Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rainbows of Hope: Tuesday's Reflection

I love our neighbors. The family -- wife, husband, two children, a boy and a girl -- hung a symbol of "love wins" outside their house after the Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality.  Each time I look out our front windows or walk out the front door, I am reminded change can happen. Transformation is possible, and hope lives.

I don't write in this blog often about current events. Perhaps I should, for my prayer and meditation time holds the joys and the many sorrows of our world. I have sat in tears, as many of you have, reflecting on the hate unleashed in Charleston, but that, unfortunately, is only one example of far too many where conflicts and oppression and yes, evil, are all too obvious. Praying the news is a spiritual practice it would be well to pursue. 

The recent Supreme Court decision is a specific answer for many whose lives have been in the "wait" position, but I think the ruling offers the rest of us not only a renewal of hope, but also a challenge. How open are we? How wide and deep are the eyes of our heart? 

I love this story from the renowned Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber:
           An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they
           could tell when the night had ended and the 
           day had begun.
           "Could it be," asked one student, "when you can
           see an animal in the distance and tell whether it's a 
           sheep or a dog?"
           "No," answered the rabbi.
           Another asked, "Is it when you can look at a tree
           in the distance and tell whether it's a fig tree or a
           peach tree?"
           "No," answered the rabbi.
           "Then what is it?" the pupils demanded.
           "It is when you can look on the face of any woman or
           man and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if
           you can not see this, it is still night."

I'm sure many of us have changed our minds about this issue and other issues, as well, over the years. We have grown in wisdom and love and openness, and look, what's possible when we commit to being one with our sisters and brothers. Isn't life so much richer and joyful when we live in a state of awakened love? 

So congratulations to all who have waited for this day, but each of us, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religious affiliation, background or economic status, need the gift of this day. My prayer, especially as we approach our nation's 4th of July celebration, is that we learn to live in harmony and understanding and joy with each other. 

An Invitation
What are the specific ways you can live in the rainbow of hope? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Intentions for Fulfillment: Thursday's Reflection

Recently, I reread an article I had filed from Spirituality and Health Magazine (September-October, 2010) by Steve Lawlor, "The Pattern of Fulfillment." 

In this article Lawlor says people who

          Enjoy life the most,
          Regularly express vitality and creativity,


       Create good news for and with others

follow a simple and powerful pattern. The words they seem to live by are:

         Know yourself.

         Be yourself.

         Give yourself away. 

An Invitation
I wish I had something pithy to say after sharing these words, but I don't. Instead, I would love to know what you have to say about Lawlor's observations. How do they apply to you? What meaning do these words have for you, if you find yourself struggling with the changes that come with aging? Do you struggle with meaning or purpose? 

What are you doing to know yourself, to get to know the person God created you to be? What spiritual practices help you in that process of growing and deepening? What hints have you felt recently that you don't know yourself as well you thought you did? What are you going to do about that? 

When do you most feel like yourself and what exactly does that feel and look like? When are you most present to yourself and therefore, to the world around you? What do you have to lose by being yourself? Would you recognize yourself if you could be yourself? How is being yourself a form of spiritual practice?

What fears do you have about giving yourself away? What is the worst that could happen? What does it even mean to give yourself away--if your give yourself away, what's left? What do you have to give that you possess tightly? What are some ways you could give yourself away and not lose yourself? Why are you holding so tightly onto yourself anyway? How could giving yourself away be a spiritual practice?

I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Reading: Tuesday's Reflection

Why is it I always make a list of books I want to read in the summer? Why bother when, looking back at the end of summer, I discover I have read only a few of the books I included on my list, but had wandered onto other titles?  

As a lifelong list-maker (I think I will add the initials LLM) after my name from now on), the very idea of creating another list is an opportunity not to be missed. Plus, there is always that feeling of summer stretching in front of us (Has anyone else noticed that it is already June 23 and July is already almost here?) and while I want to relax and let myself ooze into the days, I also don't want to let the days slip away without notice. Thus, a list as a source of measurement. Am I using these days well?

