I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…
In my art and writing crafts, I try to see Creation through the eyes-of-my-heart: Changing seasons, wondrous varieties of wildlife, patterns of rainstorm clouds, blustering snow blizzards, and so much more. However, I learned a while ago that it’s not me who really sees. I began listening for the still small voice within to see through God’s eyes-of-the-heart. While not always easy, it is worth slowing my life’s pace to wait and listen. He, most assuredly, offers subjects-of-glory in the majesty of His abundant works. You may or may not agree with me and you don’t have to. I must ask, though, that for those days when the sky is so blue and the green so green and the air so clear and the mountain peaks appear painted on the horizon as on a master’s canvas, who but the Great Artist and Author could create such perfection and take unabashed joy in showing it off?
Yet this ‘seeing’ of the stunning and subtle beauty of Creation also includes witnessing sadness, pain, and suffering in our world. Some of these puzzles live on the edge of God’s mystery. Nonetheless, wanting the world as we would have it, not as it is, creates divisiveness, anger, and bondage to fear, anxiety, sickness, resentment. So, let me not judge or discard anyone’s heart, opinion, preference, but, rather, see their truth and love them through the eyes-of-my-heart. Based on my own life experiences observing the contrasts between serenity and unrest, tragedy and joy, loss and gain, I can still attest to this: Count it all blessings. This is a hard statement to embrace, I know. But, we are strengthened through trials. I journey inward to rest in contentment and laughter, thankfulness and humility, and these finer feelings wrap me in hope. Wholly surrendering my life to God in faith, trust, and belief lies in yearning to finish this mere breath of time with deep, unshakeable peace and love for all that has happened, will happen and to call it all joy—this precious life.
A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance
I am pleased to report that A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is showing a steady rhythmic pace in sales. The book has been accepted in several key libraries in our region as well as a few independent bookstores. I’ve been doing radio interviews as well as talks and book signings over the summer. More are in the works for fall and winter.
You can help, though!
I am grateful for each paperback and E-book sale. If you haven’t considered the book yet, please go to Amazon.comto either purchase this small volume, or if you have purchased the book through a book signing, please, please give thought to writing a short review. Actually, the link provided above takes you to Customer Reviews. Scroll back up and you will see both versions of the book for sale.
Thank you for your loyalty and the many kindhearted, generous comments I have personally received. They gladden my heart and inspire me to continue writing and creating images as the Spirit moves me.
Grainy images flash before me like an old film projector flickering, skipping frames every so often. A bottle of Shalimar perfume. Fever. Drugs. A leg brace and wheelchair. An old black man in Georgia and an angel at sunrise. Long-stemmed roses in glossy white boxes wrapped in red satin bows. Jackie Gleason and June Taylor. Tony Bennett, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey. Dom DeLuise, Lee Remick, Kevin McCarthy, and more. Stories written. Stories burned. A remote cabin with galloping horses. Beloved animals and supernatural creatures. Love and loss. Mourning and joy. Only one image remains steady as the fragmented images jump and change: A cross on a hill with crimson stains.
This is a true story and it is mine.
For many reasons, it took two decades to write 167 pages. I contributed my hands, memories, and the willingness to tell a story including well-loved, hotly-debated, and, hopefully, inspirational themes: Joy and Sorrow. Abundance and Lack. Living Fully. Abortion. Love and Forgiveness. Buddhism and God. Christianity and Jesus. And, living in Camelot!
Walk with me on my pilgrimage and see through the eyes-of-my-heart. I hope you find this slim volume inspirational and that your Still Small Voice guides you in your life as my own has in mine.
Lord, let me find my life in You, and not in the shifting sands of this world’s favor or gain. ~Charles H. Spurgeon
It is 5 o’clock in the morning. I woke a half hour ago, thanked God for another new day, and quickly made freshly brewed Assam tea. With my hands now wrapped around a steaming mug of the brew, I begin to meditate and talk with God about the Spurgeon quote. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a British preacher in the mid-to-late 1800s and is still referred to as the “prince of preachers.” His sermons soared with elegance, poignancy, the love of Jesus, and the Word of God. My conversations with God may sound impossible, even silly to some. Yet it is the joy of my morning along with reading my Bible, giving voice to my prayers, and saying others, for others. As I look up from my reading, I see the quiet beauty of the sun’s ascent weaving in-between the unadorned trees of winter. A low mist hovers over the woodland floor until it vanishes into the air and our good earth.
