Thursday, March 21, 2019

Looking for the Profound Thought: Thursday's Reflection

I am frustrated as I begin writing today's post. I have this vague idea of what I want to write about. In fact, I was awake thinking about it last night, when I would have preferred being blissfully asleep. But now this morning I can't find the reference I think I need to make my point. 

I thought it was in a charming little book I finished reading a few days ago. Let Evening Come, Reflections on Aging by Mary C. Morrison. She says so many profound things, but says them simply. Few words. Big meanings. 

                   We will come, each of us, to see our life
                   as the whole that it is. Events that seemed
                   random will show themselves to be parts
                   of a coherent whole. Decisions that we were
                   hardly aware of making will reveal themselves
                   as significant choices, and we can honestly and
                   dispassionately regret the poor ones and rejoice
                   in the good ones. We can call up emotions that
                   seemed devastating in their time, and recollect
                   them in tranquillity, forgiving others and 
                   ourselves.  p. 30

                  We do not know. We cannot know. But meanwhile
                  we can watch what we do so we can find out who
                  we are before we come to the end of the long day
                  that is our life. p. 128

Somewhere I read about giving up a pleasure, something we enjoy or even love, before we are quite ready to do that or even need to do it, and that idea seemed like something Morrison might have said in her book. I have paged through the short book several times now, almost re-reading the whole thing, and I can't find it. Did I dream it? I can't believe this is an original thought on my part.

I was going to connect it with the idea of giving something up for Lent--chocolate or Diet Coke or watching Netflix--an idea that has sort of gone out of fashion. Now, it seems we are encouraged to add something of consequence during the the season of Lent. More prayer time. Doing something nice for a stranger everyday. Giving our time to a charity. Still, I wonder about the value of giving something up. 

I check my list of books I have read recently to see if that gives me a clue. I just finished reading for the third or fourth time A Writer's Paris, A Creative Journey for the Creative Mind by Eric Maisel. I've underlined all sorts of meaningful advice, like "Get up, even if you don't feel like it." (p. 152), but not what I am looking for. 

Then I browsed through a book I am using during my morning meditation time, Simplifying the Soul, Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston. I think I am getting close when I see I have circled the words "spiritual recalibration," and "soul simplification," and "energy budget." Good thoughts that lead me to other thoughts, but not quite what I think I remember.

I give up. Maybe eventually I will stumble on the idea I wanted to offer. Perhaps not. In the meantime I am humbled. I don't have much to offer today, except for the awareness that I often feel lost and muddled and way below the poverty line that measures profundity.

                   Mystery--it is all around us, and we do not
                   know it. But sometimes when we give it time
                   and space, whether in deep peace or great 
                   anguish, it will come up behind us, or meet
                   us face to face, or move within us, changing 
                   the way we see everything, and filling our
                   hearts with joy and an upspringing of love
                   that needs no direct object because everything
                   is its object. p. 87, Morrison

Pray for me. I'll pray for you. 

An Invitation
What missing piece are you looking for today? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Gathering of Solidarity and Peace: Tuesday's Reflection

"I will build this world from love. 
And you must build this world from love.
And if we build this world from love,
then God will build this world from love."

Friday night many of us from our Lutheran congregation attended the evening service at Mt Zion Temple to hear our pastor, Bradley Schmeling preach. Then on Sunday morning Rabbi Adam Spilker from Mt Zion was the guest preacher at Gloria Dei. 

Both times we chanted this prayer.

I thought about those words on Saturday at a gathering to show solidarity for the world's Muslims after the terrorist attack at the mosque in Christ Church, New Zealand. The gathering I attended, along with hundreds of others, was held at Dar Al Farook Mosque in Bloomington, MN. where a bombing had occurred in August, 2017. 

Being there felt like a step in the ongoing process of "building a world from love." Being there felt like a way to be, in the words of textile artist, Sandra Brick, an "upstander, rather than a bystander."

 It was good to be there, to show support for all those who feel under attack for their religious beliefs --all those who feel and are treated as "other," However, along with the words of gratitude for that support were sobering words. 

