Christin's Words from Sunshine Hill

If it is to be music
you must be present to it, must offer to it
a profound self-remembering.
-from Altar Music

Friday, November 27, 2009

GIVING IT ALL



A huge Tom-Turkey in full display stood with his harem by the roadside yesterday when I was driving to Thanksgiving Mass. “Look Mo,” I said to the tiny dog curled on my lap (he fits nicely under the steering wheel and sleeps the whole way), “that fellow knows he escaped being on somebody’s table!” I was still chuckling when I arrived at Shepherd of the Valley. The drive takes about forty minutes and is beautiful as it winds through mountains, woods, and valley ranches and orchards. Fog blanketed the Rogue Valley.


At mass two little girls dressed in their holiday best held baskets of apples. After Father Mike gave the final blessing he asked them what they planned to do with their apples. The older girl stepped forward and replied, “We plan to share them with people.” They walked around among us as we mingled on the way out of the building, and the older girl did give apples away. The littler girl held an apple up to an elder-woman in front of me, but when the woman took it and said thank you, the little girl began to cry. “Oh dear,” The woman exclaimed, and handed the apple back to her. The child’s father tried to apologize, but the woman just shook her head as though what happened was the commonest and most natural and endearing thing in the world.


And it was.


How often, I wonder this morning, have I given something I loved only to mourn for it when it is gone? It does happen more with children, I think, because they have yet to learn the way that giving works. It’s a circle. The gift transforms as it goes around the circle and doesn’t come back to us from the person to whom it is given. For days, months, years, the giving travels from this person to that (somewhat the way people forward email containing a kind wish), until finally in a moment of need some other person entirely will offer us the fulfilled gift, the transformation of the one we gave away.


A “thanks-giving” becomes, according to this experience, the act of giving away from the reservoir of gifts received in hope of fulfillment someday, in someone, somehow that we cannot now envision. Because ultimately the gift is not a material thing; it is an act of love that must be kept moving, developing, expanding, GIVEN, or it will die.


The night before Thanksgiving Sammie closed up the local St. Vincent de Paul center after her volunteer time was over. It was late. She had more work to do than usual. (She might be embarrassed that I’m telling you this -- but good things need sharing. She‘s not going to tell you, and just to make it universal let me say that it could have happened to any of us) Next to St. Vinnie’s is the large food shelf building. A woman holding her baby stood in front of the now locked door. Something (love?) drew Sam to talk with her. The young woman had walked there from somewhere hoping to arrive before closing. Sam said it would be open the next day. And then, looking from the deepest part of her heart, sensing something, Sam asked, “Do you have anything to eat tonight?” And the young mother shook her head. It was like a bolt of lightning running through our Sammie. She knew immediately what to do. She reached into her purse, into the cash section, and gave it all.


There’s an old Catholic prayer written by St. Ignatius of Loyola that is a perfect example of thanks-giving, the ultimate thanks-giving to God who gave us being and life and makes all thanks-giving possible. I actually was afraid to pray these words as a child, because like the little girl at Mass yesterday, I feared I might not get my apple back and who knows when I might be hungry? But throughout life I’ve been taught that there’s no need for concern. The gift flows throughout the world in the form of truly Amazing Grace. We breathe it. We drink it in. We live by it. We give it. There’s no end to it; and like the young mother on the street, at the very moment of our need, we will be met by a messenger of God who, amazed at the abundance of gifts she has received, holds out her hands to us and gives it all.


Here’s the prayer:


Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or possess Thou hast bestowed upon me; I give it all back to Thee and surrender it wholly to be governed by Thy Will. Give me love for Thee alone along with Thy grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.


Monday, November 16, 2009

A SONG IN THE MORNING



Mo woke me a few minutes past six. I admit to grumbling a bit as I slipped my bare feet into fleece lined shoes and tried to find the sleeves of my polartec bathrobe which I‘d left all crumbled and upside down on the chair. At the front door I fumbled with his leash, unbolted the lock, and stepped out into - - the dawn of Beauty. Immediately I woke up completely, laughing. Benedicite Domino!! I cried out as though the spirit of old Mother Ann from the novitiate suddenly filled me. The sky was heavy with rosy light. Overwhelmed with it. An Advent light already, even though we only stand on tiptoe at the threshold of that season. Mother Ann gather all her novices together one Advent Sunday to stand in such a dawn. On the prairie, though, the light suffused the entire sky. Here it gathers in smooth globes above the mountains.


