Blog

Going Deeper, Seeing Further

1Three weeks ago, Banff National Provincial Park.  My nephew, Peter, and I have been driving our way across the country and late this afternoon have stepped out on a ridge looking out over Lake Moraine.  “Have you ever seen a place like this! Have you ever seen a place like this!”  I tell Peter I will eventually stop saying this over and over again as I say one more time, “Have you ever seen a place like this!”  

Have you ever been in, seen such a place?  Had a time in your life that broke open the horizons, expanded what before you had thought were the limits of the sky?

I’ve just returned from such a time.  Four months away on a sabbatical and 3vacation that emptied and renewed, filled and healed me.  I return home, changed.  As I explain to a friend, “It’s like my whole life did THIS,” as I stretch my arms wide as they can go.

And so, a question in my life:  How to take all of this great expansion of vision, life, joy, experience and bring it home to the particular work, responsibilities, relationships in my everyday life.

4Maybe you know what I mean.  Maybe you are wondering at this time how to integrate some new experiences into your life.

I told my friend Mary about my homecoming question and she told me,

“It seems to me the only way to take all of THIS” – as she opens her arms wide – “and fit it into THIS” – as she brings her hands close together, “is to do THIS” – as she pivots sideways – one hand high overhead, the other reaching for the floor.

And there it is: the only way to take all of THIS expansion, growth, life into6 the particularity of “this” work, “these” responsibilities, “this” relationship – is to go deeper – into truth and authenticity – and lift your sights higher – out and beyond to a longer, broader vision.

10 (2)A few weeks ago at our church camp at Seabeck we discussed situations that cry out for justice and peace.   We talked about concerns for our planet, economy, and our nation’s democracy.  Farmers in Africa, homelessness in Seattle.

On the second day, one of our speakers, Bill Grace, stood up and said,

“I have spent my life as a social activist working for justice and peace, so what I am going to say is very hard to say.  And I still don’t know quite how to say it.  But what I am hearing in my heart, and what my teachers are telling me, is that now is not the time to act as we have responded to such situations before.   It is not the time.”

You could feel the energy of that whole room there on the edge of our chairs20 with our mouths open, “What?”  “Not DO anything?”  “The world is crying out and needs our concern and care!”

Bill went on to say he was not saying that it is the time to “do nothing” but that the “something” of what we need to do is different.

What I heard him saying is this: “We live in a time where our institutions of faith, care, and community are in a time of deep transformation. A time of great change and unraveling. When we just jump into respond to the immense issues facing us, we often fall into responses, ways of being, that are deeply part of the old stories that need to change. (Responding violently. Dividing our world into “us” versus “them”, for example.)  A new way is forming but not yet here. It’s not the time to do nothing, but a time to “do” what we are doing differently – to concentrate on doing small things with great love. A time to live the new way we are seeking to be in the world.”

8 (2)What Bill was saying about this particular time of history we are living in is what I’ve heard said from other historians, theologians, and wise leaders I trust. It’s what I’ve experienced in the life of the church and other institutions I care deeply about.

And I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of weeds in a field full of wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field;  but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

30

When the farmhands notice the weeds in the field, they do what I often do when I see trouble.  They ask who is to blame.  They complain, “Farmer Joe, did you use good seeds?”  And they seek to take matters into their own hands and pull up the weeds.

But the farmer responds, “No. Now is not the time.  This is the time to wait.  For in pulling up the weeds now, you would damage the wheat as well. Now is the time to wait. Wait for the time of harvest. Then pull up the weeds and harvest the wheat.”

Wait?  Wait?  Really?

How do you know the weeds won’t take over?  How do you know its going to be alright?

I know the fear, the anxiety, I know all of it that comes when what I am called to do is something different than just “act”.  And I know what happened to me on my sabbatical.

On my sabbatical I did what I said I wanted to do:

I wrote.  I painted.  I learned how to sail.

6070

 

80

I went to the top of the highest mountain in New England with the worst weather in the world.

90

And I went up the highest mountain in the Pacific with the clearest skies.

