Own Your Dirt – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Autumn 2015

Greetings from the land of spiritual retreat.

Today is our last day on the mountain in paradise – tomorrow morning early we are back to life and work. As many of you know, over the past decade, I’ve gone on spiritual retreat once a year with a dear soul friend – she invited me to it, I accepted, and now it has become part of my spiritual rhythm. For many reasons we “missed” a session in recent months, but this past weekend, we made space for it and as per His custom, God met each of us on the mountain. I’m going home tomorrow with a different perspective, I’ve listened and received counsel from Him, I’ve been disciplined in areas of disobedience. I’ve been reminded how critically important it is to pull back and retreat.

I’m currently rereading Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant, and he speaks to the spiritual disciplines in his chapter “In the Belly of the Fish”. He first sketches the basic structure of Kingdom life – Lord’s Day Worship with Your Community, Daily Praying the Psalms, and Recollected Prayer through the hours of the day – Peterson argues these are essential for all of us, and must be the basic framework of our days. If you want to better understand that framework, I would encourage you to read the book. He then goes on to speak of fourteen associated acts or disciplines – reminding us that we need to be familiar with all of them and knowledgeable in how they function.

And then, he advises us to own our dirt – and here I want you to pay special attention.

I use the image of soil to represent the place in which I cultivate the life of prayer which then develops into my vocational spirituality. When analyzed, this soil is seen to comprise many elements: actual congregation, family background, personal education, individual temperament, regional climate, local politics, mass culture. The soil conditions in Vermont are different from those in Texas. Any attempt to grow crops that is not mindful of soil will not be successful.

Any attempt to cultivate a spirituality copied from something grown on someone else’s soil is as misguided as planting orange groves in Minnesota. Careful and detailed attention must be given to the conditions, inner and outer, historical and current, in which I, not you, exist. Nothing comes to grief more swiftly than an imitative spirituality that disregards conditions. Spirituality cannot be imposed, it must be grown. Prayer is not a scarecrow put together from old scraps of lumber and cast-off clothing and then pushed into the soil; it is seed that germinates in the soil, sensitive to everything that is there – nitrogen and potash, earthworms and potato bugs, rain and sun…..Everything is connected, proportions are important, size is critical…..Knowledge of the tools ( disciplines ) is necessary, but the knowledge will surely be destructive, if not incorporated into a practiced familiarity with the actual soil conditions and a studied reverence in the ways in which vegetables, fruits, souls and bodies actually grow. Eugene Peterson

So here’s his list.

Spiritual Reading

Spiritual Direction

Meditation

Confession

Bodily Exercise

Fasting

Sabbath Keeping

Dream Interpretation

Retreats

Pilgrimage

Tithing

Journaling

Sabbaticals

Small Groups

It’s an interesting list that he’s proposing. I’m thinking about it – seeing areas where I have a solid understanding of the tool, others I’ve never used, some I’m not sure that I ever will.

The thought I will leave you with is this – a soul grows if it is fed and cultivated, it requires discipline and care – it is always an organic process – close to the earth, coming forth from your particular terrain. Soul growth is always customized to the individual.

I learned that again this weekend. I hunkered down with my Father – watched His sunrises and sunsets over the mountains, took long naps under His watch, listened while He shaped and tended my heart. It is a private and personal process, completely available to you should you choose to climb the mountain.

Send your thoughts, and know that I am praying for you.

A little cafecito on the back porch to get us started…..Find Me Here Tuesdays – Autumn 2015

It seemed the right thing to do – I just brewed some fresh coffee, set out a tablecloth and came to the back porch to write this post which you will find tomorrow if you look – this porch is sacred space for me, and whatever small corner of the world we share via this little blog, it is sacred as well.

Many of you are new here, so I want to spend a little bit of time sketching for you why I come here and why you might be interested in coming and what I will expect and what you should expect.

