Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pine Valley Day(s)

Today was the 40th Pine Valley Days Parade--our small town's annual celebration. The parade traditionally begins with the high school cheer squad and finishes, almost an hour later, with the Pine Valley Fire Department, our town heroes.

"Herbie the Love Bug" joined us this year. I earned major "slug bug" points.

My favorites, the talented bagpipers--the pipes echo throughout our little valley so beautifully.

These tall tiki dudes were new this year--and very popular.

Our son J played guitar with the Free Teen Guitar Class, an outreach of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity

B waved from the antique firetruck, also hosted by Alpine Anglican, the church the kids and I have attended for weekday healing services for nearly six years.

After the parade, we settled into the booth hosted by Pine Valley Community Gardens, raising money through donations for our baked goods and other handicrafts to further our community garden and also attract more volunteers. Our oldest son T made the sign for the front of the booth and also sold many baked goods for us. Even Elizabeth joined in helping out in the booth, selling yummy stuff to the public.

It was a lovely day for our town festival, and it's on days like today that I am thankful to live in a small town.

With best wishes from your small-town girl,

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Day of Friendship

A couple of Thursdays ago and then again yesterday, I drove an hour to the home of a dear friend, C. She and I first met over twenty years ago when we both started graduate studies in English at the University of San Diego. We pushed through classes in medieval literature through modernism, often finding ourselves spending long hours together in the beautiful reading room of the Copley Library. As comprehensive exams drew nearer, we practically lived together in the parquet-floored reading room, poring over nineteenth century novels, medieval masterpieces, and obscure poetry, preparing for the six-hour exam that would either grant us our Master of Arts degrees or condemn us to tragedies unknown.

I was already married as a graduate student; C married J a year into our studies. Immediately J and Keith became good friends, almost as close as C and I were. We exchanged the hosting of dinners at each others' homes, and we attended their wedding. This year while Keith and I celebrate our silver anniversary, C and J celebrate twenty years of marriage.

Immediately after graduate school, I became pregnant with the first of our four children, so while I struggled with diapers and strollers and my first teaching positions, C went on to further graduate studies, earning her Ph.D. at a UC school to the north of us. Eventually she and J also started a family, and we shared kids' birthday parties now rather than the elegant dinners of our married-without-children years.

C settled into teaching at a nearby community college while I switched from teaching university students to educating our own kids at home as well as students in our home school co-op Class Days. As my home schooled high school students completed my writing courses, I often sent them on to C at the community college where they continued their writing journeys. We shared notes on certain students, and eventually I assisted her in teaching a combination online/traditional composition course. Working together again was a true blessing.

But something truly tragic occurred--I don't wish to share the details here--but I am enjoying spending time this summer with C again as her family grapples with their loss. We drive out to the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside together in her car, chatting about various subjects--both light topics and more difficult ones. The lecture series we attend is on medieval church history, given by Br. Tom Herbst who is both highly informative and extremely amusing; I blink at noon, unable to understand how two hours passed so quickly and enjoyably.

The retreat grounds of the Mission San Luis Rey are quietly splendid. Green lawns stretch inside the adobe-styled walls and buildings; the roses grow taller than we are and are in full, blowzy bloom, surrounded by easily-irritated bees. Church bells toll the half-hour, echoing softly through the little valley, and sea-breezes toss the tree branches overhead. The only difficult part of the lecture series is sitting inside a building on such glorious July days when one could be outside, drinking in the beautiful surroundings with thirsty gulps.

After the lectures (I took seven pages of notes yesterday!), C and I stroll to the dining room and enjoy the beautiful salad bar and the wonderful food--much of it grown on the mission grounds. Yesterday we both speared perfect avocado quarters, savouring their buttery goodness. We chat, share, and enjoy each others' company, perhaps even more than we did twenty years ago as grad students.

After lunch we slowly but purposefully walk to the cemetery area of the mission grounds. Here, in the old walled section, the gusty breezes soften as if in respect, and headstones, centuries old, settle into the verdant lawn. A newer pond glistens in the mellow sunshine as we pass by, on our way to the newer section of the cemetery. Crossing a road, we leave the walled part of the cemetery behind and walk down a wide cement sidewalk, fuschia bougainvillea to our left and cemetery markers to our right, these newer ones set into the lawn. Young trees dot the deep green grass, their thin branches hung with dozens of wind chimes which sing sweetly with the merest breath of sea breeze. Roses of pale pink climb a rounded trellis at the center of the lawn, their almost-transparent petals reaching toward the sun.

We slow as we approach the bronze statue of the Ascension of Mary, her face gently joyful as she reaches her arms heavenward to be greeted by her Father, her Son. Around the marble base of the statue are the marbled holy-earthly homes of those interred. Yesterday C placed a bunch of lavender tied with purple ribbon in the small flower holder; I placed a miniature pale pink rose with a few sprigs of rosemary ("for remembrance," as Ophelia reminds us). We touch the unmarked marble square, sacred now, and holy, our tears welling. C crosses herself.