Later, back inside the house, I remembered yesterday as I was driving to town and sunlight angled through the woods to pick up the pure yellow of the few remaining large-leaf-maple leaves. Suddenly all the love in all the people I’ve ever known felt present to me. I nearly had to stop the car. Maybe I should have done that--stopped the car and tramped off into the woods to pick a yellow leaf. I could have pressed it in my Bible for remembrance.


We live by glimpses, don’t you think? We realize in short intakes of breath. The signal that can open the door to truth and awareness and joy can be easily overlooked, even refused. “That’s pretty, but I don’t have time to stand here right now. There’s way to much to do. Next time it happens maybe I’ll have the time.” But it never happens again in quite the same way.


The other day Sam loaned me a computer game. I don’t play computer games, but she was sure I’d like this one called “Syberia.” In it I get to solve a mystery with a female sleuth named Kate. Here’s a lesson I learned: Kate and I are caught in her room, or we are caught in the Inn, or we are caught on the street of the town until all the clues of that place are picked up. Only then can we proceed. If we can’t find all the clues, we either go round in circles or we go backwards. You really have to keep your eyes open.


Very like life itself. What if I missed the sunrise simply because I couldn’t take the time, or because my mind was stuck on making that first cup of coffee? Some bright path to a fuller life could well have been closed to me.


This morning I came inside after the intense rose color faded and the sky around it turned blue. I lit my candles for prayer and opened the book to the psalms for dawn, November 16th. One of them leapt off the page: Psalm 5.


“Lord, listen to my voice in the morning;


in the morning I will stand before you and await you.”


A song came to mind, and it was a paraphrase of this psalm. I never realized that before. It was written by a young folk singer from Minnesota, and we sang it often back in the 1970s. We sang it when Pat and I got married. We sang it when my dad died. It contained for us the paradox of those times, choices made in the midst of ambiguity that challenged us to see every clue, and that opened up so many doors. It brought me here, to this very moment. At this moment all of life feels simultaneous to me--every individual love tucked into the heart of every other. I sing the song:


What can I give to my God, my God,


For all he’s done for me?


Cuz all I’ve got is the life he gave me


And the love that sets me free;


And there are times when I get so low


I feel like I’ve got only pain.


Oh Lord, take a song in the morning,


And hear me when I call Your Name.



I knew the entire thing by heart. Isn’t that amazing?


 


 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

CIRCLES




As a mother comforts its child, so shall I comfort you:

You will see, and your heart will rejoice,

and your bones will flourish like living grass.



-Isaiah 66



A multitude of images crowd my mind this morning as I meditate on this passage from Lauds, the morning prayer. Mostly, though, I am seeing groups of women. Mother-circles, I might call them, reflecting in my life this attribute of the eternal I AM. Beginning with circles of girlfriends from childhood, this blessing of women in my life continued on to include my Sisters of St. Joseph, the Wisdom House Community, a women’s book club that has sustained me since I moved to Oregon, a monastic community of Cistercian women at the Redwood Monastery on the California coast, and most recently a women’s bible study group here in the Applegate Valley.

Some of them wondered at first why, Catholic as I am, I’d joined their study at the little bible church. Maybe they still wonder, but I can tell they are comfortable with my presence among them. At first perhaps they figured I was on my way out of Catholicism and would make my home among them. And this would not have been a surprising move once I experienced the depth of their love and compassion for one another. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? “Look at those Christians, how they love one another!”

There’s Martha, perfectly named, with the milk chocolate voice and wise heart who has the gift of clarity. Penny, who through suffering has been blessed with compassion. Michelle, quick with ideas as a talk show host, joyous, spiked hair tipped with burgundy, and a singing voice that can melt your heart. Connie of the tender soul who lightens our way and helps us laugh. Becky, the down to earth, the sincere. Lorraine, who is intense in her faith and whose laughter, when it comes, is a sunray breaking through. Cecile, filled with wonder and intelligent thought. Anne, the writer of biblical meditations. Vickie, whose heart burns with love of God. And more…those more quiet women whose stillness sustains us.

All together this circle of women is an image of God the Mother of whom Isaiah speaks, a community of blessing for me during all the time I’ve been grieving John’s passing. As a mother comforts its child, so shall I comfort you:

Much of this week I’ve been thinking of paradox, and here’s another one: unbeknownst to these women who would have been glad to have me join them even more fully, they were greatly responsible for leading me back to the sacramental life of Catholic Christianity. Their deep faith and love led me to a recognition of how deeply I missed Eucharistic worship -- the celebration and fulfillment of everything they mean to me. And so I found a little Catholic parish about twenty-five miles from Sunshine Hill where the people are also joyous and compassionate, where the mission statement matches my faith and understanding, and where the priest is humble and compassionate and obviously loved by the people.

Back when I was a Sister of St. Joseph, a Eucharistic spirituality was the hallmark of our community. I’m marked with that, sealed with it, still identified by that sacrament. There are ways in which I feel I’ve never left it, and ways I feel I’ve been away for so long I don’t know how I lived with the absence. I’ve always treasured the words penned by T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place where we started, and know it for the first time.”

This morning I’m realizing that the “knowing for the first time” comes with the wider and yet more focused vision of which Isaiah speaks. It’s no secret that over the years I’ve been critical of the Catholic church, and in many ways I still am. I hope for a renewal that could take five hundred years. So reality is to let it be, let the process continue, and it will continue to continue without me, or this entire generation, or the next or the next. It continues as I live out my own faith in this stream which grows wider and wider as I become old. It includes the ages of the past with people both common and extraordinary. It includes the sins and the heroism. It includes the future of our hope. It joins with other expressions of faith through those of us who widen ourselves to join our hearts and spirits with others. For God will not be limited. And the circles of our small human lives can become more open and inclusive the longer that we live.




 



 



 





 



 



 



 



 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flower in the Snow



This is the day, sixty-nine years ago, of the great Armistice Day Snowstorm. Or maybe it was the day it stopped after dumping snow all over the Midwest. That’s more likely, because the story Mama told was “You were born during the great Armistice Day Snowstorm.” She and I were in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sioux City. Aunt Alice Lou tried to get there with her four-year-old, Sandra Su. The snow, a white-out, stopped them somewhere in Iowa, and they were taken in by strangers, a farm family who fed them, gave them a bed, and treated them as special guests until the plows came through and they could drive the rest of the way to Sioux City.


Perhaps I’m remembering this because our Oregon sky this morning has that flat look I recognize as a presage to snow, though it won’t snow here because, in the low 50’s, it remains too warm. In fact, rain has teased the autumn earth to bring forth winter grasses and the tiniest green plants that at this stage of growth resemble flowers.


Who ever thought November might be a time of birth? Ah well, all of it is paradox. I glance up at my icon of the Christ--one side of his face calm, clear, and divine; the other side shadowed, emotional, and scarred with humanity. The most impossible bits of being do collide, don’t they. Snow--I smile. Snow when I was born. Snow when I married John outside, by the lake, in March, in a blizzard! Snow the day he died. Snow that anyone might think is the bringer of death, in all these times became a glorious celebration of new life.


I’ll find the picture Krista took that April day he died, image of yet another conjunction of opposites. The hope, the beauty, the promise of a wild flower in the snow.


 


 


 


 


 


 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SHADOWS ON THE EARTH





Dawn came today with mist, a white veil across the mountains. Nothing is clear. Colors dissolve into each other and perspective seems lost. The leaves lie wet and sodden on the grass. I've lit the candles for my prayer: one beneath the icon of Christ Pantocrator, a reproduction of the one at the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai; and the other beneath the icon of Mary of Sitka that John and I purchased at the little store across from the cathedral in Alaska. My morning songs have been sung and I've offered my voice to join the millions around the world in the praying of psalms and invocations that comprise the "Prayer of the Church." In "Lauds," the prayer at dawn, I found myself chanting the words from Psalm 144.



3Why do we humans mean anything


to you, our LORD?


Why do you care about us?


4We disappear like a breath;


we last no longer


than a faint shadow.



