Book Report: Things to Look Forward To, 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday by Sophie Blackall (2022)

August 11, 2022

Yes, I know how important it is to live in the present moment.

Breathe in and tell yourself that a new day has been offered to you, and you have to be here to live it.

You Are Here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hand

This gentle and charming book, Things To Look Forward To by author and illustrator Sophie Blackall is a doorway into remembering what brings us joy and the pleasures that sustain and guide us, even when the present moment is fraught with angst. This book is a guidebook for being in the present moment, even as we look ahead.

Some of what Blackall looks forward to are on my list, like “making lists” and “returning home,” and other items, like “rain” and “visiting a museum,” open me to greater appreciation and gratitude. Maybe that’s what this book is–a gratitude book for a life being lived.

Here’s my list, a list that keeps growing, and that is a good thing, I think.

  • Sunday morning church.
  • Fall: weather, food, clothes, pumpkins
  • Being with our kids and grandkids. Anytime. Anyplace.
  • Having written the first sentence or paragraph of a new writing project. The first is always the hardest.
  • Meeting with my spiritual directees.
  • Anticipating the next book to read. I love adding titles to my TBR (To Be Read) list and then checking them off as I read them. And what is better than getting an email from the library saying a book I have requested is now available!
  • Making pesto with the basil from our garden.
  • A cold Diet Coke, especially from MacDonalds. (Remember, Blackall says the list contains both large and small joys)
  • One day road trips and counting eagles and hawks.
  • Cozy days in the snug.
  • The first trip in the morning to the garret.
  • Perfect weather to sit in the side garden, I call Paris.
  • Shopping the house as I clean to create new vignettes.
  • Ironing. Pressing out the wrinkles.
  • Seeing a friend cross the threshold.
  • Morning Meditation Time, whether it is walking in the neighborhood or sitting in my Girlfriend Chair
  • Setting the table for a gathering and thinking about the love that will be present.
  • My husband filling vases with flowers from his glorious garden.
  • Going to a play or concert.
  • A good night’s sleep.
  • Unpacking. I don’t enjoy packing, but unpacking always feels like a new beginning.

Normally we say that the future is not here yet, but we can touch it right now by getting deeply in touch with the present moment. Because it is of an interbeing nature, the present cannot exist by itself. It interexists with the past and the future. It’s like a flower that cannot exist by itself: it has to interexist with the sun and the earth. This is true for time, too. The present is made up of material called the past and the future, and the past and future are here in what we call the present.

You are Here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh

Blackall’s list and my list are the result of past times, which we look forward to living again in the present. Past, present, and future are all one.

An Invitation

What’s on your “looking forward to list”? I would love to know.

My Need for Spiritual Practices

August 9, 2022

Some days shadow dominates.

Some days I feel the presence of shadow more and am not as aware of light.

Those days seem to happen more frequently now that I am in my mid70’s.

When I was in my 40s and 50s, people in my life faced difficult times, too. Loss is not limited to one decade of one’s life, that’s for sure, but what I realize now is that when I was younger, I experienced space around sadness. For example, when a friends was diagnosed with cancer and later died at a far too early age, the sudden news felt totally unexpected and out of the ordinary. A shock, yes, but I was able to hold each one of those out of the ordinary situations, mainly one at a time, with tender care. I now see how there was recuperation time between encounters with the suffering.

That is no longer the case. A reality of being in the Third Chapter of life is that every day I hear of someone in my own beloved circle or in the circle of someone I know who is facing challenges — health, loss, relationship issues, etc. An unwelcome change of some kind. Prayers are asked for and needed. And sometimes more practical or visible help is needed. A meal or drive to an appointment or a hug or a conversation. Or…

I ache with the news. Each announcement. Each cry. Each plea. Each shock wave.

How do we cope with the daily revelations of sorrow?

More and more I realize the importance of spiritual practices.

More and more I realize the importance of spiritual practices to keep me grounded, to find sustenance and equanimity.

More and more I realize how spiritual practices lead me to clarity and the next step.

More and more I realize how spiritual practices support me and sustain me as I attempt to support others in ways that are appropriate and needed.

More and more I realize how employing spiritual practices on an ongoing basis ground and steady me for the days when there is no time or energy to practice them.

I also realize the importance of having more than one spiritual practice in my back pocket.

