>Sky Gazing

>Today is the next to last day of national poetry month. I intended to write a poem this month. I really did. But my creative juices just don’t seem to be flowing in that direction, so I’ll share another poem that has inspired me. I found this one at yourdailypoem.com. You can sign up to receive a poem from them every day. It’s something I actually look forward to seeing in my in box.

This poem really spoke to me this morning, because last night about midnight I went outside here at the beach and the sky took my breath away. I don’t ever remember seeing so many bright stars. If you stand on the beach on a clear night at Seagrove and look to the east, you can see the lights of Panama City, and to the west you can see Destin. I’m happy to be a good thirty minutes from each of these tourist destinations, away from the city lights where I can see God’s lights sparkling so brightly. (Not my photo, by the way.) I’m hoping for a night this clear and lovely on May 7, when our daughter will be married on this beach!

As I post this I’m waiting for a friend who lives in Sandestin to come spend the day with me here at the beach. She’s bringing her young son and his friend. It will be a joy to watch them play in the sand and surf, as I anticipate the arrival of my son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters tomorrow! Have a great weekend, everyone.

Nancy Byrd Turner

Sometimes when things turn upside down
And inside out, and look dark brown,
I rush outdoors and gaze into
The topless sky’s eternal blue,
So calm and cool, so still and deep,
With calm, contented clouds like sheep . . .
I shade my eyes, and stare and stare,
Then go back in the house, and there
Begin to wonder and to doubt
What I was in a stew about.

This poem is believed to be in the public domain.
Efforts to identify a copyright holder have been unsuccessful.

Nancy Byrd Turner (1880 – 1971) was born in Virginia. A descendant of both Thomas Jefferson and Pocohantas, Nancy began writing poetry as a child. She studied to become a teacher, and did teach for a few years, but eventually she became a magazine editor. During the course of her career, she published 15 books, several songs, and her work appeared regularly in the leading magazines of her day. Late in her life, Nancy became a freelance writer and a popular lecturer.

>Wordless Wednesday: Fighting Cholesterol One Bowl of Cheerios at a Time


With so many Baby Boomers fighting their cholesterol, isn’t it nice that Cheerios come in 10 flavors? I was shopping at Publix in Seagrove Beach, Florida, this morning, and was happy to see this lovely display. My personal favorite? Frosted Cheerios. What’s yours?

>"Watching": From Blog Post to Print Essay

>The second issue of the Saint Katherine Review is out, and I’m excited to have an essay, “Watching,” included. This is a wonderful new literary journal published by the good folks at Saint Katherine College in San Diego, California, including an impressive group of editors:

Scott Cairns (Editor), Kathleen Norris (Nonfiction Editor), Claire Bateman (Poetry Editor), and Caroline Langston (Fiction Editor). (Check out my previous posts about Scott here and here. And one of my posts about Kathleen Norris, here.

I love the cover art on the first two issues, including this issue’s image, “Guardian,” by Anne Emmons.

My essay evolved from a couple of blog posts I did a few years ago about caring for a friend who was dying:

“Watching, Dancing, and Fishing”
… and

“Catch and Release, and ‘Watching’ Continued.”

So, if you’re a writer who blogs, keep in mind that your posts are fertile ground for future essays.

The SKR describes itself as “Inquiry Seeking Wisdom: a journal of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and reviews.” You can subscribe to the Saint Katherine Review here.

>Lilac, Garbage and Expensive Perfume

>Please hop over to the Southern Authors’ Blog, “A Good Blog is Hard to Find,” for my post today:

“Lilac, Garbage and Expensive Perfume.”

Picture (not mine) of lilacs in Central Park in New York City, which I wrote about in the post.

Blessed Holy Friday, everyone.

>Continuing to Celebrate National Poetry Month: The Morse Code of the Heart


“Psychotherapy and lyrical poetry address many of the same issues,” says poet, essayist and naturalist, Diane Ackerman, “but, oh, what a difference art makes.”

