Tuesday, September 27, 2022

follow up to centering prayer...

The autumn poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost, is new to me. Not the insight, just the phrasing, which strikes me as simultaneously stunning and true :

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

It certainly gets close to the emotions of early fall and some of its spiritual wisdom. If spring preaches resurrection after the winter's death, and summer sings of creation's abundance and splendor, then autumn whispers to us about letting go. It is the season of kenosis where self-empyting shows us how to not only release anxiety, pain, and past wounds into the eternally open heart of the sacred, but do so without stress. As the man from Nazareth put it (through the poetry of St. John): abide in me and I in thee like a vine and its branches. This is the rest of surrender and acceptance, neither strife nor work, even if resting has become the paradoxical work set before us. 

Like all of our seasons, autumn is ripe with paradoxical practices: we gather in the harvest and relinquish all forms of hoarding including emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological striving, bracing, grasping, and longing. Fall asks us to simply BE - without expectation, without anticipation, without lamentation or jubilation - just BE. Be still - and know. Be still - and watch. Be still - and experience the love all around us if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to feel, and minds to trust. Yes, their is anguish. To be sure, there is sorrow. Violence and shame, too. Yet as I take-in the wetlands behind our home, the essence of rest is on display in a hundred different ways. What was green has become brown. What was once an abundance of leaves is slowly revealing the naked but strong structures that give shape and form to each frond as they reach out for the sun. What was once a raging and wet oasis of new life is morphing into a dry cornucopia of acorns, seeds, milkweed, and fluff.

Autumn in these parts teases us in mid-August as just the tips of the oak and maple trees offer hints of red and orange. Soon, fields of golden rod and purple asters pop up seemingly from nowhere. The nights become cool without warning. And the Canada geese wave at all below as they honk and move towards their winter homes. Pumpkins are everywhere. Tomorrow we'll go pick ours in spite of the rain that threatens to interupt our fun. We'll feast on autumn goodies in the evening, too - including potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers from our garden - as we return thanks to God for our grandson on his 9th birthday. 

This is a time to rest and rejoice. There are tasks to complete before the weather turns to snow and grey, but hat's part of the deal: taking care of business and paying attention to each moment is our part of the sacred exchange God has set in motion. God gives the gifts, but we must receive them. The tasks of autumn are not demanding like digging a garden or shoveling the snow. They are far more gentle but still important. I can't help but think of the poem, For the Chipmunk in My Yard, by Robert Gibb.

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.

After the Brooklyn crew arrives, we'll schlep over to a rock'n'roll outdoor party that has become a living prayer in my heart. Our hosts have invited us - that's the gift - but it won't be a party until we accept and show up in the flesh. This is how I am making sense of the unforced rhtyms of grace these days: hospitality, showing up, trusting and welcoming one another even as we let go of what is nonessential. There was a time, mind you, when welcoming friends, family, or guests would send me into an anxious cleaning fit more akin to Sherman's march to the sea than open-hearted hospitality. Not so much any more - or at least most of the time. I'll run the vaccum cleaner and mop the kitchen floor. We'll change the sheets in the guest room, move Lucie to our bedroom for the weekend, and leave the rest for... who knows when?

Incarnational and embodied prayer works for me right now; a little bit of Centering silence, too. Showing up, receiving, inviting, welcoming, feasting, listening, watching, trusting, singing, and setting aside my preoccupation with waiting feels healthy. Holy. Human. Last night I read that Fr. Thomas Keating, co-founder with William Menninger of the contemplative meditation we know as Centering Prayer, once said that: The most daunting challenge is to become fully human for to become fully human is to become fully divine. And it takes place quietly in small acts of being. David Baker puts it like this in Neighbors in October.

All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.

So, for me and those who chooses to join me, the next six weeks will be all about practicing Centering Prayer - again. This is a season to go deeper into subtraction rather than addition. Emptiness more than hoarding. As I shared yeseterday in my Small is Holy livestreaming reflection:

After nearly two decades of wandering within my own novel practices I have come to see that I have internalized the culture’s lie about contemplation and inward prayer being narcissistic. The mantra of my tradition has NEVER been: be still and know; but ALWAYS: hurry up and DO something. When I started to move in another direction by celebrating a contemplative Eucharist every Wednesday at noon, one snarky soul often made a point of telling me that: “while you’re sitting there safely gazing at your navel, the world is going to hell in a hand basket.” In Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, she notes that this has often been the critique of contemplation in Western liberal culture: 

You sometimes hear that this kind of prayer is private or narcissistic. And from the outside it may look that way: each person sitting on his or her meditation stool, wrapped up in his or her personal silence… but Centering Prayer is neither private nor without its profound effects in the physical world, a secret the hermits and mystics have always known… It is how we come to know from the inside out what St. Paul meant when he proclaimed: Whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s. The intent here is NOT to escape into some private holiness trip, but to allow the gospel to become more and more alive in us, more and more firmly rooted and grounded. Till at last, in the words of that remarkable prayer in Ephesians 3: “God strengthens us with power through the Spirit so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by trust… and we become filled with the very nature of the Lord.”

In this spirit, I am now making peace with two new/old observations

+ First, learning how to let go – practicing inward surrender of all that I cling to, clutch, hoard or hold tightly – is how I make space for Christ’s peace within. I’ve long known that God yearns to share grace and rest with me, but never understood that my part in this exchange is to receive the gift. That’s what the give and take of the sacred sets in motion: the Holy offers us a blessing but we must accept it and make space to receive it.

