Thursday, August 25, 2016

Morning Reflection On Loneliness

I started today sitting on my front porch reading, writing and reflecting.  Just trying to start the day in a good frame of mind.  Always, there is this question - what will this day bring?  And in retirement, I often do not have a clue - what I am going to do and what events will occur.  As is often the case, my first thought was - I hope I don't waste time and over eat. 

As I started to write I got in touch with an inner loneliness that I try to avoid.  In this case I started wishing I had someone to play raquetball with or go to a comedy club.  But it is more than that. Now, I have a lot of friends.  Yesterday, for example I went to book club with women I have been sharing books with for over a dozen years and I had lunch with two "Wellstream" friends.  And then there are all of the relationships from churches over the years.  And my oldest and longest friendship with Susan in Arizona.

And having acknowledged all that, there is still a place of inner loneliness within me.   Which I don't like to admit to myself and certainly not in a blog because it makes me seem like a loser or a whiner.  But really, I suspect that loneliness is pretty universal if we are honest with ourselves.  I have been slowly reading through When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and as luck (actually God) would have it, the next chapter was called "Six Kinds of Loneliness."

She writes about hot loneliness and cool loneliness.  When we have hot loneliness, we have a desire for resolution.  That is what keeps us covering up the pain  - and some of my ways are with phone calls, tv, computer games and of course - food.

She writes about having less desire: "the willingness to be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up and change our mood."  She quotes the Zen master Katagiri Roshu who said "One can be lonely and not be tossed away by it."  Contentment as she describes it is being able to settle down with cool loneliness.  I guess it is a question of just acceptance of what is. We don't have to get busy to avoid the pain but just know that is part of this whole business of being a human being.

What was interesting this morning on the front porch was that once again I had a familiar  insight  as I  observe the "lessons" of nature.   I watch  the trees go light and dark as clouds cover and uncover  the sun, I  hear the sounds of cicadas that increase and decrease in sound from forte to pianissimo  and I watch the birds and the squirrels go back and forth from roof to flower to ground and back again.  The wind is still for a moment and then the slight movement of leaves fluttering and then still again. Always there is movement of light and dark, back and forth, as I sit there breathing in and out with Ginger watching attentively one moment and distracted another.

And I realize that my moods are similarly fluid  as  I might move from anxiety to peace, from shame to gratitude, from despair to awe. The   feelings of loneliness come and go as well.  I don't have to run away from it, but just wait in it and notice the movement.

And trust in God's work always in the midst of it all.  I will end with a quote from Pema Chodren

"When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity?
Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human hearts?
The next time you get a change, experiment with this."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Preaching in Hocking Hills

For the fourth time this year, I drove to Hocking Hills to preach at three churches on Sunday morning.  It is an experience that is like no other for me.

First of all, there is the reality of three services to lead, to preach and in two - to play the piano.  This week there were 6 people at the first church, 8 at the second and 6 at the third.

There is the sweetness and the friendliness of the people.  Every church has one or two people that clearly are the leaders - that have arranged for the commnion and are keeping it all together.  They always greet me and Chuck with affection and it feels very welcoming to be there.

But most of all there is a sadness about it all.  At each church I heard stories of how long they have tried to "keep it going."  At the first church there was a woman who spoke about her 80 years sitting in these pews and her memories of attending church with her father.  At the second church I heard about how one man's grandfather had built the church on his farmland and how another man had upholstered every one of these pews himself.

And at the third church I had a long conversation about how hard they have tried - knocking on doors and doing everything they know how to do - to bring people to come and worship.  Here is a picture of that church - the only one in town:

And I listen to them - as I listen to the people at other churches where they now have a part time minister after decades of full time pastoring and I commiserate.  And wonder about the future of these little churches myself.

My sermon was about how when we follow Jesus we learn that it is about movement which means being willing to "let go"  I quoted that passage -  "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  The truth is that we spend a lot of time looking back and wanting everything to remain the same - in our churches and in our lives.  And that whole idea of moving forward into an unknown future seems impossible.

These three churches - plus the other 2 in that charge - have a meeting Thursday in which supposedly they are going to have to make some hard decisions.  Maybe they will or maybe they won't.  Churches and people can wait a long time before finally ending relationships or churches. 

what I know to be true is this - it is easier to talk about change than do it.  And it is easy to prescribe it for another but really hard when it is your history and your memories and your comfort that is at stake.

So I pray for these  faithful Christians.  Here is a blessing from Silver Linings by Maxine Shonk that seems appropriate:

May you know blessing when you are feeling apprehensive about many things
and anxiety blocks the vision of your life.
At those times may you recall that God's vision for you remains steadfast and clear,
that you are held on a steady course toward the very heart of God.
May this remembering bring you back to a place of peace, a place of letting go and letting God guid your life.
May this God of CLEAR VISION bless you.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beginning Again

Chapter six in The Soul of the Pilgrim is about "The Practice of Beginning Again."

I like that so much and like all of us practice it over and over again in lots of ways.  I have that sense right now - of beginning again.  My vacation and the mission trip are over and Thursday I had a colonoscopy that I had been dreading and now it feels like - beginning again.  New beginnings, a fresh page, a new attitude, a new day, a new week. 

I like this quote from Rumi

Come, even if you have broken your vow
a hundred times,
Come, yet again, come, come.

