Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Women Writing for (a) Change

     This is the name of a new endeavor for me.  It is a "private writing school with a feminist philosophy, aiming to improve peoples lives through the art of writing and the practices of community endeavor  "  Yesterday I went to their "sampler" event to get a taste of what this is all about.

Of course I went with trepidation about how I would do and be received.  And the usual - what to wear.  I have this thing about "scarf wearing women" being more stylish than sweatshirt wearing me and so I wore a sweater and a scarf trying to fit in to what I imagined the group would look like..   But the scarf covered my name tag and I removed it.  I think it is all a metaphor!

Anyway I am always attracted to structured meetings and this promises to be one.  We were given an agenda and they stuck to the times that were listed.  That was certainly a good beginning.

We were in a circle and I could not help but remember joining a new circle almost 8 years ago at Wellstreams and feeling similar feelings of being welcome and safe and in the presence of people who shared my values and dreams.  When I began Wellstreams, my sister had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and my daughter had just moved into my home following a divorce.  And I was full of all of that trauma.   Yesterday I had told Brian that he could no longer live with us and I was certainly full of that trauma.   And with both, there was the belief within me that I was where I needed to be.  This journey will help me.

We did several things that will be part of our Monday evening experience.  We checked in, we read an article together and reflected on it, we had a "fast writing" period and then "Readbacks."  Afterwards we passed the "talking stone" and each shared a word or two about their experience together and I said "a good beginning."  It really was.  I am happy to be in the company of new women, to be led by women I already respect and admire and to be given an opportunity to write with others and share my writing.

When we did the "fast writing" we were given prompts to choose and the one I picked was "This right now is home."  I found myself thinking about home - and how my feeling of home for six months was radically changed as Brian was living with us.  And now the new beginning for me is embracing what home will become.  Here is what I wrote:

This right now is home
Where I am free enough to let go and allow myself
    to breathe
    to wait
    to create

This right now is home
where I am  allowed to be
    and sloppy
    and stupid

This right now is home
where I can
   and read
   and remember

That I belong here
   I am safe here
      All is well here
At Home

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Hummingbird Life

May the answer for me at this time.

A couple of weeks ago I caught a little bit of Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah.  And it has stuck with me.

She talked about the difference between hummingbirds and jackhammers.  The jackhammer digs down deep into the passion of the person.  In many ways, that was my life as pastor of the church.  I thought about the church - people, activities, growth, purpose ALL the time.  More than anyone knew - more than I knew - it truly consumed me - not only my time, but my mind.

In retirement, I wondered if there was a new passion or new focus for my energy and attention.  In her talk she said that some people are "hummingbirds" who flit from flower to flower instead of just one passion.  That has spoken to me and as I observe my attention and activity, it is how I am living in this season.

I am getting ready to drive to Lima Ohio this morning for a meeting where I join other ministers as their "Regional Elder."  Yesterday I met with someone for spiritual direction, chaired a meeting of the Wellstreams Advisory council, and met a family to plan a funeral.  Later today I will lead a book discussion and Sunday I will preach.  I am getting ready to join a Monday night group of women who are "Writing for a Change" and planning a trip to Virginia in March for a book festival. And as important, is time I get to spend hanging out with my grandkids. It is a life now of variety - different ways to love, to be present, to write and to have fun.  I guess you could call it a whole lot of different kinds of flowers to pollinate!

Elizabeth Gilbert writes:  : “For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next.."

 I  dash this off in gratitude for the blessings of the variety of ways I get to say YES to invitations to love and serve.  And savor where God is showing me new life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Living in Ambiguity

Which feels like the wilderness at times

In my "Retreat in Daily Life" I am spending time with Jesus in the wilderness.

And what I know is that there are aspects of my life which really feel like the wilderness.  That is, if wilderness is a time of confusion.  This picture looks like me sitting and wondering what is true and what is false and  what to do and what not to do. I begin the day in prayer wanting some answers and enlightenment and I want it now.

