Living Well

Civic Holidays

we the peopleShortly after breakfast this morning, I headed out the door and up the hill to join in an annual civic ritual. As I approached the old town cemetery, I first could hear, and then could see, the gathered crowd: elementary school and junior high marching bands, local Minutemen, town Selectmen, local clergy, boy scouts and girl scouts, firefighters and their trucks with flashing lights, policemen in uniform leading in their squad car, state politicians, and several men and women dressed in military uniform. They had already walked the first short stretch of the annual Memorial Day Parade, and were stopped at the cemetery for short speeches, a reading of the names of those buried in there who had died in armed conflict, the playing of the National Anthem, the playing – and hearing – of taps, and all of it organized and coordinated by the town celebrations committee. As the parade picked up its march toward Town Hall, I fell into step with dozens of others: parents walking along with the bands and scouts, couples pushing their young ones in strollers, children on bicycles, dogs on leashes. Along the parade route, many were sitting and standing to watch the spectacle: old and young, abled and disabled, holding flags, clapping, cheering, smiling.

I was walking alone by choice. I wanted to take it all in and have space and time along the route to ponder my experience. Here’s what came to mind . . . in no particular order.

I had flashbacks of parades I attended – and participated in – when I was young. So much felt the same. The booming bass drums and marching cadences on the snare drums and cymbals; the old and young, alike, gathered; the public safety departments leading and, at the same time, connecting with town residents; the honoring of military personnel both alive and dead.

I also was aware, yet again, that the national origin of our town residents has become richly diverse, even in the 15 years we’ve lived here. I thought about the fact that some of them – maybe many of them – were born in countries where the freedom to gather and speak our/their minds has never been possible; and they are, and we are, enjoying this annual ritual together. I noticed that all 3 of the elementary school children who were chosen to read their Memorial Day essays were from a different ethnic background than the original founders of our community.

We walked, we listened, we saluted, we laughed together and greeted one another. And while the speeches – each of them wonderful and so appropriate to the day and to the heart of the one who spoke – said so much about what is important to remember, I found myself feeling that in some way it was the parade itself that spoke the loudest to me about what is possible.

At least for 2 hours, we could walk together, observe together, hold silence together, and stand together for a common purpose. It didn’t matter that the color of our skin varied from very light to very dark; or that the clergy who spoke is Christian while there were others from a variety of faith backgrounds and no faith; or that we disagreed with each other at the recent Annual Town Meeting and even raised our voices from time to time. It didn’t matter that it was raining for part of the time, or that feet and legs hurt, or that the Minutemen muskets were loud, or that there were a few funky notes played by the bands.

I don’t know what specifically brought each person out for the Parade. I know, though, why I walked the whole route. I wanted to have the experience of being with my community, for an event that reminds us of what we have in common, not what divides us. The words of our state representative, Jen Benson, still ring in my ears. She said, “Boxborough is a small town with a big heart.” I agree. We may not be making the headlines in the NY Times, but I believe we are able to make a difference in the world – one parade at a time.


 

UPCOMING EVENTS

Preaching in Worship

“And It Was Good”

Acton Congregational Church

12 Concord Road, Acton, MA

Sunday, June 15 at 9:15 a.m.

 

Concerts at the Garden

Custom Blend in concert at

The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden

145 Bolton Road, Harvard, MA

Sunday, June 22 at 3:00 p.m.

http://customblend.org

 

“The Soul of Leadership.”

Susie Allen and Margaret Benefiel

18–month program beginning in October 2014.

The Soul of Leadership empowers leaders to realize greater professional efficacy while experiencing inner renewal and clarity of vision.  Designed for leaders from various sectors (businesses, non-profits, churches, etc.), this 18-month program guides participants on a journey of transformation as they integrate leadership skills and contemplative practices into their lives.

http://executivesoul.com/the-soul-of-leadership-program

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Living Well

Peacemakers

Peacemakers Cover.previewTwo weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing a live performance of Karl Jenkins’ choral work, “The Peacemakers.” I pushed myself to go to the concert because a few years ago, I had heard another choral work of his – entitled “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” – and it has been transforming my heart and understanding ever since.

