Monday Meditation: Bloom Naturally

Monday Meditation: Bloom Naturally

This post first appeared in Common House in August 2017. Common House is the online community founded by Sacred Ordinary Days.

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Every morning I check its progress, this rosebud that is quietly, steadily, gently blooming. I pick up the vase and hold it close to my face, close enough that I can feel the soft petals as l breathe deeply.

When my husband, Matt, decided to plant rose bushes around the trees in our front and back yard, I insisted that he choose the most fragrant bushes he could find. What’s the point of being surrounded by roses if you can’t stop and smell them, right? And now our kitchen is never without at least one little rose to remind me of, well, of everything. To slow down, to notice, to breathe deeply, to play and enjoy, to rest, to grow, to open.

Most recently, this little flower is reminding me to let go and allow, to bloom naturally. Because really, there is no other way to bloom. Oh, we can create conditions that encourage a flower to bloom, but we can’t peel back each petal and force the blooming in our own time, in our own way, on our own schedule. I came across this time lapse video of the corpse flower, which grows for over a decade before blooming (and good thing, too, because it’s stinky!). All we can do is watch and wait:

I think where I get stuck with this lesson, this reminder from the rose in my kitchen, is that it’s not news to me. I know this. I’ve learned it already. Been there; done that. I’d like to think that I could move on to another lesson, now that I’ve mastered the ability to stop trying to control everything or rush to the end and simply trust the process and enjoy each moment of the journey. Aha! Success! But as it turns out, I’m not an annual flower. I’m a perennial. I’m born again, and again. I grow and bloom again, and again. I wither and die again, and again. I learn, and I forget. Like Socrates said, learning is really just remembering the knowledge we’ve always had. Like St. Benedict said, we are always beginners.

I’m reminded of this old TED Talk about how we always think we’re finished becoming ourselves, and we’re always wrong. So I guess I’m not alone!

I wrote in my prayer journal: I guess I’m being invited to experience healing without the expectation that it will happen in a certain way at a certain time, letting go of control and trusting the process, trusting the source, trusting the other, the Holy other. So basically just all the lessons I’ve been learning wrapped into one. Jesus’ desire is for me and intention is for me, so I will let go and let God (to be trite). I will relax and release, like a flower gently allowing itself to bloom. I will BLOOM NATURALLY.

Do you ever find yourself frustrated at having to learn the same lessons over again?

Where in your life right now might God be inviting you to relax and release, to let go and allow, to bloom naturally?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below!

Visio Divina: Threshold

Visio Divina: Threshold

This week, we’re pausing the usual Monday Meditation for a moment of visio divina.  If you’re not familiar, you may find this introduction and guide helpful:

Visio Divina invites us to see at a more contemplative pace. It invites us to see all there is to see, exploring the entirety of the image. It invites us to see deeply, beyond first and second impressions, below initial ideas, judgments, or understandings. It invites us to be seen, addressed, surprised, and transformed by God who is never limited or tied to any image, but speaks through them.  – Tim Mooney

Look and Notice

Take a moment to settle yourself.  Breathe.  Breathe again.   Look at the image below.  Spend some time allowing your gaze to be drawn here and there.

What do you notice?  What does it stir up in you?  Sit quietly with what arises for a few moments.

Pause and Contemplate

There are many thresholds in our lives, moments where we are invited to step from the space we know into an entirely new space. That in-between space as we cross the threshold is known as liminal space.  As Richard Rorh describes:

All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.

Look at the image above again.  Where do you see yourself in the image?  Where might God be?  What threshold are you being invited to cross?  What liminal space are you being invited into?

Receive and Respond

Hold gently whatever invitation arises.  Receive it deeply into yourself and notice how it resonates within you.  Where do you feel it in your body?  Do you notice resistance rising up?  Relief?  Welcoming?   How might you respond to the invitation right now in this moment, this day, this week?

