The Call of the Horizon

The horizon beckons to us all. So why should I be surprised when our dog, Karma, off her leash, heads to the woods? She is obviously pursuing that tree line at the far end of sight. I don’t blame her. I would go there too. On this day with fresh fallen snow, I too would like to be the one to make the first tracks. Of course, she will find that she is not the first one. Others have been through the field and forest already; Deer, turkey, and fox have been awake for hours. Their tracks will tell stories of patient and attentive walking. They are likely looking for food or shelter or both. There is food here. It may be a little harder to find under the blanket of new snow. There are hiding places. They may even be better hidden now that the weight of the snow on the branches curves them toward the ground. I imagine that the critters walk through the woods with keen awareness of potential dangers and opportunities all around them. Karma will follow all of these scents like I read a book, with curiosity, excitement and disregard for the rest of the world. In her absorption, Karma will forget about the horizon and attend to the tracks below her nose.

She will not hear me calling to her — and I will not follow her.

For today, I will not follow the call to head straight for the horizon. I have other things to do this morning. There are breakfasts to make and a lunchbox to pack. There are words to be written and a commitment to be kept. There’s a meeting to prepare for and others to schedule. I suppose that attending to these details of my life is how I follow the tracks below my nose. With my head down, I am attentive to the needs and call of the moment, taking only the step that is in front of me, and then the next. This attention to what is here, no matter how stimulating or mundane, is a practice and a discipline. When I am doing it well, focused on the people around me and the work that is mine to do, I feel grounded and in alignment with my place and purpose. But to maintain that sense of right place and purpose, I need to remember to look up too. There is always a beckoning horizon. Noticing it and, potentially, even yearning for it, provides balance. Some days, I will even take a running leap or a few deliberate steps towards it. But not today. 

Today, I will follow the tracks beneath my nose. I will tend to my work and my home. I will feed the slow and steady fire in the wood stove as well as the one in my heart. I will be here when Karma’s adventure turns her towards home.

Thanksgiving Morning

Again, the stars. The sky was full of them when I first woke. This miracle that repeats itself daily has my attention. How could it not? I need only rise to witness it. It makes me wonder what else I may be missing when I am not paying attention. I cannot possibly pay attention to everything. Surely there are daily miracles unfolding everywhere and always.

The stars that had my full attention for a few minutes were gone an hour later. The rising sun offering enough light that it met them and is surpassing them. Their brilliance is no less, it is only that their light is now matched — a convergence of brightnesses.

When I was young, I admired my grandmother’s freckles. I traced constellations between them on her back as she lay on the pier in the summer sun. I imagined how tan she would be if only her freckles would grow together. I wished that my freckles would grow together too. Now I see that is what is happening in the sky. The stars are being joined by the light of the sun each morning, a mysterious hand tracing the lines between them, uniting them with light.

Now, the sky is lightened. The stars are no longer visible but I know that they are still there. Science tells me so but, even more convincingly, so does my heart. The light of the stars does not need to be visible for me to feel their presence.

My grandmother’s body does not need to be here for me to feel her presence either. She died years ago. Though she is no longer visible in my daily life, I feel her presence.

Today, I am thankful for all the people who have blessed my life. Some are no longer living. Some have not yet been born. Of those who are here now in this lifetime, most are not here, in my daily life. Yet I feel their presence. Like stars in the daytime sky, I need only to pay attention to feel them.

This is the daily miracle of my life — this connection to all life across all time and place. I need only to pay attention. And to give thanks.

Honoring the Dark and the Light

This post is adapted from a message originally shared at Durham Friends Meeting (Quaker) on November 24, 2019. I hope that it may it be of use to you as well during this dark and stormy season.

When I first began to think about the opportunity to bring a message to you all, I was drawn to the idea of playing with the imagery of light. After all, we speak often of the light as in “I am holding you in the Light” and “the Light of God is in each one of us”… This imagery of Divine light is evocative. With this word, Light, we are able to name the unnameable, to capture the essence of God in a word that we can hold in our hearts, tend with our sacred imagination, honor with our prayers and actions, and name when it washes over and through us…The Light pulls me into the open and seems to invite clear seeing. The Light calls me outward to witness the Divine in the world around me, including in each of you.

