Love Can Be Prickly, Too

Love has its prickly side-  the times when love is not reciprocated, when love changes from what it began, when love does not meet the deep need of the heart.  Valentine’s Day brings up not just sweet, romantic feelings that cards and candy represent, but also emotions like anguish, longing, and brokenheartedness.

February 14 was the the due date of our first baby Gabriella who ended up being born far too early and never lived to see that Valentine’s Day that we had awaited.  Love has its losses that seem sometimes too much to bear.

The loss of that time has made its mark on me, and shaped me in ways that I could never have imagined.  Loving Gabriella has been a lifelong adventure, with its joys and sorrows like any other relationship.  It has changed me indelibly, etching its mark on my heart in a way that my other two children have also done to me.  I will never forget standing at the Pacific Ocean knowing that we were going to lose our first baby, seeing the power of the ocean billow repetitively and with such strength.  With my hand on my belly, I could not reconcile the power of creation, and the powerlessness that I felt and that I perceived my baby felt.

What I learned in the many years following this loss is that true love remains a part of one forever, even in different ways. To me this is testament to higher love, a love that has to do with the infinite and the universal.  This higher love allows me to trust that even painful love can metamorphosize into something new with patience, persistence, and support.  I hope that Valentine’s Day can commemorate that kind of love too.

Photograph used by permission from Karla Twedt-Ball, “Prickly Pear in Texas”

Holding Breath

Collage Image by Susan Greenler

On the brink, earth holds its breath for

The unveiling. First the inhale, remembering

All that has passed, then the exhale, slowly releases

So there is room for something new.

Awaiting an inoculation of hope, 

A promise of something different.

What it takes to envision change is no more and 

No less than the effort it calls forth.

Swelling in the body, the depths of the soul

Is a new dream from an old dream

Affirming the moral arc of the universe.

And the will of the people rises to the

Occasion of liberty and justice for all.

Finding Our Light Bearers

We have arrived at the end of 2020 as a people waiting for light.

Light bearers come when things are at their lowest ebb: they are nurses who hold goodbye ipads for families bidding farewell to their loved ones.  Light bearers arrive as an eddy of hope: they are the first responders who hurry toward the fire instead of away from it.  Lightbearers faithfully appear with good courage: they are our janitors, they are our child care workers.

Light bearers use energy to provide hope for others, but they do not extinguish this energy in the effort.  While holding lamplight for others, they acknowledge that their energy is much more than their own personal light.  They are aware of Inner Light, of communal Light, of Light beyond.

Light comes with the Christ light in this season, and we are told to let our light shine.  In this way, we become lights in the windows for others.  Sometimes we are that lighthouse, and sometimes we scan the horizon to find our own lighthouses.  We take turns being lights for each other.

May Light find you on this cusp of the winter solstice, in the midst of this pandemic, in this year 2020.  May you be well, may you be at ease.

Image from Ansgar Holmberg holmbergansgar@gmail.com

Seeing our Way in the Dark

Artwork by Cassandra Monson

We begin lighting Advent candles this week, and the first candle represents hope.  Not sure about you, but I have been borrowing hope from people from the past – ancestors, prophets, and rebels.  And borrowing and lending hope back and forth with my faithful coworkers at the hospital where I work during this pandemic.  

December is a dark month, and living well in its darkness asks for a combination of grit and hope.  I once asked my childhood friend Missy what it was like for her to be blind.  She told me that she sees sparkles, and that provides some beauty.  She held my hand when we walked to the park, and she took courageous steps.  

These days, we are all finding our way in the dark.  None of us really knows what the next months will be like.  Barbara Brown Taylor has talked about a “lunar spirituality”, which embraces the dark and needs darkness as much as light  She believes darkness provides opportunity for growth and nourishment.  In the darkness is a beginning, the seed hidden in the soil.

May you find sparkles of light in this darkness, and hope enough for your circumstance.

The Practice of Having Enough

Photo Credit: Courtney Ball

The Dayenu is a Jewish liturgy with a powerful refrain: “It would have been enough…”

Imagine the Dayenu seeping into our lives.  Enough time, enough love, enough resources.  Enough for all of us, enough to share.

Throughout my life in work in impoverished communities, I have witnessed bold people practicing this ethic in a philosophy of: “You make do with what you have.”  I heard it again last week from a mother describing plans to create a special holiday for her child even despite hardship.

Practicing gratitude in the midst of a pandemic asks a lot of us.  Worry and concern can overshadow gratitude.  The practice of Dayenu offers a lens to experience a healing perspective.  It honors that which is “enough” and offsets the experience of missing what we do not have.  

An image of Dayenu stands out from a time when my family visited Guatemala.   As we came up to a bus stop at the top of a steep mountain path in Antigua, we came upon a community well.  A large family gathered around washing their clothes in the well, talking and laughing together while they did their weekly laundry.  No one seemed bothered by the work at hand.  They simply seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.  It was enough to be together on a beautiful mountain with each other.

What is enough in your lives at this time in history?  How do you live your life so that others have enough?  The Dayenu regrounds and refocuses.  May it be enough.

Looking Fear in the Eye

Print Original by Natalie Parsons

I have the unique ability to grasp a Daddy long legs by its spindly legs and gracefully move it from a sleeping bag in the tent to the great outdoors.  In my family there is a general fear of spiders, and I am chief spider remover in the household.  I inherited this skill from my mother, who was the relocator of spiders in my family of origin.

Fear is in the air these days, and it is not just Halloween.  Partly the pandemic, partly the upcoming elections, partly the need for racial reckoning… all  the unknown in our season forthcoming.  Some people are energized by fear.  Others do all in their power to stop fear from being a factor in their lives.  We move back and forth on a pendulum of courage and timidity.  Hard times increase a desire for comfort; however, voices in our society are simultaneously demanding change.  

