Linda DeGraf

May 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 5)

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.

April 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 4)

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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March 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 3)

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?

February 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 2)

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.

January 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 1)

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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December 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 11)

Dear Friends ~ American culture tends to prize maximum choice with minimum limitations and, especially in this season, urges us to want more —not less. We tie ourselves in knots stressing over constraints of time and chafe at the notion that others may impinge on our space or have more resources. It seems to be human nature that however much space or time expands, we keep filling it and still feel cramped. Perhaps we could contemplate cultivating alternate perspectives. Freedom and structure are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In some ways, having or expecting to have unlimited choices is an unearned "entitlement" of the privileged few. Could being grateful and attentive to what we have help us to be fully present in the time we are in and actively inhabit the space where we live? Sue Bender, in PLAIN AND SIMPLE, ponders the metaphor of patchwork quilting to understand how to make sense of the rhythms of our lives.

November 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 10)

Dear Friends ~ There is perhaps a certain irony in collecting words that have been spoken and written about silence. Being human means navigating by way of language and we learn —some things anyway —by talking and listening, writing and reading. Yet the practice of contemplative silence seems more often to be about learning non -verbal ways to understand, to be present, to encounter; a time to sweep away the words in order to allow for the possibility of communion at a deeper level. How hard it is to just be, to open our hearts and minds, to create the space for experience beyond words.

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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?

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