Thursday, August 27, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dad: Thursday's Reflection

My Dad celebrated his 92nd birthday recently. Perhaps, I should say his family and friends celebrated his 92nd birthday, for we are so fortunate to have him in our lives. 

Sometimes when I talk to him in the morning, I ask him if he had a good day, and he always says, "Nancy, it's always a good day." And he means that. 

I know, of course, he has had hard days in his life, especially when my mother died. No doubt there will be others, as it becomes more difficult for him to do the things he likes to do, but when he says, "Nancy, it is always a good day," he is speaking out of his essence. His True Self.

What is the True Self? I think the True Self is the self who is in relationship with God, who is mindful of God's presence. I think it was Thomas Merton who talked about the "hidden ground of love" as the basis of our True Self.

Perhaps it is easier to know the True Self by understanding the False Self. The False Self is whom you create outside your relationship with God, the Sacred, the Divine. Our ongoing prayer may be to be aware of our False Self, and that awareness is often the result of growing in spiritual practice.

One of my father's spiritual practices is to read two pages of Luther's Large Catechism every night. He has read through the catechism many, many times, but he always learns something new. 
He doesn't read it just to say he has read it or to become an expert on Luther's words or to be some sort of Super-Lutheran. He reads it  to strengthen his faith and the ground of his being, his True Self.

Each person's search for the True Self is an expression of God's love, and that's what we celebrated when we said, "Happy Birthday, Dad, Papa, Great-Papa." 

An Invitation
How well do you know your True Self? What are you doing to recognize your True Self? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Change in Direction: Tuesday's Reflection

Here we are in the last week of August. I can hear you saying, "Where has summer gone?" I know where most of my summer has gone--into my book project. I have spent the bulk of these summer days in my garret. I don't regret that, but I can't recall another summer in which I have felt so focused.

What about you? As you think about this summer, has there been a focus? When summer stretched in front of you, what did you imagine? Did you think about how you intended to live in this summer? If so, how has that worked out? Did life intervene and change the course of your summer or did you surrender to the summer breezes and allow the days to take you where they would?

What surprises did this summer hold for you? Any new directions enter your life?

Early this summer my husband and I spent a few days in Door County, Wisconsin. For many years that is where we have gone for rest and relaxation. When we have wanted a "time-out," Door County is where we wanted to be. We have gathered family and friends there over the years, and one summer we rented a house for a month. I stayed there the whole time, and Bruce joined me for long weekends. It was heaven.

This most recent time, as wonderful as it was, especially spending time with good friends who live there, we felt a slight shift. One day we took the ferry to Washington Island to see the new lavender fields and shop and the good bookstore and one of Bruce's all-time favorite coffee shops, Red Cup Cafe, but we also found ourselves wondering what it would be like to spend a week or even longer there, as opposed to just a day. A more isolated time.

We have loved the combination of good restaurants and shops and galleries on the peninsula, but much of that no longer seemed to draw us. We began to have "been there, done that" feelings. What seemed to appeal more was settling in a simple and quiet cottage with a water view. We imagined ourselves spending our days with our books, fixing simple meals, walking the shore, napping, and not much else. That feels like a gentle switch in direction. 

Now here's the next switch in direction. When we drove north to Ely, Minnesota, to pick up our granddaughter from camp, I could feel a pull, a tug. A yearning. The sparkling blue water and shorelines where cabins and homes were rarely visible welcomed me. I felt another world open up in front of my eyes --and in my heart.  I felt both a serene awakening.

Our orientation for many years has been Wisconsin. My parents owned a wonderful home on Teal Lake in northern Wisconsin, and many summer weekends and winter ones, too, our family gathered there. When we lived in Ohio, we often headed to Door County, in spite of the distance, making our Madison years even more special because of the easier access to Door County.  

Now we are in Minnesota again. My parents' sold the Teal Lake home many years ago, and we are again further away from Door County. It is time for a change of direction--due north, it seems. 

We look forward to this change in direction, to exploring areas where we have not been for a long time or not ever. My Dad tells me I was in Ely when I was a little girl. 2? 3? And Bruce remembers camping in the Boundary Waters when he was around 10. I guess it has been long enough to consider forming new memories, new impressions, and to bring who we are now into a new direction. 

I am not much of an outdoor person. I won't be canoeing in the Boundary Waters or going on strenuous hikes. What I imagine, however, is similar to how I envisioned us spending our days on Washington Island with its much slower pace: reading our books, fixing simple meals, walking the shore, napping. And meditating, praying, spending time in quiet reflection.

