Apparently, after an unusual spring and winter we are having an unusual start to summer! More rain than normal, cooler temperatures, and the growing season for vegetables in the gardens moving slowly. I wonder if summer will be over before I get any tomatoes! I think that my not knowing what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘unusual’ in Minnesota helps this time, as I don’t know what to expect, so I just take it all in my stride!
I wish it were this easy in life!! So often we ‘know’ how things should go, and we try to make them happen in exactly this way. Control and expectation take over and we find ourselves disappointed by everything, rather than being able to live in gratitude for the gifts that are present right before us. Living into the unknown can be a challenge, and an uninvited one. Yet, if we can do this, our lives can be freed from what ‘should be’ and we can live with what is, allowing us to find gratitude in the small gifts each day brings.
One of my favorite quotes is from Rilke:
“I want to beg you, as much as I can to be patient toward all that is unsolved in
your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like
books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers,
which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.”
Several of us in my monastic community have been living into the questions this year, and maybe into an unusual way of life. The question of what would it mean for us to make our solemn profession into the community, to dedicate ourselves to God and St. Brigid of Kildare Monastery for the rest of our lives. The discussions have lead, perhaps, to more questions than answers, and six of us feel called to take this step. Ask any of us what this calling is, and I think we would all struggle to find words for the call, and each answer would be different. But we are certain that this is a call on our lives! And I think it’s a beautiful, unusual, counter-cultural, question-filled step closer to God. While none of us know how it will change our lives and our world, we are all willing to live out the questions, saying yes to God, hearing God’s yes to us, and being filled with gratitude for what is each day.
One part of the profession ceremony that is particularly filling me with gratitude is a plea we make to God with the words, “Receive me, O God, as You have promised and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my hope.” Sitting with this phrase has brought many tears of joy, and much awe, along with a deep, intuitive understanding of the many ways God has already received me, and will continue to receive me for eternity. It feels like a piece of this living into the questions, living into the yes, living into the promise and the call is not common for this time in our world. And it fills me with gratitude.
So while all this leaves me wondering if it is really so unusual, so far from normal, questioning what even is normal (is it normal for people to live so far removed from God that they are unmoved by the plight of children locked in cages, for example), I am living into the call, loving the questions that arise, and creating a new normal in this thing we call life. For life moves me closer to Love.
Carlo Carreto says,
“Love will make demands on us. It will question us from within. It will disturb us. Sadden us. Play havoc with our feelings. Harass us. Reveal our superficialities. But at last it will bring us to the light.“
Let the questions of your life live. Let them be. Live them. Allow them to move you to Love and Light. And don’t worry about being unusual… just live with gratitude for what is, and you will be received by Love itself!
show. For if we let those paper thin signs of hope and beauty into the world too early, they can get crushed or damaged and never come to bear fruit.
In my own journey I have certainly seen this. I needed to be in a safe place, away from those who caused me harm, before I could put out the feelers to see if it was, indeed, a time and place to allow the fragile petals to unfurl into the world. The leaves, tougher and able to catch the sunlight and water to feed my soul, could send a message to my core if it ready for a more fruitful part of me. The paper thin truth whispered into the air, the unfolding to offer sweet fragrance, the opening to feed with sweet nectar. But if I had done this too early, I would have been blown away, or frozen and fallen to the ground to be crushed once more.
Sometimes this process can feel like it takes too long, like the flowers will never be safe to bloom. But when you wait until the time and place are right to receive you, flowering is beautiful! That bud of hope and healing can open and grow and be such a gorgeous gift to the world!
If you are in a time of waiting, be gentle and patient with yourself in the waiting. If you are watching the world for a sign that it’s ready for your next healing step, allow the space for it to happen. If your leaves are out feeling for love in the world, let them feel. When the time and circumstances are right, you will know. And when that time comes, show yourself with courage, slowly opening to one who is welcoming, trustworthy, safe, loving. For your unfurling is a beautiful gift to yourself and the world.
In the words of the poet Hafiz in the poem “It Felt Love”:
How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
We all remain
Here, in Minnesota, we are just starting to see the first whispers of green on the trees. Sometimes I think I’m only imagining it, but at other times it draws me in with a promise that takes my breath away. It is a green like I have never seen before, gentle and filled with hope. And it is slow to come into leaf, the hints just hanging there, waiting for their time, knowing what they know, refusing to rush just in case another frost comes along. Sometimes there is a hint of orange-ish brown too, other leaves beginning their unfolding, bringing reflection of the colors of fall into this new season.
