Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Elsewhere

Here it is, Christmas morning, and John and I are sitting in a motel room near the airport in Phoenix, awaiting the time when we check out here and check in there to go elsewhere, i.e. Grand Rapids Michigan, for a week of Christmas celebrations with family. We have never done this before, and we did it in part because we wanted to come home for Christmas and see loved ones, but we also wanted to avoid the rush and crowds and high airfares of the last time we did this. Flying on Christmas and New Year's days seemed a solution.
Sure enough, the ride into Phoenix from Sedona yesterday, Christmas Eve, was almost traffic free, and the motel is very quiet indeed. So quiet, the one restaurant is closed, and there is a skeleton crew on duty. In trips to the lobby for the coffee, bananas, and bars they are offering to guests, the only other people I have seen are airplane crews checking in after a flight from somewhere, before going off to another flight elsewhere.
Now I know we live in a very mobile, multicultural society. Lots and lots of people don't even celebrate Christmas, because that is not a part of their religion or culture. Others don't celebrate because they may think, like Scrooge, that it's all "humbug." Still others don't have family with whom they could or would even want to celebrate. And still others have to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or choose to, for some extra money. Then there are the people who are sick, or in the military, or on duty in some other way.
Whatever the reasons, the point I want to make is that I am feeling out of place somehow, as if there was something a bit wrong or unfitting with being in a motel on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and after that, on an airplane. I wonder how many others are feeling that way, maybe even a little sad, because, whatever their reasons, they are not with loved ones on this special eve and day of the year, celebrating and gifting and maybe even giving some pondering time to the meaning of this holiday, aka holy day.
This Christmas morning I have decided I will somehow honor Christmas even here in the motel room. First, I am writing this Christmas blog, and after that I will write some Christmas cards I didn't get to yet, maybe in the lobby near the big Christmas tree there. And after that, maybe I will draw some little child-like sketches of the Christmas story, inspired by a wonderful You Tube wordless telling of the Christmas story with classical music in the background, sent to me by my brother Ron.
However your are celebrating Christmas, if you are Elsewhere, like me, may your heart be filled with cheer anyway, because after all, Christmas is at heart a celebration of the heart, and can take place anywhere, when we welcome the Christ Child again to dwell in our hearts. And if you are at home with family and friends, may your celebrations be filled with the joy of knowing that absolutely nothing can ever separate you from the Presence and Joy of the Christ Child who was born in a manger but lives in human hearts everywhere and always.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can you hear a leaf sing?

A couple days ago, I took a long wonderful hike with a friend in Sycamore Canyon, an especially beautiful place south of here, where the head waters of the Verde River can be found. I took the pictures posted with this blog there. On that same night, I received this wonderful poem by a favorite poet of mine, Mary Oliver, from a friend who shares my love of poetry. The pictures and the poem seem to me to be uncannily suited to each other. But then, maybe not. Maybe you who read this blog have had the experience described by Mary Oliver in her poem, and you may even have pictures somewhere that match it, as mine do. My wish for you is that you will go out there wherever you live and listen to the leaves sing, touch the face of rocks, or let your mind reflect the beauty of your life, like the river.
Here is the poem by Mary Oliver.

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I'll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until it ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Inspiration of Rachel's road trip

Our daughter Rachel just spent a week with us over the Thanksgiving holiday. Since she is a party waiting to happen, you can imagine it was a lively week! She brings much life, light, joy, and fun wherever she goes, and when she leaves after a visit, I always walk around with an ache in my heart for awhile, in an all-too-quiet house. Those of you who know me will hardly believe I could actually think anything was too quiet!
I took pictures as Rachel prepared to leave in her convertible with yes, the top down. It was 23 degrees above zero when I walked the dog this morning. Okay, it was around 41 by noon, when she was preparing to leave. And sunny. But still!!! She carefully prepared a place for her new dog, Oprah, in the back seat, amongst her fluffy soft comforter and pillow, with a bit of luggage around it. Howie, her faithful old dog, got to sit in the front seat next to her, with more luggage. Of course, the trunk was already stuffed. Finally, Rachel herself climbed into the driver's seat, and after a goodbye kiss, she was off. We heard the voice of Rick Springfield, one of her favorite singers, boom out as she rode away. John and I laughed and shook our heads and I said, "That girl knows how to travel."
Later today, I pondered the scene, and the pics I took, (posted with this blog) and I wrote this sort-of-poem about it:

