Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2013.08.28 Proustian Spirituality

Recently some good old women friends and I were wondering as we do about those funny little lifts of soul we don’t quite know how to name or explain. Happification? Perhaps just being alone without noise is enough to help focus attention and actually see or hear what the world has to offer our senses. 

This is an excellent practice for writers. Just observe and drink in, then write. OR the reverse. Either way it makes for a good piece of writing, prose or poetry.  You just never know what the details will reveal, and I don't think it's the devil, who has mistakenly reported to be in the details.

One of my seminary professors back in the 80s said there were only three simple rules of prayer: STOP. LOOK. LISTEN. Same rules for a writer.

Marcel Proust had such a famously arresting moment, a  moment when details suddenly exploded to reveal, let's just say, a world beyond the world. The concentration of memoir writing can be a little like that.  Proust wrote about it in Remembrance of Things Past (1871) All it took was a pause.

Marcel tasted some cake with tea, which released a flood of memory and more, the kind of experience I call Godde: 

"I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory — this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?"

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013.08.25 Life Wisdom—Mundanely Called Coping, Spiritually Called Hoping

Love fiercely with all your might;
have faith in your love even when it is clumsy or grows faint;
hope when there is no reason to hope—no matter what. . .for
hope is neither wistful nor wishful, but is
clear-hearted and mindful
partaking of the Divine.

I write this in gratitude for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who is still dreaming hope into souls black and white,
 male and female,
   child and adult,
    parent and child,
     able and disabled,
      employed and unemployed
        young and old,
         gay and straight,
          rich and poor—for better for worse.
AMEN

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013.08.18 Madaket Millie

2013.08.18  Madaket Milie

A Spiritual Lemon, as most of you know, is my sweet ‘n sour term for any person, place or thing that most people assume to be sour but that is really blessed with a special sweetness.

Madaket Millie is one such Spiritual Lemon. Here she is on one of her 80 birthdays, a local hero and legend.


Millie was Mildred Jewett, born in 1907 on Nantucket and moved to her grandmother’s farm in Madaket, the western end of the island in 1911. Millie was fascinated by the sea and would sit on top of her house gazing out to sea for hours. She became known as the “Protector of the West End” and called herself the “seaside sentinel.”

Her well trained eye earned her a vocation patrolling the beaches during World War II, watching for shipwrecks, and training German Shepard dogs for patrol duty for all branches of the military service. The Coast Guard was Millie's favorite branch, her “family.” Millie was awarded the highest honorary civilian rank, Coast Guard West End Command.

Millie had a gruff, grim, sour countenance and a sweet heart that loved animals, especially dogs, sold ice cream, and helped anyone in need. She greeted natives and visitors alike and called tourists “mop heads” because of the noisy contraptions they rode around. . . . mopeds.

Millie developed a close friendship with Mr. Rogers who had a home on Nantucket and couldn’t have been more cheery-faced to Millie’s curmudgeonly dourness. The two made a film together, and when they were around it was indeed a “wonderful day in the neighborhood.”


One summer day some 30 years ago my son John and his cousin ran into Millie near her tiny house in Madaket on the west end of Nantucket Island, MA. “What are you boy doing snooping around here?” Millie growled. The young boys arrived home breathless and terrified. On another occasion they met Mr. Rogers and ran home their eyes like saucers, breathless with celebrity-wonder.

Millie and Fred (above) stand in front of Millie’s cottage—the perfect picture of spiritual wholeness.

Today there is a terrific, informal restaurant near the west end beach in Madaket. After several incarnations that haven't lasted the name Millie's has taken hold. If this establishment is as resilient as its namesake it will thrive as long as the seas allow.

Somehow I imagine the ghost of Millie commanding the waters to back off and let this dear land live.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

2013.08.11 Instead of Church—Or Was It Church?

Today is Sunday and we’re on our two weeks vacation in Nantucket.  My oldest daughter and her two teen age daughters have been here for the weekend.  The weather has been close to perfect, not too hot and not too cool. Windy for good waves but sun and sand for warmth.

So it’s Sunday.  To be honest we don’t often go to church while on vacation—not policy but preference.

Still, it was Sunday and my daughter suggested that we do a little informal prayer something for a close woman friend who is in the throes of a cancer battle. She is a valiant and bright presence and hopefully will soon be well.

So we all agreed and I was appointed the “priest.”  Dick agreed to be the camera man and  video tape our little effort so we could send it to our friend. 

We all sat outside on the back deck, dressed in our beach clothes and created a very informal set of prayers for our friend for strength, wisdom, courage, and truth, a song to the Holy Spirit, a blessing and lots of laughter and smiles and waves to our invisible friend. I’ve never dramatized a get well card before. It was a creatively spirit-filled experience with a message of love and hope.