+ Second, it’s only from within God’s peace that I can consistently share a peaceful presence with the world. Without being emptied of my fears, resentments, anxieties, and wounds, I cannot sustain being a person of peace for very long. I don’t have the wisdom, fortitude, en-durance, or ability to keep it going. Sure, I can white-knuckle it for a spell. But without abiding – resting and becoming empty so that I might be filled – I always run out of gas. As someone once told me: You can’t give, what you ain’t got. Fr. Keating has written that:

We are kept from the experience of Spirit because our inner world is cluttered with past traumas. As we begin to clear away this clutter, the energy of divine light and love begins to flow through our being... and we realize like St. Teresa of Avila told us: 'All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.' This is the conviction that we bring with us from early childhood and apply to everyday life and to our lives in general. It gets stronger as we grow up, unless we are touched by grace within and begin a spiritual journey. This journey is a process of dismantling the monumental illusion that God is distant or absent.

At its most basic, Centering Prayer offers six simple steps

+ Select a sacred word…

+ Set time aside to rest…

+ Open your resting with a simple prayer…

+ Use the word to pull you back whenever you notice you are wandering…

+ Close your meditation with a prayer of gratitude… 

+ Keep at it every day…

For going deeper, join me next Sunday, October 2 @ 4 pm on Small is Holy and/or check out the resources @https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-mobile-app/

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

updates and trusting that what starts in fear can become a gift of beauty...

Well I see I haven't published much here of late - not because I haven't had many thoughts - but more because I've been on the go and have simply added FB updates rather than reflections. So let me remedy this with today's thoughts...

+ First, our Playing Music on the Porch event was a gas and a blessing. About 30 people attended as we simply rocked and rolled. No agenda, no cause, no fundraiser; just a party with those we love and trust and being grateful to be together.

+ Second, our dear friends Donna and John were with us for three days from Canada. We met through out participation and commitment to the L'Arche community of Ottawa and discovered a shared love of God's inclusive grace, good liturgy, roots music, and sharing good food, wine, and laughter. It was a real joy to host them - especially because they've been so generous in hosting me at their wonderful home over these past 6 years. We took in jazz and good eats, did a bit of walking in the Audabon meadows, and simply enjoyed the warm summer nights on our deck.

+ Third, there's been a lot of L'Arche planning - not all of which has worked out. We'll meet again on Zoom tonight but the reality is: with only a very part-time interim community leader a lot falls through the cracks. The leadership team is committed, but there is so much care required given the needs of an aging core membership that many are exhausted - especially after two and a half years of covid. 

+ Fourth, Di and I are learning (slowly) how to be together in new ways given her multiplicity of health issues. I won't belabor this except to say there's a LOT to be done in pursuit of a pain-free life and we aren't there yet.

+ Fifth, I started an online class with Cynthia Bourgeault re: wisdom and the spirituality of kenosis. This not only informs my current Small is Holy series on "embodied prayer" but is helping me reconnect with Centering Prayer.

+ Sixth, Dave and I are starting to rehearse as a mostly accoustic duet. This is a ton of fun as we reclaim old accoustic Beatles' songs along with a variety of roots and Americana music. My hope is that by the end or the month we'll be ready to take it out to some clubs. In addition to our two home music parties Dave and his spouse hosted a GREAT rock and roll outing - with another to come at month's end.

+ Sevventh, I spent the past weekend at L'Arche Ottawa for the 50th community anniversary - after first celebrating the marriage of K and J in Connecticut. It was a long day - and a long drive - but well worth it all. I got home midday yesterday after the Saturday festivities, checking in with key people at L'Arche, breaking bread, sharing stories and prayer and reconnecting in person after such a long physical absence.

That's a quick overview of the past few weeks. Let me close with one of the most spiritually pregnant dreams I've had in decades. My family was young: my hair was dark, the girls were in their teens, and we we're living in a small, broken down house. At twilight there was a harsh knock on the door and when I opened it a SWAT team crashed in upon us with guns drawn, flashlights swirling and lot and lots of frenzied shouting. No one would confirm why they needed to break into our home, no one said much of anything except to heard the four of us together to keep us guarded while the para-military troops raced through the house. Then, as quickly as they barged in, they left without explanation or apologies. When we were able to catch our breath, the four of us went into the kitchen for a meal only to find that it had been decorated with garlands and fairy lights and the most amazingly beautiful tall Christmas tree. Going up the staircase, there were lights and golden garlands, too. And all throughout the house there were tiny scented candles burning.

What had come upon us in fear was just prelude to a bounty of beauty. What had terrified and rattled our souls, gave way to celebration and gifts beyond all of our wildest understanding. And what had once been humble  and dark had now been transformed by a warm, gentle light. I know this is connected to my new under-standing that God never quits searching for us. That the practice of Centering Prayer trains my flesh to keep letting go of fear, memories, anxieites, habits, thoughts, and distractions so that I might incrementally ripen in resting into the unforced rhythms of grace. And that what often starts out in apprehension often becomes unexpected beauty and joy. I'm still sitting with this one as the season of ordinary time matures with the fall foiliage in these parts.

Thursday, August 18, 2022


One of my greatest joys is playing music with those I love, trust, value, and enjoy. This, of course, is not always the case, right? But when it becomes reallity, it is to be savored and charished as holy ground. On Sunday, August 28th, between 6-8 pm, just such a band will gather to share music, laughter, feasting, sing-alongs, and other surprises on our deck in order to mark the close of summer in these rolling hills. The day before has been dubbed: INTERNATIONAL PLAY MUSIC ON THE PORCH DAY. None of us knew of this unque holiday before we set our date, so we're reveling in synchronicity.
The 28th of August is also the Feast Day of St. Augustine of Hippo, patron saint of both theologians AND brewers, making this celebration extra special seeing as how "Augie" is one of my least favored spiritual thinkers while I hold brew masters in the highest regard. When we kicked summer off a few months ago with a music party, it was hot as blazes. Moving the festivites to 6 pm will give us maximum beauty as the sun sets over the wetlands. If we're lucky there will be a cool breeze, too. So far the weather predictions look like they will favor us. 