As you travel the Road of Life
go with a sense of
Yet know there is more
than one route to your
Surround yourself with
story and song.
Let yourself be dogged with
unconditional love.
And for heaven's sake,
keep the top down,
your head open
to sun and wind,
connecting, feeling
Big Sky, Big Dreams, Big Ideas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

musing on music

I have travelled in many countries, and heard the music of many languages. An Indian guru I visited once advised me to listen to the music of a strange language before I tried to work on learning its words. The heart of every language was in the music it made when it was spoken, he said. I have always remembered that advice, and when I was enormously frustrated, as I usually was, when I could not communicate with people in their language (whether Arabic, Hausa, German, or Navajo, for instance) I at least could tune in on the particular rhythms and tones of their language as they spoke it.
But much more gratifying was the discovery in my travels of the experience of sharing music with people, for it is a universal language, and a language of the heart. Nowadays there is even a genre called "world music," and indeed, thanks to technology, the music of the whole world is available to us. On my little ipod alone I have the spiritual music, in the form of instrumentals and chant, of all the world's great religions. And right here in the small town of Sedona,
I have attended "Kirtan" which is the chanting of sanskrit mantras; Sufi dances to the chants from that tradition; Taize chants led by a small ensemble from the local Catholic church and Korean chants led by the teacher of class in Dahn yoga. Last night I attended a full moon drumming circle and joined in Native American style drumming and chanting with people of at least three different nationalities and backgrounds. What a rich experience! For me, the spiritual music of a people is one of the most powerful ways to enter into their prayer and faith in a way that opens my heart to the treasures they are sharing through their worshipful music.
I have the good fortune of coming from a musical family on my mother's side, and in that way music has been woven into my life in important ways. My mom and sister and I would sing songs in harmony while doing dishes together. Our whole family would sing in the car on our long road trips. I still have old recordings of my mother's brothers singing on the radio long ago. And I was blessed to be born with an ear for music, so I can play familiar songs by ear on the piano or accordian or flute or whatever. In our family, we often sang grace at the table, and I always put my children and grandchildren to bed with lullabies.
One of the first things I pack to take with me to Sedona is my collections of CD's, my flute, my drum, and certain songbooks to play out of on my keyboard here. Like my mother, I also hum often as I go about whatever I am doing, and I love singing with other people in all kinds of ways and places. Lately, as I read more about music, I am realizing why it is so vital and wonderful a part of human life, so universal, so ancient, and so new. And more than that, music is an integral part of the Great Mystery of life and creation itself. A brilliant scientist I heard in New York a few years ago, Prof. Kaku, likened the universe to "a symphony of vibrating strings." Someone else said one could translate the word universe itself as "One Song."
I love the thought that you and I are a song, or a note in the song, which God is always singing.
What is music to you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dwelling in Beulah Land

Sometime in my childhood, I heard an old gospel song called "Dwelling in Beulah Land."
I remember the chorus and first verse still, but have never been able to find the song in any hymnal I have ever come across. Well! I found it yesterday in a book called "Rise Up Singing" which is a collection of the words of all kinds of songs for group singing. I have it here and often play from it on my keyboard. I was delighted to come across this old favorite, and I want to write the words of the song for you, because they describe how I feel being out here in this gorgeous place. The song is also a metaphor, as so many gospel songs are, for a state of soul, or "consciousness" as we might say these days. I chose some choice pics from my collection which to me capture some of what the words of this Gospel song are saying.

Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is falling,
Then I know the sins of man beset on every hand.
Doubt and fear and greed and lies in vain to me are calling,
None of these shall move me from Beulah Land.
I'm living on the mountain underneath a cloudless sky.
I'm drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry
O yes I'm feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply
For I am dwelling in Beulah land.
Let the story breezes blow, their blast cannot alarm me,
I am safely sheltered here, protected by God's hand.
Here the sun is always shining, here there's naught can harm me.
I am safe forever in Beulah land! (repeat chorus)
Viewing here the works of God, I sink in contemplation
Hearing now Her blessed voice, I see the way She planned.
Dwelling in the Spirit, here I learn of God's great Vision,
Gladly will I tarry in Beulah Land. (chorus)

okay. I did edit the words a tiny bit! But you get the picture!
Being out here for me does feel like Beulah land, literally.
And living in such a place of Beauty does help me dwell in "Beulah Land" consciousness.
Beauty is, for me, the Face of God, and here that Face shines in particular splendor.
However, even here, I am not always free from doubt or fear or other attitudes that make it hard to dwell in Beulah Land Consciousness. I can echo the words of this old hymn for hours, sometimes even days, but I am not yet always dwelling in Beulah Land, and I wonder if I ever will on this earth, given life's ups and downs and my state of spiritual evolvement.
But I am grateful for the glimpses, the moments, the hours of dwelling in Beulah Land, and I hope that all of you who read this blog also experience the bliss, at least at times, of dwelling in Beulah land, no matter where you live. And someday, I believe, we will all dwell always and forever in Beulah Land!

Monday, November 15, 2010

why I blog

Today I was reading "Finding What You Didn't Lose," a book about expressing truth and creativity through poem making, and found this wonderful quote which captures for me why I blog, and why I sometimes like to share a poem or painting or drawing, and why I have loved preaching for so long, and leading retreats, and doing spiritual direction with people, and writing articles and books for publication, and giving speeches, and all the other ways there are to share some of the many many riches and blessings of my life with others.
Here is the quote from the author of the book, John Fox. Actually, he is quoting Thomas Berry.

"Our deepest desire is to share our riches, and this desire is rooted in the dynamics of the cosmos. What began as an outward expansion of the universe in the fireball ripens into your desire to flood all things with goodness. Whenever you are filled with a desire to fling your gifts into the world, you have become this cosmic dynamic of celebration, feelings its urgency to pour forth just as the stars felt the same urgency to pour themselves out."

That's it! do you ever feel that too? I love those two key phrases and invite you to ponder them as an expression of your life and purpose:
"the desire to flood all things with goodness" and to "fling your gifts into the world."
If this blog does either of these things even a little bit, and inspires others to do the same, what more could I ask?
And there are so many, many ways to fling one's gifts into the world, one lifetime is just not long enough.
Then there is the blessing of receiving the gifts others are flinging out into the that surprise or delight or deeply move me. I just celebrated a birthday, and on that day alone, this was the case. A dear friend handwrote a card with words that profoundly touched my heart. Another couple of friends presented me with a huge gorgeous pot of bright yellow mums, which now grace the fireplace room in which I sit. Two neighbors surprised me with cards. I have no idea how they even knew it was my birthday. John got me a pair of fine, waterproof hiking boots, which he knows I will wear out, probably by my next birthday! And though he is not all that fond of the food, he took me to an Indian restaurant where I could enjoy the food I grew up on as a child in India. One daughter sent a cake made of flowers! and another gave me a silver charm of India on a chain to wear as a necklace. I am sure you, too, could list many, many gifts flung into your world by people you know and love, and strangers too.
As if that were not enough, it seems mother nature delights in offering her gifts to us too. Never a day goes by that is not filled with these gifts. Sometimes I am preoccupied and don't even notice. More's the pity. But as I grow older and enjoy the opportunity (and sometime necessity) of slowing down, I notice these gifts more and more, and "My cup runneth over," as the Psalmist sings.
Let me close today's blog with the gift of a quote from a well-known poem by Maya Angelou
called "On the Pulse of Morning" The pics I chose for today are meant to go with her words.

Across the wall of the world,
a River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.
. . . . . . .
Lift up your eyes
Upon this day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What time is it?

