Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Favorite Books of 2009

I have always kept lists of books to read, books to buy and give, and, of course, books read. True, there are still some reading days left in 2009, but in our Christmas letter sent to family and friends, I promised to post this year's list of "favorites" on my blog. Here it is:
* In Hovering Flight - Joyce Hennefield
* War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (My first reading was when I was in college. I loved it this time around so much more.)
* Two books by Pamela Carter Joern: The Floor of the Sky and The Plain Sense of Things
* American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld (Smart and sexy and how much is true and when will the movie come out and who will play Laura Bush?)

* The House on Fortune Street - Margot Livesey
* The Piano Teacher - Janice Y. K. Lee
* The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - Shaffer and Barrons (Awful title and wonderful book)
* The Space Between Us - Thrity Umrigar
* The mystery series by Susan Hill. Start with the first one, The Various Haunts of Men. (I decided August was mystery month and devoured this series. The latest has just been released.)
* Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
* A Happy Marriage - Rafael Yglesias
* A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore (Madison writer and this book is on the NY Times best of the year list)
* Jhumpa Lahiri's two book of short stories: Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of Maladies. (Overcome your unwillingness to read short stories and read both of these.)

Nonfiction: I am reading far more nonfiction these days and along with books specifically related to spirituality, I am reading a number of books about nature.
* The Forever War - Dexter Filkins
* The Buddhist Path to Simplicity, Spiritual Practice for Everyday Life - Christina Feldman
* Beauty, The Invisible Embrace, Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity and Hope - John O'Donohue
* The Third Chapter, Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50 - Sara Lawrence Lightfoot
* Seeking Peace, Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World, Mary Pipher
* Listening Below the Noise, A Meditation on the Practice of Silence - Anne D. LeClaire
* The Morville Hours, The Story of a Garden - Katherine Swift
* Small Wonder - Barbara Kingsolver
* On Moving, A Writer's Meditation on New House, Old Haunts and Finding Home Again - Louise deSalvo
* Teaching Trees, Lesson from the Forest - Joan Maloof
* We Two, Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals - Gillian Gill
* Facing the Lion, Being the Lion, Facing Inner Courage Where it Lives - Mark Nepo
* Life List, A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds - Olivia Gentile (about Phoebe Snetsinger)
* This Year I Will...How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution or Make a Dream Come True - M. J. Ryan
* Crow Planet, Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness - Lynda Lynn Haupt
* Traveling with Pomegranates, A Mother-Daughter Story - Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
* The Seven Whispers - Christina Baldwin (One I return to periodically)
* Epicurean Simplicity - Stephanie Mills
* A Book of Silence - Sara Maitland
* Writing from the Center - Scott Russell Sanders

Perhaps in an upcoming blog posting I will offer a selection of favorite quotes from these books. Stay tuned. In the meantime there is Christmas and entry into the new year. I wish you joy and hope and a deepened awareness of how Spirit is moving in your life. And a new book or two--and even time to read them.

The Spiritual Practice of Cherry Walnut Bread

Four bread tins await. I have returned from a snowy walk to the grocery store to get eggs and butter. When the butter has come to room temperature, I will make cherry walnut bread, one of my Christmas traditions and spiritual practices.

The first year I made cherry walnut bread we were living in St Louis where Bruce was in his last year of medical school , and I was teaching high school English. I was pregnant with our first child, but I didn't know it yet. The recipe came from a magazine, an inserted booklet of quick bread recipes, and was actually for cherry PECAN bread, but walnuts fit our budget better. I can afford pecans now, but cherry walnut it shall remain. I think about baking in that tiny elf-sized apartment kitchen where the only counter space was about a foot long. Somehow good food still was created. I think about the friends to whom I gave bread that first year; many of whom have since died. I am grateful for all they gave to that newlywed and novice teacher.

I'm not much of a cookie baker, except for gingersnaps in the fall or snickerdoodles occasionally, so the bread became my Christmas baking trademark. I wonder if people who receive the bread think of it as Great Aunt Hilda's Fruit Cake that sits on the shelf all Christmas and finally is thrown out with the used wrapping paper and tinsel from the tree. Do they smile and say "thank you" and then hide it at the bottom of the bread drawer? Oh well, I love making it and in the making I encounter a newsreel of memories.

At first I used a pale blue deep pottery bowl from the 30's or 40's, but then I realized how expensive those bowls have become, so I thanked it for its faithful service and decided not to use it so casually, so regularly. Funny, other people only bring out the china and crystal for special occasions, but I relegated that old bowl to infrequent use and "saved" status. Instead, I bought "new" old bowls, not as precious--large yellow Pyrex bowls. Functional, as well as cheery looking, but I must admit I wondered the first time I used it, if the bread would taste the same. I guess it did. No one commented, unlike the year I had a new food processor and used it to chop the cherries. Such protests from the kids. The cherries were too finely chopped. Where were the chunks? I went back to chopping by hand with cherry juice running over and under the cutting board, leaving a red stain on the counter. Eventually I returned to using the old faded blue bowl--just for cherry walnut bread. I missed it and I thought it must have felt useless, put out to pasture. I've always believed in using what I have, enjoying it, so what got into me? It saddens me when I am antiquing and see vintage linens with the label still attached. "Never used," the price tag says. Why not? What happened? Did that special occasion never come?

Well, that's why hometending is a spiritual practice for me. I am reminded that every moment is a special occasion. Every moment is an opportunity to feel the presence. Every memory is a chance to whisper a blessing. I think about the people in my life who have received my offering. I smile and think about my son, who when he was quite young ate several jars of cherries and hid the empty jars behind the couch. Now grown and married, he is making the bread himself. I think about how I created a family cookbook for each of our children before they got married and, of course, the cherry walnut bread recipe is included. I remember the teachers to whom I gave a small loaf along with their Christmas gift, as a token thank you for the love and inspiration they gave our children, and the gatherings where I took a loaf as a hostess gift or the potlucks where a loaf of bread accompanied my salad or casserole. The loaves I make today will go to neighbors and also to Minnesota where we will drive tomorrow to spend Christmas . Perhaps Kate has made loaves herself, but I am the Mom and I need to bring the cherry walnut bread.

Nancy Agneberg's Cherry Walnut Bread
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs

Cream together sugar, butter, and eggs. Add alternately with 1 cup buttermilk, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1 jar chopped maraschino cherries, and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

Butter loaf pan. Bake 325 degrees for 55-60 minutes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Grandmother's Reverie

The house is quiet. Startlingly quiet. Turning on the radio or my ipod won't help. Going out for a walk only means returning to a still house. Eventually, probably by morning, I will be used to the solitude once again, but for now I am straining to hear the echoes of young life. Our daughter Kate and our grandchildren Maren, almost 7, and Peter, 20 months, were here visiting for a long weekend, but now they are back home. To counter my melancholy, I turn to a journal entry written a week after Peter was born:

Kate and Mike left the house at 5:00 am for the scheduled C-section later that morning. Bruce and I got up to say goodbye and send them off with love. Maren, however, slept until about 7:30, and we had our usual cuddle time in bed. I brought her in bed with me when she was quite small, before she could walk, and soon that became our blessed morning routine. I wonder if that will be a Peter tradition, too, or if we will have something else that is our own.

