Monday, September 29, 2008

Sabbatical Reflection, September 29

Today I am thankful, filled with gratitude for another day of life; for warm sun (just one more day before fall fully sets in), Flickers scrambling about on fir trees, racing squirrels, and a body that can dance and sing and pray.

This week I want to carry this poem from Mary Oliver in my back pocket.

blessings + peace,



by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sabbatical Reflection, September 22

One my persistent delights in life are public libraries. Barb can tell you that I will go out of my way to visit a new King County Library (our current system) whenever we happen upon one.

I remember how at age eight my mom took me to the old Carnegie Public Library on Market Street (now an antique store) in Ballard to get my first library card. The little yellow index cards asked for name, address, and phone number. At the bottom of the card there was a place for you to sign your name. At that time in order to get your own card you had to be able to sign your name. I’ve been checking out books ever since.

In the King County Libraries my favorite shelf is called “Paperback Picks.” There I often find books that I have wanted to read but never got around to putting on hold. My “Paperback Pick” last week was How Starbucks Saved My Life: a son of privilege learns to live like everyone else by Michael Gates Gill. I loved this book!

Each chapter begins with a quote printed on a Starbucks coffee cup. One that called out to me went like this:

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life. – a quote from Anne Morriss, a Starbucks Guest from New York City

Something about this quote awoke a fierce feeling in me that went something like, YES! I want to be strong, committed, and clear!

The most immediate application of that thought led me to work really hard in the last week to really, really, really, learn my music for our upcoming Esoterics concert. I want to be confident and strong in my singing.

I took on this project because I was on sabbatical and had the time for it. I took on this project because I love to sing. I took on this project because I love to sing with Barb and it was something we could do together as part of our sabbatical time. I took on this project to support our director, Eric Banks, who has thrown his heart and soul into writing a unique piece of music.

But when it came to time to follow through and I looked at the rather arduous schedule again, I found myself wishing I was doing something else, feeling incompetent musically, and generally thinking I had made a big mistake.

What I remembered in this past week, I learned from InterPlay: we get into and out of trouble in little tiny steps.

Measure by measure I began to go over the music. Measure by measure I learned to sing in a new language. Measure by measure my musical confidence began to return.

I still have work to do but I have sent my “internal critic” on a little vacation to an island filled with lush palms, sandy beaches, and a really good book. She is happy for the moment, and so am I.


ps: I hope you will come to one of our concerts. Check out The Esoterics website for more information on times and locations:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sabbatical Reflections, September 15, 2008

This past week Joan Dennehy, Pastor of Findlay Street Christian Church, and I flew to San Jose on Thursday and traveled south to Land of Medicine Buddha Retreat Center in Soquel, not far from Santa Cruz in the Redwood forests.

The night before I left, Stan Larsen (a member of QACC who died last December) came to me in a dream and held pine needles under my nose urging me to take in the scent. I took it as a good sign that Stan’s love of the out-doors (he continued to back-pack in the Olympics well into his 90’s) would be with me on this journey.

The retreat center itself is set on the side of a very steep hill at the end of the road. The Redwoods make our Douglas firs look like babies. During our time there the weather turned chilly and the sun barely filtered through the trees and costal fog.

Much earlier in the year Joan and I committed ourselves to attending this facilitator training event for SoulCollage ®. We both love art, we love collage, and we love deepening our understanding of self and soul and leading others along the path of mutual discovery.

Without exactly knowing what we were getting ourselves into we could sense that there was something here for us, so in March we took our hearts (and credit cards) and threw them out over the months to this past weekend in September.

The backbone of SoulCollage are pieces of mat board (usually 5x8 inch) covered over with a background image which in turn hosts another image (or images) that continue to amplify a particular energy.

The idea is to each card reflects one kind of energy of our souls that could be described with the words: I Am the One Who . . . procrastinates over large piles of paper, delights as a happy child, knows melancholy, finds joy in creating with my hands, brings forth fruit from the garden, and so forth. Each energy has its own card so that when you lay out all of the cards you have created it is like looking at a kaleidoscope of your soul!

The SoulCollage process also invites us to name and hold the larger energies that sometimes grab us (some examples might be: The Great Mother, The Warrior, Death, Resurrection, The Creator, The Fool,. . .).

In addition we also make cards for our allies, guides and challengers who have walked upon this earth (for me that list includes Barb, our families and friends, various teachers - some of whom I have studied with and some of whom I have read but never met, pets . . .). There is, of course more to all this than I can describe here but I want you to have a flavor of what we experienced.

The overall idea behind SoulCollage is that the Many (all the parts and pieces of ourselves) are contained in the One. For me, that One is the unity of God-energy that permeates all of creation. In creating SoulCollage cards we bring to consciousness various pieces of our life-energy and allow those parts to be recognized and given voice.

It’s like this: within us, at any given moment, there are a myriad of voices vying for attention: I want another cup of tea. No, you need to start the laundry. Monday is laundry day, remember? What I really want to do is finish that novel.

SoulCollage helps us have a sense of humor about it all and make it easier to choose which voice, which part of the soul, to bring forward in any given moment.

Throughout our time together Joan and I came up with lots of ideas about how to bring this back to our congregations. We hope that some folks in each of our congregations might be willing to sit down with us for a few hours. All we need are some old magazines, a pair of scissors, a piece of mat board, and some glue. It really is that simple.


