It’s April – and we are glad it’s so

I apologize for being so absent for so long with these blog posts. Like many of you, the first three months were pretty rocky around here. I’m grateful for the hopeful earth that continues to push up green shoots even in the troublesome times.

At the beginning of Lent, I began a daily series of inspirational posts at my other site, Community of the Incarnation. They were mostly related to the season of Lent, but I’ve decided to continue with less of an emphasis on the church year and more of an emphasis on simply living with a conscious intent.

The posts are short, less than two hundred words, and focused on one idea.

One of the things that happened to me in March was landing in the hospital for two days with something called Transient Global Amnesia, an interesting title and an interesting experience. In short, I’m fine, my brain is fine (well, sometimes that debatable) as is my heart. I simply shorted out.

So I’m in catch-up mode. And careful mode. And really focusing on what’s important. In other words, simplifying.

I’ll still post on this site, but less often, and probably more related to my writing projects. Or something.

Life, as is so often said, is a process.

I hope you’ll find me on the Incarnation site and join me for a few moments each day sitting still and re-collecting. I certainly need it. Maybe we all do.




Lent and Reading and Writing

ArchesLent’s a lot like this arched stone tunnel. You don’t know for sure where it’s taking you until you get to the end and turn the corner.

Most of you know the saga of moving our big office into a little office so son could have the big office for a bedroom so I won’t go into that except to say that while Cliff and I work very well together, he’s needed more time on the PC for his online classes and I’ve needed a place to set myself apart and look out a window.

It finally occurred to me to move my quiet writing corner into the bedroom. It’s a big bedroom. And we sleep here and dress here but that’s about it except it’s also my home gym. Which I use far less than I need to and which doesn’t take up much space.

My epiphany was to bring one of the larger wooden TV trays and put it in front of a south-facing window near an electrical outlet, and here it is I’ve set up. My bedside table also works as a book stand; my laptop as both a writing tool and a research tool, thanks to wireless all through the house, and I even have room for a teacup.

Today I’m looking out on about ten inches of snow and more to come. But with ten inches of snow, it’s pretty peaceful looking out there. My place in the world is peaceful and yet I’m surrounded by family. How good is that….

I finished revising an essay for publication since I’ve been here and I created a screenplay out of a short story I’d written a couple of years ago. I just like being here. It feels like a writing corner with far fewer distractions that in the official office.

Funny how easy things are when you give up on things being the way you think they’re going to be and see how you can live with things being the way they are.


So here’s the URL again for the Lenten readings in case you missed it last time:

May all your days be as peaceful as an empty stone hallway, or an undisturbed drift of snow, before you make that turn into whatever is there, ahead.


The Journey to Light

journeyAdvent begins tomorrow. This season brings a certain peace if we’re willing to remember and define a peace for ourselves. We always have a choice: bemoan the hustle and bustle and commercialism, get caught up in the turmoil of finding the right gift or impressive holiday decorations or the fabulous party outfit or the best sale, or we can turn within to wait for rebirth.

The value of having a spiritual life, regardless of the religion or the lack of religion, is remembering and celebrating rebirth.

There’s no doubt it’s been a stressful and chaotic year—from wars and rebellion to drought to flood to an acrimonious election season that seemed never-ending. And it’s not just the external out-there world in chaos: families have grieved a death or divorce, children have been hurt, adults suffered. We’ve each had our share of aches and hurt.

A long year of endless change and turmoil, re-doing, re-evaluating, reviewing, and nothing ever seemed done-done. There was always another detail, another “hanging chad” to reckon with. The to-do lists have grown, the marking off of the to-dos has become elusive.

And yet. It’s Advent.

Each December we have four weeks to watch and wait: for Solstice, Hanukah, Christmas, Bodhi Day, the New Year. Regardless of our tradition, every year we have four weeks to reflect and welcome the rebirth of light. Every year, we have an invitation to open ourselves to the faith-filled journey that we, and the world, will renew, that we will go on.

In our house, we celebrate Christmas, but we also celebrate Solstice. The earth tips, even if we don’t notice, and begins its journey back to summer. We all have a chance to be rebirthed in light.

The pause in the earth’s tipping has been a sacred time of reckoning for people since ancient times, and in our family for a very long time. Perhaps it comes from being people of the land, attached to farm and sky and earth.

I remember my mother marking the place in the middle of the winter-bare lilac bush, lonely at the far corner of the yard. It was her yardstick in the march of seasons. As December progressed, she’d look out the west window to see the sun set, to watch its glow as it passed through the far edge of the twiggy bush toward the center. And then the earth paused, and she watched as the sun began its journey north again, out of the lilac bush and into open sky.

Dad, and those of us kids who worked outside (and all of us did at one time or another) watched the gathering stars as we trudged back to the house after evening chores. I don’t know which bright star we followed (Venus setting that year? Jupiter on the horizon? Sirius?) but we all learned to follow a star, our star, in one way or another.

Will you remind yourself to take time to enjoy these four short weeks? If the earth can pause, so can we.

Which star will you follow this season of December? Which journey will you make?


Time & Silence & Epiphanies

The first days of the New Year of 2012 have conspired to create a philosophical wondering trailing me as I’ve gone about the rest of my life. The first three incidents occurred on New Year’s Day with an essay, “On Modern Time,” by Espen Hammer in the New York Times; the second was a travel article by Susan Gregory Thomas on her silent retreat time at a Jesuit center in Pennsylvania, and the third was the silent service we held at church that day.

