Tag Archive | The Monastic Way

Let’s Pray, Floey

Floey sitting - profile cropped“Hey, Mom. We need to have a talk.”

“OK, Floey. What’s on your mind?”

“Ever since you stopped writing your blog every week, I feel that we don’t talk at all. Oh, I know we still talk about the birds and the bees and the gophers when we’re on our walks – how beautiful the goldfinches are, how annoying the wasps are, and how fast the gophers can run when I chase them… But we don’t have deep conversations like we used to have. I miss that.”

“Well, I’ve got some time now. What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t really care. I just want to spend some time with you, talking about some of the things we’ve each been thinking about. I know. Last month you played the piano in jail twice for the women’s worship service again. How did that go?”

“Oh, that was really something, Floey. The main theme we talked about both weeks was God’s healing. We sang There is a Balm in Gilead and Amazing Grace. You know what was the best part of those services?”

“I bet it was singing those beautiful hymns!”

“Nope. It was when we prayed for each other. Remember we all sit in chairs arranged in a circle, and near the end of the service we pray out loud for the person sitting on our right. That means the person on my left prays out loud for me. When she’s finished, everyone says Amen, and then I pray for the person on my right, and so on.”

52b21b2c62fef-image

Inmates are no longer permitted to hold hands while praying, as pictured. Internet image.

“Well, the first week, Marie, the woman on my left, prayed a long prayer for me. She thanked God for bringing me to play the piano to help them sing hymns. She asked God to bless me and my family. She thanked God for all kinds of wonderful attributes that she thinks I have. I felt really blessed as I heard her pray. Silently, I thanked God for letting me participate in a worship service with these kind, caring women.”

“That must have felt really good, Mom, to be prayed for like that. The woman who prayed for you sounds like a really nice woman.”

“It did feel good, Floey. And Marie seems like a good, kind, Christian woman.”

“After the service I told the chaplain how surprised I was at the long, glowing prayer Marie prayed for me.”

“The chaplain then told me a little about Marie. She was in jail awaiting trial for murdering her teenaged niece. Apparently Marie had been taking care of her niece, and had used physical punishment as a means of disciplining her. When her niece died, she moved the body out of state and managed to keep her hidden for a long time before a relative finally told the police.”

“How can that be, Mom? Do you think she really killed her niece?”

Floey-Marian faces selfie

“I don’t know, Floey. Life is complicated. Maybe killing her niece was an accident. Maybe Marie has severe mental illness. Maybe not. All I know is that she prays like she really loves God and wants to please God regardless of what happens in her life. And I know that she blessed my life by praying for me. And I will continue to pray for her that God will comfort her and bless her regardless of where she spends the rest of her life.”

“Wow. How about your next week in jail? Was prayer time the highlight of that service, too?”

“Yes, it was, Floey. It wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the woman who prayed for me thanked God for bringing me into their services to provide music, and then she thanked God that my spirit was there the weeks that I wasn’t there in person.”

“It sounds like you like to be prayed for, Mom. But I don’t blame you. I’d like to hear someone pray for me sometime, too.”

“I pray for you, Floey, but I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for you out loud in front of you. We’ll have to pray together sometime. We should pray for each other like we do in jail.”

“I’d like that, Mom.”

skmbt_c28016091209590“On the subject of prayer, Floey, Joan Chittister talked about prayer every day in August in THE MONASTIC WAY. She used a quote by Teresa of Avila as the theme for the month’s daily devotions.

Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed.

“Chittister’s reflection on August 5 really grabbed my attention.

The role of prayer is not to coax God into doing what we think would be good for us. It is to embolden us with the courage it will take to do, ourselves, what scripture shows us Jesus would do in a similar situation.

“On August 12th she wrote:

When we discover who we really are, we are finally able to understand others. To be compassionate toward them. To be a gift to the world.

“Then on the 18th she said:

Prayer is the wail of the soul to become what we are really meant to be.

“Near the end of the month she reached the conclusion:

If we are too busy to take time for prayerful reflection every day, we are too busy to be human, too busy to be good, too busy to grow, too busy to be peaceful.

“You know, Floey, between jail and Joan Chittister, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer over the past several weeks. I think I see prayer a little more broadly than I used to. It’s not just talking to God about what I perceive to be my needs and the needs of my friends, or thanking God for all the good things in my life. It’s communicating with God on a deeper level, learning more about why God created me, and how I may fit into the big picture of life. And it’s about learning to appreciate all of God’s creation. It’s about communicating with God in many different ways throughout the day and night. And I’m just beginning to learn…”

“OK, Mom. That’s enough deep conversation for now. Let’s go for a walk to look for goldfinches and gophers.”

“Good idea, Floey. Enjoying all of God’s creatures is another way of praying…”

american-goldfinch-fredric-d-nisenholz

Goldfinch and bee on thistle. Internet image.

 

Dot-to-Dot Life

t350_17883b28e2616a96184165e57f754711

 

Dot-to-Dot books were my absolute favorite activity books when I was a little girl – even better than coloring books – well, maybe my Red Ryder cowboy coloring book was the best of all – but other than that, dot-to-dot pages were my favorites. I could spend hours drawing lines from number to number to reveal a picture from what started out as just a mass of numbers.

mediumSunday morning I read a short paragraph from FIRSTLIGHT: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd.

During those times when I wonder what I’m going to do with my life and I’m unable to envision it, I recall a dot-to-dot picture of a giraffe – a gift from a four-year-old. The child had created the picture by moving his pencil from dot to dot, one at a time. It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot. [p. 175]

A couple weeks ago Mim and I went to my 50th high school class reunion. It was fun to talk with former classmates, to find out who is retired and who is still working, and to discover some surprises in what all of us have been doing with our lives.

SKMBT_C28016070409090

I’m in the front row, right in the middle, wearing glasses.

When we left high school, many of us had dreams of specific careers where we would spend our lives. In my case, I was going to be a chemist. Really! I changed my mind after my freshman year in college. I switched my major from chemistry to English and prepared myself to become an English teacher.

After college, I taught English for two years, and then I became an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia. The publishing business was interesting for a couple years, but then I switched again and began a new career path in business. I spent ten years working in the financial systems department of a large corporation in downtown Chicago and went to grad school evenings to get an MBA. Then I left big business and became a small business consultant, creating my own business. Then my partner Mim and I became owners of a bed and breakfast. Then I became a real estate agent. Then Mim and I turned our B&B into an assisted living business. Next we turned our farmhouse into a spiritual retreat center. Oh, and simultaneously with these “career changes” I became a church organist and a writer, publishing a weekly blog and a couple books.

So much for the idea of devoting my life to a one-track career. I really appreciate what Sue Monk Kidd said,  “It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot.” When I drew that first line from dot 1 to dot 2, I had no idea what the total picture of my life would end up looking like. In retrospect, that really didn’t matter. I just needed to live my life one dot at a time.

SKMBT_C28016070409180Joan Chittister focused on a related theme in the June issue of The Monastic Way. The 30 daily readings reflected on a quote by St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.”

The reflection on the first day of June boldly stated, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” [Chittister was quoting David Viscott, a psychiatrist.]

One of the things I learned from my own life experience, and had confirmed by the life experiences of some of my classmates at our reunion, is that God has given us many different gifts. Discovering what these gifts are is a lifelong adventure.

One of my classmates has written a book about his life story, That First Step. In the Foreword, Lee states, “There is nothing earth shattering or noble here, just a straightforward tale of a Navy Parachute Rigger who became an Air Force Master Sergeant.”

SKMBT_C28016070409240As I read the book, I learned a lot about day-to-day life in the military, about the job of a parachute rigger, and about the importance of packing a parachute just right so it definitely will open properly when the ripcord is pulled. I also learned about how Lee discovered his natural talents, his deep interests, and his amazing love for free-fall parachute jumping. Through the narrative of his story, I learned how he gradually discovered that his life was meant to be spent in the military – first in the Navy, then the Air Force. That was his life calling. Or, as he writes at the end of the book, “As I look back to those childhood days of playing soldier, maybe, just maybe, having this career was the fulfillment of my destiny.”

Lee has learned the truth of what St. Catherine of Siena said seven centuries ago, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.” Lee’s book makes it clear that he has had a very inspiring and rewarding career in the military. He has discovered his life purpose.

