Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Eyes of Compassion

I read Richard Rohr this morning about seeing with "Eyes of Compassion" and it is hard in the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas.

As I watch the news (way too much!) the reporters and police are still uncertain about the motivation of this man who stockpiled weapons and carefully prepared for a mass murder.  There is something so unsettling in all of it.

I will say "you never know what is going on with people" somewhat glibly.  The truth is so scary.  We see what we see in our interactions with others and often have no idea the guilt, shame, hate, anger, prejudices, and bitterness that can reside within people.  No idea.  And then they open their mouths and we  hear words that can shock us or they reveal ideas that are disturbing or they do things that are unimaginable.  There are times like this when I am left feeling agitated and isolated.  How does a Christian make sense of this? 

So I turn to this devotional that I have been slowly making my way through this year by Richard Rohr which helps a little.  He writes:

"I am convinced that guilt and shame are never from God...If God related to us by severity and punishment, God would only be giving us permission to do the same.  ....The spiritual journey is a kind of weeping and a kind of wandering that keeps us both askew and awake at the same time."

 So I wander and wonder and pray that I might be guided by the source of love today.

Here is a prayer from Prayers Encircling the world that speaks to me today

Dear Lord Jesus, 
I don't know who I am,
I don't know what I am,
I don't know where I am,
but please love me.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Growth Mindset

On Saturday I went to a training to become an ESL tutor and learned about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.  I know that my daughters who are teachers know about this but it was a new concept for me.

The difference is essentially whether you believe that intelligence can be developed or is static.  Intellectually I have come to understand that growth is always possible with effort and openness, but what I realized is that I grew up in many ways with a fixed mindset.  In school I believed that some kids were just smarter and didn't have to study.  Some kids were good at math and others weren't.  Some were good at science and others weren't.  I think I did not really understand that it was possible for me - who struggled with algebra  and science - to learn it.  That real study could lead to  breakthroughs and understanding.   I often gave up and my interests naturally went toward the arts and literature.

Audrey is teaching math and I hear her struggles as a teacher with those kids who don't want to learn and probably don't believe they can learn.  So many clearly have a fixed mindset which is described as:
  •  Avoiding challenges
  • giving up early due to obstacles
  • seeing effort as fruitless
  • ignoring useful feedback
  • threatened by others' success.
 I wonder how we move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It must have something to do with recognizing when we have actually learned something or improved because of practice and study.  I have been to several of Jackson's soccer games and continue to marvel at his (and all the boys) improvement over the years.  They play their positions now and have good ball handling skills and know when to pass and when to shoot.  Clearly there has been a growth mindset here.

Does this then continue to the rest of their lives?  Are they boys who know the value of effort and study in the classroom?  I wonder.  Often we seem to have a growth mindset in one area of our lives but not others.  For example I watch adults struggle in relationships and are often resistant  any suggestion of counseling. They seem not to want to learn about themselves and others but keep believing that nothing and nobody can change

I am  beginning  an  "internship" as a supervisor of spiritual directors  and hope that I am coming in with a growth mindset. Here are the descriptors of a growth mindset:
  • Embrace challenges
  • persist despite obstacles
  • see effort as a path to mastery
  • learn from criticism
  • be inspired by others' success

What I know to be true is how often we can fall away from openness to learning because we  think that we know more than we do.  We may believe  that we are done growing - especially as we get older. A growth mindset is necessarily vulnerable and ready to embrace challenge and persist despite obstacles. 

My prayer for today is not for growth - but for the growth mindset.  May I be open, vulnerable, willing to learn and try new ideas and behaviors that might lead to the transformation the God desires in my life.

Here is a blessing by Maxine Shonk

May the God of GROWING THINGS call you to ever more wonderful growth and wholeness.
May the horizons of your life stretch far to the east and west, to the north and south
....and in the stretching may you know the wonder of God's universe within and around you.
Through this awareness may you plant seeds of hope in you you meet.
May the God of GROWING THINGS be with you.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who are you listening to?

