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!

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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.

ISBN
978-1-7345539-0-1 (print)
978-1-7345539-1-8     

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

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.