This morning I began a new game while walking at Valley Park, a little challenge for myself. When I came upon a rabbit nibbling clover near my path, I tried to walk past without disturbing it. Then, down near the pond, I did the same with two ducks that were resting nearby. Granted, these animals dwell in a public park and are accustomed to having people around, but I still felt a certain sense of glee when I was able to walk by without disrupting them! On my return path I came upon the rabbit again, and it hopped along with me for a short while, as if to indicate that we were now comrades for the journey. I thought about St. Francis and his tender care for God’s nature and creatures.
I believe all of creation is crying out for us to walk more gently upon the earth. To stop trampling and begin enriching the soil. To stop destroying and begin healing the environment. To stop possessing and begin stewarding and sharing the earth. To stop hurting and dividing and begin helping and honoring one another. To stop fearing the future and begin changing the present.
How might we begin a new game, one in which we challenge ourselves to do less disturbing, disrupting, dominating, or dividing? How might we challenge ourselves to unite together with God, with nature, and with one another for the good of all? How might we challenge ourselves to walk more gently through this day, upon this earth?
Perhaps our first step is to begin walking more gently with ourselves.
Today, may you take some time to consider the miracle of you, to look upon yourself with awe and wonder. May you be gentle with yourself, for you are beloved of God. And may gentleness fill your spirit and lead you out to walk more graciously, softly, and tenderly… upon this earth… among its creatures… beside one another… and united with God.
“…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.“
(Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSVUE)
Bible passage found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Photo by Karen, Teays Valley, WV
We have had a delightful summer of fun getaways and regular responsibilities, but these middle weeks of July had remained relatively unscheduled. I happily anticipated using this time to focus on my writing projects, with plenty of uninterrupted hours for reflection and serious effort. Instead, I found myself drained and depleted, uninspired and unable to write any words that I felt were worth sharing.
To overcome this empty feeling, I began asking God for the inspiration and determination to persevere. Then (to help God with my request 😉) I began listening to numerous podcasts, hoping to glean one helpful insight. I began reading books, hoping to find an uplifting story to share. I journaled often, hoping to clarify my inner thoughts and longings. This morning I told Jim that I was feeling desperate; desperate to fill my thoughts and spirit with something that would guide or inspire, something that would help me keep writing.
Some surprising questions suddenly came to me…
What if my lack that draws me to God is a holy invitation to something new?
What if my prayers for perseverance or determination have been misguided?
What if God wants to fill my emptiness with something else, something completely new and different?
Other prayers soon came to mind. How often could my prayers be short-sighted? How often have I assumed to know what I need? When I feel frustrated or irritated, I tend to pray for peace and patience; what if God is ready to fill me with courage or motivate me to action? When I am sad, I usually ask for trust and hope; what if God knows I need compassion or wisdom along with these? And now, when I am praying for inspiration and perseverance – what if I am being invited to rest in God’s loving presence instead?
May I learn to regard this emptiness as a gift, as an invitation to let God fill me with what God deems best. Trusting that the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), that God loves us with an infinite love, and that God knows exactly what we need, I can simply bring my emptiness to God without a specific request. May my sole expectation be that God will fill me – and maybe even surprise me – with every goodness that is found in Love alone.
Photo by Karen (Anna Ruby Falls, GA)
I was well prepared to wait for my oil change and vehicle inspection – I had my cell phone and a good book to help pass the time. But my attention was drawn to an adorable little boy and his mom who were waiting at the shop, too. The young mother patiently answered the child’s many questions as she snuggled him into her lap. They told stories and played guessing games; their mutual joy was visibly evident. I had to chuckle when their vehicle was ready, for when the mother happily told her son that they could now go to his favorite play center – he protested! He wanted to stay in the waiting room!
I came away with a fresh perspective that morning. Can we learn to regard our times of waiting – whether for appointments, answers, occasions, recoveries, or brighter days – as opportunities to bask in God’s tender and attentive love? Can we learn to embrace this waiting time with God, instead of merely enduring it? Can we learn to slow our pace, draw close, settle in, ask our questions, and share our stories – until the appointed time, until things are in place, until we have healed, until the work is done, until we are ready?
For every uncertain or unproductive time, we have a sacred waiting room available, a quiet space in which we can rest and abide in God’s love. Each moment of waiting can become an opportunity for us to be still with God, rather than an obstacle for us to overcome. We can remain faithfully present to what is – if we recognize that God’s presence is included in what is. When the time is right, we can then move on with joy and gratitude for our time together…
and perhaps even wish we could stay just a little longer.
(Photo by Karen)
(This is the last day of Sarah E. Westfall’s Instagram challenge, #liturgyofthesmallthings. Her invitation is to find reasons for hope in our everyday lives.)
When I am hiking on wooded trails, I often imagine the pioneers who had to forge their own paths as they journeyed into new frontiers. (I especially think of Mary Ingles; when Jim and I first moved to West Virginia, we found a trail named for her. We then read her story in Follow the River – an incredible journey of courage and survival.)
