delithopia

Notes from the Waxhaws

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Up to us

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It is written in the stars. Down through the ages, people have looked to the heavens…for explanation…as well as for inspiration. Comets were seen as harbingers of great events…and we’ve all heard of star-crossed lovers. With the advent of the industrial age, along with electrification, our night skies have been growing dimmer…losing their explanatory powers.

The word disaster comes from the Italian disastro, meaning an ill-starred event. In his book, 365 Tao, Ming-Dao Deng tells us that, “Disaster strikes at its own time. It is so overwhelming that we can do nothing other than accept it. It alters the very course of our days, our work, our very thinking.”

Disaster can collectively visit a multitude of people…a planeload of unsuspecting souls vanishing from the face of the earth…or a force of nature indiscriminate in its awesome fury. It can equally visit individuals through the unexpected loss of a loved one…forever changing their perception of the world and the days ahead.

Deng continues with an admonition, “Disasters may well change us deeply, but they will pass. We must keep to our deeper convictions and remember our goals. Whether we remain ash or become the phoenix is up to us.”

Written by Jim

April 1, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Coming to life

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I awoke this morning to a gray…post-apocalyptic looking world. When I came home yesterday evening, the heavy rains had stopped, but I noticed the creek that crosses my road was roaring through its bed with full force…the highest I’ve ever seen it. The amount and intensity of flowing water took me quite aback, since the McAteer branch of Cane Creek, as it is named on the local topographic map,  is usually just a pokey little waterway a few inches deep. But the fact that it lies within a channel about five feet deep and ten feet wide, cutting to and fro through the woods, is evidence that it occasionally comes to life.

Closer to my house there is a nameless little creek that usually only trickles along…past the huge sentinel boulder. But after yesterday’s deluge, even this tiny rivulet was overflowing its banks and cascading through the woods over rocks…forming little white-water falls along its path.

It rained again most of today, but when the last line of grumpy thunderstorms had passed through, I grabbed my walking stick and took a walk. As I approached the tiny creek, I could hear the water shooting under the road through a culvert…coursing through its moss-covered banks…single-mindedly searching its way downhill towards Cane Creek…the Catawba…the sea.

Whenever I cross it from now on, I’ll never look at this mighty mite the same way …even after it returns to its diminutive, unassuming nature. It needed a name. Tinker Creek, I thought. Yes…that would be good. Named after a favorite book…and after a favorite little Pomeranian.

Written by Jim

January 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Nightrise

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Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, as from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a  line of fire just below the horizon, brush fire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes.

~ Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale 

Stepping outside, this autumn evening…Venus still burning bright in the west…chasing the sun, already fallen into the abyss over the horizon. Darkness ascending in the east…relentlessly. From the woods…now fading into shadows…the soft, eerie whimpering of a screech owl, welcoming the nightrise.

Written by Jim

October 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Easing back into the conversation

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I seem to have hit a wall lately…perhaps, a time of the interim as John O’Donohue describes…

…where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;

The way forward is still concealed from you.

“The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.”

~ from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Recently, I’ve been listening to an audio series by poet David Whyte called, What to Remember When Waking: The Disciplines of an Everyday Life, in which he speaks of the conversational nature of reality. A reality in which we inevitably must meet somewhere on middle ground…between what we expect of our lives…and what the world expects of us. A conversation that results in a relationship that occurs at the frontier of these two sets of expectations. We can, of course, choose not to enter the conversation. That may be where the wall appears…so I’m trying to ease back into the conversation…and at least catch a glimpse of what may be waiting on the other side.

By the way…If you’re not familiar with David Whyte, the following video is a wonderful introduction…

Written by Jim

July 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Constant

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I love the moon. It’s become a faithful companion.

It was in the spring of 1791 that George Washington embarked upon his ‘Southern Tour’…after having been elected the nation’s first president.  On May 27th, he stopped at Nathan Barr’s tavern, on the northern outskirts of Lancaster, South Carolina, where he had breakfast. It’s said that he  paid for his meal by cutting a Spanish dollar in half with his sword, and then giving the half-dollar to one of Barr’s young daughters.

He followed the highway north to Charlotte…on horseback in good weather…in a carriage when the weather turned foul. He passed within a mile of my house…on the road I travel everyday on my way to work. It must have looked very different then. All of the trees that I see on my daily journey are surely much younger than two hundred years. But…the lay of the land would have been somewhat recognizable…the profile of the rolling hills…Cane, Waxhaw, and Twelve Mile Creeks having to be crossed. Little else would have looked familiar, though. But up above…in the sky…George probably gazed upon a sight that appeared exactly the same as it does today.

I like the way that David Whyte, in his poem Faith, describes the moon as being,

“…faithful even as it fades from fullness, 

slowly becoming that last curving and impossible 

sliver of light before the final darkness.”

For me…the moon has become a guide…a mentor. A constant companion…that, every month, patiently takes me through the complete cycle of birth…to fullness of life…to fading away. A constant reminder not to grasp too strongly, onto that which will surely…and inevitably, disappear. It teaches me, as Whyte so eloquently suggests, to take seriously…and remain faithful to…my apprenticeship to my own disappearance.

Written by Jim

June 25, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Deep magic

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

~ Arthur C. Clarke, Law #3 from Clarke’s Three Laws

There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve reached this point…although sadly, we tend to take it for granted these days. A little over one mile down the road on which I live stands a rather smallish black box, perched atop a wooden post…now engulfed in wild Japanese and Trumpet Honeysuckle. I visit this box once or twice a week…open the door…and peer inside.

magic box

A short time ago, I was visiting a classroom in a local middle school, and during a break in the action of our geomentoring activity, I spotted an interesting-looking book on a nearby shelf…Earth: An Intimate History
 by Richard Fortey. I pulled out my iPhone…searched on Amazon…found the book…and purchased it…all within the span of a few minutes. And then, just as quickly…I forgot about my little spontaneous transaction.

A couple of days later I paid a visit to my mailbox. Upon opening the door, I was pleasantly surprised that the book had magically materialized within this little portal to another dimension…the inner workings of which were not readily discernible to the naked eye. Magic? Or the endpoint of a sufficiently advanced technology?

EarthIf one didn’t have any idea of what was going on behind the scenes…and what sort of technological wizardry was involved…it would be difficult to be sure.

Written by Jim

June 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

The further journey

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Once your life has become a constant communion, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing—life itself—which can actually become a constant intentional prayer. Your conscious and loving existence gives glory to God.

~ Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Rohr calls the second half of life…when we finally put aside the task of making it in this life of ours…and concentrate instead on our life itself. The further journey. Early on, we frame our lives with many inessentials. Later on…hopefully…when we really pay attention and learn what is, and what isn’t, important…we may find ourselves in a strange and wonderful land that is quite incomprehensible.

These days…the past is becoming less enticing.  A second…and further journey…still unformed and mysterious…beckons. I’m haunted by the last few lines of Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, The Summer Day

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~ Mary Oliver, from The Summer Day

Written by Jim

April 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm