A Week in Review

May 23, 2023

Have you noticed how some weeks just glow? The days flow with a kind of ease. Perhaps there are more than your usual share of special moments or perhaps the ordinary becomes extraordinary. This past week was one of those weeks, beginning with Mother’s Day and rich family time and ending on Saturday with a top-down drive in my husband’s Miata to a favorite nursery and an outdoor lunch in small town on the St Croix River.

In between I enjoyed productive writing time–writing my posts for the week, as well as working on an essay to submit to a publication. Oh how good it was to write in “Paris.”

I met with my spiritual director and we explored the ways I am lightening my life as I age, including a shorter haircut –silly or trivial as that may sound. I met with spiritual direction clients and the writing group I facilitate. The moments of silence, of sitting with one another open my heart and clear the space for what most needs tending. Such a privilege those times are.

The grandkids delivered homemade cookies one evening (delicious) and another evening we had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Sea Salt overlooking Minnehaha Falls. I walked every morning and read on the patio. Finished a book and started another.

We attended a gala for Theater Latte Da, a local theater that specializes in musicals, often new and never before produced, and enjoyed time with friends but also the wonderful musical entertainment. Once I figured out what I was going to wear, all was well!

One morning I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) to see an exhibit called “Eternal Offerings, Chinese Ritual Bronzes.” Yes, the objects created to honor ancestors or to communicate with the spiritual world were beautiful, but the atmosphere created —sound, murals on the walls, lighting— all added to the appreciation of the objects. I took my time moving through the rooms–allowed myself to relax into the beauty and the history, as well as the spiritual life of a culture not my own. I had not been to MIA for a long time and made a mental note to return soon.

The Foundation of Each Day

I began each day reading a meditation from You are the Beloved, Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri J. M. Nouwen, compiled and edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw. Perhaps this past week shimmered for me because each of those readings so resonated with me, beginning on Sunday, May 14 when Nouwen writes about prayer as a “careful attentiveness to the Presence of Love personified inviting us to an encounter.”

I felt as if I encountered God each day, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, and whomever I was with.

Contemplative prayer can be described as an imagining of God’s Son, Jesus, letting him enter fully into our consciousness so that he becomes the icon always present in the inner room of our heart.

May 15

…many words from the Scriptures can reshape the inner self. When I take the words that strike me during a service into the day and slowly repeat them while reading or working, more or less chewing on them, they create new life.

May 16

But when we believe that we are created in the image of God himself and come to realize that Christ came to let us reimagine this, then meditation and prayer can lead us to our true identity.

May 17

Listen to your heart…Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus who dwells in the very depths of your heart.

May 18

Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own hearts.

May 19

Just because prayer is the most precious expression of being human, it needs the constant support and protection of the community to grow and flower.

May 20

Here it is day three of the current week, and my days continue to flow, to glow, to shimmer, to open me to the movement and presence of God. Ah, how grateful I am.

An Invitation

What do you notice as you review your days? I would love to know.

Notes about Spiritual Practices

May 16, 2023

Every morning our neighbors across the street walk the block and a half to the Catholic Church for mass.

Every morning.

Attending the service is certainly a spiritual practice that no doubt strengthens their faith, but the walk itself is a spiritual practice: a time to prepare for the ritual of worship and prayer; a time to open to the movement and presence of God, a reinforcement of the gifts of contemplation; and perhaps, incentive to be partners in God’s reconciling love for the world.

That’s a lot happening in a short round-trip walk, but when you make room for a spiritual practice in your daily life and commit to a regular practice, God will notice and you will notice God.

Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
As little as you can do to make the sunrise in the morning.
Then what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.
                              Anthony de Mello

I’ve written often in this blog and elsewhere about spiritual practices and the role they play in aiding the discovery of and living as the person God created me to be. That process is an ongoing pilgrimage, and I need spiritual practices to fortify and sustain me in my intentions:

  • To feel God’s presence and support,
  • To feel connected to the whole,
  • To integrate the model of Jesus into my life,
  • To give my life meaning, even as I age,
  • To move from fear to love.

