The early morning summer light has traveled elsewhere and so Hannah, my black lab, and I have to do our early morning walk in the dark. Hannah is only 13 months old, so our first early morning walks began in the dark of late Autumn a year ago. I must admit that it was challenging for both Hannah and I to set out in the dark last year. I wasn’t very familiar with walking in our neighborhood and so those adventures had a certain amount of fear connected to them. When spring came bringing her light earlier and earlier each day Hannah and I had a new energy about our walking. Summer’s light gave us a confidence that our morning walk could be fun and good for both of us.
Summer’s light has shifted to autumn’s light sleeping in, barely yawning into the last segment of our daily walk. But this year it is different, as we have walked these steps in the light of spring and summer. Our eyes and the soles of our feet have almost five months of memory, where the landscape of walks had clearness of sight.
These daily morning walks are such a good companion to my inner landscape walks. The ebb and flow of unknown journeying given familiarity by practice and moments of grace and light…walking in the cycling of the seasons of the soul.
In my faith tradition, as well in many others, there is the tradition of making a pilgrimage, which allows the traveler to let go of the day-to-day distractions and attend instead to the sacredness of life and the Holy. Although I cannot say that I am unaware of my sore feet or to the ways my socks bunch up at the end of my tennis shoe, I can say that I have through this pilgrimage of training become aware of the courage and stamina of millions of people who walk with MS. In this way I am meeting the Holy anew one step at a time.
I am a chaplain who has the blessed privilege of walking with oncology patients in part of my work and in the other part of my job I work with students preparing for health care and system professions. My designated title is Coordinator for the Inner Life of Healer program for students in the Academic Health Center.
Recently, I was the living metaphor of piece of pottery being formed and spinning out of balance. I have done a little pottery on a wheel and I remember so well, the tactile feeling of the clay doing that awkward spin that meant it would not make it to the kiln. Usually, I would stop and take the clay into my hands and need to start all over. It was a lot of work and I felt a bit silly for not keeping the spinning clay in balance within my hands as it spun round and round on the wheel. It sounds so easy!
I had too many things going on within the energetic spinning of my life. We were getting the house ready to sell, looking for a house, and in my daily job all the programming for orientation sessions in several schools and programs were happening. Too many things spinning! There I was on one of my spun out days meeting with medical students and talking about planting the seeds of inner life balance…
I am better this week. My life is still full of spin, but the speed of the wheel has slowed down…Julian of Norwich the gifted mystic of the 14th century says to all of us who are spinning “and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.
There I was with Hannah, our year old black lab, standing on the end of the dock on a Sunday morning. It was just the day before when Hannah, a breed known for their affinity for water, swam in a lake. I was so excited for Hannah as she made her baptismal or maiden plunge into the water the day before. She looked just like the labs in the “dog books”! She would run into the water from the shoreline and go after the stick that I was throwing.
On this Sunday morning all the other family members and friends were taking advantage of a day that wasn’t beginning at “O’ dark hundred”. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was big and the sky was blue blue. Hannah and I were there taking it all in. I wondered if Hannah would jump off the end of the dock, if she did it would be her first time. As I was thinking the question Hannah jumped off the dock, but instead of finding her water feet, she began to struggle. Although in hindsight there seemed to hours between her jumping in and my quick effort to pull this sixty-pound lab back onto the dock for safety, I am sure it was really at most sixty very long seconds.
Hannah moved immediately away from the edge of the dock and got as close to me as she possibly could. I took several deep breaths and felt a deep sense of gratitude that Hannah had done the plunge when someone was there. I am pretty sure that it scared her not being able to touch the floor of the lake.
About five minutes after Hannah and I recovered our breath and prayed in gratitude to St. Francis and the Creator, two lovely Golden Eagles flew over and circled us. It was amazing! I experienced all of these emotions in such a short period of time. Each experience pumped their own kind of connection with the Holy. I think it would make such a good story to say that it was at the same time that I pulled Hannah out that the eagles circled over us…Hollywood like. But most of the time I encounter the bigness of God in ordinary experiences, using ordinary instincts…
A few weeks ago, I came into the office of our office manager. I was at work early and noticed that someone had left a bowl of water on the floor. For a few moments, I wondered why someone didn’t put away their bowl and as I trying to decide whether I would do it or leave it for the owner. It was about that time that my judging heart was aware of a small sparrow under the desk pecking at the floor.