The change in direction is not only one of place, but of focus. The gentle change in direction, it seems, is towards the inner life of spirit. 

An Invitation
Are you noticing any change of direction in your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Picture of Strength, Part 2: Thursday's Reflection

Meet three Warrior Women! 

After ten days canoeing in the Boundary Waters for ten days, these middle school aged young women seemed capable and ready for almost anything. They recognized strength they didn't know they had. They revealed and relished their own individual strengths, but they also discovered how much stronger they were when they worked together as a team.

Real strength lies in knowing when to hang on and lift together, when to ask for help and support, and when to trust others--both human and the Divine.

I stood in awe as these women, in perfect rhythm with each other, tipped, swung and raised this 75 pound wood and canvas canoe  above their shoulders . They delighted in showing us, their proud parents and grandparents, their skill and strength, and we cheered their success. 

Each one of these women is capable of standing alone, of honoring and using her own strength, but sometimes help is needed. 

In each of our lives there are times when we need others to stand compassionately with us, when we need the comfort and strength of others to portage from one place to another. When we draw upon the freely given strength of others, we build our own inner stamina to bear the emotional or physical weight of what we are experiencing. 

Integrating a spiritual practice in your life builds your inner strength, a strength you can draw on when challenged physically, emotionally, or mentally. At the same time an intentional and regular spiritual practice can lead to discernment and clarity about times when the strength of others is needed. 

 An Invitation
Who is waiting to give you added strength? Are you willing to reach out for it, to respond to it? At the same time, is there someone who is in need of your strength right now? I would love to know.                                                                                                                                                                

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Picture of Strength, Part One: Tuesday's Reflection

Last week we traveled with our daughter to pick up our granddaughter Maren from camp in northern Minnesota. Maren, along with two other twelve year old girls and their two counselors, both young women starting their sophomore year of college, had been canoeing in the Boundary Waters for ten days.

We were quite certain she would love the experience, but still, we were relieved to learn that was the case. In fact, she thrived, and while she was eager to see her family, she joyfully told us she could have stayed on trail longer and can hardly wait till next summer when the trip will be longer, about sixteen days.

Part of the reunion was a demonstration with one of the canoes they used, a wood and canvas canoe weighing about 75 pounds. I was in awe of Maren's strength as she balanced that canoe on her shoulders. She stood firmly, her two feet on the ground and moved with confidence and assurance. She knows her strength. 

She is a warrior woman, empowered, determined, and yes, strong.

Inner Strength
Sometimes what is required is outer strength, the kind of strength needed to portage six times in one day, as Maren and her fellow campers proudly described. It is our inner spiritual strength, however, that allows us to access the physical strength to do what needs to be done. Julia Cameron says, "As a spirit I am healthy…My spiritual energies fund my physical self with support and sustenance." 

And how does one develop that inner spiritual strength? That's where an ongoing spiritual practice enters the picture. Not only is a spiritual practice the means for opening to the presence of the God in your life, but a spiritual practice strengthens you for the journey, the unknown and unexpected. 

Now is the time to make room for strength building in your life.

A Suggested Spiritual Practice: Standing Meditation
If possible, practice Standing Meditation outside, standing on the earth. Stand with your two feet shoulder width apart, your knees slightly bent, and your arms and hands loosely at your sides. Close your eyes lightly, not tightly. Breathe evenly, finding your own rhythm.

Feel the energy of the earth reach to the bottom of your feet and move up your legs and through your torso and all the way to the top of your head. Feel your own energy reach into the earth. Breathe steadily and evenly, noticing how your body grows in strength. In possibility. In vitality. 

Stand this way first for five minutes, if you are able, and with time build to fifteen minutes. Do this either inside or outside. 

As you practice Standing Meditation, become open to your own inner warrior. You may feel more grounded and discover your own strength. May you feel more able to hoist a heavy and unwieldy canoe on your shoulders and face the oncoming challenges with strength.

An Invitation
In what ways are you strong and what does being strong mean to you? How have you built your strength? I would love to know.   

Stay Tuned: I will continue to explore the gift of strength in my post on Thursday, August 20. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fall Choices: Thursday's Reflections

The catalogs are arriving, and the emails are appearing. So many choices and directions. How can I possibly do everything I want to do? 

This happens every fall when I feel that back to school itch. All the school supplies are piled neatly at Target, and it is hard to resist not buying new notebooks and folders, although, trust me, I have my own embarrassingly rich stash. I am not interested in shopping these days and don't find myself tempted by much, except journals and notepads and pens, but I am doing my best, instead, to shop my drawers, full of those supplies.  

