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Category Archives: Sabbath

September

I realize this welcoming of September is a couple of days late.

When I walk in the river valley at this time of the year, the changes in nature become noticeable. Before I notice the colours changing, I smell the decay as leaves fall. This is noticeable if it rains, which it has been for the last week or so. It cools the evenings and nights, accelerating the pace of change.

The decay is a necessary part of nature. It is part of the cycle of birth, life, harvest, and rest essential to health. Parker Palmer writes beautifully about this in several places. Nature reminds us we need to prepare for rest in a meaningful way, gathering our whole self in the process. It is about eloquent questions. What have I birthed and nurtured during the spring and summer months that I harvest to help sustain me in the winter months? How am I letting my Spring and Summer ready me for Autumn and Winter?

Leaves tumbling,

Time for slumbering.

New colour vivifies,

Nature electrifies.

Summer falls,

Equinox calls.

Season to rest,

Reflect on harvest.

Gentle Rain

I wrote this poem as part of a Sabbath activity at the retreat I mentioned in One’s Story and Companions. When I attend a retreat, I enter into a covenant with myself to slow down, talk less, and listen more deeply. In most retreats, that is the norm. We choose to set time aside purposefully and share with purpose in small groups, listening and being present for each other, reflecting in time set aside for solitude, and finding our way back to the circle of kindred spirits. In these ways, it is unlike other conferences, workshops, and training filled with busyness. I focus on opening up space where I experience being vulnerable, in solidarity with others, reflecting, and as I find myself coming home.

The poem began to emerge as I meditated in the morning in the main hall. As I sat, I became fully aware of sounds coming to me from outside as the voice of nature spoke. The reflective moment brought back a memory of the sudden and tragic passing of a young woman the year before. I met her briefly several years before.

Shunryū Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about how each person we greet on life’s journey leaves an imprint on us. We only need to stand or sit quietly and listen and like a wind and gentle rain voices are heard again and again in the silence of that moment.

Sitting inside the drum;

Hearing rain,

Singing a reverent song,

Tapping, oh-so gently–

Occasional Increased tempo

Adding rhythm in a fresh moment.

Shaking tree limbs and leafs–

Sighing gusts of wind;

Breaking free from reverie,

Dreaming, exploring, imploring

Reaching out–

Turning inward.

Inviting gently,

Each receiving;

Walking, remembering, enjoying–

Gathering together–

Carrying bits of each other.

Yet, in solitude

Communing.

I took this picture in Waterton Lake National Park several years ago. Memories act like water on rock. They live an imprint, carving out a place in our lives.

Weekending

Although it has changed somewhat, the weekend is less hectic than weekdays. At my age and, to a lesser extent the current healh crisis, days blend together a bit more and abitrary barriers dissolve between the weekend and the work week. That is what the weekend constituted for me in the past. Now, I plan out days to fit reading, writing, taking care of social media and email, etc. Part of my routine is to walk each day and it is always interesting to observe and appreciate the unexpected.

For several years I observed Sabbath differently. I took time each Sunday to shut off computers, TV, and be less busy. Now, I make sure I have quiet time to withdraw and rest each day. It is essential for one’s overall well-being to take time and just be. In a way, it is like gardening. We take time to plant seeds and nourish them into life so they can flourish. Too often, I found, in the rush of getting things done for the sake of getting them done, I lost some of that in my younger years.

Turning soil,

Planting seeds,

One at a time.

Nourishing with rest,

Flourishing wholeness,

 Becoming whole.

Just being–

Breathing,

Light giving.

Weekending,

Waiting quietly,

No rushing.

Tiling with care,

Enlightening,

Even weeds.

I took this picture several years ago in Spokane as I walked back towards campus along the river. As you can see, the sun was setting beautifully and was just above the horizon. In the midst of light, shadows emerge and their presence signals light is there.

 

Soul Dancing

Several years ago, Kathy and I went to the farm to visit. Late in the afternoon, we went for a walk and saw the doe in the picture below. You have to look carefully to find her. She moved away from us, but still seemed to want to stay close to where we first saw her. As we walked, the deer reappeared several times and, despite attempts at being quiet and still, the deer kept her distance. My best guess was she had a spring fawn in the bush and was trying to distract us, moving us away from being a threat to the young vulnerable offspring.

