Monthly Archives: October 2014

Shake Well Before Use.

(Thompson’s Water Seal)

Good friends gave time, talent, and labor to build red cedar benches for the library’s learning garden. I agreed to do the waterproofing before the benches get anchored in place just outside the children’s library. Since I’d never done this before, I made sure to read the instructions, including shake well before use. A few lines down from this advice, I was also reminded to stir often for best results; shaking keeps the various elements from separating – necessary for the sealant to work properly.

Oddly enough, the same advice can be found on shampoo, apple cider, and zesty italian dressing. All the different parts separate, like sticking to like, lining up according to weight or viscosity. It takes a good shake to bring everything together, and an occasional stir to stop the separation from returning.

I think this is wise advice for life. Sometimes things need to be shaken up to work well. Prayer, work, and play are all wonderful and necessary for a good life – a life that preserves the body and soul, a life lived serving others wherever it is anchored. Our vital elements should be mixed up every so often. Playful prayer, prayerful play; prayerful work, working prayer. Play with work, and work on keeping play a central part of life. Without a good shake and the occasional stirring, things come apart; like unshaken salad dressing, it leaves a bad taste to life.

As with all words of wisdom and power, it’s important to know when these particular words apply. Shake it up when it fosters the best life possible. Don’t shake fragile things or people. Like glass, they’ll shatter. That’s when these directions come in handy: Handle with care. Ask for assistance.

For more information on this series, see “Use Your Words” on the About page.

Enough Already

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

(So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.)

Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:34

I ran across sufficient unto the day in a novel I read in high school. For whatever reason, the line stuck. It’s been a favorite verse of mine for over thirty years, and it has woven its King James wisdom into my life.

I’m a list maker, a planner, an arrive-ten-minutes-early-to-appointments person. In many ways, being like this serves me well. I have little trouble meeting deadlines, preparing Vacation Bible School in February, or getting my annual Christmas letter written by Thanksgiving. But there’s a shadow side to it: pre-worry. An anticipated difficulty can grow to a major problem in my mental landscape long before anything happens in real time, bringing a storm of worry along with it – worry about nothing that’s actually happened, is destined to happen, or even likely to happen. How is it possible, let alone helpful, to feel anxious over phantom troubles?

Usually, I can resist borrowing trouble from the future. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, rises like the sun, chasing away the dreadful, anticipated projections. Difficulties do come, usually without anxiety tagging along. Each day brings enough strength and grace for its problems. To turn the phrase, sufficient unto the day is the grace therein.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow will bring its own worries. Just like today, tomorrow’s grace will be more than sufficient for them. But that’s not today’s agenda..

An Autumn Frost

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn- tired.

Robert Frost, A Leaf Treader

Fallen leaves are adrift in my yard, filling streets and sidewalks, gathering in front of walls and fences. When I walk to CVS, I have to wade through a knee deep stretch of them. They are a beautiful red-gold-brown hindrance to my quick pace, and they smell wonderful. Sharp and earthy, crunchy and scratchy perfume.

Autumn-tired. Not from skipping over but from treading on leaves all day. Walking over what shaded me on a hot summer day. Treading on the final form of what began as small green knots, a Spring promise that new life was on its way. To put underfoot the last blaze of glory, muddying up New England’s Fall miracle, makes me a special kind of tired. Autumn-tired.

Raking and jumping in them is exhilarating, running through them a joy. Perhaps treading on them is so exhausting because there’s a darkness to it. It’s a callous soul who can put boot or shoe upon such God created and sustained beauty without remorse or regret.

Robert Frost’s A Leaf Treader can be found in Robert Frost’s Poems(New Enlarged Anthology), New York: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books, 1971, pg. 237

For more on Use Your Words, click on “About.”

Hear, Read, See

A Person should Hear a little music,

Read a little Poetry and

See a Fine Picture

Every day

in order that Worldly Cares may not obliterate the sense of

the Beautiful

which God has implanted in the Human Soul.


My friend Penny sent me these words years ago on a birthday card. I framed them soon after, placing them ever since where I can see them. They are important because they came from a friend and because they tell a truth: ignoring the beauty I hear, read, and see because I am occupied with whatever task is at hand puts my humanity at risk – the humanity God created and sustains.

