Friday, December 9, 2005

Women waiting, women singing

Advent 2005
I read a wonderful piece by Henri Nouwen in my Advent readings (November 28 in Watch for the Light by Orbis Press) about the spiritual practice of waiting. This is a time of year when we have to wait, by intention during the Advent season if we pay attention, or by default as we wait in line or on snowy roads. Often at this time of year our waiting is grumpy and passive: "I had to wait for hours!" Spiritual practice waiting is waiting with a sense of promise; spiritual practice waiting is not passive or hopeless, but active. "The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun." (p. 31) From the familiar Christmas story, Nouwen mentions Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary as ones who typify this spiritual practice. Keep the faith as you have to wait for things, or ponder these things in your hearts, the seed that has been planted.

At this or any time of year there is not a restorative spiritual practice that includes a shopping frenzy, or rude drivers, or bad weather, but there are compensatory spiritual practices: smiling at harried store clerks and thanking them, for example, or deciding to spend ten minutes as a gift to ten people and waving the people who are waiting at intersections into the flow of traffic. And remember it's a practice to do this, not perfection.

Friday I took a mental wellness day--excellent timing as we got an amazing thundersnow and that meant I wasn't driving in that, but safely at home. I did a little deconstructive writing about Hell--but I won't go into more of that. School work continues to be engaging.

I did go out to the Mount Holyoke Christmas Vespers concert in Boston--taking public transportation because I hadn't shoveled out completely. As I walked by, I reminded someone who was shoveling and bemoaning that he didn't get his run in today that shoveling snow is really one of the best exercises to burn calories. Good to remember as I face another hour of it this morning.

The Vespers concert was wonderful. Cathy Melhorn, who was my advisor in college, is retiring, so this was her last Christmas Vespers concert. Despite the snow, the church was full of an audience there to honor her and enjoy the music. There was a solid five minutes of applause at the end of the concert--great concert. I also saw a number of friends from college whom I hadn't seen in several years who had come in from upstate New York and Vermont and Chicago. That's one of the gifts of holiday events--the people you might see there. It was good to catch up, even briefly.

I was reminded that the processional, the second antiphon for Christmas Hodie Christus natus est which is used before the Magnificat, was one of those pieces of music that was absolutely formational in both my musical and spiritual life. At this Vespers it's done by candlelight, and last night the movement of the sound of young women's voices as they were walking by was a flashback. The flashback though, was not just thirty years to when I did this, but back a thousand years or more. As they walked, singing, carrying single candles into a darkened stone vaulted church, bringing in the light, the music echoes in time--it's not just resonant in space. I actually referred to this chant in a paper last month as part of the link that music is in my pastoral or operative theology. Today Christ is born; my soul magnifies the Lord. Perhaps it is not a surprise that it echoes still. Mary's song, from the first chapter of Luke is one of the most powerful of Biblical prayers, echoing as it does Hannah's song before the birth of her son, Samuel (I Samuel 2: 1-10--can you tell that I'm taking Hebrew Bible classes this semester?). Women's voices bringing light and hope into the dark world: "God makes poor and makes rich; God brings low and also exalts. God raises up the poor from the dust; God lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor." "God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. … God has filled the hungry with good things and the rich God has sent empty away."

One of the contemporary pieces tonight by Libby Larsen used this poem text by Catherine de Vinck which captured that idea:
The Womanly Song of God (2003)
I am the woman dancing the world
Birds on my wrists
sun-feathers in my hair
I leap through hoops of atoms:
under my steps
plants burst into bloom
birches tremble in silver.
Can you not see the roundness of me:
curves of the earth
Maternal arms of the sea
I am the birthing woman
kneeling by the river
Heaving, pushing forth a sacred body
Round, round the wind
spinning itself wild
Drawing great circles of music
across the sky.
Round the gourd full of seeds
round the moon in its ripeness
Round the door through which I come
stooping into your house.
I am the God of a thousand names:
why cannot one of them be
Woman singing?

I give thanks to and for those people in my life like Cathy Melhorn, and other fine teachers and musicians, who help me and others create life, and soul, and joy, and insight from little black dots on paper: both words and music. May song bless each of our hearts in this season.
Peace, hope, joy, love, and faith: our prayers for this time of waiting,

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


It's not unusual that a CFO (that's my day job) would think about margin. In financial terms that's the difference between income and expenses, often referred to when it comes to thinking about the unexpected--state budget cuts, staff turnover, increased fuel costs, for example. Margin is essentially the buffer.

This week in conversation with colleagues and friends though, I've become aware of a different kind of margin. "[Margin] is the space that once existed between our load and our limits. Margin is the space between vitality and exhaustion. It is our breathing room, our reserves, our leeway. It is the opposite of overload...." ~Richard Swenson, quoted in Kirk Jones--Rest in the Storm

What struck me this week is a narrowing margin in people I'm seeing (and being). "How are you?" I ask. "Tired," is most often the reply, although "frazzled" also has gotten votes. As we approach the harvest season, the change of seasons, the holiday seasons, the winter, it feels like our collective personal reserves are low. For some, margin has disappeared. Overload is happening. We've reached our limits. Once again I think that our recognition of people on the margin, and life on the margin, mirrors and contributes to the sapping of our own energy. It's just harder. If nothing else we have compassion fatigue because it's hard to look at people devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, or wars, and know what to do. It was people with no margin who didn't get out of New Orleans, or who are now stranded without resources. It is people with no margin who are still in the rubble in Pakistan. And now what do we/can we do ... what happens next?

As often happens, a piece of music presented itself and captures the essence of the busy-ness that often leads to this lack of margin for me. "The Windmills of Your Mind" (from the 1968 version of the movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and music by Michel Legrand) is a very insistent piece. (Find the music if you can--it's almost all eighth notes and no rests, and if you can't find the music, read these lyrics aloud.)

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel, like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon, like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon, like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face, and the world is like an apple whirling silently in space, like the circles that you find in The Windmills of Your Mind! Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head, why did summer go so quickly? Was it something that you said? Lovers walk along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand, is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand? Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song, half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong? When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware that the autumn leaves were turning to the color of her hair! Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel, as the images unwind, like the circles that you find in The Windmills of Your Mind!

In Rest in the Storm, Kirk Jones invites us to challenge two delusions that leave us without margin, and to confront our denial in another area that blocks us.
The first delusion is our own indispensability. The world won't get along without us, so we can't stop and rest and replenish our reserves. Hm ... is this speaking to anyone I know? (Maybe I know her well.)
The second delusion is our invincibility--really, we do have limitless reserves of compassion and energy. (I hope I am over this one, trust me, the creaks in the joints are making me pay attention.)
But the biggest block that depletes our margin, and I think that also puts people on the margin, is what Kirk Jones calls "subjugating" personhood. I deplete my own margin when I get so caught up in being CFO, parent, minister in training, caregiver, listener, friend, etc., and forget that first and foremost, I am a person. That 'who I am,' just me, is what is important, not what I can do. "Before you are a minister, teacher, ..., and even before you are a parent, spouse, or friend, you are a child of God, a person whom God loves unconditionally." ~Kirk Jones.
It's a person that goes for a walk and scuffles in leaves; it's a person that takes time to listen to music; it's a person who sits and enjoys a cup of tea; it's the person who takes time to notice and share that the wrinkles in her own hands remind her of her mother's hands.
In the same way, too, we put others on the margin, by labeling them and not recognizing the person that is there: it's the welfare mom; it's the nursing home resident; it's the poor Pakistani peasant; it's the jerk who cut you off at the light. Where is the person? Who is the person? Paying attention to the person moves the person out of the margin, off the margin, makes the person central again, if only for a time. But that time of centrality is essential. Running out of margin, as we have witnessed, is really dangerous.

So, how do we restore margin?
Margin on a page of course gives us space, clear space, all around us. So restoring margin requires making space for clarity, for remembering what is central to us. Kirk Jones reminds that Jesus went to the back of the boat to sleep, before being awakened to calm the storm. So, find the back of the boat ... give up the delusions of being indispensable and invincible ... remember who you are.

