Monday, February 24, 2020


MY grand daughter  reminded me recently of all the stories about dragons I made up for her when she  was  a child.

I made up stories about fire-dragons, ice dragons, frost dragons, snow dragons. 
Richard Rohr  has also been thinking about dragons in our lives.

"How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are the beginning of all peoples? The myths about dragons that, at the last moment, turn into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us, once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something helpless that wants help from us."

"So, you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you, larger than any you have ever seen. If a restiveness like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. 
You must think that something is happening to you. That life has not forgotten you. That it holds you in its hand. It will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you."

An acceptance of suffering  and a  strong faith that  something is happening and that
the working of grace is  often subtle and unpredictable. To develop this movement we need to be more humble.

Keating wrote:
Humility is a great subject because it is the most fundamental religious disposition. It 
undergirds the stages of the spiritual journey. It gets deeper as we go along. Humiliation is the way to humility
 You lose the sense of shame and you gain more and more inner freedom. The point may come when you actually love your weaknesses and faults because they keep you humble. The feelings of shame and humiliation give way to a loving acceptance of the truth and a complete trust in God’s infinite mercy. 

We’re not asking anybody to think that we are good, because now we see that whatever good we have comes from God. We don’t deny that we have this basic goodness, but we acknowledge that we have made a mess of our lives .and that God is healing us. Instead of grieving because of our sins, we realize that God has used them for our great benefit. 
Humility is the truth. That is to say, humility is the capacity to accept whatever happens, peacefully. Then you can decide whether God is calling you simply to accept the situation, or to do something to improve or correct it. Humility is a constant and permanent disposition that puts one in tune with the universe and with whatever is happening in the present moment. 
We know that whatever happens, the love of God is always with us and that [God] will turn even our failures into perfect love." 

When we accept what is, letting go of our hope for a different or better past, we are led into a much greater freedom. And as long as there is accountability and forgiveness as part of the process, healing will almost inevitably follow.

That remark hits me squarely because I often think of past decisions and events and  choices that I regret.
One thing that we can never get is a different past, but with humility and hope in the dragons we can  create a different and better future.

Thursday, February 6, 2020


Experiences of darkness are good and necessary teachers.
It is hard to believe this when we are in the midst of a  period of darkness.  But  after it is over we sometimes  can reflect on it and see that it was   telling us something.


These dark times  are not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away.

 Even if we don’t experience clinical or diagnosed depression, most of us will go through a period of darkness, doubt, and malaise at some point in our lives. 

I hope during these times we can reach out to someone—a therapist, spiritual director, friend—to support us. And when we feel strong may we be the shoulder someone else can lean on.

But sometimes it is not that clear or that easy.
There’s a darkness that we are led into by our own sin (the illusion of separation), and selfishness (living out of the false or separate self), and stupidity. We have to work our way out of this kind of darkness by brutal honesty, confession, surrender, forgiveness, apology, and restitution. 

It may feel simultaneously like dying 


being liberated.
But there’s another darkness that we’re led into by God, grace, and the nature of life itself. In many ways, the loss of meaning, motivation, purpose, and direction might feel even greater here. 

Some call it “the dark night of the soul.”

 Yet even while we feel alone and that God has abandoned us, we can also sense that we have been led here intentionally. We know we are in “liminal space,” betwixt and between, on the threshold—and we have to stay here until we have learned something essential.

 It is still no fun and filled with doubt and “demons” of every sort. But it is the darkness of being held closely by God without our awareness. This is where transformation happens.
Of course, the darkness that we get ourselves into by our own “sinful” choices can also become the darkness of God. Regardless of the cause, the dark night is an opportunity to look for and find God—in new forms and ways.


Neither God nor goodness exist only in the light but permeate all places, seen and unseen. It seems we have to “unknow” a bit every time we want to know in a new way. It is like putting your car in reverse in the mud and snow so that you can gain a new track and better traction.

Friday, January 31, 2020



My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun (764)

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master’s Head -
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without - the power to die -
 There is something so  moving and  tragic about having the power to kill but not the power to die.
It is as if the speaker sees herself as  just the tool for other people with no autonymy of her own.

Here's another jewel that has a tone  close to sadistic joy in another's pain.