Monday Meditation: The Rock Climber and the Invitation to Remain

Monday Meditation: The Rock Climber and the Invitation to Remain

Recently, I shared that my word for the year is remain arising out of Jesus’ metaphor of the branch and the vine and that I began to realize that God has been dropping other similar metaphors like breadcrumbs for me to follow.  One of those breadcrumbs is the image of a buoy, another is the image of a tree, and still another is the image of a shepherd.  This week, I’d like to share another breadcrumb: the image of a rock climber hanging below the edge of a cliff.

The Rock Climber

I have never been rock climbing, not even indoors.  I do not understand the desire to pull yourself up a craggy rock face with the constant threat of imminent harm or even death at the slightest misstep or misjudged hold.  But I am aware that the harder and more technical the climb, the more specialized gear you need: shoes, harness, helmet, carabiners, and of course rope.

Now stick with me.  There are basically two types of climbing ropes: dynamic and static.  A static rope is stiff and used for going down (rappelling) and if (God-forbid!) you need rescuing while a dynamic rope is more elastic and is designed to hep protect you if you lose your grip by absorbing some of the force generated when you fall.

Imagine you are hanging in midair, suspended between the ground far below you and the top of a cliff above.  Rough rock inches from your face.  Wide open space all around.  Just you, swinging slightly as a breeze rushes by.  A brightly colored rope bears your full weight, thick and tightly braided.  Which kind of rope is it?

Are you going up or down? Do you need rescuing or support and guidance as you continue toward your goal? Are you depending on a stiff rope that will not give, or do you need as much elasticity as you can manage?

This image came to me unexpectedly at a moment in my life when I felt particularly un-grounded, longing for firm support under my feet.  I felt the anxiety and panic of hanging over the edge, clinging desperately to a thin line of rope–the only thing connecting me to the safety above; the only thing keeping me from plummeting through empty space to certain harm below.  I began to contemplate the rope that was holding me up. I wondered what it was attaching me to far up above.  A big tree with a thick trunk and strong roots? A giant, immovable boulder? Or perhaps something less stable.  A sapling bent far toward the ground by my weight on the rope? A small knot caught in a sharp crack in the rock face? If I moved, would the rope hold?  Did I dare climb up, or ought I to go down?  Was I being invited to put all my faith in the rope?  Or was I being invited to notice just how precarious my position was?

For a long time since, the memory of this image has bothered me.  Why such a perplexing metaphor with so many interpretations (and not all of them comforting)?  As I meditate on these breadcrumbs that have led me to the invitation to remain, I am beginning to notice their complexity.  These images have guided me toward a greater understanding of who God is, but they have also reflected back to me precisely what I struggle with and helped me name and take ownership of those parts of myself I have been less willing to acknowledge, like the stranger within.  How kind of God to use what I can readily understand to draw me gently toward what still remains hidden, waiting to be discovered.

The Invitation to Remain

And so, my fellow pilgrims, I have not stopped praying in these past weeks that we would all have the strength of heart and the gentle attention necessary to remain in God’s love no matter what obstacles we encounter on our journey homeward.

As we walk this way together awhile, I’m curious: what kind of rope are you using, and what is it attaching you to?  In what are you being invited to remain?

Monday Meditation: The Shepherd and the Invitation to Remain

Monday Meditation: The Shepherd and the Invitation to Remain

Recently, I shared that my word for the year is remain arising out of Jesus’ metaphor of the branch and the vine and that I began to realize that God has been dropping other similar metaphors like breadcrumbs for me to follow.  One of those breadcrumbs is the image of a buoy and another is the image of a tree.  This week, I’d like to share another breadcrumb: the image of a shepherd who uses both goads and nails to guide us.

The Shepherd

One of the biblical images that participated in my call to attend seminary arose from a completely unrelated conversation with an unsuspecting family member as we sat together at the holiday dinner table.

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. – Ecclesiastes 12:11, emphasis added

How odd, I have often reflected since that first conversation, how contradictory that the shepherd is depicted as giving both goads that provoke and stimulate movement and nails that eliminate movement.  The shepherd drives us out of one place toward another and at the same time firmly embeds us in place.