We're hosting this music party for a variety of reasons but the three central ones are: 1) In spite of the growing chaos and darkness all around us, there is still beauty and love in this world and we want to honor and strengthen it. 2) Being together with trusted friends is not only a ton of fun, it strengthens our souls for the hard work of resistance that surely lies ahead. And 3) sometimes you just have to "kick out the jams...brothers and sisters" as the MC5 once proclaimed. Reviewing the set list offers an eclectic ride with tunes from the Grateful Dead and Gerswhin, the Cranberries and ZZ Top, Jackson Brown, CS&N, the Beatles, Plant and Krouse, CCR and the Kinks. No preaching, no fund raiser, and no message except hold on to your hats, bring something fun to share, and shake yer bootie. An extra special treat is that we'll be hosting two beloved friends from L'Arche Ottawa who plan to arrive in time to join the festivities and one of my dearest friends from high school and his love hope to be with us, too. So, if you're in the area and this party speaks to you, send me a note and I'll give you the specifics, address, etc.


Thursday, August 11, 2022

small acts of preaching to the choir as embodied prayer...

On August 1st, Lughnassadh, I noticed one red leaf on one of the massive trees in the wetlands behind our home.Ten days later, small red vines are growing everywhere on this giant, more of her leaves are shifting, too and there are more red tips becoming visible on the shrubbery that fills the field. Our once "new" corn is now mature, bigger and with more zesty flavor than those first ears of early July. And now that the heat has finally broken, a hint of brown is starting to spread throughout the wetlands. With temperatures in the 50s at night, autumn is clearly coming: not fully here yet, but not far away.

As I've taken in what our commitment to letting more and more of the land return to its "prarie" splendor, more birds, bees, and butterflies are starting to visit. It's a small change, barely consequential outside of our tiny eco-system. But, as Carrie Newcomer notes in a recent essay, paying attention to small changes is at the core of embodied prayer. "At a time of wrestling with deep feelings of grief and a sense that the world had stopped making sense - a feeling that I’ve often revisited in these complicated times in which we live..." (noticing) the repeating patterns in nature is grounding and even salvific.

The expansive spiral of a galaxy millions of light years away was the same shape as the perfect spiral of a snail shell. The fractal shape of lightning was the same pattern seen in an area view of the Mississippi delta or the veins of a sycamore leaf. I found myself returning to this... for inspiration and reminder. In world that seemed to stop making sense, so much around me continued to be beautiful, consistant and utterly right.

She goes on to say that working on a friend's farm this past week, getting her hands into the earth and caring for its bounty, has been a true gift. "When things feel so uprooted, what a gift it is to plant - and harvest - something."

What a reminder of promise it is to harvest what has been so lovingly tended. What a symbol of hope to keep doing what we can to help the process by weeding, pruning, cutting back the suckers, adding plants that attract the bees, mulching with sweet hay—even when so much is not in our control and that rain will come as it will and the trees will fruit according to their own internal clock. (Carrie Newcomer's blog, A Gathering of Spirits, August 10, 2022.)

I find myself living into this blessed gift while making music, too. We are NOT doing anything huge: we're simply a small circle of trusted and talented friends gathering each week to play the music we love, crafting it for others in ways that celebrates solidarity, and explores what it means to "preach to the choir." Since 2017, Rebecca Solnit's essay, "Why We SHOULD Be Preaching to the Choir," has lived in a special part of my head, heart, and soul. She writes: "Do you win by chasing those who don’t share your views, or by serving and respecting those already with you? Is the purpose of the choir to sing to the infidels or inspire the faithful? What happens if the faithful stop showing up, donating, doing the work?” (Read the whole Harper's article @ https://harpers.org/ archive/2017/ 11/preaching-to-the-choir/?single=1)

On our small back deck, we've started to gather folk from time to time for what we're calling "a music house party." Our small band, plus various friends and neighbors, share 90 minutes of music and encouragement with one another. We sing, laugh, weep, share food and drink as we talk with one another about how to keep living with open hears. I've known most of those who attend for 15+ years. One young woman who will sing with us on August 28 was a confirmation class regular. Now she's a college grad, a young artist in the world, who still finds a measure of resonance by making music with us from time to time. Same goes for those who come to take it all in. Ms. Solnit insightfully notes that:

The phrase preaching to the choir properly means hectoring your listeners with arguments they already agree with, and it’s a common sin of radicals, the tendency to denounce others as a way of announcing one’s own virtue. But it can be applied too widely, to malign conversation between people whose beliefs happen to coincide. The phrase implies that political work should be primarily evangelical, even missionary, that the task is to go out and convert the heathens, that talking to those with whom we agree achieves nothing. But only the most patient and skillful among us can alter the views of those who disagree profoundly. And is there no purpose in getting preached to, in gathering with your compatriots? Why else do we go to church but to sing, to pray a little, to ease our souls, to see our friends, and to hear the sermon?

Most of our music has been heard before but we're not a "cover" band. Rather, we're troubadors in a digital era that is saturated in cynicism. That's one of the reasons we sing together: sharing the songs we love is an embodied act of encouragement - and who doesn't need encouragement right now? "Adults, like children," writes Solnit, "love hearing the great stories more than once, and most religions have prayers and narratives, hymns and songs that are seen as wells of meaning that never run dry. You can go lay down your sword and shield by the riverside one more time; there are always more ways to say how once you were blind and now can see." At our last gathering in late June, we kicked things off with the Wailin' Jennys' "One Voice" followed immediately with the Doobies' "Listen to the Music." Most of those on our deck knew both songs. They sang along with us and one another. And, there were tears of lament, gratitude, and dare I say affection flowing from both band and audience? This was embodied and audible prayer, right? An act of tender solidarity in a time of uncertainty. Or as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it at the start of chapter 11: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Clarence Jordan of Koinonia Farms used to translate this as: "Trust is the turning to dreams into deeds." 