I like a look of Agony...
I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it's true—
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe—
The Eyes glaze once—and that is Death—
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

All of these by the Belle of Amherst---I have thought her a captivating enigma  since I discovered her poems in high school.
Emily Dickinson is one of the most-speculated-about writers in history — in popular myth, she was a virginal recluse who dressed all in white and then wrote passionate poems that were so unlike anything being written at the time. Relatively little is known about her life, and biographers often try to use clues in her poems to guess about her habits, personality, and sexuality. The Oxford professor Lyndall Gordon published a biography called Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds (2010).
In her biography, Gordon has one major theory that is impossible to prove: She thinks that Emily Dickinson was epileptic, and that this explains the strange jolts and bursts of her language. Gordon says that the drugs Dickinson was prescribed could have been used to treat epilepsy, and thinks that if Dickinson was epileptic, it would also explain her reclusiveness — she was scared that she would have a spell of a disease that was still very stigmatized in the 19th century.
Most of Gordon's biography, though, is about the Dickinson family, one of the most prominent families in Amherst. Emily's father was severe, with a strict moral code. She later wrote in a letter to a friend: "His Heart was pure and terrible and I think no other like it exists." Emily didn't learn to tell time until she was 15 because she was afraid to tell her father that she hadn't understood his explanation of clocks. Her mother took good care of everyone but was not particularly warm, and she was more interested in cooking, keeping a clean house, and gardening than in the intellectual debates that the rest of the Dickinsons loved.
Emily had two siblings, Austin and Lavinia. Austin was the a handsome and accomplished man. Like his father, and unlike Emily, he was a very public person — he served on countless committees, oversaw civic projects and business ventures, and was deeply involved in his church.
Austin had a 13-year love affair with Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of an Amherst astronomy professor, a talented and charismatic young woman. Austin and Mabel met in the Homestead several afternoons a week for sexual trysts in the living room, during which Emily was confined upstairs. Mabel's husband knew about their relationship and was fine with it. Austin's wife, Susan, knew about their relationship and was miserable because of it, but she had children and a reputation to uphold.
To make things even more complicated, Emily and Susan were very close. Susan was also a writer, and a good listener, and Emily gave her more than 250 poems over the years. Sue shared her library with Emily, and passed along her favorite books. Emily wrote more than 300 letters to Susan. But it was Mabel, Austin's mistress, whom Emily never once met face-to-face, who ended up editing and publishing her poems and making her famous. The poet had only published a handful of poems during her life.

After Emily's death in 1886 at the age of 55, her sister Lavinia found nearly 1,800 poems in Emily's desk.
When Mabel and Lavinia published the first book of Emily Dickinson's poems in 1890, it went through 11 editions in a year and sold 11,000 copies.

Here is one of my favorite poems by Emily:

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)

 - 1830-1886
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I know that Saint Paul tells us that there are these three "Faith Hope and Charity but the greatest of these is Charity."

Myself, I find HOPE to be the greatest because it refuses to leave me.  I have lost Faith and Love for long periods of time but HOPE has stayed  when all reasons for Hope have fled.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Sorry for the long silence.

I spent  nine  days at Brigham Hospital in Boston
Now I am home and exhausted.

Bolstered up by seeing  the Lakers defeat  The Nets last night.

I am always  amazed to witness the generosity of LeBron.--they are a real team when he is on the court  because he so  often passes and sets up the play that gives the other players confidence.

Why even Rondo was cooking last night . And  a man -- bleach blonde named Kuzma-- is always  getting open and looking to James for  a pass.

So I am back but I may not write for awhile. My energy is low and  my computer is fading.
But I am still here..


Monday, January 13, 2020



Yesterday was the day in the liturgical calendar when  we  rejoice that Saint John the Baptist  baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  John  did it with some hesitation because he had recognized that Jesus was the Messiah from the time that he was in his mother's womb. That is called the feast of 







Epiphany means shining forth or manifestation. The feast is often called, as it is in the Orthodox service books, Theophany, which means the shining forth and manifestation of God. The emphasis in the present day celebration is on the appearance of Jesus as the human Messiah of Israel and the divine Son of God, One of the Holy Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Thus, in the baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus identifies Himself with sinners as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1.29), the “Beloved” of the Father whose messianic task it is to redeem men from their sins (Lk 3.21, Mk 1.35). And he is revealed as well as One of the Divine Trinity, testified to by the voice of the Father, and by the Spirit in the form of a dove. This is the central epiphany glorified in the main hymns of the feast:
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee (Troparion).
Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, and Thy Light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable! (Kontakion).
The services of Epiphany are set up exactly as those of Christmas, although historically it was most certainly Christmas which was made to imitate Epiphany since it was established later. Once again the Royal Hours and the Liturgy of Saint Basil are celebrated together with Vespers on the eve of the feast; and the Vigil is made up of Great Compline and Matins.
The prophecies of Epiphany repeat the God is with us from Isaiah and stress the foretelling of the Messiah as well as the coming of His forerunner, John the Baptist:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His path straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is 40.3–5; Lk 3.4–6).

Once more special psalms are sung to begin the Divine Liturgy of the feast, and the baptismal line of Galatians 3.27 replaces the song of the Thrice-Holy. The gospel readings of all the Epiphany services tell of the Lord’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. The epistle reading of the Divine Liturgy tells of the consequences of the Lord’s appearing which is the divine epiphany.
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2.11–14).
The main feature of the feast of the Epiphany is the Great Blessing of Water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. Usually it is done just once in parish churches at the time when most people can be present. It begins with the singing of special hymns and the censing of the water which has been placed in the center of the church building. Surrounded by candles and flowers, this water stands for the beautiful world of God’s original creation and ultimate glorification by Christ in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this service of blessing is done out of doors at a place where the water is flowing naturally.
The voice of the Lord cries over the waters, saying: Come all ye, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, even Christ who is made manifest.

Today the nature of water is sanctified. Jordan is divided in two, and turns back the stream of its waters, beholding the Master being baptized.

As a man Thou didst come to that river, O Christ our King, and dost hasten O Good One, to receive the baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner [John], because of our sins, O Lover of Man (Hymns of the Great Blessing of Waters).
Following are three readings from the Prophecy of Isaiah concerning the messianic age:
Let the thirsty wilderness be glad, let the desert rejoice, let it blossom as a rose, let it blossom abundantly, let everything rejoice . . . (Is 35.1–10).
Go to that water, O you who thirst, and as many as have no money, let them eat and drink without price, both wine and fat . . . (Is 55.1–13).
With joy draw the water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall you say: Confess ye unto the Lord and call upon his Name; declare his glorious deeds . . . his Name is exalted . . . Hymn the Name of the Lord . . . Rejoice and exult . . . (Is 12.3.6).
After the epistle (1 Cor 1.10–14) and the gospel reading (Mk 1.9–11) the special great litany is chanted invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the water and upon those who will partake of it. It ends with the great prayer of the cosmic glorification of God in which Christ is called upon to sanctify the water, and all men and all creation, by the manifestation of his saving and sanctifying divine presence by the indwelling of the Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit.
As the troparion of the feast is sung, the celebrant immerses the Cross into the water three times and then proceeds to sprinkle the water in the four directions of the world. He then blesses the people and their homes with the sanctified water which stands for the salvation of all men and all creation which Christ has effected by his “epiphany” in the flesh for the life of the world.
Sometimes people think that the blessing of water and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it over everyone and everything is a “paganism” which has falsely entered the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God in the Old Testament, and that in the Christian Church it has a very special and important significance.
It is the faith of Christians that since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has been immersed in the streams of the Jordan, all matter is sanctified and made pure in Him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men

. In the Lord’s epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God Himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1.2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1.30; 2.7).
The world and everything in it is indeed “very good” (Gen 1.31) and when it becomes polluted, corrupted and dead, God saves it once more by effecting the “new creation” in Christ, his divine Son and our Lord by the grace of the Holy Spirit (Gal 6.15). 

This is what is celebrated on Epiphany, particularly in the Great Blessing of Water. The consecration of the waters on this feast places the entire world—through its “prime element” of watering the perspective of the cosmic creation, sanctification, and glorification of the Kingdom of God in Christ arid the Spirit. It tells us that man and the world were indeed created and saved in order to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3.19), the “fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1.22). It tells us that Christ, in Who in “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” is and shall be truly “all, and in all” (Col 2.9, 3.11).

 It tells us as well that the “new heavens and the new earth” which God has promised through His prophets and apostles (Is 66.2; 2 Peter 3.13; Rev 21.1) are truly “with us” already now in the mystery of Christ and His Church.
Thus, the sanctification and sprinkling of the Epiphany water is no pagan ritual. It is the expression of the most central fact of the Christian vision of man, his life and his world. It is the liturgical testimony that the vocation and destiny of creation is to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3.19).

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Today is the Birthday of Elvis


I am not ashamed of it --I love Elvis Presley. 

 Hearing him sing and then watching him perform changed my life.
 He helped me to move from childhood to adolescence.  He was intense and his song lyrics reflected and probably gave some romantic content to my own intensity.

I love all of his songs and I often  listen to him on YOU TUBE and I own several collections of his Gospel songs  on CD.

I cannot say what my favorite songs are because they keep shifting.
Tonight  I love the song that was the first one he ever recorded as a gift for his mother  " That's When Your Heartaches Begin."

 Also I always liked another maybe lesser known song " I Was the One"  The line "And the way she touches your cheek, I taught her how" still breaks my heart.

Don't get me wrong. I know that Elvis did not write his own songs, but he sang them as if he had not only written them but lived them.  

Some late covers that he did of other  big songs like Frankie Laine's "THIS TIME YOU GAVE ME A MOUNTAIN"  or the  Righteous Brothers  "UNCHAINED MELODY"  have the power to astonish me when I see what Elvis added to the song. His phrasing, his voice, effortless and versatile, and his  emotional tone and control made every song he sang better.

