I am pleased to introduce the new logo for the name under which I am publishing my books. When I first started doing the self-publishing of my writing, I tried different names based upon a mix of my name and my ex’s name. Needless to say, decided I needed to find a name that was more lasting.
Because I love black dogs so much, I wanted to use Blackdog Publishing or Blackdog Press. Alas, those are already taken. Of course, who wouldn’t want such a cool name? Blackdog Music was even taken thanks to those Brits! Though there is a Blackdog Press in Pennsylvania, they are a pharma company and me and the black dog here, don’t do that. Just ask Birdie, she HATES pills even when covered in meat, pill pockets, etc.
I’m excited to say that my own Brit friend, Michele Jack, designed a super logo based upon my own dog, Birdie. You will note that Michele found a photo of Birdie that showed her sweet little paw too.
We both talked about the yin and the yang of a curled up dog too. You can see that Michele got that feel to the logo as well.
With the Napping Dog Press, my goal is to publish writers who are local, create collections of essays, poetry, prayers that are created locally, and hopefully, to create some homemade paper into stationery.
Many thanks to the wonderful design from the U.K. We love it Michele!
Announcing the first prayer journal in a new series called Praying Together. The daily prayers are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church of American and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Volume 1 uses Psalms and John as part of the daily devotional reading.
Each volume will also include prayers found from other traditions that may be inspiring as well as modern poets or writers.
Within each volume, there is space to write or draw as one may feel moved. One of the goals, however, is to keep the devotional easy to handle for those with arthritic hands. The BCP and LBW are often too heavy for those with hand injuries or arthritis. The slim format of the book also makes it a book that is easily packed for travel or slipped into the Bible for daily use.
This is the first publication for the new non-profit press, Napping Dog Press of Beech Mountain, NC. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support those in need in the Valle Crucis area of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. If you would like to use these journals as a way to pray and give back to your community, please contact robin @ jrobinwhitley.net for a quote.
These books will be available with each contributing author as well as at City Light Bookstore in Sylva, NC. Ordering with the Indie bookstore or one of the authors will assure you of a more reasonable price.
Biographies of Writers
Jane W. Blackburn is a librarian, would-be poet, rookie old-woman-with-cats, and a person grateful for the love and mercy of God. Born in Alabama, educated in Kentucky and North Carolina, she now calls the mountains of northwest North Carolina home.
Doris Boulton is a former teacher, Director of Religious Education (DRE), and writer. Publications include Religion Teacher Journal, Primary Treasure, Our Little Friend, Utne Reader, Humpty Dumpty, Highlights, Festivals, numerous poetry journals. Now resides in Valle Crucis, N.C.
Tamara B. Franks is a lover of Creation, intrigued by humanity, and continually seeking the depth of our beings. A native Texan, she lives currently outside of Boone, NC where she passionately serves High Country UCC as its pastor.
Michele B. Jack is a freelance, writer, editor, and graphic artist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives and works in the UK. Her other job is as an IT consultant to primary schools, providing technical help and creating educational resources.
Alicia Randolph Rapking is an ordained Elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as pastor of the congregation at First United Methodist in Parkersburg, WV. She is a global citizen, contemplative, writer, poet, artist, traveler, scholar, and seeker of justice and peace.
Jordan Venditelli is an ex-evangelical, queer and non-binary, Philosophy & Religion student in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their work centralizes their experiences of being born and raised in rural NC, coming out as queer and non-binary in that environment, grappling with their queer and disabled identity, and finding an affirming faith community. They love sour beers, their cat – Java, and long chats about metaphysics and intersectionality.
JRobin Whitley is a freelance writer, musician, and preacher. Robin received a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Whitley now lives in the High Country of North Carolina with their dog, Birdie.
“May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.” ~Br. David Steindl-Rast
Dear friends and family,
It seems odd that I share a quote about preparing for the long sleep of winter on the day of solstice. Though today is the longest day, from this day onward, the earth begins to move again towards the sun. Yet, the days are still cold. Added to that coldness is the fact that even though marketers would have us believe these are the happiest of times, death still happens. And even if death skips over our particular family or friends’ homes, grief is a winter companion for sure. After my dad’s death and then later, the loss of my marriage, nights were the hardest. Then, the holidays.
Now that years have passed and grief has let its stranglehold ease up from the 24/7 choke, I found myself weeping at the loss this morning. After the illness of my dear mother-in-law, I’ve needed to weep because I love her and also because it reminded of how afraid we all were when my dad had caught pneumonia. My dad at 78 didn’t make it. My former mother-in-law, at 98, will get to come home. For her family, I am glad she did not leave us at Christmas. For, like my dad, Christmas was one of her favorite times of year.
