Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween at Mepkin Abbey

Ten years ago, I'd have been spending this week-end at Mepkin Abbey, the first time I went to Mepkin Abbey.  I had an idea of what to expect, since the friends who went there with me had gone a few months earlier.  I knew that we wouldn't be staying in the Abbey itself, and we might be in a trailer.  We were.  I knew that the meals would be vegetarian and that we'd only have a fixed amount of time to eat the midday meal.  Because I'd read Kathleen Norris, I had a sense of the schedule of worship.

I was not prepared for how that brief visit would transform me.  I went home with Plainsong ringing in my years and yearning to return.  And so I have returned for 10 years now.  I do some of my best writing and revising while I'm there, and some of my best poems have been inspired by my time there.  I have seen how a schedule that returns us to our center can be both calming and invigorating.

Maybe I will write more later on all the ways I've been transformed, but for now, let me remember that first week-end.  For more spiritual/religious details, go to this blog post.

--It was the only time so far that I took a plane.  I often find travelling by plane a bit discombobulating, and it's more so with a visit to an Abbey in the middle of the plane trips.

--For some reason, I associate monks with homemade bread, but the main breadbaker at Mepkin had died a few years earlier, so we had grocery store bread.  It was still fairly tasty.  I remember the cinnamon swirl bread for morning, the pumpernickel for evening sandwiches.

--I expected austerity with the meals, but the food was tasty and plentiful.  We had dessert with every meal.  I was amused by the cookies in Halloween shapes.

--The library was amazing.  With the exception of university libraries, I've never seen such an amazing collection of books that covered every type of theology.  And I was able to see copies of magazines and journals that a university collection would be happy to include.  It was wonderful.

--The gift shop had an amazing collection of books too, along with a wide variety of treats, both edible and non-edible.

--We were there during the week-end that the time changed back to Eastern Standard--interesting to see how the light changed during services from Daylight Savings to Eastern Standard.

--Halloween came on a Sunday.  On Saturday night we took a walk by the banks of the Cooper River.  We could see the housing development in the distance.  We saw flickering candles and children trick or treating.  I rarely feel the "thin space" that so many feel on Halloween, that time when the separation between worlds is thinnest.  That night, I caught a glimpse, there on those very historic grounds.  I would not have been surprised to see the ghost of a runaway slave or a Native American.

--On Sunday night, we took an evening walk along the wide drive that connects the Abbey to the road.  It's lined with huge trees draped with Spanish moss.  We saw a pair of monks in the distance, and they, too, looked ghostly.  I told my friend that if she vanished, I wouldn't be surprised.  It all seemed so otherworldly that I wouldn't have been surprised by something truly supernatural.

--We walked a lot when we were there.  The trailer was about a half mile from the Abbey, so we went back and forth about 7 times a day.  And then we had long, rambling walks across the grounds.  And what beautiful gardens.

--I also loved how there were statues throughout the grounds, some traditional marble statues, and some carved out of wood.  I felt like I was always happening upon a treat.

--That first year I read more than I wrote.  In later years, that hasn't always been the case.  I was amazed that first year by how many naps I took.  I just stayed open to what my body was telling me.  I wondered what it would be like to always be that in touch with my physical and intellectual self, that I could just take what comes and trust that it's what is best.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Longings Fulfilled

I have the Living Lutheran site on my brain for several reasons.  One is that my latest post is up today.  Its subject:  what we lost in the Reformation.  Go here to read it.

I also have the site on the brain because I have finally updated my complete CV--the CV I no longer send out, because it is far too long because it lists every individual poem publication, and every online site essay, and on and on.

For years, I've just put the link to the Living Lutheran blog posts that I've written on my CV.  But at some point in the last year, the web site changed and the links no longer worked.  I thought the easiest way to get the titles would be to work my way back through the archives.   I've been a bit worried that the archives would vanish before I had a chance to do it. 

So finally this week I had a chance to go through the archives and copy titles and dates into my CV.  Unfortunately, if there was a filter that would have allowed me to just view my posts, I never found it. I say unfortunately, but it was pleasant in a way, looking for my posts, reading others which sounded interesting.

Pleasant, but time consuming.  At least it is done now.

As I finished, I said to myself, "Wow.  Look at all you have accomplished:  52 blog posts, all of them 500 words or more, about a wide variety of subjects, since November of 2010."

I often go through my days feeling like I'm not living up to my potential or that my projects are going very slowly, too slowly.  It's good to have a reminder that I'm not completely off track.

And of course, maybe the idea of a track is flawed.  The work will take the time that the work takes.  I'm loving this post by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, which reminds us that "Whatever gets in the way of the work, is the work."  Her post talks about the work of parenthood and the work of attentive living, but her thoughts also hold true for our creative work.

