Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving: Thursday's Reflection

Being grateful opens the heart more than any other emotion, except perhaps love. (How does one separate love from gratitude anyway?) Gratitude is a habit and if we practice gratitude, we expand our heart's capacity to experience love and joy.

The Dalai Lama begins each day by saying, "I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it." I suspect he ends his day in a similar way, "I have a precious human life and how grateful I am to have lived this day."

Try beginning and ending your day with an outpouring of gratitude.  

Trust me, the more you find to be grateful for, the more you will open your heart and enhance your life, and the more you open your heart, the more you will find to be grateful for. And the more you will want to demonstrate your gratitude. Instead of this being a vicious circle, the circle of gratitude is glorious. Glorious indeed. 

I invite you to awaken your heart today to gratitude, the sister of joy. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

An Invitation
What is in your heart at the beginning and ending of each day? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Almost Thanksgiving: Tuesday's Reflection

One of the pleasures of my life has been to create a setting in which family and friends gather. 

That has been a guiding light for me in each of our homes over the years. Yes, I hope our home reflects our personalities and our interests, but I also hope our home is viewed as comfort, as safety, as sanctuary, and even, if I may be so bold, as a slice of beauty.

Whether it is the twice a month gathering of my writing group or a visit from out-of-town guests for a couple nights or the monthly Sunday night potluck we host for four other couples, I begin the welcome by planning the food, ironing the napkins, setting the table. Each step is a little prayer, a blessing.

How true that is as I think about Thanksgiving Day. 

This year our children and their beloved spouses and our grandchildren will fill our small dining room--a smaller group than some years, but memories of other more boisterous years are not far away. 

When we lived at Sweetwater Farm in Ohio our goal was to squeeze as many loved ones around the Harvest Table as possible. Sometimes our guests earned their turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes by participating in the annual round-up of our animals--llamas, sheep, goats, donkey--for their winter's confinement in the barn. Always a hilarious event. 

Some years my father and I drove out into Amish country the day before Thanksgiving to pick up the fresh turkey I had ordered from a country meat market. We took our time driving the country roads past Amish farms with sheets on the clotheslines and buggies in the driveways. 

When we lived in Madison, we filled each of the guest rooms in our large home with family and friends who sprawled all through the house before the feast watching football, reading by the fire, snitching another piece of lefse or wandering into the kitchen to sniff and ask if the turkey was almost ready. 

One year after dinner we went for a walk  and when we returned, we discovered our granddog, Ralph, had eaten the entire apple pie! Oh well, always concerned about having enough food, we had more than one pie. And then the next day there were leftovers! 

I am sure you have many Thanksgiving memories, too, and could easily begin a sentence saying, "Remember the year...."

Soon I will set the table for this year and as I do so, I will remember past years. I will wonder what new memories we will create, and I will give thanks for this year.

         When one evokes the good life, there is nothing
         quite so heartwarming and reassuring as the thought
         of one's friends and relatives gathering around a full
         table. There is a communion of more than bodies when
         people share a meal. Indeed, if the destiny of nations
         depended on what and how they eat, the same is true of
         individuals...One rediscovers the simple joys of 
         impatience and curiosity with the first bite of food, and 
         then delight, passionate discussions, and soon a sense of
         well-being. The meal creates a bond, an exchange, an 
         interaction of energies, a true connection.
                                         The French Family Feast
                                         A Menu Cookbook
                                         Mireille Johnston

An Invitation
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories? I would love to know. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Note: Thursday's Reflection

One of my favorite questions is "What are you reading?"

Asking the question sometimes means I will add a title or two to my already long list, and responding to the question means sharing some delight or wisdom or surprise. 

Let's say you just asked me what I am currently reading. How much time do you have?

As part of my morning meditation I am reading two books: What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell and a new book by Thomas Moore, Ageless Soul, The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy. 

