Shaker Village

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You don’t have to go to the ends of the earth for a pilgrimage to change you. Some of the loveliest places can be close to home. Pilgrimage is a perspective as well as an experience. Pilgrimage is seeing the divinity that is all around. Next month I will be back with new content but today enjoy a happy journey from a few years ago.

For most people visions of heaven include pearly gates, streets of gold and jewel encrusted mansions but not in my world. All I have to do is go to Kentucky to find my version of nirvana and it is called Shaker Village. After my lovely time at the Serpent Mound, and fortified with a latte, I retraced my path back to Lexington for the night. I had one more essential pilgrimage stop to make the next day. I needed a Shaker Village fix.

These days I live in my in-law’s home which is decorated in a style I would call High Ostentation but in my heart I prefer a style more like Early Convent. My Taurus/Virgo soul longs for a tidy house with white walls and simple furniture. The Shakers perfected this style and brought it to a high art.

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So who were the Shakers? They were a branch of the Quakers who came to America looking for religious freedom. Lead by Mother Ann Lee, the first communities were started in the late 1700’s and formed around 20 utopian centers with 6000 members at the peak of popularity. These communities were founded on principles of equality for the sexes and races, celibacy and pacifism. Men and women lived separately but worked together and the congregations grew by recruitment since procreation wasn’t allowed. In the early 1900’s the communities stopped taking members and were eventually closed

Spiritually they believe God was both male and female and the imminent second coming of Christ. They worshiped in stark meeting rooms with narrow benches and no pulpit. The service consisted of singing, dancing and ecstatic states of shaking and shouting thus they got the name “Shakers”. They wrote many songs for their worship and the most popular tune is Simple Gifts, immortalized in Aaron Copeland’s work Appalachian Spring.

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The communities were self-sustaining farms and invented many new labor-saving devises. The Kentucky Shakers were know for their brooms and high-quality seeds as well as furniture and weaving. Hard work was important to them so all the communities thrived. They believed that beautifully made simple furniture was an act of prayer. Each building and room was perfectly planned for simplicity, practicality and order and ideal which has had a lasting influence on American design.

Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is like stepping back in time. On this perfect September day the buildings glowed in the sun with a back drop of purple/blue sky. Pumpkins and corn stocks decorate the stack stone fences and there is just a hint of color in the trees that line the lane; translation—-pure joy. I wandered the buildings looking at the magnificent worn furniture, craft demonstrations, amazing circular staircases and stark perfection. I wandered into the dinning room for corn pudding and buttermilk pie, headed down to the old barn to see the friendly ram and horses and felt the gentle grace of this place frozen in time. During a past visit I sang Simple Gifts in the meeting hall where that song has reverberated thousands of times and I’m thrilled to sing it for myself.

After having my joy quotient filled by two beautiful days in Kentucky. I headed back to Tennessee. I didn’t have far to go and on the way home I listened to John O’Donohue talk about beauty. I have been bathed in beauty and sacred vibration for two days which has left my heart singing and spirit cheerful. My quick pilgrimage had all the joys of any exotic journey with no jet lag or expensive tickets. So this Fall find a place to pilgrimage close to home and bring beauty and joy to your soul.

http://www.shakervillageky.org

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Joseph Campbell

Pacifica

Joseph Campbell Library, Pacifica

Just a short pilgrimage to a neighboring state changed the course of my life. After I wrote this post three years ago, I decided to get a masters at Pacifica Graduate Institute. I really didn’t want to go back to school but the call to new adventure was too powerful to resist. Now I just have two weeks of school until I’m finished. I had no idea that day in Alabama how my life would change. I’m so glad I heard the call.

 

I was 26 and a new mother when I decided I wanted to be an Episcopalian. I liked the local parish so I had a meeting with the priest to talk about joining the church. We talked about my childhood church and it’s very literal interpretation of the Bible. The priest then said something I will never forget that rocked my world. “You know the Bible is a myth.” Holy Cow! What? Everything stopped in that instant as the foundation of my world view cracked wide open. I barely knew what a myth was, in my narrow world novels, fairy tales, myths and Santa were lies and not allowed. The priest told me to read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I read the book but didn’t understand it much, I had no context for the stories or concepts but I knew it was important. It took me an entire year to just wrap my mind around the idea that the Bible was not literal. The stories began touching my heart instead of baffling my brain.

