Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thinking About Light: Thursday's Reflection

I have been thinking about light lately. 

I am not the only one, it seems, for light seems to be a topic of reflection for many these days. 

For example, every month this past year I received as a gift a lovely handlettered quotation, which I displayed on a small easel on my desk. The theme was light.

          No one lights a lamp in order to 
          hide it behind door: the purpose of 
          light is to create more light, 
          to open people's eyes, to reveal the marvels around.
                                                   Paul Coelho

          Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light
          can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love
          can do that.
                                                    Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition I subscribed this year to monthly pamphlets from Joan Chittister's "The Monastic Way" series. The theme for January is "You are the light of the world." Matthew 5:14, and each day offers brief thoughts for reflection. 

              The world is saved one light at a time until the path
          is ablaze with the way to tomorrow. But it will not
          happen until I myself become a light, until I myself
          am willing to say the truth into the darkness. Then, 
          only then, the world really changes.

          Dark times are only a call to do life better than we have
          been doing. 'Give light,' Erasmus wrote, 'and the darkness 
          will disappear of itself.'

Give light. 

We live in challenging times, not just interesting times. Many of us have felt the darkness creeping out of the shadows and crowding out our hopes and dreams, replacing them with fear. President Obama in his farewell address said to be "vigilant, but not afraid."

We need light, in order to be vigilant. We can't see what we can't see. 

Give light. Be light. 

PS: As a reminder to give light, be light, I have added a string of white lights around the window in my garret. Let there be light! 

An Invitation
How will you be the light? I would love to know. 

The Monastic Way

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Off-List: Tuesday's Reflection

I tend to live by my lists, meaning I am always aware of what is on my To Do lists and what I have accomplished on a given day and what is left to be done.

But not this past weekend. 

This past weekend I was off list. Sort of like going off road. 

This doesn't mean I did anything wild and crazy and totally out of character. That might not be a bad thing either, but what it does mean is that I gave myself a time out. 

Last week I accomplished my main goal, which was to write a rough draft for a new chapter in my spiritual memoir. On Thursday. I could have started revising the draft on Friday or over the weekend, but I didn't. Or I could have done other writing tasks or checked off other desk duties, but I didn't. I did go to an excellent drop-in writing class Friday afternoon, and I could have returned to my desk and followed through with some of what I learned, but I didn't. I had done enough, and I felt just fine about what I had done. 

I decided a weekend was in order. Friday night we went to see the superb movie (don't miss) "Hidden Figures." Saturday morning I met a friend for hot chocolate and conversation and a bit of committee work. That afternoon Bruce and I drove around the Minneapolis lakes on our way to lunch at a favorite spot, The Kenwood. It was one of those idyllic winter days of temps in the 20's, and many were out cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, walking the dog, enjoying the sunshine after bitterly cold days. The day continued with bookstore browsing, reading, watching an episode of "Poirot" on the Acorn channel and then going to bed early. 

Saturday's ease continued on Sunday. Church followed by lunch and reading the papers at Turtle Bakery. Some light house refreshment and then time in the kitchen, assembling a casserole in the slow cooker and making a batch of oatmeal for the week. I felt inspired and decided to clean the pantry cupboard, tossing many out of date items. Way out of date. Kitchen time was accompanied with good radio, mainly "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" on MPR. 

More paper and book reading in the snug. A good dinner and then the season finale of PBS's "Sherlock" and the first episode of "Victoria."  

Did I feel behind on Monday morning? Not at all. I felt refreshed and ready to tackle this week's list, which includes revising the new chapter. 

Now I realize that my life is far more spacious than it used to be, and I don't need to juggle in ways I needed to do in the years of working full time and raising a family. Then I struggled to achieve balance, and being efficient with my time was a constant goal. 

While I don't lack for things to do and there are many, many other things I would like to pursue, I am less frazzled, less anxious about how to use my time. 

My word(s) of the year is "Sacred Yes, Sacred No," and already I have noticed how helpful those words are as I make decisions about how to spend my time and my energy. Where to put my feet and where my heart needs to respond. Sometimes the answer is "off list."

