#97 – The Practice of Blessing Each Moment

When I see this chapter title in a spirituality book – the practice of blessing each moment – I’m first of all skeptical.  Blessing each moment?! Is this a way of pretending things are fine, when sometimes they’re not?  Or of ignoring the hard realities of life?

At first blush, it sounds too much like “I’ve just hurt my finger, praise the Lord!”

But writer Christine Valters Paintner (CVP) explains the ancient Celtic practice of blessing each moment in a way that takes into account  life’s realities for me:

“Blessing is really acknowledging the gifts and graces already present and entering into partnership with the divine ” (From chapter 4 of The Soul’s Slow Ripening). It’s not pretending that earth’s lamentation does not exist.

So I decided to try it for a few days…to acknowledge the gifts and graces already present and see what happens.

I found myself:

Amaryllis*enjoying my morning oatmeal while reading two newspapers
*reveling in the amaryllis with its four blooms after a month of dormancy and another of growth
*noticing the lovely snow settled on the trees in the thick bush on the way to the grocery store
*appreciating visits with friends old and new
* marveling at a sermon by a first-year university student
* eating a six-inch roasted chicken sub on honey multigrain bun
* rediscovering the hymn tune Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken among Haydn’s string quartets (Opus 76, No. 3, Emperor)
* Listening to rain hit our windows with a sizzle

Gentleman-of-Moscow
Available from Penguin/Random House

*glimpsing the sun reflecting off houses in a far subdivision during the morning “golden hour”
*lying on the couch in the quiet of the evening, re-reading a perfectly delightful novel –A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
*being captivated once again by the old movie, A River Runs Through It

In my estimation, acknowledging such gifts and graces does not deny that we also live in the midst of earth’s lamentation. It does not prevent us from praying fervent prayers of lament ourselves from time to time, as did the Psalmist. The Psalms are full of both lament and exuberant praise.

Acknowledging our gifts and graces, says CVP,  “helps us to be present to life as it actually is, rather than how we would like it to be…. We often hold so tightly on how we want things to be that we miss what is actually being offered” (also from chapter 4 of The Soul’s Slow Ripening).

Cancer-Centre
Photo by Andy Tapel

In this spirit, I’ve found my trips to the Cancer Centre at Grand River Hospital transformed.  Rather than focusing on “well, here we go again” or “I wonder what I’ll find out today,” I’ve found myself giving thanks for the Cancer Centre itself, and blessing the intake clerks, nurses, volunteers, oncologists, radiologists, pharmacists and others who work there.

This is “our place,” I tell myself.  “It feels homey.  I like the crackers. I know the routines. Things are usually more or less on schedule.”  The competence and kindness of the staff  I’ve experienced month after month is really quite astounding, and I am grateful.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. If you would make a list of “the gifts and graces already present” in the mundane events of your life over several days, what would your list include?  Try it!
  2. Do you think focusing on “gifts and graces already present” denies “life’s lamentation”?  Why or why not?

Next Week: TBA

 

 

#90 – The Post-Holiday Blues

“Trying to live all the time in rising or fullness is exhausting,” says Christine Valters Paintner, one of my favorite spiritual  writers, in her end-of-year meditation.

I thought about this in relation to the post-holiday “blues,” which most of us, I imagine, try to avoid.  Or at least I do.

Esther-Musselman-at-piano
Aunt Esther Musselman and husband, Russ, in 1996

While my parents were still living, we drove to Pennsylvania on Christmas Day, arriving in time for a light supper and Christmas carol singing with my Aunt Esther. Going to Pennsylvania, I could let go of the pre-Christmas busyness of the Provident Bookstore or the congregation I was serving and enjoy the anticipation of spending time with my Pa. family.

 

But the drive home five days later felt very different.  I felt just plain sad. I knew I wouldn’t see my family again for 4 or 6 months, and let’s face it, Ontario in January is pretty dull for people like me who don’t enjoy winter sports. I also thought of the major hosting my sister-in-law did, and how exhausted she must be afterwards.

Our travel pattern changed when my mother died in 2003.   We stayed in Ontario in December, heading for Stratford on Boxing Day for a couple overnights. It was a way to decompress after a lot of holiday activity – and to try to avoid the post-Christmas blues. But I still “came down” when we arrived home from Stratford.

This year, we ate Christmas dinner with friends and planned mostly low-key holiday activity. We decided not to go to Stratford.

So I scheduled some things at home to nourish my spirit, wondering  – in what state will be my spirit be after the holidays this year?

Here are some nourishing things I planned for the last days of December and into January:

  1. Joshua-Ehlebracht-Headshot
    Joshua Ehlebracht

    The day Sam watched three football games on TV, I arranged with a friend to go to an organ concert by 19-year-old Joshua Ehlebracht at St. Peters Lutheran Church in downtown Kitchener. Beginning with the Nutcracker Suite and ending with Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, with lots of Bach in between, Ehlebracht stunned us with his talent and confidence.  The large church was nearly full.  Ehlebracht can be a bit of a showman who projects fun at the organ. He wore a black tee shirt which sparkled when he moved. Two-tone green and silver shoes completed his otherwise black outfit.I felt wonderful when I came home – and sorry for Sam, since the “wrong team” won in all three football games he watched!

  2. We competed with each other for a turn with the puzzle Kittens in the Basket, and completed it on New Years’ Eve day.
  3. Michelle-ObamaI enjoyed browsing at Wordsworth Books a couple times, savouring a gift certificate. I bought (and enjoyed) a book I would call an “entertainment” – The Colors of all the Cattle, the latest in Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana lady detective series.Over Christmas, I read more heady tomes, including Michelle Obama’s very well-written memoir, Becoming. She’s clearly a self-aware woman, talking about her journey with an amazing lack of invective. More difficult but also a worthwhile read was Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. The author expertly reveals what the Wilder books hide. Laura and her daughter Rose created and added to myths about western settlement and the pioneer life which, in her opinion, have negatively contributed to U.S. self-understandings.
  4. Of course we managed a drive north of Waterloo, visiting Martin’s Family Fruit and Stemmler’s Meats on New Year’s Eve day.

And yes, we built in lots of reflection time.

….There’s really nothing wrong with “coming down” after Christmas. It’s a time to savour the joys and acknowledge the disappointments of extended family time, to step back from hosting, to read a book or take a drive or watch football on TV or listen to music or hope for snow or to simply be.

Christine Valters Painter notes that “when we turn to the natural world we find with each new day, each moon cycle, and each season a rhythm of rise and fall, fullness and emptiness.”

She’s helping me understand that we humans too are made to flow with the rise and fall of each day and with the changing seasons.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you tend to “come down” after the Christmas/New Year holidays?
  • If so, how is your spirit nourished during these “down times”?

Next week: TBA