Category Archives: Lent

A Daisy a Day, Dear

There is a sacred place in, of all places, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. In a park there, on a memorial bench dedicated to his late wife, an elderly gentleman leaves one daisy every day in honor of her favorite song was:

“I’ll give you a daisy a day, dear

I’ll give you a daisy a day

I’ll love you until

The rivers run still

And the four winds we know blow away.”

With the deep snow and frigid temperatures of this winter, however, his daily practice was made very difficult.

Until one day.

Two strangers who worked for the local Parks Department noticed tracks in the deep snow leading to a bench bearing a plaque with a woman’s name and photo. In each of the holes drilled on the metal bench, there was a single daisy. This was clearly someone’s sacred place. For these employees, shoveling paths through the park is not part of their job in the dead of winter. But they decided to make an exception in this case. So, on their own time, every day, they shoveled a path from the parking lot to that bench so that the man could have easier access to his wife’s memorial bench.

When the man saw the cleared path, he reported that his knees nearly bucked in shock at this act of kindness from strangers.

Today’s Lenten reflection word is PLACE.

Where is your sacred place? And what are the obstacles, physical or spiritual, that make it difficult for you to reach it?

Today, I wonder, how can I identify and remove my own obstacles, to enter a sacred space in myself?

And, even more importantly, like those Parks Department employees, how can I open my self to observe the metaphorical footsteps in the deep snow that clue me in to how I can help someone else reach their own Sacred Place?

Putting Together My Sabbath Picture

Sabbath

Knowledge

Wise

Stop

Practice

Search

These were the Lenten-reflection words for the days of this past week. For most of the days since the beginning of this Lenten season, I’ve purposed to reflect on each daily word, and to share my thoughts in this blog. This week, however, I just couldn’t do it. Sure, I thought about each word on the appointed day. But I simply couldn’t write about them. Until today. Viewing them together in this list today, I could finally see proverbial the forest for the trees. I realized that each word needed the others to speak their collective story to me. And now, I can share it with you.

All six of these words came blessedly together for me this weekend at a women’s retreat, where the theme was ‘Sabbath.’ Through her words and exercises in using images to speak to us in ways that were beyond words, Paula, our wise retreat leader provided a framework that invited us to consider a practice of rest. An encouragement to stop and still oneself. In the listening, participating and sharing of this retreat, there was a tuning-in to God’s love-filled bidding to wellness in the midst of chaos and busy-ness.

For one day, or a few hours, minutes, or even for a few breaths – God coaxes us into a spaciousness where we can hear and begin to know our own Belovedness.

We all know that rest is vitally important for our well-being. Knowledge of the need to do something is one thing. Doing it is quite another. Taking knowledge to its ‘doing’ step requires our time-and-experience-infused inner wisdom – that Spirit-breath opening our metaphorical ‘vocal cords’ that gives voice to an inner call to a Sabbath practice to simply stop.

During the retreat, we were exposed to author Barbara Brown Taylor’s concept of Sabbath as the practice of saying ‘No.’ In her book, An Altar in the World, Taylor talks about the seductiveness in the word, ‘Yes,’ in our multi-tasking, can-do culture, where “the ability to do many things at high speed is not only an adaptive trait but also a mark of a successful human being.” Taylor goes on to say, “As much as most of us complain about having too much to do, we harbor some pride that we are in such demand.” The yes-steeped, false sense of our value that we associate with constant motion makes it difficult to recognize our God-steeped, intrinsic value — a value that is more about our being rather than our doing.

Taylor shares her journey to a place where she found profound wisdom in saying ‘No,’ to the voice in her head that “is forever whispering, ‘More.’” In her own Sabbath practice, Taylor shares, “More God is the only thing on my list.”

There is one more word on the week’s Lenten words that I haven’t yet mentioned: Search. During a beautiful SoulCollage exercise that Paula led this weekend, we were invited to browse through images in a collection of magazines and to tear out the ones that seemed to speak to us, or even to disturb us. We then took these images and put them together on an 8” x 5” card. For me, what resulted in this process was a card that added the missing piece of Search to the rich consideration of all of these other words.

On my card, I first pasted a picture of an empty room. That, for me, seemed to be the starting place for a Sabbath practice. Next, I found a picture of a zipper that was being pulled down, creating an opening. Next to this opening, I added a pair of eyes from a dark-skinned woman; different in color and shape than my own. In the upper right corner, I added a picture of lights inside a glass sphere; an homage to my own inner light. And finally, I added a picture of the Eiffel Tower that was taken from the perspective of someone lying on the ground – not the typical view that we normally see. My completed card is the image you see in today’s blog posting.

The wisdom-infused message that unfolded from the card I created revealed my need to create open and quiet space in my life in order to will birth an ability to search through light-filled new eyes that will allow me to view the familiar from a brand-new perspective.

While I may not set aside a full day each week for Sabbath rest, through my shared experience with the women of this weekend, I feel the invitation to at least stick my toe into the rest-filled waters of saying, ‘No.’

The wisdom of Meister Eckhart’s words, spoken over 800 years ago, stir my heart to Sabbath-rest this day:

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by subtracting.”

