Autumnal Amazement

Autumn amazes me. The blackbirds and sparrows fly like piece of fabric on the wind – one plane but undulating like a wave, turning as precisely as if they had internal GPS. gettyimages-com-uk The geese fly in formation, and land as one choreographed chorus of dancers on the river.   The deer begin to group up into small herds.  How it they know to do that, automatically?

The leaves change from a deep green to vibrant yellow and red.  The constellations move in such a way that we miss familiar “faces” for a time.  We lose two minutes per day of daylight until March, like clockwork. How does that happen?

rockland-luhudblogs-comI know, I know, it can be explained easily by science and chemistry. But knowing how it happens in detail doesn’t take away, at all, from the sheer magical experience of noticing it.  Experiencing the Holy in it.

Noticing changes transforms how I relate to this time of year.  From “brrr…do I have to get out of bed?!” and cries of “argh – where’d I put my longjohns?!” becomes “oh. my. Just look at that palette of colour!”  The fire-engine red of the sumac tree in my yard always brings a smile to may face, and the orange of that hedge shrub makes me feel “everything’s going to be alright”.

I, too, lament that the sun doesn’t have that kiss of warmth in it.  I, too, don’t like the fact that, sooner than I consciously think, it will be dark long before my supper’s out of the freezer.  Yes, I, too, don’t look forward to feet and feet of snow to shovel. bio-brandeis-edu

But when I just stay noticing what is around me, how the animals behave in this time of change, how the earth and sun move and change,  I am stopped short with Awe and Wonder and Gratitude.  It becomes one of those “take your breath away” moments.  A Timeless Now.

No matter what else I may be lamenting this week (and there’s lots to be sad about if you listen to the news, and look around our province), this glory of Autumn makes me feel that it’s going to be ok.

My work is to Be Aware; call it “mindful”, maybe.  Whatever, I am to Be Amazed, Be Grateful, and let that lead me to caring for the bit of land and air that I have to steward.

Maybe it’s enough to recognize and be part of this Holy Time.

 

Many thanks for the great photography of gettyimages.co.uk, rockland.luhudblogs.com, and bio.brandeis.edu

Stop. Pout. Be honest.

On vacation I walked a trail which almost did me in.  It seemed that after every uphill, there was either another hill, or the downside was steep and crisscrossed with major tree roots – you know, the kind that trip you up if you look at them sideways.roots-your-adreneline-fix-com  About halfway along the hike, having both insufficient insect repellent and water supply, I was tired, dry, welted up in the most peculiar places and pouty.

I knew I’d get to the end of the trail (cos what choice was there), but I wasn’t sure what shape I’d be in when I got there.  After my wee pout, a still, small voice said: “Enjoy
the break. See the view.  Smell the green. And then later we can look at why this hike is such a battle.”  Some time later, when I was honest with myself, I named the why and realized there was something I could do about it.  Just naming that gave me hope, and energy.  As I took small steps to act on that hope, I began healing; my journey to being Whole had re-started.

I know, the images are almost cliché: Life is an uphill climb, it’s fraught with things that can trip us up, we feel we have insufficient resources, our sense of self shrivels up.  But that’s why we need Sabbath, a time to Stop.  To look around, let the gratitude for the Life that is mine well up.  Then I can take an honest look at how I came to be in that spiritual place of exhaustion. (You, too?)  What is it that I do, think or feel that leads my soul to such injury? And how do I get to be restored to a sense of Wholeness?

A colleague says the spiritual journey is not seeking so much “holiness” as “Whole-i-ness”.* Is she right?

It’s as if we’re hiding our truest with those crisscrossing roots. We all developed a myriad ways of  burying the truth that “I” am valuable as a person regardless of my flaws. Our spirit’s journey is to recover, maybe uncover, that self, to see it as a gift, help it become Whole.  That path to Wholeness is not just for us alone; it brings both humility and confidence so that we can take our place in the world – neither inflated nor diminished. Whole-in-ness leads to Right-us-ness. But that process begins with stopping, pouting, and taking an honest look at oneself, and one’s actions (or inactions).

The path of life is still crisscrossed with all manner of things that could trip us up. But stopping can save us, so we can find Wholeness we seek. It’s hard work – which is why we need a group which shares our faith in that process, and encourages us in it.

