Thursday, December 21, 2017

Advent and Preparing the Way: Thursday's Reflection

NOTE: After today's post, I am going to take a brief break. I will be back Thursday, January 4th.
I intend to enjoy these sacred days of Christmas and to enter the New Year rested and relaxed. I wish the same for you. 

I made an assumption. 

If you read my Tuesday, December 12, 2017 post, you know that one of my Advent practices is coloring the outline of a labyrinth. I decided to do this as a way to stay calm and focused during the busy Advent season. I don't spend time coloring every day, but when I do, I enjoy deciding the colors to use and how far that morning's "walk" will be.

One day last week I thought, "Wow, I better get moving or I will never get to the sacred center by Christmas. That morning I swooped around more curves than I had previously. The day before I had accomplish several Christmas tasks and I felt freer. The way seemed clearer.

But, my husband, who knows me so well, said, "What makes you think the center is Christmas?"

I sputtered. To myself, fortunately, and said something about how I would need to think about that. 

I am thinking about that with the help of a meditation in Jan Richardson's book Night Visions, Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas. She describes how Advent is a season of preparation, a time of getting ready for what lies ahead. I assumed that means Christmas Eve and Day, the celebration of Jesus' birth. 

Yes, that is true, but Richardson also invites me to discover what else this time is preparing me for? 
                 What is the way that is being prepared within
                  the wilderness of my life? What does it mean
                  for my own life to become a path, a way of
                  welcome for the Holy One? How do I give
                  myself time to notice the ways that the path
                  unfolds before me and within me? What are
                  the acts of preparation that bring delight to
                  my daily life? Whom do I ask or allow to help
                  me prepare?

I am preparing to dig into a major revision of my spiritual memoir. This stage of writing my book means I need to go deeper into my own material and I need stretches, rather than snatches, of writing time. I know doing that will require some changes in how I spend my time, and I will need support as I walk this labyrinth.

This is a time of preparation, and my intention is to keep walking this labyrinth, step by step. 

An Invitation
What are you preparing for? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Favorite Books of 2017: Tuesday's Reflection

Author and book store owner, Ann Patchett declared 2017 as a year of no shopping, except what she could buy in the grocery store and BOOKS. I am not ready to follow her no shopping practice, but if I did, I would definitely make the same exception for books.

I love giving books and receiving books and also selecting books for myself. I love libraries and book stores, as well as shopping my own book shelves. Don't be surprised if you see me snooping to see what you have on your shelves, too. 

And I love lists of books. 

Therefore, here's my 2017 list of favorites. 

My top two fiction recommendations are
1.   Underground Railroad -- Colson Whitehead
2.   Little Fires Everywhere -- Cynthia Ng

Others --in no specific order
*    Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk -- Helen Simonson
*    In This Grave Hour -- Jacqueline Winspear (the most recent in the Maisie Dobbs series)
*    LaRose -- Louise Erdrich (Also on my 2016 list. I read it again for our books group.)
*    Exit West -- Mohsin Hamid
*    A Gentleman in Moscow -- Amor Towles
*    Homegoing -- Yaa Gyasi
*    The Summer Before the War -- Helen Simonson
*    A History of Wolves -- Emily Fridlund
*    Glass Houses -- Louise Penny's most recent mystery
*    Foreign Affairs -- Allison Lurie
*    A Gathering of Birds -- Laura Harrington
*    Future Home of the Living God -- Louise Erdrich
*    Three titles by Gail Godwin: Her newest, Grief Cottage, plus two older books, The Good Husband, which I had not read before, and Father Melancholy's Daughter for the second time.
*     Books by Willa Cather. I set a goal to read all of her novels  including ones I have read before, and to read them in the order in which they were written. I read the first seven and have four more   to go. I loved rereading O Pioneers, My Antonia, and The Professor's House and also so enjoyed Song of the Lark, but don't regret reading the others either--My Mortal Enemy, One of Ours, and A Lost Lady. I hope to read her others in 2018.  

My favorite in this category is Ageless Soul, The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy by Thomas Moore. I read several books on spirituality and aging this year, and this is the one I think will most help me grow spiritually as I continue to age. 

Others--in no specific order
*    The Book of Joy -- Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
*    The Grace in Living -- Kathleen Dowling Singh
*    Two books by Diana Butler Bass: Grounded, Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution and Christianity for the Rest of Us, How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith
*    Voices in the Stone, Life Lessons from the Native Way -- Kent Nerburn
*    Take This Bread -- Sara Miles
*    We Make This Road By Walking -- Brian McLaren
*    What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform The Way You Think and Feel About Everything -- Rob Bell.

