Monday, December 31, 2012

Standing at the edge of the ocean of truth

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only 
like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then 
finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, 
while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

 -- Sir Isaac Newton

Sunday, December 30, 2012

When the path grows dim

I heard this old familiar hymn playing on the ferry this afternoon, coming back from Seattle; love the humble words of that second verse -- a lovely anthem for those days when the path seems unbearably dim...

"Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; 

through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away."

from More­cambe, Fred­er­ick C. At­kin­son

Drawing the line

So much of everything we do is fueled by our perceived need to protect and defend that which we "alone" have planted on this earth.  It's what wakes us in the middle of the night, it's what we worry about, it's what we fight wars over...

Even the charming thank-you card a friend sent me -- a drawing of some wild grass growing near the artist's home -- had these words on the back: "I don't pull out the wild things except in extremis.  I theorize that there should be room for all of us.  I let everything grow until something that I have planted is being choked out -- then even the natives will be pulled!"

When and how do we draw the line between "mine" and "ours"?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Promise of the season

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and the hills before you 
shall break forth into singing, 
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12

Friday, December 28, 2012

A gift that keeps on giving

A few years ago I spent a weekend at a Courage and Renewal workshop, and one of the exercises we did there was to list the three things we liked least about ourselves, and then list three gifts inherent in those traits. It took a while, but with thought we could begin to see the blessings hidden in the pain and discouragement.

So yesterday, when I began to flagellate myself for the greediness that always seems to surface this time of year -- for food, mostly (so hard to resist all the treats lying around), but also for things wished for and not received -- I stepped back a bit to take a look at what gifts might be lurking behind those hungers.

And I remembered, several years ago, falling madly in love with a garden buddha I saw in a catalog, a beautiful sleeping buddha with his head resting on his hand.  It was $700, and therefore not an option for me to purchase, but the awakening of that buddha-hunger has led me to acquire several other less expensive buddhas -- like the one in this birdbath outside my kitchen window, where I daily get to watch the birdies splash and drink.  The buddha-hunger also led me to a wonderful friendship with Anita Feng, who makes glorious pottery buddhas, and lives only a ferry ride away.  And the greed that lies at the root of that hunger keeps me ever mindful that the rampant greed of those wall street barons we all so love to hate is not so different from my own...

So as we approach the new year and begin thinking about the resolutions we want to make, the habits we want to encourage or extinguish, don't be too hard on yourself.  It's good to improve, but each time we falter, each way we let ourselves down, can become an opportunity to build a sense of connection with the rest of creation.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The infinite wheel of being

Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, tells us each of us is a spoke in an Infinite Wheel, the center of which is our common core and the rim of which is our living sense of community, family and relationship.  "Though each spoke is essential in keeping the Wheel whole, no two spokes are the same... So, as I move out into the world, I live out my uniqueness, but when I dare to look into my core, I come upon the one common center where all lives begin.  In that center, we are one and the same. In this way, we live out the paradox of being both unique and the same.  For mysteriously and powerfully, when I look deep enough into you, I find me, and when you dare to hear my fear in the deepest recesses of your heart, you recognize it as your own."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas memory

How quickly
Christmas becomes a memory;
a brief explosion of red and green
surrounded --
and then slowly overcome --
by the deep soft blues
of winter;
the light of joy
and generosity
begins to fade
as clouds roll in again.
We hold the colors
in our hearts --
beacons of the light
we carry within --
and step again into the dark.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Truth like an owl

"What is out of view only opens 
into something knowable 
if I wait and try to listen to what is there.  

If it takes a while, it's because 
some aspects of truth are shy like owls 
who don't like to be seen during the day.  
It seems that intuitive listening 
requires us to still our minds 
until the beauty 
of things older than our minds 
can find us."

  -- Mark Nepo, in
     Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mary Oliver's Varanasi

She stood in the river, and you watched,
and wrote for us -- described her hands,
cupping the water and pouring it
over her body-- and I, reading this,
so much later,  and so far away,
can see her burnished skin
glistening in the sun;
her sari (I imagine it: pink and orange,
edged with stripes of gold)
damp against her body;
watch as she becomes one with the river
and come to know that oneness as my own:
deep in the core of being,
I feel the edges of embodiedness
dissolving in the cool wet ecstasy
of non-being.

She filled a vessel from the river,
and carried it back to some imagined shrine.
You filled a vessel, too,
of something very like the water of life
and pour it over every reader,
dipping into the wealth of creation;
drenching each in indivisibility.

