Thursday, January 28, 2016

Midwinter Break

I've decided to take a midwinter break from writing new posts, but I will be back in this space February 16th.

I hope you will be back, too. 

The Love of God: Thursday's Reflection

How do I respond? 

The words handwritten by a friend on her annual Christmas letter surprised me and continue to puzzle me. I have not had face to face contact with this friend for a long time, but I am grateful we have this once a year peek into each other's lives, and perhaps there will be a time when we can have more than that. I wonder what we will discover about each other. 

In my printed Christmas letter I wrote:
          What has been your prayer this past year? Have you
          prayed for healing for a loved one? Have you prayed
          for nations in strife, for cultures in conflict with one
          another, here and in other parts of the world? Have
          you prayed for healing of the earth? How often have
          you fallen on your knees in prayer this past year in
          agony for those known and unknown to you, who
          suffer or have caused great suffering? How often 
          have you said, "My prayers are with you," or "I am
          praying for you." When your heart vibrates in prayer,
          do you wonder if that is enough?

          I think prayer is only the beginning. Prayer has the 
          power to awaken us to a more open way of life. If 
          prayer becomes our ongoing practice, we begin to
          be aware of where we are closed, where we feel hurt
          and when we hurt others, and where there are 
          opportunities to offer compassion and to be present
          to others in their losses and needs.

I received so many thoughtful, pensive responses to my thoughts about the power of prayer and experiences of answered prayers--and sometimes answers that were unexpected and surprising. 

But this particular letter weighs on me. Along with sharing that she feels the need for prayer and the need to live her faith, she expressed concern that Christian churches have become "watered down" and people have "turned God into some vague concept of love." 

I am not a theologian. I am a seeker, a woman who remains on a long and rigorous path to a deeper relationship with God, but every fiber of my being says, "God is love." And I don't think there is much else I need to know. Really need to know and then live that love. 

               God is love and those who abide in love
               abide in God, and God abides in them.
                                           1 John 4: 16

If I were sitting in spiritual direction with my friend, I hope she would be willing to tell me her story and to share her vision of God and her experience of love in her life. I hope I would do that without judgment. I hope I would listen with an open and loving heart. 

An Invitation
What is most basic to your understanding about God? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book of the Month: Tuesday's Reflection

Maren at the Red Balloon
Our granddaughter Maren is 13 years old and in the 7th grade. A bright and strong student, basketball player, actress, canoer-camper, devoted friend, lover of the Boundary Waters, Harry Potter, and BOOKS. On their recent vacation to Mexico she read ten books. Maren and her younger brother Peter always have a book with them, for you never know when you might have a chance to read a page or two.

They both have a passion for reading. 

Her Papa and I like to think we had something to do with that passion. 

When Maren was born we decided to enroll her in a very exclusive book club, The Sweetwater Farm Book Club. (The name of our home when we lived in Ohio was Sweetwater Farm.) So exclusive that Maren was the only member of that club until Peter was born, and the club expanded to two members. 

As part of membership in this club each member receives a new book every month. Every month without fail. In their younger years Papa and GrandNan had fun picking out books for them, ones we knew we would enjoy reading to them.  Now, however, they both read so widely and voraciously, we can't keep up with what they have read. That means once a month we have an outting to a favorite bookstore, like Red Balloon in St Paul, where they pick out their book --or let's be honest--bookS of the month. 

Maren has to earn a good chunk of money for the privilege of going to Camp Widjiwagan this summer, and I asked her if she would prefer receiving the cost of a book each month, instead of a book. She could add the cash to her camp stash. She didn't have to think twice before saying she doesn't want to give up the book. She will find a way to earn the money, she said, and I know she will.
Peter lost in a book

Books are just one of the bonds we have with Maren and Peter, but it is a major one and one that keeps growing. Just like their personal libraries.

An Invitation
If you have grandchildren, what are the special ways you connect with them? 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Decision:Thursday's Reflection

Altar at Spiritual Practices Group
I vacillated for several days. Should I or shouldn't I? What will be the consequences if I do? Or if I don't? What is the right thing, the best thing to do in this circumstance? How will I feel when I make the decision? Is there something I could do or should have done differently?

