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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Massacre of Innocents

Snow Hole by Alison Scott
A dream awoke me. A child lying cruciform, dead on the ground. Oh, I thought again--the massacre, the innocents. Wasn't the news horrific? John and I spoke of it again this morning before prayer, the paradox of life on earth, the paradox of Christmas when the divine child was born and the Bethlehem infants were slaughtered. Novelist, Jose Saramago, in his THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, imagines that both Joseph and Jesus suffered their entire lives over the death of those children. The children died; they survived. And history played itself out in the crux of that paradox.

We lit the candles for morning prayer. The reading from Isaiah brought the voices of the children, crying out to us:

From deep in the earth you shall speak;
From low in the dust your words will come;
Your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost,
And your speech shall whisper from out of the dust. (IS.29:7-8)

We closed our eyes in contemplation. My heart burned. Time disappeared. When I opened my eyes again, snow was falling. Immediately came the words of Sarah, Job's wife in the play J.B. by Archibald MacLeish:

Cry out for justice and the stars 
Will stare until your eyes sting.Weep,
Enormous winds will thrash the water.
Cry in sleep for your lost children,
Snow will fall...
                         Snow will fall...

This verse has accompanied me since 1962 when I first saw and then read the play. It has taken me through some of the most painful of times--personal and in world affairs. Those last two lines have seemed the key when no answers are available. Here's how they sound to me: Snow will fall--there is no answer, there is the world being as it is. And Snow will fall--Ah, and despite it all, beauty remains and "love among the ruins" as another wordsmith reminds. So many voices in my mind today. Not least of which is my dear Emily Dickinson and her poem that when sung almost explodes my heart:

There came a Wind like a Bugle--
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass--

We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost--
The Doom's electric Moccasin
That very instant passed--

On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away--
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived--that Day--
 
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told--
How much can come
And much can go,--

And yet abide the World!
And yet abide the World!
And yet abide the World!

And yet abide the World!
 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Mother and Sister and the Rain

From the dark come delicate taps of rain on the windows behind the couch where I sit. Farther out, on the wood of the deck the rain has a lower tone, sounds heaver somehow. As I type both sounds increase, the rhythms of the window rain with the deck rain syncopate. I could drift to sleep in this sound. It occurs to me that inner and outer become more and more difficult to tell apart. There seems to be a sound inside of me that is also rain. Maybe it has something to do with age or artistry, this confusion of within and without. Fewer boundaries exist as well between dream and awakening. Reality shimmers around the edges. Does it also have a within and without, both a form of being? Is this what Eliot meant when he told us that humankind cannot bear very much of it? Not because we might leave reality, but rather we might merge with it. Is that merger death? Or is it a greater life?

Don't, please, think me strange when I tell you that I believe my sister is standing here beside me with my mother. All of us had a magical fondness for the rain. I read this today in a book about St. Clare:

"As she enters into the Divine embrace, she is to realize the transience of earthly things and the infinite wealth of heaven, which is not a place but a relationship of love."

And if so, does it not follow that my sister and my mother are in the rain they loved and also in me. They've never gone anywhere but here. In the Rain. In the Divine embrace. In the tap, tap, tap of Love within and upon the heart.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Casa Chiara

Last night I was so excited I could barely sleep. Little Mo didn't help much either; at bedtime he scrambled under the bed and refused to go outside, so at midnight just as I was drifting off, he did his little panting routine and I got up again--bathrobe, slippers, lucky about the full moon--to take him outside. But he must have wanted something else, like to snuggle next to me in bed. No way! Back in bed I thought again about Casa Chiara and John's and my new blog. I'd spent the evening designing it and then all day today re-designing it. Now I think I've got it!


John and I both are excited about our new Casa Chiara Hermitage. Now that we've spent two years together, we're seeing our way forward through our second half of life, and wouldn't you know, we've come full circle around to where we began -- (but with more wisdom, I hope). As teens both of us entered the monastery/convent, then left to search along other paths. Now we search together for that ineffable Center of Being and Creation that many call God.

In Italy last year we were steeped in the intense and creation centered spirituality of saints Francis and Clare. The places that were sacred to them also became sacred to me--they were already sacred to John who wrote his internationally best selling novel about the Franciscans. The caves, the simple structures where they lived in community with others who shared their devotion and dream. In Italian Clare is Chiara. Light. We've long called the place we live "Sunshine Hill." Now the house is dedicated to Clare and Francis -- her house -- Casa Chiara--House of Light.


Since both of us are writers, what better way to share our journey than through the word -- and these days that means through a blog. So in addition to my regular blog--this one--
I've set up another devoted to our inner journey. Hopefully the short entries will carry the fruits of our contemplation, our care for this beautiful land, our study, our inspirations.

We hope that you will subscribe and through the words we write accompany us on this path. It is a solitary way, and you are a friend.


