Holy Days

These are Holy Days.

This week leads Christians through the remaining days of Lent to Easter Sunday, but first there is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil on Saturday. Jews are preparing for Passover. The eight-day festival begins at sundown on April 15 and ends at sundown on April 23. And Muslims are marking Ramadan the entire month of April, ending with the Feast of Fast-Breaking on Sunday, May 1.

Yes, these are Holy Days, in which those of us who practice one of these faith traditions reflect on the stories central to our beliefs, gather with our faith communities, and observe the customs of these days. For example, a recent tradition at our house is to add the palms we waved on Palm Sunday to the basket of forsythia on our front door as a reminder of these Holy Days.

Along with attending each of the planned services this week, I will also attend a Solidarity Around the Cross prayer service at the Ukrainian American Center in Minneapolis, sponsored by my congregation as one way to respond to the world’s suffering. But I will also continue with morning prayer and reflection time, holding these days in my heart and reflecting on their meaning for how I live my life.

These Holy Days ask me to be aware of and live fully each holy day.

Some days I manage that better than others. This reluctant spring has added to the challenge here in my part of the world, but I am trying to love what is, to see and feel the holiness of each day.

I challenge myself to know, really know, the fullness of the words, “Every day is a gift.” Yes, regardless of the temperature, the precipitation, road conditions, or lingering brown landscape. I can continue to become more of the person I was created to be no matter the season, and I feel an eagerness to discover the holy days of this particular spring. In what ways will I be enticed to grow? How will I nurture others and myself? Where will I notice the movement of God?

Settle to be fully present to yourself, to whatever is, to God…dwell, and absorb and be–Give thanks.

from Christos Center meditation, 3/14/22

May these Holy Days be holy days in your life. May each day to come be a holy day.

An Invitation:

What might you do to be more aware of each day as a holy day? I would love to know.

I spotted these Lego vignettes of Holy Week in the Sunday School classroom where the writing group I facilitate meets each week. Holy Play!

Book Report: Morning Meditation Basket

As promised in my recent post (Tuesday, February 21, 2022, “Morning Meditation”), today’s Book Report shares my current morning meditation and devotion materials.

My collection of materials change as I finish reading a specific book, but also as the seasons in the church year change and as my personal needs change. However, two books always remain: the Bible and a journal. I only have a few pages left in my current journal and need to choose a replacement soon. That is on this week’s list.

Here are the other books in the basket:

  • Celtic Treasure, Daily Scriptures and Prayer by J. Philip Newell. (2005). This may be the third time I have returned to daily use of this book. Right now I am focusing on chapter five, “Songs of the Soul,” but other chapters include “Stories of Creation,” “Power and Justice,” and “Letters of Love.” Each day in the seven week cycle, begins with the same words, “We light a light in the name of the God who creates life, in the name of the Saviour who loves life, and in the name of the Spirit who is the fire of life.” After encouragement to “Be still and aware of God’s presence within and all around,” Newell retells a piece of scripture and offers a prayer. The brief and simple, but oh, so lovely daily meditation always ends in the same way.

The blessings of heaven,

the blessings of earth,

the blessings of sea and of sky.

On those we love this day

and on every human family

the gifts of heaven,

the gifts of earth,

the gifts of sea and of sky.

The illustrations from the Book of Kells plus children’s drawings are lovely, too.

This book provides a framework for my meditation practice right now. I begin with the opening prayer and readings and end with the closing words.

  • The Wild Land Within, Cultivating Wholeness through Spiritual Practice by Lisa Colon Delay (2021). I first learned about this book on Christine Valters Paintner’s website, Abbey of the Arts. https://abbeyofthearts.com The author describes the book as

an invitation to explore your own flyover country. This book serves as a companion to search the inner and unseen but very real territory of yourself. As we attend to this land within, our journey will involve some issues you may know little or nothing about. There are places of rough and even terrifying terrain. We will learn what makes spiritual growth unnecessarily difficult or extra confusing. To explore this land within means encountering climate and storms, negotiating treacherous topography, and finding creatures both wounded and wild. p. 2

Delay, who is a writer, teacher, and spiritual director and originally from Puerto Rico, broadens my white cultural context with references to Native American, Black, Latinx, and others and asks me to define what have been my main influences and how those influences have affected my spiritual growth.

In an early section Delay spends time reflecting on the four soils parable recorded in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15. I have been re-reading those pieces of scripture now myself, and using the practice of lectio divina, I ask what meaning they have for me after walking on the earth for almost 74 years. Ongoing exploration.

I am moving slowly, deliberately through this book. My plan is to read a chapter every day, but I keep returning to what I read previous days, finding more openings for learning and reflection. Chapter Five, by the way, is called “Weather Fronts,” and that seems perfect for the winter storm watch we experienced as I wrote this.

One more thing: Delay has a podcast, Spark My Muse. I have not yet listened to it, but I will.

