Throw aways worth keeping

Mexican Sunflowers_1I went to Whitenight’s Farm and Greenhouse sometime back in May. The weather was warming up. I was in the mood to plant vegetables and flowers.  I  have a friendly relationship with Karen who works there. She may even own the place. I don’t know. I like her and the business alot.

My intention was to cultivate a colorful garden. I also wanted to build upon my efforts to farm and nurture Monarch Butterflies. Gardening is a healthy spiritual practice for me.  I wanted some Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) and Milkweed plants. They are key ingredients for farming butterflies.  The farm didn’t have any as it was too early to plant them. Karen wasn’t there that day so I didn’t get to check in. The cashier was kind enough to take my contact information. She ordered the amount of plants that I wanted. I went back to the house and planted my peppers, tomatoes, and some other things.

Then, life happened. Other priorities and diversions came along and I forgot about my gardening goals.

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Photo – courtesy of Whitenight’s Farm

Someone from Whitenights probably called at some in time. I don’t usually answer calls from unknown telephone numbers. They didn’t leave a voice mail message or maybe I accidentally deleted it.  Regardless, about six weeks later, I stopped in again to ask Karen about how the monarch butterfly season was going for her. I wasn’t seeing any monarchs in my backyard.  She indicated she hadn’t seen any monarchs either.  She then inquired whether I still wanted to buy the milkweed and sunflowers I had ordered.

Crap, I had forgotten.

She wasn’t even sure that the greenhouse still had them. Karen hadn’t ordered a lot more of milkweed and Mexican Sunflowers because of the dearth of butterflies in the area. Weather and conditions south of us were preventing monarchs from making it to Pennsylvania – at least that’s what we heard.

 

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She asked someone to look for my ordered plants just in case.  They were still there – about to be thrown away and looking very parched.  I felt awful because of my poor memory. I was responsible for the plants dying. Karen told me to go ahead and take them home. “Plant them anyway and see what happens.”  I offered to buy them.  She gave them to me for free. Feeling guilty, I bought some planting soil and some other stuff.  How many flowers and vegetables wind up in compost or garbage bins because customers like me aren’t as responsible as we should be?  Nature’s unpredictability and human shortcomings don’t probably help much either. I headed home with my almost dead garden plants and a heavy heart.

I planted the Tithonia in a section of my garden were the lilies and bee balm were doing great.  I used a heavy dose of planting soil, watered the twigs, and offered a prayer of gratitude for Karen’s generosity and hope for some growth.   Maybe the flowers and the butterflies would survive despite my forgetfulness. Maybe I should just be thankful for the manner in which my tomatoes, peppers, hydrangea, and other garden plants and vegetables were thriving. Well, was I in for some surprises as spring turned to summer.

We had a very rainy summer. I traveled quite a bit; so, I was away from home. My garden was on autopilot. garden_3 I came home to this picture.

My sunflowers had flourished! There were bees and butterflies all over the place. Monarch caterpillars were crawling all over my milkweed plants elsewhere in the yard.

I understand simplistically that these plants don’t need me or my feeble expertise to grow.  They are like the mustard seeds that Jesus speaks about in a fairly famous parable. Little seeds can grow into great big plants as long as they have good exposure to sunlight, healthy soil, and enough water to drink. This is not rocket science. Some would say, me being among them, that people are doing much more to harm than good to our planetary environments.  The most recent United Nations Climate Report suggests that human beings must take unprecedented social changes if we will survive and avoid catastrophic planetary peril. It was more than 90 degrees in Norway and over 100 degrees in Japan even as the rains fell in Pennsylvania and wildfires burned uncontrollably in Europe and Oregon. “Weirdness abounds” according to Rutgers University Scientist, Jennifer Francis.

We lose or waste billions of tons of food on this planet. Americans are especially wasteful as we throw away $165 billion dollars of our (un)prepared food. (Quention Fottrell). What would we gain if we would at least compost some of this supply?  Who is going hungry as food spoils on our garbage dumps?  blog 3What I find spiritually, ethically, and theological renewing is that there are emerging efforts across the globe to confront these realities. Episcopalians have decided to make the Stewardship of Creation an important goal by funding environmental stewardship initiatives. Organizations such as Columbia University’s Earth Institute purposefully blend research in the physical and social sciences, education and practical solutions in order to assist people and nations adopt a path toward sustainability.

One of my core personality principles that I commonly lose sight of is that everyone and everything is ultimately connected.  I have a deep longing for some idealistic future even as I overlook the beauty of this present moment.  Wholeness already exists. Paying attention to the joy I experience by going to Whitenights and planting flowers will help me to avoid becoming anxious or fascinating upon an unrealistic future.

Dr David Daniels astutely says that those of us who desire transformative change for ourselves, our gardens, and this island Earth our home must identify where we feel violated, angry, or afraid. How do these negative emotions shape and harm our future and our present? It is only then by confronting what is really going on that we can choose to act differently, and become someone who is born anew.

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Read Dr. David Daniels article about saving the planet through self-inquiry and personal growth.

In my own experience, I may look at myself as being ashamed of throwing away the flowers and letting them die at the nursery and along my life’s pilgrimage. Instead, I may choose to receive the gift of these dying flowers and plant them to see how they will grow and beautify my life and the lives of the people around me.

Developing daily rituals such as enjoying the beauty of the garden I’ve participated in growing, valuing the relationships I have in this moment, and continuing realistic, inspiration advocacy for the causes I love. These changes will have immediate as well as long term benefits . This pilgrimage invites a sustainable, beautiful path.

I’m going to purchase some mums from Whitenights today.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

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What a Puzzlement

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A Puzzlement Vimeo by Andrew MacGregor Marshall.  The King and I – Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II – Music By Richard Rogers.

In my head are many facts That, as a student, I have studied to procure
In my head are many facts
Of which I wish I was more certain, I was sure
Is a puzzlement ….

Is a danger to be trusting one another. One will seldom want to do what other wishes
But unless someday somebody trust somebody
There’ll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes.  … ( The King and I – Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II – Music By Richard Rogers.

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Read Mariah Blake’s Mad Men article to learn more about the Manosphere and how men striving to claim their masculinity are harming women and other marginalized persons.

Human behavior ??? What a puzzlement to be sure.  I’ve read articles this week about human interactions and concepts that seem incomprehensible. What the hell is Incel? I mean, I’m gay so I’ve never been hung up about not engaging in physical sex or intimate relationships with women.  I certainly have anguished over not being able to go home with a man for hours of erotic sex when I was single.  We didn’t have Grindr back then and seemingly many gay men’s physical and mental health are still suffering despite being able to hook up as much as they want to daily. (For the record) – Howie and I met online a little over 13 years ago and just celebrated our second year of marriage last week. Honestly, I’ve been plenty frustrated about a lot of things – sexually and otherwise – single and married. Yet, I don’t recall ever considering or carrying out a plan to kill people by running them down with a van.

Tragically, LGBTQ persons, women and men of color, women more generally and especially women who survive in domestically abusive living conditions are targets of misogynistic, mentally unstable men.  Violent men frequently wound or kill their marginalized victims because such men are victims of violence themselves. They consequently become emotionally and behaviorally troubled men who feel sexually rejected, economically deprived, or otherwise disabled. Such men act out their rage by attacking, injuring, and killing people they hate.

The Manosphere is yet another  universe of tumultuous concepts and communities I don’t know anything about nor understand;. There are mad men in these societal galaxies- and their rage is real and terrifyingly obvious. They don’t work out their anxiety by singing musicals or soliciting sex online. They drive their cars down streets, shoot fully automatic weapons in night clubs, theaters, and concerts. They apparently don’t give a shit about the carnage they cause in communities. We, as men more often than not and implicitly/explicitly, promote and prosecute war and violence as we have done through our (un)civilized time on this planet.

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Two thousand years ago, Jewish Temple officials conspired with Roman imperial authorities to murder Jesus of Nazareth along with other zealots, prophets, and martyrs. Today Israeli political authorities and conservative religious officials conspire to murder hundreds of Palestinian prophets, zealots and martyrs.  American Christians such as Robert Jeffress are primarily responsible for initiating this violence.

Naturalist Michael McCarthy recently said, “There is a legacy deep within us, a legacy of instinct, a legacy of inherited feelings, which may lie very deep in the tissues — it may lie underneath all the parts of civilization which we are so familiar with on a daily basis. ….” Our violent masculine instincts and fixations are destructively alive today in Jerusalem as they were about 2,000 years ago.  The author of Matthew quotes Jesus of Nazareth as saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your people together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” (Matthew 23:37 – Common English Bible)  . He uttered these words as he was condemning Jerusalem’s temple and religious authorities. He laments the carnage they and imperial Roman political officials are causing.  The more things change – the more they remain the same if not worsen.  This week’s violence in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem is occurring because conservative American, Israeli, and Palestinian men prefer killing one another and exercising their rights in the manosphere of worldly affairs. Who suffers most?  Palestinian children, that’s who.

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Jenga – a different variety of puzzlement

The Episcopal church that I serve hosted a Spring and Fling event earlier this month. One of our children, who is happy and healthy – thank God, his family, and local community – shared his Jenga set.  Jenga is essentially an architectural puzzle. Individuals or teams (de)/(re)construct wooden blocks. The goal is to not tear down the tower and lose the game.  It’s a lot of fun!  The stakes aren’t particularly high. Reasonable men (and women) can compete with one another without losing their tempers.  Emotionally stable men (and women) won’t fight when they lose. They start another game or find another healthy hobby to enjoy.

Of course, figuring out how to (de)/(re)construct the manosphere and or associated murderous masculine intentions such as historical violence in Jerusalem is a much more difficult, adaptive challenge.  The solution however, is similar in both instances. People. perhaps led by women instead of men, try to restore healthiness step by step. We ruminate over the problems by observing honestly what is going on. We experiment with options. We risk communicating our phobias and vulnerabilities. We hang on with people we trust whose intentions are positive rather than negative. We create physical/wholehearted purposeful communities where we incarnate – seen and heard. We don’t hang out for hours alone in the shadows of virtual “Reddit” or “Facebook” sites where evil adults often lurk and thrive.

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Agent Smith replicates himself in The Matrix Reloaded.

I wish I could say that I’m optimistic. Today, I’m not. I speak with the image of Agent Smith influencing my words. Contemporary life seems more akin to The Matrix Reloaded rather than The King and I.  Humanity often does appear to be a stinky, evil virus with no redeeming values whatsoever. Our systems seek only to normalize hatred.  Our police do more to preserve the status quo rather than protect and care for human rights and children’s rights to live freely and joyfully, Indigenous and racially marginalized people and communities are caught and cast aside by our consumerism and disregard for shared environmental and human connections.

Perhaps, God please may it be so (Amen!) …may there be a Neo and King Mongkut out there for us.  Unknown_painter_-_Resurrection_of_Christ_and_the_Harrowing_of_Hell_-_WGA23499May Jesus of Nazareth’s sacrificial Gospel speak and be true. May you and I find some courage, some wholeheartedness, some faith to say no to thousands of years of masculine, reptilian instinctual bullshit. May we reject the manosphere of false truths, May we profess gracefully and prophetically to be followers of Christ who prefer joy and peace. Let’s  build blocks in our local communities dedicated to eliminating the terror of religiously, politically, based terror playing itself out across our cities and planet. May we say yes to working as men with one another to create communities that Jesus, Buddha, Pope Francis, and other men seek to bring into being.