I kept going to church and joined a book club and slowly, stone by stone, dismantled the cosmology of my childhood. When my world view lay in pieces all around me I started to rebuild with the good from my old life but now with the new materials. I read more mythology, Jung and archetypes, and novels. Each new book lead to the next and I spent all my spare time building a new and expanded paradigm that was much more open with plenty of room to grow.

I kept reading Joseph Campbell and watched The Power of Myth. I listen to interviews and kept a copy of Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion in the side pocket of my car. When I had a few minutes waiting in the school pick-up line or for ballet to finish, I would read the wise words. The book was tattered and coffee stained, underlined and loved. The myths, gods and goddesses became an important part of my life. When I went to Egypt for the first time, I knew little of the history but a great deal of the cosmology, I went to live the myths and stand before the gods. I was on the heroine’s journey.

Joseph Campbell was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and wrote about universal themes of mythologies in all cultures. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces has been very influential in our modern culture and the ideas helped create new myths for our time. Luke Skywalker is a classic mythological hero that bravely journeyed to the unknown to recover his lost self and bring back the wisdom for his society.

In mid-March I was traveling home from Alabama listening to some tapes of Michael Toms’ 1979 interview of Joseph Campbell. I had those tapes for many years and was going to listen to them one more time. I nearly had to pull over, on those tapes where exactly the validation I was needing about some materials I was working on about alchemy. Alchemy is not a subject usually associated with Joseph Campbell but there it was, an interview from nearly 40 years ago, perfect in that moment. The timeless quality of Joseph Campbell’s work is an indication of the deep universal Truths he was able to convey to the world. His work become new again as I grew and could hear it on a new level.

Two weeks later I was in southern California and had a day free to “follow my bliss” as Joseph Campbell so famously taught. I headed up the coast to just below Santa Barbara to Pacifica Graduate Institute and the Joseph Campbell Library. Nestled in a beautiful garden of a campus was a small library that holds all of Joseph Campbell’s personal books. Usually only accessible a few hours a week, the archivist happened to be free so he ushered me into a small dark room with bookshelves from floor to ceiling and a few display cases in the middle. I started to ask questions about alchemy and the librarian got on an old wooden ladder and pulled down a book. It was Carl Jung’s book on alchemy, Mysterium Conjunctionis. In it was Joseph Campbell’s prolific and very tidy underlining and notes. In front of me, under my fingertips was the meeting of two great minds. I turned the pages and read passages and notes and breathed in the magic of those two men who together restored the mythical journey to our modern world. Their work has restored the magic and mystery to my barren, literal life.

I spent a blissful hour and a half in that library, looking at the books that influenced such a great mind. There was an entire shelf of books on the Grail legend, some of them hundreds of years old. I saw his personal copy of his first book and a copy of The Joseph Campbell Companion with its familiar cover. In the display case were some of his favorite artifacts of ancient deity and a small metal ruler he used for underlining. Joseph was once asked if he meditated, he replied “no I underline.”

The Joseph Campbell Foundation   http://www.jcf.org

Pacifica Graduate Institute  www.pacifica.edu

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California Poppys,  Pacifica

St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

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This month is the 5th anniversary of my Camino walk. The Camino was life changing and I miss it often.  Enjoy this lovely memory with me.  My daily posts on the Camino can be found in the archives in May and June 2014.

My book Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was inspired by my walk on the Camino and many other pilgrimages around the world and close to home.  The e-book is now priced at $5.99.  Check it out at Amazon. 

First Published June 2104

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

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Worn out shoes

Santa Fe

The Southwestern US is a world away from my cozy mountain homeland.   The land is barren and the sky large and bright blue.   Rugged mountains capped with snow and covered with sage are the opposite of the thick, hot-house feel of my rambling hills.   But I love everything about this foreign world: smell, dry air, vast sky and desert.   It isn’t home, but it feeds my soul in the deep simplicity of the landscape.  A dear friend went to New Mexico last year and became so in love with this Land of Enchantment that she organized a trip for her daughter and close friends to come experience the magic.

