Qu’est-ce que

Q is for Qu’est-ce que.

Listening at Laity Lodge (photo by Kristen Peterson)

Listening at Laity Lodge (photo by Kristen Peterson)

Dr. Ralph Woods stopped me one day at Laity Lodge.

“I’ve noticed you,” he said.

Noticed me? I thought. Me?

Short of wearing camo, I do my best to blend in with my surroundings.

He continued. “You’re very attentive to your deaf friend. It’s nice the way you help her.”

Oh, goodness. I wanted to tell him that I am the one on the receiving end in that relationship. I wanted to tell him that she helps me in so many ways, ways I could never repay.

But I just said, “Thank you,” and allowed him to believe that I was being nice.

What he had seen was me sitting in the front row with a friend. I tried taking notes so that she could read and understand a little of what was going on, but my notes were terrible and messy. I can’t imagine that she got much from them.

However, scattered through my notes are some odd statements, because there would be times when someone said something funny and the crowd would erupt in laughter.

She would look at me, at times like that, her face a question, and rub her thumb against her fingers, like she wanted the substance. I would try to distill the laughter to the one or two lines from which it originated.

Odd lines in my notes from outbreaks of laughter during sessions:

“He said he would be brief.” — words from a long-winded speaker.

“+2 sword of elf-killing?” — I wasn’t sure I heard that one correctly, but I think it’s close.

“Match the Rabbit Roomer with his neuroses” — a comment from the Rabbit Room panel.

In my mind, whenever she looked at me with the question, I heard “Qu’est-ce que?” — short for qu’est-ce que c’est, literally French for, what is it that it is.

“What?” she wanted to know. “What’s being said? What funny thing happened? What am I missing?”

How hard it must be to be deaf in a crowd of hearing people! We take it for granted — that we can hear the one-liners from the crowd without having seen the one who said it.

We can hear the bell calling us to dinner.

We can hear the music and the laughter.

We can hear the rise and fall of a voice as a story is being told.

And the wind in the trees.

And the water of the Frio River.

On our last night at Laity Lodge, I was heading to the concert with a friend and stopped at my deaf friend’s room to see if she was ready to go.

I opened her door, didn’t see her in there, and called her name in case she was around the corner.

Of course, she didn’t answer, because she couldn’t hear me.

My companion laughed and laughed. “I can’t believe you just did that,” she said.

I can’t believe I did either.

It’s just that when I think of her, I don’t think of a disability. I think of a beautiful person with whom I love spending time.

I hope that’s okay.


P is for Prayer.

Before my trip, with the Lenten season on my mind, I wrote a Collect for Laity Lodge.

To the God of Silence —

Speak to me in whispers
in gentle breezes
in birdsong
in the laughter of running water
and the tears of gentle rain.

Remind me now and again
that You are with me every moment.

Fill my heart with Your silence
and Your song

Through Jesus —
who heard Your silence in Gethsemane
and again on the cross
and who now sits at Your right hand.


 Elie Wiesel, in his foreword to the newest translation of Night, said, “[I] trusted the silence that envelops and transcends words… For despite all my attempts to articulate the unspeakable, ‘it’ is still not right.”  And later, “[Some things] need to remain between the lines.”

Night‘s awful story needs to be heard — yet it speaks as much through the silences as it does with the words. It is a powerful book.

And I found myself, during Lent, going again and again to God’s silence in Gethsemane and at Calvary.

So much is said between those lines.

God’s silence is powerful indeed.DSC03871


O is for Obscurity.

At Laity Lodge -- Jill is on the right.

At Laity Lodge — Jill is on the right. (I’m leaving the others in obscurity for now.)

Jill Phillips gave a devotion one morning at Laity Lodge and spoke about the book Forgotten Among the Lilies by Ron Rolheiser, a Catholic theologian.

Rolheiser talks about “The Martyrdom of Obscurity”, saying that ordinary life is enough.

The human heart is full of longings — but Rolheiser says that longing is our spiritual lot.

Today we are called as Christians to the martyrdom of obscurity. Christianity always invites its adherents to martyrdom. To be a follower of Christ demands that one lay down one’s life. But this takes various forms. … In our culture meaningful self-expression is everything; lack of it is death. Yet it is this death that paschally we must enter.


That stops me every time I read it.

Ordinary life is enough.

Yes, enough.

To live in a small town and attend a small church.

To grow green beans in my garden.

To color pictures with crayons with my children.

To watch a high school tennis match or an age-group swim meet.

To make macaroni and cheese for dinner — again.

To fold towels and clean toilets and wash dishes and sweep up the dog hair on the floor.

To be Niggle, in Leaf by Niggle, and have one leaf to show at the end of my life, because I helped my neighbor and put aside my longings for more.

All these things are enough.

To live in obscurity is not such a bad thing.

Indeed, it may be the best thing.



Reading at LaGuardia

N is for Niggle, the main character in Leaf by Niggle, a short story by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Recommended reading for the retreat at Laity Lodge, I read it on my way there. At LaGuardia.

I’ve always loved the word “niggle”. Niggles are those gentle proddings — not nagging, just nudging.  They are the post-it notes hanging in the back of your mind to remind you of something you should do.

