Author: Catherine Lawton

The Important Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a viewpoint sign in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?!

This brings questions to my mind:

  • Where/how do we find silence?
  • Why is silence important/needed?
  • What can we learn in silence?
  • Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound. She was my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?


This post was first published in 2018.

Christmas Contrasts

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Awe, wonder, and gratitude.

That’s what I feel when I consider these contrasts of the Christmas story:

  • Angelic heavenly hosts—A cold, rocky hillside
  • Sophisticated, wealthy visitors—Rugged sheep herders
  • Riding high on camels—Trudging over hills with lambs
  • A king killing babies—A baby born to be king
  • The maker of heaven and earth born into his creation
  • On the shortest, darkest days of the year, celebrating life and hope

What other Christmas contrasts come to mind? What emotions do they call forth in you? What hope do they give you?


Photo: Unsplash

 

 

Read Together this Christmas

Take a little time during holiday activities and read something together: a story, a poem, an Advent devotional, a Psalm, Luke chapter 2, a children’s book. You’ll create closeness, meaningful traditions, and enrich your Christmas celebration.

A few book suggestions:

Something Is Coming to Our World: How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas

White As Snow: A Christmas Story

That Was the Best Christmas!

 

Courage, Dear Hearts

Listen to / read this poem prayer for those weeping in the night, struggling emotionally and spiritually, perhaps physically, during this season.

Listen to the poem:

COURAGE IN

Encourage each one,
dear God,
their heart desire
to know.
Distill the cry
of “help”
to nesting purr
of “with”—
so they can face
the day
and all it holds…
the night
and all it hides…
to see
in darkness, treasures,
awake
with second sight.

~Catherine Lawton

(poet/author of Remembering Softly and Glimpsing Glory)

Cathartic Tears

Are you, or is someone you know, crying—even as a holiday approaches? You are not alone. Many people are sad, bereaved, or lonely during the holidays.

A.R. Cecil speaks to these feelings in her beautiful poem:


GUEST POST

WHAT? YOU CAN’T STOP CRYING.

What? You can’t stop crying.
I hear you. Been there.
You say you left your grocery cart in frozen foods.
You’re telling me it was loaded with food
and every kind of whatnot
from all the other aisles,
and then you hightailed it to your car.
There you hid behind sunglasses and drove home.
Did you remember to wipe your fingerprints
off the handle of the loaded, abandoned cart
in frozen foods?—
Just kidding.

You complain you couldn’t sleep because your slumber
was interrupted by the need to blow your nose.
David of the Old Testament cried on his bed.
See, we are in good company.

Let’s look at the list of life’s events that can trigger
such an avalanche of emotion.
Just check the one that fits, or mark “Other”
at the bottom.

All right, here we go.
You poured your life into the children.
All the children left home.
The empty nest doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would.

You lost your job.
You’re too old to be hired.
You’re not sure whether this reinventing is right for you.

You moved your mother into a nursing home.
You tried to manage Mom at home.
You moved your mother back into the home.

There is an injustice in your life.
You try to think of ways to address it.
Every idea leads to a dead end.
You choose to remain silent.

You have just received a bad diagnosis.
Many well intentioned people are offering suggestions.

Someone who is dear to you is very ill.
That loved-one says, “Just sit with me.”

An important person in your life passes away.

Other.

Listen, if you weren’t crying, I’d be worried about you.
I sympathize with you.
God empathizes with you.
That’s the reason He included people
like Joseph, David, Job, and Paul in His Book.
Think about them; think about the Lord; and think about me.
And, in the near future,
you’ll be able to leave your empty cart in the corral,
go home, store the perishables in the refrigerator,
and then sit on the sofa and have a good cry.
Now, that will be progress. That will be hope.

~ A.R. (Alice) Cecil

 


Editor’s note: This poem first appeared in A.R. Cecil’s published book of poetry, IN THAT PLACE CALLED DAY: Poems and Reflections That Witness God’s Love. Mrs. Cecil is also the author of That Was the Best Christmas!: 25 Short Stories from the Generations (Cladach, 2013) and is one of the contributing authors of Journeys to Mother Love: Nine Women Tell their Stories of Forgiveness and Healing.(Cladach, 2012).

Alice Cecil has a Master of Science in Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has worked as a third-grade teacher, as well as writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for many years.

Alice and her physician husband reside in Louisville, Kentucky. They enjoy traveling to visit their four children and four grandchildren who live in various parts of the world.

Alice enjoys giving book readings and speaking to women’s groups.


Photo: UNSPLASH

This post was first published in 2017.

Giving Thanks To “A Worthy King”

For Christ the King Sunday (Nov. 20) I again share this poem:

Worthy to Receive Glory

Made to honor, we give fealty,

We seek true north like a needle.

But to look for your king

in a pulpit, disappoints;

in a government, fails;

in the mirror, distorts.

Look instead with the eyes of your heart

to the Wounded who heals;

to the Throne that is true;

to the Lamb who was slain,

Christ the King.

–Catherine Lawton

(Excerpted from the book Glimpsing Glory)

In Revelation Chapter 5, Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who has been slaughtered. All the magnificence of Heaven bows down and worships this Lamb.

In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?

More questions: Have we ever given thanks to God for entering into our humanity and suffering with us and for us? Have we given thanks for the privilege of suffering with him and for him? Are we giving our hearts, our allegiance, our lives to the slaughtered Lamb who lives? the wounded one who heals? Are we willing to bring our wounds to the Lamb for healing? to transform us into wounded healers?

