Praises in Place of Pain

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Have you wondered when cascades of minor or major trials will slow and trickle, perhaps even end? Or how you will weather them, and then what sort of state you will be left in when they do once more pause? My own spring and early summer have provided a few wearisome and worrisome times. I have had my moments of irascibility, feeling emptied, undone. But I have a marvelous tool that guides me in fine or foul weather. I have to admit I rarely forget to avail myself of this small action, as it instills tranquility and even buoyancy amidst loathsome moments. Or calms the chaos. It is not a secret, being familiar to most if not all persons. Yet, despite the fact that it is free of cost and requires little effort, it is not always claimed as the healer and helper it is.

Giving praise. That’s it: finding and engaging in grateful thoughts, feelings, actions. For me, that involves frequent prayer. But it also surfaces as I simply live, morning til night, day in and day out. It is so vital to me to express joy in living, appreciation of diverse experiences and my hopefulness despite hard challenges that when I sat down to write today, the praise just welled up and spilled over. I have to tell you, I could write my praises for many pages; you would be faint with boredom by the end of them, no doubt. But innumerable things astound, uplift and illuminate me. Yes, there will be undeniable sorrows and bitter hurts in life. But to be engaged with the omnipresence of God as you live and breathe is to cross those barriers that would keep us ignorant of great marvels, from the simple to sublime.

The next time you are inundated by tribulation, doubt, anger: stop, unclench your fists, breathe in life-sustaining oxygen and praise one thing. Then discover that deep vein within you, let it open and excavate the everlasting gold of the Spirit within you. Live a transformational life.

Praise the evening as it flies daytime remnants, bright flags.
Praise light and long shadows caressing city and country lands.

Praise rains that gather and fall to bring relief.
Praise arch of foot carrying bones and sinew.
Praise the dancing that lifts the soul higher.
Praise palms with their elegant lines of love and life.

Praise lips that kiss and speak without misgiving or fear.
Praise minor keys as they move near major chords.
Praise mountain’s indigo, water’s turquoise, deep valleys between.
Praise tunnels and bridges that lead me across, through.
Praise the path that curves around beasts and blossoms.
Praise the wings of hummingbirds that hover in trees.
Praise the nectar of flowers that fill glorious bees.
Praise eyes and ears that transfer fresh magic.
Praise the love that shows up at the door.
Praise multi-world dreams that entertain sleep.
Praise minds of children who are flooded with whys.
Praise daughters and son for being daughters and son.
Praise ice cubes and mint herbal tea swirling in the glass.
Praise every simple or complicated bread for filling our hunger.
Praise words that deliberate and shining silence that knows.
Praise this humbling moment that grants me space in time.

Praise the strumming of my heart, full of its strength.
Praise revelations of life, preserved, empowered by the Creator!

(“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”)

Leaving Your Troubles Behind

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Sometimes, in the midst of rocking and rolling within our invisible life boats as another mini-gale peaks and subsides, we yearn for a break. And speaking for myself, there are also moments when I need to vacate the confines of my vacuous or nitpicking or redundant thoughts. It isn’t always clear what a reprieve may be despite desperate daydreams or spontaneous forays onto travel sites to check on the cost of a plane ticket to (and cheap hotel room in), say, Copenhagen or Buenos Aries. How many “free” miles has my spouse racked up after several business trips already this year? Likely not enough for where I want to go, what I want to do. I was thinking: a month in a cabin by a sparkling lake under the reassuring watchfulness of mountains in British Columbia. Or a combination of a thrilling/lazy respite in pristine New Zealand. But I will just as gratefully take a steamboat cruise down the Mississippi River for a couple of weeks.

Next year, maybe, if I start saving now.

Since I don’t have huge money at easy disposal I’ve become reasonably adept at taking little internal and external breaks. It gets even easier when the rain stops, since I love the outdoors. I enjoy the beach for a week-end, meander by car over the breathtakingly varied Northwest topography, take day hikes and visit all green spaces and nature preserves we can find nearby. All these make an immediate difference in my state of mind.

Simply stepping into fresher air (for the most part it is fresher in Oregon than many places) gives me a lift. I like my balcony all year around even though it does face a two-story house and a big backyard with its oft-used barbecue. I have flowers in crayon-colored pots. There is room enough for a three or four other folks if required or desired. And I can see partial sunsets and a few choice constellations even within the city.