This Fall itch, however, is not just about opening up a new notebook. In the fall I seem to take on the behavior of squirrels, gathering winter fuel, making sure I have enough to sustain my needs. In this case, however, it is not physical needs, but instead mental and spiritual needs. In the fall I take on the behavior of the birds, preparing to migrate, but in my case it is migrating into places of learning and stimulation. In the fall I attempt to take on the behavior of the leaves, turning rich colors of red and gold in shades of new knowledge and wider experiences. 

Of course, the problem, the ongoing issue, is deciding which choices to select. I hungrily devour the catalog that comes from The Loft Literary Center, knowing that if I were to take each of the writing classes that appeals to me, I would have no time to write. I pour over the material from Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality which is where I have in the past attended the Monday evening Hedgerow Initiative, an ongoing conversation about sacred wisdom, divine mysteries, and human questions. An email comes from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with dates for the year's lecture series, and I would love to attend the lecture on Van Gogh and also, one on photography and Native American identity. 

Plus, living within walking distance of three colleges and universities, I know most days I could take advantage of a lecture or concert or visit to an art gallery. And how about book talks at bookstores and theatre and concert series and even classes through community recreation centers? I haven't even mentioned opportunities to volunteer and serve, and I know I want to manage my time in order to make contributions where I can. 


So much appeals and like the squirrel frenetically hiding nuts in the backyard, I don't want to miss anything. I need to remember my own limits, however, and be aware of when my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Which donut should I choose at the bakery? Which delectable on the menu of a special restaurant? Or which book from my existing towers should I read next? A wealth of temptations. 

Just recently, however, I decided at the last minute to not attend a Saturday morning class at The Loft. The week coming up was full of activities, and the weeks before had been highly scheduled, and I knew I needed space more than I needed the information, however worthy and helpful it was likely to be. I don't regret that decision, for immediately I felt some equilibrium return. 

This summer I have spent a major part of my time working on a book I am writing. I have taken a twelve week online class that has  stretched me, deepened my commitment, and exhausted me. I know I am a better writer because of this class, and I know my book benefits from all the time and effort. I could take the next part in this class, and eventually, I will, but not this fall. 

I made that decision after moving into stillness and becoming a listening presence to myself. I asked myself questions about what will be most life-enhancing in the coming months. In what ways do I hope to live, give, and grow? What are my goals as a writer and as a spiritual director? How do I balance family and friend time with work time? What volunteer opportunities resonate with me and where can I be effective? What about leaving space for spontaneity and for rest, restoration, and recreation? 

In some ways these questions are the same ones, with some modification, I have lived with most of my adult life. You have probably wrestled with them, too. In our earlier years these were practical, get out the calendar and figure it out questions. Negotiate with your partner, your boss, your kids.  Now because I know I have fewer falls ahead of me than the ones I have lived, I view these questions as questions for discernment. At this stage of my life I am more able to push the pause button and sit with these questions, allowing the inner voice of Spirit to start a dialogue with the person who still wants to be productive and to achieve and to accomplish. 

I now have a general plan for the fall, but one that is subject to change and modification and for the ways life just seems to happen. Yes, I will write. I will take a couple short term writing classes. I will volunteer at Peter's school and at church, beginning with the retreat I will help lead the end of September. I will meet with spiritual directees and open to ways I can teach. But I am leaving plenty of space for family time, for friend time, for me time. 

I will pay attention to the squirrels and the birds and the changing colors of the leaves, and I will pause in the midst of potential busyness and ask my inner voice of Spirit what she thinks. 

An Invitation
What questions of discernment are in your life now? I would love to know. 

The Loft Literary Center
Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Listening to the Sounds in Our World: Tuesday's Reflection

As grateful as I am for the option of central air conditioning in our house on uncomfortable days, I love the days when the temperatures are mild, and we are able to open the windows. We have had a number of those days recently. Pleasant, cool air in the morning and as we sleep, and summer temps that are easy to tolerate during the daytime, even in the garret where I spend much of my day. 

