Monday, December 28, 2009

A Bright New Idea

Our daughter Rachel has been with us over the Christmas holidays, and has hatched a bright new idea for the new year which I want to share with you. She is starting a blog about trying something new every day for a year! She is going to do just that, and blog about her experiences. Her blog will include lots of pics and short film clips, and those of you who know her know that it will be very entertaining and lots of fun to check out. You might even want to join her (I do) in trying something new each day, and now and then letting her know your experiences and ideas. She would welcome that.
Just go to and see for yourself what she is up to. I can vouch for the fact that she has been working really hard (okay, obsessively!) to get her blog up and running. We have been having fun brainstorming ideas of new things for her to try.
Another great idea Rachel gave me is based on the book (a Christmas present from her) titled "TWENTY NINE GIFTS: HOW A MONTH OF GIVING CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE" by Cami Walker. The author lives in Rachel's condo complex near the Hollywood Bowl in LA and Rachel met her pool-side one day and found out about her book.
It is a most inspiring story, written by someone who was suffering a bad case of MS, and found, to her amazement, that the simple act of intentionally giving in some way to someone every day was incredibly healing as well as rewarding. (See more about this at I am thinking maybe I could combine the two ideas by giving in some way that would also be trying something new each day for a month. Even the effort of "29 gifts" would be a new thing to try for me, and maybe for you too. It sounds like a lot more fun than the usual list of New Years resolutions which seldom get carried out anyway.
I think we all do a lot of giving and trying of new things anyway, but we are not aware and intentional about it, and this just gives us the reward of greater consciousness. The secret of success in this effort is probably to keep it simple and realistically something we can and will do, in harmony with our self-knowledge. And if giving and trying something new expands our appreciation for ourselves, our lives, and others, that is great gain, and practically guarantees a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dreams come true

Is it just my imagination, or is the song "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" played out here more often than in Michigan? People here get a wistful look in their eyes when the subject of a white Christmas is brought up---a wistful look I seldom remember seeing in the eyes of a Michigander!
But, maybe the dreaming of a white Christmas paid off for the people in Sedona, Arizona.
At least for a little while, early this morning, the landscape looked like a classic Christmas card.
Snow on pine trees and roofs and streets! Even on big cactus plants and red rock mountains.
As I walked with Leo, the snow crunched beneath my feet, and the air had that fresh, cold, almost-fragrance of new-fallen snow. Even though Christmas is still a couple days away, it certainly made it seem present. When I got home, I put on my favorite Christmas music and sat gazing out the window at the snow-powdered scene as I listened, sipping a good cup of hot coffee, and feeling quite content.
The snow, of course, is surface stuff when it comes to Christmas. And sometimes its okay to just be on the surface of things, as long as I remember that surface snow/stuff melts away, like the snow did today. If there is something beautiful beneath it, that will be there. If there is something ugly, that will be there too. All the snow does is cover up, for awhile. And it leaves me with the question I invite you to ponder too. Is there something in my life, or yours, that is being covered up by the surface stuff, the "snow," which might be good to take a longer, deeper look at? Feelings that are coverups for unmet needs? Good resolutions buried under a surface layer of busyness? Surface religious practices hiding a big void? Surface smiles hiding a deeply buried sadness? Christmas sometimes has a way of "surfacing" such things, snow or no snow. And that can be a blessing. So-----white Christmas or no, merry or not, may it be a Blessed Christmas that goes a lot deeper in our souls than a dusting of snow.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shadow of the Past

Have you ever thought much about your distant past? Your ancestors? Their lives? What they have passed on to you? I know that is not part of what I was taught growing up. I saw a few faded photos of great-grandparents, heard a tidbit or two from an uncle who had done some research into the family tree, and that was about all.
Since then, I have learned that in many cultures, down to the present, ancestors are a very important part of people's religion and spirituality.
A well known Buddhist monk writes that the first thing he does when he comes home after a trip is to go to his home altar, where there are pictures and symbols of his ancestors, and greet them. In China, in Africa, and many other places, ancestors are considered to be alive and important to relate to properly on a regular basis. They are simply in "another dimension" (whatever it might be called) but certainly not absent from the lives of their descendants.
I have gotten a better personal feel for "the ancestors" in my time out here in the Sedona area. This is an ancient land, and there are many places where the remnants of the ancient peoples who once lived here can be seen. There are scholars who agree that this is a place the ancestors of the Hopi people once lived. They left behind them ruins of their dwellings, rock art picturing what was important to them, shards of pottery, arrow heads, and such. They also left behind them the imprint of their spirits. It it is possible to feel their presence in certain places, like the one I visited yesterday, called Palatki.
I am not the only one who is deeply moved by the spirit I feel in the places they once lived in this area. The forest ranger who welcomed me to Palatki clearly felt what I felt as we shared our experience of the place. There is a very deep peace, a stillness that speaks to the soul, and a sense of mystery that defies words. As I was approaching one of the ruins of a house built against a cliff (pictured above) I felt an inexplicable sense of grief, and tears came to my eyes. Then I got a vivid picture in my mind of an old Hopi woman sitting in the door of the house-ruins at which I was looking. She was weeping, watching her people leaving to migrate northwards because of a prolonged drought in the area. She knew she would never see her loved ones again. And she also knew it was her sacred duty to stay behind and care for the land as she had all her life, doing what she could to tend and gather medicine plants, do sacred ceremony to honor the spirits of the land, and pray for rain and people to return.
I do not know how or why this vivid "memory" came to me, but it had a strong impact.
Maybe I have been in Sedona too long. Stuff like this happens around here. But no. I love being here, and I am willing to live with whatever mystery I encounter without having to figure it out or explain it away. Suffice it to say that I feel a new kind of connection with the ancestors who lived in this area.
I remember reading that Chief Crazy Horse, of the Lakota people in South Dakota, who fought a losing battle against the white man's encroachments, once was scornfully asked by a white soldier, "Where is your land now?" He stretched out his arm and pointed to the horizon in all directions and said "Wherever my people are buried." Yes.
My experience (and that of many others) is that certain places carry the memory of the Ancient Ones very strongly. Sedona is one of those places.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Listen to the Grand Mothers!

I have been told by reliable sources that in the days when the first white settlers came to this country, there were Native American tribes which had a Council of GrandMothers. Their wisdom was sought by the people in all important matters. They wielded considerable power in the governing of the tribes. In fact, if the Council of GrandMothers felt that the current chief(s) were doing thing detrimental to the well being of the tribe, they could depose the chief.
In our European and American cultures in the past couple of centuries, grandmothers have not had much status. Older women were and are often derided, ignored, trivialized, and disrespected in many ways. Their wisdom and strength are seldom valued as they should be.
If one looks at the world as it is, one could hardly say those running it are doing a good job! How many of today's leaders might not be deposed by a wise Council of GrandMothers for doing things detrimental to their people and to GrandMother Earth?
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a meeting at which thirteen indigenous Grand mothers from Alaska, Mexico, the Grand Canyon area, Brazil, El Salvador, South Dakota, Tibet, Nepal, and other places all offered their blessings, their wisdom, and their prayers to a large standing room only audience at the Creative Life Center in Sedona. These women have been traveling all over the world, and their message is what one might expect from truly wise people: the importance of caring for the earth and living with future generations in mind; the necessity of settling differences peacefully; the need for sharing resources generously so that all might have a decent life; and the truth that the human race is one, and an integral part of all that lives. These truths were all told and sung and prayed in different ways, with great impact. These women have met with the Dalai Lama, and other world leaders, for they are determined to call people back to the wisdom they hold in their hearts from many generations and cultures.
I, for one, can easily imagine a world headed in a much better direction if grandmothers made up at least half of all the leadership of government, business, education, health, etc. etc.
Most of them have the years of life experience and hardship, the love, the faith, the good common sense, and the "no nonsense" approach necessary. They are not invested in warfare, weapons sales, drug sales, political conflicts, and the preservation of the status quo. They want only what is best for everyone. I can't imagine one of them authorizing the development of chemical warfare, or an economic system that allows the few to get rich and the rest to struggle to survive. And I am sure they would make big changes in our health system!
Its time grandmothers were given the authority they deserve to set things right! They can do a lot more than they have been allowed to do. Maybe the human race will have a better chance of a bright future if grandmothers are once again listened to---really, really listened to.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In praise of walking

I have been walking now for almost my whole life. I have always loved walking, and still do.
My sister Judy lost her ability to walk in mid life, due to the affliction of Multiple Sclerosis.
Since then, I have often dedicated walks to her, often with tears, and gratitude----walking when and where she could not.
While I am out here in Sedona, I do even more walking than I normally do. A couple hours a day(or more) is normal for me here. Sometimes it is one longer walk, sometimes two shorter ones. I find it a fine way to pray, to reflect, to get my creative juices flowing, to heal, to strengthen, to enjoy incredible natural beauty---and more.
The pictures I posted with this blog are all about the benefits of walking. One is of a shadow of me walking at the end of a day in a big field near a campground we stayed at on the way out here. Another is of a favorite path of mine through pine woods at MorningStar Retreat center near LeRoy, Michigan. It is like the aisle of a cathedral. The floor is clear of everything but fragrant pine needles and some patches of soft, emerald green moss. On both sides stretch straight rows of towering pine trees, like the pillars of a cathedral. When I walk this path, I feel I am walking deeper inside my soul as well as deeper into the woods. The third picture is recent. It is of husband John, daughter Rachel, her dog Howie, and our dog Leo on the path ahead of me on the beautiful Brins Mesa Trail. The late afternoon light was golden, and the path reminded me of the "Good Red Road" of Native American tradition. The silence was very deep and complete---no traffic noises, no people noises, only those of nature: whisper of wind in the pines, a few soft chirps of birds nearby. Nothing else but the sound of our own breathing and footsteps. Silence like that restores my soul like little else. I could sit and listen to it for hours, and will, the very next chance I get! I recommend it to you if you can find such silence anywhere near where you live.
The dogs, of course, love walks too. And Leo keeps John and I walking more often and further than we otherwise might.
I am currently working with the book "The Vein of Gold" by Julia Cameron. Here are a few quotes about walking from that book which I found particularly fine.
"Solvitur ambulando...It is solved by walking... (St. Augustine) !
"Walking is the the most powerful creative tool that I know. Although it has fallen into disuse in our hurried times, it may be the most powerful spiritual practice known to humankind." (Julia Cameron)
"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." (John Muir, explorer, conservationist, nature mystic)
"Walking with our souls is really walking with our souls. Our internal horizons stretch with our external ones. We walk into expanded possibility. If you can bear it, the soles of our feet lead us to the feats of our souls." (Julia Cameron)
Have you taken a walk lately? Try a gratitude walk, a moaning groaning walk if you are sad, a reflective, pondering walk, a sensing walk in which you deliberately become aware of what you are sensing, one sense at a time. Its a most sensible thing to do!
An old Irish blessing begins with these words I offer to you in blessing as you walk...
"May the road rise to meet you...."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Saint Leo

No, I am not going to blog about a saint on the Roman Catholic or any other roster.
The saint I do want to write a bit about is our dog Leo.
I know that in the Catholic church, there are certain requirements for the title of "saint."
Among them are the working of miracles, and the ability to communicate the goodness and presence of God in a remarkable way.
Leo certainly meets these requirements, as well as other criteria not found on any official list.
He has the virtues of the saints: patience, unconditional love, nobility of character, spiritual intelligence, kindness, super-awareness and alertness, and the ability to bring out the best in people and give joy wherever he goes. How many of us humans have these virtues in a constant, readily observable manner?
I said once in a sermon that my dog was a great spiritual director, and at this time of year, I am especially grateful for the gift of Leo's presence in our lives. As John often says, he has brought us a lot of joy.
Here are a few things I am currently grateful he is teaching me as my spiritual director:
1. Relax and take a break often enough to keep yourself calm and focused. Just being is at least as good, if not better, than doing, doing, doing.
2. Befriend children and spend time with them. They are also superior spiritual directors and teachers, like my grandson Philip, who is pictured here with Leo on the beach on Lake Michigan. Both Leo and Philip teach me to take great pleasure in the simple experiences of life rather than in things that can be purchased: a walk on the beach (or anywhere in nature);
the warmth of sun on one's skin/fur; the smells of water and trees; the enjoyment of one's body and good health; the treasure of friendship.....and so much more. You can continue the list for yourself.
3. Take time to ponder the depth of meaning in your everyday experiences. Don't skate heedlessly over the surface of life.
4. Its not so bad being leashed to people you love. There are coyotes out there you don't want to tangle with.