Being the Light, Discovery, Grace Happens, Ordinary Miracles

Spirit Stones–Undergoing a Transformation

Spirit Stones is alive and well, just undergoing a transformation. You’ve just found me on a redesigned website more easily searchable that will, one day soon, announce the emergence of my new book, Loving the Enemy: When the favorite parent dies first.

You’ll find some of the ‘Stones lovingly cached within the book. And you will also get a look at the ending of my parents’ lives, including the back stories, encounters, and astonishments that reveal how a new relationship comes to fruition with time, care, and love. But not before knowing some of the confusion and pain of family story

So many drafts I cannot count them. So much rewriting following advice from two professional editors in New York. Many of my friends have shared comments and suggestions along the way. It takes a village to write a book.

I am a veritable archive of quotations from others. Many of them appear within as well. How I wish I had begun earlier to get permission from the many publishers to reuse these pithy quotations. They are still trickling in, for example Sue Monk Kidd, Richard Rohr, and Joan Chittister.

A good friend and published writer told me that she would never let a publishing company get hold of her work again. She advised I self-publish as well. She didn’t let on how much work that is, however, and how long it takes to decide when one is finished. I am finished!

It is complete, except for the process of formatting, printing, and arranging marketing to let you know it’s ready. You will see it in late spring. And I will keep you posted.

Here are three short excerpts.

  1. “’Look at all that!’ Mom remarks, as I pull the stringy innards of the pumpkin out and slop them on the newspapers covering the table. She is charmed, seeing the orange pulp as if for the first time. With a large spoon I scoop out handfuls of strings and seeds. Once the shell is clean, I ask, ‘Now, where’s a candle we can put inside?’ I make holes for eyes and carve a large mouth in a smile while she goes to the hall closet. A small votive candle fits perfectly, and I put the pumpkin on my parents’ mantel. “When I drive away I’m pleased; I’ve done something tangible. Should I be doing this more often? Should I be caring for my parents as if were the parent? Is it time? Will they permit it, I wonder? Mom’s marveling at the pumpkin worries me. Why, for her, is this so fresh? Has she forgotten she’d led this exercise for me and my brothers and her grandchildren for years?”
  1. “I betrayed my mother. The two of us face each other in the social worker’s office at Rocky Glen, the nursing home where Dad is already placed. Mom’s red blouse and charcoal sweater punctuate her anger, always dreadful for me. My mouth is dry, my face blank, hiding fear and deep sadness. She has visited Dad here once; she knows where she is, and she knows it’s not her home. She frowns at me, leveling her dark eyes, adamant she will not be admitted against her will. ’This is just for a short while, Mom. It’s not safe for you to stay at home alone.’ My voice is soft and trembling, but full of what I hope is compassion and understanding. She has only rudimentary understanding of what is going on. ‘When Dad is stronger, the two of you can find a retirement home together.’ She glares.”
  2.  “’I can’t see the television captions from my chair,’ Dad explains of the set on top of his bureau but, as I quickly offer to get a larger one, he stops me. ‘No, no. I don’t want a bigger one,’ he insists. But it isn’t the last time he brings up how hard it is to see and understand what’s going on. Apparently it is just one more factor he has accepted. He’s not complaining when he shares these things, he’s reporting. There is nothing I need do. Does he view the circumstances as temporary? Tolerable? Or is he simply done with allowing other people to do things for him? Maybe in his silences at home he was just as content, and I couldn’t read it on his face.”

Loving the Enemy: When the Favorite Parents Dies First.

Catherine Fransson.     Stilwell Press.

Stay Tuned!

Grace Happens

Grace Happens

Beneath this parable is a bedrock assumption of abundance that we too rarely trust.

There is seed enough to lose, and the God who makes the sun to shine and rain

 to fall upon the righteous and unrighteous (Matt 5:45) is indiscriminate

about sharing. Grace is flung and wasted everywhere.

Brian Hiortdahl, The Christian Century06.29.2011

 

Grace Happens        Rev. Catherine Fransson       Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23   July 10, 2011     

 

Did you, as I, vacation with friends at Spirit Lake at the foot of Mt. St. Helens before the blast? Did you row on the lake, take pictures of her round snowy dome and, seeking shade, hike through venerable old pine, fir and cedar forests? Then perhaps those images haunted us both when St. Helens stirred to life in 1980 in an earthquake, blew a 250 foot hole through her pristine peak, then spewed her whole north side over 200 square miles of grand landscape.

