Monday, September 21, 2020

A Jolt of Radiance

This weekend, my husband Bill and I drove north to visit my daughter Francesca’s grave on the Northshore of Lake Superior where we’d moved soon after we married. She’d died 19 years earlier when she was twenty-four. We’d buried her ashes an on a knoll on our property overlooking Lake Superior where we’d moved in 1998. I could visit her grave every day and view it from our kitchen and dining room windows.

When we bought that property in Schroeder two years after we married, we had every intention of living and dying there. It was the home we’d sought all our lives.  A place of beauty, belonging and inspiration where we’d live until we died. With that in mind, we bought several plots in the Schroder Cemetery. We forgot we’d grow old and health issues would require we sell that home and move back to the Twin Cities.

Since we moved, we’ve been able to return to visit only twice.  Since then, health crises and Covid-19 kept us confined to our home. But we continued to talk about a possible trip when Bill got strong enough. This Sunday, the day after the anniversary of Francesca’s death we decided to take the change. It was a beautiful fall day. Bill felt strong enough to take the chance. Portable oxygen gave us confidence to risk the four-hour drive to Schroeder once more. It was one of those crazy, impetuous decisions that drove us to buy a home on the Northshore in the first place. I packed a picnic lunch and off we went.

Francesca’s grave was in surprisingly good shape. No grass or groundcover had crept over the stone marker and we were able to remove those that might. While we were there, we also cleaned up our markers and visited the graves of the friends and neighbors we’d lost. We’d hoped to have time to walk the lake shore but as we had to drive back that evening we decided to take a quick drive up the Cramer Road from the cemetery to check on the fall colors.

We hit peak season on one of the best Fall Color Drives on the North Shore. We didn’t have to drive far to enter the jeweled cathedral that draw so many enthusiasts. We were surprised to find the road to ourselves. Driving through miles of miracles can be overwhelming. The brilliant colors lining the road became even more exquisite within the forest. Evening sunlight filtered through the maples, piercing the leaves, and illuminating the trunks. Oh, the colors, the quiet, the glory we got to view. And all because we’d taken a leap and driven north to visit Francesca’s grave.

With only an iPhone camera to catch the experience, and shooting into the sun, we had to operate blindly.  Amazing what those cameras can do!



Monday, August 31, 2020

New Edition of The Scent of God

Click here to purchase book 
Originally published by Counterpoint NY in 2006 (Hardcover), and 2007 Paper), Beryl Singleton Bissell’s memoir The Scent of God has just returned to print in a newly designed and revised edition.

Bissell was a teenager, when a powerful religious experience led her into a cloister in pursuit of divine, unconditional love. 

Fifteen years later, her abbess sends her home to Puerto Rico to care for her ailing parents.  While there, she meets and falls in love with Padre Vittorio, a handsome Italian priest/professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

Moving from cloister to tropical island to romantic Italy, the story traverses a landscape of laughter, rage, and tears as Bissell learns that human longing is a but a prelude to life’s most perplexing questions.

A columnist for ten years with the Cook County News Herald, Bissell has been published in The Sun Magazine, The Trenton Times, Lake Superior Magazine, Your Life Magazine and the anthology Surviving Ophelia edited by Cheryl Dellasega, (Perseus Publishing 2001, and The New Writer’s Handbook, edited by Philip Martin, (Carletta Press 2008).  She won the Loft Creative Nonfiction Award in 1997 and received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant in 2000 and an Arrowhead Regional Arts Grant in 2011.

978-1-7345539-0-1 (print)

Story Oak Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota
Biography& Autobiography, Personal Memoirs

Friday, August 28, 2020

To Pray with the Trees


To Pray with the Trees

 I have always been an early riser, but since Covid-19 made its appearance, I find myself sleeping later than usual. There are no pressing matters to deal with, no visits with family or friends, no sudden ideas for blogs or books. While the days continue to fly by, I have grown restless in confinement. The hermit in me seeks a change of scene, so my day includes an hour long walk outside, in the fresh air.

 Daily walks are for looking, listening, feeling, sensing. I seek especially, the great vault of the sky. It frees me.  The heavy cloak of confinement drops away and I feel complete. Treetops and sky never cease to thrill me.  Especially the tops of those wondrous giants that push ever upward in their search for the sun. It can be dizzying to stand beneath one (or sit or lie) and gaze upward. I love the way the mighty trunks reach for the sky. The way their leaves filter and scatter light. And yes, the way they enlighten and assist me in my search for God.   

