Yesterday I had the honor of participating in the memorial service for HHH resident Peter Cross. Pete’s photography hangs in our chapels. He was someone who loved to walk camera in hand and, as his obituary put it, he had a discerning eye for beauty in the little things. Last summer I shared with him the following passage that I wanted to share with you all today in honor of Pete. This is from Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:
“About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.
The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.“
On a few different occasions I shared this passage with Pete during our visits and he absolutely loved it.
Pete’s spiritual practice was centered around “being there.”
May your soul find nourishment in the beauty and grace in the little things today.
This morning I read a headline that said, “The pandemic may now be in permanent retreat in the U.S.” and it came with a heartening chart:
And while I know this is far from over, I took great courage at these signs. They brought to mind the change that the next few months will bring for us as we consider what an “after” might mean for each of us individually and for us as a community. And as you begin to feel more and more comfortable thinking about what comes next, what you will keep and what you will let go of from this so disruptive of years, I wanted to offer this blessing to you from John O’Donohue.
For A New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart, Where your thoughts never think to wander, This beginning has been quietly forming, Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire, Feeling the emptiness growing inside you, Noticing how you willed yourself on, Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety And the gray promises that sameness whispered, Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent, Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled, And out you stepped onto new ground, Your eyes young again with energy and dream, A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure; Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; Soon you will home in a new rhythm, For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
May you be well and supported today, and may the blessing of God or all that sustains you, keep you safe, grant you peace and fill you with all that you need, just for today. Amen.
I find that water does it for me. As the ancient poet puts it:
he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
I have a friend who created an indoor pond in her apartment during the pandemic. With plants and rocks and fish.
There’s something mysterious about the effect of water on our minds and hearts.
Wendell Berry memorably wrote about the calming effect of water:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
So I invite you to go and find some water to stand near or sit near for a time and feel its effect on your spirit.
Let it calm you and remind you of the wider world of connections that we are a part of and that sustain us.
Friends, we know that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind and may the blessing of God or all that sustains you, keep you safe, grant you peace and fill you with all that you need, just for today. Amen
A couple of days ago I remembered a gift that I was given on the day of my ordination by a friend who was thinking about what I might need in the most difficult days of my vocation. And she had a playful spirit – and so one of the things in the gift was a set of gel window clings that had the words “DON’T GIVE UP” surrounded by stars. And I pulled it out and finally opened the package and placed it up on the window of the chaplain office in Barrows Activity Center: where any passers-by, residents, staff, family, or visitors can hear a word of encouragement. And me too – although it looks backwards to me.
Because as anyone who’s been through serious illness or injury knows, recovery takes a lot of energy – and can be as stressful at times as crisis – and a lot of the grief that has been shelved during the times of adrenaline-fueled overfunctioning comes to our awareness in ways we don’t quite expect.
So I offer this simple image in a backwards gel window cling form – to say I see you and your longing for flourishing and your wavering in and out of languishing. And the grief you carry from this very difficult year. Don’t give up – each day is a gift and carries with it new possibilities for life. Be patient with yourself and gentle.
It’s all a lot messier than we often expect – and that’s ok. Because that’s not just you, it’s me too. And while no one can fix it, we can at least know that we’re not the only ones.
May this day be one of release and joy for you.
And may the blessing of God or all that sustains you, keep you safe, grant you peace and fill you with all that you need, just for today. Amen.
This has been a week to honor nurses, teachers and Star Wars (may the fourth be with you). Each of our groups have a day or week or month of recognition yet every day we show up to do the work required of us to give the best care possible to the residents and each other. We are a community and as such it is important that we take the time to celebrate the collective whole.
So here for inspiration is a poem:
Community Means Strength By Starhawk We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been—a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be grow together towards our best selves. I am so glad that you are my community.
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
As I looked out my kitchen window this morning I saw blue skies and the road sprinkled with flower pedals from the nearby trees – it looked like confetti.
And as I drove through town on my way to Heritage Heights I kept seeing more confetti from more pink and red and white blossoming trees. And the wind blew it around whimsically and it was something that I think I might have missed if something hadn’t woken up in me as I looked out my kitchen window.