The Bell book is written in a short and snappy style and one could be misled to think this book is not very deep or knowledgeable. Quite the contrary. Bell invites his readers to go beneath the surface of how we have always read the Bible. I am still reflecting on these words:
     The power of the Bible for people like us living in times
     like these is that it shows us what it looks like to resist what
     needs to be resisted and critique what needs to be critiqued 
     while holding on to the conviction that there is sacred
     mystery at the heart of being human. p. 215

You may have read Thomas's Care of the Soul or The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life or any of his many other books, and if so, you know you will be invited to sit quietly with a topic and that you will be offered a range of perspectives with the goal of widening your own viewpoint. "To age well you have to be profoundly old and profoundly young." "Aging is just not about the older years but about the whole of life." "Aging is a process by which you become somebody real and alive." 

I have a hard time putting the Bell book down, for I want to zoom into the next chapter for new learning, but the Thomas book urges me to take my time and examine myself. How am I doing in this aging process?

Father Melancholy's Daughter by Gail Godwin is my bedtime reading and "take a break" reading. Not much happens externally in this book, but I don't mind that. I love Godwin's reflective, meditative style where relationships are key. Earlier this year I read Godwin's The Good Husband as well as her most recent book, Grief Cottage. She is a favorite! 

Grandson Peter and I are reading a nonfiction book called American Wolf by Nate Blakesler. Don't you love the cover? Pete and I share an interest in wolves and this is about a Yellowstone wolf called 0-Six. We aren't very far into it yet because we only read it when he comes over after school on Wednesdays. We'll keep you posted. 

What's next on my list? Well, I think it has to be the new book by Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God, a dystopian feminist novel Yes, I know The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood set the standard, but I have no doubt Erdrich's newly published book is provocative and well-written. This seems like a good excuse to make a trip to her bookstore, Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, a favorite destination. 

Finally, I am adding an invitation to you to read the new winter, 2018 issue of Bella Grace. I am pleased to say it includes an essay I wrote, "Beyond the Threshold" and once again the accompanying photographs are gorgeous. It is such an honor to be part of this publication. It is available December 1 and you can find it online or at Barnes and Nobel. Bella Grace

These are busy days as we move quickly to Thanksgiving and then the December holidays, and I may not have quite the amount of reading time I generally allow myself, but I WILL read. 

An Invitation
What about you? What are you reading? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Need a Little Gratitude in Your Life?: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm immersed in gratitude.

That doesn't mean I am the most grateful person in the world. Far from it. I often need to remind myself of all my blessings and to live with a more grateful heart.

No, I am immersed in gratitude because I am preparing a workshop on The Spiritual Practice of Gratitude that I am offering at our church this Thursday. (Let me know if you would like to attend. All our welcome.)

In the process I have read some wonderful quotes about gratitude. 
                   It is not happiness that makes us grateful.
                   It is being grateful that makes us happy.
                                   David Stendl-Nast

                   If the only prayer you would say in your
                   whole life is "thank you," that would suffice.
                                   Meister Eckhart

                   Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails
                   into behavior. It almost always makes you 
                   willing to be of service, which is where the joy
                   resides. It means you are willing to stop being
                   such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has
                   been given to you, in your lifetime and in the
                   past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and
                   pleased to give back.
                                     Anne Lamott

I have re-read sections on gratitude in books in my personal library. Books like Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow and Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul by Rev. Jane E. Venard. I have logged onto I have organized content and activities for my workshop and have made lists of everything I need to do before we gather. 

I have even sat in silence in the morning, my journal on my lap, and listed joys and pleasures in my life. When I take a breath it is not hard to do. Of course, that is when I truly immerse myself in gratitude, and it does make a difference. 

During the course of my immersion I found another kind of list. (Sorry, I don't have a reference for it.)