This season of transition has lasted so long that it has become more of a lifestyle, a way of being in the world.  In these past years, I have often felt myself on the receiving end of the spiked stick urging me onward, and in the midst of the constant transition, I have longed for a nail to hold me in place.  Instead of just waiting for the time when I can settle down in one location, I am beginning to notice the ways God has been inviting me to remain in the midst of the transition.

I am beginning to recognize that these breadcrumbs have both drawn me further along the path and kept me firmly on it.  Maybe being embedded isn’t about staying in one place but about staying on one path, remaining oriented in one direction: onward.

The Invitation to Remain

And so, my fellow pilgrims, I continue to pray that we would all have the strength of heart and the gentle attention necessary to remain in God’s love no matter what obstacles we encounter on our journey homeward.

As we walk this way together awhile, I’m curious: what keeps you firmly embedded?  In what are you being invited to remain?

Monday Meditation: The Tree and the Invitation to Remain

Monday Meditation: The Tree and the Invitation to Remain

Two weeks ago, I shared that my word for the year is remain and that it arose out of Jesus’ metaphor of the branch and the vine. Last week I shared that one of those breadcrumbs is the image of a buoy.  This week, I’d like to share another breadcrumb: the image of a tree, deeply rooted in rich soil.

The Tree

One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is the prayer Paul prays for the Ephesians.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:17-19

I love the image of being rooted and established in God’s all surpassing love.  What a truly freeing and sustaining foundation for our daily lives!

I wrote recently about my fascination with trees and how watching them as they lose their leaves reminds me that letting go is a necessary and natural part of life:

The roots grow down and down, far below the surface, deep into darkness where all that has fallen away and died has seeped in and enriched the soil to feed the tree.

Where the roots are planted determines what nutrition the tree takes in.  A tree planted by water looks very different from a tree planted in the desert. Consider how different the evergreen is from the maple, the willow from the joshua.  The soil influences the health of their branches, leaves, and flowers or fruit.  In fact, the quality and makeup of the soil even helps determine what kind of tree is capable of surviving in it.

Trees are inspiringly resilient.  They survive for decades and even centuries despite drought, fire, storms, and human encroachment.  Although they may twist and bend with the wind, lose leaves and branches along the way, and bear the battle scars of natural disasters, they survive and even thrive because of their roots.  Their roots are strong and deeply embedded in the rich soil–a soil enriched by the natural disasters they manage to escape.  On the surface things may look tenuous, but underneath the tree is firmly anchored and grounded.

The Invitation to Remain

And so, my fellow pilgrims, I continue to pray that we would all have the strength of heart and the gentle attention necessary to remain in God’s love no matter what obstacles we encounter on our journey homeward.

As we walk this way together awhile, I’m curious: what grounds you, roots you, and nourishes you from the bottom up? In what are you being invited to remain?

Monday Meditation: The Buoy and the Invitation to Remain

Monday Meditation: The Buoy and the Invitation to Remain

The Vine

Last week I shared that my word for the year is remain and that it arose out of Jesus’ metaphor of the branch and the vine:

A branch that remains in the vine is fully satisfied because all its needs are met: food and water, connection to the source, part of the whole, fulfilling its purpose by bearing fruit, being fully itself–what it is made for.

As I reflected on this invitation to remain in God’s love, I began to notice the many ways God has already been drawing me down this path in the past 10 years, dropping metaphors like breadcrumbs for me to follow. I’d like to share some of those breadcrumbs with you in these next several weeks.

One of those breadcrumbs is the image of a buoy.

The Buoy

Imagine you are standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The sky is gray, and the wind is loud, ripping through your clothes and hair.  The sea below you is choppy, white-tipped waves crashing into one another at the mercy of shifting winds and rushing undercurrents.  As you look out over the water, you notice a small red-and-white buoy caught in the battle of wind and current, tossed carelessly in one direction and then another by the relentless waves.

