light, sound, and home

Optina Monastery today. Photo by ncosmin at Trek Earth.
I've been reading the life of Elder Nektary, who spent most of his days in the Russian monastery of Optina, until the communists closed his home. This quiet, faithful man of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries appreciated art and literature. Some ponderings of his got my attention:
There exist sound and light. An artist is someone who is sensitive to these sounds and lights which others are unable to perceive. He takes them and puts them on canvas and on paper. They become colors, notes, and words. It's as though the sounds and lights have dissolved.

A book or a painting--these are the tombs of light and sound. A reader or viewer comes, and, if he is able to creatively apprehend or read, a "resurrection" of meaning takes place. And then the circle of art is completed. Light flashes in the soul of the viewer or reader, and his hearing becomes awakened to sound. For this reason an artist or poet has no particular cause for pride. He's only doing his share of the work. In vain do they suppose themselves to be the creators of their works. There is one Creator, and man only dissolves the words and images of the Creator and then revives them by the power of the spirit given by Him.
 Elder Nektary also recognized the need for writers to consider every word:
Before beginning to write, dip the pen into the inkwell seven times.
Sometimes I think I'll spend my whole life dipping my pen...

The memoir project I started last fall has reached three chapters and is being read by several friends. My daughter was the first to comment on what I'm doing. Victoria critiques well; she consistently and kindly tells me what she really thinks. She likes the third chapter. Not that she doesn't like the first two, but by the third she's on board with where I'm heading and thinks I'm doing all right. This is helpful.

Noting her comments, I guess my other volunteer readers are finding it a challenge to get into the work. If light and sound have been resurrected for them, I've yet to hear it. So it may well be I've only got one actual chapter done--the third may become the first. I'm already beginning to think through how to make changes. Part of the toil and joy of writing, of course, is solving problems.

Thankfully, nobody's kicking me out of house and home anytime soon, as far as I know.


the Paschal crescendo

Though I've spent uncounted hours the last couple months in hospital rooms, emergency departments, and doctors' offices, I have also lived a lot (as has been true the past four years) at church. Now I'm experiencing my fifth Paschal feast in Orthodox Christianity. Here, "Pascha" (which is a translation of "Passover," for the Orthodox the Passover of Christ) often falls on a different Sunday than Western Easter. Calendar changes in history are responsible for the discrepancy, but thanks to both celebrations' connection with the lunar cycle, they can fall on the same day.

This past Sunday I joined the hike up Spencer Butte, in south Eugene, to watch our Pascha sun rise. This was after our celebratory service, which began at 11:30 Saturday night and ended between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. I was, literally, the last one of the group boosted up the butte. I couldn't pull myself any higher on the boulders for the pic, below, taken by a friendly hiker from another group.

I was all in. But my smile was genuine. I'm grateful to have participated as much as I've been able to this year. This participation--what it consists of--is quite difficult to capture and express. Especially for someone who, up until four years ago, thought following a faith interpretation rooted in creative human ideas and rationality was as good as it gets on this boulder-strewn globe.

(I now appreciate more deeply the apostle Nathaniel's first reaction to being told by Philip that a man called Jesus was the longed-for Jewish Messiah. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel asked, to which his friend responded, "Come and see.")

Last Pascha (which coincided with Western Easter) I didn't hike but remained more rational, crawling into bed before dawn and dozing. My mind found words of expression, though, which kept me awake enough to record them in my notebook:

"Pascha," I wrote, "is entering into the crescendo of what is lived and expressed every month, week, and day of the year in the [Orthodox] Church.

"The elements of Pascha are always present: the aspects/tools/expressions of life in Christ (which is life "hidden" with Christ in God). No matter how fervently the bells ring, no matter how brightly the candles glow, this is a hidden life. It cannot be broadcast; it is not desired by the masses, or even by any group of people.

"It is personal. Yet it is community in a profound sense, one into which each member is born rather than initiated, having no sense beforehand of what will come, no preconceptions (at least, none that are accurate). Like siblings, the family members make room for each new child. As in any family, nothing is executed with perfection; there are many growing pains.

"Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, is always present, ever central. Life in this household (or, if you prefer, the voyage on this ship, the journey along this path) is the memorial to Christ until He appears, until He comes. It is what continually goes on. It is the food and drink, the exercise, the therapy, the struggle, the way."



