Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Compassion Retreat: Thursday's Reflection


      May I abide in lovingkindness. 
      May I be free from suffering.
      May I receive what I need.
      May I be at peace. 

What a gift it was to participate in a retreat led by Joyce Rupp.
Joyce has been one of my spiritual heroes for a long time and if you have been reading this blog for awhile, no doubt you will recall frequent references to her books. Her writings are core references for me.

You know how it is, however, when you meet someone who has influenced you from afar. Will I be disappointed? Will she be different than the person I have gotten to know on the page? 

Well, I experienced NO disappointment. Joyce Rupp is warm and approachable and humble and open. And wise. I am so grateful for the recent days in her presence. 

The topic of the retreat was compassion. Not a simple or easy topic, and I am still processing much of what was offered during those days. Although the content was thought-provoking and dialogue with others stimulating, the best part was the amount of silence for contemplation and reflection structured into each day. We started the day meditating and chanting and ended the day that way as well, but then in the middle of the day we had three hours of silence. 

Three hours of silence. 

I live a fairly quiet life and most days I begin the day in silent meditation leading to a day in which most of what I do is accompanied by silence. I welcome that, treasure that, and know I am nurtured in that silence. Still, to have three hours with no  intention other than to maintain silence was heavenly. 

I truly didn't know how much I needed that time, how much I needed to retreat until I entered the retreat space that first evening and sat in our circle. When I signed up for the retreat this past winter, mainly because I wanted to have a Joyce Rupp experience, I could not know what a powerful experience of Divine Energy it would be. 

What did I bring home with me? I am still feeling my way through that question, but one covenant I made with myself is to start each day using the Lovingkindness Meditation (Metta) we prayed each morning in the circle. Here's the version we used, repeating each line three times. 
                   May I abide in lovingkindness.
                   May I be free from suffering.
                   May I receive what I need.
                   May I be at peace. 

The lines are then directed to someone I hold in my heart.
                   May you abide in lovingkindness.
                   May you be free from suffering.
                   May you receive what you need.
                   May you be at peace.

Finally, I address the world with the same wishes.
                   May all beings abide in lovingkindness.
                   May all beings be free from suffering.
                   May all beings receive what they need.
                   May all beings be at peace. 

My prayer is that I can bring greater compassion into my life and my relationships.

An Invitation
I invite you to use the Lovingkindness Meditation for the next 30 days. I wonder what you will experience. I would love to know. 

Compassion, Listening to the Cries of the World by Christina Feldman, our main text for the retreat.  
Meditation adapted from Healing into Life and Death by Stephen Levine, pp 23-24 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/263053.Healing_Into_Life_and_Death

Re-Entry Ritual: Tuesday's Post

Last week I attended a retreat at Wisdom Ways, which is located
within walking distance from our house. Because it is so close I could return home each afternoon, and I wondered how that would be. Instead of one re-entry at the end of the four days, I needed to re-enter each day. That can be challenging after a day focused on reflection and contemplation.

I had asked Bruce if he would be willing to manage the evening meal. He graciously agreed, even though cooking is not his thing. He is great at the cleaning up, but normally

I plan the meals, do the grocery shopping, and cook. How grateful I was to be relieved of kitchen duty each afternoon.

I also realized I needed to maintain the quiet of the day. Before dinner I sat in the front room we call the snuggery and read, but also closed my eyes for a short nap. I allowed the thoughts of the day to find a place within. Then after light catch up conversation as we ate, I moved into the garden where the lavender is in full bloom.  

I recall so many pleasurable mornings during our Sweetwater Farm years walking the rows of lavender. The touch of my ankles lightly released the clean smell, and I pretended I was in Provence living the life of a French herbalist. I remember how soothing and meditative it was to strip the stems of excess leaves and wrap together bunches for drying. I kept some to add to bouquets of daisies and roses, also plentiful at the moment.