In The Monastic Way Joan Chittister defined “vocation” as “the call within us that tells us that we will never be really alive until we become what we are called to be… It is, Merton says, ‘the original selfhood given me at birth by God.’”

The next day Chittister added, “What we are given to work with in life is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God.”

dot-icecream-1-coloring-pageOn the surface, my own career progression might look like I’m scribbling an abstract design on my dot-to-dot page rather than following the dots correctly. Fortunately, Sue Monk Kidd assured me that even if I can’t make out the complete picture of my life yet, all I need to see is where the next dot is. Sometimes I think I might be drawing lines with more than one pencil, but that’s okay. As long as there are more dots on my page, I’m still working on my gift to God.

Sue Monk Kidd includes the following story in her book FIRSTLIGHT:

Rabbi Joseph Liebermann told how he fell asleep one night and had a dream. In the dream he dies and goes to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waits for God to speak, he fears that the Lord will ask him, “Why weren’t you a Moses … or a David … or a Solomon? But God surprises him. He simply asks, “Why weren’t you Rabbi Lieberman?”

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t a Mother Teresa. The question I fear most is, “Why weren’t you Sue Monk Kidd?”

The most gracious and courageous gift we can offer the world is our authenticity, our uniqueness, the expression of our true selves. [p. 176]

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t Joan Chittister or Sue Monk Kidd or J. S. Bach. I just hope God doesn’t ask me the question, “Why weren’t you Marian Korth?”

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

My earliest career aspiration was to be either a cowboy or an Indian.

Another Perspective on CLARK

Clark KornelsonLast week’s post, “CLARK – One of the best and worst guests in my life” was one of the most looked-at posts in my almost five years of blogging. Typically from 40 to 80 people look at my blog on the first day of a post, usually a Tuesday. The next day, about half that. Then it gradually tapers down until the next Tuesday, when I post again. All together, on average, each post is viewed by between 100 and 200 people during the first week, sporadically after that. For last Tuesday’s post, Whispering Winds had 156 views on the first day. The next day there were 113 views. By this morning, after seven days, there have been 407 views. I think this might have set a new record for my weekly blog. But more significantly, this response tells me that Clark influenced a lot of lives, and many of these people still care about him 12 years after his death.

The gist of last week’s post was that my brother-in-law, Clark Kornelsen, was a challenging person in my life. There was very little that we saw eye-to-eye on, but because we were family, we needed to get along. We were two imperfect souls doing the best we could. In retrospect, we were good for each other – which undoubtedly is why God provided us the opportunity to interact with each other so much. It was God’s way of helping both of us grow to be kinder people.

I was very careful when I wrote last week’s post to try not to offend anyone who knew Clark, especially his children, my niece and nephews. My purpose in the post was not to criticize their dad, but rather to share how God sometimes uses difficult relationships for everyone’s benefit. I was pretty sure many people could identify with having to deal with challenging relationships.

Family Portrait 12-25-02

Clark and Nancy with their kids and grandkids – Christmas 2002

The first reader comment I received on this post – just a few minutes after posting it – was from a regular reader, someone whom I have never met but is a friend of a friend. Betsy wrote, “You, and God, touched my heart this morning Marian. Thank you.” That made me feel good about writing the post, even if I was taking a chance that I might offend someone. I guess it made me feel it was worth the risk.

A few minutes later another regular reader commented – someone else I have never met. Claudia is a cousin of Clark’s who lives in California. On Facebook she wrote, “I did not realize that is your connection to my family. I know my cousin Mardelle absolutely adored her brother Clark!”

Oops! I wondered if Claudia felt she needed to defend her cousin’s reputation after reading my blog post. She and Clark’s sister Mardelle were very good friends. Perhaps she thought I was being too critical of Clark. (Mardelle, who passed away a couple years ago, had been an avid reader and frequent commenter on my blog.)

Later that day Mary, a college friend of mine, posted a comment on the blog. “The fall of 1968 Clark & Nancy hosted a Canadian Thanksgiving celebration for Wheaton student Jeannie Cardiff in their home & I was invited. At dinner that night Clark asked about my grad. plans & my interest in missions, & then suggested that I contact Greater Europe Mission re: their summer short term programs. That brief conversation resulted in my leaving with GEM for Germany 10 days after graduation (June 1969) as a summer worker, then extending to teach the next school year at the German Bible Institute. The lessons learned in my walk with the LORD that year have framed my outlook on the world, its desperate need for the Gospel, & living a Gospel-centered life. God’s faithfulness continues & Clark (as an instrument in the LORD’s hand) was a pivotal part of it.”

I hadn’t thought about that Canadian Thanksgiving hosted by Nancy and Clark for some of my Wheaton friends in over 40 years. It was fun to remember that evening, even though the memory may have been prompted by Mary trying to redeem Clark’s reputation from my blog.

Between Facebook and the blog itself, there were lots of reader comments last week, many more than usual. These comments confirmed for me one of the key messages in “The Monastic Way” devotional readings by Joan Chittister for this month. The entry for last Thursday, February 18, was:

It is not so much that what we see we must see correctly. Instead, we must remember that most of what we see, we see because of the filters we wear while we look at it. “Persons,” Laura Ingalls Wilder says of the situation, “appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds.”

The filters I use when I remember Clark, and the filters Claudia and Mary use, are different. In all cases, Clark was a significant person in our lives. Based on the number of comments on last week’s blog post, Clark was a significant and positive influence on many lives. We just all saw him a little differently. We all saw Clark – as we see everyone – from our own perspective.

Clark - Terry on shoulders

Clark and his first son Terry going for a walk – with Clark “heightening” Terry’s perspective of the world.

 

No Vacuum in this Mind

Vacuum - smilingMy mind is incapable of tolerating a vacuum. It always finds something to be anxious about, or some problem to be solving, or at least some imminent decisions to be mulling over. Often there are multiple urgent thoughts competing for my attention. Then my mind might start thrashing – a technical computer term that kind of means jumping from one thing to another so fast that nothing constructive gets accomplished.

I’ve had some major ponderings in my head this year. One of the biggest topics on my mind throughout the first few months of the year was getting a new car. My 2003 Camry and Mim’s 2003 Matrix were both running pretty well, but my mind decided it was time to start thinking about a replacement for at least one of them. Online, I narrowed my information gathering to 12 models. Then Mim and I started actually looking at cars in dealerships. On April 13, we made a decision on the spot to get a car that wasn’t even on our list – a Prius V. Fortunately, we love the car – especially how spacious it is and the great mileage we get. But most important, since April 13, there’s been one less thing in my mind to be mulling over.

Prius VBut never fear, another major topic took center stage in my mind. For the next several months, my mind worked overtime thinking up all the details I needed to consider for selling our farmhouse. On August 20 we closed on the house, and I could check that topic off my mind’s active list.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – our farmhouse

Jumping into its place was refinancing our condo and changing banks. We’ve been unhappy with the new management of our long-term bank in Cambridge for a few years, but we knew that changing banks is complicated these days. As of October 12, we are happy customers of Johnson Bank – mortgage, personal, and business accounts. One more thing checked off my mind’s list.

Those are just the big things my mind has been dealing with this year. There are always plenty of little things competing for attention in my mind. This morning my mind is “paging” (another old mainframe computer term) among selecting a new transport chair for one of our residents (the hard rubber wheels are starting to break down on hers after four years of hard use);  finding a new wallet for myself (the leather is starting to come apart); selecting a new computer (probably a MacBook, to replace my Windows laptop that seems to be sputtering again); and choosing a new word for 2016 (I really like choosing a special word instead of having new year’s resolutions. My word for 2014 was JOY. 2015 is GRATITUDE. I’m thinking of KINDNESS for next year but I haven’t decided yet – there’s still more mulling to do in my mind.)

I don’t know why those four items came to the forefront of my mind this morning, but that’s what’s in there.

MacBookThe quote to ponder in last month’s The Monastic Way pamphlet was, “The things we love tell us who we are,” by Thomas Aquinas. Joan Chittister’s pamphlet of daily musings about this quote focused on the choices we make and what those choices say about us and what we love.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

On October 17 she wrote, “No one is born whole. We all get to be wholly mature, developed persons as a result of the choices we make every day of every life. ‘The self,’ the great educator John Dewey said, ‘is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.’”

Well, my mind is certainly busy working on all those choices I think I need to make. As I’ve been writing, a few more things popped into my mind to think about – like what books should I take along with me to read next week for another short Christmas Mountain getaway…

Obviously, my mind is going to keep busy making decisions, big and small. That’s okay with me.

