Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Right Tools: Thursday's Reflection

The other day I went to the Fed Ex store to have a bin full of vintage pottery mailed to a friend. We have several bins of this colorful pottery, which we bought in Ohio and displayed first in a large painted cupboard in our dining room at Sweetwater Farm and then on top of our cupboards in the kitchen of our home in Madison. Alas, there is no room for these treasures in our current home. We sold a number of pieces in garage sales, but still have quite a bit left. (Anyone interested?)

I was thrilled when a friend said she would love some pieces for her kitchen, but packing them up didn't sound like much fun. Off I went to Fed Ex.

In about 25 minutes the two workers did what it would have taken me hours to do --and much spent frustration and energy.

The secret: they had the right tools.

I would have had to buy many rolls of bubble wrap and packing tape and find the right size box. I can imagine myself struggling to wrap each piece securely and safely and sticking to the tape as I tried to cut just the right amount. Even wrapping Christmas presents is not my favorite task, so this would have been a nightmare.

No problem for these guys. They had packing tape guns and huge rolls of bubble wrap which they unrolled easily. They had a tool to cut down the large box to the exact size and a scale to weigh it on and zoom, zoom, I gratefully paid them for the job well done, and the box was on its way. 

The right tools can make a big difference in many areas of our life--cooking, gardening, cleaning, creating art, participating in sports and fitness activities. Etc.

The right tools --or practices--can make a difference in our spiritual lives as well. And entering a new season is a perfect time to evaluate the practices and tools you are using to deepen your connection with God, the sacred, the holy. Is it time to make a change to try something else?

           I do whatever works and change it when it 
           no longer works. Thich Nhat Hanh

           And suddenly I know: It's time to start something
           new and trust the magic of beginnings.
                                        Meister Eckhart

Some Ideas
Is one of your spiritual practices writing in a journal, but you haven't been doing that for awhile? Do you need a new journal? Do you need to write in your journal at a different time of the day?

Now that spring is arriving consider walking meditation rather than or in addition to sitting meditation. 

Use your phone as a spiritual tool. Take a photograph a day to awaken you to the beauty around you or the human condition or your ongoing quest for wholeness.

Open to a new volunteer opportunity. Ask your friends and family what needs they are aware of in the community. Check online for organizations in your neighborhood doing good things. Stretch yourself.

Extend a hand of friendship to someone you don't know--the person in the pew in front of you or the person next to you at a concert or lecture. In fact, deciding to take a class or attend something out of your comfort zone can be a spiritual practice.

Walk a labyrinth. Make a string of prayer beads and pray your blessings, your burdens, your hopes. Open a sacred book and see what the message is for you. 

Stand on your front step and welcome the day. 

This list could go on and on, but here's just one more. Make an appointment with a spiritual director. Meeting with a spiritual director can open you to the movement of God, the sacred, the holy, in your life and can lead you to new tools, new practices. 

An Invitation
What tools and practices have been helpful and meaningful in your life in the past, but may need rejuvenation or replacement? I would love to know. 

To find a spiritual director in your area consult Spiritual Directors International here.
A favorite book about spiritual practices, but there are many, is Jane Vennard's  Fully Awake and Truly Alive. 

NOTE: I am taking a brief spring break. My next post will be Thursday, April 7. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Words that Remain: Tuesday's Reflection

At St Paul Conservatory. Photo Credit: Bruce Agneberg
Lent is over. Holy Week was last week, and Easter Sunday has come and gone. What remains?

Today is a good day to sit still and see what floats up through the silence. 

"God renew." Each Wednesday evening at the Lenten service we chanted this phrase in response to petitions for all creation. I pray for renewal of all creation and that includes me. What within me cries out for renewal?

An invitation to "unplug." To sit in silence for three minutes every day. Sitting in silence is not hard for me. I welcome and depend on the silence, but within that invitation was another deeper question. Where am I too attached? In what ways do I need to let go and unplug?

On Maundy Thursday we accepted a call to take off our socks and shoes and let someone wash our feet and then to wash the feet of another. An invitation to be vulnerable. An invitation to be tender and to receive another's care. 

That same evening the phrase "the unlikely friends of Jesus" was used and I thought about what Nadia Bolz-Weber says in her book Accidental Saints, Finding God in all the Wrong People, "Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting." Me, too. 

Good Friday we were each invited to lay our burdens on the cross in the form of a red ribbon. I named my burdens and failings, at least the ones I am aware of, in my heart, and asked for forgiveness and for relief and for clarity. 

