Monday, March 2, 2015

Lent: The Dance of Trying New Things

On Saturday, Zoom (my son) and I headed up to San Damiano to help my best friend Tammy lead a two hour session with a group of about ten children. The unusual thing about this is that in it's fifty one year history, this was the first time that San Damiano had welcomed families with children as part of an overnight retreat. It's a retreat center place that started as a silent retreat center for men, and the walls are thin, most rooms have two twin beds. So this event was a trial to see how things would go, and we were all just pleased to be a part of it.

We started off the morning with a bean bag throwing game, to get everyone acquainted. It's an ice breaker I've done before with adults, and the kids loved it so much that they asked to do it again and again. And things got a little crazy, and one little boy started throwing wildly, and well, next thing we knew, there was a bean bag sitting up in one of the very solemn, very proper light fixture, with one of the glass panels knocked loose.

That made for a fine time for a bathroom break, so I escorted a couple of the boys and stood in the hall while Zoom (age 4) and Grant (age 7) used the restroom. This being the first time, ever, that I had not gone in to the restroom with my son, I was half nervous, half amused when another grown up went in, and totally relieved when there was no laughing coming from anyone in there.

Just then, Brother Mike, the administrator of San Damiano, came out of his office. He seemed confused to see me standing outside of the men's room, and so I explained what was going on.

"Brother Mike," I said, "I know this is the first time kids have been up here, and I have to inform you that we have already managed to launch a bean bag into one of the chandeliers. It's not broken. I take full responsibility."

 Brother Mike looked at me, kind of amused, and laughed. And then asked, "Did anyone get hurt? I can get it down tomorrow, after the retreat."

I reported everyone was just fine, and that's when Zoom and Grant came out of the restroom. Both were wide eyed, as they were face to face with a Franciscan Friar. Brother Mike was in his brown robe, and sandals and the boys seemed intimidated.

I introduced everyone, and Grant shyly announced that we'd thrown a bean bag into the light. Brother Mike said he knew and no one was in trouble.

And then, Brother Mike looked at Grant's shirt and said, "Cool Minion, dude."

Grant's eyes lit up and without missing a beat, he replied, "Bee doo, bee doo."

Brother Mike, Grant, and Zoom started laughing super hard.

Later we were out in the courtyard, which has a little stream and fish in it. The children loved the fish and the stream, and running along side it. Dorothy, who works at San Damiano, was walking past, and I waved at her. She came over, and I introduced Zoom.

"Look!" He said to her, "There are tiny fishes in there, and I think that one is my friend." She knelt down, and looked into the water with him. "Yes," she said, "I do believe he is your friend!"

And they laughed and looked at the fish, and other children came to talk to Dorothy and they all fell in together like they'd known each other all their lives.

As they laughed, and pointed at fish, I recognized that this the wonder of The Dance. The Friars, in saying yes to something they'd never done before, opened their doors to a new world. To new experiences, to a different kind of energy. And it was clear that each of them were warmed by the presence of these children. And the kids, they loved the new place, the storybook-like courtyard, getting to meet new people. They loved the attention of adults that regarded them as equals, and met them where they were, silently inviting them in to their community. In turn, children have that magical way of naturally inviting others in to their world, with their curiosity and joy, they make such quick friends. There was an absolute easy to these interactions, and it was a true treasure to watch as each person interacted, saying yes to the universe, to love, to friendships, to the joy of getting to know another person, another part of God's creation.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Visit

About eight years ago my mom, aunt, and sister went to Italy and we visited the Amalfi Coast. If you have not been, there is no place like it on Earth. Pinky blueish sunsets over long long vistas of an Italian coast. Lemony delicious icy drinks. And the people are as delicious and amazing as the food and the views.

