We Pray with All of Our Senses

I was driving through the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania — an unplanned five-hour trek home due to my friend’s canceled flight — feeling annoyed and disappointed. Suddenly, my busted-plan weekend shape-shifted into a sweet gift.

The beauty of the terrain lifted my spirits: clear morning sunbeams lit up the ice-covered craggy mountain walls, like white icing on molasses cookies. A few glittery flakes were falling gently through glazed tree branches — white, dark, white, dark — creating a pleasing rhythm. As I drove, I clicked through the many soft rock and Christian radio stations till I heard this snippet:

We pray with all of our senses.

Cut to…

At home the next day — a 75-degree sunny Sunday with nothing to do but take a hike in the woods. Afterwards, I was sitting in my backyard garden feeling that satisfying kind of tired from moving my body around out in nature.

Suddenly two people appeared. They were dressed in heavy layers of black clothing, him in a suit and tie with an overcoat, and her in a dress with black stockings and a hat.

I’m sorry, it’s a confusing neighborhood,” he said. I thought they were going to ask me for directions so I smiled and perked up. (For some reason I love giving people directions.) He continued: “Can I offer you this… it’s about a talk on Tuesday night.”

I looked at the glossy pamphlet with a picture Jesus on it but didn’t extend my hand to receive it. The rest of what the man said was a blur because I was transfixed by his face: smooth skin was pulled taut over pronounced cheekbones, like a wax figure at Madame Tussauds.

“I’m good with everything,” I said, still smiling. The man thanked me for listening and they went on their way.

I didn’t mind that they had walked up my driveway and into my backyard to try to share what’s clearly so important to them. It doesn’t matter to me what people believe as long as they’re kind and respectful, as these folks were.

But here’s what I really wanted to say to them:

ambrosia 1000

Lovely people, come sit with me for a while. Take off your heavy wool coat and enjoy the warmth of spring. Do you smell the honeysuckle? Let me serve you some ambrosia I made this morning. Taste the sweet, tangy, creamy, crunchy… Savor.

Kick off your shoes and rip off those black stockings… walk around… feel the crisp green grass beneath your feet. Connect to the power of the earth itself. Raise your hands up and stretch your body. 

Turn your face to the sun and bathe in the rejuvenating light. Do you hear the birds songs? Sit with your eyes closed and focus only on that — they all sing a different tune but together they make sweet music. They’re singing for themselves… for each other… for you.

This, my lovely friends, this is the most powerful prayer you could ever offer. Appreciating this excruciatingly beautiful life you’ve been given by reveling in it with all of your senses — that’s what your soul wants for you. 

0413171545a~2You don’t need to study or repent or work to prove your worth to God, Christ or me. We know you are divine. We know how elegantly your five senses line up with the pleasures of this world — that’s not a tease or a reward, it’s a huge hint. 

Now go… go walk through this beautiful neighborhood if you enjoy doing that. I certainly do. But be sure to look up at the squirrel’s nest perched in the highest branch. Peer down at the tiny, brave crocus that has arisen yet again. 

And if you ever drive through the Laurel Highlands, take note of how the white icing glistens against the dark, ragged rocks… Say a prayer with all of your senses.

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Amy's Ambrosia recipe

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The Magic of Cherry Blossoms

While I was visiting my 92 year old mom last week, the cherry tree along her front walk started to bloom – a happy sign of spring bursting forth, right on schedule. My mom walks slowly with a cane, usually looking down to make sure she doesn’t trip on anything. One day we were leaving the house and she stopped and stood under the tree then looked up to see the puffy pinkish white offerings set off by the clear blue sky.

“Thank you tree!” she said. “You’re so beautiful and you make me so happy.”

Two years ago, my mom broke a vertebrae in her back and had to spend the better part of spring in bed. We didn’t know if she would ever recuperate, and there were many moments when we questioned whether she would even survive (on many occasions she told us she was ready to go so we set up hospice). Hopped up on pain killers, she stared out her bedroom window at that cherry tree for hours and hours, watching the buds open into delicate flowers grouped like families on the limbs.