In the non winter months, I tend to start my day walking in the neighborhood, instead of sitting in the garret for an hour or more of devotion time. I practice walking meditation. As I feel the ground beneath my feet and breathe in and out, filling with the sights and sounds and smells around me, I lift the names of those I hold in my heart, but I also refresh myself and return home better prepared for the day ahead.

Some days, however, the walk doesn’t feel like enough, and I return to the Girlfriend Chair for more quiet time. In recent months I have created my own tangible prayer list, using sweet small cards. I write a name or a situation on each card, along with the date and any important details. I hold each card, whispering the name, one at a time. It’s not much, but this is something I can do, and I know that as I lift each person’s heaviness, I am steadying myself, as well.

Over the years my spiritual practices have included walking labyrinths, practicing T’ai Chi, and the most constant, writing in my journal. Those practices are still part of my life, along with meeting with my spiritual director monthly, reading and studying scripture and other sacred texts, but more and more my spiritual practices are simple, in the moment, practices. Pausing between tasks. Sipping a glass of water slowly. Smiling. Gazing out the window. Sending a handwritten note or choosing an E Card to send.

Each practice is at once a practice of gratitude, but also a practice of being present and opening myself to being a presence.

I can’t end this without also noting the spiritual practice of being in community–attending Sunday worship services. We often arrive early, even as the musicians are practicing. I love settling in and feeling the space, readying myself for whatever message I need to receive. Moving through the worship service, I feel myself deepening and opening. And that is a good thing, for I know before returning home I am apt to learn about someone in pain or distress, and I want to be whatever is needed in that moment.

if your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that–then that will take you as far as you can go. And then you’ll understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.

Pema Chodron

Yes, there are more shadows in this elder age, but notice the light in the photograph at the beginning of this post. I am convinced spiritual practices not only help me notice the light, but even create the light.

An Invitation

What are your spiritual practices and how do they help you cope with difficult news? I would love to know.


I was the guest blogger on the Brevity Nonfiction Blog yesterday, August 8, and I invite you to read my post, “My Writing Garret.”

Book Report: July Round-Up

August 4, 2022

I read sixteen books in July–surprising even myself.

The first half of the month I immersed myself in mysteries. See my July 14 post. During the second half of July I read three novels from my TBR list, and I recommend with pleasure each one.

  • French Braid by Anne Tyler. I’ve read most of her long list of books, enjoying some more than others. This one is especially good. Few people write dialogue as well as Tyler does, for one thing, and few people create a window into family relationships as she does. True, the characters are often quirky, but still, recognizable. In this story the family members maintain distance from one another, not out of dislike or fear, but simply this is the way it is. The title is referenced towards the end of the book describing a French braid when it is undone, “ripples, little leftover squiggles…that’s how families work, too. You think you’re free of them, but you’re never really free; the ripples are crimped in forever.” (p. 234) Later, Tyler writes, “This is what families do for each other–hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few deceptions. Little kindnesses…and little cruelties. (p. 342) Classic Tyler
  • Three by Valerie Perrin. Her earlier novel, Fresh Water for Flowers, was the first book I read in 2021 and was one of my favorite books that year. It remains a favorite. I loved Three, as well. The title refers to Etienne, Adrien, and Nina who grew up together, forming their own kind of family. The story moves between their growing up years and years much later. Sometimes a scene is repeated, but the second time we, the readers, know much more than we did the first time we read it. Much of the story is told by Virginie, but we don’t know who she is till much later in the book. “Intriguing” is the word that occurred to me as I read this book. Flawed characters, for sure, but characters who want to live as their better selves. One line that stays with me, “How many people do we miss out on in a lifetime?” (p. 261)
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. After reading her most recent novel Great Circle in June, I knew I wanted to read her backlist. Seating Arrangements is her first novel, published in 2012, and it is worth reading. The story takes place the weekend of a wedding–Winn and Biddy’s oldest daughter, Daphne is getting married to Greyson. Daphne is seven months pregnant, which doesn’t seem to be an issue for anyone. The wedding party gathers at the family’s island home, and the story could have focused on any one of the characters, but this is really the father’s story. “His wedding had been a wedding, not a family reunion and missile launch and state dinner all rolled into one.” (p. 93). Winn is attracted to one of the bridesmaids, and his younger daughter Livia is recovering from an abortion and being dumped by her boyfriend, and there is the matter of the beached whale. Shipstead not only tells a story well, but I love her rich descriptions and her often ironic tone. Now I am ready to read the next novel on her backlist, Astonish Me.