I have always been drawn to the phrase from the Bible, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  To me, it illuminates a quest to move us beyond and through fear, and arrive at something new.  I imagine love as an enchantment that convinces fear to become its better self.  Bravery does not require sweeping strategy or large scale impact.  Sometimes fear is cast out simply by walking through the front door.

Spiders will exist long after the pandemic, as will racial inequity and poverty.  While it may seem prudent to wait this out, to bide our time, there is a deep societal plea to rise to the occasion, to summon our energy in the face of deep need.  May we begin even now, in what seems to be a scary season of our world to find inner resolve, communal agency, and courage that lies within our grasp.

Working on Wellness: Entry Two

Photo Credit: Maia Twedt, Night Sky in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

So much pressure to accelerate, as if speed were the archangel of our human experience. Taking a sloth day implies great waste.  Priority is placed on expedience, productivity, output.  Measuring our lives in accomplishments  becomes the yardstick by which we make choices, and by which we develop relationships.  

What value is there in simply existing, simply being?  Are we sacred by the very nature of having breath, of filling space, of being a person?  Or do we in essence have to earn our keep, fulfill a function?

Rick Hanson in his book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness writes, “Be mindful of green zone experiences, value them, and stay with them.  Let them into yourself, taking half a dozen seconds or longer to begin hard wiring their way into your brain….Center yourself in the Responsive, green zone by having and internalizing many experiences of safety, satisfaction, and connection.”

To follow this guidance asks us to slow down and soak in the experiences, not to stack one experience on top of another as quickly as possible.  Consider creating a sloth day soon!

Working on Wellness: Entry One

Photo Credit: Dan Leisen 

We are all yearning for wellness in these unparalleled times. Some people are eating raw fermented vegetables.  Others are exercising regularly, or working on relationships more intently.  What we cannot ignore is that spiritual wellness is also a significant driver toward living well and fully.

Being spiritually well asks us to develop a spiritual practice in which we open up to something larger than ourselves.  When we do this, we expand our horizon in much the way a wide angle lens does, or the ability to see across the horizon as you stand on a plain.  I have a photograph of some daffodils that are persistently growing out of a rocky, rough terrain.  The photographer chose to not focus on the soil as he shows this scene.  Instead the angle is from the ground up so that the background is a beautiful blue, sunny, clear day with large puffy white clouds in the sky.  The background of blue sky against the yellow daffodils helps the beholder to draw focus away from the challenged soil to a wider horizon and even to the sky.  In the same way, our spiritual practice widens our lens of acknowledging beauty in our lives.

Spiritual practice is not drudgery, far from it.  Choose something that gives you joy!  Perhaps use Marie Kondo’s method of determining worthiness: “does this practice spark joy for me?”  One person’s joyful practice may be whistling while doing the dishes.  Another person’s practice may be reading the Psalms.  And yet another may do t’ai chi.   The important thing is to maintain consistency, and to allow yourself to have this time without interruption.  

There is no agenda in a spiritual practice, and different things may happen each time.  I find it helpful to keep a journal about my spiritual practices, to sort of track how I am deepening in the progress. In this way, you will acknowledge your learning and your growth as your spiritual practice transforms you.

May you contribute to yours and others’ wellness by moving down the path of having a spiritual practice in your life.  Think creatively about what yours may be.

Coming Through Trauma

During the intense season of the murder of George Floyd, the ensuing protests and necessary uprisings, all in the midst of Pandemic, there was a tension between two energies.  One was the sense of being helpless in the face of such a force as systemic racism.  The other was a compelling agency bidding response and reaction.  Hopefully, we are all beginning to find our voice and our place in this urgent movement.  White people, acknowledge complicity in unjust systems!  People of color, claim authentic voice and moral leadership!  Together, summon courage to act with conviction, stand up for what is right!

We all have experienced a mutual sense of trauma these past months.  For some it may be a reminder of past traumas they have endured.  For others it is the first go-around in sensing the ache of trauma in mind, body, and spirit.  For all of us, our body gives messages about what it needs in this time

I invite you to listen compassionately to your body in this season following and during trauma.  Working at a trauma hospital, I have witnessed first hand what can happen if you ignore these signals that your body sends you.  Your body may be saying, slow down.  It may be saying, reach out.  It may be saying, come home.  If we spend enough time in care of our bodies, minds, and spirits, we develop a deep communication with our needs.  We also develop a capacity to help others claim their own care of themselves.  Self compassion is not a selfish endeavor.  It is the honoring of being an embodied person, and a gratitude for what we have been given to inhabit this world.

Look for the beauty

In a time like now it is all the more critical that we be on the lookout for beauty around us.

Just as Mr. Rogers shared that we should look for the helpers, which is so true-

In the year of 2020 we would do well to look for the beauty.

White Sand Beach on the Mississippi

I have near me a beautiful place, the Mississippi River, and more specifically a secret place along the River Parkway called White Sand Beach between Franklin Ave and Lake Street.  Here the river keeps flowing, and the bald eagles keep circling overhead.  The air is crisp today, and the April weather has us fooled each and every day.

Whatever your spiritual tradition, know that beauty is accessible in all times and places.  Anne Frank wrote these words in her diary, “Think of all the beauty still all around you.”

And so today, in this early April of 2020 which has all of us searching for a sense of normalcy and composure, let us look for the beauty, and find it wherever it finds us.  Whether that is in your Higher Power, your Inner Power, your Friends and Family, or in your gift of work that you are providing.  I am sending out a prayer of gratitude for the beauty that I see in you!