100

I had time with my family.

110

And friends.

120

But if you ask me, “What did you really get out of your sabbatical, what really happened for you?” I would not talk with you about what I did.

I would tell you that what happened when I put some things down: I came home believing in the resurrection more deeply in my bones than I ever have before.  And by that I mean this: in the letting go, we are met.  I was met.

122

My sabbatical was about letting go.

125

Letting go of my control, plans, perfection and worry.

Letting go of who I thought I was to become who I am growing to be.

Letting go, I learned again, is a road right through the heart of grief.

140

And anxiety.

150

Learned again, that grief and anxiety are the roads that lead us into the new.

No, not an easy way. And one where we need good guides and friends along the way.

155

But on the other side of letting go, something is given, that could never be anticipated.

130

A broader vision.  Skies we never could have imagined. The kind of vision we need to see it through the very real issues facing us.

160

And something revealed, right here at our feet, something clear, true, beautiful.

170

I don’t know where you are on life’s way but wherever it is, maybe it’s a time in your life as well to pivot.  Time to put down some of your familiar ways and make room for something new to grow. To go a little deeper, see a little further. Be led to a place you never could have imagined, where you too can say, “Have you ever seen a place like this!”

180

 

Going Home

It had been almost four months since I’d been at work. Four months away3046 on an amazing sabbatical and vacation that emptied and filled, healed and restored me. And now, here, late June, wondering how I would find my way back home to Seattle and the responsibilities that awaited me here. The work that I’d had the privilege of putting down for a while so I could take this time away.

2906How we begin and how we end: the junctures in our lives matter. And I’ve never been particularly good at making them.

Even after twelve years of ballet classes, I never did master what it takes to move from one set of steps to another. Too often, held on too long to the familiar pattern or jumped ahead too quickly into the new. To witness a great dancer, is to watch a great flow of breath and being. A seamless transformation of the old to the new.

Because I am not a great dancer, I was anxious about making my transition home. I knew I wanted it be a good one. But how? I was clear that jumping on a plane in New Hampshire, where I was spending my final weeks away, and landing in Seattle seven hours later, didn’t feel right. Too abrupt, too quick of a change.

But as my sabbatical turned to its final month, something began playing 2939in my imagination – the possibility of driving home across the country. My parents offered the use of their car. My nephew, Peter, who had just graduated from high school, decided to come along. The pieces began to fall into place.

Taking the long road home – 3,514 miles to be exact – was exactly the right way for me to transition home. Peter and I met in Cleveland at a Detroit Tiger’s baseball game and we took the next ten days to camp our way across the country. Peter stepped up to doing something he’d never done before – planning our trip. He set up where we would camp, how long we would drive, and most importantly, have dinner that night. Amidst all we “planned” to do and see, so much delight and surprise found us along the way.  We met wonderful people. Plunged into as many bodies of cold water as we could find. Mastered the art of setting up our tent in the dark. Skipped rocks. Tossed the Frisbee and talked about God. Sang along to hours of schmaltzy pop music, the kind that both of us like. It was an amazing gift of time together.

3084And along the way, I felt the power of a journey of intention: a meeting of past memory with the fullness of the present. A release and opening to the possibilities of all that lies down the road ahead.

I imagine that there are no transitions forward without a wrestling with our pasts. What I know is that as we drove through Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota, I remembered all the times I had been in these places before. Joy in the memories. Tears as well.

As we drove through places I had never been – North Dakota, Montana, 3054Alberta – realized, once again, that my imagination can’t possibly contain the wonder of all we discovered is out there in the wild and open new spaces before us.

We ended our trip here in Seattle two weeks ago today. On our last evening together, we went to see a beautiful and haunting new movie from Poland called “Ida”.   Coincidentally, the movie is about a road trip taken by an aunt and her 18 year old niece. I never do know what to do with such “coincidences”, but as I sat in the theater with my nephew, I knew again the gift of knowing a surprising grace that carries us all.

