Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Graduation

As I wrapped a present for our youngest niece who is graduating from college next week, I thought about my own college graduation 45 years ago. Is that really possible? I remember being on campus and seeing all those "old" people return for Homecoming or reunions or the annual Christmas Festival and feeling a bit smug in my youth. Now I am one of those old people, and I am no longer smug.

I was one of the lucky ones in 1970. I had a job before my diploma was in my hands, a teaching contract for a brand new junior high school in Rochester, MN, and I was more than eager to begin that challenge. I felt ready to begin the next stage in my life. 

On my way to the registrar's office to pick up my diploma after the ceremony, I passed the man who is now my husband. We had dated in college off and on, but mostly off, as we always say when someone asks us about how we met. We had not dated senior year, but we were friends with no hard feelings about our stalled relationship. As we passed each other, I waved and said, "Have a nice life." And that was that. Little did I know that in the summer of 1971 we would get married, but that is another story. A good story. 

What I didn't know on graduation day --and how can anyone know--was all the detours I would take, all the scenic overlooks that would grab my attention, all the joys and sorrows, the changes, even the dead ends. Two children now with wonderful spouses, two grandchildren, several moves and homes, a circle of friends, changes in career, loss of my mother and a few friends. Opportunities taken and opportunities missed. 

I thought I knew on graduation day whom I was, and, of course, what I have learned over the years was that I only knew a version of myself. Those years between 1970 and today allowed me to form,  re-form, modify and clarify that knowledge of myself. I accepted new roles and added layers to myself over the years--not always true ones. I sometimes allowed myself to be what others wanted me to be, but sometimes the expectations of others helped me know more about whom I really am and not just whom I thought I wanted to be. 

I continue to learn, but now the search is not so much about my persona in the world, but, instead, is much more about discovering the person I was created to be and how to live my essence. A spiritual search for sure. 

And the time to conduct this search is certainly shorter than it once was. 

As we age many of us struggle, especially when faced with serious physical challenges, to be whom we are, but what does that really mean? How do we define whom we are? What is it that makes me, me and you, you? When do you feel most like the person you were created to be? Are you still that person when stripped of certain roles in your life or physical or mental abilities? 

I have no concrete answers, but I know that intentionally including spiritual practices into my life and attempting to live in the present moment enhances my awareness of this person I call "me." I know that thinking about what gives my life meaning and what my purpose is now, even though what I may DO in the world may feel diminished, helps me dig down to my essence. I know that for me paying attention to how God is moving in my life helps me stay in touch with my ongoing evolution into myself.

I rejoice for all those who are graduating. I thank God for their talents and abilities, their desires and hopes and dreams. May all be well for them, especially our dear niece. But I urge them to look kindly on all of us who graduated so long ago, for we still have our hopes and dreams, too, and we still have gifts to share, and we are still becoming whom we were created to be. 

An Invitation
How are you evolving? What do you know now about yourself that you didn't know when you last wore a cap and gown? I would love to know.   

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Spring Thoughts

As I set out on my walk this morning, I wondered if my walking time would yield a topic for this post. I hoped it would, for I didn't seem to have any ideas in a stash ready to be accessed. The morning was fresh and clear and truly, a spring day, rather than a day transitioning from late winter to spring. That was last week, when I wondered if I had stored my winter clothes too soon.

This morning, however, I allowed myself to just BE spring. I noticed how neighbors had moved furniture onto decks and patios. Spring clean-up had gotten many helping hands over the weekend. Pots emptied of gristly, dried evergreen branches leftover from the holidays. Garden beds cleared of leaf mulch, uncovering green tips eager to make an appearance. Bikes and rakes leaned against garage walls and front storm doors were open, welcoming the sun inside. Soon windows will be open, too. Spring has eased its way home and has invited us to newness within ourselves. 

John O'Donohue says in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings, "I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over." 

It seems to me spring is the reminder to "take a risk for growth." 

