On Seeking and Finding Contemplative Experience


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.

With love,
Kelly

Some mornings, it’s easier
to fill the bird feeder
than to fill my soul.


I’d rather trim
the rose bushes
than prune
my heart of its
unnecessary
attachments.


So, I do.
And when
I’m done,
the window
in front of my desk
is brighter,
more open,
and my heart
holds hope


yesterday’s
cardinal will return
and I will
watch him
as he watches
me.


-K. Chripczuk


Question to carry: What task, right in front of you, can you make yourself available to today? Is it possible you might find meaning and presence there?

1


For When There Is Fear


 

"I will always have fear, but I need not be my fears, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act." - Parker Palmer

"More than anything, fear blinds..." - Mark Nepo

To be a person
of faith, is to consent
to life lived blind as a bat,
to be a people of light
walking in darkness.

Faith will teach you
what you need to know
about soaring at night,
listening for the echo
of your own prayers
reverberating back to you.

The way forward is revealed,
always, in relation to the
place where you are.
- K. Chripczuk

I have felt a heaviness of fear lately. Fear for my not-old-enough-to-be-vaccinated-yet children who are back in school. Fear that schools will not be able to stay open as the Delta variant sweeps through. Fear of the life choices I've made - the way they've produced their own unyielding realities. Fear for the level of chaos, death, and destruction rampant in the world today. Maybe you have been feeling it too?

Yesterday, my thirteen-year-old son said it feels like the world is falling apart. My fifteen-year-old daughter replied, "It always feels like to world is falling apart."

He is right. She is right. It is both - the falling apart and the fear of falling apart and the reality that both are and ever shall be. And, so, we acknowledge the fear that is with us, like the sleeping cat in the chair beside me.

But, as Palmer says, we don't have to speak from that place. We don't have to live from there either. While fear may be present and it is not good to pretend it isn't so, it also can be a blinding and binding place to live from. As so, we're invited to step out, even in the midst of great darkness. To beat our wings and soar as though even darkness cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Or, to put it another way, the darkness cannot separate us from the love of God that is with us and for us.

So, name your fears Little Ones, then set them down to rest on the table or chair beside you. Do not be afraid to step out into this dark night, for you were made to shine.

With love & joy,
Kelly

Love Leads Us Out, Love Draws Us Back Again



* 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. 

Then Solomon made a “weapon,” something like nunchucks, by tying nuts on either end of a piece of string. He practiced throwing it until he could get it to wrap around a tree. Then, the other kids joined in with their own string and nut creations. Later, Solomon tied a washer in the middle of the string and, pulling the two ends taunt, observed the washer spinning first in one direction, then another.

This fall, my four kids will be spread among three different schools. Two will climb on separate buses within minutes of each other, heading in opposite directions. Then the other two will ride with me in yet a third direction for drop-off. 

I have three separate Back to School nights listed on the calendar, all requiring babysitting. There are two other Meet the Teacher events that include some, but not all, of the kids. I have large sheaf of papers pinned to the bulletin board filled with teachers’ names, room numbers, and other essential information.  

I feel a bit like that nut tied in the middle of the string, spinning first in one direction, then another, as my kids fly out into the world. How lucky we've been, piled together for the summer, like those nuts and bolts in that old, metal pot. We've clattered around the house and yard together, merging and separating at will. With fall, we're all flung a bit wider, but I'm grateful, always, for the bonds of love and mercy that draw us back together again. 

What do you see?

 



I took this quick picture of our kitchen island the other day. I think it was the morning after my 9 year-olds had their first sleep-over. But, really, the picture might be much the same on any given morning or afternoon. This countertop is a magnet for clutter. I don't have to look at it for long before I feel a rising tide of stress and overwhelm.

I see wet swim towels and pancake batter going bad.

I see my oldest son's dirty shirt, dishes to be washed, and papers that defy categorization. 

I see the lemons we keep forgetting to turn into lemonade; I see a hundred places for the flies who pass through our broken screens to land. 

This is what I see and all of it is true. 

But if I take a deep breath and widen my lens, I also see flowers from a friend (the product of my daughter's first ever summer job). I see silly notes exchanged between my husband and son. I see heaps of fresh produce and a home that's lived in. I see food for our mouths and evidence of friends (for our souls) and the fulness of life lived in the here and now. 

