31 Days: What is the Still Point?

It’s the second day of my 31 day blogging commitment and I’m already behind! But since, as T. S. Eliot says, “What might have been and what has been/Point to one end, which is always present,” I will move on from what I didn’t do yesterday and write in the present moment.

For really, isn’t that what the still point at the center of the turning world is? Me. Now. I am the still point of my life. You are the still point of yours. The great and complex world spins around us, and though we may feel caught up in its chaos, we are only ever in the present moment, doing the work that is in front of us to do.

I want to open my hands – to let yesterday’s mistakes and tomorrow’s worries clatter to the ground. Right now I am here, in the quiet dark of the early morning, the stillness like the intake of breath before the exhale. Soon my family will be awake. Soon breakfast will be made and lunches packed and husbands and children sent out the door. And there is a centering point also, in the work of our hands, work well done, tasks completed.

Today, I hope to be where I am, and only there. There is peace in that.

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31 Days

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31 days, 31 posts, one subject. A little daunting, a lot exciting. I found this challenge here. I wanted something to keep me writing, so I’m going for it. Like the title of my blog, “At the still point of the turning world” is a T.S. Eliot quote—broad enough to fill 31 days of posts, narrow enough to keep me focused. Read the whole poem here.

I’m always looking for the still point—I want to hold onto it, rest in it, live in it, even though I can’t fully explain what it is. But here are 31 chances to dig deeper. (As I post new entries in the series, I will update the list below with links for each day.)

Day #1: What Is the Still Point?
Day #2: 5-Year-Old Theology
Day #3: Henri Nouwen on Standing Still
Day #4: An Empty Sink
Day #5: Thomas Merton and the Still Flame
Day #6: A Moment of Contentment
Day #7: Cyber Monday – The Day After
Day #8
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Day #31:

Cool Air

I’ve been away for a long time.

But the lethargic and stifling season I’ve been in is slowly disappearing into cooler, clearer days.

I’m energized by the change. If spring is the world newly born—pale, sweet and unfurling—then fall is the world in its prime—bright, outrageous and sharp.

I’m beginning to dream again…

that I can write;

that I can make some work out of being creative;

that joy always returns;

that I will re-find and remember who I am.

Fresh start.

365 days stretching out into the distance, all clean, empty and waiting to be filled. A whole year of days, as Anne says, “with no mistakes in them yet.” It feels good to stand here at the beginning looking forward. It makes sense that the new year arrives in the dead of winter. The cold feels cleansing. The empty trees and hard dirt feel like a beginning, like something waiting, preparing to start over.

I’ve heard people say that new year resolutions never last, or that if you’re serious about change you shouldn’t wait until the new year to get started. I think any opportunity to take stock start again is a good one. Aren’t our lives full of missteps, failings, mistakes, and equally, chances to restart, try again and do better? That’s the hope of being human.

Here are some of the things I’m going to try for in the coming year.

  1. Eat healthier, exercise regularly and lose a good bit of weight.I know, I know. Everyone says this. But I’ve gained a good thirty pounds over the course of having my three children, and since I don’t plan on having any more babies any time soon, it’s time to get rid of it. I love food too much to do any drastic diets (and according to every doctor in the world, diets don’t work anyway), so I’m trying to find ways to make healthy eating creative and interesting. Look for my food posts to follow this trend.
  2. Get up earlier. I have discovered that if I wake up before my kids our days are much  better. It’s tempting to lay in bed until Seamus comes into the room, especially with a newborn that’s still waking up for nighttime feedings. It’s even more tempting to turn on the t.v. for him while I doze a little longer. But for whatever reason, every time I do that, he’s grumpier, I’m more lethargic, and our days are more frustrating. If I get up first, have my coffee, say a ten second prayer for help, and give at least a passing thought to organizing my day, the whole family is happier.
  3. Plug in less. With a laptop, smart phone, and the Kindle Fire we received for Christmas, it’s easy for a mama trapped in kidland to distract herself all day. I want to be more present to my children. With three kids under four, part-time work and a home to run, I’m distracted enough. When I’m with them, I want them to know I’m really with them, not just sitting in the same room.
  4. Write more. Writing gives me life. It’s who I am. No matter what the end result is, when I’m writing, I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. That’s a necessary feeling.

There are a hundred other things I want to do more of, get better at, or try for the first time, but these four are more than enough to get me going. Happy new year. Happy fresh start.

Third time’s the charm.

He finally arrived, our little Eamon Joseph, and I’m feeling…pretty good. I was preparing to face an onslaught of hormones, sleeplessness, stress and mayhem in these early infant days. And the onslaught has come. But somehow I’m still…ok.

I’m surprised, and to tell you the truth, a little bit skeptical. I keep waiting to collapse. But I haven’t yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally learned that in the face of an onslaught sometimes the best response is surrender. It’s not any easier, but I’ve accepted that it’s not easy. And in letting the hard parts in – the exhaustion, frazzled moments, messes, boxed macaroni and cheese dinners (or even, sometimes, peanut butter and jelly dinners) – you also let in all the good stuff.

I’ve been able to love this little boy with more abandon and less anxiety than either of my other children. I don’t love him any more than my older ones. I’ve just been able to love him more freely, earlier. And for that I am so grateful. Because it’s true what they say – they do grow up so fast. And I am soaking in every second of babyhood Eamon can give me. The baby smell, the velvety hair, the tiny fingers, toes and nails. Even the lonely intimacy of night nursings. Sappy, I know. But if you have children, you understand how precious these things are. And if you don’t, oh, just wait until you do.

Waiting.