When we lived in the Cleveland area we often heard people say that it wasn't really spring until it had snowed on the daffodils three times. Those daffodils took a risk for growth every year, never knowing how much cold, how many inches of snow they would have to survive in order to thrive. What good role models those daffodils can be for each of us, as we enter this next season of the year and perhaps a new season in our life as well. 

I returned home, not with any clear cut idea for today's post, but I had seen trees newly clothed in leaves and blossoms. I had noticed greens Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore at this very minute are trying to replicate. I had seen children on their way to school, bold and newly unbundled. Why not discard my sweater, too, and eliminate a layer of self-absorption or self-doubt? I expanded my lungs with freshness, like sheets drying on a clothesline, swelling in the breeze. 

Now is the time. This is the season. Be a daffodil and take a risk. Be the green without a name. Discard one more layer, reaching into your essence. Unbundle. Blossom. Reach up. Grow. 

Marianne Williamson's prayer for a new day from Illuminata, A Return to Prayer, p. 79

Dear God,
Thank you for this new day, its beauty and its light.
Thank you for the chance to begin again.
Free me from the limitations of yesterday.
Today may  be reborn. 
May I become more fully a reflection of Your radiance.
Give me strength and compassion and courage and wisdom.
Show me the light in myself and others.
May I recognize the good that is available everywhere.
May I be, this day, an instrument of love and healing.
Lead me into gentle pastures.
Give me deep peace that I might serve You most deeply.

An Invitation
How can spring be your teacher? How will spring enter your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Two Book Recommendations

The other night my husband finished Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and felt he now needed to read something "light." What could I recommend? Well…. while I dip into good mysteries now and then and, in fact, am waiting for the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery by Jacqueline Winspear to arrive on my doorstep, and I will be at the bookstore the minute the new Louise Penny mystery is released in August, most of my reading, fiction and nonfiction, is not particularly light.

The two books I am recommending today would not be classified as light, although one of them is written in a lighter, almost breezy style. Both confront tough issues of living and dying and both have a great deal to contribute to how we choose to face our lives in crisis and loss. 

We Know How This Ends, Living While Dying by Bruce H. Kramer with Cathy Wurzer grew out of broadcast conversations on Minnesota Public Radio. Wurzer interviewed Kramer who was diagnosed with ALS in 2010.  He died at age 59 only weeks ago just as the book was released. If I happened to have the radio on when one of those conversations was aired, I found myself stopping in the middle of whatever it was I was doing. I actually pulled into a parking lot once so I could listen without distraction. This is a man who not only accepted this horrendous diagnosis, but deepened his living. He also widened his connections through these broadcasts and his blog Dis Ease Diary and now this book.

Kramer explores in this book how we are all "dis eased." We each carry dis ease in some aspect of our life, whether it is disease or some other trauma or unexpected change in the life path we think we can control. 

          We are taught that dis ease is easily managed by the
          right life, the right beliefs, the right partners, the right
          jobs, the right nationality, the right possessions, the right
          dreams. We are told that dis ease is easily held at bay.
          Avoid disease, and the dis ease spawned by the very act
          of living does not have to exist. Until we experience disease
          we don't know how bounded, how delimited, how inadequate
          are our abilities….Disease takes you to the precipice of
          horror. Dis ease offers beautiful vistas of hurt and healing
          and hope…Dis ease gives us choice. We can awaken and 
          pay attention to the entire narrative, or we can deny and
          pretend unawareness. pages 31-33

I was moved by so much in the book, but especially by one chapter, "The Tell." He writes about telling family and friends about his new status, about the diagnosis of ALS.  As he tells people about his disease, he discovers  the "dis ease experience is not just in the teller but also in the told." So much can be revealed by how someone reacts to what they are told. Have you had the experience of revealing something painful in your life and the person told shares pain and sorrow in their own lives? Kramer responds with a generous heart.

