So, what are your plans for the Holidays? It seems to be the standard question to begin conversation. I didn’t know plans were required. But I give it a go. I’ll enjoy Pumpkin pie for breakfast for as long as it lasts, I say. And while I’m savoring, I’ll give a good bit of energy to juggling expectations. I can say I avoided Black Friday swarms. And enjoyed taking stock on how families fared around Thanksgiving tables, what with the mandatory debate about off limit topics. I saw an ad for a new game that sounded entertaining, “Dysfunctional Family Bingo.” That works for all of us.
And now we’re on the fast track toward Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year.
On the plane back to Seattle this morning, I heard one woman tell a friend, “All I wanted was a weekend of self-care. Is that too much to ask? Oh well. Maybe next time.”
It sounded familiar and I smile, because nothing says self-care like consternation and giving yourself grief for missing the mark. We have forgotten how to be gentle with ourselves.
Where was I?
Oh yes, plans.
I can tell you that I have made a list. Well, it’s not a long list. But it works for me.
During this Advent Season, I want to tend to my heart.
Which means that there is a place I will choose to visit from time to time; a place called Enough. You know, that place where the heart finally slows, where gratitude spills, where we can touch the root of inner wisdom (a taproot some call the soul), where we are not afraid or adversarial, where we do not need to shy away from sorrow or disappointment, where grace is alive.
Parker Palmer writes, “Sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival. Today, seeking sanctuary is no more optional for me than church attendance was as a child. We live in a culture of violence. Even if we’re not at daily risk of physical injury or death, as are so many in the gun-obsessed U.S., our culture relentlessly assaults our souls with noise, frenzy, consumerism, tribalism, homophobia, racism, and more. It’s common to become desensitized to these assaults. We ‘normalize’ them in order to get on with our daily lives, disregarding our need for sanctuary as we do. But at times something happens that makes us hypersensitive to all that threatens our souls.”
This is important. Sanctuary is not withdrawal for withdrawal sake. It’s about permission to pay attention to what really matters. If we do not, we concede attention to that which assaults us by default.
Finally watched Thor Ragnarok. Now we’re talking. A great movie about coming face to face with ourselves when we are no longer perfect. We are not invulnerable. And we learn that our strength is born in that honest affirmation of what is already inside.
Of course, it helps with sagacious (and charming) mentors and guides.
Which brings me to Betty. Betty is a character. A member of a writing group I enjoyed hanging out with some time ago. Betty was inimitable and full of spunk and verve. She had raised her children on a fishing boat in Alaska. She was the age where it’s not helpful to guess or ask. (But I’m guessing a good bit north of 80.) Now living in West Seattle, she invited me to visit her garden, a small lot behind her home.
“Come here,” she said and we walked down the back steps, “I gotta show you something.”
“Yes Ma’am,” I said smiling.
You know how when you create a garden, you begin with a path that is at least 3 feet in width. And over time, as plants encroach, the path narrows. Betty’s was wide enough for us to put one foot in front of the other. Each side of the pathway lined with large pots, filled with plants spilling. As a garden designer, my mind is spinning, and I’m thinking, “I can fix this! I can help Betty.”
We get to the back of her lot. Around the corner at the edge of her garage, a wicker chair. “This is it,” she tells me. “It my ‘when the world pisses me off chair.’”
I’m still grinning, and I’m thinking, now that is a great name.
“Whenever I need time to regroup, I come sit in my chair.”
And I’m thinking, ‘I get it. But why is it back here in the corner?’ And then it occurs to me, surrounding the chair, a garage wall and the neighbor’s tall fence covered with climbing flowers. Betty’s sanctuary.
We’re walking back toward the house. And I’m about to give her advice that will improve her garden. She’ll be sooo grateful. And she asks, “Did you notice the plants along the pathway?” I bite my tongue.
“I hope so,” she continues. “They’re all my favorite herbs. By the time I get to my chair my jeans are covered with the fragrance of the herbs.”
I smile from ear to ear every time I think of my afternoon with Betty. It does my heart good.
As a boy, stories from the Bible were a staple in my education. Remember the Old Testament story about Moses, on a mountain in a desolate place, on the edge of gloom? A bush begins to burn. And a voice speaks from that burning bush. “Take off your shoes,” it said. “You are on holy ground.” Now, in the church of my youth, this was not suggestion. This was God after all, so it was a command to be broken at great peril. Because, if God is holy, show some respect. If not, you’re going to get SMOTE. (I can still hear the severe tone in our pastor’s voice. This taking the shoes off wasn’t meant to make us smile.)
I now believe that those words were not a command at all. I believe they were an invitation.
You are on holy ground. Therefore, in order to touch, to feel this ground, let’s remove whatever blocks or inhibits or prevents.
Take off your shoes. Savor the ground.
Jeans covered with herbs. Savor the ground.
Grounded… literally sinking into life. Sanctuary does not remove us from life. But allows us to be fully alive smack dab in the middle.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, “One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing.” Yes. Smack dab in the middle. But now I am seeing, living, sacramentally.
This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
Cause everything is holy now
Yesterday I was honored to pronounce Kier and Sonya husband and wife in Redondo Beach, CA. And invited them to create sanctuary for one another and their friends and families.
This week I’m off to vacation on Florida’s west coast. Manasota Key.
Sailing and sand and sunsets and reading (Ta-Nehisi Coates We were eight years in power, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and John Robison’s look me in the eye). That should be enough.
Quote for your week…
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive–of the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still…
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream.
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
I Need Some Laughter, Lord
I have had enough
of sad saints
and sour religion.
I have had enough
of sin spotting
and grace doubting.
I need some laughter, Lord,
the kind you planted in Sarah.
But, please may I not have to wait
until I am ninety
Church of Scotland Prayer
Celtic Daily Prayer: Book Two (2015)