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The stories we carry

“You all irritate me,” I tell the geese. “Well, truth be told, only sometimes.”
“That’s an interesting way to start a homily,” one says, without looking up.
“Okay. Maybe it’s not you. It’s me,” I tell them. “Truth be told, I’m churning inside, and it takes a toll. Like a fabric has been torn. I don’t like being reminded of how fragile we are—well, I am—and can be. And how easy it is for us to wound one another, and as a result, wound ourselves.”
“I know we’re not the sheep,” one says. “But we’re here if you need to talk. Even if it doesn’t look like we’re listening. Just so you know.”

In a conference on the “Spirit of Place,” a Native American elder noted that, “The salmon do not only return to the stream to spawn. They also return to respond to the prayers and hopes of the people who love them.”  (And yes, sadly, more than a few conferees snickered and scoffed.)
But what he said is true; and touches a nerve in my heart. And brings to mind a quote from 9/11. During the days immediately following, first responders rested and were fed in St. Paul’s Chapel. In St. Paul’s one reporter overheard a firefighter say, “When I come in that door, I’m covered with blood sometimes, and they hug me. They love me, they take care of me, they treat me as a real human being. And then they feed me, and they massage me, and they give me adjustments. These are my people. This is my place. This is where I come to be with God.”

And here’s the deal: Thank you to everyone who wrote emails and letters about the changes in my life and world. They did my heart good; you have no idea. My apologies for not answering them all. Even writing that sentence, I’m giving myself grief for what feels like a shortcoming. Lord have mercy.
We have a habit of not being gentle with ourselves. For me, too often unable to get past the notion that I have to be strong and not let on about any weakness or the unrelenting cargo of attendant vulnerability. When that happens, I give away ownership of the story of my life. Perhaps that’s why they call us preachers and not practicers. Just sayin’.

Let’s pause here: the love we return to, carries a price tag. And gratefully, an opportunity: Accountability (which is really an invitation to be a participant in this life and not just a spectator). To not candy coat places where the fabric is torn (ugly truth), places where we may have been the ones doing the tearing, places that need healing, renewal, restoration and remaking.
So. You know what that means? It’s story time. Because stories ground us and make space for resources that we draw on, strengthening the fabric of community, kindness, care, empathy, affirmation, healing. And truth.

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, story-teller Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “Stories set the inner life into motion, and this is particularly important where the inner life is frightened, wedged, or cornered. Story greases the hoists and pulleys, it causes adrenaline to surge, shows us the way out, down, or up, and for our trouble, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, openings that lead to the dreamland, that lead to love and learning, that lead us back to our own real lives.”
This is my favorite story. And I never tire telling it.
My grandmother–Southern Baptist born and bred–didn’t cotton to folks in her church who played the judgmental-eternal-damnation-card just to feel good about themselves, or for the sake of proving a point.  She understood that in her church’s “theology,” there were many kinds of people “on the outside.”  (Truth be told, in her church, “most” people were “on the outside.”)  But my grandmother lived by an overriding imperative: “Anybody is welcome at my dinner table, no questions asked, no matter what.” 
In the latter years of her life, in the back yard of her home in northern Florida, my grandmother had a porch swing.  She liked to sit, and swing, and hum old church hymns.  I can still see her there, wearing a white scarf over her head, a concession to chemotherapy’s unrelenting march.  When I visited her, as a young adult, she would always ask me to sit with her on the swing, for a spell.  She would pat my leg and call me “darlin’.”  
As long as my grandmother lived–and in spite of her pain–there was always a place for me on the swing.  If I were asked to explain Grace, I would paint the picture of my grandmother’s swing.  There, I never had to deliberate or explain or worry regardless of the weight I carried.  The swing–my grandmother’s presence–existed without conditions. 
And I am here today, because of that swing.

Now, back to being a participant, in a world that needs us more than ever. Rituals (porch swings) remind us to pay attention. They can be places of sanctuary where we are able to receive. And places from which we give; realizing that our salvation lies not in changing the world’s orientation to us, but in changing our own orientation to our brokenness, which in turn changes our interchange with the world, where our brokenness (the torn fabric) can be used to heal and redeem, and not wound or diminish or fuel hate.
I know that when I lose sight or touch with that grounding, I live as a wounded dog, lashing out, castigating and labeling and dismissing, (because you’re out to get me), finding solace only in an assumed place of power which always needs to diminish someone.

This is not just about theology or ideology, it’s about what answers these fundamental questions. This week, where’s your porch swing? Where are the stories that build up rather than tear down? Stories that reveal instead of conceal. Stories that make space for engagement and not dismissal.
A good long walk today, very cool, but blue skies. Walking among a few old trees that somehow escaped logging. Listening for the stories they had to tell.
As a football fan, yesterday was a sad day for my Seahawks.
In a nursery I saw daffodil tête-à-tête for sale. I’ll. Need to find a place for a garden.

Quote for your week…
It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Sir Edmund Hillary 

Note: coming soon, the eCourse, Soul Gardening will be made available for anyone who wishes to sign up. There will be no fee. Stay tuned.


Today’s Photo Credit: White Water Preserve near Palm Springs, CA… Linda Schwartz… Thank you Linda… Keep sending your photos… send to 
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In the mailbag…
–Terry, I rarely write you a note so here at the beginning of 2021, I want to thank you for all the words, prayers, songs you’ve shared with us over the years. Wishing you peace and joy in the new year and your new home. Gerry
–Thanks, Terrry.  Nourished once again by stuff I almost miss. Jim

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It is not where we breathe, but where we love, that we live.
S. Kierkegaard

School Prayer
In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,
I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.
In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,
I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.
Diane Ackerman
(I Praise My Destroyer ,Vintage Books, 2000)

May all that is unforgiven in you
Be released.
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
John O’Donohue

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  1. Thank you, Terry, for the “School Prayer” and always for John O’Donohue. I believe our world has a very lyrical quality; one that most often visits poetry and music. I doubt I could live without either. From the 60’s, so long ago, it is the ‘go with the flow’ of life that I so miss visiting. There is so much resistance now, so much anxiety, so much life and death, in these very difficult times. Bless you for sharing your journey with us, as we share ours with you. As you often quote another 60’s guru, Ram Das, ‘We are each just walking each other home’. ‘May God bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true; and may you stay forever young.’ Sky Ann

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