3335Like our road trip, “Ida” too is a movie about a journey of intention. As Ida and her aunt seek to move each of their lives forward, both have to come face to face with a family history that is deeply troubled. The movie, a reminder, as I have been learning, that in order to step into the new, we need to integrate the truth of what our past histories have been.   Past histories, that not for any of us, have been “perfect”. Pasts not all we might have hoped them to be. But the necessity to face the truth of our past histories and set them down, once again, into the hands of forgiveness and grace, a holding larger than our own restless anxiety and longing to fix what cannot be changed.

As Ida and her aunt seek to come to terms with how to move forward, 2924both make choices. If there is a “message” in the movie, I wonder if it is that the risk and terror of “life” and new life must be chosen, again and again, even given the very troubled and broken, imperfect worlds in which we live our lives.

2953And so, I come home. And, of course, in each our own ways, all of us have.   For in the past months, all of us have been on journeys of many kinds. Some dramatic, many more so, quiet and internal.

Perhaps these past months, you have discovered, as I have, new ways of being. Or maybe, recognized your longing for such. Faced things you could never have imagined facing. Learned about a courage and faith you never knew you had. Asking, maybe as I am, how to live into the fullness of your life, your responsibilities, in newer and deeper life-giving ways given what you have experienced and learned along the way.

We all know what it is to return to the familiar patterns and ways we have3073 made of our lives. And we all know what it is not to.   To dare to raise our sights and look out and beyond – to witness a broader horizon, the greening of new life here, within and around us.

Tell me, what have you seen?

Tell me, how are you finding your way home?

On Sabbatical

The most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, including our own lives, as a vastly richer, deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot.  In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places left where we can speak to each other of holy things.  (Frederick Buechner) 

I called it “Poems, Prayers and Paintings.”  A sabbatical proposal that I proposed was yes, more than just a riff off the name of my first and favorite record album, “Poems, paintingPrayers and Promises” by John Denver.  It’s the craft of poetry, prayers and painting that has grounded and centered me in God.

I’ve been clear what I’ve wanted to do.

Creativity takes me deep into all I call prayer, all I call God, all that is deeper awareness, presence and mystery.  I want to develop a daily rhythm of writing and painting and see where it might take me.

And I want to continue to learn how to sail.  It’s that “learning to sail” part where the “prayer” part of my sabbatical fits in.  To be creative you have to risk putting yourself out there, to step into challenge and change.  In these coming months I want to continue to explore doing things I’ve never done before or am just learning how to do.  Things that take me right into my growth – which means, yes, right into my fear.  Right there to the edge where all we call “faith” begins.   Learning to sail takes me there.

And so I begin, March 1.  Three months, followed by a month of vacation.  I’ll be back on June 30.

mr parts 008A sabbatical is a tremendous gift of time.  A rare privilege to step away from the everyday into a different way to be.  And no, I couldn’t do it without others “staying home” and providing the support here so I am able to step away.  For that gift, I am grateful beyond words.

A sabbatical means doing somethings differently.  I won’t be writing a blog.  Checking and answering my email at church or my phone messages here.

Wherever you are this spring, what might it be like to imagine “inhabiting time” a bit differently, and not just “waste”, “spend”, “use” or “fill” it?

How might you take seriously being renewed this spring in body, mind and spirit?

What might you do that you have never done before?

What might you create?

How might you make space for “not knowing” so that new ways of knowing may come?

I look forward to being back in touch in July and hearing and sharing what happened this spring in us all,

Peter

Knowing

Not knowingphoto (6)
how to get out
of this sad spin
of grief
I ran
out
to the river
to where
the path
leads
to the water’s
edge.

I stood,
still,
for a long time,
watching.

Rippling waves.

At last,
I looked up.

Saw beyond,sailing alone 059
not so far away,
a boat,
the kind I could
handle and sail.

I took it,
as I do most
anything these days,
as a sign,
that what I need
shall be given.

That the path
is going
somewhere
and not
so far away,
a boat
to take me there.

I ran –
home again,
dreamed
that night
of wind.

