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

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.