Saturday, September 30, 2017

After the hurricane

It seems to have happened again: current events that seem to float behind the scenes, on the back burner of my mind, have a way of moving into the foreground when I paint.

This one -- well, the more I look at it, the more it seems to be about the devastation in Puerto Rico. It's odd; the whole time I was painting with it I was arguing with it, trying to get it to be more gracious, less dark, less burning, less angry -- and yet, though just yesterday I thought I'd be completely ready to paint over it, with the additional touches -- the sharp edges and angles I added this morning -- I've decided... not that I like it, exactly; I find this painting difficult to like... but it's done; it's right; I won't be painting over it; I'm not ashamed or embarrassed about it; it is what it is -- a response to stimuli pretty much beyond my control.

It feels ... right, somehow; like the darkness is appropriate, unavoidable, sincere; something that needs to be waded into, like the other darknesses that have become increasingly exposed in the last year. However poisoned the well may be, our job now is to drink; we have no choice -- if we are to survive we have to trust that we'll find nourishment in our discomfort. We can only rebuild if we sort through the mess and find what little there might be that is possible to redeem.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A memory and a promise

Like the sun and the sky at the end of the day,
the summer, as it fades, offers us this final gift;
a memory to warm us in the dark times ahead;
a promise that the bright times will return.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Invitation to light

Each morning, with the sun,
Comes that tacit invitation 
To step forward, to move into the light...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Unresolved differences

The survival of a couple,
a family, or community --
its sense of safety, comfort and security --
will often depend
on the answer to this question.

How do we, not just tolerate,
but find ways to accommodate
our Unresolved Differences:
this often unexpected, and surely uninvited,
but troublesome, disturbing,
and persistently annoying guest
that inevitably joins us at the table
and is capable of eating us alive?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A willingness to engage

What makes a house a home
is not its size, but the welcome it conveys.
What makes a group a community
is the invitation to participate;
a willingness to engage, to include, and to encourage.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Joyful adventures

Whatever adventures you're off on this week,
I hope they're filled with color and joy.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Gratitude for gardeners

My heart expands with gratitude this morning 
For all who create and tend
The gardens that feed our stomachs and our souls.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Learning to trust

Faith is learning to trust
that there will always be a place for you
with nourishment and warmth;
that the sun will always rise again;
that the shadows on the lawn will turn to gold.

Friday, September 22, 2017

When calm turns to storm

What is it about life --
that the very things that give us pleasure
can sometimes overwhelm us?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Respecting the spark

I believe there's a divine spark
that animates every one of us
as well as all creation.
My guess is we will never heal
the gaps that lie between us --
between nations, generations, or religions;
between left and right, rich and poor,
old and young, or male and female --
until we learn to respect that spark:
to condemn actions instead of people;
to object to and resist choices
without insulting their perpetrators.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Our safe and golden stillness

From our safe and golden stillness here,
we hold in prayer the suffering 
of those elsewhere, whose lives are torn,
by nature's cruel quakes and storms.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

United we stand

The more we stay connected --
to the present, to our bodies, to each other --
the less vulnerable we are and the stronger we become:
our strength lies in our unity; our weakness, in divisions
from each other and ourselves.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Final harvest

And now, as we begin to harvest
the final fruits of the season,
what colors, tastes, and memories will we be storing up
to feed us during the long winter months ahead?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bloom where you're planted

However small, or unimportant, 
or ordinary our role may be,
it's still our chance to bring life and color 
to the grateful world around us.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The gift of attention and the Meaning of Life

(Warning: 2 or 3 highly charged words ahead)

Due to a variety of circumstances, I have recently taken on what is essentially a full-time job. It's a volunteer position; I fell into it because the person who had it before me is moving away and there was no one else familiar enough with the work to take it on.

So I've noticed that my meditation periods have been suffering -- it's been hard to focus, and my normal automatic 20 minute awakenings have been shortened to 15 minutes or less as I am propelled into awakeness by a compelling/distracting list of to-dos.

I've also noticed that this blog is suffering as well: readership is down, which is almost always an indicator that my posts are fueled, not by spirit, but by thought.

And as I sat in meditation yesterday morning, I was forced to face that fact that I'm finding my new role very stressful, and that's what's interfering with my peace of mind. So last night, over dinner, I sat with my husband, who is carrying a similar load for similar reasons (see explanation below) and tried to talk through what it is that I find so stressful.
Here's what we're doing (you can skip this part if you want): For the last few years the two of us have both been involved in what initially was intended to be a local radio station. For a variety of reasons it became instead a local podcasting channel which posts 3 or 4 interviews a week about people and events in our community. The man whose vision this was, who started up the organization, had hoped it would grow. But -- again, for a variety of reasons -- while the number of podcasts, and people interested in being promoted by them, and people listening to them, grew, the number of people actually involved in producing them shrank, until it was just the original visionary and his wife, and my husband, and me, with a few other folks who were peripherally involved.

Which meant that without some serious fundraising we could not afford the rent on the recording studio we were using. So we ended up folding ourselves into another larger community organization which was building a new facility that had a tiny bit of room in it for a recording studio. As a result, we no longer pay rent, but we are now responsible for providing training in a variety of media arts for the over 1,000 members of the organization we now serve. And then the visionary and his wife decided to move to Denver to be nearer their grandchildren. So my husband is now in charge of the training arm of what is now a Media Arts Studio, and I am managing the podcasting arm.

So where am I going with this? (Yes, here comes the good part.) This morning I was reading Krista Tippett's new book, Becoming Wise. She was talking about the gifts of the L'Arche community in which Henri Nouwen lived his final days, and she said this: "Loving reality in all its imperfection is the necessary prelude to discovering God present and alive." (Note: so there's your first highly charged word: God.)

That single sentence triggered a whole train of thought, which is really what this blog is about. Because I found myself thinking about what Jesus said (highly charged words #2) about the Kingdom of Heaven in Logion 51 of the Gospel of Thomas: "What you are looking for is already here. you simply have not recognized it." To me this verse has always meant that we achieve that sense of wholeness, of infinite possibility, of oneness and connection that is the hallmark of what I think of as Heaven whenever we are able to be 100% present in the moment.

Think about it. What's the happiest you've ever been?  For me it's the times when I am fully present, when I am hugging my daughters, or creating art, or (here it comes, highly charged word #3) having an orgasm; when I am completing a project and know I've done it well, when I'm teaching and my students actually hear me and learn, when I'm meditating and I actually lose myself in the moment; when I'm sitting in the living room and that first ray of sunshine pours through the window and onto my husband's chair -- any of those times when I am just here. Now. Totally in the moment. It's the gift of attention.

And then I thought -- perhaps that is the gift and curse of addictive substances and actions -- that they give us the illusion of being fully present when, for whatever reason, we find ourselves unable to embrace that moment without them. And isn't that also the source of trauma -- when an event or a life becomes so intolerable that we are forced to step outside the moment to separate ourselves from the present?

And finally the aha moment: the stress I've been feeling is not about any of the particular tasks associated with this job I've taken on. The stress is because the sheer attention involved in tracking all the tasks and people I now manage is attention being taken AWAY from the present. This odd sense of joy, that both my husband and I have been so appreciating, the pleasure we've been finding these last two years in our new home, in our lives, in each other, and in our children, has been a joy of presence. We've been able to be fully here. And now, with this work we've taken on, that pleasure in the moment is lessened by the sense that we're always supposed to be thinking about or doing something else.

Which is, of course, how most people -- consumed as they are by the various demands on their lives -- job, household, finances, children, disease, pain, loss, etc. -- live. So then the question becomes, how can we both function successfully, be fully engaged with the lives we're called to lead at this moment in time, AND be fully present to whatever is right here, right now.

I suspect that if we can find the answer to THAT question, we'll have discovered the meaning of life...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Prayers for an end to violence

A dear friend's son, Marty,  teaches at a small high school in a little town of 500 in Eastern Washington.

Two days ago a troubled student came to that school carrying a rifle and a pistol, and began shooting in the hallway outside Marty's classroom. Marty shepherded as many kids as he could into his classroom, tended to a wounded girl, and called 911, but out in the hallway one boy was killed and others were wounded before a janitor wrestled the shooter to the ground.

The shooter claimed he was tired of being bullied.

The guns came from his father's gun safe; his father had given him the combination.


All facts.

Facts that seem to repeat themselves over and over; facts that shock, wound, and kill; facts that traumatize a whole community and carry echoes out into the world.

Why does it happen? How can we stop it? What can we do to limit the probability of recurrence?

And how -- tempted as we are to place blame on the shooter, the bully, the father -- can we move beyond blame to institutional reform?

And how on earth do people cope who can no longer pray?

I ask your prayers -- for the gunman, the victims, the students, the teachers, their families, their community, and our society; for all the broken hearts and pain; for the bullies and the bullied -- for an end to the violence that arises when we fail to be kind to one another.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hungry for Vermont

I woke up this morning
hungry for the sights, the scents and sounds
of autumn in Vermont.
And so I let this picture feed my soul...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Just as a sprinkling of clouds
can make a sunset more appealing,
a few significant challenges
often enrich our ordinary lives...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

In that liminal space

However strong and well-equipped you are,
there will still be times when your tide is out
and you're stranded on the beach of your expectations.
How can you best prepare for the journey yet to come?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The roots of compassion

I don't expect you to like this painting -- I don't like it all that much myself, and I'm sure I'll be painting over it before too long.

But I post it here as a reminder that a)not every visit to your studio will be a success, and b)however pleasant the life we've built for ourselves may be, it's impossible not to be influenced by the world outside our little bubbles.

It's happened before, of course -- I still haven't painted over the one I did after the tornado in Oklahoma. And there were those paintings I did during the wildfires, the ones that ended up at our local fire station.

This one was a response to worries about our friends and family living in Florida; I call it Storm Surge. And I'm glad to learn, this morning, that Irma died down quite a bit in the night, and that the devastation was not as bad as might have been predicted.

But the facts remain irrefutable: though we may live in relative isolation, either geographically, or in our little corner of like-minded facebook friends, our world is actually considerably larger than it appears, and what touches others touches us as well. However that shows up in your life may vary from person to person, but when we begin to acknowledge that connection -- those are the roots of compassion.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A little Sunday calm

We all need a little Sunday in our lives:
a time to get away from the noise and the throng,
a time to remember that nature 
(when she isn't on a rampage) can prove calming; 
can nourish and soothe our thirsty fevered souls...

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The best antidote

Disappointments, failures, and change are inevitable.
The best antidote is generosity, giving back.
What color could you spill into someone's life today?
What gift could you give -- even just a hug --
that might make someone else's day go better?

Friday, September 8, 2017

The scent of rain

After a long dry summer,
for a thirsty garden, nothing's as sweet
as the sound and the scent of rain...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The sweet elixir of forgiveness

There it is again, that invitation,
waiting in the deep stillness at the root of being:
come, sit, rest your oars, and drink 
the sweet elixir of forgiveness.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ask, don't tell

Instead of convincing you to move,
what if I asked why you stand where you do?
Wouldn't that result in a more illuminating,
more civil dialog?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Encouraging the blossoms

Though we come in many colors,
we all share the same roots:
what encourages one to blossom encourages all.

Monday, September 4, 2017

What fuels our choices

Whatever choices you make today,
may they be fueled by love and compassion, 
not by fear or anger...

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Road Ahead

We don't know what the road ahead will hold,
beyond the promise of light and shadow;
only that the leaves, so golden now, will soon be falling,
nurturing the ground below to feed new growth next spring.
And so we keep on walking, breathing in the scents of autumn,
 hoping for the strength to face whatever waits beyond the bend.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Understanding through Imagination

Perhaps we might get better at understanding
how others truly think and feel
if we spent more time imagining
the life that might go on behind the windows of the world...

Friday, September 1, 2017

Mercury in Retrograde

I've never really bought into the whole "Mercury in Retrograde" thing: I'm not generally into weird cosmic phenomena. But life's been so frazzled and bizarre lately that it seems as good an explanation as any.

Granted, I've taken on a huge new volunteer task, and that's brought its own complications. But how do we explain mysterious stories like this one?

Part of my job is editing and publishing podcasts, and we had recorded an interview on Tuesday with a blueberry farmer who needed the word to get out that for the first time ever she'd be selling blueberries at the Farmers Market on Saturday. Translation: she needed a quick turnaround.

So I sat down Wednesday morning to edit her interview, feeling a little grumpy about the time pressure and frustrated that I haven't had time to paint in days. And my audio editing software says "can't open file."

Wait! I think. Maybe it's a sign! If it doesn't work, I can stop sitting at my computer and go into my studio? But it's software, and there are always glitches, so I do a restart, move the file off my thumb drive and onto my desktop to try again, when a knock comes at my front door -- which is a rarity, believe me; our house is pretty deep in the woods.

And it's two ladies, Jehovah's witnesses, just wanting to hand me a little pamphlet ("no bible talk, just help" she says in her very strong Asian accent). So I smile, and take the flyer from her, and the cover reads, "Are you doing too much?"

I had to laugh, and she says, "I, know, right -- computer, washer, dryer, microwave -- we are all doing too much, right?" and then she says goodbye and walks away.

So I close the door behind her, absently flip over the pamphlet, looking for the inevitable "bible talk," and on the back cover there's a photo of blueberries.


I just had to laugh. Again. Because I AM doing too much. And right now it's all about those blueberries.

Sadly, the restart and the file move worked and I could open the file to edit it, so I never did make it into my studio. But my computer was pulling glitches that whole day, and even ate whole sections of the podcast when I tried to publish it. I managed to figure it out and fix it without having to edit all over again.

But still. Mercury in Retrograde. Maybe it's a thing? If so, I'm told "Things will be normal again on September 5th."

I can't wait.