Side by Side


house wren


The blue birds never came back.  Eventually all the eggs disappeared.  The chickadees vanished as well.  Poof!  No adults, no babies. The cardinal nest was abandoned without eggs.

House wrens moved into the bluebird box.  They made a very messy nest with sticks protruding from the hole in the box.  It’s amazing they can get in and out, but they do.  And quickly. They also scold.  There are four babies in the nest which we hope survive to fledge.  If all goes well that should happen very soon.

We are trying to disturb them as little as possible.

20160719_131618They do not play well with others.  I suspect them of raiding the bluebird nest and perhaps the chickadee nest as well.  I watched them chase off a Carolina wren who was examining the unoccupied chickadee box.  I would prefer the Carolina wren.  Oh well.

We did see some other fledglings. I was hoping for house finches.  Instead we got house sparrows.  They’re a crowded, noisy, pushy bunch when they all descend on the feeder at once. They’re not very pretty or desirable.  See how things are working out for me?

Oh, and can I mention that my husband broke his foot, which is only a small inconvenience and doesn’t have much to do with birds.  Although, come to think of it, he was working on a bird feeder project at the time.

Evidently I do not get a say in these matters.

Meanwhile, it’s the middle of summer.  The garden is lush.  The weeds are thriving as well.  Spring blossoms have faded.  Some of them have 20160719_131112disappeared.  New things are glorious.  The bugs seem to be getting in on the act as well.

I’ve been noticing that life and death exist side by side.  They’re not really opposite.  They’re just different points on the journey.  We only get so much say in the matter.  And it seems that we only get a little say in how it goes between stops.  It can be a very bumpy ride.

This is where I’m tempted to veer off into the state of society and current politics—how the varying, seemingly opposite sides of the issues are really just different parts of a whole.  If one part is broken the other part is too.  How we won’t solve anything as long as we try to divide the whole rather than bringing it together.

I’m going to spare you the details of that rant.  You already know the various parts.  You live your part of the whole.  If you don’t understand what I’m pointing at I’m sure you can find an article or blog somewhere which will be more than happy to explain it to you.  I’m sure you can find a different analysis or point of view as well.

Instead I want to reflect on how I live at my point in the journey.  How am I engaging with the natural course of life and death around me?  How am I engaging with the brokenness?  Am I able to find ways of loving the whole and the particular?

20160719_131436I don’t think I do very well with any of this.  I want to think I know best.  I want to have things “my way.”  The birds are one tiny example of how that works out for me.  Meanwhile, a very big hunk of my life is going my way.

My choice is what I will make of that.  How will I use it?  How will I honor death within life and life within death? How will you?  What do we need to notice to help us?  What practice do we find to fortify and support us?  How can we bring that from isolation into community? Can we do it side by side?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, which only goes to show something about me “knowing best.”  I’m sure that I do have a small portion of wisdom.  It’s only a small portion though. Not big enough for the whole of life or the whole of death.  It’s not big enough for the reality of their unity.

What I hope to do is to watch and learn.  I hope to see where I can fit in, where I can share my heart and where my heart can grow.  It’s not easy.  Perhaps it should be obvious, but it’s not.  It requires patience and faithfulness to my practices and lots of Grace.

I’d really rather just watch the birds.

Visio Divina – The Shape of Things

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“. . .the evidence of God is in the roundness of things.”  –Wally Lamb, I Know This Much Is True

The invitation:  As you go through your day notice the shapes of things around you, both inside and out.  What is the shape of the various areas of your life?


Watching and Waiting

solomon's sealI don’t know what happened.  The blue birds are gone.  There had been five eggs in the nest; now there are three.  What happened to the other two?  One day the male stands proudly on a post overlooking the nest while the female sits.  A day or two later there is no sign of them.  What happened?


I’m tempted to think it is my fault.  Every time we go out the back door we are too near the nests.  We tried to go out as little as possible.  But the dog can’t take care of business out front when there are people around.  Naturally we have a modest, distractible dog.  I have been monitoring the nests, according to nest watch guidelines, of course.  Maybe I scared it away.  I was going in and out frequently when they were building though.  And that doesn’t explain the two missing eggs.