So I come to my morning sitting  and begin again a practice that I have been neglecting for the last few months - which is a review of the day before.  I simply write down a list of everything that transpired for me in the past weekend.  On reflection I was awed by the fulness of these days which on the surface looked like I had not done much.  But my list included these things
  • Finishing Home Field - my niece's first novel.  It was a book that will stay with me a long time and full of insights about grief and love and life.  I loved it
  • Went to the movies to see "The Infiltrator" - a movie based on the life of a policeman who infiltrated a Mexican cartel.  Making  me think about leading a double life and putting your family at risk for your work and lots of other things.
  • Lunch to celebrate the birthday of an 87 year old friend who grieves the loss of his beloved wife two years ago
  • Playing games - our new addiction Splendor  and Skip bo with Melanie on Saturday and Chuck and Addie and Nikki on Sunday.  Laughing and listening to music and feeling at home!
  • Swimming with Maggie, Marnie, Erik, Reagan and Addie. 
  • Spiritual Conversations - with several people and listening and hoping that God was somehow guiding us through the messiness of life into seeing what our next steps are to be.
And so I cherish the richness of it all and pray always in the midst of  what often seems ordinary and even muddy, there is guidance for me to grow, to let go, to be present and open.

So I begin again and rededicate myself to what Christine Paintner calls "Monastic" spirituality - a

"return to the practice of showing up, of being still, of opening our hearts to an encounter with the holy.....Pilgrimage is a place of hew beginnings.  no matter how far I stray from my practice, thiere is always an invitation to begin again.  Not just each day, but each moment offers us the chance to lay a new foundation."

Here is a wonderful poem from the book about being alive::

How to Feel the Sap Rising 
   Walk as slowly as possible,
   all the while imagining
   yourself moving through
   pools of honey and dancing with
   snails, turtles, and caterpillars.

   Turn your body in a sunwise direction
   to inspire your dreams to flow upwayd.
   Imagin the trees are your own
   wise ancestors offering their emerald
   leaves to you as a sacred text.

    Lay yourself down across earth
   and stones.  Feel the vibration of
   direct and moss, sparking a tiny
   (or tremendous )
   revolution in your heart
   with their own great longing.

   Close your eyes and forget this
   border of skin.  Imagine the
   breeze blowing through your hair
   is the breath of the forest and
   your own breath jouned, rising and
   falling in ancient rhythms.

   Open your eyes again and see it
   is true, that there is no "me" and "tree"
   but only One great pulsing of life,
   one sap which mourishes and 
   enlivens all, one grat nectar
   bestowing trust and wonder.

    Open your eyes and see that there
   are no more words like beautiful,
   and ugly, good and bad,
   but only the shimmering presence of your
   own attention to life.

   Only one great miracle unfolding and 
   only one sacred word which is



Friday, August 5, 2016

The Rainbow Comes and Goes

This is the title of the book I just finished listening to.  It is a record of the email correspondence between Anderson Cooper and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt in the year 2015.  It is about "a mother and son on life, love and loss." 
I have really loved listening to this because it was their voices and it felt like they were talking to me.  Gloria Vanderbilt is now 92 and really takes the time in this to unflinchingly look back at her life and the sorrows and joys and the failures and successes.  She is unafraid to face the mistakes that changed and shaped her life and to understand them and to forgive herself.  And it is clear that this kind of wisdom does not come easily or quickly.  It was an honest and thought provoking book and I imagine I will continue to reflect on it for some time.

The title is from a quote by Wordworth "The rainbow comes and goes and lovely is the rose" which speaks to the transcience of all things in life.  Life is sweet and  beautiful at times and hard and ugly at other times and none of it lasts forever. 

I am experiencing a week of the rainbow coming and going.  Tuesday I saw my spiritual director and spoke to her about feeling uncertain and  "groundless" and not knowing what to do about some issues in my life. Sunday I bought and started reading Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart" and underlined this passage and wrote it in my journal:
"Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."

And the truth that I know is that I am not in control of much.   In the aftermath of a stolen van,  as we replace keys and locks and garage door openers, I have to face personal insecurity and a sense of violation  I have to watch people I care about suffer and struggle and feel concerns on many levels . At the same time - I have some responsibility to maintain boundaries that may affect them and our relationship.  And there I am - groundless, fearful, confused and uncertain.  At times

But today I have a greater peace for some reason that I don't even know.  Except that maybe as I continue to interact with people on this journey - both in person and through books - I realize that these uncomfortable feelings are truly one of the blessings or gifts of being awake in life. In The Soul of a Pilgrim, there is a chapter on the practice of embracing the unknown. The author writes"The divine is that power which disrupts everything: it is at heart a great mystery at work."

Wouldn't be wonderful to believe only in the God who brings order and peace?  What I keep learning is that our God is in every moment  - the chaos, the confusion, the doubt, the danger, and the despair.
The rainbow comes and goes  - and God is present in all of it.

Ending with a quote from Pema Chodron:

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought.  That's what we're going to discover again and again and again. 
 Nothing is what we thought., I can say that with great confidence.
Emptiness is not what we thought.
Neither is mindfulness or fear.
Compasion - not what we thought.
Buddha nature.
These are code words for things we don't know in our minds, but any of us could experience them.
These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.