The older I become the more I trust that my work during these later days of my life is not to convert others politically or spiritually, but to share encouragement. I belileve Solnit is right when she tells us: "O
ne reason we emphasize conversion is that we tend to believe that ideas matter more than actions, that beliefs directly determine behavior, that a preponderance of agreement will result in political and social change." But that is simply not so. No, what more often than not brings meaningful change and healing to our world is when a small cadre of loving and grounded people persist in being embodied prayer to their culture.

The majority of Americans, according to Gallup polls from the early 1960s, did not support the tactics of the civil rights movement, and less than a quarter of the public approved of the 1963 March on Washington. Nevertheless, the march helped push the federal government to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was at the march that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech — an example of preaching to the choir at its best. King spoke to inspire his supporters rather than persuade his detractors. He disparaged moderation and gradualism; he argued that his listeners’ dissatisfaction was legitimate and necessary, that they must demand drastic change. White allies were needed, but black activists didn’t need to wait for them. Often, it’s an example of passionate idealism that converts others. The performance of integrity is more influential than that of compromise. Rather than meet people where they are, you can locate yourself someplace they will eventually want to be.

I am slowly learning to cherish preaching to the choir - or should I say singing WITH the choir? Or letting Mother Earth guide our work alongside the hilltop wetlands? If you are around this area on Sunday, August 28th @ 6 pm why not stop by for some songs, refreshments, and encouragement. Drop me a note and I'll forward to you the details.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

lamas/ lughnassadh 2022

What is it about these in-between times? I love them. The hazy, mysterious dark greys of November (Samhain), the clarity of the winter sky after Christmas, the angle of light that breaks through the darkness at Imbolc and is liturgically marked by candles and crosses on St. Brigid's Day (February 1), the possibilities for bounty at Pentecost (Beltane on May 1), and Lughnassadh that ancient cross quarter day midway between the summer solistice and the autumnal equinox. Historically this is the feast of first fruits where the wheat harvest is brought in from the fields throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Olde English spoke of it as the "Loaves Mass"  (lamas) as sheaves harvested in the morning became loaves of fresh bread for supper. The more I listen to the energy cycles that ebb and flow withiin me, the more Mother Nature helps me own my charisms as a child of the in-between seasons.

Mystics and others outside the status quo tend to favor the dominant and bold high holy days of the circular and/or Christian calendars. Our cycle of seasons is influenced by the wisdom and experience of the ancient Celts. At its best, this trajectory honors the feasts as well as the fasts of reality, the journies as well as the arrivals, the sowing alongside of the harvest. To be sure, popular culture is still shaped by our major feasts: Christmas (Yule), Easter (the spring equinox of Ostara), the start of summer's fertility rites in May (as in the May poles of Beltane or the picnics that mark the arrival of summer vacations over Memorial Day), and then summer's finale as September slips into both Labor Day in early September or Mabon (September 21). These feast days are beloved but I somehow resonate more with the cross quarter days that invite us to notice the "thin places" and the in-between times. 

For the better part of this month I've stepped away from public reflection. It was simply time to be in the garden, wander with my family in Montréal, care for my loved ones, and be still. As i look out of my study window tonight, the clouds are pink. The fairy lights are all in place. And I sense it is time to reconnect. I will cut grass tomorrow - and then bake bread. I haven't given time to the spirituality of bread baking for the whole pandemic. It was enough to stay safe and reasonably healthy. Now, despite the surge of covid variants (and the uncertainties of monkey pox), I feel the urge to make safe, loving, creative connections again. The new/old band will regroup. and play another house party at the end of this month. A new musical duet will start to practice - and work to get some local gigs, too. And I will share my bread - and prayers as Small is Holy returns to live streaming next Sunday @ 4 pm - with those who are open to receiving these simple gifts. Apparently, I experience insight and even a bit of transformation during these in-between times. Small wonder I've always cherished this tune...

Saturday, July 23, 2022

embodied prayer...

It is always humbling - and sometimes restorative - to find that practicing what you preach is still a work in progress. On my spiritual direction web site, Be Still and Know (https://www.be-still-and-know.net) I posted the following:

After 40 years of ordained ministry - 30 of which included working with individuals and groups in spiritual direction - the time was right to start Be Still and Know. With so many leaving organized religion I wanted to encourage individuals on their path into sacred wisdom. Douglas Steere put it well: "To listen another's soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another." The Reverend Dr. Cynthia Bouregault has said that "the goal of our spiritual practices is to empower us to live as low maintenance, gentle souls in this harsh world." I couldn't agree more.

I whole-heartedly stand by these words: listening deeply to another is holy ground that can help us become "low maintenance, gentle souls" living in this harsh world. AND... there are still times when those old, inner demons of self-pitiy and resentment reach up from some place deep within, grab me by the throat, and chase away any connection to the contemplative equinimity I strive to rest in. Two of my favorite Bible passages from Matthew 11: 28-30 and I Corinthians 13 speak to the longing, the promise, the reality, and the renewal. 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end...
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

I am currently awakening to a way of being that others call embodied prayer. In the days and weeks ahead, there will be more to say, but this short reflections cuts to the chase.

“Grandma, how do you cope with pain?” “With your hands, honey. If you do it with your mind instead of relieving the pain, it toughens even harder.” “With your hands grandma?” “Yes, our hands are the antennae of our soul. If you move them; knitting, cooking, painting, playing or sinking them into the ground, you send care signs to the deepest part of you and your soul lights up because you’re paying attention to it. Then signs of pain will no longer be necessary.” “Hands are really that important?”

