Category Archives: spirituality
I’ve been writing this blog in my head all week. I just can’t seem to find a theme I can stick with for more than a paragraph or two. Or, if I’m honest with myself, a sentence or two.
Regular readers will know a friend of mine passed away and her memorial service was this last weekend. I’m in the second or third tier of mourners. Tier one – the decision makers and those truly being overwhelmed with waves of grief. Tier two – the organizers. The ones asking the decision makers what they want and striving to make it happen. The people whose grief makes them prickly, rude, short-tempered, unclear and perfectly sure they have everything in line because keeping things in line is how they cope. Tier three – the support system for the first two tiers. The listeners. The worker bees. The one’s who are distant enough to put off their mourning until it’s convenient (at least a little more effectively).
Having the memorial made it real. That’s part of the point of course. Being gifted some mementos makes it real and personal (which it has always been, but denial is so convenient). Having nothing left to “get done” means there is no longer an excuse to put off the emotional response.
I’m sure the death certificate doesn’t say my friend died of cancer. But it is certainly the undiagnosed and untreated cancer that caused the heart failure.
I’m grateful my friend didn’t die alone at home, but had people around her who cared about her.
I’m grateful my friend went quickly, all at once, rather than having to slowly and painfully waste away.
I’m grateful her very elderly mother dared to get on a plane and put herself in the hands of a community of her daughter’s friends whom she had never met.
I’m grateful for the presence of people who spoke about areas of my friend’s life that I wasn’t privy to.
I’m angry that a cancer that large and impactful goes undiagnosed for so long. I’m angry that the complaints of a large woman (both exceptionally tall and not willowy) are dismissed by our medical community as always being about weight. I’m upset that no matter how good the insurance you’ve got, unless you know what to ask for medicine is practiced according to the insurance company guidelines rather than actual medical need.
I had breakfast today at Gilda’s Club. It’s a sort of monthly social event. At Gilda’s I am surrounded by people living with cancer, many of whom know they have no hope of a cure. I am always buoyed up by the spirit of care and acceptance. I am reminded that there is pain and sorrow, but also hope and joy.
I’m putting one foot in front of the other. Step by step.
I love this time of year. I like the cooler weather. I like wearing sweaters. I like the light and the colors in the leaves. Fall harvest has me making soups and baking.
I struggle at this time of year. I have serious mold and dust allergies that always gets worse until we have a good hard freeze. The temperature swings (I live in Minnesota. It can be 35F one day and 80F the next) are tough to navigate. I cherish the sunshine and dread the days getting noticeably shorter.
There is so much to do at this time of year. I need to bring in the plants and repot. I need to get ready for Halloween (both trick or treat and the Sabbat). I need to swap my closet and bedding over to the winter wear. All I want to do is curl up in a blanket with a good book and a warm beverage, or maybe take an outing to the movies.
There’s also the food issue. My body wants to eat more. I’m not hungry, as the post-bariatric pouch won’t allow that. It’s not even head hungry. It’s more like hunger in the bones. My genetics expect a winter and have kicked into survival mode. I can tell I’m not getting enough protein, even though my diet hasn’t really changed. It’s another push and pull.
This year it seems I’m especially aware of the paradox of the season. As I struggle with balance in my own life I become more alert to the push and pull around me. I recognize that I can allow any of these things to buffet and batter me, throwing me off course. I can also simply acknowledge them and let them wash over me. There is a peace in simply appreciating the variety of moods the season brings.
So I do small things. I get apples and squashes for baking and decorating. I tidy the house. I pick up a few things in the yard as I walk by. I’m playing the grasshopper, not the ant. I’m not ready for winter. I am simply trying to be present in each day.
This weekend I had the honor and privilege to officiate a wedding. The best part was that the bride was one of the girls my daughter grew up with. It is a joy to see them “all grown up” and functioning in the world as strong, competent women.
We were lucky to live in a neighborhood with natural boundaries. Many of the residents grew up here and came back to live in their parent’s homes. There were a lot of kids my daughter’s age, and she knew them all. Because of the natural boundaries my daughters childhood was a lot more like mine than many of her peers. The kids ran freely through the neighborhood all summer long. They were back and forth between houses, cutting through yards and “exploring” in the overgrown “woods”.
The girls formed close ties, and maintained them into their adulthood. The one whose family moved away came back for the wedding. The one who is a little less socially inclined drove in to town. The one who got married first (at the Justice of the Peace) found a sitter for the baby so she could party with the gang. This was an EVENT, not to be missed.
The bride was determined to have a great party. As the maid of honor, my daughter was very involved, so I’ve been hearing stories since the date was chosen. The bride invited people to come in costume. She had her dress specially made to her specifications and assigned each bridesmaid a color/character. She kept the guest list under 100, just the right people. She was also pretty serious about the marriage thing.
