Monthly Archives: January 2016

Practicing Gratitude

This has felt like a long week.  I am tired.  I feel as though I could look back and sigh and simply walk to my bed and sleep.  I feel as if I’m half asleep already.  So I look back instead and re-focus my weary eyes on the week.  I was able to join several other Spiritual Directors and friends from my graduate program for a retreat on Saturday.

2015-07-31 18.19.29It felt good to be surrounded by “my people”.  I experienced inspiration and connection that was sustaining and life giving.  I had enough voice the next day teach my Spirit Play children and  to lead a webinar for facilitators of Lutheran Volunteer Corps who are bringing spirituality programming to intentional communities across the country.  I am grateful I could speak.  I am grateful that I am able to offer this guidance on a small scale in my classroom and a national level to an organization that has been so important in my own journey.

I am grateful that I could spend 3 days this week teaching with the Center for Congregational Spirituality.  Again, my voice held and I had the chance to guide and be in relationship with clergy and other Spiritual Directors trying to bring group spiritual direction into congregational life.  I am grateful that mid week I was able to join a friend in listening to a spiritual teacher inspire and remind us to be our truest, best, most loving self in the world.  Yesterday I was grateful for professional guidance from others as I contemplated finances and my daughter’s cavities.  Today I am grateful that I had time to cuddle my children, time to do a few little projects around the house and grateful that I got to lead a beautiful group experience.

Mostly though, this week, I am grateful for love.  I am grateful that each day I feel love, I know love and I find it in myself to give love.  This is what makes my tired self, here at the end of the day and the end of the week sigh with a smile on my face and a serene trust in my heart.  Things may be intense in this time of transition and transformation.  They may sometimes feel like every cell is being rearranged painfully, but there is life…there is Life through it all and I am lucky and miraculously blessed to be living it.

Being the Door (Teacher)

My favorite roll in my Spirit Play class is that of the door teacher.  It’s hard to explain what to do in this role.  The teacher takes on a particular presence of hospitality and loving witness.  It might not look like the door teacher is doing much during class.  They just sit by the door.

The Sacred Doorway

The Sacred Doorway

But really, they are a living threshold between the known and unknown, between our physical sacred space and the rest of the building, between the Mystery beyond and this tangible eternal present moment.  If I imagined peeking through a key hole into the door teacher, this is what I dream her internal process might be like.

“First a breath for myself -to be fully here and ready.  I open my lungs, my eyes and my heart.  I am ready.

Good morning child.  Wait.  Stop.  You are here.  You have arrived.  Take a moment to catch up with yourself.  There is no rush.  Take a moment to stand here and look in my eyes.  Your name tag and your coat are not as important as stopping here for just a minute so you can fully experience my joy that you are here.  We are here together!

Now that your coat is hung and your name tag on, you can say goodbye to your parents.  Tell me friend.  Are you ready?  Are you ready to walk down that hall and enter a holy space?  Are you ready to listen and to work and to play?  If you are ready, then you are free to enter.  Please go into our room.  Sit on our rug.  Join the storyteller to prepare for our story.  If you are not ready, then please sit here next to me.  Sit here in my safety and love; in the still point between being gifted to us for our class and your own choice to enter.  You can stay with me as long as you would like.

My children are here.  My children are getting ready.  I embody the closing of the door, the creation of our sacred circle of safety and delight.  Our class has begun.

I sit here by the physical door.  If the circle is too much, if you find you cannot get ready, I am waiting to receive you.  Here next to me you can hide if you need to.  You can grow calm in the presence of my calm.  I am serene, beaming my love into our room, witnessing wiggles and miracles and each beautiful being who has joined us today.  I witness unexpected kindness.  I witness conflict.  I witness insight.  I witness the whole human drama played out right in this one room.  The circle of our community is playing within my beating heart and before my wondering eyes.  The children have walked through my open heart door and dwell there for our learning time.  This is meditation.  This is practice.  I am listening with my whole self.