Anyway, Mike called us at 8:30 with the great news. Peter had entered the world at 7:54, 7 pounds, 4 ounces; 19 1/2 inches long. Lots of blondish hair with maybe a tinge of red. Maren's nose. And healthy. Both Mom and Baby. Thank you, God. Soon we were at the hospital and Maren had the promised first look at him. Kate later said when Maren first saw him sprawled in his bassinet, legs frog style, arms flung out, fresh after his first bath, she laughed. Chuckled with delight. In that moment she became a loving big sister.

Bruce and I waited patiently in the family lounge, but soon Maren and Mike came and told us we could come meet him. The first time I saw Maren, who arrived five weeks early, but was the largest baby in the NICU, I thought “I know you.” I was overwhelmed by the continuity of life and the sense of connection. I recognized her and felt such deep love—love without fear. Love wrapped in joy. When I saw Peter that first time, I was blindsided with awe, an Old Testament kind of awe. Kate and Mike had been tested over and over again to have him, to bring him forth, and he responded to that persistence; to that desire. I felt unbounded gratitude for whatever role a gracious God played in the birth of this happy, healthy, beautiful boy. He is an unexpected treasure.

When I was pregnant with our second child, our son Geof, I wasn't sure I had enough love. Could I love more? Did I have enough love to go around, to give another baby what it deserved? But it all rushed in. Peter, too, signifies the abundance of love; the bigness of it. Maren would have been enough, but now there is also Peter, and we get to experience the bigness of loving all over again. With every person who came to see him and rejoice in his arrival and hold him and marvel at him, he was infused with more love and the unconscious awareness of the abundance of love; the goodness in life. His presence renewed our hope and increased our joy, but we also gave him these gifts, too. When he was awake-and very alert, he would look with such puzzled eyes, and I kept thinking about the unfathomable change he had just experienced--from the womb to the world. If ever I feel overwhelmed by change and transition (and I do!), I need to think about what each baby endures.

When I held Peter those first days, I talked to him softly, "Hello Peter. It's GrandNan, and I love you very much." With Maren's birth I was given the opportunity to create my GrandNan identity, to become GrandNan, but with Peter I am already GrandNan, a role I love.

A major part of that role while Peter was still in the hospital was to be with and take care of Maren, and I will treasure that time forever. She was great. She relished her new title of Big Sister. She shared the spotlight. She gave her heart to him. She adapted to the hospital environment easily and all the coming and going. She rarely fussed about anything, and she was my buddy. Such a good companion in all those trips between home and hospital. The last time we drove back home she sang Christmas carols in her sweet voice—knowing the majority of the words—not always easy ones either, as in "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." One time I had the car radio on, but quickly turned it off when I heard a terrible story about the beating death of a four year old. She had heard it, too. She is so completely loved—how could she possibly imagine a child not loved as she is?

The morning Kate, Mike, and Peter came home from the hospital, Maren made a "Welcome Home" sign and Valentines for them all. She even helped me clean. Then when Mom and Dad and new baby snuggled in the car seat, came in the back door, they became a family of four. It was time for me to ease out the door. Not easy, but necessary. Besides they were more than capable of handling whatever came up. All was as it should be.

New birth, new life, ongoing life. Love.

The house is still quiet, and I miss our dear ones, but I feel better. Much better.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh,no, Not an Identity Crisis

I am 61, and I am having an identity crisis. Yes, we are thrilled we have finally sold Sweetwater Farm, but I now realize how much that home was my identity. Instead of work or even family, Sweetwater Farm was my identity, becoming that almost the minute we moved there in 1997. Leaving our home of only three years in Shaker Heights was a surprising thing to do, and many friends could not understand the draw. After all, it was far from the city, necessitating a long commute for Bruce, and what was I going to do out there?

Well, that attitude quickly subsided, for building on the peace and spirit already present at Sweetwater Farm, we created shelter and sanctuary; a place where people felt privileged to spend time. Visiting us became an event, a ritual, a retreat. Our life there with the gardens and pond, the century home filled with antiques, the barn housing our personal petting zoo --llamas and sheep and geese and goats, and donkey and chickens, oh my-- was what people say they want. We lived the fantasy for many.

Our work blended into Sweetwater Farm, as well, for this was where Bruce could restore and find balance for his work as a hospice medical director, and Sweetwater Farm was where, by and large, I did my work--meeting with spiritual direction clients, holding retreats and classes, preparing my classes and groups, writing. All we did seemed to benefit from and reflect our life there. In fact, I included a description of Sweetwater Farm on my marketing materials and in my introduction to groups and, of course, the annual Christmas letter always included accounts of the current animals and views from our windows.

Once we moved to Madison the identity lived on, but was not always well-received. Last fall I offered a workshop at an end of life conference here and was criticized on the evaluation form because I had mentioned we were trying to sell our Ohio farm. Was anyone interested? The person felt I was marketing it and that was not appropriate in that setting. I just thought I was sharing who I am--the farm as identity. I felt the sting.

So now what? We have indeed sold the farm, and no one in our new life here has ever been to Sweetwater Farm and knows us as its stewards. Yes, we love our new home, for we are people who create home wherever we are. Home is where we give our time, attention and money, and this home already illustrates that. We tend to choose unique homes and settings and "The Muir Manse," named for our street, (See, we've already conceived an identity!) is no exception, for it is located in an interesting New Urbanism development, created by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. However, I don't think this house will be our identity in the way Sweetwater Farm was. If not the house, then what?

I think I have a fairly clear notion of who I am, although I keep polishing, honing, clarifying, trying to live to that promise, and attempting to uncover my essence. What is unclear to me, however, is what will define my time and attention and energy here. What will be my call here? I don't want to give the impression I am doing nothing with my time. I love the writing group and the book discussion class I attend, as well as being a volunteer at the arboretum's bookstore. I am even enjoying being part of a program dedicated to creating a healthier lifestyle. I have taught a labyrinth workshop for a cancer support center and look forward to working there more in the future, and I am starting a spirituality group for women of my age. Plus, there are always the half-written books lurking in my office. And the grandchildren only 4 hours away. I fill my time, but I don't have a theme yet.

Perhaps my new identity will look like a patchwork quilt. Bits and pieces all put together in a new pattern. I guess I am just surprised to be in this position. Who knew at age 61 I would be in the midst of another identity crisis. How many have there been in these 6 decades and, I wonder, how many more will there be? Stay tuned.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Homeless in Ohio

Nope, I have not abandoned my blog. Instead, I have been enjoying a summer with lots of company and a bit of travel. When reservations began to come into our unofficial B and B, I told myself to just enjoy these treasured times with friends and family and not torture myself about gaps (Big Gaps) in my writing. My father is known for saying "Your day will come." Well, the day to return to writing has come. I hope you are still with me.

This summer has brought a long awaited change. A couple weeks ago we became Homeless In Ohio, a phrase my husband proclaims with delight. After almost two years we sold our home/farm, Sweetwater Farm, and we are now delighted to be the holders of one mortgage only.

