by Nicholas Samaras
I make this room
a country of peace.
Within these walls, I am the harmony of an individual
with no nationalism, claims or agenda,
no chorus of discord,
no borders but redwood wainscotting.
I invent this gold light
by noticing and appreciating the light.
I am every human in this room
and I make this parlour a canton of peace.
It starts with one, so I invent
a space of calm –
the furniture relaxed, the walls tranquil,
russets and golds threading the woodgrain.
I invent this chair
by sitting on it.
I create a curved bay-window
with a cushioned garden seat to lie on, gaze out from.
In the glassy view, the horizon line of willows
diminishes into the blue blur of water and sky.
The only smoke there is
ascends the fireplace and the flue,
wafting its beloved fragrance into
the distance of the world.
I make this room peaceful
whose threshold holds the rosined light.
I craft a participation of one.
I make this room a country of peace.
It’s felt colder outside to me lately, and increasingly turbulent. Maybe it’s my access to so much news, and so many continuous on-line updates from childhood friends and acquaintances detailing struggles and strong opinions. Mine’s a porous soul, easily over saturated to the point of being weighed down with earthly cares. I’ve become the gaper at a crash site, horrified and paralyzed by the wreckage in front of me – appropriately dismayed but, ultimately, not all that helpful.
Drawing the fortitude to comfort and aid others from dwindling reserves of serenity and faith invites discouragement to creep in and take hold. With my own limited strength I attempt to carry you, but only fall with you, overwhelmed by the heaviness of our shared vulnerabilities. Who of us can run on empty?
This poem has been a balm to me today, calling me home to the source of my peace. Be judicious, reminds the poet, of what you open your heart and mind to. Create for yourself a haven in which to pray, be still and let go of thoughts too lofty, too loaded, or impertinent to our collective salvation. Feast on quiet and calm, laying your concerns, confusion, anxieties at the feet of Christ, stuffing your head with the mysterious wisdom of the saints, Church Fathers, and Jesus, Himself. Then, when full again, depart to serve, fueled by divine patience and endurance that defies understanding. Cling for dear life to the Light.
“My poor soul! Sigh, pray and strive to take upon you the blessed yoke of Christ, and you will live on earth in a heavenly manner. Lord, grant that I may carry the light and goodly yoke, and I shall be always at rest, peaceful, glad and joyous; and I shall taste on earth of crumbs which fall from the celestial feast, like a dog that feeds upon the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.”
—St. Tikhon of Voronezh
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. – I Peter 4:8
This morning I dragged myself out of bed twenty minutes earlier than I normally do to just be quiet with a cup of coffee in front of the fireplace.
Next to me on the side table was our Orthodox Study Bible. Having become more convinced than ever in my middle age that nothing is accidental, I took this as an invitation to break it open – something I should be doing regularly but haven’t.
The above verse from I Peter was part of today’s scripture reading. I sat there with it and meditated on its significance for a moment.
How unambiguous it is. Love and mercy trump everything: being right, being vindicated, being safe and inconvenienced, being sucessful. Even the overwhelming burden of our own habitual sinfulness cannot thwart them.
Where do I start? How do I proceed, being so broken, anxious about the future, hopelessly imperfect and all?
By being as loving, giving, patient as possible with the person right in front of me in gratitude of Christ’s unconditional compassion toward us.
I daresay, everything else then will fall into place as it mysteriously and redemptively should.
At least that’s what I’m banking on, forsaking my biases, short-sighted expectations and jealousy of my time in the process.
“However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, ‘Love one another’ —only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden.”
- Mother Maria of Paris
They didn’t technically have time for an impromptu tea party, but who could resist those feety jamies?
I had work to do myself, me being behind in just about everything, and then I saw them – my niece and parents bathed in sunlight,
I did not resist the urge to pick up my camera.
The best things about tea parties with two-year-olds is that calories don’t count, and giggling so hard you spit water out of your mouth is not rude or inappropriate. In fact, such hijinks only enhance the sweet frivolity of letting go and being present in the present.
I’m glad I seized the opportunity to capture a snippet of true joy, true peace, true living. Joy, peace and such are rarely all up in my face; I have to pull my gaze away from the trash littering my van, the extra five pounds I may or may not have accumulated since Christmas, my fear of dropping any number of balls, to actually “see” them.
We are always getting ready to live but never living. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to justify ever slowing down, much less stopping and choosing to simply be in a moment. I’ve noticed lately, I’ve taken to running around directionless, creating more and more work for myself until I crash into my bed later than I should. And, ironically, all this “multi-tasking” is making me not so much productive as scattered and tired.
