Monthly Archives: September 2008

I’m off!

After a whirlwind tour through Texas to see both sides of the family and a quick stop at headquarters (Gwen’s house in KY) to see Joel, eat great food and catch our breaths, we embark on our literary tour tomorrow.

The road goes ever on…

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Through golden mountains

A few shots from our Aspen trip last weekend:

We leave for England on Tuesday. Happy autumn!

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Shooting stars

Well friends, I’m in that book vortex. Eat, sleep, drink, breathe… words. Oh my. 

Just five more days till I hop across the pond. I’m working as hard as I can so that in England I can guiltlessly cast off any writing for a week of long walks, train rides, big cups of tea, and literary rambling.

In the middle of it all, I’ve been trying to figure out what in the world it means to keep a quiet center in my heart. I feel so much pressure from waking until the relief of sleep that sometimes my driven soul is hard pressed to be still enough to know, mindfully know as the psalmist says, that God is really God.

I’ve been reading Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism again, so it’s got me thinking. I go in phases with that tome; on again, off again. The aura surrounding the lives of the mystics is a siren call to my soul, and a repellant all at once. I want to be of their number, striving after that other, realer reality, breathing God’s life as freely as air. Since I was eight or nine when I first felt a “knowing”, a sense of God’s reality in the smack middle of a sun-struck Texas field, I guess I have been chasing that sense of His nearness to me. 

And yet, I have to run away from thinking about it all sometimes – because it is so impossible and I am so frail and how can gobbling up reports of other’s successes assuage my own ache?

But here I am again, eating up the words and stories and inarticulate ecstasies of people who knew, really knew God. I think to stop wanting to join them would be throwing in a spiritual towel. Being hungry reminds me I’m alive.

Driving home from the gym today, I was thinking of all this, and looked up to see these violet, pearl-lined clouds swaying over the mountains, and that first rippled hint of burning color on my Mt. Herman. I sighed, a regretful, companionable sort of sigh and felt close to God, in a wistful way. I wished I had the capacity to wonder and revel as much as all that music of color and cloud deserved. My capacity for awe is so small, the span of my attention the size of a baby’s fist. I have this sense sometimes when looking at a God-breathed storm or a glamorous sunset that my very senses reach a limit of reception. Though color and sound and sixth sense whispers abound, I can only catch them as I would the fleeting leap of a shooting star – as echo, zapped reflection in my brain, too quick and much for me to grasp.

I want simply to be stretched; to be able, to be skilled in seeing, listening, knowing in a still sort of way. It’s hard these days, it’s hard all days. But this want and this striving teach me to keep on trying. And somehow, that keeps my heart alive.

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Good Sabbath

Saviour and friend,
how wonderful art Thou!
my companion upon the changeful way,
the comforter of its weariness,
my guide to the eternal town,
the welcome at its gate.

-Alistair Maclean

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I’m going to England!

Windermere Lake

I can’t think how I’ve failed to remember to let you know that… I’m off to have tea in Beatrix Potter’s village, to wander Wordsworth’s garden, roam Shakespeare’s hometown and shiver in the wild October wind of James Herriot’s dales.  For eight idyllic, long-planned days, I’ll be in the gold and chill of England in October. It’s a long story, but it basically came about because a friend asked me to be a sort of literary tour guide and teacher for her granddaughters. We’re making a tour of the homes of great children’s writers (and a few poets), and stopping for a day in London to see Dickens house and visit the Tate (which has one of the world’s best collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings… I’m gonna be in heaven.) This is just the scouting trip, so my mom and sister are coming along as well for a girl’s club time. I’ve booked our B&Bs, passports are in glorious order, and all I need now is a good satchel to hold my journal (I am incredibly picky about these things and can’t seem to find one to fit my idealistic tastes).  I’ll be sure to take pictures and give you updates from the road. (And here, just for the fun, are a few photos from my last English sojourn, I’ll be in many of the sames places!)

Grasmere - Wordsworth's Birthplace (and home to some very hysterical sheep!)

Addison's Walk - where Tolkien persuaded Lewis to consider the truth of the "one true Myth".

