John Rutter’s setting of the Gaelic blessing, “Deep Peace” is playing in the background. I have finished some writing, some house cleaning, put away the laundry and reviewed my calendar for the week… and have a few moments to just sit and Be.
At the silent retreat last month, I had opportunity to do some journaling and praying. My prayers were answered, though not how I expected. Not at all. And yet as I re-read my journal entry, I realized the words were still true:
In God’s silence, in God’s seeming inactivity, so much is going on. Just like the frozen pond in winter, with the peepers and fish buried deep in the bottom muck, things may be still, but they are forming. Within me, there is also — a deeper, cognitive, spiritual and intrinsically peaceful level of change in my soul.
Would I have known the depths of a yearning for this as-yet unknown Call had I not been still enough to hear it? The quiet is unforced, just as God’s leading, not changed by my wishes but shaped by God’s wisdom.
There is comfort in knowing this… deep within, All is Well. There is so much NOISE in keeping Silence. Well, non-noise, really. And in all of this non-noise, there are reminders of life and hope and peace… surrounding and filling me. There is so much to hear that I can only BE in it.
I know this Deep Peace, though I have no way of explaining it… only being IN it. Though I still wrestle and complain, (and yes, ask my ‘WHYs’ and ‘WHY NOTs’) I still walk in a place of abiding Love.
I share all this because, I suspect that you, who stumble onto this blog, have your own questions and doubts just sitting there, too. And I believe, down to my toes, that even with unknown answers, it is Enough to just Be. Here. Now. In the Presence of the Divine…
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.
My day at Dayspring Retreat Center was, again, full of beauty, stillness and peace. I forget how much I enjoy the time in silence. The Divine speaks so loudly through Creation! The photos above capture some of the moments of our conversation…
In the chatter of the tree limbs banging one against another, You are there.
In the whisper of the wild grasses, bending and dancing in the wind, You are there.
In the utter silence on the path between the pines, You are there.
In the muddled outlines of trees reflected on the pond, You are there.
In the blooms of lichens and mushrooms, You are there.
In all the twists and turns of the vines, and of my going out and coming in, You are there.
My day in silence reminds me That I know that I know that I know that I KNOW You are there.
For the first time in 21 years, neither one of our daughters are going back-to-school. Both are college graduates. Both are making inroads on the job market. Both are strong, lively, caring young women. But there’s no “Back-to-School” this year. It’s now “Back-to-Something-Else”!
From their public school days, I don’t miss the homework assignments that the student does not understand. I don’t miss the “creative” book report assignments. I sure as hell don’t miss the group projects. (And I suspect my daughters would agree!)
There’s plenty of appointments on my calendar. But there’s no dorm room to fill. No sweaty elevators or staircases. No jaunt to buy desk supplies or refills for the printer. No awkward good-byes (and tears by Mom in the car on the way home).
I gotta tell ya, it feels a little weird.
Ok, a lot weird. But in a good kind of way.
Now our years now fall into the natural seasons of Creation. The year doesn’t reboot in September every year. Instead, each new day is a new start.
I’ve put a new practice back in my life called The Daily Examen. You can use the website or an app (scroll to the bottom for the links). You can write out your own questions for daily reflection. It doesn’t matter how as long as you do it.
When the house is quiet in the evening, I pause and do a mental reset. I wait. Sometimes I worry. I pray. Sometimes, I rage. But always, I feel re-engaged and ready for sleep.
So whatever your fall season brings, I invite you to embrace it. With questions. With honest reflection. With integrity. And then with action.
I came across a blog post that reminded me what I need to do to continue to do this work of hospice chaplaincy. Hugh Hollowell quoted the advice given him by Bart Campolo:
He told me that if I knew I was going to walk across the desert tomorrow, I should be gorging myself with water tonight. Likewise, he said, if I know that tomorrow I will be surrounded by ugliness, I should strive to gorge myself with beauty to prepare for it. My days are pretty ugly at times. So he insisted I hang at museums, read good books, watch good films, read poetry and play in my garden. All in the relentless pursuit of beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness I will encounter.
Stunningly simple. But so true.
On a daily basis, I sit with patients, families and other staff as we walk the final chapters of someone’s life. There’s hard questions, honest reflection and a lot of grace. I’m grateful I have the job that I do, but it becomes wearisome.
I felt the weight of my work this morning when I woke up. It took me a while to get moving and start the weekend’s chores. None of the work was rocket science, just the necessary tasks of any other full-time worker. Stuff like laundry. Vacuuming. Sorting through piles of crap. The final vacuuming and straightening after the Christmas decorations were packed away. But I just didn’t have the energy. The last week has been incredibly stressful… Not necessarily because of the work with patients, but the accompanying …uh… Fertilizer that seem to stink up the air. (I’m sure you know what I mean!)
