Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflection: Life Changes

We know the phrase "life changes on a dime," but in my case life changed with a turn on the ice. Monday we had a spring snow squall lightly covering patches of sheer ice. It is Minnesota after all. On my way to pick up recycling bins at a recreation center, one of those sneaky ice patches found me, and swoosh! down I went. The next thing I knew I was wrapped in a Green Bay Packer blanket, thanks to a nice passerby, and waiting for the ambulance. 

When one of the EMT guys (God Bless Them ALL!) asked me about my pain, I told him the pain wasn't terrible and that I am a "tough old bird." He chuckled and said he hadn't heard that one before. So glad I could brighten his day! 

I have never broken a bone before, but here I am with a badly broken ankle. I was admitted to the hospital, had surgery on Tuesday, and I came home Wednesday evening. I have a great team, who moved into place quickly, including my husband who returned from Madison immediately, and now recovery is beginning.  However, "back to normal" is off in the distant future. 

No doubt there are lots of lessons to be learned. Someone suggested it is hard to accept help, and I have reflected on that and will do so more. Actually, I think I can accept help, but I am not very good asking for help, and there is a difference. My husband who is busy responding to my requests for water or another pillow or help getting to the bathroom, however, may think I know how to ask with no problem. 

My spiritual director suggested perhaps I need to slow down, saying sometimes "God does for us what we could not do for ourselves." If you have been reading this blog, you know that this past year plus has been a time of lots of doing. I have moved from one big task to another. Moving has been the theme.

A New Theme
I will have to find a new theme, for my moving is limited and aided with a walker for the time being. The Time Being. 
Therefore, I will read and I will write. I will smell the flowers that have been delivered to my doorstep and reread the many notes loved ones have sent. I will count my many blessings, including our daughter who met me in the ER soon after I arrived and has been on call ever since. I will sit and watch the little sparrow that comes to sit on the forsythia wreath on our front door. This in its own way is sacred time, and even though at times I will feel frustrated and disappointed at this turn of events, I intend to do my best to pay attention to what it is I am to learn. 

This past Sunday I attended a concert of John Rutter music performed by VocalEssence led by Philip Brunelle. You may have heard this group on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. The opening piece, "Dedication," is my prayer, my hope, and perhaps my theme for this time. This Time of Being.

          May my hands be strong yet gentle;
          May my head be held up high.
          May my feet be firm upon the ground.
          With my face toward the sky.
          May my shoulders bear each burden,
          And my back be never bowed.
          May my heart be kind , and wise enough
          To be humble more than proud.
          With so many roads to follow,
           So many dreams, and schemes to plan,
           If I may not change the whole wide world,
           May I do the best I can.

An Invitation
When did your world last turn on a dime and what did you learn? How did that time deepen you spirituality?I would love to know. 

Note: Normally, I post on this blog every Tuesday and Thursday, but due to the recent event in my life I have not been able to stick with that schedule. I hope to resume a more normal schedule in the coming days. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Growing towards Wisdom

When I gave this blog the subtitle "Reflections on Spirituality in the Wisdom Years," I knew I was being presumptuous, but I was also being hopeful. How wonderful it would be to be wise, to know wisdom, to be able to share one's wisdom, and to know that one's later years would be viewed as years of wisdom, rather than years of loss and infirmities and years that deprive loved ones of time, energy, and money. How often we hear a statistic about the cost of medical care in the last weeks and days of an old person's life--there doesn't seem much wisdom in that. 

What exactly does it mean to be wise? Can one deliberately acquire wisdom? Does one just become wise? 

I have moments when I say something, and I have no idea where that came from, but I feel a slight shiver when the words leave my lips. I need a moment to absorb what seems to have come from a deeper place within. I see recognition in a companion's eyes and sense understanding and intimacy and connection. Is that wisdom growing and finding space and light and life in me? Those moments, which are few and far between, are seductive. I want to experience them more and to be viewed as "wise." There's the rub--the rub from the ego, and something tells me the ego becomes less and less an active entity in one's persona when true wisdom grows. 

