Spaciousness. A word and idea I’ve been hearing a lot lately.

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View of Olympic Mountains from a high point just a few blocks walk from our house.

In the last few days, I’ve been looking at pictures that Mitch, my beloved partner in life, takes in the park, in the woods, or on the shore of the Pacific Ocean in the city where we live. We want to enlarge a few. When I am looking at them I am reminded of the spaciousness of the landscapes we view here. The expansiveness of very old cedar trees that have towered toward the sky for hundreds of years, the expansiveness of our ocean view that even stretches to the Olympic Mountains that are another country away, or the sea of flowers that take our breath away in a local yard or park open us up to the breadth of the natural world. That sense of spaciousness cannot be captured. The pictures only remind me of the awe I experienced at the moment when I was standing at that spot.

The spaciousness of this place is tangible and being open to what is beyond my physical surrounding is a kind of spaciousness, too. I am narrowed by my thinking that I don’t do the right thing or I waste the time I have. I am narrowed by expectations that cause me to think less of my own life or the lives of others.  I am expanded when I cultivate another view from the inside as well.

I’ve read the verses from Phillipians 4: 6-7 thousands of times. I’ve repeated over and over, days on end, “with prayer and supplication, with gratitude” to remind myself how not to be anxious about living. A few days ago, I used these verses for Lectio Divina, and I learned again that the spaciousness of God reverses the narrowness of trying to figure everything out when I am anxious. The time I spend in silence and gratitude cultivates God’s spacious presence.

The lesson came in an unexpected way last Saturday.  My friend traumatically lost her husband a couple of weeks ago. As we gathered at her house for a meal after the celebration of his life, I witnessed the kind of roominess that is engendered by God’s opening of our spirits.

My friend is known for her baking—supplying, in this case, a most elegant chocolate cake that was filled with memories for this family. Her 10-year-old nephew reminded her that he would “decorate” the cakes. She gently replied that there might not be any decorating on this day.

But then, when the time came for the cakes to be served, I witnessed her and her nephew Matt standing side by side at the kitchen counter that faces out on one of those expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.

My friend removed the chocolate cake from each springform pan and placed it on a plate. She loaded the top with hand-whipped cream and fresh raspberries.  I supposed that was probably her intent for readying the cake for serving on this difficult day.

However, Matt stood beside her with the professional pastry bag with the fluted tip in place. He loaded the bag with more of the whipped cream and deftly decorated the top of each cake with another layer of sculpted cream. The pair seemed to work effortlessly through 5 cakes lovingly prepared for gathered family and closest friends.

Maybe at some point in time, she showed him how to do this task—but I saw none of that at this time.  I watched her just seamlessly offer him the next step to finish what she had started, without saying a word. No “good job” or checking to see if he needed more cream or directing in any way; just giving space to be in that moment.

To live in spaciousness, our responses aren’t reasoned out, even in the most challenging circumstances or in the daily hum. Thomas Kelly, in Testament of Devotion, says that the Light within revises our reactions to the world so that they are “spontaneous reactions of felt incompatibility between the world’s judgments of value and the Supreme Value we adore deep in the Center.”

There is a wideness in God’s mercy from this spacious view.

The Hum of Home

I heard someone on the radio say that just as Hebrew is to Judaism and Arabic is to Islam, the body is the language of Christianity. I’ve been sitting with that wonder for a few weeks.

A sacred language is the particular language of revelation. In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor says that wearing our own skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings us into communion with other embodied souls. She goes on to assert that God trusted, and I would add still trusts, flesh and blood to bring divine love to earth, maybe even using a body as an instrument of divine revelation.

What would it be like to know “more God” instead of “more about” God in our bodies?

 The Word incarnate. There is something precious and non-negotiable about this world and a divine heart within it. There is something profoundly to be noticed here, wonder’s presence. There is another way of conceptualizing the Word incarnate.

In a reflection on John 1: 1-14, Father Thomas Keating contemplates a material all-powerful vibration of the Eternal Word of God,

Now that creation has evolved and life itself has occurred, it seems that this initial vibration of the Word is still going on at the deepest level of everything that exists. This is the Word with whom every human being from the beginning of time has been in contact. This is the Word whose body, so to speak, is the universe, and in a more particular way, the human family. The eternal creative Word penetrates all creation as a kind of primordial “hum”. (You can almost hear it if you are quiet enough.)