Listening, we hear the chimes gently singing, birds nearby melding their chirps into the song, and we hear children chattering and laughing. This holy place is also an earthly place--a place of sun and sea-breezes, of music and bells, of laughter and play--and of history, beloved history, as one of the first churches in California. It's the perfect resting place--only we wish, with all our hearts, that she didn't have to be here like this--that she could come dancing home from here, tired from a day in the sunshine and wind.

But at least she's well at last.

Silently C and I walk back to the car, alone yet together in our thoughts. We chat on the way to her home--about education, teaching, family, friends, love and loss.

And we hope to return next week to the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey and do it all again.

With loving thoughts,

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


(Photo by Susanne Barrett)

There are times I can't hear--not a single thing.

I feel the confusion rising, like bile in my throat, burning. My mind is muddled, drowning, flailing desperate arms through the noise.

I feel the deep need to unearth that quiet center, that listening place, where ears can open and mind can slip from its numbing frustration, and I can hear once again.

I wrote a poem in February that confesses this need. I include the middle of the poem here:

the present
shimmers, shakes,
demanding my attention:
the volume requires reply.

but I run--
escaping boundaries of my present,
of home--
boxed in by walls
and clamoring needs.
I slam the door behind me.

but I can't run far--
only to porch steps
bepuddled by morning's rain.
chill winds grasp my face--
I gulp the shifting of cloud
into cramped lungs.
But sometimes I need to run farther than the front porch, the need to clear head and spirit, to unplug listening ears and actually hear overwhelms.

When I, ever so rarely, have a day to myself, I run to the San Diego Mission de Alcala--the first church in California. Founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra, it's the first of the famous California missions. The adobe church is open to the public seven days a week, and although tourists wander through quite often, long stretches of sacred silence fill the high-ceilinged building.

I sit in a wooden pew, cocking my head to the side as songbirds in the garden outside the ancient double doors trill up and down the scale as if rehearsing for a concert. If I strain my long-plugged ears, I can barely make out the echoes of children's recess laughter from the school on the mission grounds.

But mostly I listen to the silence, allowing it to fill me, flushing out the confusion and the building despair that come with the hurry-scurry of modern life. My prayer book falls open to the Venite, and I allow His Word to fill my mind, to gently whisper into the silence where it can truly be heard:
Venite, Exultemus Domino (from Psalms 95 and 96)
O COME, let us sing unto the LORD; * let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; * and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God; * and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For he is the Lord our God; * and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth; * and with righteousness to judge the world, and the peoples with his truth.
I don't know when or how it happened, but I am on my knees "before the Lord our Maker," the vinyl-covered kneeler almost comfortable beneath my painful joints.

But now I can truly listen.

What is it about the physical position of kneeling that opens ears and minds and hearts to Him? That allows us to finally hear that "still, small voice" that so easily eludes us in our busy daily lives? I feel His presence warming me, from head to the very tips of my toes, to the very ends of my fingers. He floods through me, and the bracken of worry, fear, busyness, frustration, confusion--all this breaks away from the choking hold upon my soul--now tumbling down, spiraling away, through the white-waters of His Spirit. All is flushed away--the bottlenecks freed through the sheer power of Grace.

And once the flood calms, the waters receding to flow within usual banks, I draw a deep breath, then two. My lungs expand easily, the former constriction washed away. My mind is cleared of the detritus of living this wonderful, crazy, hectic life of mine--all aspects of who I am, what I do, able to flow gently side by side rather than damming up and blocking the flow of His life-giving waters.

My eyes open. The candles before me flicker in the easy breeze that wafts through open side doors, bringing me the scent of jasmine. Everything around me appears the same, yet I am seeing my surroundings with refreshed eyes, hearing all with renewed ears.

I close eyes and pray, hearing more than His Word in my mind as He speaks through printed pages directly to my depths.

This sacred space--the white walls wafted with decades of incense, the fourteen Stations dark against them, the rows of deep wooden pews, the choir loft risen above the high door--fades, and He is all that is Real.

At last I pull myself to my feet, joints stiffened with kneeling, and, pausing to dip fingers into the fount mounted beside the door, I touch His cleansing to my mind, my heart, my strength. Because that's how I am to love Him--how I pray I will love Him. And more so each day.

The gardens outside the door are awash in noon sunshine. The roses seem brighter, their fragrance spicier, headier, than before. The distant bells tolls clearer, even closer, than before. The green of cala lilies past their bloom and lacy ferns seems greener, more verdant, the bougainvilleas a deeper fuchsia, the geraniums a brighter crimson than before. The sun glints against the white walls of the garden, gleams and glimmers on the ancient bells in the tower, the noon-ish light more shimmery than before.

