In the Wilderness — with SheLoves

And it’s Saturday again, SheLoves Saturday. Please begin this piece here and then follow the link over to that lovely place to read the rest. Our theme for the month of March is: “I see you.”

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As I write these words, we are one third of the way through Lent, and I am deep in the wilderness over here on the west coast. If I look out my window, I don’t see wilderness around me, but I know I’m in it nonetheless. It feels a little bit like all hell has broken loose as I sit in my office, or at the local coffee house, or in the office of another who has asked me to come for conversation and encouragement.

I’ve been listening to lots of different people lately. I do that all the time, truth be told, and some of those people even pay me for a particular kind of listening, a listening together called spiritual direction, which I spent three years learning. I continue to learn how to do this with each of the twelve different people who visit me, in person or via Skype, for a one-hour session each month. Every one of those persons is unique, with his or her own set of questions and wonderings; each one a distinctly individual person, with their own gender, age, marital status, life experience, spiritual struggle, need for discernment and companionship.

Yet they are all alike in one central and important way: they each want to be seen.

I believe there is a deep-seated desire built into us, a desire to be known and understood. And for my money, the phrase, “I see you,” is one of the rarest and richest in the English language. To be truly seen includes being truly heard. And it implies being valued and held in high regard. To be seen in this way is to begin to understand our own, intrinsic worth, which is the most basic and important of the foundation stones upon which sturdy relationships can be built.

All of the listening I’ve been doing in recent days, however, has led me to the sad conclusion that we do not see one another very well at all. This is not new, is it? We human creatures resist the very thing we long for, and so we hide. And sometimes we do that hiding well enough to reap the whirlwind.

Too many friends are reaping that whirlwind these days.

In the last week, I’ve heard stories of betrayal, diminishment, neglect, fear, sorrow, loss and pain. Marriages in jeopardy, careers on the line, friendships torn asunder by cruel words and careless actions, gut-wrenching fear overwhelming solid judgment, children struggling with addiction, and a long list of serious health crises, too often exacerbated by stressful relationships at home and/or work.

Wilderness, indeed. Bleak, endless, monotone.

And then, I remember . . .

Finish this one over at SheLovesMagazine – just click here to find it.

Doing the Work – for SheLoves

It is always a joy to contribute a monthly essay to SheLoves magazine, one of the most welcoming places on the internet. This month, I was asked to bring something a little bit different – to write about spiritual direction as a part of a special week on mentoring ministries. Please follow me over there to read the entire piece. 

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They sit in the red leather chair. Or they’re across the country, taking to me by Skype. Either way, I sit in my small study, settle deep into my hand-made, craftsman-style armchair, a lit candle by my side, my spirit ready, waiting.

They come to be heard, to be seen in ways that are welcoming and formational. I come to learn, to listen, to pray. And what we find is a kind of newness, a refreshing reminder of God’s presence and an ever-increasing willingness to do this good work. Together.

Spiritual direction is what it’s called. Companionship-on-the-way is what it is. Long a practice of the ancient church, surfacing in the 20th century in broader and wider corners of Christendom, this partnering together is holy ground, a sacred place where one person, trained in a variety of disciplines, prayerfully listens to the life of another, asking gentle questions, pulling out threads, weaving them together into a new idea, a new question, a glimpse of what the Spirit is doing.

I am relatively new to the whole idea of direction. I first began to hear and read about it in the late 1980s. I learned that direction is not therapy, though it incorporates many ideas and even techniques from that discipline. It is also not pastoral counseling, something I did quite a lot of during the seventeen years that I was a pastor. It is its own unique animal, a thing not quite like any other, a process that is hard to describe, difficult to encapsulate.

I began direction for the first time when I moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s and continued with it for three years. I took a break from that process for a while and then, about ten years ago, a new boss suggested I look into pursuing certification as a director myself, and a seed was planted, deep in my spirit.

 So come on over and join the conversation, okay? Just click on this line . . .

FOUND: a Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer — A Book Review

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Sometimes when I read a book that is new to me, and I discover that I like it, that I’m intrigued by some of the ideas presented or the way language is used, I dog-ear a page that catches my eye. If the book really speaks to my heart, you might find 20 or 30 such pages scattered throughout.

Micha Boyett’s beautiful new book — part memoir, part prayer journal, part glory — has so many down-turned pages that I can no longer close it completely. Oh my, this woman can write! And what she writes? It speaks right into my heart, with hope, honesty and beauty. 

