Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015: Thursday's Reflection

Our bookshelves overfloweth!

What a good suggestion my husband had when he suggested we go to a new favorite book store in downtown St Paul, Subtext Books, and pick out our own presents--an armload of books for each of us. Perfect. No wrapping was needed, and we were each thrilled with our respective pile. So before I offer my favorites of 2015, here's what I purchased at Subtext. Some are new titles. Some have been around for quite some time. Some books I have had on my "want to read" list, and some are titles new to me. All fiction. 
*  The Improbability of Love, Hannah Rothschild
*  The Gate of Angels, Penelope Fitzgerald
*  The Book of New Things, Michel Faber
*  Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
*  Evergreen, Rebecca Rasmussen
*  The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett

Plus, I received The Secret Chord by Gwendolyn Brooks for Christmas from a friend. What a great pile.

But now it is time to relive the year's good reading. 

My top two favorite fiction books this year are -drum roll, please-
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and Emma by Jane Austen. I don't know why I had not read Ordinary Grace before, but I LOVED it. More than once it had me in tears, and every page was brilliantly written. This was my third time to read Emma, this time as our January book group selection. Bruce has announced he has tried, but he just can't do it, and others in the group are having a hard time with it, but, as far as I am concerned, it is the perfect lazy winter afternoon read. 

Here are my other picks, in no particular order.
* Florence Gordon, Brian Morton (wish it had been longer, however)
* The Children Act, Ian McEwan 
* Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
* The Stories of Jane Gardam
* Old Filth, Jane Gardam (A book that was on my list for a long time, and I am so glad I finally read it.)
* Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (favorite book in our book group this year)
* Vanessa and Her Sister, Priyabec Parmar
* A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (a wonderful re-discovery)
* The Nature of the Beast, Louise Penny (now we have another long wait till the next one in her mystery series)
* Circling the Sun, Paula McClain (I liked this one better than her The Paris Wife. This one is set in Africa and about Beryl Markham.) 
* To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (I did NOT like Go Set A Watchman and felt publishing it did a huge disservice to Lee, but reading that made me return to Mockingbird.)
* Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher (You will laugh out loud, but wince at the truth, as well.)
* The Tortoise and the Hare, Elizabeth Jenkins

Overrated novels in my book: Outline by Rachel Cusk, which just left me cold. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I know readers and critics alike loved this book, but I so wearied of the back and forth in the two story lines. I was interested in both, and I wanted to sink into each of them. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, which I wanted to love, but I felt it disintegrated into a predictable romance. 

Category #1: Writing Books
*  Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
*  Braving the Fire, A Guide to Writing about Grief and Loss, Jessica Handler
*  Reading Like a Writer, A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, Francine Prose
*  Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
*  The Art of Slow Writing, Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity, Louise DeSalvo
*  The Art of the Memoir, Mary Karr

Category #2: Spirituality Books
* Pilgrimage, The Sacred Art, Journey to the Center of the Heart, Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook
*  The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner
*  The Grace in Aging, Kathleen Dowling Singh
*  Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life, Joan Chittister
*  Pastrix, The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint, Nadia Bolz Weber
*  Gifts of the Dark Wood, Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), Eric Elnes

Category #3: Other
*  The Other Side of the Dale, Gervase Phinn
*  Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
*  H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
*  The Light of the World, A Memoir, Elizabeth Alexander
*  Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, Finding and Losing Myself in Books, Maureen Corrigan
*  Between the World and Me, Ta-Nahesi Coates. (I must admit I am ambivalent about this. I felt it was really a too long article, rather than a book, but I also feel it is a book that should not be ignored, for it gives insights into issues most of us want to ignore.)

An Invitation
What books do you recommend from 2015? If you have read any of the books I list, I would love to know your opinion. Happy reading! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Day After: Tuesday's Reflection

I didn't know what to do with myself. It was December 26th and I didn't have a plan. After the weeks of preparations, today was open, free space. In other years, especially when I was younger, I would come to the first days after Christmas eager to do nothing more than curl up with a new book. No doubt there would be leftovers, and little, if any, cooking would be required. I would be grateful for the breathing room, the chance to reflect on the special family and friend times, and the messages received at church throughout the season.

This year feels different, however. This year I have been able to pace myself, to pause along the approach to Christmas Eve. Some days have been busier than others, of course, but it has been a good busy. I have not felt pressured or pushed to do what I have set out to do. I have had time to snuggle under a creamy white cashmere throw and read and enjoy the quiet of the lights. Baking many loaves of cherry walnut bread has almost been a spiritual practice done to the accompaniment of familiar Christmas music. I even enjoyed the times when I have been out in the Christmas rush. Bruce and I agree this has been a spacious, but certainly not empty holiday time.  

I sort of felt like the last of the Christmas cookies. Oh, how good they tasted and how much they were enjoyed, but now there were only two left, and I didn't feel like eating them. 

So what was the problem? I was not exhausted. I didn't regret the choices made. I was not disappointed or letdown.

I was just in-between.

Everywhere I looked in the house I saw things I could do, but at the same time I sort of like the after Christmas disarray. I was definitely not ready to dismantle the Christmas decorations and yet, already they didn't quite fit any more. I was not ready to make my list for the new year or dig back into the writing I ignored the last few weeks. I could have written thank you notes, but doing that so soon after the unwrapping felt rushed, as if I just wanted to check that off my list. I didn't want to go anywhere, but it felt like there was someplace I should want to be. 

