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: 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

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