Friday, May 21, 2010

Learning from the Natural World

Last week I saw two marvelous gifts of creation. We have a creek that runs through our backyard. There is about 20 feet of “common land” that belongs to our subdivision which goes from the edge of the creek up to our property line. Anyone is free to walk along the creek on the common land, which makes for a great green space to walk the dog, exercise or do a meditation walk.
Every year a mallard couple returns to the creek to lay their eggs. Last year, I never saw the ducklings, who are often brought down the creek to swim and feed behind our house where the creek ponds. But during dinner a week ago, there they were—twelve ducklings and their mom, scraping the rocks for food with their bills and swimming. I quietly went down the steps of the deck and got as close as I could without scaring them off. The mom quacked some orders as they moved back up the creek. None of the chicks strayed far, and they marched up the creek like they were playing follow the leader. They were in fact, following the leader—the mom—and doing what she did. It gave me great joy to witness their evening outing.
The next evening, my Daughter and I were in the kitchen and I glimpsed up the creek, a tan flash of something running. We ran to the sliding glass door and watched a doe run down the common land. A hundred paces behind came a second doe following the first. We have seen deer before here, but this is more of a rare occurrence. Witnessing these kinds of events in nature, which may be more plentiful as we enter summer, gives us the opportunity to experience both a lift in our self-esteem and a corrective to our pride.
I love being reminded that the ducks are not trying to be anything but ducks. They are not wishing they were swans; they are not attempting to behave like geese, frogs or cardinals. The doe is not trying to run like cheetah; it does not pine to be an antelope, a buffalo or squirrel. They don’t wonder if these other creatures are better than they are. They are simply and completely themselves and behave just like they were created to. This simple observation helps me when I go through times of feeling that I am not good enough, smart enough, talented enough – or whatever it is that causes me to question my inherent worth and value as a child of God. Through nature, we are reminded to be completely ourselves—not comparing ourselves to others, or wishing or thinking we should be different than we are. God made us each the way he desired and our task is to become more fully and completely ourselves as ones made in God’s image and shaped by God’s will.
Observing nature also gives us a corrective at the other end of the spectrum—with pridefulness—when we think we are better than everyone else, indispensable or we are puffed up with our own importance. The ducks and the deer are important, but they are not the be all and end all of creation. They are part of the “circle of life” as we all were reminded in Disney’s movie, The Lion King. Each creature is essential, but they are not everything. Every part is needed for a harmonious balance, but they cannot create this balance on their own. The same is true for us. When I become full of pride, I take a walk along the creek to be reminded that I am only a part –an important part, yes, but only a part of much bigger communities—in my family, my neighborhood, my work, my colleagues, my larger church community. We are essential, but none of us is everything—none of can do everything, be everything, control everything, balance everything. Just like each part of nature, we have a place and a part.
This humility is also important when watching how ducks, deer and other creatures follow the leader. Sometimes and in certain settings, we are the leader. Other situations call us to follow. As a parent, I am mindful that children follow us; they do and say what we do and say; and younger children say and do what older siblings do and say, as well. Sometimes I am a good role model; others times I flunk—I can tell when I have flunked by what comes out of my children’s mouths. I pray that more often than not, I can be like that mother duck and quack out the right, helpful and good thing to say to help them and other children learn.
Spiritual lessons abound when we pay attention to nature. This summer, may you be blessed with many experiences of God’s creation, and with the wonderful lessons that nature has to teach us.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Here's the post I started last week, but didn't finish until now, due to my son's concussion -

A week ago I attended a conference on the Sacred Art of Hospitality based on the book,Hospitality~the Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome by The Rev. Nanette Sawyer (purchase at: It really gave us the basis for all of our relationships as well as mission and ministry. Nanette pushes us to see hospitality not in terms of setting a pretty table or hosting dinner parties, although it could very well include these. Hospitality is the quality of one's inner spirit and how this creates an openness and welcome in all our relationships which can lead to the transformation of our self and others.

Transformative spiritual hospitality is rooted in three qualities: receptivity, reverence and generosity that reflect a basic pattern of movement: in-with-out. We can engage in each of these stages with methods of awareness, acceptance and action. A chart helped us:

Inner Spirit: Receptivity Reverence Generosity

Movement: In With Out

Method: Awareness Acceptance Action

(sorry I couldn't figure out how to do the spacing in a chart form--it kept changing once I posted it!)

