on the children in unmarked graves

In the past two months over one thousand unmarked graves have been found at residential schools across Canada. More will most likely be uncovered, discovered.

Children in unmarked graves. 

Residential schools were set up to “educate” First Nations children in Canada. I use quote marks because the goal was to erase Native heritage and culture, replacing it with Canadian/European white culture, which was considered superior. Because white culture isn’t “uncivilized,” “savage,” “pagan.” It’s “civilized,” “refined,” and, most important, “Christian.” The majority of these schools were run by the Catholic Church. One-quarter were run by other Christian denominations. The math: three-quarters of these schools were run by Catholics.

Children in unmarked graves. 

I went to Catholic schools from first grade to graduate school. I received an exceptional education. I was taught to think critically, to ask questions, to embrace my religion while also examining it. I was not stripped of a culture, a heritage, a family, a way of being in the world. In part because I was of the culture that was educating me. I am Catholic, Irish Catholic. I am white, and, despite my gender being considered lesser by some in this church, I am inherently privileged.

Children in unmarked graves.

Our church has sinned greatly. Abuse crisis after abuse crisis crashes over us. The uncovering of varieties of oppression and harm done by members of our clergy, our religious, our laity—it doesn’t seem to end. The weakest, the most vulnerable, the poorest are continually sacrificed at the altar of piety. In the United States (but not only in the States), abuse by priests has been covered up by bishops for decades; and let us not forget that we have our own history of “reeducating” Native Americans. In Ireland, the Magdalene Laundries, run by religious orders, forced women into slavery without pay or education; mass graves have been found at these laundries. In Palestine, schools and neighborhoods have been bombed by Israel, killing hundreds of children. Rather than stand up and say, “This is wrong, it is genocide, and it must stop,” the United States supports Israel wholeheartedly, and critics of Israel’s behavior are admonished. I add the latter to this list of abuses of the church because the majority of Catholics in this country stand solidly with Israel. (Criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestine is not anti-Semitism, lest you be headed in that direction. The relationship and history can seem complex, and yet, killing hundreds of children is not: it is genocide.)

Children in unmarked graves. 

In 2018, the attorney general of Pennsylvania released a grand jury report on abuse by clergy in the state. Pope Francis responded with a letter that attempted to apologize for the abuse. The first part acknowledges the sin. The second part calls for solidarity and communal penance on behalf of that sin. I had issues with this letter in 2018. I still do today. Pope Francis writes, “I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says ‘never again’ to every form of abuse.” Emphasis in original. Yes, it still boils the blood. My conscience is awake: it has been since I first heard the reports of abuse. My penance has nothing to offer in this situation. It is not my penance the victims want or need. Penance is needed from those who abused, those who covered it up, those who created the culture of silence and fear and abuse, those who sinned gravely against the children. So many children. Who became so many adults—that is, if they didn’t succumb to their demons and die by suicide.

Children in unmarked graves. 

The sin of sexual abuse is not mine to atone for. And yet, as I hear the litany of residential schools and unmarked graves being uncovered in Canada, the words that come to mind are “I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.” This isn’t my sin either, and yet, I’m wondering how I’m participating in it. Three years after that grand jury report, ten minutes after rereading the pope’s letter, I am wading through the muck and mire of communal sin versus personal sin. Yes, the priests abused. Yes, the bishops covered it up. Yes, monks and nuns have abused as well. Yes, superiors sheltered abusers, shuffled them out of the way or to a different mission. I did not do this, and my penance on behalf of these abusers feels wrong. It feels like allowing these men and women off the hook: if I atone, they don’t have to. They absolutely have to.

Children in unmarked graves. 

What does penance look like when we keep the victims in mind instead? Churches across Canada are being vandalized and burned. I can’t say I blame those lighting the flames. It saddens me. I understand it. This is a call to attention. It is a lament that demands we hear those crying out against injustice. It’s a way of reminding those of us in the pews that, on some level, we participate in this culture of sin that has been pervasive in our church. No, it is not my sin, but it is ours. As baptized members of this community, this church, this universal gathering of disciples, we all need to be held accountable. I do not know what that looks like. Our church clearly doesn’t either. But here’s the kicker: it’s not up to us. It’s up to the victims. Always. Whether we’re talking about the sexual abuse of children in the United States, the women and children who were victims of the Magdalene Laundries, the Palestinians being bombed, the First Nations families who knew, knew all along, that their children had been disappeared or killed—these are the voices to which we need to listen. 

