Silence & Noise

"Silence is God's first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear the language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God."
-- Thomas Keating in Invitation to Love read more at http://abundancetrekblog.blogspot.com/2016/02/spiritual-explorations-71.html 


    One morning I had such a wonderful walk, there was hardly any noise coming from the town, everyone was probably still asleep. The dog and I climbed the hill and she ran free for a while, stopping to sniff here and there, and I didn’t even hear her foot-falls on the dry leaves, we were both moving in such stillness. But the world wasn’t totally silent, there were peaceful noises, like the morning bird calls, the woodpeckers looking for the first bug of the morning, knocking gently  on the trees, “Hello, good morning breakfast!”  What peace, what quiet, the language of God.
    That same afternoon it was so warm and beautiful that I decided to take another walk just to be out in the sunshine because it was too early to work in the garden. The neighbors were all out raking lawns, saying ‘hi, hello, beautiful day!’ We really hadn’t had such a beautiful warm day, so for the Adirondacks this was like the first day of spring. There were all kinds of noises -  barking dogs, the dogs wanted to be out too, enjoying the weather, sniffing, running, talking to each other. A car alarm went off and kept up an annoying buzz until a police car drove up and showed the owner how to shut the alarm off. There were more than twenty motorcycles outside Fast Track getting refreshments, revving their engines, as only motorcycles can do, there was traffic all around, motors, engines, leaf blowers, electric guitars playing music out on sidewalks - the noise was deafening. 
    My dog didn’t seem to mind, just kept walking along, but I found myself wishing for another quiet walk, another noiseless afternoon. But if we always had a noiseless afternoon there would be no reason for this town to be here - we are a tourist town and that’s how we make a living. People have different needs or levels of needs. I’m sure the motorcyclists love the noise of their engines - oh that gets to a Bruce Springsteen song - remember “Baby We Were Born to Run”? We are at different places in our lives, and excepting that is a learning experience. 
    As John Wilde put it so well in the blog above - we learn to take the silence that we’ve cultivated into the noise in order to find peace in situations that would normally drive us mad. We let the people who need the noise and excitement have it, and are glad for them. Really, I don’t think I’d like  peace and quiet all the time. The other night I went to a concert where my daughter was playing her French Horn in an orchestra - they were playing Handel’s Water Music - now that is some lively music. Probably the adults who heard Handel’s music for the first time were thinking, what is this world coming to? Why are the young so loud? 
    We have this song that says: “Listen in the silence, listen in the noise, listen to the sound of the Spirit’s voice.” So noise is a relative term - it is our perception of silence or noise that determines our reaction to it. Silence can be long, and uncomfortable, it can feel lonely, it can also bring us to an awareness of our need for wholeness. Noise can be joyful, singing in community is sometimes noisy, but also relationship building.  May you find peace and joy in the language of silence or in the language of noise. 

The Spring Wind

Our porch has four different wind chimes, and today they are all ringing. Sometimes all at once, sometimes they take turns, sometimes just one lone chime. I tried to make a movie of them ringing, but alas I need a videographer. The dried brown leaves from last fall are dancing, running and swirling across the lawn..  My husband’s anemometer is spinning fast, he says the high wind speed is about 15 miles an hour.  The clouds are gathering and parting, bringing shadows and light, it’s like a March day - drying up the winter’s moisture, getting the ground ready for planting. 

    Of course this all reminds me of Spirit, the Hebrew word for wind is ‘ruah’ which also means Spirit or breath, Qi Gong and Yoga are both about breathing - what is that quote ‘where there’s breath there’s hope.’ Something like that. 

    I like to think of the wind moving things, shaking things up. I had a shake up the other day, I was reading Ken Wilber’s book Integral Meditation: Mindfulness as a Way to Grow Up, Wake Up, and Show Up in your Life, and as usual Ken likes to talk about our stages of growth and development. As I was reading them and feeling pretty smug, he began to talk  about how at the Pluralistic Postmodern level we think everyone is the same, and we  shouldn’t judge. (Those were the points I could understand.)  But being, Ken Wilber he went on about this and that, I think he is some kind of genius. So I said, that’s nice, then I went on Facebook and saw something that I thought was judgmental, oh my, I even wrote something back that contradicted the judgment of the other person and I never comment on things like that. There I was all righteous, the wind was blowing in my direction. Then I went back to reading and Ken said how we who say not to judge,  are some of the worst judgers, and we don’t even notice it! Wow, that was very insightful of him. I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve preached on not judging, but then there I was condemning another person’s opinion. He had a lot more to say about this and I’ll quote him here: “So whether you think all judging is bad, or whether you hold several items in strong judgment, doesn’t really matter, in a sense. By making our present subject object - whatever it is-  the new, next higher, more inclusive and more conscious subject and self will naturally emerge. If your present judgments are somehow true and universal and genuinely good, they won’t go anywhere; you’ll become more aware of them, but you won’t change them fundamentally. If, however, there are higher judgments, higher types of judgements or better judgements or more loving and conscious judgments, available anywhere in your system (laid down in the entire human race by millions of years of evolution), then you will start to identity with those - they will become part of your new, higher, more inclusive, more whole, more conscious self and subject. And guess what? This continues straight to God.” 

