Category Archives: Musings

Climate hopping

I’m procrastinating.

I have a chocolate cappuccino at my elbow, the buzz of evening coffee housers in my ears, and two hours of journals and books at my corner table all to myself. All this is possible because I am ignoring the fact that I ought to be packing for my California trip tomorrow. Surely thinking, reading, is more important than mere laundry and suitcases. Don’t tell me if you disagree. Maybe I can blame it on the strange things that climate and time-zone hopping does to your brain. Grand Rapids was last weekend, and my goodness it’s cold up there. But as warm-hearted a conference as I’ve ever attended. I spoke on my new book and stayed with a family that reminded me almost exactly of my own when we were all little  (noisy, bookish, talkative, crazy, and fun!). Now for California.

When you only have three days between trips, life feels a little open ended, days get blurry. There’s no set schedule, no mental black line of expectation framing in the hours of your day. I sort of drift through these interim spaces at home. I write, blog, get up to Yorkshire tea in the morning and my quiet time, then meander into whatever rest and richness I can find.

Walking helps. The steps and fresh air form a sort of beat that gets me feeling rhythmic about my life again. There’s the added novelty of my new practice of walking with a camera. I’m determined to become an accomplished photographer. This is a very new decision. I’ve just started saving up my pennies for an SLR digital camera, but I’m practicing in the meantime on my trusty little point and shoot. If any of you have brilliant photographic tips, I’m all ears. For now, here’s what I’ve seen of late in my meandering:

Rivers in our streets.

Wintered branches give me goosebumps

I have always loved wheaten colored grass in winter. I don’t know why.

In case you were wondering, I do still think the spots, the instants of great beauty are thin places in life too. Maybe not as common as the struggleish ones, but still worth looking for every single day. I’m sure you weren’t worried, but I am determined as ever to celebrate every jot of the feast that is life. It’s all the brighter for being loved even in the shadows. This is a deeply random post. Oh well. I’m finishing this up at home and now I have to pack. Wish me luck.

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One of my favorites

When in Nashville on a Sunday, I fly like a homing pigeon to a church I used to attend in the ancient days when I had my abode in Tennessee. At the time, I lived way out in the hilly green countryside so the flavor of my visits to this church were somewhat that of a long-awaited event. It was a day in the town and a visit to a spiritual home all at once. The long drive in on a clear, early morning. Highways grey like a clear river, birds (there are always birds singing if you listen) chanting their own hymn, coffee on the way down, and then, the sanctuary. High wooden walls in an arcing curve that put me in mind of the bow of a ship in which my sailing would be strong and smoothe. Slim brick pillars and slim stained glass windows, the faces of saints and elders and legends vying for my eyes. Then, worship.

I loved that church. Headed there yesterday and had the grand treat of hearing one of my favorite hymns, a song I don’t think gets near enough play sung by the choir during the Eucharist. The hymn is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent (I’ve copied the words below) and to me, there is a quiet behind the words of this song that is like a vast night sky seen from the window of a lit home at night. Every time I hear this song, I am aware of eternity behind it, looming up in the windows of my mind. I always sing it with a bit of a sudden stillness in me. The rendition yesterday was exactly how I’ve always wished to hear it sung- a few, mystic, uncanny little bells at start and then the bare bones voices, first of a woman with a high, clear voice, then the choir in a simple mesh of harmonies. The words themselves and the grandeur behind them bearing down on our unsuspecting heads. I couldn’t record it, but maybe the sound of it, even in imagination, will kindle your soul as it did mine. Hope your day is a graced one.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

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To Make You Merry

The season is bright my good friends! A week from tonight is Christmas Eve. There is something in me still little girlish enough to feel that this is a marvelous thing. I get heady with the wonder of it all…still. Look at us all, decking whole rooms and trees with lights, making feasts, singing from the bottom of our hearts and tops of our lungs as if we really believed that Goodness had stormed into our plain lives and we must welcome him with brightness. It’s beautiful to me.

The last two weeks have been crazy; I’ve spent most of them in a stint as a one woman shipping company, but I’ve also traveled, Christmas partied, and cooked up a veritable storm for my home-bound brothers. But, like light glinting off jewels, there have been these diamond drops of loveliness amidst the rush. These minutes which, one by one, lead me into the joy of this season. I thought I’d share a few:

What Child is This? duet sung by Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige. (You can get it on iTunes, but the link will take you to an upcoming free download.) Plaintive, earthy, transcendent. I first heard this as we drove over sere, wheaten fields and my throat was so full of a joy that was half tears, I couldn’t speak. Gwen found it first. A friend of her’s had said “we should have to listen to eachother’s music.” The woman who said it had originally meant that the youth, traditional, and contemporary services were a bit too fragmenting to the relationships of her church. Gwen however, took this to mean that we girls should all pick our favorite songs and listen to them on our long winter drives through the hills. Chills, tears, or some jolt of wonderment. I’ll be surprised if one of them doesn’t come to you when you hear this song.

