Friday, May 26, 2017

My heart swells

Where can I go
from your spirit, O God?
Opening Prayer and ThanksgivingI awake this morning
In the presence
of the holy angels of God.
May heaven open wide before me
Above me and around me
That I may see
the Christ of my love
And his sunlit company
In all the things of earth this day.
        J. Philip Newell, Each Day & Each Night
It’s Friday morning and I usually wouldn’t write on Friday morning – it’s my sabbath – but the words came upon me with the desire to put them down. So here I am.

I drink some water and set my tea to steep. Planning to do morning prayers and yoga, I’m inspired by the rabbit I spot nibbling on red creeping thyme to take my mug and do walkabout . What beauty I find. The sun is warn, the grass wet from last night’s shower. The peony blossoms still have some life in them.

Joe Pye is a native that will grow to 5 feet.
Wild Ginger is a native groundcover.
I pick a stalk of rhubarb to add the ones I didn’t use last night. They’ll make a nice something for supper. I talk to the brunnera, the Joe Pye weed, the rabbit. Oh, and the rose. It was eaten to a nub but is coming back nicely now that I’ve stacked bricks around it.

The iris are beginning to bloom. Lovely. The white sage refuses to give up though I keep digging out whatever sprouts appear. The hostas in the corner seem to be thriving in spite of their munching neighbors.

Full of the beauty of God’s creation I come in, pour more tea and head toward my prayer chair – a rocker that fits my smaller frame (so many are too big) but I stop by the lilacs in a vase. (May is the only month I use this vase as it’s too large for anything but a mess of lilacs.) I tell myself I’ll need to dump these on the compost today but then I smell them and decide to wait. The lilac fragrance is still in them. One more day they will bless my home with their fading beauty.
There are even spider's lines on it...
I sit in the rocker, full to overflowing with the beauty I find around me. As I open my pray book and read the verse from Psalm 139 (a different on each morning) I thank God and realize I need to share this. I continue to read first – first an opening prayer, then a psalm and a bit of scripture, more prayer, intercessions, and closing prayer.

May you be open this day to the beauty that is around you. Though you may not be blessed with gardens to walk through or the time to savor them, allow yourself to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, whatever is part of your day’s experience and know God’s presentness in all of it.
Closing Prayer
The love and affection
of the angels be with me.
The love and affection
of the saints be with me.
The love and affection
of the heaven be with me,
to lead me and to cherish me
this day.
        J. Philip Newell, Each Day & Each Night

Monday, May 22, 2017

Good enough

New Horizons Orchestra, Spring 2017

“Remember, this is just another rehearsal.” This from Rachel, the director of New Horizons Orchestra, a local amateur ensemble of those who once played and those who want to learn. “The people in the audience are friends and family. They’re here to support you.”

I started with the group a year and a half ago. I was surprised at our first performance how nervous I was. After all, I used to lead high school bands and choirs; I’ve played in more concerts than I could possibly remember. But I was unsettled. I walked into the library conference room, looked around and said a little uncertainly, “The chairs aren’t set up like they are at rehearsal.” A passing musician – who'd probably helped set up – responded, “They’re not nailed down.” Oh, yes, right. I breathed a little easier.

I’ve written before about my challenge with perfectionism and expectations. I’ve struggled with a belief that "I’m not good enough" for most of my life. I never enjoyed playing solos because I’d invariably mess up – not because I didn’t know the part but because my inner critic was so stridently vocal that I didn’t believe I could succeed. Funny thing that I’m now a pastor who speaks in front of people every week.

Three years ago, after working with a counselor for a period of months, I announced in our closing session, “I am good enough!” He jumped in, saying that if he had his way I’d paper the walls of every room with those words.

I began reading a couple of BrenĂ© Brown’s books last weekend and was reminded of how debilitating the “I’m not ______ enough” lie can be (insert your word – thin, rich, old, young, smart…) If you’re unfamiliar with her work, you might listen to her TED Talk. She’s a researcher; her primary topic: shame. (Her writing’s accessible and so on-target about something most of us live with, often without knowing it.)

Anyway… Last month at a clergy gathering, I offered an impromptu devotion on
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
We probably all know this psalm as an expression of comfort after a loss. And, it is, yet how about another take on it?

Since God is our shepherd, we won’t want for more. We don't need any more. With God by our side, we have enough. We don’t need more clothes or money or friends (although more friends would be nice.)
“I shall not want.”
Trusting that God’s always near, we can also trust that we’re enough, just as we are. We’re exactly as we need to be in this moment. When someone doesn’t like what we say, or what we leave undone, we are enough. I might like it if my memory was less spotty, but I’m enough. You might like to be taller or healthier or more fun-loving (or serious), yet when we trust that God’s with us – right now and right here – we can choose to exclaim, “I am enough.”

You’re enough! Absolutely. (Don’t excuse yourself from being the person God needs you to be. Keep practicing loving everyone and everything, but also:) Practice telling yourself, “I’m ______ enough.” Keep breathing it, speaking it and dancing to its rhythm until that critic inside you packs up and leaves.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


I call all this to mind—therefore, I will wait.
Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended;
    certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!
They are renewed every morning. Lamentations 3:21-23a
Kay’s working on a painting project. She’s been commissioned to produce watercolor posters for her brother and sister-in-law’s soon-to-be-opening business venture, The Encrypted Escape. “Painting is something that looks like garbage, and looks like garbage, and looks like garbage. … The only reason I don’t stop is that I hope that it’ll come together okay. … It isn't always like that, but a lot of the time. ... Right now, it’s bad.”

I’ve always marveled at my children’s artistic abilities. (They got it from their father.) Still, I can connect with her sentiment. A friend was talking about their music practice the other day. “I’ve been practicing and practicing that one measure. I must have played it a hundred times. And do you think I could play it at rehearsal?” Head shake to the negative. (I could relate to this!)

I espouse practicing as a way to learn all sorts of things. It’s worked for me in all my years of playing instruments. When I was a band director, I expected (hoped) my students would practice theirs. At church I talk about our faith practice, because (as a life-long Methodist)

I believe faith is something we live day-to-day rather than our assent to any doctrine. (Also, there is “no religion but social religion” and “no holiness but social holiness.”)

The thing about practicing – as the comments above suggest – is that we can do awful lot of it before noticing any results for our efforts (fruit). I’ve been playing a certain Beethoven sonata for years, and I’ll never get it up to tempo. Still, it’s good for me. Playing piano clears my mind – at least while I’m doing it, sometimes longer. Most of the time, I’m more at peace and centered, even joyful, after time spent at the keyboard.

When we practice and see no noticeable results, it’s easy to get discouraged. My friend was at their lesson and talked about this frustration with the instructor. With decades of experience herself, she was able to assure them that it may only be when we look back at where we used to be that we’ll be able to notice how far we’ve come. My friend then added that doing this, they could see the improvement.

Whatever it is we practice – whether it’s music, painting, a sport, compassionate listening or anything else – we’re better than we’d be if we didn’t practice. And most of the time I suspect we feel better for having done it as well.

At our community supper at church this week, I sat down to eat (and catch up) with Val and Janet. While I listened and encouraged them to share, I noticed that my mind and eyes were wandering more than I would’ve liked. I’ve been practicing attentive listening for years, and have gotten better, but this was discouraging. True, I was (am) sleep deprived and I’m under more than the usual amount of stress, but I expected to do better.

I’ve since reminded myself of two things:
  1. I need to be gentle with myself, practicing as much compassion with myself as I do with others. We are each a work in progress. Forgiving ourselves may be one of our harder practices, but if we're to be healthy, we need to do it. Expecting perfection of ourselves or anyone else is doing an injustice.
  2. I am a better, more attentive, compassionate listener than I was ten years ago. In ten years, I hope to be better. 
I did as well as I could on Wednesday. I need to accept that and let that be good enough. We all need to practice letting what we have done be “good enough” for that moment, even as we work to be "better" for the next.