I don't exactly do resolutions for the New Year but for quite a while now I've been choosing ONE WORD to guide me and in that one word I find what I need for the year. My word came quickly this year. When I looked at the month of January on my new calendar for 2018 a Mary Oliver quote greeted me:
"TELL ME, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU PLAN TO DO
WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?"
The moment I welcomed that question and listened to it with my whole heart my word for the year moved in—and the word is EXPLORE. The kind of exploring I feel called to does not require a plane ticket. It has nothing to do with exploring far off places. The only ticket required is the ticket of attention. The ticket of mindfulness! This is an invitation to explore what is nearby. I want to meet the things I step over each day. I would like to study the wings of the dragonfly and sit so still at the pond’s edge that the frogs will come out and let me see their eyes.
I want to explore our monastery grounds— just a little each week—to find the life that waits for me unnoticed.
I want to embrace the healing oil of nature and be obedient to its prophetic voice.
Perhaps I will visit a few of our beautiful State Parks of Arkansas or go to my childhood church, just 45 minutes away, and revel in the rich history of that sacred place.
Exploring the living stones of my monastery family is also on my list. Perhaps I can gently search the faces of my sisters and detect which one might need a good word this day, or maybe even a sit-down visit and a cup of tea.
The word, EXPLORE, means to go out, to investigate, search out and examine more closely. It may include crying out in wonder or uttering a voice of delight and sometimes even weeping for joy.
As I hear myself considering all the ways I might explore I am reminded of the Rule of St. Benedict that I am trying to be faithful to each day. Certainly this would be a marvelous means of exploration. Reading the rule again as if reading it for the first time I might be amazed at what I notice as I meander through these sacred pages again and again. Even before re-reading it I am reminded of some of the ways the rule encourages me to live. I ponder the call to simplicity and know immediately that I will be invited to explore my tendency to hoard certain things. Why? Why? Why?
I listen again to Mary Oliver's poetic question, and I am comforted with a sense of adventure in my exploration.
"TELL ME, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU PLAN TO DO
WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?"
What do I want to do with my one wild and precious life? I want to live life more consciously, seeing everything as though seeing it for the first time. I want to come out of my self-made prison, open the cage of myself and fly out unencumbered. I want to explore something (new or old) every day. Each morning during my personal time of prayer I will ask myself: So what do we explore today? I will listen to my soul's desire before going into the new day. At the end of the day I will write a brief statement about my day's exploration in my journal.
I am certain that some inner exploration will be necessary also--meaning that at some point I will be invited to explore my attitudes and opinions, my grudges, my tendency to procrastinate, my obedience to times of Lectio Divina, my faithfulness to times of monastic silence and so much more. 2018 will be a year of exploration.
Just yesterday I explored the reason why, so often, my handwriting in my journal is illegible. The answer came quickly: HASTE. Now I am exploring (and this may take me several days) the reasons for my HASTE. Why do I hurry so much? Why do I move so fast? Somehow I believe that part of my discovery will include a basic lack of trust in myself and in the Holy One who guides my life. Time has become one of my little 'gods' (another thing to explore) and I don't quite believe that I have enough time to do what I want to do WELL. But I do have the time and when I move reflectively, trusting myself to be faithful to the moments I am better able to forgive myself when I fail. Forgiveness of others and of self is huge and must be visited each day.
WE SHALL NOT CEASE FROM EXPLORATION
AND THE END OF ALL OUR EXPLORING WILL BE TO ARRIVE WHERE WE STARTED...
AND KNOW THE PLACE FRO THE FIRST TIME. -T.S.Eliot
Mark Nepo is becoming my poet for the year. I read him somewhat as I read scripture: with a tender reverence that opens me to expectation of some simple transformation. Thus when I rise from the reading I am not quite the same person as when I sat down to read. On many a morning one of his poems becomes my choice for prayer. I use his work for my hour of Lectio Divina and am almost always blessed. His poems have soul. The poem I prayed with this morning in particular was a kind of salve for my weariness. It is entitled AN OPEN HAND and talks about how the mind isn't a store house but rather a living room with windows and chairs...a place where friends can come and look out the window and discuss what they see and it isn't a fortress where we take away what others believe so that we can enshrine our own beliefs.
And to quote him directly, he says that the mind is:
More of a porch with bird feeders
and coffee or tea/ where before
Pull open the curtains! Open the
windows! Brew the coffee!
Put out a sign:
Other views Wanted!
Mark Nepo from THE WAY UNDER THE WAY
I don't know about you but it sounds right to me. In listening to others, you know, you don't necessarily have to surrender your own views. But listening makes all the difference in the world. And sometimes when we listen, with our hearts, we do find ourselves surrendering, just a little, some of our iron clad ideas that we thought would never budge. What is important is that we see one another and that we look out of the windows of our minds with an openness that allows us to be friends even if we don't think exactly alike.
I'm not much into tattoos but if I were to get one I think I would have it on my back where no one could see it but I would know that it was there and it would serve as a reminder for me in those moments when I act as though I am the only one with a correct idea. And of course it would say: OTHER VIEWS WANTED! It would hurt I suppose, but it wouldn't hurt as much as seeing ourselves so painfully divided.
Although I cannot recall the occasion, a scene from my past comes vividly to mind. I am sitting around a table with two other people. In our conversation, we discovered that we were all forty five years old. I said, "some day I am going to write a book entitled, "Forty-Five ways to celebrate without eating.." That book has never been written yet the idea still intrigues me. Don't misunderstand me; I love food. Cooking and preparing food is an art. Creativity abounds in the kitchen; I love a good meal with friends or family and I am one who enjoys a nice table setting whether it be a flower arrangement or some other creative display.
The point I want to make here is that not all feasts supply the kind of food you put into your mouth. Some feasts offer us the nourishment of beauty and inspiration. To enjoy this kind of feast it is essential that you live awake, nurture awareness, move slowly through the day with eyes and heart wide open. Drink in what is set before you. All the gifts that you behold table settings pointing you to food for the soul.
The image above, the bright colored leaf, was one of my table settings from this summer. Climbing a wooden stairs while bemoaning my arthritis I paused when I saw the leaf. It was a way of replenishing both body and soul. Isn't that what we do when we eat and drink? The leaf became food. That moment turned into a feast. I was also reminded of how many feasts I miss when I sleepwalk through my days. Living awake is a practice. Feasting on life is a practice.
The Indian poet, Tagore, surely understood this kind of food when he wrote:
AND THUS MY LIFE HAS BEEN BLESSED!
The invitation does not come by mail. It is innate! Within! What you truly see that opens wide your heart is like your alarm clock. It is your table setting for the moment and so of course it is an invitation to pause, to take and eat, to drink in, to imbibe.
Here are a few of the table settings that summer has offered me. Or, perhaps I should say: these are some of my invitations to this world's festival. Whether I am blessed is of my own choosing. There are times when I do not notice the invitation and so of course, miss the blessing.
Table Setting One is the little Crepe Myrtle flower growing out of the sweet wood that is also its womb.
Table Setting Two is a nest of white and blue in the sky inviting me to to look up in wonder.
Table Setting Three was finding a friend and sister in the sunflowers.
Table Setting Four was being awakened by a sunset! YES! There is also a need to wake up in the evening, not just in the morning.
Table Setting Five; pausing to reflect on tree stories
Throughout the coming week, watch for TABLE SETTINGS. Be attentive to those moments when you experience a stirring within the soul. Pause when something turns over in your heart like a plow opening the soil of your life, All these moments are invitations to the festival of life and like the poet, Tagore, you too can be blessed.
How strange it is that the mute button has recently become a guardian angel in my life, a protector and shield. I have begun to look with 'slight' disdain on all those things that beep at me. All that chirps, clangs,dings, hoots and even sings--all those little noises that tell me someone is trying to get my attention. It may, of course, be a very nice SOMEONE. All I'm saying is that I find it overwhelming to be always available. And that's why I sometimes close the door to my daily life and move into a cave of sorts, a place apart, a monk cell, a forest solitude. I go to a place where there is no one around but me; and that too can be problematic. The phone, the radio, the television, all social media may be muted but the mind keeps sending me a thousand voices.
When those thousand voices attack me I sometimes like to close my eyes and bring back a memory of a moment in time when I was able to abide in the shelter of God's Presence. e.g. I close my eyes and see the beautiful sculptor of St. Walburga at St. Walburga Abbey in Virginia Dale, Colorado. The memory is of a place where I once spent a short season trying to mute the noises in my life. There she stands in the gloaming with her abbess staff and her flask of oil, heralding the possibility of being quiet and most of all, being still.
In our efforts to learn how to be silent we sometimes forget how important it is that we also honor the need to be still, motionless, not moving at all. How difficult it is to stand silent and unmoving with our flask of oil which is our very being and let God anoint our restless hearts.
Recently I had another attack of daily life and felt a need to push the mute button. This time I found myself in our community House of Prayer, Hesychia. Hesychia is a Greek word meaning inner stillness. I couldn't wait to get into my hermitage yet after I settled in, inner stillness did not arrive to welcome me. Instead, the thousand voices showed up.
What to do! First of all, I made the effort to sit very still and just breathe. I believe that my breath is the breath of God, thus the simple practice of honoring the breath of God, on loan to me, became a very helpful practice. Secondly, I am a believer in BURNING BUSHES. I see all of creation as a burning bush. On my second day in the hermitage I attempted to calm my thousand voices by intentionally focusing on one burning bush at a time, again simply gazing at it from my window.
I am sharing a few of my burning bushes with you because I believe that you, too, might be someone who needs, on occasion, to press the mute button and find a little hut to just be still. To just BEHOLD this gift of God and not try to send your burning bush to a friend via a text! To mute or not to mute; that is the question!
While at the hermitage I was reading the book, HEAVEN BEGINS WITHIN YOU by Anselm Gruen, A quote from the book rang true in my heart and invited me to pray with my struggles. Here are the words that saved me from boredom during my retreat.
"WHEREVER MY GREATEST PROBLEM LIES IS ALSO THE SITE OF MY GREATEST OPPORTUNITIES; THAT IS WHERE MY TREASURE IS." -Anselm Gruen
This poem by Mark Nepo spent a long afternoon in my soul today. It spoke to me so profoundly; I was able to find my own soul’s story in each verse. Let’s see if it might find a home in you. Read the poem slowly—pausing to find yourself in the words.
I was at the window
when a fly near the latch
was on its back spinning—
legs furious, going nowhere.
I thought to swat it
but something in its struggle
was too much my own.
It kept spinning and began to tire,
without moving closer, I exhaled
steadily, my breath a sudden wind.
and the fly found its legs,
rubbed its face and flew away.
I continued to stare at the latch
Hoping that someday, the breath
of something incomprehensible
would right me and
enable me to fly.
-Poem by Mark Nepo
taken from The Way Under the Way
How well I relate to the momentary desire to get rid of the little bothersome things that get in my way. If only, with purposeful practice, I might become aware that the struggle of little things to endure is similar to my own efforts at survival.
Is it possible for me to awaken from my daily slumber long enough to reflect on the many ways my struggle is akin to the anguish of others?
And the best question of all: Might I remember my breath in time to save others who are on the verge of losing hope?
And then, to stare at the latch REMEMBERING your experience is no small practice.
fragments of SPRING begin to appear. There is something to be said about slow growing. Every piece of life,
every stage of growth has its NOW--that moment when it needs to be nothing but the way it is.
There are no deadlines for growth. Tomorrow there will be a little more added or a little taken away. Letting go is also part of growth.
Earth waits for mulch like we wait for greening and blossoming.
Walking through the woods in SPRING is like going to an art show. You walk slowly. You don't hurry. You allow the abundance of forest life to bless you. You stand before each growing and decaying icon and proclaim, "oh, I remember when I was at that stage." When SPRING comes to the forest it's like a teacher arriving, teaching the beauty and wisdom of the seasons.
in the seasons. Each season can be a teacher for us. Hold each season up against your life and look into its
pages as you would look into a mirror. How do you see your face in the pages of the seasons?
The poet, John Moffitt says this so well in the poem below.
Pray this poem as you would pray a line of scripture.