Of the places that we visited that trip, two stand out and for such very different reasons. We went to Wagner's home, and heard a performance of one of his pieces played in a small venue, hot, kind of sleep inducing, but honestly, right where Wagner (Flight of Valkyre's fame) lived and wrote. It is a tiny, cobble stone street of a town and we ate in the equivalent of an Italian Diner, but with real, gluten-filled (oh, the days when I could eat gluten) pasta. And white paper covering white table cloths. And proper waiters.

But really the highlight of the place, for me was the gardens around Wagner's place. Gorgeous formal gardens, hanging on the cliffs above the sea, long vistas down to the ocean, and medieval castle walls all around. It was another world, another time, it was a visit that I will never forget.

How to Do a Centering Prayer Meditation

My next retreat is on "Living in The Present Moment," and much of what I'd put in the initial outline had been about meditation, learning to live in the now instead of allowing oneself to get stuck in the past, truly facing what's in front of you. One of my favorite activities for getting really in to the present moment is Centering Prayer.

It's a silent meditation where one aims to keep a clear mind, but also respectfully acknowledges thoughts as they enter the consciousness. I was first introduced to this by Sister Michelle L'Allier.

There is, of course, the other and less comfortable aspects of staying in the present moment. If we focus on the here and now, we have to get real and face whatever is going on in our own mind.

I think this is harder in today's world than it has ever been. We have so many distractions close at hand, or in our hand that it's easier to give in to what Pema Chodron calls an "entertainment mentality," than it is to sit with our own thoughts.

What I'm learning in my coaching program is that there's a true value in sitting with our own thoughts, with allowing time for introspection, journaling, for getting in to the truth of ourselves.

For today, I want to share my own walk through of how to do Centering Prayer. In this video, I talk about three ways that I've had this meditation explained to me, and then offer you a chance to try the practice yourself. The first 6:53 is the explanation and led meditation, and after that is silence.

Enjoy! I'd love to hear what you think of this form of meditation in the comments.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lent: A Call to The Dance

My friend, former room mate, and now ordained Presbyterian minister Kathleen and I run a Lenten Journey group every year on Facebook. It's one of the most amazing experiences I've had, as the group of women that gather each year have gotten to know each other, and there is such community. I'll be sharing some of my Lent posts here, with you :)

For Thursday, 2/19: The Dance

When Anne Lamott was asked what she thought of Lent, she replied with the following," Well, it's the most profound holiday in the Christian tradition," Lamott says. "And I think two things really come to mind. One is something that the great writer Barbara Johnson said, which is that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I think that every year the world seems more of a Good Friday world. And it's excruciating, whether it's Japan, or Libya, or whether its your own best friends and their children who are sick, which is something that makes no sense when you think about a loving God. But it's a time when we get to remember that all the stuff that we think makes us of such value, all the time we spend burnishing our surfaces, is really not what God sees. God, he or she, loves us absolutely unconditionally, as is. It's a come as you are party."

When Kathleen and I started chatting about themes, it was somehow, dance that resonated with us. I am not a dancer, but I do like to dance (see below, exhibit A). We've come to love this Lenten Circle of fierce loving sisters, and for me (the Lutheran with strong Franciscan influences), it is about the invitation to the dance. The dance of Life, the God who loves us, whether it be a good hair day or not, whether we're wearing the same pants as we did yesterday to work today or not.

Me, dancing at my friend's wedding.
 Yes, Lent is about reflection and giving up things to symbolize what Christ has done for us. It is a somber 40 days for which we will need manna and strength, and our hearts filled full of courage. It's also about knowing that it is by our simply Being that God has said, "yes, I love you, you are invited to my dance, and I want you to come as you are." So perhaps you haven't soaked in that message recently, or perhaps part of you, like part of me, always wants to run and hide because such love can't be for me. Christ's impending journey is a love story that is about to unfold is for YOU. And the days to follow are all about the dance of this life and the next, of heaven and earth, of pain and joy, of slow dances, fast dances, of wallflower moments, of waiting to be chosen, of brave decisions, of all things.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Five Minute Friday: When

Five Minute Fridays: When

 "When?" my brain has settled into that question, my whole body in fact, for so long.

