Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Merry Christmas to all of my great friends in the blogging community!  Your names are too numerous to mention individually, but you know who you are.  Throughout this year, you have lifted my spirits and enriched my life with your words, your images, your ideas, and your creativity.  Staying connected with you has been nothing less that soul-work for me, and I am deeply grateful for your stabilizing presence is a world that often seems to be imploding.

I extend my heartfelt wishes that you and your families will find great love, peace, and joy during the holiday season.  May you reap the abundant treasures envisioned by John O'Donohue in his fine blessing, For Equilibrium:

                             Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
                             May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

                             As the wind loves to call things to dance,
                             May your gravity be lightened by grace.

                             Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
                             May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

                             As water takes whatever shape it is in,
                             So free may you be about who you become.

                             As silence smiles on the other side of what's said,
                             May your sense of irony bring perspective.

                             As time remains free of all that it frames,
                             May your mind stay clear of all it names.

                             May your prayer of listening deepen enough
                             To hear in the depths the laughter of God.


Thursday, December 15, 2011


If there is one thing clear about the centuries dominated by the factory and the wheel, it is that although the machine can make anything from a spoon to a landing-craft, a natural joy in earthly living is something it never has and never will be able to manufacture.

Henry Beston

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of the fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

Richard Feynman 

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

Rachel Carson 

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
 John Muir

Only spread a fern-frond over a man's head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.
John Muir 

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.  This mysterious unity and integrity is wisdom, the mother of all . . . There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and joy.  It rises up in wordless gentleness, and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being.
Thomas Merton 

Look!  Look!  Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.

Albert Einstein

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.
E.B. White 

The earth laughs in flowers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I begin to see an object when I cease to understand it.

Henry David Thoreau

Wisdom begins in wonder.


                                         i thank You God for this most amazing
                                         day: for the leaping greenly spirit of trees
                                         and a blue dream of sky; and for everything
                                         which is natural which is infinite which is yes

e.e. cummings

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

Lao Tzu

The world will never starve for wonder, but only for want of wonder.

C.K. Chesterton

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on—have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear—what remains?  Nature remains.

Walt Whitman

Notes on Photos:  All photos were taken in the last couple of days here in coastal South Carolina. 

Monday, December 5, 2011


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about "thin places," a concept which has its roots in Celtic spirituality.  According to my understanding, "thin places" are those places where the boundary between the material world and the divine realm becomes so thin, so porous and permeable, that we can experience the total fullness of reality.  A thin place can be a geographical place, of course, but it can also be a poem, a person, a work of art, a piece of music, an experience with nature—any situation that lifts the veil, dissolves our preconceptions, and offers a glimpse, if only fleetingly, of the divine mystery of the non-material world.

While reading What I Believe, by the iconoclastic Swiss theologian Hans Kung, I came across a passage that speaks eloquently, I think, of the thin places created by certain music.  Mozart is the focus of Kung's musical passion, but what he says strikes me as relevant to other types of music, indeed any music that opens one's eyes to the formless reality beyond the intellectual forms (preconceptions, e.g.) that permeate our thinking.  While I can find thin places in certain classical music, I can also find them in other types of music.

