Monday, September 30, 2013

Refreshing waters: a writing retreat with Vinita Hampton Wright

I took this photo after a long hot walk this afternoon, at a temple called Honen-in in the hills outside Kyoto.  The cool scent of moss, the sound of the water hitting the pool below, the perfect arc that never wavered as it fell — and the flower.  It was refreshing on such a sensual level; though I never touched the water, I still felt a couple of degrees cooler.

I'm off in Japan, working long (and fascinating) days, and glad of the bits of refreshment I find.

Vinita Wright is directing a writing retreat at Deepening Days of Friendship.  Her first post is about the senses, if you want to refresh your writer's soul, pay Vinita's blog a visit and take a deep breath of the wisdom and encouragement that is there.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Eddies in time

The last few weeks have been hectic,getting everything done that needed to be tended to while I was in Japan, while still keeping the everyday pace of teaching and life going.  At times it's felt like I was in some odd eddy in the time stream (clearly, I watch too much Star Trek) trying to live two different weeks at the same time.

The streams finally poured through a gate and I'm back to juggling just one moment at a time.  I'm in Kyoto, where I got up at 5:00 am, walked up to Choin-in up the hill from where we are staying for morning services.  It was a rich sound scape, the thunk as we kept the beat for the procession on gourds, the chant, the bells, the sharp clack-clack of the wood blocks, the chirping of the nightingale floor as we moved from one space to another, the ravens cawing in the pre-dawn stillness — and the roar of the motorcycle patrolling the grounds.

If you dress in the dark, you risk putting your shirt on inside out.  Something I didn't notice until it was too late to correct!    These bells are for praying for peace for children all over the world, which we did this morning.  The top is on inside out, but I don't think you can tell!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A simmering of cicadas


Shizukesa ya
Iwa ni shimiiru
Semi no koe

This pervasive silence
Enhanced yet by cicadas simmering
Into the Temple Rocks dissipating            
—Matsuo Bashô

I sat outside on the stone patio the night before last to make my examen.  There was no wind, a pervasive stillness, and — I realized with a start — a simmering of cicadas.  I felt as if I were in the midst of a gently bubbling pot, the stillness seeping into my rock hard heart, infusing it with silence, with God.

An alternate translation (mine) which preserves the breath of the original.

A piercing stillness
The rocks open their hearts to
The cicadas voice

Just breathing the word shizukesa and the exhaling sound ya is stilling. 

Bashô spent 5 years working on this poem, the first draft was written in 1689, a final version inscribed in his diary in 1694.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching silence

I teach back to back on Mondays and Wednesdays, setting up my stuff for pchem in the science center, then trekking up the hill with my rolling basket of stuff for the course I'm teaching on contemplation in the West.  The latter is a seminar class, so conversation is the stuff of which it is constructed. We do a lot of talking about silence.  But silence is so fundamental to the practice of contemplation, it's hard to imagine not having some significant experience of silence to help put what we are reading into context.

Last week we spent three days at the old Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville.  There was a 7-day silent retreat ongoing when we arrived, emptying out of the cars into the western cloister, trying to slide through the silence with barely a ripple.  The weather was hot and humid and my briefing in the lobby included tips for keeping your room cooler and reminders to drink plenty of water.

It was odd being on duty in the space where I am usually as off as I can be.  My phone came with me in case the college needed to get in touch with us, I checked my email a couple of times a day, I kept our schedule flowing. 

Patient Spiritual Director gave a terrific talk on spiritual direction in the modern era, complimenting our conversations about the tradition at the time of the desert ascetics.

This week we are reading a variety of narratives of silence (an eclectic collection including  Patrick Fermor, Sara Maitland, and a utterly riveting recording of Thomas Merton instructing the novices on sacred silence), but we have a better ear for what they have to say.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Prophetic music: Guide our feet into the way of peace

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest:
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
to give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins,

through the tender mercy of our God;
whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Lk 1:76-79 (King James translation)

For almost thirty years I have prayed the Benedictus each morning, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.." Yesterday morning, I sat outside on a glorious fall day to pray. On such a still and perfect morning, war seems unimaginable. Yet I knew the paper that still lay on the driveway would make it all to easy to imagine the tempest that is gathering on distant shores.

I love the antiphonal nature of Vaughn Williams' setting.  It brings me to face  the prophetic call of this text, not just for the baby whose name was to be John, but our own baptismal call. A single voice of remarkable clarity calls forth a response from the many, with grace, the melody blossoms into four-part harmony.  Despite the traditional liturgical setting of this text  within morning prayer, Vaughn William's music evokes for me a sense of vigil, and a gathering darkness outse.

May our prayers so gather, layer upon layer, until we can be heard to the farthest ends of the earth.  We pray that we might be prophets, that we might prepare the way. We pray for light in the darkness. We pray for mercy. We stand in world torn by violence and we cry: Lord, guide our feet into the way of peace.

A version of this post appeared at  RevGalBlogPals.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Fast and pray

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Blow the trumpet in Zion, proclaim a fast, call an assembly...

Pope Francis has called the Church to fast and to pray for peace in Syria, and in all the world.  The Philadelphia archdiocese will gather at the cathedral for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

I feel strongly about heeding this call to gather ourselves spiritually, to put our bodies on the line in a very different way.  From my column this week at CatholicPhilly:

"This is not the ritual fast before we receive the Eucharist, to sharpen our hunger, to hone our senses to experience more deeply the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood. This is not the traditional fast of Lent, to do penance for our sins, to toughen our feet for the journey. This fast is a call to throw ourselves on the mercy of God, keening for the brokenness of the Body of Christ that has brought us — again — to the brink of war.

...In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII made it clear that we are each responsible for doing what we can to forge anew the relationships between countries and peoples in the light of justice and love. Fasting, even for a day, binds me more deeply to those whose lives are in tumult as a result of war and injustice. It’s an ever-present reminder that we all bear the responsibility for peace."

Read the whole thing at CatholicPhilly.

Will you join the fast?  the prayers?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Praying for patience

This morning's round of tests were stressful, and after an hour, my patience was stretched thinner than one of Stratoz's sheets of strudel.  So when the doctor's office was clearly running behinder and behinder, but still holding out the fiction that nothing was amiss I started praying for patience.

Patient Spiritual Director once wryly pointed out that if you pray for patience you are often presented with opportunities to practice.  Today suggested he's right.  My prayers were answered in that there were many, many opportunities to practice patience.  I did not make the best of each of them, I'm afraid to admit.

By 4:30, I was apologizing to the student staffing the help desk for my grumpiness about things far beyond her control (or I suppose mine).  At 4:38 I was once again...apologizing to the same student for my lack of patience.  (*face palm*)

I'm obviously still working on the patience front, but am having no trouble with the gratitude.  Test results were excellent.  It was a good day.

After I wrote this, I read Linde Ricke's most excellent guest post at People for Others:  Avoiding the Near Occasion of Sin.  I needed this line today: "I need to focus especially on the simple phrase 'with the help of Thy grace.' Only through the Holy Spirit can I possibly make any headway in avoiding the certain near occasion of sin."

Sunday, September 01, 2013

How do you tell when the pears are ripe?

Yes, that is the one and only apple.
When the squirrels eat them.

We have a huge mature plum tree in the front, along with a small apple tree that just began to bear this year, two pear trees in the back that are in their third year of bearing.  Tonight I made apple-pear sauce from our harvest.

One apple.  One pear.

There are many fat squirrels in the neighborhood.