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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I’ve been keeping a secret. Maybe you figured that out in the two months that you’ve heard nothing from me. Maybe, on the other hand, you felt concern—some of you have written asking if I’m ok. (I am, by the way, just fine.) I’m in love. Imagine that! Saturday will be my seventieth birthday, and I’ve fallen in love again. What a surprise. See, my future was all planned and it was to be spent alone at Sunshine Hill—writing, enjoying nature and solitude, participating in my little church community, keeping in touch with all my loved ones far and near. I’d just settled into the stability and calm of this plan when I got caught up in a whirlwind. I met John Sack.

He first came to my attention some years ago when I read his novel, THE FRANCISCAN CONSPIRACY. Visiting his website I discovered that he lived really close to me in Jacksonville, OR, and that as writers we had similar goals. We spoke briefly on the phone and planned to meet at a coffee shop where he wrote each morning. But before I had a chance to do that, my husband, John, had a recurrence of cancer. More than four years passed. Last April I read YEARNING FOR THE FATHER, a profound book about the Lord’s Prayer, also written by John Sack. Again I decided to contact him to finally have that cup of coffee and talk shop. We were engaged in a similar kind of writing (novels and spiritual books), had similar goals, background (he was a novice of Thomas Merton’s when he was young) and I just thought he would be a good person to know.

But he no longer lived in Jacksonville. I found him through a new email address at his website and we began to correspond. First I fell in love with his mind. Then, after several months of correspondence we met in person. He called our experience “instant recognition.” We seemed to have known one another forever.

As time goes on and we allow this relationship to develop, you will no doubt find references to him here. In fact, it has become difficult for me to share life at Sunshine Hill without mentioning him. Please rejoice with us as we open our hearts to this amazing gift of new love in the final chapter of our lives.

Monday, September 6, 2010


                                                                                           Thanks to Krista Karels for this photo

Yesterday I drove to town for Sunday Mass hoping for something a bit More than usual. Dreams had presented me with disturbing images of paralysis: being blocked by snowstorms, losing the wheel off my scooter as I tried to make my way south, and finding the house in which I'd taken refuge about to collapse in upon itself. The night before, I'd been thinking about the state of the world, wondering where the good fruits might be of the tree called "our generation." I felt like apologizing because with many of my colleagues I must have gotten it wrong, and I worried about every one of my students and all my readers just in case the vision I shared with them led to a dead end. Maybe a bit of this sort of thinking is the bane of approaching one's seventieth decade. I wished I could go back to the beginning, taking everything I'd learned along the way as a guide (do this again – don't do that; do something else instead.)

I got to Shepherd of the Valley and entered the big general purpose room we are using for Mass until the new church is built and sat close to the front. The "charismatic choir" was singing "Beautiful One, I adore…" and I took out my lapis rosary to which I hadn't paid enough attention lately. The way I'd felt, it seemed a good thing to meditate on those mysteries of Christ's life. But how could I keep from singing? So I sang, which caused Kathryn and Lou in front of me to turn around, take my hands, and smile at me. More music, clapping of hands, chatter of people greeting each other in the back, then five minutes of relative silence as we prepared for the sacred action we were about to undertake.

Father Theo is new in every way. Young. Just ordained. Just returned from years at the Jesuit College in Rome. Just arrived at Shepherd of the Valley as parochial vicar. He seems to have no walls around him, so that as he leads the liturgy –how can I describe this?—he waits upon the Lord. He's actually praying. I want to hold my breath, he's so transparent. (I sort of hope he doesn't read this. Probably he doesn't know the blog exists, so I won't worry.) Anyway, I told him after Mass how much the Holy Spirit blew through him in every way, a Divine Wind through his words, his gestures, his ability to be aware and incorporate the community happenings into the sacrament. So if he does chance to read this he probably won't be surprised that here I am raving about him once again.

No, I won't repeat his homily here. (Inspiring through it was.) But there's a story from this Mass that must be told.

Father Theo had invited the children to come forward for the Children's Liturgy of the Word. They numbered about fifteen, the youngest seeming no more than three—she was carrying her favorite blanket. He was in the middle of telling a story about his own childhood when his mom would sing back and forth with him: "Theo, do you love God?"

"I do love God."

"Do you really, really love God."

"I really, really love God."

When suddenly from the left of the worship space a boy of about eight or nine came running and yelling garbled sounds. Tourette's, I thought. He broke into the group of children, right in front of Father Theo, across the entire front of the room, turned the corner, and suddenly in the middle of the yelling and garble came the words, "JOY TO THE WORLD!" Then more yells and he was gone.

