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:

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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

Live inspired!

Don’t Fear the Rapture

verdant b2“Although everyone feels rivulets of wonder, and even awe, from time to time, not everyone is as comfortable expressing those feelings as freely as John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman. Amy's rainbow

 

 

 

I suppose what people fear is loss of objectivity. But life doesn’t require you to choose between reason and awe,  or between clear-headed analysis and a rapturous sense of wonder. A balanced life includes both.” – Diane Ackerman, Cultivating Delight

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Dipping into Dream World

During a World Cafe interview, Tracy Grammer relayed how her late husband, Dave Carter, explained his songwriting process. I’m paraphrasing, but Dave had said to Tracy something like: I always have one foot in the dream world. MG dark child on stairs

I call this state Writer’s Mind, or whatever mind applies to your art or craft. Chefs get into Chef’s Mind and Photographers switch into Photographer’s Mind. I’d guess many artists are nearly always walking around in this state, where they experience life through the lens of how it applies to their creative process. We all pick up stimulation through our senses, but when I’m in Writer’s Mind, I’m at once experiencing multiple sensory stimuli and already swirling it around and trying to relate it to a more universal meaning.

A child walking up a mosaic staircase could be sweet, scary or dreamy. I don’t know the outcome at the time, but I notice qualities that I want to capture, ones that will relate to subjects I like to write about: beauty, creativity, sacred moments, sublime images, transcendence.

The mundane details of daily life have a way of yanking me right out of Artist’s Mind. My head takes over and I become embroiled in lists, priorities and logistics. It’s nearly impossible for me to be in both states at the same time – I guess it’s a left/right brain thing. Just being aware of this let’s me drop logic mind fairly easily and step back into my heart and intuition. And dip at least a few toes back into the dream world, where the beauty that inspires me seemingly magically reappears.pool toes

Magic Gardens & the (Dis)Appearing Self Trick

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Art enables us to lose ourselves and find ourselves at the same time. – Thomas Merton

What is the one thing you, and only you, can do in an uncommon way? Make art, get lost, experience art, find yourself – all at once or here and there. Use what’s right in front of you to create a whole new world. Make magic.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way,
you will command the attention of the world.
– George Washington Carver

(Photos taken at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, 2013)

Of Politics, Poetry & Puzzles

 

One cannot build life from refrigerators, politics, credit statements and crossword puzzles. This is impossible. Nor can one exist for any length of time without poetry, without color, without love.
– Antoine De Saint-Exupery
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I’m back to editing the novel I’ve been working on – a political thriller – and I love crossword puzzles, so while I agree with the sentiment of the quote, I am in fact counting on politics to help me build the foundation for my life. Poetry, color & love – of course, everyday.
 

 

 

 

Exploring for Inspiration: Paris

Architecture, food, gardens, museums… What fuels your creativity and inspires your art? Whether you’re a writer, painter, public speaker, chef, gardener, textile designer, songwriter, jewelry-maker… Where do you find the spark for your next creation?

Musee D'Orsay

Musee D’Orsay

My trip to France in 2003 was a sensory feast that has inspired a bounty of creative ideas.

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Color combinations, textures, scents, traditions, flavors…

seafood castle

Is it a poem or a necklace? A floral design or a make-up palette?

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New experiences can help solve creative problems and ignite fresh ideas.

Colette
You can experiment in your usual surroundings by immersing yourself with all of your senses. If you have the chance to take a drive (or a train or a plane) to an area you’ve never before – maybe Paris, or maybe the little town 17 miles away from your home – inhale the unique history, feel the quality of the air, notice the unfamiliar pace, create a palette in your mind. Your senses will percolate and ideas will pop up like fresh-baked croissants.

Your Story is Yours

For a writing assignment in a freshman writing class, I interviewed an elderly, blind Seer my sister knew of in Colorado. I walked about five miles from her apartment to his house out in the middle of nowhere. He spoke to me of mystical things and I was so young I barely knew what questions to ask, but I felt reverence for the experience. Back in class, the professor read my paper aloud, adding inflections and facial expressions that made the content sound absurd and farcical, which was the opposite of my intention.

The following year, my poetry teacher maligned a poem I had written about cleaning my dorm room, saying a poem had to be about more than that. He was right; however, mine did have a deeper meaning – it was about how I can’t function with visual chaos around me and how I’d come to know a feeling of peace in my soul. Obviously the piece needed more revision, but the teacher had failed to see that there was a more universal theme underneath my naive words.

These instances made me back off my interest in writing, and I switched my major from communications to art history. I don’t blame those instructors for discouraging me or even for disrespecting my work. Over the years, I’ve made similar critiques and edits of others’ work. Instead of trying to understand where the writer was coming from or how I could be helpful in a way that would encourage their creativity, I saw it only from my own perspective.

If you’re writing about something, it probably has meaning to you. Stick with that, dig down and roust it out. Play with it and help others understand it too. If someone tells you it’s silly or not enough, don’t get discouraged, just keep digging and playing.

I still work with the themes I wrestled with in college: spirituality, intuition, soul-peace.  And I’d love to interview that elderly man again, because now I’d know what questions to ask.

god in sky

“Beasts” Chewed My Senses, Spit Out My Soul

The movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, kidnapped and torqued my senses. My gut swirled as the briny, slimy crab innards slid down; diamond-shard sparklers flicked at my squirming spirit. As I tried to take a clean breath of sticky air, damp mold and the tart sting of charred rot clogged my lungs. Too many shots of rotgut on a chicken-grease stomach churned as my scarred feet pounded across prickly grass. And so much salt – sweat, brackish stains – my lips rippled, longing for a kiss of something creamy and sweet.  But there was no relief, only the sharp cracking of wind and water and words slapping at my gasping skin.

Oblivion, until soft scarlet lights wrapped me in alligator love. Maybe I’d rest for a brief moment. But I couldn’t, distrustful of the steamy motivations caressing my sun-burned shoulder and the lurking reverie of a clammy future. My soul flew overboard, crashing into the slate shard waves.

Skin chills on the balmiest gray day, an angel in a tutu splatters through bird-shit mud, thick like rancid bacon grease. I can’t follow her anymore but I can’t abandon her either. I’m nauseous and exhilarated, wondering if I can ever climb out of the dank and delicious hole to wash my eyes and throat. I need to cleanse my senses so I can fully absorb the splendor. But it’s too late, the beauty has already lodged like a spur into my black-and-blue heart.

magic gardens bottles

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