I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community (you can read the call for submissions here). I got to meet fellow monk and artist/poet Laurie Klein this past fall when she attended the Sacred Rhythms Writing & Movement Retreat. It was a delight to get to know her soulful spirit. Read on for her wisdom:
Romancing the Senses
Blue as Devotion
Try to love this world, like a secret,
a promise, a sacred tease:
five hundred shades of blue—sea glass or sky,
sapphire, jade, lapis lazuli. Cool hues
play the rogue, retreat from our gaze
while come-hithering, mystical
as the quiet splice of shadows and twilight,
fickle as evening tide, its invocation
foaming like cream on blackberry sand,
every ebbing a benediction.
How many ways can one soul taste
what perfumes the mind,
be it sandalwood, hyacinth, rain?
Scent, you are memory’s journey mate.
Time frays, like next week’s vapor trail;
the past unspools, and there we are
at midnight, still gazing upward.
Of course, some of us are staring into the dark at midnight despite going to bed at nine o’clock. We can’t hush our thoughts long enough to rest.
I try not to envy those who engage stillness (or sleep!) with seeming ease. Hard-wired like a hummingbird, my spirit craves slow times with God throughout the day, a warm wind I can ride a while, to renew vision and strength. I can hover. Even alight. Sustaining day-to-day devotional practice poses the greatest challenge.
Let me unspool a scene from my past: A chronic bustler and hostage to multi-tasking, I am arrested by the idea of praying without ceasing. Call me a monk wannabe. Longing to keep my soul homing heavenward, I learn to seize pockets of time for worship and gradually supersize them.
Then my father’s death plunges me into clinical depression. My life disassembles. Once I’ve finally unearthed my Bible and journal, I lack the energy to locate a working pen. Too sad to read, much less write, I place these things on the kitchen table. Maybe tomorrow.
A week later, I light a lime-cilantro candle and notice deep sighs while penning a prayer. The play of light and scent pierces apathy. This small pleasure beckons me from bed the next day, when I also dial up a Gregorian chant. Something inside me uncoils, breathes. I discover a gel pen draws me to the page because the ink flows; maybe my thoughts will follow suit, as I grope my way toward hope and wholeness. I am romancing my senses, enticing my soul to be present, to immerse in God’s presence, emerge refreshed. Or are these bribes?
When medication finally kicks in, I enroll in calligraphy class. Stroke by stroke, I experience in my body the sinuous beauty of letterforms. An “A” can make the hand sing! Who knew? Soon I am choosing a word or phrase from Psalms that seems to lift off the page. I letter this word in my spiral notebook and doodle around it. It calms the carom of thoughts, once again pinballing through my brain. Lest I forget, I jot the word on post-its and stick them on mirrors, a cupboard, my dashboard. Later, I’ll learn I’ve stumbled into Lectio Divina.
Then my health lurches again; I succumb to disease, enforced stillness. A verse in Isaiah heartens me: “I will give you the treasures of darkness, wisdom stored up in secret places, so that you may know I am the Lord who calls you by name” (Isaiah 45:3). Pay attention, a voice in my spirit whispers.
Again, romancing my senses summons me to the table. I dust off a translucent teacup, ring a sweet sounding bell. Fingers touch these things gently. In the process I am learning to handle myself with care. No bribes, these are “sense incentives.”
Anointing my hands with orange-ginger lotion becomes a prayer. I bless feet that can barely walk by tucking my tools in a basket, adding a few more to counter pesky distractions: a nail file, lip balm, a silk fan. Little rituals evolve. Lavender complexion mist. Poetry. A new devotional book. Whatever might override pain, undergird my intention, and awaken me from a slump goes into the basket. I call it my portable cloister.
Years pass, my body heals. Along the way I become a writer. Now I can move around the house easily and might journal prayers for the world beside a globe in the guestroom, absorb a sunset from the deck, savor new music in the den. The basket goes with me. An overly-busy mind is slowly becoming a sacred enclosure.
When that old hummingbird vibe winds me up, romancing my senses may not be enough. Then I tell myself I can be present and attentive because God was “mindful” first: For he has been mindful of the lowly estate of his servant (Luke 1:48 NIV). The word mindful comes from a Greek verb that’s fun to say: ep-ee-blep’o. Cross-references in the Old Testament amplify its meaning and invitation:
To gaze at, to behold with respect, to discern, to desire,
to search out specifically in worship or prayer, to pay
attention to, to open the eyes, to wake, to stir up the self,
to turn aside and look. —Strong’s Concordance
Amid the press of modern life, how telling that the one moment we can fully inhabit is one we often sidestep: this one. Anything can happen in an hour, tomorrow, next year. Now is what we have.
If you are reading these words, an unrepeatable presence of Spirit unites us. Never again in history will we, as a group, and as individuals, experience this exact space and time. As fellow monks in the world, may we become storehouses of practical wisdom for others; may we be irresistible sources of delight: portable cloisters.
Blessed are you who open a gate in every moment . . .
–Leonard Cohen, “Psalm 28,” Book of Mercy
Laurie Klein's work appears in journals, anthologies, hymnals, and recordings. Winner of the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred, she also authored the classic praise chorus "I Love You, Lord." A former consulting editor for Rock & Sling, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Bill, and a goofy labrador.