THE SPIRIT JOURNEYS

FROM “MEDITATIONS OF AN OLD WOMAN”

3

As when silt drifts and sifts down through muddy pond-water,
Settling in small beads around weed and sunken branches,
And one crab, tentative, hunches himself before moving along the bottom,
Grotesque, awkward, his extended eyes looking at nothing in particular,
Only a few bubbles loosening from the ill-matched tentacles,
The tail and smaller legs slipping and sliding slowly backward—
So the spirit tries for another life,
Another way and place in which to continue;
Or a salmon tired, moving up a shallow stream,
Nudges into a back-eddy, a sandy inlet,
Bumping against sticks and bottom-stones, then swinging
Around, back into the tiny maincurrent, the rush of brownish-white water,
So, I suppose, the spirit journeys.

Theodore Roethke


Ha ha, don’t worry, I have PLENTY of life left in me yet!

All my travel this year has put me in a state of cognitive dissonance. Just as I’m falling in love with Ireland, part of me is back in Tucson, a huge part of my heart is always in LA, the deepest part of my heart is forever on the coast of New Hampshire, and why didn’t I visit the Solanus Casey Center, I now wonder, when I was in Detroit (besides the fact that it didn’t come to my attention till the next-to-the-last day)?

A dear friend from the Central Coast mailed me a book last week called The Taste of Silence: How I Came to Be at Home with Myself, by Bieke Vandekerckhove, a Belgian woman who at 19 was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and at the time of the book’s 2015 publication, had somewhat miraculously survived for 20 years.

Drawing from both Catholic monasticism and Zen Buddhism, Vandekerckhove explores many thinkers, writers, poets, and Eastern and Central European novelists (Karel Čapek; Imre Kertész).

This quote summed up my spiritual state at the moment:

“Compared with the smaller, fertile, and therefore also overpopulated, areas of our planet, deserts occupy a huge surface. They serve no good purpose, are a thorn in our side and a source of aggravation. They are as meaningless and offensive as the pure adoration, of which they are the outward manifestation. The desert shows us our fundamental powerlessness, and leaves us no choice but to look for strength in God.”

–René Voillaume (1905-2003), French Catholic priest, theologian and founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1933, the Little Brothers of the Gospel in 1956, and the Little Sisters of the Gospel in 1963. His spirituality is inspired by the life and writings of St. Charles de Foucauld.


A lot of what I do is write about people; celebrate people, you could say. Every month I submit an essay to Magnificat for my Credible Witness column. A fair amount of my Angelus columns also profile someone I admire or about whom I’m curious.

I’ve been gathering some of the columns I like best to edit, with an eye toward including them in a book about the vocation of writing/the creative life (which has been in the back of my mind for years).

All of that makes for hard going. I can’t rush things. I can’t barge in to someone’s life and start scribbling away. I can’t jump from one person to another and back again.

Even editing a column or essay I wrote and (supposedly) finished years ago–I have to first stand on the threshold. I have to gather myself; prepare myself to receive, enlarge my heart, sharpen my focus, and disappear for a while.

For someone so self-absorbed, that’s a tall order!

But this morning I was thinking that to write about someone else’s work and life is to enter a sacred space.

No wonder I pause–and my breath catches.


“It’s love which justifies our actions; love must initiate all we do. Love is the fulfillment of the law.  

If, out of love, Brother Paul [trained as an engineer] has chosen to die on a desert track, by this he is justified.  

If, out of love, Don Bosco and Mother Seton built schools and hospitals, by this were they justified.  

If, out of love, Thomas Aquinas spent his life among books, by this he was justified. The only problem is to put into their right perspective these different kinds of ‘love-in-action.’ And here Jesus himself teaches us in an uncompromising way:  

‘The greatest among you must be as the least, the leader be as one who is a servant.’  

And again, ‘A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.’”  

–Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert

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