It took only moments to switch from the “who left the bowl monitor” to a companion of St. Francis of Assisi. I tried a few maneuvers that proved worthless to the goal. The poor bird now had to deal with not only being trapped in an unfamiliar space, but also with a would be do gooder who was scaring the heck out of it. Fortunately for both the bird and myself, a couple other colleagues entered the scene. For a while the poor bird flew around the office looking for some kind of relief from our good intentions.
After about ten minutes I went into my office and pulled out two boxes that I was saving to use in an upcoming move. We carefully placed the infamous bowl of water under one side of the box and waited for our unexpected guess to seek water. It didn’t take long before the sparrow went for the water and we were able to confine it. My colleague and I carefully carried the box with the sparrow out to an open-air courtyard.
In such a short period, so many things shifted. A bowl that was initially labeled someone’s thoughtlessness was really an effort to give an trapped creature comfort…a box that symbolized a big move became a bridge to freedom…
“Consider the lilies of the field…and the birds of the air…”
The other day was Halloween, all hallows eve. The hospital was punctuated with four feet tall dogs with children like faces, adult size pumpkins and even an encounter with the tooth fairy. Memories flooded my mind during the day of “when I was a kid” stories… mainly focused on all the candy from trick or treating and having All Saints Day to count and eat the candy at will…or at least until my mom said it was time to put the candy up.
What is it about Halloween that stirs us to trying to imagine who or what else we could be? As we lean into the latter part of autumn and there are shorter days and longer nights, we have a great opportunity to explore those questions that invite the sacred or saintly within us to be more visible.
The other morning, I was walking into work and noticed four people about twenty feet in front of me. Three of them were talking on cell phones and one had their earphones going. The rest of the day I noticed more people whose ears were connected to their phones and many of them were with other people.
It reminded me of the song that came out in 1996 by Theresa Osborne called ‘What if God were one of Us?” The song places God’s presence among us as ordinary and everyday, nothing that might grab our attention. So…would God carry a cell phone? Have a palm pilot? Wear a pager? Be plugged into a world of music and talk through headphones? The even harder question for me, I who have every one of those devices…am I present enough at any one moment to hear or recognize the Holy? I suppose if I was paged and the number was easy to call back the chances are very good. I suppose if my phone rang and I had it on me, I might.
But what if the Holy came to me in a deep quiet, rather than in the fire or wind or thunder…would I hear God’s voice.
Flock of Geese
Today, I saw a large flock of geese flying overhead. As usual, the formation shifted and as it did different birds became the leader. I have always been amazed at geese. How do they know who will be the next leader? Almost always the movement seems seamless and even the shifting pattern is as elegant as the pattern it becomes.
My movements are not so seamless. When I think about how I come to personal transformation, from my vantage point, it is anything but seamless. I keep thinking that some day when I have it down right…some day. Today it is the 14th of November and I still have leaves to put into bags, I’ve had weeks to make the movement from intention to action. Little piles dot the front yard and talk of winter has shown up with the colder temperatures…
Transformations on the edge waiting for the inner breath to say, “you are enough”, You are enough, you Are enough, you are Enough…
The other night I attended the Multiple Sclerosis banquet for people who had raised over two thousand dollars for one of their fund raising events during 2002. I was the development person for a friend and myself and had raised about three thousand dollars that we needed for both of us to participate. However, we had sent the money in separately under each of our designated numbers for the MS Challenge 50 mile walk.
We actually sent the rest of our money in following our three days of walking when the last of the donations came in from friends and family. Two weeks later an anonymous donor gave over five hundred dollars in my friend’s name, which put her total over two thousand dollars.. As a result my friend was invited to this special banquet and I went as her guest.
We both thought that the unexpected gift, was so cool and who would have expected such a gift. Truth be told, I worried for months that we would not be able to reach the necessary fifteen hundred dollars needed for both to participate in the walk. The whole walk for me in my good health became a struggle with the monster “Enough”. Would we get Enough money? Would we train Enough to be able to walk the fifty miles? Once we were walking would there be Enough porta potties? And as we walked the miles, I wondered if I had Enough energy to make it to the end of the day’s destination?
