Come Back Stronger

Dear Friends-

It’s been such a very long time since our last visit together. How are you?

I’m okay… if by okay we mean, good at moments, often weary, vaguely sensing that my heart and mind and body felt better 18 months ago, performing the actions of life with comfortable reliability but little zest. 

In June, my family drove to Washington to spend five days with Kim’s family. We hadn’t been together in more than three years since our visiting was already in arrears before Covid pitched us into an extended no-travel advisory. Together again, we packed a picnic for Foul Weather Bluff, the place where several years ago Kim and I originally discussed creating Each Holy Hour. While our kids sunbathed and ate sandy sandwiches, we walked the length of the beach.

If felt so good to be together, to listen to the wash of the waves, to toe over rocks, surprising furtive crabs. A heron slowly paced in the brackish water, wonderfully unconcerned with us or Covid or politics or the degree to which we were spent by the year we had just come through or whether the kids, back at the blankets, were getting sunburned and if they’d saved us anything to eat.

As we walked, we discussed how Each Holy Hour with its looooong periods of inactivity, hasn’t been exactly what we’d envisioned – or more precisely, we haven’t been what we’d envisioned: limitless, consistent writers.

It turns out that things don’t always come in rich abundance. Sometimes resources run dry. After these many grueling months of Covid, (with perhaps more to come as infections from the Delta variant surge), the personal damage we are sustaining is weighty. Some of us have lost loved ones, some have been sick themselves. There are societal-level consequences and economic fallout upon which generations of sociologists, economists, psychologists, and historians will mint PhDs. But at this point, it’s the micro level that I’m trying to get my arms around – the very micro: specifically assessing where the fallout from this year is showing up in my life. How am I metabolizing the increased stress? Have I grieved what needs to be grieved? Do I extend grace to others? To myself? With depleted internal resources, how do I go about rebuilding?

Our species has an innate love for stories where the protagonist comes back stronger. This storytelling pattern is so ingrained in our psyche that it’s often called the monomyth, the singular template of storytelling. After hardship comes the flourishing, after the flood comes the rainbow. I hope, for all of us, that the new life and growth on the far side of these difficult months will come. But I also realize that plotline and character arcs are elements we add to help structure our experience. Real life can be plotless.

These days, there are times I feel oddly flat and even in the midst of doing something that has always given me joy, I feel subdued. It seems like I’m looking through the wrong end of binoculars at a place I once inhabited. Even while I experience this bit of self-estrangement, I just try to accept that, right now, my range doesn’t extend as far as it used to.

I hope, of course, that like any good heroine, I’ll come back stronger. But I have to accept that life is an unstructured story with no guarantees. And that’s okay. The most I can say for myself is that I’m staying curious about where I am and trying to let that – and a walk on the beach with a very dear friend – be enough.

Sending love to all of you!

p.s. Despite the ruminative tone of this Consider, this is a happy picture: the kids did save us a flask of tea!

Not only, but also

the numbers are footnotes…. couldn’t get the formatting to superscript

Dear Friends-

How are you holding up? Seriously. I truly hope you are yours are well as can be in these unpredictable days.

I’ve written several drafts of this Consider; each time I sit down my mood has been in a different place, making the words I jotted down a few days earlier no longer resonant. The pendulum swings. One day the sun is out, my kids’ online schooling is smooth, I’m staying abreast of work emails [1], I made time for a trail run [2] and a phone call with a friend. I put a wholesome meal on the table and think, “I’ve got this shelter-in-place thing down.”

Another day, the wheels come off: the kids are on each other’s last nerve, my work calls are interrupted with sibling fights over who gets to use which computer [3] for schoolwork, the pantry [4] is denuded with boredom grazing. I pour another cup of coffee [5], check the news again, and think, “How are we going to get through this?”

Sound familiar? I imagine I’m hardly the only one having sizable swings in my experience of these past weeks. I keep trying to remind myself I’ve never been in the midst of a global pandemic shuttering schools and businesses and under a stay-at-home order before, so of course I don’t know how to do it. It’s all a process of trial and error – and like the name says, there’s bound to be error (sometimes a lot). It’s okay, that’s how we learn.