Over the years, several physical practices have deepened my communion with God and my own body in this world. I write every day on paper using pencils and pens of varied colors and millimeters of ink that change the sensation and emphasis of the script. I write out each letter by hand, thoughtfully cross out the word that doesn’t represent what I am discovering, decide where to leave white space and page breaks, and mark up an emerging insight that I didn’t intend.

When I walk the dog, I stop to touch the smooth red and green underlay of the peeling bark on the arbutus trees that are native to this area. I pay attention to the unusual royal blue flowers that line the walk of my neighbor’s house. I pick up wooden rose pinecones and take them home for safekeeping before passing cars crush them. These seemingly ordinary things are, borrowing the words from Barbara Brown Taylor, “drenched in divine possibility.”img_0051.jpg

 

At the Luminous Wisdom School retreat I just attended, I’m thankful that Fiona, a participant like me, shared what seemed like a simply personal and particular physical challenge—that she was experiencing tinnitus and found herself filling each moment at home with music or a podcast to deaden the annoyance. The leader of our retreat and teacher of contemplative practices suggested that Fiona use the ringing in her ears as her “sacred word” during centering prayer. In centering prayer, one chooses a sacred word or another symbol of consent to God’s presence and action within. Returning to the word when our mind wanders and physical distractions occur. Fiona wondered aloud what it would be like to make sacred something that she found debilitating. I wondered what it would be like to imagine that sound as God’s presence.

In my case, I first noticed the cicadas in my ears several years ago. Initially, I only heard them later in the evening when I was reading in bed. I thought the sound might be some kind of utility buzz from the inner workings of the 50’s era house where we lived or maybe an odd noise from the decades-old television antenna that towered near my bedroom window. It wasn’t long before the ear insects showed up in church, too, in the beginning silence of prayer.

Over time, I’ve normalized the sound I hear that is always there, especially in the quiet. Most of the day, I don’t pay much attention to the gentle hum. When my mind is engaged in listening to something else, like the voices in my head, I don’t even know it is there. So, when Cynthia suggested that that sound could be the sacred word for prayer, I decided to try that alongside Fiona.

Astonishingly, the usual strain I experienced to choose and keep my focus on one sacred word melted away. I could physically feel the nano-second of release of other thoughts that my mind chose to grab and the seamless return to the noise that is always there awaiting my return. The insect-like noise doesn’t hold hidden meanings like my own wordsmithing of a sacred word does. Often, when I repeated my sacred word I found that more thoughts rushed in to further elucidate the meaning or justify my choice and both undermined the intention of centering prayer—to let go of distractions and to abide in God’s presence.

Could I listen, really listen, to that hum in my physical body to know “more God” instead of “more about” God?

In Richard Wagamese’s final novel, Starlight, the protagonist, Frank, is nurturing Emmy’s relationship with nature in which Emmy learns “to walk into the land fully open” and for the land to enter her. To me, the idea is akin to abiding in God and God abiding in me. After lessons on seeing, Frank expands the lesson to include deep listening.

…when you push your listenin’ out you can hear everything, I kinda figure it’s on accounta ya open yourself up to it all…

You get connected to what you hear. You become a part of it. It becomes part of you.

 In the deep listening, Emmy finds her calm center. God’s presence is a place to belong. That hum I can hear in my body is a tangible place, a spacious place to rest.

Listening to ringing in my ears is simple but not easy. This kind of listening requires no judgment, no analysis of what God is saying; it is simply consenting to and resting in the presence and action of the spirit. Maybe that is the ending of my story of the hum for now—that listening to whatever is God in us is to seek that presence in our body and to experience the spaciousness of creation. I can hear the hum.

Free to Let Be

It’s over for now. When I look back on the previous blog, my reluctant approach and actual fear of arranging rideshares for a retreat seem so trivial. Now, the riders and drivers are matched. I worked on this task for almost a month. In the past few days, people I love have faced much greater and life-changing circumstances and choices that make what I’ve been concerned about seem even more inconsequential.