Here's the link to the new blog:
http://casachiara.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dreaming Far and Deep

Think mist. Think veils of fog caught on the tips of pine needles in hollows of mountains. This is the look of morning. Wash everything in rosy light. Let winds blow traces of purple and lavender. We light the small fireplace in the morning room and enter our day of prayer, study and contemplation--our weekly retreat on this Feast Day of Christ the King.

I've had a flurry of long involved dreams in the past four days, and I've been recording my dreams since the 1960's, though I remember some from as far back as my second or third year. If I could decipher those accurately, would I have the secret to my childhood? Once I considered returning to the first of my journals and culling from the pages every dream, in order, through the fifty or so years of recording, just to see if I might have in them a symbolic map of my soul. The task was overwhelming. I copied about twenty dreams into a computer file and gave up. But I'm tempted at least to read them. There will be themes--of this I am sure. There will be paths, challenges. Was it Swedenborg who traced his spiritual autobiography through his dreams?

On the other hand, why do that? In the early 1980's I made a retreat with Trappist Father Thomas Keating. His belief (unlike that of Carl Jung) was that the dream takes care of itself. Dream images, he said, are like a detritus of leaves on the river bottom floating up into dream conscious. That's enough. Upon waking all that is necessary for us to do is let them float away. The emotion they held, the terror, the delight, the insight--none of it needs to be understood by the mind. The event integrates the experience we buried at the river's bottom into the wholeness of our being. My curiosity, though, forces me to take a second look.

I didn't intend to write of dreams. It was Christ the King on my mind. What might we name the feast if it didn't already exist? After I finished journaling the four pages of my dreams from the past nights, I looked through my bookcase for Matthew Fox's THE COMING OF THE COSMIC CHRIST. I read much of this book when it was released in 1988--but I find that books yield up deeper meanings as I acquire more experience. This time I will take a more contemplative approach. I'm barely into the first chapter, but I can see that "King" could be replaced in my mind by the "Connectedness" that fills the Universe. "King" has such a sense of ruler, and ruler carries a feel of domination. Way back in University, in a class on Christology, we discussed the relationship between the Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith. What were the connections between the Gospels of the life of Jesus, and the Letters of St. Paul? Paul has little to say of Jesus, but places intense focus on faith in The Christ.

Fox asserts already in his prologue that "The coming together of the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ will make Christianity whole at last...Cosmic Christ, the 'pattern that connects' all the atoms and galaxies of the universe, a pattern of divine love and justice that all creatures and all humans bear within them....What is needed if there is to be a twenty-first century for Mother Earth and her children is a spiritual vision that prays, celebrates, and lives out the reality of the Cosmic Christ who lives and breathes in Jesus and in all God's children, in all the prophets of religions everywhere, in all creatures of the universe."

I'm pondering. If "King" is understood to mean "Loving Unifier" or "Compassionate Connector" of the whole realm, then "Cosmic--(as opposed to chaotic) Christ" could well be a profound way of understanding what we mean by Christ the King.

Thanks, Matt Fox, for dreaming far and deep--and for writing it down!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Soul Song and Crutches


Sammie dropped by this afternoon looking lively in her yummy green Carmel, CA, hoodie that her son, Matt, picked out when she visited him and Rachel a few weeks past. Among other things, she warned me that if I didn’t blog soon—preferably before the end of the day—she would be forced to remove my blog notifications from her Internet alerts. 

It isn’t that I haven’t thought about it. I have been considering titles now for a few weeks. “Slowing Down,” “Mrs. Four Legs,” “Need a Crutch?” and they all sounded blah. I’m not feeling blah. But I have slowed down and am told I need to use crutches for a while. No – I didn’t break a leg. But apparently I have aggravated practically every moving part associated with my right hip.

John is “driving Ms Christin” back and forth from the physical therapist. The plan is for me to be able to drive and walk alone again soon.

But my fingers still work. And my head is as clear as can be expected, and maybe clearer than at some times in my life. So what’s with the absence from the Sunshine Hill Blog? I think it is my obsession with my latest project. Probably I’ve mentioned it, but I certainly don’t expect you to research past blogs to find out (nor do I want to do that). So---it’s a kind of memoir of my spiritual journey, tentatively titled THE YEARNING. During the time I’ve been absent from the blog, I’ve finished the first draft of the first part---about 100 single spaced pages.

The work is challenging. There are parts of my life that seem to defy understanding. That means I write a scene as I remember it and then wonder what on earth does it mean within the context of my whole life. It isn’t lost on me that this is a perfect task to undertake at my age. Erik Erikson, who was a developmental psychologist, says that people of my age would be working on the developmental task of Integrity vs. Despair. It is the time of life for integrating all that came before and being honest about who and what we are. These are the years when the soul becomes whole even as the body begins to fail. When people are only aware of their bodily disintegration the tendency towards despair is strong. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and prophet, addressed this recently in his book, FALLING UPWARDS. (Love it! Recommend it!)

