Dear Friends ~ The newspaper article reporting that rates of insomnia have skyrocketed during the pandemic did not surprise me, perhaps because 3 a.m. is an hour I have inhabited lately too. So much is unsettled and unsettling, and what is known is heartbreaking. How do we navigate through such uncertainty and loss? There is no straight nor easy way, but there are tracings on the map of ancient wisdom that may be discerned if we peer closely with the eyes of soul and heart and listen for the voices of those calling us to still our noisy minds and bend down in the Silence to study here and look there. Thus, we may find guidance, encouragement, and waypoints by which to steer through the dark night.

Dear Friends ~ Summer brought a small respite from covid restrictions and many were able to visit family and friends, relishing once again seeing our loved ones in person. While planning a get-together with a group of long-cherished women friends, an idea percolated to invite a group of contemporary and historic women to share nuggets of women’s wisdom with you, dear readers, male and female. All are welcome. Come in. Pour a cup of tea or glass of wine, put extra sugar in September lemonade just this once, extend your summer travels and welcome visitors old and new. Pour a libation and toast our inspiring sisters. ~ Mary Ann

Dear Friends ~ To create, no matter the artform, is a tender and vulnerable calling. When my partner, Luke, makes a basket, he starts in the woods, at the edge of a field, or by a roadside where he quietly notices. He looks for the specific plants he'll use, observing whether they are abundant or few, and whether they are at the ideal point in their growing cycle. Eventually, after he has respectfully harvested vines or taken a young tree, he carries the plants home, now responsible to whittle them down carefully and prepare them to be woven or joined together. This is the part of the creative process that recalls Michelangelo's famous quote: "Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it". Like a writer staring at a blank page, or a potter holding a lump of clay, there is a necessary courage inherent to opening oneself to a practice that has no guaranteed outcome.

Dear Friends ~ I have been involved in Fourth Way inner work for many years. Nan Merrill and I exchanged many books during the years of our monthly phone calls with each other. The first book she sent me was Meditations on the Tarot and the first book I sent her was Volume 2 of Maurice Nicoll's Psychological Commentaries.

Dear Friends ~ May, the month of spring in its fullness, a lovely midway point in the journey to the glorious long hours of summer light. The season is one of blossoming and resurgent life. There is much to be grateful for, to celebrate, to love. Yet as I walk in the greening forest so dear to me, I hold the knowledge that nothing stays: I have left my daily, intimate acquaintance with this place. The forest, for her part, is passing too: already the bluebells by the river's edge have vanished; the dogwood blossoms have fallen. Moreover, the changing climate is putting its own mark on many of the places and beings I have cherished. This is the exquisite melody of mortality. Mary Oliver hums it in giving her well -known advice on living from her poem "In Blackwater Woods":

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing

Dear Friends ~ Here in the Northern Hemisphere it is Spring. The earth re-covers herself in the iridescent greens of emerging grasses. Bulbs push their stems to light. Carpets of tiny, illusive flowers herald the season. There are hints of recovery in both local and global news as Covid vaccines become more available. Questions abound: Will our children recover from learning lost? Will lost livelihoods ever be found? Will we ever recover from losing loved ones, over 500,000 in the U.S alone, my 93-year-old mother among them?

Dear Friends ~ As a person who carries a lot of anxiety, I often find comfort in the amorphous, gray, quiet moments at dawn. Passing out of sleep's depths and just before rejoining the clamor of everyday life, my senses are clear and heightened. At the threshold of the day, I feel more courage to notice the world around me and more ready to engage in the present moment.

I've come to appreciate how our inner lives tend to mirror the physical cycle of morning into day into night and back into morning; when the soul emerges from periods of rest and dormancy to revel in those threshold moments that usher us into new energy and vibrancy: Awakening.

Dear Friends ~ I have been living with Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Gravity's Law," letting it percolate within me while the events of this past month weigh heavily upon me. How do we keep our inner hearts alive and well while this national heaviness and crisis grips and pushes each of us?

Merton speaks of "a point of nothingness at the center of our being," a point of absolute poverty, the small thing within us that Rilke says is being pulled by "gravity’s law" toward the heart of the world. When we surrender to gravity's law and befriend our own poverty of being, "we rise up rooted, like trees." The knots of our own making are untangled. Our struggle, our loneliness and confusion, our entanglements are held in place within the heart of the One who holds all things together.