The Story: Early in July we were in Ohio to visit our son and daughter-in-love and also to check on the house. We have been extremely fortunate to have a wonderful caretaker for the house and property, but nonetheless we were not looking forward to seeing the empty house and abandoned gardens. I felt myself dreading the return. We did not doubt our decision to move to Wisconsin, but our happy years at Sweetwater Farm had taken a back seat to the stress of owning two homes. The last few months Bruce had suggested that perhaps, in fact, we would not sell it, and Sweetwater Farm would become our second home. I resisted that idea, not wanting to think about that possibility. That notion felt like moving backwards in time.

Well, as we drove up the driveway, I began to feel my heart lift, even soar, almost taking off on its own when I walked into the house. All the love I felt for that home and our life there overwhelmed me as I walked through the now empty house. I had worried seeing it empty would be depressing and that it would look shabby or tired to me, but instead I saw its light and charm and in some ways it looked even better in its spacious emptiness than when full of our belongings.

Being there lifted my spirit because I felt once again the spirit of that place. I no longer feared owning it for a long time. In fact, I could now envision having it as our second home, spending chunks of time there, and I LOVED that image of the future. I remembered with an open heart all the love in that place and how that place nurtured all who entered. I replaced the fear with love.

Two days later we got a serious offer which, after some back and forth, we accepted. Who knows if that shift in perspective was the gravitational pull that caused the heavens to open and to move the offer, but I felt an opening of my heart and I felt changed. I had been so sure that what I needed to do during those many months of waiting was to let go. I actually thought I had done a good job of that. In reality, there was an additional step. I needed to love what was in front of me--not just accept the given situation, but LOVE it. That kind of re-attachment brought me new freedom, and I truly was able to let go and let it all be as it was and was going to be.

Now I think of the new owners and pray their days will be full of joy and blessing in their new home. For a brief moment in time we had the privilege of being stewards for Sweetwater Farm. Now it is time for someone else.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spiritual Stretching

I was a karate Mom. For several years my young son studied karate. Several times a week during those years I sat through those classes -- children and adults of all ages learning the moves, the steps, the choreography. The movements were quick, strong, energetic, but also, graceful, even meditative. I appreciated how these students and instructors were using their bodies, but it never occurred to me to become a karate student myself. I would be too embarrassed. My body wouldn't work that way. I would need to lose x number of pounds first. But the images of those bodies, all shapes, all sizes, all ages, in rhythmic motion was filed away.
Several years later after moving to a different state, I was walking through our peaceful old neighborhood with its dignified homes and mature, even majestic trees, and I was surprised to see a group of 25-30 people in a park. They were moving gently in sync with each other. They massaged their foreheads, gently shook their legs, bent slowly and held animal-like poses. They were practicing T'ai Chi, and I was intrigued.
In my typical style I approached this glimmer of interest as an assignment and, in fact, decided to write about it in a column I wrote for a community magazine. I interviewed the instructor, observed classes, and talked with participants. The instructor invited me to try the moves myself, experience the class directly, but I was too inhibited and felt I needed to know more before trying it myself. I toyed with the idea of taking the class, but the schedule wasn't a good fit, so once again I filed the interest away.

And then I got a catalogue from a holistic center where T'ai Chi was being offered. The time was convenient, but did I dare? Could I really learn this? So much of my life in recent years had been about stretching, pushing through my tidy envelope, saying to God, "OK, I'm jumping." The move to Ohio was a stretch- a total trusting that this was the right decision. This would just be one more stretch, I thought, as I wrote a check for the class. That was September, 1996.

For many years I participated in that Friday morning circle. We practiced meditation in motion. I learned the moves, much to my amazement, but more than that I learned about how the body is connected to my mind and my spirit. How the body informs my spirit and how I can deepen my relationship with God through the use of my body. And one day I was asked to stretch even more and trade in my participant role for a teaching role. I went on to teach classes myself in a variety of places and with a variety of groups, including cancer patients and their loved ones . Such a privilege.

T'ai Chi became one of my key spiritual practices; a way of expressing, "Here I am God." My way of opening to the Holy. As I breathe out, I empty, release, surrender. As I breathe in, I receive the breath of God. I ask to be filled. T'ai Chi reminds me to dance, to play, to bounce, to follow the energy. To feel the spirit. Through T'ai Chi I express gratitude, joy, and love. T'ai Chi is a way for me to allow the body to move my soul toward God.

Recently, I learned about a T'ai Chi group who meets not too far from where I now live and who practice the style I learned. Once again I found myself hesitating as I had done all those years ago. I have not practiced T'ai Chi for quite sometime. Would I remember anything? Besides, the style has evolved and would I be able to learn the changes? Would they welcome a new member? I guess I have learned something, for I took a deep breath and stretched myself into this new challenge, this new opportunity. As I entered this new circle, I could feel one more piece of the puzzle in my life in this new place slipping into place. Ah, let the dance continue.
Photo credit: Joan Litzow, 2005

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Crane Came To Visit Today

When I was a freshman in college, decades ago, the professor of my biology class, which I took to fulfill the science requirement, asked me my major. "English," I said, and he replied, "Good." I not only got the message, I agreed with him. I did pass the class, but then grateful I never needed to take another science class again, I immersed myself in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald. I read poetry about skylarks and daffodils and mighty oaks, but could I recognize them? Did I really see them? Not so much.

In our years of living on our Ohio country property, however, I began making up for that lack in my education and developed an interest in flora and fauna and all things that flew. As I walked to the garage, I would glance over towards the barn to see if the Great Blue Heron was in the pond. Would I see the awkward lift-off and escape? I started noticing football-shaped red-tail hawks as I drove country roads or even along interstates on my frequent Ohio to Minnesota sojourns. In spring I welcomed the return of red-winged blackbirds and barn swallows, and in the winter I kept track of all the birds at the feeder outside my office window. The blue jays came first thing in the morning and then all other hungry feathered friends felt free to follow.

Soon I began accumulating guidebooks and other books about nature and the seasons and even went on guided bird walks hoping to appear somewhat practiced, even though I still felt awkward with my binoculars. Is birdwatching one of those signs of aging? I don't know, but I know I thrill when I identify a bird as something other than a robin, jay, cardinal or sparrow. I have much to learn, but I feel myself making room for a new passion. I feel "what I know" expanding. I am stretching, living the label of life-long learner.

Recently, I became a volunteer at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. No, I am not a guide--no one would learn much going on a nature walk with me. Instead I work in the --you guessed it--the bookstore. I am, in fact, one of their best customers. Watch my pile of books grow! Along with learning the stock and finding books for customers, I expand my knowledge base when I ask customers what they saw on their walk or when one of the naturalists stops in and shares information. "We have 300 kinds of lilacs and 150 varieties of crabapple trees in our gardens." A young woman, taking a break from studying for her university finals, reported excitedly that she had seen a scarlet tanager. "Think black-winged redbird." Who wouldn't smile at that!

