Moses and the Big Red Ants

When a technical question on a hinky bit of software led me to the company’s on-line assistance chat room, I got this wondrous message:

 Analyst Moses is here to assist you.

Oh, man, I’ve been waiting for this all my adult life. I’ve got so many questions. Where shall I begin?

Moses brought me back into the here and now of software technical support, but for just a minute, there, I thought maybe I had synced with some heavenly circuit.

But wait, you say, what about the Big Red Ants?

A blog stats report – not that I look at those, ahem – revealed this morning that someone reached this blog by searching for. . .

 Big Red Ants that Cry in Missouri

 Why do they cry in Missouri? Do they cry anywhere else?

I’ll bet Analyst Moses could answer that cosmic question.

Rare Prayers

Rare only in the sense that they came from my lips and I actually wrote three of them into my journal. Not sure why I started. Don’t know why I stopped.

1-30-05  Oh God, I feel so distracted tonight. I want to read the psalms, the Caring Ministry book, and pray, but my thoughts are scattered. I have a vague sense of unease.

1-31-05 I come to you, O God. Recognize me. Know my heart. Teach me to pray. speak, to me through the Holy Spirit. Make me a piece of your limitless stained glass. Shine through me. Help me to understand. Change me in any way you will. I am yours completely. You know the cries of my heart.

2-2-05  Enlarge me, O God. Cause me to grow in spirit, bigger than I am. Force me out of my comfort in thy service. Help me to discern the hearts of family and others, to see where I can do your will and ease their discomforts in life. Use me to move a rock that is holding back the living water.

Christmas Eve and The Meaning of Life

It seemed like a good idea at the time, when Buck and I said we would go to the 3:30 Chrismas Eve communion service at Christ Church downtown. This service, called “Family Christmas Eucharist and Blessing of the Creche,” is known as the “child friendly” service amongst the four held on Christmas Eve. But as we rushed around the house all morning and early afternoon, assembling the lasagna and putting up garlands, we began to feel the press of time.

Showered up and bundled, we walked out the door just as an icy rain began to fall.

Persevering, Buck got us safely to a parking space near the church, and by hustling a bit, we made it inside just in time for the first verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” sliding into the spaces saved for us by Adele, Richard, Andie, Julia and Darryl. Young Alex was up front in the children’s chorus, the Canterbury Choir.

The old church was filled to the gills with children of all ages. It was noisy, with cries, squeals, coughs, sneezes and laughter, the background noise a constant drone threatening to drown out the rector. One baby, about nine months old, stole the show with her beauty and apparent joy. She was dressed in an ivory satin gown, and wore a Santa-type red and white cap. Her face glowed in that perfect way of warm baby skin. She pushed herself upright on her dad’s knee and made happy baby gurgling sounds. She was the perfect icon of exuberant possibility.

Another child, a boy of about six, felt differently about the situation. His anguished cry broke through in a quiet moment. “But I don’t want to see the baby Jesus!!” Quite naturally, an easy laugh rippled through the room.

My eyes shone, seeing five year old Julia in her soft, shiny red dress with stockings and shoes to match, and Andie was quite the young lady in her lavender and black ensemble. When eight year old Alex was called from the choir loft to assist Father Russell in his magic tricks — oh, the magic tricks done in church are the subject of a separate post! — I could feel Alex’s thrill all the way to our pew.

Buck and I looked at each other and mouthed the words, “this was worth the effort” to each other.

We all converged in the woods after the service, joined by other kids and cousins. Adele brought the marinated shrimp appetizer, Sharon a Greek-style salad, and we matched them up with the lasagna, meatballs and hot bread. Maggie was a one dog welcoming committee.

Over good talk and gift sharing by the fire, we decoded Da Vinci Chianti, and found the meaning of life.