Receptivity has to do with preparing our inner state to be able to invite others in to our lives, hearts and sometimes, our homes. We explored this spiritual approach in being not only receptive to God’s welcome of us, but also our willingness to be hospitable to ourselves. Like other spiritual disciplines, true hospitality begins with our relationship with God and our ability to care for and love ourselves, so that we might be open to others and able to care for them out of our own spiritual center. The method for this stage is awareness—awareness of the sacred in and around us, awareness of ourselves, awareness of our needs and a willingness for self-care.

Reverence is the state of being with others—honoring and welcoming them. Reverence involves acceptance of others as they are, but it also goes deeper than that. It moves us to see and honor the presence of God in each created being—humans as well as the creation. Being with others in a hospitable and reverent way, means giving up trying to control them, letting go of specific outcomes and not judging them. It also means letting go of the dualism of comparison—that we are better/worse than others or they are better/worse than us. Instead we identify with them, in our common humanity, in the presence of God that exists within each one of us. Rev. Sawyer challenges us to practice this with our families on a daily basis, with neighbors, with strangers and even with enemies who may wish us harm.

Finally, hospitality involves generosity—a flowing out in physical, emotional and spiritual care of others. This involves action of some kind—whether it is regularly inviting people into your home, caring for a sick friend, making intentional conversation, making eye contact and smiling to strangers, practicing non-retaliation in conflict, or making green choices to be hospitable to creation--a crucial part of hospitality is outward action motivated by compassion and openness to new experience. In class we were able to practice spiritual meditations that moved us toward this deeper hospitality.

A great blessing of this conference was that it embodied the topic by its structure! The conference was held on a cruise ship out of Miami that made 3 stops in the Bahamas. It created an environment where could engage in hospitality at all levels-- "re-creation" with God through rest and renewal which deepened our hospitality to God and ourselves; opportunities to learn new people, places and cultures (a friend and I went to a Botanical Garden in Freeport that included a history lesson and a prayer labyrinth in a healing garden) enabling us to grow in our reverence for others; and finally the opportunity to reach outward in generosity--strangers on the ship and with one another as we built a new community of support as ecumenical women clergy and Christian educators. This redefined for me, an understanding of hospitality as the core of our inner spiritual life, our relationships and our outward mission.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Concussion or Divine Intervention?

I was in the middle of writing a new post last week about the study leave Cruise I went on the week before - and then Son #1 got a bad concussion playing volleyball. Someone spiked it and it hit him square in the ear -- who knew how dangerous volleyball could be? A sprained ankle and now this. He had enough alarming symptoms that the nurse taking the after-hours calls said we needed to call the paramedics. He barely remembers going to the hospital in an ambulance, but he does remember his younger brother offering to get him a glass of water. He never got his glass of water because the paramedics arrived and said he could not have anything to eat or drink. About every 10 minutes for the next 24 hours Son #1 asked if Son #2 was bringing him a glass of water! We were all so relieved when Son #2 came home from school the next day and brought him a glass of water--several in fact. No glass of water ever tasted so good.

The brain is an amazing wonder--it does everything we need it to without giving it a second thought--but jolt it up against the skull and it all goes haywire. We were mildly freaking out since Son #1 was displaying symptoms that my in-laws did before they died --one from a brain tumor and one from dementia. The similarities were scary and a reminder that all of us are close at any moment, to losing our right mind for any number of reasons.

It also made plain what Martin Luther called "testing the spirits". Son #1 was convinced that God told him to change his name to "Steve". When asked what God's voice sounded like, he said, "Morgan Freeman." Good answer! But when he returned to his right mind (his ct scan was clear and it took rest and time), he couldn't figure out who Steve was and didn't remember this supposed divine intervention. Although we laugh at it now, it does remind me that we do need to test the spirits--when someone is being led by God in a certain decision or behavior, is there an affirmation coming from someone else as well? I am reminded how easy it is to not be in our right mind. How do we clear our mind to hear the Spirit leading and guiding us? For starters, I am sitting further away at future games involving any type of ball.