The other day I was alone in the store and was engrossed in a book called Teaching the Trees, Lessons from the Forest by Joan Maloof. In an essay called "Tree Hugger" I read these words: "My students are not used to hearing someone speak with such tenderness, with such fiercely protective words, about the nonhuman things of this world. It makes them a bit uncomfortable; they wiggle in their seats. I know that each of them really longs to find something to care about deeply. But they are still wondering, waiting for the thing that will claim them, like this living world has so obviously claimed me, their teacher. I cannot teach them their place, define their passion. I can only assure them that they do have one."

Probably more than one. Hopefully, new passions will be discovered, as time goes one. That's the way I feel about this new learning I am doing. And as if to reward this thought, I heard a knocking on the office door. I went out into the hallway to see who was there. A sandhill crane was knocking on the glass of the door with her beak. I laughed out-loud, so amazed to see this bonus of my new life in Wisconsin, this symbol of new learning and new passion right outside the door.

Is there room in your life for a new passion? What new learning, new growth are you opening yourself to? Where are the spaces in your education and are they calling you now? I invite you to listen for the knocking of a crane in your life.

Note: The painting of the crane was done by a friend who, retired from teaching, has discovered a passion for painting. Contact her at mlawton@charter.net

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Take Your Soul for a Walk: Labyrinth Experiences

The labyrinth is an ancient meditation tool, dating back to at least 2500 B.C. Unlike a maze, which is meant to confuse, the labyrinth is a single path, which always leads to the center. There are no tricks and no shortcuts. No forks in the road. As long as you persist, you will reach your destination, the center, although there may be surprises along the way.

As a spiritual tool, the labyrinth can be a path to prayer, meditation in motion, a soothing place to ease the anxious mind, and a container for reflection and creative problem-solving. As you walk, your mind quiets, breath slows, time stretches out, insights or new energy or peace emerges. The intentional activity of following a labyrinth path gives an opportunity for a heart-to heart talk with your body and with your spirit.

This is the description I wrote this morning for a labyrinth workshop I'll be facilitating for the Madison Gilda's Club in July. Gilda's Club is an organization that provides support and services for those touched by cancer. I've facilitated many labyrinth experiences over the years and walked labyrinths many times in a variety of locations, and each experience reminds me that all meaningful spiritual work begins with coming back to the body and becoming grounded. Walking a labyrinth is an incarnational experience.

One aspect of incarnation or embodiment is meeting God, the Ground of Being, in myself and in my experience. I bring myself and my experience to a labyrinth, a being full of questions and fears and hopes. I am on a quest to get to the center and the clarity I hope I will find there. The questions vary, but are always some form of "What's next?" "When?" "Where?" "Who?" and I confess, "Why?" Now the labyrinth is not a Ouija board, but in the intentional slowing down, feeling each step, becoming aware of where I am on the path, allowing myself to settle into the pilgrimage, I open to the wisdom I know is within. The gifts from such times have included the permission to rest, the recognition of my steadfastness, the opening to uncertainty, and the shadow and light of ambiguity. Sometimes there has been a "go forth," and I have known just what I need to do. Other times I have felt myself breathe a bit more steadily and that has been enough for that moment.

I have sat on the sidelines, my hands on my knees, palms up, holding the space for all who walk. I have watched tears form. I have seen steps falter and the steadiness return. I have seen pain in tight shoulders relax. I have seen light descend and wrap itself where there had been darkness. I have seen rejoicing and embracing. I have not known what has been in the hearts of those on the path, but I recognize God in them, as I hope they have known God in my presence.

The labyrinth is a spiritual tool I have turned to often over the years, for even if I have left the labyrinth not feeling any change, any movement, I know the sacred has been at work within me and around me and I have taken steps to become more of who I was created to be.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Two Stories, Many Lessons

We thought we were just taking a road trip. We thought we were just going to a couple garden nurseries--for inspiration along with plants for the garden at our new home --a garden in need of renovation after neglect and lack of interest on the part of the previous owners. Well, along with a trunkful of plants, we brought a heartful of lessons home with us.

The First Story. While browsing through a garden store chockful of unnecessary, but lovely embellishments for home and garden, we heard a woman say how burying a statue of St Joseph is supposed to help you sell your home. We both chuckled and said at the same time, "It doesn't work," and we engaged in a conversation with a couple about our age who have two properties to sell, both of which have been on the market for a year plus. In the meantime they have moved into their new home. We shared our similar situation, except they had just received their first offer ---$150,000 below the asking price. I asked the woman if they countered $10,000 less than the asking price just to get the ball rolling and see if the interest was real. She cut me off and said how insulting the offer was and how they told their realtor they were not interested. Etc. Her anger and bitterness was tangible. However, at the same time I found myself engaging in the usual distressing conversation about the economy and the state of the world and our poor timing.

As we spoke, I realized that I have worked through some of the issues she talked about, especially the awareness that our unsold home is not a personal statement against me. Our farm in Ohio no longer belongs to us even though we still pay its mortgage and make sure it is receiving ongoing, basic care. I welcome the idea of someone coming in and making changes and making it their own just as we did. This woman was not at that place yet, and I felt her sense of entitlement. Someone owes her, it seems, for her love of her former home.

Only later did I think about how I was so easily sucked into the "poor me, poor us" conversation. I entered into the anger and bitterness with my own force. I reinforced what she was saying. I chose casual interaction over my own integrity. At least I didn't offer the well-meaning platitudes, "It only takes one,"or "It will happen." I wish I had a quarter for every time I have heard those statements!

What I failed to do was to be a presence for her. What I failed to do was to step back and receive her pain. What I failed to do was be empathic only, saying "I am sorry," and wishing them luck.
What I failed to do was breathe gently from my heart. Guess I haven't progressed as much as I thought. More work to do.

The Second Story. At the next stop, a nursery where the plants were so neat and clean you could eat off them, we conversed with another woman who has been caught in the difficulties of these economic times. Her husband lost his construction business, letting go 30 employees, and now their house is in foreclosure. This all after their house had been flooded the year before. She told us this without bitterness, and I commented on her "good attitude." Her response was how the winter had been dark, but she knew she had to work through those feelings in order to come out on the other side. She also said that even though right now they were beginning to feel excited about future plans and to see this time as an adventure, she knows there will be more dark days, down days ahead, but that it is crucial to keep doing the work. Her husband says, "Life is a workshop."

My first inner response was to feel how much worse her situation was than ours and in that way to dismiss my own feelings of sadness and even occasional despair, but I reminded myself about conversations with participants in cancer groups I facilitated over the years. Each person's situation is her own. Each person's feelings are his own and need to be understood and confronted and responded to regardless of what anyone else is experiencing. That is not to say it is ok to wallow in what we each experience, and there is often just as much temptation to do that as there is to dismiss it. It is always important to be empathic and be with someone in their specific pain, but that doesn't deny one's own pain, except for a minute or two.

My other major lesson of the day was the reminder that we each need to do our own work-often over and over again. One of my core beliefs is that we have each been given certain work to do; work that may come through a variety of prompts during our lifetime. Sometimes I feel I have done the work and then another opportunity to do more work comes marching down the street. A drum beats, "Do it better, harder, deeper." If we don't do the work in this lifetime, it will be waiting for us in the next. Most days I choose to do it now.