Wisdom and Acceptance
A recent article in the New York Times by Phyllis Korkki says "Wisdom can help people find contentment later in life." Often, we are told that satisfaction in old age consists of things like maintaining physical and mental health, volunteering, and having positive relationships with others. When I read those lists, I think how that doesn't sound too different from any other stage of life, but being old is not the same as being in one's 20's or 50's and, as I approach my 66th birthday, I recognize I am becoming old, but I am not yet old-old. 

Is it possible to be contented even if one is in a nursing home or coping with a terminal illness? According to a study cited in this article, "Wisdom is the ace in the hole that can help even severely impaired people find meaning, contentment and acceptance in later life." She adds that such acceptance is not one of resignation, but is an "embracing acceptance." 

Sitting with Wisdom
Years ago I witnessed such embracing acceptance in a hospice patient I visited as a spiritual care volunteer. She was a woman in her 80's who had been a vital volunteer in her church. When something needed to be done, the logical person to ask was this woman. Now she was dying of cancer, and the role she had lived all her life was mere memory. She told me how she had struggled with that loss. She insisted she was not afraid of dying, for she had a strong faith, but the idea of not feeling productive was unacceptable to her. She spent valuable energy rebelling against the idea that she could no longer give in the ways she always had. 

She had prayed about how to accept this change, and over time she had relaxed into a form of love she could continue to express. She understood that all the doing she had done, was about love and she still loved, even from the confinement of her hospice bed. She spent much of her days in prayer and meditation, and if wisdom glows, she was wrapped in light. 

The New York Times article says "True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it." This woman --this wise woman--had wrestled with the loss of the way she thought she had to be, and was still willing to grow and change. When I sat with her, I sat with wisdom. 

In recent years I have been part of a spirituality group called Wise Women. Sometimes we slip and refer to ourselves as Wild Women, and I rather like thinking about wildness being part of wisdom. I don't know that any of us would actually consider ourselves as "wise," but we honor the wisdom each of us has within and we recognize the importance of deepening our spirituality as a path towards wisdom.

May wisdom come. 

An Invitation
How do you define wisdom and who do you know who is an example of wisdom? When have you experienced your own wisdom? I would love to know.  

Note: The photo is of one of the wise women in my life--my Aunt Annie. This photograph, one of the last taken of her before she died, just speaks, "wisdom," I think. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March's Book: A Religion of One's Own by Thomas Moore

Part of coming full circle, moving back to St Paul, is confronting the church question. All the years we lived here and raised our family, we were extremely involved in church life. Bruce and I each served on the church council and on any number of committees. I was actively involved as well in the regional organization of our denomination. We attended church every Sunday unless we were out of town, and the kids went to Sunday School and participated in youth groups. Church was a major part of our life. In fact, for several years, when I worked at Luther Seminary, it was my work life and my volunteer life, as well. 

When we moved to Ohio, we struggled to find a church home, but had a hard time finding the right match. We attended two different Episcopalian churches and developed good friends in those settings and then found a small Lutheran congregation, but we found we were trying too hard to fit in, even though we considered ourselves "genetic Lutherans." 

By the time we moved to Madison, we were "unchurched," and frankly, we were pretty comfortable with that. Going to church when we visited our family in Minnesota always felt good, and of course, holiday time meant church time. Occasionally, we would attend a morning service at a Lutheran church or Holy Wisdom Monastery or the Unitarian Church, but didn't felt compelled to commit. 

Now we have returned home, and I think we both feel more of a pull to find a church home. We are very drawn to the Lutheran church where our daughter and family are members, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. The liberal social justice atmosphere, the superb preaching, good music, diverse activities, and nearby location, as well as the chance to worship as a family, all appeal.  I like the size---not too big and not too small. I am sure we will become members there.

Do you sense any hesitation as I write this? 