Myself, I’d call this church at its very finest without the finery. It didn’t matter what exactly each of us believed or whether we were religious or not. We weren’t doing it for us.

A small communion gathering— well consecrated, sacramental and downright holy.

In truth, we don't go TO church, we make it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

2013.08.07 Birth Days

It’s our birthdayS—seriously. My beloved and I were born on the same day. I'm 75 and he’s 72, a mere child.  Imagine two Leos in one not very large townhouse, retired with no 9-5 place to get a little space!  There’s a whole lot of roaring going on.  Boom boom!

Rather than feel old I feel lucky that his brain is 3 years younger than mine. He can remember what I forget in an instant. It's a balance. I can often hear things more accutely than he can, such as the whirring of a mosquito in my ear at night which causes me to slap my ear so hard it hurts—while he sleeps on.  

It's good to be happy and quirky and full of gratitude.

Our day started with arising lazily to stretch into the sun and breath in cool clean unconditioned air—followed by discovering a small infestation of mosquitoes between the screen and the closed window in the bathroom. Thus began the challenge to eliminate or free the biting pests, the only one of Godde’s critters I allow myself to whap! —without guilt.  Releasing them didn’t work so............. RIP skeets.  

There followed the challenge of discovering how the skeets got in and patching the aging screens- culprits, several of which by now are more patch than original screen. Makes me think of our bodies and whether and what we may have to have replaced one day— knee,  hip, pray God not a face!?  How grateful we both are to have all our parts. 

We began our day with a task and some pride at the accomplishment of mosquito-proofing our bedroom. Then and only then did we embrace for birthday hugs and laughter and head downstairs to see that each of us had broken our rules and gotten the other cards. LOL cards.

After my walk and his massage we went to walk around Walden Pond. It is a delightful walk and the pond is quite large. Thoreau was no hermit but he did rough it for some time. He wanted to see what he could learn by confronting the bare un-manicured woodlands and all the creatures therein.

In his 1854 book Walden: Or, Life in the Woods  he wrote:  “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”  (Assume he includes she!)

   Thoreau was a short and attractive but not husky man. He didn't look like this in the woods.

Walden is beautiful and now filled with people swimming and enjoying this natural resource for only$5 to park!  I learned that  there is no such thing as nature somehow separate from humanity, often assumed to be better. We are all one as Creator-God intended. 

Now we will indulge in a great dinner at a Boston restaurant and risk undoing the soothing effects of the massage and the healthy walk in an historic sight.  Fair balance, no?

It's odd to be 75. Somehow that seems like a really old number. Don't know why really.

I’ll go with Mark Twain's wisdom on this: Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.  I don’t mind.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

2013.08.03 Writing Alumnae Blurb

What to do, besides tap delete, when your class secretary sends an email asking for Class News for the Smith College Alumnae Quarterly from the college you graduated from 55 years ago, and you’re happy but not a hot shot.

What do I remember about college?  Exams, papers, panic, bridge, good friends, overstudying and becoming a true nerd while dreaming of a weekend date or a weekend at the local bar playing “The Prince of Wales had no tails.....”—a beer game designed to get you loopy.  

I also remember falling in crush with the college chaplain, a handsome dreamy type who guided me to the Episcopal Church where I found my spiritual home and eventual vocation. And, swooning over a Spanish (my major) professor, a suave Iberian poet who helped me appreciate Spanish poets. My favorite  poet was Nicolas Guillén, a surrealist whose one line captivated me enough to remember it :Todo en el aire es pájaro. (Everything in the air is bird.) Not translatable, which was its attraction. I learned to swallow it whole.

We lived in houses not dorms. I remember our housemother Mrs. Breakey. She presented a stern front and when she walked her ample thighs rubbed together making a swish-swish sound.  I grew to like her.

Most seriously, at Smith I re-learned what I’d learned in my all-girls NYC school, Nightingale Bamford, where I went from from grades 1-6: that girls could think, learn, and have strong voices intellectually and aesthetically. 

But the class secretary wanted to know our thoughts about The Seventies.  How do you blurb a decade, especially one that for me felt completely out of control?

So I wrote:

The 70s was a time when everything seemed to happen at once—all the good, bad and beautiful. It was the decade when, awakened by the furor of the 60s Civil Rights and the feminist movements, I broke out of rule and role in some mighty sloppy ways. Words of Smithies, Gloria Steinem, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" and Betty Friedan "the problem that has no name"(that is, women discontent even though they’d followed their generational prescriptions for happily ever after) rang in my ears. They drove me on, along with my religious faith.  In time I became an Episcopal priest, a kind of brass ring I'd always wanted but never dared grab for.

I would not have had the chutzpah to do all this if it weren't for the 70s and for Smith where I learned to think, ask questions, and dare.