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: What We’ve Lost. . .or Not

Dear Friends,

In my twenties it was walruses.

“I’ll never become an expert on walruses.”  That was my wistful thought when I made the decision to move to Montana, fresh from college seminars on post structuralism, moral beauty, and environmental imagination. I had just spent six months in Tanzania, where I’d gained a passable ability to converse in Swahili, a taste for ugali, and a love for the bushbabies who clattered rocks off my metal roof each night. The world seemed excessively open and curious and I seemed full of agency.  I believed implicitly in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

I’d never cultivated particular interest in walruses, so giving them up as a possible life career caused me little more than the passing thought: here is a direction I won’t be going.

IMG_4680One door shut.

But all others seemed to gape open.

I’m nearly two decades beyond the time when I ruled out walruses once and for all.  And life looks incredibly different from forty as it did from twenty-two.  Less branching possibility, more prescribed probability.  Fewer trips to faraway continents, more trips to the grocery store.

Recently I read Amor Towles’ novel, Rules of Civility.  In the book’s final pages the narrator reviews her life.  As she thinks about her husband, her career and the life she built in New York, she reflects, “I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me.  And at the same time, I know that right choices are the means by which life crystallizes loss.”

I took a photo of that paragraph because I wanted to have it down just so.  Like Towles’ narrator, I love my life.  I feel the fit of each significant life choice and harbor no doubts about them.  I thrill when I walk out my door and think again for, perhaps, the thousandth time, “I can’t believe I get to live here.”  And, even so, I’m cognizant of the losses – all the walruses along the way – that indwell each gain.

I don’t mean this as lament; rather as stock-taking, as faithful render of life as I find it.  And there’s something compelling about all these losses.  They pile up not like so much inanimate dust, but like little flints that sometimes, when struck just right, still spark with latent energy.

As Towles’ narrator stands on the balcony thinking back on the right choices through which her right choices “crystallized loss,” she says, “I knew too well the nature of life’s distractions and enticements – how the piecemeal progress of our hopes and ambitions commands our undivided attention, reshaping the ethereal into the tangible, and commitments into compromises.”

The idea of piecemealing life has such an honest ring.  While I want my life to hum with the passion of worthy commitments, the groceries in the fridge persist in disappearing, my kids grow out of their soccer cleats, they clamor for homework help.  Bills arrive in the mailbox requiring payment. And that bathroom is not going to clean itself.  Life feels way too tangible and all too compromised.

But then, from somewhere deep inside something ineffable sparks and flares.  At times, these sparks seer and blister – things have gone by, doors are shut.  But sometimes these sparks seem to glimmer with a hint that all things treasured up in one’s heart are never gone, that all the branching profusion, though seemingly pruned years ago, is suddenly found miraculously intact.

in the snowIs it possible for both to be true?  Does the spirit obey its own physics – wherein things coming and going are all mixed up with one another, wherein losses are real and, at once, never truly lost?

Friend, whatever walruses you bear, bear them well and with love.  For we are all complex, expansive beings, and our hearts are immense and capable of holding much.

Peace,

Lindsay

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

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