I’ve read Micha’s blog, Mama Monk, for over three years now, made the move with her to Patheos, even guest-posted for her once. So I’ve been looking forward to seeing her heart and reading her words in a longer format for quite a while. And I am not disappointed. Micha has been on a journey, a search, for the heart of prayer, the heart of God. A pastor to students in her twenties, convinced that God had Big Plans for her life, plans that she ‘needed’ to discover and fulfill, she found herself in her early thirties as a stay-at-home mom to one, and then two beautiful boys.

What happened to those Big Plans, she wondered? Was she somehow missing the Important Work God had for her to do? Over the course of this gentle book — outlined according to the prayer schedule of St. Benedict — she learns that where she is right now is, indeed, important. That the work she does, the rhythms of child-care, housework, hospitality, marriage and writing — these are the things of life, and Spirit and love-made-real.

Reading that last paragraph might make you think that this is a book for women. Yes, it is. It is also a book for men. This is a book for anyone who earnestly desires to discover God in the midst of the movements of an ordinary day, anyone who longs to know that the work of their hands is blessed and beautiful. 

Along the way, Micha writes evocatively about taking time for silence and retreat at a couple of local monasteries, she describes what she learns in spiritual direction, she shows us how her husband helps her to see herself and her ideas about God in new and different ways, she whispers that loneliness can be an invitation to a deeper faith. And somewhere in there, she talks about . . . fly-fishing.

Just two pages, a small story — but one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long, long time. Here’s a small piece of it:

“I raise my rod and cast the line out. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I think fly-fishing is like praying the rosary; moving slow through each bead, letting the physical act move my unfocused body from distraction into awareness. It’s the repetition, the sameness of coming to God with simple words and rhythm, that opens me to recognize the God-already-here. . . Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.” – pg. 226-227

With all my heart, I recommend this book to you. It is rich, captivating, lush with beautiful language and ideas. And most of all, it is touchable. Micha is no plaster saint, she is a real, flesh-and-blood woman, wife, mother, pastor, writer, seeker. She invites you along for the journey, and friends? it is a trip so worth taking.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this lovely book. In exchange for that, I committed to write an honest review. This is it. Buy this book. Mark it up, keep it nearby, go back to it, keep a list of favorite lines. Yes. Do it.

Here are what a few others are saying about this fine book:

“I devoured this kind and generous book: Micha is singing the longings of all the tired mother
pilgrims. Every word is like motherhood: elegant, earthy, loving, and present.”
—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

“With this beautiful book, Micha Boyett opens a door to Benedictine spirituality through 
regular, busy people can enter and taste, see, smell, hear, and feel what it means to live life as a
prayer. This debut sets Boyett apart as one of the most promising new writers of a generation.”

—Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“Reading Found is like taking a deep breath of grace. You’ll hear the echo of your own
questions and doubts in the gentle ways Micha Boyett addresses her own, and by the end,
you’ll feel the quiet goodness of enough. For anyone who’s ever gotten prayer all tangled up in
performance—this one’s for you.”
—Addie Zierman, author of When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith,
Tangled Love and Starting Over

“This book is stunning. Beautifully written, Micha Boyett’s Found is a penetrating story, rich
in humanity and faith, the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read its last page.
Like Henri Nouwen and Madeline L’Engle, Boyett’s spiritual journey is divinely practical, a
relatable and potentially anointed narrative that renews, inspires, and reminds us that we are not
lost.”
—Matthew Paul Turner, author of Churched and Our Great Big American God

“Micha Boyett is in search for the beauty in the everyday, the prayer that hides itself in dinners
and diapers and naps. She is as skilled of a tour guide for Benedictine spirituality as she is for
her own story, and in these pages you will find that the sacred has been there all along.”
—Adam S. McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church

“In Found, Micha Boyett tells the small story of her own redemptions, inviting readers into a
life of earnest spiritual seeking. Written in reflective bursts of prose mirroring monastic hours
and the holy calendar, Boyett has created an account of spiritual resolve, believing that the
most important journeys of the heart are the modest ones.”
—Dave Harrity, director of ANTLER and author of Making Manifest: On Faith,
Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . to RE-CONNECT

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Today, we are traveling from this . . . 

to this.