I know the best time to harvest lavender is in the early morning, but getting my gathering basket from the garage, I knew this was exactly the right task to carry me from one retreat day to the next. 

Sometimes we have the luxury of planning our transitions and responding to what we most need in the moment. More often than we realize we can stop and pause and feel the movement from one moment to another. 

I invite you to smell the lavender.

An Invitation
What helps you during a time of transition or re-entry? I would love to know. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Retreat

I won't be adding any new posts this week because I am attending a retreat led by Joyce Rupp, one of my spiritual heroes. 

I will be back with a new post on Tuesday, June 28. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Blessed Ramadan: Thursday's Reflection

If you live in Minnesota, perhaps you have noticed recently this sign in yards and in front of churches. The sign says, "To our Muslim Neighbors Blessed Ramadan" and was made available by the Minnesota Council of Churches. Our church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, was one of many who distributed the sign to our membership. 

To be honest I don't know if I have any Muslim neighbors. At least on our block. I know when I shop at Target and other places I see Somali women who are shopping or working there, and the other night when we attended an outdoor concert at one of the parks, I was mesmerized by a group of women almost floating across the grass in their flowing robes. But I admit with embarrassment that my personal connection with people of the Islamic faith is greatly limited. In fact, my knowledge of Islam is miniscule. 

The signs, therefore, are for me, too. Not only do I want to express support and show respect for one of the great religions of the world and its believers, but the sign prompts me to learn, to extend my understanding, and to uncover my own prejudices and ignorance. And, perhaps, others when they see the sign will be moved to greater awareness, as well.

Now is a good time to do that.  

A Few Basics
This year Ramadan, which is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims, began on Sunday, June 5 and will end on Tuesday, July 5.  It was during this sacred month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran to Mohammed. That time is called "The Night of Power." 

This is a month devoted to deep contemplation of one's relationship with God, a time for extra prayer and study of the Quaran, but is also a time of celebration and joy with loved ones. In fact, Ramadan ends with a three-day" Festival of Breaking the Fast."

Fasting is a key component of this month--fasting from sunrise to sunset. The purpose of fasting is to focus on one's frailty as a human being and to acknowledge one's dependency on God for sustenance, as well as to increase compassion for the poor and needy. 

It strikes me that the goals and focus of Ramadan could benefit people of all faiths. Whose faith and spirituality could not grow from more time spent reflecting and contemplating and also by responding with charity and love towards anyone in need? 

Even if one does not fast from eating sunrise to sunset, imagine what it would be like to fast from thoughts of resentment, envy, even hate? 

Therefore, I wish Muslims and all their neighbors far and wide a Blessed Ramadan.

An Invitation
In what ways might you honor Ramadan? I would love to know. 

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summer Reading, Part II: Tuesday's Reflection

Everyone seems to announce or publish a summer reading list.
The Top Shelf
Recently, the Sunday New York Times Book Review was devoted to summer reading suggestions. Minnesota Public Radio directs us to worthy choices and in book stores tables are devoted to "beach reads." Normally, I love checking out everyone's lists in order to create my own, but this year I have decided a different strategy.

Along with enjoying mysteries discovered by whim and chance, I have decided to shop my own shelves. We own many, many books we have not yet read. Some are books Bruce has read, but I haven't yet read and want to. Plus, there are far too many I have purchased or been given in the past, which are still languishing unread on a shelf.

I have decided to do something about that. 

I chose one shelf, a top shelf of one of our bookshelves in the lower level. All fiction. Authors with last names beginning with A, B, C, and in one case, D. I have read several already on that shelf, including Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Now here is a dilemma--she has a new book, a sort of sequel to this book, and I know I want to read that, but I don't own it. Should I pretend it is on the list and order from the library? I metaphorically slap my wrist and pretend I didn't have that thought.

I have read others on the shelf by Anita Brookner and Gwendolyn Brooks and others. One of my favorite books, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, I have read more than once. 

