Rise Up Reflections May 2016.
For the past eight months I have been contributing to the Daily Questions at Gratefulness.org. I have had the privilege of not only sharing on that part of their site, but also writing an article for them too called The Spiritual Strength of Trees. It has afforded me an opportunity to hear new thoughts, new questions, new challenges from many folks from all around the globe. A few of them have also found their way to my site here at Rise This Day, for which I am grateful for indeed.
In eight short months I have encountered joy, beauty, challenges, concern and prayer for a new online friend in India who cannot use “his/her” real name (but I know it), and a young man in the UK who struggles with getting people he cares about to accept his new identity as a gifted, human person, who doesn’t fit the mold of traditional men and women.
Thus far, praise God, I have not missed one day. I am aiming for one year. Wish me luck. And with peace and joy, thank you for visiting. Now check out the Daily Questions to follow. Consider answering them for yourself in whatever way makes sense for you.
May 1: What would gratefulness do right now?
Probably nothing, unless I was aware of its potential and place in the day to day moments of my life. So for right this moment, sitting at a hilltop Quaker Retreat Center called Woolman Hill, and listening to the chorus of early morning birds outside and the sun about to rise over a nearby hill, all this, as simple as it is, is quite enough to take in and be grateful for this very moment! Happy “May Day” to all, too!
May 2: What are some of my privileges? How might I use them in service of my dreams for the world?
As a consequence of the location of my birth, where I grew up and the race of my parents, I live mainly in a world of white privilege. Staying aware of this fact and remaining committed to learning about the many pitfalls of “privileged thinking” that ultimately hurts others near and far, is my ongoing work to do. At this stage of my life coupled with the reality of some limited physical abilities, I am not able to follow one of my life-long dreams to relocate and be of service to others where the need is the greatest. Instead, I give what I can to people less privileged, educate others around me with word and with action and pray that the God of my dreams will shelter and comfort the many who hurt, and who have far less than they need.
May 3: From whom have I received extraordinary gifts?
For many years now and counting still, people have sought my help and support within the scope of my paid work and within pastoral care settings. They may have come with deep-seated problems of which we worked on together, but each time they came and went, they left me with extraordinary and unseen gifts that grew me as a person every time. Today, having worked and still living in the same community, I get to see some of these folks on occasion, most now grown up or having grown older, and that same joy of just seeing them still feels like a gift renewed. How lucky am I to see the fruits of my life’s work all around me, still?
May 4: What do I have enough of? How do I know when I have enough?
Honestly, I have enough of everything. And with a sense of gratitude, that’s all I need to know.
May 5: Where is the beauty in my immediate surroundings, right now?
The beauty around me right now is everywhere! How wonderful that I get to turn 66 years old today, to be able to see, hear, and feel my way through this day that is all gift, because I’m alive to see it! In the physical world around me it is springtime and though the weather outside has been windy and very wet these past few days it has not dampened the springtime songs of the birds, nor deterred the gardens from sprouting new life. I say that’s a good start to a day!
May 6: What would it change if I were to treat the “ordinary” aspects of my life as “extraordinary?”
I believe that my day-to-day ordinary life is always extraordinary, because no one else has it, it’s my experience, mine to live, and it shows up anew every single day! That alone is all gift and wonderful, indeed.
May 7: When am I “in the flow?” How does this make me more available to life?
When I’m “in the flow” with my camera, it means, in addition to losing all awareness of time, that I’m keenly observing everything around me and that I’m connecting with my subject, whether it’s a person or an inanimate object. When I am writing, and nearing the end of a brand new piece and thought, that’s when I actually realize that I have been “in the flow” because I wouldn’t have gotten the piece to the finish line otherwise. In each case, when an image truly connects with a viewer and transforms them in the smallest of ways, or when something I’ve written resonates with a reader, that’s when I know that both mediums have been available to people and to life itself.
I wish that I could say that I hit that high mark with every image and piece of writing, but I cannot. Sometimes the results are just okay, and sometimes not even that, in which both cases meet their demise with the delete key! But when “the flow” does happen and the results seem good, I am truly more available to all of life throughout the remainder of the day and beyond.
May 8: What do I learn from moments of awe?
What I have learned about moments of awe, is that when they come, they appear without notice and have a life and purpose of their own, and they leave me stricken with appreciation and wonder, surpassing anything found in books or anything man-made designed to give us pleasure.