Recently as I was cleaning out my desk [6], I came across a little envelope stuffed with index cards, fragments of church bulletins, paper torn from notebooks. On each little slip was scrawled a quote which I’d wanted to capture and save. Among these was the following from St. Augustine, “Thou must be emptied of that where with thou art full that thou mayest be filled with that where of thou art empty.”

Wow! What a time to come across these words suggesting there is something desirable about a profound shuffling of the things that fill our lives —for what are these days if not a time of deep, societal-wide reordering? The things “where with thou art full” have come to a screeching stop. The communal spaces – schools, restaurants, churches, downtown sidewalks – bustling just weeks ago, are empty. The calendar that ordered my family’s brimming life is gathering dust under my counter. The routine that kept us all hustling and shuttling feels like a distant and not-all-together pleasant memory. In many dramatic ways we are forcibly being emptied of that where with we are full.

The first half of Augustine’s memorable chiasmus seems obvious—we’re all living in the sudden cessation of the things that filled us. But it’s the second half, the reversal, that has been tugging on me. Of what are we empty that these tumultuous days provide us an opportunity to fill? Certainly Zoom calls and Google Classroom, cloth masks and hand sanitizer, grim statistics and worry, are all candidates for what fills us in this vacuum. But Augustine is, of course, speaking of an altogether different class of thing—not things at all, really. He’s intimating there’s much good available to us that the normal “fullness” of our daily lives precludes us from experiencing.

As for me, I’m not yet ready to say what emptiness in me the new patterns of this shelter-at-home life may fill. These days are too new, perhaps, to yet perceive the gold in them. But I’m grateful for the way these words of Augustine’s have framed these weeks of the pandemic, helping me to consider that emptying is not only loss but also invitation.



1 Grateful that I have work, when so many have lost jobs and financial stability.

2 Grateful that I live in a place with endless access to trails and mountains and lakes, when so many are sheltering in small apartments.

 3 Grateful that we have access to technology that allows our kids to continue schoolwork, when so many do not have the funds to have any computers, much less several for the kids to fight over.

4 Grateful that we are able to purchase food, when so many depend on foodbanks and free and reduced lunch.

5 Wasn’t I cutting back on coffee before all this started?

6 Hiding from my children.

Habits of Grace in Anxious Times


These are anxious days. Is it possible that it has only been two weeks since this new reality descended on so many of us?  Every day has contained such change that it feels as if months have slipped away. Every hour can feel marked by an underlying sense of emergency as we check news and call loved ones.

It’s strange to think back to a few weeks ago when I was planning ahead for my daughter’s high school graduation. Should we host the party at our house or did I need to rent a space? When should I put invitations out? Instead of the black gown and mortarboard in May, two weeks ago as school was rapidly shutting down, my daughter’s literature teacher invited students to line up and walk down the classroom aisle.  She bumped elbows with each one, congratulating them on finishing well. A classmate pulled out his bassoon and played “Pomp and Circumstance.” The teacher emptied her cabinets of PopTarts and coffee pods and they toasted one another.

In those first few days home as everything we had planned seemed to fold around us, we ricocheted between grieving our lost plans and full schedules to being cognizant of our many blessings. We are in good health, our jobs transitioned to home, our cabinets are full of food. And yet, there are so many for whom this is not the case. The pain and worry are palpable. 

As a Christian practicing a liturgical tradition, it has been particularly resonant for me that all of this is happening against the backdrop of Lent. Lent, the forty days leading to Easter, is a time for inward reflection and outward service. The name Lent comes from an old word meaning “to lengthen.” Lengthening seems like an apt description of what is required of us just now. During this pandemic, like it or not, we are being forced to lengthen ourselves: our patience, our compassion, our time between grocery runs. In addition to these things, I’m learning to lengthen my ability to sit with uncertainty. While busy signing into Zoom meetings and scraping together meals, I’m aware there’s a constant hum of worry and questions just below the surface.  Who among those I know will get sick or lose their jobs? Will I lose people I love? Will I get sick? These are questions that no amount of mental forecasting will answer. Instead, I must lengthen my practice of holding still within the questions, of being okay without answers.  