Perhaps a snake got them.  We haven’t seen any snakes, but they are slippery, secretive things.  They don’t come out to say “hi!”  But wouldn’t it iriscome back for the remaining eggs?  Perhaps it will.  If this imaginary snake exists.  Perhaps it was something else.  I don’t know what it would be.


Meanwhile the chickadees go in and out of their nest box at a frightening clip.  They sit in a tree or bush nearby and then dart straight in.  When I’ve tapped on the box (following the nest watch guidelines, of course) I haven’t heard any sounds.  If there are babies they aren’t very loud.


I have to believe there are chicks in there.  Both adults go in and out so often.  Sometimes it looks like they might be carrying something.  When I do go out they get very excited.  Instead of flying away they sit high in the tree and scold.  I’ve heard you can tell how large the danger is by how many “dee’s” are in their warning call.  They think I am extremely dangerous.  They calm down quickly when I go away.  Would they call so loudly if they weren’t protecting something?  I don’t know.  They didn’t before the nest. I have to hope.


I’ve discovered a cardinal nest out front.  I can’t reach it and I won’t find a stool or make a mirror on a pole to try.  I’ve reported the nest.  I’ll watch the bluebelladults.  I’ll watch for fledglings.  That’s all I’ll do.  Perhaps that is all I should have done in the first place.  Do the people who make these guidelines take into account how very frightening I am? I just don’t know.


Things are greening out and blooming all over.  We’ve had a decent amount of rain.  Things are lush.  It is nice today so I am able to sit with the door open.  Children are at school.  The neighborhood is quiet except for the occasional car and a vacuum cleaner down the way.  All is at peace.


Only I with my questions and the darting chickadees have any apparent concerns.


Isn’t that the way with things?  There are times of intensity. If we sit and listen, there are times of peace.  The peace isn’t exactly still.  It has a quality tiny whitesof acceptance though.  I seem to be the only one in any way distressed.  I want it both ways.  I want the peace and I want the answers.  I like to believe that if I sit and wait the answers will show themselves.  Perhaps there are no answers.  And waiting doesn’t come easily.


Nevertheless, I remain, within the peace, asking, watching and waiting.


I know not everyone has the luxury of sitting and watching their back yards.  So what do you folks do with your questions?  How do you watch and wait?  Where do you find peace?  I wonder.20160518_111610


door latch


There are five beautiful, perfect eggs in the blue bird nest now.  It’s exciting!  Just the thought that there might be babies who live to fledge, that I might get to watch them learning to fly is wonderful!


But I’m blocked.  I’m used to getting up and going outside.  While waiting for my coffee I take the dog out onto the deck.  Or we walk around the yard.  We breathe deeply.  The dog breathes many places.  I like to feel the ground under my feet or at least the deck boards.  I like to smell the weather – to get a feel for the day.


Now every time I step out back the blue bird flies off her nest.  This is worrisome for me.  It has been chilly and damp.  I do not want her eggs to get too cold.  I don’t know how long it takes for cold and damp to creep into apekoe 5-16 warm nest enclosed in a box.  Presumably it would take a while.  I’m uncertain.


So, I haven’t been going out that way.  I miss it.  I would have liked to take photos of the emerging changes in the plant life.  I would have enjoyed sitting on the deck and reading on the few balmy days there have been. But no. I won’t.


Several weeks ago “practicing spring” was feeding me.  My soul was joyful and hopeful.  Practicing spring had a locus.  My back yard was a place of retreat and growth.  Now I’m blocked from that practice.


Sure, I can and do go out front.  I don’t relax and linger in my house coat the way I would in the back yard though.  It’s not comfortable to think the neighbors are watching.  I know they are.  There’s concrete evidence.  I don’t much care if they see me, but it’s a different experience than solitary contemplation in a place of peace.