So I asked myself… What are the things in my life that allow me to gorge myself with beauty? What do I need to keep myself focused, content and energized?
I came up with a short list… Perhaps I’ll add to it as the weeks go by. As I read over the list, I found it intriguing that the list was mostly activities of an introverted nature. For an extrovert, it gave me pause. It is because the nature of my work is challenging at times? Do I need a balance of group events and quiet reflection? Yes… I think so. I have been engaged in my activities of choice and it hasn’t been “enough.”
The cloud cover is denser. The trees are grey. The garden is silent and sleeping. I’m not a fan of winter.
The shorter days get to me. When I’m visiting my hospice patients and it’s getting dark before 5 p.m., I find myself drooping. I get home to a list of chores: dinner, dishes, laundry, and some days even finishing my charting. I’m not happy. I am one who flourishes in the light.
For the last couple of years I’ve tried to keep a sense of where I am emotionally as the days get shorter and shorter. I find that I am short-tempered, and as much as I am an extrovert, I don’t want to deal with people. So as we moved from the Fall Equinox towards the Winter Solstice this year, I made some intentional shifts in my thinking and my practice.
1. I use my “Light Clock” in the mornings as I’m getting ready for work. I need sunlight, even at 6 a.m. There’s one downstairs in the main living area… and one in our bedroom. It helps!
2. I counteract my growing grumpiness by engaging in “A Month of Thanksgivings” in November. Now I get that some people HATE it when people take a whole month on Facebook with posts on what they are thankful for. I get it. I spent last November (2013) hoping for a job — that I didn’t get and it depressed me. But I tried to be intentional in my thankfulness, because I do have much to be thankful for in my life. This year was easier than last year, but I still had to work at it.
3. I am pro-active in helping to plan and lead a “Longest Night” service at our church. The time of Winter Solstice is difficult for many people. Sitting at the bedside of a patient last week, as I sang an Advent hymn to him (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”), he opened his eyes and said, “I am ready. God can come now.” His family would have preferred he make it to Christmas. His heart and his cancer didn’t oblige. I know they will walk through these last days before Christmas and beyond with heavy hearts. And I know there are many who are struggling to be joyful in a time when everything is wrong.
The Longest Night or “Blue Christmas” services you hear about vary from church to church, as we each find our way through the scriptures and the words of Hope that come with Advent, and the longing and waiting for Christmas. Our church tends to be on the contemplative side, with space for writing, thinking, creating and worshipping.
The service is also one of intentionality: we do not want to stay in the Dark. With quiet, with prayer, and with others, we take one step and another towards the promised Hope found in Christ. We don’t tell each other to “cheer up”… we walk together in our shared struggles and dashed dreams.
This year, with the help of my family, we created a 3-circuit labyrinth in the church’s Chapel. (I’ll share more about how they did it in another post.) The room was dark, lit only by the lights at our feet and some Christmas lights and candles on the perimeter of the room. There was soft music playing and the room had a other-worldly feeling about it, one where the distance between heaven and earth was a very “thin place.”
I had spent over an hour the night before trying to figure out how to do this by myself and ended up being frustrated. A little simple math and geometry, and they had the whole labyrinth done in less than 2 hours!
As I pondered this, I thought about what God had shown me in this liminal space:
– Even though I am frustrated and sad, I need others. I need to know there is another day coming, where the Light will return. I take this as validation that my November postings of Thankfulness are a good spiritual discipline, not only for myself, but for others.
– There’s options I have not always considered…. and there’s strength in numbers. I especially need others to help me get past my frustrations and see that there other ways to do things.
– Rarely does one make the journey from darkness to Light alone. It is almost always overcome-able if you have friends for the journey.
– The practice of gratefulness, for me, is essential. That means doing a little year-end Facebook meme (and knowing that while the year wasn’t perfect, it was full of God’s goodness. I just have to look for it.) That also means I don’t get sidetracked or feel guilty if I engage being thankful. (You’d be surprised — or maybe not — at how people can get snarky about “brag-booking” when in truth I am trying to stay positive.)
– I found ways to enjoy Christmas music all-month long. I am an educated Church musician, and I’ll break all those “Advent rules” and sing Silent Night in Advent. I’ll sing it to my patients who may or may not make it to Christmas. And I’ll sing with heart full of gratitude for the coming Light. Jesus.