Monk in the World guest post: Laurie Klein

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.

—Laurie Klein

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 KleinLaurie 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.

Click here to read all the guest posts in the Monk in the World series>>

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20 Responses

  1. Thank You Laurie for your timeless wisdom. On a different note, I’d like to say, that Your song is The Favorite (as serious as I can be) song of mine in my personal times of worship. Thank You. I first heard it in Saudi Arabia when I was just 6/7 yrs old and 24 yrs later, it still has not ceased to move me every time I hear it.

    1. Dear Jonathan, my eyes are brimming as I type. Saudi Arabia! Gratitude washes me all over, yet again. Who but God can predict the epic journeys our words sometimes take? May yours travel deep, travel true. Laurie

  2. Dear Auntie Laurie,
    As a traveler in this strange land, how often your lyrical heart flashes light into the cracks in my being. Always your words are propelled by love. Hugs and kisses and deep respect. You never fail to bless me with your art, song, and written word.

    1. Dear Emily Grace,
      Isn’t it endlessly amazing how being lovingly shelved alongside other “cracked vessels” increases the light for us all. Love you, brave one!

  3. Laurie, every line blessed me… Right down to the bio. I truly appreciated reading your guest blog and hope to read more of your work in the future. For this moment, I will see how I can apply your honest and be-jeweled words to my life. Hugs, Pacia

    1. Dear Pacia, how wonderful to hear your voice today! “Honest and be-jeweled”— wow, you’ve given me a Grace-full phrase for living. Hugs back, Laurie

  4. Thank you Laurie for your post. “Call me a monk wannabee. Longing to keep my soul homing heavenward” touched something within that had resonance with your story. Like you I have often felt this sentiment, while struggling with the demands of the world simultaneously. It was inspiring to read that you managed a way to come through this and reached a more balance condition. Again thank you.

    1. James, you are so welcome. It’s heartening to hear from one who faces similar struggles and hungers; it strengthens my resolve to press forward. Thank you. May the balance you long for emerge gently, as well as lastingly. Laurie

  5. ep-ee-blep’o may become my word for 2014. A jolly little fellow to represent the new moments. Thank you for you lovely post. Scented candles don’t feel very masculine, but I felt an invitation to open up to new forms of sensual, life giving experiences.

    1. You’re welcome, David. May the coming year delight and surprise you. I love how God personalizes our journey and even our private language with him. Here’s to “guy style.” Cheers! Laurie

  6. Thank you for the gift of this beautiful post today. In my journal, I had written “Self-Compassion”…..then , browsing around, I stumbled upon, or, was lead to, this line -“my father’s death plunged me into clinical depression”

    For the first time in almost 30 years, I am contemplating how my own very loved father died suddenly of a heart attack, while coming to meet his brand-new grandson. At the time, with a jealous two year old and a newborn to take care of, I had little concept of “self-compassion”. This post has opened up an avenue of deep healing for me….

    1. Barbara, may the invitation to deep healing you’re sensing gently unfold in—and through—you, as you remember and journal, pray and rest, ushering in a rich new year. Laurie

  7. I agree with Evelyn. Thank you for sharing yourself Laurie. And to Christine thank you for these guest posts that continue to broaden our knowing of others and their spirituality and desire to be “Monks in the World.” They are inspiring and deepening.

    1. You’re welcome, Kay. And I agree with you. Christine’s invitation for us to post is yet another way we readers can live into “how high and wide and long and deep” the love of God is for each of us. Laurie

  8. What a beautiful post! I love all the sensual images…’scent incentives.’ I’m struck by the idea of keeping a portable cloister at hand. I have just the right basket for it. And to be a portable cloister to others? What a blessing that would be. Thank you for sharing your lyrical soul with us.

    1. Evelyn,
      Thank you for your encouraging words. Having the basket at hand has been a wonderful way to redeem those unexpected spare minutes that present themselves during a day. Blessings on you as you fill your basket! Laurie

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