*    Men Explain Things to Me -- Rebecca Solnit
*    Hourglass, Time, Memory, Marriage --Dani Shapiro
*    The Song Poet -- Kao Kalia Yang
*    Publishing, A Writer's Memoir -- Gail Godwin (This is what led me to reread her books.)
*    On Living -- Kerry Egan (This memoir could also be included on my spirituality list.)
*    Letters to a Young Muslim -- Omar Said Ghobash
*    A Homemade Life, Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table --Molly Wizenberg

Yes, indeed, another great reading year. Although I have read many new novels, more and more I am drawn to reading older books--ones I missed earlier in my life or ones I want to reread. I assume this is part of being an older reader, but want to think more about the reasons. Nostalgia? Lack of identification with young writers and their style or topics? A realization of what I have missed and a desire to fill in the blanks? Perhaps, all of the above. 

What have you read this past year that remains in your heart and mind? I would love to know. 

NOTE: You can find previous lists hereherehereherehere, and finally, here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Lights of Advent: Thursday's Reflection

Compared to some years, we aren't doing much entertaining this year. We aren't being Scrooges, and we didn't make a conscious decision to not entertain, but this is the way it is this year. 

I remember how, when our children were growing up, we hosted many holiday events, including suppers each Sunday in Advent, a big neighborhood caroling party, plus Epiphany, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve dinners with family and friends. Some years I invited my women friends for a present wrapping party. Such fun to chat and laugh and nosh while wrapping presents. Over the years we have opened our homes, all decked out and looking their festive best. 

I have been feeling bit guilty about all the effort and energy it takes to decorate even this house. True, we don't have the multiple trees we did in our 1906 Victorian. We have no staircases with garland wrapped in white lights and no fireplaces with mantels to fill with greens and glowing, glittery creations. But make no mistake, this house, too, is the setting for Christmas magic. 

Was it worth it, the two full days we devoted right after Thanksgiving to decorating the house? Especially since we aren't hosting many events. And will the two days needed to dismantle, defrock and restore the house after New Year's be worth the effort?

Last night we sat reading in the living room because the snug was a bit chilly. I paused and gazed at the twinkling lights on our Charlie Brown tree and the simple vignette on the coffee table in front of me. "I love this," I whispered inside my heart. 

In the morning we plug in all the lights and just before going to bed, we unplug them and in-between we move through our routines, the tasks of the day, and there are plenty right now. But we have a framework: the lights of Advent. 

Yes, it is worth it. I am reminded of the beauty, the hope, the joys, the promises of this season wherever I look in our home. This is not just any time. This is Advent. 

 My prayer is that I take all those open-hearted feelings into the world wherever I go, whatever I do.

Yes, it is worth it. And who knows, maybe next year we will once again fill the calendar with events in our home.

An Invitation
What keeps you connected to the gifts of this season? I would love to know.   

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Trying to Stay Present: Tuesday's Reflection

Even though I love the Advent season, sometimes an inner conflict churns its way through me. 

I begin to look ahead to January. 

Sunday afternoon I needed to clear my desk, which in just a couple days had become piled with receipts, bills, extra Christmas cards, envelopes with new addresses from friends who had moved during the year, notes to myself on small pieces of paper, the bulletin from that morning's church service, a list of tasks I need to do in the coming week and more. Always more. It didn't take me long to toss and file and to organize for the week, but then I felt myself attracted to messy drawers, overloaded files, dusty shelves, and other piles only known to me. 

I wanted to zoom into January. Organize. Clean. Create new systems. Clear the space. And not just in the garret, but the whole house. What has accumulated that is unnecessary? What no longer fulfills a valid purpose? What needs to move on and out?

All of that is in the future. The near future, true, but not today.

Today we are still in December. Today we are still waiting for Christmas.

Today my challenge is to live, really live in the present. 

One of my Advent practices this year is to color an outline of a labyrinth. I actually thought by the time I got to this stage of Advent I would have completed one or two labyrinths. Instead, I am not even halfway to the center of one labyrinth.

I am coloring (walking) slowly. I am attempting to be aware of each stroke (step). I choose the colors carefully, breathe deeply,  and pay attention to where I am on the path. I do my best to be present to how I am feeling, how I am moving, how I am being in these Advent days. 

