Archives for category: Spirituality

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.

 

Anger abounds these days in relationships, households, our communities and our nation. What if we viewed our anger as a messenger and paused to explore the lessons it may be raising for us?

Anger can signal that our values have been violated, reminding us of what we care most about. To the extent that it is a clip of preset responses that is loaded and ready for firing, it can be destructive. To the extent that it festers inside us without resolution, it undermines our health and happiness.

In the appendix section of The Book of Joy, co-author Douglas Abrams suggests some questions that may be helpful. In applying these, focus on an area in your life where the embers of wrath wait only for an external spark to release them into a conflagration.

Anger often involves some disappointment or frustrated expectation. Ask yourself, “What was my expectation? Can I release it and accept what is or how others are rather than how I think they should be? Can I also acknowledge my part in the conflict? Can I see my part in contributing to the situation I am angry about? If I am angry about what has been said, can I see that these are just words that no longer exist, that, like all things, they are impermanent? Will my anger benefit anyone, including me?”

You could also reflect on how, if not contained, anger can lead to destructive action – from saying hurtful things to outright violence – that we later regret. Contemplate how anger can destroy relationships, alienate others, and rob you of your peace of mind. (p. 318)

Examining the messages delivered by our anger can lead us to different ways of being with ourselves and each other.

Whatever our personal circumstances, there is a way to experience life more fully. Whatever we conclude about external events that buffet us each day, there is a simple step we can take to stay positive. Make time to be grateful.

Gratitude is a key attitude. When we stop long enough to pay attention, we find there are many “little” things in our lives that, while appearing small, add up to a lot. In our busy-ness or self-absorption, we tend to overlook them.

In The Book of Joy, which distills five days of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the two religious leaders describe gratitude as one of the pillars of joy.

A key point in the discussion for me was that making time for gratitude can alter our point of view.

[Gratitude] allows us to shift our perspective…toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance. (p. 242)

The ability to shift our outlook from scarcity or blame to the expectation of benefit is a huge fulcrum for leveraging all that is positive in our lives.

What are some ways we can do this? A favorite line from Kahlil Gibran comes to mind: “In the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

  • Pause before eating to thank all those responsible for providing our food.
  • Celebrate the gift of a friendship by a word, hug or email.
  • Acknowledge the tasks that tap and convey our passions and talents.

What is one of your blessings and how can you express your gratitude for it today?

 

 

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As part of my daily meditation I read brief selections from various books. One of them in my current cycle is A Year with Rilke translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.

This morning’s reading calls us to examine the knots of our own making. It reminded me that when we fail in our efforts to make things bend our way, when we “push out beyond what we each belong to,” it may be time to return to earth’s intelligence.

With the lengthening daylight heralding spring’s approach, the message seems timely.

How surely gravity’s law, / strong as an ocean current, takes hold of even the smallest thing / and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing – / each stone, blossom, child – / is held in place. / Only we, in our arrogance, / push out beyond what we each belong to / for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered / to earth’s intelligence / we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves / in knots of our own making /and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again / to learn from the things, / because they are in God’s heart; / they have never left him.

The Book of Hours II, 16

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When events overwhelm us, it is helpful to remember that there are only two things we control, our attitude and our effort. Words from a dear friend this week offer an exercise that can elevate our attitudes and what we do with them.

Anne Hillman is a musician, author, educator, speaker and small group facilitator who focuses her work on understanding and nurturing the interior life. In the material she shared from her current Soul Work course the following caught my attention.

It is a meditation from the Sermon on the Mount, incorporating a contemporary interpretation by Philip Newell. I commend it to you.

Contemplation Practice: Healing the Separation

Notice which of the first lines in each couplet jump out at you. If you choose one to contemplate in silence for several days, it may provide insight. Perhaps choose another . . . and another. Listen for what each one means to you—and what you may need to do to live it.

Blessed are those who know their need for theirs is the grace of heaven.

Blessed are those who weep for their tears will be wiped away.

Blessed are the humble for they are close to the sacred earth.

Blessed are those who hunger for earth’s oneness for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the forgiving for they are free.

Blessed are the clear in heart for they see the Living Presence.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they are born of God.

 The Beatitudes— Matthew 5:3-9

—Interpretation, Philip Newell

 

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While running the rapids called Hell’s Half Mile on the Green River years ago, I was spilled into the depths of a hydraulic hole when our raft caught a rock. Trapped at the bottom, pummeled in the deafening roar of the turbulence and looking up at the light on the surface, my world slipped into slow motion.

The image returns today. Caught in the churn of current events, I struggle to keep my head from debilitating panic and my heart from unsustainable pounding. I am searching for words that will be a life line of perspective to pull me out of the hole and back into the raft.

Born under the sign of Libra, I am disposed to seek balance and harmony, especially when it comes to the scales of justice. The prophet Micah captures it best for me: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

How does one “do” kindness in the face of injustice? When conflict and obstruction replace comity and compromise for the common good? When zero sum reigns supreme, requiring losers so that others may win? When truth is held hostage to alternative universes of spin? When fear fed vilification of “the other” replaces a welcoming light for the stranger?

How can one be true to self and speak truth to power? What are the words that will free our trapped longing to fill our depleted lungs, releasing us the way the Green River freed its captive decades ago?

How do we in this day live the prayer of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace?

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The season celebrating festivals of light is upon us. Solstice marks the returning length of the sun’s daily presence. Hanukkah heralds the miraculous supply of holy oil that lit for eight days the lamps of the temple’s re-dedication. Christmas welcomes the child destined in the eyes of believers to be the light of the world.

A recent message from friends arrived as their invocation for this season of light. They are teachers whose curiosity links with their love of travel, nature, people and knowledge. From one trip this past year, they chose the wind as their metaphor for the season’s lesson. May their message inspire your own hopes during this time of re-ascendant light.

Let us leap into gratitude

like cliff divers seeking the wind,

hope-filled, trusting,

and unafraid.

(original by Penelope Stokes)

Dear Friends,

As we emerge from this November of our lives, we find we are not at all sure which way the winds are blowing and how best to find the wind that will carry us to a place that is safe for all of the people we care so much about…

 So we are searching anew this season and looking,

for winds that promise new understanding,

for faces that remind us of all of the blessed variation in our species,

for new currents in the winds,

for courageous people who are willing to stand up for others,

for laughable insights,

for surprises,

for special places we had not intended to go,

for the sacred in the midst of the ordinary,

and for quietly inspiring moments.

May each of us in our own way find the quietly inspiring moments that will strengthen our resolve to soar on the winds of change toward new light and hope.