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Oct 28 2016

Friday Florilegium

Day 25 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary. (And yes, my faithful readers, I’ve had to choose not to blog a few times this week in order to maintain an internet-free sanctuary.)

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The florilegium for today comes from Julian of Norwich, 14th century English anchoress, and the first woman known to have published a book in English–Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love. She lived in a small two-room cell leaning up against a church, spending her days in prayer and giving spiritual counsel to those who visited her window. Anchoresses were allowed a cat, so Julian’s icon often shows her with a cat.

Considering how important Minerva is in my own life as a single person, I can imagine that Julian’s cat was more than just a mouser, but a companion as well.

Julian experienced 16 “showings” she believed were given to her by God, and then spent 20 years meditating on those visions. Here are my three favorite passages, among many, that show our sanctuary in the love of God:

And in this [God] showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.

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Would you learn our Lord’s meaning in this thing?
Learn it well: Love was his meaning.
Who showed it to you? Love.
What did he show you? Only love.
And for what reason did he show you? For love.
Hold on to this, and you will learn more of the same.
But you will never, without end, learn in it any other meaning. 

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All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Oct 22 2016

Think Small

Day 22 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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A forgotten butterfly, found on a walk.

In chaos theory, small changes in the initial stages of a pattern are believed to have large effects. One of the first metaphors describing this theory uses weather: a butterfly flapping its wings could set into motion a hurricane at a later time in a different place, thus it is called the butterfly effect. While this is a negative effect, small changes could also have a positive effect in distant times and places.

I often think of those moments when I know that, had I made a slightly different decision, life would have been quite different. Sometimes reflecting on those small changes can be helpful, other times they can become “if onlys” and best left to God’s redemption.

A small change now can affect our lives in the future. Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our life.” The ordinary, quotidian, seemingly small, details shape our lives. Even one small change could have a large impact.

While this might sound terrifying, it can also be encouraging.

Yellowstone National Park brought wolves back to the park in 1995 after an absence of 69 years. In reintroducing them, the wildlife specialists had no idea the sanctuary-creating cascade of events they were setting in motion. Here is a breath-taking 5-minute video that takes you through the amazing outcomes (turn off the Music for Dreaming > before watching):

Cultivating sanctuary is not about making big, complicated changes, but making the small, simple ones.

How do we know what change? Through prayer and listening to God’s word, to your heart and hopes, to those who love you and who share home-space with you. No large moves. No drastic changes. It’s the small change the Holy Spirit whispers to you through your longing, joy, or tears. It may not even seem that important, or it may seem too easy, but God’s grace and love and power shine through.

What is the smallest change you can make toward cultivating sanctuary?

 

 


Oct 12 2016

Sweeping God

Day 12 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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During the student years, I had a little house cleaning and home organization business. Cleaning is one of the ways I enjoy bringing a bit of order, good smells, and beauty to people’s lives in an often chaotic world. It’s also a practice that puts me into creative listening mode–my house is never cleaner than when I’m writing a sermon. Sometimes, if I don’t know what to do next, I grab my broom and sweep.

One of the eight items that I intentionally brought into the Contemplative Cottage the first day was a broom, brand new, made by hand in a Amish community. Broom lore in many traditions suggests that old brooms should stay in the old house. On an allegorical level, this makes sense: start fresh and clean, don’t bring old dirt into your new home.

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For me, the broom symbolizes one of my favorite parables.

Jesus tells three stories in Luke 15, one after another: a shepherd and a lost sheep; a woman and a lost coin; a father and a lost son.

Each talk about seeking what is lost, and then rejoicing that it is found, tying it specifically to repentance (a return to life-giving place, purpose, or love). The sheep, coin, and son are treasured in different ways, but in each case God (shepherd searching, woman sweeping, and father running) is the finder and we are the found.

As a lover of hearth and home, Sweeping Woman God warms my heart. And yes, a man can use a broom, too, but we have already more readily imaged God as a male shepherd or father, rather than a female shepherd or mother. We are more likely to leave the woman sweeping simply a woman, rather than allow her to embody one more beautiful image of God searching for us.

So when I sweep, I remember I bear the image of this sweeping God.  I sweep the corners and under the furniture of my life, finding grace. I sweep up the bits of litter Minerva tracks everywhere and all the dirt that seems to accumulate through no one’s fault, both on my floors and in my heart. I ponder scripture and sweep, cleaning out my blindspots. I pray for people as I sweep that they may find what they seek and know order in their chaos. I sweep my confession, not under the rug, but out of the house, and receive a good ol’ dust pan absolution.

And when I’m done sweeping, I realize, I’ve been swept free, a treasure found and rejoiced over with singing by a God who enjoys sweeping, too.

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Oct 10 2016

Counting Gratitudes

Day 10 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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The Contemplative Cottage – Credit Unknown

Every time I walk back from work to the cottage, and I see it perched on it’s little hill, I am incredibly thankful. Thank-full. To the brim and overflowing. I had never really believed that I would own a house, nor one that fit so perfectly my internal image of the Contemplative Cottage. Even photos of lovely English cottages in Oxford, or thatched-roofed cottages in Ireland, do not make me wish for those other houses in those wonderful, but distant, places. They only give me ideas for decorating my house, here, rooted in a community I love.

In 2008, when I was first contemplating starting a blog, I discovered the blog of Ann Voscamp, author of the New York Times bestseller One Thousand Gifts, a Christian, Canadian farmer, and mother of 7. Ann introduced me to a practice that has woven itself into my life now for 8 years: counting gratitudes.

Challenged by a friend to count to 1ooo things she was thankful for, Ann began a list. Every Monday on her blog, she would share her list from the previous week. For her, this practice radically transformed her life, one that had been marked by depression, debilitating fear, and grief over the tragic death of her younger sister. While all that she wrestled with did not suddenly disappear, she found that keeping a running record of her thanks built a habit of thanksgiving, eucharisteo, and changed how she saw her life and the world. She began to see more and more to add to her list.

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Inspired by her practice and testimony, I began a list. After a few months, aware that keeping up the practice in times of stress would be difficult, I created a gratitude journal, as she suggested, one that could be open on the counter in plain sight. A memory for which I’m thankful is making the journal while on a Christmas visit to my parents’, taking over the dining room table with crafting supplies. This past year, on December 31, 2015, I entered the 1330th gratitude on the final page. My new journal began at the start of 2016 and I continue counting.

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The power of the practice, even doing it semi-regularly as I do, shifts my attention from all that is wrong or negative, to all the beauty and love that surround me. It helps me pay attention (the primary practice for so many spiritual disciplines!) to the little graces and gifts that the frenetic pace of life often blinds me to.

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But there is another, even more powerful outcome, one that the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas discusses when talking about virtue. We can be trained in the virtue of moderation by the experience of delight by learning (hopefully) the moment that delighting in something turns into self-indulgence. Delight reinforces our habits, but it does more. Remembered delight–delighting in the memory of the delight–is joy. When I reread the years and years of gratitudes, small and large, I’m not simply delighted, I experience a deep joy, that leads to an even deeper thanks.

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If this practice resonates with you, the easiest way to begin is to write a list 10 things you are thankful for…get detailed, get specific.

It can be something very small, like how the sun light reflects beautifully on a wall, or the smell of baking bread, or the buzzing bees in the garden. It can be thanks for the life of loved one, a specific list of how you are thankful for them. It can be the hindsight gratitude for redemption of a hard or painful experience.

Once you’ve counted ten, make that list the beginning of a longer list. Put it in a visible place–on a kitchen counter or nightstand– and add to it from time to time, until you have counted to 1000. And once there, why stop?

 

 


Oct 9 2016

On Kitchen Counters and Simple Delights

Day 9 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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For many years, I was a “clean the kitchen counters in the morning” girl. I always felt that I ought to clean them at night, but that habit eluded me. So I let it go. Then, I happened to do it one evening and the next day as I wandered out for morning tea, the peacefulness of the kitchen made me smile and sigh deeply.

Rather than share photos of a clean counter, the quiet interiors of Dutch painter, Carl Vilhelm Halsoe (1863-1935), capture the feeling.

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I won’t pretend there was any deep, meaningful joy in seeing the counters clean, but there was certainly a positive feeling welling up in my heart. I was delighted. What a wonderful way to start the day.

In that moment, my attitude toward cleaning the kitchen shifted. A little investment of energy at night to clean the counters was returned double with the morning peacefulness, which in turn reinforced the practice to clean the counter each evening.

I’m all about pursuing good habits, but this was different, because having clean counters was not the focus, the positive sense of well-being was. There was no judgment that a clean counter was proper or correct. Having a clean counter stopped being about should or ought or becoming the type of person who keeps her kitchen clean (whatever “type” that is and why it seemed important, I don’t know).

I started to look for other little things that I could invest energy into that would engender a sense of well-being.

When I paid attention to these few simple tasks, the positive feeling rippled through the rest of the day.

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Over the years of this practice, something has shifted. As I consider tasks on my regular to-do list, I realize that there are two ways to approach them. One is to frame them as what I should do or have to do and the other is to focus on the delight after completion. I’m working on choosing the second option more often. The delight might be my own, or for the delight of a person or group of people.

Many tasks that I know will take a lot of time and energy, I can connect them to my heart by asking, “How might completing this lead to a small delight or sense of well-being for myself or others?” Whether it is as simple as clean counters or as large as a completed project, having a vision for how completion looks and feels helps realize the vision.

Kelly McGonigal talks about this in her book, Willpower. Starting the day by imagining the end of the day in as much detail as possible–with tasks completed–actually aids in reaching that vision.

And yes, there are tasks which don’t seem to have any delight to connect with. In this case, I try to focus on the sense of well-being I will have when I can simply cross it off the to-do list. (And fellow list-makers know: sometimes the joy of crossing something off is enough incentive.)

What gives me delight and helps cultivate sanctuary may not be the same as you. I invite you to reflect: What might your “clean counter” task be that would spark a sense of well-being or delight? What is one task whose completion by the end of today would spark delight?

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Oct 8 2016

Snail Mail

Day 8 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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Snail Mail – Credit unknown

Only for a culture that values speed above all is snail a negative description.

Back in 1998, the movie You’ve Got Mail came out and everyone was in love with AOL (though I think I was on Earthlink). Remember the dial-up sounds? Or the cheery “You’ve got mail!” This new instant communication had finally taken the world by storm, and in a few short years Hollywood was already capitalizing on it.

Around that time, I bought my first laptop, an IBM Thinkpad, because my new church position only offered an ancient Macintosh. After moving from a software company into ministry, it was a shock.

Getting emails at work was not new for me, but after another pair of years I felt something had shifted in my life. Now I could get emails at home. Now I could take my computer to the local cafe and work.

And my postal mail box was more frequently empty.

I have an old fashioned suitcase that contains all the letters and cards I’ve received over the years from my parents and friends–it makes me cry with joy and gratitude when I read them. In a lovely wooden chest, I keep all the letters from past loves, tied with ribbon, not because of regrets or sadness, but because they are beautiful gifts from dear people and memories I cherish.

In one of my software jobs, I received letters from all over the world about product ideas. My job was to pass the letter on to the appropriate department for review and send a printed letter in response to the sender. Many of these letters were handwritten in lovely script, and I wish I had hand-written responses back to their earnest inquiries, answered their human contact in kind. Rather than throwing away the stamps, I was given permission to keep them and today, still marvel at their beauty.

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Personal letter writing is a practice that gifts a bit of beauty, and very often brings others joy and comfort. Nothing says, “I remember you, I’m thinking of you,” than a hand-written note. And these notes, letters, and cards are not pixels, possibly lost in a hard drive crash or easily deleted in a moment of pain, or forgotten in the cloud or the email archive. These three-dimensional bits of love and care create a landmark in our memories, to that moment, or that birthday, or that loved one, and the heart remembers again, like it was yesterday, yet with a new deeper layer of joy and poignant gratitude.

I want to be quicker at answering emails. But I’d love to be better at crafting letters.

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The best practice I’ve found is to have all the materials for a beautiful letter in one place–ready to go. For some reason, my kitchen table has become that place. Maybe because the kitchen feels like the homiest and most welcoming room, maybe because having the postage stamps and cards and sealing wax in such a public place creates a visible reminder. I found a lovely mail sorter at Hobby Lobby and each slot keeps cards ready for that particular month. There are also ink stamps and dipping ink, paper presses and stickers ready.

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Picking out stamps at the post office is such a classic errand and I love doing it. The postal clerks love when you ask what stamps they have. They bring out the view book and comment on the collection. I try to pick a variety of stamps–kids, professional, love, art, Christmas–so that I can try to match the stamp to the recipient. (This was difficult during the Harry Potter collection–who wants to get a letter with a Voldemort stamp!)

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But all the frills and fancies make no difference–the plainest, blankest card is enough, as long as it bears your words in your hand to the person you care about.

A number of years ago I was in a cafe and I watched a woman in her late 60s writing letters as she drank her coffee. She had a stack of notecards and envelopes and over the hours I was there, she filled them with brief hand-written notes. I decided to ask her about them, expecting that they were thank yous for a recent wedding or event. In fact, writing notes was her calling, she said. She enjoyed writing notes of encouragement to people far and wide that she had met over the years, keeping in touch with them through snail mail.

I want to be her when I grow up.

If this practice resonates with you, I encourage you to get a simple piece of paper or note card today and write to someone you care about–just a few sentences of encouragement. It will be meaningful for them just to receive it.

It will probably take longer to collect the paper, envelope, address, and stamps, than to write, but once it’s done, there is no obstacle to writing another…and another. And the next thing you know, you’ll be visiting the post office to pick out stamps!

Happy Corresponding!

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