Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Spiritual Practices: Tuesday's Reflection

NOTE: I am going to take a brief break from posting in this blog. My plan is to begin posting again on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Watch this space!

I was the speaker at our church's adult forum this past Sunday. My topic was Spirituality 101. During the forum we wrestled with the meaning of spirituality and also explored the ways to engage with spiritual practices. We barely touched the surface, but I am grateful to be part of a community where questions like these are part of an ongoing conversation.

I suggested to the group that the essence of spirituality is the way you experience connection to the sacred aspect of life, the spirit of life. You might connect
                   To your own inner, creative core.
                   To other people.
                   To nature.
                   To God and to the faith we profess.

Or you may connect to any combination of the above. And your spiritual connection may change throughout your lifetime.

Thomas Hart, a spiritual writer and family therapist, suggests that  where the action of our life is, God is present and active with us. 

That means God is in the car pool with us when we take kids to school or at the kitchen sink when we wash dishes or when we collapse into a chair hoping to read a few pages in a good book before a nap overcomes us. It also means God is with us in the challenges, the big ones --caretaking an elderly loved one, facing a health crisis in ourselves, losing a job, becoming an empty nester, wondering what the purpose of our life is now that we no longer can do what we have always done. The list goes on. 

The key question is: How is God moving in my life right now? How and when do I feel and know the presence of God? 

These are spiritual questions. 

So much more I could say and perhaps I will as time goes on, but I want to close todays's post by quoting Anthony de Mello's take on spiritual practices.

          Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
          As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning?
         Then what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
         To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.

An Invitation
What would it look like to live more spiritually right now? I would love to know. 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

One Never Knows: Thursday's Reflection

"What should I write about today?" I often have a number of ideas or possibilities when I sit down the day before I publish one of my posts. That was not the case this time, however, but I trusted that my morning meditation time or walk would bear some fruit.

I opened my Bible and read the reading assigned by the Brian McLaren's We Make the Road By Walking.

             Look at the birds of the air; 
            they neither sow nor reap 
            nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly 
            Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 
            And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to 
            your span of life." (Matthew 6: 26-27)

I sat with the familiar scripture and with the accompanying devotional material, and then I turned to the other book I am reading, Ripening Time, Inside Stories for Aging with Grace by Sherry Ruth Anderson. I read a section in which the author describes how she reaches out to touch her husband when he stops snoring during the night to see if he is still alive. And he does the same to her. She writes, 

              Death has begun to feel like a continual murmur, 
              an intimate consultation I do with the end point 
              that is coming. It's not something I talk about, but
              a kind of certainty is here now, making the time
              distinctly different from my middle age. p. 97

I had just finished reading those words when Bruce called up the stairs to me, saying there was an EMT vehicle and three police cars in front of our next door neighbor's house. I joined him outside, and we knew the news was not good when the EMT people left the house and the police stayed. 

 Our neighbor, a man of our age, had died. Apparently a heart attack. 

Later we delivered fruit and rolls for the gathered grieving family. We held our neighbor who is in that stunned, shocked place. She briefly told us the story she will repeat many times about finding him on the kitchen floor when she got up in the morning. 

I ache for her. 

This could be me. This could be you. 

Eventually, I returned to the garret and finished reading the chapter in the Anderson book. She ends the chapter with these words:

                  It's so important to contact the depth in ourselves
                  while we still can, find our connection with the 
                  universal ground. p. 103

One never knows.

An Invitation
What will you do today to live more openly, more compassionately, more authentically? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Noise: Tuesday's Reflection

I prefer silence to noise. 

That's not unusual for someone who considers herself a modern-day contemplative. 

I love my morning meditation time before most of the world is awake. I sit in the garret and pray and write and read and breathe and gradually enter the days. I do that against a background of silence. 

But I must say I enjoy the presence of some noise in my life these days. 

Our neighborhood seems to have come alive with the noise of children playing. I often hear people commiserating that children don't play outside anymore. Well, that is not the case on our block. During the hours between the end of the school day and bedtime, groups of kids call to each other, as they race down the sidewalk on bikes and scooters. Some of the older kids stand on both sides of the street and toss a football or baseball back and forth. I hear, "Red Light, Green Light" or "Red Rover, Red Rover send Tommy right over." Yes, kids still play those games. 

Sometimes I hear the sound of the newest resident on the block. Fiona was born in July, and occasionally I hear her crying. Instead of being bothered by her demands to be fed or changed or held, I love knowing there is new life present. A little girl who will one day join the sidewalk party. 

