It’s a cold day on Beech Mountain, yet, also warmer than the past days. We had a wonderful snow on Tuesday and the ski resorts are blowing snow to get ready for ski season. The dog and I love snow even though we don’t ski. Who knows why Birdie loves the snow? Some dogs do and some dogs don’t. She has finally decided a coat is nice in such weather though.
The year has flown by quickly. All in all, it’s been a very good year in that it’s been a creative one. The summer was filled with singing, teaching, and preaching. Throughout, whenever there was a moment, I was writing. Meeting some new poets in the area has been inspiring. If you’ve not read Lisa Creech Bledsoe’s poetry yet, I encourage you to check her poetry out. You can get a sense of her poetry on her website Appalachian Ground. She also posts wonderful things about nature and foraging.
The music from Holy Cross Episcopal has been phenomenal this year. Elaine Kallestad has an amazing ministry there and she utilizes local talent from Appalachian State University (ASU) which takes it a step further. The musicians at ASU feed into many of our local congregations. High Country United Church of Christ has music that is also good for the soul if you prefer the less formal service and music. The other great thing about both of these churches is that in addition to great preachers, they are also both congregations that are welcoming to all people. As a lesbian in this rural setting, I especially love this part.
Being surrounded by all this talent and all the beauty of the High Country is bound to be an inspiration to any artist. This mix of people and location have also inspired a collection of prayers I’ve wanted to do for many years and couldn’t decide where to begin. It is my hope to be able to offer this book in December of this year, but at the latest, we will have it out by January 6, 2020.
The book’s title will be, Praying Together, and it is set up as a prayer book but also a journal. Moving from the Lutheran tradition to the Episcopal tradition has been a blessing in many ways. There are things that I love about each group of believers too. There are things that are similar and a few things that are different. It is the hope of me and the contributors to the book that the prayers will touch your heart and also be easy to access.
Its format will be smaller than the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church or the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Lutheran church. As we age, many of us who value these prayer books begin to have challenges handling both the weight and the thickness of both books. Therefore, the size of the book will be thin and lightweight so that all who value prayer may be able to handle it with ease. This will also be a great book for travel because it also fits easily in a bag or folded inside of another larger book.
There is more inspiration abounding in these mountains than there are words or songs. Yet, those of us who create are willing to keep trying. Please support local artists, musicians, and small businesses as we enter into the gift-giving season.
There have been several times I’ve started to write for the website. Then the muses bombard me with ideas, poems, songs. This isn’t a complaint though. All artists want their muse or muses talking. Mine can be quite stubborn when I don’t listen because I am ornery. Today it seems they will allow me ginger snaps and coffee if I keep writing. I’m good with that.
“A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.” ~Kate Baestrup
Ginger snaps are good at any time of the year for me. However, fall is my favorite time for ginger snaps. As I bite into a cookie, I remember all the times my sister and I came home from school, grabbed the ginger snaps mom had bought and a glass of milk. We snacked while watching our favorite after school television shows. When Andy Griffin came on, we knew we had to hurry and make sure our chores were done before mama got home.
Our world is flavorful, isn’t it? There are flavors we don’t like for various reasons. Perhaps it’s merely a dislike of the taste or the taste is associated with a bad memory of sickness or hurt. We avoid those (if possible) of course. Then there are those tastes like ginger snaps or molasses cookies that remind us of those we love. Times gone by that were good and safe.
Tastes bring back memories. Molasses cookies were the only soft cookies I liked growing up. They reminded me of the taste of ginger snaps and were another after school snack. However, anything molasses made me think of Grandma and Grandpa Whitley. Molasses were a staple at their house and there was nothing better than pouring that earth brown syrup over fresh hot biscuits.