    I know he’s hard to understand  sometimes, and I haven’t read the whole book yet, but he does make many good points. He believes we can all evolve to higher levels of consciousness and that will help us in our endeavors to be more loving, and isn’t that what the season of Easter is all about, about rebirth, about new opportunities, and of course then to follow that wind or Spirit where it leads.

    There is this song from “Seasons of the Spirit” that we taught the children it goes like this:

“The Spirit in me greets the Spirit in you, alleluia. God’s in us and we’re in God, alleluia.” That is very similar to saying Namaste after Yoga practice.  And also, ‘my the wind be always at your back!’ So enjoy the winds of April, the winds of change, and keep following the Spirit to higher levels of consciousness. 

Walls and Fences

It all started when Star shared this poem at a poetry workshop she was leading for the library. 

MENDING WALL

BY Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors.”

 

    So while I was at Silver Bay YMCA camp, I began to notice the wall. There were stone fences, concrete blocks keeping a hill in place and a lovely wooden fence that could have been a railing for climbing instead as something that divided property lines.  The stone fence that went along the roadway was beautiful, although in someplace the stones were on the ground. There was even a cement cap on the top of the wall in places where you could have walked if you wanted to, but it was more for aesthetics or for keeping the wall in place. 

    The roots of downed trees had taken big stones out of the wall and some stones did look like Frost’s description - ‘loaves of bread.’  What a great a amount of work to keep a wall like that in place in the Adirondacks, where a few good winters could topple the whole thing. 

    I have a fence around my garden to keep the deer out, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have any flowers or vegetables. (Not that I get much anyway.) But our Old Forge deer love to get their hooves in places they don’t belong. So walls and fences can be useful things. 

    On the other hand, there are the deeper walls that we put up around ourselves. Walls so we don’t feel, walls that divide or walls to keep others away. These kinds of walls keep us from being truly alive. They shut us off from feeling or grief that is too hard to bear. It’s interesting that Father Greg Boyle SJ, has his ministry in the gang areas of Los Angeles, and he is right there with the people in pain, he does not put walls around his heart even when he has to bury a gang member that he has known and cared for for many years. He goes into the pain and lets it teach him about life. (Read his story in Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Unboundless Compassion.)

    Why do we erect walls in our lives, walls that divide, walls that shut others out?  America is always good at putting up walls especially during an election year. Wow, I can’t even listen to all this fighting, bickering and name calling. Walls are created when we think dualistically that someone has to be wrong and I have to be right. How do we stop that kind of madness? 

    Thomas Merton was quoted in the Journal Weavings as saying “the fully realized person integrates on the higher level by knowing ‘I love, therefore I am.’” It seems he found that breaking down walls within himself, to get to his true inner nature was freeing and opened him to see with the eyes of the other - to see that we are all one. I am a long way from that, but I want to think that breaking down wall after wall, or layer after layer that keeps me from thinking I’m better or different from another person, is something that is worth working on. Thomas Hart said in a recent article in Presence Magazine “a genuinely spiritual life keeps calling for a complete change of heart. Of course, we all love sometimes, but love as a way of life remains a huge challenge.” 

   Frost found that his  neighbor was a challenge because he would not move beyond his father’s thinking. Being stuck with someone else’s ideas can be crippling. We have choices to keep the walls of division in place or to let them crack open. John O’Donahue , in his book Eternal Echoes, talks about how we limit ourselves and it’s like walling ourselves off. He says: “It is strange how being caught makes you lose the sense of the outside and beyond. You become trapped on one side of a wall. After a while you learn to see only what cages you; you begin to forget other views and possibilities.”  

     Christine Valters Paintner says in The Soul of a Pilgrim “when I act with integrity, it means I’m always moving toward wholeness and oneness.”    As we work toward a life where love is totally integrated, where walls of division are broken open, where we can see with the eyes of heart, we can take the time to admire the beauty of a stone wall and say - wow what amazing workmanship - we’re an amazing piece of workmanship too, and we choose to keep on moving toward the beauty of a whole, integrated life!