 

 

Know Yourself

Know Thyself Webpage.
Learn more about Socrates and his passion for wisdom on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Know Thyself” is one the most ancient and relevant adages for people to contemplate and act upon in the age we live. Multiple sources indicate that ancient Egyptians originated the concept. (Asaf Braverman, History of Know Thyself, 2018)  Socrates, and Plato after him stated that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

It is probably elitist in some ways for me to spend as much time as I do involved my development of personal awareness. Lots of folks have to work multiple jobs, parent children, confront prejudice in all of its forms, enjoy recreational endeavors, battle addictions, and accomplish countless other human activities.   And, Socrates was no wealthy man, elitist professor, dazzlingly handsome, or popular hero. He was a complicated sage. I rationalize the time I spend as soil for becoming a better priest & person.

In contemporary and adaptive terms, personal growth and the exercise of leadership requires observation, analysis, and interventions. There are lots of perils and opportunities in becoming more wise and honest about myself. Such wisdom requires experimenting with my beliefs and behaviors. I have to discover new ideas while casting off habits, memories, and assumptions that are no longer accurate or beneficial.  Walking The Wisdom Way means adjusting to life over times, building positively upon past experiences, transforming assumptions and values, and maturing into a self-aware and compassionate adult.

Lots of folks want the world to change, including me. Such transformation begins with one’s self rather than someone or something else.    It requires faith, loss, and a devoted practice of living a life with a open heart, persevering soul, and embodied sense of purpose. Anyone who calls themselves an expert should heed Socrates’ teachings regarding ignorance. (“I do not think that I know what I do not know.”)

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Take a little time & attend classes at The School of Life’s Twitter page.

I started following the School of Life on Twitter a few months ago. I learned of the school after hearing Alain de Botton speak. I was inspired as I listened to  de Botton‘s On Being conversation with Krista Tippett . They spoke about The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships.

De Botton said a couple of things back then that I still try to put into practice. First he said: “The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education, that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.” He also said that there are three keys to living into a truly loving relationship. Those keys are: 1.) Be Empathetic, 2.) Manage your emotions rather than letting them manage you, and 3.) Set aside the bad things in order to observe the good things.  (De Botton, On Being Project Conversation, Feb. 2017). I understand him to say that you (or I) can’t love someone else without, once again, knowing yourself (or myself) and being comfortable with who were are as well as who we desire to be.  Many weeks I take three steps forward and two steps back in my own life’s process. Sometimes vice versa.

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Collage – Doug Van Houten – Deep deep into your own soul work by reading Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft Archive.

So, I take advantage of  many tools from a variety of sources. Some are Psycho-Spiritual such as Bill Plotkin’s weekly Soulcraft Musings. Plotkin’s musings provide me a reminder that my life has ecological and earthy rather than egocentric and mechanical roots.  I also read Richard Rohr OFM‘s Daily Meditations. Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation provide resources espousing an alternative Christian theology that is rich in Franciscan heritage.  I like their focus on  connecting my contemplative life with ethical actions with myself, beloved people, and the world. And, I check in with my personality by engaging my Enneagram preferences each day. I tend to be a 6; yet, I have strong 2 and 8 aspects too.   I receive an Enneagram Institute Enneathought email message every morning.  All of these ruminations are thrown into the hopper of the time I spend studying scripture, mediating, and praying, working with a Comprehensive Resource Model therapist, and sharing my deepest desires fears, hopes, and confidences with a couple of Anam Karas who I love and who love me.

Another fun thing I do every now and then is a pull a card out of the School of Life’s

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Check out the School of Life’s Know Yourself Prompt Cards. They are great for gaining wisdom.

Know Yourself” box.  Each of the cards prompts the reader to answer a question. What happened in my childhood that shapes who I am today? If I wasn’t afraid of failing, what would I endeavor to accomplish?  Identify a few key moments of failure in my life. What did I learn from those experiences that I have or should be applying now?

Earlier this week, I pulled out this card. What are four adjectives I would use to describe myself.  I’ve jotted those adjectives down. Then, as the card suggests, I asked three of my best buds to choose four adjectives they would use to describe me.  I invited them, along with myself, to choose one adjective that is a “growth edge.” I’m imperfect and I have much to know about myself that I don’t appreciate.  My ego can hack it. I also need reminders about the skills and joy I offer people and myself.

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Don’t live in the Unknown Region if you can help it.  Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham  (Joe and Harry’s Window) can help you out.

This exercise is a spin off of the popular Johari Window.  It’s fun!  Simply reveal something about yourself you believe to be true.  Then, invite others to share their perspectives. You can ask friends, families, co-workers, dates, strangers, anyone depending how trustworthy you deem them to be and how much vulnerability you’re willing to accept.

Just because you think something is true about you doesn’t mean it is necessarily so valid. Just because someone characterizes you in a particular way isn’t absolute either. On the other hand, coming out from behind yourself into a conversation opens you and another person(s). into being more authentic and willing to grow. That’s very helpful when there is so much fake news, unannounced sharing of personal information, and genuinely misguided egoistic and sinful behavior going on these days.

If you’d like, you can offer me three or four adjectives that you would use to characterize me based upon my blogging. Just comment below…. . I trust your intentions will be pure of heart. (FYI – I’m not receiving any compensation for these recommendations :-))

 

 

 

 

Living a Lenten Life

ashwednesdayI invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word….
(Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 265)

…. What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance. …
(David Whyte, 2014 – What to Remember When Waking – retrieved 1/30/2018)

I started Lent in January. ‘Might as well get an early start. Honestly, I have resolved to adopt different ways of being this year.  Some of my resolutions have to do with my diet and physical wellness. Other resolutions are more spiritual and vocational in nature.  Each of them, individually and in concert with one another have to do with making progressive and healthy changes in body, mind, and soul. In other words, I am striving to repent.

A priestly friend and colleague introduced me a few years ago to David Whyte’s work. Whyte is a poet and speaker whose thoughts and words provoke thousands of other fans to view life through the lens of their day to day experience in this world. Whyte’s wisdom considers lessons of ancestry and spirituality.