Father Theo grinned and in a low voice repeated, "Joy to the World," and then with a great flourish, lifted his hands and cried out, "Praised be to God!"

From that moment onward, throughout the Mass, within the community of people gathered, I felt the unmistakable presence of Something More that promises, "Behold, I make all things new." This includes small boys with Tourette's Syndrome who become prophets of the Coming Age – and seventy-year-old women and men for whom it is never too late to begin again.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Today, August 31, my mother would have been one-hundred years old. I'm grateful for the words of Kathleen Jesme, Mama's dear friend and mine: "It's that time of year, again, when I think much of your mother. She was born and died in August, and I think she was an August person--redolent with life, golden, richly hued in temperament and personality. She was of the moment when everything reaches its fullness, that same moment at which it begins to fall."

It's true. She lived life at its apex, a stance not always easy—maybe never easy. She could see the chasms all around her, the way the darkness filled them while she danced there in the sun. "This is the first year I failed to dance the New Year in…" she commented in her diary at the beginning of 1931. That was the year she discovered she was ill with TB and would spend over nine months in a TB sanitarium. Much of her life was like that, I think—the moment of fullness just before the fall.

Some years ago I wrote a still unpublished memoir about the two of us which began like this:

After she died in 1993, I put my letters from Mama in plastic page-savers, organized them by date, and stored them in a black loose-leaf notebook. It’s here, by my chair on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. If I begin to read a letter, my mind calls up her voice. I don’t do so often, not because I don’t want to hear her, but because I do, and the pull of her upon my heart reveals another cord that never broke.

Mama’s old typewriter sits on a little stand against the wall in front of me, under a photograph of her from 1923. I’ve placed two dried red roses behind the corner of the frame, because of her name: Alyce Rose.

Her letters bear the personal marks of her now ancient Smith Corona. Some of the lines are skewed to the side. Some letters aren’t inked as well as others. She used a ribbon divided between red and black so she could emphasize certain words not only by the pressure of her hands on the keys, but by color.

I’m older now than she was then and I’ve observed her future right through to her death and past her death almost fifteen years. But her letters—the word—connects us in a moment outside of time, a concept the poet T.S. Eliot explored extensively in Four Quartets: "Burnt Norton," moving toward his description of the locus of an eternal moment, the gathering of past and future into his famous "still point…"

“The words are in my fingers,” my mother used to say, and her words collapse time. Instinct warns me that by following the trail of her words, I will walk the path not only of her life, but of my own. Do I want to make that journey? Does it matter what I want? Must I follow it, regardless? The word is where the dance is. Maybe if I follow her, we can dance together upon this trail to that August Apex that her life represents.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


When it comes to family, the Weber's have it pretty much down to an art form. I can say this without a terrible arrogance since I was not born into them, but am there by choice. So let's just say I feel pride and a whole lot of love to be counted among them. Family fills my mind and heart today because I just returned from a reunion.

We've been getting together every other year since 1985. I missed that one—not yet having become part of the family, but I owe my life to it since, as a result of their mid-life get-together and a discussion about "old girlfriends," John decided to find me again.

It's a big family, scattered across the continent, so depending upon who has volunteered to be host, we've found ourselves trapping Dungeness Crabs off Camano Island in Washington State, fishing for tuna off the Pacific coast in California, eating deep fried turkey for Thanksgiving in Louisiana, picnicking in a park in Denver, gathering around the pool in Minnesota, playing in southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains—the Rogue and Applegate valleys, swapping stories and meeting more distant relatives in Wisconsin.

This year we went to the Gulf Coast of Florida, to Grayton Beach where the sand is fine and white as powdered sugar, with no oil globs that any of us could see.

 Jim and Laura rented a large beach house with a mammoth screened in porch overlooking the sand dunes and the high surf. On Sunday a tropical depression came down from Georgia to stall right over us. I now understand the inglorious metaphor "buckets of rain."

There it is again. Rain. Rain seems to be a prime image of this journal. As I see it right now, it became an enclosure for this year's Weber Reunion—a veil of care that surrounded all of us. No family is without its suffering; maybe every family is a microcosm of the world.

Job's have been lost. Businesses have closed. David has cancer. Tede's once keen mind is losing its bearings. Brothers and sisters in "my" generation have passed from this world, and though their names remain in our hearts and our stories, their chairs are empty. But all around the emptiness rain falls. Through rain the children run, and we laugh to see them, our hearts filling with something that defies loss. And though one by one the elder Weber's stand where the surf pounds, thinking of those whose "absence is our perpetual company," young shouts and giggles interrupt our reverie, and we turn to lift our children in our arms.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Thanks to Krista Karels for taking this picture!