What are the things that keep you from being your Whole self?  What trips you up? How have you buried your truest self? With whom are you, or do you need to be, in right relationship?  And who is your community of encouragement on that journey?

*gretta vosper in Amen: what prayer can mean in a world beyond belief, HarpurCollins 2013.

Image credit: your-adreneline-fix.com

Your Sweetest self

I love maple syrup. I sense sacredness in the sweetness. The sap is harvested in a small winfast growing trees comdow of time, just as Spring hints, as the sap begins to rise from the dormant roots.  The tap extracts some of it, and it’s boiled until it becomes something else.  It takes a lot of sap to make syrup (40L:1L) yet you can’t take too much or the tree could die.  And, to me, the best syrup is the dark one, made from the sap at the end of the run, from the deepest roots.    Once the sap runs fully into tree it produces a canopy of leaves, which eventually will die in great beauty; the tree goes into dormancy, and the process begins again.

The image of sap as it relates to our spiritual life came from a colleague*.  What brings your spirit out of dormancy?  What makes you feel alive?  How do you share it?  Do you find yourself drawn into sharing too much of it?

The syrup only “becomes” as the sap boils.  True in life, yes? Life’s Challenges, as uncomfortable and sometimes lamentable as they are– an illness, a loss, a test of ideas or relationship – is a boiling process.  The wisest people I know have experienced significant challenges, but rather than getting stuck in the sadness of what was lost, they’ve reflected on it and what makes them Alive has been distilled, clarified. Through reflection, their wisdom grew.  Most faced many challenges; like dark syrup, their wisdom came from ever-deeper parts of their root system.

Usually I discover that, too.  When I reflect on a challenge, I discover much of what I thought was important to my sense of “being alive” evaporates; what really makes me feel alive is distilled.  Life feels sweeter; a bit of wisdom forms, the sap starts to become syrup.

How do you reflect on the challenges you face in life?  What have you learned to let go of? What wisdom has distilled for you?

schmelding comThis sap image is based on gretta’s acronym for source, agent, and potential.  What is the source of your Life? From what roots do you draw? What gives you strength and hope?  What is the deepest yearning of your heart?

You are the potential for that yearning to be realized; what support do you need?   It takes a lot of people, to harvest the sap and make syrup.  With whom do you work to harvest and distill your sap?  With whom and how will you become that agent for making the world a better, more loving, place?

The sacredness in syrup, for me, is how the Source and process of change work together.  Just like our spiritual journey: we tap into the Source and trust the process of change.

In “religious” language, we might spirituality is tapping “the Holy” or “G-d” and with a community of faith – people who share the deepest yearning of your heart – you become your sweetest self discovering, harvesting, distilling, sustaining and enacting this Hope..  Is it time to re-connect with yours?

*from gretta vosper’s Amen: What prayer can mean in a world beyond belief. HarpurCollins: Toronto, 2009, pp. 210ff., 239ff.

Time stands still

I was at a conference during which we were asked to team up in pairs, and ask each other some of those Big Reflective Questions in life: when did you feel most alive? what is something in your life you are proud of? is there anyone you would want to apologize to?  We didn’t know each other and here we were, giving up some of our most vulnerable memories. After the exercise, we were asked to reflect on the experience; one of my colleagues said “This was holy time”.

Holy Time. The person who said that was a spiritual care worker; I wanted to ask others what word they would use to describe that experience. Over lunch, I asked a people in other professions and they all said, though “holy” wasn’t part of their professional (or personal) vocabulary, it was “exactly the right word to describe it”.  I agree with them; of course, I asked why.

I’m still reflecting… I can’t report word-for-word, but we shared a general sense that each of us was “right there” with the person telling the story.  We weren’t distracted, even though we were in a noisy room.  When we were Listener, it felt important, the stories “weighty” and precious; we were aware that these stories may never have been shared before.  When we were Teller, we were Heard.  We were truly present to one another; all that existed was the other person speaking and us listening.  We saw, we heard, we held their soul – and they ours.  Holy time.

It was as if time stood still; holy time becomes wholly Time.

My yoga instructor used to make our class holy time by reminding us “there is only here, only now”, and that in this time we had set apart we had “no where else to go, nothing else to do but to be here”.  Holy means “set apart”.  It is when we are fully present, focused, on where we are and what we’re doing. That what we are engaged in is important enough to set aside distraction.  Holy time.