We’re winging our way home after two weeks on the road in New England.
And that followed four weeks on Kauai.
And that followed two weeks on the Elbe River.
And that (for me) followed one long weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska
with the amazing #JTreat team.

It’s been a year of airplanes and rental cars for me.
And each time, I’ve had to dis-connect when I leave,
and re-connect when I return home.

And I’m not just talking about social media here,
I’m talking about life.
Everyday life.
In my home, in my church, in my family.

There is an adjustment period,
increasingly short as the years add up,
every time I return to our home after an absence.

The mail, the bills, the grocery shopping, the laundry.
The family dinners, the visits with my mom,
the committees at church, the directees I meet with each month.

And this place, too.
When I’m at home, this space is somehow
more comfortable and more accessible to me.
My heart is easier to reach,
I have more quiet time and quiet space.

And I am given the wonderful gift of signing on again,
of opening these pages and feeling at home here.

I’m grateful for that.
And I’m grateful for you,
the faithful friends who stop in here and read,
sometimes leave comments,
even occasionally engage me in conversation
about what I’ve written here.

I am grateful.
And I look forward to being at home for a long stretch.
I look forward to re-connecting.

Where do you need to re-connect right now?
Is that a good thing or a hard thing? 

iPhone Journaling: Just Write

 

For years I kept prayer journals, the only kind of journaling I’ve ever really done. I have never enjoyed handwriting, and now increasing joint pain makes it difficult. All the writing how-to books say you have to write longhand to get to the heart of things, however. Clearly, that is not working for me. So, I’ve adapted to technology just a little bit and have occasionally used the microphone system on my iPhone to get my musings written down. This is the most recent of those musings. Joining this with Heather’s JustWrite linky for the first time in months.

I watch them, has they wield their strollers past my car. Young, strong, beautiful. One stroller with two babes inside, maybe nine months separating them in age. Another with a single ten-month old.

They’re smiling at each other, laughing as they push their beautiful burdens up the hill. It’s funny how I don’t remember laughing very much as a mother to very young children. I’m sure I did. My children were delightful, smart, and funny. And much of that time in my life was, indeed, joyful.

But mostly what I remember now is the fatigue. And the doubt.  And all the questions about whether or not I was enough. I don’t remember having very many friends who had babes in strollers at the same time I did. I remember feeling alone, very alone.

We’d been gone for two years, So most of our college friends had moved on, going in other directions. I had one neighbor with young children, but she worked. I remember joining the food co-op, getting a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables. And out of that group, a babysitting co-op grew, and there I did connect with others who were at the same stage of life.

Maybe that’s why I have a hard time relating to so many of the young moms who write in the blog-o-sphere, those who connect at a heart level with other mothers of children the same ages as their own. That kind of connection was very difficult for me to find, and if found, for a long list of reasons, very hard for me to continue.

What is it about me that resists friendship.? I have a lot of “friends” but how many know my heart? Thankfully, there are some. And at this juncture in my life story, I am finding it easier to connect via the internet than in real life. Why is that?

I’m sitting at the ocean, trying to sort through the mass of mixed feelings going on inside me right now. I carry my mom around with me most of the time. I carry my children, and my grandchildren. I’m looking at some fairly minimal, but still invasive health issues, and I always find that wearying and worrying. I need a Spiritual Director, and I’ve been looking for over a year. Pursued several different avenues, none of which have worked out thus far. Lord, whom shall I see? Who would you have me work with?

Today as I stare at the sea, this is what I see:

The ocean is relentless. It keeps coming. The waves roll, whether small or large, but they roll. The surface today is relatively calm, and the kelp beds are not moving much. Very few waterfowl today, either. I keep looking for pelicans, so far I see none.

I wonder if the dolphins will peek through the water with the tips of their fins; they always bring a sense of hope and a spirit of playfulness to my day. I think I could use a good dose of both right now.

Another day, another doctor’s visit. This one for my mother, she has a nasty bruise on her lower right calf and now, a low-grade fever. So we’ll go back to the doctor – we were just there five days ago, And two days before that. And in between her medical visits, I have my own. It’s funny how these medical events seem to come in seasons.

Make that ‘funny peculiar,’ not ‘funny ha-ha.’ There’s not a lot of ha-ha-ing going on just now. All of it together creates a sort of low-level sense of anxiety, sometimes for days in a row, and I always find that wearing.

