Shoulder the Sun

Needing to fill my creative well this morning, I grabbed my camera and headed for Fairmount Park in Philly.  As I walked along the Schuylkill River, I noticed the placement of the sun coming up looked as though it was resting on the shoulders of a statue:

shouldering the sun

(click for full-size photo)

That image stuck with me through the rest of the morning and into afternoon, and gave rise to the following poem about the healing power of nature:

Shoulder the Sun

You knelt in the grass
head bowed
in another early morning ache
knees damp
with dewey tears
and shoulders cracking
under
all that weight

Yet you stayed there
folded inside out as
dawn turned to day
and the sun gently rose
just enough
to rub the tender nape of your neck
and give you a few moments
to shoulder only
the
sun.

May we all have some moments to shoulder only the sun. 

The Soft Sweet Gray

Writing on this cozy rainy summer morning, I was joined as usual by my precious all-gray cat, Gitter (no l).

gitter_soft_gray1a

She brought her sweet gentleness over to me in one big fluffy ball of soft purring fur and a light mew of greeting, then flopped down to stretch her full silken rumbling self against my leg.

gitter_soft_gray3a

As usual, my heart melted in the energy of her oh so gentle soft sweet gray, and once again, I’m reminded of the incredible power of deep gentleness – in our dear pets, yes, and also in humans.

We can melt our own hearts when we cultivate a deep gentleness in ourselves.

We can offer that molten love to this world and turn gray from a lifeless blah to a soft sweet comfort, rumbling with the energy of compassion.

gitter_soft_gray2a

We can share that soft sweet gray, complete with the vibration of a rich purr that shakes the dust and brokenness from the incredible experience of pure sweet life.

Dusk

You ask me,
Dusk,
As you gently wring the light from day
Dripping with gold of tomorrow’s promise,
Do you believe
in magic my child?
Do you believe?
And I nod, melted, speechless,
wishing I had the words to say
Yes
oh God
yes.

dusk over the cathedral

What Inclusion Feels Like

I went clothes shopping with my wife this past weekend, faced with the daunting task of finding me an outfit for a black tie wedding.

After trying on umpteen “looks like I’m playing dress-up… badly” outfits in the women’s stores/sections, we saw a store with a rack of men’s designer suits out front and everything inside me just clicked into place.  OH, to be able to wear THAT to the wedding, I thought just as my wife said “omg you HAVE to try one of those on!”

Sale price passed the test, so I started sifting thru the rack looking for my size.  A sales woman approached and I braced myself for the usual questions of “are you shopping for a gift?  what size is he?”  … but instead, what she said was “let me know if you don’t see your size there.  We have others in the back.”

THAT is what inclusion feels like.  Like what I was doing was no big deal.  Like not having to explain or justify what I most naturally, authentically, and genuinely feel and do.

I tried on that suit, and to my surprise, it fit PERFECTLY.  And it felt absolutely like the strong, confident, feminine (yes, even in a men’s suit.  particularly in a men’s suit) me.   And you’d better believe I bought it on the spot faster than you can say “black tie wedding.”

At the register, the cashier starting ringing up my purchase and asked, “So how did it fit?” and continued on to tell me how that’s one of his favorite suits and that sometimes he wears the pants with a casual top or sometimes the jacket with jeans and “isn’t the stitching on the collar just lovely?!?”

THAT is what inclusion feels like.  Like what I was doing was no big deal. Like the “different” of me mattered less than our “same.”

We so often make the concept of inclusion such a big deal.  We debate the Godliness of GLBTQ people.  We argue the theology of homosexuality.  We blockade our compassion behind our fears, uncertainties, and assumptions about how it feels to be in the shoes of someone so seemingly different that we just can’t figure out how to understand them.

We turn inclusion into two distinct camps of “us” and “them,” both sides nervous of the impact of including “the other group” in our inner circle.

I’ll take that risk when I show up at the black tie wedding in a men’s suit, allowing “them” into my inner world of seeming disconnect from “the norm.”    And perhaps in return, it will be honored as no big deal.

I do realize deep, lasting change may at times require upheaval, debate, and clashes of opinion and theology.  But maybe the change can be expedited and/or less damage done in the process if we consider the possibility that the repercussions of inclusion might really just be … no big deal.

Like this marriage proposal (see video below) bringing together two women in an outpouring of support from their friends.  The proposal was certainly a big deal… but the fact of it being two women?  No big deal.

THAT is what inclusion feels like.

Sacred Ingredients

Fresh rosemary sprigs sprawl in deep green disarray across my cutting board. Each cut I make into their surprisingly sturdy structure releases a waft of bold floral earthiness.

I gently strip the fresh ginger root’s “bark” and marvel once again at its bright yellow heart, a complex structure of juicy fiber. I’m pretty sure this is how the sun would smell if we could get close enough to sniff her fiery surface.

pre granola

Nutmeg dares me to name the myriad of memories evoked by its all-consuming scent, but I instead let myself be drawn by the allure of the silky cinnamon dust beside it.

Maple syrup carries the life of its trees as it offers sweet nectar to each rolled oat, and dark molasses adds its bittersweet reminder that some of the most important parts of life have nothing to do with puppies and roses.

Wrinkled golden raisins clump together as they tell each other tales from their glory years on the old vines out west.

Slivered almonds shiver a bit without their skin in this embryo form, happy to finally be warmed with the rest of the crew in a gentle oven bake.

To some it’s just a home-made granola treat. To others, it’s a collaboration of sacred ingredients and the chance to get up close and personal with the nourishing gifts of nature.

Now serving love and gratitude for breakfast — would you like coffee with that?

Blended Worship

I wish our world was better at encouraging blended worship – time spent in deep gratitude in a way that combines self-selected practices from any organized religious, spiritual, natural, or other groups.

Not that the more standard purity of sticking fully to one core set of practices and beliefs isn’t valuable; just that perhaps we also need to consider the possibility of value in blurring those lines.

Like this morning as I sat on my meditation mat in half-lotus yoga posture, eyes closed, listening to Christian hymns as my cat lay zenned-out boneless on my lap. Uncharacteristically, I soon raised my hands, palms up, in a natural expression of allowing and receiving – with thumbs and forefingers in the circle of chin mudra (an Eastern energy and consciousness technique).

Then, bringing my creative soul into the mix, I grabbed my notebook and started writing.

I wrote from that combined physical, spiritual, and energetic space – the depth of my inspirational experience multiplied exponentially through the blend of various components that felt like worship to me: Eastern, Western, nature-focused, creative, traditional and non-traditional all together.

interfaith prayerI felt the deep support of my current mentors in the yogic traditions … and the cultural support of my farm-and-mission-bred Anabaptist heritage traditions… and the newer sparkle of the Buddhist flavors … and the exquisitely worn-in comfort of my ancestral Mennonite Christian traditions… all threaded with creative intake and expression.

They say no man is an island; perhaps no religion is either?

Growth Spurts

I was acutely aware of my growth spurts as a kid because they usually involved pain.

In my younger years, I’d often wake up in the middle of the night crying from the bone-deep aches in my legs, soothed only by hot compresses and gentle pressure (thanks, Mom).

In high school, I was sidelined from my greatest love (basketball) for a couple weeks because the pain in my legs kept me from running.  The culprit?  Microscopic fractures in the bone, said the doctor, from growing too fast.  Apparently my body needed time to catch up to itself.  (No wonder they called me “gumby”).

Eventually my physical growth evened out (thank God) but I’ve noticed something has taken its place: emotional and spiritual growth spurts. Just like the physical ones, sometimes they hurt like hell.  And sometimes they sideline me, leaving me weak and vulnerable, tiptoeing around inside myself until I can put emotional weight back on my heart and soul.

Like right now, as I’m writing a book that includes personal vignettes, and it’s turning me inside out.

And I’m re-defining “healthy” in my most important relationships, and it’s crumbling the mortar in some of my protective self-awareness walls.

And I’m re-shaping my understanding of God, worship, and the divine in myself, and it’s making little cracks in my foundation.

I used to think a vague foggy feeling was an indication of depression coming on, or that a scale heavy on the side of questions + light on answers was disheartening proof of previous learning and growth that “didn’t take.”

Turns out it’s usually just growth spurts: cracks, fissures, and joints beautifully weakened to allow a fuller expansion of my inner growth.

Turns out it’s just an internal request for a pause to allow my inner goo to gain strength — so it can solidify into a more firmly developed version of myself.

So the next time you’re in the throes of emotional or spiritual growth spurt pain, request hot compresses and a gentle, comforting pressure (you know the compression shirts that provide dogs comfort during thunderstorms? yeah, pressure like that), and know that the healing has already begun.

And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself? ~ Rumi

growth_spurt1

Going Home

Old tin roof, leaves in the gutter
A hole in the screen door big as your fist, and flies on the butter
Mamaw baking sugar cookies…
Heard her holler from the kitchen ‘which one of you youngin’s wants to lick the spoon?’
Yellow jackets on the watermelon, honeysuckle in the air…
Old dog napping on the front porch, his ear just a-twitching…

It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago…

Me and my best friend Jenny set up a back yard camp
Stole one of Mama’s Mason jars, poked holes in the lid and made a fire fly lamp
(excerpts from lyrics of Flies on the Butter by Wynonna Judd)

The rest of the chorus says you can’t go home again, but I’m not so sure.  When I think of Mom baking cakes with umpteen children milling around, and me and my best friend Becky playing in the woods, and chasing fireflies late into the night (8pm), I’m not sure I’m not actually there.

These parts of our childhoods are part of us — our cells remember the past as if it were actually right now, today.

  • I feel the breeze coming through the kitchen window, carrying the fresh green scent of leaves crushed by kids’ feet racing through the forest.
  • I clearly hear Mom’s voice reigning over the controlled chaos, and the smile now on my lips might be hers just as much as mine.
  • I feel the inner angst of wanting to keep those fireflies captured forever while not wanting to impinge on their freedom.
  • I feel the scratches along my forearms from (willingly!) carrying loads of firewood.
  • I feel the strong softness and smell the earthy sweetness of moss patches that I wove through string to create a wall hanging on a piece of fallen tree branch.
  • I see the shy pride on my father’s face as he gently places a sun-warmed strawberry on the counter, from his front-yard patch, or a tiny but blood-red tomato from the vine up back in the woods
  • I feel the warm comforting weight of the cat sleeping across my legs night after night as I fell asleep to the chorus of cicadas (after fervent prayers to keep me safe from spiders).

Listening to this song today, I’m reminded that for all the times we believe in the lifelong impact of childhood trauma, maybe we can also believe in — and deeply feel — the lifelong impact of childhood magic

A Hand to Hold

It was about 2 years ago, at a time of ongoing transition and change in several areas of my life.  My inner foundation was crumbly, the highly imbalanced ratio of questions to answers in my everyday life had worn me down, and I just needed to rest in the arms of some source of strong comfort.

Writing only gave me more words of confusion and frustration.

Working pulled more from me than I had to give.

Waiting offered no peace.

So I found a ray of sunshine waiting for me on the soft carpet in my meditation room, and lay down in Shavasana (corpse pose), flat on my back in deep surrender with the sunlight pouring over me.  Within a few breaths, the tears came and I began to relax into meditation.

And then I felt it:  an unmistakable gentle yet firm touch of a solid hand in mine, fingers entertwined with mine for the briefest of moments, and when the sensation left, so did my angst... leaving me with deep peace and an absolutely certain knowledge that we have support way beyond what we ever imagine in this life.

In the midst of any variety of unspeakable duress, we have a Hand to hold. 

What catches your eye

I was walking on the beach this morning, kinda bummed at the cloudy, chilly weather at a time I’m sooooo longing for sunshine. Sure, the aqua water was pretty, and the rhythmic sound of waves dashing up the shoreline was appealing… But without sunshine, it felt more like a tease than a generous offering.

Until something caught my eye: a tiny flash of deep coral-orange in the otherwise beige, brown and black sand mix. Bending down to look more closely, I realized it was a perfect tiny shell:

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I’ve always had a soft spot for perfection in miniature, so this little discovery perked me right up. Clouds at the beach? Who cares! I’ve got a perfect teeny shell. Imperfect vacation? Who cares! I’ve got a perfect teeny shell!

Its 3 hrs later, and I’m sitting outside shivering, and smiling… Because right over there on my Kindle is a perfect tiny shell.

Yes, it really can be that simple.

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