Thursday, August 17, 2017

Spiritual Practices in a Time of Turmoil: Thursday's Reflection

How often these days I want to hide out in my garret, specifically, in my comfortable chair tucked in a corner. I want to extend my morning meditation time into mid morning and beyond. Then when I finally take a shower I am reluctant to turn off the water and get dressed. 

Focusing on the writing work I have challenged myself to do has become harder. Like those first weeks after the election and then the inauguration, I am drawn to online news reports and to having the radio on in the background as I try to work at my desk. 

I am outraged and fearful. The white supremacists turn my stomach, but it is the president's behavior that upsets and concerns me even more. How close are we to a national brawl where shouting is the norm? 

What to Do? How to respond?

I can't give you those answers. Each of us has to decide for ourselves what we can do and how to respond, but first, before any action, there needs to be a kind of stillness. I need to remember what grounds me, what clarifies next steps and fortifies me for action.  

For some that may mean walking along the river or reading to a grandchild or cooking a pot of soup or needlepointing or swimming laps or even washing the car. 

For some it may mean walking a labyrinth or reading scripture or writing in a journal. Attending a worship service, praying or sitting motionless on a meditation cushion. 

Each one of these activities can be a spiritual practice, a threshold into deeper relationship with divine presence. Each one of these practices can be a way to center and open to what we are asked to do and how we are asked to respond and be in these troubled times. 

Words to Consider

                You do not need to know precisely what is
                 happening, or exactly where it is all going.
                 What you need is to recognize the possibilities
                 challenges offered by the present moment, and 
                 to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.
                                                  Thomas Merton

                       Teach me to be love,
                              as You are Love;
                       Lead me through each fear;
                       Hold my hand as I walk through
                             valleys of doubt each day,
                      That I may know your peace.  
                                              adapted from Psalm 27

           The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and
           do something. Don't wait for good things to happen
           to you. If you go out and make some good things
           happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will
           fill yourself with hope.
                                           Barak Obama

An Invitation
What do you do to come to stillness and awareness of the divine presence? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August Joys and Sorrows: Tuesday's Reflection

This past weekend we attended our nephew Brandon's wedding. An elegant and meaningful celebration, full of love and joy. Another happy August event. 

August is a big month for celebrating in our household. Along with our anniversary (46 years this year), we celebrate daughter Kate's birthday, my father's birthday, Kate and Mike's anniversary and many other birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends. My mother's birthday was in August, too.

We could be eating cake almost every day this month! 

Sometimes it is challenging to celebrate, however, when news of violence and hate invades. How many times have we needed our faith communities this past year? We have needed consolation and shelter, but also encouragement and the reminder to be brave. This last Sunday was no exception.

Not only did the sermon help, but the moment of silent reflection after the reading of a lesson, and, of course, sharing the peace and receiving the bread and wine. Those are the things that ground me, that remind me of the ongoing embrace of God. Those are the things that clarify all over again that what God wants for us is to love one another and to know that we were each created in the image of God. There is no room for hate in God's love. 

On the way out of church I mentioned to one of the pastor's how we had been to a beautiful wedding and what a happy event it was. I didn't feel guilty about relishing the celebration, but it was a bit hard to reconcile the joy when violence was erupting in Charlottesville. He reminded me that life is messy, and that we are here for each other in our joys and in our sorrows. Yes.

An Invitation
What are you doing to respond to both the joys and the sorrows in your life and in the life you witness around you? What grounds your every breath? I would love to know. 

NOTE: I recommend the following post with its thoughts about staying grounded in the current political climate.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wonder Woman: Thursday's Reflection

Granddaughter Maren (age 14) came home from camp yesterday. For 17 days she canoed in Quetico, across the Minnesota-Canada border, and as you can see she is a strong, empowered young woman. 

I am eager to learn the details about her camper colleagues and  counselor, plus details about portages crossed, miles canoed, territory covered, wildlife seen. I also wonder about the challenges met and lessons learned.

Even though this was not her first time at Widjiwagan, this was the first time she wasn't going with her best friend, and she was a bit nervous about being with girls she didn't know. After all there you are in the wilderness and there is no alternative, but to keep on paddling. And there is no cell phone coverage, even if you had your phone with you. 

Her previous Widji experiences have been so positive, but what if this one wasn't? She wondered if her good fortune was about to run out. Certainly it is true that not every event and opportunity in her life will be stellar. I am sure there will be times when she will just want something to end, to go home and crawl into the security of her own bed.

But here's the thing about Maren: She not only pushes through her own anxiety, she helps others push through their anxieties, too. She may not feel confident, but she is a confident presence and inspires it in others. She is brave and self-aware, always giving her best, and frankly, her best shines. 