How can a simple kneeling change light and sound and seeing?

It changes everything.

He changes everything.

In an instant.

Walking with Him and with you this Wednesday--always listening,

holy experience

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Carry On Tuesday Prompt #63 is from the poetry of Kahlil Gibran:
"Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit."

Like a tree without blossoms
or fruit, I ponder days and
years without our lives entwined--
budding forth on airy branches,
round with sweetness and clarity.

What would be if your brother had not dated
my friend, if they had not plotted our first
meeting as I watched you balance ice cream spoons
on your nose, as I peeked through my fingers at the
Dirty Harry movie which ended with the
bad dude impaled on a carousel. I hid my face
in your warm shoulder, expectant.

What would be if, shyly, you had not called
the next day, apologetic for not purchasing
my movie ticket, embarrassed at conspiracy of
brother and his girlfriend, not realizing until
too late that our meeting was a "date,"
not just evening out the couples,
as they had said, but asking me out
again anyway.

What would be if we hadn't talked for hours,
the pizza cooling while we opened our doors a crack,
catching glimpses into each others' lives,
then another date set.
What would be if you at twenty-four
hadn't pursued me at seventeen--
if you hadn't asked me four months later,
if I hadn't answered your tremulous question
with "yes."
Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Heart Full

My heart fills with raw gratitude as I continue on the pilgrim pathway, the trail of gratitude that leads to 1000 Gifts at the Gratitude Community at Holy Experience, my favorite blog.

So this week I add to the list of gratitude to God for...

256. ...for a day spent with my girl today getting all the stuff she needs for the dorms at Point Loma Nazarene University on August 20--less than a month away.

257. ...for "spooning." Let's just leave it at that....

258. ...for watching bats flit by in the summer gloaming--on the porch with my Sweetie.

259. ...for late night prayers echoing through his chest to my ear as hands clasp soft in darkness.

260. ...for all six of us laughing at the dinner table--over I-don't-remember-what.

261. ...for hardworking boys who are much in demand by neighbors this summer for yardwork, walking dogs, caring for homes while families are on vacation, toting blocks for retaining walls, etc.

262. ...for images unfolding themselves into words, and thence into a powerful poem.

263. ...prayer by candlelight.

264. ...words dwelling side by side in harmony.

265. ...ancient prayer birthing fresh faith.

Writing with a heart full "to the brim and over the brim,"

holy experience

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eighth Sunday After Trinity

Tonight I light the vesper candle above my desk and settle in for a time of prayer. In the midst of summer, of Ordinary Time, one week's prayers seem to melt into the next, and I have to double-check how many weeks after Trinity this Sunday is.

I pray the Collect for this day, this week--the Eighth Sunday After Trinity:

O GOD, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And then I pray the Phos Hilaron, called "Hail Gladdening Light" in English. Dated from the late third or early fourth century, this vesper prayer was first taught to me at Lake Murray Community Church--not Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, believe it or not, although I have prayed it there--by Pastor Rollo Casiple, now senior pastor at La Vina Community Church in Miami. Here it is as Rollo taught us (this version is from the 1979 BCP):

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
I was a little surprised to read that the English translation of the Phos Hilaron is "Hail Gladdening Light" as we sing a song by that title often at Lake Murray, usually during Communion:

Hail Gladdening Light, sun so bright
Jesus Christ, end of night, alleluia
Hail Gladdening Light, Eternal Bright
In evening time, 'round us shine, alleluia, alleluia

Hail Gladdening Light, such joyous Light
O Brilliant Star, forever shine, alleluia, alleluia

We hymn the Father, we hymn the Son
We hymn the Spirit, wholly Divine
No one more worthy of songs to be sung
To the Giver of Life, all glory is Thine

(Chris Tomlin)
Having the word "hymn" function as a verb bugs me a little, but I like the song overall--it often plays in my head all week after singing it on Sunday. However, I never made the connection between the ancient vesper prayer Phos Hilaron and the modern praise song "Hail Gladdening Light."

I turn to the Vesper Prayers for today in The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime and pray. When I finish, I extinguish the stained glass candle, the light no longer flickering, no longer brightening the curve of the mosaic-style colored glass.

Wishing you all a blessed Lord's Day,

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quotation of the Week

I just spent the last forty minutes meticulously copying three pages of quotations on writing into my Quotation Journal--nine years of favorite quotations thus far. As I just posted on Facebook, posting quotations about writing makes me feel more like a writer and less like a wily procrastinator. But blogging is definitely writing, right? So blogging in no way, shape, or form can possibly be construed as procrastination. Right? (Please agree with me!)

I should be working on upteen million things right now, but I think I'm going to rest body, mind, and spirit by dragging my low-slung beach chair under a Jeffrey Pine and absorb myself in my fun summer read, Me and Mr. Darcy. And I'll also post a new Quotation of the Week to encourage all of us writers as we bang on keyboards, wield pens, push pencils, or however the writing process works for us.