Thus, this morning I have a hankering for a little more deliberateness in my life – for taking on only one thing at a time with my full attention instead of mentally or even physically escaping arduous challenges by distracting myself with yet another side project.
My parents are really great, I think, at keeping the main thing the main thing. They are wholeheartedly devoted to their vocation, holding their noses to the grindstone until the task at hand is completed, then purposefully refueling via shared nightly downtime… and the occasional tea party.
“You are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed”
Today I pray for the discipline to pray, for continuous wisdom, guidance and sticktoitiveness.Read More
Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from peace. This has resulted, as it usually does, in anxious thoughts, impulsive decisions and wanting stuff – pretty, fancy, better stuff.
I’m not always quick about awakening to the source of my self-inflicted restlessness. I tend to wallow for awhile in a state of confused agitation before it dawns on me that, oh yeah, I’ve stopped praying and fasting and revolving my life around the Rock that is the Church.
This morning I woke up early (earlier than usual, that is) to savor a bit of silence and reflection before starting my day. About nine and a half seconds after I tiptoed into the kitchen, I heard footsteps on the stairs. “Hello?” came a little voice.
“I’m by the fire place,” I called out to my seven-year-old, who has always been impressively skilled at sniffing out my (attempted) stolen moments of solitude. “Is it daytime or nighttime?” she asked while crawling into my lap.
“Daytime, ” I told her, “But just barely.”
“Will you look at a book with me?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said, “Please bring me one about a saint.” I was longing for access to something holy.
She chose St. Seraphim’s Beatitudes by Priest Daniel Marshall.
St. Seraphim was born in 1759 in the town of Kursk, Russia, I began.
“Did you know him?” my daughter interrupted.
“You mean, like personally?” I asked.
“Yeah, when you were a little girl. Wasn’t that the same year you were born?”
Pilgrims flocked to St. Seraphim for prayers and advice. “I implore you to acquire a peaceful spirit,” he said, “and thousands of souls around you will be saved.”
- From St. Seraphim’s Beatitudes
Mary and I spent a sweet, and convicting, twenty minutes with St. Seraphim. Just a sip of his great faith was enough to drive me to repentance. I’ve been guilty of cautiousness and wishy-washy-ness and trying to lean on my own understanding.
Holy St. Seraphim, pray to God for me!
I Arise Today
by John O’Donohue
I arise today
Blessed by all things,
Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes,
Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch,
Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thought,
Miracle of health,
Embrace of God.
May I live this day.Read More
Ideally, as a portrait photographer, I’d have constant access to 75 degree weather and spectacular blooming landscapes. But I’m a die hard Midwest girl who can’t be separated from her four distinct seasons, no matter how muggy or frigid. This being my permanent reality, I’m having to explore alternatives to “idealness” throughout these winter months.
I’ve had to learn ways to chase down the light, designing whole photo shoots around it regardless of the smallness of the space. Chasing down light indoors requires keeping my eyes peeled for unsightly distractions that could compromise the purity and simplicity of the composition. I must pay very close attention to the details.
And maybe it sounds cliche, but that analogy of chasing light is burning a hole in my thoughts this morning. We’ve officially reached February, the month where I begin to ache for warmth and must make concerted and determined efforts to keep from surrendering to the winter blues.
“You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
I’m seizing my light from both little and big things: prayer, prayerful music, exercise, making my bed, pursuing kindness and repenting of being less than kind too many times to count. Thank you for sharing this awfully amazing quote, Eric Simpson:
Kindness is a beautiful human attribute. When we say, “She is a kind person” or “He surely was kind to me,” we express a very warm feeling. In our competitive and often violent world, kindness is not the most frequent response. But when we encounter it we know that we are blessed. Is it possible to grow in kindness, to become a kind person? Yes, but it requires discipline. To be kind means to treat another person as your “kin,” your intimate relative. We say, “We are kin” or “He is next of kin.” To be kind is to reach out to someone as being of “kindred” spirit.
Here is the great challenge: All people, whatever their color, religion, or sex, belong to humankind and are called to be kind to one another, treating one another as brothers and sisters. There is hardly a day in our lives in which we are not called to this.
- Henri Nouwen
It’s Monday, it’s freezing, I have a laundry pile to fold that’s as tall as my youngest daughter. I will make one tiny choice after another to keep sipping on luminosity and nibbling on that which brings me joy.