And there is my usual: daily walks and the gym, music and books, action-packed or funny or romantic movies, light shopping (must watch cash flow), having lunch with friends (as long as heavy topics are off-limits), making art (I even have a Lego brand architecture set waiting for me to build something), visiting galleries and so on. I am not easily bored unless my own mind corners me with it pathetic insistence that I keep perseverating about the infinite meanings of life. Or the lack of signs of optimum earth life. The other night I thought: I just have to shut the door on myself more often. Granted, I have been grieving my sister’s death, but the thought still seemed right in the morning. It was easier to do that when I still worked long hours with other people’s issues.

But there are times when I am surprised by a turn of events, when even something expected takes on a far better sheen and opens up mind and spirit.

My new once-a-week break took shape a few months ago when I joined a women’s study group at my church. Alright, I suspect you want to stop reading right now and are thinking: really, a religious group, a bunch of women mostly over forty and a couple into their eighties? Not an auspicious rendering of “taking a break.” But I had gone to the traditional coffee hour after a church service and talked with an artistic woman whose cards I admired. She–right then and there–asked me if I would like to come to the Open Circle group. I liked the name of it immediately and her responsive but quiet way, so agreed to attend, shocking myself.

It took a month or two to get there, but when I made the decision I felt ready. Yet, as I entered heavy wooden side doors and trudged up the stairs to a very large room, it again crossed my mind that maybe this was not what I needed or was looking for; maybe it would even put me to sleep. Or I would say something not acceptable to them. But I had been looking for a welcoming, energizing congregation for years and when I finally felt that church might be the one, I took an unprecedented action: I joined something without having a clear idea what it was about and would happen.

Frankly, I am not an easy joiner as much as I appreciate mingling and working with others. And I do not fit a “typical” mainstream Christian believer in a few ways, due to my own theological understandings and personal experiences. I have tried other study groups throughout the years and never found a comfortable spot, at least not since my youth.

It has, however, occurred to me that being comfortable is not always the best thing. Into the room I went and surveyed the scene.

The women sat in a loose circle as if reflecting the name Open Circle. The decaf and regular coffee dispensers and cookies of the sort one has at any meeting anywhere were arranged on a cart. I availed myself of some of each. I was instructed to write my name on folded white construction paper as the others had done, then placed it at the spot I claimed. I recognized a few faces; people greeted me with a smile and nod. And we began.

I’ll spare you the tiresome bits and exact nature of our studies. But I do want to note that each time we get to know one another with creative icebreaker questions and personal prayer requests. The informative studies happen, but within this context. And the women are lively in discussion, thoughtful and open to others’ opinions.

Their sincerity that first day nearly overwhelmed me. Many are so invested they continue to attend after many years, extend themselves to one other beyond the meeting, engage with bold intelligence. It is a genuine community of thinkers and doers, all Christian and still searching for greater knowledge and connection.

I couldn’t wait to go back and did so. After a couple of months I began to develop a clearer sense of folks. My respect has grown. Their lives, of course, hold challenges not readily apparent while demonstrating strength and hope moves me. I began to rearrange a corner here and there in my mind so it was a better space to think about things in a fresh ways, ponder an array of faith concerns, consider the impact of their lives intersecting with mine. I am learning more about our complicated, sometimes  confounding faith. It is like moving steadily across a common landscape toward a brightening horizon, only this time not so alone. New information is being excavated, with better tools to aid us as we dig even deeper. How do we demonstrate in our living what we are committed to upholding?

The prayers at that table can shake me in my innermost center. Those moments tell me this is where Spirit thrives and people work to bring into fruition thoughts and deeds of compassion, despite human frailties. God, after all, already knows how and why we have failed or could fail–but that’s no excuse for not keeping at it.

Yesterday was the end-of-the-year group luncheon. It sounded like a pleasant way to spend a few hours at a stunning home with women I wanted to know better. The sky was displaying its early summer genius with vivid blue; bright sunshine made it even better. Roses and many other flowers were showing off, their blooms redolent of a tender richness. As I entered, women greeted me, chatted with me, showed me around. Iced tea and lemonade and a little wine were passed from outdoor table to hands. I finally took a seat and in minutes enjoyed various companions. Something interesting was revealed about each person with whom I conversed as we filled the deep patio and shady yard, waiting for lunch to be served.

