Tag Archives: August

Hymn for the Season

Life is hard. Beautiful, agonizing, wonderful, terrifying, joyous, grief-woven, sublime and small. All at once.

Times of transition, whether external or internal, are tough. Yet without them, we don’t grow. Like Bilbo with the ring, we go on living without gaining more life, and if that goes on too long, we may look in the mirror and find Gollum staring back.*

We’re (skip down if you want to avoid foul language) fuckups.

Even the best of us, even at our best moments. We try to do things, and we fail, we’re self-deluded and we think ourselves wise, we look through a distorted lens and believe what we see to be truth. To use modern parlance, we are Epic Fail.

We are. If you think I am wrong, that’s ok. Maybe you’re right. But if what I’m saying makes you angry, may I make a suggestion? Sit quietly for a while and ask yourself why my words anger you. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you. Be glad of that. I’m a bad enough boss over me.

This probably sounds like I’m down on myself, and on humanity as a whole. That’s the funny thing about life, though. It’s full of seeming-contradictions that somehow aren’t contradictory. They just seem like they should be.

I’m more free when I admit this kind of crap than when I try to deny it. I’m free to love myself and humanity when I admit that all is not well. When I try to pretend that I am fine, that I’m not a rampaging mess, I find myself imprisoned, and I find myself doing more damage to myself and to others. The more control I take, the less I have.

Admission is not the same as acceptance. I admit that I struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, a predilection for addiction, depression, and worse than all of those together, I struggle with selfishness, anger and pride. I do not, however, accept these things. I call them out by name and then I turn and fight. I do all I can to overcome them.

I often fail. If I had only myself to rely on, I probably would have given up long ago. Why fight my nature? Against it, I am outmatched. I can only overcome one part of it by indulging another. To quote C. S. Lewis:

“Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices… The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilbains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” -Mere Christianity, Chapter 8: The Great Sin

It’s the admission of failure, coupled with the desire to continue to fight, that makes me deeply grateful for the action of my Savior in my life. I’m dead tired, both from internal and external battles. And here He comes, to pick me up, to hold me while I sleep. In Him I find freedom even in the midst of the raging war. He frees me from my self-inflicted slavery, and from the slavery of the world around me.

I am a mess. But He isn’t asking me to get myself together, first, then come to Him when I am ready. He wants me now, mess and all, and if I will come, then bit by bit, painful though it may be, He will make me into my true, free self.

There are some words that, if spoken to another person, spoken as a “you” instead of an “I” or a “we,” become horrible. The following hymn is an example. If anyone can read it, or sing it and not feel that s/he is one of the “sinners,” then it loses all of its power for good. To me, though, in this place, it is a song of life. Because I am a sinner, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. And if I tarry till I’m better, I will never go to Him at all.

A hymn for the day:

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy – words by Joseph Hart

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Source: Cyberhymnal

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*In case anyone doesn’t know, this refers to characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien


Light Reading -continuation of Prism Sentence

This is a continuation of Prism Sentence. I’m not sure, yet, where this is going, if indeed it is going anywhere, but then that’s part of the fun. Again, this is based on a prompt from BeKindRewrite’s Inspiration Monday: “Light Reading.”


Octavian lifted a hand to his face and noticed that his own arm was draped in layers of dark fabric, the same that covered the inhabitants moving around him. He grabbed the nearest passing figure and jerked back its covering.

A rounded, tortoise-like head blinked up at him before the creature shoved him back with a short, but powerful, arm. It shrugged the covering back over its head and wandered off at a faster shuffle than before.

Again Octavian was aware that the world moved while he remained still. When the tortoise-man shoved him, it shoved itself, and its surroundings, off of him. He took a step back and  nearly lost his balance. The movement felt strange, but he could not remember why.

He pushed the ground under his feet until he shifted it to the nearest doorway. The place had the appearance of a public building, drab with dirt, but decorated in elegant, carved scrolls and fern fronds. It was familiar.

His light came in contact with one wall, and as it did, it shifted into a sconce.

Octavian paused to stare at it. He took a step sideways. The light traveled along the wall in pace with him.

With a shaking hand, he opened one of the large doors and bolted inside. The light followed, silently, now matching the interior fixtures, glass flowers hanging from spiked chains. It was farther over his head, but the increased distance made matters worse. He knew it was present, but could no longer watch it without craning his neck.

The room he entered was a quiet, open gallery with a floor of dark granite, polished to a mirror-like shine. One of the fabric-draped figures was slumped at a long central desk, its back rising and falling slowly, as if in sleep. Octavian ran forward until he hit a flight of stairs, then pushed the whole world down with each step. His feet echoed loudly. When he reached a landing several flights up, he paused.