 

Wilderness Places

It seems like driving on the New York State Thruway in February can be a Lenten wilderness experience. First, there are many obstacles: accidents, repair trucks, snow plowers, the stranded motorist, and of course the State Police hiding in the turn arounds trying to capture a speeder so there won’t be more accidents and repair trucks. Then, there are those huge tractor trailers hauling two freight boxes - why aren’t they on the railroad and why isn’t this illegal??!!! Also, there is the  dry road that turns into a snow covered road in the night when you can’t see the change and wonder why the cars are slowing down, until you get into the passing lane and see the reason. And then there is driving through Albany at night during rush hour. Oh I know it’s much worse off the thruway, in fact getting off at one of the Albany exits, there is often a line of cars backed up on the exit ramp. This is just an easy trip, it wasn’t anywhere near New York City or Buffalo. 
    As I was driving through Albany, in the dark, with falling snow, at a fast rate, there were cars passing on both sides, cutting in and out. I normally would be screaming and swearing at them, ‘what is wrong with you?’  I get so angry because I’m afraid to drive with all that traffic, first because I’m used to driving with just a few cars around and a lot of deer, second because I didn’t get my drivers license until I was 40-something and that doesn’t give you a lot of young ‘I can do anything’ confidence. But I’ve been working on stillness, detachment and letting go, so instead of screaming, I sent the other drivers love, though I was still afraid, it wasn’t so bad. And  by sending them love, I stopped judging them and began to wonder if the other drivers are afraid too, I wonder if they drive so fast threw the many lanes of Albany traffic because they want to get out of there too? 
    "Be not afraid" does not say that we should not have fears — and if it did, we could dismiss it as an impossible counsel of perfection. Instead, it says that we do not need to be our fears, quite a different proposition.  — Parker J. Palmer in The Courage to Teach
    So we can come face to face with ourselves in the wilderness, with our fears, with what gets under our skin and makes us act in certain ways,. When we are on a Lenten journey, we take the time to see, to let our inner nature see the false self that so often holds us hostage. Seeng with the eyes of the heart can reveal all the pettiness and fear that tends to drive us into habitual directions of non-functionality.  
    The first gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent is always Jesus going out into the wilderness to face his inner demons, or his false self. So being in the  wilderness can be a time of deeply looking  into the mirror of our self and seeing those things that keep us from our true self or wholeness. Sometimes just noticing them is enough, sometimes, after we’ve noticed them a couple of times we can let them go. But often we have to notice them a lot of times before we can let them go. 
    An amazing thing about those things that hold us back is that part of them are true.  In the Bible story, Jesus could have turned stones into bread for himself, but instead he turned 5 loaves and two fishes into a big meal to feed five thousand people. He could have taken over the government but instead he taught people about the value of believing in peace so much that he would not use violence against violence. And he didn’t throw himself from the top of the temple but he walked on water, he raised people from the dead, he turned water into wine. He used his power to bring life and health and peace, not glory to himself. 
    That is what the wilderness taught Jesus when he ventured out after his momentous baptism. What does the wilderness teach us? How do we react to life as it happens around us? Are we sending out love or fear? It’s up to us to choose.

 

Lycopodium

Last week Lycopodiinae  caught my attention. They are also called club moss or ground pine. Our field guide says that this species has fossil records that date back to the Paleozoic Era - that must be why they are green, even in December. That is one of the great things about Lycopodium-  they are ever green. So when the forest is dark and brown, these beautiful little green plants stand out amidst the darkness. That is such a good message for us, because often when things around us are bleak, we become bleak too, but when we take the time to realize that shining within us is  a light that can dispel the bleakness not only for ourselves, but for the world around us, it becomes a great calling.  How are you bringing brightness to the world?

 What do you notice about yourself as you walk by the wonders of creation? 

Some Lycopodium are spiky,  some look like miniature trees - they make beautiful Christmas wreaths, although they are a protected species some people pick them anyway. It’s hard to know whether or not you are harming something when there seems to be so much. We talk a lot about abundance, especially at stewardship time at church. What does abundance really mean? The passage in the Gospel according to John talks about abundance as a bushel basket filled with wheat, shaken so that there is absolutely no room left in it because it is filled to the brim. That means there is enough, there is more than enough, there is enough to share. On the other hand, although there is more than enough, our consumer mentality often creates a  tendency  to take what we really don’t need.  When we  look at all the endangered and extinct species we see what our grasping for more has done.  Our needs are met, but often our wishes outweigh our real needs. We get caught up in “I want everything” attitude especially at Christmas time.  When do you know you have enough?