As I thought about the three temptations of Jesus I realized that when Satan was tempting him to turn some stone into bread, he was essentially saying - you can get out of here. On your own.  When he was inviting him to worship him, he was saying much the same thing - you don't have to stay here in this place of desolation.  And when he encouraged him to put God to the test by jumping off a cliff, he was inviting spectacle and not humble trust.  I get it.

Nationally, I listened to the state of the union that ended with the flourish "The state of the union is strong!" and then afterwards I listened to  those who disagreed.  In the life of the church, I am preaching at churches in transition and wondering whether they will grow or die or just keep on keeping on until the money ends.  And in my own family life, there are significant questions about the sources of healing and the hope for an independent life for Brian.

 It is ambiguous, confusing and  ultimately for me - unsettling.   I want to be positive and hopeful about everything at the same time I know it is easy to live in a sort of delusion and denial.  And then there I  - not in a wise awareness of the "both - and" of life, but just in confusion.  Wondering:  what is my role here?  How am I being called?

Richard Rohr writes about chemist turned Philosopher Polanyi:
"He never denied objective reality; he just said we must be humble and tentative about our ability to know it. 
 We are all partial knowers; all verbalizations are filled with biography, preference, genius, and past hurts...we are all invested in our knowing.  
This leads us to a necessary humility and to a very unsettling sense of the certitude that we all want and need. 
 It seems we must somehow "kneel" to hear and see correctly."

So I am kneeling  in the wilderness with Jesus.  This is what I wrote this morning

Sitting in the Wilderness with Jesus

Who assures me that God has brought me here

He waits with me and strengthens me when I want to 

he calls me to wait with God when I want to follow other paths

He invites me to simplicity as I want heroic spectacle instead of faithful obedience.

He is Here with Me
   saying WAIT
           I LOVE YOU


And I remember waiting when I was in labor  - through a lot of pain - for new life to be born
Is this a place of birthing?
I wonder

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In my canoe

One of the images that has been really helpful to me over the years is that of being in a canoe.  
Many years ago Chuck and I were canoeing in Michigan together.  He asked me if I was going to bring extra clothing and I said NO - why would I?  In case the canoe tips over, he says.
That should have been a clue for me.  But I was so sure we would not tip over that I scornfully said NO.

Then we stopped at an island.  And I got back in the canoe in the front and he did what I call a "Hiawatha thing" where he pushed out the canoe into the river and then jumped in the back. (Like he was in his twenties and not in his 60's!) And, of course, we immediately tipped over and were both completely wet.  And I was mad.  Really mad.  Hopping mad.

Later I reflected on this experience with Sister Breda, my spiritual director.  And realized that in the past there had been times when I had been in a canoe and tipped over and laughed - and now, this time I was just MAD.  As we talked, she reflected that life is really like a canoe that is sometimes stable and sometimes not.  It just is. And so, that has become an image for me to remember.  Life is not a cruise ship where all our needs are met - but much more, much more like living in a canoe.

I found myself thinking about that this morning as I realized that I am in a place today of greater stabilization than a week ago.  The canoe has righted itself and I am paddling in dry clothes and starting to look around and appreciate the beauty of the day.

For one thing, my life goes on in its varied activities.  In the past week I have been invited to preach at several churches, to work on a retreat and to serve on a committee for Columbus City Schools. I have made some concrete plans for a trip to Arizona and a family vacation in July. Brian and I meet with his counselor today and he has already started making appointments to look into disability income and to explore the next place where he will live.

Always my faith is really the anchor.  This week I have spent time with some texts of the season which have given me hope in the midst of confusion.  It is in times like this that I cherish the WORD of God which says - "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."  I have learned to trust that word even when I can't see the light.  And trust that eventually there will be  clarity and  inner peace.

Jesus says: Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

What I believe is that to "take the yoke" means that when we are in the canoe - we understand that we are in the front paddling or resting  and trusting the one who is directing us in the back of the canoe. It is easy to forget that I don't have sit in the back guiding the canoe - there is another  wiser one who I can trust.  To "take the yoke" is to know that even when the canoe does tip over due to events beyond my control, I can trust that the worst thing that will happen is  a loss of dignity, wet clothes and I may have to scramble a little bit.   And  that eventually I will be able to find something to laugh about in it.