         …we humans carry our past, present, and future pains and
        joys, hopes and fears just underneath the veneer that
        we present to the outside world. Truly, it has been like
        traversing an archaeological dig, with each Tell a 
        personal story illuminating the human condition. It has
        been a gift of privilege and healing. p. 42

As I read this book, I vacillated between underlining each time I felt myself expelling a quick "oh" or "ah-ha" breath or reading without stopping, needing to be with Kramer on his journey of choosing life while dying, needing to learn as much as I could from this man who lived beyond bravery into grace and awareness. I will read this book again. 

You may know Alice Hoffman as the author of a long list of novels for adults and also for young adults. I loved her books, Illumination Night, Second Nature, Practical Magic, Here on Earth, and many others. A prolific writer who happens to be a survivor of breast cancer, she wrote the book she needed for herself. "I need to know how people survived the trauma. The book is Survival Lessons, a small book that echoes her main learning from her own experience. 

          There is always a before and an after. My advice,
           travel light. Choose only what you need most to
           see you through. 

The chapter titles are instructive: "Choose Your Heroes," "Choose to Enjoy Yourself," "Choose to Plan for the Future," "Choose to Make Things Beautiful," "Choose to Give Into Yourself," "Choose to Be Yourself." In the chapter "Choose How You Spend Your Time," she encourages us to revisit the stories we loved as children, saying we will love them even more now. 

           Sometimes I think we can learn everything we need
           to know about the world when we read fairy tales.
           Be careful, be fearless, be honest, leave a trail of
           crumbs to lead you home again.  p. 33

Hoffman wrote the book as a reminder to herself of the beauty of life. 

            There were many times when I forgot about roses
            and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up
            of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible
            to have one without the other. This is what makes us
            human. This is why our world is so precious. I wrote to
            remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still 
            bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind
            myself that, despite everything that was happening to
            me, there were still choices I could make. pages vii-viii.

Hoffman was diagnosed with breast cancer over fifteen years ago and continues to write, and Kramer lived with ALS for about five years before he died. If they had met, I wonder what they would have shared with each other and how they would have inspired and deepened each other. It seems to me, although their writing styles differ greatly (There are no brownie recipes or knitting instructions in Kramer's book.), I suspect they would have supported and reinforced each other's key message to live life with awakened awareness. 

An Invitation
What have you read or heard recently that inspires you to live with awakened awareness? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white 

I wonder if this poem written in 1923 is still studied in high school English classes. Maybe its simplicity of language and image aren't viewed as remarkable today as it once was, but I do hope young poets continue to wonder what depends on a red wheelbarrow. 

On the sidewalk in front of our house I see a red wheelbarrow. A child's wheelbarrow.  Slung over the top is a jacket, which is now wet, because it rained for a few minutes this morning. I am sure it belongs to one of the children a few doors away and in the flurry of coming in for baths and bedtime routine it was forgotten. I suspect that is a busy household, scattered with every manner of kid gear. 

Yesterday as I sat at my desk in the afternoon I could hear through my open window a young child crying, an angry cry, a cry of defiance, an expression of "No, I won't." Perhaps that's when the child was carried kicking and screaming back to her house and the wheelbarrow was left behind and poor Mom or poor Dad gave no more thought to it. 

Sometimes, instead of the wheelbarrow, a pink trike is left behind. Or I may find chalk art drawings--a smiling face, a dog, squiggles and swirls. I love this evidence of young life. 

I suppose I could return the wheelbarrow to its home, but I would prefer to see one of those children come to retrieve it. I could smile and wave from our window or if I am outside we might have a little chat. I would like that.

When I was in elementary school, I was afraid of one of our neighbors, George Olson. He had a perfectly groomed corner yard with a white fence around it. Unfortunately, it was not tall enough or solid enough to prevent a softball from landing in his yard by mistake. We kids would be so scared every time we had to hop the fence and retrieve a ball. I don't know for a fact that he would have been upset, but we thought he would be. He was not only tall and imposing looking, but in my mind he also seemed quite old. A figure not to be reckoned with. 