Perhaps this song (also by Michel Legrand with Hal David) puts it in a way we can hear:
The first time I heard a bluebird,
I stopped and listened and it was beautiful, beautiful.
The next time I heard a bluebird,
I kept on walking.
Still, I remembered that it was beautiful, o beautiful.
Day by day the way I once felt grew harder to recall,
till one time a bluebird sang
and I didn't hear it at all.
You've got to learn to hear again ev'ry single day.
You've got to learn to make yourself feel the way you did
the day you first heard a bluebird, a bluebird.
I first heard a bluebird when I was playing in my garden,
looking at my father smiling at me.
Now ev'ry time I hear a bluebird
I still can see my father smiling at me.
The first time I heard a bluebird,
I stopped and listened and it was beautiful,
and it was beautiful.

I invite you to stop to find
something beautiful to hear or see: a bird, a leaf, a smile;
to stop and rest
and remember that you are a person.
Step away from the windmill of your mind.
Find clear space or clear a space.
If you can't do this by yourself, ask for encouragement or help.
And/or when you stop and think or want to do something about the person on the margin, who is not the label, think of her or him first as a person, yes, who may need clothes, shelter, heat, food, or comfort, but, as much, needs a smile and something of beauty, just like you do.

As for me, I found some time after an exam to come home and sit, read a nonassigned book (recommended: Rest in the Storm or Addicted to Hurry, both by Kirk Jones), play some music (Michel Legrand--can you guess), and write a bit. It was a nice bit of margin making.

"Peace, be still!"
In prayers for grace, clear space and peace,
and heading toward the back of the boat,

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Why aren't you…

"Why aren't you dancing with joy at this very moment? is the only relevant spiritual question." Sufi seer Pir Vilayet Inayet Khan tells us.
Israeli theologian Martin Buber also opens our eyes to this truth: "The beating heart of the universe is holy joy."
When he is about to leave his disciples, Jesus tells them, "These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." What a beautiful legacy--passing on abundant joy.
"Always remember," Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the Hasidic teacher says, "Joy is not incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital." So cultivate it.
Why is it so hard for us to be joyful? Is it the pressures of life which give us no relief, or the suffering of the innocents, or the rampant injustice in the world? Is it perhaps the fact that we don't like ourselves very much and always feel guilty? Or is it the fear that seizes us when we think of tomorrow?
Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century English mystic speaks across the ages, "The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything." That is the secret in a nutshell. Behold the Divine Joy in the good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the past and the future, the magnificent moment and the tawdry one.
Frederick Buechner, a contemporary Protestant writer says: "The world is full of suffering indeed, and to turn our backs on it is to work a terrible unkindness maybe almost more on ourselves than on the world. But life indeed is also to be enjoyed. I suggest that may even be the whole point of it. I more than suspect that is why all the sons of God (and daughters) shouted for joy when God first brought it into being."
Give yourself permission to be dizzy with joy and thankful for all the blessings which abound in your day.
Give yourself permission to rejoice with others. French novelist George Bernanos writes, "To find joy in another's joy, that is the secret of happiness."
Give yourself permission to feel good about helping others. Mother Teresa of Calcutta knows, "She gives most who gives with joy."
from Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, p. 244-5.

Perhaps it was this reminder that I needed today that made me open this book to this reading. And perhaps it is a reminder for each of you. Usually if someone asks Why aren't you ... you are in trouble. Today I invite you to find something joyful and share it. It can be the sunrise, the burst of purple morning glories, the squirrel turning flips on the fence, another story of human compassion from disaster relief...
Share joy. Rejoice, again I say to you, Rejoice.
In joy,

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Approaching summer reading: theology lite

In these past several weeks, I have been reveling in the time to read the unassigned, after a seminary school year of fairly heavy assigned readings. Maybe it was because I had just finished systematic theology that I noticed the theological themes, or maybe it's because anyone who wrestles with the meaning of life as good authors often do, are often also theologians.
But here are some summer recommendations:

I started with Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Camillo because my daughter had been reading it, and it was around the house. It's about a preacher's kid whose mother has left her and the preacher: her father, and the stray dog she discovers, and then the discoveries she makes about church and community, about caring for something and how that can expand your heart and your horizons. I recommend it and my daughter says that the movie, which I haven't seen, is pretty faithful to the book. Despite it being a short "children's" book, there are some hard to read moments, so be aware. Ministry for anyone is what this book talks about: going about in your day to day life, and being pushed to reach out, to pay attention to others, to find out 10 important things about people, to care.