“Yes my daughter. Think of babies: they start to know the world through the touch of their hands. If you look at the hands of old people, they tell you more about their life then any body part. Everything that is done by hand is said to be done with the heart. Because it’s really like this: hands and heart are connected. Masseurs know well: when they touch someone with their hands, they create a deep connection. It is precisely from this connection that healing comes. Think of lovers: when they touch their hands, they make love in a more sublime way.” “My hands grandma.... how long I haven’t used them like this!” “Move them, my love. Begin to create with them and everything within you will begin to move. The pain will not pass away. And instead what you do with them will become the most beautiful masterpiece and it won’t hurt anymore. Because you have been able to transform its essence.”
~Elena Bernabe
(Translated by Takiruna)

Monday, July 18, 2022

befriending silence in a famine for the words of life...

As the world we once knew continues to burn, our bought and paid for politicians waffle, obfuscate, and out-right lie to creation and the Creator. Many of us feel desperately lost and even callously discarded. There are loved ones among us who act out in their terror while others retreat into distractions, addictions or pettiness. I want to consciouslly choose to see this time of despair, pain, and collapse as one filled with possibilities. The suffering is real and horrific. At the same time, we KNOW how to heal and restore Mother Earth. We KNOW what is required to both eliminate mass murder and one-on-one gun violence to say nothing of what must take place so that those most likely to kill find a way into safety, community, and the possibility of healing. We KNOW how to prioritize compassion rather than greed and balance instead of busyness. We KNOW how to do all of this and so much more. What we don't seem to know is how to listen: to the still, small voice of the sacred within, to those who are loud and threatening, to our lovers, children, or neighbors.
The Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, reclaimed the words of ancient Israel's prophet Amos who prophesied that there would come a time of worldwide famine, not for bread or physical sustenance, but rather for hearing the words of life. (Amos 8) We are living into those sacred words. It is my conviction that we need one another in pursuit of befriending the silence. We each have a part to play in creation's renewal. But most of the time we can't hear what is most true within our hearts. We need the words and the wisdom of others to help us reclaim our deepest gift. Emily Rose Protor put it beautifully in her poem about two Biblical sisters: Mary and Martha.

Martha knows the dinner will not cook itself.
Mary feels the moment swiftly passing.

Martha knows each thing has its place.
Mary notices how each thing changes with the light.

Martha knows a word from him would change things.
Mary turns the words like honeyed almonds in her mouth.

Martha knows the kitchen turned temple,
The pot of stew a thurible, filling every empty space.
Mary listens with a thirst that frightens her
For something that makes no sound.

— Emily Rose Procter, “To each her own”

Sunday, July 10, 2022

befriending disappointment as embodied prayer...

It's Sunday morning in Montréal where, once again, I've been invited to practice letting go of my expectations and embrace what is real. This is fundamentally the wisdom path for the second half of life. We get clues earlier, however, and for me it began some 30 years ago as my first marriage came to a close. Feeling like a failure - and grieving the loss of my precious family - my spiritual director encouraged me to learn how to simply rest into God's loving hands. Don't think too much, don't try too hard: give it time and before you know it you will "know" from the inside out that no matter what you do or who you are, you are always God's beloved. Fr. Jim was right. After about seven weeks of consistently sitting quietly and waiting on the Lord, I "felt" myself enveloped by the sacred and "knew" I was loved. My outward life was still a shambles, but inwardly I knew a deeper love.
Three decades later I am still a novice at living into this wisdom with one exception: now I know that it's true. How does Job put it at the close of his lament? "Once I had only heard of you with my ears, but now (the eyes of my heart) see you and I lcan et go of all my previous expectations." (Job 42 with my emphasis) The Americana musician and record producing genius, T. Bone Burnett, calls this the sacred "trap door."
Fr. Richard Rohr, teaches that when we're fully into "the second half of life," it's crucial to befriend disappointment. And Brother Niebuhr tells us this in his Prayer for Serenity: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did, this (broken) world as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

The good news is NO ONE is automatically good at befriending disappointment. The more we get it wrong, the more we know we need to move in a new direction. The paradox of this spirituality asks us to realize that our wounds and dashed expectations can simultaneously become our spiritual director. Falling through the sacred trap door is both death AND new life.Henri Nouwen speaks of embodied resurrection succinctly:

The great conversion in our life is to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions in our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope for peace by a new war, our desire for a stable government by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace of joy.

This Montréal adventure is our chance to befriend going slow. It's asking us to honor our disappointments even as we grieve them trusting that if we watch and wait, they will help us discern new ways of living. Not as we expected nor as we have lived in the past: but fully alive in THIS moment. A week ago at this time, I was in the emergency room with a blockage in my esophagus that scared the crap out of me. Today I am sitting in a lovely second floor kitchen looking out at the summer flowers of my favorite city. Di and I have journeyed to Montréal many times before - and the holy is whispering to us that this trip will be different whether we like it or not. So why not befriend it? These days I know this in my head but still resist it in my heart and flesh - and reality is showing me that my abstract beliefs need to become incarnated. Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Mindy Roll, learned much earlier than I what embodied prayer and faith is all about. In an article she crafted for The Christian Century she notes that:

Sometimes embodied prayer uncovers joy, sometimes sorrow, sometimes peace, sometimes connection, sometimes strength, sometimes my own history, and sometimes nothing. I am still learning the practice, still surprised each time at the intimacy of God’s presence and the sanctuary that God has carved within. It turns out God was indeed in the business of speaking back; I just needed to discover how to listen. (Check out the full article @ https://www.christiancentury.org/article/first-person/how-i-came-love-embodied-prayer

Roll's description of how to move from the head into our flesh is instructive. Her spiritual director put it like this:

God lives in the deepest parts of you, deeper even than your thinking, she would tell me. She outlined the process: We would begin with a period of deep breathing, followed by a body check-in (letting my attention wander from my head to my feet, checking in at each space). She would then invite me to listen to where my attention was drawn, then to listen for an emotion, then to listen for a story (not telling a story or analyzing a story, as I was first prone to do, but simply listening to what comes). The process would end with a period of reflection, holding the question, How might God be speaking to you through that story?

The journey continues, yes? Di and I are entering a wholly new was of being - and travelling - and caring for one another. Our lives now are so wildly different from what they were even a year ago let alone 30+. Like those mystical mentors in the Grateful Dead insist: what a long, strange (and transformative) trip it's been. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

the invitation of fattoush...

Over and again, I find new evidence every time we're in Montréal that ordinary people can change the world. Well, ok, not the WORLD, but at least a significant number of real lives. (That is my experience with L'Arche, too but that's a story for another post.) Let me confess from the outset that this is probably true any and almost anywhere. I simply find that my eyes see more examples of people acting upon issues that matter the most to me more here than many other places. 
Yesterday, for example, we met a young woman from Les Filles Fattoush. (Check them out @
https://lesfillesfattoush.com/en )Three things immediately caught my eye:

+ First, fattoush: I LOVE fattoush. For the non-cognescenti, fattoush is a Middle
Eastern salad made with with lettuce, cilantro, cucumbers, tomatoes, summac, and pita chips all coated in a tangy usually oil and vinegar, dressing. To be sure, I didn't grow up eating it. As a New England boy of the 50's and 60's, it was frozen fish sticks and potatoes all the way for my family. I never had pizza until junior high! But seminary in NYC opened my eyes and taste buds to street food. So when we moved to Saginaw, MI, I quickly made 
friends with a Lebanese shop owner who ran a small falafel eatery. His hummus - with LOTS of tahini - became my prefered lunch and the gold standard for evaluating the effort of others. In time, he turned me on to other Middle Eastern specialties made to order for a hard core vegetarian. Just as I made a commitment to try out both carne asada (after I'd left the veggie world after 25 years) and/or cheese chilie rellenoes whenever visiting a new Mexican resturant, so, too hummus and fattoush. Some of the vendors in Istanbul did it up right for me; and Sahadi's in Brooklyn always satisfies. Not so much the mass produced versions found in most Anglo supermarkets. So, upon retirement, I learned to make a killer fattoush that brings a smile to my face. Any place celebrating this working class delicacy warrants my time - and we brought home some fattoush pommegrant dressing and hummus.

+ Second, les Filles: The sisters in French. Whose sisters? Was this a feminist cabal of Middle Eastern salad devotees? What was their story? Well, it seems they are a creative collective of refugee women transplants from Syria collaborating with their Quebecois sisters in a celebration of the cuisine of Syria. Together these women are creating a cultural and economic gift to the region that simultaneously integrates these new citizens into the fabric of society, gives them essential skills in a competitive marketplace, and shares the sensual wonder of Syrian cooking with a wider audience. They write on their website:

Syrian women face the same difficult social, cultural, and economic obstacles that every refugee confronts upon arrival in Canada. Les Filles Fattoush gives these newly arrived women a significant opportunity to integrate into Quebec society: a job that puts their culinary talents to use, at the same time allowing them to earn a living and build a social network. This job is not only a first step towards reestablishing their dignity, but it also creates exchanges, both between these women and with their clients. The result is mutually beneficial: everyone gives and everyone receives. In the global diaspora, refugee communities risk losing their cultural heritage. Les Filles Fattoush addresses this issue constructively: with a collective work effort that creates relationships, builds self-esteem, and profits women, their families, and the community. New opportunities are discovered by word of mouth, but also by meetings and conversations between Syrian women and Canadians: this helps them to showcase their skills besides those in the kitchen. Among the first Filles Fattoush employees, we have fitness instructors, lawyers, journalists -- women from diverse, professional backgrounds. This unique workplace gives women a chance to integrate into life in a new society. There is no universal solution. Social and economic obstacles will always be present, but Les Filles Fattoush is a creative, innovative project that helps to overcome these obstacles.

+ And third Syria: We were preparing to assist Syrian refugees in our small Massachusetss community when the Trump regime pulled the plug on that act of human compassion. Di had already committed time and resources to train and be certified in a top notch English as Another Language program and yearned to take the next step. She loves - and I value - small, grassroots women's collectives that welcome, support, encourage, and resource immigrant women into the realities of contemporary North American life. Les Filles Fattoush does this with aplumb and has piqued our interest. We will stop by their stand later this week and see how we might go deeper with them as a part of this journey.

Living in our small, semi-rural community has a host of blessings including good friends, natural beauty, an excellent health care network, and reasonable shops. There's also a downside to living outside of a progressive metropolitan area that includes limitted resources, diversity, and even political creativity. Our visits to Montréal makes what's missing clear to both of us as does stepping outside the USA for a spell. That's why today we'll hit a street food fair before joining the closing of this year's Jazz Fest with The Roots - as wel let the adventure continue!

Friday, July 8, 2022

Montréal, travel, vulnerability, and practicing interconnectedness...

This may seem too self-referential for some but here goes: one of the reasons I LOVE spending time in our beloved Montréal - besides the culture, arts, beauty, great food, jazz, and chill vibe is the disadvantage I experience as an old dude with only a minimalist ability in the French language. Put positiviely, I marvel and honor the radical bi-lingualism of the city's Francophone majority (same, too, for the bilingual Anglophones.) I grieve that I don't have that ability but revel in their incredible linguistic flexability. Intellectually and emotionally I know that facility in more than one language creates a way of being in the world that sees/comprehends possibilities. One size does NOT fit all. There is more fluidity between the right and left side of the brain and creativity abounds. Once upon a time I had some of this happening with Spanish, but that is mostly gone now, too. 
What I am trying to say is that wandering the streets of Montréal, trying to engage the citizens in questions and sometimes even a conversation in French, is not only humbling but evokes a measure of vulnerability within, too. And vulnerability is holy ground - especially for a white, cisgendered, bourgois American male. To date, my Francophone sisters and brothers have helped me ripen into old age in a few unexpected ways:

+ First, they remind me that I am not the center of the universe. As a man of modest privilege raised in the USA, it is second nature to act like the proverbial "Ugly American." I am used to getting what I want (most of the time), when I want it. And when that doesn't happen I can easily feel deprived or even oppressed. (Read the wise op ed in today's NY Times by David Brooks about what motivates mass shooters @ https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/07/opinion/mass-shooters-motive.html ) Choosing to be vulnerable, however, opens my heart and eyes to the reality of others. I'm not saying it is simple or easy to walk the path of downward mobility. It isn't. It's just transformative. It creates space to change and go deeper. And make room for others, too. As a recent FB meme put it:

May we release the myth of independence and make a declaration to embrace and nourish our interdependence. May we pledge allegiance to the land, to the waters, to our human and nonhuman kin, to the earth-body we call home. May we find our house of worship in the trees, the sky, the dirt, the mountains, in our own bodies. May we find new places of power, shimmering along the edges of what we think is the only way forward. May we love each other and honor life more than we love guns, oil, money, power, control, or the written word of hungry ghosts. May we midwife systems of harm to die with grace, and compost them into new ways of caring for each other. May we honor our grief, make space for deep rest, find pleasure in our pursuit for justice, and ignite transformation with our holy rage.
+ Second, their willingness to help me learn new words is all about compassion and our interconnectedness as living beings rather than dominance. Last night, after a long day of travel, Di and I walked through the fecund beauty of le marché Jean-Talon, the fresh food farmer's market in Little Italy (our current neighborhood.) After any measure of travel, I find it grounding to simply walk around the area both to get my bearings but also take in the vibe. This is a wildly diverse community populated by every stripe of humanity you might imagine. After a simple supper of Mexican street food, we went in search of some libation and breakfast supplies. The local depaneur (convenience store) gave up the ghost during Covid, so we wound up a few blocks away on Boulevard St. Laurent. Di was wiped out and sat out my quest along one of the many traffic free pedestrian walkways that are family/handicap friendly. I found a new (to me) upscale market, gathered my goodies, and stepped up to the counter only to be gently reminded en français that the line formed behind me where five other shoppers were patiently waiting. I apologized, took my place sheepishly, and waited my turn. When my turn arrived, the young female clerk told me (first in French and then in English): "Don't sweat it. That happens all the time." She smiled knowingly and made space for an old, tired Anglophone in a French neighborood. Over and over this happens to me: there is space for us all when we take one another into account. Ever try this in the US? As a non-native speaker? Believe me, it is NOT something you want to experience. Hell, you could get yourself shot! A quote from jazz pianast, McCoy Tyner, gets it right as he describes his approach to making music together:

I like people to be comfortable. That’s the first thing I think about. Will people playing with me be comfortable and compatible? That’s very important. It’s a good place to start. I also like to provide enough room so the person is comfortable to do what they do. I don’t like to handcuff people. But at the same time, he’s got to understand that when he’s playing with me, he also has to listen. Listening and responding are very important.

+ And third, their respectful interactions push me towards greater generousity. When I was very young - and all through high school - I had some anger management issues. Over time I've learned to let go of a lot, but I still need encouragement to be my best self. Living, breathing, shopping, walking around, and watching others helps me practice waiting which is, in my worldview, the foundation of generousity. It's why we practice contemplation. It's at the heart of true religion. And it's built into the rhythms of Mother Nature, music, authentic conversations, and loving relationships. Maya Angelou told us: "I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." I believe that grace ALWAYS trumps karma, but that doesn't mean karma isn't real. St. Paul hit a home run in Romans 12 when he defined spiritual worship as embodied waiting:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what the holy wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Like travel guru, Rick Steves, tells us: “I would like travelers, especially American travelers, to travel in a way that broadens their perspective, because I think Americans tend to be some of the most ethnocentric people on the planet." In addition to my time as an Anglo organizer with the farm workers union founded by Cesar Chavez, my first trip to then Soviet Russian and Eastern Europe opened me to the challenges Steves described. We were 50 so-called peace activists. While in Poland during Marshall Law, however, I saw my gentle colleagues explode with rage when told that given food rationing and shortages there would only be one cup of coffee each morning - and no sugar. The words, complaints, and attitudes would have led you to believe we'd just been stripped of our right to vote! Ugly Americans, indeed.  So, thank you now, and thank you always, Montréal: as long as I can travel I'll return.

Monday, July 4, 2022

singing the blues on the fourth...

Life and time are such precious and fleeting gifts, yes? I discovered this truth yet again on my 70th birthday. It started out sweet, filled with a French toast breakfast on our deck, some gardening and planning for a few additions, and a wee trip to the grocery store for our evening feast. I've had a "jones" to join the entourage of Dead fans for the past month, so I subscribed to a Zoom concert of the gig in Boston. At 7 pm we settled in for a sunroom birthday party as I sat in the comfort of our home near my sweetheart but in the company of some 10,000 die hard "Mass-hole" Deadheads. 

It all started to go South, however, when Mother Nature interupted the concert with 60 minutes of rain, wind (but no snow) that shut down the performance after a mere two songs. I cooked up that evening's repast of baked potato, broiled steak, and salad only to be interupted five minutes into the feast with a choking attack. Some 20 years ago I had my first encounter with the malady once called "Steakhouse syndrome" now named "Schatkski's Ring." It's the result of prolongued GERD - a genetic demon shared by many of the Irish side of our clan - resulting in a small "scar" ring forming at the top of the esophagus. My docs tell me that when "the acidic contents of the stomach enter the esophagus it causes an irritation resulting in heartburn. Prolonged irritation of the esophagus due to acid reflux often results in Schatzki ring formation." Fiften years ago it was diagnosed - treated with diet, proton pump inhibitors, and dialation of the esophagus along with SMALL bites of food - and periodic review. This combination has inhibited problems and life has been full - except during this year's birthday feast! I will spare the gory details of angony, fear, and pain except to say that after about an hour some of the blockage had been eliminated. But, sadly, not all. So, for the next 17 hours swallowing became impossible. I toughed it out all night because I didn't want to go endure the madness of the ER at midnight on a Saturday during the 4th of July weekend. What discrete circle of Hell would that be? Certainly far worse than my troubles.