Peter Ilgenfritz
January 28, 2014

Raising the Sail

I thought I was ready. fall winter 2013 246

I’d rigged the boat and was ready to sail.  The dockmaster came by to see how I’d done.

“Great job.  Except for one thing.  Your mainsail isn’t raised to the top of the mast.”

Seeing if the mainsail (that’s the big sail in the middle of the boat) is raised to the top of mast is still tricky for me.  It means learning to watch for these little creases where the sail meets the mast.  If you see those creases, your sail isn’t raised the whole way.

As the dockmaster reminded me,

“A sail that isn’t raised the whole way is a less efficient sail.  It doesn’t take advantage of every inch of this great sail that you’ll need.”

To raise the mainsail the whole way, you have to loosen something called the “downhaul” a piece of line which pulls the main sail and boom (that big piece of wood along the bottom of the sail) down.  You then grab hold of the halyard (the line that goes to the top of the mast) and pull.

I pulled.

I pulled harder.

Nothing happened.

big 003When that happens, you then do something called “sweating the line”.  With one hand you pull back on the on the halyard and with your other hand pull the line away from the mast.

I pulled.

The dockmaster pulled.

Together, we raised the sail.

Last fall I heard Amy Cuddy speak at the University of Washington.  Cuddy is a professor at the Harvard School of Business and has become known for her TED talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”.

When animals feel powerful, they literally take up more space.   Peacocks, gorillas, elephants, and human doings all do the same thing – we get bigger when we want to strut our stuff in order to ward off an enemy, intimidate prey or attract a mate.

Watch the Olympic gold medal winners throw their hands high overhead and beam.  Watch a runner do the same at the end of a race.   In fact, even blind runners raise their hands high at the end of a race even though they have never seen anyone do this.

Cuddy’s research shows that when we practice taking up more space, whatbig 015 she calls “power posing”, lots of good things happen.

Take two minutes being an Olympic champion with your hands high overhead, or standing with your hands on your hips and your testosterone levels will increase.

You’ll be more assertive, confident, optimistic, willing to take risks and open to feedback. Your pain threshold will increase, and yes, you will be more likely to get a second interview for that job.  Why?  Confidence, presence, passion, authenticity, enthusiasm, warmth all lead to feelings of trust.  Trust opens doors.

However, when we collapse into our bodies, sit twisted and huddled into a ball over things like our cell phones, the opposite happens.  Our cortisol levels increase and our feelings of stress, anxiety and insecurity.  Watch how some of those silver medal winners collapse into themselves on the stand.

No, we can’t “make” people trust us.  Sterotypes rooted in race, sex, age all get in the way of how we experience another’s warmth or competence.  But we can start with changing what we can – ourselves.  As Cuddy reminded us, “When you connect with and trust yourself, you can begin to connect with and trust others.”

So Cuddy practiced “power posing”, standing in the bathroom stall for two minutes with her hands raised high overhead before a lecture.  Over time, she changed.  “I faked it until I became it and became the self I wanted to be.”  She now has taken her “power posing” practice across the globe and into work with many vulnerable populations.

I hear it from the dockmaster.

I hear it from Cuddy.

I hear it from the Book of Deuteronomy, “I set before you the ways of life and death – choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I hear it from Jesus, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  (John 10:10)

big 017This great crowd of witness reminds me that maybe there really is nothing wrong with raising the sail the whole way.  That it may, in fact, the beginning of turning things around and doing things differently.    Who knows?  Maybe there is a new, better, more alive and engaged self out there for each of us to discover.

Today, may we have the grace, in the words of William Sloan Coffin, Jr., to never to sell ourselves short.  But to risk something big, for the sake of something good.

Sailing Alone

sailing alone 047Last Saturday was a big day for me – the first day that I’d ever taken a sailboat out by myself.  It had been almost two months since the last time I’d been sailing.   And here, on Saturday afternoon I stood on the dock, hands on my head, looking up at the boat and wondering if I remembered how to do this.

My instructor’s voices came back to me.  Heard them ask, “Do I have my three essentials on board?”  (A PADDLE, PUMP, and PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE.)  What direction is the wind from?  (It was just my kind of perfect day – there was hardly a breeze.)