I have core spiritual practices; practices that have been part of my life for a long time, including writing in my journal and starting the day with meditation and prayer time, but at various times in my life, and often with a change of the season, I add in other practices to spark and surprise me as I move through my days. Two examples:

  • Take one photograph on my daily walk. Just one. Right now as spring is bursting how tempting it is to click, click, click on my walk, but confining myself to one photograph only seems to open my eyes even more. When I see something of beauty, of interest I stop and ask myself, “What do you notice? How is this a sign of God? What does this sight awaken in you? What of this moment will you carry with you?” Even when I decide not to take photograph at that moment, the pause, the taking a breath, the observing is a gift that becomes part of who I am and how God is present in my life. And somehow I seem to know when it is time for the one photograph of the day. No doubts. No hesitation. It is time. Do I ever regret not taking a picture of something I’ve seen. Not so far, but that could happen. Instead, that makes me aware of the abundance of wonders all around me, and understanding I can never capture them all. Why not let my one picture of the day symbolize the whole, the all.
  • Adopt a mantra and whisper it throughout the day. Lately, thanks to a meditation in You Are the Beloved, Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri Nouwen, I recite the words, “I am the glory of God.” I repeat the sentence as I walk up the stairs to the garret or make the bed in the morning or open the refrigerator when it is time to fix dinner. I change the mantra to “You are the glory of God,” as I see my husband working his magic in the garden or I insert the name of a spiritual direction client as I sit in silence before the beginning of a session. Here’s what Nowen writes,

Make that thought the center of your meditation so that it slowly becomes not only a thought but a living reality. You are the place where God chose to dwell, you are the topos tou theou (God’s place) and the spiritual life is nothing more or less than to allow that space to exist where God can dwell, to create the space where his glory can manifest itself. In your meditation you can ask yourself, “Where is the Glory of God? If the glory of God is not there where I am, where else can it be?”

May 10, p. 144
  • Planning the week. On Sunday I turn the page of the notebook I keep on the top of my desk and I write down the schedule for the week. The events, the appointments. Yes, those are on my laptop and phone calendars, but writing them on this clean page is an act of mindfulness, of blessing. I also create my To Do lists for three categories–Writing Tasks, Church Tasks, and Other Tasks. Again, doing this on the Sabbath is an act of mindfulness and blessing. I’ve been blessed with a fresh start, another week to live with intention, but even more than that, with gratitude for this life I am privileged to live.

During the Sunday service one of our members played a gorgeous piano solo. He is a busy physician, husband and father, and I imagine that playing the piano is relaxing for him, but as I listened to him, I had no doubt this was a form of spiritual practice for him, also. All of us listening received the fruits of that spiritual practice.

Practices are a way of embodying the spiritual journey rather than merely thinking about it. Practices help us to bring the reality of what we seek into the physicality and earthiness of our lives.

Christine Valters Paintner

An Invitation

What are your spiritual practices? What is currently part of your life that is actually a spiritual practice without your realizing it? I would love to know.

Clearing and Creating New Space

May 9, 2023

Recently, my husband “suggested” that it is time to simplify the kitchen cupboards. After all, we have twelve white plates, but we use the same two over and over.

And bowls–how many bowls are really necessary? Cereal bowls, mixing bowls, pasta bowls, serving bowls. I admit I do have a thing about bowls. One of my favorite bowls is the light blue bowl on the top shelf, and I only use it when I make cherry walnut bread at Christmas time. I suppose I could use it at other times, too, but somehow, that doesn’t seem right. And then there are the 24 small vintage bowls or as my grandmother called them, sauce dishes. I bought them several years ago when we hosted an informal soup supper for Bruce’s colleagues. How likely is it that we will ever again need 24 bowls at the same time?

Over the years we have hosted many dinner parties and parties. I have spent days planning menus and cooking and cleaning and have loved the whole process, but it now seems unlikely that we will host large groups again or even have more than six people for dinner.

Our entertaining style has changed. What we most enjoy now is inviting two people over (We have four comfortable chairs in our living room.) for “4 o’clocks”–a drink and appetizers. Cheese, sausage, crackers. A dip, maybe some fruit. Something hot. Nibbles. Often a recipe I have wanted to try. Most important is the relaxed, but intimate atmosphere for fun and meaningful conversation. Oh, and much easier clean-up. Now with warmer weather we will enjoy our “4 ‘clocks” on the patio.

