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Category: autumn

putting a season to bed…

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for weeks now, i’d been thinking i’d mark this one-year point with an open letter to the occupier of the oval office. i was going to politely suggest that i’d prefer a country of considerate kindness and gentleness. i’d prefer the bullying, the bragging, the bombast be put to bed. i was going to mention how i’d withered across the arc of the year, how i went to bed some nights with such a sinkingness in my belly, i ached. and then i woke up aching some more. i was going to tell him that, from the eensy-weensy spot on the map where i keep watch, i felt like i was elbow-akimbo at the edge of the fourth-grade playground, watching the schoolyard bully chase after the scrawny kids who couldn’t run fast enough, the ones who could never find a safe place to hide. i was going to ask if maybe, for the sake of our souls and our sanity, he could please swallow a humble pill, take a hard look in the mirror, and remember that children are watching, children are taking their cues, and parents all over the land are hitting the mute button every time he chimes up again. i was going to ask to stop with the tweets.

but i decided — or my wiser, gentler angels did — that i’d best invest those energies under the great pewter dome of november’s sky. i turned, as i so often do, to the balm that comes in raking my hands through cold damp earth. in tuning my ears to the sound of the blade slicing through the garden’s autumnal frost.

i spent the morning taking census of nodding heads and withered stems. i dumped out shallow pools of rainwater from the last few pots, hauled spent vessels into their winter’s resting place. the hoses i drained of last dribbles.

autumn is the season of turning in, and i partook of the liturgy with muddy hands and dirt-stained knees. there is a whole body immersion, a surrender to the dilution of light and heat, a preparing, a submission, that comes with the ticking through earthly chores. chores, perhaps, are those seasonal triggers, the ones that pull us into the lure, into the spiritual cadence of each and every turning of the calendar page.

we are on the cusp now of the darkening, a season i regard for its inner kindling — look past the inking in along the margins, dwell on the lumens arising within.

we coil now into our depths, into the nooks and crannies of our soul, and we do best to dial down the noise, to slow the beating of our hearts, to aim for a stillness shared with so many citizens of the woods and waters and sky.

consider the painted turtle, who a week ago might have been basking in a pool of sunlight atop a log, but in one invisible moment, might have heard the ancient whisper: it’s time now. and so the turtle took her last deep breath and plunged to the silty bottom of the chilling pond, pushed aside the lily pad roots and stems, burrowed deep into the mush, and settled into her wintry stillness.

just now i was reading that she goes so still she doesn’t need to breathe, “she slows herself beyond breath in a place where breath is not possible,” writes gayle boss in “all creation waits,” a breathtaking advent book i will soon share. and while the turtle is without oxygen all winter long at the murky bottom, as lactic acid builds in her heart and her bloodstream, she draws calcium from her hard shell, in order to neutralize the acid, in order to keep her muscle from burning away.* she literally dissolves through the winter, till the vernal thaw when she rises, deep-breathes again.

blessedly, we do get to breathe. and, mostly, we don’t dissolve over winter. but turtle has a lesson to share. it is this:

“…every stressed particle of her stays focused on the silver bead of utter quietude.

“it’s this radical simplicity that will save her. and deep within it, at the heart of her stillness, something she has no need to name, but something we might call trust: that one day, yes, the world will warm again, and with it, her life.”

i say we’d all do well to turn in. to tuck away our last few pots. to coil away the hose. to replenish the bins of seed for the birds. to aim for the stillness of the painted turtle. to put this season to bed. and await the deepening to come.

painted turtle from all creation waits

painted turtle, from “all creation waits,” illustrated by david g. klein

how will you put this season to bed? do you dread the darkening or do you keep your gaze on the flickering flame deep within?

* is not the divine design of creation the mind-blowingest, knee-bendingest endeavor you ever did encounter? that the pond-bottom oxygen deprivation is balanced by the turtle’s hard shell, that one yields and shields the other, that all of this was conceived….

when roots are called for, the big red pot comes through

big red pot

i’m in-between and somewhat out-of-sorts. i’m not certain we could riffle through a diagnostic manual and find it written just that way, the malady. and maybe it’s not a malady, just simply stating fact. maybe it’s merely the lull in human undulation, the dip between the rises.

and, truth is, it’s not so bad — the in-between part, anyway. the in-between part is liberation, defined. a long line of assignments is behind me, and i’m in the fertile ground where new ideas begin to rumble in the distance. for months now, i’ve been applying fingers to keyboard day after day after day. so this week, without so much as a whistle being blown, i seem to have declared it deep-breathing time. i found myself roaming anywhere except the keyboard. i found myself clipping shriveled vines in the garden, plucking last-gasp bouquets and tucking them — one last time — in the old milk pitchers that duly serve to hold their pirouettes. i found myself reaching for the big red pot. and all the roots — the parsnip, carrot, turnip — that are ours with one swift tug on their leafy tops.

