Thursday, December 6, 2018

Mary and My Advent Practice: Thursday's Reflection







I've always loved choosing a book to use as my guide during Advent. Earlier this week I gathered some possibilities from my library.
            




              * Preparing for Christmas, Daily Meditations for 
                 Advent by Richard Rohr
              * Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton
              * Night Vision, Searching the Shadows of Advent 
                 and Christmas by Jan L. Richardson
              * The Vigil, Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ's
                  Coming by Wendy M. Wright

I've used and loved each one of these books in the past, but I have not been able to settle into just one of them in these first days of Advent. I have been cruising, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, for I have found treasures along the way. 
                We dream that the glimpses of the fullness of 
                 love that we sense occasionally in our lives, 
                 show us what we were created to become.
                                                 Wendy M. Wright

                            Move over the face of
                            my deep,
                            my darkness,
                            my edges restless chaos,
                            and create,
                            O God;
                            trouble me,
                            comfort me,
                            stir me up,
                            and calm me,
                            but do not cease
                            to breathe
                            your Spirit into
                            my wakening soul. 
                                                   Jan L. Richardson

But then my sister Amy gave me a gift, an unexpected gift, and aren't those often the best? Amy happens to be an excellent gift giver, in part because she always gives herself. 

Tuesday she attended, along with my father, the class I led about "waiting" and she brought me a packet of cards called Advent Perspectives, Companions for the Journey created by Tracy Mooty, Janet Hagberg, and Ali Boone. Each card has a lovely illustration of a character or symbol in the Christmas story. Shepherds, Joseph, Mary, even the manger and the star. Members of my sister's church, Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota, were randomly given one of the cards and now are invited to "live" with that companion throughout the Advent season. My sister received a shepherd card and my brother-in-law, Elizabeth, which apparently was quite a surprise for him. 

On the back of each card are questions for reflection. For example, "What are the ways you may want to grow to become a more gracious, generous host for the arrival of Jesus?" is one of the questions on the innkeeper card 

Amy knew I would love this idea, this spiritual practice, and I do. In fact, I could hardly wait for morning meditation time to come, so I could discover the identity of my Advent companion.

I sat in the silence, the stillness. I shuffled the cards, closed my eyes and let my hands drift over the cards fanned in my hand. I selected one card and opened my eyes. 

                                    MARY

My eyes filled with tears. Why is that, I wonder? Well, I am going to ask that question in the coming days. 



Would I have had the same response if I had pulled the sheep card or one of the Wise Men? I don't know.

The Mary card now sits in front of me on my desk propped up against the Wise Woman doll I moved there a few weeks ago. Two powerful symbols of feminine energy and wisdom. 

I read the reflection questions and once again my eyes fill with tears. What is that about?
             
* What experience have you had with God that altered the course of your carefully made plans? How did you respond?

* How comfortable are you in being honest with God, wrestling with God, and asking questions of God?

* How do you, as Mary did, feel like God's favored one? How are you being asked to birth your special gifting of God's light and love in our world?
             
I whisper a promise, "I am going to immerse myself in you, Mary. I am going to listen to what you have to teach me. I invite, you, Mary, to move into my heart, to nurture new life within me. Thank you for being my companion."

And thank you, Amy, for this gift.


An Invitation
Even without having this special deck of cards, you can listen in your heart to determine which character or symbol of the Christmas story or any other sacred story resonates with you right now. You can choose to "live" with that companion for a period of time. Who might that companion be? I would love to know. You can receive Advent meditations from Colonial Church here. 

NOTE: To order your own set of these special Advent cards, email tracymooty@aol.com


              

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Fullness: Tuesday's Reflection

Such a full week it was.

We transformed the house from the fruits of fall to its Christmas finery. From the muted beauty of pumpkins and deep colors to chaos, which included a "Claus Convention," to twinkling and sparkling beauty. 















We hosted a number of gatherings during the week -- our Sunday Supper group, our group from the civil rights tour, my writing group, and finally, a family gathering to meet Baby Bennett, the son of a niece who lives in Omaha. 














