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WHEN DESPAIR AND FEAR GROW: REST IN THE GRACE OF THE WORLD

three cranes at pond“When despair for the world grows in me…
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.”   

                 – Wendell Berry

 

In The Peace of Wild Things,
poet Wendell Berry shares the power
that nature holds for him. 

 

 

When he fears what the future might hold 
for him and his children,
he goes to “where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.”

In the midst of the world’s business and busyness,
whether we go in reality or in our imagination,
let’s often bring ourselves 
to a place where we can be soothed, healed, and uplifted     
by the grace of the natural world.
May we rest in beauty and peace, and faith too,
with reverence for life as a touchstone. 

GOOD NEWS? BAD NEWS? SEEING WITH HOPE AND FAITH

"Things are always changing. Hold hope."

“It is hard to tell our bad luck from our good luck sometimes.”

                                                         – Merle Shain

 

Situations that first seem “bad” can turn out to be “good” in some way. By the same token, sometimes situations that seem positive may turn out to give us challenges. 

 

One of my touchstones for hope and faith is a Chinese story that offers wisdom about this:

 

           

            Long ago there was a farmer who lost his favorite horse. Besides helping the farmer with his work, the mare was like a friend. One day she wandered away. The old man searched but couldn’t find her. His neighbors went out to look too. When the horse could not be found, the neighbors tried to console the farmer. “We are sorry that this bad fortune happened to you,” they said.

 

            The farmer smiled and replied, “Thank you for helping me search for my horse and for your condolences, but we shall see. Bad fortune? Who knows? Things are always changing.”

 

            A few weeks later the horse returned. With her walked a strong stallion. 

 

            “Good fortune!” said the neighbors.

 

            “The farmer again said, “We shall see.”

 

            In time the mare gave birth to a foal.  “Good fortune!” said the neighbors.

 

            The farmer simply smiled.

 

            A few months later, the man’s son broke his leg while trying to ride the untamed young horse.

 

            “Oh, bad fortune!” said the neighbors.

 

            “We shall see,” said the farmer.

 

            The son’s leg soon began to heal. 

 

            “Good fortune,” said the neighbors. 

 

            The farmer smiled. 

 

            In time the son walked again but with a slight limp.

            “Oh, too bad.  Bad fortune,” said the neighbors.

 

            “We shall see,” said the farmer, smiling, of course. 

 

            A year later a terrible war began. Most young men were called to serve. Many never returned. Because the farmer’s son walked with a limp, he was considered unfit to be a soldier.  He stayed on the farm and survived to live a long life.    

 

May we trust what is unfolding.      

FAITH IS TAKING THE FIRST STEP

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

 

Think of the dreams and courageous actions taken by Martin Luther King, Jr. Consider how he stepped forward with faith, toward advancing human dignity, toward building peace, toward cultivating reverence among us, believing in things unseen. 

 

Let an image of a staircase be a touchstone for you.
Make it a grand one, for your highest dreams…
for the world and your part in it.

  

May we each further peace.
May our steps be blessed.

FAITH IS LIKE A SAFETY NET

Purple stained cloth and glass

I had just written my “Today’s Touchstone” message for tomorrow about faith being like a safety net.

 

I made a Berry Smoothie and then slipped on a drop of water on the kitchen floor.

 

The  amazing thing is: I felt cradled on the way down to the tile.  Time slowed.  I somehow landed gently.  So did the glass.  It fell on the tile but did not break!


I wish I had thought to get a photo of the mess before my husband kindly cleaned it up. The deep purple drink splattered everywhere. Here’s a photo of that glass next to a formerly-white washcloth after repeated rinsing.

One sip of the drink remained in the glass. It was delicious.

 

What was more delicious was experiencing a sense of safety and being cared for, even during and after the fall, especially in light of what I had just written to share with others:

 

“Parachutes weren’t proven trustworthy
by having people carry them around on their backs.
The device showed its reliability once someone jumped.”
– Mary Manin Morrissey

 

Are you facing anything now that calls for a leap of faith?
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CONSIDER USING MUSTARD SEEDS IN THIS WAY

 

Mustard SeedsEven if you never make pickles or mustard or potato salad or any recipe that calls for mustard seeds, you might want to keep a jar of them in your pantry.

