Saturday, January 31, 2009

circle of friends

     This statue of a circle of friends with their arms linked stands on the table on our screened porch.  It is a constant reminder of the blessing of friends, and how important it is to stay linked together through all the changes of life.  Behind the statue in the picture you can see colorful prayer flags, which are another reminder to remain linked through heart-felt prayer with loved ones.  I have already had occasion to sit at this table with friends in the flesh,  whose love and support have helped me flourish in many ways.   Their faces, their smiles, their wise or funny words, their open-hearted sharing, all come to mind when I walk by the table and this statue on my way into the living room or out to the deck.  And my heart fills with gratitude for the friends I am blessed with.  
     It is said that our friends mirror aspects of ourselves, often unrecognized by us.  That's why we are drawn to them.  Perhaps they have qualities we admire and would like to have more of ourselves.  Always, they are our teachers, whether or not they know it.  
    It is interesting to me that friendship is a universal thing in all cultures, whatever forms it may take.  I am struck by the fact that one of my favorite poets, Rumi, will sometimes refer to God as "The Friend."   Certainly in his life,  the friendship of a roving spiritual teacher had a huge, life-changing impact.  It might have been that his friend opened him up to his ecstatic experiences of "The Friend."   What a friend!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Soaking it up

     For so many years,  John worked very, very hard as a surgeon----long hours, lots of tension, always on call, people's lives in his hands.   He did take some time to play, and enjoy vacations with the family.  But now, having lived more than seventy years on this planet,  he finally has time to live the wise Jewish sage Abraham Heschel's words: "Just to live is holy.   Just to BE is a blessing."
     So here is John,  experiencing the blessing of being.   It could just as well have been a picture of me too, but I was the one with the camera this time.  We both love luxuriating in the noon day sun on a winter day in Sedona,  soaking in all the beauty of sky and earth,  listening to the many birds that live in the pine trees around our house.   Every now and then,  their singing and chirping is punctuated with the whir of hummingbird wings as one of several that live nearby visits the feeder I hang on the porch.   The distinctive cry of a quail in the neighbor's yard adds to the music of nature.  The sun's warmth is gentle and healing, and as we soak it all in,  we are so grateful for a time like this in our lives.  I admit, however, to a tiny twinge of guilt once in a great while, probably from my upbringing, in which being productive(always) was highly valued, and sitting around doing nothing was not.
      My Mom used to sing a little ditty when I was a girl, usually when she observed someone she thought should be working. "O lazy bones, sittin' in the sun, how d'ya ever 'spec to get a day's work done?"   Now a good work ethic is a fine thing, but my opinion is that in the circles of people in which I have lived,  it is way overdone.   The healthy balance between work and play, business and leisure, is just not there.  Our society has one of the lowest number of vacation days for the average worker in the industrial nations of the world.  Many people work way beyond the standard forty hour work week.  You can see the toll it takes in people's lives in the form of stress related mental and physical illness,  strained relationships, and harried life style.  Is this the best we can do?  
      Once again, I recall Abraham Heschel's wisdom; "It is not so much that the Jews have kept the sabbath as that the sabbath has kept the Jews."  Human beings need days regularly  in which to lay aside their work, and enjoy just being,  soaking in all the goodness of life, taking time to consciously cultivate their souls, their relationships, and their connection with creation and the Creator of this marvelous world. 
     I think it is interesting that observing Sabbath time is one of the "Big Ten" commandments.  We put ourselves in peril when we fail to regularly take a day of rest and re-creation.
 May you enjoy the gift of Life more and more as you find ways to "Soak it up." 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Delicious Wisdom

