Dear friends~ Slower, slower. Poorer, poorer. Smaller. Smaller.

This is slow work. It begins in poverty, and we become smaller, until we have enough being to be nothing. ~Bob

Dear friends~ Here is how you play "Hippo Toss", a game designed for two players:

Dear Friends ~ Each spring the seeds stir and push up tender shoots through the warming soil; buds swell, lining the tree limbs like tiny jewels. All around there are signs that the Earth is renewing herself, that the Holy relationship of loving reciprocity endures. This is more than reassuring, because by now we must see that we are witnessing the unraveling of the sustaining systems of a myriad of worlds and realms. How shall we make sense of this? Old stories may help.

Dear Friends ~ Each day after morning kindergarten my mom sent me harrumphing to my childhood bedroom for a nap. The sun would shine through the tree outside my window, casting shadows on the peach hearts wallpapered around the room. Begrudgingly at first, I settled into the quiet space, but eventually the shimmying branches lulled me into stillness.

Dear Friends ~ Warmth sweeps across the globe in its own time, as does the cold. Wet or dry spells make their ecological homes, then ebb away. As I greet you, dear readers, February is inviting winter in all its glory, despite its chilly inconveniences. It's a time to draw in close to the fire, to snuggle up with a good book, or brave the elements, swooping down the slopes, gliding across the ice, building a perfect snow man or woman with young loved ones, or admiring the beauty of transformed terrain.

Dear Friends ~ I want to stride exuberantly into this new year "full of things that have never been" (Rilke). I'm customarily inclined to seek out those quiet, inward "cracks of silence where breath is connected to spirit" (Karyn Dedar). I need, we all need, silence, as Nan says, "for the Word to be heard." And on a crisp January morn when the air tingles, the tree limbs crack, and the sun slices sharp shadows on the landscape, an invigoration seizes me. I want to stomp around and inhale and shout and gaze about eagerly. I want to move my muscles, sinews, and bones.

Dear Friends ~ December has always been a darkening month in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the descent into winter; not so long ago it meant increasing hunger as well as fading light. No wonder it is the time when in our bellies and bones we long for the sun's return. We observe the season of Advent, yearning for the arrival of the Holy Incarnate, the One who fills us. Now, I wonder, has there ever been a December this dark? I look and look, and find no supernovas, only a pinprick of light in an ebony night.

Dear Friends ~ We are walking our daily forested loop, my dog and I, this softly gray afternoon. We crunch through the colorful patchwork blanket of autumn foliage so recently laid down. The leaves obscure our well-worn footpaths each November, so I'm bushwacking my best approximation of a trail, checking for familiar markers to keep me from wandering off the route I usually traipse without a second thought. I find myself smiling—at the playful leaf riot kicking up with each step—and at the unexpected thrill of entering a well-known space with fresh eyes and curiosity.

Dear Friends ~ October, at the heart of chilly autumn, is an intricate, nuanced, bittersweet time. The glory of shimmering trees, outrageous sunsets, invigorating winds, the scent of apples and rich mulch, the gratitude and joy of the harvest feast twines with oncoming darkness, falling leaves, the sense of letting go and passing on, the ephemeral nature of everything.

Dear Friends ~ It always seems to me that September invites us to things new. My grandchildren have been back at school for two weeks now, but when I was their age, September, just after Labor Day weekend in the U.S, announced the "New Year": new books, new teachers, a world of new ideas. All leading hopefully to learning, understanding, and perhaps gaining some clarity. I'm still drawn to that search for clarity — not in math or science — but in life amidst this cosmos.

Dear Friends ~ The shaded spot along the creek where water pools between rock slabs revives us in the thick of muggy July. The kids quickly toss their shoes aside; The eleven-year-old picks her way across the stream to check on crayfish who lurk beneath the tiny cascades, and her younger brother returns to his dam-in-progress. They no longer require a steadying hand on the slick rocks or engineering advice like in past summers, so I perch on a nearby boulder with a novel instead.

"Do you think a dinosaur ever drank this water?" my son mused on a recent visit to the creek.

