There used to be a seminary on the property of our county government center, and there is heavily wooded land adjacent to this campus. Years ago, there was also a Home for Wayward Girls nearby…which I think was mostly for unwed mothers. There is a cemetery not far from here with way too many graves of babies and teenage girls. I imagine it wasn’t a pleasant place to live as a unwed pregnant girl in those days. At the time of the seminary and Home for Girls, this area was isolated and distant…now neighborhoods and roads cut through these two areas.
Those woods have a very distinct feel. I can feel it as soon as I step into the trees… and as I follow the path through the forest, I feel immersed in it. Over a footbridge or two, and down a path… you find a stone grotto chapel used for saying mass when the seminary was nearby. It is falling into ruins, trees grow up through the floor, and it is damaged from decades of teenage parties and time, but the detailed mosaic tiles still hold beauty. The Latin phrases: "Ignem veni mittere," which means "I have come to bring fire," and "ego sum lux mundi," meaning "I am the light of the world" still speak to the occasional visitor.
Often I find things left behind by other people…flowers, a candle, a note…today I found that a notebook and pen were laid on the alter. There are spots where the exterior brick has crumbled, and notes are placed in the holes.
The first time I brought my son to this place he was about ten years old. He didn’t say much at the time. The next week he had to write a poem as an assignment for school. He sat down for about ten minutes and wrote without stopping, and then without a single edit, he ended with this:
Ode to a Muted Grotto
An intangible rising sun
With an untouchable wind;
A shining sea reflecting the light
As if a thousand stones glittering in the sun.
Precious gems of the mind
Border the ideas of the heavenly Earth;
A land of higher power hidden
In a land of forsaken will.
A picture shown of other’s hope
Imaginary realms like prisons from truth;
The age of time has worn on the figure
And the truth of the world breaks through.
Trapped in its cage of rooted wonders
Slowly fading from beauty to rubble;
The grotto stands patiently
Forming the silent words of a painted canvas.
By, Marty Roman
I’ve had it hanging on my wall since that day.
After a gray and soggy day of outside activities on our annual 5th grade camping trip, the sky cleared up for the night hike. The sounds of 80 shuffling feet in the dirt and the soft nighttime forest noises were muffled by the shadows of the trees. The sky was starting to fill with stars when I felt a small hand quietly slip into mine…I looked down to see big brown eyes through the darkness…
Mrs. Román, did you see that pretty red sky?
Yes Sarah, I did. It was beautiful.
I think the sun must come up even when it rains, it just is hiding behind the clouds.
I think you’re right Sarah.
Sometimes all the wisdom in the world is wrapped up in a ten year old kid.
The force of true creativity propels itself into the world.
It often starts as a whisper that requires turning away from the static of the day.
It comes without notice and demands my attention,
And if I don’t give it, and try to find it later…I am alone with only the stillness.
To become the instrument of expression is to step aside, to open up, to allow the creative force to become a million chards of vibrance on paper, in the air, of strokes on a computer
It is the song written locked away in a dimly lit bedroom down the hall;
it is the words crafted in the wee hours of the morning as the first golden streams of light stretch over the lawn;
it is the painting that needs a bit more red after the sky has fallen into deep, dark sleep;
it is the new idea that bursts to life after the dawning of understanding.
Why does the sun rise so beautifully across the field of the mind only to give birth to creations that are often drown out by the clatter and static of a busy world?
But is not the creation itself the fulfillment of that energy? Is the manifested creation not the completing of the circle? If a song is never heard, a painting never seen, an idea never materialized, hasn’t the creative circle itself been completed in the making?