Iman Asad Zami, executive director of the Muslim American Society of America, shared the Ten Stages of Genocide. How breathtaking it was to hear them. 
1.     Classification--dividing people into "us" and "them" by ethnicity, race, religion, nationality.

2.     Registration and Symbolization. An example is the "yellow star" Jews were required to wear by the Nazis.

3.     Discrimination. Laws are passed to deny rights.

4.     Dehumanization. One group denies the humanity of another group.

5.     Organization --governmental formalized management of discrimination.

6.      Polarization. Extremists drive groups apart, using propaganda, mass media, and laws

7.      Preparation. Plans are made for genocidal killings.

8.      Persecution. Victims are identified and separated. Death lists are created.

9.      Extermination. Mass killings.

10.    Denial. Cover-up after genocide. 

The Iman said that many people feel the United States is in stages 3/4. To read more about these stages, go here. This site not only explains each stage in details, but also offers ways to combat the steps. 

Iman Asad Zami said, "When these steps happen in front of you, you have an affirmative obligation to call it out." Or to repeat Sandra Brick's words, to be "an upstander, rather than a bystander."

I thought about a book I read a couple years ago, Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Said Ghobash. The book is a series of letters written to an older son in which he tackles questions, such as "What does it mean to be a good Muslim? What is the concept of a good life?"  As I read the book, I found myself substituting the word "Christian" for "Muslim." Try it for yourself in this passage from the book.

            This means that I believe that we have a duty, that
            we are called upon, to bring our highest and best
            qualities to Islam as we practice it. If we do not, the
            deficiency is within us as people who have not thought
            deeply enough, or tried hard enough, to make sense of
            the disparate factors pulling on us.

Did you substitute "Judaism" or "Buddhism" or "Hinduism" or "Christianity" for "Islam"? How did that feel? Doing that helps me think more carefully about the times when I think and act in terms of "us" and "them." I hope this simple exercise can help me act more deliberately and consciously towards combatting the stages of genocide.

An Invitation
What is your response to the Stages of Genocide? What do you think can be done to halt those steps? What are you doing? I would love to know.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Walk in the Wilderness of Lent: Thursday's Reflection

I invite you to walk.

I invite you to walk intentionally and meditatively. Slowly.

I invite you to take off your headset and maybe even your Fitbit and walk.

I invite you to walk alone, or if with a friend to walk in silence.

I invite you to walk with awareness of each step.

WHY? To gain break old connect with receive become more find turn a new integrate inner and outer see if anything is going to connect with Sacred Truth...TO...

I invite you to walk a labyrinth, if that is possible. You can find locations of labyrinths in your area here.

Here are some questions to consider as you walk--whether in your neighborhood, at the mall, on a labyrinth, or even in your home or where you work. 

Here are some questions to consider as you prepare to walk:
           Why am I doing this walk?
           What is my intention?
           How am I feeling right now?
           What baggage am I bringing along with me?

As you walk, pay attention to how your body is feeling. Take time to find your own rhythm. Ask yourself:
            What do I need to release? What am I holding on to that no
            longer serves me?
            What prevents you from being the person God created you
            to be?
            What is it you need to see, to know?
            On the labyrinth, how does it feel to follow its curves?
            Are you staying true to your intention for this walk?

If you walk a labyrinth, you will eventually reach the center. If you  walk someplace else, stop and pause before you begin to return to your starting point. This is a time of receiving. Does anything special come to you as you pause in the center or the midpoint? Is the stillness at the center different from the stillness as you prepared to walk? What does being at the center mean to you? What would you like to receive? Any surprises?

Now is the time to begin the walk back out from the center or back to where you started. A time of returning.
              How does it feel to resume movement?
              Does anything feel different? 
              Has the pace of your movement changed?
              What are you bringing with you from the center? What
              have you left behind?

Take a few minutes as you leave the labyrinth or end your walk to hold the experience in your heart. You may want to journal. Reflect on your intention. Did it change? What did you learn? Is there any action you intend to take?