And then the time comes for the children to get centered again on the rug, to end their formal sacred play with us.  I bless this room and say a silent gratitude for each of these souls, present and transformed today.  I open the door, open the seal of our class and resume my post, ready to send you all out into the world again, changed and loved.

Good morning.  Your parent is here.  You are ready to be on your way to whatever your day holds.  But wait.  Stop.  You are making a crossing.  Take a moment to stop in this doorway, to look in my eyes and receive a blessing.  I am so happy that you were here with me today.  My love goes with you until we see each other again.  Your heart and mine have touched today and neither will be the same again.

The last child is gone.  I take another moment, to breathe, to close my eyes and  feel my heart.  I feel the affect of this love, of all the love that moves between us.  I see that we are the same.  I see that we are different.  I practice seeing you as you are.  I practice seeing myself as I am.  We are Light and Glory and we are Muddled and Distracted.  I practice being love and doing church with all that we are.

I forgive myself my inattention, my slips, my mistakes made today.  I dedicate this practice of teaching to the increase of Love and Life everywhere in the Universe.

May it be so.  May it be so!

Open your hearts door teachers!  Feel what it is to be love and be loved.  May the threshold that you are move you deeper into your own integrity, service and joy.

A Great Need

Out
Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
Listen,
The terrain around here
Is
Far too
Dangerous
For
That
~Hafiz

Tonight I find myself in a still place.  I am pondering how to love.  I am pondering what it looks like to let go.

Letting go Love

Letting go Love

Can letting go be a gift even considering the terrain?  Can letting go as we are climbing together open the way for us to grasp another’s hand more securely?  Is there a way of loving and climbing together with our hands open, without holding on?  Or is there a way to lovingly let go with trust that someone else will be there to hold us?

Tonight I begin with me.  I am feeling grief and sadness.  I am feeling resigned.   I also have the unhelpful script running through my mind that suggests that I should not be feeling any of that.  That old voice would like me to try harder to stop the changing and shifting of life, to squelch the movement of transformation, to just stay put.  That voice is full of violence.  It is a voice of control and shame.  Tonight I choose to hold it’s hand, to tell it that it’s ok to feel all the feelings that arise.  There is nothing it could have done to avoid sorrow.  There is nothing to be done now, but to sit in the stillness with this moment and its emotions.  My total allegiance is to Life.  Come what sorrow or joy follow, it is what it is.  I choose to hold on to my self in compassion and gentleness as I live as best I can into a larger truth with love, always with love.  And today I was reminded that great grief is the truth of great love.  We wouldn’t mourn if it meant nothing, if we hadn’t opened our hearts to possibility.

I bring my intention this evening to the truth of my grief, the truth of my love.  I bring my intention to be fully alive in this moment and the next one.  I bring my intention to keep my heart open, even if it’s dangerous.  What else are we here for?

How do the Waters Open?

I went to my first Bat Mitzvah last week and was moved by the service and the many messages within the readings and Torah.  The part that I keep talking about, though, was a midrash that the Rabbi shared.  Midrash for those unfamiliar with it are stories written as a way to work with and fill in the Torah text.  This particular story was written to illustrate the parting of the waters as the people fled slavery and Pharaoh’s army.

Go Forward

Go Forward

The story goes that God told the people to go forward.  And then they came to the water.  God did not part the water for them to show them the way through however.  God said, “Go forward.” So the leader of the people, even though it may have seemed crazy, even though he maybe didn’t really understand why went forward.  He walked into the water.

He walked in and God still said, “Go forward” so into the water he went, deeper and deeper.  Finally the water was up to his nostrils and he was terrified that he would drown, but he kept walking in.  And that my friends, that faith is what parted the waters.  The practice of listening to the command to go forward and the action of following, even to the point of risking one’s life is what engaged God and parted the waters.  I don’t know about you, but I am seeing in every story, the story of transformation.

I admit that even though I have been through this process countless times, even though I mostly live in a profound trust of the messages I receive from Beyond; this weekend I felt like I was up to my chin in the water and cursing.  I was afraid down to by bones.  I could not see how anything might open up.  I was trying to look over my shoulder to see if there was any way at all to go back.  But there was none.  No tracks, and a force ready to re-enslave me is all I saw.  And when I looked forward all I saw was endless water enveloping me.  I was sure I was going to drown.

And I’m teetering there.  Maybe I’m survival floating; remembering that even in the waters I can hold my breath for a bit and then go deeper.  I want to move forward, so I’ll keep doing so until something opens up or I drown.  Wisdom says that something will open up one way or another, even if I can’t anticipate it.  Even if everything looks shades of impossible.

Walking through the Mighty Waters

As a part of my daily practice, I have been sitting with verses from the Christian tradition in the morning after meditation.  This morning I was sitting with a few verses from a Psalm and one verse from the Signs Gospel.

Psalm 77:17-21  The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were convulsed;  the very deep quaked as well.  Clouds streamed water;  the heavens rumbled;  Your arrows flew about;  Your thunder rumbled like wheels;  lightening lit up the world;  the earth quaked and trembled.  Your way was through the sea, Your path through the mighty waters;  Your tracks could not be seen.  You led Your people like a flock in the care of Moses and Aaron.

Signs Gospel 19:17  So they took Jesus who carried the cross for himself, out to the place called Skull (known in Hebrew as Golgatha).

It always amazes me what captures me when I put two seemingly unrelated things together, how they inform and speak to one another.  This is not the first time I have had reference to the Exodus and Jesus’ crucifixion show up together and I have found deep meaning in reflecting on those two events.  Both are concrete stories illustrating transformation.  The Israelites are led out of Egypt, out of slavery and bondage into a barren wilderness.  It is here that they are provided each day the food and water they need.  It is here where they complain wondering if this wandering is better than the bondage they came from.  Moses himself never realizes the promised land of milk and honey.  I wonder for Jesus as he entered knowingly into the violence that would take his life, what his manna was in that wilderness.  The Israelites had a cloud to guide them by day and a pillar of fire by night.  What guided Jesus and gave him the strength to pass through his own barren wilderness to the cross and then into return to the Holy?  For those who believe in resurrection and transformation what must it have been like to be released by death from Jesus’ body?  Would it feel like liberation into another wilderness?  Would it feel like the fullest essence of milk and honey?

The verses from the Psalm this morning caught my attention imagining the effect on the water of seeing God.  That God was leading through this chaos, this place of creation leaving no visible tracks speaks to me about the invisible forces that move in and around us when the Sacred happens in and to us.  Everything has changed, but nothing seems to have changed.   This is another of those places that I envision as possibly terrifying, but also maybe exhilarating.  It is that same infinite point of life/death.  And in the middle of this chaos, I see Jesus, carrying his cross himself, walking consciously with love.  It makes me wonder, what is my cross?  Is it a burden and a punishment as I was taught or the threshold into milk and honey and liberation so profound that I can’t see it or imagine it?  It may just be a mystery that cannot be put into any kind of words, a way to say yes, a way to be authentic no matter the cost.  Tonight I just want to stand still for a moment, to choose again the mystery I carry.  I just want to be drenched by the waters and feel completely alive in the quaking deep and the streaming waters and the lightening.  Tonight I will let these images and words play in me and dream the trackless path till I rise in the morning to face another day of wonder and challenge.

The Guns and the Bad Guys

This week in my Spirit Play class, one of my friends wanted to show me the block structure he made.  As with all our classroom materials, they are intended to be used one way, in this case to build churches, and they are actually used in a multiplicity of ways.  I crawled over to his structure and he began telling me about it.

The Bad Guys

The Bad Guys

He told me that inside were the “bad guys” and that he had made towers with guns to shoot them.  I listened.  I lost my center for a moment.  Here I was at church, a place of love, after just telling a story specifically speaking against violence.  I was uncomfortable.  I asked, “Do you think the guns are love guns?  And when they shoot a bad guy, they instantly turn him good?”  This was followed by a dismissive gesture from my friend and another launch into the dramatic story of the bad guys and the guns.

