Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Annual "My Favorite Books of the Year" List

I am happy to report that it has been another good year of reading. On the other hand, I must also report that my book shelves are still full of books I have purchased, but not yet read. The good news about my "reserved books," along with the long list of "possible" books I keep on my iPhone, is that 2014 will be another good year of reading. Beginning tomorrow! 
In the meantime, here is my list of 2013 Favorites--in no particular order.

* The Round House by Louise Erdrich
* A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (See my post from earlier this year about this book. http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2013/02/510-pages-to-go-post-by-nancy-l-agneberg.html )
* A Question of Identity by Susan Hill (I read her mysteries as soon as a new one comes out.)
* Mrs. Queen Takes The Train by William Kuhn
* The Living is Easy by Dorothy West (Why didn't I know about this book before?)
* The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin (About Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
* Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (My annual read of this beloved book.  This year I saw a production of Pride and 
Prejudice at The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and during the
intermission I conducted an informal book club for some women 
sitting near me.)
* The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
* Benediction by Kent Haruf
* A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kasgar by Susanne Joinson
* The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen
* Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
* And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
* Z A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
* All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West (This book will go on my"reread" list. and would be wonderful book for discussion along with Being Esther by Miriam Karmel.)
* Vacationland by Sarah Stonich
* Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann 
* The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
* The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (My reading this book
started my husband on a binge of reading all of her books. I 
have been doing the same. I recommend beginning with the first in the series, Still Life.)
* The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberg
* A Tale of the Time Being by Ruth Oseki
* Illuminations, a Novel of Hildegarde von Bingen by Mary Sharratt (I have been waiting for this book to come out in paperback, and it was well-worth the wait.)
* Wonder by R. J. Palacio (A recommendation from my 11 year old granddaughter and I thought it was very special.)

Note: I include links to my posts where I have written about some of these books this past year.
* Dearie, The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
* Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo 
* The Second Half of Life, Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom by
    Angeles Arrien http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2013/10/tuesdays-reflection-what-are-you-going.html 
* Good Prose, The Art of Nonfiction, Stories and Advice from a
Lifetime of Writing and Editing by Tracy Kidder and Richard
* I Will Not Die an Unlived Live, Reclaiming Purpose and Passion by Dawna Markova http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2013/09/septembers-book-i-will-not-die-unlived.html
* Untethered Soul, The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
* The Life of the Skies, Birding at the End of Nature by Jonathan
* Lean In! Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (I gave copies of this book to a number of young women in my life.)
* Immortal Diamond, The Search for Our True Self by Richard Rohr
* The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2013/10/octobers-book-faraway-nearby-by-rebecca.html
* Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It by Krista Tippetthttp://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2013/11/novembers-book-speaking-of-faith-why.html
* Stitches, A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne
Lamott http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2013/12/decembers-book-stitches-handbook-on.html
* The Not So Big Life, Making Room for What Really Matters by Susan Susanka (Susanka is an architect whose earlier books are about "not so big houses." I read this book when it first came out, but now as we settle into our Little House and move into retirement, this book seems even more apt.)
*A Fine Romance, Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch (The perfect fantasy book for wintry days. On recent mornings I have accompanied Branch to Sissinghurst, the homes of Beatrix Potter and Jane Austen and many other places, all illustrated with her watercolors drawings.)

A Suggestion
This fall I had the privilege of being interviewed by Mollie Hoben for their "Profile of a BookWomen Reader" feature in the October-November issue of BookWomen, A Reader's Community for Those Who Love Women's Words. This publication always leads me to old and new books. I suggest you check it out. http://www.womenspress.com 

An Invitation
What were your favorite books this past year? If you read any of the books on my list, let me know your opinion? What are you planning to read in 2014?

As you enter the new year, I wish you, along with good health and fulfilling days, a year of good reading. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December's Interview: Ann Adams, Ph.D and Being in the Present

On the fourth Thursday of each month I will introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirituality.

This month meet Ann Adams, Ph.D., whom I met when I put a flyer on a community bulletin board inviting women "of a certain age" who were interested in forming a circle to explore spirituality in our later years.

 Ann is not only a mother of two daughters, grandmother to six children, a sister, friend and mentor, but also an educator, who for over 40 years was a teacher, counselor and administrator in public education and universities. Her  personal theme can be stated in the words of Mary Rose O'Reilly, "We can listen them (children) into existence." 

About herself Ann says, "I am a deep listener who believes if we take the time to listen deeply to ourselves, our children, and other adults we honor their spiritual space and in that place help them hear and follow their own song." 

Ann, I am so grateful for the wisdom you have brought our Wise Women group. Please tell my readers about your spiritual practices. 
On a daily basis, I actualize my spiritual practice in an integrative way, blending all the various techniques I have practiced over the years. These include frequent conversations with angels and ascended masters, meditation, mindfulness, journaling, journeying, Reiki, EMF Balancing, and Divine Coding. 

The wisdom and light gained from these practices are a part of me as I walk through my day. Each of them, in their own way helps me feel grounded, supports my intuitive understanding of my experiences, helps me listen deeply to others' words and to see beyond their surface meaning. My spiritual practices help me move to a positive outlook, so I can frame my experiences in an enlightened, intuitive way. 

The flood of warmth, gratitude, and appreciation of the significance each moment brings is with me no matter what I am doing and leads me to be in the present. When I am in the present moment, I own how I feel about what I am experiencing. I appreciate the Great Spirit and Universal Energy, which allows me to touch the deep parts of who I am.

