Spirituality

All Souls: Sunday Reflection (a tad late)

Yesterday, as I sat in a pew of an old Lutheran church nestled among recently harvested rolling fields, I hummed along as my friend sat at the organ and played For All the Saints.  I reflected back a week to our All Souls service.  In the days leading up to All Souls Day, Richard and I toted five pots of marigolds to church.  In the spring, small seedlings had been planted in hopes of warding off nibbling critters while anchoring the corners of our garden; they provided brilliant color throughout the summer; and then, with frost warnings forecasted, these hardy plants were transplanted into pots and moved under grow-lights to thwart the season’s chill just so the bright blossoms could render one last service scattered among a hundred clear glass votive lights on our Altar of All Souls – a visible symbol of remembrance to honor our ancestors.

I believe it says a lot about who we are as individuals, as a church community, as a society, in how we honor our dead.  In our ever more hectic, every day world with corporate-driven practices that define grief in HR policy and relegate just three days for sorrow before it is back to business as usual, there is a lot to learn from studying the traditions of other cultures.

In the Romany graveyards of Eastern Europe, nestled next to gold domed, centuries-old churches and scattered among the headstones of family plots there are often elaborate gazebos built with permanent tables and benches that provide regular gathering places.  When family and friends come together they bring their tastiest culinary treats, a portion to be enjoyed among the living and a portion left for the spirits.  Flowing with the libations are the shared memories which braid together the stories of the departed and the lives of the next generation.

In her poem, Into Every Conversation, Carrie Newcomer writes:

Into every conversation,
At least those that matter,
I carry my stories like a book
Tucked under my arm or secured deep in my heart.
A forward written by the ancestors,
Side notes and commentary in the margins, 
Written by mentors, tormentors, and friends.

Not that we should walk lock-step in the beliefs of our ancestors because that would render us unable to see injustice and work for change; unable to recognize inequity and dream of the possibility of a different world.  Rather, in remembering those who have come before us, we need to build on our heritage bringing together the good news and those parts in need of transformation.

Last Sunday, we lit candles for those whose memories live in our hearts.  At a time when the old tales speak of “the thin veil between worlds” – of All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day – it was good that we gathered and remembered.  It was good that we spoke aloud the names of those who have died.  And, having been heard by family and friends and even strangers we acknowledged those individuals.  In the words of the poet we continued to “carry our stories like a book tucked under our arms or secured deep in our hearts.”

Spirituality

“You Can Do This Hard Thing”

Last month, I faced a hard task.  Hard, not in the sense of strenuous work or tough negotiations; not climbing a mountain or training for a marathon or anything else that could really be deemed difficult.  No, it was hard because I was not ready.  It was hard because I simply did not want to do it.  Likewise, my first attempt at this post was so “Wendy Whiner-ish” that I had to set it aside. I knew I needed an attitude adjustment. I just didn’t know when or from whom that inspiration might come.

You can do this hard thing, 
You can do this hard thing
It's not easy I know but
I believe that it's so
You can do this hard thing.

When Richard received his Parkinson’s Disease (PD) diagnosis on July 23 last year, my first, librarian-like reaction was to dig into the research.  I relied on Mayo’s website for my introduction; I joined the Parkinson’s Foundation’s online community which generates lots of helpful emails on a regular schedule; I even downloaded the 174 page care-giver’s guide.  I think that is what stymied me.  I wanted the Cosmo version of a guide.  I wanted 10 easy steps to understanding a complicated, incurable disease or 10 easy strategies to supporting without smothering.  I did not want; I could not handle 174 pages.  I reverted to learning by osmosis – simply observing the changes I saw or listening to what Richard was discovering since he was doing the hard work of research.  I did give PD a new name.  In my head this progressive disorder that affects the nervous system became FD – that F*****g Disease.

Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes
A little more time

This past weekend, I had the special privilege to spend time with Carrie Newcomer , a musican and songwriter the Boston Globe describes as a “prairie mystic.”  As I served as chauffeur between hotel and church, sat through a rehearsal and sound checks, enjoyed a concert and particpated in two Sunday morning services at which Carrie and her accompanist, Gary Waters, were the featured musicians, Carrie’s poignant stories, inspirational lyrics, and haunting melodies jumpstarted my attitude adjustment.  I felt I could step away from selfish introspective, from frustrated inability to “fix” the problem and into the simple acknowledgement that Richard and I will continue to adapt and manage.

