Monday, March 31, 2014

Grace sightings for the month of March

This God-spy has been on the move, with eyes open, ears listening, hands touching, alert, eager (except, of course, for those times when I've been none of the above). Here are some of my sightings:
--A gathering of Friends in Sacramento: I had the privilege of participating with FWCC Friends from around the hemisphere as we met in Sacramento under the theme, “Let the Living Waters Flow.” New friendships and renewed contacts highlighted this time together. It was full of grace. (Photo: Margaret Fraser, Elenita Bales, Anna Baker.)
--A birthday party: We helped Peter, our youngest grandchild, make that great leap from five to six years old. Living so close to family is a grace I don’t take for granted. Nor do I take “minion cake” for granted.
--Having our granddaughter stay with us over spring break: Not only does Breanna like to be with us, she loves to cook for us! And she does it so well. Our oldest grandchild is now a college freshman (!) at George Fox University.
--Rain on the roof at night: One of my favorite songs, and part of an Oregon March.
--Flowers on the maple tree: Yes, spring is here. Mixed in with the lovely rainy days, the sun appeared and promised more frequent visits in the near future. Daffodils also made similar promises, and hope is in the air.
--Listening to my husband play his French horn in a duet with grandson Reilly on his cello, and recognizing it as real music.
--Poems, and a writers' group to read them to: Once a month I meet with a group of other Quaker writers. We report any progress (or lack thereof) during the last month, read any new stuff, laugh a lot and leave the meeting encouraged. It’s a grace-filled highlight of my month.
--Meeting for clearness: I love this Quaker custom, and availed myself of it this month. Six Friends gathered with me around a major decision I’m having to make. It was good to be held up in the light by people I consider wise, to be silent, listen and talk together. And yes, God spoke.
--An icon for Quaker worship: How unquakerly! But how Christian. Last year I brought home this replica of a large mosaic of Jesus from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I love the tender expression on the face of Jesus. I love learning from other traditions. I know Jesus is more than any image, but this simple icon helps me sense certain truths that I’m learning as I walk with the living Lord. It’s a small grace I accept with gratitude (needing all the help I can get).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Preparing for Canonization

If someday, long after my death,
the church were to declare me a saint,
I want to be known as
Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment.
Even now, I practice.
Lying in bed, I listen to the maple tree argue
        the wind, struggle to stay awake, don’t want
        to miss any of it.
When I gather stones on the beach, I hear them
       sing in the palm of my hand
I lick the salty tears from your face,
       savor your sorrow.
A walk in the woods; light swims through the firs,
       flips the shadows, shakes my bones.
Like Moses, I approach
the thick darkness where God is,
groping, breathless, ready. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The lament of a failed contemplative

Despite my earnest desire to enter into the contemplative experience—to lose myself in the presence of God—I just can’t seem to get it right. I suspect that I am spiritually ADHD (attention deficiency mixed with hyperactivity), although to many people I appear calm and even wise on the outside.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve been trying for years, doing the breathing exercises, choosing and saying a “prayer word” (which is never “om”), arranging the atmosphere, lighting the candle, etc. And sometimes it does, indeed, work. Sometimes, many times actually, I sense the sweet presence of Jesus, to the point of tears and shivers. But it only lasts for a short time, and I’m talking seconds, not even minutes.
Recently I had a conversation with three good friends about Quaker mysticism, and I claimed to be one. A Quaker mystic. My friends wisely observed that I probably wasn’t, at least not yet. The more I think back on that conversation, the more I think they’re possibly right. Although I still wrestle with the question of just what, exactly, is a Quaker mystic. So much hinges on definitions.
At any rate I’ve recently read two more books on how to do it. The authors encouraged me to keep on keeping on, as the cliché goes, and I recommend them to whoever else out there desires to be a contemplative, Quaker or otherwise. The first book is God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling. What I appreciate about this book is that it integrates, as the title suggests, the desire for contemplative prayer, the longing to lead other people to Jesus, and the passion to be active in social justice issues. Too often in our churches people gravitate to one of the three emphases, to the neglect of the others. We Quakers do that well. The authors give practical suggestions as well as examples to flesh out their wonderfully holistic vision of the Christian life.
The second book, by my friend (also Friend) Richard Foster, certainly encourages me and gives me hope that if I continue to show up, God will meet me. I intend to re-read Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. In fact, I intend to re-read both books, for while I found them both helpful and encouraging, I still haven’t got it right.
The other morning, I was lamenting my failure and nibbling on sunflower seeds, when I saw a connection. (That’s one thing I am good at—seeing connections, sometimes to the point of the ridiculous.) So I wrote this little poem. And felt better. Humor always helps.

Confession of a Failed Contemplative
Contemplative prayer is a lot like
snacking on sunflower seeds.
You just know something good
is waiting for you. That tangy taste
that teases the tongue tells you
a treat is in store if you only
keep probing. So you bite it in half,
suck the salt from the shells,
nibble the seed, small but savory,
then wonder if that’s
all there is.