Consider: In the Garden

Dear Friends,

Near the end of Lindsay’s three-week trip to Italy, I received a brief text that spoke volumes about how, even in the most stunning of locations, we can begin to feel adrift, anxious for something to root us to our own rhythm again–work, ritual, a familiar tea cup, a bedside table stacked with books waiting to be read.  Of course, this restlessness can strike at any moment, even in the midst of the most peaceful day at home or the most hectic week at work.

During times of great restlessness, I feel tempted to fill the questioning silence with easy, accessible noise to distract me from my soul’s discomfort.  I have a rolodex of options: a purchase on Amazon, another hour at my computer, my favorite BBC shows, or my favorite extrovert option–planning a party or at least finding a friend for coffee.  These are fine things in themselves (and I do throw a good party), but by forty, I know myself well enough to recognize my old tactics. And I must honestly ask myself: what is my spirit actually panting for?  in Luke's garden

I find the response to my question in silence and listening, sometimes simply in the act of walking into the garden, falling on my knees, and weeding.  I need places where I can be long enough to find what I need to take me through another day of living and loving the people and earth around me.  Among the poppies and the clover and the roses, I find space to sort through all that clatters in my head. With my hands in soil, I grasp a few fundamental words that orient me to what is real.  There is robust beauty there, and poems to be found, like this one I finally wrote down after weeks of carrying it about with me.

Rhododendrons, Western Washington, Spring 2018

As our plane started its descent, we glimpsed them:
Thousands of rhododendrons
spilling pink and orange watercolor across the city’s somber pallette.
I thought of what a preacher told us.
This world is a warzone, he said, You get to be William Wallace
in Braveheart.  Can you think of anything better?
Later, hands cradling three ripe plums from our tree, my husband said,
I think this world is a garden.

Did you know there are some 800 varieties of rhododendrons,
holding early morning mist in Japan,
arching sinuous branches over forgotten Appalachian footpaths,
unfolding fuchsia petals in rugged Nepalese mountains?
In my suburban town near Seattle
they sing on every street corner.

Behind our pea trellis and the raised bed
sown with cosmos
rhododendrons crowd, shoulder to shoulder,
offering nectar to bees and hummingbirds.
Some days you can see my gladness
from the air, peach- and lavender-colored blooms.
On others, I am quiet, an evergreen leaf, pearled by rain.
This is God’s garden
and today I am content to hold the dew.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  We’d love to know what metaphors spring to mind as you think of this world we live and move in.  As always, we are honored by all your thoughts and reflections as we share this journey into wonder together.

PS2.  To see Lindsay’s actual text from Italy, please check out the Back Page.

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Consider: In the midst of winter

Dear Friends,

It is winter, the bleak midwinter, the interminable haul between the end of Christmas and the first crocus.  I’ve been remembering a grey, ugly January afternoon many years ago when we still lived in Pennsylvania, when the snow had turned black with car exhaust.  In those days, the kids were young and still needed me every moment; silence was rare, a solitary walk still rarer.  But that frozen day, I needed to be by myself.  I left the girls with Martin and tromped up a neighborhood hill to my dear friend, Nancy’s house.  I lingered on the curb and surveyed her garden.

It was rather a mess: the chard and lettuces had shot to seed long ago; a tangled vine curved around the front door.  I remembered that the summer before, robins had made a nest in the house eaves.  Nancy had instructed the entire family to stop using the front door in order not to disturb the fledglings.  A few short weeks later, she left the garden and the robins and lay down in a hospice bed; shortly afterwards, she died.  She had battled cancer for three years.  I watched as her three young children followed her casket up to the front of the church.

On that January afternoon, the robin’s nest was empty.  Nancy was a zealot for sustainability and permaculture, and her yard showed it: an almond tree’s bare branches rose above a tangle of spent basil.  Around the side of the house, there were still blackened stalks of tomatoes and limp pea vines.  There was the patch where she’d plucked the delicata squash last fall and handed it to me with great awe, as if it were a sacred thing–and it was, pin-striped yellow and green.

Nancy and I were much like sisters in those years; we swapped kids, spent long afternoons peeling apples for sauce.  She taught my daughter to read and I taught hers to sing.  In the sick, miserable months when I was pregnant with my youngest, she sat me on the stool in her kitchen and fed me soup out of her favorite pottery bowl.  We dreamed gardens together.  Late in her illness, I made her soup, I went with her to the clinic, and in the silence as she breathed in oxygen, I recited “The Owl and the Pussycat” to pass the time.

