Book Report: Two Nonfiction Books By Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

August 25, 2022

I was 61 when I read Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s book The Third Chapter, Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, published in 2009. I am now 74 and almost at the end of the time of life Lawrence-Lightfoot writes about in the book.

This book was pivotal in my aging evolution.

We were living in Madison, WI, at the time, and I had not found my place in that community. I had trained as a spiritual director when we lived in Ohio and had a private practice there. I had led spirituality groups in an organization for those touched by cancer and also facilitated retreats and taught T’ai Chi in a variety of places, but in my current life I simply had not found a foothold. That was for a variety of reasons, I realize now, but at the time I had no idea how to adjust to this unexpected loss of role, let alone what might be next.

The Third Chapter helped me acknowledge the sadness and grief I felt, but also opened me to imagine new possibilities; new ways of viewing myself and who I might become as I aged. When we moved back to St Paul, after almost 20 years away, I was thrilled to discover ways I could live with purpose and meaning. The time described in The Third Chapter has been and continues to be a time of thriving for me.

The book also gave me a name for this stage of life. “The Third Chapter.” The other day a writer friend, who was feeling certain life changes swirling around her, said she felt as if she was experiencing a midlife crisis again, but of course, we are well beyond our midlife years. How important it is, I think, to give voice to these elder years.

In the inside cover of the book I wrote two questions: What are the words you use to describe this stage of life? What words do you find yourself using frequently when you talk about yourself? I didn’t know when I wrote those words how those would not only be key questions for my own reflection, but they would become questions as I helped develop Third Chapter programs at my church.

So back to the book. By telling others’ stories, Lawrence-Lightfoot focuses on the creative and purposeful learning that goes on in this stage of life and explores the ways men and women at this stage

find ways of changing, adapting, exploring, mastering, and channeling their energies, skills, and passions into new domains of learning. I believe that successful aging requires that people continue–across their lifetime–to express a curiosity about their changing world, an ability to adapt to shifts in their developmental and physical capacities, and an eagerness to engage new perspectives, skills, and appetites. This requires the willingness to take risks, experience vulnerability and uncertainty, learn from experimentation and failure, seek guidance and counsel from younger generations, and develop new relationships of support and intimacy.

p. 7

No small task. That should keep us engaged!

This book was the first of what is now my extensive collection of books and aging and spirituality. I am still in my “third chapter,” but I would welcome a new book from Lawrence-Lightfoot about the years after 75. Hint, hint.

In the meantime I found another book by her, Exit, The Endings That Set Us Free (2012). Once again deftly telling others’ stories, she explores the variety of endings in our lives and how to navigate them. She notes that our culture values beginnings, launchings. We hold entrepreneurs in high regard. But exits are ignored and often viewed as failures.

We often slink our way out the door, becoming invisible as we do so. One of the women she interviews says, “I don’t want the exit to be about closed doors. Where is the open door! Where is the new life?” (p. 68)

How do we open a door when we end a relationship, a job or career, a role, a major project? And how do we purposefully and meaningful approach the final exit, our own death or the death of a loved one? This book, like The Third Chapter, tells illustrative stories so well, encouraging readers to reflect on our own lives and the endings we have experienced or will experience.

I thought about the acknowledged ending to a job I loved–how I felt celebrated and honored and how that helped me let go. But I also remember another time when my last day in a role I had also loved was totally ignored. No “Thank you.” No “We’ll miss you.” I am sorry I didn’t take it upon myself to create an exit ritual.

A note about Lawrence-Lightfoot: She is a MacArthur prize-winning sociologist, the author of ten books, and is the first African-American woman in Harvard’s history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor. She is someone worth reading, for sure.

An Invitation

Have any books been a guide for you in this aging evolution? I would love to know.

Note:

On another topic, for those of you in the St Paul, MN area, my husband Bruce is having his second garage sale of the season this weekend, Friday and Saturday, August 26-27, at our house, 2025 Wellesley Ave. As many of you know, he paints discarded furniture and accessories and the proceeds from his sales go to support the work of Lutheran Social Service’s Rezik House, a residence for homeless youth. Access to the sale is through the alley only.

Pesto Time: Past, Present, and Future

August 23, 2020

These days my morning meditation time is spent first in the garden and then in the kitchen. The basil hedge calls, “Nancy, it is time to make pesto.”

The Present

Before clipping enough basil for two batches of pesto, I run my palms through the leaves, filling the coolness of the morning air with the aroma that whispers, “green,” “fresh,” “delicious.” I smell my hands, telling myself to remember this day when the garden is bare and in hibernation.

I fill the gathering basket and promise I will harvest more the next day –and the day after that until both the basil and I, the harvester, are done.

On the way back into the house, my gathering basket on my arm, I pause and listen to the bees humming as they keep the allium company. I know this may sound silly, but they remind me of the llamas humming their own sweet songs when we lived at Sweetwater Farm. Stay in the present. You can write about the past in a minute, I tell myself.