Joan Chittister ended her October pamphlet by saying, “Choice is the holiest of the virtues. It preserves the best of the past and creates the best of the future. Victor Frankl writes, ‘Everything can be taken away from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’”

I’m Getting Smarter Every Day

Floey's award for successfully completing the Intermediate Class.

Floey’s award for successfully completing the Intermediate Class.

“Congratulations, Floey. You did it. You graduated from Intermediate Class at Dog’s Best Friend Training in Madison. I was surprised your teacher decided to award you your certificate, even though you will have to miss your last class. Apparently you learned everything you needed to know in five classes instead of six. Wow! I guess you’re pretty smart.”

Floey sitting smiling 07-06-15“Thanks, Mom. I knew I could learn all the stuff they wanted to teach us in class, but I learned a lot more, too.”

“What else did you learn, Floey?”

“The most important thing I learned is that there’s more than one RIGHT way of doing things. That’s something lots of dogs – and people, too – never learn.”

“Tell me more about that, Floey.”

“Well, some people and dogs communicate only with hand signals. They don’t use any words at all. At first I thought that was dumb. It’s fun to talk. But then I realized that sometimes there’s a good reason for it, like when you’re outside and a big noisy truck goes by. You can’t hear anything but an engine roaring. But a dog can still see a hand signal. I guess it really makes sense to learn both words and hand signals, so I made sure I learned both in class.”

“That seems like a good idea. I’ll try to remember to use both words and hand signals when I want to tell you something.”

dog walking - multiples“That’s OK, Mom. It’s not necessary, but it’s nice. Another example of different RIGHT ways of doing things is that some dogs heel on the right side of their person. I always thought dogs had to heel on the person’s left side. But the teacher said either way was RIGHT. At first I was skeptical. I thought the teacher was being too easy on the dogs that were heeling on the WRONG side. But I went and talked to one of the dogs who was heeling on the WRONG side, to politely tell him he was doing it WRONG, and he politely told me to mind my own business and listen to the teacher. I didn’t particularly like that dog.”

“I know which dog you mean. I didn’t particularly like his person either. Fortunately, they seemed to like each other.”

“Yeah. I really liked most of the dogs and people in this class, and I especially liked the teacher. She had so many good ideas, and she encouraged us to pick and choose the ideas that appealed to each of us the most. Boy, is she open-minded.”

“You know, Floey, I just read something about a week ago in Joan Chittister’s pamphlet, The Monastic Way. She said,

It takes humility to accept the fact that there may be other equally good ways to do things than the way we ourselves have always done them. It’s amazing how small our lives can really become. And at our own hand.

“Chittister may be on to something, Floey.”

“That’s right, Mom. That’s one of the big things I learned in this class. My way of doing things is usually the RIGHT way. But another dog’s way of doing things – even if it’s different from my way – can be the RIGHT way, too. There’s not just one RIGHT way to do something. It’s not a black and white world. It’s much more colorful than that!”

“I agree. I wish that’s something everyone would learn – people as well as dogs. Maybe the best way to teach the rest of the world is to try to practice open-mindedness as much as we can ourselves. Not everyone gets to go to a class like you did to learn that there’s always more than one RIGHT way to do something.”

“Sounds good to me. Now, do I have any more classes to take, or have I learned everything?”

“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie

Floey and me thinking really hard about future educational goals.

Another Talk with My Friend Floey

Floeys Face 2

Floey

“Hey, Floey. What did you think about your new class last week?”

Floey grinned at me and replied, “I loved it! When you first told me I would be going to another class, I really wondered why. I passed my class last winter with flying colors. I couldn’t imagine why you thought I needed to go to another class. I’ve learned everything I need to know.”

I laughed a little, then said, “You’ve learned a lot in the seven months you’ve been part of our family, and that’s on top of all you learned in the first ten months of your life. But, you know, there’s always something more to learn.”

Floey sitting - profile“Boy, did I find that out in class last week! The two instructors had a little list of things we’ll learn over the six-week Intermediate Class. That’s no big deal. Although I’m not so sure I want to learn the “Go to mat” command. We’ll see about that one. At home I really need to go to the door whenever the doorbell rings to be sure it’s safe for you to let the visitor in. I need to protect you. I can’t do that if I’m sitting on a mat away from the door. But there are so many other things to learn in class besides what’s on the list. Did you see all those other dogs, Mom?”

