We are beloved companions on a mystic journey, sharing our solitude and holding the world in the divine prayer of love.

"Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory. Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance. And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation."
- from St. Clare's third letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Snow on Spanish Moss at Casa Chiara
The days of Advent have passed and the days of Christmas have begun. I think of these days from December 25th to January 6th as being secret days, days of intimacy, such as families celebrate with infants before the crowds of relatives and friends begin to gather with gifts, kisses and hugs. As a feast of the heart, Christmas has many facets--silence and awe, singing and rejoicing, generosity and graciousness, awakening to the Divine Child within each of us and in creation as a whole. The Christ of God has a threefold coming--historically among the Jewish people, individually to each person, and universally as the Cosmic Christ beyond all time and space.

My life's elder, Mother Ann the Mistress of Novices, used to tell us that the Days of Christmas lasted until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem. The twelve days of Christmas end on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany, the "showing" or "manifestation."

We see and we receive when we are poor in spirit. Meister Eckhart reminds us in his Christmas sermons that it means nothing that Christ was once born in history if he is not born now in our hearts. And to receive such a Divine Gift, the heart must be poor, empty, open and accepting.

It can take a lifetime for the human heart to let go enough to receive the Gift of Christmas. This very day a woman told me she no longer observes Christmas because she's just too tired of creating festivities and giving gifts that no one appreciates. (not what they wanted, not expensive enough, not stylish enough). So she's given up on it altogether. She's very close now to being empty, perhaps, and her disappointment and resentment could crack open at any moment to let a New Light of reconciliation enter through a yet unexplored openness in her own heart. The Gift, after all, is not a new smartphone--it is Divine Love passing through us, one to the other, unconditionally.

I can't stop looking at the photo I took the other day, the day it snowed. It's only an oak branch covered with moss, covered with snow. But look how it shines! Look at those little droplets of gold! What are they? Do you see the stars in the snow? The light in the flakes? The flakes themselves still falling in front and onto those already balanced on the oak limbs? I can't stop looking. I can't stop opening to the beauty of it, the promise.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lift the Fog

Art by Alison Scott
Fog obscures the mountains this morning. Mo, the hermitage dog, called John and me to prayer. I lit the candles and stood for a moment, still thinking about the children and their teachers who were victims of such violence as has been repeated in various places and times even during my own short span of life. We began singing our plainchant prayer. Ave Maria...Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen. "Hail Mary...Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen."

Powerfully, then, a sense of Holy Motherhood flooded me, along with a realization that this is what we desperately need in our culture and around the world. A mothering of God within our souls and towards the Divine Child that resides in everyone and everything.

We are limited creatures, and most often it takes a lifetime (and possibly more than one) to comprehend the eternal value of what our existence means and how we are to live. The Sandy Hook massacre brings me to my knees...that human beings are capable of this. We are capable. There is a frightened, often angry child in the depth of the human soul that needs the embrace of love, the compassion that accepts, the mother in all of us: woman, man and child. (I wrote first about this yesterday at Sunshine Hill)

After chanting the psalms, after a deep contemplation of the presence of the Holy One among us, we prayed for those who have died as victims of violence. May violence be rooted from our hearts. May the fog of our blindness lift. May the Mother of our souls comfort us. May the Holy Spirit of Life transform our fear and anger and bring us to an experience of our oneness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

La Morenita

Here is the Dark Lady of Tepeyac, Mother of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Today we are remembering her and her servant, the hermit Juan Diego. It is a miracle-story of God's compassion for human poverty and need making itself known through the gentle understanding of the Mother of the Son of God, clothed with the sun. She appeared on a Mexican hill to Juan Diego and said, "Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all thing live."

