Storms When Everything Went Dark

Dark Window DSCN7347With the snow storm that recently passed through the eastern part of our country, many were — and still are — left without power.

When a similar storm passed through Michigan a couple winters ago, I wrote this blog. Seems timely to share it again:

It was another one of those sleepless nights. I was in my upstairs flat, a small hermitage of three room, and decided to make some tea when, during a winter storm, the lights went out.

It was pitch black, too dark for even shadows to fall. Groping and stubbing toes, I swept one hand back and forth in front of me seeking a safe way through the dark. My other hand grasped the back of a chair, reluctant to release something familiar.

There was the sudden momentary fear of disorientation. Not knowing where I was made me feel vulnerable. A heartbeat ago I could see where I was heading, a bright light guided me. Now all I saw were navy-blue blotches floating like ghosts against a sheet of black.

I felt I was suffocating with fear in the blanketing silence. No humming of motors, no ticking of clocks. My ears strained to hear past the sound of my own heartbeat. Did the downstairs door just click open? Are those footsteps scraping across the floor? Was that the stairs I just heard creaking? What monsters under the bed!

I was in the dark; the margins of safety became blurred. Caught in a wave of fear of imminent harm, images flooded in and drowned common sense. Flashbacks of years ago blinded further. Where did the security go that was so clear only a minute ago? My arms swam through air as I willed myself to move forward, anticipating at any moment an unknown force laying me low.

I dared not stop, dared not turn away from the direction I was heading. It was the right path a moment ago. I knew there was a candle in the other room. It became more than a candle to calm my frightened heart. As a friend once wrote it was “a pillar of fire” that both guides and tests.

I tripped and stumbled. Disoriented, I come up against a wall and wondered which way was the right way. I leaned against the wall for support though at the same time I knew it blocked my way. But what was the way? Where would I be once I got past this wall? I doubt myself when in darkness.

I told myself to be calm, that though I was in darkness God was in it with me. I told myself to keep moving toward a known source of light even when it can’t be seen.  I held on to hope that in my seeking I would find what I was looking for, blindly rummaging, feeling my way, trying to recognize by another sense what would normally be easy to spot.

The candle was pulled from the cabinet and lit. It was in my hand, firmly gripped against the tremors. I remained kneeling on the wooden floor as the flame’s soft glow illuminated the table-top crucifix. My world was now less frightening.

This is not the first time I’ve been thrust into darkness, and it will not be the last time I grope through it desperately seeking The Light. One day I will be calm as I traverse dark nights, believing in what is concealed just beyond its edge.

Image by Pippalou,

Keep Shoveling, Dearie

field tree 2014Restless and awake through the night, in bed under layers of quilts, I listed to the sleeping dog’s whimpering barks. The cat had realized that the dog’s sleep and my wakefulness was an opportunity for undisturbed cuddles. She chortled softly as she walked around the foot of the bed. She placed her front paws on my shoulder and nestled her head against my cheek.

I stared out the small dormer window. The streetlight’s glow through the window marked a cross high on my bedroom wall. Even without my glasses I could tell it was snowing. I let out a deep sigh of both relief and weariness. The purring cat curled closer to my chest.

Sometime during the past few weeks, among the holiday cheer and in-between presents, the switch had flipped from alone to isolation. To live a reclusive life is a blessing; to feel isolated is a thing to be cursed. St. John’s words on dark nights of the soul helped me understand these familiar occurrences. When in that darkness, I rely deeply on faith and seek earnestly the Face of God in the smallest events. Like a mantra I’ll repeat the Bible verse, be still, be still…“Be still and know the I AM God.”

From the window the dawn filtered slowly through the winter storm. I encouraged the cat from the fold in my arm and sat up on the edge of the bed. Nesting feet into slippers I lumbered into the day.

Throughout the day it continued to snow and had steadily increased. With a second night of snow predicted, and another third storm soon to follow, I had to start clearing the drive before the accumulation was more than I could manage with my back.

I love snow, love how it softens and quiets my world, how it mutes distractions and draws me into the present. I become more attentive to how I step, to watching out for others, and realize how vulnerable I am in a world grown cold—and blessed to have protection.

cupcake snowI headed out the front-porch door, bundled in an old seam-frayed coat, furry hat, and insulated mittens. I grab the shovel, and broom to clean off the car, and paused, distracted by the beauty of it all. The apples that still hung on the tree had snow thick and peaked like frosting and looked like suspended cupcakes. Every limb and tiny branch was edged with snow. The parallel white-on-black lines of branches were an entanglement of contrast that fooled the perception of depth.

