Thursday, April 28, 2016

Little Bits of Paper: Thursday's Reflection

Once again my desk top is covered with notes to myself, including one that says, "Little pieces of paper--idea for blog today."

Many of these notes are written during my morning meditation time, when in spite of quieting my mind or is it because I quiet my mind, ideas flow. I quickly jot down the kernel of the thought in a little notebook, tear out the page and return to my reading or writing in my journal or praying or sitting in silence. 

At my desk working on a blog post or a chapter for my book I grab a sticky note and scribble a question or image or thought. I am just as apt, however, to make a note in the small notebook on the table next to my side of our bed or on the small slips of card stock clipped together on a metal ring I keep in the car. I am not in the car for long periods very much these days, but when I was driving frequently between St Paul and Madison or even before when I drove this direction from Ohio, the passenger seat was littered with these little bits of paper by the end of the driving time. I noted how many hawks or flocks of turkeys I saw or the title of a book mentioned on public radio or a "to do" reminder for when I returned home. Or just a random nudge to explore in my journal or other writing. 

Here are two samples from my current pile both related to the chapter I am currently drafting:

       Sweetwater Farm: Write about occasional pieces of 
       pottery Bruce found digging in the garden--links to past. 

       Harvest Table--not just object -- something to look at,
       fill space. Place where things happened--used, experienced,
       relationships grew, secrets shared.

Many notes to myself are more mundane -- simple reminders not to forget x, y, z or to follow through on something I have been asked to do. Or to check if we need cereal or milk before going to the grocery store.

I suppose all these pieces of paper could be minor irritants, suggesting my mind, not what it used to be, needs reminders, but I think of them in a different way.

My little bits of paper are communications with my inner voice. That voice signals an openness to my own creativity, to my connection to the past as I live in the present and process for the future, and to my openness to the day and to the world in which I live and breathe. When I write a note to myself, I am in dialogue with my inner spirit. "What are you noticing, Nancy? Feeling? Wondering about? How is it you are to live today? 

These little bits of paper are gifts of gratitude and grace. 

These little bits of paper are moments of meditation.   

 All the little bits of paper are saved under a paperweight on my desk until I decide to read them, sort, file, discard, use. And now it is that time. 

An Invitation
How do you know when your inner voice is talking to you? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wide or Deep?: Tuesday's Reflection

I believe in gathering a multitude of spiritual practices into a metaphorical basket in which I can access the one or two most needed at any moment. In order to do that I have walked a wide spiritual path, peering into a variety of religious traditions and exploring numerous traditions and tools. 

At the same time I am a "genetic Lutheran" --the tradition of my childhood and the tradition that continues to call and sustain me. 

Some say one either must choose a spiritual path that is wide or one that is deep. I admit I am someone who likes to have it all and doesn't want to miss anything with the potential to enrich this being I was created to be. Therefore, I maintain it is possible to create a spiritual path that is both wide and deep. 

Last week I read a book that has been on my shelf for a long time, The December Project by Sara Davidson. The book is the result of conversations with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement. Ever since hearing him speak at a hospice conference many years ago, I have respected his wisdom, especially regarding the spiritual work of aging. You might be familiar with his book From Age-ing to Sage-ing. 

In The December Project Davidson and Reb Zalman discuss a key question, "What is the spiritual work of this time, and how do you prepare for the mystery?" When he was asked about his prayer life in the December years, for example, he said, "I just sit and let God love me." Davidson writes, "So he sees December as the time when you 'furnish your solitude with God.'" How good to practice now that kind of praying in anticipation of my December years. (I think I am in October, a time of becoming an elder, or maybe, more realistically, November, a time of serving as an elder.)

But where the book especially resonated with me was in the discussion of the wide or deep spiritual path. Reb Zalman classifies himself as a "spiritual mutt." He is 
              indebted to the lineage holders who keep original
              teachings and rituals alive so that those of us walking 
              the wide path can take what we need and leave the 
              rest. If generation after generation hadn't preserved
              the religion in its original form, we wouldn't be able
              to adapt it for our own time and needs. We'd find 
              ourselves with a multitude of adaptations containing
              fewer of the original touchstones, and our culture
              would be impoverished indeed. p. 154

In other words, both wide and deep are needed. 

He reinforces that when he explains that every religion is an "essential organ for the health of planet, providing certain kinds of wisdom the world needs." 
                …all forms of religion are masks that the divine
                wears to communicate with us. Behind all religions,
                there's a reality, and this reality wears whatever 
                clothes it needs to speak to a particular people. For
                Jews, it's a Torah with a crown. For Christian, the 
                log-on to the infinite is Jesus." p. 93

Consider those words when you think there is only one path, especially a narrow one. 

An Invitation
Have you traveled a wide path or a deep path? In what ways do you feel called to transform your path? I would love to know. 

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi             
The December Project

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Endings: Thursday's Reflection

One season ends. Another begins. 
Sometimes endings seem to pile up at the door. 

Lives end. Recently, one of my aunts died, the wife of my mother's brother and the mother of one of my favorite cousins. And about the same time a dear friend from our Cleveland days died quite unexpectedly. 