A gentle reminder: Don't worry if "nothing" happened. The meaning of this labyrinth walk may unfold with time. Notice what you feel and and think in the next few hours and days. 

              We are always beginners on the spiritual 
               journey. The practice of conversion calls
               us to remember this. The pilgrim calls us to
               to remember the ongoing unfolding of life.
               When we embrace our inner pilgrim we begin
               to see all of life as a process of revelation, of
               holy moments, of new possibilities arising that
               we could not have expected.
                                           Christine Valters Paintner

An Invitation
I invite you to walk. What do you experience. I would love to know. 

NOTE: Every Wednesday evening from 5:00-7:00 p.m. during this season of Lent the indoor labyrinth will be available at Gloria Dei in St Paul, and I will be there to answer any questions or offer any guidance that might be needed. Wednesday evening Lenten services are at 7:00 p.m. All our welcome. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

One Thing Leads to Another: Tuesday's Reflection

It all started with the table in the entry.

Even though the look of winter continues outside with the addition of even more snow this past weekend, I was weary of the wintry vignette which has been on the entry table since the beginning of the new year. I was ready for a change. 

I started with pussy willows. I tried a number of vases--the whole too small, too big routine until I finally landed on "just right." 

Actually, I didn't really start with the pussy willows. A couple weeks ago when I organized my scarf drawer, a' la Marie Kondo, I spotted a scarf my sister had given me and thought it would make a lovely runner on a table. And it does, but, of course, it needed to be ironed. Out came the ironing board and iron.

While ironing the scarf, now runner, in the garret, I got the idea to use my soft sculpture of an African woman made for me by a good friend years ago. I call the doll Mama Nancy, and she sometimes sits on the ledge by my desk or close to the area where I meet with spiritual directees. This past week I took her with me to the T'ai Chi class I have been teaching, and she stood in the middle of the circle during our closing meditation. Why not bring her down to the first floor?

Mama Nancy is holding under her arm a cloth labyrinth, a fairly recent addition given to me by another friend, and that led me to add a small metal labyrinth to the arrangement and a couple books about pilgrimages and labyrinths. Voila! A new look in our small entryway.

Done. Not quite.

Many more changes for the rest of the first floor followed, including a search for a yellow lamp in every storage area, cupboard, and closet. Eventually, the lamp was found and looks happy on the chest-of-drawers in the bedroom. 

All of this took much longer than the hour I assumed it would take. 
How true it is that one thing leads to another and another. Of course, the logical question is "Why bother?" 

Well, I like variety and the ability to make simple and pleasing changes.

But more than that I am interested in what happens as one thing leads to another. What do I notice for the first time? What new thoughts occur to me in the midst of a process? Where does this process lead?

Here's where my day of minor changes in the house led me: To a different place for morning meditation. 

One of my Lenten resources is  Simplifying The Soul, Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston. That morning's practice was to "set up a special place for prayer." I didn't think about that too much because I already have a wonderful place for prayer--my Girlfriend Chair in the garret. 

Lent is a time to approach each day in a more contemplative way; a time to examine the routines and the boundaries I have established in my spiritual life. What would happen if instead of going up to the garret, where my laptop and writing projects live, first thing in the morning, I moved into the snug for my meditation time? 

I gathered my journal and Lenten devotional books and Bible and found a basket for them and moved them next to my chair in the snug. In the morning sun I am less tempted to answer emails and to move into the tasks of the day. There will be time for all that, I know. Now I sit in the snug's silence. I observe and listen to the movement of spirit. 

Who knows where that will lead, for one thing leads to another. 

An Invitation
What minor changes can you make that might open you to another change? I would love to know.  


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Entering Lent --Not Just for Christians: Thursday's Reflection

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday in the Christian religion. The day the sign of the cross is made on our foreheads as the words, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return," are recited. 

The ritual is called "the imposition of ashes." And frankly, receiving them is an imposition. In fact, all of Lent is an imposition because Lent demands more of us than we are normally willing to do or be. 