Imperative to Love

We live in tiny boats on a beautiful, treacherous sea. Some days we surf the wild tsunami and feel like kings and queens of the universe. Sometimes, in the merest of instants, our matchbox crafts are swamped. Most of the time, we ride carefully, taking joy in our adventures, the sudden thrill of unexpected bounty, and the simple peace of calm waters. We endure inevitable winds, rain, hail, lightning, sharks and motion sickness. Companions. Boat-mates. That’s where we must find eternity in our brief moments. One fine morning, two are together and one is taken.

Come in from the cold. Love.

That’s it.

Spiritual Itch

I can’t get the notion of the Holy Spirit out of my head.

I want to get to the bottom of something that has no bottom.

What would Carl Jung say about this case of soul hives I seem to have developed?




The Red-Headed Stepchild Blues

ALL OVER THE PLANET human beings presumably in the same evolutionary file drawer as my own, are killing each other. The cacophony of suffering cries threatens to become a blended din, blunting the individual voices. They are killing each other for tribal revenge, genocide, political territory, drug-induced blood lust, jealous rage, religious wars or simply because they are mean as a snake. They are killing each other slowly, one by one, and en masse, faster than a speeding bullet.

Rousing myself from the insensate pleasure of the cocoon woven from Buck’s arms and our warm morning bed sheets, I remove the ear bud from my right ear, and with it the excruciating details of cruelty in our world brought to me all through the night courtesy of BBC World News.

The morning sun sprays diamonds into the room through slats of the wooden window shade.

I stand at the kitchen sink eating a black plum. Sweet juice runs up my arm and drips from my elbow.

Pine needles are falling, knitting together a soft brown runner on the dirt road.

A ruby-throated hummingbird hovers above a fading pink rose, its wings beating 55 to 75 times each second.

On the screened porch, I hear the buzz of a dragonfly caught up in a spider’s web. Only one wing is involved so far. I intervene, carefully removing the web, and release the dragonfly outdoors.

Have you ever accidentally kicked over an anthill and noticed how quickly these tiny beings begin to fiercely rebuild?

At holy communion today, a wrinkled-faced red-haired baby fixed intense eyes on me. We had our own moment of communion. At the end of our serious, eye-to-eye exchange, he broke into a smile. I swear it was a most unbabylike knowing grin. His dark eyes twinkled.

What could he possibly know? After all, he is just at the beginning of all this. Isn’t he?


One Foot in Front of the Other

Sometimes when I am driving in town, running a few simple errands, all of a sudden I cannot comprehend how I came to be driving. Can I operate a car properly in all this traffic? How can I coordinate eyes, hands, feet, and brain with the fast-changing picture out there beyond the windshield? What am I doing here? At such a moment, it feels hazardous to me to be on the road. I wonder how I will get home safely, without harming myself or some family on their way to the mall or somewhere.

I get a grip, move carefully and deliberately home, with no extra stops, feeling irrationally relieved when I make it there safely.

This afternoon, out for a short walk in the woods, I felt that same sensation. It was eerie. Searching around by the roadside, I found a forked stick to carry in front of me, as magical staff; the whistle around my neck an amulet.

The old longleaf snag that has been deteriorating for many months, disintegrating before my eyes, seemed especially dangerous today. I read about a man in Punta Gorda, Florida who stepped outside his home for a cigarette during Hurricane Charley and was killed by a falling Banyan tree. I look at the old longleaf, its rough quick revealed, bark piled at the base. I can see blue sky through vertical slits in the failing structure. I had hoped Tropical Storm Bonnie might blow the old giant down, but it never developed breath sufficient for this one task or any other. Good thing, too. Her cousin Charley caused more than enough grief for thousands of folks father south. I can wait out this one old pine.

Maggie runs past me, past the staggering tree, following her nose. I tiptoe past, looking up at the tree and wondering which way I should jump if I hear it begin to fall. It is weakened, but still powerful enough to extinguish my candle. Just like that.

I slip past the fragile tree and take the right-hand fork in the road. Coyote tracks. Damn.