In The Hiddent Wholeness, Parker Palmer compares the soul to a shy and vulnerable animal. Each humans’s spiritual nature is personal and private. I think we begin by tentatively exploring its meaning with our self first and, as we become comfortable, with those we are closest to, testing and adjusting what it means to us. In a secular world, we often conflate religion with spiritual. As Parker points out, we have many words for soul e.g. spirit, essence, inner self, etc. and those words can carry non-religious connotations for each of us. To engage the soul and animate our being, it is essential to spend time in contemplative and meditative ways.

I sit quietly, with occasional great stillness, and my spirit, like the deer, emerges from cover and protection. In the midst of strangers, intruders, and busyness, we need those moments to let the soul speak to each of us and be protected, understanding its vulnerability.

Look closely. The poplar and the spruce in the foreground frame her in the background.

Quietly,

In stillness–

Vigilant,

Keeping her distance–

Camouflaging,

Protecting the vulnerable–

Distracting intruders,

Returning to its child.

Sitting,

Patiently waiting–

Soul peeking out,

Tentatively emerging–

Awaiting safety,

Revealing in perfect stillness–

Infinitely,

Repeating the dance.

A Half a Dragonfly Is Fine

I took this picture while at the retreat I posted about the other day. It picture out better than others. I had trouble with the sun over my shoulder; pretty good excuse. Initially, I was disappointed because the dragonfly posed and cooperated. In retrospect, the title says it all and the moment was a lesson in living.

As I mentioned, the retreat was a great experience. I reminded my self it is OK to be imperfect. I am human with that. The dragonfly showed up and shared a quiet moment with me; for that I am grateful.

Lighting down,

Oh, so gently.

Posing,

Oh, so perfectly.

He spoke;

He really did!

“Take my picture please

My time almost done

My memorial moment.”

Posing ever so gracefully,

As if expressing gratitude,

Sharing a momentous moment,

Done, we each took leave–

Jobs nearly complete.

We each are learning about who we are in life. Living is a gerund and, as result, is an unfolding and becoming we are always experiencing. I think this is best said in the poem of Derek Walcott, Love After Love. It is in accepting our imperfections we come to love the self who continuously emerges.

Sabbath – Making One’s Self More Human

It has been a while since I wrote about the concept of Sabbath where I disconnect to reconnect. I allude to it in The Greater Scheme. It is a practice I am trying to get back into on a regular basis. Wendell Berry writes poetry on the theme and Wayne Muller wrote Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives. It is taking a pause.

Muller cuts across demoninations, traditions, faiths, and philosophies. I used it at a retreat several years ago. There were people who did not see themselves as religious or bound to a particular tradition. What we are often looking for is a spiritual space to heal, make whole. Heal and whole share an etymological root.

Too often, in a busy world, we forget to slow down. Hannah Arendt wrote the Ancient Greeks leaned towards contemplation (vita comtemplativa), while in modern society we remain forever in motion (vita activa). Neither is healthy; health shares the same etmology with whole and heal.

Parker Palmer, drawing on Thomas Merton, proposes we bring harmony between the two. It is a way of feeling at home, the core of who we each are and where we belong. The word hearth, which is the heart of our home, shares etymology with heal, whole, and health.

The poem and picture in the post The Greater Scheme was taken as part of a walking meditation activity, where the teacher asked us to look at the world as if through new eyes. It is, when I am in harmony with myself, I am most creative. At the same time, I was involved in a monthly conference call with critical friends and was interviewed about some work I did related to mindful servant-leadership as it applied to teaching. I think the peaceful feeling I felt emerged from the silence and solitude at the retreat, the critical exploring of my self, and the creative work I was engaged in at the time.

Spacious, silence, solitude…

Seeking refuge,

A peaceful room.

Lovingkindness discovers–

A heart breaks open,

The present its own reward.

Silently spirit revealing–

Speaking,

Softly, gently, tenderly,

Begging its quiet voice be heard.

Solace seeks me–

Unmarked path emerging,

A step at a time.

Sabbath–

Wisdom revealing itself,

Making more human.

I took this picture on a hike into Kootenai Lake in Glacier National Park earlier that summer. We saw a handful of people and the hike was peaceful, disconnecting us from the busyness of life for an entire day.

The Greater Scheme

I wrote this poem and took this picture while attending a mindfulness retreat several years ago. The picture was taken in the early fall on a beautiful day as the sun warmed, the breeze cooled, and colours changed. When I sit in meditation or practice yoga, mindfulness reminds me I am one part of a much larger scheme. There is a lot acting on me that goes unnoticed and taken-for-granted. It is in mindfulness I remember to be humble and grateful for the small part I do play in the world.