Here's the deal: I was sort of ready for the new year to begin, but I was not ready to let go of this year, especially this Christmas time. And I am missing our Cleveland kids who are with us every other year for Christmas, a perfectly logical and reasonable plan, but that doesn't mean I don't miss them. How lucky we are to be with our St Paul kids, but I admit I am a bit jealous of the fact that they are now vacationing in Mexico, even though I am delighted they are able to have this relaxing family time.

I remind myself it is possible to feel more than one thing at a time. I can be content and antsy at the same time, and I can note what I miss and feel satisfyingly full at the same time. I can feel eager to re-immerse myself in work I love to do and yet, know that this pause, resting in the wings, is a good thing, too. I can be certain of all the love that surrounds me and yet, not know what the next minute is meant to hold. 

This is in-between time. It just is. Tomorrow may not be, but this is the way it is today. 

An Invitation
How do these days in-between feel to you? I would love to know. 

NOTE: Thursday's post will be my annual Favorite Books List. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Case of the Expanding House: Thursday's Reflection

This past weekend my side of the family, the Jensen clan, gathered in our home. If you have been reading this blog, you know that I call our house The Little House, but lately, I have discovered this house has a surprising quality. It expands to fit the number of people who gather. 

We just keep adding chairs to the circle. 

I will no longer be concerned about hosting a group larger than four or six or so. Room will be found. In fact, even in the kitchen, which isn't much larger than the size of a coffee table or ottoman, four of us stood laughing and talking. Now granted we weren't trying to mix and chop and put a meal on the table, but there we were without being nose to nose. 

And then when everyone went home, the house gently, easily took a breath and returned to just the right size for the two of us. It didn't feel empty, oh, maybe for a moment or so, but the sound of the laughter and the feel of our connections to one another remains nestled on a bookshelf or windowsill. 

I think the heart is like that. 

The potential for an expanding heart is within us. The heart grows to fit the need. And when it is time for a one to one connection with a friend, your spouse or child or God, the heart knows how to do that, too. 

My wish for you this blessed season, no matter what or who you celebrate, is that your heart leads you to love and compassion.

May all be well. 

An Invitation
What size is your heart? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Color of the Season: Tuesday's Reflection

With only a couple days before Christmas Eve, I have my roller skates on, finishing the last tasks on the list. Even though I should have more time at this stage of my life and even though there is less to do, the theory that we fill the space we have seems to be true. I am still huffing and puffing to get to the finish line, which this week is called Christmas. 

However, my lists have not ruled me entirely. I have stopped to enjoy the views of the season--gorgeous concerts and meaningful religious services, times with friends and family and even the occasional hour curled up in the snuggery with my book. I love this time of the year, even when there is a lot to do.  

Here's one of the views of the season: the annual poinsettia display at the St Paul Conservatory. Against the grey sky, (Where are our winter clear blue skies this year?) the mass of red poinsettias, arranged like a choir in bright robes, were ablaze in the color of the season. I am not a huge fan of poinsettias and don't feel a need to buy one for our house, but there is something quite glorious about seeing them in such volume. 

How good it was to pause and sit on one of the benches in the sunken garden area and be present to one more beauty of the season. 

An Invitation
Where have you found beauty this season? I would love to know. 

Note: The St Paul Conservatory is one of the great gifts in our community and it is free, as is the St Paul Zoo. On Tuesday mornings, my husband Bruce is a volunteer in the fern room. We call him the Fern Man, and he would love to introduce you to some of his favorite ferns.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Memories: Thursday's Reflections

The other night I intended to make a second batch of cherry walnut
bread, but the butter wasn't soft enough yet. I wrapped a few presents, but then I turned in another direction: the past. 

My family -- father, siblings and their families, and our kids -- are gathering this weekend to celebrate Christmas, and knowing how much Dad likes to look at family photographs, I decided to find pictures of Christmases past. 

This is what I wish I could say, "I went to the shelf with all the photo albums, each one perfectly organized according to theme or chronology, and voila, how easy it was to find just what I was looking for." Instead, "organizing the family photos" remains on the retirement list and probably will for a LONG time. Instead, I opened a cupboard where there are small bins of loose photos arranged in no order, a true mishmash of time and place and people and events. 

And then I was sucked into a path called Memory Lane. Pictures from my growing up years, including the posed ones sent with Christmas cards. Pictures of our kids opening presents and visiting Santa. Sometimes I had to pause to make sure the picture was actually of our daughter Kate and not granddaughter Maren, for they look so much alike. Pictures taken Christmas Day at my parents' home--the annual grandchildren in front of the tree photo, chronicling their growth and change in hairstyles and clothes, too. 

The last family photograph taken before my Mother died. We knew it would be her last Christmas and marveled that she was still  with us, but there she was wearing her red blazer and Christmas shoes and holding her first great-grandchild. We were smiling, but we all knew what was coming. 

As I flipped through hundreds of photos, memories flooded my head and heart. Not all pleasant, I noted. Sometimes I recalled a conversation, a sadness, a regret, not apparent in the picture itself. The picture was a trigger, and how easy it would have been to sink into the past and remove me from the present moment. 

