Monthly Archives: March 2016

I Might be Ice

Life Cycle/Water CycleLast week in our Spirit Play class things started a little haphazardly.  I was running late for one and my teacher friends were running even later than me.  There was a little chaos as we gathered in the hallway together and then moved into the classroom in a big bunch to sit on the rug.  Somehow everyone decided to sit in one corner instead of on their square.  Name tags were missing.  None of us were “ready” to begin class.  Someone brought over a book.  Someone wanted to sit on my lap.

One persistent child has been asking for weeks if we would please talk about death today.  I have been telling her that in some way, all stories of change are stories about life and death, but she did not want to deal with metaphor.  She wanted to talk, straight up, about death.  This was our second week of life cycle stories so I assured her that yes, we would talk about frogs today…and death.   Before I could get us organized, another child piped up and wistfully said that she really wished she was Jesus so when she gets dead, she will come alive again.  And that’s all it took.  The conversation was out of the mouth.  Someone chimed in that they know that, yes, all things do die.  Someone else wondered what happens after someone dies.  Another child said that things die, but maybe not her.  Yet another child insisted that their mother told her that everything else might die, but not her.  I smiled amused and echoed that yes, everything does die.  That’s true.  And then, someone wondered what we would be when we came back.  Would we be ice?

Now this question captured me.  A few years ago when our cat was killed, my son asked to hear stories about kids who had died and come back.  I did a lot of research on near death experiences and so that reading entered my mind at the thought of coming back after death.  When I talk to my kids about death and they ask this question about coming back we trace the mystery….no one knows, but some people think we are just gone when we die, others think we come back again maybe in a new life.  But ice?  I had never thought of coming back as ice.  So we thought about it together.

“Maybe” I said.  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me likely that we are indeed ice at some point in our lives and after our deaths.  “Did you know”, I said “that your body is mostly made of water?  Actually, if you live in St. Paul and drink water from the sink, most of your body is made out of the Mississippi River.”  The room exploded with exclamations.  “No!  We aren’t the river!  What?!”  “Yes”, I said “We are the river and that water moves through our bodies all the time.  Was there ice on the river this winter?”  The children said yes there was ice on the river.  “Then it’s probably a sure thing that some of the water that has made your body was ice before it was part of you and will be ice again after you die.”  Again, loud exclamations erupted.  “No way!  That can’t be true!  I don’t believe that!”  It was a delightful exploration that ended as we found our way to our squares marveling at the amazing things that were just said.

This reflection has sat with me this week.  I often contemplate breath in my own practice.  The breath is a transient part of our body and aliveness.  We share the breath with all things breathing that have ever lived on our planet.  The words for spirit and breath are the same in many languages and the action and metaphor of the breath can hold deep meanings for our reflection….but water.  I don’t think of myself often as a water cycle, but I am.  Water is coming and going through me all the time.  It is a resource that is finite on our planet and shared among all living things.  The water was yesterday part of the river and today is nourishing me and then will move back into the river, be evaporated into the sky, fall as rain on a pond and nourish the frog and the fish and the plants.  It makes me wonder as much as meditation on the breath, where my edges are?  If I am water am I everywhere at once?  Am I the oceans?  Am I the clouds?  Who am I to feel separate and alone if we are all one wave together or one fog or one sheet of ice?  What an interesting version of eternal life.  How do I care for the water in me, for the water of our planet so it is pure and healthy and not degraded and fouled?  How do I honor the connection between us that is so much more than the difference?  I am contemplating this as I drink in the Mississippi River, as I walk in the rain and look for the greening of spring, as I look into your eyes.

Being the Story(teller)

The Storyteller role in our classroom seems clear cut.  There is a book with the ritual we use to open our class.  The book contains the story.  The Storyteller leads the class through the ritual and the story and dismisses children to their work.

Many paths obscuring the mountain

What’s the story?

But this role done well is an invitation into a different world.  A good story draws you in so that for a moment, the story is your story, the message is spoken right into your soul.  The telling is so important.  We are working with our stories this year so that the content is rich and ripe, but that is only the very beginning.  To be an invitation that draws one into the moment, we must take care to tell it with reverence and fascination.  The story is an opening to bring us all on a journey together.

If we peek inside the story(teller) we might witness this:  I sit with the story in the days before class.  I wonder about it.  I live the story.  I become the story.  By Sunday I do not need the book.  I am the book.  Within me is the story that is every story.  It is my story and it is yours.

Our first story is always the story of our opening ritual.  It is the welcome and the greeting we sing to one another.  It is the meeting of the eyes as we share a peace greeting,  “I see your beauty.  I hear your needs.  I honor the wisdom in you”.  This is a story we share. This is our story of Spirit Play.  This is the story of the spiritual life.