If you want more information check out the SoulCollage website:

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sabbatical Reflection, September 8

It was a family-full weekend. On Friday grandchildren Maggie (6) and Ambrose (3) spent the night. Our evening outing took us to St. Edwards State Park where the play structure for children is outstanding! Built by community volunteers, they spent the vast majority of their time before construction talking to children about what they liked to play on and around.

Once the volunteers finished their extensive research the actual building of the structure went rather quickly. The result takes kids up and over and down and through a castle-like building. Around the outside of the castle children can swing on bars, walk on a balance beam, play in the sand, climb a rock wall and more!

In the soft evening light of almost fall children jumped and swung and played and swarmed all over the structure. I heard three languages in our time there.

After playing, with Happy Meals in hand for the grandchildren and Kidd Valley burgers for the Nana’s we sat outside Kidd Valley and watched the traffic whiz by on Bothell Way. Meanwhile Maggie and Ambrose were totally mesmerized by two brothers, maybe a year older then each of them, who cavorted freely around the out-door seating area bouncing off the shrubbery, the garbage can, the tables, and each other.

The father sat nearby. He stared off into space seemingly exhausted from a week’s work and unable to summon enough energy to connect, to teach, to do the hard-work of parenting. He uttered not one word to his (from my perspective) completely out-of-control children who off and on strayed (from my perspective) way too close to the busy street. Meanwhile Maggie and Ambrose stared with open mouths at that much mayhem so close at hand.

In all honesty, my heart went out to the dad. Who knows what was going on at work? Who knows, maybe both children are hyper-active? Maybe he chooses his battles wisely and this was not one of them.

On Saturday we dropped the grandkids off at home and took Great Aunt Gladys (102) to a Dahlia Garden in Sea-Tac. This particular garden is in the midst of a residential area. We drove up, got out, and looked at the small garden in the front of the house. Aunt Gladys was not impressed.

She had really wanted to see a Dahlia Garden in Tacoma that she had learned about while watching Martha Stewart. We could not find out which garden that was but found Sea-Tac Gardens practically in her own back yard – which was part of the problem – Aunt Gladys wanted to get out of the Burien area!

We wandered around in the front garden and could see that there were more gardens beyond the gate so we walked on in. From a distance we thought we saw three more rather small gardens. Still unimpressed, Aunt Gladys grumped a bit about how she had seen larger gardens elsewhere. Then it came into view.

Just over a small rise there were thousands and thousands of Dahlias. I have no idea of the acreage; suffice it to say that we did not get around the entire garden. We eventually talked with the owner of the garden who has propagated over forty varieties Dahlias. His life’s work is right there for all to see; beautiful Dahlias laid out row by row and dug up every fall. He does a mail-order business all over the country. Order forms in hand we marked off the ones we intend to plant next spring.

At first glance once can never know the true state of any given situation. From outward appearances we think we know, we make suppositions, we guess, we intuit . . . but unless we open the gate and walk into another’s life we cannot know the extent of the beauty and the pain mingled side-by-side.

For this week I want to remember one of my favorite benedictions by Henri Amiel:

Life is short and we have not much time for gladdening the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Oh, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Sabbatical Reflection, September 1

By nature I am an instruction follower. I frequently read the instruction booklets that come with new equipment and I am forever going on-line to find about how to do things that I’ve never done before.

Last weekend we finished cleaning and pressure washing the deck. Then it rained. And it rained some more. And then it really rained. By the end of the week I could feel the mold creeping back. The instructions on the sealer told us we needed the deck to dry out and we needed 24 hours without rain after sealing and staining.

Discouraged, we scanned the weather forecast each day, and each day the forecast would drift from sun to chance of showers to sun. No matter how carefully we had prepared we could not control the weather!

By Friday, the weather report looked a little more hopeful and I nearly started sealing and staining but a “chance of showers” loomed for the afternoon and I so I worked on yet another house project – removing moss from a brick walkway: truly, in the course of this sabbatical the putty knife and I have become one!

Saturday morning, the sun was shinning, the deck was all dried out (it had not rained on Friday after all). The forecast predicted “very slight chance of showers” early Sunday morning: we went for it! By the end of the day we had finished sealing and staining the deck.

That night the slight chance of showers rained down. Puddles formed on the deck. The sealer remained nearly as wet as when we left it Saturday afternoon. By today, Monday, it is slightly drier and I live in hope that all will be well.

It got me thinking about life in general. You can do all the planning and prep work possible, internalize all the directions and follow them, and if the conditions are not right – it doesn’t matter. Knowing when to move and how to shift becomes an art in itself and we don’t always get it right.

As I’ve worked, my mind has been freed to think about church and its purpose, as well as my life and my purpose. Scraping away at accumulated “smutch” between the boards of the deck or scraping off accumulated moss on bricks I can sense that I’m also removing a sort of plaque that had built up around my soul. I can feel a certain joy beginning to return to me; a tiny bubbling up of simple purpose.

This Sunday we attended worship at the Ananda Community, a blend of east and west that comes out of the tradition of Yoganada, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship. Barb had been active in this community for a number of years and she was able to re-connect with her teachers from that time.

Each worship service we attend offers something of interest and I find myself also longing for our dear home – Queen Anne Christian Church. Thank you for these days of labor and reflection.