Full Circle: Capturing Imaginations, Hearts and Minds

 

A Story of Resiliency, Integrity, and Community

Each generation must find its way amidst cultural changes, clashes and conflicts. Carolina and Mauricio had to do this in the new novel, PRAIRIE TRUTH (just released). Reading a good historical novel not only gives the reader momentary escape, but paints a colorful picture and historical perspective that helps to clarify the conflicts of today.

Like the characters in PRAIRIE TRUTH, and like those who actually lived in the San Luis Valley of New Mexico / Colorado in the 1800s, I can look back at generations of my own family tree and find abundant examples of people fleeing persecution, oppression, and hardship to seek an identity, a living, and fulfillment.

My husband’s Danish forebears immigrated to America when Germany took over the southern section of Denmark on which their farm was located, and attempted to conscript their sons into the German army.

My Scots-Irish ancestors had earlier found their way to America amidst turmoils, persecutions, and deprivations in their part of the British Isles.

My great-grandparents found their way to a homestead in Eastern Colorado to seek new opportunities.

Members of my mother’s birth family found their way to the agricultural fields of California to escape the poverty of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression era in Oklahoma and southeast Colorado.

Another great-great grandmother, who is said to have been a Cherokee Indian escaped from the Trail of Tears, hid at the back of a tobacco farmer’s fields in Indiana and raised his illegitimate child. That child, who grew to be my great-grandfather, took the farmer’s name, avoided school, farmed steadily, and carved out a quiet life raising a family and serving the Lord, keeping silent about his parentage.

Fact can be stranger than fiction, and that makes fiction like PRAIRIE TRUTH believable. In this historical novel, a young woman born on the Colorado prairie to a white settler’s daughter and a Cheyenne Indian, never fully accepted by either culture, leaves home and rides her horse toward the mountains and high valleys southwest of Denver. There she learns the language and customs, and blends in, at least for a time. There she make friends, proves her abilities to contribute to the good of a community, and falls in love.

She finds out that her new community itself—the San Luis Valley of Colorado in 1888—is racially and culturally and religiously mixed also. Wars have been fought and won or lost. Borders of nations and states have been re-drawn. They must adjust to new language, new laws, and prejudices. But also, new opportunities present themselves.

The sufferings, traumas, and separations of the past were as real as those of today. The challenges of the present may feel insurmountable at times. But learning how resiliency, integrity, and community have carved paths of hope in times past, gives us courage to face into our problems today with renewed faith and hope for a better future.

~Catherine

 

 

A Summer Path of Devotion

Stepping onto the garden path one early morning in August.

Since all our honeybees died last winter, my husband and I decided our beekeeping days were over. The time had come to take out the bee hives in the corner flower garden and use the extra space to add a foot path through the flowers, grasses, and greenery. During these summer months, this simple, curving garden path has become my early morning meditation/prayer walk. On cool mornings, before the heat of the day, I stand and gaze at the flower faces glistening and opening petals to morning sun, and my heart opens to Creator God, the same one who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. It seems God is still dwelling, revealing, and walking in gardens.

This summer, on that lovely path my husband cleared and lined for me—with river-rock edging and cedar-chip paving—God has been there with me, helping me start each morning with awareness of, and fellowship with, his ever-creating, giving, empowering, caring presence.

After breakfast and coffee, and just before I step onto the path, I wait, in a moment of listening, for today’s focus of prayer. One day it was thankfulness. With each two steps I said (and meant) “Thank you” (stepping with left foot) “for family” (with right). Left always the same. Right included: new mornings, God’s mercies, colors of flowers, shades of green, people to love, a faithful dog staying close, gentle breezes giving relief from heat, hope for tomorrow.

Another day, loved ones came distinctly to mind, and I pictured them each in their places, facing their particular challenges. With each two steps I interceded for individuals in my family with a real sense of participating in God’s purposes, asking in his will, and was given the assurance that God’s heart was hearing my heart as I sought to hear his.

One morning, as the first rays of the rising sun shimmered through translucent petals, leaves glowed and dew drops sparkled, my heart lifted in praise. I felt God’s smile through the newness and beauty of life around me. With each set of left-right steps (taken slowly, savoringly) I spoke the praise I felt for God’s beauty, mercy, constancy, Fatherly heart, and for the way he creates new possibilities amidst the unfolding of each day.

Some morning prayer walks have included confession, as well as release and surrender.

I miss having a garden beehive, and the fresh honey we extracted; but this year we have enjoyed observing the wide variety of native pollinators that have visited our gardens; and the corner bee garden that I previously had to stay out of in the mornings because of honeybees protecting their hive), has become a welcoming prayer garden where faith and hope are pollinated. And the experience of starting my day with those few moments of communion is as sweet as any honey.

Note: This meditation is re-posted (slightly edited), with gratitude, from Godspace, where it first appeared: https://godspacelight.com/2019/08/28/a-summer-path-of-devotion/

~Catherine

 

Where Do the Poems Come From?

Where Do the Poems Come From?

“Which do you like most? The mountains or the ocean?” My sister and I would ask each other.