Friday, December 21, 2012

From the heart, not the head

I had a picture in my head of where this painting was supposed to go.  But I didn't have the skills to make that picture happen, so ended up with something completely different.  And what does that tell me?  For some reason it makes me think of something a friend posted on Facebook yesterday: 

Don’t grieve over what doesn’t come.
Some things that don’t happen
Keep disaster from happening.


So what "disaster" was prevented by my not painting what I saw in my head?  Perhaps it was just the disaster of painting out of my head instead of my heart...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Poem of the One World

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along the water

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

  --Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Foolishness? No, it's not

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count the leaves on a single tree.  To do this I have to climb branch by branch and write down the numbers in a little book.  so I suppose, from their point of view, it's reasonable that my friends say: what foolishness!  She's got her head in the clouds again.

But it's not.  Of course I have to give up, but by then I'm half crazy with the wonder of it -- the abundance of the leaves, the quietness of the branches, the hopelessness of my effort.  And I am in that delicious and important place, roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise.

  -- Mary Oliver, from A Thousand Mornings
(Thank you, Bev, for this beautiful gift)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sputter and miss

Sometimes, when my meditation practice becomes a particularly frustrating struggle, I find it helps to think of myself as a sort of electric car, stopping in the midst of my daily rounds at the familiar charging station to plug in and refresh the battery.

I'm quite certain this is not a theologically sound concept -- if only because it perpetuates that sense of the Divine Source as being wholly outside, wholly other.  But it does honor the idea that there is at least a spark of that source within us, and that the same power -- love?  compassion? hope? -- infuses us both. 

But the reason it works for me during these low periods is that it gives me an image to return to (we artists need images when words fail us) when my mind goes drifting off.  And this particular image provides both a path for my imagination and a reminder -- when the itch to get out of the chair and back to the to-do list becomes too strong -- that I do occasionally need to stop and re-charge; that without this quiet time the drive to serve that powers so much of what I do will begin to sputter and miss...

Monday, December 17, 2012

If a donkey could speak...


Think of all the attention a donkey would get
if it started to speak more eloquently
and make more sense
than everyone else for miles around.

With that in mind I hold back a lot.
Because I like to fit in, usually.
Act low-key.

Am I doing so now, appearing normal?
It is getting hard sometimes.
For God keeps ooozing through my cracks...

  -- Hafiz

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

The tide level this morning was predicted to be 13 feet (about as high as it gets around here) and the barometer was low and getting lower, so 11:00 last night found us out on the beach, me holding open the plastic sandbags and my husband shoveling in the sand, tying them off, and carrying them through the dunegrass to stack them in front of the garage.

So when I looked out the window this morning I was almost disappointed to see that, though the water was over the road, it barely touched the driveway; clearly the barometer had risen again during the night.

And it struck me then -- how much of our lives we spend fortifying ourselves against anticipated emergencies, when in fact, like the attack of 9/11 or the shootings in Connecticut on Friday, disaster almost always catches us unprepared, and when we least expect it.

It seems to me that the thoughts that seem to constantly cycle through our minds are mostly of the fortification variety.  When, I wonder, will we learn to turn that constant sandbagging off?

Thinking of that this morning, I kept hearing the words of jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderly, during one of his performances of "Mercy, Mercy:" "Sometimes we are not prepared for adversity. When it happens sometimes, we're caught short. We don't know exactly how to handle it when it comes up.  Sometimes we don't know just what to do when adversity takes over, and I have advice for all of us. I got it from my pianist, Joe Zawinul, who wrote this tune. And it sounds like what you're supposed to say when you have that kind of problem. It's called Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." You can listen to him here:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A candle in the darkness

Old habits die hard: my first response on hearing of the tragic shooting in Connecticut was to want to go to church.

So I did, even though I only had half an hour before my oven timer would go off (when the tough need comfort, the tough start cooking).  There was no one in the sanctuary, but there were candles everywhere, some lit, some ready to be lit, and so I lit one and knelt there, just trying to soothe the broken heart.

When it came time to leave, I found myself stopping at the Bible on the way out -- perhaps because I'd had a conversation earlier in the week about what we used to call "Bible Bingo" -- the practice of opening the Bible to a random place to see what advice it might have to give for a current situation.

So I paused to open it, hoping for some words of ... I don’t know... Solace? Something. But what did it open to? Page 1 of the book of Job.