I experience such holy time when I focus on what, or who, is before me.  goldfinch gardenofaaron com.jpgWhether it is watching the birds, or listening to the lawnmower next door, or sitting on an amusement ride, I realize that I am not individual, but am Connected.  That in this moment we breathe the same air, are occupying the same moment in time together, that the same Life-force runs in every living thing.  It’s like I am turned inside-out – I am not just me, I am Part of It All, and It is Part of Me. We are Connected at a molecular level.  In that moment of awareness, I am touched by a sense of the Divine Present with me.  Holy, Awe-filled, God-filled time.  It is a blessing beyond words.

It sometimes happens when I am intentionally meditating and mindful.  Sometimes it takes me by surprise (like yesterday, when through the fine mist of rain the neon brightness of a male goldfinch in the deep green of freshly mown ‘grass’ jumped out at me)*.  Holy Moment.  God was Present.

May you have many holy moments during your summer-time.  And may their blessing infuse you with Life in its Abundance, just like Jesus promised they would.

(*As I’m no photographer, thanks to gardenofaaron.com for a similar experience.)

Oh, Canada?

I was running errands around Brandon last week and was surprised to find many stores red maple leaf commons wikimedia orgopening Canada Day on ‘holiday hours’.  This spring I listened to people on both sides of the question of making the English words of O Canada gender-neutral. (Of note: the English words are nowhere close to the original in French, and I learned that the words “in all thy sons command” first showed up in 1914 to encourage young men to volunteer for service in World War 1. )  The original, French-language, version is purely a hymn to the country, no sons, daughters, or commands present. And nothing about hockey or “That Doughnut Chain” in either language…

So this started me thinking about what it means to be a Canadian.  Are the values that we all share? Do we see each and every person – regardless of skin tone, ethnic heritage, gender expression, sexual orientation, religious identity, place of residence – as equal?  For me that’s the place where spirituality becomes a point of challenge and gift: how do we see “the other” as part of “my family”, as my sibling or parent (or in the words I first heard from Rosanna Dearchild, host of CBC radio’s Unreserved, “hey, we’re all cousins here”). (more: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved)

I grew up with the Canadian mythology (the good kind) that we were a “mosaic of people”, that differences were part of our strength, that being homogenous meant only one group got to set the standards and if you didn’t fit then you didn’t belong and wouldn’t that be shame? Not to mention boring.)  I like that myth.  I like that we can build on one another’s perspectives and ways of doing things instead of insisting that we all be the same.

The challenge, of course, is to set aside the notion that “the way we do it” is the “way it ought to be done”.  The spiritual challenge is to keep asking “is this the way that most people will benefit?” And though someone will “lose” something in the process (as always happens), we need to ask “who” is losing out, “what” are they losing, “why” are they losing out, and does their losing out make this great country of ours more just, more compassionate, and therefore more successful?

(So I ask, as examples: Will men lose anything by allowing the word “us” to be sung? does making that word gender-neutral space for others to feel that they belong more? Does it make space for those who do not identify with one gender to feel they belong more? OR what happens to us as a community when our “national day of pride” becomes simply a short commerce day?)

And, as a Jesus-follower, I realize that sometimes I need to lose out a bit in order to make space for me to truly “love my neighbour as myself”.  And that is where I find the Holy present.

It’s summer. It’s a holy-day. It’s enough.  Enjoy the diversity that is Canada. And find its holiness.

 

 

The Grace of Wild Fire

This week has been a real gift.  I often find myself ranting at how cruel and unthinking human beings can be to one another, how we cling to and enhance the divisions between us, and how we live and work in ways that are cruel to the Earth.  Drives Me Nuts somedays.

So hearing and seeing the response to folks fleeing the Wild Fires of northern AB has certainly been a good thing for my spirit. Food and clothes, wild fire AB response kenoraonline comwater and gas, parking and homes offered freely, donations abounding; it’s a humbling reminder that the “milk of human kindness” isn’t gone after all.  The care and compassion being extended –especially the kind that cannot be returned – is watching God-in-Action.  Same for those on the receiving end: it’s hard to accept that we need help, especially the kind that cannot be returned.  It’s called Grace.