I prefer not to be a "Georgette" on our block, but instead I hope the children on our block feel safe and secure as they run and play and yes, leave red wheelbarrows. That is my wish for all children, even though I know so many face dangers in their own homes, let alone in the world around them. 

Another poem. This one by Mary Oliver, "I Happened To Be Standing" in A Thousand Mornings.

          I don't know where prayers go,
                 or what they do.
          Do cats pray, while they sleep
                 half-asleep in the sun?
          Does the opossum pray as it
                 crosses the street?
           The sunflowers? The old black oak
                 growing older every year?
            I know I can walk through the world,
                 along the shore or under the trees,
            with my mind filled with things
                 of little importance, in full
            self-attendance. A condition I can't really
                 call being alive.
            Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
                 or does it matter?
            The sunflowers blaze, maybe that's their way.
            Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

            While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
             just outside my door, with my notebook open,
             which is the way I begin every morning.
             Then a wren in the privet began to sing. 

             He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
             I don't know why. And yet, why not.
             I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe
             or whatever you don't. That's your business.
             But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be
                   if it isn't prayer?
             So I just listened, my pen in the air.

And I just gazed at the red wheelbarrow. For so much depends on it. 

An Invitation
What do you see as you look out your front window? Or what do you hear as you stand in your doorway? What prayer is lifted from you as you look, as you listen? I would love to know. 


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: A House of Books and Art

I know the home decor magazines tell us to decorate bookshelves in our home with interesting objects, not just books, but in my opinion, bookshelves are mainly for books. And if there is space on the shelf, that means there is room for another book. At least that is the way it is in this house. Here is a sample of some of our bookshelves. 

Books in the entryway.

Books in the living room.                       


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: A Pretty Bowl

One of our main forms of entertainment over the years has been antiquing. My husband Bruce and I have traveled many miles to attend antique shows and have visited many small towns with main street antique malls. We attended Friday night auctions when we lived at Sweetwater Farm in Ohio and visited favorite shops regularly wherever we lived. 

The result is a lot of stuff! Now, of course, we have downsized and are slowly but surely dispersing our stuff. Not an easy task, as many of you know who are also eager to lighten the load. This is a normal part of being at this stage of life, it seems. 

I have no regrets about the collecting. Such fun we have had, and what pleasure we have derived from using what we have collected, and I admit I still love changing vignettes on tabletops, but I am no longer changing slipcovers and curtains and rugs and pictures --everything--when the seasons change. This is a time of editing, of using my time and energy for other pursuits, of being more content with less. I hasten to add that no one coming into our home, however, would say we have achieved a spare look! 

So why then did we go to an antique market recently and why did I buy a bowl? I told myself I was going to rein in my husband who still has the collecting bug more than I do, but he came home with nothing, and I bought a bowl. I went for the eye candy and the pure pleasure of seeing interesting and pretty things and maybe even to see prices of things we have as we mark for our spring garage sales. I went because I could and because I wanted to go. 

As we approached the first booth, I could feel myself becoming eager. What will I find? What will attract us? But I also felt reluctant, hesitant, and even a bit disinterested. This felt like a "been there, done that" moment.

Then I saw this darling bowl. English, painted with small forget-me-nots, and it said spring to me. Besides, I love bowls. Just look in my cupboards! It wasn't expensive and Bruce liked it, too, and it will look cute with a houseplant in it, and it won't take up much room, anyway. 

As we continued through the show, me with the bowl in my hands, we both spotted other things that in another time, another place would have come home with us. We were especially tempted by a vintage wood sign painted a baby pink with the words Cottages for Rent. (We have also collected signs over the years.) Darling. Bruce asked me if there was a spot in my garret where I could hang it and believe me, I thought long and hard about that, but there isn't, and as I paused, I realized even if I did have room for it, I don't have to have it. This is now and that sign was then. 

