Monday, December 23, 2013

“In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov

Saturday, December 21, 2013


So many details, and my life is lived in details.

I bought LED lights for the tree, and put up a string of the older, incandescent lights in the dining area. This morning I came downstairs to lovely lights instead of ordinary dark. And I became so aware of how much warmer the old lights look, to say nothing of the actual heat they throw. I am amazed. And there you have it, my state of being these days, I am amazed.

More and more I know less and less, and I have that privilege, now, to not know much, to be again full of questions and empty of answers, and to be curious and noticing and just astonished and amazed at life.

Friday, December 20, 2013

"...all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." (Frederick Buechner)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What if our lives were precious only up to a point? What if we held them loosely and understood there are no guarantees? What if when you got were identified as someone in the middle of a transformation that could deepen your soul? Eve Ensler

Thursday, November 28, 2013


For the voyage of life from seed to harvest, the kiss
of rain and sun and growth, the gifts of the earth given
into the hands of strangers, friends and family
whose efforts now bring such bounty to this table.

Thanks for the soft animal body that carries each life
here present, so sturdy and so fragile;
thanks and praise for fellowship, and for the lives
of those now absent who yet linger among us;
thanks for the complex ways we each continue to seek
and find our place, unique like everyone else.

Lead us to the gift of regular silence until it silences us;
bring us to choose gratitude until we are truly grateful;
fill us with praise until we become ourselves
a constant act of praise.

So we give thanks for all things, including joys
and sorrows deeply felt but left, here, unspoken.

Carol Bindel 

Published in UUWorld, Winter 2012, 22.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK, fifty years and...

Certainly, I remember. I was a freshman in college. I feared America would soon go to war with "the Reds," for how could this not be sabotage? But I went to work that evening serving food.

Fifty years later, serving food continues to be a worthy endeavor.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Innate Courage

We spent the day yesterday with our Lucy who will turn 16 months next week. She has a riding toy that she likes to climb on, holding onto the steering handles while she steps onto the seat. She then lets go the hand-holds and straightens, all the while saying aloud to herself and the world, "Get down, get down, get down..." and grinning her biggest, most joyful grin. She didn't hear "get down" from us, and I doubt her parents sing-song it at her, either. I think it's coming from her deepest self, that sense of danger and courage to try anyway. May we continue to have the courage.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Researchers have found that intense engagement in and commitment to an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Crown Publishers, New York, 2012. 259

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Power of Introverts

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen. Simply wait. Do not even wait. Be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Franz Kafka

This quote feels like a poem to me. I want to insert line breaks, to slow the thought, to savor and absorb the whole of the way of being contained there. This is the essence of my practice for life.

I am reading Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. (Crown Publishing, 2012.) It's an extraordinarily well researched and clearly written book, full of stories and illustrations of the findings of the specific studies relating to how extroverts and introverts function in society, how we Americans hold to the extrovert ideal but not all societies do so. It's full of reminders that both ways of experiencing and interacting with the world are valid and needed.

Both / And.

I need all those stories and illustrations Cain gives, but I can't begin to remember them all. Thus I come back to practicing the essence that is contained in Kafka's words. A recipe, instruction. I'm here to affirm that in my quiet, solitary time I come to be at ease with the emotions of experience that otherwise would be beyond my enduring. Without the practice of coming to quiet I would surely need antidepressants, I may have come to suicide, for my world experience includes much pain. Yet there is also all the rest: the deep blue of a clear sky over a place of open country, i.e. the middle of nowhere which is really the middle of no-ones; little Lucy in my arms pointing to the ruffle of clouds three days after new moon, begging to see again the huge, luminous, weeks-past full moon, "Moon? moon?"; the love that radiates to me from all my family and friends, and I am blessed with many. 

I will never attempt to publish this poem in this form elsewhere, so I will include it here, a poem of grief and refuge. 


The trees know the season, in spite of summer-like warmth.
All of them gradually show fall colors. These days light
shines through with the orange-gold richness so typical of October.
The yearly quilt made of individual leaf scraps spreads out on the woods floor,
each scrap still holding its bright color. They will turn brown in today's rain,
then more still-bright-colored ones will layer over them.
The phone call came at daybreak last Wednesday.
In the dark hours my sister's grandson,
our Ryan, died.
Nineteen years old.
His heart stopped
and would not be started.
I am laid out flat on the ground of grief.
But wait. Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.
I notice my heart still beats.
Unbidden, my breath flows.
I did not die; I am alive.
Sweet and bitter truth.
I am still alive in this body of earth
with all I've ever learned and known 
now given one more experience,
another chance to be transformed.
Here is my refuge.
After a time I move to small, ordinary life things.
Draw and drink a glass of cool, sweet water.
Make coffee: filter, grounds, water, brew, pour, sip.
Walk out on the deck and notice the natural world
which both does and does not notice me. Now
all long standing habits support and direct my day.
Here is my refuge.
Pick up the phone, share the news with family
and folk willing to listen and hear. Days add on, again
and again I am embraced by friends, neighbors, a community
of those who carry all there is with me. Step, step, step, step.
I pace the known, mysterious path. Alone in my skin
and never alone. Never alone. Never alone.
Here is my refuge.
The dogwood leaves drop, blood red. One frosty morning soon
a puddle of gold will have fallen overnight to cover the ground
over the roots of our maple tree.
I am working to distill this one to publishable form, but perhaps it's not now possible for me. Still, it is another version of understanding and dealing with the experience of the world that, as Kafka says, "offers itself... unmasked."