The older I get, the more insistent the demand to become all God created me to be while I still have time. Yet my efforts must be half hearted because I remain stuck in mediocrity. Instead of glorifying God for having created me, I focus on how I have failed. In a sense, reminding God that he left gaps in my formation.

 “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” writes Thomas Merton in Seeds of Contemplation. It glorifies God by being itself. “…by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.”

A tree does not try to emulate the way another tree glorifies God. A pine does not yearn to be a peach tree, radiant with blossoms and lush with fruit. Trees have it easy. A tree is what it is.

Like trees, we glorify God by being ourselves in a way no other person ever did or will do. While God does not consult a tree when creating it, God does consult us in shaping our own lives. He gives us the freedom to choose how we will live. He works with us within the experiences each day brings. 

When I get frustrated with my mistakes and failings, the trees remind me to stop thinking the work of becoming complete is mine alone. While they and the rest of creation  need do nothing to become themselves, God entrusts us with the responsibility of becoming our true selves. 
I look at the trees and see their sanctity. I look at myself and see a work in progress.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2020

Monday, May 25, 2020

Beryl's Spring 2020 Newsletter

Dear Reader,

I hope you have been adapting to the world-wide Covid-19 monastic lifestyle. If it were not for the fear and suffering so many are experiencing, I would totally love being back in the cloister. The ceasing of the constant noise in which we live, a quieting of my spirit. Mother Nature might be enjoying a bit of a break as well. Perhaps a bit less pollution relieving the pressure we place on survival. How much longer it will last is the great unknown. Bill’s severely compromised heath might necessitate continual distancing for the unforeseen future.

I've been reading, thinking, journaling, and praying my way through this new world, trying to understand the forces unleashed by the Covid-19 virus. Empty streets, shopping centers, sidewalks, restaurants, and other gathering places testify to the power of this viral force to change lives and lifestyles. While disheartened by the forces of selfishness, anger, and hatred that threaten the world’s healing, I am moved by the huge wellspring of compassion and generosity this pandemic unleashed in the world. Nevertheless, it is difficult to maintain confidence and equanimity when observing the ineptitude and power mongering of those entrusted with our care.

Wall in Moulin sur Ouveze  Provence Italy
As is often the case when confront by paradox, I found light while arranging the books on my “constant-read” shelf. In a small gem titled Calm Surrender by favorite nonfiction author, Kent Nerburn, I resonated with his words.

 “When we reaffirm the goodness that sprouts from the soil underneath walls of hated or indifference, we are practicing a kind of forgiveness. We are saying that hatred and indifference are not worthy of our anger. We are turning away from the great force of animosity, and underscoring, instead, the goodness struggling to find voice in its shadow.”

I trust that you, my dear friends, embrace “the goodness that sprouts beneath the walls of hatred,” and, by doing so, nurture the hope and acts that will heal the world. Many of us might question God’s presence in events like this pandemic, but I choose to believe that God is with us. That God understands our pain. That God suffers with us and, as Julian of Norwich proclaimed during the besieged fourteenth century, that ultimately “all will be good.”

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2020
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The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God  was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006. Her second book, A View of the Lake was named a best regional book by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2011

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Beryl's Fall 2019 Newsletter

From The Heart Fall 2019

Dear Reader

Assisi Heights MN
For much of this past year my world was saturated with words too heavy to write or speak. During that year, loved ones have died and my husband Bill still bears the scars of his encounters with respiratory failure, diabetic crisis and double pneumonia. Though it was spring, I felt muffled in a winter world. I moved through each day in a strange inner silence, capable only of coping with visits to the ICU and weeks of entire days spent in three different hospitals. Bill returned home in such a frail and weakened condition I moved in a vaporous world of uncertainty. Would today be my last with him? Would I be alone tomorrow? Thanks, however, to the effort of a blessed crew of doctors, nurses, and therapists and courageous efforts of his own, he is growing stronger. Buoyed by hope and filled with gratitude, I can now reach for words with which to reconnect with you, to let you know that though I was silent, you were never far from my mind.

Conscious of the rapid passage of time and my approaching 80th birthday, I wake each morning with a renewed sense of wonder at the gift of life. Bill is still with me and gratitude floods the entire day. I feel an added sense of responsibility to use this time well.

“We must trust in the small light we are given and to value the light we can shed into the lives of those around us . . . We live in a world alive with holy moments. We need only take the time to bring these moments into the light,” writes Kent Wilburn in his lovely little book Small Graces. I first encountered his writings in 1998 when we moved to Lake Superior’s North Shore. In an environment live with miracles, his quiet reflective words mirrored my desire to live a spiritual life and that is how I’ve tried to live most of my life. To remain open to the light present in every moment. To welcome each day as the miracle it is.