We flew into Albuquerque and then drove the hour or so to Santa Fe.   We stayed in the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a beautiful adobe building that resembled a pueblo.  My room looked out on the famed Loretto chapel, the first gothic building west of the Mississippi.   Our little group of four were tired and hungry after our early morning flight so we wandered to the historic town square and found a place to eat and rest while adjusting to the altitude of 7200 feet.   After our late lunch, we wandered the square looking at the wares laid out on the blankets under the portico of the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors.   Beautiful jewelry, pottery and art made by local artisans felt like I was enjoying a living, open-air museum where I could actually touch the art.   I purchase earrings with Kokopelli stamped in the silver and a copper necklace for my mother. The altitude and time change meant we were ready for an early night, so drinks and appetizers by a warm fire was the perfect ending to our first enchanted day.

After breakfast in a little French café, the first stop was the mysterious Loretto Chapel that was built in 1878 by the Sisters of Loretto.    This small chapel has a “miraculous” staircase to the choir loft.   The story is told that the chapel was too small for a conventional staircase and the predicament was solved by a mysterious stranger that came and built a spiral staircase without any central support or handrail.   He then disappeared, never to be seen again.   A masterful work of carpentry, the stairs seem to defy the laws of physics, a miracle of skill and artistry.

There are many beautiful museums in Santa Fe celebrating the art of the local people and history of the land and people.  Recently a new interactive museum, Meow Wolf, brings together young artist to make a fanciful world of light and sound to explore.  It was hard to choose but I wanted to see the Georgia O’Keeffe museum just off the center square.  This remarkable and celebrated painter made Santa Fe her home for the second half of her long and productive painting career.   I was interested in who Georgia was as a creative woman and a new film of her reflecting on her life gave me great encouragement to find my own creative second act.   Her work is both stark and lush, bold and delicate and absolutely a reflection of her innovative life.

Wandering around a town that is so dedicated to art and beauty became an enchanted experience.   The trees were still ghost silhouettes against the deep blue sky which contrasted with the earth colored buildings.   It is truly an original American city that deserves its place as one of the most beautiful in the country.   After lunch, I visited the St. Francis Basilica and the Palace of the Governors.   I wandered around these old building on my own just admiring what caught my eye.   I was drawn to the icons and statues of the local saints.   Each had a primitive beauty and a story to tell.  I particularly loved Our Lady of Immaculate Conception standing on the crescent moon.

I finished my day with some quiet reflection (nap) while my fellow travelers had spa treatments.   A delightful dinner followed with the star of the show a chocolate mousse in the shape of a pueblo with a little chocolate ladder to access the top story—totally adorable.

Santa Fe is a living dream, stark and lush, beautiful and barren, a feast for all the senses.   I can see why it inspires such deep creativity in the people and sparked new creative spirit in my heart.

Chocolate Pueblo

Media Fast

Beehive Hermit Cell,  Kilmartin Scotland

I was out of control. My YouTube time had ballooned into a near-addiction. Ever since I got rid of cable I had transferred my downtime to the internet instead of TV. And besides, YouTube is designed to keep you watching long past a couple of videos. I’ve never liked Facebook much but it still took up a bit of time everyday too. One Sunday morning I knew I needed to stop so I had Hamilton lock my iPad in the safe for a week. I need to take an internet break. I still had a laptop (too slow), smart-phone (too little) and Kindle (too basic) but none of them tempt me to do anything but important business.

With nothing to distract me I had to get back to books. I read some fluff on the Kindle and got the news from an actual newspaper and I got back to my early morning reading. I’ve had a routine since I was young of reading something spiritual when I first get up in the morning. I feed the cats, make some coffee and while that is brewing, unload the dishwasher. Then I pour my first cup of the day with just cream, and set to reading. I like to read a chapter or so in a spiritual or metaphysical book and then move on to something else I’m working on. It is amazing how many books you can get through in a year with a chapter a day.

The world is dark and quiet early in the morning and the only thing stirring is my cat Timmy who wants his morning cuddle. It is in this silence that I can open my mind and heart to the spiritual masters and teachers who left beautiful writings to help guide me on my path. During my internet fast I was reading a lovely book called The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way. An appropriate title for the a perpetual pilgrim to be reading, don’t you think? This spiritual classic was written by an unknown Russian peasant in the 1800’s who’s life was in shambles after losing his home and wife.

