Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Evolution of a faith

For some reason I have always been drawn to shoulds -- and guilt.  I want to know what the right thing is, and then I try to do it (a psychologist might say this emerges out of a desperate effort to please an absent or angry parent). And if I fail to do the right thing, whatever that might be, I feel guilty.  So when I was young, religion was all about shoulds: we should love our neighbor as ourselves, we should honor our parents, we should not steal, etc. etc.  And when we broke those rules, we were sinners, and should apologize, repent, feel bad, try to do better next time.

When I became more drawn to mystical wisdom and spirituality, aware of the difference between unitive consciousness and egoic consciousness, I may have left behind the idea of "We are sinful and Jesus came to save us from our sins," but I basically just took on a different should.  Now I was supposed to achieve unitive consciousness, enlightenment, and anything less was a weak approximation; I had somehow failed to "get it." And now the guilt was about saying what I knew to be true but not being able to live up to it.

Now, today, I am beginning to see that we do not need to feel guilty for our inability to achieve unitive consciousness any more than we need to feel guilty for our "sinfulness," our egoic desires and the ways and times we give in to them.  What we really need is to understand that the tension between unitive and egoic consciousness is a gift, and an opportunity for practice, and that we can spend our lives working to achieve presence to/awareness of both.  When you look at it that way, ANY time we can operate out of that space, any time we can actually manage be both fully present to a situation and separate enough from it to perceive -- and separate from -- our own egoic motivations and hear the larger, Divine call/voice that lies beneath ... well, it's an opportunity for celebration!

As Rumi says, "Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field.
I'll meet you there."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Finding the One Voice

This container ship steamed by yesterday as our ferry was crossing the sound to Seattle. I always find it amazing: these ships are so huge -- every one of those containers is basically the size of the back end of a semi truck. And each is presumably stacked to the gills with... stuff. Toys, clothes, cars, electronics, household goods... so much stuff!

We are, as we know, an acquisitive society; I'll not go down that road with a sermon about the perils of consumerism. Let's think instead of the people who MAKE the stuff, and how they, in their factories in whichever part of the world they work, are individuals, with families; people who eat, and drink, and worry, and dream just as we do. And what about the men who build the boats and the containers, and the sailors who pilot these giant boats across the seas... What are their lives like?

I'm thankful to the young woman who led our Kirtan last night; I think her gentle explanation of the practice of chanting as a way of breaking down the barriers between individuals, as a way of finding the One Voice that we all share, is what helps me to see beyond the ship and the boxes to the people they represent. It's so essential that we come to grasp that underlying unity; that we can begin to speak and act out of that understanding...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Surprising perfection

Last night I had intended to put the finishing touches on all my paintings-- to paint their edges, sign their backs, and wire them for hanging. But Sophie, our asthmatic cat, began struggling for breath, and the meds that usually bring her relief were having no effect, so 7pm found me in the offices of the local emergency vet clinic. Three hours and many many dollars later I headed home and collapsed into bed,leaving her at the vet and my paintings untouched.

So today was pretty crazy, trying to get everything prepped in time to make the 1 pm ferry to start hanging 40 pieces of art at 2:30 for a 5:30 opening. Phew! But it was all worth it: the people who came were absolutely wonderful and loved my work, and the time spent chanting Kirtan healed any stress I'd accumulated over the course of the day.

So now I'm in the ferry line, hoping to make it back to the vet before Sophie's 24 hour time is up, and basking in the extraordinary sense of well-being that occurs when you spend an hour sharing an essentially meditative practice with a roomful of like-minded souls. A perfect end to what I now realize has been, despite its stress, a perfect day.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

In the arms of the Divine

I realized, painting this piece yesterday, how much my need to name, identify, and categorize drives my painting. At first I allow my brush to travel at will, with colors moving onto the canvas as the mood strikes me. But at some point the urge to control kicks in, and I find myself looking at the work and saying, "What is that? Where is this going? What are we conveying here?" With this one it happened after those two big swirls of white/yellow went in; there was this sense of, "Oh, no, that doesn't look like anything recognizable. Now what?"

It's amazing how much courage it takes to just let it be what it is. But I did my best to continue allowing it to be completely abstract; to think only about form and color without thought to function.  And though the end result still isn't the sort of painting I thought I wanted to paint, it has a sort of tenderness that pleases me.  Somehow -- to me, if to no-one else -- it conveys the sense I've had lately of being held in the arms of the Divine.  And I'm grateful for that.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Perils of technology

Were you one of the many people who were out photographing the moon last night? I was lucky enough to glance out the window just as it was rising, but at times like these I do wish I had a better camera: Mine refused to capture the bright orange of the moon, and then turned everything else blue. I kind of like the effect, but it's not at all what I was seeing.

...which is one of the problems with technology, I think. It's fabulous stuff -- don't get me wrong: I love all the advances just this decade, let alone the last 40 years. But everything technology produces is an ephemeral approximation: it's not actually the real thing.

Which means we have created that much more distance between ourselves and reality.  I mean, naming, categorizing, and generalizing already make it easy to not actually see what we're looking at.  But now we see couples all the time who are not interacting with each other but rather with their cell phones. I know: I do it, too.  But how will we ever learn to be fully present to creation if instead of appreciating it we are photographing it, blogging about it, texting or tweeting it and then posting it on Facebook?

I know this is not an original thought.  I'm just saying...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Under the influence

I finally found some time to paint yesterday; what joy to pick up the brushes again!  And this one is a double joy, because it's a do-over of the last one, the one I didn't like: I just grabbed some of my favorite colors and painted right over it.

I'm always amused to see how the water that surrounds my home continues to exert its influence over my work -- it's really not a conscious decision; it's just what seems to evolve as I paint.

Which is a gentle but sure reminder that we are, each of us, very much influenced by our surroundings. Place, people, what we acquire, how we spend our time -- each element exerts its own pull on our subconscious...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

View from a higher plane

I know. You've seen variations of this view before. But usually I'm shooting from my front porch, or the driveway, and you can't see that there's water on the other side of the houses. This one is shot from a second floor window, so you can get a better idea of the whole picture; you can see there's another body of water beyond our immediate lagoon; that we are small fish in a much bigger pond than we might have assumed.

When I was studying organizational behavior at Antioch, we talked a lot about that; about the broader perspective you could gain if you "went to the balcony." It's a wonderful metaphor for the importance of seeing beyond our normal rather limited outlook on things. And of course, as we all know from our experiences on planes, the higher we go, the smaller those individual concerns appear.

... Which doesn't mean they're not important: they are.  We just have to keep them in perspective...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Show it, sell it, or give it away

I just spent my morning labeling and packing up over 100 pieces of art -- both photos and paintings -- (and all marked WAY down) for my gallery's annual Almost Perfect Sale, which opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday.  Now I just have to load them all into the car...

This is the biggest piece of the set; it's printed on metal and was originally at $650; it was juried in to the 25th annual Women's Works Show of the Northwest Area Arts Council but has never been shown on the island; I'll be curious to see if it sells.

I've been particularly ruthless this year in cutting prices: something in me feels I'm coming to the end of an era, and it's time to sell off my inventory and move on.  But I suspect it's really a reaction to having spent so much time sorting through my mother-in-law's art last week.  It was so time-consuming, and so much of it should have been tossed YEARS ago.  I just don't think there's any point keeping art in cupboards and closets.  If you can't -- or don't want to -- find room for it on your walls, you should probably sell it or give it away...

Monday, April 22, 2013

In a world of many flavors

Okay.  True Confession: Not everything I shoot is beautiful.  In fact, I have this not-all-that-secret love of aging surfaces with intriguing geometrics.  I have hundreds of pictures of walls, and floors, and sides of buildings, all in various stages of decay that I find... beautiful.

