A Bigger Box

I woke this morning at 3:30 am. I am an early to bed, early rise, sort of person, but 3:30 is ridiculous. My first thought was that sleep time is boring; I’d rather be up and reading with coffee. Sleep is much more fun if there are dreams, and my dreams have been sparse.

I pulled my nite hood back down over my eyes, and watched the blur on the back of my eyelids for a moment. Soon it was 5 am, and I had a dream! A tiny dream that was not very exciting, but here I am, about to tell you about it.

I dreamed about a wooden box. In the dream, I had seen an ad about this box. It was a cube, maybe 14 inches square. But in my living dream experience, it was much taller, maybe twice as tall or more. I kept checking the ad, and looking at the “real” box. I was confused in the dream, by the difference. It was a box that I had to construct myself, one of those self-assembly jobs, but an easy one. The cover would sit snuggly into place, but I stood with it in my hand, as I weighed the difference between experience and expectation.

Sometimes the most powerful dreams are tiny like this. The fact that I remembered it at all made it important, when I’ve not recorded many dreams for ages. My first thought was that maybe I don’t need dreams, that I live in a larger waking dream than anything I might catch in the night. I reminded myself to continue to pay attention to the symbols and metaphors all around me, all the time. If we carefully watch our waking life, we don’t need to process it so much in the night.

But I did not want to dismiss the dream without thinking about it further. Boxes, boxed in, limitations. I was not boxed in, in this dream. I was outside of the box. I was the one MAKING the box, and feeling the surprise that the box was bigger than expected. If boxes are limitations, then my limitations, limitations of my own making, are less restrictive than I was led to believe by “advertising.”

I was encouraged by the notion of being outside the box. That’s me, in many ways. I am not boxed in at all, and I think outside the box. The boxes I construct are more roomy than people expect. But I still make boxes. We all do. It’s scary to be without limits. What if we all lived outside the box? How would we contain ourselves? Lol! Would our imaginations run wild? Would our emotions be out of control?

I think about how often I try to box up my difficult emotions, and how I tend to jam the lid on them. I do this less now. I used to do it with food, and I no longer use the lid of overeating to squash and bury emotions like I used to. But I still have other lids – a game of solitaire, a tv show, facebook… The list goes on, all the ways I can box up what I do not want to look at.

I have been practising meditation more lately. If I catch myself trying to box stuff up, I sit with it, look at it, release it. I don’t hang onto it, whatever “it” is. (Remember, I am not always successful at this, but I’m getting better at it.)

Maybe by putting fewer things in my “box”, and by keeping the lid off, I am making more space inside of myself. My interior world is more spacious because I am not hoarding so many hurts, worries, or negative belief systems.

Daddy’s box of photos

Tending the Flame

A Candle for Peace

Early morning prayers and a candle lit for peace … but it keeps going out! Last time I used this candle, I pressed the soft wax back toward the wick, too tightly, perhaps. The candle sat on my shelf, beautiful, for almost a year, unlit, and now when I want to pray for peace, I find the flame needs close attention, as I relight it again and again.

Is that not the way with peace? We have an extended period of calm, and then let it sit on a shelf too long, trimmed up and beautiful, but unattended and fragile. We don’t see how fragile is that light until we want it, need it, long for it, only to find it isn’t there, nor easily regained.

The flame of peace goes out when we don’t watch over it. The flame of peace needs attention, coaxing, care. Turn away too long, expecting it to burn on its own, and the light goes out.

In the darkness, we need to huddle close to this light, and to each other. We need tenders of the flame, fire keepers, peace keepers. And if your candle of peace goes out, relight, and relight again! Relight that flame of peace again and again, and sit close with your loved ones. Pay attention to this fragile peace. Do not give up.

Discovering Your Personal Rhythm for Healthy Living

Happy 2021! A few weeks ago, I was asked to prepare a video lecture for students in the Human Services program at the New Brunswick Community College. They, like everyone else, are doing virtual classes in our COVID circumstances.

