Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moo-Maw: witty and wild

Lang-Way-Ten Farm/Tad Barney photo
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Happy Birthday, Moo-Maw! My mother-in-law would have been 90 today and I suspect she's celebrating with lots of cooking and family. Those were here life. She was named Patricia, but my daughters and I nick-named her Moo-Maw because she raised cattle on Lang-Way-ten Farm, which she inherited after her father died at the ripe-old age go 96. It was a long wait before she could move to the 200-plus acres of her dreams and the pre-Civil War brick farmhouse.

Serendipitously, we took a Sunday drive up to the farm in Urbana last weekend on the spur of the moment. It's currently between tenants and we wanted to visit; rekindle our memories and jog those of our daughters. The youngest remembers her grandmother, but not the farm. It was a beautiful autumn drive up 71,  along 48, then 42 through Warren County, Xenia, Yellow Springs and, finally, the farm on the southern edge of Urbana. I always used to get butterflies rounding the last curve before the long drive came into view and Sunday was no exception. It's like I was expecting to visit her there as I had the last time years ago. I've never been to the farm when she wasn't there.

I entered through the kitchen and quietly gasped. It was still her kitchen: powdery blue commerical-grade linoleum, scrubbed white cabinets tipped with simple, wrought-iron handles, scalloped-wood window treatments; even her numerous mug hooks remained. I grew teary thinking of all the memories in that room. Warm ones of many mornings after Thanksgiving pouring a steamy cup of coffee as she sat on her stool and we chatted; the toddler playgroup traipsing up from Cincinnati, visiting the barns then making animal-shapped cutout cookies with her; introducing each of our babies to the rest of the family there ... the list is long.

Really, the house as changed little. Sturdy, new carpet covers the tiger-stripped floors of which Moo-Maw and her husband, John, were so proud. I was grateful for that change; it made being there easier and the fact she IS gone evident. Though I am pretty certain I felt her spirit; John's, too, but it may have been deep and fond memories surfacing.

She was such a vivid person. Nothing about her was subtle unless you looked only at the surface: a stay-at-home mom who never drove and raised six children. She was feisty and independent and could objectively look at her children. In her 70s, she purchased and learned to use a computer rather well. She loved to talk and voice her strong opinions, but always had time to listen and ask how you were. She adored her grandchildren and said the best part of parenting was getting to know her children as adults: the people they were becoming. The people she helped shape.

She stayed on the farm a along as she could, resourcefully lining up people to mow, check in on her and perform other duties. Of course, her children assisted a great deal. She was so independent that she refused to take the senior-citizen bus into town. She quit giving money to the Salvation Army when the organization disapproved of same-sex relationships (though that policy seems to have softened since) and, even as she grew weaker and closer to death, could rouse herself at the mention of George W. Bush.

Her memorial service was a party, held outside in a tent, with a rendition of Sinatra's "My Way" and a copy of her prized pie-crust recipe printed on the bulletin.

I really miss her and had buried that until I visited her bare kitchen. Thankfully, my girls still remember her sassiness and the time she mooned them as an act of rebellion. I think they inherited her vibrance, so when I get misty, I'll look to them to see her reflection and the gifts she's left with us.

• Who was a presence in my life that I miss?
• What gifts did that person give me?
• Where/how can I reconnect to those gifts and the joy of that relationship?
• How has that person influenced my life?
• What have I taken from them that I can pass on?

permanently perched
on her kitchen stool

studying a recipe,
charting birds or
taking a cigarette break

she was witty and wild
a homebody and grounded

reveling in the six
wonderful adults she
helped raise

warmly welcoming
their spouses and
adoring her grandchildren

Happy 90th Moo-Maw!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Called together, even in pain

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Last night I returned to my roots: facilitating a spiritual-nurture group with adults.

After training in, leading and participating in groups for almost 10 years, I took a break from adults, switched to kids, but the urge to return hit hard several weeks ago and I listened!

The gift of teaching kids was planning a general outline, then seeing where they and Spirit led. I am freer in my facilitating. Another was the purity of their spiritual experiences: no baggage or jaded attitudes. Can you imaging leading a small group of them through lectio divine (slow, sacred reading of scripture)? They were as immersed, maybe more so, than adults I have observed. We read a passage about Jesus and children and ended in them feeling embraced in Jesus' arms. And there they stayed and stayed, until I broke the spell.

But a hunger for spiritual companionship and more depth with my faith community led me back here. As did the urge to begin sharing my unpublished book, making it a living project. So there was some fear and trepidation attached ... also excitement and a feeling of faithfulness. As I drove the beautiful fall backroads to the meetinghouse, knowing I'd probably have a small group, I prayed for release from the response and recognized my role was to do it ... for whomever was there.

It was small and delightful. Two trusted, seasoned Friends and a young one ready to open. Apparently, I am not the only one seeking the depth of companionship a regular small group creates.

I had a plan, ready to abandon or improvise as the dynamic dictated. There was such a natural flow of space and talk, meditation, reflection, prayer and laying it out there. The first-session topic was, probably, the hardest: pain as teacher. For a while, in my self-depricating way, I felt I had missed the mark. Really, though, how could I when I was drawing from my own experience? We did fall into the subject, which touched some nerves, yet opened us as a group. Opened us to each other; opened us to Spirit. I shared a wonderful concept form Desert Father Dorotheos of Gaza about how as we move closer to each other (imagine the spokes of a wheel), we move closer to God; as we move closer to God, we move closer to each other. It's similar to the scriptural passage in Matthew 18:20: "Where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them."

A much as I enjoy solitude and spend time on personal and spiritual-growth work, I need a group. It is just not the same as being alone, or even being in worship. It is opening one to another, leaving room for God.

Try it – you'll realize you need it.

• Where do or have I experienced Spirit in a small group?
• What dimension has that added to my spiritual life?
• Where are other places, not especially declared spiritual, that I am fed in that way?
• What, exactly, do I receive?
• What, exactly, do I give?

my heart has been bound
open only when I am alone
and safe
in sanctuary

and that has sufficed

until the longing eked out
and I needed more

worship: always

but something else:
regular companionship

something and someones God called together

when I listened and
was faithful

it was powerful

just what I needed

imagine that

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Openness of being away

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It's 7:15 Saturday morning and I'm back at my computer in a quiet house. Re-entry is difficult. Every time.

How do you process all of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and memories of an extended time away? For me, it's like it's bottled up inside and must slowly leak out over time ... as I am ready. I'm often too impatient for that. I want all that I absorbed to transform me now, in a single instant.

I can, at least, discern these magical moments:

• Standing in the beautiful chapel of St. Catherine in Siena and getting shivers of recognition that I share some of her same purity of spirit. Catherine means pure and as my reminder, I purchase a rosary bracelet with her image. I want to recall the love of God she inspires.
Tad Barney photo
• Sitting on the rooftop patio soaking in the majesty of the valley below and feeling blessed to be in the company of such great beauty. Being reminded that I carry that beauty in my heart and don't have to travel thousands of miles to experience it. Returning to the golden carpet of fall and losing my breath for a moment ... here.
Tad Barney photo
• Pulling the warm, stiff clothing from the line, smelling the freshness and being linked to the legions of other Tuscans who have done the same over so many centuries; adoring the simplicity of country life as well as the connection that transcends time, culture and language.
Tad Barney photo

• Walking with my husband into see Michelangelo's David, being re-inspired at his response and my own ... again. Wondering how something so cold and hard as rock could be transformed into something so flowing, lifelike and soft and knowing God's hand guided the sculptor's.

• Getting away from the hustle and bustle of my daughters and aching for how much I love them; something that's hard in the thick of parenting. Appreciating their gifts and beauty, wanting to share every experience with them, yet recognizing this time is for me and my husband.

• Watching the moon grow fuller reach night and, with the expanding light, feeling braver to walk alone. Seeing that same light again early this morning and understanding it's always available.

Cathy Barney photo
• Re-remembering a time with my husband when I wasn't sure if we were one or two people. Life, family, roles and time often intervene, but a new space offers a glimpse.

• Racing through the Latin Quarter of Paris like a little kid looking for something, then being disappointed that it wasn't where I had thought. I was so sure. Finally asking directions, and understanding I had been right, it's just the name had been changed. Trusting my intuition.

• Reveling in the bevy of Venetian school children who descended on us to help with a scavenger hunt in finding the English names for Italian nouns. Feeling chosen, approachable and open to their joy.

Tad Barney photo
Travel/retreat allows me to become more of myself, opened deeper by the new experiences, which reflect my essence and often touch a buried memory that blooms again.

• Who am I when I am away from my daily routine?
• What reawakens?
• What is transformed?
• How does my perspective shift?
• How does God speak to me?

with gusto,
I want to grab the openness
that being away offers

hang onto it
and implant it
into the daily rhythm of my life

not forget the new or
close the reawakened

I desire to know God 
and myself in those
new-experience ways
every day

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Taking my travel self home

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What is it about travel that teaches you about yourself? Maybe it’s the interior journey outwardly manifested, making lessons more tangible and visible. Or that you become someone else when away from home. Or more of yourself.

