Have you ever walked into an old church or another identified sacred space, and felt the accrual of holiness? Layers of fragrance and energy stop you and draw you to a pew, or a nearby rock, to sit and be bathed in ancient and echoing voices seeking answers and the quest of satisfied hearts connecting with Love. At its core is utter stillness.
Sacred spaces invite our deep listening and bring us to a readiness for enlightenment, however fragile. We know we were meant to be here, in this place, and that we’ll leave changed.
For twenty-five years now, the trail beside my home has been an intimate sacred space for me, a human-scaled reminder that the universe is all sacred space, inviting us to dance with Love, but we need our little churches to personalize such profound relationship, to learn the steps to this infinite dance. I bring my questions, my sorrow, joy, anger, dreams, and yearning to my walks along the trail and it always leaves me changed and grateful. This is how I pray. (“How I pray is, breathe,” wrote Thomas Merton. Yes.)
Early this morning, Phillip and the pups had to circumvent another fallen tree blocking the bike trail heading west. A huge limb of a cherry tree had ripped from the main trunk. When I went for my walk, in the opposite direction, I stopped on the bridge to scan for birds and glanced back towards the fallen tree. A helmeted biker, decked out in a team uniform with a number pinned to his back stood, perplexed, dragging his bike around the tree and possibly wondering if he could move it. But it was far too heavy and he seemed intent on continuing his ride, quickly passing me on the bridge with a friendly, “Good Morning.”
Then, I remembered this was Day 2 of a biking event called Ride Across Wisconsin, and our trail was part of the course, depending on the riders’ choices. I’d missed the bike traffic yesterday while visiting a friend in Madison.
It was early, so bikers were scarce, but as I continued east, in the direction of the Ride, they began to pass in two’s and three’s, or the occasional blitz of bikes zipped by in a line, their riders chatting back and forth, enjoying the beautiful morning. Most greeted me and I, them.
By the time I turned back toward home, the traffic had increased. Every few yards, I was offered a “Good Morning!” and returned one with a smile. Then, there would be a break, and soon another “Good Morning! What a beautiful day!” would be shared. Waves of peaceful connection were flowing up and down the trail. Joyful people.
And then I felt the shift within. That moment of insight, of naming the change that’s happening. When listening meets meaning. I stepped to the side of the trail to greet the next bikers and felt tears in my eyes. The stream of bikers abated, and I had a few minutes alone to realize I hadn’t had this much steady contact with strangers for well over two years…and we were blessing each other. The authentic grace of wishing someone a “Good Morning” was so present and alive, and offered so freely and joyfully. These were not those early morning mumbled, half-aware greetings I recall from school entrances or office and hospital hallways. These were exchanges between people seeing each other, true namastes.
I know some of this happiness was generated by our “weekend joy,” the calls of relieved people pursuing their passion outdoors in all the surrounding beauty. Kindness sometimes comes more readily from the high created when we can indulge in the freedom to choose how our precious minutes will be spent. But still, good medicine for all can heal all; the spirit boost from these encounters can keep flowing when we give ourselves such time in sacred spaces. (And perhaps we could examine more earnestly why our weekday hours are designed to so deplete joyful connection.)
And when I arrived home again, I asked Phillip if he could get his saw and we could remove the fallen tree, which we did, chatting with riders coming through, and receiving their “Thank you’s!”
We walked home and I considered the fruits of my morning walk. Like all sacred spaces, the trail had offered my heart’s readiness a dose of insight, and it had renewed my spirit. I felt lightened by all those shining exchanges with strangers. I held them in my heart.
We are not what the media tell us we are. We’re neither hate-filled towards the other or interested in a civil war. The extrapolations the media make from some-to-all are false. We’re mostly kind, friendly, grateful for a beautiful day, and happy to share its blessing with others.
There is serious work to be done on our planet, and in our country and communities, but today, I felt great hope that we can accomplish a lot together by greeting each other with genuine blessing and parting with gratitude for the chance to spend even a moment together in the sacred space we share. May all your “Good Morning’s” be genuine and may all your mornings be good.
A few of the wildflowers blooming on the trail this week:
How strange to observe what our final harvest yields and what falls away; to notice what treasures the winnowing spares and lifts for a lifetime’s revision: not tension, but its release, not sorrow, but its relief; reviewing the flickering epiphanies when we were seen and known in our fullness; revisiting the creation we enfleshed with our singular energy, lit with our tiny light and waning time, and yet there it spins, shining in the world.
Here is our bushel of realized produce: we loved, and were loved; made of ourselves an offering that spread and grew ever wilder, closer to true; remained always grateful for given and chosen kin, teachers, those who eased a hard day’s passage with green wishes for our peace.
I think they all came true.
That night the music opened doors we’d closed or had missed in the foolish speed of life lived too small; the wonders that came of curses; the endless garden growing from discarded seeds; the surprises born of loss; the willingness to seek and grant mercy, to thread gratitude through suffering, to discover, recover, uncover, to see.