     On the entry deck of our Sedona house sits this colorful statue of a Mexican woman holding a selection of the fruits of the earth,  her eyes closed in a prayer of blessing or gratitude, or perhaps in meditation.  Above her I have inscribed the words "DELICIOUS WISDOM."       On the railing above her head is a lovely rainbow of stained glass with candles in front of it, given as a gift by Pam and Pete, friends at whose wedding I officiated.  I love to light the candles and sit out on the deck at night,  watching the colors glow in the dark, inviting me to prayer.
     Above the stained glass candle holder is a string of colorful prayer flags which flutter with every breeze that comes by.   They shall be the subject of another blog, since there is a lot they have to say.   For now, I want to reflect on "Delicious Wisdom."  
      I love how this contemplative statue reminds me that Wisdom is something to be relished, enjoyed, tasted, and digested, so that it becomes part of my very body and being.  Wisdom is as important to me as food.   As long as I can remember, I have always been hungry for Wisdom and harvesting its fruits from many sources;  books, family and friends, art, nature, events, dreams and visions, religions, the Inner Voice of the Spirit, and more.
     The colorful presence of Lady Wisdom, or Sophia, as a Mexican woman holding the fruit of the earth, accompanied by prayer flags and prayer candles,  is a wonderful way to remind me every day that our Sedona House, from the start,  was intended to be a House of Prayer,  not only for me, but all who dwell here or visit here, for however long.   
      I pray that over the years, Sedona House will indeed be a place where friends and family members will taste the fruit of wisdom and find it truly delicious and satisfying.
My heart fills with gratitude for the gift of Divine Wisdom given to me in such abundance from so many sources throughout my lifetime.  And I offer myself as one who holds out the fruits of Wisdom to all who are hungry for it.   

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Do you know these angels?

     In case you can't read the words on the plaque in this picture, here they are:
"Most people don't know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don't get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life."
     Every time I get out of the car to go in the house, I walk past this plaque, which is displayed in a flowerpot on the steps that lead from the carport to the entry deck of our Sedona house.
I smile a little each time I see it, and remember my friend Nancy, who provided it for this place.
     And yes, I know those angels well.   They have done a particularly good job in my life.  Really!
     For instance, when I was just 18, had broken up with my latest boyfriend, and was perfectly comfortable with not having one, and feeling I could live a good life without a man, those angels discomfited me by putting John Rienstra in my path.  Well!  That was a good way of making sure I didn't get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss my life!  Considering we met in the bush in Nigeria, and spent the first weeks of our relationship dodging the night watchman on the missionary compound when we took romantic walks in the moonlight, and riding red clay roads on a motorbike into the African jungle,  I should have guessed what those angels were up to.....
     And then, when I was really getting used to being a Mom, taking care of four children, and quite comfortable in our suburban life,  those angels upset the apple cart by prompting us to move into the inner city into an intentional community, and as if that weren't enough, prodded me to go to Calvin seminary, and do it as the first woman going for an M.Div. degree.  Well, that kept my life very interesting,  kept me very wide awake, and often quite uncomfortable, to be honest.
      And then, when I became a minister, every time I got really nice and comfortable in the church I was serving, and everything was going very well indeed,  those &*% angels were on the job again, waking me up to new possibilities and challenges, prodding me to move and change, and making me uncomfortable.....again.   
      Ah yes, I know those angels well!
      Do you?  
      At least, I haven't fallen asleep and missed my life.  Have you? 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

House Messages

        Most of us, I suspect,  would like to have the Divine Guidance we seek as we negotiate life's challenges and opportunities, especially when we are in times of crisis or transition.  I have come to realize that I am being guided all the time, if I only keep my spiritual ears and eyes open and learn to receive the messages being offered to me by The Beloved. (That's Rumi's term for God, and I love it!)  
       I grew up learning to expect to be guided by the Bible and sermons and wise Christians.
I found a lot of wisdom as I grew up from great books too, and the teaching of many religions.
I learned from my Native American friends to receive the guidance offered through communion with creation:  the sky, the earth,  all kinds of creatures, and "signs."   
     Just this past week,  it occurred to me that I was surrounded in my house by images (mostly decorative) that had a lot of important messages for me!  I remembered that in Jungian psychology, the house is an Archetypal image for the soul.   I know that in furnishing this house, I had a strong sense of being guided to the things I found to put in this "retreat house" in this very special place called Sedona.  So, I went from room to room, looking at what was there and just letting it "talk to me."    And I took pictures of each thing that seemed significant.  I got enough spiritual direction through the messages that came through these things to keep me pondering for quite a while.  I am so grateful to have discovered this way of receiving Divine Wisdom.   Perhaps you will want to try walking through your home and seeing what things speak messages of Divine Wisdom to you!
      In this and many upcoming blogs, I will be posting pictures of those images/symbols which are giving me wisdom and spiritual direction for this time of transition in my life.  I thought I would share these with those of you who may be reading this blog, as a way of giving you a better sense of my surroundings, and my spiritual journey right now.  I would love to hear your responses via email!
     I begin today with a picture of a banner given as a gift to me by my niece Lenore in gratitude for officiating at her wedding.   It hangs in our house right next to the main entrance/exit, and its words remind me always of the importance of listening to Nature as I leave the house to go on my hikes, or even just sit outside in the back yard under the pine trees.  
     The banner's message hardly needs commentary.  It is just an important reminder to me.
The message I hear from nature today as I sit watching the play of cloud and sunshine, light and shadow, on the red rock peaks across the valley is that I am always being offered the Divine gift of Beauty.  And my heart responds with those beautiful words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
     "Give beauty, beauty, beauty  back to God, Beauty's Self and Beauty's Giver."

