Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend…

Having recently returned from a brief stay at a hermitage, my spirit is filled. However, re-entry to the world has left my mind and body weary and numb. Soon I shall sleep.

For us Christians of the west, today is Pentecost, the Feast of the coming of the Spirit. (My Orthodox friends will be so celebrating next Sunday).

The depth at which I experienced God’s preparation of me for this holy Feast is something more than I can possibly express here. Yet I wish to share a few of the gifts He bestowed.

Presented here are two readings, one from St. Cyril of Jerusalem and the other from St. Basil the Great, both of which appeared in the Liturgy of the Hours (Roman) in the last week. St. Cyril’s wisdom, not mine, titled this post. I recorded both readings while at the hermitage (using an app on my cell phone, one of my few concessions to technology) so that I could share the experience with you.

(St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

(St. Basil the Great)
The other gift is a glass sculpture I was allowed to fashion depicting the Spirit as a dove descending, along with Christ’s words “Remain in me”. As with the Cross posted at the onset of Lent, bits of broken glass salvaged from my broken window came together to form the image.


May we remain in Him always, by the power, grace and comfort of His Spirit, to the glory of our Father in Heaven. Amen.


Addendum. Texts for the recordings:

From a catechetical instruction by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop.

(Cat.16, De Spiritu Sancto 1, 11-12. 16: PG 33, 931-935)

The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous. The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.


From the treatise On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great, bishop

(Cap. 9, 22-23; PG 32, 107-110)

The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realize that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.

To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.

The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.

Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.

As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.

From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations—we become God.

He ascended…

This is essentially a re-blog except that I am adding my audio recording of this beautiful text. I often find that I like to listen and so I offer you that opportunity as we together reflect on the Ascension of the Lord.

Many thanks to Mark Armitage at for seeking out and sharing this passage (and so many others).

(second version of recording – see comments)

(text, for those who wish to read)


Abandoning on earth the things of earth,
Leaving to the dust the things of ash,
Come, let us come to our senses and let us raise on high our eyes and minds.
Mortals, let us make our sight together with our senses
Fly to heaven’s gates.
Let us imagine we are standing on the mount of Olives
And that we bend our gaze on the Redeemer
As he rides upon a cloud.
For from where the Lord has hastened back to heaven
There too the One who loves to give has distributed his gifts
To his Apostles, cherishing them as a father and crying out to them,
‘I am not parting from you. I am with you and there is no one against you.’


The One who came down to earth, as he alone knows how,
As he ascended from it, again as he knows how,
Took those he loved and led those he had gathered to a high mountain,
That, having mind and senses aimed on high,
They might then abandon all that seeks the ground.
And so, having climbed the hill of Olives,
They surrounded the Benefactor,
As Luke, the initiate, recounts,
While the Lord, raising his hands like wings,
Sheltered them, as an eagle the nest which it was warming,
And says to the nestlings, ‘I have sheltered you from all evils.
As I have cherished you, do you love me.
‘I am not parting from you. I am with you and there is no one against you.’


High over you, my Disciples,
As God and Maker of the whole world
I stretch out my palms, which the lawless stretched out, bound and nailed.
And so, as you bow your heads beneath my hands,
Understand, know, my friends, what I command.
For as though baptising I lay my hands upon you now,
And having blessed you send you out
Enlightened, and made wise.
Upon your heads praise and majesty,
Upon your souls illumination, as it is written,
For I shall pour out upon you of my Spirit, and you will accepted by me,
Taught and chosen, faithful and my own.
‘I am not parting from you. I am with you and there is no one against you.’

Romanos the Melodist (c.490-c.556): Kontakion on the Assumption, 1-3, trans. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash @ Anastasis.


The well

(I offer you this little poem…it is recorded if you prefer to listen, and is followed by the text, should you prefer to read.)


the well is deep
but it did not come into being
+++without pain.
they came to dig one day
in that field i bought
+++just last year –
the one that cost me everything
+++i owned.

