Tag Archive - Poetry

The Mystery of Art

MysteryThere is a fairly good chance that you know Jonathan Jackson as an Emmy award winning actor from television shows like General Hospital and Nashville, or from films like Tuck Everlasting and The Deep End of the Ocean. You might even know him as part of the band Enation. What you might not know is that he is also a philosopher poet, a budding theologian, and an Orthodox Christian. All of this coalesces in his new book, The Mystery of Art, a beautiful and compelling articulation of what it means to be “an artist in the Image of God.”

Following in the tradition of artists like Flannery O’Connor, C.S Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Makoto Fujimura and others who have spoken insightfully about the intersection of art and faith, Jonathan stitches together wisdom from saints, authors, filmmakers, and friends with stories and observations of his own to clean the lens of our perception.

This is one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a long time. I frequently find myself recalling passages and ruminating on them even though it’s been two months since I read it. I wanted to include more than twice as much of the author’s content in the post than is here. Whittling it away has been excruciating. So, I will keep my remarks brief and mostly let the author speak for himself. I hope you will be intrigued and read the book so that you too may be nourished and inspired.

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet. ~St. Porphyrios

In the introduction, the author invites us to remember a Christianity that “experienced Christ by means of a holistic, sacramental, and artistic reality” and to embrace art’s unique ability to penetrate to the heart of things.

Whenever an artist brings someone into the presence of meaning, in that moment his work becomes incarnational instead of ideological…he awakens the heart to a deeper significance.

Art as Beauty:

Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man. ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Because we are made in the image of the Creator, we ourselves are creative, regardless of vocation. “We are artists in the way we love. We are poets in the way we pray.” In this, we operate in concert with the Trinity:

The artist is never more himself than when his heart is united with the Holy Spirit; when he approaches his craft as a kind of symphony with God.

Art as Mystery and Madness:

Man is at once glorious and broken–magnificently radiant and deeply wounded.

We are all familiar with the image of the suffering artist. This suffering can be “destructive, narcissistic, and tormented” or “therapeutic, selfless, and holy“. Dostoevsky is given as an example of one whose “inner illumination” made it possible to “transform his suffering and give it meaning.”

Art as Prayer and Intercession:

The artist is to become a living prayer.

With personal examples of roles that brought him close to the sufferings of others, Jonathan explains how these became unique opportunities to intercede on behalf of these people; to stand with them in their pain.

The artist’s performances are destined to become not only seamless acts of prayer but also holy acts of intercession. The spiritual artist creates from a place of wounded love and humility–like Christ.

Art as Listening:

If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet…maybe we could understand something. ~Federico Fellini

Silence teaches the artist to listen–it creates space inside of him to discover secrets and encounter mysteries. To be silent before anything or anyone is an act of humility…Humility has no reason to hide or falsify itself. Therefore, silence teaches the artist how to tell the truth.

Art as Belief:

The most brilliant artists possess the gift of faith, whether they are conscious or subconscious participants in this grace.

Art as Prophecy:

Creating is meant to be a form of prophecy…To be prophetic means to live in communion with the Spirit. His intentions become the artist’s intentions, through ceaseless prayer, love-filled repentance, and the transformation of the mind…When an artist abandons the illusion of autonomy, he becomes a vessel of the Divine Flame…

Contrived art for the sake of preaching to people is an offense to the mystery and sacredness of creation. Beauty and honesty are the primary inspirations of the artist: he trusts the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit to lead hearts into the truth. The prophetic artist is one who breaks open the remembrance of humanity, creating an atmosphere for the Spirit of God to breathe new life into creation.

Art as Sacrament:

Poetry is unhindered paradox and contradiction. It seeks to communicate something mystically before that thing can be apprehended cognitively. It is the music of words.

We have become a dualistic society, opposing the physical world to the spiritual. But this was never meant to be. We were created to be fully integrated beings. There is a physicality that is absolutely essential to faith. “Human beings are, in a very real sense, symphonic creatures.”

Art as Offering:

It may seem strange to portray events and characters that are not holy and beautiful or to write songs about troubled souls. But, in reality, it is not strange at all. Who better to prophetically enter into the depths of humanity than those who are living in ceaseless prayer with God?…The holiness of Christ brings us closer to humanity: closer to our true beauty and fearsome darkness. Any talk of Christianity that displays a haughty distance toward the brokenness and vulnerability of humanity has nothing to do with Christ.

Rejoice, O Artists:

Our society seems to think that joy is a conflict-free, lucid state of contentment. It is not. It is an act of rebellion: a holy and sacred rage…It is not placid, passive or docile. It is the madness of love.