There are 17 different pieces in “The Peacemakers”, each with a different text and a different musical expression. From the poetry of Shelley, the words of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Celtic prayer, former captive Terry Waite, Mother Teresa, the Qur’an, the Bible, St. Francis, Martin Luther King, and Rumi – the words evoke a universal longing for peace and community. There is even a musical interlude, entitled “Solitude”, which – for me – is a reminder that we need time alone; time to listen and be present to ourselves and one another and God.

I didn’t know anything about “The Peacemakers”, but I had heard there would be a large chorus of adults and children, and an orchestra as well. I was not prepared to be so moved and so inspired. Nor was I prepared for the continuing prayer and creative wonderings since.

The opening song, “Blessed are the Peacemakers”, takes its text from the Gospel of Matthew. Blessed are the Peacemakers for they will be called the children of God. While the adult voices began, the children’s voices repeated the word ‘children . . . children.’ At that moment, the tears began to flow, and I began to wonder – what would it be like if we valued peacemaking enough that we included classes on peacemaking as core curriculum for grades K – 12? What would it be like if our communities and organizations – schools, churches, businesses, towns – operated within a framework of dialogue and decision-making grounded in practices like Non-Violent Communication and restorative justice? What would it be like?

I shared my thoughts with a friend, who put me in touch with an organization I didn’t know about – called PeaceFirst (www.peacefirst.org). Their mission? To create the next generation of peacemakers. So with PeaceFirst, and many other organizations and programs whose missions are to promote and support fruitful, life-giving relationships, I pray for peace. I pray to be a peacemaker. Shalom. Shanti. Salam. Peace.

 


 

 

Upcoming Programs and Events

 

Soul of Leadership: Taste and See Workshops

April 21 (9-3) at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in North Andover, MA

May 10 (9-3) at Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington, MA

  • Do you seek a community of leaders with whom you can speak freely, explore organizational values and dream big?
  • Would you like to develop your leadership style through interaction with leaders in the forefront of energized and values-driven organizations?
  • Are you looking to deepen your own spiritual awareness and resources to sustain you through leadership and organizational challenges?
  • Would you like to develop communication skills that can guide your organization to better support and affirm all of its members?
  • Do you sense the need for change to help you break through to new possibilities?

Join me, and Dr. Margaret Benefiel, for a day-long workshop to explore these questions using tools, strategies and resources we will be offering in our upcoming 18-month Soul of Leadership program. For more information, go to: http://www.executivesoul.com/taste-and-see-workshop

 

1728 Coffee House

The First Congregational Church UCC, Holliston, MA

Custom Blend in Concert

Saturday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m.

 

Life on Purpose

Weekend Retreat for Women Ages 20 – 23

with Paula Grieco, author of “Take 5 for Your Dreams”

Martha’s Vineyard

June 6 – 8

 

Preaching in Worship

“And It Was Good”

Acton Congregational Church

Sunday, June 15 at 9:15 a.m.

 

Living Well

Unknown[1]No Judgment Zone

I am a student of relationships – sibling relationships; friendships; spousal relationships; parent-child relationships; neighborhood relationships; power relationships; workplace relationships; political relationships; spiritual relationships. I have studied and observed; read and taught; struggled and delighted; and have committed myself and my work to the healing of relationships and the development of life-giving, sustainable relationships that (in my mind at least) reflect the desire of God for us, God’s beloved.

Thanks to the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I discovered the work and teaching of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Non-Violent Communication. While it might be easy, at first, to imagine that this book is for those who have a hair-trigger temper, or for those who live in violent and dangerous environments, it is – in fact – a book for all of us.

Rosenberg asserts that we do violence to relationships – even, and maybe often, those relationships most precious to us – by judging one another. It happens all the time, often in subtle ways; and without being aware, we erect defenses between ourselves and those around us to protect ourselves from the hurt – and violence – we experience when we are judged by another.

In some ways, it’s no surprise. Judgment happens all the time, all around us. We live in a world that values either/or, red/blue, liberal/conservative, right/wrong, in/out. We need only turn on the TV, the radio, or connect to the web, to hear rhetoric on all kinds of issues that underscores the value of ‘being in the know’, of winning, of having the final word, of getting what we want before someone else does.

I believe, though, that we all suffer from this way of being; this way of relating; this way of parsing the world. Most of all, our relationships suffer – and with that, our freedom to be fully human.