These trees bring me pause on so many levels. Do I have their patience (ummmm…. no!!!). Can I wait to unfurl slowly in time, or do I try to rush things? Can I shine the beauty I have right here, right now? Not worrying if it is enough.
I am in a time of discernment right now, having applied for a new job. The job, I think, will allow me to use more of my skills than the current job, but it’s an extra day of work a week with only a couple of actual work hours more. It will be a 30 minute driving commute, rather than a 5 minute walk. But I will get to work with people, one on one and in groups, applying some spiritual direction skills (I think) and learning new skills such as helping people with physical therapy exercises and working with people with dementia. So I’m torn.
As I prayed this morning I heard God ask, “How can you be more of who you are where you are?” And I don’t know the answer to this, but it reminded me of the trees. They are being themselves where they are, shining what they can shine right now. They are not rushing to show their full glory, to use all their gifts. Instead, they are waiting for the right time, steadfast in their rootedness of place. Is this what’s being asked of me? Or am I being called to take a step out? I don’t feel like either job is what I’m really called to, so should I wait? Or do something that might be closer to it? And would a new job somehow stop me from putting enough energy into building my spiritual direction practice and beginning to take people out into nature as a new part of that?
So many questions. For now, I’ll interview tomorrow, and continue to pray, listening to the wisdom of God, in Nature, in prayer and in my heart.
What ways are you showing your unfolding nature? How are you being called to patience? Where is Nature reflecting where you are on your journey right now?
It’s been a little strange returning from California to Minnesota for one reason. In California it was full on spring…. Flowers blooming, wild iris sprouting, the grass was greener that I saw it in all the 20 years I lived there, the birds and the bees procreating, the rain and sun dancing in turn. Returning home I was greeted with a very different sight. The several feet of snow I had left behind as I headed to California had almost disappeared, leaving brown grass, remains of brown fallen leaves from the fall, and no buds or signs of spring anywhere. The luscious green I had been soaking in was nowhere evident. The leaves are still held tight within their buds on tree branches, no opening in sight. The new life that had been abundantly apparent was absent. The only similarity was the squishing mud puddles beneath my feet.
So walking in the woods with Gibbs this week has been kind of disorienting. My body is screaming spring. My eyes are used to color again. But my present senses are not seeing this as reality.
Unless I look really closely. For there are small signs of spring coming up. A green leaf pushing up through the brown leaves. A tree bud swelling. Mist rising from the thawing ponds. Smells released from their frozen state. Birds singing, Sandhill Cranes strutting, geese returning.
These small signs offer hope, yet you have to pay attention to catch them. They are easy to miss. Easy to ignore. Easy to step on. But, if you look closely, they are present. Spring just waiting in the background, readying itself for a grand entrance!
I think this is a reflection of our healing. Small glimpses that are easily overlooked appear, building one upon another, until we suddenly catch sight of a step in our healing process that we had been blind to before.
For example, I was in California for a training in Eco-Therapy. A way of being in nature as a reflection of healing work. (more about this later!!) I was a little concerned that doing this course would open up some old wounds, or show me places where I was still ‘broken’, but the opposite was true. As the days went on, I realized that the small signs of healing I had been seeing over the past couple of years have exploded into a recognizable sign of healing bursting through. Some old triggers were no longer activated. Some old wounds were no longer sore. The small glimpses of healing I had seen grew into a whole spring of it, and I was able to bear witness to how far I had come and bloomed and was now full of new life. It was beautiful to feel this deep in my bones.
So, wherever you are, look for the signs. The small buds swelling, the flowers pushing up out of the earth, the signs that something that had been hard for you is now a little easier. And consider how much new life there is in your life. How much you have changed and grown. And if you don’t yet feel it, search for those small, small signs of life that can give you a glimpse of what is waiting to be born.
Walking in the woods today with Gibbs was hard work. The trail was not well tamped down since our last storm that dumped about a foot of snow on us, and with each step I was sinking in 3 to 4 inches. Even Gibbs, with his prancing walk and four paws, was sinking into the snow one to two inches. And every so often I would have to stop to stamp the accumulated clumps of snow from my boots so I didn’t feel like I was wearing platform shoes. Yet the woods were still and beautiful, silent and calming…. And it might be my last time to walk in the snow this year as the rain is heading in tonight.
