Consider: Always we begin again

Dear Friends,

Remember us?  You haven’t heard from Each Holy Hour in awhile, but here we are, back again in your inbox. The reason for EHH’s prolonged silence rests with me. This past year, I said “yes” to too many things. In addition to our family’s full time business, parenting three kids, and writing, I took a position as a middle school teacher and, shortly after that – as if life were not full enough already – my husband and a business partner opened a gym. In their own right, each of these commitments has merit. As additions to a family life already running near capacity, the extra time, energy, and stress, these added were far more than anticipated. By February, my husband and I were both working with no margin, every waking moment accounted for with some obligation, each night dropping, spent, into scant sleep. The refrigerator kept running out of food. The dog rued her change of fortune with deep, exasperated sighs. Slag piles of laundry accumulated at the bottom of the clothes chute. More times than I care to remember, my husband and I ran out of patience with one another. 
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Though I knew I was running on empty, when my church asked me to speak on the topic of seeking God’s presence for a Lenten program, I agreed. I prepared my talk, clipped on the mic, and began confidently. Halfway into my presentation, I repeated the question upon which I’d been asked to reflect: What does it look like for me to intentionally seek deeper intimacy with God?Suddenly my eyes began to smart. I could feel my mouth pull out of shape. I choked out the next sentences in a voice that hardly sounded like my own.

“Seeking deeper intimacy with God looks like all the things I’m notdoing. It looks like being outside. It looks like a device turned off. It looks like writing my way into a deeper and more nuanced experience of my life. It looks like cultivating real relationships beyond my comfort zone. It looks like ennobling my life by keeping my mind full of the beautiful language, imagery, and ideas of our sacred stories. It looks like asking hard questions of my life and seeking to align myself with their answers, however challenging that may be. I know all these things. And yet, here I am telling you I’m notdoing them.”

There’s a peculiar malady I’m affected by, perhaps its symptoms are familiar to you, in which I resist admitting I’m in over my head. Though my hair may be visibly graying, though I’m slugging down coffee by the liter, though I’m touchy at the slightest suggestion that the milk is getting low and I should have thought to pick up another gallon, to acknowledge how thin I’m stretched is to admit personal deficiency. At the Lenten talk, this confession came out sideways, quick hot tears that spoke far louder than my carefully crafted speech.

Today is the first day of the school year being finished, and with it my job. In a steady June rain, I took the dog for a run. Eager to be out, she galloped down the trail, sniffing clumps of yarrow and rooting at the base of cottonwood stumps. The rain beat evenly on the mosses, the fallen logs, the heifers in the field. It dripped off ponderosa needles and wild roses. It worked its way through my clothes and shoes, soaking me thoroughly. The dog tore through a puddle in the trail, displacing the pollen collected on its top. Dashed to the puddle’s edge, the pollen encircled it like an aureole, a halo as sure as any that shimmers around a saint’s head.  It reminded me that rain or shine, the world is filled with holy things. I don’t have to prove my worth, or earn my way to this grace. It just is.

Recently, I came across a quote from Buddhist writer Jack Kornfield. “In the end these things matter: how greatly you loved, how gently you lived, how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” It turns out that, though I loved teaching, and though the opportunity to extend my time at the school presented itself, I had to let it go. At this season, it isn’t meant for me. I don’t know that I let it go gracefully – rather fitfully and with considerable consternation. But, if I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that I can’t hustle my way into loving greatly and living gently. I can’t say “yes” to every opportunity, even good ones, without losing things I treasure along the way – like you and the community we’ve built at Each Holy Hour. So, here we are.  As the Benedictines say about any contemplative journey, “Always we begin again.” 

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction!

Consider: This Good Work of Ours

Dear Friends,

Recent events have wound me tightly.  I’ve been worrying over my middle school daughter’s ineptitude with homework, fretting over a new lump in my breast, mourning the passing of our neighbor’s dog, and opening my newsfeed with a pit in my stomach.  On Monday morning, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, reflecting on nuclear war, undone English assignments and mammograms, my heart began to pound.

“I am battling the approach of a panic attack,” I realized.  I’m not alone.  In her article, We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation, Sharon Salzburg tells the story of Jeanine, who wakes in dread to the news on her phone. Fearful that she will miss anything, she lives her day agitatedly glued to a screen:

“She would not respect herself if she turned a blind eye to the painful truths of the world, but the world breaks her heart.  This habit does not do anything to help her change the things she is so concerned about.  In many ways, it substitutes for action.”

I found Salzburg’s article right after reading about the devastation in California.  Okay, I thought, time to shut my computer.  Time to act.  But how?

My vocation lends itself to contemplation more than action, which is often a source of much consternation for me.  Growing up in a family of do-gooders (in the best sense), I struggled with my identity.  I felt as though I was put on earth to find beauty, to listen to it, to write it.  Such work is so often unquantifiable (hundreds of pages scrapped, hours of quiet seeing and being that seem to help exactly no one).  And though my work takes me right into the middle of suffering, my actual output can feel ineffectual and insignificant.

