Monday, November 9, 2009
Slender, graceful, and smiling, she seemed to appear wherever I was heading. I saw her at breakfast, at the registration desk, on the escalator, in the hallway, in the ladies room and each time I saw her I kept hearing an inner voice that said "Go ahead. Take the leap. Volunteer. Dance the liturgy," and each time I heard that voice I told it to shut up. "I'm not a dancer. I bump into walls. I trip on air. I'm old."
While waiting on line at a food stand, the dancer smiled at me. I smiled back. She smiled at me again. Between the hot dog and the relish stand, she lured me into volunteering. Buoyed by the sheer hilarity of me dancing, I managed to talk two more women "of a certain age," into dancing. Later that day, the dancer took seven of us women through the movements of the varied dances. That night I lay awake, unable to sleep, trying to recall what movements went with what line of what song without success.I could remember only one movement -- a clapping sequence to Alle, Alle, Alle, Lu-u-ya.
My friend Virginia told me not to worry. "Let your body reflect the spirit that the words elicit within you. Celebrate. Remember to exaggerate your movements so they will be seen."
I trust Virginia. Her words gave me confidence. For the Eucharistic Celebration that ended the conference, I danced onto the altar, I flitted through the aisles. I gestured and smiled and encouraged others to imitate my movements. We locked eyes, we laughed, we danced. It was wonderful. And that evening, on arriving back in Minneapolis I visited my now grown son, who laughed aloud at the thought of his 70-year-old mother dancing during Mass.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
They traveled: without without money, water, food, or advance provisions for shelter in the spirit of their founder, St. Francis – the Little Poor Man of Assisi. Along the way, they relied on the kindness of strangers. And the ecumenical flavor of those kindnesses filled me with an inner joy. If you haven’t already read about this journey, you really must read the story from the Post. It’s one of the most delightful news stories I’ve read in a long, long, time.
I remember being filled with that sort of spirit years ago when I was a teenager. In the years that have passed, I've lost much of that spirit. I love having my beautiful home, not having to worry about food or clothing though I realize that such gifts are subject to sudden change. We read about it daily in the news: entire populations fleeing flood, drought, and famine; working families losing their homes; catastrophic illness wiping out a family's savings.
My prayer has always been to accept whatever confronts me with trust; to believe that good can be found even in tragedy. I try to live generously and hopefully, to spread more joy than fear.
When disheartened by failure, I remind myself that I am on a pilgrimage like those friars. Unlike them, I travel without a halo, and with entirely too much baggage. I hope to discard some of it along the way.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Spare on warmth, our summer has nevertheless been rich in sightings. The other day Bill and I happened upon a “kill” in action – a sharp-shinned hawk diving a song bird. We watched in awe as the bird lifted off with its prey and disappeared into the woods. While heading up our driveway to get the mail, I’ve encountered on several occasions a roly-poly groundhog, though I haven’t seen him lately. While larger than this small hawk, the groundhog might have succumbed to a hawk attack, especially as there are three of them making continual appearances here, spiraling above land and lake, their rapid, staccato, high pitched cries steaming after them. I’ve lived here for 11 years without seeing one of those birds. Now I seem to have acquired a family of them.
Daily, I spot eagles flying over the lake. Today I saw two of those mighty birds, flying together, their immense wings undulating and graceful. The hawks, on the other hand, fly very fast with a rapid beating of wings, so fast that from a distance they resemble swallows or larks. Save for their markings, and the fact that one hung around me for close to half an hour, filling the air with its cries while perched above me on a tree, I’d not have known that those spiraling birds were hawks.
Then there’s the copious scat marking the nocturnal passage, across our driveway, of one or several lumbering bears. To date they seem to prefer the upper section of our long driveway, but I well remember the star -filled night that I stood on my deck and felt the hair rise on my neck, warning me of a “presence.” The next morning my bird feeders had disappeared, replaced instead by the muddy swipe of a massive clawed foot on the window in my office.And what of the racket of 10 or more crows, dive-bombing a raven, hopping across fallen trees as if unable to fly. That raven was around for several days. I know because I’d follow the crows cries into the woods and see them still threatening that raven. Once he hopped next to the car as I headed down our driveway.
