Thursday, June 21, 2018

On My Knees: Another Thursday Reflection

I don't often find myself on my knees, except when I clean the

bathroom. The bathroom is not large and restoring it to sparkling normally only takes 20 minutes or so. 

This morning, however, as I scrubbed the toilet, I started to sob. 
To weep.

The image of immigrants on their knees cleaning someone else's bathroom washed over me. I thought about all those who clean hotel rooms, pluck turkeys and chickens for our Thanksgiving dinners, drive cabs hoping they know where to go, and change diapers for the very young and the very old. They do our dirty work, the work we don't want to do, and they do it in order to be in this country and to find a better life for themselves. 

I stopped what I was doing and sat back holding on to the base of the pedestal sink and continued to cry. I cried for the children and  the parents, all who not only have experienced trauma in their native countries, but now what have we done, but add on more trauma. And we have done so in the name of the law. 

I always thought the law was there to protect, to bring stability and order, but what we are now doing in our country is creating greater instability. This kind of trauma does not go away, but morphs into depression or even violence. Just ask vets who suffer from PTSD. 

Many have written eloquently about this crisis of morality. Many have asked the questions, "Is this who we are?" Well, apparently, yes, this is who we are and will continue to be until we stop this cycle of adding on layers of historic trauma. The repercussions of slavery in this country has not been enough for us to mend our ways nor was the removal of Native Americans from their homes and culture and forcing them into boarding schools nor the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII. Will what we have done now interrupt this cycle? 

I remain on my knees, praying that is the case.

An Invitation
I invite you to fall on your knees, too. 

NOTE: This is a bonus post because I needed to write. I needed to find words. I will take a writing break the week of June 25 and return the week of July 2. 

Thoughts about Our Current Crisis: Thursday's Reflection

Note: I will be taking a break next week, but will begin posting again on Tuesday, July 3. 

So much has been said about the detention, the internment of children in the past weeks. I do not have words, and that is hard for a writer to admit. Instead, I have been sitting with others' words.


                      You have to be able to 
                       imagine lives that
                       are not yours.
                                        Wendell Berry

                 In our daily patterns of loving, caring, and
                 working, we are following a spiritual path of 
                 sorts, whether we are conscious of it or not. 
                 The shape of our lives reflects our priorities
                 and ultimate values. 
                                        Christine Valters Paintner

An Invitation
What words are you sitting with now? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Gift: Tuesday's Reflection

Taking a first thing in the morning walk always feels like a gift, even on muggy days. I know I will delight in neighborhood gardens or a house I've not noticed before, and doesn't it look charming? An idea for something I am writing may pop into my head or the answer to a question I have been pondering. 

Sometimes I am more aware of God walking with me --or am I walking with God?

And sometimes I receive a most unexpected gift. 

I decided to walk over to the campus of St Catherine University, only blocks away. In fact, our very first house was right across the street from St Kate's, and I was once even a visiting lecturer, the lowest position on the faculty totem pole, in the education department for a few years. Wow--that was a very long time ago! 

I don't walk there very often. Not only are we located within easy walking distance of St Kate's, but also St Thomas and Macalester, and they each have lovely campuses. I rarely walk there, however. Why don't I go to one of their libraries or student centers for an afternoon of writing? St Kate's has a lovely pond at the edge of the campus and there are benches where I could sit and read. Why don't I do that?

I go to a writing class and other Wisdom Ways events on the St Kate's Campus and an occasional concert or lecture at their O'Shaughnessy Auditorium and sometimes attend an event at the other schools, but by and large I take their presence for granted.

I wonder why that it is. 

Being a student has always felt like a holy task to me and a campus is sacred ground. And, I felt that as I walked along the sidewalks of St Kate's the other morning. I felt a sense of awe for the learning that is offered and received there, along with the openings to new ideas, new relationships, new roles in the world. 

I am no longer an official student, but I hope I learn something every day. I hope I can open to what is offered every day, as well as ways I can give of myself. Walking the campus on a quiet summer morning was a reminder of those holy tasks.

And then I received a surprising gift.

I walked towards the student center and decided to go down a staircase, assuming it would lead me towards the open lawn area and the pond. It did, but at the foot of the stairs, tucked away serenely, privately was a sculpture by Paul Granlund  

Paul Granlund is a famous Minnesota sculptor, and a year or so ago I went on a tour with his son to see many of his sculptures throughout Minneapolis and St Paul, some on the campus of St Thomas. We didn't visit this one, however, and I had no idea it was there. 

Many of his sculptures are spiritual in nature, as this one, which is called "Zerogee," as in a gravity free condition, certainly is. I felt joy and exuberance and strength and life. Oh, such life! I felt renewal and hope and energy. All tucked away in this quiet spot.

Finding this sculpture felt like an invitation to walk this sacred ground more often and to view my days as filled with holy tasks. Every Sunday in church I hear the words, "The gifts of God for the people of God." That morning I received a gift from God. 

An Invitation
What gifts have you received lately? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Summer Celebration: Thursday's Reflection

Ah, how good it is to celebrate, and summer presents all sorts of opportunities to celebrate. Graduations. Weddings and wedding anniversaries. The 4th of July.

