My word for 2015 was Dance. Dance, I have. On the first day of the year I joined a fitness club after hearing about the yoga and dance classes offered. Since then along with the usual walking and activities I do daily, twice a week I practice yoga, twice a week I dance. With little change to my diet, the extras pounds I was carrying have vanished. I am stronger, I have regained my balance.

As movement became easier, my reactions to everyday situations have become, if not always easier, at least more grace filled. Having rediscovered the joy of doing something I love, I am more open to trying new things or returning to some things I’d enjoyed but had set aside. How I use my time and my hands, how I interact with others, how I live, all have changed.

Towards the end of summer I agreed to care for a women’s guest house and guests at a monastery where I am an oblate. Shortly afterwards I co-facilitated a women’s retreat there. Surrounded by trees splendid in their autumn colors, we celebrated the seasons of our lives, we danced.

I tried not to think about my word for 2016 while still embracing the word Dance. Still, several words kept showing themselves to me. Most had to do with walking, way, path. I dismissed these words thinking they came to me because I am planning a walking pilgrimage sometime in the future and thoughts about preparing for such a walk is often on my mind.

Then as I do yearly, I celebrated Winter Solstice and the anniversary of my mother’s death and birth into a new life by participating in a group candlelight labyrinth walk. As we gather in a circle around the perimeter of the labyrinth, the candles are lit, participants blessed, the readings shared, and then the walk.

Up to the evening I’ve had a full day. A companion and I met with a man who restores books, documents, sacred texts. After a pleasant drive I was able to spend hours with this gifted man, exploring his workshop and tools, listening to his stories about traveling to other countries in order to help protect or restore their precious books and papers, looking through his photos.

I shared my experience of working in book repair and restoration in a library when I was a teenager. And about my love of old books and my knowledge of fibers and papers. Recognizing a kindred spirit, he gifts me with handmade paper and a video of the process for making Japanese paper. He also offers to give me ‘tuition’ in book binding when he comes to the monastery for a visit. Afterwards a meal with my companion feels like the breaking of bread, a blessing.

My ‘day’ is still with me as the solstice celebration starts, my mind wandering. When my candle flame flickers and dies out, I approach someone near me so I can relight my candle. My thoughts wander again, my flame flickers and dies, I once again light my candle. The third time the flame dies I notice that I am the only person having this problem. I feel as if my mother is nudging me and I think “alright already, I’m paying attention” and although my mother passed into her new life nineteen years ago, I feel her presence.

As I walk the path of the labyrinth I look down at my feet, at the pavers forming the path. They remind me of the floor around the altar at the monastery and how they form a star pattern. I often gaze at the bricks and stone in that floor and how they form a path that one could walk on. I think about walking, pilgrimages, my path in life and a song, Psalms chanted in chapel, that includes the words ” and walk in his way”. I am thinking that maybe there is a word in there somewhere and open myself to receiving what comes.

Two words have chosen me.

One of them is Mother.

The other is Pilgrim.

When I think of Pilgrim, I think of a pilgrimage, portal, ingress, guide, inner journey, mission. I am reminded of something I read by Henri Nouwen. He speaks of the questions we often ask about our futures, to which there are no answers. He suggests that instead of a great beam that would take shadows away, what we need instead is just enough light to see the next step: to do what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. That when we are able to trust there will be enough light, we can walk with joy and be surprised at how far we go.

I am also reminded of something else by Henri Nouwen, it may have been from the same discussion or book. He speaks of times when we have to ‘step over’ some things, negative feelings and places. It does not mean we should ignore them, but that at some point we need to be done with exploring them and then move on, leaving them behind.

My Pilgrim prayer is that there be just enough light for me to see the next step, and what to step over, as I practice the art of living a step at a time.

Photos show the stone floor in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at Mount Saviour Monastery and the entrance steps to the chapel.

From the window seat where I’m having a rugelah with my morning coffee, I’m watching a Blue Heron at the edge of the water. Its stilted wading through the water while searching for breakfast appears to be a delicate dance.

Although I can’t see it, I know there is another Heron close by, companion to the first one. I have been watching them for days. When they lose sight of each other, one will call out, the other will respond. They can’t see each other but each knows the other is there and they continue doing what they need to do.

I’m grateful for that reminder this morning… that just because I cannot see someone, does not mean they are not with me.

Needing a break from what seemed like never ending subzero temperatures, a week ago I headed for the Philadelphia Flower Show. I enjoyed being surrounded by color and texture and a chance to explore new gardening ideas. Some seeds, tubers and a new garden tool came home with me. Somehow I managed to stay away from any textiles of which there were plenty.

The theme for this year’s show was ‘MOVIES’. I’m not much of a movie goer so I couldn’t appreciate what some of the exhibits but were about, but I still enjoyed the beautiful creations.