Sunrise over the Three Sisters, Oregon, on April 12 (Orthodox Easter) from Spencer Butte, Eugene
My break from blogging and social networks took an unexpected turn when my dad underwent open heart surgery February 27. But the timing was good. Now Dad travels new roads of healing and hurting and recovery and decline.

How fragile the body which ages. And yet also how strong. A lot of years turn beneath the atmosphere, amid the stress, engaged with tragedy and with beauty. These decades of inhaling sweet breezes, for those of us who receive decades, are long but limited. Every heartbeat is another tiny descent, another spending of the allotment. Ah, glorious transaction.

Green-yellow "chicklets" on the front maple have arrived again. Today crimson leaf-babies shine in the rain. Around the tree's girth lie piles of old gray ones, their bodies once having ridden high, now composting below, nourishing fruit and flower.

Though so familiar, each fresh leaf is unique, distinct; only the process repeats itself. In nature, in creation, there are no reused entities. "My" maple will someday join its leaves in repose, and there won't be a copy saved, but the essence of treeness will continue.

Yet what is man? In "his" essence, in humanity, a unique twig and leafkin comes to be, to exist and to flower, and sometimes to undergo surgery. There is more in each human being than meets the eye. More, I believe, than sense can apprehend, and so the day of reposing in "sleep" will have more to it, as well. It's unknowable right now, a mystery past understanding, but it awaits this withering leaf. I tend to be one pondering such things.


two and a remembrance

It's eleven in the morning and I'm still in my pjs. My second chapter is finished. This is nice. It's not the main thing or everything, but it's nice. (The not being dressed part not included.)

Even nicer, though, is sunshine. I will attempt to greet the day outside, soon, in proper apparel.

It's interesting that the events I'm memoiring about all started exactly four years ago today. This morning I mused regarding how my life is different. Much has changed. Much has been lost. There was a lot to grieve over. This includes so much ego on my part.

To be humbled is...well, not fun. But the word itself denotes a caring way and means of turning. Unlike being chastised, or disciplined, or accosted. Being humbled happens due to the reality of sacrifice. Of love. Of what is deeply existing. It's really, truly good for the soul. Especially the prideful one, mine.


freely given

Beginning my first blog post of this year reminds me... our Christmas tree is still up. Yes, it's bristle-brush dry, but once in a while when you pass it the whiff of the forest exudes, and you think it's not so bad to have it around just one more morning... and maybe another.

Life is very full. I wrangle structure inside my book's second chapter. Now I have read chapter one aloud to three people besides Tim, and I've fiddled a lot more with it. Last week I went with my parents to the coast (someone had to drive them; I made the sacrifice, and so did James, the heavy lifter). Ahead of time I imagined all the writing I would do there. As it was, I spent one afternoon out of three draped over a chair arm gazing at the waters of Depoe Bay and returning to my prose every so often. It did help to some degree with the wrangling.

I'm thinking I will be gone (from here, at least) a long time again soon. I might stay completely off the internet during the season of Great Lent, which begins the end of this month. There are stories ringing interiorly that I've listened to these past four years which will help impel me, if I do stay away, to embark on the journey. Monks and nuns of old withdrew during Lent into the desert. I can't even express how frightful and compelling that sort of solitude is to my heart.

It is in the heart, I have come to think, that the landscape of human life unfolds. The deepest places reveal themselves. There is a way to reach them; to do so is a gift freely given to mankind. This is, as I see it, the central message of Christianity as first delivered. The God, whom Christians believe is the only such one, desires to make a home with the Human. Adam. Me. The being God formed in his image from the soil. Such soil became dust due to a rebellion freely chosen. Such dust is renewed due to the amazing desire of God to rescue the lost sheep, the unimaginable free act of entering into dust to restore it, to heal any and all who freely desire the healing. This all is wrought in humility. Wrought in God.

Whether gazing into nature's deep beauty or practicing the mundane ordinariness of house and home, Christians seek and wrangle (during Lent and always) with a much tougher problem than sentences, memories, rewrites, and printer ink replacement. God willing, we strive at and with and in the difficult gate. Like a weathered highway, the Orthodox church's services guide me to it, to the rock of striving with myself, with my circumstance. There dwell God's faith and humble ways, as over against my relentless pride and self-interest.

For me it's a beauty the tireless motion of breakers begins to sing about, the endless sand whispers of barely commencing, daring a leap to the uncovered boulders at low tide.


chapter and legend

For the first time, probably ever, I've been writing in December. Little bits per sitting, almost every weekday. Steadily creeping along. As of today I have 3000 words. A completed chapter.