Children in unmarked graves. 

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (19:14). I cannot be the only one who cringes when I hear such verses now. Little children have come to our church over and over again. And they have been abused, maimed, tortured, killed over and over again. They still are, when you consider the way the church speaks of LGBTQ+ people despite the significant suicide rates among this population. They still are, when you consider the bombing campaign of Palestine this year. They still are, when you consider that there are still instances of abuse that occur at the hands of clergy. They still are, when men who abused or covered up abuse are still in positions of power. What have we done to our children? What are we doing to our children? And how are we talking about it? I quickly glanced at websites for Catholic publications in the United States: very little is being said in the American church. Perhaps we’re over the trauma. Perhaps we’re just tired of hearing how very inadequate our leaders have been and are. Perhaps we just want to move on. But:

Children in unmarked graves.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18:2-3). Often we focus on the snippet here that talks about becoming like children. Priests giving homilies on this gospel tell a cute little story about some silly thing a child they know did. Kids say the darndest things. They’re so innocent and wonderful. Be like that! But perhaps as we navigate healing, reconciliation, lament, grief, and penance as a result of so many abuses, the words that should stick from this passage are “unless you change.” This was told to the disciples, Jesus’s followers, his closest friends. Not to his adversaries, those who were challenging him, his accusers. He told his followers to change, be better, embrace humility. Those of us who call the Catholic Church home would do well to foster change within ourselves. It will not bring back the children from the unmarked graves; it will not erase the abuse. But such change will turn us into people who listen to those crying out. It will open our eyes and hearts to the ways we can amplify the voices of those who mourn. It will force us to join the mourning. Because children in unmarked graves deserve to be mourned.

chocolate impeach-mint cake

Howdy. For Donald Trump’s first impeachment, I made this cake. I decided to mark his second impeachment with a redo. And since folks have asked for the recipe (okay, one folk), I decided to write it up here because this is easier than Facebook.

The basic recipe is the chocolate cake from Mark Bittman’s How to Bake Everything. I’ve tweaked it for mintiness.

Image may contain: dessert and food
I mean, who wouldn’t love a piece of this?


  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 cups flour, sifted!
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Andes creme de menthe baking chips (can be found in chocolate chip section of grocery store)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup milk

Frosting (it’s a Texas sheet cake frosting, for those who care):

  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/4 cup Andes chips
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar (or thereabouts)
  • vanilla, if you’d like
  1. Heat oven to 350. Grease pan(s). I use a 13×9 Pyrex, but this could fill two 9-inch or three 8-inch pans.
  2. Melt the unsweetened chocolate, the Andes chips, and the chocolate chips over low heat. (Bittman says using a double boiler would work too; I’ve never done that for this cake. Just use low heat.) When the chocolate is just about melted (I do it until melted), remove from heat and continue to stir until smooth.
  3. Cream butter and sugar for several minutes. I let it go in my stand mixer and get other ingredients gathered.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Your butter/sugar mix should be nice and “fluffy.” Beat in the egg yolks one at time. (Set the whites aside. We’ll come back to them.) Add the vanilla and then the melted chocolate mixture. Mix well.
  6. Stir the dry ingredients into the chocolate mix a little at a time, alternating with the milk.
  7. Whisk your egg whites that were set aside with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. This is really important. I used to not do this long enough; once I started actually getting them nice and peaky, that made all the difference.
  8. GENTLY FOLD the egg whites into the cake batter. Do this with a spoon by hand, not with a stand mixer or electric mixer. Do not whisk violently or enthusiastically. You just put a lot of air into your eggs; don’t knock it out now! Be nice, loving. Take your time. Think about the people who will enjoy your cake. Think about how you would swaddle a newborn baby and use that same care and attention as you GENTLY FOLD the egg whites into the batter. Do not rush this process. GENTLY FOLD so that you don’t see any egg whites; they are fully but lovingly incorporated into the batter.
  9. Put batter into pans and bake. The sheet cake (13×9) takes about 25 minutes. Check it at 20. If you’re doing 8- or 9-inch layers, they will take about 30 minutes; again, check a little before that. In addition to sticking something into the cake to see if it’s done, listen to it. Yep, put your ear next to the cake and listen. (You’ve watched Bake Off, right? Some of those bakers do this and they’re awesome. And they know things.) If you hear it bubbling away like crazy, it’s not done yet. If you hear some bubbling but not a whole lot, it’s most likely good to go. Listening to cake has become my go-to method of determining doneness, and it actually works really well.
  10. Make your frosting: Combine the milk, butter, cocoa, and Andes chips in a saucepan. (I use a 2-qt. one.) On medium-low heat, stir/whisk until the ingredients are combined, the butter is melted, and everything is smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time. Whisk hard. You don’t want clumps of powdered sugar. Keep adding powdered sugar until the frosting gets to a consistency you like. I prefer mine to be nice and gooey but not liquid. If you let this mixture sit, it’ll form a skin, and the top will crackle. So don’t let it sit in the pan. Once you’ve got the consistency you like, pour it on the cake. If it needs help spreading, use a spatula to help move it around the cake.
  11. Enjoy immensely.