I spent time at my desk whenever I could, in order to finish preparations for the Advent program on waiting I am leading today and also to think ahead to the adult forum I will lead Sunday about the body and spiritual practice. We even did some Christmas shopping, both online and in local shops and an art fair.  

Yes, it was a full week, and that is the way these holiday weeks are. By Saturday evening, as snow began to fall, I was grateful to relax into the snug, a shawl wrapped around my shoulders. How good it felt to ease into the quiet, a departure from the preparations of the previous days and to allow the richness of relationships to rest in my heart.  

My preferred way to separate from tasks, however pleasurable they may be, and return to solitude is by opening a book and immersing myself in someone else's world. Page after page. And I had the perfect book in which to do that.









Late afternoon drifted into evening, as I continued reading Michelle Obama's Becoming.
          For me, becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or
          achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as a forward
          motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously
          toward a better self. The journey doesn't end...It's all
          a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal
          parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up
          on the idea that there's more growing to be done. 

It seems to me "becoming" also requires balanced parts of fullness and spaciousness. In this week I have had both. 

And as evening became night, I came to the end of Obama's book.

           Let's invite one another in. Maybe then we can fear 
           less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of
           the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us.
           Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the
           same. It's not about being perfect. It's not about where
           you get yourself in the end. There's power in allowing
           yourself to be known and heard, in owning your
           unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there's
           grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for 
           me, is how we become. 

This week is another week of fullness, another week of becoming. Breathe and feel the blessings. 

An Invitation
What does "becoming" mean to you? I would love to know. 




Thursday, November 29, 2018

Gift Ideas--Nonfiction Books: Thursday's Reflection

I certainly hope you plan to do a big chunk of your shopping this holiday season in an independent book store. One of our family traditions is to give everyone a book--often something we want to read ourselves and plan to borrow. 

Saturday Bruce and I will go to an art fair near us and then stop in at Common Good Books in St Paul, one of our favorite spots for a book fix. Perhaps next week we will drive to Northfield to shop at Contents, another terrific independent book store. I will try to limit my shopping to gifts for others, but no promises!

If you are looking for suggestions, here are three nonfiction titles I recommend.

1. Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, A Memoir by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg is most famous for her books on writing--Writing Down the Bones and others. She has made writing accessible to anyone with the inclination, a notebook and a pen. This book, however, is about her cancer experience, which she said,  "...like a wild animal, followed me one hundred paces behind." What I especially appreciated in this book was her honesty, which meant at times she was totally self-absorbed, but also how she grew into living life more fully. 
            This is one heavenly life. This afternoon. This 
            Thursday. This sun on the pale dirt and the cottonwood
            green leaves. This blue mesa in the distance, this gutsy
            temporary life lived as the Buddha taught--with gusto. 

2.  Almost Everything, Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. Just the fact that there is a new Anne Lamott book is cause for hopeful rejoicing. I read this book in its entirety as we flew home from Memphis at the end of the civil rights tour. So much about that tour in Alabama and Mississippi was sobering, and how grateful I am that Anne was my homeward bound travel companion. Her advice was just what I needed: 
               Go do some anonymous things for lonely 
               people, give a few bucks to every poor person
               you see, return phone calls. Get out of yourself
               and become a person for others, while 
               simultaneously practicing radical self-care;
               maybe have a bite to eat, check in with the sky
               twice, buy some cute socks, take a nap.
Reading this latest book of hers makes me want to pull all her other books off my shelf and curl up in a quiet corner where the only sound is the turning of page after page. 

3.   Becoming by Michelle Obama. I am doing something rare for me--recommending a book before I have finished reading it. As of this minute I have only read 200 pages, but I love this book. I don't read celebrity memoirs or autobiographies very often, but I was totally sucked by the first sentences.
                 When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple.
                  I wanted a dog. I wanted a house that had stairs in 
                  it--two floors for one family. I wanted, for some
                  reason, a four-door station wagon instead of the 
                  two-door Buick that was my father's pride and
                  joy.
Of course, we all know what happened to that wish list! This is a real woman writing a real book about a real life, one that happens to include being the First Lady. What intrigues me, however, is her honesty about herself--her need to achieve, her concerns for much of her life that she is "enough," and her view of being Black in our culture today. 
       When she considered applying to Princeton, her high school counsellor said to her, "I'm not sure that you're Princeton material." Obama writes,
                  ...failure is a feeling long before it's an actual
                  result. And for me, it felt like that's exactly what
                  she was planting--a suggestion of failure long
                  before I'd even tried to succeed. She was telling
                  me to lower my sights, which was the absolute
                  reverse of every last thing my parents had ever
                  told me.

