• Tag Archives: Western North Carolina

Morning Prayer

Peace descends upon my heart this morning which is not made of my making. The awakening to the day, however, was filled with worry over my dog, Birdie. Congestion bothers her breathing and I can hear it. I come to the computer to rearrange my budget. Yet, all I can do is wait for the vet to open and pray. While praying for this 17# of pure love and wonder, I remember my friend, Jane, suggested a podcast about poetry. Since I had no chance to listen to the podcast yesterday, I take the 8 minutes to listen today.

The poem is written by Faisal Mohyuddin’s  and it is his poem “Prayer”. The first part of the podcast is a bit of a preface of how the poem was birthed, and poems are always born. The podcast where you can hear Mohyuddin’s poem is called Poetry Unbound and the episode my friend wanted me to hear is called A Poem for Ritual and Reset. The poet’s voice calms my anxiousness. The story of the poem’s birth paints a picture of ritual I recognize from my own faith. The poem itself, holy. I listen again.

Then, I realize it is time for the gathering of rubbish. On Beech Mountain, we cannot put our trash out the day before pick up because of bears. Even if the bears are sleeping through the winter, the raccoons, coyotes, and cougars are active. The raccoon is bigger than my dog. I have heard but not seen the neighboring coyotes and only recently learned there is a big cat somewhere on the mountain. Reluctantly, I set aside my headphones of the poem to turn to the necessary task of recycling.

My grandparents were born shortly before the Great Depression. I watched them reuse/repurpose/recycle before we used those specific terms in our vernacular. To them, it was to avoid being wasteful. It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents followed suit giving us a good understanding of care for the earth.

During Lent of 2019, my choice of “fasting” was to lessen my use of plastic. It required me to be more intentional in every purchase. It was both amazing and sad how hard it was to choose cardboard containers. Amazing because the practice pointed out how careless and thoughtless, I had become. Sad because of remembering a time when every piece of food wasn’t wrapped in plastic; when milk was available in glass and the milkman picked up the recycled glass bottles from our back porch.

The practice was enlightening, and it also lightened my burden on trips down the mountain to recycle. Then, after losing my car, it became clear that the next practice will need to be to lessen my use of cardboard. That, however, will be harder since I have to order everything I need. Whether it’s Walmart or Amazon, the ridiculousness is that though I order only once a month, the boxes come piecemeal. As I prepared for my morning task of recycling, I remembered someone mentioning a program where the boxes would be reused.

Quickly I researched and found that Givebackbox will give you a label to mail the box to a source nearest you that can use the boxes rather than clog a landfill. In the past, I had a garden and used boxes as weed barriers. The Givebackbox may be my new way of being intentional about cardboard. After taping the address label to Goodwill, I step onto the porch to leave the boxes for pick up and for the first time of the day see the sunrise.

The color is fabulous. I grab my camera in hopes to share the vibrant color with family and friends. Most photographers wish to capture sunsets, but I always want to capture sunrises. It is only recently I’ve

The color was better in person.

returned to using my Sony Alpha camera again and I know that with my balance issues, there may be a blur; no matter how still it seems that I stand movement shivers like a sound wave. Once I snap a few of a color I can only find described as “cobaltvioletdeep” or deep magenta, I take the time to set the camera on the tripod. By the time I’ve mounted the camera, the colors have faded but are still lovely.

Morning is the time of prayer for me. One of my life goals is to make each action/choice/chore a prayer of some sort. As I wash my dishes, I give thanks for the water and dishes. Today, each step down the snowy mountain was full of rejoicing over the beauty of another day. I thought of friends who tell me about poetry and prayer. A smile came to my face as I remembered and blessed the melting snow dwarves the young guests built yesterday.

Rejoicing in the day a bird sings.

A day that started in worry has been transformed into one of peace. My heart rejoices that I have all that I need and that as the hours pass, an answer will be given for Birdie. It is simply a matter of waiting and trusting. Those are two things that have never been easy for me. Prayer is practice and our practices are prayers.