“Yup, there were about a dozen, and they were all different kinds.”

“Most of them were about my size, or a little bigger, but there were a couple cute little white ones, and a great big German shepherd and another big dog with a hound dog face. Did you see the dog who said his mother was a dachshund but he had no idea who his father was? I bet his dad was a big, stocky beagle. He was really smart. The instructor asked him to help her demonstrate some of the things she was trying to teach us.”

“And, Floey, did you notice the dog to our left in the circle? She looked a lot like Abbey, your late sister. She was the same size and color, and her face was very similar – a very sweet dog.”

“Yeah, I did. And the dog on our right was really friendly. I liked her a lot. My goal for next week is to learn the names of all the dogs in class. And, I want to make friends with as many of them as I can.”

“That’s sounds like a good goal, as long as you learn the items listed on the curriculum, too.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2“Oh, Mom, that’s not the important stuff. I’ll learn that, too. But the really important stuff is to learn what I can from everyone else in class, and from all the surroundings. Do you have any idea how many things there are to sniff inside that building, and outside, too?  And during break time, I bet that German shepherd can tell me a lot about what it feels like to be the biggest, bravest dog in the world. And I’m sure the little white dogs can tell me all about the importance of having a big bark. I can hardly wait to go back to class again tonight.”

“Well, Floey, I’m so glad you like going to class and learning new things. I think I can learn a lot from your enthusiasm. And your curiosity. And your positive attitude. And your loving kindness… I’ve already learned a lot from you, Floey.”

“I guess we’re good for each other, Mom.”

“Yup, we are. I just read something about that in Joan Chittister’s pamphlet, “The Monastic Way.” On June 23 she wrote:

The relationship between humans and animals is necessary – not for the animal but for our own sense of kinship with nature and the full human development. Anatole France writes, “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

“But, Mom, that says ‘animal’ not ‘dog.’ Do you think that applies to cats, and birds, and goldfish? Certainly those creatures aren’t as significant as us dogs in awakening human souls.”

Mim with kittens

Mim and her kittens – a few years back

“Oh, I don’t know, Floey. Your other Mom, Mim, didn’t really know or love any dog until your big sister Megabtye came along in 1990. Mim was already 42 years old by the time Meg came into her life.  But her soul was awakened to the wonders of God’s creation through cats when she was just a little girl. Her mother Selma had her life enriched deeply when she was 83 years old and living with us after suffering a stroke, and a tiny kitten with a broken leg crawled into her life. Dogs are a really special part of God’s creation, but so are cats.”

Love in action: Mim's mom, Selma, caring for a stray kitten that had been dropped off at the farm.

Love in action: Mim’s mom, Selma, caring for a stray kitten that had been dropped off at the farm.

“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that. Are squirrels and goldfinches good for developing our souls, too?

“Haven’t you ever watched some teenage squirrels chase each other up and down trees? They are having so much fun, I wish I could join them in the chase.”

Monastic Way 06-15“Me, too. But you always hold me back from chasing them.”

“My soul finds delight in just watching their playfulness. Yours can, too.  And just listen to goldfinches singing. They are so happy it’s contagious. I think they’re praising God with their songs.”

“I can sing, too, Mom. Ann calls it yodeling. I have a beautiful voice and a wide range.”

“Yes, you do, Floey. God gave different gifts to every being in creation. That’s why it’s so good for all of us to be friends with each other. I think that’s what Joan Chittister was talking about.”

“Well, I really like what she quoted Anatole France as saying, ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Let me awaken your soul some more, Mom. Let’s go for a walk and watch squirrels, listen to goldfinches, and see whatever else nudges our souls.”

“Great idea! God gave us another beautiful day. Let’s enjoy it!”

A Roundtable Discussion that Makes My Day

roundtableImagine starting your day almost every morning in a roundtable discussion with six other people plus yourself. In my case, the people are Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen, God, Jimmy Carter, Christine Dallman, and M. J. Ryan – and, of course, myself. Wow! Quite a group of seven we are. Usually, everyone speaks up in the order listed. We spend about half an hour talking about whatever is on each person’s mind.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

Occasionally the participants of the roundtable discussion change, but for the past four years, three participants have been constant – Joan Chittister (speaking through her monthly pamphlet, “The Monastic Way”), God (communicating through the daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary – as listed in the daily devotional booklet, “Christ in Our Home”), and me.

