The Shimmering of Leaves

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The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.  ~ Terry Tempest Williams

The gardens have been blessing our spring with abundance and loveliness. It’s true every year and every season: I forget how beautiful my world becomes and am amazed all over again, which is kind of nice, like seeing your long-beloved and falling in love more deeply than the first time.

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The irises were at their peak this past week. I know when they look this good I’ll be dividing them in the fall. It must be their third year left undisturbed, another fact I forgot, or would like to, since I’m completely out of iris space. Maybe I can surprise the sister-in-law who gave just a few of them to me several years ago with a new hundred or so. The devious gardener.DSCF9617DSCF9618DSCF9619DSCF9624DSCF9786DSCF9828Mickey and Malarky are my frequent companions outside; they follow me around, or chase and wrestle, or roll in anything, until some innocent bicycler or runner makes his merry way down the trail. Then, the pups bark like they’ve sighted a mass murderer. I usually duck behind some large planting at that point and hope they’ll stop. Little Mickey actually pulled his leash free and ran after a runner this morning. Luckily, the runner turned around and laughed at Mickey’s 7 pounds of terror. But Mickey was quite proud of his bravery, dashing back up to the gardens (the runner had led him further than he prefers to go on the trail, about 4 yards from home), then, when he saw us, puffing up and prancing like he was quite the hero. The dangerous runner had gone away, hadn’t he?

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Malarky turned to me and rolled his eyes.

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I thought back to last summer, when the yard blew up and our sweet Riley and Clancy took their turns leaving us.

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Things turn around. The garden renews, and though its fullness and beauty take my breath away, I know how fleeting this season, this day, this life truly is. So I try to remember to make my daily prayers of gratitude and send them to join those offered by breaking waves, whispering grasses, and shimmering leaves…all is holy and I am blessed.

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Deep Bows to the Earth

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Our difficult and very urgent task is to accept the truth that nature is not primarily a property to be possessed, but a gift to be received with admiration and gratitude. Only when we make a deep bow to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, only then can they become transparent and reveal to us their real meaning.  ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, Clowning in Rome

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March ended with a glorious full moon. I remember it, because that was the day our dear friend was admitted to the hospital. For a week or more, she had been suffering from violent bursts of headache, much worse than her usual migraine. We’d accompanied her to the ER one long night, when the pain was excruciating and, when it happened again, another friend got her to the doctor who (finally) admitted her. Over the course of the next two weeks, a nimbus of neurologists poked, sliced, scraped and analyzed her brain before concluding with a diagnosis that left her ravaged spirit and body heavily drugged and cautiously hopeful. The headaches continued, but gradually abated to an endurable level.

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As with any hospitalization of a loved one, our days slid into overtime. We drove back and forth to the hospital to visit and support our friend and her son, and twice a day, drove to her home, to care for her sweet, old, almost-blind, mostly-deaf pup, Jax. He seemed more at peace in his own familiar spaces, but clearly missed his “mom,” despite our attempts to comfort him. He always perked up for treats, we noticed.

Her son flew home from Brazil and helped mightily for a time, until his mother was discharged, but then, after she’d been home for a few days, he had to return to work, so she and Jax came to us for a week of rest and recovery. Their presence and spirits blessed us.

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Malarky, Jax, and I went for a few walks every day, while our friend rested. Malarky was a good host, leading Jax to all of our “treat spots” and waiting for him to catch up.

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Winter seemed to be tilting tentatively into spring. One day, we’d hike through a glorious snowfall, and the next, a sunny trail beckoned with robin song and wildflowers. All of it seemed to intrigue Jax, and his spirit and energy thrived.

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My friend fatigued easily and felt apprehensive about the thunderclap headaches returning, but, as the week went on and spring began to settle in, I noticed her spirit lifting and confidence returning. Every day, she set new tasks to complete that would support her return to independence after almost a month of being bedridden. She made a meal, did her laundry, came on a short walk. She weaned herself off the pain meds. (I can’t imagine the courage that took, after what she’d endured and feared encountering again.) The syndrome she suffered from is known to debilitate and devour energy, and it can require up to six months before the patient feels like her old self, or—more accurately—her new self, since these experiences always transform us.

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My friend deeply honors and tends her spirituality, and we had interesting conversations about the ways she felt herself transformed; the gifts she perceived had come to her through the ordeal; the struggles she anticipated in returning to work; and her hopes for healing.

