Archives for category: Spirituality

This past week I received an email from a friend with whom I spent three years in seminary. Until a fiftieth reunion last year, we hadn’t seen each other since graduation. I was reminded how often back then he and I shared frequencies regarding life’s conundrums and possibilities.

Arriving last week, my friend’s message was a brief but powerful outcry over our brokenness as a species. Examples he cited from this year’s forty days of Lent epitomize our capacity for treating each other inhumanely, a morbid prelude to the crucifixion of “Good” Friday.

Efforts to rationalize all that is going on in our country and around the world seem futile, especially if one is attached to outcomes. Believing an Easter experience is the Christian response to a Good Friday, my friend re-framed the quandary by suggesting we turn to another realm of truth-seeking – the wisdom embedded in our place among the mysteries of the earth and its cycles. He shared two poems by Mary Oliver, one of which is below.

Here in rural New Hampshire it is lambing season for some farmers. Is the timing with Passover and Easter this year just coincidence?

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous / to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing / in the mouths of lambs.

How rivers and stones are forever / in allegiance with gravity

while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds will / never be broken.

How people come, from delight or the

Scars of damage / to the comfort of a poem.

 

Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver

 

Across our valley one day last week the setting sun kissed the tops of the hills. Continuing its arc to the west, it cast shadows that revealed the contours of the terrain that are hidden from our view at midday. The sight grabbed my attention. With their fleeting hues the passing moments of twilight were blessing the day, bestowing a fuller perception of its gifts and lessons.

Mid-way through my eighth decade I see the sun’s retreat from the peaks as a visual reminder of my life’s twilight. I am learning to embrace it. Slowly cleaning the clutter of expired years, I revisit and cull correspondence and writings, claiming the perspectives they provide on the people and events who have brought joy, challenge and meaning to my life. Like the contours of the hills revealed by the setting sun, views appear that were missed while I had been absorbed in the day’s dramas.

However, twilight’s perspectives are not reserved for the final decades of life. They are available whenever the light of our mindfulness softens the sky. Times of perplexity or promise, when we may procrastinate or prevail, can point us to the blessings of a new understanding.

Some lines from John O’Donohue encourage us to pause at day’s end to capture and appreciate an insight hidden in the glare of our midday tasks.

As light departs to let the earth be one with night,

Silence deepens in the mind, and thoughts grow slow;

The basket of twilight brims over with colors

Gathered from within the secret meadows of the day

And offered like blessings to the gathering Tenebrae.

(from “Vespers” in To Bless the Space Between Us, p. 183)

 

Have you asked yourself lately where you are in your life? Are you clear about your purpose, the reason you are here? Are you fulfilling it? Are you content with your answers?

The familiar Shaker hymn reminds us – ’tis the gift to be simple. ‘tis the gift to be free. ‘tis the gift to come ‘round where we ought to be.

First, a disclaimer: the word “ought” can be fraught with danger. Too many of us “should” all over ourselves to the point of diminishment, convincing ourselves we are not enough. Rather than self-blame, what if we think of “where we ought to be” as an embrace of the truth of who we are and why we are here?

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that “simple” means easy. Rather, simplifying involves focusing on the essentials of who we are and aligning ourselves accordingly. It is a process that can reveal and reinforce the gifts we have been given and those we bring to others. Our circles of influence may be small, but they are uniquely ours and critically important.

If you have not yet explored deeply your sense of life’s purpose or wish to revisit it, let me suggest a resource that served me well over a decade ago – Alan Seale’s Soul Mission, Life Vision book and training.

Having a clear sense of purpose is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others. Knowing who we are, why we are here, and having a vision for how we can live that purpose is a significant key to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

May each of us in our own way manifest our intention “to come ‘round where we ought to be.” What’s your first next step?

Recently I held space as a friend processed the weight of many pressures. When leaving he said, “you helped me discover what I already know.” That’s a profound insight for all of us and for a coach the highest of compliments.