Ice

To understand the world, knowledge is not enough. You must see it, touch it, live in its presence and drink the vital heat of existence in the very heart of reality.” Teilhard de Chardin
    
    The first week of December,  ice was our theme. I don’t like slipping and sliding on ice unaware, but it can be beautiful to look at, it can be smooth to the touch, you can glide on ice with skates, or slip on ice with boots.  One day my daughter and I were walking to church and as we were crossing the road down she's goes, I reached for her and fell down right beside her. We had a good laugh because neither of us saw the ice that was hidden beneath the light powder of snow. Ice is like that, it can surprise you by it’s clearness. 
    Ice is beautiful as well as dangerous. We hear of accidents because there was black ice on the road and the driver was totally unaware. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World, she talks about the practice of paying attention and how she learned reverence:  “paying attention, taking care, respecting things that can kill you, making the passage from fear to awe.” We were talking about have a cautious respect for ice is a form of reverence. All of creation deserves our reverence, our stopping to turn aside and pay attention. One way of tuning into that reverence is to stop. 
    When I think about the pond or the river being frozen I think about how all that motion of flow and waves have stopped or are stilled. I’m sure that the molecules in the ice are still popping around, but what I see is quiet stillness.  John Wilde has been writing about ‘stillness’ in his blog. He has many great quotes. One talks about stillness as being like a spinning top. “… Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn't moving, but because it's spinning at full speed. Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced whenever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in - when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you are doing.” -- Erich Schiffman in Moving Into Stillness. Read more at http://www.movingintostillness.com/teachings.html
    For me, taking these pictures each week is a practice in reverence and stillness. As I walk things call me to turn aside from the trial and look, or be present. I hope you can take some moments to stop and enjoy ‘the vital heat of existence in the very heart of reality.” T deC. 
    

 

Squirrels

    Last week, squirrels were our theme.  Why? I have no idea, but they are all over the place. We have 4 or 5 squirrels in our yard regularly, there are the black variety of the gray squirrel and of course the gray squirrel. They love being at our house, and we would've invited them for Thanksgiving dinner, if they didn’t fight so much. They love to gnaw down our bird feeders and then feast on the contents, the poor birds just perch on the overhanging branches watching. My husband has gone to extreme measures to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeders. First there were squirrel proof bird feeders, bird feeders out in an open space between the trees, then the baffle over the bird feeder, If they couldn't get into the feeder they chewed the ropes down that held them and down would come baffle, bird feeder and all. He is now thinking about  putting up chains instead of ropes to hold them.  I don’t think they have a preference between shelled sunflower seeds or thistle seeds - they eat everything. A friend said her family would have a squirrel feeder and a bird feeder. That makes a lot of sense and is a kind thing to do for the squirrels, unless of course they start getting into your house. One of my 80-something year old friend shoots at the red squirrels through her second story window because they get in her house, between the walls and it can be very annoying in the winter to hear that scratching all the time, and who knows what they’re eating … insulation, walls, etc. 
    In life it’s always easier to fight than to give up. At least that’s what we’re taught, fight the wrong, fight the cancer, fight the squirrels. But what if for once we listened to some wise teacher who said - ‘let it be, let it be’ -  it is love rather than fear that needs to win, and it often takes a life time for us to realize that. 
 
    The black and gray squirrels are the same species and probably they are the same family. I don’t know, it’s interesting because for years we only had gray squirrels and then one year there was a genetic variation or something and bam, most of the squirrels were black. I don’t know if this is good because the gray squirrels blend in with the scenery better, so they are safer, but the black ones seem to stick out. Maybe this is OK for Old Forge because there really aren’t many squirrel predators in our neighborhood. They are too big for our cat and dogs don’t seem to be able to catch them. 
    Sometimes when we look at our churches in the north country there doesn’t seem to be any diversity, we are all the same, we like the same music, we believe the same things, at least on the surface. It is easy to get caught up in doing everything the same. For years our towns and our churches have done everything the same way, this is the right way to do it we tell ourselves. But the same isn’t always the best way, sometimes it’s just the easy way. You know how we get in a rut and let things just happen in the same way over and over again? 
    In Old Forge they’ve been having Christmas on main street on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving and advertising it as a family time to say that it’s OK not to go crazy shopping on the day after (or day of) Thanksgiving. It brings people into town. This year for the first time, Niccolls Church said, how can we serve our community.  So they opened their church as a warming station, there was hot cocoa, children’s games, the 4H was there teaching crafts, they put movies on the big screen in the sanctuary, and had a sing a long every hour for 3 hours. What a way to serve!- meeting your community where they are and offering  your service. 
        

