The bell calls in the town Where forebears cleared the shaded land And brought high daylight down To shine on field and trodden road. I hear, but understand Contrarily, and walk into the woods. I leave labor and load, Take up a different story. I keep an inventory Of wonders and of uncommercial goods.
I climb up through the field That my long labor has kept clear. Projects, plans unfulfilled Waylay and snatch at me like briars, For there is no rest here Where ceaseless effort seems to be required, Yet fails, and spirit tires With flesh, because failure And weariness are sure In all that mortal wishing has inspired.
I go in pilgrimage Across an old fenced boundary To wildness without age Where, in their long dominion, The trees have been left free. They call the soil here “Eden”; slants and steeps Hard to stand straight upon Even without a burden. No more a perfect garden, There’s an immortal memory that it keeps.
I leave work’s daily rule And come here to this restful place Where music stirs the pool And from high stations of the air Fall notes of wordless grace, Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn. And I remember here A tale of evil twined With good, serpent and vine And innocence of evil’s stratagem.
I let that go a while, For it is hopeless to correct By generations’ toil, And I let go my hopes and plans That no toil can perfect. There is no vision here but what is seen: White bloom nothing explains.
But a mute blessedness Exceeding all distress, The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green.
Uproar of wheel and fire That has contained us like a cell Opens and lets us hear A stillness longer than all time Where leaf and song fulfill The passing light, pass with the light, return, Renewed, as in rhyme. This is no human vision Subject to our revision; God’s eye holds every leaf as light is worn.
Ruin is in place here: The dead leaves rotting on the ground, The live leaves in the air Are gathered in a single dance That turns them round and round. The fox cub trots his almost pathless path As silent as his absence. These passings resurrect A joy without defect, The life that steps and sings in ways of death.
Sunday might always be a bittersweet day for me. Christians have long called it the Sabbath: a day to attend church and rest. And until a few years ago, I went along with this. It was the way I was raised, and as a person in a ministry family, it certainly didn’t feel like a Sabbath. It was a religious work day, which left me feeling exhausted, with a headache, and with no rest at all before starting the whole week over again.
When I went through my midlife crisis several years ago, (yes, I said it!) I decided I had to stop doing some of the things I’d been doing for so long out of duty, guilt and because I wanted to please others. And church was one of those things. Jung talked about the two halves of life and I completely identified with this:
“One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.“
So do I miss church? Not really, no. And that makes me sad. I feel guilt associated with not missing it, as well as a wistfulness that I’m not one of the people who feel happy and a part of everything at church. It might be my introverted-ness and detest of crowds and doing things as a group. It might be my rebellious streak that doesn’t want to “turn to your neighbor and tell them…” after the worship service is over. It might be that there really are some people better suited to organized religion and I’m not one of them.
But I still believe. I still search. I still pray. I still am awed by creation and by my little place in it. But, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I feel like I’ve expanded my views and I’m not afraid of other people’s ideas about spirituality, or the possibility that they might influence me.
Perhaps I need their influence! In my yoga teacher training class this past Tuesday, our teacher was talking about the size of our galaxy, how many stars are estimated to be there, how fast light moves, etc, and how small and insignificant, yet important each of us is. And I thought of the passage in Psalm 8 (verses 3-5, NLT)
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.
It was marvelous to connect a Biblical passage to a yoga teaching! I’ve been surprised to find I can be reading a book on meditation from a Buddhist teacher, and it doesn’t in any way contradict or put down the religion I grew up in. Instead, there is respect shown and I continue to discover many correlations between various religions and belief systems. If anything, I’ve been humbled in what I thought I knew, in how people of one belief might treat someone from another belief. (Christians have a lot to answer for!)
In this period of my life, I turn to books, as I always have done, to help tether me to what I believe, as well as to challenge what I think I believe. I’ve been reading much wider than I did as a younger person, and it’s been very healing as I find the inner resistance, the prejudices, the tendency to be on my guard and then learn to listen anyway.
I have fewer answers than I once thought I had. The pride of earlier years, the cut and dried way of looking at things, has given way to viewing my neighbor through a gentler, more compassionate lens.
So many, myself included, have been wounded by the church’s (or other religion’s) intolerance, rigidity, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. We may not go back to the way things were, yet we still believe.
For people like myself, or for anyone who is spiritually aware and a seeker, here are a few books you might benefit from.
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’ Donohue. Many of you are familiar with the late John O’ Donohue and I often share his poetry here on the blog. Everything this man wrote is worth taking the time to read, and this book is no exception! He infuses his poetic, imaginative, nature- inspired way of seeing into everything he writes, combining it with a rich, philosophical intelligence and a spiritual depth that I haven’t read elsewhere. And beauty is everywhere.
Thirstby Mary Oliver is one of her many collections with a spiritual bent. Her poetry is clear, direct, true, and always asking and seeking out the Creator. If I’m particularly troubled in spirit, her poetry helps me find the heart words my head cannot. You know what I mean, right?
Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God is a collection I discovered a few years ago, and read continuously. His unique, fluid, broad perspective on life, on the Divine gives me courage whenever I feel my faith flounder, whenever I think I’ve gone too far away, I remind myself of the fact that I’m circling around, that I’ll return.
I could go on, but these are four to start with and you can be sure I’ll add to this list over time. I’d love to know if you’re reading a book on spirituality or philosophy, or perhaps a self-help or personal growth book. Please share in the comments below and have a great week!
Today is the start of a new series called Savoring Sunday where I will write about spirituality, slowing down, self-care, soul work, quiet, and rest. Poetry will be included from time to time, but prose will be the most prominent feature. My writings are intended to share thoughts on what I’m discovering and what I’m wondering as I walk through the seasonal rhythms of the year. I hope you will join in the conversation in comments and share your own insights and experiences.
Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. I fully embraced this season that has felt very much as if time were standing still. What have I been doing? Little work (other than household chores), lots of reading, pondering, reflecting on last year, and listening to my heart. I’ve played and re-played podcasts about aligning your business to who you actually are, rather than who you think you should be.
I’ve been asking myself if I’m living in congruence with who I am. Do I have the courage to follow my intuition and live from a place of peace and listening to myself, to allow adequate time for self-care and rest as well as for learning and work? I can be so unbalanced in this! I love work and learning and can fill up my days and nights, going nonstop until I’m wired and exhausted. Because I have a business to run and I want it to succeed. I’m also a student and have plenty to learn.
But I need to take care of my whole self. My body won’t be at its best if I am not caring for it daily with proper amounts of exercise, nutrition, and rest. My mind will be anxious and troubled if I don’t allow it time to meditate and calm down. My soul craves connection with the Divine, “…my soul thirsts for you…”(Psalm 63:1) but I have to slow down and “Be still” (Psalm 46:10) to get closer to God. And getting out of doors and into Nature more often seems to bring balance to every layer and part of myself.
The other area that I’ve been thinking about is friendships. I had a few insights last year including how I have the tendency to approach friendships through the lens of ministry or “how can I help/serve you?”. This is because I was raised in a minister’s household and pretty much everyone who came to our church or to our home needed something and it was up to my parents to provide it. So I tend to look at people in light of what they might need and see if there is anything I can offer to help them.
But this is actually not what I want, so I had to stop doing it! I want to be someone’s friend, not their mom or minister. Because I have needs too! That means I have to act in accordance with this. I have to be honest and tell friends what I want, as well as ask what they want. This will be a process…
So this is a little of what I’ve been thinking through while I’ve been taking a break from business and every day life. This time-between-times has been magical. I’ve nurtured my creative self with music, reading, rest and just being, realigning myself to my purpose by doing plenty of self-inquiry, and restored my soul by listening for that still, small voice.
And because you know I love sharing my favorite resources, I’d like to share a few things I’ve been enjoying. Here are the two Spotify playlists that became my go-to music this season: Christmas Choirs (U.K) (just gorgeous) and Christmas Cocktail Jazz (the perfect quiet yet upbeat jazz instrumental music for parties, dinner, or anytime).
And here are the two journals/planners I use to keep my life in order and to keep my personal and spiritual growth moving forward: This is my fifth year using the bullet journal method and “>this is the dotted journal I love. This year I purchased the Nordic Blue color, which is the first time I’ve veered away from Black or Navy Blue. I’m splashing out! What I love about the bullet journal is that it is completely customizable to each individual. You can learn this method in a few minutes (seriously!) and use any notebook you have. If you haven’t tried it, and you’re someone who craves a simple, doable way to keep your life in one place, go with the bullet journal method. You’ll wonder why you didn’t start it sooner!