In my more cynical moments I suspect I shoot these things looking for beauty in the same way I look for beauty in the mirror; I am to some extent reassuring myself that even the not-technically-beautiful has beauty.  But if that's the case, it's not any kind of conscious decision.  Because I'm really drawn to images like this one.  I don't even know why -- I just am.

I'm only bringing this up now because I discovered another painter whose work I really appreciate (Margareta Jungerth Boo) and when I went to the site where much of her works are displayed I discovered she's also a photographer, and has a photo fetish quite similar to mine.  The difference is, she shows hers proudly, while I -- with one exception (an entire show built around enhanced photos of the ferry floor) -- keep them sort of under the counter. You can see them if you ask, but mostly I don't bother; I just don't think people will be interested.

I've been thinking about that a lot today.  We've been reading letters written by my husband's father back in the 50's, and he DID bother.  About EVERYthing.  Not in the kind of icky entitled way that people fuss these days, but with an absolute clarity of purpose.  He had strong opinions on what was right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, and he didnt hesitate to let people know when he thought they weren't properly carrying out their duties.  Though his sons got those strong opinions too, they -- like apparently most of my generation -- don't tend to speak out as boldly as he did.

I wonder if that isn't because our generation has begun to understand -- with the current information explosion -- that truth, like beauty, comes in many flavors.  But once we see that, we can't help but begin to wonder if anything is fully true, or wholly beautiful, and so we cease to assert our own versions of what we find to be truthful or beautiful. Which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing: we need to find a way to say what we know to be true for us without demanding that it be true for everyone else.  If we are called to work together to find some approximation of what the whole truth might be, we need all the different visions and possibilities we can get to round out the picture.

Under siege

It's a beautiful morning here, cool and sunny, and so I left the door open when I took the dog out for his walk, to let the cats out and the fresh air in after a long winter. 

But when we were halfway across the deck -- fortunately the dog was on a leash -- this nasty little fellow sauntered out from underneath.  The dog was frantic, of course, but also desperate to pee, so I couldn't put him back in the house.  So I screamed and waved my arms at the coyote, walked the dog on the other side of the house, and eventually got the cat back inside -- where he'll be staying for a while.

Such an odd thing, to go from a feeling of openness and safety to a feeling of being under siege... Microcosmic echoes of how I suspect much of the country feels after the tragic events of last week...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quiet time

Rejoicing this morning in my return to my cool and quiet island after a week spent in relentless busy-ness, heat and humidity, I notice how the gray and the fog, in obscuring our visual acuity, allow other senses to be heightened. With a completely grayed out view from my window, and in the muting of any traffic noise, the lilt of the robin's song and the insistent honk of the mating geese loom larger in my awareness.

Like the fog, Centering Prayer has a way of tuning out the more usual, the more obvious distractions; of graying out those persistent thoughts, feelings, aches and pains so that we might taste the bright sparkle of energy, the spirit that lies beneath all that.

That energy feeds us in such important ways.  Why is it that, under stress, quiet time is always the first thing we abandon?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Perhaps a huge silence

If we were not so single-minded
About keeping our lives moving
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence
Might interrupt the sadness
Of never understanding ourselves...
Perhaps the earth can teach us
As when everything seems
To be dead in winter
And later proves to be alive.
Now I'll count to twelve
And you keep quiet
And I will go.
-- Pablo Neruda

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cold comfort

The kind words said,
The tender hands
Rest briefly on mahogany,
The hard men come
In their t-shirts and their caps
To drop you here
To rest beside the ashes
Of your love.

The die is cast,
The dirt and flowers
Thrown into the pit,
The carpet rolled away.
The wailing imprecations
Of the lost and the bereft resound,
Awakening responses in my heart
Too harsh to bear.

And so I walk away,
to sit on this marble bench
Set here by some other loving family
Thoughtful in their loss
And stare through these dead branches
At a sky too blue, a day too warm
To witness to the trauma
that lies beneath.

