Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shine on...


It usually happens in midsummer.

That’s when sensory overload forces me to withdraw.

The blare of TV, ringing phones, pounding keyboards, car horns, barking dogs and the ambient noise of senseless chatter begin to scream at me.

Then the opportunity presents itself: a day off from the office, a lunch date cancellation, the postponement of a writing deadline.

Immersed in quiet, I realize how starved I am for soundlessness.

“The noise of the world is preventing us from hearing the gentle voice within that always counsels us,” writes Matthew Kelly in “The Rhythm of Life.” “We will begin to hear this voice again only when we make a habit of withdrawing from the noise of the world and immersing ourselves in silence.”

Those who regularly lock themselves away from the deafening noise around us know that silence is not the absence of sound but the opening of a gate in the mind that is slammed shut most of the time. This portal leads to a place where chatter ceases and ambient sounds fade. Here, we satisfy the holy longing.

One of my favorite biblical passages is when God told the prophet Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain because He would be passing by. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

“A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord – but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake – the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire – but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a still small voice.”

Like Elijah we listen, longing to recognize the presence of the Divine. We yearn for God to hear our prayers and pleas for help, but first, we must enter the silence.

I think that God speaks to us in this way, even though He sometimes wants to shake the ground under our feet and thunder, “Stop the busyness and listen! I am here...”

But instead He whispers and offers us an invitation. When we accept and give Him our undivided attention, we have an audience with our Creator, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

“Dear Lord… Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as You shine…, said Mother Teresa. “It will be You shining on others through us.”

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer is sweet


Fuchsia beach roses bloom in the sand, flowers in the desert.

Driving to the summer house, I have a hard time keeping my eyes on the road. Bright green vegetation has sprouted everywhere, and flowers in a spectrum of colors line the countryside and spill from cottage gardens.

“June in New England is like a lover’s dream made tangible. Color and scent and sound; the hills indeed sing,” wrote Gladys Taber in “The Book of Stillmeadow.” Dawn comes so fresh and cool, and dusk flows like a still river into the deep sea of night. Noons are tranquil gold. There is nothing stern or sober about our Northern countryside now; even the grey rock ledges are gently blurred with silvery green lichens, and in the great cracks time has chipped out, a thousand tiny plants get a precarious hold.”

Indeed, this is the kind of day that comes to mind in the heart of winter: a benevolent sun, brilliant blue skies, gentle winds and tranquil seas reflecting the Creator’s handiwork.

Fuchsia beach roses bloom in the sand, flowers in the desert.

The huge maple tree in our front yard is so heavy with new growth that walking beneath it is like entering a deep forest shrouded from sunlight and carpeted with thick spongy grass.

Inside the summer house we throw open all the windows, as the salty air comes streaming in.

Then we head out to the shed in search of garden tools to contribute to the abundance of nature around us. The pitchfork is missing a tine, but we begin overturning the earth in the tiny kitchen garden at the back of the shed. The fertile soil comes alive with pink earthworms disturbed from their hiding places. We rake, hoe and plant the tomatoes, while the purple chive blossoms wave in the wind.

Medieval anchoress Julian of Norwich wrote: “Be a gardener. / Dig a ditch, / toil and sweat, / and turn the earth upside down / and seek the deepness / and water the plants in time. / Continue this labor / and make sweet floods to run / and noble and abundant fruits to spring. / Take this food and drink / and carry it to God / as your true worship.”

We sit in the shade, read and chat while we listen to the music of birdsong and the distant sloughing of the surf. 

Summer is sweet.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Car trouble



Sitting in the summer house with friends yesterday, we told stories. I shared this tale of a misadventure many years ago…

I heard the engine roar as my husband waited for me in his new purchase, a 1977 Corvette. As I slid into the car, I grabbed onto the seat belt and strapped it firmly across my hips. Making a road hugging turn, we headed to a wedding.

When we arrived at the church, I pushed the release button on the seat belt; but it held secure. Then my husband leaned over and pushed the button, grabbing onto the belt and jerking it.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’m coming around.”

Opening the door, my husband knelt on the body frame and pulled with all his strength but to no avail.

“Listen, honey,” my husband said as he opened the T-top. “Maybe you can squeeze out of the belt, and I can climb on the roof and lift you out.”