As you watch the buoy being cast about, you begin to notice something.  The buoy is never dragged out into the open sea; it is never washed up on to the shore or carried down the coastline out of view.  The buoy shifts easily in the choppy water, flexing in all directions, sometimes bending so far that its tip touches the surface, but it does not move–not really.  It is anchored, holding firm and grounded in one place down deep at the bottom on the ocean floor.

The Invitation to Remain

And so, my fellow pilgrims, my prayer is that we would all have the strength of heart and the gentle attention necessary to remain in God’s love no matter what obstacles we encounter on our journey homeward.

As we walk this way together awhile, I’m curious: what anchors you? In what are you being invited to remain?

Monday Meditation: Now remain in my love

Monday Meditation: Now remain in my love

The Vine

I wasn’t looking for a Word this year.  A word that defines, inspires, and focuses my spiritual journey for the present.  In past years, I have sometimes chosen a word or had a word, image, or Bible verse capture my attention for a season.  But not this year.  The last several weeks have been particularly and overwhelmingly chaotic for me, and I just hadn’t given it any thought at all.

But then, in a recent prayer time, a word unexpectedly chose me: remain.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  – John 15:4, 9

A branch that remains in the vine is fully satisfied because all its needs are met: food and water, connection to the source, part of the whole, fulfilling its purpose by bearing fruit, being fully itself–what it is made for.

The branch can take the vine for granted.  It can take and take as much as it wants from the vine.  The vine never runs out of resources and never gets fed up with providing for the branch’s needs.  That is what agape is.  The branch’s only role, its only way of giving back, its only participation in the relationship is the choice to stay connected, to remain in the vine.   Even bearing fruit is not something the branch must do but a natural result of its right relationship with the vine.  All that is required of the branch is to trust in the vine’s faithfulness by choosing to remain connected.

The Invitation

The past several years, perhaps even the past 10 years, have carried a central theme of transitory living.  I mentioned in my last post that I have been well acquainted with waiting in these recent years.  I have lived in a constant state of flux, always anticipating the next change but never knowing exactly when it would come or where I would find myself living next.  As a result, I have so often felt alone and isolated.  Each time I began to feel connected to a town, a church community, or a job I was working, the next change would suddenly whisk me away. I would be left having to start all over again.

Now, I am being invited to remain–not in a physical location, not in a person or community, not in a particular job or occupation–but simply and completely in God’s love.  God’s infinite, inexhaustible, abundant, fulfilling and satisfying, comforting, faithful love is being freely offered to me.  I have only to reach out and take it into myself.

I have only to choose to remain in God’s love. Wherever the next change takes me, I can never lose that connection.  I can hold onto the promise that, as I choose to remain in God’s love, so God chooses to remain in me.

So, my fellow pilgrims, as we walk this way together awhile, what connection are you being invited into? In what are you being invited to remain?

Do you have a Word for 2017? What word defines, inspires, and focuses your spiritual journey for this next season?

Monday Meditation: We Begin with the Waiting

Monday Meditation: We Begin with the Waiting

Advent is my favorite season of the liturgical year.  I have always identified most with its themes of darkness and waiting.  As a night owl, I have always found the darkness and solitude of the middle-of-the-night hours to be the most creative, inspiring, and restorative.  As a destination-oriented person, I have struggled to learn to live out and lean into seasons of waiting in my life.  Advent so deeply resonates with me precisely because the waiting has a purpose and an end-point.  It is a season of joyful expectation of the new thing that is about to come into being.  It is a season of hope.

When I created my Advent wreath several years ago, I chose to use the color blue instead of purple because of its association with enlivening hope.  Advent teaches us what it is to have faith that what is promised to come will in fact come:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

Seasons of waiting are inevitable and indeed vital in our lives, which Advent reminds us of again and again, yet we hope in that as-yet-unseen realization of purpose that we have been promised.  In seasons of waiting, we hope for change.  We hope for renewal.  We hope for fruition.  We hope for enough hope to sustain us all the way through the curve.

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.

Our faith–our hope in what we have not yet seen but joyfully anticipate–is the firm foundation that we build upon.  It is the rich soil of love that our roots grow down deeply into.