One of the lovely gifts of the book is the inclusion of several original poems and prayers. I close with a short excerpt from one of those (from the chapter Art as Mystery and Madness).

O Spirit of Grace, you are complete and utter bliss. You are the ecstasy of a thousand kisses beneath the ocean. You are the rain of restoration and hope. You are the trembling inside my frame. You are the tears that have no end. You are the lightning of inspiration within my temple of wanderings. You are the heart of desire and the warmth of intimacy…Wisdom is your presence. Salvation is your embrace. Heaven is to be seen by you. I fall into your arms of love…

*All quotes in the post taken from the book. All unattributed quotes: Jonathan Jackson.

The Radical Defiance of Giving Thanks

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Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~I Thessalonians 5:18

Much of the time I feel like I lead a charmed life saturated with beauty and grace. Gratitude, for me, is as natural as breathing. But there have been seasons in my life when choosing to be grateful was an act of radical defiance. A trembling candle held out against the gathering dark. Maybe you know what that feels like. Maybe you are there now.

Gregory Petrov knew. A priest, he had been imprisoned by revolutionary forces in a Siberian gulag. Here, he would meet his death. In his personal effects, they found a prayer. He had titled it “Glory to God for All Things”–words uttered by St. John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. An act of radical defiance. “A song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings.”

Last night we prayed his words. At times, their piercing loveliness caught in my throat. My heart swelled and my eyes filled with tears.

Wherever you find yourself on this day, I offer you his words. Perhaps they simply give voice to the deep joy in your heart. But, perhaps they are a vehicle for you to ride into a place of gratitude. A borrowed thanks. A radical defiance against your own gathering dark.

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O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

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When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer’s bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

When Thou didst call me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Thy deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Thy face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to Thee, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to Thee, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Thy commandments
Glory to Thee, making Thyself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to Thee, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to Thee, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to Thee, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love
Glory to Thee, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

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*I assigned myself the arduous task of choosing only a few stanzas to share with you. I encourage you to read the whole of the prayer HERE.

**All bolds in the text are mine.

Where the Wild Things Are…

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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
~John Muir

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I lie on my back looking up through a mishmash of leaves–silver, chartreuse, deep green–at a powdery blue sky. The cold of the stone presses against my hot skin and I feel it seep into me like ink in water. The taste of blackberries, harvested along the trail, lingers on my tongue; sweet and wild.

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And I am filled with gratitude: for feet that keep moving one step after another; for the boy beside me who is generously supplementing my store of water with his own; for extravagant, gratuitous beauty; for the gift of being wildly, utterly alive in this moment.

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I could have stepped on this little guy. He is only three inches across. But even tiny turtles receive their own measure of grace, and he and I were both spared the grief of his undoing. Meanwhile, I try to reconcile the fact that the same Artist who spread out the vast panoramas that we keep stumbling across also took time to mold the intricate copper mosaic of little bit’s ruffled shell.

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Keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
~John Muir

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Everywhere we go we can hear the water. Gurgling, gushing, falling over itself, leaping over rocks, plummeting, dashing, stilling for a moment, collecting in pools, then being hurled through some impossibly narrow channel to form a funnel of foam. Sometimes it comes soft, droplets forming along mossy rocks, languidly lengthening til they tumble through the air onto a smooth shimmer of rock below, gliding effortlessly into some hidden underground cavern before oozing along the edge of a cliff in a slow meander to the stream below. All the while, the water is in me. Washing. Stilling. Despite the exertion of climbing over and around rocks, I feel my heart softening. Slowing. This is why I am here.

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One makes unexpected acquaintances along the trail. 🙂 I think of the woman, nearly 70 I imagine, hair done, make-up on, practically bouncing on the uphill portion of the trail, smiling and greeting us as though she were walking to her mailbox. Mike and I are both taking notes. We make a promise to one another to still be on the trail–smiling!–when we are her age. There is the Indian family with their lilting, musical words, and another family from Brazil. And I wonder how they found this place when I have lived only two hours away from it my whole life and am only just now getting here.

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Boys will be boys. Especially when you get them away from all the responsibility and weight of the everyday. Maybe this is the best part. And we talk about things out here, this boy and I. The deep things that we never seem to have time for elsewhere. Here, we are insulated by all the trees and the air, the crickets and katydids, the water and the stone. Here we find a safe place for wrestling with hard things, and for dreaming, and for being utterly vulnerable. A great deal of growing into one another happens in these wild places.

