Living Well

Thriving

UnknownI have been thinking a lot, lately, about how easily I can get overextended – physically and emotionally depleted, cranky, judgmental, frustrated. I have, for a long time, been aware that I struggle to set boundaries in my life, striving to do more, be more, give more. How do I shut down? When is enough, enough?

I have studied the spiritual practice of saying yes, and saying no. That has given me an awareness that I need to find ways to say no more, though that, in itself, is a difficult thing to do. I am, by nature, a pleaser.

I have found myself wishing for a sanctioned day off, as though I somehow need affirmation or permission from the world around me, to stop.

I have tried a variety of ways to structure my calendar – different colors for different kinds of activities, trying to allow for space between activities, trying to allow for rest time after leading programs and retreats. But when push comes to shove, there is a voice inside that urges me to fit in one more thing. The same voice entreats – ‘You can do this. You’ll be fine. It will be good for you to do this.’

The Habit Journal that I have been keeping for the past 6 months has a daily reminder to visualize the life I want, the goals I have set. I discovered that I hardly ever check that box – I have struggled to know how to visualize it all. Where do I start? What is the paradigm?

At this turn of the year, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of visualizing. How can I prepare myself, in new and renewing ways, to live into the values and goals I hold dear?

It turns out that the Christmas holiday, itself, provided the doorway into new understanding. We had the great good fortune to spend a week with our grown children and their significant ones, coming and going. While they were with us, I gave way to my delight in being with them, and simply let everything else go. I didn’t check email very often, I didn’t excuse myself to tend to work things. I enjoyed every minute of our time together.

At the same time, I was also in the midst of some current work conversations and planning. When I did take a few minutes to check email, I discovered that my colleagues had been sending emails that were, now, days old. Feelings of guilt, regret, self-judgment crept in.

Somewhere in the middle of this joy and this guilt, I remembered some things I had read a few years ago, in a book titled, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, by Dan Buettner. Buettner identifies and investigates the happiest regions on four continents. I went back and re-read what he wrote about the people of Denmark. Here are some of the conclusions he reached about the happiness factors in Denmark: build an environment of trust; tolerance; care for the young and old; get the right job; work just enough (most Danes work 37 hours a week and then go home to their families); cultivate the art of living (develop an appreciation of art); make cozy, well-lit home environments; nudge people into interaction; optimize cities for activity; volunteer. All of a sudden, I found that this paradigm offered me a vision that, while unlike much of what I experience here in the US, allows me to see a way toward choices that feel potentially more life-giving to me. Part of what I need to do is more clearly identify and name what I value, and claim time to honor those values. They include doing the work I so love, time with my family, time with friends, time for new adventures, time to read and knit, time to exercise, time for music-making, time for retreat, time to ponder and just be.

I discovered that visualizing wasn’t about seeing from the outside – managing my calendar, goal-setting, strategizing. It was about seeing and experiencing from the inside – What matters most to me? Where do I experience deep joy? What do I need to thrive?

I’m off, now, to read A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, by Wayne Muller. Let 2016 begin!

What do you need to thrive?

 

 

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Living Well

Coffee Cups and Community

UnknownI have watched with curiosity and confusion, at the ongoing commentary about Starbucks’ red cups for the holiday season. To me, they seem attractive, seasonal, and appropriate for the ever-more-diverse population in our society. While I am ordained clergy in the Christian tradition, I am ever more aware that my fellow community members represent a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds. Is it right that my tradition trumps any other during this, or any other time of the year?

As I’ve pondered the expressed outrage about Starbucks’ choice, I’ve been thinking: why don’t we express outrage that other faith traditions are never represented in the public sphere? Why don’t we express outrage that traditions dear to our neighbors who are Jewish, or Muslim rarely get expressed or celebrated by coffee cups or special sales or decorations? And why is it that loud voices from the political and news worlds seem to express either conservative Christian beliefs or no beliefs at all?

As I sat with mouth agape and heart broken as news of the Paris murders, now claimed by ISIS, flashed across my smart phone and my TV, I found myself wondering – will this, FINALLY, be the time that we can stop talking about coffee cups and start doing the very hard work of building community with one another to form bonds that connect us through our common humanity? Can we do the hard work of developing ways to talk about what matters to us as individuals, and listen with open minds and hearts, even if we disagree? Can we support political candidates who seek to empower local community, rather than harden the rhetoric of division, debate, and disagreement?

imagesHow long until we can harness our energy for good, and join together as world community, to stand together against the forces of violence and hatred? What would that be like? How much power and creativity would that generate?

