Knitting in the Round: Casting on a Circle of Story

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Usually when I knit I use circular needles. Lighter than straight needles, circulars are flexible, nimble quick to the touch. Circulars make it possible to knit in the round.

Recently, Mia, a young dynamic young social worker with sparkling dark eyes, asked me to teach her to knit. We had met on a social justice retreat where I was knitting socks on two circular needles. We briefly chatted over a lunch of mung bean soup and warm multi-grain bread, and I was pleasantly surprised when she e-mailed me several weeks later about knitting.

We met for coffee and pulled out the needles. I started to cast on, knit one pearl two, create ribbing. Mia talked about her commitment to counseling women who struggle with poverty and abuse. I smiled at her excitement on becoming an advocate for justice for these women. As she reflected on what had lead her to that path, I saw her childhood in the crisp golden autumn of a Michigan upbringing.

The conversation turned to my daughters so close to her in age and to Aunt Margie who gave me my first set of needles decades ago–to my story.

Finally, we talked about faith.

  • What keeps the spark of the divine within us alight despite the failings of religious structures?
  • How do you get past rhetoric and dogma to hold what you know is true?
  • Where does integrity lie?

At the end of the morning I wasn’t surprised that we had only completed a few rows. Instead we has created a circle of story.

Next time, perhaps we will knit socks.

The Cloud Appreciation Society: Just Breathe

Clouds over the Tractor Road , Ashley, Illinois

Clouds over the Tractor Road , Ashley, Illinois

Not too long ago, a link popped up on my facebook page. Underneath a blue sky and cumulus clouds were the words “Cloud Appreciation Society.” It sounded like something whimsical out of a children’s book. Without hesitation I “liked” their page.

Now every few days I receive a photo of a cloud formation. Stratocumulus, altostratus, and anvil tops. Prior to that my experience had been limited to clouds of the nimbus, cumulus or cirrus variety. The Cloud Appreciation Society takes clouds seriously.

But beyond the cloud classifications, I began looking at the clouds in my own skies. Cloud billows high above the oak pillars of Tower Grove Park in the morning. Cloud wisps drifting past my office window. Receding clouds at sunset, reflecting the opalescent pinks and lavenders of the innermost whorls of sea shells shot through with fiery reds and exploding nova yellows. Cradle clouds cushioning a full moon.

Each a unique moment. Impossible to capture. Life-giving.

As the sun set while I was driving home from Nashville I watched the clouds changing. The beauty of each moment was such a distraction I took the exit for a town called Ashley and pulled off onto a tractor road to just breathe and savor a unique purply sunset, and then continued upon my way, glad to be a part of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Receding Clouds over the Tractor Road, Ashley, illinois

Receding Clouds over the Tractor Road, Ashley, illinois

 

How Are You in Your Heart?

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Several years ago, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, with the Incarnate Word Sisters. We touched down in Villahermosa in inky darkness and traveled to the heart of the city where bars were doing a brisk and noisy business. The next morning we traveled by bus up through the clear air of the mountains in Chiapas.

Our home base was a coffee plantation owned by the Ch’ol Indians. The sisters have been partners in Nich Klum Cafe for decades, working with the tribe to build an international coffee company. During that week I learned the mechanics about growing organic coffee–from seedlings in the greenhouse to beans forming in the fields. That the best coffee was shipped to Europe, the second-best to the United States, and the rest was left for Mexico.

Gregorio was my guide. He spoke four languages–I speak one. At the start of each day his greeting translated not as “How are you?” but as “How are you in your heart?”

When people ask “How are you?” the expected answer is “fine” or at the very least “okay.” It is a superficial question.

“How are you in your heart?” That is a deeper question that places us in relationship.

Although I don’t say, “How are you in your heart?” I try to keep that question in my mind and read between the lines as I go through the day.

  • How is my friend who lost her husband six months ago really doing?
  • How is my relative who is recuperating from a broken hip at home alone really coping?
  • How is a colleague who has a new supervisor really adjusting?

And I take an extra few minutes to listen. To see the day through their eyes. To give encouragement, a kind word or an unexpected note in the mail. To be present.

How are you in your heart?

I hear their heart and I hear mine.

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Butterflies and Bees: Sharing Opportunity

My Garden

My Garden

A few years ago my friend, Ann, brought me a bouquet of Mexican sunflowers as a surprise. In their overblown lushness they are the my garden’s equivalent of Betty Boop flowers. This morning a butterfly went from flower to flower doing the work of pollination. After a few minutes the bee arrived and took up the task.