I'm also thinking about how prayers are answered, but maybe not in ways we thought.  Last night, I was reading parts of Paul Wilkes' Beyond the Walls:  Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life, and I came across this quote (I will leave the gendered language for God that the author uses):  "I will also never be a Trappist Monk, yet I am able to come to Mepkin on a regular basis and share in this life I find gratifying and rich.  Our deepest desires will be fulfilled, discernment promises, though not always in our time or in ways that we would choose or even imagine.  God hears our prayers, knows our yearning.  He is at work in the world.  We need faith and we need patience, but he will fill the hear that is open to him" (p. 121).

I thought of my years of writing and sending work out in the first years of this century.  I had discovered Kathleen Norris and modeled my writing after her.  I sent my essays to places where she had published, but to no avail.  At the time, I would not have been able to imagine a site like Living Lutheran.  But how wonderful that it has come into being and that this publishing arm of the largest Lutheran denomination in the nation is open to such a variety of ideas that we find there.

My deep yearning of 2003, that I could write and find an audience, has been answered but not in ways I would have imagined then.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, let me confess that new yearnings have replaced the old--variations old yearnings, to be precise.  Now I dream of book length collections of these essays (to go with book length collections of poems).  I still dream of making a living with my writing.  I still yearn for a speaking tour, although when I went here and saw the 2015 schedule of Nadia Bolz-Weber, I confess that it made me tired.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Autumn Songs

One of the advantages of travelling by car is the chance to listen to CDs.  For a variety of reasons, I almost never do so at other times.  Sigh.

I took a variety of CDs on our recent trip to the mountains.  It's the older Johnny Cash CD that I can't get out of my mind:  American V:  A Hundred Highways.  It's an amazing CD, with a variety of spiritual songs.

Some of the songs are flat-out spirituals, like the older "God's Gonna Cut You Down."  I loved the last song he ever wrote, "Like the 309." That one is a somber look at aging and death, but it's cut through with humor.  It's built around a reference to a train, and that lonely train song shows up again in his cover of Hank Williams' "On the Evening Train," a melancholy song about a husband putting his wife's coffin on the train, while their child weeps.

I wept at his cover of the old Gordon Lightfoot song, "If You Could Read My Mind."  I knew that this album was the last one that Cash did before he died, and while I can't be sure that he recorded this song after the death of June Carter Cash, it does have the deep longing and loss wrapped through it.

He also covers Bruce Springsteen's "Further On Up the Road."  While it's not overtly a spiritual song, when it's offered in the company of these other songs, sung in the rough voice of an aged Johnny Cash, it's hard NOT to see it as a spiritual look at death.  I like that idea that we'll all meet again, even if we're not sure exactly where or how, whether it's later in life or after death.

I'm late to discovering this CD--it's been out since 2006.  But what an excellent find!  It's an oddly comforting CD, even though hopefully, I'm not at the end of my life.  And while I don't agree with all the theology, like a God that will cut us down, it speaks to a heritage that I'm glad to be able to access.  Plus, it's a great song.

Many of us likely don't place Cash alongside other great spiritual singers.  But listen to this CD, and you might change your mind.

When I got home, I did some research on the album, and discovered that I own the The Rising, the CD from Bruce Springsteen which has his recording of "Further On Up the Road."  So I've spent the time since we got home discovering that CD.

Should I say rediscovering?  Probably not.  I bought the CD shortly after it came out and listened straight through.  It was almost too painful to bear.  If I listened to it again, it was only once.  And then I put it away.

What an amazing CD!  And what an amazing song.  When I hear Johnny Cash sing it, on the last album he would ever record, my brain goes to death and seeing our loved ones further on up that road.  Cash's version is somber and meditative; his voice is both strong and appropriately wavery in places.

Bruce Springsteen gives a more spirited recording.  When I listen to him sing at a much faster tempo, I think of folks who need to get out of town quickly.  I think of people who live on the margins of the law, of transgressives of all sorts.

Both CDs are perfect for this autumnal time of year, when shadows grow, before the darkness of winter crashes down upon us.  It's the time of year when we think we might make a mad dash and avoid the snares that are set for us.  It's music for plucky people who might just pull it off.

And if not, we'll all meet further on up the road.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Delights of Autumn

Yesterday, when I got to my office, it looked like the Great Pumpkin had come!  Ten pumpkins in my little office--a happy reminder of our good week-end.  But my office is small; there's barely room for my desk and a chair across from it.  It's less than 8 x 8--maybe 7 x 7?  More than one of my colleagues commented on how festive my office looked.

