Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: May

This month our life here in our St Paul home feels as if it is beginning, even though we moved in Thanksgiving weekend six months ago. First, there was the initial unpacking and settling in, along with celebrating the holidays. Much of the winter months was devoted to getting my father's house ready to sell, and then just when that project was completed, I fell and broke my ankle the end of March. I was so preoccupied with healing that I barely noticed spring creeping its way into place, but now I am moving about more freely, the weather is warm and welcoming, and our life here feels real and right. 

Instead of rushing in from the garage to get out of snow and cold,  we have now opened the windows and doors, and we hear conversations of people passing by on the sidewalk. We have placed two chairs under the lovely front yard tree, a tree identified by a friend as a Korean Lilac, and neighbors come over to ask how I am doing and to comment on all the work Bruce has been doing in the yard. Although we struggle to remember everyone's names, we sense a friendliness and a hospitable atmosphere that reinforces the feeling we have landed well. Our kids bike over from their home only blocks away --just because they can, and oh, how we love that. 

Inside the house started looking like ours quickly, once we had the first floor walls and woodwork painted and then replaced the kitchen counters and backsplash. We hung artwork and filled bookshelves, and relaxed into the space, but now the outside is beginning to reflect us as well. My husband happily buzzed from nursery to nursery the past couple weekends, identifying the specialties of each, and then spent hours planting pots and new flower beds, mulching, mowing, and watering. The results are stunning, I might add. 


The Merry Month of May
I am reminded of Vivian Swift writing about May in her book When Wanderers Cease to Roam, A Travelers Journal of Staying Put. She calls May the "month of secrets."

        There's a strange new sound everywhere, a roar of
        murmurs. It's the May breeze rustling in the trees,
        the leaves making the sh-sh-shushhhhhhing sound of 
        a thousand secrets.
            From November to April the trees are silent. Not a
        sound, day or night. But now every branch is full of
        of leaves and the trees are suddenly full of echoes.
        The noise spreads from tree to tree with every gust of
        wind, like a conversation of urgent whispers.  p. 71

In our case, the whispers share secrets of life here.  What fun it has been to discover what is already here--lilacs and miniature iris, and a chive plant, along with rhododendrons, but what is that little tree in the front yard and is it something we want to keep? Will the bunny who seems to be in the backyard every time I look out the kitchen window stick to eating grass instead of flower blossoms and just when will the robin eggs in the pansy basket hatch? What will grow under the evergreens and what's the vine going up the fence? Secrets are revealed with each passing day of sunshine.

Almost June
Before we know it, it will be June, which according to Swift is the "month with wings." 
        It's June's job to remind me that there are still surprises 
        in the air, glittering like dragonflies' wings. Because
        June is full of marvelous winged things, butterflies,
        blue jays, bemusements, and bumblebees, fluttering
        everywhere. That sparkle in the air? It might be my
        next change of mind. That weightless sense of flight?
        It could be me, winging to new adventure. Anything 
        can happen. It's June. p. 87

Last May I didn't know we would be here this May. And now I look forward to our first June here, too. This is a time of secrets revealed and surprises arriving on the breeze.

An Invitation
What secrets have been revealed to you this spring? How have you been surprised? In what ways does this spring feel like your first wherever you find yourself? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Memorial Day

The view from our front stoop
I confess I normally don't think much about the meaning of Memorial Day, except that it signals the start of summer, but this year the Memorial Day weekend was kicked off by a patriotic program presented by the four kindergarten classes at our grandchildren's school. Who could resist that? 

Each class presented one of our national symbols: Mount Rushmore, the American bald eagle, the American flag, and the Statue of Liberty. Several students in each class recited a few lines about their symbol and then passed the microphone on to the next person. Each spoke their memorized lines so clearly and proudly, including our grandson Peter who told us about the Statue of Liberty's torch. I must admit, however, that my favorite fact was about the bald eagle. Did you know it has three eyelids? 

