Monday, December 19, 2011

Simplicity in Twelve Months

Just went shopping for a 2012 calendar for my office. I thumbed through a stack of them in a bin at my local bookstore, searching for a size that would fit in a small space of wall over my desk and with images that would soothe or inspire me. About midway in the pile, I found “Simplicity—Inspirations for a Simpler Life.”  This is the one, I thought as I looked at Deborah DeWit’s color photograph of a vacant floating dock mirrored in a placid lake in foggy morning light.  Inside, more images of simple scenes mark each month—a wire basket filled with golden apples; weathered cedar chairs overlooking a bay; a faded red wooden door slightly ajar. 

It’s not as though I need the photographs in this calendar to recognize the beauty of simplicity. Reminders are all around me if I only pause to take them in—the sunrise pinking the sky and the bay that reflects it; a dew-glittered spider’s web spun on the garden fence; an eagle crouched at the edge of a wetland; the curl of peeled bark on a bent elbow of a Madrona trunk. 

But it’s the calendar’s empty squares for the days of the coming year that speak to me of simplicity. Flipping through the pages, I wonder if the juxtaposition of these tranquil scenes with the sharply defined boxes of the days will help me preserve the expansiveness that the beginning of a new year offers. How can I hold the conflicting states of being and doing?

This is not a new dilemma for me, nor is it uniquely mine alone. My Quaker faith lists simplicity among the values to be upheld along with peace, equality, and integrity. The first generation of Friends in the late 1600s stripped away anything that seemed to get in the way of living life from a holy center. In daily life, they detached from superfluities of dress, speech, and possessions that got in the way of loving and serving God. In worship, they did away with priests, believing that no intermediary is necessary to encounter the Divine.

Henry David Thoreau urged from Walden Pond in 1854, “…let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…simplify, simplify, simplify.” And in the 21st Century, essayist Scott Russell Sanders yearns, “to pare my life down to essentials. I vow to live more simply…by refusing all chores that do not arise from my central concerns.”

There’s always more paring down I could do—my bookshelves sag, I have enough earrings that I could wear a different set every day for two months, colorful scarves and shawls crowd a dresser drawer, and the closet doors bulge with the press of boxes of no longer used items.  As a new year approaches, though, where I need pruning most is on activities not focused on my own central concerns—family, community, peace, writing.

There, I’ve distilled what calls to me down to four words.

My daily challenge is to not fill each inch of the calendar blocks with tasks, for even just those four concerns can place demands on every minute. They offer ample opportunities for me to feel inadequate, to judge whether I’m doing enough, and to conclude that I’m not. Living a simple life is less about time management and more about listening and responding daily to the promptings of the Spirit rather than ego’s siren call to achieve.

This is my spiritual task in the coming year:  to preserve more of the white space on my calendar. How nice to discover that 2012 gives me an extra day to practice this discipline—my new calendar shows 29 days in February.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meeting for Worship for Apple Pressing

I appreciate Quakerism’s absence of rituals—an appreciation born from many years in the Lutheran Church, kneeling on command, singing hymns someone else chose, reciting a creed I didn’t understand, and daydreaming through mumbled invitations to communion.  We unprogrammed Quakers, with our hour of silent worship broken occasionally, and briefly, by someone moved to speak, limit our rituals to handshakes at the end of meeting and announcements about upcoming committee meetings or protests or potlucks to raise funds for one good cause or another.

My Quaker Meeting (still a Preparative Meeting as we discern whether we’re ready to be a full Monthly Meeting) has a history of not accepting even the few standard forms that most Quaker meetings adhere to today. For example, rather than a Nominating Committee, we formed a Gifts and Talents Committee to identify which members are best suited (have gifts and talents) for the various roles that keep the Meeting going.  Instead of a Worship and Ministry Committee, we have a small group of people who attend to our Meeting’s Spiritual Life. And for those who encounter the Divine in music, we’ve designated our worship hour on the last Sunday of the month as Singing Sunday.

So, it’s no surprise that at the end of October we had a “Meeting for Worship for Apple Pressing.” No one remembers for sure if this was the third or fourth or fifth such event, but we know how it began. One fall, one of our members, an arborist, reported he’d noticed apple trees around the island that weren’t being harvested.  He offered to contact the owners (many of whom he knew because he’d pruned their trees) and to lend his wooden cider press if we wanted to glean apples and make juice to share. This year, eighteen of us worshipped together in this way again, putting the Quaker testimony of community into action—and possibly furthering the causes of peace, simplicity, and equality as well.

At the close of worship the week before the pressing, half a dozen of us had gathered in the orchard next to the home where we meet. Sun warmed the cool fall afternoon, and the scent of sweet, ripe apples wafted through the trees’ brittle, twisted branches. Although our arborist couldn’t identify the varieties we were harvesting, he was able to chase away the resident bull who pawed and snorted his displeasure that we’d invaded his cow-pile-littered turf.

The last Sunday of October, we worshipped in silence for 15 minutes, and then adjourned to the barn. Boxes bulged with the mystery apples from the neighbor’s orchard as well as Galas, Akanes, and Liberties from members’ trees. Under drizzly skies, we set up an assembly line of washing, disinfecting, cutting, pressing, and pouring.

Just like at quilting bees of earlier times, stories flowed while hands worked. 
Memories of younger days, updates about children and grandchildren, words of support to a woman with an ailing husband, and reports of recent and future travels circulated among us, adding to the story of our little group of seekers. Fresh scones, apple bread, hot tea, and coffee sustained us, followed by sips of the spicy, caramel-colored nectar that poured from the apples under the weight of the press.

Two hours later, our efforts had yielded over twenty gallons of juice divided up among all those who helped, with some left for the couple who had let us glean from their trees as well as for the residents of our community’s assisted living home.


Meeting for Worship for Apple Pressing - it just might turn into a Quaker ritual.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Do We Worship?

My husband and I take a right at the driveway marked by a light blue sandwich board sign:

We enter the living room of the farmhouse where our Meeting gathers every Sunday for worship. I settle into a straight-backed chair softened with an ivory sheepskin, close my eyes, place my feet flat on the floor, rest my open palms in my lap, and breathe in and out deeply. The woodstove crackles and hisses, the electric tea kettle in the kitchen clicks off, friends shuffle in and find spots on the couch and chairs arranged in a circle. Meeting for Worship has begun.

