Consider: In the Garden

Dear Friends,

Near the end of Lindsay’s three-week trip to Italy, I received a brief text that spoke volumes about how, even in the most stunning of locations, we can begin to feel adrift, anxious for something to root us to our own rhythm again–work, ritual, a familiar tea cup, a bedside table stacked with books waiting to be read.  Of course, this restlessness can strike at any moment, even in the midst of the most peaceful day at home or the most hectic week at work.

During times of great restlessness, I feel tempted to fill the questioning silence with easy, accessible noise to distract me from my soul’s discomfort.  I have a rolodex of options: a purchase on Amazon, another hour at my computer, my favorite BBC shows, or my favorite extrovert option–planning a party or at least finding a friend for coffee.  These are fine things in themselves (and I do throw a good party), but by forty, I know myself well enough to recognize my old tactics. And I must honestly ask myself: what is my spirit actually panting for?  in Luke's garden

I find the response to my question in silence and listening, sometimes simply in the act of walking into the garden, falling on my knees, and weeding.  I need places where I can be long enough to find what I need to take me through another day of living and loving the people and earth around me.  Among the poppies and the clover and the roses, I find space to sort through all that clatters in my head. With my hands in soil, I grasp a few fundamental words that orient me to what is real.  There is robust beauty there, and poems to be found, like this one I finally wrote down after weeks of carrying it about with me.

Rhododendrons, Western Washington, Spring 2018

As our plane started its descent, we glimpsed them:
Thousands of rhododendrons
spilling pink and orange watercolor across the city’s somber pallette.
I thought of what a preacher told us.
This world is a warzone, he said, You get to be William Wallace
in Braveheart.  Can you think of anything better?
Later, hands cradling three ripe plums from our tree, my husband said,
I think this world is a garden.

Did you know there are some 800 varieties of rhododendrons,
holding early morning mist in Japan,
arching sinuous branches over forgotten Appalachian footpaths,
unfolding fuchsia petals in rugged Nepalese mountains?
In my suburban town near Seattle
they sing on every street corner.

Behind our pea trellis and the raised bed
sown with cosmos
rhododendrons crowd, shoulder to shoulder,
offering nectar to bees and hummingbirds.
Some days you can see my gladness
from the air, peach- and lavender-colored blooms.
On others, I am quiet, an evergreen leaf, pearled by rain.
This is God’s garden
and today I am content to hold the dew.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  We’d love to know what metaphors spring to mind as you think of this world we live and move in.  As always, we are honored by all your thoughts and reflections as we share this journey into wonder together.

PS2.  To see Lindsay’s actual text from Italy, please check out the Back Page.

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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

Consider: Calling Across the Lake

kayakSince moving to the Pacific Northwest, I have come to believe that nothing is better than “messing about in boats”–if those boats are kayaks.  I love that first pull away from shore, the transformation of clumsy land mammal to gliding waterbird.

Some months ago, I escaped the busyness of my life for a camp near Mt. Rainier.  More than anything, I hungered to be out on the lake alone.  I pushed out my kayak, paddled into deep water, and waited.  For what?  I think I wanted the lake to give me something, though I can’t tell you what it was.

The lake did not fulfill my overly simple quest for “peace and quiet.” The wind stirred the trees, birds cried, my paddle dipped into the water.  Inside my head, voices shouted and whispered and cajoled.  Still, I waited, as I often do when I enter into a wild place, for some kind of gift, some kind of salvation.

But as the saying goes, wherever you go, you are there.  Even in the midst of that expansive beauty on the lake, I felt the margins of myself keenly.  Again, I was the self-conscious human, standing outside, looking in.  Small, limited, cosmically alone, I waited.

I am–and you likely are, too–the man in Robert Frost’s poem, The Most of It, who stands at the edge of a lake and shouts.  What does he hope for?  A voice not his own, a voice to startle him out of his weary self.  What does he receive, coming back over the water?  An echo of his own voice.  He thinks he keeps ‘the universe alone,’ and in this echo-chamber, there is no escape.

Sound familiar?

“Some morning from the boulder-broken beach

He would cry out on life, that what it wants

Is not its own love back in copy speech,

But counter-love, original response.”

What saves him, with sudden, unsettling crash, is a mighty buck that pushes the water and scrambles to shore, “pouring like a waterfall,” then ploughs through the underbrush–and is gone.

What saved me that day out on the lake were the ospreys that circled high, crying, and then plunged down into the water to hook fish in their claws.  I pulled my paddle and let myself glide, absorbed in watching the birds dive and call.  For just a moment, the multitude of things that clamor for my attention died away in the stunning scene before me.

This world shakes me from myself again and again.  Some days, of course, my walls are simply too impenetrable.  But I keep calling across the lake, waiting for that encounter with the Other.  And all I have to do, most of the time, is show up.  Whether it’s pushing out a kayak or simply stepping out on my back porch, this world so often rises up with is own startling presence.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  For a rather humorous behind-the-scenes glimpse of this week’s Consider, please visit The Back Page.

P.P.S.  We’d love to hear from you.  Please enter the conversation–suggestions for further reading, counter-readings of Frost’s poem–on Facebook or on the comments form on our blog. Or drop us a line.

Travel Log

This morning I said goodbye to the girls and my husband, Martin, and I drove through rare and welcome midmorning sunshine to the ferry dock.  After a peaceful hour’s ride, we exited the mouth of the ferry, whisked through the bustle of Seattle, wound up the still-snowy mountain pass, and rocketed out into the vast, desolate rolling hills.  No kids in the back seat, a podcast murmuring quiet wisdom, and a hot cup of coffee: bliss.  A chance at last to cultivate what Lindsay talked about so well in her Consider this week: the art of inwardness.

Now I sit alone in the hotel room with the hum of the air-conditioning and congestive rattle of the mini fridge.  As soon as Martin left to see colleagues (this is work trip), I fought the urge to flip on the T.V.  Instead, I sat down with a glass of wine to mull over what Martin said after I got off the phone with Lindsay this afternoon.  “You’re so busy,” he said, “I wonder if you’ve taken time to slow down and reflect on the process of launching Each Holy Hour?”  You mean like metacognition, I answered, using a word educators love.  He smiled.

Metacognition is about thinking and talking honestly about your own learning process.  So as I begin to narrate the process of building Each Holy Hour, a project for wonder, I admit to myself that my recent preoccupation with the many “ticks on the to-do list” that Lindsay described in her meditation has had nothing to do with encountering wonder.  It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed moments of loveliness as I’ve waded through a thick morass of details of building a new website and content.  Even in the thicket of logistics, even as I clawed my way up the steep learning-curve of technology, I’ve found time to hug my kids, take in our blooming cherry tree, stand hushed and awed over a nest of newly hatched chickadees.

But I’ve reflected very little.  I’ve been glued to my phone and my computer so much that my eyes have become achy and bloodshot.  I’ve been myopic and obsessed, not inward–there’s a big difference:  “Inwardness is a summons that resists stress and hustle, an orientation to the world, not something that can be gained by doing.”

I struggle with the tension of keeping my life balanced.  When you parent three kids, work a part-time job, and write to boot, getting things done is hard-won.  On launch day, all my daughters were home sick.  As I face-timed Lindsay about the first Consider, her daughter (home sick!), jostled her elbow and asked questions.

But now after two weeks of doing, I feel unmoored from the very things that Each Holy Hour is all about:  solitude, reflection, face-to-face, unhurried communion with people.

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Flashback two months ago to a walk on the beach by grey Puget Sound.  Lindsay had made the drive from Montana to visit us.  Our kids picked their way through shallow pools, collecting crabs and eels. We tiptoed through thousands of sand dollars stacked in the sand–like shingles, Lindsay observed.  We dragged sticks in the sand, bent down to pocket smooth, ancient stones, lingered over driftwood.  And we discussed our passion for contemplation and our need for silence.  We talked about Each Holy Hour.

Life is about dwelling in that tension between doing and being.  Some hours are as spacious and silent as the hilly farmland we drove through this afternoon; others are as hectic and noisy as downtown Seattle.  Sometimes we hold our breath, lower our gaze, and plow through the crowd, and other days we wander blissfully under a wide, open sky.

But finding balance demands more from me than just silencing my phone for a few moments to snap up some convenient inwardness.  Inwardness is an “orientation to the world.”  It’s a way of being, a way of breathing, if you will.  And in a culture that measures me by my productivity, I need to  exhale and open my hands.

–KLC