And so, today is a day of gratitude and wonder as I consider these words of Richard Rohr:

"God has written the patterns in things as they are, and yet we never see the full pattern without divine assistance. God seems to be both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in all things."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Searching for Wisdom

I continue to receive the daily lectionary and today's scripture from Proverbs was so apt for me:

Proverbs 1:1-7

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

I begin this year with a fair amount of confusion and if there is one thing I know - I need some wisdom.  With Brian living with us, I need to learn more about mental illness for one thing.  But even more than that, there is the wisdom of knowing what is my role and how am I helpful and not hurting.
And that is not just with Brian - but with really everyone in my life.  What is my role here?  How can I help and not hurt?

In his book Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner writes: "Wisdom is a matter not only of the mind but of the intuition and heart,...it is born out of suffering as a woman bears a child.  it shows a way through the darkness the way a woman stands at the window holding a lamp."  In my daily retreat interestingly enough  the scripture I spent time with was from Isaiah 9:1-6 which encompassed people who are walking in darkness that see a great light and the description of the child born to us: wonderful counselor.  

And so - as usual - as I sit in silence and wonder, again I realize that something does happen through prayer and time with God's word.  Maybe the beginning of knowledge, a glimpse of the path and a sense of the next step.  I only know that as I begin this year - 2016 - surely a year of growth for me - I need to center on the Wonderful Counselor who listens and in his presence I can find a little peace.

Here is a Blessing for Today from Maxine Shonk:

May you be blessed with the WISDOM of God who fills your heart with vision
so that you may see all things with the eyes of God.
May you have the WISDOM and knowledge to discern God's desire.
May you be drawn to a deeper awareness of God's activity in your life.
May you give voice to the WISDOM as you wnter into communion with all God's people.
May the God of WISDOM bless you..


Friday, January 1, 2016

Thoughts on the New Year

I spent some time in my prayer room this morning  just looking out the window.  And this is what I saw:                  blue sky and grey and white clouds up above
                         the top of my neighbor's patio roof
                         power lines
                        the top half of a tree - with brown bare branches in front of a green fir tree

Not exactly the most beautiful view but something about it caught my attention.  The blue sky always grabs me - but it was almost a glimmer of gold that startled me.  As I sat there I thought - what was that?  And stared at the tree branch that was a dull brown.  Then suddenly for a couple of seconds it was gold.  Did I really see that?  And then I understood about the movement.  The changes from light to dark, from brown to gold.  It was the wind .  It was the wind moving the clouds  in front of and away from the sun. So that sometimes the view was bright and other times - just ordinary.

As I sat there I found myself thinking about changes and impermanence.  A new year 2016 and I am older, feeling the same but subtly changing.  Moving like the clouds in the sky. And if I am not changing everyone around me seems to be.  My children and grandchildren and this whole culture is one of movement and change, change, change.

I was stirred up this morning when I came to pray today.  I spent time yesterday and today undecorating the house from Christmas and looking for a certain  picture to hang on the fireplace and I couldn't find it.  I am married to someone who moves MY things, or hides them, or sometimes even throws them away.  And I want my things to be where I expect them to be.  You see, there are aspects of my life that I REALLY don't want any change.  I live with impermanence in my home that challenges me.

At the same time there really are aspects of my life that I want to have changed and they probably are not going to change for a while.  I keep saying to myself - "It is what it is."

Sometimes I think that where I want change, there is no change.  And where I don't want change there is too much change.  But of course, change is inevitable.  This is a picture of a Tibetan Monk beginning the destruction of an intricately created mandala.  It was beautiful but it was not meant to be permanent.   It reminds us that  life is a series of moments of  "letting go" as we face the reality of constant changes and impermanence.  Appreciating the beauty in the moment and not expecting it to last forever.

So Happy New Year to me
And my prayer is for serenity and peace and discernment
          to accept the things I cannot change
         to change the things I can
          to  have the wisdom to know the difference.
         to trust God's presence and love in the midst of all of it.

And hoping that 2016 I will embrace all of it - the light and the dark, the bright and the ordinary, the joy and the struggles.