Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My New Spiritual Practice: Tuesday's Reflection

I have a new spiritual practice. New to me, that is.

My new spiritual practice requires only a blank book, a good pen, and a book of sacred words. Oh, and the inclination to hand copy word by word, page by page, the thoughts and insights and gifts of another. 

After my morning walk, I open both the journal and the sacred text to the pages where I left off the day before. I uncap my favorite fountain pen, and I begin to copy, carefully, using my best handwriting. I copy prayers and sections of scripture, and I do so without thinking too much about the words I form on the blank page. Instead, I allow the slow and deliberate movement of hand and eye across the page to join with my heart, to pulse in my mind. 

I am not a writer in these moments, but am, instead, a scribe. 

I think about the monks, the nuns of medieval times whose call in life was to create illuminated manuscripts of sacred texts, and I wonder if this task ever became tedious for them. Would they have preferred serving by gardening or teaching or singing? Did they experience this spiritual practice as prayer? 

I vaguely remember learning first how to print and then form cursive letters, repeating the letters over and over, trying to make my shaky, unpracticed attempts look just like the teacher's examples. As an adult I took a calligraphy class and loved learning different styles of the alphabet, like gothic and New English. I loved the swirls and flourishes and using a variety of pen nibs and inks as I copied favorite poems and sayings. I wasn't very good at it, but as a young mom, I treasured this quiet time. A contemplative time, although I don't think I used that word at the time. 

Now, however, I know this is contemplative time. A time to free my mind of worries and plans. A time to slow down. A time to give myself to something beyond my need to create, to be unique, to take my own experiences and attempt to breathe life into them for you, my readers. It is a time to connect with Spirit as it appears in the words under my fingertips. The paradox is that even as I don't choose the words, the words become mine. I know them, feel them. 

The book I have selected for this new spiritual practice is Celtic Treasure, Daily Scriptures and Prayers by J. Philip Newell. In the first days of this practice, I copied Newell's translation of sections from Genesis 1. "Great sea-monsters" was soon followed by "God saw that it was good," and I wondered how my personal monsters and demons are good. I copied "But in the dark a wind began to stir," again followed by "God saw that it was good," and I felt my inner yearnings. 

Sometimes my mind wanders, as it tends to do while meditating, and when that happens the letters look sloppy, too loose on the page, or I may skip over a word or change a word to what I think it should be. Sometimes I even drift to thoughts about the next book I will copy! When I realize I am no longer present, I lift my pen, take a deep breath, and return to the page, as if for the first time.

I adopted this practice only last week, after one of my spiritual directees mentioned it to me. Clearly, I have not been doing this long enough to consider it one of my practices. However, each morning I am eager to discover the words as they flow across the page. In the quiet I become calm, more centered and more aware of God's presence.  

An Invitation
Have you entered any new spiritual practice recently? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Free Libraries: Thursday's Refections

Do you have Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood? We have many scattered throughout our neighborhood and somedays my morning walk is almost like going to the public library or a used bookstore.

Little Free Libraries, in case you aren't familiar with them, are waterproof boxes located in front yards of host "librarians." Anyone can leave books already read and no longer wanted in a personal home library. Near our front door we have a basket where we pile books ready to be donated. All Little Free Library books, by the way, are free and available to any one passing by. 

I find it difficult to pass by one of these Little Free Libraries without checking out the current selections. You never know what you may find. For example, recently, I found two books I had requested at the public library: Kristin Hannah's most recent book, Great Alone and A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. Many others have requested these books, and who knows when it would have been my turn. My husband has had great luck, too, often returning from a walk with the latest page-turner. 

I don't always come home with a book, but often I come home with the possible portrait of a reader. Take a look at these books:

What do you see? I see a reader who has had breast cancer, but has survived and now passes on books that helped her and her family during that traumatic time. I see books that helped them cope. A book on Ignatian spirituality. A book about baking bread--such a sensual and loving task. A light novel when escape was needed. And speaking of escape--a journal about sailing. 

Now, of course, I have no way to know the real story or even if all these books were donated by the same person. I didn't take any of these books, nor did I have one to leave, but I did leave a whispered blessing both to the person or persons whose books these once were and even more to the person who will open this box and gasp, "Oh, these are just what I need." 

Such a gift these little libraries are! 

An Invitation
What do you do with the books you no longer want to keep on your shelves? I would love to know.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Superpowers: Tuesday's Reflection

My grandchildren have superpowers.

No doubt, if you have grandchildren, you have noticed they have superpowers, too. Or perhaps you observe the children in your neighborhood and are in awe of their superpowers.

