Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Tip o' the Hat to the Wee People

A tip o' the hat to the Wee People on this St. Patrick's Day. And a fine morning it is, with the sun out and shining like a pot o' gold.

When my parents, Cecil and Ruth Manahan, lived on the small farm outside of Madelia, MN, my father put toy furniture in the hay loft of the barn--a tiny table, tiny chairs, little beds, and even a mineature plastic toilet. This is where the Wee People lived, he told the wide-eyed grandchildren.

On their visits to Grandma and Grandpa's farm, the children would sneak up the wooden ladder to the hay mow and creep around the pale-golden bales of hay searching for the Wee People's living quarters. The furniture moved from spot to spot, and the kids never knew where they might find it tucked into a corner.

Although they never managed to spot the very shy Wee People, it sometimes seemed as though they had just left their little chairs. It was thrilling to imagine these wee families living in our very own barn, a parallel universe that almost no one knew about.

My father, a staunch Catholic, always maintained his deep Irish appreciation the world of fairies, leprachauns, and wee people, and he passed on that delight in the mysterious to his many grandchildren. I salute Dad's memory and will raise a glass in his honor today, wishing I could join him and my half-Irish mother on the farm for their famous Irish stew party, waiting for the moment when the grandchildren would steal off to the barn in search of the magical Wee People.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Sacred Architecture

Homes are re-creations of the world, we learned last Thursday night in our "Our Call to Sacred Places" class at the University of Minnesota.

After weeks of looking at slides of various sacred places and spaces from around the world, including ancient Greek and Roman temples (Pantheon pictured left), Gothic cathedrals, Buddhist temples, and majestic mountains and enormous canopied trees, we are left with the overwhelming sense of how important the vertical is to sacred space.

Temples and churches are filled with vertical and open space, drawing our attention to the heavens. The buttresses of Gothic structures mimic trees, as does Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona (pictured right). They have columns that stretch from earth to heaven, representing both the upright human's spinal column and the path to the heavens.

Hindu and Buddhist temples and structures such as Japanese tea gardens don't point so much upward and they remind us that the divine is all around and within. They stress the sacred as imminent, rather than as transcendent.

In the last class we turned our focus from Chartres and the Pantheon to our homes.

The house, at least in temperate zones, is a vertical structure with a basement, street-level floor, perhaps an second floor, and an attic. It reflects an archetype of the sacred: the Tree of the World that so many cultures embrace, with the roots (underground/body), the trunk (center/mind), and the canopy (heaven/spirit).

Nancy and I have talked about how sacred our home feels. Each area has its individual personality, but they blend together to make a pleasing whole. Bill's bedroom, office, and bathroom are in the finished basement. My office and bedroom are on the first floor. Nancy's office and dressing area are in the finished attic. We each spend hours in our respective spaces, at our computers, on the phone, and reading. Perhaps the sense of space and the vertical explains why this is such a harmonious arrangement.

Even our fireplace provides a sense of the vertical. The chimney breaks through the roof reaching toward the sky and the trap door on the bottom of the hearth lets ashes fall down a chute to the collection box in the basement.

The old saying of "your body is your temple" may be true. However, we can also say our house is our temple, with the vertical connecting us to the earth and to the sky, to our bodies and to the Infinite.

Really, the whole world is our temple.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Surviving Our First Minnesota Winter in 7 Years!

For the first time in seven years, Becky and I are spending most of the winter in Minnesota. Although it has snowed several times with temperatures hovering near zero, it hasn’t been nearly as rough as we anticipated.

First of all, we were reminded of the magic of Minnesota winter when four days after our January return from Mexico, we skied 3K in the dark on a candle-lit Minneapolis lake. (See our Luminary Loppet Blog entry below.)

Second, thermal underwear! What a difference the new high-tech stuff makes, at home and outdoors.

Third, we try to go outside every day. When it’s 20 degrees or above, we take our usual one-hour walk around the neighborhood. Other days, we barely make it around the block, our cheeks and our tears frozen. One housecleaning day, we dashed out on the deck to shake rugs and dust cloths in shorts!

Fourth, we were finally here for our family’s annual Oscar party, with a cast of around 40, fabulous Indian curries, and guests arriving in costume. (Imagine Richard Nixon, Harvey Milk, and lots of little niece and nephew slumdogs.) Becky correctly picked all 6 winners, thereby winning her own Oscar, which she gets to keep until next year’s party.

But the best winter treat is the leisurely pace we’ve fallen into this first Minnesota winter of our retirement/inspirement. There’s no urge to ride my bike around a lake or take a swim. No thoughts about the garden. No yard work. No free outdoor concerts or Shakespeare in the park. No camping, hiking, or canoeing. Just delicious hours of reading, writing, cooking, baking, watching DVDs, talking to friends and family members, and then reading some more. Together we do about forty hours of book promotion per week, deeply engaging and satisfying work.

I would never have predicted that the pleasures of our last six winters in Costa Rica would be rivaled by these quiet Minnesota joys. I've finally found the scholarly, contemplative life of service I longed for all my life. I didn't find it in the convent in my twenties, nor in academic life during my thirties, forties, or fifties. But now, in my sixties, here it is, unimaginably sweet, precious, and fulfilling.

(Photo from our hooneymoon in Yosemite National Park, September 2008.)