I feel I should mention another novel I read in July, Bewilderment by Richard Powers. I’m not sure I loved this book, but it felt like an honor to read it, and at times the story of a widowed father, Theo, and his unusual nine year-old son, Robin, moved me to tears. Theo doesn’t accept the encouragement from Robin’s teachers to start him on medication, but instead homeschools him and enrolls him in an experimental kind of therapy. Theo is an astrobiologist and often tells Robin stories of imagined planets. All this is in the context of a world that seems to be destroying itself and Trumpian anti-science politics. I’ve not yet read Powers’ The Overstory–I know I should. I know I will, but not yet.

As part of my morning meditation time, I am reading, slowly, very slowly, Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh, which has been on my shelf for several years, and it is worth the wait and the intentional slow pace. Other than that, I am not reading much nonfiction right now. I do recommend, however, a writing book, Getting to the Truth, The Craft and Practice of Nonfiction by the editors of Hippocampus Magazine. Excellent essays.

Reading Is…

it’s going somewhere without ever taking a train or a ship, an unveiling of new, incredible worlds. It’s living without having to face consequences of failures, and how best to succeed…I think within all of us, there is a void, a gap waiting to be filled by something. For me, that something is books and all their proffered experiences. p.73

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

An Invitation

What did you read in July? Anything you recommend? I would love to know.

Note #1:

One of my favorite online sites for books and reading is Modern Mrs Darcy. Yesterday her post was a list of mystery series to read while waiting for the new Louise Penny!

Note #2:

One of my favorite blogs about writing is Brevity. On Monday, August 8 you can read an essay I wrote called “Writing in a Garret.” I hope you will read it and would love to know your response.

Window Blessings: The Spiritual Practice of Receiving and Sending

August 2, 2022


Every morning while making the bed, I pause and look out the window towards our backyard. This is what I see.

This is the view, thanks to the creative talents and physical efforts of the gardener in our house.

I stand at the window and receive a gift of color and the variety of shapes and textures. I see abundance and growth, reminding me to be grateful for the abundance and ongoing growth in my own life. I think about the season we are in and how each day may seem the same, but yesterday I did not see any roses on the tall rose bush, and today two are in view. Creamy with a blush of peach.

I wonder if the blueberry bushes are ready to be harvested again. A couple weeks ago I made muffins using our own blueberries, and I am eager to repeat the taste treat.

Standing at the window each morning, I receive energy for the day, even if I didn’t sleep well the night before. I wonder how I will be asked to bloom today or is it someone else’s turn?

I celebrate the miracle of creation, and I give thanks for the gardener in my life and his holy work.

This is sanctuary.

Love this Earth as if you won’t be here tomorrow; show reverence for your Garden as if you will be here forever.

Scottish Saying


Later in the morning I walk up the stairs to the garret and pause at the windows on the landing. I take a deep breath as my view expands over rooftops and into the backyards of neighbors.

In the stillness, I send blessings:

to the boys next door who seem to create their own universe, jumping on their trampoline. May your imaginations and energy enrich you and those who love you.

to the neighbor newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. May you adjust to the new reality in your life.

to the neighbor across the alley who often forgets to shut her garage door and to the neighbors who do it for her. May you be safe.

to new neighbors on the block. May you find warmth and happiness here. May you find home here.

to each of the 22 children on the block. May you know fun and joy on this summer day.

to all those whom I don’t know, but who live within my view. May you feel support as you face whatever causes anxiety in your life. May you feel peace as you cross your own thresholds. May you know love.

The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.

Terry Tempest Williams

And, I add, daily prayers are delivered, also, while looking out a window.

An Invitation

What do you receive as you stand at a window and what do you send beyond your window? I would love to know.

Book Report: Most Important Books

July 28, 2022

Steve Laube is an agent in the Christian publishing marketplace and in a recent blog post ( he listed books he called “punctuation marks” in his life. “Some books were a comma, some an exclamation point and some a period or full stop.” Books that have been influential in his life.