This is what I see and all of it is true. 

The clutter is real, as well as the stress I feel in trying to tame it. The presence and abundance are real too. Both. There is light and darkness here on this kitchen island - blessing and curse, abundance and scarcity. 

I don't seek to pretend one isn't real and cling to the other. I'm not after some pollyanna point-of-view. I'm hoping instead to practice, now and again, the art of widening my lens. 

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?   

Quiet Days

 

Words can satisfy your mind, but silence satisfies your soul. - Nitin Namdeo

Join Spiritual Director, Kelly Chripczuk, for a Quiet Day this fall at beautiful Still Waters Retreat House. This day is designed to be low-program and offer ample time and space to dwell in the depths. Whether you need rest, time in nature or space to journal and pray, Quiet Days offer a container for you to come as you are - even, and perhaps especially, if you don't know what you need. 

Sample Schedule (subject to change):

9:00 Arrive and Settle In (beverages and snacks available)
9:30 Welcome and Centering Prayer or Lectio Divina
10:00 Open Retreat Time
12:00 Lunch (BYO, lunch may be taken in community or in silence depending on your preference)
1:00 Open Retreat Time
3:00 Closing Graces
3:30 Departure

When: Friday October 1

Time: 9:30 - 3:30

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

* Special Notes *

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. 

ALL are welcome to these days, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Contact me at Chripczuk.kelly@gmail.com with questions. 

Register using the secure Paypal link or email me to inquire about other forms of payment.

Choose One

Summer Grace (a collaborative poem)

 


Summer Grace 

is a handful of blueberries 
dropped from the bush to your hand. 
(Some things are given, not 
grasped.) 

is a few days’ reprieve 
from sweltering heat. 
In coolness, freedom 
and possibility blossom. 

is the tireless robin 
who arrives again and again 
with worms for hungry chicks. 
Her energy, like God’s, unfailing. 

is an early morning 
filled with birdsong – 
the sweet natural rhythm 
of living things calms chaos, 
quiets the spirit. 

is a neighbor 
reaching across the divide 
to offer support, 
an incarnation 
of love divine. 

is a grown child 
turned handyman, 
is a surprise reunion, 
and elderberries 
growing and yielding 
fruit where no one planted. 

is offering space – 
is having space to offer – 
to a group in need, is 
a barn filled with food, 
a welcome harvest for hungry souls.

- 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?

Embodied Experiences Expand Perspective (I Swam Every Day)


 

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. 

I didn’t swim that night, but I promised myself I would, every day, for the rest of the week of vacation. And I did. 

I swam because I remembered, vaguely, my spiritual director saying something about swimming being a spiritual experience. I swam, despite the fact that my daughter called out in semi-sincere astonishment every time I slipped off of my teal green float to glide through the murky brown water. “Look! Mom’s swimming!” she cried, as though she had spotted an endangered species or witnessed a rare comet shooting through the night sky. Every afternoon, I swam, and my kids circled me like piranhas, staying within a five-foot radius despite the depth and breadth of a 50-acre lake at their disposal. 

// 

Swimming immerses us in an alternate reality. The body, heavy on shore, is lighter and sleek. And yet, a swimming person often looks very close to drowning. The human body, even afloat, sits low in the water. The open mouth, pulling in air, hovers just inches above the surface. 

Swimming reminds us that the difference between sinking and floating lies in the smallest adjustment of posture. In the water, we don’t have to do great things to make waves that ripple far and wide. 

Maybe some of this is true on land as well. 

// 

I swam every day of our summer vacation, even taking my turn at jumping off the plastic floating dock, plunging into the cool darkness, and coming up into the light with my sinuses filled with water. Swimming back to shore, my head low like a crocodile, I remembered the little girl I once was, the one who “swam like a fish” in the cool, brown lakes of central New York. I thought about how major changes in movies and books are so often heralded by immersion in water, a baptism via rain or river. I prayed quietly then, words slipping through my heart as my body slid through the water, that some change would cling to me, some doorway to a new beginning, even as I bid the lake farewell. 

I swam every day.

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.  

They Left Their Nets Behind

 



From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. . . Matthew 4:18-20 

Inheritance is the word we use to describe the things, tangible and intangible, that are handed down from generation to generation. I imagine a fishing net, in the time of Christ, was one of those things cast down from father to son. A son didn’t choose to be a fisherman so much as he was caught in the net, entangled in its destiny like his father and his father’s father before him. 

I imagine the women in each family – wives, daughters, sisters – mended the nets, perhaps winding linen fibers into rope. Everyone’s hands worked the family nets; everyone’s mouths fed on their harvest. The net, like the sea and the fish in it, stood at the center of life – a mingling of the past and the present, a clear path leading to a predetermined future. 

Simon and Andrew’s hands likely bore the mark of their nets. Their faces and hair were shaped by the wind and sun on the Sea of Galilee, and so also their hands would have been calloused and scarred from gathering and tossing the heavy, wet fibers. Yet when Jesus came, announcing the kingdom of heaven, Simon and Andrew left their nets behind. 

It’s almost as though Jesus, walking along the shore, saw them struggling there like a pair of fish tangled with no means of escape. Then, with ten simple words, Jesus cut them free. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 

The possibility of a break with the past emerges. 

The door to an unimagined future swings wide open. 

They left their nets behind. The callouses, the scars, would stay to remind them. But, they left their nets behind. 

Questions to Carry: What fixed ideas or practices have you blindly inherited? What might you be called to leave behind as you follow Jesus? Ask God to help you discern what no longer serves you well. Listen for Jesus’ own words or invitation to you.

Little House Updates and Virtual Photo Tour


My husband and I made some renovations to the Little House this past winter. My goals were to make the building more functional, spacious, and welcoming for myself and those who meet and gather here. This past week I returned to meeting with Directees in-person and it was such a joy to welcome people to this space again. 

If you live in Central PA and are interested in exploring Spiritual Direction, I'd love to have you stop by for a conversation. I also meet virtually with individuals from all over the world. Interested? Email me or comment below to begin your journey. (Chripczuk.Kelly@gmail.com)  

Virtual Tour:

This is the Little House, my private office and meeting space. It's situated just off our driveway, between our main house and garage. This spring, my husband built this bench and planters to make the entrance more welcoming. 


We were able to make a new seating area (see photo at beginning of post) by removing this old cooktop stove and the cabinet. For now, the wall and fan vent hole have been covered with plywood and painted one of my favorite shades of blue. The whole project was briefly stalled when we got distracted by the idea of placing a little round porthole window in that vent hole. My husband also built the ladder bookshelf (see photo above) that allows me to keep my hoard of papers and books near but not on top of my desk at all times. 




Another big space-saving change included removing a built-in desk that stuck out of this closet (below) and installing a closet door. The closet still offers storage for books and files, but removing the unused desktop bought me several square feet of floor space. It's hard to explain in pictures, but one dream I have for the future is removing this corner entirely and installing a loft bed for over-night guests. 



One of my favorite updates is the new writing desk my husband built (below). After using a child-sized desk for the past seven years, this spacious desk (with my own real office chair) comes as a welcome relief. Plus, I was able to paint it one of my favorite colors: Magenta!


I was planning to sell my old desk to cover the cost of some of these updates, but when I turned it around to move it out of the Little House, I noticed it makes a perfect little altar-table (see below). Now it's just right for a candle, glass of water, and poem or two. 


I also invested in new seating, finally updating my old, oversized Ikea chairs with these spiffy blue Mid-Century modern chairs (below) found on Facebook Marketplace. I'm still on the look-out for new-to-me seating that will be more comfortable than these current chairs. Currently, the Little House comfortably accommodates small groups of about 5-6 adults (message me for details about reserving the space for your group to use). 


This little corner (below) is the last thing visitors see when leaving the Little House and the painting sums up my heart completely. I love having this space for reading, writing, and praying. But most of all, I love offering a space of peace, joy, love, and rest in the midst of this busy overwhelming world. I hope you'll visit some day - in person or online. 


Questions to carry:

What kind of space does your heart long for? How do you reflect the spirit of God in the spaces you've been given?










In the Place Where You'd Rather Not Be


 

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 dead lightbulb has been sitting on our kitchen island for more than a week. Before that, it was in the light fixture above our dining room table for more than a month, dead. I unscrewed it in a burst of this room is too dark and depressing, I’m going to do something about it energy. That was at least a week ago and it now sits on the kitchen island waiting for someone who’s going to the store that sells the right kind of bulb to remember to take it along for comparison and finally buy a new one. 

