Dear Friends ~ Heart wrenchingly, a dear friend just learned that his remaining lifetime has been reduced, in short order, from years to months and now perhaps mere weeks. What kind of courage will it take for him to face into dying in such a rapidly accelerated pace? This last journey will bear the echoes of all the days that have come before —pressed down and distilled into slender threads of love to hold onto and be held by. And how do we, the living, learn to wake up each morning with gratitude for the gift of another sunrise, another breath? For every one of us will also die; yet unless we are given the precise knowledge of its imminence we may miss the lesson. We have the choice to awaken to the blessings all around us or to take precious moments for granted and fill our days with soulless busyness. Knowing we shall all die one day should perhaps teach us how to live more generously, attentively, appreciatively.

Dear Friends ~ In our quiet little forested niche amid a uniformly gray sky, it has been raining for enough days to wonder how Noah might have felt waiting for dry land. So much of what happens in the world bespeaks sorrow and loss- parents and children wrenched apart, floods and volcano eruptions, fathers and sons taking their own lives in despair. Yet into this mire, Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama have dared to offer THE BOOK OF JOY. This is no "self-help 10 steps to happiness" manual. Between South African apartheid and Tibetan exile, these two have honed their wisdom in a crucible of painful reality. It is wisdom well worth pondering, rooted in deep compassion and liberally sprinkled with humility and friendship. If we are made for joy, how do we live it?

joy

Dear Friends ~ Since people have such diverse personalities and ways of engaging, it is good that there are likewise many paths to contemplation, many doorways into silence. Two practices that may be nurturing to some are watercolor painting and visio divina. Watercolor painting may seem at first glance like an art project for the grandchildren or a medium only for the fine arts. However, painting as a mindfulness practice can stop the mind from racing, help focus attention on the present moment, and allow one to listen— it can become an exploration for the soul. Watercolors do not yield easily to control—rather they invite play and observation. One can perceive the hue and texture of the colors, but it is the water that gives them movement, light and life; a bit like seeing ourselves as the paint and the Spirit as water. When you allow the dynamic interaction between paint and water to flow without constraint, shapes and images can emerge in unexpected and illuminating ways.

Dear Friends ~ I shall now expose myself for the fraud that I am—I know nothing about prayer, have no attention span, no disciplined prayer practice, and often struggle with depressing periods of doubt. I veer from "Here am I Lord. Forgive my unbelief," to queasy periods of anxiety or guilt when I think I should pray or fear not to pray, to longer spells of hurrying through life distracted and forgetful. Perhaps if I lived where I heard the muezzin call for prayer five times a day or where monastery bells rang to mark the hours—would that make a difference? It's a good thing that we are loved all the same. As Anne Lamott says, perhaps it is enough to say, "Help. Wow. Thanks." Just as flower blossoms emerge on tree limbs that were in winter stark and bare, so too can hearts try once again to open themselves toward Light. It's not too late...

Dear Friends ~ I recently participated in a conversation in which dissatisfaction or dissonance was a recurring theme poignantly and piercingly captured in a line quoted from a Mary Oliver poem:

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment...

Dear Friends ~ We talk so much about the stress, anxiety, and turmoil of these times and the difficulty of "living in the world but not of it" while that very world pounds on our minds and batters our spirits. Contemplative practices are often done behind closed doors, holding the clamor at bay for a few moments. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo said, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door…" But sometimes it's the very act of moving, of going out the door and setting off on a walk that heals, centers, reminds us to be grateful, and brings balance back into our lives. Whether you practice walking meditation, saunter through the woods, or climb mountains one intense step after another, walking has the potential to integrate body, mind, and spirit. It is a simple gift best not taken for granted. "...there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Dear Friends ~ A lawyer, attempting to qualify who he ought to love as himself, asked Jesus: "Who is my neighbor?" After responding with the now well -known parable, Jesus asked in return —"Who acted like a neighbor?" I can still remember an incident at the end of a whole year of working to build community in my class of kindergartners. During field day, one boy refused to partner, even momentarily, with a girl who didn't look like him or play like him. He chose to sit out the game instead, sullenly muttering, "You don't get it. You think we're all friends but we're not." I told him I knew full well that they were not all friends; that was beside the point — the point was they needed to treat each other well whether they were friends or not.

Dear Friends ~ Recently I came across a few lines I’d written years ago in a journal: “They say that trees and plants encased in ice incur more damage by attempts to free them. The slow work of the sun gently melting them heals by warmth. We too, should learn, as Barry Lopez says, to ‘lean into the light.’” In winter it is all too easy to succumb to gloom, lamenting the long nights of darkness. World events echo this seemingly endless chill, encasing hearts in unyielding ice. What more urgent time than now, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, to “trust in the slow work of God.”