I write in silence and prefer it that way, but with the windows open I become aware of all the sounds that surround me and are part of this urban environment. On any given day I may hear:
           My neighbor sweeping the sidewalk. 
           A single, did I really hear it? beep when a neighbor unlocks his car.
           Windchimes, tinkling a new melody with each lift of breeze.
           Ziggy, the puppy next door, a combination poodle and St Bernard. Yup, that's right, and is he cute, but with each passing week, he becomes more sure of his bark, a bark that grows darker and deeper. 
           Someone passing by the house on a skateboard.
           A lawn mower, and I am grateful we live someplace with small yards where lawn mowing is not an all day occupation.
           Construction sounds on the street and at people's homes. Lots of activity going on.
            An occasional siren, and I pause, fingers over the keyboard, to whisper, "May all be well."
             A telephone conversation. I make up the part I can't hear. 
            Young Maggie across the street practicing her flute, and she is quite good. I remember decades ago one evening when Bruce and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood, and we heard trombone sounds and wondered who else in the neighborhood besides our son played the trombone, only to discover he was practicing on our front porch. Probably not a great idea. 
             Birds serenading  Squirrels chipping. The previous night when it had turned dark, we even heard a rabbit crying. Rapid, oh, oh, oh's.
               The UPS truck going by. Have you ever noticed how UPS trucks have a distinctive sound? 
              A toddler crying, finding it hard to enter the day perhaps.
I hear him most mornings even when the windows are closed, and I send a special prayer to him and his stay-at-home father in hopes the rest of the day will improve. Or perhaps it will be like the morning I was returning from my morning walk, and as I passed the house on the corner, I heard an exasperated mother scream, "William, what have you done?" I wondered myself what William had done and what happened to poor William then and did his mother recover or was the day lost at that point? That definitely was a time to send a soothing prayer. 

On these days of open windows I find myself becoming a listening presence. 

I read a wonderful story about Mother Teresa in Kay Lindahl's Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening, A Guide to Enrich Your Relationships and Kindle Your Spiritual Life. 

Mother Teresa was asked what she did when she prayed to God. "'Oh,' she said, 'that's easy. I listen.' And what does God do? 'Oh,' she replied, 'God listens.'"

I think about God listening as I listen and how our listening hearts lift together in the direction of all that needs to be heard, all that can be heard. 

Sometimes I wish the background of my life wasn't quite so noisy. Sometimes I wish the garbage guys were more aware of the monastery I have created in the garret. What would they think about learning to sing Taize' chants? What I realize, however, is that it is my task, a spiritual practice, if you will, to bring stillness to the act of listening. 

"Silence is not the absence of sound, but rather a shifting of attention toward sounds that speak to the soul." The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore, p. 104. 

There is so much that speaks to my soul everyday, and all I have to do is listen. 

An Invitation
Open the window of your heart. What do you hear? What is speaking just for you and how do you respond? I would love to know. 


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Shadow Knows. Shadow and Light, Part 2: Thursday's Reflection

Often as I go up the stairs to my garret or back down to the first floor, I pause on the landing and look out my windows to the back yard. There is always something new to see. The last few days I have noticed the interplay of shadow and light and where the two blend and how one seems to highlight the other.

My last post offered some reflections on the role, the necessary role, of shadow in our life, and wouldn't you know, the next morning during my meditation time I came across a reading about shadow. Here is what David Whyte has to say about shadow in his book, Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

          Shadow is a necessary consequence of being in a 
          sunlit visible world, but it is not a central identity,
          or a power waiting to overwhelm us…To live with
          our shadow is to understand how human beings live
          at a frontier between light and dark; …there is no
          possibility of a lighted perfection in this life; pp 205-206

Whyte says shadow is a "clue to ourselves, and to those we are with, even to the parts of ourselves not yet experienced, yet already perceived by others. Shadow is not good or bad, only inescapable." p. 207

And finally, and this is what most struck me in Whyte's chapter on shadow, "To change the shape of ourselves is to change the shape of the shadow we cast." 

My life at the moment is warmed fully by the sun. Light surrounds my days, and I feel rich and blessed and full of love and appreciation for all the goodness in my life. I have freedom to use my gifts and to share my life with those I love. At the same time I know there is always potential for shadow to make its presence known through complication or unplanned change or loss. Those external events that require the best of ourselves to survive and move forward are moments when our shadow side may cover more space in our inner backyard. 

The shadow may extend into places in our life where we formerly felt transparent and confident. Our pride in our ability to be patient and compassionate or clear and decisive may be muddled by lack of direction or loneliness or fear. All that we think we know about ourselves, especially the side we present to the world, may disintegrate. The good news, the light, is that the shadow is available in moments of disquiet or disturbance to be our teacher. The spaces within ourselves that harbor our shadow responses are rich with opportunity for transformation.

Are you willing to sit with your shadow and ask it what it can reveal about your "go-to" feelings and reactions when you feel threatened or challenged? What would you think about getting to know your shadow now, sooner, rather than later? How about inviting your shadow into a conversation before you feel yourself  drowning in anxiety or sadness? 