June 28, 2010

Early morning sunlight angled onto the hill while dew still clung to the air. I felt infinitesimal drops on my skin, not coming from above me where the sky was the color of a jaybird's wing, but from all around me. Instead of rendering itself as mist, the dew acted as a prism, giving more intense color to all it touched. How can you not catch your breath, and letting go, lose your boundaries to the endlessness of beauty?

I've set this day aside to consider the gift of comfort. This wealth of time for such focus comes as a gift of my parish community through Joyce, the ministry coordinator, who invited me to share thoughts with parents of those children attending the Vacation Bible School. My research of the twenty-seventh chapter of ACTS OF THE APOSTLES has been completed now for a week and the talk is tonight. All that remains for this day is to let the Light shine through.

Beauty, goodness, truth, love, faith, comfort—most qualities of experience can be accessed at varying depths reaching from the surface through to the essence of the Divine. In the Starz series, TUDORS, one of the characters—I think, Sir Thomas More—says, "You can't go to heaven on a featherbed." It occurs to me at the beginning of my ponderings that often when we pray for comfort in the chaos of our lives, we do so in the mistaken notion that we can. So—is comfort a featherbed? Is comfort instant deliverance from pain? Is it a pill? Those who promote surface comfort would say yes.

The story from ACTS deals with Paul's imprisonment and a winter trip by sea to Rome during which the large trading vessel encountered weeks of cyclonic weather and was finally wreaked off the coast of Malta. During this time, Paul had a vision in which God spoke to him, promising that all of the crew, passengers, and prisoners would survive the wreck, but on condition that no one abandoned ship, that they cast off all excess baggage—even the grain in the hold, and that they work together to get as close to the coast as the ship would go, and finally that they would help one another swim to shore. THIS was the comfort. Not a magical end to the storm, not a lifting of the pain of hard work, fear, hunger, exhaustion--but a choice to participate with God in deliverance through the chaotic storms in which we are sometimes tossed.

In scriptural language water, especially of the sea, is symbolic of chaos . Chaos in our lives comes in virtually any form--from financial concerns or actual collapse, to the pain of misunderstanding or even betrayal in relationships, to illness, and to death. Our hearts cry out for comfort – like the Apostles fishing on the lake while Jesus slept, and the waves threatened to engulf the boat: "Lord, save us, for we are perishing." My own heart cried out like this while John was in such pain from cancer. It's almost impossible not to.

Comfort is not a featherbed. My friend, Alla, often says, "There's no way out but through." Comfort, the word, means "Com=with, Forte=strength." It is participatory—WITH another. It is a sharing of strength, of fortitude. Together with one another, strengthened by the promise and power of God within us, we come through. When calm returns we'll be struck with wonder, as were the Apostles: "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and sea obey him."

There are times the ship will be wrecked, when all that is of this world will be lost, when we've lost what we think is all of it, tossed it over the side into the churning sea, hoping, hand in hand, that God's promise will be true—that when we jump God jumps with us, and together we all make it to the other side, the shore. And there, lying on the rocks of this new land with nothing left but our souls, panting with exhaustion, aching from exertion, having offered everything in return for the strength/the comfort of God, we begin to feel it flowing through us. The Light. The Morning of our New Life. And covered with the dew of newness, we shine.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Surprising news came in my mail the other day. Scribner/Simon&Schuster is re-issuing my novel, Altar Music. It came out originally in the year 2000, and thrust me into a flurry of travels, readings and signings I'd never imagined for myself. It was great fun, and I met many amazing people. At that time I felt an almost symbiotic connection to the book itself which had both pleasant and painful consequences. When "my" novel was compared favorably with Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy I actually felt shimmers inside me. But when THE OREGONIAN reviewer said it was "purple prose," I felt like going back to bed and hiding under the blankets.

After all these years, the novel no longer feels like another part of myself, but rather as a good friend who is getting a chance at a second life. I called Sammie when the letter arrived, and her excitement stimulated, maybe even resurrected something I'd silenced in myself when the publisher took the book out of print and relegated it to the remainders list—then shredded all remaining copies. Now they are bringing it back and all at once I want to celebrate the book's successes:

PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY—First Fiction Award for Spring 2000