Look closely to see the bees in their purple environment.

Now it is time to transform basil into pesto.

Sprinkled clean, the basil leaves air dry–two cups of basil for each batch of pesto. One of my tricks is to cover the leaves with a towel and roll a rolling pin over the top, releasing and exploding the basil flavor. My food processor awaits–the basil, nuts and garlic first, followed by a mix of olive and vegetable oil. Then grated Romano and Parmesan cheese with salt and pepper to taste.

I spoon the, let’s be honest, messy mix into a freezer bag. Yes, I know the trick of storing the pesto in refrigerator trays and using it one cube at a time, and that is a good idea, but storing it in freezer bags means it lays flat, leaving more space.

Then on to batch number two.

And tomorrow batch three and four.

The Past

As I separate the leaves from the stems and later as I put away the needed ingredients and clean the kitchen, how easily I remember other pesto making days and even before that how I became enamored with using herbs in cooking and growing my own herbs.

One summer when our children were young, we took a family vacation in the Boston area. One of our stops was the Plymouth Plantation where I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who was tending an herb garden. She stayed in perfect character–a woman in early colonial days– as I asked her about the herbs she was growing. I wanted to know what her favorite herbs were for cooking and she was surprised by my question, for she used herbs for medicinal purposes. That brief encounter led me to a desire to know more–and, of course, I amassed a library of books about herbs.

That interest led to a small herb garden complete with a white picket fence in our small St Paul backyard, but later, when we lived at Sweetwater Farm in Ohio I had a chance –and the space–to more fully indulge my interest in herbs. Thyme, rosemary, sage, of course. Chives, cilantro, oregano, dill, tarragon, marjoram, a variety of mints. But I also loved lemon balm and lemon verbena for lemonade and other summer drinks. And lavender–perhaps my favorite. I grew lavender right outside the back door where I could enjoy the laundry fresh scent with each going out and coming in. I dried long stem bundles and later filled sachet bags to hang in closets and tuck in dresser drawers.

On pesto making days I moved from my tiny kitchen to the harvest table, spreading the bounty across the surface. I became a pesto making factory. Sometimes friends joined me for the process–each taking home a batch or two.

Oh, how I loved and am grateful for that time of my life.

I grew herbs mainly for food, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t healing. Walking in the Sweetwater Farm gardens the summer of my mother’s recurrence of colon cancer and my diagnosis of uterine cancer soothed me. I extended healing and loving blessings to spiritual direction clients when I offered a carefully tied bundle of lavender or fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme. I gave thanks for the bounties of creation as I tended the earth. I thought about my grandmother, who loved to garden, and wished she had been able to visit us at Sweetwater Farm.

I am in a time of my life when memories rush like a waterfall. Everything seems to remind me of something. The present leads me gently into the past–not to be stuck there and not even to pretend those were the “good old days,” but more simply as a reminder of all the days I have been privileged to live. And to note growth where it has occurred, but also those darker, tighter spaces where more growth is needed.

The Future

Pesto over spaghetti is in the future. Cold winter nights when a reminder of summer is just what is needed. Meal times when I am tired of or bored with cooking. How jolly to open the freezer and pull out a bag of pesto. I make sure to never be without pasta in the pantry.

I know others who buy bushels of tomatoes or corn on the cob and spend hours in the kitchen preparing the bounty for later enjoyment. Or those who make strawberry or peach jam.

When we do this, we are not only preparing food for another day, but we are harvesting and storing memories.
And, taking in the smells and sights and tastes of the present moment, we are in the midst of spiritual practice.

An Invitation

What do you harvest from your garden–your internal or external garden? I would love to know.

Book Report: Books in My Devotion Basket

August 18, 2022

The basket where I keep the current books I read and refer to during my meditation time almost overflows. My Bible is a constant, of course, as is my current journal and my prayer cards (See my post on August 9, 2022), but the other books are a potpourri of what I want to study right now, or books by favorite or recommended authors, or daily devotions. The basket is also where I keep new books, browsing and welcoming them to my library, before I decide if I want to read them now or keep till later.

Here’s what is in the basket now.

  • Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh. I have been reading this book slowly and for quite some time. I don’t pretend to understand everything in this book about some of the foundational teachings in Buddhism, but the ongoing practice of awakening and all that means and involves challenges and inspires me. Singh, who died in 2017 was the author of other books that have had deep influence on my life, The Grace in Dying, The Grace in Living, The Grace in Aging.
  • Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman. How often I have read a powerful quotation by this spiritual leader (1899-1981), but I have never owned a book by him. It is about time. This book is a collection of meditations and prayers and as in the words of the first meditation is “an island of peace within one’s soul.” That is not to say, however, the book is without exhortation to action, for there is nothing about Thurman’s faith or life in faith that is passive.
  • The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther De Waal. I remember reading her book on Benedictine Spirituality, Seeking God, many years ago and am eager to sit with this slim book. According to the back cover, this book is about the houses she has loved and the process of letting them go and moving into new environments. I have done that many times and am sure De Waal’s experience will deepen my own. I discovered this book recently when we visited the Liturgical Press bookstore on the St John’s University campus in Collegeville, MN.
  • Trusting Change, Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering. The dedication in this new release is “For all of us sharing this chrysalis time.” I loved Hering’s earlier book, Writing to Wake the Soul : Opening the Conversation Within, and have also enjoyed retreats and classes I’ve taken from her. She is a gifted teacher and writer, and I have no doubt this book will be a gift itself. I am especially intrigued by the chapter, “Practicing Equanimity.”
  • Conversation, The Sacred Art, Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction by Diane M. Millis. I have read sections of this book, including the chapter “Listening to Your Life,” but as I begin preparation for two conversation groups I will offer beginning this fall at my church, now is a good time to read and study this book. As I have with Hering, I have benefited from Millis’ gifted teaching and writing and know this book will be helpful and inspirational. I recommend her Re-Creating A Life, Learning How To Tell Our Most Life-Giving Story.
  • The basket also holds one edition of Oneing from the Center of Action and Contemplation and at least one issue of Presence, An International Journal of Spiritual Direction and Companionship. I am always behind reading those journals. Sigh!

With this basket at my side, morning could extend into afternoons and evenings!

An Invitation

Does your devotion/meditation time include reading? I would love to know.

The Lessons of Improvisation

August 16, 2022

This past weekend we saw our niece Alli, who is an improv comedian in Chicago, in two performances. Alli has been funny all her life–the family lore is full of Alli stories, and I don’t think anyone who knows and loves her was surprised when she chose comedy as her career path. She is also a substitute in the Chicago Public School system. Just imagine how often she needs a comedic attitude and improvisational skills to get through her teaching days!

We loved seeing her perform and oh, how good it was to laugh and laugh and laugh.

Improv comedy, it seems to me, offers good life lessons.

From the moment these performers walked on stage they had no idea what was going to happen from one minute to the next. In both shows they were given the bare minimum as a beginning and from that moment on anything could happen. Their job was to be completely present to what the others were saying and doing. They needed to react and respond as the narrative unfolded.

At the same time each performer adopted a persona for the show, and they needed to be true to that character. How would that character react and respond in the given situation? In a manner of minutes the essence of the character became clear through physical actions, the tone of voice, as well as words.

We each live an improvisational life. Who knows what will happen one minute from the next? We can plan and make lists–and that is often necessary and helpful, but at the same time we need to be able to open to what is unfolding and changing before our very eyes. The present moment. There is not always time to say, “Time out. I need to write the next scene. I need to decide how to move the plot forward.” Nope, something happens or someone says or does something, and the next line, the next step is yours. Now. It is time to improvise..

When I was a freshman in college, I remember the junior counsellors on my floor often saying when life got a bit crazy and chaotic, “Punt. It is punt time.” Do what needs to be done. You can’t always wait and weigh the pros and cons. It is time to act and maybe even take a chance.

Now I am more apt to adopt “pause” than “punt,” but I know there are times when pausing, at least longer than a second is not possible. It is time to improvise when the best plans are not possible, when life gets in the way, when the unexpected and often unwanted occurs.

Fifty-one years ago my husband’s mother died of a brain aneurysm–a month before our August wedding. In the months of planning before the wedding day, how could we possibly have anticipated the loss that would accompany us on our walk down the aisle? We were 23, mere babies, and along with the improvisation that marriage itself requires, we had to figure out how to respond and cope with such deep sadness, even as we were embarking with such joy on our lives as a new couple. We did the best we could, but we were not yet as practiced in the art and skill of improvisation.

Part of becoming a good improviser is knowing oneself. Who am I and what is my essence? Instead of playing a role, developing a character, I respond from my own ground of being, the person God created me to be. How helpful that is as life diverts us from what we envisioned for ourselves.

Here’s hoping that laughter is part of the journey.

An Invitation

When was the last time you had to improvise? How did that go? I would love to know.

Note:

We saw Alli perform in Hitch Cocktails https://www.theannoyance.com/shows at the Annoyance Theater https://www.theannoyance.com and also on one of Second City’s stages in Clued In https://www.secondcity.com/chicago-shows/ Be prepared to laugh!!!

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.

NOTE:

I was the guest blogger on the Brevity Nonfiction Blog yesterday, August 8, and I invite you to read my post, “My Writing Garret.”https://brevity.wordpress.com/2022/08/08/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. https://wordpress.com/post/livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/949 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 https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/06/09/book-report-great-circle-by-maggie-shipstead/, 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! https://modernmrsdarcy.com/what-to-read-next-louise-penny-readalikes/

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. https://brevity.wordpress.com

Window Blessings: The Spiritual Practice of Receiving and Sending

August 2, 2022

Receiving

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

Sending

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 (https://stevelaube.com/21-influential-books/) 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.

Notes

  • 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,” https://laurakellyfanucci.substack.com 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.