  • The Divine Dance, The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell (2016) It seems I always have a Richard Rohr book in my meditation basket. If I think I am reading Delay’s book slowly, I am reading this one at an slower pace. I dip into this book, reading two or three pages, when I am willing to set aside the next task.

I was first attracted to this particular book because of the cover art, the famous icon of The Trinity created by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century. I love that icon and the mystery it draws me towards. I was also attracted to the title of the book itself.

Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three–a circle dance of love.

And God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself. p. 27

This book will be in my basket for a long time. Oh, I also have a publication from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation: Oneing, An Alternative Orthodoxy. Volume 9, No. 2 focuses on The Cosmic Egg.

  • Soul Therapy, The Art and Craft of Caring Conversations by Thomas Moore (2021) This is another book I dip into when the spirit moves me. Moore’s books, especially Care of the Soul, have been important landmarks in my spiritual growth. Directed towards “helpers,” including psychologists, social workers, ministers, spiritual directors and others, the book reminds me to continue my own soul work as I sit with others doing their own soul work.
  • The Making of an Old Soul, Aging as the Fulfillment of Life’s Promise by Carol Orsborn, Ph. D (2021) I have not yet cracked open the cover of this book, but I enjoy Orsborn’s blog https://carolorsborn.com and I really liked her earlier book The Spirituality of Age. More than likely, I will report on this book later.

My basket runneth over!!

An Invitation: What books or other materials do you turn to for reflection and soul work? I would love to know.

The Rhythm of Rest

I could not do one more thing. Well, of course, I could, but I would have done the next thing without focus or interest, inspiration, or energy.

The week had been full . Full of good interactions and scattered with productive writing time, but I was done, even cranky. Perhaps it was the unrelenting cold or the unrelenting pandemic, but I sagged and slumped.

Enter my Word of the Year: Rhythm.

Most of my weeks have a defined, steady rhythm. We begin the week attending church and adult forum, followed by going out for lunch where we read the New York Times. Early in the week I write both Tuesday and Thursday posts for this blog, and I prepare for the writing group I facilitate Thursday mornings at church. I tend to do the week’s grocery shopping that morning, too. Usually, on Friday or Saturday, my husband and I plan an outing–get in the car and roam.

The weeks vary depending on appointments with my spiritual direction clients and if one of the writing groups in which I am a participant is scheduled, and, now and then, there is time with friends or family. And, of course, there are the usual tasks–the laundry, the emails, the bills, the meal preparation, the home-tending. Oh, and writing time. This past week I worked on a piece to submit to a publication that has published my work in the past.

I begin my day meditating, praying, and writing in my journal, and later, I try to leave my desk by 4:00, giving myself some space to read before fixing dinner. In the evening we binge watch something on Netflix or Amazon Prime (Right now we are watching season 11 of “Vera” on BrittBox.) and read before going to bed.

By and large, these are good rhythms, but my word of the year invites me to pay attention. What rhythm calls me right now? What is the rhythm my body needs? My soul needs? Rhythm summons me to listen to my own heartbeat.

Instead of pressing on determined to check more off a list that seems to grow when my head is turned, I took a deep breath and asked, “What rhythm wants to be heard right now?”

REST. REST.

I turned off my computer, left my desk and the garret, even though it was hours before my normal 4:00 leave the office time, and I nestled in the snug with book, blanket, and a mug of hot cider. I read and I dozed. I listened to the rhythm pulsing gently around and through me, and I restored. And I gave thanks for being at a stage of life when it is possible to respond to rhythm’s invitation.

I know, appreciate, and allow my own rhythm. Each day I take some time to be in my personal rhythm.

Sue Patton Thoele

An Invitation: Do you have a word of the year? If so, how is it present in your life? I would love to know.

Morning Gratitude, Morning Presence

As I make the bed first thing every morning, I pause and look out the window towards the backyard and the garage. This time of the year I know what I will see: mounds of unmelted snow, tracks from the squirrel gang that frequents the base of the bird feeder, and the bare branch remnants of my husband’s glorious garden. Maybe there will be a cardinal at the feeder, but probably not till a bit later.

I don’t stand at the window hoping to see something different. No, I stand at the window to welcome a new day, to give thanks for the light of a new day, and to remind myself to be present to this day, the new and holy day.

Soon after making the bed, but still in my robe and pajamas, I climb the stairs to the garret and settle in for meditation time. Lately, my quiet time has included listening to Cat Stevens sing one of my favorite hymns, “Morning Has Broken.” You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0TInLOJuUM

Morning has broken like the first morning;

black-bird has spoken like the first bird.

Praise for the singing!

Praise for the morning!

Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!

Text: Eleanor Farjeon and Music: Gaelic Tune

What more could I ask for than to remember that each morning is like the first morning. Oh, if I could only live present to that gift, that morning gift, the whole day, every day.

That prayer would be enough. That prayer holds all those I love and all those unknown to me, but in need of a new day.

The words in verse three lift me even higher.