Our small book club is thriving. Together we delight in discovering the creative world within us. It has renewed my love of writing. While I have still not finished with The Glass Chrysalis, I’ve been working on bringing The Scent of God, which had gone out of print, back to life. I’d hoped to announce the publication of the new edition in this newsletter but life intervened and its rebirth has been delayed. It includes a wonderful new cover, beautiful interior design, the addition of an Introduction and an updated afterword. It should be ready early this fall. I shall keep you informed.
Meanwhile, may you be strong, may you be happy, may you be healthy. May you live your life with gladness. (Prayer of Loving Kindness)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Other Mothers Under the Cross

The Romans erected three crosses on Golgotha the day Jesus of Nazareth was put to death. The middle cross bore the savior, and the other crosses bore thieves or criminals -- depending on the translation you read. All four Gospels narrate this event.

Though Luke mentions women who stood weeping at a distance, and John tells us that women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, stood weeping under Jesus’ cross, none of the Gospels mentions the other women who might have wept on Golgotha that day or in the potter’s field when Judas took his life.

The mothers not mentioned in the Gospels confront me as we approach the end of this Lenten season, and have done so since Sept. 18, 2001, when I became one of them. I now find myself standing with Mary, the sorrowing mother of the innocent victim, as well as with the mothers of the guilty. I do not know the role my daughter played in her death, nor have the police or medical examiner been able to determine how and why she died. There are, of course, several different possibilities -- none of which belong in the life of a funny, generous and loving but troubled young woman, the child who wept with me over the losses thousands of women experienced on Sept. 11, 2001, and whose violent death a week later united me with them.

Before Francesca died, I’d empathized with women who must bear the burden of unknowing, those whose children’s deaths remain unresolved. I also grieved for those who had no doubt, who knew their children died as victims of murder or war or suicide. I knew that they too had loved their children no matter what identity those children wore to death. I participated in their sorrow from a distance. Until Sept. 18, I had not considered that other mothers might have stood with Mary on Golgotha, or in the potter’s field, grieving their shattered children on the day Jesus died. I now know that when those three crosses cast their shadows across the horizons of the earth, they united all of us who mourn.

©Beryl Singleton Bissell

Adapted from an article published in the New Catholic Reporter, 2006

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What Ashes?

Photo by Kathleen Gray-Anderson

Ash Wednesday has come and gone: ash free. I was stunned this morning when reminded that I'd forgotten, stunned at how easily I can neglect certain religious rituals when at one time, as a cloistered nun, my life was anchored by such observances. My spiritual practice now focuses on meditation, Lectio Divina, and the effort to live mindfully. And while I am filled with gratitude for the profligate bounty of a divine creator and the freedom to choose how I will live, I miss the years I spent as a nun. Especially when Lent creeps in quietly, and ashes no longer thunder.  

It's been a slow slide away from ritual since I left religious life. Had it happened more swiftly, I might have clung more tightly to it. I wonder if this is only emotional nostalgia for the innocence of youth or a reminder that how I live and what I believe in is my responsibility -- a much harder, dry and emotionless effort.

This morning I pondered psalm 51. "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offence. Create a clean heart for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." 

Yes. I long for this clean heart, not a new heart freshly molded by God, but the heart God has given me. A heart willing to be cleansed and made steadfast. A heart not built on emotion and youthful longing, but on reflection and the ongoing effort to remain true to myself and to God.

About Me

My photo
Beryl is the author of The Scent of God: A Memoir published by Counterpoint NY in 2006 and A View of the Lake published by Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. in 2001. She’s been living on Lake Superior for seventeen wonderful years, and spent 10 years writing two popular columns for the Cook County News Herald: Newcomer Notes and Putting Down Roots. Beryl is past president of the Schroeder Area Historical Society and a long-time chair of its Oral History and Marketing committees. She is a past board member of the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais and committee member for the Grand Marais Art Colony’s first ever annual North Shore Reader and Writers Festival. She’s been published in the Sun Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, Lake Superior Magazine, and The Trenton Times and in the anthologies, Surviving Ophelia published by Perseus Publications in 2001 and The New Writer's Handbook, Vol. 2, published by Scarletta Press in 2008 and was named Best of Minnesota Writers by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She is currently working on her third memoir: the sequel to The Scent of God.