Carolyn G. Heilbrun in her book The Last Gift of Time, Life Beyond Sixty has this to say about the return of what she calls "inconsequential memories" or memories that have not been invited. "That temptation is to recall grudges, to dwell on ancient wrongs and miseries and betrayals, to allow these memories, if they are not properly controlled, to dominate thought and therefore life." 

As someone writing her spiritual memoir, I sit with memories often. I probe for the details, willing myself back into a certain time and place. Occasionally, I discover a rawness, an unresolved hurt, and I know before I can write about it in my book, I need to do some work. I need to let go of the hurt and find the growth, the wisdom, the deeper perspective. I am not suggesting we become Pollyannas about our lives. Rather, that memory, especially of what we might wish were different, make us more present in love and compassion toward ourselves and each other. 

Heilbrun says getting stuck in memories can cause us "to forget to look at what is in front of us, at the new ideas and pleasures we might, if firmly in the present, encounter and enjoy."

I gathered the stack of Christmas pictures, Christmas memories and placed them in a large crystal bowl on the living room coffee table. I imagine loved ones looking at them and I hope the visions of those previous times brings us closer together.  


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Outside the Door: Tuesday's Post

Recently, I read a wonderful poem called Triptych" by Jeannette M. Lindholm. writes about Mary going about the normal routines of her day and in the meantime the angel Gabriel is waiting outside the door. 

On that ordinary day,  there is a knock on her door, a knock on her heart. And nothing is ever the same. For Mary. And, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, nothing is ever the same for you, for us, for the world. 

I don't think this is just about Mary and the "yes" she whispers to Gabriel's invitation. I don't think this is just a poem that can resonate with those of who call ourselves Christians, whether we are on the Christian right or think of ourselves as progressive Christians. These are words for all of us about who and what is outside our door, ready to ring the doorbell, lift the door knocker. This is about you and me as we go about our daily routine. Feed the dog, the cat, the kids. Toss a load of laundry in the washer. Pay the bills. Make the grocery list. Stir the soup. 

I know in my heart there is something outside my door, waiting for my attention, waiting for me to notice and pay attention. There is something, someone, who needs me, my time and energy. There are questions I have not wanted to answer or statements I have not wanted to make or steps I have not wanted to take because I have been afraid and uncertain. I have covered my inattention with busyness, with an attitude that someone else will do it or I will have time later. Another day. After all, I have my routine and it seems to be working quite well for me.

In the meantime there is something, someone outside my door, calling my name, gently, but persistently. 

Now is the time to at least look through the window and catch a glimpse of what is on your steps, but I suspect that is not enough. I need to open the door to my version of Gabriel. 

An Invitation
Who is about to knock at your door? What is waiting for you to open the door and be welcomed into your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Busyness: Thursday's Reflection

I think I'll work on our Christmas cards. Nope, I should wrap the gift that needs to be taken to the post office. What I would really love to do is work on the next chapter for my book, but first there is a meeting I need to prepare for. Do I have the ingredients for cherry walnut bread? The smell of that baking would be divine, but I haven't even thought about doing any entertaining before Christmas, and here it is December 10th. 

Yes, here it is December 10th, 2015, and you would think with all the past Christmases under my belt, I would not feel quite so rushed, so scattered. You would think that by the time I entered my 60's, heck, late 60's, I would have learned to relax and to remember, quoting my husband's frequent solution, "Somehow it all gets done." 

When we were raising our family, the month between Christmas and New Year's was loaded with events--going to see Santa, hosting Sunday evening Advent suppers in our home, attending school concerts and holiday work and neighborhood parties, including our own. We squeezed a lot into a short period of time. You remember, I am sure, the late nights wrapping presents and the rushed trips to the grocery store because you were out of almond extract for the cookies you were baking. 

My body seems to remember that frenzied feeling, that need to create a "perfect" Christmas, and an alarm is ringing in my head. Do. Rush. Check the lists. Get going. Help! 15 Days and it is Christmas. 

Now, however, the pace is slower, more self-directed, and I definitely don't have to do it all. There are not nearly the number of presents to buy as there were in the past. We no longer exchange gifts with many friends, agreeing there is little we need, other than each other's friendship and companionship. Bruce and I have agreed to spend an afternoon at a good independent bookstore and buy each other a pile of books and then go out for dinner. Perfect. 

So how is it I really want to spend these days and is there anything that is preventing me from doing just that? Yes, I have presents left to buy, and yes, our Christmas cards haven't yet gone in the mail, but they are a work in progress, and they will be sent. No, I haven't done any baking yet, but this weekend looks like a good time to do that and who needs to eat all those cookies anyway? As for entertaining, well, the house will be full of family a couple different times, and how about some dates the week after Christmas. That would work. 

Now is the time, the best time, to take a breath. A deep, long breath of awareness and presence. Now is the, time to move into the living room where I can read and perhaps write in the glow of Christmas lights. Now is the time, especially since the weather is unseasonably warm, to walk the sidewalks of my beloved neighborhood. Now is the time to honor the gifts of the season, the gifts of this time of my life. 

An Invitation
What is it time for in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Blessing for Now: Tuesday's Reflection

During my morning meditation time recently I have been reading a new book by Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Richardson says a blessing is designed to "call upon and convey God's deepest desire for our wholeness and well-being, both individually and in community," and "calls upon the presence of God and asks for the aid of the Divine, often in times of peril and pain."