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There is a testing that happens on the trail. A pushing beyond boundaries. A going farther than I think I can go. Choosing to do the hard thing because I know it is making me stronger. It is good practice. For life. And when the testing is through, there is deep thankfulness. And sometimes it looks like this: plunging hot, weary feet that have carried me over 23 miles of hills and rocks, roots and steps, bridges and boulders, into the icy cold of a mountain stream. And the sweetness of it flows into my body like a thousand amens, like a chorus of hallelujahs. And the veil between this world and the other is thinned. And I know that I would do it all over. Will do it all over. Again and again.

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O Lord, how lovely it is to be your guest:
Breeze full of scent; mountains reaching to the skies;
Waters like a boundless mirror,
Reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds.
All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of tenderness,
Birds and beasts bear the imprint of your love…
~Akathist in Praise of Creation

*The first four photos, as well as the last, were taken inside Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park on the trail from Signal Point to Mushroom Rock. The others were taken inside Cloudland Canyon State Park, one of the most beautiful state parks I have ever visited.

Though I have hinted at it here, I cannot tell you all it means to me to be in wild places. But I encourage you to give yourself a chance to find out. Look up the nearest state or national park in your area. Get out there for an hour or two. Take your time. Meander. Look closely. Leave your phone in the car. Go by yourself, or with someone you love. If you need inspiration, check out some of these resources:

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Any thing written by Jean Craighead George, but especially My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves (Your kids will love these!)
Also, the books of Gene Stratton-Porter, especially Girl of the Limberlost
The poetry of Mary Oliver and Rainer Maria Rilke
The poetry and novels of Wendell Berry, especially the Port William series
The films: Into the Wild, Mile…Mile and a Half, 180* South
The prayers of Thomas Merton
Kim’s raw, audacious blog So Many Places
Backpacker magazine

Confession Shortly Before the Forty-Eighth Birthday

When my friend Amanda kindly lent me her beautiful hard-cover, deckle-edged volume of Madeleine L’Engle’s poems, I’m sure she never imagined that I would keep it for MONTHS. But it is a book that begs to be savored. Slowly. In sweet sips. It just so happens that I did some sipping last night.

I woke just before 2:00 and could not get back to sleep. So, I pulled the volume from the stack beside my bed, along with my reading glasses, stopped by the kitchen for a banana, then curled up in the yellow chair near the stained glass lamp, the one with the dragonflies. The third poem I read was the one that here follows. A delicious irony given that in 3 days, I myself will be forty-eight. They are the very words I would say if I were wiser and more elegant. It is not the first time the poet has captured precisely where I am at a given moment. I dare say it will not be the last.

Incidentally, I did this morning what I should have done some time ago. I purchased my own copy of The Ordering of Love. I plan to return Amanda’s, hopefully no worse for the wear, this evening.

Confession Shortly Before the Forty-Eighth Birthday

Here I am, beyond the middle middle,
According to chronology,
No closer to solving cosmic or private riddle,
No further from apology
For clumsy self’s continuing ineptitude,
Still shaken by the heart’s wild battering.
Intemperate passions constantly intrude;
I cannot keep small hurts from mattering,
Am shattered when met with mild irritation,
Need reassurance, feel inadequate and foolish,
Seek love’s return, bump into abrogation,
Am stubborn beyond the point of being merely mulish.
So I am saved only by the strange power of silence,
The disciplined joy of work and rule
Inner and outer imposed, steel cold. The violence
Of the freezing wind sustains the heart. So this poor fool
is fed, is nourished, forgets then to be concerned with rust;
Repentance, too, is turning, if towards dust,
And gratitude sings forth in adoration
Of the one who touched and healed the halt and lame
With the aweful, blissful power of his spoken Name.

Mindful

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Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

~Mary Oliver

Memorable Literary Companions of 2013

There is something magical about opening a new book. The promise. The anticipation. New worlds I have never yet seen. The story of a life very like, or unlike, my own. Ideas, thoughts, words that will rankle, discomfit, expand, illumine. This year I opened the pages of 36 books. Some new. Some old and much beloved. As I looked back over them in preparation for this post, I was filled with gratitude for every writer who sat down and penned the beautiful words that have nourished and delighted me this year.