“One of the things that I’m aware of is that consistent habits, what some have called habits of grace, can really be helpful especially in unsettling times,” Bishop Curry  wrote in a March 16th letter.  Bishop Curry’s habits of grace aren’t tantamount to whistling by the graveyard. They aren’t ways to pretend we are okay in the midst of a crisis. Instead they are the tangible ways we lengthen ourselves in these times. From far away, we all watched Italians unite to practice a habit of grace by singing together every day. We have seen the footage of health care workers gearing up in reused masks and garbage bags to head into crowded hospitals in New York City and around the world. Some of these daily habits of grace are heroic and on the frontline, and some, like joining in song with neighbors, happen on the back balconies of apartments. But the invitation to us is there: in this time of anxiety, the financial pain and health concerns, there are hidden gifts.  We can choose to develop habits of grace that lengthen our minds and hearts.  IMG_0804

For so many of us, these habits will evolve from the small choices we make in our day, as simple and profound as the words we choose with our loved ones (and ourselves) at the day’s opening and close..  I have found great solace in the renewed ritual of plunging my hands almost daily into garden soil and calling out to neighbors as they pass.  I watch as two daughters take up sketch pads and another plunges into Tolstoy; my sister reads the Narnia Chronicles by Zoom to a group of eager children and adults every morning; my husband, busy with back-to-back virtual meetings, takes time for tea with our family during the day.  Still others in our church reach out by phone at least twice a week to check up and connect, and grocery runs and help are just an email away. Another older couple I know speak nightly with their extended family about their gratitudes for the day.  What are habits of grace you are developing or hearing about? Please leave a comment, below.

Friends, may love and mercy surround us; may we feel the love of our neighbors; may we bind one another in prayer, support, and connection that transcends all barriers.  May we take a deep breath, tune our spirits to the abiding love that will not forsake us, and, in small ways and large, act to care for this hurting world.




The World Opens Up

Dear Friends,

Two months ago at the solstice, my dogs and I went for our morning constitutional and found something altogether new on our regular walk. In the night, a gnarled apple tree standing in the clearing through which we always cut, had been transformed. Its trunk, corseted in layers of tulle, supported limbs wrapped to their end in nubby chenille. In December’s wintery landscape this splash of color was a fanciful surprise. I marveled over someone’s dedication to so curious an impulse. It could not have been easy to reach up amid the pokey branches and delicately swaddle each one. And yet, whoever undertook this task persisted in the dark and cold until this tree shone out in the bare landscape.

Through these past months, I’ve watched my experience of this tree shift. As the weeks wore by, the wintery weather took its toll on the wrappings. It wasn’t just the tattered look I began to find depressing. The more times I passed this swaddled tree, the more annoyance crept up in me. It wasn’t until I came across Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Black Rook In Rainy Weather,” that I recognized the source of my irritation. Plath’s poem explores those occasional, fleeting moments when something seems to lean through nature to illuminate our lives, those “rare” and “random” experiences when we encounter something that “seizes our senses/ hauls our eyelids up.” Have you experienced those moments of grace? The world opens up for just a second and you are on the spot to witness it.

I don’t know what the anonymous tree-wrapper had in mind, but for me the tree became a reminder of what it wasn’t – a genuine moment of “backtalk/ From the mute sky.” The adornment was a novelty certainly but it couldn’t seize my senses or garner more than a wry smile. Rather than be akin to those sudden, miraculous moments, the swathed tree amplified their absence.

And so it went until this morning.  When I reached the clearing, it took me a moment of looking around to realize the tree had been unwrapped, the tulle and chenille cleared away. Once again the tree was a winter-bare apple, bootprints pressed in the snow beneath.

I walked on and after another hundred yards, the morning sun cleared the ridgeline. Light slanted across the field, touching stems and twigs, illuminating the hoar frost that, in the night, had arranged itself on every hospitable surface. Suddenly, I was standing amidst a thousand luminous halos. And here it was: after all my winter trudging, I was fortunate enough to find myself on the spot for one of those illimitable moments. Like all such moments, it was unexpected, unlooked for, pure gift. “Miracles occur,” Plath says.

It didn’t take long for the hoar frost to melt, within half an hour the clearing fell back into winter drabness. But, while it lasted, this glorious moment was an oasis – in a way that nothing of my own making, or yards of fabric and skeins of yarn could ever hope to be. It revived me for more “trekking stubborn/ through this season of fatigue.”

There’s plenty more trekking ahead. But, miracles occur. I saw one this morning. I know the trudging will get tiresome in the days ahead, but now I can cut back through this internal clearing and find this memory wound round my heart – a living tree, adorned.


