Gifts, Blessings, Treasures, Offerings

March 21, 2023

Some weeks seem to sparkle with unexpected gifts, blessings, treasures, and offerings, and last week, much to my surprise, was one of those times.

In spite of getting more snow and more cold temperatures, and an actual cold, requiring lots of kleenex, cold meds, and naps, my quiet life was full of treats, including delicious scones baked and delivered by friends after we needed to cancel our wine date with them. Isn’t the old axiom “Starve a fever, but feed a cold’? Or is it the other way around. Never mind, the scones were sooo good, and the gesture deeply appreciated. (The inside of the card that came with the scones said “Scones conquer Colds.”)

Other gifts may not have been edible, but were no less pleasing. And each one arrived in my email inbox.

  • The copy of an article about a day walking several different labyrinths, “Prelude” by Nancy Nordenson.

“Don’t expect an epiphany,” the instruction sheet warned us. I know, I know: don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed, but I’m wired for expectation like a kid who knows she’s just going on a quick errand with her dad, there and back, yet nevertheless hopes he’ll pull the car into Dairy Queen on the way.

  • The link to music for Lent sung and played by Steve Bell.
  • Notice about a new show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), Eternal Offerings Chinese Ritual Bronzes. This exhibit is described as an “immersive experience designed to evoke the mystery of heavenly and ancestral worship.” Sounds like a field trip to me.
  • A number of notes from dear women in my life, including one who is awaiting chemotherapy and another who has decided not to continue treatment. Each note, a kind of prayer.
  • Another friend wrote about studying the Hebrew book of Micah, which if you didn’t know is between the book of Jonah and Nahum. Does that help? Anyway, she mentioned Micah 6:8″ …and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” I am planning the next session of Third Chapter Conversations at my church, and the topic is purpose and meaning. This verse is a perfect way to begin the conversation.
  • One of the participants in the church writing group sent me her essay, a work-in-progress, about the power of invitation. As I read her examples of intentional invitations, I thought about the many ways I have felt invited in my own life and yes, the times I have extended invitations.
  • An interview with Allison Townsend who wrote one of my favorite books of 2022, The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home. I read much of this book aloud as Bruce and I were driving to Cleveland last fall. We especially loved her descriptions of the Wisconsin landscape, but perhaps this is my favorite quote:

I tell my students. “It’s the lives we make despite those wounds and the stories we tell about them that matter.” And I quote again Isak Dinesen’s beautiful words: “All suffering is bearable if it is seen as part of the story.” “You must believe this,” I tell my students. “You must tell your stories”

p. 215

Weekly, sometimes daily, I receive meditations from Richard Rohr, Glenn Mitchell of Oasis Ministries, and Diana Butler Bass, and poetry from Steve Garnaas Holmes and Jim Borgschatz. I receive writing blogs from Jeannine Ouellette and Elizabeth Jarret Andrew. I listen to podcasts, Learning How to See with Brian McLaren, On Being with Krista Tippett, Love Period with Jacqui Lewis, and What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bagel. Each one is a gift, a blessing, a treasure, an offering.

And all this entered my life in one week.

I am blessed.

An Invitation

What gifts, blessings, treasures, offerings have you received recently? I would love to know.

Community as a Spiritual Practice

March 14, 2023

Most of Sunday was spent in community, my faith community.

There have been years in my life when I have existed without community. Oh, there were bits and pieces of community along the way–groups I have participated in, volunteer work I’ve done–but those all felt temporary and dependent upon specific people or an interest in a particular cause. They were valuable and important communities, but at a certain point I moved on, and there was a natural ending.

Around eight years ago, after moving back to Minnesota, my husband and I joined Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. As genetic Lutherans, it was not a hard decision. Plus, our daughter and family were already members there. Being in the same congregation with them is a real bonus, but our life within this community is so much more. It is a place of belonging, but it is also a place of growing and caring a nd showing up. Of grounding and stretching.

Sunday was such a good day of “encountering others” which is how Barbara Brown Taylor refers to the spiritual practice of community, and such good encounters the day offered — lots of hugs and one-on-one conversations–but even more than that, the reinforcement of intentions to encounte others through the various aspects of our proclaimed mission.