Dear Friends ~ Having just celebrated a holiday meant to remind us to give thanks, it seems appropriate to contemplate cultivating a practice of gratefulness that would not just fall on one day of the calendar. It would permeate the whole of our lives. To be grateful for blessings does not need to mean that one is turning a blind eye to all that is running amok in the world. Rather it is to latch on hopefully to the ever-present reality that, in the midst of chaos and disaster, we still receive abundant gifts of life and breath and beauty and grace. That is not to say that we should mistake privilege for blessing or an attitude of entitlement for one of appreciation or what has been taken for what has been given. It is, however, to pay attention to the blessings falling gently all around us like a soft and silent snowfall and to respond with grateful hearts.

Dear Friends ~ Last weekend, amid the slowly turning leaves of autumn, we held a celebration of Nan's life and her gift of the Friends of Silence network. Walking the labyrinth accompanied by the graceful notes of the dulcimer, we listened together for the whispering wisdom that comes out of the silence of our hearts. The verse from Psalms for Praying that I carried with me into the labyrinth ended with this line: "Who will enter the Heart of Love?" When Nan began 30 years ago to gather friends together to pray for peace in turbulent times in Detroit, I think she was asking that question. This humble little community has grown over the years and yet it seems as though this is still the crux of it.

Dear Friends ~ All around us seasonal changes are beginning to mark the passage of time and I wonder—have the efficiencies of technology and the urgencies of modern culture's pace changed our relationship with time itself? I recently participated in a workshop on nature drawing. With naught but a couple of charcoal pencils and a sketchbook, I sat down in the dewy morning grass to look at a mushroom. Twenty minutes passed as we encountered each other. The feathery white fringe encircling its narrow dome caught minuscule pearls of dew. Peering under its cap, I discovered a delicate collar necklace draped at an angle around the top of its pristine silk-smooth stalk. Without disturbing this elegantly turbaned upright specimen, I peered inside another fallen-over comrade to discover a whole ream of filmy, tissue-thin "pages" hidden within its cap.

Dear Friends ~ In the wake of so much prejudice, violence and hatred, we must once again search our hearts for seeds of love and compassion. Why is it so hard to cultivate human kindness and respect? How is it that we can invent incredibly complex technology, push the limits of physical endeavor, and hone our intellects and yet be unable to transform the human heart? When will moral development and ethical evolution even catch up to, let alone surpass, our capacity for animosity and contempt and havoc? Who will be the teachers of peace, the champions of compassion?

Dear Friends ~ Far too many people in today's world seem intent on defining what they believe everyone must have faith in as if they alone had captured The Truth. One's faith must pass their litmus test in order to be real or valid or redeemed. Looking back through history at the inquisition, the crusades, the Pharisees and Romans, the suppression of the Sufis and countless other persecutions reminds me that it has often been this way. Yet if God is truly holy, then taking off our shoes and bending in awe might be a better response than looking from side to side to take inventory of who's there and who's not. I find it hard enough to have faith without people co-opting and abusing it in the name of their own fundamental righteousness. What is faith if not hope in the unseen? And if unseen, then how can we lock down The Truth as if we know it? It is human nature to fear uncertainty, confine paradox, and hammer away at ambiguity with our doctrines and creeds.

Dear Friends ~ Last month pondering soul transformation led toward contemplating the universality of the cosmic dance. Though inner work is deeply individual, it also confirms our interdependence and the connectedness at the heart of the universe. Sixty people trying to move in the unfamiliar patterns of Gurdjieff's movements with awareness in mind, body, and heart brings one face to face with one's own personal journey. Yet it also confirms the truth that being human means being part of a collective--a complex set of dynamic interactions--a consciousness beyond ourselves. Stepping into that kind of experience is both humbling and liberating--I am neither more nor less than a part of this whole. Whether one calls this the communion of saints or a beehive-like synergy of Gaia or participation in the Body of Christ, it bespeaks a belonging, a mystery of simultaneous differentiation and union.

Greetings dear friends ~ Having recently participated in a weeklong gathering to explore the Enneagram in Motion, I have been pondering the nature of soul, transformation, and the interdependence necessarily at the heart of the evolution of human consciousness. Russ Hudson describes the inner work of the Enneagram as profoundly different from working on our "issues" so that we can become a better caterpillar. A caterpillar perseverates on devouring leaves and molting into a bigger, yet still identical, version of itself. One cannot grow wings and fly, however, without first entering a chrysalis and allowing the known self to dissolve into something new, capable of participating in the complex web of interrelationships at the heart of the cycle of life. Yet how much difference can our tiny, individual metamorphoses really make? I cannot begin to fathom how the beating of one butterfly’s wings could possibly cause even a whisper of a ripple on the other side of the globe.

