Spirituality

“Wrapped in blue cloud cloth…”

heart shaped antique glass Christmas ornament on tree with three lights (blue, red and yellow)

We celebrated my Mom’s 99th birthday on Thursday.  She still lives in the house my Dad built 60 years ago.  During the past few months, she has undertaken a new task – finding those things she has not used in years and feels she no longer needs.  Nearly every day, when I call her, she proudly describes what she has moved to the small green bedroom (her designated collection point) there to await my next visit when I will deliver these gently used items to the thrift store.

Following her example, I have started de-cluttering our house.  It is amazing just how much stuff is tucked up on closet shelves, hidden in desk drawers, or stashed in the way-back corner of the bottom kitchen cupboard; items that certainly served a purpose or filled a want but which have mostly been forgotten.  It feels good put into practice the three Rs – reduce, recycle, reuse..

My first thoughts about 2023 were tinged with wariness.  After all, this past year was filled with false starts and yet more uncertainty.  Then I began nudging myself toward a change in attitude; if only a shift in semantics.  Rather than looking at the coming tomorrows with trepidation, I am trying to change my language and look at the new year as time of mystery; balancing cautiousness and excitement; looking at the days ahead with a sense of wonder. 

I recently rediscovered a volume of poetry by Langston Hughes, originally published for children, but with lyrical phrases that offer weighty advice to children of all ages.  His poem, “The Dream Keeper” gave me insight as to how I might approach my attitude adjustment.  He wrote:

Bring me all of your dreams, 
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

That phrase “That I may wrap them in a blue cloud cloth” rang true as I gently wrapped my Grandmother’s heart-shaped mercury glass ornament and put it away for another year; carefully handling the fragile heirloom all the while joyously celebrating childhood memories and thoughts of future holidays. 

The poet’s words also reminded me that my hopes for today and tomorrow will need tender protection from “too rough fingers of the world” and that I need to keep that “blue cloud cloth” close at hand so that I might safely wrap my dreams while looking for the wonder and the mystery in the days ahead.

Happy New Year!

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

Travel

Pilgrimage to Massachusetts:  A postcard summary

Alcott house during a 7-month failed utopian experiment at Fruitlands

My first travel discovery was a shift in language; the journey defined not as a trip, or a vacation or even a history tour but as “pilgrimage.”  For the 15 of us, this was a time to immerse ourselves in stories; to amble the same path as Henry David Thoreau trod along the shores of Walden pond; to climb the same steep, narrow wooden stairs to the Arlington Street Church bell tower and ring the same bells that would have gathered people to hear William Ellery Channing speak; to saunter through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and touch the gravestone of Louisa May Alcott. 

Some highlights of our days of pilgrimage:

New England stone wall on the Emerson-Thoreau Amble
  • King’s Chapel – touched the last bell cast and hung by Paul Revere
  • Arlington Street Church – tried my hand at ringing three of the 16 bells
  • Mount Auburn Cemetery – left memorial bouquets at the graves of William Ellery Channing, Hosea Ballou, John Murray, and Margaret Fuller
  • Walden Pond – walked the entire pond and left a Winona river rock at the stone cairn close to the site of Thoreau’s cabin where he lived for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days
  • Old Manse – saw the desks where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter and Emerson wrote Nature
  • Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – discovered that as they were neighbors in life, so too they are neighbors today as we visited Authors Row and the family plots of the Alcotts, Thoreaus, Emersons, and Peabodys leaving pencil homages for Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Elizabeth Peabody.
First Parish in Concord after vespers on the evening of our departure

Our days were filled visiting churches, graveyards and cemeteries (learning these two are different from one another) and touring the homes of literary giants.  All the while hearing concise history lessons laced with anecdotes that put flesh and bone to revered names and made them quirkily human.  We benefited from bookstore visits, invigorating conversations, time for quiet reflection, and the recitation of poetry.

The Road
The road waits. 
... when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.
-	Arlene Gay Levine

P.S.  And six of us hopped the green line to Fenway for a Red Sox win.  The green monster is really monstrously tall!