Music, Poetry, and Painting are about revelation. They help me know the world as something mysterious, something whose reality transcends my individual cares and lifespan. Specific creations that expand my awareness of the universe, bringing no reward beyond profound gratitude at the blessing of hearing, reading, and seeing. In the presence of such beauty, I know that my life is extraordinary – just like everyone else’s.

Today, I listen to the Mills Brothers, read Robert Frost’s A Leaf Treader, and spend time with Kay Chorao’s Tree Shadows illustration. Worldly cares can’t compete with that.

I also read Psalm 125 – not an easy or favorite psalm. Psalms are part of the Beautiful, but remind me that I cannot hide from Worldly Cares behind melody, meter, or palette. Beauty and Worldly Cares: one without the other is incomplete. Together, they are a sacred complete.

For more about the Use Your Words series, see “About.”

The View from Burial Hill

I parked my car, went up eight steps and a gentle slope. Sitting on a green bench, surrounded by gravestones, a breathtaking view in a quiet space. Plymouth is spread out below, close enough to see people laughing and taking pictures of the Rock; the rolling Atlantic peeks out between the houses and continues to the horizon, dotted with boats.

Most people get to this place from the shore or town center, up a couple of steep, long staircases. The main paths have a quite an incline, and most visitors are out of breath by the time they arrive at this view – breathtaking in a whole different way. It’s almost as if such a view needs to be earned, either by climbing or dying. Do only the worthy get a bench with a view?

But there’s a back way, the way I came. It’s off the main street, behind a municipal maintenance building, in a lot far enough away from downtown that it’s free of parking meters. The pavement is old, cracked and bumpy. Most of the people who come this way live or work in Plymouth. They know its pretty face and its seamy side, the history and today’s issues. They aren’t visitors, they are residents and relatives. They live, love, work, and play here. They probably don’t come to this bench on this hill anywhere near as often as they could, busy with town and water life below. Still, this is their past, present, and future – something they can have for a quick trip over a few steps and a gentle rise. No need to prove worthiness on the beaten trail. It’s enough to love the bench, the company of ancestors, and the view.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, but admiration and gratitude. Maybe that’s why the graveyard is here: even death can show us something amazing and peaceful if we take a seat and keep still long enough to look.

Tuesday’s Opposite

Saturday was rainy, dim, cold. Outside activities were on hold, there were no appointments on the calendar, and no need to drive anywhere. From morning to night, I didn’t have to be in a particular place or do anything specific. My sons were content to sleep in, relax, and recharge. My husband was home for most of the morning, then off to work. A rare free day.

Rising, I listened to rain on the roof while I brewed tea. Between downpours, I dropped in on Jeanne and David to say hello and borrow a stock pot. I put bread dough aside to rise while washing mason jars. Apples pared and cut, I made applesauce. I chopped garlic and pork for green chili. With bread in the oven and newly canned applesauce on the cupboard, I opened the latest Bon Appetit to try a new pizza dough that rises in the fridge for 24 hours. My sons and cats kept me company. We read, built with Legos and painted with acrylics, letting the outside world get along without us.

When my husband came home, all four of us sat down at the table, shared grace, and ate. Then it was time to clean up and settle in for the night.

Months back, I wrote on Philaret’s Prayer at the Beginning of the Day. It’s first line: Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. I pray this line every morning, and I do my best to live into it every afternoon and evening. Saturday wasn’t special because of what I did or what I didn’t do, where I spent my hours; it was extraordinary because it was begun in peace, lived in peace, and ended in peace. Tomorrow’s concerns were left for tomorrow, yesterday’s released. In an imperfect world, in my ordinary life, peace embraced me and mine.

It’s not the first such day, and (God willing) it won’t be the last. But Saturday was a grace that cannot be repeated or revisited. Cherished, yes, for how it nourished my soul. A rainy day in October never to come again.

Saying My Piece

At the last library board meeting, a town official assigned to represent the interests of the library at municipal meetings – and represent municipal interests at library meetings – spoke without care or preparation, showing an appalling lack of information of and appreciation for the vital role our public library plays in this town. She dodged questions about the future of the library, clearly unable to answer even the most basic of them. She changed the subject, moving the focus from library concerns to playgrounds and trash pick-up (both vital to the town, but not the responsibility of the library board). When asked what the value and role of the library would be in ten years, she said, “I see no value for it.”