I did enjoy seeing what a younger generation is attracted to now and love that people are recycling, upcycling objects from the past and being creative in their decor, but I came home thinking more about what else I can do to simplify the look in our home, instead of making room for more stuff.

Now what about that bowl? I did buy it. In one regard I wish I hadn't, but I have decided it will be a reminder to me of another time, another place. I don't promise to cease and desist from attending any future antique shows, and I know I will find just the perfect thing yet again. I am comfortable with that, but I hope when temptation presents itself, I will respond as the person I am today and with mindful attention to the time and place I live in now.

An Invitation
What tempts you these days? Are your temptations reminiscent of another time and place in your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Tears Outside the Tomb

When we moved back to St Paul, after 20 years of pilgrimage, although sometimes it felt like an exile, and started attending the church we soon joined, I cried at some point in every service. Often it was during communion, but sometimes it was during a hymn I loved or during the processional, and always during a baptism. 

After awhile I simply decided that was the way it was. I have always been someone who cries easily; one of those people who cries during tender commercials no matter how many times I have seen the young man sneak quietly into the house on Christmas morning to surprise his unsuspecting parents. Perhaps I was now stockpiling my tears for Sunday mornings.

When we left church after a very moving Maundy Thursday service, however, I commented, quite pleased with myself, that I had not cried, and I realized I had not cried during church for a couple months or so. Except during baptisms, of course. Those sweet babies and the poignancy of one of our pastors carrying the baby down the center aisle so everyone can get a good look will always get me. 

Well, so much for that theory. During the Good Friday service tears came after I and the rest of the congregation had come forth to drape red ribbons on the large wooden cross, symbolizing all we needed to lay at the foot of the cross, our regrets, our judgements and hurtful feelings, the harm we had done to ourselves and to others and to the world. I was dry-eyed when I sat down in the pew, but then our senior pastor solemnly bent down and kissed the cross. Tears come now even just remembering the moment. Well, it was Good Friday, a sober day in the season of our faith, so a tear or two should not be a surprise. 

Then it was Easter morning, a day, as one of our pastors said, that is an "explosion of love." This time the tears started as early as the first strains of the traditional, Easter hymn, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today. Alleluia." The brass, the bells and chimes, the flowers on the cross, the long procession. You know how it is when you feel a stinging in your eyes and you know there is no way to prevent tears? And I had forgotten to put a clean handkerchief in my purse. Oh well. Let the tears come.

So what is the meaning of all these tears? 

We had been unchurched or partially churched for a long time in our years since moving away from Minnesota. In Ohio we did our best to find a church home and were in fact members of a Lutheran congregation for awhile and were also regular attendees of two different Episcopal churches as well, but we never really settled in. That was shocking for us in a way, for we had been so involved in our church in Minnesota. We had naturally thought we would quickly find a church in Cleveland, but in spite of trying, we didn't find our pew. There are reasons for that which are too long for this post, but know we did try.  

It was during those years of being partially churched that I trained as a spiritual director and was exposed to a variety of spiritual practices, which continue to undergird my personal faith explorations. This was a time of deep stretching for me.

When we moved to Madison, which is more in the heartland of Lutheranism, our preferred denomination, we assumed once again we would find our place, but that was not to be. To be honest, we didn't try as hard as we did in Cleveland. We had come to enjoy a more unstructured Sunday morning and when we were with family in Minnesota, which was often, we enjoyed going to church with them. Occasionally, I would attend a service here and there, hoping I might recognize a feeling of "This is it," but perhaps I wasn't listening well enough.  I participated in centering prayer groups and met with a spiritual director and continued practicing various spiritual practices on a regular basis, and all that was good. 

Then we moved home. Full circle. And that's when the Sunday morning ritual of tears began. I felt as if the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. I had buried the empty feelings of not being part of an ongoing community. Even though I still struggle with some aspect of the theology presented in our liturgy and even though I shudder at some of what the church has represented and done over the centuries, I have missed not having the place where I can open my heart and address my own questions and wonderings. I have missed hearing my own voice merging with others, as well as sitting in silence with those known and unknown to me.  

