Thin places

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A while back, I learned about the idea of “thin places.” In Celtic spirituality, thin places are places where the border between heaven and earth seems particularly thin.  Think of them as places where you feel God’s presence more acutely than you do elsewhere.

Like St. Ignatius, I believe  that you can find God everywhere and in all things.  And yet I don’t see this reality as being in conflict with the idea of thin places.  Perhaps thin places are places where we don’t need to work quite as hard to see the divine.  They’re the places where there are fewer barriers to our ability to recognize God, whatever those barriers may be.

I can think of a few thin places I’ve encountered:

*My kids’ room at night, when I look at them lying asleep in their bunkbeds

*Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York

*The open space near my grandmother’s home in Santa Barbara, where I used to walk as a kid and look down at the ocean

*My own humble backyard on a summer evening

*Any labyrinth

*A chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is present (I guess that one’s obvious!)

What about you?  What are your thin places?

Remembering what I have: A poem from my great-grandmother

My great-grandmother (left), her husband, and her children, 1932.

My great-grandmother (left), her husband, and her children, 1932.

A thought popped into my mind yesterday morning: What if I go throughout the day focusing on what I have instead of what I don’t have?

I’m not sure where this thought came from, exactly;   I guess “the Holy Spirit” is as good an answer as any.  I’m glad it appeared,  though, because although I strive for an attitude of gratitude, dissatisfaction can creep in, in rather insidious ways.

But with this new attitude in the forefront of my mind, yesterday was better than it would have been.  Instead of wishing for more time to work on my next writing project, I was grateful for the hour I did have while my kids were playing with their cousins.  Instead of wishing for a bigger house, I was grateful for a cozy one that fits our family’s needs.  And on, and on.

I wrote a week or so ago about my great-grandmother Helen Cary Keyt Wolf, and the “Button Box” of poems that she wrote from the 1930s to the 1960s.  She was certainly someone who lacked much of what we would consider essential for happiness.  Raising five children during the Depression years, with a husband who would leave and come back at various times without warning, she lived  with no small amount of financial and relational uncertainty.  I am sure she had plenty of moments where despair and envy were close to the surface.

And yet even then, there are things to be grateful for.   Her writings show that she knew this, and tried to live by it.  I am sure that there were times when her resolve wavered and such optimism was hard to maintain.  But we have evidence, written in her own hand, that she knew the value of focusing on the positive, and that she made the choice to recognize the blessings in her life – her children above all.

Here is one of her poems, written sometime in the thirties.  It captures this philosophy well.  .

My Shopping List
by Helen Cary Keyt Wolf

What would I do if I had
A dollar or two today?
For son number one,
I’d buy a new shirt.
For son number two, new shoes.
For son number three, a pair of pants
And a bonnet for baby.
For my young miss
I’d get some cloth
For her to make a new dress.
Then perhaps some curtains I’d buy
For windows in our sunroom.
Some new pots and pans
Some tea glasses, too -
Oh, I have lots of plans.
But since I haven’t that dollar
I’ll put a patch on a shirt,
About shoes, well, I can’t do much
But give them an extra shine.
I’ll lengthen and press a pair of pants
And make a bonnet for baby
And look through the chest
Perhaps I can find
Something to make a “new dress”.
The windows? Well, I’ll just leave plain
For it would be a pity to
Shut out the view
Of roses and bushes and vines.
The pans will have to do for now.
We can use cups for glasses.
Oh, it’s not hard to substitute
If one goes singing about it.

What are the blessings YOU can focus on today?

Poldark, Episode Five: A baby changes everything

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Unlike most period dramas (or most TV shows, period), “Poldark” got the hero married off very early.  By the end of the third episode, Ross and Demelza were already at the altar.  This flies right in the face of the classic will-they-or-won’t-they tension that usually keeps viewers tuning in week after week.  Think of how long it took Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley to end up together, or Elizabeth and Darcy, or Sam Malone and Diane Chambers (I guess that last one shows my age).

So it says something that the story of Poldark ends up being so gripping even though the romantic leads have already gotten hitched.  Part of this is due to the little hints that maybe Ross still sees Elizabeth in a fond light, which makes me wonder where, if anywhere, these not-quite-buried feelings will go (I’ve read the first three novels in the series but I have no idea what happens after that).  I will say that if he does ANYthing to disrespect Demelza, he will suffer a swiftly dramatic fall from grace in my eyes that will make Francis’ steep downward plunge look like kids’ stuff.   Not even your great hair will save you, Ross!  You have been warned.

More thoughts:

*Aww, little baby fingers and toes!  I love seeing Demelza slip into a new mom-role and I adored the conversation she and Ross had at the end, where he talks about how everything bad that happens around them seems even worse now that he has a child.  Parenthood does that.

Also, how adorable was it when he had baby Julia in a sling and was walking along the cliffs with her? Forget the scything scene,  it’s moments like these that make  women melt.  Throw in a golden retriever and no woman on earth would be immune.

*It cracked me up when Demelza’s dad, who has apparently Found Religion, comes in and starts dissing Mean Girl Ruth for having such a low-cut neckline.  What a very satisfying taste of her own rude medicine.  And I love how she had to poke her husband to make him say, “Sir, I’m offended!”, which he did in a most unconvincing fashion.  Ha ha ha!

*Francis, Francis: did anyone ever tell you that gambling is a really  bad idea?  Giving jewelry to prostitutes is not such a good move either.   Alienating your wife won’t end well.  At least you got to show off your Latin by writing a classy epitaph on your mine.  And I love how Demelza asked Ross what “Resurgam” meant, because while I was pretty sure I knew, it was good to get confirmation.  (True confession: I don’t actually know Latin.  I am Catholic, which means I am good at faking it.)