When I am faced with unprofessional behavior in someone who should know better, how do I act with compassion and also advocate for one of the most vital institutions in my town?

It’s a difficult thing, sometimes almost impossible, to extend help and compassion to someone whose actions hurt others. It’s also the only way forward. Treating someone with contempt, even in reaction to being treated with contempt, won’t foster positive change. Whether I like it or not (and I don’t like it!), the only way forward is to act with kindness and patience.

It’s a lesson that keeps coming up. Saying my piece must be saying my peace. Until I learn this by heart, it will keep coming.

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

Prayer at the Beginning of the Day, Philaret of Moscow


Lord, Make me an instrument of Your peace…

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord of all pots and pans and things… make me a saint by getting meals and washing up plates…

Brother Lawrence

It sounds like you’re dealing with the blessing of answered prayer.

Brother Clark Berge

Today has gone from a quiet writing and baking day to a “squeeze writing and baking in between morning and afternoon carpool duties, a grant writing session, doing laundry so everyone can get dressed tomorrow, roasting the chicken early so dinner can be on the table in time to get my son to an evening activity, and (finally!) baking bread for tomorrow’s sandwiches” day. As I write, my dishwasher is humming and my clothes are spinning in the washer downstairs. The chicken is in the oven, apples and canning supplies are on the sideboard, and I am on my couch typing away. It’s not my typical Tuesday because a couple of things had to be rescheduled and a couple of evening activities arose. I’ll spend an extra two hours in the car and I’ll be up an extra hour as the bread bakes and cools.

Unexpectedly busy days bear truths about my life:

First: most of the activities come from the blessings of marriage, children, education, and plenty of food. Today is busy because heartfelt prayers were answered.

Second: today’s schedule isn’t written in stone. I could buy bread instead of baking it – or use the multitude of crackers in my cupboard! I could postpone writing this piece. And my local market sells a tasty rotisserie chicken, already prepared. I am choosing to have a busy day.

Third: I can choose to enjoy each activity, living my faith and finding contentment as I work. The Spirit is present when I remain present in my day’s adventures.

Fourth: I can be an instrument of peace on busy days and calm ones, or I can be an instrument of unrest and agitation. When I rely on God’s presence for my internal state and my external actions, peace will finds its way. When I don’t, no amount of quiet time will grant me peace.

Today I choose to quiet life’s noise by roasting the chicken, and savoring its aroma as I write. I choose to hang clean clothes on the line, taking time from writing to enjoy sun and leaves, pumpkins and birds. I’ll bake tonight, ending my day with the scent of fresh bread. Tomorrow, I’ll wake to a calmer schedule and the lingering scent of bread. And I’ll be thankful once again for today.

Volume and Tuning

Quieting life noise comes down to hearing aids.

When they were missing out on too many conversations and the television on highest volume was still too quiet, several people I know got hearing aids. All of them have said how much easier it is to hear with them, and they are grateful. But all of them admitted that enhanced hearing came at a cost: loss of a muffled world, and a sound reality that made background noise as loud as conversation – sharp audio edges and the loss of distinction between the sound they wanted hear and the noise they didn’t. A loss of sound depth and discernment, the trivial and the important weighted equally by the hearing aids. The switch from missing out on the world of sound to no foreground/background audio distinction was the benefit and the cost. What ears do – give weight to some sounds over others – hearing aids cannot.

If we don’t live a life deaf to the world around us, when we choose to hear the reality we live in, it can be deafening in a whole new way. There are so many things making noise, asking for our attention. Some of it is wonderful, some sad, some necessary, some a waste of time and energy. But how do we listen to what’s vital, turn off what’s destructive, and ignore what’s distracting? In more Biblical terms, how do we have ears to hear (eyes to see are for another day)?

Paul’s words on love are volume controls, helping us focus on what’s life-giving and holy. Ears that hear focus on what isn’t rude, what admits to being partial, what speaks of patience and kindness. Attend to these things, listen to the voice of love in all its many forms. If we can’t turn off the rest, we can at least let it fade into the background. We’ll be amazed at how quiet life becomes.