My tears were (are) part of coming home, of finding home, of being home. My tears are a visible sign that I have returned, and I have been welcomed. 

Another story--perhaps it is related and perhaps, not, but I want to tell it anyway. Many years ago the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted an exhibit from the Vatican and part of the exhibit was a painting by Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ, depicting Jesus' dead body being laid to rest in a tomb. It is a large painting, and in the museum it was in a room by itself. I toured the exhibit with our son Geof, who at that time was a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I love going to museums with him, for he teaches me how to see, always quietly pointing out something I otherwise would have missed. More than once those near us have sensed a teacher in their midst and have moved in closer to hear what he is saying.

This time Geof suggested I get down on my knees as close to the lower left hand corner of the painting that was allowed. In doing that I had the perspective of receiving the body. My heart reached out, "Here, let me help." I felt myself in the tomb along with Jesus and the others who loved him dearly. Soon others viewing the painting were on their knees as well.  In a way we had formed a spontaneous worshipping community. 

I will never forget that moment. 

I think I have needed to spend time in the tomb. It has not been wasted time or time without spiritual fruits, but now is the time to emerge from the tomb. The stone has been rolled away and I am finding new life, even as I come full circle. 

An Invitation
I realize the Easter story may not be your story, but I know we have each had times in our life of being entombed or times when we have felt hopeless on the other side of the deep dark and have been unable to roll away the stone, our own obstacles to new understandings and to the ability to take the next step. Have there been times when you have been asked to lift your hands and say, "Here, let me help."? What have those times meant for your spiritual growth? Are you in the tomb now? Are you waiting for the stone to be rolled away? Or are you now discovering life outside the entombment of old feelings, old hurts and transgressions? Are there tears? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tuesday's Reflection: Knowing When to Change

At the beginning of the Lenten season, our senior pastor said, "Let Lent change you." I have been sitting with that simple sentence all these past weeks, and now that we Christians are in the Easter season, I wonder what change  may have occurred within myself. Has there, in fact, been any change? 

What about you? Did Lent change you or now that it is April, and we are supposedly in the season of spring, was there some way you let March change you or winter change you? 

One of my life mottos is "If you do what you've always done, you get what you've always gotten." This is one of those simple and obvious statements, but I like it because it doesn't propose change for change's sake. Sometimes doing what you've always done results in ongoing good outcomes and positive wellbeing. Maybe it is following a certain recipe, knowing the soup that is served for dinner will always be delicious. Or maybe it is taking a walk every morning, knowing you will feel energized by the time you walk back in through your front door. Or is there a spiritual practice that nurtures you on a regular basis?

But sometimes we get stuck repeating and repeating a pattern, a habit, an action even though we know the results are not good for us or perhaps don't move us forward in our life or don't bring about a change, even though we say we want change. How often do you have a problem with your computer or your phone and you keep trying the same steps, hoping there will be a connection? What makes us think that doing something again will work when it didn't the first time or the fifth time? 

Recently I read the following statements. Unfortunately, I don't know where I read them, so I can't give proper credit.

           May I see what I do.
           May I do it differently.
           May I make this a way of life.

I love the simplicity of these statements, too, but I would amend them just a bit. 
           May I see what I do.
           May I know when I need to do it differently.
           May I do it differently.
           May I make this a way of life. 

I don't know if I am entering this season changed or not. I don't see any huge changes. I have certainly not lost any weight recently nor  have I made any big adjustments in my routines or habits. We have come through lots of big changes in the last year plus, and I am grateful for the one day follows another day that we seem to be in now. I know, however, change can also refer to the more subtle changes in one's attitude, one's outlook, and one's ability to listen to that inner voice. I know change can mean clearing the space to be more open to the movement of God in one's life. 