We had many conversations during those two months, and she often commented on how appreciative she was of that blossoming tree. This didn’t seem too unusual to me since my mom has always been a nature lover. But her praise of this tree was different – it’s beauty transfixed her. She never seemed upset by her accident or annoyed that she was bedridden (again, probably the oxy), but I think deep down that tree kept her in this world, grounded and blooming.

Amazingly, she has healed nearly 100% physically, but the trauma (and maybe the painkillers) turned her forgetfulness into full-on dementia. A layer – the one that caused her to worry, made her feel like she had to constantly be productive and direct the whole show – dissolved. Now she’s content to watch the birds and squirrels on her back patio instead of feeling the drive to clean, volunteer or strive. Life is easy and pleasant for her now; she lives in the moment because that’s all she has.

I wonder what her life would’ve been like if that layer had dissolved while her memory was still intact. Don’t get me wrong, she was always good-natured and positive, but like all of us she’d get swept up in the doing instead of the being. Deep down I think this happy-go-lucky mom was always there, hoping to pop out but waiting patiently till all the chores were done.

When I visit my mom these days, I like to watch her watch the world. Her delight is a reminder to me to bask in what’s truly important while I still can. Also, now I know where I get my proclivity for talking to nature and thanking it for its beauty; my marveling at simple pleasures makes more sense. I guess the cherry doesn’t fall far from the tree.

butterfly on cherry blossom PIC_YES

It’s not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

The Pink Moment

For many years now I’ve had reverence for “the magic hour” – that brief time before sunset when the light becomes golden or amber or pink. It’s the photographer’s sweet spot, providing a boost of glowing color and shadowy definition to natural scenes. A friend once said it makes us look like “Italian goddesses,” and sometimes when it bathes my surroundings I feel like I’ve been transported into a Maxfield Parrish painting.

My latest collage – “How Do You Spot a Blessing?” – was inspired by how this magical time seems to calm me down and make my soul smile. So, I was thrilled to read the paragraph below in a Conde Nast Traveler article on Ojai, California (the state is a slight obsession of mine):

…Ojai has been a cherished place for any number of California cultures over the years: the Chumash Indians who first settled the valley; citrus and avocado ranchers; theosophists; Krishnamurti; and Hollywood stars, who’ve long owned discreet retreats here… All of them are drawn at least in part by the town’s famous “pink moment,” a fleeting period before sunset when the jagged Topa Topa Mountains that frame the northern edge of this fertile valley take on a dusky-rose hue: It’s an enchanting time that draws the eyes up and clears the mind.

It’s an enchanting time that draws the eyes up and clears the mind…

Sunday evening I was sitting on a bench overlooking the Delaware River sharing a tall Negro Modelo (leftover from our byob Peruvian lunch) with a good friend. We were deep into a meaningful conversation when puffy pink clouds started to float over the mountain across the river. A few of the trees were just starting to exhibit the golden leaves of fall, and the pink light made them glow a vibrant orange amidst their green neighbors. The puffs turned to streaks and soon the sky, the river and my friend and I were all bathed in lavender light. I stopped him mid-sentence and told him about the pink moment. We were silent for a bit, looking up and appreciating the beauty. Soon everything greyed out into dusk and we finished the warming beer. Our conversation continued, but we both came back to it with a slightly heightened sense of awe about the beauty and magic that appears, and disappears, with each day.

Blessing blended small
“How Do You Spot a Blessing” is a digital collage I made from photos I took in New Orleans, LA; Rhinebeck & Woodstock, NY; and my own backyard (the pink sky and dark trees). May it bring you some clarity. And, remember to look up.