A few things I saw …

Hats made using leaves or flowers. I love hats, maybe I’ll make one of these and wear it!

A few other exhibits.

My favorite vendor or booth was one that sold things for use in the garden, statues, benches, pots and more. I loved this statue and the saying on the pedestal.

Each year I lead my discussion group in practices that help us in finding a word ( or letting it find us ) to work with throughout the New Year.

Part of my inspiration for my word came the day my 9 year old grandson was poking through a cabinet and discovered a very old, very large Bible, a gift from a friend who collects antiques. The cover had come off and it cost too much to repair and so I was offered this Bible. I’d put it away to prevent it from falling apart any further than it had. I helped Connor lift it out of the drawer and we explored it. I showed him the beautiful hand painted pages, still vibrant with color. And the pages where families kept track of births, weddings and deaths. We noted how unlike modern Bibles, this one contained a large section devoted to a dictionary giving the original meaning in the original language of many words. It also contained a section on geography, another about the meaning of each book and more. Almost half of the book is information about the time and language and then finally the books of the Bible.

What grabbed my attention the most was the section about the Song of Songs, not the book, but the description of the book. I already had a few words in mind for this year and I found them all there. My work then was deciding which word was mine. And so I reread the Song of Songs.

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Listen! My beloved is knocking. ‘Open to me.’ — Song of Songs 5:2

For 2014 my word was RECONCILIATION. It was a busy but fruitful year. But I also spent a lot of time studying, working on things on everyone else’s time schedule. My studio work had come to a screeching halt. My body craved movement and my mind craved being challenged in a more creative way. I need balance.

And so my word is DANCE

And here I am sharing my notes in my journal when I discovered my word.

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DANCE! ( Invitation and Delight )

Delight – Beauty goes beyond mere necessity. Grace, gracefulness, graciousness take us beyond mere necessity to a place of delight, even joy. Balance – ” beautiful– In Dance there is balance as well” – Br. Justin

My word is Dance!

Last night my daughter and I observed Winter Solstice and celebrated my mother’s life by participating in a labyrinth walk. Through Advent I have been learning dance movements as prayer in honor of archetypes, the one this week for Mary and my Inner Mother. And this morning in a course on non-violence I practiced a prayer movement. I realized that what all these things have in common for me is the exploration of movement, of creativity of being comfortable with myself and not being concerned with what others think, just moving, being in motion as I’m led to be. To dance with life, to be in flow.

This encompasses words that have been coming up for me:
– Intimacy – my dance with God, with others, with myself
– Compass – being able to come back to focus on my direction and space as I move, my true north.
– Veriditas – Hildegärd, one of my spiritual guides believed that the greening power of God was in everything, a spark, a celebration – Custody – owning my movements, being true to what I feel
– Vision – Being able to see the dance in everything and explore it. – Balance – physical and spiritual balance
– Yes! – Just do it!

Dance!

I feel God whispering … Come dance with me!

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THE INVITATION

”My BELOVED speaks to me and says, arise…and come AWAY with me.” Song of Songs

DANCE feels like that invitation

to MOVE…….. to WALK ……..to WANDER……..to WONDER at all things….a PILGRIMAGE……….. to explore praying with my body…… a walking meditation…DELIGHTING in creation… observing…. and making poems and ART reflecting my delight in creation…. an INVITATION… to take the Words of my BELOVED with me…. BREAD for the journey…….an invitation to meet the STRANGER who is me and the one who is on the road …..to bless her or him (and me) in whatever way seems appropriate…. for a whole year…..

The phrase that embraces all of these words, that is choosing me is
AN INVITATION TO DANCE ….my response, I hope, is a resounding YES…. I look forward with joy to discovering the meaning of this invitation to dance for me in the year 2015.

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After writing this, about my old word Reconciliation and my new word Dance, the next morning I received in my email, an inspiration that included this:

“Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established. A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements. There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation. When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part. Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act. They all can become “them.” Right there is where reconciliation is needed. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. ”

Our old words are sometimes something we continue to work with long after the year is over or occasionally we just need a reminder of what we learned in our year with our word.

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So now I have my word, what shall I do with it? I’m going to Dance!

The first image is of a collage card I made for an Epiphany retreat.

The image below is one that someone shared with me. I don’t know who to credit it to, wish I knew. But, this is what I was doing this morning, dancing in class with other women …. Ok, so maybe we weren’t dressed this way… but we danced!

Practicing Hospitality, Gratefulness and Patience when I’m feeling like a Maxine this Advent Season

I read something this morning about the national pastime of complaining particularly during holidays. It struck a chord. While I may not always complain out loud, I often feel myself tense over small things. It is at those times that I feel like that Hallmark greeting card character Maxine. That I can be cranky is nothing new to my family. My daughter once gave me a doormat for the entrance to our side door. It had a image of Maxine and said ” Welcome to my Home, But don’t touch anything!