You have incorporated so many interesting avenues of spiritual practice. Can you give some examples of how you approach what you might experience on any day?
Connecting to nature is a large part of my practice. When looking at a cloud formation, for example, I may see an image (animal, angel, face, etc.), and I expect it is a message for me, and I smile. I welcome, thank and/or make a request as the cloud movement gradually fades into yet another image.

Behind the home I share with my daughter and her family, there are two beautiful ponds surrounded by prairie grasses and wildflowers. While walking with my young grandchildren on the paths that stretch past these ponds, we thank the ducks or geese that may join us. 

I know how important children and their energy is to you. How does that deep love connect to your spirituality?
Children are a direct line to the Great Spirit, and I am in awe of their outlook and awareness. At one point one of my six grandchildren asked if Grandpa Tom, who died in 2011, was outside my window in spirit form. I responded by saying, "Maybe so," knowing that children can often see and understand spiritual images and messages that I, as an adult, can not see. We waved and said, "Hi. I love you."

I have no doubt you and your grandchild felt Grandpa Tom's love in that moment, too. Has there been a time in your life when a spiritual practice has had a special impact on your life?
Experiencing a divorce at age fifty, after twenty-two years of marriage, created purpose and space for me to explore who I was. I was eager to begin my spiritual search. 

The Universe brought me a woman who hosted quarterly retreats in her home using Native American tradition with the Medicine Wheel as the foundation for reflection. The grief, sadness, and confusion related to the divorce were replaced with gratitude for the new spiritual sisters I found, along with the new time and space for self-reflection, and the energy to direct towards healing. 

I became clearer and more spiritually aware. Annually, a number of women from that group meet to thank each other and Great Spirit, and we continue to define and honor our individual spiritual practice. 

How does your spiritual practice relate to your profession as an educator?
Until my recent retirement, I wove spiritual lessons into the content of the curriculum I taught graduate students studying to be teachers and school administrators. I used select readings, reflective journaling, and discussion to enable my students to discover their own unique "song" and how to share their song with the world. Most of my students realized that the teachers who had touched their lives and whom they remember fondly were those who honored their individuality, which is what I call 'spirituality.' 

My best hope is that all people, teachers included, understand:
       Honoring the spiritual space of the classroom 
       starts within the teacher, which then can sustain
       the spiritual possibility within the classroom. The
       way into spiritual awareness is to be present, and
       listen. The student brings the material, and we have
       an opportunity to reach our students right where they
       live. (Lisa Miller)

Now that you are no longer teaching, how will you continue to teach your spiritual understanding?
I have learned that I need to share how I live my spiritual practice and to hear how others practice spirituality as well. If there are long spaces where this does not happen, I begin to falter in my spiritual practice. The sharing provides clarity and direction for me. Therefore, I participate in several groups--the Wise Women group, a monthly Spiritual Reflections Journal Writing group, and an Anthroposophical study group discussing the lectures of Rudolf Steiner.  

The suicide attempt of my 12-year-old granddaughter and the lack of concern shown by her school environment highlighted for me that there is much more work for me to do. I continue to ask, "What am I to learn from what just happened?" How can I use this experience to better know and understand my world?" And I find myself asking Spirit for direction. How can I put my skills and awarenesses to work to benefit future generations? 

I know you are open to what Spirit has in store for you, and on behalf of all those who will benefit from your spirit, I thank you. 

Ann is interested in gathering with others curious to learn and talk about our own spirituality and our role as guides, leaders, and teachers. Ann can be contacted at agadams1@aol.com

Ann's Recommendations 
Miller, Lisa. "Present to Possibility: Spiritual Awareness and Deep Teaching" Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 12, 2009, p. 2705-2712 ID Number 15781 http://www.tcrecord.org/search.asp?kw=Present+to+Possibility&x=34&y=9

I Will Not Live an Unlived LIfe; Reclaiming Purpose and Passion by Dawna Markova

Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment by Rudolf Steiner

Wheel of Initiation: Practices for Releasing Your Inner Light by Julie Tallard Johnson

How the Light Gets In, Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Pat Schneider.  

An Invitation
What spiritual practices help you be in the present moment? If you have retired or are in a different stage of your life, how will you continue to share your spiritual understandings? Post your questions and comments. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tucked Under a Quilt

During our major antiquing days, we gathered a substantial collection of quilts and used them on beds, as wall hangings, and on the backs of couches. Sweetwater Farm, our 1802 Ohio farmhouse was the perfect context for quilts, and I loved changing them with the seasons. Our home in Madison, however, was not a quilt house or perhaps our sensibilities had changed, but our new house, this dollhouse cottage, may be more of a quilt house. Or at least that is what I thought the other morning, which opened its eyes slowly after the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice.

Perhaps I will change my plan for this bedroom. Instead of the Pottery Barn duvet with its print of birds and summery greens on crisp white folded at the end of the bed over a white coverlet, maybe I will initiate a Quilt of the Month Club for this room. All fun to contemplate from under the covers in my flannel pajamas, only stirring enough to turn on the light and open the book waiting for me on my bedside table.

Snuggling under the quilt I thought about comfort and all the ways I experience comfort. Yes, there is the meatloaf and mashed potatoes or the slippers and robe kind of comfort, but what brings the kind of comfort that touches my soul, that enriches my life, lightens the load, and encourages me to be a comfort to others?

