Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 5: An abundance of grace

It was just a week ago that I came home after a day of working on the edge of migraine. My brain was foggy and my body tired. I had come home from work a little earlier than usual, looking forward to getting some much-needed rest. As I was driving toward my house, I glanced over at a neighbor's garden where I have taken some lovely photos this summer. Something looked a little different but, from my car, I couldn't see what. Was there something new in bloom?

Parking my car in the garage, I emerged with the thought: I could take a little walk over and look. Another part of me argued back that I was so tired and I didn't feel well; I should just go in and rest. However, dropping off my things in the house, the curious part of me won out. My camera and I went over to investigate. It was not a long walk.

I paused at the fence, scanning the somewhat overgrown garden for something new. Everything looked about the same as the last time I had come... I had never met this neighbor before and no one ever seemed to so much as peer out of a window when I ventured onto the driveway to get a better shot. On one occasion, in fact, I had been so bold as to go up the drive to their private sidewalk because I had seen a beautiful tiger swallowtail butterfly flitting around their butterfly bush. No one had emerged to object but the butterfly had been a restless sort, not taken to sitting still and posing for amateurs like me. Thus the few photos I had taken were blurred by my rushed attempts to capture the image of the tiny creature before it skipped on to its next destination.

I was about to go up the driveway once again that evening, to explore a bit further, when I saw him: a man leaning into his car right in front of the house. "Why did I come?" I thought miserably. "If this is his house, I can't just  walk up the driveway like I have a right to be here." My shyness suggested that I just forget this silly escapade and go home... Yet there was something in me that didn't want to leave. "Excuse me," I said to the man's back, "Do you live here?" He looked up, puzzled, and stated that he did. I held up my camera and asked if he minded if I walked up closer to his garden. He was granting me his permission and guiding me up his driveway when I saw it. A large, beautiful, almost perfect tiger swallowtail, gliding toward his butterfly bush.

Moving toward it, all thoughts of fatigue and shyness vanishing, I drew up my camera, ready to take a quick shot as the butterfly landed. It landed gracefully and remained still, perhaps drawing its nectar or just basking in the evening sunlight, its wings lazily opened. I focused and took my first shot. The butterfly did not seem to notice as I walked around it, trying new angles and distances. It fluttered to another cluster of blossoms, resting as contentedly there as on the first. After nine shots, I decided that I had had my fill of the "nectar" I had come for and I headed back to the neighbor who was watching from his doorstep. After exchanging a few words and offering my thanks, I returned home full of joy.

It was not hard to choose words to complete the poster above. An abundance of grace. Not because the butterfly itself was graceful, though certainly it was. Abundant grace that there are butterflies... grace that my spirit was unknowingly drawn to a beauty that I had been chasing, only to have it given to me with utter generousity at the moment I most needed it... grace that my focus on my fears and my ills did not keep me from following... grace that I can now share this with you.

An abundance of grace... my wish for you always.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 4: That which God said to the rose...

It has been a long day and it is late. Perhaps I shall learn to be brief.  :-)  I was later than usual coming home because a therapy group for women had its final meeting tonight. They had first gathered 7 weeks ago, coming together in search of self esteem. Some had experienced abuse, many had experienced divorce, almost all had bad feelings about their bodies. In the course of the 7 weeks, we discussed a number of topics, reflecting on such things as boundaries and assertiveness and self talk. We talked about life as a process with all of us being works-in-progress, and the group just a few steps on the journey.

When I came out to get them this evening, they were all sitting together in the waiting area and burst into laughter when I walked in. Not just a little laughter. Uproarious laughter. They later confessed that they had been placing bets on what time I was going to come out for the 7 o'clock group. (The times wagered upon ranged from 7:06 to 7:15). When I thanked the 7:06 person for her confidence in me, another member quipped that it was just that all the longer times were already taken. More laughter. And they generously told me I was worth waiting for. (For the record, I came out at 7:08 pm...) Such lovely, lovely women.

