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.

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?

Greetings dear friends! Having been a teacher for many years, September puts me in mind of reflections on work and the convergence or divergence of making a living and composing a life—a distinctly middle-class conundrum that for so many people is subsumed under the pressing need to find any work at all much less with dignity and purpose. The questions change over one's lifetime. Trying to discover one's call flows into striving to accomplish great things, fulfill responsibilities, and perhaps transform the world. Immersing ourselves in work leads to the struggle to gracefully balance meeting the needs of daily life with the demands of a job. Along the way one wonders whether the work has meaning and how inner life flows into and sustains it. When one no longer has a job, is he or she still making a difference in the world?

Dear Friends ~ In a world filled with such ugliness and hatred, violence and sorrow, is beauty a luxury we really cannot afford? A distraction or false covering like the "sheep's clothing" thrown hurriedly over the wolf's crouching back? Or is beauty as necessary to our souls as the air we breathe is to our bodies? Nurturing beauty is a way to see beyond and within, to envision other possibilities, to dare to give care and attention to wholeness. In Matthew Fox's ORIGINAL BLESSING, he quotes Adrienne Rich as she names the world's desperate need for the unleashing of our creative power:

the passion to make and make again
where such unmaking reigns
the refusal to be a victim
we have lived with violence so long

Let us, therefore, choose making and remaking. Let us seek out beauty, pay attention to it, cultivate it, and create it in our work, in our homes, in our relationships, and our land.

Greetings, dear friends ~ What is grace? It seems to linger just beyond our awareness until it seeps in unbidden and undeserved—the unexpected fragrance caught on the breeze, the cool refreshing stream with its melodic soothing of the heart, the warmth of the sun on an upturned face. It triggers the moments that against all odds soften our hearts. Perhaps it arrives on the fingertips of human touch or in the space between the notes of our allegro movements. Perhaps it is a gentle tap on the shoulder from beyond the edges of the visible world that causes us to turn our heads to listen and to look and to feel the blessings all around us. Whatever it is and wherever the source, it asks nothing more of us than gratitude.

Dear Friends, In the frenzy of life how do we learn to calm our minds and hearts long enough to embrace silence and open ourselves to encounters of the Spirit? We may think of meditation in relation to a particular religion or spiritual path. But it seems to me that we have much to learn when we embark on a practice of meditation regardless of the nature of our beliefs. We are all seekers of wisdom who long for the touch of the Sacred in our lives. Whether meditation is a gateway into centering prayer or a balm for healing or a threshold into Mystery, it is perhaps worth exploring as part of our unfolding spirituality.

Happy spring, Friends! Wood frogs have returned with their raucous declarations of fecundity. Peeling back layers of brittle, brown oak leaves, I am overjoyed to find beneath the debris of winter tender shoots of green pushing up toward the light. We need to re-imagine our understanding of our relationship with nature — not above or apart but within and among. Can we peel back dead layers of hubris and abuse to rediscover living ways of reciprocity and gratitude? Move beyond using nature, whether as mere metaphor or possession for plunder, toward a relationship cradled in communion and covenant? How can we fuse science and ecology with creative arts and spirituality so that all our learning and teaching and dancing and walking might plant seeds of renewal and resilience and healing? So that we all—together—might raise our raucous voices, might grow upward toward the light.

Greetings dear friends! Recently I listened to a man recounting an incident that had led to a falling out with a friend he had known for thirty years. His sorrow and regret were palpable as he agonized over how to mend the wound that had opened up between them. "He won't even talk to me. How can I say I'm sorry?" If even this relatively benign infraction was so difficult to overcome, how much harder is it to forgive the unspeakable cruelties we humans inflict on each other and on the world around us? Yet how can we heal wounds without the grace of forgiveness?

Greetings dear friends. Yesterday as I sat listening to reflections at a memorial service for a woman with an incredibly generous and loving heart, it seemed to me that the value of a life well lived is not measured so much in accomplishments as in the way we treat each encounter with another person as an opportunity for welcoming hospitality. An invitation to know and be known, taking time for listening and being fully present lets the other person know that he or she is essentially good and whole and loveable. We need others to help us see who we really are, to walk with us on this journey, to know we are not alone. And the world needs our open hearts and warm hospitality to transform strangers into fellow human beings and friends.