Rosenberg outlines a 4-step way of understanding and communicating that I have found to be both incredibly (and embarrassingly) hard, and powerfully life-giving. Here are the 4 steps:

  1. observations: the concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being
  2. feelings: how we feel (be specific here) in relation to what we observe
  3. needs: the needs, values, desires, that create our feelings
  4. requests: the concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives

Here’s an example:

When I’m talking and I get interrupted (observation), I feel anxious (feeling). I need to get my whole thought out (need). I’d like you to wait until I’m finished talking, and then give me a moment to make sure I’m done, before you speak (request).

This is very different than saying:

You always interrupt when I’m talking! I forget what I want to say. You really make me mad. I don’t want to talk any more.

If you’re anything like me, the first example sounds contrived, unnatural maybe. And the second example sounds sadly familiar. I can only say that my attempts at employing Non-Violent Communication (NVC) have brought about powerful shifts in my relationships. Check it out~

(For more information about NVC, check out Marshall Rosenberg’s workshops on YouTube.)

 

 


 

Upcoming Programs and Events

Taize Worship Service

Church of Christ, Lancaster, MA

Sunday, April 6 at 10:00 a.m.

 

Soul of Leadership: Taste and See Workshops

April 21 (9-3) at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in North Andover, MA

May 10 (9-3) at Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington, MA

  • Do you seek a community of leaders with whom you can speak freely, explore organizational values and dream big?
  • Would you like to develop your leadership style through interaction with leaders in the forefront of energized and values-driven organizations?
  • Are you looking to deepen your own spiritual awareness and resources to sustain you through leadership and organizational challenges?
  • Would you like to develop communication skills that can guide your organization to better support and affirm all of its members?
  • Do you sense the need for change to help you break through to new possibilities?

Join me, and Dr. Margaret Benefiel, for a day-long workshop to explore these questions using tools, strategies and resources we will be offering in our upcoming 18-month Soul of Leadership program. For more information, go to: http://www.executivesoul.com/taste-and-see-workshop

 

1728 Coffee House

The First Congregational Church UCC, Holliston, MA

Custom Blend in Concert

Saturday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m.

 

Preaching in Worship

Acton Congregational Church

Sunday, June 15 at 9:15 a.m.

 

 

Living Well

Morning Prayer

morning prayerOver many years, I have developed the practice of beginning my day in my prayer room. I make a pot of tea, light several candles, and enter into a time of quiet reflection. Sometimes I read professional journals, sometimes I write in my own journal, sometimes I wiggle and struggle to stay open and quiet, trying to stay present to God and to prayer. In recent weeks, I have felt pulled to checking Facebook or text messages, writing my list of to-do’s for the day, and sometimes my husband joins me for quiet conversation.

Today, I woke up early – glad for the half-light of not-quite-daytime – and sat down on my cushions in my prayer room to begin the day. I became aware of a restlessness, and decided to sit with it to see if I could discover what was unsettled within. I looked out the windows to the view I know so well and began to sense a longing simply for God – no reading journals, no electronic checking, no writing. I found myself desiring a return to old practices . . . practices put away months ago in favor of other things. So I went to my bookshelf, pulled out my Bible and my tattered and worn copy of Celtic Daily Prayer, and turned to the Scripture passages and reading for today – February 27. As God would have it, today’s reading is one I have loved and been drawn to for a long time. I had forgotten all about it. As I opened to this reading and this practice, I found myself feeling so deeply grateful for the restless pull that brought me back . . . to a deep sense of home. I’ll share the reading with you and pray for a holy restlessness that brings you to your deep home as well.

I Stand By the Door

I stand by the door.

I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,

The door is the most important door in the world –

it is the door through which folk walk when they find God.

There’s no use my going way inside and staying there,

when so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,

crave to know where the door is.

 

And all that many ever find

is only the wall where a door ought to be.

They creep along the wall like blind men,

with outstretched, groping hands,

feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,

 

Yet they never find it . . .

so I stand by the door.

 

The most tremendous thing in the world

is for people to find that door – the door to God.

The most important thing anyone can do

is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,

and put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks

and opens to that person’s touch.

People die outside that door, as starving beggars die

on cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter –

die for want of what is within their grasp.

Others live, on the other side of it – live

because they have found it,

and open it, and walk in, and find [Him] . . .

So I stand by the door.

 

Go in, great saints, go all the way in –

go way down into the cavernous cellars,

away up into the spacious attics –

it is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.