What a good idea, I thought, and besides I was struggling with an essay-in-progress. What a good distraction that would be. Limiting myself to my spirituality and theology books, all in the garret, I soon had a pile of over 50 books.

Could I limit myself to 21 books? And why did Steve Laube choose that number anyway, but I decided to discipline myself and see if I could choose the most important from the towering stacks. Here’s the list–in no particular order.

  • The Wisdom of the Enneagram, The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (1999)
  • In Wisdom’s Path. Discovering the Sacred in Every Season by Jan L. Richardson (2000)
  • Walking A Sacred Path, Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool by Dr. Lauren Artress (19950
  • The Universal Christ, How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe by Richard Rohr (2019)
  • The Circle of Life, The Heart’s Journey Through the Seasons by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr (2005)
  • Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012)
  • Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges (1980)
  • The Gospel According to Woman, Christianity’s Creation of the Sex War in the West by Karen Armstrong (1987)
  • The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit by Christina Baldwin (2002)
  • Composing a Life, Life as a Work in Progress–The Improvisations of Five Extraordinary Women by Mary Catherine Bateson (1989)
  • The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris (1996)
  • The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister (2008)
  • The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, A Woman’s Journey From Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine by Sue Monk Kidd (1996)
  • Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue (1997)
  • The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life by Thomas Moore (1996)
  • An Altar in the World, A Geography of Church by Barbara Brown Taylor (2009)
  • Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting by Holly W. Whitcomb (2005)
  • A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer (2004)
  • The Grace in Aging, Awaken As You Grow Older by Kathleen Dowling Singh (2014)
  • The Inner Work of Age, Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig (2021)
  • Holy Listening, The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther (1992)
  • Traveling Mercies, Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (1999)
  • Awakening the Energies of Love, Discovering Fire for the Second Time by Anne Hillman (2008)
  • Holiness and the Feminine Spirit, The Art of Janet McKenzie, edited by Susan Perry (2009)

Why did I choose these titles?

I don’t know. A top of the head, top of the heart reaction. Some of the titles are ones that radically changed my way of thinking. Some are titles that offered me deep insight into who I am and who I was created to be. Many are books I keep returning to. Sometimes re-reading them, but sometimes it is enough to simply hold one of these books and feel the wise energy rising from the pages.

In many cases I was choosing an author more than a specific title. It was not easy to choose only one Joyce Rupp or Joan Chittister, and how could I not add Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church to the list or Dakota by Katherine Norris or any of the other titles by John O’Donohue or Thomas Moore.

And you might notice authors who are not there; other authors important in my spiritual growth–Thomas Merton, Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong or more recent writers, such as Brian McLaren or J. Philip Newell or Diana Butler Bass. And what about the ancients–my beloved Julian of Norwich, for example?

Choosing just 21 books was a tough assignment, for sure. And you will notice I cheated, and there are 24 titles on my list. Would the list be the same in a week or if I had created it a few months ago, in the midst of winter? No doubt, but what would remain the same is the power of other people’s thinking and creativity and expertise to deepen my awareness of the movement of God in my life.

Laube decided to gather all the books from his list in one place as a “visual reminder of those moments when God reached out through the pages of creative people…and touched me.” I like that idea, but I decided to keep each one in its current spot on my shelves. Each shelf is like a neighborhood, and I like the idea of all of Karen Armstrong books keeping each other company and sharing space with their neighbors.

Oh, and one more thought. The day will come, I imagine, when I will need to drastically pare down the number of books in my library, thanks to a move to a smaller space, (A friend calls this process, giving oneself a haircut.) and this recent exercise shows me I will be able to do that.

An Invitation

What 21 books are on your “most important” list? I would love to know.


  • I made a list of the other 25 or so books that didn’t make the “A” list. Maybe I’ll share that someday, too. That list includes devotionals and writing books.
  • Next Thursday, August 4, I will post my end of the month book summary.

Lessons We Teach Our Children –And We Need to Remember

July 26, 2022

I often walk pass a daycare center on my morning walk, and one morning I saw a little girl race down the ramp into the building. I heard her father say, “Face forward.” I suspect he was reminding her to pay attention to what she was doing, where she was going, so she wouldn’t trip and fall. And then there would be tears and maybe a scraped knee.