LOS ANGELES TIMES—Best Books of 2000


Now its publisher is recognizing it as one of their notable books, and bringing it back out in its trade paperback edition. It will be once more available for purchase at bookstores and at in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Really, it never occurred to me that such a thing might happen, and on this bright summer morning, it has me smiling.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Of John's former tasks here at Sunshine Hill, mowing the lawn is the one I've most liked. More rain has fallen this spring than in any since we moved here, and just the other morning, looking at the beautiful, long grasses, I wondered if our drought of even more than the biblical seven years had passed. The rain is something I need to keep track of. On the day Google shows me the sunshine peeking through the clouds and predicts a temperature in the mid to upper seventies, I know that by late morning the grass will be dry enough to mow. This means I don't take a shower, but go directly from my long nightgown, that is wet with dew all around the bottom from my morning walk through the long grass with Mo, to jeans and a denim shirt. I eat breakfast and write for a while, and then put John's Valley View Winery denim cap on my head, slip my work gloves on my hands, fill the gas tank of the mower and start 'er up.

You know, I think as I make my turns around the acre of lawn, this mower is working pretty well since Ken tuned it up last summer and then I bought the new battery this spring. I'll have to thank him again for all the time he put in. Maybe a nice card this time. On cue the mower engine began to lurch—forward-pause-forward-pause. What IS that? It's got gas. Did I kick the tires? (but what would that have to do with the engine?) I didn't kick the tires. I look at them, they look just fine, not coming off the rims like they did that first summer (and the second summer). It's such a hassle for Ken to have to take them off, put that gook in them, and put them back on the rims. "Kick the tires," he tells me every time. Oh well, it's still moving, even if I do feel like I'm learning to drive with a clutch and don't quite have the technique down. Ohhhh, of course! The clutch. I'll bet something happened so it isn't fully in gear.

So I'm thinking about all this as I'm negotiating the little hill on the west side of the house. The first year I didn't dare to mow this hill. Now I've figured out the straight up, straight down technique. Can't do it sideways or you'll kill yourself. I'm congratulating myself now both for figuring out about the clutch AND for this new technique I've developed. Who says I can't do this house and yard all by myself? (Except for occasional visit from Troy who weed-whips a fire-boundary for me—something I have to add for the sake of full disclosure. And Ken, of course…mustn't short-change all Ken does for me.)

Now, I've never had much visual-spatial intelligence—not real aware of where things are in space. When I was a little kid I feared I might walk off the dock into the river just because I seemed a bit uncertain where the edge really was. My head's in the clouds (my feet sometimes too—firmly planted in mid-air, as Mama Cass sang). Anyway---I'm mowing up and down the little hill, thinking, being proud of myself when . . . BANG! I hit a tree. Yep. Going downhill. Mower won't move. I didn't hit it head-on, but sideways—not taking account of the mower-plate or whatever that big round thing is called. Not taking account of the enormous grass catcher tube (what IS that thing?). Who knows the words for machine stuff? Not me! And now it was starting to smell like rubber. TURN IT OFF! says the John-voice in my head.

I do it all in order. At least that. And there it sits, jammed up against the tree. It won't budge. The front wheels are all catawampus. Phooey! It's probably broken. If I could just get it moving, I could straighten out the wheels. Maybe. I try to imagine what John would do. Would he get the Suzuki-Mule over here and use the winch? Maybe. But first he'd put his shoulder to the job. What if I could get it rocking just a little, unhook the grass catcher thingy from the tree and release the mower guard/plate/whatever? If I couldn't get it to move, I'd end up having to call Ken again. Oh Man!

So I pushed. I leaned on that machine with all my strength. I actually got it rocking. And it released! Yay. OH NO! It was rolling the rest of the way down the hill. STOP!! And it did—right against a large bush; head-on this time. I yelled and then laughed. OK, let's see if it will start. I climbed in among the branches onto the seat and turned the key. Nothing. Hum. I looked around at the various components of this – now enemy – machine. Oh. The mower blades were still engaged. I hadn't been able to get them all the way up when they'd been stuck on the trunk of the tree. Fixed that, and the mower started up. I backed away from the bush, then went forward out of the wilder part of the property up to the road and lurched my way back into the yard where I completed what mowing I had left.

I won't be mowing the grass again this week. Guess I'd better call Ken about that clutch.

Monday, May 31, 2010


It's a soft day here on Sunshine Hill, one with a lavender haze, cool air, and the background sound of birds. The little bushtit re-visited my window, still fluttering to enter, several times this morning, and last night a hawk rode the air currents so close I could distinguish individual feathers in his wings. Afterwards, sleeping, I dreamed I flew just like that, my first flying dream since my thirties when I experienced that exhilaration often. In the same dream, however, my legs had collapsed leaving me helpless on the ground. Joyce, the ministry coordinator at the parish, tried to help me but failed. Then I just rose up, slowly, slowly, and I thought, "I think I'm about to fly," and with that thought I went higher and higher until I spread my arms and floated like the hawk.

