Friday, December 27, 2013

Day of the Wren

[This is a post I began writing last year on December 26 and never finished because I caught the flu and was miserable for ten days, and then life began again in full swing, and I never came back to it, though I've kept the photos of the wrens on my desktop all year.]

It's the day after Christmas.

Or you can think of it as the second day of Christmas.

I like the second option, because I like the church calendar and the possibility of extending such a beautiful celebration over a longer period of twelve days.

Today, however, I was thinking about it being St. Stephen's Day to some people. John Michael Talbot wrote something about how the day of the first martyr follows right on the heels of the day of Jesus' incarnation. And how appropriate it is, because the birth of Jesus would be pointless without the death and resurrection of Jesus. Stephen didn't die because Jesus was born, but because Jesus lived a life and died a death that changed the cosmos and upset the status quo quite terribly--or wonderfully, depending on your perspective.

So, I was thinking about the death of Stephen, and reading a little about that led to my learning that in Ireland this is also called the Day of the Wren, for very strange and sad reasons. Apparently Irish legend says that a wren betrayed Stephen to those who then stoned him. This connects with an Irish legend about how a wren betrayed Irish soldiers to the Vikings around 750 A.D., on St. Stephen's Day. From this tradition then came the practice of killing wrens on this day with stones and even carrying them around the village tied to a stick to show them off.

A very strange and sad practice. Of course I'm sure that when the Vikings raided the Irish, that made for even more strange and sad experiences, and having a scapegoat of some sort may have helped the people with their grief in some way.

When I read this at first, part of me recoiled at the idea, and it almost made me not want to even write about St. Stephen's Day. What awful thoughts for the second day of Christmas.

But, actually, it fits well for what I have been thinking about quite a bit this Christmas. Our own Christmas plans were foiled by a blizzard, so we spent the day alone. Which was nice in some ways, but it meant a good deal of uncertainty, making a tough decision, and not being with family. In my mind, the words "alone" and Christmas" just don't belong in the same sentence, except for that one year when I was too sick to go to Grandmother's house and stayed home alone.

And Christmas always brings up the sadness of missing family who have died. (Especially in our family, as our grandparents' last name was Christmas.)

And we don't see family we used to be with every year, who cannot come for reasons related to distance, work schedules, other extended family, etc.

And this year I am thinking of clients who are going through difficult situations, for whom Christmas has probably been a very hard thing. And friends who have been in the hospital over Christmas.

And Christmas for me is always a sad reminder that we do not have children, or even a child; it brings up memories and feelings connected to that. Memories and feelings that manage to lie dormant most of the year rise up and intensify when so much emphasis is placed on children and families this time of year. Even though I don't watch TV, it's unavoidable, since most people send family photos rather than traditional Christmas cards anymore. Not a photo in a card, but a photo as a card, as if Christmas were simply about their family.

And for many people, myself not excluded, this holiday more than any other brings up difficuilt memories related to our own childhoods, partly because of the difficult experiences themselves and partly because of the crazy expectation our culture sets us up for us, that Christmas should somehow defy all the laws of ordinary life and be a wonderful day.

Kind of the way some people think of heaven. A priest friend of mine once asked, "What do people think? That when you die, God will give you a pill to swallow, and suddenly you will just get along with everyone and like them?" His point was that we must learn forgiveness and reconciliation in this life if we hope to enjoy the next life; it won't happen "abracadabra" style. It's part of what the process of sanctification is all about.

But our culture does seem to promote the idea that there is some magic about December 25 that will cause us to forget our struggles and for at least that one day feel some kind of extra special feeling or something that will make us generous and warm-hearted toward everyone, even if we're not ordinarily like that. And that somehow we will feel only lovely things on this day, as if somehow it will block out all the normal things we think and feel and struggle with. Parts of our culture seem to think that being with family will work this miracle. Others that getting some tangible object ("just what you wanted") will work the magic.

My suspicion, based on my own expeience and what I hear from others, is that just the opposite occurs, at least in our culture. Because there is so much emphasis placed on the day and all the expectations of it, not to mention that it often brings together families, and families are often the literal breeding ground of many people's most painful struggles, it is a day and a season that accentuates the pain, the sorrow, the sense of loss.