And how lovely it is to be celebrated.

Our adult children, Kate and Mike, Geof and Cricket, planned a joyful 70th birthday celebration for Bruce and myself this past weekend. (Bruce turns 70 in July, and I am already used to being 70 since my birthday was in April.) The farm/barn venue complete with llama and goat was perfect and reminded us so much of our Sweetwater Farm years in Ohio. Grandson Peter and his friend Milo carefully carried the delicious woodfire pizzas from the outdoor oven to the barn, and  granddaughter Maren had her first experience tending bar and did a great job. Is that a good thing? Vintage tablecloths and all the bouquets of summer flowers arranged by Cricket added color to the setting. 

If we didn't know it before, we certainly know it now--our kids know how to plan a party! And if we didn't know it before, we know it now--we have a wonderful family and wonderful friends.

You know how it is when you are immersed in happiness--the feeling seems to permeate the air around you and cling to your clothes and hair, touching you lightly, but definitely. You don't want to miss a moment and wish you could just stop the action, just for a second. Maybe a minute. Would that be too much to ask?

Love. Gratitude. Pleasure. Pride. Surprise. Delight. All gathered in a joyous mix as we celebrated with so many loved ones.  

And now we have rich memories. 

And a reminder to live in celebration day to day. 

An Invitation
What will you celebrate this summer? I would love to know. 

NOTE: In case you didn't recognize us on the cake, we are left to right: Kate, Maren in a rainbow t-shirt, Mike, Nancy holding a stack of books, Bruce carrying a plant, Peter, Geof, Cricket. How nice of the fabulous cake decorators at Wuollets Bakery in St Paul to make us all a bit thinner! Now that's a reason to celebrate! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Summer Reading, Part II: Tuesday's Reflection

I am moving into this new week following a week of rich, full days. I will no doubt write about them in a post in the near future, but for now I need to simply hold them in my heart. 

In the meantime here is Part II of my summer reading recommendations. This time the focus is nonfiction. I tend to think of fiction as the more normal choice for summer reading, but, of course, reading is all about personal choice. My nonfiction reading tends to be books about writing or memoir or books related to spiritual topics, and I have more than enough good choices waiting for me on my shelves. 


1.     The Art of Stillness, Adventures in Going Nowhere, Pico Iyer. The author reflects on the pleasures of stillness in an age full of distractions and demands of technology. 
2.      The Soul Tells a Story, Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life, Vinita Hampton Wright. I read and liked another one of her books, The Art of Spiritual Writing, and think this one will be helpful to me as I continue to work on my spiritual memoir. 
3.      The Bright Hour, A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs. Yes, I know there are lots of memoirs with this topic --I have a bunch on my shelves--but this one was on lots of summer reading lists a year ago and comes highly recommended.
4.      The End of Old Age, Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life, Marc E. Gronin, MD. I DO NOT like the title, for it sounds like major denial to me, and I don't think that is actually the topic of the book. Besides, the only end to old age is death. Instead, I think the book is more about finding value and strength in the aging process. We'll see!
5.      No Time to Spare, Thinking About What Matters, Ursula K. LeGuin. Essays from one of our literary giants. I have read the first section called "Going Over Eighty," her views on aging, and they are sharp and witty, and true. 
6.      Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self, Kathleen Dowling Singh. I have read both The Grace in Aging and The Grace in Living, so I guess I am a member of Singh's fan club. WISE WOMAN.
7.       The Trilogy about the King Years by Taylor Branch. Bruce and I are going on a civil rights tour to Alabama and Mississippi in November and I know I will want to do lots of reading to prepare. I read the first in this trilogy, Parting the Waters, 1954-1963 when it was first released, but I think it would be good to read it again. The other two books are Pillar of Fire, 1963-1965 and At Canaan's Edge, 1965-1968. These are massive books and will be quite the undertaking, but this feels important and necessary. 

Additional Notes: I recently read May Sarton's journal At Seventy. I remember reading it when it was first published in 1984 and I was only 36. What was I thinking! I read all of her journals then, however, because I was and still am an avid journal keeper, but obviously now more of what she says in this book resonates with me. I also read The Art of the Wasted Day by one of my writing heroes, Patricia Hampl. I revisit her other books frequently and am so happy to have a new one to treasure. Finally, I am reading Living an Examined Life, Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey by James Hollis, PHD. I am grateful his chapters are short, for he packs so much wisdom into a sentence, and I need time to process and absorb. 

An Invitation
What nonfiction titles are on your list? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Summer Reading: Thursday's Reflection

Summer reading is not just about the books you choose to read, but summer reading is also about where you choose to read them.

My reading place of choice in the summer is Paris. Unfortunately, not Paris, France, but my pretend Paris--the side garden at our house. For some reason, sitting in "Paris" reminds me of French cafes or the hidden garden of a chic Parisian home. The arch with the delphinium in bloom is almost a secret passageway into a place of contentment and quiet. A small statue of Buddha beckons me into stillness--turning a page is the only motion--and the fountain disguises the traffic noises. And, of course, the resident gardener has planted flowers in abundance, mainly white, as I requested. Yes, this is a good place to read. 

