Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 2, 2009

Gazing Heavenward, Under An Old Monk’s Influence

It takes about ten minutes to get to St. John’s from here.  St. John’s, the church across the river, is where we go every Sunday morning for the eight o’clock Mass.  We leave the house early, about 6:30 AM to give Mariellen plenty of rehearsal time.  The organ is a chore and a challenge.  Plus, we never know who will show up for what I have taken to calling our “pick-up team” of choir members.

On Holy Family Sunday we left as the sky was just beginning to blush pink from the rising sun, the color running along the high sword shaped cirrus clouds stretching from east to west across the city, deeper at the eastern end and getting more pale toward the west; ranging from a kind of rose to an apple blossom pink.  (I know no real man should say these things, but I no longer care.)  We drive easterly for a while on our way to St. John’s so I wasn’t too distracted from my job of driving as we both took in the the very pleasurable display of light and texture.  As we crossed the bridge over the Merrimack River we glanced south, down river towards Lowell, MA.   Heavier clouds hung low on the horizon, dark above a very red sky, flame red if you please, closest to the horizon, part woods, part river, part distant city of old factories and new immigrants.  It looked as if the river was pouring itself into the open mouth of a furnace.  More apocalyptically, it looked as if Lowell, MA, might be in flames.

It was a moment of grimness in the middle of glory, a hint across the sky, of judgment and redemption.

As we pulled into the church parking lot and Mariellen left to go inside, I lingered awhile looking up, not willing yet to leave behind a very great entertainment…   The long cloud swords at the top of everything still stabbed into the west, separated by clear sky of a color I find hard to describe.  It wasn’t turquoise, or any definite shade of blue.  It wasn’t pink, or red as might be found at sunset, or glowing gold, another sunset color; the color of the king’s robes as he walks away to his chamber.

I’ve spent a few minutes looking at color charts on the web, and reading all the many names for colors in my handy thesaurus ( a still living relic of an earlier age when such things as books were used for research.)  Nowhere can I find a color or a name to put to this sky born subtlety.  If I was a painter I think trying to duplicate the color on canvas would drive me crazy.  It was definitely green, blending to turquoise and pale blue as one looked toward the west along the blades of pink cirrus narrowing over miles of sky to sharpnesses of incredible grace and transparency.

The green was of such a pale promise in the east, where the sun’s disk was just appearing as I stood looking at all of this, that it seemed a mere whisper.  Greenness, I thought, was simply implied, and not to be counted on to stay since it matured(?) into blue further along. This promise at the very edge of the world was more glow than color; a hope of things to come into the emptiness of the sky.  A golden green that now reminds me of a line from one of Robert Frost’s poems that says “nature’s first green is gold.  It’s a beautiful poem, and the truth of it is beautiful, too.

Below this high glory I took in while standing in the parking lot darker drama was unfolding close to me.  I had already begun to make a story of the colors and shapes I encountered.  I saw cloud columns racing north and east, gray reinforcements, I imagined, in the fight taking place above me.  The heavy cumulus clouds looked like armored horses, some night bred cavalry, charging into the breech day’s made; called up to hurl themselves against day’s hope full golden green.  The fools, I thought.  They didn’t see the swords above them?  They were flanked, over topped and done.  Soon light would pour down and purify their ranks.  Christmas like words about light and darkness began to run across my mind.  Of course the darkness didn’t know it.

As if to seal the victory of light (as if it needed sealing) there are trees across the street from the church, and in those trees choirs of wakening birds were chanting, chorusing, cheering this sky high event.  They do it every day, I know, but this morning, and all of this morning’s freshness, made it feel as if it had happened, now, for the first time.  The rolling chorus filled my hearing as the rolling sky filled my sight.

Turning to leave and go into the church, I saw one tall pine tree at the edge of the parking lot.  It stood erect, straight, shapely, in silhouette against the sky.  While I looked at it the darker cloud cavalry raced past close enough, it seemed, to touch the tree as it stood unmoving in the song filled air.  Then they were gone and light touched the tree all at once.  Immediately it burst into color, green, deep green towards its thick trunk and lighter towards the lace like edges of the branches, until at last, at the very tips, at its very top, it flamed all gilt edged and golden in the day.

I entered the small door of the simple church.  A few days ago someone said I spend my time gazing heavenwards these days.  During the few moments I was there doing just that, I wished I’d had the company of thousands, and hoped that all I’d seen had not been for only me, that other passers by had taken the time to “gaze heavenwards”.  And, I remembered an old monk whose words I’d been reading from a book he sent me at Christmas; a book of essays and short stories all about finding grace in the moment whose words counseled taking the time to look…at and into.

Well, of course, you might say.  How obvious.  Of course grace is there in the moment.  Old men.  Old monks.  One doesn’t have to be one of them to know that.  No.  One doesn’t.  One simply needs to look.  And, sometimes, gazing heavenwards actually involves looking up.


  1. Pretty good.
    For me it is the birds – a dozen or so different songs.

    Happy New Year!


  2. Thanks for the sharing of your gazes heavenward. I’m not sure if is the intensity of the holidays, but I find myself gazing alot lately as well. Maybe downward at the rivers of water flowing through the ice and snow on my driveway on the way to the mailbox or at the happy glowing face of my daughter playing with her Daddy. You are right, One only needs to look to find those daily blessings.

  3. Happy New Year to you, too, Gabriel. I could not tell, since they were a couple of hundred yards away if it was a dozen or so different kinds, or hundreds in concert praising. But, I take your point.

    As they come and go to the feeders in the front and back of the house, Mariellen and I are pleasured by their faint notes through the closed windows. The gift always leads us to the gift Giver.

    Julie, your energy always surprises me; even more so when you take the time to stop and look. It’s uncanny, you know. I have always liked watching the paths water takes through melting snow and ice, and wondered where it will finally go, what it will meet on the way.

    Keep on looking.


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