I look at my bookshelves, especially the shelves of books unread as of yet and think, yup, this summer I am going to finally read George Eliot's Middlemarch and finally, probably the last person in literate America, read Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, but I fear the summer will end with both of those still unread. 

This summer I will be writing more than reading, thanks to personal goals I have set for myself and also because of the intensive online class I am taking. The class, however, includes   assigned reading in some excellent writing books, and I am especially eager to reread I Could Tell You Stories, Sojourns in the Land of Memory by Minnesota's own Patricia Hampl

Because of my reading restrictions this summer, making THE LIST seems even more crucial this year. Suggestions and inspiration, as always comes from a variety of sources. First, there was an intriguing list reported in Bookwomen. BBC polled dozens of U.S. book critics, asking them to name the best books so far in this century. Four of the 20 books selected, by the way, are by women writers and a number are by writers of color from around the globe. I've only read four of the 20, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I recommend all four. One on the list intrigues me, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and a couple others are ones I missed when they first came out and I am grateful they have come to my attention again, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, but I don't know if they will make the summer list.

Another great source of inspiration is our couple's book group. We gathered this last weekend and discussed The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, which received mixed reviews from our esteemed group. I did not care for it myself. A couple months ago we read Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, many of us having read it more than once, and had one of our best discussions ever. Based on that, I wondered if we should consider revisiting books we had read earlier in our lives, possibly because they were assigned in high school or college classes. I encouraged our group to think about classics that might appeal more to our mature and experienced minds OR to think about books we loved the first time around and would like to read again. Here are some of those suggestions:
* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This book was one of the last books my mother read before she died. She had read it when it was first released and loved it both the first and second time. I read it many years ago and loved it, too. Interestingly, this book, which is often viewed as a "girls' book" was mentioned to the group by one of the men who thought it was wonderful.
* Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The group moaned when this was mentioned, but nonetheless...
* Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner. This is probably my husband's favorite book and one the group loved the first time we read it many years ago. 
* Babbit by Sinclair Lewis. Two of us had heard Garrison Keillor mention this book in a recent talk and that sparked our interest. 
* Giant by Edna Ferber. I don't think I have ever read this, but surely, I have read some of her books along the way.

And, drum roll please, our August book selection is Babbit by Sinclair Lewis.

As I thought about books I want to reread, at the top of my list ALWAYS are all of the Jane Austen books. I can hear you groan, but I don't care. I would also like to read Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, which I think will achieve classic status for generations to come, and two books by A.S. Byatt, Possession and The Children's Book--all three of those books are big books, but ones I know I would not regret devoting time to. 

So, Nancy, get on with it, I hear you say, if you are still with me. What is on your summer reading list? 

* All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Our book group read this months ago, but I was not at that meeting and just didn't get to it, and now feels like the perfect time. It is on my bedside table, and I will start it today.  
* Babbit by Sinclair Lewis. I am eager for the discussion
* A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith in homage to my mother and for the sheer pleasure of the reread. 
* The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
* Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell (Also recommended in book group)
* The new Louise Penny mystery due to be published in August. Can't wait. 

* The Grace in Aging, Awaken as You Grow Older by Kathleen Dowling Singh. This is my current morning meditation book, a slow, contemplative read, which I highly--deeply--recommend.
* Beween the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life by Joan Chittister
* The Odd Woman and the City, a memoir by Vivian Gornick. 

Books I Have Recently Read and Now Recommend

* Old Filth by Jane Gardam. FILTH stands for Failed in London Tried Hong Kong. I loved this book about a man who was a judge in Hong Kong but retires in England and looks back over his life.
* The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfrid Price, Puveryor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones. Set in Wales in 1924, I fell in love with the characters in this book who come to accept their own faults, as they encounters challenges to their hopes and dreams. A gentle and lovely book. 
* The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner. Wonderful chapters on crossing the threshold and walking, and embracing the unknown, among others. 