Hearing this simple instruction, I thought about other directions we give our young children.

I remember saying, “Hands behind your back,” when we were in a store, and there were temptations to touch appealing objects. I also remember often saying “Inside voice, please,” hoping for less noise, and when behavior disintegrated, saying, “Use your words.”

It occurs to me these basic instructions offer a wise standard for adults, too.

Face forward.

Hands behind your back.

Inside voice.

Use your words.

Each one implies a level of civil conversation and behavior, along with respect for one another. Instead of engaging in violence we will keep our hands behind our backs and lower the volume of our voices, in order to engage with one another. Instead of resorting to sticks and stones, we will use our voices to explore and ask questions and reflect with openness and curiosity. And we do so with hope, moving in a forward direction towards justice and peace.

Laura Kelly Fanucci in a recent post, “Yearn the Heart Forward” on her blog, “The Holy Labor,” says stretching ourselves forward means we are “willing to love, willing to be loved, knowing that both could hurt, but believing the risk is worth the cost.” There may, in fact, be some scraped knees along the way, but what is gained by standing still or moving backwards or wearing blinders?

One more instruction and it is one I know I said often to our children, especially when I was exasperated,

Listen to me.

Yes, we each want to be heard. We each want our opinions heard and honored, but what is even more important right here, right now, is to LISTEN. Listen to one another. Listen without thinking about the important point we want to make. Listen with the ears of the heart. Listen to learn, to understand. Listen as an act of love; an act of living God’s hope for all She created.

May each of these instructions become an invitation.

An Invitation

Which of these instructions is most challenging for you. I would love to know.

Book Report: Summer of Mysteries

July 14, 2022

Note: I’m taking a break next week. The next post will be Tuesday, July 26, 2022.

I’ve always loved reading mysteries, beginning with Nancy Drew, of course. Later, I worked my way through Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and more recently, I’ve indulged my Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear addictions. (The next Louise Penny, by the way, won’t be released until November.)

I’ve always balanced reading mysteries with reading nonfiction and literary fiction, but this month? Not so much.

At the beginning of the month I read one of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. My only regret was that I wasn’t on vacation at a lake resort where the only diversion was the occasional putt-putt of a motor boat or the haunting call of a loon. It is that kind of book –witty and subtle and oh, so upperclass English.

Then I got sucked into the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I recall reading at some point the first book in the series, The Crossing Places and enjoyed it, but I did not feel compelled to grab the next in the series–and there is a total of 14 of them with a new one planned for 2023. This month, however, that changed, and not only am I reading them, but so is my husband and our daughter.

I am currently reading #5, A Dying Fall, and will more than likely finish that today.

Ruth Galloway is an English forensic archaeologist who often helps the police, developing a close relationship with copper Harry Nelson. The unfolding of the plot is always interesting, but as is usually the case for me, the characters interest me more. I just discovered when I looked up the author website that she has also written other mystery series and stand-alone books as well. Oh no!!!

I know I don’t need to justify, nor should you, why I choose to read a particular book or series of books or genres, but I admit I am curious why I am so enamored of mysteries right now. I seem to need lighter reading, a quick read, or what is often called “summer reading,” or “beach reading.”

Yesterday I received the weekly online newsletter from one of my favorite bookstores, Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI, and the opening column referenced a bumper sticker, “It’s brutal out here.” How true that is. Often, the crimes committed in the mysteries I read are brutal, too, but in 300 or so pages, the mystery is solved and good people have worked to make that so. The known is made known. The uncertainty is resolved. And life goes on.

if only the real world was that simple.

So…to balance watching the January 6 hearings and listening to the news on NPR and reading the NYTImes and Washington Post, as well as informed and thoughtful online newsletters, I am reading mysteries, and Elly Griffiths is a good choice.

An Invitation

Has your reading changed in recent months? I would love to know.


Arcadia Books :

The Days’ Rhythms

July 12, 2022

NOTE: After my post on Thursday, July 14, I will take a brief break. I will return with new posts beginning Tuesday, July 26, 2022.

While on my morning walk, I spotted this dozing kitty. Clearly, its rhythm for the morning was rest. Perhaps later it would play with a ball of yarn, give itself a bath or scamper after a bug in the grass, but for right now, “Take it easy.”