I could never decide. In California for much of my life, I didn’t have to choose. We had both within close distance. I could look up and see the steadfastness of the Sierras or the Coastal Range with their redwoods, pines, deer, bears, raccoons, waterfalls and trout streams that fed the valleys. I could often feel the ocean breezes and smell the salt air from tides so full of power yet knowing their limits, from waves that lapped like earth’s heartbeat.

The metaphors we claim as our own come to us from our surroundings like a fawn stepping out of the forest or beach glass glistening in the sand.

“Which season do you like best?” was another question my sister and I would discuss. Winter offered Christmas. Summer offered school-less, barefoot days, swimming and camping. Spring meant orchards in bloom, Easter, newness.

When I returned with my husband in midlife to my native state of Colorado, I found that daily life was even more determined by the seasons here, especially winter and summer. I found that Spring near the Rockies is a matter of winter and summer fighting it out until summer wins a precarious victory.

But fall remains my favorite season, a time of the year that most inspires me to write poems. As I prepare this collection, I find myself in the Autumn of my life. Christmas doesn’t bring quite the same delight and anticipation except as our grown children and our six grandchildren share the celebrations with my husband and me. Summer I love in this high country, where wildflowers bloom from spring to early fall, the scent of summer rains on prairie grasses imparts indescribable sweetness, and sunsets paint glorious colors across the wide sky.

But fall … During this season of life colors have muted a little, most storms have settled, and anticipation of change keeps one mindful that each era of life comes—and then passes. We must gather the harvest, the fruit, the beauty—as I do from my garden—and preserve it, distill it, package it to sustain us in the winter and to share with others.

When we lived near the Pacific Coast of Northern California, we enjoyed hunting for agates on the beach any time of year. Sometimes as a wave receded, we’d see the semi-precious stones tumbling in the gravelly sand. This process had polished them to translucence, often revealing mossy patterns inside, each unique and formed by the accumulated years. Other types of agates are found in the mountains and on the plains. Each of these gems uniquely encapsulates the effects of pressures and changes in the formation of our earth home. Yet, looking deep within each agate elicits a certainty that these natural processes were guided by a beautiful, loving, almighty Creator.

I think poems are like agates.

This week I had a conversation with my sister, who has also written verse. “Where does a poem come from?” we wondered aloud. Sometimes it seems to rise up from some secret place deep within. Other times a poem—or the inspiration for one—seems to come from without. Our grandfather used to say with a twinkle in his eye that he wrote poems when the “muse sat on his shoulder.” To me it seems as if help comes surely, perhaps from a literary angel. In his poem, “The Country of Déjà Vu,” Wendell Berry asserts that his poems “came through the air, I wrote them down, and sent them on” like migrating birds stopping at his feeder. Perhaps that is as good an explanation as any.

I still marvel at an experience I had in my young adult years. At home with two toddlers, my husband busy with his career, I was emotionally bound up by griefs and losses, especially the death of my mother. I hadn’t written a poem for a long time. One evening I went by myself to a poetry reading at a religious retreat center near our home. I knew no one there. The woman poet read with warmth from verses full of life and light and love. I didn’t go expecting this to happen; but, somehow, soaking in the spoken rhyme, rhythm, and sense, awakened the gift in me. For months after that evening, poems began freely coming to mind. The opening of this fountain provided one part of the healing the Lord began working in and through me, which continues today.

Admittedly, I am not a disciplined poet. I can compose meter and rhyme on demand; but mostly I wait for that elusive and mysterious inspiration. The important thing is to capture on paper the phrases, images, and insights as they come; to sit with them, savor them, polish them like agates; and if they pass the test of holding together and ringing true, to share them.

I won’t limit each poem’s meaning by trying to explain the emotions and experiences that, for me, are encapsulated in each one. As I send them out, they are free to take on new meanings as each reader looks into them. Perhaps for you a poem will speak to a quandary, a sorrow, or a joy you are experiencing at this season of your life. That is the beauty of sharing a gift of poetry.

(Note: This essay is published in my book, Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems, © 2016, under the title “A Word About These Poems” serving as an introduction to a selection of poems written throughout my youth and adult years (so far).)


Photo: overlooking a Lost Coast beach, Humboldt County, CA.  © C.Lawton

 

Be Still and Know

During the month of April we are Celebrating:

  • National Poetry Month
  • Lent/Easter
  • and Spring!

Take time to experience, appreciate, and meditate on Re-awakenings and Renewal:

  • in Nature all around us;
  • in our Relationships to God and each other;
  • of our Spiritual Life and Eternal Hope.

    Reading inspirational poems can help you focus, “be still and know.”

Holy Week Longings

It’s Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Palm Sunday seems a long time ago. Children waved palm branches at church. It felt good to rejoice in the triumphal entry of the One who would surely be King and bring vindication and victory.

But when the the palm branches turn brown and the “red-carpet” of cloaks is put away, unresolved conflicts remain. Evil presses in, not as easy to identify as we thought. Sin wins the day, both personally and corporately. Friends transform into enemies. Favorite doctrines and laws lose their luster. Disappointment, cynicism, and fear blind the eyes.

