Welcome to Rise Up Reflections June 2016. My how this year is buzzing by! The following daily questions and my responses all come from the Daily Question section at Gratefulness.org. This month, an overall theme for the month seemed to encourage readers to not only recognize and name the things that we are grateful for in life, but to also explore how we might share our gratitude with others around us.
I invite you to consider all or some of these questions for yourself. It’s amazing how even after answering the question the essence of it lingers with me throughout the day.
June 1: What might I do today if I knew my life was a celebration of the glory of this world?
Every now and then, but rarely, a Daily Question does not resonate with me, and today’s question is one of them. But, instead of dismissing a particular question outright, I like the challenge of still being gently confronted with its message and to think about why I feel the way that I do.
I don’t see my life as a celebration of the glory of this world, I see it as a product of creation, a speck within the whole, significant yes, but only one piece of the overall mystery of all of life itself. Whatever zeal and purpose I may have to live into a day, to matter in the grand scheme of things and be of use to someone or some thing, comes as a gift and a charge of the Spirit rumbling within. This is all I know, actually.
June 2: When do I feel optimistic? Is there a pattern?
I tend to feel most optimistic early in the morning, like right now in fact, with the early morning sounds of birds making a racket just outside my window. If there’s a pattern it may be connected to how my chronic back pain is doing. On days when the pain is tolerable then we’re good to go in the positive outlook department, when it’s not good, it’s a tougher climb to feel optimistic about a new day just waiting to unfold.
Then again, whether or not I feel more or less optimistic about anything in particular is largely a matter of choice, and that choice is mine to make.
June 3: What if I really am already fully beautiful and worthy?
Then I would need to send out for more polish for my halo!
Truthfully? I think I would be bored to death. There’s nothing like having something to strive for, to improve or surrender into to make each day worth getting up for! While I am content with who and what I am in the world, I find it healthier to always see myself as a work in progress. Besides, I’m rather fond of the saying, “having a halo can stink to high heaven!”
June 4: If I spoke very tenderly to my fear, what would I say?
Wow, what a question! It slides into the psyche with ease and starts growing new questions. My fear is a condo containing not one, but several fears, if I am to be honest. We are all reasonably gentle and “good neighbors” one to another. There is the subtle fear of not knowing the remaining days I have on the planet, and what, if anything, I especially want to accomplish moving into the future. There is the love of family, of a gaggle of grandkids, and the irrational fears for their safety, which seems silly, as a clan living in one of the safest parts of the world. There’s the fear of missing a cue, a call from the Spirit, to show up when new work has arrived. And there is always the fear, the risk I take willingly, that words and the images I use to make sense of my world will sputter and crash in a ditch. But thus far, I live in a penthouse among my neighbors of fears. I invite them all in and we talk and the view is still good.
Today my Quaker community will hold a memorial service to hold up, celebrate and pray together for the life and spirit of one of our members who died after a long and painful struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Personally, I have known the entire family for almost forty years, and along with others, I have provided pastoral care, of which love and compassion are primary components, to this person in the final weeks of her life.
Death, especially for one who has suffered mightily, restores a strange but certain dignity, of rest and calm in their passing. This is sometimes hard to see for those of us who stay and who are left to find a way to let our loved one go and say good-bye. The person in me feels this deeply. The minister in me feels something beautiful and awful; to be present when death comes; to pray as a body bag is zipped; to oversee a family’s wishes with arrangements; to carry ashes homeward; today, to celebrate a life with singing and with prayer; and in due time to oversee committal back to God and this good earth.
June 6: What have I offered people today?
Not much, as I just woke up! Perhaps I should wait until the end of the day to answer this question? But then I’d be too tired from living through the day and too tired to write!
June 7: What connects me to a sense of the sacred?
What connects me to a sense of the sacred is walking the seashore and being on or nearby by almost any body of water; seeing the sun rise or setting; sensing, feeling and “moving and using” the unseen energy in and between people for healing; certain hymns or chants when sung with the human voice; and the breath, movement and energy of children.
June 8: How have the difficulties in my life helped me to know my resilience?
Like many if not most people, I have experienced a portion of life’s challenges, such as loss, financial constraints and realities and some health maintenance hassles. But whatever difficulties I have endured pale, and pale hugely, to the staggering, if not catastrophic and ongoing hardships that afflict masses of other people near and far. The fact that I can sit here in the comfort of my own home, relaxed, and have the time to be intellectually and spiritually curious as I contemplate today’s question, should always remind me that my life is pretty darn good.
Looking through the rear-view window of my retirement last fall, I am grateful for having survived and thrived doing social work in the public sector and somehow navigated the maze of politics and shrinking budgets in the world of human services. Perhaps my resilience here is best measured by a fruitful thirty-one hear career, which I am deeply grateful for. I manage ongoing eye health issues thanks mainly to modern medicine and insurance. For the past six years I have had to manage, cope and learn new workarounds on how best to function with chronic back pain that is likely to last the rest of my life. Some days it is not easy. Then again, I have my legs, good mobility still and treatment available. And besides, where is it written that life should always be pain-free?
June 9: How am I being supported by others right now?
I am indeed fortunate. In addition to being supported by my wife, and surrounded by the rest of my family who are all living close by, I feel supported and valued by my fellow Quakers locally and around the New England region. In addition, as a Friends Minister, I meet occasionally with four other Quakers who function as my support and oversight committee. Their role is to guide and support my ministry among and beyond our Quaker community. I just met with them last Sunday in fact. Being a Quaker, living into my faith as a person called to ministry and being a member of a small spiritual community involves significant time and commitment. But the richness and joy of giving and receiving in so many ways is a gift that I treasure dearly.
June 10: What parts of my body do I treasure?
My initial response is to say that I treasure every part of my body because each part contributes to the whole. But that doesn’t answer the question, does it?
If I must I will choose my eyes, because they inform my world, allowing me to see beauty, danger, food, to read words and to see other people.
Skin is hurt though that it didn’t make the cut today, as it provides for so many forms of touch and holds everything in. Now I hear that my ears are feeling left out, too, having heard that they didn’t make the list either, even though they routinely amplify what Skin thinks it’s sensing and often adds meaning to what my eyes are excited about. My nose thinks this list stinks too, and has signaled to taste to walk off the job at breakfast.
Way to go, Kevin. Everyone got along just fine until you made eyes your favorite.
June 11: If I really believed that I have everything I need, what would I do next?
I actually do believe that I have everything I need. If the question had read, “what do I want?” I would have had a list! Want and need, two poles we spend a lifetime in between.
June 12: Every single moment matters. How can I make this moment matter a little more?
Just a little more? How about making this moment matter hugely? I could do this easily and with just the following four words, that is, if I would just remember: “By being fully present.”
June 13: What is the difference between feeling grateful and being grateful?
I am not sure if I am just splitting hairs here, but here’s my sense of today’s question: Being grateful seems like a state of being; it’s internal and becomes a part of one’s fabric and how they perceive the world around them. Feeling grateful strikes me as being situational, in that I express my gratefulness for a particular thing that I have received or that I am grateful for something that I have received.
But to be honest, today my heart aches for the many lives lost, and the families who are grieving, after the senseless killings in Orlando, Florida. Gratefulness of any kind is not on their minds today. My thoughts and my prayers are with them, especially.
June 14: What anchors (or has anchored) my life amidst the storms?
My faith, family, friends and a sense that life, when it’s hard and it hurts, that love shelters us through the storms.
June 15: When I am silent, what do I hear?
I hear my conscience, my God, my desires and sometimes my fears, too.
June 16: How can I embody one of my deepest values today?
This question strikes me as teasing out the distinctions between “being” and “doing,” between feeling the need to consciously act a certain way compared to simply living into what one is naturally, emotionally and spiritually. If I really need to think about how best to embody my deepest values today, it leaves me wondering how legitimate that value actually is.
June 17: What makes me happy? How do I know it?
Good food, good conversation, a pleasant breeze, being with my wife, being on the water, caring for others and walking a trail with my dog all make me happy. And that’s just a start. When I seek out, savor, then fondly look back on the things I have enjoyed doing, then plan them again, that’s how I know they have made me happy. By contrast, scheduling a root canal or a colonoscopy, pales in comparison!
June 18: What do I stand for?
This question is one that I quietly ask myself from time to time. Sometimes I find myself at peace with being able to answer it privately, and at other times I am uncertain if I am standing “up” and “for” enough in my everyday life, especially now that I have retired.
For thirty-one years while working in a very public position I always needed to be mindful of how my actions and positions would impact my agency and especially my clients. My wife would say to me from time to time, “When you retire, Kevin, you’ll be able to speak out on that without worrying about the consequences with your job.” Now that I am retired, and three months from finishing a practice of “doing no new thing” for one year, I’ve begun to think more about what I want to stand for moving forward with my life. We will see.
June 19: What are some things that are going well in my life?
Aside from chronic back pain and some eye hearth issues, I am especially grateful that I am in very good health otherwise for a sixty-six year old person. And how about a hallelujah for simply being alive? Praise God for that and enough said!
June 20: Everyone is facing some kind of battle. How does knowing this help me to be more kind?
There’s a phrase that I try my best to recall whenever I’m faced with a disagreeable or hostel person in the course of interacting with others. While its source is unknown to me, I find it works wonders if I consider it before I speak or react in any way to the other person. It is, “We speak from where we hurt.”
And there’s this one by Isaac Pennington, a prayer really, from my own Quaker tradition that has served me well to keep nearby:
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness;
And bearing one with another,
And forgiving one another,
And not laying accusations
One against another;
But praying one for another,
And helping one another
Up with a tender hand…
– Isaac Penington
Speaking of dealing with challenges: Check out Getting Through Challenging Times, my page of supportive quotes right here at Rise This Day.
June 21: Who has “made” my day lately? How can I let them know?
I have a list! Beginning with my wife, then any number of our grandkids, our daughters and their husbands, and the Quaker middle-school aged children who attended our retreat last weekend. With each of these fine people I tell them that I cherish and love them and the rest takes care of itself.
June 22: What is it that kindles fire within me?
Love this question! What kindles fire within me is when I sense, feel and somehow know that a new connection has been made with another person. This may come by way of words, images, a shared moment, or through an exchange of group facilitation on a particular topic. It’s less about instruction and more about that unseen flow of energy, even Spirit that creates a brand new path and a bridge to something brand new and beautiful between me and another human being. That’s the fire that keeps me blogging and picking up my camera. For me, it’s a blessing that flows through my days for which I receive and I share with prayerful gratitude.
June 23: Lift up the corners of your mouth into a smile. Now, how do you feel when you hold it for a while?
Today’s question reminds me that many years ago I had to literally learn to be more conscious of my facial expressions especially when working with young people. People, and especially children and teens, are keenly aware of how adults “wear” their faces. I know that I can be perfectly happy inside, and either thinking or listening intently to what is happening or being said around me at a given moment, but my face may not show any particular emotion, which can be disconcerting to others. The phrase, “putting on my game face,” is in reality, more than a saying. Smiling, even slightly, fosters positive interactions with others and makes my day more enjoyable too.
June 24: How can I balance inner work with social action, ever grateful for opportunities to do both?
I need to respond to this question within my Quaker tradition, though I am sure there are many others ways of answering today’s question.
My sense is that inner work should always start before social action, and then proceed in lock-step moving forward. Within my tradition as a Quaker, whenever a Friend feels called to engage in some form of social action he or she is encouraged to do the inner work, via prayer and contemplation first, before undertaking any action. When done accordingly, the gift, grace of movement and prayerful gratitude arrives seamlessly and provides the energy needed for the work.
June 25: Taking a look back over the last few years, which friends have been truly meaningful to you?
I’d have to say that all of my friends are meaningful to me. Some I like a lot. Some I love and some I love dearly. But I categorize none of them. I experience them instead, and they, hopefully, do likewise with me.
June 26: In what creative ways can I show the ones I love that I love them today?
This is a lovely question even as the bigger part of me asks, “Why must I be deliberately creative in order to express my love to another person?” Listening, being present, and saying “I love you” with sincerity would seem to be enough.
But I get it, that joy we feel within and the energy that arrives when, in a spree of sheer bliss, we create a gift perhaps with words, art, music, simple thoughtfulness, or even giving of our time to others in ways that clearly expresses our love. This, it seems to me, to be one of the fundamental wonders and joys of our shared humanity.
And what creative ways do I express my love to others? I’m not saying! Chefs don’t give away the recipe for their ‘secret sauce,’ now do they? J
June 27: When conflict appears in my life, how can I respond productively?
It serves me well to first examine just where I am in my own head and heart. Generally speaking, I’m not usually prone to overall feelings of guilt on a day to day basis, which means I need to be mindful of that two-headed snake of self-righteous thinking and pride. Both of these can mask their appearance during times of conflict. Fortunately, I don’t experience conflict with others very often. But on those rare occasions when I do I need to remember where that snake lives.
June 28: What leads me to a sense of wonder?
I have a little list of such things and moments:
> When watching one of our grandchildren discover something new and watching their eyes light up.
> When working in ministry with children and/or adults and it becomes apparent that the work and presence of the Spirit is clearly amongst us too.
> Watching the sunrise over the ocean, any day and anywhere on the planet.
> When watching a scruffy little weed make its way between the stone walls of our garden out back, then dares to bloom and to shout “look who’s here!”
> And anytime I have the opportunity to see a newborn baby for the first time. It simply takes my breath away.
June 29: How can I live today more gratefully than yesterday?
As I look back on yesterday, I’m actually satisfied with my level of being grateful for that day. So a repeat of the same today would be just fine with me! And yet, being alive to see and live into this new day, literally as the sun rises, makes me grateful to be able to add one more day to the 24, 273 days of my life that have come before.
June 30: When we are grateful, we can unleash our resources for the benefit of the world. What resources do I have to unleash?
I have striven to take on “no new thing” for one year following my retirement, which is now entering its 10th month. I have remained committed to and active within occasional forms of ministry, staffing retreats and of course some writing and photography. But other than that, intentionally no new thing. Whatever else I do after one year, it seems, will be less about “unleashing” and more about waiting and responding to how the Spirit may lead me onward. I have some ideas, but am holding them at bay too, waiting for clarity to determine what part of me is “speaking.”
Text and images by K. Lee