Spirituality

Wide Arrival: Sunday Reflection

two white row boats pulled up onto a shore line with tall green marshy grass and mist hanging in the air

A fundamental question was raised during last week’s sermon.  A question appropriate to living our individual lives as we continue to navigate the details of re-gathering amidst viruses and variants (and move into what is predicted to be a virulent flu season) and especially poignant for a welcoming congregation:

“How are we making a wide arrival?  Enough space for all our grief, our stories, our uncertainties; how to find passageways of life in this changed and changing world?”

Admittedly, in the Hutton household and, I am sure, at your house too in these nearly but not quite post-Covid days some tasks are easier to navigate than others.  Some days we find ourselves almost back to a routine that feels comfortable like a well-worn flannel shirt on a cool September day or going to church on Sunday morning.  But then we arrive in that sacred space and see smiling masked faces and we must admit it is the same but different. 

In the midst of these ambiguous days, Richard and I decided we would add more uncertainty to our daily life.  Since July, our house has been in some form of disarray due to three (count them – 3) renovation projects.  Just to be clear, all of the work has been undertaken by choice and not a crisis with our nearly 100 year old house – built in 1925 and moved in ’27.  All the work is being done so that we might continue to “age gracefully in place.”

Last Sunday’s homiletic imagery of drifting on the water, anchored, but with a shifting shoreline accurately described our days.  Carpenters arriving on a date set two months earlier – anchored.  Getting a call late Friday that the team of painters and plasterers would arrive early the next week – definitely felt like bobbing on choppy water as we scrambled to move all of the furniture from four rooms, take our eclectic collection of art off the walls, and remove all the electric faceplates.  

Knowing our renovations were close to completion but with more work still to be done, I arrived at church last Sunday and felt anchored as we poured our collected water tributes into the large blue bowl and music rang joyfully. Anchored again this morning seeing familiar faces and welcoming new members as we make “a wide arrival”.

Photo credit: iStock

Spirituality

Board meetings as grout

For a large portion of my professional career I managed a library cooperative.  The cooperative’s life blood was meetings; meetings to discuss when to offer ebooks; when to discontinue the 16mm rotating film collection; whether or not to charge fines.  You get the gist – lots of discussions about everything. 

graphic of bright yellow chalice with rainbow colored flame set against a blue background

Since my days were already full of agendas, I was judicious when agreeing to anything involving yet more meetings during my sparse personal time.  Even at church, I was selective.  I chose activities I deemed enjoyable although some might doubt my sanity since “fun” included three stints on a bylaws committee.  But, for the most part, I stayed on the sidelines of church governance.  I always offered tacit support by voting at every annual meeting but then, having voted, I stepped back and let the Board members do the work.  Until one Sunday (thank you Amy N.) when I realized I needed to do more. 

With the next election, I moved from the sidelines to the Board, first as member at large, then as secretary, vice president and most recently having been granted the privilege of serving as president for two years which, despite Covid challenges and wonky Zoom connections, a tenure that proved very rewarding.  And now, eight years after agreeing to have my name placed in nomination, I have handed the gavel to another and rejoined the sidelines of church governance.  Along the way I have grown spiritually, learned more sincerely about the impact of injustice, and felt supported in the hard work of striving for justice.

Several stanzas in a prayer entitled The Grout by Marcus Harlief capture my sense of purpose as I leave the Board:

. . . Religion not only lies in the beautiful mosaic bits and pieces but also in the grout – that chalky, gritty stuff squeezed between the cracks. . .  

In a mosaic, the grout holds the image together, unifying disparate pieces into a whole.  The grout of a community takes years to lay and settle.  Grout happens in board meetings and committee meetings and endless emails. . . 

And so we pray - Hold us, O Grout.  Gather us in, through time and space, and make all our broken pieces whole in community.  In our multiplicity, make us one.  From each of our jagged edges, give us the shape of a communal beauty.

Graphic credit: © Tony Baldwin

Spirituality

Study War No More

When hearing the unfathomable and sadly knowing Uvalde, like Sandy Hook and Red Lake and so many more lost futures, will be just another “notch” on America’s gun stock.  Let us not just pray but act.

For the sacred souls lost,
and the hearts shattered beyond repair;
for the ways we perpetuate violence
with gun access
with toxic masculinity
with refusing to adequately fund and provide
resources for mental health
for all of us in systems of violence,
may we remember we each have 
some way, however small, to respond:
our votes, our prayers, 
our broken hearts strengthening our resolve
until we all do the work
of laying down anything 
that supports swords and shields
and we study war no more.

     Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, May 24, 2022
Spirituality

Draw the Circle Wide

I cannot remember the conference city or the name of the hotel lobby bar where I joined my friend for a late afternoon glass of wine but, even after all these decades, my memory of our discussion is clear.  My friend Estelle arrived agitated and ready to resign from a prestigious committee.  As I tried to discover what had caused her distress, she kept telling me I would not understand.  I, of course, argued I would.  Finally, she said “I am tired of being responsible for representing an entire race of people.”  And she had been right, I didn’t understand. 

Even when serving as the sole female on an otherwise all male committee, no one thought I spoke for all women.  But Estelle was constantly expected to speak for all people of color.  As a talented black woman, often the only person of color in a sea of white, she was put in that untenable situation; expected to know of the needs of an entire community as if the rich, complexity of life was a simple monolith and she held the key. 

There is a challenge within every cultural exploration; to learn and celebrate the beauty of that which is different without inadvertently co-opting a tradition not our own.  To not to fall into that misguided complacency that created such stress for my friend.  While I can revel in the lyrical quality of an Amanda Gorman poem; agonize over the brutal reality of black life in white America as portrayed in a cinematic adaptation of an August Wilson play; even get caught up in a who-dun-it following Walter Mosley’s infamous detective Easy Rawlins through the grime and glitter of LA, I must remember – whether fiction or fact – that those descriptions are just a brief glimpse into lives different from my own.

The challenge is to appreciate the uniqueness of each person’s life, to recognize that each difference in upbringing, family food tradition, or the myriad of diverse life choices that make a whole person, is to recognize that the opportunities for personal growth are endless.  That with each book I read, movie I see, or story that I hear, I only hold a very small thread in a rich tapestry of another’s experience.

Knitting · Spirituality

Mistakes Encouraged

red, yellow and green pine shape lollipops with red ribbon

When I was little girl, I used a variety of rhymes to help make choices.  You may have as well.  A syllable paired with each point of the finger to choose the grape or the cherry lollipop or to determine which of two sides would kick first in kickball.  Back then, the very act of recitation felt quite magical.  A difficult decision simplified.  As adults we know the decision was made with the first point of the finger because of a set number of syllables.  

And yet, even knowing that in many aspects of our lives there are a set number of syllables, I am always surprised when what appears to be the disparate aspects of my life come together.  How is it that liturgical preparations and searching for a new knitting pattern can blend so seamlessly?

Living with Intention is the theme of my spiritual reflections this month and I discovered very similar language in these meditations and recent blog posts by two of my “go-to” knitting designers.  Christina Campbell in Iowa and Solène Le Roux in France both infuse nature into their designs, whether incorporating leaf patterns or revealing rippling water as yarn is transformed from skein to knitted object.  Both designers take a very holistic approach to their craft.  It is not about just the design or the fiber, but the whole experience; encouraging the reader, the knitter to pause, to develop the muscle of inspiration, to connect with nature and each other; encouraging the knitter, encouraging the person to act with intent.

In Navajo weaving every thread tells a story.  The weaver brings the strands together not just to accomplish a function – a finished blanket or rug – but with the specific intention to communicate the culture, the land, a way of life.  Traditional Navajo weaving requires the weaver to incorporate a mistake.  This is done in homage to the belief that only the creator is perfect and acknowledges the weaver is not.  To live with intention or in this case to weave with intention. 

Now, I admit I have a difficult time with mistakes when I am knitting.  I have been known to rip out an evening’s work – rows and rows, thousands of stitches when I discover a break in the design, something that jumps out as an eyesore.  Even with all my experience knitting the same row again and again, I cannot claim that I have ever come close to knitting anything without error and I am certainly not good enough to emulate the Navajo weavers such that the mistake becomes a design element enhancing the final piece.  And so the advice from English writer, Neil Gaiman, spoke to my heart and hands and I hope his words will resonate with you as well as we move into a new year; a new year in which there are sure to be plenty of unknowns.  Gaiman writes:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Photo credit: Old Fashion Lollipop Recipe from Taste of Home

Spirituality

Holding History

A new map of the world: With all the new discoveries by Captain Cook and other navigators (Ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets) *

My sixth grade studies included a year of world history.  We began in Egypt with pharaohs and pyramids, moved to Greek city-states, before traveling across the Adriatic Sea to Rome and eventually migrating throughout Europe.  As mine was Catholic parochial school education, interspersed with historical events such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of the Magna Carta, there was a generous amount of information on popes and the lives of the saints.  While in geography class we knew there were countries around the globe, our history curriculum was Eurocentric – that is until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue after which our study of world history broadened from one track to two and included a large dose of American Manifest Destiny.

