I cannot write. The computer’s cursor blinks on a blank page. I struggle for the first word, hoping a fairy muse waves her wand, revealing a complete, compelling opening sentence. Perhaps, my mind might come alive with an idea. Any idea. Words, sentences, whole paragraphs elude me. What you are reading is a stream of consciousness. I don’t think this is writer’s block because I’ve just completed the outline, prologue, and first six chapters of my next book, a mystery novel. Then, I stopped in the middle of a dialogue between the two main characters. It was going well, yet I stopped.
I turn to Wendell Berry’s vast poetry collection in search of inspiration. I land on a page captivated by the last line in one of his Sabbath poems. Collection. I am overcome with his ability to express a concept with elegant simplicity: We live the life given, and not the planned. Oh, but do we not have choices? Yes, we do. Are our choices ‘the given’ or ‘planned’? And how does our free will relate to given and planned? This one line of verse holds layers, questions, debates. I cannot write like Berry or any other consummate writer, nor is this my aspiration. However, I have a writing voice, which presently appears to be on vacation. I depend on that voice to inspire my readers and stir something deep within. And though I’ve said this through the years, it remains a heartfelt intention for not only my writing but my art.
My dilemma may be that our beleaguered world seemingly demands writing of import and relevancy accompanied with graphs and statistics. But, this is not my way. I gravitate toward the inner self and its inter-being—how one relates to and functions amidst dysfunction, sadness, joy. I add confusion, too. I gave serious thought to framing an essay about guns and non-violence—and the pervasive violence in our nation today. Wendell Berry’s poem upon which I was going to build the narrative said it all. Berry captured not only the bones but the marrow of what violence does to our souls and to the psyche of our world.
Before we kill another child for righteousness’ sake, to serve some blissful killer’s sacred cause, some bloody patriot’s anthem and his flag, let us leave forever our ancestral lands, our holy books, our god thoughtified to the mean of our smallest selves. Let us go to the graveyard and lie down forever among the speechless stones.
Anything more I could write would be dreck. My essay about non-violence is still in a zip file, hiding in the corner of my mind. I can say that the words and sentences, which form paragraphs, will return to me. I know this based on experience. However, we have come full circle to my initial plight and the last line in Berry’s poem, lifegiven, not planned. I see they are linked. For now, the given for me is to rest and accept what is not coming my way as I planned.
Since we’ve had no snow, I’ve curated winter scenes photographed from 2007 through 2021 for The Gallery. At the moment, however, the sunset sky turned from leaden clouds to a deep, fire red. There is not enough light for my camera to capture this moment, though it blazes in my mind. Perhaps, just perhaps, the moment will find its way into a painting.
Wishing you peace within, health, and joy, always!
Give gratitude for unknown blessings already on their way. Have faith.
~Native American Proverb~
For what stories in our lives are we grateful? Our personal stories weave tapestries of bright and subtle hues with varying fibers. White satin ribbon once wrapped a precious item and is now stained with tears while gossamer-thin silver and gold threads shout alleluia. Our narratives include journeys through sadness, grief, delight, even rapture. These hills and valleys in our life-long expeditions form who we are. Some may ask why the valleys? If we do not acknowledge our tribulations, how will we recognize joy in the morning? Gratefulness is more than saying thank you: it is love-in-action steeped in humility.
In less than a week, people will gather at their Thanksgiving repasts. Bountiful food harvests on tables will elicit prayers of gratitude as plump, rosy-cheeked grandmothers count blessings. Gratefulness lives daily for those in our lives and anyone we grace with a smile. We are grateful for our Mother Earth that sustains life, the tiny and large blessings always present, and those to come, including the billion acts of kindness we never hear about in the news. And, most assuredly, loving life itself!
I am grateful to each of you who take the time to read this occasional blog. I offer the following images (with brief anecdotes) created in late October and early November. I bow to my faith, working in tandem with a most beloved, sometimes whimsical, Spirit who always guides me.
Saturday, November 13, brought dark clouds, rain, and a clap of thunder at dusk. I bolted from the kitchen to the living room window. I stared for days at the last of the clinging orange leaves, contemplating whether or not to photograph them. On this Saturday, at this stormy hour, I wondered why the color was so bright? I set my camera on a tripod for a slow shutter release because I had little light. I took seven pictures, but only one survived. Rationally, this is not possible. I’ve become accustomed, though, to the mystery of light and dark. And, yes, another divine intervention in my life.
The leaf is heart-shaped. At first, it appeared a typical, colorful autumn leaf. But I saw a small topographical map with roads, terrains of hills, valleys, desert, and rugged jungle. The light and dark became my focus, for it is part of our whole existence. The leaf remains with me, less vibrant, still heart-shaped, tucked into my Bible on a page where a favorite Psalm resides.
I placed the heart leaf on a canvas underpainting. When I saw the Mistake, I was mystified. What went wrong with my camera or lighting or both? Yet, I did not return to my work table, trying to perfect what I believed the image should be. The Mistake was a supernatural gift: perfection in imperfection.
Aslan was well-loved. He was a force of nature, ever-moving and hard to photograph! This image was shot with film and developed in an ‘old school’ dark room. I was thrilled to find a print to scan and preserve Aslan’s memory. I remember him well, and I know he lives on in his owners’ hearts.
One of the last of the dahlias presented herself to me on an early November walk. Her colors vibrated; her petals perfection. I focused, however, on the energy at the center: her heartbeat. Thank you, dear Dahlia, for staying long enough for my camera to do its work!
On a mystical foggy morning, I ventured out for a walk to the River. The following images were wrapped in this otherworldly fog I had not seen since last in London. The season’s remaining boats were visible with reflections in the water, but the shoreline was invisible! The last rose in one of my favorite garden haunts shone through the thick fog. Then, Hunk emerged through the mist as I approached our local cafe for a well-earned mocha latte. What can I say about the tender spirit of Hunk? He is nine months old and captured my heart with soft kisses of my hands. He also honored my camera, posing for me. Good boy, Hunk. Good boy. 💜
A collaboration was afoot when I found this black-limbed tree in a spectrum of color. This collaboration meant perfect light, not too bright nor too dreary. It also required that I must be ready, and I was. I’m infatuated with this tree, which slowly turned into dazzling, golden leaves that continue, as of this writing, to cascade downward, blanketing our sidewalks in gold.
