Tuesday, August 30, 2011


On Sundays, following chapel services at St. Mary’s, we sit at long tables in the refectory, enjoying the view of the Cumberland Valley through large windows on all sides of the room and sharing breakfast with the Sisters of St. Mary and other congregants. At this table I have developed many friendships with interesting personalities who have worked in intriguing disciplines, some of whom have a plethora of degrees in their backgrounds. Among my first encounters at this table was one with a woman who fits that description of a “plethora of degrees”—Ruth Allen, a diminutive, red-haired woman with a vibrant personality who was completing her thesis work for a Master of Arts degree in theology from the Episcopal seminary at Sewanee. At the time we talked, she expressed interest in Martin’s Quest, a middle-grade book I had written about a traiteur, or healer, in Cajun country. Ruth, a scientist who has a PhD from the University of New Orleans and who has done research in the interdisciplinary fields of cognitive psychology, biology, and education, became interested in Martin’s Quest because it presented an aspect of Cajun healing with which she was familiar as she has roots in south Louisiana.

From that initial conversation, it was only a short leap to the work she was doing concerning The Holy Spirit and The Spirit of Reiki, a thesis that explicated the interconnection of Theology, Science, and the practice of Reiki. The leap from the acceptance of her thesis to the writing of a book that could educate and inspire those who were practicing Reiki was an even shorter one. The book is a comprehensive study connecting Christian theology and the study of the Holy Spirit, Science, and Reiki therapy, the latter a practice similar to the Christian practice of the laying on of hands.

The Holy Spirit and The Spirit of Reiki traces the spiritual journey of a woman who underwent a transformation from a skeptical scientist to a Reiki Master, then launched into a theological quest to understand the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the practice of Reiki. Ruth (otherwise known as Dr. Allen) presents a convincing model for universal life energy as used in Reiki therapy and healing by the energy of the Holy Spirit used in Christian practices; e.g., anointing.

As Ruth relates in The Holy Spirit and The Spirit of Reiki, in addition to Reiki therapy, many people in the western world have discovered the healing potential of complementary health practices such as acupuncture, healing touch, massage, yoga, meditation, etc. She writes, “Although Reiki energy is nonsectarian and universal in nature, its gentle touch uniquely manifests the healing ministry of Jesus for our time…numerous people, Christians and non-Christians, have discovered their charism of healing when practicing the complementary health practice of Reiki therapy…”

Of special interest is Ruth’s personal story, or call to the healing ministry, through a series of events that involved her healing by a Reiki practitioner following several debilitating accidents, and those accidents ultimately lead to the discovery of her own ability to heal, albeit a reluctant journey.

I became intrigued with a chapter of research by James L. Oschman, PhD., a biologist and bio-physicist, who speaks out in defense of Reiki, explaining that all medicine is energy medicine and that that there is an energy surrounding each human body. Oschman then relates this energy to x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging that has been used for biofield measurements for many years. Ruth also reports that Dr. John Zimmerman, a physician and professor at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine, whose specialty fields include Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology, recognizes the energy produced by the aforementioned machines as the same energy which is produced by the hands of energy-balancing practitioners, or Reiki workers. Ruth reveals Zimmerman’s conclusion that the “biomagnetic field produced by the hands of energy practitioners can induce current flows in the tissues and cells of individuals who are near them…” These are amazing endorsements of Reiki offered by two outstanding scientists.

Ruth’s consensus in The Holy Spirit and The Spirit of Reiki is that the practice of Reiki involves the healing touch of the Holy Spirit, and her beliefs are endorsed by The Rev. Robert D. Hughes, III, PhD., School of Theology, University of the South, who has written the definitive book about the Holy Spirit (Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life). Dr. Hughes recognizes Reiki as “a legitimate means of training that expresses the charism of healing from the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit and The Spirit of Reiki is a personal story with a universal message for a world that needs healing, and Ruth has presented her case for the interconnection of Reiki and the Holy Spirit convincingly, even to the point of taking on the Roman Catholic Church in a chapter entitled “Healing in Christianity: Criticisms and Questions Regarding Reiki.” She includes an appendix that reveals the criticism of Reiki, authored by the Committee on Doctrine, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a committee that decided “Reiki therapy has no support in findings of natural science or in Christian belief.” Ruth’s credentials as a scientist, researcher, and Master Reiki practitioner, as well as her exposition of Reiki as a manifestation of Christ’s healing ministry and his empowerment of the disciples to carry on the work of the Holy Spirit, support a cogent argument against Roman Catholicism's condemnation of Reiki.