Lately I experience connections becoming interpenetrations. The membrane between the individual and the wholeness is a veil so fine and permeable it's barely there at all. Breath passes right through. Prayer passes through. In the mornings I whisper your names, one by one, and there is no distance between us. It must be God, I think – the Breath within and beyond the breath, the Word within the whisper, the Divine Current lifting us up when we are helpless, lying on the ground. Hildegard calls us feathers on the Breath of God.

It's Memorial Day and so I watch with love each feather that floats in memory on this Divine Breath. The metaphor is stretching now almost to the breaking point. But I do have feathers, actual ones, some of which go way back to a gull on the shore of Lake of the Woods. Feather-down that filled a bird's nest in a Christmas tree Pat and I once had in the house in St. Paul. Tiny blue feathers from a trip to Ireland. Brown feathers edged with gold on the Indian flute John found for me at the Grand Canyon. Tiny feathers P.J. tied in the ribbon around a gift.

Words come to memory, "i turn my face,and hear one bird/sing terribly afar in the lost lands."

ee cummings, visiting my mind again, saying it all perfectly, when I cannot. I pick up his book to look for that poem and find this one instead, placing it here for memory's sake.

in time of daffodils (who know

the goal of living is to grow)

forgetting why,remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim

the aim of waking is to dream,

remember so(forgetting seem)

in time of roses(who amaze

our now and here with paradise)

forgetting if,remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond

whatever mind may comprehend,

remember seek(forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be

(when time from time shall set us free)

forgetting me,remember me

Thursday, May 20, 2010

wind has blown the rain away

………a wind has blown the rain

away and the leaves and the sky and the

trees stand:

the trees stand. the trees,

suddenly wait against the moon's face.

It's ee cummings again whom I brought in to tell about yesterday's new oak leaves hitting these windows in clumps, and branches falling into the yard, and ponderosa pines waving back and forth like long grasses in the field while I sat watching, laughing, and shaking my head because I'd set aside the day to prepare for a talk on the Holy Spirit. "…suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts2: 2,4)

Last night I gave the talk, driving to the parish late in the afternoon after the wind calmed and the trees stood tall again. Did wind blow last night through the group of believers in the small room where we met? I thought I felt the wind, not mighty now but swirling, bringing wisdom from their hearts, bringing tears into our eyes.

I don't remember whether, on my way home afterwards, the treetops touched the moon's face. But I do remember now how much I love to teach and how long it's been since I've allowed myself to give and receive that gift. John always used to tell me I could reach so many more people with my writing. But that's not really the point, now, is it? The point is in the meeting, in the dialogue, in the creative wind we feel as ideas are shared and questions asked and widened into horizons of wonders never before imagined.

What will I do with the leaves that now litter my yard at the wrong time of year for such detachments? Maybe I could pick them up, lay their beauty out upon the pages of a book, learn from them some truth about myself, about creation, maybe even about God that I have yet to see.

Monday, May 17, 2010


The candles flicker and incense curls up around the icon of Christ Pantocrator. The teacher. The Word. Air currents I am too dense to feel carry the lavender scent past the icon out the open window to the tiny gray bushtit who for two days now has flitted against the reflection of the sea-glass tree, trying to get in. I watch her as though she is my soul attempting to penetrate the membrane between worlds. "Fly the other way," I tell her, frightened she will break herself with the effort to realize her illusion, "turn towards the tree itself, towards the open sky."

"Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood," prays the poet, and I with him every day or so. But how does one distinguish falsehood from a paradox? Look back upon your life: do you know? Do you see how desire twines with vision? And what is it anyway that we call a breakthrough? "It's a reflection," I tell the bushtit; "you can't break through; it's glass; it's a mirror; you will kill yourself. Turn the other way."
There's something here I can't find words for. Is the breakthrough in the turning?

But even as I wonder that, along comes another poet, Anne Carson, who tells me, "The outer walls of God are glass."

And I am left with metaphor and paradox again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


It's Morning. The jet stream is passing right over my house—I can see it in the clouds. John taught me to recognize it. Horsetail clouds, he called them, and they do look like the tail of a celestial horse galloping from horizon to horizon. But to me they look even more like Bridal Veil Falls on a windy day. Down here in my yard, though, it's still. Birds call. The grass is long and wet with dew, so beautiful I'm tempted not to mow it this afternoon.

