Friday, February 27, 2009

What Does Venus Do?

It's a glorious evening, three days past the new moon. When it gets darker, the moon stands in the west like a small smile with a dimple to its left, Venus.

As I stand there taking photos, a fresh-faced, bearded young man with scraggly hair and a backpack comes up to me and asks with excitement, "What's happening? Do you know what that is up there?"

"It's Venus," I say. "Venus and the moon next to each other. Beautiful, isn't it!"

"Yeah," he says, gazing up. "Yeah. What does Venus do?"

"I don't know. I have no idea," I say.

In my class on women and religion, I require my students to know the various Greek goddesses and their interests: Artemis, Aphrodite (aka Venus), Hera, Demeter.

But I think he means something else, like the astrological properties of this planet. I'm stumped.

"Yeah, I just thought you might know," he says, gesturing toward my big camera, on loan from John because he's in New York with my mini one.

"Well, actually, Venus is the second planet from the sun, closer than we are, and it's up there circling the sun, like that," I say, drawing a big circle with my arm around the vanished sun.

"And the moon is circling us, and they happen to look like they're next to each other tonight."

"Cool," he says.

"The moon was down there, below Venus last night, and tomorrow it will be further up in the sky, about that far from Venus," I continue.

"Okay, thanks," he says, walking away, leaving me still asking myself his question:

What does Venus do?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Much to reflect on tonight, walking in the dark on the quiet beach.

The slender moon, two days old, hangs beneath Venus.

"Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return."

I look it up in Hebrew: "Afar atah, v'el-afar teshuv."

My sister Emily says this dust has several possible meanings, from worthless dust to interstellar dust from which all was created.

We are stardust, as the women of Sacred Emerging would say.

Why do all the church services leave out the address of this verse, Genesis 3:19? I think we don't want to be reminded that these beautiful words come from God's words to the man after his first sin.

T.S. Eliot captured the sadness of this day best in his poem "Ash-Wednesday 1930":

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn...

[I] pray to God to have mercy upon us

And I pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again

Let these words answer

For what is done, not to be done again

May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


A glorious evening for running on the beach.
Bless YHWH, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God's holy name.
Bless YHWH, O my soul, and forget not all God's benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. -- Psalm 103: 1-3
All this beauty spread across the sky, and then it's gone, replaced by darkness.
Where does the sunset go?
Earth and sky and sun make a kaleidoscope of changing colors and pictures, always changing, no matter how much we want each beautiful scene to stay.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beachless Days

Today is the fifth day that I can't take time to walk on the beach.

It feels like not going to church.

The sky is overcast but without drama, like a curtain between me and God.

The events that called me from jogging were good--a Sacred Emerging time of singing with Carolyn McDade and thirty-five other women, a Women-Church worship service, and today the preparation I need to do to teach tomorrow.

May I remember, "From the rising of the sun to its setting, let the name of YHWH be praised" (Psalm 113:3).

Even without the pleasure of dancing before Her on the sand.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Terns Turn Up?

I've never seen these birds on this beach before, five of them standing casually among the seagulls at sunset. Are they terns?
Bright orange beaks and short black legs...
Where did you come from? Anyway, welcome!

Sunset Prayers

Seagulls stand on the sand, facing the setting sun.
Humans also feel the sunset call to prayer, wherever they are.
A woman sits with outstretched arms as the sun sets.
Another bends to pick up bottles and debris from yesterday's storm, placing them in the bag she carries--her kind of prayer.
A man jogs backwards to see the sun set.
We're all built with a receptor that reads this golden light as a time to pause, perhaps to praise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

High Surf

For a change we have weather: gusty winds, lightning, hail, heavy snowfall in the mountains, possible waterspouts while thunderstorms pass over the ocean. Our two links to the world, I-5 and I-15, are closed by snow, but by evening the rain in Santa Monica has mostly stopped.

I arrive at the beach at 6:30 pm, too late to jog the length of it, because I've been gathering and mailing information for my mother's last tax return to her CPA.

Going through all her records took me into the last two months of her life before she died last April.

That difficult time fills my mind now as I stand at the stormy beach after dark, looking at the high surf and turbulent sky.

I try to jog but stumble on trash washed up by the storm; better to walk.

The very first storm drain, usually covered by sand, has become an uncrossable stream. Each wave of surf pushes up the channel against the water gushing out.

I turn and walk back in the dark, grateful for a time to reflect and be alone with God and nature.

From 2003, when I brought my mother to California, through last April, I didn't have an hour in the late afternoon to spend at the beach. Every day by 4 or 5 pm I visited my mother, if I hadn't already been taking her to the doctor or some other appointment.

Sometimes I took her in her wheelchair to the pier and walked there with her. If I jogged, it was usually at dawn.

I'm stunned by the difficulty of my life a year ago, juggling her needs and mine as she faced her decline and death.

Regrets come to mind: why didn't I spend the full day with her on the day before she died? (Because I thought I had to teach my class, and I didn't know it was her last day.)

As I walk north, I realize the ferris wheel on the pier with its programmed kaleidoscope of colors is still displaying Valentine's images: hearts and the word L-O-V-E spelled out in sequence.

I smile and my mind eases.

There's so much mystery--but also love.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Under the Planes

Jogging just south of Marina del Rey this evening... Dockweiler Beach, west of LAX. Homes above the beach have a great ocean view!
No one on this beach, a little spooky after sunset. Near the inlet to the Marina, there's a 40' sand berm above where I was jogging. What if a big wave came in, I thought, and I had to run up that sand hill? That would be a challenge.
Then, on the way back to the car, I passed this sign:
Leaving Tsunami Hazard Zone.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Weather for a Change

After the hottest January on record, day after day of empty skies and unseasonable heat, we suddenly have weather.

For two days we've had cloudbursts pounding off and on at the roof. They left two feet of standing water at my freeway exit, Cloverfield Blvd.

Three storm drains sent water pouring into the ocean, cutting through the deep sand to make mini-canyons.

It's not raining this evening, so I'm happy to run on the beach and breathe the fresh air.

I have to take a running leap over the remnants of the streams or else walk nearly to the sidewalk to get around them.

Near one of the streams is a group of people bending over the ground, either doing mouth-to-mouth on someone or starting a small fire.

It turns out to be a campfire, forbidden on this beach--amazing that I can jog here a hundred times and still see something I've never seen before.

After days of flat, calm water the waves are loud and powerful tonight.

On the way back, brilliant Venus peeks through the clouds, and I glimpse Orion's belt too. In the east the almost full moon rises.

"How can I keep from singing?" echoes in my mind from the Feb. 6 daily reading in Open Mind: Women's Daily Inspiration for Becoming Mindful by Diane Mariechild.

She quotes part of the traditional hymn:

My life goes on in endless song
above earth's lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Smooth Sailing

A serene evening with a Santa Ana weather pattern, hot winds from the north east deserts instead of the ocean. That leaves the water flat and calm, waves small with only a light slap as they turn over.
The daytime is too hot for this time of year, in the 80s. Kids are swimming in the ocean, even after sunset.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bountiful Beauty

I pause to look northwest, toward Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains, before jogging down to the Venice breakwater.
This evening, as February begins, there's nowhere else I want to be.
I'm astonished at all the beauty on this planet and in the surrounding skies.
When I leave Colorado, or Iguazu Falls, or some other beautiful place, I feel sad to return to Los Angeles, but the truth is that there is plenty of beauty, wherever one turns.