Consider: In the Garden

Dear Friends,

Near the end of Lindsay’s three-week trip to Italy, I received a brief text that spoke volumes about how, even in the most stunning of locations, we can begin to feel adrift, anxious for something to root us to our own rhythm again–work, ritual, a familiar tea cup, a bedside table stacked with books waiting to be read.  Of course, this restlessness can strike at any moment, even in the midst of the most peaceful day at home or the most hectic week at work.

During times of great restlessness, I feel tempted to fill the questioning silence with easy, accessible noise to distract me from my soul’s discomfort.  I have a rolodex of options: a purchase on Amazon, another hour at my computer, my favorite BBC shows, or my favorite extrovert option–planning a party or at least finding a friend for coffee.  These are fine things in themselves (and I do throw a good party), but by forty, I know myself well enough to recognize my old tactics. And I must honestly ask myself: what is my spirit actually panting for?  in Luke's garden

I find the response to my question in silence and listening, sometimes simply in the act of walking into the garden, falling on my knees, and weeding.  I need places where I can be long enough to find what I need to take me through another day of living and loving the people and earth around me.  Among the poppies and the clover and the roses, I find space to sort through all that clatters in my head. With my hands in soil, I grasp a few fundamental words that orient me to what is real.  There is robust beauty there, and poems to be found, like this one I finally wrote down after weeks of carrying it about with me.

Rhododendrons, Western Washington, Spring 2018

As our plane started its descent, we glimpsed them:
Thousands of rhododendrons
spilling pink and orange watercolor across the city’s somber pallette.
I thought of what a preacher told us.
This world is a warzone, he said, You get to be William Wallace
in Braveheart.  Can you think of anything better?
Later, hands cradling three ripe plums from our tree, my husband said,
I think this world is a garden.

Did you know there are some 800 varieties of rhododendrons,
holding early morning mist in Japan,
arching sinuous branches over forgotten Appalachian footpaths,
unfolding fuchsia petals in rugged Nepalese mountains?
In my suburban town near Seattle
they sing on every street corner.

Behind our pea trellis and the raised bed
sown with cosmos
rhododendrons crowd, shoulder to shoulder,
offering nectar to bees and hummingbirds.
Some days you can see my gladness
from the air, peach- and lavender-colored blooms.
On others, I am quiet, an evergreen leaf, pearled by rain.
This is God’s garden
and today I am content to hold the dew.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  We’d love to know what metaphors spring to mind as you think of this world we live and move in.  As always, we are honored by all your thoughts and reflections as we share this journey into wonder together.

PS2.  To see Lindsay’s actual text from Italy, please check out the Back Page.

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Consider: In the midst of winter

Dear Friends,

It is winter, the bleak midwinter, the interminable haul between the end of Christmas and the first crocus.  I’ve been remembering a grey, ugly January afternoon many years ago when we still lived in Pennsylvania, when the snow had turned black with car exhaust.  In those days, the kids were young and still needed me every moment; silence was rare, a solitary walk still rarer.  But that frozen day, I needed to be by myself.  I left the girls with Martin and tromped up a neighborhood hill to my dear friend, Nancy’s house.  I lingered on the curb and surveyed her garden.

It was rather a mess: the chard and lettuces had shot to seed long ago; a tangled vine curved around the front door.  I remembered that the summer before, robins had made a nest in the house eaves.  Nancy had instructed the entire family to stop using the front door in order not to disturb the fledglings.  A few short weeks later, she left the garden and the robins and lay down in a hospice bed; shortly afterwards, she died.  She had battled cancer for three years.  I watched as her three young children followed her casket up to the front of the church.

On that January afternoon, the robin’s nest was empty.  Nancy was a zealot for sustainability and permaculture, and her yard showed it: an almond tree’s bare branches rose above a tangle of spent basil.  Around the side of the house, there were still blackened stalks of tomatoes and limp pea vines.  There was the patch where she’d plucked the delicata squash last fall and handed it to me with great awe, as if it were a sacred thing–and it was, pin-striped yellow and green.