So thank you for a grace-filled week.

That it was a fire got me thinking….

Wild Fire is untameable. Wild Fire reminds us we are not in control. Wild Fire finishes owild fire AB 2016 trees 660news comn its own terms, not ours.  Wild Fire can strip us of our language away and all we can say is “oh. my.” or WOW, Incredible.  Wild Fire makes me truly feel awe-and-fear; I wonder if that’s what the poets of the bible call “fear of the Lord”?  Wild Fire reminds me how small I am and that humbles my (often oversized) Ego.  And Wild Fire will make new things come from the ground, the Land; it will renew and make new all that it touches.

Hmmmm. Is that why images of Fire are often used when people encounter the Holy Mystery? Untameable. Unnameable. Uncontrollable. It is Who it is and is, “beyond perfect description or knowledge”.  Holy Fire evokes that that awe-and-fear feeling –humbling, respect-full, awed, rendered speechless. It renews the parched land of the soul.  It makes things new.

So I can’t miss the irony that this Sunday, at Church, we’re being a season of Spirit Arriving; it’s a time of renewal and growth and being picked up by the lapels and put someplace else on the road.  And the most ‘interesting’ story of the Spirit Arriving uses wind and fire imagery. Wild Fire. Renewing Fire. En-courage-ing Fire.  And through it, God made something new happen, beyond what anyone could imagine.

I am not making light of the profound grief of those affected, or undervaluing the thousands of labour hours being put in by the variety of (often exhausted) emergency responders. I certainly don’t underestimate what it will take to rebuild the communities affected.

But I do hope to hold on to the all of the images of the Wild Fire.  I hope it will let me keep the faith that even these Wild Fires are being used by Holy Mystery to touch our hearts, to renew us, to help us build a country beyond our imagination. To welcome God-in-Action in our midst.

thanks to kenoraonline.com and 660news.com for posting the photos!

a little warmth goes a long way

A littboots in soil blog mint comle bit of heat from the sun and even I, the least ambitious of gardeners, wants to go outside and rake and dig and make a garden grow.  A little bit of heat from the sun and I notice more people are smiling, or looking up from where they’re walking.  Just a little warmth can make such a change.

It got me reflecting on how a little bit of warmth, a smile, a moment of genuine connection, can touch the heart and even change it.  You know, it’s almost time for dandelion bouquets; who can resist smiling at that bundle of flowers, so bright outside, so quick to brown once they’re picked?  Who can resist smiling at the love with which they are offered?  A little bit of warmth.

And my experience of the Sacred is that there’s more than a little bit of warmth.  A person can bask in it for hours, for days, and there is more besides.  How can a person resist smiling at that kind of warmth, that kind of love, that kind of acceptance?  (And rest assured that most of us do exactly that.  It is we who turn away into the shadowland of fear, doubting our worthiness, not the Sacred that burns out.)

There are two tasks on the spiritual journey, and one is completely dependent on the other.  First, to learn to bask in that warmth, to tend to the soul, so that, secondly, as it glows in us as we go through our daily tasks, it warms others. Service, caring for others, is nothing less than sharing the warmth. A little bit of warmth can melt the hardest heart.

I noticed that when I was doing hospital chaplaincy; the warmth of a caring ear and heart can thaw the deepest fear. This past week, I was reminded of that while reflecting on choices before us as we face our (inevitable) death. I noticed how I felt after basking in the Sacred in the warmth of friendship. A little bit of warmth can thaw the fear of thinking we are not worthy of love.

So I love the experience of the Sacred in the joy and awe as I feel the warmth of the sun return, as the days grow longer. I long to bask in it. I encourage you to find, or make, time to do that too. Whether you’re in the field, or in the ccat pedromatias co ukar, or out in the yard, notice how warmth is stronger than cold.  How you change in it.  I experience the Sacred in being reminded how Life is stronger than death. Do you notice how the Life-force that brings warmth to the sun, and birds from their eggs, also brings warmth to the soul, and coaxes us to life from the shells of fear and isolation from one another?

That’s my plan for the week: to accept the gift of warmth from the Sacred, knowing it can do amazing things. To make (more) time to bask in it. And then enjoy watching its warmth spread. And who, and what, is changed because of it.