So on with the quote.  Here is Hans Kung speaking of his experience with the music of Mozart:
Sometimes when studying or relaxing, I open myself to the music, let it flow into me, and abandon myself completely to it, not only with the intelligence of the head, which is necessary for scholarship, but with the intelligence of the heart which binds, integrates, communicates totality.
It is this experience that draws me back to this music time and again.  If I am listening to Mozarts' music utterly and intensely, without outside disturbances, alone at home or sometimes at a concert, my eyes close and I suddenly feel that the body of sound is no longer outside me but part of my being.  It is the music that now embraces me, permeates me and resounds from within.  What has happened?  I sense that I am wholly turned inwards with eyes and ears, body and spirit: the I is silent and everything external, any subject—object split, ceases to exist.  The music is no longer outside me but is what embraces me, permeates me, brings me happiness from within, fulfills me completely.  The phrase that occurs to me is: 'In it we live and move and have our being.'
This is a saying from the New Testament, from the apostle Paul's speech on the Areopagus in Athens, where he speaks of seeking and finding God, who is not remote from any of us, in whom we live and move and are . . . Truly more than any other music, with its sensual-nonsensual beauty, power and clarity Mozart's music seems to show how fine and narrow the boundary is between music, the most unobjective of all the arts, and religion, which has always especially had to do with music. Both, though different, point to the ultimately unspeakable, to the mystery.  And though music must not become a religion of art, the art of music is the most spiritual of all symbols for that 'mystical sanctuary of our religion,' of which Mozart once spoke, the divine itself.
The conclusion is that Mozart's music is not proof of God but even more not a pointer to pessimism and nihilism.  On the contrary, sensitive listeners will sometimes find themselves opening up, in that reasonable trust which transcends reason.  With this fine hearing they may then perceive a wholly Other in the pure, utterly internalized sound, say, of the adagio of the clarinet concerto; the sound of the beautiful in its infinity, indeed the sound of the infinite that transcends us and for which 'beautiful' is not a word.  So music is a 'tuning in' to a higher harmony. 
Six words literally jump out of this last paragraph for me—"that reasonable trust which transcends reason."  Thin places, including music which dissolves the boundaries of thought, are good places to find that trust.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Inspired by recent postings of several other bloggers, including my friend, Ruth, author of Synch-ro-ni-zing, I have decided to pull back the curtain on the study in which I read, write, and ponder questions that will never be answered.  In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I must confess that that these photos—taken on the morning of my departure for a few months in South Carolina— suggest a level of neatness that is rarely found in my little sanctuary.  On most days, the study is cluttered with books on the floor, mail and periodicals on the desk, an myriad other items that a more organized person would have disposed of promptly and properly (e.g., abandoned coffee cups, opened maps, computer cables I don't understand, and shoes taken off the night before).

My study (header photo) is a converted bedroom that is furnished with a few of my paintings, a photo of my first yellow lab ("Baci"), three bookcases, and the desk and credenza that are holdovers from my days of practicing law.  

Other than books, furniture, and computer equipment, I do not keep many objects in my study.  On these bookshelves, however, you can see a few objects that I value for spiritual reasons.   On the middle shelf is a hand-thrown begging bowl (made by a potter friend), which is a daily reminder of how little one actually needs to live; a scallop shell (symbol of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela), which is a reminder that every day and every step is part of a pilrimage; and small carved statue of Buddha, which is a reminder that I can always choose peace.  

Beneath the shelves is a beautiful stone with a single word carved into its center: "Create."  Few words in my vocabulary hold as much power and possibility as this word.  

I have finally abandoned the the idea that I can retain all of my favorite books in my house.  Many are in storage and I am finally becoming more comfortable with the idea of donating books to the local library unless there is some reason for not doing so.  What remains in my study are those volumes which invite me to return to their pages frequently—poetry, a few favorite novels, art books, travel books, and a variety of books relating to philosophy, theology, and ancient wisdom traditions.

For the most part, my books are not organized according to author, subject matter, or any other standard.  On this shelf, however, are treasured volumes of two of my favorite authors, Henry Miller and Thomas Merton.  This is the default shelf when I find myself teetering toward despair.  Any volume on this shelf is likely to clear my vision and lift my spirits.

As you can see from this shelf, my reading habits are very eclectic.  Lots of books on religious and spiritual traditions—Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, Hinduism, and the origins of Christianity.  I see some volumes by Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, and Annie Lamott, all of whom I admire.  Others on this shelf are are Krishnamurti, Dante, Emerson, and the poet Stanley Kunitz.  Just in front of the small replica of a bicycle I once owned is my tattered but treasured copy of the great Kazantzakis novel, Zorba the Greek.

This shelf has a bit of almost everything—more Henry Miller, an anthology of the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges, several volumes on yoga, a two-volume anthology of American poetry, the collected works of Yeats, more works by Wendell Berry, a selection Nietzsche's works, and several books on the art of writing.  I also see my copy of Jon Kabat-Zinn's fine book, Full Catastrophe Living.  I'm especially fond of this title because it reminds me of one of the main reasons I have always loved books: They prepare us for the full measure of life, including all of the catastrophes that will be encountered by each of us.