Careers and roles end: My husband is moving from being semi-retired to fully retired. 

Activities end: A group I have been leading these past months ended this week and another one will end soon. 

Books end. Relationships end. Vacations end. Responsibilities end. Days end. 

How ironic that as I was thinking about significant endings in my life, a book I had ordered arrived in the mail: It's Never Too Late to Begin Again, Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond by the Artist's Way guru, Julia Cameron.  Perfect.

And it is spring with daily bursts of color. 

And we Christians are in the Easter season. A season that defies endings. 

Once again I am grateful for the wisdom of  Joan Chittister. These words are from her book, In Search of Belief.

          To say, "I believe in Jesus Christ…who rose from the
          dead" is to say something about myself…It says that I
          myself am ready to be transformed. Once the Christ-life
          rises in me, I rise to new life as well."

Endings make room for transformation. At least that is what can happen, if we open the door and cross the threshold to transformation. 

Today seems like a good day for these words. I don't know the source, but no doubt they are familiar to you.
                    The path before me,
                    May I walk it in peace.

                    The path behind me,
                    May I leave it in peace.

                    And the path within me,
                    Oh, God, may it be peace indeed.

An Invitation
What endings have you experienced lately? Can you feel the transformation? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Feeling Free: Tuesday's Reflection

It was green and white with a wire basket, and I got it for my ninth birthday. A new bike. My ticket to adventure and exploration and freedom. 

Those were the days when you could call out to your Mom, "See you later," and be gone for hours. Mom was probably grateful for the peace and quiet and didn't spend much, if any, time worrying about the possible dangers out there. You knew when you needed to be home and you knew where you were allowed to go, although sometimes you stretched those boundaries just a bit. Having a bike of your own was freedom, a kind of carefree release, an exercise in imagination.

My bike was a horse, a car, a means to some thing different and sometimes a way to get away from something. On my bike I was Nancy Drew and a cowgirl and a grown-up who wore tailored suits to her important job. I was 16 biking with friends or 20 going from class to class on a college campus or I was in my 30's biking behind my own little girl on her own first bike. I didn't imagine myself older than 35, for that was old enough. 

My family moved frequently when I was a kid, and my bike was not only how I explored the new neighborhood, but it was also how I filled in the friendless days till school started. I scouted houses where a potential friend might be living, pedaling slowly by if I caught a glimpse of a girl who looked my age. I noted the address and passed that way frequently. Hoping, always hoping. 

The summer we moved to Long Island I often biked a winding, woody road to the shore where Nathan Hale, a Revolutionary War hero, had landed. I leaned against the large rock with the commemorative plaque about that event and day dreamed about not being so lonely. On a bike I thought I didn't look so lonely. For all anyone knew I was going to meet up with a gang of friends.

Time on my bike filled in the blanks for me. In a way it was my knight in shining armor who rescued me. 

Those were the years before biking became exercise and a competitive activity. Those were the days when biking belonged mainly to kids. Before the days when going biking meant an all-day trek of 10, 20, or 30 miles and involved wearing slick outfits reminiscent of a new species of bugs. That was long before a culture of biking was born. Those were the days of getting on your bike and waving good-bye as you headed down the block.

I hold those days gently in my heart. 

My birthday present this year is a brand new bike--a white, 7 gear Raleigh with a colorful basket on the front. And a helmet, of course. Sunday I went on my first brief ride--just over to our grandkids' house and back. I was a bit nervous, I admit, for I had not been on a bike for a long time. Emphasis on the LONG! I am not used to the gears yet, and I know this out of shape body is not ready for mile after mile along the Minnehaha Creek trails, but some of those same feelings I had as a nine year old returned. I felt free and easy. I felt unencumbered. I felt light and open. I felt ready for whatever I saw around the corner. It was a good feeling. 

An Invitation
When did you feel free and easy as a child? What might you do now as an adult, perhaps an older adult, to reacquaint yourself with those feelings. I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Long View: Thursday's Reflection

When the subject of aging comes up, as it often does these days in my circle of life, I sometimes announce with great confidence, "I intend to keep enlarging my life, instead of living a smaller, more narrow existence."

Is that wishful thinking?

Obviously, aging comes with many losses: of loved ones, of possessions as we downsize and simplify our surroundings, of capabilities, both physical and mental, of energy perhaps, of our position and influence in the world. Don't all those things contribute to a smaller, more limited life? 

Well, yes, but my heart keeps telling me something else. I don't mean enlarging my life through anything that can be counted or evaluated. Rather, my life has the potential to be bigger because of the spaciousness in it. I am no longer driven by any one else's expectations of who I should be or how I should respond or what I should do. The "shoulds" have been melting away, and that leaves so much room for more compassion, for more light, for more silence and solitude, for more presence and awareness. 

Recently, I read Oliver Sacks' final book, a collection of essays written not long before he died, Gratitude. Writing about his father, he says, 
            He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking, but an
            enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has 
            had a long experience of life, not only one's own life, 
            but others' too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies,
            booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great
            achievements and deep ambiguities…One is more
            conscious of transience and perhaps, of beauty…one 
            can take a long view and have a a vivid, lived sense
            of history not possible at an earlier age. (p. 10)

Sacks also says these older years are a time to "bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together." I love that, and that feels BIG to me.