Why, as a friend new to Quakerism recently asked, is it called Worship? She wasn’t asking how we worship, but rather, who/what it is that Quakers worship. I’ve wondered that, too, and didn’t have an immediate answer. 

The sitting in silence of an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting for Worship bears little resemblance to the liturgy, hymn singing, and communion of the Lutheran worship services I grew up in. To prepare for confirmation when I was twelve, I learned the meaning of the Lutheran order of service. Many parts of that service were designed specifically to praise and honor God.

I’m no scholar on Quakerism, but in my own study of this faith tradition, I’ve not found an explanation of how the word worship came to be used to name our coming together in silence (perhaps others reading this blog know this history and can share it with me).  I suspect that early Quakers were comfortable with use of the word that typically describes reverence and praise for a deity. But for my friend and me, and many others I know who attend Meeting for Worship, something else is going on during that hour of silence.

My North Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice describes Meeting for Worship as the heart of the life of the Religious Society of Friends, a time that “calls for us to offer ourselves, body, mind, and soul for the doing of God’s will.” William Taber suggests in Four Doors to Meeting for Worship that worship is a “…reality which has always been there from the beginning of time, waiting for us to join it… an invisible stream into which we can step at any time…communion with this invisible stream.” British Friend Ben Pink Dandelion shares a similar view in Celebrating the Quaker Way and finds worship a time “to concentrate on what is alongside us at all times…to a deeply felt but easily reached place of holy relationship.”

Those terms, communion and holy relationship, speak to me of my experience of worship, whether at the farmhouse on Sunday morning, in the rocking chair in my bedroom, or on a windswept bluff at Iceberg Point here on Lopez Island. Worship for me is a time of quieting my planning, thinking, and worrying. It’s an emptying and an opening to the Divine that I too often forget to tap into in my daily life. The outward quiet supports me to connect, or commune, with the Presence that I call God.

On Sunday mornings, as I notice soft inhalations and exhalations, hear chairs creak and feet rustle, I know that others are with me on this journey. At its best, the silence of worship deepens and we become aware that we have entered that invisible stream together, reminded that it’s always there, always ready to be stepped into. That is something to revere and praise.

Some resources on Quaker Worship:

Four Doors to Meeting for Worship, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 306, by William Taber, Pendle Hill Bookstore
Celebrating the Quaker Way by Ben Pink Dandelion, Friends General Conference Bookstore
“What If Quaker Worship Came with Instructions?” by Liz Oppenheimer,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Naming the Un-Nameable

I’ve been trying to name the un-nameable in my writing lately.  I’m on draft seven of the prologue to my memoir, and critiques from classmates and my teacher called for more specifics about my spiritual journey. In a revision, I wrote about being in the mountains and having a “sense of a spiritual presence.”

My teacher replied that she tripped on that phrase.  She went on, “Makes me wonder why you don't say ‘God.’  I wonder if it would work better to either say ‘God’ or somehow add a little phrase of explanation for why you don't.  A tall order, I realize.”

So, this week, I’ve been writing my way through to the words that explain my experience of the Divine. Sometimes I call it Spirit. Sometimes I use the word Presence. Often I don’t capitalize. I write about an essence or of wisdom or a sense of being held and loved. But I still hesitate to write “God” to name what is at the center of my life. That three-letter word carries meanings that no longer fit for me.

I long ago outgrew the images of God I learned as a child. God as a man with flowing white hair and beard. God as judge. God as the all-knowing master puppeteer of every person’s actions, decisions, and journey. God controlling the wind, the rain, the mountains and seas. God with all the answers.

My experience of God has very little to do with answers. One of the things I treasure about Quakerism is the understanding that God’s way continues to unfold, that new light can shine onto changed understandings. I suspect God is as bewildered and distressed as I am at much of what happens in the world. The God I believe in doesn’t have answers to why young people get cancer, why earthquakes and hurricanes and wildfires and planes crashing into buildings kill thousands of people, why marriages fall apart, or why crops fail and people starve. 

I also don’t think God makes any of those things happen any more than God helps someone pick the winning lottery numbers, get elected or get cured. But my lack of belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing God doesn’t stop me from praying for peace, for healing, for wisdom, for courage.  To whom or what am I praying?  I do believe there is something outside of me, beyond me, and within me, within all of us, always, that knows us and loves us unconditionally. This something is so much more than a person, a man, a human-like entity. It’s more felt than seen, although I find ample evidence of that presence in the faces of children and old people, in the sunrise pinking the sky, in hands extended in aid and friendship.

Perhaps it’s time for me to let go of my fears that readers will bring their own meanings to my words as I write of my spiritual journey.  Don’t we all do that when we hear stories of others’ experiences? Aren’t those stories openings into our own? Perhaps my writing task is to show my journey toward that essence, that presence, that spirit, that I know as God. Readers will find the names that fit for them.

 ~    ~    ~    ~

Note: Enlivened by the Mystery (Friends Bulletin Company, 2009) includes an essay about my spiritual journey; a draft of the first chapter of my memoir is in the Summer issue of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Cost of War

I heard a story recently about a woman, Jackie, who was an Army nurse in Iraq. She told her story to Brian Doyle, editor of Portland Magazine (Boots). Or rather, Brian caught Jackie’s story and then told it to his co-workers, his readers, probably his wife and kids, and to me and a bunch of other writing students in my MFA program. And now I want to tell you something that Jackie’s story taught me.

Jackie turned 27 this summer. Until recently, she was known as Lieutenant, and she was in Kirkuk. Now she lives near a beach and has a dog. I do, too—live near a beach and have a dog. But I’ve never been a Lieutenant, never been to Kirkuk, and I don’t know anyone else who has either.  I’m so opposed to this war, to any war, that I avoid talking to anyone who is involved. That’s not hard to do in my small, rural community. We’re a peace-loving clan, I can count on one hand the number of young people who’ve joined the military during the 15 years I’ve lived here, and there are limited jobs here for someone looking for work after leaving the military.

Brian cried as he read Jackie’s story, and I cried as I listened. I’ve cried every time I’ve read it silently to myself or out loud to others. Her story is simple and eloquent about the costs of war for her­—the emotional toll of being surrounded by fear, killing, and loss.