So right now the crutches lean against the wall, waiting for me to take them up so I can walk into the kitchen to take the bread from the oven and stir the curried squash and lentil soup. And being oh so grateful that I can do that, and at the same time still sing my soul.
(AND be back with all of you!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

TO SEE AND TO DREAM

The trees in the back yard of Chiara House are getting old. This realization came early today when I took Mo for his morning walk. While we were in Birch Bay the top of the second oldest Ponderosa pine blew off in what must have been a powerful wind. Or maybe not. It could have been simply age, or those pine beetles.

Getting Old
But this morning I could also see that the oaks don't look well either. The hot sun of August dried and curled their leaves. There will be no brilliant October color this year.

Withering

Even the memorial King Maple, young as it is--only four years since John died and I had it planted--seems to be withering with leaves that curled before they grew large like a life beginning early to die. I stood and looked at it for a long time, remembering that last night I dreamed of him, spindly as his tree, and I asked him if he thought he was near death, because it seemed to me in the dream that he'd withered. Dry branches. Dry bones. Ezekiel comes to mind. T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" comes to mind.


Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert.


New Walnuts
In a variety of word forms the wise have told us that what we see outside is what we hold within. I also see, now that the sun has risen and I am looking towards the front yard rather than towards the back, that the walnut tree looks amazing in this first year of its production of enough walnuts for us to crack open during a holiday evening in front of the fire. And the three Leland Cypress, planted as seedlings ten years ago, now tower.

The world we see is the world we are. The more complex I am the more paradox I see. When at last I might become simple and wise with age or the contradictions of moments piled on moments throughout the days, who knows what I might see? Will all of this be One in the Great Circle of Being I speak of but only vaguely understand?

As I continued on around the back yard this morning with Mo who was busily taking in each scent of night visitors from the woods, I had a momentary flash of wondering if I were here at all, or if what I seem to be--a rather old woman walking her little dog--was nothing but a breath of universal Being; if what I call myself is, as many have said, a momentary dream of what we call God. A Divine Dream that like our human dreams does not diminish what is, but rather reveals the length, height and depth of the Dreamer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CATTAILS

Cattails fill the ditch on Skeena Way. From my little writing room in Casa Cuervo, across the road, I watch them change from green to silver as the wind blows. Sometimes, even though we love a place, we cannot stay there. I love the big sky over the ocean and Mt. Baker hanging ghostly over Birch Bay. Beaver Pond reflects trees and sky, floats lily pads, and is home to a great blue heron. We have a calmness here that exists in few places. Sunshine Hill comes close, but whispers constantly of tasks that need tending.

I'd planned to write and paint during this trip--that and we were going to sell the cottage. It's a long commute for the quiet of just a few weeks a year. But the Realtor talked us out of selling and into renting. Immediate relief. It means we might be back sometime and that the rent we receive can finance the costs we'd been incurring during our long absences.

Cattails turn me into a girl again, living back in Minnesota, watching the redwing blackbirds float on cattail tips, watching during the final months of summer as the thick brown tail loosened and became white fluff. The ditches there were deep and wide and the cattails thick. I picked bouquets of them. They don't grow everywhere; I didn't know that then.

In the time of life called youth, leaving an old home for a new always felt like a kind of birth, a promise of a fuller future, an adventure. And even though it brought heartache with it, even though there were goodbyes, what lay ahead dazzled the imagination. I was twenty-one when I wrote this little poem:

Strength flaming forth from love,
I leave this place.
One cannot weep
While one is being born.

In my elder years feelings are both the same and different. Every place that's ever been part of my life remains in my heart, and that's the way they stay; as a sense, a spirit, a kind of presence. And places are not just homes, they are places beside people I've loved, they are the touch of those people, they are the scent of the newborn's head, they are the first kiss, they are the aura, the surround of whatever happened, whatever has been. But the thing itself leaves or I leave it. The house. The friend. the parent. the child. Even the body I once knew--my own or that of the beloved. Gone, but here in the heart.

When do we reach the point in the journey when what lies ahead no longer dazzles, but (as a miraculous young poet once wrote) "is filled with nothing enough to fill you"? Then I simply sit and watch the cattails while they remain. Then I love fully whatever is in front of me. Even the losses can be loved for the great presence left behind.



Misty Mount Baker



Roadside Daisy


Beaver Pond


Ancient Cedar at Casa Cuervo



Time to Go

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fixing Defect in GYPSY BONES

UPDATING GYPSY BONES!!!!! Neither the electronic edition nor the paperback will be available for the next few days. I am enormously sorry. A glitch took place with the transfer of the text from my computer to CreateSpace publishers, and from there to the electronic copy. A whole chapter is missing--and chapter two is repeated. The original ebooks are ok, but the ones made available after the paperback was published are defective. If you have a defective book or ebook you can contact the vendor (like Amazon.com) to inform them that you got a defective book and they will make a revised copy available to you. But give me a few days to make it right. Don't you just hate this sort of thing?????

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Ravishing FarNear


Since I read Jane Hirshfield's WOMEN IN PRAISE OF THE SACRED about fifteen years ago, I've been  taken with the mystical thoughts of Marguerite Porete. She has a fascinatingly descriptive word for God or Ultimate Reality: The FarNear. She writes of the "Ravishing FarNear":  

FarNearness

is an aperture, like a spark,

Which quickly closes,

In which one cannot long remain.

