Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Taken in a cemetery,
not far from home,
I think this photo
may have a lot to say;
I'm just not sure
what that might be,
so I think I'll let it
speak for itself --
something about spiderwebs,
and pumpkins,
and spirits on the prowl,
I think --

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

However worn or frayed

I know.
I could have thought, when I saw this,
"Tied Down"
or "Roped in."

But no -- I heard the words
of that old familiar hymn:
"Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in perfect Love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above."
However worn or frayed the knots,
I don't see marriage
as being tied down;
more a fellowship of kindred minds,
a kind of fore-taste of heaven...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stop and look

Usually, by this time of year, we've had several weeks of rain and all our deciduous trees are bare. But it's been an unusually dry fall in the Pacific Northwest, so we have the double joy of watching the trees turn colors and shuffling through piles of leaves when we walk; it takes me right back to my childhood.

But there are so many leaves underfoot it took me a while to notice these beautiful circles in the giant maple leaves. I'm sure they don't bode well for the leaves or the trees; probably some fungus or something.

But the closer you look, the more you see each leaf is its own work of art. I think that's probably true of humans as well, though clearly some kinds of art are more pleasing than others. But each is so unique, and so original... imagine, if we all stopped rushing around so much and took the time to (as my momma used to say) "Come, set a spell" what lovely gifts we might discover in one another...

Monday, October 28, 2013


I've been reading Wendell Berry's classic, Jayber Crow; had to put the book down and breathe for a bit after this passage:

The grief, when it came, you could feel filling the air. It took up all the room there was. The place itself, the whole place, became a reminder of the absence of the hurt or the dead or the missing one. I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and griever alike endure...

... But after a while, though the grief did not go away from us, it grew quiet. What had seemed a storm wailing through the entire darkness seemed to come in at last and lie down.”

Sunday, October 27, 2013

If we walked on water

What if we spent our days,
not dwelling on imagined slights
or others' failings, but our own
as if they were reflections,
following us like shadows?
If we always walked on water,
we could, at any time, look down
and see, reflected there,
(a little wobbly, but enlarged)
the snarl, or the indifference,
the eye-roll, or the subtle sleight-of-hand
that accompanies each assertion
of superiority.
Perhaps we would then also see
the ripples of joy (how far they spread)
when we reach out in trust, or love, or hope...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Taking off again

I want so much
to stay connected;
I do so love those times
when I am happily paddling
in the deep serene.

But here it comes again --
some chance remark,
some writing on a page,
and now,
fluttering its angry wings,
the ego once again takes flight
to conduct its determined battles
in a dark embittered sky.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The devil's in the undertow

I know it well,
and so, I suspect, do you:
that dramatic thrill, that surge of power,
the waves of righteous indignation
that swell and threaten to engulf
when we know that we are right
and they are wrong.
Wake up! Don't get sucked in.
(The undertow
can be the very devil --
whatever you fight you strengthen;
whatever you resist persists.)
Step away from the rush;
run back to shore.
Listen beneath the waves
and find the common ground
that unites us both.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Always you

How like a labyrinth,
this path we walk,
with all its twists and turns:
the times we head toward you,
the times we turn away
in shame, or in distaste
for all the evil that men do
in your name,
and still we walk
and as time passes,
we find ourselves
now facing you again...
When will we learn,
whatever steps we take,
what waits for us --
the center, the root, the end --
will always be you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The gift of autumn

In this drumbeat moment of red flowers opening
and grapes being crushed,
the soul and luminous clarity sit together.

-- Rumi

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two ships, passing in the fog

 "Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence."

 -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, October 21, 2013

Temptations in the fog

We had three fabulously foggy mornings last week, and I spent as much time as I could roaming the island with my camera, though various appointments curtailed my activities somewhat.  Fog is actually fairly rare here, so when it comes to visit I basically drop everything and grab my camera.

Which leads me to think -- partly because I have a daughter who's still wondering what she wants to do with her life -- what ARE the people, activities, opportunities that we are willing to drop everything for? 

