Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thin and Thick Places: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm sure you've heard of the Celtic notion of "thin places." A place where the boundary between heaven and earth feels thin; a place when you can sense the divine, the presence of God more readily. 

I don't know that I have experienced any "thin places" in my life, although there are places where I feel more in touch with and open to the movement of God in my life, and I have felt "thin" times, as when my mother was close to death. I am grateful for those times and places in my life, but what I seem to experience more frequently are places and times that feel "thick."

This time of year when we are on the bridge between Thanksgiving and Christmas often feels thick to me. Mainly because my lists are even longer than usual. 

Bruce and I had a Christmas summit this weekend in which we made our lists of presents to buy, entertaining to do, plans for decorating the house inside and out, etc. I felt better, at least briefly, once the list was made, but knowing what needs to happen is not the same as doing it. The doing takes effort, and I feel a bit stuck in the middle of a thick place right now where I can't quite imagine what my list will look like with big fat check marks next to each item. 

Most years I plunge in, finding a way to cut through the thickness, and eventually relishing the joys of the season, but this year seems more challenging. My sense is that is true for many of us, if we continue to grieve the election results, fear for the future, and wrestle with what to do and how to respond. Other losses can add to this feeling of almost impenetrable density. 

Of course, I know what I need in order to cut through the heaviness, the broad swath of solidity. The ground may feel shaky, but returning to what grounds me, saves me. More than ever, I need to maintain the spiritual practices that steady me and open me to cracks of light.  When I preserve time for meditating, praying, and writing in my journal, I am able to lift my head and move forward. 

Thick places then shrink and thin places become more tangible and visible. 
          When the limbs of our loyalty weaken
          And the desire to stand upright falters,
          When the lamp of love grows dark
          And faith lessens with anxious illusion,
          When the ability to go forward with joy
          Teeters awkwardly on broken dreams,
          We turn to you, our Restorer of Balance.
          We accept you inherent stability in us
           And begin our spiritual practice again,
           Slowly building up what has declined.
                                       Joyce Rupp


An Invitation
What do you do when you are in a "thick" place? I would love to know. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! Thursday's Reflection

Sometimes it is necessary to go to Plan B.

Last Thanksgiving our Cleveland kids were with us for Thanksgiving, as well as our St Paul kids and my Dad. I admit I always get a little nervous about fixing Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps it is because I don't often fix a full turkey, and I never make mashed potatoes, even though I love them. And gravy, well, that still feels like a mystery to me, for some reason. 

Last year was my first time to fix Thanksgiving dinner in our teeny tiny kitchen, and I wasn't sure how I was going to manage it. As I retrieved my Thanksgiving folder where I keep our menus from year to year and copies of all our traditional recipes, I felt like a general preparing for battle. I checked and rechecked my grocery lists--one for Target, one for Trader Joes, and one for Lunds, where I do most of my shopping. For days I lugged in bags of groceries from the car, making sure I didn't forget anything.

I ordered a fresh turkey from Lunds, but was a bit nervous about it. In Ohio I went to a butcher in Amish country every year and ordered a fresh turkey, but here the first man I spoke with at the meat market didn't seem to think they sold fresh turkeys. No worries, the big bird was waiting for me when I picked it up the day before Thanksgiving. 

Wednesday I did as much of the preparations as I could and set the table, too, which is actually one of my favorite parts of entertaining. At Thanksgiving I love using our vintage Johnson Brothers turkey dinner plates, gold tone glassware, and Bakelite-handled flatware. A pretty table says, "Welcome. We are so happy to share our home with you." 

Plus, being a good Thanksgiving general, I strategized a plan to make sure everything would be ready to serve at the right time. I calculated how long something needed to be in the oven and for how long. And I made a major decision about the dinner's star, the turkey. 

I set up a card table in the lower level for the electric roaster. That's where I would roast the turkey. It would be out of way and free oven space for the rest of the feast. Perfect. I did a happy dance and congratulated myself for my brilliant idea. 

Thursday morning I prepared the turkey--stuffed it, trussed it, rubbed it with a butter and wine mixture a la Martha Stewart and at the right time placed it carefully, even lovingly in the electric roaster, following all instructions, of course. I returned upstairs and announced my success to the rest of the family. 

The first time I returned downstairs for the next round of basting, I wondered why I didn't smell anything nor was there any sound of gentle percolating. I touched the roaster --and it was cold. I didn't panic, yet. I checked to make sure I had actually turned it on. The light was on, but there was no heat. I plugged something else into the socket and that didn't seem to be the problem. The roaster simply was not doing its thing. Help!!! Now what?

That's where I needed Plan B. 