I found myself turning, again, to Parker Palmer’s compelling book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. In his opening chapter, Palmer speaks of Diversity, Tension and Democracy. Here are some of the things the says that speak to me:

“At the deepest levels of human life, we do not need techniques. We need insights into ourselves and our world that can help us understand how to learn and grow from our experiences of diversity, tension, and conflict.”

“The civility we need will not come from watching our tongues. It will come from valuing our differences.”

“Partisanship is not a problem. Demonizing the other side is.”

“Violence is what we get when we do not know what else to do with our suffering.”

This time, we Americans are looking in from a distance. But we are not immune or safe from these same forces. We must look within to our own potential for violence and hatred, and join with one another for support and vision for something better.

Please, please. Let’s stop talking about coffee cups. Let’s gather, one by one, a few by a few, and say to one another, and to everyone who will join us – NOW is the time to move in a different direction. NOW is the time to learn and develop ways to live in safe and supportive community; where we listen first and talk later; where we value community before conflict; where we stand together in light of our shared humanity, rather than apart because we have differences.

Jewish author and holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, tells it this way:

“One of the Just Men came to Sodom, determined to save its inhabitants from sin and punishment. Night and day he walked the streets and markets protesting against greed and theft, falsehood and indifference. In the beginning people listened and smiled ironically. Then they stopped listening: he no longer amused them, the killers went on killing, the wise men kept silent, as if there were no Just Man in their midst. One day a child, moved by compassion for the unfortunate teacher, approached him with these words: ‘Poor stranger, you shout, you scream, don’t you see that it is hopeless?’ ‘Yes, I see,’ answered the Just Man.’ ‘Then why do you go on?’ ‘I’ll tell you why. In the beginning, I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me.’”

Living Well

Convergence

IMG_1718Over the last few weeks, I have been reading in two books. To continue my study and prayer on the theme of pilgrimage, I have been reading The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau. And for my book group, I have been reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande.

It seems no accident that I’m reading these books in the midst of the move from our home of 17 years, to a small apartment. In preparation for the move, we have gone through everything in the house to determine if we want to bring it, or let it go (limited space is a big incentive here). We’ve gone through photographs, boxes of stuff from my parents, children’s toys and books (our kids are all grown now), college memorabilia, music, clothing, appliances, furniture, food cupboards. We’ve tried hard to stay focused on the task at hand, though there were many moments that I had to stop and ponder the memories that an item brought to mind.

As I read in Cousineau’s book each morning, I become aware of the sacred potential in this move. While our travels, as we packed and prepared, were no further – physically – than the next cupboard or the next closet or the next room, the memories that arose allowed me to recollect the ways in which I have struggled, celebrated, opened, defended, raged, and grown through the years. I have been reminded of the people and places and events which, and who, have been touchstones and milestones; pointing the way, leading the way, distracting the way.

I’m also aware that, at age 62, I’m looking into the last third of my life. This is a sobering thing to write and to look at. Gawande’s book, a powerful and challenging look at the strengths and limitations of modern medicine, offers a hopeful and life-giving set of questions to ponder as one faces illness and death. While I am counting on many years of good health and fruitful living, I have begun to think about my life’s pilgrimage with these questions in mind. What is most important to me? How does that influence my decisions – on what I do, where I live, and who I want to be with?

If I overlay the idea of life as sacred pilgrimage with the more present awareness of my mortality, what opportunities appear before me? Where do I want to go? What are the touchstones and milestones I am looking for? Who are my guides and companions? What is my guiding question?

I don’t see feel sad or morose or fearful about this. I feel enlivened and excited and eager to engage my life with a deeper gratitude, and a growing clarity. And to all who I know and love, I am thrilled that you are with me along the way.

~with thanks to Sarah Smyth Hauser for the photo

Living Well

susiesunLabor Day for Clergy and Church Leaders

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—Matthew 11:28-30

As we stand on the cusp of the new church program year, it is not unusual for clergy and church leaders to feel a sense of weightiness, anxiousness, and anticipatory exhaustion. There are so many demands; so many concerns; so many hopes; so many challenges.

Rev. Judy Proctor and I invite you to join us for a 10-week program designed to offer a time to rest, reflect, and engage in spiritual practices and leadership principles to help you listen deeply for God’s invitation for your life and work.

Microsoft Word - Invitation to Soul of Leadership Mini.docx

Living Well

Pilgrimage
It all started on May 24, 2015, when my pilgrimage trip to Assisi, Italy began. Or maybe it really started on July 18, 1953, when my life began. Either way, the idea of pilgrimage – the experience of travel for the sake of finding God – has been deep in me for the last several months. Active in my thinking and reflecting, alive in my prayer, this idea of pilgrimage is infusing my life experience daily.