I leave you with the lyrics to an old Shaker tune. It reminds me that I can never possess enough humility. But, this is why we’re here! So I continue on the path: uttering a meaningful thank you, not just words, being deeply grateful and fully aware of how blessed I am.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we will not be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
May you and yours have a blessed Thanksgiving. And always, God’s speed.
The steely plume of smoke spiraling upward was an eerie reminder one could still see two weeks following the razing of New York City’s Twin Towers. I moved to an island off the mid-coast of Maine nine months earlier. Manhattan was my home for forty years. I needed to visit friends, listen to their stories, share their grief. The absence of people, cars, and activity was otherworldly. Instead, I saw armored tanks and troops carrying machine guns amidst an unimaginable silence, except for the helicopters circling the City.
I stayed with a friend who lived close to the Armory, where survivors posted hundreds of pictures of those “missing.” She suggested I walk there with my film cameras. I hoisted my camera bag onto my shoulder and started walking.
I took 176 images at the Armory, then rounded a corner, spotting a single weather-beaten paper Scotch-taped to an iron gate. Though somewhat unreadable, it tugged at me. I never showed it because I thought it wasn’t good enough; it was too soon, too late, and unreadable. I digitized the initial film image over twenty years, trying not to mar its veracity and lamenting my inability to bring the lyrics into clear focus. Though old, a little grainy, technology provided a perfect solution — a coalescence of image, words, and music.
Given what our nation, the world, our planet experienced these past twenty years, I decided it was time to show the image, resurrecting a moment when our country did live like one as the world mourned with us. John Lennon did not compose the song Imagine like an anthem, but I think it is. He was far-seeing, idealistic, and he, too, is mourned.
Has anything profoundly changed since 9/11 twenty years ago today: The brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind living as one in peace? For a fleeting moment, our nation was united, surmounting our differences to immerge from a tragedy with hope and, yes, love for one another.
Can we do it again? Yes! And we must try.
In a recent Robert Hubbell Today’s Edition Newsletter, he wrote, “I know that there are many important issues that demand attention. … [However], we are the beneficiaries of the tireless efforts of activists who came before us. We are in their debt and must repay their generosity by emulating them.
It is our turn to defend the ramparts of freedom. We are not being saddled with an undue burden. Every generation must step into the breach. We need only hold the line until the next generation is ready to fight. But we must show them the way. If we expect our children and grandchildren to understand that democracy is worth defending, they must grow up watching us do so.”
As we did during 9/11.
For all those lost at the Towers, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, may their memories be a blessing.
I begin my 78th year on August 27. A commercial photographer in Cleveland, Ohio, took the picture above when I was sixteen years old. The white fox fur was a present from my godmother. The costume was designed and hand-made by a gifted local seamstress, Mary Lennox. The hand-beaded treasure was eventually worn by me at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City while dancing as an opening act for its star-studded headliners. Elegant nightclubs no longer exist, nor the famous clientele with men donned in black-tie and women wrapped in luxurious furs draping dazzling gowns. Yet I was a part of this slice of history. I lived it and tasted it.
I authored a book, A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance, about events in my life, in different times and places. I still struggle to recall the whole of each story. Details of places visited, travels, stage performances around the country, and sound bites of conversations flash briefly before me just within my grasp. My mind reaches for the ephemeral thread of memory, believing I captured it in its entirety. But I only find it withdrawing into the corners of my heart and mind.
Yes, the past is gone. The future is not here. What we have is this moment in which we are alive. What do we do with these moments? We live the best life possible, not only for ourselves but for others.
At seventy-eight, I see life as an ever-evolving Dance. Oceans of tears, both sorrow and joy, nature’s cycle of birth, death, and renewal in our lives, in the world, are all part of the Cosmic Dance. I regret nothing, even when wounds re-open. They dissipate quickly as memories of laughter comfort me. Love and more love in all forms sustain my heart. Journeys taken and paths chosen infuse me with creative ideas. And, the family and friends who are still in my life, and those who are gone, soothe my soul. Oh, yes, I choose to continue this Cosmic Dance!
In this Dance, there is change, sometimes subtle and frequently pivotal to our lives and how we live. A seismic shift in my life unfolded a few short weeks ago.
From a letter to friends on July 22, 2021:
My little Honda Fit leaves our apartment parking lot sometime after 4 o’clock today. I nicknamed her My Little Blue Buggy for no particular reason except that of endearment. The decision to relinquish my wheels was huge. I have many driving years ahead, but the financial upkeep of the Buggy depleted modest savings. I saw the reality and accepted it with grace.
I thought I’d wake depressed this morning with yet another ‘thing’ I needed to release from life. It was the opposite. I sat and wrote. I wrote paragraphs for the birdsong keeping me company with freshly brewed Assam tea at my side. I wrote poems and haiku that will never see the light of day but were intended just for me. I showed up and did my actual work. I walked to the River and meditated on what freedom means. Like Siddhartha looking into his River to listen and learn, I too heard from our River that freedom comes from within and has nothing to do with things: stuff, baubles, and gadgets.
I am thrilled to be back in the discipline of writing. And I am eager to journey forward into another realm of oil painting I’ve left too long in a remote corner of my mind. I realized that ideas get tired of waiting around for us to do something, so they go. Precious freedom is that I no longer need to tie my creative efforts to outcomes. I am content to create for the joy of it, whether good, bad, or mere pablum.
I don’t feel bereft without a car though I know there will be challenging times. However, there will be days, like today, filled with glory. While I moved through Qigong exercises on our River’s docks, I felt the Kingdom of God and the Pure Land of the Buddha in every cell of my body, heart, and mind as fish jumped through a surface of calm water, which shone like rippled glass.
The Dance has circled and leaped to various rhythms and melodies for close to seven decades. Now, a different Dance begins at seventy-eight: One that accepts and adapts to my body’s limitations while celebrating, with profound gratitude, the blessings, and abundance in my life.