Like many Americans, I’ve spent time in these early days of September reflecting on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath during this past decade.  As a nation, we’ve paid dearly for responding to violence with more violence, and there are big numbers to prove it. The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to quantify the domestic and international costs of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Their analysis ( yields staggering figures including an estimated $3.2 to 4 trillion spent, the deaths of more than 6,000 American soldiers and nearly 100,000 wounded, and at least 137,000 civilians killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. James Dao reported more stinging statistics about the current wars in the New York Times on Sept. 6 (They Signed Up to Fight): “More than two million sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. One in five returning with post-traumatic stress, major depression or traumatic brain injury. More than 1,000 missing a limb.” 

I can’t comprehend numbers like this, but now I know that a woman named Jackie is one of the people included in them. So are identical twin brothers Ivan and Christian Bengsten, Bonnie Velez, Joel Almandinger, and others named in Dao’s story. I followed the link in Dao’s article for traumatic brain injury and read even more heartbreaking histories, like the one about Sergeant Shurvon Phillips and his long-term brain damage following exposure to neck-snapping, head-shaking mine explosions in Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2005.

There are at least three military bases within a couple hundred miles of where I live, and it’s a rare week that Navy jets don’t do training flights over the south end of my island. There probably are lots of Jackies not that far away. Her story led me to look beyond the numbers and beyond the anonymous people at the controls of the fighter planes practicing in the skies over my home. Her story also fortified my commitment to nonviolence and an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I know of no easy path to peace, though I’m clear that war is not the answer. Most of the time I feel that my letter writing to Congress and President Obama is futile, but I keep doing it (Friends Committee on National Legislation continues to be a place I can add my voice to influence U.S. foreign policy). Since hearing Jackie’s story, I’ve also committed to hold her in the Light, a Quaker practice some people think of as intercessory prayer or of joining with God’s constant love for a person. Compared to the costs to Jackie and thousands of others, it doesn’t seem like much. Yet even though I don’t understand it, I do believe that such holding is a powerful act, and I’ll keep doing it for Jackie.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Attentive Idling

 My compulsion to accomplish is fueled by a computer the size of the pack of cigarettes my mom used to slide into her purse. It serves as my calendar, my watch, my address book, and my to-do list. Its podcasts accompany me on my morning walks with my dog. One day recently, our workout stretched longer than usual, beyond the length of the hour-long program I typically listen to. With a quarter-mile to go before my loop returned me home, I pulled the buds out of my ears and stuffed my iPod into my pocket. It felt like a courageous act.

I don’t think I’m alone in my uneasiness with such moments of seeming non-productivity. There’s so much in 21st Century American life that denies inherent value in strolling, ambling, proceeding without hurry or efficiency. Portable devices allow us to learn foreign languages, listen to books, and attend lectures, all while we work out, make dinner, pull weeds, or wash dishes.

Such current-day multi-tasking mania feeds my fears of sloth, conceived in my Midwest, Missouri Synod Lutheran upbringing. Yet, even after thirty years of sitting in silent Quaker meetings, I resisted those fifteen minutes of quiet at the end of my walk. I’ve covered that stretch of beach leading to my house thousands of times, but for an embarrassingly large number of them, I’ve failed to register the lick of the water, the whisper of the breeze through the sea grasses, the taunts of the eagles and crows, the palette of greens in the pines and blues in the bay, the pungent musk as my shoes slime across bundles of washed-up seaweed. If I’d scrolled to another episode on my playlist, had succumbed to the pull to achieve, I might have ignored them once again.

Poet Julie Larios would approve of my recent act of courage. She was guest faculty last week at my MFA in Creative Writing program and commanded us to be attentive idlers, to commit to time spent letting life into us.  Good advice for my writing—and my spiritual journey.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Paddling Through Contemplation and Action

Integration of two sides of the spiritual coin—the inward life and outward action —served as the focus for this year’s North Pacific Yearly Meeting (NPYM -, the annual gathering of Quakers in these parts. For four days in mid-July, a couple hundred of us from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana met with Friend-in-Residence Michael Birkel (an Earlham College professor, writer, and John Woolman scholar) and worshiped and shared around this theme. Michael presented evidence from the writings of both Woolman and Margaret Fell of the need for both contemplation and activism.  Learning to balance these two in my own life continues to be central to my spiritual journey.

At the closing worship at Yearly Meeting, someone suggested that Spirit is a bird—with one wing contemplation and the other, action.  “Contemplation without action,” she said, “and action without contemplation, keeps Spirit from flying.” I know the perils of trying to keep Spirit airborne with only one wing. For many years, I valued action over contemplation.  Awakened to injustice in the world, specifically health care for the poor, I devoted myself to public health.  I felt so compelled to fix the brokenness I witnessed that I neglected my own spiritual nurture. There was always more to do, and do, and do. Eventually, I could do no more. 

I took a long break from caregiving and experimented with a more contemplative life.  I discovered how parched my soul was and that I was being called to new work, more inward work, as a writer.  Now I sometimes wonder if I’ve swung too far to the side of contemplation; I worry that my writing is not the kind of outward action that is needed in the world.  While I yearn to have both contemplation and activism at work in equal measures in my daily life, I have yet to achieve the kind of steady balance I see in the eagles, herons, and gulls in flight near my home. Since returning from Yearly Meeting, I’ve been considering that paddling my kayak may be a more apt image for my efforts to integrate my inward, contemplative life with the pull toward outward action.

On my 49th birthday, I bought a kit to build a wooden kayak. Over the next year, I assembled the dozens of pre-cut pieces of mahogany plywood to construct a 17 ½-foot, single person kayak. I spent hours mixing epoxy, gluing, nailing, and clamping the jigsaw puzzle together; layering fiberglass and varnish; then sanding and varnishing, sanding and varnishing, and several more rounds of sanding and varnishing until the boat’s deck glistened like honey. I sanded and primed the hull, too, then painted it a deep purple that I had created by mixing red and blue marine paint.

Late afternoon on the day I turned 50, I launched this vessel I’d built with my own hands (along with considerable help from a boat-builder friend, as well as the loan of a couple dozen of his C-clamps). Every time I take it out in the saltwater for a paddle, it nourishes and instructs me.