A friend from church remarked how Maren added to her Easter morning experience with her calm, steady demeanor. I know my friend was being nice to this besotted grandmother, but I also know what she said is true, and it brings tears to my eyes when I think of Maren, tall and sure, during the Gospel processional. Of course, I love her fun-loving, playful, and silly side, too. How often I seem to catch glimpses of her holy essence. 

I wouldn't presume to tell her who I think God created her to be, but I can have a role in supporting her understanding and development of that person. And what a privilege that is. 

Welcome home, Wonder Woman Maren! (Note the Wonder Woman hat a friend knit for her.)

An Invitation
Do you have any young Wonder Women in your life? I would love to know.)

NOTE: Maren and her Widji experiences when she was 12 inspired two earlier posts here and here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

August Promises: Tuesday Reflection

Can you believe it? It's August already. 

How many times have you heard someone say that the last few days or how many times have you said this yourself? Even though the fall and winter seasons are much more to my liking (Sweaters! Pumpkins! Soup!) I feel some regret about how quickly summer days have floated away.  

I look at my "summer list" and am pleased to see some check marks next to places to visit, like the Jeffers Petroglyphs, and tours to take like Minneapolis's  Lakewood Cemetery and our newly restored state capitol. We enjoyed a boat trip on the St Croix and a few days on the North Shore. 
We loved the musical Sunday in the Park with George and a walking tour in the former mill district of Minneapolis about women's work in the 1880's. We wandered through several art fairs and enjoyed leisurely dinners with friends. 

But... we have not gone to any outdoor concerts, and we haven't walked through the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Museum. Grandson Peter and I only made it to a couple libraries in spite of our plan to visit several, and granddaughter Maren and I didn't spend a day writing together as we had discussed. In fact, I have not done much writing at all, and I wonder if I am going to be able to find my writing rhythm again. 

I have yet to get out my bike this season, and I have not walked as much as I always think I will when the sidewalks are free of ice. I have not been inspired by all the fresh veggies and fruits to cook interesting meals. Nor have I sipped a gin and tonic frequently. I have not even sat in our private "Paris" garden very often, although each time I do I feel refreshed and restored. 

However, I have read a pile of books on my summer reading list (See summer reading post here)      

I have started most mornings in prayer and meditation and have gone to church most Sundays, even though it has been tempting to stay home with the New York Times. 

I have allowed myself to move quietly through the days, but as a summer nanny for our grands, I have opened, also, to their needs. I have set aside some demands on myself, along with expectations to be productive. While I have not let go of my list-making habit, I have used my lists more as a guide than a dictator. 

What does this mean as I look ahead to these August days? I do want to walk more. I do want to re-open the door to writing time. I do want to enjoy the abundance of produce. Maybe we will check off another item or two on my summer list, but maybe not. 

Maybe not. 

Here's what I think: As I get older, I am able to listen to my heart more. 
         What is it I most want to do right now? 
         What will enhance the person I was created to be? 
         What am I called to do right now, especially this August? 
         How is God moving in my life?

I think August holds a promise for each of us, much as the Third Chapter of life does. There is still time to do what we most want to do and become who we were created to be, BUT don't wait, for the next season is coming.

An Invitation
How will you live in these August days? I would love to know. 

Here's another post about approaching the end of summer: Change in direction


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Giving and Receiving Suggestions: Thursday's Reflection

Grandson Peter (age 9) and I discovered a new game, Forbidden Island, last week and spent the afternoon playing it at our house. Instead of players competing with each other, players are encouraged to collaborate in order to triumph over the game itself.

If Peter and I had been playing against each other, there is no doubt in my mind he would have won round after round. He caught on much more quickly to the needed strategy and ways to be successful.

Each time when it was my turn, before I even had a chance to scan the board and see my options, he said, "I have a suggestion." He could hardly contain himself, for he knew just what I should do and then what his next move would be. 

I asked him to hold his suggestions until I had a moment to consider what to do. "I won't do anything," I said, "until I check it with you." But that wasn't sufficient for him. He knew the right path and wanted me to know it before I made a mistake.  Eventually, giving in, I laughed, and just did what he told me to do. 

Another Story of Suggestions
As many of you know, during the last few years, I have been writing a spiritual memoir. This summer I hired a writer/teacher whom I respect to read my manuscript and offer me her considered opinion and suggestions. Needless to say I was nervous about her critique. She had many positive things to say, which, of course, pleased me, but (and isn't there always a "but") she also made suggestions that were harder to hear and will be even harder to implement. 

Unlike Peter, however, she didn't demand my immediate response and adherence to what he maintained was "just a suggestion." She, in fact, urged me to take time to reflect on what she said before I do anything. I know I have the right and obligation to decide for myself what changes to make and which ones to disregard, but I also know I asked for her expert opinion and ideas. I owe it to myself and my book to carefully consider everything she said. 

