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.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reflections--The Mirror of Being

At sunset on the feast of Clare of Assisi (August 11) I sat in my chair in the living room and watched as this image appeared on the wall in front of me. The picture I painted years ago of the swirl of energy in the universe and in the human body-soul has lately come to resemble a Madonna and Child. It's what I see that for years I didn't see. In the reflection of sunset over her is the shadow of the ancient oak that graces our back yard, which to the Celtic people is the world tree, the core, the center of the universe and of Being-Itself. It holds us grounded. Around it we dance the dance of life.

I think, then, of a woman I saw on a street bench in Port Townsend last week. Her eyes stared into nothingness. Her face resembled browned parchment. She caressed that face over and over, her gnarled hand passing tenderly down from her hairline, curling around her chin, back up over her ear, through her hair to the top of her head and down again to her face in a kind of gentle infinity motion. Her presence stopped me in my tracks. What did I see in her?

We see what is in us to see. Clare wrote of gazing into the Mirror of Christ and discovering there her true self. I tried this and all I saw was the face of Christ. I felt disappointed; I expected to find my true self. Then one day that experience turned around completely topsy-turvy, completely inside-out. Had I ever seen myself except in a mirror? No. There's the physical mirror in the bathroom, of course, and it reflects my physical face, but there is also the mirror of another person's eyes. More than that, there is the mirror of the other person as an individual. More than that there is the mirror of the world, of the oak tree, of the bird and the river and the mountain and all the multitudinous things that fill the universe. I can see my Self only by reflection.

Several spiritual traditions have the saying: "I Am That." Back in the 1990's I was giving a talk to a large group of women and found myself saying, "I Am You," after which one woman stood right up from her chair and called out with an absolute kind of certainty, "You are NOT me!" (And now I admit to thinking, Thank God!) But now I also think that both of us were right.

We are the One and we are each the Many. It's a both/and. In the mirror of the Universe, of the tree, rock and cloud, and of a near infinity of others each of us can see that she is the Many, and in the mirror of Christ the Divine each disappears into the One.

This is earth. There's no escaping incarnation. There's no escaping time and space. But time is only time for a moment (as the poet, Eliot, says). We go in and out of time. Space, also, is ever and only space. Sometimes, looking into the mirror of anything--that photograph, for example--a single individual passes through into a wonderland of Oneness, an Infinite Wholeness that might be Christ as it was to Clare, or might be Krishna, or even (and I'm not being facetious) it might be a bag lady tracing infinity on her face as she sits at a street corner in my former hometown. And in that moment in and out of time I see! As another poet (Hopkins) cries out:

In a flash, at a trumpet crash 
I am all at once what Christ is,  'since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, 'patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond" 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Walking Stick

Take up your walking stick
And go out into the world
...the old...lean on sticks or on each other. All mortals come to this.

         (Anne Carson in her introduction to "Herakles" in Grief Lessons.)

When people see me with my walking stick these days they ask what happened. A few have asked if the ironwood stick is a fashion statement, or if I actually need it. So I've been telling them, "I fell on my knees," and some of them wince. It's true that a month ago I did fall on my knees, then flat out on the concrete sidewalk leading up from the road to Casa Chiara. Often this leads to a discussion about care and watchfulness we need to practice as we age.

But one friend simply said, "Now you have fallen on your knees," repeating almost exactly what I'd said, but with far deeper meaning. We speak of falling on our knees before the sacred, the inexplicable, in an attitude or posture of existential wonder. We fall on our knees in humility, in recognition of the paradox of our being, the combination of mud and magnificence, of frailty and glory. We fall on our knees in grief over all we haven't understood, and in awe over what yet will come to be revealed.

Falling on my knees in such a physical way taught me something about spiritual falling that I hadn't considered until I was made aware of that larger dimension. I couldn't get up on my own. I couldn't walk on my own. I couldn't rise from a sitting position. I couldn't sit down once I was standing. In the space of a breath I lost my independence. To the rational mind all this appears obvious. Ask anyone. But when the fall actually happens the rational mind goes dark. The body expects to act as always and is surprised. We fall from pride. We fall from the illusion of independence. We fall from arrogance. We fall from self-centered inattention. We fall from anger and self-adulation and attempts to control. We fall, if we can see and accept it, out of our limited egos into love."

At every level of being life requires love and the help love gives. Falling teaches that. If John hadn't been across the road and seen me, and if he hadn't called our neighbor Cliff for help, I might still be lying there. The three of us leaned on each other.