His instincts were screaming for him to jump off the balcony. Will the world move when I don’t touch it? Or will I move in it?

Jump.

He was over the railing before he had time to think, but the space below made him pause. A soft creaking sound drew his attention and he saw his light sway above him, just barely.

It cast a strange shadow and, turning, Octavian saw the shrouded desk-keeper moving up the stairs. It didn’t shuffle like the other creatures had. It didn’t move as if it had feet.

He released the railing and fell. The stairs rushed past. When the floor hit him, he felt an impact, but not much pain. A bright burst enveloped and blinded him.

 Sight returned gradually. Sparks popped across a dark field, then they shifted into dim fireflies, drifting about on either side. For a long time that was all he could see until, looking up, he found a silhouette of evergreens framing a patch of sky barely lighter than black.

A whispering sound caused him to look over to his left. A firefly, about the size of a grapefruit, was sitting on the ground beside him.

He tossed a handful of pine-needles and dirt at the thing. It flicked its wings, but otherwise did not seem to care.

Anger outpaced his terror and he rolled over and tried to smash the insect with his fists. But touching it filled him with burning pain that centered on his heart and flowed through his whole body. He collapsed, writhing until the feeling abated and he lay still, breathing hard.


Aula pursed her lips as she studied the read-out from Octavian’s prism. Then she laughed.

 “I win!” she scooped up the small pile of coins sitting on the table. Her companion, Sertor, groaned and put his feet up on his desk.

“Dammit. The cocky ones’re usually too cowardly to try that for days.”

“This one’s gutsy, I’ll say that for him, but he won’t try it again any time soon.”

The voice of  Secunda, the on-duty Oneirologist, crackled through the intercom. “Aula, you need to even out prismer seventy-one. At this rate, you’ll give him a stroke.”

Sertor rolled his eyes, but Aula obediently fiddled with her controls, tweaking the light through Octavian’s prism.

“She’s new.” Aula shrugged. “Scared of having an accident on her watch.”

“Maybe I’ll leave his record on her desk. A little light reading might give her some perspective.”

“Bad, huh?”

“You didn’t read it?”

Aula twitched. “You know how I feel about personality violation. If I’m going to do my job, here, I’d rather not have the details.”

“Fair enough. He’s a dear.” Sarcasm drenched the last three words. “So, when do I get a chance to win my snack-money back?”

“Hm. Well, what’s your newest prismer up to?”

Sertor glanced over at the read out of one of the prisms under his charge. “Not much. She must be worn out after that chase-dream.”

“Ok. If yours gets going first, you get your money back. If mine does, you’ll watch all the prisms while I take a nap.”

“Done.”



Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

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*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


The Old Guard

Well, I know it took longer than I expected, but I am back now!

Two days ago, I experienced the craziest day of my life. For one thing, I went into surgery to remove what remained of my cancer. That would have been a big day by itself.

However, I woke up after my surgery to learn that I had become an aunt. I won’t go into great detail, but my sister-in-law had to have an emergency c-section. She and baby are fine, though the latter will be in intensive care for a while.  Wonderful, bizarre, crazy day.

And now, I promised you all masks when I returned to this blog. I will keep my promise with two whole posts. Here I will give you the rest (some are in my first mask post) of the original set of fourteen I made in college. In the next post, I will display my more recent creations.

Enjoy!

The first mask I ever made. It was so fun, I couldn't stop.

The first mask I ever made. It was so fun, I couldn’t stop.

The second mask I ever made, and the most time-consuming.

The second mask I ever made, and the most time-consuming.

I was never quite satisfied with this one, but it is interesting.

I was never quite satisfied with this one, but it is interesting.

My father's favorite of the original set.

My father’s favorite of the original set.

A detail shot of my father's favorite.

A detail shot of my father’s favorite.

Pine bark and needles. My poor sister-in-law got poison ivy while helping me collect the bark.

Pine bark and needles. My poor sister-in-law got poison ivy while helping me collect the bark.

This one was made by taking an impression of cherry-tree bark.

This one was made by taking an impression of cherry-tree bark.

A detail shot of the cherry tree mask.

A detail shot of the cherry tree mask.

The Muri Kai

The Muri Kai

The skull-mask above comes with a story. I made it as a release for anger, and as a statement. Shortly before creating the Muri Kai, I learned that cosmetics companies had been (and presumably still are) going into impoverished places all over the world and convincing people to buy their products. Forget having enough money for shoes, you need lipstick!

This one is made from pinecones, grass, pollen, lily-leaves and maple-tree whirlygigs.

This one is made from pine cones, grass, pollen, lily-leaves and maple-tree whirlygigs.