Giving Suggestions
Sometimes I am the one giving suggestions. 

Dear friends are moving into a home that will better meet their needs in the Third Chapter of life, and they are excited, but it is happening faster than anticipated. Bruce and I have had lots of experience moving, and they asked for our suggestions. I hope I didn't overwhelm them with my responses. Ultimately, they will need to make their own decisions and do what is right for them.

When I sit with my spiritual direction clients, I may offer questions to consider or suggest a spiritual practice to try. My intention is to listen carefully before expressing what I hear and what may be a helpful next step. I hope my suggestions lead my clients towards their own insights and the movement of God in their lives.

Responses to Suggestions
Sometimes I respond defensively. 

Sometimes I know I stop listening altogether. 

Sometimes I remind myself to open my heart and listen through the suggestion to the intention of the person making the suggestion. 

And when I am the person being asked for advice, I try to remember to pause and speak from a heart that breathes with humility and love and not judgment. And when I am tempted to share what I think is wise advice, even when it is not solicited, I try, but don't always succeed, to listen even more intently, especially to my own inner voice, before saying anything at all. 

Sometimes, often, in fact, my inner voice, the voice of the being God created me to be, tells me to just be quiet and hold the moment in stillness. Sometimes I actually follow that suggestion. 

An Invitation
How do you respond to suggestions? How do you give suggestions? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Making New Friends: Tuesday's Reflection

Last week we spent a few days on Minnesota's North Shore with new friends who had generously invited us to join them at their timeshare on Lake Superior. We eagerly accepted, but at the same time wondered how it would be to spend more than an evening with them. Would we find enough to talk about? Would we discover major differences among us? Was our friendship too new for this kind of intense interaction? Would we like each other more or less when we said goodbye and returned to our homes?

Well, no problem. Our days together were rich. In fact, we were still chatting and laughing as we loaded our cars for the drive home. What a relief! 

Now instead of describing our friendship as "new," I will introduce these friends as our good friends, our dear friends. I think of them now as friends with whom I can truly share who I am. 

Yes, I know how lucky I am, but feel free to remind me. 

Creating New Friendships So here's something I've been thinking about recently. Since moving back to St Paul after being away for twenty years, we have made so many new friends. Many of these friendships seem to be developing into deep friendships, strong, supportive friendships, which is a true blessing. At the same time a later in life friendship requires some extra work. 

We didn't know each other growing up or going off to college. We weren't at each other's weddings or the baptisms of our children. We didn't share the ups and downs of our career lives or see each other in positions of responsibility. We have not been in each other's earlier homes or met one another's parents. 

We have no history with each other. 

Developing a new friendship at this time of life, the Third Chapter, means filling in some blank spaces. What is it I most want my new friend to know about me? What are the key stories to share? What do we have in common and in what ways have our lives been different? 

What is it we need right now and even, how do I make room in my life for a new friendship? 

A Story From the Past
When we moved to Ohio many years ago, I volunteered at the hospice program where my husband was the medical director. The volunteer coordinator and I were about the same age and didn't live far from each other. I enjoyed chatting with her--normal kinds of conversations about our kids and house projects and books. The kind of everyday conversation someone new to a community hungers to have.

One day I asked if she would ever like to meet for a casual supper, and she seemed pleased to be asked. We set a date. My only expectation was for a pleasant evening, but perhaps I appeared over eager, too needy.

We met at a deli-kind of place where we ordered at the counter and then settled at a table. I asked her about her day, but instead of answering me, she announced without warning, "I just want you to know I don't have room in my life for more friends."

Yes, she really said that. 

Why didn't I pack up my chicken salad sandwich and chocolate chip cookie at that very moment and leave? How did I get through the meal with her? 

Over the years I have wondered about my dinner companion who had enough friends. What was her back story? Was there something happening in her life right then that forced her to pull in the welcome mat? 

I wish I had exhibited a more open and compassionate heart. I wish I had been more present to her. I wonder, all these years later, if she could use a new friend in her life now.

New Friendships
New friendships require curiosity and a willingness to hear one another's story. New friendships require a desire to grow and expand one's circle. New friendships require an open heart. 

Sometimes new friendships require taking a chance.

I am so glad the four of us, our new good and dear friends, were willing to do that, for now in place of some of those blank spaces, we have memories and the beginning of a friendship history. 

An Invitation
Where in your life are there possible new friends? What are you willing to do about that? I would love to know.

Just For Fun: Check out some of my posts from the past. 
One Year Ago: Pesto Marathon 
Two Years Ago: Want to Talk? 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sitting: Thursday's Reflection

My "girlfriend" chair in the garret has seen lots of sitting inaction this week. 