P.S.("...the so-called Big Five traits: Introversion-Extroversion; Agreeableness; Openness to Experience; Conscientiousness; and Emotional Stability. (Many personality psychologists believe that human personality can be boiled down to these five characteristics.)" 227. My training is so old--or insufficient?-- that I wasn't aware of this. I want books on the other four traits, too. And then I'll come back to practicing the way of the Kafka quote.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Full days, intense as fine wine

Days full of intense experiences remind me of fine wine with amazing flavors, some of them unpleasant if they were to stand on their own. But in this linked-together world nothing stands on its own. Thus, my own experiences combine to make an amazing flavor. Yes, there is mourning and pain, both physical and emotional (and dare I say spiritual), my own and that of others close to me. And there is also eager discovery and laughter and new life coming as fast as old life decays and fades. Maybe faster.

I remind myself again and again not to take on my shoulders burdens that are not mine to bear, and it keeps me from getting the frantic notion that I should do something. It is mine to stand on the rim of the hill bearing witness. Bear witness, and experience all the piquant flavors of the day.

Another full sunrise, gorgeous day, and I do have my own, specific things to hand that really are mine to do. Simple tending things. Small, human-doing things. I will breathe and bear witness, practice human-being, and tend human-doing.

And I will rejoice and be glad for all the gifts the day brings. All. Because life comes as a full, complete package. The gift of the life that I am given.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The philosopher Irenaeus says the glory of God is man fully alive. (Writer's Almanac, 11-5-2013)

Monday, November 4, 2013


Can't we just call it a day, and give our overanxious and ironic selves a rest? Might we consider boredom as not only necessary for our life but also as one of its greatest blessings? A gift, pure and simple, a precious chance to be alone with our thoughts and alone with God? .... Speaking prophetically to future generations, including our own, (Bertrand Russell) writes that "a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men... unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, in whom every vital impulse withers."  Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me, Riverhead Books, 2008. 40,41.

After weeks of rushing and anxiety―on October 21 my nephew Dennis' foot was severed in an accident. It's been reattached, but it's healing is iffy, still. And my sister and her husband are downsizing and moving across the country, and we've been trying to act in support―after all that,  today I could be tending a thousand small postponed jobs for my own household, and there is such an amount of unstructured time and such a lack of an organized list and agenda that I am at loose ends, hardly knowing what to do.

Soup's on the stove for supper, though, and one load of wash is dry and the next ready for the dryer. Small, specific and at the ground floor of life. And here I am, writing about the process of it. When I heard, "You can't fall off the ground," I recognized a profound truth. So when I experience acedia, ennui, or boredom, I know some ground floor places to turn to. A practice. Life as a continuing practice. And sometimes sprinkled, lucky me, with just a brief moment of the gift of boredom.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Write first with a pen. It's too easy on the computer to change a word, then forget what it was. Also, don't get too social. Write for whatever holy thing you believe in....The main thing is to know that your craving to write is the big thing and will continue, and is more valuable than the finished poem. Mary Oliver.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Without grace, everything devolves into smallness, hurt and blame. Grace arrives in the shared-ness of life, in attitude and action of the moment. Can there be true love without graciousness at its heart?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Beauty and Intensity

Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, and creeds follow one another like the withered leaves of autumn; but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons and a possession for all eternity. Oscar Wilde

Beauty in the complicated stuff of ordinary life.

I find beauty in all the discoveries of math, physics, all the sciences. I find beauty in the human desire to bring "order" to "chaos." I find beauty in the unfolding awareness that under our desire to define the world in either/or terms (good or bad, right or wrong, black or white) lies some more subtle but more true version of both/and.

Beauty, yes, and meanwhile let me label ugly with greatest care.

The past weeks have been intense. Here's the bald litany:
My sister Sarah died late in the night September 6, officially pronounced September 7.
My son Scott got married September 14, within several wonderful days of celebration.
Sarah's memorial service was held September 21.
October 2 came the shocking news that Sarah's youngest grandson died unpredictably.
Blood clots developed in his lungs, and his heart just stopped. He was nineteen.
Yesterday, October 12, was Ryan's memorial service.

There is so much more every day, of course, less overtly intense and amazing. The specific flow for each of us, the chaos of everyday life. Full catastrophe living as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it. Beauty of all there is, noticed and not noticed, welcome and not, grief-stricken and joy-filled.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Beautiful and Gracious

During the time of preparation for Scott and Pippa's wedding, in one of my moments of high-flight-imaginings about possibilities, I thought, Oh! Yes, let me be beautiful and gracious. Then I passed a mirror, my eyebrows rose and I laughed, and thought, Please let me be gracious. I hope I was.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Try it, you'll like it!

"Poetry is never a sensible choice on financial grounds.
Burglary beats poetry, when it comes to making money."
— Garrison Keillor

Yup. A working, mid-level poet might earn in the two figures from poetry. (Keep the day job.) And yet, I am drawn to poetry like to nothing else. I think it comes from sitting still every single morning of my first seventeen years and listening to and hearing Mother read from the King James Bible. Talk about a book of poetry.  I hear that one still sells pretty well...