i seemed to be swirling in whole body immersions. in tactile acts that drew me close to earth, and thus infused with heaven’s fumes.

i needed rootedness this week. and my big red pot came through. it’s there, thick-walled and heavy enough to shatter toes. to yank it from the cupboard is no small feat, one that usually calls for rearrangement of the entire teetering tower of lids and bottoms. but once planted atop my old crotchety cookstove — the one whose burners must take turns deciding who will burn today, and who will sit it out — the rearrangement is all worth it. that pot all but begs to put me back together. it sits wide-mouthed and waiting. all it asks is that i get to work: peel away the earth-stained skins of all those roots, chop them into chunks, toss with abandon. all whirled in olive-oil glisten. all softened, surrendered, through minutes on the flame.

i made a root stew this week because i needed roots. i simmered it all day, with a pinch of this, a cup of that. it was alchemy, all right. the sort that heals me every time. i set out to root the ones i love, the ones whose week wearies them. but all day long it was me who inhaled the essence of autumn, of doors closed, and furnace rumbling once again. chamomile

as long as i was ambling down the road to roots, i clipped a fat fistful of chamomile, the very essence of becalmed. i set the table, put out fork and knife and napkin. i awaited the return of those i love, the ones who’d shuffle down the walk long after dusk, and into night. there is something sacred about keeping watch for comings home.

there is something sacred about immersing yourself in the offerings of earth: in roots and fat fistfuls of bloom.

sometimes the shortest route to blessing is setting out to bless the ones we love. along the way, we find the sacred tapping us in our translucent parts, the ones where our heartbeat all but shows.

the susurrations of the sacred catch me every time.

and may they catch you, too. how do you carve your path to groundedness, what’s your certain route to simple daily blessing?

p.s. my out-of-sorts-ness is simply being ground down day after day by the national vitriol. it’s a toxic drip, and it’s rubbed me raw. it reminds me of being a kid keeping watch on the schoolyard bully, tempted to plant my hands firmly on my hipbones and let rip a mighty spew! (stay tuned….)

those few radiant threads…

it was a whirling dervish of a week. a week that pulled me this way and that. that drew me far from home, for long stretches at a time. and when the ground beneath me slip-slides, when the air around me begins to thin, and i find myself dizzy from the pace, the worry, i find myself reaching for holy mooring.

holy mooring to me looks like this:autumnclematis

or this: hydrangeayellowandwhite

i reach out and cup my palms around the beauty and the blessing, try to hold it there for just a moment. drink it in. let it sink into my pores. behold would be the verb.

more often than not this week, i found my mooring not in grand sweeps of majesties but in the tiniest radiant stitches, in unnoticed, barely whispered acts of loving. when my heart’s aquiver, i find it musters muscle when it’s called beyond its own walls. when it reaches out to shove away the jostle that stumbles the ones i love. especially the one i will secretly, always, call “my little one.”

his week this week made his shoulders slump — under the weight of a backpack that must weigh 50 pounds, and another one filled with soccer cleats and stinky goalie gloves, the one he left at home by accident, necessitating an indy-500 dash from the school door back to the roost, lest soccer coaches scowl.

i found myself soothed — oddly — in the moments when i was buckling my seat belt, jangling the keys into the ignition slot. when i was waiting for him to lope out the door and down the brick walk, juggling backpacks and the red plate that held his breakfast. i found myself soothed knowing that for the next maybe seven minutes he and i would be ensconced in the metal cocoon we call our old red wagon. the easy flow of words, of question and comment, might be our longest, deepest anchor in a day of rushing. i found myself soothed rinsing clumps of grapes, slicing chunks of cheese, laying out an afternoon’s snack on the rare day he had no soccer practice, but was due back at school for an evening assignment, one that once again would shove dinnertime nearly out the door.

maybe it’s transference — in missing his faraway brother, in knowing i’m no longer an actor in his brother’s everyday, i’m inserting myself in the only one whose day i can tangibly effect. maybe it’s anticipatory grief — a visceral knowing that his years at home are drawing toward a close (this week the high school convened a parents’ meeting to begin the college conversation for the flock of brand-new juniors), and with it this stint of mothering that has been my holy salvation, and i can’t bear for it to end. and so i indulge and relish every drop — folding the sweatshirts i find clumped on the closet floor, plucking favorite things off grocery store shelves, tucking love notes under pillows.

amid the whirl and pull of another overloaded week, holiness seeped in. oozed in through the cracks and crevices of the hours — in basking in the diluting rays of autumn sun. in wandering a meadow, beholding dappled golden light in woods just beginning to ignite into autumn’s fiery colors. in loving, always loving, the one sure mooring that will not, cannot, be submerged.

it is, as it always is, the tiniest radiant stitches that keep me whole, that keep me from fraying into tatters.