And as tears dry
And focus comes again
To vision dulled with weeping
I see that each fine branch
So delicately etched against the sky
Carries, at its tip,
A bud, the promise of new life:
What looks like death
is life already launched anew
Though spring
And the day
And this new life without you are all new.

The marble seat grows cold:
I shiver, and I feel a coat
Steal over my shoulders--
"You'll catch your death;
(Too late, I want to shout--
It's already here,
The intimations of mortality
Too numerous to bear)
Put on your coat;
it's not as warm as it looks out here"
And I understand:
It's not as cold as it looks, either.
Your kindness is still here,
It's just taken other forms
And echoes still in the warm tones
Of your son.

Change or decay?

We've been driving by this poor decrepit building several times a day as we wear the path between homestead, supply stores, and hotel. And each time my husband, who has his own way of processing grief, tells me again that it was his father's plant, back in the day.

Coming from the northwest, so much of which has been built in the last fifty years, I keep being surprised by how comfortable the local residents --in a reasonably affluent neighborhood-- seem with the decaying buildings, the potholed roads, and the run-down stores; I wonder if, like a long-married couple, they just don't see the ravages of time in the familiar.

... And perhaps that's not a bad thing? They also seem less concerned with appearances and more attuned to nuances of ethics, behavior, and community. Since that's something I see in myself as I age, I wonder if that whole drift away from the seen to the unseen (and I can ask this since I know the majority of you, my readers, are over 45), is a natural function of maturity, an evolution rather than anything to be proud of.

Which should mean older civilizations than ours should also be wiser, which doesn't always seem to be true. There are civilizations, just as there are people, and religions, who get stuck; caught defending the rightness of what they know instead of continuing on the steady path of growth and change. And, like this plant, which made propellers -- or stores that developed film, or rented videotapes --getting stuck, not changing, often results in decay...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The price of accumulation

We know ourselves to be an acquisitive society -- why else would a phrase like "recreational shopping" be so familiar? But-- as another saying goes-- you can't take it with you. So unless you're using it, enjoying it, or plan on doing so in the immediate future, why acquire it in the first place, and why hang onto it?

Of course, one problem is human nature: those of us who find it easy to give stuff away have trouble understanding the depression you-never-know-when-you-might-need-it mentality of our hoarder friends and relatives. And they, in turn, worry that we may be too quick to let things go.

But the fact remains that the stuff we keep is stuff our kids will be tasked with sorting through when we're gone. And trust me--it's not nearly as much for for them as you might think...

So please: let it go. Your stuff, your old grudges, old hurts -- whatever you're holding on to -- give some serious thought to letting it go before it impacts the lives around you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The promise of spring

The springtime of lovers has come
That this dust bowl
may become a garden.
The proclamation of heaven has come
That the bird of the soul
may rise in flight.


Monday, April 15, 2013

When you find yourself in times of trouble...

Whatever you may think of traditional religion, there are times when even the simplest icons and traditions can be greatly reassuring. Reading the selected passages from Romans 8 aloud today before the assembly gathered for my father-in-law's memorial service, I could hear my own conviction resound in the words, "for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God."

And as we neared the graveside in trepidation, it's odd--I am not Catholic-- how comforting I found this statue and these words. There is nothing easy about losing a loved one, even if he's 91 and lived an amazingly productive life right up to the end. So I'm grateful to the person who put this here. It helped.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What you bring to the picture

If you have children who are currently finishing college or have graduated in the last five years or so, you're probably quite aware of the challenges that generation faces in the job market: there are jokes about needing a phd to qualify as a barista these days.

What I like about this photo, taken at one of my favorite local coffee shops, is that it reminds me of two important facts:

1) We can no longer make assumptions about the providers of the so-called menial services -- if, in fact, we ever could: they might, of course, be ne'er-do-well stoners who can't hold down any more challenging position, or single moms holding down a job while going to night school ( to name a couple of popular assumption categories). But they could also be artists, or laid-off executives desperately trying to make mortgage payments for a house purchased in wealthier times, or people working to pay college expenses -- or pay off college debts -- for themselves or their children -- or any number of other possibilities: the point is, the old generalizations just don't work anymore.

