Poetry Unfolding

I witnessed poetry
unfolding
this morning
in the gray sky
above my backyard.

This backyard that is
every suburban
plot of cut grass
and swing set
nestled between
busy streets.

I wish you could have seen it too

because words will
never convey
the catch-your-breath magic of
one hundred herons
in swirling dance:

black-tipped wings
bending in unison
to form one v
and then another v
in pure, synchronized
grace.

 

 

Heart Exercises: Stretching your heart with lovingkindness

May you be rooted and grounded in Love (1)

Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone started their day by cultivating lovingkindness in their hearts? (I’m an idealist. I like to imagine these things. I like to think that anything is possible.)

Maybe that’s too big.

I should start smaller. How would my day, my interactions, my heart change if I started my day by cultivating lovingkindness in my heart? What effect would this have on my family? On the people that I encounter? Who is to say that this ripple effect can’t ultimately change the world in some fashion? (See what I mean about the idealist thing?)

What changes the world? Transformed hearts.

What changes hearts? Love–the knowledge that you are deeply loved, held in love, and that you are asked to receive and give this Love. This Love is foundational to our being. It is what holds the universe together. This is God’s love for you.

Love changes how I treat myself and how I respond to others. Being grounded in this Love changes what I need from others and what I have to give. Something that would have hurt my feelings last year has less power to do so now, because my heart is grounded in Love. I don’t feel the need to hide who I am; I’m not so desperate for approval or afraid of making bad impressions; fear and shame have less power in my life—when I am grounded in Love. I can be myself—my deep down self—because I am grounded in Love.

I’m trying to pay attention to the state of my heart. Is it open? Is it spacious? I’m trying to recognize when it starts to close down, harden, and tighten. I’m learning to pause in these moments to look at what is going on and ask “why?” The openness or tightness of my heart is like a barometer to my soul’s well-being.

I’m trying to cultivate practices that help train my heart toward love. I’m trying to make space in my heart and in my life for Love to grow in me and to ground me; I’m trying to make space so Love can do Love’s thing. (Or God can do God’s thing.)

One practice that I’ve found beautiful and powerful is called Lovingkindness Practice. It’s something I’d like to practice everyday.

The first time that I tried it was after a serious wrestling match with shame. I needed to spend the entire time in one step—finding that love for myself and sitting with that love for quite some time. It was profoundly healing.

I’ve adapted the practice described below from Pema Chödrön’s description of the practice in her book The Places That Scare You. Richard Rohr also describes the practice here. Don’t be afraid to the make the practice or prayer your own.

“Each stage gives us a further chance to loosen up the tightness of our hearts.” –Pema Chödrön

Lovingkindness Practice

  1. Sit quietly for a few minutes.
  2. Identify the place of tender lovingkindness in yourself. It helps me to think about the love I feel toward my child in a tender moment. You can begin with any loved one. Recognize and honor that feeling in your heart. Begin by blessing that person. Maybe you will want to say: “May [loved one] be rooted and grounded in love.” Send lovingkindness toward that person.
  3. Can you bring yourself into this place of lovingkindness? The you of today? If you are working through shame, you might want to picture who you were in that moment that brings you that shame. It might help to picture yourself wrapped up in God’s love. Or to picture Jesus holding your hand, and you holding your 18-year-old self’s hand (or wherever you need healing). Sit with this for as long as you need to. Extend that blessing to yourself: for example, “May I know love and be rooted in love.” Extend that lovingkindess toward yourself.
  4. Come back to that tender place in your heart. Think of a friend–the relationship might be more complicated than the one in which you identified your tender love. Bless her and send lovingkindness her way.
  5. Think of a neutral person. Someone you don’t really know and don’t feel much toward. Maybe it’s the mail carrier or a neighbor you don’t know but see walking their dog by your house every evening. Bless them. Watch to see if your heart opens or closes down. If you can, send lovingkindness her way.
  6. Think of someone who is difficult for you to enjoy or is difficult for you to be around. This might be easier during election season. Don’t overwhelm yourself by starting with the most difficult person you know. Bless them. If you are able, send them your lovingkindness.
  7. Vizualize yourself, your loved one, your friend, the neutral party, the difficult person. Try to connect with the feeling of a kind heart for all of these individuals. Bring them all into the stream of flowing love and hold them there for a few minutes.
  8. Expand this lovingkindness toward all beings, bless as far as you can.
  9. Come back to a place of quiet and just be.

 

Have you tried Lovingkindness Practice? What helps your heart to open? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Do You Want to Talk Books? Nurturing your inner monk and inner artist with the Artist’s Rule

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I love books. I love contemplation. I love creativity. I love talking about these things with friends. I recently picked up Christine Valters Paintner’s book The Artist’s Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom. It’s a twelve-week course that draws on the insights and practices of Benedictine spirituality to explore the interplay between contemplation and creativity. This book is an invitation to nurture our inner monk and our inner artist.

Christine writes: “What I have discovered in my own journey is that the contemplative path allows my creativity to flourish in ways it never did before I embraced monastic practice. This book is for anyone who longs for ways to more deeply integrate his or her spiritual path and creative longings.”

“Creativity and contemplative spirituality nurture and support each other in their commitments to the slow way, to a close attention to the inner life, and to the sacred being revealed in each moment. When I use the word “artist” I include poets, writers, cooks, gardeners, and people who use all manner of creative expression; we are all called to be artists of everyday life.”

