Living by the Light

April 13, 2014

National Poetry Month. 13

Tulip like a flame

Tulip like a flame

The Dream of Now
by William Stafford, from Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems by William Stafford, ed. Vincent Wixon and Paul Merchant

When you wake to the dream of now
from night and its other dream,
you carry day out of the dark
like a flame.

When spring comes north, and flowers
unfold from earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.

Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.



Most Wonderful Solitudes

October 20, 2013

“Churches in cities are most wonderful solitudes.”
— Thomas Merton

One of the entrances to St. James Cahtedral, Seattle

One of the entrances to St. James Cathedral, Seattle

I’ve decided I want to make day trips to some of Seattle’s churches after looking at the amazing photographs in Inspired:  Churches of Seattle by Rick Grant and Lara Swimmer.  The book included my favorite Seattle church, the Chapel of St. Ignatius on the Seattle U campus, which I have written about before.  I realized it is probably premature to name a favorite when I haven’t set foot in most of Seattle’s other churches.  I made a short list of some other churches that I hope to see inspired by some of the photographs in this book.

Two of the three churches I’d hoped to explore on a recent trip downtown were closed (I will have to plan more carefully), but the doors to the St. James Cathedral were open.  (Why are churches locked mid-day anyway?  I think they should be more welcoming.)  This was my first time in this cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, and it is indeed impressive.

I always become aware of light when I am in church, and the altar here in the cathedral is lit by an oculus dei, Eye of God.  And I love the soft colored light of stained glass windows and flickering votive candles, too.  Here is a sense of this holy space:

St. James Cathedral

St. James Cathedral




Chapel, St. James Cathedral


Hello Darkness

December 28, 2010

Blue light cast by window in the St. Ignatius Chapel, Seattle U

This week workers are changing the light fixtures in my branch library because the old fixtures, while visually interesting, did not cast much light in the cavernous space.  Yesterday they changed out one chandelier, and when we flipped the switch to turn the new one on, the increase in light was tremendous.  I felt an immediate lift to my spirits.

I don’t think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but one of the challenges of winter is accepting very short days.  I’d like to think that the darkness is a friend, allowing my mind and spirit to incubate seeds for new growth, but in reality I don’t recall ever experiencing a big flowering of my soul in springtime.  Oh, well.  It’s a victory if I just accept, rather than struggle against, this dark time of year.

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced out by sadness.”
     — Carl Jung

“Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing cames to birth, and without light, nothing flowers.”
     — May Sarton

Christmas Candle

December 14, 2010

Christmas candle in a bowl of holly

“A Christmas candle is a lovely thing:
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away.”
     — Eva Logue

Returning to my childhood farm in Minnesota

I spent a few days at the beginning of my vacation with my Dad on the farm where I grew up.  It’s always good to return home.  The pace of life is slow there now.  My Dad is 91 years old and retired.  The house and barn hold many memories for me.

Open door to the old red barn

Latch to the barn door

Worn barn door and metal latch

“Life in the barn was very good — night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days.  It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm, delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.”
     — from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

West side door to the barn

Interior of the barn, now used for storage instead of cows

Light filters into the hayloft through holes in the siding.


Barn door and hayloft stairs

A Confession

July 28, 2010

Small side chapel in St. John's Abbey Church


I don’t know what I think about God. 

I was a tiny bit concerned about the prayer portion of the retreat because I find myself extremely resistant to all of the male identifiers for God in the Bible and the traditional Catholic prayers of my childhood — “Father” this and “Lord” that, “kingdom” and “King.”  God is a mystery to me — a benevolence, a Light — but none of these words adequately express how I approach a definition of God in my mind.  But I do know in my heart that God is not just a “He.” 

So I was very reassured during the retreat by two comments in particular that resonated with me.  The first was a passage from John 1: 18, which we discussed during a morning prayer practice:  “No one has ever seen God.”  And the second came during Kathleen’s discussion about pursuing a more contemplative life, when she said, “Renounce your thoughts about God, for God is beyond all thoughts.”  

St. John's Abbey Guest House, a wall of light and shadow


I can be okay with leaving God undefined in my life. 

Emerging from the clouds into the great, infinite blue

Greet the Light

July 7, 2010

“My grandmother used to tell me that as you sat in Quaker silence you were to go inside to greet the light.”
     — James Turrell, artist

"Skyscape" by James Turrell

Contemplating blue in Skyscape at the Henry Art Gallery

Last week my friend Carol and I took advantage of First Thursday’s free admission to the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus.  My favorite part was an oval, church-like space called Skyscape by the artist James Turrell.  It was a serene spot to look up and contemplate a patch of blue.

“The old cathedrals are good, but the great blue dome that hangs over everything is better.”
     — Thomas Carlyle

“Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the Deity to be a source of delight.”
     — John Ruskin

Standing Up in the Light

January 18, 2010

Scrabble in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”
     — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love

Seeking Light

January 11, 2010

“Make of yourself a light.”
     — the Buddha

Reflecting pool outside the Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle U campus

Tree reflection mimics the vines growing on the wall of the chapel

I yearn for more light during these dark days of winter.  The Chapel of St. Ignatius on the campus of Seattle University is one of my favorite places for finding light.  It’s a soulful space designed by architect Steven Holl to express the theme of “A Gathering of Different Lights.”  It always lifts and rests my spirit to sit in the chapel for a while.

Interior, Chapel of St. Ignatius

Interior, Chapel of St. Ignatius

Ceiling detail, Chapel of St. Ignatius