First, we gathered for adult forum, a weekly time of education for adults. This week poets, who are members or who are connected to our congregation in some way, read poems they had written or poems that had meaning for them. One woman read a poem she had written following the death of her beloved father. Another read her own poems, but also shared her experience of reading poetry to people in a memory care unit. One woman remarked how wonderful it is to be part of a congregation that values poetry. What a privilege it was to be in the presence of such creativity and depth.

Next, we attended worship. Each week we sing together, pray together, confess together. We open our hearts and our ears to words that encourage us to grow in our understandings. We receive the bread and the wine. We are reminded of the gifts we received at our baptism. We greet one another and we welcome new members. We lift up and hold one another. We restore and prepare for the challenges in our lives and the life of our community.

Then we ate together. Our Fellowship Hall filled with hungry members, and we enjoyed a potluck–for the first time since the pandemic. It was quite the feast! (I brought lemon pound cake, an Ina Garten recipe.) Was there enough food? Of course, there was, as fulfilled in the scriptures!

Eating and conversation was followed by our annual meeting. The meeting opened first with prayer and then a reading of our Land Acknowledgment Statement.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church recognizes that its building stands on traditional Dakota land near Bdote Mini Sota, the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, the center of creation for Dakota people and also sacred to Ojibwa. The congregation acknowledges that this land was taken from Indigenous people by exploitation and violence. Given the deep significance of this sacred ground, as well as its painful history, the congregation recognizes its responsibility to use this land, its building and mission for the work of reconciliation and healing with Native people. The congregation repents of this injustice that continues to harm Native communities and pledges to work for justice, peace and the wellbeing of all creation.

The main purpose, of course, was to pass the budget for the year, which includes reparations to Native people. It passed unanimously. Even though our congregation is in the midst of an unexpected challenge, the feeling in the room was one of gratitude and a willingness to grow towards greater strength. We are open to the invitation, even if we can’t quite define what that invitation is yet.

I realize, of course, that there are others ways to experience and participate in community, and I also realize a commitment to community is not always easy and sometimes belonging to a community is synonymous with exclusion. Choose your community wisely, and keep it healthy through your active participation, in order for it to live beyond and after you.

I like what Debra K. Farmington says:

When we live with community we give ourselves the opportunity to learn about the faces of God that we would not ordinarily see. It is in the community that our image of God is tested and refined, where we are held accountable for what we believe and how we act, and ultimately where we meet God in the fullest possible way.

It is also within community that we find love and encouragement and support on the spiritual path. We find others who pray with us and for us, who celebrate our lives and ask us to celebrate theirs. In community we find laughter as well as tears; we find people to play with, as well as ones who can mourn with us when times are rough. It may even be that we have gifts and skills that would not manifest themselves outside of community. By failing to use them or by hoarding them for ourselves, we miss what God has so graciously given us.

Living Faith Day By Day, p. 154.

Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I am an introvert, and I know I need to balance community time with alone time. Monday was a day when I practiced solitude, but also a day when I tenderly held the awareness of the gifts of community. Sunday had not only been a full day, but a day of fullness.

An Invitation

Where have you experienced the gifts and the challenges of community? I would love to know.

Some Days Need More Than One Spiritual Practice

March 7, 2023

Some days feel like this.

And perhaps like this:

Even the Buddha can have an off day.

What I first need to remember is that it is March in Minnesota, and even those of us who love winter become weary of yet another forecast of more snow.

The next thing I need to remember is what helps when I feel a bit blue or antsy and itchy or bored (that happens rarely for me) or worried or disappointed or overwhelmed or….

I admit my first response often is chocolate. Or a grilled cheese sandwich is good, too.

Or if I have been working at my desk, especially if the writing is not going well or if I feel overwhelmed by the TO DO List, which seems to have too many DO NOW items than can physically be done NOW, I try to remember to close the laptop, walk down the garret stairs, and move into the snug to read my current library book. If I could, I would go for a walk, but oh yeah, there’s the snow and ice and a memory of falling and breaking an ankle. The snug will have to do.

Eventually, I remember what helps –even more than chocolate.

I take a deep cleansing breath. More than one. I close my eyes lightly, not tightly. That may seem like an unnecessary reminder, but notice how you feel when you close your eyes tightly. Your whole face squinches up, ogre-like, and instead of breathing, you hold your breath. So close your eyes lightly, not tightly. And then breathe in and out gently, finding your own rhythm.