For myself, moments of awe tend to be infrequent, but when they appear, the experience embeds itself within my heart and it remains with me forever, of which I involuntarily revisit from time to time that informs and expands my perception of something I’m seeing or doing all over again. I can recall a handful of true moments of awe that have happened in my life that have, over time, helped to shape everything that I am as a person right up to the present day. Just reflecting on that in itself is awe inspiring!
May 9: What makes me hopeful?
What makes me hopeful? Today and tomorrow.
May 10: What advice has made a big difference in my life?
One of my earliest mentors, who later became an elder to me, was James Toothaker, a pastor and Friends Minister who encouraged me to approach my work with young people as ministry and not only as social work. And that’s the approach that I took that led me to begin a new retreat program for elementary-aged Quaker children, which I coordinated for 26 years and still serve as a staff person for. Approaching my professional work as a ministry also contributed to me having the emotional and spiritual fortitude to remain in that field, without burning out, for 31 years before retiring this past fall. Jim’s wise counsel to me over 40 years ago has made all the difference in my life and sustains me still.
May 11: What new beginnings am I grateful for today?
The very first new beginning that I am grateful for today is that I woke up, I’m alive and I have the luxury of being able to make choices all day long! Whatever else I do today that’s new will come as way opens.
In the overall “new department,” however, I bought a new book a few days ago called Praying with the Earth: A prayerbook for peace, by John Philip Newell. (2011, hardcover, 58 pages). The book is structured with prayers and prose to read each day of the week based on readings from the Quran, New Testament, and Psalms. The book also contains some wonderful art from the Hebrew, Islamic and Christian traditions. I’ve been reading a section for each day of the week at breakfast and it occurred to me that perhaps some of my friends here would likely enjoy it also.
May 12: There have been so many who taught me in so many ways. There was old Marshall Rabideau, a simple farmer who taught me to see the and appreciate the small things in life all around and to dismiss the things that do not matter; and Peter Rondo, another farmer, who taught me what a good work ethic and a positive outlook at work looked like; and of course I cannot forget my dear old mentor, Jim Toothaker, who helped me to understand what ministry was and how to be present to it; and there was my mom, who lived her life being watchful of others and looking for ways to help anyone in Life whom she met at their moment of need.
Perhaps the above reflection is fitting as I find myself sitting in a nursing home at 3 a.m. attending to a treasured soul who has suffered long and who is expected to be relieved from her suffering soon. It occurs to me, as I sit here in a darkened and quiet room that all of the folks who have taught me down through the years are also, in spirit, sitting here also. So to them, and this forum, I say thank you.
May 13: What have I asked for and have been given?
This is a wonderful question! I have been given a life to live that has included many choices and opportunities. I have been given a body that moves and responds and a voice and a language with sails. I have been given a path among thorns and a sight-line to Spirit and a way, God willing, to live into that work.
May 14: What has surprised me lately?
I retired from a fulfilling thirty-one year career eight months ago. Fortunately, I was able to plan almost a year in advance for my leave taking and transition. Still, it’s impossible to know for sure how I would feel once I was finally retired. But thus far I’m surprised at how smoothly my transition from working has gone. Perhaps the key has been that I’ve stayed joyfully busy focusing on my photography and writing on my blog at Rise This Day. In any case, I’m remaining committed to “doing no new thing” for one full year. After that, we will see what comes.
May 15: What have I been holding on to for a long time? How would it feel to let go?
My parents divorced when I was seven years old and I seldom saw my father after they split up. He lives, or lived, in Boston, MA, sixty miles from where my family and children are now living. The last time I saw him was in 1994, when I had to track him down as part of a Jungian psychology course I was taking while in seminary. It was in a barroom, and he was sober, at 10:30 in the morning. It was a pleasant meeting lasting only thirty minutes. There just wasn’t much to say.
Now and then I wonder if he is still alive or not. I would need to travel up to Boston City Hall in person and request a search of death certificates, as searching online obituaries has turned up nothing. But it also feels like I would be searching for nothing, other than just knowing one way or the other if he’s living or not. If he’s living, then what? If he’s not, well at least I would know that. But why?
I frequently wonder why I’m not letting this go. And I wonder too how it would feel if I did?
May 16: How would you live your life if you had five years to live?
I needed some time before responding to today’s question because for the past four days I have been providing pastoral care and support to a family whose mother, at age 57, was dying from advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. She passed away on Saturday, May 14, leaving behind a husband and two adult daughters. Yesterday, I assisted the family as they made arrangements with the funeral home, etc.
Today, as I reflect on how I would live my own life if I only had five years to live, and with the backdrop of recent developments still fresh in my heart and Spirit, I can say this: I would want to pay even closer attention to the littlest things in life; I’d want to spend even more time with our grandkids and our entire family; I’d take a few more trips with my wife; I would want to keep writing about my new reality; I would pray a little more often and deeper and balance the books with my God; and finally get my end of life affairs in order and decided so that my wife and family wouldn’t have to do it when I’m gone.
In the cavalier department, I might also say, “Bring on the Doritos and dips, cancel my gym membership, and hey, it’s time for a better bottle of bourbon!” Ha, sure I would!
May 17: How can I better remember the gift of this day in the midst of my busiest moments?
What helps me to slow down, pause and remember the gift of this day is to look up, to look up at the sky and clouds. From there, I try to bring my gaze down slowly in order to see the contour of trees, of building, of birds flying here and there, and to notice and honor my breath as I look at the ground around me.
There’s a chant too that I sometimes sing or hum to myself, especially if I am about to enter into a tense situation in which I am expected to be “on” my game or provide leadership for. It goes like this:
For Thee I receive;
To Thee I give;
Together we share;
And from this we live.
No matter how busy or tense a moment or day might be, whenever I recite this chant three times, it slows everything down and allows me to connect with the gifts of the moment and the time I am in. (Sorry that there’s no way to give readers the melody…which aligns with the breath.)
May 18: What sounds of life nourish me?
Oh, such a nicely worded question! I could begin with the sounds of birds chirping outside at this very moment as I type. I cherish the sound of the howling seaside wind and the ocean’s surf that answers as it crashes on the beach. I love the sounds, however predictable, of the seagull’s cranky cry as it soars on thermals overhead.
On certain days before first light I arrive to prep our team’s six-man whaleboat for our morning row. Once done, if there is time, I sit and just listen for the gentle sounds of pre-dawn waves lapping at the hull, and the squeaks of lines, still tied to cleats, chafing, waiting for release, and the far-off rhythmic warning moans of the fog horn out in the bay. Soon, there are voices, “good-mornings,” and chuckles, as they sometimes ask me what I’ve been doing sitting still, feet on the gunwale, waiting, just listening.
Last night I heard the sounds of cracking bats and laughing, chanting “go-team-go” of boys at baseball, the nearby playground sounds of side-line siblings on swings and scooters and bikes, with my ear attuned, on watch, for the heart-felt sounds of grandkids in that mix.
Now home and at day’s end, the clicking off of lights, the ingrained sounds of spousal chatter, the welcome-hushing sound of two forms sliding into bed and the sounds of breathing, changed, released and waiting for the dawn.
May 19: What am I grateful for?
Last night I attended to a family during calling hours and came home feeling very grateful to be alive. And today, upon receiving the gift of waking up, I am grateful that my morning choices include being able to answer this question, to go rowing with my teammates, to be able to work on some writing, to mow our lawn and to spend the after-school hours with two of our six grandchildren. Now that, praise God, is a pretty good day.
The next one has rattled and inspired me all month!
May 20: What is life?
Life is everything and Life is everything death isn’t. Life is everything to come, which reminds me not to sit here contemplating life but to get out there and live life instead!
May 21: What has inspired my today?
It’s early here in the eastern US, but here’s a start: I woke up just as the birds were beginning to sing and the predawn light made it’s way into the hillside cabin I am sleeping in. I’m staffing a retreat with Quaker children this weekend, and the rustic wood cabin that sleeps ten is jam-packed with little bodies strewn about in heaps of arms and knees, pillows and sleeping bags and for this moment all are still asleep. As I made my way back from morning business at the outhouse, through the creaky doorway back towards my cot I stopped, surprised, to see a squatter, my grandson, had left his lumpy sleeping loft and crawled inside my sleeping bag atop a cumfy old man’s cot! So I grabbed my mug and left in search of tea bags and hot water. At 5:15 AM that’s my official report of surprises so far this day. There likely will be more.
my response in the next one goes clear through to my bones.
May 22: What are the senses through which I experience the greatest aliveness? When are they most alive?
I feel most alive, spiritually and interpersonally, when I am either providing a program within ministry and secular settings to children, teens or adults. Such engagement, this far, has been my life’s work.
A close follow-up to those areas are when I am either writing or capturing an image with my camera. It does not happen all the time, but when it does, I slide in to a “zone,” a place removed and released from the ordinary hour-to-hour life experience. Sometimes I’m not even aware of this until the time has nearly passed, or, I sense that I have captured, with words or pixels, what I had set out to do.
May 23: How can I leave this day better than I found it?
My sense is that each new day arrives just perfectly. It’s me, or my approach to it, that alters how I feel about the day as it comes to a close.
That said, I especially like the words of Avis Crowe, that I lean in to time and again:
“Dear God of all time and all creatures, help me to live fully within this cycle of infinity that is your gift to me. Help me to be less fearful of the measure of time, and more fully alive in the time that simply is. Help me to live time, not just to simply use it; to breathe it in, and return it in acts of love and presence.” – Avis Crowe
May 24: What is the next right action?
This is a timely question for me because the next “right action” for me is “no action,” actually. Here’s why: Over this past weekend it became necessary for me, within a worship setting, to speak to another adult whose words were clearly inappropriate for the setting. Though I am not comfortable having had to do so, I am strangely at peace with the need to do so and the resulting outcome. Now, others will labor further with this individual hoping to seek a measure of healing. It is clear too, for which I am grateful, that the best action moving forward on my part is to take no action at all. It can be hard sometimes to take no action.
May 25: What have I learned lately?
Probably not enough! But seriously, and this I have known to some extent previously, which was reaffirmed just recently, is that I have a rather peculiar skill for helping people during times of grief and loss, from the final stages of life, to helping folks make arrangements, including shaping and officiating funerals and memorial services. I’m not really sure how all this happened over time, but it has. It’s not something one advertises or puts on a business card either.
May 26: What touches me most in my encounters with strangers? With loved ones?
What I value most when meeting and greeting others, be they strangers or loved ones, is having a sense of their humanity, through touch with a handshake or hug, or eye contact that signals one to the other that they matter, that they are there before me, even if it is only a passing nod in a public place. To miss or ignore that opportunity to connect, however brief, is to diminish my own humanity. When encountering loved ones the same factor applies, it’s just that the connection is wider, deeper, and stronger that I feel throughout my being and down into my heart and bones.
May 27: How can I tend the tenderness around me?
By being fully present. By feeling for the place where words come from when communicating with others. By praying, and asking for the Grace of the Spirit to guide the way forward.
May 28: What would help me to say an unconditional “yes” to my life exactly as it is today?
I will say, and say with a measure of prayer and gratitude, that I am presently living my life in “yes.” And knowing this inwardly makes me aware that I also need to continue giving outwardly, in ways that matter and are helpful to others at their point of need. In this area I frequently feel that I could be doing more.
May 29: How would my life change if I saw everything as an opportunity?
It’s a lot easier to write about this now in a time devoted to reflection than actually living it out hour-by-hour and experiencing everything that happens as an opportunity. But it sure is a worthy goal! And I could benefit by giving it a try! I’ll need a sticky note slapped to my forehead that I can take off and read as a reminder when “stuff” happens.
But seriously, I have noticed previously, after the fact, that sometimes good things emerge directly as a result of something happening that I had not anticipated, etc. What I almost never do or have a mindset for is think or expect that something positive, or an opportunity, will come about because of an unanticipated change. I will give this a go, with or without sticky notes!
May 30: When and from whom have I experienced forgiveness in my life?
I would have to say that over the course of forty-four years of marriage, that my wife must have forgiven me about a thousand times and counting. Perhaps even more!
May 31: What are my recent dreams telling me?
I’m not exactly sure what my recent dreams are telling me. I’m still trying to figure that out. Generally I don’t seem to have a lot of dreams that I remember at all. In fact, I have long said to my friends whenever the topic of dreams comes up that I have “cheap, low-budget” dreams compared to the fantastic detailed dreams that others seem to have.
But over the past few weeks I’ve had several dreams. In one dream, that felt like it went on for hours in my sleep, we were trying to put out a barn fire that was loaded with dry lumber! Another night and in another dream had me working with a large group of people and we were working on something and never seeming to get it done. All I can say is where is Carl Jung when I need him?
Text and image by K.Lee