Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas 2012 Letter to my Readers

There’s an Irish Proverb that expresses  my sentiments as I open the cards, e-mails. and posts you've sent during this sacred holiday season. “When I count my blessings, I count you twice.” The messages, photos, letters, and notes tucked within each envelope remind us visibly of the ways you've enlightened  my life and fill me with gratitude.

A dear friend brought me to tears of laughter the other day as she told me about the cards she’d bought to send out this year --  happy elves leaping and dancing from tree to rooftop  and shouting gleeful greetings. And inside those cards, she’d be writing a “I’m sorry to tell you that . . .” message about the grief that recently overtook her life. “Whatever possessed me to buy such a card?” she sighed and we began to laugh. How good that laughter was. It reminded me that friends don’t expect our messages to be totally upbeat when our lives are mixed parcels of joy and sorrow.

This year, Bill and I decided to delay our winter sojourn in Florida until after Christmas. While snowfall has been elusive, we did have the chance to snow-shoe on an overcast winter day through forests laden with snow, accompanied only by the large tracks of a snowshoe hare. Snow captured the neat footprints of a fox that climbed the stairs to our deck, then wandered back along the trail to cross Francesca’s grave and head down to the lake. And every day, the chickadees, politely waiting their turn at the feeders along with the nuthatches and redpolls, rejoice our hearts.

For the past year, my husband Bill has been flying  back and forth across North America for three weeks at a time assisting businesses achieve their goals. I’m very grateful for the three week break Christmas provides, giving us precious time together and to celebrate the holidays with my son Tom and his family. While we've not traveled to exotic places this year, our children and grandchildren have visited us here and in Florida and we've traveled to Iowa  several times for Bill’s family celebrations. When Bill is home, we use every excuse to head to Duluth to dine out and take in a movie, especially if there’s a foreign film to enjoy.

A good deal of spring and summer disappeared while I recuperated from a bad fall down the stairs. Three fractures in the sacrum and hernia surgery reminded me how I’d taken my strength and health for granted. I’m back up and walking now and at work on the umpteenth revision of my third book. To spur the process, perhaps you could send hopeful thoughts in that direction.

Christmas on Lake Superior inspired me, for the first time since Francesca died eleven years ago, to decorate the house for Christmas. I had forgotten the intimate warmth of burning candles and a nativity crèche , the brightly colored Christmas lights shining through the windows. May the light of your lives shine on all you love and those who love you and may you find blessing in each day of the coming year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

For the first time in four years, we have remained in our northern paradise to celebrate snow. Since Thanksgiving, we've gone snowshoeing on dark afternoons on trails through white spruce forests  laden with snow. The only other tracks are those left by Snowshoe Hares, their large feet bounding from one side of the trail to the other and into the canopy of undergrowth that sagged with heavy snow. Seized with gratitude, I want to sing my joy but to break the silence of the woods seems almost sacrilegious. So I plod on silently, stopping frequently to savor the wonder of such beauty and to give thanks that this winter we've decided to stay until after Christmas.

Here on Lake Superior, the myriad ways in which God is with us are clearly visible, yet we so often neglect to note this presence. Advents comes to shake up our complacency. It reminds us to see the miracles that surround us as we await God’s gift of himself in the Incarnation. 

We spend so much time waiting. We wait on lines in the grocery store. We wait for the Stop sign to change to Slow during road repairs. We wait for fishing season. We wait for school to start, for school to end. We wait for good jobs. We wait for vacation days. We wait for our children, their births, first steps, first words. And now we wait for Christmas and the fulfillment of God's ancient promise.

Yet we are not the only ones who wait. In a beautiful meditation on Advent, Sister Sallie Latkovich, CSJ writes that in Advent we contemplate the three ways of Christ’s coming: in history, in our daily lives, and in the second coming. “ I've been thinking that we've got it all wrong,” she writes. “This Advent I've come to see that it’s GOD who waits for us . . . waits for us to notice the myriad ways in which God is with us, always.”

