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One small candle

Very early Saturday morning, my sister Alicia, died.
She is now in the arms of the angels.
My heart is tender.
This on top of a week watching images of suffering and pain, wondering, what do we do with all the pain? Where’s the relief?
Somewhere in my spirit, I want someone to fix it all. I hate it when I don’t have answers. And I hear a small voice in my spirit, “Put your head down, and your blinders on, Terry.”
Perhaps you can relate?

“There is no meaning to life,” Joseph Campbell once said. “You bring meaning to it.” To explain, he said that for him, meaning is “participating joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”    
Well, that’s a tall order. And I must confess, that wasn’t what I had in mind.
So. I’m torn. And back to my hankering to want someone to fix it all.
And while I’m torn, I receive Robert Alden’s lagniappe (the gift of something extra), “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”

Robert Fulghum once asked a Greek philosopher named Dr. Papaderos, “What is the meaning of life?” as they concluded a class taught by the professor. Papaderos could see that Fulghum was serious. He took a small mirror out of his wallet, and told this story. “During WWII, I was a child in a poor remote village. One day, on the road, I found several broken pieces of a mirror from a wrecked German motorcycle. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would not shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”
Fulghum continues: “And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.”

Spill your light. That is my mantra. So. Sign me up.
However. I’m wired to be the “minister”, meaning that it’s obligatory to be strong and impermeable. You know, the one that helps others.
But what about self-care and self-compassion for the care giver? It’s not easy to let yourself receive light (or let yourself heal) is it?
“Terry, can you use that mirror to shine light and love on the dark and painful places in your own heart and spirit?”
Can we trust our hidden beauty, trust that there is a heart, and little by little receive love, be transformed by love, and then give love?

We’ve been hoodwinked. Believing that self-care is selfish, and somehow, shortsighted. With irony, the light that spills to those around us, comes from that place in our own heart, where there is both pain and self-compassion.
I’m in a place, where, for the first time in my life I welcome a tender heart.
This has not always been the case. I have used many well-honed default mechanisms for pain. Explain it away. Run away from it. Bank on performance (the stage can be convenient).

This past week, the group I was speaking with asked, “How can we give time to personal and community renewal, in a world that is on fire with hate and pain?”
My answer. We can’t afford not to.  

This week, I’m a little adrift, and I don’t have a lot of answers. (I can tell you that it’s not easy to admit, or write, those words.) But this I know for certain. I write Sabbath Moment every week to stay sane. And I find respite in daily rituals. My garden has been sanctuary for me. Wandering, watering, weeding, watching the birds at the feeder (this week visited by royalty, Western Red Tanagers). These daily rituals embrace the Sacrament of the Present Moment, and nurture the curriculum of a truly spiritual life; grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy; slowly transfiguring us. (Thank you Richard Rohr.)
And I am reminded again and again; making a difference (spilling my light) and self-care (replenishment and healing) go hand in hand.

Garrison Keillor did my heart good this week… “We live in treacherous times but so did Thomas Keillor who survived the five week voyage from Yorkshire in 1774 and my ancestor Prudence Crandall who got booted out of Connecticut in 1831 for admitting young women of color to her school and so she fled to Kansas where she campaigned for women’s suffrage. She was a Methodist. I like to imagine her sitting on a porch in Kansas, writing fierce polemics against male supremacy and the racist killjoys who blight the landscape, and at the same time enjoying the music of meadowlarks and the taste of tomatoes eaten off the vine and the pleasure of shade in the midst of brilliance. To change the world, you must start out by loving it. It’s fine to march but don’t forget to dance. The Lord is gracious. Come unto his gates with thanksgiving. In other words, get over yourself. It isn’t about you. Grab the rope and pull yourself up. Try. Try again.”