I’m a fair-weather kayaker, preferring the time for quiet and reflection that paddling on calm water offers.  I didn’t install a rudder on my kayak—didn’t want the complexity of cables and foot pedals to turn a plastic blade on the boat’s stern. Instead, I use my paddle and the shift of my body to steer and balance. As I glide into the bay, the only sound is the lapping of the seawater against the hull and the dip and swish of my paddle. When the wind and currents are flat calm, my paddle’s rhythmic slice and pull through the water, first on the left, then on the right, repeating the alternating motion, keeps my boat balanced.

Even in that gentle sea, though, I have to vary my rhythm and pattern. Sometimes I paddle hard on one side to avoid tangles of kelp and seaweed. Unlike the eagle overhead lifting and lowering its wings simultaneously, at times I bend my torso to the other side, salty droplets sprinkling off one blade of my paddle as the other digs deep to turn my bow out of the path of a seal that pops up just beyond my bow. This seems more like the rhythm of my spiritual life—sometimes steering more toward action, at others, quite fully in contemplation.

For now, I’m following the pull to focus my outward action on my own community and writing for the wider world. However, I remain alert and open to the currents of other forms of action, praying that I’ll be able to lean into them, maneuvering with attention to both the inward and the outward life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Telling Our Spiritual Stories

It’s often through story-telling that I rustle through my confusion, my wonderings, my gratitude, my worries, my joys, and my faith. Stories, in specific places, where I remember the smell of the air or the scents in a room; the sound of traffic, or church bells, or the ocean; the texture of pavement or dirt or upholstery of the car’s seat; the touch of a warm hand on mine or a strong arm around my shoulders; the taste of tears coursing to my lips. Stories, peopled with family, friends, strangers, or no one but me and my cat.

Stories. They’re the best way I know to describe the indescribable Divine presence, and they’re often the way I encounter the Divine in others. So it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to a faith tradition, Quakerism, that calls us to speak from our own experience, to tell our own stories of encounters with Spirit.

In May, I joined with others from several Quaker meetings in the area to learn more about telling, and just as important, listening to, Spiritual Stories.  Kathy Hyzy, editor of Western Friend, led a day-long workshop about this practice of both listening deeply and sharing from our deepest selves ( She began by suggesting that we all are storytellers—we’ve all told jokes, we’ve all shared memories of important events in our lives, we all have at least a handful of experiences that we tell over and over again.  To prove her point, Kathy directed us to pair up with another person in our multi-age group to tell a “scar-y story.” The room hummed with tales of how each of us had acquired a particular scar. Yes, we all have stories to tell.

Kathy’s goal in this workshop was to share techniques of storytelling that help us tap into “the nuggets of experience that are spiritually important, times in which we felt close to God or encountered a sense of opening, Presence, or transcendence.” She instructed us in techniques of storytellers and writers to bring our personal stories to life—sensory detail of people and places, descriptions of characters, the use of dialogue, building tension to a climax, and reflection. Then, we all had the opportunity to practice telling and listening to stories.  I came to know people—both long-time friends and new acquaintances—deeply.

For me, it’s often in the telling of a story, usually first through journaling or writing, that I come to understand the significance of an event or the understanding that arises from it.  A walk with my cat has become one of those stories I tell over and over.

~  ~  ~  ~

For twenty years I worked as a nurse, primarily in public health.  I felt led to serve the poor by being at their bedsides, visiting in their homes, and advocating for their care. I believed my compassion, as well as my skill, could help bring health and wholeness. I approached my work with a zeal born of a desire to save the world, believing that if I only worked hard enough, I could.

My drive took its toll. Early signs of disillusionment nudged me to move to a smaller town, take a job in a smaller organization, and get back to hands-on nursing care after several years as a public health bureaucrat.   Within a couple of years, I was overwhelmed by my caseload’s never-ending stream of pregnant teens; I began to feel hopeless about the young women I cared for who were struggling with parenting complicated by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, or domestic violence.

I tried to ease my burgeoning feelings of failure as well as the fatigue of witnessing so much suffering by moving into middle management.  However, the impotence I felt in direct service was magnified in my new role caught between those with power and those in need. The clarity I had once had about my calling as a nurse was fading, and I knew it was time to re-evaluate.  Fortunately, my family supported my need to retreat, and retreat we did, in 1994, to the tiny village of Stehekin, Washington. 

Translated as “the way through,” Stehekin once was a passageway at the end of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan for Skagit and Salish Indians. Later, highways were blasted through parts of the North Cascades, but none ever made it to Stehekin.  Today, most people get “uplake” by a commercial passenger-only ferry that makes one trip daily.  Others arrive by float plane, the hearty by hiking a full day over National Park and Forest Service trails.

Telephone lines from the “downlake” world never made it to Stehekin, and there aren’t any cell towers, either.  For the community’s 80 or so year-round residents, a single public telephone, for outgoing long distance calls only, haltingly relays voices via satellite when messages beyond Stehekin are urgent.  Internet service has arrived recently, but just for those who install a satellite dish.

Despite my yearning for respite, there was one concern I carried with me to this remote, idyllic place. I feared I would forget. Forget the effects of abuse, disenfranchisement, and oppression.  Forget injustice’s aftermath if I no longer looked in the eyes of people who lived with it daily.  Forget the despair of limited opportunities as I experienced the privilege of choosing a different way of life.

There was no Quaker Meeting in Stehekin, so I went often to my favorite place of worship, a rock outcropping we named Boris’s Bluff.  It was Boris, our tabby cat, who led me to a wooded sanctuary just a 15-minute walk from our house.  To my surprise, he always trotted along with me on my treks there.  Together we hiked through pine needles and scrambled over boulders that had rumbled down from mountain peaks over the centuries.

One day, sitting on a moss-covered rocky mound, I breathed in the pine scent of the surrounding woods and was warmed by the sun radiating off the stone. Encircled by mountain walls that gave the illusion there was nothing beyond, I was awed by an unexplainable feeling of connection with all people. Though I couldn’t see or hear others, I felt their closeness and no longer feared I would forget.

