Dear Loved Ones,
I went kayaking at a lake near my new church the other day. I’m part of a group on Facebook where people post where they are going and invite others to join them, so I met a woman at the lake and off we went. She had been to this place before, and showed me a cool bridge you can kayak under, and then said there was a canal off the lake that we could go through. We searched for it, coming upon two dead ends. And then I spotted a narrow opening and decided to try it. It was a long, skinny canal, trees overhanging and too narrow to paddle in. I through it must be the wrong place, but something compelled me to keep going. The beaches were brushing the side of the kayak, and you had to do a one sided paddle to move forward, ducking beneath the branches and scraping the bottom of the canal all the way through. But there was light ahead, a wider opening, where, if nothing else, I thought I would be able to turn around.
As I got to this wider part, my breath was taken away. It was a pristine little lake, covered in water lilies, some of which were flowering. Eagles were hanging out in the tress and beavers were swimming around, sometimes slapping their tails hard on the water making a loud, echoing bang. One beaver let me get super close to them before diving under the water, and the whole feeling was magical and Spirit filled. I hung out in this place as the sun set, reluctant to leave, but my kayaking companion was ready to go as the warmth of the day leaked from the air. We made our way back to the main lake, and back to land, but the peace and beauty of this secret lake has stayed with me.
And more than this, the narrow canal has stayed in my mind. It seemed almost like a birth canal, a tight passage to push through to get to a whole new world, and the world it opened onto was one worth the effort.
It made me think of these times we are in where things seem hard and tight, one where caution is needed to navigate. It feels, right now, as if we are making our arduous way through this canal… slapped by the branches of Covid, the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the deaths of more than 200,000 people in this country from a virus that could have been managed much better, by election campaigns that fuel fear and hate, by protests and racism and an ‘us vs them’ mentality. We are scraping along the bottom of human decency most days, and we think this might turn out to be a dead end.
Yet, somewhere ahead, we catch a glimpse or have a sense of, or hope there may just possibly be a widening, an opening, a place where more light is seeping through. And so we keep on, struggling through this time, figuring out where to put our paddle so we can move forward, trying to duck beneath the worst of the branches while other catch us off guard and at scratch us, slowly inching toward a place of peace and hope and light, one obstacle at a time.
The more I sat with this, the more reassured I felt, as I heard the whisper of truth…. “yes, this time is hard. But you are moving through it. And you are heading toward a place where there is more play and peace and light and loveliness. So keep going, keep going. Dodge what you can, know the scratches likely won’t run top deep, remember you won’t get stuck. So keep moving forward as best you can.”
I feel this is a blessing for all of humanity. Yes, this time is hard. But there is a place ahead that is worth fighting toward. Do what you can to reach it.
May it be so.
Dear Loved Ones,
It was my birthday last week, and, before we got to the day, my friend asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know, except I wanted to get take out from the new restaurant in town for dinner, so I said, “Let’s go on an adventure!” She had heard of a place where we could go tubing, so on my birthday we set off to rent our tubes. The shuttle bus took us upstream to the drop off point, and we walked down to the river. The sun was shining, the water was warm, and I was looking forward to a relaxing float down the river back to the beach.
Right where we got on, there were some rapids, and we navigated those well, but soon, after some more rapids, my water bottle got away from me. I jumped off my tube, holding onto it in the current, and tried to get to my water bottle, but I could not reach it as it swirled in an eddy up against the bank, caught in place by a bend in the river. I swam down river a ways, and my phone floated up, out of my pocket. I grabbed it and stuck it deep in my swim suit. The masks we had worn were gone from my pocket too, and I did not see them continue their adventure. As we caught a break from the rapids, my friend and I were laughing at what had happened, calling it a true adventure, not a calm, restful float down the river, joking about what we would tell the other in our monastery about what happened to the one who got truly lost!
As we approached a new set of rapids, and I tried to paddle into the center of the river, but the current pushed me into the bank, flipping me off the tube and down against a large tree trunk. The tube was caught on a branch, and when I tried to get back to it I kept being pushed back against the trunk, realizing that if I tried to rescue the tube I was likely to be thrown against the tree trunk and possibly be hurt. So I made the choice to abandon the tube.
So now, there I was, no water bottle, no masks, cell phone tucked in my swim suit, and no tube, floating down the river. I kept my feet first, in case of underwater rocks and trees, and we worked/swam/floated our way downstream for another 1 ½ hours to the landing beach.