Friday, January 23, 2009


     Aren't shadows wierd things?   Actually, could you even call them "things?"   Now you see them, now you don't.  They shrink or grow,  hide or loom, all depending on the light.  The higher the sun, the smaller the shadow.  Sometimes shadows are before us, sometimes behind, or to the side.  Without shadows, landscapes are a lot less interesting and beautiful.   Would we be too, without our shadows?  Robert Louis Stevenson has a poem about shadows that begins: "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of it is more than I can see."
     Some psychologists do "shadow work" with people, which means they help them see their "shadow side"--which is the aspects of themselves they are unaware of or in denial of.  One way to realize our shadows is to notice what aspects of other people evoke very strong positive or emotional reactions in us.   Those aspects are our shadows.   I doubt that any of us get rid of our shadows ever.  Maybe just realizing they are there, and taking the time to notice and maybe even appreciate them  (yes, even what seems negative to us)  is a good thing.   
       The shadow pictures on this blog are, to me, fascinating and even beautiful.   In this life of light and shadow, I am grateful for the patterns they create, and their invitation to stop and take a closer look at the dance of light and shadow throughout our lives and landscapes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lift Up Your Voice and Sing!

     Do you ever wake up with a song going through your mind?  Do you listen to it?   It's message?
It happens to me often.   Sometimes I puzzle over the why of this particular song on this particular morning.   But THIS morning, the day after we finally got a new president and a new direction for our country and maybe the world,  I was not puzzled.   
The words:  (sing them as you read them if you can)
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on our way,
Thou who hast by thy might led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray...
     Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand
True to our God, true to our native land.

Let us keep onward still, keep our resolve until
We achieve unity for all people.
Look to the rising sun, new work each day is begun
Daily we strive 'til we true freedom find.
(words: James Weldom Johnson, music: Rosamund Johnson)

The pictures I posted above seem to mirror the feeling and the words of the song.
They also express how my heart is soaring with hope like the sunrise balloon; 
how glad I am that at last we are entering a new day.
Yesterday as I joined the millions watching the Inaugural, I did feel as if I was on the mountain top, and that mountain top still glows in the rising sun.
I pledge myself to look to the rising sun, and to stay on The Way as Godde leads us into the Light of a new age.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

white cloud dragon and rainbow sun

     One of the reasons I love Sedona is that magical things seem to happen here more often than anywhere else I have been.   On Saturday I took a hike with my friend Eileen to a place called "Rainbow Bridge," by the Yavapai peoples who lived in this area for a long time.  Neither of us had ever been there, but I had read recently that it was regarded by the Yavapai as the place of the emergence of their ancestors from the previous world.  It was also regarded as the home of their ancient Grandmother god,  Creator and teacher of all their wisdom.  
       It was a gorgeous, sunny, clear day, no clouds in the sky, and around 60 degrees.  We went over a rough road to get to the trail head, but once we got there,  we were surrounded by incredible beauty.   As we hiked into the area we noticed a clearing of red earth to our left, and felt drawn to stand there and just feel the spirit of the place.  It felt like a place where ceremony had been done of old, and where elders (especially the grandmothers of the tribe) met in council.
     Eileen felt it was a major gateway for energy, and it felt like a portal to me too.  For the first time on our hikes,  Eileen took her ancient tibetan drum, and I had my flute with me.  We felt inspired to drum and flute together in that sacred place.  It sounded marvelous in that canyon, where the sound carried so beautifully.   Then we went on up the trail and as we did, we looked up, and lo and behold!   the sun moving up from behind the cliff up ahead,  surrounded by a rainbow.  Incredible!  It lasted and lasted and we stood off to the side of the trail and played our drum and flute some more.  People on the trail stood gaping in awe at the sight as well, and seemed to genuinely enjoy our playing.  They and we kept taking pictures of the sight, it was so incredible!
      Finally we moved on up the trail, and at the top of the steep natural stone stairs came to the bridge itself.  As we walked around it we looked up and lo and behold!  a white cloud dragon in the sky.  Or so it looked to me.  what do you think?
     The dragon shape connected in my mind with the feathered rainbow serpent of Mexican and South American mythologies.  We were at the rainbow bridge.  We had just seen a triple rainbow around the sun.   And then this morning in the unity church here in Sedona,  the lead musician sang "Somewhere over the rainbow."   Now that's magical.   
     Eileen is sure that our intention of gratitude and blessing for the place as we played our flute and drum was a catalyst for these marvelous manifestations of Mother Nature.    I choose to believe that too.  After all, isn't there a deep unity between us and the natural world?    
      Why was I not surprised tonight as we watched the opening ceremony of the Inauguration of Obama that the theme was "We Are One?"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why I wake up early

A good friend told me, after hearing of my sunrise walks, of a book by Mary Oliver, a favorite poet of mine, titled "Why I Wake Up Early."   I immediately ordered it, and loved reading it.   Here in Sedona I have another book of hers, titled " Long Life."  In it, she has eloquent words about getting up for sunrise that mirror my thoughts beautifully.
     "There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.  Beauty has its purposes, which, all our lives, and at every season, it is our opportunity, and our joy, to divine. ...
The sun has not yet risen but is sending its first showers over the mountains, a kind of rehearsal, a slant light with even a golden cast. The light touches every blade of grass, which then burns as a particular as well as part of the general view. The still upright weeds have become wands, encased in a temporary sheath of ice and light. ....and now, enough of silver, behold the pink, even a vague, unsurpassable flush of pale green. It is the performance of this hour only, the dawning of the day, fresh and ever new.  This is to say nothing against afternoons, evenings, or even midnight. Each has its portion of the spectacular. But dawn--dawn is a gift. Much is revealed about a person by his or her passion, or indifference, to this opening of the door of day. No one who loves dawn, and is abroad to see it, could be a stranger to me."
     About a half hour before the sun rises, I walk out the door with Leo, our dog, and in less than ten minutes am at the edge of the wilderness and the beginning of a trail.  This morning I take the one that leads over a ditch, through a gateway,  around a cluster of prickly pear cactus and mesquite bushes,  and then up a steep slope to a hilltop from which I can see in every direction.  The Mingus mountains to the west,  their heights covered with a powdering of snow, are already reflecting the coming sun.   I face east, take out my flute, and play the ancient Zuni sunrise song as the sun rises.  I feel one with all the ancient people who inhabited this glorious land who did the same through many centuries.  A quail cries welcome to the sun too.  A flock of birds rises up singing.  In every direction the golden light gilds the hills and valleys.  A new day, fresh from the hand of Godde, is offered again.  I receive it as the first day of the rest of my life, and in this moment, once again,  I rejoice to be alive.  As the Jewish sage Abraham Heschel said so memorably:  "Just to live is holy;  just to BE is a blessing."   Amen!  So it is. 


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I love to go a wandering.....

Here in Sedona, we are surrounded by hiking trails.   It's a hiker's Mecca, and people come from all over the world to enjoy these beautiful trails wending through the high desert,  up mountain slopes, around red rock formations, and along streams and washes.
      I am looking forward to a hike this afternoon with a friend who loves hiking as much as I do, and has explored most of the trails in this area.  I feel reconnected to my childhood in the Himalaya mountains, where my favorite thing to do was to explore the mountain trails with a friend,  soaking in the beauty and always wondering what was around the next bend.  
      When I turned sixty, I had a special "croning" birthday party with close friends, and one of the things we did was to have my friends stand in two lines joining hands to create a passageway through which I walked as we all sang a song that sums it all up for me:
       "I love to go a wandering along life's mountain track,
         And as I go I love to sing with a knapsack on my back.
         Valarie,  valara, valara, valera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, valerie, valera,
         With a knapsack on my back.

O may I go a wandering, until the day I die,
And as I go, O let me sing with my head held towards the sky.....
Valerie.........with my head held towards the sky.

Monday, January 12, 2009

just wondering

     This is a picture our daughter Janelle took when she was visiting us here in Sedona last winter. The moon had just risen over the mountains, and her camera captured the UFO on the lower right, although she didn't see it with her naked eye.  She took three pictures in a row, and the ones before and after this did not have the UFO image.  Interesting.   We didn't know what to make of it,  but several locals to whom we showed the picture seemed unsurprised, saying "sightings" of UFO's were common around Schnebley hill, where this picture was taken!  
We saw a movie about UFO's and contacts with ET's  last night,  entitled "The Silent Revelation of Truth,"  created by Michael Horn, who was there to introduce it and comment on it afterwards.  It was a stretch.   I found myself feeling alternately puzzled,  incredulous, impressed, and just plain wondering whether and how this could be true, even partially.   
      Of course, there is some cogency to the argument that it could be a bit arrogant of us humans to think we are the only intelligent life, or even the only human beings in the universe.  But its a jump from that,  and the science fiction I enjoyed at a certain stage in my life,  to the assertion that aliens or "star people"  (a term I prefer, and often used by Native Americans)  have been and still are visiting us and trying with some urgency to deliver certain messages about the seriousness of our present situation, the urgency of peace, population control, environmental preservation, etc. etc.   
     The film we saw is about the case of a Swiss man named Billy Meier, whose experiences form the core of the film.   He is interviewed on camera many times, and films he took over decades are shown, many of them with pretty clear shots of UFO's.   We see only drawings of the star people he claims to have been in regular contact with.   If any of you are intrigued,  just google  his name and you will see what a lot there is to peruse about him.   At the end of the film, the narrator asks,  "If what Billy Meier says and films is all a hoax,  how the heck did he do it?!"
       Maybe all this is so fascinating to many of us because it opens up the sense of mystery, of wonder, of impossible possibilities which we seem to need.  Maybe its part of our evolutionary journey to the stars.  Or not.   At the very least,   a lot of our certainties are called into question, and its seems appropriate to be humble and curious about what may be going on beyond our normal lives.  
      Then there's the "so what?" question.  What difference does it make to your life and mine if even some of these reports are true?  Those who actually experience UFO's and contact with ET's would tell you it makes a huge difference, because it shatters the paradigm in which they have been living, and the sense of security that goes with it.
But for the rest of us.....well,  unless we are personally impacted,  all these stories probably have no more practical impact than old legends and myths, or the books about Harry Potter.
Unless these too have more actual impact that we are aware of.   I wonder.  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The stories we tell

     Friday night a friend picked us up at the Phoenix airport to drive us to our home in Sedona Shadows.   The plane was three hours late, and it was dark by the time we got on the road.  
Having left the bright lights of the city,  we found ourselves on highway 17 north riding through mountains which were dim, dark shapes on both sides of the road,  lit only by a newly risen moon.  Suddenly a brilliant streak of light cut through the sky ahead of us.  "Wow! a shooting star!" exclaimed John. 
     "Looks like it landed right on the other side of the mountain,"  said our friend.   "Maybe someone threw a flare from a mountain on the other side of the road."   Neither observation seemed convincing to us.   After all, we had seen shooting stars before and knew what they looked like.   But our friend was not at all sure that is what it really was.
      An hour or so down the road,  still in dark desert mountainous country,  she casually said "Keep your eyes peeled for Bigfoot."
     "Big Foot?!"  John explained incredulously.  
     "Yup," she replied. "There's strange things going on out in this countryside.  Weird creatures, secret experiments, stuff like that.  You wouldn't believe it....."
      She was right about that!   But it was her story, and we could tell she was sticking to it.
Our story, of course, was that all those kinds of rumors were ill-founded and unlikely.
And our story, like hers, was based on many assumptions,  some of them unexamined.
      After she dropped us off at home,  John said, "Isn't that interesting?  Three intelligent people seeing the same thing, and having very different interpretations.   She seems to have an outlook that says anything is possible, and might happen any where, any time.   It certainly makes life pretty exciting and interesting for her."
       That gave me pause.   It made me wonder if choosing to see life in that way might not have certain advantages over the very sensible, rationalistic, somewhat scientific filters people like me and John have, which pretty much excludes Big Foot and UFO's and other unexplainable, unprovable things many people claim to have experienced.   Of course, there is always the outside chance there is something to those stories......and if so,  maybe life is more mysterious and marvelous (literally)  than we allow if we live in a mind box with pretty thick walls.
I think of what people in my grandparent's generation would have thought if they heard about so much we now take for granted;  walking on the moon,  talking on computers to other people while seeing them (as in Skyping) and more wonders than I can name.   Most of them would have dismissed what are modern realities to us as foolish fantasies.  They were wrong, of course.  
      And we might be too.  We shall see.....   In fact, tonight, John and I are going with our helpful friend to a movie at the local Raddison hotel on the subject of UFO's.   I'll blog about what we see, and our story about it, tomorrow.  Meanwhile, what's your story about the "paranormal?"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I've got the sun in the morning and the moon at night

     Was it only yesterday we climbed in a delayed, de-iced plane up through layers of snow-showering clouds,  until finally, we broke through into a twilight blue sky, lined at the horizon with the orange fire of the setting sun?   We were flying west,  and the sunset lasted a long, long time before the sky was such a deep blue we could see those suns we call stars  framed in the small window of the plane. 
      We arrived only a little before midnight at our Sedona home and tumbled wearily into bed.
We awoke to a crystal clear blue sky, and I sat on the living room couch and watched the coming light of the sun light up the red rock mountains across the valley, and then send long golden fingers down the slopes of the nearby mountain I name El Shaddai.   
       By the time we were ready to go have breakfast with friends, the whole landscape was flooded with brilliant sunlight.  "We forgot our sunglasses!"  I exclaimed as we drove squinting through the magnificent Sedona scenery. 
     "Naturally.  We've been in Michigan,"  replied John, and I must admit we smiled a little smugly as we recalled the gray and brown and white landscape we had left behind.
         All day long, the sun shone as we visited an ancient Indian rock art site,  hiked halfway up a mesa called Sacred Mountain,  shopped for groceries,  and settled in.   
       At day's end, I sat on the couch again with a cup of spicy Thai tea,  listening to the wind in the pines outside the window,  and relishing the light show on the red rocks and the green valley as the sun sank in the West.   The light was still glowing on the distant peaks when John walked in and said " They say tonight there is going to be the brightest, biggest full moon of the year."   At that moment, I looked out of the window in the living room that faces east,  and there,  rising majestically from behind Thunder Mountain,  was the moon----huge,  silverygold,  hanging in a sky still tinted with the coral after-glow of the sunset!  
       By the light of that same silvery moon,  we walked with our dog Leo to the hot tub at the nearby clubhouse.  We needed no flashlight;  the moon shining through the trees wove a magical path of night light.   We bathed in hot water and cool moonlight, and savored the silence.  We breathed in the fresh air, and go now to bed,  filled with the gifts of sun and moon, which have blessed every single day of our lives.  But today,  we became aware of their glory in a whole new way.  And tomorrow, and every day we live on this earth,  the sun and moon will be there,  shining on us all,  whether or not we can see them,  or notice they are there,  or realize that without them we would have no life at all.        

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Last night

     Our last night at the Lake House this winter,  and I sit by the fire,  listening to Mozart,  drinking a last cup of tea,  gazing around the room, feasting my eyes one more time on the dancing flames,  the painting of the Tree of Life above the fireplace,  the Marcia Perry statue of Ariadne across the room,  the shelves of books---old friends, all of them.  It feels strangely like leaving an old friend to leave this house.   It holds so many memories of heart to heart talks with family and friends,  laughter and tears,  gatherings and partings,  hours of delicious solitude, communion,  and creativity. 
      Today as I packed and prepared the house for its winter hibernation,  I feasted my eyes on the splashing of huge waves up against the growing ice-bergs, and the way the bare trees outside the window carved up the cloudy sky into intricate shapes.  I consoled myself with the thought that I could return to these sights,  to this place, in memory, any time I wanted to. 
       Yet,  all the while,  a part of my heart is singing as it looks forward to being in Sedona tomorrow night.....maybe in time for sunset over the majestic red rocks,  and certainly in time to stand again in awe under the brilliant designs of stars in the night sky,  breathing the pine-scented air of the high desert.  
       Last night.....good night......parting is such sweet sorrow......yet I fly from one home of the heart to another, and live in Beauty, blessed beyond my highest hopes.     My love and gratitude for the Lake house and the Mountain house weave a web of connection between them,  and in that web are caught all the memories I treasure.   

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

O Christmas Tree

     When do you take your Christmas Tree down, and put all those decorations away?   I remember years ago seeing most people's trees on the curb the day after Christmas, where they lay in forlorn heaps as the Christmas Carols abruptly faded away,  and neighborhoods returned to the drab, barren look of the long winter season that succeeds the brief, bright merriment of the holidays.   
     But of late, I have noticed that many more people,  in these days freer of tradition,  leave their trees up for days or even weeks after Christmas,  and some of them keep the outdoor lights going too.  We do that too.   Heaven knows, there are not enough festivals and celebrations in our culture, and the long, dark nights of winter in the north need light and cheer inside and out.
     Why be in a rush to throw out all reminders of the season that celebrates love, and joy, and peace?  Why not take more time, after all the busy-ness is over, to sit in the darkness of a room lit only by the the Christmas tree lights,  and savor the moments that still delight the heart, and the memories that brighten the spirit, whether of the Christmas just past,  or a Christmas season of years gone by?  
     And remembering that the Christmas Tree is a beautiful symbol of the Universal Archetype of the Tree of Life, why not deliberately delight in the gift of Life,  and the gifts of our own unique lives,  and reflect on ways to be a Tree of Life in the lives of others?   What gifts still rest under the branches of the Tree of our life,  unwrapped,  waiting to be opened and enjoyed, or given to others?   

O Christmas Tree

     The twelfth day of Christmas has come and gone, and far more promptly than in recent years, we took down the Christmas tree and decorations today, because this year, for the first time, we are going south for the rest of the winter.  I found myself strangely reluctant to take the tree down "so soon."   It seemed somehow to close the door on the season of festive joy we have just celebrated again, and it just didn't seem quite right.
        I have observed that in recent years, many people seem to leave up their trees and decorations for days or weeks after Christmas, whereas in years longer ago,  one would see the curbs piled with discarded Christmas trees the day after Christmas, and all those shining outside light decorations gone with the sound of  Christmas carols.   I wonder if the darkness of northern winters,  coupled with increasing freedom from tradition, have inspired more people, like us,  to light up the long nights with those festive lights that keep the feeling of holiday going a while longer.
       Heaven knows our culture could use more and longer holidays!   In India, where I grew up,
there were many, many festivals all year round, with their accompanying feasting, music, processions, dances, and general merry-making.  They provided frequent opportunities for renewing ties with family, friends, and the mythological stories and rituals of one's culture and religion.  I have come to believe that all of this feeds the soul and holds a culture together in important ways.
      Is it really good for the soul, I wonder, to celebrate as seldom (by comparison) as most of us Americans do, what with our penchant for "productivity" as a measure of the value of our persons and lives?  But many of us know how to celebrate when most of our holidays have become so stripped of spiritual meaning, and so focused on consumer spending?For too many, they have become a dreaded round of spending, social obligation, and hectic activity, rather than the leisurely, soul-restoring, holy play they are meant to be. Moreover,
   in this nation of immigrants, how possible is it, over generations, to keep the "reasons for the seasons" going in the lives of people no longer imbedded in the cultures that created the "holy days"  or in the families and communities that once celebrated them?   
      I have no answers to these questions.   But I do have a kind of homesickness in my soul when I imagine what it would be like to live a life rich in festivals of celebration.   Maybe keeping that Christmas tree up for awhile after Christmas,  and the festive lights twinkling outside, is a way to somehow keep the spirit of celebration and holiday  going through the otherwise hum-drum work-a-day  feeling of cold, gray winter.   I know it delights my heart to sit by the fireplace in a darkened room at the end of a winter day, with only the Christmas tree lights on,  and no sound but the whisper and sigh of flames in the fireplace,  and feel once again the special joy of that great festival of Christmas,  which is never really over, because it lives in my heart.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Come fly with me

