Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spirit's unexpected opening

[Recording located at end of post]
Monday, as I was working in my studio, trying to write, a group thundered through the stairwell, collecting just outside my door, which was open. Not wanting to seem rude, I let it go and feigned busyness. It was hard to write with the clatter, then hard not to eavesdrop as the dozen or so, all white men and two women, one I recognized as a college student, chatted about the future of Milford Main School. My future, I understood.

They were talking about it as if it were a piece of property, which, of course, it is. The Milford School District has been attempting to figure out what to do with this white elephant for a long time. I am certain the November defeat of an operating levy brings it to the front burner.

Gutting it and leaving its few redeeming architectural details for a developer was one scenario. Public auction, another. Moving administrative offices here and selling Milford South was suggested. Several recommended marketing it to prospective buyers as senior housing since several local communities maintain waiting lists. I’m pretty certain city officials were in attendance, but I did not hear a peep as to any intention of taking it over. Rumor has it the district has unsuccessfully tried giving it away for $1.

Someone who sounded knowledgeable about renovation said this building was a piece of cake compared to work on similar structures in Over-the-Rhine. That was encouraging. Someone else offered a two-sided elevator could be installed for less than $150,000 and meet ADA restrictions.

I peeked out and noticed Merydith, a Miami senior re-developing Milford Main for her senior architecture project. Bet she wasn’t s crazy about what she was hearing, either.

They did introduce her and solicited her opinion. She responded that, obviously, what she was proposing would cost a lot. She was very diplomatic, but in her heart of hearts, I know she was disappointed.

When she finished, it seemed like my chance to chime in: now or never. I explained that I ran an arts program for local, at-risk kids through Quaker grants*, one from the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board and had just applied for another from ArtsWave, the former Fine Arts Fund. There were sighs of recognition. I told them ArtsWave was excited about the possibility of a Milford arts center at Main, that they had been seeking another Clermont County presence. I revealed that I had done preliminary exploration and found a National Endowment for the Arts grant for “creative placemaking” collecting private, public, non-profit and community partners to shape the local social character around arts and cultural activities that animate, rejuvenate, improve the economy and gather diverse people.

What a dream!

Milford Main is just that bridge, connecting all of the above as well as Milford neighborhoods and retail districts. The key, it seems, is partnerships and someone or institution willing to take on ownership. Responsibility is what this committee seems to want the district to divest itself of.

I am grateful for the opportunity and felt listened to. As I inched myself out, I spied the superintendent and said hello. He has always been a good listener, from his first weeks on the job, when he held community-engagement meetings and introduced himself simple as “Bob,” offering his hand and treating me as if I mattered.

The district has been doing a lot of listening since the narrow loss of the levy. More public sessions and a survey, asking residents what cuts they would make. I believe it’ the smartest thing they could have done, given the circumstance, because it forced participants to feel their pain at what should go and what stay.

I also told this group that I thought they’d meet more public resistance to ridding themselves of Main than perceived. “People that voted against the levy aren’t gonna want to pay for Main,” one remarked

I beg to differ because it’s just those people, older, retired and on fixed incomes, who remember and love Main. They could truly benefit from some type of community cultural center.

And, I don’t relish moving Artsy Fartsy, let alone my studio, anywhere else, though it’s already been offered a home in a nearby church.

I feel Spirit gave me an opening and now tells me to wait – patiently, which isn’t so easy. I must trust, just as I did to get a studio in Milford Main in the first place!

• When have I been offered an unexpected opportunity at Spirit’s urging?
• Could it still hold a spiritual dimension even if in a worldly venue?
• How do I discern Spirit’s leadings?
• What happens when I can?
• When I don’t?

blissfully minding
my own business

when rudely

to something
I did not want
to know

it was

until my blood
boiled and my
heart pounded

much like when
I have ministry
in worship

and I knew
this was my

a gift
from Spirit

amid the suits
of business

and still, I felt
my voice was heard

* Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment 

Good News Associates grant

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Re-setting myself with prayer

[Recording located at end of post]
 How can one day be filled with creativity, wonder and awe and the next with tears and doubt? Yesterday, when I finally set aside almost a full day to revise the book I have been carrying in my heart for years, inspiration struck as the result of a recent opening and I drafted a folk tale. One of my spiritual friends suggested it awhile back. It was a wonderful process and I was happy with the result; it adds another layer to my work, perhaps the most cohesive yet.