Now that the students have had their turn, I’m making the video public. Most of it can be instructive to anyone, student or not. I trust you can be patient with those parts that don’t apply. 😊

Psalm 23

Pondering through the brambles.

The beautiful words of Pslam 23 have at times prettified me and given me hope on some of my darkest days.
I wrote this poem just to reflect on the pslam and how important it is to me.

As I wander through the green uncut grass
the stories of the garden unfold.
Imprinted into the soil, deep dark tunnels of despair,
My burdens glistened into the dewy footprints of life
I know that I am the gardener, listening to the creator.

With every seed thats sown, I learn more of him.
When I doubt, he lifts me up, reminds me that I can grow.
He leads me through valleys that I never knew existed,
waters my soul with life giving streams, which hydrate me.
Growing in a new place, Where its safe to sit and stay.

With him I am at peace to say no words,
as he knows my…

View original post 73 more words

The Best Criticism

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” ~ Richard Rohr

This morning, with my coffee, I read, as usual, in no particular order, my email, Facebook notifications, and news. Some of my email is summarized news, which is where I started today.

I’ve come to believe that coffee energizes or unnerves me, depending on where I am emotionally to start with. Yesterday I was energized. The day before, I was shaking with anxiety. Same amount of coffee. Hmm. What’s that about?

What it is about is my responsibility to myself, to appropriate self-care, looking after my own emotional state, first and foremost. I need to clean the inside of my own “cup”, as Jesus advised.

He said this, according to the Gospel of Matthew (23:26), as part of an extended exchange with the religious leaders of the time, who were also in many ways the political leaders as well.

The exchange comes shortly after his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, an event we celebrate even today on Palm Sunday. That day, Jesus rode into town to the fanfare of the crowds, going directly to the temple, where he drew the ire of the religious leaders by tossing over the money changing tables.

Money changing was part of the onerous level of religious expectation. You couldn’t use Roman coins for your temple gifts and shopping. Yes, shopping. The temple grounds were filled with animals for sale at exorbitant prices. If you wanted to make a sacrifice, of the required type and quality, you paid through the nose. Jesus called the temple a den of thieves, rather than a House of Worship.

This exchange was the beginning of the end for Jesus. The political system and religious system worked together in earnest to precipitate his arrest and death. It’s like Jesus decided that under the circumstances he could be pointed in his comments about that system.

He told them a story about two sons whose father asked them to do certain tasks on the farm. One son said, “Sure, Dad!” and then as some sons do, went on to completely ignore the father’s request. But the other who at first said “Nope! Can’t help you, Dad,” went on to do exactly what he had been assigned to do. Which son, Jesus asked, was obedient?

The answer was an easy one; the second son was obedient. “Well,” replied Jesus, “be aware that people you look down upon from your critical high horse are likely much closer to God than you.” (My paraphrase.) Jesus went on to tell more stories critical of leaders who were disrespectful of others whom they regarded as being below them. The God who had always asked them to be fair in their care of widows and orphans, foreigners, and the poor (Jer. 7:5-6), was saying they obeyed in word only, focussing on outward behaviour instead of the intent of the heart.

And so, Jesus concluded, they should look to the motivations of their own hearts first. They should clean their own cups, the insides where the tea stains accumulate, rather than pointing accusing fingers all around.

Ack! What I found in the cupboard!

Reading the news and Facebook makes me anxious these days. While knowing what is happening in the world is important, I have to say that so much of what I read is criticism, and that criticism is becoming increasingly violent, just as it did in Jesus day. Who would have ever guessed that an American governor would face domestic terrorism for instituting laws meant to care for the vulnerable?

Today, my body reacted to stories like that, as evidenced by how shaky my handwriting appears in today’s first journal entry, after only one cup of coffee. I turned to my daily email from Richard Rohr, whose gentle words would soothe my soul, and found the quote, above, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”

Rohr, in an expansion of that statement in another document, reminds us that “when you don’t transform your pain you will always transmit it…, that we cannot afford to hate because we become a mirror, a disguised image of the same.” In the face of all that, we usually either fight or hide away in denial. Rohr suggests a third way, of fighting AND fleeing at once into the heart, where we clean our own “cup”, as Jesus said.