An Invitation
What "Sacred Yes, Sacred No" decisions have you made recently? I would love to know. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Getting Organized: Thursday's Reflection

Meet Peter. Peter is our awesome, almost nine years old grandson, and we are so grateful he is in our life. For many reasons. Believe me, I could tell you many Peter stories. Just ask.

Yesterday morning I must have been channeling Peter as I sat in my morning meditation chair and looked around my slightly chaotic garret. What would Peter suggest I do, I asked myself?

You see, as part of a new year exercise our daughter asked each member of her family to first list gratitudes in their life and then to state an intention for the new year. Peter's --now, remember he is not quite nine-- said he wants to be better organized. 

He is already a kid who makes lists and has notebooks devoted to specific topics. He makes plans and wants to know not only Plan A, but also Plan B. All in all, I think he is quite organized and responsible. I am sure that is not the case all the time, and I don't have to clean his room, but still....

I looked around the garret, seeing piles here and piles there and could almost hear him say, "GrandNan, it is time to get organized."

Anyone who knows me knows I am an organized person, and I value being organized and living in an organized home. I enjoy organizing and eagerly look for additional ways to be and stay organized. 

January is the the month of organization. All you need to do is go to Target, for example, where you can find every size, color, and material of bins and baskets and boxes. And every magazine and home decor blog this time of year focuses on ways to get and be more organized. I love it, so how is it that I have allowed piles to gather on every surface in my beloved office space?

Here's the thing about feeling disorganized: it gets in the way of doing whatever I most need and want to do. At least that is how it is for me. Not only are surfaces cluttered, but so is my mind and even my heart. Sometimes spending time cleaning cupboards and drawers can be a distraction from how I am really supposed to be using my energy, but sometimes it clears the space for what truly is the priority. 

I only know the difference when I pause and consult my inner voice. My word(s) of the year is "Sacred Yes, Sacred No," and knowing when each applies is my ongoing challenge and intention. 

Yesterday morning I heard "yes," and it sounded a lot like Peter's voice. It didn't take long and soon my desk top was clear and ready for action once again. Piles of books were reshelved and various notebooks were back in their rightful places--right where I will look for them when I need them once again. That in itself is a good feeling, but even more I was ready to do my real work of the day. 

Thanks, Peter.

An Invitation
How does getting organized clear the space for you? What does it lead to? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Showing Up: Tuesday's Reflection

Meet Maren. Maren is our fourteen year old granddaughter, a special young woman and someone we would want to know, even if she weren't our granddaughter. 

Normally, at this time of year she is on the basketball court every day, along with her 8th grade teammates, but at the start of the season she injured a foot. Fortunately, she didn't need surgery, but she was on crutches for several weeks and is still wearing a boot. 

Disappointing, for sure, but Maren has handled this unexpected development with grace. More than that, she has shown up.

Her wise orthopedist not only has provided excellent medical care, but each time she sees Maren she offers a gentle life lesson. From the first appointment she encouraged Maren to go to all the practices, to help the coach in any way she could, to be there for her teammates, to watch and cheer their moves, and even to shoot baskets from a stationary position, doing what she can to build her own skills. 

In other words, she said, "Show up."

I have been thinking about those words and what they can mean in my own life. In what way can I show up?

Well, I can show up at my computer and sentence by sentence fulfill my intention to finish the first draft of my spiritual memoir.

I can show up Sunday mornings as part of my faith community, deepening my relationship with God and participating in the life of that community and the issues and organizations we support.

I can show up with friends and family who need a kind word, a presence, a listening ear or help of a practical nature. 

I can show up with my spiritual direction clients, being a companion to them as they uncover and clarify the persons they were created to be. 

I can show up in the world, expressing my views, responding to issues that concern me.

I can show up for myself, taking time for meditation, as well as taking care of myself in healthy ways; ways that support my body, mind, and spirit. 

I know it is not possible to show up for everything. For example, some of you will be attending the Women's March in Washington DC on January 21. I am not showing up for that, but I will show up for the march that same day here in Minnesota. 