So I’m reading along through Job's litany of disasters, and I get to the part about Job's children being destroyed (seems relevant, right?) And the very next words are:

"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' "

I could certainly identify: I wanted to tear my robes, too.  And I'd just fallen to my knees.  But damn.  That last line is a kicker; was NOT really what I wanted to hear.  I get the theology of it, but sometimes theology just isn't enough.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm grateful the church was open when I needed it: it helped me feel less alone.  And I'm grateful for the simple act of lighting a candle.  But it's not dispelling the darkness for me right now. 

And I think that's all okay.  Sometimes the loss is just so senseless that you cannot help but shake your fist at whatever that is out there that lets stuff like this happen.

And then you kneel in the darkness and light another candle.  It's not hope, really. 
But it looks like it. 
Maybe a little.

PS: If you wish to light a candle in company for the people of Newtown, you can do so at  The site itself is not that appealing, but once you click on the link to candle-lighting the process is quite lovely...

Friday, December 14, 2012


In the throes of all my holiday season to-do's,
I only have time to utter a quick prayer of gratitude
for a brief burst of afternoon sunshine
on a gray winter's day...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Where trees turn to love...

"As the language of modern quantum phsics penetrates increasingly into the basic metaphors of theology... we can begin to see how God and creation actually exist in an energetic continuum.  

"Just as we now know that matter is actually 'condensed' energy... would it be too great a leap to say that energy as we experience it -- as movement, force, light -- is a 'condensation' of divine will and purpose?  In other words, energy is what happens when divine Being expresses itself outwardly.

"My daughter Lucy, in fact, stumbled quite innocently upon this insight at the tender age of three, when she came into my bedroom one morning singing a song she had made up:

"I'll sing you a song of God in his heaven,
where years turn to tables and trees turn to love..."

-- Cynthia Bourgeault in Mystical Hope

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The mercy in commerce

Before we decry again the commercialism of this pre-Christmas season, perhaps we could remember (in the words of Eckhart Tolle) that Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.”  

What if, instead of fighting commercialism, we took the time to understand that merc, the root word of commerce, is also the root of the French word, Merci, and of mercy?  What these words share is a common sense of connection.

So instead of snarling at the crowds and stomping through the stores and growling at the relentless parade of ads on TV, what if we were to smile at the urge to connect that surges through it all: the parents and friends who shop together, the people who comb the stores looking for that one perfect gift for someone they love, the tired shopgirls on their feet all day, earning money to buy presents for their families -- if we understand the root of it all is connection, does that not make it easier to bear?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Awash in mercy

For as the heavens reach
beyond earth and time
we swim in mercy
as an endless sea...

Psalm 103:11

Monday, December 10, 2012

What are you waiting for?

It's Advent, the name the church gives to that traditional time of waiting between Thanksgiving and Christmas; that time when we're waiting for the relief that comes when the shortest day is over and the light begins its slow return; when children are waiting for school to end and the pleasures of Christmas to begin; when all nature seems to hold its breath in anticipation of the growth and change to come.

Waiting is never an easy space to be in: the frustration with what is can be debilitating, and the battle between hope and fear of what's to come can leave us exhausted. But if we can mark the time, break it into smaller chunks, just get through today, or the next hour, or the next minute or two, it can make this in-between space a bit more bearable. So -- what are you waiting for today? What this photo tells me today is that I seem to be waiting for a break -- however small -- between the close-in daily things that seem to occupy my thinking space; a break that will open up again -- however briefly -- the long cool vista of possibility, so that I can see there is more to life than the desert immediately before my eyes...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

You are more marvelous

For those mornings when you wake up questioning everything -- a tender and heartening message from David Whyte, from the poem "Santiago" in his new book, Pilgrim:

"Every step along the way, 
you had carried
the heart and the mind 
and the promise, that first set you off 
and then drew you on --
that you were more marvelous 
in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs 
of any destination you could reach... "

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I wish I could speak like music

I wish I could speak like music.
I wish I could put
the swaying splendor of fields
into words,
so you could hold Truth
against your body
and dance.
I am trying the best I can
with this crude brush...
to cover you with light.
I wish I could speak like divine music.
I want to give you
the sublime rhythms of this earth
and the sky's limbs
as they joyously spin and surrender...

-- Hafiz

Friday, December 7, 2012

Move into the emptiness

Sometimes you hear
a voice through the door
calling you,
as fish out of water hear the waves,
or a hunting falcon hears
the drum's Come Back, Come back.
This turning toward what you deeply love
saves you.