Cloud Gazing

    At yoga this summer we practiced outside as many days as we could. While doing copse pose we were able to look up at the passing clouds. When was the last time you laid on the ground cloud gazing? I don’t like to lay on the ground anymore because of bugs, when you’re young you don’t think about bugs you just lay on the ground and enjoy the view. You dream, you become one with the sky, you see dragons, and  wild horses running, the scene changes every few minutes, a frog, an antelope. It had been years since I watched all those wonderful shapes and faces passing by. 
    Why don’t we take the time to lay on the ground and look at clouds, of course some of us can’t get back up once we’re down, but we can cloud  gaze standing, and  there are yoga mats or blankets or lounge chairs, but actually being on the ground and looking up has a lot to teach us. One, we become one with ground, sailing on a space ship called the earth, grounded, rooted, a part of creation. And it seems that yoga and Qigong were meant to be practiced outside, with bare feet connected to the ground,  because so many of the moves and poses are taken right from nature. There is this great dance of Qigong called the 'Da Wu" - you can find it on YouTube.  It is really beautiful and and as we practice the movements the crane comes to life,  the flower reaches up opening to heaven.  Careful observation of nature has so much to teach us, and the number one thing is being alive and present to the moment, not hurrying by and hardly seeing things, but looking deeply and intentionally.  
    I read that before the 1800s clouds were called ‘essences.’ ‘The word 'essences’ gives those white puffy things floating by a mystical quality.  But modern science liked to take the mystery out of things and we can certainly understand that because there was a lot of superstition that caused a lot of harm.  My small Peterson First Guides: Clouds and Weather by John A. Day and Vincent J. Schaefer says that a young man named  Luke Howard (1773-1864) was sent to school to learn Latin and Greek but instead of memorizing amo, amas, amat….., he watched the clouds. When he grew up, he became a pharmacist but he still was interested in the sky so he joined a scientific society in London and named the clouds. “Howard noted that there are three basic shapes of clouds: 1) Heaps of separated cloud masses with flat bottoms and cauliflower tops which he named cumulus (heap) 2) layers of cloud much wider than they are thick, like a blanket or mattress, which he named stratus (layer) and 3) wispy curls, like a child’s hair which he called cirrus (curl).”  Isn’t that fascinating that those names we’re so familiar came from one man’s observations in the early 1800s! 
    My husband has a wall poster of clouds so that we can find out what type of cloud we’re looking at, it is fun to know the names of things. Sometimes when we know things we get into this mindset that ‘I am right and you are wrong because I have this information.’ We can talk forever about right and wrong religious belief. But I wonder if what we’re really saying to each other is ‘God loves me and not you because I believe this way, or know that fact.’ That is not a happy way to live, or the way of love. Information and classification is necessary in some disciplines, but it seems to me that life in the Spirit is more about oneness than about differentiation. 
    Cloud gazing  invites us to look up and let go of what's holding us down, the dualism that tears us apart, the constant striving to be better than someone else that wear us down or out, the small details that seem to be so important - things we fight over, things we kill over, things we are fearful of , or angry about.   We can lay on the ground, or stand - stop, hold still and look up. Then we get a real perspective of what is important.  

    

Bare Branches

This week our theme is the bare branches. There was  a woman I met in a nursing home. She was very ill, on oxygen, and sitting in a chair staring out the window at a steel gray November sky. I thought she must be so sad, she is dying and she’s never going to see summer again, and all she can see is this bleakness of November.  I walked in and sat on the corner of her bed expecting to hear a lament from her,   but instead a light came to her eyes and she said to me, ‘even the bare branches are beautiful.’ It made me stop and ask myself, am I looking at life the same way she is? Am I seeing the beauty  or just seeing the darkness and despair?  That is often the way it is in nursing homes, you think everyone is just waiting to die, but instead they are often more fully alive than the rest of us. You can see it in their eyes, their spirits are right there to see and sometimes they glow. 
    The rhythms of nature teach us so much, If the leaves stayed on the trees all winter, the tree would suffer a lot of damage or even die, when the wind and ice comes. The leaves are there for a purpose to provide nutrition, increase photosynthesis, protection. But leaves, like us all,  have a life cycle.  As one of my favorite hymns says: ‘we blossom and flourish like leaves on a tree, and wither and parish but naught changeth Thee.” 
    We change and grow.  Branches remind me of hands spreading out, reach up, growing, growing toward the sky.  It is from these growing branches that the tree reaches up and out. 
    Often when a tree is full of leaves it looks round and full and beautiful. But  when the leaves fall off you see the skeleton  of the tree, it’s branches going every which way, full of character, showing growth, twists and turns.  A bare spot that a wind storm destroyed, a place where the branches decided to grow into each other. These twists and turns create the character of the tree.
    And sometimes if you are in the right place at the right time, the branches themselves awesome.   There are the evenings when you’re driving west as the sun is setting and you catch a glimpse of the branches in your rear view mirror and you almost stop in awe because the branches look like they are on fire, red streams from the setting sun on the branches and makes them alive, a bright crimson, lighting up the night. Or there are times when you are driving on a morning after there was freezing rain and then it snowed, and the sun comes out, and the icy/snow coated branches glitter like morning diamonds all around you and you are in an enchanted land. It takes your breath away. 
    Yes, even the bare branches are beautiful. And if we are lucky or present enough to see the beauty in bare branches on a bleak November day, then we are truly seeing with the eyes of the heart. 

