Words from the Wise

25 06 2015
"Dancing Francis", Viterbo University

“Dancing Francis”, Viterbo University

Friends, this week has been very full. As I sat to write this post, I was overwhelmed: by flashes of memory, random thoughts, a wide variety of emotions. I am so grateful for the love, support, help and kindness of others which allowed this week to progress smoothly and (almost) painlessly. And I am also, quite simply, tired!

I considered not posting. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say, rather, it was that there were too many possible paths to take. I couldn’t marshall my thoughts to write coherently, nor did I have the energy to write much!

In the end, I decided to share a few words from two men named Francis who are suddenly quite prominent in my life: St. Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis. Their words and examples speak very directly to the person and the life I hope to create, to the reasons for undertaking change both personally and in my work. Their wisdom, I believe, speaks eloquently to each of us, exhorting us to live our lives for something more than personal satisfaction. My days have been filled with activities and tasks that have exhausted me physically. But my heart and my mind have been engaged and inspired by so much more.

“In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the lookout for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness.”

“Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good, because lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life.”

— Quotes from Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si”

 

 

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Idle and Blessed

18 06 2015

 

On Sunday, as I frantically packed dishes and stemware in the kitchen of my Minneapolis apartment, I mentally ticked off my to-do list over and over. As my available time shortened and my anxiety grew, I considered what items might be dropped from the list. Always, it seems, what I hope to ideally do and what it turns out I can humanly do are vastly different. One item that could have been dropped was making a brief trip up Eat Street to the alley between Little Tijuana and The Black Forest Inn. Instead, I stopped in the middle of wrapping my grandmother’s pink depression glass water goblets and grabbed my car keys (which was a compromise, as I had hoped to bike).

One of my cherished activities over the two years I lived in Minneapolis was my daily photo project. I had a few photos taken while running last errands that morning that I could have used for my final post in the project. But the one I had my heart set on was a photo from that alley off of 26th Street. On one of my first excursions in Minneapolis, when I began wandering the city with no real destination – just a desire to get to know the city – I had happened upon a beautiful mosaic tucked into that alley, on what had been the nondescript side of the building. The mosaic asked the question which ends Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” (above).

Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?

The day I first came upon that mosaic, the final lines of Oliver’s poem seemed to embody the spirit of my decision to change my life, to move to Minneapolis, to take a time out from my professional life. I wanted to fully inhabit my one wild and precious life.

Eventually, though, I found the poem and read it in its entirety. I’m a reasonably intelligent person and an educated reader of poetry, so I understood the poem. But I’m certain I didn’t get Oliver’s point. Now, two years on from that first reading, what I believe she is saying to me (and I grant that her message to you may be different) is this: it is in the midst of life’s chaotic moments that I must take the time to be “idle and blessed”. Those moments when what I feel I should do or must do is scurry and work and tick off the items on my endless mental to-do list are exactly the moments when I need to “pay attention…to fall down into the grass…”  What can be more important, she asks me, than those moments of complete attention, the wonder and amazement and gratitude for this earth, this creation we are all a part of? What can be more important than truly feeling the reverence without which all my scurrying and doing is mere activity?

So, on my last day as a resident of Minneapolis, I took the time to visit that special place and photograph the mosaic. And in this first week at a new and challenging job with many balls in the air as I transition to this new life, I am intentionally taking the time to quiet myself, stop the activity and pay attention. It helps that I have the privilege of going, each morning, to Prairiewoods where I am surrounded by abundant beauty and people who have deeply contemplated these questions. Life is wild and precious, regardless of what we may have planned. Here’s hoping we all learn to pay attention anyway, all learn the importance of allowing ourselves to be idle and blessed, to take the time to kneel in the grass or stroll through the fields.





The Landscape of Love

11 06 2015

“If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.”
― Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

Image 1

I walked the long block in the rain. The only other people I saw were in cars driving past, on their way to work at 7:50 a.m. The door to The Boiler Room stood open, and as I walked in I was greeted by Michael, the owner and sometimes barrista. He asked, “How many days left?” When I said, “Three,” he replied, “Wow! That went fast!”

He doesn’t even know the half of it! Michael was referring to the brief weeks since I’ve known I would be leaving Minneapolis. But his comment made me think about the entire two years I’ve lived here and how they have flown past. Time is such a strange and fickle construct – after all, the first winter I was here was one of the longest, coldest, snowiest on record. Every moment of that winter time seemed to crawl miserably by. Yet now, it all feels like a flash of light passing ever so swiftly before my eyes.

