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Tag: seeking stillness

quiet time

quiet time

on friday mornings, i click off the radio. it’s quiet time. time for the soul to do it’s percolating. see what bubbles up.

this particular friday — home alone except for the few straggling matchstick-legged friends who seem not to be able to kick the soap-nibbling habit in my upstairs hall drawers — it’s just me and the tick-tock of the clock, the chittering of sparrows out the back door, and a train chugging in the distance.

it’s been quiet here all week. as i’ve succumbed to the rhythms, once again, of this old house. as i’ve felt the deep sigh of once again being home.

it’s almost as if it was a dream, the ambles through cambridge, the unrelenting calendar that day after day demanded full-on attention, that kicked brain cells into high and higher gear. i get missives from my now faraway friends, friends now scattered all across the globe — from turkey’s tear-gas zones, from south africa where a people weeps for their dying national treasure — and i feel something like a piercing in my heart. i love those friends, and miss them all the more for not being in their every day.

rumor has it that The Professor is, at last, pulling up his cambridge stakes tomorrow, filling the trunk, the back seat and the front passenger seat (the one that would have been me, had i not been unable to untether myself from this quiet bliss) and motoring into the sunset. poor sweet soul, he doesn’t really want to leave. he’s re-discovered his love for colonial new england, for the proximities it affords, for the nooks and crannies in its landscapes and its coastline.

so, in my solitude — the longest stretch of alone time i’ve had in 20 years, since my firstborn was plopped into my arms in june of 1993 — i’ve bathed in the whole soul healing waters of allowing thoughts to unspool in their own slow measure. i’ve scribbled to-do lists and actually worked my way toward the bottom of each and every one. satisfaction, defined.

i’ve scrubbed, and dusted away cobwebs. i washed dingy pillows, and hung them out to dry. i’ve clipped and clipped from my old roses, my exuberant welcome-home roses, all of which seem to be thriving without my ministrations, without what must amount to interference from the bumbling gardener.

i’ve settled in, at my old writing table, and picked up where i left off before i packed the boxes back in cambridge. i’ve a project, a book project and a deadline of september 1, so my summer load is piled high. when i was off in cambridge, i followed a serendipitous and holy trail to a luscious and brilliant editor. her name is lil. i first met her at an umbrella table in the shadow of the bell tower of st. paul’s church off harvard square. we sipped gazpacho and whispered about the spirit, the human spirit.

it was the first time in my life an editor breathed holiness, breathed benediction onto the lens through which i see much of the world, the sacred lens. she asked me to write a proposal, a book proposal. gave me till january to get it done. then, a whole committee pored over that literary blueprint, and deemed it a deal. a contract was signed, sealed and delivered.

the working title is Holy Hours, the subtitle is a work in progress. it’s why i’m home alone. to launch back in, to sink deeper into the weaving of threads into whole cloth.

it is such a blessing to be able to reach for the books on the bookshelves i know by heart. to have my whole library and wellspring all around me. to sit at the table where the dappled light filters in through the overgrown ivy. to get up from writing and pedal my old blue bike up and down the lanes. to plunk on the beach, beneath the cottonwoods, amid the dune grasses. to dash across the street to my beloved and wise friend, and fill my belly on her welcome-home feast. to take walks past familiar gardens and front porches. to have old friends ring the bell. to feel their hearts pump against mine in pressing hugs so deeply overdue.

this is what quiet time brings the soul. it feeds hungers, quenches thirst. we are, all of us, so much more than meets the eye. we have soft places deep inside that need sustenance, that are fueled on wisps and prayer and uncharted encounters. that depend on brushstrokes from On High, or wherever you believe Holiness abides.

as i typed that very sentence, i looked up at a frantic chattering out the window. there’s a fledgling wee cardinal in hot pursuit of his papa, the two of them squawking up a storm from two branches, one just above the other. must be an early flight. i missed the nursery hours here. and now, the papa’s flown away, and the little fellow is alone there, wings trembling, barely cheeping. perhaps stuck in mid-flight. left to his own devices. not certain what to do. how to get from point B, back home to where the nest is.

such are the blessings i am home to witness, as i breathe deep the quietude, the abundance that surrounds me, home alone.

