Thursday, January 29, 2009

You can do anything...if you wake up in Greece...

You can do anything if you wake up in Greece....

... the lyric sung over me as I left my car to enter my office building this morning. Greece indeed.

We are in Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas. Of course, Christmas can get on my nerve too.

So... I once again have to say that I loath winter. All my energy, emotion, joy, desire to live dissipates and turns into a few flakes of skin on the floor. Truly, if the most beautiful snowfall ever to occur in the history of the world happened, and I missed it, I would not care.

That said, and said loudly, driving to work was like traveling through a strange land. I remember the first time I saw the moon in the sky of the southern hemisphere. The sky was what it always is, and yet not what it is. A while of thinking and I realized everything was upside down. I sat and stared.

So this morning. Familiar old trees whose branches go UP now drooped down. Rows of cedars bowed along the side of the road as I passed, as if I was a dignitary worthy of worship. Evergreens had arms outstretched, fat bowing bodies and hooded heads drooped over, like some weird creatures from a fantastical shire. Familiar landmarks gone, or piled in a different place. The same and not the same.

When the land we always walk through shifts it wakes us up. That is good. Even if we are in a winter stupor. And I have to say too, there was some beauty. Nature is beautiful even when it is cruel.

So. It is winter. Winter is the season that ages me. Winter is the season that makes me despair. It is the season responsible for at least 8 pounds of unsightly fat snuggling into my pants. I have not yet experienced 12 months without a walk through this trial. I've done my turn.

I've been a good girl. Can I go to Greece now?

Friday, January 23, 2009

remember Noah's ark?

Spring is sneaking into Kentucky today! I come out of the house and it is balmy - "my" birds are flitting (cardinals, wrens, woodpeckers and doves are the ones I notice) around the feeders. Buds on bushes and trees are fat enough that I can see them from a ways off. The air smells like garden. And skunk. A whiff of skunk which isn't unpleasant in it's own way.

I know, I know, it will get cold again in a day or two and winter isn't over. But I feel like Noah. I have been stuck in the ark for forty days and I released a dove, or cardinal? and it returned this morning with a tiny promise of spring in its beak.

This is why I live in Kentucky.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snow day

This has nothing to do with yesterday and the election... I loved watching the Obama's dance ... he really looks at her. But I am now back to life and winter and got this picture from my daughter and it made me smile. So many times kids re-orient me to think better about life.

This is a fun thing for kids in NC. They know how to have fun in snow...and also know that enough is enough! Back to spring okay?

Monday, January 19, 2009

on being Obama

So much interesting about this inauguration. SO MUCH. Obama's daughter telling him his speech better be good because he is the first African American president. His wife by his side, a real person who is a role model even to this white middle aged woman. His team. John McCain being consulted on issues. The response of the people.

A tattoo parlor offering a free Obama tattoo with any purchased tatt. Now that is a good two-fer. And the girl who checked out our groceries at WallyWorld today - the cutest African American kid, hair in braids and foxy little clothes. She was smart. We talked about Obama. Her best line, "When he got voted in people came in here and treated me like I was the only one who voted. I told them, I'm not the only one who voted him in. Don't you go looking at me that way." I liked her. Her name was Ruth.

The best part of my day was outside in my garden. The roses should have been cut back in the fall but I was busy. Today was a cold day to do the pruning but it seemed right. I was thinking about being president, and what a good constellation of requirements should be of any person seeking the job.

1. There should be a White House garden (a REAL garden by the way, with herbs and petunias and infestations of Japanese beetles, not just big square bushes and roses), and the president be required to spend at least two hours a week working in the dirt with his/her hands. A garden makes people reflective, and kind.

2. The president should have been present at a birth of a child. I think I would specify that be a NATURAL childbirth so they could get a feel for the whole experience. A life could not be taken for granted when you experience the cost.

3. The presidential resume should include at least one month as a server in a low budget restaurant - to get a feeling for what it is like to have to be the one who serves without fanfare. When you have worked for almost nothing, been treated like you are invisible and then learned to respond with grace you have acquired almost everything you need to be a leader.

4. The president should have learned to play an instrument to teach patience and attention to detail, not to mention a love of art. Once a month that instrument should be taken out to remind the president that he is a person just like everyone else, and has a song to play, but it is not every song there is.

5. The president should anonymously (perhaps wearing a rubber nose as a disguise) attend regular AA meetings for the first year of his/her presidency. I know of no place that is more humanizing and life supporting than a healthy AA group. Such a group would keep the president's feet on the ground. Maybe save his/her sanity.