The Right Book at the Right Time 
Once again, the right book at the right time appears. A Religion of One's Own, A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World by Thomas Moore. Moore's other books, including Care of the Soul, Soul Mates, and Dark Nights of the Soul, all have a permanent place on my bookshelves, and this one will as well. 

The years of being without a church home coincided with a deep spiritual growth in my life. Yearnings I had been feeling for a long time had room and time to expand and gain audience. It was during the Ohio years that I trained to be a spiritual director and had many opportunities to lead retreats and groups. I actively pursued my interest and use of a wide variety of spiritual practices and traditions. I challenged myself--and continue to do so--to uncover my essence and return to wholeness and connection 
to the Divine. 

Still, however, I felt some measure of guilt when I realized I was one of those people who could be classified as "spiritual, but not religious." What about the role of community in my life?And was I just being lazy? 

Being Religious

Moore, who calls himself a "religious humanist," makes a distinction between religion and formal religion. Formal religion is the institution or organization, and religion is a "creative and concrete response to the mysteries that permeate our lives."

          When you're religious in a deep way, you sense
          the sacred in things--a faint and mysterious
          pulse…Personal religion is both an awareness
          of the sacred and concrete action arising out of
          that awareness.  p. 4

Moore adds that developing a religion of one's own doesn't ignore the gift of the formal religions, but instead looks to them for insight. However, a religion of one's own "takes root and flourishes in an individual life." A life that demands being engaged and becoming a creator and not a follower. 

          When I speak of a religion of one's own,  I'm not
          talking about a selfish, ego-centered, loosely
          patched together spiritual concoction. I'm 
          recommending a courageous, deep-seated, fate-
          driven, informed, and intelligent life that has 
          sublime and transcendent dimension. It can be
          shared in a community. It can be accomplished
          inside or outside a traditional religious organization.
          It is suitable for pious members of a religious group
          and for agnostics and atheists. To be religious even in
          a personal way, you have to wake up and find your
          own portals to wonder and transcendence.  p. 12

Evolution of a Personal Religion
Over the years there have been times when being affiliated with a formal religion has shut me down. I struggled with the sexism and exclusive or at least limited nature of what was offered. Sometimes I could ignore what I heard in favor of standing in prayer with others, but eventually that was not the answer. I needed to seek. 

And oh, how exciting the search is. Writing this blog is part of that search. Participating in The Hedgerow Initiative at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality in which scripture is examined and studied and interpreted in broader, more expansive ways is another avenue. Being faithful in prayer and making room for daily meditation is another. Attempting to live with awareness of the extraordinary in the ordinary and being present to the Presence within myself and others is part of my evolving personal religion. 

Moore explores the paths and possibilities for creating a personal religion, suggesting the following as we are engaged in the process.
           * Redefine traditional terms and ideas.
           * Don't be too literal about community.
           * Feel that you have the right to learn from and practice
              anything from the world's spiritual and religious
           * Understand that many things, if not everything, that 
               are usually considered secular are sacred, if you
               have the eyes to see it.
            * Be a mystic in your own ways.
            * Wisdom, compassion, and method. 
            * Use the arts for your spiritual education and welfare.
            * Be intelligent about everything involved in your
               spirituality, but also use your intuition.
            * Embrace eros; don't be afraid of it. Build your
               religion on joy and bliss. pp. 269-271

The Church Question
So where does that leave me on the church question? Open. I look forward to Sunday mornings in a way I haven't before, for I think I bring more to them than I did in the past. I don't depend on church to define and fulfill my spirituality, my personal religion, but to enhance it. 

I will continue to ask the question and to reflect, for this is part of my spiritual growth in the wisdom years. 

An Invitation
What is your definition of religion? How does your personal religion and formal religion intersect and has that changed over the years? I would love to know.      


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Rites of Passage and Test Anxiety

When you move to a new state, certain things are required. One is to register your car and get new license plates. In fact, in Minnesota you have 60 days from your move-in date to do that. I trooped off to the department of motor vehicles one morning with all the appropriate paper work--title to the car, proof of insurance, identification, and a filled-out application.  I was determined not to get frustrated and instead to be friendly and patient. Basically, that went well, even though in spite of being number two in line and having all the required documents and information, it still took over 45 minutes to complete this task. Mission accomplished.