Also included in The Holy Spirit and The Spirit of Reiki is an appendix containing healing services practiced today in the Episcopal Church and a service of healing and blessing for application in any Christian church.

This is a book for all those who need spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical healing and for those who feel called to train in a field that employs the healing touch in the service of others.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


One of my earliest memories is that of the wind moving in leaves that were just turning color and falling outside the window of my home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This was a rather commonplace event, but, for me, it was a kind of moment plucked from Time, and I’ve held the moment as precious throughout the years.

Today, as I wait for a call from California to announce the birth of my second great-grandchild, I watch the yellow leaves fall from one of the ubiquitous yellow poplar trees on the Cumberland Plateau. A crow, stationed on a dead limb nearby, watches and waits with me. For us, the falling leaves symbolize the end of summer at Sewanee and the beginning of a new human life.

The tall yellow poplar in my yard reminds me of my own aging – as if the status of great-grandmother doesn’t provide enough support for the idea of aging! The tall yellow poplar’s trunk is thick and deeply furrowed like wrinkled skin and its bark is aged gray. Timber beetles often enter its sapwood, but the old poplar is unusually free from serious disease.

Here on the Plateau, some yellow poplars attain 42 inches in diameter, and one specimen near St. Luke’s Hall on the campus of the University of the South boasts a special name plate. According to Stephen Puckette and co-authors of Comparative Description of the Native Trees of the Sewanee Area, the yellow poplar is the “greatest in stature of any of the trees on the Plateau, or anywhere in Tennessee.” This fact supports my own respect for these tall trees rising in the morning mists.

Every year, just as we arrive at Sewanee for our Spring and Summer sojourn, the yellow poplar’s flowers bloom – from April-June – and provide nectar for honey bees, but its fruits mature in September when we’re preparing to leave the Plateau. Our yellow poplar trees are joined by white oak, persimmon, hickory, and dogwood trees, and they create a small forest facing our living room window where I can watch leaves fall. I also collect a few specimens to keep indoors on my desk and sometimes write poems about them.

Naturally, the twigs and branches of the yellow poplar provide a feast for our brazen white-tailed deer that browse among the stand at the edge of our yard. Squirrels scurry among the poplar’s branches, and rabbits sometimes nibble at the buds and seedlings. Blue jays, chickadees, and woodpeckers find cover in the trees unless my possessive crow friends chase them away.

No one has showed up with a buzz saw yet, but the yellow poplar is frequently cut down and used in the making of furniture and musical instruments. I’m not going to tell my son-in-law, Brad, about these backyard beauties because he loves varieties of wood and is a consummate furniture maker. He visits with us most summers, and one of his favorite observation posts is on the front porch facing the woods!
The yellow leaves continue to fall as I wait for the emergence of my second great-grandchild. I have lined up six of the colorful leaves on the dining room table, as if to symbolize the father, grandfather, two grandmothers, great-grandmother, and uncle who sit in the waiting room of a Los Angeles hospital, praying for a safe delivery.

I think that my great-granddaughter’s birthday will probably be remembered as “the time of the yellow leaves.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Most of the time I can find bookstores anywhere--my book radar is a powerful sensory perceiver, and as small as Cashiers, North Carolina is (population of 1,974 "full-timers"), I discovered a bookstore in the small mall near an Ingle's grocery that advertised new and used books. The shelves were well-stocked with both, as advertised, and as I'm reading about the art of essay writing, my radar led me to a new title about Montaigne, the master of the "essais" or essayer which means, in French, "to try." In my opinion, all writing for consumption by the public is an "attempt" to entice readers.

According to Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live or A Life of Montaigne, if Montaigne were alive today, he might take up blogging, for he wrote solely about his own experiences, the experiences of being human, "writing about myself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity." Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official, and wine grower of the sixteenth century carried out that idea by writing "exploratory, free-floating pieces;" e.g., "Of Friendship," "Of Cruelty," "Of Diversion," "How We Cry and Laugh for the Same Thing," etc. Bakewell says Montaigne's big question was: "How to Live?" a question that confronts most people living in the twenty-first century.

Bakewell writes that Montaigne doesn't offer general answers, but he relates what he did and records all the details, even trivial ones, about his search for meaning, telling us his preference for melons, that he doesn't know how to sing, about how it feels to be lazy, about what he experienced when he felt obsessive fear, and other everyday occurrences, the content of which should be a consolation to contemporary bloggers. I mean, bloggers have been labeled everything from narcissists to gossips, but Montaigne redeems them in his "attempts," providing conversations, people, and settings of all types to corroborate the validity of his experiences.