There are times when I can almost feel the momentum of this spinning cycle of life and death – a harsh reality save that this cycle is also the source of ongoing renewal. We live, we die, we return to the earth, and the earth in turn gives birth to new life. The scriptures feeding my spiritual life are filled with such references. Isaiah 38 never fails to amaze me with the poetry of its images. "Like a shepherd's tent my house has been pulled down and taken from me. Like a weaver I have rolled up my life, and he has cut me off from the loom; day and night you made an end of me."
Signs of God surround our lives. The Biblical writers knew this. They attributed everything that happened to God, but we've lost sight of that worldview. It is difficult to miss signs of God’s presence in the environment where I now live, but when living and working in the Twin Cities, I had to keep reminding myself to stay open, to find in even the most shattering experience the presence of God, to encounter God in the most gentle and insignificant of happenings. King Hezekiah was spared but eventually he had to die, as must we, but meanwhile we move within the grace of a life where God is present everywhere if we but open our eyes.
Photo: The hawk was so high in the tree and my camera had limited zoom but this is the hawk that serenaded me.
Monday, July 13, 2009
"That God should have time for you, you seem to take as much for granted as that you cannot have time for God." -- Dag Hammarskjold, Markings.
Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk and famed spiritual author, filled 70 "reading journals" with notes and commentaries on the books he read throughout his life time, as careful a reader as he was a writer. (The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals)
Though I have only two such reading journals, one very fat and one very thin, they continue to nourish my spiritual life as I daily find, and add to, some quote to ponder.
I came across the above quotation from Dag Hammarskjold this evening while preparing to meditate and felt as if I'd been dealt a hammer blow. I'd copied that quote years ago, and though it impressed me then, tonight's reading propelled me to my knees.
What immense, divine humility that God -- the "I AM" of all creation -- should be always at our disposal while we, filled with insane hubris, spend but a few moments of our day, if at all, with this ineffable presence in return.
Photo of the Holy House of Loretto at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Washington New Jersey.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
"just Go for walks,
live in peace,
let change come quietly and invisibly on the inside" -- Thomas Merton, Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook.
What a simple recipe to expand the heart? To allow what Philip Toynbe calls "seepage." Seepage is slow, often invisible. I find this consoling as I view the sluggish pace at which my journey to God progresses. In her lovely little book, Lost in Wonder, Edith De Waal writes the pilgrims, "the peregrini were clear that it was because they already held Christ in their hearts that they could set out on their journey to find him. So too, the journey I take day by day, minute by minute.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The visitation by a little neighbor delighted me, though I found it impossible to resume meditating. Instead I gazed about me and enjoyed the sun and breeze. Lake Superior gentle today and whispering against the ledge rock, the pin cherry and ash trees preparing to launch the fruit for which the birds (and bears)yearn, the chatter of the gold-finches as they swooped around the feeders.
When the cry of a gull drew my attention, I was treated to another of those marvels we see up here -- a larger animal being chased by a smaller one. This bald eagle, hounded by only one gull, was in great haste to get away. (I've seen very small birds chasing eagles which makes me wonder why it was chosen as a sign of national pride.)
When I returned to my computer a bit later, I did so with a light heart and smile -- God's presence so visible in the life surrounding me.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
On a gray morning, having just uncovered the newly planted flowers that I had to cover yet again because of frost, my favorite literary magazine, The Sun, offered this lovely bit of light.
To Say Nothing But Thank You
by Jeanne Lohmann
All day I try to say nothing but thank you,
breathe the syllables in and out with every step I
take through the rooms of my house and outside into
a profusion of shaggy-headed dandelions in the garden
where the tulips' black stamens shake in their crimson cups.
I am saying thank you, yes, to this burgeoning spring
and to the cold wind of its changes. Gratitude comes easy
after a hot shower, when my loosened muscles work,
when eyes and mind begin to clear and even unruly
hair combs into place.
Dialogue with the invisible can go on every minute,
and with surprising gaiety I am saying thank you as I
remember who I am, a woman learning to praise
something as small as dandelion petals floating on the
streaming surface of the bowl of vegetable soup,
my happy, savoring tongue.