From that first sight in an ever-so-brief moment, a bold butter-scotch sun makes its grand entrance bringing an otherworldly quality to the woodland scene. I never cease to wonder at the miracle of sunrise for I see God’s face glowing in boundless love. What is miraculous dear Reader is that this sunrise will never repeat itself! It is unique, and God’s gift to us.
A Prayer ~ O Lord, let me find my life in You instead of the world’s violence and anger, clamor and confusion, and the pride of self-deification. May the temptations of transient, materialistic idols ending in enslavement to addictions for so many souls fade into a dark abyss. I pray my senses will not numb to violence, nor avert what is painful, ugly, or disturbing. Instead, help me help others. I continue surrendering all that I delude myself into thinking is mine to discover the simplicity and joy of my life in You by following in Your footsteps.
My path may not be yours. I confess too that I am given to doubt and confusion at times and cannot claim utter peace and joy each day of my life. Nevertheless, I proceed on my pilgrimage and follow Jesus’ teachings only to discover a growing humility with many more days filled with light rather than darkness, peace instead of discontent. And, my treasure? It is within me filling each new day with unmeasurable love, grace, and mercy. This I do know.
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~Matthew 6:20-21 (ESV)
A long time ago, before any of us were born, there was a distant, mysterious land. On this land, in a dense forest that no human could enter for it was not visible to them, stood a one-room cottage made of rough cedar shingles covered with a thatched roof. In this cottage, lived a very Old Man whose thick silver hair fell like shimmering silk waves to his shoulders. His soft flowing beard was so long it reached the very top of his belt buckle. The Old Man’s robust appearance defied his age. He stood straight and tall with broad shoulders, massive hands, and a muscular build. He usually sat on a three-legged stool at a square pinewood table to do the work requiring his most careful attention whenever needed day or night. If anyone had discovered him in his secluded haven, they would be immediately attracted to his deep blue eyes that shone a light and sparkle that most assuredly would see into one’s heart. He moved from the stool to sit in a curly willow rocker to take joy in the descent of soft, feathery snowflakes. He observed their beauty and purity through a large, rectangular opening in the cottage wall. There were several wall openings though no coverings were needed. The seasons changed from summer to fall and winter to spring, yet it was always calm enough, cold enough, and warm enough. The Old Man’s keen hearing listened to each snowflake land in its rightful place. But he also heard something else and waited patiently for a distinguished visitor to call upon him.
The Snowshoe Hare
An elderly Snowshoe Hare named Parsley played in the meadow with his younger friends from late morning to mid-afternoon. The clouds they saw on the horizon earlier finally rolled in carrying weighty snow and ice-cold winds. Parsley’s youthful friends begged him to return with them to their hidden safe harbor in the forest. Parsley indicated that he would follow soon. He felt fully alive and young again, wanting to run and jump just a little longer. Parsley was considered the wisest of his kind for he lived so many more years than his brethren. Throughout his long life, kindness flowed from him as he put others before himself. He saved hundreds of his brothers and sisters from predators and illnesses too, nursing them back to health. So, his playmates departed but were deeply concerned about their cherished friend’s decision. Within a short little while, though, Parsley knew he had not used good judgment.
Harsh, icy blasts of wind blew across the meadowland while trees moaned, cracked, and toppled in the forest. Wind gusts raged and whirled the driving snow into drifts of high peaks and low valleys. Parsley, donned in his winter fur, white as the snow, ran and jumped frantically in never-ending circles seeking a safe place to rest. Knowing it was Christmas Eve, Parsley so wanted to be sheltered and warm with his family and friends. He finally felt his ancient age. A weariness enveloped Parsley, one he had never known. He was indeed alone for the first time in his life.