Pilgrim’s Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge. I will be reviewing this book (along with three others I’ve neglected) quite soon. In a way, this story is a picture of what I hope to one day create in and through and by the mysterious power of my someday home. The story culminates in a Christmas celebration, and so I always feel it to be appropriate to this season. But the spiritual depth of insight, the startling liveness of the houses and countrysides in Goudge’s novels, the characters that feel real as your family, they are a comfort and a world in which to sink oneself when Christmas craze needs quieting.

Sticky Toffee Pudding. I served this at my book release/Christmas teas and think it is about as English as you can get. Though not exactly the “figgy pudding” of the carol, it’s close. A warm, spicy cake drenched in a caramel sauce requiring an unholy amount of brown sugar, butter, and cream. It has all the hallmarks of a decadent holiday desert. I make a point of getting this whenever I am in England. My friend Stephanie has tweaked her recipe to perfection.

And just so you’ll know, a friend suggested I blog a bit of what went on last Saturday at the book teas. So, if you want a taste of the literary festivities, you can read the post: Books, Tea, and Celebration – A Recap of the Parties in Three Parts.

Peace, peace, and oh such joy to you this week my friends.

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Rejoice!

Merry Christmas everyone! It pleases me to the skies to have arrived in the season where I can say that. Here in the mountains, our tree is glitteringly up and there are candles galore flittering in every shadow of the house. The first Christmas party takes place tomorrow night, and the first Christmas visit trip (to Nashville!) begins on Thursday. I’ve mentioned my forays to KY before to visit Gwen, one of my favorite people in the world. She visited my family every year at Christmas from before I was born, and this year, we get to go to her and spend a couple of days in lovely old Nashville on the way. I’m breathless with the rush and fun of the season already.

Thank you all so many times over for your lovely comments and congratulatory emails and orders regarding my new book. Your sharing in this joy with me is the first of my Christmas gifts, I’m pink-cheeked with delight. Someone commented that for those who don’t live here in Colorado, I ought to post a bit of what I’ll be sharing and some of the books I’ll be reviewing at the tea. I think that’s a grand idea.

Now that the first wildness of the holidays is over, I’ll be posting again. I have so many thoughts stored up. For now, here’s a poem I read recently that gripped my spirit and wouldn’t let go:

Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there’s a donkey grazing.

Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.

“A November Sunrise” by Anne Porter, from An Altogether Different Language. © Zoland Books, 1994.

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Yesterday

I find my brain too knotted for serious thinking today.

I was going to review Lilith, and along with it, tell you more about George MacDonald. Can’t seem to find the words yet.

I was going to flesh out the bones of the essay I’ve been carrying in my head all week. Too many good directions it could go though.

So, I’ll just tell you the story of my yesterday afternoon. It was a good one, the sort that made me thank God for every one of its minutes when I got in bed last night. Nothing spectacular, just small graces mounded into a heap of good cheer in my heart. It started with a mocha as I scrunched into a corner table at my coffee shop. Reading was first (this always makes life better). A picture book of English landscapes for pure beauty, a few passages from The Celtic Christ by Philip Newell, to spur my dazed thoughts to dancing. Then a frenzied scribbling of notes in the margins of my journal, half of praise for what Newell spoke of, half in furious disagreement. Most stimulating.

And then I wrote. That might have been the best part. I had been wanting to all day because, without any sort of drumroll or inner trumpet, I’d known the love of God early that morning. Just like that. Sitting in my red chair in the the half light of a cloudy dawn. I’d been reading St. Teresa, with her spirited urging for all of us to seek the inner castle of our hearts. I love that image, this inner room where God watches, waits. I closed my eyes, seeking that place, and I was with my Father in a simple surety of love. More than anything in that moment, I knew myself and all people to be held. Something about reading George MacDonald again with his confidence in the great Father, Hosea too, has helped me to grasp the way we are all cradled in the active, inexorable love of God. Every goodness is of his heart, every pain is caught up in his redemption. Nothing can take us out of the circle of his mercy.  Christ over me, Christ under me, Christ beside me, on my left and my right, as the old Irish prayers say. I wrote three pages in a mental drive to capture the glow of that minute. I have no doubt that a future me will need it.