So...that's a few I came up with. Such a plan might infringe on presidential duties - taking up valuable time usually spent at expensive dinners and high level briefings. But I just can't help think we would all be a little safer. Any other suggestions?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

everyday day

Today is an everyday day. The air is completely ordinary. The light is dull. Any magic that might have been floating about got caught in an empty plastic bottle and was accidentally tossed into the recycling bin.

My simple goal for today is to exercise. That's it. I might have to get dressed to do that but to get dressed is not a goal of the day. Some days need very small goals. Winter goals. Yesterday my goal was to be sure my team ate all 17 cupcakes on the tray. We did do that. Everyone had the joy of finishing well.

Monday is a holiday - thanks to the mighty MLK. The extra day means I don't have to hurry to "have" my day off today. I can just accomplish one thing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

thoughts on a Friday afternoon

The office area is quiet now - small meetings, people gathered into still conversations, the platter of cupcakes eaten. I have a reheated coffee that is quite satisfying if not remarkable. NPR is playing pretty good music.

I am aware of being surrounded. Not a kind of surrounded that is oppressive, no space to breath. But the kind of surrounded that is love. Love with a friend across the email world. Love with a coworker who is in the top floor of another building, a man working for the two of us in Lexington, friends sprinkled across this part of Kentucky. I feel like I could walk outside my office, outside my building, onto the grounds and have friends surround me like a whirlwind of blowing leaves.

Of course if I actually walked outside right now I would be standing alone in crispy cold ... no right thinking Kentuckian goes out in this weather.

But I am thinking that our love doesn't have to be zipped into our pockets at all. What we love, who we love, can be utterly other and far away, unseen and silent, and still be completely part of our soul strength. I like that because I can't contain much of what I truly love.

Thomas Merton's journal during a time when he was filled with this sense of love:
"Love sails me around the house. I walk two steps on the ground and four steps in the air. It is love. ... that was the way it was all week. In the choir the less I worried about the singing the more I was possessed by love. There is a lesson in that about being poor. You have got to be all the time cooperating with love in this house, and love sets a fast pace even at the beginning and if you don't keep up you'll get dropped. And yet any speed is too slow for love - and no speed is too fast for you if you will only let love drag you off your feet - after that you will have to sail the whole way. "

Think about that for a while. I was at an art show opening last night and one thing I thought as I looked at the photographs was how the artist was shooting pictures of things I would not have paid attention to - like empty worn down buildings and parking lots without use. And yet in capturing the pictures he gave them value. He let them speak.

Love is like that I think. Until we grab it and take a picture of it and frame it and remember it - love is just an old building and an empty parking lot.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

just like mimi

Okay -

let me PROUDLY introduce my granddaughters. Darling twin girls. Aly on the left, Zoe on the right. Look at their personalities.

Zoe (right) is pensive, thinking, concerned. She is like this a lot so I hear. Aly on the left is cooking up mischief. She does this a lot. So I hear.

Now about Aly ... I hate to do the "she's just like me!!!" but can I say ... I may have handed down love of mischief, the hilarious approach to life, the ability to laugh at entirely inappropriate moments, a high sense of the absurd and the capacity to draw even the most self protective person into a hair-brained scheme of epic proportions. That just might be my legacy, and it would satisfy me entirely.

And I love Zoe with her big eyed concern ... we need these people to balance us a little. This is going to be fun to watch it unfold. Aly saying, "Trust me! It will be fun!" and Zoe completely regretting it ... but in the end, it sure is fun!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


My lovely assistant just found out she is having ... drum roll ... a girl!

And the best comment that followed the news is from Jeremiah, a new father in our community, doting dad of beautiful Baby Bella-Button, who said, and I quote,

"The problem is that if you have a boy you have one penis to worry about. When you have a girl you have a whole lot of penises to worry about."

Wisdom from a father. I love how perspectives change.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

on the passing years

"There are years that ask questions
and years that answer them."

(Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist)

I am pleased with my longevity. I look back and very much like the path of my life. It is mine, first and finally, and is all gathered into me. I am in the years now that answer questions. Or at least are at peace with them.

When I was in Korea in 1995 I found myself in dense drizzly fog on a prayer mountain. A prayer mountain is a mountain on which a path has been carved, and in this case, large life-like statues placed among the bushes and trees. A pilgrim's journey up the mountain might take an hour if walked briskly, slowing to a steep climb at spots, and is conducive to becoming a prayer journey simply by the visceral images and terrain- if one chooses to be attentive.

At one twist in the path I come upon a roughly hewn stairway carved into the hillside, leading up to a small natural wound in the side of rock. I climb the stairs and find myself by a small dark cave, a huge rock taking up most of the inner space. I notice, back in the shadows and thrown onto the rock in passionate pose, a life size form of Christ, agonizing in prayer. Rain starts to pour and I crouch inside the edge of the cave as darkness deepens and a chill creeps up my body.