P.S.  My husband tells me I have to write about something other than walking the dogs next time! Apparently, that daily habit gives me plenty to think about and seems to surface in these Considers regularly. Thanks to all of you for accompanying me and my four-legged pals on these little meanders.

P.P.S. I drafted this Consider a few weeks ago and then got waylaid by the flu overtaking our household. The frost is long gone. We now have mud season in its place.

P.P.P.S. The moment with the light shining through the hoar frost made me think of a letter John Adams wrote. Near the end of his life, he woke to find an ice storm had turned every tree into a “Chandelier of Cutt Glass.”  I love these words he penned about that storm: “I have seen a Queen of France with eighteen Millions of Livers of diamonds upon her person—and I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to All the glitter of her jewels did not make an impression upon me equal to that presented by every Shrub.”
Here’s to hoping you have such moments when you are met by the miracle of every shrub!

What is Necessary

Dear Friends,

Last week, as the third snow day in a row dawned, I began to find myself deep in a malaise. Here in Western Washington, I’ve grown accustomed to the sharp contrast of evergreens and slate skies; even on the bleakest days, spruce and red cedar encircle us, setting off white-capped mountains on the horizon, the steel grey of the Sound. But day-after-snowy-day, the pallette was limited –  white ground, white trees, white sky.

Somewhere during the week, I found my mind growing hazy. Words seemed laborious and slow. I found myself opting for the ease of news articles, weather coverage and Instagram photos, all available with the swipe of my finger.

The torpor increased until I finally unearthed myself from the warm, comfortable couch, tugged on my boots, and opened the front door. Outside I found my neighbors busy tromping about with sleds. One had built an igloo, another a ski slope. A long walk, slow going and inefficient over unploughed roads, pulled me out of my languor and into participation with the world again. There was so much beauty at hand and underfoot. A pile of snow sloughing off a pine, two small boys attempting to shovel ice from the road. Even the small imprints of the dog’s paws were enchanting.

It’s moments like these that I remember a simple walk can be a choice for good. It’s become harder and harder to keep an internal sanctuary, to hold a space that isn’t crowded out by the relentless, ubiquity of blaring cultural input. The continual cacophonous assault of modern life conjures a sort of spiritual haze similar to the mental one in which I found myself after three days of snow.  

“Wilderness isn’t a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,” writes essayist Edward Abbey. While Abbey may have been referring to those untrammeled wild places on the far corners of the map, there’s a wilderness within each of us that is threatened to be paved over by the blacktop of wall-to-wall cultural inputs. Like a wilderness of dark woods and winding rivers, our internal wilderness is in equal need of active conservation.  

This is hard, morally profound work. I find that I act as an active conservator of this wilderness when I engage in the simplest things: a snowy walk, a good book, a meal with my family, a moment of gentle silence with a friend. The humble reality of these things counters the louder, slicker, flashier options that otherwise inundate my life. 

Now the snow is melting, the rain is back, and the sidewalks are ugly with slush. It’s easy to dash from the car into warm buildings, and mostly I’ve been doing just that. Yet as we returned home today from a wasteland of shops and lines, we leashed the dog and wandered out into a cold evening. The mountains were cloaked in clouds. As we walked, a truck slowed to let us cross a road; the air felt warmer, the world friendlier, and I felt held by it all.

What about you, friends?  What awakens you?



At This Darkest Time of the Year

Dear Friends,
These weeks before Christmas, I find my shoulders steadily inching toward my earlobes. My mind’s a hive, abuzz with lists.

Turns out, I need a deep breath. Will you take one with me?


Phew! I needed that. That breath might be the most important thing I’ve done all day. Every year, I’m struck with the discrepancy between the frenetic holiday season and what’s happening in the natural world at this northern latitude. While we’re out “getting and spending,” nature is conserving energy, paring back, hunkering down. For all the technologies and comforts that seem to elevate us above nature, we’re still a corporeal species with a deep, instinctive desire for slowness, abeyance, and quiet at this darkest time of the year.

In my Episcopal tradition, these creaturely instincts are preserved in the four weeks before Christmas, the short season of Advent. In embracing the darkness and holding space for quiet, Advent invites an inward turn. Perhaps at no time of the year are our acquisitive habits more on display than during the holiday spending spree. Advent is a counterpoint to this cultural excess. It asks of us inquisitiveness rather than acquisitiveness. Among the inquiries of Advent: What really nourishes me? For what truly good thing do I yearn? If God were to come disguised as my life, would I have the eyes to see?