That is the question of our lives.  I have been watching “The Tudors” about the reign of Henry VIII and it is clear that a king can live in a bubble and the most important question is: who is he listening to?  His advisors change as his wives change and he brings one family in and the other family out.  It affects his relationship with the church and his people and his God.  Who he is listening to

And then I watch our president as advisors move in and out and the question is: who is he listening to?  The generals?  Steve Bannon? His base?  The republican leaders?  The pundits on TV?  The suggestion is that it effects decisions that he is making.  Who he is listening to

And then there is Margot.  Who is she listening to?  Often it is the voices within that tell her that she needs to be productive.  Or the cultural messages that seem to say that her worth is in her efforts and her titles?  Can she hear the voice of God speaking words of love.  She can write about it and talk about it – but can she hear it?  Is she listening to her ego with its needs to control, authority and position?  Is she listening to her inner child who is afraid of the future and wants someone to take care of her?  Is she listening to her soul that desires gentleness, peace, love, beauty.  Who is she listening to

That is the question of my life.  Who am I listening to?   I desire to go deep and to hear God’s whispers and invitations but the other voices can be so insistent and so demanding.  So much that I often just stop trying and numb out in the effort to be present.  But of course, that does not lead to life – but almost limbo.

So today begins again the practice of seeking to listen to the Holy One who loves me. I read, write, pray and trust that in my desire to be present I might receive a word today that will guide me on this journey with God. And may I know that God is a listener for me as I struggle to be faithful.
Today brings with it a trip to the dentist, meetings, and reading.  May I remember that God is here listening to me and offering me blessings upon blessings.

Prayer by Maxine Shonk

May the LISTENING God embrace you. 
May your voice become true and clear in the presence of the God who listens. 
May you come close to the ear of God and entrust your deepest secrets, the unspeakable and the unresolved, the tender truth of your devotion and the fragile residue of the fear in your heart.
May the Spirit pray in you as you open yourself up in God’s hearing.
May God the LISTENER bless you.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lets Go to the Movies!

That is a song from "Annie" that I sometimes sing to myself as I go to the movies.  Some of the lyrics are:
 Let's go to the movies..: Let's go see the stars
 Fred and Ginger  spinning madly....
Anything you  can imagine...
Songs and romance.
Life is the dance.
Sitting in the darkness,
popcorn on your knee!
Give the maid the night off!
Warbucks: Turn the kitchen light off!
Grace and Warbucks: Let's go to the movies,
Annie, you and me!
It is a picture of the escape that movies are for people during the depression.  I have been a regular movies attender all my life and for me, there is nothing like sitting in the dark and waiting for the movie to begin.
It is more than escape, however.  The movies that I watch frequently stay with me and  give me images and stories to reflect on as I live my life.  Last Tuesday I saw the movie Detroit  and it was literally the hardest movies I have ever sat through.  And ultimately I am glad I did. It is a gut wrenching and graphic portrayal of the events that happened at the Algiers Motel in Detroit during the riots in 1967.   It received mixed reviews because of the violence and I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone, but I am glad I saw it.
In 1967 I was living in Birmingham Michigan, a middle class suburb of Detroit and during that summer before college I was working at a dry cleaners.  I was hardly aware of what was happening downtown except that the African American Woman, Ollie, who worked the presser at the dry cleaners was unable to come to work for a week. I look back now on my own blindness and unconsciousness to the  terrible injustice and systemic racism that others experienced as I lived in my own  little world.

Two weeks ago I saw The Glass Castle.  Another movie that was hard to watch at times as it explored the difficult chldhood of Jeanette Walls whose parents were free spirited and neglectful.  The movie moved back and forth in time as she came to terms - as an adult - with the reality of her childhood.  At one point, she was dating an investment banker who encouraged her to walk away from her family, but she realized that she could not do that.  She would deny herself.

This has all made me think about the whole business of what to do with the statues of the confederacy.  It is really important for us to remember our history in its entirety.  Some people are drawn to nostalgia and  remembering the "good old days" and either forgetting or denying some of the sinful  history and wounds of our past as individuals and as a country. There is always a voice that tells us that we and they should just "get over it."  But the reality is that our history will continue to inform our present and we can understand and have compassion for ourselves and others when we remember where we have come from and what we have been through.  For me,  films, through the years,  have been a way in which I have come to a deeper awareness about all kinds of issues and historical events. As I look back  I can identify pivotal movies (like Platoon, Schindler's List, The Killing Fields, The Mission) that have impacted my worldview and made me think about things in a new way. They have been a source of illumination and awakening as they help me SEE.