Nancy and I were much like sisters in those years; we swapped kids, spent long afternoons peeling apples for sauce.  She taught my daughter to read and I taught hers to sing.  In the sick, miserable months when I was pregnant with my youngest, she sat me on the stool in her kitchen and fed me soup out of her favorite pottery bowl.  We dreamed gardens together.  Late in her illness, I made her soup, I went with her to the clinic, and in the silence as she breathed in oxygen, I recited “The Owl and the Pussycat” to pass the time.

Now, in her winter garden, there was silence again.  I went to work, yanking up dead snarls of herbs, cutting back perennials, scooping up armfuls of leaves.  The dry, brittle plants I pulled and piled up for compost were the same she had tenderly put in the ground months before.  As I cleared the soil back to a dark, black richness, I felt the weight of this sacred duty, and the greatness of my love for her.  I felt, too, the surprising, miraculous presence of life.  Unbidden, even offensive to me who worked in sorrow, I smelled the coming spring.  I snapped back a dead perennial stalk and there was a flash of green.  The dried basil was redolent of summer; the earthworms, I knew, were curled tightly just below my fingers, sleeping until the earth would warm again.

A while after I tidied her garden, I accompanied Nancy’s family to visit her grave, still a unhealed gash in the pale grass.  Around us, farmland rolled away in a sea of undulating hills. Nancy’s children stood beside me, young and vulnerable, desperately missing their mother.  Nancy’s husband raised his eyes and searched the horizon.   “We look for the eternal spring,” he said.

IMG_0804I wondered at the time if those words came straight from the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, to which the family belonged; for each word seemed to me to bear mysterious promise–like the perennials in Nancy’s garden.  We look for the eternal spring.  Those are the two things I remember from that season following her death: the silence of working in her garden, and the simple goodness of her husband’s graveside words.  Not gaudy or extraneous or saccharine, those words bound up pain and longing and faith at once, and I have carried them with me ever since.

In this new year, may we be present with each other, holding one another in silence, with love, with the goodness of sacred words.  May we find solace in the seasons of this beautiful world, and in the wonder that bids us look beyond the brittle stalks of winter.

Peace,

Kim

Consider: We are made to celebrate each other

Dear Friends,

girls with leaves in handAs a writer, I care passionately about words.  As my church’s artist-in-residence, I share prayers and mediations with congregants, choosing words with painstaking care, knowing that what comes out of my mouth has the power to comfort and deepen or distract and harm.  As a mother of three girls from elementary to high school, I am a vigilant moderator of words.  Just yesterday, I took my eleven-year old aside for the umpeenth time, locked my eyes with hers, and said, “You may not say hate anymore.”

In this cynical time when public insult is only one tweet away, I found it encouraging when my husband came home from a conference and told me that the facilitator had closed with a blessing.  The facilitator, who is from an Indian-Kenyan heritage where benedictions are an integral part of life, read a blessing that invited its listeners to move from self-protection to vulnerability and love for others.

In a country where our right to free speech is protected by law, I often feel as though words feel cheap, bandied about thoughtlessly.  But what we say flows from who we are, and that makes each word pregnant with meaning.  Words start wars, end relationships, rip through families.  As I endlessly tell my children, we are responsible for every word, however thoughtless, that leaves our lips.

But what about words chosen intentionally with love?  Why are we so often dismissive and cynical of gentleness?  In our preference for biting satire and one-liners, have we created a desert devoid of genuine kindness?  Have we as a culture forgotten how to bless one another?

“In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.  It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. . .It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast,” Celtic mystic and priest John O’Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.

I have found nothing more powerful than words carefully crafted in love and imagination.  No matter what your spiritual background, this is a heritage we can all share, a common language of blessing.  You don’t have to be a writer or a poet or a priest.  Beginning to bless another person can be as simple as pausing in the midst of a hectic day to say to a friend or colleague, “You do good work;” “You are a delightful person, and may you find delight today;” “May you find courage in this hard situation.”  These are profoundly powerful to hear.  We are parched for authentic, attentive words.

So often I neglect to bless others because I am weary; I feel I deserve to receive and have nothing left to give.  But in the act of blessing others, we create streams of grace that flow over the giver and the receiver:  “The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us,” John O’Donohue writes.  “Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.”

