Saturday, April 30, 2016

Retreat Retrospective

A week ago, I'd have been about to head to Richmond for the women's retreat put together by the women of my mom's church, St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.  We went to Richmond Hill, a retreat center in urban Richmond, in a gentrifying neighborhood (or perhaps already gentrified).  Above the door is a reminder of one of the missions of Richmond Hill:

The retreat center is 2 or 3 buildings:  a historic house, a historic church and school, and parts of the building which look newer.

And of course, there are lovely gardens--someone has designed amazing creations in what is actually a very small space for walking gardens.

There's an amazing labyrinth:

I love the old church/chapel, where the community gathers 3 times a day to pray for Richmond and for a variety of other people and places:

The chapel has a wall of historic stained glass windows:

The meeting room, contained in the historic house part of the center, had windows on three sides; it was a great space where we gathered throughout the retreat to discuss parables, to experience contemplative movement, and to make cards that will be sent to parishioners throughout the year.

Along the hallway to the main meeting room were smaller spaces.  Here I am facilitating a workshop on spiritual journaling:

Here's a different meeting room:

My mom used the word "austere" to describe the rooms, which are simple with single use community bathrooms down the hall.  The rooms were spacious and the beds comfortable.   We remade the beds when we were done, and we prayed for the next retreatents as we prepared the room.

The retreat center has 10-16 people who live at the center full-time and take care of it.  The community has elements of a monastic order, although they are not vowed to place and they do not require a lifetime commitment.  There are small apartments for them tucked into various spaces throughout the center.  And there are common spaces; below is the lounge just outside the dining area:

Along the way, we were reminded of the overriding purpose of the retreat center:

And thus renewed, we headed back into the world, to be the light, the salt, the yeast, the city on a hill.

Friday, April 29, 2016

George Eliot on Living a Good Life

A month ago, I'd have been finishing Middlemarch, a reading experience which took much of the month of March.

I first read Middlemarch long ago, in grad school, as a young woman, just 24 years old.  It was the last novel in our Victorian novel class, so I read it just after Thanksgiving, in a mad rush to get to the end.  I appreciated many things about it, but I most appreciated being a female in the 20th century, when I wouldn't have to marry to be able to fulfill my destiny.

Of course, I read it as a woman who had just gotten married 15 months earlier, but I saw that as a choice.  And I was sure that I would have a wonderful career, because after all, I was in grad school, in full control of my destiny.

Oh, the hubris that is special to the young!

And now, here I am, having just read Middlemarch at age 50, and seeing my young self in Dorothea, although my marriage choice has been a wiser one.  Honestly, none of the marriages in the book would make me want to be married, but what else was a woman to do?

When I was young, I saw the book as an exploration of how the world stymies women.  But at this  point, I see it as an exploration of what it means to live a good life--even if we're not exactly sure what that would look like.  Early on, Dorothea leads the way. 

I first saw this glimmer early, on page 392 (chapter 39) when Dorothea explains her philosophy to Will:  "That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil -- widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower."

And at the end of the book, her life is held up as a model of the good life, although it may be a surprising model, not the traditional life we hold up as one that is true and good:

"Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

I found this ending so moving that I almost wept.  For obvious reasons, I love the idea that we can live our faithful lives, and that even our unhistoric acts can be important, even if the scope of that importance is not vast.

I am now reading Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch, a true delight, with its mix of memoir and literary analysis and history.  And I came across this essay by Francine Prose.  Here is her wisdom:

"Even as our inner children are reading to find out what happens, Eliot's taking the grown-ups on a dizzying tour past the landmarks of adulthood: the uneasy truce between ambition and limitation; how we satisfy our desires for love, excitement, and money; the compromises we make with ourselves; how hard it is to admit a costly mistake.

Unlike a history book or tract, Eliot shows us what it was like, from the inside, to live in an era in which female intelligence was considered a serious handicap, and she tells us precisely what it's like to weigh the longing for simple happiness against the desire to be a good person and lead a meaningful life."

I didn't see all of these elements when I was a younger reader.  I always tell my students that you know that a piece of literature is good when it bears rereading.  By this standard, Middlemarch is great.

And those questions about what constitutes a good life--those shall always be with us.  And George Eliot has interesting answers.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Insights from a Retreat

A week ago, I'd have been starting another retreat journey, the third in a month (the earlier two happened on the same week, but they were very different, so I'm counting them as two:  Mepkin Abbey and Create in Me).  Before we get too much further away from that time, let me capture some insights:

--As we discussed the parables Saturday morning, one of the pastors said that God needs us as much as we need God.  That idea seemed revelatory to me, and I came back to it on Sunday morning when we studied ten maidens and their lamps (Matthew 25: 1-13).  We talked about the idea of judgment, but I tried to turn the conversation to God needing us to be ready, with our metaphorical sandals laced.

--From there, we went back to the barren fig tree  (Luke 13: 6-9) that hasn't been bearing fruit and the conversation about whether or not to rip it out.  The gardener fights for the tree, asking for one more chance to save it by giving it more manure.  A standard interpretation:  God is either the gardener or the landowner who wants to rip out the tree.  But what if God is the withered tree and humans are the manure?

--It seems an essential question:  how are we manure, for God, ourselves, and the world?  And what manure do we need to nourish ourselves?

--As I led the Bible study, I reflected on how much it was like teaching for me--the best part of teaching:  leading a conversation, being delighted in real time as we made new connections, guiding us as we discussed the implications.  No papers to grade!  If God needs people who are doing what makes them feel alive, then this activity is one of those things for me.

--I had this sharp memory of going to Jubilee Partners during my first year of college, and I particularly remembered that piercing yearning to go be part of that community.  I talked to a woman who is co-spiritual director of the Richmond Hill community, and I want to remember that being a part of an intentional community doesn't have to be a lifelong vow.

--During the Spiritual Journaling workshop, we talked about whether or not our Facebook practices could be considered journaling, and if so, how could we make it a more spiritual practice?  I'd like to explore this idea in more detail in a later post.

