The days are growing shorter and there is less light in the day. The time between day and night has lingered and given us lovely evening light. I am sharing this poem as it captures the ways that we can lose our energy and spark during this long shadowed time of pandemic. Know that you have a choice to seek out light and beauty in the day to day of your life, in yourself, in those around you, in the incredible resilience and compassion of the human family. You matter, our residents matter, our world matters. All that is Sacred delights in your spark. Be the light you hope for the world. Michelle
The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski
your life is your life don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. be on the watch. there are ways out. there is light somewhere. it may not be much light but it beats the darkness. be on the watch. the gods will offer you chances. know them. take them. you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes. and the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be. your life is your life. know it while you have it. you are marvelous the gods wait to delight in you.
Today is National Dog Day. But whether you love dogs, cats, guinea pigs or fish; our pets are a joy and comfort in good days and bad. “Pets” don’t have to be traditional either. They can be the birds at our feeder or the ducks we see at white park.
So I invite you to take a moment and reflect on how your pet brightens your life:
For me Aoife helps keep me fit, she keeps me from talking to myself and she helps me bring comfort to those I minister to at work.
So I offer you this prayer for our pets:
In Your infinite wisdom, God, when You created the Universe You blessed us with all living creatures. We especially thank You for giving us our pets who are our friends and who bring us so much joy in life. Their presence very often helps us get through trying times. Kindly bless my pet. May my pet continue giving me joy and remind me of Your power.
May we realize that as our pets trust us to take care of them, so we should trust You to take care of us, and in taking care of them we share in Your love for all Your creatures. Enlighten our minds to preserve all endangered species so that we may continue to appreciate all Your creatures.
This is a week when our anxiety is as high as the humidity. And unlike the humidity, our anxiety won’t naturally decrease once the weather system passes. We are being inundated with alarming news that is once again putting us into hypervigilance, and making us reexamine our plans and dread the coming fall and winter. And this was supposed to be the summer when things became normal. So there’s a lot of disappointment, a lot of frustration, and all under the shadow of the uncertainty that leaves us feeling restless and distractable – sometimes overfunctioning, somethings underfunctioning and always a little exhausted.
I’d like to share two things that won’t make any of this objectively better, but may help you as you try to navigate your own way through the maelstrom. The first is an article (and recording if you prefer audio to text) from NPR this week that my colleague Kimberly shared with me. The piece, entitled: How to Deal with Renewed COVID Anxiety is based on an interview with DC-based physician Dr. Lucy McBride. The article helpfully brings us through the experience so many of us are grappling with right now and Dr. McBride speaks into it with skill and expertise helpfully offering advice for all of us as to how to cope like this snippet:
“The first step is acknowledging the trauma that we’ve experienced, the stacked stressors we’ve all been through over the last 17 months. That is real: It takes a toll on our bodies and minds. And once we allow ourselves to feel those complicated feelings, then we can unlock some coping strategies like making sure we exercise, prioritize sleep, connect with our loved ones and follow the facts. Make sure that you are looking to experts, including your trusted primary care provider, for nuanced advice to help marry broad public health advice with your unique situation. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for human behavior in a pandemic. So, we really need to drill down into what it is that gives us a sense of safety and security, what it is we need to feel protected from disease and despair in tandem, and that is going to look different for each person.”
I encourage you to take the time to listen to the five minute interview or read the article and the highlights – One thing we know about coping with anxiety is that it very much can help to reengage the thinking part of the brain to calm the animal part that just wants to fight or flee or freeze.
But beyond that, we also need spiritual practices to slow us down and connect us again to ourselves and to the Spirit and to the sources of meaning and strength that sustain us. And so I offer also this blessing from poet John O’Donahue that you might read slowly to yourself during a break in your day or this evening – and let the words speak to you and give you some comfort.
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic, Time takes on the strain until it breaks; Then all the unattended stress falls in On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim. Things you could take in your stride before Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit. Gravity begins falling inside you, Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out. And you are marooned on unsure ground. Something within you has closed down; And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time. The desire that drove you has relinquished. There is nothing else to do now but rest And patiently learn to receive the self You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight, Taking time to open the well of color That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone Until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit. Learn to linger around someone of ease Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself, Having learned a new respect for your heart And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
May you be “excessively gentle with yourself” and feel 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.
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.