Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fear is a Fox (#SmallWonder Link-Up)

(This isn't the fox I drew, but rather one I found online to work from - isn't it charming delightful?)

Last week I started work on a painting I planned to give to a friend.  Standing at the old sink in the Little House (where my office is) I covered a small, square, wooden canvas with a mixture of turquoise and dark purple paint and left it to dry.  The next day I added one or two more layers of the same colors.  I liked the combination and was happy, so far, with my little project. 

(This, often, is the beginning of the problem.)   

Next I played with some tulle netting, painting over it like a stencil to add layers of texture and depth.  Now I liked the painting even more and the more I liked it, the more my progress slowed.  

Love for what was made me hesitant to move toward what might be. 

But the painting was nowhere near complete.  With the background finished, it was time to add an image and words.  I already had words in mind and thought a fox would be a fitting image, so I looked online for a few samples to work from.  With luck, I easily found a sketch I loved.  I printed it and prepped my canvas board with a glossy gel layer that would preserve and protect the background while also allowing me to ‘erase’ my drawing at any point if I made a mistake.

Then my progress stalled for several days.  I loved the background, loved the fox, but I was afraid to mess up either one.  I was afraid to start, afraid to try, even though the gel coating meant I could begin again at any time.

I hemmed and hawed, I set my work aside and did not look the sly fox in the eye.

//

Maybe it wouldn’t be worth writing about if it wasn’t such a common occurrence – the way fear creeps in, cloaked in perfectionism and I, a creature of habit and instinct, caught between fight and flight, freeze like a deer in headlights. 

Again, maybe it wouldn’t be much if it hadn’t happened also last week when it came to updating my book files, and if success updating the print files had (as it should have) given way to confidence to deal with the e-book files.  Instead, each step ran up against (and temporarily stalled out in the face of) its own wall of fear.

I see this pattern again and again in my creativity and, if I’m honest, in my life.  I prefer the known to the unknown, even when the known is not particularly good, but especially if the known is good and filled with delight. 

How much time, how much energy, do I waste in this fearful pause? 

Why do I fail to believe that the grace of one step might carry over into the next? 

Maybe I need to become like the desert monk, Abba Paul, who worked all year long weaving baskets only to burn them and begin again each year - maybe I need to learn again and again the art of detachment, the gift of faith beyond sight.

//

I talked with a college student about this the other night, one who’s currently taking a drawing class.  We trotted together across the cold, dark campus on our way to a Bible study and I confessed how fear had me frozen.

“It’s ridiculous,” I said. “What am I so afraid of?  Especially when I could just erase it, just paint over it and start the whole thing over?”

She offered no answer, but confessed to witnessing the same tendency in herself and we continued through the crisp winter night together until we reached our destination – a small house aglow with warmth and light.

//

The next day, having voiced my fears aloud into the frigid night air, I pulled the fox from its lair beneath a stack of papers on the kitchen counter and looked it in the eye.  With a white gel pen, I sketched the outline on my canvas first, then filled in the fur.  I kept a bowl of water and q-tips nearby for erasing mistakes, but truth be told, I got it on the first try and barely erased a line.  Then, emboldened by success, I added low-lights in midnight blue to bring the fox alive. 

I was happy with the drawing, happy with my success.

Yet, I stopped, again, frozen in the face of the next step - hand lettering the words.  How would I space them?  What fonts should I employ?

I set the work aside, because now I was even more invested, had even more to risk, even more to lose.  Against the purple and blue background, the white fox sparkled silver and fixed me with its shining eye.  

//

Every wall of fear has a door.  The door cracks open, for me, when I recognize fear as an invitation to examine my own intrinsic attachment and perfectionism.  

Now, when the wall rises up in front of me, I imagine stretching out my empty hand and opening the door.  On the other side stands the fox, staring.  Then, in a flash of beauty, she turns and runs off into the night. 

Every day that I create something, I bump up against fear’s wall.  And, faster now, I hear the fox's sly whisper, “Look for the door.”   

How do you experience and deal with fear in your creative life?  In your faith life?

*   *   *



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

Monday, January 9, 2017

We Are Held (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


(I'm still seeking and finding my writing rhythm for this new year, so today I'm again sharing one from the archives.  This post was written back in 2013 when my twins were just about 18 months old. The image above is of a plate my husband and the twins picked up for me at a (indoor!) yard sale over the weekend.  I love the swirl of it and the image in the middle reminds me of a child in the womb.) 

*   *   *

I sat in the living room last week rocking my poor, sick, sleeping boy and watched while his twin brother explored a small wooden chair.  He walked diligently to the book basket, chose a board book, then toddled quickly over to the chair.  Placing the book on the chair, he lifted one little knee and, after maneuvering the book to make room, pulled himself up and turned, settling into a seated position with a look of great satisfaction. 


There he sat, fuzzy-headed and plump, like a ripe peach, his short legs sticking out straight in front of him.  Glancing at me with a look of triumph, he opened his book and “read” briefly and with great volume.  Then, with a swift movement, he slipped himself off of the chair, and ran back to the books shelf where he made another reading selection.  