I've branched out to reading lots of other poets. Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Denise Levertov, Tony Hoagland, Mark Doty, John O'Donohue... Oh, my list of favorites is a long, long one into history, including Rumi and Hafiz and Tagouri. Every day I read Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. Check it out, it's online, a daily poem and a few fascinating tidbits of historical information.

I tend toward high blood pressure, and if I've been stressed and rushing about before it's measured, the doctor always frowns at me. But if I get to my appointment with twenty minutes to spare and in that time read some Mary Oliver my b.p. is fine.

Such a simple Rx with no bad side effects: read some good poetry.

I've been absent here because the intensity of life overwhelmed me. On September 7 my sister Sarah died of leukemia. On September 14 my son got married. On September 21 we met at my sister's memorial. In between these huge events, I had a poetry reading on September 17. (Thanks to my friends, the room was nicely filled and there was discussion as well as reading. Blessings on friends.)  I've started attending poetry workshop again, and am actively working on poetry just because I love it and it's-- well, I guess it's important to me. And we've been lucky to be spending a day a week with our granddaughter. We want to, we can, and her working parents say it helps them, too.

None is more surprised than I to discover me reading, studying and writing poetry. I'm from blue-collar, practical people. Sakes alive, my bachelor's is in Home Economics. Domestic Engineering. Don't get much more practical than that. But here I am, I'm a poet and I'm finally saying so right out loud in public. Through all the intensity of the summer that built to the events in my life in two weeks of September, poetry of many stripes is my most intimate companion, my comfort, my guide.

My voice of experience: Try it, you may like it!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pattern Recognition and Tools for Thinking

The first tool for thinking is our human brain. Self evident, but so basic.

Ancients established philosophy as a discipline for channeling reasoned thought. From that, in loose descriptors, grew natural philosophy, grew the scientific method.

With all the power of algorithms and computers capable of crunching huge amounts of data, there is still nothing quite as good as the human brain for pattern recognition. And for all our abilities, we cannot know the details of the world, there is much too much, we know the world through recognizable, repeating/repeatable patterns.

That's where the scientific method comes in. It helps divide the durable, inherently trustworthy patterns from the spurious ones. I love the question, search, tease out fascinating details, make the next supposition, ask the next question way of examining data used in the scientific method.

Another tool for thinking of the world, though, is poetry. And I'm not talking just the pattern in form poetry. I'm talking about how a line carries a little surprise, in the words, their layered meaning, the single line, how the line spins into the strophe/stanza, how the stanza swirls together to a piece.

A physicist friend of mine recently spoke for about fifteen minutes about how the brain will create the notion of pattern around what is just chaotic nonsense, and he used as his illustration the spurious patterns we imagine we find in Lewis Carroll's poem Jaberwocky.

Oh, but wait. Take for example the second and third verses:

     "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
         The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
     Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
         The frumious Bandersnatch!"

    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
         Long time the manxome foe he sought--
     So rested he by the Tumtum tree
         And stood awhile in thought.

If I take out the silly words and replace them by implied idea, reading context, we get advice from a father adressing his son (or any younger man) to beware this dangerous thing with "jaws that bite, ...claws that catch," and shun that thing whose very name sounds hazardous. And then, after a long time seeking the foe, father takes his sword and stands by a tree where he rests and thinks and gives his advice. And so goes the whole poem. What is a more known, familiar, very real-world and reliable pattern than for an elder to give advice, painting the picture of his own experience to back it up?

Carroll's own suggestions meaning and not-meaning imply some push-pull between providing interpretation vs. going even farther into intentional confusion, i.e., he suggested the poem be republished in reverse printing. The publisher told him it would be just too expensive. So Carroll is left with a standard English alphabet, and many interspersed meaningful, familiar words. So it is with so much of the back and forth between intuitive knowing and provable pattern.

What will scientists make, for example, of the four-letter alphabet of our DNA, and the "junk" they find there? I'd be willing to bet that the "junk" isn't, that it's just that we don't understand properly yet. I see a reality where the imagination of the poet and the rigor of the researcher following the scientific method, both, are useful to find a dependable answer to whatever questions we might think to ask the ocean sky.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." H.P. Lovecraft

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Everyday prayer

     Let us each:
Want what we have.
Do what we can, and see how.
Be who we are, and know how.
Experience best outcomes, soonest.
Settle and rest in this present moment.
Be kind and gracious to ourselves and others.
Find each next step to be gentle, easy, and clear.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Everything counts: balancing me and we

It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.

(Betty Friedan, 1921 – 2006)
This was today's meditation posted by Galen Guengerich, Senior Pastor of All Souls Church, NYC. (The more I learn about this man's journey the more I respect him and his path and process.)

Betty Friedan's quote begs the question: How do we find ourselves whole in our own skins? 

We can never see our own eyes directly, only through a mirror.  We experience life in our bodies and we also experience our lives in relationship. It's obvious that we experience from the inside. It's equally obvious that we also see our lives and selves through the eyes of particular individuals around us and through the lens of societal expectations. 