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My heart filled with gratitude to see her strength returning, even in tiny amounts, and I loved how spring’s brighter days contributed to this. My friend blooms in warmer weather, and the sunshine and flowers, open windows, and sweet breezes contributed far more to her recovery than my vegetables and broths. I think I saw her blossom on one of our walks. It seemed like her spirit came back into focus.

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She returned home the night of April’s Full Pink moon. My tulips were just opening to the sun that day. We stayed in close touch, and I took her to a few appointments the next week, but her recovery since then has been glorious and all due to her own body and soul-tending.

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I missed her presence after she’d returned home. It was fun to have human conversations throughout the day. The 4-leggeds and I had to adjust to the unfilled hours and reserves of energy we now had to fill and spend. Malarky and I took long walks through county parks and marveled at a Great Blue Heron rookery. To see these huge nests tended by their prehistoric profiles, even at the distance we kept, took us deep into silence.

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We gardened and watched the spring birds gather at the feeders.       

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We watched this fellow court various ladies, it seemed with little luck, over the past few weeks.

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But we discovered that we still longed for another presence…and settled on Mickey.

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Two weeks later, we’re all adjusting to our new companion. We’re grateful for the hard, often heart-breaking work at the Houston rescue that saved Mickey, and for its local satellite that brought him to us. He’s sweet and feisty, and a good buddy for Malarky. Of course, we planned on a girl, about Malarky’s size (25 pounds) and age (9 months), and came home with a 4-month-old, 6-lb boy. Funny how love works.

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And Mickey was in need of love. Full Moon is working its magic on his little body and spirit as it did on our friend’s recovery. And just as her presence blessed us, Mickey has brought gifts to each of us, completing a puzzle we didn’t know was missing a piece. Till now.

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And so I make deep bows to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, and to the fields, and flowers, and birds, and 4-leggeds who teach us about resurrection and love, and the possibilities these hold for us in our brokenness and loneliness. May we be healed and offer our mended energy to the world.

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A Fondess For What Is

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Winter has arrived, with a cold snap or two, snowfalls, icy roads and the glorious sunrises and sunsets that ink the sky in indigo, purple, pink, and gold, making the world’s entire substance seem all and only mystery and magic. I do love winter. One morning, I watched the warm river kiss the cold air…normal evaporation made visible, and I was enchanted.

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I’ve come to welcome January and the ways it stitches together its days with silence, offering a lovely long pause between the high spirits of the holidays and the electric energy of spring. I’ve pulled out my four favorite books on meditation and am trying to deepen my practice by reviewing their suggestions and wisdom, and am whittling away at the pile of bedside books, something I don’t have time to do as much as I like during the bustle of activity between Halloween and New Year’s Day.

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I’ve realized I don’t have a favorite month, but harbor a fondness for the special gifts of each. January offers a lovely respite of stillness and silence, and the days are still short enough that we can enjoy evenings by firelight, making Full Moon Cottage cozy and bright. Malarky is able to settle a bit by nightfall, and the cats are gaining the confidence to join our circle once again.

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We’ve had a steady flow of guests this month, and that’s been a wonderful way to ease the post-holiday sea change. Last week was the second anniversary of Henry’s death, so we gathered at Full Moon for a meal and the chance to share memories, a gift of an evening altogether. Phillip’s older brother was a remarkable person, and it felt right to honor him and name the ways he blessed our lives. We all noticed how Fergus found contentment on the lap of Henry’s wife, and thought either he sensed her grief and offered special comfort to her, or that perhaps Henry’s spirit had nudged Fergus a bit. Some special energy was present, since Fergus is generally most reluctant to settle in anyone’s lap, let alone stay there.

Phillip and I have been planning adventures for the weekends we don’t have visitors, too. We recently toured a local coffee mill and enjoyed learning more about buying and brewing coffee, and sampling all the different varieties. Naturally, we came home with several blends to try, and they’ve made our morning coffee time a sweeter ritual before Phillip has to leave for school.

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And then it’s time to check the bird feeders, toss cornmeal in the yard, and keep the suet containers full, for my sweet guests have come to rely on Full Moon Cottage for their (several times a day) seeds and meals. I worry about them during storms; goodness they’re tenacious.

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The art room continues to benefit from Phillip’s gifts when he isn’t working on jobs for others. I’m excited for it to be finished. I was casting about for an art project when a friend encouraged me to create a piece around the themes of love and compassion, for a calendar contest. Now, she’s an actual artist, so I had originally sent her the notice calling for submissions, but she prodded me to try as well. I have no illusions about my talent, but it was fun to play, and so I thank her for the nudge, like Henry’s to Fergus: “Try it, and enjoy yourself!”

