A New Year Offering

In Parker J. Palmer’s On The Brink of Everything, he writes, “I no longer ask what do I want to let go of and what do I want to hang on to… Instead I ask what do I want to let go of and what do I want to give myself to.”

For me (like most of us), this has been a year of massive changes: moving across the country, beginning seminary (and finishing my first semester), navigating family illnesses, surgeries, and deaths, deepening friendships, continuing my own internal growth, beginning work on my directorial debut, finishing a book, interviewing and meeting some of my heroes on the podcast, continuing to release my clinging hands from all that isn’t mine, and learning about what I want to give myself to. 

Our time and attention is a treasure––a rare commodity that we delegate among the needs before and within us. Simone Weil says “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity…. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” This sentiment has brought me a lot of of comfort and consideration this year. The idea that our attention is an offering of prayer is a delightful way to remind oneself to be present but also a reminder of the eternal value of said presence. How has my drifting mind pulled me away from this prayerful attention in these days of technology and endless to-do lists? How have I missed the ability to give of myself in a way that cultivates love for the beloved human or moment before me?

Whether we like it or not, most of us find ourselves reflecting when we approach the New Year. We consider changes we’d like to make, we plan ahead for what’s to come, we consider letting go of what weighs us down… In doing so, I dare to think we create fertile ground for openness. And I often wonder how I can carry around this invisible fecundity with me throughout the year. There is an awe to the newness of a shiny new year––how can I give myself in openness to the awe instead of holding on to the hope of goals, changes, or desires?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carrying around hope, but it isn’t easy. In her OnBeing interview, author Rebecca Solnit shared, “hope is tough. It’s tougher to be uncertain than certain. It’s tougher to take chances than to be safe. And so hope is often seen as weakness, because it’s vulnerable, but it takes strength to enter into that vulnerability of being open to the possibilities.”

Perhaps there’s a place here where we can find ourselves in the middle of these things, after all, there’s nothing wrong with goals, changes, or desires (assuming they are hosting a means for greater love or deeper peace). Maybe, just maybe, there’s room for all of my wayward longings this year––if I can be in open-handed awe of their presence (or lack thereof) instead of being the clinging one breathless for control (I admit I’m much more prone to the latter!).

So, friends, as we all reflect on 2018 and the empty pages that rest before us in 2019, may we explore what is right for our own individual lives. I, for one, will try to boldly consider these things: Where do I need to let go? What do I want to give myself to? Where can I offer more unmixed attention? How can I remain open to the ever-present newness of each and every day? How can I live each day in greater wonder? 

Wishing everyone deep love, bright light, vulnerable hope, unfathomable peace, and the courage for new beginnings in the new year.
For a New Beginning, By John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

 

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Embracing Winter

 

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus

I’ve had a disdain for winter for as long as I can remember. When I was a child in Iowa, my older sister could get me to go outside only by explaining an exciting game we were going to play in the blistering cold. Her games usually involved making food – pizzas in the ground, snow cones in my hands, or building something else completely impossible. But every time, just as soon as the negative temperatures grazed my face, my imagination would halt and lay dormant against the frigid ground. I’d quickly become frustrated, irritated, and just wanted to go inside where it was safe and warm.

Recently, I found myself in an emotional and literal winter. While home visiting family and friends in the midwest, I was simultaneously drudging through my own difficult emotions as the first snowfalls arrived. One day, while shoveling the snow with a friend, I managed to conjure up a few words alongside my sarcastic smile, “thank you for teaching me to love winter again”. These synchronized encounters of winter have challenged me to consider winter as something I could learn to love, even if only because it’s here.

I’ve tried, like so many of us have, to enjoy my winter. To let it be and behold it for the miracle that it is. To cherish the snow falling as if I’m getting to see a snow globe live; to move through my emotional pain and accept it just as I am. This has proven much more difficult than I ever imagined. It’s much easier to despise the winter or suffer through it knowing spring is imminent, but what if it’s not? What if this is the winter that spring never enters into? What if these are the sorrows that never go away?

Though contrasting seasons can assist us in embracing the one that is present, what if a contrast never comes again? I so often hear and tell myself to live here and now – that the day before me is all I have, and I wonder what it might look like if I truly lived like winter is all I had? What if I basked in the freezing temperatures and reveled in the thoughts of snow? What would it feel like to constantly be okay with a flow of tears and an openly aching heart? Loving winter requires a vulnerability I’m still unfamiliar with.

It is certain that in my figurative winter, I’ve been opened up in a way I never knew possible. The rawness of my spirit has forced in a light often too bright to stand — but in my openness, it keeps shining in. Though this can be a painful experience and usually makes me want to dive deeply into hibernation, I’m managing to stay outside longer. I’m learning to be with the light of day. As it always is, getting in touch with my own soreness has made me more aware of those in pain around me. I find myself all the more often sitting side-by-side with those in need as we watch the snow fall together. Then, in our togetherness we become ready to shovel our neighbors out and play as best we can in the hideous bone-chilling cold.

For one of the first times in my life, I’m listening to the exciting games of winter and joining in their fun, doing my best to forget the pain of the wind against my face, doing my best to be here, now. Sometimes, or usually, my laughter is in vain, and my cheer is fake – but I’m still going outside and doing my best.

At the end of the day I know winter is a sure sign of spring, but it is still worthy of my imperfect effort to enjoy – especially knowing there are so many already out there scooping the sidewalks of strangers, just so we can all play.

“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Parker J. Palmer

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Ames, Iowa (Photo by Cassidy Hall)