But now it is time to consider the books I have not yet read. Those include, but are not limited to Life Class by Pat Barker, Secret Lives by E. F. Benson, Birds without Wings by Louis DeBernieres, and two by William Boyd, Any Human Heart and Restless. I have seen PBS productions of both of the Boyd books and enjoyed them immensely. 

This one shelf alone will give me hours and hours of pleasure, I am sure. 

Now, I ask myself, do I read them in order, or do I allow myself to be a bit less methodical, just as long as I stick to that shelf? What if I am attracted to another book not on the first shelf? And what about additional book purchases of which I am sure there will be some in June, July, and August? 

This is the good thing about being the age I am. I get to decide. I get to make my own guidelines (not rules), and I get to totally divert from them. I get to distract myself without fear of punishment. I don't need to write book reports or prove to a teacher in the fall that I have read the assigned books. 

I can just read. 

I have already made an addition to the Top Shelf Summer Reading List. I have decided to ask our two grandkids for a recommendation. What book do you own that you think I should read? I haven't yet consulted with Maren (age 13) about her choice for me, but when I asked Peter (age 8) he became serious and thoughtful. 

"Can I ask you a question?" he said. 

"Of course."

"Do you like cats?" he asked, waiting for my response.

"Yes," I responded easily.

"Do you like adventure books?" 

"Y..e..s..s." I answered a bit more hesitantly, knowing most of his books are in the adventure category.

He said he would get back to me. I am still waiting for his recommendation, and I can hardly wait. 

An Invitation
What summer guidelines (not rules) do you have for reading or anything else? I would love to know.

Note: To consult last year's summer reading list, click here.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Summer Reading: Thursday's Reflection

I went to the library on Monday afternoon.  Summer is here, and I was eager to start my summer reading program. 

On our road trip over the weekend to Cleveland and back I read the June selection for our book group, In the Land of Invisible Women, A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed, MD, and just prior to that I read Louise Ehrdich's most recent novel, La Rose. Frankly, I was ready for some fluff. 

With a list in hand I headed to the library's mystery section. A friend told me about mysteries by Stephanie Barron with Jane Austen as the main character. Great--three were on the shelf. Thanks to the catalogue, Bas Bleu, one of my favorite resources of books I might otherwise not know about, I had a list of several other titles to check. I added two more to my pile: Murder at Brightwell by Ashley Weaver and Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil by James Runcie, which is the basis for the charming PBS series, Grantchester. Plus, I was pleased to find one of the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley. My daughter has been devouring these books in which the main character is an eleven year old chemist and aspiring detective. 

By the way, is it a coincidence that the setting for all the books in my pile is England? Probably not. 

I returned from my trip to the grocery store and the library and piled my books in the room we call the snuggery. Then even though several re-entry tasks beckoned, I put my feet up and opened Book #1. I finished it yesterday afternoon. 

Yesterday was one of those perfect summer days. Sunny with a temperature in the low 70's. Light breeze. I met with a client in the morning and then decided to go on a bike ride in the neighborhood. I was sorry I hadn't thrown my book and a Diet Coke in my basket, for the park not far away has a number of benches where it would be pleasant to spend an hour or so. Next time.  

Instead when I got home, I made myself some lunch and moved to the umbrella table in our back yard, book in hand. Bruce had mowed the yard the day before, so neat and inviting, and his roses are in full bloom. I could hear our neighbor chatting in her kitchen to her sweet young granddaughter and also sounds of some of the kids on the block at play. I paused to watch a robin enjoy bath time in our bird bath. And then I returned to the book--not a great book, a bit too romancy for me, but just right for a summer afternoon. 

What a gift of a day. One I intend to repeat this summer as often as possible. True, I intend to keep up my writing pace and yes, I will continue meeting with my spiritual direction clients and begin planning for some fall obligations. Plus, Bruce and I are part time nannies for the grands this summer. 

Still, however, I plan to be in summer mode and that means summer reading --whenever and wherever I chose. 

