Blogs

Love of Tender Things

07-19-2019 | Lindsay

"Every day has something in it whose name is forever." 

(Everything That Was Broken, Mary Oliver)

Recently that "something in it" was the sight of my granddaughter and two friends plucking wine berries from the bushes by the dirt path and popping them in their mouths. The path they were on led to a large fallen oak. The girls hoisted themselves onto the trunk, which rested majestically in loam and leaves on the forest floor. They proceeded to walk fearlessly along the broad rounded beam, which ran crooked, though true, into the branches that once had danced in the sky. They were utterly at home, skipping effortlessly through imaginary worlds and back again to the present of tree, branches, leaves, balance, height; perfect play in the woods.

"The hardest love we carry"

06-11-2019 | Lindsay

Last month I stood with a circle of sixty people or so on a rocky beach on Long Island Sound and sang up the moon. As the soft full circlet of the moon rose above the water, the coral sun sank in the west. We gazed in awed silence, chanted, recited poetry. The luminosity of the experience was heightened by the occasion: we were on a retreat led by Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Returning the Gift: What Does the Earth Ask of Us?"

Reflection for a Still Point workday

05-14-2019 | Lindsay

Still Point Mountain Retreat is a sister community to Rolling Ridge Study Retreat. Located nearby, adjacent to the Rolling Ridge Foundation lands, Still Point exists for the same reasons and does the same work of wilderness preservation and hospitality for those seeking deeper connection with nature and soul. On a recent Saturday the Still Point partners gathered for a workday and meeting, at which I offered a version of the reflection below.

This is Spring

04-15-2019 | Lindsay

Children gambol on the gentle hillside between our houses where forsythia blooms.  The fronds adorning the old willow stump are filling out, a green fountain. These are bright compositions of happiness and hope, the faithfulness of Earth greening once again.  Yet for me they are splashed with other thoughts and emotions.  Perhaps it is the times in which we live or, just as likely, my particular heartbreak, but there are moments when I crave a more mottled canvas.  In The Seasons Book Parker Palmer writes

 …there is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck.  I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice.  But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created.

Other Possibilities

04-01-2019 | Lindsay

The old willow stump by the creek has sprouted pale green fronds.  The crocuses are pushing up through brown leaves. Water in the creeks gurgles irrepressibly over rocks, bird song wafts delicate music in the trees, and frogs make frothy love in the ponds. Spring has arrived, despite the world’s troubles. This means that for the next few precious weeks, or maybe only days, it will be possible to walk comfortably in the wild woods.

Where the World is Breathing

02-19-2019 | Lindsay

 

Something inside of me has reached to the place where the world is breathing.

--Kabir

Days each week, I go walking in the woods with a story in my pocket.  It’s winter now, and the landscape is a mass of tawny leaves, twigs and branches.  I pass trunks sprouting delicate scallops of pale fungi and fallen logs green with moss.  My boots rustle through the brown leaves, crisp with cold, and thunk in the mud along the creek banks.  A flash of red and a harsh call announces the pileated hurtling through the gray trees.  The rest of the forest is quiet.

Finding in ourselves what we criticize in another

10-05-2018 | Bob Sabath

A suggestion for an inner work practice comes from Elizabeth O'Connor, Our Many Selves: A Handbook for Self-Discovery, "From Judgment to Empathy: Exercise Four", page 71:

"What you criticize in another, try to find in yourself. We want to discover our dark selves, not in order that they may be blamed and banished out of sight, but in order that we may have conversation with them and they may lead us to the light. This is the promise if we will attend to them."

"An added discipline for this week might be to say nothing negative about anyone else or about yourself. This will give you more energy for inner work on the subject. If you find it a difficult discipline to keep, do not be discouraged. A discipline is to help us learn, and there is often more learning in failure than in success."

Way Upstream

09-17-2018 | Lindsay

A friend involved with regional efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay once told me of a meeting she attended in which representatives of area organizations and advocacy groups stood one by one to enumerate their steps and actions in the cause.  After quite a while of this, it was the turn of a rabbi from a local environmentally concerned congregation.  She stood at the podium and began her remarks, “Well, we work way upstream…we work at the level of soul.”

The Cedars of Lebanon

07-26-2018 | Lindsay

In the human imagination, and as they have been throughout the ancient world, the cedars of Lebanon are sacred trees, planted by God.  They are long-growing, strong, the material of temples and voyages in sea-roaming ships.  