               This is why I also love fog. It is so much like
               life. We really can only see a few steps ahead of
               ourselves. All we can do is put one foot in front
               of another and pay attention to what is revealed
               in the mist before us.
                                    Christine Valters Paintner

An Invitation
How do you attempt to stay in the present moment? What are the fruits of doing that? I would love to know. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent Mornings: Thursday's Reflections

As you faithful readers know, I begin my days with meditation/devotion time. I wrap a shawl around my shoulders and sit back luxuriously in my Girlfriend Chair, my feet up on an ottoman covered in vintage fabrics. I close my eyes and breathe deeply to find my own rhythm and eventually, I open my current devotional book and awaken to inspiration and reflection for the day.

Eager for the beginning of Advent, over the weekend I shopped my bookshelves and gathered a stack of materials to companion me during the days leading to Christmas. Old favorites. Three books by Jan Richardson and also a book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan I read years ago, The First Christmas, What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth. Of course, my Bible and my journal were close by, too. 

I also made copies of the outline of a labyrinth. Last year I drew a series of mandalas during Advent Read here. and I considered doing that again this year, but how about, instead, coloring labyrinths? I wonder what doing that might reveal to me.

And finally, I added to the already teetering pile a precious small journal a friend gave me when she visited this fall. The lightly textured cover is in shades of blue, the color of Advent, and the paper is silky, beckoning my fountain pen. I decided to use this small book to record quotations that resonate or perplex or comfort or engage me during these weeks.

I was ready. Bring on Advent!

Here's what happened.

Monday: I began my day by taking a shower and dressing first, instead of retreating for meditation time. I had to reverse my usual order because we were getting a new furnace and the heating guys would arrive early. By the time I had put my feet up, the clatter and chatter had begun. Silence was shattered and so was my meditation time. 

Tuesday: I called this my Marathon Day. Events were scheduled morning, afternoon, and evening with little space in between. Once again, instead of beginning my day with quiet, I did what I needed to do to leave the house for the first event of the day. And to do it extremely carefully because the roads were covered in ice and a slight layer of new snow. All went well.

Wednesday: Ah, finally. The first day of Advent for me. And how rich it was. I read Jan Richardson's words:

           "...this presence who goes with us as day gives
            way to darkness."     

I wrote in my journal about the gifts of the previous two days and  realized how the Presence had been my companion, even though my usual routine had been upended. 

Morning time grounds me and offers the space I need to uncover the person God created me to be, but sometimes life happens and the day has other plans for me. It is at those times I most need to open to the Presence who companions me. Advent is in the quiet, and Advent is in the movement of our lives.

An Invitation
In what ways do you sense the companionship of the Sacred? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Practice Hope: Tuesday's Reflection

What do you find hopeful today?

In what ways do you experience hope?

I know this may be difficult. I know this may be a challenge, and you may feel anything but hopeful today, but stop, pause, and take a deep breath.  Stretch, if you need to, but open your heart to a sign or a moment of hope. (Look for the stars in this photograph.)

It doesn't need to be something major. Anything will do. Just something.

While you are in this brief moment of stillness, allow me to share a moment when I felt embraced with hope.

Last week we attended the St Olaf Christmas Festival, as we do most years. That concert signals the start of Advent for me, even more than decorating the house. Getting out our Christmas decorations is a personal thing giving me the context for everything else on the list--buying presents, writing Christmas cards, making cherry walnut bread etc. 

But the Christmas Festival opens my heart and connects me to the past, challenges me to be in the present, and leads me toward the future. 

Being there I remember my four privileged years as a student at St Olaf. This is where I met my husband and where I discovered my calling as a teacher, where I made longterm friendships, and where I took steps into adulthood. I think about all the other years of sitting in the hushed dark absorbing the Christmas message in music and the word. The first time I attended the concert, which is really a worship service, I was in third grade, I believe, and I will always remember that night as one of magic and beauty. I think about our daughter and son-in-love, who also graduated from St Olaf, and the love they continue to grow and share. 

I don't just dwell in the past, however. With the orchestra's first chord, this year Elgar's Adagio "Nimrod," such an evocative piece, I felt my body relax into the present moment. Be with the music. Be with the breath. Be with the inspiration. Be with the beauty. Be with this gift. 

At the same time I felt lifted into the future, a brighter and yes, better future. And that feeling surprised me. 