 

November & Cultivating Light

We have a great retreat on November 7th and here are some haiku from our participants:

Covering the rock
Yellow blanket over moss
Tamarack needles - Sam Pendergrast

Look above, a web
Reaching for sun, all niches filled
Rising out of earth - Marjorie Hughes

A rock, not so solid
A growing place for lichens
Dissolved into earth - Marjorie Hughes

I don’t know about you, but November can be a hard month for me. It is such an in-betweenmonth; is it fall or is it winter? We don’t know, November doesn’t know. I hear people say that all the time who live here, I love the fall, but November is so gray and depressing, it can’t make up its mind. We have rhythms in our lives, like the ebb and flow of the sea, like summer and winter, like light and darkness. Rhymes that invite us to work, to rest, to ponder, to let go, to hold on, to sleep, to dream. I dream of being in rhythm with the seasons, of resting in the winter, of working hard in the summer, but often it is hard to get in touch with what we are really called to do and be. 

    In November, the farms have been harvested, Star has things hanging from her walls drying for the winter. Maybe because we want everything to be summer all the time - hurry up, grow, produce -  I have trouble sitting down and just letting life be. Even our grocery stores stock strawberries that have been shipped from summer climates so we can have shortcake in December. Do we really needfresh strawberry shortcake in December? Is it really the time and the place? That is a simple example of how we want everything all the time without paying attention to nature’s rhythm.  And how we want things now! 

    November 1st we changed to eastern standard time, leaving daylight savings time behind, and it seems all light behind too. We not only awake in darkness but our drive home is very dark.. Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark: talks about our fasciation with light. She says: “it seems clear that eliminating darkness is pretty high on the agenda, not just physical darkness, but also metaphysical darkest, which includes psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual darkness.”  Is it really in our best interest to eliminate darkness from our lives? She concludes that we need that dark as much as we need the light. 

    St. John of the Cross talked about the Dark Night of the Soul. I always thought that meant that it’s like we feel alone, there is no presence ofGod, and there are not answers, sort of like being in a deep depression. Like stumbling around in the dark without a night light.  

    Last November, that idea resonated with me,  it seemed that the darkness and the gloom began to seep into my being, made me want to just stop, to run away, and to have no hope that there was anyway out.  But, John of the Cross did not see the dark night as a negative thing, but as a transition from one way of knowing and relating to God, to another, deeper way. His life was not pretty. He was locked away, his teachings were forbidden, yet he continued to write and try to make changes in his order. Don’t you love the passion of the reformers, they just kept on against all the forces that tried to stop them. He used the pain and suffering in his life to grow into greater relationship with God.

    How can we cultivate that kind of passion, how can we be more in line with the inner light that is in all of us? How can we embrace the darkness so it becomes a means to a deeper understanding of who we are and our relationship to the sacred?

    In one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditation he said: “Astrophysicists tell us that 95% of the known universe is dark energy and dark matter and seemingly empty space--not open to our analysis it seems. Yet we now know that all that darkness is objectively not darkness at all; what looks to the human eye like darkness is actually filled with billions of neutrinos--which are light. This sounds to me like John's Gospel: "A light that shines on in the dark, a light that darkness cannot overcome" (1:5).” the darkness has much to teach us, when we stop fighting it, and let those billions of tiny lights begin to teach us to see. 

    A Taize Chant goes: “Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away.”   

    So it is in the month of November that we come face to face with darkness, and begin to befriend if, because it will be with us for a long time, as we look more deeply into the darkness, we begin to learn of the hidden revelations that is has to teach us. Sam sent me this Mary Oliver poem:

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness. 

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.