Alla sent a YouTube meditation on "Morning Has Broken," by the Angels. I listened and watched it three times, each time falling deeper into my own morning here on Sunshine Hill. Maybe I'll start each morning with a viewing of this video, at least for a while. It's Alla's birthday today; this song is her birthday party.

Today is also the fifty-first anniversary of the day I "took the veil" in the Community of Sisters of St. Joseph. The memory of gazing out the dormitory window that morning remains keen. Prairie and woods met my eyes then, and the song was that of meadowlarks. A psalm came to mind, "Awake, lyre and harp; I will awake the dawn." That day I couldn't have imagined I would ever go anywhere else, be anyone else, live any way else, hope for anything more.

We always are everything we were, and paradoxically we become new each day. Every morning is the first. T.S. Eliot always says everything so well, writing about being "still and still moving," envisioning a "further union," a "deeper communion." Maybe our lives are instant—one moment that contains all of it, and we just experience it as spread out in time. All the choices we ever made, all the joys, all the sorrows, everything given and taken, all a gleam of sunlight through a drop of dew. It's too big a thought for my poor head—but my heart is fascinated with it.

(Thanks for the photo, Krista!)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

RAPTURED (almost fiction)

One rope dangles from the old oak tree where Will once hung a swing for Julia. The other rope has been gone so long she's no longer sure if it broke or just came undone. He never could understand why she wanted a swing; she was past forty. It always hung crooked, just a little, so that if she pumped herself high enough the ropes buckled and twisted. He didn't do it on purpose. He thought he had the best of ropes already in the garage. They were skinny, she thought, but he said they were actually stronger than the large hemp ropes that filled your fist when you held them. The seat looked dangerously thin, but he said it was made from an old skateboard and there was nothing stronger. So she had her swing.

It made him smile to watch her when she didn't know. She pumped like a child and flung her head back so that her hair trailed in the breeze she made. Sometimes she would sing. "Summertime" was her favorite and he felt a thrill every time she hit that very first note, so high, right out of the blue.

She, for her part, let him disappear the moment the swing took her up. The tree, almost at the top of the hill, gave her the impression that the land beneath her fell away as she floated over it. She could see the whole valley below her. She could see the gigantic ponderosa pine down the hill and felt herself equal to it in altitude. Often it was height that made her start to sing.

That was before he went back. Years ago, in fact. Today, coming up the hill from the mailbox she stands looking at that one rope. The seat dangled from the end of that rope for a few years. He was going to fix it, but then his eyes stopped seeing it. That happens. It's how a house gets run down, or a life. Then she noticed that the seat had disappeared. It turned out that he'd bumped into it one day coming up from the shed, had hacked it off the rope and put it in the burn pile.

Sometimes the rope sways in the afternoon winds that come through the coastal mountain passes. She gets nostalgic then and could swear she smells the ocean. Maybe she should go back, too, but she feels unworthy. Right now she is too torn to consider going back because Will just left that morning. She sat cross-legged on the bed listening to the garage door opening, listening to the tires on the gravel, hearing the sound disappear down the hill, hearing the great horned owl's cry against the dawn of this November day.

He's been raptured, she thought, even though she'd found that notion exceedingly strange and way too literal-minded. But maybe, after all, this is what it meant. God had plucked him out of her life. All his clothes still hung in the closet. His pajamas were folded and lying on the chest of drawers. His wedding ring lay on top of the rosewood box she'd given him when they were married. He'd chosen rapture over love. He was on his way back to the life he'd left almost thirty years before.

And Julia had been left behind.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I woke this morning to a dream of grace. All night it had rained. Mo and I took our morning walk through the mists, circling the yard, seeing how fine John's king maple tree looks with its clusters of yellow and crimson flowers that bloom now where leaves soon will be. Mo pays more attention to the bigger trees that aren't surrounded by fencing to keep the deer away. In a mood for running, Mo strained against his leash and I tried to keep up without tripping over my nightgown.

For years rain has signaled the presence of grace. Dreams visit me. Veils of rain through which women dance. Rain that accompanies birth. Rain that accompanies death. The other day I walked in it, not covering my head, lifting my face, feeling it in my hair and on my eyelashes—like children do, like I did as a child. Now I am almost old and the rain still falls. Greening.

Before the beauty of the rain I'm helpless. Soak me!

All day I meditated upon grace. There is a talk I agreed to give, and to prepare I've done my research and now am letting what I've learned, what I've experienced through the years, and what I see along the pathways here at Sunshine Hill flow into one another and combine. You have to be wet for such a miracle. Music is important. I listened to "Pie Jesu" from REQUIEM, to "Clohine Winds," and to the aching "Helpless." That's it, I think. Everything has its rain—everything is wet inside. All is grace. Can I see? Can I feel? Can I hear? Do I have the eyes, the ears, the skin for it? The heart? Am I willing each moment to release myself to the reality in front of me, can I melt?