--Making cards is a great group activity, and we did it at the end of the retreat.  It worked, because it didn't rely on a critical number of people, and so, if people had to leave early, we could still do the project.  In fact, it might have been less easy to do with all of the people who were first there--not much room to move around the tables.  It also works because people of varying artistic talents can participate.  And it was a great way to prepare ourselves to go back to our "regular" lives.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 1, 2016:

First Reading: Acts 16:9-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Second Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22--22:5

Gospel: John 14:23-29

Gospel (Alt.): John 5:1-9

As we work our way through the Lectionary again and again, I'm always intrigued by what leaps out at me. Usually when this Gospel comes around, I focus on the lines about not letting our hearts be troubled or afraid. But this year, I'm zoning in on the idea of God living with us, God making a home with us.

I think of all the roommate relationships I've ever had. Even when they've been less than optimal, I have to admit that I likely knew those roommates more intimately than all my other friends. In my younger, less content years, I'd focus on the bad traits. In my later years, I've tried to focus on the benefits to communal living while not getting derailed by the disadvantages. Now, I live with my husband only, which has a kind of elegant beauty, yet I miss having the more extended community we had when we lived in a communal household. I miss the community I enjoyed when I lived in college dorms. My mother-in-law enjoyed a similar sense of connectedness when she lived in a condo.

What would it mean to have this kind of connectedness with God? What kind of roommate would God be? I imagine that God would be the kind of roommate who would make delicious meals and would make sure that there was enough to share. I imagine that God would bring scruffy people home to dinner, but we wouldn't be afraid, because we'd know that it's always O.K. when God brings scruffy people home for dinner. I imagine that God would be the kind of roommate who would go to the trouble to arrange outings for us, thinking of what would delight us and bring us all closer together.

More importantly, this Gospel lesson points to the kind of homemaking intimacy that God longs to share with us. This Gospel doesn't present a picture of God as disapproving Judge and Jury. This Gospel presents God as roommate, who knows our hopes and fears, who shares our daily journeys. This picture of God is not a God-as-Santa-Claus. God doesn't promise to fix everything in this Gospel, at least not explicitly. But we have something that might be better. This Gospel shows us a God as partner, partner in our joys and sorrows.

The idea of God-as-roommate is probably a strange concept to most of the world's religions and perhaps to many Christians. And yet, if you go back to read the Gospels, it's an idea that Jesus returns to again and again. Maybe we would prefer to have a fix-it God. Maybe we would feel better with an absent God who returns only to judge us sternly for all our failings. That idea might be less scary than a God who lives with us and thus, sees us at our best and worst. Maybe we've spent a lot of time struggling to leave home (literally or metaphorically), so the idea of a God who wants that kind of intimacy might be offputting.

I admit that the idea of a wish granting God has more pull, especially on days when life isn't going well. I understand that people who have yearned for good parental relationships--or for those of us fortunate enough to experience a good family life--the idea of God the loving parent has appeal. But the idea of God as partner has a sturdiness to it. It's the metaphor that can last as life gets tough.

Life will always get tough, and just as spouses can't always fix everything, a God who grants us free will also cannot fix everything. When life gets tough, as it always does, the idea of God as Santa Claus will shake our faith, as life's dreadful turns of events don't support that view of God.

Jesus doesn't give us this view of a God who waves a magic wand to get rid of all our troubles. Jesus shows us a God that wants to be there with us, through all of life's events, both joyous and sad. Jesus shows us a God that will help us in our troubles if we ask, but not necessarily make them go away. Jesus shows us the idea of God as a partner, a partner with tremendous resources so that we need not be afraid or troubled.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Retreat at Richmond Hill

This past week-end, I was helping to lead a retreat at Richmond Hill, a fascinating retreat center and intentional community, in Richmond, Virginia.  A group of women from my mom's church, St. Stephen's Lutheran in Williamsburg, Virginia, had an overnight retreat, and they asked me to lead the Bible study plus to lead a workshop on spiritual journaling.  In days to come, I will likely return to the week-end to think about parts of it in more depth; let me give an overview today.

--The retreat center is really interesting--it was started by 6 nuns who came to start a monastery and a school for girls just after the Civil War.  Now there are people who live there in intentional, ecumenical, Christian community, and one of their missions is to pray for Richmond.

--Parts of the building felt very modern.  It's been retrofitted for handicapped accessibility in interesting ways, and the windows let the light stream in the main meeting room.  But every so often I'd go up a creaky staircase with steps that had been worn in the middle, and I'd remember how old parts of the facility are.

--The retreat started at 9:00 on Saturday morning.  I was amazed that the church had 39 women signed up for this retreat, women of all ages.

--It was a great group, very participatory and open to different approaches to the parables.  I was prepared for anything, but hoping for this kind of group.

--My journaling workshops went well--the first group had already been doing different types of journaling, and the second group hadn't done as much.  But both groups were interested in the subject, and both workshops went well.

--The schedule was intense--not much unstructured time, as is suitable for such a short retreat.  I told my mom that I could go at that pace for a day, but not for six days.  Of course, if it had been a longer retreat, maybe there would have been more down time.  I was impressed that the women were up for the intense schedule.

--In addition to Bible Study and workshops, we had a community service project, making cards that will be sent to various people through the coming year, a great group project for people with varying skills.  We had a hymn sing on Saturday night and worship opportunities throughout the week-end.

--We were welcome to meet with the intentional community to pray with them 3 times a day.  I found those times meaningful in a different way.  One of the community members gave us an introduction to the site and told us that the community had been praying for us for the week before we arrived and would be praying for us for the week after we left.  I found that idea very moving.

--In addition to praying with the community, we had two great services of our own, Compline and Sunday morning Eucharist. 

--I loved the sanctuary--very 19th century, with lots of stained glass windows.  But also contemporary.

--In short, it was a wonderful week-end of renewal.  I am so glad that I was part of it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Meet Me at the Cemetery Gates

Long ago, in the spring of 1987, I made many trips across South Carolina with a cassette tape of songs by the Smiths as a constant companion.  A line from a song bubbled across my brain during my retreat week, something about meeting at the cemetery gates.

I'd have taken pictures of the cemetery gates of Mepkin Abbey even without the song in my head.  I'm not sure why I find them so striking.