And I thought about the flowers – heralding the return of the tree’s leaves, making way for fruit and seed. And the word flourishing came to my mind.
And as Mother Nature begins to flourish and celebrate the return of vitality we may feel left behind, like we’re not quite sure how to emerge from the winter that has been our emotional experience for months now, what I mentioned in a reflection last week has been called “languishing.” How do we begin to emerge as individuals and as a community from the closed up, confined winter lifestyle we’ve become so accustomed to under this pandemic. The outside world is opening up and we still feel rather closed.
I wanted to share an article I found to be really helpful in thinking about the emotional aspect of this reality we are all navigating right now. In many ways it is a response to the article on languishing.
Author Dani Blum writes:
With vaccination rates on the rise, hope is in the air. But after a year of trauma, isolation and grief, how long will it take before life finally — finally — feels good?
Post-pandemic, the answer to that question may be in your own hands. A growing body of research shows that there are simple steps you can take to recharge your emotional batteries and spark a sense of fulfillment, purpose and happiness. The psychology community calls this lofty combination of physical, mental and emotional fitness “flourishing.” It is the exact opposite of languishing, that sense of stagnation Adam Grant wrote about recently for The Times.
“Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” said Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program. “It’s living the good life. We usually think about flourishing as living in a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good — it’s really an all-encompassing notion.”
If you reach a paywall and don’t have a subscription, you can read it in PDF form here.
Healing isn’t automatic – it won’t come for us as freely and easily as the lilacs or the cherry blossoms. But the good news is that we already have all that we need to begin to heal, open up, and flourish too. Savoring and celebrating small things, establishing gratitude routines, and random acts of kindness are among the suggestions in the article – anything that connects us again to the energy of love always already at work in us and in the world.
May you be well and supported today and be inspired by the flourishing all around us, and may the blessing of God or all that sustains you, keep you safe, grant you peace and fill you with all that you need, just for today. Amen.
He is always with the jokes. I laughed out loud with this one.
Thank you Mark
One the first day, God created the cow. God said, ”You must go to the field with the farmer all day long, suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer I will give you a life span of sixty years.”
The cow said,” That’s a kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. Let me have twenty and I’ll give back the other forty.”
And God agreed.
One the second day, God created the dog, God said, “sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. I will give you a life span of twenty years.”
The Dog said, “That’s too long to be barking. Give me ten years and I’ll give you back the other ten.”
So God agreed.
On the third day, God created the monkey. God said, “Entertain people, do tricks and make them laugh. I’ll give you a twenty-year life span.”
The monkey said, “Monkey tricks for twenty years? I don’t think so. Dog gave you back ten, so that’s what I’ll do too, okay?”
And God agreed again.
On the fourth day God created man. God said, “Eat, sleep, play, have sex, enjoy. Do nothing just enjoy, enjoy. I’ll give you twenty years.”
The man said, “What? Only twenty years? No way man. Tell you what, I’ll take my twenty, and the forty the cow gave back, and then the ten the dog gave back and then the ten the monkey gave back. That makes eighty, okay?”
“Okay,” said God. “You’ve got a deal.”
So that is why for the first twenty years we eat, sleep, play, have sex, enjoy and do nothing; for the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family; for the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain our grandchildren; and for the last ten years we sit in front of the house and bark at everybody.
I hope you find some laughter today to lighten your heart and crank that smile that I know is in there. May you be held by the light today in all you do.
Princess Leia said before the destruction of the rebellion fleet, “HOPE is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you see it….. You’ll never make it through the night” in the The Last Jedi to General Holdo.
This is not one of the more famous quotes but it is a good one this spring, this time of day and this cycle of the pandemic. We can feel hopeful even when we don’t know the particulars of the outcome. We can hear the news and see the changes in our lives but we can still feel discouraged or just plain tired.
I know that there is hope in the world. I feel the hopefulness in you. I also see the edges of fatigue and worry. It is ok, hope does not require a pollyanna attitude but a belief that together we can watch the sun rise on a new day and be ok.