This summer, in my daily morning devotional time, I have been reading To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela, by Kevin A. Codd. I discovered this book on our summer reading bookshelf – a collection of books left here by various family members as a resource for reading while here at our cottage. It’s an eclectic collection – many of them favorites of ours, some of them books that are culturally popular. My eldest has long held a fascination for the camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route from southern France to northwest Spain. She and I have talked about this many times – imagining how we might walk this pilgrimage route together – and Codd’s book is one that she had read and left on the summer reading shelf.

As I continued to reflect on my late Spring pilgrimage trip to Assisi, I was drawn to this book when I arrived at our cottage this summer. Each short chapter is a reflection on a day’s portion of the author’s walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, a journey of some 500 miles. I quickly got into a rhythm of reading one chapter as part of my invitation to the day. Each chapter has felt like a deep, rich, very special bite of chocolate – each one lingering on my soul’s tongue for the whole day. I’m almost at the end – so sad (along with the author) that I’m almost finished; and, at the same time, holding a rich resource of images, ideas, invitations, to take with me going forward.

camino shell-2The most enduring and recognizable symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell. Many, if not most, of the pilgrims who walk the Camino, have a scallop shell with them along the way. Signposts bear the symbol as well. There are many stories about the significance of the shell; in the midst of the stories is the knowledge that the scallop shell is often found on the shores of Galicia, near Santiago de Compostela.

There are a few symbols that one finds in Assisi, representing St. Francis. One of them is the dove – a sign of peace. The lifeAssisi dove
and ministry of St. Francis were grounded in peace – a longing for peace among people; teaching peace as he traveled; modeling peace as the faithful, if not unlikely, leader of a growing community of followers. Wanting to take home a memento of my trip, of Assisi and St. Francis, and an ongoing reminder to me of my experience, I purchased a small, simple, necklace – a thin, black cord with a small dove made of local olive wood. I leave it out on my dresser so I see it regularly during the day; and I wear it often. I want to remember. I want to see my life, itself, as pilgrimage.

So for today – invitation. While my life pilgrimage has been underway for 62 years, I want to regularly look at it with the heart of a pilgrim. What will my experience of God be today? What signs, experiences, people join me today and how do they help me know myself, and God with me?

Living Well

I Do

imagesOur daughter was married ten days ago. It was a precious and celebratory gathering of friends and family who witnessed, with us, vows of love and commitment made between our daughter and her beloved. As is so often the case, their wedding was preceded by months of planning and preparation, managing details, making decisions, and envisioning what they wanted their day to be. As I reflected on their wedding day this last week, I found myself tearing up regularly, filled to overflowing with a sense of gratitude and deep gladness at all that we experienced.

It seems to me that all of the details and thought and visioning that went into the planning of their wedding made possible the creation of a sacred space; a vessel that safely, lovingly held a Divine welling-up of all that is good. It was a space in which I found myself enveloped in a longing and freedom to commit to my own ‘I do’s’ – with myself, and with those I love.

I do . . . promise to show up

I do . . . want this experience to last

I do . . . see you are standing by me

I do . . . see the Divine spark in you

I do . . . celebrate the joy I see in you

I do . . . want to love with all my heart

I do . . . recognize that we are still growing

I do . . . want to have more of what I’m experiencing here

I do . . . look around and say thank you for each person here

I do . . . see the profoundly moving results of love and forgiveness

I do . . . thank God for our daughter, for her wife, and for all the people who loved them into being

I Do.

Living Well

 Stripping and Adorning 
image
I have been on a pilgrimage tour in Assisi, Italy for the last week. We have been ‘walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare.’ Francis and Clare, born in the late 12th Century, each renounced their families and lives of privilege in order to follow a deep and profound call from within to follow Jesus in a life of poverty and prayer. The sites we have seen have all been, in some way, an expression of devotion to and praise for the lives of Francis and Clare, by those who have come after them

Each day of our tour, the pilgrimage guides have provided a theme, inviting us to reflect on what we see and experience through the lens of the theme. We have seen churches, basilicas, and cathedrals; and each of them, in their own particular ways, have been adorned with paintings, sculptures, frescoes, stained glass, altars – breathtaking, inspiring, overwhelming, inviting. The history and meaning of these places is palpable and powerful.

But today, we walked to the Hermitage of the Carceri; a place where Francis and his brothers in community went to rest and pray away from the activity and demands of their life and ministry in Assisi. Several of us walked on a trail through the woods, climbing higher and higher until we reached the remote place where these men lived in caves, and devoted themselves to prayer and silence.