 - Mary Oliver

The River

The Moose River and the Black River meet in Lyons Falls, and when they meet they  become one and create the beautiful falls. So Forest Church in Lyons Falls loves to sing river songs like “Shall We Gather at the River” , “Down by the Riverside”, “I’ve God Peace Like a River” to name a few. My favorite more recent song is called “River Running in You and Me”  by Ian MacDonald and Gordon Light it goes: 
River running in you and me
Spirit of life deep mystery
Dancing down to the holy sea, 
River run deep, River run free.
     The verses go on to talk about birth, life, death and how the flow of the river is the God -Spirit within each of us uniting, encouraging, teaching and “catching us up in its melody.”
    The Celtic Christians believed we can learn much about God from nature. They called the Bible  the small book of God’s revelation and the big book was nature or the creation. 
    Standing by the banks of a river can teach us many things. The peacefulness of a river can calm us, can remind us to breath and to be mindful. On the other hand, as the river flows it meets rocks, downed trees, sand bars, many obstacles that cause it to quicken its pace, to swirl and turn  to speed up or slow down. Too much rain or snow melt can cause it  to move with fury. 
    I don’t like obstacles, in fact I avoid them whenever possible. But there is an interesting saying: “The most beautiful stones have been tossed by the wind, washed by the water and polished to brilliancy by life’s strongest storms.” - anonymous. So raging water or obstacles that seem to block our way forward may be opportunities - or at least when we process them as opportunities they can offer some insight. The river gains strength as it goes around obstacles.   It welcomes the obstacles in its way, learns from them, changes course when needed, and becomes more. We become more in tune with the Spirit as we suffer obstacles and learn and grow from them. 
    I also like the idea of the river running free. In the Ignatian exercises, one of the first things we try to get in touch with is our inner freedom. In the first week, we ponder God’s unconditional love for us. And when we are in touch with that kind of total love and acceptance we can let fear go, and let the obstacles be a force to grow and deepen our relationship with the Source of all Life. 
    The ways of the river give us a lot to ponder. Matthew Fox ’s devotional Christian Mystics  quotes Thomas Berry as saying: “We will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary and sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.”  
    May the river  continue to flow in you deep and free, and we can say with John O’Donahue in his poem Fluent: 
I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
of Its own unfolding. 

Walking the Path

Do you know how many adventure stories are about a journey? The Incredible Journey, Voyager (a Star Trek clone about a star ship’s 70 year journey home), the Lord of the Rings just to name a few. What is it about going on a journey? I’d rather just go for a walk. 

I love to walk, when I’m upset, or sad, or if I feel like taking a nap, I take a walk and wow it really gets me going. 

One day I was in a particularly bad mood, and decided a walk was what I needed. But when I got to main street, there was so much traffic in town, I had to wait and wait before I could cross the road. That did not lighten the mood, where did all these cars come from anyway? I finally made it across and climbed the old ski hill. My heart was pumping, the anger began to lighten, and at the top I just walked around looking for more pictures to take.  I was so refreshed that by the time I got back down to the road to go home, I, yes I, even smiled at the cars going by. But the miraculous thing was that after only two cars, the next one actually stopped for me to cross and smiled back!

My spiritual director asked me what does walking do for you exactly? I don’t know I never really thought about it, I said. But as always, a good question gives us something to ponder. It seems that walking takes my mind off of everyday problems. Oh, I start out thinking about a problem or something unpleasant but after a few good steps, and seeing a lovely flower or tree I’m reminded that everything is OK and as it should be.

The movement of legs, arms, the whole body in rhythm becomes a song or a dance, and it feels like being fully alive. The trees, the movement of the wind, a flock of geese heading south, all remind me that I love to be outside even at the end of October. 

I watched Thich Nhat Hanh taking a group on a mindfulness walk in a city, probably NYC, and thought, wow,  how can they do that, how can they be mindful and still be in a city? He says in Living Buddha, Living Christ: “To breathe and know you are alive is wonderful. Because you are alive, everything is possible.”  The walk, the movement, the journey engages our lungs in deep breathing, and we learn that all those troubles and worries that surround us are not obstacles but opportunities to discover new possibilities.  What are your opportunities and possibilities?  

 

Changes in October

October in the Adirondacks is a time of change and great beauty. Driving down the Moose River Road last Sunday, I was surrounded by golds, oranges, yellows and reds, a world in swirl of color, even the sky looked brighter. People were stopped all along the river taking pictures, trying to capture the beauty - perhaps to save it for winter, or just to remember that it was there. In October, everything changes fast - one day it’s warm and sunny and the next day you wake up to frost on the car windshield. Rain comes and goes. It’s cold, then clear. Leaves on the tree one day are on the ground the next because of a strong wind. 

    Change is our theme this week. Pictures capture the difference a few weeks make. (See the Facebook page or Weekly Photos on the website) A mushroom looked healthy and new in the summer, but now it’s brown with chunks eaten out of it by squirrels.

    There are so many changes in our lives, children growing up and leaving home, loss of a loved one, grandchildren, moving, you can add to the list. I always thought I was someone who embraced change until my husband had our bathroom remodeled. I like my old shower curtain, and especially the old shower head. So I had to get used to something new after 30 years of having it one way.  I feel like the children of Israel wandering in the desert toward the promised land who just wanted to go back to Egypt. 

    Joan Chittister in her book The Story of Ruth says: “A moment of change leaves [us]  … at the mercy of [our] circumstances, unless [we] take it in, open to it, see it as simply another step in the unfolding of the self.”  What a beautiful way to look at change, as an opportunity to grow and enrich our spiritual lives.  She goes on to say: “Without faith in the God of change, we doom ourselves to the banality of the partial.”  

    Where do you see change happening? Do you embrace it or resist it?