That is indeed a fight, as we struggle against our natural tendency to point fingers. What Jesus did, in the midst of trouble, even minutes before his unjust death, was to forgive. Cleaning my own cup means looking inside myself, centring into the Presence of Spirit, trusting and letting go.

This post is part of my process. May it bring you readers some peace as it has for me. May this become our better practice.

Blow Your Mind!

I want to brag. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I will anyway. I’ll start by saying I have two gorgeous delightful smart-as-a-whip grandgirlies. That is a typical grandmotherly thing to say.

I am married to a science teacher. He found a video called The Infinite Pattern That Never Repeats. He watched it, told me about it, and we watched it the next evening together. So interesting! Mind blowing science that I really don’t understand, but it is beautiful. I sent a link to my daughter, saying she and the girls would like it. I was thinking particularly about 5 year old Anna, the artist.

Of course, as things go, when watching YouTube, we ended up watching more, including this one: Parallel Worlds Probably Exist. Here’s Why. It has a hilarious explanation of Schrödinger’s cat, a thought experiment regarding quantum physics. If you put a cat in a box, and set up circumstances that may or may not release poison, is the cat dead or alive? Both! Watch and see.

An anxious Pixie

Pixie was watching intently. She did not like that experiment! I don’t blame her! Good thing it was a thought experiment, all in the mind of Schrödinger and in the pages of physics textbooks everywhere.

So Daughter Dear and the girlies watched the first video, and like us, kept on keeping on with more. Anna chose this second one. And wanted to DO the cat experiment! Wise daughter suggested a different experiment: Slinky Drop. This is a safe experiment that anyone can do, with a slinky and the slow motion setting on your phone. No cats are harmed. 😂

In our COVID world, there are so many ways to learn, to share, to love, and to be present. I got to see the result of my girlies’ slinky experiment, even though they live a thousand miles away. They learned things about science that may inspire their future careers and creativity.

We can put too much focus on the scary things in the world, but if we look instead with wonder, we can experience joy and gratitude instead of fear.

Happy experimenting!

Sunday Morning Thoughts, September 13

It’s dawn, on the beach at Pocologan. I am the first to come down the stairs and walk on the sands this morning. Last night I sat here until my toes got wet, on a rock that earlier in the day had been far from the edge of the water. Last night, the beach was marked with footprints big and small, bare and sneakered, human and canine, around sandcastles and names inscribed with sticks or clamshells. This morning, below the line of seaweed marking last night’s high tide, the sand is pristine. They talk about the tides of time and the sands of time. Perhaps that means something about Mother Earth’s ability to remove all evidence of what was, and to start again.

My room here at the Clipper Shipp Motel is a small one, too small for doing any of my usual stretching exercises. Instead I have walked the beach at various times of the day, marvelling at the height of the Fundy high tide, and sneaking around points of rock that had been under water a few hours before, to walk on the bottom of the sea.

The other night at home, as sometimes happens, my stretching released the emotion I carried in my muscles.  When that happens, I let the tears flow. I’ve learned to ask, whose tears are these? My tears are not always my own. The other night as I stretched, the tears that flowed were the tears of the people on the West Coast, watching their forests and homes burn.

Where will they go? What will they do? So many thousands homeless and broken. I noticed how my tears flow more easily for these sudden refugees in California, Oregon, or Washington, than they do for refugees fleeing fire in Greece, or terror in Myanmar. I can more easily relate to the traumas of our North American neighbours. And yet, I know that refugees around the world are also mothers and fathers, children, losing everything they love, feeling the same grief, shedding the same wrenching tears. I pray that these difficult times will help us see each of us everywhere as a sister or brother.