what keeps you whole? what were the radiant stitches of your week?

all the loveliness above (the pictures, i mean) comes from tumbledown farm, a magical landscape of barn and silo, chicken coop and pasture, where i got to amble this week, teaching an all-day writing and slowing time workshop. i’m still too shy to ever broadcast these adventures ahead of time, but i’m working on it. and one of these days i might boldly put out the word in time for anyone who’s interested to sign up. and yesterday — all day and into the night — i was leading a “spiritual spa day” for a host of magnificent women at an old and beautiful convent in chicago. september seems to have come on with a cymbal clang. 

chill wind…

first day plate

like that, the rhythm changed in this old house. turn around, they call it in the land of jazz. disambiguation, yet another fancy word for when the two-beat turns to more. or less.

porridge poti call it “the day the little blue pot comes out of hiding,” the porridge pot, the one that starts the day with swirls of spoon and percolating simmer. it so happened that the chill winds blew in just as the school bell rang around here for the first time of the year.

and, like that, with arms now slid into woolen sleeves, but bare toes refusing to submit to leather confines, one season has shuffled off, cowering in the wings; another now pirouettes under klieg lights at center stage. ah, but autumn isn’t like that. autumn — the autumn i love anyway — is quietly robust. doesn’t make much noise. no clanging, rattling. just an elegant sashay into our midst. enveloping in amber light and jewel-toned hues: garnet, copper, gold.

autumn at once speeds up the daily whirl, and weaves in quietude. the morning rush — with school bus not dawdling at the curb, and school books and shoes forever escaping in the night, nowhere to be found by dawn — is not insignificant, enough to make your hairs turn pewter, but that’s followed by the between-the-brackets hush. suddenly, the middle of the day is on its tippy toes, daring not disturb. and those are the thinking hours, the deepening hours, when time invites me into its depths and nestled burrows. when i can type whole sentences, turn pages, wipe a bathroom sink and wander back hours later to find it still glistening. no wonder i love the rhythm of the autumn. it draws me in.

the change of light and tempo is just enough to make us all stand up and pay attention. and that, i think, is the big idea behind the twirl of earth against the sun. as we move from full-on-light to dappled shadow, the world around us — the garden, the woods, the starry night — shifts too. gone is the bold, stand-up-straight of summer. the basil withers on its stem, the dill is nearly toppled. but i, for one, feel little pang for the season fading in the rear-view mirror. not if truth be told. sure, i’ll miss those fat tomatoes — sliced and salted simply — but imagine the zaftig squash roasting in the oven, and the treasure chest of spices — cardamom, cumin, nutmeg — soon to offer up their fine and pungent notes.

give me a long day of concentrated work. give me a chill morning to nip my toes, and a sweater in which to wrap my goose-bumped arms. give me autumn’s golden light. and a sky of roiling off-in-the-distance clouds. i’ll make holy work of it. i promise.

i found it hard to write this morning, what with all the news squawking from the little white box tucked in my kitchen cove. once i clicked on the news, which is often my first move, even before the coffee’s on its way, i stood there frozen, wondering if i’d clicked on some sci-fi station, what with reports of massive earthquake (worst in a century), and yet another killer hurricane barreling through island after island, charging toward the mainland. i get scared, truth be told, worried that the whole universe is convulsing, rising up and telling us to mend our ways, pay attention to our brokenness. be gentle, for God’s sake, i hear the heavens telling us, in no uncertain words. be gentle with this blessed orb of Earth. be gentle with each other. be gentle, i suppose, even with our blessed selves. 

because i care deeply about leaving you with words that just might add a bit of oomph to your friday morning, i’m adding here the rough draft of words i wrote this week when asked to write the intro to a book of women’s stories, women’s stories of reaching across racial, cultural and religious lines to forge deeper understandings out of plain pure friendship. it was an honor to be asked. here’s what i wrote (i’ll wait to tell a bit more about the book till it’s published). may this bring a little something to the whirl of sci-fi all around us…..

much love, and thanks for reading along…..xoxo bam

Day after day I wake up with my chest feeling hollowed. The space in my heart hurts so much, so immeasurably, I can’t fathom how to contain it. I shuffle down the stairs of my old shingled house, look out the windows into the quiet of dawn, into the leafy arbors, and wonder how in the world can I stitch a single thread into the tatters of this world, this oozing brokenness all around?

I walk in a state of grief unlike any I’ve ever known — and I’ve known quite a few. My grief is for the state of this nation, for the body politic, for the sheer goodness and kindness that I see being battered day after day. I shrink from the modern-day public square — social media in all its iterations — because the vitriol is too much, because the divisiveness tears me apart. I don’t believe in a world of us versus them, and yet, every day those lines are drawn more starkly. I cling to the words of wise souls like Father Jim Martin, the Jesuit thinker and author, who writes in his latest book, “For with Jesus, there is no us and them. There is only us.”