Most of us who have lived a few years know what makes us tick and what brings us joy. We also recognize that sometimes life buffets us with unforeseen force that can overwhelm our internal GPS. Taking a time out to reclaim our core can help us regain our balance, direction and momentum.

Some of us call our internal GPS our soul’s mission – what we already know about who we are and why we are here. Opening to that sense of purpose is an ongoing pursuit, as the Buddhist Metta prayer reminds us: May I awaken to the light of my own true nature.

A recent post from Bishop Steven Charleston offers timely encouragement when we lose sight of what we already know:

Life will find a way. No matter how dry. No matter how broken. Still the green shoot will appear. The stubborn sign of hope. In each of us there is a force more ancient than any of us can remember. We have sheltered it for generations uncounted. It is not the will to live, for there are times when the will alone is not strong enough. It is the faith to live. The deep roots of life finding water where no water was meant to be, the emerging spirit of life rising to seek the light when all light was supposed to have gone. We carry that within us. You carry it. It is part of who you are and will always be. Have faith. Life will find a way.

 

I heard from two friends this past week. One hovers on the brink of a life defining decision. The other has made hers. The first weighs carefully the pros and cons, hesitant to fully embrace what she knows deep down she must do. Having committed, the other shares with gusto and resolve her first strides into its unfolding.

Do you see yourself in either of my friends? Or perhaps both? I do for myself. Once again, the words of John O’Donohue touch my heart for such moments. Perhaps they will provide some helpful perspectives for you as well. Which of his lines below speak most closely to your current situation?

For the Time of Necessary Decisions

The mind of time is hard to read.

We can never predict what it will bring

Nor even from all that is already gone

Can we say what form it finally takes;

For time gathers its moments secretly.

Often we only know it’s time to change

When a force has built inside the heart

That leaves us uneasy as we are.

 

Perhaps the work we do has lost its soul

Or the love where we once belonged

Calls nothing alive in us anymore.

 

We drift through this gray, increasing nowhere

Until we stand before a threshold we know

We have to cross to come alive once more.

 

May we have the courage to take the step

Into the unknown that beckons us;

Trust that a richer life awaits us there,

That we will lose nothing

But what has already died;

Feel the deeper knowing in us sure

Of all that is about to be born beyond

The pale frames where we stayed confined,

Not realizing how such vacant endurance

Was bleaching our soul’s desire.

One key to successful coaching of self or others is the ability to frame questions that open the mind and heart to new possibilities. The end of the day and the close of the year are propitious times for probing queries that can pull us forward.

In his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue bequeaths us some compelling inquiries for these moments of reflection. I offer them to you, either as guidance for your reflections at the close of day or your review of the year gone by.

Here are some samples from his meditation “At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions” (p. 98).

What new thoughts visited me?

Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?

What differences did I notice in those closest to me?

Whom did I neglect?

Where did I neglect myself?

What did I begin today that might endure?

What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?

Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?

Where did I allow myself to receive love?

With whom today did I feel most myself?

What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?

What visitations had I from the past and from the future?

What did I avoid today?

From the evidence – why was I given this day?

Which questions engaged you the most? In all likelihood, it is your responses to those queries that your head and heart are asking you for.

 

They catch her eye. Wild or cultivated, it doesn’t matter, although this season they are the last blooms from our land. What she sees is the gift of their beauty, which, of course, unbeknownst to her awareness, is a mirror of her own.

Then there is the joy of arranging them, discovering what combination of colors, textures and heights call her to place them together in a sublime embrace. It is as much the dance of playfulness as artistic endeavor that leads her on. At some point she stops, content with what has emerged, mindful that the essence is both their individual contribution to the whole and the whole itself.

The attraction to flowers is a legacy from her mother, who found in her gardens a serenity otherwise inaccessible from the challenges of her life. Her mother-in-law loved flowers as well, further composting the soil of her interest. It is a legacy being passed to her daughters, who in their own ways arrange the blossoms of their lives.