A few pages later, when she writes about being at Princeton, she says,
                  It takes energy to be the only black person in a
                  lecture hall or one of a few nonwhite people
                  trying out for a play or joining an intramural
                  team. It requires effort, an extra level of
                  confidence, to speak in those settings and own
                  your presence in the room. 
Last Christmas I was given the wonderful collection of photographs by the former official White House photographer, Pete Souza, and occasionally when I have felt discouraged about the state of our country this past year, I have paged through this book. Now I also have Michelle's book to inform me, to inspire me, and to remind me of the strength of good people doing good things.  


So...get thee to a bookstore! 

An Invitation
What books are you giving or recommending this year? I would love to know. And stay tuned for my annual favorite books of 2018 lists. 

NOTE: If you live in the St Paul area, I am giving a program/workshop on Advent and the spiritual practice of waiting, "My Soul Waits for Thee" on Tuesday, December 4. I am doing two sessions: one in the afternoon (1:30-3:00), which is quite full, but the evening session (7:00-8:30) has more space available. The sessions are at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and are open to all. Let me know if you are interested. 


           

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Being Patient With Myself

The day after Thanksgiving I moved smoothly through a hefty To Do list. I woke early and worked for several hours on a class I am teaching in early December. I grocery shopped, did some online Christmas shopping, responded to a number of emails, and prepared for today's writing group meeting by writing feedback to material read at the previous session. 

Instead of my fixing dinner, Bruce suggested we just have popcorn, and I readily agreed and returned to the book I was reading, a novel called Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty. I finished that and then read in its entirety, Natalie Goldberg's memoir, Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home. A delicious evening of words.

Ever since returning from the civil rights tour (See posts November 13, 15, and 20), I had not been able to do more than the most pressing items on each day's list. I felt shaky, foggy, overwhelmed by all I had experienced. I felt messy, like I needed a haircut or like I had a hole in my slippers. 

Friday, however, I felt restored to my usual energy. My productive pace had returned, it seemed, and I was back to a rewarding rhythm. I know I will continue to process the trip's gifts and lessons, and I don't yet know what will grow out of that trip, but in the meantime, I told myself, at least I am able to function again in more normal ways. 

I had given myself permission to pause, to be patient with myself. 

                       Do you have the patience to wait
                       till your mud settles and the water is clear?
                       Can you remain unmoving
                       Till the right action arises by itself?
                                            --Lao-tzu, Tao te Ching   

I am grateful I once again feel more able to move through my days with more energy, but at the same time I recognize I am still in a time of waiting. (How appropriate that the season of Advent, which is a time of waiting, is beginning.) I am waiting to discover the new or renewed ways in which I can be a loving and peaceful, peace-making presence in the world.

I hope I can continue to be patient with myself in this time of waiting. 
















An Invitation
What are you waiting for. I would love to know. 





NOTE #1: The photographs were taken in a park next to the parsonage where Martin Luther King, Jr, and his family lived when he was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. 

NOTE #2: I am teaching a class called "My Soul Waits for Thee: Advent and the Gifts of Waiting" at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St Paul, MN on Tuesday, December 4 from 1:30-3:00 OR 7:00-8:30. Open to all. Let me know if you would like to attend. 






               

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! Thursday's Reflection

One of the books I am reading currently is a delightful collection of essays by Shauna Niequist called Bittersweet, Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning. Niequist is far younger than I am and is definitely wiser than I was at her age. When she writes about childbirth, her children, her marriage, friendships, especially with other women, and all the tough growing up women still need to do in the mid-decades, I flash back to my years as a much younger adult. 

Reading these essays I hope will enable me to open my heart more fully to the younger women in my life--to their stresses and challenges, their choices and decisions.