The older cemetery on a bluff looks wonderful with an azalea bush in full bloom.

The African American cemetery is getting a sprucing up too.

But always, there seems to be a gate.

I can think of many reasons for a cemetery gate.  I suspect part of it is a psychic reason:  we need to remind ourselves that we have not passed through the gate permanently.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Creating Parables

This week-end, once again I have left my spouse to keep our South Florida homestead running smoothly, and I'm helping to lead a retreat.  Today, we will be studying parables.  Perhaps we will even write some.

If you want to play along, here's what inspired me, at a retreat in 2009--but I think it will work well with different groups and for people who are alone:

First, you will need to make lists:

6 natural objects

6 humanmade objects

6 ordinary actions

6 art materials.

If you're working with groups, you could give each group member the responsibility of one of the lists. Divide into groups of 4. Person #1 makes a list of 6 natural objects, person #2 makes a list of art materials, and so on. They number the list.

The team leader pulls a number--1-6--out of a hat. Let's say it's #4. Each group member says what the # 4 item on their list is.

So, in my group, we had canvas, coffee mug, autumn leaf, and sleeping. We started with the creating prompt: "The Kingdom of God is like ____________."

Now, we didn't need to use all the items on the list, although that might be a fun follow-up activity. We just started talking. "How is the Kingdom of God like a blank canvas? How is it like a painted canvas? How is it like a coffee mug?" We talked in our groups, then we talked as a larger group.

We had fun with this activity, and it was a great way to get to know each other. This activity would work better after the large group had looked at one of Christ's parables. Jesus took every day things/situations/activities and transformed them into stories that would help us understand God and God's purpose. We forget how strange those parables would have been to the audiences who first heard Jesus. But it's that strangeness that gets under our skin and makes us think.

We can do the same thing. We can create parables that will help us think about God and Kingdom building in new ways. We can create parables of wondrous strangeness that will get under people's skins.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Last Day to Order Chapbook and Influence the Size of the Press Run

Today is the last day for pre-publication orders of my forthcoming chapbook.  Have you ordered yours yet?  If not, go here to order your copy.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat.

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels.

Here's a poem to whet your appetite:

Sustainable Habitat
Since she has stuck to her diet for several days, she rewards
herself with extra cashews
for her meal of yogurt and raspberries.
She prepares a new pot
of shade-grown, fair trade coffee.
She thinks about the miles travelled
to bring her breakfast to her.

She sorts through a pile of manuscripts,
children’s stories, one of the few types of books
her publishing company will still print on paper.
She notices how many of them
are based on stories from vanished
cultures. She makes notes about illustrators
and thinks of her own paints
now gathering dust.

Later, she orders Christmas presents
for the children: plush
toys that turn rapacious predators
into cuddly comfort. Her purchase
supports a fund to sustain habitat.

She orders a holiday treat for herself:
a sparkly jewelry set crafted
by a woman several continents
away. It will perfectly complement
her holiday outfit that was constructed
in a factory on an island that will sink
under the rising seas by the end of the century.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction, here. You'll find other poems of consolation and hope, poems that explore what elements of modern life give us hope in the face of all the stresses and calamities we face both individually, as a culture, and as a planet.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

All of Our Cells

Tomorrow is the last day for pre-publication orders of my forthcoming chapbook.  Have you ordered yours yet?  If not, go here to order your copy.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat.

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels.

Here's a poem to whet your appetite.  It first appeared in The Innisfree Poetry Journal
I got the idea for this poem when I was at Mepkin Abbey. I read a brochure that asked us to consider turning our cell phones off--not just to vibrate, but completely off. The word cell leapt off the page, and I immediately thought of the biological definition. Since I was at an abbey, I also thought of the definition associated with monasteries and abbeys. This poem was one of those that came easily to me. Enjoy!

Some monk once said that we should return
to our cells, that our cells
would teach us everything we need to know. 
She thinks of that monk
every time a cell phone interrupts
her class, that jarring, reproduction
of a ring tone, the student's rush
to return to the hall to take a call,
leaving the class behind to try to gather
the fragments of their scattered attention
to return to the task at hand. 
She thinks of that monk
as she tries to declutter.
She chooses a different closet
each month.  She tries to be ruthless
as she sorts, but she lapses
into sentimentality and maudlin tears.  
She thinks of that monk
each month as she returns
to the doctor to do battle
against her own traitorous cells.
The doctor shows her scans of her invisible
insides.  She sees the clumps that will kill
her.  She thinks of terrorists plotting
their dark revenge, of a coven practicing
dark arts, of all the ways a cell
can go bad and destroy all it touches.  
She returns to the church lit by candles.
The smell of wax and chant
of Psalms sends her back to childhood,
that original cell, still so much to learn.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction, here. You'll find other poems of consolation and hope, poems that explore what elements of modern life give us hope in the face of all the stresses and calamities we face both individually, as a culture, and as a planet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 24, 2016:

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Psalm: Psalm 148

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Gospel: John 13:31-35 

In today's Gospel, Jesus gives what may be the hardest commandment yet:  he tells us we may love each other.    I think of all the other things Jesus could have required of us, and some part of me wishes for one of those.  Give me some dietary laws!  I can follow those.  But loving each other?  How do we do that?

Jesus isn't instructing us to manage our emotions--we must also be outwardly obvious that we're loving each other.  Jesus says "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (35).  It's not enough to say we love each other--it's a public declaration, by our actions.  For how else will everyone know?

I want to protest--I want to tell Jesus how busy I am.  But I know that Jesus will have none of it.  Jesus tells us firmly that we are to love each other. He doesn't tell us how, but he shows us. This Gospel lesson comes after the washing of the disciples' feet and a leisurely dinner.
Here are two ways we can show love:  by serving (the washing of nasty feet) and by slowing down to be present for each other (the dinner).  The ways of doing this are as varied as our personalities.

Choose the one that calls to you and decide that this will be your ministry. Know that you will have to gently refocus your efforts time and time again, as you move along. Fortify your efforts by asking God to help you, so that you can glorify God, so that everyone will know the God you serve by the efforts you make to serve others, by the love that you show.

In this way, we can repair the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Carpe Doodle!