Today, I’ve been bouncing here and there somewhat prayerfully. I declared on my retreat to begin each day in my studio with a candle and prayer. I lit the candle, quasi-prayed, then got busy listing and charting all of the directions I am pulled: workshops, blogging, polishing my book, Artsy Fartsy, a new freelance possibility, helping grow my husband’s business.

It has been the complete opposite of yesterday’s experience. It is some of the work I had hoped to complete while on retreat, but the flu struck and there wasn’t much to do but rest. That’s the command I got one morning after a sleepless, fevered night. Still, I bundled up, pulled my boots on and headed to the labyrinth, then the peace trail. I had not yet had the chance to hike and, by golly, I was determined to do so. Arriving at the stream, I carefully planted my boot in the strongest-looking mud to cross and, surprisingly, ended up on the fudgy bank, seated. I pulled myself up, inspecting just how muddied I was, and ventured on, restless. This was just not a day for hiking. I should have listened to God in the first place.

That’s what I did yesterday, when the writing went so smoothly and what I neglected today, when I have been scattered and unproductive, except to drive myself crazy.
Begin EVERY day
with a candle & lamp; prayer
the scrawling on the green chalkboard reminds me. That doesn’t mean light the candle and get busy. Light the candle and have tea, light the candle and read. It means precisely what it says. Not even light the candle and blog.

So, now I’m back after sitting quietly in prayer. My questions aren’t answered, but my heart is at peace. I emptied myself and just sat, waiting on God, feeling her presence and my anxiety drain.

Where does this pattern of pushing originate? Pushing to get things done, tick one more item off the list, watch the clock and be so bound? In prayer, time stands still as if not a constraint, assuring me that I don’t have to rush. So I don’t.

• What happens when I begin my day with prayer?
• When I don’t?
• How do I create time for communion with Spirit?
• How does that prayer time shape my days?
• When I am out of sorts, how does prayer balance me?

so much on
my plate,
it seems

after a retreat
and another few
days fighting
the flu

so much to
sort out

got to get to
it, get it done

so I can move

then I’m
moving back
and forth and

until I re-set
with prayer

Listen to this post:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mentor of the deepest sort

[Recording located at end of post]
I’ve been watching him decline the past several years. He made it look so effortless, so natural and graceful, progressing from cane, to walker, wheelchair and, eventually, bed. I understand there was pain, much effort, resignation, peacemaking, perhaps pleading and storming for those surely would be my reactions to aging and illness. He most certainly was not alone. His wife of 60 years cheerfully did what was necessary to get him to and from dialysis three times a week for years. His son and daughter made frequent long journeys home for extended periods to lovingly assist their parents.

All three tended his bedside the last week, the one in which he chose to forgo dialysis. When I went to visit, it wasn’t somber, but welcoming and an extension of their lifelong gift of hospitality.

I always felt welcomed and special when I visited the Hicklin family. They dropped everything to greet you with a warm hug and kiss and, before you knew it, you’d be whisked off to the kitchen for a goodie or beverage even when it wasn’t a planned party. You just wanted to be with them in their beautifully inviting home.

Funny, one of the last full conversations I engaged in with Charlie was about the kitchen in their Victorian home in a Chicago suburb they left in 1970. “I loved that house you had in Hinsdale,” I remarked. “You even remember it?” Charlie inquired while reclining in bed, body so thin and frail, but bright eyed and clear minded as ever. “Oh, yes, especially the ruffled curtains you used under the sink.” He chuckled. We talked about other odd spaces such as the garage attic. ‘You kids went up there?” “Of course, it was Guy’s hideout. We all went up and hid.” I almost think he winked at me, suggesting we both knew it was the 1960s and chances were our parents were enjoying a cocktail on the patio and not honed into, exactly, where the kids went. It was a different world and there weren’t too many place to go that weren’t safe.

The ALLtime favorite Rose-Hicklin-Slagle* collective memory is of a severely cold New Year’s Eve in Oak Park, another Windy City burb. We always rung in the New Year together. This time in a mission-style home with built-in “naughty” chair and second-floor porch, which was the scene of the crime. We were rough housing as the adults played charades downstairs, got a bit rambunctious and someone locked a few of us out on the porch in sub-zero temps. I believe we were finally rescued, probably within minutes, by an older party-goer. It could easily have been Charlie. After all, he’s the one the adults drafted to quiet another Rose-Hicklin gathering at the farm of Marian’s sister. He did his duty quite admirably though we shortly popped back out of bed, tiptoeing around.