After the recitations, each class, many of the children dressed in red, white, and blue, sang one of our patriotic songs. I so remember  learning these songs in elementary school, but realized how infrequently there is a chance to sing them. Our grandson's class played the first verse of My Country 'Tis of Thee on the kazoo--a unique rendition to say the least- and then sang the second verse. 

At the end of the program all the classes sang It's A Grand Ole Flag. Some words may have been mumbled, and not every one was in the same key, but the enthusiasm of these young citizens, representing diverse backgrounds, races, and ethnicities won't be forgotten. The large loving crowd of parents, grandparents, and siblings cheered, and as we honored our children who expressed pride in our country's freedoms, we seemed to also reinforce our own core belief in liberty and justice for all. It was a good moment. 

And then summer began.   

The Meaning of Memorial Day: Reconciliation
The first Memorial Day was May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery. Now we think of it as primarily a day of remembrance for all those who have died in service to our country, but I am struck by the original intention, which was reconciliation at the end of the Civil War. 

Simply stated, reconciliation means resuming a relationship, but where there has been hurt or even abuse, where trust has been broken, nothing about reconciliation is simple. In my work as a spiritual director many sessions with directees focus on the pain of broken relationships, including one's relationship with God. 

Forgiveness, it needs to be emphasized, is not the same as reconciliation. We each have the power to forgive, but none of us has the power to force reconciliation on someone who does not want it. Forgiveness may happen in an instant, although forgiveness just as often is an intention and a process. However, reconciliation happens over time as goals are set and trust is rebuilt. 

Reconciliation needs to be an agreed upon goal by both parties, and sometimes, in the case of abuse, reconciliation is not a good idea and may, in fact, be dangerous. 

With Memorial Day leading us into a new season, a season, which often includes a break or change in routines and an openness to adventure and new possibilities, perhaps this is a time to consider relationships where there is hope for reconciliation. If forgiveness has opened space in your heart for a new or renewed relationship, perhaps now is the time for a first step. If so, I commend these words to you by Marcia Ford in her excellent book, The Sacred Art of Forgiveness, Forgiving Ourselves and Others through God's Grace:

        Imagine the relationship you would like to have with
        someone you have forgiven but have yet to be reconciled
        with. Be realistic. Consider what your relationship was 
        before, the nature of the offense, and the level of trust 
        you hope to have in the future. If the offender was once
        your closest friend and confident, you may need to
        ratchet down your expectations considerably, settling
        for an occasional lunch date instead of the daily heart-
        to-heart conversations you had grown accustomed to. If
        the offender was a serious abuser, your best description of
        the relationship you would like to have may very well include
        the word "non-existent." Just be honest with yourself, and
        then you'll have a clear idea of what you need to work toward
        in order to rebuild the relationship. p. 103 

The purpose and hope of the first Memorial Day was a tall order, and some may say total reconciliation in our country has yet to be achieved, but that doesn't mean we as individuals can't work towards reconciliation in our own lives when it is desired and appropriate. 

An Invitation
Are there areas of your life where reconciliation would lead you towards wholeness? Are there people with whom you desire reconciliation and if so, have you done the work of forgiveness? What does reconciliation mean to you? I would love to know.        

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Mama In the Pansy Basket

If you were to come to our front door today, you would see two pansy baskets hanging in the front stoop area. One is perky. The other is droopy and wilted, but with good reason.  Mama Robin declared this pansy basket was hers, and no matter how often my husband discarded the beginnings of a nest, there is now a perfectly formed nest with two eggs in it. Obviously, watering the pansy basket is out of the question.

I am sorry to disturb Mama Robin as she sits on her eggs peeking out over the pansy blossoms, but she has chosen, after all, a busy location. Whenever I get the paper or the mail or just need to leave the house, she flutters away and scolds me. Instead of her usual cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up  call, I am likely to hear something more strident. A mother's frustrated, "Just what do you think you are doing?" I do understand, for I know how long it took us to find our new home, and when you know it is right, well, it's right. 