An interesting chapter on "Guard Your Humanity," which sums up Montaigne's attitude about social duty, provided a response for my blog yesterday regarding "dominionists" who think the world is out of joint, and only Christians as a dominating group should govern institutions worldwide to get people back in sync. Bakewell says that Montaigne advocates "for each person to get himself back in joint to learn how to live, beginning with the act of keeping his feet on the ground...to refrain from murder or the pretense of pleasing God and to resist the urge that periodically makes humans destroy everything around them and set life back to its beginnings..." Further, Montaigne asserts that no one could ever gratify heaven and nature by committing massacres and homicides, a belief that Dominionists want to reinforce by destroying certain marginal groups.

After watching a documentary about Gloria Steinem last night, I became interested in Montaigne's pro-feminist views in a chapter entitled "Keep A Private Room Behind the Shop" which were in alignment with many of Steinem's ideas. He wrote that women aren't wrong when they reject rules of life that have been introduced in the world because men are the ones who have made these rules without women. He also advocated that by nature "males and females have been cast in the same mold..."

Author Blakewell's writing encompasses the thought of William James, Descarte, Virginia Woolf, Pascal, and other philosophers and thinkers, some of whom influenced Montaigne's writing. In a chapter entitled "Be Convivial With Others," she tells us "we do not live immersed in our separate perspectives like Descarte in his room. We live porously and socially," emphasizing that perhaps we can only occupy another's point of view for a few moments, but the ability to do so is the meaning of being convivial...and "is the best hope for civilization."

This is only the tip of the iceberg and not a formal review of Bakewell's work about a book that was a best seller during the Renaissance. It's a mind-boggling work written by a consummate scholar and biographer. Bakewell, who spent five years of what she calls "voluntary servitude to Montaigne," discovered that she believes in the Montaignean truth "that the best things in life happen when you don't get what you think you want."

And to wax Montaignean by writing minute detail, this blog is composed on a rented deck in the shade of a catalpa and several tulip poplar trees, while I am yet in my pajamas, observing a small chipmunk foray for food who must be pondering the eternal question "How to Live?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Last summer I wrote a lot of poetry about the forests of kudzu shaped like huge human forms blanketing the roadsides near Pickens, South Carolina. This summer, we haven't seen see so much kudzu in the mountains around Cashiers, North Carolina, but the roadsides everywhere are inundated with lavender blossoms of Jo-Pye weed.

"Every state has its weed," I told my botanist friend, Vickie, who is one of the experts on Eupatorium plants in the U.S. She disapproves of my derogative remarks about "weeds," especially when I question the uses of them. If Joe Pye weed had some widespread useful purpose, residents of Sapphire Valley could make a fortune from harvesting the gracious plenty along the road from Sapphire Valley to Lake Toxaway, North Carolina.

Wildlife also abounds here (including a backyard chipmunk), and at Whiteside Mountain, you can glimpse peregrine falcons nesting on the granite cliffs. If you're the hearty type, you can climb a two-mile trail above a 750 ft. high cliff, which is no hill for a stepper, but neither my mind nor body feels inclined to become that kind of stepper. The landscape is forested with yellow pine, and spring-fed streams meander through the deep woods.

Meanwhile, on the drive to Toxaway Lake, we discovered one of the ubiquitous Farmer's Markets in the area. This one advertised South Carolina peaches, homegrown tomatoes, and their specialty: tomato pie. "You know you're in the tourist South, when you find the New York Times in the news rack at a fruit market in the boonies," Vickie quipped. There it was--the current issue of The Times, and I had to buy a copy--just to keep abreast of all the bad news about the country going to the dogs. Only the day before, I had read an account online about the Dominionists who think that Christians should rule the world and all its institutions. It was a scary article. I'm a Christian, yes, but I don't belong to any exclusive group that denounces all the world's major religions except for Christianity. Shudder, shudder, my Jewish great-grandmother on the Marquart side must be turning in her grave.

Cashiers and Highlands, North Carolina offer artists and writers a haven for their work -- writers' groups and art galleries flourish in both towns. Highlands has a Performing Arts Center that stages performances to benefit the Literacy Council of Highlands, a program that provides after school tutoring, adult literacy English as a second language and Spanish classes. Currently, the Council is sponsoring a play called "Sirens," based on the ancient Greek myths of sirens who sang and lured sailors to shipwreck on rocky coasts.

