Wide Open Space

 

I love the seasonal photo on the homepage of my website. The artist is our daughter, Mary Ellen Chiles.

 

I haven’t posted since the end of the school year. This summer has been one of exploration of the wide possibilities of life and faith. Travel, writing, conversation, library books, wellness. Canning pickles. Family gatherings. Relationship building and reflection. Quiet prayers. Lectio Divina. Spiritual Direction. Walks.

 

On a practical matter, we’ve worked on an in-house remodel to our place and are very close to moving to a different home in the center of the Farm. Saying goodbye to one garden and hello to another is always a meaningful step for me. I’ll gather some of my native plants—seeds and starts—to get rooted in the new place, the original Farmhouse.

 

I am a bit sad to say goodbye to our orchard.

 

In addition to the wide-open sky above our place, I’ve been paying attention to the trees. They’ve withstood the weather.

 

A favorite passage for my summer lectio has been the beginning section of Psalm 1 that talks about how we are blessed by carefully curating what we listen to and watch. The introduction of the passage warns of a progression of walking alongside, standing with, and finally sitting down with sinners and scoffers and mockers. Pay attention. The way can be, as old timers used to say, “a slippery slope.”  

 

So, what’s the reward for paying careful attention to where you are and who you chose to accompany? Those who delight in the Good Way are like “trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither…” I take it to mean that despite circumstances, we still flourish.

Your turn:

Where do you find yourself? Are you glad about where you are walking?

What did you do this summer?

 

Something I Learned in School.

 

I’ve been sharing this poem by John Phillip Newell, the former director of the Iona Community, a lot lately.  Newell has a particularly remarkable way of picturing Hope.

 

Thanks Be to You

In lives where love has been born this day

thanks be to you, O God.

In families where forgiveness has been strong

thanks be to you.

In nations where wrongs have been addressed

where tenderness has been cherished

and where visions for earth’s oneness have been served

thanks be to you.

May those who are weary find rest this night.

May those who carry great burdens for their people find strength.

May the midwives of new beginnings in our world find hope.

And may the least among us find greatness

strength in our souls

worth in our words

love in our living.

(https://heartbeatjourney.org/weekly-prayers/page/6/)

May the midwives of new beginnings in our world find hope.

Isn’t that wonderful? Living in Hope is my permanent address. And I love—really love—to provide gentle, sustained encouragement to support new beginnings.

May is graduation month. Talk about new beginnings. So full of promise. And may I suggest that offers the invitation to pause and think about what you learned in school?

Once I was an assistant in a university classroom where one of my jobs was to ask questions to support students to clarify the basics of what they were learning. My mentor provided punctuation at the end of the class in the form of a daily two-minute journal activity.  Students were instructed to write a brief response to reflect on what they had just learned. Some days he put the following writing prompts on the board:

 What?

Now what?

So what?

 

 Your turn.

Consider taking a minute to stop and reflect on this poem. If it’s your practice, write your responses. Or not. You don’t have to know it for the test and you aren’t being graded.

 What? What’s your takeaway? Are there phrases or words that stand out or resonate?

 So what? Why does it matter? You know, REALLY matter?

 Now what? How are you called to respond to what you have just learned?

 

School’s out. Hope’s in.

 And from St. Benedict: Always we begin again.

On Thirst

On Thirst

 

My work has turned to the topic of discernment—both personally and professionally. It’s a new kind of journey. And while I often walk amidst verdant roads, I find myself occasionally parched. This is made all the more difficult by false steps.  I sometimes lose my way.

 

Jan Richardson has written a series of poems for Lent about wilderness (Circle of Grace, pp. 91 and following.) Images of the desert evoke a longing in me to be satiated in my desire to know which paths to walk in.*

 

These poems have wandered by my desk recently. Okay, let’s get real. They’ve parked on my reading pile and plan to stay for a while. I wonder if they might speak to you along your way.

 

On writing about the desert, Richardson says in an excerpt from “Where the Breath Begins,” pp.101-102:

 

If you have come here

desolate,

if you have come here

deflated,

then thank your lucky stars

the desert is where

you have landed—

here where it is hard

to hide,

here where it is unwise

to rely on your own devices,

here where you will

have to look

and look again

and look close

to find what refreshment waits

to reveal itself to you.

 

 

While she is writing about being filled with Breath of the Spirit, all desert imagery causes me to long for a long cool drink that satisfies.

