All posts by Mary Herbert

About Mary Herbert

I am a gentle listener, a woman of few words. My journey through life has been a spiritual one, as well as a physical one. My daughter, Katie, and I thought it would be interesting to combine some of our giftings/talents in a blog and see what happens. Let us know what you think!

My All Time Favorite Books

It really is interesting the books one rereads and to ask oneself, why this one? Why theses.  I have many I want to re-read, but these I have re-read at least six times.  So what is it that draws me.

My first read of trilogy, The Hawk and the Dove, by Penelope Wilcock, began during lent of 2002, my second reading 2005, then 2008 till I have read it 6-7 times.   Till my last read in 2019 when I discovered an additional six books.  These books are fiction and for me a story for Lent. 

Maybe the series call to some deep desire to hear the deeper story, or to be told a story not just for the history, but for the wisdom that can be accessed from another’s experience.  But, the first two books are of a mother telling her teenage daughter stories of the monastic life that is a part of their history.  Frequently these are told on the walk home from Compline or Evening Prayer, sometimes they take place in the candle lit room as the mother is calming the younger children into sleep.  Always a time that seems to be a very peaceful time.  But, each story, each chapter, holds a lesson about loving the other, understanding others, having compassion for others, and the ordinary daily exchange that happens when living in close proximity with others that few of us can escape.  There are profound lessons in confession and forgiveness,  suffering and gentleness, community and loneliness.  These are the stories of transformation and hope.

I love that the setting for the books is centuries old, takes place in a monastery, that there is a rhythm to their lives and seem to have nothing in common with most of my life.  I am safe…it’s not about me.  I can enter this story unafraid and with abandon.  I will not have to be vulnerable.  I will not have to try to figure out some puzzle or deeper meaning.   But, as my heart opens to the characters, I find myself hiding in them, being seen by others.  I’m as needy as the newest novice,  and at times without mercy like the strict and exacting novice master.  I find that I am broken and frequently limp along, but that I have the capacity to listen like the abbot, and also to tend like the brother who tends those who are infirm. I’m very like the brother who is in charge of the kitchen…grumpy and bossy. And I am really no different from the brother who finds the courage to do the hard things.

The author has what I consider a trustworthy understanding of the sacred and of humanity.  She tells these stories with authenticity…maybe from experience.  I want to absorb the wisdom of these collective stories about a compassionate community.   The stories caught me while I was escaping into a fictional world.  They made me want to turn around and return to enter them in a deeper way and explore the truths that are so loving and compassionate.  These stories allow me to look at myself more lovingly and with a longer view.  Maybe I need to read them again.

Four Inches

Notice
How people gather in doorways
-on thresholds.
Their deepest conversations
in four inches of space?
Between one coming
and one going?
Four inches of intimacy, 
four inches of knowing.

We see the people
who linger 
in this space…
that is neither here nor there.
Holding onto a door that is open,
an opening with freedom to speak.
A threshold with invitation
to be heard and to move forward
…through four inches of intimacy.
A threshold to be gained.

Let us bless this common space
Made sacred by the stories.
Let us bless the greetings and the leavings
Made holy by the long good-byes. 
Let us bless this open door
With its quiet words and  listening.

This poem began in church with a very unholy attitude.  Honestly it was the congestion I noticed first and inside I began to complain and rail against this problem.  Then I noticed it happening when I visited others, lingering as I got ready to leave, finding myself doing what I had complained about.  Now it is a holy place and time.  An invitation to another visit maybe in a wider place.

A Potter’s House

A potter’s house,
…an earthy place
…clay and water in the air.

A place where sweat is mixed with earth
where hand and eye and wheel are one,
   …and touch, the sense that forms the lump,
…the lump that turns and returns,
as it must.
Notice the hands
that form the pot,
look at them now, and
the centered self…
For pressure
from hands,
move the clay,
and gradually pull out the gift inside.

A potter sees the earth
with artist eyes,
attends the earth
within one’s hands,
loves the earth
and the gifts it gives.

Jeremiah 18:1-6 talks about a potter and I’ve always looked at that Scripture as telling us that a potter can do whatever they want with a pot.  They are in control of the pot.  Maybe that is what it is telling us.  But, when I was writing this, I thought about the story of Adam, and God forming him from the earth.  I thought of my own short experiences with using a potter’s wheel, and of watching others use a wheel, what it must feel like to be on a wheel and to turn and return to the same space only from a shifting spot, till center is found.  I thought about the attention it takes, the work it takes to move and center the clay- getting it to the place it needs to be.  I thought about hands working clay, hands covered in clay…Jesus’ hands.  And in my mind I wandered with a potter and watched him look at earth, and I thought of God, and how much he loves his earth.

Tea With a Brother

The intimacy of sitting in little chairs,
with your brother
at a little table set for two.
Having a little tea or cocoa,
in little tiny cups.
Imagining, 
…imagining what it is like
to be another,
to be you at a different time.

Here, sitting with your brother
with just a taste
of orange, 
and just a taste of apple,
and just a taste 
of an older life.
Pretending
…and being real,
being both silly
and  grown up.

Then looking out the window,
seeing the horizon in the distance,
the edge that is yet to be explored.
Sitting there with  your  older self,
tucked safely deep inside.
This communion, always with you
at a table set for two.
You are living now, as you will be living then.
Though, your view is sheltered,
this is who you are.

The courage it will take to leave,
But, the delight in coming back…
to this shelter,
to this tea,
to this brother, and
to this your centered self.

This poem came from seeing a picture of two grandsons having “tea”, a small snack to provide some nourishment but also to occupy them for a “little” while. It is a beautiful picture of two brothers having fun…the older looking out the window that he faced, past the younger. While the younger seemed to be chatting and engrossed in the setting.

The Roar

The roar, a prayer, from somewhere deep
A prayer of grief
that keening makes,
…because of pain that mourning shapes. 
A moan at first, there are no words,
then wrenching out to final roar. 

The roar it comes from somewhere real
Do not defy, do not pretend:
This place, this desert, so destitute.
A rocky valley, a swirling eddy, …
a place where others seldom enter .
But it is the
cry for others,
and how tragic if not shared.
So roar your prayer, and some may see,
this place with empathy.

To listen to the roar
is to listen to a prayer,
look  down the depth of pain,
look down that  well with them,
…then sob and wail.
For from the bottom of that well
their honest roar it came.

How can the body hold,
such grief, such anger or despair?
It must not, else it fall apart.
Let it roar and be a prayer. 
Oh, Lord, this roar,
is our only prayer.
It is our holy prayer.

So for now
find that place where you can roar
and let the roar be your honest  prayer,
your primal prayer…
…your only prayer.
Then take a breath…
and say, 
            Amen.

In Psalm 73, the psalmist says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant: I was a brute beast before you.” (verses 21 & 22)  Sometimes our prayers are groans or sighs.  And sometimes they reach to the center of our core and are expressed in roars, from that place of deep grief, frustration, anger or utter despair.  Seldom do we give each other or ourselves permission to express that sort of emotion, and that is tragic.  So it is stuffed and I wonder if it leaks out of us in other ways…unhealthy ways.