Greetings dear friends ~ In a little corner of my garden, I noticed bright green slender crocus leaves pushing their way up through the crusted brown earth. They steadfastly emerged still capped with dry clods of dirt and endured the unsettling vagaries of freezing nights and late season snowfall—a wintery spring after a spring-like winter. Our spirits, too, need lifting—need to emerge, become unbound, push up toward the light. We need to nurture a sense of wonder for if we stay buried in gloom we chance missing opportunities for awakening and for gratitude. Sometimes I find myself so immersed in worry for what might be lost, undone, unraveled that I fail to understand and appreciate what is here right now in front of me. To live with an open heart, to live with a sense of awe, doesn't mean we are blind to suffering or pain or fear, only that we also see the blessings all around us—the sacred gifts of life, love, and beauty.

Dear Friends ~ In this period of cacophonous town hall meetings and bombardment of the senses with advertising, social media, and rhetoric, we as a society seem to have lost the art and discipline of listening. Even if we hear voices amid the noise, it is difficult to open ourselves to whatever may be said rather than pre-judging or selectively listening. Yet if we cannot listen to each other, how can we understand or learn from each other much less work together toward the common good? And if we neglect to practice active listening, how much are we missing in other contexts as well? What waits to be heard not just within our relationships but within our hearts, within our souls, and within our world?

Dear Friends ~ In this troubled and troubling world we are continually forced to choose sides or else risk indifference or complicity by virtue of inaction. But taking sides also perpetuates a society of winners and losers, of "us vs. them." How can one seek peace and inclusivity and at the same time work for justice when working for justice means choosing sides and standing in opposition? How can one love one's enemies and fight against their actions without fighting against them? We need a world characterized by tolerance and respect toward all whether they are our faith or not, whether they are our gender or not, whether they are our color or heritage or ethnicity or not, whether they are our nationality or background or not, and also whether they are in our political camp or not. We need to be a people that will not be governed by hate ~ either from within ourselves or from without.

Dear Friends ~ As we welcome 2017, saying "Happy New Year" may feel a bit trite and hollow in this troubled world. Yet in a recently published collection of songs, Carrie Newcomer reminds us to hold on to what sustains us:

"The shadows of this world will say—There's no hope why try anyway?
But every kindness large or slight—shifts the balance toward the Light...
When justice seems in short supply, lean in toward the Light."

The only way to deepen this moment into something more meaningful is to use this transition for reflection—to cultivate gratitude for all we have been given and to ponder anew why we are here and what we are meant to be doing. How will we slip through the doorway into a new year? What is the next step we are called to take, the work we are meant to do? Whatever it is, know that you carry with you the love and blessings of this circle of friends and the everlasting presence of the One that sustains us all.

Dear Friends ~ Standing at the edge of an abyss is no way to contemplate the coming new year. Yet that is how my heart feels, as though the earth has shaken beneath our feet and split asunder. I am reminded of a conversation in a television show of my youth — a teenage African-American tries to talk to his white English teacher — he says she's got "white folks' blues." She expects the world to be good and just and fair and therefore is distraught when faced with a different reality, whereas he has spent his whole life without those illusions and knows life is a struggle. A friend shared recently that he has chosen to pick up some Lenten disciplines again (despite it not being Lent) as a way of caring for his soul so as not to fall into depression or give in to despair. Jack Kornfield says in BUDDHA'S LITTLE INSTRUCTION BOOK, "Whatever we cultivate in times of ease, we gather as strength for times of change." Animals gather what they need to survive the winter and so must we.

Quiet greetings, dear friends,

In silence and solitude
you will come to meet the Beloved of your heart.
For Silence is power,
the power of the Divine Lover blessing and transforming you.
Seek always the Eternal Flame
ever shining in your heart,
and let yourself be nourished
and refreshed in the Silence.
~ Nan Merrill

Dear Friends ~ As I write, the wind stirs leaves barely tinged with autumn color as a steady rain soaks into the earth so recently parched by summer’s sun. On the cusp of seasonal change, the land seems poised between fecundity and hibernation. So we too live our lives poised between action and contemplation, in that silent space of longing, expectation, and hope. Wisdom is both a mystic’s way of being in that sacred space and a gift of the spirit that we seek to cultivate. According to psychologists, wisdom "involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life...and it confers a sense of balance." -- from "All About Wisdom" at Psychology Today.com

Greetings Friends ~ How much of the turmoil seething all around us comes from masks put on to hide deep-seated fears—fear of losing control, fear of being discounted or abandoned, fear of difference, fear of not enough to go around, fear of change, fear of death? The insistent, brash voices that would stir up our fears, playing on our insecurities; and the unpredictable, violent actions of those that relish our terror—both feed on and corrupt our sense of vulnerability. Now is the time for courage, for honestly acknowledging our fears so that they can become bridges rather than walls. The fearful heart cannot engage; the anxieties that keep us awake at night close off the very oxygen we need to breathe. What if bringing our own fears out into the open could disarm the fear and anger coming our way from others? What if our vulnerabilities could teach us to overcome "fight or flight" with compassion?

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.

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?

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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