Manna Meditations

what grace looks like …

Manna Meditations, Day 5

Honest words?  Yesterday, my heart was heavy.

I was thinking about a few dear friends who are suffering, quietly and without much support, and the things I knew — the hurt I was carrying for them — hummed behind my eyes like a headache.

It wasn’t a good day for walking or climbing or wandering — the cold felt like it could crack bone — and so I felt trapped indoors with the weight of the hurt… No place to go.

But.

After church, T took the wheel.  He steered the car into the blue hills, the unbroken forests, going nowhere in particular … just aiming toward the quiet.

And the quiet was there.

After awhile, I blinked back tears and saw sun — so much sun! The world was bathed in the warmest, thickest, woolen-blanket kind of light, and its sparks caught in the treetops, flickering and winking in the highest twigs. The road ahead of us gleamed wetly with it, even though the air was bone-dry.

I leaned my face against the cool of the window, and suddenly I felt my soul settle into the comfort of just … being.  Not working.  Not making — no hands on the wheel.  Just … looking.  Letting in the light.

And it struck me, how precious it was, to be in a place safe enough to just be. To lay back and receive the day’s goodness, not as reward for effort, but simply as a gift.

Manna.

I let the landscape flash past, and then after awhile I held my phone to the window and snapped without looking, believing that I was in the presence of so much wonder that any of it would have been beautiful … any of it would have been enough.

And you know what?  It was.

💛

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Manna Meditations

into the woods…

Manna Meditations, Day 1

I walk into the woods, looking for the Maker.

It has been a long time.

Today the path is tiger-striped with hard gold light, the long shadows of trees falling in bars over the ridge. The air is so cold you can feel it taking up space in your lungs, feel the ice of it in your nose when you breathe.

I am listening for the voice of the Maker, and I am looking for Beauty.

Beauty: this is my daily bread. And lately, I’m believing that in this season, the bread is more like manna… Manna, a mystery of a gift, dropped in the wilderness where I might find it.

So I follow the trail of breadcrumbs up the ridge line, winding my way up staircases of rock, ladders of fallen limbs. I walk slow, stopping every twenty yards or so to bend low and look … to photograph the trembling skeleton of a fallen leaf, or white veins tracing through old boulders. The light is so hard and so solid that it catches in everything, outlining every pebble and snatch of pinestraw, throwing every fallen feather into bas-relief…

Manna…

And I am thinking…


There was a time (hear me) when I fancied myself a creator. A maker of beauty. A crafter of lovely words, lovely lines. And maybe I *was* that… maybe one day I’ll be that again.

But for now, in this season, I am here in the woods, wanting to make … nothing.

I am here not to make, but to find.

I am a wandering pilgrim, finding the promised land right here, in this wilderness of small things. I don’t call myself Planter, or Reaper … I’m Forager. Finder. Collector of breadcrumbs, of broken bits of beauty.

And this is its own kind of feast – believe me.

And so, for the next 40 days – six days a week, with a sabbath rest for good measure – you’ll find me here, in quiet meditation on my daily Manna. I’ll share small bits of loveliness I never made, but merely discovered along the path.

Wherever I’m going, I know there is goodness here… Maybe you’ll come, too.

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Everyday Wonder

Runes …

I almost miss the magic today.

It’s cold — great gusts of wind tearing through the clouds, tossing the treetops.  Even in my down parka, I’m shivering.

But I go out anyway.

I walk down to the woods.  Tramp through the brush for an hour, trying to catch a little beauty through the viewfinder.  But it’s one of those days when the wonder eludes me.  The light is thin and gray, the shadows watery and weak.  

I photograph ice crystals forming in the moss.  A woodland pond full of sky.  Still — the photographs seems paler than what I see.  Flat, almost.

I head home.

And then, when I’m almost to the fringe of the woods, a fallen log catches my eye.  I almost don’t notice it at first, except that there’s a brief break in the clouds and  the sun skims off its surface, just long enough for me notice the whorls and wanderings of some bug or beetle or worm, etched into the bark:

runes5

I lower myself to my knees and take my time, as if I am reading.

(And maybe I am).

The light hardens.  The engravings deepen.  I feel, almost, as if I know what they say…

Because it’s true, isn’t it:  that we’re all carving stories into the surface of our world?  Wearing tracks in the wilderness of our everydays?  And those tracks last for a little while, and then fade or rot or blow off as dust.

We are all — believe me — ephemera.  

(And also, eternal.)

I run a gloved finger over the weather-smoothed wood.  Feel the tracks of some long-ago creature, left like runes.  

I walk home with the magic inside of me…

runes2

runes1

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My feet follow the trail out of the woods, and into the Light. ❤

 

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Final Flashback: Just a Long Trail & My Tangled Thoughts …

Today marks the final post of my Flashback series — a collection of my favorite throwback posts, in celebration of Alpha // Whiskey // Foxtrot’s one-year anniversary.

And this one I’ve been saving.  