This week, though I am at turns blinded by cynicism and wearied by life, I hope to open my eyes to see whom I can bless.  Authentic, simple love: it is the center of who we are.  Let us not forget that we are made to find beauty in others, to name it, and celebrate it.

girls in leavesSo this week, may you be enfolded by transforming goodness, and may you have the courage to open your arms to others and to speak in wonder and love.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  This week, I highly recommend:

this interview between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue (one of my all-time favorites on On Being).

this reflection by Parker Palmer– “The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice” which includes this amazing quote from Mary Oliver:  “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

this lovely blogpost I serendipitously stumbled upon by farmer and family physician Emily Polis Gibson, which reminds me that blessing others is also (and should often be) a silent gift, a benediction of attentive listening.  Check out the quotes to the right of the post–there’s a beautiful one by T.S. Eliot included.

P.S.S.  We are profoundly thankful for all of you.  As always, we are excited to expand our wonder by hearing your comments and recommended reading!  Please share either in a comment on our  blog or on Facebook, or contact us here.

A World of Dew, And Yet

It’s early summer and the roses are as wide as tea saucers.  When I pass by the garden on the way into the house, their heady scent cloaks me.  There are too many blooms to cut and bring inside, but the few I’ve arranged simply in vases astound me with their dense layers of petals.  

I am humbled by beauty like this; without a great deal of work from me, the garden yields new blossoms every morning. As I read Lindsay’s Consider this week, I felt humbled again by the realization that though majesty and wonder charge our world, many people can’t experience either. How fortunate I am to be able to feel something as I look at the roses.

I am aware that my perception of beauty and enjoyment of this world is a gift, and a tenuous one at that.  I think of the dear people I’ve known who have battled depression, of the powerlessness and despair they have tried to describe–a dulling of all senses, an inability to respond, to hear, to see.  “It’s like being deep underwater, wrapped in chains,” a friend once told me.  I can see glimmers of action, hear muted voices above me, but I can’t free myself to swim to the surface.”  When this friend ended her life after a long battle with mental illness, someone told me that she believed some people were just not meant for this world.

No.  I can’t believe it.  My convictions tell me otherwise; my faith that we are eternal beings made in the image of God instills a hope in me that, like Emily Dickinson’s bird with feathers, sang on even in the terrible, broken days that followed my friend’s death.

And yet the ache.  And yet the terrible irony that the people I love who have suffered most acutely from depression are people who, when they are well, are most sensitive to the goodness and beauty in the world.  The injustice of it, the awful brokenness of it, makes me long for more than this world of dew.

This world of dew

Is a world of dew,

And yet. . . .

Poet Kobayashi Issa wrote this after his one-year old daughter died from smallpox.  His days were shot through by tragedy–two more children and his wife also died.  And yet he wrote magnificent haiku that evidenced life was often an encounter with delight.  Here’s another from his wonderful volume The Spring of My Life that I loved so much I wrote up on our kitchen wall:

With such a voice

You should also learn to dance,

Bellowing Frog.

“We are made for this world.  We are not made for this world.”  Can both be true?

A year after a close friend of mine died from breast cancer, I stood with her nine-year old daughter at her grave, still a gash of unhealed dirt in the cemetery.  This girl whom I love so much, best friend to my own daughter, bent under the weight of her grief.  Her shoulders shook with sobs.  Her father, my friend’s husband, looked out into the hills smoky with twilight and shining with the first color of fall, and said, “We look for the Eternal Spring.”  

I have never forgotten his words.  In this early summer with the roses before me, I touch the sorrow that scars us all.  I am made for this world, wholly and completely.  With great humility, I say, Yes! to this world, and yet. . .And yet.   I long for the Eternal Spring.

Consider: The Wonder and Wound of this World

Dear Friends-

Yesterday the dog and I went on our favorite run.  For half an hour before I laced my shoes, I walked around moaning, “I don’t want to go.  Don’t make me go.”  There was no one “making” me go, unless you count the way Phoebe paced behind me, showing the “great red tear that makes us so sorry for noble dogs,” as J.M. Barrie calls it.  At last, with what seemed incredible mental effort, my shoes were on, my excuses over and we were padding out the door.  Predictably, within the first 400 yards, I wondered what all my fuss had been about.   