Go into the deepest of hidden casements

of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.

Some must inhabit those inner rooms,

and know the depth and heights of God,

and call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.

Sometimes I take a deeper look in,

sometimes venture in a little farther;

but my place seems closer to the opening . . .

So I stand by the door.

 

There is another reason I stand there.

Some people get part way in and become afraid

lest God and the zeal of [His] house devour them;

for God is so very great, and asks all of us;

and these people way inside only terrify them more.

Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled

for the old life, they have seen too much:

once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.

Somebody must be watching for the frightened

who seek to sneak out just where they came in,

to tell them how much better it is in inside.

 

The people too far in do not see how near these are

to leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all.

Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,

but would like to run away.

So for them, too, I stand by the door.

 

I admire the people who go way in.

But I wish they would not forget how it was

before they got in. Then they would be able to help

the people who have not yet even found the door,

or the people who want to run away again from God.

You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,

and forget the people outside the door.

 

As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,

near enough to God to hear [Him], and know [He] is there,

but not so far from others as not to hear them,

and remember they are there, too.

 

Where? Outside the door –

thousands of them, millions of them.

But – more important for me –

one of them, two of them, ten of them,

whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.

So I shall stand by the door and wait

for those who seek it.

‘I had rather be a door-keeper . . . ‘

So I stand by the door.

~Samuel Moor Shoemaker

Living Well

Northern Exposure

imagesMore than 20 years ago, there was a weekly series on TV called “Northern Exposure.” It was about a physician who had his medical school education paid for by the state of Alaska in exchange for his commitment to practice medicine in Alaska after finishing Med school. The residents of the town where he came to provide medical care were a quirky, creative mix of native Alaskans and those who had fled the lower 48 for a less mainstream and more close-to-the-bone lifestyle. The way they formed and held community fascinated me. There was something so refreshing, so unfiltered, so in-the-moment about the individuals and their ways of being.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this fictional Alaskan community in the midst of this intense winter we’ve been having. I’ve felt cooped up and am battling a big case of cabin fever. What I’m remembering and cherishing are the ways they marked time; they ways they celebrated life; they ways they made it through the long, dark days of winter.

There were the town meetings (maybe 50 people at most) where everyone spoke up and had an opinion; there was the festival of the Northern Lights when people from outside the community would throng to town for intimate relations; there was the Raven Festival – their mix of Christmas and Native Alaskan tradition; there was the Eskimo Indians’ Thanksgiving celebration as “The Day of the Dead,” where they throw tomatoes at white people; there was the piano fling – an artistic expression of the local disk jockey/spiritual leader/artist. And there was The Brick – the local watering hole and restaurant where everyone would show up at one time or another to share news, gossip, have a drink and some home-cooked food, and offer on-the-spot advice, wisdom, and companionship.

I’ve been wishing for a little Northern Exposure these days. I’ve been longing for that gathering place; for festivals shared by everyone, especially as they can laugh and grieve together; for a communal celebration of life and connection. I feel like, in the midst of all this winter, we would be blessed by some close-to-the-bone conversations and connections; some quirky art expressions; and some places to gather and celebrate being alive.

 

Upcoming Programs

“The Voice That’s Within: Experiencing the presence of the Holy through music and song”

What is it like to be embraced by Holy Love? How do we know when that is happening? Come and gather in worshiping community to touch into the Voice within – your voice, the voice of the community, the voice of Holy Love.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

10:00 a.m. Worship

Unitarian Universalist Society, Gardner, MA

Living Well

The Color of Winter

Unknown (1)Early last week, my husband and I had the chance to make a quick trip up to Lake Placid, NY – a familiar and much-beloved summer haunt. It came at a good time. We both have been more than busy, and have had little time to ‘just be’ – with each other and with our own selves. We’ve made the trip to Lake Placid hundreds of times. We know the way. And more importantly, we know the subtle expressions of beauty revealed in milestones along the road in from the highway. Chapel Pond. Roaring Brook Falls. Trailhead to Roostercomb Mountain. Marcy Field. In the warm weather, we always open our car windows to breathe in the clear, fragrant mountain air. And we feel renewed and refreshed.

Last week as we headed in from the highway, the temperature was hovering around zero. We opened the window briefly, but our reward was a quick freezing blast. The milestones we look for were frozen echoes of their summer selves. Amazingly, there were cars parked along the road, announcing that there were some hardy souls who were climbing . . . maybe even camping . . . in the frigid woods and mountains.

