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Ending the Year

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I end this year with a blessing in my heart for all of you, my friends.
I trust that you are ending this year with a sense of completion, of time well spent, a year of learning.  Life is learning and growth.  In my best estimation, that is what we are here to do!

I end this year in a continuing time of transition.  Life is transition!  I continue to learn what “retirement” will be for me.  I continue to make sense of this new time of life, a time when I am no longer young, and yet, not yet really old.  I hope I have gleaned some wisdom from my years of service and the way I grew as I served.  When I think of service now, I am certain that we are called to service not because we have so much to give, but because we have so much to receive in our own growth as human beings.  God is good, that is for certain, and when we choose to turn toward God in any circumstance, something changes.  We change – maybe that’s it.  And maybe that is enough.

It is my hope that as we change, the world will become more kind and just –  that is my hope.

I end this year, also, at the end of another adventure, since I have the luxury of being able to travel and to explore other places.  As I write, I am enjoying the way the light changes from moment to moment in the mountains that surround Unalaska, AK, on every side.  I have tried to capture their beauty for you in a few pictures, but the beauty is in the moment, when I can be present to it.  I have started every morning here with a time of prayer and a time of meditation, while it is still dark.  Then, when the sky begins to lighten at nearly 10 AM, I move to sit in the chair that faces windows that look out over the Bering Sea, and to the moments as the light changes and daylight arrives.  I wait for the new light to come, to see the sparkle of the lights on the barge and crane in the distance soften, as the light commands the day.

To be on retreat is to enter a time of silence, although that silence is broken by conversations, texts, and books.  Over Christmas, the silence was often broken by the sound of Christmas carols which I carried with me to this place on an iPad.  Now, I have more quiet, as the days grow longer.  To be on retreat is to remember to be grateful, to have a time to be able to say:  “thank you, God!”  To be on retreat is to take notice of the changing moods that inhabit my body, to notice what song is playing in my head, and to have this moment to watch the light change over the sea.  God is in all these things, God is in me, God is in this moment, God, the one I like to call All That Is.

While I’ve been here, internet access has been unreliable, and so I have taken this time to be away from the chatter of podcasts.  Is 2016, the coming year, really an election year?  I will be back to the thoughts and opinions that crowd my mind soon enough.  I will re-enter the pace of another place, and hopefully, I will take some of this silence, this blessed, rich silence, with me.  I hope there is more space within me for – nothing.

Happy New Year, all!

 

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Merry, merry, merry Christmas!

I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got. But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty…that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

~ Fra Giovanni, Christmas Eve, 1513

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After the Solstice

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Last night, I marked the Coming of Light, alone in this big house, the parsonage at Unalaska.  I had checked online for the exact time – 7:48 PM, local time – and I silently honored the moment by standing at the front window, looking across the white-covered lawn with a few animal tracks, across the road, across this state that is on the Bering Sea.

This was the holy moment, the moment light returns from behind the mountains to mark daylight.

There is something holy in this moment, this moment of Light.

I suppose I have always been enamored of light.  In past years, though, I have been more conscious of taking note of light; that way, I can enjoy being enamored!  I see that light changes every moment.  Light is not static; light moves, sways, marks, drifts, shallows, lengthens, shines.  Light is life.  I love the light in my home in Oakland.  There, the light also changes quickly, especially at dusk.  Sometimes I run from the back of the house to the front so as not to miss the light changing on the leaves of the birch in the front window.  If I had not run, I would have missed it!  There, it is… and there, the moment has passed.  I am a witness, nothing more.  This is one moment, stopped in time, and it is my privilege to receive it, a gift.

I have a deeper sense of the importance of the solstice for people who lived in times before electricity – through most of time, after all – and I honor those people, too, their unknown faces, names, remembrances, losses – I honor all who are dependent on light for work.  I honor them all.  We, too, are dependent on light for work, although we seem so powerful in our ability to “harness” light and power.  Beyond our ability to manipulate so many things, even when light comes and goes – Daylight Savings Time – we are only creatures of earth and sky and stars and wind and the branches of trees.  We, too, are moved by wind.  Nature will not be manipulated.  Although we may love the concrete of our cities, in some way, conscious or not, we are one with earth.  We are one with light.

It is a luxury to have the time and the time of life to enjoy light, to embrace this Coming of Light.  On this day, this moment, another woman is fleeing her country, her back aching, her heart aching as she takes one exhausted step to the next, head down, walking from Syria to somewhere else… I am that woman.  So are you.  It is my luxury to have this time to reflect on my life, to watch the light change from one moment to the next, and to know that I am dependent on it.  Others do not, will not have that luxury.

I am grateful for this time of retreat, marked by light and feeling, emotion, emptiness, and quiet.  Sometimes, I am lonely.  Sometimes, I am sad.  Sometimes, I am nostalgic.  Sometimes, I am aware; and sometimes, I am not aware.

Still, the light is moving across the sky.  Now, the sun is creating a streak of light through clouds.  I am here, cherishing the luxury of this moment, from one time of life into another.