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Family Sketches: Part One

For a long time now, I’ve kept an open file on the desktop of my computer where I jot bits of family drama as they happen. Sometimes it is just a tidbit of normalcy that I particularly like, sometimes the memory of me or my siblings as mischeivous little tykes, sometimes memories of the different homes this gypsy family has claimed. It’s all going to go into my great American novel someday, but I’ve decided to post a bit of it here as a beginning. Just a jot now and then. I hope you find some interest (more likely humor) in these swift glimpses. I just need somewhere to begin getting them down. They’re probably of more interest to me than anyone else, but it’s good to hone my storytelling skills. Thanks for humoring me.

Sketch the First

We began our quest with a naming.
Great adventures often begin in this manner. To name something is to pull it from the vast anonymity of general adventure and give it an identity, a cause and personality in the stories wrought by imagination. In my teen years I was to learn this from Tolkien. The idea of a magical kingdom is generally enchanting, but the concrete glory of Lothlorien, home of the Galadhrim is wholly captivating. A strong magic broods in the corners of the particular, named lands of literature and imagination. When something is named it has a history, a personality, and a force in the making of great tales.
Thus we sensed the gravity of this ritual and began the choosing of our pretend names for our imaginary adventure with quite solemn faces. We scrunched our dusty knees up to our chins under the awning of the cedar playhouse under my grandmother’s old Texas oaks. Our lips pressed tight, our foreheads lined with the strain of searching thought, we contemplated on what titles best suited young heroes and heroines. ‘Twas a quick deliberation in the end; adventure was chattering at us from every corner of that hill county yard, the summer day was dog hot and instead of faith, we had patience about the size of a mustard seed. At that time, our literary journeys had led us only to the borders of childhood’s simple realm of story, much of it within the golden realm of English classics and it was from their pages that we drew our selections.
John, Johnny and Mary we were; old names to be sure, simple and sturdy for the clean young souls that bore them. Names that had graced the exploits of many heroes and heroines in history had we but known it. The double occurrence of John arose from a dispute between the boys. To our young minds, John was the classic name for a dashing young hero and neither of the boys intended to yield their right unto it.
“It is my middle name,” Nathan announced, with the air of a young lord being defrauded of his inheritance.
“Yes, but I thought of it first,” proclaimed Joel, with the equalizing fervor of a revolting peasant. “And there are hundreds of other names you can have.”
“But I want to be John. It’s only fair.”
“No it isn’t. Finders keepers and I found it first.”
Glaring at each other with a blue-eyed stubbornness I knew very well, they hunched into their corners of the playhouse like obstinate young warlords, intent on holding their rocky bit of hilltop. I sighed. This would never do. If they got in a fuss and brought Mom into the mix, our adventuring would be ended before it began. Knowing my name to be perfectly safe and considering myself to be the fair damsel of unmatched wisdom in this story, I ventured to enter the fray with a suggestion.
“One of you can be John and one can be Johnny,” I said brightly, hopefully.
“I claim Johnny!” shrieked Nathan.
A disdainful nod from Joel sealed the agreement and eyeing each other warily, they un-hunched themselves from their respective corners and settled into the feel of their new identities.
Joel settled his regally round his shoulders and stood up as straight and strong as was physically possible when you are well under five feet tall. The old nobility of the ancient name suited Joel. Tender, determined, highly creative, even at seven he bore many of the classic traits of a storybook hero and thus easily claimed the name as his own. With a graceful flourish he bowed to me, murmuring, “thank you my lady” in a perfect English accent.
Nathan’s more jaunty take suited him equally well with its maverick twist on the classic; as cavalier and out of the box as he himself , with a lively tang of free spirited soul. He caught up his new identity with a bound and brandished it in front of him, catching up an invisible sword and lunging toward his archrival. “On guard,” he cried to the regal Lord John. I rolled my eyes and waited for them to finish the first sword fight of our new reality. I think it was a sort of baptism.