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to facilitate a retreat for medical students. Among the retreatants was the nine year old daughter of a couple helping with the retreat. As part of getting ready for the time we were going to spend together we asked two questions: “What on your to do list do you need to let go of in order to be present?” Everyone wrote things down and when ready they threw their list in the fire.
Next, we asked, “What is your hope(s) for the next 24 hours?” Everyone had about ten minutes to think about this question and write it down in their notebook journal. Then we invited participants to read their hopes. The youngest among us, spoke up with her gentle nine year old voice and said, “I hope to hang out, eat, play and have fun.”
Hang out, eat, play and have fun. Her words have seeped their way into my Advent waiting soul. What might it mean to put these hopes into my Advent waiting? Hanging out, takes time and I must let go of my agendas in order to really hang out. Eat…this season is full of physical food, but it is not limited to Christmas sweets. I want to be fed, to eat that which nurtures my Advent waiting…words of encouragement…art that nurtures my soul’s hunger for beauty or perhaps music that anoints my heart with good vibrations.
As an adult, I can get so rigid, so list bound that I forget that life is not only about attending to the must do list. It is also about being in the present moment and breathing with a sense of flexibility or play. It is very challenging to play when one is not flexible. Our Christmas stories are full of the great and wise, and the humble being moved by twinkling stars and unexpected guests in the field.
Perhaps the ability to play and have fun has a place in our Advent getting ready. Perhaps it’s about being in touch with a God who longs to be intimate and present. A God who longs to hang out, eats, plays and have fun.
The Holy Mystery of Fog
It has been a strange fall into winter here in the Upper Midwest. The other morning as Hannah (our 16 month old lab) and I ventured out around 6 a.m., fog hugged the earth. It was kind of neat, walking down the side walk and being held by the fog. As I glanced down the long side walk in front of us, the street lamps almost seemed like guides waiting for us to pass under their protection and guidance.
This past week we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe and the feast of St. Lucy. Both of them are women who embodied the light for the ordinary and for folks like me who are challenged at times by spiritual fog. Hannah and I made our way into the day, for the most part one foot at a time. Unlike me, more hesitant and slow in movement, Hannah is much more adept at moving with the fog and light. Advent can give us time to be both waiting for the light of the Holy Mystery to hold us and to have experience the grace of moving in time with fog.
Today I was in a room where I work and there were about ten wall-clocks stacked one on top of the other. I realized as I walked away from the sight of the clocks that I could identify with that image. And so for a moment I played with concepts of having and not having time.
Even though it was 6:45 a.m. I rather enjoyed playing with the image and words around the clocks. And then it happened…that deeper place that rumbles with inner teaching. I have found myself overwhelmed with all the things that should happen in a certain sequence or timing during the holiday season. Like planes lining up on the runway, the “to do” list waits to be checked off. My list usually is cushion with why it is important to get things done in a certain way.
So…here we have this young woman and man headed home because a decree says that they must. With a baby on the way, I am quite sure that they had plenty on their “to do” list. They hadn’t made reservations and didn’t have a place to stay. The baby waiting to be born seemed not to mind his timing. His young mother and father made do. They had no control over their list and their plans. They had to let go of what might have been the “perfect timing” in their minds.
But the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for see I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And so it was and so it is.
Yesterday a friend told us about her 2 1/2 year old niece who loves to play hide and go seek. On Christmas she hid facing the wall where she could see no one…to her surprise her cousins found her. Later in the day her 6’2″ uncle joined in the game. Much like his young niece’s hiding tricks he hid himself under her blanket and stood in the dining room, waiting to be found…and much to his delight was.
Unlike the young child choosing to hide, we sometimes wait in the midst of our dailiness, fearing that we won’t be found…that our efforts to be visible will be wasted or lost. Yet it is right there in the middle of that doubt and fear that we are found by the Holy. At other times, this same God who is beyond our imagination, waits in the midst of that same dailiness to be discovered by us. God’s invitation to me is that I embrace God’s pleasure at being found and recognize within myself that place that squeals with delight when this immanent God is found.