Hello, again.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.  – Anais Nin

France toy sail boatsOld friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day. – Dalai Lama

Paris carouselAll changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another. – Anatole France

Paris shouldersHello and goodbye. We say these words everyday. They are polite and traditional. They’re happy and sad, light and dark, cheery and heart-wrenching. They’re the revolving door of our lives. Day in, day out. Loves, friends, family. Strangers. Hello. Goodbye. Hello, again. Make it meaningful.

Wisdom Via Cell Phone

“You’re a young man here.”On my walk today I overheard a man talking into his cell. That was the only line I heard, but from the tone of his voice I knew exactly what was going on. A father was talking to his son who had apparently messed up. I couldn’t stop thinking about how brilliantly he had phrased it:  “You’re a young man here.”
We know you’re not yet a full grown man who should be mature enough to know better. But you’re in the beginning stages of becoming that person, someone who takes responsibility for his mistakes, apologizes and makes things right. Here – in this situation – you’re at the gateway of manhood, one foot in, one foot out. We realize that you’ll go back to playing video games with your buddies, but here, now, this is your chance to start out strong, be brave, step up and do the right thing. Soon you’ll get more interested in girls and eventually have to pick a major. You’ll go out on your own and have adventures that will shape your life. But here, now, you’re a young man and I’ve got your back in all the complications of that. But I’m counting on you to take a brave step into adulthood. Here. Where you and I are, right now.
young man statue

Wisdom Via Dementia

I had the honor of driving an elderly woman 1.5 hours to the airport so she could go visit her sister. She talked the entire time, telling me stories (the same ones over and over with slightly different variations) and capping each one with what she had learned. By the time we arrived, she had repeated each of the following lessons numerous times. I realized I was being given some valuable advice from someone who had lived well. I hope she’s having a wonderful time with her sister.

  1. You teach others how to treat you. (Dr. Phil adopted this but she learned it from her parents.)

  2. Treat your body well. (“Don’t get sunburned.”)

  3. Let your children know you have their backs. Be their advocate.

  4. Stick up for what you know is right, and respect others in the process of doing so.

  5. Treat your home with respect and don’t allow others who are in your home to be disrespectful.

  6. If you can’t get along with the other children, go find another group to play with.

  7. You’re never too old to find true love.

  8. Having a garden, even a small one, is one of life’s pleasures.

  9. Nature is revitalizing to the spirit.

  10. Don’t ever be violent, with your children or anyone else. Make them sit in a chair and think about what they’ve done. Then talk about it.

and my favorite…

  1. Trees are their own special thing.

trees

wavy tree

What are you afraid of giving up?

Me:  Why do you think you never made it big?

Him:  Music is a hard industry to succeed in. Especially in Nashville.

Me:  Do you think you were afraid of success?

Him:  Is that a thing?

Me:  Sure. Lots of people are but I think many don’t know it.

Him:  Why are people afraid?  Isn’t success what they want?

Me:  Sometimes their emotions are working below the surface and keep them stuck in the familiar, safe zone.

Him:  How do I know?

Me:  Think about what you’d be giving up if you made it big.

Him:  Okay.  (pause)  Are you afraid of success?

Me:  I have been, but I’m getting over it.

Him:  What are you afraid of giving up?

Me:  Freedom.

Him:  In what way?

Me:  The freedom to create, to have the time to create. It’s the same with relationships for me. I worry that if I’m living with someone I love I won’t have the time to myself that I need to think, write, alchemize and just go with my creative flow.

Him:  But lots of married people are successful.

Me:  Of course.  That’s how I know my fear is just that, and not a reality.

Him:  Why do you think you have that fear?

Me:  My mom basically gave up being an artist to be a wife and mother.  I never saw that you could have both a successful creative career and a husband and family.

Him:  That sucks.

Me:  Not at all.  I know the issue so I just keep telling myself that I can have both, that I don’t need to choose one over the other.  I have freedom now but if I was successful I’d have even more – money, choices… That’s where the ability to know what I want and say “no” to what I don’t want is crucial. If I start doing things that don’t fulfill me, then I lose my freedom.  So.  What are you afraid of giving up?