When I was a teenager, I had the 5-year question. Faced with a challenge, a decision, or an embarrassment my internal response would ask, “Will this matter to me in 5 years?” As a 16 year old whose parents seemed to have deserted me, the question gave me a sense of rationality and control. Now, almost 50 years later, I wonder …

I don’t have words to explain what I wonder. “It” skirts between what some call synchronicity, or maybe the will of God, or what is meant to be—but none of those are exactly it. My ever-evolving question is what do I do and what does God do in my life? What I am certain about is that it isn’t that simple. The unexpected is never quite explainable. However, what can I take from these patterns of my life?

In the rideshare task, the most recent “matches” were made in thin air. Two riders, who had not responded to my initial email, suddenly, turned up needing rides. Both were coming via the airport; one of them landing on Tuesday, a few hours before the retreat, which was being held at a remote Education Center that was a two-hour drive away. The other was coming on Monday and would also like a ride back to the airport after the retreat was over on the following Sunday.

Miraculously-or not, I received an email from my friend Liz, that Sarah Smith was a possible new driver, not on my list. Sarah was away for the weekend so I had to wait several days to make contact with her. She had a small car, she said, so needed agile riders and, oh, could they be around the part of town where she lives? Miraculously-or not, Sarah was 15 minutes from the airport and the second rider was staying near the airport and an agile young mother. Yes, what seemed at least improbable was serendipitously and graciously arranged.

Another congruent choice I made last week was to listen to an audio of one of Thomas Merton’s lectures to novices at Gethsemane from the mid-1960s that appeared on my youtube stream on our television, instead of watching yet another poor quality video retake of House Hunters. The audio begins with an everyday issue: how to take care to minimize bath towel usage each week. What evolves from that quotidian beginning, left me examining how circumstances unfold. And, yes, choices we make have a way of bringing rivers of thought and practice together.

In a dialogue of sorts with the young men entering the monastery, who seemingly have a corner on the “will of God,” Merton’s insights are liberating. I transcribed a portion of the lecture that gives insight to the unfolding of my life wondering.  I have taken some liberties with names (Linda for Alfie) and condensed Merton’s argument.

What is God’s will? We asked that question wrong, we ask as pagans not Christians. When we are asking what is God’s will, we are asking what is my fate? …In other words, we assume that God’s will is predetermined, see, that God has sat up there in heaven, in a secret office and he reached in the filing cabinet and he pulled out the files and looks in [Linda].

“Elijah and Michael,come over here, what’s the plan for Linda?” 

They get together and there is this secret plan, see, and Linda, who doesn’t even exist yet, is born, and she comes into life and reaches the age of reason and says, “I’ve got to find out the plan.” …When it comes to contingent affairs, where there is a matter of choice, what is God’s will? …

Merton says that what happens in our lives (my wondering question) is a matter of the freedom that God has given us and that the “will of God” in the life of a Christian is the work of both God and the person together. Merton calls the intersection of these two freedoms an invitation on the part of God. Whether it involves vocation or anything in life,

…you are not supposed to guess and you are not supposed to figure out, it is something you worked out by free response. And what are the indications for the invitation? You have to take them in their existential facts, they are there or they aren’t. In other words, what happens is there are concrete facts or reality that you run up against in life and these things are manifestations of what God has planned or the manifestations of his whole idea which isn’t a plan ahead of time so much either.

 …God, from a certain point of view, has no plan in the sense of a plan beforehand because there is no before and after with God, he works it out as he goes along. It is all one with him; there is no past, present, and future. We think in terms of having a plan and working it out because that is the human way of looking at it.

 A wise human being usually thinks before he acts and there is nothing wrong with that, see. I’m not saying you are not supposed to think. This question of an inexorable will completely determined beforehand which we have to meet up to is the idea not of God’s will but of fate. God’s will is free and our will is free. And God is inscrutable in so far as he is free because nobody knows; you don’t even know how your brother is going to act with his freedom. So you don’t know of course how God is going to act either with his freedom, what do you do about that? 

Do you have to know beforehand what God is going to do with his freedom? Where do you fit that in, I mean supposing he decides to blast you with a thunderbolt or something if he wants to, what about it?

