Archive for October 2011

All Hallow’s Eve

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No witches or hobgoblins are welcome here tonight. Although there are some bats flitting around in the gloaming…and a hoot owl calling from somewhere in the woods…this is a hallowed vigil here in the Carolina countryside on this cold evening. On the front porch…a candle…and a sprig of needlepoint holly…

Holly Berries

From a lovely description of All Hallow’s Eve by Mary Reed Newland (Newland was Sharon’s maiden name)…

“It was in the eighth century that the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of her soon-to-be saints, the feast of All Souls. She chose this time of year, it is supposed, because in her part of the world it was the time of barrenness on the earth. The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter.”

“Apparently how you spent the vigil of All Saints depended on where you lived in Christendom. In Brittany the night was solemn and without a trace of merriment. On their “night of the dead” and for forty-eight hours thereafter, the Bretons believed the poor souls were liberated from Purgatory and were free to visit their old homes. The vigil for the souls, as well as the saints, had to be kept on this night because of course the two days were consecutive feasts — and a vigil is never kept on a feast.”

“The berries of red and their use have their origin ‘way back when holly and evergreens bearing red berries were used to remind the Christians of the blood of Christ and the burning love of Mary for her Child.”

So…tonight…no tricks…no treats. Just a solitary candle in the darkness…a sprig of holly…and a fervent prayer in my heart.

Written by Jim

October 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Last fling

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I’ve always had a fondness for the sound of airplanes. In particular…the ones with reciprocating engines…with a propellor up front. One of my earliest memories is standing outside in the backyard in Chicago, staring up at a gleaming silver object humming along through the cloudless blue skies.

Today was one of those glorious…cool…cloudless sky days here in the Carolinas. A perfect afternoon for sitting on the front porch…alone with the dogs…listening to the crickets sing their last fling before the silence of winter drifts in (it was 28 degrees this morning…everything covered in frost). But today…a reprieve from the inevitable…

The wind in the trees.

Faint hum of an airplane far

in the distance. Peace.

Written by Jim

October 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Sink or swim…

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sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. If you haven’t already…take the dive…

Written by Jim

October 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Into the silence

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“There is a lot of healing to be found in silence…”

Sacred Reading, Michael Casey

I spent the last three days at a monastery on retreat. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, and so on Friday morning, I packed up the dogs, dropped them off at the kennel, and headed on down the road, south to Mepkin Abbey, near Charleston, South Carolina, about a three hour drive. The monastery is located in (strangely enough) Monck’s Corner, in the low country of South Carolina along the eastern banks of the Cooper River. The abbey was founded in 1949 by monks of the Cistercian Order (commonly known as Trappists), on land that was donated by Henry R. Luce and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, the well-known writer and congresswoman. The most imposing thing about the monastery grounds, which are considerable in size, are the very huge and very old live oak trees that dominate the landscape. Their large branches bend back toward the ground, draped with Spanish moss.

Mepkin Oak with Spanish moss

Our Lady of Mepkin

When I arrived at the reception center of the Abbey, Brother Paul welcomed me in a rather low, gentle voice, and provided me with a map of the monastery grounds. He tested me on the location of various buildings that would provide for my well-being during my stay…the guest dining room…the church…the library…and oh yes…the guest house where I would be staying. I was about to tell him that I knew my way around maps pretty well…but decided that was probably unnecessary talking that might be frowned upon. When he was satisfied that I wouldn’t get lost, or possibly end up in a pit of alligators, he handed me the key to my room in St. Benedict house (which happened to be about a half-mile from everything…so a lot of walking was in store). After settling in to my room, and briefly meeting two other gentlemen who were staying in the same house, I was off to a short orientation for first timers to the Abbey, led by Fr. Stan, who I later learned was the Abbot of the monastery. Today’s tour included only myself, and Sister Nancy. Fr. Stan graciously walked us past the library, and then into the church which was rather modern in design, built in 1993. It was beautiful…but again, dominated by the giant live oak which hovered just outside the entrance. He finally showed us where the guest dining room was, and since it was already 5 pm (supper time), he let us go have our supper (the monks have their own dining room next door). Supper was a bowl of what I think was clam chowder, assorted homemade breads, cheese, and some fruit…very good. There’s a policy of complete silence during meals, and this took a little getting used to. Silence is a big thing in a monastery…and it’s something that we tend not to think much about in our usually noisy, media-filled everyday intentional, almost complete silence can work it’s way into your very being, actually affecting how you look at and live in the world. After supper, I walked back to my room, read for a few hours, and then turned in early. Grand Silence begins at 8 pm, and lasts until about 8 am.