Today is the due date for my third child. I don’t think we will be meeting him or her today. I was sure I was in labor earlier this week, making each day that has passed since seem like a wasted eternity, especially since my husband’s paternity leave is ticking away, minute by minute.

I’ve tried everything. Spicy food. Walking. Vigorous housework. The baby is staying put for now. There is nothing we can do but wait – and meditate on the common, everyday, messy, breathtaking miracle of birth.

And trust me, right now I feel like a mess. I’m forty pounds heavier than I was 9 months ago. My feet, face and hands are swollen. Even my maternity clothes are getting too small, my thighs filling out my jeans like sausages, my belly peeking nakedly out from underneath my stretched-too-far t-shirts. All the extra flesh and blood hung on my skeleton makes me ache everywhere – feet, back, knees. My stomach and lungs have been pushed rudely to the corners of my chest cavity, so that acts as basic as breathing and eating are uncomfortable.

And that’s just the physical part. I haven’t told you yet about the crying fits, the anxiety of an unplanned third child when I am unemployed and my youngest is not even 2 years old yet. The stress on our marriage. The fear that says to me every day, “There’s no way you can do this.”

And yet, I am the house of something holy. Somewhere, some part of my spirit has said, “This is my body. Not my will but yours be done.” Beneath the cathedral vault of my rib cage, a fully formed little human rests in that sacred space, waiting to emerge into the first of all of the days of its life.

Like Mary, I have said yes. Perhaps not consciously, perhaps not even graciously. But if my other children have taught me anything, it is that even when I feel like I’m drowning in inadequacy, frustration, sleeplessness, busyness, noise, and every other sacrifice that comes along with parenting, my head bobs just above the water, buoyed by unfathomable love.

So we wait for you, little one.  We wait to find out who you are. We wait to see why you were given to our family. We wait to give you a name and a home. We wait,despite everything, in joyful hope.

Inspiration going into the week – Bob Dylan

I’ve been clinging to this song in recent days. More on why later. I’ve been listening to the unreleased version on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3, which I much prefer to the official release. If you’d like to listen to or buy the song, you can do so here, and I really recommend that you do.

Every Grain of Sand

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

Inspiration going into the week: Mary Karr

Disgraceland

Before my first communion, I clung to doubt
as Satan spider-like stalked
the orb of dark surrounding Eden

 

for a wormhole into paradise.
God had formed me from gel in my mother’s womb,
injected by my dad’s smart shoot.

 

They swapped sighs until
I came, smaller than a bite of burger.
Quietly, I grew till my lungs were done

 

then the Lord sailed a soul
like a lit arrow to inhabit me.
Maybe that piercing

 

made me howl at birth,
or the masked creatures whose scalpel
cut a lightning bolt to free me.

 

I was hoisted by the heels and swatted, fed
and hauled around. Time-lapse photos show
my fingers grow past crayon outlines,

 

my feet come to fill spike heels.
Eventually, I lurched out
to kiss the wrong mouths, get stewed,

 

and sulk around. Christ always stood
to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away.

 

When my thirst got great enough to ask,
a clear stream welled up inside,
some jade wave buoyed me forward,

 

and I found myself upright
in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish.

 

There, the arbor leafs.
The vines push out plump grapes.
You are loved, someone said. Take that

 

and eat it.
Mary Karr, Poetry

Crustless Quiche

When your cupboard is bare, make quiche. Better yet, make crustless quiche. The thing that used to keep me from making quiche was never having a pie crust on hand, and not wanting to go through the trouble of home-making one. Problem solved with crustless quiche. I almost always have eggs, cheese and milk on hand, and the beautiful thing about quiche is that if you have that, you can toss in almost anything else – chopped up leftover ham or chicken, those last few strips of bacon that aren’t quite enough to cook for family breakfast, that half-bag of frozen spinach rattling around in the freezer. Don’t add meat, and it’s a good meal for Fridays in Lent, one that my husband will actually eat.

Here’s the recipe. I made it with the breadcrumb crust, and found that the egg mixture seeped through the crumb bottom, making it more like a strata than the firm, eggy custard I usually expect quiche to be. Still good.

Crustless Quiche Master Recipe
from Food Network Kitchens

Ingredients

2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese

Optional Quick Crust:
(NOTE: I used storebought breadcrumbs.)
1 1/2 cups bread cubes, preferably sourdough
2 tbsp unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
9 inch glass or ceramic pie pan

Custard:
2 cups half-and-half
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
pinch cayenne or paprika

Fillings:
2 to 3 cups prepared vegetables, such as braised leeks, broccoli, sauteed onions, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, tomatoes
4 ounces, or about 1 cup grated or crumbled cheese, such as Cheddar, goat cheese, Gruyere, Parmesan, fontina, provolone, mozzarella, Gouda, solo or combined
1 to 4 tablespoons minced herbs, such as parsley, chives, tarragon, basil, dill, rosemary, marjoram
3/4 cup chopped crisp bacon, diced ham or salami
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, optional, this is good to use with vegetables that release liquid during cooking, such as zucchini and spinach

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. For the pan: Brush pan with the soft butter and sprinkle the grated Parmesan evenly on top. Or for a Quick Crust, pulse bread into crumbs in a food processor. Heat butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add bread crumbs and stir until evenly toasted, about 5 minutes. Evenly spread crumbs in a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie pan. Place pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk the half-and-half, eggs and yolks in large glass measuring cup. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, cayenne or paprika to taste. Spread half the desired filling evenly in the pan, top with about half the cheese; repeat with remaining filling and cheese. Pour the custard over the fillings. Top with more herbs or cheese as desired.

Bake until the quiche is just set in the center, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.