God knows we are in the midst of peril and pain. 

Richardson says blessings are meant to "provoke us, to incite us to a response. The best blessings awaken our imaginations." Therefore I offer Richardson's "Blessing When the World Is Ending"

Look, the world 
is always ending

the sun has come 
crashing down.

it has gone
completely dark.

it has ended
with the gun,
the knife, 
the fist.

it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.

it has ended
with the quiet 
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

Somewhere it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break 
your heart.

But listen
this blessing means 
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come 
to cause despair.

It is here
simply because
there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world 
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins 

Again, I quote Richardson.
              The best blessings awaken our imaginations. In places
              of difficulty, struggle, or pain, blessings beckon us to
              look closely rather than turn away. In such places,
              they challenge us not to accept how things are but 
              to dream of how they could be transformed. They
              invite us to discuss how God might be calling us
              to participate in bringing this transformation to pass. 

An Invitation
How are blessings alive in your life? I would love to know. 

NOTE: Jan Richardson has been a wise woman in my life for many years through her books, her art, and her online presence. You can find her at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Facing the Four Directions: Thursday's Reflection

A Mandala of the Four Directions
I went to the Mall of America yesterday to buy requested items for the homeless project our church helps sponsor. The stores I needed were spread out on all three floors, and each errand required walking quite a distance. I needed to consult a kiosk with a directory and map frequently to make sure I was going in the right direction. Inside the mall I had no idea if I was facing north, south, east, or west, and I felt slightly disoriented. What direction was I walking? 

At the beginning of worship Sunday morning the congregation stood and faced each direction.

We turn to the North, winter wind settling around us, to look for God's mercy.

We turn to the West, horizon of the setting sun, to hope for God's compassion.

We turn to the South, fields covered in snow, resting in winter cold, to seek God's peace.

We turn finally to the East, the place of the rising sun, the resurrection of Christ, to ask for new life. 

As we turned and turned and turned and then turned one more time, I thought about how often I am unaware of the presence of God no matter where I am, no matter which direction I face. How often I feel disoriented, even lost, when all I need to do is stop and open to healing love and wisdom, which is present and available north, south, east, and west. 

Meditation of the Four Directions
As my Advent offering to you, whether Advent is a season you observe or not, I invite you to stand, take a couple deep cleansing breaths and spend a moment or two opening to the gifts of each direction. 

Face the East, the direction of the morning, spring, fire, and infancy. East is the direction of eagle representing spirit. As you face east, ask for clarity and discrimination, especially if you are confused about a particular issue. May you experience a clear mind, clarity of vision, purity of heart, and wise discernment.

Turn to the South, the direction of midday, summer, earth, youth, and growth. The south is the direction of deer, representing gentleness, mouse for attention to detail, turtle for Mother Earth, and porcupine for innocence. Ask for the ability to open your heart in true loving kindness, especially when you do not feel very loving, and to accept the love of the Divine, the Sacred.

Turn to the West, the direction of evening, fall, winter, the adult and maturity. The west is the direction of bear representing introspection and frog for cleansing. Ask for strength and the ability to overcome fear, especially specific fears and needs. With the love of the Divine, the Sacred, you are strong enough to meet the challenges in your life.

Turn to the North, the direction of the night, winter, air, and the elder. Meet moose, symbolizing self-esteem; wolf, who is the teacher; elk for stamina; and buffalo for prayer and abundance. Open to healing. Lift up any concerns you have for yourself or for others. May you be a conduit for the healing power of the Divine, the Sacred, soothing the hearts, the feelings, and the physical pains of all you encounter. 

Return to the East. Teachers come to us in many forms. There are many paths to truth and light and life. May we each find our own way, and may we respect and honor the sacred paths of others. May each direction lead you to your true essence.  

An Invitation
Which direction speaks to you right now? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Time Out: Tuesday's Reflection

One minute they were here. The next minute they were gone. 

The last few days were full, not only with smells of turkey and stuffing and other good food, but, more importantly, with the sounds of laughter. Giggles, guffaws, chuckles. The eight of us, our son and daughter-in-love and our daughter and son-in-love and the two grands, huddled in our little house, as if around a campfire, and at other times traveled in our own wolf pack from one brew pub to another. How good it was to have several days of rich family time. 

And now it was quiet. Quiet with a capital Q.  I stood at the kitchen window and heard the echoes of the love and joy of the last few days. I wandered from room to room, feeling the spirit of the previous days, and giving thanks for the gift of a warm and loving family. 

My plan was to defrock the house of its Thanksgiving finery, to do the laundry and change the guest bed, to clean the oven, and the two bathrooms, and to get out the bins of Christmas decorations and begin the transformation from one season to the next. Talk about unrealistic expectations! 

What I needed was a time-out. My not as young as it used to be body needed some time to rest, and my heart needed time to savor the days past. Intentional time before zooming into The Next Big Thing, which, in this case is Advent and Christmas. 

Therefore, I claimed the chaise in the lower level as my afternoon nesting spot. I grabbed my current book, and I read and read and read with a little snooze between chapters fifteen and sixteen and then I read some more, all the way to the end of the book. I can't recall the last time I have allowed myself an entire afternoon to read purely for pleasure. I should add that I did manage to at least do the five loads of laundry and remake the guest bed, but those were more moments to stretch than moments to be industrious and tick items off my list. 