Tomorrow afternoon at Logos, the literary discussion group at Lake Murray Community Church, our church family for over seventeen years, we'll be discussing The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. So a Lewis quotation for this week seems the most appropriate choice. Plus, to me personally, it was definitely the most enlightening and encouraging of the quotations I jotted down this morning....

"Even in literature and art, no [wo]man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

--C.S. Lewis (1893-1963)
I draw hope (and even a smidgen of courage) from this quotation. When I think about the nonfiction project that has been simmering in my brain for the past four years, one of my (many) concerns is that others have already written about this topic. So, with all the people with doctorates and credentials who write about the value of liturgy for an evangelical audience, why would anyone care about my experience, my perspective? I'm just a homeschooling mom who tripped and fell into liturgy. But Lewis' words ring true to me: tell your truth, and you will be original --"nine times out of ten," anyway.

And those are very, very good odds.

On the journey with you,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sapped by Summer

Summer. It's my least favorite season.

Here in Southern California, everything turns brown, scorched into wilted ugliness by the hot sun. We live in a glorified desert anyway (San Diego receives less than ten inches of rain per year), and summer not only points to the ugliness; it screams it. Rather loudly, too.

The verdant green of our mountains in spring is now a dull beige...a few hardy blooms attempt to add color but fail dismally. The smell of smoke in the air sends a frisson of fear down one's spine; the danger of fire is on everyone's minds from now until the November rains arrive to save us. Our small town has been endangered three times in the past seven years by fires swooping through the canyons and ravines between the scrubby hillsides. One can only bow head...and pray.

The days seem to blaze together, one into another, passing in a blur of fans and sunscreen and Otterpops and iced tea. No day seems to stand out--all become one long, seemingly-endless day of sweat itching its way between my shoulder blades, of hair pulled back and up, stiff with perspiration, of downing glass after glass after glass of water--and still being thirsty.

I don't do well in the summer heat. I melt rather easily, in fact.

Heat is usually welcome to me. I need a heated pad on the back of my neck each night. To help me sleep each night for the past seven years, I relax in my jacuzzi made especially for people with rheumatoid arthritis. I love to curl up under the weight of blankets.

All three of these modes of relief do not work too well in the my detriment.

I freeze the neck pad, but it just doesn't offer the same level of relief as 90 seconds in the microwave does. I turn the jacuzzi down from 99 to 95, but it just doesn't relax my tight muscles enough to permit deep sleep. And blankets...forgetaboutit.

Sigh. I walk around zombie-like, sleep-deprived. But mid-day naps are impossible since my upstairs bedroom is the temperature of a boiler room.

I do love the time off from home education...the days at the beach...the freedom...the opportunity to rest my body. I wish that my long break came in the winter months (all except the beach...naw, even that!) when I can curl up with a hot cuppa Irish Breakfast and relax in front of the fire with a fine novel or with a journal, pen, and ink. Now that is relaxation!

The stuffiness of summer heat makes me lightheaded. We don't have air conditioning in our Southern California mountain cabin--although this past week we installed an attic fan...right in our bedroom window. It's loud but somewhat effective. But I am still drained by the heat, wilted by the blazing sun. And out hottest months here, August and September, are still ahead of us.

I have projects brewing...writing projects, cleaning/organizing projects, gardening projects, reading projects...and I get to them once in a while. But the summer heat leeches away my joy and melts my enthusiasm into mere puddles around my feet--it's rather disgusting, actually. Pretty darn gross.

And sad. So sad.

Melting into a puddle again,

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Reading Update

So I've been working on my Summer Reading List and am ready to give a report on my list so far.

Weighed in the Balance by Anne Perry (1996). I was surprised by how much I liked this mystery...which did end up being one of the Monk series. True, I vastly prefer the Pitt series because of the lovely relationship between husband and wife as partners. But I found myself drawn into Monk's vulnerability, and the Victorian time period continues to be a favorite of mine. So, I liked the book--not a quick read, but Perry's books are usually complex. It was a slow I may have to follow up with the reading of more of the Monk series...perhaps in order?

The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion by Alice Kimberly (2009). This one was definitely mystery-light--in fact, mystery-light-light. It was cute, but that's really about all I could say about it. The plot was pedestrian, the characters flat, the mystery not terribly compelling. The "ghost" who haunts the main character, a 1940's P.I., quickly becomes annoying with all his (unimaginative) detective cliches. I enjoyed the bookstore setting, but that's really about the extent of my appreciation for this piece of uninteresting fluff.

Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter (2007). I just started this one last night, and it hold promise as a light but amusing summer read. I could do without the frequency of the "f-bombs," but otherwise, it's definitely a decent beach read thus far. I'll let you know more after I finish it. But it's promising--definitely promising....