I realize the issue here is not my deep attachment to a material thing, but instead I sometimes struggle accepting who I am now–my age, my energy. At the same time I have become more and more clear about how I want to spend my time and use my gifts. Still, however, I cling to the earlier images of myself. Those stacks of dishes and a bowl for every purpose under heaven represent the ways I lived in earlier years when I had much more energy. The more the merrier when it came to entertaining.

I still have a good amount of energy and lots of interests and am blessed with many people with whom I enjoy spending time, but how much of a good thing I can hold in a day is more limited. Susan Moon in Alive Until You Are Dead, Notes on the Home Stretch, reflects on what she can do with “joyful effort” in her late 70’s. I love that.

An Ongoing Process

Our daughter and son-in-love have hosted the previous two Thanksgiving dinners, but this coming year they may be visiting our granddaughter, who will spend a semester in Greece. How grand is that! Our son and daughter-in-love usually come for the Christmas holidays, and we love all of us being together. But what does that mean for Thanksgiving? Well, my husband, open and generous person that he is, suggested we should host a friendsgiving for all those in our life who are alone. Only a few years ago I would have rejoiced with the idea, but this time I didn’t respond–at least not aloud. I admit I thought about all the work, all the energy that would take (and the bowls!). I know this is a decision that doesn’t need to be made now, and there are lots of ways to make an event like that happen, but it is another one of those opportunities to pay attention to who I am now.

If you have read my essay in Next Avenue (https://www.nextavenue.org/your-children-may-want-your-stuff/) you know how decluttering and managing the stuff of life is an ongoing process. I suspect that leaving some room on the kitchen shelves will open some space in my heart and mind to more fully live as I age.

Words of Wisdom

When I look around the crowded room and wonder why I am keeping the large desk when a smaller one would do just as well, something inside of me is beginning to change. When three sets of dishes are two sets too many, I have begun to need more than just things. When the house is too crowded and the car is too big and the perfect lawn too much of a bother, I have begun a whole new adventure in life…It is the shaping of the soul that occupies us now. Now, consciously or, more likely, not, we set out to find out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what we care about, and how to be simply enough for ourselves in the world.

The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister, p.91

My Intentions

  • I will pay attention to what I actually use–how and when I use what fills my cupboards. Just looking at the above picture, I see two bowls that can go.
  • I will add some of my kitchen treasures to the annual garage sale my husband has in June to sell the discarded furniture he has rescued, painted, and given new life. The proceeds from his sale go to a program for homeless youth.
  • I will simplify the stack of 24 sauce dishes –keep 6 of them. Or maybe 8.

An Invitation

What outer and inner shelves in your life need to be cleared? I would love to know.

Spiritual Practices for My Elder Years

May 2, 2023

When I turned 70, I made a collage to honor that milestone birthday, but also to envision how I hoped to live as I aged.

I quickly sifted through the stash of pictures I kept in a pretty flowered box; pictures torn out of magazines, outdated calendars, and greeting cards too appealing to toss. I sorted them into two piles–the “maybe” pile and the “nope, not today” pile. No judgment. Just a quick “yes” or “no.” Cutting and pasting, I arranged selected images on the paper.

Only later did I sit back and ask, “What are the messages for me in this collage? How can this collage be sacred text for me?”

An image of the labyrinth anchored the center of one side. A candle with wispy smoke and a feather suggested the tentativeness of life. Chairs gathered around a fire and an aged hand that held the model of a house with a red door, just like our house, reminded me of my love of home tending. A big basket seemed to contain memories, as did the leaves gathered into a harvest handful. Of course, there were books stacked along the bottom of the paper. My terra firm.

Almost every collage I have made over the years has included at least one open gate, door, window, or path. This one includes two gates, an open door, and a window, plus a green path, all beckoning me onward, forward, it seemed. I remember, however, feeling some inner hesitation. What was across the threshold? What awaited me down that snow-lined path?

A prickly plant in the corner of the page and a pile of rocks taunted, “Beware. Obstacles ahead.”