The memory of this trip, however, that sticks with me the most – which has returned again and again in the days since we were there – is the sight of the meandering Ausable River, which runs alongside the road. In some places it is a quiet river – narrow, gentle. In some places, it is a roaring river – wide, and swift. On this trip, it was a freezing, and sometimes frozen, river. While I kept wondering how cold it would be to dip my toe in, what returns to me is how the river looked.

In the summer, the mountains and rivers and lakes and fields are a beautiful patchwork of colors – lots of variations of green in the trees and grass; hues of grey and brown and deep blue in the rivers and streams and lakes; riots of color in the wildflowers. But in this wintry scene, there were really only shades of 2 colors – the white of the snow and the black of the dark and freezing river. All of the stimulation and pleasure of summer’s bounty is distilled into the simplicity and peacefulness of black and white.

As I watched the river by the road on our way in, and on our way out, I found myself feeling peaceful and quietly alive. The simplicity allowed me to shed the ‘loud chatter’ of the summer variety, and breathe in the ‘quiet whisper’ of winter’s beauty. Even amidst the deep cold and long darkness of winter, I find I am grateful for the quiet, simple beauty of black and white.

 

Upcoming Programs and Events

 

“Soul of Leadership Mini: Transforming the Organization’s Soul”

Rev. Susie Allen and Dr. Margaret Benefiel

10-week program beginning February 7.

Two in-person days at Bethany House of Prayer, Arlington, MA (February 7 and April 22), with three small group meetings and online work in between.

http://www.executivesoul.com/soul-of-leadership

 

“Sourcing the Soul for Lent”

Rev. Susie Allen and Rev. Dr. Dirkje Legerstee

A day of worship, reflection and application for creating fresh Lenten worship

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

MACUCC Conference Center, Framingham, MA

 

“The Voice That’s Within”

Experiencing the presence of the Holy through music and song

Sunday, March 23, 2014

10:00 a.m. Worship

Unitarian Universalist Society, Gardner, MA

Living Well

It started with snowshoes . . .

snowshoesFor Christmas, my son – a competitive athlete as well as a good listener – gave me a book entitled, Fit Soul, Fit Body. It is co-authored by a Shaman in the Huichol tradition, and a 6-time Ironman Triathlon Champion. The Ironman Champion writes that he was “unstoppable not because he was physically the best, but because he was emotionally and spiritually at the top of his game.”

It got me to thinking . . . I already spend quite a bit of my personal and vocational time tending to my soul fitness. So when my husband and I sat down on 12/31 to talk about our goals for 2014 – personal, business, relationship, family – I decided that one of my big goals is to prioritize body fitness by exercising 5 days a week.

I try to get to 3 zumba classes per week; but I want to add 2 more days of some other kind of exercise. When the warmer weather comes, I want to get back to running. But what to do in the wintertime?  In the years since my body has been unable to keep up with downhill skiing, I’ve been thinking about snowshoeing. But I hadn’t gotten around to following up and getting what I need to do it.

So on New Years Day, I headed over to EMS – happy and grateful that they were open – to finally take action and purchase some snowshoes so I could begin to realize my fitness goal as early in the new year as possible. The clerk was very helpful – showing me the snowshoes especially designed for recreational use, and the telescopic poles to help over rougher terrain. I was psyched to see that both the snowshoes and the poles were on sale – yay!

As I was checking out, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice saying, “Can she use this?” An arm reached in front of me and held out an EMS coupon for $25. I turned around to see who was offering this incredible gift, and found a woman I had never seen before. While I was stumbling over myself to say thank you, the clerk said, “Sure,” took the coupon, and deducted the $25 from my already sale-priced equipment. While fumbling for my credit card, I turned around to look for the coupon-giving woman who was heading for the door. I yelled “thank you” again, and said, “I’ll pay it forward!”

The clerk was smiling as we finished up, saying “I love it when things like that happen.” I felt suddenly full and alive – aware of the energy people talk about when they are part of a ‘pay-it-forward’ chain reaction . . . aware of a generosity that is most often latent in me, but all of a sudden bursting and wanting an opportunity for expression.

