Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A STRAND OF BEADS

When Karen Bourque agreed to work on a glass piece that would become the cover of my latest book of poetry, I knew that the art would be both original and arresting. And that phrase aptly describes the stunning glass piece that was photographed for the cover of A Strand of Beads, a collection of poems about rosaries and other strands of beads people use when praying.

Karen's description of the piece she calls "Dachau: Badges and Beads" made a perfect preface for the lead poem in this collection of poetry. The last paragraph of her preface is deserving of great notice. She wrote that "the horrors that took place at Dachau and the sorrows those horrors generated are inconceivable to me. In creating this piece, my intent was to respectfully turn the identification badges into a thing of beauty, to undermine the meanness of the original intent by having the badges themselves, as they exist in our memory, become symbols of all those souls' inner light. Whether the badges were worn on their sleeves, their pants' legs or wherever, the badges in this reconstruction symbolize hope for release into a better world, hope for some force that might open the gates of horror and hate, hope for the deliverance that was not there for the millions who perished in one madman's failed experiment."

Border Press presents my 22nd book of poetry and includes a blurb on the back cover that captures the spirit of this collection: "Whether beads are used to mark repeated prayers, incantations, or devotions, over two-thirds of the world's population use them in religious practices. In A Strand of Beads, the majority of the poems focus on prayers addressed to Mary—rosaries said in praise and entreaty and for metaphysical/psychological reasons. Other beads, such as the Persian strand the poet received in Iran, focus on protection from negative energy and provide relief from stress. The lead poem features a rosary obtained from Dachau and tells the story about the marriage ceremony of two people who choose to spend their honeymoon in southern Germany and Poland. When the couple brings the Dachau strand back as a gift for the poet, she experiences revelations while using it and wishes the couple had kept the rosary and used it to preserve their marriage. Whether writing about glass beads, precious stones, or wooden beads, Moore is always cognizant of the word 'bede,' the old English word that means 'prayer,' and of the cogent spiritual energy within each strand of beads."

A Strand of Beads will be released in a few weeks and will be available on amazon.com, or may be ordered by mail from Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375.





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

YARD CHAIRS


There they were—two unfinished Adirondack chairs poised beneath the shade of the tall hemlock in the backyard, looking as though they belonged on Lake Champlain in Westport, New York where their creator conceived the idea for this piece of outdoor furniture. All summer I have passed interpretations of this classic chair when I walked on the campus here at Sewanee, Tennessee and longed for at least one of these low-seated, wide-armed chairs. A few weeks ago, I received a late birthday gift of two of these chairs and a small table that complemented the Adirondack design.

Humidity reigned, then rain fell, and the Adirondack chairs sat poised under the cedar, looking comfortable and durable, but weather didn't allow me to use them. A few days ago, "in the cool of the evening," as we say in the South, my good friend Vickie told me it was time to try out the chairs.

"You have to take off your sandals and let your feet rest on the ground," she said, after we plunked down in the chairs that are sometimes called the chairs of 'American Summer.' "There's evidence that 'earthing' will dispel the negative charges and toxicity in your body into the ground, and you'll feel healthier from the experience," she added.

I seldom argue with a scientist, particularly one who exudes good health and stays abreast of latest nutrition and health practices. "I just came out here to relax, maybe even rest a glass of some libation on this wide arm," I told her. "However, I notice that there are splinters—and what is this black stuff—mold?"

"We've had a lot of rain. I reckon they should be painted. Or sealed or something. But you're always seeing things need to be done when you get out in the yard. Just keep your feet on the ground and let the negative charges trickle out."

"I think there's a colony of ants trickling in and climbing my leg."

"You just don't know how to enjoy the ultimate armchair," she said, sighing heavily. "Just go in the house and get the can of OFF, and then we can resume this exercise."

There, she had done it—she had called the activity of relaxing in the Adirondack armchair 'exercise,' a word that quickly builds up negative charges within me when I hear it. But I went indoors and returned with the OFF, spraying it liberally on my feet and legs. As I pushed up the pants leg of my jeans, I thought I spied a small red dot appear on my ankle.

"You say our bodies are conductive and can receive electrons from the earth—that includes attracting chiggers, doesn't it? What about hookworms and roundworms?"

My friend sighed again. "This chair is perfect for 'earthing,' and if you'll sit here thirty minutes, as prescribed for good health, I'll tell you a story about your new chairs. Did you know the Adirondack chair was originally cut from one plank and made from eleven pieces of wood?"

"Uh, uh." I swatted at a giant bumblebee flying low and began misting my upper body with the OFF, twisting and turning in the chair as though a squadron of the bees had landed on me.

"Keep your feet flat on the ground or you won't get the full benefit," my friend warned.

I dug my toes into the dirt and grimaced.

"To continue," Vickie said. "Here's the story I read about your Adirondack throne. This man named Thomas Lee had a summer place on Lake Champlain near Westport, New York and decided to build his own outdoor furniture for his family. He constructed what he thought was the ultimate lawn chair, and his family did a lot of chair sitting in the new chairs before his hunting friend, Harry Bunnell, came by one day and volunteered to build more chairs in his wood shop during the winter season. So Lee loaned Bunnell the plans for his chair, and Bunnell built some out of hemlock and basswood and stained them green and brown. When summer came, and residents of Westport saw the chairs, they loved them. Bunnell, realizing that he had a big seller and without Lee's permission, filed for a patent on the Adirondack chairs. They sold like hotcakes, and Bunnell called them the Westport Plank Chairs. 'Seems like the story ends there. No one knows if Lee continued being friends with Bunnell, and Bunnell put his signature on every chair he made. Today, these signed chairs, if discovered, are worth thousands of dollars."

I jumped up and turned my chair on its side. A streak of black mold marred the rough surface of the chair bottom, and a few ants scurried away into the grass.

