To Still The Stones


It had been one of those weeks when all I wanted to do was change my name, crawl under a rock to hide or most preferably: BOTH. Fridays are my freelance days. I work from home, on my own schedule, and sometimes that means disappearing to find a couple hours of quiet. Quiet was definitely in dangerously short supply by the end of this week. For the first time in long time, I walked out towards Stratford Point. Being a weekday and a bit on the chilly side, I had the entire beach to myself. I had been hoping to get my favorite spot below the lighthouse but the tide was up and my last quarter mile was completely under water. I found myself out of beach at the foot of a massive concrete retaining wall, the base of which was buttressed by large boulders. It was a perfect place to finally sit and rest.

I had nowhere else I needed to be and had shaken off the stress of the week on my walk out there. I listened to the waves crashing at my feet and felt the sunlight wrap around me. The nagging Gremlin voice in my head, for once, had been completely silenced. The immensity of that gift is beyond words.

That stretch of beach has a vast array of large stones scattered about. Often times in the summer, I bring my sons down to this part of the beach around sunset and this past summer we started experimenting with balancing stones. Being boys, they were rather fond of balancing them for the sole purpose of knocking them down again by throwing baseball-sized rocks at the towers. It could be a painful experience for anyone caught in the crossfire. As I sat there, it suddenly occurred to me that I had never come down to balance stones on my own. I could actually take my time finding the perfect stones and balance them as high as I chose without worrying about the boys accidentally stoning each other while my back was turned. That was too good to pass up.

I started out with a few smaller towers but they kept shifting and falling. I decided to work with larger stones, some weighing at least 20 pounds or more. But again, as the tower rose, the stones would shift and fall. I learned the hard way, as I seem to learn nearly everything, that trying to catch large, falling stones is a really, really dumb thing to do. Frustrated, I retreated to my spot on the boulders, rubbing my smashed fingers, knowing they’d be black and blue later. I love mechanical puzzles and I have a wicked competitive streak. I often time myself with a new puzzle, then try to beat my best time with each consecutive attempt. That was the way I had approached the stones. I had tried to build higher, faster, concentrating not on each stone but on an image of what the end result would be. That was why I had failed.

Balancing stones requires patience, not exactly my strongest virtue. I knew I needed to try it again. Slowly, this time. As I balanced the first stone on its pointed end, something happened that I had never noticed before, a vibration in my hands that stopped as the stone settled into place. With each subsequent stone, I felt the same vibration and I could feel if the stone would balance or fall. More than that, I could feel when the lower stones were about to shift out of balance. Sometimes that meant discarding one stone in favor of another so as not to topple the entire tower.

Wait for the stone to be still.
Only then could I let go.
The end result was impossibly balanced.

Many of the towers I’ve built in my life went up too fast or on shaky stones. Except in life, when I tried to catch what I should have let fall, I smashed far more than my fingers. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn. By God, do you learn.’ And I have learned. I feel the vibrations as it seems it may be time to discard one stone in favor of another and I know I need to wait for the stillness before I can let go. I have no idea what the final result will be, but I know that somehow it will be impossibly balanced.

Ringing Hollow

As I went outside with the dog this morning, I heard what sounded like a hammer. Who would be outside hammering at 7:30 on a cold November morning? The tops of the trees were lit up gold in the early morning sunlight and it was that light that drew my eyes upwards. I never would’ve seen him otherwise. There at the very top of the hollow tree in the backyard was a small woodpecker. I didn’t think that little guy could possibly be making the loud noise I’d just heard. But then he started tapping away at one of the small branches. The tree acted like a perfect amplifier and a loud hammering noise came from center of the tree, where a third of the tree had broken away last year leaving a gaping hole. Cold as it was, I stayed out there for a little while watching him, fascinated at the way the noise came not from his location but from the core of the tree. Up until last year, I had assumed that tree was fairly healthy. Then one random calm sunny day, a third of the tree crashed down, missing the house by mere inches.

I’ve met people like that. From the outside everything looks great but on the inside they can be as empty, hollow, and rotted as that old tree. If you don’t look too close, you might not notice it. Until that one random day when a huge chunk of the facade falls away. After that, it becomes obvious why everything they do rings hollow. Hollow people, like hollow trees, can be dangerous. Sometimes the only option that remains is to walk away.

This whole hollow tree metaphor brings me to a bit of a dilemma. Namely, where I stand with my church. See I was born and raised Catholic, spent 12 years in Catholic schools, never missed a Sunday or a holy day and loved it. But the last few years, I’m not so sure. More and more, the fact that the church and I have, and always have had, opposing viewpoints on a lot of issues has become an uncomfortable and inescapable fact of life. One of the most painful issues for me has always been the ordination of women. From the time I was a girl, I struggled with feelings of rejection. As a kid, I equated the church’s rejection with God’s rejection, that somehow, I wasn’t good enough. I am perfectly well aware of the church’s stance on this matter. The ordination of women is verboten. Those Catholic women who have been ordained outside the normal hierarchical lines of the church are branded heretics. Those who support them, yours truly included, are also seen as heretics. I’ve seen dear friends and family members, kind, beautiful souls in committed loving relationships, rejected for being gay. I’ve seen divorced friends sidelined, ignored and neglected by the church when they’re most in need of a safe and loving community. I was lucky to have an excellent support system in my parish, but that, sadly, is a rarity. I’ve seen my own kids used as pawns, with vital information about a child’s performance withheld as emotional blackmail by Catholic schools in the hopes that such actions might cause their tuition money to miraculously appear in my bank account. And while the bishop himself, now an archbishop, acknowledges the pain that it caused, there is no intention of changing the practice.

I can’t seem to put the laws and practices of this church together with the Jesus who chose to hang out with the most broken and rejected people of his time. The more I’ve come to accept that it was never God who rejected me, the harder it becomes to stay in a church who rejects so many. More and more, it all rings hollow to me and I’m starting to wonder, is it time to walk away? To finally accept that this relationship cannot be salvaged? I don’t know yet. Emotionally, I’m running into the same feelings I had just prior to filing for divorce. Spiritually, I feel like I got dropped into a briar patch. It hurts to move and it hurts to stay where I’m at.



Ahhhhh the first day of Daylight Savings Time. Nothing like a nice quiet Sunday morning to soak up an extra hour of sleep under the warm toasty electric blanket. So why am I standing on a beach at 6:10 a.m. when it’s just barely light, windy and maybe 30 degrees?! Because there was a solar eclipse at sunrise this morning and I really, really wanted to see it. So there I was in sandals no less because tying sneakers would take too long this morning.

I got to the beach a few minutes before the best viewing time. It was there. It was magnificent. It was breathtaking and brilliant and it was awesome. It’s just that, well… I couldn’t see it. There were clouds and even though they’d lifted from the horizon, they still blocked the sun from view. There was one bright slit of light that peeked through the clouds. I knew exactly where that eclipse was happening and yet even with knowing when and where to look, I missed it. It was beyond the sight of my limited vantage point.

So after spending twenty minutes chatting with a couple of friends who were crazy enough to join me for a beach-at-dawn freeze fest, I gave up. The eclipse had come and gone. I headed off for my usual breakfast haunt. From the warmth of my car I watched the sunlight blaze from behind the clouds, lighting them up in purples and golds and casting a pink reflection on the water.

It occurred to me that I should be writing. It was quiet. I was wide awake. I had a whole day ahead of me with little that required any immediate attention. But I made no move to pick up the pen and notebook next to me. I know darn good and well where the next chapter of my novel takes me. There’s a great deal of darkness in it, and although it’s a work of fiction, it’s still a darkness I’m all too familiar with already. I experience what I write as I write it. You have to understand that as I recap this morning for you, I’m in wool socks, jeans and a hoodie, shivering despite sitting in front of a heating vent and sipping a hot cup of tea. So to write this chapter will take me back into places I don’t want to revisit. But…

There’s always a ‘But’ … But I came out the other side of that dark place. The whole time God was there working, beyond the sight of my limited vantage point. He was magnificent. He was breathtaking and brilliant and awesome. It’s just that, well… I couldn’t see it. In fact, there were times I wasn’t even sure He was there at all. And now…

And now, I know He’s there and always was there. To step back into that space, especially in such a limited scope shouldn’t scare me anywhere near as much as it does. I’m afraid of losing my improved but still limited vantage point. But there may well be a new one on the other side of the pages. Only one way to find out, I guess.

Pre-winter Thaw

I ran across a quote and it really hit me. It didn’t just hit a chord but played a full concerto for me.

You’ve been in darkness, loneliness, and nothingness for so long. And one day, without you really noticing it, you’ll be moving into the sun, and in love with the world, and you’ll be glad you’re still here.

It reminded me of a penance my confessor once gave me. He told me to go outside, tip my face up to the sun and feel, really truly feel, the warmth on my face, and to let the ice inside start to melt, just a bit and to keep doing that until one day I would realize there was no ice left to melt.

It’s fall in New England and although the last day or so have been warm, the cold, dark, damp days are coming. I can’t wait! Yeah, you read that right. I’m living with RA and excited about damp and cold. I obviously have a screw loose. I listen to people speak wistfully of the days growing shorter, the flowers dying off, the leaving falling, and the birds heading south and instead of joining them in their melancholy, I feel this slowly building excitement, like a little kid in the weeks before Christmas. I wait all year for the first snowfall…and every snowfall after that. February’s blizzard left me ecstatic and I’m anxiously awaiting the first flurries of this snow season.

As I walked the dog yesterday in the chilly early morning darkness, I had to ask myself: why? Why is it that I get so excited about watching everything die off and watching the dark and cold settle in, only to feel a pang of sadness when the first crocuses poke up in the spring? Is it just me settling into a reflection of my inner ice queen self? Do I still have thawing to do?

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. As as in my habit, I went to the beach with my breakfast and found the storm passing offshore had kicked up rain, wind and crashing waves. The few people who had ventured near the seawall stayed in their cars, warm and dry. I parked and in the roar I heard, ‘Come play with me.’ Without even thinking, I left my tea and bagel to get cold, took off my shoes, rolled up my pants and headed to the water. Not to the edge of the water, but right into the cold crashing surf. In the back of my mind, I remembered that I had work at home waiting for me, I had Eugene home sick from school and I had a doctor’s appointment. And. I. Didn’t. Care. As the wind hurled pointed rain and sea spray in my face, I felt so alive and so at one with the wildness God had called me into. Nothing else mattered. I was in love with the world around me, even with the guy in his car who told me I was crazy when I finally got bowled over backwards by a wave and dragged my soggy self back to my car.

Why do I love the cold? Because God uses it to grab my full attention. It wakes me up. It forces me to deal with it head-on. Getting knocked over backwards by a cold wave means I need to change into warm, dry clothes. The shorter, darker days mean I need to turn on a light to see my way. When the snow appears in my driveway, I’ll have some work to do before I can go anywhere. It’s not that I’m still frozen inside, it’s that the fight and work of the coming winter mirrors what I’ve already been through. When the wind bites through my jacket and my bones ache from the cold, I pay attention. I slow down. I see things I would normally miss. I appreciate life more. And on those days, I am so glad I’m still here. It’s quite possible that I thaw best in winter.