And so, I will continue to go to the movies - not just to escape from life -  but to better understand and appreciate life in all its beauty and complexity.  I pray always for discernment as our country seeks to appropriately honor and remember  past events and people. 
Here is a  blessing of Vision from Maxine Shonk:

May God bless you in your blindness
when it is impossible to see in spite of all your looking,
may God bless you with the ability to envision
a better world and to visualize a healed creation.
May ou be given the gift of prophecy as you share your vision with all who surround you.
And may you help others to see by your touch of compassion and your word of encouragement.
May the God of VISION bless you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hidden Things Revealed

When I was at the Camp Christian Saturday we reflected in a small group about our experience of "gazing" by the lake.  Amanda said something to the effect of "hidden things announcing themselves." She referenced how a fish just comes quickly to the surface and then disappears.

That statement resonates with me. As I look at this picture, I think how long you can see a lake or pond as somewhat still and then suddenly an awareness that there is much going on underneath.

I write this as I continue to ponder the events of Charlottesville this weekend.  The racism and violence that simmers below the surface  shattered our illusions of peace and equality in our country. (I recognize the naivete and privilege of that statement, but there it is. It is easy to live in a bubble and assume that everyone thinks like I do.) I believe our president - whose history includes being the promulgator of "birtherism" - is complicit  and woefully inadequate to guide us as he continues to be ignorant, combative and divisive.  All of which can lead me down a path of feeling angry, helpless, useless and very concerned about what is coming next.

My daily meditations include reading from A Spring Within Us by Richard Rohr.  Just that phrase is helpful. There are more hidden things to be announced than evil and violence.  Within this world and within me - there is the compassionate, courageous, gracious spirit of the living God which gives us wisdom to discern what is true and strength to stand up to the powers and the principalities. I celebrate the clergy that gathered in Charlottesville and pray for guidance in my own journey.

It seems to me that there are easy pitfalls here - either ignoring what is happening (amazed to find that my personal trainer on Monday had NO IDEA about any of this) or becoming almost obsessed with it.  Somehow I seek the third way - which right now is pretty unclear but I pray for God's guidance that will be shown to me in some form or fashion.

For now I look to the words of Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


  I was part of the planning team from the Wellstreams Council  who took part in an "Earth Walk" experience at Camp Christian.  It is always interesting to plan an event and not understand how it will affect you when you actually participate in it.  That is what happened to me.

After our opening meditation and sharing circle we each were instructed to walk around camp and find our "spirit spot."  There we were to stay and settle into a state of motionlessness.  We were not to move or strain, but just allow the natural world to sweep over us and engulf us and experience the flow of life around us.

I quickly identified a spot near the lake where I could sit in the shade under a tree and just gaze around me.

 There was a large heron that flew by and seemed to be inviting me to stop and rest.  During our opening prayer time we had received this quotation:
"I become a transparent eyeball, I am nothing;
 I see all the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me;
 I am part or particle of God" 
During the hour of sitting, I was aware of all the movement that was going on before me.  Here is what I wrote:
Be Still and Know

And what I know is the nothing is Still.
I sit and see ants on my jeans crawling to my socks
and a teeny tiny bug on the tip of a blade of grass
and a little itty bitty something that has landed on my journal
and a tiny  flying creature hovering near by
It is not still - never still

And the wind is moving the grasses by the lake
and the water is reflecting the trees
    I see glints of diamonds
         that become ripples,
            then crescents
               then concentric circles
The water is moved by the wind and the fountain and frogs and fish                                                     It is not still - never still

And I am not still inside or out
Thoughts careening from here to there and back here again
I am breathing air in and out
My blood is flowing through my body
It is not still - never still

Be still and know the Psalmist writes
and I think - nothing is still here
And I do NOT know but I wonder
Are you  still God? Creator?  Lover of my soul?
Are you the prime mover of this activity ?
Are you moving me?

In the afternoon we were invited to do a walk about and allow ourselves to be drawn to an natural being and stand in its presence and be "in conversation" with it.  As we planned this, I wondered what it would be like, but it turned out to be a rich experience for me.

I was drawn to a purple wildflower that I thought was beautiful (later found out it was an "ironweed" which is a poor name for such a lovely creation.)  It was on the side of a path and the only bit of color in a sea of green.

I literally sat at its feet and allowed it to show me its life.  At first I thought it was standing straight and tall and then I realized there was a lean to the sun.  There were bugs  that landed and went away.  Looking carefully, I could see it was a lot of little flowers grouped together - some budding, some in bloom and some past blooming.