Last week was the kind of week where I get message after message that our time here is short and shorter for some of us than others.  On Thursday, a friend from college made a Facebook post that announced his decision to give up his pastoral call, move several states away, and focus on what will come next.  That move was precipitated by health crises of the past year and the desire to be nearer to family.

That same day, a colleague at work died.  She had felt bad on the previous Sunday, called 911, and collapsed on the floor.  EMT workers took her to the hospital, but no one was able to revive her.  She had lingered in a coma until Thursday, when she died.  She was only 64, and she didn't look like someone who would have the heart attack that killed her.  In other words, she was slender.  Some people at work, mostly men, have those stomachs that portend a heart attack, but she did not.

She never missed a day of work.  The e-mail that announced her death said that she was always the first at work and the last to go home.  I bet she didn't take all her vacation time either.

Various people have reacted in various ways.  There's been some crying.  There's been brave faces.  Some people have shut their office doors and sunk into work.

And then there's me.  On Thursday morning, I did some spiritual journaling with my old markers, which once had been the most expensive art supply I ever had.  But I found myself missing the Copic markers that I had used on the retreat.

So, on Thursday afternoon, I slipped away from my mourning work place and went to Dick Blick, the art supply store.  I thought I'd just buy a few markers, but if I bought 12, they were much cheaper.  And so, I bought myself a carpe diem present (or as my spouse said, a carpe doodling present):

They work well with my other markers, which is good news.  Thursday night, I felt like sketching, and here's what I came up with (do you see a planet?  an eye?  a stone being rolled away?):

It's very different from my Thursday morning sketching:

I look forward to seeing where I will go with these markers.  They now sit on the window ledge above my writing desk:

I tend to assume that I'll have a long life.  But I might not.  I want to fill the time that I have with the things that bring me joy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spiritual Journaling during the Sermon

During the spiritual journaling workshop I attended at the Create in Me retreat, we heard the workshop leader, Vonda Drees, tell us that she started bringing her markers and paper to church, but it was several weeks before she was brave enough to draw during the sermon. 

Sunday morning, April 17, three days after I bought better markers, I decided to try this type of spiritual journaling.  Our pastor has been off-lectionary, so we were studying the story of Elijah and Elisha and the transition of power.  There was a parting of the seas, so I started with that--swirls a river parting, a space down the middle.  I ended up with this:

The words at the top are the words that people kept saying to Elisha, the younger prophet who would be left behind.  The words at the bottom were the ideas that the pastor returned to--when we're in a time of transition, we often feel anxiety.  Even though we were in the Old Testament, our pastor reminded us that Christ's love is strong enough to cast out fear.  As we talked about Jesus, I thought that the words would also be appropriate for these post-Easter texts that we'd have if we stayed with the Revised Common Lectionary.  I've often wondered how these disciples managed:  they see Christ crucified, they get him back but in slightly different form, and then, 40 days later, he's gone again.

Our master is going to leave us--how will we cope?

I noticed that as I kept adding color, the parting of the seas seemed to take on a vegetative quality--I'm fine with that.  I even added a little flower at the top left under the word "your."

So, what did I notice about my first day of doing this practice?  I did pay attention to the sermon in a more focused way.  I was listening for words, trying to decide what should go in the 6 x 8 space.

I've always thought that I was the type who paid attention during most sermons.  But this experiment has made me wonder.  I plan to do more with it, so I'll report back.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Elisha and Elijah and More Modern Transfers of Power

Today my off-lectionary church returns to the Old Testament with the story of Elijah and Elisha.  I've posted the commentary that I wrote below.

In the past week, I've been thinking more and more about transfers of power from one generation to the next.  In some ways, I'm the generation who will soon be leaving.  But at 50 years old, perhaps I'm the ascending generation.

Because I'm just back from various retreats, I'm thinking about the camp directors who may soon be leaving.  One of my beloved Lutheridge directors has been open about the fact that she will not be retiring next year, but likely within 5 years.   And one of the women that I met during my travels announced that she and her spouse are headed off to become directors of a different retreat center that she loves.  She looked to be about my age, so maybe I'm not the departing generation yet.

I'm only just beginning to think about this.  I used to assume that program directors would need to be ordained, but that's more rare than usual, someone told me once.  I used to assume it was a job for the young, but it's the camp counselors who are young, not necessarily the ones in charge.

Stay tuned!

And now, for some thoughts on Elisha and Elijah:

The reading for Sunday, April 17, 2016:

2 Kings 2:  1-12

In this reading, we return to our study of the Old Testament.  Many people, I suspect, remember little else about Elijah, except perhaps that Elijah is one of few in the Bible who don't have to physically die, but are taken up into Heaven.

As I considered the reading for Sunday, I was struck by Elisha's loyalty to Elijah.  Perhaps it's because we are still so close to Good Friday and Easter, but I was struck by the 3 times that Elisha continues on with Elijah.  They know that the end is near, but Elisha refuses to abandon Elijah.

I also wonder about Elijah.  It's clear that he planned to walk alone--did he plan to walk alone because God told him to take this journey alone?  Is he irritated or comforted by the presence of Elisha? 

I think about our current time, a time that seems sorely in need of intergenerational mentorship.  What can we learn from this picture of Elijah and Elisha?  What does this story tell us about mentorship?

We might also think of this story as a parable of transition.  In many settings, we have one leader who has much of the institutional knowledge.  What happens when it's time for that leader to leave?  Perhaps Elisha clings to Elijah and asks for a portion of his spirit because he doesn't feel quite ready.  Those of us in leadership positions might think about how we're preparing people to take our places--are we giving away a portion of our spirits so that transitions, when they come as they must, are easier?

In the Revised Common Lectionary, we find this story as the Old Testament lesson on Transfiguration Sunday.  I often approach Transfiguration Sunday by thinking about ways to transfigure myself and about the ways that the world needs to be transfigured.

God promises to transfigure our lives from dust and ash to living light. Again and again, God declares transfiguring love: not just for Jesus, not just for Elijah and Elisha, but for all of us. In a world that rejects us in so many ways, it's good to remember that God claims us, every day. In God’s creation, every day presents opportunities for transfiguration, even in times of huge transition.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Photography Experiment: The Same Shot in Both Color and Black and White

During my recent stay at Mepkin Abbey, I thought I would experiment with photography.  I thought I'd take a similar photo in both color and black and white. 

