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: 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