Which brings up questions broached in the comments for an earlier post: we humans learn by generalizing, but at some point we need to be willing to set aside those old filters to truly see.

2) We can always choose how we approach a job or task, however menial, and we can always find a way to bring our unique talents to the picture; to give it that little extra dollop of attentiveness that shows we really care. And if we make that choice, it not only relieves the tedium of the job, but also blesses those whom we serve.

I'm hoping I raised my daughters with that understanding. Because I suspect they'll have lots of opportunities to practice it -- for a while, at least...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A taste of spring

Just to offset yesterday's image: what better message for the Easter season than to move from death to life again!

Friday, April 12, 2013

This isn't a playground

I couldn't help but find this bit of graffiti at Fort Worden amusing.  But really, there's no way to lessen the impact of death and loss except by walking through it -- which Mary Oliver does beautifully with the poems in her book, Thirst

Here's one of those poems, called "A Pretty Song":

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn't it?
This isn't a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

 Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What we lose when we're not present

"Thought is made up of accumulated knowledge in the form of images and associations, and it seizes an experience only to make it fit into categories of the known...  The image awakens an immediate reaction, and this always repeats -- so there's never anything new."

I underlined this passage in Salzmann's book on Gurdjieff several days ago, after a particularly frustrating experience painting: I had wanted the painting to be abstract, but my mind kept adding brush marks that turned it into something identifiable, familiar. But of course, this human tendency to familiarize the unfamiliar also applies to the political arguments roiling around us: we all tend to get set in our ways, and squeeze whatever facts we see into the old familiar boxes.

Yesterday, sorting through photos of my father-in-law, I discovered another example of this phenomenon. Woody went through a difficult period after his wife died, with a number of medical issues spread out over several years, and you can see in the pictures from that period that he grew increasingly inward and crotchety.  You can also see that after his hip surgery his outlook improved considerably; that by the end of his life he was almost radiant with joy. But sadly, once I had grown used to the cranky old man, that was what I expected to see: it was really only last month, when we went east for my niece's reception, that the reality of his joyful affectionate nature made it past all the stored images I had in my head.

So today I ask you this: who, or what are you not seeing?  What preconceptions and expectations have blinded you to reality, to the newness, the growth and possibility that are always there waiting for us?  That is, ultimately, the benefit of the presence to which Jesus calls us so boldly in the Gospel of Thomas:

"You have learned to read the face of earth and sky,
but you do not yet recognize the one standing in your presence,
nor can you make sense of the present moment." (Logion 91)

The solution, as Ram Dass puts it, is really to Be Here Now.

Are you?

Can you?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Done with all unnecessary things

This is one of my favorite pictures of my father-in-law, who passed away after a brief illness this morning.  My heart goes out to my husband and his siblings, who were able to spend a truly joy-filled day with him yesterday before he took his sudden turn for the worse.

For all who grieve, I offer this, the closing to Mary Oliver's poem, "Coming to God: First Days" --

Lord, I will learn also to kneel down
into the world of the invisible,
  the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more
  than the leaves of a tree
  on a day of no wind,
bathed in light,
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace,
  done with all unnecessary things;
every motion; even words.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Invisible tomorrows


What is so utterly invisible
as tomorrow?
Not love,
not the wind,

not the inside of stone.
Not anything.
And yet, how often I'm fooled...

Mary Oliver
from "Walking to Oak-Head Pond"

The big picture

Shot yesterday afternoon while waiting for the ferry, this image is quintessential Bainbridge Island in Springtime. In the foreground, the deadly scotch broom, the plant we all love to hate, is just beginning to bloom as we watch beginning sailors in an after-school class; behind them, the deciduous trees, just beginning to leaf out, glow greenly against the overwhelming mass of evergreens...