At the end of the novel by Georg Bernanos, DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST, the priest has lost everything. He's walking away from his parish down a country road, and someone calls out to him, "Where will you go?" The priest turns and says, "It doesn't matter. Everything is grace." A nun-friend of mine once told me we have to look through our eyelashes to see it—grace. I think she meant we need to let go of our certainties about what we know, about what we see. It would be like looking at everyone and everything through rain.

We see the world soft. We maybe, even, see God, and the rain of that Grace can leave us helpless for anything but yes.

Thanks again to Krista Karels for the photo.

Monday, April 19, 2010


When I was a kid, Bonnie Smith could play "April Showers" on the piano. I liked to sing it in a falsetto, mimicking Al Jolson. I swallowed a button once in my foolhardy attempt to achieve his vocal effect of sound tumbling over river stones. Then along came ee cummings who brought April up a lot. She seemed to be a girl about my age who brought springtime "into the ragged meadows of (his) soul." A few years later T.S. Eliot informed me that April is cruel. There I sat, caught in paradox. But Pat Kelly came along and quoted a few lines from Rawlings: "All my life, when April is a thin green, and the flavor of rain is on my tongue, a wound will throb, and nostalgia will fill me for something I cannot quite remember." (The Yearling) He and I married in April, on a rainy day in Minnesota. Ten years later, in April, he was dying and told me I should marry again. When I protested that I didn't know anyone to marry, Pat said, "Someone will come." And John came.

Today, on this April afternoon, it will have been two years since John died. It snowed that afternoon just after he breathed his last breath, just to show how intense a paradox can get. Thin green grasses poked their spears above the freezing white. The cruelist month? Ah, Yes. Nostalgia? Yes, to that as well. Of Grace, John was the most complete manifestation I've been given. The wound throbs, the rains fall, but something truly rising is planted in the ragged meadows of my soul.

Now I intend to quote a whole poem from cummings. You may stop reading here if cummings has a tendency to set your mind spinning with his strange punctuation, his lower case, his unfinished and circular syntax. But I'd never read this one before today, and what a surprise to find that it includes the whole story:

Now i lay (with everywhere around

me(the great dim deep sound

of rain ;and of always and of nowhere)and

what a gently welcoming darkestness--

now i lay me down(in a most steep

more than music)feeling that sunlight is

(life and day are)only loaned:whereas

night is given(night and death and the rain

are given;and given is how beautifully snow)

now i lay me down to dream of(nothing

i or any somebody or you

can begin to begin to imagine)

something which nobody may keep.

now i lay me down to dream of Spring
(Thanks to Krista Karels for the thin green photo)

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Here I am at the Portland airport thinking of Julian of Norwich. It turned out that both Liz and I were reading books about her while I was in Burnsville over Easter. Julian and prayer shawls. That is: both reading Julian, both making prayer shawls. Something happens in the spaces between thinking. Solitude and knitting in the presence of a beloved person both create that atmosphere. When I left her today she said, "who will I talk to?" Steve chimed in immediately saying she could talk to him. "You play solitaire," she chimed right back. "YOU knit," he teased.

We did knit almost more than we talked while Krista knit, too, and baby David Keegan played on the floor or in one of those contraptions with bells and whistles in which mommas put babies these days. Krista made hand knit bunnies, mittens for her sister-in-law, an intricate cabled scarf--and Liz and I prayed away at shawls. The larger the space between stitches, the more lacy the shawl. And right now I'm thinking--also the more space to be idle, to let the feelings through, to feel the solitude, to be quiet and hear the word of life which is after all divine.

And so we heard each other through the spaces we knit of silences, and they were lacy spaces, and we marveled at how close we found outselves to be. So I suppose this is why she said "But who will I talk to?" when we hardly talked at all.

This is what is so well about all that is well. Those spaces through which we reach out to one another with a silence that transcends any word we can hear with minds or ears, a stillness of spaciousness that tells us all we need to know about how we all shall be well.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Fall to Stillness

T.S. Eliot wrote in his Four Quartets, "Let the darkness come upon you/ It shall be the darkness of God." These days and weeks I could rephrase his words to read "Let the silence come upon you. It shall be the silence of God." My lack of communication here bears testimony of a period in my life of more than usual privacy. It is now almost two years since John died. Sometimes I've felt whipped around like a leaf in the wind. Now, though, everything has fallen into stillness.