"This is the night," we chanted at the Easter Vigil Saturday night. How often I say to myself and others, "If not now, when?" All of a sudden the "now" had come and there was no turning back. What have I missed because I waited too long? What is the threshold the night implores me to cross?

"Yes!" Sunday morning roared with "Yes!" "Yes to love. Yes to forgiveness. Yes to kindness and gentleness. Yes to life." You can read Pastor Bradley's sermon here.

These past weeks have been intense with words and images and encounters. Some weeks are like that, even without connection to specific traditions or beliefs. What remains, what will continue to resonate will unfold. My prayer is that each of us open our hearts to the prompts in front of us. To wake up. To become more whole.

An Invitation
What has called you, spoken to you recently? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Peace Talks: Thursday's Reflection

I woke full of memories of a long weekend in Chicago with our daughter and grands. Our family tradition is to celebrate 8th birthdays with a trip to Chicago. We had walked miles through the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Field Museum. We had the traditional massive sundae at Ghiradelli's and the beyond delicious pizza at Gino's. 

Peter, our new 8 year old, had pronounced it all "amazing."  

I woke eager for the day. In the morning I would facilitate my monthly contemplative writing and spiritual direction group at church. In the afternoon my writing group would gather in our living room as we do every other week. I had a new chapter to share with the group, and I was eager for their inspiration and insights, but also to hear their current work. 

And then, as I drove to church, I heard the news. The news about Brussels. More bombs. More violence. More deaths. More injuries. More uncertainty. More discord. More fear. 

What I needed more of was peace. 

           I do not want the peace which passeth understanding.
           I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
                                          Helen Keller

I decided I could continue to hold within the delight I felt about our recent happy family times and the pleasure and awe I feel when I am in the presence of those seeking deeper connections with God and with each other. At the same time I could feel deep sadness about the gap in the world --the gap between peaceful understanding and such limited hate-filled views of living and being in the world. 

This morning I sat with these words by Julia Cameron in her book, Blessings, Prayers and Declarations for a Heartful Life

                  Distance and diversity are part of me. I bless
                  my width and depth. All that is foreign and
                  unfamiliar is yet part of who I am. Mine is the
                  family of man. My tribe inhabits the earth, 
                  walking in different lands, speaking in 
                  different tongues but living one life as we go
                  forward. Knowing that I am a part of all life,
                  I cherish differences. I embrace diversity. 
                  Recognizing that all faces and forms are my own
                  face and form, I treat myself and others with
                  dignity. We are brothers. We are sisters. We are
                  husband and wife, mother and father. We are a 
                  family of many colors and many cloaks. We are
                  one life. The language of the heart speaks to us
                  all. I cherish that which my brother cherishes. I
                  walk in harmony, generosity, and abundance.
                   I share my gifts from the gifts I share. p. 21-22

I read these words aloud. More than once. I invite you to do the same. Let's read them together. 

An Invitation
How do you respond when peace seems invisible? I would love to know. 

NOTE: In November I wrote my response to the bombings in Paris here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Palm Sunday A Few Days Later:Tuesday's Reflection

If you went to church this past Sunday you probably were given a palm branch to wave as you shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"

What did you do with your palm after church? 

I remember seeing palms tucked behind a picture of Christ in the home of childhood friends who were Catholic. You probably know the picture. A headshot of Jesus, looking more Scandinavian than like a Middle Eastern Jew. In some countries I understand the palms are placed on graves of loved ones who have died. Or the palms may be burned and the ashes preserved for use at Ash Wednesday services the next year. 

Whatever happens to the palms waved with reverence and respect, Palm Sunday signals the beginning of Holy Week, a time to reflect on the final week of Jesus' life. For practicing Christians it is a week of going to church a lot 

This week, no matter what your faith tradition or what your view of life may be, can be a week of reflection. 

Begin with noting what you reverence and respect. Continue with expressing what feels like a blessing in your life. Spend time at a table with loved ones and offer them gifts of fellowship and love. Allow yourself to feel a loss you have not yet fully realized. But then on Sunday, Easter Sunday, rejoice in new hope and life that continues to open for you. 

Imagine the swaying and waving of palms as you reflect on the many dimensions of your own life. May this be a time of new insight and growth. 

An Invitation
What is the invitation of this time of year for you? I would love to know. 