It’s good to get out of one’s element and away from the regular routines, patterns and dysfuntions. Travel is exhilarating, scary, immediate, demanding, forgiving, gracious and a host of other adjectives. And, in my experience, it’s never boring.

It also breaks one’s rhythm, jettisoning soul and spirit too far too fast; confirmed by my massage therapist when I have returned, complaining that I don’t feel all here yet. It also takes me a few days to feel all here, wherever my destination; one or two to release where I have been and another one or so to begin to feel where I am presently.

Being present; that’s my goal in traveling … well, beyond the first day or so.

So when I shake off the sleep of travel, I begin to open to what is before me. New sights, a different tongue or dialect, unusual foods and a reticence to fully engage with language. I am always shy at first, but each time discover that if I can utter the first hello in whatever language, differences melt. Smiles are universal.

I have been trying to define my style of travel: not luxury, or tour group, not quite Rick Steves and not youth hostel. More internet, nearby market, stay with a local and in one place awhile to absorb it, only visit the places and museums that speak to me. Maybe it’s slow travel, like slow food. I like to savor the experience. On my last trip to Italy, I was on art overload. Too many museums and too much art too quickly. As I noticed the burnout, I chose to enter a room, gravitate to the ONE piece that moved me and study only it. There’s always one that calls. Just as there is always one menu choice that grabs me or local food specialty that seems to have my name stamped on it.

When I traveled alone, I wondered how meaningful an experience is if not shared. On solo trips, I especially use my journal and later it jogs memories, but there’s no one with whom to discuss it or help me remember. Having a travel partner also lets me be lazier: all of the decisions are not up to me, neither are the screw-ups. I don’t always have to be the one to ask. I don’t have to eat alone.

I am not certain what I am learning about myself this trip, except just to soak it all in and be present. That’s so much easier away than at home.

• How does travel change me?
• What have been the best experiences?
• What did I learn from the worst?
• What do I know about myself as the result of travel?
• What can I bring home from my away-self that will enrich me?

up for hours
on pure adrenalin, excitement
and anticipation

the truncated sleep and protracted
sitting numb my body
my mind races

to the next place

until I can settle into
where I am, who I am

and be myself
somewhere else

then take the new parts
of that person

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wild wholeness

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It's been a rather sleepless week. I am certain the limitless list of details in leaving my daughters with a string of wonderful caregivers for almost two weeks has something to do with it. So do hormones ... although the mix of valerian root and melatonin did not work for long enough stretches. Maybe the anticipation of Italy contributes as well.

In the midst of self-soothing in the wee hours, I hit upon something that, well didn't put me to sleep, but awoke me to better possibilities in life. I am choosing. Choosing to accept the annoyances of aging and chronic pain as part of the package AND not letting them shape who I am. Choosing to keep anything negative out of my physical, mental and emotional space. Choosing to trust. Choosing to forge ahead with the career of which I dream. Choosing Spirit. Choosing Jesus. And, in doing so, choosing myself.

Years ago, I had a vivid, disturbing dream. I was biking a country road with a curve, when a whirlwind kicked up and the road sign burst into flames with a shimmering image of Jesus and the words "chosen one." Last night's insight into choosing (as opposed to letting things happen) reminds me of that dream. Several years later, I had another haunting dream. I was having a heart-to-heart with my favorite aunt, now dead, in a beautiful church vestibule when the exquisite stained glass windows parted, unearthly music flowed and I felt Jesus' presence. My aunt said: "You had better choose."

Intuitively, I have sensed what these dreams means, but not so intellectually or fully. I am beginning to believe that if I don't make a conscious decision, something will make it for me, maybe as much by non-action as action. I also know, this has been a time of deep interior work that must be completed before I move on. It's part of the healing and wholeness process.

I sense this trip to Italy is a piece; which one, I am not sure. It may be the joy and living in the present. Last time I traveled there alone. I clashed head to head with Italy's wildness. She comes on her own terms: take it or leave it. After timidly arriving, I chose to dive in and was rewarded. This time, I know her better and myself. Maybe, my wildness will blossom within Italy's.

I can only hope, pray ... and take action.


• What choices have I not made?
• How has that affected me?
• What choices are currently awaiting me?
• Am I in a rhythm of action or inaction?
• How do I discern the difference?

long, sleepless nights
Jesus, my deceased aunt
Italy ...

all flowing together within me,
waiting to untangle

at the right moment
when I am ready

to open

into my wild wholeness