Finding Comfort
Comfort comes in many forms:
* The lit lamp in the window at dusk.
* An arm extended before crossing an icy street.
* A hug, anytime, anywhere.
* The welcome of friends after a long absence.
* Familiar handwriting on a letter in the mailbox.
* Time set aside for fellowship with family and friends.
* "Found" time to read or rest or pray.
* Stillness in the midst of busyness.
* The words of carols sung and scripture read every year at this time, but always with the invitation to sing and read them, as if for the first time. 

For example, how often have you heard "Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye, My People" from Handel's Messiah and felt your heart lift? These words are taken from The Book of Consolation of Israel, specifically Isaiah 40, in which the prophet is called to announce God's coming. The Exile is nearly over! And isn't that the way with comfort. For at least a moment, one knows connection with another, with one's self, with God.  

Words of Comfort
I invite you to sit with these words of comfort.

The God of all comfort comforts us so that we can comfort others. (2 Corinthians 7:6-7)

May your lovingkindness comfort me. (Psalm 119:76)

Blessed  are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

What are the lessons and opportunities in these words? 

The Call to Comfort
It seems to me that in order to be comforted, we must be open to that possibility. At the same time, along with receiving comfort, we are called to comfort others --and as a bonus, we are likely to know comfort then as well. 

Here's the rub, however. Comfort does not necessarily mean being comfortable. To comfort and to know comfort at the heart and hands of another, one may need to stretch, to act in ways that are not easy or familiar. One may need to risk and move out of one's comfort zone. A room at the inn may not be available. You may find yourself in the stable with the cows and the sheep. 

Furthermore, the comfort that comes from snuggling under a quilt does not mean I get to stay there all day. The challenge is to carry that comfort with me into the day and to offer that same comfort to others. The Prophet calls me to be comforted and to comfort.

An Invitation
Where do you find comfort? In what ways have you been comforted recently and how have you received comfort? May this season offer you comfort, but also help you discover yourself as a comforter. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December's Book: Stitches, A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott

I love Anne Lamott!
Early in her new book, Stitches A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, Anne Lamott writes about the Sunday School class she teaches, and I think how I would have loved being in her class when I was a kid, even though she is forever making her class do art projects using coffee filters. I don't remember one of my Sunday School teachers, which makes me sad, but I suspect Anne Lamott's students will remember her. 
            If something awful has occurred, I ask the kids at
         Sunday School if they want to talk about what has
         happened, or if they would rather make art. 
            One hundred percent of the time, they would rather
         make art.
            We always begin by lighting a candle, although
         we have switched to an electric light in a votive
         holder instead of actual wax, because once someone
         in the class managed to singe the ends of her hair on a
         real candle.
             Then we pray to try to be good and kind to one another.
         We read a short passage of Scripture, talk about it and 
          try to learn something together about our lives and God's
          love. And then, as in all great religious traditions, we

I love Anne Lamott. 

The Rush of a New Anne Lamott Book
As I opened her new book while still tucked in bed, I promised myself I would not race to the end of the book. Why are there only 96 pages? If I read this slim volume in its entirety this morning then how long will I have to wait till there is another new Anne Lamott book? 

I remember the excitement each time a new Harry Potter book was published and the push-pull of hardly breathing while reading it, but not wanting it to end either, and therefore be in that never-never land of waiting for the next one. I tell myself to slow down. Slow down.

I envision the other Anne Lamott books on my bookshelf with the most recent being Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, which is longer than the new book, a whopping 102 pages. What does this mean? Will each book get shorter and shorter until she doesn't write at all?

I tell myself I can reread these earlier books, and I suspect they will still feel fresh and thought-provoking. I can pretend I am reading them for the first time. In the meantime there is this new book.

The Anne Lamott Mystique
What is it about Anne Lamott? Years ago I heard Lamott speak in Cleveland at a large church on the campus of Case Western University. I attended with friends who were also Lamott Lovers, and I can still recall standing outside before the doors were open. We were as eager to hear her, see her as teenage girls anticipating a rock concert. She did not disappoint. I have no memory of exactly what she said, but it was her zest for life, for the God she loves and who challenges her every bit as much as she challenges God in return. 

I love her sacred irreverence, her impious holiness. It is not just that she tells things like it is, that she is funny, but more than that, she is willing to look at life, her life and the ongoing life of the world, as if everything has meaning to be explored and applied. Nothing is too big or too small. Everything is serious, and nothing is too serious. She holds it all in her heart and then--and oh how glad I am--she shares it. 

From Help, Thanks, Wow

         We can pray for things ("Lord, won't you buy me a 
      Mercedes-Benz"). We can pray for people ("Please heal
      Martin's cancer." "Please help me not be such an asshole."). 
      We may pray for things that would destroy us; as Teresa of
      Avila said, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than 
      unanswered ones." We can pray for a shot at having a life 
      in which we are present and awake and paying attention and
      being kind to ourselves. We can pray, "Hello? Is there 
      anyone there? We can pray, "Am I too far gone, or can you
      help me get out of my isolated self-obsession?" We can
      say anything to God. It's all prayer. 

          I am very strong on blame, and wish this were one of 
      God's values, but trust, surrender? Letting go, forgive-
      ness? Maybe just after a period of prayer, but then when
      the mood passes and real life rears its ugly head again? 
      Not so much. I hate this, the fact that life is usually
      Chutes and Ladders, with no guaranteed gains. 
           I cannot talk myself into having these qualities, so I
       have to pray for them more often, if I want to be happy.
       I have to create the habit, just as I had to do with daily
       writing and flossing. 

