In this, my final reflection I’d like to leave you with this image of elders from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. “Elders are the jewels of humanity that have been mined from the Earth, cut in the rough, then buffed and polished by the stonecutter’s art into precious gems that we recognize for their enduring value and beauty. Shaped with patience and love over decades of refinement, each facet of the jewel reflects light that awakens our soul to intimations of its own splendor. We sense such radiance in our youth but we cannot contain it. It requires a lifetime’s effort to carve out the multifaceted structures that can display our hidden splendor in all its glory.”
Blessings as you continue the work of caring for the elders of HHH and as you welcome the next group of CPE interns.
Spring makes obvious how the new and the old live side by side all around us.
The snow has melted, revealing last fall’s leaves, dead grasses and the straw of perennial flower stalks shorn of their seed pods by hungry birds. The thaw has helped send up eager young crocuses. These earliest of flowers are the first fresh food for honey bees after a long winter. They tell me that winter is past. I can dream again of warm-weather walks in the woods or at a lakeside.
It’s no coincidence that nature takes care of itself. God designed it that way. It’s a design built on a cycle of constant change, of dying and of coming to life. It’s a design built on relationships.
To take a deep breath of muddy soil and greening grass is also to take in a deep breath of moldy leaves. Each breath is part passing away and part birth. This is what makes each breath so welcome.
Even better is the reminder that life is stronger than death. That’s how God wishes it.
Take a deep breath of that sweet, spring air. It smells of God’s promise.
I awoke this morning thinking of flowers. Specifically, I was thinking of the way the petals unfold and how when I was a kid I loved watching the videos of a blossom open within moments. It’s a magical unfolding. But then I thought about the rest of the plant and the way a seed opens and unfolds and the way a sprout breaks through the earth and unfolds and the way a leaf uncurls from the stem and unfolds. Every act of unfolding is a mystery. Every step of growth warrants awe.
I often throw myself into difficult projects with my eye on the finish line. Most of the time if I keep my mind laser focused on the goal I can withstand a lot of struggle. I am able withstand the struggle because I do not allow myself to acknowledge the struggle or feel the pain. I suppose I do that because I believe if I am too honest about the challenge I’ll give up and never make it to the end.
My faith invites me to live differently. In my own understanding, I believe I have to armor up and numb myself to what could impede me, however God invites me to abide in love. But what does that even mean? I always thought of “abide” as a churchy word and hesitated using it here, but I stumbled upon hidden beauty when I looked it up. The invitation to abide in love is and invitation to “continue without fading or being lost.”
I imagine it’s the way the flowers live. They abide in the soil. They abide in the sun. They abide in the rain. Nothing is rushed or ignored. And they unfold. Every part of them opens. Every part full of mystery. Every part deserving of awe.
Like so many, I am working to get to the other side of many things, my training, my weight loss goals, this pandemic, etc. But what if I chose to lean into my faith and abide in love instead of armoring up and numbing out. It seems like an invitation I may want to accept, abide in love and continue without fading or being lost. Abide and unfold like every part of a flower.
The snow is almost gone in my yard…except for the big pile of plowed snow. I couldn’t wait to get out into the day yesterday and now we have a gray rainy spring day. I realize that each day isn’t going to be the robin blue skies. The gray is still a part of me and part of the spring journey. And the rain is here to wet the parched earth and I am glad for it.
Passover begins tomorrow at sunset on the Jewish calendar. This weekend Christians will celebrate Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, leading to Easter. While observed by different communities, both Passover and Easter are celebrations central to their faiths, rooted in history and in the themes of hope, God’s presence, and delivery. They both occur in early spring, a time that naturally ushers in the sense and promise of renewal. In this spirit, I’d like to share a prayer for our times, for this season of Passover and Easter occurring as we collectively hope for life beyond the pandemic.
I invite you to join me in praying part of “A Prayer for Passover in the Era of COVID-19” by Rabbi Lisa Levine:
Source of Blessing: Our lives are in turmoil, our hearts heavy. Help us to cope with this modern plague. We are worried for our families, we are concerned for our communities, our world is on the brink. Bless us with strength.
Source of Hope: We pray for those who are at greatest risk, vulnerable and scared, isolated and lonely, and for those heroes leading on the front lines who keep us alive and fed. Bless us with strength.
Source of Courage: Quell our anxiety, keep us safe. Help us continue to pray, sing and study. We see the light of redemption just beyond the horizon. Let us virtually join hands and march together towards the promised land. Bless us with freedom. Amen.
In this season of hope, may you see the light of redemption just beyond the horizon.
A couple weeks ago I shared my love of animated kid’s movies. At the risk of turning this reflection into a movie review I’ll just share the titles of a couple more favorites; Coco and How to Train Your Dragon. (Thank you for reminding me of Coco Sue!) Maybe I’m just a kid at heart but I appreciate the way children’s stories make messages that can be hard easier to hear and understand. Winnie the Pooh is the master of making what is hard seem easy.
This past week our group of CPE interns started preparing to say goodbye. In some strange way our goodbyes seem to carry the weight of this past year. We were graciously allowed to enter the community and then rode the waves of quarantine and release, isolation and openness, and coming and going alongside you for six months. I will leave in awe of the way your commitment to precautions and isolation have kept the residents safe. I’ll also carry deep gratitude for the openness with which you welcomed me into your home. Perhaps it’s best left with Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Blessings as you begin the hard work of opening up and welcoming others back into the home you have kept safe for so long.
My southern Vermont town was still asleep early Sunday morning, but I heard a roaring noise in the background. I stood on the porch for a minute before I remembered how the melting snow is feeding the rock-bedded rivers with thousands of gallons of fresh water.
