Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Living Simply

Lately I’ve been working on living simply--and how I can make that possible in my life. I feel like I’m called to create simplicity as a foundation from which God will create me anew in a kind of everyday spiritual conversion. Today, I am honored to share with you the beginning of a reflection series on living simply that I started back during Lent and am striving to carry through the Easter season and beyond.

During Lent I followed St. Benedict’s Rule--a basic breakdown regarding simplicity: moderation; balance and flexibility; attending to the present moment; generosity of spirit; and time with God. I want to reflect on moderation today, in part because what’s happening to me now calls me to rethink and pray through some big changes.

We’re having a baby!

My husband has been building a storage shed to make room (in such a small living space) for our little one. While I know things will get complicated when it comes to all a baby *might* need, I hope to maintain some simplicity in the process. I considered my Lenten practice as I watched him pour concrete and then smooth it out to create a solid, level, even base for building. The metaphor was too attractive! This “concrete” way of thinking about building a life of simplicity compelled me to think of how anyone, in any situation, can co-create with God a renewed sense of self, vocation, purpose.

The reflection booklet Living Simply by Rev. Dr. Jane Tomaine in Notes from a Monastery: The Sacred Way Every Day has helped me to find focal points for prayer and action. Rev. Dr. Tomaine reminds us that “Moderation is an important ingredient in living simply because excess can affect us spiritually. In The Way of Simplicity, Esther de Waal writes that the desire to possess ‘will fill up that inner void which keeps a person open to the experience of God. ...While material goods are to be accepted, they are also to be regarded with detachment.’ ”

She reflects on the difference between wants and needs. That’s a pretty concrete way of action for most of us: separating the two, even when it comes to what we *think* is absolutely essential to us. In terms of the smoothed out foundation my husband labored over, this might mean deciding for ourselves what we’re willing to share, or give away, or not buy, or buy second-hand as the foundation of our practice--and then learn to appreciate everything as gift. I know I see my possessions as gifts: I thank God I have a reliable car, a roof over my head, a computer to use, etc. There are many things we could not imagine giving away, and we’re not all called to monasticism, but we can be called to examine ways in which we do not practice moderation.

Two other ways this booklet suggested moderation have little to do with possessions: time management and “reasonable expectations of others and ourselves.” If we practice moderation in these aspects of our lives, then we should be able to make time for those who need our help, honor and practice the talents we’re given, or listen to each other without the clutter and chaos of everyday life. That would make a great foundation on which to build any relationship. Recently my husband and I have established a “no TV Wednesday” and set aside time to pray together, read, or just talk. That’s made for really interesting discussions and revelations that the sounds of the TV had perhaps drowned out.

We will try not to fill our storage spot with extras--it would be ironic if we did--and seek to build upon this foundation a secure space for our child. Thinking about it for myself, I wonder about the de Waal quote the booklet mentioned:

Where in my soul do I need to create room for the experience of God?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Walk the dogs--or did the dogs walk me?

Recently my husband and I took the dogs for a walk. They don’t get to do this often (since they roam our large yard), and when they do, they’re utterly enthusiastic about the trip--however short or ordinary--and I always find this beguiling. I want to be excited like this all the time!

The going is hard at first--both dogs pull hard at their leashes, so eager to move forward, excited by new smells and sounds. Makes it hard for them to walk their humans, but maybe a little like them: too anxious to see what’s ahead. I started thinking, as Buster yanked in a new direction and sniffed at the foot of a tree, that when I get like this I force my own way instead of letting God calm me and handle me and lead me. Imitating my husband as he trains Dot to stop yanking, I hold Buster for a moment, letting his breathing slow and calm build. Each time he gets overanxious I pause, and in a little while he relents and walks beside me--and we both enjoy the scenery together.

Maybe God does this to us now and again--forces us to a stop, or at least pause, in many different ways. I get inspired by sudden and beautiful landscapes, and have to gawk at them; I also slow down when something unexpected happens, or I get sick, and lately, when the baby breakdances in my belly. Each pause creates that one moment of possibility--that moment perhaps when God connects to me and gives me the opportunity to walk alongside Him.

A mutual walk!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Give your Mom flowers--or memories!

I am always fascinated by the way scent truly is the most powerful memory instigator--and for me that pairs with the visual lately, because I’m getting that Southern Spring feeling again. Each month brings a special scent and beautiful blossom, and it’s about at May that I start really noticing--hey, this same time last year the very same tree did the very same thing: sprung drooping blossoms of lemony-scented natural art. Every time I walk by it on my way into the YMCA, I sniff and take it in: magnolia. I am reminded that Mother’s Day is near, summer is coming, that school is nearly out, and that this time however long ago I was preparing for my wedding, or traveling across Georgia, or doing something marked in time by this blossoming tree, with its deep shade and twisted branches. I want to crawl up underneath the biggest one I can find, recline on a huge, old branch, and read.

The same happens when I set foot outside my door, and the unmistakeable scent of honeysuckle greets me. The creeping vine gracefully twirls around the barbed wire which encases the dog pen--and looks like the many doodles I drew as a child, flowering vines and pastoral scenes on the recycled paper my Dad brought home from the textile factory in which he worked (yes, we recycled well before it became fashion!). In my everyday Southern experience, I see all those things I envisioned on paper with crayon and colored pencil so long ago.

Another Springtime favorite--lilacs. I have vivid remembrance of yard parties at my Godfather’s house, a large bush dripping with flowers so fragrant you could smell them from the sidewalk. Getting closer to the yard I would hear before seeing the dense buzz of bees weaving in and out of what looked like grape bunches of blossoms. I so wanted to cut some and bring them home, but I was too afraid of the bees, so I would stand and watch and smell, mesmerized. We took our first communion pictures there, my cousins and I--by that hive of a bush. We played with our Easter basket boon, and swung on swings, and ate at the small picnic table, all within range of that gorgeous smell.

Come summer, Crepe Myrtle will vibrate with color--streets lined with those artful trunks, dappled smooth and rough, dripping like lilacs those bright blossoms, so impressive in numbers. It will remind me of when my parents finally visited me in Georgia and remarked on the beauty of the plant; of the heat predominating in June; of days when I pause to consider the sky and God’s creation.

Each flowering plant provides a transition, a time and memory marker, and and it’s no wonder on Mother’s Day we give flowers to those who mother us. Our mothers have marked our transitions for us all our lives, and sometimes we only just realize it, as a lovely land or skyscape can captivate in a single moment. The transition from womb to world was a big first one--but then there’s the firsts: eating, walking, climbing. There’s the first day of school. There’s the first heartbreak. Each season of our lives gets marked by a mother’s response--whether we like it or not!--and in turn this shapes us in some way. This weekend I honor all who mother in ways true and comforting alike--they taught us to blossom and mark time with our experiences. Mãe, I love you--thank you for all the memories we have made and have yet to make!