Begin (again)

Dooway, The Druidston Hotel

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.         -T.S. Eliot

And so we begin again. The new year of 2015 is underway. The roads near my house were surprisingly free of traffic. The gym was nearly empty. Our neighborhood is quiet. It is time to make a beginning, to find a new voice and fresh words. For me, however, this new year is not a time for resolutions.

I just finished reading again Parker Palmer’s reflection about the artificial marking of a new year. Click here to be redirected to the onbeing website to read the post. I always appreciate Palmer’s perspectives on living and being and faith, and this entry is no exception. His words remind me of why I resist making New Year’s resolutions. They seem, well, so artificial. We lay our best intentions on the line, a bold hope, seeking some sort of accountability and encouragement in writing and/or speaking the words of them. Yet life, in its relentless passing, has a way of grinding those good intentions down to finest sand. They endure, but all too often the don’t resemble the idea or hope with which we cast them upon the tide of our days and hours.

No, I won’t make resolutions this year, but I do think I’ll join Palmer  in pondering some life-giving questions rather than hammering out pronouncements of change and intended improvement that will likely fade as winter’s chill gives way to spring’s greening.

Palmer offers a lovely poem, “We Look with Uncertainty” by Anne Hillman and a quote by Ranier Maria Rilke as inspiration for this process of questioning. The Rilke quote is from Letters to a Young Poet (one of my favorite books):

“…I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them, and the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then graduatlly, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (treanslation by M.D. Herter Norton)

So here are the questions I’ll be pondering (do check out Parker Palmer’s, too):

  1. Is what I choose now central to what really matters in life? If not, can I let it go?
  2. How can I be a better steward of all that’s been entrusted to my care?
  3. What is God up to in my life? In the world around me? Am I listening and paying attention?
  4. Am I being vulnerable and taking risks for the sake of the gospel?
  5. How am I giving my call to creative work sufficient power and time?*

How about you? What questions might you ponder this year? How will you begin (again)?

*This question comes from a quote by the poet Mary Oliver that I read a few days ago. This statement has convicted me to do a better job of giving power and time to my creative gifts this year. Here’s the quote:

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time. — Mary Oliver

Photo: Chris Wild, Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Gratefully Astonished

Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We’re soaked in distractions. The world didn’t have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful. — Mary Oliver

I came across this quote when reading a blog post by Brandon Hook yesterday. Brandon was fortunate enough to attend an event where both Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, two of my favorite poets, spoke. (Lucky you, Brandon!)

Brandon’s reflection and Mary Oliver’s words reminded me of how grateful I am for those precious and brief instances when time seems to pause and a flickering window of awareness opens before me. You’ve no doubt experienced similar moments. It might be that instant when you hear the song of birds overpowering the roar of traffic. Maybe such moments come in the silence of freshly falling snow, when the world is still and peaceful, blanketed in hope. Perhaps such bliss fills your heart while watching the delight of children at play, noticing that for them time has little meaning. Children live fully and joyously in the present moment until we teach them otherwise.

The most recent awakening to life came this week when we lost power during Superstorm Sandy. We were lucky; our electric was only off for 24 hours, while others in our area were looking at up to a week of outage. We had a camp stove, oil lamps, a french press for coffee, and a big industrial eight-burner gas stove at our disposal right next door. It was a minor inconvenience, for we were safe and comfortable. But I was astonished by the silence and by the ceasing of constant waves of information streaming in via the Internet and radio.

There was no hum of refrigerator or clank and whistle of the radiator pipes. Traffic noise outside our front windows was nonexistent. Our cell phones were powered off to conserve battery life. The only sound was the natural noise of a relentless wind as the western edge of the hurricane passed over us. In the eye of the storm all was quiet, and I was astonished afresh at how much is lost in the hustle, bustle, and frenzied scurrying of our modern life.

We played Scrabble by lamp light. We slept late under think blankets. We relished the hot coffee that was a result of the combined effort of camp stove and press. We cooked a big meal to use up what would spoil in the refrigerator, inviting friends to join us. Mostly we gave thanks for the many gifts we take for granted, and we prayed for those upon whom Sandy visited stunning devastation.

Not all is beautiful, but there are hints of beauty to be found in all of life. I continue to be astonished at the beauty of so many people helping one another, of neighbors reaching out to neighbors, of strangers helping strangers, and of emergency responders doing their work with dignity and strength. Countless moments of grace and light are everywhere.

We must, you and I, pay attention. We must treasure this lovely, fragile creation and one another. We must be astonished by the small glints of beauty and kindness, the nanoseconds of hope and grace that fill our days. And, oh how we must learn to be grateful for it all! Give thanks for those who tell and point the way–for the poets and prophets and the everyday saints. May it be so. May this beautiful life be so.

Photos by sblezard, david_shankbone, and Paul Lowry. Thanks!


The Gift of the Present Moment

“Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”  — Henri J.M. Nouwen

What percentage of your life do you live in the past–regretting choices and decisions, reliving former glory days, wishing you could see someone again or that you had said something or not said something to someone in your life?

What percentage of your life do you spend dreaming about the future and contemplating “what-ifs”? Do you dream of winning the lottery, writing the next great American novel, finding true love, buying a house, having a child, or other hopes and dreams?

Now, what percentage of your life do you have left for the present moment? Is it 90%, 75%, 50%, or 25%? Could it really be true that you are only present in your life for a fraction of your time on earth?

Think about it. The only time we truly have is the present moment. We can’t change the past. We can’t predict with absolute certainty what the future holds. This moment right now is what you and I have. It is a gift that we did not earn or buy. We breathe in and out without effort, and our heart beats without our input. Right now we are fully alive and full of potential that only this moment can bring.

What will you do? How will you choose to live this moment in time? What treasure awaits our full, undivided attention and participation? This is your one wild and precious life (thank you, Mary Oliver); now go–live it in thanks, awe, and joy.

Photo by photosteve 101 used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!