You may recall that my Word for the Year is “rhythm;” a word that has proven to be so helpful as I move through my days. Many times a day I stop and read Sue Patton Thoele’s words, which I have taped to my laptop.

I ask myself, What is today’s rhythm? Or the rhythm needed for this exact moment? What is my rhythm and how does my rhythm meet the needs and demands and expectations for right now?

Sunday mornings, usually before going to church for the early service, I consult my calendar for the new week, noting appointments and events, and I make the week’s To Do list.

My lists include writing plans; social events to arrange; preparation for the writing group I lead and the one in which I am a participant; household tasks like paying bills, as well as a list of names–those I want to email or send a card or letter. Some weeks the list feels more manageable than others. Some weeks the list contains items moved from one week to another. “Leftovers,” I call them. Some weeks feel more spacious than others and others, full of possibilities.

This list outlines the external rhythm for the week, but not to be ignored is my internal rhythm. How will the two fit together? And how will the rhythm of “doing” match the rhythm of “being”?

As I enter Sunday morning worship, I hold this peek into the coming days in my heart. I pray I might be open to what I am asked to do, what I need to do, and that I might be a welcoming presence for those scheduled to meet with me in spiritual direction sessions. I pray I might be flexible when needed, but also that I not ignore the internal call of my own rhythms, whether it is to rest and restore in solitude or to seek companionship.

Being aware of the days’ rhythms means paying attention to my body. One morning last week I slept over an hour later than I normally do, and I was shocked when I looked at the clock. My first inclination was to chastise myself and to think about the time lost. Oh, what I could have done in that hour and how would I make up the time! Then, however, and I am pleased to say this, I relaxed into the rhythm of the rest of the day. I had worked hard the day before, doing some cleaning I had not done in quite some time, and my body needed the extra rest. My body knew it and took over.

is this attention to rhythm just a sneaky way to talk about changes as I age? Maybe, but sitting at my desk in the garret, I hear the soft ripple of water in my tabletop fountain and I see the collage of pieces done by friend and artist Steve Sorman, and I sense the rhythm of God in my life now, and the invitation to live that rhythm. Right now.


Here are two previous posts about rhythm. and

Steve Sorman:

An Invitation

What are you noticing about the rhythms of your days? I would love to know.

Book Report: Joan Chittister’s Books

I am a Joan Chittister fan. One of her groupies.

Joan Chittister, O.S.B., is a Benedictine nun, theologian, speaker, and prolific author. As a visionary voice in church and society, she has served in a variety of leadership roles, including co-chair of the UN sponsored Global Peace Initiative of Women.

Occasionally, actually more than occasionally, Chittister is the object of controversy and criticism–for her stances on contraception, abortion, women’s ordination as contradicting Roman Catholic teaching. Several years ago she was prohibited by the Catholic patriarchy from attending the first Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference, and –no surprise–she not only attended, but gave the opening address.

Even though I have never met her I consider her one of my spiritual directors. I have heard her speak many times, most often at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, where she is a frequent and popular speaker at the afternoon theology forums, and, of course, I have read many of her books.

We Are All One, Reflections on Unity, Community, and Commitment to Each Other (2018)

This small book is my current “before I make the bed” book.

One of the chapters, “Holy Accountability” begins with this quote:

It is not God’s fault that things are as they are at present, but our own.

Etty Hillesum

Not the Republicans’ fault. Not the former President’s fault (or the current one). Not the superintendent of schools or the mayor or police department or the neighbor who doesn’t mow his lawn or the parent who doesn’t discipline his child or…..

No, the fault is our own. My own.

As if that weren’t enough, Chittister asks,

Here’s a quiz: What do the Adam and Eve story and the presidential election of 2016 in the United States have in common? Give up? It’s easy: free will, accountability–and oh, yes, a snake in the tree.

p. 41

Does that grab you? Chittister goes on to remind us that Adam and Eve lost “paradise” because they ignored their responsibilities. Ouch.

One of her attributes as a writer and a speaker is her ability to target the heart of a matter in a few words and to challenge the reader/listener to examine beliefs and perspectives and then to respond.

The great human task is to make life better for everyone. To be satisfied with anything less marks us as less than fully developed human beings.

p. 45

The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully (2008)

I own sixteen Joan Chittister books; many I have read more than once. The Gift of Years has become sacred text for me, and I consult it frequently, trusting its wisdom and its ability to challenge my fears and enlarge my vision.