Before the concert began, all five choirs (400 plus voices) lined the perimeter of the gymnasium, majestically transformed into a concert hall. They stood shoulder to shoulder, forming what felt like a circle without beginning or ending. In this position they sang an African American spiritual.

                     Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
                     the time is drawing nigh.
                     Children, don't get weary 'til your work is done.
                     Christian journey soon be over,
                     the time is drawing nigh.
                     Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
                     the time is drawing nigh.

As all 400 bodies moved in unison, I felt enfolded, embraced, lifted by hope. All those young people. Here it was only days before the end of the fall semester --exams and final papers and projects--and they were sharing their gifts. Just as they will share their gifts with the world in future years. No wonder I felt filled with hope. 

Thomas Moore says, "Hope is not the same as expectation. Hope is a positive point of view tinged with joy that doesn't demand a certain outcome, but trusts in the goodness of life." 


May you find reasons to be hopeful.
May you live with hope and may you bring hope where you encounter darkness and uncertainty and loss. 

An Invitation
What is your experience of hope today? How do you practice hope?I would love to know. 

NOTE: The new issue of Bella Grace is now available, and it features my essay "Beyond the Threshold." I hope you will pick up a copy. 

Also, you can hear an encore performance of the St Olaf Christmas Concert at on Sunday, December 24 at 2:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (CST). Or check for further information. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Moving and Aging: Thursday's Reflection

 Four years ago over the Thanksgiving weekend we moved into The Little House. 

How is that possible?

Somedays it feels like we have lived here forever, but sometimes it feels like only yesterday when boxes were stacked in the living room. We have made lots of changes since then, including painting the exterior and most of the interior, building a new garage, and installing central air and all new windows. This past summer Bruce added a low fence in the front yard and if you have visited us, you know how skillfully and artfully Bruce's garden spaces are growing.

We are happy here. Content and grateful.

I am currently reading Thomas Moore's new book Ageless Soul, The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy, and each chapter opens me to new perspectives about this time of my life and the time to come. Moore says one of the stages of aging is "shifting toward old age," and I think that is in part what we did when we made the decision to make this full circle move. 

Moving here, however, was not without its challenges--moving never is--and required patience and effort and flexibility and a willingness to hold a vision of the big picture. We knew we wanted to return to the place where we had raised our children and where the majority of family and friends live. We knew this was where we wanted to be as we age. 

We made an intentional decision that would allow us to unfold into our aging and to have support when our needs change. 

I am so grateful for our life here. 

An Invitation
Is a decision hovering around you, waiting for you to make a move? Is it time to explore what you may need as you age? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Getting Ready: Tuesday's Reflection

What a wonderful family time we had during the Thanksgiving holiday, and when our son and daughter-in-love left to begin the trek back to Cleveland, I felt withdrawal cross the threshold. 

But I had a plan: start decorating for Christmas. 

If the house was no longer filled with their presence, I could at least fill the house with anticipation of the next holiday. I could create the setting for Advent, my favorite liturgical season of the year.

Of course, that is easier said than done, but I love the process. At least that's what I tell myself each year when I face the mountain of plastic bins labeled "Christmas." 

But I have a plan: Start the way I always start -- unpack the Santas carved by our friend Al. In fact, the holiday actually begins not on the first Sunday in Advent, but when Al lets us know the new Santa is ready.  

I suppose I could consult my photo stream and arrange this happy collection the same as last year, but how fun would that be? Nope, one by one I find a place for Santa holding the lantern and Santa and Mrs Claus leaning in for a smooch and Santa with a bag of toys peeking over his shoulder. I tweak and adjust and stand back and study the composition and move this one or that one just a bit to the left. Voila! 

In the meantime Bruce delivered glitz into the house via our silly Charlie Brown tree. Turning this skinny, misshapen tree into a bit of silvery glam proves anything can be transformed. 

Little by little over the course of two days, Advent descended. Like the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary. 

And now we are ready. 
Ready to wait.
Ready to prepare. 
Ready to open to the magic of the season. The promise of the season.
Ready to open to whatever is next. 
To discover what this time means.

Observing Advent and Christmas may not be your tradition, but I am quite sure you have lived seasons of waiting, of preparation for what is not quite known. We can wait with each other. 

An Invitation
What calls to you right now? How are you preparing and how will you wait? I would love to know. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving: Thursday's Reflection

Being grateful opens the heart more than any other emotion, except perhaps love. (How does one separate love from gratitude anyway?) Gratitude is a habit and if we practice gratitude, we expand our heart's capacity to experience love and joy.

The Dalai Lama begins each day by saying, "I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it." I suspect he ends his day in a similar way, "I have a precious human life and how grateful I am to have lived this day."

Try beginning and ending your day with an outpouring of gratitude.  

Trust me, the more you find to be grateful for, the more you will open your heart and enhance your life, and the more you open your heart, the more you will find to be grateful for. And the more you will want to demonstrate your gratitude. Instead of this being a vicious circle, the circle of gratitude is glorious. Glorious indeed. 

I invite you to awaken your heart today to gratitude, the sister of joy. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

An Invitation
What is in your heart at the beginning and ending of each day? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Almost Thanksgiving: Tuesday's Reflection

One of the pleasures of my life has been to create a setting in which family and friends gather. 

That has been a guiding light for me in each of our homes over the years. Yes, I hope our home reflects our personalities and our interests, but I also hope our home is viewed as comfort, as safety, as sanctuary, and even, if I may be so bold, as a slice of beauty.

Whether it is the twice a month gathering of my writing group or a visit from out-of-town guests for a couple nights or the monthly Sunday night potluck we host for four other couples, I begin the welcome by planning the food, ironing the napkins, setting the table. Each step is a little prayer, a blessing.

How true that is as I think about Thanksgiving Day. 

This year our children and their beloved spouses and our grandchildren will fill our small dining room--a smaller group than some years, but memories of other more boisterous years are not far away. 

When we lived at Sweetwater Farm in Ohio our goal was to squeeze as many loved ones around the Harvest Table as possible. Sometimes our guests earned their turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes by participating in the annual round-up of our animals--llamas, sheep, goats, donkey--for their winter's confinement in the barn. Always a hilarious event. 

Some years my father and I drove out into Amish country the day before Thanksgiving to pick up the fresh turkey I had ordered from a country meat market. We took our time driving the country roads past Amish farms with sheets on the clotheslines and buggies in the driveways. 

When we lived in Madison, we filled each of the guest rooms in our large home with family and friends who sprawled all through the house before the feast watching football, reading by the fire, snitching another piece of lefse or wandering into the kitchen to sniff and ask if the turkey was almost ready. 

One year after dinner we went for a walk  and when we returned, we discovered our granddog, Ralph, had eaten the entire apple pie! Oh well, always concerned about having enough food, we had more than one pie. And then the next day there were leftovers! 

I am sure you have many Thanksgiving memories, too, and could easily begin a sentence saying, "Remember the year...."

Soon I will set the table for this year and as I do so, I will remember past years. I will wonder what new memories we will create, and I will give thanks for this year.

         When one evokes the good life, there is nothing
         quite so heartwarming and reassuring as the thought
         of one's friends and relatives gathering around a full
         table. There is a communion of more than bodies when
         people share a meal. Indeed, if the destiny of nations
         depended on what and how they eat, the same is true of
         individuals...One rediscovers the simple joys of 
         impatience and curiosity with the first bite of food, and 
         then delight, passionate discussions, and soon a sense of
         well-being. The meal creates a bond, an exchange, an 
         interaction of energies, a true connection.
                                         The French Family Feast
                                         A Menu Cookbook
                                         Mireille Johnston

An Invitation
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories? I would love to know. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Note: Thursday's Reflection

One of my favorite questions is "What are you reading?"

Asking the question sometimes means I will add a title or two to my already long list, and responding to the question means sharing some delight or wisdom or surprise. 

Let's say you just asked me what I am currently reading. How much time do you have?

As part of my morning meditation I am reading two books: What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell and a new book by Thomas Moore, Ageless Soul, The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy. 

The Bell book is written in a short and snappy style and one could be misled to think this book is not very deep or knowledgeable. Quite the contrary. Bell invites his readers to go beneath the surface of how we have always read the Bible. I am still reflecting on these words:
     The power of the Bible for people like us living in times
     like these is that it shows us what it looks like to resist what
     needs to be resisted and critique what needs to be critiqued 
     while holding on to the conviction that there is sacred
     mystery at the heart of being human. p. 215

You may have read Thomas's Care of the Soul or The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life or any of his many other books, and if so, you know you will be invited to sit quietly with a topic and that you will be offered a range of perspectives with the goal of widening your own viewpoint. "To age well you have to be profoundly old and profoundly young." "Aging is just not about the older years but about the whole of life." "Aging is a process by which you become somebody real and alive." 