Several images follow. Please, enjoy them!
I’ve been celebrating turning seventy-eight all month. I have nothing important or profound to add. I love nature, hot and cold, green or brown, every leaf, tree, and tree bark, birds, cats, dogs, wildlife, washing my dishes, cleaning my little home et al. with contentment and happiness I’ve not known. May I love onto all living beings. May I respect our Mother Earth. May I not judge but honor others’ differences.
We have a choice to walk with our better angels or to walk with anger, which can, and does, create suffering. Having tuned out the material world this past year, I chose another path so that my heart and spirit could survive the mainstream world’s anger, despair, and violence. I plunged instead into what always calls me to be a better human being: one whose sensitive heart looks and listens more deeply to understand so that true compassion blossoms, one who makes time for others to soothe and nurture, and one who revels in caressing our Mother Earth with a camera and words.
Who among us does not know that our free will allows us to walk and talk outside of perceived norms, watering seeds that fashion peace, love, and joy? Too sweet? Too sentimental? Magical thinking? No, it is none of these. Our minds and hearts contain seeds of anger, violence, despair, joy, happiness, and contentment. It is the seed we chose to water that immerges from our subconscious mind into our consciousness. Then, we act, speak, negatively without compassion or—with simple, sincere lovingkindness.I strive to be aware of what my mind is pushing upward from its storehouse of seeds into the light of day and water what is wholesome. The mindfulness practice I follow is not easy. Watering seeds of lovingkindness in all its forms, however, has gradually, gently prevailed more than it once did.
I also water seeds of joy and beauty through my images and words. Hopefully, I’ve created a lovely tableau for you to stop, enjoy, and listen to. Matsuo Bashō, a Zen poet, wrote: The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers. May you hear the deep, resonant tones of the monastery bell in these images, for who among us does not know our deepest mystery within.
An unplanned stroll through a farmer’s market on an early Saturday morning in June flooded my camera with startling beauty and long-awaited color!
On an early morning walk to the Riverfront, I found an extravaganza of peonies in full bloom. Eager to capture an intimate view of these blossoms, the camera slipped, and my focus wavered. When I uploaded the image, I decided I liked its music: soft, yielding yet still beautiful in its unique song. Accidents happen. Sometimes delightfully so!
A newly hatched robin’s eggshell presented itself in the middle of the road during that same walk. The first image reflects what I encountered on the road. Though fragile, I couldn’t resist taking it home for my Mother Earth altar upon which tiny bits of Nature live. The delicate, blue eggshell remains on the altar in a bed of rose petals.
My love for roses dates to a time and place long ago. The life of a rose exemplifies how youth and beauty fall away as its graceful, short life unfolds into detritus as we do, too. Though impermanence applies to every living thing in the cosmos, the rose symbolizes our body’s limited time and the eternal joy of our spirit. The scent of the rose lives on.
The Birch Tree at the Riverfront could not be ignored. Her smooth bark appeared to me like lines of computer programming code. Perhaps they are! However, I also saw a rose in the curly, papery bark. This is how I see: things not there that are.
My apartment is almost wholly an art studio at this point. Amidst the work tables, easels, paints, brushes, and cameras, fresh flowers are placed about to capture an image at a magical moment. This image was one of those moments: a hand-thrown glazed vase and ordinary, extraordinary red flowers.
The last of nine orchids on two stems remained. The petal was beautiful and bold even in the face of dying a graceful death. She was Woman and Goddess. She was sensual. She had O’Keefe in her. She had some of me, too. She was Sacred, and she was Feminine. She was mystery and magic. She will return.
Thank you for visiting. Thank you for your comments, always! Look and listen deeply to what you care about and even those things you believe you do not. When you do, the birth of understanding begins a journey filled with compassion.
Water your good seeds.
In so doing, we can help save the world.
Listen for the sound of the monastery bell coming out of all Nature.
Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness. I send my heart along with the sound of this bell. May all of you who listen awaken from forgetfulness and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow. ~Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh
One deep breath in, one slow breath out. I sit and wait. Tea is in a thermos. A camera rests at my side. I ponder the River’s serenity. Then, finally, I bear witness to dawn’s imposing entrance over the horizon. I will return and breathe with the River. And I will sit and wait.
Where two trees stand, one is tall, thick-limbed with blossoms exploding onto the bluest of skies. The other tree is bereft of adornment yet fully alive. It waits in strength and calm. While people stop to look at the extravaganza of flowers, they miss the grand, noble architecture of the bare tree that knows fresh green leaves will soon appear, providing shade, beauty, and delight.
My Father calls to me through a thin veil. He passed away many years ago. “It’s my birthday,” he says, “buy me an orchid.” I purchase an orchid and place it on my altar as my Father, the Orchid, and I speak a language of enduring love.
At first, her petals were tightly formed. Then, the carnation opened as I observed the whorl unfurl into splendor. After a week, it was her time to soften, let go. I believe I captured her final moments, but something more came through the lens: a grand, flamboyant finale of color and whimsy illuminating her essence which was of the sun, soft rain, a passing cloud, the cosmos in this ordinary, extraordinary flower. Impermanence is the nature of all things. We will meet again.
Rain was forecast. The unexpected enchantment, however, was large, juicy snowflakes inter-being with the already greening landscape. The camera’s shutter release was continual as I tried to record what would be gone within an hour or less. And then, the doe! She was not there a moment ago, a split second in time, yet she appeared grazing serenely on greens while the snow cascaded onto her and the forest floor. The snow evaporated into a cloud. The doe visits every morning and at dusk. These visits will not last. Change is unending.
A Birch tree resides alone near the River. I place my hands on her trunk with its distinctive curly, papery bark. One papery ‘plate’ appeared ready to fall off. I tried pulling tenderly only to hear “ouch!” The curly bark was firmly attached to the trunk in one small spot. The Birch tree’s bark presents a universe of color my camera cannot resist. When I viewed the uploaded image, a mystery was revealed: a faint outline of what could only be called Charlotte’s Web.