How nice it would be to end this post by saying that on our way home we got a call from our realtor saying there was a good offer on our home and we can live happily ever after, but that did not happen--yet. Today I will write mortgage checks for both our homes and as I do that, I will offer a prayer of gratitude for the ability to do that, and I will also offer light blessings to each woman who delivered such powerful lessons.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Blessing for The Pilgrimage of Your Day

I never know where my morning writing will take me. This morning while writing about hospices as places of hospitality I decided I needed to know a bit more about how ancient monasteries offered respite and care to pilgrimages. I started by looking at a book about a modern day pilgrimage, Joyce Rupp's Walk in a Relaxed Manner, Life Lessons from the Camino. She starts the book with a wonderful blessing for the journey by Macrina Wiederkehr. We are each on a journey every day of our lives, and some days have the feeling of pilgrimage. May this blessing be of service to you wherever your path takes you today.

May flowers spring up where your feet touch the earth.
May the feet that walked before you bless your every step.
May the weather that's important be the weather of your heart.
May all your intentions find their way into the heart of God.
May your prayers be like flowers strewn from other pilgrims.
May your heart find meaning in unexpected events.
May friends who are praying for you carry you along the way.
May friends who are praying for you be carried in your heart.
May the circle of life encircle you along the way.
May the broken world ride on your shoulders.
May you carry your joy and your grief in the backpack of your soul.
May you remember all the circles of prayer throughout the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Muddled on an April Morning

I awake muddled, muddy on this April morning. In fact, it just took me three tries to spell the word "muddled" correctly and what does muddled mean anyway? Well, to me it means feeling a lack of clarity, feeling unsure, a bit torn, overwhelmed, de-energized, and even apprehensive and anxious. Furthermore, I am uncertain about the origin of each of these feelings and even less clear about solutions. So the sorting begins.

First, I will blame April itself. In some ways April is the cruelest month, for the weather is fickle. One day I am sitting on the front porch, sweaterless, book in my lap, chatting with my husband while he is planting pansies. The next day I am turning up the heat and digging for gloves before I leave the house. I see snowflakes and wish I didn't have to leave the house at all. April is also the month of my birthday, the anniversary of my Mother's death, and taxes--each with its own set of heightened emotions.

Perhaps the feeling comes from impatience with waiting. We continue to wait for our 1802 farmhouse in Ohio to sell. It has now been on the market a year and a half, and I yearn to have both feet firmly planted in Wisconsin. Except for the day I write two mortgage checks (I am deeply grateful to be able to do that, by the way.), I think little about this situation and know we have done what we can and that our realtor is doing what she can. But springtime is supposed to be the time when houses sell and we keep hearing that the market is loosening up a bit so where is our buyer? I feel irritation when someone who looks at the house says it is too old. Well, what did you think when you saw 200+ years old on the listing sheet? Or the person who wants a more open concept, which is not exactly the norm for an old house. I also continue to wait for a response from the literary agent who requested my material after reading my query letter about my book of essays on grief and loss. That was 6 weeks ago. What is proper etiquette? Do I send a "Remember me?" email? Do I submit to another agent? This is a mysterious and quirky process, and I am weary of waiting. And I wait for some good news from our son about his job-hunting process. My heart is heavy for him. Waiting for the appearance of warm temperatures and tulips is much easier.

Perhaps the feeling comes from the Hospitality Cycle we've been in the last several weeks. Lots of houseguests. Lots of menu-planning, sheet-changing, towel washing, table-setting, tour-giving. Truly, there are NO regrets. I repeat, that firmly and loudly for those of you who have been our guests or will soon be our guests. No REGRETS, for along with opening our door, we have opened our hearts. We have laughed. We have shared memories and stories and thoughts. We have added to the love in this house, but preparation and the aftermath have created an imbalance with little time or energy for the other chunks of life.

Perhaps the feeling comes from the blank page. I am beginning to write the first draft of an essay on the spirit of hospice and I am always twitchy, itchy in this stage. I love the gathering and percolating stage and I love the tweaking, editing stage as well and find it hard to let go of either stage. It is the first draft that drives me to clean drawers and buy birthday cards for October and research writer's retreats on the Internet and yes, even write a posting for this blog.

I suspect this muddled feeling is a mixed bouquet of all these feelings and, of course, I know what to do when I feel mired in whininess. I sit quietly and I write. I sit quietly and breathe and meditate. That's is exactly what I have been doing and now I will move into the rest of the day. May this be a day of clarity and calm for you. (Image is "The Beginning of Summer" by Deborah DeWitt Marchant)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


During my early morning researching for an essay I am writing on the spirit of hospice, I found inspirational words by Christine Longaker in her book Facing Death and Finding Hope, A Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care of the Dying. Both are in a chapter on caretaking as spiritual practice.

The first is a prayer:
May everything I do today be beneficial. Through remembering my spiritual practice throughout the day, may I gain more confidence in the wisdom and compassion of my true nature. And through this realization, may every contact I have with others bring us both benefit, relieving suffering, bringing healing and happiness, and furthering us along the path to freedom. May kindness and wisdom increase in the world, and through my efforts today, may I contribute to the betterment of life for all.

The second is a list of ways to integrate your spiritual practice into your daily activities.

On waking, reflect with gratitude on the kindness you have received.
Instead of gossiping, speak well of other people.
Instead of cursing someone, send them your blessing.
When walking, consider you are walking toward the truth.
When preparing to eat, reflect with gratitude on all those whose sacrifice brought you the food; then mentally offer your meal and your enjoyment of it to all enlightened beings.
When cleaning, imagine you are cleaning your negative habits.
When putting on clean clothes, or receiving something new, offer your enjoyment.
When you see someone happy, rejoice with them.
When you see someone suffering, instead of turning away in fear, turn toward them in love, and give what you can in that moment.

Love and Light Blessings

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Winter Trees

I've always loved the bones of trees in the winter; the skeletons. The ability to see how a tree is made and how it reaches; its spread and girth and width. The bones, the basics, the dark against the grey sky. The shadows cast, the possibilities, the past, present, and the imagined future.

For years I walked the same route, no matter the season, and it was in winter that the changes over the year were most apparent to me. Where a huge branch had been struck down by lightening or age. Where undergrowth was more its own. Where nests were left vulnerable to driving snow, sleet, rain. Where time had taken its toll.

The first winter of my walks there I noticed trunks with door-sized holes and wondered if I had peered inside would I find Peter Pan and the Lost Boys or a bear in hibernation? I noticed stumps large enough for picnics in the coming summer. I wondered about lone leaves stubbornly clinging to an otherwise bare branch. What is it holding on to? Why won't it let go?

If I were a painter, winter trees would be my subject. From a distance I would paint the colony, the community of trees in their nakedness, like being at a nude beach. Up close I would paint every line and blemish and wrinkle and wart and age spot and acne scar.

