Picture
It has rained almost every day for the past several weeks. Flood alerts, watches, and warnings have frequently interrupted news broadcasts and afternoon classics. It's easy to relate to the incessant rain which provides the backdrop from this poem. The "common rain" goes on and on, mimicked by the run on sentence which doesn't come to a close until halfway down the page.  The rain, "pale and anonymous," threatens to diminish the sense of selfhood of the poet. Tea, whiskey, ice and a pleasant fire cannot quench the melancholy which the evening brings. As the poet sits with his "causeless sadness", something unexplicable happens; he is suddenly surprised by a spontaneous gladness. The rain somehow awakens him to the fact that there is something more, something beyond his present waking consciousness. Some mystical connection has been made, some deep knowing has been evoked.
 
Several friends have recently discovered the benefits of sitting with their pain, observing their negative emotions. They neither suppress them, nor give them permission to dictate their actions. If they have something to learn from the emotions, they do so. Otherwise, they take note of them until they dissipate. Sometimes they are given a gift, an insight into an untended brokenness or deep yearning; at other times the feelings are only shadows themselves, left over from wrongs long forgiven, or wisps of nostalgia which dissipate like mists caught in the morning sun. No matter, they remain present, perhaps at the moment weakened, but strong enough to wait it out.

The First Night of Fall and Falling Rain
By Delmore Schwartz


The common rain had come again
Slanting and colorless, pale and anonymous,
Fainting falling in the first  evening
Of the first perception of the actual fall,
The long and late light had slowly gathered up
A sooty wood of clouded sky, dim and distant more and 
    more
Until, as dusk, the very sense of selfhood waned,
A weakening nothing halted, diminished or denied or set    
   aside
Neither tea, nor, after an hour, whiskey,
Ice and then a pleasant glow, a burning,
And the first leaping wood fire
Since a cold  night in May, too long ago to be more than
Merely a cold and vivid memory.
Staring, empty, and without thought
Beyond the rising mists of the emotion of causeless 
   sadness,
How suddenly all consciousness leaped in spontaneous 
   gladness;
Knowing without thinking how the falling rain (outside, all 
  over)
In slow sustained consistent vibration all over outside
Tapping window, streaking roof,
   running down runnel and drain
Waking a sense, once more, of all that lived outside of us,
Beyond emotion, far beyond the swollen
   distorted shadows and lights
Of the toy town and the vanity fair
   of waking consciousness!

 from Last and Lost Poems of Delmore Schwartz © The Vanguard Press.
 
When you're disoriented, you are truly on a different plane of reality. This morning, my brain as foggy as the Pennsylvania morning (due mostly to the early hour) I pulled my car out of my friend's driveway and turned left. I was taking her to the train station, but we were going to stop at McDonald's first to grab some coffee. My friend looked at me and said, "How are you getting to McDonald's?" I thought it was an odd question. Wasn't it obvious? I was going north up Gettysburg and then left on Market? 

Escept that I hadn't taken the right to get out of the driveway to then get to the left I thought I was already on. We argued for about a minute, and then since we were leaving from her house, I decided to do it her way and turn around. Once I was headed in the right direction, i noticed my mistake immediately. Talk about a 180! She chuckled and said, "I'm glad I mentioned it. Who knows where we would have ended up?"

Glad for friends that speak up. And glad that I decided to listen.
 
Picture
In last Tuesday's post I mentioned that I will try to devote Tuesdays to talking about what it means to choose joy for and through your body. After 50 some years of letting my imagination and mind run my life, I'm slowing down enough to listen to what my body has to say. In our fast-paced society, where to-do lists often create adrenaline junkies, stress can take an unknown toll on our well-being.
 
People carry stress in different ways, and mine tends to accumulate in my muscles. Last year I started using a stretching video to release some of the balled up energy that was trapped in my legs, and on my to-do list was to find a good yoga video to continue the stretching and relaxing that my poor body is desperate to have. Thanks to a friend who loaned me a copy of "Yoga for Back Care" I am starting to unwind and stregthen my lower back, which has been giveng me some trouble.  