An introvert, I struggle to find some balance of self evaluation that names me worthy in relationship to the world at large. A stay-at-home mom of the generation that Betty Friedan led to break old stereotypes, it's easy for me to see my insignificance.  If you are reading this, you are a rare soul.

Yet direct observation makes it so clear that we are connected to everything, conscious of it or not. Our being, which determines our actions, echos out. (As ye think in your heart, so shall ye be) No one of us can solve a single societal problem alone, but each of us must seek a best path on his/her own. 

As a species we are polluting our home place, our planet to the death of other species. Yesterday I picked up litter along half a mile of the country road where I live. This morning there was a fresh batch. Who are these people? I ask myself. 

Now comes one answer to my mind: they are among those who do not see themselves as whole enough to know that they count in the whole, big picture. But everything counts. Everything.  

"Be the change you wish to see." You count.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Help us to recognize, and to rejoice in, what has been given, even in the midst of what is not given. Richard Rohr

There it is, my most basic, primary mantra-prayer: Thank you, thank you, thank you....

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Better with age...

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better” is one of our core principles at the CAC. Just do it better yourself, and don’t waste any time criticizing others or the past! writes Fr. Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

I can get so lost in words. Is there a continuum from evaluation to criticism? Does "practice of the better" mean passing judgment (maybe harsh) about "bad?" Is there a continuum from humility to arrogance, and is it possible to stray into arrogant humility? Am I speaking of a circle rather than a fulcrum-balanced line of continuum? Am I lost in a word circle?

Let me return to the breath, the simple breath, and watch the robin in the dogwood tree, so curvy-limbed with its mid-green leaves looking like the most beautifully arranged Japanese art work. There goes the robin, flying away.

No still life, this world. Active, very active with change. The most constant thing I know of is mathematics, and it's hard to translate a mathematical formula into a moral, ethical directive for change. Yet I do believe in the surety of natural sequence and consequence. I do believe in the scientific method as the best means to evaluate cause and effect.

My life question: How can I go forward in this day to practice a better way of being in this world than I was able to practice yesterday?

Best outcome for the day, in gentle, easy, clear steps. Best outcome, soonest.

Friday, July 19, 2013

So disconcerting...

Yesterday experienced workers with chain saws, a bucket truck, skid loader and brawn took down three tall, old trees near our house, cutting from the top down. Today sawdust blows from surrounding trees. The light and atmosphere is so different that sawdust blowing out of the trees is just one more element of this too-startling day.

Connection and being human

For years I listened to a weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir radio broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word from the Crossroads of the West. 

There was a time when such vibrations put out from a great distance could only be heard―how? by magic, maybe priestly or mystical magic? by the aborigines who can also literally hear the music of the stars in a rich night sky? under the influence? But then came a clearer comprehension of how those vibrations could be translated.

Today we do not have a means to perceive how everything is connected with everything else, how even what we think matters. So much wonder beyond our direct comprehension. Yet just because we lack the means to perceive, measure and manipulate the full nuance and complexity of the idea does not mean our inextricable connection with everything is not deeply and profoundly true. Just because we cannot measure love, for example, or the precise effect of being bullied or abused (trauma) doesn't mean there is nothing real about those things, that they have no effect. Just because we cannot comprehend the crying out of the trees, the amoeba, the rock, does not mean those cries do not exist and/or do not matter.

In his article "God, Revised: The Atheists Are Half Right," ( Rev. Galen Guengerich, senior pastor of All Souls Church, NYC, writes:

"...scientists have come to (this) conclusion...: In our universe, the fundamental laws of nature have existed from the very beginning, they apply everywhere, and they do not change." 

(Yes. Isn't that, by definition, God? Existed from the beginning, applies everywhere, does not change.) Guengerich goes on:
"Seeking God, finding faith and participating in a religious community is more than a personal exercise. If we fail to adapt, our increasingly empty houses of worship will become a sad symbol of a deeper vacancy in our lives and our culture. We'll each be left increasingly alone with our spiritual hunger and our longing for a place to belong. Self-centered entertainment will increasingly substitute for moral education. Political expediency and religious zealotry will increasingly triumph over a commitment to common good.

"In our modern world, we need to understand where we belong―that deep connection to everything that is present in our world, as well as all that is past and all that is possible. For this reason, a revised understanding of God isn't an optional aspect of life today. I believe it's necessary―not to explain everything we don't know, but to make meaningful sense of everything we do know."

I weep for my country where political expediency and religious zealotry already seem to have triumphed over a commitment to a common good, weep for my grandchildren who will inherit this world where lack of such commitment to the commonweal holds sway. I have no good, large answer. 

Guengerich says he, also, does not believe in the god atheists don't believe in. I don't either. But I do believe Life, and some things I have from my own lifetime so far of experiencing and noticing.

I have spaces between words. I have some inklings of the power of words and story to transform the astonishmenteven the shock
of direct experience into useful life understanding. I have breath and pulse and the music of the spheres. I have poems to provide me with that which is beyond me, found in the spaces between formulas and words. 