“The purpose of this book is to invite you into a process of transformation…. Art can reconnect us with our childlike sense of wonder. When we engage art as prayer, we can remember that play is also an act of prayer, praising God out of sheer delight. We can learn to take ourselves—our art and our spirituality—a little less seriously.”

Each week is only about 10 pages long. It explores a practice or two and invites us into both contemplative and creative responses. I’m really looking forward to beginning, and I was wondering if any of you might be interested in joining me.

Does this book sound exciting, intriguing, or interesting to any of you? Would you be interested in reading it along with me? If you are, let me know in the comments or by shooting me an email through my contact page. We could create a group to share what we are learning and creating. We could cheer each other on.

UPDATE: We will be launching a book discussion group the week of August 22 through Facebook. I will begin reading chapter one that week. Feel free to join us if and when you are able.

Words of Grace: 10 Favorite Quotes from Frederick Buechner

I love words.

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you might know that I especially love Frederick Buechner’s words. Not only do I love the way that he paints beautiful pictures that burrow deep into my soul, that catch my breath, that bring me to tears. I love how Buechner illuminates an honest, searching, beautiful faith. His words make my own searching faith feel just a bit less lonely. I find myself hopeful and somehow more alive when I read Buechner’s words. They are a gift for which I am thankful.

So in honor of Buechner’s 90th birthday today, I’m sharing a few of my favorite quotes of his. I hope you enjoy!

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“Don’t start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks. . . ” Listening to Your Life

 

“I believe he says it to all of us:  to feed his sheep, his lambs, to be sure, but first to let him feed us–to let him feed us with something of himself.  In the sip of wine and crumb of bread.  In the dance of sun and water and sky.  In the faces of the people who need us most and of the people we most need.  In the smell of breakfast cooking on a charcoal fire.  Who knows where we will find him or whether we will recognize him if we do?  Who knows anything even approaching the truth of who he really was?  But my prayer is that we will all of us find him somewhere, somehow, and that he will give us something of his life to fill our emptiness, something of his light to drive back our dark.”  The Longing for Home

 

“Beyond all we can find to say about [Jesus] and believe about him, he remains always beyond our grasp, except maybe once in a while the hem of his garment. We should never forget that.  We can love him, we can learn from him, but we can come to know him only by following him–by searching for him in his church, in his Gospels, in each other.” Listening to Your Life

 

“And just this is the substance of what I want to talk about: the clack-clack of my life. The occasional, obscure glimmering through of grace. The muffled presence of the holy. The images, always broken, partial, ambiguous, of Christ. If a vision of Christ, then a vision such as those two stragglers had at Emmaus at suppertime: just the cracking of crust as the loaf came apart in his hands ragged and white before in those most poignant words of all scripture, ‘He vanished from their sight’–whoever he was, whoever they were. Whoever we are.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“The alphabet of grace is full of sibilants–sounds that can’t be shouted but only whispered: the sounds of bumblebees and wind and lovers in the dark, of white-caps hissing up flat over the glittering sand and cars on wet roads, of crowds hushed in vast and vaulted places, the sound of your own breathing. I believe that in sibilants life is trying to tell us something.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace. Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace. Jesus calls us to show this truth forth. Be the light of the world, he says. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do.”Listening to Your Life

 

“Thus, when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“But I don’t want to dream this day out. I want to live this day out. I want to live this day out as though it were the first day of my life because that is of course what it is.” The Alphabet of Grace

 

“And what is it like: to be alive in this maybe one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and be alive in it. Nobody claims that it will be painless, but no matter. It is your birthday, and there are many presents to open.” The Alphabet of Grace

Do you have any favorite Buechner quotes or books? Please share! I’m looking forward to adding to my collection.

A Poem and a Practice: Adored.

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For some reason, I’m finding words to be scarce this summer. Although, sometimes you don’t need many words. A few will do just fine.

A Poem:

It sounds cheesy and much too simple, but I honestly believe it is True.
The Answer is Love.
The way, the truth, the life: this is the Love that is God with us.

When I am rooted and grounded in Love,
in the Love that flows through time,
there is nothing left for me to defend.
Am I wrong? So be it. I know that Love holds me.

When this Love abides in me and I in Love, I can face my shadows without fear.
Maybe I can even let others see them too. There is no need to be perfect, to win, to impress.

Dare I say, the God of the Universe adores me?

/ / /

 And a Practice:

A few years ago, I found myself praying: Awaken my heart to your love, God. Awaken my heart to your love.

With my in breath: Awaken my heart to your love, God.
With my out breath: Awaken my heart to your love.

When my eyes opened in the morning and I stretched to get out of bed, I would pray: Awaken my heart to your love, God. Awaken my heart to your love.

Sometimes, these are the words I would use for centering prayer. Bringing my mind and my heart back to this phrase for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

Most often, I’d find myself praying these words while driving my car. While washing dishes. While folding the laundry. This prayer went with me. It became a part of me.

And somehow, I found myself deeply loved. It changes everything.

/ / /

What is your heart’s deepest desire, your deepest prayer? Could you put that desire into words that fit the pattern of your breath? Try taking that prayer with you, wherever you go.

I pray that you also know that you are adored.