For Your Consideration and Reflection

          Has it ever occurred to you that the acts of reading
          and meditation resemble each other in many ways?
          Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical
          stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves--body,
          mind, and heart--engaged. Both can draw us deeply into
          ourselves. Our consciousness shifts. We are not our
          everyday selves with various roles to play in our
          families, our jobs, society, with our concerns, major 
          and minor, about the people we love, the things we 
          to do, our needs and wants, the state of the world. We
          become centered, our energy concentrated, with no
          purpose served by what we are doing other than the act 
          itself. We are, at the moment, only the reader, or the
                                          Walking a Literary Labyrinth,
                                           A Spirituality of Reading, pp.1-2
                                           Nancy M. Malone

An Invitation
Obviously, I am eager to know what is on your summer reading list. Happy reading! 


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Morning Walking Meditation: Thursday's Reflection

Yes, another one of those just right mornings. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right. I could hardly wait to hit the pavement this morning, in spite of the garret desk pulling me. Maybe because of all I felt I needed to accomplish today. 

I set off with words of Thomas Merton in my head.
         All we need is to experience what we already possess. 

This seems to me to be a statement about awakening and awareness. Such good words. Therefore, I set out easily, joyfully, to see what I could see, to bless what I saw, and to reflect on what entered my heart.

Here's my morning inventory.

Roses. I love the exuberance, the abundance of roses that have been allowed to grow with enthusiasm for many years. How can I live more exuberantly, more enthusiastically, sharing the abundance of my life?

Curbside Garden. In Cleveland this area between the street and the sidewalk was called "tree lawn," a most appropriate name, I think. In our neighborhood of small lawns I love seeing how people use the spaces available to them. How can I best use these years given to me?

Screen Porch. I admit it I still have porch envy. Not many of the homes in our neighborhood have an open or screened porch, and those that do, don't seem to be used. I rarely see people sitting on their porches, and I wonder why that is. Don't they know what they are missing? In each house we've owned that had a front porch we used it fully. What is it in my life I am not using fully?

Sidewalk Saying. I laughed out loud when I read this one, for it is such a good representation of male Scandinavian reticence. If you listen to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion or just live in Minnesota you know what I mean. What feelings am I not expressing and why is that?

Neat yards. When does neat and well-tended become rigid and boring? Are there ways I need to loosen up? 

Messy yards. I wonder about the people who live in homes where the yards and gardens seemed to have taken over, where all control seems to have been lost. Have they lost interest or physical ability or do they just not notice anymore? What is their story and is there someone who knows and cares? What am I no longer noticing and what do I need to tend?

Two Wishing Wells in One Yard. Does the owner have wishes that are too big for one well? What are my wishes, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown?

Hammock. This house not only has this luxurious hammock and pillow just ready for an afternoon book and nap, but also a screen porch. I wonder if they would like a new friend. How do I nurture myself?

Grecian Lady. The house where this elegant lady stands is simple and unadorned and in no way resembles a Greek temple. She doesn't seem to fit the location. What areas of my life do I need to accept with more elegance and grace? 

Mixed Metaphor. First, I notice the tall iron fence and concrete planters, and then I see the tin goats and gnome on the lawn. I laugh outloud and wonder how and why someone created two such different looks in one small yard. How can I live with greater lightness and humor? 

Ah, the gifts of a morning walk. 

          The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the
          capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the
          gift of paying attention. 
                           Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

An Invitation
I invite you to go for a walk today. What do you notice around you and inside of yourself? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Do You Think About the Word "Aging?" Tuesday's Reflection

The Beauty of Aging in Nature
I have been asked to plan with our church's seminary intern, a woman my age, a fall retreat for members who fall into the age category referred to as the Third Chapter of Life. This retreat is a follow-up to some previous programming on end-of-life planning and has been requested by many in the church. I am delighted to be part of this and feel certain we will have a positive response to the opportunity, IF we can come up with the right title.

At a recent planning meeting, Cate and I decided to call the retreat  "Aging as a Spiritual Practice." We will focus on opportunities for reflection and offer experiences with a variety of spiritual practices. However, when Cate announced the title to a Monday morning Bible Study group, which consists mainly of our target audience, we got a big thumbs down. The word "aging" is a "turn off" and they don't want to be in the "aging group." 