Often that is enough. I breathe my way to relaxing into the next step or the loving outlook. Or feeling beloved myself.

But sometimes that isn’t enough, and I need to move to the next step in my spiritual practice repertoire: Sitting in silence.

For me that means moving to my Girlfriend Chair in the garret and allowing myself to be enfolded in silence. The majority of my garret time is quiet. I don’t work with music playing, and especially in the winter with the windows closed and the kids next door off to school, all is calm, all is still. I sit with my feet firmly planted on the floor, and I feel the silence enfold me. Sometimes it is so quiet, I can hear my inner voice, the voice I hope echoes the Divine. I listen. I really listen.

Often it is surprising what I hear.

“I love you. Now and forever.”

“Send your love to someone else.”

“Enough. You have enough. You are enough. Enough”

“Trust yourself. You are doing good work. Just stay on the path.”

“Really? You are willing to spend your precious time whining.”

Or if I’m really lucky, “Have another piece of chocolate.”

Sometimes I write in my journal during that silent time or read some sacred words. And prayer of one kind or another is sure to follow.

Whatever has caused my restlessness or anxiety hasn’t disappeared because I have turned to one (or two or three) of my spiritual practices, but I am more centered. I am more present.

We realize that we are in the center, and that from there all that is and all that takes place can be seen and understood as part of the mystery of God’s life with us…’All these other things,’ which so occupied and preoccupied us, now come as gifts or challenges that strengthen and deepen the new life that we have discovered.

Henri Nouwen

I am my silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silence so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

Richard Wagamese, Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations

An Invitation

What spiritual practices help you return to the center? I would love to know.

Book Report: February Round-Up

March 2, 2023

My reading month started well and ended well, and in between the books were uneven.


In an earlier post I wrote about Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. A glowing report of a book exquisitely written and a story powerfully told. While visiting a small new bookstore, I heard another customer say she had just finished a book that she loved and was so well-written. She was talking about Our Missing Hearts, and I joined in the conversation, agreeing completely. I have yet to meet anyone who has read the book who did not love it.

The last fiction book I read this month was Gone Like Yesterday, a debut novel by Janelle Williams, and I think this writer has the potential in future novels to attain Celeste Ng’s status. Of course, that is impossible to know, but I hope nothing gets in the way of Williams’ writing and growing and perfecting her skills. Her writing is lyrical and the plot, while involved, is interesting, as are her characters. Zahra is a young black woman who helps privileged high school students write their college admissions essays. She is introduced to Sammie, a another young woman, black, bright, nurtured by her uncle and grandmother, and also applying to colleges. When Zahra learns her brother is missing, Sammie and her uncle pose driving Zahra to Atlanta to look for him. Here’s the tricky part–the presence and sound of moths. Surrounding the car, floating above their heads. hovering in their ears. Are they real? What do they mean? A touch of magical realism. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I think Williams tries to do too much in this book, but still I am glad I read it.

Three of the other books are mysteries: # 2 and #3 in the series by Ausma Neharat Khan about Canadian police detective Esa Khattak and his colleague Rachel Getty. Although I like, but don’t love these books, at some point I will read more in the series. The third mystery I read is part of the British Library Crime Series, Crossed Skis, An Alpine Mystery by Carol Carnac, which was published in 1952. A well-known trope in British mysteries is the house party concept and this one is similar–a group of young people who don’t all know each other go on a skiing vacation and…. well, read it to find out.

I read two books I truly did not like, and I wonder why I finished them. I usually make quick decisions about whether to finish reading a book or not. Oh well. The first is O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker and even after reading my summary of the book in my book journal, I have little memory of the book. The other book is historical fiction by the popular writer, Marie Benedict. Perhaps I finished this because she is a writer often recommended by others, and I kept hoping I would find something redeeming in the book. The book is The Mitford Affair about the English Mitford sisters, especially Nancy, Unity, and Diana. Set on the brink of WWII, Unity and Diana are big supporters of Hitler, and they manage to become part of his inner circle. Nancy eventually and hesitantly shares with Winston Churchill — the Mitfords are distant relations — some of her sisters’ plans and efforts. I need to like at least one of the main characters in any book I read, and I didn’t like anyone in this book.