Maybe our wisest instinct was to keep turning, looking beyond, revisiting chances with wider hospitality, reducing caution to nothing but welcome; tenderly sheltering questions, renouncing our inheritance of ancient fences planted to confine the fertility of our joy– all the old voices we silenced forever; we were never what they wanted us to be, those shoulds that inhibited flowering, incarcerating gift.
And how we rose, primal and pure in the pollinating songs of possibility, the choices we set to our own chorus of yes and now. And still we turn, and still the wounding walls fall and the waiting fields widen, and we become the soil that bears our being, imprinted forever.
Harvest is the cutting back to essence, seeing and then seeing again, deeper and below, a readiness for death, knowing its womb gestates life. It is all mystery and then there is finally none, but the need to reach, connect, and grow, to answer calls planted solely in our love-fashioned cells, to hold each breath as gift and set it free, like this, this time of harvest, this moment of autumn skies sighing with geese crying farewell in language that knows us by name.
Here’s a link to an interview I did for our local PBS station, Channels 10/36, WMVS, in Milwaukee. It will air on Portia Young’s wonderful program, 10thirtysix, on Thursday, August 18, at 7:30 P.M. https://youtu.be/QJT-IXKx1oQ
And, I’m so very happy to share the news that Zeltner Publishing, an Israeli publishing company, will be publishing The Rare, Tiny Flowerin both Arabic and Hebrew. This is truly joyful news.
It has been a good month at Full Moon Cottage. Aches have been healed, beloved friends have been visited and entertained, and gardens have come to their fullness and are currently aflutter with butterflies. Last night, rain fell with such force and velocity that flood warnings were rampant, but here the thirsty earth drank in over an inch, eagerly and happily. She deserved it.
The thunder and lightning made such a show of it that several pups asked to leave their crates and join us in the bed, not because they were afraid, of course, but to reassure us. At any rate, today, with more rain coming, I’m dedicating time to reading, watching a movie I’ve saved for a rainy day, and–seriously possible–napping, to recover from all that 4-legged reassurance.
I’m also sharing a story I wrote last winter. I hope one day, in some form, it will be a published book. I can just imagine the beautiful illustrations a gifted artist could create. But for now, I hope it pleases you, just as it is. (Clothilde [klo-TEELD] is a family name I’ve always loved, from my French/French Canadian Lessard ancestors.)
Become what you love.
Gentle Peace, my friends.
Miss Clothilde and the Trees
For all of her life, Miss Clothilde lived in the stone cottage in the forest beside the river. She had many friends. Some had two legs, some had four, some had wings, and some, like the river, just flowed. But the trees were always her dearest friends.
When she was a little girl, her friends came to her parties beneath the willows. They played hide and seek, running through the forest. The trees’ leaves whispered, and their branches waved in the wind. “Here, Clothilde, here!” And she would hide behind their massive trunks, high in their branches, or in the holes used for nesting by the squirrels and opossums.
At sunrise and sunset, she sat privately with one of the trees, usually on a low-hanging limb, so they could have quiet conversations.
Clothilde asked the oak, “Do you miss traveling to distant lands?”
“Oh, no,” it answered, “I love being rooted, watching the seasons change and all my saplings slowly, slowly growing. And those who nest in my branches and forage beneath carry my acorns to distant forests. So, you see, I do travel, in the way of trees.”
Clothilde stood very still and watched the cottonball clouds puff across the blue sky. A squirrel friend sat at her feet and climbed to her raised hands. The owl flew into his nest high in the oak. “I learn so much when I am still,” she said.
She asked the maple, “How do you breathe?”
“Through our leaves, mostly,” it replied. “Trees breathe in what you breathe out, and you breathe in what we breathe out.”
“You mean, we are always breathing trees,” said Clothilde.
“And we are always breathing you,” said the maple. “And so, we become what we love.”
Clothilde breathed in and out with her tree friends. “I love you,” she said.
The hushed rustling of leaves murmured, “We love you, too, Clothilde.”
She asked the beech tree, “How does it feel when your roots burrow into the earth?”
“Infant roots are shy and cautious. But then they grow stronger and more confident, seeking water and tunneling toward the roots of others. There’s quite a lively kinship of roots, fungi, insects, and soil all working together underground.”
Clothilde wiggled her toes, pretending they pierced the earth, digging, and probing all the way to water. “It tickles,” she laughed, “like my fingers in the garden, when I help my parents!”
Clothilde asked the pine tree, “Why do trees’ branches reach up to the sky?”
“Our branches rise to the sunlight and raindrops, so our lives will be long and healthy, but we also raise our limbs in praise.”
“What do you praise?” asked Clothilde.
“Life. The Earth. The beauty of the world and our part in it. The goodness of which everything is made.”
Time twirled the Earth through its seasons and years, and a day came when Clothilde was grown and alone in the cottage, tending her garden, the river, her friends, and the trees.
When she went to town for Market Day, she always took time to sit in the village park to be with those trees, too, and to feed the birds and listen to the music of people bustling with life. The village children called her Miss Clothilde, and they loved to hear her stories about the trees. They raised their arms with her and praised life, the Earth, and the beauty of the world. And when they grew up, their children listened to Miss Clothilde’s stories, too.