I worry about the big doe at the feeder near the house this morning, a baby heavily outlined in her low-hanging belly.

It’s hot and humid again, the brief respite gone. It’s August, for sure. The back of my neck at the hairline is wet. So is my midriff and the small of my back.

Visible animal tracks are more abundant than usual. Deer, raccoon, turkey, and predators. Maggie’s nose is working overtime, and I have to call her back from the deep woods with the whistle more than once.

Turning right again, toward the boggy part of the road leading to the pitcher plant prairie, I feel a “don’t go” tug. It’s getting late, and the wildness feels very near. And yet, I go, Maggie five steps ahead. She turns back to look at me. I sense a presence. Looking down, a long slender black snake is almost at my feet. I realize Maggie and I have scared the poor thing. Standing still, I give it a chance to slither across the path into the bracken.

Ha. Clearly, free-floating anxiety is not the sole purview of human beings.

But I feel as though I have pushed the envelope today, and take the black snake’s appearance as a friendly warning. “Maggie! Let’s go home, girl,” I call, and bless her heart, she comes quickly to my side, earnestly scanning my face.

Walking in the unpredictable woods helps steel me for the ever so much more unpredictable world at large. It inoculates me with tiny doses of fear and helps me to walk among people, lightly and on the balls of my feet, ready to run back home.

We walk back in a business-like way, one foot in front of the other. I’m oddly ready to be indoors, in the refrigerated air, ready for a cool shower, some cold peel and eat shrimp and a serene evening with Buck.

Approaching the house, I see my first hydrangea bloom, a lovely pink cloud. Why is its domesticity so reassuring this evening?


Rediscovering Mendelssohn

My love affair with the piano has been, by turns, passionate, stormy, and for years at a stretch ruled by benign neglect.

My first piano was an ancient upright, which I played until the tops of the keys came off and my fingers stuck to the gluey surfaces of what remained. For the first time in memory, I wonder if we ever tried to glue the tops back on? Most likely we did. Once I had mastered Sweet Hour of Prayer and it looked like the lessons were going to “take” — my Daddy bought an Everett spinet. With my child’s limited vision at that time, it never occurred to me to consider or reflect upon what sacrifices might have been necessary to make the purchase possible.

And lessons weren’t cheap even then, yet for years my mother drove me to the half hour lesson at Mrs. Evelyn Clites’ home in Limona, near our home in Brandon, Florida. Mother sat out in the car while I went inside to soak up lessons from Mrs. Clites, not only piano and music theory, but poise, gentility, patience, joy, kindness, personal discipline and optimism. That remarkable teacher introduced me to Broadway in addition to Mendelssohn. She gave me biographies of composers to read, and I learned that few masterpieces are created from the backdrop of a sheltered, comfortable life. The classical music study revealed to me how beauty and passion can emerge only after focused practice to master the details of fingering, phrasing and expression. Only at that point, when you can forget about those details and put your own joyous suffering soul into the music, will its true transformative power be felt and heard and you will find yourself laughing and crying and feeling tinglingly alive.

The Broadway musicals sheet music that got tossed to me as reward stimulated my imagination for far away places, and stirred within me a lifelong love of lyrics. All composers, lyricists, poets, writers, sculptors, painters, and photographers are at the top of my heart’s evolutionary heap.

In those years of my mid to late teens, when the atmosphere in our home played out a mournful dirge in a chaotic and minor key, beautiful music was my solace, my bridge to the future. Playing the sheet music collection from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, I was enthralled. Exhilarated, I would sing “I Feel Pretty” in my high, quavery voice, while whirling around mother’s furniture with a dust cloth. Leaping and sliding while singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s My Fair Lady, my dance partner was a broom.

