As I sit here, looking out at the snow blowing around outside, recovering from the flu and thankful for the stillness and warmth, and reflecting on the past year, I find myself filled with tears of gratitude. 2018 was far from an easy year, filled with major losses, injustice and huge transitions (both on a personal level and in our world at large), yet I am thankful as this year draws to a close.
A huge part of this gratitude is for the place and the people I have landed amongst. The natural beauty of the sky and trees and seasons, the generosity of neighbors, the joy of the Sisters I work for, the ever deepening sense of home, the love of friends, the warm snuggles of a couple of four legged companions…. All is showing me new ways to be in community, especially on a more balanced giving/receiving scale. After so many years of being one who has given more than receiving, receiving can make me feel a little squirmy, but today as my young neighbor ploughed my driveway, I just felt thankful. And as a friend picked up some groceries for me earlier this week when I was too sick to move, I felt the love and gratitude without the guilt. And I think of the many, many times my 90 year old neighbor has given me produce or cakes or just popped over to check how I am if she hasn’t seen me for a couple of days. I think I like this small town living!
Another huge part is the monastic community I am a part of. I feel deepening relationships within the community, and with God at the center of us. Following the Rule of St. Benedict in the modern world, being both a part of the cultural norms, and living counter to those norms that don’t reflect a way of Love and Peace and acceptance and hope. When I sit and read news, this can feel like an uphill battle, but when I sit and pray with my community, these prayers that join us together with so many others who are praying around the world in their own way, the connections become tangible and hope is touched again. And several of us in the community are in discussions around our calling to become fully professed members of it, deepening our commitment and offering our lives more fully to the Benedictine way of life. I think I like this community living!
So as I move into 2019, I am going to carry this balancing act there…. receiving and giving. Both are vital, and both are humbling in their own way. And (I think I’m finally coming to appreciate this), both are necessary for a good life, a life that has more stability and groundedness. A life that is more vulnerable, and more full of trust. A life that is willing to be in this broken world, and to live in ways to counter it. A life that I can be grateful for!
What are you taking into the new year?
I struck up a conversation with an older woman the other day, and she asked how I was surviving on a part time job. I told her I was a spiritual director, and working on building up my business. In return, she said two things that surprised me. The first was great encouragement for me, saying how important spiritual direction was, but this was rapidly followed by, “Spiritual direction is important, but it doesn’t work for me.” My curiosity was piqued, so I asked, “What would spiritual direction working look like for you?” She went on to tell me she has tried with a few different directors, but being an introvert, she always found it hard to start speaking, and the directors she worked with, not knowing what to do, began a conversation with her. She left her sessions feeling like she had been forced into small talk, not speaking about her spiritual life.
While we left our brief time together on a happier note, this conversation left me feeling sad for her, and has stayed with me. It came back to me today as I was driving to take Gibbs for a walk in the woods. We drove the back roads, through empty fields in the farmland, and the landscape struck me speechless. Across the snowy field, the trees were covered with a thick frost, leaving them glowing a whitish, pinkish, bluish color set against a grey sky. It was mystical and still, and a new sight for my eyes. I pulled my car over and sat there on the side of the road soaking in the peace the scene invoked.
As I walked Gibbs a few minutes later, I thought again about spiritual direction and this woman’s experience of it. That feeling I felt while looking at those trees….. that’s spiritual direction, I thought. It doesn’t really matter what the conversation is about…. Or even if there is a conversation or just silence. It’s that feeling of sitting in awe, of allowing the Mystery to take over an ordinary scene, of finding the peace in the midst of discomfort or pain. That’s spiritual direction for me. There are no words really that pinpoint it. It’s a state of being. I find I can have session where really hard, painful, confusing, hurtful feelings or memories are spoken of, or one where more mundane things are talked about. And in both extremes the Mystery is felt and held in that still space. It’s the openness to the Divine, the Peace, the Spirit, the heart-centered-ness of the sacred time. And it’s something I long for for everyone to experience, including this woman I spoke to.
As we enter the Sacred times of Advent, Chanukah, the drawing in of winter, I encourage you all to seek a space where you can be held in the Mystery. A time where you can speak or be silent, where you can discover a closer relationship to the One who calls you beloved, to yourself, to the world around you. A time that allows you to sink into the stillness of belonging. And if anyone of you feel called to allow me to create and be in that space with you, I would be honored!