Hangman Blind: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark (2008).
I set this one aside yesterday after ninety pages--I found it dull and dense. I loved the medieval setting, liked the main character Hildegard, but the story just meanders; it's too densely written stylistically yet too loosely plotted structurally. I simply couldn't make myself pick it up again. I rarely set aside a book unread, but I just couldn't "hang" with this one anymore. Too many characters to keep track of, and not enough plot to keep me interested--rather the opposite of The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion, but even more unreadable, believe it or not. Sigh...I had such high hopes for this book/new series....  

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (2004).
Haven't started yet.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847).
I keep reading the first chapter--I think I've read it three times this summer. So I'm hoping to get past the first chapter and really start reading this one. We shall see....

Harry Potter's Bookshelf by John Granger (2009). I've read over half of this book, enjoying it in *small* increments. And I still haven't finished it. I may actually complete it before the year mark since starting it.

The Showings of Julian of Norwich (14th century).
Haven't started this one yet this summer, although I have begun it at other times this year.

Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert E. Webber (1989). I can't wait to reread this one--I truly enjoyed it the first time through.

So here's my Summer Reading Update. Does anyone else have any great books to recommend? I'm always on the lookout for a wonderful read.

Reading with you,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Discipline of Silence

(Image of Monastery Ettal in Germany from

A repost from October 2009, The Discipline of Silence, which perfectly expresses the beauty and importance of silence....


Since reading Kathleen Norris' excellent book The Cloister Walk, I have longed to spend several days (preferably a week) in a monastery or an abbey. Why?

I crave silence.

When I lead Lake Murray Community Church's women's retreat several years ago, my main sources for my talks on spending a whole day with God were Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and Intimacy with the Almighty by Charles Swindoll. The latter book is a small, slender volume that I received at a silent retreat at Oceanside's Mission San Luis Rey with College Avenue Baptist Church, a birthday gift from my dear friend Johanna. The day was lovely, and the mission's retreat grounds are gorgeous, spotted with beds of roses, the surrounding hills a green not often seen in Southern California excepting a few weeks in spring. I sat under the drooping branches of an ancient pepper tree, writing in my journal to God and enjoying the sunshine warming my back. We were directed to spend several hours in the morning and even more time in the afternoon in silence, listening to God and basking in His Presence. And it was this kind of retreat I sought to provide for our Lake Murray women as well.

Swindoll's book focuses on four words: simplicity, silence, solitude, and surrender. Swindoll writes,

"Yet, I am more convinced than ever that there is no way you and I can move toward a deeper, intimate relationship with our God without protracted times of stillness, which includes one of the rarest of all experiences: absolute silence" (35).

He later adds,

"Silence is indispensible if we hope to add depth to our spiritual life.... It sharpens the keen edge of our souls, sensitizing us to those ever-so-slight nudgings from our heavenly Father. Noise and words and frenzied, hectic schedules dull our senses, closing our ears to His still, small voice and making us numb to His touch" (37-38).

Silence is not just a luxury; it is a necessity in our spiritual lives.

And I crave it. This fall has been one of the busiest times in my life, with a new six-week Brave Writer MLA research class I designed, wrote, taught, and for which I still need to grade the final papers. In addition, I'm also writing both monthly subscriptions at Brave Writer: The Arrow (5th-8th grades)and The Boomerang (7th-9th grades) which involves quite a bit of time and some rather hairy deadlines at each month's end. In addition, I am designing, writing, and teaching a new course at our co-op Class Days: a 4th-6th grade poetry class that meets 18 times (every other week) through June, plus I still teach my usual high school writing course which involves much grading of essays. Fortunately, I am tutoring only one student right now rather than the three I had last year. And, of course, I am home schooling our four young people in grades 4, 7, 9, and 12. It's been crazy-busy, and right now, more than ever before, I crave silence and solitude, time to rest mind and body and to spend time seeking and dwelling in God's Presence.

I imagine myself writing in my journal, feeling the sun on my face as I sit in a lovely garden, praying throughout my day, sitting at His feet in a chapel. I see myself having time to concentrate on writing, to pray His Word through the Book of Common Prayer, to live the Divine Hours each day as an extension of my own personal prayer and meditation.

Especially as both an introvert and a writer, I probably need silence, crave silence, more than most people do. Yet it simply is not that time of life for me. This is the final year that all four of our children will be home for school as Elizabeth prepares college applications and takes the SAT. I want to be with my kids, to drink in their presence, their noise, their jokes, their affectionate hugs and cuddles ... I love having teenagers who still want to cuddle with their mom.

In less than ten years, this house will be empty of children. No more home schooling. No more arguments to break up and judge. No more hushing them when they get too noisy inside. I will have more than enough silence then, and I'll probably look back to an ordinary, busy, noisy day like today with poignant longing.

So I pray for a short refueling break, a day or two or three to refuel my engines with His Presence and then return to the daily grind which may seem inordinately noisy and crazy, but will be wonderful.

holy experience

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Carry On Tuesday #62

(Image from

Carry On Tuesday Prompt #62 is the first line of The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (2008):
"Lightning first, then the thunder. And in between the two...."

midnight storm
shoving up the wide window
I peer into midnight skies
purpled by city lights.

I grip the wooden ledge
watching the roll of coming storm
obscure the few stars.

lightning first illumines deep skies--
swirling wind hovering--
then the thunder groaned,

delayed by its slower nature,
delayed like the pain following
the violent slap to my face,

humiliation and fear flushing along
my cheekbones more brightly than
mere physical hurt.

should I turn the other cheek?
let the ache, so tightly tethered,
wander where it will?

allow the unspeakable a word
or two, or perhaps let an image
splay across my mind, legs open?

memory bangs with angry fists
demanding liberation,
but I keep all safely fettered.

the skies open wide to the storm, releasing
a downdraft of freeing wind,
a downpour of cleansing rain.

and tears course
for the first time
since that midnight.

Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Catching Up on Carry On Tuesday....

I didn't have time to write on last week's Carry On Tuesday prompt, so I tackled both last week's and this week's today. Since I was up at my parents' mountain cabin while the two older boys did weed removal to bring the cabin up to fire code (100 feet of space around all buildings), I nestled into my ancient beach chair and, after Morning Prayer, managed to write four journal pages and two poems, despite buzzing flies and gnats and the insistent hum of the electric weedwacker. But it was a fairly prolific day--and a bit cooler, too, thankfully.

Prompt #61 for Carry On Tuesday is from the first line of the Freddie Mercury song "Barcelona": "I had a perfect dream"

A Perfect Dream
Last night a perfect dream
paid me a visit,
a friend long overdue.

Gone were my recent accessories:
wheelchair vanished,
four-pronged cane invisible,
medications unprescribed,
pain a blurred memory,
not a minute-by-minute reality.

I moved freely--
straddling a bicycle,
my wobbled balance restored
as I push feet against silent
pedals, navigating sleepy streets
in dawn's gloaming--

swimming lap after lap, cool
water refreshing rather than
stiffening, pain-bringing,
stopping only when time dictated,
not when body surrendered
in exhaustion and hurt--

walking, running, even skipping joyous,
children's giggles echoing mine as
soccer ball bounced, badminton birdie flew,
tennis ball served, softball caught,
as sun slipped behind curved mountains.

I woke,
face damp with tears,
all that was lost,
is lost, will be lost--
as consciousness melts into pain,
greeting fresh day.

Copyright 2010 by Susanne Barrett

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pilgrimage to Gratitude

J and T at work at the beach....

Half of Timothy's sand sculptures....

The idea of pilgrimage came with Ruminate Magazine's new challenge to write 150 words on the theme of pilgrimage--and, yes, I have a rough draft simmering. So today I continue on my pilgrimage to 1000 Gifts via the Gratitude Community at Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience, my favourite blog.

Passing the 25% mark this week as I thank our Father for...

246. ...a glorious beach day last week, watching the boys create incredible sand sculptures all afternoon.

247. ...the grace of sitting under the Jeffrey pines in my beach chair, deliberately ignoring my to-do list, resting mind, spirit, and body.

248. ...sweaty hugs from hot, hardworking boybarians.

249. ...seeing Eclipse a second time with Elizabeth and her friend (and my former tutoring student) Erika.

250. blowing on high all night long, keeping us cool-ish enough to sleep.

251. ...a blessed time with a dear grad school friend, enjoying the beauty of Mission San Luis Rey, a terrific lecture on medieval church history, a wonderful lunch and touching visit with C, and a lovely chat with her husband J after our time together. Looking forward to next week's lecture, too, if she can make it as well.

252. ...another lovely lunch and visit with poet friends Judith and Kathryn as we ate Italian in a small downtown La Mesa restaurant on perhaps the hottest summer day thus far, chatting about family, writing, and the beach. Refreshing despite the horrid heat.

253. ...finally starting my MLA project, completing four pages today.

254. ...time spent in prayer today, following the Daily Office/Divine Hours.

255. ...precious days at home with my girl before she heads off to college next month.

Thanking the Lord for His good gifts, now and always,

holy experience

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Write Like...

I write like
James Joyce
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Wow, I had no idea. And I'm not sure it's complimentary as I avoided Joyce--or at least Ulysses--like the plague throughout college and most of graduate school, dodging the bullet in Irish Literature but getting hit in Modernism. Not only did I have to read Ulysses, but I also had to prepare an oral presentation on the dreaded book. 
I ended up liking Ulysses a little--I learned to surf the surface of the nonsense, enjoying the sound and the beauty of the words but understanding little. At least it wasn't Finnegan's Wake....