At times my house seems to have revolving doors with all the people coming and going. I try to provide a peaceful place, good food, wine and more. I love guests! But I am crabby before my coffee in the morning, don’t want to talk to anyone, don’t want to listen to anyone and don’t like anyone touching my ‘stuff’ particularly in my studio. You can help yourself to my food, clothing, just about anything, but don’t mess with art and work stuff, don’t make a mess, don’t yell and don’t turn on the tv. And if I don’t have enough quiet time to myself… yes… cranky..

Those times when I am not feeling very hospitable to others or even to myself is when I pause to count my blessings.

I am blessed to have family and friends that want to come and spend time with me, in my home, break bread with me, relax and sip some wine with me. Who come for a few days because my house is a peaceful refuge for them. I am grateful that some eat differently than I do or have different spiritual practices than I do, for it allows me to explore new things. And I am grateful for this sacred space that is home.

I am blessed to be able to choose how much or how little I eat or spend. There are many who do not have these choices. I do not need to apologize to anyone for my lack of shopping enjoyment and little gift giving. Nor for the food I choose to eat.

I am blessed for the parties, dinners, festivities and meetings this time of year. It means I am a part of a family or group or community. It means that I have people and places I care about and that care about me. I can choose to go and participate or not..

I am blessed to experience the four seasons… yes a snow storm is predicted and it will probably make travel a bit tricky. But snow can be beautiful, Winter sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous and I love the silence of a starry night when everything is under a blanket of snow. Spring and blooms (yes I know it rains a lot) will come soon enough..

May you find Peace and be showered with Blessings this Advent season.

In her blog ‘Old Monk’s Journal’ Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki talks about Autumn being a time for sadness. She included this quote by Thoreau. “There is a certain fertile sadness which I would not avoid, but rather earnestly seek. It’s a kind of contentment with the poignant and passing parts of life, rather than the surface of all sunshine.”

Fertile Sadness. What a perfect description of this season for me. Autumn is my favorite season. I do enjoy Summer and all that comes with it. But, our short summers here means most of the garden work is done then. And there are the summer festivals, vacations, and more so that sometimes you feel like it just rushes by too fast.

In early autumn, the days are still warm but not as long. It feels balanced somehow. The neighborhood boys are back in school and with colder rainy weather their sometimes too loud voices are rarely heard. The trees display their colors in a dazzling display. The last of the produce in the garden is harvested.

Now, what is left in the garden has been hit with frost and decomposing, adding fertility to the ground. There seems to be a grey mist rising from the river daily and unless the sun breaks through it, it looks and feels like a blanket you can cover yourself with.

The grey days, rainy, windy or chilly days seem to require less of me. They encourage me to be still, rest and sit with what has passed. I think of memories made, seeds planted in the garden, in relationships, in community, what has been harvested and what has been left behind to add to fertile ground.

I walk outside and feel the fallen leaves crunch under my feet, dried and brittle now. Just as I did as a child I enjoy the sound of them, aware that this dying is necessary to give life to something else. In amongst the dried leaves I find a few freshly fallen ones, still brightly colored. They are reminders of the bright days past and I bring them indoors for when I need them.

But for just a little longer I need this season of falling. It allows me to remember, to grieve in a gentle way.

One of the things I love about living where I do is being able to watch adults and children in a peaceful surrounding. This photo is one example. I watched the man help the boy find a good spot for fishing and then help with his fishing pole. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but even from a distance I could sense how special that moment was for the boy. I wish I knew who that boy was so I could give him a gift of this photo.

Yesterday a friend in a group I facilitate told me she saw a boy and older man walking down the street holding hands. As the boy walked and talked he swung the hand that held the older man’s hand, back and forth. It was the movement of his arm that caught her eye. She realized the boy was her grandson, who is also my grandson and the man was my husband. She described it as a sweet picture. Her smile as she described them reminded me of this photo.

Today my thoughts are about what we leave behind, our legacy, as Ruben and I attend the funeral of a friend.

Walking or driving around my neighborhood and town is a delight this time of year. The hills and valleys so filled with color make you want to forget where you were going and stop to take it all in. However, it is the smaller things that have caused me to pause recently….

Colorful trees while on an walk on hilly road, seemed like a perfect time to catch my breath.

The crunchy sound of leaves underfoot as I go out to sweep them off the deck each morning.

The interaction between 2 of our ‘pet’ crows who are so incredibly smart.

I’m not really sure if they are our pets or if we are their pets or if they are just family, but they seem to think this is home.

There are all sorts of names for Mondays. Names like Manic Monday that refer to Mondays as the end of enjoyable weekends and the start of another long week of school, work, and being on someone else’s schedule.