Losing the color of the azaleas--does it make a difference?

Do we miss the warm color of the wood?

Marble works well in either black and white or color:

Does the sunlight get lost in black and white?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Poetry Friday: "Sacred Heart"

Only one week remains in the pre-publication order window for my forthcoming chapbook.  Have you ordered yours yet?  If not, go here to order your copy.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat.

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels.
Here's a poem to whet your appetite. This poem was first published in Escape into Life.  To read the story of how the poem came to be, see this blog post.

Sacred Heart

You thought your heart
was a thing of feathers and frippery.
You envisioned the Mardi Gras mask
of your heart, the glittered borders, the bejeweled
chambers of celebration, blood bubbly as champagne.

You didn’t realize you would need to deconstruct
your rosary to have a sturdy
thread to stitch your heart
back together. But here you sit embroidering
fancy patterns with beaded embellishments.

You should have invested in a supply
of surgical thread, but your stash
of sacred relics will serve
you just as well, as you repair
your beating heart and pray
for happy endings.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction here.  You'll find other poems of consolation and hope, poems that explore what elements of modern life give us hope in the face of all the stresses and calamities we face both individually, as a culture, and as a planet.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dream Journal as Prayer Book

During my retreat week away, I kept bumping up against the idea of tracking my dreams.  At first I resisted:  "One more thing to add to my morning?  I don't have enough time for the morning activities I treasure, and you want me to add more?"

But as the week went on, and as I came across this suggestion on an almost daily basis, I decided to listen.  What would happen if I kept a dream journal?  Would I discern God speaking to me?  Would I discern the yearnings of a self I've driven underground?

The Create in Me retreat this year had the theme "Dreams and Visions," and the Bible study focused on Jacob.  Our Bible study leader, the Bishop of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Synod, reminded us that the Bible is full of stories of God speaking to people through dreams, and yet our modern generation has rejected the idea that God might speak to us through dreams.

He talked about his own experiences keeping a dream journal and how powerful the experience was.  I got tangled up in logistics:  should I write by hand?*  Over a meal, I asked the bishop how he would do it.  He said that he had written by hand, but now he would use the computer. Then he laughed ruefully and said, “Actually I’d probably use my phone.”

And then he said the nugget that got me thinking:  he said that he'd do the dream journal first thing in the morning, as part of his prayer time.

I'm not sure I'm using the approach he would use.  I'm still using Phyllis Tickle's version of the liturgy of the hours, The Divine Hours.  And then I write down my dreams.

Is God speaking to me?  Well, it's been less than 2 weeks, so I don't know.  I tend to discount some dreams, like the one I had last night, where I walked into the kitchen, and I said, “I thought we washed these dishes.” The dirty dishes in my dream were exactly the ones we washed just before bed in real life.

I tend to see that kind of dream as my brain being too tired to come up with anything better than imitating "real life."  But what might God be trying to tell me?  Something about repetition?  Something about thinking I have a situation cleaned up, but I don't?

And in terms of using my dream journal as part of my prayer life--what should I do now?  Pray for discernment, yes.  And perhaps to use my dreams as prompts for what God wants me to focus upon and then to talk about when I pray.

Will there be more?  Stay tuned!

*I've decided to write out my dreams on the computer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 17, 2016:

First Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Psalm: Psalm 23

Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Gospel: John 10:22-30

This week's Gospel reading takes us back to the metaphor of the sheep. Those of us living post-agricultural lives probably don't know how stupid sheep are. The idea that we are sheep is not attractive.  And yet we have a shepherd who loves us and calls to us, no matter how many times we wander away and get into scrapes.

What would a more modern metaphor be? That of the clueless student, who nonetheless can respond to a specific voice? That of a computer that is just a dumb box of electronics until the right programmer comes along?  The electrical circuits that are mute until electricity flows from the power plant?

We might also ponder the nature of the questioners in this passage. They say to Jesus, "If you're the Messiah, we wish that you would just say so."

This moment must be one of those that would drive Jesus to thoughts of taking up a really bad habit to deal with the pain of these people who just don't get it. Jesus must have considered just giving up on the whole salvation project since he was undergoing so much to save such clueless people. How many more ways did he have to say/demonstrate/show that he was the Messiah before people could understand?

Before we spend too much time congratulating ourselves for recognizing the voice of our shepherd, we might consider all the ways that Christ calls to us and we refuse to hear. Christ tells us to give away our wealth, and we rationalize: surely he didn't mean all of it. Jesus tells us to care for the sick, and we do a good job of that, some of us, as long as we liked the sick person back when that person was well. Jesus tells us to visit those in prison. I haven't done that--have you? In short, Jesus tells us to care for the poor and oppressed and to work for a more just society. How many of us do that?

Some of us did just that by coming together for the annual Nehemiah action that BOLD Justice assembles in Broward county.  BOLD Justice, an ecumenical group, decides on a set of issues each year, and works to bring some positive social change to places where justice is not flourishing.  Each year we do a Nehemiah action where we bring authorities who could make change to our group.  We politely lay out the issue and our vision for change, and we ask for support.  Some years, we get a yes.  Some years, we get a "We'll work on it," which is basically a no.  Some years, we get stony silence from authorities.

I go each year and still find it profoundly moving. It's good to be reminded that people from a wide variety of faiths have similar interests: most of the world's major religions have a social justice function. It's good to be reminded that one lone voice crying in the wilderness doesn't usually accomplish much. But thousands of voices, demanding justice, can bring about change.

We have many opportunities to work for justice. Most of us don't because we lead lives that leave us tired. But often, a group that works for good in the world can energize us. Find a group that works to alleviate a social injustice that particularly pains you and join it. Write letters to your elected officials. Help build a Habitat house. At the very least, you can give food (real food, not just the castaways from your pantry) to a food bank. At the very least, you can clean out your closets and give your perfectly good clothes to the poor.

