Sunday, October 29, 2017

Day 3, Our Final Poetry Writing Session with Richard, Writing the Ache of God

We met again at the beach house on Surfside for a couple of hours this morning for our last poetry writing session of 2017. Our assignment given to us last night was to write our own Psalm, one of praise, lament, confusion, reorientation - a prayer that would allow God to hear our hearts.

Naked and unashamed...that's how I wanted to do this last poem. So, here it is:

The One Safe Place

as defined by Merriam Webster: 
the place where one lives,
the center or heart of a matter,
an anchor, a safe place


She screamed it again and again,
at her father,
as she marched her tiny
three-year-old body
down the hallway
to the bedroom
and slammed the door.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,
the most basic of home, safety, security, and belonging

She was three.
I am 68.
Yet, I can feel her fight and scream
and curse inside me today


26 years ago, her daddy scooped her up,
pulled her flailing arms and legs in tight,
wrapped himself around her sphinctered body,
and rocked and held her
until the sobs and curses subsided.

“There, there Rebecca, everything’s ok. Daddy loves you.”

Today, I don’t even know if I still believe in God
and I’m not too anxious to address him as “Father”,
I know my anger, cursing words and bleeding heart
Do not offend him in the least.
If he’s anywhere at all,
he’s holding me tight, right now,
even as I fight against him.

That may be the only thing I’m sure of
in this unsafe world we’ve been given today.

It has been one of my greatest joys and privileges to write annually with this group now for 9 years. Who knows what the future brings. None of us are sure if we'll meet again next year, but, if we don't, I want it known, here and now, how much I appreciate and love dearly each and every person who's ever attended one of these retreats, Richard Osler, our facilitator, and Andy Parker who instigated the whole thing 9 years ago - these sessions have part of my great treasure of life experiences. They have changed my life for the better. 

Day 2 Poetry Retreat, Surfside - Writing the Ache for God

Writin assignment #1, Hold Me, Lord, O, Hold Me

Richard shared 3 poems with us, The Mad Boy by Patrick Lane, He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded, by Alden Nowlen, and Six Apologies, Lord, by Olena Kalytiak, then we were invited to "take the feelings behind the human need to be held, your need to be held and write your poem/prayer to the Lord...But do not let this specific request constrain you, your heart."

This is the poem I wrote and shared - there are days I really miss my mother's touch.

Hold Me, Lord, Hold Me  

It’s what we all want, in the end,
To be held, merely to be held,
To be kissed (not necessarily with the lips,
For every touching is a kind of kiss)…

Not to be worshipped, not to be admired,
Not to be famous, not to be feared,
Not even to be loved, but simply to be held.*

I am 68
and the world today seems no longer safe
not for me
not for my children or grandchildren.

I’m not sure I trust God to hold me.
Whatever God or Goodness I’ve trusted in the past
seems to be like an old wedding gown,
previously worn in joy and hope,
then set aside, folded, put in a box and
placed in a corner of the attic.
It no longer fits.
It’s served its purpose, and it’s gotten old and dusty.
I want something firm, solid, steady, certain.

“I’ll let you know when I need my mother
and when I need a friend.”

That was the pact between the two of us,
my mother and me.

Today, in these uncertain times,
I want to kneel again at her feet
and lay my head on my mother’s knees.
I want to feel her hands kiss my head and shoulders.
“There, there, everything will be ok.”

She was the cleft of the rock that kept me safe.
I need the lap of her faith, her courage, and her certainty.
I want to be a child again.

*From Alden Nowlen’s poem, He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded

After writing our first poem of the day, we took a break and shared a meal - a feast, actually. There was as always so much food: a big pot of soup, salads, sandwiches - and lots of good conversation with old and new friends, then Richard gave us the assignment for the afternoon.

Writing assignment #2, the Light of the World

The Light Of the World by Derek Walcott and Station Island XI, by Seamus Heaney were the two poems Richard shared with us on Saturday afternoon: the first, a very long and sensual poem full of description - really telling of the phrase, "poetry [prayer] is focused attention". Walcott's narrative poem caught every little detail of a simple bus ride - it's amazing how much he saw and how little we normally see. Then, Heaney's poem, like Walcott's, was also anchored in the real, the seen. Our assignment was to write our own poem/prayer, "a poem where through observation and detail we were to bring to life a sense of The Light of the World, a sense of the presence of the divine, the numinous, so clear, all light radiated from it. To bring alive...through word, the tangible presence of God in our lives."

I remembered just such a scene from my recent trip to Christ in the Desert, in northwestern New Mexico.

An Exodus 3 Moment

She and I sat by the river that day
at Christ in the Desert.
Eucharist spread before us:
Lara brownie bars and water, ice cold from the thermos.
Red river below,
desert cliffs above,
fields of blue-green sage and chamisa bushes all around.

Then I saw it,
as if Moses' angel showed me, too, the way.

I climbed to the place where it stood
eight to ten feet towering over my head.
Brilliant flames of azo yellow and quinacridone gold
leapt toward the heavens;
tongues of fire licked the sky,
and I knew what he
saw that day,
a bush that burned and was not consumed.

