Archive for January, 2011



The time of day when everything is most fully itself


When light sheds light


When edges are soft and kind


When eyes no longer squint but open wide


When the day sighs with satisfaction


When thoughts turn to gathering in


When all is in-between light and dark and there is no either-or





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Have you ever played that game where you sit across from a friend and you each draw the other without looking at the paper and without lifting your pencil?  I always loved how grotesque those drawings turned out and they were always hilarious.  A rollicking good time.  Those drawings required concentration and a good dose of will-power.  It was really hard not to look at the paper as you were drawing and stay focused on the face of your friend.


I’ve been reading — working through, really – two books lately.  One is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  The other is The Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck.  Both are about drawing, but even more about learning to see differently.


Today I did an exercise in seeing – I crumbled up a piece of paper and drew it without looking.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  And as I drew this crumpled-up piece of paper, an amazing thing happened.  I began to see an iceberg.


Now I’m not advocating drawing as the new hallucinogen.  What I mean is that I became so absorbed in the experience of seeing that it was as if I went inside the iceberg.  Oops, I mean crumpled paper.  See what I mean?  I felt as though I was exploring the cavernous expanse of an iceberg, making my way toward the shaft of light in the center.


I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been a little high-strung lately.  Nothing serious, just the normal ebb and flow of life, the human condition and all that.  And like the puzzle of Two Dutch Girls, drawing – without worrying about what it looked like – just doing it, and doing it slowly, settled me down.


The light in the center.  That’s where I went.  And when I came out I felt centered and full of light.




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O Christmas Tree!


‘Tis the season where more and more Christmas trees can be found lying on curbsides and garbage piles.  It makes me so sad, this mass purging of trees from homes.  I’m not sure if it feels like Christmas has been all used up and tossed out with the rest of the torn wrapping paper and trash, or if it’s that the tree is still so green, so alive looking that makes me sad.


I want to collect them all and make a little forest.  I want to bring them into my home during the whole season of winter and let their greenness say daily that this is not the end.  There will be green days again.  There will be a spring.


Once upon a time I was a youth pastor, and I was thinking about the trees and about symbols and Christmas and Easter.  I found a tree and brought it into our youth room during Advent.  After Christmas, when it began to shed its needles, we took it outside and gave it some dignity, letting it stay standing.  It turned fully brown, and its branches began to droop, but did not drop all its needles.  We put a sign on it: “Do Not Throw Away”.


At the beginning of Lent we sawed off all the branches and wired them together in one long piece.  I’d intended it to be straight, but the branches sagged and dried that way, so it ended up being more of an arc.  When we finished we attached it perpendicular to the now-bare trunk, made a cross, and brought it back inside.  Our Christmas tree cross was so ugly, and so beautiful.  The sagging cross section looked like tired, limp arms as they hung there.


I don’t remember what happened to the tree after Easter, but that was the only time I can remember feeling satisfied and at peace about the lifecycle of the Christmas tree.  I hope someone took it home and used it for firewood, to kindle the flame of the Advent wreath candle on the first day Advent the following year.



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This one comes with a major sense of accomplishment.  Many of us live lives that refuse to be quantified; we can’t often point to something at the end of the day and say, “I did that.”


It’s nice to finally be able to do that with “Two Dutch Girls – A Real Wooden Puzzle,” a piece that I’ve wanted to write for a number of years.  It’s about a puzzle, and time, and renewal.


Here’s an excerpt:


Despite having written about slowing down in my December PeaceSigns article <http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/m.pl?a=803>, I struggled to finish making all my homemade gifts, host and attend holiday gatherings, pack for our visit to California, and maintain some semblance of Advent preparation. Just at the point when I felt I might come apart at the seams, I took out this puzzle.

(For the full article, click here.)




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Airport Birdhouses

Birdhouses inside FAT


I’ve seen birds in public buildings before (mostly in grocery stores), but I’ve never seen birdhouses for said birds until we were on our way back to Atlanta from Fresno after Christmas.  My husband pointed them out to me, undoubtedly in an attempt to distract me from thinking about getting on an airplane.


But there they were, two wooden birdhouses perched way up high.  I did that thing I always do when struck by something: I came to a standstill as if caught by tar.  My husband called to me that we were not yet at our gate and I snapped out of my reverie and lumbered on, laden with luggage.


I sat at the gate for a few moments to catch my breath after hauling a ridiculous amount of new and old belongings, which by this time included eight vintage Pyrex bowls that I got for Christmas.  I stared out the window at the snowcapped Sierras and I thought about the birdhouses.  I had to go back and take a picture of them.  My husband teased me that taking photographs in the airport might look sketchy and provoke security.  I gave him a playful nudge, fished out my camera, and went back.


But there really were security cameras immediately beneath the birdhouses and I did hesitate for a moment.  It could look like I was photographing positions of airport security cameras or some other such sinister plot.  Of course, nothing happened and I assure you I’m not writing this from a prison cell.


I’d like to think that the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT – yes, really) is thinking outside the box on this.  Never mind that the birdhouses are essentially boxes — that’s not the point.


I’d love to think that FAT has found a way to coexist peacefully with these creatures that might be a pain to them.  But really, it’s more than coexisting – it’s a genuine act of hospitality and care.  The birds are stuck there and I’m sure would much rather be out in nature than trapped perpetually in an airport.  Who wouldn’t?  And I’m sure FAT would much rather there not be wild creatures roaming about at will in their airport.


I found these small wooden structures, surrounded by metal and paint and plastic, to be so beautiful and so inspiring.  I never imagined I would learn about acceptance and tolerance, hospitality and care, coexistence and peace, from an airport.




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Mostly Clear


The sidewalks were mostly clear of snow and ice when I went out for a walk this morning.  The first time my feet lost traction for a moment, I couldn’t help asking myself if now is a time…


… to walk only in the sun and stay away from the shadows?


… to be extra cautious and vigilant or to take a risk?


… for patience or for action?


Is it even worth it if I’m more focused on where to place my next step than I am on enjoying the walk and my surroundings?


I found myself heading down to a bridge where there is a stream and thought it maybe wasn’t a good idea.  Just before turning back I decided to see if there was actually still ice on the hill.  There wasn’t.


The bridge itself, however, was covered in ice.  I stood there for a minute, a bit disappointed, and listened to the water.  Then I looked across the street and thought I might cross over.  I’d never been on that side.


From the other side of the street I saw a path in the snow that went along the stream on this side of the bridge.  And even better, there was a tree stump that wasn’t entirely covered in snow that looked like a good place to sit.  So I sat.  And I listened.  And I heard birds and water and all the other little sounds you hear sitting by a stream in a wooded area.


The mud path continued and even though I’d never been on it I thought I probably knew where it went.  I wanted to find out and keep going but I didn’t have any water, and no one of whom I could demand food, and it was getting on lunchtime.  I don’t know about you, but I get weird when I need food and water and I didn’t want to have to call my husband to have him come pick me up, especially if I was unable to tell him exactly where I was.


I had already been carrying my hat in my hand like a basket for some time.  At some point I’d stuffed my gloves into my hat.  Now as I turned toward home I shed my coat as well.


I don’t know when I stopped asking myself questions about whether ‘mostly clear’ was a good enough time.  But as I picked my way back up the hill I realized that my feet had answered that question after the first little slip on the ice.



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The world is full of


maybes and mights


shalls and wills


shoulds and coulds and woulds.


But where are all the ises?




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