Signs That You Need to Restore Gratitude in Your Life
1.   You complain a lot and often contribute a negative comment no matter the topic.
2.    You have trouble getting started in the morning, as if you've lost your enthusiasm for life.
3.    You overlook the presence of beauty in the natural world.
4.    You have resentment about events in the past.
5.    You have trouble asking for help.
6.    You frequently feel like a victim.
7.    It's difficult for you to be dependent on others.
8.    You haven't enjoyed the sunset or sunrise in a long time.
9.    You don't take care of your body.
10.   Time seems to pass by too quickly for you to really enjoy life or live it to its fullest.
11.   You have trouble enjoying the present moment.
12.   You can't remember the last time you spontaneously hugged someone. 

Interesting list, isn't it? Do you recognize yourself here? Well then, maybe it is time to immerse yourself in gratitude. Today is a good day to do that.

Oh, and by the way, I am grateful you read my blog. 

An Invitation
What's on your gratitude list today? I would love to know. 


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Spirituality as We Age: Thursday's Reflection

I welcome these dark November mornings, for they seem to give me permission to spend even more time in quiet devotion and meditation. I dress and move into the day later and later. In fact, my husband and I have joked that some day we will still be in  our pajamas and it will be time to go to bed again. 

Spending more of my time in prayer and devotion is not just because daylight takes longer to appear, however. Another reason, I think, is that I am drawn to enter what Dr. Jane Marie Thibault calls "Aging as a natural monastery." 

I was reminded of this term when my father, who is 94, and in very good health, outlined his daily spiritual practices to me. Much of his day, even the majority of his day, is spent praying and reading devotional material. Some of the books he uses he has read over and over again, continuing to find meaning in them. Like a monk, he starts his day in prayer; he ends his day in prayer, and in-between he reflects on his relationship with God and what he is still invited to learn. He reads two pages of Luther's Catechism every day. He reads passages in my mother's Bible, passages she underlined, and he says they are reading them together. He reviews and reflects on his day, a form of examen in the spirit of Ignatian spirituality. 

After a long and successful career in the business world, my father's life has shifted from the external to the internal. He has become a contemplative, giving and responding to the world in new ways. 

Many years ago I remember sitting by the bedside of a woman who had been extremely active in her congregation. She was the epitome of a church lady--always ready and willing to meet any need. Everyone knew they could count on her, but now confined to her hospice bed she felt useless. Without purpose or meaning. I asked her about the people she loved and about the issues in the world that concerned her and in the process we realized we were praying. I suggested this could be a time of unceasing prayer for her.  Because of her own faith and her deep love, she opened to that new purpose and spent most of her last days in prayer. 

I have an active life and love the various activities that give my life purpose and meaning, but more and more I feel the pull to sit in silence and open my heart to and for the world. Heaven knows, there is much that needs prayer. 

I suspect I am preparing for my own monastery time --if I should be fortunate to live into old age (older age, that is!). As long as I have cozy pajamas, I will be content. 

An Invitation
What have you noticed about the role of prayer and contemplation in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

All Saints: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm a crier.

Actually, let's be honest, I'm a weeper.
Tears gather in the corner of my eyes easily, and it is not uncommon for me to feel a tear or two or three drift down my cheeks.

Sunday was All Saints Sunday in which the names of those members and friends of our congregation who have died during the past year are read, and candles on the baptismal font burn in loving remembrance of their lives. Also a Book of Saints, in which names added by congregants in recent weeks, was carried to the font, and during the service worshippers were invited to light a candle to honor loved ones. 

As worshippers moved from their pews to candles scattered throughout the sanctuary, the rest of the congregation chanted,
            Give rest unto your servants with your saints O God
            give rest, give rest where there is neither pain or
            sorrow, neither sighing, but life everlasting. 
I had added names to the Book of Saints, and I lit a candle in their honor and in honor of those who are in deep grief. 

I cried.
I wept.
I struggled to sing.

Not only did I acknowledge the loss and sadness I felt, but I imagined some of the losses ahead of me. Chances are for as long as I live, I will add names each year to the Book of Saints. I will light candles, and I will cry.  

I looked around the sanctuary and knew in my heart that each person there has known loss or if not yet, will know loss in the future. I offer my tears of compassion, of connection, of recognition to them. 