Maren, age 15, who recently returned to camp from over two weeks of canoeing in the Quetico, always amazes me with her strength. Physical strength, yes, but emotional and spiritual strength, too. She takes her superpower with her wherever she goes, and wherever she goes, people recognize those powers. 

Peter, age 10, was nervous about going away for a week of sleep away camp, and I asked him to think about his superpowers. He seemed unsure about that, but thought his ability to make friends quickly was one of his superpowers. I agreed, but also suggested his curiosity is another superpower. That seemed to be a new thought for him. 

Lately, I have been aware of superpowers in others around me. Women, now widows after the deaths of their spouses of many years, who are creating new lives for themselves. I hear them state how they feel and what they need. I see newly retired friends making room in their lives for next steps. No step too small. I know people who face health challenges yes, with courage and hope, but also honesty and realism. All around me are people who are using their creative or intellectual gifts. In other words, I see examples of love and life all around. Superpowers! 

Experiences, like going away to camp, help the young people in our lives discover their strengths, and that is a good thing, for we continue to need our superpowers as we move through our lives. In fact, now seems like a good time to ask yourself, “What exactly are my superpowers? Now is not the time to be shy or modest. Actually, now is the time to acknowledge and appreciate and even nourish our superpowers. 

I'll start: One of my superpowers (for I assume, like you, I have more than one) is my ability to listen with the ears of my heart. I nourish that superpower by giving myself time to be alone when I can listen to my own inner voice, the whisper of Spirit. 

Now it's your turn. 

First, one more thing. When I made notes to myself about this post, I wrote SP as an abbreviation for superpower--the same abbreviation I use for "spiritual practices." Interesting, huh?

Now it's your turn. 

An Invitation
What are your superpowers? Which of my superpowers do you need right now? How do you nourish them? I would love to know. 

NOTE ABOUT MISSING COMMENTS:  I recently learned that I am not receiving all notifications about readers' comments. In the past I was sent an email that a comment awaited my approval. I then would read the comment and publish it. Well, apparently I have not always received that notification when someone attempted to make a comment. I really appreciate your comments and so apologize for not including them on my posts. I think those missing comments are now in place and hope I have corrected the situation from now on. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Smile Time: Thursday's Reflection

I have not found many reasons to smile lately. That isn't quite accurate. Reasons for smiling are all around me--hugs from our grandson when he returned from camp, monarch butterflies playing in the garden, a lovely thank you note from a recent visitor to our home, a drive in the country where the corn reaches into the sky.

The problem is that sometimes I stop noticing. Or if I notice, it is only in passing. Instead, I focus on all that distresses and disturbs me. And there is quite the list. 

What I needed was something to surprise me into feeling glee. Almost giddy. 

One day this week a friend and I went to an exhibit at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis to see a new exhibit about the Swedish clothing and housewares designer, Gudrun Sjoden. I knew it would be colorful and fun, for I have seen ads for her clothing, but truly, I had no idea. 

I couldn't stop smiling. 

Now the clothes may not be your style, but frowning when you see them is not an option. They shout, "Let's play." Somehow I think wearing a piece of her clothing would make me not only happy, but more creative. Yes, there is joy in the world, and how grateful I am for the people who remind us of that fact. 

The morning after going to the exhibit, it was raining. I could have grabbed my umbrella and gone on my usual morning walk, but doing that felt like doing my duty. Exercising, no matter what. 

Instead, I decided to create my own joy. 
Bake cookies! How long has it been since I have done that? I decided to  bring cookies to our granddaughter when we visit her at camp this week. And that's what I did, smiling the whole time. 

An Invitation
What has made you smile recently? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Transitions: Tuesday's Reflection

Recent days have felt more like a transition from August to September than July to August. Something in the air. A tired, worn out green on some of the trees. My pots of basil begging for harvesting. And, of course, school supplies taking over a big section in Target. 

I know the temperatures are climbing back up to high 80's here in St Paul this week, but still, the sand in the summer hourglass is flowing from top to bottom faster than a couple weeks ago. 

We are in the midst of a seasonal transition.

But isn't that always the case? Aren't we always moving closer to the next season? 

And isn't that the case in our lives as well? Aren't we always in some kind of transition? 

We tend to think of the big transitions in our lives. Moving from one house or city or state to another. Saying goodbye to colleagues at one job and getting to know others as you start a new job. Or ending our work lives and thinking about what retirement might offer.

Some transitions are less obvious. Healing physically or emotionally, for example. One day at a time you may notice you have a bit more energy or experience less pain or sense of loss. The change may not be--probably won't be--in even increments and there may be set backs, but something is happening. 