Youthful innocence and naïveté were no longer my companions.

An older woman, smiling, pleasant looking, gazed at the labyrinth. I heard her whispering the words I included on the collage:

Choose simplicity.
Keep growing.
Learn something new.
Make room for what matters.
Breathe deeply.

She is my observer, my witness, my companion. My guide.

Being 75

Now I am 75, and I must admit, that age feels a bit daunting,

Since creating my 70th birthday collage, I have experienced losses–the death of my father and a dear friend, for example. I have sent so many sympathy cards and frequently re-order copies of Healing After Loss by Martha W. Hickman to give when someone in my life loses a loved one. And then there were the COVID years. Enough said! My health remains good, however, as does my husband’s, and we both continue to pursue our interests and to serve in ways that matter to us. True, I may not pack as much into a day as I once did, but my days remain full and rich.

I am grateful for these past five years.

I know I need to tend my days wisely, not only not to waste them, but to unfold into the gifts of this time. I’m not done yet, for I am both living and aging, but I respond now more with patience and curiosity, then with urgency and a desire for productivity.

I embrace a posture of contemplation.

A New Spiritual Practice

Recently, while browsing through my library of books about aging, I re-read a section titled “Pebbles of Life” in Aging as a Spiritual Practice, A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser by Lewis Richmond. He shares a story about visiting the home of a fellow Zen priest who had a bowl full of pebbles next to a Buddha statue. Richmond’s friend said each pebble represented a week in the rest of his life, based on statistics about average life expectancy. Every Monday morning after his meditation he removes one of the pebbles. One week gone; who knows how many left to go.

“A mindfulness practice.”

The average life expectancy for a woman in the United States is 80. I am 75 so if I live five more years that equals 260 more weeks.

I counted out 260 little glass discs and placed them in a green glass jar. I was a bit dismayed at first that they didn’t fill the jar, and I wished I had started this practice when I was 70 or even younger. I no longer overflow with weeks ahead of me, I thought.

“A mindfulness practice.”

Of course, I have no idea how much longer I will live, but my mother died at 79, several pebbles shy of her 80th birthday. However, my father died just three years ago at age 96. He would have needed more pebbles in his jar.

I realize some of you readers may find this practice depressing or it might make you anxious, but my hope is that when I remove one of the glass discs every Monday morning that I will reflect on a week lived in gratitude and joy. I hope each glass disc will remind me to live in the present moment; to live with purpose and to open to ways I can become more of the person I was created to be.

I hope the words from my 70th birthday collage will continue to direct and honor my days.

Choose simplicity.
Keep growing.
Learn something new.
Make room for what matters.
Breathe deeply.

These elder years are found time. Sacred time.

An Invitation

What are your guiding words and spiritual practices during these elder years? I would love to know.

Book Report: Reading Dilemmas

April 27, 2023

Recently, I received an email from the Willa Cather Foundation about a virtual study course for four of Cather’s books, My Antonia, A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and Death Comes to the Archbishop. Benjamin Taylor, whose biography of Cather will be published in November, 2023, will host the series. I love each of those books, and I am tempted to sign-up for the series and, of course, reread the books.

Here’s the dilemma: each book I re-read means I don’t read something on my TBR list. Each time I sink into a much loved book, I am not reading a new release that sounds really good. And in the meantime the attraction to books, new and old, and the ongoing growth of my TBR list continues.

This week I got an email from the New York Times with the headline, “12 Books You Should Be Reading Right Now.” RIGHT NOW! EEEK! I probably should not have read further, but I did and was pleased to see I have read one of the titles, Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano, and I am even more pleased to report I did not add any other titles to my TBR list. But how long will that restraint continue? Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy and the podcast “What Should I Read Next” will soon release her acclaimed Summer Reading Guide, and a plethora of other summer reading lists are just on the horizon.

If I ignore them, I may miss a book that would be a truly good match for me. Plus, I confess I like to be in the know about new books, an interest nurtured by working in an independent bookstore decades ago. I read a variety of book review sources, and bookstores are truly my happy place.

Perhaps I should think of this passion as a hobby, like knitting or bird-watching.