And some day, too, my name will be in the Book of Saints.

Because we love, we also cry. We may even weep.

                           For those
                   who walked with us,
                       this is a prayer.

                            For those
                    who have gone ahead,
                         this is a blessing.

                            For those 
                who have touched and tended us,
                      who lingered with us
                           while they lived,
                     this is a thanksgiving.

                            For those
                     who journey still with us
                 in the shadows of awareness
                   in the crevices of memory,
                 in the landscapes of our dreams,
                      this is a benediction.
                                            Jan Richardson

An Invitation
For whom do you cry today? I would love to know. 

An earlier post about tears: Vintage Handkerchiefs


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Revision, Reformation, Transformation: Thursday's Reflection

Three words have been running in my head like a Taize' chant:


In some ways, the reasons I am focused on revision and reformation are obvious. 

First of all, this is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and as a genetic Lutheran, it is glorious to see our church swathed in festival red and to sing "A Mighty Fortress," Luther's famous hymn, with gusto and pride. How even more astounding to attend a concert at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis in observance of the 500th anniversary. Yes, Catholics and Lutherans singing and praying together. We've come a long way. 

The word "revision" feels a bit more personal. I have started a major revision of my spiritual memoir, a humbling and taxing process, but also a process of deepening, of discovery. A spiritual practice of opening my heart to what is struggling to be born into its fullest being. Along with moving methodically from sentence to sentence, I am trying to know the fullness of the story, to see how the pieces fit together. This is hard work.

A Deeper Knowing
Reformation was not just an event a long time ago. 

Revision is not just finding the right word and adding in a comma here and there. 

Both words are active. Both words reflect an evolutionary before and after and an in-between that keeps growing and expanding.

A couple weeks ago I attended a drop-in writing session taught by  Elizabeth Jarret Andrew at Wisdom Ways. The theme for the session was mysticism, and we were all invited to write about a mystical experience in our own lives. I wrote about an experience I had while practicing T'ai Chi many years ago. I was moved by the memory of that experience--how I felt and how surprised I was by the event itself. I vividly remember many details of the experience, and eagerly and easily wrote about it. 

Andrew challenged us, however, to reflect on what led to the mystical experience. What led to the moment of mystery? Why then and not at another time in our life's timeline? What was going on in our everyday lives that created a context, a willingness, an openness, perhaps to receive something not quite real and yet oh, so real. 

And furthermore, what were the fruits, the consequences? How did our souls grow because of this experience? How does that one experience continue to show up in the ongoing days? How has the movement of God, the presence of God, continued to be revealed?  What is beyond?

The mystical experience or vision is not enough. The defining moment of reformation is not enough. Revising what seemed just right when it was first written is not enough. 

And here's where the word "transformation" enters the scene. Reformation and revision must lead to transformation. Ongoing transformation, rather than a been there, done that, it is finished attitude. Transformation happens moments at a time, one page at a time, one word at a time, one heartbeat at a time. One after another after another after another--often invisible and soundless, but the breath is there. The breath of Spirit is there. 

Living Reformation, Revision and Praying for Transformation
On Reformation Sunday we prayed the following prayer of intercession:

          We pray for continual reformation in this and every
           assembly. In new beginnings, impart wisdom. In
           established traditions, inspire creativity. In all ministries,
           revive our hope in the one who makes all things new.

Yes, the breath of transformation, but this is not enough. Sometimes, actually often, if not always, transformation also involves atonement and repentance. 

            We give thanks for your saints. On this anniversary
             day, we remember those who died in the Holocaust.
             We confess our church's complicity in anti-Semitism.
             Until Christ returns in glory to unite all faiths into
             one merciful love, give us strength to challenge
             misunderstanding, determination to stand against
             hatred, and courage to make amends for the sins of 
             our heroes.

May transformation may flow around and within us.

An Invitation
How have you experienced reformation, revision, and transformation in your life? I would love to know.