Friday, May 26, 2017


Margaret hosts the round up today at Reflections on the Teche. Wishing you a morning filled with espresso, soothing music, and steaming green grass. 

by Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day, 
the swale of the afternoon, 
the sudden dip into evening, 

then night with his notorious perfumes, 
his many-pointed stars? 

This is the best— 
throwing off the light covers, 
feet on the cold floor, 
and buzzing around the house on espresso— 

maybe a splash of water on the face, 
a palmful of vitamins— 
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso, 

dictionary and atlas open on the rug, 
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head, 
a cello on the radio, 

and, if necessary, the windows— 
trees fifty, a hundred years old 
out there, 
heavy clouds on the way 
and the lawn steaming like a horse 
in the early morning. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pondering: Feelings

The 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross reminds us that, as wonderful and consoling as feelings of God's presence might be, they are not God. All consolations and spiritual gifts, he reminds us, are finite and as such are infinitely less than God, who is infinite. We are not to reject any consolations that may come along. But neither are we to cling to whatever consolations or other spiritual gifts we may experience. For God made our hearts in such a way that only God will do.

From Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God by James Finley

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pondering: Rooms

“There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emtional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”
       ― Rumer Godden

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pondering: Goblins and Princesses

“It was foolish indeed - thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”
       ― George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

“I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” 
       ― George MacDonald

“ is so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing whatever to do with all that. The right old age means strength and beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes and strong painless limbs.”
      ― George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

Friday, May 5, 2017

Passing Through Albuquerque

Photograph by Kenneth Park (NARA)

I'm traveling today and will be enjoying some rest time and some work time over the next two weeks. While my journeys will keep me in the Deep South, I enjoyed this poem from the Southwest. Wherever your feet take you this week, I hope you find joy. 

Jama has the round up today at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Passing Through Albuquerque
by John Balaban

At dusk, by the irrigation ditch 
gurgling past backyards near the highway, 
locusts raise a maze of calls in cottonwoods. 

 A Spanish girl in a white party dress 
strolls the levee by the muddy water 
where her small sister plunks in stones. 

 Beyond a low adobe wall and a wrecked car 
men are pitching horseshoes in a dusty lot. 
Someone shouts as he clangs in a ringer. 

 Big winds buffet in ahead of a storm, 
rocking the immense trees and whipping up 
clouds of dust, wild leaves, and cottonwool. 

 In the moment when the locusts pause 

Read the rest here

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pondering: Reach

Today is the first Thursday of the month and time for my Spiritual Journey Thursday post. Today we are focusing on Donna's One Little Word for the year, REACH. You can enjoy other perspectives on reaching by stopping in at Donna's website, Mainely Write.

I posted a piece of a poem a few weeks ago that has spoken so deeply to me. As I think of this idea of reaching, I keep coming back to it again and again. You can read the first stanza here and the full poem here.

This ache for eternal beauty draws us forward, keeps us reaching beyond what we can see, beckons us from our present circumstances to a deeper understanding of our source of beauty, of life, of eternity. 

It reminds me of something Paul said in his letter the the church a Phillipi. 

"I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward..."

from Soul’s Eternal Rapture
by St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395)
translated by Scott Cairns in Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics
And thus, at every point
         she learns that each
                new splendor is to be
eclipsed by what is to come--
         the ever-exceeding
                Beautiful that draws, and calls
and leads the beloved
          to a beauty of her own.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Meet Abigail Carroll

Before I start today's post, I'm looking for Jen Hdez who won a copy of Here We Go from Janet and Sylvia. Jen, please contact me so I can get the book to you. JoAnn Early Macken hosts the roundup today at Teaching Authors. And now on to my friend Abby!

Photo by Women's Water Alliance

Dear Francis,

The shower head is broken.

I've been bucketing water from the faucet,
            ladling it over my shoulders
and hair,

letting it run down my back.

This is how so many 
            have done it before
and somewhere in the world even now--

a slow, monk-like cupping
             and pouring. 

There is something about the breaking

and re-breaking of water
            over the arc of the body--

with each down flow,

            a baptism.


© Abigail Carroll, 2017, Eerdmans.

I am very pleased to introduce you today to Abigail Carroll. I have to admit that Abby is a virtual friend I discovered about this time last year when I shared one of her poems called "Spring Forward."