Recently I read a piece in The New York Times by Beirut bureau chief Anne Barnard describing how the cedars of Lebanon could vanish by the end of the century.  The warming climate is stressing the trees, and political and cultural upheaval makes protecting them haphazard.  “Many thousands of square kilometers of forest once spread across most of Lebanon’s highlands.  Only 17 square kilometers of cedars remain, in scattered groves.”

At the Poor People’s Campaign in DC in June, the Rev. William Barber asked the assembled crowd,

Ghost Pipes

06-22-2018 | Lindsay

Monotropa uniflora is a small plant, wholly white, a pale translucent flute known as Ghost Pipe or Ghost Plant. It bends at the top and has but a single flower. Without chlorophyll, it cannot create energy as green plants do, from the sun.  Instead it draws energy from the fungi that cluster in the roots of trees as they reach into the dark earth.  Ghost Pipes appear rarely around here, in the threshold time between spring and summer, albino messengers from another realm.  Josh saw a covey of them in the Memorial Grove during his run on a cool misty morning. He was struck by their presence in that place of remembrance, reflecting, “It felt eerie and beautiful all at the same time.”

Breaking the Spell

04-17-2018 | Lindsay

"They say Aslan is on the move."  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis has enthralled me ever since I was 9 and read the Puffin book with its pen and ink illustrations by Pauline Baynes.  Many generations of children have loved the secret world filled with unconventional and magical creatures, and the young heroines and heroes who are neither patronized nor belittled.  I too loved Narnia, every thicket and lamppost, faun, centaur, and dryad. I loved how in the story subtle sounds and shifts in the air foretold the approach of the yet unseen Aslan and the breaking of the Witch's spell.  

Imperfection

04-14-2018 | Lindsay

Last week we changed the clocks, “spring forward”, shifting the hours to catch more afternoon sun.  As the daylight slowly widens toward the solstice, we strive to let the natural light linger, to grasp its presence.

Around here we have taken advantage of the longer afternoons to spend more time outdoors, in the still-chill air, looking toward the sort of green and golden light of summer in which Mary Oliver wrote her well-known poem “When I am Among the Trees”. In it, despite being drenched in light, Oliver sighs, “I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment…” 

Processes and Small Circles

02-26-2018 | Lindsay

It must be the season, or the year.  This snowless winter I was part of three retreats, one per month, about finding the grace in darkness even while leaning toward the light, about the essential rhythms of descent and renewal which keep our lives and our planet from ending, about the fertile dark as soil for the seeds of hope.  There seems to be a need in these shadowy times to seek the lantern of soul and to hold onto one another while we quest, hands clasped in sacred circles.  During these retreats, we danced in this way in fields in the late afternoon as the sun turned rose and coral and the moon appeared delicately in the lambent sky.

Gratitude

01-26-2018 | Lindsay

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of … the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself?  ...  One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse.  There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions.  You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light. -- Barry Lopez

On This Threshold Singing

01-12-2018 | Lindsay

As is our annual practice, some of us gathered at the Meditation Shelter in the night of December 31 for a time of quiet, bringing whatever was in our hearts.  Once again we walked through a moon-bathed forest to the Shelter, aglow in candlelight and warmed by the wood stove.  The Shelter has wonderful acoustics, and I was eager to hear the sound of us singing in it.  I had brought a new song, a simple chant from West Africa, that I learned from Michael Meade's new cd A Song Is a Road.  It is called "Azima", and it is a song in praise of the Earth.  But before (and in between) our singing it, I had a few reflections to share.  Below is an adaptation of those thoughts:

Holy Days

12-19-2017 | Lindsay

The retreat we hold annually during Advent and the days leading up to the winter solstice is named for a gift, one among many, that of story. Planning it, I was drawn to the idea that while in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice marks the beginning of the return of the light, it is the longest night of the year.  I found myself wondering about the gifts of that long night. In times like these, mining the abundant dark is a soulful necessity.