When will I get to explore what it would mean to lead more retreats? To help people find the connection to others, to their own spirituality, to the world, to help in a more meaningful way.

When will it pass that I can make the time and live the in the zone of "No Toggle,"with more integrity, more authencitcy, more me-ness?

The answers are coming closer, the when coming in, within a breath of my face and now that the when is here, it is a tad frightening.

When this has happened in the past, I would have pulled back, maybe rested in the idea that "things are good enough, why rock the boat?" but not this time.

Now, when I look at the goal in the face, I am also staring down the fear, the limitations, the voices, the old dreams, the things that no longer fit.

Now I'm feeling more courage, more confidence, more freedom than when I'd felt it was a free fall.
That when is now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reflection on a Retreat Activity: Rocks, Pebbles, Sand

Back in October, when we were leading the "Balance" Retreat, we introduced the popular story about "Rock, Gravel, Sand." This story was featured in Stephen Covey's book First Things First, but has also made it's rounds all over the internet.

Here's the synopsis, which you can also find as part of my free 5 day Finding Balance E-course.

 A lecturer was leading a seminar, and announced  "Okay, it's time for a quiz." Reaching under the table, he pulled out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table next to a platter covered with fist-sized rocks. "How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?" he asked the audience.

After the students made their guesses, the seminar leader said, "Okay, let's find out." He put one rock in the jar, then another, then another--until no more rocks would fit. Then he asked, "Is the jar full?"

Everybody could see that not one more of the rocks would fit, so they said, "Yes."

"Not so fast," he cautioned. From under the table he lifted out a bucket of gravel, dumped it in the jar, and shook it. The gravel slid into all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Grinning, the seminar leader asked once more, "Is the jar full?"

A little wiser by now, the students responded, "Probably not."

"Good," the teacher said. Then he reached under the table to bring up a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar. While the students watched, the sand filled in the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more he looked at the class and said, "Now, is the jar full?"

"No," everyone shouted back.

"Good!" said the seminar leader, who then grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it into the jar. He got something like a quart of water into that jar before he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the jar is now full. Can anybody tell me the lesson you can learn from this? What's my point?"

An eager participant spoke up: "Well, there are gaps in your schedule. And if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life."

"No," the leader said. "That's not the point. The point is this: if I hadn't put those big rocks in first, I would never have gotten them in."


We led this as an exercise at the retreat, and had each person load up rocks, pebbles, and sand into a glass mason jar. Some were very serious about it, fitting in as much as they can. One self proclaimed Project Manager (not me, but another one was there!) actually dented the lid of his jar closing it because he was so determined to get in as much as he could.

And then there were the people who left space between the rocks, the pebbles and the sand. I was fascinated by this. The jar and its contents were so much prettier with a tiny bit of space. If the jar was full it really just looked like a jar of sand because of the way the sand filled in around everything. But, when there was space, you could see the details of the big rocks, see the pebbles, and see the sand settle. You could shift the contents without taking everything out.

I realized, we all did, that when you leave space in your life, in your schedule, in your jar, things are easier. There's more time to take in the beauty of life. There's more room to shift something if there's a last minute opportunity that comes up. When there's less in the jar, there's really more possibilities, more room for perspective.

As is often the truth with retreats, I was pleasantly surprised by the lessons I learned that day. And I've been looking for ways to leave a little extra space in my schedule, in my heart, in my head so that I can have room to enjoy all the things that life has to offer.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Make Sure You Are Running Towards Something

Welcoming patience
I'm often so anxious for the things I long for
to be here, now

For the un-straightened feelings of the past to be done
and over
and wrapped up neatly

My desire to dash ahead,
into the newness,
to devour whatever awaits
outweighs steeping in the wisdom nourishing my soul from yesterday,
last year,
four years ago

My father's voice, lingering,
"Make sure that you are running towards something with great love, instead of running away from something just to get it out of your life."