And then I walked. There is a little mountain lake nearby and I trudged through the red mud and sullied snow in search of silence. Dusk pooled, slow and navy above the eastern valley. Homelights flickered to life in the gloom. A line of gold rallied over the mountains, then died in a quiet, flickering crimson. A single tree, its roots deep in the frozen lake, lifted up his arms,  fingers etching a black poem against the sky. Chill air filled every inch of me. The rhythm of my steps was a chant of gratitude.

Then home. For an episode of Monk (yes, I must admit to this)  and quesadillas, and a fight for the last blackberry Izzy, and Nate on his Thanksgiving visit. We’re all home but one which makes for a good deal more noise. I usually enjoy this. The absent brother, of course, called at one point, just to be sure we wouldn’t forget him.  Kelsey, our truly pathetic golden retriever (what other creature on the face of the earth gets to think they have a meaningful existence by begging to be fed and petted?) was quite happy. There were extra hands to be nosed. And then, to bed. A warm bed, with many quilts on a very cold night.

All so small, all so good. I’m grateful. It’s a good way to start Thanksgiving.

May your week begin with a similar pile of small graces.

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Today, I love…

Maxing out my library holds list. I get in a book mood and order about a dozen. Two are ready today: A Simply Wonderful Christmas: A Literary Advent Calendar, and Brendan.

Being done with the business side of being a writer. Sales tax licenses and business acounts, bleh.

Riffling back through the pages of Lilith in search of my favorite quotes. (Book review on that one soon.)

My recent gift from a bookish friend: Tasha Tudor’s The Great Corgiville Kidnapping. Tasha Tudor is one of my heroines. Do you know what made it even better? Opening the first page and finding it was signed. Yes. (I did, in all fairness, offer it back to my friend. I mean, there are some things you just have to do. My friend responded with heroic self-sacrifice and the book is now on my highest shelf.)

Walking in the opalescent light of melting snow with a sapphire sky above.

This quote by George Eliot: Perhaps the most delightful friendships are those in which there is much agreement, much disputation, and yet more personal liking. Which reminds me. I have recently changed my “Quotes” tab to “Quote Box.” I am adding more quotes there all the time, and think it would be a great delight to have a community quote collection. So, if you have any best beloved quotes, leave them in a comment on the Quote Box page. Thank you!

Coffee with my two lovelies, Ellie and Joy (my sister). We will ostensibly be doing a Bible study, but we’ll add in a good bit of rambling chatter with healthy doses of mocha and laughter.

Laughter in general.

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Tap on my shoulder

I was driving down the highway very early (too early)  the other day. Snow like sugar on the streets, steam rising from the slip of tires, the sky a pale, unbearable blue. Fingers stiff with cold, eyes dim with sleep and irritation, I tapped the radio on to classical. A piano and violin duet came on, notes blue as twilight, quick as running water. I was leaning forward, into the music. The melody was like the aching run to a hilltop, a breathless climb, and then, joy to the far horizon. It ended. I unslumped in my seat. My eyes widened. I was suddenly aware of that particular moment, the melody invading it, the pearled gleam of snow that lightened it. I looked out my window. Beauty tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to face it, and found God saying good morning.

Ever present, His presence takes me unawares.

I often clutch at beauty, and in it, God’s companionship. I scratch at it with my fingernails because I feel it to be spontaneous, and somehow, fickle. God seems at times like a whimsical friend. Beauty is sudden and unscheduled.  A passage of story stabs my heart awake (as R.L. Stevenson would say), music calls my name, some glimpse of nature engulfs my eyes in joy, and I feel alive. Those glimpses convince me that God is really with me. Then, abruptly, they’re gone. Hurry and need and work shove joy out of my life. I grasp at it, but only manage to catch the ache of its leaving. I mourn. Some part of me even feels abandoned. Gradually, I forget the whole thing. I wake up to the weary hours of another daily sort of day, and forget to even want God’s beauty, or his company.

So he taps me on the shoulder. A glint of light off snow, a strain of unexpected music. Up comes my head, as if I had seen a beloved face in a strange city. It’s like thinking someone has abandoned you, when suddenly, you see them across a crowd, waving delightedly, running to greet you. In my car, I looked up and found God running toward me. The song and snow were his call across the crowd. He comes whispering, then dancing in front of me, glinting in and out of my sight, calling my name in laughter and song. His beauty never abandons me, it just keeps waking me up to love him again. And if, at times, it seems fleeting, it’s not from his being fickle, but from my being frail. My own forgetfulness, my rush, my  persistent dimness of soul are what make him seem absent. The miracle is that he never leaves me there. Tap. A violin duet. Tap. A crimson sunrise. Tap. Fresh bread. Tap. I look up.

What do you know. He’s still there.

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