Reading · Travel

American Bloomsbury

I have a copy of Michael Holroyd’s definitive biography of Lytton Strachey.  A gift from a friend, the two-volume boxed set serves as a bookend anchoring a shelf of history titles.  My friend was a Bloomsbury aficionado.  He read everything he could about these post-Victorian intellectuals even waiting patiently to purchase The Letters of Virginia Woolf published in six volumes; book-by-book over 10 years.  He also gifted me his extra copy of The Loving Friends: A Portrait of Bloomsbury by David Gadd.

When the Pilgrimage to Massachusetts reading list (yes – an actual two-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources) included American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, I thought this title could be the primer I needed (just as The Loving Friends had been) to better understand our American literary giants.  As the subtitle describes, American Bloomsbury focuses on the lives, loves, and work of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. 

These profoundly talented people moved among each other, sometimes living together, sharing books, reading what each other wrote, and relishing in deep philosophical discussions.  In the introductory “Note to the Reader” Cheever describes her intent to work chronologically but to do so from each of her primary character’s perspectives thus her timeline moves back and forth as she describes overlapping incidents and conveys the stories of their lives life in Concord and the surrounding environs during the 1830s – 1890s.

Their individual accomplishments – Little Women, The Scarlett Letter, Walden, Or Life in the Woods – create for us a tableau of 19th century life; a young country, a growing divide over slavery; and women’s rights still but a wishful glimmer only in some minds.  But, taken as a whole, these hearty New Englanders defined a literary, philosophical, religious, and political movement that we call Transcendentalism with its core belief in the inherent goodness of the individual and nature. 

I leave early (4:45 am) tomorrow to see their homes and haunts.

Travel

Pilgrimage to Massachusetts: To blog or not to blog

graphic depiction of a chalice and flame surrounded by 2 circles

One week from today I leave for Boston.  My flight out of Rochester (RST – MSP – BOS) departs at an inhumane hour that requires leaving home around 4 am.  Admittedly, this was my decision as there are other departures with connections heading east but I opted to use already paid for Covid miles/dollars held in escrow by Delta for canceled trips to Phoenix, Providence, and Denmark.  2020 was to have been a travel-cious year.

I considered using Knit+ Librarian as a daily travelogue so you could join me vicariously as I visited historically important sites in Boston, Cambridge, Concord, and Gloucester but then re-thought this potential commitment.  As with most guided tours, our August 9-15 itinerary is full enough to make me wonder just how much time I will have to write; there is no guarantee of strong Wi-Fi needed for posting; and, while I know technically it can be done, I lack any desire to blog on my iPhone.  Plus, I have to wonder if you really want to read about the minutia of my days.  Rather, I’ll give you a succinct postcard summary complete with an appropriate selection of photos (no – dinner plates, I promise!) after I return to Minnesota.

A sampling of anticipated highlights may include:  King’s Chapel, Old North Church, Harvard Square, the Sargent-Murray House, Walden Pond, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery but you will have to wait until the end of my trip to know for sure.

Graphic:  © Greg Wimmer

Reading

Small Kindnesses

This spring, I learned about a new creative project led by Suleika Jaouad that encouraged participants to “create one tiny beautiful thing each day” for 100 days as a way to bridge the isolation of Covid and return to an as-yet-to-be defined new normal.  The choice of how to excite the imagination was to be determined by each participant.

When I was young, I enjoyed reading poetry but somewhere along the way, poems assumed an impenetrable guise and poetry become something I rarely read.  Although I did take a significant plunge into well written verses during the summer of 2012 when I joined Karen Sandberg and Rose Mish in presenting a summer service comprised entirely of poetic readings.  With the 100-Day Project the timing seemed right to revisit poetry.  I decided I would read a poem each morning and discover (or re-discover) a poet every day.

I created a poem calendar to track my daily progress complete with hyperlinks so that I could re-read the gems I discovered.  One such beautiful verse is Small Kindnesses by poet Danusha Laméris.  She asked 1,300 teenagers about the small kindnesses that make a difference to them and then used their answers to write this poem:

Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. 
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. 
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress 
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
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