At some point in my midlife journey I realized that I both needed and wanted to give back. As I reflected on the many women that came alongside me when I was single, when I had a classroom of my own for the very first time, when I was getting married, when I had little ones, when I was selling my house and moving to an island, I was deeply impacted by the presence of their lives in mine over those years. And as I thought about that company of women, I knew it was time to make sure I was doing the same for women younger than myself. Of course, most of the women I knew didn’t live in the same part of the world as I did, so I started writing here – and I opened up the door for women to exchange emails with me and to come visit if at all possible. So it began by wanting to give to younger generations in the same way that older generations had given to me, but it has become so much more. If somehow someone finds out about you all and they ask me about it, this is what I say.

You are LIFE to me – the fresh newness of finding a first job, giving an important speech, moving to a new city to be closer to a boyfriend – your lives as single women, your vocations – the marriages and babies – it is ALL life to me and it has an energy that keeps my spirits up as I start to “go down the backside of the hill” as my youngest son likes to remind me.

You are CHISPA – this is Spanish for spark and a call out to sweet Gladys. If you have landed here it is because we made a “click” somewhere and somehow – you spent time looking at my books, we cooked or baked together, you played with my children or I played with yours, we walked along the beach together, we stayed up late with the candles burning, we poured wine or shared coffee – somehow we made a connect. I saw your spark and wanted to call it forth.

You are seeking the KINGDOM – you have passions and desires, you know there is more than this world and you are stretching to embrace that, you are called and it shows. You are His beloved and on you His favor rests.

For me, it has always meant so much to be seen and known and welcomed – and that is what I want to extend to you – a safe place – a refuge you can carry around in your back pocket. Sometimes it is enough to know that there are doors that will always open to you – this is one of those doors.

So what am I expecting of you? Absolutely nothing – you don’t have to read these blogs or write me emails, you don’t have to do anything.

And what can you expect from me? I will write on Tuesdays – it keeps everyone current with me so that I don’t have to repeat myself in emails, and you can always find me if you want. I will also respond to your emails when you write – I’m coming out of a bit of a fog with that, so hopefully my responses will be within a few days. You can send me stories or specific prayer requests, you can ask me questions or let off steam – you can share a victory or set a burden down – I will pray for you.

And to wrap up this monologue, I do have one request – no pedestals please. Do not place me up on some platform, I might fall and get hurt. I am just like you. I am a fellow traveler, I’ve just covered more miles than you have – we are in this together.

Lately I’ve been reading some of George MacDonald’s sermons – he’s a fan favorite of so many writers, so I’m slowly working my way through his thoughts. This particular passage was in a sermon on Light, I leave you this week with his challenge.

Come to God, then, my brother, my sister, with all your desires and instincts, all your lofty ideals, all your longing for purity and unselfishness, all your yearning to love and be true, all your aspirations after self-forgetfulness and child-life in the breath of the Father; come to Him with all your weaknesses, all your shames, all your futilities; with all your helplessness over your own thoughts; with all your failure, yes, with the sick sense of having missed the tide of true affairs; come to Him with all your doubts, fears, dishonesties, meannesses, paltrinesses, misjudgments, wearinesses, disappointments, and stalenesses; be sure He will take you and all your miserable brood, whether of draggle-winged angels, or covert-seeking snakes, into His care, the angels for life, the snakes for death, and you for liberty in His limitless heart! For He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. George MacDonald

Oh here we go my friends! Vamos!

Con amor until next Tuesday.

And now welcome to October! Find Me Here Tuesdays Start Next Week

Hey there friends!

September zoomed by and now here we are in October – I’m looking forward to being back in this space starting next week. I had hoped to have a beautiful new blog with a section for the Books that I’m Reading and another section with some essays that I’ve been writing for you, but alas, that has not happened YET. So bear with this humble corner, and know that I’m on the search for an amazing designer/web person that wants to come for a week and work on my projects in exchange for free lodging in our casita and meals from my kitchen – I’m all about bartering, vamos.

Soooooo, welcome welcome welcome – if you’re new here, I’m so glad you’re here. This space is where I land once a week so you can know what I’m thinking and musing on as our hours turn into days and weeks and months and seasons. You are welcome to leave comments, but for most of you, our correspondence is via email – now and again, you write and I write back. You send prayer requests or questions or updates, and I tuck them in and around my thoughts and prayers for you.

More to come soon, make sure you touch base next Tuesday!

Con amor,

J

Welcome to September – Find Me Here Tuesdays

Hey there friends,

What a great day to begin again in this space – September 1 – start of my autumn season – four months to go in our BIG YEAR.

So let’s gather a bit – when you have a chance – and as your summers are winding down – send me a little update – where have you been, where are you going – specific prayer requests for the coming season.

I came across this prayer in my Divine Hours reading this morning, and it settled my soul. It’s a deep breath prayer that I often return to at the start of a new season.

O Lord, my God, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; yet you have called me to stand in this house, and to serve at this work.

To you and to your service I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit.

Fill my memory with the record of your mighty works; enlighten my understanding with the light of your Holy Spirit; and may all the desires of my heart and will center in what you would have me to do.

Make me an instrument of your salvation for the people entrusted to my care, and grant that by my life and teaching I may set forth your true and living Word.

Be always with me in carrying out the duties of my faith.

In prayer, quicken my devotion; in praises, heighten my love and gratitude; in conversation, give me readiness of thought and expression; and grant that by the clearness and brightness of your holy Word, all the world may be drawn into your blessed kingdom.

All this I ask for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Looking forward to connecting in the coming days – autumn here we come!

See you in August!

Hey there friends,

I have the rare opportunity to go on a ROAD TRIP with my best friend this month – I’m disconnecting from everything but the absolute essentials until August.

Be present to the beauty and fun of summer.

I will be back the first week of August.

Con amor!

Cultivating Ambiente – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Twenty Second Post

Oh my, oh my, oh my.

Where to begin? With the little boy in the airport who was on the ground spinning in circles and screaming at the top of his lungs because he didn’t get what he wanted at McDonald’s? Or the two little guys in the movie theater last night watching Jurassic World – throwing popcorn AT ME and responding with a defiant “What?” after I leaned forward to make eye contact when one shouted “Damn!” in the middle of the movie. I think he was maybe three years old? Well, probably older than that, but not by much.

One of the advantages of flying in and out of countries and cultures is the ability to see more clearly subtle shifts in accepted behaviors. No one blinked an eye in the airport, people walked calmly past this little one as if throwing a fit has become so commonplace, it’s not worthy of out attention. Of course, most didn’t notice him because they were walking and navigating a phone screen, but that’s another issue not for today.  In the theater? The mom bought more candy and ignored it. Her child is shouting out inappropriate language in the midst of a public theater, and she does not respond.

Wow, just WOW.

And then this from the church bulletin on Sunday.

When we set about accounting for a Napoleon or a Shakespeare or a Raphael or a Wagner or an Edison or other extraordinary person, we understand that the measure of his talent will not explain the whole result, nor even the largest part of it; no, it is the atmosphere ( ambiente ) in which the talent was cradled that explains; it is the training it received while it grew…..the encouragement it gathered…..at each stage of its development: when we know all these details, then we know why the man ( or woman ) was ready when his ( or her ) opportunity came. Mark Twain ***parentheses mine

Ambiente lives and breathes – it is everywhere in a home, in a community, in the society at large. It is the sights and sounds and tastes and smells and touches of something more. It is elusive, it is Kingdom.

We are responsible for the cultivation of atmosphere – for the stacks of books that say read and learn, for the walks outside that say listen and pay attention, for the food served at our tables that says come and eat, for the aroma of rich coffee that says come and converse, for the hugs and eye contact that say you are known, you are the child of a King – stand up and be present, you were created for more than the floor of an airport or whatever thrill there is in flinging popcorn at a fifty year old woman.

What do your environments look like? Is your house clean and simple and filled with beauty?

What do you listen to all day?

What smells are simmering on your stove or baking in your ovens? Are the clothes in your house clean and fresh? Your sheets? Towels?

When was the last time you ate amazing food?

Are you sitting close to the ones you love? Holding their hands when you walk? Looking them in the eye? Kissing their cheeks?

I must say that in the end, while I believe that children must learn to take responsibility for their actions, I hold the adults, I hold myself, responsible. We cultivate ambiente and invite children to enter in and live life with us.

Okay.

Deep breath.

My apologies, this was perhaps a bit stronger than my typical writing.

Feel free to respond.

Con amor.

God at Play – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Twenty First Post

It’s Tuesday! I’m a bit late today – our daily rhythms are off – school’s finally out for my youngest. We’re staying up later, eating at odd times, baking cookies for dinner.

In cleaning and organizing last week, I came across these thoughts on play from the book A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves.

God also plays. How exactly and where exactly he is playing all throughout the universe I cannot fully know. Perhaps G.K. Chesterton’s observation will be of some help: “A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.”

Yet, Chesterton suggests, God is different from those “grown up people”:

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible, that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we.

This particular passage from this book merited a photo copy and a place in my files because I liked the way that it made me think about time and God and play and children and the act of creating daisies.

One of the invitations of summer is God at play – especially in the north – days stretch, trees expand, flowers go wild.

Soak it up.

Savor it.

Summer!

Con amor.

And so we begin again….. – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Twentieth Post

This little phrase – “and so we begin again” – always reminds me of Robert Benson, one of my favorite authors, and his deep wisdom.

It’s all one can do, yes? A new week, a new month, a new season, a new stage – we begin and begin and begin again.

Today we officially pass from spring to summer in this house – our college boys are off on their summer adventures, our youngest is taking his last high school finals – last early morning wake up call – last gathering of books and backpacks until August – and to all of this my heart says YES. I love summer.

When I’m standing in this transition space between one rhythm and another, I always follow a similar pattern. I share it with you here because I’ve been doing this for a long time and it has brought order, beauty and texture to my life.

First off? I clean. Oh how I clean. I clean the areas that aren’t touched on a weekly basis. We toss. We give things away. We scrub. We rearrange. We set the house to rights. I clean physical spaces which is a spiritual practice because my heart and soul always feel lighter when I’m done.

Second? I plan. I make a summer list and a “I’m not going to think about that until August list”, and then I don’t look at that second list until I get to August. I pass the majority of life to the next season so I can lighten the days and tempo of summer. I read book reviews and choose my summer reading. I gather together a few topics that I want to muse on over the summer and tuck them in my pocket.

Third? I get back at disciplines that fell away in life’s mayhem. Yesterday I went back to the pool and started swimming. I fell off a bike in May. Remember? My body needed some time to mend, but swimming is ballast for me and so I must do it regardless of what season I am in. Summer must also be gently framed with discipline. Ouch. It’s true. We need to be held, our children need gentle structures or summer doesn’t heal us.

So I clean and organize, I make plans, and I maintain a gentle order to my days.  So I can enjoy…..

Breakfast out with my parents.

A walk around the block on smooth sidewalks.

An afternoon at the swimming pool with iced tea and lemon.

A bike ride to the library.

A bike ride home from the library with my basket filled with books.

( I will have to be BRAVE to get back on a bike! )

An anniversary road trip with my husband.

A chance to help a friend choose paint colors and fabrics for her new house.

Blueberries.

Root beer floats.

Oh my! Here we go!!!

And then the rains come….. – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Nineteenth Post

Greetings.

Within a very short amount of time, the little jungle forest outside my windows has completely transformed. What was dry and dusty just a few weeks ago, is now filling in with more shades of green than I can count as I wash dishes and watch my hummingbirds. We were all quite weary from the polvo…..more than once I declared I was ready for the rain and now it is here.

It’s never a light switch, never a click of the mouse – the transitions of life are slow and gradual and in the end, despite knowing change was on the radar, the rains come. We find ourselves surprised by the beauty of the thunder, a baby boy now a man, a striking fellow college student now a husband enjoyed for decades.

As you know, I’ve been using this space to bring you my musings – in your comments you have been thinking and pondering as well. My month of May was a series of “change portraits” – making the jump from one half century to another, enjoying my sons as guests from faraway lands, stretching to bring weeks of thinking to my world of colleagues working on behalf of children and families.

And now the summer comes with all its many invitations, the pull of nature and seasons and time is relentless – always, always we begin again. We come around corners and find ourselves, we chase the little girl and bring her to our present.

Our dear St. Benedict wove three monastic vows into a rule of life for family and community. The first vow was a commitment to obedience and listening – cultivating a life with solid spiritual disciplines that created space for God to act and speak in our midst. The second vow was a commitment to stability – staying the course, being faithful to the promises we have made. And the third was a commitment to change – shaping a life that was open and soft to new seasons, funny bends in the road, corners we didn’t anticipate, rough edges to smooth.

And as usual, the musings aren’t completely formed, but the rough outline is there – a spiritual life listens, a spiritual life holds, and a spiritual life embraces change.

Send me an update and share your summer plans!

Con amor.

Life is Messy and Complicated – Find Me Here Tuesdays – Eighteenth Post

Good morning!

Ronald Rolheiser speaks to this truth in his essay entitled “Life is a Messy Business” from the book, Forgotten Among the Lilies.

Nobody goes through life antiseptically without dirt, pain, mess and death…..Life may be messy, but it is real, not plastic. We are not Swiss clocks, infallibly ordered, made to tick meticulously, precise and antiseptic. Rather our lives are anything but ordered and clocklike. We cannot live without messiness, complications and much emotional and physical pain.

It begins when we are born. Birth is a messy process which causes pain, dictates involvement and complicates peoples’ lives irrevocably. Living does too!

Work, interrelations, love, sex, friendship, aging, all of these are complex, earthy, messy businesses which are always at least partially full of pain, pettiness, limit, compromise and death. They are full of joy and meaning too, but these are seldom given purely. Moreover no one goes through life without having his or her dignity, freedom and dreams frustrated and stepped on. There is no antiseptic route through life…..

Often this leaves us discouraged and questioning. More seriously, this often leads to a subtle despair. Stated simply the algebra of this despair, and ultimately of all despair, reads like this: If all is muddled, then all is permitted.

That attitude is viral and deadly. It is perhaps the worst temptation faced by an adult. Because of it we sell ourselves out, give up, throw dignity and dreams to the wind and settle for second best. This single factor is perhaps at the root of most of the infidelity, sexual irresponsibility, and unbelief with our culture…..

The messiness of life also leaves us tempted in another way, namely to try to live antiseptically.

Since we cannot live and love deeply without hurting, without pettiness, enslaving and humiliating entanglements, without smear, we opt not to live and love deeply at all. so we hang loose, refusing depth. We stay away from all that might hurt – or heal – us deeply.

In doing this we make life plastic – antiseptic, clean, without dirt and smell but totally lifeless and without meaning, like a plastic rose. We need to accept the contours of our own existence…..Our souls are born enfleshed in soil, pain, blood and smell.

Ah, these words of truth are good for the soul. Life is messy and complicated and we need to embrace that. We do not want to be people without resiliency who toss their lives away in quiet despair. We also do not want to scrub and clean away all the texture and flavor.

As always, I write for you, I write for myself. I write for the fifty year old woman struggling to stand up on a beach road after having fallen off a bicycle due to a dumb decision to ride with the seat too high. I write for that woman covered in dust and dirt, that old lady with aching wrist and rib bones and muscles that will need time to heal. I write for the long list of messy and complicated situations – far more difficult than a fall off a bicycle – that I’m facing today because I know you have a list as well. Embrace your list. Live it and be grateful for it. Fight the despair that creeps into your soul, ride the bicycles, do daring things, get dirty, fall down. An antiseptic life is not a life.

The morning after my fall, Oswald was writing on a different topic, but asked a very relevant question.

Now where does God come in this?

Onward my friends!