A pine tree’s branches burdened with snow bent low over a stone wall at the edge of the forest. Parsley headed for the wall, gathering the last of his strength to hop and leap across the meadow grateful for protection at last. Once under the tree’s blanket of branches with the wall providing a barrier against the wind, he burrowed, made runways, and then, with a heavy sigh, stopped to rest. Parsley folded down his long ears realizing he was not only alone but scared on this night of all nights. When almost asleep, Parsley sensed a threat! It was the silver-gray wolf that all small creatures feared, and it was close. The wolf had his scent and Parsley leaped and ran and ran and ran with the wolf not far behind.
Hopping high through deep, heavy snow, he thought, Oh God, Oh God please, oh please, help me! In a fraction of a second, a pathway into the forest appeared between two large, round tree trunks with lights twinkling as they dazzled his eyes. No, no, no, he pleaded, for it disappeared but then appeared again! When it did, he made a final long leap through the portal between the trees onto a path, which was no longer in deep snow or a storm. The snow glistened and was smoothly packed. Parsley looked back but saw no sign of the wolf, so his way was made easy as he noticed some vegetation remained green. Peculiar, he thought, but gladly ate what he could. There were also small, colorful flowers sitting among rocks and around the gnarled roots of tree trunks. Snow and foliage and flowers.Odd yet perfect, Parsley mused to himself and then grew quite still. It became apparent to him that he was in the midst of an exceptional place. A few moments later he was drawn to a warm light beckoning him through the trees. He decided to investigate since he finally felt safe, rested, and at peace.
He found his way to the clearing where a cottage stood. The sweet smell of applewood smoke wafted through the air from a stone chimney, and a glowing light shone from the opening in the wall of the little abode. He scratched at the door rather than leap on to the wall opening for fear of what he might encounter, or startle whoever was inside. And there was someone inside. A man’s resonant, musical voice replied, Is that you, Parsley? Of course, Parsley was his name. But how did this man know? He answered, Yes, Sir, it is I.
An Old Man opened the door, and Parsley gazed up into large blue eyes that sparkled like a crystal lake in the summer sun. The Old Man’s enormous hands whisked him from the floor and set him upon the three-legged stool as Parsley looked around. He saw a pine table, and in one corner a large oak bed. An entire wall made of stone held a fireplace with a cauldron hung for cooking. Parsley froze for a moment as a little shutter came over him. The Old Man’s reassuring hand immediately rested on him, and Parsley knew he was not the dinner! The cottage was neat, spare, and simple. There were handmade candles for light imparting a soothing radiance throughout the room. Parsley looked up at the Old Man and said, Thank you, Sir. Do you have a name? The Old Man smiled as he placed a bowl of crisp greens on the table and Parsley made a small jump onto it and ate heartily. Just call me Papa, Parsley, answered the Old Man. When Parsley was full, he hopped over to Papa sitting in the rocker. Papa, may I sit with you, he asked? Papa chuckled saying, Yes. Rest with me for we are going on a journey in a short while. Parsley watched the fire blaze, listened to the sputtering and crackles of the wood as it burned, and rested in the peacefulness of Papa’s lap.
The Christmas Moon
Parsley’s eyes were heavy with sleep when Papa rose from the rocker and placed Parsley on the floor. He wrapped a hand-woven shawl around himself and opened the door taking a long, crooked staff standing next to it. Come, Parsley. Follow me. Parsley hopped along noticing that Papa was wearing strapped sandals. Thinking this was odd footwear for winter, Parsley suddenly stood perfectly still. He smelled THE threat. The gray wolf was here! Papa stopped too but called out, Sophia! Come. I have Parsley with me. Parsley said, Oh no, Papa! That wolf will eat me. It chased me to your path at the forest’s entrance. Papa replied, No, Parlsey. Sophia belongs to me. She will not harm you and only chased you to be sure you’d find the path, the way to my door. Sophia approached, and Parsley shivered as she came closer to him. He noticed a rare beauty in her emerald green eyes and plush silver-gray fur. She nudged him gently with her black nose and seemed to smile. Papa said, Sophia, Parsley is very tired. I will carry this precious creature the rest of the way.