Back to the chair he went, repeating the whole process again and again with a different book in hand each time, as though neither “Trucks” nor “Things That Go” could scratch his literary itch. 

Stand, climb, turn and sit, his movements went.  Then, repeat.  

Sitting and standing are new pleasures for him.  And the act of doing so with a book in hand in a little wooden chair just his size makes the act all the more pleasurable.  

He repeats the movements - standing and sitting - over and over again and I imaging he's swirling the feeling of it all around inside of his little body, memorizing each sensation until at last the feeling fades to ordinary, like so many other firsts tasted and mastered in his short eighteen months.
*   *   *
Speaking of standing and sitting, a strange thing has happened several times now during my monthly retreat.  At some point during a moment of silent stillness or quiet conversation, I find myself acutely aware of the reality that the chair I am sitting in is holding me. 
Every time we sit, we are being held. 

But most of us, most of the time, have stopped feeling it.

*   *   *
Earlier this week, I sat in the pediatrician’s office with the same sick child whose limbs hung limp as he fought a raging fever.  Between the bustle of nurse and doctor, in the midst of the bright light and noise, he slumped against me - his belly to mine, his heavy head pressed, un-moving against my chest.  

My boy's fine, blond hair was damp with sweat and his cheeks blazed red with heat.  His eyes watered and breath came in short pants.  Against my chest, his small mouth hung open and saliva pooled and overflowed. 

He smelled like sweaty, sick, baby.  Or maybe I smelled.  Holding him there as the minutes passed, I lost sight of where he stopped and I began.  

At one point he raised his flushed head, squinting his eyes in discomfort and I noticed that the whole front of me, two t-shirts thick, was soaked through with spit.  Still, I pulled him back into me, curving my body like a hammock to hold him.  I rocked and sang and he he hung on for dear life between the Dr.'s probing exam and tests for the flu and strep throat. 

*   *   *
I turned my body into a living, breathing home for my child in the Dr's office that day.  Later, I wondered if God doesn’t also do this for us.

Maybe God also curves, bending into a mighty ocean of a lap, a wide, swinging hammock of rest that holds us, not just when we're aware of it, but all the time.  Maybe we're just so used to being held, we no longer feel it any more.  Or maybe we believe we're too big, too smelly with our own sickness, too Other, to rest in God. 

But, this much I know is true: God holds us, my friends, even when we’ve lost the ability to feel it, even when we’ve outgrown the desire to be held.  God waits like a hammock swinging in the breeze, like a mother’s lap that sways full of life and breath and song. May you find some small moment to climb up again today, to settle in and feel again the Love that holds you, always.         

*   *   *



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  


While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

           

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Look for a Child . . .


I ordered Gayle Boss' lovely advent book in mid-December and am still making my slow way through the daily reflections on how different animals endure the long, cold dark of winter.  It seems, to me, to be appropriate reading for the often long, sometimes difficult, month of January.  So, although advent is behind us, I'll keep reading and pondering how all of creation adjusts to survive in adverse conditions.  I did, however, skip ahead to the final reading for Christmas day and found this paragraph so rich that I wanted to share it with you all.  

In the fullness of time, the Christmas story says, a girl gave birth ringed by animals.  She lay the baby in one of their feeding troughs, where animal bodies would warm the air around his fresh-born human body.  Mother and child fell asleep and woke to their chuffs and shuffling hooves, their calls and the shuddering of their hides.  Later sheep herders smelling of dirt, damp wool, and milk crowded into the stable.  Out in the wild night fields these animal men sitting in the dark were the first to get the word.  A baby had been born, they were told, who would show people a way out of their small pinched lives, a way to abandon themselves to the ever-present, unstoppable current of Love that carries all things to radiant wholeness.  To recognize him they should look for a child at home among animals. 

- Gayle Boss in All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings 

May you find yourself adrift in the unstoppable current of Love this year; may you move ever closer to your own radiant wholeness. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Faith For A New Year


What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

- Wendell Berry

After a few weeks of quiet here on the blog, I find myself carrying these words into the new year.  What words do you carry to remind you of that which is essential?  

#SmallWonder will be back next Sunday/Monday and I hope to have some exciting news to share.  Want to keep up to date on changes and receive great exclusive content?  Subscribe to my newsletter via the sign-up box on the top right hand column of my blog.   


Monday, December 19, 2016

A Sign (#SmallWonder Link-up)


(I am behind this week, friends.  So here is a poem I shared in my newsletter last week.  Check back last in the week for a new post and while you're here, sign up for my newsletter to receive more exclusive content during Advent and beyond.) 

. . . the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose . . . Isaiah 35:1
(also based on Matthew 11:2-6)

My office is not a desert -
though electric heat does dry the air –
and my great-grandmother’s Christmas cactus
is not a rose.  But when I pause in writing
and turn to see – lo! – pink buds prepared
to blossom, I take it as a sign.  I take, also,
the first drifting flakes of snow and the praying
mantis’ egg sack tucked inside our fresh cut fir. 

John the Baptist, smoldering in prison, sought
Jesus for a sign.  “Are you the one,” he asked.
“Or am I to await another?” Jesus gave no sign,
save for what was.  “Look, and see, and believe,”
he said, pointing to the prophet’s words.
John looked and saw and doubt
was satisfied.  So it is with those who wait
in darkness, who long to see and believe.

