Saturday, February 28, 2009

We walk in beauty

     On this last day of February, 2009,  I choose two pictures which show the great beauty in which we walk.   You could take your own of the beauty in which you walk.   I hope you are able to get out in nature often, as we do, for nothing is more restoring to the body and soul.   T.V. and computers don't light a candle to what this gorgeous world has to offer if we will only receive it!
And when we don't, we suffer, and so does the world as we neglect both its well being and our own.  
     For those of you who may have thought that winter here in Sedona was always mild and sunny, take a good look at the snowy scene we have enjoyed more than once through this winter. What makes it different from winter in , let's say, Michigan, is that the snow is around for a day or two, and then is gone and the weather can turn so mild we can hike in shirt sleeves, as you can see from the other picture!   I, for one, am glad we get all kinds of weather here.  I love the variety, the surprise, the challenge, and the loveliness of every kind of day.   
      The hiking trail John and I took yesterday, which one of these pictures depicts, offered many surprising vistas.  It starts quite near town, and then veers off into the wilderness along the redstone cliffs you see in the background.   That is sometimes like life, it seems to me.   I start off on a day in a familiar way, and then find myself in unknown territory, with surprising vistas.
   It is good to pause at such times, and reflect on what I am encountering, and what it might be saying to me.  I am reminded of the truth that God is always talking to us--we just are not listening.   Or watching.   John and I found ourselves looking closely at the huge cliffs we were going by, and we saw some remarkable things that might otherwise have escaped our notice.
More on that tomorrow!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

prickly pear self portrait

     As I was hiking this morning, I saw a large prickly pear cactus that had a shape something like a person with their hands upraised above their head.  That planted a question in my mind.  "How is a person like a prickly pear cactus?"
     Well, to start with, prickly pear cacti, like people, come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.   They also have in common the long, sharp thorns that cover their surface, and the fact that they usually  bloom with beautiful flowers and delicious fruit at certain times.  And beneath their tough skins and sharp thorns is a soft flesh that can be made into such delicacies as fried cactus strips as an appetizer or vegetable, prickly pear jams, jellies, and sauces, and even prickly pear Margaritas!  These things are readily available here in Sedona and I have enjoyed them all from time to time.  
      There are certain people I have known who have long, sharp thorns.  If you aren't paying close attention and brush against them the wrong way, it can hurt!  Come to think of it,  most people, including me, have our prickly moments and times when our words, attitudes, or actions can be like long, sharp thorns.  But all of us also can and do blossom with certain good qualities, and bear the fruit of skills, knowledge, and potential which could be good for others.
And all of us have a soft, vulnerable aspect underneath the tough skin and thorns that we use to protect ourselves, just like the prickly pear cactus.  
     A wise Buddhist teacher advised that when we are up against people who we find to be difficult or painful,  we say to ourselves:
     "Here is a person who wants to be happy---just like me.
       Here is a person who wants to be safe and secure--just like me.
       Here is a person who wants what is good ( to them)---just like me.
       Here is a person who has been hurt and needs healing---just like me."

This feels, to me, like stripping off the tough skin and sharp thorns to relish the good substance underneath.   Its a good way to enjoy prickly people as well as prickly pear cactus!

Does this prickly pear cactus portrait remind you of anyone you know?  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Holy Leisure

     I hope I have not lost all of you who follow my blog by having been silent for so long.   I took my computer to Florida with me, but had very limited access to the internet at the place I stayed, and found that I just wasn't able to put up a blog when I had the time to write one.   I did miss doing it, which was a good thing for me to discover.  Blogging as I have been doing has become something I look forward to, not another thing on my "must do"  list.   In fact, it has been a very long time since I had such short "must do" lists.   Leisure is a wonderful thing, and now that I know how to enjoy it without guilt,  I am relishing the joy of this stage of life, when it is not only appropriate, but important, to take as much time as I like to "smell the roses,"  read a good book, sit in the sun under a pine tree,  take a nap,  sketch a bit,  meditate, walk the dog, or write a blog!
     While I was in Florida,  I had a great time reconnecting with old friends, and delighting in a very different climate and landscape.  It was good to smell the ocean again,  and catch sight of dolphins coming up for air, and pelicans diving for fish.   The friends with whom I stayed have a ritual of sitting down together with their morning coffee and reading from three or four daily devotional books from various sources, and talking about what comes up.  I found this much better for my soul than talking politics or the economy or the latest headlines and scandals.
It made me realize how important it is to have people in my life who help lift my consciousness into a positive and spiritual space, and how vital it is to create regular times and places for focusing on what inspires and motivates and instructs me.  
     Now that I am back home, and on the internet easily,  I will certainly resume my almost-daily blog, and hope you will rejoin me.         

Monday, February 9, 2009

Its a sleepy day

     Okay, all you who live in the frozen north.  It is your turn to gloat about the weather!
Today here in "sunny" Arizona it snowed and slushed and rained and only got into the mid 30's.  I took Leo, the dog, out for a walk and came back with my boots soaked and my feet wet and freezing.  I hear that tomorrow it will be in the sixties in Chicago and low 40s and more rain here.Which makes it an excellent time to curl up with the dog and a good book by the fireplace and put on some good music, and enjoy being inside for a change!
     Speaking of good books,  Rachel (my daughter and spiritual director) is here visiting from L.A. and brought me the book  The Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe by Glenn Clark.  I first read Glenn Clark when I was 18 and in Nigeria!   And now, all these years later, here he is again, in the form of another book.  I enjoyed him then, and I enjoyed reading him today.  His book "The Soul's Sincere Desire" is a classic.  The one I read long ago, "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" got me started along the track of thinking that I now recognize as that called "New Thought."  I enjoy pursuing this line of thought, and although I think it, like all others, has some flaws, it also has some very worthwhile and inspiring things to say.  I can attest that the ones I have actually applied in my life really do work in wonderful ways. 
     And speaking of good music, I have been listening to some CD's I purchased here in Sedona by Ani Williams, a marvelous harpist who has played in some of the great sacred sites of the world.   If you google her you will find a lot of interesting stuff, and ways to order her CD's if you choose.  Right now I am listening to the one called  "Shemah--the Calling."  Its enchanting!
      Upon reflection,  being inside by the fire with a beloved dog, a good book, and beautiful music is a great way to spend a day.   And tonight I will end it by knitting awhile on a prayer shawl I am making for a friend.  That makes a good evening prayer.   
      So, whatever the weather where you are today or tomorrow, or the next,  consider it a blessing, and enjoy where you are!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

