Linda DeGraf

October 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 9)

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.

September 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 8)

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.

July-August 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 7)

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.

June 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 6)

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?

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.

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