Dear Friends ~ Fire. It has been lighting my imagination. In bitter January the warmth and glow of fire sings of comfort and hope in the darkness. Yet as wildfires burned through the wilds of Australia and the hills of California this summer, it was fire's power to destroy that captured me. This led me to ancient stories in which fire consumes the world, only to have life return from a tendril in the ashes. Indeed fire appears all over the sacred, mythic universe: it is the possession of gods, the element of miracle, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the oldest thing there is, burning beneath the stew that contains the seeds which sustain life. In this time of upheaval and turmoil, of climate collapse and pandemic, it is fire's mysterious alchemical ability to transform anything and everything that illumines the possibility of regeneration and grace.

Dear Friends ~ Advent themes swirl in my mind, each an Advent wreath candle: Hope, Faith, Joy, Peace. Regardless of location, languages, ethnicities, or skin tones we humans celebrate these age-old notions in diverse ways. Yet we know their challenging opposites: Hate, Fear, Despair, and Conflict haunt us.

In the Christian Advent story, young, pregnant Mary and her husband travel to fulfill a census requirement. Although angels reassured her, I can’t help but feel Mary’s fear on this long journey, realizing her baby is coming in a strange place, sharing "emergency housing" with barnyard animals. Yet Mary maintains hope. Her joy spreads to shepherds and kings. Mary’s faith proclaims all will be well. Her tiny child comes heralding peace.

Dear Friends ~ It is the season of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, when the creatures slow and burrow into the Earth. The plants allow their chlor ophyll to drain from their leaves and their sap to sink into the roots. Everything seems to be moving inward, releasing, and letting go. There is comfort in observing that quiet and sure return, a balm for us who are facing so much loss and death. The late autumn with its sense of cycles and transformation softens me to reacquaint myself with a dark angel, one whom I seldom have the heart to acknowledge. There is an ancient song that speaks of the intimacy of our formation in the dark cottage of our mother 's womb, of the deep connection with the Holy that is our birthright. We are cradled in an immense and personal belonging, in a loving communion that wheels and wheels.

Dear Friends ~ What does it mean to be a Friend of Silence? Our practice must not just be in the artificial conditions of a morning quiet time. We must find a way of working in the noisy conditions of our life. When the clamor and chaos of our ordinary life overtake us, if our friendship with Silence is strong enough, we will find a way to stop and be still -- still enough that the noise does not see us, silent enough that we can find a way back to ourselves. The noise of our life need not be an obstacle to our presence. When Silence finds a home in our body, we can come back to our own inner sensation of "I am" even when everything around us and within us is loud and falling apart. Night and day, noise and silence are both alike to the One in whom we live and move and have our being.  ~ Bob

Dear Friends ~ I was standing motionless in the kitchen, completely absorbed by the articles and apps open on my phone one recent morning, when my six-year-old entered the room for his breakfast and requisite morning hug. He was chattering and asked me a question that didn't register in my distracted state, and frankly agitated me because at that early hour my mind already was stretched in countless directions and tormented by emotions about people and places far from our kitchen. Perceptive to my anxious state (and undeterred by my obvious mood), he sidled up next to me, craned his neck to see the phone screen and asked, "Mom, what are you looking for?"

Pause. "That's a great question, buddy. I'm not really sure." I put down the phone.

Dear Friends ~ Years ago, a friend made us a gift, a calligraphed beginning of a prayer attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Jardin: "Above all, trust in the slow work of God." From a central spot in our dining room, these words reached out to me often while raising a large family and working with kids. The prayer calls to me now as the heat of July and August arrives on the tails of righteous anger, fires of social unrest, and the terrible toll and world-wide anxiety surrounding Covid-19. What can we parents, grandparents, educators, pastors, ordinary humans do for our world's children?

Dear Friends ~ We started our seeds inside, lining the south-facing windowsills, the same week that a pandemic made itself known to the collective body of the world. Tomatoes, kale, peas, carrots, lettuce, sorrel, beets...each seed tucked into the soil like a sort of prayer for health and a future. In early January, when I made my ritual list of intentions for the new year, I mystified myself writing simply, "tend food". Not "plant" or "grow" or "preserve", as much as tend. My sister-in-law once told me that the actual planting of a garden is the "glamorous" part because it's noticeable and satisfying in the immediate. But growing food also requires long months of patient attention: weeding, watering, waiting, hoping, pruning, tying, waiting, hoping...tending.

