Category Archives: life basics

Jump in Bed

It was a great way to end the day – taking a flying leap onto my bed. I don’t think I’ve jumped into bed in the literal sense in well over thirty years, save a few exceptions. It certainly isn’t part of my normal routine any more. Even my children are too big for such a nightly action. It seems to be for the young and light weight.

Have I left behind the joy of heading to bed, along with my childhood body and years? I wonder. Have I forgotten what a blessing it is to have a safe, comfortable place to end my day? To let go of the world I think I can control in favor of the dreamscape that springs from well far deeper than my conscious mind’s pool is an adventure offered to me every night. I haven’t given this a thought in a very long time.

Many times, I’ve heard the Spirit more clearly in my dreams than in my waking hours. Isn’t it worth a good jump into bed for that alone?

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Bath Time!

It’s one of the great comforts in life – sinking down into a steamy bath on a cold night (or a cool one during a heat wave). We are formed in water in our mother’s womb, so perhaps taking a bath is a reminder of our beginnings. For whatever reason, it’s a wonderful to end our day the way we began our lives.

It takes about twenty minutes for our bodies to become soft enough to slough off the skin cells covered with the grime of the day. A little soap on a face cloth does the rest, and we emerge restored in body; if we use the time in the tub to let go of the day, we can emerge with soul and heart refreshed as well.

We baptize with water as an outward act of a inward transformation. I wonder why I’ve never thought to take bath time as a way to remember this sacrament until now…

 

End well, begin well

Time to do the dishes…

My grandmother had us help with supper dishes once everyone was done eating – cleaning and putting away everything used for cooking or serving. Tabletops and cupboards were wiped clean, and the wet dish towels hung to dry overnight. But dish duty didn’t end there: by the time everyone headed to bed, the kitchen sink was full of tea cups and plates from bedtime snacks. Before she slept, she washed and dried all of them, returning them to the shelves and cupboards where they belonged. It’s no good starting a new day with yesterday’s dishes in the way, she’d say. I want to start tomorrow with a clean kitchen. 

Turns out, my grandmother had the right idea. Beginning the day with a clean kitchen is beginning with a clean slate. The morning tasks are done more easily when the work space is clean and all the necessary utensils are ready to use, in the physical sense and psychologically. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t always just dirty dishes: they are a symbol of a burdensome life routine. The simple investment of ten minutes and a dollop of dish soap gets a necessary chore done and offers a tomorrow without the burden of today’s leftover messiness.

Have you noticed that spiritual practices are much the same? They are simple steps and actions designed to be done at the beginning and end of the day; they are repetitive, requiring an investment of time and energy; they can’t be done once and for all, and they enhance the lives of those who do them. Left undone, life becomes an inconvenient mess.

The Jesus prayer, meditation, lectio divina, daily readings – just a few of the practices that can help you put your soul’s house to rights every night and wake up to God’s new day ready for whatever will come.  I’ll remember this when I see dishes in the sink.

 

 

Enough

Did you get enough?

It was the question that was asked almost every time we gathered around the table to eat together. Was there enough to take away your hunger? Did you get to try a bit of everything? At meal’s end, are you satisfied? The question may be about food on my plate, but it was also about so much more.

If I could travel back in time and talk with my four year old self, visit my teenage self, spend time with my new mother self, and ask “who will you be, what will you be doing, where will you live, and who will share your life?, I doubt the answers would look much like my current life. At four, I wanted to be a waitress; as a teen, I planned on a career in science; as a new mother, I was living in New York City with my husband, finishing up a dissertation in Theology and looking toward teaching in seminary.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with my plans or assumptions, but they were limited to my particular age and stage. The same is true of my current ideas and assumptions. There are so many could-have-beens in life, paths not taken for one reason or another. Had I not met this particular mentor, had I moved to another town, had I developed other gifts than the ones I chose to foster. Such might have beens are an interesting topic of conversation, perhaps, but only if they aren’t mistaken for should have beens.

If I really could go back in time and talk with my younger self [even better, talk with my grandfather’s twenty year old self or my grandmother’s thirty year old self], I wouldn’t ask any of the questions I listed two paragraphs ago. Instead, I’d ask the question I’ve heard or said so many times around the table: did you get enough?

From my four year old self dreaming of waiting tables to my fifty-five year old self writing this blog from my back yard, the answer is the same:

Yes. More than enough.

My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Ps. 23: 5b-6, KJV

New and Exciting…

Anything new and exciting happen today?

When I was a chaplain intern at Mercer Medical Center, my supervisor asked me to do something I’d never have done on my own. Take the least interesting visit you had with a patient or staff member today, write it up, and bring it in for discussion tomorrow. So I did. It was a quick exchange with a newly discharged patient while she waited for the elevator. I said good-bye, wished her continued health, and waved as the elevator doors closed. Her stay in the hospital had been short, her reason for being there temporary and non-life threatening. I doubt I’d spent more than ten minutes with her and we had no serious or life-changing discussions.

As I wrote up our elevator conversation word-for-word, I remembered how wonderful it was to see someone leave the hospital to take up the blessing of everyday life. No cancer, no debilitating injuries: she was given back to the holiness and grace of her ongoing life. Of all the people walking through the hospital halls, I was the one got to say good-bye and wish her well. I got to see the happy ending, the good outcome everyone who enters the hospital prays for. If that isn’t an amazing encounter, what is?

My new and exciting thing that day: there’s no such thing as a boring encounter or day. Perhaps it’s just my lack of expecting the amazing that blinds me to the wonder of it all.

 

Homework Time

Homework is what the teacher assigns to reinforce the learning that happened in the classroom. Originally, it was meant to be enough of a practice that a newly acquired skill wouldn’t be lost. In the right amount, with good classroom instruction, homework enhances the life of the mind.

What about the life of the spirit? What knowledge and skills do we learn in our faith communities, and what do we take home to strengthen them? Reading scripture daily, along with devotional readings, can increase our understanding and appreciation for holy writings. Praying for those in need can broaden our awareness of what is required for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Centering prayer, praying the Jesus prayer or the rosary can quiet our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls. All these things and more can be considered spiritual homework. But none of them will move us into wisdom and compassion if we refuse to learn one fundamental truth:

Without Love, None Of It Is Worth A Damn. (I Cor. 13)

The Great and Necessary Outdoors

Go out and get some fresh air.

When my children were still in their preschool years, Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder [Algonquin Books,  2005 (2008 – updated and expanded edition)]. His basic point: lack of getting outside in the natural world has some very negative consequences for children. I’m not sure when this bit of common sense moved from something most people took as a given to something that needed scientific research to justify.

Spending all day and night indoors, wired into various devices or sitting in front of a television screen, isn’t good for kids. Our bodies need to move, and we need to engage with the world in a way that we can’t control simply by pushing a button or selecting favorites. The world we build around ourselves, the indoor space we inhabit, can become a hiding place – somewhere we use to escape the larger world, where we can fool ourselves into thinking we can control everything.

But it’s just so easy to shut the door, pull the curtains, and leave the great big world the poorer for our absence.

If we don’t go outside, we miss out on some magical things:

Fostering life – plants, birds, bees, butterflies, and even the occasional groundhog or skunk.

Finding beauty in every season – fog rolling in, planets and stars crossing the sky, snow on tree branches, jellyfish and hermit crabs in the water where we stand.

Finding our place – we aren’t the center of the world, but we are a wonderful part of it. The entire universe was changed when we entered it.

Seeing the handiwork of God, and the holy ground that Jesus walked.

This is the day the Lord has made. Go outside and be glad for it.

Are You Hungry?

This question is often the beginning of meal and snack prep, and a way to gauge how much food needs to be made – a pragmatic piece of courtesy.

Are you hungry? If you are, what will satisfy your hunger? When I ask such questions of others and of myself, I can better meet true physical needs and become aware of when I am eating (or offering food) when no need exists. Are you hungry is offering me the grace of intentionality in my eating and drinking, and a way for me to offer the same to others.

When asked in a spiritual sense, are you hungry? is an invitation to partake of God’s nourishing presence – as necessary and satisfying as food for the body. Perhaps Jesus spent so much time eating with others because he wanted them to make this connection. Perhaps we continue to break bread in his name because we realize that making the connection is the every day miracle we are starving for.

[This morning, I’m writing at the Dunkin’ Donuts just down the street from my home. Iced Signature Latte in hand, it struck me that this isn’t a question asked of anyone standing in the impressively long line of people working their way to the register. What can I get you, hot or iced, would you like an order of hash browns with that are the questions asked and answered. Perhaps the assumption is that anyone entering must be hungry or at least thirsty. For me on this particular day, it’s not an accurate assumption.]

Table Blessing:  Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything. Amen.

What Did You Learn?

My grandfather used to ask me and my siblings this question every day when we got back from school. He asked on the days we had no school, too. Why do you ask the same thing every day?, I asked him more than once. Why do you think?, he asked back.

What did life bring today – it’s another way of asking the same thing. This day is an ephemeral creature: elusive, mysterious, and here for such a very brief moment. It’s so easy to let it pass by without giving it a second glance. Good, bad, or a mixed bag, today’s life won’t be here tomorrow and can’t be preserved in a mason jar like jam or pickles. This might be close to why my grandfather asked the same question every day.

There are days of joy, and days of immense pain. Not everything I’ve learned has made me happy, but not a single thing has been a waste of my time or attention. When my days are spent, and I’m asked what I learned from my time  on this earth, with grateful thanks to my grandfather, I’ll have quite a few things to offer up.

[Today, I learned that potatoes are growing in the compost.]

That’s the Bell

The notes of the bell or buzzer travel throughout the school building, spilling onto the grounds and into neighboring yards –  the audible signal that the school day is ended, and that it’s time for learners and teachers alike to leave the classroom behind. Life is more than a classroom, and it cannot be contained in school-shaped buildings. It’s time to leave it behind, until the next school day.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a school bell equivalent for the rest of life? A bell rings, and it’s time to leave the unfinished work at the office; a buzzer sounds, and it’s time to stop cleaning the house. For many of us, there’s no bell or buzzer to remind us that life is more than whatever work we are currently doing – that life is more than this one thing, and that it cannot be contained in any work-shaped box.

I like working, and I enjoy accomplishing my goals. I don’t want to shirk my responsibilities or burden others with my tasks. I want to work hard without being a workaholic. But sometimes the line between the two gets blurry, and I could really use a bell to sound when I cross it. I think that’s why I say the same prayer every morning. Two of its lines are: In all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me. 

If I do my best to rely on God’s will, and humbly ask that it be revealed to me throughout my day, I swear I can hear the school bell ring when it’s time to put down my work  – until it is time to pick it up again on another day.

Great God, give me ears to hear your voice as I seek to order my day. My endings and beginnings are yours. Amen.