While store windows are aglitter with promises of material fulfillment, Advent’s spareness bestows a different type of gain. It allows me to hear the muffled eloquence of footsteps in snow or feel the simple, sharp exhilaration of a breath in winter. And it is through the darkness of Advent that the small pinpricks of light — starlight, candle flame, alpenglow on the mountainside — are revealed as truly consequential and glorious.

I hope that in these hustling days you find a few Advent moments to sit in the silent company of a flickering candle, to walk beneath the barren trees of winter, to gaze through the darkness at the miracle of stars above. To breathe.



p.s. Since Kim and I both delight in children’s books, we thought we’d list some of our favorites to read at this time of the year. Short and centering, perhaps one of these will usher in an Advent moment.

Recommendations from Kim:

The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola:  Based on an Italian legend, this beautifully illustrated book is a wonder and brings me to tears every time I read it. (Me too! – Lindsay)

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas: This is such a great read-aloud, sure to evoke wistfulness and many chuckles.

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumor Godden and Barbara Cooney: You’re probably familiar with this classic, but this version is exceptionally told, with the magic of Cooney’s gorgeous artwork.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: this story has become almost a trope, but the original glitters with deep meaning and beauty. Try listening to  this fabulous audiobook version in the car as an alternative to Christmas radio!

Recommendations from Lindsay:

A Northern Nativity by William Kurelek: My all time favorite Christmas book. Spare folk art drawings paired with short visions of the Holy Family in various northern landscapes. It asks the question: “If it happened here as it happened there, if it happened now as it happened then, who would have seen the miracle? Who would have brought gifts? Who would have taken Them in?”

How Brown Mouse Kept Christmas by Clyde Watson: While this little book is a simple, sweet story, it’s real value is in pitch perfect observance of tiny moments, rendered in beautiful prose.

The Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley: Like all the books in this series, this one is a perfect pairing of understated British humor and hilariously detailed drawings. A thorough pleasure.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson: In my opinion, no Christmas book list can be complete without this classic where humor paves the way to wonder and a sense of what is truly holy.

Giving Thanks

Dear Friends,

I’ve just wiped powdered sugar and a trail of cream cheese frosting fingerprints from every surface in my kitchen. It turns out, my eight-year-old daughter’s “help” frosting pumpkin rolls is an immersive experience. The house smells of roasting vegetables, there’s forty people due here in the morning for pie breakfast, and I forgot to pick up the extra chairs from work. 

But… at this moment, there’s a cup of tea steaming by my side, the wind is gusting at the windows, and two dogs are curled by my feet. Things here are momentarily peaceful (ignoring the gaggle of teenage boys hollering from the family room – two of whom just passed by carrying boxing gloves). In this season, peaceful moments can be short lived, so I’ll carry on with my tea, and the rattle of the windows, and the sleeping dogs while I can.

In this moment my thoughts turn to all of you. This little intermittent practice of Each Holy Hour is a joy in my life. Kim and I often find ourselves expressing gratitude for this practice that, while occasional, allows us the gift of panning for gold in the stream of our lives. We’re grateful to each of you that participate in this endeavor with us, as subscribers, readers, commenters. In whatever capacity you are with us, we’re thankful.

Kim has penned this beautiful blessing for your Thanksgiving. Along with the turkey and trimmings, mashed potatoes and cornbread, and, of course, pie, may it nourish you.

With gratitude,

Lindsay & Kim


May we give thanks today
For our families, friends, and neighbors,
For fresh vegetables, socks, and hot showers.

We give thanks today for our difficult people
who tear rifts into the soil of our assumptions,
giving space for new seeds to take root.

We give thanks for this earth,
so ill-used by generations, ours included,
that still nurtures, enchants, and calls us to attention.

We give thanks for the faces that beseech us
to look up from our feast
into the eyes of the hungry, displaced, and wounded.

We give thanks for good books
and for the imperfect people who wrote them,
music that dissolves time, art that allows us to see with fresh eyes.

We give thanks for robust imaginations,
for the facility of our hands and strength of our bodies,
for silence and story.

For restlessness and displacement, home and belonging,
For vision and purpose, thresholds and journey,
For being caught by surprise.