I can recommend all four nonfiction titles without hesitation–depending on your own personal interests.

  1. Memoir as Medicine, The Healing Power of Wiring Your Messy, Imperfect, Unruly (but Gorgeously Yours) Life Story by Nancy Slonim Aronie. I try to read books about the craft of writing frequently, and a writing friend recommended this. Wonderful prompts. Great examples from her own memoir. This book inspired me to establish Writing Wednesdays for myself. Yesterday was my my fifth one, and I plan to continue that schedule.
  2. A Friend Sails in on a Poem by Molly Peacock. I am not a poet, but I loved this memoir of the friendship between two women who are poets, Peacock and Phillis Levin. Peacock is the author of two of my all-time favorite books, both biographies, The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Flower Diary: in Which Mary Hiester Red Paints, Travels, Marries and Opens a Door.
  3. Prayer in the Night, For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren. Using the words of the compline prayer (Several months ago I wrote this prayer on a small card that sits on my nightstand. Even on mights I don’t pray the words, the intention of those words lives in my heart.) Warren’s writing is simple and clear and at the same time profound, “We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility.” Warren shares her fragilities and encourages us to open to our own and to share them with God.
  4. Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned by Brian McLaren. I actually owned this book before I bought McLaren’s previous book, Faith After Doubt, Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to do About It, but I quickly realized it was important to read Faith After Doubt first. I did that in January. Do I Stay Christian? builds on Faith After Doubt, and wow, there is much to process. Part I answers the question, “No.” Part II, “Yes,” and Part III, “How.” Part I is the most upsetting, and Part III is the most challenging. Chapters in Part II include “Because….Where Else Would I go?” “Because I’m Human,” and “Because of Our Legendary Founder.” McLaren is such a good writer (and speaker–I often listen to his podcast, “Learning to See.” ) In the Appendix to the book he writes

We are all friends around this table. All equals. All unique. All welcome. Who we are is who we are. There is no need to pretend. Some of us have a lot of beliefs and very few doubts. Some of us have a lot of doubts and very few beliefs. Some of us love God, but we’re not sure about Jesus, and some of us love Jesus, but we’re not so sure about God. Some of us aren’t sure about anything, and others feel very sure about almost everything. Some of us gladly call ourselves Christians. Some of us barely call ourselves Christians. Some of us once were Christians, but not anymore. Some of us aren’t sure we were ever Christians, or aren’t sure what that means, or whether it matters. But this we share: we welcome one another to this circle just as we are, for we all are part of one web of life on this precious planet in this amazing universe.

p. 229

See my post on books by Brian McLaren here:

One last note: My husband and I visited a new bookstore in town recently and if you live in the Minneapolis/St Paul area I encourage you to stop by. The name is Comma, and it is the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis.

An Invitation

Anything to recommend from your February reading? I would love to know.

Settling Into Lent

February 27, 2023

Ash Wednesday was almost a week ago and yet, I still don’t feel settled into Lent.

I haven’t chosen a specific book of devotions for my morning meditation time, although I have been re-reading the Lenten section in my favorite Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings by Jan Richardson.

If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

I have not decided on a specific Lenten practice. Earlier this year I decided I would plan my future memorial service during this time, and I will do that, but that doesn’t feel like enough. (What is enough?, you ask. Good question.)

In years past I have listened for a word of the day, filling in a daily chart. Other years I have written and sent one letter or note every day. And then there were the years when I focused on my extensive collection of spirituality and theology books, choosing at least one to discard each day. Each year my collection deceased by at least 100 books. That practice has made me more aware and disciplined about the books I decide to keep and to acquire.

But what about this year? Richardson’s words guide me:

Let us say
this blessing started
to shed all
it did not need,...

What do I no longer need?

A new issue of the quarterly publication, Bella Grace arrived in the mail, and I added it to the stack of previous issues I have barely glanced at. When I first started subscribing to it, I set aside time to immerse myself in the lush photography, the inspirational essays, and the suggestions for appreciating the beauty of everyday life. I even submitted my own essays to the publication and was thrilled when several were published. One, “The Comfort of Shawls” was even reprinted in one of their other publications, The Cozy Issue, and another, “The Magic of Reading in Bed” was published in the Bella Grace blog.