Sure, I can and do explore the neighborhood park and watch the growth and the wild things there.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Yet it requires preparation: 20160503_142756eating first (there’s that low blood sugar thing) and dressing appropriately.  Good shoes are a good idea.  One must already know what the day is like before walking that far.  One can’t be stepping out merely to test the day.  By the time I get to the park I’m not just beginning my day.  The day has already started.


Sure, I can and do watch developments out our lovely French doors.  But being behind glass just isn’t the same.  I can’t feel and smell the life on the other side.


So what do we do when something blocks our practice?  When it just isn’t the same?


It’s time to feel sad—to acknowledge that I miss it.  It’s time to look around for new opportunities.  What new thing is drawing me?  What else does or can touch my soul in an inviting, joyful way—can evoke praise and gratitude without effort? Perhaps such an impulse of joy and gratitude is unsustainable?   I don’t know.


I haven’t found the new thing yet.  I have to keep looking.  That’s the thing right now:  Keep looking.


Nevertheless, the rain keeps raining and the sun keeps shining.  Day and night, springtime and harvest in their season still come and go.  All manner of things will be well, even if they’re different and unsought.


And . . .there is still hope for fledglings.  What a gift that would be!



Practicing Spring


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Blossoms appear in the land. The time of the songbird has arrived. The cooing of the mourning dove is heard in our land.  Song of Songs 2:12 (NOG)

Birds are waking me before four o’clock in the morning these days.  That is 20160419_170734both a happy thing and an annoyance.  Overall I choose gratitude. Especially as I drink my morning coffee while watching those birds chase each other in the mating dance. There are spats between species at the feeders. We see cardinals, house finches, song and chipping sparrows and more.  Of course there are robins searching for their worms. Special favorites, the goldfinches gleam in the sun. A mourning dove sits on the deck rail basking in the sun.


It appears that our attempt at mediating the bird box competition has been successful.  The chickadees go in and out of their box frequently, carrying unidentifiable bits of things in their beaks.  The bluebirds visit the new house.  The cowbirds seem not to appreciate the new feed we put out.  We see them less often.

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During the day the warm temperatures and sunshine lift my spirits.  Flowers are bursting into bloom. Ornamental trees freckle the neighborhood.  A redbud we planted last spring is about to bloom for the first time.  Tulips hold a unique romance for me.  This year they are abundant.


We’re developing a habit of evening walks in the new wetland park at the lower side of the neighborhood.  They’ve put in boardwalks and native trees.  There is a huge ancient oak that the children try to climb. Peepers sing 20160419_112733loudly and then suddenly silence when our steps draw near.


So Spring has finally come!  It will only last a few weeks.  I intend to savor every bit of it.


Sometimes our practices come in seasons. Lent was a season of challenge and waiting.  Easter found me still waiting.  Now sitting in silence, dog at my feet, watching the birds and flowers while drinking in the sunshine has become a spiritual practice for me.  The Creator speaks to me through creation.

Listen!  Do you see it?

Waiting in Trust

20160331_111529_HDR It’s April.  We’ve had a few days of sunshine just to tease us.  Cold and wind have returned.  Those who have planted are covering the tender shoots at night.  Those of us, myself included, continue waiting.


20160328_095029_HDRMarch was difficult for me as I’ve written before.  My kind husband took pity and took me to South Carolina for some genuinely warm temperatures.  Never mind that we didn’t see much of the sun. The temperatures were warm in spite of the rain.  When the sun did come out it was brilliant.  We were able to do bird watching and walk on the beach wearing only light jackets.  Flowers were blooming: azaleas, wisteria and jessamine.

Our dog was along.  She is a timid sort of creature when facing something new.  And she doesn’t like loud noises.  We weren’t sure how she would do with the sight and sound of the 20160328_092742_HDRocean.  She loved it.  She ran and ran until she could run no more.


How delightful to experience a weekend of Spring ahead of time!


Not everyone has the privilege to pack up and get away.  I have never done it before.  I might like to become accustomed to that possibility.  Nevertheless I needed to return to ordinary life.