The tears came from relief that she gets to go home, but also, years later, at Christmas, I miss my dad. Growing up, we always laughed that at Christmas we often had to fight dad for the new toys we got. His love of play was always one of my favorite things about him.
The thing I’ve always loved most about the Christmas season, however, were the stories and singing around the piano with my family and cousins. I also love the choral music available. When I think of Christmas, I think most of all about music. I am at an age where I truly need nothing. Often, when family or friends ask me for a gift suggestion, I ask for them to sing with me. Let’s sing Christmas carols.
At our last prayer group meeting of the year, we sang Silent Night. Such a simple song, yet still powerful. Maybe even more powerful in a world where silence is not only golden, but also rare. We live in a world where silences are filled with gadgets, automobiles, planes, and anything to distract us from being still and silent. After we sang the carol, we all talked about when we used to go caroling when we were younger.
In the small community where I grew up, my family attended Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Every year at Christmas, the adult choir would go Christmas caroling to the shut-ins (those who were sick at home or who lived alone). The choir members took their children. Then later, the youth choir rode on the bus with the adults. We laughed and sang on the bus. Then we sang at the doorsteps of people that we youth often didn’t know. The smiles on their faces that we stopped by mattered and made a difference to me as a kid. As I became a youth group director and youth choir director, I took my youth groups caroling. It was awkward for some at first. Then, they too began to love it as I did as a kid. It was wonderful seeing those young lives making a huge difference in the lives of those who couldn’t get out too. There was a light that came into the eyes of the elderly. With the youth, it was watching seeds of love begin to blossom. I still treasure all the times I’ve caroled with others. It’s my favorite part of Christmas still.
“The foundation of greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment, instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.” ~Eckhart Tolle
We live in a world that seeks innovation and newness. Oftentimes the business worlds in which adults work and make a living are rewarded only if or when they are great. Yet, sometimes life is about loving the ordinary beauty of each other and not trying something newer, or bigger or better than before. Some folks always want things to stay the same and others always want new experiences. Don’t get me wrong, ruts are boring, and we can all get stuck in mindsets or ruts that are not good for us. In those times, we need a light to show us a new way. In those soul-deadening times, we need new birth to move us out of our comfort zone.
But it’s also important to remember those precious moments of great love shared in simple silent nights. Where generations of singers or family stand in the cold, dark night, singing carols to someone sad or alone. Rejoicing in the group hug of family and friends huddled around a porch or piano and singing simply for the joy of singing together and hoping to bring joy to another. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that bring the greatest gifts of love.
“Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” ~L.R. Knost
Walking into the quiet winter morning, the red-pink in the East draws my eye to the rising sun. The sky is blue-gray and purple clouds are painted across the Northern sky. The West is behind Beech Mountain, although my residence is considered on the “backside” of the mountain.
Birdie and I walk in the warmish weather. Fifty degrees feels a bit like a heatwave after the wind, ice, and snow of the weekend. As we walk up Northridge road, the woods and shady places are still covered with snow. Though we did not get more than an inch in accumulation, it was cold enough through the day and night to remain. This morning the trees and porches beginning to melt, or at least the snow on the snow on the trees and the porches. It’s not a Salvador Dali type of morning, but more like a Monet painting.
As I listen to the silence and Birdie tracks some creature’s footprint, I wonder how I could ever leave this heaven? There’s no current plan to leave but there are those who wish I would move to Boone or Stanly County so I won’t have to be alone while also battling health issues. Yet, each time I go to a new place and my health wavers, in returning home to rest, I recover. There is healing in this place.
Rounding the upward curve of the road, a brown head turns on the hill above us to see who makes a sound. The yearling is snacking on what green remains on the hill behind our treehouse. Birdie sees the deer look at us but has learned not to bark and scare them away. Even this quiet morning seems sacred to her. Then I see two more spring-born deer who glance our way, return to grazing, and then flick their white tails as they mosey up the hill to the others.
In moments like this, I think of vocation and what does that mean for me at this place
in my life. Not at the place on the mountain, for it is clear that this is the place to think, reflect, heal, and learn how to be present. But what does vocation mean for me at 58 as I finally learn to manage my disability with rest and quiet?
In the past few months, I have talked with my priests and also an Episcopal nun in a convent in New York. During more religious moments, I wonder if I should seek out the diaconate or return to the vocation of a pastor. When still in times of quiet contemplation, the urge to be part of a praying community like The Community of the Holy Spirit embraces me as an option. Then I remember a sentence spoken in my mind’s ear during one of my silent retreats.
You are an artist.