But how, I keep wondering, can my one all-alone voice make a dent in the cacophony? How can a whisper be heard? How can I amplify my deep faith in bridging not burning? Where oh where is there a place for a soul who believes so deeply, yet finds herself flailing with so little a footprint?

And then, the stories of this book landed on my desk. This, I knew right away, was where the answer lies: In ordinary extraordinary stories of women who reach across doorways, and hallways, and kitchen counters, who see beyond burkas and veils and prayer beads and venerations. I see and I read and I wrap myself in the stories of human hearts reaching beyond their own private shelters — walls that, always, can go one of two ways: to open into doorways, or seal themselves off, barricades of hard stubborn coldness, otherness, unwilling-to-bend-ness.

Here, in the pages of this book, is the first best draft of humanity moving forward. Here are the blueprints for the great and eternal commandment: Love as you would be loved.

Here is Ayesha, alone and with newborn babe, falling into the bottomless shadow of post-partum depression, who dared to knock on the door across the hall, and found a friend — and earthly salvation — in the form of an elderly widow named Libby. The Indian Muslim new mother befriending the white Christian widow; both finding the solace they sought — in each other. In the simple act of raising a fist to a flat-planed door, and knocking. Knees knocking all the while. The toeholds of courage start small.

Here is Parwin, who recounts the hair-raising story of her escape, at six months pregnant, from war-ravaged Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. With two young children in tow, and determined to keep their escape unnoticed, she and her troupe traveled by truck and by horse and by foot — 150 miles of fear beyond fear. And in the end, when she delivered that baby just across the Pakistan border, when she found her way to America, she devoted her life to justice, compassion, for living the words of the blessed Koran:

…that you may know each other — and not despise each other.

Here is Dolores, who says she was “marinated, battered and deep-fried in religion,” specifically the black Baptist religion of her youth, and who found herself drawn into a host of houses of worship — mosques, synagogues, churches large and loud or not-so-large and not-so-loud. She was drawn, in particular, to the Buddhist practice of silence — a far cry from the joyful noise of her youth. One night, after a long dry spell in the faith department, she dreamed that Jesus introduced her to his best friend Buddha. Ever since, she’s been a practicing Buddhist. And even more so, a living, breathing bridge between two of the world’s great religions.

Story after story, woman after woman, the leitmotif is always: reach beyond what you know. Reach into the unknown, the foreign, the mysterious. Make it yours through words, and gesture, and deep human touch. Defy the divisiveness. Believe in the power of your own still small voice.

I turn to the holy wisdom of Dorothy Day, who learned from Therese of Lisieux: “By little and by little” — by little acts of kindness, by little acts of courage, we can thread the needle that will stitch the tatters back into whole.

We cannot afford to shrink from the task. We cannot afford to think we don’t matter, that we can’t make a difference. Read these stories of oversize courage and unbounded goodness. Read these stories of faith and justice, doled out in everyday measure.

Be the change you believe in. Be the kindness. Be the radiant light.

Go now, and carve out heaven on earth.

dear chair friends who’ve read this far, how will you carve out a little heaven on earth? 

 

rapt

rapt

you could bury your nose in it. the honeybees do.

rapt-beewe’re easing into the deep of it. or perhaps it’s that the deep is deepening and we’re being immersed. being wrapped in it. rapt.

rapt would be my posture of late.

rapt /rapt/ adj. 1. completely fascinated and absorbed. 2. literary filled with intense and pleasant emotion.

oh, i am rapt.

i seem to glisten through the days. and the nights. oh, the nights. it’s alive and it’s soft all over. it’s september, once summer surrenders. once the hot air balloon, and the sauna, finally exhale. and the next inhale is crisp, is cooler, and the light now has shifted. the edges, to my eyes anyway, are sharp, exquisitely so. the colors are deeper, more amber, molasses. the bright white of summer has faded. i can make out the fine grain again.

by night, the windows are open, and the hum doesn’t come from air conditioners down the block anymore. they’ve gone quiet — at last. now, the night belongs to the low-simmering song of the cricket, and the rising chorus of dawn. and the breeze. curtains quiver. bedsheets do too. rather than flinging them off, i’m just as apt to pull them taut around my shoulders, up to my chin. and the moon. did you happen to drink that one in? the harvest moon on the rise last night, the one that ignited the blue-black, silver-stitched dome, the one that cast moon shadow every which way. the one that promises even more when it rises tonight, in its fullest wholeness.

and by day, by day i’ve had hummingbirds dancing all week. a trinity of humming hummers, of hovering wings, darting and dodging, and dashing in for a drink, a deep-throated drink. whole chunks of minutes have passed, as i stop and i stare. enraptured. they seem not to mind when i tiptoe quite close. when i stand just under the branch or the wire where they’ve plunked their wee bums, and take my turn at drinking them in.