The same friend who lent me the yoga video also had some "acuballs" in her goodie bag, and they are working wonders as well. When I went to a massage therapist to work out some pain in my upper back and shoulder area last year, I would grimace when she even touched some parts of my back. She told me that when stress accumulates in our muscles, we actually store up toxins and these need to be released through the deep kneading that you get from a massage. But massages are expensive. These balls do similar things; placing them underneath a tight spot in your back, neck, feet or any other part of your body helps the muscle release the tightness. Breathing into the relaxation, and following your session with lots of water will help your body truly flush away these bad chemicals, and open up the energy pathways through your spine and along your feet.

One of the things that I'm noticing while I'm doing my yoga and using the acuballs is how important it is to be connected to my breathing. For years I was an adrenaline addict, pushing myself to do more and more, enjoying the sense of being a machine. It was kind of a head trip. I didn't have a chance to slow down the adrenaline naturally (and I'm not sure I would have known how or even wanted to) but my body decided to do it for me and after a while I crashed. For years I couldn't even watch a movie with the least bit of adrenaline inducing action without my body feeling physically ill.

But getting rid of adrenaline still isn't enough. I'm learning that I need to keep slowing down in whatever I'm doing, breathing evenly and deeply, not holding my breath, or tensing up to get through the next task. As someone who likes to do a lot of things, this will be the biggest challenge. Will this pace allow me to feel like I'm getting enough done? I have to trust that it will, that the work I am meant to do will fit into a day while I am treating my body in a loving fashion.

Not only am I treating myself well, but I find living this way results in a different relationship to the task or person I am interacting with. Whether I'm slowing down to enjoy the process of chopping onions, rather than just whizzing through it to get on to the next thing, or paying attention to the person at the check out counter, I am engaging in a different quality of connection.

Martin Buber in his book "I and Thou" describes this as moving from an I-It relationship (where the "it" is non-connected and distinct from oneself, often something used or only experienced) to an I-Thou relationship (where a meaningful connection is formed.) To move into an I-Thou relationship with my body, means that I (my mind or Ego) don't just use it to get me around from place to place, but realize that my body has something to contribute. My senses make a contribution to my joy; my muscles need to relax so I feel free and am able to experience fullness of movement. Even though "I" want to keep going, my body tells me we should stop now. I'll live a better life if I'm listening to all the voices in my head (and the rest of me!)

"Let's Choose Joy" is an encompassing phrase. It encourages quality of life in community-whether it's the community that makes up myself (body,soul, mind and spirit), or the community I find outside my skin. Learning to breathe and paying attention are some ways to help me on that path.
 
Picture
Crossing the Red Sea by Laura James
For the past two weeks, the Old Testament reading for Sunday has been taken from Exodus. We've been following the Israelites as they move from slavery to freedom, from the leeks and onions of Egypt to the "what's this?"  (manna) God provides in the wilderness. There's been a lot of complaining along the way - you've brought us here to die! they grumble to Moses at one point. And from our perspective, it might be easy to beat up on the Israelites, who seem to forget as soon as their sandals are dry how God miraculously took care of the Egyptian army hot on their tails. Easy that is, until you slow down and get into those sandals.

Yes, it's true that God did miraculously snatch them away from their bondage to Pharoah, even filling their sacks with precious plunder, but the result of that freedom is that they are now walking in unfamiliar territory, led by a strange God who shows up in fire and clouds. Life was dependable in Egypt. You knew what the days entailed, how to navigate the landscape, where to buy those leeks and onions. But out here in the desert? Where does one get water for your grumpy children? not to mention your herd of sheep or cows?

Freedom can be scary. And the fear of the unknown can keep us from taking the steps we believe would be good for us. Especially if we can't imagine what it might look like on the other side. Here I think I start to empathize with the Israelites. God is asking them to become a nation in a place they've never seen. The questions must have been relentless. And when it came down to the wire they refused to enter into God's desire for them. They couldn't embrace who God wanted them to be nor the path he proposed for them to follow.

Freedom requires a change of perspective. The Gospel reading (Matthew 21:23-32) shows us that those who are immersed in one paradigm can find it almost impossible to switch allegiance to another. The chief priests and elders of Jesus' day were not pleased with his teaching. Their interpretation of the law was comfortable, defendable, and held them hostage from the grace Jesus came to give. His astonishing comment that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering freedom ahead of them would have been incomprehensible and deeply offensive. But the tax collectors and prostitutes knew that their lives weren't getting better without a major change in who was calling the shots. A life based on love and mercy toward self and others offered them a hope and a future.