*Can I get girly  for a moment and say that I really love all the curls these ladies have?

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I always wanted hair that curls like this.  And I guess Demelza’s lice never returned after Episode One.  That’s a good thing, because with Poldark’s flowing locks, he would be very vulnerable.

He's just asking for crawlers.

He’s just asking for crawlers.

*Speaking of hair: if we know George is bad because of his ugly ‘do, this new Matthew Sansome guy (the one who played Francis at cards and cleaned his clock) must be Satan in a waistcoat.  I have never seen such weirdly unattractive hair on a man.  Let’s all keep him on our radar.

*So Demelza manages to get Verity and her guy back together!  (or so it seems). I think the moral of the story is that if a girl does not want to get together with you, hire some rioting miners to thunder towards her, and then pull her dramatically  out of harm’s way.  You will a) look like a totally awesome manly hero and b) be able to say your piece without her running off.  A few minutes should do it.

Do you think Demelza was right to try to get them back together?  Would you have done the same, or left it alone?  And aren’t you excited for next week?

Mom-thought for the day

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Poldark, Episode Four: Demelza, the female Tom Branson

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We’re now at the halfway mark in this season of eight episodes.  And a lot has happened, hasn’t it?  But even though every episode prior to this one has been a rollercoaster of action,  Episode Four was really focused on one theme: How To Win Friends and Not Be Utterly Terrified When You Marry Above Your Social Class.

In the novel, right after Demelza and Ross are married, the narrator says this:

[Ross] realized with a sense of half-bitter amusement that this marriage would finally damn him in the eyes of his own class.  For while the man who slept with his kitchenmaid only aroused sly gossip, the man who married her made himself personally unacceptable in their sight.

I think we can all agree that’s pretty messed up.  Yay for Ross for swimming against the current!

Different show, same problem.

Different show, same problem.

I can’t help seeing parallels between Demelza and   Tom Branson of Downton Abbey.  Both married above their station.  As a result, both had to navigate the tricky, shark-and-snark-infested waters of the rich snobby types, who don’t take kindly to having young upstarts infiltrate their circle, even if said upstarts have hearts of gold.

So whose situation was tougher, Tom’s or Demelza’s?  It’s an intriguing question. Here are my thoughts, because it’s summer vacation and I don’t have to teach tomorrow, which means I have time to ponder these extremely important topics.

*On the one hand, a woman marrying above her social class was probably far more common (relatively speaking) than a man doing the same.  Maybe this is due to power dynamics between men and women, or the fact that it would have been emasculating for men to marry someone wealthier than they are, etc.  So in that sense, there is a bit more of a precedent to Demelza’s relationship than Tom’s.  She’s living the Cinderella story, after all (did they have the Cinderella story in 18th century Cornwall?).

On the other hand, women are always WAY harder on other women than they are on men.  I think we had Exhibit A of that with poisonous debutante Ruth,  who couldn’t help making barbed comments to Demelza across the festive dinner table.  Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a Mean Girl shooting daggers at you with her eyes.  And Demelza now has to go to tea and balls with these people!

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Demelza, we feel your pain.

Or not.  I liked the conversation between Ross and George, where Ross basically says that he’s indifferent to social convention; I guess we don’t have to expect him to be making Demelza endure all the visits and calls and things that would be expected of a lady of the time.  (By the way, have you noticed that Ross always seems to have the same expression when George is trying to bait him?  It’s a quizzical yet knowing little smile, as if to say I see exactly what you’re trying to do here and why do you care so much about trying to rattle me?  I like it.)

More thoughts:

*Elizabeth does not have an enviable situation.  Francis continues plummeting as swiftly as a stone dropped off a Cornish cliff, and now Ross is married, which probably hurts a lot.  I think it was one of the Bridget Jones novels where the narrator said that ex-boyfriends should never marry; they should remain forever single so as to provide us with a mental fallback position. Elizabeth does not have that with Ross anymore.  At least she has the baby, and her purple lipstick, and that blue dress she wore at the end which was really very lovely.  And she has the satisfaction of knowing she was honestly kind to Demelza.  Catgirl Ruth should take a page from her book.

*Mid-plummet, Francis surprised me by saying something sort of wise.  Looking at their wives talking, Francis says to Ross , “We envy a man for something he has.  Yet the truth may be he hasn’t got it after all, and we have.”  I’m not entirely sure what he was referring to there — is he thinking that maybe he doesn’t need to fear the Ross/Elizabeth connection anymore, now that Ross is apparently happily married?  I don’t actually know.  I just know it sounded very profound, which is not a trait I have come to associate with Francis.

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Let’s give this lady something to smile about.

*Verity: she’s a jewel.  Truly.  I loved the conversation between her and Demelza, where Verity talks about how glad she is that Demelza and Ross are married.  (Also loved the quick little shocked look on her face when Demelza alluded to sex — that was priceless.)  That girl deserves love in her life!  Bring the captain back and don’t tell Francis!  (and hide the pistols just in case).

*I was wondering if there would be a little line in the credits: “No Fish Were Harmed in the Making of this Epsiode.”  That looked like a LOT of fish.  Glad the miners won’t be starving this winter.  And the scene where they go out in boats for the pilchards is one of my favorite scenes in the novel; it’s beautifully-written and becomes a turning point in the Ross/Demelza marriage.

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*Speaking of the marriage, what’s fascinating about these two is that so much of what normally happens before you get married (like saying you love each other) happens AFTER they get married.  There is still much for each of them to discover about the other.  It’s a pretty unconventional relationship, which keeps it so interesting.

* And copper is king!

Your thoughts?