-- published in the May 2009 issue of The Sun
This poem requires no commentary, yet its words speak such wisdom to my heart: All the things I've been "trying to" learn about living in awareness, the gratitude it triggers, and the wondrous fact that we need go nowhere save within this moment to commune with God. Perhaps my favorite line of all is "with surprising gaiety I am saying thank you as I remember who I am."
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Last week, I gave a talk on how to "pray always" to a group of young mothers. To prepare for the talk, I reviewed all my favorite authors on the subject of prayer: Anthony De Mello, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, St. Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross.
Preparing for this talk was like a crash review of the practice of attentive awareness moment by moment.
Though I no longer have little ones clamoring for and needing attention, I still know the feeling that young mothers often experience. Harried! Deadlines, others' needs, emergencies still seem to collide with noticeable frequency. Now, however, the feeling of being "harried" is the trigger that most frequently lifts me from my panicked mind and into the present moment.
Stop, quiet yourself, breathe, and listen. You will emerge from that brief respite, healed and focused.
Select several triggers that will remind you of God's presence. Whatever you are likely to notice, such as seeing a butterfly, tripping on a shoelace, a chocolate-covered coffee bean, the chiming of a clock, changing diapers. It will get you into the habit. Notice that I've used various senses as examples: seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing, smelling.
It takes only takes a few moments to respond this way: to remember God's presence within you. To respond to that presence. To recognize the blessing in the "now."
I was touched by a small ceremony in which these young women participated prior to my talk. They passed a "blessing basket" around the room. Each mother recognizing a blessing in her life stood up, shared that blessing with the group, and dropped a dollar for charity into the basket.
"My Sarah slept through the night for the first time."
"Timothy took his first step."
"When Naomi threw a tantrum in Target, I had to leave. A woman came up to me and said 'you're a good mother'."
"Steven turned four this week."
Their words reminded me of similar blessings in my children's lives. That was their blessing for me.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
My husband Bill is noise sensitive. Sounds of traffic, noise from factories, lawn equipment and machinery drive him batsy. I, on the other hand, having spent many years in a cloistered monastery on a busy urban street am not bothered by noise. Bill will ask me if I hear a particular humming emanating from the rocks on which our house is built. I don’t, not until he’s pointed it out.
Anthony de Mello, in Sadhana, A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form, addresses the issue of noise sensitivity during meditation. His Contemplation Groups often complain about the sounds around them, he writes, which intrude on their quiet and distract them. Rather than protect them from sound, he deliberately chooses places above or near busy streets.
“If you learn to take all the sounds that surround you into your contemplation,” he writes,”you will discover that there is a deep silence in the heart of all sounds.”
Modern life is noisy. No place is really free of noise as even the airwaves hum with electromagnetic and seismic signals. If we are to meditate (or simply to live in peace with noise) we must learn to find the “silence in the heart of all sounds.”
De Mello claims that sounds distract us when we attempt to run away or fight them. Rather than trying to tune out such sounds, he advises us to listen to the sounds surrounding us, even the smallest; to attempt to discover the sound within sound, the variations in pitch and intensity. In this way we become aware, "not so much of the sounds around you, as of your act of hearing."
Alternating between the awareness of sound to the awareness of your hearing can lead to the awareness that sound is produced and sustained by God’s almighty power. “God is sounding all around you . . . Rest in this world of sounds . . . Rest in God.”
The photo above is of an open courtyard off a busy San Juan street
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Morning Earth Entry 4.3.2009
On the forest floor
ancient lives are waking,
and froths of moss
gone green again in their
waltz with time,
But this new season
an odd bit of lichen
has dropped in
from the mystery above
to offer a frisson
of winterkill white
and a splash of pink
to the palette of spring's floor
Sunday, March 29, 2009
In her introduction to Every Eye Beholds You, edited by Thomas J. Craughwell, prominent scholar of world religions Karen Armstrong, writes that all the world's great prophets and sages have spent very little time telling their disciples what the ought to believe, that they have rather "insisted that before you can have faith, you must live a certain way." Prayer, in other words, is not born of belief but a practice that creates faith.