 

Why? Well, let me tell you why I do.

 

Despite many wondrous life experiences which have cemented my trust in God and in the goodness of life, there are times when something shakes me to my core, and I feel deeply confused, stressed and depressed. Even if I don’t question the presence and power of God and the goodness of life, I question me.  And I hurt.

 

First, I just let it be: the pain of this common human suffering.

 

Then, I consider my collection of inspirational touchstones. Some quote, affirmation, image, metaphor, or story is likely to emerge in front of all the others and call for my attention. No matter which touchstone that is, as I “hold” it in my mind and heart, I feel enriched and uplifted, at least a little.

 

Next, I go to my spice rack and find a particular jar. I open it. Onto my opened palm I drop one tiny seed… a mustard seed. I hold that seed and recognize that, however small it may seem at the time, I do have faith.

 

Sometimes I do this even when I’m feeling full of hope and joy. Many mornings, with a mustard seed in hand, I set an intention to act with faith during the day ahead. Sometimes I bite into the seed, intending to truly taste the power of faith. On one occasion I sprinkled some seeds onto a custard cup of soil, watered those seeds, and watched them grow.

I haven’t yet used mustard seeds in food preparation. One of these days I just might cook with them. In the meantime, I keep a fresh jar of mustard seeds just for this purpose… to remind me: “I do have this gift of faith in me. Always. No matter what. We all do.  And with it we can move mountains.”

 

ANGELS IN OUR LIVES

Young HawkHave you ever had one of those experiences when you feel that an angel is truly present in your life?

 

My daughter, Krista, had one recently.

 

After rushing around, getting her twin toddlers bathed, fed, and dressed and getting herself ready for an early morning meeting, she got the children in their car seats and prepared to drive off.

 

But, when she opened the garage door, she saw a hawk standing on the other side, right behind the rear bumper.

 

Needless to say, she was surprised and startled. One would think that the bird would be startled too–by the garage door opening, a human being approaching, or the car inching closer.

 

Not this bird. Despite all attempts to make the bird move, he (or she) maintained eye contact with my daughter while holding its wings outstretched.

 

According to Krista, the huge bird seemed to be saying, “Slow down” or Don’t go.”

 

For a full fifteen minutes, the bird blocked the way. When my daughter tried to maneuver the car around the right side of the bird, the bird walked to the right. When she tried to get around on the left, the bird walked left.

 

After just enough time for my daughter to say (to herself) “Okay. I give up. I’m not going downtown to that meeting,” the bird pulled in its wings and walked to the side out the driveway, out of the way.

 

Was it a message to slow down? Was it an intervention, protecting my daughter and grandchildren from an accident?

 

Sometimes we get to see the specifics of the Divine at work in our lives. But usually we don’t.  And that’s okay.  We don’t need to know, do we? It’s enough to have faith that Love knows us and is always near.

 

And, yet, isn’t it nice to share stories that remind us?

 

If you’d like to share such a story, please do!

 

FAITH: MAY YOU BELIEVE

Have you ever received a touching letter that literally fell apart because you read it so many times?

 

I got such a letter from my daughter, Krista, back in 1987, when she was a junior in high school.

  

My husband, our two daughters, and I had caught the first plane out from western New York that would get us to New Jersey, where my mom had been hospitalized after experiencing a stroke.

  

When we arrived at the hospital, I asked about my mom’s prognosis. Her doctor shook his head and lowered his eyes, avoiding mine.

  

“What are you telling me, doctor?” I asked.

 

“It was massive,” he said. “You should prepare yourself.”

 

But my mom survived that night. And another. And another. And, it started to look like it might not yet be my mom’s time to die. Her chances for a meaningful recovery were minimal, however, according to the medical team.

 

Nevertheless, after a few more days, my husband and daughters planned to fly home and return to work and school, while I planned to stay with my mom and be at her side as much as the hospital permitted.

 

It was then, before my family left for Newark Airport, that Krista presented me with a letter, hand-written on a sheet of loose-leaf paper.

 

In among her encouraging words, she had woven three scriptural verses. I wish I still had that letter. But between my tear drops, the oil from my fingers, and the many openings and re-foldings, the paper on which the letter was written simply fell apart.

 

However, the thoughts, the love, and the faith poured into it–they became a permanent part of my mind, heart, and soul, as did those verses.

 

In fact, I have been reading them every day since then. When the paper began to tear, I copied the verses Krista had chosen to quote for me.

 

I’ve read them so many times–close to 10,000 now–and through so many times, including when I faced a form of cancer for which I was told, “There is no cure,” that these quotes, along with the memory of daughter’s letter, are among my most valued touchstones for building inner strength.

 

I share the verses here because I want to encourage others, as my daughter did for me, to remain mindful of faith, and all of life’s gifts, in the midst of all things, especially when circumstances seem dismal. (Over theyears, I modified the third quote, as led by my heart.)

 

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Heb 11:1

 

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” – Heb 10:35

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with hope and joy and gratitude, present all your issues, dreams and desires to God.” – Phil 4:6

 

By the way, my mom pulled through. As time passed, her healing progressed. In less than two years, she recovered fully. In fact, in many ways she was more healthy and active than she had been before the stroke.

 

Faith: May you believe.

FAITH IN THE MIDST OF LIFE’S STORMS

Tree limbs in a storm

I was recently on vacation with my husband at Sanibel Island, Florida. It was not the week of swimming, shelling, and strolling that we had been eagerly anticipating. Tropical Storm Debby arrived the same day that we did. Although we didn’t get to do most of the things we had planned, it turned out to be a truly lovely vacation, in part because, like all of life’s storms, my appreciation for life’s gifts deepened as I weathered that one.

 

During  that week, I was often reminded how the wind is like faith. We can’t see it directly but we can see its effects in our lives.

Flower petals after storm

 

During respites from rain, I went out and looked for beauty. I found it in many places, including the way leaves, limbs, and flowers were strewn about by the wind. For example, I came upon a floral arrangement in a bird bath, designed by nature.

 

Faith - Beach after stormDuring a walk on the beach after the storm, I came upon a little “bridge” that was formed by two limbs placed side-by-side by wave action. To me, that seemed like nature’s encouragement to step up, cross over, and begin something new, with courage.

 

No matter what is happening in the outer world–whatever the weather–we can experience joy. We can find beauty. We can open our hearts to love and compassion. We can listen for guidance from the voice of wisdom.

HOLDING THE LIGHT – A FORM OF PRAYER

Burning Candle
“I’ll be holding the light for you.”

Have you ever said this to someone in a challenging situation? Has anyone said this to you?

This idea and intention to “hold the light” seems to be growing as a common expression. I hear it as another way of saying, “I care” and “I’ll pray for you” when we feel empathy for the hurt a loved one is experiencing.

But what does it mean?

And exactly how do we “hold the light” for someone?

I was asking these questions when a clear image suddenly came into my mind.

I saw myself in a small, simple, windowless room. I was standing at the head of bed, holding a candle. In the bed was a friend who was experiencing deep emotional pain. At the foot of the bed was another woman, standing by.

And I got it.

Yes, my friend was in pain… laboring with pain. And it was because she was about to give birth to something new and wondrous in her life! The woman at the foot of the bed was an angel present to facilitate with the birthing.

My role was simply to stand at the head of the bed and… well, just hold the light, without fretting, worrying, or getting in the way. I watched as a golden glow filled the room and bathed each of us in the energy of love.

I now use this image whenever I am privileged to hear the courageous sharing from a family member or friend who confides a challenge regarding their health, or finances, work, or in a relationship, whatever…. I trust that in every challenge there is something ready to be born, something new, something wondrous… something to welcome into the world.

With deep respect for our friends and their birthings, we can stand by them in this way, holding the light.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have another visual image that represents “holding the light?” If so, please share it. Visualizations can help make our intentions more real, anchor them, and add energy to our caring intentions.