I tell myself to refrain from highlighting as I read, but instead just read slowly, calmly, letting her words flow over and through me. I tell myself I can go back and reread and then highlight what I want to copy into my journal for further savoring and reflection. 
That only lasts so long--until page 5.
           What if you wake up at sixty and realize that you forgot
         to wake up, and you never became the person you were
         born to be, and now your hair is falling out?...Oh, honey,
         buckle up. It gets worse. 

Once I give into the temptation, and like eating potato chips, I don't stop at just one, the first chapter is soon filled with orange lines to say nothing of additional orange dots on the sheets. I am not only a messy eater, but also a messy reader. For sure, it is not worth it for me to buy expensive sheets. 

            ...most of us have figured out that we have to do what's
          in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches
          after oil spills. We rebuild whole towns after hurricanes
          and tornadoes. We return calls and library books. We get
          people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we 
          choose the good action or response, the decent, the
          valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection,
          the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is:
          life, death resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so
          you make casseroles for your neighbor, organize an
          overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry. You can 
          also offer to do other people's laundry, if they have
          recently had any random babies or surgeries.
             We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky. (p.13)

The morning I started reading Stitches I told myself to stop at the end of chapter one. It was 7 o'clock, and I had a long To Do list, but Bruce had the day off, and he had fallen back asleep while reading in his den chair. I didn't want to wake him. "Go ahead," I reassured myself, "Read Chapter 2."

An Invitation
Who are the spiritual rock stars in your life? Whose books do you reread as you wait for a new one to appear? If you are an Anne Lamott fan, send me your favorite quotes. As always, I look forward to your comments and questions. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Came Early This Year!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 
After a year and a half, we have finally sold our house in Madison. When a friend heard our news, she sent an email illustrated with fireworks, an accurate description of how we are feeling. True, we needed to lower the price again and this time quite significantly, but our realtor said we would know when we had hit the "sweet spot." Finally, we were there evidenced by a bunch of quickly scheduled showings and two offers, one full-price. 

The Big Picture
It has been a long journey, but despite discouragement and disappointments, and discontent along the way, we always kept the Big Picture in mind. We chipped away at what needed to happen to fulfill our vision, and now this major piece of the plan is finally becoming a reality.

I know at some point I will reflect more deeply about the lessons learned along the way, the opportunities for growth, the angels I have encountered, and the resources used to stay the course, but sometimes what is most required and even appropriate is to send off fireworks and shout hooray!

I do need to offer thanks, however, to family and friends who have supported us when we have been down and who have listened without fail to tales of buyers who wanted more yard, a different view, and a garage connected to the kitchen when that doesn't reflect the reality of our New Urbanism neighborhood. Someday maybe I will write a book about the craziness of selling a house in the age of HGTV, but for now I just wish to celebrate--before the next phase of packing begins. 

And someday soon I will write a love letter to Madison and our life there--the experiences we have had and the friends we have made and whom we hope to bring into this next stage of our life, but for right now I am enjoying this feeling of being lighter. 

And first there is Christmas, even though in our home and hearts it has already arrived. 

An Invitation
Think about times in your life when sticking to the course, keeping the Big Picture in mind, has resulted in fireworks moments. Think about times when you thought something would never end or never happen, and finally, you were able to celebrate. I would love to hear from you. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December's Reflection: Meet Santa Al.

For many years now Santa Al has arrived at our doorstep in early December. Yes, I know Santa officially makes his rounds Christmas Eve, but thanks to an amazing woodcarver and good friend, Al Edwins, Santa comes early to our house. We have a standing order with Al to send us a Santa of his choice every year and like going to the St Olaf Christmas Concert, his arrival signals the start of the season for us. Every year we say, "This is my favorite. This is the best one." We said it this year, and we will say it again next year. 

During our years in our Madison home these hand carved Santas filled a cupboard in the dining room, but this year our new Santa Al stands alone. His buddies are packed away, since our home in Madison is still for sale, but we are not fully moved into our St Paul home. With our first floor bare of most furniture and awaiting repainting to begin, this is not the year to decorate. We do have a wreath on the front door, but the lone Santa will have to do. 

The Best One, The Perfect One
And you know what, this year's Santa Al actually is the best one, the perfect one for he is holding a lantern. 

Santa Al is lighting the way. I set him on the kitchen counter as a reminder of the path we have been on, leading us full circle to our heart's home. While the path has not always been straight, there has always been a light ahead of us and we have continued steadfastly on the journey. 

But the light is not just about us. 

Prepare Ye the Way
The Gospel this last Sunday was about John the Baptist proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." He quotes the prophet Isaiah,
          Prepare the way of the Lord,
          make his paths straight.
                                                 Matthew 3: 2-3
As those words were read, I heard the song from the musical Godspell ring in my head,  "Pre-e-e-pare ye the way of the Lord. Pre-e-epare ye the way of the Lord." 

We have each been challenged to keep our lanterns lit and to lift them in order to know the way. No matter your faith tradition, our purpose in life is about preparing the way--for those who come after us, loved ones and those unknown to us. Our task is to keep the way clear by living a life of joy and forgiveness and openness and by letting go of hurts and regrets and fears. 

Santa Al doesn't look much like John the Baptist wearing clothing of camel's hair and eating locust and wild honey, but he reminds me to "Arise, shine for your light has come." Isaiah 60:1 

I promise to lift my lantern high. 