Last week, we learned the Rwandan recipe for healing; sun, drum, dance and community. And this weekend, Vashon Island is home to all four. It is our annual Strawberry Festival.
This week I’m off to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to be with my Father. Zach will be with me.
Did you watch The Open Golf Championship? I plead guilty of envy. Played in Northern Ireland, real golf, tested by real weather.
Speaking of weather; stay cool East Coast friends.
Be gentle with yourself this week, and your light will spill.

Quote for your week…
To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands. Terry Tempest Williams


Today’s photo credit — Haiti, “engraving in a wall of a much needed home built by the organization I work with. The family carved it when the cement was drying”… Nerni Mink Miller… thank you Nerni… keep sending your photos… send to

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I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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In the mailbag…
–Am savoring the eCourse Terry.  Incidentally, May Sarton is one of my favorite authors…..a special person….poet. Think you might like the following:  Our daughter-in-law sent away for some Monarch caterpillars.  They arrived. Some small…others large…all hungry.  In days they will create their crysallis….their jewels.  Later they will be released. A miracle. Love, Pat
–Terry, So many times I am moved and encouraged by your words. This week is no exception. Beautiful, compassionate, live giving and more encouragement to fight the good fight, to do good in this moment with those with you in this moment no matter who they are, where you are. My young adult children have wandered from the faith community of their childhood. I understand. I love them and know God’s hand are on them. It is their journey. I love that your connection to, the reading from Luke was what was read in my church yesterday. The homily echoed much of what you said. That is why I remain with community and when my priests miss the mark, I read your words. It helps. I feel so raw and wounded sometimes by my powerlessness in the knowledge of the lost, the forgotten, the abuse of the innocent, the power of prejudice, racism and sexism that is being embraced by those in power. I’m disappointed by the opinions and misguidance of those I know. In the darkness, I remind myself to look for the pieces of light. Thank you for shining your Light! Peace.
–I am so happy that I finally got this today.  I don’t know why they stopped but it’s all good. Have you watched The Kindness Diaries on Netflix? Amazing documentary on the kindness of humanity. Such a relief given all the complete madness in the world and especially the WH. Dear God help us, Elizabeth
–Dear Terry, you do so much to bring comfort, healing and peace to the hurting people of this world. May this all come back to you, as you journey with your sister at this time. The Cloistered Carmelites of Alhambra are holding her and your family in prayer. May that bring you some small measure of ease, Sincerely, Francine
–Hello Terry, What is too painful and dangerous, we tend to ignore. Bury it deep so that it will not awaken me in the dead of night. Today, they came for someone else. Heaven forbid unless I pray and act they will come for me. Thank you for honesty and words of wisdom. Jo Etta
–My friend just launched a website creatingempathy. He’s retired and wants to give back to the world and be a part of coming back at the madness being tolerated.  Elizabeth
–Hi Terry! I met you at the religious conference in Anaheim several years ago. You and Father Greg Boyle were my favorite speakers. I was privileged to see him again on Friday at St. Timothy’s in California. Your sabbath moment today and his talk on Friday were both about unconditional love and blessings. Thanks so much! Need to remember that always in this broken world. Blessings, Nancy
–Great job Terry.  My first car. 1967 VW bug convertible Yellow with a black top. Bill

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Going out there is madness. Yes, a wonderful madness.
The kind that strong men grab with both hands.
Not the kind that eats away at weak and frightened men.
If we can’t be who we are, this is just another prison.
Mary Bryant (persuading the convicts to escape the Australian Penal Colony of Botany Bay, on a journey to Timor, from the movie,
The incredible journey of Mary Bryant)

A Standing Ground
However just and anxious I have been,
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say, and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without an aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.
Wendell Berry

O Divine Wisdom, I am confused and unsure;
it feels like I am lost in the darkness.
As I light this candle,
Let your light enter my heart
that I may see the path before me.
May this holy light
quiet the voices of fear that confuse my judgment
and cloud my heart’s true vision.
Grant me the gift of divine wisdom
That I may step forward with faith and courage.
Edward Hays

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