Monday, July 17, 2017

Mail Worth Crossing the Road For . . .


Our mailbox sits across a busy state road from our house.  It's an old metal box equipped with a nifty yellow flag that pops up whenever the door is opened.  This way, we can tell at a glance, whether the mail is here yet.  

I never cross the road unless that flag is up - it's that reliable.  But sometimes, when the yellow flag beckons, I brave traffic, rain or snow only to discover a handful of junk mail - a flyer from a credit card company or a weekly bundle of local retailer flyers.  Those days, I feel disappointed, and like a little bit of a sucker.  I was looking forward to something good - or at least something useful, but instead I risked my life for a few pieces of paper that will go directly into the recycling bin.  

Maybe you know the feeling?

What if I could promise you one piece of mail each month that didn't disappoint?  I want to invite you to sign up for my newsletter, Quiet Lights, where you'll receive more of the same writing you've come to expect here on This Contemplative Life.  Quiet Lights is bi-monthly (during the school year) and has slowed to once a month over the summer.  

No spam, no junk mail, just a few good words straight from me to you.  Sound good?  You can sign up right here to get the latest post :



Now, if you'll excuse me, the yellow flag is up across the street and I've got my fingers crossed that it's something good today. 


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Hare, A Shovel, A Pale Blue Envelope

(photo via Unsplash: Gary Bendig)

I walked out the back door and circled around toward the front of the house one recent Saturday morning, looking for the shovel.  I suspected it had been left leaning against the porch after a recent gardening project.  A few weeks earlier, we had pulled out yet another dying shrub and planted a few annuals.  The annuals – mostly Zinnias and Sunflowers sown from seed – sprouted and grew about an inch tall, then disappeared.  We figured someone ate them, most likely a rabbit.  

I was hunting for the shovel so I could plant some things in another flower bed, this one beside the Little House.  

I walked down our paved driveway toward the road and noticed the yellow metal flag on our mailbox across the street was standing at full salute.  I saw no sign of the shovel along the porch and continued toward the road, aiming to fetch the now day-old mail.  Along the shoulder of the road, just in front of the mail box, sat a large, speckled hare.  I figured it would run off as I crossed the road. 

The rabbit stayed still, though, as I approached.  Beyond the mail box, the gravel and grass gives way to a giant field of feed corn, a tide of green that rises slowly each day.  I stopped, just beside the rabbit, my sandal-ed feet pausing in the small strip where grass and gravel collide.  The rabbit's eyes bulged.  They were enormous, not right at all for a hare its size, and its breath came in short heavy pants.  The fur along one side of its body was rumpled and I leaned down to look for injuries. 

I couldn’t see any blood, so I reached down with my right hand to feel the rabbit’s back.  Its speckled fur was coarse and dense.  I gently pushed the rabbit toward one side, then another, looking, again, for injuries.  I wondered at its bulging eyes, were they rimmed with blood?  

Observing the hare, with its unknown injuries, I felt a familiar weight of responsibility descend.  I considered picking it up and carrying it to the house.  It would likely die before long, but I hated to think of it struggling through its last hours on the side of the road with the sun beating down.  Also, there was our dog to consider, and the cat – I didn’t want them crossing the busy road to catch it.

I turned to the mailbox, pulled out our mail, and locked down the bright yellow flag.  I noted a pale blue envelope – real mail, not junk – wrapped in the day's advertisements and crossed the street, heading back to the house.  

I decided to get a towel to carry the rabbit.  Once it was safely inside, I'd ask my husband to take a look at it.    

Walking toward the house, I reflected on the foolishness of nursing a hare to health.  I, who routinely stands along the fence kvetching with our neighbors about the havoc rabbits wreak in gardens and flower beds.  I remembered the plush Angora rabbits I recently petted at my friend’s farm, their dense cashmere-like coats so different from this wild hare’s hide.  Mostly, I hoped the kids wouldn't catch wind of the rabbit before I could decide what to do with it.      

It was the first morning, in over a week, that all six of us were home together.  To celebrate, I had gone to the grocery store after work the night before to buy Buttermilk, intent on wowing us all with a new pancake recipe.  I envisioned a delicious, family breakfast, but the recipe was a flop and I gave up on the lumpy bowl of batter after producing a few half-cooked pancakes with a texture like silly-putty. 

My husband, John, was in the hot kitchen trying to salvage my mess.  I found him there and lured him outside to explain the rabbit situation.  Armed with a beach towel, and fully prepared for a rescue operation, I led him across the road.  The rabbit was still there, but had moved a little, turned toward the field of corn.  John guessed, by the way it moved, that its foot was broken.  He also commented on the bulging eyes.  

