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.

Peace,

Lindsay

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

Friends,

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.

Peace,

Kim

 

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.

Peace,
Lindsay

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!

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?

[Pause]

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.

Peace,

Lindsay

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.

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.

Peace,
Lindsay

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.

Consider: Already/Not Yet

Dear Friends-

Last night it rained, a serious, no-nonsense rain, thrumming against the windows and glugging in the downspouts. There was no mistaking it for summer’s passing showers. This was an earnest rain, autumn’s first full-throated announcement.

This wet morning, I walked the dogs through a different world: same trail, new palette. The ponderosa trunks were rain-black. The broad-bladed grasses lay silvered and flattened. Along the trail, lacy blue clusters of elderberries dripped bright drops, and rosehips, the waxy red of a child’s crayon, presented themselves for the picking. The grasshoppers, which yesterday had scattered before the dogs like sparks struck from flint, had disappeared entirely. Instead, crows cawed overhead and a lone doe raised a wary neck as we passed.

What is it about the change of seasons that is so exhilarating? Why does the crispness in the air send that little hopeful frisson shivering through me? I’m not even clear about what I’m hopeful for, or if hope is the right word. But this morning each rain-glazed leaf seems intricately beautiful (as, surely, it always has been, had I eyes to see) and everything – including me – seems on the verge of becoming more deeply itself.

It’s a funny thing: this idea of becoming more deeply oneself. How can you be more –well, you?

There’s a complexity at the heart of this question; some sense that we are not yet all we are meant to be. In the faith tradition in which I was raised, this tension is called the “Already/Not-yet.” It holds that by virtue of being alive, we already participate in the divine. And yet, at the same time, our participation has not yet come into fullness. In essence, we are and are becoming.

I think it was this idea that I caught sight of while walking among the rain-sharpened colors this morning, as if somehow this daily walk had, overnight, closed the space between what is and what is possible. As the dogs furrowed among wet foxtail and timothy, the distance between the Already and Not Yet seemed diminished. That deeper, truer version of being shimmered almost everywhere.

Peace,
Lindsay

Consider: Solitude Invites Us

Dear Friends,

They are here again: the arrowleaf balsamroots.

I’ve been watching closely these last months, since the deep snow of this past winter finally allowed itself to be whittled away. It was a relief when open ground emerged then tentatively greened. Along the trail, silvery nodes extricated themselves from mud, then shot up, unfurling silver broad leaves. Now, sun-yellow flowers stud the whole hillside above my house. The dogs and I take our morning constitutional. A slight breeze stirs. The yellow heads of the balsamroot bob and nod, agreeing it seems with the goodness of the morning, of springtime, of life itself.

I tell you all this because for months things have been hard.

In Western Montana, our February, averaging just 16 degrees, was the coldest since 1898.  It snowed Every. Single. Day. Not heaps and heaps. Just enough to require substantial shovel work. Under an unvaried, cheerless sky, I cleared the driveway and sidewalks, re-doing work I had toiled over the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. In the midst of those seemingly interminable February days, my husband had knee surgery, my daughter the flu, my son switched middle schools, my puppy chewed holes in the carpet, my novel got rejected – again. And while these small, private emotional debits compiled, the insane gale of the world-at-large kept churning out new debasements to our civic life. Unmoored from thoughtful, robust discourse, from the guiding lights of ethics and empathy, and even from the self-imposed railings of honesty and norms, our politics has degenerated into a grotesque caricature of public life.

Frankly, it’s wearying. After the winter – or perhaps after these forty-one years of sentience – I’m a little care-worn, a little buffeted.

“Most people,” Rilke writes, “have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult…it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult.”

If these last months have proven anything, it’s that I want to shy away from the difficult, take the handiest exit distraction provides. Rilke’s words feel like a chance to consider the ways in which I behave like “most people.” What unexamined conventions have I adopted? What habits of mind do I rely upon, not because they enrich my life, but precisely because they shield and divert me from the wonder and, let’s be frank, terror of being alive? It’s easier, so much easier, to duck one’s head and scroll Instagram than it is to keep one’s face to the wind of our deepest questions, our mortality, our hopes, our loneliness, our longings.

Solitude invites us to an interior expansiveness. I find that just inside solitude’s gate the way is populated with advertising jingles and grocery lists, political diatribes, frustration at my son for losing his soccer jersey, my sense of failure because I didn’t make it to the gym today, the comeback I should have used on that bully back in eighth grade. But that’s just the first mile. Once I’ve passed this by, who knows what vastness I’ll find.

“But listen to the voice of the wind/ and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence,” Rilke writes in his first Duino Elegy.  The wind is in the balsamroots now, nodding their heads, shaking their silver leaves. It’s in me, if I have ears to hear it. It’s in this busy, hard, beautiful, passing, poignant life. What I actually long for is to listen for that ceaseless message wrought from silence. Everything good tells me it’s worth the difficult journey.

Peace,

Lindsay

Consider: The Winds of Our Humor

Dear Friends,

They’ve gone. In a clatter of lunchboxes, a flash of new shoes, the quick zip of backpacks, the children have gone to school. The house is unnaturally quiet. The dog looks up at me, takes the situation in, then shambles to her pillow, turns three circles, and settles in with a sigh. “It’s just us,” I confirm her suspicions. She looks up once. Then rests her nose on her paws. All summer, my house has been abuzz with action. Neighborhood kids, moving in packs, descend like locusts at lunchtime. There’s balls bouncing and the hose going and scooter wheels click-clacking on the sidewalk. There’s teenage boys raiding my pantry. There’s a half-dozen water glasses on the counter that I sweep into the dishwasher only to find another half-dozen sprout in their place. There’s chalk on my driveway and an array of bikes tangled in the grass. At times, there’s sudden shouts, demands, and tears, oft-punctuated by the plaintive cry: “Mom!”