Next on the "must do" list: take the written test for a Minnesota driver's license. That meant I needed to study the Minnesota Drivers Manual. Most of what I read seemed like common sense ("Driving faster than the posted speed limit is illegal."), or has been learned with experience, such as maneuvering roundabouts.  However, I was not familiar with the sign for a narrow bridge nor did I know it is possible to be killed in a crash when traveling at speeds as low as 12 mph. I read through the manual twice, underlining key points as I read, and then I made an appointment with myself for Test Day.

I vividly recall doing the same thing when we moved to Ohio. I studied the manual and went to a testing location and took the written test. I remember thinking when it came time to relinquish my Minnesota driver's license, "Do I really want to do this? I guess we really live here." The state employee extended his hand for the license, but I held the license  tightly, a little too tightly.  Ultimately, I handed it over, relieved at least I had passed the test. Mission accomplished.

When we moved to Wisconsin, taking the written test was not required. I wondered why that is, but I didn't argue. I breathed a sigh of relief and replaced my Ohio license with the Wisconsin one. Mission accomplished. 

Test Anxiety
I didn't need to make an appointment to take the written test, except with myself, and I didn't tell anyone that was my Wednesday morning plan. I made a lunch date with my Dad, saying I would be doing errands that morning, and in my usual morning email to a friend I didn't mention the specific "errand" I would be doing. Why? Well, what if I didn't pass and then had to admit that? I was anticipating embarrassment.

Off I went. Again, I had the appropriate documents in hand--my passport and my Wisconsin drivers license--and I had a bag full of reading material, anticipating a wait. I had meditated before leaving, and again, I was determined not to get frustrated, but instead to be friendly and patient. 

Still, I was nervous. 

How many tests have I taken over the years, beginning with the Iowa Basic Skills Tests over and over again in elementary school and later the dreaded SATs and Grad Recs and all the tests in between? Instead of accruing enough confidence to get me through yet another test, I had accumulated unconscious test anxiety, which I could feel rising as I stood in line waiting to register. 

Eventually, I was seated at the computer monitor, put on the head phones, took a deep breath, a very deep breath, and started the test.  With each answer you are told immediately if your answer is correct or incorrect. First question: correct. Yes! Second question: incorrect. Oh no! I knew 80% was a passing grade, but I didn't know how many questions there would be, and I didn't know how many questions you could answer incorrectly and still pass the test.

I took another deep breath and knew there was nothing to do, but continue. On and on and on the questions seemed to keep coming. Would this never end? I missed two other questions, becoming more nervous as I went along. Did you know a slow-moving vehicle emblem must be displayed on all vehicles that travel at speeds of 30 mph or less? I guessed 20 mph. Wrong!!!! However, one question was repeated--something about whether having a drivers license in Minnesota is a right or a privilege--and I had answered that correctly the first time, so the second time was a sweet gift. 

Finally, the test was over, and I had passed with a score of 91%! I was elated, absolutely thrilled. I felt like I was 16 and was applying for my drivers license for the very first time. I paid my money and stood for the unflattering photo and walked out the door a little taller and lighter. Mission accomplished. 

What was that all about I have wondered in the days since then? Where does that kind of anxiety come from? After all, if I had not passed it, I could have studied more and returned to take the test again. And more importantly, I only needed to take the written test and not the road test. I am a good driver and logically, I knew I would pass the test. The idea of failing loomed over me, however. The worry I would not measure up sat heavily within. 

For the most part I am not a person who worries a great deal. I don't generally become nervous about what could happen, what might happen and what is waiting to happen. Basically, I put my confidence in preparation and then move forward, but the anxiety I felt about this test made me think about what fears I hold and about my relationship to trust. 

