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Tag: summer’s end

mark this day…

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there is something about the crisp edge of things — of a hem, of a book, of a season — that settles the soul of a sometimes frazzled someone. someone like me. it fills me with a sense of something noble — a job well done, completion. prompts me to bend my knee and bow. it’s gratitude and it’s awe.

take summer, for instance. it ends tomorrow, making today the last full dose of it. and before i chase it out the door, before i usher in the amber hours of the season i love best, before i haul in the wheelbarrows of pumpkins, the tins of cinnamon and clove, before i fling myself upon the forest floor, playing peek-a-boo through golden, crimson, and persimmon-shaded boughs, it’s summer’s due to say goodbye to sand and sun unfiltered. to bees that buzzed and blooms that cheered me with their moppy heads, their delicate tendrils, their sweet perfumes that made me sniff around the garden (a pretty picture — me with nose in air, and mud-stained knees — surely not).

the season of about-to-burst tomatoes, and cicada song at night, the months of curtains flapping in the window’s invisible current, the sweater-less months, they draw to a close tomorrow eve at 8:54 p.m. (central time). that’s the equinox hour, when the sun slides into absolute right angle to blessed planet earth, when its beams fall straight onto the equator, that cinch-waist strap around the middle.

and so this last full blast before the season ends, it begs occasion. begs a moment’s pause. a plea to savor just a swatch of time — time filled with the summeriest wonders you can imagine.

my summery moment might be this: a fat tomato (the last one in my wooden bowl) sliced and salted, laid reverentially on whole-grain bread, and ferried to my summer porch, along with a fat book that begs to be begun. bare toes wriggling in the fading shaft of mid-afternoon sun. a moment’s pause to contemplate the butterfly wafting by. a whispered prayer of thanks — for the somnolence of summer. for the deep warmth and gentle breeze. for all that ripened and spilled with juice. for days that slowed, and hours that nearly burst with sumptuous sweet.

thank you, summer, once again…

***

because i’ve once again stumbled in my duties to bring my soulful literary roundups to this page, here’s the “books for the soul” that ran a month ago. oops. three fine picks. i especially loved the first, “learning to speak God from scratch ,” a linguistic exploration, richly written, and sure to make you think….

may your autumn days be filled with good reads…

How to talk about God, and more, addressed in this week’s spiritual book roundup

By Barbara Mahany

“Learning to Speak God from Scratch” by Jonathan Merritt, Convergent, 256 pages, $15.99

Here’s a subject not often found on the religion bookshelf: linguistics. As in “sacred language” or “Godspeak,” the ways we put words to what’s holy and so often ineffable. It’s a language that’s frankly been hijacked by politicians, blasphemed by holier-than-thou hypocritical preachers, and muted by the masses who dare not utter a word construed to be “church-y.”

And it’s into this battle-scarred landscape that “Learning to Speak God from Scratch” bravely proceeds. A few years back, Jonathan Merritt, a religion and culture contributor to The Atlantic, left behind the Bible Belt for New York City and found himself thunderstruck by the stark disconnect (and discomfort) in God talk there in Gotham.

Something of a spelunker in the realm of sacred linguistics, he robustly constructs his argument — one rife with hard data from the sociocultural realm and rich in personal narrative. It’s one that solidly convinces that sacred words are in crisis, and that any lost language leaves a gaping hole in human understanding. He makes the point that when the language at stake is the one that ties us to all that’s divine, it’s our souls that stand to wither.

He opens his case with this assessment: “The way certain groups of people use sacred words gives the rest of us the holy heebie-jeebies.” From there, Merritt takes off, swashbuckling his way through ironclad analysis, poking into curious linguistic and Biblical corners, making us see in a whole new light why it matters to reimagine and reclaim sacred language.

In the book’s second half, Merritt takes on, one by one, a lexicon of 19 words worth learning all over again, from confession to sin to grace. Because Merritt is an elegant and deeply literate writer, he makes his subject one of which we can’t get enough.

“The Way of Kindness,” edited by Michael Leach, James T. Keane, Doris Goodnough, Orbis, 224 pages, $18

It’s the end of summer, and the reading is supposed to be easy. Never hurts when it’s rich too. “The Way of Kindness” is everything you might want when you stretch out in your recliner, long tall refreshment within quick reach. It’s as if your favorite librarian is sitting beside you, whispering, “Read this. And this. And this, too, while you’re at it.”

