Shaking Out the Blues

Those days come around every now and again, when I can think gratitude, but not feel the beat in my heart that makes the day more of a dance than a march. Recently I had just such a day. When the skies shimmer and shadows make an appearance, I find myself searching for the warmth of the sun spots. Easing into a deck chair, I allow contentment to create an inner space for thinking through whatever is clouding my perspective. On this particular day my eyes shift from the Blue Ridge Mountain peaks to a humbling spectrum of blues creating the canvas.

Surely it IS enough to simply gaze, appreciate, and let the heavens silently grace my disposition with awe. However, I am pulled by deeper longing to communicate an appreciative connection to that which feels bigger than me, than self. For me, finding the words is an expression of Love. With a writer’s compulsion I struggle to recreate awe through words.

I do not have an artist’s eye nor the immediate ability to describe a dab of this color and brush of that shade to recreate the dome some call a portal to heaven. I begin making my acquaintance by playing with blues I can call by name: baby blue, deep sky blue, cornflower blue, electric blue, indigo blue, lavender blue (that one from a nursery rhyme), royal blue, blue violet, turquoise, and true blue.  Once the game begins there are sports blues (Carolina, Duke, or Brandeis; uniform blues (Dodgers, Royal Air Force, and the Navy), flowers, jewels, and paint chips. To identify the sky spectrum I am directed to discover the variations of azure, from a pale pastel tint called cyan to the dark shades of lapis lazuli.

A mid-day southern sky, blistering bright, is draped in baby blue; a slight turn to the west and there a brilliant cast of Mayan blue, reminiscent of an ancient civilization. A day of breath-taking blues unfurls like the flags of many nations, white sheets stretched between Honolulu blue and Bleu de France. On other days the skies are cloudless displays of ocean blue, or the pale pastel tints of soothing azure. Nearing sunset, I may see the sky bejeweled with sapphire blue or lapis lazuli.

Days pass that I am not aware of this protective dome, and the numerous displays of glory it creates. Yet any single day the sky subtly influences the drama of my day- my mood, habits, events, conversations, predictions, recollections – the sky is a happening place. Sky gazing takes on a new meaning for me, an assurance of presence that offers endless variations of change, a reminder that every single day is an opportunity for a new creation. The beauty and magnificence of the universe is easily accessible as a source of peace, joy, calm, a portal for lifting the spirit, changing my vision for the day. Right there through the window, a step outside my door. “Blue skies, nothing but blue skies.”

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Star Light, Star Bright

Opening the door and stepping onto the back deck on a clear, cold winter night feels like falling into a universe of stars for the first time – such is the wonder. While I am told that on the clearest night the eye beholds perhaps as many as 2,500 stars, I feel certain that there are tens of thousands of glittering jewels – all indistinguishable to my unaided sight. I am mesmerized by the gradual appearance of more and more layers.

Some years ago on a summer night I stood at the edge of a cabin porch, surrounded only by mountains on every side, and the pitch darkness that creates shivers of appreciation. I toasted the skies’ magnificence with a glass of wine. “Look,” I shouted a bit too loudly, “see the next whole layer appear.” My friend, thinking I was a bit knowledgeable about astronomy, got caught up in the excitement said, “The nextal layer? Where?”  The “nextal” layer drew me from awe to adulation.

I know enough to wonder at a light – several thousand pinpoints of light traveling through the vacuum of space at the speed of 186,000 miles per second for a span of at least four years. Some star bursts of energy have continued to shine for billions of years. I cannot begin to wrap my head around the power of light.

This winter night I pondered whether each point of light is as distinct as each snowflake, as nature has a propensity for diversification. Indeed, I read that the colors of Betelgeuse and Arcturus are cool red and Vegas burns a hot white. Astronomers have a range of color categories. There are varying degrees of brightness; the luminosity we see is dependent on the distance from us. The distinct size determines the giants and the super giants. And yet our eyes are trained to the sameness – it’s a star. Unless, of course, we are talking about Hollywood, and then the star is a standout.

Origin and design form the unity of the stars. At the core they are pulsing bodies creating energy, the results of the collapse of a nebula and dense heat that produces nuclear fusion. A new star is born. When stars explode as supernovas, dispersed elements release the building blocks of life through the universe – hydrogen, helium, carbon, calcium, iron, sodium, chloride, silicon… What is there about the twinkling star that doesn’t create wonder?

Diamond in the sky. Orion’s Belt. Big Dipper. Great Bear. Water Carrier. I can only make out the simplest patterns of constellations, but imagine the millions of tales told by sailors, settlers, wanderers, poets, mystics – trying to make meaning of the heavens. Light blankets our darkness with more than joy; stars emanate life. In this reality I discover a Divine plan.

The Universe stimulates the ‘zest for being’ and provides the nourishment which are transformed into Love of God.”

Teilhard de Chardin “My Universe”

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Laurel River Hike

Grey skies with promise of afternoon
showers do not deter the five women,
willing to take a chance. Bodies
eager to keep moving forward,
spirits hungry for change of scene,
they enter  the rail-bed trail along
Big Laurel Creek, a forest path
waiting for new explorers. The hikers
willingly soak in the cleansing coolness
and pause to attend to the powerful pound
of rushing waters. Grace emerges to purge
the faint scent of defeat pushing against
the edge of  consciousness.

Bleached river boulders, shaken loose
from mountaintops eons ago profess
unseen messages inscribed in stone
– Stand firm. Stay strong.
Green moss, clinging with confidence,
celebrates the fertile embrace of unobstructed
sunlight through winter’s opened arms.
Fallen trees toppled by simple breeze
or furious storm display ancient time-worn roots,
Beavers mark their night’s labor, precision
cuttings that surpass the art of woodsmen.

