I write for a local ministry's newsletter once a month. For awhile now, I've looked back through old writing and offered that for their publication, but this month I wanted to share something new. Problem was, I didn't have any "fresh" contemplative experience to speak of (it's a contemplative newsletter) and I realized you can't force contemplative experience, you can only make yourself available. Sometimes, even that feels like it's asking too much.
In the end, I ended up sending this poem I wrote the other day. It seems that one key to contemplative awareness is the willingness to show up where we are, as we are.
Some mornings, it’s easier
I’d rather trim
So, I do.
* This piece of writing is 6 years old. Much has changed in those years and much has stayed the same.
All four kids took turns rummaging through the large metal pot that my husband uses to store old nuts, bolts, washers, and nails. After choosing their wares, they made robots, tiny friends composed of wing bolts and screws. They each made three or four and named them based on appearance and abilities.
I see wet swim towels and pancake batter going bad.
What more is there to be seen? What's there but not apparent at first glance? How does a wider lens allow a more deeply grounded sense of reality?
Sample Schedule (subject to change):
9:00 Arrive and Settle In (beverages and snacks available)
10:00 Open Retreat Time
1:00 Open Retreat Time
3:00 Closing Graces
Location: Still Waters Retreat, Carlisle, PA
Cost: $40 (please contact Kelly if cost is a barrier)
6 Spaces Available
Registration deadline: Monday, the week of the retreat
Quiet Days emphasize time for silence and solitude and will be held in a contemplative atmosphere. Though you will hopefully see and meet some new faces, the primary aim of the day is to offer time to connect to yourself and listen for the voice of the Divine. If you're looking for conversation or intellectual stimulation, these days won't be a good fit for you.
- a This Contemplative Life Community composition
I've started a small private community over on fb, connected to my business page. It's a slow space where participants are invited to take a "long, loving look at the real." Visit the link above to lean more and asked to be connected. The poem above grew out of members' responses to a question on this page: Where are you finding grace this summer?
I decided I would swim every day we were there.
That was Sunday night, after we arrived and ate dinner at the little cottage we were renting along a private lake. The kids hit the water that night, but John and I sat on the shore watching – grateful to have arrived, grateful for a moment’s distance between us and four kids.
Questions to Carry: Is there a change you long for, a baptism into something new you can't quite name? Is there some way you could pair your longing with a small, intentional, embodied practice - like swimming or sitting on a swing or gazing at a flower? Perhaps your perspective would be broadened if you committed to one small immersive experience on a daily basis - even just for a week.
What kind of space does your heart long for? How do you reflect the spirit of God in the spaces you've been given?
Learn from the things that are already in the place where you wish you were not. – Padraig O’Tuama in The Shelter, (p.9)
a little scarier and
These were not conversations I wanted to be having, not decisions I wanted to be making. I didn't want to be googling "best dryer brands" or messaging people on fb marketplace for the dimensions of their used washing machines. And, even though a new washing machine is a miracle in itself, I really didn't want to be riding in the old red pickup truck to Home Depot (where everything was on back order) or Lowes.
I struggled to see how God or spirituality might be part of the day I found myself in. But I tried to stay present. I tried to have patience with the sales woman who could not get us what we wanted when we wanted it. I tried to remember her humanity as well as my own.
I tried, again, to find patience for the salesman at Lowes, who was a bit of a talker ,when all I wanted to know is which items were in stock. Looking back, I can see that it's hard to connect with people, hard to look them in the eye, when you don't want to be where you are, don't want to connect with your own circumstances or yourself.
I'm sure we seemed worried and stressed, but we lightened up a bit once a decision was made. The salesman got chattier still when he found out where we live and he somehow rambled on to the topic of pets, cats in particular. In the end, holding our receipt hostage, he told us a story about "the best cat we ever had," a small cat name Pickles.
This year, as I journey through Eastertide (the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost), I'm struck by the importance of touch in Jesus' post-resurrection encounters.
During this time last year the reality of the pandemic became clear and people, the world over, were forced to come to terms with a loss of touch. No more handshakes, no hugs, no holding the hands of our dying loved ones. In this way, many of us have experienced for a year or more, what Jesus and his followers experienced during the three days he lay in the tomb.
Theologians note the theme of touch is important in these gospel accounts because the disciples need to know that Jesus isn't a ghost, that physical, not just spiritual resurrection is at the heart of what's transpired.
But I'm seeing things from a different angle in this mid-pandemic year. The importance of touch post resurrection, reminds me that Jesus had close physical relationships with people throughout the entirety of his life and ministry. No only did he regularly touch the sick and untouchable, he also reclined with his disciples at dinner tables. He bumped knees, patted shoulders. He hugged. He shared physical camaraderie with those closest to him.
So it's no wonder that post-resurrection experiences include his body as well. Jesus shows his hands and side to the disciples, he eats fish and wipes his mouth with the back of a scarred hand, he blesses bread and tears it in two. He kneels on a sandy beach, arranging drift wood to build a fire, cooking fish on pronged sticks then distributes it among the disciples just back from fishing.
In these stories - in Mary Magdalene's apparent bear hug for Jesus in the garden, in tactile Thomas' brazen declaration about his need to not just see, but touch the risen Christ, and in Jesus' free acceptance and participation in it all - I find affirmation of the pain and reality of our loss of touch in this past year. I find affirmation that touch and bodily presence matters. I find myself knowing that Jesus understands the loss we've experienced and our longing and excitement at the potential to return to normal physical interactions.
For this, I am grateful.
* * *
How do you respond to fact of Jesus' bodily existence? Read a few of the pos-resurrection narratives and notice what actions Jesus is performing - is he walking, talking, touching? In what ways is his physical body present?
Spend some time in prayer with Jesus. Imagine him physically present. How does he sit - beside you? Across from you? In what ways does Jesus' physical presence impact the way you are with your own body?
This morning, I overheard my daughter reassuring our highly anxious indoor cat. "You have everything you need, Perfect," she said.
Due to her anxiety, Perfect mostly lives in my bedroom - napping on the bed and birdwatching through the glass of eight large windows. She rarely meows, refuses to sit in a lap, and keeps to herself most days. But she does get quite communicative sometimes, at the beginning or end of the day.
If you happen to be upstairs at such a time, she'll catch you in the hallway with a wide-mouthed but nearly silent, "eh." Hardly loud enough to hear, this is her most urgent cry. If you respond by making eye contact, she will lead you down the hallway, looking back frequently, urgently checking to be sure you're following, until she reaches my bedroom where her water and food bowls sit.
"Eh!" she declares, when you reach her bowls. She looks up to be sure you see what she means and rubs against your legs and the doorframe with her tail on high alert. Most often she already has food and water, plenty.
I don't know why she leads us there, so urgently, like Lassie leading Timmy's parents to the well where Timmy has once again fallen in and is in danger of drowning. I often hold extended conversations with Perfect there in the doorway, with her food and water bowl nearby.
"What?" I ask. "What do you need?"
"Eh," she says in reply. Sometimes she just opens her mouth in the shape of a meow and not a single sound comes out.
This, I know, is what happened with my daughter this morning. Perfect found her in the hallway, getting ready for school, and led her urgently to the bowls, which we already full.
"You have everything you need, Perfect," my daughter assured her.
The compassion in those words, the reassurance touched me deeply. I was reminded of the well-known Wendell Berry poem, The Wild Geese, in which geese seen flying overhead invite the poet and reader to return to trust; to return to the "ancient faith" in which it is known that "what we need is here."
I have seen this poem, or excerpts of it, shared so frequently online and at retreats. It offers a reassurance we so often need. It offers an invitation to trust and, somehow, manages to convince us that such trust (as is so often exhibited in the natural world) is not foolhardy.
Those words are a comfort to me, but I wonder how they might sit with those who truly lack basic needs. What if, say, Perfect's food bowl was empty, her water bowl bone dry?
Wendell's words don't hit me, though, as a pat response to urgent need. His words invite us, unmet needs and all, to a trust that runs deeper and wider than our current abundance or lack. Maybe he's hinting at something like those familiar marriage vows - for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health - offering an affirmation that there is a current of love that runs deeper than any current circumstance.
Maybe that's something of what I read into my daughter's words this morning - a comment, not just on the Perfect's current situation, but on the truth of her life. "You have everything you need, Perfect."
Everything you need.
May it be so.