I've always said I have earned my wrinkles and feel an affinity for trees in that respect. They have lived through many seasons, many years, known draught and deluge, the coldness of abandonment and neglect and the pressing heat of passion too close for comfort. They've earned their wrinkles. I love the starkness, the lack of pretense, the startling beauty of trees in winter. The way they seem to say, "Look at me. This is who I am." I welcome the life, the new, young hopeful life of spring, especially this year as we experience our first spring in this house, but on this cold April morning I honor the season of winter trees. A winter tree looks either older than its years or younger than time and that is just the way I feel. I am a winter tree. (Note: the painting is "Aspen Trees" by Ann Doody, an artist based in both Madison, WI and Aspen, CO)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Grazing and Gathering

I'm in the"gathering" stage of writing an essay about the spirit of hospice for a book of photographic portraits. During these times of grazing and gathering, I flood myself with ideas and the words and thoughts of others by roaming through my bookshelves, checking indexes and table of contents of my books. I note what resonates. I jot down ideas for this project and other projects, some not even imagined until this very moment. I love this stage of writing, and it is always tempting to stay right here for there is always another book to open. I trust the process, however, because at some magical, mysterious point I know it is time to turn the wandering into writing. Blank sheets of paper and an empty computer screen eventually become compelling.

This morning I did more than skim the books in front of me. Instead I leaned back in my desk chair, tucked the quilt more tightly around my legs and wrapped my shawl more securely around my shoulders and read a book that has been on my shelf for sometime, The Tao of Dying, A Guide to Caring by Doug Smith. Along with many quotes and ideas appropriate for my current essay, I read the following:
Time is established.
It cannot be altered.
A year will always be a year.
A person's last year cannot be lengthened
or shortened.
A month will always be a month.
A person's last month cannot be lengthened
or shortened.
An hour will always be an hour.
A person's last hour cannot be lengthened
or shortened.

Do not reach forward.
Do not reach back.
Do not push.
Do not pull.
Be settled where you already are.

These are good words for the "sacred sixties," it seems to me.

So I return to the grazing and the gathering time, knowing that it will take whatever time it will take. I have whatever time I have. And soon, perhaps in a few minutes, my sweet six year old granddaughter, who is spending her spring break with us, will emerge from her bed and come into my office and say, "Hi GrandNan," and we will move into our time of play and companionship, loving and living whatever time we have. I am so lucky.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Writing Wake-Up Call

My alarm clock goes off these days at 5:00 am. I put on my bathrobe, make the bed, so I can't crawl back in, and I head to my office in the lower level of the house. I turn on one desk lamp, light a candle, wrap a quilt around my legs, take three deep breaths and whisper a prayer of gratitude for the night's rest and a prayer of hope for an open heart as I move through the day and then I begin to write.

Last weekend I attended a writing conference, Awakening the Soul of the Writer, at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, WI. About two minutes into the opening presentation by a former Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Ellen Kort, I wrote a note to myself, "When was my most productive time as a writer? When I was getting up at 5 and writing for two hours. Time to start doing that again." When that first thing in the morning writing time was the norm, I wrote the 11 essays that are the core of my as yet unpublished book, Tears, The Spiritual Invitations of Grief and Loss. During that period sometimes I returned to my writing later in the day, but no matter what else was on the day's schedule; no matter what else pulled me away from my desk, I already had done two hours of writing time in the quiet of the day's beginnings.

I have been to many writing conferences, workshops, and retreats over the years and have even been a presenter at a good number of them, and I am always stimulated and inspired by them, but most often the fruits have been short-lived. By the time I get home, put away the pile of books I bought at the conference book store, filed my notes, emptied my suitcase and started the laundry, the good energy and positive thoughts have dissipated. Obviously, sometimes what I experience at a conference is integrated in ways not always visible, and I in no way regret attending any of these conferences over the years, and I will attend others. This time, however, the fruit of the conference was sampled before I even got home. I set the clock in my hotel room for 5:00 and when it went off the next morning, I got up and wrote. True, the two hours were not very productive, but my goal was to re-establish a beneficial habit. Since coming home I have continued the practice every morning, and the time has been so productive that yesterday I finished revising an essay and submitted it to Presence, the journal for Spiritual Directors International.

I could berate myself for all the mornings I have not gotten up to write; all the days when no writing occurred, even when I intended to write. But giving into regrets is not writing, any more than sleeping is writing. Writing is writing. Other activities may support the writing, enhance the writing, and inspire the writing, but they are not writing. Writing is writing.

So for now I am getting up at 5:00. I have a house guest for a few days and April is full of travel and more house guests. The days and nights will be full, and I look forward to each day, but the alarm clock is still going to go off at 5. Kathleen Norris, author of Acedia and Me, Amazing Grace, The Cloister Walk and other books, was the conference keynoter and she said, "You only need to do it today. Then when tomorrow is today, you only need to do it today." This morning I almost did not turn on the light when the alarm went off, but I told myself, "I only need to do this today." Norris also quoted G. K. Chesterton, "God says, 'Do it again,' to the sun. 'Do it again,' to the moon." God has never gotten bored with creation and the act of creating. "Ok, Nancy," I say to myself, "Do it again."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reading as Sacred Time

One of my favorite pictures from my childhood is one in which I am sitting with my mother and father and they are reading to me. I was probably three or four. Then when I became a parent, one of the best parts of the day was reading time. Once when we were on a family vacation I was reading to us in the car and when we came to the end of the sad story, my husband had to pull over to the side of the road because we were all in tears. Now there is reading time with my grandchildren. In fact, the day before our grandson was going to be born, my granddaughter and I cuddled on her bed all afternoon and read together. With each book she removed from the shelf she said, "This is my favorite." Sacred times.
Books have always been sacred objects for me. Reading time is sacred time. The places where I read are sacred, as well.
Sometimes, however, it is all overwhelming. The piles of books that await. The lists of books that call. The books about books, such as 1000 Books to Change Your Life (Time-Out Guides, Ltd.) or the article in the new issue of MentalFloss, "The 25 Most Influential Books of the Last 25 Years" suggest book after book after book to read.
In recent years I have had a harder time making a decision about what to read next. The decision seems more important these days, for fewer reading years are ahead of me than behind me. Therefore, each choice means the elimination of many, many other possibilities. There simply won't be enough life-time to read all the books I want to read. In years past if the book I was reading wasn't as good as anticipated, I would continue to read to the ending. Not finish a book? Unthinkable. I am now a "quitter." If I do not become engaged early in the reading, even if I have purchased the book, "slap" goes the cover, and I turn to the pile of books next to my reading chair in the dining room or the shelves of books in my office or the living room or our bedroom--all luring me. "Choose me. Choose me." The decision time begins all over again.

I tend to assemble a "Book Buffet," meaning I read several books at the same time. Well, not at the same time, but you know what I mean! Currently, in my morning meditation time I read the day's meditation in The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo plus a chapter each in Loving-Kindness, The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzburg and A New Christianity For a New World, Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born by John Shelby Spong. With this kind of material how easy it would be to just stay in bed and read all day.

Last night I finished reading American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, the novel based on the lives of Laura and George W. Bush, an engrossing read. Because I always read before turning out the light, I needed to select a new book. I have a library book waiting for me, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, one of the New York Times best books of 2008, but I decided instead to take one of my "dip" books to bed with me. "Dip" books are ones in which I can read a chapter or selection out of order or as I feel inclined. My current "dip"books are Let There Be Night, Testimony on Behalf of the Dark edited by Paul Bogard, A Jury of Her Peers, American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter, and Small Wonder, Essays by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver won.

