…to remember how much insects have to teach.
During our church retreat this morning we sat together outside on benches on the lakeshore. Our weekend’s focus had been sacred conversations and one piece of that is the spiritual practice of holy listening. It is a healthy and helpful reminder and practice. So this morning during worship we shared 10 minutes or so of “Quaker quiet.” Every now and then someone would speak about what gift they’d been given during the weekend. But most of our time this morning was spent in shared quiet.
I found myself looking at my sneakers. And soon I was watching all the insects. There were a lot of them. They seemed to all have a purpose and a pattern. And one of the “ah ha’s” of the weekend was that they seemed oblivious to borders.
And that got me thinking: What would change for all of us if we took on that practice? (and then soon after) Is that even possible?
It was fun to play with the image for a little bit. It was fun to think about ways we are all so captured by our borders and boundaries (physical, emotional). They are sometimes purposefully, sometimes randomly established and are (too often) made to stand the test of time.
As I watched the granddaddy longlegs, beetles and ants move around and over sticks and stones, I kept thinking about the differences of our worlds. It’s an interesting encounter and I highly recommend it next time you’re outside and can allow your mind to wander and your eyes to watch.
And because the Holy Spirit just seems to move in and through, we shared a prayer from the Iona Community with these words:
As a stream flows steadily on,
Defying all the odds of stone and water
Flow over every boundary and border
That separates us from each other.
One of the gifts of the weekend for me was nature's reminder to pay attention to borders and boundaries. Some I have built and some I am in the process of building. Some of them are helpful and some just aren’t anymore. As I watched these insects I was reminded to pay attention to what is separating me from the others around me. This morning by the lake I was given a gift from some very tiny creatures that see the world totally differently. I hope I remember their lesson for a while.
Surprised by Joy
I remember that walk like it was yesterday (and in some ways, it was). I had just turned 40 and Linda and I were walking the streets of our neighborhood around Derrydown. Turning 40 felt like a significant time ~ one of those “get on with what is most important” times. I don’t remember if I went first of if Linda did but/and, it went something like this... One walker:“I want to get ordained.” The other walker: “I want to have children.” And almost in unison one responded to the other: “How hard can that be?”
And who would have thought that less than 5 years later I would be serving a local congregation and we would have two healthy sons, John Brogan and Samuel Clark? And with that, we would be co-parenting with 2 dads, John and Rande? Wow. Life.
Everyone who knows me even a little bit, knows that I am not wired for mothering. It’s not in my DNA. From Linda’s laboring through the diapers, the walking the floor in the wee hours, the bringing them to Miss Anita (thank you, God for Miss Anita J), having them both with Miss Wanda and Miss Parker in kindergarten (thank you, God for Miss Wanda and Miss parker J), through the illnesses and the homework assignments, and now into adolescence ~ mothering is a trip.
These two boys are changing before our eyes. This past week was a perfect example. Having a heart-to-heart with Sam and listening as he went from crying about something (which to my mothering ears sounded so insignificant) to explaining to me how our puppy digests her food (which to my human ears just sounded down-right gross…). And then while folding laundry and talking to Brogan, he nonchalantly changed his shirt and there was all this armpit hair ~ and it wasn’t that long ago (was it?) that he only had three hairs (and he had named them J).
But what is the gift, the true gift of mothering for me these days is the laughter. Our trip just a month ago to Kenya was filled with laughter. From everybody. And at all the best times. Gamma was funny. And Linda was funny. The Dads were funny. And the boys were so, so funny. It’s not the “telling jokes kind of funny” (although they are known to do that), it’s the “looking at the world through their lenses” kind of funny. And this kind of funny just makes my heart fill up to the brim.
How hard can it be? Turned out to be a stupid question. It’s hard. Parenting is a roller coaster ride that no one in their right mind would pay money for. And parenting is also a precious, invaluable gift from God.
But/and I’m telling you that being surprised by joy is more than enough for me.
My friend Susie and I took a Beginner’s Class of Tai Chi at Callanwolde this past winter. Even though we didn’t have “perfect attendance,” (and I actually never heard if we even passed let alone “aced it”) I am very grateful for the class.
My favorite part was the breathing.
And isn’t that true for most things?
There can be a frantic pace to life that exhausts the spirit as well as the body. This un-Godly pace and “the next thing” feels like a race from the time my foot hits the floor until my day is mercifully done and I’m checking to see how the Red Sox did before closing my eyes.
There are lots of causes I think. (I know this sounds old, but…) One cause is the pace of being in an urban setting. “We are many” here in the metro- Atlanta area. The traffic speaks volumes to the mass of humanity. And I think some of the frantic daily pace can also be attributed to the constantness of information that we are exposed to. It’s too much, really. When do we have time to process it all? When do we have time to settle-in to all that is coming at us? When do we have time to breathe?
And what happens to us if we don’t take the time to process it all? What happens if we don’t take the time to breathe? All of the data is there, but it feels as though it is there without the opportunity to make sense of it.
The first thing we were taught with Tai Chi was to breathe. We were encouraged to pay attention to our posture, especially holding our backs straight (to give our lungs a chance). And early on we were shown the first four movements: raising our hands up, pushing them out, pulling our hands in and then pushing them down. And then be ready to begin again. A circle. An attitude. A holding on and letting go. A release. And back again.
Tai chi has a zone that is amazingly healing. There is a mental / emotional place when I’m doing that beginning, circular exercise that somehow creates a break from the hectic rushing. When I’m in this zone, there is the opportunity to focus and then to refocus. There is a place to remember the feeling of both my feet on the ground, that place of recognizing my balance and centering. There is a place to catch my breath. And Lord knows that these days, that is truly, truly a gift.
It turns out that breath can’t actually be “caught,” but somehow it can be “lost.” It’s my intention to pay better attention these days to the wisdom of those things. It’s my intention to pay better attention to the life of those two truths. Tai chi is one balancing place and I know that there are others. It’s up to me to live these days at a pace that allows for the companioning of grace. It’s up to me to welcome-in the gifts along the way.
There are trees that cause us to stop. These acacia trees have hook-like pieces on their branches that unpredictably stick out. You could be walking along, making your way and all of sudden; you become snagged and are forced to stop.
These trees can be helpful companions for grief.
In my work with hospice I spend much of my time listening to stories. Along the way I have been continually reminded of what powerful teachers and healers our stories are for us. I’ve been asked if it ever gets tiring or boring to listen to all these stories. And what is true is that I am learning about myself all along the way.
Recently I met with a man who was telling me about his mother’s death. His story was familiar to me because he and I had been talking for several months. He told me of her diagnosis, his moving to Atlanta, his caring for her until her death, his loss of his home and work, other losses away…and then he stopped. Almost in mid-sentence.
Always before he had continued on from there. He’d gone on to talk about being unsure of what was next for him and about what “his purpose” would be.
But instead this time, he stopped and said, “I’ve told you this a hundred times. You already know all of this.”
And right then I remembered the Wait-a-Bit Tree that I’d heard about when we were on the Maasai Mara.
Stories bring us healing. They companion us and help us hold onto our history. They help us make meaning of where we are and where we’ve been. And sometimes they help guide us into what will be next for us.
We tell our life-stories more than once. These are the stories that hold the moments-that-matter of our lives. Sometimes we have the feeling that we are telling them over and over and over again. But it turns out, that’s just not true. If we pay attention, our story is a living one. If we pay attention there is a time, each time when the story changes. There is a time, each time when we get snagged and we have the opportunity to stop.
And then (perhaps for the first time) we have the opportunity to listen. Deeply listen, to what we are telling ourselves in the story. It is in this place where we are snagged, where we are hooked, that our hearts are doing their most significant healing work. And when grace abounds we are able to stop and listen.
The wait-a-bit tree can remind us that all along the journey there are lessons and gifts. If we march on down the path from here to there and back again, we’ll miss what we are given along the way. And so it would serve us well, each time to wait a bit as we journey through this one precious life. There is healing right there in the midst of our story if we can wait a bit and let our hearts catch up.
(thanks to Rande Allen for the picture)
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.