Temperatures were milder when we arrived home.  We had a few lovely days of balmy weather.  It was wonderful!


However, the weather has changed with unseasonably cold temperatures and high winds.  We’ve had nights below freezing.  I’ve moved my pansies indoors!  As I write this the temperature is 40 degrees F outside with wind chills around 34 degrees.  In April!  What’s up with that?  I had hoped I’d be drinking something cold as I write this. Instead I’m having another cup of hot tea to warm my insides.


I’ve been looking closely though.  There are buds on the Redbud tree and the rose bush I thought might be dying has sprouted out all over.  Dutchmen’s Breeches have put out a few brave blossoms.  Goldfinches are showing themselves.  The Mourning Dove coos as the sun sets.  I’ve seen House Finches and Purple Finches.  I wake to the sound of Cardinal song.  A few Robins have been plucking at the ground.  I trust we’ll see a few more later.


Perhaps the most interesting sight has been the contest between Bluebirds and Chickadees for territory.  We have a bird box which has been up for many years and never used.  Last fall we enlarged the opening.  Chickadees IMG_20160408_185659 (1)discovered it.  I was enjoying watching them go in and out.  Then a pair of Bluebirds arrived.  They are gorgeous, dignified beings as opposed to the Chickadee’s darting style.  The Bluebirds perched atop the clothesline pole and watched.  One approached the box and looked in.  Suddenly there was a flutter of wings and scolding.  A Chickadee dashed at the Bluebird and drove it off.  This has happened several times that I’ve witnessed.  We quickly bought another box and put it up.


The Bluebirds have discovered the new box.  As of yet they haven’t moved in.  The Chickadees continue to use the one they claimed first.  It will be interesting to watch the drama.  I’ve also spotted a Cowbird pair.  The Cowbird lays her egg in a Bluebird nest rather than bother with a nest of her own.  Her chick will be larger and crowd out the Bluebird chicks who will die from a lack of the food the Cowbird chick hogs. The Cowbird and the unseasonable cold remind us that nature is not all romance.  Neither are we.


We need to beware the Cowbirds who want to take over from the tender, more vulnerable babes that wish to grow inside us.  We need to shelter from the cold.  We need to keep our tea hot while we wait.  Perhaps most importantly we need to watch the tender buds as they wait in readiness to burst forth.  It begins ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly.


Where are we finding hope?  Where are we budding?  Are we able to hang on a little bit longer in trust?


Perhaps this is the time to hang in there with our regular practices even though we cannot see the future growth.  Perhaps we don’t see the birds yet.  Perhaps we don’t see the buds.  Perhaps our regular practice doesn’t feel hopeful.  That’s why we have a regular practice.  The practice is in service of the growth, even the growth we can’t yet see.


Hang in there.  Watch closely.  And continue to make your tea and keep up whatever other practice you find meaningful­­– or at least had found meaningful. The days are longer.  Spring is coming.  Growth is happening.  Nurture trust.

Interior Season


I’m finished with Winter.  Seriously, it can be Spring now.  Winter is fine as long as it stays outside of me.  I can enjoy a snow-covered scene.  I can revel in a cozy fire, book and cup of tea.  A tete-a-tete with a friend can be one of the treasures of life.  But I’m done now.


I’m more than ready for the cloud cover and cold to move on.  If I’m not careful the clouds and cold will move inside – into me. I have the feeling that if I’m not careful, Winter may take up residence in my bones.  I fear I may become as dried up as the bare branches of the tree outside my window. Except I’m not showing a hint of bud.


So what does one do?  Life and responsibility call.  It’s not feasible to hibernate until April.  How shall I push through to the sunshine and new growth of Spring?


Just a couple of days ago I was thinking of sinking into my gray feelings and refusing to come out for a long, long time, and woe to the person who tried to interfere with that plan.  And then an idea presented itself as part of the blanket I would wrap myself in. I “rediscovered” music. I remembered an old, favorite CD and put it on. Before I knew it my feelings had turned from dark gray, lightening to a blue and eventually shifted to green.  I became more lighthearted and moved into a place of interior gratitude.  What a transformation!