As when I was a young girl and John left me for the air force, and I left him for the convent, I feel a similar urging in my soul—a turning towards that Mystery of Being that cannot be described but only loved as universal, infinite, eternal and divine Person.

This morning more birds had arrived from their winter lands and filled the back yard with intricate tangles of song. In the valley the forsythia blooms, as do the wild cherry, apple, and pear trees. I picked violet shooting stars and put them in a vase by John's picture.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Chances are a mountain lion visited my yard during the night. He was a big one, if in fact the visitor was really a lion and not a bear. My guess is a lion. Here's the image in my head – first he drank all the water in Rita's gallon dish while Rita went crazy with alarm barking inside the closed garage. (This is the moment I ought to have turned on the outside lights, but I was on the couch watching the Olympics.) Then he went round the house into the back yard where he saw a large dark crouching thing. This would be my heavy log glider by John's memorial tree. It's covered for the winter with a dark green protector. The lion attacked, (It's my imagination telling me this, as well as some investigation of the site) and his weight and the force of his leap knocked the glider out of its wooden base backwards onto the lawn.

When I saw it this morning, out of the blue, it barely seemed real. I trekked across the yard in my bathrobe and slippers to make sure my eyes weren't seeing things. Then I reached down to pick up the glider and slid it back into the holes that are meant to secure it. Heavy, heavy, heavy! I considered the bigger animals: deer, bear, lion. Had to be the lion.

Yesterday afternoon I'd decided to go into town to see the film, AVATAR. I'd been eager to see it since it came out, and finally decided to just do it. It's the first theater-movie I've attended alone since I lived in California and saw CROCODILE DUNDEE while John was working late one night at the TRACON. Yesterday's movie left me enthralled. Jeff said I'd like it, and he was understating. I came out of there with a sense of connectedness. I wanted to live on Pandora! I wanted to see the light in everything. I can imagine taking a barefooted step in the grass and having light burst up in brilliant colors around my feet. I can imagine connecting the pulse of my soul to that of another creature and feeling the beat of the other's heart. As with any great myth, this one can be seen from several perspectives – from fantasy, to education in economics, to the revelation of the Divine in everything. At home, after the movie, I looked up to the mountains and down at the little mushrooms that had sprung up at my feet. I walked out to John's tree to make sure it had little buds of hope after last summer's drought. It does. "I see you," I said, as the Na'vi say to the light within creatures of their world. I told the tree, the mountains, the tiny mushrooms the grass beneath my feet.

I should, then, not have been surprised that during that night something enormous and alive would visit the space where John's tree stands. Maybe the big cat was saying, "I see you, too."

(credit for the lion photo goes to Google Images, and before that to a site:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


This year I won’t be baking a German Chocolate cake. Over my years with John I mastered the difficult recipe because he loved it. My guess is that it is a richer cake than almost any other, so I produced only one a year on his birthday--today: January 6th. He would have been 70 years old. “Make a double batch of frosting,” he’d torment me from the living room, “and add some extra pecans.” I’m chuckling over that right now. He’s a constant presence here on Sunshine Hill. This morning I called out “Happy Birthday, John!” the minute my eyes opened. It’s what I always did. Why stop now?

While he was alive I wrote about him quite a lot--poor guy. He actually was a private man. Ordinarily he offered only the information someone asked for, and no more. It isn’t easy being married to a writer. “You aren’t going to tell people THAT?” he’d comment, and get answered with “Why not?” And then: “Well, what if I say it THIS way?” and he’d concede. Probably he preferred my fiction--references to him in fiction are not straight on and end up being a simple matter of a reader’s conjecture.

My plan was to write about him today for his birthday. But maybe, thinking about how private he always was, I’ll do something a little different. I’ll just talk to him a bit and you can conjecture what you will.

-The gophers have gotten worse, John, just as you said they would. The hill in front is peppered with their mounds and I’m wondering when the whole hill will collapse inward, just as you said it might. The mounds are coming closer to the house. The cats are gone. Is poison the answer?

-The Mule is sputtering. Both Cliff and Ken said there’s probably water in the gas. The tailgate is rusting after the damage I did when I didn’t use the parking brake and it hit a tree.

-There’s a bulldozer on the ridge behind the house--I’m thinking that someone else is building, digging the foundation, since I don’t hear trees crashing to the ground.

-I still miss the sound of your breathing and your heartbeat when I laid my head against your chest.

-Maybe I’ll play that tape of you controlling airplanes.

-Try visiting me in a dream.

-I’ve put a picture of you in every room.