The other night I heard cheers coming from a crowd. Most likely it was from a football game at the local high school or one of the colleges in our area. The wind carried the sound right through our windows, and I hoped the home team was winning.

Much to my surprise, Sunday morning I even welcome the noise of happy chatting in the sanctuary before church starts. My desire has always been to sit quietly in meditation before the service's opening hymn, but I love how welcoming we are to each other and how eager we are to see and check in with one another.

Other sounds certainly are not as pleasurable: barking dogs who have been left outside unattended for long stretches, firetruck,  ambulance or police sirens, signaling a crisis of some kind, or even the sound of garbage trucks rumbling through the alley. For the moment my concentration may be broken. Oh well. That's the way life is in an urban neighborhood.

Don't get me wrong, I will always treasure the quiet moments, the measured rhythm of stillness, but as I age, I think I am more able to listen and appreciate the sounds of happy activity. The sounds of love, of connection, of life. 

An Invitation
How about you? What are the sounds in your life? What are the sounds that enhance your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Self-Care;Thursday's Reflection

"Take care of yourself today," my Dad often says at the end of our brief morning conversation.

My first thought is how he has taken such good care of our family over the years and how he continues to do so. For example, I know he prays for us and keeps us all in his heart. 

Now, of course, we need to care for him in some ways, although he is still quite independent, even at age 94. For example, this past weekend we took him to my mother's grave in Lakewood Cemetery. That is something he can no longer do on his own, along with driving at night or beyond his loop of life. The list of ways he needs our care is small so far, and we are grateful for his good health and active mind. 

I wonder, when he reminds me to take good care of myself, what that means for me right now. I almost immediately think about  what I am NOT doing to take good care of myself, like exercising. And then I feel guilty, of course. 

But there are other ways I do take care of myself, beginning with my morning meditation time. This time grounds me and alerts me to the movement of God in my life. This time opens me to the ways I am meant to move and be in the world and how I am to care for others. If I miss a morning or two of this self-care, I begin to feel wobbly and unsure and critical of myself and others.

Making sure I have writing time, perhaps not every day, but most days, is another way I take care of myself these days. Writing is one of the ways I show up in the world, one of the tools God has given me to live as the person I was created to be. 

Perhaps that's what "taking care of yourself" means: living from your essence, doing the work God created you to do. When I think of it this way, it doesn't feel so self-absorbed, but actually directs me to live wholeheartedly. For myself, but also for and with others.

I feel cared for when my father tells me to have a good day and to take care of myself, and better equipped to live those good words in all I do and all I am. 

An Invitation
What does "take good care of yourself" mean to you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

First Day of School: Tuesday's Reflection

For many children school starts today, and, oh, does that bring back memories. 

I loved school--both as a student and later as a teacher--and am grateful I was able to learn without great struggles and had parents who supported my love of learning. How thankful I am our children thrived in school settings. That is true now for our grandchildren, too.  Obviously, that is not always the case. 

(Note: I can't believe I wore a suit and nylons on my move-in day at St Olaf! That was 1966, and oh, how the times were different then!)

Today seems like a good day to celebrate all we have learned (Thank you, teachers!), all we have managed to survive, and the twists and turns, directions and dimensions of our lives. So much of our life has been in school. 

Today is also a good day, to think about what you are learning, what you are studying now. There so many excellent opportunities for those of us in the 3rd Chapter of our lives,for colleges and universities and community education programs are everywhere. Plus, there are online offerings. I salivate at all the possibilities, making it hard to pick and choose. I have signed up for a couple classes at The Loft Literary Center and this week will attend the first fall monthly writing session at Wisdom Ways.

At the same time I am conducting my own independent studies. Soon I will present an adult forum at church called Spirituality 101 and in the process I am reading and studying and sorting and processing. This summer I created a course for myself about writing essays and also spiritual memoir as a path for restructuring the book I am writing. 

And then there is the learning that comes with this stage of life. I have never been 69 years before and this time of life has great potential for learning. Inner learning. Inner growth. 

I am reading an excellent book by Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ripening Time, Inside Stories for  Aging with Grace. She says,
         I propose that, since we do not know what reaches and
         dimensions of our humanity are possible as we age, we
         engage the question. All the questions--whatever we can
         discover about how we can grow old consciously. We 
         already know too much about what diminishes--hearing,
         eyesight, short-term memory, speed of recall and 
         calculation, and so on. That is not so interesting. But
         to consider what grows, what develops, what ripens--that,
         I propose, is interesting indeed. 

We can each start a new school year today. The School of Conscious Aging. Get out your notebooks and pack a lunch. Happy first day of school! 

An Invitation
What first day of school memories do you have? Are you still in school? Actually or metaphorically? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lessons from a Garage Sale: Thursday's Reflection

My reason for a garage sale was to eliminate as many of the bins
packed with treasures no longer desired. We priced everything to sell and if someone offered us less, more often than not, we accepted. I am happy to report that our recent garage sale was a big success, and we have made additional strides in our goal to lighten up and clear the space.

Our grandson Peter, age 9, had another goal, however. He brought over games and DVDs and puzzles and other items to sell, and he eagerly watched his pile dwindle and his cash mount. His goal was to make some cash. 

Our different goals highlighted for me our very different stages in life. He needs money to acquire what matters to him now at his young age, and he doesn't have many ways yet to make money. I, on the other hand, want to use my energy in ways other than acquiring stuff and then taking care of it, shuffling and sorting it. I still have plenty of stuff, trust me, and I love creating a home pleasing to the eye, but that pleasure comes these days from having  much less than in my younger years.  I don't think that is an uncommon feeling at my stage of life.

Not everyone feels that way, however. 

I wonder how many times during our garage sale I heard someone, usually an older person, say, "I shouldn't even be here. I don't need one more thing." Usually I just smiled and maybe said, "I understand," but what I actually thought was "Then why are you here." 

Garage Sales as Life Review
Of course, garage sales are also opportunities to share memories. 

I have collected colorful and useful linen for years--tablecloths and dresser scarves and dish towels etc--and have loved using them. I like ironing, so using them has been more a pleasure than a chore. Over the last few years I have dispersed that huge collection (the picture is from an earlier garage sale) and been delighted when young women have told me about using them to create charming dresses for little girls or cafe curtains for bungalow kitchens, for example. 

Few people express interest in collecting linen, however, but instead seeing many of my pieces generates memories of Grandma's kitchen or the dining room table at Christmases long past gone. "My mother had a towel just like this." For a few minutes these memories swirl in our garage. 

We all need time and space to share memories.

Collecting, but not Using
What always distresses me at garage sales, however, are the people who tell me all the things they have, but never use. One woman told me about her many, many sets of beautiful dishes. She even showed me a small tureen she bought at another sale. "Oh, you must so enjoy setting your table," I said. She looked both horrified and embarrassed, telling me she never uses any of it. I asked her what she was saving it all for, but she didn't have an answer. I felt such sadness for her. 

Opportunities for Spiritual Growth
If I were sitting in spiritual direction, with some of these individuals, I would ask them to explore their feelings about "stuff" and the ongoing desire for more in their life or their inability to let go. How is God, the Divine, the Sacred present to them or moving in their life as they go to garage sale after garage sale? What is the invitation in their life right now? What is waiting for them at the bottom of the pile?  

Peter was pleased with the money he earned. I was pleased with all the inventory that moved to a new home. And, as always, there are gifts along the way. 

An Invitation
How are you doing with all you have accumulated over the years? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Your Lane: Tuesday's Reflection

"That's my lane. I'm learning how to let others run in their lanes while I stick with mine."
                             Joanna Gaines

The HGTV star and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Joanna Gaines, runs in several lanes at the same time, I think, but this statement in her magazine Magnolia made me pause and reflect.

What's my lane? What are my gifts? Passions? Where is it I most need to focus and how is it I need to share my gifts and live my passions? 

August turning into September feels like the right time to sit with those questions once again, and I like this image of a lane--a bike lane, a country lane, side by side interstate lanes with the lane on the right for slower moving traffic. 

I know there are some things I do well (my lanes) and some things I don't do well and don't even want to do well (some one else's lanes) and I know sometimes lanes turn into trails past unexpected views and sometimes they dead end. The tolls on some lanes are high, but sometimes the cost is worth it. By now, at age 69, I have traveled many lanes and I am better at changing lanes when it is necessary. 

It is my job to recognize those lanes and move forward on them.

Well, this metaphor could go on and on, just like some lanes, but you get the idea.  

Here's what I need to remember: When I take time to listen to my inner voice, to open my heart to the movement of God within me and around me, I become clearer about which lane to follow. 

An Invitation
What is your lane? I would love to know.