Meditation Monday: The Spiritual Practice of Wine Tasting

Meditation Monday: The Spiritual Practice of Wine Tasting

This week, I thought I’d share an old post from HBT’s The Spiritual Practice of… series.  I originally published this post in October 2013.  Enjoy!

Spiritual Practice of Drinking Wine (or how wine tasting taught me mindfulness)

Since moving to the Santa Barbara area more than two years ago and living so close to wine country, my husband and I have enjoyed the luxury of trying a variety of higher quality wines at a relatively lower price point than other parts of the country.  And being surrounded by wineries and wine drinkers has made the wine culture more accessible.

Here are some things wine tasting can teach us.

1) Prepare. Since I am nothing close to a wine connoisseur, I always like to read the descriptions that usually accompany a wine tasting and ask questions of the server about what the winery is known for, the process of making the wine, and what experience they want me to have.  I pay attention to key words like “earthy” or “finish” and try to prepare my palate to experience fully the wine I am about to taste.

2) Breathe. Experienced wine tasters will tell you the first thing you do when you receive a glass of wine is swirl the wine around a little in the glass to aerate it and then stick your nose in and breathe deeply to experience the wine first with your sense of smell.

3) Taste. Wine tasting is not really about drinking wine at all.  It’s about tasting.  When you taste wine, you don’t just drink it.  For one thing, you usually get at the most about an 1/8 of a glass of any wine on the tasting list.  That’s not even enough for one gulp.  Tasting wine is about really, really tasting it, taking a small sip of wine in through your lips, rolling it around in your mouth so that it touches all parts of your tongue, and even sometimes slurping or gargling a little before finally swallowing.  The point is to engage your sense of taste fully with every sip.  Some dedicated wine tasters will even spit out the wine after tasting it so the alcoholic effects don’t hinder the next tasting.

4) Notice.  Here is where mindfulness really comes in for me.  At every point in the process of tasting a particular bottle of wine, my attention is fully claimed.  From the moment the wine enters my glass, I am observing the color, feeling the weight of the glass in my hand as I swirl, breathing deeply to smell as much as I can from what the description tells me to expect, and then finally taking a small sip onto my tongue to contemplate the flavor as it slowly makes its way to the back and down my throat.  I savor.  All my senses are engaged. With this sip of wine in my mouth, I am fully present in this moment in an embodied way.  Then, before I take another sip, I consider the finish and the aftertaste. I compare it to the other wines I’ve had and to my expectations from the description.

5) Repeat.  And then, slowly, I go through the process again.  Do I pick up any nuances I missed on the first sip?  Is my palate more discerning on this trip than last time? Can I appreciate the wine more fully than I did last time?

6) Share. Wine tastings, like many activities, are more fun with friends.  Since my husband and I often go together, I like to ask him about his experience of the wine we are tasting.  What did he notice? How did it compare to other wines we have tasted? I find that sharing in his experience and sharing mine with him creates a greater depth.  My wine tasting experience would be incomplete without this opportunity to share with and learn from each other.

7) Change. I have found that since I started wine tasting, I accidentally apply this method to other beverages I try.  New blend of lemonade on the menu? Let me swirl it around in my glass and breathe it in first.  It’s led to some odd looks from dinner companions, I’ll admit.  But that has only further impressed upon me the benefits of drinking wine as spiritual practice.  Slowing down and allowing our activities and experiences to fully engage us in the present moment—fully engaging our bodies, minds, and spirits—helps us cultivate a valuable and lifelong habit reminiscent of Brother Laurence’s practicing the presence of God.

So, fellow pilgrims, what activities in your day-to-day life might be used to usher you into the present moment–where God is waiting for you?

Monday Meditation: Welcoming the Stranger Within

Monday Meditation: Welcoming the Stranger Within

When I was in first grade, my aunt would to pick me up from school each day and drive me home.  Before I had even settled in my seat and closed the car door, I had already launched into a steady stream of stories about my day that continued all the way home.  She hardly got a word in!

A couple of years ago, my aunt reminded me of this season and told me how much she enjoyed those daily drives with me, hearing all about my day through my unfiltered seven-year-old experience of the world.  She told me how much she admired my carefree speech, unburdened by the self-consciousness she knew I would grow into as I got older.

And she was right.

I became self-conscious earlier than most kids do–partly due to my personality and partly due to my family situation.  I began to adopt more adult attitudes, shunning childhood and adolescence as “juvenile” and holding myself to a higher standard.

The Drive for Perfection

This conversation with my aunt came back to me in a recent prayer time, and I realized how many negative attitudes and feelings arise when I think about my childhood self.  I noticed how much pride I felt growing up for always being more responsible and more correct than my peers.  I noticed how hard I always pushed myself to behave perfectly, to have perfect grades, to be perfect.

And I noticed how much resentment I feel toward myself when I am faced with imperfections in myself, with these areas now being uncovered that still need healing, with the same lessons I thought I had mastered coming back around again.  I thought about how I can so easily sit compassionately with others as they walk difficult paths toward healing and wholeness and wondered why I seem to feel so undeserving of that same compassion.

I discovered Christine Valters Paintner’s Abbey of the Arts several years ago and was inspired by her writings to become a Monk in the World and join the Holy Order of Dancing Monks (you can, too!).  I have been able to begin to live into all the commitments of her Monk Manifesto except the second one:

I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.

I am terrible at making space for the unclaimed parts of myself and showing myself compassion. It is so much easier to be compassionate toward others than to myself.  When confronted with the child in myself, I would rather force her to grow up than to accept and value her as she is and be willing to integrate her into myself.  But without her, I cannot move toward wholeness.  Without her, I cannot become my true self.

Faith Like a Child

My invitation in this season is to adopt a child-like posture toward myself as I walk this path toward healing.   I am being invited to begin to approach my healing journey with all the curiosity, lightheartedness, and playfulness of the unselfconscious seven-year-old who still exists within me–patiently waiting to be acknowledged and invited along on the journey.

That little childhood piece of myself is not the shameful burden I treat her as but a wise and willing companion.  I have only to reach out to her, feel her little hand in mine, and continue together on our way.

Come on, little one. Let’s take just this next step together.

Monday Meditation: Uncovering and the Wall

Monday Meditation: Uncovering and the Wall

Healing is a messy business.  It’s gross and slow and at times tenuous and prone to error.  It’s also miraculous, largely self-sufficient and autonomous, and a basic element of what it means to be alive.  Without the ability to heal, we would all die of paper cuts and colds and stubbed toes.

During the healing process, there is a time when covering the wound is necessary and a time when uncovering the would is also necessary.  Covering the wound protects it from negative influences that might cause infection and delay or thwart the healing process while uncovering the wound allows it to breathe and prevents festering.  This marriage of protection and vulnerability is necessary for healing.

Uncovering

I’m realizing that the season I’m in these days is one of uncovering, of exposing, of revealing the woundedness that has been covered over and protected for too long in my deep, inner hidden places.  That woundedness that has been silent (perhaps, silenced?) for so long is now making itself known in unhealthy ways because I have ignored it, leaking out of the broken places I have tried so hard to hide.

It is an unpleasant season, this time of uncovering.  Full of uncomfortable emotions and surprising reactions that I thought myself beyond, I find myself once again in the same place I’ve been before, circling right back to the starting point–but not quite.

Because I have been here before.

The Wall

It was my spiritual director who first introduced me to The Critical Journey and The Wall we must face on our Journey Inward.  I was nearing the end of my seminary degree and found myself in an unfathomable season of pain and loss.  And here I am again, years later, faced once more with the wounded places in myself.

Only, it’s not quite the same after all.  This time, I bring with me into this season the knowledge and experience I gained from my last visit to this particular spot on my journey.  I remember how–with the help of wise and patient people who so generously companioned me–I learned that I could not scale the wall, dig under it, or go around.  I could only slowly and painstakingly begin to dismantle the wall, brick by brick, until I could make a way through.

Welcoming and Leaning In

The invitation in such seasons is one of courage to step out into the light and keep walking, vulnerable and exposed, trusting that something new and beautiful is waiting to be revealed. The invitation is to welcome the uncovering, to lean in with anticipation and expectation of what is about to happen.

As we submit to the uncovering, we create space for the healing that has begun in us to continue to its completion.  Then, in that vulnerable moment, the true self begins to be revealed, to be birthed, to come into being.  But first we must be willing to walk the hard path that leads us there, back and back again–footsteps upon footsteps–back to the place we started. Only this time changed, this time new, this time carrying with us all that we learned and experienced before.