Here, in Maine, we are in the season of darkness. The days have been getting shorter since the fall equinox. By Samhain at the end of October, we had entered the darkest stretch of the year, with darkness growing each day. Until the winter solstice on December 21, the amount of light that shines on our hemisphere will continue to decrease. My body responds to the darkness in a few ways. I sleep longer. I crave warm, heavy, sweet foods. I get cranky and weepy more often. The double whammy of dark and cold saps my motivation for exercise and social engagement. Maintaining either requires discipline and intention – both of which seem to require a ridiculous amount of energy to summon…But there’s another aspect to the darkness too, where a certain spaciousness and timelessness creep in and a different capacity is opened. I chop piles of vegetables to make big pots of healthy, hearty soups and stews. I sit by the fire for long periods and read or write or knit or sit in contemplation. Those long nights of sleep invite interesting, thought provoking dreams that merge past, present, and future for a few hours. I wake up a few hours before sunrise. As night fades and day dawns, I know that God is here, in the Darkness, too. The Dark calls me inward to witness the Divine mysteries that lie beyond seeing and understanding.

It feels important to name that our culture has distorted the concepts of light and dark in myriad ways. The value judgements that have been assigned to light and dark have had profound negative impacts on our relationships with ourselves, with one another, and with the earth. As an amateur naturalist and a writer, however, I am compelled to reclaim the words and the powerful imagery that they carry. My desire to name and embrace the Light and the Dark nudges me more deeply into the indescribable fullness of the Divine existence that I witness and live within every day.

For the next few minutes, I’d like to invite you to join me with a Beginner’s Mind to consider the balance of the dark and the light in your own life. Allow yourself to consider each of these questions as a meditation.

What does that mean that the Light of God is within you?

Do you see the Light as a candle that flickers and dims according to the amount of air that it is offered? How do you carry it? If you shield it from the wind, are you obscuring the light?

Is the Light within you more like a campfire? Do you feed it slowly and steadily with branches of courage, hope, resolve, and rest? Does the fire ever dwindle to a pile of embers?

Is the Light within you like the sun, consuming itself as it casts its light and heat in service to all living things?

How do you greet the Darkness in yourself and around you?

Is it a cocoon? A place of transformation and safety apart from the world?

Is the Darkness like a cave, a place of respite during a storm or the heat of the midday? Or is it a place to be avoided, full of unknown dangers?

Maybe the Darkness is a void, absent of time, space, light and being?

How then do we consider the moon which casts a reflection of another’s light into the darkness?

This season is an opportunity to befriend the darkness and embrace the beauty and the mystery that dwells there. If you are an early riser, resist the urge to turn on the lights when you first wake. For a few minutes – or a few hours – allow your pace to match the pace of the waking earth. Notice the way the darkness recedes to the gathering light. Notice the presence of God with you and in you through this transition. If you are a night owl, turn off the lights a few hours before you go to sleep. Become familiar with the shape and shadows of your house in moonlight and starlight. Your pace will slow to help protect you from bumping into walls. As it does, notice the still and guiding presence of God within you and surrounding you.

In this season, let us hold our Friends in the Light. Let us also sit with them in the Darkness.

Let us give thanks for the light which offers clarity and the darkness which nourishes faith.

Let us give thanks to the Great Mystery that weaves them both together.

The One In The All And The All In The One

I ambled through the field, a single human moving through a small field on a quiet morning. I was heading away from the road, away from the farmhouse and away from the ducks floating on the pond. I was heading towards an expanse of grass that leads to a marshy waterway. But mostly, I wasn’t heading anywhere. I was just ambling through the field, aware of everything and nothing at the same time. Until my field of vision shifted.