The hostess, a woman likely in her later seventies or early eighties, made all the food herself. The simple lunch was made of freshest ingredients with subtle but tasty seasonings. The desserts–five that I can recall–were five-star deliciousness. We ate off pretty china and sipped from chilled crystal goblets. I was told this lady puts on the luncheon yearly, as she has been church and group member for more than a couple of decades. It is an act of love, a gracious offering of her time and an unusual talent for hospitality. I left content, satiated by excellent food (I am not a foodie, either) and genial conversation.

Much to think over. Already I am wishing it was autumn so the group could reconvene. I look forward to welcoming someone who is newer, finding out how to be of service, participating in more thought-provoking discussions. I am hoping to become a good friend as well as welcome others into my life. And that my faith will expand and be shared in effective ways.

This post was to be about taking a break, leaving behind troublesome or self-absorbed thoughts that can threaten to undermine–any sort of reprieve that does what you need it to do. Or what you weren’t looking for at the start. And maybe this kind of time away from your home or head would not be for you. I wish you well in your search for rejuvenation.

But for me, this circle of pilgrim women has been a surprising answer to prayer.

(Thank you, KB, for extending a kind invitation to me.)

 

The Power of Blue-Greeness

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The northern Michigan lake waters were undulating with energy, striated with transparent blues that changed with the angle of sunlight. I sat on the dock and watched waves roll onto the rocky shore like a long exhalation, then listened to the inhalation as they pulled back. In the distance, the others were horsing around on a floating dock so I took off my glasses and jumped into the jade-to-navy depths. There would be time to sit and daydream later when the sun went down.

The water rushed over my legs and arms, covered my head. I opened my eyes enough to make out shadows and shapes beneath me. Swaying plants tried to entangle me, bits of muck floated up from the bottom then floated on. As I swam further out the sediment settled, the waters cleared. I could spot fish darting this way and that and sometimes felt them skim by my legs or nibble my toes. Though I was not conversant in the fine art and science of fishing, I loved their names as well as delicious flavors: perch, bluegill, yellow bass, trout, pike, whitefish. I dearly wished my parents fished. I enjoyed observing those who cast their lines patiently, admiring the skills of such a peaceful pursuit.

We played on and around the floating dock for hours, forgetting about the sun’s power to singe our skin after the initial slathering of baby oil. We engaged in uproarious cannonball jumping contests that left our skin smarting. I loved to dive and practiced making my body taut and thin and swift like a knife as it sliced through the lake’s ever-moving surface. On the way back up I followed the stremas of light, finally shooting up and out, silent, at ease. I felt at home surrounded by lake life.

Nearby powerboats showed off, young men and women demonstrating their prowess behind the wheel. I knew I would be waterskiing before the week-end was over and anticipation surged through me. There was nothing like the experience of being tugged through the water, legs straining to hold up cumbersome skis, the tips just out of the water, then that tug becoming a force that yanked me up so I could ride the surface. It was either stand tall, use every muscle in thighs, torso and arms to keep balanced and upright or fall, sputtering, into a choppy wake. Once up and steady, gliding and zigzagging across water was an explosive thrill for body and mind.

And then there were canoes, sailboats, and rowboats. I was happy in any of them. As I floated and bobbed near the edge of the lake, I searched unruly undergrowth as shapes and sounds caught my attention. Birds rose and darted and sang. Birches, pines, beeches and maples and oaks with all their variances of beauty filled me with appreciation. Serenity ruled.

In the evening I would gather with family, friends or neighbors on a rough lawn overlooking the lake to watch fall the lemony-orange globe of sun, that brilliant overseer of daytime whose light gave way to a phantasmagoria of color. And then arrived deep mystery of darkness.