Showing up requires making choices and in some cases may involvement an attentive discernment process. We show up when we are awake to the possibilities and the opportunities in our life, to the ways we can be true to our essence and live our gifts. 

Maren is one of my teachers in the art of showing up, and I am grateful for her example. 

An Invitation
In what ways can you show up? What keeps you from showing up? I would love to know. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Intentions: Thursday's Reflection

Last week my writing group gathered for lunch. This was not one
of our regular every other week meetings, when we each read or share something from a current project. No, this was simply time for friends to check-in with each other, but I suggested we also share our intentions for the year.

This group keeps my writing self accountable, and I knew saying my intentions out loud to them would be an extra push towards fulfilling them. Therefore, I wanted to be very sure I could commit myself to my announced intentions. 

In order to do that I spent big chunks of time during the previous couple days reading my journals from the past year, consulting my 2016 calendar and going through my writing notebook. 

Last year my main intention was to finish the first full draft of my book. Did I accomplish that? 

Not quite. Almost. 

I wrote 17 chapters for a total of 28, but I still have four more to write. I was disappointed in myself, and spent time whipping myself for the times I was not focused and disciplined enough to accomplish that main goal. And now here I am entering the new year feeling behind. 

Well, that's wasted energy, isn't it? So the next thing I needed to do was forgive myself. I don't mean making up excuses. ("Remember, you had a terrible cold the month of January and could barely write a word." or "The fall was SO busy with other obligations.") I don't mean fooling myself or not looking at myself as clearly as possible. I just mean forgiving myself and moving on. Learning and moving on. And even, here's a new concept, honoring myself for the 17 chapters I did write!

 Sometimes I think I am in competition with myself. After all, no one is forcing me to write this book. No one is standing over me and saying, "You have not worked on your book for two days! What's the matter with you, you slug?" 

Intentions are not about winning or crossing a finish line. Instead, an intention needs to address who you are, your essence, and the person you are called to be. Especially as we get older. 

Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, Gateways to Spiritual Growth, an excellent book by Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan, offers these words of wisdom to guide my consideration of intentions for 2017. First, is the advice to commit "to life where we find ourselves," and the other is the hope of "being the visible presence of the God within." 

My intentions need to evolve from a place of authenticity and out of my relationship with the sacred, the divine, the holy. My intentions need to honor and be present to the life I am privileged to live now. My intentions need to include space for breathing. 

I did share with my writing group my main intentions, especially those that focus on my writing plans, and they seem manageable and possible. I have printed them on nice paper and posted them next to my desk and reading them each morning has become a moment of prayer before I sit at my desk. 

I'll let you know how it goes.

An Invitation
What are your intentions for this new year? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy NEW Year:Tuesday's Reflection

On the first day of the new year, I thought about what was new in
my life: the books I received for Christmas, the new friendships developed over the past year, the new arrangement of our Mama and Papa reading chairs in the room we call the snug. I like trying new recipes, going to see a new movie, wearing a new, crisp blouse, and new snow, lightening what has previously fallen. 

On these first days of the new year I am reminded to begin anew.

To renew. 

To respond to the message of the recent Christmas season, "Be born in us today."

St Benedict's Rule says we can always begin again, and Buddhism encourages a beginners's mind.

What might that look like for me in this new year? Are there aspects of my life I need to re-examine and either eliminate or bring new life into them? In what ways can I be open to new possibilities, new opportunities, new ways of moving in the world? That seems challenging to me as I think about a new president who seems contrary to my values, my hopes and dreams for this country. But at the same time something is waiting, calling to be born in me today.

When something is born, it becomes alive. It lives and breathes and grows and moves and develops.  When something is born, it becomes its own. Joan Chittister says, "We are all what we are inside ourselves--and it is those things we need to develop."

It is those things we need to make new. 