The contrast of it all—the beauty and the threat—was what had my attention.

With an arthritic spine I knew the task of shoveling was a dare…a triple-dog-dare. I would either feel heroic in success or as foolish as a preen-teen boy with tongue frozen to the tether-ball pole, knowing better. I took the gamble and began to clear the snow.

Immediately I realized that lifting a shovelful was not an option. The accumulation was already too much for me to handle. Usually my neighbor Gary (aka Bear) would plow the drive, but he had moved last spring. I stood upright, and for a moment felt discouraged…there was no one to help.

The contrast of delight of new-fallen snow rubbed hard against the reality of the situation. The contrast of perceived isolation in my heart chafed the joy in my soul.

If I were to get the car out in the morning for an appointment, the snow would have to be removed before more accumulated. Stooping, I began again, and prayed. I persevered and pushed, rather than lift, small lines of snow.

As the drive was slowly cleared I thought of the people in my life that, these past weeks, helped me push through depression. There was the delight at Mass of seeing a friend, who lives over an hour north from church. And the unexpected marketing gift from a publisher shortly after Christmas. The sweet teasing and bantering of writing friends on Facebook brought laughter to my days. Then, from 2500 miles away, came an embrace of caring words from another woman who writes.

Sometimes it’s not possible to alone lift ourselves from the accumulation of challenges in life, but we can with the help of others push our way through whatever is at hand.

By the time the drive was cleared, the switch of isolation had been turned off. With a warm cup of tea I rested my back and watched the snow continue to fall as dusk came and settled the day.

(1/2014. Images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.)



Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent

CGG Patheos book coverIt must be a bit unnerving for a deacon to go all a cappella  in front of the congregation when cantering the Epiphany Proclamation. I’ve listened to friends Dr.Gregory Popcak and Deacon Greg Kandra — lovely voices both — chant the proclamations of The Epiphany or Easter. This year at a local church, the deacon there did an excellent chant as well. What I heard within his proclaiming was that Ash Wednesday is coming early this year on February 10. That’s only a few weeks away!

Like a lot of folks, I like having a Lenten book of reflections. Having a daily read to meditate upon helps us grow towards a personal Easter resurrection.

To that end, I would like to offer you an excerpt from my book, Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, available on line through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the publisher Patheos Press, in hopes that you will consider it for your faith journey. It was awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval!

First Week of Lent: The Creator’s Joyful Gifts

Friday of the First Week

Attentiveness to Details

The big Eastern White Pine tree that grew at the southwest corner of the house was recently removed by the local power company.

When it was young, I would attach food to it during the winter to feed the animals; peanut butter-coated pinecones rolled in seed, corn cob halves hung with twine, and home-baked animal cookies full of protein. Its adolescent boughs held out hope for many animals when food was scarce.

As it grew, the boughs spread further into the garden. It wasn’t until many years later that I figured out it was not the cultivar I had thought it to be. This Eastern White Pine was going to be big, very big. It had not been planted in an appropriate site so as to grow to its full potential.

So it grew, as the cliché goes, “where it was planted.” It protected the birds, housed the squirrels, and hid the raccoons. It buffeted winter winds and provided shade from hot summer suns.

I would listen from my upper bedroom windows as its boughs whispered when the winds blew through them. When working in the yard I would often stop and touch its long delicately soft needles, the same needles that would fall off in late summer and provide beautiful golden mulch for the flower beds. I loved how the new growth, called candles, would come out pointing toward heaven, and how the pollen would burst into the air like incense when I thumped the male cone clusters with my hand.

Repeatedly it needed harsh pruning to keep its limbs off the house. The lower boughs encroached into the yard so far that they eventually had to be trimmed up the trunk so one could walk under them. Its expansive limbs grew between the electrical wires and were repeatedly trimmed back by the power company. With all this cutting-back as it grew it became misshapen, less beautiful than it was intended to be. Yet it was as fully what it could be in the circumstances in which it was planted.

During storms, and there are many of them here, the branches would hit the wires as well as the sides of the house. During one particularly nasty winter, three massive limbs broke off due to snow loads. The blessing was that they brushed against and then fell free of the power lines, and completely missed the house and wooden stockade fence.