This afternoon I go to the dentist for a root canal, and trust me, when I say, that will be a relief. The last few days have been dominated by pain. I did get a prescription for a pain medication, and that has certainly been a big help, but taking it means I can't drive. Bruce has managed our nanny responsibilities, driving the grands to their activities and appointments and has gone to the grocery store for soft foods for me.  

My main activity has been sitting. 

Sitting and Reflecting: I met with writer/teacher Elizabeth Jarrett Andrewat the beginning of the week to discuss next steps for my book. She had amazing insights and suggestions, which will require major revisions, but make lots of sense to me. First, however, she suggested I sit with some of the questions she raised. Sit to see what comes up. 

Sitting and Discerning: I was asked to make a major service commitment. I have learned over the years to sit with important invitations, to consider carefully, prayerfully whether something is a Sacred Yes or a Sacred No--or is there something in-between?

Sitting and Reading: I may be in pain, but not enough to prevent good reading time. I just finished an excellent novel, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson and now I am beginning My Utmost, A Devotional Memoir by Macy Halford. I continue to read Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Said Ghobash, which definitely extends my knowledge of Islam, and during morning devotion sitting I started We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McLaren. My favorite line so far is "If you want to know what the Original Artist is like, a smart place to start would be to enjoy the art of creation." 

Sitting and Napping: I am a latecomer to the art of napping, but I seem to be catching on. The "girlfriend" chair is very comfortable and thanks to the medication which causes drowsiness, I have taken numerous naps here the last few days. I surrendered to nap time. 

Sitting and Praying: Praying does not require sitting, but if being active is a challenge, try praying. One name leads to another. One concern or worry or hope leads to another. The intentional time in God's presence is always a gift. 

Sitting with Spiritual Directees: This morning I will meet with two of my directees and I look forward to sitting with them, receiving what sits in their hearts and minds. A privilege, indeed. 

In the past I may have considered these days of sitting to be time lost; time when I wasn't moving forward or accomplishing.  I won't lie and say I haven't struggled with missing some fun family and grandkid time, but mainly I have surrendered. 

This is sitting time. 

An Invitation
What is a current struggle in your life? Where do you feel pain? Could sitting help? I would love to know. 

NOTE: I am taking a break and will not post on Tuesday, July 25 or Thursday, July 27. I will be back in this space on Tuesday, August 1.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shoes and Other Mistakes: Tuesday's Reflection'

I bought these shoes impulsively. Did I need them? NO! In fact, I have a bag of shoes and other no longer wanted clothing in my closet, which I plan to take to Goodwill.

I didn't have an outfit in my mind when I bought these shoes, but I was attracted to the bright colors and just generally, to their fun look.

These shoes have sat in my closet unworn for a couple months now. I did think about wearing them recently and even put them on. I quickly took them off. They didn't fit right. They didn't look right. In fact, they looked like me ten years or so ago. 

These shoes were a mistake. 

Do you know the feeling? Have you ordered dessert at a restaurant when you are already more than full? Have you sat through a movie or continued reading a book when clearly you didn't like it? 

Have you painted a room and before the brushes were clean, you knew it was the wrong color or have you said to the hairdresser "I want it SHORT," and only when it was too late, did you realize her idea of "short" was not your idea of "short"? Well, it's only paint. It's only hair. 

Correctable mistakes. Just like my shoes. 

I won't waste time agonizing over these shoes, but I admit I do think occasionally about past mistakes I have made in my life. Bigger mistakes. Sins of commission. Sins of omission. 

Some of these mistakes require apologies or acknowledgements. Some of them may need a ritual in order to relegate them soundly to the past. Some of them may need further reflection. Why is it I can't let go of this? How has this mistake influenced my life? What can I learn from this mistake that will enhance my life now? 

I've learned that what plagues me is not the mistake itself, but the way I obsess about the mistake. Sometimes reflection turns into haunting or torment. 

Here's what Hugh Prather says in his The Little Book of Letting Go, a book I often recommend to my spiritual directees. 

             We all nurture and exercise our misery with 
             countless little thoughts throughout the day. Yet, 
             all we need is to be aware of how and when we
             do this, and the door to freedom swings open.

He recommends we adopt the following affirmation:

             I will practice noticing just this much today: I alone
             choose what ruins my attitude and complicates my
             life. I live with the decisions I make about everything
             and everyone around me. I move among these decisions.
             ... An overcast day is nothing more than an overcast day 
             until I decide what it withholds from me personally and
            pick what mood it must inflict...I see what I decide 
            and react as I choose.

Out with the shoes. 

An Invitation
What mistakes dominate your thinking and actions? What are you willing to do to let go of those mistakes? 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

This Stage of Life: Thursday's Reflection

What a week. Sobering and sad, but also clarifying and even uplifting. 