Re-Learning the Lessons of Trust and Courage
It seems to me that each time I feel anxiety or fear rise within me, there is an opportunity to re-learn that God is within me. Instead of discounting how my body or thoughts are speaking to me, I need to remind myself to listen closely to what life is telling me. It is through our day to day experiences, the people and situations and events that swirl around us, that there is a call to live fully, live deeply. An invitation to live with trust and courage.

Harriet Lerner  has written a marvelous book about fear and anxiety, Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, Tackling the Anxiety, Fear, and Shame That Keep Us from Optimal Living and Loving. I commend this book to you no matter what anxiety lurks within you today. As a sample, here is her courage list: 
          There is courage in taking action.
          There is courage in speaking.
          There is courage in questioning.
          There is courage in pure listening.
          There is courage in thinking for ourselves.
          There is courage in being accountable.

Ultimately, every decision, every action is one reflecting love or reflecting fear. Even taking the test to get my drivers license. I love living here once again, and therefore, I needed to conquer my fear of taking the test. I am so glad I did, and doing that, I know that I have reinforced, if only a little bit, my ability to live with courage and trust.

An Invitation
What kinds of situations raise "test anxiety" within you and how do you typically respond? Where are you being invited to live with courage and trust?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March's Reflection: Antiphons for Spring

I may be rushing the season, but I have always believed in being prepared. Therefore, I am preparing for spring. While I can't put away the boots and warm outerware nor the shovel by the front door yet, I can prepare myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for the arrival of spring. Even though spring is not here yet, spring is coming, and I want to be ready. 

As I often do when a new season is in view, I turn to the writings of Joyce Rupp, specifically her book The Circle of Life, The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons. This morning I prayed her antiphons for spring. Antiphons are verses sung in response to prayers or text as part of a liturgical service. Rupp's antiphons express the desire to awaken to the essence of spring time. 

Four Antiphons of Spring

          Come! Come encourage what needs to be born in us.
          Draw us out of winter's nurturing womb.
          Teach us to believe in our unopened buds.
          Accompany us into a world starved for new life.
          O Come!

I have always loved winter --the dark and cold of the cave time. I love the nestling in, the stillness, the unending time to reflect and read and restore. This year, however, I yearn for spring and not just because the weather has been so harsh, but because I sense something new is waiting to be born in me, from me. It is time to discover what that is. O, Come New Life.

What new life do you sense?

          Come! Come, welcome guest.
          Set free our reluctance to live fully and deeply.
          Awaken us to the beauty that holds and enfolds us.
          Open our eyes to all we can become.
          O Come!

We have come full circle, living where we raised our family. After twenty years we are home again, and the transition has been easy. We love being able to spend more time with family and longtime friends and to reconnect with other dear ones from our past. How easy it would be to stop there. The challenge for me, therefore, is to stretch, to discover what else awaits, to awaken to the possibilities of our life here now. O, Come, Life Lived Fully and Deeply.

What does living fully and deeply mean to you?

          Come! Come melt what is frozen in us.
          Open the buds of our longing with your gentle breezes.
          Soften the hard earth of our hearts with your rains.
          Breathe warmth upon the cold places in us.
          O Come!

For almost two years I have focused on selling our home and then moving us and moving my father and preparing his home to be sold. If you have been reading this blog, you know how those activities have dominated my life. All of that has been accomplished and selling my father's home is now in someone else's hands. However, I feel "frozen," and I am weary. I need to melt, to allow my heart to soften and become warm once again. O Come, Warmth. 

Where are you frozen?

          O Come! Come laugh us out of our rigidity.
          Lighten hearts grown weary with anxiety.
          Send us out to the meadows to play like a child.
          Rise up in our souls with lighthearted joy.
          O Come!

Playing and being playful has never been my strong suit. I finish my tasks before I allow myself to play. And there is always something else to do. Honestly, I am not even sure what play means, for the P word in my vocabulary is Purpose. I urge others to take time for themselves, to give themselves a break, but I don't Prescribe that for myself very often, if ever. Springtime seems the Perfect time to change that Pattern. O Come, Playtime!  