And so as the sun rises this morning, I reach for the sky, bend to the earth, and pray for our planet. On this new day, the skies above me are clear of smoke.  The crescent moon waves goodbye through wispy clouds. I am grateful for these blessings, aware that I no more deserve clear skies than my brothers and sisters near or far deserve pain and loss.
Pocologan Dawn

Surviving Change

Dawn in my backyard, spring 2020I live in the same place where I have lived most of my life. Some things remain the same. Dawn on my horizon looks the same as it did when I was a child. Other things change more drastically, like the traffic on this road. When I was in junior high, the school bus came up the road this half mile, and turned around in our driveway. My siblings and I, and whatever children might be living next-door in the house where my grandmother grew up, got on the bus and headed off to school. By the time my own children began their education, the bus went right past us, returning a while later half full of children. Now, on this holiday weekend, the traffic speeds by like a busy highway, despite the deplorable state of the pavement, as seasonal neighbours travel to and from cottages on the lake.

My husband and I went for a ride in the woods behind our house. In my mind, that journey should be the same as it was 50 years ago, when I took solitary walks down the same woods road. I still expect it to be overhung with maples, but that has not been the case since the tail end of Hurricane Arthur blew through in 2014, toppling a quarter of the sugar maples, and many other trees. Instead of the deep magic forest of my childhood, now the skies are open over the Little Mactaquac Maples sugar camp, which itself is a more recent addition to our landscape. But the stream still flows, and in spring the falls still roar down the rocks from the fields above. Yet the contrast between my childhood memories and the current reality is so stark that I grieve every time I make the trip. I miss the magic in the ancient trees.

Spring 2009, Woods Road

I am thinking about these things, because of the change this pandemic brings. We still don’t know what the longterm changes might be, as we wait in an extended pause between what was and what is coming. But we have survived change before. I think the biggest upheaval this extended community has experienced in my lifetime was the construction of Mactaquac Hydro Dam. I was 10 years old when the water rose in the St. John River Valley. Farms that my father worked were inundated. Mactaquac Stream, into which our Little Mactaquac Stream flows, could once be crossed on stepping stones in summer. Now it is part of the deep headpond above the dam. I remember the Snowshoe Islands, but since they weren’t part of my daily landscape, I don’t miss them like some do. I do miss the darkness of a starry night, something that disappeared forever when they turned on the lights on the “damn dam,” as it is affectionately called around here.

I was small when this all came about, listening on the edges to adult conversations, and hearing the anger, sadness, and fear in their voices. I imagine what it might have been like for them. Perhaps the years of change and the uncertain pause between what was and what was coming is similar to what we are experiencing now – knowing that things were changing, seeing the survey stakes go up, hearing news of neighbours’ land expropriated, watching swaths of trees cut and piled, denuding steep hillsides that would soon be under water – unable to imagine what the river valley would be like in the future.

That future came and we got used to it. Some still grieve what was, while others fought tooth and nail to save their beautiful river, waterfront houses, and tourist industry, when, in recent years, a decision needed to be made either to refurbish the dam or remove it. Some envisioned the removal of the dam as a return to what was, while others pointed out that what is under the water will never again be the river of our memory.

We got through that massive change, somehow surviving and becoming a different community, a truly beautiful community up and down our river, with new people, new activity, and a new way of life. That history of loss and rebirth in our lives can encourage us as we face the changes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our future will again be different. We don’t know how different, and we will naturally grieve what was, but we will also rejoice. I hold onto my faith, believing that those things that need changed, that we didn’t know how to change, will be changed, through this pandemic, for the good of all.

Today’s Walk with Spirit

I am just back from a very nice walk. It’s a little after 9 AM. Sun is shining, birds chirping, breeze blowing. I found myself singing one of my father’s favorites, “Trust and Obey.

❤️ My Daddy ❤️

The song begins with the words “when we walk with the Lord.” I used to think of this song as a message to buckle down and do what we’re told, with the emphasis on “obey.”