Embarking on a journey toward love can seem daunting, especially if you leave a lot of rules and regulations behind. For the Israelites, the new way of living required that they check in every day with the pillar of cloud and fire that was leading them to the promised land. In the Epistle reading (Philippians 2:1-13) Paul tells us we have our own version of the pillar of cloud in the presence of the Holy Spirit whose light and guidance is no longer external, but internal. Since we are partnering with the divine (and taking new responsibility for the part we play), we are to embark upon this life with "fear and trembling" but also with a strong degree of confidence. "God is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

God desires our freedom, just as much He desired the freedom of the Israelites whose children (a generation born into freedom) eventually made it to Canaan. That is, in a nutshell, his "good pleasure." It can be scary, for we don't exactly know what it will look like. But it is His idea, and He not only knows the destination, but will be there to guide us along the way.
 
Picture
A survey of poetry inspired by the season of autumn quickly shows that Fall is a many-splendored thing. Like a fine wine, Fall is not easily described. And so there are poems celebrating in-gathering, home-coming, and the play of golden light on golden leaves. There are poems whose tone is pensive, melancholic or deeply contented. To some, Fall opens the energies latent under the green of the spring and summer; others insist that Fall's clarity carries with it a lack of imagination.

I think it would be fun to do a little sampling, exploring some of the ways fall has inspired poets (and perhaps some artists). Today, as the smell of freshly made applesauce still lingers in the kitchen, I post a poem by John Keats: "To Autumn."

Keats salutes a season that "loads," "bends," "fills," "swells" and "plumps" until even the bees begin to worry they cannot handle the bounty. Although Fall at times can be mellow (she can be found sitting carelessly on a granary floor, "hair soft-lifted by the winnnowy wind" or drowsed with "the fume of poppies") she can also keep steady with the gleaner or patiently watch the pressing of a cider. And Autumn need not feel inferior to Spring, or the songs the flow from that season. As the light takes on a different quality as day-light wanes, and the bleat of grown lambs shows a certain maturity, so the song Fall hoists has its own tenor and pace, beautiful in its own right and appropriate to this "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."

As you read, don't miss the rhyming structure, which is slightly different in the second and third stanzas, and adds a pleasing complexity to the poem.

To Autumn
John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,       
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; 
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells. 

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find 
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,     
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: 
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, 
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours. 
 
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;   
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
Among the river sallows, borne aloft 
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;         
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft 
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; 
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
 
Picture
A friend posted a link on her facebook page that caught my eye yesterday. The article describes how gamers have helped to solve a puzzle in AIDS research that had stumped scientists for years. As a final (creative) solution to understanding the structure of a retrovirus protein (necessary for creating an effective treatment) "researchers at the  University of Washington turned to Foldit, a program created by the university a few years ago that transforms problems of science into competitive computer games, and challenged players to use their three-dimensional problem-solving skills to build accurate models of the protein.

With(in) days, the gamers generated models good enough for the researchers to refine into an accurate portrayal of the enzyme's structure. What's more, the scientists identified parts of the molecule that are likely targets for drugs to block the enzyme." You can read the full post here.

Don't you love that play succeeded where serious research and investigation failed? And not only did the solution come quickly (after only three weeks), but everyone involved had a blast trying to figure it out.

If you can't make your work be an extension of your play, then you can become playful at work. In a TEDS talk, Tim Brown discusses the  connection between creativity and play. In his, and other innovative companies, creating a culture of play is a necessity. It takes people out of traditional ways of seeing and organizing things and allows for out of the box thinking.

I wonder how many of us remember how to be playful? It's so easy as children, but as we grow, we seem to think of reasons not to play, to be more productive, to take things seriously. Children look for ways to play; they don't have to motivated to spend time
doing things that bring them joy. Maybe the way forward as a culture is to actually take things less seriously. To lighten up, and free ourselves to more creatively engage in the world around us. The reality is, play is actually a really great way facilitate effective problem solving AND creativity, and I'm guessing it produces a lot less stress on our
bodies and relationships. Choosing to play may not be "childish" after all, just childlike - a gift that little children (and adult gamers) can bring to us.