Do you need to add more playtime in your life?

An Invitation
What does the coming of spring represent to you? How is this transition to spring different from other years, and what are you doing to prepare for the new season? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Cardinal Sightings

I am not much of a birdwatcher. I can't assign a name to many birds I see, and staring into a tree where a bird has flown, I am not apt to locate it. 

If you were to see our bookshelves, however, you would think my husband and I are avid birdwatchers --out every weekend, bird guide in hand, binoculars around our necks. Actually, since I wear glasses, I find the use of binoculars cumbersome. You might also assume we have a lifetime bird list, always eager to add the next number, but the truth is, even though my knowledge of birds is gravely limited, I love birds, and someday, I tell myself, I am going to get serious about birdwatching. 

Being a Birdwatcher
Simon Barnes in his How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher tells me not to get too uptight about the whole birdwatching gig. He says the only real skill needed for birdwatching is the "willingness to look," developing the habit of looking.
          …when I see a bird I always look, wherever I am. It
          is no longer a conscious decision. I might be in the middle
          of a conversation of amazing importance about the 
          Direction of Our Marriage, but my eye will flick out
          of the window at a hint of movement, caught in the 
          tail of my eye, and I will register: bloody hell, hawk. 
          I might say it aloud, too--not necessarily a wise decision.

Barnes goes on to say that he doesn't go birdwatching, but that he is birdwatching, for it is a "state of being, not an activity." The habit of looking.

The Color Red
This winter my habit of looking has mainly been from the vantage point of my kitchen window, and I have been rewarded by  frequent visits from a cardinal pair.  Catching that flash of red as I pass through the kitchen to the back stairs, I pause to watch and to appreciate. Often as I rinse dishes to place in the dishwasher the male cardinal will come to keep me company, perching on the bare branches between our home and our neighbors'. Now as spring begins to hint of its own comings, I hear our resident cardinal pair singing, asserting their right to this territory. I assume they have lived here longer than I have, and I hope they don't mind my sharing the space with them. 

When we lived in Ohio, hawks and Great Blue Herons entered my life and then in Wisconsin I was so drawn to sandhill cranes. I will miss hearing the mysterious conversations of the cranes as I walked through my neighborhood near a conservancy in the mornings. However, here in my urban neighborhood in St Paul, I continue to keep my eyes attentive to the possibility of hawks, sometimes spotting that football shape in a tall and sturdy tree or soaring wings stretched straight. I thrill to each sighting. 

And I now have cardinal companions. 

Cardinal Inspiration
According to Animal Speak, The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews, cardinals remind us "we always have the opportunity to renew our own vitality and recognize the importance of our own life roles." How grateful I am to read these words today, for I feel weary and a bit in-between. After weeks of working and preparing the way, my father's house is now on the market, and being actively involved in that task need no longer dominate my time. The theme of moving and packing and unpacking that has been so pre-eminent in my life for almost two years, as our own house was for sale followed by buying and moving into this house, is finally fading. 

It is time to return to work I have set aside and plans I would like to put into place. Writing ideas await. Visions of groups I would like to start hover. Hopes for meeting with spiritual direction clients hold promise. The female cardinal whose loud and clear whistle reflects a need "to assert the feminine aspects of creativity and intuition more strongly," according to Andrews, seems to agree. 
          Cardinals brighten the environment. They catch the 
          eye and add color to our lives. When they appear as
          a totem, they do so to remind us to become like them
          Add color to your life, and remember that everything
          you do is of importance.
                                                     p. 125

What wonderful inspiration to move forward and beyond--into spring and into the next season of my life.  

An Invitation
Are you a birdwatcher? Do birds have any significance in your life? What signs are you observing that encourage you to add color to your life and renew your vitality? I would love to know.   

Note: The photo is a detail of an original art work by Elsie Probstein in our collection of Wisconsin art.  