One of the first things you need to do to RIG or get a boat all set up to sail, is take this long rope, called a HALYARD that goes up to the top of the long pole in the middle of the boat, called a MAST, and attach that rope, (which is actually called a LINE) to the top of the little sail at the front of the boat called a JIB.

Usually there is a little clip or SHACKLE that you just snap on and thensailing alone 057 pull up the sail.  This time, there was just a dangly piece of rope and me without a clue about how to tie the right knot.  I was pretty sure it was a BOWLINE I needed but after many attempts I realized I needed some help to figure it out.

I called over one of the sailing instructors.  He tied bowline after bowline for me, but I just couldn’t figure it out.  I watched and tried.  Concentrated harder and tried. I fussed.  Got frustrated.  Threw up my hands and exclaimed, “I may never get off the dock today but I have to figure out how to do this!”

He paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “I’m going to walk away now.  I know you’ll figure it out.”

Good parents do not like to see their children in pain.

rope 001But even better parenting comes in instilling trust.   Telling our children that indeed they will “figure it out”.  Instilling trust and confidence and then stepping away, making room for our children and ourselves to find our way through the pain, anxiety, fear.

There’s a life lesson we need to learn again and again.  How to figure it out and make it through a challenging time.  Every time we do, we build up a reserve tank of trust, of hope inside.  We have made it through challenging times before, we will do it again.

I thought it was all over two weeks ago.

There were just minutes left in the game.  The end of the game, just minutes left.  The 49ers had the ball and Kaepernick threw a beautiful pass into the end zone.

Then filling our TV screens, was this guy with floppy hair and a number “25” across his chest, who jumped up and gently tapped the ball away into the arms of his Seahawks teammate.

You know, we watch sports for many reasons as we come to church for many reasons.  But I think one of the reasons we do is to see things like that: in impossible situations, a possibility.

A hope that grows to a conviction that maybe this too could be us – jumping up, hand outstretched, for light, hope, trust, truth, for more than we ever imagined possible. For saying, despite everything, that the game is not over.  We are not finished yet.

Oh yeah, last Saturday I got off the dock.  The instructor was right.  I sailing alone 065figured it out.

Out there on my great sea of Lake Union, I felt it: such peace, such deep, deep peace.   Something I’ve never felt in this same way out here.  Such peace.  Like I’d really have to work hard to find all those things I was so stressed and worried about on shore.

It had been an important week.  I’d shared a letter with my congregation that after a long time of counsel and discernment that my partner and I have separated.  It’s a new season in my life.  A time of figuring out so much that is new.  A time of solitude.

Solitude is very different from loneliness. Solitude is finding home in your aloneness.  A stilling, quieting, of the voices that clamor for attention within.

When I am at home in my aloneness, at home in myself, I am free. So free. So free to be with others, out there in my life.  Able to be so present, to hear, listen, engage.

When I step away from my at-homeness, I run and look to others to fill what is mine alone to claim.  Look to others to make me feel good, feel better.  Look to stuff in my life to distract or fill me.  It’s not the best way I am with the people or things in my life.

sailing alone 059In that aloneness can be such presence, a companionship with everything.

I feel the presence now of all who have come before me, all who have taught me.   Here meeting in my hand, as I take hold of the tiller.  Draw it gently, slowly, ever so steadily through the water.

The boat turns, sails fill with wind.

Sheen, Shenanigans and Sobriety

I wasn’t really sure I knew who Charlie Sheen was and had never heard of the show “Two and A Half Men”.  But even for someone as removed from pop culture as I am noticed the column about Sheen in Saturday’s Seattle Times and the tag line in today’s paper, “Did Media Fuel Sheen’s Shenanigans?”

It got me yesterday morning watching Sheen’s interview on “20/20” from a week ago.  I got half way through before I found myself getting very depressed and thankfully pushed some wrong button on the computer screen which turned the show off.  I’d heard enough to get the point.  There is nothing really funny about watching a soul in pain.  The confusion and rage, addiction and anguish of a soul acting out with drugs, sex and other shenanigans.