If you don’t want a minty cake, leave out the Andes bits in everything.

tips, round 10

It’s been well over a month since my last collation of tips. And with the election over-is, being counted but over, I figure now’s a good time for an update. Enjoy.

September 28, 2020

Attend to the new life. Grief is something I know well. She is an old friend. We have our issues, but there is something comforting about her as well. I’m not as well acquainted with her counterpart, Birth. Partly because I’ve never been pregnant, never given birth. And yet, it’s important to step into this metaphor. Not because, as a woman, I need to embrace motherhood. No, we all—men, women, and non-binary—have birthing potential. We all participate in creating. Over the years, authors have called me their midwife. I have been part of the process of creation for them; I have shepherded their project from manuscript to book. Bearing witness to this creation process is gift. It has great responsibility. My own writing too is a birthing. It is a coming to be. After the last pose in a yoga class, savasana (corpse pose), the teacher often directs you to roll over to one side and slowly come up to sit. I used to find this silly. Can’t you just go from laying down to sitting? Why do you have to roll over and then sit? It seemed like an unnecessary step. And then I read an article about savasana and how it is an acknowledgment of death—our concrete death that we will someday experience and the little deaths we experience daily. The rolling over, though, is a rebirth. You roll onto your side, in the fetal position, to acknowledge the rebirthing. We are made new every day. As a Christian, I should have gotten this: we don’t stop at the tomb; resurrection happens. I don’t take that rolling over for granted anymore. I don’t skip it because it reminds me to find the new life in myself and in these days. With all the falling apart of 2020, it is essential to see the rebirths too. Or maybe not see them yet but trust that they are coming. As much as we are keeping vigil for what is passing, we are also keeping vigil for what is coming to be.