Ten thousand steps of discovery,
the women ease off the nearly empty trail
moments before the first heavy drops of rain
silently erase the signs of a day’s journey.
Five indelibly marked travelers extend
thanks with appreciative sighs.

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Wearing Winter

Today Winter wears heavy,
wrapped in woolen layers;
a blinding white stole
graciously covers every flaw.
Time slows, weighted
with whys and hows,
thoughts that beg for
attention in a bitter chill.

But see  – – there it is.
I remain a sign-seeker, looking
for Love messages that appear
at the edge of awareness;
eager for an unanticipated
epiphany that may pause
my questions, renew a day’s
meaning, diminish frailties
and failures that otherwise
disturb my horizon.

The finches have not found
fresh thistle seed I put in the
red house feeder before cold
set in; I hunger so for their
appearance. But praise the lone
lady bug persistently combing
the white kitchen cabinet, certain
she will discover a warm niche.

In the stillness of this winter storm
I am reminded that every day
provides another chance to find
my way home. Why do I continue
to look for the arrows? How will I
otherwise discover the well-worn
path pointing towards Love.

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Winter’s Light

Crisp winter light
casts pen and ink shadow
drawings on every surface;
black iron fences sparkle
with metallic gleam; bejeweled
glass glistens; tree trunks
take on a polished look;
rose streaked sun rise,
burning sunsets mark
our wintering days.

Winter’s sunlight gives clarity.
a distant horizon seems closer,
tasks at hand seem less demanding
as the sun’s warmth suffuses
our wants and waiting, for this is
a hunkering down time.

I am drawn to the sun, fascinated by the slight changes in patterns it produces day to day. From the southwest exposure of my deck, I keep track of subtle differences; tracing the curvature of the rising, shadow making, setting sun. Every day I look forward to an afternoon tea and biscuit break, allowing the sun to reset my disposition. My tea time alters as the earth’s relationship to the sun shifts.

In this winter light as the sun warms my bones. I begin to feel the nudges of aging. The patterns of my life are changing. As I embrace my role as a contemplative elder, I recognize the new turns my life is taking, the new limits, a slower step, a quieter response to life. When people ask about retirement – and that question always comes with assumptions and expectations of a kind of wanderlust of leisure – I more readily tell them what I am “doing”, rather than acknowledge my preferred way of being – sitting in silence observing the natural world, returning thanks for creation, reading and reflecting on the Divine’s unending pathways for revelation. Too much value seems inevitably tied to the external life, what I am doing? The sun conspires with my desire to sit and absorb the goodness of creation.

Ronald Rolheiser in Sacred Fire  notes shedding is a necessary step in this journey, that biology conspires in old age to help mellow our souls; that signs of aging are an initiation into another way of life; that physical diminishment matures the soul; that by design this stage is more about reflection than productivity. I am very aware that inevitably these “actions” of “being” generate goodness. In silence I find myself prompted to give from the gratitude and love I experience.

I feel I am a privileged part of an awesome universe. I too want to live as an illuminating spark – now and in eternity.

“What has come into being in Him is Life, and Life is the Light of the World.” John 5:3-5.

May you too find warmth and discover good news of great joy in this wintering season.

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Gift of One

The energy of one
brown oak leaf gliding
past the window pulls my
attention away from random
thoughts colliding within.

Sun’s sudden appearance
after a long grace-full rain,
a momentary, subtle shift
from gray to golden,
awakens a desire
to share good news.

One Seed,
One Flame,
One Word,
One Laugh,
One Chime,
One Breath,
One Hand,
One Gift
Is enough
To change
One’s Life.

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Song of the Evergreen

Fall has changed my landscape, taking my breath away. My words seem to disappear. I have been looking at the world through the end of a kaleidoscope, every slight turn, every new angle, producing a new vision. The trees, stripped bare, open my horizon. I stay inside on the days the thick veils of smoke from burning forest fill the air. Nature prophetically parallels the changing landscape taking place in society. In silence I let go of the chaos of thought, creating space for a new configuration.

As a child I was churched in liturgical seasons which I experience as divine revelation made visible in nature’s signs and symbols. This unfolding begins with advent, waiting for what is to come. Light diminishes, darkness moves in, but we wait with expectant hope for Love.

I was running late for church the first Sunday of Advent and reached the door just as the chanting began. “Wait for the Lord; be strong; take heart.” I was transfixed by this familiar and reassuring refrain. A large green wreathe stood in the center of the sanctuary; evergreen, the symbol of hope. Four candles, one light for each week of waiting. As a new flame is added, hope burns brighter.

On a Sunday afternoon hike  I found myself walking to the rhythm of that mantra. Be strong. Take heart. Hiking is a truly Zen experience for me. I can let go of every thought and awareness, moving forward one step at a time. When I pause to catch my breath, I look around me, reading the signs of nature, discovering its messages. More than once I have had the feeling of standing of holy ground, stepping into the universe’s cathedral. On this particular walk, I right away saw the thick trunks of trees wrapped in braided vines, tall hardwoods, pillars creating a firm foundation. Ferns spread on the ground like green altar cloths. The evergreens stood out, a new stand of pines relishing in the possibility that through the winter, the light would make its way into the usually dark forest and they would grow!

Each of us has our own way of making sense, finding meaning, expressing understanding. The signs and symbols speak to me; from the sights, sounds, and touch I draw courage, not a lasting supply, but enough to get me from one week to the next. I am going to envelope myself with this season, using the time to reflect on past, present, and future. I know a seed is being nourished in the darkness and trust that in time I will emerge with the light, finding new answers to old questions. What does Love compel me to do?

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