Linda DeGraf

July-August 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 7)

In a time of mass shootings, refugee crises, and environmental degradation it is hard to speak of the need for art and creativity. One wonders what, if anything, they have to do with changing the heartbreak of the world or serving a greater good than personal growth and pleasure. Yet why is it that those who would control and bully us feel threatened by musicians and artists and poets? How can we envision a better way if not by searching deep within the imagination and stirring creative reservoirs into a provocative, life-giving "re-presentation" of the world and our place in it? It seems important to tap these wellsprings for the sake of our own souls' transformation. But it is also time to send these creative energies out into the world because we are in desperate need for resistance, for saying no to death and destruction, for boldly setting forth an agenda of life and love and respect.

June 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 6)

Dear friends ~ Marveling at how very young children accomplish the astonishing feat of language acquisition makes me wonder about the power and meaning of words. The nature of being human is that we need to shape thought into language. The way we use language with each other can either hurt or heal, confound or connect. As inadequate as they may be, words help us attach names to meanings, express and share ideas, and circle round questions together. How do words in turn shape our ideas and beliefs? What does it mean to use culturally laden or gender specific names for God? Do they help us to understand more about God or about ourselves? If various world religions have different words for names of God—the Compassionate One, the Light, the Truth, the Eternal, the Creator—is this more a matter of form than substance, language than meaning? And what is the Word we listen for in the Silence?

May 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 5)

Dear friends ~ On the little patch of earth where I live, frogs are courting in the pond, the fresh yellow-green of new spring leaves sparkles with sunlight, and little shoots and buds unfurl before our eyes to greet warm days. Having come to gardening relatively late in life, I never quite understood the oft quoted adage, "one is nearer to God in the garden than anywhere else on earth." Not that I agree even now to its ranking highest, yet there is something about tending plants and attending to the fecundity of the earth in spring that infuses the spirit with gratitude and wonder. That life should spring forth from the cold, hard, seemingly parsimonious ground of winter bespeaks of hope and joy and a softening of heart. What better way to contemplate the powerful creative life force at work and play within this hallowed ground? How can we not turn our faces toward the light just as seedlings bend toward the sun?

April 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 4)

Dear friends ~ Spring is the time for throwing open the windows, shaking out the rugs, clearing out the dust and grime of a long winter spent largely indoors. Many of us strive to organize, de-clutter, and downsize in an attempt to simplify our lives and perhaps to stem the pervasive onslaught of consumerism and acquisition. It is in the bitterest cold of winter, when the forecasters predict single-digit temperatures, that my husband chooses to sleep outside with naught but a sleeping bag between him and the elements. Why? To see the stars, to feel alive, to remember who he is and listen to the heartbeat of the world. After all these years I can still remember a dream I had in my youth—in cream-colored rooms of smoothly curving walls a zephyr wind blew away bags full of stuff like tumbleweeds, leaving behind blessed space pregnant with luminous blue, the lightness of being, utter stillness, and a deeply profound sense of wonder.

March 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 3)

Dear Friends ~ The world we perceive with our senses is resplendent with texture and color and form. I am in love with this tangible world–the one of weight and substance, the one I can hold and stand upon, see and touch. And yet the iridescent blue in a butterfly’s wing comes not from pigment but from the way light bounces off myriad tiny scales, one wavelength converging on another, the unseen world creating color in the perceived world. There is a pulse beneath the flesh and blood, a resonance even within the stone, that cannot be explained. The alchemy of unseen interactions is at play and we humans need help in order to perceive them. Perhaps that is why music penetrates so deeply into our souls–because it is so much more than the wood of the instrument, the vibration of the strings, the touch of fingertips. A doorway through our senses into mystery, it can take us beyond everyday perception into the realm of feeling and of wonder.

February 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 2)

Dear friends ~ In February the holiday calendar directs our hearts toward love. What the world needs now, however, is not the amorous affection peddled in Hallmark valentines but the deep down, soul-searching agape love of attentive care, healing, and compassion. As Adrienne Rich would phrase it, we need to cultivate "honorable relationships" - relationships forged out of truth, respect, and integrity. But how do we get there? The cultural and political landscape of this country has set the bar so low for cultivating any kind of meaningful relationships that we need to relearn what it truly means to interact with each other honorably. In my teaching years, the most essential lessons were not about knowledge of the mind but matters of the heart—learning how to treat each other—how to love and to be loved.

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January 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 1)

Dear friends, In one way of reckoning, January marks the turning of the year. A time for looking back, looking ahead, and most importantly looking inward. The crushing inequities and violence of our times, the hostile rhetoric, the choking fear-mongering and intolerance, threaten to lead us once more down a path of despair. If you've ever been out for a walk just after a heavy snowfall blankets the earth and garments the trees, you know the hushed magic, the grace-filled pause that fills the space with light. It's as if for that brief moment the snow beseeches us to see the world with fresh eyes. "Stop in your tracks, cease chattering and crashing about. Yes, there are bare and broken branches, gnawed bones, littered paths, starving birds and hunting hawks. But I have another world in view. If only you can be still and imagine it." Now is the time to act, not out of fear or judgment or despair, but out of the stillness of the Spirit and wisdom of the Light.

December 2015 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 11)

Dear Friends ~ In this part of the world, frost crusts at the edges of minute leaves and blades of grass. The chill air illuminates each breath, making us mindful once again how crucial warmth is to sustaining life. Whether sitting in a rocker by the crackling fire of a homey hearth or huddling over a trash can fire under the freeway to fend off the cold bite of homelessness, we gather round fires because we crave the heat and light they generate. In this moment of history when so much of the world has become harsh and bitter cold, people cry out for a rekindling of the fires of love and compassion. We need to build heart hearths–havens of warmth and light where we can look across the sparks and flames to see the same longings in each others’ eyes.

November 2015 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 10)

Dear Friends, In the Christian tradition Advent is a time of waiting and a time of preparing. It is a season for contemplating who we are, how we fit into the world, and what we hope for its future. For many of us, November is also incredibly busy with the last flurry of activity before winter descends in earnest. Out where I live in the woods away from the noise and bustle of city and town, one does not need to ask if there is enough silence —there is plenty of silence. Yet paying attention to it, listening to it, and allowing it to penetrate beyond the chatter of mind and angst of heart —that is a whole different kind of waiting, a whole different kind of silence —the kind in which something else may perhaps be heard.

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October 2015 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 9)

Greetings friends, As crisp night air creeps in, leaves begin to blush and pale, and flowers in the garden dry into a brittle brown, it's becoming clear that autumn is seeping into the landscape. I know all living beings die. I know everything that is lost in winter will contribute in some transformed way to the new life that will emerge in spring. And yet...and yet as Edna St. Vincent Millay says, "I am not resigned." Doesn't stepping forth into the eternal light, melting back into the universal whole mean losing one's individual physical, sensual experience of self and others and the world? Watching someone else die means the achingly endless severing of connection to their presence in the only embodiment we know. But embracing our humanity means also grappling with mortality. How do we face into death with something more than resignation or terror? Is there a way that coaxes us instead to begin to understand the meaning of one's soul?

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