(While looking for a picture illustrating this post, I came across this one of my nieces (and neighborhood child) shucking corn. I was reminded that my mom has always felt that work was play. To her, the camaraderie of being together and getting a task done was a pleasurable thing. This photo illustrates that family value - making "work" fun. Thanks, Mom.)
 
Picture
Pumpkin ice cream is in the stores! Thanks to a daughter who works at a local ice cream stand, we have pumpkin pecan and pumpkin cheesecake samples in our freezer. Neither are quite as good as the pumpkin ice cream from another store in the area, though, so in a few days I'll make the trek out to buy my yearly quart. This, piled and smashed between ginger snap cookies, is a taste that's guaranteed to bring a smile.

I'm back into "Quality Life" thinking. (There's a page on the blog that has some preliminary thoughts on this concept.) Quality life reminds me that my body as well as my mind likes reasons to be joyful! We're given five senses and they each yearn to be fed with good things. Tasting, touching, smelling, seeing, hearing - five different doors can take in positive energy, resulting in increased well-being. So I'm newly inspired to go through my recipes and think carefully about my grocery list, so that along with nutrition and lack of toxins, I'm indulging my sense of taste and smell. I've started yoga, and some other relaxation techniques to help my tired muscles stretch and rejuvenate. And I'm remembering to turn on music more often, different styles for different moods. (Differing energies depending on what I need most).

There are lots of good blogs and websites out there that encourage us to treat our bodies well. Zest for Life Today is written by the Chloe Lauer (the daughter of a friend) who is a health and lifestyle coach. You can also follow her on Facebook, where she encourages healthy eating and positive thinking. I'll be making an effort to devote Tuesdays to healthy bodies - good recipes and such - so feel free to send yours along and I'll post them. And if you have any other sites that you've found helpful, I can mention those too.

A friend told me this weekend that she's focusing on loving her body, choosing  to give it positive energy through how she thinks and the choices she makes. It sounded a little weird at first, but I think she's really on to something. Our bodies are our best gift, and deserve our attention. To ignore them only hurts ourselves, and keeps us from experiencing the joy they were created to give. 
 
My oldest daughter was born with a strong sense of justice. Some of her most common vocabulary words were, "it's not fair!" And, while this may have had some selfishness at the root, I also recognized as time went on, that the anger she struggled to control, was based on the inequities of the world around her. Spending time with a neighborhood friend, whose father verbally abused her, would bring her home under a dark cloud.

Being human seems to imply a sense of fairness, an awareness when things are out of balance. Easy to see when we're the victims of unfair play, we might require training to notice when others are getting the short end of the stick. Still this sense of justice, of being equal, forms the basis of our constitution and our judicial system.

So far, so good. But in church yesterday, I was reminded that although we need to be grounded in the basics of justice and fairness, we should not remain in that paradigm. Jesus calls us to be lovers, following the over-the-top generosity of his Abba God. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 20:1-16. In this parable, an employer heads to the local marketplace to hire day laborers for his vineyard. His hires do not stop at the beginning of the work day, however, they continue until it is almost time for the whistle to blow. When it comes time for the men to receive their pay, he pays the latest arrivals (whose work was probably no more than an hour - and done in the cool of the day, our priest reminded us) the same amount as the ones who had begun their workday at 6 am, toiling through the midsummer heat. The early birds grumble, commenting that they should deserve more than the latecomers, but the employer silences them with the comment that as the money (and the farm) is his, he is within his rights to dispense with it as he sees fit.

What struck me as we were reading through the scripture was this phrase. "He went out again at about nine in the morning, and seeing others idle in the square, he said to them: ‘You, too, go to my vineyard and I will pay you what is right," (NIV). Here is something to ponder. The workers who put in a full day's work are not bad guys. They are totally within their rights to notice the inequality of the wage structure. In the paradigm of fairness, what the landowner does is not right. But the landowner, standing in here for God, has a different sense of what is right. The rightness of love goes beyond that of fairness, and moves toward generosity.