Greetings and happy new year! While the universe may exist within timeless cycles in an eternal now, we experience our individual lives as a linear journey with a beginning and an end...or perhaps a transition to another beginning. To awaken our spirits enough to be mindful of the longing for something we cannot always name but yearn for nevertheless is to set forth on an inner journey no less complex or real than the outer one. Shall we set forth anew on this path together?

Greetings, dear friends! Long ago when I taught kindergarten, at this time of year rich with ceremony and meaning, we learned together about traditions around the world. We traced the common threads of our humanity that are woven into these diverse tapestries of story and ritual. Traditions help us to remember who we are, how we understand the world both visible and invisible, and what we cherish. Waiting, giving, rejoicing, hoping, thanking, being present to one another, sharing, feasting, lighting candles and fires, and gathering together resonate throughout the world regardless of particular beliefs. Our hearts and minds turn to thoughts on gratitude, generosity, and love as we seek to become a kinder, gentler world. Wishing you Peace, Joy, and Light!

joy

Dear Friends ~ As nature slows down and deepens into stillness, we too turn inward and settle into quiet contemplation. Moving from the practice of silence into the presence of Silence, one might ask: "Who or what are we listening for? And how does this inner journey heal the agonizing cries of the world in a time when there is so much to be done?" In a conference on protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed, after much talk on strategies, Rabbi Nina Beth Carlin remarked, "We work WAY upstream—we work with the soul." Perhaps this inner journey of silence is also a kind of working "way upstream" in the watershed of life. A few snippets from an article on "Why Silence Amplifies the Spirit" caught my eye:

Dear friends — The season of Autumn calls forth gratitude for the gift of all that has grown and flourished before us, that we now reap and harvest and celebrate. The trees have accomplished their work of channeling sunlight into new growth and oxygen. Stripping leaves of greening chlorophyll allows dazzling oranges and crimsons and golden colors of joy to be revealed even as they approach the waning and falling cycle of their lives. And we honor those in the autumn of their days, elders who dazzle us with their open hearts and gentle ways and wise understanding of their power to act and also to let go. So too we remember those who have gone before us, ancestors whose lives and works still sustain us, whether we call this remembering the Day of the Dead or All Souls' Day.

In the aftermath of Robin Williams' death, I read a piece by a Buddhist practitioner* who pondered whether it might sometimes help to perceive depression as one of many layers of co-mingling life-states that ebb and flow within us. Not in any way meaning to negate the inexplicable, heart-wrenching reality of mental illness or medical and mental health workers' avenues of support toward healing, might there sometimes be another way to frame the experience of depression within a context that could offer insight and hope? Jesus faced Gethsemane, the psalmist cries out from the soul's depths, and poets and spiritual leaders draw from desert and wilderness times to understand themselves and the world. Given that many wisdom paths speak of the "dark night of the soul" or befriending the dark or learning what our shadow side has to teach, what insights and hope can our faith traditions offer?

Happy summer, dear friends! The philosopher Martin Buber spoke of two ways to engage with the world. He said that modern society emphasizes and values the "I-it" way where every creature, including other humans and even the earth itself, is an object or collection of qualities and quantities to be experienced, sought, known, and put to some purpose. To frame relationships instead in terms of I and thou means to move from experience to encounter. Beyond language, beyond theology or science, beyond answers is the sacred space where I and thou might meet. Perhaps it is in shaping our relationships into encounters with mystery rather than understanding them as something tangible for us to grasp, that we may discover ourselves in the presence of the eternal Thou.

Greetings, dear friends! When pollen bursts forth into the air, it is the asthma sufferers who know to count each breath a blessing. Most of us take breathing for granted; yet that rhythmic exchange means life. If we allow the gentle ebb and flow to seep back into our consciousness, it can become an awakening to the inner self, a nudge toward soul work. The Latin word spiritus, meaning "breath of life," is the root of the word spirituality. Just as breathing in and out connects us with the world around us, so too does it connect us with the source of our being and draw us toward the life within. May the giver of that sustaining light breathe new life in each of us.

In this little corner of the world we welcome spring, made all the sweeter by the relentlessness of the passing winter. So many treasures in nature are tiny, unassuming graces— diminutive wildflowers, wriggling tadpoles, crimson ladybugs, and the melodic double songs of the brown thrasher. To blink or hurry by is to miss them. We live in a smog of attention deficit disorder; I don't mean the children, but all of us on this treadmill of overstimulation. In this culture of too much, too busy, too distracted, too bombarded, can we learn to sift through the chaos and lift out the truly important? I have become almost obsessed with butterfly watching— luminous wings call to me as if to say, follow my flight path, sit patiently while I feel the sun's warmth on my wings, see how I unfurl my perfect little straw to sip this nectar. I want to learn how to focus on small, sacred moments that nurture the soul.