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There are darker days, of course, when I think about Riley and Clancy, and look at photographs from a year ago, when they were still both so integral to our daily round, but the sadness visits less often, and their spirits seem more a constant, loving presence in our home. Malarky’s happy energy and my dear cats bless the daily round for now, which is all we have, and I realize I feel a deepening fondness for what is: January, sunrises, firelight, friends, family and four-leggeds. It’s not just, “Be here, now,” but love being here now. I do.

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We are hallowed by our memories and our days are holy, and I am blessed.

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Two Steps Forward

DSCF3920February, as it turns out, is the cruelest month, and, here at Full Moon Cottage, we’re glad to see its back end heading down the trail.

DSCF3922The dance February demanded of us caused stumbling, missteps, and then a repetitive one-step-forward-two-steps-back movement that exhausted us all.

We’d been looking forward to some kitchen remodeling, beginning with new appliances. But just when our savings said, “Yes, buy the new oven,” Mulligan came down with a serious infection, and two days later, Miss Fiona needed extensive dental work. Bam; savings gone.

DSCF3787The past two weeks have been spent chasing these poor darlings up and down and over and under to give them their necessary medicine for healing. Fiona has always been extremely reluctant to share space, be touched, hear sounds, experience life…it takes her a long, long time to become comfortable and feel safe, so this has been an inner ring of hell for her. Locating her in the basement circumscribed a unique abyss for us as well, and created colorful bruises in mighty strange places. I swear, one morning I was half under an old blanket-covered couch—Fiona long fled—and almost elected to just lie there for the remainder of the day rather than deduce the maneuvering necessary to wiggle back out again.

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DSCF4020But now, we’ve come one step forward yet again: Mulligan is enspirited and inimitably present in his distinctive ways, and Fiona has dared to leave the basement and is characteristically hidden beneath the dining table, safely barricaded by chairs and pedestal. We try not to glance in her direction, as that would send her to the depths once more. Anyway, she has passed the date when medication would have eased her pain, poor thing. Excessive shyness and an inability to understand the language spoken to you can cost you needless suffering, it seems. We’re happy she’s back with us, and we hope feeling better every day.

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DSCF3825Winter has been doing the same dance, retreating and returning, but with far more dash and surprising colors than our own awkward shuffle. The sunrises and sunsets have been spectacular, as though winter is kvetching, “OK, I’m going already, but you’ll miss all this!”

 Last Tuesday, we had a lovely snowfall, our last for the season, said the forecasters.

DSCF3917Since the air temperature also danced above and below freezing, the snow turned to mist at times and the resulting crystals were blindingly magical.

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DSCF3866A bit more warmth caused a bit more melt, and then a night below the freezing point glazed the snow-covered earth entirely. The next morning, we walked on brilliant and brittle glass that initially, tentatively supported our weight, then yielded and crunched into sugar-cookie crumbs.

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DSCF4004So, one step back. Oh, winter, yes: You are beautiful beyond compare and offer us delights we savor. Stay, stay forever.

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DSCF3955Well, not that far back. And more than two forward. This week, the weather will turn, has already begun to do so…The fox is back, having burrowed out her den’s door and entered to birth new kits.

DSCF3776The sounds of snow and ice trickling away, and birds wooing mates and nesting, and me sighing at the mud tracking through the kitchen, and the happy dance of two pups and five healthy cats…the cacophony of life after winter’s silence fills our home and hearts.

DSCF3991Let the windows be opened and a new dance commence.

Gliding Into Green Time

DSCF7654We’ve come (finally!) to the time of year when all the gardens, in a brilliance of greens and tender spring blossoms, flash back only beauty and promise. No pests, no droughts nor floods, no diseases have yet appeared to divert our belief that this will be the best summer ever for a perfection of blooms and abundance.

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DSCF7743Sweet friends have returned to Full Moon Cottage, annual visitors who bless our days and inaugurate a new season of life as the year rolls round her journey.

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DSCF7055There is no better time to celebrate life, is there? Last week, my colleagues came to Full Moon Cottage to toast the end of another school year, and my husband’s staff will be here next week to do the same. It’s grand to have guests, and motivating as well. Nothing like scheduled company to get us out to re-design, weed, plant, thin, and clean the gardens!