September 29, 2020

Let’s discuss sins. There’s a billboard in town. It says something along the lines of “If you are okay with being sinful and perpetuating sin, vote for Democrats.” There’s a lot of this moral fear-mongering going on. It happens every election cycle. Republicans say voting for Democrats is sinful; Democrats say Christians who vote Republican are hypocrites. We have bishops sending letters and making public statements about who the faithful should vote for. We have other bishops giving other advice. Some issues are discussed more fervently than others. Some issues are highlighted as more important than all others. (I’m looking at you, abortion.) The “Catholic vote” and “Christian vote” are coveted and/or pandered to. We draw lines in the sand. In John’s gospel, there’s a story about a woman and man who commit adultery. The man scampers away, out of the story, but the crowd brings the woman forward to Jesus. They want to stone her, put her to death. Jesus draws in the dirt. They keep pestering him about her. “Fine, do what you will,” he says. “Whichever one of you hasn’t sinned, go ahead and throw the first stone.” Then he goes back to drawing in the dirt. He’s utterly indifferent. The doodles take up his energy, until finally he looks up and realizes the crowd has left and the woman is watching him. “Where have they gone?” he asks. “They left. No one condemns me.” “Neither do I. Go. Sin no more.” It’s an odd detail, that he was drawing in the dirt. What was he doodling? Why wasn’t he wholly invested in this woman, in her fate? Maybe he needed to consider what the lines in the sand were and why they mattered. Maybe doodling was his way of working through a condemnation that was on his lips. Instead, he let it out through his fingers and then brushed it away so he could release it. Sin is rupture. It is what breaks, shatters, tears asunder. Sin divides community. Before excommunication became a thing to be threatened for political points, it was actually a meaningful way of understanding the effects your sin, your behavior, had on the community. What we do—good or ill—affects those around us. We are persons in community, and if we do something to harm the community, we need to reconcile. Excommunication was the way of reconciling. You were not cast out forever. You were told to sit back for a bit and think about what you’d done. Eventually, after repenting, you’d be welcomed back to the fold. It was a process. We have lost the grace of the process. We have also, as Christians, allowed ourselves to fall into a trap. Partly of our own making. We are being used. Yes, I do think that there are major problems with being a Christian and voting for the Republican ticket, especially right now. I vote Democratic because of my faith and what my religion has taught me about the dignity of human persons. This is a moral stance for me. I am not sinning by voting for Democrats. I think we’d all do better to remove sin language from our voting conversations. But, if it must be there, then let’s consider this: What creates rupture? What’s breaking our community? As we cast our votes, who will repair what has been broken? What services and programs will be put in place to support life—all life—rather than deny it? Can we look at the ways other issues impact the ones we hold most dear? We Christians are not a monolith. We never have been. We do, however, need to attend to our conscience, to the teachings of Christ, and to the intelligence God gave us. If we attend to these things, then we are not sinful, no matter what the bishop or some self-appointed moral busybody says.

September 30, 2020

Work it out. A practical tip for today. Because if you watched the debate, you soaked up some ugly. Even if you didn’t watch it, as we did not, you have probably read about it or seen friends posting about it or it’s somewhere in your awareness. Based on what I’ve read, it was not good. There were moments of grace, perhaps, as when Vice President Biden defended his son and said how very proud he is of him as he manages his addiction. But there’s a sense of heaviness, despair, astonishment, and grief among my friends posting about the debate. And rage. There’s a lot of rage. Those feelings are valid. Don’t dismiss them or think that I am. But at some point today, work it through your system. Take a walk. Drink lots of water. Dance. Shake your body. Yep, like the “Hokey Pokey.” Touch your toes and reach up to the sky. Drink more water. Yell. Just stand in the middle of your living room and let out a guttural, primal scream. Get the ugly out of your body. Get the heaviness and rage through your system. These things stagnate, and we don’t need that right now. Trump wants you to be weighed down by the oppressiveness of his hate. Resist it. See it. Grieve it. Then let it out of you. Because you don’t need to hold his crap. Don’t forget to drink water. And if all else fails, take a wee nap.

October 2, 2020

Think about your intentions. I’m not doing it. I’m not writing about the biggest news today. Because I’ve been reading all about it, and I’m a muddle of thoughts and feelings. So instead I’m going to write about the tip that’s been percolating for a few days. Yesterday was the start of the second thirty-day opportunities for yoga that Clara has offered. She started the challenge with the question of what our intentions are for this month. It’s a question that is often asked by teachers at the beginning of yoga classes, at least the ones I’ve been to. What are you bringing to the mat? What do you need to work on? What are you feeling, and where do you want to be? What’s the point of this time? What do you intend? You set an intention at the beginning of class that becomes a focus point. If your mind wanders, if you get frustrated with the poses, if you lose your balance—come back to your breath and to the intention you set. I find myself setting intentions throughout my day now: as I settle into working, as I write, as I scroll through social media. What is my intention with this time? It either validates what I’m doing or pulls my focus where it should be. Intention sets a tone. The writing and yoga that I’ve done have been integral in creating space for my art, for my being. They have centered me. This is a very self-involved focus. What do I need? What am I thinking? How am I operating? Wellness processes can tend toward that direction: all about me. But as I considered an intention for this month, two things came to mind: (1) What am I able to give to others because I give time to myself? (2) How might petition be a part of intention? The answer to the first remains to be seen. The second question, though, is a helpful reminder to think on behalf of others, consider their needs, see how I can step in or show up. This year of quarantine has me very comfortable with keeping distances. But that’s not always what’s required. At least not mentally or emotionally. So what can I intend for others? How can I use this time of self-inquiry and self-definition to radiate toward being in relationship with others? Can my intentions be bigger than me?

October 5, 2020

Let it be prayer. I have never understood religious superiority. I am Catholic. I love being Catholic. It has shaped me to be the person and thinker I am. But I recognize that my Catholicity is not only a choice but also an accident of my birth. I was born into a Catholic family. I could just as easily have been born into a Lutheran one, or Jewish, or Hindu. Would I recognize the Catholic Church as the one true church if that had been the case? Probably not. It takes a lot of arrogance to say your way of knowing, praising, and being with God is the only way. This way works for me, but I cannot help but notice that this world is big with a lot of people in it. God is also big, and while I think our tradition has experienced revelation, I don’t believe God withholds her revelation from others. I also don’t believe she reveals on a spectrum of “fullness”: we Catholics get the full revelation, but others get tastes, samplings, crumbs. God isn’t stingy like that. Today’s yoga classes were more meditation based. One of them was mantra. Mantra makes me uncomfortable: it involves chanting a phrase 108 times. Clara does a good job of explaining the god or goddess called on in a given mantra. Today’s was Durga, the Hindu warrior goddess. According to Clara, she is the goddess you turn to when you need courage, strength, and discipline. She represents the power of peace over evil. When mantra is involved in a class, I often sit quietly and listen. The repetition is soothing, calming. Even if it makes me uncomfortable, once I acknowledge that discomfort, it settles. My shoulders relax, and I feel the words I’m not even saying do something to my mind and body. It reminds me of monastic chanting of the Psalms. That too settles. The Psalms are full of praise and petition, lament and thanksgiving. They give strength in the midst of fear. They focus attention on God when one is caught up in being human. We like to draw lines between humans: who’s in or out; who does things the right way or who does them the wrong way; who has knowledge or wisdom and who doesn’t. But as I listened to the mantra today, I thought of a woman who carried peace in her womb and gave birth to God in the flesh to conquer evil. Lines blur. Matthew Fox notes that there is one River and many wells: one God and many ways to that God. One reason I love yoga is that it is showing me to another well. This too is prayer: it is sitting in the silence or amid the chants and letting God be big, overwhelming, abundant. I do not want a small God. No, I want a God who is so astoundingly creative that she has given us many ways to reach her.

October 6, 2020

Yes, we have been slapped in the face. Last week, Donald Trump was diagnosed with covid. The announcements of positive covid tests among Trump’s advisers and inner circle came swiftly. They’re still coming. I have been swept up in the news. I watched the Guardian’s live feed all weekend, seeing who was diagnosed when, what treatments they were getting, what new norms were being totally upended yet again. To my knowledge, during my lifetime, there hasn’t been so much uncertainty about the president’s health, the line of succession, and where we might go from here. It was strange. It’s still strange. There has been a lot of speculation about whether Trump is actually sick, when he fell ill, how sick he might be, if this is a stunt, what the treatments his doctors say he’s getting do, and what the treatments say about the severity of his illness. We have been trained to be distrustful of this administration. We don’t know who among his advisers or doctors are giving us facts. It’s all muddled. It’s not a pleasant place to be. And it has me thinking about the role of trust in government. A healthy amount of skepticism isn’t a bad thing when it comes to government. As citizens, we need to keep our eyes on what’s happening, be aware, be engaged, hold accountable. We do this by voting, calling representatives, working for legislation, running for office, or campaigning for issues we care deeply about. But when the whole foundation of an administration is deception, as Trump’s is, that makes it exhausting to constantly be searching and fighting for what’s true. Our next round of leaders will have a lot of cleaning up to do, a lot of rebuilding. They will have to earn our trust again. But we also have to learn how to turn off the high-alert buttons in our brains. Maybe not off but down. Trump has earned this skepticism; he has created the situation where it thrives. But I am very ready to stop second guessing anything that comes from the White House. Yesterday Trump tweeted that he was going to be released from the hospital. Good for him. I did not, at any point, wish his death. I want this nightmare to be over, but if I claim to be pro-life, which I do, then I can’t let myself wish death on these scumbags. I recognize that he’s caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people; he has perpetuated suffering and trauma on untold numbers of people; he has fostered a culture of death in America. He is not a good man. Still, I can’t condemn him to death. What I can do is recognize the complete injustice, the total slap in the face that he is. As he tries to take away health care from millions of people, he received cutting-edge care. As he was treated for a disease that he has called a hoax while knowing it was deadly, thousands of people have died of that same disease. As he tweets, “Don’t be afraid of covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” people with preexisting conditions are living with the reality that this disease could kill them. While he was preemptively (at least that’s what the White House reported) admitted to the hospital, there are people who cannot get tested or receive proper care. The hypocrisy of it boils the blood. So yes, if you responded with disgust, if you have tried to untangle reports full of deception and confusion, if your stomach turns at the thought of the care he has received while others have languished in pain, fear, and uncertainty—that makes sense. We have been slapped in the face. We get to be angry about that.