Here are a few of the more memorable encounters…

 

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, Christian Wiman

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this…

And so begins the most important book I read this year. Christian Wiman grew up in a west Texas town where faith was a presumption. Unquestioned. When, as a college student, he discovered that there were people who did not believe in God, he shrugged off his inherited “faith” like a jacket that has grown too warm for the afternoon. For two decades he lived comfortably with the absence of God until two cataclysmic events shook his life. He fell in love…

…when I met Danielle, not only was that gray veil between me and the world ripped aside, colors aching back into things, but all the particulars of the world suddenly seemed in excess of themselves, and thus more truly themselves. We, too, were part of this enlargement: it was as if our love demanded some expression beyond the blissful intensity our two lives made.

…and he learned he had a rare and incurable form of cancer.

The book chronicles the several years between then and now. Years that have included unimaginable pain, bones dying, locked joints, bowel failure, and isolation. And in the midst of this, a wrestling with God, with faith, with poetry and art. A raw, authentic quest to penetrate to deep things. To drink hungrily of the beautiful. To weave together moments of exquisite clarity with moments of excruciating loneliness and pain into a tapestry of life that is rich and expansive and true.

His writing style is evocative and lovely and threaded throughout are delicious lines of borrowed poetry and prose that nourished and challenged him along the way. I am grateful to Makoto Fujimura for whetting my appetite for this one. I give it my highest recommendation.

What a relief it can be…to meet God right here in the havoc of chance, to feel enduring love like a stroke of pure luck.

 

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, Billy Collins

I had the distinct privilege of hearing Billy Collins at the Porter’s Call Evening of Stories last year. I was already a fan, but to hear him articulate the poems–his cadence, the pregnant pauses–was remarkable. Mike gifted me with this new collection of old and new poems for Christmas. On AUDIO. In the poet’s own voice! I have listened to it over and over. It is a spectacular collection of Collins’ work anyway–funny, poignant, clever–but completely irresistible when he reads them to me. If you are unsure of poetry, start here.

 

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg

This book has been on my list of candidates for a while, but this year my friend Nina put it in my hand. Thank you, Nina!! Clean, concise, and chock full of brilliance. If you are a writer or you want to be, you need this book. One of the best I have read on the craft.

 

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brene Brown

It is difficult for me to imagine any human alive who will not find herself in this book. Brene Brown has done years of research on shame and she uses her discoveries to help us build “shame resilience.” She understands that as long as we are alive, we will encounter experiences that shame us. It is what we do with that shame that determines whether we become captive to it or move past it. I read this one with bosom friends, and we laughed and cried our way through it with lots of “oh no!”s and “me too”s. You can get a taste with her Ted talk which has over 12 million views to date. Yep, it’s that good.

 

Tuesday’s With Morrie, Mitch Album

It took me a while to get around to reading the bestselling memoir of all time. I think I was suspicious of the fact that so many people liked it. :/ But when my friend Julie recommended it, I decided to check it out. Thank you, Julie!! Mitch Album spends several months of Tuesdays with his old college professor, Morrie, who is dying. Morrie has always been wise man. A man of examination and thought. But death sharpens that vision and helps him see with even keener perception. This is, in some ways, a book about dying. But it is much more a book about really living.

 

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

I read several books this year by Marilynne Robinson after Christian Wiman tempted me with excerpts in his book. They were all very good, but this was my favorite. Apparently the Pulitzer committee and I are in agreement. John Ames is 76 and knows he will not live to see his 7 year old son reach adulthood–a beloved, unexpected son of a sweet, unexpected second marriage–so he writes a book for his son telling of the life he has lived, the people that have mattered to him, and what all means in so far as he understands it. This narrative is woven in and out of these precious last days he is living with his beloveds. It is a tender, beautiful story told in clean, spare prose.

 

Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry

“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.”
“And how long is that going to take?”
“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”
“That could be a long time.”
“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”

The characters of Port William have become dear to me. Jayber might be my favorite. The life questions which were not answered in seminary work themselves out in front of him in the confessional of his barber chair, and in the community of characters to which he belongs, and does not belong, as a lifelong bachelor. An unlikely instructor in philosophy, perhaps, but instructor he is. Alternately ponderous, humorous, and sweet.

 

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

This was my year to read ghost stories. Not necessarily by design. I already knew this story from Hitchcock, of course, but when my friend Chelsea told me it was one of her favorite BOOKS, I checked it out. Naturally, the book takes you further into the subconscious of the characters, subtly weaving a web that begins to press against the chest. Artful storytelling, well developed characters, and a host of plot twists make this a terrifically engaging read.