signs of peace

     The last few days have been filled with the joy of sharing the very special places i have grown to love with friends who are visiting us here in Sedona.    It is such fun to see familiar places through the fresh eyes of someone who is seeing the place for the first time.   It also reminds me as I watch each person's reaction that no two people ever have the same experience, even when they are at the same place at the same time.   And even when I go back to the same places I have been, my experience is different, especially when I am with one or more friends. 
       In one of these pictures,  two of my friends are with me at Cathedral Rock in a place called Red Rock Crossing.  It is a place of powerful energy and beauty.  The combination of the flowing singing waters of Oak Creek,  the towering red rock formation called Cathedral Rock,  the smooth curved flat rocks jutting out into the stream, the magnificent sycamore trees,  and the lovely rock pillars built by people visiting the area all combine to create an experience of the sacredness of Nature that is unique and memorable.  
     In the other picture,  several of my friends are shown enjoying   a tiny little chapel on highway 180 north of Flagstaff, which leads to the Grand Canyon.  It is called the Chapel of the Holy Dove, and not far from it is Spirit Mountain Ranch,  where a herd of 11 white buffalo, sacred to many Native Americans, are cared for and can be visited.   The message of the chapel and of the white buffalo is that of Peace.  Both places bear witness to the deep human desire for peace on earth in our time.  No wonder we spontaneously burst into the song "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.  Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.  With God as Creator, loved ones all are we.  Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.  Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.  With every step I take, let this be my joyous vow:  to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
      The acoustics in the little chapel were marvelous, and it sounded as if many more people were singing with us in there.   At the foot of the beautiful San Francisco peaks, we walked among the white buffalo and felt the presence of many others in the gifts of prayer flags and other things left at the fence and the prayer pole.  
      May you too sense the great desire for peace that is growing in people's hearts everywhere, and may peace begin with you too. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The joy of fluting

     When I was in Sedona two winters ago,  my friend Nancy and I both bought Native American flutes at a local trading post.   They were simple pine flutes, made for beginners like us.
With the flute came a book and CD of instructions.  Over the winter, I used the book and CD to learn to play the flute.  It was an excellent set of instructions, and before long,  I was able to play simple melodies and do a few trills, etc.   But the real excitement for me began the day I went out on a hike with my flute, and just let the beauty around me inspire me to play a spontaneous melody.   I really felt as if the Spirit/wind was blowing through me.   I remembered the chorus of a song my sister Judy and her husband Len used to sing:  "Spirit of God in the clear running water, blowing to greatness the trees on the hill;  Spirit of God in the finger of morning, fill the earth, bring it to birth, and blow were You will.  Blow, blow, blow till I be but Breath of the Spirit, blowing in me."   
       For me, playing the flute has become a way of praying and meditating.  I understand why it was so important in Native American spirituality.   I learned recently that in days of old, the Hopi nation had many clans, and one of the leading clans was called the Flute Clan.   They had important ceremonial functions, and it was believed that the fluting they did helped the crops to germinate and grow.  That reminded me of something I read years ago in the classic book "The Secret Life of Plants," published in the 1960's.   Experiments done in many different places with plants and whole fields of crops revealed that plants exposed to beautiful harmonious uplifting music (like the classics)  thrived in obvious ways more than plants exposed to no music, and that plants exposed to music like hard metal rock and the like did not do very well.
That does not surprise me.   Music is vibration, and everything responds in some way to the vibration of sound.  
     I also recently discovered that the ubiquitous figure named "Kokapeli" which adorns innumerable T shirts, mugs, etc.  here in Sedona  is based, actually, on the figure of a human playing a flute left by the Hopi in their migrations on the walls of caves, cliffs, etc.   This figure, called by the Hopi  Kokapauli,  was a symbol of the Flute Clan, and wherever the Flute Clan of the Hopi wandered, they left this sign of their presence.   
     Last winter, a dear friend, Donna,  helped me purchase a beautiful cedar flute in the nearby town of Jerome.  This inspired me to keep on playing, and when I was in Michigan this summer, I had the joy of playing it at church as a call to worship, and also with friends at a Full Moon drumming group that meets monthly in the Saugatuck area.   Playing the flute spontaneously in the prayerful context of a drumming circle made me feel as if the drums and prayers were carrying me into a spiritual dimension beyond words.
      This winter,  through the kindness of a friend I met here,  I was able to get a beautiful turquoise inlayed double flute.  Playing it makes my heart open wide,  and others who hear it say the same thing.  It is magical!  I am now learning to play it in various ways.  And as I pray with my flutes,  I feel sometimes that I am in some small way continuing in the tradition of the Hopi Flute Clan,  whose presence is still so strong in the area where I live.  
      As the sun rises each morning,  the people in the hot air balloons that often float over the land near Sedona Shadows at sunrise might see, if they looked down,  a small human figure on a hilltop, playing the Zuni Sunrise Song on a native american flute.  I think you can guess who that would be!