Although I hav continued to submit essays, such as “Porch Envy” or “Window Wishes,” none have been accepted the last couple years. Disappointing, of course, but I have come to realize and accept that as a near 75 year old woman, I am no longer their audience. The magazine is geared to much younger women. Women during the child-raising years. Women managing careers and family life. Women discovering who they are.

I’m still discovering who I am, but now in a much later decade. Not only is Bella Grace no longer a good fit for my writing, but Bella Grace is not a good fit for me, and yet, I have stacks of past issues on my bookshelves. Ok, Lenten Lady, it is time to clear the space. But first, I decide to page through each one, saving some photos and quotations I may want to use as writing prompts for the church writing group I facilitate.

Good. I like the idea of having one more almost empty book shelf, although I am keeping the issues in which my essays were included, but this activity, this decision is not only about letting go, but also about acceptance and awareness. Accepting who I am now and awareness of who I want and need to be now. A Lenten practice.

It's true that
you may need
to do some crumbling,
That some things
you have protected
may want to be
laid bare,
That you will be asked
to let go
and let go,

But listen.
This is what
a desert is for.

The true spiritual practice for me this year, perhaps every year I am blessed to have, is to pay more attention to how I am to love and live right now. Right now, right here. What does each day call me to do, to be? What bookshelves in my inner life need to be emptied and in what ways am I holding that sacred space? How do I carry this sacred season of Lent with me? And how do I notice the movement of God?

How does being an elder become my spiritual practice?

I am my silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silences so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese

As Jan Richardson would say, “this is where the breath begins,” and perhaps, this is where my Lenten practice emerges.

An Invitation

What spiritual practices are emerging in your life right now? I would love to know.

Book Report: Shopping my Library for Books on Spiritual Practices

February 23, 2023

Get ready for a barrage of books.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, leading those of us in the Christian faith into the Lenten season. Lent seems like a good time to reflect on the role of spiritual practices in our lives. Even though I have written about and offered workshops and talks on this topic many times before, I know I can still learn more. My ongoing hope is to demystify the nature of spiritual practices and to explore ways to integrate spiritual practices into our daily lives.

Often the place I begin is in my own library. What have I underlined in books I have read? What books feel like a classic resource in my own spiritual development? What books opened me to something new? What books no longer fit my evolving faith? Which books have become a presence in my life? Which books deserve another look?

Well, it is quite a rabbit hole, but here are a few impressions and notes from my recent browsing:

Jane Vennard in Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul introduced me to the Buddhist terms, “on-cushion practices” and “off-cushion practices,” and changed the way I think about spiritual practices. “On-cushion practices are the more intentional, formal, perhaps traditional kinds of practices like meditation and centering prayer. “Off-cushion practices” are less formal and more spontaneous experiences, like pausing to look at a sunset and feeling connected to all of creation or sending blessings when you see the neighbor children walking to school every morning. The poetry/meditations of Being Home by Gunilla Norris have helped me be aware of the many opportunities for off-cushion practices throughout my days.

from "Choosing What to Wear"

I stand by the closet door
barefooted before this choice.
When I pick now I want to remember
that You have picked me--
no self-made woman, but one brought forth
by the lives that have gone before me,
lives that have made mine possible...
from the first single-celled creatures,
those ancient ancestors,
to the dear ones I call parents.

Liturgy of the Ordinary, Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren also starts with the possibilities for spiritual practice in each day, the overlooked moments and routines, like sitting in traffic or checking email. She examines these moments as doorways to the sacred and to living a life of deeper awareness of the holy.

I want to learn how to spend time over my inbox, laundry, and tax forms, yet, mysteriously, always on my knees, offering up my work as a prayer to the God who blesses and sends.

page 100

I have consulted and even re-read in their entirety several of these books, including An Altar in the World, A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor and two of Christine Valters Paintner’s books, The Soul’s Slow Ripening, 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred and The Soul of a Pilgrim, Eight Practices for the Journey Within. All three of these books have become sacred texts for me.

Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it. So welcome to your own priesthood, practices at the altar of your own life. The good news is that you have everything you need to begin.