Robins seem to build nests where we can enjoy them, too. They have adapted to civilization, accepting people as neighbors and regarding our structures as logical places for their nests. They seem to think we are delighted when they build their nests over our doorways or on a wreath on the front door or under a garage overhang. This is the price we pay, I guess, for eagerly awaiting the first robins of spring. They have become our neighbors as much as the family across the street with four kids and a dog. 

Connecticut, Michigan and Wisconsin all claim the robin as their state bird, and the European robin is Britain's national bird. Calvin Simonds in his book Private Lives of Garden Birds says, "The American robin is much more properly our national bird than is the bald eagle." He continues:
        The bald eagle is representative of America's predatory
        and scavenging frontier past. The robin represents our
        conservative, contemporary present. He's the bird of
        Main Street--neither the struggling downtown part of
        Main Street nor the part on the outskirts of town where
        it threads its way past gas stations and restaurants and
        passes under the interstate. The robins' world is the part
        of Main Street that passes through comfortable neighbor-
        hoods where quiet lawns stretch out under the shade of
        oaks and maples and perhaps even the delicate fronds
        of an elm. Here the robins strut on the lawns and protest 
        indignantly at any disturbance to their domain. p. 98.

I consulted a couple bird books and once the eggs are hatched--only two in this case and normally, there are four--the babies will be in the nest for about 14 days. Mama and Papa will scatter the pieces of the cracked egg shells in places outside of their territory in an attempt to fool any predators, but that won't work with me. I will continue to disturb and worry them every time I open the front door. I wish Mama could understand I mean them no harm, and they are welcome to stay as long as they need to, but her protective instincts are strong and she will do what she needs to do to care for her offspring.

I must admit, however, as much as I am enjoying observing this seasonal surge towards new life, I wish I could sit on the front stoop and enjoy these spring days, which seem to have finally arrived. All in good time. 

An Invitation
What signs of spring have invited your attention this year? In what ways have you been invited to watch and wait? I would love to know.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: The Sabbath of Naps

I have never been much of a napper. Now I know that sounds like someone who insists they don't watch much television or they rarely go to Wal-Mart. Actually, I do watch quite a bit of television, but Wal-Mart is not part of my loop of life, and, much to my amazement, I am becoming a napper. 

My husband, on the other hand, has always been a good napper, and at times it has frustrated me, for there he would be on the couch in the middle of a Saturday afternoon napping, and I felt restricted. I thought I needed to creep around and not make any noise. His napping interfered with whatever I had on my agenda. In the evening while watching tv, he falls asleep. Now granted he is a very early riser and puts in long days and deserves to rest, but I could never figure out why he didn't just go to bed. Instead of napping in an uncomfortable position, why not get into his pajamas and stretch out under sheets and blanket in our bed and sleep, really sleep. 

Learning to Nap
I guess I am a slow learner when it comes to napping, for these past months, since breaking my ankle, I have become a napper. At first taking an afternoon nap felt like a prescription along with the pain medication I was taking. I would plan when I would take my nap and hobble into the bedroom, arrange pillows under my left leg and cover myself with a throw. I would begin by reading, but before I knew it I was asleep. Really asleep and sometimes would sleep for more than an hour. When someone would stop by to visit me in my confinement, I would actually think to myself I hope they don't come during my nap time. Imagine! 

I have a wretched cold, heady, achey, crummy cold, and yesterday all I could think about was taking a nap. Unfortunately, I needed to take my Dad to a doctor's appointment. I have not been able to help him in anyway since breaking my ankle and now that I am once again able to drive and be out and about, I am more than willing to do my part in his care, and besides, I have missed being with him. But yesterday was not one of those days. To begin with it was cold and rainy, as in torrents of rain, and maneuvering with the cumbersome boot on my left foot, my cane and umbrella and his cane and umbrella was not easy. The doctor was running late, of course, and the appointment stretched on and on. Dad made conversation, and I was just not able to engage. All I could think about was getting home and taking a nap.