A hidden garden lives along the sunny wall of a small log cottage. The cottage resides on a cobblestone side street few people travel. I came upon the storybook cottage and garden and stepped into a dream. No one was around. While the sun was too high and bright, I decided to photograph the secret garden anyway. I doubt I will find my way there again. Was this a fantasy? Did I paint this scene? No matter. It is finished.
Birdsong fills the air, for all my windows are open to the warm, sunny day. They live in constant celebration in their environment of trees and sky, adapting to all kinds of weather and turmoil too. Yet they sing while a Redtail hawk flies high above writing her aria in the sky.
I hope my images and words brought music to your hearts, minds, and souls. Thank you for visiting.
One deep breath in, one slow breath out. Three times.
I walk past the tall, noble Tree and stop to look up, up at her bare, elegant limbs. Everything in the cosmos is contained in the majesty of her presence: The sun, a cloud, rain, earth, and snow lightly burdening her more delicate branches. Small beings live on her limbs and trunk while others burrow into the soil and her expansive roots, carrying on conversations with other trees. Many birds come to rest upon her, singing their distinctive melodies as she hums her eternal tree-song. After a small bow to her, I walk home at a slower pace. The Tree knows me, and I remember something not unknown. Her boughs rustle and wave, yet there is no breeze today.
Solitude and contemplation opened a portal to me one year ago. The world awakened to Covid, and soon, many of us in the United States sheltered-in-place. While the realities of a global pandemic and its impact on humankind created a degree of seclusion, most of my isolation was self-imposed. I considered others’ plight wrapped in fear and anxiety while I stood at a precipice and finally jumped into contemplating the authenticity of my own life. I focused on what I had and had not given attention to in my heart and soul. It was an awakening and not, at times, ecstatic or joyful. I disciplined my years of playing with meditation into an intentional act and saw more clearly my lingering arrogance and more. It was humbling.
Two themes revisited me in almost every meditation. I pondered them, read what I could find, and found nothing you do not already know. Nonetheless, they are important, and I see them, perhaps, through a different lens.
Reconciliation. We experienced a madness that consumed our country and stunned the globe before and following our election process. Hate and anger spewed sludge in all news and, sadly, from people I know. We versus Them remain the mantra of our times. Observing the riots, I pondered why the hate, why the anger. I reached within for compassion and understanding. After all, we are not born to hate or succumb to the cancer of anger and violence. However, my thoughts scared me for I, too, am capable of violence. It is part of the human condition, which we are here to manage, to overcome.
We know our nation needs to reconcile between warring factions politically, socially, racially, faith beliefs, and most assuredly, one human being’s actions towards another. The fractious behavior among our leaders (not all) continues to perpetuate division, enabling the malignancy of social and economic injustices, we against them, to remain. This discord, this discontent is not our cosmology nor the reason for our existence. I took a hard look into my heart’s understanding of why people hurt and seek vengeance towards a group or individual. Certainly, in my small, singular life, I have hurt, even damaged, others.
Reconciliation requires a willingnessto listendeeply, a genuine wanting to understand the underbelly of another’s point-of-view, and courage to meet face-to-face (not via tweets, zoom, emails, or phone calls) in dialogue with those who hold different views from one’s own. Reconciliation can be genuine communication if it comes from a brave heart and a mind cleared of one-sidedness. I have no answers to how we heal a nation except for one heart, one extended hand in truth, and again, willingness, courage, and I add kindness. This we need to do one step, hour, and a day at a time.
Oneness:We all share the same cosmic DNA. While I don’t believe in the God of the bible, or in a supernatural Being, I do know there is something, a Great Consciousness, that is vast and loving in our universe. Some call this Consciousness God or Goddess, Jesus, Mother Earth, Great Spirit, Allah—and more names that present us with a Divine Mystery, which cannot be solved. Nevertheless, we are all part of this Mystery, this dance-of-life.
Many of us disconnected ourselves from Mother Earth. She is a great teacher, but one has to want to look, listen, and see. Do we stop to inhale scents of pungent earth and wild Mountain-laurel or feel the heartbeat of billions of living beings we see and cannot see? How do we listen to the trees and plants communicating as we now know they do? Do we give gratitude for the nutrients our Mother Earth provides to us? Without compassion for Mother Earth’s diversity, can we genuinely embrace one another and our many, various cultures and races with unbiased love saying, you arethe same kind of different as me? (A movie title based on a true story.) When we inhale the scent of spring, bursting with renewed life, something stirs within our spirit and sheds hardened shards from our hearts. We remember things that are not unknown. So, yes, we can understand, embrace, and love those not like us. And if for no other reason more powerful than we are all a part of the whole, eternity, we need to learn to reconcile our own hearts and, then, with others.
I continue my solitary, contemplative journey. It is what I am given to do. I do not engage with any news or social media. I subscribe to Today’s Edition Newsletter by Robert Hubbell (email@example.com), which provides me with essential headlines and an informed discussion. I live in the rich simplicity that was voluntary at one point in my life and imposed at another. Contemplation and solitude teach me how to reconcile my inner conflicts and those with the world. I haven’t arrived as the Buddha did and never will. However, I have learned every moment is sacred; every task can be an opportunity for contentment and joy.
Following are images I created these past months. They are my offering to you. Enjoy!
For the 500,000 plus lives in our country and more around the world who are no longer with us,may their memory be a blessing.
~ May we embrace All beings as brothers and sisters, for each one of us is a part ofThe Divine Mystery ~
I wait for gentle, falling snow with large, lacy flakes landing ever so briefly on my eyelashes. Yes, just enough pristine snow blanketing the landscape with tree limbs outlined, curves of old stone walls disclosed, and aging telephone wires highlighted to reveal those things usually unseen. The woodpecker above and the bluebird in the email you just opened were feathered beauties presented to me after an extravagant blizzard several years ago. Instead of my winter wonderland dream, a nor’easter railroaded through overnight, depositing three feet of snow. Sadly, there were no birds to photograph following this storm’s fierce, gusty winds making ‘Woody’ and ‘Rufus’ even more exceptional.