I'll try to remember next year to bring a bigger pumpkin to the office.  I have a very small one on my desk.  It's the size of an apple.  I've noticed that people like to hold it.

Yesterday was a day of many festivities.  We had scary movie day in the library, so I ate more popcorn than advisable.  It was also a colleague's birthday, so I brought in a cake. 

In the afternoon, I saw a call for submissions at the website of Crab Orchard Review:  "To celebrate twenty years of publication, CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW is seeking submissions for our Summer/Fall 2015 issue focusing on writing inspired or informed by the experiences, observations, and/or cultural and historical events of the following topic: '20 Years: Writing About 1995-2015.' We are open to work that covers any of the ways our world and ourselves have changed due to the advancements, setbacks, tragedies, and triumphs of the last twenty years." 

I thought it sounded interesting, so I had a pleasant time going back through old files looking for poems that might fit the theme ( if you want to submit, go here for more details, but don't wait too long--the submission must be mailed by Nov. 10).

I got home to find out that my spouse had thawed pork chops.  So the autumn festival atmosphere continued.  I sautéed apples in butter and apple cider--yummm.  I also heated up some frozen butternut squash puree.  It was the perfect fall meal.

Perhaps today will have more autumnal delights.  I awoke to discover that my blog post was up at the Living Lutheran site.  Go here to read it.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"And then I thought of all those agricultural metaphors, where Jesus says, 'The kingdom of heaven is like ... .' That parable of the seeds and the different types of ground – do we really understand that parable if we’ve never planted anything?"

"Unloading the pumpkins also reminds me of something else that I cherish about church communities: At their best, there is room for everyone. The littlest ones can carry pumpkins, if they want to help that way. Those of us without the strength to carry pumpkins can help sell them."

"As I cradled those pumpkins, which so resemble human heads, I felt a strange tenderness toward them, the tenderness that I imagine God feels toward us all. In some ways, pumpkins are so sturdy and yet so fragile. All it takes is one slip and the pumpkin is rendered useless, a pulpy mess of slime and gunk. And yet, even from that accident could come new life, if one planted the pumpkin seeds. From that one pumpkin, we could grow a whole new patch, life out of death."

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Week-end of Concerts

Yesterday we went back to Bailey Hall at Broward College--this time to see the Symphonic Band concert.

You might ask why 2 concerts in one week-end.  You might say, "I don't remember you being this kind of a music fan."

My spouse has to see 10 concerts as part of a music theory class that he's taking, so when there were 2 concerts in one week-end, he saw a way to make up lost time, from when the concert hall was closed for renovations.  With our school IDs, we get to go for free.

I didn't expect to like the Symphonic Band as much as I did.  I thought it might be more marching music, but there was a wide variety.  Like the Broward Symphony, they try to bring the public new works.  Two of the pieces were written by a member of the Band, who was there to conduct--and we were part of the professional recording, so we tried to be very quiet, except for when we erupted into applause.

One of the best parts was a selection of music from the Disney movie Frozen.  What made it wonderful was that the small kids behind us burst into song, even though their parents shushed them.  When I was younger, it might have bothered me.  Now I found it delightful to be near children who couldn't hold back.

I can't quite decide on the acoustics of the new design.  Yesterday, we sat by the professional recording microphone, which my spouse thought would be the best for sound, and it was fine.  Saturday night I thought the sound was a bit more muted, like I was listening to a recording.

After some shopping on our way back, we came home to enjoy a simple meal of a burger, baked beans, and some chips.  We ate by the pool, which is now almost too cold to enjoy much these days.  We're true Floridians now.  But it's still lovely to sit outside as the sun slips towards the horizon and enjoy a meal together.  Our pool has a water feature, a waterfall wall, so it's peaceful.

Then I did the straightening and the getting organized for the coming week, the laundry and the putting away.

The week-end was a good one, which makes it hard to return to work.  Plus we have big changes at work.  Our dean was let go last week, and I probably shouldn't blog too much about that.  Still, I'll have more thoughts on the overall changes at work--maybe in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Restorative Power of Pumpkins and the Symphony

I enjoyed a wonderfully restorative day yesterday.  I had a good writing morning, which I already wrote about here.  And then I went to spin class, which restored me in a different way.  It's good to have a tough workout and come out the other side.

I'm often amazed when I stop to consider how many good ideas come out of a tough work out.  I often come home with a clear idea of how to organize a manuscript, for example.  A few months ago, I had an epiphany about the sections in my memoir.  I came right home and put the section markers in.

Yesterday wasn't as profound an epiphany.  I am tasked with buying the pumpkins for my school for the coming week's festivities (see this post for more).  I decided that it would be easiest to buy them and transport them on Saturday, not Monday.