i’m inclined to go quiet for awhile, my beloved chair people. to pull up a chair only when it seems there’s something truly to say. i think often of the crusty newspaper editor i bumped into in the produce aisle a few years back. as we picked over the bananas, he groused that “too many people are talking these days; no one’s listening anymore. everyone thinks they’re a columnist.” i feel like i’ve talked too much here this past year as i strained to record the bumps and dips of one sumptuous year, and you’ve all been blessed listeners. since i’m a creature of habit it might be hard to shake my friday morning routine, but i worry that i’ve rambled on too long. 

before i duck back into my quiet zone, tell me: how do you carve out hours — or scant minutes — for your soul? and what feeds you most deeply?

light coming in at the edges

dispatch from 02139…

it struck me, in the middle of a long-strided lope this week, as i race-walked from point A (andover library) to point B (memorial hall), my shoulders weighted down with satchels of notebooks and pens and binders, my breath coming in rapid spurts as i righted my wrong direction and sought internal gyroscope, that i was quickly becoming one of the lemmings.

schedule in hand, spreadsheet at the ready, i’d chalked up six whole classes plus wednesday night seminar plus friday master class plus etched-in-stone 75-year-old nieman tradition, the tuesday night “sounding,” in which each worldly fellow gathers us all at the conference table and pours out the why of his or her journalistic lifework.


the fact of the matter was i was darting past grolier poetry book shop, inc. (est. 1927). i’d not yet ventured behind the great stone walls of the monastery nestled along the bend in the charles river. i’d barely spent a morning here in the third-floor aerie where the sunlight streams in through lace curtains, where we’ve a whole library of sacred music, dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries, where bookshelves overpopulated with the likes of thomas merton, t.s. eliot, rainier maria rilke, mary oliver and wendell berry call out to me so insistently and incessantly that surely their throats by now are rubbed raw and hoarse as chafing sandpaper.

“but here you are at harvard, fool!” i heard myself chastising myself. “clock’s ticking and you turn back into a pumpkin soon enough. glass slippers will shatter; you’ll be back to your pink rubber crocs quicker than you can say ‘manolo blahnik.’ don’t tarry. don’t stop for breath. inhale. swallow, swallow.”

and then i heard myself choking, sputtering like the tail pipe of some chitty-chitty-bang-bang (a cultural reference that solidly plants me a school-age child of the late 1960s, in which the whole family trooped to a crimson-upholstered downtown movie house to take in the big-screen rendition of roald dahl’s film delight, the one that starred dick van dyke in the role of hapless inventor of flying car).

and that’s when the editing began, the self-editing, the making sense of the morass of these past few days and weeks, in which dizzy heads prevailed, and the intellectual binge began.

no wonder we all looked dazed. it’s what happens when you unloose a troop of would-be thinkers on an ivy-walled institution catapulted off the drawing board back in pilgrim days, a mere hop, skip and a jump from plymouth rock, for cryin’ out loud. with the bona fides to prove it (just stop and read the olde english prose pounded into the limestone slab at johnston gate, at the maw of harvard yard, should you require chiseled veritas).

it wasn’t hard, really, to check my pulse and proclaim it overstrung on overdrive. i could hear it pounding in my head. i could see it in the rosy streaks that had stained my irish cheeks.

the choice, truly, wasn’t complicated: i could a.) keep up the mad-dash, and hyperventilate my way toward christmas. or, b.), grab the pruners, play curator of my own calendar, and try my hand at nips and tucks.

i heard the gong go off — bing! bing! bing! — when numero due, little letter “b” rolled through my brain cells, washed over the gray matter, kicked off its placid powers, settled me into a state of soothe i’d not sensed in, well, months and months, quite frankly.

the whole point of sabbatical, the essence of that latin root, sabbaticus, is, indisputably, “a ceasing.”

in other words, it’s a holy plea to hit the brakes on all the tumult.