This morning I read it aloud to Tim, the first person who's heard it. I guess a few weeks ago Tim heard part of a paragraph, as I was trying to describe something about him and asked for his input. There's this legend, sort of, that gets told by people who work (or worked) with him at the TV station. One winter during a storm he kept the transmitter from going off air using a paper clip and duct tape. Or so I thought I'd heard.

Tim corrected me. There was no duct tape. He explained in detail how he bent the paper clip to make contact with circuity thingies (not his words), which fooled the transmitter into staying on.

As much as I would love to have Tim's voice in my story depicting his engineering adventure, I opted to remain focused on my narrative. I expressed Tim having accomplished his feat "using his wits and a straightened paper clip." (They start out bent, right? So it must have been that he straightened it.)

This, I learned today, is not quite correct, because while Tim did straighten the paper clip's original bendedness, he employed it in his own bendy design to carry out his rescue of the station. After hearing me read nearly 3000 words, Tim offered this as his only concern about my writing. Which I loved.

Not that I won't desire feedback from other sources, which will certainly give me many changes to ponder. But Tim's thoughts are supremely valuable. Outside my writing world, yet so close to my stories in his very own way.

Together we concluded it's most correct to say he used his wits and a contorted paper clip. So there you have it. The synopsis of my first 3000 words.



I have wished to be well into a particular writing project by the end of this year. Back in the spring, my work didn't merit the term "book." This has been pretty usual for me. In my experience, writing can become clutching the side of a cliff, seeking a way up (or sometimes just looking for the path back down).

One idea for my project seemed pretty solid, and I kept picking it up, writing and writing, researching it to some degree. But I was sure this piece of the story (or stories) wouldn't be enough to carry a whole book. It might make a fine family narrative (being about family history), but I couldn't expect it to interest other people.

Finally a couple months ago I hit on a better-sounding strategy. The family history part could comprise the first section, leading into a memoir-ish faith journey narrative with a thread linked to two family tragedies from before my birth. I made an outline. Feeling hopeful, like a pioneer having raised her cabin's walls, I began to tell people I was working on an actual book.

The next week, Tim's mom called. She and Dad H. had just been to an event featuring Bob Welch, a Eugene writer and speaker Tim and I've known for years (decades now, I guess). "For your Christmas present," Mom said, "we want to send you to one of Bob's writing workshops!"

I almost turned her down. See, most years they give me money, and I need new sports shoes. Yes, Bob's workshops cost more than shoes (from a little to a lot more, depending on the length of the seminar), and, yes, I've always wanted to go to one of those, and yes, I'm writing a book now... Oh, yeah. After a few moments I decided the shoes could wait.

"Yay!" I responded. Then I checked for a workshop I could actually get to, and found out one was happening on November 15, in Vida, less than an hour's drive from home. I signed up.

The day was like candy (especially since Bob's wife, Sally, provided great food, including candy). I remembered things I'd forgotten; I learned much that was new.

I drove home talking to myself in quite lively fashion.

Yesterday morning I pulled my notes out. Studying the workshop's exercises, I plugged in aspects of my book project. And there, in front of me, a true memoir came into focus. I saw the beginning, the middle, the end. I was stunned.

This book is about two months of my life.

I've wanted to express what happened, carefully, tucking it into the middle, you know, being nonchalant and hopefully writing like Wendell Berry, allowing the message to bloom in your mind. But almost no one can do that. I was hiding my story, making excuses. I just need to tell it.

To touch on history and connect the right pieces will require very hard work. (My pioneer counterpart would need to dig herself a well, plant a garden, chink the walls against the storms. Even go without candy.) It will require, as Bob said Saturday, confidence that I have something to offer, plus humility to let other people help me tell my story better.

But there in front of me it sits, in focus. I wrote opening pages this morning. This is interesting.

You'll find more information on Bob's writer workshops here.


an interview; a growing labor of love; an appeal for help, updated

A year ago this summer I first visited Excelsior Farm where James was interning. Jeremy (center, above*) was engaged to Ashli (left), and they were in the busy, happy zone of preparation for building a life together. Their farm, launched by the owner of Eugene's Excelsior Inn, was a dream, barely germinated, of providing the Inn's restaurant with "the freshest selection of ingredients found in the Willamette Valley." Jeremy had been hired to manage and, as soon as possible, become owner of the farm business. I could sense Jeremy and Ashli were on their way.

Now it's November a year on. Jeremy and Ashli got hitched in July, and James has been working for them as often as their budget allows. While I ponder soil (see last post) and tuck soft blankets over my legs on cold evenings, they are out there, the next generation, knee deep in care for the soil's provision

Ashli and Jeremy are well into a Kickstarter project**, raising funds for a new, larger greenhouse. The Kickstarter website is a platform for creative endeavors of all sorts. It's an all-or-nothing deal, where participants set a money goal and ask for backers.

The additional greenhouse would give Ashli and Jeremy space to grow produce all year. They introduce themselves in an artistic video (follow link; you'll enjoy James's video work).

Recently I asked Ashli a few questions. The idea of launching a marriage by meeting the demands of even a small, organic farm like Excelsior boggles me. Ashli gave me a snapshot of their world:
Sometimes our days move like clockwork, but they can also vary a lot. A few days of the week are dedicated to harvesting for our Harvest Baskets (a "community supported agriculture" or CSA program) as well as restaurant and wholesale accounts. Those days are usually taken up by harvesting. Other days are given to cultivation, starting seeds, and planting. Some times of year see us tearing out spent crops, like at the end of summer. The barn and pack out areas get kind of messy, so we spend time cleaning up. I’d say daily life is just a lot of doing what needs to be done at the time.

A typical harvest day in summer, from my perspective: We arrive at the farm around 7:30 or 8 am and survey what needs to be harvested. If it’s a CSA harvest day, we make a list of eight items that are ready in sufficient quantities for our subscribers. This list, or alternatively wholesale and restaurant orders, is clipped on a clipboard and hung in the pack out (where we wash and pack produce) for reference. Then we divide tasks, and get to work harvesting, washing, packing, and labeling until all is finished! I mostly do harvesting; if Jeremy were to give you a sample day, he could really fill it out with all the little and large tasks which he has to accomplish in a given day.
Ashli blogs at The Excelsior Farm Chronicle. She posts recipes and sometimes introduces to farm partners (like me) such non-ordinary produce as  kohlrabi and celeriac. Her knowledge has made me wonder if she grew up in exotic places, studying plants and foods. She answered:
I have spent my whole life in Oregon except for the two years I lived in New York while getting my Master’s degree. It is a great privilege to grow up with the natural beauty of this state; each portion is breathtaking and in strikingly different ways. I grew up very conscious of Oregon’s diverse landscapes, which are in many places still quite rural, as well as our unpredictable weather (at least in western Oregon, which is where I have mostly lived). This kind of “wildness” left its impression on me at a young age, and I always wanted to be out in it.

My childhood was largely suburban, and as I grew older I increasingly wanted to live a more rural life. I never planned on being a farmer, exactly, but I’m glad that I get to spend so much time working outside now!
My family did not really keep a vegetable garden, but I did grow up near some local family farms and spent lots of time berry picking. I was always enchanted by the thought of fresh, local food, of eating seasonally.
Next I wondered if the idea of farming with Jeremy took some getting used to. Ashli responded:
I believe farming has always been part of the vision of our life together. When we met, Jeremy was already running a small garden and planning on pursuing farming as his occupation. I was planning on pursuing a Master’s degree and exploring a future in education, but beyond that I had not really fleshed out a vision of what kind of life I wanted to have. Jeremy explained his plans of farming to me at the start of our relationship, and I was on board. I could easily see us having that kind of life together, and the idea did not initially take any getting used to.

It has taken more getting used to since we’ve actually been farming together. I just had no idea what farming would entail--otherwise I might not have been so enthusiastic about it! It is a wonderful life that we’re very thankful for, but it’s a lot of hard work. Not only is it a lot of physical labor; it does not really stop. It’s not the kind of job that you can leave behind you when you go home. The responsibilities and tasks are ever present, and there’s always more to do.
The most important thing to know about Jeremy and Ashli's Kickstarter Project?
We only have until Monday, November 17 to meet our goal, and we’re just over halfway there. Help us build this greenhouse! Any help in reaching our goal would be most appreciated!

*Photo credit: Shirley Chan

**Update: Thanks to lots of friends helping, they made it! The project ended in success, and now Ashli and Jeremy will be busy building a greenhouse.