Whenever I hear this song, I hear it in my father’s voice, coming strongly over the fields, from the tractor while he plowed. Today, I wondered why he would sing that song.

Today, walking with Spirit, the message came through that there were times when Daddy was very glad to be out in the field all alone, times when he was discouraged or overwhelmed, times when it was hard to bite his tongue, and be a good husband/father/son. He was the best Daddy ever, so good and patient. But he had to deal with a slew of us kids, a difficult stepmother, and the usual trials of farming. He was a young man, once upon a time, doing the best he could. And so, today, I heard the emphasis on the word “trust”, to trust and just keep doing the next best thing, as the key to happiness.

I walked today, singing Daddy’s song, feeling connected to everything, to Daddy, to God, to the road, the birds, the neighbours, the forest and the sky. It was a beautiful day to walk and pick up other people’s garbage, which I try to do once a day, along the side of the road, especially in spring. It was a beautiful day to pick up other people’s garbage, because it’s really my garbage, as I am part of all of it.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t drop that garbage. It doesn’t matter that I can’t stop in to see my neighbours during this pandemic. It doesn’t matter that I can’t go for a walk with my friends. We are never alone, “when we walk with the Lord.” ❤️

Pollyanna and Suffering

I have always been an optimist. Once upon a time, when Pollyanna was a popular children’s story, I took on that persona, the cheerful optimist, the “glad girl”. The book was published in 1913; Disney made a movie in 1960. I was very small at the time, and never saw the movie, but the story became part of my repertoire for life. I’m sure I wasn’t glad all the time. Neither was the little orphan Pollyanna, but her Glad Game of finding something to be glad about in any circumstance got her through, and changed the lives of those around her. The story lives on in our parlance, pejoratively, as a put down of those who are considered naïve because they do not see things as being as horrible as others do.

Me, March 24 2020

I have been called a Pollyanna numerous times, even now, as an adult. When I first interviewed to become a candidate for ordination in the United Church of Canada, I was so excited, that the Interview Board gave me an assignment, to talk to a good number of ministers about what was the best part of ministry and the worst part. They didn’t say as much, but it was clear that they feared I was entering ministry as a naïve dreamer. I carried out the assignment with vigour. The answers boiled down to “the people” and “the people”. One minister’s story deeply discouraged me; their people had been exceptionally hurtful. Yet with prayer and the encouragement of other ministers, I regained my optimism. God is still working in the world, even if Christendom completely disappears. In fact, if Christendom disappears, that would probably be a good thing. Followers of Jesus could then get back to living the Way, instead of maintaining church buildings and tradition. I may be disheartened from time to time, but I still hold the belief that the Biggest Big, Love, Life, the Universe, is moving in a positive direction.

Probably because of this natural optimism, I have never thought of myself as “suffering”. Others may suffer, but I did not claim that word for myself. Then in August 2018, I came across a definition that fit how I was feeling. Suffering, James Finley said, is “ an inescapable sense of precariousness”. He was discussing Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths. The cause of this sense of precariousness, Finley says, is wanting life to be different than it is. The cure is surrender. Buddha taught that the “how” of surrender is the Eight Fold Path — right practices — right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Of those eight practices, right mindfulness was the one that spoke to me that day, and speaks to me still. Paul Knitter, in his book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, wrote about “a mindful trusting of each moment as it comes” (p. 159). That’s what surrender means to me now — trusting in the moment. The paradox of trust in the midst of suffering carries us through dark times. This is not a smiley face that says there is no suffering, but a sense of solidness inside the presence of the Biggest Big.

I posted a video on my Facebook page about making today, New Moon Day in March, like New Year’s Day. If what you do today sets the tone for the next year, do what you want to be doing for the next twelve months. I am doing social distancing at home with Hubby, and I hope we won’t be still doing THIS twelve months from now, but today has to be intentional. As I say in my video, the main thing I want to do today and for the next twelve months is to write. The above paragraphs are an excerpt from my current writing project. Just a taste. I needed to read these words myself, this morning, so I thought I’d share.