The author sets off to travel looking for his spiritual truth with only the clothes on his back and some crusts of bread in a knapsack. He wanted to follow the words of the Bible and learn to ‘pray without ceasing’. With the Bible and another book the Philokalia, a collection of early Christian writings. as his guide and solace, he encounters hardship, hunger, cold and thieves. As his journey continues he finds meaning and comfort in prayer and is able to help many people he encounters on the way. Two books and some bread—that is far from my stack of electronic devises and pantry full of food. Would I have the courage of this man? Could I ever be able to dedicate my life to such an ideal? Times have changed but the need to find our truth is still there.

I will definitely lock up the iPad again if I need a break from the world. I’m not quite ready to be a wandering mendicant but I did learn to put the world in its proper place again. By the way, my second book in the morning currently is about Thoreau and Walden Pond, Expect Great Things, and my third book is about a young man living in a van, Walden on Wheels. I think there is a pattern here. But as appealing as a good wander sounds I think I will stick with my air conditioned house during this hot and humid August and enjoy some vicarious wandering.

Rosslyn Chapel

Celtic Christianity, the third thread of my Scotland pilgrimage, has a very different feel than the Christianity back in the Bible Belt of the US where I live. Celtic Christianity has always taken on the flavor of the community, history and landscape of Scotland. The influences of the ancient past are still part of the spirituality of the place because you can’t isolate Christianity from the local culture and land. Scotland, being so remote, has been much more influence by isolation than by the Holy Roman Empire. There are no great Gothic cathedrals but instead the great cathedrals of the natural world. I went exploring many of the Christian mysteries of this magic landscape and I want to share with you some of my experiences.

We spent the first full day of our tour at the enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel just a few miles outside of Edinburgh. I first visited Rosslyn in 2009 on a gloomy day in September. There was scaffolding both inside and out and much of the chapel was concealed but I was not disappointed and had such a peaceful experience just sitting with the chapel cat William on my lap and enjoying the power of this small but energetically intense place.

Templar Gravestone, Old Pentland Cemetary

The land surrounding Rosslyn is a beautiful glen that goes straight down on one side of the chapel. We first walked down into the glen to see 400 year old Chestnut trees that hold the memory of this place. There are ley lines, energy lines of the earth, running through this land that cross in the chapel. Peaceful and beautiful and I spent extra time listening to the birds in an old yew tree forest. After lunch we proceeded to the chapel. On this day, there was not a cloud in the sky or a single piece of scaffolding now the renovations are complete. The chapel shone in all its glory. I was happy to be returning on such a perfect spring day. We walked around the outside and then I slowly took my time wandering the inside. I listened to the official guide talk about the history and point out the ley line in the center. William the chapel cat was napping in the same spot as last time and I gave him some love, I’m sure he remembered me. I watched the intense reactions of my fellow travelers to this very holy place. I finally made it to the crypt and lingered with one of my favorite parts of the chapel– a stained glass window with Christ coming out of a diamond.

400 Year Old Chestnut

The next day we went north of Edinburgh to Perthshire, just in the village of Grandtully. I had a big surprise for the group. In a sheep pasture is a little stucco and wood chapel, a place that is easily missed. St Mary’s chapel is a hidden treasure for inside this modest building in the middle of nowhere is a 400 year-old painted ceiling detailing the lineage of Jesus in Scotland. Depicted on the ceiling is a Grail Knight levitating the philosopher’s stone between his hands, a painting of Mary Magdalen, the four gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Jesus channeling energy into the flaming heart of the world. In the center, is a painting of what is clearly the Judgment depicted just like the Tarot. The mysteries are all there. When I stepped back to the far side of the chapel, you can see that each part together makes the shape of the Quabbalistic Tree of Life. This little secret place called me back and I was so glad to share it with my friends. Like at Rosslyn, the hidden stories of Christianity are kept safe waiting to be decoded by those who are willing to see an alternative story.