 

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For more information on Faisal Mohyuddin, visit his website at Faisal Mohyuddin.

 

 

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First Volume of Praying Together: An Ecumenical Prayer Journal

Now available!

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.

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Changing the Story and Changing Perception

“Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.”

 ~Jean Houston

 

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.”

~Susan Vreeland

 

 

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This Life I Have Been Given

There’s a song that has been coming back to me from long ago. It’s one my mom played on the piano and then my sister and I would take turns singing the verses. The title of the song is, “This Life” and it’s by Evie Tournquist. She was a contemporary gospel singer popular in the 70s when we were in high school.

 

A couple of weeks ago I asked mom to send me a copy of the music she has. I’ve looked for the Evie songbooks for years just to have copies of the songs I sang with my mom and sister. The music still speaks to me all these years later.

 

“This life I have been given is but a moment’s time. This life I have received it as a gift from [God’s] hand.”

 

Written in first person as one singing a song to God it is quiet, respectful, and full of heart. A lot of Evie’s songs were that way. As a trio of short women, we did also love the fun song she did called “I’m Only 4 foot eleven but I’m going to heaven and it makes me feel ten feet tall….” My theology has changed a lot since then so there are some of the contemporary gospel hymns I wouldn’t sing today because my understanding of God is more magnanimous.

Beech Mountain, NC 2018
©2017 JRobin Whitley

The song moves gently into my mind again today as I look through old pictures taken through the past thirteen years. Since my divorce, I’ve tried moving those thousand pictures of life with my wife to a safe keeping place. It’s been healing in many ways and of course, when I see pictures of our happiness and love it has been hard.

The pictures I am moving to the Flickr account today though, are ones I took on walks in forests. The walks were mostly in various places of the Nantahala Forest because it is so large, and Sylva is dead center of it. That place in the forest is one of the million reasons I loved living in Sylva.

 

Forests have always been exciting places for me. Exciting for the potential to see wildlife, but also to discover wildflowers, birds, nests, paths, and all the ways that nature changes in the forest. When I was in high school, we took one of those tests that gave you ideas about vocation in life. I always got Forest Ranger. As I look through my photos of today and get excited about new walks on Beech Mountain, I wonder if I missed my calling.

 

Seeing photo after photo of the wonder of the forest, I can see why I am so happy here. When my ex and I would vacation, we would only go an hour from the house staying in the mountains. The rivers and the trees were too peaceful to leave for the city or a harried trip on the interstate. Even now, when I want to go somewhere, it’s usually to explore this area. This month is dollar days at Grandfather Mountain. I’ve not been there in over twenty years. I can’t wait to see Birdie up on the top of those rocks looking down to the mountains below.

 

Linville Gorge is nearby and so are the caverns. I’ve truthfully no desire to see the caverns again. The last time I was there I realized being underground freaked me out a bit. Yet, I don’t have any photos of the

It felt like I was being watched. I looked up and saw this girl hoping Birdie wouldn’t see her. After we walked on, I also saw she had a fawn hidden behind a tree behind her.

trip I took in the 80s. Film cameras were too expensive, and I was one of the musicians singing in the mountains with Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M.) out of Boone. We all had just enough money to buy a ticket into the cavern. With my new digital cameras, would it take my mind off of the damp underground? The freaky bats that I don’t like (even though I know they are beneficial)? The water that could hold the Loch Ness Monster; even if it doesn’t have a water monster? Evidently, my sci-fi imagination goes a bit haywire in underground caverns.

 

A lot of the photos I uploaded today were photos I took of the forest floor. It is amazing at the life and

growth that occurs on the floor of the forest. First, the mosses begin to green up. Then there are sprigs of other plants. My friends already post pictures of trillium and trout lilies sprouting in Southern Appalachia. We have only a few greens here on Beech. Yet, I can’t wait to discover what they are and where they are.