Two years after my family moved to Cincinnati, an initially painful transplant for me and probably everyone else, Charlie took a new job here as well. Amy, their daughter, is three months younger than I and my twin sister. So, essentially, we are family. Guy is just a couple of years older; used to seem like more when we were kids!

Charlie was a gifted artist who could make anything beautiful. Give him a plain cardboard box and he could whip up a giraffe costume or a wonderful accordian screen for the first apartment I shared with my husband, Tad. Charlie hired Tad back then for some freelance art assistance and never ceased to express his appreciation for the help and affirm his talent. Charlie and Marian were always on our guest list when we had major Halloween bashes in those days. Their costumes often outshone the rest and they were always gracious and grateful for the invitation.

We’ve done graduations, weddings, births, retirements, anniversaries together and, now, a passing.

I learned a few things at the memorial for Charlie. Important things. Things I already recognize as profound wisdom for me. Inside a Bible from college, next to the 23rd Psalm, Charlie had scrawled: “Lack of fear is significant.”

The hair stood up on my neck when the celebrant read that. The last week of Charlie’s life, I was struggling to name my fears and surrender them to God. How did Charlie acquire that wisdom at such a young age? It was like he particularly knew I needed to hear that right now. He’d also written a song 30 years ago about having the perfect life and not knowing why. I wish I had the lyrics; it was about awe and gratitude sparked as a boy, but carried throughout his life. Yes, he wrote, there had been pain and tragedy, but also love, color, beauty, family and friends.

I hadn’t cried for Charlie until yesterday because I realized the true gift he had given me: to ferret out the beauty everywhere; to create beauty from the mundane. To revel in that beauty constantly, up until the very end.

The last thing I said to Charlie slipped thoughtlessly from my lips: “Be where you need to be.” “Be where you need to be,” he repeated. “I like that.” “Me, too,” I said surprised at the words, ”perhaps I need to live that as well.”

Charlie is where he needs to be right now and I am learning what I need to learn right  now; that “lack of fear is significant.”

Thank you, dear friend!

*Rose is my maiden name and the Slagles were other family friends in Chicago. Our dads all went to University of Iowa together and remained close. So did Charlie’s wife, Marian

• Who has taught me about beauty?
• How have I carried out that lesson?
• What makes friends family?
• How often do I recognize that gift?
• And thank God for it?

briefly sad
when I understand

a mentor
of the deepest
sort has
passed out
of my life

and, yet, in
that journey,
he has left
me another gift

the Truth he learned
long ago that I

how truly
blessed I have been
and continue to be
by this beautiful

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Falling in love with myself again

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Once again, I have taken up temporary residence in a cabin called Simplicity. I seem to come back, again and again, to this theme. Here it is concrete; in this aesthetically plain one-room retreat of re-claimed materials. It is a place I can re-claim my life away from the material world and closer to Spirit’s realm.

My prayer last night, after arriving and settling in just before 5:30 silent worship, was this:

Dear God ­Please be with me on this retreat.
I desire simplicity in my life.
That means surrendering my fears,
tendency to measure life and live bythe world’s conventions, which
constrict and constrain me.
As those die, I ask you to replace them
with creativity, experiencing life as a prayer,
bowing to Jesus and re-claiming my soul.Amen

After a fitful, dream-laden sleep and a yoga practice, I walked to the labyrinth, my fears bubbling up, seeking to pray off the layers. I entered intent on leaving them at the center. I began silently chanting “I know I have Jesus” over and over, then searching, pleading, “but I am looking for someone to teach me from the world.”

Who should pop into my head, but my husband, the one who claims to practice no spirituality? I questioned. Yes, that one. The one I gave you as a partner … you are not alone in this world. It was almost too obvious an answer for me. Then I began to see the light: “Ah, the one who is playful, doesn’t taken himself seriously, prefers not to worry, wants to create on his terms and doesn’t accept the world’s.” And also, in some respects, his carbon copy, Lily. Ok, so Jesus is my spiritual model and Tad is my in-the-world, how-to-navigate it partner … I got it!

Guidance at the center came in the form of an exercise: “sift the fears of truth from non-truth. This sifting will bring clarity and simplicity.”

In my cabin, I created a chart labeled fear/real/truth and dealt with them. In discerning where I can let go and where I must work, two queries arose:
• How can I be MORE of myself?
• How can I live in that place between the material and spiritual worlds, between the layers where it is more peaceful?

