Today is very cold and windy. I’ve been grumpy and feeling put upon all day. Realizing I am not even following my own advice to live in the moment and be grateful for each moment as it comes – “even the chilly snowy moments” – I feel compelled to revisit the book, Music of Silence by David Steindl-Rast and Sharon Lebell, and pull another quote from it.
It may not be for your sake that I am posting this quote. It’s for mine. I need constant reminders to stop, be in the moment, and be grateful for each moment I am alive – now, now, now, now, now, now, and now:
In any walk of life, you can build into your day prayer breaks that connect you to the Spirit. They don’t have to be ten minutes long; they may be only ten seconds long, yet they’ll be helpful. I once knew two sisters who had a clock that struck every fifteen minutes. With each strike of the clock, one would say, ‘Remember God’s presence’ and the other would add, ‘Let us always be grateful.’ It’s such a simple thing, a couple of times a day or every hour, to remember we stand in God’s presence…That’s why I have a clock that chimes every hour – it’s my portable monastery, which I can take with me wherever I go.
The inner gesture of Terce*, which is available to all of us at any time, is to simply stop for a few moments and open yourself to the force of love that drives the universe. Stop and bless. Stop and appreciate. Take note of the gifts of your life and share them.
“Remember God’s presence. Let us always be grateful.”
I’m going to work on remembering that. A few words that fit well into a brief moment of reflection.
I would imagine that most readers who might stumble across my blog are familiar with the writings of Louise Dickinson Rich. Her book, We Took the Woods, has long been a favorite of mine and of many others. I am disappointed to discover that my local library carries none of Rich’s books; they have their eye like a lazer-beam on the current New York Times best sellers, of which I have no interest whatsoever. My bad, I suppose.
Happily, libraries in nearby towns do have We Took to the Woods and other works by Mrs Rich listed on their online catalogs, so there is still some sanity in the world after all (wiping the sweat of the brow with back of hand). Louise Rich admits that she is not one of the great writers:
I’ve read a lot of first-rate writing, and I have some critical sense; so I do know where I stand. I’ll never be first-rate. I’ll improve with practice, I trust, but I haven’t got what it takes to reach the top.
Her humility is probably one aspect that what makes her writing so engaging. Her style is friendly and down-to-earth, making you feel more and more as you turn the pages that you are finding a life-long friend who is brewing a perfect pot of coffee just for you on her wood-burning kitchen stove.
In the opening paragraph of her book, Rich writes:
During most of my adolescence – specifically, between the time when I gave up wanting to be a brakeman on a freight train and the time when I definitely decided to become an English teacher – I said, when asked what I was going to do with my life, that I was going to live alone in a cabin in the Maine woods and write.
Once upon a time I had a similar dream. I spent summers in New Hampshire in rustic farmhouses and cabins, and so the scene in the photo above is very similar to one that I am familiar with. The typewriter with the ribbon spools perched on top is also familiar to me. My father owned one of them and my childhood was punctuated with the sound of his steady two-fingered pecking echoing from his home office. It took a certain determination to press those keys against the ribbon on the old typewriters. Who knew at the time (I’m talking 1950’s to 1960’s) how technology would advance at a galloping pace, putting such typewriting machines into obscurity.
A question I have pondered just a bit is why do we all, or most of us anyway, have this desire to write? Sometimes we write as a way to transmit information, such as “We are having a lovely spring day here and the crocuses are blooming.” Or, as I have written to several friends and family members of late, “I have discovered that Shingles is a dreadful condition and I encourage you to get the Shingles vaccination* as soon as possible.”
Transmitting factual information, as necessary as it is at times, can be dry and lifeless and leaves me thirsting for something more. That sort of writing is a bit of a chore, something to put on our to-do list along with wash the dishes, vacuum the rug, do the laundry. Ugh ugh and more ugh.
The sort of writing that satisfies my thirst is the kind of writing that is not on my to-do list; it is writing that does something to me. Flannery O’Connor experienced writing as an illumination into her own mind. She said:
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.
Do you see the thread here? Writing is not just something we do, it is an experience. Writing is delving into and mining our unknown inner landscape, it is a journey of discovery. It can be compared to taking a hike on a trail that leads us in new directions, to new scenery and vistas. We may think we know where we are headed when we start out on the trail but invariably we discover side paths which bring us into new landscapes which surprise and delight us. I will never afford to fly to Europe to explore new lands and experience new cultures; but I am able to explore my inner colorful world and experience an exhilaration that would remain hidden and unknown if I did not write.
To write what is profoundly true and authentic, we have to be willing to allow the writing to show us the way into unknown territory. This is the joy and thrill of the exploration of our inner landscape that we call writing.
To harken back to my last blog post about living in the moment, allow me to quote one more author. Ken Robinson, who writes about the need for a new paradigm in education:
The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. As aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operation at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.
Doesn’t Ken Robinson’s words make perfect sense of Louise Dickinson Rich placing her typewriter in front of the window overlooking the Maine wilderness? She wanted her writing to be alive with the beauty of what was around her, to sing with the clear notes of bird song, to be real and authentic to her experiences as a wife, mother, and writer. Her outer world in Maine was wild and pristine and breathtakingly beautiful. It was thoroughly authentic. It couldn’t have been more real and true to itself. She wrote in an objective sense to transmit that information to her readers, but in a subjective sense, she surely discovered something of the same within herself, something authentic and worthwhile and true. I believe the same could be said of Flannary O’Connor and Harper Lee in their creative processes. They dug deep and mined the ore of their inner landscapes and were surprised and delighted with what they found – a bit of gold that made the laborious ordeal of writing worth it in the end.
And so I asked a the top of this post, why write? The answer, it seems to me, is so we can discover the parts of ourselves that might otherwise go undiscovered, those parts that are golden, if you will, that resonate with readers because, while personal to us, tap into that which is universal and eternal. When we transcend ourselves in our writing, we inspire others to transcend themselves as well. How awesome is that to think about…
It is snowing today. Grappling with winter is, I admit, a challenge for me. I understand the need for nature to take a rest from the abundant growth of summer, that seeds and bulbs lie dormant underground only to spring afresh when the warming rains return. I understand that, despite appearances, life is ready to rear its head as soon as the earth passes the winter solstice in December starts the countdown to spring.
I get it that we can take the slumber of the earth during winter as a metaphor for our own lives, that winter is for hunkering down, cutting back on the frenetic activities of summer. Winter for we humans is for curling up with an edifying book, snuggling by the fire with our significant other (how many babies must be conceived during the long nights of winter!), and for quiet thought and contemplation that will yield the fruit of wisdom and maturity in the sunnier days ahead.
Already my neighbors are hanging their maple sap buckets. I did the same when I was younger. Quite a bit younger! In the midst of our snowfall today, I opened the front door to check on snow totals and was greeted by the sound of snowplows going by and the chirping of an intrepid and hopeful bird. And don’t you know the daffodil and crocus bulbs are most likely waking from their slumbers long before we see those first green shoots appear in April? (The photo of a crocus above is my own, from a spring long past.)
So what do I do with winter when I dislike it so much? When I am so eager for it to be over and done with and bemoaning within myself that it is cold out when I want it to be warm. Perhaps the answer is right under my nose. I have been reading a small book this winter, and even as small as it is, I have yet to finish it. Part of the problem is that I find myself marking passages with a lead pencil and re-reading what are very beautiful passages. It’s the kind of book you have to read attentively and not let it simply wash over you like a novel might, putting you into a pleasant snoozy sleep.
No, rather it is a book that wakes us up from our slumbers.
The book is called “Music of Silence, A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day”. It was written by David Steindl-Rast and Sharon Lebell. (The book can be found at Amazon here and at Goodreads here.) It is a little book about monastic prayer and Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant grabbed me by the collar when I first heard it in a history of music class in 1969 and it never let go. Here is an excerpt from the book, and you may with to listen as you read to Illuminations – Peaceful Gregorian Chants from Dan Gibson’s Solitude album.
In chant, which is not so much an acoustic phenomenon as it is an inner experience, we encounter a reality that is more real than what we experience in our daily, busy lives. Why is this so?
One of the reasons we feel so ill at ease in our daily lives is that we are either ruminating about the past, or worrying ahead into the future, and thus we are not present in the here and now, which is where our real selves reside…Chant calls us out of chronological time, in which ‘now’ can never be located, and into the eternal now, which is not really found in time.
If we envision time as a line that leads from the future into the past, then the past is continuously eating up the future without the least remnant. As long as we think of ‘now’ as a very short stretch of time, nothing prevents us from cutting that stretch of time in half, and half again. Because chronological time can be further subdivided, there is no ‘now’ on our clocks, no ‘still center’ to be found in clock time. To think of time in this way is not just to play with words; it’s a mental experiment we can do to bring home to ourselves that, in knowing what now means, we are experiencing something that transcends time: eternity.
