Sunday, January 27, 2008
and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
when I embark.
~Alfred Lord Tennyson
You may think it morose, but I take strange delight in walking among gravestones. In most European villages, you cannot help walk among gravestones if you visit any church building, as the churchyard is packed full of graves. Every trip into a rural European church building offers people an all encompassing reminder of their mortality.
Then make a special trip. Take a drive. Visit the dead. There’s nothing morose about it. Give death a chance. Step out of the predictable world of the living. Step into the world of the dead. Walk among gravestones. Go sit on a granite tombstone. Ponder the names you see written there. Mr. Miller once sat where you sit, full of life and vitality, expecting to live and live and live a little more. Look at the dates, when he was born, when he died. Underneath your feet rests his bones. Listen. It is almost peaceful here. Feel the wind in the trees. Hear the birdsong. See the red and gold leaves catching rays of the setting sun scattered across the green lawn. Come back to this graveyard next week. Next week bring flowers. Clear off the dead leaves and weeds. Honor the memory of Mr. Miller and all those who have passed on before us in the grand processional of life and death.
In my wife’s homeland of
I like walking among gravestones. I like the quietness, the green lawns contrasted with the dark tones of granite. In Danish graveyards, you find huge stones dug from the fields of the deceased love ones, now adorned with names and dates of the very people who tilled those fields. I do not tire of reading the names of husbands and wives, sons and daughters, lovers and friends. The human race parades across gravestones telling the old, old story. We all shall die. The wise sayings and ancient symbols point our souls beyond stone and grave to the unseen realm of eternity, singing the ever new story. We all shall rise and live again. St. Benedict, a monk from the 6th century, wrote, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” A Benedictine monk I know once told me to spend more time with elderly people. I asked him why. He told me that senior citizens would teach me how to die, and assured me I wouldn’t begin to live until I learned that lesson.
I live near the graveyard of the Pacific, the mouth of the
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
there is much profoundness in that.
The Southern porch. There is such a marvel as the Southern porch. Most homes in other parts of the country only hint at the idea. Call it the stoop, the front steps, or the entryway, but don’t call it a porch until you’ve spent time down South. Southerners believe in the genteel architecture of the porch. Their homes are built around this institution. The Southern porch is more than just the outer part of a building attached to the front or back of a person’s home and its also a whole lot more than merely a place to wipe your feet and shake hands. That concept belongs to busy, city dwelling Northerners. The Southern porch is people, family and friends gathered round to enjoy lazy summer nights, slapping skeeters, listening to music and just letting the evening slide by. I might be making more of it than I should. There’s a lovely attitude among my Southern friends that seems to say, “Boy, don’t go and ruin the thing by over analyzin’ it. Jest sit down on the porch swing, watch them lightnin’ bugs do their little dance. I’ll be inside fixin’ us somethin’ cold to drink. Holler if you need anything.” With sweetened ice tea in hand, ice cubes clinking in the quiet evening, we sit there on the porch, listening to crickets and cicadas, take in a thunder and lightning show if one happens along, and soak in the cooling grace of the evening.
After six years of life in the South, we returned to the
These resting places come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. We all have them: places where we go to care for our soul. We are often alone in such a place. Solitude seems to encourage such interior gardening. It doesn’t seem to matter if the place is next to a building or outside alongside a lake, under the canopy of the stars. Some are formal, some informal. They can be full of sensory delight or stripped of all sound and sight. What matters most is what happens there or perhaps more importantly, what does not happen there. In such places our souls are watered like thirsty gardens on a summer day. We cease striving and begin anew to bask and luxuriate like a cat sleeping in the sun. We stop and listen like a robin on a dew drenched lawn in early spring. Once you’ve traveled to such a soul place to drink water from that well of life, you want to return again and again. It is easy to forget to take time to get away, yet you find your imagination sneaking off on a daydream holiday to such a place while surrounded by the mundane tasks of daily living.
I suppose every culture and region has such a place, a place outdoors to go and do nothing. Balconies, lanais, gazebos, patios, verandas filled with
Monday, January 14, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Across the landscape of Old World Europe, travelers discover a common design: the delight of the enclosed garden, tucked away in the heart of places where people live. From aristocratic manor homes to peasant cottages, the enclosed garden is evident. The transforming power of such a place is captured beautifully in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic story, The Secret Garden, in which imperious Mary and sickly Colin find springtime freshness and health as they explore the enclosed secret
As I’ve retreated to Benedictine monasteries across the North American continent and across
Come along and we’ll go visit a European cloister garden. The place is on the northwest coast of
Sit still here in the secret garden of the soul and listen. Soak in the quietness. Rest for a time. For all who have found their way to that interior cloister garden, while you bask in the sun and quiet of that place, offer your own invitation to others in the form of a prayer of blessing for all weary travelers who haven’t yet found their way inward on spiritual pilgrimage into the secret garden of the soul.