So, what is being uncovered in you, my fellow pilgrims? How might you welcome it and lean into the healing you are being invited toward?

Beginning to Become through Contemplative Practices

Today, I’m honored to be hosted as a guest blogger on my new friend Barry Pearman’s excellent website, Turning the Page.  Here’s a little taste to whet your appetite!

The first time I tried centering prayer, I cried.  I mean cried.  

Sobbed, really.

I was finishing up my seminary degree, burned out and disillusioned, consumed with self-doubt and the uncertainty over that nebulous next step in my life.  My spiritual director sat quietly with me in her office that early autumn afternoon, wordlessly handing me a second box of tissues.  

After a while, when I had collected the broken pieces of myself into a little pile on the couch and sat there sniffling and twisting a crumpled tissue in my hands, she very gently said, “I’m sensing that you’re experiencing some emotion right now.”

I laughed and wiped away fresh tears.  Understatement of the year.

Check out Turning the Page to read the rest!

Monday Meditation: God showed up

Monday Meditation: God showed up

While I’m out of town, please enjoy this excerpt from an old HBT blog post:

I walked slowly, not quite contemplatively, through the sage along the gravel path and wound my way across the estuary. I stopped on the bridge and watched the ducks and leopard sharks swim in wide circles and figure 8s.  I breathed deeply. I looked up at the misty morning, still dark enough that my sensitive eyes could take everything in through their own lenses and not the dark ones I carry with me everywhere.  I continued on.

I turned on my iPod and played a guided Lectio Divina reading I downloaded from my new friend Christianne Squires’ Cup of Sunday Quiet. (I highly recommend it, by the way!) I walked slowly through the salt marsh, noticed my breathing, and listened to a gospel reading in Christianne’s measured voice.  I walked. I breathed. I listened.

And then God showed up.

I don’t know why I am always surprised when God does that.  But I am, every single time.  Maybe it’s because at the bottom of everything, at the very root of the deepest lies that cause the woundedness in my life, I don’t believe God is trustworthy.  Still.  Even after all the healing, all the truth, all the trust God and I have built up in our relationship over the years.  Even after the dark night of the soul and the wilderness experience and all the ways God has tried to mature my faith, even now I am still surprised when God shows up.

I expect it more often. I trust that despite my lack of faith it will happen.  But I’m still surprised.

Or maybe it’s more that God just enjoys surprising me.  Maybe it’s that God delights in delighting me.  Maybe it’s like God is playing hide-and-seek with the child in myself.

Me: God, where are you? I’m looking for you.

God: Here I am! You found me!

And you know what? I just couldn’t wait to get back home and put up this blog post.  Because really and truly, my lovely readers, know this: God delights in delighting you, too.  God enjoys surprising us.  God, with infinite wisdom and gentle grace, continues to show up for each of us, every time.  All we have to do is get quiet, get listening.

All we have to do is show up, too.

Monday Meditation: The Beauty of the Labyrinth, Part 2

Monday Meditation: The Beauty of the Labyrinth, Part 2

Last week, I shared about how my natural linear thinking impacts my ability to walk life’s journey:

Instead of taking just that next step, trusting that the way has been laid out before me with precision and care to lead me in the way I should go–instead of walking in the wise way, I walk in the worried way.

When I sense that I have strayed from the wise way of walking, I find myself drawn to the labyrinth.  At these moments, the labyrinth becomes–for me–chiefly an embodied prayer.  The metaphor is clothed in tangible reality.  I take actual, physical steps with my flesh-and-blood feet along a real-life path.  I breathe slowly and deeply. I slow my pace to match my breath.  Breathe.  Step.  Breathe.  Step.

As I walk, I allow myself to notice what comes up on my journey toward the center, be gently present with whatever arises–without judgment or solutions or analysis–as I rest in the center, and finally choose to release it into God’s hands on the journey back out.

Embrace the Nonlinear Journey

As I walk the labyrinth, I gradually realize again and again that the invitation of the labyrinth is to embrace the nonlinear journey: full of twists and turns and doubling back, circling right back to the starting point–but not quite. Although I feel like I’m back in the same place again, I’m actually still moving forward along the same path, the only path, the only way to the center–where the presence of God is waiting to reveal just a little more of the true self.

Time and again I surprise myself that I still walk with the expectation that my destination is the center.   The center itself is not the goal, not the destination, not the end point. In the labyrinth walk, the center is only the midpoint.  A pause along the journey, a moment of rest, a breath.

Then begins the journey outward, walking the path again, placing footsteps upon footsteps, back and back again to where I started.  Back to the beginning–back in the world, crossing the threshold once more into the space of ordinary walk.

Except this time, I’m changed in some way.  This time I carry with me all the steps I’ve taken along the twisting way, all the breaths I’ve breathed, all the precious moments in the center and along the path of my intentional walk.

The Beauty of the Labyrinth

The beauty of the labyrinth practice, for me, is that its wandering, meandering, nonlinear path toward and then away from the center constantly draws me back to grace and invites me to make room for compassion with each step, each breath.

Walking with compassion means allowing myself to be in a place I’m disappointed about, to accept myself as I am and where I am in this moment, to stop trying to be where I’m not.  Walking with compassion means releasing control and choosing to stop striving so there is space again for grace.

Even if I find I am short on grace for myself in these moments, the labyrinth invites me to choose to trust that the grace God is always extending toward me is sufficient.

So my prayer for all of us, fellow pilgrims, is that we might breathe, step, and walk this journey with compassion toward ourselves and with the intention to create space in ourselves to receive and rest in God’s grace–always sufficient, always more than enough.

Monday Meditation: The Beauty of the Labyrinth, Part 1

Monday Meditation: The Beauty of the Labyrinth, Part 1

In last week’s Monday Meditation, I mentioned that I sometimes feel like I’m walking in circles:

Sometimes as I walk this path, I feel like I am just going around in circles, always finding myself back where I started with nothing to show for my trouble.

I tend to be such a linear thinker, imagining that this path I’m walking on life’s journey is a straight line, the shortest distance between two points. When I come to a bend or an angle, any slight degree off what I imagine to be the shortest, most economical, most correct way forward, I freak out.

The Worried Way

Instead of taking just that next step, trusting that the way has been laid out before me with precision and care to lead me in the way I should go–instead of walking in the wise way, I walk in the worried way.

I stress.  I struggle. I try to somehow make the next step I take straight even though the path I’m walking is not.  Suddenly, I’m not participating in the work God is doing by simply showing up and allowing God to do the work. Now I’m the one working hard, all the while rejecting the way forward because it does not fit my limited expectations.

Now I’m striving.

There is no grace in striving. No tenderness, no mercy, no room to begin again as St. Benedict encourages us in his Rule of Life.

This is where the true beauty of the labyrinth practice comes in for me.

Invitation for the Moment

To be continued next week!  For now, I invite you to ask yourselves where in your life you are striving right now.  Where are you rejecting the way God is inviting you to move forward in your life because it does not fit your expectations?

How might you let go of that expectation and welcome God’s leading in its place?

Monday Meditation: Keep Walking

Monday Meditation: Keep Walking

When I was in school, I often babysat for families and churches on the side to earn extra money.  I’ve watched a lot of kid’s TV shows over the years, and my favorite by far was Veggie Tales.  I enjoyed their creative characters, lighthearted plots, and silly, catchy songs just as much as the kids did.

The Intimidating Wall of Jericho

Recently, the lyrics from one of those old silly songs came back to me in my prayer time.  The characters are out in the desert, walking and walking in circles around the intimidating wall of Jericho while being taunted from above:

Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall.
Keep walking, but she isn’t gonna fall!
It’s plain to see that your brains are very small
to think walking will be knocking down our wall!

Here’s the scene for those of you unfamiliar.

The Walk Is Not The Catalyst

We’ve been talking these last few weeks about the invitation to walk and that each step we take on the path toward God demonstrates our intention to open the door and let God enter the hidden places within to bring healing and wholeness.

Sometimes as I walk this path, I feel like I am just going around in circles, always finding myself back where I started with nothing to show for my trouble. But like the march on Jericho, the walk is not the catalyst for change at all.  The walk is the intention.  The walk is the sign of trust and of participation in what God is doing.

Keep Walking

It is not my job to will cracks into those walls with each step I take.  It is God who brings the impenetrable walls crashing down after the silence and waiting.  I have only to take a step, and then another, and then another –holding space for myself in the silence where God is doing all the work.