During Lent each of us who identifies as a Christian is asked to:
*   Give up the illusion that I am in control of my life.
*   Examine my addictions and yes, do something about them.
*   Increase my time in prayer and become more disciplined in my spiritual practices.
*   Go to church not only on Sunday, but also Wednesday, and then there is Holy Week, when I might as well take a sleeping bag and camp-out in the Fellowship Hall.
*    Stretch into a deeper relationship with God, which may mean trying a different spiritual practice, reaching out of my comfort zone.
*   Pay attention. Stay awake, unlike the disciples who fell asleep when Jesus prayed in the garden. 
*   Consider my own mortality and how is it I am to live now.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls Lent "Outward Bound for the soul" and Paula Huston refers to it as a time for "spiritual recalibration.

Yes, Lent can feel more like an imposition than an invitation.

But here's the good news. I am not alone on this journey. I have gathered a wealth of guides for the 40 days of wilderness:  
* Devotional readings from Jan Richardson and others, 
* Those Sunday and Wednesday worship services I mentioned--always rich in wisdom and inspiration
* My spiritual director who meets me with her open and insightful heart.
* My spiritual directees who trust me to listen and therefore, I dig deeper to be that listening presence.
* Time to walk the labyrinth, to study and write and be silent. 
* And the promise of Easter.

Obviously, this time of the year has special and specific meaning for Christians, but it can also be a time of "spiritual recalibration" for people of all faiths. Or no faith. Who couldn't benefit from being more aware of how we live and move in the world and how we can each become more caring and giving? Who couldn't benefit from living with a more open heart and being more intentional about our steps on the journey?

           If Lent is to be real at all, we must recognize that
           we are on a journey that twists  and turns between
           what we were before and what we are beginning
           now. There is no settling down. There is only the 
           call of the New Beginning where God dwells in the
           heart and takes all our fear, all our loneliness away.
                                            Joan Chittister

An Invitation
What does Lent mean to you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

My Paris Obsession: Tuesday's Reflection

I seem to be in the midst of a mild obsession.

An obsession with Paris.

Earlier this year while browsing in a small local shop, I found a metal sculpture of the Eiffel Tower. I had been looking for one to install in the small garden at the side of our house. I call that garden "Paris." In my mind I imagine French doors of a chic Paris apartment opening onto a private courtyard garden only big enough for a bistro table and two chairs and some pots of lavender. A perfect space to enjoy a glass of wine while reading a charming novel about a bookstore in Paris.  

Also, all winter I have been reading in brief snatches a lovely book called Paris in Winter, An illustrated Memoir by Minnesota writer and artist, David Coggins. (See here.) If you are a regular reader of this blog, perhaps you are experiencing deja vu, for I described my fascination with this book and my Paris fantasies in an earlier post. (January 31, 2019) Well, the fantasy continues.

The book is a series of vignettes about the Coggins' family annual New Year's trip to Paris --the food, the antique shops, the walks, the museums, the new friends and the celebrity sightings. For brief moments, while waiting for the pot on the stove to boil or as a bridge from working at my desk on the garret (alas, not in Paris!) to fixing dinner, I have immersed myself in a French version of the fine art of living. 

I finished reading this book one night when I couldn't sleep. I got out of bed and moved into the living room where I wrapped myself in my most luxurious shawl, which, I might add, traveled to Paris with me--my one and only trip there--and finished the book.

                "Do you think we will ever have a room of our
                own in Paris?" I ask.
                "I don't think so."
                "Why not?"
                "You don't want to live here. It wouldn't be the same."
                                                                           p. 263

No, I don't want to live in Paris, but I do want to live in the fantasy for awhile. And so the daydreaming and the reading continue. 

This weekend I finished reading Marcel's Letters, A Font and the Search For One Man's Fate by another Minnesota writer, Carolyn Porter. Porter while browsing in an antique shop finds some letters written in French during WWII. This purchase leads her not only to design a new font, but also to search for the writer of these letters and his family and learn his story. This becomes Porter's obsession; one that is truly fascinating to read. Eventually, of course, she travels to Paris.

