Friday, June 29, 2012

Polishing the Silver Before Vacation, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Crazy, I know it was crazy, but I decided to polish a few pieces of silver the day before we left on vacation. Polishing silver was not exactly a necessity. In fact, it wasn't even on the master list I had created the day before, but there I was standing at the kitchen sink polishing a small restaurant tea pot and a plate monogramed with the letter "A" and other bits and pieces of silver collected over the years. 
    Some of us hearth goddesses have an extreme need to leave our homes in perfect condition when we are going to be gone for awhile. I knew a woman who vacuumed herself out the front door as she was leaving and left her vacuum cleaner in the garage. I'm not that bad. Ok, maybe I am. I hate leaving dirty laundry in the hamper or dishes in the dishwasher. When I come home, I want only to unpack, not clear a mess from days or weeks before. This time the need was a bit more intense since our home is for sale, and there was going to be an open house while we were gone and, I hoped, some showings as well. That still didn't explain the desire to polish silver. 
     I remembered the short story by Tillie Olsen, "I Stand Here Ironing," in which the main character thinks about the circumstances of parenting her first child. It has been a long time since I have read that story, but, if I recall correctly, the mother in the story reviews her life and some of its difficult decisions as she irons, smoothing out wrinkles.    
      As I stood there polishing silver, I banished tarnish, rubbing slowly and deliberately, and I thought about my Grandma Hansen who always polished my mother's silver when she came to stay with us. I thought about people I have gone antiquing with over the years and the pleasures and treasures of those days. I remembered the delight of finding a napkin ring engraved with the word "Aggie." Our son's school nickname was "Aggie." Who was this "Aggie?" Another napkin ring is engraved with "David," and how happy I am that occasionally there is a David at our dinner table. 
       I breathed in the view from my kitchen window, a rooftop view I happen to love, even though a recent potential buyer was negative about that view. To each his own. I will miss this view, but I wonder what I will see from my next kitchen window.
       I polished the silver and I slowed down, resting in the time out from the real list for the day. Polishing the silver--not much time or effort for so much pleasure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Met a Willow Tree, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

One never knows whom one will meet on a retreat. I met a Willow Tree.  Recently, I attended a retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery here in Middleton led by Anne Hillman who wrote the book Awakening the Energies of Love, Discovering Fire for the Second Time, a book that has become a touchstone in my life. What a privilege to have three days for intentional reflection. I loved meeting Anne and the other participants on the retreat, but who knew I would make a new friend and develop a new relationship? Who knew I would open to a new spiritual guide, a new teacher? 
     I met a Willow Tree.
    At Sweetwater Farm a willow tree was the resident sage in the wetland on our land, and such a presence that tree was. The last tree to lose its leaves as the season moved from fall to winter. The most distinctive citrus yellow green in the springtime, standing out from all other greens. The welcome greetings of branches swaying in the breeze and sweeping the earth gently, lightly. And often, quite often, a resting place for a red-tail hawk. I can feel my heart lift as I recall the beauty of that sight. 
     Perhaps this willow tree is a distant relative of the one I loved at Sweetwater Farm. My intention is to get to know this tree better, but initially, I kept my distance, preferring to observe and to listen before introducing myself. The days of the retreat were the epitome of June days: warm, but not too; the sun hiding occasionally behind playful clouds, and a breeze dancing through prairie grasses and trees dressed for summer days. This willow tree (Do I dare call it "my" willow tree?) swayed, swirled, swooped, swept, sashayed--did everything but swagger down the trail closer to the pond. I sat on a deck nearby and spent time with my new acquaintance. 
     I was captivated by one branch that arched over open space, forming a portal, a passageway, a natural arbor, a threshold.  Lately, I have realized that these years in Madison are transition years for me -- preparation years for the next stage of life.  I am making myself ready. For exactly what, I am not sure, but it is time to prepare my body, mind, and spirit. I am on a threshold, but this is not yet the time to walk through, to cross over, to look back at where I have just been. Being on this retreat and spending time with the willow tree, I realize, however, now is the time to live with deeper attention, to move from thought to awareness, to listen to my deepest yearnings, to be present. 
     Later during the retreat Anne led us in T'ai Chi, and I became the willow tree: grounded and yet supple and flexible, lifting my arms to the sky and letting them softly drift back to my side.  I danced as the willow tree dances. The willow tree has more to teach me, and I will return to its sacred space.  Someday I will accept its invitation to cross the threshold and stroll underneath its supple branches, and to feel the touch of its feathery leaves.
     Matthew Fox says, "Everything is a word of God." 
     Even willow trees. 
Selected Resources from my Bookshelves
Sacred Trees, Spirituality, Wisdom and Well-Being by Nathaniel Altman
The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Silence: Lost and Regained, posted by Nancy L. Agneberg