My TBR Lists

I keep elaborate book lists in my book journal. At the beginning of 2023, I transferred 57 unread titles from 2022. I have been working on that list steadily since then and am happy to report I have only 16 left on the list. I hasten to add I have not read, beginning to end, the remaining 41. I have at least started each of them, but only decided to complete a handful of them. If a book doesn’t appeal when I start reading it, I quickly discard it, usually returning it to the library or if I own it, adding it to the Little Free Library pile.

Of course, I have a 2023 TBR list, but I am trying to be more selective about what I add to that list. As of today, I have 59 titles on that list and have read or discarded 21 of those titles. Then there is my lists of acquired books and mystery series and the British Library Women Writer Series and books I want to re-read.

So far this year, by the way, I have read 45 books.

Current Thoughts About My Reading

I just finished reading Enchantment, Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May, who wrote Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. In this new book, which I am so glad I read, she decides it is time to

reset my terrifying “to be read” pile to zero and allow myself the possibility of choosing new books for this age I’ve landed in.

p. 150

Is that what I need to do? Close my book journal, except, course, to record what I’ve read. Forget the TBR list entirely–not an easy prospect for someone who loves to make lists almost as much as she loves to read. Perhaps I need to just read what is on my shelves already—the great majority are books I have already read and can imagine re-reading.

Obviously, as problems go, this is not major, but as a devoted and voracious reader what to read next is an issue, as is how to approach reading time. At age 75 there is more sand in the bottom of the hour glass than in the top.

I am aware that I am more and more attracted to re-reading old favorites, and at the same time reading older books I missed along the way or reading the backlist of an author when I read a current title.

What I suspect is that I will continue to muddle along –reading as much as I can, picking and choosing based on unscientific criteria, breaking my own rules, and quite simply loving the journey.

An Invitation

As you age, are you noticing anything different about your reading routine or rules, reading desires or interests? I would love to know.


Willa Cather Foundation https://www.willacather.org

Anne Bogel blog and podcast https://modernmrsdarcy.com https://modernmrsdarcy.com/what-should-i-read-next/

Home Away From Home: Door County, WI

April 18, 2023

We spent this past weekend in Door County, WI, a place that over the years has become a home away from home, even though we rarely stay at the same place. At breakfast one morning at our favorite place, The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, we tried to remember all the times Door County has been our vacation, get-away destination. We listed at least 20 times, and I’m sure we missed a few.

For those of you who don’t know, Door County is a peninsula with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Many have referred to it as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. That’s fine, but I don’t think it needs to be compared to anything–it is its own kind of time-out haven.

My husband planned the trip this time to celebrate my 75th birthday, which seems like a logical time in itself to reminisce and honor the past without neglecting the present or denying the realities of the future. We roamed favorite routes, as we always do, staying alert for sandhill cranes and turkeys, glimpses of spectacular water views, and the pink haze on the cherry trees, moving steadily towards blossom time. We noted what stores and restaurants were still alive and hopefully well, and kept saying, “Remember when…”

A kind of life review of our adult years.

Neither of us could remember how we learned about Door County or when we had first visited, but we obviously fell in love with it and kept returning–sometimes just the two of us, but also family times when our children were little. And later when our children were grown. The summer of 2010, when we lived in Madison, we rented a house for a month. Bruce came for the weekends, and our daughter and family came for a few days, too.

I spent my alone time reading and writing. (No surprise!)

When I was growing up and my family moved frequently, we always went to the same resort in northern Minnesota for a week or two before moving to our new home. That time served as transition time, easing us from one place to another. Whether my parents realized they were doing that or not, that week offered a touchstone, making what was changing and what was ahead and what was left behind not quite so daunting.

Door County has become a similar touchstone–a place where I mark the changes in our lives, not just as memories, precious though they are, but as a timeline of growth and development. I recall many leisurely dinners, lingering over what we came to think of as “daiquiri talk,” dreaming and imagining what our future might hold, could hold. In fact, Door County was where we realized that we wanted to retire back to St Paul and put a plan to do just that into motion.