“why here?” i wondered,
as i signed the permit
they thrust before me.
“why dig a well here,
+++in this field,
in my field, that is so
full of rocks and weeds?”

yet they began,
breaking through old roots,
crushing layers of stone,
deeper and deeper
+++into the heart
where the treasure lay.

as much as i knew it would happen,
it still stunned me to see
what bubbled to the surface,
+++so clean and pure and holy.
come. come – drink of the joy –
+++it is free.
++++++it is all for you.

++++++ +++

The adventure (and what came next)…

I set the box on the counter, paid the clerk and exited the post office as though it were any other transaction. Once in my car, however, my heart felt unbearably heavy and my eyes welled up with tears.

“Good-bye, little camera,” I whispered into the emptiness. “I’m so sorry.”

(One week earlier…)

The new one had been so excited about the adventure (see past post, New beginnings) that she hardly minded the long day of being jostled about and stuffed under seats in her camera bag. Her camera bag, she thought with contentment. She realized that the bag had once belonged to the old camera but she no longer felt threatened by her predecessor. She understood now. Her person was grieving for her old friend but welcomed and accepted her without reservation.

It was dark when the last of the three airplanes they had boarded that day landed in the tiny airport in central California. The new one listened with interest as her person greeted her old friend, Rodger, whom she hadn’t seen in decades. She could not see anything from within the camera bag, of course, but she was intrigued and anxious to view the outside world that awaited her. Things were different here. She could feel it in the air.

The next morning was bright and sunny. Accompanied by Rodger, the new one and her person emerged into cool morning air and were immediately greeted by a collage of colors and shapes, light and shadows. Click! Click! The new one began playing and exploring with a studied excitement.

With her zoom lens on, she could see the ocean waves at the end of the street. Yet along the way, there were so many flowers! She didn’t know what to do first – it was all so very beautiful. Click!


As much as she wanted to pause and absorb the colorful blooms, the ocean drew her inexorably. The flowers would wait. She and her person had to see the ocean.

Although she had imagined this moment many times while waiting in the dark, the new one was utterly unprepared for what awaited them at the end of the road. In a vast expanse of blue, the sky and the sea seemed to kiss lightly at the horizon, while crashing waves belied the true power of ocean as it beat itself against the rocky shoreline.


Click! Click! Click! In quick succession, the new one received images of waves, crashing and splashing resplendently. To her delight, she also discovered a thick carpet of flowers at their feet and a variety of seabirds soaring overhead. Click! Click!


IMG_0122Massive rock structures rivaled the sea in their breathtaking beauty, while each moment seemed to bring new angles of light and shadow.


The sea turned from blue to green to gray and back again, sharp lines blurring into hazy fog that soon blew their way back into focus. The new one framed and focused and clicked to her heart’s content.


The day was still very young and the new one could not have imagined being happier. She felt so alive, so joyful, as the three of them walked through fields of flowers while never losing sight of the glorious dome of sky and basin of roaring sea.




Next it was time to explore the smaller inhabitants of this vast and seemingly endless world. After her person and Rodger had climbed down to a somewhat lower vantage point, the new one began zooming in on the tiny creatures dwelling in the little tide pools formed here and there among the rocks. A hermit crab. Click! A sea anemone. Click!



The colors and textures fascinated her and there was so much to see. She wanted to study each and every detail closely…


(the final image)

Suddenly, from the secure spot where she was strapped around her person’s neck, the new one felt something very odd. Her person’s feet were stepping strangely out of control. What was happening?

There was a splash. Cold water quickly invaded all the new one’s hidden places, the sting of salt burning her most sensitive surfaces in seconds. With that, she knew no more.

The new one had received a life total of only 132 images when she died on that very first day of her great adventure.


It was a glorious morning. I had not seen my spiritual brother, Rodger, in over 30 years and yet it felt so natural to follow his lead as he took the new one and me from one breathtaking beauty to the next.

Never having been to the coast before, my soul felt as though it had entered a living cathedral where everything gave glory to God together in a perfect synchrony of movement and color. I couldn’t stop smiling.