The main thing was to honor what my heart and my body most needed. In that way, I think, I honored the sacredness of the recent days, and opened to the gifts of the coming days. A day of grace. 

An Invitation
When did you last pause and give yourself what you most needed? I would love to know.

NOTE: The book I read on my afternoon of restoration was a magnificent novel, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. We were not living here when our couples' book group read it, and it has remained one of their top reads. Now I know why. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gratitude: Thursday's Reflection

More than likely, you are busy today. You may be in the kitchen preparing the turkey and stuffing for dinner in your own home. Or perhaps you are baking a pie to take to someone else's home. Maybe you are on the road, heading towards family and friends. 

I promise I won't take up much of your time. I have Thanksgiving dinner to prepare, too. 
I just want to say one thing: Thank you. 

Thank you for reading this blog. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for offering your thoughts. Thank you for your friendship, even if we have never met. Thank you for sharing my posts with your friends and helping me grow this community of readers. 

Thank you. 

         Jewish tradition gives us a goal: We should say one 
         hundred blessings each day. When we try it, we 
         discover that it's quite difficult to find one hundred
         things each day for which to be thankful. So difficult, 
         in fact, that we spend most of our time looking. 
                             Daniel I. Schwartz and Mark Hass

And now back to the turkey. 

An Invitation
Who do you need to thank today? And tomorrow? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traveling Mercies: Tuesday's Reflection

Together Last Summer
Today our son and daughter-in-love arrive from Cleveland to spend the Thanksgiving holidays with us. Their flight is due early afternoon, and I am eagerly awaiting the call that they have landed safely, and we can pick them up. I will do the happy dance when we are together again.

All morning I will whisper "traveling mercies" under my breath, hoping all will be well as our loved ones head toward us. 

I pray "traveling mercies" for all who are on the road or in the air this week. Or crossing borders of any kind. 

The writer Anne Lamott titled one of her books Traveling Mercies, Some Thoughts on Faith, saying when someone in her church goes away for awhile, they are offered this blessing. "Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound."  

How simple and clear this is. And perhaps it is all we ever really need. 
            To love the journey -- yes, a specific trip, but our 
            whole life. The journey that is our life. 

            To know God is with us. No matter where. No matter 
            when. No matter what.

            To come home safe and sound. To come home to
            ourselves, the essence of who we were created to be. 

We are all travelers and all travel is sacred. We all need traveling mercies wherever we are on the journey. May all be well. 

                   May you travel in an awakened way,
                   Gathered wisely into your inner group;
                   That you may not waste the invitations
                   Which wait along the way to transform you.

                    May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
                    And live your time away to its fullest;
                    Return home more enriched, and free
                    To balance the gift of days which call you. 
                                               John O'Donohue
                                               To Bless the Space Between Us
                                               A Book of Blessings

An Invitation
If you are traveling or if others are traveling to you this week, what do you need for this time to be holy time, sacred time? 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Who Will Be at Your Table? Thursday's Reflection

A week from today families and friends all across the nation will gather to give thanks and gorge on abundant amounts of food. I have a tiny kitchen, and I am not sure exactly how I am going to manage, but I will, happily so. Our children and their spouses, the grandchildren, and my father will assemble to eat and laugh and remember and give thanks, and eat some more. 

We will remember my mother and her scalloped corn and her jello salads and her pie crust. We will remember my father's oyster dressing, which I will not be making, and how every year he asked,  "Guess how much oysters cost this year."

We will remember the year our daughter-in-love's mother and father were with us, and we caught Mary turning over the turkey dinner plate to see whose pattern this was. (Johnson Brothers). We all got the giggles. Little did we know that would be her last Thanksgiving.

We will remember the year when Ralph the dog ate the apple pie, but we still had more than enough desserts to feed us all.

I will remember driving into Ohio's Amish country to get a fresh turkey at a small Amish butcher shop and then getting up early to start the roasting, good smells filling the house even before everyone got up for breakfast. 

I remember our granddaughter Maren in charge of making place cards. 

I remember setting the table. Sometimes our tablecloth on our nine foot harvest table, the centerpiece of our home at Sweetwater Farm, was a vintage blanket or quilt. As I set the table with turkey plates, crystal and silver, I blessed the space. I offered a blessing for all those who would be with us and all those who were no longer with us. I prepared for sacred time. 

I have a folder with my Thanksgiving menus from the last 10 years or so --not that the menu varies that much--and perhaps tomorrow I will make the first of many trips to the grocery store. I have ironed the vintage white napkins and thought about how to decorate the table this year. I am beginning to prepare for sacred time. 

Yes, I know each moment has a whisper of sacredness in it, and yes, I know each breath is an opportunity for gratitude, but Thanksgiving, gathering at the table, can awaken us to our many blessings. And to the sacredness of all life. 

An Invitation
What happens when you gather at the table? How do you prepare for this sacred time? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Honor of Paris: Tuesday's Reflection

Four years ago we were in Paris--a dream trip. Even though we were only there for two weeks and even though I don't speak any French, since then I have felt a bit Parisian. I feel that way about other places I have been fortunate to visit. I am a bit Tanzanian and a little bit Thai with some English Cotswold's thrown in. I am Boston and Door County and Des Moines and Key West. I am Cleveland and Chicago and Montauk Point at the end of Long Island. I am Florence and Santa Fe, San Francisco and Singapore. I am St Paul. I am even some of the places I have never been--Provence and Edinburgh, Alaska and Istanbul. 