This week the rest of the country once again changed time. That is to say, people set their clocks back an hour on Nov. 7, if that is really changing Time?????????Not here. For reasons I have still to find out, Arizona just keeps the same time all year. Which, given the fact we no longer live in an agricultural society, makes sense to me. Sort of. If clocks make sense at all.
I mean, what is time anyway? Really? If you could ask any animal or bird what time it was, it would make no sense to them. Ancient people always connected time to stars and their movements, the moon's phases, the sun's position in the sky, etc.
Our use of clocks fits our industrial-age way of life, but it is artificial, isn't it? Whether the clock says it is 5:30 or 6:30, the sun still sets and rises at the same "time" and the natural life of the world continues in its usual way and pace.
Then there is the mystery of our own personal sense of time. How it flies when we are having fun, and drags when we are not, or when we are eager for something in the future to happen as soon as possible.
To further complicate things, our increasingly interconnected internet world, where conversations occur across "time zones" and life keeps getting faster and faster, is warping time in some really interesting ways. I notice in gift catalogs that come at this time of year an increase in items intended to help travelers and others cope with the country and world's various time zones. Stop. What time is right now in London? and isn't it passing strange that the little island country of England would be where "Greenwich mean time" is, or the time by which all other clock time is calculated. Weird.
I have a good mind, now that I am thinking about it, to quit wearing my watch, and look at the clock on our kitchen wall (see pics) as little as possible, just to get more in tune with any innate sense of the passing of "time' I may have left after 69 years in a world/society seemingly ruled by clocks and watches!
Isn't it time you some time took a time out from keeping time?
O dear. I see it's "time" to go!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Walking the Pathway of Gold

A golden opportunity presented itself this morning at sunrise. Literally. Knowing the golden colors of fall would soon be fading, I took my camera, Leo, my flute, and an eager eye on an early walk out in a meadow nearby. From the time I set foot on the path towards the meadow, and all the way through it, everywhere I looked I was surrounded by gold---foliage of gold, flowers of gold, the gold light of the rising sun. I was walking a pathway of gold, though not the kind of gold men came out west for during the gold rush, which brought in its wake the sad consequences of greed and violence, ruined lives, and grievous damage to mother earth. The glorious glow of of gold that gladdened my heart this morning came from the heart and imagination of the Creator of all, bringing nothing but joy.
I saw what I considered a sign of this when I spied a great black desert raven sitting on the tippy top of a tall pine tree along the trail, facing the sun, and cawing in a soft and curiously beautiful way as the sun rose. I took out my flute and joined in the praise. It was a truly magical moment. When the sun had cleared the horizon, the raven flew off, and I kept walking through the world of gold about me, reflecting.
It struck me how full of joy and comfort the beauty of nature is, given so freely and grace-fully to us in so many ways. It is always there for us, whatever may be happening in our lives, and all we have to do is become aware of it and receive the gift--far more precious than metal
gold. And I also realized that the path of life I walk can also be a path of gold if it is the gold in all that I see, in all that happens, that I focus on with a grateful heart.
I could say more, but want instead to share a poem from a wonderful book of poems entitled "Why I Wake Early" by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. She says so eloquently what I have stammered to say. Listen to her......
Every day
I see or I hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for----
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world---
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant---
but of the ordinary,
the common,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
i say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these--
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watch for the Signs

John and I arrived last night in our beloved Sedona, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Being here really is the result of "going confidently in the direction of a dream" I have had all my adult life of someday being able to live overlooking the sea and the mountains. I imagined that might be one and the same place, like the beautiful home of a friend I visited years ago in the Virgin Islands, which overlooked mountains and a beach. Instead, I was gifted by Amazing Grace with a home on the Inland sea we call Lake Michigan, and a home at the edge of the Red Rock mountains and wilderness of Sedona.
There is a Native American chant I learned some time ago which goes like this: "I walk in Beauty; beauty is above me, beauty is below me, before me and behind me. Beauty surrounds me."
That is really the essence of my dream: to live and walk in beauty all the days of my life.
For to me, beauty is the Face of God. And it is present, not only in beautiful places, but everwhere, if we just have the eyes to see it, for as the poet said, "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." There is such beauty in human faces, like the Native American grandmothers pictured above. There is beauty in the sound of the wind, and laughter, and singing.
What makes something beautiful to you or me is a mystery still unravelled by philosophers, but celebrated by poets. One of my favorites is Gerard Manley Hopkins. I love his line "Give beauty, beauty, beauty back to God, Beauty's Self and Beauty's Giver." Well said!
Do you walk in beauty? What beauty did you see today, or yesterday? And what will you do to be more aware of beauty tomorrow? What difference does beauty make in your life?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Leaving again for the first time