Thursday, March 6, 2014

March's Meditation: Endings and Beginnings

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

Even though winter is still very much with us, at least here in Minnesota, the air is just a little different, fresher, lighter, yes, springier. The other day our neighbors' tree with its berry-filled branches extending into our yard was full of robins. I kid you not! Stores display pastel colored lightweight sweaters, and when I grocery shop I am drawn to the forsythia and tulips and pussy willows in the flower section. I no longer get up in darkness when my alarm goes off at 6:30, nor do I need to turn on lights quite as early at the end of the day. 

We are in a time of endings and beginnings. 

This has been a harsh winter in many parts of the country, not just Minnesota, and many of us welcome these signs leading us into the beginning of a new season. But we are realistic and know that the ending leading to the beginning is a process and may include delays and false starts and yes, more storms and freezing temperatures. And yet, spring will come. 

This is a good time to consider what endings you are confronting in your life right now and what beginnings you glimpse ahead of you. Some endings are clear--the death of someone you love or the loss of a job or a status you have held for a long time--and others are more subtle, such as an awareness of a change in your own stamina or energy as we age or a shift in how you want to spend your days. Many endings are unchosen and unwanted, but you know, even though it is difficult to imagine the beginning, it is time to confront the status quo. 

A Meditation of Endings and Beginnings
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.

Imagine yourself looking out a window, seeing the landscape change before your very eyes. One season is ending, blending into a new season. The color of the sky is changing from an icy grey-blue to a warmer pink. The trees begin to look just a bit fuller --no sign of green yet, but you can sense branches beginning to welcome their own new growth. What do you notice?

Open yourself to your own new season. What endings are beginning to happen in your own life and what beginnings are dawning for you? What changes are you almost ready to welcome--not quite perhaps, but the almost imperceptible direction is in your heart and on your own branches? 

Imagine yourself shedding heavy coats and gloves and hats. How does that feel? What else needs to be shed in order to live fully in the new season? What is melting? As you enter spring what remnants of the colder season do you need to leave behind? Is there a chance of flooding and how will you prepare? 

How do you feel as you take these new steps? As you embark on a new beginning? Are you excited and eager? Scared? Uncertain? All of the above? 

Now is a good time to take another deep breath.  Relax and restore yourself to slow, even, in and out and in and out breathing. Remind yourself of all the seasons of life you have moved through. So many endings and beginnings, beginnings and endings. You know how to do this. You can do this one, too. 

Spring will come, and then we will have summer and fall and yes, another winter. More chances to practice endings and beginnings. What is it you want to begin in this new season and what is asking to be ended?

Take a couple deep breaths, and when you are ready, open your eyes and return to this time and pace. 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 Gift and a Blessing
          What we call the beginning is often the end
          And to make an end is to make a beginning.
          The end is where we start from. 
                             T. S. Eliot
                             "Little Gidding"

May all be well as you move from season to another. 
May you do so with awareness and intention.
May you honor your own steps.
May you find peace as you end and as you begin. 

An Invitation
What endings and beginnings are present in your life right now? What are the gifts and the challenges? Of course, not all endings and beginnings are major, but even the minor ones have lessons for us. What are you learning? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Praying for Others

Years ago I was asked to do a series of presentations on the topic of "Spiritual Friendship" for a weeklong conference held by an Episcopal group of women, The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, whose mission is devotion to intercessory prayer. At the same time my mother had a recurrence of colon cancer, and I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. My surgery was scheduled for the week following the conference.  

Never have I felt so held in prayer. 

I knew the organizers of the conference were praying for me in the months previous to the conference as I prepared my presentations and then later as I drove from Ohio to Massachusetts to the retreat center. Before I knew when my surgery would be scheduled, I had told the organizing committee about the cancer complication, and  they prayed for my healing.  Towards the end of the conference I revealed during one of my presentations what I was facing once I returned home, and on that last day of the conference I was surrounded, lifted, embraced with prayer. 