Last year Henri Nouwen (“Bread for the Journey”) hadn’t joined us yet, but Edward Hays (“Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim” and “A Book of Wonders”) was in his place. Jimmy Carter (“Through the Year with Jimmy Carter”) is a newcomer this year, too. Christine Dallman (“The Personal Daily Prayer Book”) is also new this year, and she always prays about something a little different every day.

M. J. Ryan (“Attitudes of Gratitude”) just joined the group a couple weeks ago, and she plans to stay for only a couple months. She keeps telling us inspiring stories of people who exhibit a heart-warming attitude of gratitude. Her stories are really helpful in giving us a down-to-earth perspective on life. Pretty soon she’s planning to leave the group, and someone else will come along to join us as a short-termer. Debbie Macomber has often joined us as the floater. She’s the one who got me into the habit of having a special word for each year instead of doing New Year’s resolutions.

I’ll admit that some mornings the seven of us have an amazing discussion and I can’t help but think about it all day long. Other times, even though we had a great discussion, I don’t think about it at all throughout the day.

Usually I don’t say much in these discussions – I just listen and ponder what’s being said. But I discipline myself about once a week to speak up. Sometimes I transcribe these thoughts for my blog.

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen

A couple days ago, Joan Chittister talked about something Albert Einstein once said about being careful that we don’t limit God by trying to define God. Henri Nouwen said that we need to be careful that we don’t become too legalistic in defining what we claim to be God’s nature. God then spoke up about how helpful the image of Jesus being the Good Shepherd can be to us, and how important it is for us to demonstrate the love and care that shepherds give their flocks.

Then Jimmy Carter wrapped it all up saying how important it is to remember that God is all about showing love and always being kind. He said that his favorite Bible verse is Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” [New Living Translation] I spoke up when I heard him say that. I said, “That’s my favorite verse, too!” Jimmy Carter and I have something in common beside politics! I didn’t know anyone shared my favorite Bible verse!

Jimmy Carter 2It was Christine Dallman’s turn to speak up next. She prayed, “O God, make us children of quietness ….” I smiled at that. I like to be quiet. Then she encouraged us to “Take time to unwind, time to be silent, time to reflect, and time to pray…” Imagine her saying that, just when I’m in the middle of spending two weeks by myself at our Christmas Mountain timeshare with plenty of time to be quiet – time to read, write, think, and pray.

As usual, M. J. Ryan ended our discussion by telling another story about gratitude. She told us about a woman who had suffered a stroke and had lost her ability to speak. She had been a great communicator and had been able to speak five languages. Now she struggled to find words to simply talk with her adult children. The children tried to help her by suggesting words that she might be trying to say, and the experience for everyone was just frustrating. A therapist, trying to help the family, suggested that when they are frustrated by her inability to express herself verbally, they should focus on her attempts to communicate by touch. This opened up a whole new world of opportunity to communicate the love they felt for each other that they had never been able to express in words.

Ryan went on to say that “the trick is to use a source of frustration as a trigger to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” Then she gave a personal example.

For me it’s standing in line. I absolutely hate to ‘waste’ time; I live my life at a frenetic pace and don’t want anything to get in my way of doing all I have to get done in a day. Until recently, I was the person in the line huffing and rolling my eyes at the wait, jiggling and looking at my watch every few seconds. And when I finally made it to the counter, I was too aggravated from having to wait to be pleasant to the person on the other side of the counter. But since life is full of lines, I finally decided to change my approach. Instead of being annoyed, I decided to see waiting in line as a wonderful opportunity to slow down, to take a few conscious breaths, become aware of my body, and release as much muscle tension as I could. The waits are as long as ever – but now I am grateful for the chance to stop.

Hmmm. That made me think about some of the little aggravations in life that frustrate me… Is there some way I can change those moments into triggers of gratitude? Something to think about…

I’m truly grateful for this roundtable discussion every morning. What an inspiring way to begin my day!

roundtable of books