Linda DeGraf

January 2015 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 1)

Greetings and happy new year! While the universe may exist within timeless cycles in an eternal now, we experience our individual lives as a linear journey with a beginning and an end...or perhaps a transition to another beginning. To awaken our spirits enough to be mindful of the longing for something we cannot always name but yearn for nevertheless is to set forth on an inner journey no less complex or real than the outer one. Shall we set forth anew on this path together?

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December 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 11)

Greetings, dear friends! Long ago when I taught kindergarten, at this time of year rich with ceremony and meaning, we learned together about traditions around the world. We traced the common threads of our humanity that are woven into these diverse tapestries of story and ritual. Traditions help us to remember who we are, how we understand the world both visible and invisible, and what we cherish. Waiting, giving, rejoicing, hoping, thanking, being present to one another, sharing, feasting, lighting candles and fires, and gathering together resonate throughout the world regardless of particular beliefs. Our hearts and minds turn to thoughts on gratitude, generosity, and love as we seek to become a kinder, gentler world. Wishing you Peace, Joy, and Light!

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November 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 10)

Dear Friends ~ As nature slows down and deepens into stillness, we too turn inward and settle into quiet contemplation. Moving from the practice of silence into the presence of Silence, one might ask: "Who or what are we listening for? And how does this inner journey heal the agonizing cries of the world in a time when there is so much to be done?" In a conference on protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed, after much talk on strategies, Rabbi Nina Beth Carlin remarked, "We work WAY upstream—we work with the soul." Perhaps this inner journey of silence is also a kind of working "way upstream" in the watershed of life. A few snippets from an article on "Why Silence Amplifies the Spirit" caught my eye:

October 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 9)

Dear friends — The season of Autumn calls forth gratitude for the gift of all that has grown and flourished before us, that we now reap and harvest and celebrate. The trees have accomplished their work of channeling sunlight into new growth and oxygen. Stripping leaves of greening chlorophyll allows dazzling oranges and crimsons and golden colors of joy to be revealed even as they approach the waning and falling cycle of their lives. And we honor those in the autumn of their days, elders who dazzle us with their open hearts and gentle ways and wise understanding of their power to act and also to let go. So too we remember those who have gone before us, ancestors whose lives and works still sustain us, whether we call this remembering the Day of the Dead or All Souls' Day.

September 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 8)

In the aftermath of Robin Williams' death, I read a piece by a Buddhist practitioner* who pondered whether it might sometimes help to perceive depression as one of many layers of co-mingling life-states that ebb and flow within us. Not in any way meaning to negate the inexplicable, heart-wrenching reality of mental illness or medical and mental health workers' avenues of support toward healing, might there sometimes be another way to frame the experience of depression within a context that could offer insight and hope? Jesus faced Gethsemane, the psalmist cries out from the soul's depths, and poets and spiritual leaders draw from desert and wilderness times to understand themselves and the world. Given that many wisdom paths speak of the "dark night of the soul" or befriending the dark or learning what our shadow side has to teach, what insights and hope can our faith traditions offer?

July-August 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 7)

Happy summer, dear friends! The philosopher Martin Buber spoke of two ways to engage with the world. He said that modern society emphasizes and values the "I-it" way where every creature, including other humans and even the earth itself, is an object or collection of qualities and quantities to be experienced, sought, known, and put to some purpose. To frame relationships instead in terms of I and thou means to move from experience to encounter. Beyond language, beyond theology or science, beyond answers is the sacred space where I and thou might meet. Perhaps it is in shaping our relationships into encounters with mystery rather than understanding them as something tangible for us to grasp, that we may discover ourselves in the presence of the eternal Thou.

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June 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 6)

Greetings, dear friends! When pollen bursts forth into the air, it is the asthma sufferers who know to count each breath a blessing. Most of us take breathing for granted; yet that rhythmic exchange means life. If we allow the gentle ebb and flow to seep back into our consciousness, it can become an awakening to the inner self, a nudge toward soul work. The Latin word spiritus, meaning "breath of life," is the root of the word spirituality. Just as breathing in and out connects us with the world around us, so too does it connect us with the source of our being and draw us toward the life within. May the giver of that sustaining light breathe new life in each of us.

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April 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 4)

Greetings, dear friends! As creatures emerge from dens and frozen ponds and seedlings poke up toward the light from deep layers of earth so we, too, emerge from winter grateful for life and breath and the gift of movement. Is it joy that makes us dance or dancing that brings us in touch with joy? Sufi whirlers recognize that all life is turnings and revolutions—electrons spinning around nuclei, blood cycling round from heart to limb and back again, planets orbiting, wind and wave whirling. They dance the narrative of spiritual journey, reaching beyond ego toward divine love and channeling that love out into the world. Children naturally live out their feelings and thoughts and explorations of the world through their bodies. Many spiritual traditions connect meditation with movement, posture with prayer, and body with mind and heart. However you express gratitude for being alive, embrace it with your whole being.

May 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 5)

In this little corner of the world we welcome spring, made all the sweeter by the relentlessness of the passing winter. So many treasures in nature are tiny, unassuming graces— diminutive wildflowers, wriggling tadpoles, crimson ladybugs, and the melodic double songs of the brown thrasher. To blink or hurry by is to miss them. We live in a smog of attention deficit disorder; I don't mean the children, but all of us on this treadmill of overstimulation. In this culture of too much, too busy, too distracted, too bombarded, can we learn to sift through the chaos and lift out the truly important? I have become almost obsessed with butterfly watching— luminous wings call to me as if to say, follow my flight path, sit patiently while I feel the sun's warmth on my wings, see how I unfurl my perfect little straw to sip this nectar. I want to learn how to focus on small, sacred moments that nurture the soul.

March 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 3)

Beneath yet another blanket of gently falling snow, I find myself pondering the warming glow of hope. Endless gray days, dying yearling deer, and seemingly lifeless forest encroach upon my heart. I know that spring will come, with its joyful melodies and vibrant hues and teeming life. Likewise that winter holds its own still beauty, paring down the landscape so we can see its silhouettes more clearly. Yet at times our world seems too far cast in winter's thrall to be able to remember and envision its renewal. How does one hold on to hope amid the chill of our inhumanities and senseless overpowering of the earth? From whence does hope come? How can we cradle our hands around it to protect it from the snuffing winds and cynical voices? To choose hope is to tap into the memory of faithfulness and to wait with gratitude for seeds of possibility hidden beneath the snow.

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