Note: Photos taken at St Paul Conservatory. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thoughts of the Dark: Thursday's Reflection

We are back to morning darkness. This is my view as I looked out the back window from my garret at 6:00 a.m. this morning. Thanks to the start of daylight savings time. I know each day we will see daylight arrive earlier as we head into spring, but it is hard to move back into the dark. 

Life is like that, of course. Sometimes we are in the light. And sometimes we are in the dark. What we know for sure is that the movement between the dark and the light will always continue. Our job goes beyond survival. Our task is to find the grace in both. 

Fortunately, there is help. As you know, dear readers, Joan Chittister is one of my favorite guides. One of her most recent books, Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life is the perfect companion as I explore the dimensions of light and dark. 

A few words to guide us: 

        The light we gain in darkness is the awareness that, 
        however bleak the place of darkness was for us, we 
        did not die there. We know now that life begins 
        again on the other side of the darkness. Another life.
        A new life. After the death, the loss, the rejection, the
        failure, life does go on. Differently, but on. Having
        been sunk into the cold night of black despair--and
        having survived it--we rise to new light, calm and clear
        and confident that what will be, will be enough for us.
        Growth is the boundary between the darkness of 
        unknowing and the light of new wisdom, new
        insight, new vision of who and what we ourselves have
        become. After darkness we are never the same again.
        We are only stronger, simpler, surer than ever before
        that there is nothing in life we cannot survive, because
        though life is bigger than we are, we are meant to grow
        to our fullest dimensions in it. page 20

I have known the dark. I have known long stretches of light. I realize now in my later years how much of life is a mix of light and dark. Rarely has the dark been so dark I have not been able to see anything. I also know in the brightest of light times, there are pockets of shadow. I know times of darkness will come again. Therefore, now is the time to brighten the light within me. 

An Invitation
What have the times of darkness taught you? What light do you bring into the dark with you. I would love to know. 

Other Resources
Learning to Walk in the Dark Barbara Brown Taylor
The Dark Night of the Soul, A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth. Gerald G. May, M.D.
Dark Nights of the Soul, A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals. Thomas Moore

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Returning Home: Tuesday's Reflection

I was out of town for a couple of days, spending time with friends. I am grateful for the good reconnection, but I also loved the alone time of the drive itself. And the sights: cranes, eagles, juvenile hawks, turkeys, an Amish horse and buggy on an overpass, sparkling open water thrilled to be freed from ice, and the yellow, as if spray-painted, of willow trees announcing spring. The stage is cleared and ready for the next seasonal act.  

Yes, it was all good. 

As I started my return trip, I plotted what I would do when I got home. I knew the week would be a busy one and by getting home early afternoon, I could get a head start on the week's list. I could write a blog post or two or print out the chapter I am currently revising for my in-progress book. I could answer emails, too. Of course, laundry or maybe grocery shop. Or in my optimism: DO IT ALL! 

Instead, my husband and I sat and shared our days. He, too, had been on a road trip, although not an overnight one, and described his experience of spring's breaking news, including glimpses of at least 50 eagles! 

After our good conversation I assumed I would move into "now I am home, get busy" gear, but I didn't. I did unpack my one small bag, but after looking at the mail and glancing at my calendar for the week, I stood still and took a long deep breath. 
                    What is it I most want to do right now? 
                    What am I most able to do right now? 
                    How am I meant to be in the rest of the day? 

I realized, as good as the days away had been, I was weary. I never sleep as well away as I do at home. Plus, daylight savings time kicked in, robbing us of an hour. I knew I didn't quite have the energy to write or work on creative projects. The laundry could wait. In fact, everything I planned to do would not suffer by delaying till Monday morning.

Instead of desk time, I stretched out in the snuggery and read the Sunday New York Times. What a luxury, for it seems, lately, I rarely read more than the book review. Then instead of going grocery shopping, we went out for an early supper at a favorite neighborhood spot, giving us more catch-up time. And then in the evening, with no Downton Abbey to watch, I returned to the snuggery to start reading a new novel,  The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres. Finally, I went to bed early.

Not only did I awake Monday morning refreshed, but I felt ready, even eager, to write and to move through the week's list. A side benefit is that the gifts of the previous days lingered. By not brushing them aside, as I rushed to move forward, I integrate them into the gifts of the present days. The day flowed effortlessly. 

Sometimes it is good to pause before moving to the next thing on the list. 