I find myself in realizing that in this real, living world we always stand in relationship, mysteriously connected to all and every thing there is.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I don't have enough money to have to worry about it, but I seem to have enough not to worry.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Even Jesus had a fish story," says the bumper sticker. Yep.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

common, constant

Compassion. Not pity, not condescension, but a deep, resonant, sympathetic feeling-with.  The sharing of another's experience at gut level, vibrating-with like one vibrates with the bass notes of music played loudly through Bose woofers.  Like the song that brought the Universe into existence, the Music of the Spheres.  That's what I'm aiming to be, full of that kind of compassion.  Why not?
Wisdom writings teach that there will always be greater and lesser persons than I, and, simultaneously, that all we humans are equal in our essence.  We all start from a sperm fertilizing an egg; we are all born naked; we all die.  And all the Universe, even the parts we label inanimate, have a cycle of life. Coming into being, existing, and fading out of being are the basics, the common, constant elements. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

In the past few days I've perused the Sibley Bird Book borrowed from the library. All the identifiable varieties of sparrows, oh my, and how much better Sibley does with sparrows than the Audubon books I own.

Yet, this morning the redwing blackbirds sang to me of summer. The indigo bunting flashed by in it's iridescent-- well, indigo-- feathers. The pileated woodpecker tapped such rapid, headache-reminder staccato, it's crown so red, it's tidy body suit so black and white. 

The book is wonderful, highly informative, communicating information, sharing names and identifiers I otherwise wouldn't know. And the direct experience is irreplaceable. I am reminded again how improbable the sharing between you inside your skin and me inside mine. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

both / and

"Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since one who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences, or the things of this world. And what is worst, those who are thus ignorant are unable to perceive their own ignorance, and so do not seek a remedy." Roger Bacon. Quoted in The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse by Jennifer Oullette. Who can read that title and not at least look at the book?

"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true." Søren Kierkegaard. Quoted in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D.

I have thought about these two quotes a good bit, and days and days ago I imagined I would write a couple paragraphs of exposition on the theme created by the juxtaposition of the two. Now it feels like there's nothing more to add.

Both books are soon due back at the library. I've finished one, am more than half way in the other and will finish. Each fascinating. Let me always remember that either / or is likely a shallow or false choice. All the rest is both / and.

Grounded. Centered. Balanced. Whole.       Both / And.

Until I logged on today, I'd lost track of how long its been since I last posted. Both retired and home is as dramatic a change as moving from Pennsylvania to Iowa was. No value judgment, just this change big as an earthquake. I may be back more often again. Later. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Turning why to how

My husband is now officially retired, so yesterday we spent the day with our nine-month-old granddaughter. She is studying the concepts in and out. She practices with great intensity and focus, noticing how this reality works.

Particle physicist Lawrence Krauss says that every why question is really a how question in our drive to figure out the workings of the universe. 

Take, then, the question, "Why seek happiness?" and turn it into "How is it that the sentient world seems programmed to draw back from every kind of pain?" Or, "How do we define pain, define good/bad?" Or.... 

Or back to more simply, How can I be happy right now? Well, I notice in this moment, in this place, all is well enough with me that my life carries into the next moment, why not define this as happy? How not define this as happy...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Ideas of Science

The ideas change our perspective of our place in the cosmos, and to me, that’s what great art, music, and literature is all about. When you see a play, or see a painting or hear a wonderful piece of music in some sense, it changes your perspective of yourself, and that’s what science does in a profoundly important way and in a way with content that matters.” Dr. Lawrence Krauss in a Krista Tippett interview.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Let us do what we can―
Not dream impossible dreams or climb every mountain,
But dream one possible dream and climb one splendid mountain,
That our life may be blessed with attainable meaning.  
                                                                               ~Forrest Church

Friday, April 5, 2013

"Water runs uphill toward money." Heard on NPR as a common quote.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Life long participants

"There are no bystanders in this life....Our humanity makes us each a part of something greater than ourselves," writes Sonia Sotomayor in My Beloved World.

I am among the many who live in obscurity. Lucky me. Seriously.

Famous people tell the stories of how difficult it is to live in a spotlight. Yes, surely so. To have every public moment shadowed and reported on must be daunting, often humiliating. To say nothing of how fame is the thief of safety and other freedoms. 

And yet, the ones in the spotlight have no clearer, deeper vision of their real influence in this life than any of the rest of us. Think of it. how do they know their real influence? How do we know our own real influence? Where is the yardstick, the scale, the measuring cup? Just think of it.

Thus it seems worth the effort to attempt to steadily hold an underlying awareness that everything we do (or don't do) matters, whether or not we can tell how it matters. Indeed, "There are no bystanders in this life."

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

"For me, religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die," says Forrest Church. Today in particular, there are plenty of people who point to the pagan roots of Easter, ignoring the idea that pagan practices were also religious practices. 

This morning at sunrise I went outside. Birds were loud, the air chill-sweet. Many daffodils opened this past week, crocus flowers still bloom wide, and snowdrops (the flower) are not quite done. How could I avoid thoughts of Easter sunrise services from my youth? Gathering in firstlight, singing in the dawn, sometimes a trumpeter accompanying us, making a joyful noise. 

This morning I smiled again, thinking of the notice in Friday's paper of sunrise services to be held at 7:30. Now, there's a non-farm version of sunrise. 

Today is the on-paper, official day Bernie retires. My farm-boy husband is still in bed, no worshiper of sunrise. And that's just fine.