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, for being an elder in our youth culture is nothing to aspire to, but the reality is, my friends, the only way to prevent aging is to die. 

Isn't it time to stop blaming someone else, usually someone younger, for what seems to be the prevailing attitudes about being old, older, oldest as lesser than another age of our life? It is time for us, those in our 60's and above, to embrace the gifts and the blessings of this time without being unrealistic about the burdens. That's one reason why I refer so often in this blog to Joan Chittister's book, The Gift Of Years, Growing Older Gracefully. In each chapter, Chittister explores both the burden and the blessing of a specific topic such as "Possibility."
          A burden of these years is to assume that when the
          great change from being defined and delimited by
          the past--however good it may have been--is over, 
          that life is over.

          A blessing of these years is to realize early, that
          this stage of life is full of possibilities, full of the 
          desire to go on living, to seize the independence,
          to create new activities and networks of interesting
          new people.    p. 58. 

One can find shadow and light in everything, and aging is no exception, but being 30, 40, 50 or any age also has limiting challenges. Each age has its blessings, and each age its burdens. 

I'm sure you've heard and perhaps even used the phrase, "Aging is not for sissies," which seems to emphasize the physical challenges of this time and also the losses that mount up --all true--but it also creates a false view, I think, that we are somewhat better or stronger if we can rise above adversity. How about, instead, accepting the burden and the blessing that comes with whatever challenges appear along the way? What a legacy we can leave to younger generations, if we could stop begging to be seen as still young and vital and instead embrace all the ways we can live our wisdom.

Instead of playing the new game of "70 is the new 50," or is it "50 is the new 70" (neither of which makes any sense to me!), why not 70 is the new 70? In my case, 67 is the new 67. It is more important in my view to know how I feel about who I am right now and how I can live fully right now. What do I think are the blessings and the burdens in my life at the present moment and how do I intend to respond to them?

Kathleen Dowling Singh in her book with another title I love, The Grace in Aging, Awaken As You Grow Older offers a questionnaire on aging--an excellent way to reflect on how you feel about being in the category of aging. Here are some sample questions.
* How do you feel about aging?
* How has your appearance changed? How do you feel about it?
* How has your position in the world changed? How do you feel about it?
* How has your reception in the world changed? How do you feel about it?
* What are your fears about your own experience of aging--to date and in the future? 
* What views about aging and the elderly--both positive and negative--have you absorbed from your cultural and family background, and how do you feel these may be unconsciously influencing your current thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes? 
* In what aspects of living have you most directed your attention and energy to date? What has been nurturing, fulfilling, supportive? What has been stressful for you?
* How do you intend to direct your energy and attention in the years remaining to you?
* What are your thoughts about spiritual maturity? What is your commitment to your own spiritual maturity? What steps have you taken? What steps do you intend to take? What keeps you from taking them now?

Singh urges us to become elders, more than elderly, and she says the way to do that is to cultivate spiritual practices, which, in turn, awakens us to our own being. With that in mind what do you think about this as a potential title for the retreat? "Inspiration for the Third Chapter of Life, Spiritual Practice and Sacred Time"

An Invitation
I invite you to reflect on the questions above and to use them as a guide in living intentionally as an elder. I would love to know what you learn. 

Joan Chittister http://joanchittister.org
Kathleen Dowling Singh  http://www.kathleendowlingsingh.com      
A blog I enjoy reading: http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/ Note yesterday's post about the language of yesterday. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Challenge of Chaos: Thursday's Reflection

Bright and early worker men descended on The Little House to begin installing new windows--19 new windows. Our intention in our first years of living here is to make this house an even easier and more comfortable place for us as we age. Thus, the new garage that was built late last year. Also installation of central air conditioning,  plus other more minor adjustments to the mechanics of this vintage house. It is all good, and we are grateful we can make these changes. Of course they are not as much fun as new color on the walls or new chairs for the sun porch, which we call the snuggery, or the creation of new garden areas in the back yard, but we have lived in enough old homes to know how important it is to be good stewards of our homes. 