For those who love us despite what we do,
All who welcome us into perpetual becoming,
All whom we are privileged to love.

For the grace that pursues us,
the hands that heal us,
the joy that surprises us,
the presence that accompanies us,
we give thanks.

Stepping Outside Our Carefully Curated Circles–into Joy

Dear Friends,

On this foggy morning, I rose at an ungodly hour to catch a flight. The dense marine layer made the tram, which shuttled us between the terminal and the waiting jet, seem almost cozy, snug.  We’re generally an introverted bunch here in Seattle and as winter closes in grey and chilly, we retreat into our steamy coffee cups and Patagonia hoods. But on this tram so early in the morning, strangers chatted.  Eyes met, smiles transformed a dozen faces with cheer.

There are precious few places left where this kind of magic happens among people who do not choose each other. These days, we are masters at curating our own spaces, sticking to familiar places and people. We keep within the circles we prescribe for ourselves: like-minded, like-educated, socio-economically similar. We choose the messages we hear and we pay for the best experiences we can afford. I realize even the grocery stores I frequent are filled with people who at least approximate “my” people. But recently I’ve begun to wonder about the hidden costs of these “safe” choices.  Are we stunting our spirit’s growth in ways we don’t fully appreciate, missing opportunities for true connection of which we’re largely unaware?

Aboard the flight, the woman next to me in seat 32A is incredibly chatty, and a bit sporadic. She is not the person I would choose to sit with for a four hour flight. She has pulled out her phone and shown me photos of who-knows-what. And I’ve nodded politely, wanting to slip on my Air Pods. But as the plane rises and the millions-year-old miracle of Mount Rainier looms huge and snowy on the horizon; as flat-topped Mount Saint Helens, Mount Baker, and Mount Olympus drift into view, we murmur together with awe. Unexpected warmth crops up within me as I sit with this fellow human in witness of the majesty beyond the window. Honestly, what I feel is joy.

happy“Joy is good cheer. . .joy and curiosity are the same thing. Joy is always a surprise, and often a decision.  Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days, it can be a radical act,” writes Anne Lamott in her book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

It’s this radical act aspect of joy I’m interested in. Because in our highly curated world, stepping outside our patterns and circles is no easy task. Of course I can find quiet joy with my fellow book members who quote T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. That’s almost a given. But can I stretch myself to find real connection in unexpected places? The jolt of joy, the surprise animation of an unlooked-for interaction, is perhaps more likely to open a new door to discovery, to pierce my patterned thinking, than when I’m interacting with those who think and sound like me. I’ve found this recently through a great conversation with an Uber driver, as I helped a mother and son load an impossibly heavy piece of furniture into their car, and today, with the woman in 32A. But the examples of this type of encounter are for me, I’m truly sad to admit, few and far between in the busy, rather contained life I lead. I wonder how many more of these opportunities I have missed?

As we become more polarized and suspicious of one another, my longing to encounter grows stronger. I don’t want to be satisfied with “my people” who are in “my corner.” I want something much wilder and uncontained. I want joy. Joy moves through porous places, erasing boundaries and protections. It is indeed at once a decision, a surprise, and increasingly, I hope, a habit.



P.S.  For a song that strikes this same theme of finding the joy of human connection in unexpected places, check out this songby the Innocence Mission.

P.S.S.  We’d love it if you would post your comments here!  And for those of you who live close by, I wrote this post a few foggy mornings ago–I am indeed back in Washington and it is still foggy!

On Your Own Behalf

Dear Friends,

Pinned to the bulletin board above my desk is a quote from Jane Austen: “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” I keep this curious sentence in view because I find it an excellent crystallization of a truth I’m learning to live by: that tremendous effort is sometimes necessary to access things that are good for me.

Today, I awoke feeling like I was looking at my life through the wrong end of a telescope. On my morning walk, usually a centering routine, the autumny yellows waving from a patch of aspen seemed dull, the slanting sunlight a reproach.

All morning I reached for another cup of tea or a piece of chocolate to banish the banality. I listlessly moved my to-do list around the counter, half-heartedly starting projects and dropping them, managing mainly to be ineffectual. My mood seemed to buffet me at every turn.

Finally, and with titanic energy, I pulled on my running shoes and forced myself out the door. For the first quarter of an hour the aspen’s yellow still seemed dishwater dull.