Because the"right" time, the specific Earth day time, isn't the point, is it? We gather together in smallest and larger groups as our human response to the return of Springtime, new life, in the absolute, constantly illustrated reality of death. For today, we are alive. Let's notice, and make the experience vibrant. Happy Easter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Being within the physical, embodied, incarnate I am
grounded (i.e.actually held to the earth by the cuddle of gravity);
centered (sensate and aware of that behind-the-bellybutton 
                  middle-of-the-gut place);
balanced (not to be taken for granted);
whole (contained within my own, specific skin).

My body carries my life. That grounded, centered, balanced, whole body. All thought, emotion, intuition, reason, metaphor expands from there. And all is well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trustworthy reflection

We see our own faces only in reflection. In a mirror. In the eyes and faces of others we live with or work with or meet along the path.

I also see myself reflected in the face of the natural world. Even the sky shows me enough. There I am held in ordinary presence. I, too, am present and allowed. I am not gently held and lovingly affirmed. I am also not greeted with irony, cynicism or rejection. I am simply present with the sky in all its changing, steady ways. I am neither insignificant nor overly significant. I am simply allowed and accepted.

So gazing at the natural world I have come to trust Earth's reliable sequences and consequences.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Against unimaginable odds, we have been given something that we didn’t deserve at all, the gift of life, with death as our birthright." Forrest Church

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Now. Here. This.

Age chisels away all but the most prominent features. Anita Shreve

Yes, I have noticed that as we age we become more ourselves. Can we ever see our own most prominent features? What, where, who is the mirror? How do we perceive?

Yesterday at sunrise I saw a white gull flying high in the salmon colored light, the gull's color softened. This morning the storm clouds mute all the colors. I always feel morning's blessing no matter the color of light. Horses march as a parade along the fence and then uphill to their shelter. All the high branches sway in the wind. 

Now. Here. This.  Fr. Greg Boyle

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"...a doorstop to despair."

Colum McCann said: "I think a good novel can be a doorstop to despair. I also think the real bravery comes with those who prepared to go through that door and look at the world in all its grime and torment, and still find something of value, no matter how small." Quoted in today's edition of The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

"...a doorstop to despair." Whatever does that mean? 
1. Despair is the door in a frame, and a good novel holds open the hard barrier of despair itself?
2. Despair is the room beyond, and a good novel holds open the door to "...grime and torment..."?
3. A good novel takes us through the stoppered, hard door from our own ordinary, daily hard despair into a room where we get to minutely examine a whole world full of little else but despair?
4. ....?

Doesn't real life already demand all the bravery I can muster? I must be brave to read a "good novel" too? Bah!

There is a song in the Unitarian Universalist hymn book that has the phrase, "...ours is no caravan of despair..." and I go there pretty often for the encouraging words. It's entirely too easy for me to slide into irony and cynicism and then to my very own version of despair. If McCann is right, then I really must turn to the study of mathematics, astronomy, astrophysics and the like, or I will die. 

Mary Oliver, though, a poet who has won multiple prizes including the Pulitzer, writes lines of this whole, real word. A clearly, carefully observed real world. Her poems create an unsentimental, flawless, transparent space where I go to be calmed and encouraged to simply see "something of value, no matter how small." Each distilled element of minutiae found in the lines of Oliver's poems builds this reader's experience of value on a grand scale.

Wendell Berry writes poems and novels of similar grand value.

"You are what you eat" became a cliche because it is so true, and it applies not only to corporeal food but intellectual, emotional and spiritual food as well. What will I become, reading "good novels" that fit McCann's definition?

I prefer―and for sustaining my life I need―to experience words, sentences, even novels that draw a large picture with hope already woven in. I want to see bravery and grit, kindness, compassion and generosity of heart. I want to see these non-despairing elements illustrated and reaping their own reward. I want characters to walk with, to contemplate these life balancing things so that I, too, may walk with and contemplate them.

 Despair is already too evident and plentiful.

Now, March 2, I wish to add that both the comments posted here, and also the ones sent directly to me, are true. First, "finding a steady source of words (and sentences) that tease, reveal and sustain us takes time, diligence and a good measure of luck." Yes. For every writer, so true.

Second, it is absolutely true that I do not know any context for the particular lines I riffed from. I would add I have not even read any of Mr. McCann's work. (I will certainly look for his books, and notice more, now.) I have no cause to imagine I know what he really meant here. 

Anyone could easily take a sentence or two of my own out of context and twist it to say things not intended at all. In fact, it happens to all of us often, just not necessarily in a very public way.

Third, indeed, a doorstop holds a door closed or half-ajar as well as fully open. Perhaps McCann intends to say that a good novel provides a barrier to despair rather than a wide-propped invitation to step into the house of despair. Or perhaps his work really takes ugliness and threads it with beauty.

My experience of the physical as well as metaphorical is that the brighter the light, the more clearly shadows are cast. In brightest light, even shadowed places are not dark and can be quite beautiful. Only places extremely distant or completely closed off from light are completely dark. And there, too, there may be great beautythink cavernsthat is simply beyond human perception. 