Greetings, dear friends! As creatures emerge from dens and frozen ponds and seedlings poke up toward the light from deep layers of earth so we, too, emerge from winter grateful for life and breath and the gift of movement. Is it joy that makes us dance or dancing that brings us in touch with joy? Sufi whirlers recognize that all life is turnings and revolutions—electrons spinning around nuclei, blood cycling round from heart to limb and back again, planets orbiting, wind and wave whirling. They dance the narrative of spiritual journey, reaching beyond ego toward divine love and channeling that love out into the world. Children naturally live out their feelings and thoughts and explorations of the world through their bodies. Many spiritual traditions connect meditation with movement, posture with prayer, and body with mind and heart. However you express gratitude for being alive, embrace it with your whole being.

Beneath yet another blanket of gently falling snow, I find myself pondering the warming glow of hope. Endless gray days, dying yearling deer, and seemingly lifeless forest encroach upon my heart. I know that spring will come, with its joyful melodies and vibrant hues and teeming life. Likewise that winter holds its own still beauty, paring down the landscape so we can see its silhouettes more clearly. Yet at times our world seems too far cast in winter's thrall to be able to remember and envision its renewal. How does one hold on to hope amid the chill of our inhumanities and senseless overpowering of the earth? From whence does hope come? How can we cradle our hands around it to protect it from the snuffing winds and cynical voices? To choose hope is to tap into the memory of faithfulness and to wait with gratitude for seeds of possibility hidden beneath the snow.

Greetings dear friends! Having recently returned from a trip to Israel and Istanbul, I find myself pondering how we nurture compassion within ourselves? What makes one choose gracious hospitality and open gestures of the heart? Bedouin camel herder, Palestinian shopkeeper, Hassidic father, Israeli soldier, Kurdish innkeeper —such a tapestry of religions, beliefs, ways of life, hopes, and fears. Whether we interact through simple kindness and respect or fear and antagonism depends on what we see in the other. Do we look with eyes of the heart to find our common humanity? Do we put relationships in the context of I–Thou or do we build walls and establish divides of right and wrong? Do we allow our eyes to meet and spark a connection or do we turn away? What inner work will help ignite the fire of love?

Welcome to the unfolding of a new year! At this turning of the season, we look back with gratitude on the past and peer hopefully into the future. Outside, shortened days and wintry chill seem to suspend time as nature burrows in to wait. Snow has cast its icy aura over barren trees silhouetted against a soundless, white landscape. And yet beneath the ice, the seeds of spring are waiting to be born anew. Perhaps we too need to slow our heart rates, burrow down within our souls, and gather near the warmth and light to discover the timelessness of grace. Let the gift of winter be the practice of being fully present to each sacred moment as we wait to see what will be born anew within our hearts.

Winter greetings, dear Friends! In this busy holiday season, let's stop and contemplate, for a moment, our angel companions. Some say we have angels all around us all the time, unseen and unheard, and that they act as our guardians. Others feel angels are among us as flesh and blood human beings who come along at just the right time when we need them most. Some feel they really dwell within each of us, coming to us as a whisper or an urging of our soul in response to our needs and questions. Whatever your particular feeling about angels, know they are freely available to us in the silence of our hearts, and they always respond to us if we but ask. Angelic blessings to all, in this season of greatest blessing!

Quiet Greetings, dear friends, and blessings of the Silence to you all! We come again to the topic that brings us into being, encircles us, and holds us all together as one. Silence is blessed in our noisy, clamorous world, but it is so much more than just the absence of noise. It is a quality in inner stillness, a purposeful turning of our attention to that inner voice that longs to be heard, a listening attitude so that we may apprehend whatever the Beloved would have us hear. We come together in Silence as one in the One; even though we may not be consciously aware of it, our Spirits are nurtured and blessed to be together in gratitude for the gift of Silence and the gift of this widespread community of souls.