Dear Friends ~ The willow stump, cracked and gray, has sprouted fresh fronds. They wave brightly above the old tree's broken trunk like a vibrant pennant. Meanwhile, the long-unpruned pear tree is grandly and boldly attired in abundant white blossoms. Brilliant yellow finches and glossy cowbirds adorn the feeder once again. Such heralds of Earth's faithful renewal, of the cycles that are always ending and beginning again, cry out profound and essential news. In this time of climate crisis, cultural turmoil, and now the coronavirus, hope takes on a deeper, more intense hue. I wonder if it is the moment now to dig in soul ground, in the bowels of what we know. Ancient wisdom from every spiritual tradition beckons us to kneel down into the mystery of that dark hummus and dig with open hands. Who knows what we may find? A tap root, an anchor, a wellspring, a seed that one day will grow? ~ Lindsay

Dear Friends ~ Spring has arrived in all its glory. As I walk the labyrinth at Still Point, the Friends of Silence retreat house where Nan Merrill's library lives, I'm reminded time and again that "This is Holy Ground," both secretly and brazenly transforming itself in all seasons. Winter was mild in West Virginia with crocuses up early by the front step. March brought hints of the transformation to come. Shadowed by the dark clouds of Corona Virus spreading through the world, daffodils bloomed in profusion down by the pond and at the woods' edge.

Dear Friends ~ The year after my first child was born could have been called A Crash Course in the Contemplative Life. Overnight my daily landscape shifted from the external and the social, to the internal and the domestic. My driving need for productivity and efficiency made no sense in a newborn's routine. I faced rhythmic but unscheduled days with swaths of quiet time. A part of me panicked without the markers of purpose and meaning I had always used to define myself, but the new pulse of our home and the simple yet powerful needs of my baby created a steady familiarity with silence.

Dear Friends ~ Many years ago, I asked Fr. Aiden, the abbot at St. Anselm's Benedictine Monastery in Washington D.C., "What do you do at the monastery?" Aiden's reply has stayed with me: "We fall and get up. We fall and get up. We fall and get up again." That has also been my experience with trying to establish a daily practice of "centering prayer." For many years, silence was NOT a friend to me: it was a daily humiliation of seeing and bearing the dispersion of my own inner being. Daily sitting was like taking a daily bath in the waters of my own inadequacy and inner contradictions. My working definition of "waking up" was seeing my sleep. I may still be the world's worst contemplative, but gradually I began to soften to this lawful falling away from myself and getting back up, not just while sitting on the morning chair, but as I went throughout the day.

Dear Friends, We stand on a threshold, peering at a new year, "full of things that have never been" (Teilhard de Chardin); an in-between space, suspended between what we think we know and worlds we cannot see, the ringing now before what comes next. We come to thresholds like these hauling courage with trembling hands. Will we step through to peril? to transformation? Sages say both. Yet we are not bereft. We can catch light for the journey, provisions for the road.

Dear Friends ~ The expectant hush awaiting a baby's first breath, the temporary cessation of wind in the eye of a hurricane, the awkward pause in a conversational misstep, the profound stillness of woods blanketed in snow— there are so many kinds of silence. Silence can be sad or sublime, scary or sustaining; a fretful silence soaked in fear and anxiety or a silence pregnant with hope, expectancy, longing. Beyond, or perhaps within, these is the Silence of mystery, of luminous moments, and of communion.

Dear Friends ~ In autumn, the golden glow of tawny hues signals the waning of the chlorophyll that has been transforming sunlight into food. Trees let go of their leaves, plants their flowers, and we let go of bird song and water play and butterflies on the wing. Fall is the season of letting go. In the inner landscape of our hearts perhaps it is a time for forgiveness, the letting go of past hurts and misunderstandings, of anger and resentment. Perhaps it is a time for letting go of our expectations — maybe of what we thought we needed or what we thought we ought to have or the way we intended something to be done — so that we can embrace with gratitude what is. We often think of spring as a time for new beginnings, yet beginnings need space and time and endings and clearing away and incubation in order to emerge. So perhaps autumn is actually a fitting moment to embark on our own "beginning anew ceremony" by taking the first step and letting go.

Dear Friends ~ One of my college class assignments decades ago was to read a book called COME LET US PLAY GOD. Citing a myriad of scientific, technological, and medical breakthroughs of the time, it essentially raised the ethical questions and implications posed by our ever-advancing human capabilities. I remember at the time thinking that the human species has made breathtaking strides in intellectual development without the commensurate emotional or moral development. We make decisions and choose actions all the time because we can without thought for asking whether we should. In the midst of this skewed and ethically underdeveloped brew, our culture seems to have set aside values like honesty, integrity, generosity, kindness and civility. We don't hold public institutions and corporations and leaders to a higher moral standard.