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Shelter

I had a day of rest a couple of days ago – the absent half of the family is home, we were all spent beyond words (and I was flat on my back with a bad head cold) and decided to shoo away all pretense of responsibility for one loop of the sun through our skies. We started it with the lighting of many candles, and the brewing of fat pots of tea. We read through favorite magazines, watched a movie, lunched out and brought chocolate home, and for some of the time, just sat and watched the drip of fretting sky as it mourned summer’s passing to the lilt of a violin.

Next day, with the sun looping up over a new morning, I found myself forlorn. The leisure of soul that had re-molded all the rigid hours of my yesterday into one big bowl to catch each drop of beauty I could find- was gone. Small, brittle, morning minutes clipped by me in the starched command of self-conscious hours whose disdainful stare was a pain in my head as I lingered in my chair, longing for yesterday. I could not bring myself to leave the faint, consoling dance of my candles and I sat, staring at them as a sailor might stare at a lighthouse from the midst of cruel, grey-souled storm.

I had felt so at home, yes, that was it. At home in my skin and in the hours of my day when I had that ease of beauty and rest. After the good but ravaging summer, that day was like stepping out of a spiteful, spitting storm into an unexpected shelter with a set and waiting feast and a grey-eyed woman of rest to coax the warmth back into my face and the life back into my inmost thought. To be back amidst the storm of normalcy, the screaming gale of busyness, the downpour of requirements, was to be somehow orphaned. Abandoned.

And so I was praying and telling God that I was out in some cold, grassless, rainy terrain of soul where I couldn’t see him on any visible horizons and that it was because I’d left the shelter of yesterday’s rest and I wished I’d never had to. I found myself thinking of David’s prayer in Psalm 27 where he begs that he may “dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of his life, to behold his beauty and meditate in his temple,” and it was my own desire. I realized that at heart, what I was feeling was a need to never, ever feel out in the cold again. Somehow, when I was at rest, I felt close to God, in his house, comforted by his beauty, but outside of that special day, I felt homeless, alone. I had to wonder, where was the compromise? I have to be here, I have to live in the dazing, dulling, dizzying world of toil and daily need (I’m not against work, just modern soul exhaustion) but how I am supposed to live so that my soul never leaves the house of God, even in the midst of busyness? Surely, somehow, there must be a way to keep my spirit in the circle of God’s grace.

And then my eyes came back to my candle. Refocused on its frail, saving flame. An echo of yesterday’s beauty. The fragrant heat of my cup of coffee flushed my face as I sipped and cupped my hands round thin china. I bent my head in an impulsive want to escape the wearisome rounds of my thought and immerse myself instead in the flow of the sudden calm that the quiet and light and fragrance brought. I hushed. I breathed. And do you know, for an instant, a lingering second, I found that sheltered space again.

Opened my eyes. Opened my thought. Opened my heart to accept that the shelter is always there but I have to choose it. Sometimes, I stumble upon it, have it heaped on my head as on my day of rest. Most of the time, I must choose it. Choose to believe in it. I began to think about David- his dwelling in God’s house, I think, had little to do with his circumstances. Surely he didn’t live all his days resting and contemplating in the temple. But he did in his heart and crafted his songs and his life to bear witness to that temple in his own soul. And that is where I found myself reviving. I realized that I hadn’t left God’s house in my heart. I hadn’t walked out of his presence when I walked out of my rest day.

But what had happened was that with beauty around me, with laughter and long hours and rain and music, God’s grace was more obvious. And I realized that the beauty I create around me enfleshed the faith I have in my heart that God is present, good, sustaining. To dwell in the house of the Lord means to walk into that space within your own heart where God’s presence waits; to behold his beauty is to bring God’s presence to bear in the creation of your own hands. I create beauty  because it enfleshes the soul sense I have of God’s goodness, shelter. My storm glass candle, the new print on my wall of a young, hope-eyed girl, the brilliant pieces of fabric, the jars of flowers, the rich storybooks all incarnate the faith I have in a shelter of soul, a refuge that is real and present. Beauty simply makes it tangible.

And so, I understand now. Beauty sheltered me on my rest day. But the next busy day didn’t have to be any less sheltered. I simply had to walk into the shelter, claim it, let its grace console me, and then drive me to craft a picture of my shelter and peace in the beauty I wove around me. I’m learning to never be left in the cold again.

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