The vastness of the sky and sea seemed to call me to enlarge my heart so I could absorb its God-ness. Yet, amateur photographer that I am, I have always had a special love for closer looks at the tiny, hidden creatures of nature that a only a camera lens can provide.

Hence, when Rodger led us to the tide pools, I welcomed the shift to a smaller world. After some introductions to the different species, we each wandered in different directions and the new one and I received some images. The air was still cool but the sun was shining warm. What could be more delightful?

What happened next is hard to explain. The new one and I were gazing at some interesting plant growth when it seemed as though my feet started to move. I cannot say how or why. I found one foot moving to a large stone in front of me but I could not stop it. The other foot moved reflexively to the next stone to try to gain footing but I still could not stop.

And the next thing I knew, I was suddenly immersed cold salt water – just deep enough to drench everything but my head. Stunned, I immediately stood up, dripping and heavy from all of the sea my clothes and shoes could absorb in those few seconds.

I looked down at the new one, still hanging faithfully from her strap around my neck. A yellow light I had never seen before was blinking. Knowing this could not be good, I turned her power switch to the “off” position and accepted the extra sweatshirt that a concerned Rodger was now offering.

Strangely, I still couldn’t stop smiling. It seemed as though I should be upset but I wasn’t. I was chilly. Wet. Definitely wet. But I was very much in the moment I was in and nowhere else. I was still in the living cathedral and nothing else really mattered.

There was a vague sadness about what had happened to the new one. But it was simply something that had happened and could not be undone. It was just reality. And so I moved forward, placing one squishy foot in front of the other, my faithful brother at my side.

When I emerged from the warm shower in dry clothes, I was greeted by a cup of warm ginger tea. Judy, Rodger’s wife, was on the phone with Canon, trying to determine what, if anything we could do for the new one.

When it was evident that I would need to mail my drowned friend back to her maker, Judy immediately offered to lend me one of her digital cameras for the remainder of my stay. I would buy a memory card to hold the images so that I could take them home with me.

I had only met Judy for the first time the night before. In that moment, I knew she was my sister.


It did not take long to realize that what I had lightly written of as an “adventure” was so much more. Literally hundreds of images were received. Many cups of ginger tea were drunk. Meals were eaten, naps were taken, books read. Prayers were prayed and thoughts were shared on into the evening.

Oh – and did I mention two very unique and wonderful teenage boys?

But throughout this time, I continued to feel as though I remained in that living cathedral, though at the time I would not have had a name for it. Whether I was indoors or out, alone or with one or all of the others, there was a sense of being in a sacred place.

At one point, Rodger and I talked some about the idea of pilgrimage. He felt some interest stirring in such an undertaking. As I pondered this, I realized that this trip across the country to see him and his family was, for me, a pilgrimage.

We often think of pilgrimage as a journey to a particular holy placeperhaps a place were many people have experienced God’s love in miraculous healing (such as Lourdes, in the Catholic tradition) or where many holy people live together as vessels of God’s grace (such as Mt. Athos, in the Orthodox tradition).

While that is indeed a true meaning, it is true not because one geographical place can claim God’s presence more than another, but because the journey itself disposes our hearts to meet God more deeply.

We take on the journey because we know we need God. We may simultaneously want other things, such as to see a friend or to have a break from work, but what we need is God Himself and nothing more.

When we say to God “I need you” so deeply that we stop everything else in our lives and make a journey for Him, He gives Himself in great abundance. It may not always be what we expect – but He does not ignore our longing.

This was indeed a sacred journey. I cannot express in words all of the dimensions of the holiness that I experienced. But I can say that I came away changed by my encounter with God – God in the ocean and the sky, in the seals and otters, in the flowers, birds, reptiles and butterflies.

…and most of all, God in those whose hearts long for Him through the same moments of light and shadow as mine.

To Him be eternal praise and glory.



(The following video invites you to join in some of the wonders God shared with me during this pilgrimage. Be sure to watch in full screen!)

Pilgrimage from Mary Benton on Vimeo.