Dear Friends ~ This past weekend we led an intergenerational retreat called "Children of the Earth." One activity was a story or guided meditation about an imaginary hike through the woods to a grove of gnarly oaks, tall poplars, and aromatic pines. At the base of each tree was a backpack with someone's name on it. Wild ones gave earthly gifts to add to the backpacks. Chickadee gave a seed to remind the children of their inner resourcefulness, bear gave mud tracks to remind them of strength and courage to defend those they love, owl a feather to remind them to be attentive to the mysterious wonders of the night. We all need a "backpack" of resources to help us on our path. Contemplation and action, pastoral care and prophetic witness, spirituality and service —we all need both so that the inner wisdom that sustains us and keeps us going ensures that the outer work comes from the heart and is done with love.

Dear Friends ~ The world aches with a heart-wrenching longing for hope, for healing, for belonging, for a life-sustaining future. The most pressing moral and spiritual question of the age is—what is our relationship to the earth and how do we set it right again. What is it that needs to be done? If what we have learned from culture and its economic and political systems is a hierarchical worldview that elevates the human species above all others, that markets the insatiable use of natural resources for the sake of a more convenient, easy, comfortable lifestyle (for the privileged few anyway), that values growth and profit above all else; then we shall have to unlearn the arrogance of human preeminence, call for the cherishing of earthly gifts to be shared by all, and choose to value life—all life—over short-sighted 'progress". What will it take to turn the tide of human folly?

Dear Friends ~ To everything there is a season— a time to work and a time to play, a time to strive and a time to rest, a time to set one's "eyes on the prize" and a time to pause and notice the wildflowers and others along the way. In our culture, achievement and productivity are valued as the benchmarks of success. If the answer to the question, "What do you do?" cannot be summed up in a job title or a listing of accomplishments, you are left feeling somehow hollow or having been dismissed as insignificant. Yet one can be just as negligent or distracted or untransformed in the busyness of work as in mundane pursuits or the ordinary activities of daily life. If the magic of music lies partly in the silent spaces between notes, the gift of grace may lie in the Sabbath moments between long hours of work and activity.

Dear Friends ~ Spring, with all its re-greening, heralds stirrings of hope. Whether you see the relationship between humanity and the rest of nature as reciprocal or destructive, whether you feel despair at the impending sixth extinction or confidence that we can restore our connection to one of mutual respect and healing; the earth still waits, still sends forth green shoots, still pulses and burbles and sings. Nature can be our teacher, our portal into wonder, a practice of communion rather than dominion, a path of encounter and reckoning with our true self. Above all spring is a season rife with the promise of renewal, a chance at transformation. Step outside, turn your face to the warming sun, listen for the song of the goldfinch—and begin again.

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Dear Friends ~ Spending five weeks in India has made me acutely aware of how much I take for granted and even expect from life. Being able to drink clean water, a shelter with heat in winter, breathable air, space to walk, trash out of sight, food in my belly... When I was little my mother used to repeat a line I suspect she may have heard from her own mother, "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." At five or six years old I didn't get it. Seeing up close abject poverty, unbearable squalor, and folks dragging useless legs on filthy ground with flip flops on their hands—it begins to sink in. I did nothing to deserve being born into this life of mine any more than the forlorn toddler hanging at her imploring mother's side did to be born into a slum beside the railroad tracks. Here's another saying: "There but for the grace of God, go I." Yet why should I have been extended the grace of God and not them?

Dear Friends ~ In meditative arts retreats that involve knitting or felting or other hand crafts, we often begin with a reflection on the gift of our hands, followed by a hand washing and massage ritual that each one gives to another. The human hand is a complex and wondrous feat of engineering design, combining the strength and power of a rock climber with the intricate dexterity of a pianist or watchmaker. The densest cluster of nerve endings in the entire body grace our fingertips, allowing us to feel the whisper touch of a butterfly, read Braille, or take the pulse of another's beating heart. Hands work clay, knead dough, transfer healing energy, clench, open, caress, beckon, communicate, wipe away tears, hold and let go. Hands help define us as human. They are the instruments of touch that connect us with one another.

Dear Friends ~ Each year the turning of the season calls us to reexamine our way. Where have we been? Where are we going? Last month's newsletter contained a quote about a "traveling light." In the long, dark months of winter we become more mindful of our dependence on light. Where do we find our traveling light? What will sustain us and lift our spirits through these long nights? Will it be the twinkling lights of stars glittering in the small spaces between tree limbs? The tiny glimmer of light in another's eyes? The steady flame of a candle honoring a friend's passing? Can we be traveling lights for each other? In this new year of as yet unknown paths, may we dance on the edges of the eternal dappled interplay betwixt light and dark, trusting love to be our traveling light. As it says in the song, "Love will guide us."

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