I'm hopelessly addicted to travel books and travel essays, some of which are found on the top shelf here.  I also see a favorite book by Ken Wilber, a compassionate philosopher whom I greatly admire;  several works by Rilke, including Letters to a Young Poet, a small volume which I read at least once every year; and one of my books by Karen Armstrong, a contemporary theologian who has written a number of fine books, including a biography of Buddha.

Looking closer at the bookshelves in the second photo of this post, one can see that I have a rather insatiable interest in various wisdom traditions.  Underpinning this interest is a lifelong desire to understand the common threads that are found in all of these traditions.

On this shelf is a novel, The Sea, by John Banville, a fine Irish novelist whom I have only discovered in the past few years.  There is also a copy of Crossing to Safety, a novel by the late Wallace Stegner, whose work I also greatly admire. Between these novels are several spiritual books,  including the Tao Te Ching and more Krishnamurti.  I also see a couple of French books—additional evidence of my being an unabashed Francophile.

For what I consider to be enlightened discussions of Christianity, I usually turn to iconoclasts such as some of those represented on this shelf—Paul Tillich, Meister Eckhart, and John Shelby Spong.  I also greatly admire the work of Eckhart Tolle, who, like Aldus Huxley in The Perennial Philosophy, has done much to elucidate the core principles that underpin all of the great religions and spiritual traditions.  I'm especially fond of Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth.

Some of my Alan Watts books are found on this shelf.  The writings of Watts were instrumental in introducing me to Zen several decades ago.  Also found on this shelf are several different translations of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, as well as a volume of the Upanishads and some additional works by Krishnamurti.

Well, there you have it—a few glimpses into my sanctuary, one of the places where I can usually find refuge from the outside world and passage into the interior realm. For those who might have the inclination, I would recommend this little exercise, not only because it is always interesting to see the contents of other people's bookshelves, but also because one can discover so much about oneself my simply looking at the favorite books of one's life.  A bookshelf is a better mirror of oneself that a piece of glass.

Friday, September 16, 2011


On an overcast Sunday morning several weeks ago, I found myself in the Carlisle, UK railway station, with two hours to spare before the arrival of the train that would take me to London.  Having just completed my walk of the Hadrian's Wall path, I was still hungry for the incomparable beauty of the English countryside.  Inside the terminal, however, everything appeared to be hard-edged, gray, and lifeless.  The details of individual features seemed to be lost in the sheer vastness of the place.

While these were my initial impressions, I abandoned them immediately because I have learned through the years that we limit our perspective when we confine ourselves to beauty that is obvious.  Whatever the circumstances, there is always another kind of beauty that is calling us.  Its a shy beauty, one that hides from plain sight, one that needs to be seduced.  This is the beauty that attracts painters and photographers.  Like snake charmers, we want to coax beauty out of the shadows, make it visible, let it speak — perhaps even sing — in its own inimitable voice.

Thus motivated, I set out to see if I could find anything of visual interest in the train terminal.  My goal was to find compositions in which something interesting was happening in the dance of light and line, color and texture, shape and shadow. Camera in hand, I simply asked the terminal to speak to me, either loudly or in whispers.

My first shot was beneath the crosswalk that towered above the tracks.  I loved the geometrical aspects of this view, the contrast between the intense colors and the neutral stone walls, and the continuity of the blues from the crosswalk's ceiling to the doors and stair rails.

After walking to the other side of the tracks, I took this shot because I loved the juxtaposition of colors and lines — the red bench in contrast with the backdrop of greens (placing complementary colors next to one another always creates intensity) and the diagonal lines of the ramp rail in contrast with the vertical and horizontal lines that otherwise dominate the composition.

This composition appealed to me for several reasons.  First, it has two situations (luggage carts and the row of columns on stairs) in which there are repetitions of form, which always help to establish unity in any composition.  Second, the intensity of the colors in the door and the stairs offers an interesting contrast with the neutral grays of the remainder of the composition.

The reflections in this window to a small cafe also caught my interest.  They seem to create a triptych, with the lower third being somewhat whimsical, the middle third revealing an mysterious interior, and the top third revealing the complex geometrical lines of the terminal roof.

Turning back toward the tracks and looking upward, I found myself entertained by the  abstract designs of the steel and glass work in the train station's roof.

