Thursday, November 19, 2009

Magic Mountain: poetry as personal recollection

William Wordsworth defined poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.” While that may not always be the case, it does point out the usefulness of poetry in remembering, one of the spiritual disciplines. Re-member is the opposite of dis-member, and means to once again bring together the members or parts of an experience. Poetry helps me do this.

Sometimes the poem helps me work through a difficult memory and come to a place of new understanding and peace. Some of these poems are whole enough to publish or share with others. Many are for my eyes and heart alone. Often the poem is just a way to help small but meaningful events from the past surface and become accessible. And so the whole story grows clearer. The following is one such memory.


The last time I rode a roller coaster
I had just turned 50. I’m not sure
what made me get on, but somehow
I found myself belted in, gripping
the arm of my husband of some 25 plus
years, as we started the slow ascent.
Its name, “The Viper,” should have
made me think twice. I thought more
than twice on the way up. “I’m
sorry for everything,” I prayed, eyes
shut tight. “Please save me.” Poised
three seconds at the top, I forgot to breathe.
Breath and prayer became irrelevant
as we plummeted down, then up
and around and down again, trees and
buildings a blur, the death grip
on my loved one’s arm tightening.
But somewhere on that last curve,
seconds before we eased to the station,
I looked at him. He looked at me. We grinned.
The third time around I sang Psalms.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Favorite things (Part 1)

Favorite time of day: Early morning, before dawn.

Favorite food: Whatever Hal cooks (especially if he cleans up afterward).

Favorite movie: Babette´s Feast.

Favorite sound: Water, in all its natural manifestations. While at the beach (as I was last week), the waves pounding the shore draw me. In the mountains, it could be a stream over pebbles. Waterfalls work well, too, especially small ones.

Favorite devotional practice: Community silence and listening, Quaker style.

Favorite blog: “Can You Believe?” by Johan Maurer. It was this blog (and friendship) that pushed me to begin my own. (In other words, it’s all his fault.) And, yes, I can believe.

Favorite flashlight: It’s small, slender and exceedingly purple. It fits into a black sock-like case and goes with me when I travel. I found it in my Christmas stocking two years ago.

Favorite piece of night sky: In the southern hemisphere, in the country of Bolivia, in the village of Samaipata. I stand on a hill with no electricity for miles around, look up and am amazed at the bright thickness of galaxies without number.

Favorite collection: Heart rocks. Ever since my friend, Priscilla, generously let me choose a rock from her collection, I’ve been finding my own heart-shapes on the beach. The basket at home is supposedly for my grandkids, but actually I’m the one who likes to take out the heart rocks, feel their textures, admire their markings and lay them out in patterns on the rug.

Favorite grandchild: Impossible to choose. Each one is my favorite. Bree, Reilly, Aren, Paige, Gwen, Peter and Alandra, just like those galaxies, you light up my life. I gladly pass on to you all I call mine—my books, my sea-shells, my memories, my place in line.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The mending moon and the sea lion

Broken and broken
again on the sea, the moon
so easily mends.
(old Japanese haiku)

Hal and I have been at Twin Rocks Friends Camp since Friday afternoon. During the weekend, we joined with Fred Gregory in leading the annual Seminar by the Sea on the topic, “US Christians: Understanding and Engaging the World’s New Realities.” We basically told parts of our own cross-cultural stories, encouraged participants to do the same, and, with the help of a challenging bibliography, attempted to come up with helpful principles and attitudes. Lively participation contributed to a good weekend. I’m satisfied, and relieved it’s over.

Now Hal and I are giving ourselves the gift of a week in the Captain’s Cabin, overlooking the ocean.

Yesterday morning I woke up well before dawn and peeked through the blinds to see if the ocean was visible in the dark. What I saw was not dark at all—a full moon, reflected back in the water. I woke Hal up, thinking that even at 5:00 on the first morning of our four-day vacation, he’d be delighted at the idea of a moonlit stroll on the beach. In fact, he was. We quickly layered on warm clothes and made our way outside and down the path.

Dawn was still hours away, but moonlight flooded the wide beach. We were at low tide and the feeling of spaciousness invited us to walk far. As we wandered, the path of light on the water moved with us. One early morning jogger passed us, but other than that we were alone with all the splendor to ourselves.

As we walked the eastern horizon slowly changed from black to grey, and the moon sunk lower in the west. Some time still before dawn we noticed a Black Thing about 30feet away from us on the sand. The unusual shape caught our attention; it didn’t look like sea weed or drift wood. Perhaps it was a wounded animal. Then it swayed and began moving in clumsy jerks toward the ocean. We just stood still and watched, soon recognizing it as a sea lion. It must have swum in with the night’s high tide and then, for some reason, been stranded.

We watched, fascinated, as it lifted its head and ambled forward, stopped, looked around, rolled in the sand awhile, got up and did it all over again. It obviously was drawn to the water, but at the same time it seemed hesitant, as though it were looking back with longing at the land. Following its backward glance, we saw another Black Thing up near the cliffs. A wounded cub or companion? My imagination went to work. Maybe the sea lion itself was wounded?

Over the course of the next 15 minutes we saw it cross about 150 feet of beach and at last enter the ocean. I felt a tremendous relief. And also a curiosity. We decided to investigate the other Black Thing and slowly approached it. If it were a wounded beast, what should we do? Attempting a rescue could result in getting bitten (do sea lions bite?) or in scaring the animal to death before we could drag it to the sea. We discussed this in whispers as we moved closer.

The moon, now covered by mist, didn’t help us, and it wasn’t until we were just two feet away that we realized the wounded beast was a tree stump. So much for the mysterious Black Thing. But in the growing light we studied the markings in the sand, saw where the sea lion had lain, saw where he apparently had thrashed around, and were able to follow his trek back to the ocean. We found no tracks leading inland; these had been erased by the outgoing tides. We also found dog tracks surrounded the area which adds fuel to imagination.

By this time the moon was completely covered by low-lying clouds, and although the sun had not yet crested the mountains in the east, it was clearly dawn, time to go home. Our feet were cold, but our hearts, warm.

What a gift. What a wonderful way to begin a retreat. It leaves me wondering, what next?