An Invitation
Who has held the lantern high for your journey? Where does your light come from? I invite your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Moving Full Circle

I have moved many times in my life. I think this is my 17th time without counting dorm rooms or an apartment here or there. True, many of you have moved significantly more times than that, but I also know of others who grew up living in one home and now have raised their own family in that same home. 
This partial move to St Paul is my third time to return to Minnesota: the first time was when I was a junior in high school; the next time was when my husband finished medical school in St Louis, and we returned to Minnesota for his residency. We stayed here, although in two different homes, until we moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, when our son was a sophomore in high school and our daughter in college. 

Full Circle
And now it is the third move back to Minnesota. Amazingly, our new home is almost exactly 5 blocks from our first house in St Paul--the home where we brought our baby girl home from the hospital. 

We have come full circle. 

True Confessions
I admit I have felt some melancholy as I anticipated this move. When we moved to this neighborhood the first time--we were 26 and about to have our first child--our whole life stretched out in front of us. And now most of our life is behind us. We are not done by any means. I know that and look forward to so much, but even so, I look back on many more years than I can imagine in front of me. 

In a way, I feel as if we have been on a pilgrimage, a heroic journey, and now we return, although perhaps not in glory, and there certainly have been wounds and battles fought and losses along the way, some never to be recovered. However, I have a sense of having fulfilled our promises to each other, and now we can go home. Yes, there are still obstacles on the path to overcome, especially since the Wisconsin house has not sold, but we have experienced worse. We know ourselves better than we did in the past, so we can handle this time too. It's worth it.  

Experiencing the Reason
The main part of this partial move occurred the day after Thanksgiving, and how delighted we were to see how easily and quickly the grands felt at home here. Almost immediately Peter and Maren discovered a closet on the half story level of the house where my office is now located. Forget using that as a closet for out-of season clothes, for it is now their clubhouse/fort. "GrandNan, do you have tape? Scissors? Paper?" Peter had brought his own crayons and started drawing pictures for the walls.

While Peter continued his decorating project, Maren curled up on the chaise in the sunporch to read, and neither of them were ready to leave with their parents when the time came. A few days later, they walked to The Little House, as Peter named it, from school, and my heart lifted as I saw them come up the walk. This is what this move is about.

I must admit I had not bonded with this house as quickly as Bruce did, for it has a teeny tiny kitchen and only a one car garage and a very small one at that. No fireplace, no front porch, no central air--all things on our list.  However, this house has lots of charm, is in excellent condition, and the price was good.  A key factor, however, is the location: three blocks away from the kids' school and another three from their house. We are in their loop of life! 

Even though the desire to be back in St Paul has been present for a long time, I am not naive about life here being perfect. (For one thing it is SO COLD, as I write this.) I know I can't pick up all the pieces I left behind, and I know how necessary it is to create a new life here. Over the years I have grown weary of picking up, packing up, and settling in all over again. I get overwhelmed by all that needs to happen, especially since we have willingly and wisely made a decision to downsize in a major way,  and by all that has not yet happened. 

At the same time I am full of gratitude. I am so lucky to have lived in beautiful and interesting homes and places. I know how to make a house a home. Bruce and I do this well together and in fact, home seems to express the best of who we are in our lives together. This sweet home will be no exception. Indeed, this feels like a very creative time to me.

As I unpack yet another box and as the vision for this house becomes clearer, what is even clearer is the reason we are here. 

When Maren and Peter come to the front door, I take a deep and easy breath and know I am truly home.

An Invitation
What has been your experience of coming full circle? Of returning home? What words of wisdom do you have for me? I would love to know what you learned.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

December's Meditation: Practicing Stillness

The first Thursday of each month I offer you a meditation to use during the month. Here is the meditation for December.

A few days ago my husband and I were sitting in the cafe area of a book store, and we couldn't help but overhear the conversation of a man and a woman who were meeting each other for what seemed to be the first time. It seemed to me they were stretching to find commonality as they talked about how they each like to fix their coffee and the difficulties she had with a new dryer in the home she just purchased. They did share some information about their children--ages and work--but it was all quite superficial. 

I noticed the man's body language. He kept bouncing one leg under the table. A nervous habit or perhaps just in that situation. I kept wanting to say to him, "Breathe. Take it easy. Pause. Be still."

Thoughts of Stillness
Seeing this man's discomfort,  I wondered if he was familiar with  Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." 

Being still allows us to know God in a deeper and wider way, but it also helps us know and be ourselves as well. Gunilla Norris writes, "When we make room for silence, we make room for ourselves." (I think substituting the word "stillness" for "silence" makes just as much sense.)

Here's a similar thought by Herman Hesse, "Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself." 

How comforting--and amazing--to know that we each have the potential for stillness and in that stillness we become more of who we were created to be. And even more, as we practice stillness, our being as we move through the world can exhibit more of our authentic selves. Even on a first date! 

Coming to Stillness
Often when I meditate or do centering prayer, the word I use to empty my head of thoughts and concerns, is "rest." Whispering that to myself immediately seems to relieve me of whatever pressure or expectations I am carrying. Rest, rest. When I am at rest, I can recognize the stillness within, a stillness waiting to support and nurture me.  

How easy or difficult is it for you to access the stillness within? As you think about the month ahead, can you imagine how intentional moments of stillness might be helpful and bring you closer to the joy and the sacredness of the season? This month I invite you to use the following meditation, which incorporates Psalm 46:10, as a way to encounter stillness. 

A Meditation of Stillness
I invite you to sit in a quiet place and close your eyes lightly, not tightly. Take a couple deep cleansing breaths and allow your body to relax into slow, even breathing. 

In this quiet, sacred space you create for yourself say the following words, pausing in quiet reflection after each line.

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.

Be still.
Be still and know.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know that I am God. 