Roots

    Roots have been on my mind lately, the deep roots of rose bushes, the roots that stick up on a hiking trail that trip you or help you walk, the roots of weeds in the garden. They are sometimes deep  and sometime shallow, some roots are even exposed like the roots around a boulder  that holds a tree in the forest.

    I decided to move my mother’s rose bushes because they were in the back of my garden and not doing very well. After 17 years in a cold climate, rose roots run very deep, strong, long, seeking protection from the elements. Finally I had to break the root, hopping I had gotten enough for the plant to grow. The roots and the soil are a community of sorts, in relationship with each other, moving the plant with much of the root does not insure that a new relationship will form in new soil. 

    QUESTION TO PONDER: What are my long term relationships like? Do they nurture me or hold me back?

    When we moved to Alaska, we were uprooted from our home and community. The only way to survive was to create a new community, it was easy because many young people were there going to college, trying to explore the arctic frontier, and each of us was looking for community. Sometimes it took time to find the right community, we had to sample and search. I guess most people want community -  churches, bars, clubs, community service groups are all forms of community. 

    QUESTION TO PONDER: Where do I find community? 

    The shadow side of community is of course, exclusivism. There are so many examples of that throughout history and in our own time. 

    Kent Ira Groff, in his book Honest to God Prayer  says: “Imagine the root system [of the tree] as the hidden life of contemplation, resting beneath conscious awareness.”

    There are deep roots and there are roots on the surface. While we were hiking this summer, we noticed so many tree roots exposed because of people walking on the trail, that is good for the people, but how about for the tree?  The roots provided stair steps for climbing up a steep hill, they provided something to hold on to when climbing a rock. But then if they are wet, they can be very slippery. Always a shadow side. 

    Then there are the roots wrapped around a rock holding a tree upright. We think that can’t last long. The tree can be easily toppled with a strong wind. But miraculously enough, there are some large trees living on top of a rock. We don’t know what’s underground after all, many of the trees in the Adirondacks could have their roots wrapped around rocks, buried deep in the soil. 

    QUESTION TO PONDER: War causes violent uprooting. the devastation of home and community all for what? What is war for? What does it do? What does it really protect? 

    There are times when uprooting is good and necessary. When a tree is too close to a house, or a tree has a disease. There are times when we are called to be uprooted, like Abraham leaving all he knew to start out on a God adventure. I imagine that my grandparents had a hard time leaving home and family to never see them again, to come here to this country, to put down new roots. 

    When we are called to change, to follow our bliss, the way sometimes seems hard and we want to turn back, it was better in Egypt, we cry with the Israelites fleeing slavery. 

    A houseplant that is root bound has to be transplanted or it dies, or just sits there, forlorn and not growing.  

    In the same book, Kent Ira Groff tells a story of visiting a couple. He knocked on the front door but found they were in the back yard. Walking back there he found ‘the husband holding an uprooted quince tree while the wife was pruning the roots. The next summer that tree was bursting with fruit. “Sometimes the very roots of your spiritual life get pruned; you can’t pray as you once did or don’t know what you believe anymore.” John of the Cross calls this the dark night of the soul. But instead of wallowing in depression we are invited to let it go and go into the darkness, to let the pruning happen, and then come out on the other side as stronger and more fruitful. 

    QUESTION TO PONDER: Do I need anything uprooted in my life so that I can be more fruitful? 

    Roots are not good or bad, they just are, they are necessary, to be respected but not bound by, to hold us in place and yet help us move forward. May the right root be with you. 

    

Why "weaving home"

I was at a retreat and many of the retreatants were talking about their lives  having so many threads and how they had a desire to have those threads, knit or woven together into some shape or form that would give them clarity and meaning.   The thread symbolize the parts of our lives that are new, seem disjointed, yet are offering us glimpse of a life of wholeness.

    That is what being church is for some of us today. There is the thread of the past, a strong cord that keeps us going, wanting to hold on to our history, our heritage, the way we’ve always done it. There is the thread of our missions that bring light and hope to the world. There may be  new threads, threads that pull us to mediate, to dance, to behold, to not hold back, to uncover  those things that have been hidden.  The threads that invites us to reach outside our comfort zones and let the spirit weave our lives so that we can see the sacredness in every thread. 

    Weaving Home is a web based program for becoming aware of those sacred threads, of empowering us on the journey of the spirit and then paradoxically bringing us home again to realize that we’ve always had all the threads woven into what we needed all along. 

Enthuse & Inspire

The church is the people who have been called out to be Christ’s hands and body in our world. Yet there are  times we forget our mission while we struggle to survive. We can plug into the Spirit of Christ in many ways, Weaving Home is one such guide to deepen your spiritual practices to enthuse and inspire, so that you are empowered to live out your calling to love God and each other.