I had prayed many times about that tree. It needed to be removed and I could not pay to have that done. It was ruining the siding of the house. It was a threat to my neighbors during the winter because of its potential to create a power outage. It grew only feet from my bedroom wall and I feared a wind shear or tornado would drive it through the roof. I loved that tree. I was also frightened by it.

My prayers were answered one spring day when a representative from a tree trimming service hired by the power company came to my door. The young man who stood there very respectfully explained about the neighborhood pruning that would take place in a few weeks. As I walked outside with him, he delicately tried to describe to me what this large, already misshaped pine would look like if they trimmed it back the required distance to free the power lines.

While he spoke I was secretly hoping that the Holy Spirit had moved someone somewhere to answer my earlier prayers. When he asked permission to completely remove the tree I nearly squealed. He looked at me, startled and a little relieved as I exuberantly answered, “Oh yes, please!”

Having an overgrown tree removed may not seem like suitable stuff for prayers, especially when I think about a friend dying of cancer or the violence in the world. Yet, there it is once again, God’s attentiveness to the smallest details in my life. I sometimes think God just wants to see me wriggling with delight.


My Lord,

Let me always be confident in your love. Help me to know in my heart that every prayer uttered, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is heard by you. Let us accept that the betterment of a soul is always your answer to prayer, and be assured that you are ever present in the details of our lives.

If you’ve already read the book, thank you! Please let others know that you enjoyed it, and maybe, if you have the time, leave an Amazon review.

Also for the new year from Ave Maria Press, is another one of my books, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. Its a month-by-month look at our faith traditions, how to create liturgical gardens, and some good old fashioned gardening advice.A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual Almanac

The Epiphany and the Gift of the Christmas Rose

003A story often told on the Epiphany is the legend of the Christmas Rose. This lovely perennial plant is a Hellebore, and an excellent addition to any humus rich shade garden, especially in cooler USDA Hardiness Zones; it will grow in Zones 3-8. There are several cultivars with thick white petals crowned in red resembling the one in this story. I’ve grown several Hellebores in my Zone 5 gardens, some were evergreen and others that broke through the snow, often during Lent.

The flower in this story, Hellebor niger, blooms in the middle of winter in the mountains of central Europe. The story, which has slight variations depending on region, is about Madelon, a little shepherdess, and an angel’s helping hand.

One evening Madelon watched in amazement as three kings with their caravan moved past her flock and set up tents for the night. They were following the rays of a luminous star, the same star she’d seen for weeks. She had listened to her cousins tell of the sky being filled with angels just before it appeared, and how the heavens sang the glory of a holy baby in Bethlehem.

Madelon desperately wanted to see this baby but didn’t know the way, and of course the boys were all-too-busy to take her. She decided, since the other shepherds had returned to the keep watch over the sheep, she’d sneak away and followed the kings into Bethlehem.

Late the next day the caravan, with Madelon trailing behind, arrived at a tiny stable where the star illuminated a most perfect baby boy in his mother’s arms. The little shepherdess had not anticipated the overwhelming peace that surrounded the infant, and wept outside the stable because, unlike the Magi with their riches, she was poor and had nothing to give the newborn king. In both joy and grief Madelon sobbed, thinking she would have brought flowers if it hadn’t been winter and the ground hard with frost.

The girl felt someone close by, and looked up through her tears. The Archangel Gabriel had suddenly appeared and asked Madelon to follow him as he led her into the cold dark night. Stopping, he brushed the frosty earth with his palm, and at once the Christmas Rose sprang up and bloomed. Madelon was filled with joy and, drying her eyes, she plucked the beautiful white flowers—with its crown streaked red—and ran back to the manger to give them to the Holy Child.

The five pure white petals are crowned blood-red, symbolic of the five wounds of Christ, and the petals remain attached to the stem through the toughest of weather, just as a secure faith keeps us clinging to God. The leaves are palmate, shaped like the angel’s hand.

We all have gifts we bring to Our Lord; great or small, timely or late we give what we can as best we know how. Blessings and peace to all of you as your own gifts break bud.

I’ve shared three other Christmas stories at Aleteia: Flight into Egypt, the Grain Miracle; Juniper Boughs and the Holy Family’s Donkey; and Rosemary in the Life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Image of  Helleborus niger painted by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.