Mostly I Believe Sometimes


Divine Beloved, I believe in prayer. It’s breath to me. I need it more than vegetables or exercise or toothpaste… more than I need air.

There are those who scoff at prayer and sneer at those who pray. They say you are not Santa Claus. Don’t they just want to be with you, just hanging out, with no agenda? If they mean to keep on living, don’t they know that you’re not optional? As for those who want to prove you don’t exist… I don’t believe, dear God, in atheists.

Selyalandfoss Falls, Iceland
MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Selyalandfoss Falls Iceland


On the radio, I heard somebody say we’re always given everything that we require for peace, love, mercy, joy, and sustenance. I know you bless me endlessly, and still I need a net; I strive, I fret about uncertainty and how I am perceived by (pick one: the Uber driver, Starbucks person, distant relative, short guy beside me on the bus, straw-hatted woman at the table by the window drinking lattés as if they didn’t cost more than my shoes); I rush to be on time at the expense of my serenity and otherwise neglect my own well-being while achieving nothing for the betterment of those Less Fortunate; and I know better. Still I strive, still try to harness peace of mind instead of resting in the certainty of your deliverance—now, tomorrow, Saturday, next year, and through eternity.

I confess that at this hour I’ve yet to find that calm, sweet, silent place within. My faith has been waylaid. I got distracted, lured by flash, enticed by overripe low-hanging fruit; and having planted old, dry seeds, I reap self-pity, self-reproach, a heap of jealousy, bushels of bitterness—the harvest of the dreams I’ve stopped believing in, the expectations I’ve stopped trusting but haven’t yet replaced.

FATHER-MOTHER GOD, vouchsafe to me a map that guides me to divinity, a light for navigating in the dark, a chorus of your angels singing “This way!”— something I can follow when the candle sputters and the flame goes out.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Coyote Buttes AZCoyote Buttes, Arizona

Divine Creator, if it’s true that thinking manifests into reality, there’s a problem here. My thoughts do not obey me. Disciplining them is like directing fish to navigate the ocean currents differently. When I try to fix my mind on Heaven, it resists. Ideas steer themselves amiss and enter hostile territory, taken and held captive in a cave somewhere, with bats and prehistoric dragons who don’t know what century we’re in and wouldn’t care regardless. The world in its contrariness seems alien, perverse, and perilous (The dragons are hungry, and I’m dessert)…

…but you, O Great Divine, have overcome the world.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-TuscanyLucca, Tuscany

FATHER-MOTHER, you will never leave me lost and far from home. It is my dread misguiding me, my fear that weighs me down. I pray that you will banish these, my ancient enemies, my legacy of Canaan in my personal geography, where long ago they staked their claim. They should have lost their strength by now, if not their animosity.

Create in me, O God, a clean and spacious heart. Make room within me for compassion; give me energy to act on it and wisdom to choose capably; renew my spirit; and restore my soul’s capacity for joy and happiness.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Marble Cave- Chile Chico- Chile

Marble Cave, Chile Chico, Chile


Eternal God, Source of Love and Light, if it’s true that all Creation—every cell and star and galaxy, every mosquito, Twinkie, Oldsmobile, and Post-It Note—is love and nothing else exists, why is it, then, that when I’m knocking on the universe’s door nobody opens it? I wonder if there’s no one home, but all the lights are on and someone’s whispering. I take it personally: They see me but they’d rather not. Why don’t they want to let me in? Because I’m bothersome or insignificant or worse—because I don’t exist? Some part of me believes this, but some other part resists.

Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Japan

MOST BEAUTIFUL Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens Japan

LOVING GOD, what is this emptiness? Am I in Sheol, where dead spirits go, sleepers in the dust… the place farthest from Heaven, of which Jacob spoke when he said, “I shall go down to my son [Joseph] a mourner unto Sheol”? [Gen. 36:36] Whatever name this pit is known by, lift me out of it. I’m lonely, and my only company is spiders and the stark anxiety that creeps along the porous edges of awareness. Return me to the surface of the planet, I beg of you, O God, where the sun shines, where there are music and activity and reasons not to seek oblivion.

I do, I do believe you made me for a purpose. You had something grand and glorious in mind for me. You gave me passions, interests, and abilities. I used them well… until I stopped believing I had anything to share. Does one invite one’s friends to visit at such a time? “Please come and sit with me while I gnaw my inner lip”? I was asleep too long, dear God. Reignite my reason to keep living.