So, I wait. I look towards the shortest day with its dark, deep mysteries rooted in rich, pungent earth under a hardened crust of land. Since prehistory, the Winter Solstice remains a significant time of year in many cultures marked by festivals and rituals heralding a symbolic death and rebirth of Mother Earth and the Sun.
Winter Solstice arrives this Monday, December 21, the shortest day of our year. Together with kindred spirits, I will celebrate virtually with ritual: Singing, dancing, lighting blessing candles, giving gifts, eating luscious foods, and more! These observances are rooted in unfeigned gratitude to Mother Earth: Her changing seasons, the uninhibited, inherent mysteries and magic that reside in her natural world, and all she provides to sustain life—all life. If these festivities feel a bit like Christmas activities, you are correct. They stem from Winter Solstice celebrations dating from Neolithic times to the Norse traditions (Santa Claus et al.) onward.
Through the millennia, Wisdom Keepers, Shaman, Healers, both women, and men, have not viewed this ‘darkness of time’ with disdain nor grumble for the lack of long, sunny days. They greet this season, knowing that natural life rests, contracts, and restores so that Nature rebirths into its fullness in the next season.
Paints, brushes, and knitting are now collected for personal projects. Books, stacked on my bedside table, wait patiently for me to read. Various music from folk to opera, together with audiobooks for ‘listening times,’ is ready for the choosing. And I am writing my new book! Like Nature, I have begun the process of gathering myself in for the fertile dark time where everything must rest for renewal.
I’ve created a Winter Solstice altar for part of my festivities. Several of the altar items are presented in the Gallery images. A Spirit Wheel (both dream catcher and medicine wheel) handmade by a Navajo artist unveils its aura, confirming that there is life even in the inanimate. Frost clinging to twigs sit in a glazed clay vase. One candle burns swirling beauty and chaos within its faceted holder. Two stained glass candle globes glow with a light that warms the soul, and a clear selenite crystal discloses a hidden universe! Three ceramic cups hold herbs and rose petals, ready to brew for tea. Three blessing candles radiate another life lived when lanterns and candles shone soft light while hearths were ablaze with fire. An abstract painting and a photograph are interspersed among the altar images. Both relate to the earth and its inner core. There are more crystals, incense, palo santo sticks, sage, and other cherished mementos on the altar, but those are not ready for me to share—perhaps, perhaps in another time in another season.
Please, enjoy the gallery images from a soupçon of my Winter Solstice altar~
It is not my intention to ignore the sadness in our world. I fight hard to hold on to inner peace while acknowledging the pain and sorrow that surrounds us. Consider lighting a candle or build a fire if you are able this Monday. Throw sage into the fire, or smudge with palo santo and sweetgrass to honor the heroes and those people lost to us as well as our Mother Earth’s wounds. Say a prayer, write a poem! Keep a journal, or simply say thank you—all the time.
I wish each of you a healthy, safe, and joyful holiday season, whatever your faith, culture, or personal spiritual preferences. I always look up and reach for the stars. But, also, walk with confidence into the darkness, knowing that our beautiful Mother Earth prepares where it is deep, moist, and fertile to give birth again.
In MemoriumFor all those no longer with us, may their memory be a blessing.
“When he shall die,Take him and cut him out in little stars,And he will make the face of heaven so fineThat all the world will be in love with night …"
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow, and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was only the first trick I had hold of among my other mythologies, for I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest, food to the young, kisses to my bride.
But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen
If I was the song that entered your heart then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed, and thus wilderness bloomed there, with all its followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep for the death of rivers.
And this was my true task, to be the music of the body. Do you understand? for truly the body needs a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, the soul has need of a body, and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable beauty of heaven where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.
In my book, I wrote about a red bird, a cardinal I named Isaiah because of his singular song. I wait for him now, for November is when he first sang for me. Mary Oliver’s Red Bird poems sing hosannas in each carefully crafted word of her poetry. I chose this poem because its music stirs the soul, and Red Bird teaches us about our hearts. So many hearts ache today with sorrow and pain: there are too many angels on the streets of heaven.
We are beyond a surreal election yet remain tethered to challenges and difficulties across our nation and the globe. What I’m about to say is not intentionally insensitive to anyone’s pain. It is, perhaps, when I’ve said what I have to say, a poor attempt at helping others look through a different lens, another point-of-view. This long season of trials is impermanent; they are, sadly, part of the dance of life. And that is why life itself is both unbearable yet beautiful.
No longer do flowers, greenery, butterflies grace our days as November lays bare the marrow of our landscape. Leafless trees appear skeletal and creature-like. The absence of color reveals a monochromatic terrain in varying hues of brown. Yet, there is beauty in this uncovered simplicity. My eyes find rest. My brain no longer swirls like a whirling dervish. Nature speaks: It is time to rest. It is time to gather into ourselves.
The spirals of energies in our country and around the world are unsettled. Many find solace in work, a spiritual life, and in gratitude to be alive when life has become so threatened, so fragile.
I find my calm in nature, especially when November arrives. Clarity and truth stand resolute in the bones of nature’s architecture, the essence of creation. And when cold rain runs in rivulets down my windows, I give gratitude for its cleansing the land.
On a recent early morning walk, daylight danced between the sun and clouds. I pondered the graceful balletic formation of tree limbs, other branches more like spires reached straight for the heavens, and some old, thick boughs stood firm with many stories to tell. I found beauty in tree bark that it is not gray if you closely observe: indeed, it has hues of color.
Another image honors a Thanksgiving ritual of three ‘blessing candles’ used to light and send blessings on things I feel are essential in the given year. I witnessed a sunset I never realized was there to see! There is a Sumi-e ink painting, the Ensō circle. I know I’ll not master this form, yet I continue, nonetheless. And that is okay. It is, after all, in the doing.
Life is unbearable at times, and yet, beauty is a constant. When Red Bird said, and I am both of the earth, and I am of the inexplicable beauty of heaven, know that we are too.
I pray this Thanksgiving and weekend are peaceful, happy, and filled with abundant hope. And, for anyone who has lost a loved one, may their memory be a blessing.