And that is my prayer for each of us, fellow pilgrims, that we will keep walking the path toward God, keep holding space for ourselves in our times of silent contemplation, keep trusting that God will bring to completion the good work begun in each of us–as God has promised.

May we all keep walking!

Monday Meditation: Turning toward the light

Monday Meditation: Turning toward the light

I’ve never been much of a gardener.   Despite my best efforts, my thumb has been closer to brown than green.  But I do have a couple of house plants that have managed to survive the various moves to different cities and states in the past few years.

These are hardy plants that seem to find a way to stay green and growing whether they get too much water or too little, too much sunlight or too little.  Whether the rambunctious puppies knock over their pots and spill the soil across the carpet or they battle with wildflowers for enough soil for their roots, these house plants have continued to do what they do–clean the air, brighten their surroundings, and somehow–magically– sustain themselves by making their own food out of light.

Each Leaf Faces the Light

Sometimes I will take a house plant that has been sitting in one position for a while and turn it around in the same spot.  Now all the leaves are  suddenly facing the darkness, their undersides exposed. Then I watch as each leaf bends, leans, and shifts–slowly turning back toward the light.

In the moment, with the underside of each leaf exposed, the plant seems vulnerable and struggling.  But given enough time and enough light, each leaf will inevitably turn.  They can’t help themselves.  It’s how they were created to be.

I can’t turn the leaves myself.  My pace would be too quick and forceful, and the leaves would break off their stems and lose their vital connection with the whole plant.  Instead, I have to wait and watch, allowing the leaves to turn at their natural pace and trusting that they will again face the light.

Slow Turning toward the Light

God is light, pure light… – 1 John 1:5, The Message

I sense a shifting in myself these days, a slow leaning, a gradual bend as I continue the contemplative spiritual practices that are bringing the most life  in me in this season: centering prayer, lectio divina, and walking the labyrinth.

Like the house plant, the deep, hidden places within me are slowly turning toward the light as I pursue this course on my journey.  I am gradually realizing the places within me that are facing the wrong way and beginning to shift toward the light.   I am learning not to rush the process but to lean into the natural pace of healing and restoration.

Keep Leaning In

God’s invitation remains open to me to keep leaning into the light with these baby steps, to keep being willing to be willing, to keep trusting that God will remain God–gentle and tender with me–even when I am frustrated and impatient with myself.

God is inviting me to trust that this path I am on will eventually lead me to the place where I will discover that my irrational heart is at last ready to let go of my harsh expectations for myself and instead to really trust God to care for all the most precious, hidden places within me.  I’m not there yet, but I am on my way.

What is God inviting in you today, my fellow pilgrims? How are you leaning toward the light?

Monday Meditation: As I open the door

Monday Meditation: As I open the door

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In last week’s meditation, we talked about how God respects our boundaries even when we do not and remains true to God’s character even when in our limited understanding we expect God to behave otherwise.  God knocks at the door of the hurting, hidden places within us and waits patiently and faithfully until we are truly ready to open the door.

As You Open

I was praying with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians recently and quite unexpectedly found my attention drawn again to the metaphor of the door:

I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. – Ephesians 3:16-17, The Message

This time, I noticed, the metaphor is not conditional as in Revelation (“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door…”) but instead assumes that the door is already being opened and that God is already being invited in (“…as you open the door and invite him in.”).  Again there is the promise that God will indeed come in, but this time, the waiting is over.  God’s patience has paid off.  The door is  being opened, and the invitation is being extended.

Intention is Enough

I realized that just my sincere intention, just my demonstrated willingness to become willing, was in itself a beginning to open the door.  At the very least, the door was unlocked, and my hand was on the handle.

Like the labyrinth walk, each step we take toward God is an opening of the door, a turning of the handle, an unlocking.  Our intention is enough. Our movement in the direction of God, however small and halting, is enough to answer the knock and begin to open the door.

Reach Out

God is always saying to us, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.”  My prayer today is that we may hear God’s voice of love and set our intention and our orientation toward the door, trusting that even our smallest and most uncertain response is enough to begin to open the door and say, “Come on in.”

The fruit is hanging on the branch, my fellow pilgrims, ripe and ready for the taking. Reach out with me, even just a little, toward the healing and wholeness that is available to us all.  That little bit is all it takes to begin to receive all that God has for us–that fullness of joy we have been promised!