Bagan, Myanmar


A man of monumental wisdom once said, “Follow your bliss.” But sometimes I have no idea where it is or even if I’d recognize it after all this time. It disappeared when I was scrambling as I tend to do from this amusement to that glittering distraction. I’m ill acquainted with the feeling, having been too long at sea, gone far from home on what I thought would be an odyssey that proved to be productive only for its distance, not for its achievements.

Arriving where I started, only poorer—not having brought home even one cheap souvenir—I’m ashamed. I feel unworthy of Creation’s gifts. Yet you believe in me, and through your eyes I see my poverty of spirit fed, my brokenness repaired, my purpose blessed abundantly, and my soul’s treasury enriched.

I don’t need to search; grace finds me where I rest and dream.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Rice terraces of yuanyang

Rice terraces, Yuanyang, China

THANK YOU, GOD, for what the harvest yields today, for life emerging through the winter’s crust, for buds whose promise comes in measured time, unrushed in orchards, gardens, fields; for nature’s generosity to be revealed: great, arching trees in flower, lilacs bursting white and purple, robins gathering selected bits of vegetation suitable for nests in larch and chestnut trees.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Meteora Monastery Thessaly Greece

Meteora (monastery), Thessaly, Greece


An hour before dawn I am impatient for the unrestraint of morning over the horizon, sunbeams dappling the streams and warming fields and woodlands. Breathe, you say. Be mindful of the cardinals’ concert in the darkness, notice pink and pale-blue streaks spreading like an easy smile across the east horizon. Believe in ordinary signs and wonders.

GOD OF ALL CREATION, seen and unseen, I come to offer praise and thanks, seek mercy, receive healing, and accept your gift of grace.


by Mary Campbell
September 2015



The Great Continuum


Imagine for a minute—All of us are rays of sun,
emitted without interruption, rockets blazing
from horizon to horizon, individual but never
separated, each from any other one.
We come from light, as we have always done.

In eons past, the seas erupted, mountains
rising from the deep.
The rivers ran like fountains, rain
replenishing the streams.
Microscopic living things grew roots and leaves
and seeds with wings,
and century by century,
uncounted strange and lovely creatures
ventured into being,
perfectly arranged by God, ordained by form
and purpose
for Creation’s happiness and nurture.

At sunrise, darkness runs for cover,
scattering to its mysterious retreats,
its caverns
damp and chill and inhospitable to all except
the twisted denizens of night,
and these are nothing, less than nothing…
accidents of misdirected energy…
and being powerless, illusory.
When looked upon they vanish. If their
shadows sometimes haunt my memory,
they do not worry me.

So let us rest our thought and our attention
on the glory of Creation. Let us take
no interest in the flimsy, fabricated story of
a Nothing that pretends to be
a Something. Thus do we deprive it of
illusions of reality… while
Beauty, fed and nourished by our
curious, benign awareness of it,
flourishes around us.

Even now we can pinch off some tender
flowers, rich in possibility, as thousands more
remain to give us fruit and grain at harvest,
dropping seeds whose roots and capillaries
reach into the ground.
A feast awaits them there, and rest, and
maturation, as the never-ending cycle starts
again. The seeds wait patiently, obeying
nature’s laws, and effortlessly they respond to
March’s equinox and thaw.
The crop grows sweet and bountiful, by
autumn ripe and yielding joy and
satisfaction at
the time appointed,
light becoming life as always in
the great continuum… and we
shine on.





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For Marian on Her Birthday

How It Is to Fly

You can either stay on level ground and
take familiar avenues that hardly
challenge your ability to navigate
or breathe, and then you end up pretty much back
where you started, having never seen the
place where water bubbles up from rock and
dives, a cataract, into a canyon; or
you can find a mountain that you want to
climb, remembering to wear a hat and
take a snakebite kit and drinking water
and to tell your friends and family that
you are going up the mountain, you’ll be
home for dinner.

However… You might not remember to
remind yourself that everyone who climbs a
mountain worthy of her finds, if she goes
to the summit, somewhere on the way, the
end of her ability and only
God can show her how to use her wings.

There are no exceptions.

Even if she has a guide, a wireless
telephone, a topo map, a Saint
Bernard, companions who have scaled the heights
before and know the way—there will be unseasonable
weather, possibly a blizzard, hungry
bears, or boulders sliding down the slope. Always
something unexpected, something daunting
comes along, and if it didn’t, you might
wish it had, in retrospect.


How beautifully you move across the landscape.
I have loved to watch the joy you find not
only in progressing toward your destination
but in tiny miracles and common
blessings that entrance you — nestlings, waterfalls,
and poplars turning gold in autumn; I have
looked into your dancing eyes and honest
heart and wondered at your innocence, your
clarity of purpose, and your strength.


The best of us do not suffice unto
ourselves. As an antidote to arrogance,
the day arrives when all our skills are futile
swipes against an obstacle of such
inscrutability it can’t be analyzed. We
have to enter tunnels that look nothing,
not at all, as we expect the passageways
to paradise to look, and there it doesn’t
matter if your eyes are open wide or
if you sit or crawl or try to run away
and hide; eventually you say, “Thy will be
done” and really mean it. If that weren’t the
case, then there would be no need for hope, no
opening for grace, and everyone would
turn around and go back down.

beautiful butterfly

You will never satisfy yourself with
dappled lanes that take you nowhere in
particular. You will always find a
mountain with your name on it. Once you
start to climb, the peak may disappear from
view, and there are always corners you can’t
see around, and that’s why almost everyone just
stays at home and wonders what it’s like where
rivers leap from stones, and stars seem near
enough to pluck out of the sky; and you will
be the one to tell them how it is to




A new Zero Gravity Little Book. Click on image for info, full PDF


Like, Wow

What if winter lasted, like, 22 years, & you’d never known SPRING & then everything got warm & green & gorgeous & you’d be, like, WOW…?

It is good to be safe. It is better to be strong. It is best to be bold in the power of God. —Sister Alma Rose


‘Everything Is New’

Sister Alma Rose loves the vicissitudes of the natural world, large and small. She is elated when Mother Nature shows her fangs — not, of course, when there is devastation, but when there is that wild violence in the sky, the winds that turn umbrellas inside-out, the blizzards, even the heaviness of heat and humidity in August.



Ladybug, also called ladybird

She is equally fascinated by a tiny red ladybug on a bright-green leaf, by a swelling iris bud that wasn’t there yesterday… by moss and mushrooms… by the iridescent yellow-green web, that lasts only a day or so, of treetops in the valley below in springtime. I caught her weeping early one evening — Sister Alma Rose never weeps —  because the cicadas had started their scritching, which signals the beginning of the end of summer. 

Iris sanguinea (photo: BS Thurner Hof)

Iris sanguinea (photo: BS Thurner Hof)

She might be on a first-name basis with every blade of grass in her faerie-garden, and feel physical pain when sturdy foliage is trampled by careless feet, but she is no friend of the dandelion or the bindweed, any more than she honors the heartbeats of roaches (and is it really necessary for there to be four thousand roach species?) or centipedes, though she concedes their essential place in the natural cycle.

Where there is human habitation, Sister Alma Rose says, “Voracious weeds and sly creeping things thrive only in entropy and neglect.”

Br’er Rabbit, the Anchorite

One of Hilltop’s most colorful citizens is a 30-ish man whose whose real name is Arthur Arthur but who goes by the name “Br’er Rabbit, the Anchorite.” That is how he introduces himself: “How do  you do?  I am Br’er Rabbit, the Anchorite.”

St. Anthony the Great, father of Christian monasticism and early anchorite

St. Anthony the Great, father of Christian monasticism and early anchorite

Br’er Rabbit is so pale you could probably see his internal organs through his skin, except that you can’t see much of his skin because he wears robes made out of sheets that he buys at the Hilltop Thrift Shoppe. He cuts a hole in the sheet so that he can pull it over his head, and he fastens up the sides with big safety pins. When the sheet is white, it always makes me think of some kid bursting into his house after school and yelling, “Mom, I forgot to tell you, I’m going to a Halloween party in half an hour and I need a ghost costume.”

But Br’er Rabbit can’t always get white sheets at the Hilltop Thrift Shoppe, and I have seen him in Dukes of Hazzard robes and Care Bear robes and even Dora the Explorer robes, which he wears with as much dignity as it is possible to muster when you are clothed in a  cartoon sheet held together with safety pins.


Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Br’er Rabbit is not quite an anchorite in the medieval sense. He lives in a tidy little house owned by the Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, but it is hardly a “cell” of the type that anchorites have historically inhabited, and Br’er Rabbit is allowed to come and go, unlike in the old days, when anchorites had to stay in their cells, although some anchorites lived as hermits in forests and fended for themselves, growing their own food and so forth.


But Br’er Rabbit does the work of the anchorite, which is to pray as a profession, I guess you’d say; and to look at him, aglow in his pallor and his Care Bear robe, you can easily believe that he has a direct line to God.


An anchorite's cell

An anchorite's cell

Here is the thing about Br’er Rabbit, though: He has vowed to “harm no living thing.” He has a small solarium where he grows herbs and flowers and other plants, and I have sat in that room with Sister Alma Rose and Br’er Rabbit when the room was knee-deep in crazed leaping and chirping crickets, which seems to delight Br’er Rabbit but which I find very unnerving, especially when one hops onto my face, and I wonder if I have unknowingly sprayed myself with cricket pheromones, and sometimes I feel cross enough to say, though I never do, “Br’er Rabbit, I know that you take antibiotics when you have a bacterial infection, and your kitchen and bathroom reek of Clorox, which kills a gazillion bacteria with a single swipe,” but I love dear, gentle Br’er Rabbit and, anyway, I don’t want him to stop praying for me, not that he would, he is far too kind, even though he does murder bacteria.


A growing colony of E. coli cells (A false-colored image from fluorescence microscopy of a growing colony of E coli cells. Taken from "Aging and Death in E. coli" Citation: (2005) Aging and Death in E. coli. PLoS Biol 3(2): e58 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030058 the discussion of a research paper by Stewart EJ, Madden R, Paul G, Taddei F (2005). "Aging and death in an organism that reproduces by morphologically symmetric division" PLoS Biol. 3 (2): e45)

A growing colony of E. coli cells (A false-colored image from fluorescence microscopy of a growing colony of E coli cells. Taken from "Aging and Death in E. coli" Citation: (2005) Aging and Death in E. coli. PLoS Biol 3(2): e58 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030058 the discussion of a research paper by Stewart EJ, Madden R, Paul G, Taddei F (2005). "Aging and death in an organism that reproduces by morphologically symmetric division" PLoS Biol. 3 (2): e45)

Sister Alma Rose likes to pray and meditate with Br’er Rabbit, and she usually asks me to go with her, and I usually do, and if you are thinking, “Why would a normal kid want to spend two hours praying with a guy decked out in Dora the Explorer sheets instead of going to the mall with her friends or playing volleyball or SOMETHING?” the only answers I can give you are (a) Hilltop doesn’t have a mall, and (b) listening to Br’er Rabbit and Sister Alma Rose pray is like lying on a beach on a warm afternoon and hearing the waves lap the shore and being lulled into a sort of certainty that, even though you woke up with three new pustulating zits this morning, everything is going to be okay.

‘Like the first morning’

rainy_dayIt was in just such a dreamy haze of contentment that Sister Alma Rose and I began our trek up the hill toward home from Br’er Rabbit’s little house on what had been a spectacular October afternoon, but in the time that Sister Alma Rose and I had spent with Br’er Rabbit, the temperature had dropped ten degrees or so and the sky had darkened and the wind was whipping the dry leaves into small tornadoes. Thunder and lightning had been comfortably distant when we started out, but during our twenty-minute walk the storm moved ever closer and the wind blew ever harder and colder, tugging at our clothes and throwing dust in our faces.

Sister Alma Rose was practically dancing with excitement. I have no fear of storms, but I enjoy them more when I’m not soaked to the skin, so I made a mad dash for Sister Alma Rose’s porch, while she all but did pirouettes up the driveway, and just as she sat down in her grass-green wicker chair the rain began, and it was not a benign little “let’s go walking in the rain” type of shower, it was a gullywasher.

“Just imagine, Fanny,” Sister Alma Rose said contemplatively, “that y’all had never witnessed a storm before… never seen lightning or heard thunder or watched the wind thrash the trees.”

dissipatingthunderstormkent2008_publicdomain2“I’d run screaming to Daddy and make him hide with me under the bed,” I said. But knowing, as I do, that storms come and go and that they are usually beneficial; and having some knowledge of storms and lightning and electricity and how to count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to calculate how far away the center of the storm is, all of which Daddy has explained to his children, taking all of us out onto the porch during violent weather; I do not mind thunderstorms unless the electric power goes out, and even then, Mama lights candles like it’s Christmas at church and Daddy builds a fire in the fireplace if it’s chilly, and it’s like we’re pioneers and I feel as if I should be embroidering a sampler or something.

Thunderstorm over Arlington, Virginia (photo: POSTDLF)

Thunderstorm over Arlington, Virginia (photo: POSTDLF)

But this time, taking my cue from Sister Alma Rose, inspired by her wonderment, I watched the turbulent sky with new eyes and enjoyed the earthy fragrance of rain soaking the dusty ground, and it was kind of like watching a scary movie (PG-13 scary, not R-scary), when the hairs of your arms stand on end but you know, because you’re eating popcorn and licorice twists and you keep having to stand up and let people by who have to go to the bathroom, that it’s just a movie and everything will turn out all right in the end.

Anyhow, what Sister Alma Rose is trying to teach me is to always look at the world with new eyes and to greet every morning as if it is the first morning, and to notice things I might otherwise take for granted, like how the sun shifts in the sky so that the light is different every day. With so much to be astonished by, Sister Alma Rose says, there is no reason for anybody ever to be bored.

Here is a secret about Sister Alma Rose: She wears Crocs


The Ancients, Part 1 — Daddy Pete

The Sea

barbadosbluePrayer is to the spirit as water is to the body — Source unknown

Swim in a River of Prayer

Before there was anything else on Earth, there was a great sea. Then the Creator reached out and touched the sea, and thus began life. A living thing thrived in the great sea, moving, moving, always toward life.

And the one became many, and the many grew in size and variety and beauty, and in something not quite like knowledge. The living things in the sea did not know the sea, because there was nothing else, only the endless water. They did not know that it was blue and green and beautiful. They did not know that without the sea they could not live. They did not know about the sun or the moon or the stars.

Then the Creator reached out again and caused a great upheaval of the Earth, and mountains rose up out of the sea. In time the rains and the sun and the tides gentled the mountains, and there were beaches and valleys. The sun raised water from the sea, and the wind blew the water over the land and baptized it with life — green and spreading, growing, and growing more, always toward life.

rainforestThen the tides threw creatures from the sea onto the dry land, and some were carried back into the deep, but one found both the sea and the land to be hospitable, and that one thrived, creeping upon the land and swimming in the sea.

And the one became many, and the many grew in size and variety and beauty, and in something not quite like knowledge, but rather in a sense of the difference between dry land and water. Moving, moving, always toward life, they found that streams flowed from the mountains to the sea, and they thrived in and alongside the streams, which came from the rain, which the sun raised from the sea.

The green things — spreading, growing, and growing more, always toward life — became broad and tall, and beckoned the creeping things to feast on their fruit. In time, the strongest of the creatures made claws to scale the trees, and some made wings out of their fins to soar over oceans and rivers and land . But even those who built nests and lived and bore their young in trees required water to survive, just as did the creatures who swam only in the sea.

farmlandafterrainAnd the dryland creatures became many, and the many grew in size and variety and beauty, and in something a little more like knowledge, until one arose from all the creatures who roamed the earth, and that one had knowledge and more; that one had understanding.

And the one became many, and the many grew in size and variety and strength and intelligence. But some of the people turned their intelligence toward small, inward things, and forgot about the sea, and with all their understanding, they did not know that they had come from the sea and required it to survive, just as did the creatures who swam only in the sea. They injured the streams, though they required them to survive. They injured the creatures who swam in the streams; they injured the air and the land and the sea; they blocked the sun — though they required all these things to survive.

eagle_creek_oregonIn their minds, they forgot about the eternal sea, though their hearts remembered, and pulsed with admonition. And the people were uneasy, because they believed that their minds were more powerful than their hearts. And so they defied their hearts, and thus they injured even the streams that flowed through their bodies, pulsing from their hearts with admonition.

But in every age, among all the peoples, there have been those who have remembered the eternal sea, who have known that, where pure streams cannot flow, living things shrivel and perish, and where the mind is not nourished by the heart, the mind withers and is sterile.

Those who remember are the teachers and sages, the Wise Ones, the Ancients, the embodied admonitions of the heart’s pulsing. They say to us, swim, always, in the remembered pure streams that flow to the sea. Immerse yourself always in that awareness, which is prayer. When you drink clear water, know it as a ceremony and celebrate the eternal sea, which is something that we know of God. For prayer is to the spirit as water is to the body… and those who immerse themselves in prayer will be continually refreshed and renewed.

* * *

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