I bought and studied her book, THE MIRROR OF SIMPLE SOULS, for which she died a martyr's death in Paris, 1310 CE. Recently the poet, Anne Carson, has written of the relationship in thought between Porete, Sappho, and Simone Weil. Also, Joanne Maguire Robinson contributed a scholarly work titled: NOBILITY AND ANNIHILATION IN MARGUERITE PORETE'S "MIRROR OF SIMPLE SOULS."

FarNear has come to represent for me the reconciliation of opposites -- that ultimate paradox of life here on earth which is the threshold to Complete Union/Allness/God-beyond-all-conceivable-gods. 

During one stage of her dying, Liz saw a black tower. It troubled her. "I can't get around it. I can't get over it. I can't go under it. I can't get rid of it." When she was on her deathbed, John saw it too. "Liz! It's a door!" An aperture. Go through it. Go through.

Are the divisions in our lives illusory? Not "either/or" but rather "both/and." Is it at the point of aperture that we go through into unity? How are we both individual and One with All? If this in not either/or; if this is both/and; a FarNear reality that we realize only in moments like sparks, the click of a lens, then . . .  Then?

Some years ago I realized that my obsession with Marguerite Porete's imagery and thought and experience placed me in a lineage with her. She is one of my spiritual mothers. At that time I began to write a novel titled THE FARNEAR JOURNALS, about a community of contemplative/mystical women in a monastery on the shores of Lake Superior in Minnesota. Now that I've published GYPSY BONES to Kindle and as a paperback on Createspace and Amazon.com, I'm rewriting the JOURNALS. My hope is to go deeper into her thought, to find ways to express it through the novel's characters at the same time as I incorporate her vision into the depths of my own soul.

Friday, June 29, 2012

My New Novel on Kindle

This is a project I've believed in. It's a story I have loved, with characters that I grew to know over many years. It is the first of my novels to come completely from my imagination. In other words, its characters and plot don't in any way come from people or situations I've known from my own living. The themes, though, I have known. The silences of many midwestern men, I have known. The way life can make women harden and then break down the center -- that I've known, too. I know about running away when you just can't live another moment where you're standing. You'll be crushed, you think. You'll implode. You can't see any way out, and so if a crack appears, an aperture, the slightest opening, you'll rush towards it before it closes again. Just maybe, you think, there will be freedom on the other side, but there hardly ever is.

We suffer affliction; we forgive; we are forgiven--if not by one another, then by Life itself. The question always is: can we open to it? All of it? This story doesn't shy away from evil. These people know evil both subtle and obvious. They grapple with it. We wonder where the grace might be, from where the strength and light and faith might come to rise above or to embrace what is the perfect affliction for any given soul. It can break our hearts. It can reduce us to bone.

I suspect I wrote this novel to teach myself not to run away from what is most real in my life, but rather to face it, embrace it, learn from it, and be transformed. Over the years of visions and revisions (as the poet says) I've come to understand the challenge put to each of its characters. Their challenges reflect my own, as they might also reflect yours.

Author, Beryl Singleton Bissell writes after reading the book:  

The lyric beauty of Lore Weber’s writing transforms a disquieting story of abandonment and loss into one that shimmers with hope. A complex saga of several generations of women from four different families, the narrative peaks around the life of one young girl, Hannah, whose courage uncovers the mystery that binds these lives together. An amazing novel from a writer whose stories gift us all. – Beryl Singleton Bissell, author of The Scent of God and A View of the Lake.

GYPSY BONES has been published to the Kindle Store and is already available* for readers to purchase here.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summertime--Not Easy

Spring came and went while John and I were in Minnesota. The apple, apricot, plum and pear trees bloomed and their petals fell. The birds ate the tidbits that otherwise might have grown into fruit. I'm looking at those trees now, out the window of my writing room. Everything outside has grown raggedy, but nothing in me objects. It could rain again today, just like yesterday and the day before. Uncommon weather for June, prompting sleepiness. Summer is here, more like a Minnesota summer than what I've become used to in the Pacific Northwest. Did summer hitch a ride from Minneapolis and cross the plains and mountains with us?

Today marks the birthday of St. John the Baptist says my breviary. But isn't his feast normally on the summer solstice? In Ireland the bonfires of St. John's Day light the sky during the shortest night of the year. "He must increase; I must decrease," says St. John on the day the sun reaches its zenith and begins to fall again into the dark. Is summer an illusion, beginning as it does on the day slippage towards winter's dark begins?

Summertime: this I suspect--living is not easy.

Forgive me. I'm pensive. The days of grief unfold long, not necessarily sad, but with a kind of light that penetrates. X-rays. Do I have zen-eyes these days, these nights? Look at the plum tree. It's leaves are membranes; I see their bones. Will the time come that I can see through rocks? Through the mountains that surround this place? Liz's words, those last weeks, were bones of all she'd been. Skeletons of her deepest thoughts, her most profound hopes. "Liz's Last Words." I thought I might devote this blog to those in days to come. But, you can see, I'm not yet able to articulate blog entries. The place in me from which the words emerge is still too thin. There's very little substance to my thought. She has increased; I have decreased.