“shhhhhhh,” you can hear the big lips in the sky whispering, imploring. dial it down. chill, baby, chill. it’s time to rest now. go to your cubby, and grab your sit-upon, that padded cushion upon which to doze while the teacher turns the pages of the picture book, and you nibble on your grahams and slurp your milk.

see, just the notion of that long-ago rug time, back in the children’s garden when you were five, it makes you all heavy-lidded, doesn’t it? slows your ticker to a sweet adagio.

and so it was when i realized i could ditch a class or two. didn’t need to take in the spectacle of rock-star ethical reasoner michael sandel (heck, i’d been a student of the jesuits, and i’ve yet to stumble upon a living-breathing soul who teaches ethics more solidly than a three-star jebbie). on a gosh-darn roll, i realized, too, i didn’t need to whittle away my thursday afternoons tangled in the algorithms of “science and cooking.”

suddenly, as if cumulus clouds had parted, i saw clear blue stretches in my week, whole blocks of hours unclaimed.

why, i could amble down the cobbled lane, climb the steps to that famed poetry corner, slide a slender volume off the shelf, curl up in a cozy nook, and discover bliss in stanzas.

rather than exist beneath an opaque wall of back-to-back commitments, i could step off to the side of the lemming’s march, pay attention to where the light seeps in around the edges.

isn’t that where holiness presides?

isn’t that the glory that makes this whole endeavor matter?

isn’t that why God invented sabbath, and on the seventh day she wholly rested? plunked her achy tootsy-toes upon the footstool, sat back and sighed?

i am always late to understanding, and i nearly always manage to stumble, bloody-up my knees before i figure out the obvious, but might we come to hear our deepest whispers, quench our deepest thirst, when we stop the noise, quell the fury, and get about the work of purely being alive?

and so it’s been in recent days.

can’t claim i didn’t feel a twinge, a seismic pang of guilt, when i skipped my first “justice” rock-‘n’-roll show. can’t pretend i didn’t wince when, yesterday at 2, i knew full well i was missing out on the physics of sous vide, that chic undercooking mode made famous by the spanish roca brothers (whose lecture i did take in on tuesday afternoon, though i was left barely grasping how you cook filet of sole in a vacuum-sealed pouch on very few degrees for 36 hours, and live to tell about it).

i mustered up all my heaven-sent determination, and — egad, what pray tell is this? — found myself sinking down into a featherbed of slow time, pay-attention time, do-what-matters-to-your-heart time.

i tiptoed out of bed at dawn, and marched down the cobblestones toward the great stone monastery, saint john the evangelist, at the river’s bend. i pushed open the great oak door, and stepped into the candle-lit stone-cave quietude where the monks were deep in morning prayer.

i’d missed the bells, it turned out, because i read the schedule wrong. but, still, i was there for the gospel and the chanting. and i was soon alone, my knees resting on the cobalt-blue velvet cushion, my head bowed before the rows and rows of votive candles, one of which i’d lit, one of which flickered its holy vesper up to where the prayers waft.

and here, on a friday morning where the breeze flutters the lace that drapes the window, i am alone with the tap-tap-tap of the alphabet keys, a somnolent but soulful rhythm if ever there was one.

and i made time this week not for a night class, but rather to visit the book store where a fellow who’s written julia child’s biography, stood and told us tales from the cookstove. recounted how julia’s hors d’oeuvres of choice was nothing so fancy as pepperidge farm goldfish. “by the bowls full,” the scribe informed. “whole mountains of them,” he emphasized, as if letting us in on her long-held kitchen secret.

it just might be that serendipity is the savior of this year. that floating without rudder, dancing unchoreographed, just might be the magic trick.

to live, to breathe, with all your might, just might be to let the hours unspool all on their own, to grasp the sacred when and where you find it.

most especially when you slow down, grow quiet, so much so that you can’t help but pay attention to the sunbeams peeking in from between the shadows.

that’s the harvard book store, up above, where bob spitz, author of “dearie: the remarkable life of julia child,” and the white-shocked pin dot, just to the right of the tv square, was spilling kitchen secrets the other eve. and just below, the candles that burn at saint john the evangelist, a holy place i fully intend to make my home away from home……

oy. and before i lose this entire page, thoroughly upending my new-found calm, i’d ask simply, have you discovered a need to edit the demands of your life, to curate the gallery of what matters most deeply, and what’s dismissible? and what unfolds when you slow to a pensive quiet?

counting the days

counting the days

already, the little one knows the routine. he wakes up early, just to run to the room where the numbers now hang. where the numbers, each one a pocket, come tucked with a wee chocolate bear, or a nibble of peppermint bark.

not finished, he runs, yet, one more place. to the corner where the old german calendar waits by the cookie jar. there, he scans the numbers, counts one more than yesterday, folds back a door. and, lo and behold, more chocolate.

for him, then, these are the days of the wake-me-up chocolates. two a day, every day, for 24 days.

december, he says, licking the little brown dab off his lips, is a month that’s mostly delicious.