My brother's favorite, made from terracotta.

My brother’s favorite, made from terracotta.

My favorite of the bunch.

My favorite of the bunch.

A detail shot of my favorite catching the light.

A detail shot of my favorite catching the light.

Last but not least, the bur oak mask, made from an impression of oak bark and newly fallen leaves.

Last but not least, the bur oak mask, made from an impression of oak bark and newly fallen leaves.

And there you have the old guard. Tomorrow, I hope, I will post pictures of my more recent creations.

Glad to be back! I look forward to catching up on your blogs!


A Song for the day

I apologize in advance for this disconnected ramble, but I need to get it out.

It’s too easy to forget, with the swirl of contention and alienation in this world that, ultimately, we have more in common with each other than we have differences.

This morning, someone nearly caused a wreck with me. I think I was in his blind spot and he didn’t look. For a brief instant, right after my fear and the hard breaking, I was angry. Then I recalled that, two days ago, I nearly did the same thing. The only difference was that I checked my blind spot in time to correct myself.

I remember the look of the woman in the other car. She looked angry, and that hurt. I had made a mistake and I wanted to tell her that I knew it. I wanted her forgiveness.

Maybe the man who nearly hit me felt the same. Maybe he didn’t.

By the will of my Lord, I am not a slave to guilt anymore unless I take up the shackles myself. But I do desire forgiveness from my fellows, and I am constantly learning and relearning what it is to forgive them and myself.

Somehow, taking a quiet, still moment to remember how much I must share with the person in the world most different from myself helps put it all in perspective. I value differences, but when they polarize us, when they make it easy to judge and hard to forgive, it helps me to consider our common ground.


Ballooning Attempt #1

Not long before my trip to Canada, which I will expound on later, a friend asked me if I was afraid of heights. It seemed a strange question. I replied something along the lines of “Yes, but why do you ask?”

I was completely unprepared for her reply. She recently had a birthday, and apparently she has long wanted to fly in a hot air balloon. Yes, one of these:

What a dilemma! On one hand, great fear of heights. On the other hand… Hot Air Balloon.

I took a deep breath, explained to my fears that I wasn’t about to regret, for the rest of my life, saying “no” to a hot air balloon flight, and told my friend to count me in. It turns out that the flight was scheduled for the evening before my trip to Canada. This and a misplaced passport was the reason I had between 2 and 3 hours of sleep as I set out on my trip, but more on that anon.

The time arrived, and I drove my friend and two of her friends to the place where we would take off. Two more friends met us there, and we watched a few other balloons take off and our own prepare for flight. Ours was the largest balloon on the field that day.

That is ours in the bottom corner. The inflation of the balloon was beautiful, but as it began to rise up, some high wind blew in. For a while, we were afraid that the flight would be cancelled for safety.

But soon enough the balloon was up, and we were all told to get in! We rushed into the basket and held on. Briefly, we were about two feet off the ground.

And that was it. The pilot made his final checks and found that the high wind had bent an important piece of equipment. I guess we were special, as the pilot told us that he had only had that particular problem once before, when he was flying in Africa. The flight was cancelled.

We all got out, and watched as the balloon deflated.

Our pilot was more dejected than any of us, as shown in the photo below. He is the one lying on the folded balloon. Not to say that we were not disappointed, but we enjoyed seeing all the balloons and having some entertaining conversations. We made plans, then and there, to try again in early September, which fast approaches. Hopefully I will ride in a hot air balloon yet, and to heck with my acrophobia! Anyway, I enjoyed getting to meet some new people, and my friend and another of her friends and I went for dinner at a local restaurant. All was well. Until I got home and couldn’t find my passport.

Photo by Jubilare


Suggestions, please…

Three posts so close together! Apologies! I know I said that I would come back slowly, and despite appearances, I am. I cannot help what is on my brain, though, and this is the only forum I have, at present, in which to express myself. The posts on Canada and ballooning will come this weekend, but for now, I am calling for your assistance.

I cannot seem to find the right voice for the stories I am currently writing, and I have come to the conclusion that I need help. Help from friends and family, or even kindly strangers.

I need reading material. Muse food. Specifically, I need good ghost-stories.

No horror genre, please. It’s the chill along a lonely road that I want, not sickening terror or shocking violence. I cannot put my finger on exactly what I am looking for, so variety is best, but I know what I don’t want.

It’s good story “voice” that I am seeking. Nothing I have used before is working, and I need input to develop something that will work. I know, in my bones, the feel that I want, but how to convey it? How do I immerse my reader in the mood of a good ghost-story and use that backdrop to accentuate life?

So have you any suggestions for material? Pointers? Ideas for me to mull?


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