October 7, 2020

It’s okay if you’re not into “unity” talk right now. I know I should be uniting. I know we’re all in this together. I know division serves no one except forces of chaos. But I’m not ready yet. I don’t know how to unite with people who still think kids should be in cages. I don’t know how to unite with people who still believe covid is a hoax, despite more than one million people dead and 35.5 million cases worldwide. And yes, I’m quoting global statistics because these people I’m supposed to unite with think America stands alone as the greatest nation on earth. We don’t and we aren’t. I don’t know how to unite with people who are okay with putting all of their beliefs aside for a single issue that is proven to be reduced in Democratic administrations. Yes, I’m talking about abortion. I don’t know how to unite with people who profess belief in the same God, the same Christ, the same Spirit I do and think their right to own a gun is compatible with this belief. I don’t know how to unite with people who claim to stand for “family values” and denigrate LGBTQ individuals while supporting a man who has displayed no values. I don’t know how to unite with people who claim “all lives matter” while not understanding how pointless that statement is when Black men, women, and children are being killed routinely. I’m not ready for unity. A few weeks ago my husband and I had a discussion about God and forgiveness and heaven and hell. Acknowledging that talk of the afterlife is completely speculative, I do believe there is a heaven. And I do believe in a God who is all-forgiving. If that’s the case, I don’t know how I can believe in a hell and damnation. Yes, even for the worst of the worst. This gets into sticky situations when we talk about people like Hitler and Dahmer and whatever evil person you want to mention. I believe in a God who forgives. And I believe in our wanting to be forgiven. That last part is essential. I do think that if a person turns to God, acknowledges guilt and sin, and repents, then forgiveness is offered. If not, what hope is there when we fail? I wrestle with this. I don’t want to share heaven with those who were evil in their lives. I am not the one who gets to decide that, though. But this post isn’t about the afterlife. It’s not about God’s forgiveness. It’s about mine. I’m not ready to talk about unity because I’m not ready to forgive people for what has happened over these four years. Donald Trump may be the figurehead, but he has unleashed a remarkable amount of ugliness in us. Those who still support him do so while knowing full well who he is and what he does. There is no deniability. When you know, you do better, but about a third of the US population is not doing better; they’re doubling down. I’m not ready to unite with them. Talk of unity tastes sour and bitter. I don’t know what it will take for me to forgive. Even if Biden wins the election, some of these folks will still believe children deserve to be caged. Unity won’t fix it.

October 12, 2020

Observe how you feel. We’re moving right along in 2020. It’s October, the middle of October. The Year of Upending is winding down. We are amazed by, astounded by, afraid of where we’ve been so far this year. We’re apprehensive about, uncertain of, nervous about what’s yet to come. I am so ready to be done with November 3. Get it here, pray good things happen, move forward. I am braced for impact. And no, I’m not even sure what the impact will be. But I’m braced. Yoga invites pauses. If you’ve never done yoga before, you might think it’s just a bunch of stretching, and how challenging is that, really? But it’s hard work. There’s balancing, bending, flowing, twisting, and, yes, stretching. Not to mention the emotions and thoughts that get moved around in yoga. There’s a lot happening as you move into and hold poses. What happens when you stretch something on the right side isn’t the same as what happens when you stretch that same thing on the left. Sometimes yoga instructors ask you to do a pose or sequence of poses and then “observe the difference.” Sit in a neutral position and see, now that you’ve twisted to the right, how does your body feel? What’s more open on the right side? What’s not? Okay, now we can twist to the left. We don’t stop very often to observe how we feel in our days. We move from one thing to another. It makes sense. Pausing to see how you feel in body, mind, and spirit takes time. We don’t always have time. But maybe today, as we move toward the end of this year that has changed so much in us, take time to observe how you feel. While you stir the soup of dinner, while you change the laundry, as you decide what to watch on television. Pause for a second. Observe what’s going on in your head and heart. Observe the differences. There are probably a few.