If today we didn’t know what Holy Week would bring, we would be filled with longings and regrets, perhaps we’d even join the mob mentality of the Jews as Passover approached. Or perhaps we’d find ourselves cowering and cowardly as were the disciples.

At these times, it’s hard to see the Light, feel the Hope, hold onto Courage. Some of us feel overcome by a sense of failure, helpless yearnings, and hopeless waiting.

In the confusion surrounding the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, perhaps Jesus’ followers turned to words of the Psalmist David:

“How long, O Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” (Psalm 13).

Even today, David’s poetic psalms speak to our emotions.

God still gives us poets who have the ability to express our heart longings. One such poet is James Troy Turner. Like Jesus’ followers who were not highly educated, who had few of this worlds goods, but who felt the burden of sin and oppression and wanted to believe that a Deliverer would set them free—so James Troy Turner expresses the neediness and longing of Holy Week with these verses:

THE END

Deeper and deeper into the open arms of death,

As the world lives, then what time is left.

We push and we pull, filling our lives

With only the promise of tomorrow.

And where is the light?

 

 

TRUTH

How I long for the days of

   My simple youth.

You could believe all they said—

   You knew it was true.

A man was a man always,

   True even to himself.

The good he would buy—

   Top quality on each shelf.

But those days are past,

   I think never to be again.

Listen hard what they say—

   Truth and lies in a spin.

 

 

WORLDLY

I am so far off the bubble

sitting idle in all this rubble.

It really doesn’t make any sense;

reality is left so unraveled,

no common sense, I’m left baffled.

(verses excerpted from the book, POEMS by James Troy Turner)

 

The Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a sign erected at a viewpoint in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. 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, silent 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:

Should we seek/embrace silence?

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: 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?

With Palm Branches Waving

GUEST POST

by Dennis Ellingson, author of God’s Healing Herbs

For three years Jesus had ministered in word and deed. There was no one greater than he. Even the elements listened to him and obeyed; and even the dead responded and lived again.

Those who witnessed Lazarus come forth from the dead could not doubt that “truly God” stood among them. When a person had been dead three days and rotting in cave, death was irreversible. But God can reverse what is irreversible. He gave Mary and Martha their brother back.

Then Jesus traveled on to Jerusalem, the City of Peace where there was no peace, the City of the King that had no true king.

But as Jesus and his disciplesaccompanied by a large crowdmade their way to the city for Passover, something happened. An election was held on the streets and the ballot boxes were ripped from the date palm trees. With palm branches waving, the people ordained Jesus as the king.

The red carpet was not out; but the long, full and stately palm branch would serve well in the excitement of the procession. This was a man who could feed the multitudes, calm the seas, and even raise the dead!

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut [palm] branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” (Matthew 21:8)

At the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the people waved the branches and shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’

Jesus told the pharisees who were there to question and criticize, that if these people did not proclaim him king, ‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).

On that day long ago, which we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, if the people had not proclaimed that Christ was King, God, Messiah, Savior—then the very inanimate rocks themselves would have proclaimed it.

More ornamental palms are sold during the Easter season than any other time of the year. Do we buy them just because they are nice? Or is it an expression of our own “Hosanna”—a declaration of Jesus as our eternal and personal King?


This post excerpted from the “Jesus and the Herbs” section of the book God’s Healing Herbs by Dennis Ellingson.

Drawing of a Palm Branch by Matthew Kondratieff

Enhance Your Devotions With Poetry

Poetry for Praise, Worship, Devotion, Opening our Hearts to God

I gave a copy of Mary Harwell Sayler’s book of Praise poems to my sister, a retired English teacher. She said these poems remind her of poems by Emily Dickinson. She is reading them along with her daily Scripture and other devotional readings.

When she told me that, it got me thinking …

In our experience of God’s presence, poetry can help us focus and engage our senses and entire being. Poetry can help us process life and emotions—and see ourselves—in new ways, and thus be open to hearing God say fresh, new things to us. Scripture does this also, of course. And much of the Bible was written as poetry. I have long found soul nourishment and renewed perspective in the Psalms. And how can a person read Song of Solomon and not believe God woos and reaches us through the five senses he has given us? Isaiah, the prophet, wrote often in poetry. Sometimes poetic expression reaches straight to the heart more effectively than prose.

I believe God still speaks through poets today. Sometimes with a prophetic voice. Sometimes imparting wisdom. Sometimes bringing clarity. Sometimes lifting the soul to hope and love.

Even if you think you aren’t “into” poetry, you probably are more than you realize. Songs lyrics are usually poetry. And this is why, along with the music, songs can pierce or soothe our hearts as well as our minds.

I encourage you to include poetry in your devotional reading, meditative prayer, quiet times, and soul care. Here are some poetry collections in which readers have found poems that helped them focus on God and his presence and love:

 

“[These] poems individually and collectively pour out love for who God is.”  –Glynn Young, blogger/reviewer

This book is salve for the soul. It provides a place for you to gather the stray bits of experience and gently mend your wounds.”  –Isaac, online reader/reviewer

“Reading this book is to … open one’s own heart in unexpected ways.”  –Susan Elaine Jenkins, reader/reviewer

 


This post was first written in Jan. 2018, and updated Jan. 2019.

 

 

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