Such times are when having noticed the things that feed your soul can be a life-saver. Listen to music.  Get a new coloring book. Do something creative.  Visit a public garden or buy a new plant.  Just a visit to the local garden center may be enough.  Go for a walk. Call a friend.  Go out for coffee.  Light a candle.  Pray.  Turn off the news.  It may be time to shift to a new practice or return to an old one that brought light in the past.  It may be time to ask for help.  Whatever it is, engage in something that is life-giving for you.


What lifts your heart?  What helps you make the shift from grumpy retreat to gratitude?


I invite you to notice. What season are you feeling?  What are the gifts of that season?  What are the things or times that pull you into grayness?  What are the things which draw you toward the light?  Bring these things into your awareness, action and prayer.

Practice – A Word for the Year

WordsSo, it’s the end of January. How are you doing with those New Year’s Resolutions?
If you’ve already left them behind or are planning to “forget” them soon, here is an alternative suggestion. Choose a word for the year—a word such as grace, trust, joy, discipline or intention. Watch for how it is at work in your life this year. Notice when it is needed. See when you can be the messenger who brings it. From time to time reflect on the word in your journaling. Use it in your art or meditation.

Less daunting than doing something you’ve never been able to do consistently, it is just a word. But words have power. There is also power in noticing and being intentional. Remembering a simple word for the year doesn’t seem impossible but it could impact your whole year.

How do you choose this word? Has a word been floating around in the back of your mind as you’ve read this? That might be the one. Is there something that keeps coming up recently? Is there something you’ve been wanting to spend more time with? Or is there something that appeals to you? If you just can’t decide, wait a few days. Sit in silence and see what comes up. Pray about it. If you have the question, “Is this my word?” choose it. It’s really up to you to decide what seems inviting. There are no rules. You may change it if something else comes up later which demands your attention.

Now that you have your word, find a way to remember it. Journal. Do some artwork. Post it on your bathroom mirror. Whatever works for you. Consider doing an examen every now and then using the questions: How have I seen __________ at work? When has __________ been absent?

Keep an open heart and mind and see where the Spirit blows. Who knows how __________ may be active in your life this year! Watch to see how this practice serves you on your journey.

With thanks to Jane Bishop Halteman. For more ideas and to learn how she and her friends have used this practice visit her at her blog.


DrinkPicture a child screaming her head off in a corner created by two different size store fronts in a mall.  Now add a circle of family members encircling the child and giving her their full attention.

What do you see?

At one time I would have seen an undisciplined child who was getting absolutely too much attention for her behavior.  I would have wondered why this family didn’t pack up this child, go home and put her to bed.

Now I might think that the child was in terrible distress.  I would notice the noise, harsh lighting, crowds and generally over-stimulating environment.  I might add in hunger and fatigue.  I might imagine embarrassment, frustration and concern on the part of the family.  Additionally, I might offer a prayer for their wisdom, patience and endurance.

What has changed?  The picture is the same but my two interpretations are quite different.  The short answer is that I am the one who has changed.  The simple answer is that I hadn’t had children when I made the first assessment and I had experienced years of parenting in the second.

The deeper answer is that I have grown through my experiences.  Life will do that to you.  It brings us experience which changes us and deepens us.  We can deepen in our conviction that we know best.  In fact my second interpretation could be an example of just that.  Or we can deepen in our compassion and desire to care for others rather than judge them.  To know which is truer I need to examine my response and discern how I have grown and what my desire is for further growth.  It is also possible that neither interpretation is correct and that I am being invited to new insights and further growth.

It’s quite difficult to know what is happening with another person’s experiences without learning to know them and listening carefully to them.

I invite you to take some time to explore a situation where your understanding has changed over the years.  How have you changed and grown?  How do you want to continue growing?  Where might you want to pause to listen more carefully?  Can you see Spirit movement in the changes in you?