You would think I was making a life-changing decision. Heaven knows, I have made enough of those in my life, as I know you have, too. But then again I don't know if this is a life-changing decision. 

This decision seemed simple enough: Should I cancel a group I was hoping to lead at church because I didn't have what I considered enough participants for a healthy, dynamic group or should I go ahead and hope that one or two people decide to join at the last minute?

I had made the decision to offer two monthly groups at church beginning this month. One, "Open to Spirit: Growing In Spiritual Practice" filled easily. We met this week for the first time, and I could feel a circle of trust and openness begin to form almost immediately. Oh, how I will look forward to our monthly sessions when we will explore spiritual practices as tools to deepen our connection to God and to expand the ways in which we encounter the Sacred in our lives. 

Registration for the other course, "Connecting to God and One Another: Group Spiritual Direction and Contemplative Writing," limped along with only four brave people signing up. This is where it got sticky for me. I didn't want to disappoint anyone, but I have experienced groups when they are too small for comfort. The few participants can feel pressured to share when they aren't quite ready to do so, and sometimes one personality can dominate that would have been tempered in a larger group.

What to do?

Well, of course, I knew what to do. Stop stewing about and sit with it. Sit with it and if it isn't still clear, walk away from it, and then sit with it again. By sitting with it, however, I don't mean focusing on it, agonizing about it. What I mean is sitting in meditation, resting my heart, turning my mind towards thoughts of gratitude and wholeness. Instead of fussing and reaching for an answer, as if there really were a right or wrong answer, I did some T'ai Chi, knowing my body often can help me move into a different space. I let the music of Enya move me, relax me, and clear the space. 

And then I returned to my desk to work on some material for another presentation. As I finished the work and thought lightly about the next task on my list, I had the answer. I need to cancel the class. 

Not all decisions are as clear. Many decisions need some space. Many decisions feel clogged by our fretting and by the need to be right and perfect and irreversible. 

I hope this was a good decision. I made it to the best of my ability--with my heart and my mind and my body working together. 

An Invitation
What do you do when you have to make a decision, especially a decision that doesn't have an obvious answer? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Walking a Labyrinth: Tuesday's Reflection

Walking the Labyrinth at Chartres
Earlier this month I walked a labyrinth. 

In the first days of the new year I followed Christine Valters Paintner's online prompts to listen for "a word for the year." My word for the year. Paintner suggests letting a word find you that offers a "seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life." A word that will nourish, but also challenge.

The word (it can be more than one word) that had come to me was "open heart." A word that signaled to me a challenge to become more compassionate --to others, but also to myself. I could think of a number of situations in my life in which an extra dose of compassion was needed. A good word--one that would both nourish and challenge me--but I didn't feel quite "done" with the process of finding my word.

Off to the labyrinth. As I stood at the opening of the journey, I asked to know the direction, the focus of this year. How am I to best use my energies in the coming year? In what ways am I to live with an open heart?

As always, it took me a turn or two before I was able to slow down on the path and find my rhythm. I walked bending my knees low to the ground, a sense almost of doing T'ai Chi. I stopped frequently to notice where I was and what was around me, to keep the big picture in mind. Even when the labyrinth path swung me further away from the center, I knew I was moving forward. I felt affirmed in the decisions about how to spend my days. "Now is the time. Use this time," Spirit seemed to say.

And then there I was. In the center. With my eyes closed, I took deep breaths. I whispered a prayer of gratitude for the journey, even the hard places and unexpected detours, and transitions that seemed to keep me stuck for far too long. I relaxed in the center, relishing the feeling of being held and supported. 

"Warm the space you are in." The voice of Spirit in my head and heart, through my whole body, actually, couldn't have been clearer. "Warm the space you are in." I moved from petal to petal in the center. In each petal I felt warm light move from the bottom of my feet all the way up the trunk of my body to the top of my head. 

Ah, this is it. This is my word for the year. It has found me, instead of me finding it.

I don't know exactly what "warm the space you are in" means. It feels like an affirming word, but also a reminder. In my role as a spiritual director my hope is to offer a place of safety and sanctuary to anyone who is seeking to know themselves through a deeper relationship with God. A warm space. 

