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Starting Point

In the shade at Grandma’s


When winter has been with me too long, I close my eyes for a moment and see myself facing the summer shade of my grandma’s house. I lived in the cooling shadow of that tall, white farmhouse all my growing up years. It was only a stone’s throw from my house. Just thinking of Grandma’s farmhouse brings a feeling that time has not erased, even though it was torn down decades ago.

Grandma always had a pie cooling in the window and, through the screen, I could catch snatches of farm market reports from her kitchen radio carried on the breeze. As I sat warming myself on our sun-baked steps and drowsing, Grandma’s bright orange poppies along the foundation of her house bobbed gently in the shade while an occasional whiff from her spearmint plants added to the feeling of well-being.

I remember the racket of black birds rioting in the surrounding grove, the funny sound of Grandma sneezing, Grandpa tuning his fiddle, the distant droning sounds of a tractor in the fields, while contentment settled over me like a cloak. The fresh summer air, the sky more immense than any artist could ever paint -- the whole beautiful world -- felt contained within that still, sacred space between the two houses. To me, as a small child, heaven itself could not get any better, I felt as if I were living it on earth.

It’s above all a memory of the glorious power of stillness, the joy of just being and what it is like to live from the inside out. Dawna Markova writes in I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, “I want to know how to lift above and sink below the flow of life, to drift and dream in the currents of what cannot be known.” She also suggests that we do not find joy, we cultivate it, through accumulation of those small, ordinary miracles that strengthen our hearts.

In his classic, Loving Yourself for God’s Sake, Adolfo Quezada says that we have been conditioned to survey our inner and outer landscapes quickly, to select the beautiful or interesting and ignore the rest. He writes, “Go beyond surface consciousness. … Allow yourself to enter the world around you. Come to respect that world -- persons and things -- as they are, not what you need them to be. Get out of yourself and let the world come into your heart. Hear the voice that comes from the reservoir of all experience and knowledge.” In one of my favorite passages, he writes, “Your whole self can rest in unconditional acceptance and nurturing love as the quest for knowing gives way to the security of believing. The love between yourself and God cannot be exclusively for you. It bursts from your heart into the world to do God’s bidding.”

When I think of the sacred space between my childhood home and Grandma’s house, as an adult, it gives me a glimpse of what that intimate space between God and me should feel like. When you feel that deep familiarity and encompassing love, there is no end to the hope, faith and passion you can bring to the world. God’s radiance fills every nook and cranny, always faithfully reminding us: Stillness first. Empowerment second.

Joni Woelfel’s third book, Meditations for Survivors of Suicide (Resurrection Press) was released the fall of 2002.

National Catholic Reporter, February 21, 2003