I was pleased when my son James, growing up, showed interest in big things. His imagination sought after sun, moon, and planets, conducted orchestras beneath shooting stars, chased tornadoes, blazed trails over hill and mountain. I encouraged what must be his reaching for heaven. For glory.

Changes come, though, to every life. Imaginings, assumptions give way to what is true. James came to see his love for skyscapes meeting landscapes, twining into dust of earth from which grows food that nourishes. He discovered a knack for tending live things.

My parents grew up in years of war gardens and pruning fruit trees, but I came of age reading package directions, baking cookies from a cake mix. I've never canned. Processing and preserving are for me a huge challenge, foreign territory. I'm willing. It's just that I spend my energy writing and doing church finances, reading and sorting out riches of the faith journey I follow.

Yet there's something lately traveling with me, interior-ly, giving me fodder for pondering at 3:00 a.m. And it has to do with permaculture, the thing for which James is a certified guide and promoter. I'm coming to learn to ask one, at least, of the basic sustainable gardening questions:

Tilling the soil is what Man does. God, however (or nature, if you prefer), doesn't work with implements, and things grow. Forests are sustainable. Why is this? How come the undergrowth thrives on its own?

A few weeks ago, at the hard, dry end of summer, James and I hiked. He pointed out logs in the forest holding water. They were moist to the touch, sprouting new seedlings.

Soil in the bosom of nature lies seemingly undisturbed, and yet it is an organic, living wonder. It is ever being worked and softened. Not by grim tools nor by boxed chemicals--those are the utensils people provide themselves, doing the best they can in preparation and sweat and struggle. The sustenance of wild earth is a different thing, as foreign in concept to me as stocking a pantry, yet simple as a finch's feathers. The soil is kept, is preserved, by its covering.

I've thought about gardening and farming mechanistically. When the word permaculture entered my vocabulary my reasoning went: I get this; leaves fall from trees, plants receive nutrients. We city-dwellers want lawns, so we rake up leaves. The permaculture people put down cardboard and wood chips to kill the grass so they can let the nutritive leaves lie.

Til recently it hadn't dawned on me that things might go deeper. Covering the lawn, or even composting a field, might be turning from the usual, habitual way, my understanding, of Man with dirt. Of boy on tiptoe scanning the heavens, then taking a knee to examine, to ponder the soil beneath him.

This thought thread is only my entry. Following becomes a process, an interaction. Slow and still, it leads into winter.


more than the sum

Thomas the Apostle is beloved. Every Orthodox ode sung in his memory is joyful.

Willingly he contributed from unique viewpoints, experience. Willingly he followed, believing Jesus the long-awaited Christ. Jerusalem-bound, everything in him recognized death there, yet he said, "Let us go and die with Him." Such sentiments preluded voices of martyrs remembered for such words: "We shall all die, so let us die properly!"

The martyric phrase brings to mind Klingons from Star Trek. Fanciful, sci fi aliens, a tough race of beings with wrinkly foreheads (so depicted, at least, in Star Trek movies). Epic-ness in them comes from human race attributes glorifying "honorable" warfare; attempts to defeat a homeland's enemies, to right wrongs, perhaps, ultimately, to bring peace.

The Apostle Thomas--no Klingon, real person--loved and was afraid and had holes in his paradigm, just as I do and am and do. His fellow apostles' report of Christ, alive, Thomas simply couldn't take. Too much, beyond him. These friends, these fellow pilgrims, known well three years, yet Thomas knew the deception of men and women. Judas recently proved again their treachery; their ways could scorch his soul.

Then hidden away with the others, Thomas did at last see what they saw. The moment arrived, right and ripe for his uniqueness, for the faith of those to follow. Entering their enclosure, Christ let Thomas explore His recent mortality. Handling the proofs, experiencing the One, risen, Thomas blurted, "My Lord and my God!"

This phrase, from this man, the overflow of real experience. The wonder of exploration grasped between fingers fearing, loving, amazed.

Experience is something. Not magic nor imagination, even if unimaginable before. Like being born. Like finding there is more to do, more places to follow, more death to face, more living. Thomas sailed to India; he labored long. His love, servitude, humility shown for others coming. Seeking true health of true spirit. Standing over against invisible soul-scorchers, he entered and continued in a wholeness, beyond the sum of pieces, the culture of true peace.
"By thine unbelief thou didst make known Christ's resurrection, and by touch thou wast assured of His holy passion, O all-glorious Thomas; and now pray that we be granted peace and great mercy. ~ from a hymn for St. Thomas