Thursday, October 27, 2016

Moving from One Season to the Next: Thursday's Reflection

 Have you noticed the squirrels hustling in your yard? They scurry across our window boxes burying nuts and then digging them up, just to make sure they are there, I guess. The squirrels are not the only ones preparing for winter. Bruce has spent hours outside putting the gardens to bed, protecting them as much as possible from the deep cold we get here in Minnesota. He has gathered leaves to use as mulch and wrapped the lavender beds with burlap and cut back other areas. The gardens appear to be ready for whatever comes.

My winter preparations have not been quite as obvious, but I did put away summer pillows in the living room, replacing them with leopard print ones and adding a cozy fake fur throw. 

And in our bedroom I took down the sheer white curtains and instead, hung heavy grey velvet panels. Also, I folded a snuggly quilt at the bottom of the bed. I have stored summer clothes and got out sweaters and turtlenecks and corduroy pants, and I checked my winter coats to see if I missed taking any to the dry cleaners last spring. 

Plus, I shuffled through recipe files moving soup and stew recipes to the top of the pile.

Next week the Jeep will have its winter check up, and soon Bruce will disconnect the battery in his little Miata to rest in the garage till spring. 

An Aside: When we lived at Sweetwater Farm a big part of the fall to winter transition was moving the animals into the barn. No small or easy task. Our own personal rodeo! Oh, the stories I could tell you. 

Moving from one season to another reminds me to be mindful of living fully in the present--relishing the beauties of these fall days--even as I look to the needs of the future. Balance. Once again I am called to seek balance. Maybe one of these days I will figure it out. 

An Invitation 
What fall into winter tasks do you have? What strategies do you have for creating balance in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Letting Go, Part 2: Tuesday's Reflection

Intending to Let Go
In response to my Thursday, October 19 post, a dear friend emailed to say she has been letting go of a "lifelong pattern of holding too tightly," and she now considers this to be her "lightness of being" stage of life. I love that phrase, and I honor my friend for recognizing what needed to change in her life, in order to live more fully and authentically. 

My friend had a number of trigger events in her life that made her aware of the need to shift, but awareness does not always make it so. 

Along with learning to "quiet your mind," which I suggested in the previous post, often a necessary step to cultivating lightness of being is to practice forgiveness of yourself, others, and even God. Forgiveness, too, is a process, but what I have felt in myself is how powerful even the intention to forgive can be. The intention becomes the beginning, the first step. 

Forgiveness brings clarity. It's easier to see what you need and how to go about achieving that, especially if you let go of blaming others for your problems. 

Along with practicing forgiveness, consider asking for help. From a therapist, a spiritual director, a trusted friend. You need not be alone in this process. Each issue has its own story and its own wisdom to reveal. We have the choice every moment of our lives to learn from our experiences and to use those learnings to create peace and love in the world. 

Finally, give back to others. Giving back is not just a way to distract us from our own challenges, but is a way to live as our very best selves. 

An Exercise for Letting Go
Sit on the edge of your bed, spreading your arms wide open,  closing your eyes, and imagining you are surrendering to whatever the Divine has in store for you. Assume God is there to catch you, just as sure as the bed supports you. 

Now actually lean back slowly until you are resting on the bed. As you lean back, let your fear and helplessness go. Trust that you will be held. 

Then lie on your back with your arms wide open, feeling the bed supporting you. 

Whenever you feel anxious during the day, take a few minutes to imagine yourself leaning on the bed. 
Adapted from The Seeker's Guide, Making Your Life A Spiritual Adventure by Elizabeth Lesser

An Invitation
Do you really want to let go or do you just say you want to? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Letting Go, Part One: Thursday's Reflection

Have anyone ever said to you, "You just have to let go." Or have you said that to someone? We might add with a shrug of the shoulders, "I know that is easier said than done." 

I love this quote from Beatrice Brute in Radical Optimism.
        I think most of the spiritual life is 
        really a matter of relaxing--letting 
        go, ceasing to cling, ceasing to
        insist on our own way, ceasing to 
        tense ourselves up for this or 
        against that. 

Ok, so we can agree--letting go is important. Letting go is a spiritual challenge, but HOW do we let go?

Here is my basic belief about the practice of letting go. 

First, you have to line yourself up with reality. You have to accept where you are and trust that even in the midst of your confusion and pain there is wisdom to be gained. You can use what you have been handed for the kind of inner growth that will make your life happier and more meaningful. 

The first step in the letting go process--and it is a process--is to quiet the mindA still mind sees what is here. A busy mind sees what is not here. 

Our lives are filled with useless battles because our minds are filled with useless thoughts. We carry around unhappy scenes from the past as if they are still happening. We chew on the memory of what we did or did not do. Problems assault us to the degree they preoccupy us. The key to inner freedom is not the elimination of all external difficulties, but the willingness and intention to change a pattern of thinking, of reacting to what distresses us. 