I confess I don't entirely know what my belief in an ongoing expansion of my existence means, but I am open to the surprise of discovery.  

An Invitation
How is your life expanding? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

An Empty Frame: Tuesday's Reflection

Isabella Stewart Gardner by John Singer Sargent
What a treat! Last week I visited a friend who lives in the Boston area, and we spent part of a day at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which opened in 1903. Gardner, thanks primarily to money left to her by her father, was an eclectic collector, and the building built to her specifications houses works by Matisse, Whistler, Sargent, Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, and many others, along with textiles, sculpture, drawings, ceramics and more. 

Some of the galleries are arranged "salon style"--paintings hung in what seems to be a "wherever there is space" style. 

The whole experience, including views of nasturtium vines extending from balconies in an inner courtyard--a long time tradition started by Gardner herself--is a feast for the eyes.

What most intrigued me, however, was not what I saw, but what I didn't see. Perhaps you recall hearing about the 1990 theft of 13 pieces of art from the museum. None of them have been recovered. One of the pieces stolen was Chez Tortoni by Manet. Its frame was left behind, however, and that frame hangs in its original location. An empty frame. 

In a way I was surprised I noticed the empty frame, for the room is busy with so much art and the walls are papered in a fairly busy design. Once I realized what I was looking at --and what I wasn't seeing--I tried to imagine what had been there, what had filled the now empty frame. Of course, I wonder, too, where is that small treasured painting? Who has it and why was that particular painting stolen? 

Those of you who are ongoing readers of this blog know my tendency to find metaphor in most every experience, and of course, this is one of those times. 

Imagine an empty frame on a wall in your home. What once hung inside that frame? Do you miss whatever was there or was it something that needed to be removed from view? If that is the case, why is the frame still there? Is the empty frame a positive reminder of something important to remember about your life or does it perpetuate a wound slow to heal? 

Or is that empty frame an invitation, an opportunity? What belongs in that frame now--a new piece of your life, perhaps? What are you currently creating in your life that deserves to be on view? What does that empty frame symbolize for you?

Is it time to take down that frame? Or is it time to fill that frame with something new? 

We each have empty frames in our life. Sometimes those frames need to be put in a box and sold in a spring garage sale. Sometimes those frames can be reused and filled with more up to date photographs or pieces of art that speak to our imaginations and preferences now. Sometimes that frame with its contents is too precious to let go of and may simply need a new location. Sometimes it is fine just where it is. You get to decide.

An Invitation
Take some time to stroll through the house of your heart. Note where there are empty frames. What are you called to do with them? I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fantasy Space: Thursday's Reflection

When we were in Chicago recently, celebrating our grandson Peter's 8th birthday, a family tradition beginning when his mother turned 8, we stayed at the University Club of Chicago.

We quickly learned this spot located just off Michigan Avenue by the Art Institute of Chicago, was much more than a place to sleep. Along with meeting spaces, restaurants, and a good work-out area, which these days is normal for most hotels, we discovered a gorgeous, old world kind of library.

Leather chairs and ottomans. Desks with views of Lake Michigan. Long tables with every imaginable periodical and newspaper. Fireplace and thick cozy area rugs begging for bare feet. And 6,000 books! 

As much as I loved our daily excursions to the Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, and the Field Museum of Natural History, I was eager to play the part of a university don, preferably one at Cambridge or Oxford, and spend an evening with a good book and a glass of sherry. No sherry to be found, but much to my delight one of the staff offered me and other guests cookies of the English biscuit variety. Heaven!

Some people fantasize about leaving every care and woe behind and living on a private beach. Paradise for others might be an island hopping cruise that doesn't end. Or maybe a villa in Tuscany (That wouldn't be bad!) or an atelier in Paris (Another great option.)  A writing retreat at the University Club of Chicago, however, meets my daydreaming requirements. 

Our daydreams can lead to valuable insights. Ask yourself: 
         What does your imaginary life reveal about what is
          important to you?  
          What is it you are meant to be doing right now in your life? 
          How do your daydreams reveal who you were created to be?

I loved spending a brief time in this library, an unexpected treat in a trip that was already a special time and maybe some day I will return there, but what it actually revealed and reinforced for me is my ongoing commitment to my spiritual memoir project. 

I recently started working on the third part of my book and in doing so I reread a notebook written ten years ago when I first started envisioning this project. I didn't know it was a spiritual memoir then--that has evolved--but some of the core pieces for the book can be found in that notebook. I have started and restarted, stopped and set the intentions aside for big chunks of time, but I seem to be on a roll right now. I am perfectly content to write in my pleasant garret with my own personal library surrounding me, for I know I am moving forward towards making my daydreams a reality.

I admit, however, sometimes I pretend I can see Lake Michigan from my window. 

                         Let yourself be silently drawn by the 
                         strange pull of what you really love.
                         It will not lead you astray.
                                            Jalaluddin Rumi

An Invitation
What is it you have yearned to do? If not now, when? I would love to know. Let your daydreams be your guide.