I’m grateful for this parking space, and the sound of the waves. Now I see three pelicans, the holy trio winging their way further out to sea. No dolphins yet, but I remain hopeful.

The undulating water somehow centers my spirit, and calms my heart. I can feel my breathing slow down, and my muscles relax. This morning, everything is thick with fog, something I usually dislike intensely. But today, it suits my mood.

There’s something womblike about it, soothing, calming, Like a balm to my wounded self. Henri Nouwen talks a lot about wounded healers, and I believe him. I just don’t much enjoy the wounding part. I wait, with some sense of restlessness, for the emerging part of this process.

To emerge from the woundedness is a good and important thing. On the other side of this season of sadness, I look forward to offering words of hope and healing to others who find themselves where I am now. In the meantime, I will continue to drive down our hill, turn my car around in the middle-of-the-road, and park on the edge of the bluffs. I will roll my window down, push my seat back, and stare out at the sea.

And I will wait. I will wait for the movement of the Spirit, I will wait for the stirrings of hope. I will wait for what comes next.

 

 

Learning to Listen: A Guest Post with Anita Mathias

Many years ago, one of my dearest friends pinpointed a particular problem of mine: I wasn’t really listening when she talked to me.

Oh, I was physically present, with my body turned towards her, ‘hearing’ her words. But I was not truly listening. She told me that I seldom made eye contact and seemed to be constantly distracted by everything else that was going on around us.

Ouch. Her words stung, as the truth so often does.

After a minute or two of denial, I had to admit that she was right on target. I had this habit of trying to multi-task when someone was talking to me.

I too often chose that time to scan the room, or the patio, or the restaurant — wherever the conversation was happening — to be sure I wasn’t missing something important going on around me.

As if the person in front of me was not important enough.

Or, I would busily scan an invisible list in my head, checking off tasks that needed to be done.

As if life is all about how much we can do, accomplish or perform.

Almost always, I found myself so concerned about my own response to whatever I was hearing, that I had little interior space to simply receive the words of another as the gifts they were.

As if my words, my stories, my experiences were of more intrinsic value than the other person’s.

I was there. But. . . I wasn’t. Physical presence? Yes, assuredly. Emotional presence? Not so much.

For most of my life, I have been a busy person, involved in numerous activities and commitments. From family to church to philanthropic groups to running a small business from my home, to attending seminary, to working in the parish setting — I’ve kept my plate full.

My friend’s words came when I was a seminary student, still managing a floral business, and also serving as a pastoral intern at the church we both attended.

I was over-extended, over-tired and emotionally overdrawn. The well was dry.

Listening, really listening, to anyone became increasingly difficult for me to do. Something had to give, priorities needed to be realigned, and I desperately needed to learn what it meant to pay attention to the lives and stories of other people, most especially people near and dear to me.

Please join me over at Anita’s lovely blog, “Dreaming Beneath the Spires,” to see the rest of this reflection and to find out how I learned to listen a bit better. . .

Timing Is Everything — Just Write

 

That’s what they say, right? “Timing is everything.”

Well, if that’s true, I’m feeling about everything’d out just now.

For two years, I’ve been working on this writing thing, posting several times a week, writing comments all over the place, finding a lovely community of friends and comrades on the way. I often wondered why. And then, I remembered . . . God asked me to do it.

Sounds weird, right? Well, it is a little. He asked this about seven years ago. And it took me five to believe it — and then, of course, retirement happened, which actually opened up exactly the kind of time and interior space that I needed to do the work.

So, I’ve been writing. And reading lots and lots of other people’s writing, too. Spending inordinate amounts of time doing all of that, actually, but learning a whole heckuva lot in the process. Like so many out here in cyberland, I struggled with the reality that not many people would ever read what I write, with the increasing pressure from all sides to be about things like ‘platform,’ and ‘SEO,’ and tweeting and creating an author page at Facebook. I worked through those peripheral issues (and for me, they are truly peripheral at this point) and gradually came to peace with writing when I could, saying what seemed good to say, and being grateful for whomever would care to stop by and leave a kind word or ask a question.

Then I got invited to write at another online spot — a magazine I loved. Wow! Cool! And then, I was asked to write for another one that I loved. Amazing! What a surprise! And then there was the Bible study series at another site and then a call for an essay at the place I long dreamed of writing. What? How did this happen? I have no clue.