They walked out of the forest, and Papa held Parsley close wrapped in his white woolen shawl. They finally settled on a flat rock in the center of a meadow. Parsley wondered, Is this my field or am I in another place? The snow continued to fall but there was no wind, and the sky was clear illuminating a full and flawless Christmas Moon in the company of millions, maybe billions, of brilliant stars. Papa, how is this possible? Snow with a clear sky, many stars, and a full moon, Parsley asked?
Silence. Parsley looked up and no longer saw Papa but a young man. His dark hair was tied away from his face emphasizing warm, deep brown eyes and a countenance so beautiful that it beamed love and peace and joy. Parsley believed he must be a holy man yet was confused as to the appearance of this gentle, loving man and the vanishing of the warmhearted, protective Papa. It was a mystery, and Parsley knew it would remain one for the present.
Parsley was exhausted, though, and barely uttered the words, Who are you, Sir? The man said I Am Who I Am. I have many names, but many call me the Good Shepherd. You were lost Parsley and called for My help. You’ve lived longer than any other of your kind for I deemed it so. You put your own life in harm’s way to protect your brethren. Your heart is full of love. I am so fond of you, dear Parsley, and I wanted to bring you home. Parsley responded, Good Shepherd, these were not great achievements. I only did what I believed was right to do. Yes, Parsley, said the Good Shepherd, but so few do for others as I asked them to do. Well done, Parsley, My good and faithful servant. The man’s hands glowed with warmth as Sophia nuzzled and breathed upon Parsley’s ears. Parsley looked up at the Holy One with one large tear rolling down his fur, and asked, Good Shepherd, are you taking me back to my friends? The Good Shepherd replied, No, Parsley. You are coming home with Me. It is your time, and I promised I would never leave you nor forsake you. He gently wiped the teardrop from Parsley’s fur and held it in His palm like a precious jewel. He then produced a small glass bottle dropping Parsley’s tear into the tiny vessel as it now mingled with His own when He once wept. There will be no more tears, Parsley, for I have wiped away the last one, said the Good Shepherd.
Christmas was upon the land. The Christmas Moon was full and bright, and the snow glimmered wherever it lay. Parsley pondered the playful romps and the harrowing events earlier in the day, the Christmas Moon, the Old Man called Papa, Sophia, and now this holy man, a Master, who is the Good Shepherd. As Parsley looked at the moon and stars, he saw a babe born in a manger growing into manhood, the same man holding him now, teaching the world about love and peace and forgiveness. With deep reverence, Parsley slowly lowered his aged eyes that had seen so much for so many years. He then bowed his head onto his giant paws cradled in the hands of the man whom he now knew was Christ Jesus. Parsley could do no more but merely send a silent Hosanna to the Heavens before he closed his eyes forever on this earth while his journey into eternity began.
~ Acknowledgments ~
A snowshoe hare, named Parsley, did exist. After his mother was killed with Parsley’s umbilical cord still intact, he was rescued and bottle-fed with goat’s milk nurturing him to good health. He lived far longer than a snowshoe hare should with my dear friend and artist, Zuzonna Huot. Zuzonna’s lovely illustration shows Parsley shedding his white winter coat in preparation to blend with the landscape of spring and summer. It is her illustration that inspired my story. Thank you, Zu!
My sincere appreciation to John P. Booth, Executive Director of the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art for permission to use the Ned Smith painting, titled “The Snowshoe Hare.” Please contact Mr. John Booth at the Ned Smith Center via the link provided above for the use of the painting, “The Snowshoe Hare,” in print, any other form of media, or purchase of reproductions.
Endless thunderstorms rumble in and out of our soft-shouldered Catskill Mountains the day of this writing. Weeks ago soaking rain softened parched land. Today, with saturated ground and overflowing streams, we hear sirens alerting us to flash floods. There are no birdsong serenades or wildlife to see for they are silent and sequestered in mysterious safe harbors.
Once upon a time, I lived on an island off the mid-coast of Maine. When powerful squalls approached, I’d walk to the shore with my camera in hand and photograph the birth and finale of these events. As rain and wind ebbed, there were quickened moments when the leaden gray sky transformed into an extravaganza of dark and light and color. Swaths of pink, lavender, deep purple, yellow, and blue illuminated the heavens with a majestic pageantry of dancing cloud formations. The storms were transient, and calm seas with azure skies ultimately prevailed. I stood among the seagulls on the rocky shore pondering God and Creation. I felt small. A mere breath. Yet I was complete.