And so when something terrible happens, no matter where it is in the world, I am changed. I may not always be aware of the wound to my being, but little by little, damage is done. Therefore, it is important for me to sit still, to breathe in calm and hope and love, and to pray for my brethren wherever they are. We are all one. 

An Offering

May our eyes remain open even in the face of tragedy.
May we not become disheartened.
May we find in the dissolution
         of our apathy and denial,
         the cup of the broken heart.
May we discover the gift of the fire burning
          in the inner chamber of our being---
          burning great and bright enough
          to transform any poison.
May we offer the power of our sorrow to the service
          of something greater than ourselves.
May our guilt not rise up to form
          yet another defensive wall.
May the suffering purify and not paralyze us.
May we endure; may sorrow bond us and not separate us.
May we realize the greatness of our sorrow
         and not from its touch or its flame.
May clarity be our ally and wisdom our support.
May our wrath be cleansing, cutting through
         the confusion of denial and greed.
May we not be afraid to see or speak our truth.
May the bleakness of the wasteland be dispelled.
May the soul's journey be revealed
         and the true hunger fed.
May we be forgiven for what we have forgotten
         and blessed with the remembrance
         of who we really are.
                               ---The Terma Collective

An Invitation
What can you offer the people of Paris, the world? I would love to know. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Evening Prayers: Thursday's Reflection

What is your energy like in the evening? More and more I find I am not good for much of anything at night? All I want is to get into my pajamas and watch something absorbing on television (Recent favorites include The Great British Baking Show and Home Fires) or curl up in the snuggery and read. I look forward to bedtime in a way I never did before. 

I am a morning person, and I want to do everything in the morning, including my prayer and meditation time. At night as I close my eyes, I whisper a few words of gratitude and blessing, but that is about it. However, if I return to my garret at night I often sit quietly in my comfortable chair and think about the day I have been privileged to live, even when the day has not gone as planned. 

Joyce Rupp in her classic, The Cup of My Life, A Guide for Spiritual Growth suggests the following questions as a way to let go of the day and move towards rest.
1.   How open or aware was I to the presence of God in my day?

2.   What kind of nourishment did I receive? What kind of nourishment did I give?

3.   Does anything need to be emptied out in order for me to be at peace tonight?

4.   For what do I thank God as I prepare to enter into sleep?

When I sit with these questions, I feel my body relax, not just from exhaustion, but because I let go of control and any worry preparing to perch on my pillow. Tomorrow, if I am so blessed, is another day, and I will have the chance to be the aware and nourishing person I truly want to be. 

I whisper a closing prayer and turn out the lights. 

Divine Companion, shelter me under your wings of love. Grant me a peaceful night and a restful sleep. Amen.  
                                                          Joyce Rupp

Two Evening Prayers by Marianne Williamson

Dear God,
Thank You for this day.
Thank You for my safety and the safety of my loved ones.
As I enter sleep, may these hours give me peace.
May they bring healing to my mind and body.
Where there is pain, where there are people who have no place to sleep, who suffer and who die, may Your angels come unto them and minister to their lives.
Dear Lord,
Please let the light stream in.
Please use my hours of sleep.
Please prepare me during these hours of rest for greater service to You.
May the light that surrounds me, tomorrow shine through me.
Soften my heart.
Thank you, Lord.

Dear God,
I surrender to You the day now over.
May only the love remain.
Take all else into the fire of Your transformative power.
Release me, release others, from any wrongdoing.
Dear God,
Return me to Your light.
As I now give to You who I am, what I did, who I loved, who I failed to love, please make all things right.
Take all things.
May I continue to grow in Your light and love.
Tomorrow may I be better.

An Invitation
What is your evening routine? Does it include time to review and bless the day? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Morning Time: Tuesday Reflections

How do you begin your day? Are you a coffee and the newspaper person? Or do you go for a walk with your dog or on your own as your first  activity of the day? 

As soon as I have made the bed, I head upstairs to my sanctuary garret. Until recently, I spent the first hour or more in meditation and devotion time. Lately, however, I have decided to use the first hours of my day for writing. Much to my surprise, the rest of the day seems to fall into place, including time for meditation later in the day. 

Before I begin writing, however, I take a moment to breathe myself open to the day with a brief morning prayer. My morning prayer is my jumpstart into the day. I offer one of my own or I choose a favorite. 

Dear God,
I give this day to You.
May my mind stay centered on the things of spirit.
May I not be tempted to stray from love.
As I begin this day, I open to receive You.
Please enter where you already abide.
May my mind and heart be pure and true, and may I not deviate     from the things of goodness. 
May I see the love and innocence in all humankind, behind the masks we all wear and the illusions of this worldly plane.
I surrender to You my doings of this day. 
I ask only that they serve You and the healing of the world.
May I bring Your love and goodness with me, to give unto others wherever I go.
Make me the person You would have me be.
Direct my footsteps and show me what You would have me do. 
Make the world a safer, more beautiful place.
Bless all your creatures.
Heal us all and use me, dear Lord, that I might know the joy of being used by You.
                                           Marianne Williamson

May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,
Clear in word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more. 