These are turbulent times. In 10 days, we will watch a landmark election unfold. Leading up to November 3rd, we are bombarded by repetitive fear-based commentaries from mainstream media to the extremist conspiracy theorists who seek to sow division and hate. Most importantly, we continue fighting a Quiet War against an invisible enemy that claims lives daily.
I started a Gratitude Journal in concert with ‘breathing meditations’ to help relieve anxiety and the deep weariness that eventually settled within me these past months. I choose one topic each day to write about my gratitude in these uncertain times. As my list grows, it provides a valuable reminder that giving thanks can illuminate overlooked yet nuanced blessings, gifts-of-life, in ordinary daily experiences.
I am grateful for my life; all its joys and sorrows.
Good health is a blessing. Thank You.
A sink filled with dishes to wash is an opportunity to say thank you! Many have too little, or no food at all, let alone a dish from which to eat.
As a recluse, my friends are few yet held dear.
Each sunrise dances upon my eyes.
The praise of morning birdsong and the resonance of nightly insects soothes the soul.
For a choir of friends that are no longer in my life, I give thanks. Their presence was at the right time and season in these seven decades.
I take pleasure in whimsical, puckish pumpkins. None are alike!
A pink blossom among weeds is a gift from the Divine.
I could go on, but won’t. Although … I just looked up from this writing and watched a cluster of leaves in hues of red, orange, gold, and russet float like snowflakes to the woodland floor. Squirrels scamper to gather their store for winter. This ordinary scene reveals the beauty surrounding each of us. Thank You.
When we pause and give attention to the flutter of leaves, the smallest sparrow, lend a shoulder to cry on, dry a child’s tears, call a friend just to say hello, feed a hungry person, and smile whenever and as often as possible, we reflect what the Sacred truly cares about. May we celebrate our diversity, our differences, and the love we truly hold for one another in each sacred moment of our days. Attainable? No, not yet. However, I never give up hope. A mantra for consideration:
Compassion, not judgment. Love, not hate. Justice-with-concern for all.
Breathe deeply starting now through election night, and beyond. There will be uncertainty, perhaps, for weeks following November 3rd. Remember, though, our Constitution will prevail.The Constitution sets a dead stop on December 8th for selecting Electors for the 2020 election. The Electors then cast their final Electoral ballots on December 14th. Therefore, whatever the outcome, by giving thanks for the smallest blessings in our cherished daily lives, we will be better than okay, each in our unique way.
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Several mornings ago, I was invited to have tea with Jesus and Gautama Buddha. Do not think me addled. I am not. I only ask that you read about this experience before forming preconceptions and conclusions.
This is what happened.
I woke early as is my habit. Delighted with the cool morning, following weeks of oppressive heat and humidity, I walked longer than usual, took pictures, greeted other early risers, and made my way home. Once there, I did yoga and then began a meditation period. When I heard the end-chime, I turned it off without opening my eyes for I didn’t want it to end. I took a few breaths to re-center and was back into a mysterious yet comforting place. Then, a journey unfolded unlike any I’ve experienced in my seventy-seven years.
A man walked towards me holding a beautiful, round beeswax candle. Its flame radiated warmth and safety as did the man. I first saw his sandals, then his jeans and a white shirt with billowy sleeves not unlike something worn in Shakespeare’s time. As he walked closer, I saw his olive-colored skin and long, dark hair pulled away from his face tied low at the back of his neck. When he stopped about three feet from me, I looked into his brown, kind eyes looking back into mine with great love. He asked, “How can I help?” I replied, “You are Jesus. I feel ashamed and I have failed. I can do nothing in this world. My heart is filled with outrage at the anger, hate, pain, division, ignorance, and suffering that permeate our lives along with daily death counts. Injustices, racism, and violence I myself was not fully aware of feel insurmountable. My soul cries for help. And, I do not believe I can love enough to help.” Jesus said nothing. He placed his index finger into the candle’s flame, yet it did not burn. It glowed. He touched my heart with his finger and said, “Walk with me.”
He took my right hand as we walked along a white sand beach with ocean water the color of turquoise. Seagulls abounded, dolphins played, turtles and seals bathed on the shore. Soon we entered a cathedral of trees in a small forest. There were trees and foliage of all kinds, flowers, large and small, of all kinds with colors I never imagined. A Bengal tiger approached us calmly nuzzling Jesus for a rub of his head and a scratch of his ears. There were large and small animals co-existing everywhere my eyes could see. I asked, “Am I in heaven?” Jesus answered, “No. You’re in your Soul. You ARE your Soul.” Suddenly we were in a meadow I dreamed and envisioned since childhood…a meadow of yellow and white fragrant flowers. Butterflies of varied colors and sizes flew about me and landed on my shoulders and in my hands. I twirled round and round realizing I was no longer wearing my workout clothes but a long, white gauzy dress with wide flowing sleeves. My hair was raven-black, and it fell in one long sweep down my shoulders and back. A garland of gardenias, my favorite flower, and scent, graced my head.
Focusing more broadly on the whole scene, I saw a beautiful, grand tree lush with green leaves, flowers, fruit, and birds darting everywhere while rejoicing in song. Behind the extravagant tree was a brook of cobalt blue water babbling, gurgling, never-ending.