Abby's new book,  A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim, is a collection of forty personal letters to Francis. The book is described as "part devotion, part historical biography, part contemporary engagement, and part inspiration—reveal her curiosity and wonder about Francis. She also uses Francis as a sounding board for larger questions about the world—and, through her own experience, explores how brokenness makes experiencing redemption possible."

Abby's poetry has appeared in Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide (Paraclete Press, 2016) as well as in a variety of magazines and journals, including The Anglican Theological Review, The Christian Century, Crab Orchard Review, Midwest Quarterly, River Oak Review, Sojourners, Spiritus, and Terrain.

Her prose has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Boston Globe, and her first book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, was a finalist for the Zocalo Public Square Book Prize. 

Abby lives in the Burlington area of Vermont, where she serves as pastor of arts and spiritual formation at Church at the Well. She enjoys discovering new swimming holes and photographing nature.

You can find Abby on Twitter @ACarrollPoet or explore her website here.

Dori: You first became interested in St. Francis as a girl of ten during a trip with your family to Assisi. Was poetry a part of your life at this age? Was there a specific poetic voice that appealed to you?

Abby: I wrote my first poem at a young age—probably around the age of 6 or 7—and I remember my grandfather submitting it to the local newspaper, which published it probably for its cuteness factor rather than any literary value. I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millet at age 9 and thought her poem “Afternoon on a Hill” was exquisite: I wanted to step into it and “be the gladdest thing under the sun,” to “touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.” My sixth-grade English teacher required us to memorize a poem each month—a fairly old-fashioned assignment these days, but one for which I am immensely grateful—and several of those poems have remained with me over the years like longtime companions. 

The voice of the poems in A Gathering of Larks reflects the influence of Canadian poet Susan McCaslin, whose chapbook of letters to William Blake planted the idea to write a series of letters to someone in history. As I was thinking about who, I remembered my deep sense of intrigue as a ten-year-old in Assisi, walking the streets Francesco Bernardone walked, visiting his tomb, and seeing the sites associated with his life. Writing these letters was like revisiting Assisi—a return to my childhood sense of wonder.

Dori: You describe Francis as a troubadour, a poet, and a hopeless romantic. Do you have a favorite from Francis’ songs?

Abby: “The Canticle of the Sun” stands out. Francis’s sense of affinity with the earth was not just remarkable, but truly radical and unique for his time. He not only held deep respect for creation, but saw himself as part of its song—a larger song of praise articulated continuously by the elements and creatures. A troubadour was a traveling composer of songs, mostly songs of courtly love. “Canticle of the Sun” is a praise song to the Creator, but also a love song to creation.

Dori: Tell us about your perspective of letters as a literary form. Are you a letter writer in everyday life?

Abby: As a literary form, I believe letters travel the intersection of poetry and narrative. A correspondence (even just one side of a correspondence) tells a story, but it does so with many holes. The story emerges not just from the content of the letters, but from the spaces between the content. A letter is an intimate form of communication: a first-person address usually to a single reader and not meant for a wider audience. So when letters become literature (or literature takes the form of letters), the letter invites the reader into a person or character’s spiritual landscape quite compellingly.

Sadly, I am not much of a letter writer. I think I would have been a dedicated letter writer had I lived in an earlier era, but electronic communication has managed to undermine my inclinations to pen correspondence by hand. Writing these letters to Saint Francis gave me a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in a letter-writing era. Letters are a particularly satisfying genre to write in. They are like a conversation in slow motion with a bit of contemplation added to the mix.

Dori: I am intrigued by your salutations and closings. These seem to function much as titles and themes for the poems. Did you think of them this way as you were writing or was it something you came back to in revisions?

Abby: I embarked on each letter by writing a salutation as a way to remind myself that I was writing letters first and poetry second. Francis’s personality had many facets, so addressing him in different ways (Dear Francesco, Dear Lover of Lady Poverty, Dear Advocate for Wonder) helped me to hone in on the theme or aspect of his life I wanted to engage in a given letter. Writing the salutations and valedictions was one of the most fun and gratifying aspects of the penning these letters. Salutations helped me set the tone and direction of a letter right from the start, and valedictions offered an opportunity to confirm that tone or, by contrast, introduce an unexpected twist at the end, lightening up a serious poem or adding gravity to a whimsical poem. The valedictions also became a way of exploring my own identity in light of my relationship with Francis. 