Take a couple deep cleansing breaths, and when you are ready, open your eyes and return to this time and space. 

Take a few minutes to note, perhaps in a journal or by whispering to yourself, what you felt, noticed, or learned during this brief time of meditation. What will you now bring into your life? 

A Blessing
Even in these days busy, full days of December may you know the comfort and gifts of the stillness within. May the stillness you experience be reflected in the openness and love you bring to others.

An Invitation
What did you notice as you recited the words of stillness? How might you integrate stillness into your spiritual practice? As you move through December, I would welcome knowing if the practice makes a difference in your life. I invite your comments. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Stillness

The idea for this post came to me on a day I was not feeling well. I felt heavy and cloudy, as if I were sleepwalking. I imagined myself as an ice cube tray full of water being carried from the faucet to the refrigerator. Please don't spill me. I wanted to slip myself into an envelope and be invisible. I wanted to be a button as it is slid into a loop where I would feel held, but not tightly, just securely. 

I yearned for stillness. 

I yearn for stillness.

Stillness in Nature
As we drove once again from St Paul to Madison, I could sense the earth at rest. This is not the time for action, but a time to become still, to lie fallow, to lie in wait. Only the day before had the wind pushed the remaining leaves on the trees to let go, and they gushed, rushed, whirled, creating liquid gold on city lawns and streets. 

The next day the wind itself was still, reminding the earth that it is time to meditate. This was the stillness before we could even ask, "What now?" "What's next?"

I have felt in that gushing, rushing whirling state for the past months as we plowed our way through the many tasks of moving my father and then ourselves into a home in St Paul while still maintaining our Madison home. There have been so many times I have felt the way I do when walking a labyrinth, and I sense the entrance to the center is near.  Much to my surprise, however, the path swings me far away from the center. The path loops around once again, for apparently it is not time yet to enter the center.  It is not yet time to be in that place, to receive the gifts of being in the center. 

My job as I loop around following the path is to remain balanced. To find the stillness within, even as I continue on the path. 

The Need for Stillness
I have always liked Monday mornings, the feeling of starting anew, of plotting just how to accomplish everything that must be done. It all seems possible as I make my list. I feel in control--until the unexpected. What had looked like a spacious week, suddenly was filling in ways that at first glance seemed unproductive, ways that would take time away from crossing tasks off my list. Ok, I will access my flexible side, I told myself, whichever side that turns out to be. I was resigned, until I couldn't find my little notebook with my lists for the upcoming move--phone numbers and other notations I stored there, rather than in my head. Only Monday morning, and I had lost control.

What to do? At those times there is really nothing left to do, but move into stillness, and that's what I did. 

I stretched out on the chaise in the den and took several deep breaths. I placed my hands, palms facing upwards on my lap, and closed my eyes. I let the stillness descend on me, and I opened to the stillness within. I could hear the action of the washer and dryer upstairs and also the construction noise outside. Yes, it is possible to be still, even when the world around you is not silent. 

I noticed my breathing and could feel myself finding my own rhythm. I entered this time with no expectation of great insight or with any expectations. Not even with the hope that when I re-entered the agenda of the day I would miraculously find my little notebook. Sitting in stillness is good for its own sake. 

Stillness When None is Available
Here it is the first week of December, and the desire for stillness seems totally incongruous with the busyness of the month. Whose idea was it anyway to cram so many holidays into such a short period of time? Wouldn't Halloween or Thanksgiving have been enough, but no, for those of us who celebrate Christmas, which is only 22 days away, these are busy, bustling times.   

How does one find or create stillness in such busy days when the extras of holiday activities are added onto the normal everyday routines of life? 

This is exactly the time when stillness is a necessity; when it is crucial, not just important, to carve out moments of stillness. It is time to push the pause button. 

Take a deep breath wherever you are and whatever you are doing and invite calm and stillness to enter your body through every pore. Stand completely still, but breathe naturally for just a few seconds, longer if you can. Notice your body's gratitude for the brief time out. 

Remember when your children were young and you sent them to their room for a "time out." Well, we are the ones who need a time out. Take one. Now. 

Oh, and by the way, I did find my little "moving" notebook.

December's Meditation
The theme for this month's meditation, which I will post on Thursday, is "stillness." I hope it will help you find that still place within, even during these busy days. 

An Invitation
What are your challenges with being still? Do you always need to be doing something? Do you know what it feels like to be still? If you practice stillness, what are the fruits? I invite your comments.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

November's Interview: Carole Kretschman and Longing for Spiritual Practice

On the fourth Thursday of each month I will introduce you to someone whom I look up to as a spiritual friend and teacher. The focus of my questions is on their spiritual practices and what nurtures their deepening spirituality.

This month meet my current spiritual director, Carole Kretschman, whom I first met when I took a class about Centering Prayer at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison.  Along with being a spiritual guide, Carole is a Benedictine Oblate. She graduated from the Spiritual Guidance Training Program in Racine, WI, and from the Spiritual Deepening for Global Transformation program at the Christine Center in Willard, WI. I am so grateful she has been willing to meet with me as one of her spiritual directees. 

What do you identify as your main spiritual practice?
At this time my main spiritual practice is centering prayer/meditation for 20 minutes twice a day. I have been faithful to this practice since 2004. I do two different meditations: centering prayer and a meditation given to me at a retreat by Sadhguru, a guru from India. That meditation is a combination of breath work, chanting, and silence, preceded by a few yoga poses. Both centering prayer and this type of meditation have similar effects, bringing me back to that space within which is sacred.