Mine is the sunlight!

Mine is the morning,

born of the one light Eden saw play!

Praise with elation, praise every morning,

God’s re-creation of the new day!

Each day is a chance to re-create the sun in my own heart, my own being. This is enough. More than enough.

I invite you to sing with me. I will stand at the window and listen for your voice.

An Invitation: What is your first view of the day? How does it help you move into the day?I would love to know.

JOY Comes

Once a week I facilitate a group of writers at my church. We meditate and then I present a writing prompt and we write for twenty minutes. The weekly sessions are not just a set apart time for writing, but have become a kind of spiritual direction group. Contemplatively, reflectively, respectfully, even lovingly, the group listens each other into deeper understanding of their own spiritual journeys.

Preparing for and then being with this group is always a highlight of my week.

Sometimes (often!) I am the one who needs the deeper learnings possible in this kind of sanctuary.

Last week I led them through a process of lectio divina–holy reading or feasting on the word. I gave each participant two pages from one of the editions of the publication Bella Grace. https://bellagracemagazine.com If you are familiar with Bella Grace, you know the sumptuousness of the photography, along with the inspiring essays and quotations. Each of the pages I selected had a single quote, and I passed them out to the writers randomly with no attempt to match writer and quotes. I invited them to focus on one or both of the quotes. Their choice.

Two of the remaining pages were for me. I didn’t self-select a quote for myself either.

When I read the quote on one of my pages, I gasped.

Joy comes to us in the ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we’re too busy chasing down the extraordinary.

Bene Brown

Nice, huh? Well, here’s what you need to know.

I am currently preparing to present an adult forum during our church’s education hour, and the topic is–you got it–JOY!!!!!

Even though I suggested the topic and volunteered to lead the session, I have not been overjoyed about doing this. In fact, I have been a bit of a drama queen about the whole process. For those of you who know anything about the enneagram, I am a 4 and 4s have a tendency to become dramatic when they are anxious about something. I have presented many adult forums in the past and feel so privileged to be able to do that, but there are new challenges this time. Mainly, technology issues–how to present effectively to in-person and at home audiences at the same time. The hybrid model.

Normally, I would create a setting, an atmosphere to experience the topic, to engage with a spiritual practice and to interact with each other. But this new and necessary way of being together limits my usual way of teaching and responding. And Power Point? What’s that? (Yes, I am behind the times.)

When I read the quote in front of me, I had no recollection of reading it before and deciding to include it in the selections for the group. Surprise! Receiving this quote was just what I needed; a reminder to slow down and breathe and to reclaim joy for myself.

In the quiet of the room and in the company of the other writers, I entered the lectio divina process.

  1. Lectio (reading, taking a bite). Get acquainted with the quote. Write down the word or phrase that stands out for you.

Joy comes.

2. Meditatio (reflecting, chewing on it). Read the same passage again. What touches your heart? Allow it to resonate within you. Close your eyes, take those words into your heart and reflect on them. Try to feel them in your body. Write down your reflection.

I feel the first prickling sensation of tears as I sit with this phrase. “Joy comes.” And I notice there is not an “I” in the phrase. Without my asking or seeking or trying to make something happen, joy comes on its own, unbidden. I am reminded that I am a beloved child of God. No matter what. From the very beginning–even before the beginning. What a glorious affirmation, “Nancy, you are a beloved child of God, and joy comes.”

3. Oratio (being active, savoring the essence). Reading the word(s) again, you may feel “so what?” What am I going to do about what I am learning and feeling? Is there a call here? Is this a place for surrender or new level of commitment to deepen your spirituality? Write about your new awareness, thought, feeling or desire.

Be joy and open to joy. Remember all the learning you do when you prepare a new presentation and how that learning deepens because of the interaction with others. Be joy. Open to joy. The most important thing to remember is that joy is an affirmation of God’s presence, God’s love. Not only does God come, but God remains. Ever and always.

In a recent sermon Diana Butler Bass commented that if there was ever a time we need joy, it is now.

Yes. Grief and loss and confusion and uncertainty and fear surrounds us, but still joy comes. In the ordinary. My task is to receive it and reflect it.

4. Contemplatio (resting, digesting and integrating). Once again read the quote. Be aware of presence. This is the time for the prayer of silence, the prayer of the heart. Rest in God, the sacred, the holy.

I feel the drama disappear, at least for the moment, and I relax. I breathe. Make room for joy, I tell myself. Joy comes and needs space in which to shine, to grow, to be.

I expect there will still be technological challenges, but oh, the joy when joy is allowed to flourish.

Joy comes.

An Invitation: Are there words, such as a scripture passage or a lines from a novel or something read in Facebook or even an expression you or someone else uses frequently that beckon you into reflection? I would love to know.

NOTE: Stay tuned for my “Favorite Books of 2021” posts, which I will publish the next two Thursdays–Thanksgiving Day and December 2.

Thank you for reading my blog and sharing my thoughts with others.