Friday, October 12, 2012

Moving On and Standing Still, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

I read recently that this elder stage in life is about the freedom to choose how I want to get tired. I like that, but this time is also about how I choose to stay awake. How I choose to engage, to stay engaged. 
     Recently, a friend introduced me to the book One Thousand Gifts, by Anne Voskamp, and she challenged me to start my own list of "gifts." An ongoing list in which I record "sanctuaries in moments," (p. 105) and "the cathedral of the moment" (p. 102). Keeping this list encourages me to notice all the gifts that surround me and fill my life. 
# 6    A fresh journal, a good fast-writing pen
# 8    The car seat warmer on an early morning
# 18  Spontaneous lunch with a friend
# 24  Reading on the porch in the late afternoon, wrapped in a shawl
# 36  A good hair day!
# 46  The thud of the newspaper as it is tossed on the front porch
# 58  The reds, the yellows, the oranges. Oh my!
# 68  The smell of zucchini bread baking in the oven
# 83  A picture of my father taken this summer--a martini in his hand
# 86  The smell of Bruce's soap when he emerges from the bathroom in the morning
# 99  Gelato from Target--amaretto cherry!
# 106 A full day with a longtime friend
# 128 Safe arrival of a newborn grandnephew
# 142 Sounds of Bruce and Peter playing "hockey" in the front yard
# 163 Pheasants crossing the road
# 170 Laundry chugging along
# 175 Dressing the bed for fall and winter
# 185 Leftover homemade chili
# 196 The gift of a friend's words--"develop a quiet heart"
# 204 Two new books on my desk
# 217 The early morning sound of sandhill cranes
# 225 A clean bathroom and a clean me by 9:00 am
     I love this spiritual practice, but I am also aware that as we age  these precious present moments are rimmed by so much past, and the temptation might be to let the past swallow us. Instead, I invite the past to be an informant, giving us hints about how to be more in the present. At the same time our present moments at this age are so much closer to the future we all share --our arrival at death's door. "The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God." (p. 108) And that is what the present is all about for me --staying awake in order to see, to know, to experience God in ourselves and in all around us. At a time when the past can dominate, the paradox is to live fully now. At a time when there are daily reminders of our common future as we lose friends and family, the challenge is to live now.
     And that brings me to St Benedict and the tree by our garage. According to Esther de Wall in her book Seeking God, The Way of St Benedict, "St Benedict is the master of paradox, and if he tells us to move on he also tells us to stand still." (p 13) 
     The other day I felt at the center of this paradox. It was time to renew the lease on our apartment in St Paul. 6 months? Month to month? With our house still being on the market we are not able to take the next step and renewing the lease maintains the status quo. Standing still. That same day I packed up more dishes for the day when it will finally be time to move. Moving on. I wonder, Does this give the Universe a mixed message? How is it possible to move on and stand still at the same time? 
     What could be a better illustration of this paradox than the autumn trees? The leaves are falling, but the tree is still standing. The tree is not completely bare yet, but is in transition. Moving on and standing still seems to be happening at the same time.
     I think the paradox of moving on and standing still is all about paying attention. When is it time to move on and what preparation does it take to move on when the time is right? What does moving on mean anyway and what does it require? And move on to what? And when is standing still--persevering, being steadfast and stable--the way to deepen spiritually? What is the difference between standing still and being stuck? 
    As always there are spiritual lessons, and this paradox seems to lead me to reflections on trust and patience, but also openness and awareness. And about maintaining the spiritual practices that keep me grounded and growing at the same time. 
    How is the paradox of moving on and standing still evident in your life right now?
    And if you were to start a one thousand gifts list right now what would be your first item?       

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Room with a View, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

One of my favorite novels is E. M. Forster's Room with a View. I loved the movie, too. The story, set in part in Florence, Italy, involves a young woman from England and her chaperone who have been promised a room with a view of the River Arno, and they are incensed when they discover their room actually looks over a courtyard. If the book were set in 2012 instead of the early 1900's, I wonder if they would have pronounced the view a "major turnoff." 
     That's the feedback we received after a recent showing about the view from our kitchen, which is in the back of our home. We happen to love the view, which unfortunately is not given its due in this picture, and did from the very the first time we toured the house.  We love the rooftop view, the feeling of looking out and over and beyond. I stand at the sink and wonder about the families in all these homes. I love the diversity of roofline and shingle color and the mature trees framing and sheltering these homes. I love seeing the squirrels scampering on our porch roof as they plot how to steal the food meant for birds. I love seeing the sun creeping across our garage roof, conquering the dew on these cool fall mornings, giving me an indication of what to expect when I go outside. I love hearing the kids on their skate boards whizzing down the alley and seeing our neighbor working in her garden of every shade of purple. And in the winter I can see children playing in the snow in the open space on Strawberry Loop. I love being part of the neighborhood and yet having a sense of privacy. 
    Ironically, a neighbor the day of this showing commented,  "Today is a great day to show a prospective buyer the view from the back of our houses." Now I realize we don't all have the same taste and aesthetics, but honestly, this house selling process can make one feel crazy. How could I possibly have fallen in love with a house that has this kind of view from the kitchen? How could I possibly live in a home where I have to trudge from the garage through the screen porch and my office on the lower level to get to the stairs up to the kitchen? I could go on, but instead I stop, take a deep breath and gaze from the deck we refer to as "Paris," and did so even before our trip to Paris a year ago. 
     The view from the kitchen and the deck makes my imagination soar. I envision myself living in a Parisian garret, looking dreamily over the rooftops. The Seine is somewhere out there. Notre Dame is just beyond the trees. If I stretch maybe I can see the Eiffel Tower. What a magical and glorious life. 
     Here's something to consider. Looking for a home to buy is an invitation to stretch one's point of view, to think a bit out of the box, to imagine what it would be like to live here, rather than there. Living in a home is a creative venture and an opportunity to make something yours that formerly was someone else's. Buying a home is a way to challenge your values and priorities and to examine what really matters most in terms of how you live your life. If every time you stood at the sink, you thought, "I can't stand this view," and if that view made time in the kitchen much more of a negative than a positive experience, than that view clearly is not for you. Move on! I get it. After all, I happen to love water views more than mountain views. 
     I have apologized to the house for a comment that seems unnecessarily harsh and for other unkind things other prospective buyers may have said. In fact, these kinds of comments have made me think about my own words and reactions as I have looked at prospective next homes. I am cleaning up my own act, not wanting to leave a deposit of negative energy in someone else's home.  I have restated my deep affection for this house and the life we are privileged to have here. 
     We know this house is not for everyone. No house is right for everyone.  We are willing to wait for the person who will fall in love with this house, even the view from the kitchen, and will proclaim it in the spirit of Goldilocks, "just right."