Sunday morning, at 8:30 am, however, we made the trek and some six hours later I was free, healthy, sore, and worn out. Tasting that first vanilla malt was heavenly - and made my ragged throat smile, too given the fact that I needed a breathing tube this time during the surgery. Let me state again (and will do so in an upcoming letter to the editor of our local paper) how INCREDIBLY sweet, helpful, compassionate, engaging, honest, funny, professional, and tender the entire staff at Berkshire Medical Center was to both Di and myself. Everyone made the time to listen carefully, answer all our question, joke about the situation, reveal some of their own stories, and generally treat us with the tenderness and respect all human being ache to know when we're hurting. I cannot thank them enough. 

After twelve uninterrupted hours of sweet sleep, we sat out on the deck for a Fourth of July bowl of Irish oatmeal with maple syrup. We laughed, watched the gold finches partake of the sunflowers, and watered the herbs. Later we'll weed the "lower 40" vegetable garden and probably chill some more. It's amazing how 
wearying it is to endure even such minor trauma. Well, enough of this prelude: it is Independence Day in the once (and maybe future) land of the brave and home of the free. Langston Hughes got it right in his 1936 poem, "America Never Was Amercia to Me." I discovered it (never having been taught it existed) during my last year of seminary in 1980.) He captures powerfully the promise, paradox, and problem of our nation with both love and anger.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

(Read it all @ https://poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again)

I remember reading in his autobiography of Pete Seeger's broken-hearted realization that his all time favorite Woody Gutherie song, "This Land is Your Land" was not as universally revered by all Americans as he once believed. It was during the Kent State deomonstration of 1970. After leaving a public rally where he sang this anti-elitist anthem - Woody's protest against the sentimentallity of Irving Berlin's (aka his original Russian name: Israel Baline) song we know as "God Bless America" - as the campus ROTC building was set aflame, some First Nations people confessed to Seeger that his old, sing-a-long favorite was NOT cherished among indigenous people - and was probably hated as well by many non-white people of every state of life. Seeger wrote that he was genuinely humbled and devasted and wept over his cultural blindness. He quit singing this song for a few years until he (and probably Arlo) figured out a way to expand the anthem to become more inclusive.

So as I mark the national birthday of my homeland, there is much more sorrow and anger in my heart than ever before. The stability that once seemed timeless to me is unravelling - and it should. Injustice must be dismantled befire a more perfect union is brought to birth. But, as in nature, before the birthing must come the grief, decay, and dying. The promise God set in motion for those with eyes to see happens every seaon in the wisdom, intimacy, and affection Mother Nature shares with us: new life is part of this sacred cycle. But it never comes without a cost and we are living into the reckoning. As noted elsewhere, it is going to worse - much, much worse for us all - before it gets better. At the same time, there are souls wiser than myself who are prefiguratively living into this new world with strength, vulnerability, a measure of humility, and courage. Jade Begay, Diné and Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico filmmaker, communications and narrative strategist and Indigenous rights and climate activist, sets the stage insighfully writing:

Today is Independence Day—an acknowledgement of White settlers gaining their freedom from British colonizers in 1776. Many people now recognize the hypocrisy of July 4, after learning about the enslavement, exploitive labor, theft, and genocide of countless Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who have not reaped—and still do not reap—the benefits of this same freedom. Still, many Americans will put aside their conflicting feelings to enjoy the paid day off from work with parades and cookouts. This fraught holiday is a time to reflect on the lessons we’ve collectively learned over the past year, holding close the truth that we need each other to survive and to thrive. Today, we need to decry the continued colonization of the United States, reject the American ideal of individualism, and continue building systems that strengthen our relationships with each other and with the planet.

The past year and a half has shown us the real priorities of our federal government, when it failed miserably to protect people during a pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout, but was swift to mobilize military troops against people demanding accountability for horrific police killings. Because of these compounding layers of crisis and violence, people had to work quickly to protect one another.
This culmination of events has led to a broader wave of consciousness around how White supremacy and capitalism work in tandem. And it has led to a greater willingness for different communities to come together to keep people safe. We need to recognize that interdependence is essential.

Having studied - and honored - the transformative spirituality of the prophets of ancient Israel(especially as unpacked by Brother Walter Brueggemann) I know that before there is space for new life both the old ways must be rendered dead and then grieved. Without grieving - personal and public lament - the emotional baggage and scars retain their presence and power. So, for me and those I love, the Fourth of July is more about tears than fire works. I'm listening to my kin sing reels and ballads from the old country as part of my lament. I am also now giving myself to singing and sharing more songs of beauty and the blues. It is my small gift of joy to the world Like Begay observes: Sometimes crisis can bring about opportunities for transformative action. "The past (two+) years have proven we are capable of meeting great challenges with humility and innovation. If we continue to strengthen the systems we’ve built, we can expand them even further. Let’s take this time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned and encourage even more people to join us in building sustainable systems that actually work, instead of trying to reform broken systems that continually fail us."

Smacking up against my own mortality as I did this weekend (one more time!) was a timely kick in the pants to stay the course. I am off to do some weeding, physically in my garden and inwardly in my heart, on this broken/ugly/and holy day. I'm not singing either "God Bless American" or "This Land is Your Land" today. More like this lament and prayer from the Boss..

follow up to centering prayer...

The autumn poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost, is new to me. Not the insight, just the phrasing, which strikes me as simultaneousl...