The roster here is a greatest hits of American writers, not all of whom are regular travelers in the religious or spiritual domain. And that, perhaps, is what makes this a notch above the usual such gathering. To read Jack Kerouac: “Practice kindness all day to everybody/ and you will realize you’re already/ in heaven now.” Or George Saunders implore, “err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.”

Dorothy Day quotes the Carmelite nun who told her, “It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart.” Even Aldous Huxley chimes in, telling us, “(I)t’s a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with human problems all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder.’ ”

While this is a book for quick dips or longer dallies, the curators of this collection — three fine souls in the world of spiritual publishing — have put their collective heft into what unfolds here. Your summer’s day will be all the gentler for having spent time among these literary and spiritual masters.

“Love Without Limits” by Jacqueline A. Bussie, Fortress, 195 pages, $24.99

File this one under “Standing By Your Story.”

Jacqueline A. Bussie, theologian, beloved professor of religion at Minnesota’s Concordia College and award-winning author of “Outlaw Christian,” her 2016 exhortation to find authentic faith by breaking a roster of too-rigid rules, sat down to pen “Love Without Limits,” a deeply personal how-to-guide for no-holds-barred loving. Because her stories arose from the depths of her heart, and the truth of how she lives her life — she calls this latest book “my life’s love letter” — she included chapters on both her Muslim and her LGBT friendships. Then, she turned in her manuscript to the Christian publishing house with whom she’d signed a contract, a book whose subject all along had been exploring God’s radical love.

The publishing house balked, deemed the two chapters “offensive” and “theologically out of bounds,” and ordered Bussie to cut them or they’d cancel her contract (and make her pay back every penny of her advance). Bussie refused, dead-set against being censored. Certainly not in a book about how people of faith — all faiths — “are called to love with no exceptions, asterisks, or limits.”

Mighty fine thing that Fortress Press, a Minneapolis-based Christian publisher with a more progressive bent, saw fit to snatch up Bussie’s much-needed message. In a world as balkanized as the one in which we find ourselves, Bussie’s words light the way toward practicing “a love so deep it subverts the social order, so radical it scandalizes the powerful, so vast that it excludes no one.” A love, it turns out, that couldn’t be censored.

Barbara Mahany’s latest book, “The Blessings of Motherprayer: Sacred Whispers of Mothering,” was published in April.

Twitter @BarbaraMahany

how will you mark the last full blast of summer? 

dizzy…in summer’s high tide

anemone bee

it’s a hum and a buzz you might mistake for a gnat — a gnat with a megaphone maybe. there i was, minding my morning’s business, not too far from nodding anemones, and the buzz dazzled past me, caught my attention. i looked up, and saw that i stood amid a whirling flock of zaftig bees. velvet-bellied bees. bees doing what bees do best, bees doing what i too am inclined to do this time of year: wriggling their whole fat selves into the depths of late summer’s bloom, gulping down thirstily, mightily, drunkenly. the bees in my garden are dizzy with late summer’s bloom.

so am i.

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maybe it’s the urgency of catching up. i lost a week or two there in a fog. maybe it’s that summer’s been shaved by two weeks, here in the land where high school can’t wait. all i know is i can’t quite sate my late-summer’s hunger pang.

i stood there watching that bee. watching her rub up her belly, sink down low, into the golden rods of anemone pollen. i too wished i could make like a bee and slather myself in every last speck of summer’s late bloom. there’s an unbridled zest i saw in that bee, a zest that felt familiar. the unbridled part is the part that i longed for. and that’s what i love about being outside. about paying attention to the world in my garden. the bee skittered from one pollen-painted pin cushion to another, and then onto another. her flight path zigged and zagged and bumped into leaves. she didn’t seem to mind, not one little bit, that she was basically flying in circles, delectable circles. circles that filled her belly with the one niblet she lived for: the gold dust of summer’s unquenchable thirst.

for anyone gathering notes, the wide-bellied bee offered instruction: hesitate not, she seemed to insist. the hour is now. the pollen is swelled. the high tide of summer won’t wait. you’d be wise to roll in it now, to lather yourself in every last succulent drop.

point taken.

to study a bee, to chart the shift of a shadow, to tiptoe into the midnight in search of a shooting star, these are the lessons that unfold under heaven’s dome. this is the ancient and timeless curriculum of paying attention. this is poetry lived.

this is the quietly whispered prayer that fills me every time.

and this is my mid-august to-do list (inspired by my velvet-robed instructor):