Though a larger structure has been built in the years since Francis and his brothers retreated there, it is still a place of simplicity and natural beauty. As I walked along the trails leading from the chapel to the caves, I felt as though I was in a primal forest. Beautiful, unspoiled, holy. Everywhere I turned, there was a reminder of God – a simple altar, a gentle bend in the trail, time-worn stones, moss-covered tree trunks. I found that the theme of stripping and adorning kept coming to me.

I began to think about all the ways in which we can get so easily and stubbornly attached to our sacred spaces of place and time – stained glass, original pews, altar cloths, time of worship, structure of liturgy. We can so easily slip into worshiping these sacred – to us – things, and lose sight of worshiping God. We can so easily become devoted to the beauty and history and importance of these things and what they have meant to us as worshiping community, and forget that God is calling us through and beyond these things to a life marked by love and Presence to God in all things and at all times.

So I am wondering what it is I need to strip away. What is distracting me from God? From God in one another? What do I need to let go of in order to receive . . . God?

Living Well

I posted this on my blog 2 years ago. I offer it again today.

May your Good Friday be a day of awe and remembrance and Presence.

 

Being There

imagesIn the Christian household (to which I belong), it is Holy Week. As happens most years, I enter this week with the desire to experience, as fully as I can, the story of the last days of the life of Jesus. I seek worship opportunities that engage all of my senses–I want to get as close as I can to ‘being there’ . . . with Jesus. What were the sights, the sounds, the smells . . . what if I had been one of the women with him? What if I had talked with him? Walked with him? Been healed by him? What if . . .

I also make it a practice to listen to music that expresses the intensity of this week, this story: waiting, preparation, sadness, grief, loss, anticipation, expectation, joy. For me, music transcends words. There is a passion, an expression, a communication that connects believers not only across language and age barriers, but also across time barriers. Nothing I have ever heard has moved me as deeply as a setting, by Knut Nystedt, of the poem, “O Crux”, by Venantius Fortunatus, 6th century poet, priest and Bishop of Poitiers.

Here is the text:

O Crux                                                           Translation

O crux splendidior cunctis astris                    O Cross, more radiant than the stars,

Mundo celebris hominibus.                            Celebrated throughout the earth,

Multum amabilis sanctior universis.             Beloved of the people. Holier than all things,

Quae sola fuisti                                                   Which alone was found worthy

Digna portare talentum mundi;                      To bear the light of the world;

Dulce lignum,                                                      Blessed Tree,

Dulces clavos,                                                      Blessed Nails,

Dulcia ferens pondera;                                      Blest the weight you bore;

Salva praesentem catervam,                            Save the flock

In tuis hodie,                                                       which today

Laudibus congregatam.                                    Is gathered to praise you.

 

The piece opens with intense and stark dissonance that is both unsettling and inviting. What could this cross be about? Before the words give answer, there is a section of sudden crying out: “Ah!!!” that weaves between all voice parts, transmitting to one another this anticipation of utter desolation and understanding. The piece continues with a sense of ponderous procession until the music builds to a re-expression of the opening line that foretells the power of the Resurrection.

All of a sudden, beautiful harmony emerges; a change of mood and style, which lifts us to an appreciation of the role of this cross and the weight it bore. “Blessed tree, blessed nails, blest the weight you bore.”

Before we know it, however, the piece ends. And it ends with the women, as if an angelic choir, singing again the words “O Crux” three times. The men respond in deep and resonant harmony, answering with the words “splendidior.”

I have sung this before. I have listened to it countless times. And I am always speechless when it is over. In it, I find myself in the mystery beyond all mysteries . . . and can only be there . . . in awe.

 

Living Well

IMG_1169Bless You

I have been deep in the heart of Celtic spirituality during these first weeks of Lent. John O’Donohue’s potent little book, To Bless the Space Between Us, has been my morning prayer companion. I have turned to this book to seek blessings and solace so many times over the past few years. My book falls open (actually falls apart) at the Blessing for a New Beginning . . . the Blessing for a Leader . . . the Blessing for Work . . . the Blessing for One Who is Exhausted . . . His blessings are eloquent, poetic, poignant.

He begins each of his chapters with a reflection on the theme – Beginnings, Desires, Thresholds, Homecomings, States of Heart, Callings, Beyond Endings. They are beautiful and thoughtful and invite me to sink into the words that follow. But he ends the book with a longer essay he calls “To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing.”

In my world of spiritual companioning and leadership, people often speak of blessings. “Bless you”, someone says. “What a blessing”, another exclaims. I often end my emails with, “many blessings.” Like saying “hi” or “how are you?”, these words can often become so familiar that we/I forget what it is we are invoking; what power we are aligning with; what intention we are committing to; and what a difference this act of love can make in the world. So O’Donohue’s last words about retrieving the lost art of blessing brought me back to the center and ground from which blessings come. I share it here as a reminder . . . and an invitation. And it comes with these words from my heart to yours . . . Bless you.