Nature revealed itself differently in the soft charcoal black of evening. After we played the fireflies’ “catch-as-catch-can” game, their luminescence like blessings, a wall of sound surrounded us. Frogs’ light or bass voices, crawling and flying and biting insects, flip-flops of fish, the lake’s shushing vocalizations, four-legged creatures scampering and scratching, winged things (birds and bats vied for air space) with their odd Morse codes. Nothing was as emblematic of lake country as the eerie yodel of the loon, the song floating through the night. With red eyes peering from its elegant black head, its white and black striped body bobbing along, it was startling in its grave loveliness.

Later, someone might light a fire and bring out hot dogs, then marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers for S’mores. The talk would be generous, easy, traded with quietness that soothed. I would slip away, back down to the dock. Let my feet find the water, its silken coolness sleeking my skin. The fragrances of lake country claimed me, a damp muskiness of earth and fecund sweetness of water, both rare, ancient perfumes. Across the water were lights of more cottages and cabins, other campfires, and they were cast onto water in an ethereal pulsing necklace of gleaming points.

Above, the celestial map of heaven where stars looked to me as if they held all the wisdom if only I could only fly up to meet them. The moon illuminated the lake realms with an opalescent swatch of light, gentle and steady, powerful and unattainable.

I was filled with God’s Presence. I felt whole in and of myself, yet taken beyond the small self that sat upon a weathered dock. I felt flung far beyond yet held close to my body’s confines. Nothing could have convinced me I was not counted as a thread in that perfect, fathomless tapestry because I knew my place in it. Integral to planet earth and the universe. And I felt utterly safe.

This is why blue-green is my color of enchantment: it is the waters of my youth. It is the color of open sky and towering trees in the northern woodlands. It is the night air as twilight bridges afternoon and evening. It is the color that heals, that illuminates, soothes, brings forth living energy within parts of me that are deepest and wildest and ever seeking–and finding–God.

*****

Today I let my heart write. For most of the afternoon I had not one idea, an unusual occurrence for someone who can write the moment pen touches paper or fingers hit keys. I was distracted by musings about a daughter who has been called to pastor a small Presbyterian church in northern Michigan. It is a place she values and, after years living in other states, she is coming full circle. She once resided near the very church she will oversee. In fact, she reclaimed and grew her faith less than an hour away, then embarked on the demanding journey to become the person and minister she is today.

I understand some of the significance of her return to the area. I was there her earliest days, later followed her stumbles and triumphs through time and distance. I know some of the cost of her work, her losses and gains. But beyond that our family of seven often visited the northern lakes and woods for happy vacations, stayed with her paternal grandmother and great grandmother not far from where she will be making her own home. Now she will design another adventure, each year another exploration and revelation.

Her tie to this country and to God awakened some of my own past today. My connection to northern Michigan country goes back over fifty-five years. My parents never owned a week-end home but we knew many people who did and who graciously invited us. It has been a long tradition for scores of families to “go up north” for the week-end or holiday getaways for snow skiing and snowboarding and also each summer, if possible. So we would follow the caravan of cars, trucks and vans along I-75 to scores of lakes. Michigan has 11,000 such inland lakes. There are 3,000 miles of Great Lakes coast. There is plenty of water for everyone.

Going up north was a joyous occasion. The bountiful landscapes called to me with an intensity I can only partly describe but recall viscerally though I have been gone from Michigan for 22 years. The breathless wonder I felt along those pine-strewn pathways, amid ghostly, stately birches; the joy that arose with scents and permutations of lake waters; the peace that entered my being like osmosis as I wandered ragged shores–it was a gift every time. It was no small salvation to be up north as I attended what is now called Interlochen Arts camp, where the arts and nature combine to provide powerful creative energies. My childhood and youth were rocked by life-changing trials. To my relief I early on discovered nature provided a conduit for God’s presence that I sometimes could not otherwise locate. Here was indelible proof that there was order, grace, symmetry, reliability, perfection amid irregularity, possibilities emerging from devastation and renewal from sudden loss.

The lakes, the forests, the secret, complex pulse points of places that returned hope and its innocence to my childhood were cherished. I called upon them as one calls upon Ominpotence for rescue. God heard me; I, God. There, I was righted when I faltered. With the singsong rhythms of the lake, Divnity sang old, regenerative songs. Within the seasons of the wild was the promise of permanency as all else shifted around and within me. There, kneeling on a piney cushion under trees, gazing out over the rippling water, emerging into sun and winds that polished my skin, I learned the earth’s story. It was courageous and wise. The outdoors gave wings to a weighted soul and guided me toward a faith that could not be contained within brick and glass, nor practiced only before an altar. This faith journey had its passage guided by a compass of the stars, which never left me, which never dimmed.