                                              John O'Donohue

Beloved Friend, I open myself to be of service. Please help me be your arms and willingly hold those who need a healing touch. Open my eyes that I may truly see what you ask of me today. Open my ears that I may truly hear and respond to the cries of joy and sorrow from your children. May the words of my mouth be the meditations of your heart and may I sow peace wherever I go. Amen.

No matter what else happens in the day, what direction I am bidden or what new choices are presented, I have had this quiet moment of connection with the Divine. 

An Invitation
How do you start your day? What prayer, formal or informal, do you offer as you start a new day? I would love to know.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Turkey Time: Thursday Reflections

After doing some errands the other day I decided to drive through the neighborhood where we raised our kids, Crocus Hill, an area of homes built primarily in the early 1900's. Large, elegant homes that seemed to have the Midas touch on this sunny, and amazingly warm November day. I drove through a shimmering gold velvet curtain as leaves formed paths of gold on the streets, sidewalks and lawns. 

A gift of a day, all on its own, but that wasn't enough, for what did I see in the front yard of one of those stately homes? Turkeys! A flock of wild turkeys. Only they weren't so wild. I pulled over to the side and got out of my car to observe them. A few began to amble to the next yard --no rush. A couple others were taking a break in the shade and not about to move on my account. 

The turkey is sometimes called the "earth eagle," according to Animal-Speak, The Spiritual and Magical Powers of creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews. Turkeys are associated with spirituality and with honoring Mother Earth. The turkey "is a symbol of all the blessings that the Earth contains" and they find "strength in numbers and thus reflect the energy of sharing." 

Medicine Cards, The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals by Jamie Sams and David Carson describes the turkey as the symbol of "give-away," sharing, even sacrificing for the good of others. "Help and sustenance is given by Turkey out of the realization that all life is sacred. It is knowing that the Great Spirit resides within all people. It is an acknowledgement that what you do for others you do for yourself."

I know it is no longer unusual to see flocks of turkeys when driving in the countryside and even in more urban areas. In fact, when we drive on crazy busy 494 not far from the airport we often see a flock, but seeing them yesterday seemed unusual. 

Perhaps I needed a reminder as we enter a time of giving thanks that others are in need of our "give-away." Before the rush of the upcoming season, the turkeys can remind us to consider the ways we will share our own bounty with those in need. After all, "Doing unto others and feeding the people is the message of all true spiritual systems." (Sams, 161-162)

What a gift yesterday was. What a gift every day is. As my 92 year-old father says, "Everyday is a good day." 

Oh, and I must remember to order our Thanksgiving turkey!

An Invitation
What are your plans for "give-away" this season? How does "turkey" show up in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Limited View: Tuesday's Reflection

I love sitting at my desk in my garret, even though the view from my desk is limited. The two windows let in the day's light, and I am grateful for that, but what I actually see when seated at my desk is our garage roof. In order to see anything else, I need to leave my desk and stand at the top of the stairs. Then I can look down into our yard, beautifully tended by my husband, and I can see the neighbor's garage across the alley.

Before our new garage was built I could see the house behind us and even over onto the next street. I saw trees and the movement of people and cars. It wasn't a rolling hills over the valley kind of view, but I enjoyed the quiet urban neighborhood view. 

I am thrilled to have our new garage, especially as winter approaches, and the garage itself looks like a cottage with its window boxes and red door, but still, it has taken me awhile to adjust to the lack of a view. Or at least a view that changes or holds some interest. 

Except, of course, for the next door neighbor's large overflowing flowering crab tree. The branches extend over our back yard, and right now they are full of bright orange fruit, lunch and dinner for the birds all winter. The branches sway with the breeze and remind me that beyond the shingled roof, there is beauty and bounty. 

Here's what the view from my window can teach me:
*   Sometimes to get a new view, a new perspective, I need to move, to go some place else, or do something different or new. 
*   Sometimes I need to let go of an earlier viewpoint or perspective. What was, isn't necessarily a reality anymore.
*   Each view, each perspective has something to offer, but I need to open to it, awaken to it. 

The other day I stood in the backyard and looked up at this tree, which is such a contrast to the other neighborhood trees. Instead, of rushing to empty and to become winter bare, this tree remains lush and abundant. Now that's a perspective I can try to adopt--to understand the ways in which I remain a tree of plenitude. 

An Invitation
What new views await you? What change of perspective calls you? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Choices: Thursday's Reflections

I think of myself as a voracious reader, but lately, my reading has been scattered, and I have been yearning for a reading retreat. I fantasize about heading to the North Shore for several days to read. I would want a view of the water and a comfortable chair and ottoman because I like to read with my legs stretched out in front of me. A fireplace would be nice. Good simple food, hot chocolate, some wine, and a shawl wrapped around my shoulders. 

And, of course, a big pile of books. I would bring more books with me than I know I could read in the allotted time, but a book lover is always concerned about finishing a book and not having another one right there. Read the last page of one book and immediately open to the first book of another. Or there is the anxiety of bringing a book you are sure you will love only to discover you don't like it at all. Be prepared, is my motto, and bring a stack of possibilities. (I know that issue could be solved by reading E books, but I cling to the feel of a book in my hand.)