And of course no material object can bring joy or peace.

[And here is where I begin writing a  year later.]

And so, a year later, it is Christmas Day. And I am alone for Christmas, for the most part. At least in the way we think of things. Due to a vertebral disc that ruptured several years ago and a month-ago dental appointment that reignited the fiery pain of one of the affected nerves, I felt compelled to forego our planned trip to Croatia for Christmas. I simply could not bear the thought of the long trip over and back, plus luggage, dealing with this pain and not knowing if it would stay the same, get better, or possibly worsen. And the risk of doing something that might cause more damage loomed in my mind as a real possibility. (If being upside in a dentist's chair did this, what would happen if someone's luggage fell out of the overhead bin onto my neck?)

So, except for that Christmas mentioned above when I stayed home sick, this is the most literally alone I've been on Christmas Day. And, sadly, the people I was going to have dinner with have a sick family member--came down with fever and aches just yesterday, bless his heart-- so I'm not going to do that.

And, yes, all those thoughts and feelings are there under the surface, just as real as the things on the surface. We still never had a child, will never have grandchildren. Won't have big extended-family gatherings, unless it's with part of the rest of the family.

And there is still all the pain associated with family that was always there. The pain that I don't go into on a public blog, because it isn't mine alone and therefore isn't up for grabs to share in a public forum. The people who know me best know. It's been one painful year, more pain than I thought human hearts could bear, even though I thought naively that last year had stretched our hearts as far as they could go.

Still the loss. I always miss Grandmother, and life with grandparents generally, more around holidays. Her birthday, Granddaddy's death, and Thanksgiving all in November. Then Christmas with its reminders of memories directly related to it, and just that their last name was Christmas. And then she died in January. There's no getting around it or away from it, no getting over it; you just go through it, and buy lots of Kleenex this time of year, and it's not just because of colds.

So this morning, when I knew that the dinner plans were off, and maybe it had something to do with music playing in the background, too, all the thoughts and feelings set in. The thoughts you rarely talk about except with very close friends, or with a therapist. Thoughts that I believe the ancient desert fathers were right to associate with demons, and that I've heard Richard Schwartz (founder of Internal Family Systems theory) might say come from "critters"--they sense a weak spot and move in and try to take over.

I was allowing the tears and resisting the thoughts, the combination that generally works best, and still feeling very alone in the struggle, when I noticed movement outside the front window, among the ivy that grows on the wall there. It distracted me because something about it was different. I've seen squirrels play around out there. And chipmunks, but they don't venture so high. So I went to the window and continued to watch as ivy poked out here and there, and it seemed something was flitting around behind it.

Eventually I clearly saw a tiny bird, and then another, and if they were not Carolina wrens, they were something very similar. They were too quick for me to get a good picture of, and I really didn't want to spend my energy on getting a picture. I just wanted to watch them, because they felt like messengers, and I wanted to hear the message.

I have been reminding my clients that the real point of Christmas is, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."

I've been reminding people and reminding myself, whatever we are facing during this Christmas season, God is with us in it.

I even met someone recently named Emmanuel, and we talked about what a beautiful name he had for this time of year.

God is with us. In the loneliness, in the family messes, in the unfulfilled dreams, in the not even knowing what to dream for. In the physical pain. He's with the poor and the sad and the broken, and  with the rich who are also often sad and broken. He knows and cares about every sparrow that falls, and we can trust that He knows what is going on in our lives, that He cares, and He will, along with the Kleenex, help us through it.

And here, just as the avalanche of dark thoughts and emotions, and the overarching thought, "You are alone," which makes all the other so much harder to bear, began its crashing cascade into my mind/heart/depths, here these little birds flew into our ivy, birds I've never seen there before, and took my mind to better places, truer places.

"Immanuel. . . .God with us."