I huddle, watching. A green and brown military plane passes low. The fog roils. Water splashes onto the muddy square landing at the top of the staircase. My senses complain. This seems to be my life. So many times trapped and unsure when to go. War and rain and fog and darkness.

Suddenly I become aware of the image behind me. Typical of me to need to get past myself before I can begin to 'see'. I realize that Jesus is deeper in my dark, praying ... for me. For me. A wave of peace passes over me.

I go back the next day and climb those stairs again. There are forty of them I realize. I have just passed my fortieth birthday. I have so many questions about my life. Questions and tears. Wondering. Feeling. But on each stair I stop and simply listen to my life in each year represented - my first, my second, my third... my twenty-second...and so on. I find something worth hearing in every year (of course some was from family lore.) Not answers. Just life.

That was forty - and more than a decade has passed. If I could find such a stairway again I would climb it differently. Maybe bound up. Maybe go half way up and sit there watching. If it rains (as it often does there) go out in the rain and feel it fall.

Every year is different. Every year holds a mystery. Some years ask questions. Some years answer them. We need to live through every one.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Love this picture - arms full of life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

thinking as the year begins

Sometimes I consider opening a blog site no one knows about and there I will put all my real thoughts, all the things I want to say but am afraid to say out loud. I will write about the hurts in my heart and say things that are inappropriate and outrageous. (Well, I sometimes do that on this blog, I know, but I am talking REALLY inappropriate and outrageous!) On that anonymous site I will question and push and think out loud and no one will say I thought wrong or made them afraid.

But for today I am going to write something real. Just put it out there. My thinking on this morning of the new year when the sun is shining in warmly on my neck and reflecting off the computer screen, and my feathered finches are earnestly splashing and chatting their morning ablutions.

If you know me well you know that I am blessed to be mentored by Susan Muto/Adrian Van Kaam. I say their names almost as one, although Susan is the person I know. She and Fr. Adrian share a body of work and a world view that profoundly influences my thinking. I hear Susan's voice in my head and it is Adrian's ideas I often ponder.

Last night instead of trying to 'sparkle' I read "150 Writing Guidelines" by Adrian Van Kaam. As with anything he writes, the ideas are about life and living, not just about a craft, in this case the craft of writing.

A fundamental tenant of Van Kaam's idea of spiritual wellness is that one must remain gentle. (He himself incarnated this value to the end of his life.) Gentility, by his definition, is not about social graces. (I think here of a tall, thin gentleman standing in a morning suit smoking a thin cigar and staring elegantly out the window.) Rather, it is about an inner emotional attitude of ease, grace, playfulness and detached restful creativity that excludes anything forced or demanding.

This list of 150 guidelines returns often to the idea that weariness in a task is not likely caused by the task, but rather by the attitude taken during the task. While one's work needs to be carefully enacted, quality of work (functionalism) must be subordinated to a spirit of openness, peace and, even, radiance. To succumb to functionalism is to become forced, stiff, eventually angry and from there, exhausted of inner reserves. (I have worked for persons whose whole work is done in this kind of anger.)

"Check your attitude when you are overtired, not your activity; your emotion, not your production; your concern, not your application; the tenseness of your activity, not its quality; your stiffness of posture, not the posture itself."

I think of all the times I have been utterly worn out by work and people. How it has made me uncaring, unable to love. How my meanest striving has not produced harmonious clear results, only headaches and tension and sometimes hurt. I sense this idea needs to sink deep into my soul - it has layers that I cannot understand yet - I want to allow it teach me a new way. I must become a student here. If what Van Kaam is saying is true, and I think it is... then a world of possibility has opened up to me.

Van Kaam suggests we relax as if at a sea shore. I did not see an ocean until I was 36. I was stunned at the effect it had on me. The ocean coast now is my best place. Waves and sand and wide spaces soothe me, make me feel my life, open my heart to love. Can my work be done from the ocean that is in my soul?

Another mentor and friend, Charles, once told me of regretfully leaving a monastery after a meaningful retreat, and being encouraged by a resident monk to 'take the monastery with him' into his world. I think Van Kaam is saying the same thing.

Jesus did this. We miss seeing it, mostly, of course. We think Jesus was about accomplishing things. Maybe he carried an inner landscape within his soul. Maybe it was a landscape of the hills of heaven, or of the other side of the universe.

So that is what I am thinking about today. I have more. It might show up here or on a site called "Sand in my Pants." Who knows?