I don’t share this story in condemnation of that hard working teacher.  I will not judge Mrs. Menard’s teaching methods by a modern litmus test.  She used the tools she had at hand, at a very different time than today.  She was enthusiastic.  She made learning about history fun (albeit a narrowly focused history).  It is well documented that most of our curricula, not just that of my childhood and adolescence but continuing in today’s classrooms, regardless of the intended age group, still highlights European accomplishments over those of other cultures. 

When Black History Month was first designated in the early 1970s, the library where I worked created a book display pulling together titles scattered throughout the collection.  I wondered why a special month when these important contributions should simply be integrated into the normal flow of information.  Now, I better understand the need to spotlight lives and achievements whether it is in March as part of Women’s History Month or during the 30 days of November for Native American Heritage Month.  These months of celebration are not intended to diminish mainstream accomplishments but rather are a simple acknowledgement that the sheer volume of information and resources presented from a white, male perspective creates an almost impenetrable monolith whether it is history or literature, science or art. 

Each of these designated months gives us permission to explore an author, a musician, a filmmaker, that would not be a normal “go-to” source.  My study plan for November includes:

  • Reading a book of poetry by Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poet Laureate; and
  • Viewing the films featured as part of this year’s Native Cinema Showcase sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian.

Join me in “Holding History” by organizing your own personal mini history course and learning more about the rich culture and history of Indigenous People. 

* Kitchen, T. , Junior, and John Evans. A new map of the world: with all the new discoveries by Capt. Cook and other navigators: ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets &c. London: I. Evans, 1799. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2003630537/>.

Gardening · Spirituality

Pandemic Fatigue: Real not imagined

The last burst of pandemic summer color

My across the street and next door neighbors each recently acquired new garden tools.  With a cordless power drill and a hex drive auger to serve as bulb bit, my neighbor to the north planted 160 tulip bulbs on either side of the walk leading to her front door.  Not to be outdone, my gardening neighbor to the west made a quick Amazon purchase for this same handy tool and scattered 80 daffodil, hyacinth and early snowdrop bulbs among her well-established perennials.  Promises of spring – that is assuming the scurry of squirrels that nests in our 80-year elm tree doesn’t dig up the bulbs as winter appetizers or the fluffle of rabbits under the neighbor’s shed across the alley doesn’t devour each green shoot just as it pokes through the snow. Normally all this activity would have inspired garden envy and set me on my own quest to add spring color.  And, last fall I would have enthusiastically joined the planting challenge but not this October.

When we first entered our global quarantine, I accepted it as an inconvenience and then joined two new book clubs, enrolled in an Impressionist art appreciation class, and participated in an earth-based meditative retreat led by French knitting designer, Solène Le Roux.  But what I am feeling today, 18 months into our shared Covid experience is a bit like the title of the 1971 S.E. Hinton coming of age novel, That Was Then, This is Now.

When mass media began mentioning “pandemic fatigue” I recognized some of the symptoms as my own but also wondered about the power of suggestion.  Then articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet validated my feelings.  The World Health Organization even has entire publication devoted to “pandemic fatigue” which is defined as:

…an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis – not least because the severity and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic have called for the implementation of invasive measures with unprecedented impacts on the daily lives of everyone, including those who have not been directly affected by the virus itself. 

An expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis.  The validation that what I am experiencing is an international phenomenon may not be a precise recipe for an attitude adjustment but it certainly is a step toward reducing my irritability.  Getting back in the garden, if only to put things to bed for the winter, may also help diminish my pandemic fatigue.

Spirituality

On the day of a verdict

Poetry, offered as prayer, that captures what my soul feels…

A verdict means to say the truth.
A judge and jury, in this case, convicted an executioner.
May the truth we say always be
that black lives matter
that justice is more important than order
that militarization of police hurts us all,
and we have a lot more work to do.

Some days, the world seems to wake up,
even just a little bit - 
still groggy, still bleary-souled,
asking us to notice the glimmers of hope
shining through this weary world.
We need to keep waking up, again and again.

Sometimes,
guilty is the glimmer we need
to keep doing the work
and saying the names
of George Floyd, of Sandra Bland, of Emmett Till,
and countless other sacred names,
speaking them with reverence as speaking the name of the holy,
until we can all breathe.

    Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, April 20, 2021