Fortunately, I had a roasting pan large enough to hold our turkey and fortunately, it would fit in my oven. I loaded the bird into the pan and lugged it upstairs. Some juggling and help from the rest of my team was required, but somehow everything was done at the same time, just a little later than planned, and we sat down at our beautiful table and gave thanks for the food we ate and the love we share each and every day. 

I believe in having a Plan B, but I also know sometimes things happen that require flexibility, ingenuity, and recalibration. And sometimes things happen that just can't be predicted. Those moments are often what we most remember. Those moments often reveal who we are and what matters most. Those moments are often where we recognize grace. 

As you sit down to your own Thanksgiving dinner, I pray you have a day in which you recognize and acknowledge what most matters to you and whatever happens, I hope you feel the touch of the Divine. Happy Thanksgiving!

An Invitation
When have you needed Plan B. I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Life, Death, Life: Tuesday's Reflection

I made the bed, took a shower and dressed, and when my phone rang, I answered it. The daughter of dear friends asked if Bruce, a hospice doc, could join them at the hospital this morning. We had been with them the day before and could see that life on earth was coming to an end for our friend. 

Bruce dressed quickly and left, and I went to our daughter's house to be with our grandson before school. He told me all about the movie he saw over the weekend and also about items for his Christmas list. I admit I only listened with half an ear and even less heart, for I was thinking about our friend approaching death.

Bruce texted me to come later in the morning, and since out of town friends would be coming later to stay the night before flying east to their family, I returned home briefly to clean a bathroom and make a grocery list. 

I drove to the hospital and joined Bruce and our dear friends. The vigil had started. Our friend was comatose. Tears flowed, but so did the stories. Someday I will write more about our amazing, one of a kind friend, but not today. 

And then he died. Peacefully, but all of a sudden he was no longer alive. No matter how one prepares that moment is still shocking, stunning.  

We stayed with our friends, and other friends and family arrived. Phone calls were made. We clung to each other, but also drifted apart for our own initial moments of grief. We saw our friend, now a widow, in a new light, a different stage of her life, one she had not known even moments before. 

At some point it was time to leave. Bruce drove home to do his  part time online hospice work, and I drove to the grocery store where the parking lot was jammed with Thanksgiving shoppers. Before facing the crowd, I checked messages and discovered a friend had sent me a video of the St Olaf Choir singing "Beautiful Savior" in a mall. Oh, how I needed that. 

I pushed my cart up and down the aisles, filling my basket, even though we are not hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. The check out clerk asked, "How are you today?" and I wondered what she would say if I answered truthfully, "I am not so good. In fact, I am terribly sad, for a good friend died today."

But I just said, "Fine." I had a pleasant conversation with the man who took my groceries to the car. We wished each other a happy Thanksgiving, and I got in my car and drove home. 

Life. Death. Life.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sorting:Thursday's Reflection

I'm having trouble sorting --no, not the laundry. That's easy. 

No, the question is how do I decide what to do next? Where do I spend my time and energy and even money?

Usually, making a list and organizing tasks or ideas or possibilities into categories helps me sort and determine my priorities, but not right now. 

Many of you have shared your responses to the current events in our country and have indicated your plans and next steps, ways you hope to make a difference. So many great ideas and options for community involvement, along with ways to intentionally open our hearts beyond ourselves. 

For example, a writer in this community whom I so respect is going to start a weekly centering prayer group in her home. I love that idea and entertain the idea myself about starting a group at church. And that idea leads to others--a day to walk the labyrinth during Advent or at the beginning of the year. Should I offer a third series of Open to Spirit, the women's spirituality group I have facilitated?  I don't know. 

I've said "yes" to a couple opportunities, but now I am second guessing myself. 

This is a time of discernment. A time, according to ancient wisdom, "to make haste slowly."

Marilyn McEntyre in her stunning book, Word By Word, A Daily Spiritual Practice, writes, 
            Something happens in the pause... Is this really the 
            call of the moment, or a distraction to be resisted? 
            Am I about to say yes out of a need to please? Would 
            my yes come from generosity rather than capitulation? 
            My no from wise stewardship rather than selfishness 
            or sloth?...

            Claiming a moment of stillness in the midst of
            decision-making is also a practice of the presence
            of God, a chance to remember that we stand in the
            presence of Love itself, bathed in it, upheld by it,
            embraced, forgiven, and when we are willing, guided
            by it. 

To be clear, however, taking time to discern is not about procrastinating or coming up with excuses for not doing something or for hiding our heads in the sand. Just as sorting the laundry can not be ignored, this is not the time to let everyone else do the work that needs to be done. There is more than enough to go around, but I encourage you to sort through the possibilities intentionally and prayerfully. 

An Invitation
Where are you in the sorting process? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Week Later: Tuesday's Reflection

Scattered Thoughts
I start this post Sunday afternoon. Much to my surprise it is still warm enough to sit in our side garden, the sanctuary garden, or as we call it, "Paris." Here I can observe my block of the world, but also remain private.

