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.
Paging through old notebooks is always a delight for me. I never know what I will find. A few weeks ago I found the poem below. It was yellow and tattered yet through the aging pages it spoke to my heart. I'm not sure where it came from, who gave it to me, or who wrote it. These words were scribbled on the bottom of the page,
With thanks and love, Christmas '73 Cy Chiassion
I am reasonably certain that I do not know Cy and that the poem was shared with me by a friend. Yet I am amazed in the connection of 1973 with 2016 and wherever Cy is I hope he or she is having a good life. I've decided to share it with you. I love the slow transforming journey of this poetic reflection. It happens in us year by year. Let's try to take note. May you grow strong, loving and wise as you reflect on this powerful message.
THE AGES OF THE HUMAN BEING
THE FIRST AGE
Fight to kill! Peace is impossible! No one can be trusted! I must win control over my kingdom!" says human beings.
I believe in you, says God.
THE SECOND AGE
I have enemies on all sides. I must remain on guard. If I close one eye they will rob me of my life, says human beings.
I believe in you, says God.
THE THIRD AGE
Why should I care for the other person? If I reach to pull him out of the water, he'll pull me in with him. I have to protect myself you know, says human beings.
I believe in you says God.
THE FOURTH AGE
I am tried of war. My heart aches for peace. But how can I be sure the other guy won't stab me in the hand that I reach out to him? Too risky! says human beings.
I believe in you says God.
THE FIFTH AGE
Will we ever trust each other? If I am to gain someone's trust, I must become vulnerable , and I must believe he will respond to my openness, says human beings.
I believe in you says God.
THE SIXTH AGE
I believe that peace will come when human beings regard each other with total concern, a total trust, and genuine sacrifice. That takes love. Can't we love one another? says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE SEVENTH AGE
I believe in love. I believe it is the strongest power in the cosmos, because it is tender. I believe love gives life and that we can love each other to life, says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE EIGHTH AGE
How could you love someone like me? I have cared for myself before you. I have wounded you in your loving. Can you still love me? says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE NINTH AGE
Because of your love, I can see. Your love has set me free to give myself to you. I love your love, says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE TENTH AGE
I love you, says human beings.
I love you, says God.
I have long been intrigued by a story in the book of Genesis. It is the story of Jacob, in obedience to his father, traveling toward Haran to obtain a wife from his mother’s people. Jacob had a dream (Genesis 28:10-22) in which it was clearly revealed that God was with him. It was a promise of blessing. When Jacob awoke from his sleep he cried out, using words that have become a prayer for me: Truly Yahweh is in this place and I did not know it. Then he took the stone he had used for a pillow, poured oil over it and acknowledging the holiness of the place where God had visited him, marked that place as a memorial—a place of remembrance.
Jacob transforms his stone pillow into an altar. Rituals such as these can be good for the soul. I have no doubt that there are many places where God has visited you and you did not know it.
I, for one,
would rather have a stone
for an altar
than a pillow.
Are their places in your life where God once seemed absent: moments of fear, doubt, brokenness, sorrow, darkness, sin, misunderstandings, discouragement, anger, and guilt? You, too, can wake up and after a period of reflection and prayer, cry out: Truly Yahweh was in this place and I did not know!
There are also times when we fail to recognize moments of grace. We are standing knee-deep in gifts from God and do not acknowledge these gifts are heaven-sent. We fail to recognize the moment of God’s visitation. There are moments of beauty, wonderful accomplishments, joyful celebrations, affirmations and inspirations. We can also stand before these moments with the realization: Truly Yahweh was in this place and I did not know!
So why not build a memorial altar representing the moments of God’s visitation, the moments we almost missed.
Pick up your stones one by one, each stone a prayer:
BUILD YOUR ALTAR
TRULY YAHWEH WAS IN THIS PLACE AND I DID NOT KNOW!