I am grateful that I have read the book “Killing Monsters” in which Gerard Jones makes a case for the role of make-believe violence in children’s play.  The gun, for most of our children is a metaphor and a tool for power.  They don’t understand the reality of a gun the way we grown ups know it.  This is one way children play with their own agency.  They play with the idea of power and using their power to defeat things that are “bad” “scary” and out of their control.  So, I re-centered and tried to remind myself that this play is actually sacred play as much as anything else happening in our classroom.  I reeled myself back in and continued to listen.  Here is what the “bad guys” were doing in there.  They were angry.  They stomped into the room and threw their toys all over.  They threw toys at the windows till they broke them.  They threw toys and made a big mess.  They were loud and they yelled.  Hmmm, with my parent ears on I hear that the “bad guys” were throwing a big tantrum.

I asked my friend, “Wow, those bad guys are throwing toys.  Do you ever feel angry like that?  Do you ever want to throw your toys?”  The answer was no, and he moved on.  But friends, of course, the answer is actually yes.  I have been doing my own shadow work lately.  I have been naming my own bad guys and monsters that live inside my self.  I have been writing their stories.  They will always be bad if they have to live in my shadow, cut off from my acceptance and love.  What I know about this work for myself is that if I cannot face my own evil, my own capacity to harm myself and others that those impulses come out anyway, I just can’t see them for what they are.

Walking with Black Lives Matter on Monday I had opportunity to witness what happens to the collective shadow when we don’t own it and bring it back into our circle of consciousness.  Racism, targeting, violence, segregation and separation happen.  We create bad guys where there are just people; brothers and sisters.  We create a “need” for guns when we really need love and witness and community.  Fear colors our vision and we hurt each other and allow each other to be hurt by the system we have set up and then pretend not to have anything to do with it.

My little friend doesn’t own his anger right now.  It may be too scary for him to think about a rage coming out of him that breaks a window.  And I wonder, what is the offering that can help him express that energy honestly and safely?  What kind of witness might observe his anger, to see it, see him and take it seriously?  What would be the best way to honor that true feeling in him?  And then, what would be the antidote to bring him back into loving connection with his feelings, himself and our larger community?

Encounters with the shadow are truly terrifying, but we must be willing to hear what the shadow, the monsters, the bad guys have to say.  Listening brings their stories into the light.  In the Light we can see that all of those entities bear our own face and they are crying out for witness and understanding.  In the Light, they lose their power to wound and destroy and gift us the keys to work reconciliation and love and healing.  What are your bad guys?  What are they doing in there?  How can you disarm yourself and offer love and peace?

Do I Know You?

Today I had the lovely opportunity to meet a new person who does incredible artistic work.  She obviously pours her soul- her whole self- into her work and the work pours itself back into her, a mutually sustaining practice.

Labyrinth- Holding on and Letting go

Labyrinth- Holding on and Letting go

I find that the more I engage my own soul purpose, more of these people appear in my path.  They inspire me, help me and show me that the life I can’t quite dream up for myself is indeed possible.  I find myself feeling recognition when I meet a soul which has found it’s beautiful and unique expression.  For Marilyn, who I met today, her healing, her medicine, her work is creating Labyrinths.  She spread several out on her floor.  She had gorgeous paper paintings on the wall with beautiful designs.  One of them was a butterfly pattern in a circle of blue and white.  The circle border was the path leading into the contour of the wings.  She stood reverently before this painting, arms upraised tracing various configurations as she moved in, out and around the design.  It was beautiful and sacred to watch her.  It was like dance and worship and beauty reflecting beauty.

As I sit remembering, I am savoring the experience of simply being present with someone as they speak and dream and share about a pursuit which captures them and brings them deeper down into its mystery and our own mystery.  I appreciated her dreaming and scheming and listening as we looked at a design I hoped to incorporate.  I could see and feel the creative spirit moving through her.  She had me walk a new design that was a long rectangle so it could be used in a hallway.  At the end/center of the path, she had drawn concentric arches that invited one into a threshold instead of an ending.  Standing in the several thresholds of that path, I was moved to say, “yes” with every step to remind me that I am choosing to walk into the center of everything.  I am choosing my own dying, my own birth.  And we had opportunity to sit in some silence, a gift for her she said.  The silence is rich.  It is one more threshold.