I thought back to something my friend, Chris, had shared with me. I had been invited to serve on a Board by a nonprofit agency. It was a busy time–when isn’t a busy time–and I was telling him how frustrated I was because I had to take on one more thing.

That’s when Chris quietly said, “You should give someone else the opportunity. What is a burden for you is an opportunity for them.” And he was right. I had been focusing on myself, not on what would be best for agency Board or on how another individual could happily bring their talents to the table. What could be burdensome for me was an opportunity for someone else.

I didn’t join that Board and somehow they managed just fine, perhaps even better, without me. Someone else served instead.

The bee can pollinate the sunflowers as well as the butterfly. It is only a matter of sharing opportunity.

Bees in the Garden

Bees in the Garden

Prayer Flags and the Four Winds: What Is God Telling Us?

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My friend Pat just sent me a set of her prayer flags. Bright symbols of faith and aspiration are tossed by the four winds in my garden. Each morning the bright colors, symbols and messages catch my attention. They are beautiful and it is easy to not notice the wind itself.

At the foundation where I work, I often go next door to Sr. Mary Margaret’s office to debrief after a meeting or a phone call. She possesses a tart realism leavened with affection and wisdom; she is an excellent colleague and mentor. Her German practicality is the ideal counterpoint to my Irish intuition.

There are times when I’ll tell her about a particularly frustrating meeting. Or I may have encountered what appears to be an unjust situation that hurts those who are powerless. Perhaps it is a project that is going awry, a set of policies that actually mitigate against accomplishing the goal.

When I voice my aggravation and annoyance, Mary Margaret’s response is not to commiserate, but to say, “What is God telling you?”

My first thought is usually, ‘I don’t really care what God is telling me. What I care about is how bad or wrong this is and how frustrated I am.’

But later I return to Mary Margaret’s question: What is God telling me using this situation?

And that question leads to others.

What is the underlying message that I am missing when I focus on situation itself rather than on what we are working toward?

How can I stay attuned to what actually needs to be accomplished rather than get mired in negativity?

What is the other perspective that is present and what is the good to be found in that perspective?

Where can we turn to move past the obstacle and build consensus around a solution?

How do I emphasize the inherent value of human relationships rather than get bogged down in being political?

I take time to feel the wind. Because while it is important to see the prayer flags, it is the wind that makes them flutter and dance.

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What’s Important Is How We Do It

Surprise Lilies in the Parkway

While I was walking this morning, I was reflecting on a quotation from the woman who founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

With God, what we do is less important than how we do it.
Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, SSND

She said those words a century ago, but they speak to my heart today.

At the Incarnate Word Foundation I see many agencies working to serve those in need. Those of us in the funding world pressure them to show measurable outcomes. We want to know that they are effective in delivering services, that they measure their progress toward goals in quantifiable ways, that they are efficient in their use of resources. In response, agency leaders develop elaborate logic models and hire consultants to create service delivery systems.

And while good stewardship is necessary and important, the danger in that is an over-emphasis on what is being done rather than how it is being done.

Are we grounding what we do in compassion, love and respect?

Are we taking time to listen with our heart?

Are we walking with them on their journey?

Do we sit and hold a woman’s hand?

Do we see the spark of the Divine in each person?

So often we focus on getting things done, on accomplishments and outcomes. While we may reach every benchmark, we can lose the love and humanity that should be present whenever we are with others.

Because with God, what we do is less important than how we do it.

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Day Lilies: We Choose How We See the World

Day Lilies at Carondelet Pottery

Day Lilies at Carondelet Pottery

When I am throwing pots at Carondelet Pottery, I usually take a break and sit in the garden. And when I do, I make a choice. I can choose to focus on the weeds that need pulling or the fence that I have been meaning to paint, or I can choose to see day lilies blooming.

Every day we have times when we choose how we see the world.

Later that morning as I was emptying the trash at the studio I saw two men fishing for cans in the dumpster. This presented me with several choices.

I can choose to ignore them.

I can choose to inform them in no uncertain terms with only a glance, not words, that they shouldn’t be fishing in the dumpster and that they had better not knock trash into the alley.

Or I can choose to say, “Good morning.”

Which is what I did. And they responded with “Good morning” as well.

We had a brief conversation about the beautiful weather, the nice people at the Methodist church a few blocks away, and the price of scrap metal. All three of us made a choice about how we saw each other that morning.

And it was the beginning of a lovely peaceful day.

Day Lily, Carondelet Pottery

Day Lily, Carondelet Pottery