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.

Consider: Reclaiming Our Attention

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk through a beautiful fall afternoon. Our dog nosed at animal trails and loped through a stand of golden aspens. The afternoon, in all respects, was gorgeous, the sort of full-color fall afternoon you know will soon be memory. My husband looked up. “Do you know what the weather is going to be tomorrow?”aspens

I stopped in the middle of the trail and automatically reached toward my phone. Some part of my mind halted. “Don’t do it!” I said to myself. I pulled an empty hand back and picked a spear of grass instead, twirling it between my fingers. “No idea,” I answered my husband, “we can look when we get back.”    

Sustained attention, we all know, is under assault. I recently listened to an interview about “the arms race for human attention” with former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris. This interview was darkly illuminating about the persuasive psychology upon which internet content and smartphone applications are built. Far from neutral, the technology which frames our lives is engineered to maximize habit-formation and addiction. I feel moderately aware that my attention is being hijacked, and yet I still tune in to the ever-ready supply of constantly refreshed newsfeed, headlines, and emails.

We each have an inner garden to cultivate. Our hearts and minds, our brain space, our attention, are ours to tend. This work is our birthright. And everyday, I sell some portion of this birthright for meager return. Today I sold it for one trip to Facebook, nine or ten worthless checks on my email, and several swipes on national headlines.

I want my attention back. I want my inner garden to be rich with rare and exotic flowers cultivated over years of patience, effort, and considered attention. In this era where statistics show the average attention span has dropped below that of the common goldfish, I can’t assume that reclaiming my attention will come easily. Literally billions of dollars are arrayed against it.

Recently I came across this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains… But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.”

As I read this quote, something stirred inside. My modern mind feels abuzz with lists and worries, with reminders and to-dos. It couldn’t feel further from Aurelius’ trouble-free retreat. Yet it is within my power to retire into my own soul, to journey deep into that wilderness. Though billions of dollars clamor otherwise, each and every moment, the choice to make such a journey is mine.

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S.  What is your answer for leaving the constant buzz and “retiring into your soul?”  We really want to know!  Leave a comment here or (ironically) on EHH’s Facebook page, or send us a message.

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

Something to Hang Your Heart On

On Monday afternoon, my daughter and I went to the airport to collect dear friends arriving for the week. As far as airports go, the Missoula airport is a quaint, quiet affair.  Before 9/11, my husband and I used to park our Subaru at the curb and leash our dog to the flagpole on our way to get visitors. Now a little more formality is required, but still the biggest thing about the Missoula airport is the taxidermied black bear rearing on its hind legs in the arrivals lounge.

This Monday, as Birtie and I found a place to stand in the loosely clumped strangers awaiting friends and family members, I noticed TV cameras and members of the press taking interviews.  A quick look at the arrivals board put the pieces together.  The flight that had just landed was from Las Vegas.

A reporter from the local paper spoke to a couple just in front of me.  The couple held each other tightly.  “We thought there were two shooters,” I heard the woman tell the reporter.  “It was chaos.”  She thumbed away a tear.

Birtie pulled at my hand.  “Why are they sad?”  It’s hard to know what to tell your six-year-old about a mass shooting, about these periodic and appalling ruptures to the incredible safety in which we are blessed to live, about the rank and frankly, bewildering, parts of human nature.

“They were at an event where some people died,” I said truthfully but not completely.  Fortunately, for once my inquisitive daughter didn’t have a follow up question and just a few moments later our friends’ Seattle flight arrived and, in a welter of hugs and joy and luggage,  we bundled them off into the blustery Missoula afternoon.

The next day I sought out the Missoulian.  On the front page was a photo of the people I had seen tearfully holding each other in arrivals. When the shooting began, they had managed to get their wheelchair-bound son to safety, before returning to help administer first aid and load people in cars and ambulances.

Like so many of you, I’m sure, I don’t know what to do with this past week’s news.  I feel a raft of emotions.  Along with hefty sadness and anger, I find myself deep in bewilderment. I know I’m not alone. The New York Times lead headline currently reads, “No Manifesto, No Phone Calls: Killer Left Only Cryptic Clues.”