out my kitchen window, the hydrangea blooms droop. not that they’re withering, or giving up for the season. they’re simply so zaftig they can’t seem to bear their own weight, their heft, their marvelousness. so they sag, this way and that. and all i can see through the panes of the window are the voluptuous blooms that invite in the honeybees and the rare fluttering monarch.

these are the days when to be alive is to be rapt in prayer. i know i am. all day, hour upon hour, i feel the brushstroke of the Divine gentle against the nape of my neck, the small of my back, the bare flesh of my arms. and, surely, it’s prayer that keeps my heart pulsing.

every blessed act of each day — whole strings of the tiniest, mostly unnoticed (tucking a fresh vase of blooms by the side of my little one’s bed, sliding an after-school snack onto the counter, knowing he’ll see it, hoping he’ll know it’s a whispered “i love you” set out in apples and crackers and cheese) — each one is a prayer without words. each one is my heart and my soul offering up the closest i know how to come to turning my hours over to God. to saying thank you for the breath and the heartbeat. thank you for the chance to brush up against the holiness that is this amber-drenched september day, this one latest chance to absorb, yes, to inhale, yes. but even more to put my enrapture to work, to say thank you in my own small acts of paying attention, in my own small acts of love and tender kindness.

because all around me is God’s immeasurable magnificence, a tapestry of jeweled stitches in which i am rapt. so deeply vigorously rapt.

rapt-endnote

 are you rapt? and what is stirring your holy rapture? 

p.s. and in case you wondered about those pins and needles of last week: no word yet. 

the cry of the october garden

october garden

the garden’s been hushed for months now. or maybe i’ve been too distracted to notice.

this week though, with honey-dappled light oozing across its fading, bent, and desiccating boughs and stems, with fronds of fern collapsed, splayed every which way, and nodding heads of hydrangea weighing down the branch, with my own soul ragged, in need of long slow immersion, i heard october’s garden call my name.

i’d been typing — or trying to anyway — when suddenly some drop of golden light, nectar from the heavens, caught my eye. i looked up, pushed out my chair, threw on my muck-about boots and grabbed the clippers on the way.

for a good long soak of an afternoon, i snipped and yanked and piled high the proof. my growing things, most of them at least, were forgiving; i apologized anyway. i’d left them all abandoned through summer’s height and frenzied weeks. they’d waited, as all good gardens do. they knew that, someday, i’d return. i always do.

and, apothecary on slender sturdy stem, the whole plot applied its balm. gentian blue dots, a sure cure for any faded heart, still winked at me. mopheads of hydrangea kept on their color show, turning lime to rose to tinged in plum, all but begging me to snip them at the neck and bring them in for winter. the black-eyed susan, once a perky swath of whimsy, now lay dark, nothing but the black-eyed button, landing pad for hungry songbirds, who peck and fill their bellies.

to be amid a garden in october is to catch up to the end of the story, to pay notice to what happens when the glory fades away, and yet another topography of beautiful is bared.

this is, after all, the wabi-sabi season, so defined by a farmer friend of mine as the season that pulses with the beauty of sadness and the sadness of beauty, the season that pulses with the poetry of imperfection and impermanence. nothing beautiful lasts forever, my garden whispers, so savor all of it, every drop of it, while you have the chance to reach out and rub your nose, your hands, your heart, in the whole of it.

essential wisdom, far beyond the garden.

i’m fairly certain it was the earthy, tactile element, the dirt under my nails, the pin scratches up and down my arms (october’s thorny roses are no less forgiving than the sturdy stems of june), that soothed me. the being out in golden afternoon, feeling the faintest ray of sun bathe across my sweatered back. there was healing in the garden stain splotting my knees, and surely in the armloads of autumnal offerings i hauled in the house, tucked in old vases.

once my shoulders ached, and my clipper hand throbbed, i kicked off my garden boots, and clambered back inside, content to watch the sunlight fade as i assumed my steady post just beside my chopping board and cookstove. in yet another iteration of surrendering to hands in lieu of cerebration, i turned this week to slicing, stirring, cracking eggs, and cranking up the oven. there was, there is, in the alchemy of the kitchen a sure cure for ails of the deepest-down ilk. stew and soup and pumpkin bars, i made them all this week.

i was drawn by battered heart, and sodden soul, to find my solace where the growing things live and breathe and surrender to the season’s close, and when the air grew chill, i warmed the rest of me — and those i love — by tending to the cookstove.

not a bad prescription, after all. welcome mat

where and how do you practice healing acts or arts?

and now we pause for awe…

DSCF1354

the lamb has been ordered. the prayer books, slipped from the shelf. soon, i will slice the pomegranate and begin to count the seeds. are there really precisely 613, the same as the number of mitzvot, or commandments, as the sages taught, as i was told in whispers in a kosher kitchen once upon a time?