You introduced me to both centering prayer and Sadhguru's meditation, and I have used each at various times, finding them both to be just the right practice at the right time. Please elaborate more about how this practice became integral to your spiritual life.
I longed for a meditation practice for at least 5 years. I first attended silent retreats about 20 years ago, and I noticed how whole and at peace I felt after being on retreat. I wanted to incorporate the practice into my daily life.

I was experiencing some health problems at the time, and I inherently knew that a meditation practice would be good for me. Of course, Thomas Keating says that centering prayer does not cure a thing, except maybe pride. I suspected my pride could use some work as well! 

Just because I wanted to do this, however, did not translate into success. I tried starting with five to ten minutes a day with the intention of adding more time, but that technique did not work. I would start out with the best of intentions, just like a New Year's resolution, but was not successful. Finally, I came to the conclusion that just longing for a meditation practice was also a practice. I began to talk about the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to sustain a discipline. And yet, there was this growing desire within me. 

So how did the jump for longing for a practice to practicing meditation itself happen?
In 2004 I attended a retreat in Ohio led by James Finley. On our drive home I sat next to a retired UCC minister. I told him how I wanted/desired to do this and yet, I was unable to envision arising before 5:00 a.m. since I was still working at the time. He turned to me and said, "Why don't you just do it on your days off?" I thought, "I could do that!"

An Ah-Ha moment!
Yes. The following Saturday I began, and I have been faithful to that practice ever since. When I told myself I did not have to do it everyday, I was able to do it every day. I think "grace" paid me a visit. 

I love the paradox of not having to do it everyday leading to doing it everyday! What have been the fruits of this practice for you?
I have more energy and more creativity since adopting this practice. I am more in touch with my intuitive self. I feel my life's journey unfolding before me. It takes no effort. It just happens. And, I am more content to live in the question or the mystery of the moment and not need answers. I am more comfortable living in the "in between spaces."

Are there other practices that are or have been important to you? 
I do free writing at least five days a week. This practice, which I do by hand and not on the computer, cleanses my soul. The thoughts come out of my head and onto paper. I find I have fewer traffic jams in my thinking and fewer compulsive thoughts.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the spirituality of the 12 Steps. Being a member of 12 Step programs was and is key to my spiritual growth.

The 11th step is "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understood God, praying only for the knowledge of God's will for me and the strength to carry it out." Working the steps helped me discover what of my faith tradition was helpful and what needed to be changed. It is a wonderful way to live. It encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to take the blinders off and appraise our role in relationships and life. 

At a particularly difficult time of my life, when I was relatively new to recovery, I decided that I would pray the following for six weeks, kind of an experiment. I prayed for 1. guidance, 2. an open mind to receive it, and 3. the strength to carry it out. I did this twice a day for six weeks on my knees. I thought that it would be worth a try, and I would only lose 5 minutes a day, if it did not work. My life started changing almost immediately because I finally got out of the driver's seat.

I have so appreciated the wisdom based on the 12 Steps you have shared in our sessions. What hints do you have for someone developing a spiritual practice?
Be gentle with yourself. We are called to be who we are. Wherever you are on the continuum is perfect in God's eyes. You are loved deeply just as you are. If you long to be more and do more, be present to that. "Here I am, and I so want to have some kind of a spiritual practice and it is not happening." Just be present and give that part of yourself who longs for more a hug. 

Any book titles or other information you care to share?
Lately, I have been reading and studying evolutionary consciousness, and I feel excitement about where we are going as a global community. In addition, here are some book titles that have supported me.

* Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on
  Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema
* In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan Richardson
* Reaching for Personal Freedom, the new Alan-on

Thank you, Carole, for sharing your insights about spiritual practices, especially the role of longing in the creation of spiritual practice in one's life. You are a blessing in my life, and I am so grateful you are an active and loving companion on my spiritual path. 

An Invitation
What questions do you have for Carole? What are you longing for in your spiritual life? What experiences have you had adapting a spiritual practice in your life. Post your comments and questions. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Giving Thanks

Does your family normally pause and give thanks before the beginning of each meal? Have you ever noticed a family in a restaurant hold hands and bow their heads and say grace before digging into their burger and fries? I don't do that, but often I whisper a blessing as I am preparing a meal for us to eat on trays in the den while we watch HGTV or a movie.

Thanksgiving seems to call for an intentional grace, a way to acknowledge the blessings in our lives, as well as the blessings of the day. 

A Sampler of Graces
Consider these:

Be present at our table, Lord.
Be here and everywhere adored.
Thy creatures bless and grant that we
May feast in fellowship with thee. 

Lord, some people have food
and no friends.
Some people have friends and no food.
We thank you that on this night we have both. 

Lord, of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of thanks and praise.
In the world's confusion
May we know the Grace of God.

Help us to do the things we should,
to be to others kind and good,
in all we do in work and play,
to grow more loving every day.

God is great, God is good.
Let us thank God for our food.
By God's hands we all are fed.
Give us Lord our daily bread.

Our hands we fold.
Our heads we bow.
For food and drink
We thank God now.

We give you thanks, O Lord, 
For all things bright and good,
The beauty of your world,
The bounty of your world.

Gracious God,
Thank you for the food before us,
The friends among us,
The love between us,
and Your presence among us.

Creator of the universe, you give us this gift of food to flourish us and give us life. Bless this food that you have made and human hands have prepared. May it satisfy our hunger, and in sharing it together may we come closer to one another. 

Lord, may our fellowship be the revelation of your presence and turn our daily bread into bread of life. 