An Altar in the World, p xvii

Some of the books I have had on my shelves for a long time, and they continue to inform and inspire me. I think I bought Tilden Edwards’ Living in the Presence, Spiritual Exercises to Open Our Lives to the Awareness of God when I was in spiritual direction training in the 90’s–one of those basic texts. Not as dense, lighter, but no less wise is A Sacred Primer, The Essential Guide to Quiet Time and Prayer by Elizabeth Harper Neeld. Another title that has served me well is Living Faith Day By Day, How the Sacred Rules of Monastic Traditions Can Help You Live Spiritually in the Modern World by Debra K. Farrington. Farrington approaches spiritual practices from the structure of creating a rule of life for one’s life. That may sound daunting, but she makes it approachable and desirable.

The topic continues to be relevant, and I continue to add books to my collection, including Pilgrim Principles, Journeying with Intention in Everyday Life by Lacy Clark Ellman, The Wild Land Within, Cultivating Wholeness Through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay, and another with an intriguing title, Desperately Seeking Spirituality, A Field Guide to Practice by Meredith Gould. Each one of these books feels like a generous and welcoming companion. One more –a book I have acquired, but not yet read, Essential Spirituality, The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind, by Roger Walsh. Stay tuned for a further evaluation.

Several of the books refer to spiritual practices that include specific ways the body is a tool for care of the soul, but one book stands out, Spiritual Exercises, Joining Body and Spirit in Prayer by Nancy Roth. This book reminds us that walking and doing Pilates and yoga and T’ai Chi and dancing and receiving a massage are also ways to experience the movement of God.


My library includes separate shelves with books on aging and spirituality. Several of those titles address spiritual practices, including Aging as a Spiritual Practice, A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser by Lewis Richmond, A Season of Mystery, 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing A Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston, and Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth by Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Morgan. I will save reflections on these books for another time.

A Gentle Reminder

As much as I love books and as much as book enriches my spiritual life, reading about spiritual practices does not substitute for practicing. Writing posts in my blog is one of my spiritual practices.

An Invitation

What are your spiritual practices? I would love to know.

Snow Days and Found Time

February 21, 2023

The prediction is that this part of the world will get 20-30 inches of snow this week. Fresh snow everyday beginning Monday and continue snowing through Thursday. I chuckled Monday morning when I looked at the hourly forecast and read “Snow stopping in 39 minutes, starting again in 7 minutes.” I thought about setting the timer on my phone.

When I was decades younger, this kind of weather meant rearranging schedules and planned activities and figuring out how to do what must be done. Would school be cancelled? What would be the easiest, safest way to get to work? Do we have enough milk? Or in more recent years, I called my Dad to make sure he was ok and wouldn’t be venturing out.

During the years of raising children and working full-time, the pre-retirement years, predictions of debilitating weather certainly raised my anxiety levels.

Now, however, as a privileged woman in her mid70’s, my immediate concerns are far less. Yes, I have a couple dates with friends this week, but we will put a new date on the calendar. And appointments with clients can either be reset or we can meet on zoom. If my church writing group can’t meet this week, I will email them some snow day writing prompts.

I so hope we can get to one of the Ash Wednesday services, but if that isn’t possible I will create my own contemplative time, minus the ashes, and will enter the new season in that way. It won’t be the same, but it will be whatever it is.

In the past I have written about the concept of “found time,” the space that is created when something is cancelled or changed. Instead of feeling frustrated by the necessary and sometimes inconvenient changes, I decided years ago to breathe into that space. Oh, surprise, I have a bit more time to read or write or bake cookies or do nothing at all. And that is how snow days can feel. (Easy for me to say–my husband is the one who does all the shoveling.)

Lately, I have also realized that I can create more “found time” in my life not just on snow days, but on any day, if I am willing to let go of worries and concerns, of a need to control, and to the way I think things should be or the roles I have had in the past.

Christine Valters Paintner is offering a Lent retreat called “A Different Kind of Fast” in which she suggests fasting from what gets in the way of living fully.

  • Multitasking and inattention
  • Anxiety
  • Speed and rushing
  • Strength and holding it all together
  • Planning and deadlines
  • Certainty

If you fasted from any of the items on this list, what would your day look like? How would you feel? In what ways might you become more aware of the movement of God in your life?

Instead of clinging to what feels necessary and familiar, dwelling in the lost, can you rejoice in the found?