i have been curious, asking questions, burrowing into the holiness of the new year, the jewish new year, rosh hashanah, ever since i stumbled on that fine bespectacled fellow in the newsroom so long ago, decades ago now. and because i come to this beginning — this pause to behold the wonder of creation, original creation — with inquisitive heart, because question upon question tumbles before me, because one leads to another and another, i can’t help but be drawn deep into what these days offer: these days offer awe.

they are called, quite precisely, the Days of Awe.

awe, my dictionary tells me, is “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.”

awe, my etymologists* tell me, has deep roots in fear, and traces back to circa 1300, aue, “fear, terror, great reverence,” earlier aghe, circa 1200, from a Scandinavian source, such as Old Norse agi “fright;” from Proto-Germanic *agiz- (cognates: Old English ege “fear,” Old High German agiso “fright, terror,” Gothic agis “fear, anguish”), from PIE *agh-es- (cognates: Greek akhos “pain, grief”), from root *agh- “to be depressed, be afraid” (see ail). the current sense of “dread mixed with admiration or veneration” is due to biblical use with reference to the Supreme Being. To stand in awe (early 15c.) originally was simply to stand awe. Awe-inspiring is recorded from 1814.

in my own dwelling inside these days of awe, i don’t think too much about fear. i tend toward wonder. the God i know and sidle next to is not one who makes me tremble. truth is, i’m most myself when i draw deep into the hollows of God. when i feel myself wrapped in the arms of the one who gave me breath, and question, and proclivities for awe.

because this pause for holiness is at once still new to me, and now familiar, because in many ways it’s always felt as if i’d been waiting for reason to hold up these days, to hold up these autumn’s-coming hours, i walk through them with all pores open. i love the pungent notes that will rise up from the pot on the stove, the one where lamb simmers alongside onion and celery and garlic, before the apples and raisins and cinnamon settle in. i love the way the molasses morning light pours across the page. i love each sentence i find on the page, especially the ones that startle me, give me pause, give me much to think about during the long hours in synagogue, during the long walks that will punctuate the pause, the anointing that makes the days of awe unlike ordinary time.

because i am always, always drawn to the sage of all sages, abraham joshua heschel, i pulled him, too, from the shelf this morning. i’ve been filling the shelves with heschel for a long long time. even before i knew i’d be the one to share my husband’s bookshelves.

this morning i found this from heschel, along with the pages of prayer that we will tuck under our arms and carry to the pews where the prayers will come. because it speaks to all of us who are inclined to turn in, to refuel in the depths of quietude, i share these fine heschel thoughts as something of a blessing for these days when we pause for awe.

here’s heschel, from “On Prayer,” found in the collection, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, edited by Susannah Heschel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996):

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after wandering through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.

may you find your way home in this sacred span of time, the one that unfolds across the coming hours, the ones i’ve come to know and love as the holy Days of Awe, when i bow my head, my heart, my soul, and pulse with the wonder of creation, and my one small moment to revel in all its glories.

how do you pause for awe? who is your trail guide across the landscape of prayer?

*my etymologists: online etymology dictionary

sacramental supper

sacrament supper

it came over me as if i’d been out on a splintering raft in the middle of the swallowing seas, as if for days and days i’d not seen dry shore. nor steady mooring to cling to. but there, not too far out of my reach, was the sea-battered timber planted in the sandy bottom. the end post of a barnacle-crusted dock i couldn’t quite make out, and it came out of nowhere.

looked like hope to me.

so i reached for it. reached into the meat bin at the bottom of the fridge. hauled out the pack of cubes of cow (so sorry, cow). then i hauled out the cook pot, the one so hefty it could break a toe. a pack of toes. i glopped in a spill of oil, olive oil slick across the now-sizzling surface. and in plopped the cubes of beef. i browned and hummed. that’s what cooking on a thursday morning does.

i was burrowing into the holiness, the sacrament of middle-of-the-week, because-they-need-it, because-we-all-need-it supper. it would be ladled at long day’s end, when, for a moment, hands would be clasped, prayers raised, then forks. and a certain emptiness, filled.

that’s the mystery and alchemy of all-day puttering at the cookstove. it’s the only thing some days, some weeks, that beelines to the crannies in our heart where words can’t go. that seeps into hollows hungry for so very much.

since this was sacramental, after all, i set the altar while beef cubes sizzled: old chipped blue willow plates, ratty napkins that could use a spin through the sewing machine. cobalt glasses, ones that all day long catch the light, spill streams of blue across the old maple planks of the handed-down kitchen table, the one that still wears the imprint of third-grade homework from back in 1965 (or so i calculate, judging by the particular child’s scrawl and the certain words pressed into the wood).

