On my country road drives to and from St. Benedict Center, I often listen to an audiobook or podcast, but on my way home from an oblate weekend of beautiful sunrises and special monk moments, listening to some Carrie Newcomer music called to my spirit. I cued up Carrie Newcomer on my iPhone.
“The Music Will Play On” caught my eye. Sweet memories of meeting Parker Palmer, one of my favorite writers and thinkers, and Carrie Newcomer, one of my favorite musicians, at a 2019 Growing Edge retreat flooded my memories. Parker shared that he wanted to learn how to write a song, specifically about his own mortality. He asked Carrie to help him with some song-writing tips.
Parker writes,“I messed with metaphors, and began thinking about living and dying as part of what Thomas Merton, in a classic meditation, called “the general dance.” I’ve always loved dancing, so the metaphor felt just right. One morning, I woke up with a line running through my mind— “If I could, I’d dance this way forever”—and I knew I had the start of a song.”
It was such a special experience to witness the first performance of their song on retreat and to sing it along with them (saved in my personal video archives.) Here is a beautifully produced video of “The Music Will Play On” with lyrics:
No one knows for certain when their time will come, But life does not go silent once our dancing’s done. These harmonies will always call from beyond the years, The heavens dance forever to the music of the spheres.
If I could, I’d dance this way forever, But some soon day my dancing here will end. The music will play on, then one day I’ll be gone. I’ll dance into the darkness as new life dances in. Into the holy darkness where new life begins.
Indeed, our days are finite. We are inevitably “heading home to the music’s source.” As St. Benedict advises, “Keep death daily before your eyes.” Perhaps this sounds morbid, but this message encourages me to live each moment with wonder and gratitude.
Practicing SoulCollage® is part of my spiritual practice that provides “boundaries and direction”, especially in this time of uncertainty. I share an “I am one who” reflection for a card I created this week. It came together slowly, over the course of several days, taking up space on my kitchen table until it felt complete. The card has become a prayer of gratitude and a reminder to keep reaching for life-giving “holy water” in all its forms.
Card Name: “Holy Water”
I am one who stands in a circle of women who hold each other up, who embrace life and each other, who are connected, who grow together. I am one and many.
I am one who recognizes Source in the still, holy water. Stones, upright, are less about unsettling the water, and more about propelling motion, continually adapting, always transforming or conforming to what comes in its way. I can trust the peaceful, holy water.
I am one who stands in the stream of life-giving, purifying water.
I am one who, with open arms, is anointed with holy water. With joy, faith and a sense of solidarity, I am blessed with nourishment in abundance—above, below, around, overflowing.
I am one who thirsts, not in an aching, despairing, dying, sort of way (at least not in this card, at this moment) but as a reminder that purification happens only when intentionally sought after and accepted. Water is the essential element to growth; I long for this fullness.
I am one who believes in the Divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home.
I am one who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after. The waters of life flow through us—cleansing, renewing, blessing us with existence. Nature gives to us without hesitation.
Consider creating a collage for Earth Day that represents your feelings toward our environment or your feelings about how humans interact with the environment. Be creative!! Show your love, anger, doubt, concerns, joys, gratitude—let your spirit moves you. Make it your Earth Day prayer.
My friend Evi Wusk asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Gratitude Gal, about what I am grateful for as a teacher. The reflection that resulted has been a game-changer for me. It’s been a busy and challenging school year, but digging deeper about why I continue to choose to be an educator has uplifted my attitude and helped me deal with the daily challenges of teaching.
Here is what I wrote:
“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy… I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace. “–Henri Nouwen
I am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me about the importance of practicing gratitude.
I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”
I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage®. When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined.Continue reading “Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul”→
Hmmm, I think. “Good question…yes, because of faith and hope. Many blessings.”
This might not be the typical are-you-okay-what’s-wrong? line of questioning one might expect, but good friends know what’s behind your “yes and no” already. Sometimes the no just needs to lie right where it is; it’s the yes that needs more attention.
Likely, the question was meant for me to consider what is good? what is hopeful? what is well with my soul?
I have a SoulCollage® card that I created named “The Seasons of Life: I’ve Seen A Lot of Shit.” Eloquent, I know, but it’s the first thing that came to mind when I looked at my finished card.
“Winter, spring, summer, and fall are mulch for each other. The seasons of our lives are like that also. We learn from the layers of life. Our joys, sorrows, regrets, hopes, miseries, and enthusiasms are mulch for each other.” The Flowing Grace of Now, Macrina Wiederkehr
I had no idea what I was creating when I started, with no goal in mind. I was drawn to the older women sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company. They look experienced (not old, please), rested, peaceful, connected, comfortable and wise. I imagined what they might be discussing. Perhaps, despite the storms of life and the many obstacles that make them feel all shot-up, they are grateful to be still standing, still sitting, still connecting, still enjoying.
Both women hold a little of each season, every year, and the many experiences they have lived within them. I imagine that these soul companions are teachers for each other. There are teachers all around us—our circle of friends, spiritual companions, authors, thought-leaders, poets and musicians.
One of my spiritual teachers is author Sister Macrina Wiederkehr. The first Benedictine book I was introduced to (back in the ’90s) was “A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary” written by Macrina. Several years later, at St. Benedict Center, I was honored to meet Macrina attending one of her retreats. Through the years, I’ve gotten to know her better, to attend more of her retreats and enjoy more of her writing.
Her newest book,“The Flowing Grace of Now,” has fifty-two meditative readings that weave their way through the seasons of the year, pointing to a different teacher for each week. The reading and reflective questions include wisdom lessons from Macrina, as well as poetry and prose from teacher-writers like Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Joyce Rupp, John O’Donahue, Henri Nouwen and Joan Chittister, mystics like Julian of Norwich, and from the stories of the Old and New Testament. By taking an entire week to devote to the reading, the seed has time to burrow. By meditating upon a line or two of scripture, poetry, lyrics or prose, it sinks to a deeper place of resting in one’s heart, taking root, becoming the “mulch” from which to grow from understanding to blooming and becoming. The words take root in your life, impacting your thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
“Autumn holds fragments of the other seasons in transformative arms…the mood of autumn is the ebb and flow of life. Autumn stands as an epiphany to the truth that all things are passing and even in the passing there is beauty. It holds out platters of death and life.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr
So many teachers, so many seasons in a long life—we are called to keep learning. Each of us is called to take the seasons of life into “transformative arms”, to become more of who we are. So this autumn weekend, I consider the seasons of life—all of it, especially the blessings. I think about the “yes” of life that threads itself through my days—the yes to faith, hope, learning new lessons and gratitude for many blessings. The daily yeses keep me focused on the bigger yes—the yes to God.
My yes is the desire to become more of who God created me to be, to keep learning from the “mulch” of the seasons and experiences of life. This I have hope for and believe in. This I am grateful for and what I say yes to.
Yes, it is well with my soul.
“People often speak of becoming more grateful after having lost some of their health. Suddenly they see all they have taken for granted. Gratitude for all that has been enables them to say yes to all that is to come.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr
Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday can be a sacred ritual. Weeks in advance several family members begin planning the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, there is little variation from year to year—turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, dinner rolls, and so on—but an afternoon of list-making, guest-counting, and recipe-searching ensues. Some years, even a second planning session is required—to count plates and chairs, to create a map of the food line, or to scour advertisements for butter sales. The planning sessions have become part of the practice of Thanksgiving.