And then begins the story of the week.  Our ritual has gathered us into a community of safety and love.  Now we are ready to journey together into a new time and space.  We are ready to encounter ourselves and wonder about what is mysterious and scary and surprising.  A box or a basket containing our manipulatives comes off the shelf.  It is time.  We begin with wonder…What is in here?  What could this be? I handle our props as if they are the most fascinating treasures.  I dissolve into the telling of the tale.  I am a mirror.  I am an invitation.  I am the story.  I am each character.  I am the scene.  I am the dramatic pause.  On a good story day, I do not make eye contact during the telling.  All my attention is focused on the story itself leaving the children to draw close and see themselves and see for themselves.  We lose ourselves together as we move along the narrative.

When the story is done, we pause and come back into the room.  I emerge from the character, from the role and sit with these children as a curious fellow explorer.  What have we seen in this story?  We wonder together.  These stories are metaphors and symbols.  These stories are myths and dreams.  These stories are illustrations of human life and meaning.  They are a microcosm of the whole.  The experience of the story and the questions that follow are designed to bring us further on this journey of discovery.  What part of the story do you like best?  What part is most important?  Who or what would you be if you were in this story?  Is there any part of this story we could leave out and still have everything we need?

And the story moves on after the telling and is playfully processed through art, through puppets, through sand and exploration.  We become the story.  The story becomes our play.  The story becomes a teacher and we take it with us in our hearts and hold it and turn it and look for it’s treasure.  If we take the time, we see ourselves there and know ourselves.  That awareness gives rise to our continued growth into people of integrity, a community of joy, and a life of service.  We bring our story to this story.  We hear this story and create a new ending, a meme, a backstory, a story within a story.  Our class creates a new story every week by our presence with one another.  We are transformed and that changes the world every week.  Create this story with us.  Let’s write in Love and Life and Joy.

It’s Not So Hard

I wasn’t looking forward to Spirit Play this week.  I thought about what I might say.  I thought about what I might not say.  I fretted just a little.  And then I took a deep breath…and the day began.  The day began slowly with a spacious amount of time for everyone to wake up, eat and get ready.  And then my son refused to go to church.  And I happened to be the only parent in town on Sunday.  Angry BirdSo the negotiations started, and the tears, and the screaming, and the consequences.  I managed to remain mostly cool calm and collected in the face of the very loud and tearful resistance.  I got my children into chapel and headed down to our Spirit Play room.  I greeted the other teacher and took some more deep breaths and went to sit on the rug.  The morning was already harder than I thought it would be.

The lesson this week continued to revolve around all families matter.  This lesson was on families who have experienced divorce.  This is a hard subject to talk about with kids…both kids who have two homes those who live all together.  I wondered if there would be any questions.  Actually I wondered if I would be able to get through the lesson.  Our family is currently in the middle of this very transition.  It’s hard to talk about.  I don’t really understand myself how we got to this place.  I wondered if it would be hard to read about kids who sometimes are with one parent and sometimes with another.  So, just in case I would cry during the books, I started by sharing a sorrow that my family is going through a divorce and that was what we were talking about that day.  And I shared a joy.  And usually the kids are very good about listening to each other, but suddenly everyone was sharing and wanted to talk about their joy that was like mine.  It took a while to get things centered and calm and for us to take turns listening.  That wasn’t what I expected to happen.

I didn’t cry while I read the books.  I didn’t expect that either.  And once the children were off and playing everything hummed along quite joyfully.  I was really expecting this to be a hard class.  Instead I got to hold a child who was sad to separate from his mother and he called me over later to look at his play-dough sculpture of an angry bird.  Another child simply sat next to me as I read her a book and leaned in so that we were cuddling.  Many of the kids engaged me in laughter as we pretended to fall asleep and wake up.  I laughed.  I was hugged.  It was really nice.  It wasn’t what I expected.

I am so grateful that our church is a place where we can talk about hard stuff, even with children, especially with children.  I’m glad that our circles of community can engage in holding sorrows and laughter.  I am glad to join your children in play and learning and wonder.  I am glad that this is a place where I am loved no matter if I’m put together or if I’m going through a hard patch.  I am grateful that I can be ok in myself and where I am in the midst of community.  This week the children taught me not to anticipate my own grief, but to be actually where I am.  Maybe it’s not so hard.  Maybe it’s not what I expected.  Maybe it’s better.

Too Tired to Play

These past weeks have been a whirlwind.  Even contemplative minded folks can get overwhelmed by the many demands of life and forget to pause, reflect and simply be.  This has been my last few weeks in Spirit Play.  There is so much to do.  I have found that the change in our curriculum from our regular stories into reading books to the children is both sad to me and a relief.  I feel none of us get as much out of the book reading as we do with our regular stories with objects to act them out.  And, I have also been relieved that I can come with less preparation than usual.  There is no story to try to memorize for another week.  I can just come.  I can just read.

Last week in Spirit Play we were talking again about families.  This time we specifically talked about families who have adopted someone.  I read through the books and wondered with the children and dismissed them to their work.