Those answers really are merging into one as a new reality and way to live forms for me. I am haunted by something I read last night, a Thomas Merton quote, someone wrote in the cabin guest book:
 “When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it … my whole life becomes a prayer.”

That’s precisely what I desire. I seek a constant awareness of God so that my breath is prayer. For me, that means:
– A daily practice of gratitude and another of emptying the daily stresses and fears. I require a morning meditation/prayer and one for evening. One that I create for myself.
– Exercising loving kindness, particularly on myself, and releasing my pattern of judgment of criticism of others and myself.
– Maintaining loving relationships.
– Reconnecting and centering daily, but also regular retreats to re-balance, such as this one, and spending time in nature, among God’s creation.
– Engaging in meaningful work.
– Showing my vulnerability and undertanding that other’s reactions are projections of their own wounds, not their judgment of me.
– Falling in love with myself again.

Simple. And freeing … here. Can I do it at home?

• What role does simplicity play in my life?
• What would my prayer be around it?
• What fears am I driven to explore, possibly cast aside?
• How can I do that work?
• How am I called to be MORE of myself?


Be MORE of who you are.
Not less or who anyone else says you are.
Listen deeply, inside, to know who you are.
Not outside.
Listen to your heart.
To me [God].
To love.
Love is always the answer.
Live in love.
Respond in love.
Act in love.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Flying under the radar

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Can't seem to get this little guy – I think he once told me Antonio was his name – out of my head. He's an elementary-aged student, probably seven or eight, in a school for autism-spectrum kids that occupies a part of the building where my art studio is located. As I come and go, I encounter him, with his kind and patient aide, at recess.

The first time we met, in the stairwell, he introduced himself with a big grin and asked my name. His outgoingness seems atypical of the other students.

A few weeks ago, in warm early-winter weather, I arrived at the time he was returning from an outdoor visit. The aide was holding the door as Antonio trailed behind, cupping something in his hands: earthworms. He held them up to show me, then nudged them closer in case I wanted to touch them. I politely declined. His aide remarked that the child "likes to take care of all the little creatures." I responded "He has a big heart, doesn't he?" The aide shook his head in agreement and Antonio parted my company repeating: "I have I big heart, I have a big heart ..."

I thought of Antonio yesterday when an ugly, ancient-looking beast of a bug straggled out of somewhere and crawled across my studio carpet. Happily, it's the only bug I've ever encountered there. I trapped him with a paint cup, slid a sheet of clean, white card stock underneath and traveled to another room ... several doorways down the hall ... opened the window and let him go. "Be free, my friend," I said feeling somewhat guilty as I released him into a colder climate than the one he'd been enjoying. Just not guilty enough to let him share my space.

What would Antonio have done? Let him crawl up into his hands? Let him stay inside?

Antonio is a wonderful reminder to pay attention to the small things in life, the little creatures, which are as much a part of Spirit's world as we. The boy reminds me of a little creature flying under the radar of the "normal" world, possibly at its margins in a better place of his own making. One filled with ordinary things many of us miss or merely bypass. How could earthworms, who really just lay there and wriggle around in their stickiness, strike tenderness in anyone's heart? Because they are living beings and part of God's Creation. Antonio seems to intuitively know this.

The concept of living at the margins has spoken to me ever since I first read about it in Henri Nouwen's work. An accomplished theologian, teacher, scholar and writer, that's where he chose to live the last 11 years of  life: among the most needy and castoffs in the Daybreak community for those with mental and physical disabilities near Toronto, where he is buried.

In a 1994 Christianity Today interview, Nouwen said:
"Jesus didn't say, 'Blessed are those who care for the poor.' He said, 'Blessed are we where we are poor, where we are broken.' It is there that God loves us deeply and pulls us into deeper communion with himself. I find it very important to stress that we are wounded healers; we don't have to run away from our vulnerability as if we don't hurt."
Maybe Antonio is confronting his vulnerability in the earthworms. I have grown to appreciate my reminder of vulnerability: each time I hear the whimpers, moans and cries from the school on the other side of my studio wall. At first, I prayed until someone knowledgeable about autism said it's more of a release than communication of pain. And yet is IS a call to vulnerability, to expose our wounds and pain.