As you move into the new year, here are some questions to consider, thanks to Joyce Rupp in her book Out of the Ordinary, Prayers, Poems and Reflections for Every Season.
1.  What name would you like your new year's journey to have?
     What gifts do you bring with you into the year before you?
2.   Do you find any resistance within you?
      Of what are you most afraid as you enter the new year?
3.   What is your greatest need for the coming year?
4.   Who do you bring with you for your support and strength as you begin to journey through the year?
5.    How is your relationship with the Holy One as you pause on the threshold of the hew year's vast landscape?
       What is at the heart of your new year's prayer?
6.    What do you hope to contribute to society in this coming year?
                                                                                  p. 165

Happy New Year! 

An Invitation
What is new in your life or what new attitude or approach can you bring to something "old" in your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Favorite Fiction of 2016: Thursday's Reflection

Even as I reflect on my favorites of 2016, a pile for 2017 is growing. I am currently reading for our January book group discussion, Believer, My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod, and I am surprised by how much I am enjoying it. Not only is it well-written and satisfyingly readable, it reminds me of other times of turmoil in this country, times I remember well. And we not only survived, but good things, good people flourished. Reading this restores some hope.

I am eager to read some new fiction, too, however. In my pile is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and The Nix by Nathan Hill. 

But before I get ahead of myself, here are my fiction favorites for 2016--another splendid year of reading. 

Top Favorites
1. Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. While this book can almost be read in one sitting, the theme and characters will remain with you for a long time. This is Haruf's last book, for he died soon after finishing it, and what a lovely legacy it is. Don't miss his earlier books, Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction, and others.
2. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. Yes, I know there are lots of characters, and it may be hard to keep them straight, but get over it. And yes, I know Bel Canto is one of your favorite books of all time (mine, too), and nothing else is quite as good, but take a deep breath and dive into this all too real story of merged families and the toll it takes on the children. Some laugh out loud moments, too. Wonderful, just wonderful.
3. These Granite Islands, Sarah Stonich. A couple years ago I read her book Vacationland, a book of related short stories, and loved it, as did the rest of our book group. I also really enjoyed her memoir, Shelter. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to read her first novel, These Granite Islands, but it was just what I needed on these cold winter nights. Set in northern Minnesota for the most part, it is a story of marriage and friendship, and a strong woman, and old age, and memory. Wonderful descriptions along with deep character development. I have not yet read her novel, The Ice Chorus, and I think that needs to be on my 2017 list. Please, Sarah, I hope you have something new in the works. 

The Rest of My Favorite Novels of 2017--in no particular order.
1. Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse, Faith Sullivan (author of the wonderful The Cape Ann)
2. The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber (a surprise selection for me--give it a try.)
3. Abide with Me, Elizabeth Strout 
4. My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout. (I must admit I like the earlier title, Abide with Me, more than this most recent title.)
5. A Banquet of Consequence, Elizabeth George
6. The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman (I am behind in my Hoffman reading--haven't read her newest one, Faithful, yet.)
7. The Dust That Falls From Dreams, Louis de Bernieres
8. Journey to Munich, Jacqueline Winspear (latest in the Maisie Dobbs series)
9. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman ( a book most everyone loves)
10. LaRose, Louise Erdrich (almost one of my Top Favorites)
11. Two by William Boyd, Restless and Any Human Heart
12. The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin (another one almost on the Top Favorites list)
13. Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks (Avoided it because it was about the plague, but thought it was excellent. Liked it better than her newest, The Secret Chord)
14. The Excellent Lombards, Jane Hamilton
15. The Cork O'Connor mysteries by William Kent Krueger. I am late to reading these. I read the first four this year and am so pleased there are many more ahead of me.)
16. A Great Reckoning, Louise Penny (Of course!!!! Love, love the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series set in wondrous Three Pines)
17. The Mothers, Brit Bennett

Overrated or Disappointing (In my opinion)
1. The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
2. Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld 
3. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. Now I know there is an ongoing love fest about this book, but I just don't get it, and I won't be reading the next two books in the trilogy. 

An Invitation
What are your Top Favorites of the year? I would love to know.

Note: If you missed my post about my favorite nonfiction books of 2016, go  here.

A Collection of Christmas Books