Charlie Sheen is part of all of us.  He’s that part of all of us that does not want to listen to ourselves, spins in our own rage, hurt and grief.  And until the alcohol, drugs, and mental health issues are addressed there is just more spinning and raging and hurting.  Nowhere else to go. Charlie is like Mary, the character in Mike Leigh’s movie, “Another Year” who is also falling apart in midlife.  Fortunately, Mary has a friend, Gerri, who Mary has hurt and disappointed by her own shenanigans.  At the end of the movie, Gerri turns to her and says, “Mary, you need to take responsibility for your own life.  You need to get some help.  Find someone to talk to….”  We don’t know if Mary will wake up and take responsibility for her life or not.  Don’t know if Charlie will either.   Mary and Charlie are that part of all of us that doesn’t want to grow up and take responsibility for our own lives.

Some of my family, friends, and loved ones at church are living in particularly stressful and challenging times in their lives.  But thinking about it, they are also some of the people I know who are doing the best with living in and through times of deep change.   No, it is not easy, but they are walking through and have not been overcome.  It is those who don’t realize that their lives are on the edge, lost in fear and frenzy, that I worry about.   They are the ones whose lives I see spinning out of control without their even being aware of it.

Yesterday I learned that 85% of clergy pray less than 10 minutes a day.  Maybe that is true for many of us.  It made me very sad and wonder, “Who is listening? Who is listening to their lives?  Who is paying attention, awake and aware, listening for the heartbeat of God?”  And if you are one of those listeners, know that your praying, your listening, is really important, really matters for all of us.

Last month the writer Anne Lamott spoke at Seattle University.  She said, “People seem to think of me as this free-spirited, airy-fairy, hippy-dippy California girl.  But in fact behind all this is a lot of discipline.  Every day my life is a set of structured disciplines of meditation, prayer, exercise, walking the dog, writing…”

Anne Lamott saw her way through alcoholism and drug abuse.  And I hear from her that she works hard and intentionally to live a life of sobriety, of being awake and alive in real life.

Real life is hard.  And yes, sometimes really hard.  And real life is a good place to be as well, rather than lost in the fantasy and addictions that feel all so good until we sober up and need to escape from the pain and grief of life once again.

The Way of Jesus we call Christian Faith is about waking up.  It is about living a real life.  Finding a community of care that can help us stay awake and live real lives in a real world.  In faith we dare to believe that it is here in the present that God is meeting us.  But you have to be willing to be sober and awake to know that.  And yes, it is worth it.  And it comes with a cost.  Maybe tears or getting in touch with deep hurt and rage.  Maybe having to face up to responsibility and accountability.  For sure, a good dose of humility.  Recognizing once again that it really isn’t our job to keep the whole world happy and together.  That none of us can do this walk in life alone.

Last week a group of us at church were at a training for BeFriender Ministry, a ministry program to help support congregations in deepening our practice of listening to one another through the “trials of the spirit and times of joy” that are our lives.  It reminded me of the simple power of just listening to another from their perspective.  Listening with care and attention and without judgment.  Trusting that God is present and at work.  No need to fix or control, cure or preach.   Good attentive listening can lead to transformation.   Being listened to can change your life.

The season of Lent begins today with “Ash Wednesday” and the invitation after a traditional night of feasting and shenanigans, to wake up once again to your life, to real life.  The tradition of a Lenten discipline is to find something to do that helps keep you awake and aware, listening for the heartbeat of God in your soul and in your life.  Maybe this season is inviting you to take some time each day to pray, to listen to your soul.  Maybe it is calling you to listen with care to someone, and let someone listen with care to you.  And in that listening, I pray that we might wake up to real life, our true life, hear God’s heartbeat in us all. That the Charlie’s and Mary’s in our lives, and each one of us might be met, healed, changed, transformed by the living Christ who meets us here, in and between us, calling us out of our self-made prisons to new and more abundant life in this very real world.