Friday, July 31, 2009

The foundation of all things

This passage really spoke to me today. I know what it is to wonder, to remember, to be assured. I have been paying attention, but sometimes I forget. It is good to be reminded. (Pictures are from my days in Maine two weeks ago.)

Isaiah 40:21-31 (The Message)

21-24Have you not been paying attention?
Have you not been listening?
Haven't you heard these stories all your life?
Don't you understand the foundation of all things?
God sits high above the round ball of earth.
The people look like mere ants.
He stretches out the skies like a canvas—
yes, like a tent canvas to live under.
He ignores what all the princes say and do.
The rulers of the earth count for nothing.
Princes and rulers don't amount to much.
Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted,
They shrivel when God blows on them.
Like flecks of chaff, they're gone with the wind.

25-26"So—who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?" says The Holy.
Look at the night skies:
Who do you think made all this?
Who marches this army of stars out each night,
counts them off, calls each by name
—so magnificent! so powerful!—
and never overlooks a single one?

27-31Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
"God has lost track of me.
He doesn't care what happens to me"?
Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening?
God doesn't come and go. God lasts.
He's Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don't get tired,
they walk and don't lag behind.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Black lie the hills; swiftly doth daylight flee;
And, catching gleams of sunset's dying smile,
Through the dusk land for many a changing mile
The river runneth softly to the sea.

O happy river, could I follow thee!
O yearning heart, that never can be still!
O wistful eyes, that watch the steadfast hill,
Longing for level line of solemn sea!

Have patience; here are flowers and songs of birds,
Beauty and fragrance, wealth of sound and sight,
All summer's glory thine from morn till night,
And life too full of joy for uttered words.

Neither am I ungrateful; but I dream
Deliciously how twilight falls to-night
Over the glimmering water, how the light
Dies blissfully away, until I seem

To feel the wind, sea-scented, on my cheek,
To catch the sound of dusky flapping sail
And dip of oars, and voices on the gale
Afar off, calling low, -- my name they speak!

O Earth! Thy summer song of joy may soar
Ringing to heaven in triumph. I but crave
The sad, caressing murmur of the wave
That breaks in tender music on the shore.

Celia Thaxter

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Island Garden

The days have been flying by. Even though summer work, for me, is much more relaxed and far less stressful, I've still be very busy. And now, it's almost August, which essentially means summer is over. Well, not quite, but it always feels that way. Last week, though, I took some time to really savor what New England is all about in the summer.

Thursday, my mother, sisters and I spent the day together exploring Appledore Island,
one of several islands that make up the Isles of Shoals 11 miles off the coast of Porstmouth, NH. In the late 1800s, Celia Thaxter, whose family operated a resort hotel on the island, was famous for hosting all the major writers, artists, and musicians of the time. She was also famous for her beautiful flower garden that spanned the breadth of her front porch. This garden has been recreated based on her book An Island Garden and is still a draw.

It was a misty, foggy morning for the 4
5 minute boat ride out to the island, but it warmed up and burned off the fogy as the day wore on. We had two guides who took us all over the island sharing details of Celia's life on the island interspersed with what is being done there now (Cornell University runs a marine biology center there for both grads and undergrads). It was a fascinating and beautiful day. And the fact that the four of us were together only made it all the better.

Seagulls and their fledglings were sometimes overpowering with their noise, but I was also
interested in the two varieties: Great black-backed gull and Herring gull. The mothers were very protective of their quite large babies =)

What we were most interested in, though, was the garden, all 97 varieties of annuals! Simply beautiful!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
the darkness

and first light
two deer
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let's see who she is

and why she is sitting
on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can't be repeated.

If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named

by Mary Oliver

This is the poem that was posted on The Writer's Almanac yesterday. It took my breath away. It reminded me so much of one of my all-time favorite nature essays by Annie Dillard called "Living Like Weasels" where she describes locking eyes with a weasel in the woods. There's something magical about experiences like the two these ladies describe.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

i carry your heart with me

I am about to embark on a month of intense creativity. Tomorrow begins a week working on a 60-page teaching unit on Jane Austen, which I am eager to begin. This unit will eventually be published, which is also exciting (I'll post a link here when I'm done). Then, next week I'll spend a day with my mother and sisters visiting Celia Thaxter's beautiful ocean garden on the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth, NH (at left is Childe Hassam's painting of the garden found at the MetMuseum site). I'll also spend three days at a writing retreat on memoir-writing. The rest of the month will be spent in following up on these 9 days of specific attention.

I can't wait! In fact, I've already been doing a lot of research for the unit I'm going to create next week, looking for projects to use in connection with the regular teaching activities. Here's a cool idea I found tonight that is actually a more sophisticated (read technological) version of a project I do now in connection with Medieval Literature. What you'll see here is an illuminated version of the wonderful e. e. cummings poem "i carry my heart with me."

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

Leaning into the Afternoons

One of my friends just posted the loveliest poem set to music and video on his facebook page. It's a poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda which reads as follows:

Leaning Into The Afternoons

Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets
towards your oceanic eyes.

There in the highest blaze my solitude lengthens and flames,
its arms turning like a drowning man's.

I send out red signals across your absent eyes
that smell like the sea or the beach by a lighthouse.

You keep only darkness, my distant female,
from your regard sometimes the coast of dread emerges.

Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets
to that sea that is thrashed by your oceanic eyes.

The birds of night peck at the first stars
that flash like my soul when I love you.

The night gallops on its shadowy mare
shedding blue tassels over the land.

Pablo Neruda

Call to Prayer

I just watched a Rick Steves episode on Istanbul, taking me back a year ago to my own visit to Istanbul. I was taken by the segment on the mosques. He showed how five times a day people are called to their mosque for prayer. The call is always the same (with a slight variation for the dawn call), saying that God is great and worthy of worship.

What caught my attention was when Rick said "after a short praise service, they go back to work." A simple phrase to him, perhaps, but it gave me pause to consider my own prayer practice. Each time I've been in a country where they do this, my first thought has always been of cacophony because to my Western musical ear, it sounds like a melancholy wailing. If several mosques are within hearing distance, the discord is stressful. Still, there is something to be said for stopping what you're doing and intentionally seeking out God several times a day.

In my own life, I always start and end my day with prayer, whatever time that may be. I attend church regularly, once a week, where we pray several times during our time together. During the school year, because I teach at a Christian school, we start our day together as a staff with worship and prayer, and we do the same each day with our students. As well, I have prayer before each class I teach and we pray before our meetings and other activities. But on my own, during the summer and vacations and such, there is not that same regularity. So, I'm wondering, am I missing something during those times, when I don't have a specific call to prayer built into my day?

Truth is, I think if you begin your day in an attitude of prayer, there is no need to stop what you're doing to intentionally pray as you've been in communication all along. That's the if, though, isn't it? And I suppose that's the theory behind that call to prayer, to remind those who have forgotten...