I witnessed an amazing thing tonight. At a town festival, the Batavia Block Party, there was live music from probably a local band, and they were playing 70’s hits that most of the adults in the crowd could sing along with…but most didn’t. Families were scattered around on the grass in lawn chairs and on blankets…and young kids were on the cement near the stage dancing to the music, as kids do. It was great fun to watch. Then one kid, about 7 or 8 years old, took a risk and got up on the stage, a one foot high leap, and started dancing up there. The other kids watched apprehensively waiting to see if that kid would get in trouble. No one said anything, so another kid jumped up and started to dance…and another. Pretty soon all of the kids were up on the stage with the band dancing and laughing…having a great time. They stayed up there the rest of the night…close to the music…dancing near the band….part of the music. I imagine they could feel the drum beat…the vibration of the amps. The singer was looking in their eyes and singing right to them. The experience was real, palpable…in harmony with what was happening, not aside from it, not watching it…but with it.
What does it take to be that first kid? What risk is involved? When it’s all said and done…and when we are looking back on our lives…what prevented us from being that first kid? How about the kid that followed? Or even the rest? How about those kids that stayed on the cement, or the ones that stayed on the grass by their mothers? And what prevents us even now? The things that we think are so important now…are they really worth sitting on the grass for?
It’s hard to stay awake sometimes, but we have to.
Where the angels go to get fixed..Pécs, Hungary.
Hungary…let’s all go visit! It’s super cool:)
When you’re traveling in a foreign country you take suggestions from friends.
When you take suggestions from friends, they don’t always give details.
When friends don’t give details, you end up getting off on the wrong bus stop in the dark.
When you get off on the wrong bus stop in the dark and don’t speak German, you end up talking to Cubans in Spanish.
When you talk to Cubans in Spanish, you decide to change your plans.
When you change your plans, you end up going down a quiet residential street.
When you end up going down a quiet residential street, you see a cool vine covered pathway.
When you see a cool vine covered pathway, you end up at a guy’s vineyard.
When you end up at a guy’s vineyard, you drink his wine.
When you drink his wine, one of you inadvertently insults the owner.
When one of you inadvertently insults the owner, you leave and the only place that isn’t closed to eat is McDonald’s.
When the only place to eat is McDonald’s, you end taking a cab and train back to Stephanzplatz in the center of Vienna.
When you end up back in the center of Vienna, you find everything is closed at midnight.
When you find everything is closed at midnight, you eat a hot dog for dinner at a hotdog stand.
Don’t end up eating a hotdog for dinner at a hotdog stand in Vienna, make your own plans.
ps…this may have been the best night of the trip:) Travel open to the adventure.
People that practice meditation regularly are probably familiar with it. It’s when you are doing something ordinary and all of the sudden it’s like a cloudy piece of film is lifted. Everyday objects look richer and crystal clear. The third dimension looks deeper. Colors are amazing and more vibrant…and you can feel the sweetness in each person you see. Maybe some neuroscientist can explain it, but all I know is that it is super cool. When it happens, it is really difficult not to get attached to it and grab on. Some people spend the rest of their lives trying to recreate it, but it can’t be forced. I’ve had several of those experiences, and I remember each one vividly. Today, walking through the woods on the same path I’ve been on many times, it happened again.
I get reminders of it in the way some people speak, write or live… but where I personally feel it most is in music. There are some people that simply carry that inside and when they live their lives we can feel it. They may not have any idea, but it can be life changing to people around them. It seems those people are often the ones that may struggle a little with the ordinary ways of our society, and we as a culture often try to get them back in line through irritation and disapproval. What they bring to us is of immeasurable value though. Anyone practicing mindfulness knows that it is very difficult to stop following our thoughts and stay awake to what is actually happening. This is a practice of a lifetime. It’s what opens us up to the grace that lifts the film.
I was fortunate to hear some amazing musicians the other night, and one of them, an artist named Andy Masters, sang a reminder to just this. He may have written a song of heartbreak…but when I heard it, I could feel where it came from…it came from behind the film. It was the most beautiful reminder of how difficult it is to stay awake, and how precious that gift of grace is. May we always honor those that carry pieces of the place behind the film…for they carry life itself in the most pure and powerful sense. I invite you to listen to his song on the link below.
Those end of the year goal setting sessions make the whole year worthwhile. Not my student, but fun nonetheless:)