My office is not a desert and my great-grandmother’s
Christmas cactus is not a rose, but I will take it
as a sign.  

*   *   *



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  



Monday, December 12, 2016

The Core: Physical Therapy & Prayer (#SmallWonder Link-Up)


It’s my second day of Physical Therapy for lower back pain.  I lay flat on my back on a green, cushioned table.  My knees are bent and I lift my pelvis in and out of bridge pose ten, twenty times.  “How does that feel?” the therapist asks.

“I feel it pull a little in my lower back,” I say.

“Are you using your core?” he asks.

I pause and listen to my body.  I hear no answer.  “What do you mean?” I ask.

“You want to be using your transverse abdominal muscles to lift,” he says, “not pushing up with your legs and back.  That’s why your back’s tweaking.  It’s not about how high you can go, it’s about using those muscles.”

I turn back to my body and try tightening my lower stomach, the soft section where my children grew.  “Hello,” my transverse abdominal muscles whisper as if waking from a long nap.

The therapist goes on to tell me that the lower abdominal muscles, commonly referred to as the "core," act as a natural girdle keeping the pelvis and spine in alignment.  I wonder, as I redo my bridges, how I can go through years of my life completely disengaged from my core?

//

A week later, I lay belly-down on the long, green cushioned table, my face pressed into an oval opening.  My shirt is lifted, my back exposed, and a therapist works slow circles in the muscles of my lower back.  Later, cool gel holds pads in strategic position and wires send electricity buzzing into tightened muscles coaxing them into surrender.  A layer of warm towels is laid on top, a timer set, and the therapist busies herself in another part of the room.

With my face in the hole, I close my eyes, I open them.  My contacts drift across my eyes and the world around me is slightly out of focus.  Conversations float through the air and I tune them in and out like radio stations. 

The electrical stimulation on my lumbar spine feels like hundreds of tiny ants dancing, their feet on fire and it’s not an altogether unpleasant sensation.  I open my eyes, I close them.  I rest and think of the woman waiting on a long-desired pregnancy.  I pray.  I think of the man who is dying and his wife.  I pray.  I wonder who I am here in this place.  At Physical Therapy, I am muscle and bone, slouching posture, weakened core.  But, beyond that, am I young?  Am I old?  Am I mother, daughter, wife?  I listen to hear what my life will say.

//

After the timer goes off, the pads are removed and I flip from stomach to back.  Knees bent, I practice “fall outs” and “ninety degree presses” counting slowly from one to thirty on each side.  My mind drifts, and thoughts go in and out of focus but I return again and again to tightening the core, attending in each moment to that inner space.   

This, I know, is what prayer is, a centering practice, a movement in which, putting aside all else, we tend to the core.


*   *   *



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pray as You Can (#SmallWonder Link-up)

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchoress best known for her deep belief in the love of God, is often depicted with her only companion, a cat.  Can you imagine how happy this makes me? 

"Pray as you can, not as you can't." - Dom John Chapman

In the early morning darkness, I rise from bed and descend the stairs.  The waiting cat picks up my trail and follows me into the kitchen.  Awake for some time already, he's eager to get outside. Every morning he saunters out into the frosty cold to prowl the wilted flowerbeds, the decaying garden and I catch glimpses of his progress from the window as he seeks out scent paths left the night before.  

In the kitchen, I pour coffee and cream into a clean-enough mug and the cat leaps onto a stool, hoping I’ll open the un-screened kitchen window that frequently serves as his own private door.  When I fail to comply with his implicit demands, he follows me to the wood stove room, hurrying urgently to the front door while I kneel to stoke the fire.  He expects me to open the door to gather more wood from the porch and is visibly disappointed when I settle on the couch.  His green eyes flash in my direction, impatient, then he settles on the carpet to wait for the next opportunity. 

I woke early, intending to sit in the darkness, to absorb the silence, to gently stoke the flame of desire that draws me to God.  This is why I woke, but there on the love seat I sit with my phone in hand.  I open Facebook, I scroll. 

My mind spins and whirls with thoughts, emotions.  My mind is like the cat, wide awake and eager, wanting to get out, to explore, to hunt and find satisfaction. 

This is not what I wanted.  But it's what I’m doing.

I lift my eyes from the phone and look over at the cat.  He’s waiting, as cats do, half-asleep.  

I rise again, this time from the love seat, and gather the cat in my arms.  I sit with him cradled across my lap like a baby.  He accepts my attention complacently, then with a steadily growing purr.  I stroke his back, his head; I scratch along his jawbone.  

With the cat in my arms, I feel love rise and gratitude; prayer begins.  

I realize then, gazing at his relaxed frame, that he is showing me how I'm meant to be with God - at rest, comforted, loved.  In that moment, my cat is an icon, leading me to the holy, to my own desire.  Content in my embrace, he stretches his paws out long and they come to rest on my chest where my heart resides.   

What images or actions in your daily life lead you to prayer?

*   *   *



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  Thanks for being part of our community!