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!

Ordinary Miracles

Momentary Miracles

…how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?

Mary Oliver knows what more of us must learn. Whatever we are doing, is what we are doing. Why worry that we ought to be doing something else? I putter about for this or that scrap to piece together…a word for the day, the week, a frame on which to stretch a canvas. A peg to hang ideas on.

Should we be doing or being? What, in you, is being today? Being is tough. Doing is easier. Being is suspect. People wonder what we’re doing! 

What do I show for what I’m doing? for who I am being? What frame for my canvas, what design for the quilt? No matter theory, the big picture, or a meaning I lay on diverse events, life keeps coming down to chapter and verse. This specific event, this word with that person, these hours spent flipping through books, notes, and remembering to water the hanging begonias.

We each are only one person who can do mostly only one thing at a time. Each choice we make in a day like today eliminates other choices, or limits what else will suit. Every plunge into the pool is a risk of an habitual order.

And would it have been worth it after all? Would it have been worthwhile? [Prufrock, Eliot]

I labor always over the BIG risks: the yawning abyss into vulnerability, deep relationship, substantial change, or speaking truth in the face of enemies. But every day, every moment requires a commitment of its own, large, small, or immeasurable.

Just these moments add up to a way of life. My puttering over this book and that, this view or that, sorting through scraps of papers long ago filed away, give me away. I seek meaning in everything. The moment I have, the now that is mine, the truth of myself. Every day presents an empty canvas. Every day the cat must be fed, caressed. The apple cut, the water poured, the garden tended. The word laid down.

Miracles are made of ordinary stuff.

 

 

Ordinary Miracles

Seizing the Day

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I had forgotten how tall the firs were as I plunge deep into the forest conveniently close to the highway and very near Stevens Pass. Once out of the car and down the trail, I could not see the tops of the trees without sitting, leaning against the granite to steady myself to see back that far. The canopy is bright green against the blue sky. How quiet the forest is next to the river as it pretends to be ferocious and yet no doubt, in this drought, is only a fraction of its strength. Still it pours clear then rippling, frothing through the bed against which it sands and smooths the rock in its path.

 

As I draw closer to the bottom of this glen a pause in the density of trees reveals a deep pool quietly lapping the surrounding boulders it has already beaten to apparent silkiness. Stillness here. Ageless duff under my feet, worn branches worked into rails and seats for short gazes into the water and across it to forest on the other side, occasionally a bridge that leads over and back if one doesn’t prefer to stop in the center and imagine floating down in the icy, constant flow.

 

What a relief this is, to walk into the woods, the rough places, sudden drops of the trail, and then rising again, my footsteps balance between fir, hemlock and alder, and then toward the river. It’s been at least two years, maybe more, that I have waited, wondering how long healing a knee replacement would take before I could take to the woods again. Sun streams onto the river, splashing into the trees and my slow, steady gait balanced between two trekking poles. A big smile on my face.

 

The moss! Strings, shreds and draperies of it from tree to tree, bright and green. Lichen, small black knobs and then shells of white studding the blunt and torn ends of trees that have fallen and been cut to make way. A huge, wide cedar stump with cuts left by the springboards of foresters bent on laying the forest low sports a very tall, very thin hemlock that, in this muted light, may never grow to more than fragility.

 

I take in the light, the trees I can name, the trail, the bridges, soaking in the rich detail that simply doesn’t exist in neighborhoods like mine where at least a number of cedars still stand, six of them in my own back yard, and one Douglas fir. What a gift to be alive on the earth. Not that many years ago I would have been consigned to my home, if not to my room, with a branch cut to fit for hobbling through the house.

 

Now I am returning to the trails, beaches, and woods I have so missed in my convalescence that, at my age, takes longer than expected. Seize the day! Lest you let it pass without the wonder and respect it deserves.  “And we shall be like trees planted by streams of water, that bring forth fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither; and in whatsoever we do, we shall prosper.” Psalm 1:3

 

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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.

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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.

 

Discovery, Lavish loving, Ordinary Miracles, Uncategorized

The Little Things

            Being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. We need soft night noises—a mother speaking downstairs, a grandfather rumbling in response, cars swishing past on Philadelphia Avenue and their headlights  wheeling about the room. We need the little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness.

 

John Updike describes the comforting “clicks and sighs” of the presence of others in our lives, our awareness of parents talking quietly downstairs, or brothers murmuring in the next room, traffic on Colby cruising to a stoplight.