"Thou art moved
and moved in infinite love by all things:
the need of a sparrow, even this moves Thee;
and what we scarcely see,
a human sigh,
this moves Thee, O Infinite Love!" (Kierkegaard)

"For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side--a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels. . . . Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle." (St. John Chrysostom, from my earlier morning reading)

I can't prove that these little birds were "angels," messengers, sent at just the right time. I wouldn't say they were angels in the biblical sense of particular creatures that look a certain way. But in the sense of being messengers of good news, I think they were.  In the same sermon Chrysostom wrote regarding the Incarnation, "And ask not how; for where God wills, the order of nature yields." A theology professor friend of mine once said, when I had had somewhat similar experiences with hawks and an owl, "Why would God not use birds to communicate to you if He knows you pay attention to birds and will notice them?"

They certainly came at just the right time. And reminded me of just what I needed to know. And reminded me of these pictures on my desktop, and this blogpost that I never finished. And the rest of my day was different because of it. With the reminder that God was right here, right now, my mind was able to resist the dark thoughts and feelings and think more clearly. I remembered that some other friends had talked about maybe getting together later in the day. I remembered someone else who might also be alone this day. I made some calls. We wound up having a gathering time of four people who couldn't be with family this year. We were not alone.

The story is that St. Francis preached to the birds--which I've read was actually a metaphor for preaching to the poor. But it's also true that he loved animals and paid a lot of attention to them. And he was the one who started the tradition of the nativity scene, using real animals to bring to life the poem.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

Angel or not, on Christmas Day this year, the little bird in the picture, along with his friend, preached to me. Christ the Lord, Immanuel. God with us. Alleluia!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

La Nebbia

I remember foggy mornings in Arkansas. Not a whole lot, but it seems like sometimes when we went to school early, there would be fog in the valleys of the very hill-and-valley terrain between home and school. I always thought it was beautiful and mysterious.

And I really remember fog in northern Italy. Where they had to put special reflective paint and markers all along the roads for miles, because the fog was responsible for multiple deaths when drivers simply could not see well enough to realize another car was coming right at them. And then more cars could not see the accident ahead, and it would just start a pile-up.  So the markers were indications of how slow one ought to drive. (If you can see three markers, you can go x kilometers per hour, but if you can see only two, better slow to x km, and so on.)

Of course Venice in the fog was like a dream. Beautiful, mysterious, other-worldly. (And could get your clothes wet, too.)

Back in an earlier job setting, I worked with a group of people who struggled with various life situations. We would start each meeting with a check in. Rate your general mood with a number, and rate your general "brain fog" with a number. Brain fog became a frequent topic of our conversation. Because when you're depressed, not sleeping well, feeling confused and close to hopeless about your future, thinking clearly does not come easily.

Thus, brain fog.

I find that this year of my life has brought a lot of brain fog. Which is funny, because I am working on a doctorate now, so of course I have to think clearly enough to do that work. But the stress of that along with other significant stressors have made for a year with almost no consistent routine (and brains thrive on routine), along with the sorts of chemicals that stress pumps into the brain that further foggify it.

(The computer is telling me that "foggify" is not a word. It doesn't know that Gerard Manley Hopkins is my blog's patron saint, obviously, and I shall use words as I choose.)

Anyway, I went for a walk a while back (one of the routines I lost this month with some severely cold weather coinciding with a moderately severe nerve condition that makes being cold something to avoid at all costs for now.), and it was a gorgeously foggy morning.

Beautiful, mysterious, and like brain fog, made it very hard to see clearly.

And the "sacred bench," as I've come to think of it, just struck me as so beautiful.

Perhaps because it is on land surrounded by water, it showed up more clearly than most of the rest of the park. There was less fog where it was.

And even though I was there alone, the bench was a symbol to me of what had helped get me through the brain fog of this past year, and that of many other times in my life. It's the people who will sit down with you and just be there to talk and listen and share and care. That loving care helps clear the fog, brings light into the mind, makes it possible to remember the fog is temporary. The mind will return to its normal functioning.

Richard Stivers has written a fascinating book called Shades of Loneliness, in which he ponders the likelihood that our disconnected society (largely related to technologization) is at the root of much of mental illness. I think he is largely right in what he has written. If more people had sacred benches on which to sit, or people to walk with in the park, I feel sure we'd have less need for the kind of work I do.