Here's a promise to make to yourself: 
                Every time, and I do mean every time, a thought 
                of anger or anxiety comes to the surface, I will take a 
                cleansing breath and imagine my mind as a calm 
                pool of water. 

                The next time I notice myself being caught in a 
                line of thought I know is destructive, I will interrupt 
                it. I simply won't complete it. Instead, I will think of
                something, anything that contains love or connection. 

Sometimes all that is needed is a shift in focus.

If quieting your mind is challenging for you, try using the "Be still and know that I am God," prayer. 
           Be still and know that I am God.
           Be still and know that I am.
           Be still and know.
           Be still.
           Be still.
           Be still and know.
           Be still and know that I am. 
           Be still and know that I am God.

An Invitation
What has been lingering in your heart for far too long? Are you willing to let go? I would love to know. 

NOTE: Because the topic of "letting go" is such a big one, I will continue the conversation in my next post on Tuesday, October 25. Stay Tuned!

Also, two books have given me great help as I integrate this topic into my own life. The Little Book of Letting Go by Hugh Prather and The Seeker's Guide, Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure by Elizabeth Lesser. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October Days: Tuesday's Reflection

The Midas Touch at Our House
On one of these golden October days, a day when Midas was busy 
scattering gold coins, a friend and I drove along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. We had lunch at one of my favorite spots, the Harbourview Cafe in Pepin, and poked in shops in Stockholm and Maiden Rock. We marveled at the bubbles of bright light dancing on the water and the colors of the trees that seemed to be in competition with each other for best and brightest. 

Our conversation was wide and deep. An afternoon to remember and treasure when we are even older than we are now. "Remember the day we drove along the river. Oh how good it was to be together."

On the way home my friend said a day like this makes her wonder what has happened in the world while we have intentionally set aside our phones and kept the radio turned off. 

I said a day likes this makes me grateful for the ability to disconnect and that I had not thought at all about what drama might be taking place as we turned curves and took in the glories of the water and the land. 

Neither viewpoint is better or more valid than another. We need both the time-out, as well as attention to what concerns us about the world. 

Lately, I have felt almost addicted to the news. I have read the newspaper headlines on my phone even before I get out of bed. I spend more time on Facebook reading one article after another. I make sure the next debate date is on my calendar, and I listen to National Public Radio while I fix dinner. And, of course, there is anguished conversation with family and friends about the latest revelation. 

A brief retreat, self-proclaimed seclusion and sanctuary, is needed to clear the space before entering the fray once again. Our day away provided that for me, and I suspect it won't be long before I seek the quiet beauty of nature once again.

An Invitation
How are you handling these campaign days? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Coming Home: Thursday's Reflection

You know the feeling, I'm sure, of unlocking the front door and easing across the threshold. Your luggage contains more dirty than clean clothes, and you feel road weary or mileage mangled. Yes, you have had a great time away, being with family or friends or seeing new sights or even just putting up your feet in a new location. 

But it is time to be home. 

I expect to feel that sigh of relief when I return home from a trip, just as I did recently, but what about the routine returns? How do you feel when you pull up in front of your house after a Target run or maybe after a pleasant dinner out with friends or even just a walk in the neighborhood?

When we lived at Sweetwater Farm in Ohio I felt my heart lift each time I turned onto our road, even before spotting our early 1800's farmhouse. Every single time, whether I had been gone for a week or so or just to the grocery store. My heart had found home. 

Sweetwater Farm was my soul place. For this pilgrim, Sweetwater Farm was my sacred destination, but eventually it was time to return home. 

Getting here took a few years--some pilgrimages are like that. We had good years along the way. Our life in Madison was full of many riches and our large foursquare style home with its welcoming front porch house suited us well. 

Now, however, I am home. Really home, and each time, each time,  I return to our small home on a tree lined-urban street I feel that same lift of my heart I felt when I approached my beloved Sweetwater Farm. There is a difference, however, for now I know I carry home with me wherever I am. 

I am home.

An Invitation
Where is your soul place? Have you returned home? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Next Book: Tuesday's Reflection

Part of my morning meditation routine is to read a chapter in a book with a spiritual topic. One recent morning I was ready to begin reading a new book, but which book? 

Needless to say, I am never without a number of possibilities. I thought about revisiting some favorites, such as An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris or Anam Cara by John O'Donahue, but instead I pulled three from my stash of yet unread books. 

I got comfortable in my chair, as if I had all day to immerse myself in reading. The morning was still dark and the garret was cool, and my shawl added to the coziness. Too bad I didn't fix a cup of hot chocolate. Oh well, let the exploration begin.

The first book is Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth by Jane Thibault and Richard L. Morgan. The authors define the "last third" as 60 and beyond, and the intention of the book is to examine 7 tasks essential for living this time fearlessly and with purpose. The tasks include doing inner work, living in and out of community, and leaving a legacy. Each topic is explored in a series of short meditations followed by reflection questions. At age 68 I am certainly in my last third of life, plus I help facilitate programming for this stage of life at our congregation. Therefore, this book fits and seems appealing.