I went out for my first snowshoe this morning – beauty and stillness all around me. I can’t wait to go again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and . . . I’m aware that ‘fit soul, fit body’ is somehow a circle or a spiral. One leads to the other, and then to the other, and then to the other. Generosity, energy, joy, movement, gratitude, power . . . fitness . . . soul . . . body . . .

UPCOMING PROGRAMS & EVENTS

“What is Spiritual Direction?”

An evening program of inquiry and experience in the ancient practice of spiritual direction

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Acton Congregational Church, Acton, MA

“A Faithful or a Fevered Life”

Congregational Church of Littleton Annual Women’s Retreat

Saturday, January 25, 2014

8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

St. Benedict’s Abbey, Still River, MA

“Soul of Leadership Mini: Transforming the Organization’s Soul”

Rev. Susie Allen and Dr. Margaret Benefiel

10-week program beginning February 7.

Two in-person days at Bethany House of Prayer, Arlington, MA (February 7 and April 22), with three small group meetings and online work in between.

http://www.executivesoul.com/soul-of-leadership

“Sourcing the Soul for Lent”

Rev. Susie Allen and Rev. Dr. Dirkje Legerstee

A day of worship, reflection and application for creating fresh Lenten worship

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

MACUCC Conference Center, Framingham, MA

Living Well

South Kaibab Trail

south kaibab trailMy extended family and I spent Thanksgiving week in Sedona, Arizona, enjoying the spectacular beauty of the red rocks. We went to the old mining town of Jerome; we took a Pink Jeep Tour up in to the higher elevations; we saw the Chapel of the Holy Cross; we climbed up into Cathedral Rock. Each day was full of beauty, exercise, laughter, good food, and new experiences.

Before we left for vacation, we all agreed that we needed to set aside a day to take the 2-hour drive north to the Grand Canyon. Only one of us had ever been there, and we were all eager to go. When we arrived at the Canyon visitor center, we spent some time talking with one of the experienced volunteers, to find out which trail was best to take with the time we had available. We also wanted to include time for lunch.

First, we took the shuttle bus to El Tovar Restaurant – a beautiful, 100-year-old restaurant and hotel – right on the rim of the Grand Canyon. We enjoyed a lovely lunch sitting next to a window overlooking the Canyon.

After lunch, we took the shuttle back to the Visitor Center, and awaited a different shuttle to take us to the South Kaibab Trail. It was quite cold that day, so we were bundled up with winter jackets, hats, boots, gloves. When we arrived at the trail, the first thing that we saw was a sign saying: Trail is icy – crampons recommended. My heart skipped a beat, but I saw people heading toward the trail who didn’t have crampons – so I joined in step with my family and off we went.

The view from the top of the trail – like every other outlook we saw – was beyond description. The Grand Canyon is so vast, and so deep, that it seems almost unreal. The color variations on the thousands of layers of rock are indescribable. It is breathtaking – literally.

As we entered the trail, it became clear right away that it was a series of switchbacks – about 4 feet wide at any given point; no guard rails, no hand-holds; just sheer beauty and staggering openness.

At this point in my story, it is important to say that I feel very scared and shaky at high elevations. My feet and legs immediately feel tingly and weak, and I feel like I’m fighting an irresistible urge to jump. As I entered the trail, I was aware that this was more than a challenge to my fear of heights – but, after all, this was the GRAND CANYON!

Others in my family struggle with heights as well, so we walked near each other – taking our time, often crouching to hold on to the rock as we turned a sharp corner, or had to pass others on the trail. As we continued downward on the trail (my hands are clammy just writing this), I became aware that I was unable to look out toward the Canyon – I just had to keep my head down and stay focused on the trail.

We had agreed to meet up, with the family members who were walking faster, at a place in the trail called Ooh Ahh Point. After about 30 minutes of walking, we approached Ooh Ahh Point, and I realized I was in trouble. I could no longer look up to see anyone; I could no longer imagine walking another step; I could not pose for a picture or even talk. I was completely and utterly paralyzed with fear, and tears began streaming down my face. I had reached a place in myself where I felt frozen and unreachable, and all I wanted was to be air-lifted out.

With a forceful urgency that arose out of my terror, I began to walk back up the trail. I wanted only to get out and I couldn’t wait for any person, or any conversation, or any decision. I just started. Right away, I was aware that my husband was behind me – staying at enough distance to give me space to move, but close enough for me to know he was there. I was aware that someone else was following as well – it turned out to be my daughter.