“I’ll try,” I said feebly.

I pushed on the floorboards with my black high heels and willed my body upward. But the belt dug deeper into my flesh and would not let me go.

I began to panic. In a few minutes the bride would be walking down the aisle.

My husband lost his patience and began tugging with all his might. If the belt wouldn’t release, then he’d rip it right out. But it only rubbed and burned its pattern into my skin.

And that’s when I began to hyperventilate. I leaned out the car door as far as I could, gasping for air.

“Isn’t there a scissors or knife in the trunk?” I panted.

“Corvettes don’t have trunks,” he said, pacing up and down the sidewalk.

“Well maybe you could knock on a door and ask for something to cut me out of this thing,” I shrieked.

Just then a carpet company van came down the street.

Without thinking, my husband ran after it, hailing the driver. He pulled over and rolled down the window, and my husband blurted out, “I need a knife for my wife.”

Calming down, my husband began to explain…

“Don’t cut my dress!” I wailed, when my husband returned and sliced the belt with the borrowed carpet knife.

I was free.

Although we were very late, we saw that the bride was still standing by the church door.

Sitting in the pew, I read the wedding invitation: “Two lives, two hearts joined in friendship, united forever in love.”


“Just like us,” I thought to myself. “And I’m also joined to his car.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

A world loved into being

Ah, springtime… It’s been a long time coming this year. But finally after many false starts, a warm sunny day arrives; and it is time to de-winterize the summer house.

While my husband works on a broken water line, I skip outside to look for spring.


Wild white and orchid pansies greet me on the front lawn, and my first thought is to delay my husband from taking out the mower. I imagine fairies hiding behind their tiny perfect petals, but more likely a colony of awakening insects inhabits this colorful garden.


Laden with buds, the branches of the maple tree wave to me in the wind. I feel their urgency, the yellow pockets yearning to unfurl against a backdrop of bright blue sky.


In the backyard the carpet of deep green lawn is interrupted by patches of dandelions. I remember the delight of holding tiny bouquets of the bright yellow flowers in my six-year-old hands.


Walking over to the stone wall, I admire the row of daffodils in full bloom. Then I spot a door in a nearby tree. Perhaps wee folk live here.

One of my favorite opening lines in literature is this one:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien. … “It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors... The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.”

Tolkien biographer Charles Moseley writes: “Tolkien’s Christian understanding of the nature of the world was fundamental to his thinking and to his major fiction. Neither propaganda nor allegory, at its root lies the Christian model of the world loved into being by a Creator, whose creatures have the free will to turn away from the harmony of that love to seek their own will and desires, rather than seeking to give themselves in love to others. This world is one of cause and consequence, where everything matters, however seemingly insignificant.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

The real St. Patrick

Our New England coastline is evocative of the emerald isle.

In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, we wear green clothing, eat corned beef and cabbage; and some of us will even tip a few pints of green ale.

But why do we honor the patron saint of Ireland?

Patrick was born around 385, but biographers are unsure of the site of his birth in Britain, perhaps near Dumbarton on the Clyde, in Cumberland to the south of Hadrian’s Wall or at the mouth of the Severn.

In his spiritual autobiography, the “Confessio,” Patrick tells us that he was of Roman and British ancestry; and his father, Calpurnius, was a municipal official.

When he was a teen, Patrick was carried off by Irish raiders, who took him somewhere in County Mayo.

A slave, Patrick worked as a shepherd. He tells us he was lonely and afraid and that he turned to his religion for help.

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was raised so that in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night nearly the same,” he wrote.

Six years in captivity, Patrick said he heard God’s voice in his sleep, telling him to leave Ireland.

According to his biographers, he ran away walking 200 miles, found free passage on a ship and spent three days before reaching land in some uninhabited country. But eventually he returned to his family.

When he was 23 years old, Patrick saw a vision of an angel in a dream beckoning him to return to the western isle as a missionary.

He also heard voices saying, “We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.”

After studying for the priesthood, Patrick decided to dedicate himself to the spread of Christianity in the places of his slavery.

He spent the next 30 years, traveling throughout Ireland founding schools, churches and monasteries.

Using native beliefs to teach Christianity, he superimposed a sun, a powerful pagan symbol, on the Christian cross, which became the Celtic cross; and he used the three-leafed shamrock to represent the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Patrick died on March 17, 461 and was buried at Saul on Strangford Lough.

One thousand, five hundred and fifty-three years later, we celebrate the saint’s day; and he continues to teach us:

“Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.”
―St. Patrick


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Spring is on the way


Peeking out the back door, I notice that the temperature gauge on the deck reads zero again.

Rock-hard snow still covers the yard, and the driveway and brick path to our front door are caked in layers of ice treacherous to drive or walk on.

Blinding snow squalls appear out of nowhere, and flurries are as commonplace as rain, while yet another winter storm watch has been posted with six inches to a foot of the white stuff in the forecast.

By all appearances we are in the throes of one of the coldest, snowiest seasons in memory. But no matter what Mother Nature throws at us now, we duck and know her fury is short-lived. March may come in as a lion, but in three weeks it will be springtime – and that changes everything.

“We often have a real blizzard in March; but even so, we have seen the earth again and felt the wind of spring,” said New England author Gladys Taber, who wrote from her seventeenth-century farmhouse in rural Connecticut. “It is just another removal sale on Nature’s part.”

A few hours later I am sitting in the Ram watching a hardy soul walk the beach. I should venture out, but instead I remain in the warmth of the truck cabin and dream about spring.

Not long from now the sand will soften, balmy breezes will blow, this deserted shoreline will fill with beach-goers and the Sakonnet will buoy a fleet of pleasure boats.

Ah, springtime…

At the summer house, we drive into the back yard; and I try to imagine that this Arctic tundra is a thick, springy bed of green grass.

Surveying the snow-covered roof of the house, we unlock the front door and step into the cold, musty confines of the dwelling. After checking each of the rooms, we thank God that they are intact, just the way we left them last fall.

A few years ago, we arrived to find a pile of rumble in the living room, where the ceiling had caved in.

I smile. In my mind I have already moved back. I am home.

So let the storms rage on...

“It doesn’t matter if a few shingles fall off in the hurrying wind,” said Taber. “It isn’t important that the yard is going to be an inland lake for some time. It doesn’t matter too much if a falling branch cuts off the electric. Spring is on the way.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

The wonder of wintering waters




Snow seems to be a constant companion these days, shifting down like flour or in giant floating flakes, painting our world in shimmering strokes of white.

At the seashore, drifts of snow-covered sand contrast mightily with the pulsing Sakonnet, as gray as steel.

Waving noisily in the wind, the brittle, ice-encrusted sea grasses still harbor wildlife in its crusty depths.

This time of year is often described as “the dead of winter,” but the reference is dead wrong. Life is abundant and manifest everywhere even on the coldest of days.

Staring out to sea, I imagine the countless unseen populations of marine life thriving beneath the waves, sheltered in saltwater, warmer than air.
 



While driving along the coastline, I stop by the side of the road near a farm. Leaving their wooden shelter, two horses with a determined gait trot out into a stonewall paddock, their pasture a field of snow.

The simple beauty of the scene takes my breath away – blanketed animals in a blanket of snow.


 
Reaching the Sapowet Management Area, a wildlife preserve on the east bank of the Sakonnet River, I marvel at the incredible numbers of geese that have sought refuge in this shallow saltwater bay.

Members of the waterfowl family, our native, medium-sized geese have webbed feet and thick bills designed for filtering small organisms in the water or for grasping underwater vegetation and shellfish.

Geese undergo lengthy migrations between their northern or inland breeding areas and coastal wintering waters.

I watch them patter across the water to get airborne. Wonderful. 



Driving onto the frozen terrain of the preserve, I catch a colony of seagulls unaware. Those offended by my trespass flap their wings in annoyance, but most plainly ignore me.

Despite the frigid temperatures at this estuarine intertidal wetland, the Ring-Billed Gulls congregate on the icy bank, with their white heads and underparts blending into the white world around them.

Their wingtips are black with white spots, their bills yellow with a black ring near the tips.

From December through February, their habitat is our New England coastline, and today they are right at home in this Arctic paradise – and so am I.

“I thank You God for this amazing/ day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees /and a blue dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes,” wrote poet e.e. cummings.

Yes.