And during all of this writing time, there has been our poignant and painful journey with my mom, the loss of cognition, the increasing confusion, the slow fading. Then it seemed right to us all that she should move closer to family. So we packed her up, we gathered the family love-team, and we moved her nearby. A lovely gift and a difficult reality, all at the same time.

Spiritual direction fits into this line-up, too. I stepped into training as my pastoral role was winding down, wondering if anyone would ever want to come and sit with a 68-year-old novice at this ministry. And just today, I added number seven to the list. Seven souls to meet with once a month, to listen to their lives, to listen to the Holy Spirit together, to discern where God is moving and prodding and transforming.

And then, of course, there was the completely surprising invitation to step back into work-mode again, doing worship-planning and leading, being an up-front presence for three months, after 2 years away. Also a gift. Also a puzzle to me.

Because ALL OF IT is happening Right.This.Minute.

Excuse me, Lord? Really??

Somehow, I think God is smiling smugly right about now. (Can God be smug?) “See, woman! This is what I made you to do — all of this. And if you open yourself to my grace and power in a new way, you might be surprised at how it all stitches itself together in lovely ways.”

So, I’m prayerfully (and tiredly) looking for the embroidery God is doing in the midst of what sometimes feels like the ragged hem of a garment I cannot quite see, trying to trust that the work being done in me and through me will come together. I’m looking for the silvery sheen of that thread from moment to moment some days, trusting that maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch a glimpse of what the Stitcher is up to.

Quietly joining this with Heather, Laura and Jennifer tonight. . .

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 10

I’ve been thinking a lot about contrasts lately.
Light and dark,
small and large,
near and far.
And about how so many of those things that we 
tend to put into opposition to one another
are not all that opposed after all. 
Both things are true,
both sides are instructive,
both realities are beautiful,
each in their own way.
Last summer, I spent two weeks 
looking at this view.
Here is the view on a sunny day –
with all the colors popping,
the architectural details sharp,
distinct, 
easy to follow,
the palm trees leading your eye out to the horizon.
If you look closely at the wing of the building
that was just outside my window,
you can see that the right side of the roof
looks a slightly different color from the left.
It doesn’t seem dramatic, does it?
Now – here are some similar views,
taken on a foggy morning.
The colors blend a bit more,
nothing stands out,
even the lines of the building
are fuzzier, the trees
fade away into the fog.
There is no horizon to be found.
In the cool of that foggy morning,
I began to see that the two sides
of that roof were quite different from one another.
I am facing due south in this picture,
so the westside of the building is the darker one.
I was intrigued by this and began to draw in
a little bit closer.
The fog was beginning to lift as
I screwed on the telephoto lens,
and this is what I began to see.

An astounding display of lichen,
moss, multi-colored plant life,
clinging like crazy-colored barnacles
to the terra cotta tiles

I found them stunningly beautiful,
especially in contrast to the rich red
of the roof; I was
fascinated by
these green and gray polka dots,
scrambling wildly down the rows.

I would not have seen them at all
if the fog had not rolled in,
forcing me
to take my eye off 
the horizon, 
to stop taking the long view,
and instead, 
to pay attention
to what was right in front of my face.

I have spent much of my life searching
toward that horizon,
thinking and dreaming about
what was to come.
One of my major regrets 
is that I did not fully appreciate 
what was
right in front of my face
while I was living it.

I got better at it over time,
thank God.
But how I wish I had
celebrated the glory
of the single moment
just a bit more,
especially when my 
children were small
and I was tired all.the.time.

I take some comfort from the disciples.
They weren’t able to see what was 
right in front of them, either.
Yet even they,
with their stubbornness,
their denseness,
their projection of their
particular hopes and dreams,
hopes and dreams
that were so far from God’s best
as to be laughable at times –
even they got to see the other side. 

Jesus came to them,
in his new,
resurrected body,
and he stood before them,
greeted them gently,
offered them peace
and then sent them out 
to change the world.
The truth is, both sides, 
both views
are important.
The long view,
and the close-up one. 
And both views contain truth,
big truths – long-term goals,
aspirations, dreams –
and small truths –
the glories of
the immediate,
the blessings of now.