How about envisioning this found time as a kind of Sabbath?

God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting.

Meister Eckhart

More God is the only thing on my list…When you live in God, your day begins when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise.

Barbara Brown Taylor

An Invitation

What does “found time” look like for you? I would love to know.

Book Report: Writing Books By Eric Maisel

February 16, 2023

I love to read.

I love to write.

I love to read about writing.

One of my favorite writers about writing, as you can see in this stack of five books, is Eric Maisel. I have other favorites, of course. Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, and more recently, I loved the book, Memoir as Medicine by Nancy Slonim Aronie. And you will see a collection of Julia Cameron books on my writing bookshelf, too.

There is something about Maisel’s books, however, that resonate with me, and I make it a point to re-read at least one of his books each year. Most often the EM book of choice is A Writer’s Paris, A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul. (2005). The book, small, easy to hold, the size of a small journal or travel guide, is a call to follow your fantasy image of yourself as a writer and where better to do that, but Paris?

What might it mean to your creative life if you included, as part of your education as a writer, a risky experience like running off to Paris to write? Something on that order may be needed to unlock the trunk and let out those thousand poems, those hundred short stories, that full shelf of novels or narrative nonfiction.

pp. 2-3

I have been to Paris just once and even sat in a cafe and wrote in my journal, but I don’t have plans to go to Paris for a writing retreat. If I did, I would take this book, which hovers between fantasy and reality, for it has practical hints for living in Paris, but also addresses ways each of us wannabe writers can live that life now. Here and now.

I write in a garret. Yes, it is in St Paul, Minnesota, USA, but somedays it is easy to think of it as a French garret in some centuries old building. I imagine walking down several flights of smooth stone stairs and crossing the street to a boulangerie, greeting the baker and buying the day’s ration of bread and then returning, walking back up those same smooth stone stairs, flight after flight, to my garret. My view today, however, is not of Parisian rooftops, but instead our garage roof and an occasional bird sitting on the electrical wire. My Paris. My here and now.

I begin to write.

And in the summer I write in a secluded small garden I call “Paris.” I sit at a bistro table and write. I can see neighbors walking by, but it is rare I am noticed. True, this little garden is not beyond the French doors of a Paris apartment, but I can pretend, and sometimes I do.

This little book reminds me to “access the Paris already inside of you. There is a Paris-of-the-mind that resides in each of us…It is available to you right now.” p. 191

I may not have gone to Paris to write, but many years ago I did go to Bainbridge Island, Washington to write, and I have given myself solo writing retreats in a cabin on one of Minnesota’s lakes, as well as writing retreats led by other writers. I have found ways to create Paris for myself, including in the garret.

Recently, I pulled Maisel’s A Writer’s Space, Make Room to Dream, to Work, to Write off my bookshelf, and the book opened to this:

The writing life is defined by the succession of choices you make, primary among them whether or not you will write.

p. 54

I have been lucky over the years, no matter where we lived, to have a room of my own, but that is only part of the issue. The other aspect is creating time to write and devoting energy to do that. I looked at my calendar recently and realized that with one small change I could create Writing Wednesdays. Yesterday was my third Writing Wednesday, and I devoted the day to working on an essay about walking labyrinths.

I write on other days of the week–my twice-weekly blog posts, for example, and most mornings I write in my journal as part of my daily devotion and meditation routine, but setting apart a day to work on something that has been percolating or been in process, but set aside honors myself as a writer. How good this decision feels.

An Invitation

What do you need to make room for in your life? I would love to know.

NOTE: Eric Maisel is a psychotherapist, teacher, coach who focuses on helping creative and performing artists meet their emotional and practical challenges, and his list of books is long.

Always More to See

February 14, 2023

The day was too glorious–warm, sunny, clear– to spend at my desk, checking off my list what had not yet been accomplished. Even though making those check marks nourishes my soul in a certain way, what I needed was nourishment I could feel radiate throughout my whole body. I needed to roam and am grateful my husband had a plan.

His plan was to drive up the Minnesota side of the St Croix River and then cross over the river into Wisconsin at Taylor’s Falls. We remembered a charming cafe near a waterfall in one of the small Wisconsin towns, but which one? That’s what makes roaming interesting–when you “kind of, sort of know,” but who knows what you’ll see or discover in the meantime.