An Invitation
What about you? What does summer mode mean to you? Does it include summer reading? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Living with Joy and Happiness: Tuesday's Reflection

More than likely we have all known someone who radiates joy. 

One of those people in my life was Susie Rathbone. This past Saturday friends and family gathered to celebrate her life. She died several weeks ago--suddenly and in her sleep. I still can't believe it.

Susie was part of a women's spirituality group I facilitated when we lived at Sweetwater Farm during our Ohio years. I called them the  "Lovely Women," and Susie was one of the loveliest. Lovely in spirit, in zest and enthusiasm for life and learning, and in love itself. Not without her own challenges, of course, still she leaned into the light and taught the rest of us to do that, too. 

Susie's memorial service was led by one of the other Lovely Women, and she did a magnificent job sharing her memories of Susie and expressing what so many of us felt about Susie and how "like a rising tide she lifted us all."

Others had asked to speak about Susie, too, and what struck me was how each of them said many of the same things about her--her love of learning and her need to know and understand, her sense of humor and play and even mischief, and yes, that sense of joy. Plus, a deep devotion to her family.

One of the lessons I hope I can learn from Susie is to live from my essence. To be my True Self. That's what Susie did. She wasn't one thing to one person and another to someone else. She was Susie. Yesterday. Today. And tomorrow--in our hearts. 

Her wonderful husband, Tom, whom she loved with all her heart, recently shared that they were at the "height of their happiness." How amazing to be able to say that, to know that so clearly. And what a lesson for the rest of us. Even if life doesn't feel like the "height of happiness" at the moment, I wonder if it isn't possible to live as if it were. 

How appropriate that Susie's memorial service was also her birthday. Happy Birthday, Susie. Thank you for the light you brought into this world. I will miss you.

An Invitation
In what ways can you live at the "height of happiness" every day? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Discernment Story: Thursday's Reflection

The subject of Tuesday's post was discernment for both big and small steps in one's life. Sometimes discernment leads to not taking a step. A story.

When we moved to Madison, WI, after many years of living in Ohio, I discovered I had retired without being aware of it. In Ohio I had a private practice in spiritual direction. I led retreats and facilitated groups and taught classes on topics related to spirituality. None of that seemed possible or clear in our new location. What to do?

One morning I packed my book bag with pen and colored pencils, big sheets of sketching paper, a couple books, and a new journal with these words on the cover, "Then swing your window open, the one with fresh air and good eastern light and watch for wings, edges, new beginnings." I headed to the University of Wisconsin Student Union overlooking Lake Mendota where I could sit anonymously among students and professors and smile at alumni reminiscing about their glorified students days. A place of accompanied solitude.

I began by just sitting. Breathing slowly and deliberately, I allowed myself to enjoy the honey sun and the light breeze creating ripples on the lake, just enough for a sailboat without a plan.

I started writing all the questions and options in my head. Should I attempt to start a spiritual direction practice? If so, how? Should I focus more on writing? And many more. I could not write fast enough. I drew circles around key questions and random reflections, joining them with arrows. I wrote without rereading.

Finally, I lifted my pen and set aside the colored pencils, secretly pleased with myself for all the gushing scribbles on the paper, certain they amounted to a treasure map for my life. "Walk three paces to the large oak tree next to the shed with the green shutters. Look under the north side of the lilac tree and dig down until you find the small box with the gold latch. You will find  IT."

I wished finding my path could be that easy. I hoped I would know exactly what I needed to do. I hoped I could say, "Well, I've figured it out and this is what I am going to do."  

Then I noticed a red and white kite ambling unloosed above the dock. No one appeared to be guiding its direction or controlling it by winding a long length of string. It was happily free. A free spirit.

The treasure was revealed. I realized I didn't need to make a firm decision that day. I, too, could float in the breeze and wait to feel the direction of the wind. I could lighten up, let go of the string, and wait.  A gift of discernment.

An Invitation
What surprising experiences have you had with discernment? I would love to know.