Part of my preferred morning routine is to sit in silence for 20 minutes or so. Sometimes I label it meditation and sometimes centering prayer, and sometimes, I confess, I doze more than meditate, even after a good night's rest. I may sit in the living room on one of the wingback chairs or on the front porch, although I risk being interrupted by a greeting from a passing neighbor. I may choose the deck off the dining room, but the sun doesn't bathe that area till lunchtime and often it is just too cool to sit there first thing in the morning. Lately, I have enjoyed reflection time on the screen porch, which is on the lower level of the house between my office and the garage, the back of the house. Private and quiet. Usually. But not lately. In fact, silence is not to be found these days. 
     Several homes are being constructed on the ridge across from our house. We still have a barrier of woods and green space to give the illusion of privacy, but the tap, tap tapping of hammers, the beehive buzz of saws, the beeping, rumbling, rattling of trucks, the shouting of the worker guys and their occasional country western music, the pounding, the pulsing, the percussion of the building process bombard me. From early morning until into the evening. 
     The last draw was an extremely upset Mama robin who swooped as close to the porch screens as possible, furiously alerting me to her frustration that I have invaded her space. Apparently, I am too close to her nest. This is her sanctuary and what am I doing there? What am I am doing there? Well, I am certainly not meditating. 
Quiet Days
     My days normally are quite quiet. True, I enjoy listening to NPR when I am in the car, and I like having the TV as my companion when I am cooking, but most of the time when I am working in my office or reading or writing, I do so in silence. I love the 5 minutes of silence at the end of a session with my spiritual director. I walk in the mornings unaccompanied by headset. I am comfortable when time with my husband or other good friend eases into a shared connection of silence. I welcome the time before drifting off to sleep when I close my eyes and settle into silence, reflecting on the day. 
Gifts of Silence
     I not only am not afraid of silence, I treasure and embrace silence. It is in the silence that I hear who I am and who I have been created to be. Don't get me wrong--I love deep levels of conversation and the ease of laughter and silliness in my life, but what sustains me is a shawl of silence and stillness and solitude. Silence both calms me and energizes me. In silence I strain what is not necessary or worthy or nourishing. I focus and rejuvenate. I allow essence to live.  And, of course, as with everything of value it seems paradox emerges. "By wrapping myself in a cocoon of silence, I was in some way engaging more fully with life rather than withdrawing from it." (Anne D. LeClaire)
     Yes, I could leave the house and find a place that is more quiet, but I suspect there is a challenge, an opportunity here.  Can I  create a place of silence within myself even as the world around me is vibrating with noise? How interesting--I have barely noticed the competing sounds from the construction zone as I have engaged with my heart and written this post. So yes, the answer is yes, I can create a place of silence within myself even as the world around me is vibrating with noise. 
Selected Resources from my Bookshelves
One Square Inch of Silence, One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World by Gordon Hempton
Listening Below the Noise, A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire
Stillness, Daily Gifts of Solitude by Richard Mahler
A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland