Thursday, March 30, 2017

Are Your Ready? Thursday's Reflection

      "Are you ready?" I asked Peter when I arrived at his house to take him to school. 
      "I'm ready," he answered, but then I noticed he wasn't wearing shoes. We both laughed.
      On the way to the car he told me he was going to be on the school patrol next year. He and his Mom talked about a plan for him to walk to school early with a friend. "I'll need a house key," he said.
      "You seem ready for that," I said.  
      "I'm ready," he responded confidently. 

Last Saturday I met with an editor to practice my book pitch. In a week I will attend a conference in which I have an opportunity to meet agents and pitch my book to them. Bruce asked me, "Are you ready?" I said I was ready, but I think I said it more to convince myself. 

In an email from a friend recently she mentioned she would soon be preparing for Passover, doing the major kitchen cleaning necessary to get ready for the holiday. 

I get ready for the day. I get ready to leave the house. I prepare for a spiritual direction client appointment. I go to the grocery store so I can get what I need to fix dinner. So much of the day is in some stage of preparation it seems.

Now that I am in the Third Chapter of my life, "getting ready" has a new dimension. If in the past I could ignore the certainty of my own mortality, that is no longer possible.

The authors of The Spirituality of Age, A Seekers Guide to Growing Older, Robert L. Weber and Carol Osborn write that this stage of life is a  a time to accomplish inner freedom:
                    to find the courage and strength to walk a path
                    through the ebbing tide of the changes in our
                    lives and times by deepening our spirituality,
                    dismantling the illusions of escape, and, thereby,
                    strengthening ourselves for the challenges ahead.

That's a lot to ask, but I want to be ready. 

An Invitation
What are you doing to be ready? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lessons in Glass: Tuesday's Reflection

Our church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St Paul, MN has gorgeous stained glass windows, and thanks to member Martha Wegner, who has been digging in the archives, we learned a great deal about them this past weekend. 

The windows line both the main sanctuary and the side chapel, but there are also several smaller ones tucked in various locations, which I had never noticed. 

These windows are a visual reminder of what we are asked to do in this world as people of faith, as citizens of the world, as good neighbors. 

Granted, these windows, which date back to the 1950's, are not diverse or inclusive, but the message is simple and without qualifications. 

How you choose to exercise these tasks is up to you. Perhaps you do these good works through your community of faith, a wide variety of non-profit organizations, our schools or in individual acts of kindness. Perhaps you are showing up, speaking up to make sure our government does not repeal its responsibilities. 

Thanks for all you do. 

An Invitation
Are you being called in some way to be more of an active presence in the world? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Appointment with God: Thursday's Reflection

Recently, a friend returned a book he had borrowed from me,

Encountering God, A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras by Diane Eck. I had forgotten he had borrowed it, but I was grateful to be re-introduced to it.

On the inside of the front cover I found some notes I had written when I heard Eck speak at Chautauqua in 2004. She said, " A multi-religious world is the only world we have," and "The time of not getting to know each other is over." 

How moved I was recently when I was at Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives to see a prayer room in the building. When our guide offered to show it to us, I imagined seeing a lovely chapel with a stained glass window and maybe a small altar and a church pew where I could sit and pray. How quickly my mind goes to what I know.

Instead, this was a small room equipped with a tub-like area where a  person of the Islamic faith could sit easily and wash before prayer. Muslims pray five times a day and before each of those prayer times they wash their face, hands, arms, and feet. Prayer is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and this washing ritual, called Wudu, is preparation for an appointment with God.  

On one of the walls was a niche or mihrab which indicates the direction of Mecca. The room was large enough to open a prayer mat on the floor and for an individual to perform the proscribed series of movements, standing, bowing, kneeling on the ground, touching the ground with one's forehead and sitting. A holy place.

I have been in a mosque, but that was a long time ago and not in the United States. I was so moved to see this prayer room where Muslims could pray in a building owned by Lutherans. 

In the inside cover of Eck's book I had written some definitions.

An exclusivist believes there is only one faith, one true God.

An inclusivist recognizes the "fullness" of God which includes the "other, somewhat less adequate conception."

A pluralist acknowledges there is only one God who transcends complete comprehension. A pluralist engages with diversity--not just to be tolerant, but pursues active understanding. This is the language of dialogue. 

I don't know how you would define yourself--exclusivist, inclusivity, or pluralist--or if those terms have any meaning for you, but I firmly believe this is a time when we must get to know each other. And a major part of that is getting to know each other's God.

Now when I sit in prayer in the morning I imagine someone entering that solitary space in the Lutheran Social Services building to pray. I think about them praying to the very same God who receives my prayers. We are all embraced by God. I pray we remember that and live that prayer. 

An Invitation
What are you doing to expand your view of God? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Home Alone: Tuesday's Reflection

Because we moved so often when I was a child, I was often alone. Summers were lonely before starting school in a new place, and making new friends was not easy for this introvert. I was often alone and lonely, but I learned how to be alone, how to be comfortable with myself. 

Over the years, however, I grew to value being alone, and along the way, I developed my contemplative nature. Time to be alone became essential. 

It is true I spend much of my day working alone in my garret space, but it is rare I am alone in the house overnight. Now don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. For almost the first year of our return to Minnesota, Bruce commuted between here and Madison. He came home late Thursday night and returned to Madison Sunday afternoons. We were thrilled when that pattern ended, and he started working long-distance from his desk in the lower level. 

Still, sometimes it is nice to have a span of alone time. 

Last Thursday Bruce drove with our daughter and grands to Cleveland to visit our son and daughter-in-love. I elected to stay home--not because I craved alone time, but because I am in the midst of a consuming writing project. The decision was not an easy one, but it felt necessary. And wise. And, I accomplished so much. 

I felt great release. I could eat when I wanted to and what I wanted to and not think about planning a meal. I could go to bed and get up on my own schedule. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I could turn on the light and read until I felt ready to sleep again. I could follow my own whims. All without bothering anyone else. 

I turn 69 in a few weeks and more and more am aware of both the gifts and the challenges of being older. This is a time when many of us are more alone than we have been in our younger years. If we are married, we may face the loss of a spouse. Friends die or move away to be closer to family. Our ability to be out and about with the ease of earlier years decreases for a variety of years.

Richard Morgan calls this time "solitary refinement," and encourages us to use this time of our lives "to be alone with God, for what else matters in these years and in the years to come?" 

Solitude allows us to be with ourselves, to listen with the ears of our heart, to discover what we know, what we question, what is unspoken within, what needs to be forgiven. 

Solitude helps us "find the deep, calm place that makes aging such a serene part of life," Says Joan Chittister. 

Solitude helps us let go of what is not necessary, of what impedes our relationship with God. Solitude moves us towards compassion for ourselves and others. Solitude clears the space. 

Today is Tuesday and my family arrives home today, and I am ready. More than ready. I have missed them and I am eager to hear all the details of their time with Geof and Cricket. 

But I am also grateful for the touches of solitude. 

An Invitation

How comfortable are you being alone? Do you seek solitude? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Just Talking: Thursday's Reflection

 Last week I was part of a group from our church who attended an Immersion Experience at Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives. Staff members informed us about a variety of programs and ways we could be involved. We also helped serve a meal, which is offered free every Thursday. To anyone. No questions asked. No qualifications. No forms to fill out. Just come and you will be served.

I sat at the welcome table, greeting each guest, asking them to sign in. I looked at their hands. I looked into their eyes. I told them I was glad they were here. "Enjoy," I said, several times.

When it was my turn to eat, I sat next to a woman who lived in the neighborhood. She was talkative and was interested in what brought me to the center. After briefly explaining why I was there, I  I intended to ask her what brought her there, but she launched into a different topic. 

She told me about receiving a new cell phone and going to a class at the library to learn how to use it, and how grateful she was. She told me she no longer owned a television, but that meant she could read more. We talked books and movies. We had a light and friendly conversation. 

As a spiritual director I believe in going deeper. I try to ask questions to help my directees understand more about themselves and the movement of God in their lives. I believe in the power of sharing key stories and listening below the surface. 

When it was time to say goodbye, I wondered if I should have been more probing, if I should have invited her to tell me her story. Did I miss an opportunity to be a listening ear for her? Did I miss a chance to learn something about what it means to be poor and aging in this country? Should I have tried to connect on a deeper level?

Here's what I think. Sometimes what is most authentic is to just be two people together, enjoying a meal of roast chicken and salad and fruit. Sometimes the most human thing we can do is have a pleasant conversation. Two women who both love books and movies. 