I take the responsibilities of being a minister seriously. Vows are a big deal for me and the words spoken in sacred space carry weight. I had several conversations with the couple, not just about what they wanted in a wedding, but about their expectations of a marriage. I made sure they knew what they were going to promise before they had to stand up and make those promises.
I haven’t performed a lot of weddings, but I’ve done more than a few. The thing is when I get asked it’s usually because the couple’s beliefs don’t quite fit into a standard religious framework. They want a ceremony, a ritual, a rite of passage. They don’t want a church, or a synagogue or a stranger. I’ve had a bride and groom hand me a ritual they wrote and ask me to do it. I’ve had a Wiccan wedding in my tradition’s circle. I wrote two for myself. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to do something that is open enough for the couple but that won’t offend the more traditional family.
It was a rite of passage for them, but it was also a rite of passage for me. These are the girls I watched grow up now building lives of their own. The officiant at a wedding blesses the union and then sends the couple on their way. That’s what the Moms (and in the bride’s case her Dad) are doing as well.
I’ve been listening to some of my friends talk about the notion of acknowledging “Today was a good day”. It’s something that one of them noticed in a series about living in Alaska. People, who are essentially living on the edge of subsistence, finish up their day with that little affirmation, “Today was a good day.”
We speculated about whether this is an Alaska thing. I suggested it might just be something that shifts when you’re living on the edge. I equated it to the Native American “Today is a good day to die.”
My friends are using this affirmation to see if it shifts their world view. They think it does. It changes the way they approach their days. It started me thinking about what makes a day a good day.
I’ve certainly had days where if I managed to get dressed or showered that was a good day. I’ve had days where just being alive at the end of the day meant it was a good day. I’ve had days where I’ve gotten all kinds of things accomplished be a good day. I’ve had days where I’ve been of service be a good day.
It’s interesting to me that there isn’t any kind of personal standard for a good day. I like that. I like that there is room for a good day no matter what kind of shape I might be in. I like that I can have a good day just taking care of me as well as having a good day helping out someone else.
In thinking about a good day there is something that does stand out for me. A good day is active rather than passive. I don’t mean that there needs to be a lot of activity. I can have a good day curled up reading. But there is a big difference between choosing to spend the day reading and sitting down for a break and having the day disappear.
There’s something about a good day that requires attention being paid to the day. A good day demands engagement at some level. Perhaps that is the change my friends are observing. By using the affirmation they find themselves paying more attention to their days. Being more appreciative, living in gratitude for each day, is certainly a positive life change.
Maybe I’ll give this good day thing a try.
Routines, we all have them. From the little rituals that get us going in the morning to the major cleaning, exercising, and vacation planning our routines help us get things done. The problem is that we can be assured that our routines will, at some point, be disrupted.
Disruptions come in many forms. An illness or injury can throw routines into a jumble. Taking a trip or having guests will put pressure on our schedules. Even something as simple as a change in the weather, or season, can throw a routine into chaos.
I feel as though I’ve been living in the land of disrupted routines. Even when I think I have a handle on it something else seems to rear its ugly head and throw me off my balance. I’ve been out of town (and not in a restful, renewing or inspiring way). I’ve been dealing with allergies (spring is early this year). I’m back into the remodeling project and even just planning has me throwing my hands in the air screaming.
I’ve missed two weeks of blogging. The first week I new I was likely to miss. Out of town and no internet handy it was unlikely I would get to it and didn’t make it a priority. The second week I was still reeling from the effects of having my routines disrupted, again and again.
I talk about Daily Practice a lot. Although Daily Practice can be part of the routine, I make a distinction for it. Daily Practice, for me, is a small action with a big impact. When I take up a Daily Practice it becomes a top priority, a commitment. Daily Practice requires an attention, and often an attitude shift.
In the crazy of my world, with my routines all a jumble, I hold on to my Daily Practice like a lifeline. I may not be as efficient, or effective, but I still do it. I may not manage to get it done in it’s “normal” timeframe, but I still do it. I may start with “oh shit, I have to do that.” but I do it.
This is one of the many reasons for taking up Daily Practice. Those small things can keep us going when we are physically, emotionally, and mentally out of sorts. They become a foundation from which we can build a new routine. They are a simple constant in an ever changing complex world.
It’s cold and it’s dark. Thanksgiving was late, so it feels like the other holidays are coming early. I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit – for any of the holidays. Yule is fast approaching. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, is this week. All I want to do is crawl under the covers.