Somehow, I don’t think the world
can truly be changed
without some experience
of holding-both-sides-together. 
Because our world needs both:
the healing presence and comfort 
of the Jesus
who comes and cups our faces
and says, “Peace be with you,”
and the powerful creative energy
of the Cosmic Christ,
in “whom all things hold together,” 
who wants to make all things new,
including every one of us. 

So, even though I’m not a foggy weather
kind of person,
I will celebrate and appreciate
those days when they come.
In fact, I will seek them out,
looking always for
Jesus 
right in front of my face.

The Talisman: a Writing Prompt

I am a person who wrestles hard with major transitions in life.
I never want to move too quickly, to make big changes
in the routines and patterns I am used to
without a lot of thought, prayer, and discussion
with trusted friends and family.
I surprised myself when our senior pastor was hired in 2005,
midway through my time as associate pastor.
I thought I would retire; that had been the plan.
But then . . . he came, with his high energy,
and his working style that was so different from anything
I’d ever experienced before,
and he knew so much about the liturgical calendar,
and, and, and. . . 
I realized I could learn a lot from this man,
things I hadn’t done, in ways I hadn’t done them,
so I decided (and he graciously agreed)
that retirement would go on hold for a while.
 By July of 2009, it was becoming increasingly clear 
to me that my time as a member of a church staff 
was coming to and end. 
What, I wondered, comes next?
Who am I without this title, 
this role, 
this connection to the 
community of faith 
I’ve worked alongside all these years?

So, I took a leap of faith – gasp! –
and enrolled in a post-graduate learning
experience, this one in Chicago,
to see if spiritual direction might be what the Lord
was moving me toward in this last stretch of life.
I flew to Chicago for a very intense week.
A good week, a rich week, an exhausting week – 
“Like trying to drink from a fire hose,” 
is how I described it to my friends.
And at the very beginning of that week,
we spent a day on retreat, in silence,
with periodic worship times spaced 
throughout the day.
I took a walk around the grounds of that retreat center,
discovering a small gift shop with jewelry for sale.
Almost immediately, I spied this Jerusalem cross 

(second from left above) and snatched it up. 

Somehow that small, silver ornament became a

picture of God’s promised presence amidst all the
things that were shifting in my life.
I wore it daily for the rest of that year.
It became a sort of touchstone,
a reminder that I was not alone as I
navigated the changing scene before me.

And I began adding other symbolic pieces to the chain.
The small bee, which says, “just be,” on the reverse
and the beautiful spreading tree,
with, “free spirit,” on the back.
Both of these, plus the charm with my first initial,
reminded me – as I caught sight of them 
in the mirror or fingered them while
reading or praying – 
that my deepest need is for stillness,
for practicing the presence of God,
for sitting in the silence, 
in the Mystery.

About a year later, six weeks after my retirement
became official, my husband and I took a 
lovely trip to Hawaii,
a place of my heart for the last 32 years.
So I added the heart with the palm tree on it. 

That summer,

after being too ill the previous year to continue
the program in Chicago with my own denomination,
I stepped into training with the
Benedictines.
Such a gift. 

So the last piece added was the medal
of St. Benedict.

Taken all together,
this set of charms,
of talismen,
speak to me of who I am becoming,
of where I am finding space and gift and grace now,
without the title,
without the role,
but with a life. 
A rich, wonderful, Spirit-graced life. 

During the hardest months of

this time of change – from about October of 2010
through May of 2011 – I took it off only to shower.
Somehow, the weight of it called to mind
the immensity of this time in my life,
this move from active ministry
to a more quiet and quotidian way of doing life. 


Gradually, this way of living became the new normal,

and as it did, the necklace sat on the counter more and more often.
I still love to look at it. 

And I still tend to wear it when I’m 
feeling uncertain or anxious.
I wore it every day during my

last two weeks in community with the Benedictines
in July and August. 

And I’ll likely wear it every day that I’m on 
retreat at Laity Lodge.
But I don’t wear it to bed anymore.

I don’t wear it every day or even every week. 


Because I’m here.

I’ve settled – as much as it is possible for
a person of my personality to settle anywhere!
And I am grateful,
so, so grateful for what I’m learning,
what I’ve been invited to do,
how God is working through me
and in me and around me
even here, even now.

I’m glad I took that particular route as I walked around 
the grounds of that retreat center in 2009.
And I’m glad to have this tangible reminder
of God’s faithfulness in the midst of major life changes.
It’s just a necklace.
But it’s also a story, an Ebenezer of sorts,
a marker of how the LORD has been here,

right through the shifting sands of change.
I look at it and say,
“Thus far, the Lord has helped me.” 
And I say, “Thank you. Thank you.”