However, the process is not always so much fun, and this morning The Little House is in chaos. I chose to remain in the garret, hoping to get some work done in spite of the noise--pounding, buzzing, whirring, clanking, loud talking. I quickly discovered my meditation skills are not advanced enough to empty my mind while this kind of work is going on, and I found it difficult to read new material for my writing class, but I could copy and organize it, and I could respond to emails, and I could even work on blog posts. All was not lost, and the result--new draft-free windows--will be worth the temporary chaos. 

I know, however, I don't handle this kind of mess well. I keep a well-ordered and generally a ready for visitors home. I put away books and papers before I turn out the lights in the garret at night. Dishes are done before bed and the bed is made first thing in the morning. I work better that way, but sometimes chaos happens and it may last longer than this window project. What then?

And what if the chaos is not one of your choosing or one you have chosen to ignore until it is impossible to overlook or one you have even created yourself? What if the chaos in your life is not temporary, but will live with you, within you, for longer than you think you can bear? What then? Here's some help:
                         Let there be
                         an opening
                         into the quiet
                         that lies beneath
                         the chaos,
                         where you find
                         the peace
                         you did not think
                         and see what shimmers
                         within the storm.
                                    Jan Richardson

When I first read this poem at the beginning of this week of chaos, I marveled at the word "shimmer," for I have been encountering this word lately. Christine Valters Paintner uses it frequently in her book The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for The Journey Within. For example, she uses it to describe the first step in the spiritual practice of lectio divina, which is a contemplative way to read scripture. In this first step we notice a word or phrase that feels significant and captures your attention; a word or phrase that "shimmers." 

Can you read your life, including the current chaos, in a contemplative way? Is it possible in the chaos, whether it is external or internal, to find an opening into the quiet grounding of your being? What shimmers, although all seems dark and dank, layered with mud and misplaced expectations?  Can you peer underneath what has disappointed and hurt you, what has demanded your energy, and where you feel sadness and perhaps even anger to find a glimmer of peace and calm?  What glistens under the gloom? 

This is the time to call upon your superpower. At church on Sunday the young people graduating from high school and church were asked to name their superpowers. "The ability to eat chocolate cake at the speed of light." "I can talk to dogs." "Even though I procrastinate, I know how to get things done." I suspect each of these powers will serve them well, although in forms and for reasons they can not even suspect now. Their responses made me think about my own superpowers. By the time we get to our later years we have acquired and used more than one, but today I call upon the superpower I call "putting one foot in front of the other."  I can do what needs to be done, in spite of the distractions and the chaotic interference. What shimmers in spite of the storm is a glimpse of the Big Picture. In this case, new windows. But more than that I see myself surrendering to what is possible now. Even in the chaos. That is the real gift. 

An Invitation
What chaos are you currently experiencing? Can you accept the invitation to discover what shimmers beneath the chaos? I would love to know. 

Jan Richardson http://www.janrichardson.com
Christine Valters Paintner http://abbeyofthearts.com

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How Can It Be Friday Already? Tuesday's Reflection

Take time to Smell the Roses
How often do you get to the end of the week and wonder where the week went or how it could have passed so quickly? How often do you remark about how swiftly we have arrived at June and another school year is ending? I told my granddaughter she isn't allowed to be a seventh grader already. As if I have anything to say about the subject. When you or a loved one celebrate another birthday, do you wonder how it is possible to have arrived at this age? I am 67 and can't believe I have amassed that many years nor that Bruce and I have been married 44 years this coming August. 

I know where that time has gone. I see it in our children and grandchildren, for example. All I have to do is think about the number of places we have lived, the jobs we have had, places we have visited, and the friends we have been blessed to know along the way to realize lots of years were needed for that kind of living. When you add in the losses --friends and family who have died, one's own health issues, unrealized or changed dreams, and adjusted views of who we think we are and the life we thought we would have--I know I am no longer at the beginning of my days. 

I don't think I am at the end of my days yet either, but I am also aware that major life changes do not belong to everyone else. Kathleen Dowling Singh in her truly excellent book, The Grace in Aging, Awaken as Your Grow Older, reminds me that "many people in the 'sick' group were in the 'healthy' group yesterday." Life changes on a dime. 