Henri Nouwen believed so:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

• What or whom has been my reminder of vulnerability?
• How have I expressed or uncovered my wounds?
• How have my wounds become my gifts?
• How am I the wounded healer?
• What stretches my heart?

such a simple
act, one of

that, as adults,
we overlook

tending to
the little
in life,
the low-to

when a
is what may
push us


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Quaker considers guns

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Ok, so I admit to being a bleeding heart. And, yes, my philosophy is even left of liberal. But I am also open to all views and love to learn. With that, I embarked on reading a rather long blog written by an interesting novelist who owned a gun store, is a firearms’ instructor, a competitive shooter and has written extensively and testified on the subject. No lack of ego in citing his credentials or plugging his book sales on Amazon. But, frankly, I read it because two people I respect re-posted the blog.

After cycling through the 10,000 words three times, I now understand the author's two main points:
– When dealing with mass shooters, an immediate, violent response is necessary;
– The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, legalizing the possession and use arms for self defense, has created an American gun culture that will use its arms to defend this right.
(SELF DEFENSE AT ANY COST, again, my interpretation). 

As a result, the author asserts, gun-free zones and stricter gun control won't work with bad people who do bad things. More guns mean less crime. Mass shooters are smart and motivated by media coverage. More-average criminals just don't care about being law-abiding.

Of course, I don't want more mass shootings or anyone to suffer, but are more guns, possibly less controls, the answer? And concealed guns in schools? The author suggests that persons in every school should be voluntarily trained and carry concealed guns ... rifles are just too bulky and inconvenient, though more accurate. But, then, that's why magazines, which the author says anyone can learn to load after a few sessions in the mirror, are so necessary.

I feel as if I have awoken in a very scary dream. If this, truly, is the real world, then I want no part of it. Different language and culture, millenia between, but this sounds like Old-Testament times: an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth. A gun for a gun and more guns are better.

I have discovered that my model for living is Jesus. It's taken me quite awhile to acknowledge. I believe God's point in sending Jesus was to prove that love, nothing else, is the answer to living as we are meant. For goodness sake, God sacrificed her own son. There's no reconciliation between this and guns in my heart.

This blog, however, continues to haunt me as I discern, try to read behind the lines and get a sense of another human's perspective that, apparently, belongs to many. It breaks my heart and jolts my worldview. Admittedly, so do mass shootings.

I do agree with the author that an immediate, violent response is what will stop individual mass shooters. That would solve the individual situation, possibly spare others, but, likely, kill the perpetrator.  Death for death. 

Perhaps I have spent too many years practicing yoga, enjoying loving-kindness meditations, carving out more room in my heart for those hurting, immersing myself in one of the historical peace churches and deeply taking in my inner teacher's messages, including love your enemy, to know any other way.

When adults, including the local police, in the community Artsy Fartsy serves told us to stay away from the long-term, trouble- making family, we didn't listen. Their youngest wants to be part of this and has been a gem, shining here. In fact, girls who held onto historic patterns in their community have learned that, when you get to know someone beyond the surface, we are alike. Patterns are re-forming and new friendships are emerging within these walls. Not because we shunned the "predator" family.

This is such a small act, though guided by Spirit, and I don't know how it relates to solving larger, societal questions. While I grew weary of the pop-WWJD craze, I really do wonder how Jesus would handle this. I think he'd take a deeper look at society and see where we are failing and demand we fix it. First, however, he'd probably walk up to the shooter, unarmed, taking his chances and look him in the eye, witnessing his wholeness and goodness, not just the evil he projects. After all, the shooter is as much a child of God as his victims. We may not like this, but it is the truth ... at least as far as I have discerned.

Fear is the root of gun culture. Fear of losing possessions, loved ones and life. Guns, apparently, empower the fearful. Besides, it’s a constitutional right.

My heart is not legislated by human law, but by Spirit’s. Life is about constantly dying; none of it is easy. Dying from our ego and into Divine union. I do not fear death; to me it’s the ultimate surrender. Of course, I don’t wish to die violently, at the hands of a shooter, but my prayer would be that I could look that person in the eye and see that of God in them.

Maybe if that had happened once, the shooter would not even have a gun.

• How does my conscience respond to the idea of guns as self defence?
• How does my heart respond?
• Could I ever love my enemy?
• What role does Jesus play in my life?
• What is Spirit’s role?

by the violence,

any of it:
shooter of the shooter

my own anger

finding a peaceful
respite in only
ONE place

the tunnel
within my heart
that connects
me to the

the tunnel
we all have