We open and shut doors and cross the threshold from one room to another. We end one activity and start another many times a day. We greet someone and then say goodbye as we make our daily rounds of grocery shopping or exercising or carpooling. We turn the page of a book or newspaper or scroll down through emails or Facebook posts. 

Julia Cameron says in her book Transitions, Prayers and Declarations for a Changing Life 
                  All life can be expansive in potential. The
                  choice is ours. As I open my heart to accept
                  change, my heart softens and grows larger.
                  Every experience carries the seed of
                  transformation. Every event can bring blossoming
                  and wealth. My personal will can resist change 
                  or embrace it. The choice is mine and determines
                  the life I will have. p. 3

It is in the in-between time, however brief, however tiny the transition is, that we learn how to be present. We learn how to be in the fullness, the wholeness of our lives. 

An Invitation
In what ways are you in transition now? I would love to know. 

BONUS: Here's an antidote to the article I mentioned in my post on Thursday, July 26th. Signs of hope. Read it here.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Painful Reading: Thursday's Reflection

Instead of reading my words today, I encourage you to read an article from The Washington Post. I read it this past weekend, and I can't get it out of my mind. 

To read it, go here.

I have now read this article four times, and I have become more sick at heart with each reading. 

What do I do with these feelings of despair? I am way beyond disbelief at this stage. 

How do I find common ground with the attitudes about African Americans, immigrants, women, Muslims, and also about our president, as represented in this article? How do I recognize the beliefs and practices I hold as a Christian when others, who also call themselves Christians can say, "Love thy neighbor meant love thy American  neighbor" or welcome the stranger only refers to "the legal immigrant stranger." And what about the belief expressed by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, and by others in the article that God made Trump president, "an immoral person doing moral things." 

I just don't know. 

An Invitation
I welcome your thoughts. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Summer Book Recommendation #3: Tuesday's Reflection

I happened to mention to our son recently that I was thinking about moving my mixer from the pantry closet to a place on the counter. "It is so heavy," I said, "and I think I will use it more frequently if it is in a more convenient location." I added that I wasn't sure where I would put the green graniteware breadbox currently on the counter. My counter space is limited.

I was thrilled when my son said he would like to have the breadbox that has had a prominent position in every kitchen since he was a little boy. As soon as we returned home from our trip to Cleveland where he and our daughter-in-love live, the breadbox, complete with a loaf of rhubarb bread, was on its way.

With that offer and response, I had taken the advice of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, How To Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnuson. 

            A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you.
            Not all things from you. 

"Nice," of course, is in the eyes of the beholder.

            Sometimes you must give cherished things away 
            with the wish that they end up with someone who 
            will create new memories of their own.

Magnuson urges us to do this sooner, rather than later, and therefore, to reap the benefits of living smaller.

             Life will become more pleasant and comfortable 
             if we get rid of some of the abundance.

This, of course, is a process, and one my husband and I have been pursuing for quite some time. In large part, the process was precipitated by our move from a large home in Madison, WI, to a smaller home, by choice, in St Paul. Our main joint hobby during our almost 47 years of married life has been antiquing. We have filled each home with gathered collections, and we have no regrets about doing that. Such fun we have had, but now space, energy, and interests have changed. This is a different time, and so the process of sorting and decluttering, and dispersing continues. 

Many books about downsizing have been written, most with helpful hints, but I so enjoyed the style and perspective of this book written by a woman who frames herself as someone "between the age of eighty and one hundred." I am quite sure I would enjoy knowing her, for she not only speaks from experience, but writes with a light and warm touch. I appreciate that she suggests this active process not just because it will eliminate a major burden for your family, but also because living lighter is a gift for yourself at this stage of your life. She asks, "Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?" I add, "Including yourself?"

And so the process continues in our house. This summer I am going through all the drawers in my garret; drawers that substitute for file cabinets. Next will be bins of notebooks and journals now stored in an attic space. One piece of advice I read recently, but not from the Swedish Death Cleaning book, is to leave every space at least 20% free. Fill it no more than 80%. I want you to know that at least five of the 20 drawers in the garret are completely empty. I am quite proud of that, but I also know, the job is ongoing. Witness this cupboard full of green depression glass. Who would know how much I have already sold or given away! 

Swedish death cleaning, by the way, simply means removing things and making your home nice and orderly "when you think the time is closer for you to leave the planet." That time is closer than it was yesterday, so isn't it time to get started? Magnuson is a wonderful companion along the way. 

Oh, and I want you to know that I am using my mixer much more now that I don't have to carry it up the stairs from the pantry to the kitchen. 

An Invitation
Have you started this process? What are you learning about yourself as you undertake this series of tasks? I would love to know.