His big sister (our budding geologist) piped in, "Actually, the Appalachian Mountains are older than any dinosaurs. They formed before Pangea even broke apart, which means they're even older than the Atlantic Ocean!"

Dear Friends ~ We all know the importance of a Sabbath, a day set aside to pause and come back to ourselves and to the Holy One within. These times are healing and sacred; we don't just need a day apart. What if we could take mini-sabbaths—moments to pause throughout our days? An old friend of mine called them "speed bumps." It's one of the best ways I know to turn the "wholly holey" into the "holy holy." Our leaky ways of going through our daily motions often create a completely empty experience of life. Creating speed bumps throughout our day is one way of patching the leaky buckets of our own longing and building a nest in ourselves that can hold the new life coming to birth within us. ~ Bob

Dear Friends ~ Wherever you are in this world, greetings and thank you for your generous donations helping us bring Nan's letter to you. We warmly invite you to sit comfortably, breathe deeply. Look around and within, up and down, over, under, and out. Notice the diversity before your eyes. There's diversity of vistas and horizons, smells and tastes, and the abundant flora and fauna blanketing this earth. Diversity is immediately apparent, openly offering its manifold and minute gifts. We see it in the flowers, trees, and landscapes. We feel it in music, dress, and cultures the world over. We may seek it in myriad cuisines. We marvel in our crayon boxes of the many skin tones humans inhabit. If we are lucky, we live diversity in our relationships, personal, local, and global. I feel particularly blessed in the diversity of our own family, in which the divine provided five children, all now grown: Asian, African American, three born to us, white Irish and German parents.

Dear Friends ~ Spring! the season of budding, sprouting, birth. The time when we see, smell, and touch the miraculous: the astounding gift of nature's regeneration. In the frisson of happiness at the sight of snowdrops and forsythia, in our leaping spirits and rising hope, we know our love for this Earth. Why else would we feel such joy? Or grief at the ongoing loss of so much? But perhaps that joy and grief arise from a deeper knowing. What if we recognized that our separation from nature was a tragic, lonely illusion? That our true nature was to be one with All Beings? What if some intuitive part of ourselves understood that we were walking on, breathing in, gazing upon, and living within the Soul of the World? Then nature is more than beauty to behold, more even than a vibrant creation. Suddenly we are speaking of Belonging and of Mystery and of what Nan Merrill called, simply, "Love".

Dear Friends ~ This morning unfolded early and briskly: A sick child woke before dawn. Our family's lovable rascal of a pet dog got himself stranded in the chicken yard and had to be rescued from the domineering hens. I waded through the texts and emails that accumulated on my phone overnight, gave my mom a call, and packed the not-sick child off to her day's activities. In a brief quiet pause, I intend to write this letter, yet I'm distracted immediately by the laundry pile that seems to raise its expectant eyebrows at me from across the room.

My wise friend, Katie, recently invited me to use a centering writing exercise; this hectic morning I give it a try. "Write a haiku," Katie urged, "that begins with the line 'I am looking at'". So I draw a that laundry's eye...and feel unexpectedly overcome by the marvel of the colorful cotton chaos:

I am looking at
A heap of the clothes we wear
Striped socks and plaid shirts

Dear Friends ~ In the words of Michael Meade, sometimes I dream that we at Friends of Silence are "a small band of servants and fools who wend their way into moments and places with a carpetbag of stories, songs, poems, dances, melodies, snippets of wisdom, and spools of connective thread. With these, we seek to weave containers in which genius sparks can ignite the lantern of soul in every person there." May your winter soul lanterns be ignited by these snippets of wisdom. ~ Bob

Dear Friends ~ The crisp unfolding of a new calendar, stiff from unuse, tacked to the waiting door. The whiff of fresh paper opening into the morning rays piercing the study window—a new year bathed in light. We are creatures who need light to see the way we do, to move boldly forward and around pitfalls. Light is linked in our awareness with the assurance of visibility and the thrill of creativity. For this we justifiably label it good and imagine Divinity crowned with it. But what if Light was beyond good? What if Light was really about clarity, recognition, being essentially seen and radically loved? Wouldn't that ignite our inner fire and forge us anew? In that crucible would we not be burnished to glow like lanterns in the dark? Dear Friends, in this new year may each of you come to see and know your belovedness more clearly, and may you shine. ~ Lindsay

Dear Friends ~ Darkness gets a bad rap. In our collective imagination, nighttime brings shadows and obscures our vision. Against the vast dark, we feel our smallness, and possibly even our aloneness. So we light candles and gather around flames to keep the night at bay.