I hadn’t expected that the boundaries of water and rock that separated me from others could restore my awareness of my place in the circle of humanity.  But there, in that valley nestled in the mountains, surrounded by old growth Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs reaching a hundred feet upward, I could see the effects of the cycles of melting snows, droughts, forest fires, and the rush of the Stehekin River. They taught me that the smallest touch, the briefest contact, the quietest diligence, can make a difference—can change the course of a river. It was there, in the solitude, that I had a palpable awareness I wasn’t alone. I embraced both my smallness and my greatness and felt released from the responsibility to do it all; I grasped it’s not up to me alone.

I don’t live in Stehekin anymore, but it lives in me.  I didn’t go back to the old house, or the old job; instead, my family and I moved to a slightly less isolated community on Lopez Island in Puget Sound.  Here, when I despair for the needs of the world and question how I’m to serve, the story of Boris’s Bluff strengthens me.

~   ~  ~  ~

We Quakers have many avenues to tell our spiritual stories and to listen to those of others.  These stories sometimes come in the form of spoken ministry during Meeting for Worship.  Others arise in response to queries during worship-sharing.  Some are put into print in the form of personal essays and memoir. And now, technology provides additional venues to tell our personal stories of encounters with God. I often listen to podcasts of Northern Spirit Radio ( and read Quaker blogs. You can find links to some blogs in Western Friend at I follow a number of them as well as these:

I’m grateful for such generous spiritual story-telling.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sacred Spaces

“The corrosive eyes of time have not stared these ancient walls down…as if to say there are places in the world where beauty remains hidden and miraculously intact.  This transcendent space where one leaves one world and enters another…”
      ~Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World

I’ve been in such spaces where I’ve felt I had entered into another world. As a child, I created one of those places with my best friend, Sandy. She lived across the street from me in a boisterous Scotch Catholic houseful of six siblings. I was an only child, and a Lutheran. One of our favorite activities was to act out the Catholic mass on the steps of a Methodist Church on the street corner two doors from Sandy’s house. Following Sandy’s lead, I would bobby-pin a white doily to my head, move my left hand up, down, and across my chest in the shape of a cross, and kneel on the church’s cement steps. I can still remember the feel of the cold wrought iron railing I grasped as I knelt and how the concrete made little dents in my knees.  I don’t know what drew me to this imaginative play, but I suspect it was a desire for something predictable and tangible as my child mind tried to make sense of the world. It was probably that same confusion that pulled me to attend real church services even when my parents didn’t.

Nearly twenty years later, I found a spiritual home among Friends, my faith and practice having shifted to Quakerism’s emphasis on inward experience without outward rites and ceremonies. I embraced the Quaker view that all of life is sacred, each day is of equal importance, and the Divine can be found in any place.  I’ve encountered that essence that I call God many times and in many places where I’ve gathered with others in the silence, quieting ourselves and opening to it.

Rivers, mountains, forests, and oceans also are like sanctuaries for me.  Sunrises and sunsets, thunderstorms and lightning, wildflowers bursting through cracks in rocks, kelp and seaweed swirling with the rhythm of the tides and currents, tree roots gripping the ground to resist wind and roaring floods­—these are forces that also open my heart and quiet my mind to hear and feel God’s presence. The voice of wisdom and love that I listen for often is in the breeze that lifts tree branches and rustles the grass. A favorite rocky point I visit regularly, shaped by eons of wind, rain, and crashing waves that have moved boulders and gnarled pines, manifests the power and strength I lean on. For me, Presence is in the smell of decay and new growth, of wet mineral and dried grass.
After thirty years of Quaker worship as well as my experience of Spirit in nature, I hadn’t expected to be so drawn to a Catholic church in Mexico. My husband and I have visited San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico several times and have worshipped there with Quakers in the home of an expatriate. At every visit, though, I’ve also been drawn to La Parroquia, the parish church in the main square. Church after church was built on this same site beginning in the 16th century. Around 1880, a self-taught mestizo architect, Don Zeferino Gutiérrez, was hired to build a new church façade. His inspiration came from postcard images of the great Gothic European cathedrals like Notre Dame. The result is a mass of pink columns, railings, windows, spires, and steeples.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to La Parroquia, but I can easily recall its welcoming sacredness. It’s always cool inside the church’s concrete walls and quiet as the tile floor mutes footsteps. The scent of melting wax wafts from candles flickering around statues at stations of the cross, mixing with gladiolas and lilies on the altar,  freshly laundered shirts and dresses, the gel on adolescent boys’ hair. The benches I've sat on have been worn to a honey glow by countless generations of toddlers, grandmothers, and young couples, much like those pausing in the church every time I’ve stopped in. The back of the pew in front of me had been smoothed and darkened by hands that have clutched it, just as I’ve done, compelled by some force to lower my body to my knees.

Thousands, maybe millions, of people have entered this same space with the intention to focus on divinity. I wonder how much incense and how many candles have burned here. How many words of adoration, thanksgiving, forgiveness, grief, and joy have been offered up over the church’s 500 years of confessions, funerals, weddings, baptisms, and prayers? How many hymns have been sung, rosaries prayed, chords played on the massive pipe organ in the far reaches of the ceiling?  Surely their presence has changed the molecules in the stone columns and the spires, in the air.

Sarah Hoggatt described on her blog ( a similar experience this spring in England at Jordans Friends Meeting. 
Jordans Friends Meeting
Painting by Paul Garland

Built in 1688, the Meeting House is pictured in “The Presence in the Midst,” a well-known 1916 painting by James Doyle Penrose which portrays a meeting for worship of earlier years there with Jesus standing among Friends in the meeting. Here’s how Sarah wrote about sitting with other Young Adult Friends at Jordans in April 2011:

“Being one of the oldest meeting houses, just think of all the words those walls have heard.  At the time we were there, there was a talk going on in another room about how a building is infused with what has gone on within it, that there is an unseen memory.  What kind of memory does Jordans Friends Meeting have?  To me, it felt sacred, hallowed, as if I was entering into a larger circle of living fellowship beyond what my hands could grasp.”