It was impossibly beautiful out there.  In the cooler, shadowy places, the hillsides were blue tongues of lupine, red sparks of Indian Paintbrush.  And in one spot, as I rounded a tight corner, I startled a flock of finches.  They flurried up, a chittering cumulous.  First a few.  Then more and more.  Until scores had burst from cover in the lupine, wings glinting in the low sun, and disappeared into the dark shadows of a lone ponderosa.  I felt over-awed by the sight, filled with a glad in-rush, new-born.  And yet in the same moment, something snagged my heart, that thing we call “a pang,” that sense beauty beheld is passing even as we encounter it.

“For to come upon warblers in early May

Was to forget time and death:

How they filled the oriole’s elm, a twittering restless

cloud, all one morning,” —Theodore Roethke, North American Sequence

I love the beauty in these lines from Roethke.  But I don’t believe them.  Warblers in May or finches startled from among the lupine do not make one forgetful of time’s passage.  They do not obscure the dark stile at the bend in the road.  Despite his statement to the contrary, I don’t for a moment think Roethke forgot these companions, else why bring them up?  Beauty is twined with loss, inseparable.

Every shiver of joy has a pull of loss in it, a rip in the seam. I can catch the glorious up-well of gladness.  But I can’t keep it.  Like the finches, it glints gold for a moment then disappears into a bank of shadow.

“Joy’s trick is to supply

Dry lips with what can cool and slake,

Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache

Nothing can satisfy.”  – Richard Wilbur, “Hamlen Brook”

Richard Wilbur gets it right.  It is the signature trick of joy to both slake and leave behind an unsatisfiable ache.  Like a koan that defies the mind’s desire to parse and explicate, the aftereffect of joy is paradox.  In the middle of the finch storm, I had a deep sense of having been met and having been left.  Filled and emptied.  At home in the world and an exile from my heart’s true homeland.  I’m straining here, which is why the wiser Wilbur used “dumbstruck” and avoided the muddle.

We are made for this world.

We are not made for this world.

Can both of these be true?

At every turn, consciousness tugs us in both directions.  This wonder and wound is a birthright that, however many steps we take, we can’t outrun.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

–Lindsay

P.S. We would LOVE to send you a little Each Holy Hour through the post office.  Just email us at eachholyhour@gmail.com with your mailing address and we’ll send you a personal message on one of our beautiful postcards. Just a bit of love from us to you.

P.P.S.  Last week’s Consider prompted some discussion on the Back Page about our faith journeys.  Pour a cup of tea and enjoy the meander.

The Limits of Your Longing

20150710_201308High on the cliffs of Rosario Point above Puget Sound, Ko-Kwal-alwoot stretches out strong arms to hold a salmon against the sky.  Her story pole, carved from a hulking 30’ X 5’ cedar log, tells the Samish Indian myth of a maiden who agrees to marry The Sea to save her people from starvation. Despite her father’s objections, she walks wholeheartedly into the cold salt water, and The Sea–honoring his promise–releases salmon the Samish so desperately depend on.   

You don’t need to search far to find them: myths of the eternal calling to the temporal, divine spirits falling in love with the mortal, and the mortal responding with abandon.  I thought of this as I read Lindsay’s last Consider, as she described the way her spirit swelled and leapt out into the wild waters of the Atlantic.  All ancient cultures bear witness to this longing.

20160621_165438In Cornwall the rugged coastal trail winds into the tiny village of Zennor, where 6th Century Christians established the St. Senara church. Past needlepoint kneelers an ancient wooden chair depicts a mermaid lifting her bare arms.  Legend has it that she wandered from the wild turquoise sea in search of chorister Matthew Trewhellen, whose voice had been borne to her by the wind.  Trewhellen left the familiar–friends and hearth and garden–and dove beneath the waves forever. The call: Come.  The response: I abandon myself completely.

Who among us have not felt this keening?  Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.  All your waves and breakers have swept over me.  This Psalm has captured me since I was a child.  The eternal calls my name and I long to throw myself off the edge into something greater.