We love this drive at anytime of the year, but during the summer and fall months, the route is crowded with others who have the same idea–enjoy the colors, explore the river, walk, hike, visit fun little shops, wineries, garden nurseries along the way. In the winter, however, the same route is quiet. The invitation is to savor.

I felt the lingering items on my list languish as I gazed across expanses of snow. From here to where? Remnants of harvested corn poked through the crusty snow, and smoke rose daintily out chimneys of solitary homes. I imagined the river views sweetening the life in those homes. A horse here and a small herd of cattle there, puffing steam through their nostrils. I know tending animals in the winter is a challenge, but for the moment it seemed like an idyllic way of life.

And the river–no boats, of course. No waterskiing, no parties of sun gods and goddesses reveling. Only stillness on the surface, leaving underwater life to our imaginations. This is the river’s own time, which does not have to be shared with others, it seems. I hoped our roaming didn’t interfere with the needed rest, the solitude of sanctuary.

We congratulated ourselves when we found the remembered cafe. Our lunch was delicious and our conversation the kind of catch-up we needed. On the way back to the car I stopped to take a picture of the falls. I suppose I should have recorded the sound of the rushing water, but, oh well, I didn’t. I just wanted a simple souvenir of the day, of the nourishment I was receiving.

What Do You See?

Only when I inserted that photo of the falls, which are barely visible, did I notice the real reason for the image.

Look at the tree in the foreground on the right.

The eye. The large, unblinking eye, looking right at me, and now, you.

In fact, I see the profile of a face—an arched eyebrow, nose and turned down mouth.

You may see something different in this image or you may derive a totally different meaning of the eye or none at all, but here’s what it means to me. There is always more to see. There is always more than meets the eye, especially at first glance. And in my seeing, I am seen.

We took a different route on our way home, one we had not driven before that led us gradually back home to our urban life. Back home to my lists, of course, but they could wait for another day.

An Invitation

What have you seen lately that has nourished you? I would love to know.

NOTE: The cafe we enjoyed was the Water Shed in Osceola, WI.

A Time-Out

February 7, 2023

What could be better than a trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on the coldest day of the winter. So far, that is. The temperature was well below zero, but the first day of the spring flower show enticed us to bundle up and treat ourselves to color and creativity and promises of the season to come.

The day before we had received some unexpected and unsettling news, (Thanks for worrying, but I am fine and so is our whole family.) and we needed to take a deep, cleansing breath.

I needed to step back, even if for only a brief time. Not in denial. Not in false comfort, but as a reminder of the varied ways God is visible. Pausing in front of each of the displays, the easy rhythm of my breath was restored. Instead of my mind swirling with questions which I had no way to answer, my heart beat, steady and sure, invited me to be present to the beauty in front of me in that moment.

Later, while having lunch in the arboretum dining room, the beauty of the present moment continued, but in a surprising way. The dining room was full of colorful plants and artwork, but what drew me was the view out the large windows. The winter view on that cold, cold day.

Chickadees filled the bare branches waiting their turn at the various bird feeders. Squirrels performed gymnastic feats as they attempted to pilfer what was not meant for them. Downy woodpeckers seemed still, stationary, on the suspended suet. And cardinals–three of them, dazzlingly lipstick red against the expanse of white– feasted.

This was what I needed. I thought what I was after was some relief. From winter’s intensity. From what ached in my heart.

But what I really needed was the clarity of those bare branches full of life. The movement of God could not be missed as I looked out the window. Yes, I oohed and aahed at the colorful, let’s pretend it’s spring displays, but the winter view was reality, and it was just as stunning.

I’ve been reading Prayer in the Night, For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren, who is an Episcopalian priest. The book examines phrase by phrase the compline or evening prayer.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

The Book of Common Prayer

In the chapter on suffering, Warren writes, “The suffering need soothing, not just numbing. We need real hope, the kind that can carry us through the night.” p. 131

I delighted in the spring flowers, but I found hope in the clarity of the bare branches.

Earlier in the week I bought forsythia branches. The branches were bare, no blossoms yet, but over the next few days, look at what happened. What was bare is now full with delicate, sweet yellow blooms. Once more I witness the movement of God.

An Invitation

Where has God been visible for you in these winter days? I would love to know.