Jesus points this out in another way when he tells the scribes and pharisees, to go and figure out what it means for God to desire mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice is based on justice, and while a major part of the Old Testament way of life, only a stepping stone to God's true longing, bringing people into a relationship of love. Justice and mercy are not in conflict, however. God does not do what is unjust, in order to extend mercy. Notice that the men who labor in the vineyard for a day receive a day's wage. This is just. But the men who have not been hired, are not penalized for their condition. Instead they are placed in a new system of payment - one that is not based on justice, but rather on generosity.

I've mentioned before a website called People of the Second Chance whose header is
"Overthrow Judgment, Liberate Love." The People of the Second Chance aren't against justice, so much as aware that it is not enough to pull the world into the liberating and freeing energies of love. Without justice, we would be adrift. But justice is not enough, it is not, in God's eyes, truly right. Followers of the Jesus way are encouraged, even commanded!, to go beyond justice, embracing mercy. We need to be on the lookout for those opportunities that we have to fill cups not just to the brim, but to overflowing. And we need to celebrate this quality of God's whenever we see it on display.

 
 
Picture
from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
September is a liminal month for me. Summer is not really over (especially when the days climb up into the 80s) but Fall is still around the corner, although you can glimpse it on its way. A fresh breeze wafts in, and the sky turns the blue that will background that brilliant fall foliage. 

Before the summer completely slips away, here's a whimsical look back at the joy of the season through the eyes of children. It comes from a site called the Calvinist and Hobbesian (major points for a clever blog title.) Although the authors doesn't blog regularly, when they do, it always brings a smile!

Click here to view post.

 
And by his own gracious light he wants us to understand the following things: the first is our noble and excellent creation; the second our costly and precious redemption; the third, everything which he has made beneath us to be of use to us and which he sustains out of love for us...And so he means that it befits us to know that that greatest deeds have been done, as Holy Church teaches. And in contemplating this with thanksgiving we
should pray for the deed which is now being done; that is, we pray that he should rule and guide us to his greater glory in this life and brings us to his bliss: and he has done everything to this end. (Julian of Norwich, chapter 42)

As I was kneeling at the altar at the Episcopal church we visited yesterday, I was reminded of a prayer I've often made throughout these past years. "Lord, grant me strength for the journey." To see the elements of the eucharist, bread and wine, as strengthening my soul is not new. What was new, yesterday, was realizing that strength and wisdom, love, peace, joy, gracious expressions of God's love, constantly surround me. They are not something that God needs to give me, as much as what I need to open myself up to. My prayer is the acknowledgement of my lack, yes, but not a means by which God unlocks the heavens. Grace has already been poured out, I need only to open myself to God's love, flowing in its many and varied forms.

This seems to be what Julian of Norwich is getting at in the passage above. If we come to God begging, we miss what is true. God desires to grant us every good gift. He wants to "guide us to his greater glory in this life and bring us to his bliss." To accomplish this, His strongest desire, "the greatest deeds have [already] been done." He has made us, formed us His "noble and excellent creation." Secondly, He has, through the life and death of His Son, Jesus, brought us back into open and free connection with Him and His life-giving, joy-bringing, love-delighting Spirit. Finally, He has made and continues to sustain the world around us for our blessing.

This morning, I found myself slightly anxious, my brow furrowing once again, reinforcing those indelible creases I noticed just a few weeks ago. The self-imposed pressure of writing regularly on this blog was making me anxious. I caught myself up short. Wait - how was this at all connected to the point of this blog, which is to choose joy? If I can't be joyful, why do I even bother? It's true I have some thoughtful points to make, maybe even helpful comments to folks who wander onto this site, but my life has to be first and foremost about joy, or it's all bogus. 

After a minute or so, I realized that I had lost my focus. I had forgotten to begin the day with gratitude. God has given me so many good gifts. As Julian mentions, the gift of life, of his love, of his provision. He's also given me desires, planted in my heart, that He wishes to fill. He continues to surround me with His love. In fact, I am living in the ocean of His love. Some days swimming, some days floating, some days surfing, some days diving deep. This is what's true. This is what God wants me to remember today. To be grateful and let the joy flow in.