All this.  And then one day, there’s quiet. I can hear a bug tick against a window pane, the rhythmic click of the solar-powered Good Fortune cat that waves in a pool of sun on the kitchen sill. The refrigerator hums.

For most of this past year, I’ve been estranged from writing, and hence from some of the interior spaces I only reach through writing my way to them. When I’m intermittent with this practice of scratching at words, I find the paths quickly overgrow and I wake up – as it were – “in the middle of my life, in a darkwood, and the straightforward pathway is totally lost.”

I have a sense that all the tender sensibilities in me which are capable of responding to the play of the Spirit, have calcified and grown coarse from disuse.

Have you experienced these moments? The sense you’ve diminished, you’ve lost your way to some part of you that is, at once, expansive and finely-wrought. At times like these, exiled from the best parts of myself, my spirit feels crouched and limited.

My mind canvasses my environment for props: a quick check on news headlines, a brief dash through Instagram. But like all sham palliatives, the effect is illusory. In a moment, silence reasserts itself, like a bracing wind full in my face.

I realize I have only two choices: to continue the distraction-seeking behavior – a host of enticing possibilities immediately suggest themselves (podcasts, a run with the dog, even laundry – Wow, I must be desperate)  – or I can open a blank document, lean into the discomfort, and begin the humble task of applying myself to silence’s tutelage.

But when I’ve chosen silence, I’m immediately greeted, not by peace and a sense of fitness, but by the internal critic who questions everything from my sentence structure to my basic worthiness. This voice stridently opines that those fugitive brushes with the holy that writing has, at times, been my means of encountering, are gone. The track has gone cold. It will never be resurrected.

In a letter in October 1813, Jane Austen wrote, “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” The process of spinning gold from the straw of our days is hard-won. I think of how many things in life I could substitute into Ms. Austen’s advice: I’m not in the humor for eating my vegetables, for sitting in quiet prayer, for caring for my crotchety neighbor, for lacing up my tennis shoes and going for a run. The remedy is the same: do it anyway.

The point is that the opportunity to know ourselves, to touch in with what is true and best in us, to be like trees planted by streams of water, as the Psalmist says, is a work of persistence, commitment, and sweat (whether that’s physical, mental, or spiritual). It requires we go into the unwelcome quiet. It invites us to develop a discipline, or several. And when the winds of our humor are against us, to lean in and meet them full in the face.

Peace,

Lindsay

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: Moondust, our Longing, and the Infinite

Dear Friends,

On Wednesday, as students straggled into school, hungover from Halloween candy and the revelries of parading late in their costumes, the STEM teacher and I aired the documentary, “The Last Man on the Moon.” This documentary chronicles the life of Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, the last of America’s lunar landing expeditions.

To say I have even casual interest in space science would be a generous stretch. While I’m awed when the occasional Hubble Telescope photo crosses my path, I usually glaze over when reading sentences like the one at the bottom of the previous paragraph. As a writer of realistic fiction, my imagination is decidedly terrestrial. I’m lit up by human stories and expeditions to that vastest of interiors: the human heart.  

So I was ready to pass a sleepy morning in the company of pacified 7th and 8th graders and if I gleaned some space science knowledge, so much the better.  What I got instead was a fascinating exploration of the paradoxes and emotional minefields which no rocket shot can shake from the human heart.  Perhaps it was the extremis of being an astronaut — literally out of one’s element, suspended above the world — that dialed up the volume on the constant human scuffle between loneliness and connection. “I felt that all of humanity was with me on that mission,” Cernan says of his first spaceflight with Gemini IX. And yet later, when looking back at his three days on the moon during the Apollo 17 mission, the Earth rising like a blue pearl in the distance, he spoke of incredible loneliness.  Accompanied by all humanity and yet, at once, all alone: Isn’t this a striking picture of our perennial condition?  

On the lunar surface, Cernan traced his daughter’s initials in moondust. This heartfelt act of bestowing what he cherished most to that distant surface struck me. It was as if marking her initials there made them timeless, delivering them to a place where moth and rust cannot destroy. And yet, his relationship with his daughter and wife were fraught; sabotaged by the intense singular focus of his career, marked by his absence. “You think going to the moon is hard, try staying home,” his wife reflected on watching the broadcast of her husband out there on the spearpoint of human technology. Eugene Cernan made it back, but ultimately his marriage didn’t survive. Some frontiers are too vast to cross. Some journeys end with loss.

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2017 Eclipse–when we were all lost in wonder, if only for an hour

I’ve been thinking about Gene Cernan and the moon a lot over these past few days. In what ways does loneliness and deep human connection nudge shoulders in my life? How much I want what I most love to be lifted above time, to be kept safe from the world’s corrosive effects. But even now, while I have breath and life, am I giving the earth-bound, time-bound things I love my full presence?

On August 25, 2012, Gene Cernan climbed the steps to the pulpit at Washington National Cathedral to eulogize his friend and fellow astronaut, Neil Armstrong.  “Neil, wherever you are up there, almost a half century later, you have now shown once again the pathway to the stars…You can now finally put out your hand and touch the face of God.”

I, for one, don’t know much about pathways to the stars. I’m the type who firmly stands with Robert Frost when he says, “Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” But Cernan’s words over his friend’s casket resonate all the same. I hear in them a rich longing for the infinite resolution to all our finite journeys. No rocket can lift us there–yet daily, we are invited on this most daring expedition.
Peace,

Lindsay

P.S. You can watch the entirety of Cernan’s moving eulogy for Neil Armstrong here.