As I drove home I thought about where I would nap. Would it be in the sunporch on the leather chair or should I stretch out on our bed? No, I would nap on the chaise in our lower level. That has been my relaxation location of choice ever since we bought that sectional for the area we called the "nest" at our home, Sweetwater Farm, in Ohio and then again when it filled our den in our Madison home. Until recently, I could not manage the stairs down to the lower level where the nest furniture is now located. That's where I would nap.

When I got home, I thought about the minimum tasks between me and that nap. More medication. Bring in the mail, but don't bother sorting and opening. Grab my book, knowing, of course, I wouldn't be reading it. Water, kleenex. That was it.

Oh how glorious it was to let go into the comfort and ease. To respond to my body, which was crying for a time-out. I slept deeply, contentedly, and gratefully. I wish I could say I felt restored following my nap. I know that's what a nap does for people who routinely include a nap into their plan for the day, but in my case the nap did give me enough energy at least to fix a little supper, pull down the shades,  and get myself into my jams and soon crawl into bed to sleep through the night. I couldn't have done even that without that late afternoon nap.

Finding Sabbath Time
When I am back to what I think of as my full speed, my normal energy level, will I be a napper? I think it is more likely, for I know I don't have the same stamina as I did when younger, and I think I am more able to listen for and respond to the signals my body gives me. In the past I have thought of a nap or in my case a time to pick up my current book and read as a reward for moving steadily through the day's list. Now I am more apt to think of it as part of the movement of the day, the rhythm of the day. Sustenance for the day.

Even, a Sabbath. 

         Sabbath is not dependent upon our readiness to stop.
         We do not stop when we are finished. We do not stop
         when we complete our phone calls, finish our project,
         get through this stack of messages, or get out this 
         report that is due tomorrow. We stop because it is 
         time to stop. 
            Sabbath requires surrender.
                                         Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal,
                                         and delight in our Busy Lives, p. 82
                                         Wayne Muller 

My broken ankle has demanded healing rest and now this cold requires it as well. Everywhere I look I see things I want and need to attend to, but apparently, it is not quite time yet. Instead, I am being asked to surrender, to make way for Sabbath time. 

        The Sabbath rocks us and holds us until we can
        remember who we are.
                                        Wayne Muller

I am becoming aware that each time I observe a Sabbath in my life, I help to heal my body and soul.  

I feel a nap coming on.

An Invitation
How do you make room in your life for Sabbath time? I would love to know.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: The Family Home

Monday is closing day for my Dad's house. Once we cleaned it out and had it neutralized --wallpaper stripped and replaced with beige walls--selling it didn't take long. Dad has been living in his spacious apartment in a new senior living facility and is so happy there. No regrets. No yearning for the house he and Mom bought in 1965 after years of moving every two years or so. 

I returned to the house the other night to sell the last few items I had listed on Craigslist. One was a large wool rug from the living room--a rug in perfect condition because the living room was rarely used.  Holidays mainly. A parlor. My brother told a story recently about how when he was a young adult and his friends came over, one would call out tauntingly, "Mrs Jensen, I'm going in the living room." 

The woman who bought it wasn't sure about the dominant pink color, but she decided it was such a gorgeous rug and the price a true bargain that it would be worth painting a room to coordinate with the rug. My mother loved pink, and I was delighted her taste would be appreciated. Later two women came to buy a set of wrought iron furniture that had been on the three-season porch. They were thrilled with it and repeatedly commented about the beauty of this furniture. How pleased Mom would be! 

Then the house was empty. 

I had wondered how it would feel to walk through the house for the last time, especially with the last piece of Mom leaving the house. We moved to the house the spring I was a junior in high school, so I didn't live there full-time for very long, but that is the house I returned to each college break and where I spent the night before my wedding. Eventually my husband and I moved to Ohio, but this is the house where we had our son's confirmation party and where our daughter and son-in-love opened their wedding presents. For all the grandchildren this was Grandma and Papa's house. We gathered to celebrate Christmas Day there, and we have the annual pictures of the grandkids sitting in front of the Christmas tree to prove it. 