Because that's when I realized I was called to photography: when a dear friend asked me -- at a time when I was very depressed after leaving a job I'd loved -- what would make me leap out of bed in the morning?  I realized the answer was -- my camera, and it's still true.  Only now, there's something else, too -- there's a half-finished canvas in my studio that's calling me this morning.  And it looks like we may have another fog, too.  What to do, what to do -- fog first, I think, because it disappears so quickly...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Web of Being

Look on this,
the One Great Web of Being,
and know how deeply you and I are connected,
how delicate and flexible the bonds,
how barely visible the threads 
that link us, each to each.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Avowal

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit's deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

-- Denise Levertov

Friday, October 18, 2013

In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

Birds afloat in air's current,
Sacred breath? No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It's we who breathe,
in, out, in, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled -- but only the saints
take flight. We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest.
the wind marks the passage
of holy ones riding
that ocean of air.  Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storms or still,
numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.

 -- Denise Levertov

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Floating on a common sea

We are all boats,
floating on the common sea
of love: different sizes,
shapes and colors,
but all sharing a common purpose,
all tied to the same dock.

Why point accusing fingers?
Too tall, too old,
too dirty, too plastic, too orange --
and why be vain about position?
Can't we just enjoy
this one shared moment
of serenity?
Because, you know,
the waves will rise again...

I wrote and posted this before my morning's reading in Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth.  Having now read that, I want to add this quote, which seems totally relevant:

"The quicker we are in attaching verbal or mental labels to things, people, or situations, the more shallow and lifeless our reality becomes, and the more deadened we become to the miracle of life that continuously unfolds within and around us.  In this way, cleverness may be gained, but wisdom is lost, and so are joy, love, creativity and aliveness.  They are concealed in the still gap between perception and interpretation. 

Of course we have to use words and thoughts -- they have their own beauty -- but do we need to become imprisoned in them?  Words reduce reality to... five basic sounds produced by the vocal cords... Do you really believe some combination of such basic sounds could ever explain who you are, or the ultimate purpose of the universe, or even what a tree or stone is in its depth?"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

From here to there

For many of us the view close in, right here, right now, can be less appealing than some other distant point in the picture.  Whether it's the distant past -- the way things were -- or the distant future -- the way things will be once X happens  (whatever X is) -- almost any point in time other than here has a sort of rosy idealized glow to it, while here can be a bit ... gritty.  Here, right now, we're making do with what we've got: things are worn, inadequate, not quite holding water and it's getting a little old. 

Yet all the sages tell us the only surefire way to get from the gritty here to that idealized there -- heaven, nirvana, enlightenment, or whatever -- is to be fully here: engaged, conscious, present, aware.  So take a deep breath, climb into now and pick up your oars. Because here is the only boat that will take us to there...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Second Coming

As I look at what's happening, not only at the federal level, but even on my island, I am deeply troubled.  Even those I trusted to be the calm voices at the center are drifting angrily to right or left... In my head today I keep hearing "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold," lines from Yeats' famous poem, The Second Coming, which I think seriously bears repeating at this juncture:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, 
and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Monday, October 14, 2013

What's not here

"We embark upon this road --
call it love, or emptiness --
I only know what's not here:
seeds of resentment,
backscratching greed,
worries about outcome,
fear of people...
When a bird is freed,
it doesn't return for those remnants
left on the bottom of the cage."


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Safe and easy

I'm not sure how it happened, but this painting, which felt more abstract in the making, actually looks less so in completion.  It was a great exercise -- I learned a lot about brushstrokes and texture -- and I'm not exactly displeased with the result. 

But it feels way too safe to me, too easy, too obvious.  And I think that's because I was painting out of my head: "Oh, you like verticals and horizontals and texture, why not do this?"  It may be a little terrifying to paint from the heart, with no preconceived notion of where the painting is going, but even if the results aren't always great, at least I'm being challenged. 