After I got into the rhythm of this stage, the floating without the extra things, and after I realized that all was well with no tube, I began to relax and feel the presence of God. The river was beautiful, the company great, the day was gorgeous, the water warm enough. A sense of gratitude arose, a wellbeing that I don’t think I would have felt if I had still been juggling the water bottle, the tube, the stuff. In this natural, deep in the water state, fully immersed in the present, I could relax and be, floating in the Waters of Life, held by God’s currents, unencumbered.
I have reflected since then what extra things do I carry that feel cumbersome, both on a physical and emotional/spiritual level. What can I leave behind? What am I struggling to keep a hold of, even when everything is pulling it away? And, I have reflected on the danger of wishing for an adventure!
What is God trying to encourage you to let go of? What is pulling you forward?
Dear Loved Ones,
Do you have a place that is one where God meets you, where you meet yourself?
I am staying at my friends home for a couple of nights while she is away. It’s a place I stayed often before I moved to Minnesota, but now mostly come for an afternoon, not overnight. My times of staying here before were usually tagged on to our monastic retreat, either before or after our monastery gathered in person, and was an extension of this retreat time. The home is a small cabin on the banks of a lake, the water visible through the trees, a dock to sit and pray on in the mornings, a shady lawn to be on if the bugs are not biting, a screen porch with recliners and a lake view. And while other houses are around and kids are playing, it feels like a sacred space for me.
When I arrived here this trip I had left some things undone at home, and my mind was playing the guilt vs. need to stop record. I should have finished painting the garage before I came, I still didn’t write that email that needed to go out, I have thank you cards to write, my carpet needs shampooing and the bathroom needs cleaning. What gives me the right to leave all that behind and escape for two nights? And, since starting at Clearwater UMC at the beginning of the month and just finishing up 4 weeks of intensive healing sessions with a client, (all really good), I was tired, and had only had one day of absolutely no work in a few weeks.
So I arrived at the cabin, unpacked some groceries and a swim suit and the dog, and sat on the porch to breathe. Within a few minutes I felt my body begin to open, to relax, my breathing got deeper, my mind slowed down, and peace washed over me. It was as though God was saying, “Welcome, have a drink of water, sit and relax. I’m here with you!” And it was as though the land itself were saying, “Welcome! You know how to do this place. Slow. Relax. Retreat. Be.”
I love that this land and God know how to welcome me into this physical place in such a tangible and grounding way. My body remembers all the summers when I spent time here and falls back into that space easily. The dock draws me for morning prayers, the water for afternoon floats, the porch to just sit and be and sit and be some more, the bed calls for naps and the nearby woods are becoming a place to walk Gibbs before the heat catches up with us.
I am filled with gratitude for the space, and for the prayers that have been prayed here over the decades, the people who have made this a sacred space…. As well as a space to gather and laugh and enjoy one another. I am grateful for Sue’s hospitality and care of her home, this little piece of land on the edge of a lake! And I am grateful for the lake and the land and God, for the fireflies, loons and a great blue heron, and for who all meet me there with arms and wings wide open!
Where are some of your sacred spaces? Where are those lands and waters where your body remembers to slow down, where God meets you with open arms?
Dear Loved Ones,
I was cutting the lawn the other day toward the end of a day of hard work. The weather was nice and the grass cool beneath my feet. My lawn mower is a push one…. No loud motor running, and I was enjoying the task, my mind wandering and quieting and the sound of birds filling the air. All of a sudden a piece of broken stick was thrown up into my face, hitting with a hard whack. It stung, but wasn’t too bad; there was blood, but not much. So I decided I wanted to finish mowing the lawn, I was so close to being done. But soon my chest closed up and I was finding it hard to breathe, the memory of other times I had been hit causing a feeling of panic to rise up. “Just push through,” was the old mantra coming up. “You’re fine…. It didn’t hurt that much. It’s your fault. Don’t be a baby. Keep going and pretend nothing is wrong.” All phrases that came in rapid succession as it was getting harder to catch my breath. (note…. All this took place in about 30 seconds or less!)
So I turned the mower back to the garage, went inside the house, got a cold cloth and sat down. Immediately the voices stopped. They saw the compassion and love I was giving myself and had nothing left to say. My chest opened and my breathing was easy once more. Within a minute I was regulated and calm.
I looked at the damage to my face…. Just a small scrape, and held the cold cloth on it a little more, and smiled to myself, kind of in shock and awe at the whole incident. Firstly, that the reaction had been that big. And secondly, that the compassion had come so quickly and, as soon as it was enacted, the calmness descended and all the feelings settled.