  • pluck heirloom tomato. sprinkle with kosher salt. sink teeth in. catch drizzle with tongue.
  • ditto peach (minus the salt).
  • snip a morning’s round of black-eyed susans, or whatever the late-summer’s garden is inclined to share today.
  • take a seat in the midnight theatre, with one last showing of perseid’s meteor shower on the playbill tonight.
  • savor the twilight hour, as nightfall tiptoes in sooner by the day, reminding us that sunlight fades, and so too, summer. allow the periwinkle light to peak your knowing that the soft edge of day — of each and every day — is a gift to behold, especially as it wanes.
  • drink in the afternoon buzz of the world’s loudest bug, the Magicicada (mistakenly referred to as “locusts”), a herd with a walloping vibrato that tips the scales at 110 decibels, or about as deafening as a mad-dashing chain saw. oddly, perhaps, the cicada tympani happens to be my favorite song of latter-day summer.
  • curl up, all alone, in an old wicker chair, and, for as long as the day allows, deep-breathe the last of summer’s sweet pause (school — high school, no less — starts bright and early next wednesday; and for the soon-to-be teacher in this old house, it’s monday at 8 bells, when he’s due to glide into the classroom. so long to summer, indeed).

how will you savor your last hours of summer?

and a p.s. for the star gazers among us: i was among those staring into the heavens last night, wishing upon a star that i’d get a glimpse of one of perseid’s meteoric chalk streaks across the night slate. alas, it was not to be. clouds muddied my night watch. august 12 is the height of the late-summer show, when our dot on the globe spins into the whirling nightlights. there’s one last chance tonight, as the curtain falls, to catch the last gasp of the august light show.

p.s.s. correction above: i’d mistakenly launched into typing “he” and “him” in writing of my busy bumblebee, without circling back to check why i’d done that. i was wrong, and i’ve corrected my ways. apologies to the worker bumblebees who are decidedly hard-toiling she’s. 

savoring…

savoring fall hydrangea tree

there’s a rare air in my lungs these days. an invigorating air. an air that seems to hold double the oxygen, really. it has me bouncing as if on lunar dust, in those lopey springy boing-boing steps i once watched in black-and-white when mr. armstrong landed on the moon.

if there were a wee spy-cam nailed to the corner of the kitchen ceiling, it would catch me pausing mid-lope and deep deep breathing, filling my itty-bitty air sacs with the holy sparks that charge unseen through the air.

i am savoring.

savoring being home in the finest month — oh, september, i seem to have a crush on you. savoring settling in, deeply in, for the first time in what feels like a very, very long time. savoring the late summer unfolding of my messy old garden as it exudes its last trumpet blast of breathtaking come-rub-against-me seduction (what blooms at summer’s end seems robed in velvet, all the petals putting forth a softness not seen in exuberant spring, or headstrong summer).

i am savoring the days of awe, those prayerful hours of whispering back and forth to God, as the jewish holy days of rosh hashanah unfurl, and i, like the petals in my garden, feel wrapped in velvet prayer shawl.

deepest of all, i am savoring the great relief that comes with having climbed a mountain long in my distance. while i await word from my editor (bless her for telling me to take a couple weeks to rest up, restore, before the editing rounds and rounds begin), i am wearing the weightlessness that comes in having clicked the SEND button, knowing all my heart and soul was stitched into a work of love that now sails of its own velocities. i’d be lying if i didn’t admit to waking up in the occasional cold sweat when i’ve concocted one of my nightmare scenarios. and i’d be a fool if i didn’t keep up the prayer chain that has me turning this one over to the Holiness beyond me.

all the savoring adds up to ears-pitched paying attention. to shards of autumn light. to chill in the morning air. to hummingbird darting here and there, from long-nosed drink to long-nosed drink.

the house is filled with jars and jars of black-eyed Susans, drooping hydrangeas, golden rod and the cobalt blue of some little fellow whose name i can’t for the life of me recall. i can’t bear to keep the garden outside, the permeability of summer’s end begs for windows to be shoved ajar, for doors to let in the cricket chorus, and for the garden’s offerings to be clutched and tucked in tall drinks of water. everywhere i can fit one in.

maybe it’s my so-called irish, or maybe i’ve just been around the calendar enough times to know that this is extra sweet because it won’t last. these weightless days of september will not go on forever. life is at its sweetest because we know the taste of heart ache, of worry without bottom.