The molasses were actually considered “grandpa’s” but he always shared with us. Grandpa liked the type of molasses found in the mountains. They were not the jars of blackstrap molasses that one can find in the store. He liked the molasses best that were sweeter and with no bitterness. The viscosity of his molasses was such that it poured like honey and when it was poured, a line of gold shone at the lip of the jar. Just to talk of pouring molasses reminds me of all the times we four of my family sat at grandma and grandpa’s table eating fresh vegetables from their garden or my dad’s. Then, dessert was molasses over biscuits.
The only time we didn’t have molasses and biscuits for dessert was at this time of the year when grandma made persimmon pudding. Though, growing up, we pronounced it as “persimmern pudding”. Seems that we Southerners add syllables unconsciously when we speak. It was only after I had gone to college with many Northerners that I began to hear how our brogue was different from “the yankees”. Returning to work at the fish camp where I had worked in high school one weekend, I laughed to discover that the number four could have two syllables as in “fo-er”.
As the taste of ginger lingers in my mouth, I dream of grandma’s persimmon pudding. Most who have never tasted persimmon pudding turn their noses up because its color is brown like ginger snaps. Grandma’s was a simple pudding made of persimmons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Mama can make one like grandma’s and so can my sister. I’ve made them years ago when I lived closer to farmers who had persimmons.
A persimmon is a fruit of the South. Maybe they have them elsewhere, but even some of my friends west of the Carolinas had not heard of or tasted persimmon pudding. One of the first things you do for a friend is to let them know not to taste the uncooked/unsweetened persimmon. Without the sugar, they are a bitter fruit that turns the mouth inside out. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Teeter, taught us this as we took a nature walk one day and she spotted a persimmon tree. I’ve always been thankful that she warned us so that no one would be able to play that cruel joke on us.
Waking up in the dark this morning, the sun rose in my heart filling it with love for all of creation. Some days are simply like that. Then, during meditation, memories of being loved returned flavoring my soul with the sweetness of memory, more love, and the realization that love transforms everything bitter into something sweeter.
We all know that life can be bitter. Yet, there is a sweetness to be found as the sun rises and birds begin to sing. The pink of the sky kisses the mountains and light begins to glow in the darkness. The day will pass with the good and the bad. Then, as night falls, there is rest and starlight and a safe warm bed. Not everyone has a safe warm bed or food to eat. Some awaken blind and deaf to the world around them. Yet, even then, there can be sweetness in life when it is allowed.
The thing is, is that love is not aggressive. Love works for the well-being of another and if that other says no, or, leave me alone – love listens, hears, and respects the other. In my life, I wanted to give love to the world my heart full of idealism and hope. Then, as is prone in this world, hurts occurred, and dreams were torn apart. The remedy I was told was to love myself. That made no sense. Yet, time and again the message given to me by priest, counselor, doctor, friend was that real love for others could not occur without first loving one’s self.
The love they suggested was not that of narcissism but being as willing to work for my own well-being as I was to work for another’s well-being. This was hard to learn because it also meant being willing to express my thoughts and feelings even if and even when they were different from those I loved. There were fights and disagreements. The lesson is not one to be learned overnight and one born of loving friends and community. Through that lesson, after several decades of struggle, my own eyes were opened to see that I was not alone; that others loved me even with my faults and insecurities.
Being blessed with friends willing to challenge me in the best and worst of times also taught me that working for the well-being of another or of one’s self means taking the
time to look at mistakes and misconceptions. Now it becomes clearer why it’s so hard for us humans to accept love. Why? Because accepting love changes us, and we humans are too afraid of change expecting it to be bitter and painful.
There is pain in the acceptance of love given to me and love I have accepted in and for myself. There’s no special cruise that love boats us to a better place. We have to unlearn bad habits or let go of unhealthy practices, people, friends, and sometimes family. Sometimes it’s merely looking at those people, friends, family members in a different way and seeing that they are afraid too.
Love changes us. When we can trust in love and that real love leads us to health and well-being, we can allow the sugar of life to mix with the bitter chemistry of pain, loss, and fear and cook up something as delicious as a life well-lived. Of course, the persimmon is a passive fruit being what it is. As humans with will and choice, we can always say no to love. My only question is why?
“Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.”
Change is not one of humanity’s favorite gifts. Yet, most humans don’t see change as a gift, but more as moving into the unfamiliar. The irony is that the only thing we can truly count on in life is that things are going to change. When we ignore things we don’t like, like weeds, those undesired things can take over and ruin a good life, a good marriage, a good school record, etc.
When we look at change as inevitable, then, we are given a choice of direction. We have the ability to change the perception in our own mind of the event (whatever it may be). Just because sometimes change is inevitable doesn’t mean it always has to be devasting.
St. Ignatius of Loyola had a way of looking at life where he encouraged his students in this way:
During times of consolation, prepare for the oncoming desolation.
During times of desolation, prepare for the oncoming consolation.
This was explained this way during a retreat on how to lead an Ignatian retreat. At the time, my Spiritual Director/Counselor said that was a depressing way to look at life. Though I could see how one might see fatalism in the comment, what I had experienced was more balanced.
The quote is about the inevitability of life. There are good and bad things that happen. Sometimes it really is only a matter of changing our perception of things. Once I thought about the good things that would return to life (in times of desolation), it was merely a matter of waiting (or wading) through the challenge until normality or gift occurred. That can be a long time. However, by being prepared that during times of desolation that there would be a time of consolation on the way, that made the waiting and the wading much easier. Okay, so maybe more tolerable is more truthful. To be in a time of desolation is not easy ever.
Not sure why we think that when we hit those times of consolation that they will last forever. It doesn’t take a lot of living or even listening to music on the radio to know that nothing good ever lasts forever. That truth is the theme of all the arts. Nothing lasts forever. How can one change the perspective on the fact that loss is a natural, human, life experience?
Of course, there’s no universal answer. You have to decide what works for you, and I have to decide what works for me. My decision has been to look at loss as the natural course of life. Seasons come and go. People come and go from our life in many different instances. Most of the time, those coming and goings from humans are nothing personal. Just like me, like you, like us, the ones we love who go somewhere else, have to deal with the question of change and perspective.
We can accept change and learn to live with the changes that come or seek to change. The reason our world is in chaos is because of how we all fight to avoid change and sometimes change is growth. To grow is to change and ideally, with the right perception or perspective, we can grow when change happens that we haven’t planned for. What is good about change?
Change is all about perspective. When we continue to resist change that is inevitable, like aging, we only create misery for ourselves. This is where St. Teresa of Avila’s quote on loving more than thinking can be quite helpful.
“The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so, do that which best stirs you to love.”
~St. Teresa of Avila
What “best stirs you to love”? That question can move our perspective to a better way at looking at change. That may mean that we have to take action. In the case of injustice being done to another, it’s important to find a way to be proactive in love. Sometimes change catches us off-guard anyway and all we have time for is to react and not plan a loving response. That’s when it’s vital to remember that we are also called to extend love towards our own selves. When we make mistakes, learn from them, make corrections, and then move on to a better place.
This morning during prayer, it was a blessing to be reminded of a dear woman from my time in Tallahassee. She was one of the shut-ins we visited at church. Though we would go to check on her and make sure she was okay, everyone agreed that when you left Jo’s home, the visitor felt that JO had done the ministry. That is because of the power of her love and light. Each time I visited Jo, she always said that she wasn’t lonely because she always knew God was with her.
This morning, though Jo died long ago, her light shone into my heart. She lived into her nineties and we all were saddened at her passing. Yet, some twenty years later, the love she shared with me in those moments brought light into sadness for me. Things are changing as I age. People die, move away, or just go away. It is okay to grieve. Here’s the thing though, when I get past the grieving, when you get through the sadness, you too will see that though a person is gone, the love remains.
“No matter where life takes you, the place that you stand at any moment is holy ground. Love hard and love wide and love long and you will find the goodness in it.”