This is the house where we sat with my mother as she was dying. We all gathered around her bed and said our good-byes. This is the house where she said her last words, "I am so blessed." This is the house where she died, and where my father continued to live 11 years on his own. 

 Our daughter-in-love's family home was recently sold, and I asked her how she was feeling. She said something so wise. "Thank goodness memories are not sold with houses." 

This house has served us well, but it is no longer our house.  A young family with two young children is moving into our family home, bringing new life into this house. They will make it their own. 

As I walked through the house one last time, I said good bye once again to my mother, and I said good bye to this part of my own life, the life that was lived here, but I will always have my memories. 

An Invitation
Have you had to say good-bye to a family home? What was that like for you? In what ways is that home still a part of you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Writing Letters

Dear _____, 

The other morning when I woke up for the usual mid sleep bathroom trip, I knew I would not be able to fall back asleep right away. Usually, that is my cue to open whatever book I am reading or to meditate for awhile, but this time I decided to write a letter.
I had received an email a couple days previously from a longtime friend outlining a distressing crisis in her life. While I had responded via email right away, I told her I wanted to sit with what she had told me, and I would write her a letter soon. What to say had been percolating in my head and heart for several days. 

In the quiet of darkness, I sat at my lady's writing desk in the living room and the words flowed easily and, I hope, warmly and perhaps even wisely. How satisfying it felt to choose from my stash of notecards and stationary and then to move my fountain pen across the page. Finally, with the lick of the envelope and the completion of her address, I was ready to return to bed, feeling connected to my friend and confident she will feel my compassion and support. 

A Letter Stash

Little by little my husband has been emptying the storage unit where we stored so much stuff while our house in Madison was for sale. One of the last deliveries was a HUGE bin loaded with letters I have received over a ten year period. Inside were weekly letters from my father who was very upset when we moved to Ohio, and I had suggested to him that he write to us every Sunday evening just as he had written to his mother for many, many years before her death. Many of those letters were bundled inside that almost casket-sized bin. Other bundles were from two friends who wrote weekly. One of them not only wrote big chunky letters, but decorated both cards and envelopes with stickers and collages of cut out magazine pictures. Works of playful art. So much life documented and narrated. So much expression. So many words. Such giving in those envelopes. 

My challenge was what to do with those letters. I recognized if I decided to reread them all, I would be living with that bin for a very long time. I knew it was time to let them go. I went through the ribboned bundles, deciding only to check for photos or anything else that should not be lost. Occasionally, I read a letter or several paragraphs, and memories of time and place and spiritual  growth would wave in front of me, but for the most part I said good-bye and thank you and I love you and even forgive me for not revisiting each offering. They are not all gone, for over the years I slipped an occasional letter or copied a key passage of a letter into a journal. 

Letter-writing versus Emailing
I ended this process with a desire to write more letters once again, and I intend to do that. A couple years ago my New Year's intention was to write a letter every day; an intention I fulfilled, but did not maintain into the next year, even though it had become a spiritual practice that deepened my awareness of the movement of God in my life and strengthened my connection to many relationships, both casual and intimate. I recognize, however, that even though I love writing letters, most of my correspondence will remain emails. 

Is it possible to bring some of the letter writing mind set to more of my emails? 

I read with interest Mason Currey's thought about emails in an essay in the New York Times on November 9, 2013.
        Spend as little time as possible reading and replying
        to emails and dash them off with as much haste, and
        as little care to spelling and punctuation, as you can 
        bear. In other words, don't think of them as letters at 
        all--think of them as telegrams and remember that 
        you are paying for every word.

I get what he's saying and think this approach is worth following in many cases, but I also think sometimes, often in fact, writing an email can also be a form of spiritual practice. As I enter the name of the recipient, why not take a brief moment to close my eyes and bring that person into my heart. Before beginning the body of my email, can I pause and open my heart to what is waiting to be expressed whether it is to offer support or comfort or to rejoice or celebrate or simply to connect? Instead of automatically push the "send" button, why not reread that email as if your recipient is reading it--become that person. Imagine the response. Is this any more or less than what we want to experience when we are face to face? 