 

Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection are that kind of presence. Not only does he speak peace to his friends, he appears unannounced as if the dead regularly materialize in our living rooms, urging calm and trust.

 

My favorite story is of the disciples coasting close to shore where Jesus has prepared a small fire on the beach. He is grilling a few fish and some bread. (Jn 21) He calls to them to come closer, tells them where they’ll find more fish, and once they’ve beached their boat, to bring more fish to the fire. They don’t even recognize him at first. And then they’re astonished. You can imagine the smoke blown into the hills behind him, the welcome warmth in the chill salty air, and the fatigue—not only from a night of fishing, but another whole net full of fish pulled in as they arrive.

 

So schooled was I to expect Jesus’ return at any hour of any day, one Sunday night before evening church I thought I saw him standing near a staircase in a brilliant white robe, light shining round about him. I thought Jesus had returned! A second later I realized it was just the pastor in his white baptismal robe standing under a 100-watt light bulb.

 

So much for peace and presence. I was taught that the Lord might return just this way, all of a sudden, in the middle of a football game or church picnic, and especially in spectacular sunsets over Hat Island. Anticipation overran my imagination.

 

I grew up with a “Jesus-and-me” complex, a relationship so tight that I always felt him at my side, walking in the fields together. Years later when this assurance had faded, I began to realize the limitations of my naïve familiarity and the millennia that already distanced believers from its magic. At the same time, there was an other-worldliness to the ways I discovered we can still expect the Mysteries of God in our lives. The soft night voices of those we love, the reflection of the back porch light, phrases of music suddenly distinct when the furnace shuts down, the gifts of clean sheets and hopes for tomorrow.

 

It may not be grilled fish on a rocky beach, but the fragrance of coffee and toast in the kitchen. These little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness still speak to us of the love that will never let us go.

 

 

Rev. Cathy Fransson blogs at SpiritStones.net, and sees individuals for spiritual direction

Being Quiet, Ordinary Miracles, Soul Work

Other Dimensions

 

I began my day with a 30-minute swim. A time when I lose sense of time and even space, except for the tiled lines of my lane. The gym complex is near, although its nearness doesn’t make getting there much easier. Now that I am retired inertia can prevent me from lots of obligations, including Sunday worship.

Faithfulness was a prized church behavior in the “old” days. Remember the gold pin we won for perfect attendance? I had several of those. Because of this obligation in our home, Dad turned up the temperature on the hot water heater every Saturday night so that all five of us could take a bath. (Baths, only once a week!) We’d polish our Sunday shoes, help to wash and vacuum the family car, then all drive together, sometimes picking up Mrs. Duchine on our way. Not all women then had learned to drive. As near as we lived to the center of town where the church was, we could easily walk. And Mom and I often walked to town to shop.

When I was ordained a Baptist pastor in 2000, Rev. C. Elroy Shikles, the minister who baptized me at eight, commented, “My, how many sermons you’ve heard!” I still remember some. I remember when he used my Howdy-Doody marionette to illustrate to us children that God does not operate us with strings from heaven. And he’s the one who taught me with a collection of various-sized sieves how to screen what I say to others: only what is true, kind, and necessary. I learned early that I made my own choices and was responsible for them.

Today twice-weekly swims keep me flexible. And the rhythmic strokes and breathing are calming. Weekly worship engenders less tangible results. But its very familiarity and repetition are like rest to a hummingbird. It isn’t my brain that worships. It’s my heart. When I keep my attention focused, I transcend time and space into another dimension. My breathing slows; my heart fills.

In the midst of song and silence something in me lets go. I remember I am not alone. I rejoice in the reminders of God’s faithfulness even in the midst of trial and loss. I lean into the everlasting arms and relax, rememberP1010168ing the examples of the many disciples I have known who have traveled ahead of me.

I miss those gifts when I skip church for the NY Times, which does not nurture me anywhere near the love that will never let me go. But the silence of the pool during my swim gives me similar time to reach and stroke, aware from shoulder to toe, moving in ways I cannot accomplish in gravity. I let myself down into the water trusting its buoyance in much the same way I let go into the silence of prayer.

Even though I have to make myself get out of the house, I am glad I have done it. I feel rested, refreshed, in the center of my real reality. The news that strikes fear in my heart during the week has somehow found a context. Less harried, less worried, I breathe deeper, and feel confidence I can’t always create for myself. It’s a dimension just a breath away.

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?