I enjoy weekends as much as anyone else. This past weekend I was blessed by time with friends and family, participating in a fun fundraiser, baking in my newly remodeled and efficient kitchen, praying with the monks and community at the monastery, puttering in the garden while watching the activity out on the river which included eagles sightings contrasting the hummingbirds and the black bear visit in our yard. I organized my studio and played with watercolor. The entire weekend was unhurried, relaxing.

Anything that came up needing my attention I set aside for Monday if I could, what I consider my ‘managing Monday’. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t mind Mondays at all. It is when I look over the week ahead to see what needs to be done and what I can do mindfully. That means I will most likely not do everything that is asked of me or that I’d like to do. Often I will go have morning coffee with friends before I do this.

A friend who is a business owner explained a while back that she gets a lot of requests for donations. She can’t possibly fulfill all the requests and so once a week she reviews the requests to see which ones she can fulfill. I feel the same way about all the things that are asked of me. I can’t possibly do them all. Monday is when I sort things out, reflect on the past week and look to the week ahead.

When I first started visiting Mount Saviour Monastery and realized how many times a day the monks stopped to pray in chapel I wondered “how do they get anything done?”. But I learned their rhythm, I learned that doing things mindfully and pausing at certain times in the day actually recharges me and helps me work more efficiently. And that eventually what needs to be done will get done. The hardest part was separating the ‘need’ and ‘want’.

My Benedictine leadership training program continues for the next 5 months. Last week the topic of discussion was ‘A Call to Courage’. In the event I wasn’t paying attention, the word Courage kept coming to me from a variety of sources, often accompanied by the word Intimacy. In a book I’m reading titled Radical Hospitality, much is said about the courage to be intimate as it applies to hospitality and companionship. Many of the things I explored last week, although from different sources all fitting very well together, gave me much to reflect on.

This week’s focus in the leadership training is ‘ A Call To Inspire’. I’m looking forward to exploring where it takes me.

Below are a couple of photos of a sun printing workshop offered by my guild for a day camp for preteen girls at a nearby nature center last week. I kept an eye on the bandanas as the sun came and went and a few drops of rain fell, praying for the sun to stay and print images on the art created by the girls. In the end they turned out very well and the girls were delighted with the results.

And some cookies. What they lack in appearance they more than made up in taste. I took some with me to the monastery yesterday, they vanished in minutes.

I’m hearing an eagle complaining as I’m writing this, the crows chatter tell me they are the source of the eagle’s complaint. Now seems like a perfect time for a morning pause out on the deck …

I went shopping for false eyelashes today. I could only smile as the person at the register looked at me closely as I paid for them. She was probably wondering who they were for since I obviously wasn’t wearing makeup. She laughed when I told her I was buying them for a little pig.

As I was glueing them on the piggy bank, I remembered a conversation with friends not too long ago. Someone asked if you had to leave your home quickly, what would you take with you? Most in the group said photos, pets. I said photos, my grandmother’s earrings, Mom’s necklace and the little piggy.

I know that they are just things and though I’ve been working to live simply and without excess, I think some things still matter.

Last year I led a group through an experiment based on the book ‘7 – An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess’ by Jen Hatmaker. In the book, the author chose 7 things to do for a month. One month it was eating only 7 foods. Another month she selected 7 pieces of clothing with some exceptions. My group decided to try this, doing each thing for one week instead of one month. One week we selected 7 things each day to give away. I considered giving away many things but not piggy. I don’t use her to put money in. She’s lost the eyelashes she came with and many of the little fake diamonds as well, but she is still the gift my brother William bought for me with his first paycheck when he was 13 and I turned 12. There have been many milestones for both of us since then, but piggy still sits on my dresser until someone needs her more than I do. For now she is simply full of memories.

Recently I read an article that explored things that matter. That maybe it isn’t just that we live with excess but also that we don’t seem to know that some things matter. That we should not be so quick to throw something away just because it isn’t new, or not in fashion. I think there needs to be a balance. Maybe we can do with less but also care for the things we do have, particularly those that may not have a function but have meaning for us, that may have been a special gift, until it is time to pass them along to someone else.

If you’d like to read the story mentioned you can read it here: http://www.dailygood.org/story/746/beauty-and-the-dumpster-meredith-sabini/

The story resonated with me because having worked in nursing homes, I found that often residents would have to choose what things they could keep in the amount of room they had. It often meant choosing just a few things from a house full of items. And often no family member wanted these things. If they allowed me to do so, I’d take unwanted items to organizations that could use them rather than have them go in the trash. Occasionally I would be able to make a pillow or other item for the resident with fabric from an item that had special meaning to them, that object that carried a memory.

So, here is a photo of my piggy who after all these years still doesn’t have a name other than ‘my piggy’. My brother and I celebrate our birthdays this month and that means piggy will also have a birthday. She came to me with big eyelashes and now she’ll be sporting her new eyelashes bought simply so I can take a photo of her and send it to my brother who somehow didn’t know I’d kept her all these years.

Eve

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