"Another November thought," I muse. And then the words of an email I received the other day come to mind. Dick, the man who sent the email, is engaged in that intense and profound spiritual task of those of us in our final years—integration. It's something more than just fitting the fragments of a life together. It has to do with integrity, with telling the truth about who we really are, and because that truth spills over into something far larger, it includes telling the truth about whatever God might be. He's almost got it, he tells me. A few more explorations and science and spirituality/religion will fit together. It's the task of a lifetime. The question, though, that is perennial—asked in the scriptures, asked by the mystics and theologians, asked by Camus and by MacLeish, continues to elude him.



He writes: "DO KEEP ME INFORMED about your works and current speculations about the future of our disturbed world. Perhaps -- when you have the time -- you could jot down some thoughts about YOUR VIEW of the JUSTICE OF GOD(HEAD?). I've had a real struggle as I decide how to think about this, the deepest of (theoretical and pragmatic) issues (as I see the state of our EARTH)…"



He's asking me to engage with him in "Theodicy"—Justifying the ways of God to human beings. It's the question of Job: "Why do the innocent suffer?" The key here is "innocent," because there's a certain logic to the suffering of those who can make choices, who bring suffering upon themselves as a consequence of their actions. The sin of Adam often is invoked (the "sin of the world" as Jesus called it) but what exactly is that? "The fruit of the knowledge of good and evil," says Genesis. Does it mean that once I've internalized (eaten) the knowledge of both good and evil, I will suffer? It could mean that. I will see it then. Then it will weigh me down. I will shed tears over it. My heart will burn with it or will turn cold. The heart can turn to ice with it, can close off to the world where the knowledge of evil takes place. To "know" is to participate in, to hold a thing inside me. I eat it; it eats me. I am no longer innocent.



God answers Job by asking, "Where were you when the earth was formed?" Meaning, I think, that when Job can create a world on a par with God's creation, then he's on a level to answer the question. In the meantime, he hasn't enough information, enough wisdom, enough power, enough---well, Be-ing. He's a shadow upon the earth that fades. But why?



So if I narrow down the question, it becomes: "God, why would you then create the world this way—a way in which I would end up suffering; the whole world, in fact, would end up suffering. We are in pain here; if you are really what you say you are, then why can't you fix it?"



Here's where MacLeish (The play, JB) paraphrases the problem in the jingle:



If God is good


He is not God;


If God is God


He is not good.


I would not stay here if I could,


Except for the little green leaves in the wood,


And the wind on the water.



If God had chosen to create the world differently, we would not only not be free (the usual answer), we would not even BE. This is the juncture at which I always wish I were a scientist. But all I have is intuition. So to me Theodicy looks like this: In order for human beings to exist there had to be matter—the material creation—the big bang—whatever you want to call it. There had to be interaction. There had to be verbs. There had to be coming in and out (movement or evolving or change). Matter becomes energy, energy becomes matter—isn't that right? Spiritual vision has spirit becoming body/ body dissolving into spirit. It's the dissolving we find objectionable. It hurts. As individuals we seem to disappear. Where are mom and dad? Where's my husband? Where is the green of last year's leaves? It sometimes feels evil—sometimes it actually IS evil: usually when we thwart the process, set ourselves up as the powerful ones, pretend to be God, cry out the words of Lucifer, "I will not serve." A current is set in motion, then, that seeks to wipe out being itself. Our relationships begin to collapse, our societies, we cease to care about creation itself, our world, our universe, we become angry and intent upon destruction. We become part of the "sin of the world," which essentially is the declaration: "I no longer want to be human, I want to be God."



So the question of whether God is just, whether God's creation is justifiable given that of its very nature suffering ensues, is linked inextricably to a question we need to ask ourselves. Are we willing to be human? Are we willing to live a spiritual/material existence? Are we willing to accept that our very existence as embodied spirit/souls means that the material aspect of our existence will eventually disintegrate, becoming earth? And that this disintegration implies suffering? Would we rather just not be at all?



This creation of which we are a part is both beautiful and terrifying. It is a gift that "reaches from end to end, mightily and sweetly." God, I believe, is in every molecule, every atom, every string, holding together the paradox of spirit/matter being. If we live it fully, we fall in love with all of it—gift and loss, life and death—not just in our individual lives, but in the life of societies and of the whole world; in the gathering of galaxies as well as their disappearance into black holes so dense that nothing can escape; in the attraction of the stars, and the hunger of being for itself.