for me, the mama who birthed him, these days are the birthing of something wholly as melt-in-your-mouth.

these are the days when, for the very first time in a very long time, maybe ever, i am practicing advent. really practicing. paying attention. giving in to the season in ways that wash over me, seep into me, bring me back home to a place i may never have been.

like a child this year, i have a just-opened sense of these days.

i am, for the very first time, not counting down. not ticking off days, and errands to run, like a clock wound, really, too tightly.

instead, i am counting in a whole other way. i am counting, yes, but the thing that i’m doing is making count each one of the days.

i am counting the days in a way that takes time. that takes it and holds it. savors it. sucks out the marrow of each blessed hour.

i am, because i’m on my way home here. i’ve not ever before seen december in quite this way. not known, quite this way, that it holds a deep and winding road into my soul.

i am this year embracing the darkness. i am kindling lights. i am practicing quiet. i am shutting out noise, and filling my house with the sounds of the season that call me.

i am practicing no. no is the word that i’m saying to much of the madness. no, i cannot go there. no, i cannot race from one end of town to the other. no, i will not.

i am practicing yes.

yes, i will wake up early. will tiptoe alone, and in quiet, to down in the kitchen, and on out to the place where the moon shines. where the early bird isn’t yet risen. but i am. i am alone with the dark and the calm, and i am standing there watching the shadows, the lace of the moon. i am listening for words that fill up my heart. it’s a prayer and it comes to me, fills my lungs, as i breathe in cold air, the air of december, december’s most blessed breath.

yes, i am re-dressing my house. i am tucking pine cones and berries of red, in places that not long ago were spilling with pumpkins, and walnuts, and acorns.

i am waking up to the notion that to usher the season into my house is to awaken the sacred. it is to shake off the dust of the days just before. to grope for the glimmer amid all the darkness.

december, more than most any month, can go one of two ways at the fork in the woods.

one trail is all tangled, all covered with bramble. you can get lost, what with all of the noise and all of the bright colored lights.

or maybe not. or maybe that’s not how you’ll go.

december, if you choose, if you allow it, can be the trail through the woods that leads to the light, far off in the distance.

the darkness itself offers the gift. each day, the darkness comes sooner, comes deeper, comes blacker than ink. it draws us in, into our homes, yes, but more so, into our souls.

it invites us: light a light. wrap a blanket. sit by the fire. stare into the flames, and onto the last dying embers.

consider the coming of Christmas.

i am, in this month of preparing, in this month of a story told time and again, listening anew to the words. i am considering the story of the travelers, the virgin with child, the donkey, the man with the tools, the unlikely trio, knocking and knocking at door after door.

i am remembering how, long long ago, i winced when i heard how no one had room. open the door, i would shout deep inside. make room. make a room.

i didn’t know then, that i could change it. i could take hold of the story, make it be just as it should be.

but i do now. i know now.

i am taking hold of that story, the way that it’s told this december. i am, in the dark and the quiet, making the room that i longed for. for the three in the story, yes, but even for me.

i am preparing a room at the inn. the inn, of course, is my heart.

i am for the first time in a very long time, paying attention. paying attention to the coming of Christmas. i am seeing the beauty of advent. the season of lighting a candle in the thick of the darkness.

i am noticing the whole of the woods. keeping my eye on the light in the window. but taking my time. filling my lungs with the sweet scent of the pine. hearing the crunch of the woods under my feet. wholly breathing an air that’s divine.

the walk to the light in the window is, for the very first time in a very long time, one that is sacred and hushed. i see the light, see it grow closer and closer.

it’s a glow that really is something, really is radiant. framed, as it is, in the dark of december.

oh my goodness, the forces today conspired against me. alarms didn’t ring. children missed buses. i had places to be, and the meander wasn’t yet wholly meandered. oh well. here it is, then, at the end of the morning. have you stopped to consider the power of a month that invites us to choose a path through the woods that’s not quite so trampled? how do you practice the coming of Christmas? or simply pulling in to the quiet that comes as the darkness grows longer and deeper?
my whole advent journey was sparked because i was asked by a church that i love to please pencil some thoughts on the subject. it was recorded and made into a CD. soon as i can i will share it with you on the lazy susan. keep watch and i’ll tell you as soon as i have maybe a minute to do some decembering over there on the page that i love, but can’t get to hardly often enough.