Through the Lens of Beloved

Today’s Lenten reflection word, BELOVED, began my day with the sweetest of memories.  In spite of all the challenges that come in any marriage, one thing that Randy could do like no one else was to make me feel absolutely and completely beloved. He used to cup my face in his hands, look tenderly into my eyes and say from the depths of his being, “Oh! Just LOOK at you!” Every other feeling thudded to the ground and I was left with the bare immensity of being someone’s Beloved. It was a feeling so true that it is not bound by time. I feel it in this moment as I did in the moments of years ago. Without a doubt, I was Randy’s Beloved.

I am now, as I also was then, God’s Beloved. Just simply loved because I am. So are you. And so is everyone else.

Think of it! We are God’s Beloved!

Every minute of every day. No matter what. NO MATTER WHAT.

With Beloved as my lens today, I’ve found that somehow everyone looks a little different. My friend across the table at lunch looked  different. My walking companion this morning looked different. The person in the car next to me looked different. Different — like they really belong. Like they are truly Beloved.

This exquisite poem by Jan Richardson says it all, and I share it with you today:

Beginning with Beloved
A Blessing

Begin here:

Beloved.

Is there any other word
needs saying,
any other blessing
could compare
with this name,
this knowing?

Beloved.

Comes like a mercy
to the ear that has never
heard it.
Comes like a river
to the body that has never
seen such grace.

Beloved.

Comes holy
to the heart
aching to be new.
Comes healing
to the soul
wanting to begin
again.

Beloved.

Keep saying it
and though it may
sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes
part of you,
how it becomes you,
as if you never
could have known yourself
anything else,
as if you could ever
have been other
than this:

Beloved.

–Jan Richardson

See the difference with your own eyes, Beloved.

(p.s. You can read more of Jan’s beautiful work at: http://paintedprayerbook.com)

Even Far Is Near

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can run but you cannot hide.” I have found this to be true in my own experience when it comes to God’s presence. Regardless of my physical location, state of heart or circumstance, if I can awaken myself to it, I have always found that there is a Divine Presence that never leaves me. No matter what.

This Presence is not a menacing, watching-my-every-move presence that is there to catch me red-handed. Rather, when I can enter stillness, even in my darkest, most despairing moments, the Presence that I have experienced is as gentle as my next breath; as reassuring as my own heartbeat.

Today’s Lenten reflection word is: NEAR.

On the morning after my beloved husband died by suicide in our home, I found myself alone in the house after my sister had gone home for a few minutes to get a clean change of clothes. I was still in a complete state of shock; my body sensing a kind of buzzing feeling that I imagined someone might experience after being hit by lightening. My mind was simultaneously racing with thoughts and completely numb. I was as lost as lost could be. And God seemed as far away from me as the closest neighbor in the house pictured in this blog post. Never had I felt utterly and completely Alone.

I closed my eyes for a moment, and heard an unexpected sound. At first it was very faint, and I strained to hear it; almost as though I was turning the dial of radio to find bring to clarity the faint, scratching sound I heard. After a few moments, I recognized the sound. Crazy as it may sound (and I know that this DOES sound crazy!), I realized that it was the sound of purring, and it was coming from the walls of the room I was in. I looked to see if one of my cats was nearby. Nope. I tuned in to hear the hum of the refrigerator. No, this was a different sound than that. I closed my eyes and let the purring sound resonate in my ears; so much so that I could almost feel its vibration.

There was a Nearness in that sound that felt like coming home, and I knew that it was God; there to bring me the sound that had always been so comforting. It was exactly what I needed to carry me in one piece until my sister returned to be with me. And somehow, I sensed that my husband, Randy, was near too. There was Beauty and Light in a moment of the ashes of despair.

I don’t have a scientific explanation for how this happened. That’s not at all important to me. God was near and that was all that mattered.

While the walls in that room have never purred to me since, I often think of that moment, and of the words of the psalmist, David, who had also seen his share of tragedy:

“God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!”

~ Psalm 139:1 – 12 (The Message)

Maybe not always in purring walls, but I know from firsthand experience that God is always near.

To Bless and To Be Blessed

“May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the hart of wonder.”

This is one of many exquisite blessings from a most beloved book that was a gift from a dear friend, To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue.

I often open this book when I want to offer Mr. O’Donohue’s sublimely-resplendent words to someone who is grieving, celebrating, or transitioning through a significant life threshold. It contains blessings not only for mothers, fathers and the elderly, but also for farmers, addicts, nurses and prisoners. There are blessings for animals, water, air and fire. It offers blessings for expected events like a birthday, marriage, new home or retirement, as well as for more unusual situations like passing a graveyard, for work, or for someone awakening to the trauma of their past.

The Lenten-reflection word for today is, Bless. In his book, Mr. O’Donohue reflects on the lost art of the blessing, and presents a compelling case for its necessity in our lives:

“While our culture is all gloss and pace on the outside, within it is too often haunted and lost. The commercial edge of so-called ‘progress’ has cut away a huge region of human tissue and webbing that has held us in communion with one another. We have fallen out of belonging. Consequently, when we stand before crucial thresholds in our lives, we have no rituals to protect, encourage and guide us as we cross over into the unknown. For such crossings, we need to find new words.”

The word blessing comes from the Old English: blestian, meaning to sanctify or consecrate with blood. Initially recoiling at the thought, I read further in O’Donohue’s explanation:

“It is interesting that though the word blessing sounds abstract, a thing of the word and the air, in its original meaning it was vitally connected to the life force.”

Blood, as in the source of life — for all of us. This insight shed a completely new light on how I understand what it really means to receive a blessing, as well as to be a blessing to another. In the written or spoken honoring of the deep-calling-unto-deep connection with another, we bless, and are blessed. And, in so doing, O’Donohue posits, tangible transformation takes place:

“I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew.”

And so, I offer, from Mr. O’Donohue’s eloquence, a blessing for you and for me, upon entering a new day:

“May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,

Clear in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in love.”

Leaving a Mark

Admittedly, I am not the most graceful person on my feet. “You’re like a bull in a china shop” was a exasperated phrase uttered frequently by my mom when I was growing up. Last week, I bumped my shin into the side of my dresser. As someone who bruises easily, I thought, “Well, that’s going to leave a mark.” Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed a nasty bruise on my shin. It took me a minute, but I remembered my recent not-so-pleasant encounter with a piece of furniture. Sure enough, it leave a mark.

“REMEMBER.” That’s today’s word in the continuing Lenten-practice. It’s about leaving a mark.

On my silent, contemplative walk today, I saw a tree that had been burned at one time. I wondered how it happened. Was a child, a teen-ager or an adult to blame? Was it accidental? Was it as a result of a childish dare, or of adolescent rebellion? All I know is that whatever happened, whenever it happened, left a mark on this tree’s trunk for all to see. And, if the perpetrators still live in the neighborhood, I can imagine that they remember what happened, every time they see this tree.

Because it left a mark.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree deepened my awareness of the mark that the words and actions of others left on my life. Like, the day in sixth grade when my teacher told me that I had a beautiful voice after my first-ever (nerve-racking) public solo of “Streets of Loredo.” Mr. Dunn’s words left a mark. I also remember the sting of shame I felt when my first grade teacher held up my ditto homework paper (Note: those of you who are younger than 50 might need to look up what a ditto is) and announced to the entire class that I had gotten every one of the problems wrong. “I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Paul said, “because the assignment was as easy as pie.” At the time, I didn’t understand whether making a pie was easy or hard, but I can tell you that those words also left a mark. Another vivid memory, all of these years later.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree also deepened my awareness of the mark that my own words and actions have left on someone else. I remember the look of delight on a friend’s face when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of love. I also remember hearing the catch of hurt in another’s voice when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of judgment or pain.

Our minds are filled a lifetime of memories that are added-unto every day, as our life continues to unfold. We remember a fun day, a caring hug. We remember an unkind word, a shove on the playground. Each of these experiences leaves its mark on how we see ourselves.

Please, God, I pray, help me remember the crucial lesson of the burned tree trunk as I move through my days.

Covenant

COVENANT. That is the focus-word for the 6th day of Lent in this year’s word-a-day practice. As I entered the day with this word in mind, my thoughts went first to the obvious: the covenant-sign of a rainbow that God placed in the sky as a covenant to Noah after the story of the flood. A visual reminder of the covenant of life between God and humankind.

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s that. Today’s word is pretty easy.” That is, until I decided to look up its origin in the dictionary. That’s when my preconceived notion was put on its on its metaphorical ear. The word, covenant, has its origins in the Old French word, convenīre, which means to come together or to agree.

Come together? Agree? Those are two-sided concepts; not one-sided. Somehow, I always thought of this particular covenant as something God promised to us. That beautiful rainbow after the rain, there in the sky just to remind us to receive the promise of life. An open-my-arms-wide-and-recieve kind of covenant. Nothing required on my end except to just receive — right?

Wrong. I really did know better. I worked with legal documents for many years in my job with a major technology corporation. An agreement always included two parties and two signatures. There was always reciprocal terms – Party A does this and Party B does that.

I thought of the vows that Randy and I wrote to each other for our wedding day. I lovingly spoke my vows to Randy, and he, equally-lovingly, spoke his vows to me. It was a public declaration of our commitment to, and compromises for the other. Can you imagine a wedding where vows were spoken by only one spouse?

This realization stopped me in my tracks. If God entered into a life-focused covenant with Noah and all humankind, what is our part in this covenant – not only to God, but to each other as human beings, as well as to our own selves? How often have I failed to live up to my end of the agreement? What is it that I covenant with God each day? With other human beings? With this planet? With myself?

These questions; so close to my heart as I went through my day. I can tell you that it changed how I viewed the other person in the elevator, in the parking lot, walking in my neighborhood. It changed how I looked at the beauty of the natural world around me. It changed how I view myself. And it changed my conversation and communion with God.

Each of these, an entity to whom I make a love-filled vow every single day – and open wide my heart to hear its echo back to me.