It’s not a call to comfort and easy solace.  Summers at the Atlantic, I remember being caught by a wave, rolled into a swirl of green, pulled by the current, pounded by the surf.  The ocean spat me onto the sand; I gasped for breath.  Then I wiped the salt from my eyes and went back in.

This is a dangerous summons.  Jump in knowing there’s no guarantee you won’t be destroyed.  But you will be remade.

Ko-Kwal-alwoot walks out over smooth stones.   Above her head, osprey call, scanning the water for their next meal.  Behind her, cedars, hemlocks, madrones rise; at her feet, spreading out cold and grey, the waters of Puget Sound.  As she reaches to draw out a shellfish, a hand grasps hers.  “Don’t be afraid,” a voice says.  She must join the Spirit, for her people are starving.  She must plunge into the freezing depths, for there is no other way.  When she visits her family again, she will be changed–damp air will linger in her wake, her hair will wave like kelp.  She will miss the sea; back to the sea she will return; her home will never again be what it once was.

With all our great poetry, music, art, we are no nearer to adequately finding the words to domesticate this longing.  Perhaps few writers have done so well as Rilke:  “God speaks to each of us as he makes us,” he writes, “then walks silently out of the night./These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Ko-Kwal-alwoot extends her hand, sinks into the slate-grey waters.  The young chorister scrambles through thrift and foxgloves, his back to the dark sleeping village, throws himself from the cliffs.  From the wild depths, a summons.  Go to the limits of your longing.  Nearby is the country they call life.  Give me your hand.

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_Postscripts__

-Please check out the beautiful story of the Samish Maiden for yourself, as told by Charlie Edwards to Martin Sampson in 1938.  And if you ever find yourself at Deception Pass near Whidby Island, WA, don’t miss the story pole at Rosario Point.

-Keep stopping by The Back Page for more behind-the-scenes.  Thank you!

Photo Credits:  Martin Cockroft

Plumb Line

The dog and I are just back from a midday walk.  Now, she pants out a tale of the tennis ball she pursued through thicket and grove while I sit here, trying to hold myself within the afterimage of our outing.  Mid-May in my corner of Montana means the hillsides are studded with sun-yellow balsam roots, aspens wave newborn leaves, and choke cherry bushes are top heavy with their spires of blossom.  Literally, every step is a passage into something breathtaking.

In this week’s Consider, Kim writes, “Beauty awakens questions that have been sleeping within us.”  Today, as I walked through the incredible momentary show May had conjured, I didn’t so much think about this quote, as experience it.  I had no moment of lightning insight, no one great question rising.  Rather my on-going inward conversation dropped below all the edifice upon which daily life runs (appointments and errands, chores and checklists) and touched in with deeper, foundational ground.

It’s an astonishment really, this business of being here. We are here.  And we are aware of being here.  And we continually ask questions of this awareness to plumb the meaning of our being here. This is surely the miracle and gift of consciousness.  And its weight and wound.

While I walked just now, I knew that by next week the balsam roots would pale to straw.  In another week, they’ll be memory.  And yet, I am permitted to walk through their abundance now, to send the dog tearing through them, nose to the ground, living out her singular fixation on retrieval.  All of this is, as they say, here today gone tomorrow.  Yet it bespeaks something timeless.  Despite its fleetingness (and my own) it cracks the door on eternity.

A few years ago, my husband and I drove Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park.  This corkscrew of a drive, hewn to the side of a plunging valley, is truly a feat of engineering.  Yet the vast expanse of human ingenuity seems but a mote in this dizzying landscape.  We’d turned off the radio, opened the windows, ceased to talk.  It felt like the air those peaks passed between them was somehow older, deeper.  As we neared Logan pass, Tim broke our silence, “This place makes me want to be a better person.”

This and feature photo by Ken Cockroft

That’s just it.  Beauty plays upon some imprint so deep inside of us, we’ve nearly kicked over its traces in all our day-to-day shamblings.  But, these fugitive encounters invite something deeper, urge a communion we perennially crave.  Each time is an opportunity to send the plumb line down and see just how deep we go.  As for me, I hope to never hit bottom.