Since last Tuesday I have vacillated between being part of the world and retreating from the world. 

Many of you have sent me your own personal reflections about the election results or articles or links to what others have written. I have read them all, but have chosen to respond minimally. I have stayed off Facebook and have not spent much time with other media. 

Instead, I have spent longer than usual time in morning meditation and prayer time, and I have considered carefully my activities. I have weighed which ones will restore equilibrium, which ones will bring clarity and clear the space for new insights, and which ones will further exhaust and bring additional muddle to a puzzled mind. 

Here's what I have come to understand so far, although "understand" may be far too optimistic of a word.

*  As I try to analyze what I am feeling and experiencing, I remember other times my body and my spirit have responded this way.  At first I thought this need to be still and quiet reminded me of times when loved ones have died, but that is not quite accurate. Instead, this is the way I have felt when death has been approaching, when I have waited for the event of death. Once the death has become known, a reality, I have moved into action, doing what needs to be done. I am not at an action stage quite yet.
      Spending time in solitude, in silence is the way I stay grounded for whatever comes next, for whatever way I need to act. Wrapping myself in solitude is a way to save up for days when tasks and activity dominate. Staying true to the spiritual practices that sustain me undergirds my relationship to God when what I believe feels shaky. 
       As a nation we are approaching a kind of death in this assault on a vision of whom we hope to be, but have not yet achieved. I want to respond authentically, based on the person I was created to be. Therefore, I have needed more time than usual to listen to the invitations in this time of uncertainty. These are days of discernment.

*  Sunday mornings we go to church, and it is always good. But today, we needed to be there. We needed not only to hear the call of God as expressed in the sermon, the prayers, the hymns, the readings, but we also needed to be in community. We needed to hug and to stand together. I needed to come up for air, to poke my head out from the covers. Yes, I cried almost before crossing the threshold, and the waves of tears continued, but I was not alone. Everything seemed poignant, from the prayer of the day, which included these words, "with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal," to the baptisms of two baby girls, Penelope Rose and Lucy Mae. Metaphorically, at least, we all squeezed a baby, and we needed that. 
     Once again I learned how important it is to balance my alone time with community. 

*    Am I any clearer about next steps? Maybe. I know I will continue meeting with spiritual direction clients, leading spirituality groups, and writing posts for this blog, but I will also continue working on my spiritual memoir, for I hope my wrestling with the movement of God in my life may add to greater awareness of the working of the sacred, the divine, the holy. But I am also determined to soften my own rough edges, the judgments I make without thinking and to fill-in the blanks where kindness is needed. 
        And I know I need to DO more to be with people who are in need in some way. I am going to attend a meeting this coming weekend of congregations concerned about what this election might mean for those who already feel oppressed, and I have decided I will say "yes" to an invitation to visit homebound members of our congregation during the upcoming holidays. Other ways will unfold. 
        Many of us in retirement age struggle to find a purpose for this stage in life. Others become self-absorbed, saying, "it is someone else's turn." Well, I am here to challenge you. There is more than enough to do, and each of us has gifts to offer. If you have been holding back, get out there. Share your openness, your wisdom, your gifts. 

This is a longer post --and more rambling--than what I usually write, but my heart is full, and I am grateful for your willingness to sit with me. I sit with you.

An Invitation
Where are you being led now? I would love to know. 


Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Now? Thursday's Reflection

Like many of you, I am stunned, and I am walking around with an open wound. For right now I need to weep and wallow and be shocked and sad and even scared, but what about next week and next month and into next year? Soon it will be time to gather our strength and take the next brave steps.

I have been thinking about what Hillary's campaign chairman John Pedesta said to the crowd in the early hours of the morning, "Go home and get some sleep." The convention center had been reserved for another group, and the area needed to be vacated, but even if that weren't the case, there is wisdom in his words. 

How often "go home and get some sleep" is the best advice.

Go home to what grounds and sustains you. Go home to what supports you. Your base. Your truth. 

Get some sleep, for even though the reality will not have magically changed when you wake up, you will be better able to cope and to take the next step. No one makes good decisions or sees anything clearer when exhausted. 

And besides as a friend wrote this morning, "At least the sun came out this morning." Night always becomes day and day turns into night and night into day. This we know. 

I don't know exactly what the next step needs to be, however, but I know there can't be a return to business as usual. The next steps need to include listening to one another, really listening, being willing to hear deep into the hurts and the fears and the hopes and dreams of all peoples.

An Invitation
How are you and what do you intend to do next? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Day to Remember: Tuesday's Reflection

I marked the day in my heart: Saturday, November 5, 2016. Nothing remarkable happened that day. Not really. It wasn't an anniversary or birthday or something similar, but nonetheless it felt like a special day, a day worth remembering.