In this way, we can help God, who is making a new creation.  In this way, we respond to the call of our shepherd.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

BOLD Justice Nehemiah Action 2016

As we have done for almost 10 years now, we gathered in one of the few churches in Broward County big enough to hold us all.  We are an ecumenical group, BOLD Justice, who decides on a set of issues each year, and works to bring some positive social change to places where justice is not flourishing.

Some years we've worked on having more jobs earmarked for Broward county residents when big companies bid on construction projects.  We've worked on issues of affordable housing.  We've rallied to bring dental care to people who can't afford it.

For the past 2 years, we've worked on making civil citations the punishment of first choice for nonviolent crimes committed by minors.  We have seen that widespread adoption in Broward county, but not yet been successful in making a statewide mandate.  We've also worked on getting more oversight of assisted living facilities.  This year, we've been studying how the mentally ill are treated when arrested, and we've asked for more training for the police.

Each year we do a Nehemiah action where we bring authorities who could make change to our group.  We politely lay out the issue and our vision for change, and we ask for support.  Some years, we get a yes.  Some years, we get a "We'll work on it," which is basically a no.  Some years, we get stony silence from authorities.

This year, since authorities were already working on our issues, we got easy acceptance.  So, my friends might ask why we felt a need to go.

I think it's good to gather as an ecumenical group, whether it's to demand justice or work on educational projects or just to have a picnic.  It's good to realize our diversity, while also remembering that we can work together.

I also go to these events because it's wonderful to sit with my church group as we work for change--that's an element of church life that's always been important to me.  I have fond memories of ecumenical groups that came together to pray for peace in South Africa, to make Christmas baskets for homeless women, and on and on I could go.

I know that I could be more active--this group has subgroups that do much, much more.  But for now, what I can do is to show up once a year, to make a decisive showing with our bodies that the group is not lying when they say they represent thousands of religious people who demand justice.

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Early Rite of Confirmation

Like many churches, we usually celebrate the rite of Confirmation on the high holy day of Pentecost.  It's a wonderful time to welcome children into the adulthood of believers--and let me in the spirit of honesty, admit that I'm uncomfortable with the way we see Confirmation as the day when children become adults who can participate fully in the Church.  Most churches see that as admission to serve on Church Council or some other equally mundane task.

I have long been uncomfortable asking people to make these vows when they are in high school--or younger.  I remember feeling like a hypocrite for making these vows, because I wasn't sure what I believed, and I certainly didn't intend to spend my grown-up life as a church member.  But I had family who had come long distances for my Confirmation, and I wasn't going to pull out the night before, when the Pastor had individual conferences with us and asked us if we had any doubts.

Did I have any doubts?  Have I ever not had any doubts?  But I was trained to be a good girl, and I said I had no doubts.

Yesterday, I listened to those vows with different ears.  I thought about my own faith journey, and how even during the years that I was not attending church regularly, I still went with my family when I returned home, I still celebrated the Eucharist several times a year, and I still lived among God's faithful people.  I have spent my whole life striving/hoping for peace and justice, even when I had different sorts of faith communities to support that.

Today, on the third Sunday of Easter, as we listened to the stories of Jesus making one of his post-resurrection appearances, I thought of the reason why we aren't waiting 40 days until Pentecost.  The woman who has faithfully taught our confirmands for decades has just received a dreadful medical diagnosis.  By having Confirmation today, she could participate.

The post-resurrection stories seem particularly appropriate for this year's Confirmation.  I need to be reminded of the Easter promise that death does not have the final answer, the final decision.  I need to be reminded of the fact that the earth commits to resurrection every day--and so does God.

When we were getting married, during one of our required pre-marital counseling sessions, our pastor told us that everyone in the congregation would be evaluating their own relationships during a marriage ceremony.  I'm betting that the same is true for Confirmations and Baptisms--at least, if we're paying attention.

Yesterday, I was paying attention.  The medical crises of so many in circles that surround me have hammered home the message:  death may not have the final answer, but it may be coming sooner than anticipated.  I want to be more fully present in my life, so that when it's time, I'm O.K. with that transition.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Different Way of Lectio Divina

At the Create in Me retreat, we did something a bit different.  Our bible study leader is the bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Synod of the ELCA.  Here is a picture of the Bible study portion:

As you can see, there were screens, which are ubiquitous these days.  But we got to watch an artist, Vonda Drees, respond to the Bible study.  Here's a close up:

And then came the Lectio Divina portion.  We had a slow reading, with long spaces between verses.  But it wasn't quiet, because Bishop Mike began life as a musician, so he played the piano, and Vonda continued drawing.  We could meditate, take notes, and/or draw.

On day 2, we had a more traditional Lectio Divina, although still with music and art appearing on the screen.  We had three readings, and we were asked to contemplate these things.  After reading 1:  what word or phrase leaps out at me?  After reading 2:  what is God saying?  After reading 3:  what is being asked of me, if I take it seriously?

I found it wonderful to have something beyond the Bible passage to help focus my thoughts.  The music was grand and swelling, but based on hymns (mainly old spirituals) that I recognized.  The art
made me itch to pick up my own markers--I liked that it was a mix of image and word.

Did I have deeper insights?  I think that I did.  And if I didn't have deeper insights, I did find it easier to stay focused on the text for longer than I would if the words had floated by me and then I had silence.

I wonder how I could incorporate these elements more often--something worth thinking about!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Creative Benedictions

At our Friday night worship at the Create in Me retreat, we wrote hopes, dreams, and wishes for each other on note cards of about 5 x 3.  We put them in a wide-mouthed jar as we left the service.

Then, at the closing service on Sunday, we were invited to take a card with us.  It was a neat way to do the benediction.

Here's the card that I pulled out of the jar:

You may or may not be able to see that they had been decorated somewhat before we found them on our church seats as blank cards to write upon.  I like the idea of a project that we return to several times, but it would also work with simple index cards.

We have done variations of benedictions and blessings at our more interactive service, but we haven't done a written benediction that we could take with us and look at all week.  I must remember this for the next time that I'm in charge of that service.  It would work well with that church group.