But just like the rest of us, Darkness has a complex personality. If you'll allow a metaphor inspired by my own childhood: sometimes Darkness is a Ford Country Squire station wagon conveying a family westward on a December highway well past bedtime. Oncoming headlights—like the infinite eyes of a never-ending caterpillar—shoot piercing gazes through the blackness. Pinprick stars gleam even brighter for the crisp winter night. But inside the wood-paneled vessel, all is warmth and breath: six voices belting out Christmas carols, six noses thawing while the heater kicks in, six spines tingling as cold's discomfort meets the holiday's electric anticipation.

Dear Friends ~ Two challenging, yet inviting, questions have plagued me over the past month. We see escalating wars across the globe, natural disasters made worse by climate change, and an ever-evolving world virus situation. Covid’s ever-changing variants force scientists to remain vigilant with new vaccines to counter them, while some tackle monkeypox and other virulent viruses. As I write, we in the United States have entered the harvest season, preparing for the feast of Thanksgiving. Other countries and cultures mark the Harvest in other seasons, all with myriad meals and festivities.

No matter where we are in the world or what tangible crops we gather in, let us ponder together what we each, personally, harvest from these times in which we live. Perhaps another way to look at it is to consider what we bring to nourish and diversify this table of plenty.

Dear Friends ~ When in the Northern Hemisphere the trees lay down their green chlorophyll to reveal their leaves' true, resplendent colors, and ruby sunsets bring sweet darkness ever sooner within the daily round, my soul trembles and sighs before these harbingers of Mystery. Mystery not in the sense of something to shrug and accept; I mean something Magnificent and Holy, accessible only through heart and humility, the prelude to transformation and the portal to belonging, to finding one's place as Mary Oliver says in "the family of things." When attended to this way, the gradual releasing and darkening going on in the natural world resonates with Presence and the promise of possibilities just beyond the veil. May you, dear ones, find in this season much to awaken and inspire you. May you be drenched in Mystery and drawn into the Heart of Love. ~ Lindsay

Dear Friends ~ When things fall apart, may we learn to embrace the complexity of our lives, befriending our uncertainty and our own lack of control. This is the unwanted doorway to the birth of new life within us. ~ Bob Sabath

Dear Friends ~ I can still remember the sensations—the reverberations—as a young child cradled in my mom's lap listening to one Berenstain Bears book after another. There was the way her breath tickled across my ear, and the vibration of her voice moving from her chest, against my back. The first summer I joined my in-laws on their lake vacation, I observed an aunt, huddled with her 8-year-old beneath a blanket on the couch, where she read a Tolkien novel to him. I wonder if her now-grown son remembers how she did all the voices and stopped to answer each of his questions as the story unfolded.

Dear Friends ~ Honoring fathers, parents, nurturers all, we find ourselves ushered into the month of graduations and weddings. Times of celebration! Perhaps as children, you, like me, could not wait for summer and the freedom it promised. Yet, amidst the joys of the summer season, we are cognizant this June of the struggles of war, devastation in places around the world, wildfires, floods, illness and loss. Lest we despair, look up into June's bright, azure sky, and deep into its starry nights alive with fireflies. Look to the light, burn candles for peace, huddle with loved ones, yes, even strangers, and persevere, dear friends. ~ Mary Ann 

Dear Friends ~ Last month Bob referenced the "4am Club". I am a card-carrying member of the club, as you are, as we all are in these sleepless nights and dark days. Yet Jackie's poem of welcome to the club did not end in loneliness, but with the warmth of being held and the revelation of "unfathomable love". This is resilience, the tenacity that comes from experiencing irrefutable evidence that our present reality is not all there is.