I think of God waiting as I watch the chickadees, red polls, and nuthatches bounce on an off the feeders, politely taking one seed at a time, flying off to a nearby branch to open the sunflower seed, then waiting their turn to return for another. I think of God waiting as I trudge through the new fallen snow into the winter forests. I think of God waiting as in the early hours I pray the morning liturgy and open myself to all the ways God reveals his love as I move through the day. I pray that you will experience a similar anticipation as you move into your every day. May God's waiting love surround and fulfill your deepest longing. May your Advent be blessed, exceedingly. 

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shirking grace

Restless in your presence, Lord. As if You detain me. As if I have so much to do to avoid You.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reading for spiritual nourishment

This morning, while meditating, these words formed in my mind. "Some books are prayers, you say, if they tell the truth, unzip culture's tight corset, reveal the wild longing creature within, release her to fly."

I'd just finished reading Kathleen Jesme's Motherhouse for the second time and taken a lyric journey into a shared past. Each page shimmered with a mystery grounded in the earth yet daring to breach the galaxies. Even the structure of these poems, latticed throughout with readings from the rule book used by her religious community and quotations from mystics and saints, quiver with mystery. One line of verse eliciting wonder, three lines of insight,

"Rain and more rain. Dense. I dreamed of green worms.
Saw a moth "open-winged on a tree trunk, looking like
a piece of bark. Like my selves --
some so perfectly camouflaged they resemble me. "5/17 Wednesday, Feast of St. Paschal"

Harsh, tender, reflective, brooding ... poems like a rosary of light and dark. A perfectly lovely read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Favorite New Spiritual Memoirs

I'm a besotted book-lover. I have heaps of books piled on tables throughout the house waiting to be read or in the process of being read. Many of these books have been recommended to me by friends whose reading preferences I respect. When these books are spiritual, it makes sense to  recommend them on a blog dedicated to spiritual living? These are not exactly reviews. They are meant simply to share what I've loved. They are a get-to-the-point-and-do-it-quickly type of review that will perhaps inspire you to check them out and maybe buy a copy.

My two newest spiritual favorites are both memoirs and both were written by Jesuits. When a Jesuit writes, you can usually count on the work being erudite. Some Jesuit authors are also darn good story-tellers.The authors of the next two books are erudite and they know how to engage the reader.

My Life with the Saints

I have numerous books on the lives of the Saints. I've recommended some of them here, in the past.While all of these books introduce us to saints and their lives, I've not found one that combines both the lives of the saints with a personal experience of these saints. Father James Martin's My Life with the Saints is a perfect blend: a personal spiritual memoir combined with the lives of the saints. This book is a delightful journey with a self-effacing, articulate, and often funny Jesuit as he meets and “befriends” saints both modern and ancient. Martin is a gifted story-teller and guide to those seeking to know the great friends of God. This book has instilled in me a new curiosity about my own and other's relationship with the saints. I question whether I've ever considered them friends. I wonder if reverence for their lives and the inspiration they offer qualify as friendship. I wonder what is your experience? Are you friends with particular saints?

Tattoos on the Heart

I received Tattoos on the Heart from one of my best friends: a nun who spent the money I'd given her to buy books, to buy me a book! Actually, she bought several copies to share; she loved it that much. Tattoos on the Heart is a spiritual memoir of Father Gregory Boyle's work with the “homies” in Los Angeles. As we follow him into the heart of the LA ghettos, we travel with a priest who has dedicated his life to restoring hope and a sense of self-worth to hopeless lives. He introduces us to gang members who want more than anything to "to get a job." It is having a job that instills a sense of dignity to their lives. But even more than that, these young people need to be loved and it is love, unconditional love, that Father Greg offers. For the past twenty-years, Father Greg has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles ( the "gang capital of the world.") The lives of these young people, as told by a wise and courageous priest, propel this book with such urgency that you will find it hard to put it down. Some of the stories Father Greg tells will make you laugh. Others will break your heart. To my mind, they are certain to enlighten and uplift you. 

About Me

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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.