One of the things I’ve been wondering about is how to create more quiet time in my life when nothing needed doing, when I could simply be. And what that would look like anyway. This morning, I wrote in my journal, “Too many little undone pieces rule my life.” Rewrites on a book; email correspondence; repairs on the house; catch up with farm business and home business; and just recently discovering that my mother, dead these past ten years, has left a trail of “unclaimed property” in the states she lived in, all because I read a newspaper article on unclaimed property in Kansas and wondered, hmmmmm. Wonder if any of my family….. and yes, my mother had left behind a breadcrumb trail through the years.

But it’s January and much as we’d like to move into a new year fresh and clean, much is left over from the old year to clean up and complete. We all have tasks undone.

Espen Hammer wrote that before the advent of the pocket watch in the 16th Century, time was measured by the light slowing growing and in the sounds of birds. That’s still how I wake in the summertime. In winter, I’m more inclined to be the old bear slowing rolling over in her fur for another nap.

Hammer goes on to say that modern society is really unimaginable without clocktime and however we’d like to slow things down, not be ruled by a clock, we aren’t at the same time willing to give up the conveniences of modern life. Anyone want to return to living in the Middle Ages? No shower; no weather stripping or double sealed windows? Lots of cow dung?? I doubt it no matter how seductive returning to an earlier time may seem.

Our lives are ruled by time. Even at the Jesuit retreat center, Susan Gregory Thomas promptly arrived at 1:15 p.m. for her appointment with the spiritual director. But a line near the end was telling: “I did, indeed, have everything I needed–if only I would stay quiet long enough to remember.” Ah. Yes. To Be Quiet. To Remember.

On New Year’s Day, as we were setting up for our church service, we discovered that my husband Cliff, who never forgets anything, forgot the recorded music we use for meditation, offertory, and communion. A fast (and chaotic) dash home? he wondered. No. Wait. Make the service a silent service. And we did; and it was beautiful.

It was interesting to see how the unaccustomed silence unbalanced everything. Our community, like each of us individually, is used to a certain pattern to things, to a certain timing, if you will. Changing the pattern of music, which is a transitional marker in our services, set everyone to wobbling a bit. Cliff’s homily, on reflection as the new year begins, was perfect.

And then, a week later, we came to Epiphany. The theologian, Richard Rohr, wrote, “An epiphany is not an idea…but a truly new experience…” We can do anything with ideas, but an epiphany causes us to have an experience and an experience “demands that the whole person be present and active.” In being present and active, we interact with other human beings rather than just thoughts.

So here’s my New Year’s wish for you: may your year be filled with balanced silences–not measured silences necessarily although “time” for meditation is useful–rather silent moments to collect yourself, to remember you have all you need, to rattle the usual patterns of your life, and to absorb the epiphanies that come, calling you into action.



A Hummingbird’s Soul

What do we mean when we use the word soul? What is the indescribable quality we intend to convey? Humans have souls; music has soul; summer’s soul now slips into quiet sunsets.

In The Meaning of Meaning, a seminal book on language and thought first published in 1923, C.K. Ogden argues that words, in themselves, have no meaning. Rather they are symbols of thought. Oh! Of course: why hadn’t I thought of that – me, the curious seeker who turns to her American Heritage Dictionary for entomological insights whenever possible. I’d searched for meaning, but without realizing I’d also searched for thought. My actions led me to thought but my thinking named it meaning.

It’s like reality: reality is what we are taught to see and taught to name and in that naming make sense of the unknown. But if words are only symbols of thoughts, we’re still rambling in the shadows.

Take hummingbirds, for example. They’re a pretty concrete, abet fast, reality. Last evening, as I sat on the back porch, a hummingbird zipped past. They don’t often come this close to the house – I’ve put the feeder back in a shaded corner where some white, sweet-smelling flowering vines tumble over the fence from the neighbor’s yard. But this evening, one of them came across the yard for a brief hello.

In Mexico, where I once lived, an Aztec myth said that when a warrior dies, his soul becomes a hummingbird. And I wondered at the thought process that made a hummingbird the soul symbol for the people of Mexico.

I remember standing outside one evening, watching across a gully to another hillside as the sun disappeared from the arc of horizon. A hummingbird zipped up and circled me, flitting from red bloom to red bloom on my silk dress. Mistaken for a flower as the fabric ruffled in the breeze, I froze, not wanting to betray my own humanness. The hummingbird inspected me, zip, zip, zip, all around, coming to pause for half a moment of fierce inspection in front of my face. I still didn’t move although I did feel delighted in the other-worldly sort of tap on the shoulder.

That same curiosity and fierceness seems to characterize the hummingbirds in my yard here in Kansas City.

Here, they like perching in the willow. Perhaps because even while sitting still, they’re still able to move with the breezes. But they’re also territorial. If a cardinal or finch comes to sit and admire the graceful drift of a willow branch, the hummingbird will dart at them and drive the intruder away. Dart; dart;  Leave!!

The intruder leaves.

But I was not an intruder as I sat in my screen-sheltered porch. I’d gone to sit and ponder this journey I have no name for and the struggle to find the words to frame it.

What was I to learn from this visit?

Perhaps that a warrior defies the odds, regardless of the challenge. If I do not have the words today to define my passage, I may tomorrow. If I am bowed by the responsibilities of writing, I will ride a new wave tomorrow. Or the next day.

If that’s a warrior’s soul that’s come to visit, perhaps I could say that defeat isn’t an option. That whatever the challenges, the answer is again and again and again to keep going, darting or inching, to the answer or resolution.

And perhaps that’s the reality of souls: unwilling to give up, willing curiosity, willing courage.