And it would probably work well with other church groups too.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Poetry Friday: "Tuscany Dreams"

We are 2 weeks away from the pre-publication order window for my forthcoming chapbook.  Have you ordered yours yet?  If not, go here to order your copy.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat.

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels. 

And if you order during this pre-publication period, you have no shipping cost.

Here's a poem to whet your appetite. This poem was first published in Adanna.

Tuscany Dreams

No one buys a suburban home
in Tuscany.
They buy old barns or sheep pens
or buildings of indeterminate
origin. In Tuscany,
the explosive wiring and undependable
plumbing seem charming
because it’s Tuscany.

No one thinks about transoceanic
flights or aging parents on a different
continent once they’ve bought
a house in Tuscany.
No one needs health
care in Tuscany. No one develops
rare diseases there.

No one mentions the cost of phone
calls to all the ones left behind in the move
to Tuscany. It’s all sun-drenched
colors and fresh foods, and no one suffers
homesickness in Tuscany.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction here.  You'll find other poems of consolation and hope, poems that explore what elements of modern life give us hope in the face of all the stresses and calamities we face both individually, as a culture, and as a planet.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ancient Church, Future Church

As I think about the worship services of my retreat week, I am struck by the stark difference of the two halves of the week.  I spent the first half at a Trappist monastery, Mepkin Abbey.  During the second half of the week, I was at Lutheridge, a Lutheran church camp in the mountains of North Carolina; I was at the creativity retreat, one of my favorite events of the year.

The monks celebrated the Octave of Easter in the way that they've always celebrated.  They didn't break with tradition.  The various worship materials dictate the hymns and the Psalms and the order of the service, and the monks don't deviate.  There is a comfort to knowing that worship has been this way for centuries.  The words could sink into our bones because we weren't wondering what to do next, how we would pray at this service, what kind of movements we'd need to be doing.

The Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge was very different.  The Friday night worship service kept many of the same elements of a traditional Communion service, but we used them differently, and we saw the themes of the retreat (Dreams and Visions) woven through. 

For example, upon entering, we saw this table:

Picture by Donna Davis Prunkl

And for the prayers of the people, we made banners earlier in the day, and for the worship service, participants wrote prayers on ribbons and tied them through the holes at the edges of the banner:

The worship services at Lutheridge were more creative, although those of us who have been participating for years can see a pattern.  The morning worship/devotions included a story told by Pastor Mary--usually a children's story with adult implications.  We sing at every worship, and the songs match the Bible passages that are also included.  We close by using a service in a labyrinth, although the labyrinth location might change.  This year, we laid the labyrinth out in the Faith Center with yarn:

The worship services during both halves of the week were deeply rooted in Christian faith, even if we didn't celebrate Communion at every service. 

I do confess that worship with Communion was my favorite at Create in Me, but not my favorite at Mepkin Abbey; Compline is my favorite at the monastery.

One might think that the Mepkin monks are the ancient church and the Create in Me tribe the future church--that's what I was thinking when I first started writing.  But as I imagine those first disciples trying to figure out how to keep their communities grounded, I imagine them creating all sorts of worship services, and surely some of them would have been similar to the worship I experienced at both places.  I imagine an early believer with the outlook of a poet who would see different approaches to confession or prayer.

I imagine future believers looking back to what we've been creating at our worship services and adding their own marks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 10, 2013:

First Reading: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Psalm: Psalm 30

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Gospel: John 21:1-19

Here we have another mystical encounter with the risen Christ. Notice that it's mystical and yet grounded in earthiness. Jesus makes a barbecue breakfast, and Simon Peter gets wet. It's mystical, yet rooted in second chances. It's mystical and yet a bit whimsical too. The men have fished all night and caught nothing. What does Jesus cook for breakfast? Fish.

This Gospel reading also has a lovely symmetry. It ends the ministry of Jesus in the way that it began, on the shore, with Jesus calling his disciples to mission. This Gospel story gives Peter a chance to redeem himself. He declares his love for Jesus three times, just the way he had previously denied Jesus three times.

The Gospel reading for Sunday reminds us of some of the essential messages Jesus gave us. We are to let down our nets, again and again, even when we have fished all night and caught nothing. Our rational brains would protest, "What's the point? We know there are no fish!" But Christ tells us to try again.

Even when we can't see the results, even when our nets are empty, there might be activity going on beneath the surfaces, in the deep depths of creation, where our senses can't perceive any action. We might need to repeat our actions, despite our being sure that it will be useless. We aren't allowed to give up. We aren't allowed to say, "Well, I tried. Nothing going on here. I'm going to return to the solitude of my room and not engage in the world anymore." No, we cast our nets again and again.

What do those nets represent? What do the fish represent? The answers will be different for each of us. For some of us, casting our nets might be our efforts at community building. For some of us, casting our nets might be our efforts to reach the unchurched. For some of us, we cast our nets into the depths of a creative process. We cast again and again, because we can't be sure of what we'll catch. Some days and years, we'll drag empty nets back to the shore. Some days and years, we'll catch more fish than we can handle.

The Gospel also reminds us that we're redeemable. I love the story of Jesus and Peter. Peter would have reason to expect that Jesus would be mad at him. But Jesus doesn't reject him. Jesus gives him an opportunity to affirm what he had denied in the past.

Jesus gives Peter a mission, and this mission is our mission: "Feed my sheep." There are plenty of sheep that need feeding and tending. We have our work cut out for us.
This Gospel shows us the way that it can all be done: we must work together, and we must take time to nourish ourselves. The men work together all night, and in the end, Jesus makes them a meal. Think about how much of Jesus' mission involved a meal. Jesus didn't just tend to the souls of those around him. He fed them, with real food. In doing so, he fed their souls and renewed his own ability to keep healing the world.

We must do the same.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Real World, Fake World

Today is the day I plunge back into "regular life."  I was back home yesterday, but I had already put in for the day off, back when I thought I might stay with my friend on the way back.  But she had a baptism to attend on Sunday in Atlanta, and I decided to come back the whole way on Sunday.

I'm glad I took yesterday off.  It took time to unload the car, and I had lots of laundry to do.  I prepared for every kind of weather, and I ended up wearing most of the clothes.  And because there was rain along the way, most of those clothes got muddy.