Some years ago, David offered a presentation at Seattle University’s School of Theology. In this talk he offers this wonderful definition of repentance (metanoia – in New Testament Greek).  David Whyte said (beginning at (9’:55” in the video):

Metanoia
Change your heart and mind by reading Samantha Kielar’s great blog post about metanoia.

“There is a lovely etymology (meaning) to the word repent in the Bible because in the Greek the word repent was actually metanoia which simply meant not to go over your past sins and lash yourself on the back … which you can do and enjoy if you like. Make yourself a very nice cup of coffee before you do it. But metanoia literally just to change your mind and to think differently.”  (Whyte, 2012)

The way that we think shapes the way that we speak. How we speak shapes the way that we live. Early Christians came to be known as people or followers of The Way.(Wiener, 2017). They claimed and received this title because they adopted powerfully their Christian disciplines and exhibited their Christian faith. Fasting, devotional prayers, silence, and acts of generosity were evidence of these newly baptized Christians’ changes in heart, mind, and body.

Lent remains about resolutely changing who we are. It is an intentional season of transformation. We go with Jesus into the Wilderness We follow him into Jerusalem to confront persecutions and prejudices. We witness the intimate and vulnerable time he shares with his disciples.  Lent beckons us to confront our own internal and external temptations. Such repentance invites us to reject cravings separating us from God’s love and our neighbors’ needs and desires. Once again, Lenten repentance gives us space to choose what ways we will think, speak, and walk upon moment by moment.

You can begin your Lenten practices early too, if you like. The Wilderness is as far away as your willingness to meditate. Are you willing to allow God to speak silently to you. Try going into a trance as my friend Gil suggests. You may further elect to fast from a habit or ritual that focuses your life more on yourself than God. You should find time on a daily basis to pray and interact with Christ.  Sacred Space offers a daily examination from the Jesuit tradition.   Sign up for Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediations.  There are lots of additional options to choose from on the Internet.

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Read Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft Musings and open up to your soul’s true purpose.  Visit Animas Valley Institute for more details about Soulcraft quests.

 

We may enter Lent wholeheartedly. Such personal devotion, reflection, and thinking requires courage.  Our Christian faith is sacramental and sacrificial. This holy work wholly offers pathways to join Jesus at the foot of the Cross as well as at the opening of Easter’s empty tomb.  Christianity doesn’t own the desert of contemplative and transformational life, not by a long shot. Let your soul guide you if your religious or spiritual bent is different than mine. I’m yearning to go on an Animas Valley Institute Soul Initiation quest. Maybe you’re supposed to go rather than me.

 

May our pilgrimages through Lent’s wilderness and wild places draw us nearer to God, provide awareness of God’s angels, and offer us more trust in Jesus our Lord and Christ. May we claim our truest, very best Christian inheritance. Let us carry our divinely offered gifts with humility.

 

Blessings along The Way, Jim

 

 

Maturing – Soul-fully

P.D. James
And any writing, if it is worth doing, requires care.” – from P.D. James’ prologue to “Time To Be in Earnest.”

“Grow up!”  I can’t remember how and when someone said this to me. I’ll blame my mother and my older brother because she isn’t mortally alive to defend herself.  He and I have reconciled our relationship after years of strife and mistrust.

I find it to hard to yield to authority figures. I especially fight back or flee when they call me out for my undisciplined or childish behavior. in Jungian terms, I’m living out my “Rebel” and “Child” archetypes. I push back when I myself or someone else bumps into my behavioral buttons.

Wounded Child
Waking up and healing our wounded child.

Actually my wounds are deeper than that assumption. Aspects of my psyche cling to difficult childhood experiences and adolescent coping mechanisms.  My maturation, as Caroline Myss suggests depends upon paying particular attention to and resolving my childhood memories while not rejecting appropriate authority figures. (Myss, Appendix: A Gallery of Archetypes)   . I’m not the only person working through this maturation process.

Last week I carefully meditated over and selected a card from my School of Life Know

Know Yourself Prompt Cards.
Learn more about yourself at the School of Life.

Yourself Prompt Cards. The card read “What happened to you in your childhood?”

Whew!    Well, alot quite frankly. I’m spending precious, meaningful therapeutic time these days. I’m answering that question, honestly, compassionately.  I’m reacquainting myself with the two-year old boy who didn’t know that his father was dead. I’m standing in the hallway  of my home as a 4 year-old boy pondering why my mother is in bed crying. She is not taking care of me. I’m sad and confused. As an 11-year old  boy  I’m riding away from home at night on my green three-speed bicycle. I’m fleeing home. I don’t like what is happening there. I’m frightened about what I’m learning about my human sexuality.

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Here I am again. I’m 17 and sitting on a sandy overlook in La Jolla, CA looking at the Pacific Ocean. There are guys hang-gliding over Blacks Beach.  As I sit there, I’m learning that my oldest brother is an alcoholic. His addiction explains but doesn’t solve why he verbally and physically assaults his spouse, children, and me.  I’m wrestling with how much I’d like to be wandering around comfortably on the nude beach below this cliff. Instead I’m figuring out how the hell I’m going to get on with my life safely and joyfully.

I’m still doing that work. Except now, I’m equipped with the beauty of viewing life with the wholehearted wisdom I’m gaining from the books I read and beloved friends I adore and who support me. Fortunately, I’m writing this with an eastern Sun shining on my face in the comfort of a well-heated home. My cat Bono purrs comfortably next to my laptop. My eyes and soul are turning westward as I age. I’m entering into the latter days of my life. I am no longer the child that I was in the 60s and 70s. I became 60 years old in September. It is indeed time for me to live earnestly. I am not alone. I walk this path with men and women alike who should mature with me if our planet is going to flourish.

The back of my enlightenment card informs me that just about everything taking place today in life is a consequence of patterns that we formed or were imposed upon us in our childhood. We’ve usually forgotten those patterns and/or sought to squish them down. If we wish to mature, we must return to those experiences as an adult and reinterpret them – compassionately and with a sense of letting them go. At least we can  adopt them and our inner children with lots of love rather than more abuse. Our egos hate this work so it is essential to have mentors, guides, and honest brokers around us.

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Listen to ZenLifeRelax to calm your mind and awaken your true being.

ZenRelaxMusic soothes my anxious demons. I’m opening up to the possibilities of allowing myself to wake up and become a full-fledged adult.  As Bill Plotkin describes, such a wake-up call requires a new form of becoming grounded in one’s soul. To mature in such a way is to to die, psychologically and spiritually. We are then reborn firmly rooted in the mystery with which we came into this life. Our eternal souls guide this work through recognizing, forgiving, and restoring what was wounded and using it as balm to become more whole. This pilgrimage opens open God’s eternity in this world to one’s self, one’s communities, and into as well as beyond our shared humanity.

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Jan Richardson – End and Beginning

In between Matthew and Mark’s apocalypses is today. In Christian terms, dying to self and the woes of this world offers renewed and resurrected life, This is true for now as well as for some unknowable time in the future when Jesus the Christ returns in great glory. The Triune God travels with us if Christians believe what we say each Sunday.  I’m coming to understand that deepening my faith in God’s love is not just about being good. It is about coming to terms with the entirety of the mortal life that The Creator has endowed me with for the relatively few years that I am human, for now.

Psychologist Rick Hanson suggests that people, especially those of us who struggle with difficult childhood memories and depression, should work especially at “taking in the good.” Some research indicates that our human brains permit bad experiences to stick like Velcro to our psyches whereas good memorials slip away like they are on Teflon. Positive emotions doesn’t transfer as easily as negative emotions to long-term memory. It is crucial then I and, and you too, dedicate ourselves taking in all that is good and being present to it.  Be alert. Keep watch for more than a few seconds! (Rich Hanson, Take in The Good)

Earth's History
Take a couple of minutes to be in awe of the fact that our presence here is just a filament’s moment on the planet’s timeline.

“Grow Up!” Ok, ok, I’ll try. I’ll admit it. I’m a human being. I’ve got psychological baggage. My childhood wasn’t great. It wasn’t the worst experience on the planet either.  Presently, I have a good therapist, a worthwhile vocation, a bountiful safety new. I own two cats who drive me crazy for just a small percentage of the day.

My mortal life, along with yours, has been 4.5 billion years in the making.  I’ll treasure the moments that my soul, mind, and body are blessed to experience. By God’s Grace, with a fair amount of patience, and terrific friends and therapists alike – I’ll learn to let trauma go so that it teaches me what I’m here to learn, today. Carefully, at least occasionally, I’ll mature into a better spiritual being living a human existence.  Are you going with me?

Saturday Chores

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Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Mohave-Pyracantha-(Firethorn)-450w“You’ll get your allowance when you trim the Pyracantha bushes and pick them up.” That’s the way my mother invited me to get going on my Saturday chores when I was a kid.  Some Saturdays were easier. Mow the lawn. Pull some dandelions in the backyard. Those weren’t such bad tasks.  The Pyracantha though. They were a pain!  I had to get the ladder out.  The clippers were electric but I had to use an extension cord.  I also needed hand clippers for some of the tougher parts of the bushes.  Cutting the branches was bad enough.  Getting them into the trash cans was a whole different deal.  The branches all have thorns.  Thorns that are long and sharp enough to penetrate the garden gloves I used.  Suffice it to say, I have lingering and unpleasant memories of Saturday chores.

Mom isn’t around to make me do my chores anymore. I’m accountable for giving and receiving my allowance.  I don’t own any Pyracantha bushes. In fact, I don’t have to do too many outside tasks anymore.  I’m lazier than I was 45 years ago. Someone else mows the lawn. It rains more in Pennsylvania where I am now in contrast to Arizona where I grew up.  No one can make me weed the gardens or prune the roses.

Such freedom opens portals to lethargy or complacency. It is leisurely to watch ESPN. Pulling weeds isn’t as much fun. Yes – and – the current human narrative states that a person cannot accomplish great things without putting in the labor necessary to achieve beauty.  One evidences a beautiful yard because the gardener, homeowner, or someone chooses that they enjoy gardening. They and other neighbors around them delight in their yard being beautiful. The same rule applies for living a beautiful life as well.

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Chores are different for me now. I exercise time and energy in something when it inspires me. I’ll move dirt around when I believe such an endeavor will bear good fruit. Putting the work in needs to amount to more than a $5.00 allowance. And yet, setting my expectations too high also keep me on the couch rather than outside with trimmers or a shovel in my hands. The trick is to find a rhythm in something that seems worthwhile beyond the mundane.

I’ve been getting dirt under my fingers and spending time on my hands and knees spending time with monarch butterflies.  I blogged about this initiative a few weeks ago. Tending to butterflies and milkweed plants has become something of an obsession for me.  My neighbors may wonder why I’m looking on the underside of milkweed leaves. (Because I am searching for butterfly eggs).  I’m watering the zinnias and the butterfly bushes in late August because the Monarch Migration to Mexico is underway. I’m interested in sending a few more monarchs on their way south in a healthy way.

There’s more to it though.  I am getting a lot out of it. It is pleasurable to observe a butterfly transform itself from a speck of an egg to a clumsy caterpillar to an emerald green chrysalis to a orange and black butterfly. The process takes less than a month and it seems like a lifetime.  There are heartbreaks in learning how to accomplish this chore. The caterpillars will die if I do not keep their cage clean.  I have to be extra careful what I feed these insects because they are very susceptible to viruses.  The fact is that I can’t keep all of them alive, especially the ones living on my milkweed plants in the garden.  It is wild out there, even in the midst of the beautiful lawn that the church’s volunteer mows for me.

Simply put, I care for the butterflies because it is meaningful to them and even more meaningful to me.  Somehow in this simple, routine, and meticulous labor, I feel closer to God and to myself.

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I suppose that many people, like me, view spiritual disciplines to be something of a chore. Few people I know love to meditate. It is soooooo pleasurable to observe one’s mind flirt back and forth when gazillions of thoughts and feelings leading to absolutely nowhere.  (NOT!) Other people, including myself, pray or intercede to The Divine because they view such a practice as a religious obligation. Praying is believing some say.  Yes and….who, what, or why is more shaped and formed by such prayer? God or us?

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Read Parker Palmer’s 5 Habits of The Heart

 

Quaker, speaker, writer, and educator Parker Palmer offers all of us a valuable purpose for undertaking such daily spiritual practices. Palmer writes: “Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. … We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.”  (Palmer, 2011, para. 5)

 

My spiritual discipline for now is hardly representative of orthodox Christianity. I’m fairly faithful in saying the Lord’s Prayer at least once a day. I actually am spending more time looking after insects and accomplishing sun salutations. Once again, I am the only responsible for punishing or rewarding myself on most days.  I discern that what matters most is to undertake something and to stay with it. Experiment – probe your limitations with curiosity rather than complacency. If one particular meditative chore isn’t working, find something else.

The world is too complicated a place to take on all of its uncertainty and tragedy without completing daily spiritual chores. So, we all might as well find something that is not just tolerable. It is fruitful.  There are many alternatives to checking in with one’s ego and anxieties to be sure. And, if you want to know God and yourself more wholly, you have to get your hands dirty and your soul renewed in the grittiness of silence and breath – observation and hope. Be mindful of the thorns though. They can be really hard to get out from underneath your skin.

Blessings along The Way,

Going All In – or at least a lot of The Way

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“Go Forth and Adventure” – Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

I spent a week (re)learning about organization(al) development (OD) last week. It seems there is some disagreement in whether or not you include the “al” when naming the Screenshot (6)discipline. I infer it depends upon when and where you first began studying OD. For me, it began studying at George Washington University’s School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD).  I received my Masters Degree in Ed. and Human Development in 1997. My studies emphasized Organizational Development. It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that GSEHD still claims its purpose is that “Transformation Begins Here.”  That was its purpose back then too.

We spend a lot of time these days in church committees and leadership programs talking about change, evangelism, vitality, stewardship, sources of transformation  . We contemplate and make decisions about important topics relating to God’s mission and purpose for contemporary human beings and the systems they abide in.  This is powerful stuff. The Feast of The Transfiguration is upon us in a few days.  Seems like a great time to do more than just preach, talk, or otherwise diddle about changing our world.

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Our group of “transformers” from the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

The College of Congregational Development, (CCD) claims that a Christian congregation’s primary purpose is to be Christ’s Body. With God’s help, creative Christians live and act as God’s loving presence.  Such discipleship renews the faithful as well as this world. How does this happen? Well, CCD teaches that transformation unfolds through concerted and contextual efforts (interventions in OD language) to be God’s messengers of forgiveness & hope.  Resourceful Christians affirm compassionately that communities believe life is graceful and difficult. Our churches are responsible for promoting the further  in-breaking of God’s realm of justice, grace, and vitality. Such sacred spaces, and people faithfully strive to  incarnate reconciliation, courage, compassion, justice, peace, and hope.” (College for Congregational Development Manual – Year A, 2017, p.29).  That’s a lengthy purpose statement. It takes more than a week, perhaps as much as an entire lifetime to even begin to comprehend, analyze, and engage it all.

Let’s see if I can sum it up.

Being a Christian today means being willing to be courageous – for the Sake of the Gospel. The Good News isn’t about going all in like World Series of Poker players do. In their game, they push all their chips in so they can win a big pot of money – for themselves. These days, Christianity isn’t about scoring wealth.  I don’t think that has ever been the purpose, really.  We might understand the weight of the Gospel’s importance by occasionally (re)reading Matthew 19: 16-30. (Mark 10: 17-31, Luke 18: 18-30) Jesus declares the difficulty that wealthy people have entering into the Kingdom of God.  “Who can be saved;?” the disciples ask. Peter complains! “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?” (Matthew 19: 27).  Jesus said to them and says to us, “anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom  will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age.” (Luke 18: 29-30)

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Sunrise over Canandaigua Lake, NY

Such faithful discipleship is chips all in, bare-naked belief in a God who willingly, joyously, hopefully invites us to participate in the creation of a world where other people’s needs are as important as our own.  Being a Change Agent in the Church these days isn’t merely about increasing average Sunday attendance.  Transitioning congregations from one way of life to The Way isn’t about improving stewardship.  Transformation begins inside of everyone who, however meekly and uncertainly, says yes to God’s soulful bidding to redeem the world’s brokenness, within our own contexts.  It requires a lot of laughs with friends. Sitting with someone on the threshold of deep, deep grief is a mandate. Personally, I need time in God’s Creation by myself, usually early in the morning. I reacquainted myself last week with the realities that vital Christian communities require people with all sort of personalities. I personally am striving to spend more time in all 16 rooms of the Myers & Briggs Personality Types. As I’m aging, I’m reacquainting with my need for introverted renewal as well as for more spontaneity. I’d like to believe that God delights in such random wanderings. Jesus stayed on task for almost all of his documented life. Oh well, I believe  as best I can in Jesus Christ and … I’m not him. 

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Truth #1 – “All truth is a paradox.  Life is a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift and it is impossible here on the incarnational side of things. … it is filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart; all swirled together.  I don’t think it is an ideal system.”  View all of Anne Lamott‘s transforming truths in her life-changing TedTalk (April 2017)

Anne Lamott published a phenomenal book entitled Traveling Mercies about two years after I graduated from GW.  Anne shares her life stories about her addiction, her faith, and miraculous stumbling pilgrimage to sobriety and wellness.  She writes: “When you make friends with fear, it can’t rule you.”  18 years later, in her TEDTalk, she says: “You’re going to feel like hell one day if you wake up some day and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart.” … your truths, your versions of things in your own voice. That’s all you really have to offer us. And that’s also why you were born.” (Anne Lamott, April 2017, 8′, 20″).