Beneath the tree was a wizened old man, or so I thought. When Jesus and I approached, the old man stood with the strength of a strong oak tree. His thick hair was pure white worn in a long braid down the middle of his back. He wore a white T-shirt and light blue yoga pants. His skin was deep brown, and his blue eyes sparkled like sapphires. Jesus said, “Siddhartha, how good to see you, my brother.” With an intense reverence, they hugged one another close. “I have brought Lee Anne.” Siddhartha, also known as Gautama Buddha, took my face in his hands and bent his forehead to mine resting it there for a few moments. My mind, no, my Third Eye! felt like it expanded into the cosmos as I saw galaxies and supernatural events in a flash. Then the vision was gone. Siddhartha asked us to sit and have tea. I was moved to see an old bone china English tea set I once owned set out on a woven white linen cloth. Fruit bread, fresh fruit, and my favorite Assam tea with cream were served. I walked to the brook as Jesus spoke with Siddhartha explaining how I believed my heart was burdened and my soul was not free. I looked into the clear blue water of the brook expecting to see my seventy-seven-year-old face but, instead, saw a lovely young woman with porcelain skin and emerald-green eyes. Who was I? When I returned Siddhartha said, “Remember the monastery bell?” Then he quoted Matsuo Basho: “The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.” I knew this quote well. It has always been my hope when I photograph the precious life of flowers that when the images are looked upon one will hear the monastery bell, the music, a song. I nodded in understanding and gratitude for this work is sacred to me and it is very much a part of my Soul. Then, both Jesus and Siddhartha spoke to me and said these things:
“Our dearest daughter, you are a seeker. You have learned many teachings and practiced with sincerity and reverence trying to do your best. You have come to a point, however, where your Soul is now tethered to formalities in teachings whether Christian, Buddhist, or others. While the institutionalized church rules, doctrines, and rituals have merit, and once did for you, your Soul’s lifeforce is reaching for the Divine…beyond unquestioning beliefs. Remaining tied to manmade credos will no longer fulfill your Soul’s needs. You seek the Divine that is outside phenomena, even the supernatural, for your heart and Soul discovered that the Womb of God’s Cosmic Love is so transcendent it cannot be defined or ritualized or reduced to precepts.
It is your mind, ego, and thinking thoughts over and over that prevent inner peace and the freedom your Soul seeks. Do you understand? Actually, we know you do. It is you who refrain at times from setting your ego apart from your Soul life that prevents total freedom to love. That is why you are here. You can now accept and bless all spiritual paths, their goals and rituals and rules, and acknowledge with non-judgment their importance to others. You are free and no longer need anything that separates you from those who live in eternity; who breathe the Divine. This is what you seek.”
Yes! I felt these truths when Jesus touched his finger to my heart and Siddhartha his forehead to mine. Their acts comprised the first minuscule steps to awakening. Siddhartha and Jesus rose and said, “We must be going. Stay a while if you wish.” Then Siddhartha said, “You are so hard on yourself. Be tender with your wounds, Lee Anne, for they are many. Compassion for yourself will open your heart and enable you to connect soul-to-soul with others.” I bowed deeply watching them walk away, arms on one another’s shoulders laughing and talking. They were, indeed, brothers.
When I opened my eyes, tears soaked my face and shirt. I thought this vision quest, waking-dream, mystical experience, however one might define it, lasted a few minutes. Yet an hour had passed. I knew I could no longer follow rules, biblical stories as literal fact, arcane Buddhist doctrines, or anything spiritually institutionalized for I threw myself headfirst into so many doctrines, so many times, trying conscientiously to do it their way, yet remained hollow.
I’ve wandered to and fro on my spiritual path, changing beliefs like wardrobes. This is why I know there is only one thing that matters and that is to love all living beings: Our planet, animals, trees, creatures large and small, the waters of this good earth, and…one another. My spiritual journeys served to illuminate and understand my Soul life; to try to be love if at all possible. If I make it sound effortless, it is not. Does talking about loving everyone and everything sound contrite? Yes, it does. Yet I still want to try. This is not arrogance on my part, but aspirational.
These are difficult times. It will change. Impermanence is an abiding Law of the Cosmos. Going through the challenges, watching anger, hatred, division, violence, extreme racism on several fronts, and death on a daily basis can cause anyone’s soul to despair. We must not permit darkness to pervade our lives, our homes, our nation. Let us look to the billions of acts of kindness each day that we never hear about. Gandhi said, “Think of the poorest person you know and see if your next act will be of any use to him.” Each of us can offer a smile, listen to a friend’s problems, again and again, share a meal, deliver food to someone in need, and fight to extinguish injustices for all lives matter. We are the ‘same kind of difference.’
We can refuse to be the judge and jury of those who are not like us, for we are all from one Divine Source, and we all live in the same house capable of ‘oceans of love’ as Ram Dass said in his final book, Walking Each Other Home: “Love has no judgment. It is boundless. You are standing on the beach, you put down your shoes and your ego, and then you dive in. If we love well, we will die well…being fully in the moment allows us to lose ourselves in love, in the love of the beauty and awe of the manifestation of God, in the love of ourselves and others, and in the love of everything else…the suffering, the pain, the joy.”
May you be well. May you be safe. May you be healthy.
May you be happy. May you live with ease and peace.
Isaiah 40:31 says…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. My reaction when I read this verse was Are you kidding? A monolith of unbelief stood before me. Images and statistics from the past few months flashed through my mind. We all know them: a global pandemic ending almost 500,000 lives; unarmed Black Americans killed because of the color of their skin; police using force against peaceful protestors. I am reliving a nightmare of past decades steeped in abuse and hatred and division together with an invisible enemy that continues taking lives. HOPE while we bear witness to the absence of compassion, kindness, and love for others who are not exactly like us? And, all amidst the fear of dying or infecting someone else? HOPE? Really?
There has always been a Dark Thing, coiled in corners known and unknown as well as in some peoples’ hearts and souls and minds. Now, it has unwrapped itself slithering into the light of day stirring fear, division, and anger unhinged.
However, in pondering Isaiah’s words and promises, I realized he was right. HOPE thrives in the fire of the Holy Spirit and helps us embrace courage and strength to stop racism, end chokeholds, not tolerate abuse or oppression of any kind. Healthcare inequities experienced by people of color and all marginalized citizens require unequivocal equality. Let us drive these horrors back into the Dark Thing to swallow and allow the fire-of-the-Spirit to burn it into nothingness.
I needed to push through my unbelief. The first step was to turn off the news and resume my personal chats with God. The second was prayer. Lots of it. I believe the world is experiencing an awakening to something bigger than our mere, little selves. People are looking upward and asking for help. We see our inadequacies and are finding courage…seeking to be better human beings. HOPE is alive! Right-action is on the move!