Louise deSalvo, author of The Art of Slow Writing, Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity, refers to "in and out" reading. Reading  a few pages in-between other activities. I think of that as "stolen reading." She recalls the luxury of falling into reading when she was a child, bringing home a stack of books from the library in the summer and sitting on her porch and reading as long as she wanted.  

The summer before sixth grade I read so much my mother said I wore out the upholstery on a chair. How delicious were those days of total reading immersion.

So what is preventing me from doing that kind of reading right now? I don't have the water view, but I certainly have more than one comfortable chair and ottoman in quiet spaces. Hot chocolate and wine are available. Plus, I have more than enough books to stack at my side, awaiting their turn. 

I have been making different choices about my time. I do read in the morning during my morning meditation and devotion time, and  usually I read a bit before turning off my bedside light, but more and more I put my head on the pillow and close my eyes as soon as I crawl into bed. What has changed in recent months is how I spend my evenings. We have been eating our dinner on trays in front of the tv (I can't believe I am admitting this!) and have immersed ourselves in one series after another on Netflix or Acorn. We just finished watching season one of The Great British Bake Off, for example, but we also loved Restless and George Gently and Foyle's War and Partners in Crime and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Being able to watch one right after the other and as many as we want is seductive. One of us will say, "Just one more," and there we are for another hour. 

In conversations with others in our age category I have discovered we are not alone in this new attraction and I don't feel a need to justify it, but like everything else, when I choose to spend my time in this way, I am not choosing something else. 

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic says, "If you can't do what you long to do, go do something else." I may long for a reading retreat, but I also know I don't want to take more time away from my writing. That happens enough as it is.  Going away for a chunk of time just isn't in the cards right now. That means it is time to make some different choices.

This week we are eating at the dining room table, and after dinner I gather my current pile of books and move into the room we call the Snuggery, our sun porch, and I read ALL evening and even read more when I crawl into bed. It is divine. I am immersed in a novel called The Tortoise and the Hare by an English writer in the 40's and 50's, Elizabeth Jenkins, previously unknown to me, but I am also reading Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir and a memoir by Sandra Gubar, Memoir of a Debulked Woman, Enduring Ovarian Cancer.  I have another book in the stack, The Last Gift of Time, Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn Heilbrun, but haven't started that. Yet. 

I am not saying this is what I will do every evening, but I listened to my yearning and realized what I needed in that moment was to make a different choice. I did that, and I can do that in the future. 

An Invitation
What different choice could you make right now that would touch a yearning within you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fall Transitions and Transformation: Tuesday's Reflection

In what ways have you made the transition into fall? What are you doing that is different from even a month ago? What are signs of this shift?

I now shut the front door when I come in from outside, instead of keeping it open to the glass storm door. 

I fix a cup of hot chocolate when I return from my morning walk, especially if I have neglected to grab a pair of lightweight gloves as I leave the house. The steam from the hot chocolate mimics the steam on my glasses when I step back into the house.

I wrap myself in a shawl during morning devotion time and sometimes even later when I work at my desk. 

I turn on the kitchen lights when I fix dinner, for the darkness appears earlier and earlier. And dinner these days is often soup or squash or other hearty food. 

I clean my closet, folding and storing summer clothes, replacing them with sweaters and corduroy shirts and pants. I switch spring jackets and raincoat for winter vests and heavy coats. 

I don't miss a chance to comment on the glories of these days, the gifts of a long fall. Often the response from stranger or friend will be about the dreaded winter. I nod and smile, as if in agreement, but I am a winter-lover, as much as a fall enthusiast. 

And yet, just the other day I sat outside on the front step and ate my turkey sandwich and read in the noontime sunshine. The shift is not yet complete.

That's the thing about fall. 

          Autumn holds fragments of other seasons in transform-
          ative arms. Even while forecasting an end to lush green
          summer, we are still gifted with some warm, green
          moments. The quiet turning of the leaves from summer
          green to radiant arrays of color offers us a splendor as 
          lovely as the blossoms of spring. Sitting in autumn's
          quiet sunlight can be a sonnet without words. Ever so
          slowly, this season turns its face toward winter. It is a
          bridge between the warmth and the cold. Beginning
          with summer's dew still in its hair, it can quickly
           become a friend of winter's frost. 
                                   The Circle of Life,
                                   The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons
                                   Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr

Fall is the perfect time to think about the shifts in our lives. Yes, our external lives, but also our inner lives. Where on the bridge of your life are you standing? "What do we need to gather into our spiritual barns? What in our lives needs to fall away like autumn leaves so another life waiting in the wings can have its turn to live?" (The Circle of Life, p. 168)

The balance between trees still sheltered by leaves in rich colors to bare branches shifts daily, even hourly. The sidewalk becomes a broadcast of leaf shuffling, and pumpkins seem to appear spontaneously on steps. We can wake to the trees as they surrender their hold on the leaves and to the leaves as they let go. 

Come, let us discover what needs to shift in our own lives and awaken to the next stage of our lives.

An Invitation
How is fall your teacher? What message does fall have for your inner life? I would love to know.  

Note: Thanks to Daniel Mauer for including one of my recent posts on "transformation" on his dynamic site Transformation Is Real. Daniel is a writer and speaker and recovery advocate and is passionate about sharing stories about the role of transformation in people's lives. You can read my post and visit his site here.