Now, in her winter garden, there was silence again.  I went to work, yanking up dead snarls of herbs, cutting back perennials, scooping up armfuls of leaves.  The dry, brittle plants I pulled and piled up for compost were the same she had tenderly put in the ground months before.  As I cleared the soil back to a dark, black richness, I felt the weight of this sacred duty, and the greatness of my love for her.  I felt, too, the surprising, miraculous presence of life.  Unbidden, even offensive to me who worked in sorrow, I smelled the coming spring.  I snapped back a dead perennial stalk and there was a flash of green.  The dried basil was redolent of summer; the earthworms, I knew, were curled tightly just below my fingers, sleeping until the earth would warm again.

A while after I tidied her garden, I accompanied Nancy’s family to visit her grave, still a unhealed gash in the pale grass.  Around us, farmland rolled away in a sea of undulating hills. Nancy’s children stood beside me, young and vulnerable, desperately missing their mother.  Nancy’s husband raised his eyes and searched the horizon.   “We look for the eternal spring,” he said.

IMG_0804I wondered at the time if those words came straight from the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, to which the family belonged; for each word seemed to me to bear mysterious promise–like the perennials in Nancy’s garden.  We look for the eternal spring.  Those are the two things I remember from that season following her death: the silence of working in her garden, and the simple goodness of her husband’s graveside words.  Not gaudy or extraneous or saccharine, those words bound up pain and longing and faith at once, and I have carried them with me ever since.

In this new year, may we be present with each other, holding one another in silence, with love, with the goodness of sacred words.  May we find solace in the seasons of this beautiful world, and in the wonder that bids us look beyond the brittle stalks of winter.

Peace,

Kim

Consider: We are made to celebrate each other

Dear Friends,

girls with leaves in handAs a writer, I care passionately about words.  As my church’s artist-in-residence, I share prayers and mediations with congregants, choosing words with painstaking care, knowing that what comes out of my mouth has the power to comfort and deepen or distract and harm.  As a mother of three girls from elementary to high school, I am a vigilant moderator of words.  Just yesterday, I took my eleven-year old aside for the umpeenth time, locked my eyes with hers, and said, “You may not say hate anymore.”

In this cynical time when public insult is only one tweet away, I found it encouraging when my husband came home from a conference and told me that the facilitator had closed with a blessing.  The facilitator, who is from an Indian-Kenyan heritage where benedictions are an integral part of life, read a blessing that invited its listeners to move from self-protection to vulnerability and love for others.

In a country where our right to free speech is protected by law, I often feel as though words feel cheap, bandied about thoughtlessly.  But what we say flows from who we are, and that makes each word pregnant with meaning.  Words start wars, end relationships, rip through families.  As I endlessly tell my children, we are responsible for every word, however thoughtless, that leaves our lips.

But what about words chosen intentionally with love?  Why are we so often dismissive and cynical of gentleness?  In our preference for biting satire and one-liners, have we created a desert devoid of genuine kindness?  Have we as a culture forgotten how to bless one another?

“In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.  It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. . .It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast,” Celtic mystic and priest John O’Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.

I have found nothing more powerful than words carefully crafted in love and imagination.  No matter what your spiritual background, this is a heritage we can all share, a common language of blessing.  You don’t have to be a writer or a poet or a priest.  Beginning to bless another person can be as simple as pausing in the midst of a hectic day to say to a friend or colleague, “You do good work;” “You are a delightful person, and may you find delight today;” “May you find courage in this hard situation.”  These are profoundly powerful to hear.  We are parched for authentic, attentive words.

So often I neglect to bless others because I am weary; I feel I deserve to receive and have nothing left to give.  But in the act of blessing others, we create streams of grace that flow over the giver and the receiver:  “The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us,” John O’Donohue writes.  “Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.”

This week, though I am at turns blinded by cynicism and wearied by life, I hope to open my eyes to see whom I can bless.  Authentic, simple love: it is the center of who we are.  Let us not forget that we are made to find beauty in others, to name it, and celebrate it.

girls in leavesSo this week, may you be enfolded by transforming goodness, and may you have the courage to open your arms to others and to speak in wonder and love.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  This week, I highly recommend:

this interview between Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue (one of my all-time favorites on On Being).

this reflection by Parker Palmer– “The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice” which includes this amazing quote from Mary Oliver:  “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

this lovely blogpost I serendipitously stumbled upon by farmer and family physician Emily Polis Gibson, which reminds me that blessing others is also (and should often be) a silent gift, a benediction of attentive listening.  Check out the quotes to the right of the post–there’s a beautiful one by T.S. Eliot included.

P.S.S.  We are profoundly thankful for all of you.  As always, we are excited to expand our wonder by hearing your comments and recommended reading!  Please share either in a comment on our  blog or on Facebook, or contact us here.