This made me think about all the times when I have had to push through pain, to keep going, to pretend nothing was wrong even when it felt like I couldn’t breath, even when the pain was far greater. And it made me realize how far a little love can go, how quickly feelings can dissipate when they are given the compassion and attention then deserve, when they are seen and heard and cared about. I’ve witnessed this with little kids who fall over and scrape a knee…. They sit there for a minute to see if someone will notice, and if they are asked if they are ok will say, “Yes,” and spring back up to play. But if no one pays attention they may begin to cry, looking for and needing on a primal level some compassion and love, someone to see their hurt and care. The pain is the same whether they are seen or not, but the response from those who should love them is what is important.
I encourage all of us to pay attention to the hurts and pains that arise, the feelings that come. Surround them with compassion and love, ask them, “are you ok?” Hold them for a while until they know that they are loved. Stay with them until they re-regulate. For if we don’t do this, they build and build until they are harder to love, harder to calm down from, bigger to face.
I believe if we can do this with our own small (and large) hurts and pains, we can begin to do this with the pain of the world, spreading ripples of love and compassion to all the places of hurt, re-regulating our communities and beyond so that healing may happen and everyone will be able to breathe with more ease.
In these warmer days, Gibbs has a funny habit during his afternoon walks. He will start off in a patch of shade, sniff around and sit for a while, then run with a big smile on his face and tail wagging to the next patch of shade to repeat this all over again. The park we have taken to walking in during the afternoons has plenty of shade for him to do this in, and grass to run on, and there is always a breeze. And at the end of the short walk there is a stream to drink from and swim in. So he is a happy little walker whose shade hopping amuses me!
Watching him the other day I realized that this is life at the moment though. We hop from one safe spot to the next, running in between them as quickly as possible. We stay in the shade of our homes, then run out to the shops, grabbing what we can as quickly as possible before running back to the shade of our homes. Or deliver meals for the homeless without stopping to chat, or walk in nature keeping far away from other walkers. While some feel it’s safe to linger in those exposed places, even with a mask on I still try to limit my time where I might transmit or pick up CoVid, and not in a fearful way, but in a “I care about you, and want to protect you,” way. I hop from shade to shade, lingering in the shady places for, maybe, a tad too long, but when in the sun scurry along quickly with a masked smile to all I meet. If I had a tail, it might well be wagging as my love for the world shines forth in this way!
I think I am also this way with my feelings. Mostly I try to hang out in the shade, the feelings that are easy, or nothingness, even the apathy and holding it all at arms length. The shade is a place to feel somewhat safe, somewhat protected from the frenetic vibrations of the world around. Yet, every now and then I have to venture into the burning sun of feelings…. The anger, the fear, the grief, the anxiety of the unknown, both the worlds’ and my own. For as much as the shade is ok, the sun is full of life and people and noise and the vibrations scream so loudly that I cannot ignore them any more. It is right to pay attention, to see what the world is seeing. And, yes, it can be hot and dangerous, but these spaces between the shade are bright with truth, and it is more dangerous to ignore these flashes of reality even if they feel like they are burning.
I find though, after dashing through an intense feeling, the shade is no longer a place I want to hang out in. It feels dull, lifeless, a false sense of safety lives there. While it may offer some protection, it slows everything down, makes me feel like I am moving through thick molasses, my thought processes are dull and my body is heavy. The sun is, perhaps, where the life is, the feelings are what brings everything into focus. The shade just keeps it all at bay, yet there is so much more to living that holding those feelings out at arms length.
I think what I really need, though, is that stream of water to plunge into at the end of that sun-shade dance. The water that cools and refreshes, the water where I can soak in God’s love, no matter what I have been feeling before. The stream of grace and mercy and hope. This allows the feelings to be felt in a way that is safe and good, it allows the shade to be seen as a safe, but somewhat lifeless place. The water is what brings true life.
John Lewis wrote these words just before he died:
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
I may write the same sentiment saying, “When historians write this story, let them say it was our generation who stepped out of the shade, who felt the burn of the suns of war and violence and aggression, and waded into Peace and Love, allowing these to guide and refresh and challenge to make good trouble. Let the Living Water be your guide.”
May we not linger too long in the shade, not get burnt too badly by the sun, but let us seek the living waters of Love to show us the way.