I had a chant running through me that day so I sat witnessing and observing the play happening around me occasionally humming to myself.  I actually felt very connected to the children and joyful.  And also very tired.  One child used the nesting blocks to stack into a tower.  She found ways to stack large blocks onto little blocks by stacking them sideways making spaces in her tower that were open to one side and into which another block fit.  We stacked together in silence.  I handed her boxes and she handed me boxes and we stacked till things fell and then stacked again, and again.  We made sculptures and towers and nests and spaces.

Inside I was chanting to myself, “Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song.  Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song.  I will never forget you.  I will never forsake you. I will never forget you.  I will never forsake you.”  Over and over.  Last week my heart just needed to rest.  It was good to rest.  I found rest in observing the classroom.  I found rest in the silent dance of building and re-building.  It was enough.  It was beautiful.  I am happy to have found for that moment, a place of acceptance in being easy on myself and letting myself simply be.  When I forget that open space and focus on what I do (or more often, what I haven’t gotten done) it can feel like my heart is out of place, like it isn’t welcome.  I want to bring my heart into belonging.  I want my whole self to be like the families we have been learning about…to be all one because of love.  I want to honor my doing and honor my resting.  I want to choose my heart and choose my work.  I want to relish my rest as much as my accomplishments.

I am so grateful to be with our children in a space of openness and exploration where we can listen to our own and each others’ hearts.  That’s one way our church is a family for each other…to welcome each others’ heart songs and encourage each other in the dance of doing/being and belonging.

On Retreat

On the shore

On the shore

Today I got the pleasure and the honor of exploring Christian traditions of contemplation and meditation with a lovely group of women.  One of the things we did was an active imagination contemplation on a passage from a gospel.  I used Mark 6:53-56 which is a short passage whose language captured me a few months ago when I ran across it in my morning scripture readings.

“Once they had crossed over to land, they landed at Gennesaret and dropped anchor.  As soon as they had gotten out of the boat, people recognized him right away, and they ran around over the whole area and started bringing those who were ill on mats to wherever he was rumored to be.  And wherever he would go, into villages, or towns, or onto farms, they would lay out the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to let them touch the fringe of his cloak.  And all those who managed to touch it were cured!”

I read the passage a few times and asked the women to imagine themselves in the story.  Where are they?  On the shore?  Running around over the whole area?  In the marketplace?  On a farm?  And what do they experience there with their senses?  Is it hot, does it smell like lake-shore, is there sand on their feet, do they hear animals or people?

And then I asked them to consider who they might be in this story.  Are they Jesus?  Are they one of Jesus’ followers?  Are they bringing their loved one for healing?  Are they themselves laying in the marketplace hoping that Jesus will come near?  Are they a shop keeper or bystander watching and wondering what is happening?

And then I asked them to inhabit the story and imagine what might come next after the text ends.

Today I read this passage and found myself in the marketplace.  I have heard a rumor that Jesus is coming and I am in need of healing.  My family humors me and doesn’t understand why I would go, but I know I need to go, even if they don’t understand.  I have no mat.  No one can tell that I am there too hoping and waiting to see if the Healer will come here.  No one can see my illness.  I can see the others, those with scaling skin, those laying in the hot sun barely breathing, those with withered limbs, with all manner of physical illness.  And I see those family and friends who have brought them here, anxious mothers with their sick children, friends standing by, all of them ready to rush their loved one close to him, to help them to reach out, to press in all around in the chance that they will come close enough to be cured.  They are the ones who really need the Teacher.  They are the ones he should reach out to.
I don’t know why I thought I could come here, whole in body, and seek for my own healing.  There are so many here who will die if they are not helped.  Still….I will stay regardless.  Maybe there is a chance he will come here and at least I will see him and see for myself this man of God.  I smell the fires of the cooking ovens.  I wait for a long time.  The air feels tense with anxiety;  everyone straining to see down the path.  Will he come? And then suddenly there are shouts and a great many people run down the road. He is coming.  He is coming here.  I hold back assuming there is no room for me to get anywhere near him.  He is pressed from all sides.  Everyone is scrambling and calling out.  Voices everywhere beg and plead.  He walks through the crowd slowly reaching out and touching the sick.
He is amazing to watch and as he moves further into the crowd, an amazing calm moves through the people.  They witness him in awe.  Everyone who touches him, everyone he touches, even just a brush of his clothes, becomes well.  They sing and shout their praises.  Mothers weep in gratitude.  I watch and wish that I too could come close.  Suddenly everything stops and he meets my gaze through the crowd.  He knows exactly why I am there.  I am embraced in a feeling of all-encompassing love.  There is nothing but his gaze and somehow I am standing before him.  He takes my hands and tells me that I too am well.  And I am.  I am well.  I am a boundless perfection beyond all thought and word.  I am an essential piece of everything and there is Love, only Love.  Everything is Love.  He smiles at me and tears run down each of our cheeks.  He says, “Come.  Follow me.”  And I do.  I leave everything I have known for Love and Joy.