This past weekend was quiet, for the spring/summer season has not yet begun, and I realized how much less I need “to do,” “to see,” “to visit,” in this stage of my life. How content we were to spend more time reading in our pretty room or on the balcony.

Note the cherry wallpaper! Cherries are a definite theme in Door County.

We have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries in Door County and have been there each season. We have each had alone time there plus been there with friends and family. I don’t need everything to be the same with each visit there, although I would be crushed if the White Gull Inn closed, but instead enjoy seeing the mix of old and new. We’ve been young there, and now we are old there. I feel the span of time there, and it is a good feeling.

Perhaps if we were still living in the home where we raised our family, a home where we lived for decades, I might prefer to vacation always in new places, to cultivate new places, new experiences, but instead, Door County has become the place of returning. The place where time is measured. It is the place where each time we leave, I think about when we might return to our home away from home.

One More Thing:

As we often do, when we are out roaming, we visit a library. I think if I were living in Door County, I would spend a good chunk of time in Egg Harbor’s library–with its water view and comfortable places to sit and read.

Not only were there books, but a charming seed library too.

An Invitation

Do you have a home away from home? A place that is an emotional tug? I would love to know.

Spring Break

April 11, 2023

I am taking a brief break, but will begin posting again on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

An Invitation

Do you need a break? What would that mean for you? I would love to know.

Finding Purpose as We Age

April 4, 2023

“I have time now to try new things, but also the need to use this time well.”

” I feel called to do something, to create community.”

“How important it is to be intentional.”

“This time keeps evolving and one thing seems to lead to another.”

“How can I best use my energy?”

“I sometimes say to myself, ‘I get to do this,’ and that brings me joy.”

Last week I facilitated a Third Chapter conversation called “What Now? An Informal Conversation about Purpose and Meaning in the Elder Years.” Third Chapter activities and opportunities are designed for those 55+ and focus on ways to grow spiritually and to explore both the gifts and the challenges of these years. In recent months many have gathered to share insights and thoughts, as well as questions and concerns about a variety of topics, including downsizing and decluttering, choosing the next place to live, making plans about funerals and memorials, and nurturing intergenerational relationships. In preparation for this conversation, I realized I needed to create a purpose statement for myself; some guiding words as a way to sort and focus how I choose to use my energy and time and gifts. First, I browsed a number of books in my personal library about aging to see what resonated with me:

  • Pay attention to your inner compass.
  • What is asking for more attention?
  • This is a time to come home to the self, the person I was created to be.
  • Know yourself. Know your boundaries. Know your gifts. And then be generous.
  • Aging is the gift of continuing on.
  • Cultivate your power to inspire. Be a muse and a guiding spirit.

My next step was to think about what I love to do, what I am currently doing, and what I feel I do well. And I thought about how those things relate to my spirituality, my relationship to the Divine, and to my ongoing quest to understand who I am created to be. And then I thought about what is possible, given my age, my energy, my relationships and my community.

David Steindl-Rast’s words, “When you can’t go far, go deep,” have become a guiding mantra for me in recent years. In my case, what I choose is to go deep. And, to help others go deep as well. Ah, I could feel myself growing closer to defining my purpose, or if you prefer, “call,” or even “vocation,” although that word sounds more applicable to an earlier time of life.

No surprise, I then sat with my journal and tried on some words and phrases to see how they fit. I realized, as the words came together quickly and easily, that thoughts about this stage of my life have been percolating and evolving and emerging.

My purpose is to deepen awareness of the movement and presence of God in my own life and the lives of others.

I took a deep breath after writing those words, letting them flow through me, inviting them to float around me. Do they sound pompous? Pious? “Holier-that-Thou?” I thought about questions I ask my spiritual direction clients frequently. How are you noticing the movement of God in your life now? When have you experienced the presence of God? I ask myself these questions, too, all the time, whispering to myself, “May I feel the presence and be the presence.”

Yes, this is my purpose statement, I told myself, but how is it I intend to live this statement right now, right here.

  • By writing.
  • By facilitating groups.
  • By listening and asking questions.
  • By living a contemplative life.

Over time these specific ways to live my purpose may change, may evolve, and I imagine if I live many more years, my focus will be on the gifts of a contemplative life, but my overriding purpose statement feels as if it can live within me for the rest of my days.