She said, “Each of us must tend and protect our Earth. Every part of it, the animals, the water, my dear trees, and each other, too…all of it is precious.” And she taught them how to plant trees and flowers and care for them. “It is an honor to participate in the mystery of life becoming more life, and to do it well, we must offer our attention and love.”
Every spring, she readied her garden, sowed seeds, and greeted the tender unfurling of leaves in the trees. When the migrating birds returned from warmer lands they had flown to in autumn, Miss Clothilde welcomed them with food and fruit as they settled in new nests. And to all the new life around them, Miss Clothilde offered her attention and love.
Her days grew longest in summer. At dawn, the birds sang the forest awake, and Miss Clothilde went out to tend the garden, weeding and trimming its growing vibrance. And in the afternoon’s late purple shadows, Miss Clothilde sat with friends beneath the trees, and they shared stories. At moonrise, the trees’ branches swayed to the lullabies of the frogs, crickets, and owls. “Sleep sweetly, dream deeply” whispered the forest.
“And you,” said Miss Clothilde, “you sleep sweetly, too.”
In autumn, the low bronzed sunlight drew in from summer’s bold expanse, the garden earned its harvesting, and the trees dropped their brilliant leaves to ready themselves for the season of cold and silence. The trees stood bare and brave, awaiting winter’s embrace.
Miss Clothilde asked the maple, “Why, oh why do you drop your leaves when you most need warmth?”
“It is an interplay of love, Clothilde. The leaves feed us sunshine all their short lives, and our roots draw up water for their health that flows through trunk and branch to every leaf. But leaves are too frail for winter and we cannot offer energy to sustain them. We must release them to remain strong enough to withstand winter.”
“Such brief lives and gone!”
“Not gone, Clothilde. See how they cover the forest with nutrients that will feed us all for generations. Forests and animals survive because leaves are willing to fall. Look for all the ways they rise in new lives.”
Winter brought its deep stillness and rest. Everything lived within itself, listening, it was a time of recollection, sifting, and gently opening dreams to plan how they might live. Miss Clothilde pondered what she had learned of the world’s goodness and beauty, and how her gifts could best offer praise in the new year. She sometimes sat beneath the oak as snowflakes sifted down, sparkling in the moonlight. “May I open my dreams to you?” she asked.
“Of course, Clothilde, and I will open mine.”
And, in the way of friends, their dreams already knew each other. They dreamed of a world where all the Earth made music of its gifts and relationships. And Miss Clothilde and the oak whispered how they wished to be always together, falling and rising in new lives.
And so the years danced in their circles. Because they knew one another so well, Miss Clothilde and the trees often sat in silence together, sharing their peace. Sometimes, she stood in the middle of the garden, lifting her arms, breathing with all the life around her. From a distance, it could be hard to tell them apart, the trees and Miss Clothilde. Her arms raised skyward like branches, and the trees’ branches reached for her in tender embrace. Her long white hair shook like dancing leaves and the trees’ leaves waved like long, flowing tresses. And the wind gathered their songs and made them one joyful melody.
Now that she was very old, Miss Clothilde could no longer run in circles with her friends. But one morning every week, she gathered pails of river water, and then nuts, berries, and vegetables from the garden. She opened the door to the stone cottage and set the table for a feast.
There were dishes of sunshine for the tree limbs curling through the windows, and a little channel in the stone floor, so the river could flow through the party, too. Everyone came to Miss Clothilde’s parties, friends from the village and friends from the forest, and each guest brought something to share. As she looked around the table, all she could see was joy. “We’ve become what we love,” she smiled.
Miss Clothilde had grown too frail to climb the trees, but every day she placed her chair beneath one of her beloved friends and they would listen to the music of the river splashing over stones.
“I am so tired. Why must we grow old, dear oak?”
“So that we can rise, young again, in new ways,” said the oak. “Everything we are and have been feeds the Earth.”
“Life is truly a circle, isn’t it?” asked Miss Clothilde.
“One that doesn’t end,” said the oak. “We travel the circle of loving and becoming forever.”
“Like leaves,” said Miss Clothilde.
“Like leaves,” said the oak.
One summer night, as the stars twinkled and twirled, and the great moon danced its light across the flowing river, Miss Clothilde came outside to stand with her trees. Together, her arms and their branches raised in praise, as the trees had taught her, so long ago.
Miss Clothilde could feel her toes lengthening into roots, tickling down through the soil, stretching and curling across darkness towards moisture. Her body tightened into a firm trunk, all her years forming rings bound by silver-brown bark. Her hair fell into winding limbs, joining the strong branches of her arms, reaching up and up, as green leaves sprouted, uncurling in the moonlight, through fluttering moths and the soft scents of nightfall.
In the morning, the wind sang through the lifted branches of all the trees in the forest. Miss Clothilde’s friends gathered in her shade, breathing her as she breathed them. Together, they raised their arms, paws, wings, branches, and songs in praise of life. They praised the Earth. They praised the beauty of the world and their part in it.
And they praised the goodness of Miss Clothilde, the goodness of which everything is made, how everything that falls rises, how everything becomes what it loves.