 

Are you thirsty? Do you need a drink of Water?

How are you following those longings for true refreshment?

Digging deeper?

 

*Jeremiah 6:16

So Are You a Counselor or What?

No, I am a spiritual director.

A spiritual director is similar in some ways to a pastoral counselor. We don’t have the same scope of practice. One way our work is different is that while spiritual directors also offer a safe confidential listening space for clients, we don't focus on prescriptive advice.

Some of the folks that I work with are clergy or clergy spouses. Many are caregivers. Almost all are busy. Typically, they need room to explore or sit with their own questions. It’s good to have someone who can listen. No judgment. No “I can fix that for you.”

If you are in transition and looking for discernment about the next steps, I can help you look for different kinds of prompts or activities as a way to unpack what keeps bubbling up. As I listen, I may ask clarifying questions as you consider your thoughts. Did I mention that it’s strictly confidential?

My Springfield, Missouri, office is between National and Fremont, just south of Battlefield Road. It’s private, quiet, conveniently located.

Inquire at maryhallchiles@gmail.com (new email) or phone me at 417-268-7408.

Merciful Light and a Board Meeting

 Fr. Ken begins every Vestry meeting with a prayer and message from the Book of Common Prayer. This sets our hearts on things above as well as we prepare to talk about programs, plans, and roof repairs.

 As we read about the setting of the sun and the end of the day, Jesus as the Light of the World is especially relevant. It’s cold and dark outside.

 Each time, we listen to the Gospel for the day. Last time we heard the story of Jesus healing a blind man.

 This man was blind. He needed to see. His friends saw that he needed to see. Seriously, the guy needed to see. So that was surely his greatest need.

 May I interject that I speak of this with a degree of insight as a former caregiver for a dearly beloved family member who lost her sight? She lived in total blackness. There was no spot on the horizon to focus on. So, she was out of balance. She was lonely. Her life was devoid of color. There was no day or night and like the blind man in the story, she had to rely on others.

  And yet when Jesus asked the man in the story what he needed, he simply asked for mercy.

 Sometimes when we are in the dark, it’s hard to know what we need. We’ve all got those times. And yet what we need most is God’s Mercy. Mercy is compassion and forgiveness that offers freedom—a Light in the Darkness.

Do not be afraid. You don’t have to sit in darkness.

Let the Light of God’s Mercy show you the way.

 

Just ask. 

(Originally written for The Clarion, Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, MO)

Have I told you lately?

 

Have I told you lately that I love you?

Well, Darlin, I’m telling you now.

 

Recently I said goodbye to a longtime friend and co-worker. I’m not sure that we’ll meet again on this earth. The words of an old Willie Nelson standard just came out of my mouth. Kind of corny, right? And yet the words were so right that we nearly wept with the truth of them.

 

The words just came out of my mouth. Because they were true. This friend and I have had a lot of interaction over the years. That’s code for sometimes it’s been rough—still code for the reality that all relationships have their ups and downs, aches and pains, joys and heartaches. Isn’t that the nature of love?

 

In this leave-taking suddenly I was poignantly aware of how much our friendship meant to me. I realized that at the heart of it all was love.

 

So even if you’ve got reasons to be angry or hurt, don’t ignore the love. By all means acknowledge the importance of boundaries. Speak the truth kindly. And in the midst of the messiness of true friendship, tell them how you feel.

 

Have I told you lately that I love you? Well, Darlin’, I am telling you now.

Thus sings my soul: Holy Listening

St. Benedict says to listen with the ear of your heart.

 

Think about your favorite song, anthem or sung liturgy. Is it the melody or the words that shimmer for you? Do you like to participate or listen? Do you have a favorite musical time of year?

The choice of hymns as well as the selection of anthems for the Christ Episcopal Choir (with whom I gratefully sing) changes to fit with the seasons of the church year. Knowing the context and story behind a song makes it all the more meaningful. The combination of sound and poetry of the Psalms express the gamut of human emotion. Hymn tunes can console and challenge.

For example, the sounds of Advent accompany the anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The fulfillment of the Incarnation of Emmanuel, God with us, resounds with Glorias.  The Lenten anthems and hymns prepare us for the Passion and Death of Christ followed by the ultimate celebration of the Christian life—the Resurrection. Trumpets and timpani resound. The contrast of sounds echoes our despair and joy at the telling of the centerpiece of our belief.