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
I have seen spring in these
Woods will not do--you must
Be the thing you see:
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.
Not long ago, at a church dinner and bazaar, my love for pottery drew me to a display of earthenware bowls. “Ah,” I thought, “I can both satisfy my longing for a new piece of pottery and support this church function." Someone beside me looked at the bowl I was holding and said, “You don’t want that; it looks like it’s broken.” Indeed it did; a jagged line ran through one side of the bowl. I bought it anyway. The seemingly flawed feature is exactly what attracted me.
And now, on many mornings, during my sunrise prayer I sit in reflection, the bowl in my hand. I am aware that the bowl is not really broken. The crack through the dish is smooth and finished and adds to the beauty. Whether the artist purposely made the dish in this fashion or whether it was a flaw repaired and covered up doesn’t really matter.
This beautiful vessel is becoming a metaphor for my life—for our lives. Yes, I am broken in some way and the people I live and work with are also broken. It is easy for me to look at myself and others and focus on the crack in our spirits, the brokenness. This is what my earthenware prayer has been teaching me. I am flawed. You are flawed. We are flawed. It might be helpful for each of us to sit down and ask ourselves: how am I flawed? In the same breath, though, we need to remind ourselves that we are not only flawed. That's not all I am! That's not all you are! That's not all we are! We are blessed and if we choose, we can be a blessing even with the flaw. There is a depth in each of us that we have not yet discovered. Some stars are so far away their light has not yet reached the earth; the same is true of you. Some of your light has not yet reached your family, your friends, your world. There are pieces of compassion, forgiveness, courage, hope and love in you that you have not fully discovered.
AS YOU REFLECT ON THAT CRACK IN YOUR SPIRIT, PLEASE REMEMBER THE EVER-FLOWING, ONGOING PROCESS THAT YOU ARE.
Halloween (also call All Hallows Eve) seems to be a good season to contemplate MASKS. We wear them all year long yet on this day we publicly claim them for what they are: masks!
Al Mortenson says it like this.
"At Halloween young hobgoblins appear with their masked faces and the challenge, "Bethcha can't guess who I am." Our intentional wrong guesses add to their fascination with themselves, and soon the masks are peeled off and everyone is left to enjoy each other.
Little do the small ones realize how we grown-ups play Halloween games the year round. Individuality is threatening, so we cover ourselves up and dare each other to guess who we are. Our homemade masks seem so hard, so unbending, yet all it takes to remove them are firm but gentle hands. Then, face to face, we begin to discover the wonders underneath."
Jesus says it like this:
...And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free!
C.S. Lewis says it like this:
We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear: the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit... as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit....
We shall bleed and squeal as handfuls of fur come out; and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all, a thing we have never yet imagined:
A real person, a Child of God, Strong, Radiant, Wise, Beautiful and DRENCHED WITH JOY!
St Paul says it like this:
Be imitators of God as his very dear children. Follow the way of love even as Christ has loved you. Ephesians 5:1
And again St. Paul says,
(I gleaned these thoughts on masks from an old ALIVE NOW magazine and am not certain of the author)
"Sometimes without realizing it, we assume masks---ways of being and acting that don't really express who we are. We have taken on these modes of behavior or expressing ourselves perhaps as a way to please others, to win friends, to merit personal recognition.
Masks, however well we wear them, are incongruous with our true inner feelings and, thus, with who we really are. They may look good for awhile, but in the long run, they become burdens; they cease to feel good because they do not fit us; they are not an authentic expression of who we truly are." (author unknown)
Please don't misunderstand me. I also enjoy Halloween. And I like to remember that Halloween means all All-Hallows-Eve. It's a holy evening because it is the evening before we celebrate the feast of All Saints and All Souls. These are real people who laughed and cried and trusted and doubted as we do. They were loving, compassionate, fearful, hopeful and courageous. They too wore masks but one day they took them off and things were never the same in their lives again. And now it is November 1, 2016 and once again we celebrate this feast. I hope you can all find your place in the mosaic of saints. This feast is not just for those in heaven. It is for each of us. It is for me and for you. It is for all of us. And all we need do is TAKE OFF OUR MASK and come to the table of daily life as we are.