And this is what I ended up writing:

This afternoon in communion with a purple wildflower standing on the side of the road
Communing as we both are beautiful creations of God  who live for a finite time
I watch the bugs, bees and butterflies land and fly away and know that she cannot control who comes and goes 
As so many people have come and gone in my life.
She receives all without complaint or expectation.
She is leaning toward the sun - a life giving source for her.
As I lean toward the Son - the source of hope and life for me.
She is noticed by some and I am sure dismissed by many.
I seek her stance, her singularity, her availability.
Is she a reflection of me?  Is she connected to me?

I never would have expected to feel unity with a wildflower, but I truly did.  There is this sense of connection and oneness in immersing ourselves in nature.  A day like this of slowing down and resting in creation and noticing our connections shifts something within me.  I am grateful to have the time and the ability to be able to do this.

And I write this on Sunday morning after watching the news of Charlottesville yesterday.  It hurts my heart to see the way in which people choose to separate themselves and concentrate on what divides instead of what connects us.  My prayers are with all who are grieving today.  Somehow we have got to move away from arguing and opining to seeking our common humanity and our soul connections. 
If I can commune with a wildflower, surely we can all commune with another living breathing human being. I know that I am an idealist and a dreamer but I am not the only one.

I think of these words by John Lennon and they speak to me today.


Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one


Friday, August 11, 2017

Gratitude for New Beginnings

I sit in my prayer room this morning and feel grateful for so much. It has been a full and fruitful summer and it is not over yet.  One of the great blessings for me has been the addition of Audrey into our home as she begins a new life here in Columbus.

She has had her first week of teaching at the Charles School and my joy is listening to her share about meeting the kids, working with teachers and administrators and preparing for the new year.  I call her ET - the person that comes in from outer space (well, actually Arizona) and brings new life to a family.  And that is what she is doing for me and Chuck.

I am also grateful as I watch the grandkids prepare for a new school year.  As I write this, Marnie has taken time off from work to get the girls haircuts and new clothes.  Kacey has posted in facebook the trials of taking a teenager shopping who rejects any of Mom's suggestions.  She is really getting payback here!  I remember it all well and like watching and not having to actually participate in these rituals of the new school year.

This year I am going to start training to be a "supervisor" in the Wellstreams program and am revisiting some of the books that I read years ago.  This morning I reread the preface to the book Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther.  I was struck by these words written by Alan Jones:

  Human life isn't worth living without our willingly accepting responsibility for our behavior, yet that would be too heavy a burden without the possibility of forgiveness. 
Those of us who hope for a more caring and humane world had better be aware of forgiveness (both human and divine) if we are going to navigate the stormy seas of human relations.
Much of the pain could be avoided if we knew how to frame questions about our longings and were willing to forgive one another, even as we seek to make one another accountable.  Spiritual  direction, at its best.

Later he writes:
Margaret Guenther knows what it means to grow into being someone.  There is waiting, stillness, and hope.  "When in doubt," she writes, "I always assume that God is at work, that is, the person is pregnant."

And so my gratitude is for my family  and their new beginnings and the awareness of the possibility of new life for myself and for everyone.   God is at work guiding us as we are - no matter how old - growing into being someone - ourselves!

I am going to end this post with a writing by Melodie Beattie that Audrey shared with her classes this week.

Beginnings can be delicate or explosive. They can start almost invisibly or arrive with a big bang.
Beginnings hold the promise of new lessons to be learned, new territory to be explored, and old lessons to be recalled, practiced, and appreciated.
Beginnings hold ambiguity, promise, fear, and hope.
Don’t let the lessons, the experiences of the past, dampen your enthusiasm for beginnings.
Just because it’s been hard doesn’t mean it will always be that difficult. Don’t let the heartbreaks of the past cause you to become cynical, close you off to life’s magic and promise.
Open yourself wide to all that the universe has to say.
Let yourself begin anew. Pack your bags. Choose carefully what you bring, because packing is an important ritual. Take long some humility and the lessons of the past. Toss in some curiosity and excitement and what you haven’t yet learned.
Say your good-byes to whose you’re leaving behind.
 Don’t worry who you will meet or where you will go. The way has been prepared. The people you are to meet will be expecting you.
A new journey has begun.
 Let it be magical. Let it unfold.