 

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Arrival in Dutch Harbor, AK

 

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On the Bering Sea

I’m writing this in my living room, a large room with a Christmas Tree alive with white lights! I left the lights on all night.   I’ll post this at the library later this afternoon; no internet at the parsonage.  I have a huge house to myself, and I have decided that this is, indeed, an adventure. I think I am actually more adventurous now than I have been in the past – except for the inner terrain, as you know… This morning, I sat in the little front room off the kitchen and watched as the “sun rose – “ well, the light came to this northern place, with the white mountains beginning to appear behind the barge docked across the way. I sat there, looking out over the Bering Sea.

The reason I’ve decided that I am an adventurer has to do with the landing of the small plane – a 3 hour flight from Anchorage – that dropped me here. At the Anchorage airport, we were warned that the flight might be delayed or cancelled because there were strong winds in Dutch Harbor. But we took off on time, and the flight was uneventful, a full flight, lots of young men probably coming here to work, a few couples (the new city manager and his wife, as I learned). When we were on the descent to land, we dipped due to wind a couple of times, but then we were stable again. I watched as the plane flew lower and lower, and as the wings came about 10’ from the cliff to our left. On the right, only Dutch Harbor bay… Then, I saw the landing strip – only one on the island, this is it!
We dropped from the air over the sea onto the landing strip, smoothly.

What most surprised me was how excited I was – excited, instead of anxious! I thought it must be great to be the pilot and be able to land on that strip each time. Later in the evening, at a “girls night out” gathering at the cozy home of the concert pianist who will play on Christmas Eve, I learned that the flight from Anchorage later that day had to turn back. So I guess we do have to trust the wisdom of air traffic controllers!  During the flight instructions (given by a wool capped stewardess in jeans!), I paid attention for the first time ever about how to open your life jacket in case of a water landing. I did spend a few moments wondering where “under your seat” is!

I almost didn’t make it to the party last night, because it was after dark when I left home, and I drove in light snow in a car I had not driven before. After one mistake, I decided I would allow myself that one, and kept going, back on track. But I had to call the hostess when I was confused, about 3 blocks from her house. On the way home, no problems. It won’t take long to learn the “lay of the land” here.

What I learned today, though, when I shopped for groceries at the Safeway here, is that locals don’t like to go out in this weather – they wait out the snow and winds!I woke at my usual PST, and so I had several hours of darkness before I watched the light come. Later, I drove about 4 miles to Safeway on the one highway on the Island, hoping the road crew had really salted the road; sometimes, the lanes are right up to the edge of the Bering Sea! It was snowing, not heavily, the whole time. After I bought my basic food – a lot more expensive here than at home since it arrives by barge – I wanted to go to the coffee shop at the hotel on the Island. When I got out of the car, though, I experienced the cold wind, got back into the car, and drove home to have lunch here.

I live about 2 blocks from the old wooden frame Russian Orthodox Church, and about 3 blocks from the City Center, library, aquatic center, and United Methodist Church. If/when there is day with no snow or rain, I’ll walk there. Now, I cautiously drive, remembering the days when I drove in this weather regularly in Wisconsin. Sometimes, the smell of the air makes me nostalgic.

Remember that this is a retreat for me, and I love waiting for the Solstice here, when the light is so appreciated. I’ll check online for the exact day and time this year. Pray for me on my retreat. God is good, all the time… truly…

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from darkness to light

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My Christmas tree is the holiday to me.

I love to reflect on the deeper meanings of the season, and I love to remember our  connection to the people of all ages who have waited and longed and honored the coming of the light after the season of darkness.

I imagine us, dust and snow rising, our boots digging up the roots and leaves of autumn, dancing around the tree that stands in the middle of a clearing in a dark, dark, dark forest … as we dance the passing of time, as we dance the changing of the year, of this moment, of this hour, of this day.  The tree is our altar.  The star that shines above the tree is in the sky, and the sky, too, is dancing, honoring in its own way the passing of time.  As we dance, we feel in ourselves that elemental humanness, that elemental place that connects us to each other, to the tree, to the dust, to the snow, to the sky, to the star.  We are one with all.  We are one.   We feel that elemental place in our guts, in our legs, in the soles of our feet, in our whole selves.  Yes!  We feel the elemental life force of those who circle with us, those who honor darkness, and wait for light.  This is us.  This is all of humanity.

This autumn, I have written often about the descent into the darkness, that place in each of us where the light lies.  This descent into the darkness is for all of us, we are all gifted with the darkness as part of being human.  Yes!  we say into the deepness of the dark.  Yes! we say as we emerge, once again, from that dark place into another place.   We emerge, different, each time we go deep.  We grow older.  We grow wiser.  We are connected to everyone we encounter; we see ourselves in the “other.”  We carry with us, after that deeper journey, something more solid, more whole.  We know we are one with one another, with All That Is.

All of these things connect us to the suffering of the world, for in our connection is our knowing that we are all alike.  We all suffer.  We all know darkness, and we all know that life is hard.  Yes, we say, as we extend our hand to the other, as we extend our hearts into the world.  Yes!

This year, even the moon joins us in the dance.  Mother Moon will be full on the day of Christmas, the Christian way of honoring the Light.  Mother Moon will take our hand, she will sing, she will kick up the dirt and the waves in the ocean, and she will rejoice – yes! – with the coming of the Light.

However you honor the passage of time, whatever your tradition, this is your journey to yes!  Yes, yes, yes…