An Invitation
What is it you most want to do right now? What are you most able to do right now? How are you meant to be in the rest of the day? 
I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Blessings: Thursday's Reflection

Monday mornings I go to school. I walk the three short blocks to the elementary school in our neighborhood where our grandson Peter is a second grader and where our granddaughter Maren attended until middle school. One morning a week I volunteer in the library, shelving books. An easy and pleasurable task, even the weekly necessary reorganization of the ever popular animal and sports sections, which are always in much loved disarray!

The school no longer has a full-time librarian, and volunteers are needed to keep the library running smoothly. My part is minor, indeed, but I am grateful the children of Groveland Park have a pleasant environment in which to connect with books and develop a love of reading, and I want that to continue. 

Although shelving books may be the acknowledged reason I am there, I have discovered I am actually there to offer blessings and gratitude. 

As I walk up the stairs to the main school doors, I whisper to all who are there--teachers, the principal and other staff, but especially the students--"God Bless. May all be well." 

 This past Monday while I was signing the volunteer register, I heard a parent with unskilled English enrolling his child in school, and I wondered about their story--where they were from and what brought them here. The little girl looked dazed and uncertain, and I wished I could ease the fear within her. What I could do was whisper, "God Bless. May all be well."

Sometimes I hear a student who is unhappy about something. I know I can't reach out and try to comfort him, but I can whisper, "God Bless. May all be well." Or I sense a teacher's frustration when a group of students are not behaving respectfully. "God Bless.  May all be well."

One day a second grade student, but not in Peter's class, asked me to help him find him a book about leopards. He had pulled a book off the shelf about wild animals, and I asked him if we should see if that book had any information about leopards. We looked in the index in the back of the book, but how challenging that was, for he did not yet have a good grasp of the alphabet. I ached for him, hoping he is getting the help he needs and that it will make a difference for him. I found him a simple book about leopards with lots of pictures and he seemed relieved. "God Bless. May all be well."

2010, Grand Opening Celebration of Library
When I leave, I see children on the playground, buses waiting for the preschool children to board, and sometimes a parent coming up the walk. So many opportunities and reasons to offer a blessing. "God Bless. May all be well."

And the amazing thing is that I feel blessed, too. 

An Invitation

Where do you go, what do you do that is part of your everyday life that could benefit from the gift of a blessing? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An Easy, Happy Day:Tuesday's Reflection

I have nothing profound to say today. 

I have nothing momentous or earth-shattering or life-changing to report.

What I do want to say, however, is that each day is a gift, but somedays are better gifts than others. Saturday was one of those days.

Bruce started the day with his men's book group at church, which has become an important part of his life. Yes, they discuss a book, but sometimes the book is merely an excuse, a tool, for these men, who, by and large, are of retirement age, to connect with one another, to explore the value of friendship in their lives. 

While he was gone, I did some home tending, still in my pajamas, which is my favorite cleaning attire. Not much was needed, but nonetheless I zoomed around with duster and vacuum cleaner, channeling my mother, Mrs. Clean.

Once Bruce was home, the adventure of the day started. Now for those of you who define "adventure" as trips to the other side of the world or doing something with a high risk factor, feel free to smile and roll your eyes. We got in the car and drove along our favorite Minnehaha Parkway route and then around Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles, once again admiring the varied architecture and the large, elegant homes. I always play the House Game: "If I could, I would choose to live in that one. No, this one." I wonder about the people who built those homes in the golden age of Minneapolis history and about the people who live in them now. If you love Downton Abbey like I do, you will understand.

Our destination was Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore owned by the author Louise Erdrich. A favorite place, but we don't go there often enough. At least we make up for our infrequency by always buying a pile of books. Saturday was no exception. 

We then decided to have lunch at a restaurant next to the bookstore. New to us, The Kenwood Cafe may now be our favorite brunch spot. I had eggs cocotte with mushrooms and spinach and a shaved black truffle on top. Delicious. We stacked our books on the banquette and talked about summer landscaping plans and also the idea of adding some built-in bookcases in the sun porch, which we call the snuggery. Good easy talk. 

We ambled our way home along Lake Street, a street of many worlds and much to explore. And every variety of restaurant. We noted some for our "must try" list. 

Finally, home. Bruce headed to the bedroom to take a nap, and I settled into the snuggery to finish the book I had been reading, The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. I am quite sure this novel will go on my year-end "favorites" list, even though it is only March. 

The rest of the day included some ironing, fixing dinner of salmon and our favorite pea salad, and also fresh strawberries, and then watching some television. It was just one of those easy, happy, companionable days. A gift.