I love this idea. We in the western tradition have gone at prayer backwards, praying because we believe. To practice prayer this way means that we do not bring to our prayer preconceived notions of who God is. We do not force him into a mold of our own making. In this kind of prayer, God is encountered not seized.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Juliahna was diagnosed last August with acute myelogenous leukemia. Since then she’s undergone progressively more radical procedures, all the while keeping her friends informed of her progress through her Caring Bridge journal. The other day, while sharing the great news of hopeful prognosis for recovery, Juliahna wrote the following:
“As of today, I'm committed to really celebrating all the good news that comes. Too often I skip right into wondering how long good news will keep coming to me, which I've come today to consider a rather careless squander of good news. I'm wanting now to practice a more disciplined mindfulness of being present to this moment, this one I've been gifted with in this fractal of time. And in the bigger picture, I'm reminded that this has been and will continue to be the only way it can be: a moment to moment experience. I'm going to work to keep all of me with me in the only place I can be: here, now.”
What a powerful reminder of the vulnerability yet the giftedness of life. Juliahna's words resonate within me and spur me to a similar mindfulness. What better teacher than one who has entered the darkness and emerged filled with light.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I'm ashamed to say that I'm not always the happiest of chefs, even when I know that cooking provides some wonderful quiet time, time when I can place myself fully in the now, and as the Buddhists would say, cut the carrots in order to cut the carrots.
I want to finish my next book and write the two articles I've got slated for publication later this year. I don't really want to cook. And, there's the difficulty in finding focused concentrated meditation time.
Perhaps all that God wants of me right now is to accept what is. To be there for others, to put my own plans on hold and to give thanks that we've got food to share. To take each moment as the gift it is no matter what that moment consists of, including cooking.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Then there is that question of "Really." For me, "really" places the responsibility for belief on my shoulders. But does "really" exclude the acceptance of belief received from others and accepted as true. Does "really" require that we start from scratch to determine what it is we believe.
Are any of our thoughts really our own? Think of it, from the time you are a child, others are telling you what is true, what is right. They even tell you who you are, or who you ought to be. But, do you know who you "really" are?
Truth is, I'm not sure who I am but I'm trying to find out. And this partially "found" person can say right now, based on my own experience and on the experience gleaned from others and tested against this experience that I believe:
In gratitude. That Life is gift. That all that happens within Life is gift. That gift includes that which we might label good and/or bad because both are part of the journey toward Self-discovery. Self-discovery is good. Self-discovery means openness to Life and Life is that divine creative force I call God.
My friend sends me weekly questions like these. They are called "On the Waterline." If you are interested in receiving such questions just send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Monday, January 12, 2009
We biked into the fog this morning and rode home in bright sunlight and I was reminded that just as fog does not negate the sun, neither does doubt and uncertainty obliterate our power to find the light. The sun keeps shining whether concealed behind clouds or hidden on the other side of the earth. To move ahead despite our doubts is to find the answer that was always ours.
These geese were hidden within the fog on Lake Superior one morning. When the fog lifted there they were -- not just one goose but a whole gaggle of them.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
This morning while reading the Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, I was reminded of that Color Me Beautiful analysis when I came across a story adapted from Anthony De Mello’s Song of the Bird.
“A preacher put this question to a class of children. “If all the good people in the word were red and all the bad people were green, what color would you be?
Little Linda Jean thought mightily for a moment. The her face brightened as she replied: “Reverend, I’d be streaky.”
“Streaky.” Isn’t that a wonderful description of being human? Linda Jean knew she was neither all good nor all bad but was a mixture of both good and bad.
Despite the fact that we all play host to a similar combination of good and bad we seem more inclined to view things as "either/or."
For some reason, judging someone (something or some nation) as bad seems the more dangerous. Substitute “evil” for bad and we make seeing “good” almost impossible. We had the perfect example of such blinding to goodness the day President Bush slapped the term “axis of evil” onto Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.
Though we can be incredibly hard on ourselves, we are not quite so tough on the people we’ve already judged as good. When we see evil within them, we make excuses. They are only human we say.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of being streaky.
- Beryl Singleton Bissell
- 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.