Late August brings my 75th birthday amidst its hot, sultry days. I feel blessed living for three-quarters of a century! Even so, I accept the reality of our ephemeral lives woven with strands of joy and sorrow, birth and death. As for mortals, our days are as grass: as a flower of the field, we flourish. But when the wind passes over and it is gone, the place shall know it no longer. (Psalm 103). Teach us to count our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90).
This is a season of transience for precious people in my life who count their days for various reasons.
I pray and count days for two close family members who may have fewer to count than I. Several weeks ago, a former husband suddenly passed away, and a dear friend’s husband lost his battle with cancer. I pray and count the days of mourning for each survivor. A beloved daughter. A beloved spouse.
I dedicate this video as a visual prayer to my family, friends, and all living beings who are in need. Joy imbues these images as it does my life. They were inspired by my faith in He who lives within while I only followed instructions. I find delight in a single flower petal, rugged shorelines and tranquil seas, precious pets, colorful birds, mystical statues, the silence of snow―everything and everywhere in all Creation as each dawn and sunset shout with jubilation. May these painterly photographs soothe and delight and inspire.
There’s a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in, continues Leonard Cohen’s impassioned lyrics from his song Anthem.
My last Journal post was July 2017. I’d just completed the first draft of my novel. Second draft re-writes were upon me, but I felt a malignancy shrouded the land and was immersed in an addictive distraction: news and news and more news. I saw too many disturbing events, heard over-the-top insolent and crude language, witnessed bigotry and racism dive to demonic depths. I had to stop watching and listening as I observed my own anger loom, stimulating judgments and intolerance of people and places and things. An inner peace I had come to know these past years finally cracked. Or, so I thought.
I did not insulate myself, nor become indifferent. How could I? How could I cast people and tragedy out of my heart? But, I couldn’t remain an angry soul either. I returned to serious meditation and yoga practices for the first time in too long a time. I listened to Dharma teachings and re-read my books on Buddhist philosophy, many of which contained teachings of the Dalai Lama: My religion is Kindness. Through these dedicated daily practices, I realized that Kindness is the only religion broad enough and deep enough, free from exclusion and judgment and bias, for my inner soul land.
Though a life-long process, these practices enable my equanimity to gradually blossom again: I judge less and less each day; my outrage, thankfully, has diminished; compassion has taken up residence in my heart once again not only toward others—but myself as well. Oh, I still struggle to see the whole chess board at times rather than my solely narrow, too often self-absorbed, life. I’m keenly aware we live in an aching world. But also, I believe in the impermanence of all things. Change is constant. It always was, is, and will be. Change, Love, Kindness, Compassion, among others, are four Great Laws of the Universe—they personify the unbearable beauty of this so very human life.
If we are not dedicated activists or caregivers or first-responders engaged in heroic or quiet efforts helping others, that does not mean we can’t ring bells and be a light in the world. A simple smile can make one person happy and then another and another. Laughter performs miracles. It’s contagious. It heals. Love and kindness and compassion: These qualities encompass what our souls are and what we seek for ourselves and others. And, the more we love, radiate kindness—permit me to be trite?—the better our world will be.
You’re probably ringing bells and creating light in the world in your own way. I choose to help by devoting time to create words and images that stir something positive within us, find celestial light through candles mirrored in a window on a dark, snowy morning before the daylight slips over the horizon, or transform the crowd of thoughts that tumble and muddy our minds into clear, calm water if only for a single moment.
Once the news addiction was cast off, I was liberated. I rang bells again when the landscape finally surrendered all color. A haiku written by Matsuo Basho haunted me ~
The monastery bell stops ~ but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
I revivified an oil and wax painting I did years ago, reinterpreting its original intent. I reasoned that if sound can continue after the monastery bell stops ringing, and it does, so can color remain in our hearts and souls. Why not? This was my way of breathing color into a monochromatic world: bold, flowing, uninhibited.