Hello my patient family and friends.
I am back to blogging again after a long recess, due to my mom's health crisis this season. A week or so ago, she was finally well enough to move into the assisted living room prepared for her.
I am so grateful!
Tomorrow we leave again for Sedona, and will be on the road for five days or so. I am going to begin blogging regularly again. So far, Sedona seems to be a better place to do it, with more free time available for writing and other things. So starting tonight, all Hallow's Eve, I hope to blog at least 3 x a week or more, and hope you who are still checking will notice and let me know.
The sunset picture today symbolizes the end of another season here, filled with beauty and surprises, some stress and much good. This will be the fourth time we will be setting out for Sedona for three months or more, and though we now are getting the hang of preparing to leave, putting the house to "sleep" etc. it still feels like something new as well as familiar.
We are not the same. The weather is not the same. The trip will not be the same. And neither will our time in Sedona. Even in familiar places, things change. That's life. And that is a good thing, most of the time.
One of the things that will be different is that I will be leading week long retreats in Sedona in January, February, March, and April. Many of you know already about this, having received a flier from me. If any of you do not and want more info. just let me know at my email address:
I'll have my trusty camera at the ready as we travel the road, and you may be sure there will be interesting things to see, experience, and reflect on. So stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I invite you to reflect on how "the same old" can also be fresh and new in your life, and how Nature teaches us through a wonderful balance sameness and newness: we get the same four seasons, year in and year out, yet each year, each season is just a bit different from the one before, and not as predictable as one might think! That reminds me that life keeps us on our toes with it's surprises. Our choice is how or whether we will welcome them or resist them.
And that determines how good we feel about our lives.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


As I am getting older, I find I more often experience "fading." I will be alert, talking with someone, or doing some task, perhaps in the afternoon, or in the evening, and suddenly I become aware that I am fading. The energy is just seeping out of me. I feel done with whatever I am doing.
Watching a lovely peony fading away one afternoon this summer brought this home to me.
I sat sketching it while I was on retreat. I was struck by the fragile and poignant beauty of its drooping petals. Yet, the stem, the leaves, the plant from which the flower had bloomed was still vibrantly alive and greening with life.
Yesterday I sat in the hospital room again with my aged mother, and she reminded me of the fading peony. Her life, her beauty, her strength, her vitality were like petals wilting and falling away. Yet, yet......her spirit, her essence, deeper than her ageing body, was still greening with life, like the stems and leaves of the peony. And like the peony, I believe my Mom to be a perennial. She will bloom again in another Garden when another Spring comes.
And so, I choose to believe, will you and I.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It has been way too long since my last blog, and the reason is that Ihave been non stop with my Mom since late June, including being with her for three weeks in the hospital, along with my brother and his wife (Andy and Jane) and John supporting and coming in when he can. She had to have major surgery and is still recovering, which is not unusual for a 98 year old woman! She has had ups and downs, and I think of her as sometimes frail, and sometimes like a "steel magnolia" though she is not from the South.
If I ever go through anything like this, God forbid, I hope I do it with her grace and dignity and ability to roll with the punches. Needless to say, an experience like this has smacked me in the face with my own mortality and aging and though I believe to the marrow of my bones that death is a doorway into a better and greater life in communion with God, I can't say the aging thing is easy to deal with, in my mom or in me! Wouldn't we all love to keep our youthful vigor and strength? Who likes to tire more easily, and find oneself more limited, not seeing or hearing as keenly, etc. ?
On the other hand, there is the strength of soul and spirit that keeps on increasing even while our physical bodies are losing ground. But I don't think that happens automatically.
One needs to cultivate hope, and faith, and endurance, and flexibility, and love, and all the other spiritual virtues we might name. The time to do that is now! It is a lot harder when the rough times come, and pain or weakness are overwhelming. So once again, my mom is teaching me vital lessons in living well. I think I am just beginning to see what they are, and then learn them by heart.

I wrote a poem about dying I would like to share as a way of closing today's blog.
I make no promises, but I will be trying to write more regularly as possible and trust at least a few of you are still hanging in there and checking from time to time.
Here is the poem:

When my time has come
Let me walk over the water on the red path
of the setting sun,
Climb the purple cloud banks reflecting
the day's last rays,
Perch on their gilded summits and slide
like a gleeful child
down their airy slopes for the ride of my life
to the other side.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spin Your Own Web

I was climbing the stairs from our cottage up to the parking lots yesterday morning, when I caught sight of these gorgeous spider webs on our stairs. Such works of art!!!
They reminded me of what Native Americans would call the gift of a "power song" which was given to me years ago at Morningstar Retreat Center as I sat in a cabin watching a spider spin its web right near my chair. That song came, both words and music, during that watching-time, and it has often helped me make decisions, especially when I am being pressured by somebody to do something I am not sure is right for me.
Perhaps this power song will be of some help to you now and then when you find yourself in the same situation.
Here it is:



A spider's web comes right out of its very own body/self; and when we spin our own webs, the pattern, the threads of what is fitting for us to do comes from our authentic self. It takes time and patience and being in touch with one's own true self to spin one's own web, but it is well worth the effort, and what happens is also beautiful. A web we spin catches just what we need to nurture us and enable us to do what is right for us at a particular place and time in our lives.
It is so much better than struggling, like a bug, in some other "spider's" web, caught by old messages of "should" and burdened by someone else's (or some institution or group's) agenda.

And isn't it interesting that we now live in the time of the "World Wide Web?"
I watch some people I know getting all caught up in this web--so much so, they have no time or energy to spin their own. Is there a way to be a part of the worldwide web AND spin your own web? You tell me!

Monday, May 31, 2010

what to do with elephant poo

Now I have never actually seen elephant poo. But I can imagine it.
And sometimes things have happened in my life that do look, feel, and smell like a big plop of elephant poo messing things up royally!
These roses, believe it or not, are made of paper made of elephant poo by very clever and enterprising people in southeast Asia. My daughter sent them to me for Mother's Day with the note "Forever roses for my forever Mom." Nice. Funny. Inspiring.
After all, if people can make something lovely in such a clever, resourceful way out of something else that seems like nothing but a big smelly mess to clean up, can't I do the same?
Instead of bewailing the mess sitting in the middle of my life, why not get creative and see if I can make something good and beautiful out of it. Not easy, I know. But possible. But how?
Ponder how the present form of the mess could be recreated into another form.
Ponder how to see the possibilities.
Ask other people for their ideas, and perhaps their help.
It takes time....but its worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