I’ve only scratched the surface of the study of Quantum Physics, but my limited understanding of its theories support my belief that certain spaces have been altered permanently as a result of years, decades, centuries of people going to them with an openness to the Divine. How else to explain the sacred connection I’ve felt (and Sarah did, too) with those who’ve gone to La Parroquia and Jordans Friends Meeting for solace or guidance; who’ve arrived in fear, in hope, in contrition. Isn’t that how we all meet Spirit, wherever we go? I’m content with the amount of understanding I have about how these changes happen; it’s a mystery I don’t have to solve, a question that doesn’t have to be answered. I can just experience it.

Perhaps I’ve come full circle back to my childhood yearning for “transcendent space where one leaves one world and enters another.” I’m grateful there are places that call to us in this way, that invite us to open ourselves to Divine love and grace and are changed by our seeking. Those transcendent spaces remind me I’m not alone; I’m connected with those who have preceded me, my journey mingled with theirs. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Modest Genre

Lake Chelan by David Ansley

Last week, I attended a workshop on The Personal Essay  led by Ana Maria Spagna ( One of the prompts she gave us resulted in the following essay.

A Modest Genre

This morning I watched the lake change from green waves, to black glass, and now to gray ripples. According to the dictionary on my laptop, a ripple is a small wave or series of waves on the surface of water.  I looked the word up as I started to write on this last morning of a workshop on the personal essay. I’m two hundred miles from home, in a cabin at the end of a long lake in the mountains, out of reach of the phone, the Internet, and my well-worn dictionary and thesaurus that I turn to in search of different words to say the things that I want to say, to write the things that it seems so many writers already have written.  I’ve spent the past four days with six other women, other women like me diving into the depths of memories, emotions, and dreams to bring those series of waves to the surface.

This morning I watched the lake change from green waves, to black glass, and now to gray ripples. In physics, my laptop dictionary tells me, ripples are small, periodic, usually undesirable variations in electrical voltage. Such ripples have surged through our little group in the cabin in the mountains, at the end of the lake, as we’ve approached, avoided, and re-approached losses, fears, regrets, mysteries, and discoveries. One woman said a teacher once told her all writing is about grief. Though we protested and recalled stories of joy and hope and redemption, we’ve all felt those undesirable variations in electrical voltage as grieving words coursed through our fingertips, as tears streamed down our cheeks.

This morning I watched the lake change from green waves, to black glass, and now to gray ripples. I’m relieved the boat that will start me on my journey home will be carried on these small waves, rather than the white caps that rollicked across the lake yesterday. In the coming days and months, there likely will be plenty more ripples of the undesirable jolt type as I study this form first described by that sixteenth-century Frenchman, Michel de Montaigne. He derived the name essai from a French verb that suggests experimenting, testing, and weighing out; so similar to my spiritual journey. Essayist Sara Levin claims, “The essay is a modest genre. It doesn’t mean to change the world. Instead it says – let me tell you what happened to me.” All these centuries since Montaigne, many of us still compose essays to make sense of life, or at least some wedge of it.

This morning I watched the lake change from green waves, to black glass, and now to gray ripples. My dictionary offers another definition of ripple—the particular feeling or effect that spreads through or to someone, as in her words set off a ripple of insight within her readers. This group of writers will leave today on this rippling lake, recommitted to experimenting, testing, and weighing out to make sense of slices of life, packing new tools to tell others what happened to us.  Our words may not mean to change the world, but they will.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writing as a Path to Spirit

When Carol Sexton, Arts and Spirituality teacher at Pendle Hill, invited me to give a lecture at the Quaker conference and retreat center, I was thrilled and honored. This year’s “Way of the Artist” Speakers Series featured ten artists—painters, writers, musicians, photographers, storytellers, poets, actors—“who have followed a deep call to the creative life and discovered the power of the arts for prayer, spiritual practice, healing, teaching, building community, and creating social change.”  On May 17, I spoke about “Writing as a Path to Spirit.”  I’ve excerpted the lecture here; you can listen to the entire talk at

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Writing as a Path 
to Spirit

 Words are powerful; they come back to us and draw us closer to Spirit. Think of a time you were touched by God through words on a page. Think of that time, and remember how God moved in you through those words.*

As a child, the excitement I felt every fall when it was time to buy new pencils, pens, and notebooks for school was an early clue that I might someday be drawn to creating with words. Still today, I can’t walk past an office supply store without stopping in to flip through blank journals and scribble on those little scratch pads beside the pens on display.

I developed an appreciation for people’s stories from my mom:  first, as a fifth-grader, reading her weekly “Bellmont News” column, with its reports of who visited whom, that was published in a small town newspaper in Southern Illinois; later, sitting beside her in the studio of the local radio station while she discussed recent events and interviewed folks from our community; and finally, through her news stories and personal essays in the daily newspaper.

Years later, when I became a nurse, I again listened to stories. In hospital rooms, clinics, and homes I experienced an uncommon intimacy as patients shared their fears, hopes, grief, and pain. I knew my listening supported healing; it also fed my love of narrative.

Most of my nursing practice has been in public health.  I felt called to that specialty’s priority of promoting health for all and for being a safety net for communities and people who typically are under-served. In the early 1990s, however, I discovered that concern about the bottom line was gaining greater influence over public health policy and practice. At the same time, I felt helpless and overwhelmed by my caseload’s never-ending stream of pregnant teens and young women ill-equipped to deal with parenting complicated by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, or domestic violence. I admitted to myself that I no longer approached my work with the passion and compassion I once had. For me, that was a crisis.

Just as my disillusionment was rising, my family was feeling squeezed by Middle America’s compulsion to move faster, consume more, and question less. We embarked on a sojourn in the remote mountain community of Stehekin, Washington to re-evaluate priorities.

There, nestled in a valley surrounded by the craggy peaks of the North Cascades, with no phones nor television, and only 80 neighbors, I sought to reclaim the spiritual footing I’d lost.  Two years later, I left Stehekin with more clarity about new directions in my work, a commitment to devote more time to writing, and ample material for personal essays. That journey is the focus of the memoir I’m working on.

Still preferring a remote community, we moved from Stehekin to a rural island in Puget Sound. I figured out how to do the parts of nursing I enjoyed most and developed a public health consultation practice. In October 2000, instead of attending the annual fall public health conference as I usually did, I enrolled in a week-long writing course led by Tom Mullen at Pendle Hill. During the workshop, we discussed how to fit writing into our lives. I realized a number of my consulting contracts would be completed by the end of the year, and I saw an opening to try a new schedule. Why not fit nursing work around writing, instead of the other way around?   I announced to my fifteen workshop classmates that in January 2001 I would start a new job.  Since then, the desire to promote health and healing that drew me to nursing in my twenties has found expression more in my writing.