An Invitation
When was the last time you talked with a stranger? What did you learn? About that person? About yourself? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Time-Out: Tuesday's Reflection

During the toddler years, a time-out was often necessary. 
For both the child and the parent. 

A time to cool off, regroup, restore, return to one's better self. 

I recall saying, firmly, but I hope not with anger in my voice, "I need you to go to your room for a time-out. Now." Sometimes I set the kitchen timer to eliminate the question, "Can I come out now?"

More often than not the time-out solved the problem, eased the tension, and lightened the mood, and ended with hugs.

If you read my last post, you know I am working diligently on the manuscript of my spiritual memoir. I spend many hours of the day at my desk working on it, but sometimes I need a time-out. When I sit staring at the laptop screen or when I reread a sentence over and over again or when 5 minutes playing solitaire turns into 10 or 15, I know it is time for a time-out. I am no longer operating from my best writing self. 

It is time for a time-out. 

But here's the trick. To really be a time-out, what you do needs to be nurturing and not just a turn to another task awaiting your attention. In other words, cleaning the bathroom, in most cases, is not the best time-out. 

My go-to rest stop most often is reading something purely for pleasure. Not for book group. Not for meditation. Not as part of research for what I am writing. Not to become better informed about all the issues of the day that weigh heavily on my heart. 

The best companion on my solitary time-outs is a good book, of course. Right now I am reading Willa Cather's The Song of The Lark, and I love its leisurely pace, the richness of description, and the depth of her characters. But I am just as apt to enjoy a new home decor magazine or savor the latest issue of Bella Grace.

Sometimes, however, a time-out means physically leaving the house--and I don't mean heading to the grocery store. A walk. A drive through a neighborhood of interesting houses. Lunch at a new spot. I prescribe a time-out for myself not to check something off the list, but to touch something inside that feels stale or dull or weary. 

When I suspect I need a time-out, I ask myself, "Why do you think a time-out would be a good idea right now?" 

Sometimes my answer reveals I am avoiding something or feeling fearful or a lack of self-confidence. It is at those times I need to dig in more and face the demon. But sometimes my neck hurts and I realize I forgot to eat lunch and I am just at a good place to stop working.

That's when I blow my virtual noon time whistle and retreat to a time-out. 

An Invitation
How do you know you need a time-out and what do you do? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Revising My Spiritual Memoir: Thursday's Reflection

In case anyone is wondering where I am, you can find me at my desk in the garret. The majority of my waking hours these days is focused on working on my manuscript, tentatively titled Finding Home: Steps on a Pilgrimage. 

For over two years I have been working on this book, piece by piece, chapter by chapter. Sometimes with enthusiasm. Sometimes driven. Sometimes just because I said I would. Writing is like that.

Finally, I have the draft of a full manuscript, and that means it is time to revise. Revise, revise, revise. Fortunately, I enjoy the process of revision.

Here's the catch. Early in April I will attend a pitch conference. At this conference I will meet with three different agents for  eight minutes each and in that time I will "pitch" my book. I have written my pitch and am practicing and refining it daily. So far so good.

What if one of the agents shows an interest in my book? (Be still my heart!) If that happens, I need to be prepared to send them whatever they request: a chapter or two, a book proposal, the full manuscript. Who knows! 

That's why I am at my desk all day, everyday.

Of course, life continues, no matter how many more chapters I need to revise.

At the beginning of the year I was drawn to these words, "Sacred Yes. Sacred No." Words of discernment. 

When I feel drawn away from my desk, is that distraction or a need for a nurturing break?
How do I balance other demands and interests and connections?
When do I cross the line from commitment to obsession?
When is life in the garret a protection from or excuse for avoiding something I don't want to do?
When is a choice life-enhancing and when is it energy-depleting?

Here's what I am learning. The process of discernment, which is a process of listening to the divine within, doesn't just apply to the big decisions, such as changing jobs or moving to a different location, but we can learn to discern, to listen, whenever a choice, a question, a yearning, big or small, appears in our life. 

Do I have lunch with a friend today? Sacred yes? Sacred no?
Do I leave the garret and move into the snug, put up my feet and read? Sacred yes? Sacred no?
Do I start my day with my normal meditation process? Sacred Yes? Sacred No?
Do I make a phone call to my senators supporting their efforts and registering my concerns? Sacred Yes? Sacred No?

You get the idea. 