The second book is The Listening Life, Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh, who has written another book I should probably get, Introverts in the Church. I read the introduction which begins, "Listening comes first. In this life, you listen even before you are aware of it." I like the message and know this book would support the work I do as a spiritual director and help me refine my listening intentions and skills. 

The previous morning I finished reading an excellent book by Margaret Silf, The Other Side of Chaos, Breaking Through When Life is Breaking Down. And even though the title was more ominous sounding than the content, which focuses on the "spirituality of transition," I was drawn towards something far less chaotic. My third selection is Sanctuary, The Discovery of Wonder by Julie Leibrich.

I have no idea where I found this book or if it had been recommended to me, but here it is. Before opening it to look at the table of contents or to browse in some of the chapters, I just held it in my hands. I let the book speak to me. The size is sort of awkward, and it is thick and stiff, as are the pages themselves, but somehow this makes me want to dive into it even more. 

I started reading --and underlining. 
                ...sanctuary is a shape-shifter, which changes
                according to our needs and stage of life, and
                according to opportunities. Most of all, what
                sanctuary seemed to be about was giving people
                the time and space they need to be who they
                really are."

The contest ended. I was hooked, and Sanctuary is the clear winner.

Stay tuned, for I am sure I will have learnings to share as I sink into Sanctuary.

An Invitation
What book has currently drawn you in? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Light A Candle:Thursday's Reflection

The task in front of me was to make a batch of applesauce. What could be better than the smell of apples fresh from the orchard and cinnamon, simmering on the stove? 

This particular morning, however, I felt some minor agitation. Instead of focusing on the pleasures of the moment, I thought about the next task and the one after that and on and on. Even into the next day. 

Earlier that day I read a prayer by Joyce Rupp in which she says, "Filled with the content of my life." 

That's how I felt, "Filled with the content of my life." As in "overfilled." The kind of full that makes one wonder if it is possible to complete what is required and planned in the allotted time. I thought for a moment about grabbing a book and putting my feet up in the snuggery for a half hour or so, which at another time would help me regain needed perspective. I rejected that idea, however, for, frankly, I needed that half hour. 

Instead, I decided to create a feeling of ease. 

I lit a candle and placed it on the kitchen counter where I was peeling and chopping apples. 

The slight flame of the candle helped me focus on the one task right in front of me. 

The flicker of the flame welcomed me to the deliciousness of my full and fortunate life. Oh, how grateful I am for the content of my life. 

The presence of the candle restored me to the possibility of a more peaceful and spacious pace. 

What I so often forget is that it doesn't take much to find space in the midst of muddle. Sometimes all it takes is lighting a candle. 

An Invitation
What helps you clear the space? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Community: Tuesday's Reflection

Sunday mornings we go to church. We go to church willingly,
A Sunday Morning Celebration at Gloria Dei
eagerly, and we come home feeling filled and inspired and richly blessed. And connected.

This is my community. 

This is where I feel both safe and stretched. Comforted, but also  challenged. This is where I go when I need to make sense of physical and emotional violence in the world. This is where I go with tough questions, but this is also a place where love and beauty, and even laughter abound. 

For many of our Ohio years and all of our Madison years we didn't commit to a spiritual community, and we grew complacent about that lack in our lives. As an introvert, I focused on deepening my personal spiritual life, spending time in prayer and contemplation, participating in retreats and classes, but a big piece was missing. When we returned to St Paul we knew it was time to live our heritage and our beliefs and reconnect to a spiritual community. 

We have landed well. 

Being part of a community is part of my "rule of life," even when I haven't lived that way. If the word "rule," by the way, causes you to grind your teeth, consider "way of life." The Rule of St Benedict is probably the most famous guideline for living in religious communities and covers all aspects of life--work, study, care of body, hospitality, care of others, and spiritual community. 

Here's what Debra K Farrington says in her book, Living Faith Day by Day, How the Sacred Rules of Monastic Traditions Can Help You Live Spiritually in the Modern World:

           When we live within community we give ourselves
            the opportunity to learn about the faces of God that
            we would not ordinarily see. It is in community that our
            image of God is tested and refined, where we are held
            accountable for what we believe and how we act, and
            ultimately where we meet God in the fullest possible 
            way...Left to our own devices we will develop a 
            comfortable spirituality that fails to challenge us.
            Perhaps it will be perfectly crafted for our own needs,
            but leaves out those of others. More than likely it will
            be a weak theology that does not sustain us in times of
            deep trouble. Without the community we have little 
            support when things go wrong in the world; without
            having developed the habit of nurturing as well as
            challenging others we will be without others to help us
            celebrate or mourn the important moments of our lives. 

Being in community is one aspect of living and nurturing a  spiritual life, of growing closer to the person I was created to be. Rules, Farrington reminds us, are "living documents." They grow and evolve and require attention to one's heart desires.

An Invitation
What is included in your "rule of life?" What role does community play in your spiritual life? I would love to know. 

Debra K. Farrington
My spiritual community: Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St Paul