Monthly Archives: June 2015

Contemplation

IMG_0405In the sanctuary, Shalom UCC, Richland, WA

“Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive.  It is spiritual wonder.  It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.  It is gratitude for life, for awareness,  and for being.  It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source.  Contemplation is,  above all, awareness of the reality of that Source.”  Thomas Merton

Thank you, Sir Thomas Merton, Brother Merton, for those eloquent words.  I cannot say the same thing in the same way, but I want to reflect – contemplate – your words.  Your words bring me back to an experience of life I have always known, an experience of life I have had the pleasure of relishing, these later years, from time to time.

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In the past several months, my husband, Jeff, and I have had our yard redone.  The privilege of having a beautiful place right outside our home is something I cannot fathom, for the most part.  Having grown up in rented flats in a working class neighborhood, I never dreamed I would have a yard of “my own.”  And yet, it is a privilege to have a beautiful, safe place, a feast for my eyes, a privilege that does not escape my awareness.  As I write these words, children and mothers and fathers today are being forced from their homes, leaving with nothing, victims of battles that are not their own, conflicts they did not make.

But the true luxury of the new lawn is that I love to sit on it, lie down on it, do the child’s pose on it, smell it, run my fingers over it.  The cat loves the new lawn, too!  LiLi is not a friendly sort, but when I walk onto the lawn, she jumps over the chairs on the porch, over the brick edging, over the plants, and onto the lawn, to join me in my moment of refreshing.  Every single time.  She comes right over to me, and every few moments she gets closer and closer, nudging in.  She loves the smell of this luscious new lawn, too.

Here, for a few moments, I can be present to the scent, to the color, to the feel of the lawn.

Here, for a few moments in my day, I can be present, also, to the color of the sky, to the smell of the bushes as I take a morning walk, to the dogs that pass me, with interest, as they go on their morning trek with their owners.

I have not always been present in my life.  To be present is a present – indeed! – in my ordinary life.  When I am present, I see the lovely in the ordinary.  When I am present, I see the simple nod of the head, the acknowledgement.  When I am present, I see the flicker of grief cross the face of my beloved friend.  When I am present, I breath, and sigh, and notice whatever is present to me, then, now, now, now, now.

There is nothing more simple, and more grand, I think, than to know life in the present.  I don’t do it perfectly – there… my mind wanders, as the mind does.  But when I am present, I am also grateful.  Completely, bountifully grateful.

As I write, I realize there are no words to express this presence.  Probably Merton struggled to find words, also.  So many of Merton’s writings are about the matter of the abundant beauty in the world.

After I began to know “presence,” I began to know that the beauty, the magnificent beauty of all that is, had always been there.  I, however, had not always been there.  I had lived so much of my life with concerns – thoughts, worries, preoccupations – of so many other things.  And those concerns were all inside me, I carried them with me, they weighted me down, they kept me facing down.   I did not see what was present to me, around me, even then.

After I began to know “presence,” I said to a friend:  “the world is so wonderful.”  She reacted – immediately – to that.  The world is not wonderful, there is poverty, and hunger, and violence, and war, and nation against nation…  Of course, all of that is true.  I live every day grateful for the privilege I have to be present.  I know the world is not wonderful.  I hope the life I live will leave a better mark on this world.

And yet, there it is, the complete, utter, miraculous wonder of… this… present… moment.

 

Improvising life

Products56523-1200x1200-82935Jazz great Miles Davis:

“There are no such things as mistakes in jazz. Every so-called mistake is an opportunity to create something different than you were intending.”

I suppose that, in a way, we all improvise our lives. No matter what we’ve planned for any day, life seems to have a mind of its own, and “the best laid plans” are often not the actually lived plans. That’s hard on some of us, and some of us seem to thrive on this reality. No matter what we’ve planned for any part of our life, life does seem to have a mind of its own, and the route we end up taking is never completely the route we set out to take. We have to find a way to improvise, to shift gears, to make changes in our schedules or in our plans. That’s the nature of things.

Many years ago, when I was in my 20’s, I clearly remember a friend of mine saying: “I have had a charmed life.” Being a thoughtful sort myself, I could not exactly relate to my friend’s perspective on her life. What did it mean to have a “charmed life?” Did that mean that there were no problems – ever? Did it mean that things always turned out the way she had planned? Did it mean that when she wanted something, it magically appeared? What did it mean?

Then, the next time I saw my friend was after her mother had died. The spark that had been in my friend was gone. She was depressed, for a long, long time. Did that mean her life was no longer charmed? I don’t know; I never asked. But I have wondered, from time to time, whether she thought differently about her life after that.

Deaths will happen, to those we love, and to us. We won’t always succeed, even at things we think we’re good at. We won’t get the promotion we think we deserve. Our children won’t be as perfect as we want them to be. Sometimes, our children will have problems, illnesses, difficulties we can’t imagine now. Our biggest dreams will never materialize. We won’t find the magic potion for life that will give us exactly what we want, when we want it. That just isn’t going to happen.

Take this on as a spiritual practice: begin to see your life as an improvisation. See what happens! Begin to watch your life “from the outside,” another perspective, another way of looking at it. Instead of things going wrong, see an opportunity for something new to enter. If the road doesn’t go where you thought it was going to go, enjoy the scenery you have in front of you now. Explore the opportunity you didn’t think was going to present itself, but does. Make music out of a few sour notes. Enjoy the people around you, even if you don’t like them. Or go looking for other folks, you like more. Make looking for them an adventure. See where the adventure leads.