My spouse was open to the idea, so off we went to my church's pumpkin patch.  What a wonderful interaction.  One of the children helped us choose 10 pumpkins, and I had a bit of a donut, which felt like a treat.  I was happy that our pumpkin purchase helped both my school and my church--a win-win!  And yes, I'm biased.

We got a parking space at school near the building, and my spouse helped me carry them in and figure out where to put them in the office.  And on our way back, we stopped at Doris' Italian Market--now our freezer is restocked--a clear marker of the end of hurricane season.

We had yummy burgers for lunch, and I got some writing done in the afternoon.  I'm changing the introduction to my memoir.  Later I'll wrestle with the harder work of weaving all the Epiphany bits together.

We finished the day by going to the Broward Symphony's concert--what a treat!  And it was in the newly refurbished Bailey Concert Hall, which has transformed a shabby-in-spots space into something much more elegant.  How nice to sit in seats that aren't saggy with decades of use.

We got to hear the American premiere of a work, "Overture No. 3," by a Russian composer, Rashid Kalimullin.  That was my favorite piece of the concert.  It had interesting instruments, for one thing.  But it also sounded fresh with notes put together in new ways that I don't have the language to understand.

I love that the conductor of the symphony is committed to showcasing works by new composers.  I wonder if she simply chooses works that she likes and thinks deserve more attention--or does she think about the strengths of her members?

In any case, it was a wonderful way to end the day--and then we returned home, and the World Series was still on.  So my spouse got an additional treat.  I had a late supper of cheese, crackers, and wine and fell into a happy sleep.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Home Repair, Lost Names, and Reformations Large and Small

It's been a good, but unusual, writing morning.  For reasons unknown to me, I woke up wanting to know the timeline of cottage repair a year ago.  I decided to go back through blog postings of last year at this time.

I came across this nugget in this post that made me think I had a poem beginning:

"Those home repair/improvement shows don't show the mountains of wasted raw materials: the tiles that cracked in the wrong place, the carpet cut in the wrong place, the gobs of masonry/plaster/paste that we thought we'd need but didn't, the lumber that split the wrong way when the saw hit it.  No one fights on a home repair show.  No one hurls tools in anger/disgust/frustration.  No one dissolves into weeping."

But I wanted to get a more pressing project underway.  I am responsible for the more interactive worship service tomorrow.  I needed to write some prayers and to find some images for Reformation Sunday.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, we are living in a remarkable time:  type some words into a search engine and voila!  I had the images I needed.  And it was fairly easy to get them into the PowerPoint template for the service.  Not for the first time have I thought of the connection between Luther and easier printing technology and our own time of technology that makes it easier to communicate (see this post for more).

I went back to my blog posts about Reformation to get ideas for the prayers.  They were easy to write.  Would they have been this easy if I hadn't had those blog posts?  I doubt it.

I decided to write a poem.  But first, I decided to finish the poem I wrote the other day, the one that was inspired by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's poem that you can find here, a poem inspired by Luisa Igloria's prompt: Write a poem about your secret name(s).  If you like that prompt and want others, see this post

And then I wrote parts of a poem inspired by the above blog post.  It begins this way:

No one dissolves into weeping
on the home repair shows.

I envision at least 3 stanzas beginning with 2 lines:

Competent hands hold the tools
on the home repair shows.


No mountains of wasted supplies pile up
on the home repair shows.

I plan to fill in the rest of the lines later; my writing time draws to a close, and I soon must go to spin class.

But let me record another joy in my morning's Internet ramblings.  Much of yesterday I spent creating the Winter schedule.  I walked to look at classrooms as I tried to envision a schedule that would work with everyone's needs.  I created a schedule and sent an e-mail to my department asking them to double check to make sure I had created a schedule that would work for each person.

One of my department members keeps a blog, and this morning, I discovered this blog post with this revelation about her schedule: 

"The only glitch seemed to be the availability of a half hour during my work day to finish this process; I needn't have worried since my schedule for next quarter presents an entire hour between classes! How propitious! It seemed all was falling into place. I was told that even traveling should not be a problem."

I had worried that she might not be happy about the changes I made to her schedule to be able to grant her request for extra time between classes, but come to find out, I was part of a day of blessings. 

I went to a goodbye party for the director of admissions yesterday, and everyone spoke so fondly of her as they toasted her goodbye.  I slipped away, fighting sadness, that funeral feeling that no one would cry at my absence.  I was pleased this morning to be reminded that something as small as working out a schedule request can be a blessing, can be part of bringing good into the world. 

Some reformations are huge.  Some are small, but can have a dramatic impact on a single life.

It's been a good morning.  May the rest of the day follow.