Pinched Back

Platycodon grandiflorus

There are several perennial flowers that bloom more abundantly when pinched back in late spring and again after about 4 weeks in early summer.

Those flowers are of the type called ‘terminal bloomers’, meaning they flower on the ends of stems. Perennials in my yard that are terminal bloomers and trimmed back include mum, sedum, platycodon (balloon flowers), and the shrubby Annabel hydrangea.

Because these plants bloom on the ends of stems, by pinching back the tips the plant sends out additional lateral (side) stems and thereby creates more terminal ends for blooms.

The other day, after yet another rain, I saw from the kitchen window how leggy some of the plants had become. I had failed to finish the task of pinching back started several weeks ago and now, with all the rains the platycodon and mum were getting long and floppy—the stems soft from rapid growth due to the warm rains.

My arthritic body ached—which was the reason I had delayed the chore for so long—but knew what had to be done, and it was such a small chore. As soon as there was a break in the rain I slipped on my boots and grabbed the nippers, heading out to the garden.

It felt good to be in the lushness of an early summer garden, and to enjoy the birds singing and tree frogs chirping.

Good for about 7 minutes!

My back and knees began to hurt so I rushed through trimming the remaining plants. Being careless, I cut several stems too far, and having done so knew the flowering would be inhibited rather than enhanced.

Closing the shed and heading for the house I prayed…

Dear Lord, I ask that in my own frustrations of who I am as I mature, trying to grow too fast through the storms of aging, that you do not prune me with such reckless abandon.

As I dried the nippers and pulled off boots I knew Our Lord would prune with love, attentive to the flowering to come.

Image by Walter Stern at

Before Striking the Ground


Horses fascinate me.  From the stout and powerful march of the Percheron to the rhythmic gate of the Paso Fino. Watching them trot and gallop freely in pasture is a simple beauty from God.

While driving country lanes, I came upon a boarding farm and pulled over to watch the horses running and tossing their heads, and noticed something never realized before.

In dressage it’s called passage: a slow, cadenced trot executed with great elevation of the feet and characterized by a moment of suspension before the feet strike the ground.

That motion, the moment before the hoof strikes the ground, a brief second of suspension in the continuation of a walk. That is how I pray at times, an elevated lightness mid-step, somewhere between silence and closeness.

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning,  that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.

Henri J. M. Nouwen


May God’s peace lighten us this day.

Image by Irhaij at



A Writer’s Prayer


Heavenly Father,

Help me to trust that the words you encourage me to write meet the needs of those you guide to read them.

Let me continue to delight in the beautiful words written by others and not despair in the simplicity of my own. Help me remember always to thank them and encourage them in their work.

Guide my thoughts and my hands to express your Holy Word in our lives. Allow me to follow your will, to trust your ways, to be unconcerned with how I write but that I write in the light of your Light.

Lord, send me peace of heart so that envy and disparaging does not constrict my work for your glory.


Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, all rights reserved.

The Oxymoron of an Anchoress on a Silent Retreat


It was a sweet and gratuitous offer from Father, one that I didn’t want to accept. He kept calling it a contemplative retreat—whatever, it was a silent retreat, and I live an eremitic life.

Indecision is generally not the nature of my character. Taking time to mull things over, trusting the holy to manage the details, I’d throw myself full-on into what was at hand. Let me add, that that assurance only goes so far when neglecting to consult with Our Lord.

For nearly a month I waffled about attending the retreat. The preceding two months had been filled with activity, and so the upstairs hermitage felt pretty comfortable. (There’s that word again—comfortable. It’s kind of like when you are contacted for urgent prayers, and you just know you’ll get hit with something to offer up on their behalf.)

The day before the retreat began—yes, I’d procrastinated that long—I heard there would be a significant snow storm. No better place to be holed up for a winter event than on a lovely 95 acre wooded site, where somebody else cooks and shovels out the car. I was swayed, so called the center, deciding ahead of time that if the room I needed was assigned I wouldn’t go. Well, of course it was available and, AND, I learned that there would be over 40 women attending! So much for it being silent.

Fine, I grunted after I’d hung up, surrendered and began to pack.

When I arrived I was given a crisp green folder filled with handouts and learned—oh, the irony of it all—that the retreat would be on how to pray. I couldn’t help but laugh with God.

The sessions would be the Carmelite methodology of prayer: St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The presenters used words I’d never heard before—a language for and about an activity second nature in my life. As a supplicant, I experience private prayer as inclusive, communal, and encompassing. This, this prayer technique, it seemed almost vertical, singular, and personal.

Like a child in her certitude I spiritually resisted each time I heard them say “…a personal relationship with Jesus…”. My strong will to follow God’s will began to feel like stubbornness. Was this lack of openness, as my confessor had warned, the beginning of spiritual narcissism?

The first day ended with Adoration that night, and my silent confusion.

snow and magnolia

As I sat in the Gaze of Mercy, I felt Our Lord ask “Let me look at you…I love to look at you.” These words were from a shared story, which goes something like this: Each day, after school, a mother would wash and press her young daughter’s uniform. In the morning the child would be clean and fresh for a new day of learning. Before the child left for school the mother would say to her, “Let me look at you” checking her from head to toe, then “I just love to look at you.”

I’ve never been a parent, never received or understood that kind of gazing. To be looked upon with the eyes of love, for no other reason than that you exist, I imagined would be profound.

I was awake most of the night as the implications of those words swirled in my thoughts. By early dawn I needed a good long walk, and did so for two hours in the gentlest of winter storms. Falling snow creates a special kind of silence, and softness.

two birch treesAnd eventually I got it.

The beauty of existence, loved into it and through it, pierced my heart. There was  joy in knowing what it is to be the child of a parent looking upon you in all your sweet wonders.

It is good to be somebody’s beloved daughter.

Now, on with the lessons…


Images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.