               Consider an area of your life needing a decision.
               Ask yourself, "What do I know deep inside me
               that relates to this decision, even if I can't explain
               it? What do I already know about myself and 
               about the situation I am in that I need to pay 
               attention to here?"
                                              Nancy Bieber

An Invitation
What needs discernment in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Waking Up: Tuesday's Reflection

Some mornings I need more than one wake up call.

I fell asleep easily after a wonderful evening with friends, but then was awake for a couple hours as Sunday became Monday. Of course, that meant when my gentle alarm sounded at 6:30, I was reluctant to get out of bed. I resisted for 45 minutes. 

Had I forgotten how much I need to do today? How will I meet the deadlines I have set for myself? Oooh, that "to do" list--both a blessing and a rebuke in my life. 

Even though I am up later than intended, however, I make the bed and go up the stairs to the garret for my morning meditation time, and, of course, what awaits me is exactly what I need.

First, from Joyce Rupp, "I awaken to what sleeps in me."

What sleeps in me? 

My true self, my essence, the person I was created to be. 
A willingness to rest in the embrace of God. 
Expansive love. 
More growth and openness. 

My job is to wake up.

Second, I start reading a new book, The Grace in Living, Recognize It, Trust It, Abide In It by Kathleen Dowling Singh and in the introduction I read this phrase, "exploration of our own path of awakening." She suggests creating a timeline of our life on which we mark "grace points," to indicate a "significant moment of healing, realization, or transformative shift." 

Moments of awakening to what sleeps in me. 

After writing in my journal about the synchronicity in these passages in different books, I decide to read a couple pages in a book about writing, Writing Toward Home, Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way by Georgia Heard. She quotes Matthew Fox, "Thou shalt fall in love at least three times a day."

In other words, WAKE UP!     

An Invitation
What sleeps in you and what do you need, in order to wake up? I would love to know.   

Kathleen Dowling Singh
Joyce Rupp
Georgia Heard

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Relieving My Agitation: Thursday's Reflection

I was more than unusually tired, exhausted, and even the bedtime preparation to finally peel back the covers and ease into bed seemed like too much. At the same time, however, I was agitated. 

The day had been full, but not unusually so. I did some light cleaning in the morning before working at my desk for a couple hours. My writing group met in the afternoon, and the conversation and feedback was rich, stimulating, and helpful. Supper was leftovers. Easy. I ironed. Four of Bruce's shirts and three of my blouses. Easy. 

We watched the PBS' News Hour, and even started to watch the State of the Union message, but both of us realized we just couldn't do it. We switched to a favorite HGTV show, not even feeling 

I then announced I was going to bed, but instead I wandered back up to my garret and did a bit of this and that. I felt the agitation building. I thought about cleaning off the top of my desk or reading emails stacked in my inbox. I thought about sitting with my journal and reflecting on this current agitation. Instead, I unplugged the string of white lights around the window and returned to the first floor. 

What I most needed was waiting for me on my bedside table. 
O'Pioneers!, Willa Cather's second novel.

Earlier this year I read an article in the current bookWomen by Barbara Courtney who had decided to read each of Cather's twelve novels. That idea resonated with me, and I immediately ordered the first three, Alexander's Bridge, O'Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark, all in lovely Vintage Classics editions. 

I read the first novel, but then read three current novels, all important, well-reviewed, highly discussable novels. Loud books, in a way. Books I could say I was glad I had read, but not books that soothed my soul or prepared me for rest. 

I'm sure there are lessons to be learned in O'Pioneers! as well, but for a few brief moments I needed the expanse of a prairie setting. I needed landscape to be more important than the rights and wrongs of human actions. I needed the beauty of words more than the way words can prod and push and pull. 

I read
               That evening, after she had washed the supper
               dishes, Alexandra sat down on the kitchen doorstep,
               while her mother was mixing the bread. It was a still,
               deep-breathing summer night, full of the smell of the
               hay-fields. Sounds of laughter and splashing came up
               from the pasture, and when the moon rose rapidly 
               above the the bare rim of the prairie, the pond 
               glittered like polished metal, and she could see the 
               flash of white bodies as the boys ran about the edge, 
               or jumped into the water. Alexandra watched the
               shimmering pool dreamily...  p. 24

And I turned out the light. 

An Invitation
What do you do when you feel agitated? I would love to know.