I'm thankful for the people who walk and sit with me and help clear the fog from my brain from time to time--sometimes it takes more than once a day.

"Nebbia" is Italian for fog. Where our "nebulous" comes from. And just as fog can be yucky, like brain fog, it can also be beautiful. So I picked a nebulous title for it.

For another foggy post with more photos and a poem with much sadder sentiments, see "Im Nebel."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

White and Light

Amazing to me, to have such blooms at the end of November. It seemed a little miracle of beauty in the kitchen window of our gracious hostess.

And the light coming onto them and through them intensified the miracle.

And so I had to take a picture.

Just to remember.

I love what light does.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Letters of Love (though not exactly Love Letters)

Eleven years ago today the writer of these letters, and I assume the licker of these stamps, left this life for the next phase of his life's experience of Love.

I don't know what he would think or say if he knew I would be writing about him on my blog, but I think he might say that as long as I chose my words carefully, included no dangling participles, and allowed my emotion to cool before writing so that my words were recollected in tranquility, then I would have his blessing.
He was my high school English teacher, but most of the letters I have from him were written while I was in college and he was in the student role, working on a doctorate after many years of teaching high school, getting ready to move on to teaching college. (I thought it was neat that my favorite number, 26, was part of his address at Ole Miss. He would likely tease me for using the word "neat.")

My asking about something from a Frost poem about how difficult life could be winds up with his response, "All in all, I would say, there is a pretty good balance of agony and ecstasy. It takes both to make us wonderful people, you know." He was right.

He did "moan" in his letters about both his workload and the worldviews of some of his professors and how he felt their impoverished ideas did little justice to the literature he was studying. At some point in a later letter, however, he gave me permission to stop feeling sorry for him, that he was adjusting and would make it.

He writes in response to my comment that music can be so moving (referring to Barber's "Adagio for Strings"), that music often brings him to tears. Able to sing with one of the choirs at Ole Miss, he participated in a concert in Avery Fisher Hall that he wrote about more than once. Here he writes out some of the text of the "Prayers of Kierkegaard" set to music by Samuel Barber. Many years later, after his death, my own chorus sang the piece, so it will always remind me of him. I appreciated it much more as an adult than I could as a college freshman reading his letter.

In response to my suggestion of a Trivial Pursuit party, which he okayed if it were a small enough group, he writes, "I like my friendships deep, not wide." I have a perfect dozen of his letters, all at least two handwritten pages, often more, some typed and therefore even longer. At the time I was receiving these letters, I treasured them because they were from him, and they brought hope and wisdom into my life, but I didn't find it unusual that he spent time writing to me.
These days, working on a doctorate myself, I look at these letters with a sense of awe, knowing the sacrifice of time he took to sit and read letters from a former student and respond to them. It's clear he enjoyed writing about things, but it's also clearer to me now how much he meant the "Love" in "Love, Ray A. Wright." And I appreciate being someone he included in his not wide, but deep, circle of friends. One of the many blessings-beyond-measure in my little life.
(And we did have that Trivial Pursuit party, about fifteen years after the letter--just him, his wife, and me. I think we kept it small enough.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Happy Birthday, Grandmother

Today is my grandmother's birthday. A day and a life I will always celebrate, even though she has been gone for over ten years now. Depending on whether the family Bible or the official record was correct, she would have been ninety-seven or ninety-eight today. (It was late in her life that she learned they said two different things!)
She was a letter writer, which meant so much to me when I lived in Italy and Croatia, but the letters continued when we lived only an hour apart. When we chose the furniture we would like to have after her death, I knew I wanted to have the "housewife's desk" with its drop-down writing surface and organizing slots for stationery and such, because her letters had been such a part of our relationship.
She was an amazing cook, with a huge deep freeze full of all kinds of things that she shared generously and bountifully and beautifully.

She loved beauty in many forms, and when I left to live in Croatia, the magazine Victoria had just come out. She saw to it that I received it overseas and for many more years, until she died.