But here's the thing. Sometimes you have to go after the gift or create the gift. We decided to live the day mindfully, to be present to each other, to be present to ourselves, to be present to the life around us. 

Every day is a gift, if that is the way you choose to live it.

An Invitation
What does the gift of a day look like to you? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Caucus Night: Thursday's Reflection

We needed to park several blocks away from the site of our caucus meeting, amazed and delighted to see the throngs of people gathering to be part of our political process. Apparently, that was the case all over Minnesota Tuesday night, and although I would have preferred a Clinton victory, how good it is to know people care enough to uphold the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in this country.


                            By working in this manner,
                            for the sake of the land and the people
                            to be in vital relation
                            with each other,
                            we will have life,
                            and it will continue. 
                                              Simon Ortiz

Last night as I looked at the long line of people from our neighborhood waiting to register and then vote, I thought about all the times I took our young children with me when I voted. I wanted them to know this is something we do in this country. I am not a big activist, but there have been times over the years when I have written letters, stuffed envelopes, canvassed neighborhoods, marched in demonstrations, and made financial contributions. How fortunate I have felt to be able to participate in ways I choose and of my own free will. 

Last night was clear evidence of a caring and committed people.

               The time for healing of the wounds has come.
               The time to build is upon us…
               We pledge ourselves to liberate all people
               from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation,
               suffering, gender and discrimination…
               There is no easy road to freedom…
               None of us acting alone can achieve success.
               We must therefore act together as a united people,
               for reconciliation, for nation building,
               for the birth of a new world. 
                                                        Nelson Mandela

We may get tired of the hype and the rhetoric and the political ads, but last night was a reminder that we get to decide what we want this country to be now and in the future. 

                Who is fit to hold power
                       and worthy to act in God's place?
                 Those with a passion for the truth,
                       who are horrified by injustice,
                 who act with mercy to the poor
                        and take up the cause of the helpless,
                 who have let go of selfish concerns
                         and see the whole earth as sacred,
                  refusing to exploit her creatures
                         or to foul her waters and lands.
                  Their strength is in their compassion;
                         God's light shines through their hearts.
                   Their children's children will bless them,
                          and the work of their hands will endure.
                                            Psalm 24 (version by Stephen Mitchell)

An Invitation
How will you engage in the political process in the coming months? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A New Month: Tuesday's Reflection

Ah, March. We made it through January and February. Winter has been relatively easy this year here in Minnesota, but still talk in the line at the grocery store and post office seems to revolve around an eagerness for spring. This is the time of the year when gardeners plot and plan, even though planting is yet months away. This is the time of the year when mittens are lost and heavy sweaters and coats look tired and dreary. We yearn, it seems, for green, for sprouts, for front step sitting, for asparagus and strawberries, instead of crock pot stews. 

We are ready for change, for movement into another season. 

The new season will appear, no matter what, but exactly when is out of our control. Eventually, however, there will be the first garage sales of the season, and there will be pussy willows and tulips.  There will be umbrellas and rain boots and finally, finally, dry, brown Christmas wreaths and garland will be removed from front doors. And Easter will come, as it does every year -- this year in March. Early. Winter will change into spring.

But what change will you make in March? What change have you made this winter? 

My favorite phrase these days is "Nothing changes if nothing changes." How obvious this is, like the title of John Kabat Zinn's book, Wherever You Go, There You Are or another favorite refrigerator magnet, "If you do what you've always done, you get what you've always gotten." 

We have no choice but to wait for the new season, but that is not true of everything in our life. We can choose to live more mindfully. We can choose to let go of past hurts and regrets. We can choose to forgive ourselves and others. We can choose to experience each day as a sacred gift. We can choose to give more of ourselves. We can choose to say "yes" to what matters most to us and "no" to what matters most to someone else, but leaves us frustrated and over committed. We can choose to enlist help as we struggle with our demons, our closed doors, and our default responses. 

We can choose to integrate a spiritual practice into our life and by doing so prepare for the inevitability of unwanted change. 

I tend to hold onto winter for as long as I can. I love this time of hibernation, but, if I were to be truly candid, I might admit that delaying an acceptance of a new season is false security. I know in my soul the only time I have to change and become the person I was created to be is NOW. March 1 seems like a good day to start. 

An Invitation
What change will you welcome into your life as you welcome the new season? I would love to know.