To Be of Use

Biddeford Pool Ocean view

One evening, during my first year in college, my best friend Lori and I were sitting in the quiet candlelit chapel of our campus. A few other people were also there, scattered about the pews. I remember feeling we each seemed so isolated in our private meditations. I was moved to reach out and take the hand of my friend. Little did I realize, at that very moment, she had been wrestling with her own inner spiritual struggles.

Feeling a certain despair, she had just prayed, “God if you are real, I need a sign. It doesn’t have to be a miracle; I just need you to touch me in some way.” Then, I innocently took her hand, and it was the touch of God she experienced.

I shared this story with my colleagues last week.  From Wednesday through Friday, I was on retreat with other Unitarian Universalist ministers at Biddeford Pool, by the sea.  They had invited me, because of my upcoming retirement, to share my “Odyssey,” my story of ministry.  So on Thursday evening, I talked about the long path and the many transformations that have been a part of that ministry journey, starting with this story of my being used unknowingly by the Spirit.

Years ago, even as a child, I had opened my life to that Spirit, that Mystery, that flowing River of Life.  Ministry has meant, for me, at root, that opening to be of use.  At different times in my life, that has included many different types of work.  Most lately, as a minister in a congregation, I have been preaching, offering pastoral care, teaching, writing, going to many meetings.  But ministry is not always about our intentions or our plans or our activities.

I shared another story that happened only a few years ago.  At that time, I was planning to join my congregation at our annual retreat at Ferry Beach.  We were happy to be including a visiting UU minister from Burundi, and I was going to drive him to the retreat.  But then I got sick with a bad cold or flu–can’t remember which.  I called a member of the congregation to see if she could give him a ride instead.  She did, and later she told me that it had changed her life.  She was transformed by hearing his story, and she eventually went to visit Burundi with other UUs.

I was struck by how even our limitations–even getting sick–even being missing–can be an occasion of unknowingly triggering a blessing for someone’s life.  If we are in the flow of Spirit, the flow of the River, even our flaws can be of use.  This gives me great comfort as I deal with health issues that drain my energy and interrupt my intentions and activities, and are the impetus for my decision to retire this year.  I remind myself to trust in that same Spirit who has been undergirding my life and my ministry for all these many years.  Trust in the flow of the River.

 

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Into the Beauty

We never know when there might be magic and beauty right around the corner–if we only make a choice to look.  My day started a bit upside down and backwards–I woke before 4 a.m. with sinus pain, and never got back to sleep after I started up a vaporizer.  Finally I turned on the light, and slowly started my day in a rather bedraggled and sluggish way.  After a while, it occurred to me to just let go of the upside down feeling, and enter the day afresh.  I offered a prayer to the Mama to help me step into the flow of the River, let the magic guide me.

So in that spirit, I put on my coat and boots and went out for a walk about 7 a.m.  I went out the back door and walked around the west side of the house along the driveway to the front.  When I turned to go into the street, toward the east, there was suddenly this beauty of a pink and golden sky before me.  It felt like an affirmation of my prayer.   May you also find magic and beauty right around the corner today!
Sunrise surprise

River Swim

River SwimI went into the river this morning!  This little access gem is only ten minutes from my house.

When I lived on Cape Cod, I discovered the possibility of taking a quick dip in the water every morning.  Cliff Pond was a ten minute drive from our house, so I’d drive over, jump in, honor the beautiful water, and I created a ritual to let go of all sorts of worries and troubles and joys and gratitude into its refreshing hold. One year I did this starting in April and continuing through the beginning of November. It was a central spiritual practice for me during that time.

When we moved to Maine 11 years ago, that was no longer possible where we lived in North Yarmouth.  The nearest water was a tidal bay about 20 minutes away. We could only swim there 2 hours before and after high tide.  It was great in its own way, and we loved paying attention to the tides.  But I had to find new morning rituals and new spiritual practices. Sitting in the screen tent.  Walking.

Imagine my surprise, after our move to Portland, when our friend recently told us about this access point for river swimming.  Margy and I went there to swim with her a couple days ago.  Thank you! And today, I got up my courage to go on my own.  Courage because, as a woman, I always carry a little fear about going to solitary natural places on my own.  But then I remembered–this is the River!  I need to take that risk and go into the water.

I have been astonished at the blessings that have been unfolding in our new place, unexpected treasures like the creatures passing through, and now the return of old lost rituals. My heart is full of gratitude and wonder this morning.

Am I in the River?

If my search for greener housing is a worthy intention, then there is no particular outcome that must happen right now.  The energy carries its magic and I will learn from whatever I experience on this path, and it will lead me in the direction of that intention.

Similarly, if my work on the book, Finding Our Way Home, is, at root, a journey into Earth Community, then there is no necessary outcome.  Whether it is published or not, whether it is read or not, on some level it doesn’t matter at all. The intention creates its own magic and the journey will unfold in its own way and time in the direction of Earth Community.

Last week I was reading architect Sarah Susanka’s book, The Not So Big Life, and found these words:

“Every moment brings forth an untold number of alternative possibilities each of which has the potential to give birth to a multitude of life experiences. There is no one way in which things need to unfold… How perfectly the universe provides when we don’t intervene by trying to manage and control the process.”

At that time, we were waiting for news about cost estimates for renovations and building work that would need to happen on a house we’ve been exploring for the last four weeks. Her words helped to calm my heart, and then give me some equanimity when we learned that the work would be more than we could afford.  We had to let go of that particular set of outcomes.  Not without some sadness. It was one of the homes that made our hearts sing. But I remembered that there is no one way that things need to unfold.

There are many moments on both of these journeys when I feel stuck or impatient, worried or disappointed, aching for things to turn out in a particular fashion.  But today, I asked myself the question–Do I trust these intentions?  Do I trust the flow of the River of Life?  I remember the old adage–Don’t try to push the river. Let it carry you. I asked myself, Am I in the River?

And yes, I trust these intentions.  Yes, I trust in the flow of the River of Life. And yes, I know, deep in my being, that I am in the River.

Swan in the River