A stone Jizo found its way to me (you’ve already seen one of his images above). Jizo appears throughout this Journal writing—all five inches of this joyful statue. There are many positive attributes associated with Jizo, so the fables tell. The most important to me of his many and varied stories is that he presides over a world that few like to think about, not unlike ours today, but especially as protector of children, including the souls of the aborted or stillborn or miscarried babies. Jizo protects them from harm and guides them onto their next journeys.
Photographing this sweet-faced, happy fellow was in itself a meditation: I was outside of time, unaware of anything but Jizo and my camera. There is truth in myths if we open ourselves to the ‘teaching’ in the story. Anything, anyone, who inspires the protection of children, and those never born, rings bells enabling light to filter through sorrowful fissures in the soul.
I’ve lived for more than four years just two short blocks from the Hudson River in the charming, historic Village of Athens. The Hudson River is my friend. I walk early mornings when weather permits and indulge in long musings, even chats, with the River’s flow. This is a place to stop, release what I perceive to be pressing matters inhabiting my mind and heart, but in fact are not reality, and just listen, not unlike Siddhartha did in his ancient years in Hesse’s book of the same name. I am blessed to have this at my doorstep. This wondrous vision—clouds the color of sweet-cream butter, gray and lavender mists weaving and rising in the distance, bare trees standing tall, unyielding, and the River itself ever present—is a serenity bell that rings for me; for all who want to see and to listen.
Continue to ring the bells that are your heart; your soul. Start ringing bells if you haven’t, and see what happens. Smile a lot. Laugh even more. Release all the love you have even to those whom you believe don’t deserve it. Find a quiet spot every day, and sit—on a cushion, a chair, a bench and then, then—b r e a t h e.
I am not a Pollyanna and do not suggest that any of these practices are easy, at least not for me. Meditation has helped me touch the ‘better angels’ of my mind and heart—at times. I hope that someday, maybe, just maybe, I realize I am truly kind and compassionate and a vessel filled with love.
I woke at four o’clock to a sultry morning. Rain falls. Steady. Soft. Somnolent. Birdsong wanes when rain begins. A lone bird calls to another sheltered in branches and leaves. My apartment is more tree house than apartment. All windows look out upon woodland and wildlife. With my morning mug of freshly brewed Assam tea, I hear the first sounds of life; see the first muted light of day. A cherished, quiet hour.
Following my February Journal post, I plunged into writing my book (planned debut in 2018), undertook a photographic study of the Life of a Rose in Black & White, and knew I needed, no ached, to paint again. I turned to a form I merely played with many years ago: the Zen spiritual practice of ensō painting.
Ensō: The Way of the Brush
Traditional ensō paintings are circles on rice paper using sumi-e ink. Some circles are open; others closed. They’re executed in one stroke of the brush on the final out breath, the ah, of the artist’s breathing meditation. The circles need not be perfect and are defined as emptiness and fullness, infinity, the womb—and more. Painting ensōs is called, The Way of the Brush: the title for the genesis of my ensō series.
While I bonded with the ensō those many years ago, today I’ve brought color, texture, and abandonment, rather than discipline, to the brush. Painting, like writing, is essential to maintaining my peace and ease of heart. The ensō symbolizes ‘perfection in the imperfection’ of all things; all nature.
The Life of a Rose in Black & White
The rose bud was long, elegant: a prelude. Then, a measured unfolding into the glory of full bloom. She lived a day, maybe more; her inner life revealing unsolvable mysteries of creation. Though still beautiful, her petals wearied; she surrendered to transience—L’ah final.
The Blossom on the Road
On an early walk one sunny morning, she lay on the road—a sole, whole blossom among sisters and brothers already perished. I slowed my walking pace, carrying her home in cupped hands like a new born being.
My work is heartfelt: a form of service and a gentle, steadfast activism of love. Be love. Be loving awareness, says one of my spiritual teachers, Ram Dass. If I can create communion through words and images; stir something within that helps another recognize life as an unbearable beauty, rather than a dusty, wounded world, perhaps, just perhaps, I will have done one small thing right and good.