In all of this may God be praised. This is all I know, and I barely know it at all. I am a shadow, my bodily aspect is made mostly of water distributed throughout a handful of dust, infused with the breath of the Holy Being. I like it here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

THE ROOT OF BEAUTY



A long time ago Pat Kelly gave me a book of poetry—THE POEMS OF DR. ZHIVAGO—and inscribed it with the words, "I never knew November could be so beautiful." We were young, living in an era of great change, and Pasternak's novel and the movie based on it reflected for us the requirements of such times of upheaval and hope. I imagined these to have been the Lara Poems, written by candlelight in the chill of a Russian winter, a preamble to an approaching sacrifice. Much needs to be surrendered in such times.

He had underlined some bits:

The heroic life is the root of beauty,
And it draws together you and me.

This morning I contemplate those lines and realize that Pat and I took them as a creed. We lived together a November life. To see this month as beautiful one needs an eye and heart for sparse design, subtle color, with only the occasional flash of brilliance. It is a time of going down into the darkness which as the poet says "shall be the darkness of God." But you don't know that as the twilight deepens into night.

I'm not sad, please don't think so. I've simply reached the age of pondering the fragments of life, seeing how they fit into a pattern of paradox. My memories of Pat Kelly are bitter-sweet, always paradoxical, and I've struggled with them over the many years since he died. It's only after seeing the paradox that one realizes how simple and how obvious it all was all along. And it's November again when we remember those heroic souls, especially our family and friends, who surrendered everything like the trees surrender leaves, and went before us into Beauty that's Eternal.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A WONDER ALWAYS TRUE





The water in Rita's dish froze during the night, and the grass, now at seven in the morning, still has a white patina. The sky above Sunshine Hill is the robin's egg blue of early morning, but later today it will turn the deep blue of Autumn as it contrasts with the burnt gold of the remaining oak leaves. We lost many of the leaves on Thursday in a big wind. Lorie, from the hill across the way, stood on her porch awestruck by the great whirls of leaves lifted from their branches into the air and then strewn across the ground. God dances with what has died, loosening it from its attachment to earth in gracious swirls of compassion and love. God prepares for a winter rest and then the new birth. The breath of the Spirit filled her.



Does this sound too dreamy to be true? It is more than true. More than dream. It is a truth of which we only catch glimpses from time to time in the spiraling of the leaves, in the bridal veil effect of an ocean off-shore wind, in the tender care of a good friend. All of us could fill in our own revelation here of what is more than true, that caught us by surprise, that caught us up, that opened our eyes for an eternal moment to seal itself upon our spirits. It is a sign that no matter what our lives have been, what the nature of its failures and disappointments, what might be our broken dreams, our deepest betrayals of our original vision, we hold an overarching Wonder within our spirits – actually ONE with our spirits – and this Wonder is true, always faithful, and our most profound Self, the Christ Paul experienced and refers to time and time again in his letters. To the community in Galatia he said: "…I live, now not I, but Christ lives within me." And here, this morning in the prayer of the Church, I'm reminded that he says similarly to his disciple, Timothy, "We may be unfaithful, but Christ is always faithful, for he cannot disown his own self." I read that to mean that the Christ living within me is one with my own self---so no matter how broken I might be, Christ is whole, and I will never be disowned.



This is my birthday weekend, and these thoughts came as a gift to me during morning prayer. It also came to me that since, in my second year of grieving John's death, I seem unable to sustain the expanse of consciousness required to write or even edit a whole manuscript, I could at least fashion my morning meditation into words and share those snippets of life on my Sunshine Hill Blog.



Who knows what this might become? I certainly don't. But it also gives my friends and acquaintances and even strangers the freedom to read or not to read. Eventually I will post pictures (when I figure out how to do that). I suspect that I'll end up posting several genres of writing: meditation, journaling, stories, memories, poetry, etc. I invite you to come with me on this last year of my sixtieth decade. Your companionship is a blessing in my life's pilgrimage.



Blessings,


Christin