That simple sentence came to me as an answer to a prayer prayed for three days on vocation while I was still a pastor but seeking further discernment for vocation. At the time, I was certain that the answer would be something like a preacher, teacher, or musician. Though that sentence can certainly embrace all three of those options, it was one of those puzzles that the Holy Spirit gives us to ponder and consider.
It is only now, twenty-two years later, that I begin to see a way to live this path of vocation that is different than anticipated. Though I’ve mentioned that sentence and the need to understand its meaning for my life in these past years, it’s also been like I’ve tried to turn away from it. Why? Music, writing, painting has always brought me great peace. Yet, the reward of preaching, teaching, and being a musician was so much more rewarding. There. I’ve said it and now I see. At least, in this moment I can see the fear.
What fear you may ask? Fear of failure of course. Many artists work in oblivion during a lifetime. Some of their works fade into obscurity and others, like Emily Dickenson, become remembered for the art created in her life and created in silent obscurity. Early on it was clear to me that I did not want to be famous like those actors and musicians seeking the world’s accolades. Yet, somewhere in the past years I also realized that I didn’t want to be forgotten. What does it mean to trust G-d enough to be willing to be forgotten?
Having no human children means my pets, music, writing, and paintings are my children. There are memories I share with those around me and we all know that counts. Love always counts. Even in my divorce of recent years, it’s clear that LOVE ALWAYS COUNTS. Love finally showed that to me as I worked on healing and forgiveness. Though I lost my home and wife, the love we shared during those years changed me for the better and I will always have that beauty in my life even if I no longer have those people or that place.
In conclusion, this letter is not so much of one where I wonder where G-d is leading me because that continues to be clear. I only need to have enough faith to be obedient to G-d’s calling to be an artist no matter what else may call or distract me. My question is how can we see the Holy in each vocation? One of my favorite quotes from the theologian Frederick Buechner addresses the matter of vocation:
IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man [or woman] is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work
(a) that you need most to do and
(b) that the world most needs to have done.
If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a),
but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
That last line says it all, doesn’t it? The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. What I must ask myself is does the world hunger for writings on love and peace? Does the world hunger for music that lifts the Spirit and calls forth integrity? Does the world hunger for art that expresses one’s deepest heart and truest self? For me, the answer is yes. That should be enough. I pray to focus on that truth, and that I may have the grace and faith to see that love will be enough.
Cleaning up from making biscuits is not the task I anticipated. The dread of cleaning up the scattered flour was worse than the actual chore. The entire time I gave thanks for a friend who reminded me to be thankful when I had to clean up after cooking. She was right of course. Brother Lawrence in his book, Practicing the Presence, reminds us that with each chore we do to give thanks that G-d is working for us. It’s also a very Zen concept.
Before Enlightenment, you hate your life. You chop wood and carry water, but secretly wish to get out of it all. You bear with these activities through habit and out of hopelessness, but you really wish you could do something else. In a way, you are a victim, a slave – the wood chops you and the water carries you, and there is no way to escape. This could go for eternity, it is like living in eternal hell.
After Enlightenment, you are in harmony with the universe. You realized emptiness of it all, so you see that there is nothing more important than chopping wood and carrying water. All activities are equalized, there is no preference, no discrimination. ~Andrei Volkov
This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the ability to still cook my own meals. What is cleaning up but the last task of being a baker or a cook? I often think of my grandmas who lived before fast-food restaurants. Even had they been around, their era was that of the depression. Most were glad to have a piece of bread much less be concerned about cleaning up.
Thanksgiving’s historical reality is one that can be hard once we accept what the early settlers did to Native American populations. The Native Americans gave out of their abundance and compassion. In the years that followed, the whites took their lands and most often, their lives. It is important to accept the historical reality of that period of time if we are to ever rectify it so that all may give thanks.
Growing up, the pilgrim story was told in elementary school of course. But at home, the holiday was about family and giving thanks that we had enough. My family is not a wealthy one. We were probably middle-middle class; not quite rich and not quite poor either. My sister and I never wanted for the things we needed like food and shelter.
Indeed, we were quite privileged not only because we were white, but we came from a musical family. Because of that, we were given piano lessons and dance lessons. Though, I think I overheard mom talking to another mom wishing my tomboyish walk would be tamed by dancing. Perhaps it was. I also know it could have been my tomboyish self-making up reasons I was going to have to put on a stupid leotard. All I know is how thankful I am now for those opportunities. Music has been my life. Because of the dance lessons, I know the joy of musical movement and have long loved going to a ballet.
What does this have to do with Thanksgiving one might ask? Everything. Because the way our family celebrated was to give thanks for what we were given. We started each morning out with the Macy’s Day Parade. Mom was cooking something in the kitchen for a meal at Grandma and Grandpa Whitley’s house. We went there every Thanksgiving and then to her mom and dad’s at Christmas. The day was a lazy day of cooking and family.