Along the way, happiness always returned. How could it not, with birds nesting and calling out? How could it not, with the rise of sun casting gold on water and the wind sculpting waves of teal, silver and sapphire? I would have never known that life could be so abundant, infused with delicacy and strength without those nights and days of water’s tales, campfires and fireflies unmasking the darkness and revealing miracles within enchanted lands.

Daughter, I know what calls to you. I have heard it, too. It is the voice of Almighty God that never sleeps, that cannot forsake us, that will not promise more than can and will be given. It is life lived in the center of the universe, inside the heart of a wood, in the great chalice of a lake and sky, in the opening of our hearts and hands: a victorious message offered all humankind.

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(For Caitilin, may your days and nights be imbued with Love)

 

 

 

 

Christmas: Enough, Too Much or More?

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Lush, beribboned wreaths. Scents of wintry chill, fresh and bright. Twinkling lights on each neighborhood’s porches, bushes and trees. The flash and dash of shops and holiday markets that entice eye and wallet. Signs and symbols of Advent in churches that beckon newcomers and comfort old-timers, reassuring to many of us. There are delectable candies and traditional cookies to make, gifts to list and obtain, decorative touches to add to your home and the city’s gigantic, brightly adorned tree to “oooh” and “ahhh” over. Decor ranges from snowy miniature villages to garish metallic or pop culture-goofy ornaments to hang along the top of your bay window or stoop.

What is not to like about all this? As December dawns, I have always proclaimed that I am primed for the holiday season so let’s get on with it. But, in fact, I have mixed feelings about Christmas. Maybe it’s that a few decades have passed and my children now have children of their own. Three of five live far away and are ensconced in independent lifestyles, their careers. And even the grandchildren are not so small, not perhaps as open to everything I may plan. Still, though I miss them, my family has less to do with what’s on my mind than my own musings.

I had an experience last week at a deli counter. A woman was waiting for her order to be prepared. She taped at the window where the meats were displayed.

“It’s marvelous, that head cheese. How about you? You like it?”

I thought I heard a hint of challenge in her voice. I guess I made a face, but then I quickly smiled at her. “Oh, not really for me.”

“Your face said it all–just how I would look if you asked me how I feel about Christmas. I absolutely hate it.”

“Well,” I said,”to each their own, right?”

“Naw, I want everyone to be just like me,” she stated adamantly.

I suspected she was being funny. When I glanced at her, she was scowling, trying to not look at me.

I hoped she’d lighten up a bit.”Well, with my character defects, I wouldn’t want everyone to be like me!”

She glared at me, taking in who I was for the first time. Slowly. Head to foot. “Goodbye,” she said loudly as if it was a declaration she had to deliver. And then she turned on her heel and left.

“Have a good one!” I softly called after her.

I was relieved I hadn’t lost my composure but hoped she might be less angry about whatever had made her so dour. That maybe she would give less venom to the next person. I doubt I impacted her other than to further persuade her that people who liked Christmas and didn’t like head cheese were a blight. But I thought about her as I shopped, wished her well. I wondered how many persons feel like she does, and that led me to think about my own holiday spirit.

Well, sometimes I haven’t liked this season so much, either. I am not always certain what all the fuss adds up to in the end. And as an avid participant as well as a Christian I need to understand my viewpoint better.

Many, if not most, would agree that Christmas is too commercial– even as overspending continues. I was not wilting in midnight lines for Black Friday, nor do I dart out for every phenomenal sale advertised. My preparations are simple and limited although my husband would probably say otherwise. Perhaps I have changed my attitude some since not working. I recall spending a lot of hectic hours worrying about and purchasing far more than a couple presents for fifteen to twenty people. The coffers are more empty now but it still matters to me that each person has something he or she has a real interest in or needs. I really want to give but I don’t go overboard. I have waited a bit this time. Today I have started this year’s Gift List; my love labors have only begun.

And yet. I am wondering what this Christmas will be, and how I can experience it, even shape it into something finer, sweeter. Simpler. My conflicting responses are entwined with family but also my ever-shifting perspective of the Season as I age.

I have never fully understood why there is such a materialistic celebration, especially when Jesus was apparently born closer to June. I also realize it is an offshoot of the pagan event of winter solstice. Saint Nick came much later, leaving gifts for poor village children. It’s true the Bible has clear reports of fanfare when Jesus was born in that crowded, dirty manger. The Star of Bethlehem was magnificent, even blinding people with its powerful light. The wise men travelled long and far to bring the baby precious gifts of incense, frankincense and myrrh as they welcomed and lauded him. Angels came and hovered close. Shepherds gathered with their own prayerful homage. It was something to behold. I am certain, and I regret I wasn’t there to see, to hear, to  know.

Meanwhile, I am wondering what we–those of us who celebrate Christmas–are looking for in the here and now. Yes, we celebrate the arrival of Christ into our world if we are believers. Traditionally, we send greetings to others that include peace, joy, hope, thanksgiving. We feel the transition, seek soul renewal as the year draws to a close and a new one begins, according to our calendar. And we just want to share fun times. Maybe all that is enough, is what we are yearning for. This has certainly not been another grand slam of a year when it comes to world accord, or financial security, health and safety for far, far too many.

But enjoyment counts wherever we can get it. There are events we attend yearly, with new thrown it. I have on my calendar a Scandinavian Festival, not because it is my family heritage but because we like its music, food and unusual gifts. There is the yearly Festival of Lights at a monastery’s grounds. The pathways are lined with lights of imaginative designs, surprisingly gaudy at times, and also a retelling the story of Jesus’ birth. There is near-constant seasona music, mostly sacred, performed. There’s a manger full of creatures for kids to pet. We attend concerts of choral or instrumental music. There is an old, uninhabited mansion open to the public that we visit, admiring sumptuous decorations in each well-appointed room. And holiday markets abound, places to wander on foot, to mingle with humanity, to examine exquisite or whimsical handcrafts.

Just writing about all this makes me want to get out there and do things. They are traditions of a lighter sort. My daily habit and church services bring me to studies and readings, prayers and hymns. I sing with emotion and at Christmas I can be easily overwhelmed with the ineffable glory of God. Even if the infant Jesus wasn’t likely born in December….

So why am I pausing to re-evaluate things? What more do I want or need? We give time and money to people in greater need. My spiritual faith doesn’t change from season to season. My family is ever near to me, within the realm of a good hug for those who reside nearby. For those not here there are phone calls or Skype. Miss them, yes, but they do have their lives; sometimes they can’t fly here.

I then consider the past year. There have been trials to ponder, to endure with others. The changes have been significant for children as they changed jobs, moved to different states, got married, uncoupled (sounds so benign when it is, in fact, hard), started over. One family member has been drawn into street life and I worry if this day or night will be dangerous, too much for that vulnerable youth. A person to whom I long ago was married to has terminal cancer; the two adored children we had together suffer with him. I am sorrowful for them all. I have a fine friend whose life is being shortened by hepatitis C. And the memory of a dear family member who ended his life one early December comes to me with an agony of tears as I write.

I see how it is. Deep within are rivulets of sadness as well as a mighty current of faith. Even joy, a requisite for living well in my estimation. I approach the Christmas season with gratitude but also with prayers for sharing the everlasting potency of tenderness. For a clarifying renewal. I ask for change that steadfast love and honest work can initiate.

My tiny revelation is so simple. I am just another human being who wants more opportunity to rejoice and hold loved ones close. A life built with compassion. Well-being or the chance to heal if possible. Reasonable safety in a world riddled with threats we are never given relief from in the media. Mercy for those who have done harm to me and others. And forgiveness of my own undetectable or glaring failures to live the life I know I must. This more than anything: may I create more good and correct within me that which doesn’t measure up.

We found a wonderful, even ethereal tree and sheep farm last year; it is now our newest tradition. This weekend our son and his family will join us as we search for and cut down two hearty pine trees. We will secure them in my son’s truck and drive slowly home through the misty hills. We’ll decorate them, drink mugs of hot, tasty tea, eat sweets. Put on Christmas music at last and sing out on every silly or holy song. “White Christmas” as sung by Bing Crosby, I admit, is a long time favorite. The movie, too.