I have a hard time putting the Bell book down, for I want to zoom into the next chapter for new learning, but the Thomas book urges me to take my time and examine myself. How am I doing in this aging process?

Father Melancholy's Daughter by Gail Godwin is my bedtime reading and "take a break" reading. Not much happens externally in this book, but I don't mind that. I love Godwin's reflective, meditative style where relationships are key. Earlier this year I read Godwin's The Good Husband as well as her most recent book, Grief Cottage. She is a favorite! 

Grandson Peter and I are reading a nonfiction book called American Wolf by Nate Blakesler. Don't you love the cover? Pete and I share an interest in wolves and this is about a Yellowstone wolf called 0-Six. We aren't very far into it yet because we only read it when he comes over after school on Wednesdays. We'll keep you posted. 

What's next on my list? Well, I think it has to be the new book by Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God, a dystopian feminist novel Yes, I know The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood set the standard, but I have no doubt Erdrich's newly published book is provocative and well-written. This seems like a good excuse to make a trip to her bookstore, Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, a favorite destination. 

Finally, I am adding an invitation to you to read the new winter, 2018 issue of Bella Grace. I am pleased to say it includes an essay I wrote, "Beyond the Threshold" and once again the accompanying photographs are gorgeous. It is such an honor to be part of this publication. It is available December 1 and you can find it online or at Barnes and Nobel. Bella Grace

These are busy days as we move quickly to Thanksgiving and then the December holidays, and I may not have quite the amount of reading time I generally allow myself, but I WILL read. 

An Invitation
What about you? What are you reading? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Need a Little Gratitude in Your Life?: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm immersed in gratitude.

That doesn't mean I am the most grateful person in the world. Far from it. I often need to remind myself of all my blessings and to live with a more grateful heart.

No, I am immersed in gratitude because I am preparing a workshop on The Spiritual Practice of Gratitude that I am offering at our church this Thursday. (Let me know if you would like to attend. All our welcome.)

In the process I have read some wonderful quotes about gratitude. 
                   It is not happiness that makes us grateful.
                   It is being grateful that makes us happy.
                                   David Stendl-Nast

                   If the only prayer you would say in your
                   whole life is "thank you," that would suffice.
                                   Meister Eckhart

                   Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails
                   into behavior. It almost always makes you 
                   willing to be of service, which is where the joy
                   resides. It means you are willing to stop being
                   such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has
                   been given to you, in your lifetime and in the
                   past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and
                   pleased to give back.
                                     Anne Lamott

I have re-read sections on gratitude in books in my personal library. Books like Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow and Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul by Rev. Jane E. Venard. I have logged onto I have organized content and activities for my workshop and have made lists of everything I need to do before we gather. 

I have even sat in silence in the morning, my journal on my lap, and listed joys and pleasures in my life. When I take a breath it is not hard to do. Of course, that is when I truly immerse myself in gratitude, and it does make a difference. 

During the course of my immersion I found another kind of list. (Sorry, I don't have a reference for it.)

Signs That You Need to Restore Gratitude in Your Life
1.   You complain a lot and often contribute a negative comment no matter the topic.
2.    You have trouble getting started in the morning, as if you've lost your enthusiasm for life.
3.    You overlook the presence of beauty in the natural world.
4.    You have resentment about events in the past.
5.    You have trouble asking for help.
6.    You frequently feel like a victim.
7.    It's difficult for you to be dependent on others.
8.    You haven't enjoyed the sunset or sunrise in a long time.
9.    You don't take care of your body.
10.   Time seems to pass by too quickly for you to really enjoy life or live it to its fullest.
11.   You have trouble enjoying the present moment.
12.   You can't remember the last time you spontaneously hugged someone. 

Interesting list, isn't it? Do you recognize yourself here? Well then, maybe it is time to immerse yourself in gratitude. Today is a good day to do that.

Oh, and by the way, I am grateful you read my blog. 

An Invitation
What's on your gratitude list today? I would love to know. 


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Spirituality as We Age: Thursday's Reflection

I welcome these dark November mornings, for they seem to give me permission to spend even more time in quiet devotion and meditation. I dress and move into the day later and later. In fact, my husband and I have joked that some day we will still be in  our pajamas and it will be time to go to bed again. 