In addition, I usually have both a novel and a nonfiction book going at the same time, and I am at a point of decision in the nonfiction world, too. Will it be SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck (Maybe this will help me with the book selection process.), The Birds of Heaven, Travels with Cranes by Peter Matthiessen in preparation for doing some volunteer work with the International Crane Foundation or Things I've Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi? Stay Tuned. Before I begin to write, including a post for this blog, I read a bit in one of my writing books. Today I read a few pages of Old Friend from Far Away, The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg.

Is this true for you? I am more inclined to read favorite books again than I was when I was younger. I seem to have given into the knowledge that I will never taste all the books that interest and appeal to me, so why not settle in with an old favorite? Also, I no longer feel compelled to read a book because someone in my life recommends it. Tell me about it, please, and why you loved it and share your enthusiasm. I love book talk, but it may or may not appear in my Book Buffet. Oh, and one last observation about reading in the sacred sixties, I am reading more and watching less television. True, often HGTV draws me in or watching a movie appeals, but more and more the book in hand as well as the one in the bush wins. I am sure you know what I will be doing next. Enjoying sacred time with a book.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Moving into Silence

Lately, I've noticed a tendency in myself to be silent. I notice the times when in the past I would have lifted my voice, cast my vote, begged to disagree, affirmed, explained, expounded, taken center stage and maybe even pounded the table or waved a fist, at least metaphorically. I've noticed a decrease in the times I've felt a need to make myself and my opinion and my experience known. There have been fewer times I've said, "Oh, I read that, too." or "I saw that movie, and I think...." or "I've been there. Did you see...?" I focus less on when it is my turn to speak, to prove my worth, to make myself visible, to teach and direct.

Instead, I move into silence.

I wonder if this is a sign of age, a new stage of age. My father, age 85, for the last year or so has stated softly, but firmly that he prefers more and more to be home. He is content for the most part to be alone in his routine. He is not bored or depressed, but his needs for interaction, for society, for external stimulation are less. I've always valued winter as a time of hibernation, and I see that cave time becoming a priority for my father. He seems to be slowing down the rhythm of his days and his body and moving into a more prolonged hibernation. I see those signs in myself as well.

In the past I've said I want my crone years, whatever time period that represents, to be about expanding, about opening even more, and yet, here I am becoming still, a statue in the park, an ice sculpture in a grey, below zero day, a presence in the corner of the room. No, I'm not asleep nor even dozing, but I am still, silent. I am opening and expanding in silent ways. So little feels truly light enough or deep enough to need my voice. I am turning over that job to someone else and allowing myself to finally integrate the words I have been saying, but not always practicing. The outloud words are giving way to the silent spaces. The voice identified as mine is lowering itself into a deeper register.

However, I have no wish to be one of those old people who suddenly clears her throat and makes a pronouncement. "She doesn't speak often, but when she does, you better pay attention," says a grandchild or younger friend or a person in the back row.

No, I just know it is time to be silent, to not get in the way of what it is I am to know and to be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Finding a Theme

One never knows where one will find wisdom. Most recently I found it in a home decor magazine in an article about cleaning closets and shedding stuff.

You Need A Theme
The reality is, no one lets go in a vacuum--no one lets go of anything
without reaching for something else. But if you don't know what you're reaching
for, you won't let go. The solution is to come up with a theme. Take the
pressure off yourself. Stop trying to figure out exactly what you're going to do
next. Instead, define what the next chapter in your life is going to feel like.
What part of you do you want to express? Freedom? Creativity? Intimacy?
Serenity? Balance? That's your theme. When you get the right word--the right
theme--it mobilizes you to move forward. It gives you something exciting to
create space for. (Julie Morgenstern)

Ever since moving to Wisconsin I have been wondering what I am to do here. What's next on my agenda? When we moved to Ohio in 1994 I was eager to explore new options, do things I had not done before. I left a stimulating, challenging position in public relations for a seminary and decided not to look for a similar job. Eventually, I trained as a spiritual director, opened a private practice and led retreats and facilitated groups on topics related to spirituality. I loved finding a new career, answering a new call. With this recent move I first thought I needed to do something new again. Isn't that part of what a move is all about? After some reflection, however, I thought about bringing what I have done and who I am into this place, this time. How could I use the skills and the knowledge I had developed over the last years in a new setting? With that idea in mind I have investigated some possibilities, but I have not found the right match. I've tested a few things, but have not felt the passion to pursue them. This has been challenging, especially when I am asked "What are you doing these days?"

This "What's next?"conversation is not confined to those who have moved to a new community, but it is also a common conversation among people who have retired recently or are considering retirement. There seems to be pressure to have a fill-in the blank answer. "I am going to_______. I've always wanted to_________. The problem is not a lack of interests or opportunities or support. The "What next?" question is so much bigger than those categories. I think Morgenstern has given an avenue for serious reflection and one worth a number of early morning journal entries. What is to be my theme for the next chapter? Stay tuned.

Oh, and in the meantime a friend mentioning that it may be the right time to retire gave me an idea about what I might do. I have always loved leading groups. One of the things I miss most about my Ohio life is the women's spirituality group I led. What about starting a group for women who are newly or about to be retired? A group that would look at the issues of this time, offer support, explore strategies, and provide a safe and spiritual context for reflection. Interested?

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Inventory of Comfort

"As adults, we still suffer from a lack of soothing." Yes, yes," I thought as I read this during my morning meditation yesterday in a book that takes my breath away on almost every page, Healing Through the Dark Emotions, The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair by Miriam Greenspan. I could easily think about all the times when I needed to be soothed and comforted, when a lingering hug would have made a huge difference, but then just as easily I thought about times when I have failed to soothe and comfort another. Times when I wasn't even aware giving comfort would have made a difference. Or times when I tried to offer solutions, instead of offering a listening ear and cooing softly, "I know, I know. I am so sorry." I ached with that recognition.

Greenspan continues: "Given the state of the world and its everyday assaults and stressors (including the speed at which we in the West are now living and the overwhelming inundation of information we have to contend with, as well as the everyday violence of the culture), we could all stand to be rocked like babies every day! But even if you've got someone to do this for you, it's important to be able to soothe yourself."

Easily, happily a wave of my comforts swept over and through me.

Writing at my desk with a candle lit and soft music playing.

Holding my husband's hand as we cross a busy street.

Tossing a shawl over my shoulders on a blustery day.

Opening a new book, a new journal.

Easing into morning meditation time.

Preparing a meal I know will be enjoyed--the chopping and stirring and simmering and smelling and waiting.

Seeing the light on in our living room as I approach the house after an afternoon walk.

Thinking about our grandchildren--being with them is certainly better, of course. The smiles, the laughs, the morning cuddles in bed, the reading before bedtime, the seeing the world through uncensored eyes.

Watching the birds at our feeder and spotting red-tail hawks as I drive long distances.

Hearing my husband come in the door in the evening.

Practicing T'ai Chi, meditating in motion.

Noticing my mother's ring on my finger and pausing to feel her ongoing presence in my life.

Spending time with dear friends, doing what we do best --antiquing, shopping, discussing books and sharing thoughts about this time of our life.