I will sit with this word. I will reflect and watch for ways to make this word manifest in the world. I trust the power of this word will be revealed in the weeks and months to come, and I am okay with that. 

An Invitation
Have you received a word for the year? What is nudging you to pay attention? I would love to know. 


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cold: Thursday's Reflection

Now that winter has finally come to Minnesota, Nanook of the North has made an appearance. 

The other morning I walked to our grandson's school for my weekly volunteer job of shelving books in the library. Even though we live only three blocks away from the school, I encased myself in winter gear, nearly prepared enough for an adventure across the frozen tundra with sled dogs.

Wool socks? Check
Long underwear under corduroy pants? Check
Turtleneck and bulky sweater? Check
Itchy scarf around my neck? Check
Heavy below zero parka worn only a couple times a year? Check
Earmuffs? Check
Woolen Scandinavian hand knitted mittens? Check
Snow boots? Check
Kleenex in the pocket for steamed up glasses? Check
Hood up? Zipper zipped? Check

I don't mind winter. I prefer winter clothes, and I love winter comfort food--meatloaf and acorn squash and pasta, lots of pasta. I have quilts and slippers and shawls, but our new windows do an excellent job of diminishing the extreme cold. I love the beauty of the snow, the silence of the snow, and the safety I feel when I am inside looking out at the snow. But when I do have to be out and about our car warms up quickly, and I rejoice in the luxury of seat warmers. 

 No, I don't mind winter, but I know you might not like it, and so I am willing to commiserate with you and wonder why we choose to live in this land of ice and snow. I am willing to wail with you about how long winter drags on and even though we have had many unseasonably warm days and little snow, you are sick of it already. I know, I know, I say. Isn't it awful?

I am not being honest with you, however, for I welcome this cave time, a time of both intense growth and deepening, but paradoxically, a time of rest.

                          Let the dawns 
                          come late,
                          let the sunsets
                          arrive early.
                          let the evenings
                          extend themselves
                          while I lean into
                          the abyss of my being…

                          Let me seek solace
                          in the empty places
                          of winter's passages
                          those vast dark nights
                          that never fail to shelter me.
                                       from "Winter's Cloak"
                                                Joyce Rupp

An Invitation
Are you a winter whiner or a winter welcomer? I would love to know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tears: Tuesday's Reflection

Need a Hanky? 
When was the last time you cried or at least felt a tear or two gather in the corner of an eye and begin the slow, wet path down your cheek? 

I cried most recently in church last Sunday. Our guest preacher was Pastor Susan Peterson, the former senior pastor of our congregation. We weren't members of Gloria Dei when she was pastor, but she was there when one of my dearest friends, a member of Gloria Dei, was dying. Seeing Pastor Susan again after all those years brought those days and weeks to mind and heart. I miss my friend, and I often wonder which pew she sat in and wonder if I am sitting in her place.  

I shed a tear for her--not a planned or expected tear. 

When was the last time you were with someone who cried? I try to have a box of tissues available when I meet with a spiritual directee, for tears often flow during those intimate sessions.  Sometimes getting together with a friend whose life is in a tender and maybe even scary spot results in tears. Has that happened to you?

The tears are not planned or expected. 

My sister-in-law recently had a lumpectomy after months of chemo and seeing a picture of her with her two daughters right before surgery caused me to burst into tears. Tears of hope that all would be well for her. Tears of connection to my nieces whom I knew were worried about their mother. But also tears of recognition, remembering my own successful cancer surgery many years ago. I guess those feelings never quite disappear. 

The tears were not planned or expected. 

I am tired of the controversy about our president shedding a tear, showing emotion about so many violent gun deaths. He didn't sob or lose control or fall to his knees shaking in emotion. An unplanned and unexpected tear rolled down his cheek, and he needed a second or two to regain control over his voice. 

He is not the first leader to cry in public, and I hope he is not the last. The tear doesn't say anything about his ability to lead or make decisions. Instead, the tear says everything about his humanity.

Just as our own tears, unplanned, unexpected, are signals of our own humanity, our ability to feel. 