I took off my shoes,
and I also stood on holy ground.

After sharing our poems, we went to our traditional dinner at Red Snapper Inn an shared a meal out together.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Poetry Retreat 2017

Well, it's been a while since I wrote, and I just realized I never finished writing about my trip to Italy.  There have been a few interruptions since I last wrote: hurricanes, trips to New Mexico, the World Series (YES, Houston's IN it!), and now here we are, our 9th poetry retreat at Surfside.

We're a small group this year: 7 last night, maybe 8 today. Richard flies down from Canada each Fall, hoping for a little Texas warmth, but he's greeted this year with blustery winds and falling temperatures. It's 47 degrees this morning, with a wind chill of 41. And tonight's supposed to be record lows - in the upper 30's. Here's hoping there's at least some sunshine on our beach today.

This year's theme is: Writing the Ache for God.

Personally, this year my heart's not aching for "God". At least that's my first thought. My mind automatically goes back to my Baptist God, and how my heart used to burn for "Him".  Today, I have no clue where that God is, and my heart aches for something way less - at least that's what it seems. I wrote in my journal a few days ago (trying to find a poem)...what my heart aches for is a normal day. There has been so much upheaval with this new president in office; "normal" is all I want.  And as I wrote, this is what I came up with:

God’s Name is “Normal”

That’s my ache.

No news, just Normal.

No bulletins
No tweets
No broadcasts
No yuge announcements

Easy breath
Simple times and quiet places
White space

That would be enough – a day
of Normal.

Welcome to poetry 101, 2017. I'm really not sure I have anything this Fall. Writing poetry goes deep into the soul. Writing poetry is (for me) hard work, and I don't have a clue if I have any energy for it. I feel all used up just trying to live in the chaotic disappointment and loss of each day. And seriously...God Who? God Where? There is no "Him" in any of this. At least from where I sit - my point of view.

Personally? I'm grateful for the World Series.  It's a wonderful distraction. If God is the Ache, maybe that's God's new name: World Series, or  maybe Distraction.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Day 8B, July 30, Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden

All week long, Richard had been promising a surprise, and like a kid at Christmas, he couldn't contain himself and told us Thursday evening that we were going to The Tarot Garden after the beach. Oh my gosh, I didn't even know there was such a thing and I was so excited.

We got back on the bus and left the beach and Raniero drove us to The Garden near Fiorentio, Italy in Tuscany.  The drive was lovely - just getting to see a little more of Italy.  Then we began to catch glimpses of  The Garden from quite a distance. We began to imagine just how big all of the exibits were.

Beautiful Tuscany

Glimpses of The Garden

Greeted by The Wheel of Fortune

The 10th Arcana of the Tarot is The Wheel of Fortune, an age old symbol of the wheel of life...what goes up must come down.

The Empress

The Empress is the Great Goddess, Queen of the Sky, Mother, Sacred Magic and Civilization. This is where Phalle lived while the park was being built: the bedroom and bath in one boob and the living and dining area in the other. The whole inside is a mozaic of mirrors. I think I would go crazy if I was in there very long...maybe she did just a little.

The Sun

The Sun, Card # 19, the life force that makes everything grow. The sun lifts our spirits and gives us life.

22 Steps, 22 Arcana

The Hierophant

The Hierophant, or Priest Arcana, card #5 gives us knowledge of the sacred, for some a teacher, a guru, a prophet, or Pope. This card/arcana can represent a shaman, a rabbi, a holy man or a holy woman.


The Great Mystery of Life, Death, the 13th arcana, allows new blossoms to grow. This is a card of renewal.

The Devil

The Devil is the 14th arcana and its card represents magnetism, energy, and sex. It also represents the loss of any personal freedom through addiction.

The World

Arcana #21, The World, represents the splendor of the interior life. It's the last of the Major Arcana. Within this card lies the mystery of the World.

The Fool

The 0 card, no number, but still a number. This card represents the person on a spiritual quest, not knowing where they're going, but being led and ready for discovery, the hero of the fairy tale, a little dim witted, but able to find "treasure" where others have failed. (S)he has few possessions and travels light.

Nancy and Tonya standing on the 10th step, underneath The Sun

The Hanged Man - the base

The Hanged Man is the 12th card. This was one of my favorite pieces. It was all black and white on once side, then boldy brightly colored on the other. And the tiles on the black and white side had stuff written all over them. I could have stayed there for a while.

The Hanged Man on the top

Moving around The Hanged Man to the color side

One of the first mandalas I ever "received" was a black and white mandala. That's how I used to see the world - everything was either/or. It was all black and white. My daddy used to say that if it wasn't black and white, something would be gray, but he was wrong. To stop seeing in black and white is to begin to see in color, bright, vivid color. The world becomes beautiful and colorful, full and diverse!

Jodi peeking inside and seeing the "hanged man"

The Hanged Man

The "Hanged Man" hangs suspended by one foot, upside down. So...what does that mean? To hang upside down is to begin to get a different point of view.  As a side note, the caterpiller hangs upside down before it becomes a butterfly. In order to stop seeing everything as black/white, either/or, one has to "hang upside down", get a different perspective, and lo and behold, the world is now full of color! No longer either/or, but both/and!

From black and white to full-blown color

Perhaps I love this one so much because I feel like it's "my story". I've been there/here. I had my black and white world totally blown to bits a few years ago, and I'm so grateful for the time I spent "hanging upside down", wondering what the heck is going on? It was a confusing time, but one that I'm so very grateful for.


Lady Justice, Card #8, in order to aquire the ability to judge oneself, we have to come to terms with our dark side. It's only then that we can begin to judge others with compassion. Real justice isn't blind, but brings a vision of universality.

The wheels of Justice move slowly

The Emperor - we'll talk about him later.

The Choice (the Lovers)

Card 9, Adam and Eve, the first couple made the first choice. The card implies there is a "wrong way" and a "right way". A choice has to be made, but making a mistake can bring one closer to the truth of ourselves. I've learned not to fear mistakes. The freedom to choose is huge for me, both politically and spiritually. Without the freedom of choice, we cannot become fully who we are, nor can we be expected to be responsible for our actions. Freedom to choose is vital - it has been from the very beginning.

The Hermit

Card #9, an experienced wanderer, searching for spiritual treasure. This card implies tha tthe most important lessons are learned through the heart.

Me taking a selfie looking through all the broken mirrors


The Oracle, the female version of the Hermit.
Step inside and listen to her message. She has important things to say.

The cat, Richard!

Headed to The Emperor

The Emperor is HUGE! Card 4, represents masculine power, for good or for mad. He is a symbol of organization and aggression. He has brought us U.S. Science and medicine, but also weapons of war. He represents the Patriarch or the Male Protector. The desires control. As an aside, there are thousands of "penises" on this thing - all little sharp round protruding pieces...crazy.

They were everywhere -VERY important, you know.

Woops, Jodi found one!

We both laughed a lot! Just kind of got her when
 she backed up to have her picture made.

Years ago, when Jim and I first married and were planning what kind of home we wanted, he always teased me about having a little boy peeing in the fountain - in fact, he said, we could have a bunch of them up either side of the driveway - lots of little boys peeing in a fountain. So, THIS is my response to that!

Couldn't pass it up - don't have a clue who they are, but...

Tonya, trying to take it all in - it was a bit much!
Kathy and Jodi making their way down


Nancy and Tonya
From the Emporer to The Empress

I'm a big lover of the Black Madonna, and I love the fact that Phalle chose to make the Goddess black. The Empress is the 3rd Arcana, card #3. It still amazes me that Phalle lived inside those big boob for nearly 2 years.

Kathy inside the Emperess, in the dining area.

Feminine energy

The kitchen

The Chariot

The Chariot, card 7, represents victory. It is the card of triumpy over adversaries and over problems. An inherent danger in victory? One has to be vigilant, because whe one if triumphant, one is most fragile.

The bathroom

What a tub!

Her bedroom


Temperance, card 14, sometimes seems the opposite of passion, but I think it's more closely aligned with "balance". It's not a middle-of-the-road, lukewarm response, but a balanced response.

You DO know that the snake is a symbol of the Feminine.
I love that she's just flat not afraid to take her place right here!


Strength, Card 11, the picture of a "frail maiden" leading a ferocious dragon by an invisible thread. The Monster she must tame is insider herself, her own inner demons. Yep, been there - I revisit her daily.

So, THAT'S The Tarot Garden! I've never seen anything quite like it. For most of my life, the Tarot has been a mystery - well, closer to a "sin". I was warned about tarot cards from a very early age, and avoided them until I got into my 50's. It's another one of those things that I just finally realized  I needed to debunk for myself. I spent quite a long time a number of years ago ploughing my way through Meditations on the Tarot, by Valentin Tomberg, because one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault, recommended it. It took me a long time to read, and much longer to even begin to get a handle on. It's a really dense book, but the best thing that happened is room was made for me to think about the Tarot without all my hangups - one of those "Monstors" I had to fight. I even bought my own Tarot cards, and I've had readings done a few times. I found it quite a task to do my own readings because there was so much to learn, but one of the other little gifts of this trip to Italy is that my new friend Sarah has been reading her cards for nearly 30 years. She showed me a very simple way to read them, and I've done it a few times since I've been home. I find it strangely validating. I learned a very long time ago that Love really, REALLY wants us free, and Divine Love really, really wants to communicate with us, and just flat isn't at all intimidated by our beliefs about what's "safe" or "Christian" or not.

The enegy of The Gardens was crazy ADHD type energy, and it left most of us worn out and feeling a littel frazzled, YET (both/and!), it was one of most favorite adventures. I'm so glad we went. I've never seen anything like it, and may never again. Thank you Richard!

A nice quiet dinner at La Romita when we got back. Dinner with friends - it's a good way to ground all that crazy energy.

The explanation of each of the cards/arcana came from Niki de Saint Phalle's book on The Tarot Garden.