Read the book of your life,
which has been given you:
a voice comes to your soul saying,
Lift your foot. Cross over.
Move into the emptiness of question
and answer
and question
-- Rumi

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The face of equanimity

My friend Anita Feng, who makes these glorious raku sculptures, has informed me that she no longer refers to them specifically as Buddhas.  Now her website has the headline "What does equanimity look like?"

Gazing at this sculpture this morning, I thought of Mary, and of her patience as she moves through Advent, this final month of pregnancy, awaiting the birth of her son.  It seems to me that equanimity is that thing we work for when things have shifted, when we know change is coming -- or has arrived -- and we are powerless to control it; when we try to understand there might be some larger plan at work than we can ask or imagine; when we try -- instead of asking for specifics -- to pray, "Not my will but Thine be done;" when we, however rarely, find it possible to say with Mary, "Let it be unto me according to Thy word."

I'm not there yet, but I feel like I've spent much of my life working towards equanimity.  And some days it helps to look it in the face...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Shape of Color

The shape of night,
the shape of day,
the shape of color,
the shape of us.  
What holds all this?
Who made this miraculous mold
and then too, cast everything.
Imagine the form
that poured all forms,
and then try to conceive the Being 
that whittled out the Holy Spirit
from a single thought
that took over the Inconceivable.
What can entwine all this in its arms?
What a container that must be!

-- Hafiz

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Give beauty away

Each morning, when I look through my images from Fort Worth, this photo stops me in my tracks.  I love it: love the mix of patterns, the colors, the balance, the perspective, the reflective surfaces -- everything about it.

But it doesn't tell a story.  Which doesn't make it a bad image, but it does make it challenging to say anything about it.  Beauty alone, I keep thinking, is just not enough.  But then, this morning, I realized it can be: I remembered this quote from Joan Chittister, in her book The Illuminated Life: 

Beauty magnetizes the contemplative," she says,"and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible... 

"An encounter with the beautiful lifts our eyes beyond the commonplace and gives us a reason for going on...  In the midst of struggle, in the depths of darkness, in the throes of ugliness, beauty brings with it a realization that the best in life is, whatever the cost, really possible... 

"To be contemplative we must remove the clutter from our lives, surround ourselves with beauty, and consciously, relentlessly, persistently, give it away until the tiny world for which we ourselves are responsible begins to reflect the raw beauty that is God ."

And so I post this here, because its beauty -- like the works of art in the museum whose door is its subject -- feeds my eyes and soul. I'm hoping it might feed yours as well...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Compassionate reflection

I saw you there
while shopping one day
for Christmas gifts
in stores I can ill afford;
my eyes, glazing at the prices,
unfocused for a bit
to gaze at the reflections --
snowflakes in a window
(trite, of course, but so appealing
in their ritual sameness,
their predictability;
so like the world
we sometimes wish we had) --
and there you were,
sitting on the park bench,
head bowed

(in prayer? in grief?) I wondered...
but surely staggered
tripped and weighted
with the truth of it all,
the unpredictability, irregularity,
all the ways life didn't proceed
as you had hoped or expected.
I'd like to think
I stepped outside myself
for just a moment,
sat with you there on that dark bench
to share the burden of your sorrow,
to join in solemn contemplation
of the troubles
lapping at your feet...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Where you are right now

This place:
this place
where you are
right now --
God circled on a map for you.

dear one,
you can move
against this earth and sky,
the Beloved has bowed there,
knowing you,
knowing you were coming.

  --  Hafiz

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Not bound for the Hall of Fame

I love this picture, taken after the "cattle drive" in Fort Worth last week.  At first I thought I loved it for the light, or for its iconic quality.  But catching sight of it again today, I suspect the image is actually more ironic than iconic.

I say that because he's a cowboy, and he's heading for the Cowboy Hall of Fame.  And don't we all think that?  Each of us secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, hopes to someday be in some hall of fame -- the blogger hall of fame, or the artist hall of fame, or the lawyer hall of fame... whatever it is that we do, there's something in us that longs for recognition.

But at some point most of us figure out we're probably not going to end up in any Hall of Fame.  So what do we do with that?

Hafiz has a wonderful answer:

"Now is the time to know
that all you do is sacred...

Now is the time to understand
that all your ideas of right and wrong
were just a child's training wheels,
to be laid aside when you could finally
live with veracity and courage."

Do we really need to end up in a Hall of Fame? Not if we understand that everything we do is sacred. Not if we can point to our lives and say, "I did it.  I lived -- to the best of my ability -- with veracity and courage.  And with that I can be content."

So.  In the immortal words of journeying children everywhere -- Are we there yet?