It's a perfect example of that curious tendency life has: it just... goes on... even when your own individual life is in complete turmoil.  Every year, spring comes again, a new patch of scotch broom pops up just when you think you've eradicated it, a new crop of students learn to sail, and the trees that looked so dead for so many months suddenly sprout their tiny light green leaves again.

The big picture is so much larger than our own comings and goings, our own triumphs and tragedies, our own trials and tribulations.  Some days it's great to be reminded of that...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Everyone contributes

I know: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?  So lots of people may well roll their eyes when I display an image of this door, a door I was drooling over yesterday while wandering around one of my favorite places in the Northwest, the Fort Worden Battery in Port Townsend, WA.

But it seems to me that this is the primary gift of diversity: I get to show you the beauty I see -- in an event, an image, a place, an idea -- and you get to show me the beauty YOU see in the events, images, places and ideas that call to YOU. 

No one of us can see everything -- only God can do that.  But each of us has a vital piece of the picture to share, and we owe it to one another to be open to that, to look, to listen, to share what we know, and somehow grow together in the process.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Life lessons in the paint

For whatever reason, the spirit seems to flow easily through my camera: I feel the moment is right, I think before I shoot, I position myself and the camera, and the magic -- what Gurdjieff calls The Fourth Way, when everything comes together and something larger than my ordinary self seems to have taken charge -- just... happens.

Painting is MUCH more challenging than that -- and whatever my initial successes (beginner's luck?) may have been, recent attempts have been considerably less satisfying.  But I honestly think that's been a gift: I understand much more deeply now how important it is to have a healthy balance between thinking, feeling, and sensing; between mind, heart and body -- and how often, for me, the balance is tipped too heavily toward thought -- especially when my body is under duress.

I keep coming back to Christopher Mathie's singular advice: it's always the right mark.  As I labor over these poor canvases, painting and repainting until there are so many layers they begin to crackle and tear, I'm learning a lot about what works and what doesn't in technical terms.  But more importantly I'm coming to see how every time I allow my mind to be the only force in deciding what happens next, the results strain the body and disappoint the heart; that in painting, as in life, I need to be centered, to be balanced, to return to the source and draw my energy from the Divine and NOT from my poor foolish ego...

All of this tension comes, I think, from being an artist of faith, something made very clear to me in an article I discovered today thanks to my beloved blogsister, Maureen Doallas.  Here's Sandra Bowden, speaking on art as a vocation, an article initially published by ECVA's Mel Ahlborn and Ken Arnold in their Visio Divina.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Lessons in the night

Waking in the middle of the night, I found myself revisiting an angry interchange I'd had earlier in the evening with my husband.  I'd wandered into his office to ask if he could start cooking (he's taken over all the dinner chores since my back went out) and I noticed he had a whole bunch of windows open on his computer.  "That's all you've done all day, wiki-surfing?"

"Pretty much," he replied.

"Oh my God, I'd kill myself," I'd tactlessly replied. "If I'd spent a whole day like that, with nothing to show for it."

Thinking it over later, I was initially feeling sort of snarly and superior about what I see as his internet addiction.  But I'm learning that that snarly and superior feeling usually has a sad and personal underbelly, so I turned it over to see what might be lying under that particular rock.

And really, it's the heart of a major difference between the two of us -- a difference that's been his gift to me throughout the years we've been in this relationship.  Whatever the failings of his parents, he somehow grew up knowing he was loved -- and he has shared that unconditional love generously and unremittingly with me every day of this wonderful life we've had together.

I, on the other hand, somehow grew up convinced I had to earn that love, and so I am always driven to perform.  Hence the productivity: the painting, the acting, the daily blogging, the tidying, the volunteer work -- all those admirable accomplishments stem not from some magnificent work ethic but rather from some piece of me that does not believe it has any merit unless it has achieved... something. Anything. I need to be able to say, "See, I did that today," or something in me feels it has no value. And though my back is better now and I'm finally off the meds, the enforced inactivity of these last few weeks -- I'm still not able to go for long periods without resting -- has been extremely trying.