Handwriting a letter slows me down, makes me more aware of the person in my life and myself in the person's life, and I hope to return to that practice more frequently, but I think I hope I can bring that same consciousness to the screen as well. 

An Invitation
What role does letter writing have in your life? Who would benefit from receiving a letter from you? What about your emailing practice? How does that need to be modified or enhanced? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Thoughts of Spring

Once upon a time at a retreat I helped facilitate for women with breast cancer the opening ice breaker activity was to declare one's favorite season. All the participants were arranged in a large circle, and the center of that circle was divided into four quadrants, one for each of the seasons. One by one the women stated their seasonal preference and stood in the appropriate space. Quickly, spring and summer filled to overflowing. Autumn had a fair number of enthusiasts, but winter? Not so much. 

Along with a few, very few, other brave souls, I stood in the winter quadrant. I was not surprised there were so few of us standing like evergreen trees in our chosen square, for over the years I had heard all the reasons why winter should not be my favorite season. Isn't it interesting, I thought, that no one ever objects to someone who expresses emphatically that summer or spring is their favorite season. If fall is the favored season, sometimes there is an addendum about the problem with loving fall is that winter follows. Or then there is the cop-out about loving all the seasons, and, of course, there is much to appreciate in each season.

I have learned over the years to just nod passively when people express their distress over the long winter and not defend it or explain how I welcome the hibernation time, how my inner bear needs the cave. Sometimes when winter has been particularly extreme, intense and long, as it has been this year for many parts of the country, including here in Minnesota, I express my own yearning for spring, but I do so to be politically correct, to get along, to be one of the gang. Inside I know where my soul lives, and it is in winter.

I fell and broke my ankle on March 24, days after the spring equinox, and even if spring had arrived on schedule, meeting the desires of all those in the spring square, my personal spring would have been delayed as I was housebound for several weeks. I now am able to move more freely inside and outside and even have permission to drive. Spring is taking on more meaning for me this year. 

I want to be clear that I have nothing against spring, not really, even when it comes too quickly or too early, according to my inner calendar. I, too, love opening my front door and sitting in the warming sunshine on our front stoop. I rejoice with the kids on their bikes, bare, pale legs pumping the pedals. I look forward to meeting neighbors whom I have only previously seen from our windows as they have dashed from car to house, not lingering in the cold. I love asparagus and strawberries and look forward to the first trip of the year to the farmers' market. And, of course, the buds of new life appearing magically everywhere, including the rhododendron at the side of our steps and the magnolia tree down the block and the startling yellows of forsythias peeking between yards are glorious examples of ongoing creation. I rejoice with those who identify their passion as gardening, for they have had to wait a long time to live their dreams. I, too, especially this year, appreciate the greater ease of moving around, knowing there is no more ice to change one's life.  

Spring is a busy time. Just look around you. Everything is bursting, bubbling, pushing, surging, moving, chirping, quickening, awakening, growing. If you blink, you might miss the sudden appearance of green or yellow or pink. I have had a time of undoing, of moving slowly and deliberately, if at all. I have rested. I have been in recess and now it is time to discover if I have restored. 

I suspect my spring will be a time to discover in what ways I have recuperated and in what ways the restrictions and retirement of these last weeks will result in revitalization and refreshment. I think even this winter-loving being is ready for spring. 