She is among my earliest memories, and she often wrote my entire name. When I married, she made a point of encouraging me to keep my last name as my middle name, because, as she said, "It's important to remember where you come from and who you are."

She had a beautiful smile. She was not a people pleaser; she did not smile because a camera was around or because she needed to impress anyone. She lived a life of courage and deep determination through many hardships. And when she smiled, you knew it was for real.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Impressions of Beauty

When it was too late, I realized that I had only once in my life had a picture made with this woman I love so much. And that picture was across the ocean, where it had been since I framed it and set it out in our living room in our house across the ocean.
So, when the man I married made a trip across the ocean earlier this year, I asked him to bring the picture back so I could have it over here.
And he did. And here it is.
As you can see, the frame is too big for it, but it is what I had twenty-something years ago. What I didn't have back then was any normal kind of matting for it. This was wartime Yugoslavia/Croatia we were living in, and there wasn't a lot of choice about a lot of things. And decorating wasn't my top priority at the time, in any case.
So, odd as it seems to me now, I found some crinkledy paper that at the time matched the color of the flowers on Mama Neva's dress. And for twenty-something years, that is what was in the frame behind the photo. Over time, it had changed color and faded around the edge, and at any rate it just didn't look so great, so I took it out.
Being sentimental to a degree some might find pathological, I couldn't bring myself to throw the pink paper away, and it sat on my prayer desk for a couple of weeks until I decided I had to do something with it. (Meaning, it was time to throw it away.)
But when I actually looked at it, rather than simply looking over it or beyond it, I had a surprise:

The twenty-something years of light shining onto the photo had created a second image behind it!
So now I feel as if I have a sort of shroud of Turin, or something like that, and I don't know how I will bring myself to throw the paper away....or what I will do with it. This may be how hoarders get started, who knows?
On a more serious note, discovering this unexpected image gave me hope and resolution. The secondary image is not the same as the original photo, but it is recognizable as an impression of the original. And I know that I am not like Mrs. White in many ways. No one could ever mistake me for her. I certainly don't play piano like her, and I don't live my life as well as she did. But I hope that with the years of Light shining through her onto me, maybe there is something about me that can be recognized as a faint image of her. I would love to bear the image of her compassion, her grace, her gentleness, her joy.

I would like to be beautiful like her.
Because she was beautiful.
She was the best kind of beautiful.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lux Aeterna

A little over ten years ago the music above entered my life. From the first measure, I loved it. It is Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna," and we sang it in the Rhodes Mastersingers Chorale.

Here is my music, placed in front of my preludes and fugues, one of the first books of music I bought when taking piano lessons from Mrs. White back in high school. After I got a CD of the Lauridsen music, I took it to her house on a visit home, and told her she was going to love it. As we listened, during that very first long, high/low note you see above, she whispered, "I already love it!"

The night we performed it, with Lauridsen himself present, I thought about my high school English teacher, Ray Wright, and how much he would love this music. He was in a coma at the time, though I did not know it, and a few days later I attended his funeral.

I've written a whole article on that year, so I won't go into detail here. But over the next six months, my grandmother died, a precious young cousin died by suicide, an old friend was murdered, and a close friend my own age unexpectedly died shortly after giving birth.

It was a very hard year. I found odd comfort in Hopkins' comfortless sonnet:

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief."'

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

Of course, with time and a lot of love, hearts can heal, and mine did.

Last year, nine years after that beautiful music came into my life, and those beautiful people left my life, I was working on a paper for school, and I found a way to work this Hopkins poem into it (only partially cited here):

Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
                           Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart's-clarion! Away grief's gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
                            Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world's wildfire, leave but ash:
                            In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
                            Is immortal diamond.

Well, the marks these people left on my mind were not gone, but I was able to find great comfort and joy in the hope of resurrection.

While working on that paper, my beloved piano teacher was in a coma, and this time I did know it. I so hoped to see her once again, but did not. Tomorrow will be the anniversary of her death.

And thus this post, as tonight I reflect and remember these beautiful people and the blessings they have been to me and to many others.