In one of my neighborhood walks recently, I noticed a small, carved wooden sign planted amidst a simple garden in front of a church. I had walked that way many times before but had never paid much attention to it. Most of the church postings were in Spanish but I could read this sign: "Matthew 6: 26-34". Of course I took a picture of the sign, complete with a little sparrow perched on top, peering down with curiosity. An excerpt from the passage:
"Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them." 
In the the picture above, I see that splendor in the rose. I see it and I wonder: what could God have said to "cause it to laugh in full-blown beauty"? Of course, I do not know. But, as he implies in the passage from Matthew, this is just the beginning, "are you not more important than they?" And the Sufi mystic Rumi intimates that God says the very same thing to my heart. And to your heart. And to the hearts of the women tonight, some of them just beginning to learn to laugh their full-blown beauty.

Let us laugh out our beauty, each in our own unique color and size and shape. Let us laugh it together, with all our imperfections and doubts and fears. And let us watch it multiply and multiply, becoming "a hundred times more beautiful".

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 3: Everything that lives...

I took a walk this evening, up to the park to pray and watch and listen - my camera at my side, of course. It is a warm evening with a lively breeze - fine walking weather for late summer. I had just finished taking a picture of some beautiful red roses, when I heard a man calling out. I looked up and he appeared to be waving at me and calling out to me in a friendly way. Since I didn't recognize him but no one else was around, I pointed at myself with a quizzical expression. "Yes", the large black man called out, hurrying up to me and shaking my hand. He reminded me that we had met, that he was the guitar player. Then it came back to me. I had passed him once, months ago, when he was sitting on the park bench with his guitar. He had stopped me to ask me if I knew that Jimi Hendrix was god. I hadn't heard this news before but we had parted under amiable circumstances. Now here he was before me again, greeting me as though we were old friends. He asked if I would like to take his picture. I agreed and he posed for me with a dignified smile. I showed him the picture in the camera viewer and he said, "Yep. That's me." He told me his name and we went our separate ways.

After my brief meditation, I headed on home. Just after leaving the park, I spotted an older white man with a cane, standing in the bus shelter. He had an interesting appearance and I mused that he might make a nice photographic subject - but I decided not to ask as I didn't want to risk disturbing him. I glanced at him with a vague smile as I walked by. "Are you all right?" he asked. Secretly wondering what about me had prompted the question, I replied, "Yes, I am. Thank you for asking.... Are you all right?" "Yes." "Have a good evening then," I said and continued walking.

I took the above photograph in late June, when the summer was still fresh and new. It was not hard to match nature's finery with William Blake's words, "Everything that lives is holy..." - each little leaf lined up in a neat row with its brothers and sisters, playing with the sun to make shadows on the large leaves, delicate pink blossoms in contrast. This holy bit of life had been springing forth in an abandoned community garden in the inner city, unstoppable and oblivious to funding cuts. Today, when I walked by, the large plot was quite overgrown and weedy looking - not so fresh and lovely, but still wildly alive and chirping with crickets.

"Everything that lives is holy, life delights in life." I delight in today's glimpse of the vast array of life - the guitar man, the older man who cared, the overgrown weeds with their crickets - they are all holy, as holy as the fresh young blossoms captured in my photo. Each is living out the unique lifespan bestowed upon it by the Creator.

I am holy. You are holy. Not holy like a sinless saint, fasting and praying in church - but holy with Life infused in each of our cells and organs and limbs (even the ones that aren't perfect). Go ahead - let yourself know your holiness, without judgment. Live it. Delight in it...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 2: Random Acts of Kindness

Many years ago, I was browsing at a craft bazaar when I was felt myself drawn to a table with t-shirts and sweatshirts that displayed different messages and designs. One sweatshirt caught my eye: it had a dark green background with white lettering that read, "Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Although that phrase has now been around for awhile, at the time, it was new to me and I fell in love with it. I wanted to display it to the world. The only problem was that they only had one sweatshirt like this and it was a size extra-large (which I am not). I bought it. I wore it some but it was really, really too big for me - and bulky enough that it didn't fit well under my coat. I finally gave it away - not in a random act of kindness - but because I was admitting defeat. It didn't fit. I was far from ready at that time in my life to see the irony that my inner self wanted to keep the message rather than give it away.

I cannot honestly say that I have completely grown beyond that. However, I recently have been playing more with random acts of kindness. The thing that is so delightful about them is that they are so random. To give when it is expected, to someone I know or to someone who will reciprocate, can still be generous. But to give randomly has a recklessness about it that is simply liberating.

Allow me share my little story. I took the photo above while out on one of my morning walks to the park to meditate. As you may know, I have a special fondness for sparrows that I have written of before. That morning, once again, I found myself trying to capture the image of one of these flitty little creatures. Suddenly, one landed on the large cross in front of  a lovely old neighborhood church. Knowing I had only a few seconds, I focused and "click", there it was in my camera. The lovely little sparrow had seemed to pause to ponder the great Mystery ... before flying off in search of its breakfast.

There is a moment of joy that comes with a fine photograph. But then there is the need to share. So I used Google to find the name of the church's pastor - whom I had never met - and found his e-mail address on their website. I composed a small note to his congregation, thanking them for their presence in the neighborhood. I attached the photo and wished them continued blessings. It was such fun to send this bit of joy randomly, to someone I didn't know, for no particular reason but to share. (The pastor sent a lovely e-mail response; even if he hadn't though, my "random act" was still a great gift to me.)

Join me. Commit a random act of kindness. Let us fill the world with them. Blessings...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 1: On the path...

(I have been absent too long. My apologies. In an effort to make it up, I am planning to post five short posts, one each for the next five days. Each will involve a photo and brief text. Let's see if I meet my goal.)

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting my parents, I received an e-mail inviting me to join an online "poetry party". I used to write poetry fairly often, usually in times of suffering when I could find no other way to express what was inside of me. However, I had not written a poem in a quite a long time and I found the idea intriguing. I had a bit of extra time, in the motel late at night or when my parents were dozing, and the invitation included a theme. The theme (posted on the website was to write of great journeys you have taken or dreamed of, the markers along the way, the risks you must take.

I found myself writing that first night in the motel. I say "I found myself..." because it just seemed to come out of me, without a specific plan or idea of what I was going to write. In fact, it did not even seem to be what I considered my usual style of writing. Yet I wouldn't want to give the impression that it was effortless. I wrote a number of lines and revised them, later revising after re-reading it, repeating this process many times until it seemed complete. I realized as I was writing that I am on a journey. Of course, we all are and I have been all along, but I hadn't thought very much about my life journey in recent years. I have been fairly settled in the routines of how I live my life, with the questionings of my youth no longer so urgent.

This poem, unlike the poems of the past, was not born out of suffering. I am still listening to it as I often "listen" to the things that come forth, wondering what it has to tell me. I would like to share my poem with you, so that you can listen too and perhaps write your own poem. (A word first about the image above: if you read my June posting, "You will show me the path..." this photo/quote may seem familiar. However, this image of the path is a bit different: narrower, winding and with rougher terrain. A new perspective on the journey?)


which way?

there are many paths…
or perhaps just one.

looking ahead,
i see my path.
the signs all point that way.
i plant my foot firmly on the road.

a moment later, i look up -
everything has changed!
all of my landmarks are gone.
in their place are
strange new signs i cannot read.

i want to pull my foot back -
perhaps this was a mistake.
yet my other foot pushes forward,
as if it knows something i do not.

i scan the horizon for some
sign or signal to assure me.
ahead of me, there is vast emptiness.
looking back, i find there is nothing.
there is no way back!

i panic.

knowing nothing else to do,
i look down to the earth beneath my feet.
i kneel.
… i see something there:
a tiny seed, planted long ago,
only now beginning to sprout.

my labor begins.
i cultivate the soil,
watering it with my tears.
the little seedling grows,
its tiny leaves opening one by one.

soon laughter and hope,
like sunshine breaking through the clouds,
warm the seedling’s roots
as they grow deeper and deeper
into the earth.

then come the blossoms,
too beautiful for my eyes;
then the fruit that nourishes me,
before dropping to the ground
and becoming new seed.

the path – it is within.
it always was.
and so my heart follows,
into His abounding joy.