My thanks to Amber Haines and her new writing prompt each week. The word this week was ‘necklace.’ I cannot write in poetic majesty as she does, but I very much enjoyed thinking about this one. So, thanks, Amber. You can click on this sentence to find her beautiful reflection and to find links to others who have taken up her challenge.
I will also link this to Jennifer’s, Emily’s, Duane’s, and Ann’s gatherings tonight.

 


Learning from the Humming Birds: A Photo Essay

It’s been a wild ride the past few weeks – a major writing project to complete, followed by two weeks living in community with the charismatic Benedictines, wonderful friends who think deeply 
about life and spirituality and who teach me so much – with their words and with their wisdom. 
Our last evening together (in each of the two 2-week school sessions over the last two summers) is spent sharing stories, skits, reflections and laughter. This year, I put together a slide show with a narration. 
And I promised my friends there that I would post it in this space. 
It will not show up as a slide show here, but what I can do in this space is interweave the narration a bit better than I could with the time constraints of a 4 minute Chris Rice piano version of “Come Thou, Fount.”

Fourteen days ago, I drove myself into the parking lot
of this beautiful retreat center, 
exhausted from too many deadlines and too few hours. 
I was not exactly ‘conscious.’*
Fumbling for words, dropping things, overwhelmed by the kindness of friends, 
I took a deep breath,
looked around at the curving architecture,
the quadrangled green space,
and thanked God that I had made it.
My room welcomed me to smallness and quietude, 
and I began to feel the almost imperceptible movement
of muscles unclenching, stomach settling 
and spirit stretching. The foggy mornings helped to slow the pace, 
gently covering all the sharp edges of the landscape – 
the one around me and the one inside me, too.
Morning walks helped point me to beauty –

light and shadow;color and texture and shape; pinks and yellows and purples and reds.

circles and oblongs and heart-shaped buds;

Afternoons found me tucked away in a small side garden, where leaves,
 backlit by the western sun, 
shimmered and shook with glory.
Water soothed and stilled me, running off the edge of a nearby fountain, 
abundant and nourishing. 
A deep-seated thirst found quenching.
Surrounding the gentle circles of water was a sea of deep blue lilies, 
held aloft by long stems moving in the afternoon breeze. 
As I sat and soaked it in, those blue spires began to dance
without the help of wind,
stirred instead by fragile wings,
wings that beat 2 to 3 thousand times a minute.
Tiny feathered flyers ducked and swiveled, 

hovered and darted,

 

long, thin beaks dipping deep for nectar in each periwinkle bloom 

To my right was one bright red feeder, and hanging far above my head, another. 
Sometimes one feisty bird at a time, they sipped and rested – gathering nourishment for the next few minutes of fevered flight.
And sometimes, they came in gangs,
dive-bombing one another to find a seat at the table. 
One small trio shared well and drank deeply.

And so did we.

I will remember these two weeks for many reasons –
for good conversations, for stellar teaching,
for the nourishment of worship and eucharist.

But I will remember the hummingbirds, too. Tiny carriers of creation goodness, reminders of the need to inhabit my own smallness.

For to see these glimpses of glory, I, too, must become small – small enough to sit still,
to be quiet,
to listen well,

            and to trust the goodness of God.

*The word ‘conscious’ in this context was an inside ‘joke’ (very feeble!) based upon much of what we learned together about becoming persons who can be more fully present to others and to God. Learning to be increasingly aware of ourselves and our own struggles/issues/shadows is often called ‘coming to consciousness.’ It is hard work to become more consciously aware of all the stuff that churns inside of us, often causing reactivity, defensiveness, projection-of-our-own-crap-onto-others. But the kind of work we strive to do with others in spiritual direction requires us to do our own work first. Much of what we learned together over these two years was directed at helping us become increasingly aware of when, where and how (and how frighteningly often!) we are not aware, not in tune with our own spirit or with God’s. I feel like I am just beginning some days! 

I will join this with a few friends over the next day or so – most likely Ann Voskamp, Laura Boggess, L.L. Barkat, Michelle DeRusha, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Jen Ferguson.

On In Around button

And with Cheryl Smith, too – if this linky works –

 


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