But after awhile everything began to brighten. The wrong-end-of-the-telescope feeling diminished. Each stride landed me more in my body, more pax with the familiar world I love. Suddenly, with clarity, I recalled a friend’s text sent many months ago when I was in a similar drifty, purposeless space: “It is amazing the miracle balm that is ACTION on your own behalf.”

This is a lesson I have to learn and relearn all the time. Why is it so hard at times to do the things we know deepen our lives, to adhere to practices that ground us? In the past decade, through a lot of trial and error and listening to my experience, I have learned decisively that everything is better in my heart and mind if I plonk myself at my desk and work on crafting another chapter of my manuscript. Or if I go on a trail run. Or, if possible, both. Though this formula could not be simpler, I still have to talk myself into these actions on my own behalf. Even with years of practice, it doesn’t come easily.

It would be far less complicated, I suppose, if we were just plain good at choosing the things that fill us up, that pay out dividends in our hearts and minds. But, in my experience, these are the very things about which I drag my feet and invent excuses to avoid.

The point is this: it’s hard work, this business of being alive in the world. Let no one tell you differently. The work is real. There are no shortcuts to fulfillment, no arrival at some halcyon space where you get to stay. There are just decisions, day after day, on how to use the time you’re given. Some days those decisions seem easy. Some days they are taken with great effort.

How grateful I am for those times when, pushing through, I write on till I am back in humor with the practice, or run on until I can appreciate the autumn light winking in the aspens.


p.s.  My formula for action on my own behalf is a trail run and writing. What’s yours? Share it with us here by leaving a reply below.

The True Substance of Our Lives

Dear Friends,

This morning after my spouse and kids left in a flurry of bags, jackets, and hurried kisses, I left the dishes on the counter and sunk back into my chair at the breakfast table. Promising myself a few minutes of meditation before jumping into my own day, I poured myself a cup of luke-warm tea. Then, before I fully knew what I was doing, I reached for my phone. Four minutes later, I realized that my quiet time had been filled with work emails and instructional texts to my kids about after-school activities. The essential task – spending five minutes in intentional silence – had been sacrificed for a whole load of frenetic to-do’s. 

I imagine many of you can easily relate to this scenario. With so much clamoring for our attention, it is almost impossible not to lose sight of what is truly important.    

In my work in spiritual formation at an Episcopal church, I am privileged to spend many hours with folks in the second half of their lives. Unlike many of the elders I knew when I was younger, who tended to veil their vulnerability in the language of triumphant salvation or sugarcoat their struggles in a wash of sparkling sentiment, these elders are not afraid to talk openly and without judgment of a lifetime of twists and turns, sorrows and joys.Their lives are still a work in process, a testimony to the idea that one lifetime is not long enough to whittle down love, faith, and the art of seeing, to a perfect point.

I’ve learned so much from watching these folks in their 70s, 80s, and 90s sift through their lives.  They are actively paring back, letting go of many of the things they once counted vital to success and survival. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr writes, “All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not.” This work of spiritual decluttering is what so many of the elders in my community are actively leaning into. And it’s not easy work. This open-hearted re-ordering requires humility, honesty, imagination and faith. When we’ve done the work of stripping away all the nonessential layers that feel so important and pressing, Rohr says we’ll ultimately find that “the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. . . .that place is called freedom.”

More than enough. All that you need. Freedom. These things feel far away this morning. At work, half-finished tasks seem to slap my face for attention. At home, the house, the dog, the girls, all need my loving presence to thrive. What about my own health and appointments I need to schedule? And did I mention that my oldest daughter is off to a college interview this afternoon?  What my elders teach me about this moment is that while the one hundred things commanding my attention this morning are fine in themselves, I should not mistake them for the true substance of my life. That true substance lies underneath all the busyness and urgent tasks that populate my mind and calendar. Far more intrinsic and essential is my identity as a child of God, a listener to the still, small voice that tells me what is deeply true about today. And what is deeply true is this: We are loved, and no matter what we check off our list by the end of the day, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.



P.S. I am indebted to a virtual “cloud of saints” for these ideas; this month, I’ve been sitting at the virtual feet of Richard Rohr and Parker Palmer.  Of course, so many writers and poets address these ideas–who are your favorites?  Please leave a message and share them with us!