“The Inestimable Power of Intention”

There is incredible power in the mind when it directs its light toward an object. I heard recently of an ongoing experiment in an American university. There is a sealed-off room; in that room there is a coin-flipping machine. All day and all night it flips coins. The results are usually fifty percent heads and fifty percent tails. Nearby there is another room into which people are invited. Each person is asked to make an intention. Which would they prefer? Heads or tails? Having made their choice, they then write it down on a page that is put in a sealed envelope and addressed to the team who conducts the research. The results are astounding. If a person wishes for heads, the machine ends up flipping up to a seventy-five percent majority of heads and vice versa. They found the distance that the power of the intention to affect the outcome held for up to a hundred-and-fifty-mile radius around the experimentation room. Now, if human intention can substantially affect the outcome of something as cold and neutral as the working of a coin-flipping machine, how much more must our human intentions achieve as they relate to one another?

I have also heard of an experiment in meditation. For a certain number of days, some years ago, a group of people made a circle around the city of Washington and meditated continually. Gathered unknown to itself within this circle of loving kindness, Washington changed. The statistics for that period in the city showed a remarkable and unprecedented decrease in violence and crime. The power of intention to bless is not some utopian fantasy; it can be shown factually to effect concrete and transformative action.

We have no idea the effect we actually have on one another. This is where blessing can achieve so much. Blessing as powerful and positive intention can transform situations and people. The force of blessing must be even more powerful when we consider how the intention of blessing corresponds with the deepest desire of reality (I call this reality God) for creativity, healing, and wholesomeness. Blessing has pure agency because it animates on the deepest threshold between being and becoming; it mines the territories of memory to awaken and draw forth possibilities we cannot even begin to imagine!

Living Well

imagesLet the Body . . .

A couple of weeks ago, during one of this winter’s many snowstorms, I went out snowshoeing with my son and his girlfriend. They are both accomplished athletes, with bodies that are well-coordinated and very fit. While I work to maintain fitness, I have never been well-coordinated. I’m one of those people who can trip over a piece of string on the floor, and have bruises on my body from regularly bumping into things.

We entered the woods behind our house and soon found a trail. Every now and then, we would slow down to take in the incredible beauty of the snowy woods. When it was time to start snowshoeing again, I noticed that they would easily fall into coordinated step with their snowshoes and their poles. I would struggle to think . . . now which pole goes down with which foot, trying to will my body to do what it’s supposed to do.

And then I remembered. Let the body discover itself in the rhythm of snowshoeing. Stop thinking and let go. With ease, my body’s own sense of things would emerge and I’d fall into step.

Years ago, when I first took voice lessons, I was eager to incorporate all of the techniques and ideas I was learning from my wonderful teacher. Breathe this way; articulate that way. Stand like this; warm up like that. Soon my head was swirling with all of these instructions; and the sounds that came out were not pleasing me, or my teacher. In her wisdom, my teacher stopped the vocal part of the lesson, and began the wisdom part.

She told me about an amazing book, entitled Soprano On Her Head. The title comes from an experience the author had with a talented voice student. The student had a beautiful operatic voice; but she, too, got so wrapped up in trying to get her body to do what she wanted to improve her voice, that she felt more and more dissatisfied with the outcome. So the author asked her student to stand on her head, and then sing. What happened? Out came a voice and sound so beautiful they were both surprised. Why? Because by working hard to stand on her head, the student couldn’t think about all the things she thought she should do to sing more beautifully. She let her body, and her voice, discover itself.

Years later, I found a note I wrote to myself after this important conversation with my voice teacher. I had placed the note in my music folder. It says “let the body sing you.” It reminds me to trust that my body has its own wisdom, nurtured and developed through years of practice and experience. When I find that harsh sounds are coming out, or I run out of breath too soon, or I get distracted, I return to that mantra . . . ‘let the body sing you.’

I’ve discovered, through the years, that my body holds great wisdom. If I am fearful or nervous, my body reacts right away. If I am not paying attention to my needs and emotions, my body will generate strong signals to get my attention. If I ignore the signs, my body will respond more strongly – I have a sleepless night; my stomach gets queasy; I have muscle aches.

But if I stop and listen to my body wisdom, and allow my body – instead of my mind – take the lead, I am regularly surprised and delighted at what happens. I am restored to myself. I am able to live with a freedom and aliveness that comes from my very center.

Let the body be your teacher. One step, one song, one morsel, one breath at a time.