But she speaks to my older self, too. 

Today is a day when we expand the dining room table. We get out the one tablecloth big enough for that stretched table and hope we have enough silverware for everyone we've invited. We grocery shopped more than once and still forgot to buy whipping cream for the pumpkin pie. We chop and sauté and stir and baste. 

Or at least some of us do. My husband and I are going to my sister's house for Thanksgiving dinner, and my only assignment is mincemeat pie, my 95 year-old father's favorite. I used my mother's recipe for piecrust with lard as an ingredient. How bad can that be for us just once a year! 

We will have a lovely day, and I am grateful for the hospitality she and her husband offer, but this morning when I read Niequist's essay, "Feeding and Being Fed," I thought about how much I love to open our doors to friends and family.

        There's something about seeing your house filled
        with people you love, something about feeding 
        people, especially on days when it seems like you
        can't make a dent in any of the larger, more theoretical
        challenges in life.

We aren't hosting Thanksgiving, but later this weekend we will have a group of 10 here for a potluck supper and then on Monday another group of 10 for dessert. My writing group will come on Tuesday and then on the following Friday another gathering of family from a distance, including a new baby. I remember similar times, and I share Niequist's sentiments:

           I stayed up late, long after they all left, letting the 
           candles burn down, trying to remember each moment,
           exactly how the table looked and how each bite tasted.
           I felt nourished on an impossibly deep level, thankful
           and full and proud and humbled all in the same moment.
           It felt to me like we'd been part of something important,
           something larger than a meal, like we'd managed to
           thaw the ice just for an evening, like we had traversed 
           bridges normally impassable. 

I know not all family gatherings, especially at holiday times, are easy. I know sometimes they are fraught with hurt or unaddressed feelings. I know our differences can seem wider and more painful if walking in the front door feels like a command performance, but I also know love happens. Niequist says,

            Sometimes the most spiritual things we do are the
            most physical, the most tactile. Feeding people is
            one of those things, whether we're helping to feed
            hungry people, or feeding the hunger in each one 
            of us on these dark and heavy winter nights.

And so I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, a Thanksgiving in which love is reflected in the candle light at your table. May you count your blessings and resolve to offer blessings to those most in need of them. 

An Invitation
When did your open door bring you surprise blessings? I would love to know. 


           


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Civil Rights Tour: Reflection #3

If you are a ongoing reader of this blog, perhaps you are saying to yourself, "Isn't she done writing about the civil rights tour she was on yet? Can't she find something else to write about, like Thanksgiving and all the ways we are grateful? Maybe even offer her favorite pie or stuffing recipe?" 

Nope. Not yet.

Our group returned from the civil rights tour in Alabama and Mississippi a little over a week ago, and, of course, life is moving forward in many ways. I've paid bills and bought groceries. Fixed meals. Ironed. Met with spiritual direction clients. I've started preparing for two upcoming sessions at church. Etc. Etc.

I am functioning better than I was a week ago, but I am still foggy. I am still as muddy as the water in the Tallahatchie River. 

Part of me remains standing on the bridge over the Tallahatchie River where the body of the young Emmett Till was thrown. This young child supposedly had committed the sin of whistling at a white woman. For that he was tortured and murdered. Only in recent years has that woman, whose husband was one of the killers, recanted the story, saying she had lied.  




Why is it, I wonder, that only a simple, unofficial sign points the way to the bridge? Why is it that the path to the bridge is untended,  overgrown, ignored? I stood on that bridge, holy ground, and looked down into that brown, dirty water. The dense vegetation along the murky river's edges symbolizes for me the challenge of becoming clear about the wrongs we have committed and continue to perpetrate.  

Later that day we met with an impressive young man, Benjamin Salisbury who runs the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. The center  is across the street from the courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi where the men who murdered Till were acquitted. Under his direction we read a resolution that had been developed through a process of reconciliation and presented to the Till family. Salisbury described this process as "choosing to work towards a better part of ourselves."