Words of Wisdom
        But the seasons, though regular, are unpredictable,
        messy--they blur into one another, offering sunny skies
        in January and frosts in May. We cannot hold them down
        or contain them any more than we can contain our own
        awareness of this bright, burgeoning world. Too soon
        we snap back into self-consciousness, warily assessing
        what we know and how we know it. 
             But spring's vitality, its headlong rush into new life,
         its very innocence pulls us toward moments of pure
         awareness, moments in which we see the glorious
         particulars of this world--snakeskins and puppies and
         adolescent boys and sunsets and cedar trees--all 
         illuminated by the light of eternity. Moments in which 
         as Dillard notes in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it is 'less
         like seeing than like being for the first time seen, 
         knocked breathless by a powerful glance.'
              In spring, the sharp edges of the world scrape against
          our heavy eyelids and our dulled hearts. Spring's beauty
          pulls us up and out of ourselves toward praise and
          wonder. Catch if if you can. (pp.126-127)
                                    A Spiritual Biography of the Season
                                    Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch, editors

An Invitation
Of course, the obvious question is what is your favorite season and why, but I invite you to go deeper. In what season does your soul reside? Now that spring truly seems to have arrived, what were the lessons of this past winter season? What is this new spring season asking of you. I would love to know.   

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Stairs and Labyrinths

Thanks to my graduation from walker to cane and a boot on my broken ankle, I now go up, and I go down. Six weeks after surgery for a broken ankle, I can now go up to my office garret on the half story of our house, as well as go down to the lower level family room.

Step by step. 

Standing at the bottom or the top of the stairs, I think about the many times I have walked a labyrinth. Before entering the labyrinth, I set an intention and offer a prayer for the journey. How appropriate that seems now. I have shown over the last weeks that I can live well on the first floor--with great help from my husband and other family and friends, of course. I adjusted to the space and gathered what I needed to live as fully as I could during those weeks of limitations and confinement. But now another kind of movement is possible and necessary. My intention is to rebond with other parts of the house, with other parts of myself, as well as to encourage my healing body to rebuild strength and stamina. I offer a prayer of trust, "May I trust the Holy beyond and within me to hold me securely," and one of gratitude, "May I be grateful for the ongoing healing of my body and spirit." 

Sometimes when I walk a labyrinth, I whisper a mantra, as I do for  centering prayer. My father's physical therapist when instructing him about going up and down stairs after he had surgery a year ago said, "Up with the good, down with the bad." The meaning, of course, is to step up with the strong leg, and when coming down to lead with the leg which has had surgery. Ah, my new mantra. "Up with the good, down with the bad."

The Way of the Labyrinth by Helen Curry advises, "Don't rush this moment. Let it fully envelop you. When the stillness is complete, the moment will follow, naturally and at its own pace." And so I prepare to leave one level and step by step move to another level. When ready, I use the handrails and my cane and proceed cautiously and slowly and in doing so, my physical world expands. Practical and yet profound movement. 

Doing It!
This, too, is holy. As I move with great attention or "gracious attention," as Lauren Artress  says about walking a labyrinth, I realize step by step I am in the midst of a body prayer. My body is conversing with the Divine--amazement at how a body is capable of healing and a promise to take as good care of my body as I can. I move step by step, bringing my whole body, including my breath, to this process, taking nothing for granted. 

Sometimes when walking a labyrinth there is moment when I wonder if I will ever reach the center and then all of a sudden, I am there. That's how it seems with the stairs. Before beginning, the number of stairs feels a bit daunting, but then all of a sudden I am there! The moment is almost thrilling. I am here! I made it! 

           Solvitur ambulando….It is solved by walking. 
                                                            St Augustine

No doubt it will be awhile before I can tackle spring cleaning or go up and down the aisles of Target, but I can go up and down stairs and that feels major. Physical movement becomes spiritual movement.

An Invitation
What step by step journey have you been taking lately? In what ways has your body been your teacher and your guide? I would love to know.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Puzzles Are Not for Sissies

There's a jigsaw puzzle in progress on our dining room table. Unlike the 2000 piece puzzle of purple alpine flowers set against a mountain, which a friend sent me recently, this one, an abstract colorful face of a wolf, is more  manageable with only 500 pieces. 

Now that I am more mobile with my boot and a cane, one more step towards complete healing of my broken ankle, I pass through the dining room more often, and each time I stop to plunk in a few pieces. A half hour later I might still be there, telling myself just one more piece--not unlike reading one more chapter or playing one more game of solitaire on my phone or looking at one more home decor blog. Doing a jigsaw puzzle can be seductive. 