And sometimes too much light can be destructive.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Compassion has enemies, and those enemies are things like pity, moral outrage, fear." Joan Halifax

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?" Mary Oliver

Games have a goal; life doesn't. Life has no objective. This is what the existentialists call the "anxiety of freedom."... This is why games are such a popular form of procrastination. And this is why, on reaching one's goals, the risk is that the reentry of existential anxiety hits you even before the thrill of victory―that you're thrown immediately back on the uncomfortable question of what to do with your life. Brian Christian, The Most Human Human: What Talking With Computers Teaches Us About What it Means to Be Alive Doubleday, 2011. 141.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The middle of nowhere

Those lovely, quiet, natural-world places, without other-human intrusion. 

Some people say that even now I live in the middle of nowhere. I look out my window at half a dozen in-view dwellings and many more in my local mind-map. Middle-of-nowherethe moon? outside the communications satellite ring? the space between earth and the satellite ring, where a meteor recently traveled?

Nowhere. What a strange concept. A known place, some place, defined as nowhere. On this big, little marble of a planet we share, how odd and limiting that we consider some places nowhere.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Smells like Spring

Yesterday and again today the morning air smelled like Spring. Daffodils are already pushing up their green tips. Keeping my surroundings tidy (that is, as I define tidy) is up to me. The change of seasons will happen without my participation. I find that wholly comforting.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Myth: the ineffable or unspeakable

Our “myth” is the symbol system out of which we think and operate. It is largely unconscious and pre-rational, which is probably why the word “myth” (ineffable or unspeakable) is used, even if commonly misunderstood. Everyone has a myth, even those who fear the word. We have to have our myth because it creates a sometimes-livable world and it provides the frame of reference necessary for sanity—or insanity if we have a destructive one. Myths create a habitable and meaningful world for us. Richard Rohr

Thus, my poetry reflects the symbol system out of which I think and operate. My sisters all recognized our common heritage in my poems collected in Inherited Estate: A Song Cycle. I suspect that means we share the same myth. Ours in common, but not widely common. 

Thus, our wordsall of them, I think, including the writings most math-science-research basedare always merely the finger pointing to the moon.

Monday, February 4, 2013


On a day when I have no sugar, I simply place my lemons in my cobalt blue bowl and set them in bright light. I take one, stroke its nubbly skin, inhale it's fresh-scented zest when it's bruised by a small dig. Whole but not round, I push the small, graceful nipple at the flower end into the center of my palm, its firm, pointed pressure. Thumb the pithy nub at the stem end. Contemplate the juicy, tart sections encased within. Lemonade is not the only potential value of lemons.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Here in northern Harford County, Maryland, any groundhog intrepid enough to step outside today at dawn saw its shadow. Six more weeks of winter. We hope.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Rainbows in a sunny day

Various prisms hang in the windows around this house, my home. On a sunny winter day rainbows dance with me around the rooms and through the hours.

Today the sky is brilliant. Snow showers early then clearing, temperatures in the 20s, winds gusting to 45 mph. I walked on the treadmill, not willing to face the winds. The treadmill stands in a large room which is usually kept at about 60 in the winter, and it is in the south-east corner with windows on both south and east. 

I walked in an hour of sunshine. I hope that in such light my aura, too, spreads rainbows around my space and on through the day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Compassion, noticing, being noticed

Seth Godin. Work to notice.

Also, found from the OnBeing (Krista Tippett) website:
"William Maxwell treats his personal material as if it were history. It is one part memory, one part research and one part hearsay but one hundred percent compassion. Compassion in my mind is an admixture of feeling and sustained attention with regard to others. Compassion is the absence of cruelty. Compassion is steady and relaxed—allowing patience where we may not have any for ourselves. Compassion is acceptance of what you didn’t realize or can’t understand. Compassion is not attainable without process—going through the various methods of drafting. Each one provides you with another perspective, another point of focus. Each method provides more ingredients to the approach that helps the content to stand on its own so that the writer can leave it behind them."
—Nancy Beckett

Sunday, January 27, 2013

the smell of winter air

We have so few specific nouns or even adjectives for what we smell, and it is the sense most directly connected to the brain. Yesterday afternoon, in crisp, cold sunshine, I noticed the pungent scent of white pine by the mailbox and the slightly sweet scent of dried tall grasses at the corner where they grew last summer.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hauling wood, tending fire, attending...

Gray sky yesterday, then afternoon snow and into evening, and then the sky cleared. Tonight is full moon. Oh, the light. "The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow / gave a luster of midday to objects below."

My friend Dana Knighten writes: "Out my office windows, I can see the serge blue light of the moon on the scrim of snow that lies over these rounded hills.  Lights twinkle from a few new houses recently built on the old farmland across the road, lights and signs of human habitation where, only a few months ago, there were none.  Snow like cotton batting blankets the slant of the angled glass windows over my office window seat, and the thermometer reads 10 degrees.  The woodstove has been going nonstop now for a week.  In it burns wood from one of our own oaks, a big one that stood at the southern edge of our yard, which some fungus killed a few years ago.  The tree fell in one of last fall's storms, and Dave sawed it into sections and split it back in November.  Daily, I have been hauling wood, keeping the brick floor swept of all the crumblies that fall off the rotten chunks, tending the fire."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Patterns of light at the bridge.

This morning I stood on the south bank of Deer Creek looking at the waterside bridge abutment opposite me. Full morning sunshine from behind my right shoulder lit the cement in three triangles: one bright in direct shine; one of shine reflected from the rippling water and ice; one in full shade from the bridge deck. 