The resolution begins in this way:

          We the citizens of Tallahatchie County believe that 
           racial reconciliation begins with telling the truth.
           We call on the state of Mississippi, all of its citizens
           in every county, to begin an honest investigation into
           our history. While it will be painful, it is necessary
           to nurture reconciliation and to ensure justice for all.
           By recognizing the potential for division and violence 
           in our towns, we pledge to each other, black and white,
           to move forward together in healing the wounds of the 
           past, and in ensuring equal justice for all of our citizens.

Salisbury told us the Till family accepted the public apology and were grateful for it. He sees that as a "reset" moment. 

I needed to stand in silence at that bridge. Later, sitting in one of the jury chairs (Who sat there, I wondered, and what was he, for it was a jury of all men, thinking and did he ever think he had done the wrong thing?) I closed my eyes, as Salisbury, this wise young man, said, "We have to choose to be hopeful."   






Now home I have needed to sit in stillness, even more than what is normal for me. Images from those days, as well as conversations with the people who shared their stories should not be filed away into a folder labeled "Fall Trip." Our guide reminded us that it is not enough to learn the history, but we must take steps to develop relationships with those whose stories are different from ours. We must find a way to reconcile and repent--not just by saying we are sorry, but by taking action, by finding ways to move from injustice to justice for all. 

I am not pointing fingers at Mississippi or Alabama, for my beloved cities of St Paul and Minneapolis are one of the most segregated areas of the country. We have so much work to do here, and that's why I continue to reflect about what I learned and saw on the civil rights tour. My hope and prayer is that I can make a difference here and that you can make a difference wherever you are.  

An Invitation
What reconciliation needs to happen in your own life? I would love to know. 













Thursday, November 15, 2018

Civil Rights Tour: Reflection #2

I wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts about our civil
rights tour in Alabama and Mississippi. I replay conversations and revisit some of the sites. I am there all over again.


Last night in the darkness, the quiet, the dead of night, I saw the 800 monuments, each one a six-foot rectangular steel box hanging from the  ceiling like upturned caskets. Each one engraved with the name of a county and the names, when known, of African American victims of lynching. More than 4000 names. 

Located in Montgomery, Alabama, this is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, better known as the Lynching Memorial, which opened in April, 2018. In the words of one writer, "it is not just a memorial; it is a confrontation."















At first one walks through the rows created by these structures. I stopped often to read the names. Sometimes only one name was listed, but sometimes, as in the case of Carroll County, Mississippi, twenty-nine names were listed. How can that be? Who has that much fear and hate and anger in their being? Too many, apparently.


As one continues to walk through the open-air memorial, the stark wooden floor begins to slope until the monuments are hanging above our heads. Think about that image. That physical sensation. 









On the last day of our trip we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which includes the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. While sitting in one of the exhibit rooms, I chatted (such a light word) with a young woman from Birmingham. An African American woman. She asked me where I was from, and I told her about our tour. She wanted to know if we had been to the new memorial in Montgomery and what it was like. I told her as best I could, and she said she just didn't think she could go there. I wanted to hug her, but instead, I merely touched her arm, saying, as we looked into each other's eyes, this young black woman and this old white woman, "You will know when you are ready."

I've been thinking about that brief connection in which she dared to be vulnerable, and I wish I had said, "You will know when you are ready to push yourself, to open yourself to the pain you will feel." I wish I could have heard her story, what kind of trauma she carries. I wish I could hold her hand when she is finally able to walk through that memorial. She may not have a specific lynching story in her personal history, but she holds within the trauma from all the evil done to her ancestors. As a white person, I am just beginning to realize that we are all psychologically damaged because of this violence. 

Here's a story that proves that point. You may have read the article in the Washington Post. Read here. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R, Mississippi) responded to praise from a Mississippi cattle rancher by saying, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." Yes, she really said that, and she made it even worse by trying to explain herself that what she said was an "exaggerated expression of regard." 

I think anyone running for public office should spend a day at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. 

The memorial is rich, intense with a variety of ways to explore what Ida B. Wells, to whom the garden at the memorial is dedicated, called "our national crime." Yes, this is a place to learn about a history that has been ignored, but it is also holy ground in which to explore one's place in this history and how the trauma of lynching, of inequality continues to affect our life as American citizens today. 

An Invitation
What images, words make you wake up in the middle of the night?