I think about other summer reading places in my life: beaches where I stretched out on a blanket or colorful towel, the screen porch of the cabin in northern Minnesota where my family always vacationed, and the porch swing on the front porch of the home where we raised our family. More recently, our home in Madison had a large front porch, and I spent most of each summer day there writing and reading. We ate our evening meal there, too, and when the grandkids visited, the porch became their playroom. 

Choosing where to read (anywhere!!!) is easy, but my pile of choices is massive, and I know there won't be enough summer to work through the entire stack. Here, however, are some possibilities. Let me know if you have read any of them.

1.     Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather. Quite awhile ago I started reading or rereading Cather's novels in chronological order. This is #8 on the list. I'm eager to revisit this classic. 
2.     Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. I loved his Remains of the Day and think it is time to read something else by this winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
3.     Enchanted islands, Allison Amend. One of the main female characters works for the Office of Naval Intelligence before WWII, and her top secret assignment is to marry a spy and move to the Galapagos Islands. 
4.     Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue. Our book club's selection for June. A Cameroonian immigrant family lives in Harlem, and the father is hired as a chauffeur for a wealthy business man.
5.     The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy. I loved her The God of Small Things. Set in India as well, this book has been called a protest novel, a political masterpiece. Can't wait! 
6.     The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan. An aging writer who has collected lost objects--things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind--charges his assistant with the task of reuniting the objects with their original owners. 
7.     The Antiques, Kris D'Agostino. Three sibling reunite to plan their father's memorial and to sell his beloved "lesser Magritte" painting.
8.     Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein. Recommended by my granddaughter. A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France in 1943. The pilot and passenger are best friends, but just one of the girls has a change at survival. 

Who know if I will read all of these or if I will get diverted to other choices, including books on my "requested" list at the library. Being led along new and unknown paths is one of the gifts of summer, after all.

Stay tuned for a list of nonfiction titles. Maybe next week. 

An Invitation
Where do you like to read in the summer and what do you plan to read there. I would love to know. 

NOTE: To read last year's summer reading list, go here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Keeping the Sabbath: Tuesday's Reflection

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work--you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord  made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 
                                        Exodus 20: 8-11

Sunday's excellent sermon on this third commandment invited me to think about how I keep the sabbath or, in fact, if I keep the sabbath. 

Here's a typical Sunday in my life:
*    Church at 8:15. This Sunday not only was the sermon excellent, as it always is, but there was also a baptism and an installation of our new parish nurse and music by two members who are exceptional violinists and also a lovely vocal solo from a teenage girl.  During the program year we usually attend the adult education hour after church as well and appreciate the opportunity to expand our learning. 
*      Brunch at Turtle Bread Bakery. We bring the New York Times with us. I read the Book Review, and Bruce begins reading the other sections.
*     Time at my desk. I consult the week's calendar and make a list for the coming week. Plus, I write my Tuesday reflection and perhaps do some correspondence--a few emails to friends and maybe a letter or two. 
*     Open time. Maybe an event, such as attending a graduation party as we did this Sunday, or going for a drive. Bruce often plays in the garden, and I may play in the kitchen. The afternoon often includes a walk and time to read in the snug. 
*      Dinner in front of the tv, while watching Masterpiece Theatre or other PBS favorites, such as Call the Midwife. 
*     Bed at our usual time. Early!

What do I think? Do I actually keep the sabbath?

Attending to and engaging with the Word is one of the ways to keep the sabbath, as stated in Pastor Bradley's sermon. Sunday mornings I try to focus and be present to the Word and all the ways it is offered during the service--the scripture, the prayers, the hymns, the invitation to communion, the sharing of the peace, the greetings and conversations with friends and with visitors, and I hope to integrate those words into my life in the following days.

But I also attend to the word when I am at my desk. Writing my reflections for this blog is one way I attempt to listen to God's voice within me. What are the words I am asked to explore, to share, to extend? What is the conversation I would like to begin with you, my readers? 

I attend to the word by reading the words of others. I read the newspaper as one way to connect with the world and to clarify the ways I am asked to respond to the problems and challenges in the world. I attend to the word as I read a novel or watch a well done television program, for those words help me understand human nature and the movement of God in our lives.

I attend to the word before I close my eyes at night by offering blessings in my last prayers of the day. I often lift up a question or a problem, and I often start the next day with an answer, a new approach or perspective or feeling of spaciousness. The word floats in and around me even in the night. 

I have four books about sabbath time in my library (Sabbath by Dan B. Allender, Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller, Sabbath Keeping, Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab, and Soul Tending, A Journey into the Heart of Sabbath) and I am tempted to read each one again and see what meaning sabbath has for this stage of my life. 

Allender in his book says the sabbath is "an invitation to enter God's delight...a kind of delight that leads to life." That's how my sabbath days feel to me. 

An Invitation
How do you keep the sabbath? I would love to know. 

Two More Notes
1.  Thursday's reflection will be my annual summer reading plan and recommendations. 
2.   I was so pleased to see the new Bella Grace at Barnes and Noble the other day. My essay, "The Sounds of Life" is on pages 100-105.