sacramentum, the latin dictionary tells us, means “sign of the sacred.” is it sacrilegious, then, to call a plain old supper, one that simmered on the back burner all day long, one thought through, from splattered sheaf of follow-along instructions, clear through to pop-from-a-tube biscuits, is it sacrilegious to call a lump of root vegetables and beef, ones swimming all day long in thyme and bay leaf, crushed tomatoes with a splash of red wine vinegar, is it sacrilegious to call it sacramental?

i think not.

to serve up what amounts to depths of heart, to say in mashed potatoes and irish butter, “i love you dearly, and i’m so sorry i’ve been distracted. so sorry i’ve been heating up old soup, chicken pot pie from a box.” to say, with store-bought pumpkin pie, under a swirl of canned whipped cream (i splurged on the one that shouted, “extra creamy!”), “forgive me for making it seem like something else might have been more top-of-the-to-do-list than carving out the holy half hour (let’s not be greedy here) when we all sit down and savor pay-attention cooking. and each other.”

because, really, i think we can taste the difference. oh, umami is umami. and sweet is sweet. but don’t the hours of stirring, of simmering, of thinking something through — not whipping it off in the last 10 minutes before the hunger sirens screech — doesn’t it all find its way deep down into the deliciousness that doesn’t come through short cut piled atop short cut?

yesterday, the day was afghan autumnal, all gray and woolly, the sort of day when you hunker inside, when the cookstove yodels to you. when the burners itch to be cranked. and the bins of rutabaga and turnip and parsnip — all those underground offerings that soak up what the earth’s deep dark soil has to share — they beg for vegetable peeler, and chopping block, and long hours surrendering to flame.

it was the sort of day-after-hubbub when quiet invited me in for a long slow visit. nothing rushed about the day. a day to breathe deep, breathe slow. to fill my lungs with quiet prayers, the prayers of lavishing love on the ones so dear to me, the ones who deserve nothing less than the very best dinner i could chop and stir and taste-test along the way. and while i’m at it, why not take it up a zany notch? just because there’s never enough oomph in an ordinary day. and what day, really, deserves to be plain old ordinary?

by supper time, when the tableau beyond the panes of glass went inky black, when the glow of the kitchen lamp spilled gold across the table, the vapors that rose from the big red smash-your-toes cook pot, the hot breaths that trespassed out of the oven, they crept up the stairs to where homework was being done.

before i’d said a word, the stovetop’s incense was deep at work. the house was filled with something surely holy, for what else can you call it when you claim a whole long day to aim for higher?

to say in smell and taste and temperature and touch what words alone just might not say: “you are worth it to me to spend a whole day cooking, just for you. i’ve not lost sight of my holiest calling, to carve out a hallowed space here in this place of walls and windows and creaky floors and solid roof, to be the one reliable source of all that’s good, that’s edifying. to fill you with warm spoonfuls — as much as you want, there’s plenty here. and i’ve made it beautiful because you are, because beauty speaks to the deep-down whole of us. and you so richly deserve each and every morsel i can muster.”

the day was chilly brisk. i did what i could to make the kitchen glow, the holy light of heaven here on earth. and to fill those who came to the chairs at long day’s end.

far as i can tell, that’s a sacrament, a sign of the sacred. with a fat splat of butter drooling off the plate.

beef stew

like all the best recipes, i start with something on paper, and then i riff. i zig when instructions say zag. add a dollop instead of a dab. the beef stew recipe i’ve decided is the one worthy of a long day’s cooking is one from that gloriously down-to-earth pioneer woman, ree drummond, and it’s one she calls “sunday night stew.” even on a thursday.

your thoughts on the sacrament called slow-cooked supper? or how do you best dollop extra helpings of plain pure love? 

burrowing begins…

burrowing begins fruit

winds are howling. the chimney is hiccuping (rather rudely), with every passing blast of gale-force updraft. cigar pods from boughs on high are poinking needle-like into the heads of anyone fool enough to tiptoe outside. the last few berries from the american cranberry, the scant few that haven’t been gobbled by blue jays and high-wire squirrels, they’ve been slammed to the ground in a bloody blob this morning.

a few minutes ago, i glanced out the window and thought it was raining itty-bitty locust leaves. then i rubbed my eyes and realized it was a hallowed eve’s snowfall. snow blustering, maybe.

the sky is pewter. the air so cold even the cat is howling in protest.

all in all, it seems surround-sound signal from the seasonal trumpeter: time for burrowing to begin.

autumn as october teeters towards its close, as november waits in the wings, when golden glow gives way to stovepipe gray, when stripped-bare branches scratch at endless sky, autumn is the season to hunker down, to draw in, to turn our attentions toward the essence deep within.

all this dialing down, buttoning up our nubbiest sweaters, slithering on socks for the first time in months, it’s all a call to haul out the soup pots from the back of the cupboard, to reach in the fruit bin for the season’s offerings — the ones that, in keeping with autumn’s ethos, reveal their succulence only after peeling away, digging in, extracting.