The truth is, my favorite paintings, the ones I'm proudest of, were all terrifying and frustrating to produce.  It's like concrete proof of one of Pema Chodron's life lessons: when you stay with the hard stuff instead of retreating into easy and familiar, you're more likely to find significant breakthroughs... 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Controlling what we echo

In the nine months I've been painting, I've been putting together a folder of paintings by other artists whose work I appreciate, and every once in a while I attempt to emulate their work.  But to my occasional dismay (although why this surprises me I have no idea) I can't seem to paint like any of those artists; I can only paint like me.

So -- realizing my general color preferences, and my tendency to prefer strong horizontals and verticals to the curves and diagonals I love in other people's work -- I looked at the photo I posted yesterday and thought, "I should paint that."  The problem is, and I've observed this before, that when I try to paint from a photo, no matter how abstract I'm trying to be, I tend to get caught up in the details, and the end result  is more a failed attempt at realism than an abstract painting.

This one, I think, came out better than most, but still... I can see I got caught again.  Which is a really deeply embedded part of my personality: I think my mirror neurons work overtime.  By the time I was in my early twenties I was already conscious that I was having a very difficult time figuring out what parts of my personality were uniquely my own, because the tendency to reflect back the needs and demands of those around me was so strong.

It happens at a physical level, too -- and I have other friends (and a daughter) who have this issue as well: we become aware of sickness in someone nearby and feel echoes of their symptoms in our own bodies.

It seems, given that tendency, that it should be true that if we were to put ourselves in an environment where really good spiritual stuff is happening, that, too, would rub off on us; the echoes would reverberate somehow in our souls.  (I think that was what church was supposed to be; I'm still sad that it didn't quite work out that way for me.) But it does mean we reflector-people might want to pay more attention to how we spend our time, what we surround ourselves with and expose ourselves to...

In the meantime, I've decided I want to spend today creating a more abstract version of this painting.  Away from the original photo. With colors I love.  It's got to be possible... 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Soothing the heart

Do you ever have those mornings when you wake up and realize you just don't like yourself all that much?

It helps -- for me at least -- to remember the spiritual path is really not about perfection, or even striving for perfection.  It's more about staying open, being aware, noticing where you get caught, what needs work, what's beckoning... and about trusting: staying attuned to the love that lies beneath and irradiates everything.

... which is why I shoot -- and love -- images like this one.  Something about it opens and soothes my disappointed heart...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beauty glowing everywhere

There is so much beauty in the world. But we need to open our eyes, stay alert, notice...  For some reason this makes me think of another, less edifying but still memorable prayer from the Episcopal Compline Service:  "Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

I think I'd prefer an alternate admonition: "Be alert, be attentive: beauty glows everywhere like the dawn, seeking hearts to enlighten..."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The sphere-sounds of union

"Philosophers have said
that we love music
because it resembles
the sphere-sounds of union.

We have been part of a harmony before,
so these moments of treble and bass
keep our remembering fresh.

Hearing the sound, we gather strength.
Love kindles with melody.
Music feeds a lover composure,
and provides form for the imagination.
Music breathes on personal fire
and makes it keener."


Monday, October 7, 2013

When you're weary...

Once upon a time, when I was between husbands and living a stone's throw from an Episcopal student center, I used to attend a nightly evening service.

I loved everything about it: the phos hilaron (O Gracious Light), the Song of Simeon (Lord, you now have set your servant free), the responses ("Hide us under the shadow of your wings")... But my favorite line -- which later became the title of my monthly newspaper column -- was from a prayer: "Protect us... so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness."

Yes: when our attitude is good, every change is a chance, an opportunity for growth and discovery.  But sometimes it can be challenging to keep that attitude alive. So it's lovely to be reminded that we don't have to do it alone.  Hearing those words again last night, at our local compline service, with the rich men's voices washing over me in the still chapel -- Priceless.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Getting to know you

After a month away, my husband has returned from his family home in New Jersey with a large truck filled with family effects, including this charming mermaid, sculpted and painted by his mother. 