When Jim and I hiked a few days ago, we started early to avoid the heat of the day. We soon discovered that we were the first ones to travel the path up Meek’s Mountain, because we encountered lots of spider webs that had been created during the night! The webs were barely visible in the darkness of the woods, so we often walked through them. We were uncomfortable, not only from having sticky webs on our heads and arms, but also in regretting the damage done to the spiders’ habitat.
About halfway along the trail, we met a friendly, smiling couple who declared, “We cleared the webs for you!” We laughed together as I assured them that Jim and I had done the same. The rest of our hike was much more enjoyable because of this couple who had cleared the way.
Today my hope is found in my gratitude for all the people who have gone before us. I am thankful for all the pioneers who opened new frontiers, made scientific discoveries, created beneficial systems and structures, sacrificed for our freedoms, led to greater understanding and knowledge, and worked for social justice and equality. We can never know all the pioneering people who have quietly cleared the way for us, who have fostered our own success and well-being. But today, we can be thankful and hopeful because of them.
In a timely follow-up to this reflection, yesterday I listened to Krista Tippett’s “An On Being Listening Party – Celebrating 20 Years” of the On Being podcast. There were a number of excerpts of inspirational interviews from the past. In one interview, the question was asked, “Are we being good ancestors?”
What if our sole purpose in life is to clear a path for another’s well-being, to leave a legacy of love, to open new frontiers of understanding and community? My hope today comes from my renewed determination to be a good ancestor – even in some small way – for the generations to come.
Are we being good ancestors? My hope today comes from the way I see others asking this same question.
(Photo by Karen, Valley Park, Hurricane WV)
(This is the third post inspired by Sarah E. Westfall’s #liturgyofthelittlethings on Instagram. Sarah invites us to notice the smaller moments of hope in our everyday lives.)
I could not help but notice the dramatic sky on my morning walk today! The contrast of dark clouds against brighter blue patches and rays of sunshine provided an interesting walk with lots of reflection.
Today my hope is revealed by this reminder:
Life is a contrasting mix of darkness and light, sorrow and joy, trouble and serenity, futility and progress. Through these contrasts, life becomes a beautiful, challenging, rich, and delightful journey toward greater wisdom, faith, and peace.
My hope is found in the awareness of God’s gracious, loving, healing, helping presence through every storm and sky. My hope is felt when I sense God’s tender, comforting love throughout my daily living.
My hope is found in unexpected moments, too. Just as I was entering my second mile, the darker clouds joined together to shower me with yet another gift in contrasts; the uncomfortable drenching of my shoes, clothes and hair – and the joyful cleansing of my soul.
May abundant blessings shower on you today.
(Photos by Karen)
For Andrew – a friend forever.
Today is my second day of following the prompt, #liturgyofthelittlethings by Sarah E. Westfall. She describes this prompt on Instagram: “Liturgy of the Little Things is not a hunt for silver linings or a way to mask the pain or turn our heads from who is hurting. Rather, it’s a resistance—a way to wrap our fingers around some hope and sit down together in the beautiful dirt of our everyday lives.“
This morning my hope was found with two reminders on our hike up Meek’s Mountain.
The first was the signpost that indicated Jim and I were still hiking on the red and white, three-mile path we had chosen to take. This well-worn path was easy to follow – but it was helpful to be reassured that it was the correct one for our day’s plans and goals. Any of the other paths would have led us back to the trailhead, but this sign kept us on our best route for today.
My hope was gleaned from the life lesson it offered. As we seek to live our unique mission or purpose, the affirmations we receive along the way can reassure us that we are following our best path. These signposts of encouragement help to relieve and to empower us to continue. (Thank you, Sandy, for your words yesterday which served as a signpost for me!)
The second was a bench near the halfway point of our trail. This bench inspired my hope for these days when life feels like a never-ending uphill climb. We are invited to pause… rest… listen… reflect along the way. Our moments of rest and reflection are essential stops along our journey. There are times when the best we can do is to cease our relentless pursuit, delay our determined progress, and say, “This is enough for now.”
May you find many reasons for hope today.
(Today I am sharing an Instagram post for the prompt, #liturgyofthelittlethings. Thank you, @sarah_westfall for the prompt! We are invited to capture small moments that bring happiness.)
My happiness moment for today was a bit of whimsy along the trail at the city park where I walked. I have followed this path many times, and only today – because I was paying attention, seeking joy – I noticed some of the fairy houses that were hidden under leaves and against roots.
There is a humble, gentle, mystical goodness that pervades all of life. We only need to pay close attention; we only need to notice, uncover, or discover this world beyond the norm, beyond our expectations.
May we continue to seek a new vision for our world, a world of imagination, creativity, and joy.
May we find the significance in the small and often hidden things.
May we dream of a better, kinder, gentler world and then work to make it so, beginning with ourselves.
Peace, dear friends.
This past weekend, Jim and I came up to visit my mom and take her to a special family event. We were excited to see her – and to help my sister, who usually is the one to care for her. Mom is nearing her 97th birthday and is doing quite well, but she isn’t physically able to do as much for herself, and her memory isn’t what it once was. Getting her to the party was challenging and difficult at times. Those of you who have cared for elderly parents, small children, or others with special needs will understand what an undertaking this can be. There were moments when I felt frustrated and discouraged.