The reality is time passes at the same rate it always has,, but as we age and there are fewer years ahead of than behind us, the grains of sand seem to flow into the bottom of the hour glass much faster. So what does this mean for how we are to live these days that melt like ice cream on a summer's day?

Singh says it is silly to pretend we are not aging. "Perhaps there's a bit of denial, perhaps a sense of the specialness of 'me' that allows me alone exclusion from the river of time." p. 10. She tells it like it is from the first paragraph in chapter one. The time for denial has worn out it's welcome, as if it was ever a guest worth serving and sheltering in the first place. 

More words from Singh:
          We are face to face with our last chance to experience
          our lives more fully and more freely, to experience it
          so much more able to love and give and forgive. Many
          of us have lived much of our lives as dress rehearsal,
          without the sharp mindfulness of opening night. p. 13

One of the the things I have always told myself I wanted to do was write, and I have done some writing--a few articles here and there, this blog, tons of letters and journals, essays for a book now set aside, but now is the time. I spend much of my days now writing, taking an intensive online class to support my book project and actually writing page after page for this book. It is time to stop being in denial that there will always be time to do what I say I want to do, but at the same time I don't want to miss the rest of my life. My friends and family and spiritual direction clients and new and exciting church activities. I don't want to miss today, June 9, 2015, or tomorrow or any day I am privileged to have after that. 

I am not advocating being more busy or doing more or doing less, whatever fits for you. What this time of our lives, really any time of our lives, for you don't have to be old to learn this, calls forth is our own awakening.  "This is mindfulness--intended, open, non interfering attention placed on each moment's arising." p. 41.

Each moment's arising.

And so I try to ask myself is this a moment for writing and if so how can I be most present to it? Is this a moment to leave my garret and go for a walk by myself or with my love? Is this a moment to respond to an invitation to go play somewhere? Is this a moment to initiate play? Is this a moment to set aside my agenda for the day and notice an unexpected gift? Is this a moment to listen to the subtle call of my inner voice or the whisper of another's call to me? 

Each moment's arising. 

And so the moments, the days, the weeks, the months and the years continue to flow quickly no matter what we do. My job is to bless that flow and to live in it wholly. 

An Invitation
In what ways have you been denying the passing of time and what exactly are you going to do about it? Now. I would love to know. 

The Grace in Aging by Kathleen Dowling Singh

Thursday, June 4, 2015

More Reflection Time with Men on a Bench: Thursday's Reflection

I know when I need to explore a topic more, for something shows up shouting or perhaps, whispering, "You're not done yet. Keep looking." Or in this case, "Sit down. You need more bench time." 

The day after I wrote about two different sculptures of men on benches, (See post.) I noticed another man on a bench, as I walked in the neighborhood. A Buddha figure sitting on a bench under a tree. He looked a little lonely, almost deserted with dried leaves cluttering the bench. Someone had not sat with him for a long time. I suspected he would be more than willing to listen to whatever was on my heart and would invite me to listen to my own heart, sharing the silence with me. With that invitation, my walk became more than trying to achieve my daily 10,000 steps goal. 

So here's my invitation to you. Find a bench or a comfortable chair or a swing in a park and sit. Imagine someone sitting next to you--or if you like, invite someone to come with you, but that someone needs to be willing to sit in silence, to share the space, to listen without judgment. That someone must be able to respond honestly, but compassionately, when asked. Perhaps that someone is your dog, rather than a person, or even a stuffed toy you can hug. Or your journal. Perhaps your friend on the bench will be someone who is no longer physically present --a parent or spouse or friend whom you miss very much. Invite the Buddha of your choice to sit with you. 