Dear Lover of Light,

There lived a priest
so in love with light
it drove him mad.
Paint was his thing.
When he could no longer
preach, he hopped a train
south, took up a brush,
turned zinc and lead
and chrome
into gaudy, wild-
petaled ambassadors 
of the dawn. He slapped
stars as big a brooches
on the sky, danced
crows across bowing fields
of wheat, exalted a bowl
of onions, a bridge, a pipe,
a chair, a bed. Postmen
and prostitutes
were his friends--
so too were irises,
almond trees,
clouds. Francis,
if you think of painting 
as a kind of song, he too
canticled the sun.

A Vincent enthusiast

© Abigail Carroll, 2017, Eerdmans.

Dori: You said, “A poet is always asking her poem what it can do without.” This is a lovely way of describing the process of writing poetry. Does the culling happen instinctively for you or in revision or both. Can you tell us more?

Abby: Revision starts off quite organically for me. As I write a line, I work and rework it until it feels strong enough to become the springboard for the rest of the poem. And then I find myself working and reworking the second line until it feels strong enough to support the following line. I’ve noticed that lines give birth to lines, so a line is often only as strong as the one it issues from. 
I revise as I write, but I also revise again after stepping away from for a time. The more distance I’ve gained, the more freedom I feel to play with the poem’s arrangement. I’ll often ask myself whether the poem should start with a different line, perhaps the second line or the last line. In terms of culling, I find that the rougher my draft, the more extraneous words it contains. To a point, the more words I remove, the stronger the poem becomes. 

Dori: One writer I know says that dialog calls us into being. Did you have a sense of discovering things about yourself as you conversed with Francis?

Abby: Absolutely! Writing these letters brought Francis into being for me in a way I could not have predicted. I related to him, not just learned about him. And when I finished the letters, I felt a certain sadness, as though a dear friend had moved away. Penning the letters started out as a literary project but became a spiritual exercise. And, as in any spiritual exercise, I ended up learning a great deal about myself. 

Francis became a mirror in which I saw my life and experiences in new ways. His irrepressible delight in nature invited me to cultivate my own delight in the tiny natural treasures of my backyard, where I spent most of the summer I wrote book, with my broken foot up in a cast. His audacity to follow his convictions in unconventional ways, giving up his wealth and status to care for lepers and rebuild dilapidated churches, planted a seed of desire in me to devote myself to the callings and convictions of my heart rather than to the agenda that the world has for me. One of those callings was to the write the letters that form this book.

Dori: Do you have a favorite letter from the book for us to close the interview?

Abby: One of my favorite letters is the second, a reflection on planting my garden. I always plant seeds too close, unable to imagine that each will actually become the full-sized plant pictured on the package. Planting, here, becomes a metaphor for faith, but the poem is also about the mysterious purposes of a life, which I liken to a seed that must die before it can bear fruit, and which will never actually see the full picture of the life it produces. In a similar way, Francis never saw the full picture of his influence, which continues to bear fruit across the globe today. Likewise, we are only afforded a small glimpse of the fruit born from the love, faithfulness, and good works in our lives.  

Dear Brother Francis,

Time to plant, time to press my nails
in dirt, 
             resurrect the earth with chives,

Swiss chard, basil, beans. The shed

is dark, winter still stuck in its shingles
and boards,
            trowels, gloves, watering cans,

pots. Francis, I am learning to have faith

in seeds. Every year, I drop the grains
too close,
            thinking only a few will stem

and leaf. I do not trust the package notes,

I do not space punctilious rows or calculate
their depths. 
            It seems to me no life can rise

from dust--and yet it does: year after year

this plot turns a weedy, flowering jungle
of green. 
            What if the whole of a life (yours,

say, or mine) is simply this--a tiny germ

of wheat sleeping in a bed of soil?
The crop
            this shell will one day yield it will

never actually see. All it can do is dream.

A Green Thumb

© Abigail Carroll, 2017, Eerdmans.

Dori:  And here is one of my favorites from Francis.