I discovered Ackerman when someone linked to her on Twitter recently, and I wondered why I hadn’t heard of her before now. And then I found this article from the New York Times back in June of 2002:

“Writers on Writing; The Morse Code of the Heart: Poems Foster Self-Discovery”

I’m intrigued by Ackerman’s book, Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire, about which she says:

“This wasn’t a planned book, but one that geysered up naturally over a year and a half, during which I wrote poems daily. I began writing them to corral the unruly emotions that arose during intense psychotherapy, a process I explain a little in this excerpt from ‘Omens of Winter’

Poems arrive as meteorites.
Collecting them, I try my best to impart
impulses, the Morse code of the heart,
but I do not understand the vernacular
of fear that jostles me until art occurs,
or why knowing you from afar
spurs hours of working myself into the stars.
Well, I do know, but I fight its common sense:
I try to stabilize us through eloquence.
It’s an old story, better told than I tell,
how artists shape what hurts like hell
(usually love) into separate empires
of lust, tenderness, and lesser desires

She continues: “ . . . psychotherapy and lyrical poetry address many of the same issues, and they both create a space where one can explore one’s relationship with oneself and others. Both require rules, tremendous focus, entrancement and exaltation, the tension of spontaneity caged by restraint, the risk of failure and shame, the drumbeat of ritual, the willingness to be shaken to the core. So, though refreshingly different from each other, the two overlap in companionable places.”

Ackerman wrote a book of poetry while writing a prose book:

“While writing Origami Bridges, I was finishing a prose book, as well, Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden, and some of the poems’ moods and themes appear in it. The poems influenced the prose.”

I loved reading that, since I had been working on a book since November about how memorizing poetry was influencing my prose, but I stopped writing both of them in March. This inspires me to get back to work on both books, after my daughter’s wedding on May 7!

What are your thoughts on the relationship between therapy and art, whether it be visual art or poetry or prose? Leave a comment to start the discussion. Happy National Poetry Month!

(P. S. My friend, Corey Mesler, owner of Burke’s Books here in Memphis, has a new book of poetry coming out this week called Before the Great Troubling, in which he “explores interior landscapes as they relate to life and love, feelings and family, and the perpetual process of growing up.” His first shipment arrived at Burke’s today… just in time to give as Easter gifts.)

>The Sinful Woman in Tears at Jesus’ Feet

>Tonight is perhaps my favorite service in all of Holy Week. (6:30 p.m. at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis.) It’s the third of the Bridegroom Orthros services. Each one has a theme, and tonight’s service (which is sometimes done on Holy Wednesday morning) is about Judas, who betrayed Christ, and also about the sinful woman in tears at Jesus’ feet. Their hearts and actions are contrasted in this verse:

“While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh, the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors. She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious, he made haste to sell the One who is above all price. She acknowledged Christ as Lord, he severed himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. Grievous was his lack of love. Great was her repentance. Grant such repentance also unto me, O Savior who has suffered for our sake, and save us.”

Tomorrow night we receive the Holy Oil of Unction for healing. By God’s grace I was able to prepare with the sacrament of confession and with meager efforts towards fasting. I say “meager” because I fail miserably at controlling my passions, especially where food and drink are concerned. May God receive my small offering and multiply it by the prayers of the saints.

“I have transgressed more than the harlot, O loving Lord, yet never have I offered You my flowing tears. But in silence I fall down before You and with love I kiss Your most pure feet, beseeching You as Master to grant me remission of sins; and I cry to You, O Savior: Deliver me from the filth of my works.”

Part of this evening’s service includes what’s known as “The Hymn of Kassiani.” You can listen to it here. It was written by the nun, Kassiani. From Wikipedia:

“The Hymn of Kassiani is chanted only once a year during Holy Week, at the end of the aposticha at Matins on Great and Holy Wednesday, which is traditionally served in Tuesday evening. The music for the hymn is slow, sorrowful and plaintive. It requires a very wide vocal range, and is considered one of the most demanding, if not the most demanding, pieces of solo Byzantine chant, and cantors take great pride in delivering it well. The faithful make a point of going to church specifically “to listen to Kassiani” that evening:

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins

takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,

And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil

in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:

“Woe to me! For night is unto me, oestrus of lechery,

a dark and moonless eros of sin.

Receive the wellsprings of my tears,

O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.

Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,

O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.

I will kiss Thine immaculate feet

and dry them with the locks of my hair;

Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise

and hid herself in fear.

Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,

or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?

Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,

O Thou whose mercy is endless.”

In many places in Greece, the Bridegroom Matins service of Great Tuesday is popular with sex workers and those engaged in prostitution, who may not often be seen in church at other times of the year. They come in great numbers, in order to hear the Hymn of Kassiani, as the hymn is traditionally associated with the woman fallen in many sins.”

>Another Holy Week Begins….

>After this morning’s glorious feast of Palm Sunday, we begin Holy Week tonight with the first of three nights in a row of “Bridegroom Orthros.” I wrote about this last year, so I won’t repeat myself, but you can read about it here.