That's it. Just sit. Breathe and sit. You can close your eyes, if you wish. If you want to call this meditating, that's fine, but for the moment, just sit. Rest. Clear the space in your head where muddled thoughts reside in a jumbled mess. Pass them on to your friend on the bench for safe-keeping, if you want. As you take the next breath and then the next and on and on, finding your own rhythm, notice what happens in your heart as your head clears. Notice how your heart opens and says, "Notice me. I have something important to say to you." Listen for that still, small voice. One that maybe you have not noticed before. If you feel scared, your friend on the bench will hold your hand. Perhaps the voice has something new to say or perhaps the voice is more of a feeling you have brushed aside and it is asking to live within you and be recognized as a wisdom path for you. 

I don't know what will happen as you sit with your friend on a bench and perhaps nothing notable will happen, but what do you have to lose? I suspect, however, there is much to be gained by sitting with a friend on a bench. You may not notice it right away, but once the inner voice has an audience, be prepared for the ways it tries to get your attention. You may discover that sitting on a bench with a real or imaginary companion is your new spiritual practice. You may start looking for places perfect for sitting. You may find yourself looking forward to these set aside times to sit, to rest, to be. 

An Invitation
I invite you to sit on a bench today, tomorrow and the next day. Who sits with you and what do you discover? Perhaps YOU are the man on the bench. What do you and your companion experience? I would love to know.

A Bonus: My daughter-in-love sent me this photograph of a sculpture of Jim Henson and his special buddy, Kermit the Frog. Wouldn't you love to sit with them? 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Transformations: Tuesday's Post

Ok, I don't know where I am going with this, but I will try to stay open to thoughts as they come and try to organize them in a way that makes some sense or at least opens you, dear reader, to some new thoughts or even clarification of old thoughts. 

Recently, I was on a road trip in Iowa with special friends from Madison. One of our destinations was Iowa City where longtime friends of one of us in the group live. They generously hosted us for a night and treated us to a tour of The Harvest Preserve, which is a large area of land our hosts purchased in order to preserve its beauty and sacredness as a spiritual sanctuary. http://www.harvestpreserve.org  I am still processing all I saw and felt there, but one image seems to be following me:  The Man on the Bench. 

The Man on the Bench, a sculpture by Douglas Paul and J.B. Barnhouse, presides over the preserve and can be seen by anyone driving, walking, or biking along the preserve's borders. He is massive and can not be ignored. A benevolent presence? Yes, I think so. A Buddha of the Prairie, perhaps. As our group toured the preserve, experiencing one sacred place after another, I kept thinking about The Man on the Bench and felt him watching me, even wondering what I was going to do next. It seemed to me he was urging me to consider carefully my days ahead and how to live them authentically, encouraging exploration and commitment to the person I was created to be. 

Last week on an early morning walk I found another sculpture of a
man on a bench--or at least the man's head. I was tempted to sit on the bench and listen to what this head had to say to me, just as I had been tempted to climb the hill and crawl onto The Man on the Bench's lap and lean my head into his massive chest and listen to his very heartbeat. I didn't do that nor did I sit on this bench in the yard of someone I don't know, but I felt the head watching me and reminding me to open my eyes and my ears and to not miss any opportunity to live life fully. At the same time I thought about how this was only a "head" and how often we live out of our heads and miss listening to our hearts and our bodies, but that's another topic. I think. 

A third piece. The Gospel reading Sunday was the story of Nicodemus in dialogue with Jesus and Nicodemus asks him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old?" Jesus talks about being born of the Spirit. Once again I felt compelled to listen carefully to the measure of my days. Joan Chittister refers to this time of spiritual maturity when she says, "Down deep inside ourselves we know there is something different going on now. We are being transformed."

I agree, but we must be intentional. We must pay attention. We must listen for ways we are called to live authentically and fully. We are being watched, benevolently, but insistently, to finally allow Spirit to work in us in ways our zoom, zoom younger lives seemed to prevent us from doing. The Man on the Bench is not checking to see if I am perfect or if I always do the right and honorable thing or if I always do what I say I am going to do, such as meditating every day or getting in 10,000 steps daily or eating better or whatever. Instead, The Man on the Bench reminds me that now is the time of transformation. It is not too late, but if not now, when. 

An Invitation
Where is your Man on the Bench and what is he gently pushing you to do or be or become? In what ways is this a time of transformation for you? I would love to know.