Autumn greetings, dear friends! The season of harvest and brilliant fall color is here. Soon winter will arrive; growing things will appear to die as they direct their energy below the surface to their root systems to prepare for the long winter. We become a bit more introspective as we, too, settle in for a quieter season after summer's activity. Perhaps our thoughts more naturally turn to the topic of death at this season as the year winds down to a close. But then, a New Year is born – a new beginning! Out of death, new life. So may our mantra be as we journey through this life toward its inevitable transition to the next. Our natural fear of the unknown experience of death is calmed by the sure knowledge that life continues . . . we die to this world only to be reborn into another. Out of death, new life.

Is there enough silence for the Word to be heard?

Warm Greetings, Dear Friends! The long, lazy, days of summer will soon be a bit shorter as the season turns and cooler weather arrives. As we return from vacation trips and arrive at these waning days of summer, our thoughts naturally turn again to our work in the world. "Work is love made visible," according to Kahlil Gibran. Thinking of it in such a way changes everything! No matter what work we may do, whether it be lowly and menial or vitally important in the eyes of the world, how blessed and fulfilling it becomes when we are ever conscious that in the doing of it we are shining our love-light into the world. As we sit in the Silence, remembering that whatever we do is of God and God is always present in it, may we be blessed and in turn, bless the world with our contributions to the well-being of all.

Summer Greetings, dear Friends of Silence! Here we are in the midst of summer already, along with all its sometimes frantic activities. School is out and the kids are glorying in swimming, amusement parks, picnics, and playing hard all day. Parents, meanwhile, may be wondering how to slow the pace down a bit! Times of solitude are as necessary as breathing during this busy, active season, but where do we find them? An early morning walk along a deserted beach or a mountain vista at twilight come to mind, but what about at home, in our everyday surroundings? Perhaps an early morning interlude in our own gardens, or a brief afternoon “time out” will help. The silent moments of solitude are there if we look for them and are attentive enough to recognize them, sink into them, and allow ourselves to be nurtured and renewed by them. Happy Summer, everyone — see you in September!

Warm Greetings, dear Friends of Silence! The music of nature encourages our souls to sing along these beautiful days of early summer. I've just completed a landscaping project in my back yard, and each morning now when I wake and open my blinds, I am struck by the beauty of nature's symphony: the silence of early morning, broken only by birdsong, and the humming along of the awakening world. Truly it is "the music of the spheres," as an old and beloved hymn poetically states:

This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears,
All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.

It is easy to be so caught up in the everyday tasks of busy lives that we miss the music. We are able to hear that kind of music only when we listen for it with the awareness of open hearts, and then our spirits come alive.

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Greetings, dear Friends of Silence. Each leaf of a tree is an entity unto itself, yet could not exist alone. Each leaf, though separate and individual, is part of the one tree. So each of us is unique, with our own special traits, innate abilities and interests. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like you or me; we are each one of a kind. Yet we are all part of the One, the Whole, the All of creation; we are all one as well as unique individuals. When one is hurt, all of us suffer in some way. When one is demeaned, we are all shamed. And when one of us gains understanding, each of us receives a little more light. Each of us contributes to the growth of all as we work toward our own spiritual maturity. In the Silence, may we continue to gain understanding and evolve as individual parts of the Whole, knowing our oneness with the All.

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Springtime greetings, dear friends. Even though there may still be some cold days, we've come around again to the time of year when nature outdoes herself, gloriously bursting forth with the burgeoning life that has lain dormant and hidden during the cold months of winter. Even the most pragmatic among us might feel like waxing poetic when in all directions we see only the beauty of the earth and feel again the soft, gentle air of spring. Surely the presence and glory of God are never more obvious than during a beautiful spring! It's time for us to grow and bloom as well., for we are part of nature; as new life bursts forth in nature, so it does in us when we allow it. Happy Springtime, friends!

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Greetings, dear friends! In many parts of the country, this is the season we begin to see tiny miracles of creation becoming visible: little tips of green as the early spring bulbs push up through the ground, tender green buds bursting from bare branches of trees . . . and we begin to feel creative stirrings in our souls right along with nature. How do we experience those stirrings? What exactly is creativity? As we go into silence with the questions and feelings we may have, we remember that we are called to be co-creators with the Divine. We don't need to paint a masterpiece, or write a best-seller, though for some that happens. What we do need are ways to express our own, personal, unique creative yearnings. Listen carefully, dear friends: the answers will begin to flow, and we will begin to bloom right along with those spring flowers!

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