Music offers gentle comfort through times of grief.

A favorite author, Christine V. Paintner in her book Lectio Divina, Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer writes about how God speaks to us in a slow and careful reading of a sacred text. While many may be familiar with the idea of lectio divina, there is something called audio divina through which God speaks to us in what we hear.

Take some time to allow the beauty of the music to flow over you. Paintner suggests to consider holy listening through answering the following questions:

As you listen to a hymn or anthem, what shimmers?

What do you want to savor?

What summons you to act?

How can you be stilled by the melody and message?

Listen with the ear of your heart.

 

After the holiday joy, it's good to rest for a while.

Okay, I'll admit it. If I were to tell you my life story, you'd learn that somewhere between life as a high school honor student who became a sorority girl and a wise grandmother,  I was a bit counter cultural. I was a natural childbirth advocate and a homeschooler of seven kids. It was whole grain and organic all the way.

Even today, I do not always side with the majority in matters of life and faith. 

As I write by the radiant warmth of the wood stove, the frigid countryside is very still. The sound of logs burning keeps me company. The dog snores at my feet. The rest of the family is off visiting a cousin.  

In response to the onslaught of ads for planners and goal setting that have appeared in my inbox, I recently sent a few friends the following message. May I share these counter cultural thoughts with you friends as well?

Take some time this month to breathe.

Just be yourself.

No resolutions.

No goal setting.

No agenda.

Quiet.

Blessings in the new year, dear ones. 

 

 

Vespers in the morning?

 

 

I have always loved anything to do with vespers. So it isn’t surprising that a poem by that name caught my attention during the early morning quiet.  “Vespers” from John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us (New York, Doubleday, 2008, p.183.) enthralled me with phrases like “the basket of twilight brims over with colors.”

 

However, most vivid were the lines:

After the day’s frenzy, may the heart grow still,

Gracious in thought for all the day brought,

Surprises that dawn could never have dreamed.

 

It’s simple really—the beginning of the day leads to end. Throughout the day may I be aware of ways surprises heretofore undreamed of graciously dawned today. And as my heart grows still in rest may I be grateful.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Just this morning a yellow school bus rumbled by on the country road in front of my house.  The early days of the school year always tug at my heart.  This month is a great time to jump start a beginning of the year tune up.

Here’s a simple no stress way to do that.  Consider four areas of your life as the wheels of a car.  Answer these questions to consider how you want to proceed.

Physical Aspect

Have you had a nudge to take better care of yourself? Do you eat, sleep, and move the way you want to?

Emotional/Social Aspect

Are you taking time for healthy relationships and fun? Do you allow yourself opportunities to be creative and enjoy your interests?

Vocational/Intellectual Aspect

Are you doing the work you feel called to do and keeping your mind (and skills) sharp? Are you learning new things?

Spiritual Aspect

Do you meditate or pray? Are you allowing time for quiet reflection and reading? Are you engaged with others in a like-minded community?

It's all about staying in balance.

Spiritual Direction: Airing things

The other day someone called me an earth mother. As I am the mother of seven
children, that’s fairly common. I have a penchant for things organic—food and
otherwise. I seem to learn a lot of lessons through simple everyday experiences.


Just recently, I decided to celebrate the return of the summer sun by hanging out the
laundry. First, I needed to open the umbrella clothesline. What should have been a
five-minute task stretched into twenty minutes and then an hour. I even watched a
you tube video.


The clothesline was all a tangle. No matter how hard I forced it, the umbrella would
not open. So I prayed. After a few failed attempts, I followed every line until at last I
was able to extend the arms.


In the midst of that I was reminded that sometimes life seems to be all tangled up.
For starters, there are all those unanswerable questions: Why do young parents die
and sick old people linger? Why are some people hungry while others are fed to
overflowing?


How can one person enjoy a glass of wine with dinner when for another addiction
impoverishes? Why are some of the most brilliant people I know devastated by
dementia?


Spiritual direction offers a quiet place to talk about that kind of thing.
We sit one on one in a private space. We begin with a prayer. We eventually follow
one line of questions. While I was able to untangle the clothesline, we may not come
to an immediate logical conclusion. Nonetheless, talking with someone who listens
without judgment or forced answers seems to lessen the twin burdens of doubt and
fear.


Sometimes things just need some airing.