The trail is on an incline – steep in some places, almost level in other places. I stayed to the inside as much as I could, passing others coming down. I couldn’t look up – just kept my eyes on the trail in front of me. At one point, my husband asked if we could stop – he was struggling to catch his breath. I was oblivious to my own breath, my own pace – just aware of the urgency to get out.

By the time we got back to the shuttle stop at the top of the trail, I was done in. Physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually empty. Eventually, the rest of the family joined me, we got back on the shuttle, returned to our cars, and headed back to Sedona.

In the quiet (and safety) of the car ride, I began to unwind and unravel my experience. What was my deepest challenge? My deepest fear? In the growing darkness of the day, I came to know – it was a fear of limitation.

This fear – this awareness of the power of limitation – has become part of my prayer. What does it mean to feel limited? How does that influence my life with others? My life with God? What is it I pray for in the midst?

My family has asked me: if we went to the Grand Canyon again, what would I do? At this moment in time, my answer is – and has been – I’d do the same thing. The South Kaibab Trail taught me a new way to pray.

Living Well

Bread and Wine

I have been reading a book, recommended by my daughter, entitled, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. It is a beautiful, spiritual memoir of the author’s experience with food and family and friends and God.

imagesShe talks about her relationship with food – a love story in itself, challenged by sometimes too much and the body affects of that, and by the food allergies which members of her family have. She shares about deep loss and grief; about reunions; about friendships forged and maintained over time and distance; about carefully planned events, with formal invitations and fussy meals, that turned into impromptu responses to painful life emergencies. She talks about the dining club composed of other young couples early in their lives together, and the ways in which they came to know and love one another through late-into-the-night conversations around the table, as well as standing by one another with comfort food when loss and challenges arose. Her story is infused with the wisdom she has discovered through the food and friendships, distilled and clarified through her craft as a writer. Here are a few of her morsels:

“Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don’t know what to say, when there are no words to say.”

“I’m talking about feeding someone with honesty and intimacy and love, about making your home a place where people are fiercely protected, even if just for a few hours, from the crush and cruelty of the day.”

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”

Thanksgiving is next week, and we will be together with all of our children, my sister, her husband and their kids. Our own family joys and sorrows, sensitivities and expectations, worries and dreams, desires and disappointments, can so easily get stirred up and magnified as we prepare for ‘the holiday meal’ – that has been planned for and prepared for with as many of our favorite dishes as possible. We’ll each find our seat – bringing with us all of the individual challenges that are a part of our unique humanness. And before we take the first mouthful, my husband will offer the toast he always offers at every holiday meal. He’ll raise his glass and say – ‘this meal, this gathering around the table, is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Being together, eating good food, sharing time together, is the best gift.’ We all giggle a bit – he says this every time – and then we take a sip, sit, and begin to eat.

So as we gather on Thanksgiving, and for the holidays just around the corner – with friends, with family; with ones we love and ones we struggle even to like; I pray that we can take a moment to open to the love story that is happening right then and there. I pray that we can open to the possibility and presence of a space for those with us – and for ourselves – “to feel seen and heard and loved;” that we can declare our tables to be a “safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”

 

Living Well

Antidote to Violence

UnknownA friend of mine recently shared a quote from Thomas Merton that has been with her for a while. I printed it out and placed it on my altar space so I could read it again and again. And though I have read it a number of times, and stopped to ponder the power and impact of what Merton says, I regret to say that I haven’t – yet – been too successful in authoring changes to my life’s rhythm to help create a more peaceful internal space and pace.

So I am heading off for a retreat with the SSJE brothers. I have planned for time in spiritual direction, time to walk the beautiful trails near the guest quarters, time in worship, time with a friend who will also be on retreat, and time for silence. It is the silence I crave most. While I am alone much of the time in my daily life, I often struggle to set aside time for deep, quiet, open, silence.

So I welcome your prayers and your blessings as I take this time away. And I invite you to ponder Merton’s words with me. How might each of us develop the space and the ability to become vessels of peace amidst the violence of the world we have created?

The rush and pressure of modern life

are a form of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a

multitude of conflicting concerns,

to surrender to too many demands,

to commit oneself to too many projects,

to want to help everyone in everything

is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her

work for peace.—Thomas Merton