Again, in a few words, Chittister tackles big topics, such as regret, letting go, loneliness, transformation, forgiveness, faith. With each topic she opens me to both burden and the blessing. For example:

The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.

The blessing of regret is clear–it brings us, if we are willing to face it head on, to the point of being present to this new time of life in an entirely new way. It urges us on to continue becoming.

p. 5

Chittister does not have her head in the sand about the challenges of becoming older, of being old, (She wrote this at age 72 and is now 86 and still writing and speaking and influencing.) but, instead, she reminds us that even in this stage of life there is life to live. I am still becoming.

Other Chittister Books

I think it may be time to re-read The Time is Now, A Call to Uncommon Courage (2019) and Between the Dark and the Daylight, Embracing the Contradictions of Life (2015). I am also tempted to add The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life to my library.

As I said, Joan Chittister is one of my spiritual guides, and I need more time with her.


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An Invitation

Who are your spiritual guides? I would love to know.

One Thing Leads To Another

July 5, 2022

Sunday evening my husband asked me, “What are you planning to do tomorrow?”

My answer, “Clean the first floor bathroom.”

That’s not much of a plan for the 4th of July, but the bathroom did need its weekly cleaning.

We had spent a delightful afternoon in holiday mode. We packed a picnic and picked up a couple friends and headed to a nearby lake. We settled into a quiet afternoon of easy food and conversation and enjoyment of summer breezes and views of kayakers and paddle boarders. Part of the afternoon we were each absorbed in our books. Perfect.

Monday the 4th, wet and dreary, gave me no excuse to put off cleaning the small first floor bathroom. Besides a few days earlier we had gone to a favorite antique shop, and I found a sweet and inexpensive painting. However, it was a bit too large for where I envisioned placing it. How about the recessed shelf by the bathtub?

And that’s how one thing led to another.

Normally, cleaning that small bathroom takes about 20 minutes, but first I removed what had been displayed in that shelf and dusted and washed the space. After placing the painting at the back (perfect size!), I tried a few different vignettes before landing on the one where I said, “Done.”

But then I thought as long as I had cleaned that area throughly, I might as well move the little black cupboard and scrub the tile behind it and rearrange those open shelves. And then I decided to empty the medicine cabinet and clean those shelves. I don’t always scrub all tile walls, top to bottom, but why not do that, too?

And finally, wasn’t it time to take down the curtain camouflaging the closet I use as a vanity, wash that, as well as conduct an inventory of everything stored there.

Too bad I didn’t have fresh shelf paper. Oh well!

What started as routine, doing the usual suspects of cleaning tasks, became an even fresher, cleaner and more pleasing space.

One thing led to another.

How often that happens. One idea leads to another. One project becomes something else, often something more.

One of the tricks is knowing when to stop. I could have taken down all the pictures and the gallery of mirrors hanging in there, but I chose not to do that. Enough is enough, I told myself. Doing that didn’t feel necessary, but I filed that task in the back of my head. Maybe I’ll do that on Labor Day!

Hometanding and Discernment

Taking care of our home, adding to the comfort and beauty of our home, is one way I pay attention to inner nudges. Sometimes cleaning and rearranging and sorting and tossing and simplifying actual rooms and drawers and closets is a prelude to metaphorical clearing the space, creating spaciousness in my head and my heart. And sometimes those tasks set the scene and prepare me for whatever it is I am to do next.

The past few months I have been in a period of discernment. At first I focused on whether or not to continue working on the spiritual memoir I have been writing for a LONG time, but eventually, I realized my discernment was about more than one project. Instead, I wondered how I am called to use my energy and my gifts at this stage of my life.

To examine that question I have needed to create some spaciousness in my days.

Today I feel closer, if not to an answer, at least more of a direction.

Cleaning the bathroom, doing more than the usual routine, but instead allowing one thing to lead to another, opens me to possibilities and to internal instructions.

After I finished cleaning, I fixed my lunch and read for an hour–an old Peter Whimsey mystery, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers, I sat at my desk in the garret and jotted down some fleeting thoughts. One thing seemed to lead to another.

Stay tuned.

An Invitation

When has one thing led to another for you? I would love to know.