In the myth even the strongest human ever to walk the earth falls. As Anne Carson explains in her introduction to her translation of Herakles by Euripides: "Herakles ... enters gloriously upright but is soon reduced to a huddled and broken form. His task in the last third of the play is to rise from this prostration, which he does with the help of Theseus. Euripides makes clear that Herakles exits at the end leaning on his friend...a new Heraklean posture...collaborative heroism."

"When I am weak, then I am strong," writes Paul of Tarsus. Why? Maybe in weakness, after the fall, my life-story disappears in the realization that I fabricated the whole thing. When I fall and am picked up and supported by love, the play ends. No more illusion. No more strength based on an invention that I am separate and sufficient unto myself. I am connected. I lean--upon my walking stick, upon my friend--whoever, in any moment, that turns out to be.

Friday, May 1, 2015

As Yellow Deepens To Brown

An email arrived this morning from my dear friend, Allison Scott--exquisite photographer, maker of greeting cards, tender soul. tinyurl.com/alicatcards. She always inspires me by choosing among her many works of art one that conveys a grace that is moving in my soul. This morning she has added a stanza from one of Wendell Berry's poems.

Did I believe that I had a clear mind? 
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken the ice, I see what I thought
was the light is part of the darkness."

Wendell Berry, from BREAKING

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sunset of the Yellow Years

June, 2003 of the Yellow Years--photo by Krista Karels
This morning I awoke to a voice in my head yelling over and over at me: "I can't do this any more!"
"Do what?" I inquired. "And who IS this, anyhow?" Total Silence. I continued to lie there, not moving, not wanting to disturb this ... whatever it was ... this awfully uncomfortable thing inside me.
By this time in life I know what to do with the uncomfortable things. Observe. Gaze. DO NOT MOVE FROM THAT SPOT! Look it straight in the eyes (or, in this instance, listen to every vibration) until it yields up its secret truth. Something has pushed it from its comfort zone out to the edge of consciousness. Don't let it fall into obscurity. The temptation to think of something else--to forget--to avoid--to fight with someone/anyone--to grab the Kindle and click onto the latest book--to focus on anything but THIS which is so obviously overwhelming.

I kept my eyes closed. I knew what to do: go to that place where dreams arise. I'd been dreaming something, hadn't I? Yes.

I make my way through a complete dark.
The Way has no delineation.
The Yellow Years are gone.
I must leave this yellow house.

Ah. The house again. The deconstruction. The re-construction. The color of the paint. The whole thing is a metaphor for a powerful and essential personal transformation. Suddenly I'm aware that "this" which no longer can be done or be in charge is the "old me." I'm no longer in my "yellow years." They were beautiful years of roses and song and dancing. They were years of intense creativity--of writing all the books. They were the John Weber years of romance and dreams coming true. We found this house in those years, a sunshine house on a hill. The yellow years were a gift beyond words. But even the most beautiful that this world has to offer cannot be enough. What does sunshine do, after all, but penetrate the earth to transform what is living but unseen within and make it grow? 

John Weber became ill in 2003, just before the lovely picture of the yellow house was taken. He died in 2008, and the yellow began to fade. With John Sack I am beginning to find a deeper self I haven't yet completely come to know. It seemed to come upon me suddenly, the requirement I spoke of yesterday when I said the skin needed to be ripped from the house. Even then I hadn't awakened to the passing of the yellow years. I haven't wanted to let them go. But the new self in me was becoming claustrophobic in this yellow house. (Can you know what I mean? Have you experienced this? It's such a paradox, don't you think?) But yellow is but one color on the spectrum, while brown contains them all.

I read a poem the other day by Lisa Ciccarello that may also have contributed to the intensity that drives such experiences to the surface. Let me share it:

Here is how I control my heart: I string each thought one behind the next, like beads. 

I wear the answers I am waiting to give. The jewelry becomes heavy as soil. 

My long blink is a scream & a yes. There are things I have to say, but they do not yet know the questions they must ask. & a blink is no word; if they misunderstand—

A heart is just soil. Ask anyone. A heartbeat is a blink. A long blink is a scream. A longer blink is sleep. All night I am screaming.

John Weber and I at sunset of the Yellow Years--taken by Krista Karels

Most Recent Book by Ciccarello

(Black Ocean Press, 2015)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

House as Body

Casa Chiara House in 2004
When workers found rot in the siding they began by tearing off the skin. We could feel the shuttering of the house from inside. We agreed to trash the yellow. Wasn't the sunshine on the hill enough? When the house stood naked they ripped deeper. We could hear the power saws and drills. The house became a tooth under the dentist's drill. The house became a body in an operating room. I opened Pandora's box to empty music through the tunnels of my ears. Outside now the pounding reverberated through skin and bone to heart and mind. Our skin picked up vibrations like drums.