Top photo: Enjoying the sunshine of Palm Sunday with my Goddaughter, Sophie Mansour.

Bottom photo: So happy to see another Goddaughter, Hannah Snowden, visiting with her family from Pennsylvania this week.

Wishing everyone a blessed Holy Week.

>Praying it Forward

>After “Wordless Wednesday” you might be expecting some words from me today, but I’m off on another road trip this morning, so I’m going to share something that’s probably better than anything I could have written for you today.

My friend, Emma French Connolly, wrote an amazing post on her blog, “Welcome to Emmaville,” on Wednesday, called

“What Happens When We Pray for Strangers?”

I hope it blesses you as much as it did me. More than that, I hope hope it moves you to reach out to others the way River Jordan talks about in her book, Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit.

Have a great weekend everyone. And remember to pray it forward.

(in the photo: River Jordan, me and Emma at Grove Grill following River’s reading at Davis-Kidd in Memphis last week.)

>Wordless Wednesday: Happiness


>Celebrating National Poetry Month: Mary Oliver’s Journey and Scott Cairn’s Idiot Psalms

>National Poetry Month (April) is almost half gone and I haven’t blogged about it yet. I think it’s because I feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of material from which to draw my reflections.

First (of course) there’s Oprah, dedicating 36 pages of the April issue of O Magazine to poetry, quoting the poet Mark Nepo as saying, “For me, poetry is the unexpected utterance of the soul. It is where the soul touches the everyday. It is less about words and more about awakening the sense of aliveness we carry within us from birth….” (from Oprah’s column, “What I Know For Sure” about poetry)

And then she features an interview by guest editor, Maria Shriver, with Pulitzer Prize-winner, Mary Oliver, in which she explores spirituality, and especially how Mary is coming to grips with her troubled childhood, at age 75. My favorite part of the interview was when Shriver asked Oliver, “Why did you first turn to a creative art?” and Oliver answered, “Well, I think because with words, I could build a world I could live in. I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood. So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.” In this interview, Oliver went public for the first time with the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

The interview includes Oliver’s famous poem, “The Journey,” which has been pivotal in my own life. My best friend, Daphne, introduced me to Oliver a few years ago, giving me my first book of her poetry, and opening my eyes to another way of looking at the world and my own life.

And then another unexpected blessing came my way. My friend, the Orthodox poet, essayist, and creative writing teacher, Scott Cairns, was invited to speak in Oxford again this past weekend, and two more of my dearest friends, Deb and Sarah, make the trek with me to hear him. Scott was hosted by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, but his presentations began at Off Square Books on Saturday afternoon, where he read from several of his volumes of poetry and chaired a lively dialogue with his guests. (Read about my first meeting with Scott back in November of 2009, when I participated in a spiritual writing workshop he led in Oxford. That post actually goes into much more detail about his poetry and other writing.)

One of the poems Scott read Saturday night was “Adventures in New Testament Greek: Nous It was such a joy to hear the words in the poet’s own physical voice. (The nous, according to Scott, is “where the whole person is gathered.” It’s also been compared to “the mind descending into the heart.”)

When asked about future poetry projects, Scott said he was working on a collection he calls Idiot Psalms. A sample, published in Poetry Magazine, includes these words from Idiot Psalms 2, “A Psalm of Isaak, accompanied by baying hounds”:

Make me to awaken daily with a willingness
to roll out readily, accompanied
by grateful smirk, a giddy joy,
the idiot’s undying expectation,
despite the evidence.

I thought about that giddy joy when I awoke this morning. My husband brought me my coffee in bed when he heard my alarm go off (yes, he does this every morning) and as I sipped I read from Scott’s essay, The End of Suffering, which Publisher’s Weekly included in their Top 100 Books of 2009; it was in the top 10 for their religion category.) I had just told my husband how thankful I am that my broken ankle is healing so quickly, and I was quietly reflecting on lessons I’m learning through this very tiny bit of “suffering” that has come my way. As Scott says in his chapter, “Waking Up”:

“Our afflictions drag us—more or less kicking—into a fresh and vivid awareness that we are not in control of our circumstances, that we are not quite whole, that our days are salted with affliction…. If we take care to acknowledge these truths, and are canny enough to attend to them, faithful enough to lean into them then the particular ache of that waking can initiate a response that the Greeks were wont to call kenosis—an emptying, an efficacious hollowing…. having transformed our painful, kenotic emptying into a means to a desirable end.”

I finished my coffee with a grateful smirk and a nod to the power of poetry, and greeted the day with the idiot’s undying expectation… despite the evidence.

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