But more than that, I'm glad that I took yesterday off because it's good to have a re-entry day. When I travel, I often feel like it takes time for all the pieces of myself to catch up with each other.  That's even more the case when I've been away on retreat.

In the best circumstance, retreats have given us wisdom--I worry about losing that wisdom if we rush headlong back to "real life" too quickly.

I'm not sure what to do with the wisdom that tells me that retreat life is closer to the life I want to be living than "real life."  But I found these words of hope from Pastor Mary, who responded to a Facebook post about returning to "real life" with this thought:  "The community & freedom we experienced IS God's reality for us. We go back to the FAKE world, with the task of making it REAL!"

It's a wonderful message--now for the harder, yet also joyful, task of making it real.

Here, as in many places, I take comfort from that Easter message.  There is a different world, an unseen world for most of us, but it breaks through in surprising ways.  It might be forceful, impossible to ignore.  Or it might be something we just glimpse on the margins.

Jesus promises us a community that is both now and not yet.  Retreats give us that same view.  It can make reentry hard, as we have left more beloved communities to come down the mountain.  But it also gives us hope, as we work to transform communities in more desperate need of it.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Retreat Recap: the Worship Services

I am back from a week of 2 retreats.  I had planned to spend the week after Easter with Kathleen Norris at Mepkin Abbey before going to the Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge on Thursday.

Fast forward to the Friday before the Saturday that I was to leave. I had already packed, because it was Good Friday, and I'd be away that night at Good Friday service with duties before and afterward.  I checked my e-mail mid-afternoon to discover that because Kathleen Norris was too sick to travel, the retreat was cancelled.  We were welcome to come and do a private retreat.

I deliberated, but I had already gotten time off from work, and I was packed, and I had friends along the way who were expecting me.  Plus, I had always wanted to be at Mepkin during the week to see what a normal week was like.  So, off I went.

When I told people about my travel plans, many said, “Oh, you’ll miss Easter.” And I had this thought too.

I didn’t think about the fact that I’d be arriving at Mepkin during the “Octave of Easter.”  When I arrived and went to the first worship, Vespers, we had some Easter themes, and I thought, well, of course, it’s Easter Monday.

And then we continued.  I've now celebrated Easter far more frequently than I usually do.

It’s strange to be at Mepkin at the Octave of Easter. The language that got into my head isn’t the pattern that Mepkin usually gives to me. There was an ode to Mary sung several times a day with three verses that ended “the _____ of the Pasch”—each verse filled in the blank differently. And that’s the line that keeps echoing in my head. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s different.

Wednesday, I went to Vigils, the 3:20 a.m. service for the first time ever.  The service itself wasn’t too different: a few more Psalms to sing, an extra Bible reading. The woman who went on Tuesday extolled the virtues of being awake that early, of knowing that the rest of the world is sleeping—but I’m well acquainted with that thrill.

But I’m not usually at the chapel this early. It was a glorious thing, to see the waning moon just beyond the tower built to honor all those who have worked this land, claimed this land, been thrown off this land.

The Create in Me services were much different.  For the prayers of the people, we created banners, and then people wrote prayers on ribbons which they tied on the banners:

And there was the interesting evening service with silks.  We went underneath the silks as we closed the service, and I wanted to linger longer in that space:

Picture by Sara Coffman

And the Eucharist, which I celebrated 4 times last week, along with so many other worship experiences:

Picture by Sue Tyler

It was an amazing week.  Of course, I did more than worship (see this post for a few of the details).  But the worship undergirded all that we did.  I wonder how much of that experience we might be able to translate into "regular life."

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gratitude Haiku

Yesterday I suggested adding the writing of poetry to your spiritual practice.  But I understand that poetry may be too abstract a practice for the beginner.  Here's a simpler approach:  gratitude haiku.

Why gratitude haiku, you ask?

First of all, a disclaimer. I'm using the word "haiku" very loosely. I understand that there's much more to haiku than the syllables per line (5-7-5).

The practice of gratitude journaling is one I've come back to periodically. You've probably done it too: at the end of the day, write down 5 things that fill you with gratitude. No doubt that it's a powerful practice. But I wanted to be honest. When I've kept this discipline for any length of time, my gratitude lists begin to seem quite similar. As always, cultivating a quality of mindfulness does not come naturally to me.

Once, I changed up my gratitude journaling practice. Quite by accident--as I recall, it was in a desperate attempt to stick to a poem-a-day ritual one April--I wrote a gratitude haiku. And then I wrote another. And I kept doing it for several weeks. The practice short-circuited my tendency to keep the same list. I found myself paying attention and trying on subjects for haiku possibilities. I found myself more lighthearted than I sometimes am when I'm keeping a gratitude journal--it's fun to write haikus.

So, I offer this to you as a complement to your other spiritual practices.  Here are some of my favorite examples from my periodic returns to this practice:

Thanksgiving 2014

Travels behind us,
We gather for food and fun,
Deeper nourishment.

Office Work

I am so much more
than the sum of my e-mails
whole worlds hidden plain

Friday, April 1, 2016

Why Spiritual People Should Experiment with Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, and I've always recommended a poetry practice to enrich one's spiritual practice.  Why write poetry?

--Many of our sacred texts are written in a variety of poetic forms.  Experimenting with writing poetry of our own can enhance our appreciation of the poetry of these texts.

--Writing poetry can enhance our powers of observation, which will enhance our feelings of gratitude and praise for our creator.  I could make this case about other art forms too.

--If we're experimenting with poetry, it takes less time than some other art forms, like say, writing a novel or painting a huge mural.  But the payoffs can be much greater than the investment of time would lead one to believe.

How to get started?  Let's begin at the beginning, with the simple line.  I'll give you some prompts, and you fill in the blank.

The creator is like __________________________.

I am a creation, the same as __________________________.

All of my being sings a song of __________________________.

_________________________ best represents my future.

Here's another exercise.  Choose a color and then do the following prompt:

--list 5 shades of this color.

--list your 3 favorite things that are this color.

--this color represents what mood?

--what's a song that uses this color?

--what aspect of God does this color represent?

You may have a poem right there, hiding in plain sight in your answers.