The Gifted Darkness

11-27-2017 | Lindsay

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
--Mary Oliver

At dawn my small dining room window framed a patch of gauzy coral cloud pierced by a morning star.  As I watched, light wafted from the bare treetops and painted the sky silver. Dawn is almost always a welcome turn in the revolving waltz of night and day, dark and light.  For several years I was a teacher of 3-6 year olds in a school that had a Montessori-based program of spiritual development, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  Around this time of year, we reflected on the verse from Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  We would gather the children and ask them about their times of light in darkness.  They told of happiness upon waking in the night and seeing the reassuring nightlight on the bureau, or the crack of light where their dad had left the bedroom door ajar.  From infancy, it seems, light has evoked comfort, safety, and joy.

Gravity, a snake, and gratitude

11-20-2017 | Lindsay

I’ve been taken with a Rilke poem, "Gravity's Law", which begins:

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

I like the idea of gravity as a flow taking hold of  “each thing—each stone, blossom, child”, and pulling us toward something deep and vital. I wonder about the mystery of this; why it is that so often we miss knowing ourselves securely held and carried; and I wonder about the graceful and strong current that connects individual arcs of being to the communal experience of belonging that we so need and long for.

At Summer's Turning

09-20-2017 | Lindsay

“Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone…”
David Whyte

I heard the first geese a few days ago, flying overhead, their calls to one another heralding autumn, the season of mystery and transformation.   The tupelo trees have been sending out their own bright signals, leaf by ruby leaf.   For weeks until now, the forest has shimmered with glinting green light, without nuance or hint of fall. Perhaps it is the way the late summer sun falls against the trees, which remain full to the brim with green foliage made dense by bountiful rainfall.  A multitude of mushrooms decorate the forest floor: some rosy red, others pale, nodding on delicate stems, still others orange or brown, diminutive or broad.  Wild grasses and plants burst with yellow, magenta, bright blue blossoms; insects sing.  The garden is bursting with growth, and the peach trees and grape arbor lean gracefully, heavy with ripe fruit.

July

07-29-2017 | Lindsay

The dark green leaves of the vine-laden, twisted old ash tree are twinkling in the light after the sudden rainstorm.  Beyond it, down by the creek, the ancient willow stump is fat and full with graceful, slender branches rising directly out of the gnarled core.  July at Rolling Ridge has meant an outpouring of untamed green life, driven by capricious skies: nourishing downpours giving way to brilliant sun, and back again.  It’s a changeable season, unpredictable; and that seems of a piece with affairs on all levels of our world right now.  Whereas the rockiness of the wider, political world foments distress and anxiety, the topsy-turvy tumble of rain and light in our small nook of the universe gives rise to exuberant foliage and riotous green life.  The Earth holds it all, the trouble and the joy, but it is hard to find footing.

Risk

06-11-2017 | Lindsay

I'm bringing you this afternoon a little story about what happened in the Rolling Ridge garden on a rainy evening in April.  Rolling Ridge is a haven for wilderness and wild things, a place for Partner Groups to renew themselves in faith and friendship, a cradle for ministry and retreat and study, a laboratory for permaculture. For me, though, its essence has always been the call to live in community, which I believe is the one thing being asked of humanity on every level from the personal to the cosmic in this time. The call to community has a tenacious and essential pull, like gravity, yet, honestly, we do well to look before we leap, for there is real risk in launching forth.  Here is a warning from Adrienne Rich, a poem called “Prospective Immigrants Please Note”:

Next Doorways

05-31-2017 | Lindsay

The rain has played with the clouds and the peeping sun for days.  Sometimes the forest glows lush and golden; then it drips and drips, the earth sucking at our galoshes.  Nothing lasts for long.

Here spring is in full swing.  Outside my window, bluebirds are nesting in the box fastened to the old smoke house.  Brilliant blue and orange, they flash from tree to box, bearing a morsel of caterpillar, or sweet grasses for their nest.  Back and forth they go, slipping again and again through the small, round opening, into the mysterious dark interior and back out again. 

Changes

04-27-2017 | Lindsay

In an old story, it takes Christ three days to let go of all that holds him to this world, including the breath of life, and journey to the underworld. There he “harrows” the darkness and the depths, as an ancient farmer might probe and stir and prod the soil for planting.  Then on the third day he stands next to Mary in the dawn twilight so utterly changed that she doesn’t recognize him, her dearest, most intimate friend. It is Easter, the fire feast of the Resurrection, when Christians hold services at dawn and look to the rising sun in the East while the Earth turns green again and flowers. Thus the holy, uncontrollable alchemy of descent and inception, release and grace, death and transformation, is celebrated.

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