Faith, hope, and love, this is where theological virtues come in, there you put the thing on a completely different plane, you see… When you are dealing with persons you are dealing with what is free. So when it comes to faith, hope, and love you accept God as one who loves you freely and you trust his love and you trust that his freedom is going to be the freedom of one who loves. And you trust love and it is a totally different dimension. You don’t ask love to guarantee its plans for the next 500 years. Love is love and you let it be love, that’s all.

The circumstances of my life, then, are all matters of life and death, really. If God sees no past, present, and future, all life is conflated into this very moment.  I’m learning in this seemingly small stakes rideshare arranging to let go—to practice not figuring it all out and to give space for lots of ways of “working out” that I don’t have control over, that I don’t know, that I cannot predict or even imagine. I’m practicing spaciousness—to be less bounded by time, and response, and even what is or not my responsibility.

Whether it is God’s choice, my choice, someone else’s choice, or the aligning of freedoms of choices, I don’t know. But I do know that I can trust that whatever it is, what some call the mystery, does evolve with or without my concerted effort. It is about letting go of the boundaries, like time, or whatever else occupies my attention in a state of brace—that keeps me looking and longing instead of living into.

That’s what I’m learning from the mundane to the miraculous, to lean into love, the miracle of a new day, a moment of wonder, even awe. Whether for 5 minutes, 5 years, or 5 centuries, to let it be. And, I’m sure it’s not over.

Learning to Lean In

I don’t know why I said I would do it.

I don’t even know why I said I would volunteer. Those words just came out in conversation one day because I really do want to expand the small space I inhabit.  I thought whatever the task might be, it would be one that would be more in line with my strengths, not my weaknesses. And when she offered that I might consider arranging rideshares for an upcoming retreat, I knew it wasn’t something I’m particularly good at doing, but I thought it would be okay.

On Monday, I received the “list” of those who had offered rides and those who needed a ride. I began contacting participants via email on Tuesday. The advice I was given was to contact first the people who have offered rides to find out where they will be and how flexible they are about meeting up with others. Then, I could contact those who needed rides. I didn’t exactly take that advice. I forged ahead and just emailed everyone the same day.

My reasons were good ones, I thought. First of all, I don’t like to email people I don’t know, so I wanted to get that initial awkwardness out of the way. I spent too much time making sure the message was not too formal or too familiar. Maybe the truth is that, in this case, I didn’t want to reveal too much of myself, for my fear to peak through, I just wanted to get the business done. In hindsight, I should have at least introduced myself.

I realized too late that some of the people I was emailing knew each other and had been in retreat together before and others were newer than I, and thought I knew something more. A few wondered if I just wanted a ride myself or had an “official” capacity that caught them unaware. A few didn’t even realize they had offered to give another participant a ride or now needed a ride themselves. Many had personal stories to share of sick friends, doctor visits, and international travel that made their journeys unique. What I thought was straightforward information, was not.

Geography was another unexpected challenge for me as a newcomer (but remember I didn’t tell anyone that simple truth). The retreat is “up island,” as they say here. There are several ferry routes that people can take from the mainland, surrounding smaller islands, and even within the island. Even for people who live on the island, I’ve quickly learned that I can’t assume the route by one’s location. On the Malahat (the portion of the TransCanada highway going up island), accidents or rockslides close the route at least once a month for hours at a time, essentially cutting off Victoria (the largest city) from the rest of the Island. There are no easy exits since the stretch of road rests perilously between higher elevations of forests and the ocean. The only option for drivers is to take a smaller ferry or a multi-hour detour. People are creative in travel, I’m learning, to avoid this highway, taking ferries in all kinds of configurations and the way there might not be the same way home.

The truth is that I’m carrying too much for this task. I’m carrying these practical concerns but I’m also holding on to fears like how I present myself to these people I don’t know. I was afraid of being too personal when actually the opposite (not introducing myself and my lack of knowledge about travel) caused more work to figure things out. I was thinking too much about the task instead of simply encountering gracious people with cars and riders with stories to tell. I’m paying more attention to the agony of my inadequacy, or at least the inability I perceive might be true.

