I was a guest at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico waiting for a VISA to return to Turkey where I was serving as a priest and assistant to the Bishop at St. Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Monastery. The year was 2000.
Christ in the Desert Monastery has a guest house and Anne Dillard the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek was visiting. I had met her the year earlier at the same monastery. She was a friend of Abbot Philip Lawrence. I found her to be an extraordinary thinker and deeply spiritual person. We had a few talks together about writing, family matters (her teenage daughter was giving her fits), and faith. I cannot say we were friends but we were beginning to learn about each other and our spiritual travels.
Once in a while monks are given time for recreation. Anne suggested volleyball. She played often at Welsley College where she taught and many of the monks had never played. Anne agreed to teach the rules and organize a game.
We marched up a muddy road, set up a net with one end tied to a tree and another to a pole. Many of the monks were from Viet Nam and some from Mexico. It did not take them long to catch on to the game and soon we were shouting and laughing in delight and despair as points were lost or saved. Anne and I made a great team.
Anne was a heavy smoker but it did not seem to impair her. She is a tough woman and I suspect a tough editor. She dug for the ball smashing it over the net. I imagined rapier stokes of her pen slashing away at the useless word or phrase as the poetic verbal sphere is lifted from the surface of muddy expressions to soar high over the net of imagination.
Today I thought of Anne and her world of words and love for volleyball. What has she written about Thanksgiving and feasts? Would would she see outside her office window?
I remember we walked back to the monastery and talked about life. She was an investigator of the soul with the mind of a poet. Her eyes could see things I could not see and yet she shared her perceptions. She had the gift of hospitality that I have often seen in those who play above the net.
Today I found a few poems by Anne and I feast upon her words.
Feast Days: Thanksgiving – Easter By Annie Dillard
Outside the great American forest is heaving up leaves and wood from the ground. Inside I stand at the window, god, with your name wrapped round my throat like a scarf
. . . . I dreamed I woke in a garden. Everywhere trees were growing; everywhere flowers were growing, and otters played in the stream, and grew. Fruit hung down. An egg at my feet cracked, opened up, and you stepped out, perfect, intricate lover
. . . . Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? –John
. . . God send us the springtime lamb minted and tied in thyme and call us home, and bid us eat and praise your name
. . . . God empties himself into the earth like a cloud. God takes the substance, contours of a man, and keeps them, dying, rising, walking, and still walking wherever there is motion
. . . . Shake hands. When I stand the blood runs up. On what bright wind did god walk down? Swaying under the snow, reeling minutely, revels the star-moss, pleased. And to all you children out there with Easter bunnies I would like to say this: If they are chocolate, eat them. If they are living, tuck them in your shirt. There’s always unseasonable weather. Hose down the hutches. For a special treat to brighten up their winter offer the early shoots of the wild American orchid, the lady’s-tresses, in either of three varieties: the slender, the hooded, or the nodding.