Then, catching up with the best sellers, and on the recommendation of several friends, I read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, which a friend had loaned me last summer. It too was a powerful story about a young woman, whose search for justice and her mother lead her into some amazing moments. Theologically it raises the questions about the importance and meaning of ritual, symbols, and a worshipping community. It also calls us to attend to justice and to the divine both in the everyday and in the odd people and places in our lives.

And that was more reading about Southern orphans than I normally do in a year.

Before I had a chance to get to the library, I went to my shelves and re-read the trilogy by Sharon Shinn: Archangel, Jovah's Angel, and The Alleluia Files. What is God, how does God hear our prayers, and how do technology and science intersect with God are the questions that this science fiction/future fantasy series raises and answers. If you are willing to indulge in any future fantasy, I recommend Sharon Shinn, and her setting on this world where angels are real and among us, and there are those who believe that someone needs to intercede to God for us, those who believe that Yovah hears us whenever we sing, and those who wonder if Jovah exists, and the impact of the power of those beliefs in a society.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon is a novel set in the near future about autism, a change of pace for this sci-fi author who has written much about military matters. I like her other books, because she explores the relationships between the military, power, women's roles in the military, and ethics--so necessary today or in any age. This is a powerful inside look at autism, from the narrator's perspective as an autistic person. One of the most moving passages for me in the book is when the narrator is offered a chance for a cure from autism, and in his struggle about it, clings to his routine and goes to church. That Sunday the minister happens to be preaching from the gospel of John about Jesus and the cripple by the pool, who is waiting for the angel to come and stir the waters, and who needs someone to lower him into the water. The autistic narrator doesn't believe he needs to be healed, not of autism--mostly because being autistic is so much who he is. That perhaps others need to be healed for not accepting him the way he is.
Here is an excerpted passage which, if you don't get a chance yourself to get to hear a sermon today, I hope it makes you think about healing and about acceptance and about change, as much as it did for me:
******* excerpts from pages 272-278
Our priest begins the sermon:
"Why does Jesus ask the man if he wants to be healed? Isn't that kind of silly? He's lying there waiting for his chance at healing .... Surely he wants to be healed."
Exactly, I think.
"If God isn't playing games with us, being silly, what then does this question mean, Do you want to be healed? Look at where we find this man: by the pool known for its healing powers, where 'an angel comes and stirs the water at intervals ...' and the sick have to get into the water while it's seething. Where, in other words, the sick are patient patients, waiting for the cure to appear. They know--they've been told--that the way to be cured is to get in the water while it seethes. They aren't looking for anything else. ... They are in that place, at that time, looking for not just healing, but healing by that particular method.
"In today's world, we might say they are like the person who believes that one particular doctor--one world-famous specialist--can cure him of his cancer. He goes to the hospital where that doctor is, he wants to see that doctor and no one else, because he is sure that only that method will restore him to health.
"So the paralyzed man focuses on the healing pool, sure that the help he needs is someone to carry him into the water at the right time.
"Jesus' question, then, challenges him to consider whether he wants to be well or he wants that particular experience, of being in the pool. If he can be healed without it, will he accept that healing?
"... I think the question Jesus asks has to do with a cognitive problem, not an emotional problem. Can the man see outside the box? Can he accept healing that is not what he's used to? That will go beyond fixing his legs and back and start working on him from the inside out, from the spirit to the mind to the body?"
I do not think I need to be healed, not of autism. Other people want me to be healed, not me myself. I wonder if the man had a family, a family tired of carrying him around on his litter. I wonder if he had parents who said, "The least you could do is try to be healed," or a wife who said, "Go on, try it; it can't hurt," or children teased by other children because their father couldn't work. I wonder if some of the people who came did not come because they wanted to be healed, themselves, but because other people wanted them to do it, to be less of a burden.
Since my parents died, I am not anyone's burden. ...
"... so the question for us today is, Do we want the power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, or are we just pretending?" The priest has said a lot I have not heard. This I hear, and I shiver.
"Are we sitting here beside the pool, waiting for an angel to come trouble the water, waiting patiently but passively, while beside us the living God stands ready to give us life everlasting, abundant life, if only we will open our hands and hearts and take that gift?
"I believe many of us are. I believe all of us are like that at one time or another, but right now, still, many of us sit and wait and lament that there is no one to lower us into the water when the angel comes." He pauses and looks around the church; I see people flinch and others relax when his gaze touches them. "Look around you, every day, in every place, into the eyes of everyone you meet. Important as this church may be in your life, God should be greater--and God is everywhere, everywhen, in everyone and everything. Ask yourself, 'Do I want to be healed?' and--if you can't answer yes--start asking why not. For I am sure that God stands beside each of you, asking that question in the depths of your soul, ready to heal you of all things as soon as you are ready to be healed."
I stare at him and almost forget to stand up and say the words of the Nicene Creed, which is what comes next.
I believe in God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth and of all things seen and unseen. I believe God is important and does not make mistakes. My mother used to joke about God making mistakes, but I do not think if He is God He makes mistakes. So it is not a silly question.
Do I want to be healed? And of what?
The only self I know if this self, the person I am now, the autistic bioinformatics specialist fencer lover of Marjory.
And I believe in the only begotten son, Jesus Christ, who actually in the flesh asked that question of the man by the pool. The man who perhaps--the story does not say--had gone there because people were tired of him being sick and disabled, who perhaps had been content to lie down all day, but he got in the way.
What would Jesus have done if the man had said, "No, I don't want to be healed; I am quite content as I am."? If he had said, "There is nothing wrong with me, but my relatives and neighbors insisted I come"?
I say the words automatically, smoothly, while my mind wrestles with the reading, the sermon, the words. I remember another student, back in my hometown, who found out I went to church and asked, "Do you really believe that stuff or is it just a habit?"
If it is just a habit, like going to the healing pool when you are sick, does that mean there is no belief? If the man had told Jesus that he didn't really want to be healed, but his relatives insisted, Jesus might still think the man needed to be able to get up and walk.
Maybe God thinks I would be better if I weren't autistic. Maybe God wants me to take the treatment.
I am cold suddenly. Here I have felt accepted--accepted by God, accepted by the priest and the people, or most of them. God does not spurn the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed, the crazy. That is what I have been taught and what I believe. What if I was wrong? What if God wants me to be something other than I am?