Not done with my Paris obsession, I browse my Paris bookshelf. Along with small souvenirs of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, a sweet painting I bought from an artist on a Paris street, and a map folded and attached inside a little book that I bought at an antique show in Ohio, I have a stack of books to keep me entertained during this long winter.

I decide to reread A Writer's Paris, A Guided Journey for the Creative Mind by Eric Maisel (See here.) who advises running off to Paris to write. I won't be doing that, but I can pretend.
                 Write wherever you find yourself, whether in
                 a cafe or the Louve, whether on a park bench
                 or sitting in a blissfully empty gallery at the

Write wherever you find yourself.
Exercise your imagination wherever you find yourself.
Be the person you were created to be wherever you are. No matter how much snow is piled around you. 
And that is enough. 

An Invitation
What is your current obsession? And what are you doing about it? I would love to know. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Revising and the Art of Living: Thursday's Reflection

For the last couple weeks I have used my writing time to revise one chapter of my in progress memoir, and I am no where done working on it.Who knows when I will feel ready to read that chapter to my writing group and then after getting their feedback, I know I will need to revise some more. 

That's the way it is. Sometimes the process is frustrating, but most of the time it is illuminating. And even rewarding. With each revision, I come closer to what it is I most want to say, and I gain insight into what it is I am to learn from the stories of my life. 

Yesterday during my meditation time I read the following sentence in a chapter on reflection and revision in Albert Flynn DeSilver's  Writing as a Path to Awakening. 

                  If all writing is rewriting, then maybe
                  all living is reliving.

That sentence seemed to blaze on the page for me. The words appeared in neon lights.

I don't think DeSilver only means we keep having the same experiences over and over again, although that certainly happens. We make the same mistakes over and over again. We enter the same unhealthy relationships or insist on maintaining the same unhealthy habits. 

Instead, I think DeSilver means we have a chance to revise ourselves. We can look carefully at how we conduct our lives. We can reflect on what gives us joy, the ways we are called to serve, and how we are asked to live as the person God created us to be. And then we can take steps to structure our lives so it is a reflection of the sacred, of the holy, of the Divine's vision for us. 

Elizabeth Jarret Andrew in her book Living Revision, A Writer's Craft as Spiritual Practice says "Revision is seeing anew," and "Revision requires inner work and thus is a spiritual practice."
This applies to life, as well as to writing a memoir, a novel, or poetry. 

How do we do that? I think the titles/subtitles of some of the chapters in Andrew's book offers guidance:
                  Deep Listening
                  Seeing with Other's Eyes
                  Practicing Presence
                  Reflecting In and On Your Stories
One of the subtitles in the book is "Transformation in Theme and Plot." Yes, your life has plot--all the events of your life--and your life has a theme, too. At least one. Andrew writes about themes as the "plot's inner life. They are the path by which particular experiences illuminate universal truths." The themes in your life are
              the questions that flummox you year and year;
              the facts that plague you, the longings that have
              driven you since childhood. These themes reside 
              in your being... (p. 208)

At what point are you ready to revise what plagues you and to grow beyond or in some case, into the longings that have shadowed you? 
What spiritual practices might help you do that? And who can help you in your personal revision process?

This week I read an earlier chapter to my writing group. I had worked on this chapter for long time, tweaking words and sentences, cutting sections, adding others, moving paragraphs. I had dug deep to find the words, the images, memories and stories from my life to express what I hoped to convey in that chapter. I had read it aloud to myself many, many times, changing something with almost every reading, but when I brought it to the group, I felt quite good about it. 

But as I read the chapter aloud to them, I discovered additional changes I want to make. More revisions. How well the group listened and then asked good questions, clarifying questions. They offered positive comments, too, but it is clear I have more revising to do. 

This is hard work, spiritual work, but I am determined to make this chapter the best it can be. I owe it to myself, but I also owe it to the readers I hope someday will read it. I believe this about my life, as well. I am determined to live my life as fully, as authentically as possible. My desire is to live as my True Self, and to do that is an ongoing process of reflection and revision. 

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