I hope Lent has made me more open. 
I hope I am more aware of what leads me closer to God and what closes me off from God.
I hope I can make that a way of life.

An Invitation
Have the last few weeks or months changed you? If so, in what way? How aware are you of what leads you closer to the person you were created to be and to the life you want to live? I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thursday's Reflection: Steadfast and Awake

During communion on Palm Sunday we sang this chant,
Stay with me. Remain here with me.
Watch and pray. Watch and pray.

These words commemorate when Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. He asked his disciples, according to the 14th chapter of Mark, to "Sit here while I pray….remain here, and keep awake." Of course, they fell asleep, "for their eyes were very heavy." The disciples intended to fully support their teacher during his time of great need, but they were tired, too, and overwhelmed by the loss that was to come. 

I remember the night my mother died, 12 years ago this Easter, and how the night seemed to go on and on. She didn't seem in distress, but clearly, she was no longer fully with us. I wondered how long we would need to wait till death overcame her. The waiting was hard. I was tired from all the previous days, weeks, and yes, months of watching and waiting, and yet, it didn't seem enough to just be there at her bedside with my father and sister. It didn't seem enough to stay there with her, remain there with her, to watch and pray, watch and pray. And yet, that was what was asked of me, and what I knew I needed to do for her and for myself. 

That was one time I managed to stay awake, to be steadfast, but I wonder about other times I have missed--not just the moment of someone's death, but the more ordinary passages in our life.

When have I not been awake enough to hear what someone is trying to tell me?
When have I not been awake enough to listen patiently and with the ears of my heart?
When have I missed opportunities to be with someone who simply needed a presence?
When have I chosen to end something prematurely, instead of letting events unfold? 
When have I attempted to control and dictate my own timetable, instead of surrendering to the unknown?
When have I not been awake to my own needs and have not listened to my inner voice?

Here's what Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book The Art of Communicating.

          In daily life we're disconnected from ourselves. We
          walk, but we don't know that we're walking. We're 
          here, but we don't know that we're here. We're alive,
          we don't know that we're alive. Throughout the day, we
          lose ourselves. To stop and communicate with yourself 
          is a revolutionary act. You sit down and stop that state
          of being lost, of not being yourself. You begin by just
          stopping whatever you're doing, sitting down, and
          connecting with yourself. This is called mindfulness
          awareness. Mindfulness is full awareness of the present 
          moment. p. 15
          Mindfulness lets us listen to the pain, the sorrow, and
          the fear inside. When we see that some suffering or some
          pain is coming up, we don't try to run away from it. In 
          fact, we have to go back and take care of it. We're not
          afraid of being overwhelmed, because we know how to
          breathe and how to walk so as to generate energy of
          mindfulness to recognize and take care of the suffering.
          If you have enough mindfulness generated by the practice
          of mindful breathing and walking, you're no longer 
          afraid to be with yourself. p. 21

           When the energy of compassion is born, right away 
           we suffer less. When we suffer less, when we have
           compassion for ourselves, we can more easily 
           understand the suffering of another person and of
           the world. Then our communication with others will
           be based on the desire to understand rather than the
           desire to prove ourselves right or make ourselves
           feel better. We will have only the intention to help.
           p. 31.

What does the practice of mindfulness have to do with staying, remaining, watching and praying? It has everything to do with it, I think. Being mindful means being awake and when we are awake, we know what it is we are asked to do for ourselves and for others. We know how to be with one another and with our own suffering. 

Sometimes the chant -- Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray. Watch and pray. -- is a plea to us from someone we love or maybe know only somewhat. Or it may be a call from people whom we know not at all. Or the entreaty may come from within ourselves. How will you respond?

To listen to the Taize chant Stay with Me, follow this link 

An Invitation
When have you been invited to stay, remain, watch and pray? How have you responded? And when have you needed someone to stay, remain, watch and pray, and how was that need answered? I would love to know.