An Invitation
When did you last cry? I would love to know. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Memory Board: Thursday's Reflection

Ready to dismantle this year's memory board
My upstairs sanctuary, the garret, desperately needs cleaning, top to bottom, shelf to shelf, each drawer and surface. Taking Anne Lamott's advice about how to approach a major writing project,  "bird by bird," I start with my memory bulletin board at the top of the stairs.

When our daughter Kate was in high school she always had a large bulletin board in her bedroom, and over the course of the year it became covered, layer over layer, with photographs, ticket stubs, campaign buttons, birthday cards, dried corsages, programs from concerts and plays. A record of her year. At the start of a new year she cleared the bulletin board and filled a box with all the items. A treasure chest of that year. As the year progressed, I loved seeing the empty board fill with the bits and pieces of her life. 

The last few years I have had a memory board, too. It is a convenient place to keep favorite birthday, anniversary, and Mother's Day cards ("Thank you for not selling me to the gypsies," from Kate.). I don't keep ticket stubs, but there is a program from Dizzy Fantastic and Her Flying Bicycle, the middle school play in which granddaughter Maren had the starring role. On the bottom layer is a sign Maren and Peter hung on the door to a narrow storage closet in the garret when we first moved into this house: "The Clubhouse, Kids Only (unless told other wise)." Neither of them have used the closet for a hiding or quiet reading space in quite some time, but until now I have not had the heart to remove the sign. 

Of course, there are favorite pictures, some received in Christmas cards last year and others of our kids from years gone by that somehow resurfaced. I love the photo of our niece Alli on her graduation from Loyola University, and I smile every time I glimpse a thank you note from Peter saying he "cuddles with the wolf every day." Then there are miscellaneous cards from places we've visited like the Thomas Edison home in Ft Myers, Florida, or a gallery of Jim Brandenburg nature photography in Ely, MN. 

A cacophony of colors and images. And memories. 

I removed each piece, clearing the space for 2016. Using a sheet of lavender scented shelf paper, I created a pleasing background for this year's first image, a print of a painting by Gustave Courbet called The Trellis. Earlier this week I enjoyed an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts celebrating the art and influence of Delacroix. This painting with its rich and deep depiction of a young woman arranging flowers was one of my favorites. 
A collage from an earlier year

But now what do I do with all the pieces I have removed from the memory board? Sad to say, some are tossed. Some, however, are added to the messy photo boxes hidden in cupboards for some day organizing. But some will become a collage in a large sketchbook. 

I enjoy this process, for it is a mix of reflection and creativity, a way to savor and not simply store, and doing this moves me further into 2016 and a cleaner, more orderly garret. Bird by bird. 

An Invitation
What have you done to cross the bridge from 2015 to 2016? What memories from 2015 will you bring with you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Entry to the New Year: Tuesday's Reflections

My plan for this first post of 2016 was to offer inspiration for entering the new year. Perhaps a meditation to use in this first week or thoughts about setting intentions for the new year. However, I find I am creeping into the new year. Actually, I am sniffling and coughing. 

Normally, putting away the Christmas decorations energizes me to do a thorough cleaning of the whole house, noting places and tasks to do soon in the new year. Usually, my thank you notes are written by this time, along with follow-up notes to some of the letters we received in Christmas cards. Not this year. 

I relish the process of envisioning intentions for the coming year. Where and how do I most want to spend my time and energy? What is pulling on my heart? I often reread the past year's journals and spend time sitting quietly thinking about what has given pleasure and how I have experienced growth. That may yet happen, but it is hard for clarity to occur when one is in the midst of a coughing fit. 

I shared with my writing group last week what I hope will be my motto this year, "Avec vous ecrit aujourd'hui?" Have you written today? The answer so far is "no," except for this post and some of my thank you notes and a few emails along the way. 

This is not the way I hoped to start the new year. 

But so be it. 

The coughing will end, and a solid night's sleep will return. I will feel more myself soon, and then I will create my own new year. 

In the meantime, I am grateful for the sun that has been shining lately, for the memories of a wonderful holiday, and for the awareness that this less than full speed ahead state is temporary. 

An Invitation
How has your entry into the new year been? In what ways can you make each day a new year? I would love to know.