there will come the moment when i hear the shattering of glass, when my heart is tugged, torn, leaden.

but right now all i hear is the tick-tock of a grandfather’s clock, the buzz of late-season cicada, and the trill of papa cardinal lording over the feeder.

and right now, that’s all the prayer i need to know. the short sweet trumpet blast of life when you’re savoring.

what are the morsels of your life that you are savoring in these holy days of so much awe?

savoring window

tucking away the season past

i didn’t stir at 4:04 this morning, when summer tiptoed through the dark, took to the wings, as her sister autumn crept in, spread herself about the stage. rearranged the scene, scattered burnt-edge colors–amber, molasses, persimmon, pomegranate. the words themselves make me swoon, make my knees near buckle. i am a child of the autumn. always have been. always will be.

the itch of woolen sweaters up against my dry irish skin. the crunch of leaves beneath my soles, should i be so blessed to be in the woods. the delight of pumpkins tucked in coves around the house, and in the garden, too, as it begins to nod off, as its long winter’s nap is not too far away.

but this year, as i bid goodbye to the summer that’s just left, i need to bend my knee, to open wide my heart once more, to whisper deepest thank you.

they write songs about summer. but i have never lived one of those before. while the rest of the world rode in topless cars, along sandy beaches, strung together in bikinis, i was likely home. working at a hospital. swimming laps in a sensible black stretchy suit. thinking hard about things.

carefree never came my way. the stanzas of the songs did not belong to me.

until this summer past.

oh, fear not. there were no bikinis at my house. no topless cars.

only an old clunky station wagon, one with a passenger side door that barely closes. and a hatch in back that will not budge. and odd parts under the dash that seem to keep raining down on my driving feet.

but the summer just past was the most delicious i have ever known. if it was a tub of 200-percent butterfat gelato, i would have tucked it in the deep freeze, so i could take it out and lick it now and then. i’d make it last nearly as long as i’ve saved the slice of frozen wedding cake, now 20 years and counting.

yes, this summer past was rare, was choice, was morsel. and i knew it from the start. i knew it through and through.

it was the summer of no demands. no schedules. no camp tuition fees (save for three days here and there for a boy who lives to dribble).

i didn’t pack a lunch. didn’t drive in carpools.

i just perched, like mama hen, upon my roost, and watched my chicks nibble the day away. i swear i heard the sound of clucking, that contented purr that comes from feathered places.

indeed, and surely, it was the last summer my firstborn called this old house home. and my little one, who’s going nowhere soon, flowed right along, savoring the days that started when they chose to, ended just the same.

we did well, the boys and i, with no real decisions for the day. we partook of summer’s lazy streak. we ate late, by candlelight, in the old screen porch. we set out for strolls as lights in houses down the block turned off one by one.
we were on summer time. we were on high-volume savor.

i knew, deep inside and forever, that something rare was in my hand. something i would never have again.

i had my boys nearby. and along the way, somewhere in the thick of mothering, i had discovered my deepest purest bliss in the heart of that equation.

when you are holding something that you’ve wished for forever, when you are cupping it, sacred, in your palms, you know it through and through.

it’s no accident. and it won’t last forever.

so you hold it, and you marvel. you memorize the way the light slants through. you commit the taste to braincells deep inside.

you are, if you’re paying attention, watching the cement dry, all around the joyful string of days, the blessing of this time entwined.

i have learned, through years, to live on two tracks. i know the trick of slipping over my own shoulder, keeping watch on scenes, as they play out in real time.

it is, perhaps, the odd gift my papa once noticed, once spoke of, oddly. “you have a real sense of history,” he told me long ago. and i have come to know that my papa knew the essence.

i do live with one eye on the action, another on the meaning of it all.

and this summer past, i knew that all that mattered had been bundled into one glorious string of days and joys and conversations that did not end till eyes began to flutter.

i lived for the sound of the front door creaking open, knowing that in rushed another round of late-night stories. i brimmed when i heard the morning’s first footsteps over head, realizing i was about to be greeted by a curly-headed, sleepy-eyed boy, begging for another round of flapjacks off the griddle.

it was a holy blast of summer. it offered up all that the season of sun and sweetness has to give.

we licked our plates, and drained the glass.

it’s slipped away now. but not before i’ve bent my knee, and whispered thank you to the heavens.

i now know the taste of summer at its dreamy best. and i’ll not forget the glory.

what summer would you pick as the one you’ll not forget? and are you ready for the glories of the autumn?