So of course I would snap at him: he, who has all the strength and energy I crave, can sit happily surfing at his computer all day with nothing to show for it and feel no remorse, while I, trapped in a temporarily unresponsive body, am reduced to a small child, terrified, because I have nothing to show for my day, that I am therefore unloveable.

I can't believe it took me all this time to figure that out.

Friday, April 5, 2013


As Icarus
with pasted feathers
soars to meet imagined destiny
we here apply,
first words, then fonts,
envisioning some flight to greatness,
dreaming of the accolades to come
then finding,
with those lifted, falsetto, wings
the glue that held it all together
drips between the lines
to pull us from the sun
and back into the sea of applicants;

the ascent so slow,
the fall so steep

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Foolish Consistency of Spring

Spring has come, and though the skies are still gray and the air still thick with fog, the daffodils and cherry trees are singing their colorful songs of rejoicing on every corner.

Some kind soul, years ago, left money to plant daffodils along the sides of many of the roads on the island; I still remember how shocked I was, shortly after moving here, to see a letter to the editor complaining that our beautiful daffodils should all be removed, as they were not native plantings.

Though I understand the rationale behind restoring native species, I confess this seemed more an example of Emerson's famous saying: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."... which then, if I am to be honest with myself, makes me wonder: where do I exhibit a foolish consistency? Because it seems to me that any time we reject a new idea simply because it diverges from "how we've always done it," without taking time to assess the possibilities it might offer, we risk the opportunity to grow -- rather like the foolish folks at IBM who were first shown the miracle of Xerox copying and declined any interest in the product "because who would ever need that many copies?  Carbon paper and mimeograph machines give us all the copies we need..."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In gratitude for prayer

One of the most beautiful and moving moments of my life happened three years ago next month: I officiated at the wedding of two very dear friends who married on our back deck. To be instrumental in joining two people who are that much in love was just an incredible honor.   So when I got a phone call yesterday afternoon from the bride, who's like a little sister to me, I was thrilled to hear her voice.

But the news wasn't good: her husband had been rushed to the hospital with severe blood clots in his heart and legs; they have no idea where they came from. She sounded very calm and rational on the phone, but I'm sure she must be terrified.  I ache for them both -- so I did the first thing I could think of: I activated every prayer chain I know of.  Most of the people I emailed know her, but even those who don't immediately grasped the severity of the situation; all were kind in their offers to help.

Can I just say this?  I am so grateful for the power of prayer.  For all those times when we feel helpless in the grip of circumstances, prayer is such a life-saver.  Somehow, if I think of all those prayers flying out there on behalf of those we love who struggle with life-threatening challenges, it makes it a little easier to bear. Yes, I will do my best to find other ways to help.  Yes, the ministries of presence, of listening, of comforting and feeding are equally important.  But it still feels like prayer plays an essential role.  Even if the people we're praying for find it hard to believe, I believe our prayers and thoughts can make a critical difference.  Which is one of the many reasons I'm grateful to Bishop Steven Charleston for his prayerful presence on Facebook.  I believe that presence, and those shared prayers, make a difference.  As a plaque given to me long ago by my former sister-in-law says, "Sometimes, whatever the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees."  This is definitely one of those times.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In Blackwater Woods

"Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go."

~ Mary Oliver ~

Monday, April 1, 2013

Finding peace in strange places

I woke up feeling almost myself again this morning -- which is a good thing, as my husband, who's been so incredibly supportive while I've struggled with these back issues, may have to fly out to New Jersey today.  His father had surgery last week and was recovering nicely, but this morning he's back in the ICU with some serious respiratory issues.

So why would I post a photo of this goofy giant hamster I found floating over a used car lot? Because even a hamster knows exactly what we need right now: peace.  At times like this I am so grateful for all the Bible verses instilled in me over the years.  Because as we sit by the phone waiting for news, this is the verse that came to my ears when I saw this image:  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)