DSCF7666In July, family and friends will come to help us celebrate our wedding anniversary, so we’re looking at projects indoors and out, that may or may not come to fruition, given the time and money necessary to accomplish them. I’m an inveterate list-maker and recovering perfectionist. I’ve noticed age has helped me better—and sooner—identify the borders between desire and reality. How good it can feel to welcome the loosening, letting go, and blessed release of expectations to allow what will happen to happen. I don’t always manage this with grace, but I can say I’m better than I used to be. I can even manage a “whatever,” once in a while, and mean it. At least some of the time, I’m able to suspend my definition of perfection and see what’s already perfectly perfect.

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DSCF7712More importantly, we’re excited to be taking time to gather with people we love. When you reflect on parties and festivities you’ve attended, what do you recall in their afterglow? Not the hours of work and attention to detail that went into planning and organizing them, but the time spent sharing, listening, laughing, relaxing, affirming love and being affirmed as a valuable and integral part of other lives.

Henry Memorial 7It’s such a lovely time of year to recognize, toast, and encourage creation and recreation. Two years ago, we suffered through a devastating drought, and its effects continue to unfold. Our maples let loose an impossible number of seeds last autumn, in part a response to the prior year’s drought. A flurry of rebellious possibility rained down to establish life before drought could again assail the right to regenerate that is claimed by every living thing.

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DSCF7327The behaviors and choices of humans and their leaders so often deny Nature this right. In spring, her resounding Yes-always-yes-to-life, and the reminder she will likely outlast our stupidity and short-sightedness is both illuminating and humbling.

DSCF7612And worth celebrating, as we glide into another summer and its green possibilities for creativity, for gathering, for affirming life, for knowing when to allow what will happen to happen, and for the gift of entering it with gratitude, knowing too, that the impulse to regenerate never dies.

DSCF7063May you be blessed with long, happy days of recreation and the company of loved ones to share them.

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Entertaining Angels

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  ~ Hebrews 13:2; KJV

DSCF5803Winter lingered. Just when we thought it had taken its last breath, it gasped and continued to test our hospitality.

DSCF5765But for well over a week now, despite chilly nights, the days have been warmer, or rainy, and coaxed out the greens this late spring offers up as gift to eyes surprised by anything other than black, white, and gray.

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DSCF6145Spring’s winged and 4-legged angels, arriving with all their usual and new messages regarding reasons to hope and deepen our love for the earth and each other, have been sailing, trotting, hopping, or crawling up and down the river bank. Choirs of blackbirds and spring peepers, with guest soloists—grosbeaks, robins, sand pipers, woodpeckers, ducks, geese, pelicans, warblers, finches, and cardinals—alert us to miracles daily and hourly. Today, my first sightings of a Baltimore Oriole and Rose-breasted Grosbeak set my heart dancing. The silence and solitude of winter are definitely over; whatever dreams and seeds were planted in the dark have been called forth most dramatically this spring. It took a while for the stone to be rolled away, but the light is now shining like a drama queen. “Grow!” it seems to command.

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DSCF6820We emerged, tentatively and cautiously, peeking out from under winter’s blanket like the proverbial groundhog, and then began to meet, socialize, fill in the calendar, haul out the garden tools and dig into life with the vigor only pasty-white winter people can summon when spring returns in the fullness of her resurrection power.

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DSCF6612Our pups, Riley and Clancy, who will celebrate 13 years of being next week, had a dicey winter. Age-related health encounters gave us some sad and frightening moments, which time and our saintly veterinarian helped us through, gently. We’ve all made adjustments and adapted. We feared their loss (knowing it will come, but please, not yet, not now) and are therefore utterly grateful they’re still here and again able to amble down the trail with us. Their kennels have moved upstairs; our walks are shorter; their schedule is a bit more closely monitored; at night we protect each other; and—if possible—we celebrate our funky family even more than ever. I guess my years tending dying parents and elderly patients have readied me for this, as well. If so, Full Moon Cottage will be the best damn nursing home for elderly 4-leggeds we can imagine.

DSCF6332One evening we had company visiting and the night became so merry and so filled with heady conversation and children and music that our five-year-old guest crawled into his mother’s arms and softly cried. His mother held him and asked about his tears. “I feel so happy,” he said. So much joy, some needed to spill out a bit, I suppose, to re-balance his mighty little spirit.

I know exactly how he felt.

On Earth Day, my students and I cleaned up the school grounds, washed bits of the refuse we collected and then made art…their sweet hearts and lively spirits feed me, daily. I’ve come to a time in my life where most teachers arrive, if they’re lucky and as blessed as I’ve been: we know that teacher and student are the same thing.

