgia. If I sit still, all this comes to me.

I have written of the bounty that I find when I stroll the park near my house. A crayon of the most beautiful blue,.a Happy Halloween sign, a thick artist's pencil, a dime. And once in awhile in my life a special gift comes; an old friend appears bearing his story, and memories. In the fifty years since I have seen him, he has accomplished much and raised a beautiful family.Olive plants a plenty around his table.A good man who remembers me as a teenager : who knew my long gone family.What price can you put on such knowing in a world that is spinning so fast ?

Black and white pictures of Jones Beach and smiles.We were young then and good.There is nothing in the memories to mar who we were. Trips to N.Y.C., football games, movies, trying to learn how to drive a stick shift in the beach parking lot. American stories. Who knew that running under all these things was movement towards a good life for us both. It brings me untold pleasure to know that this man, with determination and grit, has had a successful life.Not without challenges because of his service to our country, but a happy one.

There is such bounty in this world if we slow down and be still.; if we look for it as one might check the ground for pennies.(I always do). Maybe that will be what my pen records this Lent.

May we feel His Presence in all things.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

sacred and profane

The sun is so bright today that I can hear the trees starting to bud, a gentle pop of green here and there. The Bradfords are in full white, their cotton puffs will soon be replaced by light green shoots and then the leaves. The lone turkey is stretched out in the sun and every once in awhile his eyes close for a few seconds.Nap time on the Graham plantation.

There are so any disturbing things going on in the world and we know them all instantly because of the internet.So I read a bit of Scripture daily to keep in balance."The Word is near you, deep within you, the Word is on your lips.The Word who made you, yet will save you...The Word is in you deep within you, the Word is in your heart..."

Today, the reading jumped out at me because of where my thoughts have been. Madonna has been on my mind for the last few days. She, who offered sexual favors to anyone who voted for her candidate.She who fantasizes about blowing up the White House and  whose children's woes are front page news. I want to reach out and hug her.I don't care how many fans or how many Grammys(7), she is lost.

The first time I noticed Louise Ciccone was in a favorite movie, "A League of Their Own."How I loved the feisty girls of that all women's baseball team and Tom Hanks memorable line;", there's no crying in baseball."'Madonna was one of the girls and exuded kindness and grit.She has adopted a few children later in life so she must have a heart. I pray for those children and Madonna.She, who left the Church and yet used many of its images in a profane way to gain fame and fortune.

I do not back away from quoting today's reading :"What profit does he show who gains the whole world and destroys himself in the process."Luke 9:25.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

follow the river

 I went down to my river spot on Sunday. It is always with a bit of trepidation because of the cottonmouth snakes that live back there.I step daintily, keep an eye out and am relieved when I reach my writer's log. It is a half mile walk through the floodplain and Sunday there were many animal encounters. A pair of mallard ducks were roused from their island peace and flew up the Flint. Four deer took off at my approach and a flock of Sandhill cranes were calling overhead. I never could spot them but they travel by us twice a year migrating up and down the river. I kept thinking; " follow the river, follow the river" and my thoughts, like a bird after a long flight, slowly brought a story that haunts me.

In 2013,  Geraldine Largay, a  66 year old hiker from Tennessee was living her dream. She was fit and healthy and perhaps at her age she thought":, now or never". She took off from West Virginia with a friend, to hike the Appalachian Trail to its end in Maine.There are pictures of her smiling, glowing, as she walked slowly along. Many thought so much of "Inchworm", her trail name,  that they wanted their picture taken with her.Then the first of several unfortunate things happened. Her friend had to get off the trail in New Hampshire. I can see her in on the trail  wrestling with this; should I go on; I am almost to Maine? She was known to have direction difficulties. She went on.

She went on and knowing what I know, I choke up as I type this. At some point in the deep Maine woods, she left the trail and when she started back, she was lost. She found a hill and tried to use her cell phone.The messages to her husband were found on her cell phone two years later. Geraldine had starved . She kept a journal and it seems that she decided to put down her tent on that knoll and wait for someone to come along.The spot unfortunately was a mile away from the trail. A monumental search was launched to no avail. For two years her family wondered what had happened.

The part that saddens me so is that there was the Oberton stream was nearby and in August it probably wasn't terribly full.There is a hiking rule; follow the stream. It eventually will take you to something; a bridge, a town, something. Perhaps by the time she decided to do this she was too weak. If you have hiked from West Virginia to Maine and are near to your goal, the one thing you don't want to do is go backwards or down.

In 2015, they found Geraldine's neatly piled clothes near her journal , a water bottle , a rosary and her tent. If I close my eyes, I can see her there, praying.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


The Carolina Jessamine is now in full bright yellow bloom on the fence at the back of the house.I see it each morning from the window of this room, which is my own. Although I relish the bare, spare trees of winter,  to see some color is pleasing. I read somewhere that when women turn 40, they start to wear muted greys, browns and blacks. Why, who knows. Perhaps an unconscious mourning for the end of childbearing? I am determined to add color to my life. Everyday, I am going to look for color and celebrate it.