Sitting, walking–

Speaking, listening–

In the greater scheme,

One part amongst many,

What does it mean?

Sunlight warming faces,

Breezes cooling skin,

Morning freshness awakening;

Afternoon warming;

Evening comforting.

In Nature’s midst,

Pulling close,

Embracing all forms,

Sinking deep roots,

Colouring with vibrancy.

Beginning afresh;

Living the world anew,

New eyes seeing it;

Skin touching it for the first time,

Finding one’s seat at the table.

one step, then another

via one step, then another

We live in challenging times and I do not mean just because of the corona virus. I think a world defined by others in ways that make it incomprehensible for each of us is part of that challenge. I find it easy to critique the neo-liberal agenda many of our politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, plutocrats, etc. have fashioned. The questions I return to is what do I control and how can I live my life in ways that reflect courage, faith, and hope.

Carrie uses those last words in her post one step, then another. She called her blog Lead Our Lives, which is appropriate for these days and for each we will live moving forward moment by moment. I counsel hockey players, students, and many others the only things we control are what we control. I cannot control what other people do and this calls on me to lead my life and not someone else’s.

The first lines in Carrie’s post are from Thomas Merton, who I use often. To close, Carrie uses  Howard Thurman, reminding me in silence I hear my heart whisper how to find strength from weakness, courage from fear, and hope from despair. Perhaps, I discover, in those moments, peace; perhaps it discovers me.

The movement of hope to despair echoes the Prayer of St. Francis, which has been with me throughout my life. I offer you those words to guide you in moments of silence.

Take care, be well, and discover the opportunities amidst the challenges of each moment.

Prayer of St. Francis

I retrieved the image from Pinterest.

What Do You Plan to Do with Your One Wild Life?

Mary Oliver wrote the beautiful poem The Summer Day. She ended the poem with a question: “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Actually, she included several questions, which are not answerable in any certain way. Life is unpredictable, but what we want to do with it echoes Hans-Georg Gadamer who wrote “desire beyond wanting.” To me, this suggests we each aspire, perhaps can aspire, to something beyond simply knowing and planning. There is more to life than we can plan and predict, yet we can hope.

I think, as important, the question is about vocation and what calls us forward and animates each of our spirits. Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer write about how vocation and voice relate to one another and are how we express who we are in life. Merton goes so far as to say some of us are perhaps destined to search without discovering what calls us.

I wonder, “have we lost this sense of spiritual purpose in the early part of the 21st Century?” We look out there, read the newspapers, follow 24/7 news, etc. and feel deep despair and hopelessness, perhaps even disinterest to follow what beckons. I don’t say this lightly. Two incidents led me to wonder about this. First, at a recent community engagement conference, I was struck by how much despair filled the room. Second, in a private conversation with a parent, they commented how a child was struggling with what exists beyond our individual life. The child is experiencing a sense of despair over this. In part, this is exacerbated because the parents are atheists and feel unable to give guidance in a spiritual way. Finding our voice and who we are is more than an instrumental process of work. It goes beyond to the spiritual essence of who each are and how that brings meaning to our lives and the world.

In the latter setting, I emphasized the idea that we conflate religion and spirituality. One can be deeply spiritual and non-religious and non-theist. One can be religious and theist without being spiritual. The essence of spirituality is to find what calls to me and respond with the qualities of life I want to find in the world. I don’t think those in short supply, but, if we listen to the media, we come away with a different view. At the heart of this, might be the great existential questions poets, like Mary Oliver, ask us.

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I include a lovely reading by Mary Oliver of this poem.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

via Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Yesterday was a day of riches as this wonderful Mary Oliver poem was posted by Dawn and re-blogged by John and Kenne.

There are prayerful and questioning qualities in Mary Oliver’s poetry that challenge me to think about the universe as a place where each sentient and non-sentient being thrives and flourishes. We grow mindful of our needs as they relate to the needs of other living and non-living being. Living is a practical and ethical way of standing in the world. Practical and ethical ways of living are essential to growing spiritually and acting with care towards sentient and non-sentient beings.

Wendell Berry has a poem entitled The Wild Geese asking me to be thankful for the gifts that come to me each day. What do I take-for-granted? What do I overlook and treat as ordinary that I can celebrate as (extra)ordinary? As Mary Oliver asks, “how does my body ‘love what it loves?'” How do I notice the universe and let myself find its way home each day?

Here, is a video of me reading the two poems about geese and the poet’s reminder of being present to what is here.

 

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