Maybe it’s the politics. Maybe it’s the news stories. Maybe it’s just a general sense that certain people feel like they now have permission to be rude, racist, misogynistic and all together nasty. It definitely feels like the longest night.
The thing is, most of the winter holidays are celebrations of hope. They are a coming together of families, of communities. Many of them are directly linked to survival, either as an acknowledgement of the ancestors surviving or as a sacred working towards surviving the rest of the winter.
Both Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrate the faith, perseverance and fortitude of ancestors in the face of insurmountable odds. Even the Christmas story has Mary and Joseph finding shelter where there was none to be had. If our ancestors beat the odds, so can we. We have their support, their example, and when our own faith wains we can lean on theirs.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, without some of the “corrections” in the Jewish calendar that keep festivals seasonal. Currently Muslims are also celebrating the birth of the prophet, not Jesus but Mohammad. Along with the longest night comes the birth of the sun. In Christianity the savior is born. There is hope in the metaphor of birth. There is potential for something better to come along. There is a new way of approaching the world being born.
During the longest night people came together to share stories. Like Hans Christian Anderson’s the Little Match Girl they create visions of the futures they wanted to see. Dreams of sugarplums dance in their heads. They’re visited by ghosts, ancestors, departed friends, spirits with teaching visions. Hearth fires are tended, and gifts are exchanged.
In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi it is the wise (or foolish) sacrifice that is a gift of love. Yet some of the pressure of our season is that consumer culture that measures how much or how many above how thoughtful, how generous. Finding the “right” gifts, or making them, is often how I come to the spirit of this season. And again, this year that has been more difficult.
I’m finding more seasonal joy in sharing a protein bar with a homeless man on the street corner than in exchanging packages. I’m finding more seasonal joy in being able to encourage a teen I’m driving to school than in writing a holiday letter. I had more fun shopping for my women’s group ritual (where the presents represented themes rather than being for specific people) than I had baking for the family.
I’m hoping for the hope. I’m leaning heavily on tradition to see me through. I’m going through the motions, believing that movement brings movement. I am reminded of being 9 months pregnant, miserable, impatient and not really knowing what the future would bring.
Let the bells ring out. May joy and peace be shared with all. May love and kindness fill the world and vanquish cruelty and hatred. May you all have a blessed holiday season.
Previous blogs about Yuletide:
Gratitude is difficult when the world seems to be falling down around our heads. It is difficult to find gratitude in crisis. It is difficult to find gratitude when we feel threatened. It is difficult to find gratitude under stress. But it is especially during these challenges when we need gratitude the most.
Practicing gratitude is uplifting. Even seeing people who seem to have less than we do being grateful can be inspiring. Knowing what we have to be grateful for is like finding a lifeline in a troubled sea. When we most need something to hang on to, an active practice of gratitude gives us just that.
Thanksgiving is a highly charged holiday. There are the family dynamics. Mixed families, blended families, new relationships create conflict over who gets to be with who when. There is finding table talk that doesn’t push buttons, make judgements, and generate huge arguments. There is the food both, expectations and execution, and issues of tradition versus lifestyle.
Thanksgiving is also highly charged politically. Not just with the family table, but the actual nature of the holiday itself. What we celebrate is the coming together of the European settlers and the Native Americans. The reality of that relationship is not nearly as peaceful or generous. Even now at Standing Rock Native Americans on their land with their supporters are being treated in ways that have the United Nations, the ACLU, and Amnesty International making statements against our government’s actions.
I am reminded again about the power of gratitude, and so I write reminding you. Let’s all take a moment, many moments, this week and dig deep into the things we do have to be grateful for.
I am grateful for all the people who work peacefully and diligently to preserve my civil rights, my breathable air, and my drinkable water.
I am grateful for all the people who work to ensure I have good, healthy food available to me especially all winter long.
I am grateful for all the people who are actively kind to others, who help those in need, who work with populations (in prisons, the mentally ill, impoverished families etc.) that I am not equipped to help.
I am grateful for the small opportunities I have to do my part to bring kindness, and caring, and loving support into the world.
I am grateful for the support I receive (from family, friends and strangers) just to be able to function in this world.
I am grateful to have a platform and readers who support my work. – Thank you!
What are you grateful for?
Orion and I got home late last night and I have photos to sort through this morning. So a late posted blog because I have to tell you what we’ve been up to.
We took a weekend trip out to the pink rock country. We visited Pipestone and Sioux Falls. As you know this year my women’s group each adopted a diorama from the Bell Museum. One of those diorama’s was of Pipestone.
Our adventure began by stepping into the diorama.
The tall grass prairie is in bloom at this time of year. Several of the exhibits at the National Park talk about the herbology of the Native Americans in the area. This is buffalo country, but the only one’s we saw were statues.
