On Friday I went snowshoeing for the first time… and in the course of it, walked on a lake for the first time too. My friend helped me get into my snowshoes and fit them to my boots, and off we went through her yard and her neighbors yard before heading down to the frozen water. Gibbs followed in our steps so he did not sink into the deep snow and disappear, and soon we were walking on the lake where I have (in warmer months!!) swum, kayaked, boated and played on and in for several years now. And it was kind of a surreal experience.
Lake Washington is a large lake, about 2 by 3 miles and ringed by homes and trees. It is a place that has become a retreat for me, at least in the summer months, and a place where God has revealed new truths to me. It was here I got the invitation to move to Minnesota, and is one of those thin places for my life.
So on Friday, I went with some trepidation. I had never been there in the winter before…. Would my car make it down the driveway? Would Gibbs drown in the snow? Would I trip over myself snowshoeing? Would I break my neck as we scrambled down the bank? But as we made our way and found our rhythm with relative ease, I was struck by how much life this lake has supported over her existence, even though, at this time of year, she is frozen and still. Yet, how many bodies, human and animal and plant, have been blessed and kept alive by her refreshment, how many prayers have been prayed on her banks and in her waters, and how much beauty she holds, no matter what season she is in.
It also brought to mind a poem that I used when teaching fourth grade that went something like this:
Fire and ice
Ice and fire
These are the elements that do sire
And grow creation from the crack
That grows from dawn to dusk and back.
Walking on that lake it was good to remember that creation is, indeed, at work. While everything is frozen and covered in a thick layer of snow and ice, creation is growing and preparing and pregnant with new life waiting for the time of rebirth. The ice covers the fish and plant life hibernating beneath. The trees have drawn deep inside to allow the buds to form, just readying for the sap to start rising.
Reflecting on this, I wonder what is waiting for renewal in my life. What is readying itself to spring forth? And I invite you to reflect on this for yourself as winter continues!
In leading the contemplative worship this evening at church I used 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.
And we sang a song with these lines from it: I will believe the truth about myself,
no matter how beautiful it is.
After we had sat in silence contemplating these words and the service was over, a woman came up to me. “You are asking a lot from us Minnesotans with that thought,” she said. Seeing my confused look, she continued, “We don’t think highly of ourselves…. In fact, it’s forbidden. The best we might say is, “I am alright” as a way of praising ourselves.”
While I had not known this about Minnesotans, it didn’t really surprise me as I think it is part of the human condition in general. We don’t want to see the beauty in ourselves, for we get told, so often, about our flaws, or we get told not to be prideful, and our light and beauty get squished down, word by word, slap down by slap down, and our beauty flees to a safe space, locked away deep inside.
Yet we are created in the Divine image, filled with beauty and light and love. And when we sit in the presence of God we can catch a glimpse of this truth once more. All we have to do is slow down enough to sit in the Presence!
This is not narcissistic recognition of our beauty…. It’s not just an outer beauty. It’s a way of being, a way of looking at the world and our place in it, a way of moving through the space around us, a beauty that shines the love of God into the world. It’s not conforming to the world, but being the counter to the lies it tells us. It’s not listening to the noise that tells us we need to be more, it’s sitting in the silence that tells us we are more than enough.
This week, I invite you to sit in the silence, remembering that you are made in the image of God, and that the truth is you are beautiful. Believe it. Trust it. Live it!
There can be something deeply profound and moving about praying in community, and it has been playing on my mind recently.
Last week I went to the monastery on my day off just to sit and pray with the sisters. I was reminded how much rhythm is a part of their prayer. There are times to speak, time to listen to others speaking, times of silence to allow God to speak, and a slowing down from whatever we have been doing before, and whatever awaits us after. It’s a sacred time to pause and put God back at the center of our day…. Several times a day!
I am part of a monastic community that prays together on the phone, and this morning was a time when we found our rhythm in a beautiful way. Sometimes when we come together, people come from busyness, from distractions, from life. And this can carry through into our prayers. But at other times, like this morning, when we all set aside whatever else is going on, slow down, breathe, and sink into that pulse that feels like true God time, something beautiful is created. There are pauses, both between people speaking and each line they speak; there is attention to the words spoken and the silences; there is a harmony that crosses the miles between us, and a sinking in to the One who calls us Beloved. And I feel it in my body, a softening and opening and presence that I know will carry me through the day.
I often feel this world as a jagged and sharp place, and wonder what it would be like if more of us prayed together in community. Allowed ourselves this time of softening and pausing and re-setting and re-centering. And did it together with other people. The communal aspect feels like an important piece for it reminds us that we are connected, we all a part of the Body of Christ, walking through this broken world in kinship, given the eyes to see and the hands to help one another. For I have learnt that we cannot live in bubbles of isolation… the only way our world can heal is by us coming together, finding the living pulse that allows for listening and breathing and re-centering in the Divine.
Finding this rhythm takes attention and intention on the part of the pray-ers. It takes all of us to breathe into the space and listen to God’s heartbeat for our words and our cadence. It takes an awareness beyond ourselves. And all these things, too, are a part of creating a community of peace and hope and healing together.
Pope Francis says, “How good it is for us to pray together. How good it is to encounter one another in this place where we see one another as brothers and sisters, where we realize that we need one another. I need your support, your closeness (and you need mine). I would like to invite you to pray together, for one another, with one another. That way we can keep helping one another to experience the joy of knowing that Jesus is in our midst.”
I invite you to seek a community of prayer, even if it is just one other person, and find that rhythm of falling into the heartbeat of God, breathing with God, listening and speaking and re-centering on this One who love you…. And allowing that softening and widening awareness of the community around you, to happen over time, and pay attention to what happens!
I’ve been thinking recently about the surprising ways evidence of our healing journeys show up, both in witnessing other people’s growth and my own.
I have often butted heads with people in power over me…. And in the past I would find myself cowering and hurt in a corner, silenced by their abuse of power. But recently a different outcome happened and it took me by surprise.
I received an email from a person in power, someone who I have only had one conversation with, full of mistruths and a threat to future employment opportunities. But, worse than this, it hit me on several deep, vulnerable personal levels. I read through it and felt sick to my stomach. Then took a deep breath and said a little prayer and read through it again. My first impulse was to share it with a few people who know me, who have walked through some of my healing with me, who I trust deeply. And without a second thought, I reached out for help.
Now, to many of you, this may seem like an obvious next step. But for me, this was such an alien concept for so many decades, that, even as little as a couple of years ago, this would not have happened. I would have gone over it in my head, over and over, feeling hurt and helpless. And I would have just kept it to myself, allowing it the painful words to bruise and sink in and re-traumatize and create more pain. I may have even started to believe some of the lies. Instead I instinctively shared it.
I didn’t realize what a sign of healing this was for me until I reflected back on it last night. WOW. I thought. I would never have done that before. And while it did not take away the initial sting, in sharing I was affirmed, the abuse of power was named, and I felt like I was supported and known and loved.
I invite you to reflect on these questions… and feel free to share your responses!
What ways have you seen the hand of healing in your life?
Where do you respond differently to a hard situation than in the past?
What help do you need?
Who are your trusted people to turn to, ones who love you and know you and will tell you the Truth!?
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!