The third step is to praise God. So, today I raise a hallelujah and sing a little louder as I share these Creation Images from a magical six years on an island off the mid-coast of Maine where I touched the face of God every day. Hopefully, these images, and the music to follow, will inspire our better emotions and better angels. Reach for the stars! Let our souls soar to the heavens on the wings of eagles in harmony with the beauty and mystery of all God’s Creation.
The music is from Bethel, an American Christian Worship group. If you’ve never heard contemporary Christian music, do give this a chance. If you are not Christian, please give this a chance. It rocks. Allow the lyrics and music, this inspired alchemy of elements, to minister to your heart without judgment. You may find yourself clapping your hands, stamping your feet, and raising a hallelujah! Join me, please, for…I’m gonna sing, in the middle of a storm/louder and louder you’re gonna hear my praises roar/up from the ashes, HOPE will arise!
My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and salvation, my stronghold;
I shall not be shaken.
~ Psalm 62:5-6
God’s blessings and sending love to each of you. Thank you for visiting!
While Christians and Jews embark on solo journeys through Holy Week and Passover, a friend sent me this inspiring music video that serves as my message of hope and joy through this unique and stressful Holy Season. Shalom to all!
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain (Vivian Greene). I spent a lifetime learning to do just that as a professional dancer. I still dance during most melancholy moments. Given this is a Spiritual Season for so many linked with the advent of an apex-of-loss, the circumstances almost demand that we burst forth with song, acclaim our heroines and heroes, and pray to God whom many have forgotten or just set aside.
I believe this musical offering is everything God wants us to be: Love. Strength. Courage. Hope. Selflessness. Yes, this is overflowing with His love. Spero ti piaccia!
Nothing in this blog post is mine except for the few words I’ve penned. Even so, I press back the invisible enemy and sing with Roby Facchinetti and whirl around in dance during the height of The Silent Storm. And, most assuredly these songs and dances are prayers for our Jewish brothers and sisters whose Passover season, in part, is to remember the past, learn from their long history with God, and move forward with hope. Christians honor the Resurrection of Jesus Christ remembering the past, His sorrowful Passion, yet ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ for the renewal of our hearts, our souls, our salvation.
Let’s sing and dance in praise for everyone across the whole earthly globe never forgetting to pray for the helpless, strengthen the fearful, comfort the sorrowful, give hope for those in despair while asking for His Divine Mercy. God has not left us. We need only to trust and ask. He will answer and provide.
We will embrace one another and walk arm-in-arm again. And, yes, we WILL meet again.
A final snowstorm visited us last week. The snow’s light, fluffy flakes swirled playfully, even flirtatiously, only to morph into a steadfast force blanketing a brown, barren landscape. The image above complements the whimsy of the snowfall. The lights reflected in my window appear to be joyful, bouncing balls-of-light that I imagined angels tossed back and forth in the woodlands outside. The snow melted quickly as the landscape returned to its former monochromatic brown. However, within days little green shoots poked out of garden soil already prepared for the blossoming of new blooms and the welcome return of old perennials.
We are enmeshed in a Quiet War. The enemy is invisible. And, it is silent. The governor of the state of New York said This is a Long Day. Most of us are at home now except for those courageous, essential workers in healthcare and other services as well as volunteers bringing food and aid to those in need. While we are not under Martial Law, we are self-quarantined. This requires staying within our four walls, taking walks, exercising outside, gardening, cleaning our homes a bit more than usual, both inside and out while limiting errands to only what we absolutely need to do. People are impatient, scared, worried, and we have at least another month in which we will live as those did abroad, and here too, during WWII. Grocery shelves are bare and as the stores restock they empty in less than a day.
Our country, the globe, is almost at a full stop. Yet we cannot abdicate our faith and endurance to fear, worry, panic. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34) However, there is a ‘but’ to this scripture verse for so many. It lives in the reality that there is vast, rising unemployment, climbing numbers of those who become ill and hospitalized, and hardships not experienced in generations. Nevertheless, we were created with free will: The right to choose whether or not to ponder, even obsess upon, the rapidly soaring death tolls. We are but mere humans. Though fearfully and wonderfully made, we are vulnerable.
I have no control over what is happening so I remain calm, patient, and at peace. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) What I can do is be responsible and stay home. I pray for others: my family, friends both near and far, neighbors, those with whom I normally worship on Sundays, and the sick, dying, and brave ones on the front lines. How I wish, oh how I wish, I was not among the “vulnerable” due to my age. I ask, How can I help? The only way I know is, hopefully, to warm your hearts and lift your spirits with stirring images and inspiring words: For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have Divine Power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4)
As a woman of faith, God is at the center of my life. I spend a lot of time in prayer with a well-worn Bible open in my lap. Not all of you believe in God, but one doesn’t need to in order to enjoy my images from seasons now past.
There were long morning walks showing me things again and again that finally came to life while the Still Small Voice guided my eye and the shutter release of my camera.
Memories unfold of a nighttime scene in a place once called Witten Pond where one could touch the face of God in the light of a full moon.
Inside my apartment, one cat, Lily, shared her short life with me. The other, Abbey, remains steadfast in her companionship, hearty purr, and one eye open while she sleeps.
While we have no mortal weapons with which to fight an unseen enemy, we can embrace faith, courage, and peace during this trial most of us probably thought we would never see in our lifetimes. We must overcome fear for neither love nor light can exist where fear lives. And we need both.
Keep people safe by being responsible for ourselves, pray for those on the front lines, and others who struggle. Help the helpless if you are able, adapt to the new normal without complaint, accept only our fair share (maybe even less)—living more simply so some can simply live, and refrain from blaming anyone or anything. Let us move forward and keep our hearts and minds on the following: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
I light a prayer-candle in my heart in honor of all who are on the front lines of this Quiet War and for those who are abandoned, frightened, confused, and lonely during the Long Day ahead. My candle will continue to burn and my prayers will not end.
Thank you for spending time with me. I hope you were able to pause, breathe, and ponder enough to lift your hearts and raise your thoughts to the sacredness of Creation and know, deep within, that we will overcome this Quiet War and be ready for new beginnings. Trials forge character, even change character—for the better. With God’s love, mercy, and grace we can do this. We will do this.