So tonight I am grateful.  I am grateful to see the Beloved, the Divine Friend in the eyes and the art and the work of another.  I am grateful that my own reflection in their presence brings me into my own holy center, from where my love and my art and my work emerge.  I am not only grateful to Marilyn, but also to the many many countless people who have gifted me with their deep selves.  Some of them have shared their work, their story, some a simple gaze that speaks more profoundly than anything.  We are present here together in this beautiful, difficult, wonderful and amazing world.  We are gifts for one another.  I thank the Universe to be witness to such unfolding Light as it is constantly born among us.  I thank the Love beyond all Love that I can look around and meet so many eyes and think, “Oh yes, I know you.  I recognize you.”

What Direction?

Sometimes folks joke with me when I tell them I am a Spiritual Director.  They ask me, “What direction are you going?”  I have had to develop a short elevator speech for this moment and now am well practiced at centering my body and bringing my hands to my chest.

Love Wisdom from yoga

Love Wisdom from yoga

“We go deep inside, and then out into the Mystery”, finishing with my arms outstretched.  This is true.  I believe the heart of the spiritual life and the heart of my work is to go deeply within my core to find my own truth and voice and then to bring it out into loving action in the world.  This is what I help others do individually and in groups.  The direction we go is always the same; in and out.  My job is to do this work in my own life as a practice for my work with others, but it isn’t to direct people in the sense that I tell them where to go or what to do.  I follow their own revelation as it moves within and beyond them.  We uncover the particulars of their truth and their loving action together.

This weekend I was moved my a message delivered in my faith community of transformation in the form of a hatching chick.  From the perspective of the chick, this work is quite dramatic.  It is starving and pressed from all sides and desperately needs to break free of its shell.  The work of hatching is tireless and messy, exhausting and difficult and then there is this whole big world on the other side of birth that is nothing at all like where we have emerged from.

I sat listening to the description of the chick and felt in myself the wild struggle in my own life to move from constriction into freedom.  This reality is so present for me at this time that I was in and out of tears this week…which is exactly where I should be as I peck away at this shell, hungry and fatigued.  And today, on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I also brought that impulse and truth in me out into the streets….shutting down the Lake Street bridge with other Black Lives Matter activists.  This feels like the smallest peck to a shell that doesn’t want to crack, but it feels true and it feels honest.  I know my freedom is tied to the freedom of every one of us.  I need to be out in the frigid cold with others, tears streaming to remind myself that I have been, am now, deformed by the racism that permeates our lives.

This isn’t someone else’s problem.  It’s my problem.  And this problem is not separate at all from the ways I harm myself and others out of fear.  It is the same failure of love that I try to meet in my own shadow projected out everywhere.  Inner transformation is essential for outer transformation.  If we expect to change the whole country it starts in my heart and your heart.  This isn’t a pollyanna wish for us to be nice to each other.  Love unleashed is the most powerful force there is.  Take back our Love from fear and see what happens.  What else could possibly inspire us to keep pecking when we are tired and delirious and desperate for freedom?  The only real change will come from love.  When we love one another, we will be unable to hurt one another as we do.  So start now.  Go in.  Find your truth; find your voice.  And then go out into the world with the force of Love and help the transformation birth something new.

This is the Circle of our Community

This last week I taught my Spirit Play friends about the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism.  We have not used this lesson before when I have been teaching.  Church staff and I looked over the text and modified it slightly to match the  bedtime prayer that we have been teaching to the families in our community.  I started by telling the children that they might already know this lesson, even if they had never heard it before.  Sure enough as I made my way through the Principles, one child enthusiastically reported that he DID know this lesson already.