early morning walk

On Saturday, I woke up at my usual time of 4:30 am, and since I was up this early, decided to go to the Lauds morning prayer service, which takes place everyday at 5:30 am. Since there was a brilliant, almost full moon in the sky, I decided to forego the use of the flashlight that had thoughtfully been placed on my bedside table. The ensuing half-mile walk to the church, through the morning darkness, was memorable. The chilly air…the shadows of the live oaks that loomed overhead…the many stars that graced the heavens ( I spotted Orion, and the Big Dipper)…the forlorn call of an owl…all interspersed with the occasional muffled thwack of acorns falling from the lofty oak branches and hitting the ground beneath. The silence was starting to envelop me…the world seemed more alive in the darkness than in broad daylight. Arriving at church, I took a seat in the back, and waited as the monks silently filed in and took their seats in the choir, two rows of wooden benches on each side, facing one another. Lauds lasted about thirty minutes…singing the Psalms, and a reading from Jeremiah. The monks meet seven times per day for such services, which comprise the Liturgy of the Hours ( the first at 3:20 am…the last, Compline, at 7:35 pm). If there is anyone helping to hold the world together through their unceasing prayer…it’s men, and women, like this.

Afterwards, at 6 am, breakfast…a bowl of oatmeal…a slice of cinnamon raisin bread…and a much-needed cup of coffee…yums! I even got a cup to go

in the garden

As daylight was breaking, I took a walk to the Mepkin Abbey Gardens, situated on low bluffs overlooking the Cooper River. At that time of day, I had the whole place to myself (it opens to the public at 9 am). The feeling of peacefulness was…indescribable. And…oh yes…I checked out the alligator pit.

Here be alligators

wood carvings


Most of Saturday I spent in my room (or should I say cell), reading a book that I bought at the visitor center, Sacred Reading – The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, by Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk and prior from Australia. Lectio Divina is an age-old, contemplative way of reading sacred books, primarily the Bible. I highly recommend the book.

Supper included rye bread and a slice of cheese, water…and a cup of coffee. It’s not like they starve you…I could have had more…I was just attempting to eat light this weekend.

Cooper River

Sunday morning, after breakfast, I took another walk though the stillness of the gardens. From the bluffs…a mist hanging over the river…the trees in the distance tinged with the red of Autumn…a Great Blue Heron wading on the opposite bank. A very…very…beautiful morning. It’s probably the closest thing on earth to what I imagine heaven must be like. I know that many would say that living in a cloistered life like this just isn’t the real world…that it’s just a form of escapism. But experiencing this for just a few days…the beauty…the hospitality…the all-enveloping silence…THIS is the real world…or what and how the world should be. It was simply amazing, to me, how the silence grabs hold of you and grounds you in what is actually real. I then imagined Sharon whispering in my ear, “If you think this is beautiful…think a gazillion times more beautiful than this…”

in The Labyrinth

Gulf Fritillary

I reluctantly checked out Sunday evening (someone I met there said that I wouldn’t want to leave), dropping off the key to my room at the visitor center, and then beginning the drive back north as the sun was setting…along the road the tops of the trees were aglow. I was in a very good mood until the gloom of darkness fell…driving by fields with luminescent grayish-white cotton bolls waiting to be picked…and through small, unkempt looking towns with their inhabitants flocking to the local fast food joints. Out of the silence…and back into the real world, I suppose. A little disappointed…but at the same time determined…to hopefully bring back a little bit of that world that I briefly experienced…back to my tiny hermitage in the woods.

P.S. I did remember to pick up the dogs…Belle is sound asleep at my feet…snoring away.

Written by Jim

October 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Time to begin

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“The preliminaries are over. The darkness has cleared. It is time to begin.”