Such is as it should be. She'd decreased already enough to open and allow her immortal soul to explode through the penetrable tissue and bones of her spent body, for her soul and spirit to unite and become endless--for galaxies to whirl within her shining.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

VISITATION




The icon of Mary and Elizabeth hangs on my prayer wall now, no longer in Liz's bedroom. Our mother named us in honor of those woman-prophets of the Word Made Flesh. It was in the convent that my original name, Mary, was changed to Christin. With my own dear Elizabeth's passage into eternity, something significant in my own identity transforms, and as I've done in the past I will do again--allow my name to reflect that. 

Liz died on the vigil of the Feast of the Visitation, the moment of recognition on Prophet Elizabeth's part, that the Christ in Mary had come to visit her. At the sound of Mary's voice Elizabeth felt the quickening of her own son, "leaping for joy." It is what we are, my sister and I--witnesses to divine life in each other. 

Before she died, when her spirit/soul danced on the threshold between this world and the next, she told me clearly, "I will always be with you." We will always be in this embrace, because the worlds are not so far apart after all. If I witness from the perspective of my spirit/soul I see what she called "the small white sphere of [her] body" floating there beside my own. We are so much more expansive and inclusive than we think. This is Elizabeth's prophecy. And to honor what she is, what we are, what all of us are, once again I will change my name, keeping what I've become and adding once more the part I've always been. 

I am Christin Mary.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thoughts From A Cave



Today I feel a strong urge to take refuge in a cave. Once while I was a college student I took refuge in the Assembly Hall in a cave made of thirty foot long burgundy-colored velvet drapes. I sat on the window ledge (inside, not on an outside edge; Goodness!!!!) to meditate on things. The actual things, I don't remember--the experience of solitude, I do. Caves are not necessarily made of stone. Today the way away might be some sort of cave through which much social media could not penetrate. Back when I sat behind the curtain society didn't extend far. Very few people had access to me, especially not immediate access, and I still felt the need for the cave. In the world of today I'm actually less visible than most, since my home cannot be reached by cell signal. Despite that the world feels enormous.

I like writing a blog--this meandering stream of happenings and dreams and visions. I love writing books, though I'm less and less keen about publishing them, and am completely resistant to marketing them. If I were Emily Dickinson I'd just stuff my writings in drawers. (Oh, wait! How is that different from putting them on the thumb drive?) Now and then I get a surge of business sense. I took my books to a Book Fair, had a terrible time, sold one or two. If I hold my publishing to Kindle e-books, maybe I can tolerate that. I won't need to come out of the cave because of an e-book.

Facebook seems so noisy. I like quiet. Though I do like to check in on nieces and nephews from time to time. Linked-In--I think I'm opting out. I'm going purely email. And the blog.

What does all this mean, I ask myself. It poses a question, not an answer. What is the purpose of life? Yes. I really think that's what all of this blather of mine is about. My dear and only sister is sleeping in the big chair right across the room from me. Her breath is even. She sleeps all day now. There's so little we can do--ever--all our lives. We can be compassionate to one person at a time. We can enjoy one moment. We can feel one thing. T. Roethke  said "Being, not doing, is my first joy."

And focus attention. Focus laser-like. Bring mind to a still point. That point at the apex where life and death meet is a point of the most intense being any of us will ever experience either in ourselves or in others. May we be focused...not scattered or diffuse.

The cave really is within each of us, isn't it? As is the point of complete Being.



Friday, May 4, 2012

Refractions

The Great Man writes a note. He doesn't use a quill. He doesn't use the beak of a hummingbird. It could be an email; we don't know. The words of the note crackle through electronic cells. He wants us to have these words before week's end. Before he sails on Minnetonka--if he sails. Before he golfs--if he does that. Before he closes his computer down. The words do not use his voice. The words come through the voice of  the Lesser One, who knows nothing, who cannot interpret, cannot answer questions, cannot speak any other word but what is written on the note. The Lesser One reads the words over and over. One by one they fall and splash upon the stones. Each drop refracts the light differently.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

BROKEN STONES

My sister lifts her arms. Steve bends to lift her body. Her hands tremble as she slips them around his neck. I stand behind her, holding the wheelchair, but at the same time as I see her adult hands, I also see the hands of a little girl, my baby sister reaching up from the playpen to be lifted out. Those were the days before she could walk. These are the days afterwards. Those trusting hands, old and young, wring my heart. "Let's dance," come the ritual words as he positions her in place to sit down in the chair. Her legs have lost their relationship to space. Rag doll legs, twisting this way, that way. But they do know their way in music. I said that previously, but it amazes me again today. Then, too weak even for music, knees fail, "I'm falling!" And Steve, confident, tender..."I have you. You're not falling."