if it’s true — as a wise man taught me last week — that God wrote two books, one of which is the Book of Nature, then we’d be fools not to read along, not to inhale the verse of the shifting light, the shadowing that autumn’s depth brings.

if it’s true — and why wouldn’t it be? — that God in God’s Infinite Genius imbued every corpuscle of creation with a map pointing to the interiority of the ones charged with making sense of all this, the ones for whom understanding leads to illumination, which leads to enlightenment, then wouldn’t it follow that one of our holy callings is to heed the wisdom of the bough and the sky and the crunch underfoot?

and so, to steep myself in autumn’s teaching, i step outside into the whirl of this hallowed day’s preamble to winter: i feel the bumper crop of goosebumps on shoulder and thigh and nook of my neck; i inhale the faint whiff of logs burning from somewhere not far away; and, without much dawdling, i scurry back inside and do as instructed.

i pull on another sweater, i plonk on the couch, and survey the stack of pages waiting nearby. i begin to consider pumpkin — and not for carving, for roasting. i press my nose to the glass, set my gaze skyward, watch gray clouds scuttle by.

contemplate the coming depths.

i might be calling it quits on puttering about the garden. might tuck away the hose, the trowel, the watering can. might gather up the bird houses, replenish the bird-seed bins. the deepening is upon us. time to consider those who depend on us to make it through bitter days ahead.

the wisest thing to do, i reckon, is begin the prayerful coiling, the tending to what’s inside and too long left cobwebbed. it’s the season of introspection, and i’m settling in to do as so divinely ordered.

because tomorrow is all saints day, a feast day best honored by honoring the saints who populate our living breathing days, i’m beginning the nominations here with a beloved neighbor named sarah, who moved home a few years ago to care for and feed sumptuous nightly feasts to her aging mama and papa. just yesterday, sarah’s mama could not be awakened. she was breathing, but un-rousable, so an ambulance came and carried her away. she’s now deeply sedated in the ICU, where sarah and her papa kept vigil all day. late last night, sarah finally ferried her papa home, sat him down to feed him, then, in an act of compassion that purely took my breath away, she “rigged up his bed with pillows, so he can feel like he’s bumping into her” all through the night. sarah is saint number one in my book this year. please whisper a prayer for sarah’s mama and papa, and, deeply, for sarah.

who’s on your list of everyday saints? no need to name names. just a story will do…..and question number two: how do you begin your burrowing? what’s on your winter’s reading list? 

october’s prayer

october sky

because i’m climbing on a train and then a jet plane at dawn tomorrow, winging my way to my firstborn’s last “parents’ weekend” at his leafy little new england college, i’m posting this a day or two early. here’s a bit of prayerfulness i wrote when my publisher asked for an october meditation. the sky above, rising across an autumnal prairie, is a bit of heaven on earth. 

If you believe, as I do, that Earth’s turning, the shifting of the kaleidoscope from one hour to the next, across the arc of sunlight and night shadow, across the seasons of the year, is God tapping us on the heart, whispering, “Behold the Beautiful, I’ve made this just for you, this dappled sunbeam, this birdsong of the dawn, this crack of lightning in the offing,” then it’s whole-body meditation to immerse yourself in the blessing of autumn, Season of Awe.

Be it slicing zaftig pear, or plopping on a mossy log deep in golden woods, be it gathering apron load of acorns or plucking pumpkin from the farmer’s field, October’s days invite us to harvest the bountiful. To begin the deepening toward winter. To stock the larder with all we’ll need to make it through till springtime comes, and with it the rebirth of that holy season.

I’ve made a quiet practice of nodding to the wonders of each interlude of time. I resist the urge to hunker down inside. I nudge myself out the door, into the shriveled diminishment that is the autumn garden, into the boggy woods where trees undress, where naked boughs finger toward the heavens. Where the stripping down reminds me to drop my own unnecessary armature, invite in the Sacred.

I find autumn to be the season when faith is sown all around. On bent knee, we tuck bulbs deep into the earth — that’s faith galore, surrendering to winter’s slumber, believing that come the vernal sun, the shoots will poke through loam, will bloom and nod, will glory us in hallelujah hours.

Some say this is the wabi-sabi season, so defined as that stretch of time that pulses with “the beauty of sadness, and the sadness of beauty.” I find breathtaking poetry in the imperfection and impermanence of the dwindling all around — the light, the leaves, the southbound flocks who carry song to where we cannot hear it any longer. Is this not spine-tingling reminder to embrace our own imperfections and impermanence, to cherish all the more the hours that are ours?

Revel in the jewel-toned tapestry of autumn, in all its luminescence and its shadow.

Breathe deeply October’s prayer: Come star-stitched night, tiptoe beneath the heavens’ dome, wrap yourself in the cloak of Glorious Creation and Creator. Behold the Beautiful. God’s made this just for you.

what’s your october prayer?