That is why, I think, the liturgical year opens with this particular season.  We begin every year not with the celebration of the birth of the Emmanuel but with the waiting with hope in joyful expectation that soon, so very soon, our God-[will be]-with-us just as we have been promised!  We begin every year with this reminder, this invitation to return again to the beginning, the beginning of our story, the beginning of the story of God.  Just as St. Benedict encourages us still with his centuries-old wisdom, we are always being invited to begin again.

As we enter this last week of Advent, amidst all the busy last-minute shopping and preparations for gathering together in the coming celebration, we are continually reminded that we are, after all, just beginning.  We are reminded to slow down, to pause and reflect, to lean into these last days and hours of darkness and solitude with hopeful, joyful anticipation.  We are invited to begin opening up the deep places in ourselves, creating space in preparation for what is coming.

Because we know what is coming.

And when it comes, our hearts will have been made ready to receive yet again and still ever more deeply this always-accessible gift of the presence of God, intimately involved and engaged in our lives and within our very selves.

Personally, I can hardly wait! How about you?

Monday Meditation: Driving the Long Curve

Monday Meditation: Driving the Long Curve

I remember my first day of driving school.  It was a Wednesday, and it had been pouring rain all day long.  As I walked through the rain from the school building to the parking lot where my private driving instructor–a retired highway patrol officer–waited for me in the little white car with “Student Driver” displayed in large block letters across the rear fender, I was filled with anxiety and dread.  Why did it have to be raining so hard on my first day?  Surely, I was being set up for failure.

But my driving instructor was calm and cheerful, shockingly confident in my fledgling driving skills.  Learning to drive in the rain was the best way, he assured me.  If I could drive in the rain on my first day, then I could drive in any conditions.  I had no choice but to trust his judgment, and I was strangely buoyed by his trust in my untried capability.  I carefully followed his instructions as we made our way out of the parking lot and through the neighborhood to the main road.

The Long Curve

Before I knew it, I was driving in a part of town I had never been to before.  The straight road I had been following as we practiced changing lanes slowly began to curve–and curve and curve some more!  I had never driven on a road that was not straight before, and certainly not a wet, unfamiliar, not-straight road.  I panicked and began to turn the wheel too far into the curve.  I still remember his large, wrinkled hand reaching out to steady the wheel, gently guiding the car back into our lane.  He kept his hand on the wheel as he calmly explained that driving on a long curve was not like turning a corner.   The wheel would need to be constantly and gently corrected to keep the car following along with the curve without veering too far into the inner wall or too far out into the oncoming traffic lanes.  We kept driving that way–three hands on the wheel–all the way through the curve so I could feel the incremental shifts he made to the left and to the right as we guided the car together.

The Tension of the Curve

I’ve shared before about the beauty of walking the labyrinth:

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.

Similarly, I think walking our spiritual path can sometimes feel like driving a car on a curving road.  In order to keep moving forward along the curve, we have to do a lot more work, constantly–yet gently–correcting the wheel as we go.  Jerking the wheel or turning too far one way or the other can veer the car too far and cause a crash.  Balancing and holding in tension are needed to keep the car moving safely and continuing to follow the path laid out ahead.

The Letting Go

There is also an invitation to let go of the desire for the path we are on to be straight.  We can’t control whether the path laid out for us is straight or curved.  We are not promised an easy life devoid of difficulty and suffering.  The path we are invited to take is in fact narrow and hidden, often overlooked even by those who are searching for it–perhaps simply because the path does not turn out to be what they expected.

The obscurity of the path is in itself an invitation to seek out companionship as we journey.  Driving on a curving road requires confidence and a gentle but firm hand on the wheel.  Sometimes we may welcome a third hand stretching out to help us get a feel for what that balance is like.  And sometimes, that third hand may be ours, stretching out to another wheel to lend our confidence and trust in a fellow pilgrim’s capacity to learn to hold in tension what is necessary to keep following the curve all the way through.

As we continue our journey in this season of Advent, consider the curves in the path laid out for you.  What are you being invited to hold in tension as you gently correct your wheel?  How are you being invited to support and trust your fellow pilgrims as you grow into your capacity with confidence together?

Monday Meditation: Learning to be Safe

Monday Meditation: Learning to be Safe

If you’ve been around Sacred Pilgrim for a while, you might be aware that my husband and I adopted a second puppy upon moving to Kansas and named her Eleven after the character in the TV show Stranger Things.  Like her namesake, our little weirdo has a history of neglect and abuse in her first short months of life before we adopted her. Ele, along with her older sister Starbuck (so named for the rambunctious and rebellious yet tender-hearted character in the TV show Battlestar Galactica), is learning to hold space with me both in spiritual direction sessions and when recording new episodes of the Daily Lectio Divina podcast. (You may hear them in the background of the recordings from time to time, sniffing and sighing, as they learn along with us what it is to attend patiently to the presence of the Holy in each sacred and ordinary moment.)  I am often led during these times to reflect on the unexpected ways these sweet, energetic puppies draw my attention to or mirror or even teach me about something in my own spiritual journey.

When we first met her in her foster-mom’s living room, Ele was a tiny, terrified, frozen-pup.  She would not let us touch her.  She would not let us sit near her.  So, of course, we just had to take her home.  Four months later, Ele is an entirely different dog.  She is unfailingly happy and playful, hopping spasticly all over the place and entertaining us with her helicopter-wagging tail.  She has learned that when we leave we always come back. She knows we are her family and that this is her home.

There is trust, but it is incomplete.  There is still work to be done.

Starbuck is an infinitely friendly and social puppy who loves attention and always wants to touch some part of her body to some part of ours–a head on the knee, a paw on the foot, her entire body strewn across a lap–when she naps.   Ele, on the other hand, wants to be close but struggles to drop her defenses. Although she initiates closeness with us, she discovers that the feeling of being close triggers resistance and fear that overwhelm her.  Ele sees by Starbuck’s example that we can be trusted, but she is still learning what experiencing trust feels like.

These days, Ele likes to slowly inch her way across the couch until eventually her head and front paws are resting in my lap while the rest of her body is next to me.  She will curl up in the crook of my arm where she can rest against me without being in my lap.  She will look up at me with her sweet puppy face and lick my chin before resting hers on my arm.  If I move toward her to pull her closer, she hops away with great haste, but then she creeps back.

Sometimes we let her run away and just wait for her to come back and try again to be close.  Letting her back away and then decide to come back teaches her that she has a choice and that, no matter what she decides, we will not behave any differently toward her.  Other times we force her to tolerate being held when she wants to run away; we ignore her wiggling until she finally gives up and goes to sleep.  This teaches her that when we do choose to hold her, she has to accept our decision, which allows us to keep her safe when circumstances require it.  Both ways of relating to Ele foster trust between us and help her establish a healthy understanding of her role in our “pack.”  Both ways teach her that she is safe and that we will keep her safe, whether she is physically near to us or not.

How like Ele I feel when I draw close to God.  I long to be close–but not too close!  Sometimes I dictate the terms of our relationship, and God patiently waits for me as I back away and then try again and again to come back.  Other times, I am overwhelmed by God’s closeness and struggle to let go of the resistance and learn to rest in God’s presence that is stubbornly with and within me–impossible to escape!

As Ele is learning to trust us and to find her safe place in our family, so I am still on the journey toward trusting God and finding my safe place in God’s family.  I am learning to notice and name the resistance and the fear as they arise within me. I am learning to identify what I am holding onto that I am being invited to release.  I am learning to lean in and to rest even when I want to back away.

There is no safer place for Ele than in my presence and in my arms.  There is no safer place for me than in the presence and arms of the One who will never let me go.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
The righteous run to it and are safe. – Proverbs 18:10

What characters in your life’s story might God be using to teach you something about yourself and your relationship to God?  How might God be inviting you to experience closeness and safety for just this moment?