The water is in a rush.
Where exactly each drop comes from is unknown.
It’s destination is unknown, too. But it has one.
The water has a path.
The way is rocky, but it always gets by.
The water doesn’t worry about how to get downstream.
The water doesn’t know if it will go lift a boat or feed a pasture.
But all of it has a purpose.
As I rush and twist and turn and wonder about the next bend in my path, I’m going to take a deep breath (or two), and remind myself that I, too, will get to where I must go.
My mud boots sit next to the front door. I pull them on and head outside. I’m mindful of my steps as I walk the yard with my dog. The ground changes with the rising and the setting of the sun. It’s firm at dusk and dawn and a wet and mucky mess during the time in between.
Kids who live a few doors down are playing at the end of the road. Their laughter floats through the woods. They see me sloshing around the yard and wave from the end of the driveway. I wave back so they perch themselves on a giant rock inviting me to join them. They are eager to play with my puppy. They giggle louder as I get closer then tell me all about the fun they’re having with their bikes and scooters. Their exuberance makes me smile.
On my way back to the house, I notice the flower beds. Last year’s mulch is mostly matted with wet dead leaves. I imagine the perennials that will arrive soon. After fourteen years of walking this yard, I know where they all live by heart. I feel a sudden catch of excitement in my throat as if special guests will arrive soon. There will be a lot to do to get ready for their arrival, but that’s for another day. It’s not how I want to spend this lazy Sunday afternoon.
I sit on the front steps and search for a poem about spring from Mary Oliver. And I find this quote: “Come with me into the woods where spring is advancing as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.” I take a moment to let the gifts I received in the past hour soak in deep. I look around one more time and whisper the last words of her quote, “and certainly visible.”
I settle back inside the house ready to welcome the rest of this lazy Sunday afternoon. And my mud boot sit next to the front door waiting for the next adventure.
March 19 is Saint Joseph’s Day, a Roman Catholic feast day that commemorates the life of the stepfather of Jesus and husband of Mary. Many people — especially those of Italian descent — observe the day as a holiday. It is a time to remember an ordinary father and husband who had to handle some extraordinary challenges. In parts of Italy people have long identified with Joseph (known as “Giuseppe”) as someone who understands the plight of the common man and woman. In some places special foods are made with breadcrumbs to represent the sawdust in Joseph’s carpentry workshop.
My ancestors are from Sicily and my family followed this Italian tradition. On St. Joseph’s Day my mother made one of my favorite treats – whole artichokes stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs of Italian herbs, parmesan cheese and olive oil. My job was to sit at the kitchen table, carefully separating each petal of the artichoke and filling the space with a spoon full of breadcrumbs. The artichokes were steamed and served at the end of the meal as a closing ritual. Starting with the outer petals, one at a time, we removed a petal filled with stuffing. We scraped the top part of the petal through our teeth, combining the soft, pulpy part of the artichoke with the tasty stuffing into one mouthful of heavenly delicousness.
As a child, the food was more important than the religious meaning behind the traditional meal. As an adult, I reflect more on the meaning and the symbol of hope the breadcrumbs represent. I connect the sawdust to many ordinary people who have a wish that any depression or sadness which descends on us in the winter months will now blow away like sawdust in a breeze. Or, at least we will experience an emotional balance as we are surrounded by signs of new life and vigor during this season.
In celebration of St. Joseph, I share Psalm 118:14, a verse that my parents imagined Joseph singing as he began his workday, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
As a kid I always thought I liked dogs more than cats. Part of that is the fact that I only had a dog (Brownie), and never was around cats until I was a young adult. Brownie was considered a mutt, but a very lovable one. She was a loyal family pet, and traveled with us on all vacations. As my brother and I remember Brownie, we call her the “Wonder Dog.” As I became an older adult, I became a “cat person,” because cats are easier to take care of. And now I have a lovable rescue cat. He was very nervous when I first got him. It took him two weeks of come off of the front porch and into my living room. I decided to name him Timmie, since he was so timid. He has become a more lovable cat every day.
We gain knowledge from many sources. When we are younger, we learn lessons from school and from our parents. As we entered into the world we learn from our peers, our experience,
and our reading. One source of learning is from animals. I firmly believe that we can learn a lot from animals in general, and our household pets specifically.
TIMMIE THE TEACHER
What does my cat teach me?
1. He lives in the present. He doesn’t lament about things that didn’t happen yesterday, and he doesn’t worry about tomorrow. What a good lesson for me!
2. He finds amazement and pleasure in simple things. A stuffed toy with cat nip can make him very happy. This reminds me to be thankful for small things
3. He knows how to rest. “How beautiful it is to do nothing…and then rest afterwards.” I am reminded to slow down, pause, and rest.
4. He is careful. He contemplates what he wants to do and surveys the situation before jumping. He first seeks to understand. This is a lesson I need to heed, and think before I speak.
5. He has discipline and is a creature of habit. He has an amazing internal clock. He awakens at 5 am, and indicates that it is time for his breakfast. He asks for snacks at 10 am and 10 pm,
and then it is time to go to bed. He clearly communicates this to me.
6. He knows where the warm soft places are in winter, and the cool places in summer. I need to take his advice.
7. And, he knows how to meditate. He can sit in the window and be fascinated by just looking
out of the window for hours on end, watching the squirrels or the birds. This reminds me to be mindful, meditate, and empty my mind for a few moments each day.
I am thankful for animals of all kinds, and I am reminded that there are many lessons to learn.
Take time to observe animals—you might learn something about human nature, and they might give you good advice to live by.