If you want to shop up here, you need to bring a large satchel of money because the high-end shops in Highlands (from interior enhancements to antique jewelry) are only for the idle rich, and aren't for starving artists and writers. Highlands has become the home of Bil Dwyer, a nationally-syndicated comic strip artist whose comic strips, "Dumb Dora" and "Sandy Hill" ran in the newspapers during the 20's - 50's. He has become noteworthy for his study of southern euphemisms that resulted in Southern Sayins for Yankees and Other Immigrants and Cooking Yankees Ain't Et. Excerpts from The Dictionary for Yankees and Other Uneducated People include: "Rum--Enclosed area within a building," "Tar--What you change when you have a flat," and "Lust--What you are when you don't know whar you are."

Well, this is what comes of going to the Mountains to woodshed; i.e., work on a new book that has nothing to do with mountain culture!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Re-reading Mornings in Mexico by D.H. Lawrence is, for me, always a treat to magnificent descriptive writing about Mexico, a place that was one of my favorite summer destinations before drug lords destroyed the tourist trade. During the 20’s when Lawrence lived in Mexico, he recorded his impressions of two places that I visited and for which I feel nostalgia when I re-read Mornings in Mexico for the fourth time.

Lawrence’s essay about “Market Day” (published in the New Criterion with the title “Mornings in Mexico: Saturday,” 1926) takes first place in my reading as it describes a typical market day in Oaxaca City. When we sojourned in Oaxaca City in 1997, seventy years following Lawrence’s third stay in Mexico, we rented a two-bedroom suite facing the zocala and from our window on the square, three of us watched daily marketing that included the wooden animals created by the Zapotecans. I loved the bargaining and exchange that took place when I searched for and found an alebrijes monster, a “bug-eyed, dagger in its sides/snake-tongued Zapotec fiend/pantheistic dream in cobalt blue,/yellow, red, lurid colors…” I later wrote in a poem.

Lawrence describes marketing exchanges in one of the most eloquent passages in Mornings in Mexico: “To buy and to sell, but above all, to commingle. In the old world, men make themselves two great excuses for coming together to a centre, and commingling freely in a mixed, unsuspicious host. Market and religion. These alone bring men, unarmed, together since time began. A little load of firewood, a woven blanket, a few eggs and tomatoes are excuse enough for men, women, and children to cross the foot-weary miles of valley and mountain. To buy, to sell, to barter, to exchange. To exchange, above all things, human contact. That is why they like you to bargain, even if it’s only the difference of a centavo…”

My experiences of the marketplace were reflected in a few poems that appeared in Afternoons in Oaxaca, my book of poetry with a title that was a play on Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico. One poem centered on a morning trip to the post office:

Sending postcards every day,
we keep track or boast impressions?

In the post office, and everywhere,
they use adding machine tapes,

tallying the price
while we drop pesos into small baskets,

feeling the bright-eyed children’s cost,
how they mirror the poverty

though their smiles are happy flashes,
how they seek to,

but do not have to,
buy us;

we scatter the silver
like rain from a rooftop

into unfolding hands.

Even earlier than the Oaxaca visit was the trip we made to Lake Chapala, another of Lawrence’s haunts, not 45 km south of the bustling city of Guadalajara. It is here that Lawrence wrote The Plumed Serpent while staying at a beautiful villa called Quinta Quetzalcoatl, but we spent three nights at the Lake Chapala Inn which overlooked the lake. During breakfast in the inn restaurant, we watched fishermen throw huge nets and sweep the lake for white fish. In the evenings, we drank Black Russians at a table near the window and watched them row toward shoreiwith their plentiful catches.

We had traveled to Mexico that summer in an electric blue van carrying three teen-agers and my grandson Martin, then two years old, and the entire group seemed to like the lakeside inn better than most places we stopped, even Acapulco. However, one of the girls, thirteen, developed a strange rash on her hands and arms that looked suspiciously like poison ivy, and we treated the case with a compound created by a local pharmacist. After examining the rash, our resident Floridian and botanist, Vickie, who also drove the cumbersome van, declared that the rash resembled mango poisoning, and the teen-agers began giggling and shushing each other. Fifteen years or so later, one of the girls confessed that the rash was indeed mango poisoning because after the adults and two-year old had retired for the night, the teenagers picked mangos from a tree near the inn, climbed up on the rooftops and threw the fruit down at Mexican boys who had chased them. That entire trip with three teenagers was an experience we never felt like repeating…and, later, we discovered that the girls felt the same way.