Fifty seven people died. Seven thousand large animals, deer, elk and bears, were killed, and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of small animals died. In one of the nation’s show places, there was devastation of the largest order.

But not so fast. Unknown to us then, vegetation began to recover immediately from the plants that survived the blast and the dispersal of seeds from beyond the blast zone. Scientists were surprised survivors would be so diverse and widespread. They continue to discover many factors that aid the ongoing recovery, beginning with the season the blast occurred, May, when there was enough snow on the ground to provide water to the tiny animals living underground. Yes, the pocket gopher survived. Deaths of cousin animals provided nutrients to the others. Even the wind-blown spiders floating in on the breeze who died provided organic material that supported the life of other organisms and plants. “With what seems like excruciating patience and persistence, nature transform[ed] a desolate landscape into one capable of supporting life.”

 

Life persists, right? Look at your yard! As silent, mysterious, and hidden is the germination of a seed in the soil, a plant will surely follow. As silent and hidden is the germination of the realm of God, for which the disciples prayed and for which we continue to pray, the kindom will certainly come.  Even if the sower, as in today’s case, casts seed upon hard-baked earth, into the thorns and on the rocks, seed will settle, send down roots and thrive. Life persists against the greatest odds.

Missing something? Did you not hear what you often hear in this parable? Whenever I’ve heard it before a small knot in my stomach tells me I am being weighed in the balance and found wanting. Even Jesus explains this parable to show it is the quality of the soil on which the seed is thrown that determines whether the seed takes root and thrives. The point is: is your soil plowed, prepared and ready for the seeds of God? Oh oh.

The image is of Christ casting the seeds of grace, offering life with abandon. Seed falls on the rocks, the path, places it’s never likely to grow. Thorns grow up and choke it. Only part of the seed falls on ground good enough to nurture it thirty, sixty or a hundred fold. If we are the ground, it’s a pretty poor prognosis.

But what of this farmer?! How careless he is! In any other context the point of the story would be his foolishness. Nobody sows seed on a path or rocks and expects it to take root. Even I, only a sometime gardener, know that.

Jesus has to explain this parable, the first in Matthew’s gospel, to the disciples. I speak like this because you are my friends, he tells them, and those others are not. You are blessed to be here with me, and blessed because your eyes see, and your ears hear. We speak the same language. I will tell you what I mean because you have already heard my voice and responded. You have risked everything to follow me.

The disciples may be insiders in Galilee, immediately near Capernaum where Jesus’ ministry is, but even they are not sure they get it. And the gospel writer’s interpretation is but one of many that can be made on this illustration. As we try to understand the open-ended meanings of scripture today, it is unwise for us to settle on any one truth. There are many truths here.

So what about this farmer’s carelessness? Flagrantly ineffective, he sows with abandon, appearing not to notice. Seed is a precious commodity. Those of us who plant, do so carefully, working the ground, preparing it, adding nutrients, water, ensuring the seed will find a home where it can settle in to grow. And yet look what happened at Spirit Lake. Destruction everywhere. The land laid waste. The forest felled over acres of ground. The lake full of trees, rocks, ash; polluted with dead marine life. The area was virtually dead.

There is only so much we can do about ensuring a good crop, protecting the environment from natural cataclysm, but paradoxically, that doesn’t matter. A few verses ahead of these, Jesus explains, the sower sows each day and then goes to bed, gets up and does it again. “Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the sower knowing how it happens.” (4.27) Paul voices a similar truth in his letter to the Corinthians: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the growth. (1 Cor 3:6) Is the seed is so potent it takes care of itself? Is God so potent we don’t have to worry?

Admit it, we have little control over the ground. We think we have some over the weather, but that is in great dispute and much of the time, we have little control of ourselves. Even the great missionary Paul confessed he could not control himself. He tried to do what he knew was right, and failed. All he could do was recognize his mistakes and begin again. God has no such trouble. God never gives up. In communities like ours we encourage each other to have our hard places plowed, turned over and loosened up, our rocky places named and removed, our shallowness deepened and enriched…in short, we ready each other to begin again.

Since God is sowing the seed and seeing to the growth, then even on hostile, indifferent and unreceptive ground, the seed will not return to God empty. This is a God who spreads love and life recklessly. As silent and mysterious and invisible is the germination of a seed, so is the growth of the kindom for which we pray. Grace simply happens!