Everything in life, it seems to me, has potential as a metaphor, and putting together a jigsaw puzzle is easy fodder for reflection about one's life. 

Creating the Framework
How do you begin putting together a jigsaw puzzle? I like to find all the straight edge pieces, the border pieces, in order to create the frame. I sort through all the pieces, piling the border pieces on the table and tossing all the others into the cover. I want to know the parameters of what I am working with, the boundaries. Then I know how big the puzzle is and am somewhat reassured that completing this puzzle will be possible. This should be no surprise, since when I color, I stay inside the lines. 

I like knowing the boundaries, the expectations, the guidelines, the framework within which I am to move forward.  I want to know how many weeks or months would be normal healing time for my broken ankle. When I see the physical therapist next week for the first time, I will ask how many weeks of physical therapy are in front of me. When we finally sold our house, knowing the closing date helped me plot everything that needed to be done between now and then. Many of those tasks probably could have been accomplished before selling the house, but the end time was unknown. I like knowing how many words an article I am working on needs to be, how long a presentation should be, and what the plan for the day might be. I work well within a framework.

I've noticed, however, when I do a puzzle with young children that they are not concerned about creating the framework. They start by choosing a piece and trying to find another one to fit. They have no plan, but seem to trust their own abilities to put it all together. They just jump in and see what develops. 

Filling in the Pieces
Once the framework is in place, I am a bit more flexible. Sometime I create a pile of similar colors or I begin to gather pieces for a particular area of the picture. In this case I started with the bright lime green of the wolf's nose and that led to his eyes and his mouth and then his ears, but along the way I added pieces in other areas of the puzzle. One piece led to another. Just like life.

Sometimes I hold a piece up to the guiding light of the picture and try to determine where that piece goes. Where does this piece fit? 

When I broke my ankle, I didn't spend any time in the "why me?" pity party, but I did think about, write about, reflect on the reasons something happens or is present in my life. I don't believe God decided I needed to break my ankle because I need to slow down or have a time out, but now that it has happened I look for the lessons and what might be learned. I reflect on the opportunities of this time. I try to fit the pieces together.

I am so grateful, however, to a young friend who pointed out to me that perhaps this happened simply because there was ice under the snow! Yes! It just happened and the only way to have prevented it was to have not been there. 

Still, by going below the surface of an event or interaction, I know I come closer to seeing the movement of the Divine in my life and to understanding who I was created to be. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about exploring a cave in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, and she says, "We come to see what's here and to discover who we are in the presence of what we find." (p. 119)

Along with coloring and doing jigsaw puzzles and reading mysteries, I am discovering who I am as I heal. 

Taylor also says, "While I am looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket." (p. 131) Sometimes the pieces I pick don't fit where I think they should, and I need to set them aside and find another piece or wait until the picture is clearer. When that happens, how obvious it sometimes seems. It is a puzzle, after all.  

        Sometimes it's as if truth were like a festering wound, 
        ready to break open and be cleansed. It seems as if the 
        information I am seeking is just there, lying in front of me 
        on the path, asking to be discovered, asking for a kind of  
        solution –or absolution. Then again, it can evade me, like 
        a small splinter that escapes under the skin. Then I have 
        to wait, be patient. I have to wait for it to fester.
                                                       Pardonable Lies, p 238
                                                       A Maisie Dobbs Novel
                                                       Jacqueline Winspear

Completing the Picture
Last night I was joined at the puzzle table. While Peter read aloud to us from his easy reader books, my daughter and granddaughter worked on the puzzle. I realized as they dropped piece after piece into the picture, that I am more interested in the process than in being the one to complete the puzzle. Another piece in my own ongoing jigsaw puzzle life. 

An Invitation
How do you approach a puzzle? What current jigsaw puzzle are you encountering in your own life? I would love to know.