When we got to Grandma’s, the house was full of great smells and since we were often late because of my dad, the house was full of relatives. The Whitley clan was big, and the house was crowded. There was so much food on the table and card tables in the kitchen, that all the pies and cakes were left in Grandma’s walk-in cooler; otherwise known as the back porch.
As I think of Grandpa washing his hands on the back porch, then walking into the kitchen to pray over the meal, I can see that our Thanksgivings were much like the scene Norman Rockwell painted in his images of the holiday. Grandpa Whitley wore his good overalls though and we didn’t use a tablecloth. They were farmers, so nothing was fancy though Grandma would put on her good apron on holidays where the family came over to share a meal. One never knew which relative was going to show up at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Though they invited the entire family, some did not come. Years passed before I ever met my Uncle Cletus and I don’t ever remember meeting his kids.
Because the family was large and had big age gaps, we had many generations in that old farmhouse. The cousins you saw regularly you ran to for comfort in the crowd because there was always someone there you didn’t know. Once mom counted and said there were like 100 people there that day. It meant that some of the men decided to eat on the porches. There were plenty of chairs on each porch. My dad was always hovering near the desserts so we always knew we could find him on the back porch.
When we were young, we ate as fast as we could. Because the next thing we did on that day was to take a trip to the branch. Every cousin took the same route. You ran to the barn to see what Grandpa had in there. If Grandma had chickens, we would check to see if they had eggs. Grandma had usually gathered them already, but it was the fun of looking. Then we would trek down the tractor lanes to the branch, follow the branch up until the barbed wire fence, then walk back up the hill. We were thankful for that too. The branch was the joy of the children. It was rare that a parent went down with us, though I remember mom and dad down there with us once.
By the time we got back up to the house, the adults had cleaned up the kitchen and were falling asleep in the den. Grandpa’s antique mantel clock always tick-tocking the fed adults into sleep. When some of our college-age cousins were there, the sound of someone playing the out of tune piano in the parlor might be sounding softly through the house. Soon it was time to go home.
I don’t remember the rest of the day really. Perhaps we slept it away or watched holiday movies. That’s my guess. It was a feast day for sure, but also a rest day full of family. Sometimes we visited my Aunt Jewel who was shunned by everybody but my dad and his oldest sister.
In writing this, my memory wanted to put the day after Thanksgiving together with the feast day. The day after Thanksgiving was not a shopping day at all for my parents. It was the day we went to the Thompson’s for lunch and then to watch football. Neither of my parents liked to watch sports, but the Thompsons did. I learned to like sports by watching with my friend, Kim.
Kim was my age and her sister, Kelly, was my sister’s age. Kim and I were tomboys and Tracy and Kelly were not. In truth, I have no idea what Tracy and Kelly did on that day. All I remember is their running to Kelly’s room and closing the door while I plopped down on the floor to watch football with Kim.
When it was time to eat, the food was everything that was leftover from our families’ meals on the previous day. This was actually my favorite meal. Not because I didn’t enjoy the food cooked by Whitley relatives because I did. However, Linda (Kim’s mom) made rice and gravy that was the best I ever ate. To this day, I’ve never eaten gravy that tasted like Linda’s and I never thought to ask her how she did it.
Because of my family’s traditions on Thanksgiving weekend, the holiday has always been one of giving thanks for the gifts of food, family, and friends. There was never any talk of the pilgrims, only of the blessings of bountiful tables and blessed hands that prepared the meal. In every instance, it was the women who prepared the meals too.
This Thanksgiving, I will be sharing a meal with a friend and her husband from my church. They both live in our small mountain town. The hardest thing to deal with after my divorce was the loss of my own personal family; the family I married into. This Thanksgiving my heart rejoices to have known them and to have shared beautiful Thanksgivings with them. My ex-wife also shared some Thanksgivings with my family, though they were much smaller after my grandparents died. After the meal at my parents, we would walk down the dirt road behind mom’s house. Then, on Fridays relax and read.
My biological family and I have been at odds this year. Political alliances have kept us apart in ways we don’t address. The political and religious differences are some huge invisible wall we have not yet breached. But at times, we meet at the fence and reach hands and arms through to hug each other and say that we love one another. I’m thankful that we have at least that still. Maybe one day we can allow the love to tear down the walls. Until then, I give thanks that we are still reaching out to each other loving through the walls. My prayer is that one day, the wall will come down.
Love can build a bridge Between your heart and mine Love can build a bridge Don’t you think it’s time? Don’t you think it’s time?