Grail Knight                                         Mary Magdalen

Jesus and flaming heart                      Judgement

St. Mary’s Chapel Ceiling

Speaking of alternative stories, there was one more mysterious place to investigate on the Isle of Mull. In a tiny church, in the tiny town of Dervaig on the edge of Mull, is a stained glass window with a heretical image. Here, in this hidden spot, is a 1900’s era window that shows Jesus and a pregnant Mary Magdalen in a loving embrace. Now remember, we saw the lineage of Jesus on the ceiling in Perthshire. And what about William Blake’s poem Jerusalem:  

And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen!”

Hummmm. Not the official story but one I have long accepted as possible and probable.

Fairies, Knights Templar, stone circles, ancient forests, mysterious chapels—you just don’t know what you will find next in this magic land. But I had one more place to visit, a place I have longed for and the culmination of our grand Scottish pilgrimage—-Iona.

 

Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail

by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins

The Woman with the Alabaster Jar:  Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail

by Margaret Starbird

http://www.sacredconnections.co.uk

Youtube:  The Scottish Grail Legacy

Thomas Merton

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Last week I had the most unexpected delight. Brother Luke from the Abbey of Gethsamani wrote me this note.

Many thanks for the thoughtful and generous reflections about your visit to us. Rest assured, the company of our fellow pilgrims is a blessing and enrichment for us there in the choir. Every warm best wish and encouragement from us all!

I was so pleased that our time together was a blessing even though the Brothers in Gethsemani and I have never met. The quiet interaction of our devotion was equally beneficial to our hearts even though our conscious mind didn’t know the specifics. It is through the quality of our heart the blessings are received. This is one of the great mysteries and graces of the devotion of the pilgrim.

How do we grow the quality of our heart? So glad you asked! Because one of the most important spiritual writers on contemplation and devotion was a Brother at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton. All you have to do is open one of his many beautiful books on the contemplative life and you will find the answers to the way of a Spirit filled life. You may have heard of Thomas Merton before but if you haven’t I want to introduce him to you because he brought contemplation into the 21st century and continues the long line of Christian mystics going back to John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. You will find his influence on many of the lives of current spiritual writers.

Thomas, known as Brother Louis at Gethsamani, was born in 1915 in France to non-religious artist parents and spent his childhood going between France, England and the United States. He ultimately ended up Columbia University where he got a masters in literature, with a thesis on William Blake, the first clue of his future. By the time Thomas was in his mid-twenties, he had no living family and a deep Christian conversion. He felt called to the life of devotion and eventually found the Abbey of Gethsamani. Thomas wrote about his childhood and conversion experience and first days in the Abbey in his classic best-seller, The Seven Storey Mountain. With a great talent for writing about the contemplative life, Thomas continued his work as a writer as his vocation in the Abbey. Eventually he was able to move to a small converted hermitage on the Abbey grounds where he could spend his time in the solitude he craved. The last few years of his life (in the early 1960’s), he became increasingly interested in social justice and the common spirit between Buddhism and Christianity. He made a famous trip to India to meet the Dalai Lama and attend a global conference on world religions. Unfortunately Thomas died on that trip in an accident exactly 27 years to the day of joining the monastery.

I’ve known about Thomas Merton for many years but the visit to Gethsamani gave me the context to read his books I had collected. I could spend a lifetime with this amazing writer and mystic. But let us go back to the original question that we asked, how to grown the quality of your heart. Thomas has some beautiful suggestions. He said that you didn’t have to be a monk or nun to live the contemplative life, that the life of prayer is open to all of us. It doesn’t require hours of meditating or renunciation of the world to make your own life an act of devotion. Our lives are perfect for growing the heart for it is the act of taking time to connect with the Divine everyday and see everyone we meet and our work as service to the world. He wrote, “to be a saint is to be myself.” Doing the dishes and the laundry, our commute, caring for our children and our elderly parents can all be acts of devotion and love.

Yes, every part of our lives can be a chance for awakening. One of Thomas’ most profound experiences wasn’t in the monastery in prayer but in a moment while on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Be who you are, love the life you have, spend moments in silence, start and end your day with moments of prayers, sing a hymn, read a scripture or inspirational book, notice the birds and the wind in the trees and realize we are “all walking around shining like the sun.”

Books by Thomas Merton:

New Seeds of Contemplation

The Seven Storey Mountain

Thoughts on Solitude

 

Books on a modern contemplative life by Marsha Sinetar:

Sometimes Enough is Enough  

Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics