We can make simple meditation practices awfully complex, but they don’t always require mantras or cushions or apps, as useful as those tools can be. Sometimes a crackling fire and a scrap of quiet are all that’s needed.
This week brought some welcome fireplace-time, and one particular example came complete with an expert fire-builder, who piled the logs into a complex and beautiful cris-crossing structure.
As the flames crackled away, it became clear that the structure was in peril, ready to collapse as the lower tiers turned to ash. A little pinprick of anxiety lodged in the back of my mind as I silently willed the fire-tender to return, so that it could all be repaired.
Sure enough, just as I reached for the poker in a desperate attempt to avert disaster, the beautiful structure fell into a heap, sparks flying everywhere. A small wave of dismay rose up – this was a minor thing, to be sure, but it had been such a perfect fire, and now it was ruined.
Then, as the sparks cleared, I noticed an odd thing. The fire was even better than before! The collapsed arrangement had whooshed more air in between the logs, making the flames even brighter. It was not so tidy, but it sure was great.
Friends, we are all so carefully tending the fires of our lives, poking here and there even when we know it’s not really needed. We are constantly propping things up, adding so much fuel that there’s no room for air, checking and re-checking instead of basking in the glow of all we’ve created.
Dear ones, this week, let’s run one less errand, send one less email, schedule one less meeting.
Let’s aim to tend just a little less, bask just a little more.
This week my social media feed featured several references to the Sisters of St. Joseph in New Orleans, who are turning their giant former convent property into a water garden that will be a wetlands buffer against future storms.
“What we were doing is praying for an idea that would allow this land to keep ministering,” explained one of the leaders.
And the mechanism of the wetlands is a stark contrast to the levees, which are essentially walls built to hold the water back. With the nuns’ approach, the water flows through the system, with the filtering action of the wetlands slowing the volume down so that it can be gradually absorbed.
This story has me wondering two things. First, what is it that we have to give? We don’t all own acres within a flood-prone city, but we all have gifts of ministry, whether time or wisdom or kindness or property. If we prayed for an idea to allow for ministering, what might arise?
And second, I’m thinking about levees and wetlands. There are a lot of unpleasant things I’d rather hold at bay with a levee approach, building a strong barrier and avoiding them altogether. But that approach takes so much effort, and vigilance, and sometimes it catastrophically fails. What if our approach to the unwelcome parts of life looked more like a wetland, letting conditions wash over us and filter through with less damage? We’d get a little wet, but it might hurt less.
Dear ones, let’s learn from the nuns and the wetlands this week.
We can’t stop the rains, but we can bring a different spirit when the clouds roll in.
* Here is a link to more about the Sisters of St. Joseph plans.
Years ago, I was in the middle of a complicated business trip, rushing for a connection in a big airport in a town where I knew no one. As I was shuffling along the moving walkway, willing the standers in front of me to lean out of the way so I could rush by, a person moving in the other direction caught my eye, and then about five seconds later, I heard my name called out, with great urgency.
It turned out to be a friend from high school, with whom I’d completely lost touch. What a joy to see someone well known, in such an unknown place! The trip was going fine, but the rush of warmth made me realize how isolated I’d been, underneath the “fine.”
I felt the same way when coming across this Mary Oliver quote the other day, part of a beautiful graffiti wall in Boston. There I was, toting my groceries home, everything just fine, when she stopped me in my tracks. How wonderful to see my old book-friend on an unexpected corner!
Dear ones, lots of life is just fine – there are things that need to be done, and most of the time we are able to do them. But these sparks remind us of what more-than-fine feels like. Sometimes we get to choose a path that’s fantastic in and of itself. But for the trips that are just-fine, or especially the ones that are much less-than-fine, let’s look around for the friends who are there with us along the way. Even when silent, even when unrecognized, even when strangers, even when books – they can help us along the way, making just-fine or not-fine into something more-than-fine.
Speaking of book-friends, our winter book list is out! Please feel free to share far and wide.
One of the great joys of beekeeping is the chance to witness cooperative behavior in many forms, like the festooning bee-line pictured above. But bees are also pretty extraordinary as individuals.
A few weeks ago, a dear friend sent me a wonderful article about how honeybees move in water when their wings are too wet to fly (thank you, A!). Some insects paddle, some use their legs, and some just float, but honeybees tilt their wings to create tiny waves on the water’s surface, and the waves then propel them forward. The shadow-lit images of this motion are especially mesmerizing, revealing the not-quite circular pattern that gently moves the bee along.
Dear ones, we stand on the edge of a new year, a new decade, and maybe a new era. Many days we’ll be waterlogged, unable to take flight, and we might not be surrounded by our cooperative hive when this happens.
We can thrash around to try to gain a footing, or we can float along and hope for the best.
Let’s do something more interesting, more beautiful.
Let’s make our own waves.
One of the best things about long winter nights is the chance to curl up with a book-friend. And just like human friends, once in a while a book tells me something that sticks for a very long time indeed.
Years ago, a dear (human) friend gifted me with a little book called The Unfinished Angel (thank you, Ruth!). Some of the story is now hazy to me, but I do recall a scene where, at the end of an endless night, the angel greets the daybreak. “Lo, the pinking of the dawn!” I loved how “pinking” was both verb and noun. I loved how this phrase was simultaneously grandiose and funny. I loved how the very next day, I witnessed the pinking of the dawn myself, and it was perfect.
Summer sunsets are warm and glorious, celebrations of the day that is passing.
Winter sunrises are gentle and comforting, celebrations of that the day is just arriving.
Dear friends, on this solstice morning, we’ve tipped into the light.
The day is just arriving.
Lo! The pinking of the dawn!