Like all mothers, my mother was opposed to Elvis, and she spoke against him when she had never seen or heard him. That was not  like her. I knew that she could think otherwise because she loved to sing and knew many songs..

One day we were shopping downtown and  went  to the  fountain at Woolworth's.  I put a quarter in the jukebox on the counter  and one of the songs I played was  "LOVE ME TENDER"

My mother  listened--she did not know that this was the notorious Elvis--and she said.  "what a lovely song, someone has set  new words to Aura Leigh."  She  recognized the tune.  I turned and said, " yes, it is lovely and that is Elvis singing". 

I was in London doing research at the British Library the day that Elvis died. I was alone there in a rented room, and I heard the news over the radio. I did not know where to go or what to do.
So I went to Hyde Park, and there at the Speaker's Corner someone was talking about Elvis. Suddenly a group of Punk looking boys turned up their portable tape players and played Elvis singing.
 Someone from some news paper was trying to interview them. They refused to talk I recall one saying something:

"Shut up and just listen. This voice has been silenced and this is all we have left  SHUT UP AND LISTEN".   And they were weeping, and I sat down under a tree nearby and like so many there that day I wept too.  
Elvis was an international sensation.
 I learned that  when we first went to Ireland and met our cousins in 1973.  One of my cousins who was my age was named Dympna.  We were talking about movies and  books we liked, and suddenly she said "Ah but surely you love the King"

I knew  immediately that she meant Elvis, and I said ""I'm caught in a trap, I can't get out"--and she finished the line  "because I love you too much Baby."  We were so alike and yet we  had just met.  It was a revelation to me. Elvis spoke to and for people all over the world.

Even though I taught in Cincinnati for 27 years I did not  do much  traveling  in the area.  When I knew that I was leaving,  I decided to drive to two places : Nashville and Memphis.  I told my best friend from college Mary Ellen and she flew out from New York.
  Together we went to GRACELAND  and we spent the whole day there.  What did we do for an entire day? We wandered from room to room and had minor emotional breakdowns in  many of them and major breakdowns in others. 

We were not alone.

When I opened the closet door and saw the clothes that had belonged to Elvis' mother hanging there fresh and ready to be worn, I absolutely lost it.  Elvis loved his mother, and I have  always admired him for the way he made her the center of his life.  Yes, we also saw the cars and the plane and the costumes.

  That was in 2009, and I am so glad that I made that  trip.  It brought Elvis back to me.

I hope that  as people may read this and if you love Elvis too,  I hope that this memorial to him  helps you to recall your favorites.

Go to YOUTUBE and  watch him perform your favorites. Recall your own personal growth that Elvis fostered.  

And if it does that, it will be a source of          SOLACE.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Our Need to Remember and Tell Their Stories

Walt Whitman  writes of how a simple  impulse towards remembering a fallen soldier  haunts him. 

As Toilsome I Wander'd Virginia's Woods
by Walt Whitman
As toilsome I wander'd Virginia's woods,
To the music of rustling leaves kick'd by my feet, (for 'twas
I mark'd at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier;
Mortally wounded he and buried on the retreat, (easily all
      could I understand,)
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose—yet
      this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl'd and nail'd on the tree by the grave,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering,
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life,
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt,
      alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier's grave, comes the
      inscription rude in Virginia's woods,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
"As Toilsome I Wander'd Virginia's Woods" by Walt Whitman. Public domain..

What haunts Whitman is what inspires many of  us who love old cemeteries--the desire to   tell the stories of our beloved departed ones.

I am truly privileged because since my early childhood my Aunt Grace  Jenckes took me to visit  Oak Hill Cemetery in Woonsocket where  so many of my ancestors on my father's side are buried.   I wanted to  know their story, and  I could guess at some of it from the stones, the names and the dates. 

It has been especially thrilling to learn that my paternal ancestors were  ardent abolitionists and fervent Baptists. It is always a delight to find that your people were on the right side of history and in the vanguard of Change.  

My Aunt Grace also took me to a small cemetery  in Cumberland where her mother and  grandmother were both buried when they succumbed to the flu epidemic in 1919.

What a blow to an eight year old child
 Grace would tell me little stories about her mother Ida Mowry whom she had  known for such a short time. 
Grace would bring water and stiff brushes to the Mowry graves to clean the old stones and plant seeds that would grow there. And she was careful to uncover the  small stone for Waldo, a son of Ida's who died in infancy. 
 I can still recall that we often held hands there and wept quietly while reading the inscriptions.  

What little I knew of my history and paternal ancestors I knew from Grace.

I learned more when I dared to cross the austere threshold of the RI Historical Society on Hope Street and found many books about my family history. 

 But Grace had made it real and given me the visceral connection with my grandparents and great grand parents.
That was only one of her most memorable gifts to me. She enhanced my life in so many ways.