I’ve been curious about how much we humans seem to need a motive.  We crave a storyline to help mitigate the psychic cost of such an event.  Mental illness.  Radicalization.  At the very least we expect a change in life circumstances of the perpetrator.  We want a reason to hang our hats and hearts on.

These past few days, I’ve been trying to hold myself in this space of unknowing. To notice how much a desire for a reason, is for me, a desire to bring order out of chaos, to stitch over a rent in the world.  Reasons are false bottoms.  For those of us not personally affected by this tragedy, reasons allow us to complete the narrative, close the book, look away.  They paper over the wrenching loss and instability that fracture this world.  Right now, I’m sitting with a deep and honest bewilderment, a tear I don’t want to seam over, a troubled story without an end.

Peace,

Lindsay

Consider: All This Shining

Dear Friends,

I turned 40 this week, and in the midst of the lovely tumult of phone calls and texts, dinner with friends and well-wishes from many corners, my mother said something that crystallized my feelings about the day. “How did you get to be my age?” she asked.

I understood exactly what she meant. From a certain vantage point, there is a way in which time seems anything but linear. While days fly by, and years accumulate, the Self seems to somehow stand outside of time, to bend light in its own way. While I notice my kids growing up, my own discrete consciousness doesn’t age. My mind feels roughly the same as it did whenever I first tuned into its continuous stream. From this perspective, of course my mom and I are of one age.

A few weeks ago, I began teaching middle school language arts. “How do you know you are growing up?” I asked my eighth grade class as we launched our unit on personal narrative. Our school is K-8, and many of them have been enrolled since Kindergarten. “Look at you all!” I held up a picture of their Kindergarten class. “What did you care about back then?” The class was off and running. “Stuffed animals,” one said. “Remember how loooonng it seemed between each birthday?” another asked. “Sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference between imaginary and real.” “On the first day of school in Kindergarten I tried to dig a hole through the Earth.” “I remember thinking that if I tried hard enough I could really fly.” These eighth graders with their lanky bodies and changing voices, had memories tumbling out of them.

We read the Billy Collins poem, “On Turning Ten,” which ends with these memorable lines:

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

“Now that you are older,” I asked my students, “what sidewalks of life have you skinned your knees against? What are the realities you bump up against?”

“We moved,” one student said, “and I had to start over with friends.”

My own son slyly piped up, “I used to believe in my parents.”

“Right, adults are fallible,” I nodded, adding that to the list on the blackboard. “You all have probably learned that by now.”

They laughed knowingly, these thirteen-year-olds pivoting on the threshold between childhood and growing up. I could almost feel their consciousness beginning to bend time out of shape.

Later, I thought about that Billy Collins poem again.  He’s right about one thing– there’s no denying the way we all bleed when we fall against life’s sidewalks.  Daily it seems, I watch my eighth graders skin their knees against the pavement of their tricky social navigations.

And yet, there’s all this shining.

Unlike the poem’s speaker, I still believe there’s light under my skin. It’s this quality my mother is speaking to when she asks, “How did you get to be my age?” There’s a luminous stream coursing through each of us and time bends in its current.

Peace,

Lindsay

Diminished Things

Dear Friends,

Well, it’s happened early this year. The view from my window, normally a crisp mountain scene, is full of deep orange haze. Smoke casts a pall on everything. Even the lavender just beyond my office window and the bees doddering around its blooms have a burnished look.

Even though fire season is a regular part of life here in Montana, I still felt disappointed last week when I spotted a feathery plume rising on the far side of Lolo Peak.  Though many miles away, Lolo Peak feels like a neighbor. Whether I’m washing dishes or sipping tea at my table, this mountain, with its changing show of light and shadow, is a constant companion. I depend on its solidity and beauty like a boat depends on its mooring.

In the past few days, that thin line of smoke grew into a substantial cloud. This morning I woke to find the valley completely inundated. Lolo Peak is totally obscured. And my own horizon feels hemmed in.