"What is happening?" she wants to know what no one knows. "What shall we do next?" And we don't know if we are talking about dinner or dying or determining a new treatment plan. Shall we embrace Buddhism where all of those are one illusion? The next step seems related to the next bit of data. What will the doctor say? The specialist? What the I Ching calls "The Great Man." We looked into the educated eyes of many great men and women and all of them have just a  glint, a chip of meaning.

Here.
Take it.
See if it fits anywhere.
But where?
Anywhere. 

Because these are the trackless places where the stones lie broken. The mountains have tumbled. The sea receded to the world's edge. The winds are the beaks of hawks. And the questions are whispers of locust wings.

Would you like a sip of water?
A cool cloth for your head?
May I wipe away that tear?



Saturday, April 28, 2012

SHALL WE DANCE?

STEVE AND LIZ A YEAR AGO -- THE DANCE
For the past month I've been away from Sunshine Hill to be with my sister, Liz, during a time of need. Moments for writing here are few, but this morning I realized that finding them is not an impossible task. Already I am keeping a Caring Bridge blog on which to notify Liz's friends, family and co workers. Liz's Caring Bridge My own deepest feelings, though, don't belong there. So I'm returning here, because there is a whole dimension of this journey that I need to write about in a different space: in THIS space.

John and I both are here now. He drove east from Oregon last weekend, arriving on Tuesday around noon. His presence helps bring me more stability. All terminal illness exacts a toll on all who are connected to it by suffering and/or by love. Liz has been battling since 2003, and since she received radiation to some brain tumors in the form of Gamma Knife surgery last year, a condition called radiation necrosis began to develop. Now her balance is affected, she can't walk, she finds thoughts difficult to form into sentences, and she is caught up on a powerful fatigue. At the same time she has developed some characteristics described by Kathleen Singh in her book, THE GRACE IN DEATH. She is radiant and calm--beautiful to look upon. I love being in her presence. She is peaceful, patient, welcoming when she's awake, accepting of help, gracious, compassionate with the weaknesses and mistakes of others.

I cannot imagine my little sister dying. She may well be dying, but I still can't imagine it. Maybe just another hour of sleep and she'll wake up her old self. I've watched two husbands, two friends, my mother and father die -- and there's no controlling it when it comes. Still it seems there's a magical little switch in the human heart that makes us think we just maybe can be in control, or God can be in control, or the doctors or some medication or SOMETHING. But eventually we run out of options on this plane of being. And honestly, truthfully, Liz's illness is the hardest I've known. Her passage out of this world is incomprehensible to me.

The actions are prayers in themselves. This is what I whisper to my mind--reminding, over and over. Rubbing her feet with lotion. Refreshing her drinking water. Cutting her nails and her hair. Covering her when she feels cold. And the intimate things: unmentionable.

Did you know that the nerves for dancing come from a different place in the brain than the nerves for walking or simply moving our feet. Steve discovered this when attempting to move Liz from the big chair to the transport chair. At first we worked together as he held her and I moved her feet with my hands. Then it struck him: "Shall we dance?" And she could. Oh it's clumsy, yes, but it works. She can create the rhythm in her mind and move with it, turning, turning...coming round right. And down into the chair.

Outside Minnesota rains. Every green leaf remains without blemish in its newness. There's a soft breeze. Life exists momentarily. It always exists that way.




Monday, April 2, 2012

PRESENCE

Being with my sister during this holiest of weeks has me considering the experience of presence. The first thing I notice is that I can't be longing for something else than what is right here, in the moment. The longing takes me away. So I stay aware of the many dimensions of Now. Liz resting on her big chair. Wind tossing branches outside. Chimes in a neighbor's yard. A pile of paperwork on the table where I sit. Right now the moment is quiet enough to give me opportunity to write. It isn't always like that. Other times the TV competes with voices of family, a multitude of tasks require attention. And always Liz's illness calls to the hearts of all of us in ways that encourage us to grow into a more expansive expression of our love.

Holy Week has always been significant to my sister, and this year she is living it. Ideas about all we remember during this time have become the reality of right Now. Thought has been absorbed into pure being. She lives the greatest presence of all this year. It isn't necessary to "recall" the sufferings of the Christ: she has become the Icon of that Suffering One.

Friday, March 30, 2012

MIST

Rain falls on Sunshine Hill watering John's newly tilled garden and washing the delicate flowers of the plum tree. I'm packing for a trip to be with my sister who has been having some difficult times with side effects of cancer treatment. Looking out my window I see Sammie and Ken's hill, but Ken isn't there anymore. He left this earth on March 9th, and now Sammie is finding all the places he occupied quite empty. The process of being widowed is long and the realization of it arrives moment by moment.

The gray fox continues to visit, has been joined by a mate, and also by a feral calico cat whom all of us including MoMo find intriguing enough to hope she stays around and hunts gophers for us. So far we can only look through the window at one another.

During March I was guest teacher at the Red Madonna site--an online community of creative spirituality for women founded by artist, Shiloh Sophia. I'm strongly considering sharing my "teachings" at that site with you who join me here. I'm not sure if they will transfer easily or at all. But I can try that out once I reach my sister's house in Minnesota.

I'm also wanting to get back to work on my new project, THE YEARNING: A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY.

Today I'm pensive. This occurs because I'm in-between. Much of me already is beside my sister. The rest of me lingers beside John. Liminal spaces, where time, space, and identity become misty.

Be well, my friends.

Christin

Friday, February 10, 2012

THIN PLACES

Yesterday evening we heard a thump on the back deck. John looked up from his reading. "What was that?"

I shrugged. Then it happened again, a little louder this time. I looked up from my own reading and leaned over the back of the couch which is right in front of the glass sliding doors. Not more than three feet from me, looking into the house, was a gray fox much like this one. We locked eyes. He knocked again with his nose on the glass. Apparently I didn't scare him because he didn't shy away but got his fill of the scene and then ambled over to take a look at John.


We've had several "visitations" from the wild lately, but this was extraordinary. So close. Probably the fox was new to this world, a kit. He was smaller than Mo who is only seven pounds. In fact, they look alike. So we called to Mo to meet his fine canine cousin. That was the moment that the fox chose to saunter into the darkness.

There is a thin place where worlds intersect. Communication is possible there. John spoke to a circling hawk today, and the bird swooped down close to him. A black tailed doe didn't move from the back yard when I walked towards her murmuring words about her beauty. Gen says the hummingbirds come when she calls. It's important to remember this. What is wild in us can be more gentle than our rational minds with their sharp edge of logic. What is wild can also be more--well--wild. A cougar could, for instance, probably feel the pounding of my wild heart were I to encounter her on Sterling Ditch Trail. We might have any kind of meeting imaginable there in that thin place.

No wonder so many indigenous peoples considered such encounters sacred. The mystical encounter with the fox closely resembles that mystical encounter at the other pole of our human experience -- the thin place between human and divine. Both encounters resist language -- poetry might come close, or prayer. But the true language of that intersection of world is silence in the space between two beats of the heart.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

GOOD MAN KEN

The doctors tell us Ken is dying, and it seems impossible. Isn't he our man of the hills along Sterling Creek? Doesn't he know everyone in every house hidden on ridges and in hollows? Isn't he the one we turn to when electricity fails, or pipes freeze and break, or smoke curls from a wild fire?

Ken is dying, lying in his bed in CCU, looking out of place there among the sterile contraptions of stainless steel and electrical cables. Though machines have been his life's work. Life-saving machines, fire-fighting machines, wood cutting machines, home-running machines. How often did he fix my riding mower? My Kawasaki Mule? My car?

The nurse comes in to get blood from his finger. Work has hardened his fingertips impenetrable as mountain laurel wood. The little one is soft, he tells her. She doesn't want to poke that one, already poked so many time. I don't mind, he says. He laughs. He can barely breathe, but he still can laugh, a throaty laugh, staccato, infectious.

Ken was my deceased husband's best friend. They understood each other. When John died Ken taught me all I hadn't learned yet about running a house on nine acres of hill and woods. Some things he had to teach me over and over. That first year of widowhood my brain simply could not retain the intricacies of, for example, starting the air compressor and filling a tire! What a patient teacher Ken is. When the linoleum popped off the guest bathroom floor, he stood in the doorway and instructed me in the craft of softening it, gluing it with the proper brand of glue, securing it, and finally installing a new threshold. He joked about now taking care of two wives. I tried to reciprocate with home baked bread, dinners now and then, little things like that.

His "other wife," the wife of his heart is Sammie. She's in tears, and then she's organizing details because this dying came as a surprise and that's what we do. She's at the hospital every day. She's my dear dear friend, the one who held me when I sobbed over the death of John. We trade places now. That's what we do here on this earth with the beautiful people we are given in our lives. Someday may we know how really precious all of us are.

I hope Ken will soon come home to the beautiful log house he built on the hill across from mine. I hope that he and Sammie will be able to complete the circle of their life together there. I know she is organizing things to make that happen for them.

In the meantime he works now to simply breathe. But we all, those of us who know him, recognize the work he's given himself to all his life...he loved his neighbors and loved to help us in whatever ways he could--which were multitudinous.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Living Promise

Some promises must be kept despite the suffering...because of the suffering, because suffering can open the human heart. Something beyond our human mind or heart led us to these promises that from the beginning were intended to transform our lives. "God did not bring you to this marriage to make each other happy," the priest told my nephew and his bride. "God brought you together to save one-another's souls." Eventually they will (and probably already have) "suffered" love. We do suffer love. If we manage to keep that promise, if we manage through some indescribable grace to BE there, IN love, even while the love itself is breaking our hearts, the promise will shine forth through our tenacity as a living thing. The promise will transform us and transform itself in the process. This is the promise we keep. We hold to this promise as life catches us up into its whirlwind. Though you kill me, said someone--probably the psalmist, I will not let you go. Even while it seems to kill us, this promise is the very thing that brings us through.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Promises are Broken

My friend, Bill, reflects that some promises must be broken; it would be blasphemy to keep them. And I'm reminded of a book written by Anthony Padavano back in the late 1960's. It came as such a revelation to me at the time, and yet its message is quite obvious. Our essential promise is to life itself--to live fully. Or as a very early Christian wrote: The glory of God is a human being fully alive. (was that Clement?) So, if in our ignorance or even in our arrogance we promise to set out on a course that turns out to be self-destructive, or destructive to another, or to the community or the earth, that promise must be broken.

As life progresses we have the opportunity to see more and to see more clearly and simply. Watch how our wise elders clear out the spaces of their lives. Even good things are given away, even things that hold the memory of beloved people or events. The more cluttered my house, my mind, my heart, my soul, the less I can see God. Blessed are the pure/simple of heart. Some promises are part of that clutter.

I've spent most of my life believing that promises are the glue that holds everything together. And for a long time this is probably true. But there is, perhaps, a moment at which some promise has us stuck in place, gluing our eyes, gluing our hearts, gluing our senses our souls our spirits, closing us down. It's time for cleansing.

It's frightening, terrifying even, to break a promise. There have been times I wanted to do anything but. Some people would rather go crazy or even die. Terrible mourning can set in after breaking/cleansing a promise that is no long creative, especially if we've set our lives and identity upon keeping it. We don't know everything; in fact we only know the slightest bit; sometimes I think I know nothing at all. We make mistakes. We've promised, sometimes, to continue in our mistakes. That promise is deadly.

Do you think it is possible that the only promise God asks of us is to BE? and that all the other promises are offshoots of that one? 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Promises

Broken House
The song says, "I've never made promises lightly; there are some that I have broken." I'm taken by that line. I'm taken by the entire song, so you'd think I'd be more careful about the promises I make. But no. Where it gets problematic is with the promises I cannot possibly keep. "How can I possibly do this?" I wonder even as I'm saying the words of commitment. I will never leave you. I will hold your hand when you die. Simpler promises, too, such as I will exercise at least a half hour a day. Maybe you are saying, "Now, Christin, there is certainly another way to look at this..." And you might be right. But, no matter the way I look at this, there are some promises I have broken. You've GOT to stop this promising all over the place, I said to myself some years ago. But I'm incorrigible.

Then, the other day as I was working on my new book project--a sort of memoir/spiritual apologia vita sua--it came to me that some of my biggest broken promises, namely the vows I made in the convent, are being fulfilled despite the way I dropped them and they shattered all over the cloister floor. Here I am, married to a former Trappist, living a profoundly monastic sort of life, praying each day during the Divine Office for my Sisters of St. Joseph, fulfilling those vows in a surprising way I could never have imagined.

So how does one understand this sort of thing? Augustine says that for those who love God all things work together for the good. Maybe that also applies to promises we make in the sincerity of our hearts, even if they don't get fulfilled in the manner we anticipate. A sincere promise gets fulfilled in ways beyond imagining.
I think it is Chesterton I'm paraphrasing when I say "Life is a promise that cannot be kept." But today I offer the thought that our lives are a promise that will be kept in surprising, even miraculous ways. And watching that miracle unfold has me smiling with wonder and gratitude.

Broken House with Spring Blossoms


 

Friday, January 20, 2012

THE LOWER WISDOM


Rain and clouds outside my window to the southwest
Rain has been falling for three days. North, west and east of Sunshine Hill rivers and creeks crest. I just looked at the Trip-Check camera for Siskiyou Summit. Can't see much, though it seems to be rain, not snow, even 2,000 feet higher than John and I live. I'm glad not to be in my car up there; glad to be in my writing room looking out at these lower mountains just west of me. Out the other window I see fog rolling in along Sterling Creek Road between us and Sam and Ken. Soon the world will seem to end just past the yard.
               It's been a contemplative time since I last blogged, and the weather suits my mood. It's been a time of significant nightly dreams, long ponderings over what they might mean, intense periods of writing poetry and reflections that begin to resemble the beginnings of a new manuscript--a kind of memoir. John showed me an apt poem by Brenda Hillman -- "Little Furnace." Let me share it --

--Once more the poem woke me up,
the dark poem. I was ready for it;
he was sleeping,

and across the cabin, the small furnace
lit and re-lit itself--the flame a yellow
               "tongue" again, the metal benignly
hard again;

and a thousand insects outside called
               and made me nothing;
moonlight streamed inside me as if it had been . . .

I looked around, I thought of the lower wisdom,
spirit held by matter:
               Mary, white as a sand dollar,

and Christ, his sticky halo tilted--
               oh, to get behind it!
The world had been created to comprehend itself

as matter: table, the torn
veils of spiders. . . Even consciousness--
missing my love--

was matter, the metal box of a furnace.
As the obligated flame, so burned my life . . .

What is the meaning of this suffering I asked
and the voice -- not Christ but between us -- said
you are the meaning.

No, no, I replied, That
is the shape, what is the meaning.
You are the meaning, it said--

(From BRIGHT EXISTENCE, by Brenda Hillman.

Thank you, Brenda.