The Sioux Quartzite formations are very dramatic. They are full of fissures and faces. Towering above us they still embrace us, like sitting in a circle of elders.
This site is sacred to many different tribal nations, and that sacred ground is very apparent. Walking under the cliffs has the feel of being in a cathedral. The stones sing, as does the river that runs through the site.
Only registered Native Americans from tribes that historically mined the area are allowed to quarry the pipestone. They still do it by hand, with respect to the land. The quarries sometimes collapse or fill with water. There are families who spend years coming out to Pipestone to reclaim quarries that have fallen. Tending these sites is like a gift to the ancestors and descendants. It is sacred work.
We got to talk with some of the pipestone carvers, who work doing demonstrations at the Information Center. Carving is also a generational skill. Travis Erickson has been carving most of his life. He also saves the pipestone dust from his carving and makes a resin in which he embeds sacred herbs (like flat cedar). He turns these into amulets also for sale at the museum shop.
We spent the night at Palisades State Park in South Dakota. Our hostess reserved cabins so we didn’t have too much haul and carry. The cabins were not “accessible” but manageable and comfortable, especially since I had help. We had perfect weather, a late night watching the Perseid meteor shower, and breakfast on the cabin deck. Orion and I didn’t go walking through the park (except the hike to the bathrooms) but some of my friends did and judging from their stories there are some wonderful spots.
Sunday we spent in Sioux Falls. We went visiting family (not mine, but it’s always fun to meet my friend’s parents) and gawking about town. Apparently Pokemon Go functions as a guidebook to interesting sites. We found many in Sioux Falls, and made a point to visit a few. We went to see some of the sculptures on the Augustana College campus. We drove down the sculpture walk and of course spent some time at the falls.
Sioux Falls runs over pink rock, but here it’s not pipestone but quartzite. The falls powered a mill early in the development of the city. The ruins (it burned down) form some of the park structure. Again, we couldn’t have asked for a prettier Sunday afternoon. Of course the park was full of people and I wasn’t getting the wheelchair out climbing on the rocks. We did find a spot where we could stand in the spray of the falls and that was refreshing.
It’s been a whirlwind of a weekend and it may take me a bit to come back into my regular routine. Paganicon happened, which was fun and exciting. I did a presentation on Friday. It was well attended and I got some very positive feedback. I have to think it went well.
I spent plenty of time socializing on Friday. This is a local convention, but it’s getting some buzz on the National scale. Some of the guests and folks coming in from out-of-town are good friends. It’s always nice to have the opportunity to touch base in person with those long distance relationships.
Saturday was our political district convention. Both Orion and I were delegates. This year Orion is excited about politics and I’m feeling fit enough to make it possible for him to participate at this level. We struggle with accessibility in these venues. On caucus night it was the crowds. For the district convention it was the convention set up itself.
The building this district historically uses for its convention is technically ADA accessible. There is a ramp and an elevator. There are handicapped stalls in the bathrooms. However the signage is horrible.
To make matters worse the convention was in the auditorium. You may know most auditorium seating has a small designated area to accommodate wheelchairs. Depending on the auditorium they may or may not have seating near them for companions. But at a political convention the rules require that delegates sit in their precincts – not in the special seats on the other side of the room.
We found a spot in a little used aisle. Little used because the door to that aisle was locked the entire day. Every time we left we had to get someone to go around and let us back in. The lighting was horrible. I had eye fatigue and a burgeoning headache from trying to read the amendments. Orion is legally blind. He can read, but he needs good lighting. I drained my cell phone battery using the flashlight.
In spite of being worn out we swung by Paganicon after the political convention. It gave Orion a chance to visit with some of his friends. He picked up a beautiful drum that he’s enjoying. Orion has an inherent sense of rhythm and perfect pitch.
Sunday morning I was back at Paganicon to do a book signing. It went pretty well for me after one of the organizers kindly found me a decent cup of coffee to get me through. I spent the afternoon actually attending the convention, going to workshops and participating in rituals.
It was a good weekend. I couldn’t have done so much, and at that pace, 3 years ago. I am so grateful to be able to do these kinds of things again, and to be able to do them with Orion in tow.
I was talking about my bariatric surgery and the outcomes with some folks I hadn’t seen for awhile. These are people who have been in that internal debate about their own weight issues. I said that I think part of my success is because I’m not focused on the weight or the numbers as much as I’m focused on the things I can do.
I can get down on the floor and up again. I can go up and down the stairs. I can walk from one end of the convention to the other and not sit down. I can stand for my entire presentation and still manage to pack my stuff up when I’m done. Gratitude keeps me on track. Excitement about what I can do keeps me pushing to do more.