the still point of my turning world

There is a very special place near Three Rivers Michigan where I have been going on retreat for 31 years.
I began in 1979, going there for a four day retreat to prepare myself for my ordination as a Presbyterian minister. I kept going all through the years to help me keep my sacred vow to stay Centered in God, and always make time for communion with God, no matter how fast my world was turning, even when it seemed I had not time. Every month, and later, after I discovered another retreat place (MorningStar) I loved, every season, I would go to St. Gregory's abbey on personal retreat. I also introduced many people to the place, and church groups as well. It was there my good friend Lillian Sigal and I were inspired to begin the Interfaith Dialogue Association in Grand Rapids many years ago. Over and over again, while there, I have been renewed, refreshed, and revived. My journals reveal wonderful Divine wisdom revealed to me in hours of solitude and prayer.
This is the only Episcopal Benedictine Abbey in the whole nation, and it is so near to me!
I bless the monks and all whose dedication has made its existence possible. I wonder if they know how much good they have done to how many people!
Today, it is a small community of a half dozen monks. But they have a wonderful library, guest houses, a beautiful chapel that feels like The Ark; and seven times a day the bells ring out calling the faithful to pray the Daily Office. You can join the monks in the chapel to chant the psalms as much or little as you like. When I do, I feel I am flowing in a river of prayer that has gone on and on for centuries, a River of Life bringing blessing to the world.
In the pictures above, there is a path (like others) that leads through peaceful woodlands and meadows, free for the walking when you are there. There is an old fashioned farm house named St. Denys, which I love to stay in best. One of the pictures is of the bedroom I always chose (one of five) for it overlooks the monastic quadrangle and the church. From there I can hear the bells most clearly. It reminds me of being back in my childhood home of Pakistan, and hearing the call to prayer five times a day from the minarets of the mosques which surrounded our compound. I wish there was something like that where I live now.
Come to think of it, the other day when I was walking on the beach, the wind was blowing from the East, and I could hear the chimes from nearby St. Peter's calling the faithful to Mass.
There is something about a rhythm of prayer and life activities that is deeply refreshing, and to hear bells or calls to prayer making the times to stop and remember God and why you are here and how to live is to me a great blessing and aid to the practice of the Presence of God, which is what people of all faith are called to do. For we are all forgetful of the Divine too often, and we need help with staying faithful to our calling.
St. Gregory's has helped me do that. It is, as T. S. Eliot says so eloquently, "The Still Point of the turning world." Yes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

living with books

A friend of mine some time ago gave me a little sign that serves as a refrigerator magnet. It reads "A room without books is like a body without a soul."
For me, that is true.
There is no room where I live that does not have a fairly good supply of books in it---some on shelves, some on tables, some on the fireplace, some on the piano---well, see for yourself in the pictures that accompany this blog. I could have taken many more of books in various places in the house, but I thought these would suffice to make my point, which is this: books are really important in my life. Some, of course, like certain people, come and go. They have something to offer, but I outgrow them, and then I let them go to a church bazaar, or Goodwill, or some other place where I hope they will be read and appreciated.
Then there are other books which are more than a "good read." They are good friends.
Many of them I have read and re-read. They are underlined, have notes in the margin, and comments in the front or back. When I read a book like this, I feel I am in direct communication with the author's spirit. So when I stand, sit, or move through a room, I am always aware of the books that reside there---reminders of the spirits of so many people from so many times and places whose wisdom and work have blessed and inspired and challenged and guided me through my life.
But let me hasten to assure you that I love the actual physicality of books too. No kindle books, audio books, and the like, can please me like a well made book. Actual books have heft, and that certain smell a book can have, pages to turn, the possibility of flipping here and there in the book, enjoying any art it may contain---or just the visual lay out. I can notice what I underlined or noted when last I read the book. I can check the table of contents, or a footnote, or the bibliography. Each physical book has its own character and qualities, which sometimes fit with the content quite well. It is no wonder that I love spending time in bookstores (especially used book stores) and libraries! Just being in the presence of all those books, arranged to invite browsing and reading, can put me in an altered state---a good one!
At such times, I realize what a joy and privilege it is to have access to books, and be able to read them. I grew up in Pakistan at a time, and amongst people, the majority of whom were poor and illiterate, and had never owned or read a book, nor did they even dream of doing so. Sometimes I would see a group of little boys (never girls) under a tree chanting verses from the Koran in imitation of a teacher who sat with them teaching them to learn the words by heart.
This brings to mind a stunning picture I saw in the wonderful photography show of a few years ago that toured the country, entitled "Ashes and Snow." The picture depicts a young boy reading a book (it looks like some sacred scripture) to a kneeling elephant who is facing him, looking as if it is listening intently. Hmmmm perhaps I should read great books to my dog now and then! There is something magical about human wisdom and words being captured in writing in a book to be shared and passed on to---how many others? Even animals??!!
Some people have told me that books are going to become a thing of the past. I don't believe it. Maybe for some people--but never for me, and I believe never for a lot of other people either. Are you one of them? As long as I live, I hope I will be able any day, any hour, to pick one of my good books off one of my shelves, and go sit by the fire, or out in the hammock, or on the beach, or wherever---and read, communing with someone's spirit and wisdom, to my heart's content. That's living! with books!