When we returned to Mexico fifteen years later, we made the trip, sans children, and were able to savor the sights of the colonial city of Oaxaca and enjoy the culture, especially the music scenes that included the Guelaguetza, a festival of music and dancing which honors maize and wind gods. We tasted the mole negro (chocolate tinged sauce) made with chilhuacle negro chili (Oaxaca is called the “Land of Seven Moles”) and sampled the harsh liquor, mescal, made from the maguey plant, which we drank from tiny green shot glasses.

I chronicled the visit to Oaxaca City in poetry, writing in a bright yellow copy book used by children that I bought in the marketplace. It had wonderful wide spaces between lines, and on the first page I penned the lines: “The mask of the mother goddesses, the ancient Aztecs, is yellow. I didn’t know this when I chose a yellow-covered exercise book. (June, 1997).” The friend who accompanied me and Vickie on this odyssey to Oaxaca City in ’97 was so enchanted with our sojourn there that when she experiences any happy occasion now, she cries out, “Oaxaca, Oaxaca!” Yes!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Last evening, as I was reading a line from Joseph Campbell, “Sri Ramakrisna says ‘Do not seek illumination/unless you seek it as a person whose hair is on fire seeks a pond,’” I was called to the kitchen window to see the illumination of something that set my hair on end – a huge skunk standing in the light of the yard lamp. Light shone into its expressionless eyes, but it went back to rooting for grubs like a pig after truffles, even when we beamed a flashlight on its body. From the direction of the hemlock in my backyard, a deer came out and observed this nocturnal beast for a few moments, and all three of us froze in a frame of territorialism, watchful against intruders.

The deer ambled past the fence, and I went out on the porch to get a closer look at the critter. Because we didn’t move around, it must have felt safe, and  it slowly undulated toward the hemlock, then disappeared under its drooping branches. To me, the animal seemed both beautiful and terrifying; the latter because years ago a skunk sprayed into a floor furnace beneath our home in Texas and also because the size of the animal in the yard was unlike that of a “regular” skunk. I thought perhaps it was a badger. However, “Pepe le Pew” presented a fluffy white tail, and, after researching the two animals, I discovered that badgers have stubby tails. At one point in this nocturnal drama, the skunk seemed to be dancing around in a frenzy.

This morning after Eucharist at St. Mary’s I asked Sister Lucy (who knows the wildlife around Sewanee) if she thought it was a badger, but she said “no” and that skunks in these parts are often as large as I described and have broad white markings on their bodies and, sometimes, a fluffy white tail.

I don’t know if I’d really like to have badgers around as they often burrow in yards and do a lot of damage. Still, when I looked at Beatrix Potter’s illustrations of a badger this morning, I really wanted to catch a glimpse of this nocturnal animal. Potter wrote a book about a badger and a fox entitled The Tale of Mr. Tod in which Tommy Brock, a badger who captures two bunnies (could my critter have been searching for the brown bunnies that brazenly graze on my lawn daily?) and puts his catch in an oven in the home of Mr. Tod, the fox who is temporarily away from his residence. When the fox returns home, he and the badger end up in a fight and roll down a hill fighting like the bad guys Potter wanted to portray.

Frederick Warne didn’t like Potter’s opening paragraph of The Tale of Mr. Tod in which she relates that she was “tired of making goody goody books about nice people” and that she’d make a book about two disagreeable people called Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod. Warne changed her opening lines to read: “I have made many books about well-behaved people.” I almost expected Potter to step out of the mountain mists during the short time my nocturnal visitor roamed the yard – the scene was surreal, with the critter waving that white tail like I’d imagine a stripper waves a big white fan, then disappearing into the overhang of the hemlock.

I guess we’re luckier than one of our friends who lives in a home perched on the bluff near Monteagle, Tennessee where a buzzard frequently visits. She says she awakened one morning and found a large black buzzard eying her through the window of her bedroom, which overlooks a wraparound deck. We told her that the big bird was probably after smaller birds that often crash against the glass panes and die on her deck, and she registered some relief that the vulture wasn’t eying her for a meal.

Although we live on the campus of the University of the South, Sewanee is a village intermingled with deep woods, and I’ve written about some of the critters that roam around campus at night in my recent book of poetry entitled Alchemy. Alchemy should be available at amazon.com within a few weeks.