That I will join with others to celebrate the birth of Christ goes without saying. I’ll put aside my questions about his birth date or how that might affect my pensive inquiries for awhile. Being Christian enlivens my intellect and broadens my spirit. So I will be found at the candlelight service, raising my candle with others to flood the darkness with the glow of all those tiny flames, my soul singing.

This is what I need in my Christmas season–the sharing of hopeful experiences. The gathering together, breaking bread. Reflecting on where I have been and being open to the future, whatever may come. Living will never stop being hurtful or bewildering or demanding. It seems to come with this earthly territory, certainly if you also care to be immersed in surprises and wonders. It’s that variety I hold in high regard. We each have the choice to determine what matters each day, including Christmas. Make that choice, then allow it to be so. I’m keeping my small prayer rolling for better times, despite any dire reports of the odds. Sometimes the only thing that matters is to believe, then act as if your hopes can and will come to fruition. For my world and for yours. Ours.

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Fealty: Definition 2. Faithfulness; allegiance

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I am often jolted from sleep, words blazing in my brain, sometimes whole phrases or poems that demand their places in my notebook. I obey, lest they slip away to the vast hinterland of dreaming once more. I hope they will stay in place on paper, releasing me so I can return to rest, but they often pursue me until given the gift of freedom. Which means: a life to call their own. This ultimately requires my attention in the waking life. The day has begun and I am glad of it.

But this morning was the sort of re-entry into daily life that I would rather avoid. I rose from murky consciousness toward a sheerness of wakefulness as sunlight tried to illuminate my thinking. My eyes remained closed against the morning as a weightiness threatened to hold me hostage. Unbidden words passed through the darkness under my eyelids: The music is over; your voice was lost. Too much means less and less. Travelling alone without one good compass ends good journeys. Who can even see your footsteps upon the earth?

All the things I don’t like and who among us would? Uncertainty, the remnants of loss, weariness, old hurts that reconvene like a war council. Unease remained as I pushed out memories that can still haunt me, the times when problems didn’t resolve despite earnest effort. The errors of judgment that hollowed out places where defeat still can burrow. I called on God of all, of east, west, north and south, God within and without, Jesus who finds and comforts me, reminds me of revolutionary love.

Capture all old tears and bring them back to me as shining orbs. Set me straight. Let me see again, a woman without misgiving.

My eyelids flickered and the room in its blueness came forward. The variety of pictures greeted me. Morning was grounded as light slipped over my hands and feet. I let the scattered threats fly away. But not before one more word lodged itself where the others had lain in wait.

Fealty. I knew the word from somewhere. Fealty. Didn’t it have something to do with truth? Or…money?

It presented itself many times as I prepared for the day. With a fragrant mug of tea beside me, I picked up The American Heritage Dictionary. I opened the volume.It was there, the word, right on the page before me. Out of all the pages that might have been interesting to read first, the dictionary opened to this page.

I read the first meanings: “1. a. The loyalty of a vassal to his feudal lord. b. The obligation of such loyalty.” I immediately recalled watching an historical drama, “The White Queen”, the previous night and believed I heard the word there. But, wait, a second meaning: “2. Faithfulness; allegiance.”

I sat back, held the mug between both hands and sipped. The words ran through me. Spoke to me. What am I faithful to? What loyalties means the most  and what am I called to do? Where is the allegiance that matters no matter what? My family, yes, of course, and friends. Then, as though unearthed from beneath the unwanted sourness, came this: Divine Love. Compassion and the causes of mercy and enduring hope. Celebration of all that the Creator gave us. And this fierce passion to write.

How foolish I can be, a small soul making my way through the unbearable and marvelous phantasmagoria of life. Fortunately I am still teachable.

This is the life I most care about, the one I choose. This morning began as a puzzle tossed into disarray, then reassembled in one swift movement. The day and my place in it came together again. I have my  compass. I have notebook and pen. A guiding Hand, an angel, a sudden crack in the dark that allows the right clues admittance to my heart.

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