Spending more of my time in prayer and devotion is not just because daylight takes longer to appear, however. Another reason, I think, is that I am drawn to enter what Dr. Jane Marie Thibault calls "Aging as a natural monastery." 

I was reminded of this term when my father, who is 94, and in very good health, outlined his daily spiritual practices to me. Much of his day, even the majority of his day, is spent praying and reading devotional material. Some of the books he uses he has read over and over again, continuing to find meaning in them. Like a monk, he starts his day in prayer; he ends his day in prayer, and in-between he reflects on his relationship with God and what he is still invited to learn. He reads two pages of Luther's Catechism every day. He reads passages in my mother's Bible, passages she underlined, and he says they are reading them together. He reviews and reflects on his day, a form of examen in the spirit of Ignatian spirituality. 

After a long and successful career in the business world, my father's life has shifted from the external to the internal. He has become a contemplative, giving and responding to the world in new ways. 

Many years ago I remember sitting by the bedside of a woman who had been extremely active in her congregation. She was the epitome of a church lady--always ready and willing to meet any need. Everyone knew they could count on her, but now confined to her hospice bed she felt useless. Without purpose or meaning. I asked her about the people she loved and about the issues in the world that concerned her and in the process we realized we were praying. I suggested this could be a time of unceasing prayer for her.  Because of her own faith and her deep love, she opened to that new purpose and spent most of her last days in prayer. 

I have an active life and love the various activities that give my life purpose and meaning, but more and more I feel the pull to sit in silence and open my heart to and for the world. Heaven knows, there is much that needs prayer. 

I suspect I am preparing for my own monastery time --if I should be fortunate to live into old age (older age, that is!). As long as I have cozy pajamas, I will be content. 

An Invitation
What have you noticed about the role of prayer and contemplation in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

All Saints: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm a crier.

Actually, let's be honest, I'm a weeper.
Tears gather in the corner of my eyes easily, and it is not uncommon for me to feel a tear or two or three drift down my cheeks.

Sunday was All Saints Sunday in which the names of those members and friends of our congregation who have died during the past year are read, and candles on the baptismal font burn in loving remembrance of their lives. Also a Book of Saints, in which names added by congregants in recent weeks, was carried to the font, and during the service worshippers were invited to light a candle to honor loved ones. 

As worshippers moved from their pews to candles scattered throughout the sanctuary, the rest of the congregation chanted,
            Give rest unto your servants with your saints O God
            give rest, give rest where there is neither pain or
            sorrow, neither sighing, but life everlasting. 
I had added names to the Book of Saints, and I lit a candle in their honor and in honor of those who are in deep grief. 

I cried.
I wept.
I struggled to sing.

Not only did I acknowledge the loss and sadness I felt, but I imagined some of the losses ahead of me. Chances are for as long as I live, I will add names each year to the Book of Saints. I will light candles, and I will cry.  

I looked around the sanctuary and knew in my heart that each person there has known loss or if not yet, will know loss in the future. I offer my tears of compassion, of connection, of recognition to them. 

And some day, too, my name will be in the Book of Saints.

Because we love, we also cry. We may even weep.

                           For those
                   who walked with us,
                       this is a prayer.

                            For those
                    who have gone ahead,
                         this is a blessing.

                            For those 
                who have touched and tended us,
                      who lingered with us
                           while they lived,
                     this is a thanksgiving.

                            For those
                     who journey still with us
                 in the shadows of awareness
                   in the crevices of memory,
                 in the landscapes of our dreams,
                      this is a benediction.
                                            Jan Richardson

An Invitation
For whom do you cry today? I would love to know. 

An earlier post about tears: Vintage Handkerchiefs


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Revision, Reformation, Transformation: Thursday's Reflection

Three words have been running in my head like a Taize' chant:


In some ways, the reasons I am focused on revision and reformation are obvious. 

First of all, this is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and as a genetic Lutheran, it is glorious to see our church swathed in festival red and to sing "A Mighty Fortress," Luther's famous hymn, with gusto and pride. How even more astounding to attend a concert at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis in observance of the 500th anniversary. Yes, Catholics and Lutherans singing and praying together. We've come a long way. 

The word "revision" feels a bit more personal. I have started a major revision of my spiritual memoir, a humbling and taxing process, but also a process of deepening, of discovery. A spiritual practice of opening my heart to what is struggling to be born into its fullest being. Along with moving methodically from sentence to sentence, I am trying to know the fullness of the story, to see how the pieces fit together. This is hard work.