I wrote my purpose statement and intentions on a small card that sits in front of me on my desk, and I practice saying it aloud, sharing it with others. My hope is to fully integrate the words into both actions and contemplation.

How grateful I am for the wisdom and insights shared during our Third Chapter conversations, and for the opportunity those times offer to learn from and to support one another during this time of our lives, for as Joan Chittister says, “The gift of these years is not merely being alive–it is the gift of becoming more fully alive than ever.”

An Invitation

What is the purpose and meaning of your life at this stage of life? Have you written a purpose statement? I would love to know.


An essay I wrote, “Actually, Your Children May Want (Some of) Your Stuff” recently appeared in Next Avenue, a digital publication produced by Twin Cities PBS(TPT), which is dedicated to covering issues that matter most as we age. Here’s the link: https://www.nextavenue.org/your-children-may-want-your-stuff/ I hope you will read and share with others.

The In-Between Time: Moving Towards Spring

March 28, 2023

Just because it is officially spring doesn’t mean it is actually spring. Not with snow still much in evidence, but still the air feels different, lighter, fresher, brighter. There is no sign of green yet, but I bought the first bunches of daffodils. And I rearranged furniture.

This is transition time, and I often feel a bit itchy, restless in the in-between times. Often I channel that need for some kind of change by changing what I see, by doing more than the usual weekly hometending.

The snug transformed from this arrangement. (The pictures were taken in the fall — the pumpkins have long been packed away!)

To this:

One thing leads to another. Because I moved the desk into the snug from where it had been located next to the front door since we moved into this house, that meant changing the entry area, too. I moved the center table (top picture) to the desk wall and that left all sorts of space for this:

Voila! Another reading area and a place for one of the tables from the snug! The chair had been in the bedroom, by the way, which was changed from a heavier to a lighter look, too.

Of course, along the way, I washed floors and rearranged tabletops, shopping the house. Now instead of feeling winter cozy, the house has more breathing space and seems fresher, lighter, brighter, just like these days.

Winter Reflections

As I’ve written before in this blog, hometending is one of my spiritual practices and is a form of creativity for me. Doing this kind of re-envisoning space and our surroundings, however, is not just about changing what is visible, but for me it is also a bridge, a way to transition. As I shuffled piles of books and tweaked pillows and pictures, I thought about what changes I have noticed or deliberately made in the previous season. And what that might mean for the season just ahead. These domestic surges give me a chance to evaluate, to consider directions in my own life.

This particular winter season has been a challenging one, weather-wise, but I have noticed in myself more ability and willingness to adjust, to let go and to be with whatever is happening outside. How grateful I have been for our cozy, pleasant home, for the safety and comfort, which I realize my privilege allows me. At the same time I feel more ready for spring than I do most years. I am eager to walk without fear of slipping on the ice.

This winter has been a time to adjust to the death of a dear friend. More and more I am aware of how this time of my life, as I approach my 75th birthday, includes losses. An ongoing challenge is to accept the loss and at the same time open to the gifts of each day.

This winter has been a time when I have been more aware of how I choose to use my time. I cleared space in my week to create Writing Wednesdays, and that has become precious to me. I am working on an essay about walking the labyrinth and have submitted a couple shorter essays to online publications. In the coming months I hope at least part of Writing Wednesdays will be spent writing in our “Paris” garden.

This winter has been blessed with activities I love; for example, facilitating the church writing group as well as monthly Third Chapter Conversations, meeting with my spiritual directees, and writing my twice a week posts on this blog. As I move into spring, I know I want to continue in these endeavors, but I pray I will know when it is time to let go of any of them and that I do that with grace.

This winter has included some strife in our congregation, but what I see is that the community is stronger than one person and that we will continue to grow in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

This winter has included good health for Bruce and myself. A couple colds, true, but no trips to the doctor. No broken bones or concerns about mental or physical well-being. How grateful I am.

This winter has included my usual morning meditation routine, beginning with a short devotion in Henri Nourwen’s You Are the Beloved. My word of the year “beloved” resonates throughout the day.