The Practice of Intercessory Prayer
These women know how to do intercessory prayer, how to pray for others, but this is something we each can do. Quite simply, the practice of intercessory prayer is a way of loving others and responding to the needs of others through prayer. 

If you are part of a worshipping community, your ritual may include praying for those in the community with specific needs--those sick and in poor health, those grieving, or those experiencing other life challenges. Often names are read carefully and solemnly, but also there may be time during the service when those in attendance can name out loud or silently in their heart names of others known to be in need. 

Keeping a Prayer Journal or List
Years ago I volunteered to monitor requests for prayer in our congregation, alerting those who promised to honor those prayer requests.  Even though at times I had concerns about such personal and often intimate information being shared, I knew how much it had meant to me to know that many --and not just people I knew-- were praying for me and my family. At that time I kept a prayer list or prayer journal, noting names and any pertinent information, and my morning quiet time included intentional intercessory prayer. 

In more recent years I have focused more on centering prayer and meditation, a form of contemplative prayer in which one turns within and rests in God's presence. The ongoing practice of centering prayer allows you to connect with the inner peace of God and to experience renewal. This practice not only strengthens my awareness of God moving in my life, but also makes me more aware of the needs of others and how I can be present to them. My practice of intercessory prayer has been more random, more spontaneous, but lately the idea of keeping a prayer list or journal once again has been hovering in my heart. 

Awareness of Challenges
At a recent gathering with dear women friends from college days, a warm and loving time for us, I thought about how each of us are facing or have encountered challenges we could not have imagined when we donned our caps and gowns. Some of the challenges have been temporary, but no doubt will be replaced by others as time goes on. Some are ongoing with twists and turns, and some are new and yet too tender to expose. Some are as yet totally unknown. 

This is the way it is as we live in our aging. 

Almost daily, it seems I learn of a challenge someone in my life is facing, and I need to respond with more than "Oh no," and then a sympathetic email or note. Therefore, this morning I started a new prayer journal, for as Richard J. Foster says in Prayer, Finding The Heart's True Home, "We are responsible before God to pray for those God brings into our circle of nearness." 

I sat quietly this morning and one name after another came into my awareness. The list grew --the family whose father and husband died after suffering from a long illness; my father who has just lost a good friend; the friend who continues to fight the repercussions of cancer; a friend who yearns for a different life for her child….on and on. No doubt you carry such a list in your heart as well. 

I have no idea what would be the "right" or "best" outcome for each of these people. Nor do I need to know all the details.  Therefore, I simply speak their name, lift their name with tenderness and compassion. I don't pretend to think because of my prayer of intercession suffering will be magically dissolved, but I do know offering such a prayer makes us more human and reminds us we are all one. Through these brief moments of connection, we build our ability to be compassionate. "We grow in awareness of the need to support our prayer with action. Serious intercession leads inevitably to an increase in generosity and an acute awareness of injustice," says Margaret Guenther in The Practice of Prayer. 

My Prayer
Not everyone on my list are people I know. As I sat in the silence, a face appeared to me--I don't remember her name. She attended the first session of the weekly study of the Gospel of Matthew, having driven a long way on a very cold night to be there. She seemed agitated and uncertain. At the break she shared her hopes of discovering a new way to relate to scripture, one that would counter her rigid religious background. She hasn't been back. I named her "Seeker," and lifted her in prayer. 

I know there are all kinds of prayers--prayers of praise and adoration, of thanksgiving, of confession, and prayers of petition, along with intercessory prayer--and I know they each have their purpose, but my prayers tend to be more of a jumble of this and that. I think that's ok, but right now I feel a call to set aside specific time to embrace others through prayer. 

Today you are on my list. I whispered "Clearing the Space Readers," both in gratitude for your attention to my words, but also knowing you each have at least one challenge in your life. May all be well. 

An Invitation
Tell me about your practice of prayer? What do you believe about prayer, and what has been your experience of prayer? Is intercessory prayer part of your prayer life and if so, how do you practice it? I would love to know.