The bridge marks the turn around point of my daily walk, and I have stopped there for years of collected days, now, to simply observe and notice. The size and arrangement of triangles under that bridge varies by hour of  day, by season, by cloud cover. Yet the underlying physical intricacies that create that pattern remain predictable, steady and reliable. 

I think the light pattern under that bridge is a quilt block pattern waiting for me to create in echo. I have been experiencing, absorbing, collecting the design day by day. Now I can echo it, and I have an idea of how.

There is no story there for me, no drama or comedy, no metaphor. It is just an experience of the moment. The pattern of light just is. As I notice, it invites me to just be. There, in the moment of noticing this morning, I felt happy.

I came home to find this quote on today's Writer's Almanac: Edith Wharton said, "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that receives it."

It's been more than a week since I wrote here? Yes, but all "the boys" and their families were here on Saturday, and I fell into first preparation, then the experience of the hour, and then a glorious exhaustion from which I am now recovering.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In relationship

Bald eagles flew about the valley yesterday, so bold and screechy-voiced, so intensely colored dark and white, so full bodied and broad of wing. Then as I walked along Deer Creek I thought of the slender heron, and how I hadn't seen one since perhaps Thanksgiving. I realized I didn't know if they winter here.

I wished I might soon see a heron again. Sure enough, as I approached the bridge where I turn around, there on a rock stood Mr. Heron. He was beautiful, of course, tall and slim and remarkable in his rich but subtle colors. Out of respect, I stopped and did not stare. I saw him, and he saw me, too. I thought his rights to feel safe took precedence over my desire to look at him long.

In the past week the local deer herd has twice taken a time of  afternoon rest in the woods near the back of my house. The first time I saw them there, I had just come home from grocery shopping and did an initial double take, all those big rocks where there had been no rocks. They focused on me, ears and faces, long enough to decide I was no threat. Then, as I moved window to window and looked, I identified seven of them, two with their heads down and eyes closed, the others calmly chewing cud, black trimmed ears twitching here and there, relaxed in the deep layer of leaves. Two youngsters, fawns this past spring, were up and prancing or standing close to their chosen adult.

I am part of a circle of friends, a large extended family, a close and beloved nuclear family. I stand in relationship to many individuals of the human world, yes. Those are not my only relationships, though.

As I experience my place in the natural world, I am conscious of how I stand in relationship to the birds and the deer, the earth worm and wasp, the trees and rocks. If we limit our imaginations to mere human relationship terms, we-- well, limit ourselves. 

The challenge, it seems to me, is to live densely surrounded by the pressing and immediate human world and yet to recognize a deeper, wider, interdependent existence as well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let's read!

Titus Atkins, a high school student in Brooklyn, says that reading Captain Underpants led him, when he was in second grade, to reading The Chronicles of Narnia. His mom told him they were kind of the same. (Reported this morning on NPR's "Morning Edition." A new Captain Underpants story is being released today.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Makes me laugh

from Jessica Custér Bindel:

haikus are easy
but sometimes they don't make sense

Friday, January 11, 2013

Spinning days of January

I am already able to notice that the days are lengthening, and I am thankful for the sureness that they will continue to do so. As reliable as the lengthening of time the sun shows at our particular latitude, all variety of change is utterly true and reliable.

It has also dawned on me and shone bright as a clear, January noon that for all our cultural "Think Positive" sermons, no atom is whole without its electrons. Perhaps life could be better if we each grow to be aware of and honor our negative parts, incorporate instead of suppress them, in order to experience wholeness, whole-hearted-ness?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trash, imagining, trust.

The natural world does not create trash, it creates food, and death is our word for a specific moment of change. We humans, at the top of the food chain, imagining ourselves so powerful (and not imagining how powerful we, in congregate, really might be) have repositioned molecular structures to create Styrofoam and other plastics, medicines that we expel unprocessed, nuclear waste. A multitude of trash for land-air-water that Mother Earth didn't naturally create and cannot easily use as food. While doing this we seem to have forgotten that we, also, eat and drink and have our life breath from constant change, from the recycled Mother Earth. 

I wonder: how long can we create trash before Mother can no longer bear our burdens? What must we grow to understand?  What in our social structure must die? What in our political world can we change to diminish the multitudes of varieties of trash we create? Why, we even label some people as trash. Just imagine.

I love the mystical underpinnings of the world that I observe every waking moment. I trust nature. I also happen to love some engineers and scientists, and I trust their imaginations and their practical ways of doing. And I trust that if we must continue to destroy our home planet, it will be an easy path.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My life in retirement has much space for things that are important but not urgent.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A flock of blue birds often flutters around in the branches as I walk near Deer Creek, the male's colors so intense, blue with rosy breasts, the females more subtle and equally beautiful. A little way down the road a male pileated woodpecker occasionally works a tree trunk, so dressy in his polished black with white trim and his fancy red hat. He's so much bigger than the blue birds. Simultaneously sharing the same sky space are bald eagles, down from the Susquehanna, feeding on fresh meat put out for them in the field.

Such a size range. Just like humans. And who is to say which is more valuable?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been." Rainer Maria Rilke