Sunday my husband and I drove along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, one of our favorite routes. How good to see so much open water and bare ground. Along with seeing eight eagles and two hawks, we think we saw a flock of tundra swans. Although there was not yet any sign of greening, the earth seemed ready for change, for movement. Should we call these days “Sprinter” or perhaps “Wing”? These are the in-between days when we can begin to envision what is to come, but at the same time recognize what we bring with us into the new season.

An Invitation

How are you living these in-between days? I would love to know.

It’s Your Body and Your Funeral

January 30, 2023

Looking for something to do on a cold January day?

How about planning your funeral/memorial service?

Does that sound like fun? Well, maybe not, but let’s face it, we are each going to die, and we will each leave loved ones who will be faced with many decisions during an emotional time. Wouldn’t it be a helpful, even a gift, if we provided some guidance ahead of time?

Recently, the pastors at my church offered a session about funerals/memorial services–their purpose and how they fit into our faith tradition. So informative and uplifting. Then the following week, as part of our church’s programming for those of us in the Third Chapter of life (ages 55+), I hosted an informal conversation about funeral planning. This was an opportunity to explore and open to ideas about this key event in our lives. I invited the group to not only listen to others, but also to pay attention to what they were feeling, for this topic forces us to face our own mortality.

The conversation was lively and inspiring and helpful, and like an earlier Third Chapter conversation about downsizing, planning my memorial service is a process. I may be sure of some things, like the fact that I want my service to be at my church, but other aspects, like which pieces of scripture I want read may still be in flux.

After some time of silence and an opening meditation, I invited everyone to share a hymn they would like sung at their service. I shared my two choices: “Beautiful Savior” because my parents loved that hymn (I can still hear my father singing the tenor line.) and also because it is almost the “national anthem” of the college I attended, St Olaf College. It touches a very deep place inside me. The other hymn is “Mourning Has Broken” made famous by Cat Stevens. You don’t suppose he would come sing it at my service, do you?”

Morning has broken like the first morning;
blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! 
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven,
like the first dew-fall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness where God's feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning,
born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God's recreation of the new day!

So many wonderful possibilities were offered by others in the group, however. Hymns I have loved and love to sing. Choices!

What was more important than picking out hymns to sing during the service, however, was sharing thoughts about other key questions:

  • What is the purpose of planning your funeral now?
  • How does it feel to do this?
  • What are you learning about what you hold to be true, about your faith, your fears, your hopes as you undertake this process?
  • What experiences have you had planning a funeral or attending funerals and how does that inform the kind of service you would like to have?
  • What’s important to you? What “not so much”?
  • Have you had conversations with your loved ones about your desires? How has that gone?
  • What’s the balance between your desires and the needs of your loved ones?
  • How is the service a gift for those who attend?

I’m sorry you weren’t there to hear all that was shared, but you can have this same conversation with your peers, your family, your faith community, and I encourage you to do so.

Funeral Planning as a Spiritual Practice

I encouraged those who attended to approach this process not just as something to cross off your list (“Good, Now I’ve planned my funeral.), but instead to think of this as a spiritual practice. In what ways do you experience the movement of God in the planning and considering, and also in what ways do you express the movement of God in your life through the service you plan?

My husband and I have done some planning. For example, we have decided on green cremation and have paid the funeral home in advance. Even though I have thought about other aspects of the service, such as meaningful scripture and that I want time in the service for silence using the Psalm line, “Be still and know that I am God,” I have not yet written it all down and then handed the completed form over to the church office where it will be kept until it is time to use it.

I have decided doing that will be my Lenten spiritual practice. Stay tuned.

One More Thought

I used to think I didn’t care about my funeral. When the subject came up, I generally laughed and reminded people, “I won’t be there. The rest of you can organize whatever helps you –sitting in a mournful circle or telling edited stories about me or partying, if you like.” But I am realizing that the occasion will bring together people who might not otherwise come into conversation and that it may be a ministry to them in their grieving. My service can be a message of love and God willing, an occasion of grace.

A Faithful Farewell, Living Your Last Chapter With Love by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre

An Invitation

What are your thoughts about planning your funeral/memorial service? I would love to know.