The Sacred Journey, Charles Foster

I’ve rarely used Sharon’s car during the last eight months, and so the battery, not surprisingly, died. I tried recharging it, but it appeared to be beyond the point of resuscitation. So…I spent Saturday morning putting in a new battery. Lately, the simplest tasks somehow turn into major projects for me, so I spent the better part of three hours doing what should have taken ten minutes. Finding the right ratchet thingy to fit the nuts (or is it the bolts) that attach the wires to the battery…discovering that it’s a metric nut…10 millimeters to be exact. Discovering that the nut on the negative terminal is an immovable object that won’t be budged no matter how much force is applied…that the bolt is a bit too long for the ratchet thingy to attach properly to the nut . A lot of huffing and puffing…and feeling sorry for myself…as I walk up and back to the tool shed to find the right size of the right tool that I think I need. Finally, resorting to using a hacksaw blade held in my canvas garden gloved right hand to cut and shorten the bolt so that I can then fit the ratchet thingy properly onto the 10mm nut. Congratulating myself…after profusely offering thanks for divine intervention…for getting the old battery out, and  the new battery in. (Did I mention the strange brew of baking soda and water that, at one point, I poured over the corroded negative terminal, which…having used a bit too much of this concoction… created a mound of bubbling foam over the entire battery…and needed to be sopped up with handfuls of paper towels?)

Whew…the battery was now in place…and the car, at last, started up immediately.

Somewhere in the whole process…I think it was when I was trying to loosen the nut with a hammer and a rather sharp wood chisel…the chisel slipped and cut my finger right beside my wedding ring. So I had to go into the house to get a band-aid to keep the bleeding in check. Later in the day, all done with my simple Saturday morning project,  sitting on the front porch, feeling rather proud of my accomplishment, I looked down at my left hand, and noticed that I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring. I had taken it off when I cleaned up my finger and wrapped it with the band-aid. I then realized that it was the first time in over thirteen years that I wasn’t wearing the ring.

Sunday morning, getting ready for church, I noticed the ring on the sink in the bathroom where I had laid it the previous day. I was about to put it on again when the words…”Leave it off…time to let me go”…suddenly popped into my head. Up until that point, I hadn’t really planned on ever taking the ring off, but at that moment, it seemed like the most natural thing to do. It’s now on Sharon’s ring holder, a little glass heart-shaped dish with a post in the center…right next to her wedding ring.


Written by Jim

October 10, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Grieving

In thin places

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It’s been said that there are thin places on this earth…where the membrane between this world and the next is so thin that we can become aware of some otherworldly presence seeping into our ordinary, mundane world. It’s a nice thought…that our loved ones who have passed might be closer than we think. Not somewhere out there… up there…in heavenly places millions of miles away…but maybe right here…in some other dimension that is co-located with our own.

Sharon and I used to enjoy some very simple things…like grabbing a cup of coffee and a biscotti from the local 7-Eleven, and driving to the nearby beach in Capitola, where we would sit in the evening looking up at the night sky…spotting our favorite constellation of stars…Orion…hanging over the dark wildness of Monterey Bay. It was easy at the time to forget our everyday cares for a while.

More recently, when I take the dogs out in the cool, early morning darkness before I head out to work…I stand and look up at the bright stars in the silence…at Orion slowly wheeling overhead…and wonder…are you that far away…or are you closer than I can even imagine. I’m still struggling with those thoughts…

Years ago, when I was in University, I became aware of certain days that had a qualitative difference about them. At the time, I used to call them cosmic days…where there was a palpable peacefulness…and a simple is-ness to the day that couldn’t quite be explained. Everything just seemed…well, right. Since then, I’ve occasionally had the same feeling. Last weekend in particular…vibrant, cool autumn days…the wind blowing through the trees…everything seemingly in its place…and simply being what it was meant to be.

The presence of the Holy Spirit…or whatever we wish to call it? The thinning of the membrane between this world and the next? I’m just not sure. I only know that it’s real…whatever it is…and I’m longing for the breakthrough where it becomes permanent…and never-ending.

Written by Jim

October 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Grieving, Musings, Spiritual

Subtle beauties

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Today was simply…luminous. Arrived back home late last night. The second leg of my journey back from southern California…Houston to Charlotte…during the twilight gloaming…was beautiful. Slowly drifting over the gulf states…a blood red ribbon of light on the western horizon…between the deep blackish blue above, and the dark misty grey below…lights of civilization turning back the approaching darkness. The Mississippi river…serpentine…almost metallic…flowing south to the Gulf.
Circling the Queen City on our final approach…home again.
This morning…cold…quiet…just wind gently rustling the leaves in the trees. The crisp, dry leaves of autumn…with a tinge of color.
Took a short drive to pick up the girls at the kennel. When we turned onto our dirt and gravel road, Belle started yapping unrelentingly…she was glad to be back home too.
Today was a good day to ‘stop and smell the roses’. We spent a large part of this cool Autumn day sitting on the porch…occupied with weighty matters…like the distinction between partly sunny and partly cloudy skies…and gazing out on the subtle beauties of wildflowers.


Written by Jim

October 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Musings, Nature, Travel