Apparently writing like Joyce,

Sunday Rest...and cummings

ee cummings, Flowers and Hat: Patchen Place, c. 1950

Yes, I've been absent a great deal this week--resting (as prescribed), beaching, spending precious time with precious friends, attempting to survive the July heat of Southern California. I've been trying to rest--rest my body and rest in Christ, and it's not always the easiest balancing act. In fact, it seems well-nigh impossible at times. But, occasionally, rest, even Sunday Rest, can be found in some unexpected and enchanting places.

For example, this morning on Twitter, Ruminate Magazine posted two links to the art and poetry of ee cummings, my favorite poet since high school when Mr. Sebastian, my tenth grade English teacher, first introduced us to "in Just--" (click here to hear cummings read it himself!), "anyone lived in a pretty how town," "maggie and milly and molly and may," "next to of course god america i," and "l(a", among others.

So I was intrigued this morning with Ruminate's posting of a link to images of cummings' paintings and information about his visual art work. Some of his work is simply lovely, like the one above, some rather Cubist, some rather abstract, all very modern. While I'm not much of a fan of most modern art, I felt a connection to his paintings--not with the same power and fundamental hunger I experienced with his poetry at age 16, but a connection nevertheless.

Then in their next tweet, Ruminate posted a poem with which I was not familiar, a perfect poem for a Sunday morning. I reproduce it here from a note on Ruminate's Facebook page:

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

ee cummings
Isn't it simply lovely? I'm going to have to pick up my nibbed pen and my ink bottle and copy the entire poem into my Quotation Journal. I love the preponderance of cumming's "positive" words, words he uses to undergird his personal opinion within his collective work--sun, April, finding, laughing, children, joy, gladness, miracle, birth, glory, resurrection, hope, wake, rapture, peace, nature, silence, singing, spring, now, forever, humbly, light--mixed thoroughly with his "negative" words--squalor, hurrying, rain, striving, losing, crying, sadness, grief, death, sleeping, patience, frantic, anguish, worry, winter, darkness.

That's life--light juxtaposed against darkness, joy interwoven with grief, rapture calmed by anguish, the losing followed by the finding, laughing impinging upon crying. Life. That's what cummings so joyfully--and, at times, so cynically--celebrates throughout his work, whether in poems introduced by a beloved teacher over a quarter century ago (yet undimmed in their power to birth joy and healing), or in his new-to-me paintings, freshly vibrant despite the half-century or more since cummings put brush to canvas.

ee cummings was a lover of God and a lover of life, an artist of words and an artist of images--all timeless in their expression of truth tinged with an almost childlike joy at times, withered with an almost bitter cynicism at others--yet always innovative, always on the cutting edge, and somehow, someway, thoroughly grounded on earth while always, forever, soaring toward heaven.

May we all be grounded on earth yet also soaring toward heaven.

A blessed Lord's Day to you all,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Necessity of Rest

As my readers know, I had a mega-busy spring. Among Brave Writer classes, Heritage Class Day courses, and homeschooling our own four young people, I was sleeping little and working much...much too much. I often found myself crawling into bed after 3 AM, and starting to home school at 9 AM. Anyone would have been exhausted, but for someone like me with chronic illness issues, it was downright dangerous. I managed all right until this last week when my overdoing and very late nights caught up with me, and my chiropractor ordered REST.

As my (poor) husband knows, I don't rest well. I would much rather be working on a writing project, blogging, redesigning parts of my website, gardening, cleaning, organizing, etc. Resting isn't easy for me. Somehow, for some reason that I haven't yet been able to pinpoint, resting makes me feel guilty. The feelings of guilt could stem from my hard-working father who encouraged us to work hard as kids and who was always chasing me out of the house when he found me holed up in my room, book in hand, lost in another place and time. I see all that needs to be done--here at home, on my to-do list (the mental one--I don't dare write it down for fear I'll really flip myself out), for home schooling, on my book project, in the garden, etc. Ignoring these needs makes me feel guilty, useless--a "bad wife," a "bad mother." I know; I know--I shouldn't feel that way. But I do.

Yesterday afternoon I forced myself to set up my old beach chair under the oaks and pines in our garden and read an Anne Perry mystery for several hours. It was so relaxing to read there, under the trees, the vanilla-scented breeze from the myriad Jeffrey pines in our yard and neighborhood wafting relaxation into me. Today the kids and I tagged along with Keith as he went down to my parents' beach house. While he and my dad finished several handyman jobs, my mom and I escorted the kids down to the beach. While the kids swam, boogie-boarded, and designed sand sculptures (photos to follow!), I finished the Anne Perry novel and started a new mystery, in addition to listening to a book on my iPod. We came home tonight after having a Chinese takeout dinner with my parents, sunburned and tired with that "good tired" that comes from a day spent outdoors--that "good tired" that makes one sleep deeply and (almost) dreamlessly.

