Linda DeGraf

October 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 9)

Dear Friends ~ Having just watched the documentary on Mr. Rogers, entitled "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" it struck me that he possessed, like the Dalai Lama, that quality of presence that held each and every one within his perfectly still and attentive gaze, wrapping them in heartfelt reassurance of their worth. He seems to have spent his life telling each person he met —whether child, prisoner, or co-worker— that they are loved just the way they are. Yet how many ways do we try to change ourselves or others? How many qualifiers or conditions do we put on a person's value or worthiness to be loved? And what does it mean to be our best selves? We need to reach for growth and change while knowing also that, at our core, who we are is just right. Sometimes the hardest one to believe that about is ourselves. Perennial plants in my garden have turned from greens to tawny browns and yellows, some withering on their now-brittle stems.

September 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 8)

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.

July-August 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 7)

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?

June 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 6)

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.

May 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 5)

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...

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April 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 4)

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...

March 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 3)

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."

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February 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 2)

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.

January 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 1)

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.”

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December 2017 (Vol. XXX, No. 11)

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.

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