Music is everywhere, so I trust they are enjoying beautiful music even now, as we wait for the flash and the trumpet crash and the Day when all immortal diamonds will shine in splendor in the presence of the Lux Aeterna.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Music Everywhere

I remember several years ago hearing John Michael Talbot talk about how in a way, everything in the universe is a sort of music. Because music is, essentially, vibration. We sing because our vocal chords vibrate in a certain way. A violin makes music because the strings vibrate as they are bowed or plucked. Drums vibrate when they are hit. Brass and woodwind instruments involve vibrations of reeds and lips.
And everything in the universe, as we understand it now from the physics folks, is a form of energy vibrating at some rate, whether slow or fast.
And that's about all I can say about that, not having studied physics.
I like the idea that the whole universe is made up of music.
And I found some the other day in a most unlikely place......
Of course I couldn't hear this music, but it does look an awful lot like notes on a staff, doesn't it?

If it's not music, then it's certainly visual art. Who would guess that the ivy growing six or seven feet away from the window would combine with the shades to produce such a musical shadow?

Music is always migrating from its point of origin to its destiny in someone's fleeting moment of experience.
                                                                                        -- Alex Ross, "The Rest Is Noise"

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Remembering Francis

October 4 was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I wasn't able to do anything in particular in remembrance of it, beyond remembering it.
But I am thankful for his life, for what we know of it, and for how his influence has spread way beyond Assisi, way beyond the centuries he lived in (12th and early 13th), and way beyond the Roman Catholic Church he was a part of.
Five years ago I took these pictures in Assisi. This is the church of San Damiano, where Francis heard the call to "restore my church," which he did first by working to physically repair this church which was crumbling in disrepair. (It was later added on to; this is much more than the original church, of which you can see the outline.) Only later did he realize the call and the need were to work to restore the larger church itself, which was falling into spiritual disrepair through various struggles in those times.

Assisi is full of men in brown robes and white belts, dressing as Francis did and seeking to live their lives as he did, as is possible and appropriate in the century we live in. Obviously part of this man's vocation is to share the story of Francis and the various places people visit to learn about him.

No one stakes their lives on it, but they say this tree was there during Francis' lifetime and played a role in one of the popular stories of his life. Olive trees are known to live an average of 500-900 years, so there is no reason not to think that this could be the tree.

I came upon this in Villach, Austria, from the same trip five years ago.

And on the same trip I saw him on this building in Zagreb, Croatia. His influence really did spread amazingly far, especially in a time with no television, radio, or Internet. His teaching and example of radical poverty and returning to very basic church teachings had a profound effect in his lifetime and continues today.

This is   one of my favorite photos from Assisi, the woods up on Mt. Subasio, where Francis and his friends used to go to pray. The trees are so gracefully wild, or wildly graceful, and I can just imagine  how he loved to be up there away from the city.

From Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi--

". . . .we prefer saints to be either perfect in every way or so ordinary that they conform to our own stature and do not challenge our spiritual indolence. But saints are in fact heroically in love, and like lovers, they sometimes become eccentric, and even overstep themselves; holiness does not preclude humanity, after all. Above everything, however, saints keep God firmly in sight. They remain faithful, and that is why they are saints--not because they are invariably models of polite or even imitable conduct."

" How much more credible and moving are the truer accounts of those who endured daily struggles, to remain true to their beliefs--those who constantly had to battle temptations to discouragement and despair; those who suffered physically, emotionally and psychologically; those who felt betrayed and abandoned . . . .holiness is certainly (like conversion) a lifelong process, and genuine saints probably never think about it. Their energies are directed toward God, not toward a consideration of their own merits or excellence. Most of all, their lives proclaim to the world the existence of a reality that transcends it."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Morning Has Broken

Many mornings I start the day with a walk.

This morning was no exception--except for the major exception that I am in Eureka Springs, and my walk took me from the top of an Ozark "mountain" down a long dirt-gravel road into a valley. I was the only person I could see the whole time I was out, except for the man on his porch that I saw on my way back up out at the top of the road.