I found the above composition to be interesting because it was asymmetrical but balanced, and the three primary colors screamed with intensity against the background of the neutral walls and walkway.  The question that remained, however, was whether the photo would be improved by eliminating the yellow cone and thereby simplifying the composition.  That photo is below, and I think I like it a little better.  There is something to be said, however, for finding three, intense primary colors against a neutral background.

Finally, before boarding my train, I took this little abstract (below) from the face of some kind of industrial storage locker.  I liked the texture, the dominance of the turquoise blue, and the radiance that is often exuded from things that have been in use for a long time.

That's it.  Nothing more than a few musings about photography — a passion of mine — as I remember waiting in the Carlisle railway station for my train to London.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Saturday, September 10, 2011


RobertDominic, and I celebrated the end of the fifth day of the walk with a fine dinner at the local pub in Newtown.  As planned, Dominic returned home later that evening, and Robert and I left the following morning for Carlisle, where Robert would catch his train home and I would spend the night before the final day's walk to Bowness-on-Solway.

Between Newtown and Bowness-on-Solway, there is little remaining evidence of Hadrian's Wall, though one occasionally sees the vallum and ditch that once flanked the southern and northern edges of the wall, respectively.  One hardly misses the Roman stoneworks, however, for this section of the walk has its own charms — woodland paths, wildflowers, quaint cottages, and a delightful stroll along the River Eden before reaching the interesting town of Carlisle.  It was a fitting time to reflect upon what a wonderful trip this had been.

Day 6:  Newtown to Carlisle

Woodlands Path

Cottage Along the Path


Through a Field

Knapweed and Yarrow (I think) Between the Path and the River Eden

Taking a Break

Named "Linstock Cottage," this working farm  is an
extension of the fortified remains of Linstock Castle.

Path Shared With Cycleway Near Carlisle

 Carlisle Town Center and Market Hall

An Fascinating Exhibit On Walls That Divide and Separate Us

After Robert's train departed from Carlisle in the afternoon, I went to the Tullie House and Museum and saw an exhibit on walls that have been constructed throughout the world to divide and separate populations.  I wanted to see the exhibit because it was a fitting reminder that, in many respects, we are still approaching our problems as Hadrian did when he ordered the construction of the Roman wall in the early 2nd century.

Tullie House and Museum

The walls exhibit consisted of a series of concrete walls, each of which had a large fissure revealing a montage of relevant photographs.  On the concrete walls themselves, above and below the fissures, there were reproductions of some of the graffiti that has been discovered on the partitions in various countries.  I took photos of a few sections of the exhibit, and I will let the photos speak for themselves here. Personally, I found the exhibit to be very moving.  (Clicking on the center of the photos below provides enlargements which permit some of the smaller writing to be read.)

Day 7: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway

The final fifteen mile walk from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway began along the River Eden and passed through several charming villages before reaching the Firth of Solway.  Among the charms of the day were a couple of interesting churches, one of which has great historical significance.

Leaving Carlisle

Bridge Across the River Eden

A Woodland Path

Along the River Eden Again

St. Mary's Church in Beaumont
(constructed in the 13th century
on the site of a turret on Hadrian's Wall,
using stones taken from the wall)

St. Michael's Church in Burgh-by-Sands

St. Michael's Church, which was also constructed in the 13th century with stones from Hadrian's Wall, is located in the center of a five-acre area that was once the site of the Roman Fort, Aballava.  The church has additional, historical significance because the body of King Edward I (known also as "Hammer of the Scots") was laid to rest here in 1307 after the King died of dysentery on Burgh Marsh while waiting to cross the Firth of Solway for an encounter with the forces of Robert the Bruce.

Door to St. Michael's Church

Vicarage at St. Michael's Church

Being from Easton, Maryland and headed for Bowness on Solway,
I obviously found this road sign to be of interest.

The Firth of Solway at Low Tide — Scotland on the Distant Shore

The Last Woodlands Path Into Bowness-on-Solway

The Official End of the Hadrian's Wall National Trail

Thanks to Robert and Dominic for helping to make this walk one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  As the travel writer Tim Cahill has written, "a journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles."

Where to next?  No limits except my imagination.

Photo Credit:  The photo of Tullie House and Museum is from http://www.visitcumbria.com.  All other photos taken by author.