This has been a week to confront some of the realities of this stage of life. The Third Chapter. 

First, long time friends spent the night, and we were witnesses to their struggles. The wife in the couple has a degenerative condition, and we could see how much she has changed since the last time we saw her. We saw how her husband has moved into the caretaking role and the toll it is taking on him. The outlook is grim, and we ache for them.

Second, we attended a funeral for a man who died of ALS. He and his wife are members of our congregation. Our faith family.  We felt compelled to be there, to participate in this ritual, to support his wife as she enters a new stage of life. 

Third, we attended a presentation on green cremation by Bradshaw Funeral and Cremation Services and were so impressed by what we learned. Green cremation is a flameless, eco-friendly alternative to traditional cremation. We left the session feeling clear about this choice for ourselves, and now we will take the next step and tend to all those future arrangements while we are healthy and able.  

How often have you heard someone say, "Old age is not for the faint of heart"? That statement carries some truth, I agree, but doesn't go far enough. Old age is a time to strengthen the heart, open the heart, examine the heart, live from the heart. 

             How to make these last days count, God? To
             live them with courage, and without complaint.
             To give and receive small joys. To teach the
             best already learned and to learn a little more.
                                         Avery Brooke

Yes, sobering and sad, but clarifying and uplifting, too. 

An Invitation
What plans have you made for your own funeral? Do you have a health care directive? Have you had these conversations with your loved ones? I would love to know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summer Loves: Tuesday's Reflection

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I am more of a winter person than a summer person. Nonetheless, I love many things about summer, and not just that the next season is fall!

Here are some of the things I love about summer--in no particular order. 

1.  Gladiolas on the porch. One of my favorite summer destinations when we lived in Ohio was Chautauqua. Every porch on Chautauqua's grounds, it seemed, was graced with a big vase of colorful glads. I am continuing the tradition.

2.   Corn on the cob.

3.    Walking out the door without bundling up.

4.    Summer reading lists. (To see mine, read here.)

5.    Open windows.

6.    Our anniversary--our 46th this year.

7.     Outdoor dining.

8.     The sound of the fountain in our "Paris" courtyard garden.

9.      Walking an outdoor labyrinth.

10.    Geraniums in the window boxes.

11.    Going on field trips.

12.    Young girls in summer dresses.

13.     Making pesto from our basil. 

14.     Reading in the garden.

15.     Bruce happily working in the garden. (Notice the division here--I enjoy the benefits of his hard work!)

16.     Riding in the Miata with the top down. 

17.     Time with the grands.

18.     The appearance of flags for the 4th of July.

19.     Concerts in the park.

20.      Farmers' Market. 

21.     Art Fairs

22.     The Guthrie Theatre's summer musical. This year it is "Sunday in the Park with George." We are going tomorrow night. 

An Invitation
What do you love about summer? I would love to know. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Holiday Weekend Activities: Thursday's Reflection

Friends and family sometimes call me "Nancy, the Cruise Director"
because I am often the one who suggests places to go and things to do. This past weekend was no exception. 

Along with entertaining one evening and  spending a lazy and relaxing afternoon with friends at their home, I selected two destinations from my summer list: Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis and a St Croix River cruise. Not only were both interesting and enjoyable, but both felt relevant to the 4th of July holiday.

Lakewood Cemetery
Often called a "haven in the heart of Minneapolis," Lakewood sits above one of Minneapolis's main lakes, where crowds of people were celebrating the 4th of July in traditional ways--boating, swimming, walking and biking around the lake. The bustling ended once we crossed the cemetery's threshold, however. Established in 1871 when the city had only 13,000 residents, Lakewood is now a guidebook of local history. 

First, we stopped at my mother's gravesite. While this is not where I go to remember or be with her, I did bring pink roses, her favorite. I told her I miss her and love her and think about her every day. 

Then, using a brochure for a self-guided tour, we drove the cemetery's curvy roads, locating monuments for George Beckett who helped establish what became the University of Minnesota Medical School and was an early Minneapolis mayor; Charles Loring who developed the extensive Minneapolis park system; Maggie Menzel who at nineteen was the first person buried at Lakewood; Dr Robert S. Brown, the first black physician to practice in Minneapolis; Clara Hampson Ueland, a champion of the women's suffrage movement and founder of the Minnesota League of Women voters; and many more.

Also buried at Lakewood are two of my heroes: Paul Wellstone and Hubert H. Humphrey. Wellstone, who died in a plane crash in northern Minnesota in 2002 was a U.S. Senator devoted to liberal causes. Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis, U. S. Senator and Vice President of the United States. I remember standing on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol on a cold January night with thousands of other mourners, waiting to view his coffin.  

Humphrey was called "the happy warrior." Carved on his monument is the following:

              I have engaged my life; its disappointments 
              outweighed by the pleasures. I have loved my
              country in a way that some people consider
              sentimental and out of style, and I remain an
              optimist, with joy, without apology, about this
              country and about the American experiment in

Both of these men were giants in the life of our country, and the phrase "rolling over in their graves" seems to fit when I wonder how they might react to the current political situation. But I also know both men were fighters and believers. Standing by their monuments lifted my heart just a bit, as did the doe and her two fawns perfectly at home in the quiet of the Lakewood grounds. 

St Croix River
The St Croix or "holy cross" is a tributary of the Mississippi River, and the lower end of the river forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. We enjoyed an 80 minute paddleboat cruise passing by many kayakers, canoers, hikers, swimmers, picnickers.  

The captain of the "Princess" told us about a famous log jam and about Scandinavian immigrants who disembarked here to begin a new life and about the cliff formations. He didn't say much about the first people who lived there, but I imagined them standing on top of the cliffs or walking through the thick forests. 

I relaxed in the warmth and the gentle breeze and the rhythm of the calm water. I gave thanks for God's creation and for the privilege of enjoying it. I prayed we would be mindful of all we have and not take it for granted. This is "greatness," I thought, and not some false notion of what America needs to be great again. 

Both locations are filled with stories. Gifts and losses. Dreams fulfilled and not. 

Both are sacred. 

An invitation
Have you discovered any sacred places recently. I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

4th of July, 2017: Tuesday's Reflection

Over the weekend my husband and I sat in our back yard with two good friends. Bruce's gardens looked cottage perfect, the weather was summer perfect, and life seemed quite perfect, too. 

Our conversation turned to the proposed health care bill and other topics like "white privilege" and "male privilege," and obviously not all is perfect. In fact, not much more than the weather and the garden. 

So how does one celebrate the 4th of July this year? 

We have hung our flag outside the door, as we always do. We have added smaller flags to window boxes and large flower pots and our Uncle Sam vase looks happy, full of daisies and lavender and small flags. The house is festive. Now if I could only feel that way. 

What does it mean to be patriotic these days? 

"Make America Great Again" feels hollow and scary, and my definition of "great" may not be how others define it. We prayed in church Sunday that our president and other elected leaders would act with "wisdom, honor, and integrity," but with each passing day I doubt that can be, will be the case. 

I remembered a prayer for leaders written by John O'Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings, and after praying this prayer the last couple mornings, I realized this is a prayer for me, too. For the way I live each day. I need to live and act with "wisdom, honor and integrity." Here's an excerpt:

                 May you have the grace and wisdom
                 To act kindly, learning
                 To distinguish between what is
                 Personal and what is not.

                 May you be hospitable to criticism.

                 May you never put yourself at the center of things.

                 May you act not from arrogance but out of service.

                 May you work on yourself,
                 Building up and refining the ways of your mind.

May it be so. 

An Invitation
As part of your 4th of July celebration, I encourage you to lift a prayer for our President and other leaders and for yourself as a citizen of this country and, in fact, a citizen of the world. What is your prayer? I would love to know. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Golden Rule: Thursday's Reflection

Our neighbor has hung this banner on the front of our house. Can you guess the meaning?

If you said it looks like an equal sign, you are correct.


This banner reminds us to view all people through the lens of equality. And to treat all people equally. 

That makes me think about The Golden Rule. Just in case you forgot what the Golden Rule instructs, here it is according to ten major religions. 
Christianity: "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Hinduism: "This is the sum of duty: do naught unto another which would cause you pain if done to you."
Taoism: "Regard your neighbor's gains your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
Zoroastrianism: "Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others."
Judaism: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself," and "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary."
Confucianism: "Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not do unto others what you yourself would find hurtful."
Islam: "None of you [truly] believe until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."

I witnessed The Golden Rule in action this week. Our Third Chapter committee at church hosted a Movie Morning. A group gathered to watch and discuss the movie A Man Called Ove. One of the themes of the movie is how we connect to and treat our neighbors, even when our neighbor is a curmudgeon, and how that kind of love and compassion is transformative. 

While the movie was playing, a woman entered the back of the Fellowship Hall and loudly said, "Isn't it Sunday? Did I miss Sunday?" Without hesitation my committee colleague turned into this woman's angel and gently responded to her confusion and even drove her home. 

My friend is a living Golden Rule. 

Soon after 9/11, the Dalai Lama said it this way:

             A central teaching in most traditions is: What 
             you wish to experience, provide for another. Look
             to see, now, what it is you wish to experience in
             your own life, and in the world...If you wish to
             experience peace, provide peace for another. If
             you wish to know that you are safe, cause another
             to know that you are safe. If you wish to better
             understand seemingly incomprehensible things, 
             help another to better understand. If you wish to heal
             your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness
             or anger of another. Those others are waiting for 
             you now...They are looking to you for love.

An Invitation
Where have you seen evidence of the living Golden Rule? When have you experienced it? I would love to know. 

NOTE: The list of the various versions of The Golden Rule and the quote from the Dalai Lama is from Grounded, Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass. I highly recommend this book. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sacred Ground, A Visit to the Jeffers Petroglyphs: Tuesday's Reflection

Below my feet I feel the presence of the great rock. Among the markings, barely visible, I see the outlines of an ancient hand, scratched there tens of thousands of years ago by an unknown traveler. Without thinking, I get down and place my hand against the outline. It fits perfectly.

My hand is warm. The stone is cold. But in the touch something is passed, and I am humbled beyond understanding.
                   Voice in the Stones
                   Life Lessons from the 
                   Native Way
                   Kent Nerburn

Older than Stonehenge. 

Older than the pyramids.

Nestled in the native prairie, grasses swaying to their own music, red rock, Sioux quartzite, emerges like the back of a whale from the ocean. And on the back of these landed leviathans are ancient carvings ranging from 7,000 years old to a mere 250 years old.

Where am I? The Jeffers Petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota, not far from the South Dakota border.

Our guide asks us to remove our shoes before stepping off the trail bordered by the waving grasses. I remember removing my shoes before entering a mosque in Malaysia and Buddhist temples in Thailand. I always remove my shoes before walking a labyrinth, before doing T'ai Chi, and most of the time as I enter our home. 

Sacred Ground. Sacred Space. A place of worship.

I walk carefully, slowly, knowing deep within that I am now walking where for thousands of years others have walked. 

In reverence. In wonder. In gratitude. 

As our guide points out the pock marked carvings of circles, people, buffalo, thunderbirds, my eyes adjust and I, too, begin to see the abundance of markings. Long-legged people. Crescent shapes. Turtles. Hands. 

 They are everywhere. 

Like Nerburn, I, too, bend to place my own hand in the hand carving. My hand nestles in the indentation. I am holding hands with those who have walked before me. 

To American Indians rock formations emerging from the earth provide a link between the physical and spiritual worlds. Much is unknown about why this place, what the specific symbols mean, and who was responsible for these gifts, but one thing seems clear:

            I was tied to the earth, and to all those who have 
            walked upon it, in a way as solid and fundamental 
            as the very rock itself.
                                                  Kent Nerburn

An Invitation
Where have you experienced sacred space? I would love to know. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lull Time: Thursday's Reflection

"A lull can be soothing, tranquilizing, and even restorative. It can be a time to retune and replenish. A lull can suggest a state of peaceful hovering, a prolonged mental daydream, a weightless interval."

When I came across these words in Birds Art Life A Year of Observation by Kyo Maclear I recognized myself and what I am currently experiencing. 

A lull. Like a sailboat on a lake when there is no wind. All is calm and no one is panicky about the lack of movement. The shore is not far and the day is young. All is well. This is its own time. A gentle breeze will come eventually. Or the stillness may be replaced by stronger, more propelling, compelling forces. But this is now. 

I don't feel indecisive or stuck or exhausted or depressed. I don't feel uncertain or empty. I don't particularly feel a need for a time-out. I know what that feels like. I am not bored nor am I am wondering what the next big thing might be. Nor am I ignoring the everyday tasks that need to be done, like paying bills or doing the laundry. 

Instead I feel a certain contentment, a certain openness, a willingness to notice what it feels like not to rush from one thing to another. What moves slowly, undemandingly across my mind is "What would you like to do today?" Perhaps that is a summer question, one addressed while dozing in a hammock or in my case choosing the next book to read and do I want to read it sitting in our sanctuary garden, in the snug or my Girlfriend Chair in the garret? A lull leaves room for that level of questions. 

Maclear addresses the fear that a lull can turn into a rut and the muse can disappear. Perhaps, but not today. She adds, "By definition, one does not know whether a lull is interesting or uninteresting, fruitful or unfruitful, until it is over."

I've decided to trust that this time will bring its own benefits. I've decided to honor this lull time for what it is and whatever it turns out to be. 

An Invitation
When have you experienced a lull? What did that feel like? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Jury's Decision: Tuesday's Reflection

The jury delivered its verdict last week on the shooting of Philando Castile by police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Yanez was acquitted on all counts. I wasn't there. I didn't hear all the evidence, but once again our community is in the midst of pain and conflict.

I needed church on Sunday and was grateful I had a place to go where I would hear words of challenge, words of healing, words of compassion, words of confession. 

First, words from Patricia Lull, Bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

         One jury has spoken. Another jury is still out. That
         second jury weighs our own response as people of faith.