Eternity is not a long, long time. Eternity is the opposite of time: It is no time. It is, as Augustine said, ‘The now that does not pass away’….
We are welcomed into time’s mystery once in a while in our most alive moments, in our peak experiences. We say of those moments, ‘Time seemed to stand still”…Our sense of time is altered in those moments of deep and intense experience, so we know what that means. We feel at home in that now, in that eternity, because that is the only place where we really are. We cannot be in the future and we cannot be in the past; we can only be in the present. We are only real to the extent to which we are living in the present here and now.
So, the lesson I need to learn is to live in the moment, even in the chilly snowy moments. Don’t ponder the past, don’t yearn for the future, just be present to the moment presented.
The present moment is a present.
It is good enough.
When we learn to do that, we step outside of time and have a heavenly taste of eternity….
I was recently diagnosed with MTD* and have limited use of my voice. The cause is unknown but in my case my already somewhat weakened voice was made considerably worse by a year of severe stress and bottled up tensions. Or so my speech therapist told me and it seems right. The diagnosis is encouraging to me, because I can work on lessening my stresses and tensions, the therapist gave me relaxation exercises which I believe can only help. Relaxation is good; tension is bad. Not hard to figure that one out!
MTD is restricting in many ways: imagine going to work, raising children, going for coffee with friends, calling your doctor, asking your spouse about his or her day, calling the dog inside, and having only raspy unintelligible sounds coming out of your mouth. This is my life currently. It is painless, but oh so frustrating and at times embarrassing. And so someone suggested I try to blog as a substitution to verbalizing and as a way to un-bottle those debilitation tensions. And hence, Rejoicing Joni was born. Yes I have had many stresses that have resulted in my verbal handicap, but I have so much to be grateful for. I am generally an upbeat person. You are forewarned. 🙂
A bit more about me:
I am on the elderly side of the spectrum, but not old (heaven forbid!). Let’s just say I’ve been around the block more than once.
I have two grown sons in their early twenties, they are reasonably well adjusted and independent, but not entirely. Life is tough for young men these days.
I have one lovely husband who still works and is artistic and thoroughly devoted to his family.
I had (past tense) one beloved dog who was recently put down at the age of 16 and a half – one of the stresses of this past year. That was one the hardest and most heart breaking things I ever had to do. Some people have pictures of their kids on their fridge; I have photos of my wonderful dog.
I collect books but rarely read them, or at least rarely read them entirely. I tend to spend more than I should and it is best to keep me out of bookstores. I think I am greedy for knowledge.
I enjoy visiting cemeteries, they are peaceful and ignite my imagination. I value the lives of those who have gone before us, especially those who led quiet lives and might otherwise be forgotten.
I am basically a loner but enjoy occasional social contact: playing in the church bell choir, activities at the senior center. (Oh yea, I’m a wild and crazy gal!)
I got a degree in education and taught for several years. It was too people-intensive for me and I developed depression and anxiety during those years. This led to bad habits of thought and inner dialogue that now manifests itself in my vocal disorder. It doesn’t work to go through life constantly beating yourself up.
I am a little bit crafty (sewing, knitting, crochet, weaving, beading).
I once had visions of living off the land and being an herb gardener and weaver.
I am fiercely independent and never succeeded happily in the working world because I don’t take well to restrictions on my movements or time.
I am an obsessive perfectionist, which is probably the source of many of my tensions, come to think of it.
I am inherently distrustful of people (an attitude I inherited from my parents) but have mellowed considerably with age. I find a smile and kind word go a long way.
I am still in touch with my childhood friends.Long distance friendships work well for me but I am working on developing some face to face friendships as well.
My politics, if any, tend conservative but I am vehemently anti-gun in every way you can think of.
I am religious by nature – I was born this way. Faith in Christ is just who I am, I can get rid of it as easily as I can get rid of my DNA.
I am a theology scholar wannabe. I hold to Catholic beliefs even though I was raised Lutheran. I may have given my Lutheran pastor a coronary when I converted (he’s happily retired in Texas). I am interested in what Protestant scholars have to say as well as Catholic scholars. Just call me an equal opportunity theology student.
Don’t be frightened off. My blog is not a religion blog and I will cover many different topics because, as already hinted at, I have lived a long time and increasingly find many diverse people and topics of interest.