And such is the main character of the story. Niggle is an artist so caught up in his work that he doesn’t always want to do the things he should, like preparing for his journey, because he would rather finish the tree he is painting.

But he stops to help his neighbor, albeit a little begrudgingly, because

He was kindhearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper and swearing (mostly to himself).

Ralph Wood, in one of his talks on Tolkien at Laity Lodge, said this, “It is extremely difficult to be an artist and a parent.”

How well I know that! For years whenever I would sit down to write, or even think, and I would be interrupted to tend to someone else.  Most of my children are grown now, so it happens rarely — and, truth be told, long ago I learned to embrace Henri Nouwen’s sentiment that my interruptions are my work.

Niggle, though, represents that tension — between creating and tending to the mundane, between painting and fixing the roof, between art and helping a neighbor in need.

The most important job I have ever been given was being a parent.  If I had to choose between writing and parenting, parenting would win easily.

These days, it’s the writing part that niggles at me.

Funny how that works.


M is for multiple things.


Welcome to Monticello, now synonymous with broken buses

Like MonticelloThat’s where the bus broke down. It’s so easy to mentally go back to those broken down places.

But M is also for Moving  On.  It may be easy to go back, but it’s also important to move on.

M is for Mirrors, because reflection is important.

Frio River from the balcony

Frio River from the balcony

M is for Meals, each one a sumptuous feast at Laity Lodge. More than the food, though, is the sharing of stories that happens over a meal — telling the tales of broken down buses or lives, and finding peace and acceptance even when the whole story is told.

Dining at Laity (photo by Kristen Peterson)

Dining at Laity (photo by Kristen Peterson)

M is for the Moon.  Its light is merely a reflection of the sun’s light. I don’t want to be corny about it, but my friends also reflect the Son’s light for me, and that’s very precious. Because sometimes the night is dark, and the only light we can see is a reflected one.

The moon at Laity Lodge

The moon at Laity Lodge

And M is for each Moment and the Miracle of living life — because each breath we take should no more amazing than that first breath from the womb.

Each blade of grass, each rock piled on rock, each bird at the feeder, each tear, each friend, each mountain, each sunset, each lift-off, each landing, each ( fill-in-the-blank ) — they are all miracles.

We lives a series of miracles most of which escape our notice.

Life is rich. Magnificent, in fact, when we choose to embrace it.

And Magnificent also begins with M.

Love in Action


Laity Lodge cacti.  The cactus “protects itself against danger, but it harms no other plant…” (from “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtney

L is for Love in Action.

Well did Monty Python choose a rabbit — the Rabbit of Caerbannog — to protect.

The retreat at Laity Lodge was put on by the Rabbit Room, an online community modeled after Lewis and Tolkien’s Inkling community that met in an Oxford pub in a room called The Rabbit Room.

The denizens of this online community now refer to themselves as rabbits. Unlike many online communities, Rabbit Roomers have multiple opportunities for flesh-and-blood meetings via events like Hutchmoot, the Laity Lodge retreat, and concerts.

A group rabbits yesterday turned into Rabbits of Caerbannog when I shared with them that “Joan Jackson” has continued to comment on my blog, although now all her comments go to my spam folder.

Below is their response:

It has come to our attention that repeated attempts have been made to shame and silence Sally, the author of this blog.

It is sad that bitterness could turn into something so consuming. If this weren’t such a damnable waste of time and resources, it would almost be comic that two elderly people would spend their last golden decades on planet earth acting like silly teenage girls. How foolish the human heart grows while seeking revenge. If there weren’t so much to be pitied about this sort of behavior, it would be laughable.

However, because this problem has persisted, Sally’s friends have decided to take action. Below is our plan.

First, we have offered to manage the spam folder for this blog. From this point forward, Sally will appoint a friend to manage her spam. The new manager of this folder will scan the first few lines of every message and immediately delete anything slanderous. No matter what is written in those messages, we will assume every single word to be false. We will not be shocked, and we will not be shaken. Anyone cowardly and immature enough to send anonymous messages over the internet has immediately lost all credibility in our eyes.

Secondly, as a team, we are committing to doing one act of goodness and grace in the world for every negative message received. For each attempt these attackers make to shame our friend, we will make something beautiful or healing for someone in need. Every venomous or poisonous post will result in tenderness and generosity being carried out by a team of friends who knows the wonderful woman that this blogger really is.

Hatred will be turned to laughter. Shame will be turned to healing. Darkness will be turned to light. And all of this will be done in a manner that not only turns evil to good, but that multiplies goodness exponentially. We will do this because this is what God does with broken places; he turns them around and makes them beautiful.

We praise God for this opportunity to stand in the gap for our dear friend. We also hope that a strong and definite stance will help our friend’s abusers move on with life. We stand about her as a shield, accepting her as she was, loving her as she is, and excited about who she is becoming.

Friends of the Blogger

Like the Rabbit of Caerbannog, they will stand as my protectors.

Unlike the Rabbit of Caerbannog, their actions will not be destructive, but healing.

I couldn’t ask for better friends.