I’m musing about transformation alot. I want my life, my relationship with my spouse and our three cats (abiding in two separate houses because it is just easier that way) to be heavenly.  I want to develop crazy-like Petrine courage and jump into the water for Jesus.  I don’t have it yet and I may never gain it. I would prefer that the Episcopal Church’s existence is indeed more than a rumor. I show up at organizational design meetings and congregational development programs because these values are important to me. I think it is purposeful to be risky as a spiritual and human being. Trying to get it done at the poker table of faith is better than sitting in the audience.

My prayer is that God rejoices in the work I’m doing. I’m thankful for George Washington University for sparking my Organizational Development(al) flames. I’m happy for the learning I am gaining from the College for Congregational Development on best means and techniques for being helpful with congregations as I share models of Life Cycles of Organizations or the Gordian Knots of Organization(al) Systems. I don’t know. For today, that seems like enough chips to play. Blessings along The Way, Jim

Thoughts from Eagles Mere

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West End Ale Haus in Bloomsburg PA
West End is becoming one of my favorite places to have a brew, share my story, and learn more about Jesus.

I hung around for one more beer following Sunday night’s Bible and Brews gathering at West End Ale Haus. We  discussed the Parable of the Farmer and Seeds.  Is Jesus teaching us about God’s abundance? Yes.  Is Jesus directing his listeners to pay attention and be good soil for his teachings? Yes. Is Jesus teaching parables so he can confuse some of his listeners.  Yes, Jesus’ parables offer an array of optional learning.  Life is a parable. Listen, learn, and welcome to the adventures of spiritual growth if you trust yourself and God enough.

bp_2xipa1.pngThe conversations were awesome although I really wish we could find a bar where the acoustics are more cooperative.  Listening to 80s soft, rock while the server inquires about who is drinking the Southern Tier 2xIPA even as someone from the far end of the table offers a profound insight about Jesus’ teachings requires unique multitasking auditory skills.  Nonetheless, these are great gatherings, not just because we’re learning more about our faith. We’re getting to know one another. St. Paul calls that becoming “members of The Body.”

Somewhere during the night, our conversation wandered into what it means to find one’s self in bad soil (tough times).  I’ve been wrestling with some of my chronic family systems baggage as well as other anxieties for the past few days. I was moping about my crap until Erin shared her shitty soil story.  Some years ago, she experienced the following coincidental moments – All within two weeks time:

1.)  Her brother was murdered.

2.) Her husband announced he was divorcing her.

3.) She failed her medical exams.

4.) She suddenly had single parental and immediate responsibilities for her three young sons, with no place to live.

I was worrying about my sister. How I would manage my bills for August. Really?

Amazingly, Erin went on to share her story.  Co-workers she hardly knew supported her through the tumultuous waters. She discovered that the most threatening and uncertain days of her life led to her finding her most authentic work. She articulated what a great fortune it was to meet a man who would become her true soul mate.  She survived and we are all better because of it.

Erin possesses a unique understanding of people’s needs. She would not be able to share her story and her gifts as brilliantly if she had not gone through her soul’s dark night . The depths of despair entered her into the light of a resurrected and more purposeful life for herself, her children, and the people she loves and serves.

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“Anchored” by Jack Simonds

Eckhart Tolle suggests that people who navigate their way through the woods of one way of being into another are awakening to their truest self. Transformation requires letting one’s ego die so that a person may be reborn. (Tolle, 2011) Goethe wrote: “Life belongs to the living and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” Jesus in Thomas’ Gospel.  proclaims “Blessed is the person who has suffered (Laboured); he (she) has found life.

The shadowy cells of our subconscious selves innately and paradoxically cause us pain even as they prompt us to give birth to something or someone new.  I infer the reason that childbirth is equally painful and rewarding is because a mother loses a significant part of herself even as she provides new life to a human being.  In spiritual terms, a seeker must let go of the old way of being including the suffering associated with old wounds. Disciples must exercise their faith, discipline their egos, and demonstrate courage that is sufficiently strong to overcome doubts and obstacles alike. Two or three pale ales in the company of trustworthy and vulnerable friends help a great deal.  Someone who rescues you away from a dark night’s dungeons and safely holds you until the morning’s dawn is a divine angel who you should thank unceasingly.

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Inlet Light Play – (The Lake at Eagles Mere, PA) – Photo by Jack Simonds

Morning’s grace for me has come via the invitation to spend a few days with very close friends in Eagles Mere. We played board games, drank wine, and ate spaghetti last night.  I’ve napped for about three hours since I’ve been here. I’ve dreamed dreams that seem to be important though I can’t quite get my conscious mind on what my inner being is working through or trying to convey to me. Life is a parable asleep and awake.

This morning, I took a three mile silent walk in the woods and wondered. Two white-tail does kept unconcerned eyes and ears upon me as I stepped. My mind and soul reflected upon my newfound friend’s tenacity. She inspires me. I am encouraged further by Christ’s presence in the gathering of people where I now live  because of the previous dark nights and bright mornings I’ve experienced. What does it mean for us to be New Testament people in 21st Century CE circumstances?

I sadly pondered whether  I would be able to re-accomplish what I did some 20 years ago when I encountered my darkest night. My Air Force career went up in smoke because of my sexual orientation.  My boyfriend walked out on me. My faith in the world’s goodness was temporarily shattered. I abandoned relationships under the clouds of an investigation and returned home to re-start my life. A group of unknown Episcopalians took me in and cared for me as a family member. I was reborn and it hurt like divine hell. The costs I paid for it I would prefer not to pay again. Who can say?

In the midst of my own ongoing worldly and spiritual uncertainties, I continue to believe. God’s Graceful gifts are like living with someone who always runs late. The miraculous beauty of living spiritually is that love is present on this side of death and always on the other side.

Blessings along The Way …

Sowing Seeds

 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed.

american meadowsI’m a novice gardener.  I plant flowers and vegetables requiring very little oversight. Last year, my spouse and I decided to set up a raised bed with wildflowers attracting butterflies and bees.  He and a colleague did almost all of the labor.  I bought the seeds and distributed them into the bed in a very haphazard, California free style approach. Seeds of all sorts got tossed into the bed together and the silent battle for soil, water, and sun began. The Mexican Sunflowers won the season.  They grew the fastest and tallest. Xenias and Purple Coneflowers didn’t do as well.

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A farmer went out to scatter seed

This year, I adopted a new strategy in the church garden where I serve.  The garden was an overrun mess. Fortunately, the church hired a landscaper to do the hard work. I cleverly avoided mulching the yard and digging out most of the weeds. However I chose one spot to leave rough. I hacked the weeds and grass out of it but I didn’t treat it with any mulch or much potting soil.  Then I threw some wildflower seeds into it.  That was about a month, maybe six weeks ago. Some of those seeds have taken root as you can see. I water them whenever I water the rest of the gardens. Fortunately too, we’re having a wet and muggy July here in PA. Thus, there are some weeds and grass that are resurfacing along with the wildflowers in the area. Summer seasonal garden games – take two.

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Other seed fell on good soil

On the other hand, I decided to be more intentional about a small section in another garden area.  I used potting soil as a base for the seeds.  I thoroughly disposed of the weeds and grass.  Once the seeds were settled, I watered them thoroughly.  I asked the landscaper to be gentle with the wildflowers with mulch in the one area while leaving the other area alone.  You can see that the seeds in good soil are thriving, for now.

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Jesus’ parable of the sower, (or parable of the soils) [or parable of the seeds] depending upon your point of view, is excellent. A parable is a lesson that offers listeners an understandable way to view the world. However, parables at their best incorporate a challenge as well as perhaps an unexpected ending.  New Testament scholar A.J. Levine writes that Jesus’ parables are “designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.”   (Amy-Jill Levine, March, 2017, para. 2). Matthew’s parables are particularly confrontational because Jesus presents a great deal of judgmental outcomes.  The sheep are separated from the goats as an example. (Mt. 25: 31-46). Jesus declares that The Kingdom of Heaven is much like my garden – in more ways than one. One man plants good seed and another man plants weeds in the same space.  The weeds and the wheat grow up together. The outcome of the plants’ battle for sun, soil, water, and care is uncertain “until the harvest.” They must grow up together.” (Mt. 13: 24-30).

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other seed fell among thorny plants

I was working in the rectory garden earlier this summer when I came upon some pieces of an old baptismal font.  They were separated from one another and hidden under some hydrangea bushes. I rolled them out and set them aside.  Just a couple of days ago, our landscaper set the font up in the yard. It is weathered and I’m not really sure how it go there, or why?  Perhaps a giant wind or some strong-armed parishioners moved it out following a fire or some other calamity.  The winds of history sweep across our memories and facts get lost in the ground.

Alexander J. Frick and H.F. Hawke donated the font to the church, sometime in the middle to late 19th Century. Mr. Frick was confirmed at Christ Memorial Episcopal in 1843. He was buried in 1915. He served as a Union Officer during the Civil War including the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to Danville following the war to continue his law practice. (Deeben, 2000).  Mr Hawke’s historical record is a little more difficult to determine other than he was a prominent contractor.

The garden font got me to thinking about baptism.  Baptism, in terms of our Christian faith, is where seeds first get planted. The priest, family, sponsors, and gathered community have no way of knowing what will happen to the baptized person whether they be young or old.  Those of us who baptize infants do so because we know, especially in churches as old as this one, that life’s gardens are full of all kinds of soil. Some children sadly die when they are young. Other children die on battlefields.  Mr. and Mrs. Frick had at least one daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptized at Christ Memorial. Perhaps she began her Christian life in the font that is now in the garden?  If not, certainly many, many children were immersed, buried, and raised up in Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the seeds of their life began to grow roots.

Each human life is a seed, sprout of God’s creative process.  Some of us are really fortunate perhaps even privileged. We land in good soil. Our parents are generally stable. The family’s wealth is sufficient – though not overly so. The marriage of the mother’s and father’s genes are strong, resilient, and healthy.  The tragedies of war, abandonment, and generational poverty do not pillage the parents or their children.

Sadly, the other fields of life are ripe with seeds too.  Pennsylvania’s coal country isn’t too far from Danville.  Poverty is rampant there and families can’t easily pull themselves up to higher levels of wealth and education.  The soil doesn’t yield as much coal. Natural gas and other factors have changed the economic landscape. People are suffering. The Church’s work is to become compassionate workers in such rough soil.

However, as often as not, the seeds of our humanity spend time in all of sorts of soil, maybe coincidentally. The Christian life, at least for me, is an ongoing gardening process. I need to trust that the Holy Spirit’s wind will blow me out of the weeds when I’m lost. This is true and I still require the kernels of my faith to prompt me to be open to such transitions.  All people spend time on the roads of their lives being tossed to and fro. The possibilities of dying spiritually and mortally are ever present and uncontrollable. Richard Rohr gently reminds us that those of us who seek a truly transformed life must come to expect and live into the unsettled ground of order, disorder, and reorder.

Gardening verifies a universal truth – life is chaotic.  This year’s harvest of flowers, fruits, and weeds is hardly at all within my control.  I remind myself first thing in the morning to water the plants when it hasn’t rained in awhile.  Contemplative Prayer is a similar habit. It requires me to often till and let go of silent, anxious spiritual garden plots. I can’t control how much sun the seed gets or the wind will do, or how many birds will come to eat today or tomorrow. I can choose to remain connected to God who blesses me with all of these conditions.

Jesus encourages his followers with the words: “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear.”

Happiness is not necessarily an easy virtue when wrestling with the weeds or being cooked by the sun. And, none of these realities negate the glory of God’s gracious harvest, today or when the end times come.

Blessings along The Way, Jim