Always, at the point when summer turns this corner, I reacquaint myself with Robert Frost’s poem The Oven Bird. The ovenbird, a warbler, is one of the few birds who trills his song in midday heat. Thus, Frost associates the ovenbird’s signature tea-cher tea-cher tea-cher with the idea that summer is passing away.  The “he” of this poem, is the ovenbird whose song calls up these realities:

He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says that highway dust is over all.

Like the chime of a clock, Frost’s ovenbird measures time.  Like smoke pluming up, it tells us summer isn’t here to stay.  As Frost’s bird chirps and warbles out these tokens of summer’s passage, Frost funnels the reader to a final haunting question:

The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Phew.  It’s bracing, isn’t it?  What to make of a diminished thing?  This question rattles around with me, not just as smoke season presses in, but in a way that ramifies into other areas in my life. It’s an essential midlife question. It’s a question for times when a relationship has stung. Or when your body and health betray you. The world’s sleight-of-hand constantly delivers us beautiful things, then bruises them. We are forever having to ask ourselves what to do with diminishments. What will you do today, as the ovenbird warbles its song?

For me, I am going out among the lavender and the doddering bees to weed my garden. Later I will walk through smoky woods to the creek. I will hold my breath and plunge in the crazy cold water. When I come up, there will still be wildfires burning in Montana. Another day will soon pass away. But, as with all diminished things, I want to experience the things before me with joy and depth and love.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

Lindsay

Consider: A Meditation for Rest

Dear Friends,

This week, I took my journal and Rilke book with me to the Oregon coast.  The wide swath of sand — broken by the ethereal, craggy rocks and the endless Pacific sea–gathered my attention to itself, and despite my intentions, both book and journal stayed in my bag.IMG_6093
There is something about wide open spaces that is good for the soul, that offers rest to an over-hectic mind.

 Our minds are often cacophonous places.  Our spirits are cluttered with what we must do, where we have failed, and who we must protect.  We cling to these thoughts.  Or they cling to us.  But to be as open and expansive as the sea — who dares to ask for such a gift?

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you,” St. Augustine wrote to God.  What a simple, lovely reminder to step into healing rest.  And what a hard thing to do.  Ironically, we so often work long and hard trying to find rest!  But rest does not need to be earned- it is a divine gift and a relational beckon from Unconditional Love.

I wrote this blessing for a friend of mine at a desperate time in her life.  In this mid-summer moment of busyness, I offer it to you.

 When you have given all you can

and your spirit is drained

and your body worn,

may you find rest.

May you forget about deserve,
earn, 
and not enough.

Instead, may you find grace,

abundant, overflowing.

May you step under this waterfall

and hold up your hands,

drinking your fill.

May the sweat and dirt and tears

from your good labors be washed away;

may every anxious muscle unknot,

and may Peace minister to you.

May you have the wisdom

to put away all that can wait until tomorrow;

may you find a silent space and stay there.

For all that is vital is here now, in this place,

waiting for you.

Open your hands and receive.

May everything in your body
accept goodness;

may you hear the words you long to hear:

Well done, good and faithful one!

May the roots of your longing

drink deeply.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

Kim

Consider: the Miracle of Existence

Last week in the early hours of Thursday morning, my husband and I were shaken awake with much of western Montana. It took a half moment of groaning joists and rattling dishes for our senses to catch up with reality. Tim’s groggy mind got there first. “Earthquake!” Suddenly wide awake, we both jumped out of bed. As the floor swayed, we briefly dithered over protocol (rouse the kinder? decamp outside?). Before we had made any decisive moves, the shaking slackened, then died away. Everything was still.

Everything, that is, except our nerves. Those were thoroughly rattled.

I palmed my phone and spoke two words to Siri: Missoula Earthquake. Tweets popped like mushrooms in a field. “Anyone else in Missoula feel that earthquake?” inquired several Twitter users. Within seconds an Italian organization released information that a magnitude 5.8 quake had struck 129 km east of Missoula. 5.8 magnitude. 129 km east. I climbed back into bed, embracing these facts and figures like a security blanket. Perhaps it’s a great propensity of the human heart to make order out of chaos. Curiosity and knowledge are incredible gifts. But I couldn’t help detecting in my sudden interest in facts and figures another need. Surely I was seizing upon anything knowable (richter scale readings, kilometers, map locations) to paper over the existential threat shifting beneath me. While the earthquake hadn’t literally yanked a seam of ground apart, it exposed a tremendous fault I usually prefer stays deeply buried.

