Sunday, February 15, 2015

WALKING EPIPHANY in Massachusetts: neighborhood notes from Ellen Cressman

Welcome to a special Epiphany series of guest posts.  I've asked a few friends who live (literally) around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods and share some of what they see through photos, videos and words.  Each one has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods.  Will you join us?

Ellen Cressman

This has been a much-more-difficult-than-usual late winter here in New England. In the last 3 weeks, we've had over 5 feet of snow, and apparently there's another 1-2 feet coming tomorrow, along with record bitter cold and 40-50 mile per hour winds. It's brought up all the usual frustration, as well as some good humored resignation and “we're all in this together” helpfulness. At the same time, it's obvious each day that the sun is coming back; sunrise is a bit earlier, sunset noticeably later, the light itself is stronger than just a few weeks ago. Even in the midst of this relentless onslaught of snow, spring is coming...

We've lived in this house, in a fairly typical suburban neighborhood, for 26 years. We've raised our two boys to adulthood, lost 3 of 4 grandparents, been seriously ill, had lots of parties, celebrated many milestones, tended many gardens, and have now become grandparents. All this in a place with much less privacy and open space than I would have thought necessary for my deeply introverted self to thrive...and yet...

There are beautiful little places of grace and beauty tucked in among the houses and lawns and side streets (more and more of those as developers build ever more houses and lawns and streets). In summer the trees hide many of the houses immediately around us, and the deck—12 feet off the ground—feels almost like a treehouse. The backyard faces south, and the light pours in all year, every season a different angle, and I am so grateful for it. We've created a garden back there, out of thin top soil and builders' buried waste, and the ever present New England rocks, and it has become a place of sanctuary and rest. Neighbors have mentioned how peaceful it is, and I like to think that it brings them joy or rest or connection with something beyond themselves even though this is not a close knit neighborhood.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(God's Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Just around the corner is this little stream, and about a quarter mile in the other direction is a farm.  It's good to take walks slowly here, to consciously slow down and notice the little tucked in places of unexpected beauty, and the sudden surprising sweep of a field down to the woods. Seasons come one by one every year, and every year they are the same and yet so different—the rhythm is eternal, but there are new mercies every morning, and the same landscape varies year by year while remaining familiar. 

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
(A portion of Inversnaid, Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Light, of course, is like that, season by season, as is life—we say we are in a particular season of life in terms of age, or that there are only so many springs in each life and we want to make them count, or that a time in our life feels like a barren winter, or a glorious summer. To pay attention to what is around us, to really notice our surroundings and be fully present to whatever beauty is there, can make even a difficult winter a time of deep connection with both God and our own hearts. 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 

Ellen and Dave live in Massachusetts, where they've run various healing ministries for over 20 years. She's currently studying spiritual direction, doting on her new grandson, and dreaming of gardening again.


What about your neighborhood?

  • What does light look like at different times of the day in your neighborhood? What about different times of the year?

  • How has your place shaped your imagination about what's possible for your life?  What possibilities has it opened up?  What limitations has it created?

  • Where do your neighbors hang out when they are not inside their homes?  Front porches?  Backyards?  Town parks?  


**Each of guest post in the WALKING EPIPHANY series selected a few prompts from an overflowing folder of quotations I've saved from the Daily Asterisk.  Thank you *culture is not optional for all of your good work. **

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