The grassy hillside ahead of me seemed to glisten in the hazy light. Looking closer, to the ground at my feet, I noticed that on each branch of each blade of grass, a drop of rain was suspended. I stooped to appreciate one particular plant and the drops that had gathered on its tips and notches. Here, in singular form, each drop rested in intimate relationship with the part of the plant on which it had landed.  By nearly impossible odds, that particular drop landed on that particular crevice of this particular plant. And now they rested in such comfort and union that, to my outsider’s view, they appear to have always been in relation to one another. The drop will remain where it is until it is released by a passing critter, evaporated by warmth and sun, dried by the wind, or swept away by another raindrop falling to the earth. The drop is singular, and also a part of a whole. Each drop will have come from a body of water and will return to another body of water eventually. It separates, returns to source and separates again, the water cycle mirroring the life cycle. 

Later in my walk, I startled a lone turkey and then a deer. Each particular individual ambling in solitude through the morning. Until of course, we noticed one another. Then we were in community.

In community, we are one. Each of us — the water droplets, the human, the turkey, and the deer  — is a part of a unified whole. Brought together in particular forms at this particular time in this particular place, we are one. I can only notice and celebrate each of these unique expressions of our singular Spirit. This is grace. The one in the all and the all in the one.

There are not any words. 

There is only awe, gratitude and responsibility to this oneness.

Rest here with me for a few moments.

Blessings All

Years ago, I found this little slip of paper while I was cleaning out my desk. I recognized it as a note included with the calendar that my grandfather sent every year around Thanksgiving. This homemade calendar included birthdays and anniversaries for my grandparents’ children and their spouses, their grandchildren and their spouses and all of the great grandchildren born to date. Despite long distances, philosophical differences, and ordinary family dysfunction, the calendar literally tethered 50 people and 100 years of lives and relationships. Each year when I received it, I was reminded that my grandparents provided a centripetal focus for all of our orbits. Through them, we each remained in some form of relationship with one another and vitally connected both to our ancestry and also to our legacy.

Our memory of the past defines our hope for the future.

Something about the note must have resonated with me at the time, because I tucked it in a drawer to be discovered and considered another day. When it emerged during my desk cleaning, my Dad was declining with dementia. At the time, we were working hard to hold together the pieces of a life that was determined to unravel. Despite our attentive and creative efforts, the world continued to become more and more unfamiliar and confusing every day. On some days, the note seemed to taunt me, demanding that I figure out how to retain enough memories (for me and for Dad) that we could also both find hope in this very hopeless situation. On other days, the message simply seemed mis-guided. Dad did not have memories to rely on at all and did not seem to forecast towards the future. I noticed, though, that he fully lived the present moments that arrived throughout each day. Each new moment was greeted with openness and curiosity. Unhinged from expectation, a certain freedom emerged. I learned to follow his lead and soon found myself somewhat released from past and future too.

Our memory of the past defines our hope for the future.

Eventually I reconciled with the note. Memory of the past and hope for the future can be important tethers, like the calendar. They connect us to an ancient future and a distant past that keep us grounded in awareness and responsibility. They hold us in relationship with the rest of creation over all time and place, and remind us that we are a part of the whole. But neither memory nor hope can shape our relationships or our actions. Those are best tended in each moment.

Blessings All

The slip of paper still sits on my desk where I can see it often. It still makes me think of my grandfather and his calendar. It also makes me think of my Dad and the love and good living that we shared when we released past and future and, instead, walked purposefully into each present moment of his last few years. It reminds me to appreciate memories and hope while giving my care and attention to those who are with me and the work that is at hand now.

The note no longer teases or frustrates me. It strengthens my resolve to contribute to healing and wholeness. It focuses my attention on the world that my children are inheriting. Their hope for the future is in the words and actions of the young people and adults around them who speak and act with compassion for others and for the living earth now. Their hope hinges on what we do today. For today, I will honor each arising moment with memory and hope — and with an open heart, a clear mind, honest words and actions, and good intentions.

Morning Mist

I walk through the morning mists with millions who have walked the morning before me. Following in the steps of ancestors who I can name and those who are nameless to me, I breathe in the last vestiges of the still night as it mingles with the new day. The stillness wraps me in gentle arms, carrying me softly into the new day, reminding me to greet it with tender curiosity and earnest hope. It reminds me to love the earth beneath my feet and the people and critters that surround me. This stillness pulls me deeply into this particular moment in this particular place. What a blessing it is to be here now, suspended among the vapor of yesterdays and tomorrows.