Dear Loved Ones,
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and came across a picture of a friend with her 8 year old son. It was a typical summer photo, mom in large straw hat, son in swim trunks, sun lightened hair glistening, wet from the lake he had just been in, big smiles on their faces. At first it made me smile, but after a while my mind kept returning to the image and a sadness set in.
The sadness was brought on by how much this child has changed since I last saw him back in March. He is in that stage where his face structure is changing, teeth falling out, cheeks loosing their baby look, body lengthening, and all this made me realize just how long social distancing has been happening. While my life has not changed drastically, it has been a long haul since I went to church, ate a restaurant, visited friends without thinking (and only two of my circle have even been on this list), went to a thrift store, visited someone in hospital, hugged or shaken hands… the list goes on. And it made me think of all the lives that have been lost or people who are still suffering from CoVid, many seriously ill for a couple of months. It made me remember all who have lost their jobs, or income from reduced jobs.
And the sadness made me realize that the days are already noticeably shortening, the sun setting earlier each evening, and our CoVid situation is not getting better. We are in this for the long haul, masks on faces, rolling shutdowns a possibility ahead, schools uncertain of what to do, and so many decisions that need to be made with courage to save the most people possible from contracting the virus. It also brought to mind the many conspiracy theories circling that just seem to diminish the severity of loss and grief and allow people to bypass their true feelings.
Along with all this, there is the unrest in several cities, peaceful protests being turned into zones where tear gas and unmarked ‘law enforcers’ stir up trouble and take citizens away without identifying themselves. There is talk of division and hate that comes from those who should be setting an example. There is the story of a congresswoman being called names by others in congress and death threats against those who are working to contain viruses. So much. So, so much.
So, it is unsurprising, I guess, that sadness came.
I sat with it for a while. I cried some tears. I got upset over some small thing and was irritated over nothing. And I tried to get quiet.
The more quiet I became, the louder the world seemed. “Look at this,” it cried. “Over here,” it shouted. So I stayed searching for the quiet. I pulled weeds and scraped old paint off the garage, I went for walks and immersed myself in a lake, I read a book and sat with directees.
Slowly, the quiet seeped in through the noise. The quiet worked its way through the tears. The quiet got under my skin like the dirt under my fingernails. And beneath it all, beneath the sadness and the noise and the tiredness and the uncertainty; beneath it all, there was peace. An assurance that agreed we are in this for a long while more, that acknowledged the grief and fear, that saw the changes and the things that have been lost. And in the quiet, these lines from a prayer that we say some nights came to me:
“Protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may rest upon Your eternal changelessness.”
I turn again to God’s eternal changelessness….. this is a time of change and challenge and grief, but in it God is with us, God is walking with us with hope, God is a beacon of light to follow, God is not fleeting but in it for the long haul. God is the one on whom and in whom we can rest. It’s like the very center of a fast spinning roundabout (I don’t know if you had them in the US… they were a playground toy, a large metal circle divided into 4 or 5 sections by metal bars, held by a center post. Someone runs around on the outside turning it as fast as they can run while those on the roundabout hold on tight, screaming and laughing. They were banned soon after I was a child as they were super dangerous!). While the outside of the roundabout is spinning wildly, faster and faster, the center is barely moving. While the spinner, if they run fast enough and hold on tight, can lift their feet off the ground and feel like they are flying for a few seconds, the center post holds still and steady. The closer we can move to the center, the stiller we can be. The more changeless we can become and the further away from danger we are.
This sadness helped me move back from the edges, toward the center once more, toward God’s stillness, toward the knowledge of the changelessness of hope and Love. While the world seemingly spins out of control, our task, my task, is to stay close to the center, the Truth, the Love, the Peace. The sadness and fear and guilt and horror are all still there, but I can be with Peace, silent and ready to move and speak as the silence calls me.
It reminds me of this poem by Ana Lisa de Jong in her booklet “Poetry for a Pandemic.”
HOPE IS MADE
Hope is made for such a day as this.
It is not made for when all
is sweet and light.
Although the memory of the good
can be a fueler of the flame.
Because hope was made for when the darkness
is most apparent.
Hope was made for when the sky has changed
Hope was made for those who cannot wake
And for those who have lost their balance
Yes, hope is not made for the day of goodness.
It isn’t made for when our many blessings
cannot be counted,
gifts showered as blossoms
in the wind.
Hope is made for when the world has been shocked
to silence, except for the ‘O’ of disbelief,
and mouthing of a prayer.
Hope is made for the day that tries our understanding.
May we allow the feelings of sadness and grief and fear to arise so we can stay in hope!
With love and hope,
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.