"I think that chair came in pieces and had to be put together," Vickie said. "It isn't likely that anything is written on the bottom of it. I'm sorry I told you that story. You do have a serious problem relaxing!"

I slipped on my sandals, picked up the can of OFF, and went indoors where I sat down at my computer and began searching for auctions scheduled in the Tennessee countryside.


The following morning I looked out the kitchen window and saw a large robin using the wide arm of one of the Adirondack chairs for his morning constitutional—it was the chair I had vacated before my 'earthing' session ended. Then he flew to the ground and sat there using his bare claws to absorb electrons in just the manner my friend had recommended. I smiled, hoping that his grounding hours had added years to his life. When he soared off into a perfect blue summer sky, I went outdoors to clean up my ill-used Adirondack chair, sat down in it, and took off my shoes.



Friday, August 21, 2015

MONTREAT—MOUNTAIN RETREAT

Chapel of the Prodigal, Montreat College
Hardly a summer passes without our finding serendipity in North Carolina. This week it was umbrella weather when we left Sewanee, Tennessee, and heavy rain followed us on the drive to Asheville, North Carolina where we spent Monday night. Light rain fell the following morning when we set out for Montreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a town that straddles the eastern Continental Divide and is noted for being the home of Billy Graham, the renowned U.S. evangelist.

We took refuge in the Chapel of the Prodigal at Montreat College where we viewed the Return of the Prodigal Fresco by Benjamin Long who has gained international fame as a master of true Fresco. The Return of the Prodigal is one of eleven frescoes on "The Fresco Trail in North Carolina" and depicts the biblical story told in Luke 15. This fresco is the focal point of a chapel that was dedicated in 1998 with the words "Strength and Beauty are in His sanctuary" (Psalm 96:6).

Montreat College was first established in 1916 as Montreat Normal School and is now a co-ed college with a four-year curriculum dedicated to being "Christ centered, student focused, and service driven," and is operated independent of the Montreat Conference Center. The town, college, and conference center (which serves the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.) are three separate entities, but all serve as centers for spiritual and physical renewal. Montreat is another of those "thin" places similar to St. Mary's on the bluff at Sewanee. In 1897, Montreat Assembly was the first religious assembly established in the Swannanoa Valley by an interdenominational group, and in 1906, Montreat was purchased by a group of Presbyterians.

We climbed the steps to The Assembly Inn, a rock and marble building overlooking Lake Susan that
Assembly Inn, Montreat
accommodates guests from around the world who attend conferences on leadership, spiritual formation, multi-faith, seasons of the Christian year, recreation and radical hospitality, and is available for special retreats. Eight hallways in the Inn are named for trees and shrubs found in the Swannanoa Valley: Chestnut, Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, Maple, Sourwood, Poplar, and Oak. Handsome Mission style furniture occupies the spacious rooms in this hospitable place where Billy Graham and Ruth Bell Graham held their wedding reception in 1943.

The Assembly Inn gained national notice in 1942 when the U.S. government housed 264 German and Japanese diplomats and their families while they waited exchange for American families of diplomat and missionaries in Axis countries who were caught behind enemy lines when WWII broke out. The German and Japanese diplomats were restricted to the Assembly Inn and the property fronting Lake Susan and were looked after by State Department officials and guards. The Germans were eventually allowed to return to their families, and Japanese men were sent to an internment camp in Texas, but during the stay between October 29, 1942 and April 30, 1943, the Inn made a $75,000 profit!

Lake Susan, Montreat 
This week-end, leaders from the Presbyterian Church and public life will gather at Montreat to conduct a "Teach-In for Rededicating Ourselves to the Dream," celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin L. King's address to the Christian Action Conference in Montreat. The major question posed to participants will be: "How can the church of today answer the challenges King posed in Anderson Auditorium at Montreat in 1965?" The intention of this conference is to engage an intergenerational community in embracing and lifting up Dr. King's unfulfilled dream... "standing up against what he persistently labeled as the horrible scourges of our national and world orders: racism, poverty, war, and materialism."

And there's more! As we walked out of the Assembly Inn, we spied a shop overlooking Lake Susan, which we thought might be a bookstore. However, inside we found a plethora of handcrafted treasures that represented cultures of more than 30 countries including the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The products of "Ten Thousand Villages" are showcased in this shop as part of a fair trade organization that markets handicrafts created by unemployed and underemployed artisans from throughout the world. "Ten Thousand Villages" gives fair income to international artisans. The income empowers them to improve their housing and provides education, healthcare, and nutritious food for the artisans' families.

Ten Thousand Villages shop at Montreat
"Ten Thousand Villages" has been operating since 1946 and is dedicated to solidarity and justice in the thirty countries with which it trades. I bought a beautiful scarf made by an artisan in Bangladesh, a bar of cucumber soap from India, and a children's book entitled In the Trunk of Grandma's Car, the story of a Mennonite woman named Edna Ruth Byler. Byler initiated the "Ten Thousand Villages" project when she traveled from the U.S. to Puerto Rico in 1946, brought back embroidery work done by women who struggled to feed their families, and sold it to her sewing circle in Pennsylvania. From that small beginning, the idea of a fair trade shop burgeoned and became 75 shops across the U.S. and 35 stores in Canada. Byler's first store was called Byler's Gift Shop, but in 1952, it became a nonprofit program of the Mennonite Central Committee called the Overseas Needlepoint and Crafts Project. In 1968, the name became SELFHELP Crafts, and the name changed again in 1996 to that of "Ten Thousand Villages."


The trip to Montreat, a place variously called "A Mecca of Presbyterians," "the narthex of heaven," and "where God vacations," was, for us, a visit to a center of hope and an encounter with serendipity in one of the world's "thinnest places."

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan