little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the category “Good Reads”

The Truth about Morning

I have been in love with mornings all my life.  However, after reading Mark Nepo’s meditation from The Book of Awakening this morning, I feel like I finally know why. In his eloquent, real, accessible, and inspiring way, Mark translates into deep truth the sacred presence of morning and how with it, we begin again with an opportunity to shed the shadows of what was and open to what is — like dawn.

Read and re-read with me his entry entitled “The Truth about Morning”:

“There is a vastness that quiets the soul. But sometimes we are so squarely in the midst of life’s forces that we can’t see what we’re a part of.”

The truth about morning is that it is the small light of the beginning breaking through, again and again. It is a wisdom so large and clear, one which carries us through our lives so quietly and completely that we seldom see it.

Day after day, we are covered with the dust and grit of what we go through. It tends to weigh us down, and then we think and scheme and problem solve. Then we worry if it will all really work, and if it is the right thing to do. It all makes us dark and cluttered.

But despite our stubbornness of concern, we tire and must turn what has happened over to the hammock of night. This is a good thing. For no matter how unfinished we seem, the letting go into sleep is nothing short of a quiet miracle.

This letting go into sleep is an innate, reflexive form of meditation, no different than a fly rubbing its face or a doe licking its fawn. Sooner or later, without discipline or devotion, despite our resolutions and mistakes, we each must sleep. We must surrender to the quieting of all intent and regret, so that the small light of the beginning can rise in us, again and again.

There is no escaping this profound simplicity: what happens covers us like dirt. It covers our hearts and minds, till, at the shore we call exhaustion, we slip into the waters of sleep in a daily sort of baptism, so we can begin again.

So whenever you feel urgent or overwhelmed, whenever you feel pressed to figure things out or to rethink the unthinkable … rest … so that the endless beginning – which some call the voice of God – might break through what has happened. And you will wake feeling like dawn.

  • This is a bedtime meditation. Breathe slowly, and bring to mind one intention you had today as well as one regret.
  • Breathe evenly, and let your breath blow the intention and regret far enough away that you can see them clearly.
  • Center yourself, and realize that though these thoughts and feelings come through you, they are not who you are.
  • Leave these thoughts and feelings outside of you, and use each breath to bring you closer and closer to the letting go of sleep.
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Words and Wings

I have just finished reading Paula McClain’s brilliant novel Circling the Sun, which chronicles the fascinating life of Beryl Markham, a courageous and daring woman, who navigates the turbulent skies of relationships, loss, love, and finding one’s true self. While there are a host of reasons why I would recommend this book and far better, more convincing reviews out there to read, three passages in particular stopped me in my tracks, and their truth begged posting:

“The trick is learning to take things as they come and fully, too, with no resistance or fear, not trying to grasp them too tightly or make them bend.”

“How our lives turn and turn. Things come that we never would have predicted for ourselves or even guessed at. And yet they change us forever.”

“There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves…And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonder…the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.”

 

Thank you, Paula, for these words, and for the characters who speak these words — words that teach of both surrender and freedom.

May this opening into a new month — and a new season of summer — welcome in opportunities to see and feel life deeply, to surrender to its beauty and suffering, and to have the courage to try on and use the wings each of us has — wings that are constantly growing — wings that can sprout unimaginably like new shoots from rubble.

40 years…

Today, my dear parents celebrate 40 years of marriage.

40. years.

Hmmm…

All thanks be to God.

It is miraculous to say, to write, to ponder — in so many ways, but especially as the years they have seen together — the years that have witnessed their growth side by side — have been beautiful and anything but easy.

In honor of the joy and sorrow that have left marks on their 40 incredible years and that do the very same in each of our lives, I will post this powerful excerpt from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet. It is aptly titled “On Joy and Sorrow”:

“Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorry,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.”

 

Thanks be to God for the life of my parents,

their journey together,

and for the sorrow

and joy

that give meaning

to our paths —

the fullness of life.

Storage

Just recently my dear mama surprised me with the latest book of poetry penned by Mary Oliver, my forever favorite poet. At a ripened 80 years of age and blessed experience, Mary O. writes openly in this latest collection called Felicity about “The Journey, “Love,” and “Felicity,” and as always, she awakens my spirit and leaves me breathless.

During this season of my life, when I feel so much but often don’t know what to say or how to say it, Mary’s words open and fill, watering my dry places and nourishing its knotty soil.

In particular, her poem called “Storage” has settled in deeply as I have spent the past number of months getting rid of things. Yes, there are more things to clean out, and yes, there is more love – of God, of trees, of birds, of everything – to let in.

Thank you, Mary, for your inspiration, and dear God, on this first day of Advent, help us to empty our storage spaces and make room for what really matters.

Storage

By Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing — the reason they can fly.

“Counterintuitive Wisdom”

A simple (yet loaded) quote I’ve been pondering today:

“We suffer to get well.

We surrender to win.

We die to live.

We give it away to keep it.”

-Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater

This is the Good News, friends.

“More Than Our Mistakes”

Since January, thanks to my dear friend Cheryle, I have been reading Mark Nepo‘s The Book of Awakening as a part of my morning quiet time. While many would describe Mark as a New York Times best-selling author, philosopher, and poet, I tend to think of him as a wise old friend, for that’s how he comes through the page: patient, humble, and encouraging. He listens to his experiences and composes honest words that tell the story of his own human brokenness, and in doing so, he helps us see, move through, and give thanks for our own.

Today’s offering (and its closing meditation) especially moved me, as I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about the twists, turns, detours, and stop signs in life, in addition to the mistakes and failures along the way that help pave new paths. Grace. Mark’s words for today speak to that subject far more eloquently than I ever could, and I hope and pray his words — like gentle words from an old friend you’ve somehow known forever — meet and hold you right where you are.

Please take a few minutes today to read “More Than Our Mistakes”:

The buffalo fed on the buffalo grass that was fertilized by their own droppings. This grass had deep roots bound to the earth and was resistant to drought.

– David Peat

Try as we will, we cannot escape the making of mistakes. But fortunately, the ever humbling cycle of growing strong roots comes from eating what grows from our own shit, from digesting and processing our own humanity. Like the buffalo, we are nourished by what sprouts from our own broken trail. What we trample and leave behind fertilizes what will feed us. No one is exempt. 

A pipe falls on a dancer’s leg and the dancer must reinvent herself, while the worker who dropped it is driven to volunteer with crippled veterans. A dear friend discovers small bulbous tumors and his tulips begin to speak, and when he dies, his nurse begins a garden. Things come apart and join sometimes faster than we can cope. But we evolve in spite of our limitations, and though we break and make mistakes, we are always mysteriously more than what is broken. Indeed, we somehow grow from the soil of our mistakes. And often in the process, the things we refuse to let go of are somehow forced from our grip.

I have been broken and have failed so many times that my sense of identity has sprouted and peeled like an onion. But because of this, I have lived more than my share of lives and feel both young and old at once, with a sudden heart that cries just to meet the air. Now, on the other side of all I’ve suffered so far, everything, from the quick song of birds to the peace trapped inside a fresh brook’s gurgle, is rare and uncertain. Now I want to stand naked before every wind; and though I’m still frightened I will break, I somehow know it’s all a part – even the fright – of the rhythm of being alive.

You see, no one ever told me that as snakes shed skin, as trees snap bark, the human heart peels, crying when forced open, singing when loved open. Now I understand that whatever keeps us from burning truth as food, whatever tricks the heart into thinking we can hide in the open, whatever makes us look everywhere but in the core, this is the smoke that drives us from what is living. And whatever keeps us coming back, coming up, whatever makes us build a home out of straw, out of heartache, out of nothing, whatever ignites us to see again for the very first time, this is the bluish flame that keeps the Earth grinding to the sun.

  • Light a candle. Sit quietly and focus on the blue part of the flame as you meditate on one loss you carry within you. It could be a person who has died or left your life. Or a dream that has evaporated.
  • Sift through the feelings that surround this loss and find one detail that seems worth saving. It might be represented by a pen or book that someone used. Or a favorite chair. Or a piece of music. Or a gardening tool. 
  • Holding this detail in your heart, look into the bluish flame and meditate on the gift you carry from what is gone.
  • Now use this detail, if you can, to help you build what is presently before you.
  • Try to infuse what is worth saving from what you’ve lost.
  • Use the old to build the new.

Amen.

(and please forgive any conventions mistakes I’ve made in retyping this excerpt; I’m sure they will help me do better next time) 🙂

Back to the Blog

Oh, friends, it’s been a long, long time, and while there’s always meaning and importance in the silent seasons, it feels good to be writing again (at least for today!). I find myself “back to the blog” (as “Carty McFly”?!) for a handful of reasons important enough to name and for which to give thanks:

1. Gevin, a former student and forever friend, who is off to college next year, recently encouraged me to write again this summer, and goodness gracious, I cannot say “no” to this wonderful gent!

2. Today is June 1st. The first of a new month. Clean slate. Tabula Rasa. I love that feeling of “new,” and I especially feel it today, the threshold of a new month, a new season. So much of our lives wades in the waters of endings and beginnings, and I feel grateful for a new beginning this day.

3. This past week, I had the incredible fortune of participating in a workshop at school called, “Root to Rise,” and in each day of this three-day, full-day workshop, a group of us 10 women (mostly strangers) practiced writing and yoga together. Thanks to our wise, encouraging, and beautiful leaders Maggie and Mary, each day was sacred, as we rooted ourselves on the page and on the mat, finding meaning along the journey.  Each writing practice was modeled largely from Natalie Goldberg‘s methods of writing practice, in which we would write continuously for ten minutes based on a specific prompt. Interspersed with yoga, we wrote (and shared when we felt called to do so) about eight writing practices per day, and like any good practice, there were specific rules to follow (from Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind):

Natalie Goldberg’s Seven Rules for Writing Practice

  1. Keep your hand moving
  2. Be specific
  3. Don’t think
  4. Lose control
  5. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar
  6. You are free to write the worst junk in America
  7. Go for the jugular (don’t be afraid to write about the hard stuff)

These rules, I think, can apply to much more than writing practice, but I’ll let you explore that notion for yourself. As for writing, these rules were hard to follow initially, but the more you can surrender to your wild mind, the more it will take you where you need to go.  Some of our writing prompts included, “I am looking at,” “pancakes,” “what have I lost?” “what have I found?” “failing and flying, “fathers,” and “what will you miss when you die?” (whew, light subject matter, eh?). Regardless of the prompt, these writing practices not only helped us explore ourselves, but often they allowed us to visit certain terrain we haven’t wanted to, and while that is not exactly comfortable, maybe that is exactly what we need – what we all need from time to time. I know I did, and perhaps they can do the same for you…

The very first prompt given to us was “I remember,” the one with which Mary, our teacher, always begins. This seems the perfect place to start for anyone, and perhaps I’ll share my writing practice from that prompt next time.

For now, as I begin again, little by little, thank you for reading, listening, and following, friends; slowly but surely, I’m finding and learning to use my voice again…

I pray the same for you…

Write on.

“Life Itself Is Grace”

While I cannot say it like Frederick Buechner can, I’m going to let his voice speak here to what I so deeply feel.  As we are now nearly one week into this new, incredible year — 2014 — (it still makes me gasp, “what?!”), may we not just think about his words, but feel them, embrace them, live them, and welcome them  home to stay in our souls:

“Life Itself Is Grace”

January 1 [yet for every day?]

 Listen to your life.

All moments are key moments.

I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas.  Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye.  Eating lunch with a friend.  Trying to do a decent day’s work.  Hearing the rain patter against the window.  There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him. But all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly…. If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this:  Listen to your lifeSee it for the fathomless mystery that it isIn the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

(From Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner)

May we be awake to and patient in the mystery of our lives unfolding, day by grace-filled day.

Amen.

Sabbatical Reading List…

Dear friends,

I write to you as if I’m learning how to ride a bike again; after such a long hiatus from the blogosphere, I’m a bit tentative and shaky in my keyboard strokes. For most of the month of November, thanks be to God and my gracious school community, I had the incredible fortune of taking a sabbatical — a necessary break from the daily routine to make room and seek space to just BE.  My hope was to live simply, unplug, and lean into a time and space for silence, solitude, and being in nature, and to say that it far surpassed my expectations is quite an understatement.