The words are lonely, and it shows.  A different kind of person would want to hide that from you — want to pretend that the lonely season didn’t happen, didn’t exist.  But I’m sharing anyway.  Because let’s be honest:  loneliness happens to everybody, and when you’re in it, it feels like it’s going to last forever.

Can I tell you something?  It’s not going to last forever…  I promise. 

Almost exactly a year has passed since I first hit the little blue “Publish” button on this post, and in that messy and imperfect year, my life has filled up and brimmed over with some of the best people I’ve met.  

I feel at home in my little town…

At home with my people…

At home in my own body, and in my soul.

And really, I couldn’t ask for more.

So.  If you’re feeling a little bit marooned today, please know:  being lonely doesn’t make you alone — It just makes your heart wide-open to love.

And that’s a beautiful thing. 

///

October 29, 2014 

I have a mind that moves in fits and starts:

It surges forward.

Ricochets.

Retreats.

Sometimes I joke that, behind my tailored exterior, there’s a rat’s nest in my skull.  But something about a mountain trail untangles all the knots in my neural pathways.  Which is yet another reason why I love this place.  Southwestern Virginia is crisscrossed by hundreds of trails, most of them climaxing at a high peak with a hundred-mile view.

It is a good place to think deeply, if you’re not afraid to do so.  And if you’re willing to take the time.

*

What is happening here is going to take some time.

*

I’ve been thinking about Georgia O’Keeffe a lot lately.

Something about her aesthetic appeals to me right now:  her close-cropped view of the world.  I came across this snippet of her words the other day, in which she speaks of her formative years as an artist.  It kicked around inside my ribcage and just wouldn’t leave:

“I decided to start anew — to strip away what I had been taught — to accept as true my own thinking.  This was one of the best times of my life.  There was no one around to look at what I was doing, no one interested, no one to say anything about it one way or another.  I was alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown — no one to satisfy but myself. I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white.  I believe it was June before I needed the color blue.”

*

On Sunday, Thomas, a friend and I hiked the Roaring Run trail out past Eagle Rock.  It’s an easy path through the woods, a slow climb that hugs the stream and culminates at a lacy cascade. 

parissa

We spent our journey snapping photographs.  My beautiful friend had a fancy DSLR with a chromed-out filter that set the fall foliage on fire.  I had my trusty iPhone 4S, its little camera set to my favorite black-and-white.

I followed behind her, watching the way she stalked her shots, the way her eyes searched the canopy for color.  The way she spent time on the grander vistas:  the overlook where you could see the mountaintops.  The waterfall with its wild roar over rocks.

Meanwhile, I was in a different place, looking for different things.  The jagged edge of a fern frond.  Drops of water beading and falling over stone.  I spent a lot of time on my knees, my face pushed right up to the subjects.

This is where I am now — I cannot bear to shoot the loud loveliness of a waterfall.  I am overwhelmed by the chrome colors of the canopy when it’s full of light.  My eyes are always searching for spare lines.  The smallest, simplest things.

 fence

*

I began photographing things for the first time this summer — my own body, mostly, trying to see it differently.  To love it anew.  I photographed the sun cupped in the hollow of my clavicle, or splashing down the angle of my jaw.  It was a brave subject, that.  And maybe someday I’ll show you a little of my work from that time.

But I was also trying to learn this thing, photography, in a broader sense, albeit without any serious aspirations.  The thing is, I didn’t want to just go to a class and learn how to use a camera.  I wanted to learn to *see* the world thoughtfully – light and shadow and line, and also, something deeper than that.  I wanted to train my eye and my heart, not just gain a technological skill.

So I limited myself to black and white, and I began with my iPhone, not the DSLR that sits on my closet shelf.  I resolved not to use any technological tool until I absolutely needed it, to take every shot as if it would never be cropped, and to edit nothing.

It was June when I began with the simple shapes of my own form.  The light falling in clear, perfect bars through the blinds.  It was September before I could bear the visual cacophony of the woods, the wild frenzy of fluttering leaves.

It is almost November now, and I am just beginning to yearn for my bigger camera, its depth of focus.

Just beginning to hunger for color.

*

In the two and a half years since I moved to the Star City, this place has felt spare to me.  I have walked around hungry for certain kinds of relationships I can’t seem to find, certain kinds of cultures and experiences that elude me.  These things have been missing from my life for a long, long time now, and there are days when I feel the absence like a presence, an emptiness with heft and weight.

And yet, in this spare season, my soul has grown sensitive.  I am soft enough to notice the small things — to be moved by spiderwebs and bits of broken glass.

And this is a blessing.

Even when it’s a burden.

Because it is a burden — it is.  

Sometimes I feel it’s been so long since I lived in a place where I fit, it’s like I’ve been walking a hundred miles in the tundra, the whole world a wash of white, and if someone crested the next snowdrift wearing a crimson parka, I swear, the color would explode through my chest like a gunshot. And that’s a sensitivity I can use, even when it hurts.  

I can, and I will.