 

Each day in a forest is an adventure because things are blooming. The frogs started singing last night. The night before the owls were hooting it up that it’s spring. Birds sing in the morning and the new red squirrel is already trying to tease Birdie. One of my new writer friends in the area posts regularly about the wonders she finds on her hikes. Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a great poet too and she sometimes posts her poetry as well. Check out her site at Appalachian Ground. Wonders await you in your own back yard or back forest. Take the time to look around at the ground around you. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring and coming alive from winter.

2019©Photo by Alicia Randolph. Used with permission.

It’s that time of the year that brings joy to our hearts. Though we joke about the schizophrenic weather, we are really happy to see sprigs of green coming up through the muck and mire of winter. After the gray, wet, snowy blandness of winter colors, I especially want color. I want sunshine and flowers. Though patient with the process, I am also eager and excited.

 

Growing things has always been something that excites me. New friendships and old need growth. Gardens are a great place to be in touch with the growing and dying cycles of life inherent in nature. Since moving to Beech Mountain, I no longer have a garden. Though they are hard work, the work is rewarding and I miss it. Luckily for me, my friend Steven is writing about his garden and his greenhouse. This allows me to participate in the excitement of planning the garden as well. If we lived closer I would be over at his house asking to see its process.

The first garden I planted that was my very own (not mom or dad’s or my grandparents’), I was so excited I went out every morning to see if anything sprouted. That didn’t make things grow any faster of course.  I decided the same rule applies to gardens that applies with a watched pot waiting to boil. My excitement about seeing the first sprouts of beans or flowers or squash never lessened. It’s just that I found a way to pace my watching. Then one day I would walk up and it was as though the beans had sprouted up overnight.

 

Our lives are full of cycles. There are times we forget how cyclical everything is in life. Being able to get outside helps. Any growing activity helps. Maybe even mowing grass helps, but I’m not a fan of grass or mowing. Yes, it’s pretty but I won’t get on my soapbox about how our desire to create weed free green grass (that has little helpful purpose) has harmed our beneficial insect population. I am also biased because I’ve always been allergic to grass and with the allergies moving from just being itchy to causing asthma attacks, well, I am not fond of it. Though, as I look at articles, I am reminded of its benefits too when it comes to run-off areas. Maybe if we learn to step away from the chemicals and move towards a healthy permaculture.

 

Somewhere I said that I wouldn’t get on my soapbox about the environment. Believe it or not, I haven’t

Caterpillar from a long-ago garden.

yet. There’s still a part of me that turns to soil and thinking about our birds returning; our beneficial insects that will be returning. How can we prepare a place that’s welcoming so that we can share the bountiful treasure of food which their hard work produces? We cannot do it without them. Our lives depend upon a symbiotic relationship with plant, animal, soil, water, air.

In the Lutheran Church (ELCA), we talked about how this type of living is good stewardship of the land. In our Episcopal congregation the other day, I was pleased to hear of that similar way of looking at the land and our place as caretakers of a big garden rather than being a master of the house who can take anything wanted at any time. That is exploitation.

So maybe I am a little on my soapbox as well as just wishing I could plant something. Planting takes planning and my neighbors have already told me what to avoid unless my sole wish is to feed the deer. We have deer here that are almost tame. It is their land before it was ours, so it doesn’t bother me. There are no predators up here, so nature is off-balance in that way. I can’t say I wish for predators though. Each time I find a deer standing at me and looking through me with her soulful eyes (it’s usually a doe), it feels as those Psalm 42 has come alive into my presence or I have walked into a Psalm.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Psalm 42:1 (NRSV

Until I know what to plant, I also cannot plant. The sun is shy on this north facing porch. Even with morning light, there’s not a lot. There’s foxglove that’s beautiful, but I’ve not found seeds yet in the area. Fred’s General Store has hanging boxes that have my attention. I keep asking, learning, planning, and in my own way growing into the spring out of winter in this year. Until I know for sure, I will keep waiting, watching, and learning.

2018 JRobin Whitley, Mother and fawn walking through the neighborhood.

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