         We have so much soul work to do. Can we learn to 
          listen to the frustration of the African-American
          community and hear in it an authentic cry for justice
          at the most profound level? Can we take the hard,
          consistent steps that all of us need to take to regard
          each other across the lines of race and ethnicity and
          class by checking our unnamed assumptions and fears? 
          Can we in the church hold ourselves to working 
          step by step to dismantle the racism that structures
          too much of our communal life?

And then words of confession and forgiveness:

          Gracious God, we thank you for making one
          human family of all the peoples of the earth and
          for creating all the wonderful diversity of cultures.

          Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of 
          fellowship and show us your presence in those 
          who differ most from us. ...

          Forgive those of us who have been silent and
          apathetic in the face of racial intolerance and 
          bigotry, both overt and subtle, public and private.
          Take away the arrogance and hatred that infect our

          Break down the walls that separate us.
          Help us to find the unity that is the fruit of
          righteousness. Enable us to become your
          beloved community. 

          Empower us to speak boldly for justice and truth
          and help us to deal with one another without
          hatred or bitterness, working together with mutual
          forbearance and respect.
          Work through our struggles and confusion to 
           accomplish your purposes. 

An Invitation
I invite you to lift up your prayers for peace and justice. 
I invite you to reach out for peace and justice in some way. 


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Memory Time: Thursday's Reflection

When you return to a location where you once lived, you are apt to
be flooded with memories. That happened when we were in Madison to attend the 50th wedding anniversary party of dear friends. We lived in Madison for six years prior to moving back to St Paul. 

During that brief visit we went to our favorite bookstore in Spring Green, Arcadia Books. Don't miss it if you are in the area. We had lunch at a favorite restaurant Villa Dolce and enjoyed the pear gorgonzola pizza once again. 

The day after the party we drove to Monches Farm, a favorite nursery and gift shop about an hour away from Madison. 

As we drove down familiar streets and roads, we reminisced about the many things we enjoyed during the years we lived there. I guess this was a memory lane time. 

Since moving back to St Paul, I have tended to think about the Madison years as a transition time between our years in Ohio and the return to where we had raised our family. It can be challenging to be present and live fully when the next big thing is looming, but not quite happening. And part of our life in Madison was consumed by the next step.

But those years were not only about being in-between one place and another. We lived there. We made friends there. Bruce had a demanding and meaningful job there. Our home was often filled with family and friends. We developed a list of "favorites,"and a comfortable loop of life. We created memories. 

How good it was to be reminded that we had lived there, lived as fully as we could. How good it is to be reminded of the gifts in one's life. 

An Invitation
Is there something in your life that can be viewed in more than one way? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer Time: Tuesday's Post

 Every Sunday I like to plot the coming week. 

I open my notebook to a new page and write the heading "Week of ..." and then list each day of the new week and what is on the schedule, including our daughter Kate's requests for kid help. 

 As I create my "to do" list for the week, I think about writing I intend to do during the week. My Tuesday and Thursday blog posts, of course, but other writing plans as well. I list any church responsibilities I may have and what home tending and errand running I need to do. Over the course of the week I add other items as they occur to me--listing them under a heading called "add-ons." I am happy when I don't have anything under the "leftovers" category, but that usually is not the case. 

For the most part it is a good routine. I like going to bed on Sunday night having a basic idea of what to expect during the coming days. That generally works well for me and helps me juggle the variety of colorful balls in my life.  

Now that it is summer, however, I need to loosen my grip and let a ball or two drop to the sidelines.  

This week Bruce and I began our summer job as nannies for Peter and Maren. The job is not a difficult one and we welcome this opportunity to be involved in the grands' lives and to help our daughter and son-in-love. But there is a shift. My plans become much more about their plans and needs.  Swim team practice every morning. Maren bikes back and forth, but Pete needs a ride. Maren has three hours of classroom driver's ed for the next two weeks in an outlying suburb. Which days will I be the designated driver? And what about Pete when he isn't at camp? Will he just want to hang out at home or maybe he will want to start working on the wolf scrapbook we have discussed or go to the library? And, of course, there is the friend factor. Who is available for a Nerf Battle? 

Every week will be different. Each day is its own day. I will still think ahead as much as possible, but my mantra will be to let go when the plan changes. It means using the time I have and not regretting the time I don't. I'll move from one segment of the day to another, and the day will unfold. 

I don't promise to stop making lists this summer, but perhaps I can consult them a bit less and enjoy the space that creates in my life. To do that I need to be present to the gifts of this summer, this chapter of my life. And isn't that the ongoing opportunity and  challenge? Isn't that the main "to do" for the rest of my days? Be Present. 

An Invitation
In what ways will you be present to summer? I would love to know.