     This morning we take our daughter Rachel to the airport in Chicago for her flight to the City of Angels.   She will go through the air in a long silver metal tube,  crammed with her little dog into a seat that always feels too small, confined in a very small space for hours.  It doesn't seem natural to go hurtling through the air in a piece of metal machinery much heavier than air.  When I get home from having flown back from somewhere,  I always feel only partly here, as if a great many of my molecules were still back there where I was.  So then, where am I?  Here or there?  Its hard to tell, in a way!   To be in Chicago in the morning, and Los Angeles in the evening---how can that be?   Call all of me go so quickly from one place to another very far away, very different place?   My body may do it,  but my soul needs days to catch up with my body and become  totally present to where "I" am.  
      Is this the sort of flight that human beings have dreamed of for untold centuries?   When I dream (literally) of flying,  I always flap my arms up and down like a bird and lift off and soar.
Sometimes I have to flap harder and longer than other times to stay aloft.  A couple times I have gotten as high as the stars!   But I am always drawn back to earth by that mysterious force we call gravity.  And I do not come back down gladly.  I yearn for "the incredible lightness of being"  that would make me like a "feather on the breath of God,"  to use Hildegard's memorable phrase.
      For me, and perhaps most others,  flying is a symbol of freedom---the freedom to soar on wings of inspiration, of joy, of beauty  into a Sky that goes on forever.   That would be heaven!
      Still, I am glad I and my loved ones can get in airplanes and fly from here to there.   We see much more of each other that way, and of places we want to be.  When Georgia O'Keefe first flew, she was entranced by the magic of looking out the airplane window and seeing an endless pattern of little white clouds floating in blue below her.   She did a huge painting of what she saw.  Now, when I fly in airplanes,  and see those little clouds, they remind me of her painting. 
And oh! I do love looking straight out the window at the moon looking so close I could reach out and touch it, and gazing down at fields and forest,  vales and mountains, flowering meadows, flashing seas, not to mention clusters of fallen stars at night where cities must be.  
      Its a great perspective I get up there in the wild blue yonder.   And when I don't get it from a plane window,  I can always soar on wings of imagination to that heavenly place where I can glimpse the Big Picture.   

Monday, January 5, 2009

To Be a Pilgrim

To be a pilgrim.....what would that be like?   If a pilgrim is someone who goes on a sacred journey to a sacred place for a sacred purpose,  what is it that constitutes "sacredness?"   Is the journey of life sacred?   I believe it is, when it is lived consciously in the Presence of God, in the awareness that God is every where and every when.   Are some places more sacred than others?   Yes and no.
One can experience God in any place.   Yet in my experience there are places where I feel the Presence of God more keenly and easily;   places of great beauty;  places where many others have communed with the Presence;  places out in nature where there is no sign of human presence; and places created by human beings who have felt the Divine Presence, and honored it by building a medicine wheel,  a pyramid,  a temple,  a pillar of stones, a shrine, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a monastery.     To be in such a place with an open heart is to become more deeply rooted in the Divine Presence.    I am a pilgrim because I long for and love to be in such places.   Everywhere I travel, these are the places I first seek out.
And when I find others who do the same, I recognize them as pilgrims too, whether or not they would use the word.   We share a sacred intention;  to experience more fully the Divine Mystery which is our Source,  and then live more fully into that Mystery, and express its beauty, its truth, its goodness in our lives.
      This morning the Divine Presence shines on the surface of ice-filmed waves slowly rolling in towards the shore;  it soars as the seagulls appearing and disappearing out of the piles of clouds that pattern a cool blue sky.   Waves splash up through holes in ice-bergs looking like miniature Old Faithful geysers.   The only sounds are of wind and water.  
      I pause in this sacred place, this sacred moment,  and savor what it means to be a pilgrim.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

new beginnings


It is a new year and I am keeping a promise to myself, made last year, to write a little something each day, preferably in the morning, that will "prepare the way" for the Muse to inspire me for the writing I intend to do.   I like to take early morning walks, and find that when I do, there is always something that comes to mind to ponder and explore.   Via this blog,  I hope to share my inspirations with anyone interested in reading them. 
      I write this first entry on a cold winter day, sitting by a fire that is as bright as the sky outside is gloomy.  I am at home in our cottage on Lake Michigan,  and know that a week from today, I will be equally at home in our hilltop house in Sedona.   Here, I look over the tossing, freezing waves of the Great Lake;  there I gaze out over a sun drenched, broad valley rimmed with towering red rock formations, and an extinct volcano.   I feel great gratitude for having two place of such beauty to call home, and to inspire me for the writing life I hope to live.   
     Today I ponder the words "pilgrim" and "pilgrimage"  after hearing a number of "pilgrims" from our Unity church talk about their experiences as pilgrims to Unity Village.
     Expanding from that smaller framework, I ask myself "What would it mean to consider myself a pilgrim every day?"   I think I'll wait to answer that until tomorrow!