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Monk in the World Guest Post: Melissa Layer

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Melissa Layer’s reflection on finding the healing presence of God among the pines.

Praised be you, my Lord,
with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day,
and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful
and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High one.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather
through which you give sustenance to your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister water,
who is very useful and humble
and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Brother fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful
and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit
with coloured flowers and herbs.

from The Canticle of Creatures
(St. Francis of Assisi)
One might ask when a child first becomes aware of God’s presence and is called into a sacred union before words have formed.  For me it was on the warm breast of the nurturant earth.  My earliest memory is of a spring day in southern California in a baby buggy beneath a flowering orange tree.  Mom described how she stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and watched me through the open window.  Whenever the breeze rustled the glossy leaves and fragrant blossoms, she could hear my peals of laughter and see the excited kicking of my legs and waving arms.  Somewhere within my mother’s description and my own embodied experience, I believe this was my baptism in God’s glorious creation – a baby monk in the world!
When I was 5 years old, my parents loaded camping gear into the station wagon and we journeyed to northern Idaho.  I have a small photo of my brother and me in our white cotton underwear, standing in a slow moving river.  It was here that I made the acquaintance of evergreen trees.  I loved the sticky, fragrant pitch and the way the wind sighed through the dancing boughs.  As we returned home to California, the evergreen trees gave way to sagebrush and a lump formed in my throat.  “Liss, why are you crying?” my mother asked as she turned to look at me in the back seat.

When I was 7 years old my father accepted a job transfer to a remote northeastern corner of Washington in the Pacific Northwest, an hour away from that Idaho campground.  I had been a sickly child, but when we moved to my beloved pine forests a healing miracle occurred in my young body.

The robin’s song calls Liss from sleep,

bare feet wet in morning dew
as she runs into the forest.
White Trillium and lavendar Lady’s Slipper
nod shyly in mossy pockets
where she crafts a fort of hemlock boughs.
She lies on her back
hidden, silent
drawn up and away into the endless blue sky
hitching a ride on a slow-moving cloud.
Her faithful dog’s head is warm beneath her palm
and her tabby cat watches from the shadows.
Later she collects purple Shooting Stars and yellow Fawn Lilies
from the banks above the green ribbon of the Pend Oreille.
She tucks herself into the old apple tree
above the gray Appaloosa
grazing belly deep in summer grass.
Cedar Creek washes her thin pale body
and rocks her to sleep in a black inner tube,
teaching her about currents and deep places
how all things grow and flow
seeking the distant sea.
The sun slips through her fingertips, west
over the old red barn
where golden shafts pierce weathered planks
and dust motes dance
over sweet hay from last summer’s mowing.
In the deepening dusk
her mother’s voice calls her to supper, asking
“Where have you been?”
And she is shy, quiet
because she cannot describe
a holy communion, so sweet and secret.

The 23rd Psalm is the first scripture that I memorized and recited in the country church I attended as a little girl.  I felt as though these verses had been written just for me:  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.”   And I knew with certainty that I had felt that loving warm palm in the golden heat of the sun  “. . . thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

A luminous Mystery pulsed in the rhythm of the four seasons that encircled and carried me. I ripened and flourished in awe and reverence for the Beautiful One that had breathed form and life into earth’s body . . .  my body.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the earth,
the dirt between my toes,
the sun pours down upon my crown,
the mighty river flows.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
of bird song in the trees,
the air is dense with fragrant scents
soft floating on the breeze.

Amazing Grace the ocean swells,
the waves break on the shore,
the moonlight rides upon the tides,
oh, who could ask for more.

(by Elizabeth Cunningham)

Melissa Layer, MA serves as a psychospiritual therapist and interfaith spiritual director from her home in the evergreen forests of Washington.  Utilizing expressive arts and curious exploration of the Great Mystery, Melissa offers her compassionate presence and deep listening via Skype, phone, e-mail, and in-person.  She is a member of the Abbey’s Wisdom Council.

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13 Responses

  1. Dear Melissa. I haven’t been linking into the posts in a while so what a miss! This lovely, lovely ‘sticky fragrant’, overflowing with appreciation and gratitude one of yours. What a blessing for my Sabbath to lie here and read it today. You are such a gift to us.

  2. Oh Melissa, how absolutely e-licious this reflection is for me today. Gorgeous thoughts and photos. Thank you for sharing your story—babymonk onward—this way. It makes me want to sift early memories of being outdoors for gold. And God.

    1. Dearest Laurie ~ I am just now discovering your warm words and dear face here (8 months later… but hey – in chronos time with a Spirit Sister, what’s time anyway?!). Most amazing blessings to you and your lovelylicious writing and photography in 2018!

  3. Amazing Grace; how sweet your words. Thank you Melissa!

    1. Thank you, Dolores! I am smiling as I recall your own wonderful words in Abbey online class forums about your love for and tender care of the sweet earth.

  4. Another beautiful, freeing and flowing reflection on your on-going
    expressions and experiences of divinity in nature. As I read, my own memory took me back to myself at age 3 sitting in a fragrant,vibrant and multi-colored flower garden embraced by a sunny blue sky filled with white puffy clouds. I honor my Amazing Grace and yours. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Arlene… I can imagine you at age 3 in your own little pocket of Eden. We never forget these treasures. I am so grateful to the Beloved One for such Amazing Grace on our behalf!

  5. Your words are like heart song to me, as if my very soul joined in chorus. Thank you!

  6. Delighted to read your story, Melissa…a little Monk awakening to Creation. I can smell the scent of the pines standing in the warm Idaho sun and feel the icy river waters baptizing tiny toes. Lovely!

    1. Thank you, Evelyn! I am grateful that those moments are so alive and clear for me, even after all of these years later. I hope you can source similar treasures within yourself.

    1. Thank you, dear Liz! I smile to imagine a bunch of us as girls splashing in the creek and having a picnic in the wildflowers. :-)