We all know “the best laid plans” don’t always work out the way we thought they would. Stuff happens; the “stuff” that happens is the “stuff” of life. Make that “stuff” work, work in your favor, work for you. Be resourceful. Use whatever comes your way. Turn left instead of right.

And trust. That’s it. Improvise.

Make sweet, sweet music.

rounding out life…

question-mark-2-1409684289t9wI hope I’m a long way from dying.

We don’t know, do we? I am grateful to have lived this life that is mine, very grateful. I’m grateful not only for the “good” things, but even for the hard things. I count myself as privileged, in many, many, many… ways.

Now that I’m over 60, though, I am more and more aware that I am growing older. For the most part, my health has been good, all of my life. (I am grateful for this, also). Actually, I began to realize that I was growing older – like all of us! – when I turned 61. And so I can relate to those who are in denial.

That’s how I think of it. Sometimes, in an effort to sound positive and to not make that leap into a deep acceptance of growing older, I hear someone say: “I am in perfect health!” Well, maybe you are! But, like me at least, you are also growing older. You, too, will need the doctor more than you did in the past. Young people already look at you as if you are older – if they look at you at all.

Several years ago, I traveled with a small group to a wonderful retreat in Germany. On the plane flight home, I made my way to the back of the plane to use the restroom. When I left the restroom, several young men were in the aisle. They did not look at me at all, and they hardly moved so that I could make my way up the aisle.  I know the reality that “older” women are invisible.

Invisible!  How sad is that?  The wisdom-carriers, those who have lived, and not lived, and are alive to tell it…!  Invisible!

When the weather is warm and the days are long, I long for the days when I was young.  What a joy to bicycle to work, to spend long days in the sun, to enjoy a music festival under the long, long, sweet evenings, humid and languid.  What joy to walk barefoot in the streets, way past midnight!  What luxury to be a student, to set my schedule by classes and papers and interesting conversations in the Student Union.  What a joy to look at the young men – and to have them look at me!  What a joy to know that life lay ahead of me!

But those were hard times, too.  Things are always easier in hind-sight, aren’t they?  Those were fear-filled times, times of uncertainty, of not-knowing, of living with the anxiety of knowing I had to make that passage into being an adult, whatever that meant for me.  And there were the days of loneliness, of fears, of failed relationships, of being adrift in my life, until I began to realize I had to grow up, on my own terms, in my own way.  I had to take the road that was calling to me.

And – I did.  For that, I am grateful, too.  I am grateful.

One of the gifts of being “older” is that I know that when we take that step – when we step off the cliff to fall into the journey of trust in What Is, without seeing the safety net, without knowing the answers, without having someone’s hand to hold – except the hand of the great unseen, unknown one – the journey will not always be happy, or be easy.  It is in the nature of journey to have beginnings, and endings, like birth, and death.  And in the “in between,” in all those days and moments and years, there are lots of hard times.  I know it now.  I don’t expect to take a magic pill and be all happy, all the time.  Life – the spiritual journey included – is not happy all the time.  We do a dis-service to life, and to ourselves, by only expecting happy times, good times.

But I digress… or do I?  I am writing today about that ping, that small, silent, but strong ping that “pings” in my solar plexus, day after day, when I know I will never know those long evenings, that utter bliss – and terror – of being young.  I am older, now.  I am one who has lived for many years, now.  I am one who has known this life, my life, as it is.  I am one who now, as I am, must surrender again to the great expanse of time and distance and space.

Even now, I must say, “Yes!” to this time, to this call, to this journey.  Come what may.

And will I discover the wisdom in this falling, in this surrender?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  I’m not there, yet.  For now, all I have is the ping, that little ping that is the reality of this time, this age, this moment.

 

 

Sue, sister, sweet – in memory

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“Sue, sister, sweet”

 

I remember when I first knew you were my sister –

you, sitting on the edge of the claw footed bathtub

in the crowded bathroom of an old Milwaukee flat, crying.

I sat on the toilet, listening, and I knew then:

You are my sweet, sweet sister, Sue.

 

I remember you at 8 months pregnant –

another baby on the way!

– we were just girls, really –

I remember your voice all night long

in the dark Carolina night,

the light from your cigarette, up and down, up and down,

the two of us, laughing, laughing.

We laughed until dawn.

During the day, you were Mom.

 

I remember years later, in my new life,

you bringing me a home-baked goodie

while I was still in bed – insisting that I accept this gift of love!

 

I remember you marching me to the classical music CD’s in the back

of Barnes and Noble – music, your other love!

You bought me Beethovan.

I listened, all spring long, to the minor notes,

mourning another Sue.

Now, these notes are for you.

I mourn for you.

 

I remember your coming through for me through all the years, sweet Sue.

I was always certain of your love –

across miles, across different lives, across hard years and good years.

 

I remember – will remember always –

you waving goodbye (I watched in my rear-view mirror),

as I drove away from you for the last time.

“I don’t know when I’ll see you again, Sue,” I said into your silence.

You knew, you knew, you knew, my sweet, sweet sister, Sue.

 

You knew.

(meb/05/2014).

 

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A tribute to my beloved sister-in-law, Sue Lass, who passed on Friday, May 22, the day before her 72nd birthday.  I will miss her – forever.