Once in high school, I accompanied a beautiful red haired girl in the Miss Tampa beauty contest on the piano while she sang “Tonight” from West Side Story. I can recall being on stage at a huge Steinway grand piano, the lights hot and bright, a sea of blurry faces somewhere out there. My soloist wore a luminous blue gown to accent her gorgeous coppery tresses and mitigate her thin, reedy voice. I was too shy then to mix and mingle, but rather slipped onstage, played and went home. No matter. I had a ball, and the experience was yet another shiny rock to added to my collection of ways to be in the world.

I left that Everett piano behind, along with almost every other personal possession, when I divorced my first husband. I gave the piano to my younger brother. He had never had an opportunity for lessons, but seemed to have a talent for improvisation and a desire to play. He kept it for awhile.

Living without a piano for several years seemed an appropriate penance to me for various failures and missteps in my life. This was a period of self-examination and change, an exfoliance of fake skins and false personas, a return to the tree-climbing girl of my youth. Through it, I found the love of my life, accepted responsibility for the first time and began to live my destiny.

It was during this time that I read Ira Progoff’s “At A Journal Workshop” on the recomendation of a psycholgogy professor friend. The cognitive journalling techniques were extremely helpful, especially the Twilight Imagery exercises, and the metaphor of “progressively entering the well of inward experience until we are able to reach the underground stream.” Here is an unedited entry from my first Period Image journal entry during that time of growth and change back in the early 1980s:

“Period Images — searching, a wandering pilgrim. I imagined myself climbing into the well of inward experience. The water was slightly warm and felt soothing. The water level lowered gradually, much like a slow elevator, until I found myself on the banks of an underground tream. I saw a young girl, about twelve years old, with long dark hair, dressed in a burgundy dress with a white lace pinafore, dressy white socks with round-toed black patent leather shoes. She is holding a baby doll of some sort, and is sitting on the bank of the stream. The stream itself is dark, cool and quiet. It is night, but there is a bright moon and there are many stars. The stream reflects the light back to the young girl.

The young girl is me. She is watching a slowly revolving carousel. Instead of horses on the carousel, there are cutouts of me in various adult personas. One with a ‘dress for success’ tailored suit and briefcase; one relaxed in jeans and old blue sweatshirt; one in cocktail dress and fur; one in negligee; one in flannel pajamas. This image fades, and I (as an adult) find myself walking alongside the stream. I pick up several stars lying along the bank and put them in my pocket. I have an image of speaking to large audiences. They applaud and reach out to me. I also see the young girl in a pinafore wanting to be a kind woman in an apron.

I sit beside the stream building a sand castle. I must be careful to let the stream continue its free flow. If I build the castle so large it blocks the stream, the moat of protection will become a stagnant pool.”

Buck and I married in 1984. He designed our first home, which we moved into in 1986. Soon after, a delivery truck arrived, carrying a stunning ebony Yahama professional studio piano, a love gift from the man who always encourages my dreams.

The Yamaha moved with us to North Carolina, where it was ensconced in the glassed-in room we called the Snow Porch — so named because it was the best place around for watching as a winter snowfall turned the mountains white. The Black Moriah, our fond nickname for the Yamaha piano, is in storage now along with the rest of our North Carolina furniture, awaiting the call to join us here when the Longleaf expansion is complete.

Meanwhile, I am not without a piano to play. Buck’s father, Earl, bought a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet for Buck’s mother, Lois, back in the early 1940’s. It has suffered a bit from a sojourn in the home of some of Lois’ great-grandchildren, especially when one youngster carved her name into it with a pocket knife. It has come back to us now for safe keeping.

We moved it to a place along the living room wall in the lodge yesterday where the light is good and there is sufficient space around it to invite others to sing or play along with guitar or flute. This space has perfect chemistry, and the old Baldwin sounds better than I have ever heard it.

Into the night, I played Clementi Sonatinas, Rachmaninoff Ballades, and Mendelssohn’s heartrendingly lovely Songs Without Words.