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I arrived in Minneapolis just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Mike and I spent two days celebrating: a Twins game, riding bikes back and forth across the Mississippi River, eating great food at local restaurants. The other two days were a marathon of driving, loading, unloading and more driving to get me officially moved. Once that weekend was over, though, Mike went back to work and I was left to my own devices in a new and, mostly, unknown city.

That first day, I got on my bike and rode. I found The Midtown Greenway, and rode until I hit the river. Now I know I took the West River Parkway, but then I had no idea where I was headed: I just kept riding as long as there was a trail. Eventually, I ended up at Minnehaha Falls (though I didn’t know how to find the falls and rode right past). I took a photo of the train depot there, and texted it to Mike with the caption, “Guess where I am?”  Looking back, I laugh at the fact that, actually, neither one of us knew where I was!

Before that ride, I was drawn to this city for many reasons. But that was the day that Minneapolis took up residence in my heart. The day I felt for the first time that we truly belonged together. Like most relationships, my love affair with this city has had its ups and downs. During the Polar Vortex of 2013-14, I seriously considered a break up. Often, when I was poor and discouraged by an interminable and dehumanizing job search, I thought that perhaps love was not enough to live on. Through it all, though, there was a thread of joy that kept me feeling that this thing between Minneapolis and I was just “right” somehow.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned from loving this place:

For attraction to deepen into love, you have to see beyond the superficial. Early in my time here, I happened upon a local resident’s blog. The purpose of the blog was to showcase how, in the mind of its creator, the city was becoming uglier every year. While I understood the author’s points and the political statement he was making, I just couldn’t comprehend taking such a negative view. In my response to his blog were the seeds of one of the best things I did over the two years I’ve been a Minneapolitan: my #dailypicofmpls Instagram project. I made it a point to get out and about, both in my own neighborhood and in the larger city, to really SEE things. Big things (like the iconic Stone Arch Bridge) and little things (like quirky messages hand-chalked on sidewalks). I chronicled the sights I saw, indelibly imprinting the city on my heart one block at a time. I tried to embrace it all: the good and the bad; what was ugly and what was lovely.

When you love a place, the issues that matter to that place become issues that matter to you. After the fall elections of 2013, I found myself celebrating representation by people who value similar things to me. For the first time in my adult life, I attended events featuring my ward’s councilwoman; our mayor; the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator. On a bicycle tour of “The Grand Rounds”, I saw firsthand the unequal distribution of city funding. At Open Streets events I visited both affluent and less affluent neighborhoods, but was able to celebrate the vibrancy and unique character of each. On my own street, I spent time in places where I was the only non-Somali person present, I visited a powerful exhibit of Native American Artists at the First Nations Gallery, and I silently filed past the ghost bike commemorating a cyclist struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Love (like growth and most other worthwhile things) takes seed and flowers when you push yourself outside the confines of your comfort zone. For much of my life I let my introvert tendencies have ascendency – meaning I mostly sat back and waited for things to come to me. Living in a large metropolitan area, working part-time, and knowing exactly four people here when I arrived meant that mode of operation was not an option. So I pushed myself – to attend events, to talk to strangers, to make connections. I went to group bike rides solo. I walked and biked all over, often stopping to enter coffee shops and strange places (a chandlery, a visual arts center, a tiny neighborhood fresh foods market). I tried paddle-boarding, mountain biking, alley-cat racing. I volunteered as a bike parking attendant and as a photographer. I went to odd places and famous venues to see live music by musicians I’d never heard of. I joined a writer’s group and a joyful community of cyclists. Not every experience was wonderful, but each one helped me understand the value of being proactive rather than passive in my own life. And some truly beautiful souls entered my life as a result!

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As I walked back to my apartment from The Boiler Room I thought about the many things I will miss about Minneapolis, then about how little effort I made to love Cedar Rapids during the seventeen years I lived there last time. While there are many people I love(d) in Iowa, the only patch of ground I made any effort to care about was the hill on which Mount Mercy University stood.