That lightbulb is driving me crazy. 

That lightbulb is revealing things about the place I’m in that I would rather not know. 

(Don’t worry, the lightbulb isn’t telling me I’m a failure, it’s not that kind of bulb.) 

When I listen closely, though, the lightbulb has a lot to say. It tells me there’s a lot going on in my life right now. So much, that little details are certain to have to be let go. It invites me to pick my priorities, again. It helps me to see that having food on the table is a triumph in itself and one good conversation that invests in the future shines a light brighter than any bulb. 

I’m in a place I don’t want to be in, again. A place of many and much, a place of I didn’t realize we were going to have to deal with this now, but here we are in the middle of it anyway.  

Following Padraig’s advice, I feel my heart muscle stretch to open to this new place, this new challenge, this here and now. Once it's open, once I accept what is, I can begin to learn. I can begin to welcome the belief that even in this place, what we need is here. And so I begin by listening to the lightbulb, by “listening to the things that are already in the place where you wish you were not.”

Finding God in the Appliance Section of Lowes


 

It seems
a little scarier and
the sky may
be falling. But 
even we can
change
when
we discover
kindness and compassion.

- K. Chripczuk (found poetry)

As I mentioned in a recent video on my fb page, our washing machine died over the weekend. It was the last straw in a series of frustrating, flummoxing events. Although we have the money to replace it (thank you, thank you) it's not an easy fix and certainly not a project we would choose to tackle this week.  

All I wanted to do Monday morning was nestle into the Little House - to read, pray, practice yoga and return to my own sweet center. But what I needed to do was pick up my son's negative Covid test, drop him at school, and then look at our laundry closet and make decisions about stacking or not, used or new, and (because we live in an old, old house) which walls or outlets or plaster we might want to move or replace in the near or distant future. 

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. 

Pickles, he told us, was procured one year when he and his wife went to pick out a tree at a local Christmas tree farm. "There was a little girl wearing a long prairie-like dress," he said, gesturing with his hands as if to paint the dress before our eyes. "She had a little basket with a kitten in it." 

Again, he gestured with his working-man hands, creating an imaginary basket. Then, he placed one hand, palm up, in the center of his chest, just where someone would hold a wee kitten. 

"She was this little," he marveled. "She fit right in the palm of my hand. Except for her tail, hanging over the side. Except for her tail, she was just that big." Again, he gestured, showing with his other hand how the sweet little tail would have draped out over his wrist. Pickles lived to be 17 years old and, finally, just stopped eating. The vet told them to let her be, it was "just her time." 

Isn't it something, how that cat story showed up so unexpectedly right in the middle of our day? Our salesman went to a farm looking for a Christmas tree and came home with a kitten. We went to Lowes looking for a washing machine and came home with a love story. 

I watched the salesman's hands eyes as he wove his tale, they were cinnamon brown with gold flecks. Even though the day was harder than I wanted and, in some ways, the sky did feel like it was falling, this man and his story helped me find what I was looking for all along. Sometimes all it takes is a story and a stranger's eyes, to lead our hearts back home. 

The Power of Touch

Photo by Joey Yu on Unsplash

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.

*     *     *
For Contemplation:


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?

Compassion: for Hunger and Desire


 Photo by Misty Ladd on Unsplash 

I refilled the bird feeder outside my office window this morning and the birds returned. A squirrel arrived as well, as soon as he saw the feeder was full, and I banged in the window and cracked it open a few inches causing him to leap and run. 

Like that squirrel, I too have wandered roads I shouldn’t this morning, poking down paths online and in my mind that always leave me feeling anxious and alone. I wasted precious time checking a former colleague’s website, a place where my name used to be, watching an intricate web of networks that seem to be continually woven around my exclusion. 

I’ve worn bare the paths to these empty feeders of comparison, to the places where others gather that are, quite simply, not for me. And yet, the hunger for belonging drives me. The loneliness is deep. 

Maybe I need someone to bang on a window nearby. Shout, “That is not the place for you!” while I scurry in haste back home to a den or nest tucked high in a tree. 

Each of us must be what we are. 

Perhaps this is part of the reason I bristle so at the squirrel’s intrusion – “This feeder is not for you!” Yet, I feel compassion too - for the way he wraps his whole body around his heart’s desire, for the clever climbing, scheming, leaping to be fed, for the hunger, the need, that drives him so.

Everything You Need

Photo by Eric Han on Unsplash


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. 



A Sense of Hope



It was 55 and sunny one day last week. The grass was too soggy to walk our usual loop around the yard, but my husband and I did take a mid-day trip back to check on the beehives. This is the time of year when bees are most likely to starve. Hungry new brood are hatching, and pollen sources remain sparse, so my husband loaded their hive boxes with store-bought pollen patties and large, white blocks of homemade fondant. 

The sun and warmth had the bees spring cleaning, active and filled with life. They rushed in and out of the hive, nearly clogging the entrance in their hurry. Some of the returning bees’ legs were coated in heavy yellow pollen. We lifted the hive's roof and watched some gorging on fondant and pollen. Other bees worked steadily, carrying dead bees out of the hive and dropping them in a large pile just beyond the entrance. 

The bees put me, also, in the mood to tidy and prep. I went to work cutting back the remains of last year’s perennials from a small flower bed, making way for the green that’s already breaking through. Later, I met a friend for a walk at a park just down the road. There were people – old and young - walking dogs, biking, pushing baby strollers. They buzzed and looped the parks trails pouring from their houses and cars, like the honeybees pouring from their hives. 

I felt such love for the people I saw walking, jogging, sitting out in the sun and warmer air. I felt proud of them for getting out, for making it nearly to this winter’s end. A sense of relief was in in the air – a much needed sense of hope.

Ashes and the Season of Lent: Maybe It's Time


Maybe
it’s time
to let it all
fall apart;
to stop holding on,
holding together,
that which is broken
beyond repair.

Let it burn to ash.
Let it crumble
and collapse,
decompose.
Is this not
the way of all things?

Maybe ours
is a season of death.
Then, so be it.

Let it all fall apart.
Let it burn.

Maybe this
is the bravest thing,
the one thing necessary
to live a life of faith.

- K. Chripczuk

I'm thinking, still, about ashes and this season of Lent.

I'm thinking of the devastation of this past year - for churches, for communities, for families and individuals. I'm also thinking of the tendency to hold our individual and collective breath, to hold on tight until the storm is past, and we can return to some semblance of normal.

But the longer we wait, the clearer it becomes that normal is unlikely to return - not in the ways we knew and took for granted. The quieter we get, the clearer it becomes that normal - as we knew it - was deeply flawed.

What are we to do?

//

Cliff Hanger is a character in a clever sketch series from the children's show "Between the Lions." Every episode begins with Cliff hanging from the edge of a cliff, hands desperately wrapped around a small breaking branch. Hanging there, mere moments from falling to his death, Cliff ekes out the same phrase in every week, "Can't...hold on . . . much …longer...!" Every episode begins with the desperate Cliff being rescued only to, in a series of events less than a minute long, end up back in the same dreadful position.

The other day, I described our current mid-pandemic position to my husband using Cliff’s strangled refrain: Can’t…hold on…much…longer….!

All of us, it feels, have been hanging here for quite some time. Our arms are tired. The top of the cliff – that once safe, familiar place – feels a little further away with each day that passes. Hanging here, we’ve had plenty of time to think about what life was really like on that high precipice, to determine whether we were really as happy as we said we were, to clarify which essentials remain essential from this vantage point.

//

One of the things I like about Ash Wednesday is that is welcomes, under the umbrella of God, the very worst of what can happen in the human experience. Ash Wednesday offers the opportunity to affirm the piercing truth that, eventually, we all fall. “Death will come, bringing a return to dust,” Ash Wednesday declares. Yet, even still, God is with us – even here, even now. Like the Psalmist reminds us, there is no place too high or too low, too dark or too bright or too far away that God’s great love cannot find us, catch us, even there.

This year, looking back at a year of losses, a heap of smoldering remains, I feel my own desire to hold on tighter, to salvage what I can. But, underneath my attachment, I hear Ash Wednesday whisper, “Why not let it ALL fall apart? Let it burn, completely.”

This is the season we are in – Lent – a time in which we follow the darkening trail all the way to the cross and beyond, to the very tomb itself, where hope lay down its weary head and wept. This is the journey of Lent, this invitation to follow, as we can, believing there is no darkness or death that can out-maneuver God’s capacity to create life anew.

Maybe it’s time to let it all fall apart.