For all the 30 years I've known this man -- and probably for many more years before that -- this mermaid sat beside the sink in the powder room next to the living room in his parents' house.  She always looked a little off there, but she seems to fit right in here; some part of me wishes his mother were here to see how happy she is.

It reminds me a bit of the new cheerios commercial that actually brought me to tears yesterday, the one where the little boy points out that since Nana used to serve Cheerios to his mom, that means when he eats Cheerios now it's almost like having breakfast with Nana...

As I sit now, in a living room filled with boxes containing artifacts of my husband's youth, watching him sort through and listening to the stories he shares, I am intensely aware of the power these items have to transport us back.  While some part of me feels invaded by all this stuff, another part of me is enjoying the revelations that emerge in the reminiscences.  Like the little mermaid, I've adopted a relaxed and listening stance, and I'm feeling my heart opening to the boy I never knew.  It's all good...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Come harvest time...

It's harvest time at the Bainbridge Island Vineyard, and even the spiders are gathering up the last bits of sustenance for the winter ahead.

What are you harvesting today?

Adding a pinch of spice

Those of us who are more spiritually inclined do have a tendency to love peace, quiet, and simplicity.

But that doesn't mean things need to be dull and boring: even a little pinch of spice can make all the subtle flavors in a life come more alive and seem more vibrant.

A pinch of color in an image can accomplish the same objective, bringing echoes of life and vitality to the subtlety of the surrounding hues...

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Prayer of St. Francis

In gratitude for the humility of Pope Francis, on the feast day of his namesake:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Abstract photographer, abstract painter

One of the earliest tasks we master as children is that of assigning names to the nameless: “What’s that?” the child asks, over and over, pointing to various familiar objects. We learn to identify and categorize – a useful trait, to be sure – but with time the identities and categories become all we know, and we lose track of the formless essence within.

As a photographer I find I often seek ways to step back to the time before we named things; to achieve some angle, or some distance, that makes a subject seem more abstract: if not unrecognizable, at least difficult to classify -- so that, even if only for a moment, we are forced to interact with it at some more basic level, taking in all it has to offer without the pre-defined expectations that so often keep us from fully perceiving an object in all its dimensions and possibility.

But as a painter, that process is reversed: instead of seeking to rediscover the formless essence of a form, I am attempting to bring the formless into form – without necessarily knowing what that might look like. Rather, I approach the paint, brushes, and canvas with an open heart and try to go where I feel led, to paint what seeks expression from within.

Whatever that is, it generally seems to become a representation – if not of form, at least of feeling: My experience of that has been that the shapes the paint takes are inevitably influenced by what’s going on in my life at the time -- and though I can see that, I can't always explain it. So I've decided to set up a new website that just features my paintings; no words. I've called it Mystical Abstractions, and you can find it here. (I've also added a link at the top of the blog).  I will still post paintings here from time to time, but if you want to watch without listening, Mystical Abstractions is the place to go. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


A busy day today, so I'll just leave you with this thought 
from Illuminating the Mystery, my book on the Gospel of Thomas...

And, just in case you've always wondered what I mean when I say I am a Contemplative Photographer, here's an explanation: I was invited to do a guest post on the site of Patricia Turner, a fellow contemplative photographer from Maine.  She asked some wonderful questions,
 which were great fun to answer: you can follow this link to her blogsite,
A Photographic Sage, and learn more about why and how I do what I do:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When the going gets tough...

What on earth would keep me up until almost midnight creating something this out of character? Is it that I'm already tired of the gray and the rain and longing for spring? Or am I just itching for a good romance novel?

Truth be told, I suspect this is about whistling in the dark: I hate what's going on with our government right now, and am deeply worried about the ramifications. So much easier to hide in a world of frivolous fantasy. I guess, when the going gets tough, the tough get 'shopping...

But probably, as my friend Rilla just pointed out, it's my subliminal awareness that this is the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Given that all my prayers lately seem to be concerned with friends who are struggling with cancer, it seems entirely appropriate to start of the month with a good strong dose of pink.