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?


Spring Cleaning

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

      This morning, the sky is clear blue and a high wind, a March wind, sways the bare treetops. Never mind that we have one more day of February – this Leap Year day – it almost doesn’t count except it’s a catch up day.

It smells and feels like spring, regardless of the date.

Lent is like that early spring wind: when Lent arrives, you know spring won’t be far behind. Lent is a spiritual spring-cleaning, opening the windows of the soul to let in new light and fresh air for rebirth.

There’s another side to the spring wind, however. Last night’s spring thunderstorm brought tornadoes with it across southern Kansas and Missouri and north of us into Illinois. Just south of us, the small town of Buffalo, Missouri was hit as was Branson.

Destruction and rebirth walking hand in hand. That’s not a new story.

Today’s first reading is from the story of Jonah (as in Jonah and the whale Jonah) and the near-destruction of the great city, Nineveh. We get part of the story here, how God repented from destroying the city because the people “turned from their evil ways…” But there’s more – after God repents, Jonah complains: so you could have done this without me. If you were going to spare them anyway, I wouldn’t have had to leave home, be swallowed by a whale, lost at sea. And God wisely says, your comfort is more important than these thousands of people to say nothing of their animals?

We humans, we’re very good at complaining.

The Psalm reading says, in part, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”

It’s spring-cleaning time. What are your complaints? How will you brush them from your soul? What would your clean heart look like? Feel like?

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.



My Ordinary Skills

Today’s WordPress prompt asks, “what ordinary skills are you bad at?” An interesting question. I guess we’re all “bad” at something although that’s such a subjective and judgmental word that I’m not sure “bad” is an effective way to describe anything.

So, okay. What ordinary, daily thing am I less than effective in doing? The first thing that comes to mind is remembering what day it is. In other words, I’m not so great at the skill of memory: ask my husband, my children, my friends, my students. If I don’t write it down, I probably won’t remember. And this isn’t an age thing, it’s a pretty much all my life thing.

So I got to thinking about that. Actually, I wonder about memory a lot, write about memory a lot, try to figure out why I remember some things and not other things a lot.

Now here’s the funny thing. My son just called and asked why he couldn’t get on a family website anymore and when he repeated the password, I realize I’d changed it and forgotten. Oh. Good thing I write things down. Especially passwords.

I’ve thought a lot about memory, and one of the things I’ve considered is how much I rely on what I call “messages.” In other words, much of what I rely on are the words that come into my head to tell me what to say. For example, most mornings when I wake, I ask myself, or my mind, “what day is it?” and wait for an answer. I find that odd. Not that it happens, but that I do it at all.  

In some circles that would be called schizophrenia and in others mysticism. I was somewhat startled, reading the book Muses, Madmen, and Prophets to learn that hearing my name called from somewhere outside me (i.e. not in my head) was a signal of schizophrenia. I’ve heard my name called most of my life. What? I ask. Sometimes I get an answer and sometimes the call simply turns me in another direction. I’ve considered those moments spirit’s promptings.

But then it’s also true that many mystics have been medicated out of their minds, so to speak. Seeing signs and wonders is not necessarily a valuable commodity in our world. At least, not since Freud. Carl Jung, on the other hand, was a little wiser and willing to be filled with wonder.

So there you are. A musing on musings. A wondering attached to what do I do least well. But then again, another question arises: perhaps our weaknesses are also our strengths if we recognize and accept them. Perhaps by allowing my hard drive memory, as it were, to remain empty of unnecessary verbage, I’ve allowed it to fill with space dedicated to spirit. I suppose the argument could be made that spirit resides in our hearts not our heads, our solar plexus not our amygdala, but perhaps spirit, in whichever way we follow it, resides wherever it wants to.

Right now it said, find an image of hands knitting. So I did. Hopefully that image means something to you.

Happy New Year! May your journey bring you peace of mind, peace of heart, and a healthy body. What more could you ask?



The New Normal

A writer needs routine: sitting in the same place at the same time with the same books and pencils and paper/laptop/computer, whatever, and writing. When that routine is interrupted, changed in some way, the writing suffers. I expect that’s hardly news to most people. Most, I expect, know that writers are creatures of habit.

People, in general, need routine. That may be why changing the time from Daylight Savings to Standard is so rattling for some—maybe most people. When the light is different from one day to the next, our bodies react. When the time changes gradually, bodies cope. The sudden change of an entire hour puts everything oddly catawampus.

But of course, that’s not all that’s off. Time is all out of kilter, period. Some days we dash around and time slides away faster than we can move and accomplish, and some days it stretches. I’m always surprised by time in the mornings when I’m still in my corner and journaling, and I look up and the light is different or the time is either zipping or inching. How does that work?

And what happened to days off? Remember your parent’s lives or grandparent’s? They always took a day off. Sunday, for many, or Saturday if the family was Jewish, was a day of rest. That’s what we did. We went to church or temple and then we rested. Unless of course it was harvest time on the farm. But that was a different and didn’t last forever. When was the last time you rested for a whole half-day? Even a quarter of the day?

This, the pundits say, is the “new normal.” Time compressed and stretched, all within the same go-round on the clock face, until we’re out of sync with ourselves and time is either supposed to be one thing or the other when actually it’s neither. It’s an is.

So here we are: eleven days from Thanksgiving. How did that happen? The Sunday after the Thursday of Thanksgiving begins Advent….. OOOkkkkaaayyy…..and then it’s Christmas.

But at this particular moment I’m feeling virtuous early. I’ve cleaned off both desks around my work space that pile with papers and sheets of paper and to-dos and notes to look up and bills to pay. Wood is a clear reminder of order—and one I appreciate.

So tonight, with a clean desk and in the PC office with the big computer instead of with the laptop in my writing office in the mornings, I’m writing, at night. Go figure. I’m not a night writer. A night rider, maybe, but rarely a night writer. Tapping the keys, conscious of the wonderful sound of a keyboard functioning beneath my fingers, means I’m writing. And my body, ever grateful to take a deep breath and relax, does so.

I’ll take this as new normal.