O Thou,
Sustainer of our body, heart, and soul
Bless all we receive
In thankfulness.

The ritual is One.
The food is One. 
We who offer the food are One.
The fire of hunger is also One.
All action is One.
We who understand this are One. 

I love this one often recited by our grandchildren. Hear their sweet voices as you read this:
We thank Thee Lord, for happy hearts,
For rain and sunny weather.
We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food,
And that we are together.

Your tradition may be for each person to offer something for which they are grateful or someone may lift up a personal and original prayer, but whichever grace is recited at your Thanksgiving table, may it end with a resounding AMEN! 

An Invitation
What are your memories of table graces? Do you have any favorites you wish to share? How does saying grace make a difference or does it? If saying grace is not your family's tradition, how do you think suggesting it would be received? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November's Book: Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters--and How To Talk About It by Krista Tippett

One of my spiritual practices is reading, using a meditative, devotional, or thought-provoking book as a guide for exploration and reflection. One Thursday a month I will share reflections with you from my current reading. 

One of the best aspects of driving frequently between Madison and St Paul is listening to good radio. I am one of the millions of National Public Radio junkies and am grateful for my subscription to Sirius radio in my car, for even when I am in the "dead zone" around Tomah, WI, I can still listen to public radio! One of my favorite programs is On Being hosted by Krista Tippett. Originally, the program, which offers spacious conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas, the big questions at the center of human life, was called Speaking of Faith. That is also the title of Tippett's first book,  Speaking of Faith, Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It.

Tippett is a journalist and former diplomat in West Germany and received the M.Div degree from Yale. A project with the Benedictines at St John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN, led her to imagine the kind of radio program that became a reality in Speaking the Faith. The book is a chance for Tippett to extend the radio conversations during which she primarily is the listener. "With the book, I show my hand...The conversations I have with my guests are powerfully revealing, and I felt that I had a kind of obligation to do this--to trace the line I ask my guests to trace between religious ideas and real life." (p. 4 of the Reader's  Guide.)

Religion and Spirituality 
One of the topics the book explores is the difference between religion and spirituality. For many people there is no difference, but Tippett describes religion as the "containers of faith" and spirituality as "faith's original impulse and essence." (pp. 173-174) She remarks, however, that she prefers not to be too rigid in that distinction. 
      Religious traditions are bearers of manifold beauty and
      a weight of human reverence across time. They sustain 
     disciplines and rituals human beings crave as much as 
     they crave raw encounters with the divine. From our first 
     breath, we need structure and routine as deeply as we 
     delight in mystery. In some mysterious way, 'containing' 
     religion helps to unlock the sacred within us. It enables 
     us to participate in the human encounter with the divine 
     even when our own spirits are dry even in those times, 
     we can say the words and sing the songs and find courage 
     in them, borne along by the hope and trust and company 
     of others. p. 174

Metaphors for Religion and Spirituality
I like the idea of religion as a container, for it makes me aware of how not only what fills the container can change, but also the container itself can change. Sometimes the container is not big enough and what is in the container overflows and, in fact, cannot be contained. Sometimes what is in the container is shallow and is barely noticed, but the container can protect what remains. 

Over the years of my spiritual journey my container has changed and continues to change. In fact, the container is not as important to me right now as it has been in the past. That is not to say that in the future the container, its shape and size, may not resume more importance or priority in my life. I suspect it will. 

When I have given workshops on spiritual practices or led spiritual direction groups, I offer another metaphor for the difference between religion and spirituality. Think of religion as marriage and spirituality as love. It is possible for one to be in a marriage without love and and also for there to be love without marriage. For many people it is important to have both. 

Tippett offers Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's illustration of the difference between religion and spirituality. Sasso says Moses had a direct encounter with God on Mount Sinai and that was a spiritual experience, but the Ten Commandments he received through that experience are religion.  

One Definition of Spirituality
I think the essence of spirituality is the way I experience the connection to the sacred aspect of life, the spirit of life. That connection takes a variety of forms:
* The connection to our own inner, creative core,
* The connection to other people,
* The connection to nature,
* The connection to a greater power, the Divine, God,
* Or any combination of the above. 

How do you define spirituality?

Ongoing Conversations
 Thanks to Tippett's "conversation partners" on the radio program, as well as those from the past she has read and studied, she has learned that "everyone has relevant observations to make about the nature of God and ultimate things--that the raw material of our lives is stuff of which we construct our sensibility of meaning and purpose in this life, of how the divine intersects or interacts with our lives, of what it means to be human...I believe that we have too often diminished and narrowed the parameters of this quest We've made it heady or emotional and neglected to take seriously the flawed, mundane physicality, the mess as well as the mystery, of the raw materials with which we are dealing." p.127

Sometimes when I am asked what I do, and I say I am a spiritual director, I may hear the response, "Well, I am spiritual, but I'm not religious." I have yet to hear "I am religious, but not spiritual," but does that mean one is naturally spiritual if one is religious? 

While reading Speaking the Faith that question became a conversation not only with Tippett, but also about or with many of my spiritual heroes, such as Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karen Armstrong, Elie Weisel, Joan Chittister, Parker Palmer, Roberta Bondi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rachel Naomi Remen, who figure in Tippett's own spiritual journey.  And in these conversations come ongoing opportunities to explore my beliefs about religion and spirituality and their roles in my life. 

An Invitation
What do you think about the difference between religion and spirituality? Do you think there is a difference? How has the dynamic between religion and spirituality been alive in your life? 

I look forward to your comments.