 

Silence, Shusaku Endo

This book was one of the reasons I chose to use the word “memorable” rather than “favorite” in the title of this post. This was a difficult read. Though there are shifts in perspective, much of the story is told in the voice of Rodrigues, a Portugese priest filled with love for the Japanese people who travels to Japan to encourage persecuted believers and find news of a lost priest. He is almost immediately captured. As he observes the cruel torture and relentless persecution of the remnant church, he wrestles with a God who is “silent”. Can his fragile faith withstand the anguish, the futility, the silence?

 

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

Lily Owens wants desperately to be loved. He father is cruel and her only memory of her mother is of the afternoon she died. She sat in a closet while her mother and father fought. There was a gun. Lily picked up the gun. There was a loud noise. Her mother was dead.

Lily runs away from home seeking answers and follows her mother’s picture of a Black Madonna to Tiburon, South Carolina. Here she will live with the “Calendar sisters” and learn the art of bee-keeping. But she will learn much more than that. A complex, poignant coming of age story.

p.s. Jenna Lamia who reads the audio book is fantastic! I highly recommend listening if that is an option.
p.s.s. The movie is good, but you miss so much of the story. Read, then watch. 🙂

 

Davita’s Harp, Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok writes brilliantly of the liminal spaces in life. Of paradox. In this book, Davita’s parents have rejected the faith of their childhoods, Jewish and Christian, and are staking everything on socialism. There are frequent, hushed night time meetings at their home, which force them to move repeatedly, and always an undercurrent of impending danger. Davita has to string truth together for herself from many disparate influences; her Christian aunt who sweeps in like an angel in times of trouble, her devout Jewish cousin whose home radiates peace and warmth, and her radical parents who are risking everything to make the world better for her.

 

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

Another ghost story. Or is it? A haunting tale set down by a governess some years after it happens. Perplexing, nuanced, mysterious, spine-tingling, it leaves one with more questions than answers. Positively delicious.

 

Your turn. Best books you read this year? Go!

p.s. Thanks to Kari for recommending “I Thought it was….”, to Ian and Anne for “Jayber…”, to Giorgio for “Silence”, to Karissa and Jen for “Secret Life…”, and to David for “Davita…”. I am profoundly grateful for my bookish friends. 🙂

For Monday, a Poem…

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Over several assorted Mondays this fall, I have gathered with a motley, seasoned, gorgeous collection of women. We have brought our various hurts and glories and peculiar ways of seeing to the table. A dining room table. One that has served up many a delicious repast in times past, and times yet to come. Here we have feasted on story and laughter and poems. We have lived in and out of one another’s lives. Words have nourished us; challenged and strengthened us; and sent us back into our everyday lives glowing, like Moses, betraying that we have been in the Presence.

Today we are done. For a space. And already I miss it. The very idea of it.

So I am carving out a space here for poems, on Mondays, just because. Favorites. Some from my Creative Lectio class, and some from life, and all the craziness of life, and the beauty that is ache and can only be conveyed in the strict economy and the intense potency of the poetic line.

And you may love it, or you may hate it. And that’s ok. But I challenge you to read it before you decide. Read it out loud. Let the words swim in the air and travel back to you across space. And see what it means. To you.

For today, one of the more meddlesome poems we read this fall. Meddlesome in that I have not been able to stop thinking about it, because it is so wondrously lovely and deep. Of Rilke, one of my favorites.  A poet who speaks a heart language that pierces me to the very entrails of my being.

Ill Matched Threads

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth–
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you.

In the softness of the evening
it’s you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

Rainer Maria Rilke

My profound gratitude to Nita Andrews and Patsy Clairmont who have poured so much beauty and truth into my soul over the past year in our Creative Lectio experience. I love you both.

For I Will Consider My Granddaughter Kenzie…

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FOR I WILL CONSIDER MY GRANDDAUGHTER KENZIE

For she catches sunbeams in her hands and puts out her tongue to taste them.

For she looks at me just before plunging both feet into a puddle and she is all mischief and wonder and delight and I try to remember why I shouldn’t let her but I forget.

For she must spin if the grass is green and the lawn is large.

For sometimes she pauses just at the top of the slide to gaze at the lawn and I know she is spinning in her heart.

For she buries her whole face in a blossom to breathe its scent and emerges blissful and flecked with pollen.

For she loves her mommy.

For she awakens a sweet radiance in her mommy, soft and gentle and all joy.

For she is generous to all, especially to old people.

For she holds her head sideways when she poses for a photograph.

For after the photograph, she says “awww, cute”.

For she loves her Pops

For she loves music and making music and people who make music and instruments that make music.

For music makes her dance.

For she wields both fork and spoon with dexterity but prefers to eat with her hands.

For when she asks for candy she always says “just one”, but does not mean it.

For she loves Josh and Jake.

For sometimes she holds her cup with her feet just because she can.

For she tucks one corner of her paci inside her lip.

For she colors with mad, bold strokes and makes no apologies about that.

For she loves books.

For she is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For she greets every morning, every moment, with expectation that something wonderful is about to happen.

For sometimes when I hold her she puts one hand in my hair and one on my face and I know what it means to be truly happy.

For she has a shoe fetish, yet prefers to be barefoot.

For her toes are soft and round and make sweet wet footprints on the porch after she has walked in the dew.

For she loves to pray.

For she laughs easily and often and always out loud.

For she climbs everything.

For she loves water and perceives it as a personal gift to her from someone who loves her.

For sometimes she kisses me first.

For there is nothing sweeter than her peace when at rest.

For there is nothing brisker than her life when in motion.

For she is of the tribe of angel.

For she loves me.

IMG_2747

*The form of the poem is borrowed from Mary Oliver’s “For I Will Consider My Dog Percy” She, in turn, borrowed it from Christopher Smart’s “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry.” Lines in italics are borrowed from both.

  puddle

A Ballade of Place…

We almost missed it. Many people do.

It was our last morning in Paris, and we had seen everything on our list. We had one ticket left on our City Pass. Sainte Chapelle. A church. We had a little time to spare and it was near by.

Sainte Chapelle was built to house relics brought back from the Holy Land, including what was purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Christ. It was constructed at the pinnacle of the Gothic age when architects had perfected the flying buttress system to an art. Hence, the church is filled with windows. Three walls of her are very nearly windows only, beginning a few feet of the floor and soaring into the heavens, separated by only the finest ribs of support.

It is made even more dramatic by the fact that you reach it by climbing a dark, close spiral staircase. You wind your way up and up through the darkness until you are suddenly turned out into a magnificence you could never have imagined.

Standing in that place was, and still is, one of the holiest moments of my life. God was a presence that could be touched and breathed and worn there. His grandeur leaked from every pane of glass.

I have never explained that moment to my satisfaction, though I have tried. My latest attempt at giving it voice was inspired by a creative lectio experience with my beautiful friends Nita and Patsy. It is, perhaps, the closest I have come. Yet.

Sainte Chapelle

The steps have been hollowed out
by centuries of use. Still they spiral
upward through the dark, close
column of stone till they spill me out
into the upper chamber.

I am assaulted by color.
Jeweled windows hang
suspended from the sky.
Sunlight scatters the jewels across the floor
and in my hair
and on my skin.

And I find that I have forgotten
to breathe. And my face is wet.

And I think of poor, hungry peasants
who gave of their meager means to build
great edifices for God, and how I scorned
their impracticality.

And I realize I would gladly starve
to stand, just once, in a place
where holiness rests
like jewels
on my skin.

 

Sainte_Chapelle__Paris_by_yetieater

sainte chapelle ceiling

List of Candidates 2013

I will die with a list of books I meant to read, but didn’t.

This thought disturbs me.

Terribly.

So every year I whittle away at the books I know to be on that list. A little at a time. And every year I learn about other wonderful books. So I add them. And every time I finish reading a glorious novel, a delicious bit of poetry, or an inspiring biography, I pray a little prayer of thanks, not only for the author who penned the words, but for the friend who introduced me to them. If you are reading this, there is a good chance that person was you.

The list is not static, but grows all year through. However, I do make a deliberate effort in January to sweep together all the leavings of the previous year’s list along with titles jotted onto scraps of paper and in margins of books, or plugged into my phone, and begin again. I get so excited I want to read everything all at once. But life intervenes and I will have to tuck them in here and there wherever I can carve out a wee bit of space.

My list of candidates has improved considerably since I began soliciting help from you, my readers. So once again, I am giving you a look at what is already on my list, and asking you to help me fill it in. What have you read recently that rocked your world? What is that book you come back to over and over? Tell me about it. Please!

Here is what I have thus far…

Silence by Shusaku Endo*
Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry*
Waiting for God by Simone Weil
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho
Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok*
On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit by Saint Seraphim of Sarov
The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell*
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom*
The Poetry of John Keats
Story by Robert McKee
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier*
The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus
The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho*
The Liar’s Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr
Matisse Picasso and Gertrude Stein by Gertrude Stein
Behold the Beauty of the Lord by Henri Nouwen*
Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

*Indicates book has been completed

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