A day arrived in three weeks of this that I didn't recognize the house in its new skin awaiting paint. I couldn't choose. It wouldn't have mattered what color the paint might be. The color wheel spectrum gives us options now that only Dante imagined before while giving words to Paradiso. For some reason I still don't understand, the house no longer could be yellow. Green, perhaps? Like leaves, like moss, like grass before it turns. A swatch of green on new siding--but no. It appeared artificial on what had always been a living thing: this hermitage.

We turned the color wheel and both chose brown. We chose earth, the lightness of it, the dark. We chose brown, and still I woke in the middle of the night wondering, worrying--where would the sunshine be if the house were brown? Not brown, the swatches say: Briar. Khaki, Smokehouse. Virtual Taupe, Cobble. Sable. Down Home. Angora. Poised Taupe. Otter. Van Dyke.

Years ago when my dear friend and soul-sister, Alla Bozarth, asked me about my favorite color, I told her brown. "BROWN????" The decorations in her home were Russian Red and gold and black, intense blues, silver in some paintings on the wall, purple, mauve, a feast of color. Over the years I worked to make my imagination more colorful.

But we will paint Casa Chiara Hermitage two shades of brown with white trim, and it will be as though wearing the simple, earthy garb of Francis and Clare. When I think that the house might disappear from view up on this hilltop, no longer the yellow landmark it once was, I remember that fifteen years ago I was not so comfortable with the yellow until it came to have a meaning beyond itself. Brown tones have that meaning for me already.

For all this, I realize I sound as though I'm making my "apologia." You're right. I'm not comfortable with any of this at all. All my life I've been in awe of people who build their own houses, choose the shape and size and form and colors they most like. I'll never do that! I proclaimed with (now I see) a rather arrogant and simplistic certainty. Be careful of such certainty. I've seen too often how certainty is toppled and crushed under the earthquake of reality. We fall back then into the all-inclusive brown, the humus of earth, the shadowland of self we call humility.

Under Construction

Saturday, January 17, 2015


A leaf of the Madrone collects drops of rain these January days. It is a forest shell. I bend and snap the image up into my phone's camera during our walk along one of the trails near Casa Chiara. We've had a guest with us these days--a friend of John's from college years at Yale. Imagine over fifty years of stories, aspirations, loves and losses needing to be shared. I am filled up to the brim with all of it, the immensity, the endurance, the radiance, the laughter, and the tenderness (oh, the tenderness that a long life can bring towards all that is upon the earth.) Mo feels it, dear little Mo who keeps as close to our friend as possible. We all absorb each other's life like rain falling on thirsty souls. We drink each other in like moss drinks January rain, needing little else.

What is in us that cannot be said? "Thoughts that do often lie too deep for words," as the poet Wordsworth mused. But all three of us are writers, multiplying words in the never ending task of bringing form to the formless. There is so much love in us this day there can be no denying it, but no word can capture it either. There's a clue in the leaf that captures rain, in the moss that drinks.

All through my life I have been loved, and yet I am like moss in my yearning. There's so much of it, you'd think it hadn't already been fulfilled. The rain is right now falling! I remind myself. Why aren't I satisfied? Is the yearning a holdover from a former lifetime, one in which I was deprived of love? But this morning it came to me that my yearning is not my own alone. It is the yearning of Form for Essential Being/Existence. In each fragment of matter, even in me, is felt that yearning for incorporation into the Allness. It is the Love that grounds all love. The psalm came to me, “Like a deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for You my God. My soul is yearning for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the Face of God?”

This is a universal yearning; that of Form for the Formless/the Formless for an adequate and perfect Form. This is the Fire that rain can't quench. This is the Passion of the Spirit as well as of the material form. This is why nothing else satisfies. Even if mind insists (and rightly so) that the Divine Fullness is the heart and pulse of all form, of the micro and macrocosm, still even the most minute of forms longs for the realization IN ITSELF of that universal consciousness. This is the Fire in form that consumes the heart and trans-forms. “The whole universe groans in a great act of birthing,” says St. Paul. (Romans 8). It is the thirst of all creation for the life-giving rain.

We walk. Our voices form the words for stories, ideas, descriptions, and the words combine with the sounds of rain on leaves, and the songs of birds when the sun breaks through. We are all together a symphony of being. Each movement brings back the same theme, introduced/intensified/made more complex/combining complexities/weaving the tonal poem together/unifying/rising towards simplicity/made One in what we imagine as the Fullness of Love. A single Tone in which Being is Form and Form is Being in an Eternal Instant.

Such a mystery--because from the outside it looks like a walk in the woods. Three people and a dog.