Rise Up Reflections January 2017

Thank you for taking the time to visit my Rise Up Reflections January 2017.  With this posting I have completed fourteen months of responding to the Daily Questions offered by Gratefulness.org. That’s 488 daily questions reflected upon and answered, and as luck and habit would have it all without missing a day. It continues to be a very good practice for my heart and soul, especially given the politically turbulent days we find ourselves in these days.

As I have mentioned previously, I encourage others and perhaps you to consider participating in this worthy practice at Gratefulness.org. Thanks again for visiting.

Rise Up Reflections January 2017

Rise Up Reflections January 2017. Heart of stone is an image of a heart carved clear through a slap of granite.

Jan 1: How can I best love the world? 

By being in it and by staying informed as best I can to ever-changing events politically, environmentally and spiritually. Oftentimes it seems the most I can do, which frequently feels inadequate to the need, about some global issues is to pray and to pray often.

Jan 2: What one word could I focus on this week that could make me show up more gratefully?

Listen.

Jan 3: What are the ways that I express gratitude?

By saying ‘thank you’ whenever I receive a courtesy, service or consideration from another person. By making every effort to be aware, and appreciative, of my good fortune for all that I receive or experience in my life no matter how routine or miniscule that ‘good’ may appear. The latter point, however, I deserve only a passing grade, as there’s room for improvement. Oftentimes I become engrossed in the moment of doing projects and have to remind myself of the joy, a gift really, of the bigger picture of whatever I am doing.

Jan 4: Who do I tend to take for granted? What can I do to shift this?

I have sat with today’s question for the last fifteen minutes thinking about who there may be that I take for granted and I am coming up dry. For sure, I know that I possess countless areas for self-improvement but when it comes to people and the lives of those around me, I think I’m doing okay. By nature I’m a people person and have been my entire life through vocations, ministry and in my preferences of recreations and social settings.

One of the unforeseen enjoyments since my retirement fifteen months ago is that I now have more time to be aware of and converse with people here and there throughout my day and for that I am very grateful indeed. Just yesterday, during a very rainy day I was coming out of the supermarket and I spotted a woman over in a corner in a wheelchair who was sobbing. The rainy conditions caused delays with public transportation throughout the day and now this lady’s battery powered wheelchair needed to be charged before she could begin her long route home using city buses. Her dilemma was that she simply couldn’t reach behind her chair to get the charger unit out of its case. She also couldn’t reach the outlet the wall that was between a commuter’s bench and a huge Coke machine.

That was all she needed. People were streaming in and out of the market and focusing on their immediate tasks and simply didn’t notice that this person needed help. When I was working, and for years working two jobs, I too could have easily missed seeing this woman in her moment of need.

Sometimes it’s not the “who,” as in a singular person, but the “them,” the masses of everyday folks that we can unwittingly take for granted, because they’re always there, seen yet unseen too.

Jan 5: What do I need to let go of today?

Okay, who’s reading my mind at Gratefulness? I had a major pc error last week, then needed to reload all my photographs from all their backup locations the other day. And it appears that all of my photos came back in totally jumbled—I’m talking over 30,000 photos here over three decades—a total mess! I really can’t just “let go” of this issue either until I get things sorted properly, which could take weeks to do, literally. It’s a good time to just breathe, Kevin, and “give time, time!”

Jan 6: What time of day is most peaceful for me? Why?

Early morning, preferably before six AM. On most days I awake about four AM. I have been a very early riser since I was a teenager working on farms. The early morning is all mine, it’s peaceful, It allows me to think and feel my way into the new day, to meditate and pray, to write and to read without interruption. By six AM I am usually out the door to go rowing with my team or head off to the gym.

Jan 7: What is the place of art in my life? As an appreciator? As a creator?

I savor art, whether visual, musical, on stage or in written form. Art has a way of washing over me and gently slipping into my heart and soul. And I am taken in equal measures with art that is created by children and adults alike with each possessing its own weight, beauty and integrity. I cannot think of a lonelier or darker place than a world devoid of art.

I never refer to my own photography and writing as my “art,” however. That designation, I feel, is a declaration best left for the observer or receiver to make. I write and engage in photography not to create anything actually, but to tell a story.

Jan 8: Which basic needs have I never had to worry about?

Though my family lived hand-to-mouth at different times when I was young, I never had to worry about any of my basic needs. And while raising our own family, we had some lean times, but our basic needs for food and shelter were secure.

Today my wife and I sometimes sit in our home and say to each other how very fortunate we are for all that we have. For me, being keenly aware of my own good fortune helps to keep me focused not on myself, but on the unmet needs of others around me.

It has served me well, being aware of my own good fortune, to keep the words of Marian Wright Eddleman within sight of where I sit: “Service to others is the rent you pay for living on the planet.” I am fed, well clothed, healthy enough and secure, so where is the good that I can do for others today?

Jan 9: How have I grown in one important way lately?

As I enter my second year of retirement I’ve become aware that I now have the time to pay closer attention to the unspoken needs of a few people within my spiritual community and to offer and provide support as way opens. Understandably, my previous nine-to-five obligations in the workplace prevented me from having this flexibility before. I am indeed grateful that retirement, at least for me, has given me this new opportunity to be present to the needs of others.

Today’s question may have been pointing at where I have grown as a person, personally, emotionally, or spiritually. But the angle I took resonated more clearly than reflecting on myself this time around.

Jan 10: How can I better nurture the things and/or people I treasure?

As for people, contacting them, talking with them and listening to how things are going in their world, and not just how I think they are doing, seems crucial to truly providing love and nurture to others.

In the “things” that I care for department, I notice that it is one thing to think about the things that I care about and quite another to actually be doing them! Even when it comes to desires and leadings, though it may be helpful to “season” some things in my mind before taking action, I also need to know when it’s time to follow through and to transform my ideas into action.

Jan 11: What is my vision for the world at its best?

I envision a world where nations live peacefully among one another, reducing the need for staggering military budgets. I pray for a world where people honor and cherish diversity among races, cultures and religious practices. It may be at best a vision and a prayer and the stuff of dreams, but if we don’t hold it up as an ideal worthy to pursue, it will never happen.

Jan 12: How can I contribute to the “great fullness” of life?

By waking up each day, putting my feet on the floor, “dress” for the day and step on into the hours ahead with intention.

Jan 13: What stories have I heard that most inspire me to treasure life?

Having had the privilege of working with people, but most especially children, over the past forty years has had a profound impact on how I experience day-to-day living. Time and time again I have witnessed the indomitable spirit of children who were either coping with or overcoming the impact of horrendous circumstances, be it disease, abuse or abandonment. Day after day I watched these children rise up, put their “game face” on and march into their world. Some were tethered to I.V. lines or horrifically dysfunctional families. Others battled demons within or spent their days dodging slings of racial slurs and social put-downs.  Each, though bruised, taught me where true strength comes from and what it is of life itself that really matters. Bearing witness to their path and their journeys that continue has been my greatest treasure.

Jan 14: What habits of mind need to shift in order for me to see more roses and fewer thorns?

Currently, I need to be mindful of how much political news concerning the next US President’s administration I take in. I need to consume enough to remain informed, then veer away to absorb other more positive things that feed my heart and soul.

Recently I’ve given myself what is turning out to be a challenging assignment. I am seeking ways to reflect and write about the radically changing political landscape here in the US in ways that draw out and showcase “the good and the positive” developments happening among people precisely because of our new political reality. It has not been easy! But it is exactly that “shift” of mind that today’s question alludes to that has me trying to dodge the noise and to sift through the rubble for nuggets worthy of lifting above and celebrating as good and with words.

Jan 15: How do I show others that I care?

Hopefully, by paying attention, by being present and being who I am.

Jan 16: Our core values are among our greatest assets. What are some of my values?

As a baseline I am committed to and focused on family, my faith and ministry therein, and to the well-being of those around me near and far by supporting the initiatives and work of various peace and social justice networks.

Jan 17: As I go about my daily life, what small kindnesses can I offer to others?

I cannot say that I go about my day intentionally offering “kindnesses” to others. I go about my day being who I am and striving to be mindful of and grateful for the ordinary moments of interacting with others. Whatever I offer, tangible or not, seems to take care of itself.

Jan 18: Reflect on one of your most meaningful experiences of “receiving” from someone. What makes it stand out? 