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DSCF5817As are life and death.

 I’m trying to gauge my wealth differently than financial advisers might counsel: How engaged with life, how open to its invitations have I been this day? To what degree have I given and received as I’ve circled through the daily round? How often did I pause and connect with all the angels and their messages streaming towards and through me? How freely did I share those messages with others?

DSCF6708In my life, angels, or messengers who remind me, “This is it! Now! It’s all holy!” have never been pretty men with wings, though some of my angels have been men, and many of my guides have had wings…Only look and listen, they’re everywhere: winged, legged, fluttering, croaking, singing, blooming, dying, laughing or weeping. See! These unique and sacred collections of particles gathering and forming, dissolving and reforming: Be moved to dance, to hobble, to wheeze, to weep with joy by all the ways Love calls you out, every moment, into resurrection and new creation.

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Clancy questions whether he must entertain his sibling cats as angels, especially if they appropriate his kennel.

Clancy questions whether he must entertain his sibling cats as angels, especially if they appropriate his kennel.

 

Winter Spirituality: To See What Is Before Us

DSCF5119Sometimes I wonder if the constant complaints about winter—the cold, the snow, the darkness, the inconvenience—are a form of resistance to winter’s spiritual invitations. They’re challenging; they’re scary, they’re brutal in their honesty. 

DSCF4925They’re so worth engagement.

DSCF4626I’ve come to love the austere revelations winter offers, as I’ve come to recognize the wisdom of loving what I resist, opening to relationship with perceived obstacles, problems, roadblocks and impediments. Limiting my journey to summer’s merry, easy road limits my journey.

DSCF4622In summer, my vision is attracted by everything at once, overwhelmed by the impression of colors, mingled patterns and textures. A summer spirituality allows my mind to perpetually skip from pleasure to pleasure, one sensuous delight and self-affirming thought after another. But, as the season of winter allows me to focus on the singular beauty and unique mystery of the particular and specific, entering a winter spirituality allows me to be with my darkness and find that its augmentation to my spirit, if initially frightening, is eventually healing. Shadow and light are needed for the picture to be full and the spirit to be whole.

DSCF4827I appreciate the generous cloaks winter creates to isolate color and form. I can photograph one tree, one bird, one sunrise, over and over, and always see something new. In winter, it seems the world tells me who it is at its core and asks me if I can respond with my own true name. “Who are you?” asks winter, over and over, paring away, in loving patience, all the usual answers that satisfy such a question in polite, superficial society.

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DSCF4677Winter spirituality helps me meditate more and more deeply on the gift and uniqueness of each part of myself and my life, each partner with whom I dance, each question with which I struggle.

Long years, a lifetime, of encrusting these relationships with projections and desires and hopes and discharged emotions and learned reactions and one-sided memories, can be stilled by winter’s gift of silence and long hours to re-visit and re-vision, The external shudders away, baring what is real, teaching me again that meaning is fluid but essence eternal.

DSCF4817The local meteorologists call this the “coldest winter” in 35 years, and people complain, some unceasingly, about the hardships of enduring it. But I’ve learned to love winter as I love my shadow. They are beautiful; they bring wisdom; they lead me to rare and vital presence. And they are crucial to the springtime’s arrival; crucial, as in “cross,” as in the bloom of synthesis bursting from the thesis-antithesis of winter’s black and white…

DSCF4962I love winter and the spirituality she engenders for helping me to see, even a little more clearly, the truth before—and within—me. By uncluttering all the other seasons’ competing imagery, I can eliminate the chaos of color and form surrounding the pure beauty of a solitary squirrel, by muting all the rival noise muffling one blue jay’s cry, I can hear its once-in-a-lifetime once-ness, by stilling all my swirling mental and spiritual dissonance, I’m guided to focus solely on where I am in relationship to the Holy and all her streaming invitations. 

DSCF5111Spirit speaks uniquely in all of life’s seasons, in all of life, every moment; disregard this, and we miss vital communication, like tuning out another’s conversation. Only listen, says the Spirit, in winter’s guise; listen, and be led to silence.

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DSCF5084And when I can listen more deeply, winter is the one who whispers to my heart those essential truths that keep it beating: I am loved and lover, created and creator, co-conspirator (helpmate of Spirit) in fashioning these sewn-together moments called my life.

Peeling away the layers of projected need, repeated story, and entrained patterns of response, winter teaches me to see what is before me. To see what is. 

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DSCF5121I am still becoming.