I know now that I have to extend my own boundaries in ways I never did before I came to Minneapolis. I’m willing to concede that my failure to love Cedar Rapids as a place may have been a failure of my own imagination rather than a failure of the city to have anything to offer. More than that, I never invested myself there as I have here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put what I’ve learned from my sojourn in Minneapolis into action in Cedar Rapids.

In the meantime, I’m going to let the rain today express my sadness about leaving the City of Lakes. Don’t misunderstand: I am excited about the new opportunities opening in my life. But for a little while, I need to feel the emotions connected with leaving this city I’ve grown to love so deeply. And, because there’s no equivalent to The Boiler Room in my new neighborhood, I may have to brave the downpour for another Americano.

Image 3

Our bikes outside The Boiler Room, Thanksgiving Day, 2013

 





Course Corrections, Part 2

4 06 2015
Front window, The Blue Strawberry

Front window, The Blue Strawberry

“In the garden of gentle sanity

May you be bombarded by coconuts of

wakefulness.”  –Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

A little over two years ago, I sat in a booth at The Blue Strawberry in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, nursing an Americano. Across the booth from me was my life coach, Charlynn. Over a year into our monthly sessions, Charlynn was describing a retreat center she had recently visited when she said, “That’s the perfect job for you! You should be director of a retreat center.”  While both of us thought she was onto something, even Charlynn admitted that it seemed a little specific as a career option, with limited opportunities available. Despite that, I am happy and humbled to tell you today that, in a little over a week, I will take up the reins as Director of a Franciscan ecospirituality center.

The path from that day to this day has been full of bumps and blind corners. Or, as the quote above would characterize them, “coconuts of wakefulness”. If you’ve ever been hit over the head with a coconut, real or metaphoric, you’ll understand that my experiences have been sometimes painful. But pain is only one thread of the tapestry. Last week, I wrote about faith, hope and love – and their shadow twins (as described by Parker Palmer) doubt, despair and pain. Each time I’ve been about to slide irrevocably into the shadowed realm *BONK*, I’d be hit over the head with wakefulness – an experience that heightened my awareness of the moment, that brought me back to the light.

For this post, I tried to separate faith, hope and love into three individual strands, so that I could share “coconut” stories of each, and how my understanding of each has developed over this journey. What I’ve discovered is that they are so intertwined in lived experience that I can’t really take them individually.

When I was at the edge of financial ruin, frightened and paralyzed by self-doubt, and an anonymous gift of $500 in cash was handed to me (or when a friend bought four new tires for my car, or came for the weekend to lavish attention upon me), was that gift awakening me to an important truth about love? About hope? Or about faith? In all honesty, the unexpected, unlooked-for, unearned generosity of others has been a big old coconut to the head for all three.

For one, it has awakened me to the deep truth of these words:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

—1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

For two, it has consistently reminded me to keep the faith that there is a bigger picture that we can’t see from where we’re standing. Right here, right now, we can see what is in this moment. But the faith, hope, and love we experience in the present are individual brush strokes in the huge canvas that is a life. And it is a canvas we are not painting alone. Even in those moments when we feel most alone, there are other hands holding brushes and creating with us. I can take this on faith, because I have been privileged to occasionally glimpse it in live action.

For three, it has given me an injection of hope when most needed. Hope, which gets me dressed and out the door every day even when things are hard – even when there is a polar vortex holding steady right over my head. When I felt lost to myself and a friend invited me to join a writing group: hope. When I needed to connect, and was welcomed on a team: hope. When I was beaten down by rejection, but pushed, prodded, and encouraged to try again: hope.

Wouldn’t it make a great story to say that Charlynn and I mapped out a plan while sitting at The Blue Strawberry and, VOILA!, the plan has finally come to fruition. The truth is more complex, and (maybe) more miraculous than that:  There was no plan. But we did set an intention: I would follow my intuition and my heart’s desires where they would lead. It was an intention to be guided by faith, hope, and love to wherever I am meant to be. I cannot thank those who have walked this crooked path with me enough – for your generosity, kindness, friendship. I cannot repay you; I can only assure you that I will continue to need your presence, and that I will attempt in every way to pay the abundance you’ve shared with me forward to others (and hopefully loop it back to you as well).

I have no idea what the future holds in store, I only know that I’m stepping onto a new path soon (actually, the transition has already begun). What I do know, thanks to some well-placed *BONKS* to the head is this:

…these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.