An Artful Blessing

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

They come a bit early to Sunday school, and help me set up the day’s activities while their mother leads the choir. They keep me informed about all the latest happenings in their lives, and on the new toys and books that I’m too old to know about. And they draw. This Sunday, they drew me.

(By Henry Tyler)
(By Addy Tyler)

The artistry, and the effort that it took, are wonderful answers to what was good?

The artists, Addy and Henry, are wonderful answers to another of the questions: where did you see God?

Before, During, and Aftermath

Last week, a storm blew in, stayed long enough to down trees and power lines, then headed out. Already high water levels went even higher. A few inches of water and two and a half days without power were the results. The lights and heat returning were among the answers to “what was good” in the storm’s aftermath.

My answer before the storm centered on appreciation for the time to get things buttoned up before the 70+ mile an hour winds arrived – putting away things that might be damaged/do damage if left out, getting the cars off the road, and getting ahead on laundry and baking (just in case.).

The before and after aren’t much of a surprise, are they? But the “what was good” during might be. I was so grateful for the time without power. Life took on a rhythm based on sun and light; appliances and electronics were no longer vying for attention. I woke up well rested, refreshed.

I wouldn’t want to live without electricity as a permanent thing, but for a couple of days in warm enough weather it was blessing more than burden.

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Add your answers…

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Original Source

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

These three questions for me are the gist of the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius, but that’s not where I first heard them all strung together. They guided the evening wrap-up for the teens and chaperones of Saint John’s church, Duxbury, on their yearly mission trip.

It’s been twelve or so years since I heard the questions, and they’ve stayed with me. I’d guess they’ve stayed with everyone who went on those mission trips, in one form or another. In their depth and simplicity, they offer a holy pattern of remembering, of recognizing God’s presence in the people and events that daily life offers. They offer us a glimpse of the holiness of our own lives.

Saint Ignatius came first, but it was Heidi Marcotte who gave me the questions. I am profoundly changed by and grateful for them.

What Was Good?

Heidi Marcotte’s presence in my work at Saint John’s back then, and the blessing of her friendship today.

The Examened Life

It’s November. The days are getting shorter, and the separation between Halloween and Christmas seems to shrink a little bit more every year. I don’t want to lose this month of harvest and giving thanks.

Last year, I wrote a pandemic curriculum for Thanksgiving based on the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius. In a time when many activities were out of the question, and many people were questioning their life patterns, it seemed like a good idea. I put it in the form of three questions:

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Families were encouraged to take some time each day to answer them together, and were given paper of various shapes to write their answers down. It was my way of offering a specific spiritual practice for God’s beloved children of all ages.

This year, even with the restoration of some of our pre-pandemic patterns, I’m returning to the three questions of the Examen for the Thanksgiving curriculum. What was good this day/week/month/season? What was hard? Where did you see God? I hope you will join me, adding your own answers and spending time with the creator who loves you beyond measure.

Click here to add your thoughts on these three questions;

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And…

Let the wicked forsake their ways,* and the evil ones their thoughts;

And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,*

and to our God, for he will richly pardon.

[The Second Song of Isaiah (Is. 55:6-11), BCP, pp. 86-87]

I am a prodigal daughter, standing in a sty, surrounded by pigs. This is the fork in the road. Do I perish here, soul and maybe even body? Do I walk the long road home, back to a mother and father who love me?

I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of – this barren wasteland that is my soul, or the life-giving home that will rescue me from this self-chosen living death.

If I go back, one thing I know: all bets are off. I’ll never be able to turn a prodigal away. All will be welcome. All who seek it will be restored.

[For the whole canticle, click Lent 2021 above.]

 Photo by Jared Fredrickson

An Alternate Reality: From Doing to Being

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

“…Go, do all that is in your heart…” 2 Samuel 7:3

“…I will give you rest…” 2 Samuel 7:11

After 51 years of intense and often overwhelming striving – 45 in the paid workforce and six as an unpaid but very busy and highly responsible worker at home – I retired last month, as in stepped away, clocked out, retreated.

What happened next seemed inevitable. Having withdrawn from the frenetic hustle, I moved to the desert (literally). I, like other reclusive types before me, have simplified, downshifted, and consciously relinquished much that gave my life meaning before. I sold my businesses, seriously pared through material possessions, said goodbye to family and friends, and re-located to a different state.

Here I now am doing “all that is in [my] heart.”  At first this was mainly recovering – lots of sleep, changes in diet and exercise routines, daily immersion in nature, much reflection amid the incredible quiet. I’ve been aided in my solitude by the covid shelter-in-place mandate. I have received much needed rest. Many has been the day when, at the end of it, I realize I’ve not spoken to or interacted with another person all day. Am I lonely in this extreme seclusion? No. I feel as if I’m on the receiving end of a reward long-earned and long-deferred. I revel in my isolation and am feeling divinely ministered to and understood.  As other verses in 1 Samuel assert: For the Lord is a God who knows what  you have done… and …He will protect his faithful ones.

In my current minimalistic experience, I am finding great peace. All the heretofore life motivating “shoulds” have fallen away. Desert creatures are my brethren. Sensory experiences no longer involve words and images on screens; now they center around appreciation of sunrises, starry skies, sunsets, and good books.

As you reflect during Advent, I offer to you my recent observation that as the externals of my life have drained away, the internal gifts have bubbled up. It took deliberate and mindful action to effect this massive life change, but, now that it has come, I am truly full of thanksgiving and praise for this God-provided time of rest to do all that is in my heart. I wish it for you as well, or whatever the desires of your heart may be. Blessings to all of you!

Offered by Jill Fredrickson, desert traveler bound for Bethlehem.

Sands

by Hazel Ward Adcock

Scientists tell of singing sands

What songs?

What songs sing the singing sands?

I went to a desert place

To learn the song of the singing sands

These offspring of rocks

Forever lost, wanderers of the winds

Flowing obliterating tracks

In high wind fury

Blowing into newly-sculptured dunes

Burning at noon time

Shivering, quaking in moonlight;

Calm burning days

Of diamond shimmer and mirage

Bright water waving, lapping

Glimmering fading forever

As we approach.

At last I heard the song

Its grand song

Song of the only truth or certainty

The grand song of time and change.

Never lost, never the same.’

Kindly offered by Martha Zinger, Hazel Ward Adcock’s daughter.

Happy Thanksgiving

Dear God, make me grateful for all that this life offers – the good and the difficult. You made me and you sustain me, offering love in all times and places. Teach my heart to love, my spirit to dance, and my mind to understand. Amen.

[I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For, Bing Crosby, Holiday Inn (sound track), recorded 1942, Sunbeam Records]

Business, not as usual: default quarantine

An indirect brush with Coronavirus changed all the plans I had for the days leading up to Thanksgiving. No one at home was sick, but someone who tested positive had interacted with my husband. Social distance and masks were both used, but quarantine-by-default was still the result. We adjusted our plans and expectations and began to figure out how to get our work done in isolation.

The first thing that surfaced for me: not everything I had on my to-do list really needed to be done before the end of quarantine. I prefer getting everything done well in advance, but that’s not the same as things needing to be done within my original time frame.

The second thing: the worst that would happen would be delay, not cancellation, in delivering Advent materials. The world would not stop spinning, and Advent would arrive.

The third thing: any inconvenience I might experience does not compare to the suffering of those who are sick. To suppose otherwise is at best ignorant, at worst callous.

Quarantine is a hard thing, but it offered me a better view of what is and is not important. Thanks be to God for that.

Driving Home: Scotland Bridge Road

Yesterday, I drove past the house I called home forty-nine years ago. It’s a ranch, medium size, nestled in the trees. It sits at the middle of Scotland bridge road, halfway between where the river meets tidewaters and an old community church. Although you can’t see it from the road, there’s a lovely path through the woods, babbling brook included. Only a couple of miles from the Atlantic, you can smell the salty sea on most days.

It’s a typical Maine house, with nothing to distinguish it from dozens of others in York. When I turned onto Scotland Bridge road, I wasn’t even sure I’d recognize it. There are a few more houses on the road, and the ones I remember don’t all look the same. New paint colors and a few additions have added a layer of unfamiliarity to many of them. But it was still a home and a road in a town that I called mine.

Watching maple leaves drift groundward at the place I now call home, I see that my memories are that house on Scotland Bridge Road. They’ve changed over time and distance, with new layers added that weren’t really there when I was living among them. But the heart is the same: my soul recognizes the place I once called home.