I was grateful to spend nearly three weeks by the Gulf of Mexico along the “Emerald Coast” in Blue Mountain Beach, Florida, and I wish I could offer the words to adequately describe this transforming experience.  My pictures of the wild expanse of sky, sand, and sea do far better justice than my humble words (and I had nothing to do with that either; I just happened to have THE best subjects at which to point and shoot my tireless, 11-year old Canon PowerShot!), but what I can offer now is that it was a time of experiencing and softening to God’s lavish GRACE and LOVE in my life.  To turn off distractions of all types and slow the pace was to open up to revelations and illuminations — both beautiful and incredibly challenging — yet nonetheless meaningful — and begin the process of letting go of so much…among them habits and patterns of thinking, paralyzing fear and shame, illusions of control, and rigid rules I’ve followed blindly for far too long. During this opening space, I was thankful to spend time in a simple state of existence: walking, journaling, wandering, observing, thinking, writing, taking pictures, encountering strangers, praying, singing, listening to music and to silence, playing my guitar, painting, and reading.  Living simply like this, stripped of habits, comfort zones, and familiar, yet distracting technology, I was able to dig deep and become vulnerable to myself.

While I hope to offer a follow-up post to express some of what I learned and continue to learn as I still unpack and process the journey (in a sense, I’m continuing the journey, and yet I’m beginning again), what I want to share today is the list of books I read during this time.  It was beautiful how one book led to the next, as common threads and themes began to emerge:  God’s “Forever Love,” everlasting Grace, how suffering/weakness/vulnerability can become life-giving, and our desperate need to tell our secrets and become our authentic, True selves.

Here they are in the order in which they “found” me and floated gracefully into my life/heart/mind (while some were precious gifts, others have been patiently waiting on my shelf for the “right” time to be read):

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

The Naked Now by Richard Rohr

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones  (This was a gift from a dear friend, written/illustrated as a “children’s” book, but no, siree…this was my reading before bed each night, and it’s one of the most beautiful “Bibles” I’ve ever seen/read…illustrating the story of God coming back to rescue us with his Love…to heal what had been broken “in the beginning” and to satisfy the deep yearning within us – that desire to be “whole” again.  It, like the others listed, is magnificent.)

Thank you for reading and “listening,” friends.  I hope one, a few, or all of these books find their way to you at some point, and when and if they do, may they touch, encourage, and open you as they did me.

Finally, in the coming weeks, I hope to write again, but at the same time, I must confess that I did NOT miss the computer screen, nor any screen while I was gone…

So, with that, let’s take one day at a time, and I hope to see you soon (and by that I mean face-to-face)…

With love, gratitude, and hope in this waiting season of Advent…

Quiet

In the quiet of the evening as summer storms make their mark on my windowpane and water our thirsty earth, I am thinking about the power of quiet – both in the soft silence that surrounds, but also the book I have just finished by the same name:  Quiet by Susan Cain.  The subtitle of this notable read is The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and it had this introvert hooked and fascinated.

Cain suggests that an introvert is the person “who recognizes him or herself somewhere in the following constellation of attributes:  reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.”  In contrast, an extrovert is “ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Cain admits that certainly not everyone is simply one or the other, but rather a complex collage of a medley of these traits.

This book intrigued me for many reasons (and not just because I saw vulnerable parts of myself between many of the pages), as it brought to light our cultural perceptions of introverts and extroverts and our need for better balance.  We live in a noisy, overstimulated world that needs to be reminded more and more of the importance of listening, being still, and making room for silence.  As human beings, we need to better understand each other, and the best way to do that is to listen and think deeply before we respond or offer our opinion.

Furthermore, as a teacher, this book has helped me to better consider the myriad of personalities and gifts in the little beings that enter our space every day.  Not every one thrives on collaboration, one of our 21st century buzz words. Sure, teamwork is important, but there needs to also be time for independent work and deliberate thought and practice by oneself.

Here are a few other ideas Cain puts forth, which I hope compel you to read this important book (you’re welcome to borrow my copy):

1. How our society has shifted from placing importance on one’s character to one’s personality (20th century phenomenon)

2.  The power of listening

3.  Quiet leadership (NOT an oxymoron); think about this idea of “soft power” in figures like Moses and like Ghandi, who said, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  Amen and hello, Rosa Parks.

4.  Deliberate practice is necessary to improve, and it must be done by oneself.  This also cultivates patience – something we ALL need.

5.  We can all benefit from quiet in a world that suffers from excessive stimuli (how many screens or devices are we plugged into daily?)

6.  Need for better balance in the classroom (ex:  independent work alongside collaboration)

7.  Relationships and communication between introverts and extroverts…how can we better understand each other?

8.  “Love is essential,” Cain asserts, “gregariousness is optional.”

Read more here:

http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/about-the-book/

Let me know what you think when/if you read this. Maybe we can collect our thoughts separately and share them in this space or another intimate forum.  I am, mostly, an introvert, see.  🙂

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