My mom thoroughly enjoyed the evening; she received lots of love and attention as family and friends doted on her and delighted in her. Jim and I were happy to give her this shining moment in the spotlight! And yet, we knew that she would remember very little of the party (or the effort involved to get her there) when morning came. A few times I felt a bit of self-pity, when I wondered if our time and energy spent “behind the scenes” would even be noticed, let alone remembered.
But when I went to say goodbye, my mom took my face in her hands, pulled me close, gazed into my eyes, and said, “I just want to have one more look at you.” Her piercing eyes conveyed a determination to not forget me or that moment; they reflected a deep and fierce love. Jim and I were emotional as we wondered if she felt something more in her goodbye.
Suddenly the difficulties of the day became both negligible and worthwhile.
Today I am thinking of all the good helpers who may be reading this now. The people who enable others to have their shining moments even if they are unaware or ungrateful. The people who may never be recognized, appreciated, or remembered, and yet continue to love and serve in the backgrounds of life. The people who keep quietly putting their unique goodness into the world in a variety of ways through ordinary days, while never making headlines or achieving recognition for their work.
Because today, I am also thinking about how God sees us. God sees all of the things we have quietly done, all of the things we assume have gone unnoticed, all of the ways we have tried to make a better difference. God sees all of the goodness we bring into the world, even if no one else does.
When you are feeling unrewarded, unappreciated, or unnoticed, God of Infinite Love is tenderly touching your face, gazing into your eyes, and saying, “I see you. I am thankful for you. I will not forget your efforts. I love you.”
May you keep pouring your goodness – through your unique gifts and graces – into the world. May you never lose sight of the good you are doing because God has not lost sight of you. May you know that God is grateful each time you share love and make this world a little more bearable.
And I am, too.
Photo by Karen, Swan Creek Metropark, Toledo, 2016
A BLESSING FOR THIS TIME
May you know this…
Your quiet sobs are echoing with the sobs of all who despair
in a resounding cry for justice.
Your many tears are joining with the tears of all who weep
into an overflowing river of compassion.
Your deep heartache is connecting with the heartache of all who mourn
in a tender bond of companionship.
Your individual futility is uniting with the futility of all who lament
to become a force for good.
Your anguished longing is expanding with the longing of all who yearn
to serve as a vessel of greater peace.
Your unanswered questions are universal questions
and the answer is always love.
Your trembling feet are still standing in the presence of God
and you are on holy ground.
(Photo by Karen, May 27th)
This morning I walked at a city park a few miles from home, wondering if this will become the new place for my daily hikes…
You may know that I have had a favorite place along my regular walking route, an open field in the hills where I can see the sunrise on the horizon. Each morning, I have paused there to thank God for the new day. Last October I was told that this place, my special sanctuary on the hill, was going to be turned into a recreational park in the coming year. Although I was disappointed, I was hopeful that some new opportunities and blessings would be found there, too (I shared my feelings about that news in my post, Changing Landscapes, October 7th).
But a few months ago, I came upon a large hole at the top of my path to the field. Speculating that it might become a restroom or concession stand, I simply walked around the hole each day to take photos and thank God, just as I had before.
Then one day, my neighbor friend Diana suggested that I should stay away from the area – the funding for the recreational park had been redirected, and the hole was going to be filled with contaminated soil that had been dug up around utility boxes and poles. And soon it was…
I was heartbroken, but I adapted my course to a nearby gravel path that would lead to the same field, and I began greeting the sun from a different viewpoint. I soon found new blessings from this side of the hill.
Until this week, when I found this in the middle of my favorite scene.
So, this morning I found myself at the city park.
This story could be a fitting metaphor for much of life, couldn’t it? We may be on a path that is comfortable and suitable for our needs, a path that brings us joy and peace, and then one day, the path no longer works well for us. Something about the path has changed – or maybe something about us has changed – and so we adjust the path just a bit to gain a new perspective from a different angle that once again blesses.
But what happens when every perspective, every viewpoint on that path no longer brings joy?
We may be tempted to find reasons to remain, but maybe these experiences are invitations for us to seek a completely new route. The route that we seek will not feel familiar, nor will it feel perfect, but it should be a route that, at the very least, will not add to our sadness or anxiety like a contaminated pit. Nor should the path impede or detract from our joy like a construction trailer and backhoes. Our new route may not be as easy or familiar, but perhaps we can find joy in the exploration, excitement in the unknowing, or new hope in every step we take.
We can certainly still hold gratitude for all of the previous paths we once walked. These paths have served us well, and often they have led to great serenity and peace. But there may come a time to leave those paths behind – and to find new ones that will lead us to greater joy, genuine life, and generous love.
What new path may be waiting for you?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NRSVUE)
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23, 25 (NRSVUE)
Bible verses found at ttps://www.biblegateway.com/
Photos by Karen