Sitting together


Mountains in Central Highlands, Iceland
Mountains in Central Highlands, Iceland

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.

Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain by Li Po

a wayside sacrament…

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go and visit a retreat center outside Asheville. Peaceful Quest Retreat is found just off a winding mountain road. The temptation to pass it without notice is enhanced by this weaving road. It is a beautiful ride–the type that lures you into thinking that you, your car and the mountain are all one. It is important to concentrate as the road twists and turns, finding beauty around every bend. With reluctance, I have to admit that without my GPS I would have very likely passed its entrance. After arriving I was taken with its quiet  beauty. The owners of Peaceful Quest Retreats, Bobbie and Millie, have tenderly created an environment where nature feeds the soul. Even though my visit was short, I left with a sense of renewal – a feeling that has remained throughout the week.

It was a ‘wayside sacrament’. Sacraments are actions/practices that reconnect us to that which is holy. As a priest, I have spent much time preparing to share sacraments. These outward acts intended to stir the spirit within are rich with symbolism and tradition.

Driving away from Peaceful Quest, I was reminded that blessing is everywhere. I had discovered a ‘wayside sacrament’. Grateful for the continual work to create these environments throughout this retreat center, I saw this holy space and then the road ahead. It was not necessary for me to physically go down that road in hopes to discover what was around its turn. No–the road ahead became a metaphor,  a symbol of  life laid out before me. In a moment of grace I sensed the excitement of an adventure and took in a deep breath of gratitude. It was a moment of renewal and comfort.

Taking this type of time is important. It does not have to be full days or even half days, just take time– time to discover sacred beauty around you. Look for it, seek it out– be blessed with moments of re-creation, moments of grace.

For the love of the moon…

Much has been lost and much has been gained. This is the thought that remains near as I move through each day. In the midst of times when I cannot imagine adapting to one more change – I am reminded of the beauty that surrounds me.

Each evening this week, I have enjoyed long walks with Lilly. There are hints of spring all around us. As always, the change of seasons draws a whole new personality out of the mountains. The sun is shifting–my apartment is filling with unexpected light. Where there was no sign of sun through the windows before Christmas, now the sun peaks around my living room windows earlier and earlier each afternoon.

Today I started working on my balcony. It is a perfect size for a table and chairs, a place for a dog to lie down and room for me to relax and enjoy the scenery (if I can stay awake!). At night, the stars are bright and the moon – the moon is near and strong.

Often I wonder what else I could ever need. And then I remember–I came to this place having had so much. The choices made were not easy. I said goodbye to many objects that had been a part of my life for a long time.

Throughout this transition, I have been reminded of a Zen koan:

barn’s burnt down… now I can see the moon.

a bigger bowl…

After a full week of focusing on so many details to help with my move, I said ‘see you later'(never say goodbye) to people who had given every bit of their energy and strength to unpack, arrange my things and offer their emotional support. I miss them terribly but know that their time with me had to end. They have returned to their own homes and I have begun the process of making this new place – my home.

It has been a long time since I have moved to a new town. I think about all of the people who I met along the way while living in Greenville NC for 20 years. They helped shape who I am today and I know they will always be a part of me. Even though we are far from one another, we will stay connected – that is the way of friendships.

Tonight I write as Lilly sleeps next to me. No kennel will confine her right now. She is by my side with an alert eye to the changes around us. We belong to one another and in a place filled with new faces and routines, this bond brings comfort and strength.

The stress of establishing ourselves is evident. Lilly always loses her appetite when there is change of any kind. I feel easily overwhelmed as I meet incoming assistants and begin training for my care. I feel easily overwhelmed as I continue to look for pieces of my life still packed or stacked in undiscovered places throughout my apartment. I pray for patience as this transition takes place at a pace set by the length of each day and the schedule of those who are with me to help.

Through it all I am grateful for the support and structure of the community around me. This retirement community is beautiful – out every window there is a view of trees and mountains. The food is great and I am never alone – but I have moved into a retirement community. At the age of 54 this was not what I anticipated.

This was, and still is, a big decision. Each day I talk myself through moments of challenge and, in turn, give thanks for the chance to make such a move. This community has welcomed both Lilly and I. Even though the work of resettling can only be done by me, I know it would have been more challenging without the support and resources available in this place.

Why the fishbowl? The image speaks to my feelings. Like that fish, my leap to make this move is a stretch and risky. The new bowl is larger and full of possibilities. Taking this leap has been an act of faith. An act of faith filled with unanswered questions and unexpected feelings.

And tomorrow is a new day…

The gift of grace…

One week left – moving van reserved, boxes filling, and copious calls being made. No matter how organized I had hoped to be, at this moment the list grows and time shortens. The retirement community has been gracious. No charge for the guest apartment! My friends can stay in a beautiful apartment down the hall from my new home. This means they will be more than comfortable – a good thing because they will have driven six hours, helped unload and put up with me (a ball of emotion).

There is a moment in any large project I undertake when I am humbled by the people who surround me to support and assist. The exchange between myself and those who catch my vision or rally to my aid is often filled with grace and humor. The most difficult part for me? To SIT and watch as my directions are taken. I cannot touch any of the objects being unwrapped and placed in drawers, cabinets or hung on walls. When my directions begin to sound like demands I know it is time to stop, to take a break for a walk outside or to share a glass of wine. May I have the insight to know when those moments are needed.

The last days are here. This time next week Lilly and I will be sleeping in our new apartment and waking to the sun’s light as it crests over the mountains. There have been more unexpected challenges than I thought possible. Yet, with family and dear friends, what seemed impossible has been accomplished.

Surrounded by grace – I continue to give thanks.


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