I have a friend who when facing what is hard and the unmovable recalls as a child reading C.S. Lewis's evocative tale of Aslan and the Witch of Narnia. The Lion has given his life in exchange for a traitorous boy, and the Witch gloats because she knows that nothing can overturn the Law and the Deep Magic from the dawn of Time. But the next morning, the grieving girls who have come to retrieve the carcass find a very much alive Aslan who explains, "...though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still..."

Dear Friends ~ We have all probably had our sleepless nights this month as the dark clouds of suffering and war gather and storm across our bedtime fears. During one recent, restless night, my beloved of fifty years invited me to sit with her at the "4am Club." Here is Jackie's welcome. Perhaps you would like to join us? ~Bob

Dear Friends ~ This story begins sitting around a campfire one spring night, with a friend and her friend whom I only just met. "You know what’s funny?" she laughed when she introduced us. "This guy lives in your old apartment! He gets all your junk mail now." What a great coincidence! we mused.

Our chatter meandered into the night—the way fireside conversations tend to go. When we veered toward childhood memories, our new visitor and I realized that we also grew up in the exact same town as one another! At precisely the same time! Attended the very same school!

He told me he moved when he was in late elementary school, to a house about a block away from the school. I had walked a block to that school every day, too. family had moved away from that neighborhood in late elementary school.

"We lived in the brick house, next to the one with the swimming pool," he went on.

Dear Friends ~ Last year I reconnected with Rick Ruggles, a former neighbor and a photographer of what he calls "found hearts". Some years back, he teamed up with Steve Godwin, a poet-friend who often visited Still Point (the home of Friends of Silence in the woods of West Virginia). Together they connected their photographic and poetic heart-work, creating a tiny book called FINDING HEART. I'm grateful both agreed to allow me to share a snippet of their work here to warm our hearts this month.

In the crystal cold of February, the commemoration of St. Valentine, and the cacophony of shifting scenes and specters of our world, what does it mean to "take heart" for each of us, dear readers, especially as our earth heats up, and the pandemic continues around us?

Dear Friends ~ Janus, from whom January takes its name, sits on the threshold of the year looking both ahead and behind. Janus calls us to consider the shape of our days and how we loved in the time before and how we will shape our days and love in the time to come. In the last year I moved from forest to village, and now find myself drawn more deeply into communion with the close-in, human warp and woof within the vast web of all beings. I have a multitude of opportunities for personal encounter, to be intimate with grief and failure as well as joy and triumph. As I ponder, in the dark hours before dawn, the crux of the question for me is whether I allowed my heart to be broken, inviting grace to enter and forgiveness to flow, and whether I will have courage for such resilient vulnerability in the year ahead. Forgiveness is the tensile strength in the fabric of community; without it relationships fray.

Dear Friends ~ This is the season of wonder. Wonder is the doorway to so many things, among them joy, gratitude, and wisdom. How do we open the door of wonder in our lives?

Time to apprentice again
to my earliest teachers
of wonder and mystery

Time to walk again
in the dark forest
under a night star sky

Time to walk again
through the fallen leaves
under the black shadow of tree

No longer asking
Who I am

That I am is the biggest
mystery of all

A single red leaf
One night star —
Enough to explode in me

Dear Friends ~ Some yoga practices incorporate a simple movement sequence called a vinyasa that a person returns to at regular intervals during the yoga flow. Physically speaking, this repetition is a way to return to the breath, come back into balance, and refocus the mind amidst other movements. In daily life, with all its clutter and clatter, it can be helpful to have habits or movements of the soul that — like a vinyasa — cycle our attention back to the gifts that surround us.

In that spirit, each November (when many in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving) I keep a daily gratitude journal to remind myself to notice the smallest moments of delight or surprise that I might overlook in my normally distracted state. Once, during the autumn my son was three I wrote,