Now, I do believe all things work together for good. But I have as much trouble as anyone discerning whatgood will come of whichthings. And when. Anne Lamott comes immediately to mind…”Grace,” she says, “eventually.” Grace…yes. But not exactly when we want it, and sometimes not exactly what we want.

I need help to live this kind of life: friends, wise mentors, a pit crew. I need time, coaching, practice, and forgiveness. Paul Loeb’s collection of essays, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, details people working small projects against great odds, only occasionally successfully. But Vaclav Havel, for example, believed hope “the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” Every effort does not have to turn out. Some of what we try to do in our lives, at this church, in our city and our nation, are simply worth doing not because they turn out, but because they make sense, because they are embodiments of who we are and what we believe. “People are often unreasonable and self-centered,” wrote Mother Teresa. “Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” We do what we think reveals grace because it honors our God. And it casts seed on all sorts of unlikely places. Especially on unlikely places and people.

Rachel Naomi Remen, founder of the mind/body holistic health movement, tells of her father who believed his family always had bad luck. Two things: he went bankrupt and she, his only daughter, had chronic illness, so that seemed true. She tells this story: in 1971 her dad won a prize in the New York State lottery…”more money than my dad had ever seen in his life in one place.” He won it when he was in the hospital recovering from the removal of a–benign–tumor. (luck, yes?) He taped the ticket to his chest and declared no one could be trusted to redeem it for him, not any of his friends or family, not even his wife. For a long time he couldn’t even be persuaded to turn it in. As its deadline approached, he convinced Rachel and her mother not to tell anyone, lest they try to take advantage of them if they knew. Eventually he redeemed the ticket, but he never spent the money because he was afraid others would then know he had it.

Remen said she learned more from what he did than what she so often heard him say. Her father created his luck. But even that didn’t prevent her from growing into the intuitive, healing person that she is.

At Mt. St. Helens some plants survived the blast. Some root remnants were watered by the snowmelt. Prairie Lupine was the first to return, taking nitrogen from the air. The northern pocket gopher survived in her dens and tunnels, pulling down the roots of the lupine for nourishment, pushing rich old forest soil up through the ash to create mounds that caught plant spores lofting in from out of the blast zone. Some thrived there. Some died. Others adapted. Today that unbelievable devastation is slowly healing. Earth healing itself. In time earth will heal itself even of nuclear accident…even if humanity as we know it is severely compromised. Earth does not need us. Indeed, it is we who threaten it. If, instead, we plant, and share the watering, God will give the growth.

Grace happens. In spite of volcanoes, typhoons, tsunamis, and wildfire, life persists. In spite of death life persists. God continues to scatter life and love and growth, health and wisdom and patience day after day after day, year after year. Because of that abundance, we know that life begets life.

“If God exists,” writes Sara Maitland, “she exists as a God who wishes to reveal herself; who labours constantly and complexly in her relationships with the creation, both individual and communal, tossing down clues and invitations and introductory notes here, there and everywhere like an ambitious hostess; a God who yearns to be loved and known and engaged with.”

 

How can we possibly lose?!

 

 

Grace Happens

Surprise

Soaring with purpose over my roof, a crow carried food in his beak. I walked to the back window to see him poised in the back yard over a deep patch of moss. He dropped his peanut and then poked it three or four times with his beak, pushing it deeper. He looked, then found and reached for a nearby frond to drop on the cache to cover it.

One of the neighbors leaves peanuts out for all the critters. Some peanuts end up in the bird bath, soaked beyond recognition, putting off the birds. Squirrels dig in the flower pots routinely to hide or retrieve their treasures, leaving roots awry, dirt spilled.

I’d never seen a crow hide a nut before. But they’re notoriously inventive, wise and wily. Surprising, too, like the one who shook snow on Robert Frost. Surprise, in our overbooked lives, jars perspective, lifts mood, lightens darkness.

pexels-photo-914854.jpegGrace is like that.

Do you have hope for the future?

Someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.

Yes, and even for the past, he replied,

that it will turn out to have been all right

for what it was, something we can accept,

mistakes made by the selves we had to be….

When least expected, grace weaves rainbows through storm clouds. Leaves promises we can trust. Assures us that Creation is always, always inventing, surprising glimpses of riches where we least expect.

Why not, then, that some good comes out of what we remember when we were too young, too inexperienced, even too unwise, to know…mistakes made by who we were.

Then wouldn’t it have been worth it after all?

Being Quiet, Grace Happens, Lavish loving, Ordinary Miracles

Here’s the Deal

My cat Sugar’s presence often invites petting—because I need a hug. She’s a 10-year-old tuxedo with elaborate white whiskers and silky thick black fur. Sometimes she tries to ignore me. Sometimes she accepts me with stillness, then purring, other times a tail warning that she is not available just now. Often, in the evening she comes near eyeing my lap, testing my tolerance. It is a balance. We are respectful of each other’s being, listening inwardly both to ourselves, and then to each other. When Sugar comes seeking togetherness, she is pure gift, the soul of our home.

IMG_0002

Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

 This belief of Parker Palmer’s is the wisest advice to those wanting to help others. We have many, many other skills, such as attentive listening, and reflecting the emotions we detect behind the words, but the basic gift to be offered to the sacred being of another is our attention. I experienced the touchy-feely 70s and the needy 80s, encounter groups, trust exercises, and probably too late for some, boundary lessons. We experimented with hugging everyone, then giving others distance, then asking permission to hug, which today, comes fairly naturally to most. I learn when I meet someone what her preferred distance is.

I learned to pay attention at home. I paid attention to my dad who ruled the roost. I paid attention to my mom because she had a lot to share and considered me her best friend. That first obligation, to listen without any limits, led me into a world of unbalanced relationships. When would I have the time to be heard? How would I know?

I hadn’t learned to listen to myself.

God asks us to love the Holy One with our whole heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is this last clause that we too often overlook. We reach out to those who suffer without asking basic questions: how am I doing right now? Do I have what I need for myself, or am I reaching out reflexively from an old habit of doing for others what I, myself, need—a certain route to self-denial.

To be honest, we all do a little of both. But as long as we’re aware of our balance point, and not exceeding what we know we can afford to give, to sacrifice, even, for our neighbors, then the joy of giving, of listening to a friend who needs to share with us, will replenish the energy of our giving.

 

Fear of the Dark, Grace Happens, Soul Work

The Flame That Lights Our Way

As you saw from my last post, I believe the tragedies of violence, war and loss must be mourned and honored. But there is more. We must work to step out of those shadows lest we be submerged under the weight of grief. I look to sisters and brothers to remind myself of the strength of a faith that hopes for things unseen–the abundant consolations of the Spirit. We need to look to the unquenchable flame that lights our way out of the darkness.

One of the most profound images of the scriptures is that light that shines in darkness.  In the Christian scriptures John writes that “In [Jesus] was life, and life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” [Jn 1.5] Science and faith tell us the origin of LIGHT is the Big Bang. The infinite cosmos reflects it. The Light is no less than the Mind of God that infuses everything that we are as well as our world of boundless beauty that beckons us toward God.

The Buddhist God Indra spreads a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. In each “eye” of her net is a single brilliant, perfect jewel that also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number, and each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel affects them all, light, dark, a moving panoply of color. We look for that light wherever we can find it. Sometimes it is simply the warmth of a smiling barista who hands over a double-tall latte at a low point of the morning. Or a viewpoint across Puget Sound that highlights the sunset over the Olympic Mountains, and the clouds that back-light the colors that flare out of the west.

IMG_0787 Last week I watched the sun set softly into a haze over the island of Lanai across the bay from Lahaina. The sun beamed rays toward Lanai and the sea as the earth continued to turn to the east.

Life is difficult. We reach to one another for strength and hope. But politically it appears we are being goaded into collective fear that has empowered several presidential candidates to offer us everything we think we ever needed while the details, how to “become great again,” for instance, remain cloudy and undefined. Each person who wonders if the promises are true, who questions whether any one politician can grant our every wish, needs only a fragment of mirror to reflect that question to others. And then, instead of huddling in fear with those who expect disaster, or want rescue, we can stop, recover perspective, and see the light shining for the common good. The light that sees all persons regardless of origin, faith, culture, or resources equal to the others from around the globe. It is the sign of a healthy nation that the least among us also thrive, not simply those with wealth.

Quaker Parker Palmer reminds us how easily we fall under the thrall of a “strong man” who promises to make us “great” again. He quotes from Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 advised how unlikely it is that the U.S. will fall under the attack of another world power. We will, in fact, fall because we become so fearful of each other, of the economic, cultural, and security threats we believe to be posed by “the Other”…that, ultimately, we will die by suicide.       http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer

One voice is a powerful thing—if we invest it with our full humanity. A question, a doubt, the risk of telling the truth, may stop one other person from falling in thrall to total power or, at least, from closing her mind to doubt. We must simply light one candle against the darkness, refuse to fall prey to demagoguery, and bear our flame in the face of our fear. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out. We are merely its bearers.

 

 

 

Being Quiet, Discovery, Grace Happens, Ordinary Miracles

Wandering on Purpose

It is true that media, over-programmed days and American work hours are hard to avoid. If we work hard, we also play hard. And judging from my recent retirement I know I am not the best person to suggest our work need not be all-consuming and endless. Before you jump to defend yourselves, hear me out. Twenty-four hours can also include the luxury of trying to wrest meaning within the chaos of busy-ness.

Of course, for me, days go by without meetings, or someone asking me to do something, or my contacting my friends or their me, doing some or no work at all (housework, laundry, gardening, reading, writing, grocery shopping), and napping when napping feels like the best thing at the time. I cherish separation from the world of work and relish the conversations that surprise me on the path.

I retired at age seventy-two. I can hardly remember when I didn’t work except when I hadn’t yet begun piano lessons: so I was 7. I worked in high school and all the way through college and university, and then after hours after I had begun to teach full time in public school. I taught English all day and played the organ for churches on weekends between shifts of taking evening and summer coursework toward advanced degrees. I’m one of the rare (old) persons who paid for their entire university career themselves. In these varied “careers” I learned many roles, some of them unawares, because I was a willing listener, too. As I became more skilled, listening itself became my vocation.

It was listening to my day at a deeper level that invited me to contemplate the larger realities in the many events I was thrown into. Parker Palmer admitted to no scripted contemplative techniques in The Active Life (1990). Instead he wrote, “life compensates…by providing moments of unintentional contemplation….life makes contemplatives of all of us.” He lists four such invitations: feelings of disillusionment, pain, dislocation, and unbidden solitude.

It is easy to turn to busy-ness simply to avoid facing painful feelings. In churches some people identify as do-ers because they’re proud they get so much done for the rest of us. While they’re indispensable, they rarely risk finding time to sit with others to discern a new path, or attend a small sharing group.

In the familiar parable of Mary who sits listening to Jesus teach, Martha has several choices. One is to continue to do what she’s doing and NOT complain, another is to join Mary so that the two sisters can get the meal together afterwards. Instead she triangulates with Jesus, asking him to get Mary to help her. Instead, Jesus rebukes her for her anxiety that prevents her from making a better choice.

If we spend all our time dashing about from home to work to errands and house keeping and back again ourselves, how can we be thoughtful about anything? When can we be quiet and solitary? When do we think? Or do we simply react to circumstances? Parsing over life stories and the dilemmas our lives so easily create can be done while running, or at the gym, or even occasionally, sleeping in. Watching less television. Squeezing one fewer activity into the day. It is not so much the way we choose to contemplate as it is to choose a way when we must.

I continue to find deep conversations, contemplation. A rest from action—a necessary balance to action in fact, lest in any calling I go off in all directions at once. Listening has been part of every position I have held. Many times, even though I didn’t know what I was doing, listening was my chief gift. When I felt called to seminary in my mid fifties, my whole life was walking toward this door. When I opened it I believed I would never need to retire again. The calling (a strong spiritual attraction to prayer, the interpretation of scripture, and listening) felt the most like me, the most appropriate of my gifts.

Now after nearly seventeen years serving the church, I am exploring who I am anew. My denomination calls me a “ wandering minister.” Imagine! Permission just to wander. Wandering I understand. Putting one foot in front of the other, often turning to draw near to a curious thicket of leaves in the eddy of a stream, or a knot of words among individuals, become walking meditations. Both require my attention to everything from dust motes floating in a beam of winter sun, to the half-heard sounds of laughter in the room next door and the inner messages that keep me tethered to the Mystery of living in this age.

So, I wander. Listening for sparks of thought, the messages that recreate me over and over again for the years ahead. Life beckons even as it grows shorter, tantalizing, summoning, gesturing, “Come here! Come and see!” There will always be time for our heart’s desires to spring forth, or burble up, or slowly dawn on us. Even death is a portal to the undiscovered.

           Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is emerging. Don’t you see it?