What I hadn’t anticipated when I took this “job,” was just how much writing would feed me spiritually. Vinita Hampton Wright is someone whose thinking about art and spirituality speaks to me. She explains in The Soul Tells a Story­—Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life:

“I have become a more spiritual person because I write. The creative process is a spiritual one and when we receive it as such, it deepens our gifts and edifies us in general. To write true stories, I must encounter truth. If I truly open my eyes and express in words what I have seen, then I will have participated in a spiritual act. I receive the vision from beyond myself, and I express it through who I am. This is God at work.”

Wright's words describe well my experience writing Hands at Work. While not explicitly Quaker, this book grew from my understanding of the Quaker testimonies of simplicity and equality and from my belief in that of God in everyone and of the importance and value of everyone’s story. Listening to and writing the stories ministered to me in my own seeking to do Spirit-led and Spirit-filled work. I know it ministered to the people I interviewed—they told me how they appreciated being watched and listened to as they worked. And I know it has ministered to others who have read the stories and looked at the images and felt inspired, challenged, or affirmed in their own work.

Every time I sit down to write is an act of faith. I typically come to my writing with questions, rather than answers. Through the writing, I tap into a wisdom that is beyond me. Wright claims, “It’s easier to trust the creative process when you also trust that a greater force is somehow guiding that process.” She refers to the faith required to engage creativity with spirituality as “submitting to a divine process that is beyond you.”

Wright claims that in the creative process, the only control lies in the mastery of one’s craft. “Give up the illusion that you’re in charge,” she says. “The best you can do is develop your gifts with all the strength and mind and heart you have.” Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, also urges building skill.  “We have to learn to be good technicians of the craft,” he says. “We’re not just telling stories; we’re transforming people.”

As a writer who experiences this craft as a path to Spirit, it seems fitting that much of the language of the creative process is common to the spiritual life. Wright’s term—submit— is the same one used for the action of sending work out for publication. Release is the first presentation of a work to the public, such as a book release or a CD release. Many artists call celebrations of their work openings.  And in order to not just tell stories, but transform people, we have to practice.

I welcome your thoughts about how writing or other creative work serves as a path to Spirit for you.  I leave you with a few queries to consider now and in the days ahead.

How have creativity and spirituality been linked in your experience?

What characteristics of creativity do you recognize in your life?

What spiritual practices do you already know of, or use, that might apply well to creative work?

What is your next step in being faithful to creative work you’ve been called to and/or to support someone you know to be faithful to a call to creative work?

*With appreciation to Christine Hall of Whidbey Island Worship Group who shared this reflection when she introduced plans to start a School of the Spirit program in the West.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No Cause for Celebration - Yet

I froze when I saw the bold, large headline on the New York Times website – “Osama bin Laden Dead.” I called out to my husband and read it out loud, disbelief in my voice. As I read through the story that bin Laden had been found in Pakistan and killed by US special forces, my stomach soured.  I searched my heart for feelings of relief—relief that this man our nation has feared since long before Sept. 11, 2001could no longer wield influence. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were a family member of someone killed in the attacks on Sept. 11, or if someone close to me had been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would bin Laden’s death provide them some kind of closure?

But I felt no relief, and certainly no joy. Instead, all that welled up was grief – for the nearly three thousand lives lost on Sept. 11, for the tens of thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the trillion dollars spent so far by the U.S. to end terrorism.

In the following days, as I read about celebrations around the U.S., I felt alone in my sadness. In the comfort of my rural, remote community, with no threats to my well-being, I re-examined my commitment to non-violence. Although my heartache was real, I judged my rejection of killing another human being, even one who had brought so much violence to thousands of people for decades, as naïve. Yet I couldn’t shake the darkness that I sensed as I read justification for bin Laden’s murder.

Since the news of bin Laden’s death, I’ve read, prayed, and talked with others to find clarity about my opposition to my government’s actions.  One friend recommended the site of Sojourners Magazine and its “God’s Politics Blog.” There, Jim Wallis posted some helpful queries: 

·        How do we best respond to evil and those who perpetrate it?
·        What have we learned in the last 10 years about what truly is the best answer to the violence of terrorism?
·        How do we change the conditions that have allowed terrorists to pull others into their agenda?

An e-mail from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) directed me to a discussion on their Facebook page about bin Laden’s killing. And an essay by Kathy Kelley of Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( presented sobering facts about the people and the place our country has been fighting for ten years.  She writes in“Beyond Retaliation”

“They live in a country where 850 children die every day, a country which the UN has termed the worst country in the world into which a child can be born, where the average life expectancy is 42 years of age. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five. Each week, the U.S. taxpayers spend two billion dollars to continue the war in Afghanistan.”
I also turned to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to help me discern my beliefs about the actions of my government. Once again, there I found grounded, Spirit-centered wisdom as well as tools for action that strengthen my commitment to nonviolence and support to speak my truth.
Jonathan Evans, FCNL Legislative Representative, Foreign Policy, questioned why he, too, felt no joy or relief at the news of bin Laden’s assassination. He spoke my mind on the FCNL blog:
I believe deeply that war is not, and never has been, the answer to terrorism. My Quaker faith leads me to the conclusion that nonviolence is the only way to promote peace and justice. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He did not teach (or ask) us to kill them. That basic teaching is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. In short, we are called to witness to the spirit of love that takes away the occasion for war. We are called to seek that of God in every person, even when that person perpetrates evil in the world.”
Posted on another page of the FCNL website was an action alert ( for those who viewed bin Laden’s murder not as a success but  “a failure of imagination and of political will that led to answering violence with more violence.” With a few clicks, I drafted messages to both of my senators and my representative, expressing my view that killing bin Laden and more violence are not the answers. With the help of FCNL, I listed alternatives to violence that I believe will promote peace:
·        begin a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan
·        halt offensive operations against the Taliban
·        engage Afghan parties and Afghanistan's neighbors in negotiating peace
·        channel U.S. development aid for reconstruction through Afghan, multilateral, and other civilian humanitarian organizations.