So for an hour or more I walked around and saw no one else, heard no one else. Only birds, the scampering of a squirrel now and then, the insect sounds. Oh, even a crow cawing at one point. "Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird....."

How to describe the light coming through the air as it was when I took this photo? I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus, or perhaps a character in a Lord of the Rings novel. The light was alive. The morning was alive. I was alive.

Reminds me of a Hopkins poem, one of his better known. One I resonate with so much, because I live in a city and am often reminded of how "all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil...." It is beautiful to be in a place where you can forget that for a while.

And morning is always a reminder that God is at work, sustaining what is, and also making things new.

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
     World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 --Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Don't Rush

 I find God never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness.
                                                                                              --Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion.

I don't believe my piano teacher ever read Thomas Kelly, but she certainly believed these words. "Don't rush" wasn't just instruction for how to play piano well. She did not rush her life. She always had time for music, for prayer, for people--piano students, college students, her children and later grandchildren.

Recently another dear friend and mentor to my husband died. Someone shared this in the tributes, a quote from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, about what it means to be a holy person:

Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less…..They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from… I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at its very lowest, it must be great fun.

"They will usually seem to have a lot of time." Of course. If we believe we will live for eternity, why on earth do we get in a rush?

Whether playing piano or listening to people or planning and executing the day, I think "Don't rush" is excellent wisdom for both holiness and happiness.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

To Everything There Is a Season

And apparently the season for calendar sales is getting longer and longer. Maybe it has something to do with climate change, but I'm just sure calendars did not used to appear, as these did, in the middle of August. I could hardly believe my eyes a couple of weeks ago, when it was nearly a hundred degrees outside, and 2014 calendars were not only sprouting but in full bloom at the bookstore.

Beyond my ability to believe. Positively crazy. Like a Star Trek time warp.

After my initial shock, I was determined to keep calm and trust that everything was going to be okay.

Oh, what does it say there, there in the right bottom corner? Something about "this day"?

This day will never come again. And yet we live in a time that would have us always looking ahead, rarely staying in today long enough to notice and remember it.

Of course this is about the bookstore making money, keeping themselves afloat. But the very fact that they will sell calendars in August, along with the way Walgreen's has Halloween fare out as soon as July 4 has passed, has to do with more than just making money. It tells us something that our culture will allow this to happen. It says that making money is more important than living sanely with and in time.

"Saving the Season," a book out on a nearby display, seemed to clash with the ushering in of a whole new year just across the aisle.

It was especially thought-provoking because as you can see, this wasn't one display case of calendars. I believe there were six double units like this. I could not help feeling a bit overwhelmed.

At least Thanksgiving Day is only a little over three months past the day we were in the store.

I think life has to be lived in small batches to have much meaning. And to be preserved well in memory.

Maybe this is the first year to have calendars on sale in August. But of course it isn't the first sign that human beings don't always value time. Not long after coming upon the calendar display, I came across these wise words from The Cloud of Unknowing, written in the late 14th century:

Pay attention, then, to how you spend your time.
You have nothing more precious than time.
In one tiny moment of time, heaven may be gained or lost.

I suppose one wise thing to do with my time would be to go buy a calendar while they still have such a great selection. . . unless they have all already been bought. Ha.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sitting a Spell, Spellbound

So, as I said, this photo  was a hint of things to come. You see that bit of light on the third pew back?
Well, just keep looking. Because light shines on whatever is in its path, and anything that will reflect it can be transformed. (Yes, I think there's a deeper story there.....)





I was thinking what a wonderful thing this is in a church building, because a church is made up of many people, all different from each other, like the different colors.

And with blemishes, too. But they just don't seem as important compared to the overall beauty created by the light and the colors.





Odd to think that had I come at a different time of day, it might have just all looked like this. The floor had a beauty of its own, a very subdued coloring. But I'm so glad I came when I did for the rich color feast.

It was like music for the eyes. (And, yes, I did try the piano while there. I'm guessing it goes back to 1960 and hasn't been tuned since being delivered there. So the visual music was much more lovely than anything audible!)