Beyond honoring the beauty of nature’s gifts and expressing her joy in the playful act of arranging there are other intentions. The arrangements gently remind us of our gratitude for the abundance of our lives. Perhaps most of all the bouquets beckon our company with quiet hues of welcome. Placed in the guest rooms, they are simple sentinels of hospitality that she carefully deploys to watch over their stay.

Wild and cultivated, her bouquets are peaceful beacons of love and expressions of the blessings of her own bountiful spirit.

Reunions are a time when past and present converge. The resulting emotional kaleidoscope requires interpretation. How do we (re) present ourselves to ourselves and those we claim as cousins of distant circumstance?

Living in the decade of the “fiftieths,” I have attended my high school and college reunions. Last week it was my seminary class. Wading into the waters of each gathering I have felt the tugging undertow of questions. What was the reality? What might have been otherwise? What is now the routine? What still may be possible?

Reunions require us to tell a story about how we define ourselves. An insightful lyric from Stephen Stills offers a warning: “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.” Certainly, our experiences have shaped who we are today, but our creativity guides who we become tomorrow. Reunions can re-enkindle the imagination of possibilities.

One spark from last week was the inspiring examples of two women bishops whom our Episcopal seminary honored for their leadership under very difficult circumstances. Women were not ordained as priests or bishops when I was a seminarian.

The second ember to be fanned was a re-ignition of two friendships for whom a fifty-year hiatus was but an interruption. We will likely become part of each other’s narratives in the years ahead.

What is the tale you tell yourself? What do you present to others? Rilke’s words encourage all of us to articulate the truth and promise in our story today.

Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.

Speak and make known: More and more

The things we could experience

Are lost to us, banished by our failure

To imagine them.

Old definitions, which once set limits to our living,

Break apart like dried crusts.

Ninth Duino Elegy

 

Have you ever gotten caught up in the drama of the day – maybe yours or your partner’s? Or a media story? Perhaps one of your least favored characters momentarily escaped the guardians of your sub-conscious to wreak havoc on your playing field.

Whatever their source, dramas happen to each of us. Life-threatening catastrophes are certainly in a category all their own. However, too often we rise to the bait of more mundane melodramatic triggers.

When that happens, having a talisman to ground us is important. I found one of these touchstones this week in some centering words of John O’Donohue that arrived with my subscription to Panhala.

The words provide a perspective that may refocus each of us on our essence in life and mitigate the unnecessary dramas we either create or participate in. Let us focus on the quiet miracle that we exist at all.

For Presence

Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

~ John O’Donohue ~ (To Bless the Space Between Us)

 

Sometimes, when adversity threatens to overwhelm the spirit, focusing on a simple task can bring us back to center.

There is much to weigh us down in life, from personal challenges to the daily bombardment of media images and commentary. The devastation from recent wildfires and flooding is a case in point.

How do we bring ourselves back to center? One dramatic example occurred in the outpouring of assistance in the wake of Harvey. It was an inspiring glimpse of our better angels transcending the demons that normally divide us.

Most of us regain our footing through the routines of nurturing our families, caring for our animals, volunteering for causes we believe in, pursuing hobbies or practicing yoga. I have found another form of meditation.

We heat with wood, and I split most of it by hand, a little each day. One of the storms last winter brought down some trees in our forest. Before the black flies arrived in May I bucked up the trunks and limbs into stove length rounds. Last week I began retrieving them to split and stack on the woodpile. The tractor access stopped 45 yards short. This meant carrying the rounds and returning the same distance for the next load. Viewed from one lens, it was a highly inefficient process.

Earlier in life impatience would have led me to desist. Last week I slowed my pace and coordinated it with my breathing. I lifted only manageable loads. I used the many return trips to appreciate how much joy I felt walking among the trees. I have the time to do this now. The woods nourish me aesthetically, and they feed my provider persona.

Maybe the reset boils down to this: pay attention and be grateful for the abundance in the moment.