But this work–writing and being–is what I have been given to do.  So this week, I took action.  I met with people and laughed, prayed, talked and listened.  I went for long walks in the woods.  I knelt down next to my dog to see the world from her eyes.  I stopped to wonder at the way the sun lit golden oak leaves.  I made an appointment for a mammogram.  I helped my daughter with her homework.  I said goodbye to my neighbor’s dog and then I picked a bouquet of flowers from my fading garden for their family.  I did laundry and made dinner and wrote.

And I tried to love it all, like so many people have before me.  I take strength in the odd, unquantifiably wonderful lives of people like Van Gogh.  He never knew that his work would amount to much but understood that living in this world is a complicated, messy thing that has less to do with productivity and more to do with the immeasurable.  “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength,” he wrote to his brother Theo,  “And whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

At the beginning, and middle, and end of all things, this is my sacramental work, and your work too.  So if the world ends in a blinding flash while I am sitting next to my daughter at the kitchen table; if I am standing in a glade of young alders with my dog; if I am here, at my window, writing; I want to be loving fiercely all the while.  For I have found that living well in the mundanity of the day-to-day requires great courage and audacious love.

So wherever you are this week, whatever you are doing, may you have the strength to turn from fear to love.  May you choose to hope.  May you seek wisdom to do your work well.  And may you find joy in this good, infused world.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  What is the good work you have been given?  We would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment on our blog, Facebook, or send us a note .  If you’re on Instagram, use hashtag #thisgoodwork.  You can find our daily Instagram posts, with quotes from inspiring people and photos of daily wonder, at each_holy_hour.

P.P.S.  For further reading to help you in your journey this week, I recommend these articles:
We Can’t Survive in a State of Constant Agitation by Sharon Salzberg;
Vincent Van Gogh on Art and the Power of Love. . . by Maria Popova;
The Hollowness of Autumn Leaves Space for Light, by one of my favorites, Parker Palmer.
Oh, yes, and this one:  You’ll Never Be Famous, and That’s Okay by Emily Esfahani Smith

Consider: To Save the World

Dear Friends,

On Sunday evening, my girls came home from their neighborhood adventures with another stray chicken–the second in as many weeks.  My daughter, Beatrix, stroked the dense black and white feathers and announced, “We’re calling this one Pepper.”  Just then our neighbor returned from an emergency trip to see his dying father, and as his family drove their car slowly into their driveway, all chaos broke loose.  The street suddenly exploded with a loose chicken, children, dogs, and one cat, all tearing madly after each other.

I felt half-amused, half-sorry for our grieving neighbors as they returned to the melee of activity, but later, thinking back on how the street turned out to gather around them as they unpacked the car (one neighbor brought a pitcher of G&Ts), I concluded that it wasn’t an altogether bad way to come home.  From quiet sorrow into the chaos of life: animals and children, neighbors clicking their plastic cups together, murmuring, “I’m sorry about your dad. . .” and “We’ve got dinner if you want to come over.”

This past week brought more bad news: a new round of terrorist attacks in London and another step back from hard-won cooperation needed to sustain the earth.  This morning as I drove my daughter to school, these mighty fractures, combined with my own personal griefs, descended like a great weight.  I felt tears well up as I listened to the radio–of all things, that pop song by Charlie Pluth that goes, “Superman ain’t got nothing on me.  Come on, I’m only one call away.”

Swift self-analysis followed:  Sentimental drivel — making me weepy– WHY?

I admit to having a penchant for superhero movies.  This past weekend, when Wonder Woman charged across the front line to free a village, I was sprinting with her, wrist deflectors up, every righteous muscle tensed.  And this morning as I thought of the hurting people in this world and in my life, I wanted to pull out my sword.  Come on, I’m only one call away.

But even the superhero movies these days–at least the good ones–are marked by this complexity: even with superhuman powers, you can’t save the world.  Most of the time, you can’t even save the people closest to you.  We are weighted; we want superheroes.  But as the iconic Flaming Lips song Waiting for Superman says, what we carry is “just too heavy for Superman to lift.”

Superheros have always been part of human mythology.  When we slam up against our own limitations, we often scan the sky, looking for salvation.  But it is our hands that must shape this world for good, our feet that must trod the forgotten places.

“And while I don’t expect you to save the world,” poet and true wonder-woman Nikki Giovanni once said, “I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary.”  Love, share, engage.  These are the superhero tasks of our lives.

Here’s what I can do this week:  throw open my door and join the chaos, chase a chicken and say “I’m sorry,” despite the fact that those words just don’t seem like enough.  I can stand alongside, tell the truth to the people in my life, actively love my neighbor.  And when the time is right, I can march.  I’m no Wonder Woman–but I am full of wonder, and the light inside compels me to pursue peace and healing.  This is our shared, daily, unspectacular work, done one moment at a time, each holy hour.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

–Kim

P.S. I hope you won’t miss Lindsay’s reflections on Friday’s blog –I always look forward to capping a busy week that way! And please note–if you’d like blog posts delivered to your mailbox as well, you can hit the “follow” button for weekly deliveries.

P.P.S.  Check Facebook and Instagram this week for something REALLY LOVELY.  We’re thrilled to be able to send some EHH to your actual, old-school mailboxes–handwritten, addressed just to you. And thank you again for being part of this community!o