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Like the Genesis story of Jacob wrestling with God/Angel, last night passed in a similar manner, only I was left with terminal illness, not with a sore hip, as was Jacob’s lot.

Stunned, I made it to my wing-back chair, my legs propped upon a hassock, and took stock: It felt like I was trapped in a monstrous ache, barred from all exits. My eyes burned. I rubbed them. I blew my nose, coughed. I began breathing, slowly, until enveloped in deep stillness. Outside my study window dawn softened the leafing lilac bush and patches of fescue grass in the backyard.

 

 

Other tumultuous images from the night flooded me: Joan of Arc’s visions, her suit of armor and white stallion, her slaughtering enemies, her restoration of the Dauphin upon the French throne, her arrest for heresy and imprisonment, her frequent interrogations, her death by burning in Rouen’s marketplace. I cringed, owning similar attitudes ill-suited to accepting the unacceptable, glaringly evident in my present circumstances.

Night work with another writer also assumed enormous importance. He depended upon my counsel and often sought my approval whether I was available or not.

Such disjointedness evidences yesterday’s curiosity about the global pandemic’s infection and death rates, stay-at-home-orders for the next month, governments’ measures to protect their people, on-line meditations/exercises to counter negative fallout from such untoward changes. Rather than keep up with developments I have no control over, better to maintain my usual self-care routines, pray, and move through each twenty-four hours allotted me.

My terminal illness remains…

It’s time to stop wrestling.

 

What were the true circumstances of Miss Margaret Fairchild, an impoverished woman living in her disabled Bedford van parked in the courtyard of British author, Alan Bennett for fifteen years? Thanks to his compassionate restraint, he delayed publishing her story in The London Review of Books until after her death in 1989. For decades he had already studied the downtrodden and heralded their stories.

Throughout the movie, The Lady in the Van (2015), its screenplay written by the same author, we glean hints of her past: a concert pianist, who had studied Chopin with the Swiss-French virtuoso Alfred Cortot; a former nun whose superior ordered her to sacrifice her passion for music with prayer; a psychiatric patient committed by her brother for treatment of her shattered world; an escapee who lived the rest of her life within its pieces. After her van accidentally killed a motorcyclist on a country road, she changed her name from Margaret Fairchild to Mary Shepherd.

Through the artistry of Alan Bennet, we have the portrait of a damaged woman, bold-spirited, eking out her last years among neighbors on Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town, an inner city district of London. Many of them remembered Mary and shared stories with the film crew.

Kudos to Alan Bennett for perceiving Miss Mary Shepherd as a lady, despite her stench, her stubbornness, her vinegar speech, her raucous laughter. Her nobility shines through the shards of her existence. We were touched.

 

 

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Who were your first teachers about the dark? What impressions have you carried into adulthood: perhaps evil, danger, terror, the devil, death, bats, etc.? How do these color your perceptions and judgments today? Might there be a deeper way of considering the dark–one that enriches rather than diminishes?

Such questions find resonance in the nine essays, composed by the lunar spirit of Barbara Brown Taylor, a woman seasoned as wife, mother, grandmother, professor, theologian, and Episcopal priest. Fearlessly, she explores the underbelly of darkness from varied aspects: physical, psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Each chapter is introduced by a different phase of the moon.

Strewn among these essays are anecdotes from the author’s childhood experiences with the dark, from her present communing with the drama of the night sky in rural Georgia, from caving in West Virginia, and from her visit to the crypt beneath the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France.

What eventually emerges is a spirituality of darkness: how to find God–or let God find you–in the dark. For this, she recommends the honing of certain skills: give up running the show; expect bumps along the way that will frighten you; and ask the darkness to teach you what you need to know. A “dazzling light” does hide out in the dark.

Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014) companioned me during December’s darkness.

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