An old piece of sheet music in the piano bench caught my eye and I played it — the last song before bedtime. It is called “My God and I” and the text and music were written by I. B. Sergei, copyright 1935. A notice on the back says, “Music Directors. . . . performing this number are invited to visit the composer at his home. For appointment write to the publisher. The KAMA CO, P.O. Box 1929, Chicago, Ill.” The music was described as “from the repertoire of the LATVIAN SINGERS.” Its words, rather wonderful, are to be sung “in a very slow and dreamy manner.”

“My God and I, go in the field together, we walk and talk as good friends should and do, we clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter, my God and I, walk through the meadow’s hue.

He tells me of the years that went before me, when heav’nly plans were made for me to be, when all was but a dream of dim conception, to come to life, earth’s verdant glory see.

My God and I, will go for aye together, we’ll walk and talk and jest as good friends do. This earth will pass and with it common trifles, but God and I will go unendingly.”

Turning out the light, well satisfied, I went into our bedroom where Maggie was snoring and Buck was holding a book, but not reading, his eye fixed on a distant point of memory. I told him about the lyrics. He smiled, nostalgia evident in his expression. “I know it well. Mother would play it by the hour.”

I slipped into bed, wedging myself between Buck and Maggie.

“Will the circle be unbroken,
By and by, Lord, by and by?”

The Chalice Bearer

A RIPPLE OF ENERGY surged through the children when they saw the new chalice bearer Sunday. The time came for our row to take communion. Buck, the three little ones and I walked single file together, then kneeled at the rail.

The children were so excited, I feared they might break ranks and do somersaults over the communion rail right in front of God, the rector and the crowded church. But they stayed put, their small hands cupped. Even the rector’s eyes were twinklier than usual as he pressed wafers individually into our uplifted hands, saying “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”

The radiant new chalice bearer smiled deeply into our eyes as she offered the cup, saying, “The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation,” her voice low and clear.

The littlest child, sandwiched between Buck and me, dipped her wafer into the wine, then popped it into her mouth. As the chalice bearer drew back to move on to Buck, the little one reached out with both arms and clutched the sleeves of her white robe. “Mommy,” she breathed, her golden hair and baby chick yellow nubby top bathing her in a halo of light.

The chalice bearer’s Dad, the other two children and I looked on, pure love reflected and refracted in this moment between mother and child.

Later, I said to this same little one, “Isn’t your Mommy beautiful?”

“No,” she replied. “She’s not beautiful.”

Her words surprised me. “She’s not?”

“No. She’s gorrr-juss.”

Food and Place

“Deceptively simple.” I think I finally know what that phrase means.

But when I focus on the minute details of food and place in my own life experiences, the more global my thoughts became, wondering how fellow bloggers in China, Australia, Virginia, Boston, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Canada, Wales, Iraq and elsewhere nourish and nurture their physical bodies and spiritual selves, and under what conditions.

The foods we eat depend in large measure upon our geography, culture, philosophy or religion, and economic circumstance. Do we have the freedom to choose what we eat each day or is our menu controlled by others? The locus of our emotional state determines “where we’re at.” To a depressed person, even the most exquisite meal tastes brown, dusty, and hard to swallow, while one basking in emotional sunshine may savor an apple and a hunk of cheese with fulfilled delight.

To a practicing alcoholic, the beer, cigarette and chocolate chip cookie meal may be a daily reality.

To an ill person in the hospital, the blue liquid nutrient delivered through a feeding tube may keep them alive and hydrated with daily requirements for survival, but it can hardly be called food. Or to someone chronically ill with nausea and pain, food may feel like an enemy.

There can be joy and spiritual insight through fasting, when the withholding of food is our own choice.

This morning, I will be at the communion table, partaking of the body and the blood, a bizarre transmogrification, but one in which I participate, hoping that one day something will click and my faith will no longer be elusive. I always take away something of value, a feeling of positive mysticism, feeling that I have indeed been spiritually fed. And yet, walking away, my mouth still damp with wine, a voice in one ear whispers “Believe,” while one in the other breathes, “Look before you leap.”