This came to mind as I read today's meditation from Thomas Merton. He mentions that when he closed his eyes on this winter day in 1952 , he saw purple and blue fish swimming in his mind. He seems to delight in what comes when his eyes are closed. Mostly, when my eyes are closed, I may see some white or shapes but there was a day in church when I saw something else. I can tell you exactly where in the congregation this happened. Six rows from the back on the right side. I was kneeling with my eyes closed and I saw her face. It was round, plain, with eyes closed.That is what I saw. I opened my eyes not believing what had had happened and then closed them again.There she was. My first thought was to stay there with my Mother, Mary, and visit. It did seem just like a visit where a chat or a hug would have be appropriate. But then, it was time to stand up and knowing that if I kept kneeling I would be questioned, I stood, and she was gone.

Why did this plain faced, closed eyed being appear ? I didn't have time to ask but over the months, impressions have come .I hope I am following her urgings in a faithful manner.They are not new nor are they always easy.I would like to think of them as colors. Prayers said in the bright yellow of a sunny day as I walk in the tree shelter of deep brown and grey woods. Small sacrifices that I see as an empty white coffee cup. Believing that I am loved by the Creator; this feels like a warm pink and orange shawl thrown around my body. And trust; that all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. This knowing is fluffy white, the color of falling snow, the lightness of angel's wings, the soft white of a peony that has sweet streaks of red. This trust is not my usual first thought in a crisis but perhaps if I recall its color, I will fall into its warm arms right away. Mary Queen of the Angels, pray for us.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

the world is an altar

There couldn't be a clearer, brighter blue sky.Now that the veil of rain and fog has lifted, not one cloud drifts across the blue. For my Yankee friends, cover your eyes.The daffodil spears, so green and sure are up, as are the day lilies. There are specks of yellow on the tips of my Carolina Jessamine.

There is a story in the Scottish Hebrides about a mother watching as her young daughter gets ready to head off for a good job on the mainland.A city girl she is to become.The city "where gold weighs more than love, and folks are too busy to think of sun or sea."This line touched me deeply.

Another book, a memoir, weaves a tale of desolation that crowds in on a young boy, the victim, along with his mother and siblings of a sexual and physically abusive father. It is hard to read. But there are words that redeem.The boy used to sneak out in the evening, lay on the grass and commune with the stars."Each night, I gave them memories to hold for me-memories of beatings witnessed and rapes  return the stars gave me understanding.They said to me,""This is not how it is supposed to be.This is not your fault.You will survive.We love you.You are good.""Derrick Jensen.

How startling to read these words. How many of us are saved by these ; the sun, moon, sea, trees, rivers, birds.I have a friend who always seems to encounter a bright red, male Cardinal when she most needs comfort. And then there is the small green shoot that is growing by my special spot at the river's edge.I go there in the winter on sunny days just like this and sit on my writer's log. This log is flat and runs a few feet off the ground like a l bench., with grey smooth bark and an interesting hole here and there. The river curves around the bend just to my left but next to the log is a green plant that looks like bamboo.And this plant one day said this:"You are never alone.Not here, not anywhere."

Thomas Merton writes:"Today, said prayers with great joy, overflowing joy, as if the land and woods and spring were all praising God through me.The sense of angelic transparency of everything, and of pure, simple, total light. The word that comes closest to pointing to it is simple. It was all simple. But a simplicity to which one seems to aspire, only seldom attain.A simplicity, that is, that has and says everything just because it is simple."

It is is all there and simple.

Monday, January 2, 2017

simplicity, hardship and poverty


                                               sleeping,writer monk
                                                         who knows what your words might stir
                                                                         a year to ponder

For many years, I have used a guide book to start my day, "A Year With Thomas Merton". He, the deceased writer and Trappist monk. His encouraging words have changed lives for over 50 years. Today, I was struck by this sentence: "How good it is to have a rule in which simplicity, and poverty, and hardship play so large a part so that you can give yourself up to God by it !" Why did this sentence cause my heart to swell? I ponder his life. He had just come back from breaking rock with his brothers: hardship. He lived in a cold cell, clothed in simple black and white garb and ate plain meatless meals: poverty. His entertainment was prayer and liturgy,  five times a day: simplicity. What could that possibly mean for my life?

Some small ways came to mind. 

I took my wooden Russian rosary and walked our property in the rain. Hardship?As it turned out,  it was the opposite.The beeches, who refuse to let go of their tanned curled leaves brought me joy. As if they say: "I will not let these woods be just dark brown and grey. Against odds, I will show off with my shaking leaves that provide color and when the breeze blows, the  sweet murmur of shimmering paper. Yes, I heard them say that. And then there is water in the floodplain, in some places cascading over logs and through spaces between the trees.The river comes over the rise to greet me and remind me that it is still there.

Simplicity? I am slowly making my way through a stack of cookbooks that forlornly sit on a spice rack; sad  from never being opened. Let's let them go to another who may find the perfect meal to make with its

And then there is poverty, which I will have to struggle to even imagine. All I could do today was not go to Ebay and look longingly for Tuck's Postcards.These cards are over a hundred years old, and often have paintings of nature with a snippet of an old English poem.Heaven!I will not think of those today.These are small things, I know, but in the world of the Spirit, one never knows where an idea, stamped in gold with my name on it,  might lead.Amen.