... The story continues with the priest explaining to the narrator after the service that the reason he spoke on this scripture which wasn't on the schedule was because there had been fighting in another church and some of their members had come to this church and were still arguing, and the priest wanted them to think about being healed from their anger. The priest then says, "Lou, you look a little upset still. Are you sure that you can't tell me what it is?"
I do not want to talk to him about the treatment right now, but it is worse not to tell the truth here in church than anywhere else.
"Yes," I say. "You said God loved us, accepted us, as we are. But then you said people should change, should accept healing. Only, if we are accepted as we are, then maybe that is what we should be. And if we should change, then it would be wrong to be accepted as we are."
He nods. I do not know if that means he agrees that I said it correctly or that we should change. "I truly did not aim that arrow at you, Lou, and I'm sorry it hit you. I always thought of you as someone who had adapted very well--who was content within the limits God had put on his life."
"I don't think it was God," I say. "My parents said it was an accident, that some people are just born that way. But if it was God, it would be wrong to change, wouldn't it?"
He looks surprised.
"But everyone has always wanted me to change as much as I could, be as normal as I could, and if that is a correct demand, then they cannot believe that the limits--the autism--come from God. That is what I cannot figure out. I need to know which it is."
"Hm ... I never thought of it that way, Lou. Indeed, if people think of disabilities as literally God-given, then waiting by the pool is the only reasonable response. You don't throw away something God gives you. But actually--I agree with you. I can't really see God wanting people born with disabilities."
"So I should want to be cured of it, even if there is no cure?"
"I think what we are supposed to want is what God wants, and the tricky thing is that much of the time we don't know what that is," he said.
"You know," I say.
"I know part of it. God wants us to be honest, kind, helpful to one another. But whether God wants us to pursue every hint of a cure of conditions we have or acquire ... I don't know that. Only if it doesn't interfere with who we are as God's children, I suppose. And some things are beyond human power to cure, so must do the best we can to cope with them. Good heavens, Lou, you come up with difficult ideas!" He is smiling at me, and it looks like a real smile, eyes and mouth and whole face. "You'd have made a very interesting seminary student."

So even the summer light reading can challenge theologically.
Blessings on your own summer reading.
Your faithful and interested seminary student,

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Be still ...

On Saturday, I picked up a friend to go to the gym so that we could walk on the treadmills together. The last time we'd gone though, there had not been two treadmills together so half the time we hadn't been able to walk and talk which is our practice. So, I thought about taking a book just in case that happened again, and was about to pick up an assigned reading for class next week to take with me, Addicted to Hurry by Kirk Jones, when I realized the ludicrous irony of that.

Tonight at dinner at seminary, a classmate came over for a hug with the same irony. "Nancy, I've been looking for your calm face. I'm only on page 9 of Addicted to Hurry, and I have to hurry to read the rest of it for class tomorrow morning!"
Of course, I'm still reading the book tonight. But I came to this quote on p. 54, "Significantly, Hebrew theology teaches that deepening faith cannot occur apart from the purposeful choice to be still."

And this editing of the famous verse occurred to me: "Be still and know that 'I am': God." In the Hebrew, another name for God is "I am." This is how you know yourself, your divinity, the image of God in you, and God: start now: be still.
How hard it is for me just to be still, to savor, to be spacious.
Right now, I take a moment and I am still. God? I am? Are you--there? here?

What does it take for each of us, for any of us, to be still? God is there: I am--in the stillness.

May you each be able to find a time of stillness in the coming day.
Blessings and peace,

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Spaciousness and tea

I read a section of a book of essays and excerpts this week called Simpler Living, Compassionate Life, edited by Michael Schut. The section that particularly attracted my attention was called "Time as Commodity, Time as Sacred" and had this quote as the section beginning, "We measure our time in terms of money, and find that we can't enjoy time at all." ~Cecile Andrews.

In this section, Juliet Schor provides an excerpt from her book The Overworked American which outlines what most of us feel: we work harder to stay up with where we were years ago, and have less time and energy to enjoy our life, and have more stress related illnesses, child neglect, sleep deprivation, and marital distress. Time has become more valuable than money and more scarce. Money has begun to matter so much that we can't enjoy the fruits of our labors, because we are laboring so long.

While that confirmation was useful, although not news during this past week that I was taking a full 3 credit class in one week, and keeping up at work via email and at home without a lot of sleep, the essay that really spoke to doing something about it was entitled "Entering the Emptiness" by Gerald May.

May explains the concept of spaciousness, especially the "spaciousness of love." "From the biblical Hebrew, the letters yodh and shin combine to form a root that connotes "space and the freedom and security which is gained by the removal of constriction." He talks about three primary ways of having spaciousness in your life: form (uncluttered and open, physical), time (pauses from demands) and soul (inner emptiness, openness and possibility). He reminds us of the fourth commandment, to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. "Sabbath was meant to be a day of spaciousness in form, time and soul. It was to be an uncluttered day, a day not filled up, a day of rest and appreciation, a day of freedom just to be."

He also talks about the way that we fill our spaces or dull our awareness with television, phone calls, or a drink, to name a few. He challenges us to "realign our attitudes toward spaciousness. We must begin to see it as presence rather than absence, friend instead of enemy." Even our practices of prayer, meditation or reflection have become filled with spiritual activity, allowing no real space.

Reading that, I realized that what I most wanted and needed at that moment was some spaciousness. So after I'd put my daughter to bed, put in a load of laundry, and finished that thirty pages of reading, I looked for a spacious moment. I lit two beeswax tapers and turned out the light. I stretched, working the kinks out of my body from sitting all day. I chose several pieces of recorded music that have been spiritually connecting to me, and I sat down and stared into the candle flame, and just let myself be.

It may not have been much more than 15-20 minutes, but what a gift it was.

Then in another essay from Aurora Levins Morales, from her book Medicine Stories, she talks still more powerfully about spaciousness. She talks about leaving victimhood behind. "So what comes to mind is the high price we pay when we settle for being wronged. Victimhood absolves us from having to decide to have good lives. It allows us to stay small and wounded instead of spacious, powerful and whole. We don't have to face up to our own responsibility for taking charge of things, for changing the world and ourselves." Being spacious is freeing.

The class I took this past week was called Money Matters, and one of our assignments is to keep a money journal for a week. With spaciousness on my mind, I realized a motif in some of my own everyday life.

I am a tea drinker, and my favorite tea is Earl Grey, which is flavored with oil of bergamot. I usually buy loose tea and brew a pot each morning. I ran out a week and a half ago, but had a box of Earl Grey tea bags that carried me over for the week of class. The box of 25 bags cost $1.69. It takes two bags to make a strong enough pot of tea for my tastes.

I was going to meet a friend Friday night and on my way I could pass the tea store in Harvard Square, so I went in early to get my tea. They sell their tea in grams, not pounds, so I always have to stop and think about the conversion, but last night I was too tired to ask for it in grams, but I thought I remembered how much I had paid the last time. So I asked the person at the counter for $25.00 worth of bin 212 (which is the Harvard Square Earl Grey) because I said I couldn't remember how many grams. He did a quick price check and said, "That's 250 grams. That's a lot of tea."

I was struck by how odd it seemed to me that he would think that. He's selling tea, after all.

I said, "I have a tin that size that it fits in, and that way I don't have to worry about running out and having to get it so often."

I realized that the whole thing around loose tea and this particular flavored tea has layers of meaning for me. I calculated that if I bought boxes of bagged tea, instead of loose, that I could get 6 months of tea for the same $25 that currently lasts me two months. So, I started to do that as I was looking for ways to save money as I started back to school. But then it seemed like I had to buy tea every time I went to the store, and I don't really have room in my cupboard to store two months worth of boxed tea. So I went back to buying loose tea.

In reflection now, I realize that I like the ritual of putting the loose tea in the tea ball in the morning. I like being a "real" tea drinker with a teapot--it feels like part of a heritage of tea and civility, and soothing, and a tea bag doesn't quite meet those ritual requirements. Making tea is also a part of my morning quiet/meditation time, so it is a part of that ritual, so the ritual elements of the making are important somehow. I like having an abundant supply of tea in the cupboard so that I don't feel like I'm operating from scarcity. I like going into the tea store and asking for my favorite blend. I like that personal interaction around this symbol of civility and spaciousness, rather than throwing the box on the conveyor at the grocery store.

The hymn that came into my head this morning as I was thinking about this and about the reading from Gerald May that talked about spaciousness again was what I used as my morning prayer:
O grant us, God, a little space from daily tasks set free.
We meet within this holy place and find security.

Around us rolls the ceaseless tide of business, toil, and care.
And scarcely can we turn aside for one brief hour of prayer.

Yet this is not the only place your presence may be found;
On daily work you shed your grace, and blessings all around.

Yours are the workplace, home and mart, the wealth of sea and land;
The worlds of science and of art are fashioned by your hand.

Work shall be prayer, if all be wrought as you would have it done;
And prayer, by you inspired and taught, shall then with work be one.
(New Century Hymnal, #516, text by John Ellerton, adapted)

May each of us find some places and moments and ways to be spacious. May you clear space, pause, and open yourself to the power that you have when you let the Divine and Holy be in your heart and life. And the next time you have a cup of tea, I hope that you take some space too.
Spaciously yours,