As I walked I opened myself to listening to the woods to see what they had to teach me today. Just letting the steps and the peace soak into me. I reached a point where there was a cross made by two broken trees, highlighted in snow. I called Gibbs to my side and we sat a while with that cross, pondering this season of Lent and how it leads to the cross. And this cross I found in the woods was made of a broken branch hanging down across a broken tree. Sitting with this nature’s cross I wondered what needs to be broken from my life? What clumps need to be knocked off my boots (or out of my life) because I no longer need them? And what hopes and new life can be seen emerging from the brokenness of the branches? What new life will they bear?
After a while, I continued to walk with these questions in my heart when suddenly the previously silent woods erupted in a cacophony of sound. I had reached the crest of hill that was alive with bird song. No where else had the birds been hanging out, but here, they were chirping and singing and gliding and pecking. Right here. Life in abundance. Hope flying freely around. And with these simple sounds my heart soared.
I was reminded, in that moment, how hand in hand brokenness and hope live. We may think we are so broken that we forget hope is its partner. Yet, in reality, brokenness is the thing that can allow hope to spring forth. I’m not talking about the brokenness that is inflicted on us by injustice or abuse (for, although hope can be present in those moments, these can be times when hope feels far away), but the breaking open that we allow ourselves to enter into to make room for something new. The breaking open that we do as we walk closer to the Divine. The breaking open that we invite when we know it’s time for us to take a step forward in freedom… kind of like stomping the clumps of snow off my boots to allow traction for the next step.
As I walk through this Lenten journey toward that cross of brokenness, I pray that I will continue to clear the stuck stuff in my life, that I will continue to break open to allow new life to be brought in, that I will continue to have the ears to hear new songs coming to life in surprising places.
And I pray this for you too!
The sun was shining this morning, and the skies were blue, so Gibbs and I wrapped up and went out to the woods for a long walk. We mainly walked on a groomed trail (one where the snow has been compacted so you don’t sink in more than an inch or two), but at one point I felt called to leave this trail to walk up to a fallen tree covered in snow. I wanted to pause and reflect on this Ash Wednesday to hear how God might want me to use this season of Lent.* I arrived at the tree and stood there, knee deep in snow, in the peace of the forest, just a gentle breeze rattling a few brown leaves that were stubbornly hanging on branches, and the occasional call of a bird breaking the silence.
In that space I began to hear a word from God. “Limits.” And standing with that thought, God said, “Give up limits.” I freaked out a little hearing this, as I have found boundaries are so important in life, especially as one abused as a child. Without boundaries, without limits, how can I be safe, I asked. But the words repeated themselves, “Give up limits.” I stood there a while more, and then we continued on our walk, all the while pondering what this meant. And with the steps I took, the meaning became clearer.
So often I feel bound by the ways I view who I am in the world. And then bound further still by the ways other people have defined me. I am either not enough or too much. I fall into these boundaries placed on me, and believe them. I reinforce my own limitations, and believe them. But what if I lived without these beliefs? What if I experimented, each time a limiting belief came up, to challenge that belief? What if each time I hear negative self talk, I tell it a new story? What if I allow my belief of God being bigger than any box that people try to fit this Mystery into could apply, just a little, to me too? What if I believed I was more than just barely lovable?
And as the walk continued the words from a chant I have used often came to me, based on this poem by Macrina Wiederkehr:
I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is:
I believe in my power
to transform indifference into love.
I believe I have an amazing gift
to keep hope alive in the face of despair.
I believe I have the remarkable skill
of deleting bitterness from my life.
I believe in my budding potential
to live with a nonviolent heart.
I believe in my passion to speak the truth
even when it isn’t popular.
I believe I have the strength of will
to be peace in a world of violence.
I believe in my miraculous capacity
for unconditional love.
I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is.
So each day during Lent I have decided to look in the mirror and read this poem out loud. To sing the chant while I work or walk. To allow the limits that I have placed on myself, and ones others have offered me to be challenged…. And maybe even blown apart. To see what is ready to die and what emerges as new life. To experience how to live beyond limiting belief. Or, as I have seen meme’s of…. To see myself as the person my dog sees me as!
Will you join me?
* In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a 40 day season (excluding Sundays) that leads us to Easter. It is common for people to give something up for Lent, or to add a spiritual practice that moves them closer to God.