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?

Peace,

Kim

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.

Peace,

Kim

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!