*

A year from now, I hope my life is fuller and richer and thicker than the one I have now.  I hope I’m more rooted, more sure of my place in this town.  I hope I see my city with loving eyes.

But I also hope I don’t lose this, this sensitivity.  This love for the small and the simple.  The shadow and the light.

I’ll leave you with one more thought from Georgia O’Keeffe, just to show you what I mean:

“Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time…  So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it.”

Here’s hoping we both go and look at the world around us low and slow and close and patient, today.  ❤

water

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Flashback: the Post That Started It All …

 

Exactly one year ago today, I began a little blog that I hoped might help me love my town better.  I never expected — ever — that I’d still be blogging 365 days later.

Can I be honest?  It’s been a messy year.  I’ve made good decisions and bad ones.  Trusted people I shouldn’t have.  Had the good ones join hands to catch me like a safety net.  I’ve laughed, cried, and opened my hurt so wide it hurt.

But the one thing that surprises me most?  I no longer feel like a misfit in this town — not even close.

And I have more to say on that subject, but for now, I thought I’d just leave you with the Post That Started It All.  If it resonates with you — if you, too, feel a little lonely in your city — then please know:

It’s easy to feel like the desert goes on forever … but sometimes the oasis is right over the next dune.  

And sometimes it’s been there all along.

Trust me on this.  ❤

///

When home doesn’t feel like Home…

Honest words?  Sometimes this mountain town I’m living in feels like like a pair of shoes two sizes too small.

I’ve been here for two years.  The people are kind, the cost-of-living is low, and in autumn the place is shamelessly pretty, its red-and-gold slopes wreathed in fog.  Still:  some days I lean my head against the back window, watch the sun settle down behind the blue hills across the valley, and I think:  This place is not my home. 

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Last night my husband and I drove home from a day in Charlottesville — a city that feels more “us,” in every way I can think of.  As we merged onto I-581, that wide ribbon of highway that curves fast through my little city, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness wash over me.  A sense that I don’t belong and never will.

And then something remarkable happened, in the simplest and least remarkable way possible. I leaned my head against the passenger window and looked out.  As I watched the outskirts of my city begin to flash past, the sky just lit up from within: a kind of luminous red glow that filled up the horizon, stabbed through by vapor trails.  A cloud of small black birds wheeled and dipped and seized upward in a single, frenzied animal shape.

It was beautiful — I mean, really, truly beautiful.

I reached for my iPhone, turned on the camera and started snapping. I took pictures of sky, of electrical wires and radio towers as they dipped and disappeared.  I pressed the phone to the glass, shot overpasses as they streaked above, and then the flash of the railroad, the red-black hulk of low-income housing where it huddles close to the highway.

The road curved up toward Mill Mountain, and I sat up straight in my seat.  “Get in the right lane,” I said to Thomas.  “I want to take pictures of downtown.” And there it was, flying by:  the coppery wink of the rooftop of the tallest building.  The shadows settling down purple over the wild angles of the art museum.  The velvety stretch of dark streaming down every street.  I took picture after picture, not worrying about leading lines or light, not trying to make something beautiful but to *see* something beautiful.  A beauty that was waiting for me to discover it. I felt something open in my chest, like a flower just starting to bloom.  And I thought:  I could love this place.  I really could.  If I tried. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Over the next forty days, I’m challenging myself to soak in this city with everything I’ve got.  To really *see* it — not just its beautiful blue hills and its sleepy tree-lined streets, but also its beautiful people.  I want to get out there and try to know them. And then I want to come home and write it all down here.  

You’re invited to watch.

Here’s looking at you, Star City.  I’m giving you a second chance to steal my heart…   I hope you do.

roanoke 

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Flashback: The Silver Lining that Takes My Breath Away …

Tonight, as I listen to the wind slide slow around the edges of the house, I think of the season’s first frost, predicted to crystallize over the grass while I sleep.

I think of the way the leaves fall silent, even in the dark …

And I think about this old post — originally published on November 11, 2014.

If, like me, you love Autumn’s color but fear its frost, these words are for you … Hope you go out and find your silver lining today. ❤

///

Every year, I love watching the leaves turn.

I grieve it when they fall.

But this loss, like every other, has a silver lining.

*

Just a week ago, when I looked out my back window, I saw our leafy beech and hundred-year oak.  A scrubby but golden-leaved maple.

Now, I can see horizon and sky.  Range after range of blue hills.  I can see all the way across the city to the white tower of the airport, where planes touch down and surge upward, over and over, all day long.

*

Tonight, I stand at my kitchen window and watch the lights wink on across the valley. In thirty minutes, the whole city will light up and glitter — a river of light, sparkling in the dark. And I wish I could show you a picture of this.  I do.  But there’s no lens I own that could do it justice.  And sometimes, the things you can’t capture on film are the most beautiful things of all.

So tonight you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say this: I am grateful.

*

Barn’s burned down —

now

I can see the moon.

–Mizuta Masahide

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