Now, as the shock has faded, and I’ve felt buoyed by evidence of many others who mourn this act of violence, I’m starting to see the potential for changed approaches and opportunities.  Jim Wallis suggests, “The death of Osama bin Laden could be a turning point in our ability to both resist evil and seek good, to turn away from the logic of both terrorism and war, and, as the Bible says, to find the things ‘that make for peace.’” Jonathan Evans also believes in the possibility of a turning point  “…that takes us in the direction of realizing sooner rather than later two FCNL objectives: the removal of U.S. military bases and combat troops from Afghanistan; and diplomatic efforts to reach a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. When accomplished, both will be worth celebrating.”

David R. Woolley, a Friend from Minneapolis, is already thinking of how to celebrate. According to his post at Quaker Universalist Voice, he’s promoting an idea for how Friends might turn this year’s tenth anniversary of 9/11 into “…an opportunity for honest dialog, mutual forgiveness, and reconciliation.”  Here’s what he envisions:

“9/11 this year is a Sunday. What if Quaker meetings were to pair up with mosques and hold joint worship services? What if Friends were to attend Friday prayers at a mosque, and Muslims were to attend worship at a Quaker meeting on Sunday?  It would make for a weekend of interfaith worship, fellowship, and learning, from 9-9-11 to 9-11-11…If this idea could spread beyond Quaker meetings, with HUNDREDS of partnerships forming between Friends meetings, other Christian churches, synagogues, and mosques all over America, it would be too big a story for the mainstream media to ignore. Maybe it could begin to turn the tide.”

I pray, and believe, that healing comes through nonviolent work toward justice. I’m grateful for Jonathan, Kathy, Jim, David, and many others like them who are leading the way.  Quaker Universalist Conversations

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Winter’s rains have barely ended; spring blossoms are just nudging their way through the cold soil; and already it’s started—the predictable, annual speeding up of the clock. I can feel an energy in the air, like a child wildly cranking a jack-in-the-box, as if to make up for the past few months of shorter days. As much as I welcome the longer hours of sunlight and the warmth and golden glow of the sun, I’m resisting the accelerating tempo.

It’s not as though I hide away during the winter. I still go to my job as a school nurse, work every day at my writing desk, walk the dog, gather with friends, attend Meeting, carry out household chores, and fulfill my commitments to various organizations. But I do take the season’s cold and dark as permission to burrow under my comforter, sip my tea more slowly, and inhale more deeply. Then, every April, I notice a shift pushing me, like commuters elbowing themselves into a New York subway at rush hour, to squeeze more activity into my already-full life.

This year I’m considering how my springtime ritual of scheduling every minute of my day conflicts with the Quaker testimony of simplicity. Although my possessions could be whittled down, I’m not tempted to acquire more stuff nearly so much as to fill my days doing more and more. In Hunting for Hope, essayist Scott Russell Sanders summarizes well a growing yearning for me—

“…the richness of a gathered and deliberate life, letting one’s belongings and commitments be few in number and high in quality.” 

Thomas Kelly understood the breadth of the simplicity testimony. His words from over seventy years ago in A Testament of Devotion sound as though they were written yesterday. “Quaker simplicity needs to be expressed not merely in dress and architecture and the height of tombstones… Too many of us have too many irons in the fire…pulled and hauled breathlessly along by an over-burdened program of good committees and good undertakings.”

I can hear myself panting as I glance at my calendar. For years I carried a spiral-bound date book that fit in my jacket pocket. Black ink scrawls of meetings, to do lists, and tasks filled each day’s square.  Now, I track where I’m supposed to be and what I have to do on a sleek, hand-held computer I can synchronize with my laptop. As I scroll through the days this week, nearly every box is filled with strips of color for different facets of my life--bright green for work dominates the boxes, along with blue and turquoise for home, family, and Meeting obligations. Most days, very little white space remains. My computer screen glows with evidence I’ve not achieved that gathered and balanced life Sanders refers to.

Simplifying my life isn’t a new challenge for me, and it’s not that I haven’t made some progress. My schedule now reflects better than ever my priorities for regular meditation, periods of solitude, and writing. But I still struggle with Kelly’s guidance that “… a life becomes simplified when dominated by faithfulness to a few concerns.” His words echo those of Caroline Stephen, whose Quaker Strongholds appeared in 1890.  She wrote, “In life, as in art, whatever does not help, hinders. All that is superfluous to the main object of life must be cleared away…a severe pruning away of redundance.”

This year, rather than unconsciously picking up my pace or pruning without thought, I’m looking deeper into the roots of my crowded calendar. I’ve developed several theories about why an empty date book raises anxiety, like groping through a dark, narrowing tunnel, rather than the sense of boundlessness of a jet stream streaking silently across the sky.  Years of striving to please others by doing, and being efficient, have kept me rushing from one task to another like a hummingbird darting to and from the feeder. Deaths of family and friends sobered my childhood and young adulthood and left me keenly aware of the brevity of life and suspicious of the promise of tomorrow and next year. For much of my life, the precision and certainty of a full calendar has given me a sense of worth and an illusion of control. It’s protected me from the unknown and comforted me like a polar fleece blanket hugging my shoulders. Lately, though, clicking open my calendar has felt less like solace and more like my Midwest childhood memories of walking out of an air-conditioned building into the wall of humidity on an August day.

While I’ve gotten better at quieting myself enough to listen for those few concerns—those main objects of life— that God calls me to, one of my challenges to Spirit-led pruning is believing that the value of those callings isn’t measured by quantity or speed. This April, I’m seeking the simplicity of unfilled lines in my calendar. I want my breathlessness to come from walks on the beach when the sun unexpectedly breaks through the clouds. Rather than tearing through errands, I want a schedule that allows for trips to the village on my bicycle rather than in the car, unhurried chats with neighbors at the grocery store, and a visit with an elderly friend. Instead of feeling guilty for not responding to the many needs of the planet, my country, my community, my family and friends, I’m committing to the few with which I can be fully, joyfully present, trusting that my own worth isn’t dependent on a jam-packed agenda. Perhaps this April and the coming months will find me closer to time—simply.

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