This Thanksgiving I want to join my thanks giving and praise with the angels and those who “fell down and worshiped” the lamb as they held aloft bowls filled with “the prayers of the saints” and as they sang a “new song”:

You are worthy …

for you were slaughtered

and by your blood you ransomed,

for God,

saints from every tribe and language

and people and nation….

To the one seated on the throne

and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory

and might forever and ever!

(Rev. 5:9-13, NRSV)

Giving thanks,

 


Photo: Photo: “Thanksgiving” Stained-Glass Windows used by permission of Library of Congress

As the Trees their Glory Hurl

Leafy Lament

I’m raking leaves and raking leaves,
scrape, scrape, scraping leaves;
reds and oranges, greens and yellows,
all the crispy, crunchy fellows
in soft piles under the big
Mulberry trees.

Leaves are falling all around me,
on my head, before, behind me,
making mockery of my raking,
all my nice green lawn o’ertaking.

It’s a leafy, leafy world
as the trees their glory hurl.
Oh, I need a vacuum sweeper
or a giant tree-leaf eater.

–Catherine Lawton

This poem was written a number of years ago before our neighborhood had leaf blowers. Extracted here from the book, Remembering Softly: A Life In Poems. This post was first published five years ago. I thought we could all use a little humor again.

Photo © Can Stock Photo, BackyardProduct

 

Be(e) Doing Good

As my husband and I make our backyard garden a hospitable place for creatures, pollinators, and people … I watch the bees on flowers (like in these photos I took). The bees inspire me by the goodness of their work: They seem to remind the plants to produce, and the blooms and blossoms respond by flourishing. Honeybees pollinate and gather nectar within about a two-mile radius, reminding me of the interconnectedness of nature and of us all. They risk the journey of flying out to forage, then back to the hive laden with pollen and nectar, despite the perils of nature’s predators and humans’ poisons. Thus they store up honey that will feed the hive in winter as well as the people who respectfully extract and enjoy the delicious, surplus honey.

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As I watched a “bee doing good” this week, I was reminded to “be doing good” myself.* And this poem came to me:

Be(e) Doing Good

As you buzz about (many things)

    are you singing, bringing out

    the fruitfulness of life?

As you wing from place to place

    do you cherish each colorful face

    in the garden of life?

As you pollinate far and wide

    are you ever calling forth

    the Creativity of Life?

As you gladly sip secreted nectar

    will you with honey feed

    both the world and the hive?

Catherine Lawton


*”Jesus … went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38)

This post was first published at GodSpace

 

Walking Together On The Way

Hiking the Camino de Santiago

GUEST POST by Judith Galblum Pex

Having just returned from two weeks on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, I’ve concluded that multiple-day walking is one of my most satisfying activities. The Camino is a 750 kilometer ancient pilgrim’s route currently hiked by about 350,000 people a year from all over the world.

I love the simplicity and freedom of life on the trail—getting up early in the morning and walking from point A to point B without all the distractions or to-do lists of everyday life. Being out in nature the whole day relaxes, focuses, and calms me. Though I haven’t done it as much as I might like, I believe that all these trails are designed to traverse through natural settings; both the Camino and the Israel Trail, which I hiked seventeen years ago, certainly cross stunning landscapes.

A highlight of the Camino was the people we met. Simply by deciding to walk the Camino, we entered into a special group of people who, for a period of time, all had the same goal. We developed an instant camaraderie and even a surprising intimacy with some. We belonged to the same band or company, an innate need for every human being. (And this happens to be the title of my soon-to-be-released novel: To Belong.)

On the Camino, we found ourselves walking alongside folks, sitting together for drinks or meals, and meeting in the evening at the hostels. Not all, but certainly many of the “pilgrims,” as the hikers on the Camino are called, are there to find answers to big questions or solutions to life’s problems. As we hiked along with our backpacks, we could easily share how Jesus came into our lives, lifted our burdens, and gave us purpose.

Camino means “way” in Spanish, and for me, a walk like this is a metaphor for traveling through life, each of us on our own path. Jesus said, “I am the way,” (John 14:6). As we trek, we develop rhythms and instinctively look for the smoothest and flattest paths—though climbing mountains gives us a better perspective on the entire landscape, what lies ahead and from where we’ve come.

If you don’t carefully follow the trail symbols, you can easily go astray. At one point, we found ourselves traipsing through a wheat field with no markers to be seen; but after we found our way back, we realized we gained something in our unexpected detour. Life is also like this. Having a good guide, a book or an app, was super important on the Camino in the same way that I need the Bible to direct my life. Whom we walk with is important on the trail. Good, compatible companionship makes all the difference; I’m thankful every day that John and I are good hiking and life partners to each other.

There’s obviously a reason that the Bible often uses the words “walk” and “way” and their synonyms, especially in Proverbs, a book of wisdom literature. “I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble” (Prov. 3:11,12). In Ephesians 5:8, Paul the apostle writes, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

~Judy Pex, May 31, 2022


Photo credit: Judith Galblum Pex

 

 

Waves on the Cladach

What does “Cladach” mean? That’s a question we often hear. So let me explain:

CLADACH (Kla’ dak) is a Scottish Gaelic word meaning beach or shore, as in seashore.

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore.” ~ John 21:4

The Lord sends us forth on life’s sea to venture for him, all the time welcoming us to the safety of his shore; and always God is with us.

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