A Deeper Knowing
Reformation was not just an event a long time ago. 

Revision is not just finding the right word and adding in a comma here and there. 

Both words are active. Both words reflect an evolutionary before and after and an in-between that keeps growing and expanding.

A couple weeks ago I attended a drop-in writing session taught by  Elizabeth Jarret Andrew at Wisdom Ways. The theme for the session was mysticism, and we were all invited to write about a mystical experience in our own lives. I wrote about an experience I had while practicing T'ai Chi many years ago. I was moved by the memory of that experience--how I felt and how surprised I was by the event itself. I vividly remember many details of the experience, and eagerly and easily wrote about it. 

Andrew challenged us, however, to reflect on what led to the mystical experience. What led to the moment of mystery? Why then and not at another time in our life's timeline? What was going on in our everyday lives that created a context, a willingness, an openness, perhaps to receive something not quite real and yet oh, so real. 

And furthermore, what were the fruits, the consequences? How did our souls grow because of this experience? How does that one experience continue to show up in the ongoing days? How has the movement of God, the presence of God, continued to be revealed?  What is beyond?

The mystical experience or vision is not enough. The defining moment of reformation is not enough. Revising what seemed just right when it was first written is not enough. 

And here's where the word "transformation" enters the scene. Reformation and revision must lead to transformation. Ongoing transformation, rather than a been there, done that, it is finished attitude. Transformation happens moments at a time, one page at a time, one word at a time, one heartbeat at a time. One after another after another after another--often invisible and soundless, but the breath is there. The breath of Spirit is there. 

Living Reformation, Revision and Praying for Transformation
On Reformation Sunday we prayed the following prayer of intercession:

          We pray for continual reformation in this and every
           assembly. In new beginnings, impart wisdom. In
           established traditions, inspire creativity. In all ministries,
           revive our hope in the one who makes all things new.

Yes, the breath of transformation, but this is not enough. Sometimes, actually often, if not always, transformation also involves atonement and repentance. 

            We give thanks for your saints. On this anniversary
             day, we remember those who died in the Holocaust.
             We confess our church's complicity in anti-Semitism.
             Until Christ returns in glory to unite all faiths into
             one merciful love, give us strength to challenge
             misunderstanding, determination to stand against
             hatred, and courage to make amends for the sins of 
             our heroes.

May transformation may flow around and within us.

An Invitation
How have you experienced reformation, revision, and transformation in your life? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Preparing for Winter: Tuesday's Reflection

October seems a bit early for snow, but that was not my decision and last week we got our first smattering of snow. It's still there, thanks to the lingering cold temperatures. Trick and Treating will be a cold endeavor tonight. 

It is time to prepare for winter. 

My husband has been putting the gardens to bed, and inside, I have changed our bedding, adding a cozy coverlet and a colorful quilt.

I bought new flannel pajamas.

I tossed a shawl over my desk chair for extra warmth when I write, and more than one chair has a warm throw to use when reading. I even placed a fake fur throw over the living room rug. How cozy is that! 

I moved winter coats and scarves and gloves out of a storage closet, and I have already fixed soup for more than one supper. The car is ready for winter driving, and the shovel is available for action. 

When you live in a place like Minnesota you take winter preparations seriously. 

I happen to love winter, but I know this dark time of the year is not welcomed by everyone. In fact, I know many of you are planning your escape to warmer climes, but before you go, perhaps this early winter is inviting you to consider the gifts of these months. Even if you live someplace where winter is more of a word than a season, these October into November into December days may signal a call to deeper awareness of Spirit.

Many of us feel the weight of these darker days, days darkened not just by the turning of the year, but also by events in the world that distress and disturb us. This winter season, however, can be a time to commune with our soul and to lean into the promptings of Spirit. 

Joyce Rupp says each season is a "classroom of the heart."

           Listen carefully. Each season addresses your needs.
           Through your obedient listening you receive new
           insights. You find encouragement. You are surrounded
           with beauty. As you walk through the seasons of the
           year, listen for each season's voice. Be attentive to it.
           Identify the lessons it has for you. Let the heartbeat of
           the seasons resonate with the heartbeat of your life. 
           Hear the questions they ask. Receive their wisdom. The
           seasons are your teachers. Listen closely. They are speaking
           to you.
                                      The Circle of Life, p. 28
                                       Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr

An Invitation
What lessons of these previous months do you bring with you into these winter months? What questions are you invited to wrap around you? I would love to know.