Now, it is the next week and I’m trying to not carry too much of the burden of figuring it all out.  I’m learning to practice leaning in toward the Light, my Lenten desire. Leaning in toward the Light means that I have to let go of all the if’s, the things I don’t know yet.  I have to let go of the fact that I don’t know these people and to instead consider this task as a way to get to know someone and their generosity in sharing both a literal and spiritual journey forward. I am learning to lean into the advice and practiced wisdom from my new friend who asked me to do this. Leaning into the light means that I shake off the dust of uncomfortable-ness and self conscious-ness to see the wonder and witness of the light beyond myself.

Carry nothing but what you must

Lean in toward the Light

Let it go, shake off the dust

Lean in toward the Light

Today is now, tomorrow beckons

Lean in toward the Light

Keep practicing resurrection

Lenten Leaning

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Lenten Rose in my backyard.

A curious thing about writing is that ever so often, I write a sentence and I’m not really aware of what it means until I reread the words on the page. I wrote in my last blog one of those emergent insights: Truths come gradually and at the same time, in the very moment when they make the most sense.

My husband, Mitch, loves the song, Lean In Toward the Light, by Carrie Newcomer. I wasn’t so captivated.

Last Lenten season, Carrie’s notion of “the beautiful, not yet” (the album title with the song, Lean In Toward the Light) was my survival mantra with so many unknowns in my immediate future.

Now, I’m on the threshold of the next spring. As I half-consciously listened to Carrie’s album the other day, two words in the Lean In song caught my attention: practice resurrection. The words are the last line of Wendell Berry’s poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, and call us to lean into the mystery and risk of an unknowing life. Those two words drew me in so that I might hear what I needed to hear for this moment in my life: lean in.

“Lean in” has become a popular feminist notion since Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, published her best selling book with the same title a few years back. According to grammerist,  lean in means to grab opportunities without hesitation. That description is consistent with Sandberg’s vision but doesn’t fit my own. I’d like to change the word “grab” to “ease into,” which I believe is more fitting for how I imagine leaning in.  My revised definition is more in line with an older meaning for lean in: to incline into something, such as a skier leaning in at a turn or pedestrian leaning into the wind during a heavy gale.

Leaning in requires strength. Leaning in is physical and emotional and conscious. Leaning in is a beginning, not a plunge. Leaning in implies being supported; I am not alone. Leaning in is my theme for this Lenten season.

During the coming 40 days until Easter, I plan to gently lean in. Lean into the abundance of opportunities that move me out of dark places, while at the same time, make the dark places okay. Easing into the light takes away the sharpness of the contrast. This posture is akin to letting in a little light to challenge the darkness, the deficit thinking that binds me. I practice resurrection when I lean into the newness of this moment.

My focus for this Lenten spring is to discover the divine light that does shine through everything and everyone when I lean in to see it.  In Carrie’s words:

Lean in toward the Light.  Keep practicing resurrection.

 

Invention to Discovery

In her novel, Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels describes history as the gradual instant, when we recognize that things have continued to move and change even without our awareness. Our personal recognition of change might seem sudden, but it isn’t. Looking back we see how proclivities of our own and other people’s lives have shaped what now seems extraordinary. In an interview, Michaels answered the question: How does history inform the present?

It’s a moral question. In moral terms, there is no before and after, then and now. How we live determines how we will act at any given moment. Our ability to do the right thing is not going to just suddenly spring from us out of nowhere. Our doing the right thing is like a muscle. Morality is a muscle and has to be used. Our doing the right thing depends on how we have lived before that moment comes to us. History is the gradual instant, the gradual present… In other words, there is a responsibility in daily life, in that daily life is what becomes history. It is the source of the formation of the huge event. It’s not separate from how we live every day. People always ask, “How could it have happened?” “How did this happen?” when, in fact, it’s not so hard to see how it happened. History erupts from the present moment.

Spiritual insight, rather than an epiphany, is also a gradual instant. We recognize, over the course of time, moments in our own lives and intersections with other peoples’ thinking and living that bring depth and meaning. I believe these encounters are not solely from our own lived experience but are also gleaned vicariously through circumstances of others’ lives, both real and imagined. Stories, in all forms, matter—we use bits and pieces of other people’s stories that generate abundance in understanding our own.

I recognize the gradual instant that erupts from the accumulative layers of spiritual reading and writing that I have practiced for much of my life. I’m not sure when or how I came to recognize the process of my morning routine as a ritual. Over the years, the order and substance of this contemplative time has both evolved serendipitously and followed specific patterns that I took from others, building a kind of spiritual muscle memory as Anne Michaels describes.

