Monday, August 5, 2013

another time

The last time I stayed up all night I was so excited about getting up before 3 a.m. to chant psalms at Vigils that I couldn’t sleep. I sat on my bed in my little room in the guest house of the Trappist monastery in Kentucky where I was on retreat and read a little from Kazantzakis’ novel about Saint Francis of Assissi and tried to meditate. Saint Francis has always been a vitally important and iconic figure for me, singularly compelling even before I began this part of my spiritual journey. I remember reading part of the Kazantzakis novel, for instance, back in Athens, Georgia, in the spring of 1996, not long before I left town on what felt like a whim to me at the time. I had been full of fear and despair then, and the book had been inexplicably comforting to me. I think I put it aside pretty fast when I moved in with my mother in the little mountain town where I still live now, some seventeen years later. At any rate, I didn’t sleep at all last month, that first hot July night on retreat at Gethsemani, even though I was exhausted from the long drive. I went into that odd, liminal space where shadows play games with the edges of a person’s eyesight and sounds sing songs that aren’t there. I know I was just really tired, but I felt keenly alive and powerfully happy. Almost giddy with joy, really. The monastery church there has a specific scent, as does the one in Georgia, an aroma that is both earthy and austere, but in a totally different way from the granite and evergreen and moss of Arabia Mountain. Not wild like a landscape but not exactly domesticated, either. I went into the church a little early and sat in the back, where the retreatants sit during the liturgy of the Hours, and just waited for things to begin. It was very dark, very quiet. The silence was broken by almost nothing, only a few small sounds here and there, just the settling of wood, the whisper of small wind against glass, and the breath of the body of everything, dark and kind and unknowable and empty in the absence of song and speech.

the last time

I wrote this in January of 2008 in response to a writing prompt: "When did you last stay up all night?" For some reason it resonated for me this evening as I ran across it accidentally in some old files.

It was last season, before all the leaves fell. I sat by a fire and renewed it when it diminished and read poems and wrote some things down in my notebook. I listened to the quiet. I held my old gray cat against my bare knee and rubbed his head. I thought about my grandmother and her painting and how she didn't start doing it till she was over fifty. I took some pictures of small things: a silver pendant, an old acorn I found under a tree in New England, the plumes of color coming off the burning wood in front of me. I didn't even try to sleep. I walked out onto the deck around 3 a.m. and the wind was blowing leaves down in big drifts. I made myself some popcorn and dusted some brewer's yeast onto it. I felt happy in my solitude though also a little lonely. I find that when my singularity is challenged I cling most intensely to these times. It’s good to stay up all night alone from time to time.

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Georgia, United States
I live at the edge of the forest in a little town in the north Georgia mountains. I teach sixth grade Language Arts and am writing a memoir of sorts about family, spirituality, and narrative. I am also exploring a possible writing project having to do with contemporary lay contemplative experience and how it might be informed by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity. I am a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism and an admirer of Pope Francis, Leonardo Boff, Joan Chittister, and Richard Rohr. I'm a Lay Associate of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. I am interested in indigenous cultures, narratives, and spirituality, especially how these can inform my spirituality as a lay contemplative. I write, read, take pictures, play around with creating ephemera from paper and cloth and other organic things. I cook, hike, watch wildlife, and collect random bits of interesting oddness, both tangible and abstract. I am a seer of smallness and a caretaker of ridiculous minutiae. If you want, e-mail me at or