Noticing how our children are now more receivers of our friendship than of our parenting.

Finding the National Public Radio station when I am away from home.

Looking out our bedroom window every morning, catching the first glimpse of the day.

Decorating our home for holidays and the changing of seasons, especially fall when I indulge my love of pumpkins, all kinds.

Learning something new or deepening, broadening what I already know. Do you want to know what I learned at a lecture at the arboretum about wild turkeys yesterday? Ok, too bad.




These are more than pleasures, although experiencing each of these does bring pleasure. These are ways of soothing my supposedly misread ego or my tired, weary heart; ways of turning loneliness into satisfying solitude of soulful connection. I'll add one more thing, before I leave you to compose your own list, composing this inventory of comfort has comforted me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sacred Mondays

The list for the morning was clear when I awoke: Pray, read and meditate. Do the laundry dance. Clean the master bedroom and bathroom and vacuum the second floor hallway. Clean-out the refrigerator and make a grocery list followed by doing the grocery shopping and unpacking the groceries once home again. Fold clothes, put away, and iron. Cinderella's list? Not in my book, for I love to hometend and in the hometending I encounter the sacred. I pray my way through these homey tasks.

My first prayer is one of gratitude. Thank you, loving Creator, for this life; the luxury of living according to my own schedule and desires. And my prayers go on from there, beginning with the laundry. As I load the washing machine, I think about the blessings of the recent days. I see a Valentine handkerchief I tucked in my pocket on Saturday and remember the friend who gave it to me. Thank you for the gift of friendship in my life. I toss my husband's exercise clothes into the washer and am grateful he takes care of himself in this healthy way. I change the sheets on our bed, smoothing and tucking and folding and as I layer blankets and spread and pillows, I think about the rhythm of our days, morning to night to morning to night and on and on. I do nothing to make that happen. It just is. I clean our bathroom--not my favorite task, for sure, but I love the light in this room and the view over the rooftops of our neighborhood. I send blessings to all the households in my sight. I hang fresh towels and think about the first time I did that in this house after a year of being in transition, and I am overwhelmed with amazement and gratitude for being able to live here. I vacuum the hallway, peeking in at guest rooms and think about those who have visited and those who will soon be coming and I send them prayers of hope that they may receive whatever it is they need today.

The whole grocery routine follows and here is where it falls apart for me a bit. My least favorite part of the whole process is lugging in the bags of groceries when I get home and then unpacking them. I often tease the bagger and ask if she is coming home with me to unpack, since she does such a good job packing my purchases and often the response is, "Wish I could." Bless your heart, I think, and for an instant I see the holy before me.

Gunilla Norris, one of the goddesses in my life, in her book of poetry Being Home, A Book of Meditations, says, "Prayer and housekeeping--they go together. They have always gone together. We simply know that our daily round is how we live. When we clean and order our homes, we are somehow also cleaning and ordering ourselves...How we hold the simplest of our tasks speaks loudly about how we hold life itself."

I choose to see Monday as a sacred day and to move through this day as if tending an altar where at the end of the day I will kneel and give thanks for the glories of the day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Absence, Dependency, and Lack of Control

This is not what I planned; not what I intended. I set aside time to write frequent entries on my new blog, hoping I would get comfortable with this new style and tool for writing and reflection and that you, a potential ongoing reader, would have frequent entries to read and therefore, want to make this blog a "regular" in your life. Well, the best laid plans were tossed in the air and the landing was delayed. For almost two weeks I was in laptop/printer distress, and I experienced a whole range of feelings.

First, I realized I needed help, and I felt energized by reaching out for help and finding someone approachable and available who could help me. Being new in this community, we are still putting together our team and a good computer tech who doesn't make me feel like an idiot is a necessary member of that team. Now if I could just find a dentist!

The first few days I enjoyed my laptopless condition. I had informed those with whom I communicate most regularly about the situation and asked my husband to bring home his laptop from work, so I could do some emailing in the evenings. At first I enjoyed the extra space in my day. I spent more time in morning meditation. I read more. Walked more. I sat at my desk in our bedroom, where I never bring the laptop, and I wrote letters. Yes, handwrote letters.

I stayed calm. I praised my patience. At first.

However, the time of laptoplessness lengthened and all my dresser drawers were now clean and lavender scented with fresh drawer liners. Each day I would check-in with my computer guy and each day he would be sure all would be well later in the day. One problem became another problem, however, and laptopless time extended on and on. Eventually, these prodigal machines did come home and that was when I really fell apart. You can fill-in the blank with your own computer nightmares, but there were more phone calls, a new printer, loss of email addresses, (but not documents, thank you God) a visit from a tech to install my printer and then frustration as recently as minutes ago because my printer was NOT working. I figured it out and for this moment I am breathing evenly.

During these days I felt a bundle of feelings:
I felt scared.
I felt frustrated.
I felt alone.
I felt lack of control.
I felt disappointed.
I felt sad.
I felt disconnected.
I felt dependent.
I felt uncomforted.
I felt vulnerable.
I felt embarrassed.
I felt angry.
I felt anxious.
I felt unclear.
I felt uncertain.
Sometimes all at the same time.

And then finally when all was restored, I felt grateful, deeply grateful. The first time I emailed dear friends and family members and said, "I am back" was a sacred moment. These machines are sacred objects. Yes, if my house were on fire, I would grab my laptop. But I also became aware, at least momentarily, for this is a lesson, I will need to learn yet again, that these miraculous machines are not objects meant to be worshipped. They are not meant to rule my life or take the place of my life. Perhaps it is time to institute intentional sabbatical time; planned timed-outs from computer accessibility.

Mark Nepo says in his Book of Awakening, "It is the path off the path that brings us to God." And sometimes the path means being off-line.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Sacred Beginning

Welcome to my blog. Welcome to all of you who are in your 60's and if you aren't yet 60, some day you will be! If you are beyond your 60's, I welcome your wisdom and appreciate your fortitude.

I am beginning this blog in order to become more aware of the sacred in my life. Abraham Heschel says, "The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments." I view this stage of my life as the time to not only face sacred moments, but to notice, feel, appreciate, create, honor, and illuminate sacred moments. As a journal writer for most of my adult life, I have noticed that the more I write, the more I find to write about and the more I find worth writing about, the more I write. I think that is true about noticing the sacred in my life. The more I look. The more I see. I am also aware that when others share the sacred in their lives, I become more aware of the sacred moving in my days. I am hoping this blog will become a place for conversation about the sacred --what that means to you and how the sacred is present in your life.

I am sitting in my office and have lit a candle as I always do when I begin to write. The candle is both a signal that I am open to the movement and inspiration of the sacred and a symbol that the sacred's light is always accessible. However, I don't always recognize it and right now I am finding myself a bit anxious about starting this blog. I am not totally clear about my purpose in doing this and in fact, am concerned it will distract me from the other writing I am attempting to do, but at the same time I feel a nudge (A Call seems too presumptuous!) to open myself to the prospect of conversation, of discovery. Therefore, along with my morning meditation time, I sense the writing of this blog will become a spiritual practice for me. Sacred moments.