While Bruce attended his men's book group at church, which he always enjoys, I cleaned the first floor. Other than the kitchen, which needed attention, the house wasn't particularly messy, but I was eager to replace some of the pumpkins with turkeys and other Thanksgiving decor. I enjoy the trial and error of deciding what decorations to use and how to best arrange them. 

Because the day was so beautiful, a continuation of this golden fall we have been experiencing, we decided to go for a drive in his Miata. With the top down. I don't recall being able to do that this late in the season ever before. We followed the Mississippi River where the trails were alive with people running and walking and rollerblading or sitting on a bench soaking in the surprising sun. We smiled at a bride and her bridesmaids following a photographer. I bet they were stunned by their good weather fortune.

Once home I thought about returning to the garret to write, but had not yet had my fill of warmth on my cheeks. I picked up my current book, only 60 pages from the end, and sat in our side garden, our sanctuary garden, which we lovingly call "Paris," for it reminds us of private enclosed gardens in Paris. I closed my eyes and wondered what month it was. September? October? Surely not November. 

Our evening was quiet. A bit more reading, but also watching The Crown about Queen Elizabeth on Netflix and then early to bed. 

A day that deserves to be remembered--for its warmth, for the glow of fall leaves floating in the sunshine, for its ease of companionship, for it being an unremarkable remarkable day. 

May each day be one to be remembered. 

An invitation
I know you will remember that today is Election Day, making it a remarkable day, but what else will you remember? I would love to know.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Unexpected Gifts: Thursday's Reflection

What do these pictures have in common with each other? 

I won't keep you in suspense. Both pictures were taken this week. I took the one of glowing pumpkins on Halloween, of course, but the photograph of the rose bush was taken yesterday morning in our backyard. 

And in spite of their obvious differences both sights inspired delight.

Halloween evening we walked a spooky street near our house. Many of the homes on those blocks were decorated with great imagination and creativity in their own versions of trick and treat. The effort of those households was an unexpected gift. No admission was charged, but instead all were welcome to enjoy the slightly scary ambience. Awesome!

Just as awesome is the sight of roses still blooming in November. How glorious is the stunning color of fuchsia against a backdrop of the more expected faded golds and oranges of the end of fall. Amazing and surprising.

I have no real insights to offer today,  but, instead, an invitation to open your eyes to what might surprise and delight you. Allow your normal loop of life to be a path of wonder and pleasure. Challenge yourself to complete these sentences today:
Today I noticed _______________ and it was ______________.
I never noticed before how ________________.
One of the best gifts of today was________________.

I can hardly wait to discover more unexpected beauty in this day. 

An Invitation
What did you experience today that surprised or delighted you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Buying Just One: Tuesday's Reflection

Tucked in a drawer in my garret office are four packages of printer ink. The only problem is the printer I now own does not use that ink. Recently, I needed to buy a new printer. My old one served me well for the past six, seven or maybe longer years, so I didn't mourn when it was apparent I needed to buy a new one. Plus, I was surprised at how much cheaper a new printer is compared to the last time I bought one. 

But now what do I do with all these packages of ink? I think I bought a couple at Target so I will try returning those, but I certainly don't have the proper receipts for Office Max or Staples or wherever I might have bought them. Because this specific model of cartridge is no longer easy to find, I buy one or two whenever I see them. Thus, I now have a surplus. (Anybody need an HP 74 black ink cartridge?)

Buying in multiples used to be my shopping strategy. A huge package of 24 or even 36 rolls of toilet paper or a large package of chicken breasts, which I then separated into servings for two and popped them all in the freezer. Two for one deals attracted me, along with subscribing to a magazine for two or three years, in order to save more. 

No longer --or at least not as much.

I could say the change related to having less storage space, and that is true to a certain extent. I am good at organizing and being creative about space, but after living in this house for three years, I know how many rolls of toilet paper we can accommodate at one time and the largest laundry detergent container the delegated spot on a laundry room shelf can hold. 

Space is only part of the answer, however. 

Another part is my age. How do I know I will live long enough to enjoy The New Yorker for three more years? Does it actually make sense to have ongoing automatic withdrawal to support Minnesota Public Radio when I might not be around to enjoy it?

I know this sounds bleak, and I hasten to add I am in good health and have no reason to believe I won't be reading The New Yorker in 2020, but this is a stage of life when life is not taken for granted. I am more aware of the shift in the hourglass: more sand in the bottom than in the top, and the sand is draining into the bottom much faster, it seems. 

That awareness affects my attitudes and my actions, even buying toilet paper.

An Invitation
What have you changed in your life that used to seem normal or routine? I would love to know