When I read Richard Wagamese’s introduction to his book of meditations, Embers, I brought my own history of scared mornings with me. The author explicitly describes his morning spiritual practice that I wanted to use to refresh my own. I, too, read from several texts each day that over time have moved among devotional, scholarly, contemporary and spiritual classics and include scripture reading. It is a gift when I see connections and gain insight woven in between these texts.

Wagamese capaciously describes his morning ritual. The silence, the warmth and scent of his cup of tea, the rising smoke of his tribal medicines, and the shadows of dawn echo the sacredness. I wrote down for myself his protocol that is steeped in his Ojibway ceremony. And even though I don’t have such a rich heritage in my own experience, there is enough that is familiar that provides a foothold for me to pay attention to the ritual, the ceremony of the routine that made a difference.

I need the ritual. What and how I read, the order of reflection and prayer, writing down my thoughts and even showing up are part of my morning routine. A ritual, according to Frederick Buechner, is the performance of an intuition, the rehearsal of a dream, the playing of a game. The ritual of my morning allows me to practice listening to God, even if I am not always able to sustain that listening throughout the day. I discovered an order of ceremony in Richard Wagamese’s ‘morning table’ as he calls it that offered me new possibility.

Now, in the morning, I make a cup of coffee using my manual coffee grinder and my red ceramic pour over cup. I hadn’t thought of this as part of the ritual, using these tangible aromas, tastes, warmth, and breath to call myself to the scared presence of morning. After a more intentional order of three readings, I close my eyes and intentionally ask what the readings have to tell me that day. After a prayer of gratitude for all the goodness that is present in my life, I ask to take the sacredness of this ritual into the day to perform the role the Creator has asked of me.

On that first day of my own morning table, I read from Embers that in silence, I reclaim myself and that “allows me to move outward into the clamor of living.” The Buechner reading for the day reminded me that the gift of now is a process of discovery rather than invention. The Psalmist (24) encouraged a pure heart that doesn’t get caught up in trying to craft the vision of my life, nor lifting up my soul to what is false— both my invention. The thread throughout these readings is one of discovering rather than striving to do or be something.

I use my gifts to discover this life, to sit back and watch it unfold. When I create stories about other peoples’ lives and even my own life, I am inventing not discovering. Discovery is when I interact in real time and see the good and the challenges and meet both head-on—with goodness—trusting God, myself, and other people.

Discovery is when I find that glimpse of beauty I need in life to always see something anew. Using the Psalmist words, may that beauty seep into my bones and my subconscious—where stories come from. May I discover that that nourishes me quietly and calls me to something more worthy than the distractions of the day.

I won’t suddenly have a miraculous life…or maybe I will. As I look back over my life one day, I will see the gradual instant. The moment after I realized the ritual of discovery, with gratitude, to be ready to do what the Creator asks of me each day. Truths come gradually and at the same time, in the very moment when they make the most sense. As I write this, I realize how concretely this understanding is at the heart and praxis of my new morning meditation.

Discovery instead of invention came as a gradual instant, not a sudden knowledge, but a gentle emergence from the memories and practices I’ve been doing for a long time. My recent day of discovery wasn’t so sudden and yet, it was an epiphanous moment. It was a gradual building of my capacity to make connections, to hear what I needed to hear, maybe even the voice of God.

For more than thirty years, I have shown up to this time of meeting God and myself. It was an instant of recognition or maybe an instant of being able to name for myself that

Life is grace, for instance—the givenness of it, the fathomlessness of it, the endless possibilities of its becoming transparent to something extraordinary beyond itself.

Snowy Desires

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We had over 55 centimeters of snow this month, most in the last week, an astounding record for my island home in the Pacific Northwest This is the view outside my back window. I love snow and the peacefulness of it’s falling. I cherish the chance to burrow safely inside. The evenings have been unusually bright with the illuminating snow cover. My friend here said she felt like a real Canadian now, instead of being associated with the usually temperate climate of Southern Vancouver Island.

For the past several days, I have stayed close to home. I’ve watched more TV than should be allowed and I’ve created meals from the bounty in my pantry to avoid going to the grocery store. The days have melted together, one indistinguishable from another.

Throughout the snowy week, I have avoided two dinner parties and coffee with friends and it was a relief. I struggle with the many invitations I receive and with the obligation I feel to reciprocate. I want the encounter to be more casual or spontaneous. Lately, I seem to have lost the desire to welcome that I thought I was finally cultivating where I used to live.

On one of my most recent cold mornings, what should have been a promise turned disheartenedly into a dilemma as I prayed a morning Psalm.

May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans. (Ps. 20:5)

I have no desires or plans, I thought. Could that be true? I came face to face with the realization that I continue to define my life by a job or a career or a passionate role—even though I have written, read, and prayed against this stance for much of my adult life. Writing is a spiritual practice that takes me places I don’t know to go. And, on this day, at least 30 minutes of my too-much television viewing elucidated the possibilities I’d worked out through my morning pages.

One of the television shows I watch occasionally is Big Bang Theory. On a recent rerun, Penny reacts to her boyfriend Leonard’s passion for a TV show he wants to share with her. In a conversation with another member of their friends’ group, Bernadette, Penny laments that she doesn’t get that passionate about anything in her life.

Bernadette: Why does this bother you so much?

Penny: I don’t know. It’s just, he’s so passionate about so many different things. I just don’t get that way. Do you?

Bernadette: Well, sure. I’m pretty passionate about science. I remember the first time I looked through a microscope and saw millions of tiny microorganisms. It was like a whole other universe. If I wanted to, I could wipe it out with my thumb like a god.

Penny: See? I wish I had some of that fire in my life. I mean, I want to care about things and get excited like you guys.

Bernadette: Well, there’s no reason you can’t.

Penny: You think?

Bernadette: Absolutely. All we need to do is spend a little time and find something you’re passionate about.

Penny: Ugh, that sounds like a lot of work.

Penny is a brilliant character choice in this line-up. You see, all the other people in this close group of friends are accomplished scientists with the most advanced degrees and engaging research agendas that permeate their everyday interactions. Penny is a waitress at the local Cheesecake Factory and occasionally aspiring actress whose character continually butts up against the intellectual milieu and social ineptitude of the other characters. In this particular episode, the theme is re-conditioning or a kind of regeneration of sorts. Culminating this part of the story, Penny and her boyfriend Leonard revisit her lament with new insight.

Penny: See, that’s the kind of passion I didn’t think I had. But then I realized I’m passionate about you.

Leonard: Oh, my cute little tushy strikes again.

Penny: No, I’m serious. Look, I’ve always had these plans. I was gonna be in movies and live this glamorous life, and anything less than that just wasn’t worth getting excited about.

Leonard: Those things can still happen.

Penny: Oh, obviously it’s gonna happen. Yeah, a psychic at a bachelorette party told me so. Anyway, what I meant was, I shouldn’t wait, you know? I’ve got you, I’ve got Sheldon, all these wonderful friends. My life is exciting right now.

Leonard: That’s a big deal.

Penny: It is, isn’t it?

Leonard: So, does that mean we get to do stuff like talk about cool shows or get dressed up in matching costumes and go to Comic-Con?

Penny: Leonard, I had an epiphany, not a stroke.

Penny epiphany was far from looking at her life through a lens of grace or was it? Her desire and plans for a career will unfold, however, she shouldn’t wait to be passionate about the lives and relationships that enable her abundant living in the here and now. When I pondered my response to this verse in the Psalms in my writing pages, like Penny, I saw more clearly what was right in front of me.

So back to my desires and plans. I want to have a more healthy and whole relationship with my family—my son, my daughter, and my husband. I want to be less guarded with other people. I want to love God by honoring these people that are closest to me and not spend my imagination considering how they might live. My desire is to take myself off the hook and let them figure out the weakness and strength of a thing in their own way and in their own good time.

In response to the invitations to coffee, to dinners, to tea, and walks to explore this community, being gracious is not difficult. I don’t have to be an extrovert; I can be myself. According to the Rule of Benedict, humility is the admission of God’s gifts to me and to use these gifts for and with others.

Almighty God, to you my heart is open, all desires known, and from you, no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that I may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.