Why do we rush through life, always busy? Is it because we're running scared--afraid of what we will think, what we will hear, when we're alone with ourselves? If we slow down, if we clear our minds of the clutter of TV, movies, music, radio, iPods, computers, we can actually think. We can actually pray. We can actually hear that still, small voice of our Father that we are told to listen for, and we can wonder: what will He tell us?

I think that other nationalities are better at resting than we restless Americans. In Europe most people take four weeks of vacation time per year. In America, we're lucky to take half that, and many of us take no vacation at all. Our last "big" vacation was four years ago when we took almost two weeks on a family road trip through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas (San Antonio), and Arizona. Since then, nothing. We Americans are a restless people, never sitting long enough for the dust to settle. It's as if we're afraid for life to catch up to us, so we keep running, running, running--trying to stay just ahead of reality.

And I am little better. I crave quiet, calm, serenity, solitude. But when I have it, my heart and mind flutter about, not content to settle down--they refuse to rest, even in a restful setting. My desire this summer is to get away for three days at least--to a monastery, to a retreat center, to somewhere I can focus on God. Yet part of me wonders if I can even rest then, with a few days ahead of me to really sit down at Christ's feet and listen to Him. I pray that I can, that I will. My heart hungers for solitude, for time set apart, for soul time, and I hope and pray that I can realize this hunger and thirst of mine for time set apart with God this summer. And rest--for body, mind, heart, soul--rest in Him.

Trying to rest in His grace this day and always,

holy experience

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Intriguing Christian View of the Twilight Saga

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the ever-popular Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. The majority of Christians seem to frown at the four-novel tale of a human-vampire-werewolf love triangle. But the Twilight Saga can teach young people a great deal about how to live life, how to love, how to rise above one's self, to live and love sacrificially.

One of my former writing students posted this link on Facebook, and I thought it helpful in aiding parents in deciding whether to read the four books of the Twilight Saga. This article, written by John Nolte, Editor-in-Chief of Big Hollywood, claims that "the kids are indeed right."

See what you think:
The "Twilight" Phenomenon: The Kids Are All Right

I especially like the point about Edward's insistence on chastity in his and Bella's relationship--definitely NOT a common message in teen films or novels--among other bright spots in the Twilight Saga. I also greatly appreciate the pro-life message in the final book, Breaking Dawn.

I greatly enjoy the books--far more than the movies. The beauty of the epic love story of Edward and Bella is an example of the sacrificial love we should indeed have for one another, a sacrificial love I see as a type of Christ's sacrificial love for each of us.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On the Path to Gratitude

As I settle in for a time of extended prayer today, I add to my journey along the path to One Thousand Gifts with the Gratitude Community of Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience, my favourite spiritual blog.

So I continue on, trudging at times and nearly flying at others, hoping to miss nothing--no thing--that I can thank our Lord for....

236. For the time summer gives me to spend time with the Lord in prayer, in His Word, even if it feels too hot to light candles, even in coolness of early morning and late night.

237. For the strength He gave me to soldier on through a very, very busy spring. I may now be "paying" for those months of overdoing in weakness and pain, my body finally demanding neglected rest, but at least I was able to do good work for my many students at Brave Writer and Heritage Class Days, plus for my own four kiddos.

238. For the lovely response to my new website for my Heritage Class Day students and for my grading service. I've been refining it all week, and am currently waiting for permission to post some sample graded essays from Heritage students and from a grading client. Here is the new website, in case you missed the announcement last week: Susanne M. Barrett.

239. For the faithful readers and commenters of this blog. You have encouraged me so much this week when I shared my journey through chronic illness. You have NO idea how much your words mean to me--the ones posted here and the ones I received on Facebook and via e-mail. I thank God for you, and I thank you!!!

240. For nights with my dear husband, praying together in the warm darkness, holding hands until I fall asleep--the lovely companionship that doesn't need words to be dear and comforting.

241. For opportunities summer brings to spend time with my kids--to just cuddle the boys whenever they want and to enjoy time with Elizabeth before she goes off to Point Loma Nazarene University in the fall.

242. For Elizabeth's friendship with Erika--such a lovely young woman who is godly, wise, and fun to hang out with. I'm so thrilled that she'll be making so many lovely friends in college, too. She's already Facebook friends with her roommate and with many other incoming freshmen.

243. For the work that keeps Keith busy while we pray for more work, a steady job, to come.

244. For Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea to bring me to full consciousness each morning.

245. For Timothy's expert smoothie-making, as I noisily slurp the dregs of his cool and thick strawberry-banana concoction on this very warm afternoon.

You know, it's the little a cup of fragrant tea, or holding hands, or a cold smoothie on a hot afternoon, that birth joy and grateful hearts. The big things bring forth gratitude as well, of course--a wonderful husband, terrific kids, the blessing of warm friendships, work that keeps food in the fridge--but it's in noticing the simple things, the daily things, that nurture true gratitude.

Thanking Him for the big and the little,

holy experience


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