 In Advent we contemplate not only our own poverty, but the poverty of God who became human through the act of emptying, of letting go, of descending into the dark heaviness of earth, matter, mother-womb. That the Divine out of which the universe came forth--every galaxy and shining star, every brilliant cloud of unformed matter, every quark and string--should take such fragile form, seeded in a woman's womb, born as an infant who is completely dependent upon us, who cannot speak or feed himself, who requires human love simply boggles the mind. It can only be received into the heart. And that reception requires that the heart be empty, too. This is poverty of spirit: emptiness, openness, receptiveness. As Mary was when she received the divine seed, as the infant of Bethlehem is, as was Juan Diego, as if we are blessed are we. Spacious with poverty. Open to receive. Then from our emptiness and poverty of spirit the Light will shine. In the words of Sirach 50:5-10 "How glorious he was, surrounded by the people, as he came out of the house of the curtain. Like the morning star among the clouds, like the full moon at the festal season; like the sun shining on the temple of the Most High, like the rainbow gleaming in splendid clouds; like roses in the days of first fruits, like lilies by a spring of water, like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day; like fire and incense in the censer, like a vessel of hammered gold studded with all kinds of precious stones; like an olive tree laden with fruit, and like a cypress towering in the clouds."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Morning Has Broken

Morning at Casa Chiara begins practically, in darkness, when MoMo, the hermitage Pomerhuahua tells us he needs to pee. Then we move to the morning room for first coffee, while Mo curls by the fireplace.

When the cups are nearly empty (and how does Mo know?), he heads down the hallway to our chapel, the west half of Christin’s office, and barks once, his sound for Oremus, Let us Pray. While Christin lights candles and incense, I organize the ribbons in the Benedictine breviaries we use to pray the canonical hours. We begin by renewing our marriage vows, then chant the Office of Readings and Lauds, even more special than usual this first Sunday of Advent. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, for the day of the Lord is near.” Between the two hours, we celebrate a communion service and share a time of contemplation.

We have enjoyed a steady, cleansing rain for the last several days, but as Lauds ends, the sun leaps into the sky and the raindrops clinging to our scrub oaks glisten like millions of tiny white Christmas lights. Morning has broken!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent Begins at Casa Chiara

I've dedicated this day to Chiara of Assisi, and searching for images of her I came across this one by John R. Howley, St. Clare , a painting that set fire to my heart. Even the brush strokes, seen clearly if the image is enlarged, communicate something of the meaning of her life--her love and devotion to Lady Poverty. At the same time I find the painting a mystical representation. Look at her eyes, shrouded in mystery as was her life. We have legends. Some letters survive. We have her Rule. There's an embroidered robe she allegedly made for Francis. We have reference to her in the first of Thomas of Celano's biographies of St. Francis. And we have the Vatican's canonization document. Other than that we have probably the most vital and clear portrayal of her life: the lives of those who find her as a sister to their own hearts, who live her dreams, who write poetry and music according to her rhythms, who excavate the legends of her for their deeper and purer meanings, who paint her image according to the mirror in their own hearts.

It is said in one legend that she so longed for Christ one Christmas Eve that she was drawn to the chapel in San Damiano to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Her sisters were awakened by a strange sound--the crying of an infant. They hurried towards the sound and found Chiara, standing before the altar, holding the Christ Child in her arms.

It is as Meister Eckhart wrote some years later: "What does it avail me if this birth [of Christ] takes place unceasingly, and yet does not take place within myself?"

Chiara herself wrote in the fourth of her letters to Blessed Agnes of Prague:

"O Marvelous humility
 O astonishing poverty!
The King of angels,
The Lord of heaven and earth,
Is laid in a manger!"

And Murray Bodo, O.F.M. gives us these lines of a poem:

She writes:
      Gaze into that mirror each day
            until you see your own face within it.

That contemplation wherein Jesus' face
       becomes your own
             Adorns your whole body

with the flowers and garments
        which are all the virtues:
              at the border of the mirror

the swaddling clothes of poverty;
         at the surface the laborer's tunic of humility;
                in the depth of the mirror

the nakedness of Love....