Linda DeGraf

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?

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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