7 Principles Beads

7 Principles Beads

We went through them all at then end.  “Each person is important.  Be kind in all you do.  We’re free to learn together.  And search for what is true.  All people need a voice.  Build a fair and peaceful world.  We care for mother earth and all who call her home.”

My friend came up to me during our work time and smiled at me and sat close.  I told him that next time I did my bed time prayer, I would think about him doing the same bed time prayer and would remember that we are a community.  He looked at me for a moment and then checked in.  “But you won’t be at my house”, he said.  I told him that was true.  He would be at his house with his family and I would be at my house with my family, but we would be saying and doing the same thing as a part of our community.  I told him that my thoughts and my heart would be at his house and at my house at the same time.

This conversation was heartwarming to me.  The joy on this child’s face as he recognized the familiar words, the extra connection with me later in class, all of these things speak to belonging.  We belong to each other as we think about and try to act on the foundations of our faith community.  This is one of the sweet moments in teaching where I become inspired about the work that I am doing.  It’s not just that this child experienced his belonging, but that we created it together too.

For me, I also felt my belonging.  Some nights are so difficult when my own kids don’t want to do the prayers and don’t lend their full presence to our end of day ritual.  Sometimes it feels like I am doing this valuable work alone.  But I am not.  We are a community; each of us in our own houses.  We are a community that sends our hearts and thoughts out to each other.  We join this community and engage in ritual to connect all the parts of ourselves and to be connected to each other.  We say in the sanctuary that we hope our church will be “a place to find and keep your balance, a place where we are encouraged together to live loving lives of integrity, service and joy”.  I can’t think of a much better way to get centered and balanced than to remember that I belong.  I belong to myself as I seek more love and life on my own spiritual journey.  I belong to the relationships I serve, honor and engage in.  And I belong to the collective, the community which includes our church and the Mystery far beyond us.  This is the joy and the fruit of practice.

Fists full of Blessings

Last week in my Spirit Play class, one of the children was working with the Celebration of New Lives story.

Blessed by Earth and Water

Blessed by Earth and Water

This has been a popular story to work with in our class.  The baby dolls in the story have been amply blessed with water and dirt making some fantastically muddy babies.  The blessing by beauty takes place with a rose that is gently stroked down the baby’s cheek in our church’s ritual.  We have enough artificial flowers for all the children in our room and I observed this child as she held big bunches of those flowers gripped in each hand and vigorously blessed the doll she was working with.  She blessed the doll so enthusiastically she literally swept it across the floor with her flower bunches.  It rolled over and over being tumbled and swept away by beauty.

I wondered about this encounter with beauty.  Are there ever times when I am that moved by something beautiful?  Would an encounter like that be profoundly disorienting?  Would I want to encounter a blessing like that?  I have also lately been thinking about where in my own journey I am a little too serious and could use a little humor.  Well placed humor can completely change the energy of a tense or sad situation sometimes allowing us to move through those emotions with a little more ease.  So I wondered again what this kind of encounter with beauty might look and feel like.  I remember as a child being in the bright sun and rolling down grassy hills.  The feeling of spinning and rolling and getting faster until I either rolled to the bottom or flung my arms out wide to stop myself.  I remember laughing and being dizzy and enjoying that feeling of, well, of disorientation I suppose.  Not something I tend to enjoy as an adult.  But I imagined that if I was the baby being swept by flowers, that the flowers may even tickle and it might be a great delight to be surrounded by the scent and softness of petals.  I might find it enjoyable to be rolled along.  I might laugh.

I thought about the blessings of that moment in class.  I am grateful to have had the presence to observe this play without getting distracted by the mess of the earth and water blessing.  I am glad I did not try to shut down the active blessing with the flowers.  I could simply delight in the moment and ponder it.  That’s spiritual growth for me!  I also thought about those astounding blessings we receive in our lives like close friends, the kindness of another when we feel alone, the gift of self acceptance and compassion; some are so generous and profound that we hardly have words to articulate our gratitude or their importance to us.  In that profound and ordinary moments where words can fail, maybe laughter is the only adequate response to our blessings.