This is something I rarely speak about, but it fits perfectly here. Many years ago I was standing among a circle of children while overseeing a group activity. We were outdoors at a Quaker conference and there were many parents and passersby coming and going around this activity. The game had paused for a moment and a child was leaning into me with her back against my chest. While watching the wider group, my hand was cupped slightly and positioned about ten inches away from the side of the child’s face. The child grabbed my hand and placed it on her chest with her hand over mine. Having had instruction and practice with healing techniques and being a Reiki practitioner, I knew what was happening in that moment, which meant all I needed to do was to be present to the moment. In less than a minute the whole group activity resumed and everyone was back in motion.

When the group game was over a woman approached me and said, “I was watching you and I know what you were doing with that child.” As a man, that is an extremely loaded statement with potential consequences to hear in such a setting. I was stricken with fear for a second, until the woman continued, “You were doing healing work with that lucky child and I could feel it way over here.”

I was speechless, relieved and elated. The woman went on to tell me that she was a healer and could usually tell when others possessed the same gift. She encouraged me to continue with my work and then walked away. That was a powerful moment of validation for me which I have carried in my heart ever since.

Over time I continued to better understand this gift by taking training with nurses and Catholic sisters who were also doing healing work. Gradually, as way opened, I began doing some healing work with adults in hospital settings and occasionally with their children as requested. It was also a time when the horrific sexual abuse cases committed by clergy was beginning to explode across the US and beyond. The environment, especially for men sharing gifts of healing literally became dangerous, and many men, including myself, ceased to be involved in healing practices. I had a career and other parts of ministry to protect and the risks became just too high. But I continue to hold dear the memory of what that woman said to me and I figure that if God wants me back doing healing work, then God knows where I live.

Jan 19: What might be the gift in a chronically challenging situation I am facing?

There are several gifts, actually, to call upon when dealing with challenging situations when they involve people. The first is to listen, the second is to remember to stay with my breath, the third is to seek ways to reframe the issue at hand and do so in a tone that is not charged or combative.

If the challenging situation does not involve people I could ask myself: who owns the problem here? What action (or non-action) would bring the best outcome? What are the realistic timelines? And if logic hasn’t come to the rescue then perhaps lifting it upward to prayer will help.

Jan 20: In what way can I offer my gifts to the world and be of service today?

My gifts? The world? Today? Sure, no problem! That is a really tall order.

To be honest, I am more captivated by today’s Word for the Day by Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” As it might apply to today’s Daily Question, and with it also being Inauguration Day in the US, I am focusing on intensifying and reinvigorating some of my social justice commitments in whatever ways may open. And it is good to be reminded that the light (Light) always finds a way in even when it’s hard to see how. That’s what I will take into my world today. Thank you, Leonard Cohen, and to the gratefulness team for lifting his words up to us all.

Jan 21: What am I passionate about?

Family, faith, words, photography and being near to or on the ocean! I live my life in these places.

Jan 22: How would I describe something “miraculous”?

I can name several things that seem miraculous, but one thing that gets taken for granted these days is the Internet itself. The fact that I can literally have a window into the world, to see, communicate, learn, be inspired, build friendships, share ideas and display my images and words and see the great works that others have created the world over is truly what has become an everyday miracle. The Internet mirrors the very best and very worst of humanity itself, simultaneously promoting healing and hurt, darkness and light, laughter and despair, a thing of wonder and horror and leaving the power to choose with a tap of a finger or the click of a mouse.

Jan 23: If I could embody the qualities of someone I truly admire, who would that be? What qualities would I embody?

I frequently hold in my heart the memory of a few of my Quaker elders who possessed attributes and gifts of character that I have tried to embody over the years. Rather than choose one person, my reflection encompasses a composite of a few persons I admire still today, such as:

Ruth Martocci,  a gentle and kind Quaker woman whose soft voice, warm eyes were matched by a fierce inner sense of spiritual purpose. Ruth was considered a quiet and reflective Friend, until she spoke, and when she did, everyone listened to the weight of her words. Ruth was one of my early mentors in life and ministry.

Jim Toothaker, a Quaker minister had a fondness for seeking out rocks that held a kind of energy. He and I traveled a bit together to workshops and it was not unusual for Jim to pull over on the side of the highway, and beacon me to follow him up the side of an outcropping to “check out” various stone formations. Once a New York State Trooper pulled up behind our car to investigate what we were doing. Jim, never the nervous type, took no time to begin instructing the trooper about the spiritual energy found in stones. The poor officer left bewildered, saying, “just be careful up here, okay?” I admired Jim’s ability to balance spontaneity, centeredness, combined with a playfulness of spirit.

Ruth Howland, who possessed a boundless sense of joy, gratitude and gentleness even as she coped with debilitating health challenges well into her late 80’s. As I age and live with my own cranky back, I think of Ruth’s seemingly endless ability to side-step the impact of pain and instead spread joy wherever her wheelchair would take her. I consider myself a student, still learning, of how Ruth Howland lived her life.

Jan 24: What opportunity beckons in this moment?

At four-thirty AM, I am sitting at the cusp of a brand new day. Some moments of meditation, prayer and strong tea await. As the rain beats down and the winds howl outside, our rowing has been rightly cancelled so I now have the opportunity to drag my rack of bones off to the gym instead. But before I go the gift of waiting correspondence needs attention, a reminder of having the joy of other people in my life. That’s enough opportunity in my life before breakfast!

Jan 25: How can I stretch myself to learn from someone different from me?

This is a good question for me to ponder. I spend far too much of my time among people who look similar to me, practice the same faith as me, live in a “cookie-cutter” suburbia as me and speak only English. I am not happy about that. There’s a fair amount of diversity among folks within my Quaker tradition, yet as active as Friends are in social justice and race relations issues locally and globally, our memberships across the US remains, I’m guessing, at 99% white. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to me.

I need to spend some time reflecting on this. I have been considering a few ways to integrate and expand my social and political circles but haven’t taken any action yet. Hopefully today’s question will nudge me along.

Jan 26: What special gifts from your childhood have you brought to this moment? Rise Up Reflections January 2017. Viewing Old maple through window

It seems that I have had what I call a life-long understanding and deep awareness of trees and rocks in all their varied forms. Certain trees and rocks, for me at least, possess a kind of energy that can be felt, that I take within that nourishes the soul. The gift, however, is not mine. I do not own it. It comes from a source that cannot be possessed, only experienced. And we’ve been friends for a very long time.

Jan 27: Who is deserving of your thanks right now?

“Right now” I am the only person awake in the house and even the dog is still asleep! But I can remember how grateful I am for the good medical care I received yesterday during an eye procedure by my retina specialist, leaving me thankful this morning for improved vision. (Every 14-16 weeks I receive an eye injection in my right eye for a chronic retinal occlusion.) In fact, even as I enjoy good health overall, there’s a host of medical folks whom I am thankful for who take very good care of me throughout the year.

Jan 28: Can I open my heart to someone to whom I have had it closed? How can I let them know?

Of course I can, and have opened my heart to someone to whom it has been closed before, but it is not as easy as flipping a light switch, that I know from experience! For me, the opening comes most naturally when something, someone or some need greater than whatever the issue may have been in the first place presents itself. This has happened twice in my life before and both times the outcome, that is, a healing between myself and the other person, was achieved in a way that didn’t feel forced, fake, or manipulated in any way.

Jan 29: Listen to the silence. What is it saying to your heart?

As a Quaker, today’s question regarding silence would always be perfect! But today, as we complete day three of a retreat for Quaker children (which is anything but silence!), the forty kids and sixteen staff are all asleep still and the place is deliciously quiet, silent and still. In less than an hour adult staff members will rise and hit the coffee pots, and children will begin to awake shortly after that.

For Friends, (Quakers) waiting and worshiping in silence is always an amazing process year after year. Four hours from now another sixty Quakers will arrive for what we call meeting for worship which takes place in silence where we will wait for that of the Spirit to lead the way. Though I also cherish modes of worship experiences that arrive floating through music and word, theres nothing quite like deeply felt silence to

Jan 30: How does being in a community enrich my life?

Being in a community, whether rooted in friendship, mutual interests or a shared faith experience, makes me feel more nourished and complete as a person in heart, mind, body and soul.

Jan 31: What feeds my soul?

Being a part of a loving family.
Practicing my faith as a Quaker.
Being near to or on the water.
Seeing with my camera.
Finding the right words.
Discovering doors at Gratefulness.org.

Images and text (in response to questions) by Kevin Lee. All rights reserved.

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