“Can rabbits get rabies?” he asked.  He didn’t want to touch it.  I mentioned I already had. 

I bent down, then, to look at its face and saw that its nose was bloodied and raw.  “Its face is bleeding,” I said. 

“I don’t think it’s going to make it,” he said. 

“I don’t think so either,” I said.  “But I don’t want to leave it here.”

“Should I throw it out into the corn field,” he asked, “or get something and just hit it so it dies?”

I hated the thought of whacking it over the head, but I hated the thought of its slow, confused, demise even more.  “Do you think you could break its neck?” I asked, thinking of the young rooster we recently dispatched.

“I’m just going to hit it,” he said.  “I’ll get a bag and the shovel.”

“I can’t find the shovel,” I said as we crossed the road together. 

It seemed we had come full circle. 

He found the shovel, I know not where, and headed across the street with it and a plastic bag for the body.  But he returned, soon, with the empty bag.  “It went off into the corn field,” he said.  “It was already pretty far out.”

//

Afterwards, I stood in the disastrously dirty kitchen, leaning against the counter, and opened the pale blue envelope.  It held a card with a small pile of cash tucked inside along with the signatures of three dear friends.  They had asked, a few weeks earlier, whether we would accept a little money to help us do something fun with the kids this summer.  

//

When I think of these two events - the injured hare and the pale blue envelope - coinciding, I am reminded of one of my favorite poems, 'Shoulders,' by Naomi Shihab Nye.  In her poem, Nye describes a man cautiously crossing a street in the rain.  The man carries his sleeping son.  As he walks, 

"His ear fulls up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy's dream 
deep inside him."

Nye concludes her poem with a prediction,

"We are not going to be able 
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling."

Nye's poem gets at the heart of what I was doing that Saturday, what my friends were doing through their inquiries and gift.  We were each crossing the street, pondering how another's need might intersect with the abundance of our own lives.  It's not like I heard the hum of the rabbit's dream deep inside me, but I did hear the hum of a deeper truth.  All of the many roads that divide us are nothing compared to the impulses of Love and Compassion that bind us all together.    

(Click here to read or listen to the full poem.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

It Was Good

Photo credit: Damien Taylor - 
Novelist Billy Coffey gave a great talk and reading Saturday evening.

This past weekend, three writers gathered two dozen more behind barn walls.  In a square room, wrapped in wood, floored in concrete, we sat around white plastic tables in folding chairs while a fresh breeze blew in through barn doors thrown open wide. 

We held space.

We held silence.

We honored words – ours and others’ and others’ still.

Then we held more silence, listened, and held space for words unspoken and words yet unheard. 

We pruned words – ours and others.  We trimmed back the dead, exposed new shoots, sank small sleeping seeds deep in darkness and watered them with attention and simple care.  We plotted out the landscape of our days, made plans to fence in empty spaces right in the middle of our back home, work-a-day, noisy, crowded lives.  We envisioned fertile ground, held apart, separate, where words and silence might wed, like water and sun, and bring forth bright blooms, arching vines, gnarled roots.     

Blue sky, rolling hills, and passing clouds wove mountain magic around us and we believed, again, in ourselves, in each other, and in the truth that “what we need is here.”  We found ourselves both hungry and fed, both giving and receiving; and it was good.  

//

Friends, I am just back from helping to lead the annual God's Whisper Writers' Retreat in Radiant, VA.  We've already set the date (June 22-24) for next year's retreat and will have the website up and running soon.  Meanwhile, you might want to nurture your writer's heart, by signing up for Andi's Discover Your Writing Self course which begins July 1st. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sidewalk Flowers: Carry, Gather, Spread

I had the joy of speaking at our little church this past Sunday and, because I got to choose the text, I focused on 1 John 4:7-19.  I talked about the love of God that we are made from and for - the love of God that abides in us and invites us to abide in it.  

Before all of that, though, I shared the video below of the children's book, "Sidewalk Flowers," by JonArno Lawson.  I told the congregation how flowers - particularly wildflowers - are a symbol, for me, of God's love.  I told them to pay attention to the use of color in the book, to pay attention to the flowers.  I told them we can be like that little girl - carrying, gathering and sharing the love of God.  

Maybe you need a gentle reminder?  

You are loved by God - this is who you are - God's loved child.  God's love is in you, like a seed, just waiting to unfurl, to sink roots down deep, to grow you up into your one and only vocation as one who loves and is loved.  

May you carry love with you today.  

May you gather and spread the love of God wherever you go.   



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How It Has Always Been



Summer hit our house like a freight train when the kids got off the bus last Friday at 1:15.  It's all good, but intense.  I'm still writing, but with preaching this Sunday and preparing for next week's (!) writing retreat, I didn't get my usual post out on Monday.  In lieu of anything new, I'm sharing this poem that first arrived in June 2014. Enjoy! Also, scroll down for a preview of some of the paintings I've been working on this spring. 


How It Has Always Been


The vicar general, shying away from ‘paganism’ hangs back and sits under a tree reading the guidebook.  I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. – Thomas Merton describing his visit to the sleeping Budhas in "The Asian Journal"

My son comes walking to me, barefoot, 
across the wet summer grass.
The morning light lays soft around him  
and in that moment I see how it is,
how every child is a contemplative, 
exposed in every way to the Now.  

“This is what you must become,” Jesus whispers 
and I see now how it has always been, God 
and his children, barefoot, the morning grass 
cool and wet beneath their feet.


* I stopped by Infinity Graphics today to get some prints of recent paintings. These bright beauties (the picture is a little dark) will soon be available to purchase as small wooden block paintings. Stay tuned.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Miss. Ann's Zinnia's (The Kingdom of God is Like . . . )


Sunday afternoon I left my husband with seed packets of Zinnias and Dahlias and walked up, across the yard, to look for a spade in our overflowing garage.  The planting of those flowers, four packets, was what I requested for Mother’s Day this year. 

I don’t know why planting seems, for me, an impossible task.  Maybe it’s that simple act of letting go and watching the impossible seed fall into darkness; maybe it’s the familiar struggle of facing an unknown future.  Whatever it is, my husband plants the garden each year and I, in time, tend it. 

Walking up from the garden, across the green expanse of lawn, I looked over at our neighbor’s yard.  They have a small, fenced in, vegetable garden and the wife, Ann, has a separate flower garden.  Their garden, like most in early spring, is a miracle waiting to happen – a tilled expanse of soil, a pregnant pause.  My eyes saw the emptiness there, the open waiting space, but in my mind I remembered the Zinnias. 

During our first summer here, we planted a good-sized vegetable garden filled with the practical means of nutrition.  Our neighbors did the same in their fenced-in plot, but around the outside edge of the fence grew large, splashy, red, purple and pink flowers – a fiesta of color that started blooming in late summer and stood strong into the fall. 

Oh how I envied Miss. Ann's Zinnias.  I eyed her flowers hungrily and finally, in September as the flowers were beginning to fade, asked if I might over and cut a bunch.  From that moment on, I was hooked. 

The following summer, I bought a packet of seeds and grew my own riot of reds and pinks.  I cut them and filled our house with vases.  I carried them to friends’ houses.  Everyone loved the Zinnias.

Then, last year, we made a farm stand for selling fresh, free-range chicken eggs.  I again planted my Zinnias (or rather, my husband did) and, when they grew and bloomed, I started cutting large happy bunches of purples and pinks, oranges and yellows and selling them in old tin cans at the farm stand for $1 each. 

It was a real steal for fresh cut flowers and they flew off of the farm stand’s two tilted shelves.  A friend suggested I should charge more.  But I refrained. 

I was already making a profit, but, what’s more, I know what it’s like to not be able to afford fresh flowers.  I know, also, how beauty feeds the soul.  I also know the feeling of finding a wonderful deal, how it opens our hearts and minds, makes us feel the expansive mystery of goodness and provision in the world that’s so often buried in layer after layer of unmet need. 

I wanted people to feel what I felt in my garden, the sensation of wonder and delight, the absurdity of so much color available for mere ornamentation.  

Returning to the garden with the trowel in hand that Sunday afternoon, I thought, the kingdom of God is like those Zinnias.  The Kingdom of God – heaven in our midst – blazes and waves in the place where it is planted.  It attracts the eye, captures the heart, fills those who are awake enough to notice, with longing.  The Kingdom of God is like a packet of seeds, bought for $1.49, that yields one hundred fold.  The kingdom of God is color cut and watered in an old tin can, bright joy on the side of the road bought with a handful of change – a deal too good to be true.   

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Other Virtues



Memorial day weekend plays a dual role in modern America - offering an opportunity to honor those who died in active military service and ushering in the beginning of the summer holidays. Here's hoping summer offers us all an opportunity to practice the art of playfulness and live in awareness of the great freedom and vulnerability of our humanity.