For example, I know when I feel overwhelmed with that "too much to do" feeling, I can become paralyzed. I become irritated with anyone who implies "it will all be fine," or worse yet, "What's so important?" I am apt to become snippy with anyone in my path. In other words, my shadow has a field day. I also know that sitting in silence every day, taking time to meditate and to study the wisdom of others, to pray for the wellbeing of the world, my personal world and the created world, is a way to move through the shadow. To perhaps, shrink my shadow. 

As I attempt to become more self-aware, I change how I move in the world. I change the shape of my being and therefore, according to Whyte, the shape of the shadow I cast. 

An Invitation
I invite you to notice the shadow in your inner being. What can it teach you about living more fully in the light? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Shadow and Light: Tuesday's Reflection

As I unloaded several bags into the back of my car after a big Target run, I noticed my shadow following my every move. The day was gloriously sunny, one of those perfect mild summer days; a day to celebrate with its crystal clear skies and a sun worthy of an elementary school drawing. And yet, there was my shadow, a reminder of the darkness in the light.

Shadow and light. Both in my presence at the same moment.

Where there is light, there is shadow, and where there is shadow, there is also light. 

In a recent spiritual direction session, my client comforted herself with her ability to be strong even in the midst of a current difficult situation. She is strong, emotionally and spiritually and physically, and I admire how she handles what would cause many to curl up under the covers and ignore all methods of communication. Her ongoing strength serves her well and should not be discounted, but I suggested she think about the shadow side of her strength. That was a new thought for her.

In her next session, she talked a bit about the stoicism of strength and how sometimes being strong gets in the way of being realistic or of allowing others to assist you. With the recognition of the shadow side, comes the ability to adjust and also, the possibility for transformation. Light. 

When we are in the midst of chaos or grief or unexpected turbulence, someone is bound to remind us to be positive and "look on the bright side," and I am not opposed to that. Without meaning to sound like a Pollyanna, I do believe there is light, however teeny, tiny it might be, in everything. Yes, everything. It may be a kind word. It may be recognition of some strength or acceptance or tolerance inside yourself you had not known lived quietly within you. It may be a lesser degree of something you anticipated to be much worse. It may be self-growth or an unexpected path leading to greater pleasure or love or success or knowledge. The light can take many forms. 

When in the midst of light, however, we are less inclined to intentionally look for the shadow. Wouldn't that be pessimistic or negative? Why court the dark side? Why jinx what is going smoothly with a more somber view? 

I think knowing both the shadow and the light side of a situation or of an aspect of yourself is a pathway to greater depth, to wholeness, and is a necessary way to care for your soul. 

I know for instance that most of the time my ability to be organized and efficient brings me light and often shines light for others, but sometimes there is a shadow side to that ability. Sometimes being organized gets in the way of being present to the beauty in front of me or to the needs or opportunities of right now. Sometimes being efficient interferes with joy or fun and spontaneity. In these cases I want shadow to be my teacher. 

I am an introvert. To extroverts it may be hard to see the light in that characteristic, but I know the delight and benefits of quiet time, of silence, of reflection, of the independence and ease of being by myself and knowing my own good company. However, I also am aware of the shadow side of introversion. Sometimes I just plain miss out on connection or exploration, because I need to recharge my energy by being alone. Knowing what I need, however, is part of caring for the soul, of understanding my essence complete with shadow and light. 

Joan Chittister in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, which I quote in this blog frequently, refers to burdens and blessings. For example, in the chapter on "adjustment," she writes, 
         A burden of these years is that we must consciously
         decide how we will live, what kind of person we will
         become now, what kind of personality and spirituality
         we will bring into every group, how alive we intend to 
         A blessing of these years is being able to live so open-
         heartedly, and to adjust so well, that others can look to
         us and see what being old can bring in terms of life, of
         holiness, of goodness to make the world new again. 
                                                                    p. 65

Sometimes the burden and the blessing, or the shadow and the light can seem quite similar, the boundaries blur. Acknowledging that both shadow and light lives within us and on our human journey, can lead us each to greater care of the soul on our quest for wholeness. 

Remember Peter Pan who felt incomplete when he lost his shadow? Wendy sewed it back on, and he felt restored and more himself. We need our shadow, just as much as we need the light. 

         Care of the soul is not solving the puzzle of life;
         quite the opposite, it is an appreciation of the
         paradoxical mysteries that blend light and darkness 
         into the grandeur of what human life and culture can
                        Care of the Soul,
                        A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness
                        in Everyday Life, p. xix
                        Thomas Moore

An Invitation
How is shadow and light currently interacting in your life? I would love to know.