eeebd4ff-0855-4c02-8ede-71d600244868As I lay back on my pillow, I felt at the mercy of forces operating far beyond human scale. It’s a hereditary susceptibility, I suspect, but I can’t help my anthropocentrism. Human life and human scale are the things I think of, judge from, and orient toward. And here in a most unexpected way, I was woken from a sound sleep in the comfort of my own bed, to be reminded that all the stability and taken-for-grantedness of my world is, literally, built upon shifting ground.

Just as I was drifting back to sleep an aftershock rumbled through. Residents of California and other earthquake active locations may be used to the sensation that the Earth sometimes threatens to buck us all off, but as we say in Montana, “this was my first rodeo.” Several more aftershocks rustled us through the night, and though each rattled the house less and less, I felt wary and fell finally into fitful sleep.

It’s all an incredible miracle, of course, that we exist on this singular globe at all. Every once and again, the Earth makes us aware of the terms of our lease. It rattles the keys and threatens eviction. It reminds us that our human scale is a narrow vantage and things are really far more vast and intricate that we can fathom. No doubt, just as the earthquake shook itself out, my awareness of this miracle will subside. I’ll walk my dog over the same paths I normally do and feel that the ground is stable and knowable, and once again I’ll take my lease for granted. And while I don’t hope to be shaken awake again, I find I’m grateful for the way these shifting plates cracked my consciousness and let a little light in.
Here’s to cultivating wonder,

Lindsay

Consider: Simple Gestures

It all started with crusty bruschetta.  The tomatoes made you want to you cry.  Salice Salentino–I remember the wine, splashed into immaculately polished glasses, the tender pea vines curling around the polenta, and the first bite of that herb-encrusted chicken–crisp skin, an astounding depth of flavor.  

Some years ago, our family endured a series of traumas that stretched over a couple of years–great, unexpected losses that left us with our fists up in front of our faces, waiting for the next calamity.  We felt jumpy, tense with dread, defensive and alert.

The meal took hours, and we never wanted it to end.  The owner, an older Italian man with a face mapped in happy wrinkles, kept appearing at our elbows to tip more wine into our glasses.  Thank you, we’d say, and he’d answer, “Simple gestures.”  Finally he brought us glasses of smoky bourbon.  On the house.  Simple gestures.

When my best friend went into labor after that litany of personal tragedies, I braced myself for more bad news.  I had learned that life was not the easy walk I had expected; I had learned that good was not always reciprocated. Waiting for joy, we were met with sorrow. 

So, after a difficult labor, when my friend brought forth a healthy girl–my first goddaughter–I was completely stunned.  Goodness.  Unexpected grace that shook me awake. I sat down in humble silence and wrote a blessing for my goddaughter.  

Dear one,

may all that is good find you in this world,

just as you have found us tonight.

 

This hour you unfolded our anxious hands

and we spread them in joy

as a bird spreads her wings. . . .

My husband, Martin, and I have since adopted the Italian restaurant owner’s motto.  It takes us back to that summer night of amazing food and friendship.  Martin bakes scones and we sit outside with our teapot.  He pours tea into my cup.  Thank you, I say.  Simple gestures, he answers.

Let me tell you: life is not one long, delightful meal, and it doesn’t always give you free bourbon.  But it is filled with simple gestures that I so often take for granted: the light slanting down on my daughter’s face as she sleeps, the sound of the piano as my husband plays, these quiet moments of writing on my front porch surrounded by flowers.IMG_4808

What Martin and I discovered as we looked back over those hard things that happened to us, was that even–or especially–then, our lives were overflowing with simple, profound love.  As we put our heads down and trod through the storm, Grace was at our side.  As we sat down at the table of our bitterness, Love was pouring our cups to overflowing.  It was, in a miraculous paradox, a feast of wonder.

As well as I can, I live neither in dread or in the naivete of my youth, but from a center of gratitude.  And the feast goes on–course after course, one astounding flavor after another.