The other journal/ planner I love is the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner. It follows the Liturgical calendar, has weekly spaces for Examen, Sabbath ponderings, and a page for each day with spaces for priorities and notes. There are suggested Biblical references for each day, as well as quotes from spiritual writers. So yes, it is most suited to those with a Christian inclination, but there’s none of the annoying, overbearing, cutesy, cheesy feel that most Christian planners have. It is tasteful, sensitive, and leaves room for your own creativity and individuality.
And, lastly, here is A Literary Christmas a sweet collection of old-fashioned Christmas stories and poems on audiobook. Juliet Stevenson and Simon Callow narrate and it is a holiday treat I will look forward to each year.
I’d love to know what you’ve been thinking about, listening to, and discovering these last few weeks!
For the past few weeks, I’ve had higher-than-usual anxiety levels. Lots of activity and a full house are definitely part of it, plus the changing weather, and my ongoing post-divorce inner work/healing. Yes, I know, we’ve all got stuff to deal with and we have to do the best we can every day. So, here is a list of some of the tools that are helping me get my anxiety under control each day.
Calming Aromatherapy Blend:
(4 drops Cypress, 3 drops Lavender, 5 drops Sweet Orange essential oil.) When my anxiety seems to be peaking, this blend helps me almost instantly. I put it in my diffuser, sit down to work at my desk, and within 10-15 minutes I feel that tightness in my chest ease, the inexplicable sadness and worry lifts, and I come back to myself.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: This blend of B vitamins and herbs really works to calm me down, boost my mood, and relieve stress. Whether for everyday anxiety issues or for situational anxiety, (before a performance, for example), it works for me within twenty minutes. You should have this in your natural first aid kit.
Walking outside for at least twenty minutes each day.
Just get out there! Your mood will lift, your ability to focus improve, your stress levels will drop, and your overall sense of well-being will rise. Feel the sun or rain or wind on your face, connect with your surroundings, and remind yourself that you are part of the planet, and the planet is part of you.
Pick one or do all of them, but whether you are praying, practicing yoga, meditating or doing breathing exercises like Pranayama, you will benefit with lowered stress levels and a calmer, more positive outlook. I enjoy meditating and practicing yoga with the YogaGlo app on my phone.
Watching something that makes you laugh.
I can get so serious and stuck in my head, trying to solve problems and get work done, that I forget to take a break and just laugh. Whether it’s I Love Lucy episodes, a movie like Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah or a TV show like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a good laugh session will do wonders for your mood and you’ll stress less.
Reading books on contemplative prayer and mindfulness:
For the past several years I have been immersing myself in current literature. The book nerd in me is always becoming obsessed over the latest offerings from authors both familiar and new to me. Listening to bookish podcasts can be so exciting as I hear about books I’ve never heard of and add them to my To-Be-Read list.
When I homeschooled my kids, I read plenty of old books. There were read-aloud selections for History, Language Arts, for Music, Art, and for bedtime. And I read old books for my own learning and for pleasure. In my mind, “old” could mean something written 50 years ago or 300 years ago–or more! In the book God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis presents a case for old books in his essay entitled “On the Reading of Old Books”. This is a much-loved and repeated quote from this essay:
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
Why? What is the point of reading old books? Aren’t they irrelevant, stuffy, full of archaic words and ideas, and just plain difficult to understand? I’m sure some are, but there is so much we can learn from past ideas and perspectives, past ways of living and speaking.
Here are Lewis’s three reasons why you should read old books:
1.”First-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.” Don’t choose a modern commentary on an ancient philosopher like Plato, for example. Instead, just read Plato. Lewis says you will be more able to understand Plato directly than some long-winded interpretation of the philosopher.
2. Avoid the nearsightedness of our own age. “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.”
There is a certain “blindness” that today’s writers and thinkers have–“the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ “…”None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.”…”The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.” This will help us avoid making the same mistakes (aka history repeating itself)
3. To see the underlying theme of the Christian faith through the ages and not be swayed by modern “sub-Christian modes of thought”. Although there are many divisions within Christianity, there is a certain unifying thread running through the centuries of religious writings. Lewis has a substantial list of recommended reading, whether you are a seeker, a believer, or an emphatic unbeliever, as he was at one time.
So…of course this segues naturally into what old books are part of my spring/summer reading list. Here are the first four!
I’m re-reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen via audiobook. It’s been several years since I read any of her works, so I thought it was about time to pick up her books again. The incomparable Juliet Stevenson narrates this version and I highly recommend it!
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People is a book I only skimmed through while my son was studying the British Isles in eleventh grade. Since Alan and I are planning a trip to the UK in the next two years, I added this one to my reading list. This book was written in A.D. 731, so it is OLD, but not dull!
I just picked up The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emersonthat contains an introduction by Mary Oliver. Although I’ve read quotes and passages by Emerson in the past, and have heard him referenced by countless others, I have never read “Nature” or “Self-Reliance”, his poetry or anything else of his. Have I been living under a rock all these years? It’s high time I get down to reading his works!!!
As it’s been years since I’ve read anything by the Brontes, other than Jane Eyre, I will be listening to Villetteby Charlotte Bronte when I finish Northanger Abbey.
I would love to hear what old books you are reading or plan to read this year!
Let me be honest: it is a challenge to walk the wellness path I encourage others toward. It takes lots of time and dedication to the dreams I want to manifest. It takes willpower, grit, gumption, tears, motivation from many sources and plenty of failing forward. I have many areas I still want to master. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the things I am working on this year:
I need to be dedicated to daily writing, daily meditation and yoga, daily practice of my instruments. I have an irregular schedule, so I’m thinking that the best way to make these things happen are to make appointments in my calendar app and then follow through. I am not a morning person and do not think clearly enough to write first thing, except morning pages, perhaps. But maybe yoga would work in the morning.
Here is the emotional/mental/spiritual aspect of myself I need help with the most: being grounded in my body enough that I can be calmer, less anxious. I startle easily, am a “Nervous Nellie” as Alan calls me, and am often on the verge of panic. I am taking an herbal blend and use essential oils in the diffuser to help with this, but there are more pieces of this puzzle to be found.
The relational and personal growth-type of area I most need help in: being able to stop what I’m doing and focus on the other person, whom I love, without being preoccupied with work and wishing I wasn’t interrupted. It is really hard for me to change gears, let go of my plan, and be present with someone when I think I really need to get back to whatever I was doing.
I may fake it as well as I can on the outside, but inside, I’m fuming at having to live someone else’s plan for myself. Sometimes I can tell them that now isn’t a good time, but plenty of other times, I need to let this be my life: giving my time, energy, love and attention to the other person.
After all my years serving at church, reading books on selflessness and about being more like Christ, I wonder if I’ve progressed at all? I still like what I like and although I can be a grownup and do all the responsible, giving things on the outside, on the inside I am often willful and rebellious, smart-mouthed and sarcastic. It’s a good thing we can’t hear each other’s thoughts!
So, what do I tell myself? Do your best today! That is my aim everyday, as I’m sure it is yours. We aim to be our best selves, we sometimes miss the mark, but we reassess and keep going after the goal.
How do we treat ourselves after falling on our faces? Plenty of negative, critical self-talk, right? To care for yourself, though, and to promote inner emotional and mental health, you need to be kind to yourself. If you, like me so often, tend to beat yourself up with your thoughts and inner talk, then switch it up! Be encouraging. Find things to compliment about yourself. Remind yourself that mercies are new every morning. Tell yourself “I love you and you deserve to be loved”.
For Lent this year, I gave up negative self-talk about my body and my actions. Every time I catch myself getting ready to unload the mean words gun, I am amazed at how natural it is. It feels weird saying “I love you” to the parts of my body that I’ve never liked much. It feels weird to not criticize the way my jeans fit or my face looks on live video. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s stretching me in the right direction!
So today, assess your life and be honest about where you need to grow, be more consistent, be kinder, let go, create space, or boundaries. But notice the way you talk to yourself and if it tends toward the negative, then begin to sweeten your tone, be encouraging and kind, and tell yourself you are loved and lovable. Because you are!