October 13, 2020

Find the holy place. I have long been fascinated by and interested in Native American tribes and cultures. In fifth grade, we studied tribes and their history in Mrs. Boos social studies class. I still remember a few things from the report I did on the Hopi. In high school, one of my teachers was close to the Lakota people at Pine Ridge Reservation. When I was in college, I went with her, along with another former student, to visit the reservation and some holy places. It was a trip that is still unfolding in me. In college, I took a class on Native American spirituality. That’s where I encountered Black Elk Speaks. It’s where I learned that Native Americans talk about the effects of actions seven generations down the line. What we experience now was effected by our ancestors; what will be experienced in the future will be effected by us. We are connected through time to those who have died and those who will be. We are never a separate generation, alone and disconnected. I have come to know a few atheists and agnostics, people who were not raised in a religion or who have turned away from it. They reject the hypocrisy and institutionalization of it, or religion has never made sense to them. They believe we are simply here and that there is no greater being involved; if a greater being is involved, it is not confined by religion and buildings. I understand the inclination to think this way, but it’s not something I’ll ever accept. I believe in God; that I believe to my core, despite the disagreements and issues I might have with her some days. I am amazed by the ways that other cultures embrace and articulate a belief in a being beyond the self. To me, that speaks of the universality of our creation. We all have our myths of how we arrived here. We all need to be created. Humans—no matter where they come from—need to make sense of their being. Often that involves divinity. In the postscript of Black Elk Speaks, the author recounts a trip to Harney Peak with Black Elk, where Black Elk prays: “Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you—the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of things.” Read that again: “The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy.” We are on a road of difficulty this year. I know of many people who are struggling with more than just covid, isolation, financial insecurity, and racism (as if that weren’t enough). This year has, for many, piled trauma on top of trauma. It is hard to see this as holy. And I don’t want to gloss over the pain and difficulty. Rather, I want to invite consideration of where the crossing of difficulty and goodness might be. This place of struggle, this place of despair, this place of upheaval—where does it cross with a place of goodness, a place of care, a place of restoration? That’s the holy spot. That’s where the Great Spirit is leading us.

October 14, 2020

Ponder restoration. I’m tired. I’ve been sleeping fine, but I’m tired. Cully has been waking me up at five to get on the bed. She doesn’t just jump on the bed like a normal dog. That would be crazy. No, she puts her front paws up and waits for one of us to get out of bed and help her up. And we do it. Because we’re suckers. But then I have to resettle into bed, and I lose half my sleeping space, and my alarm will go off in an hour, and the sheets get all caught under her, and what kind of monster would I be if I moved her? So then I stay awake for a bit pondering being a monster and planting daffodils and weird dreams and where the closest blanket might be. (I can assure you, tonight, the closest blanket will be at the foot of the bed.) I also ponder how much I love her little nose pushed under my arm and the way she curls into my side and the softness of her ears, so it’s not all bad. It’s cloudy and cool and drizzly today. So as happy as I am for fall, the fogginess of the morning is stretching on. I find that days like this require a lot of restoration. A slower yoga class, more patience with my writing, gentle music while I work, more cups of tea throughout the day, possibly working on the couch instead of in my office. There is a temptation to beat ourselves up when we think we need to slow it down. Slowness betrays weakness, and we can’t be weak! We have to be strong! We have to power through, lean in, grin and bear it! Sometimes that’s certainly the answer. But I don’t think it is this year. I think this year is teaching us the importance of backing off, slowing down, restoring. It’s showing us how to listen to ourselves and what our bodies and minds need and want. It’s requiring different movements and gentler ways of being. It’s making us believe in the “slow work of God,” if we’re so inclined. Today I’ve decided a concrete reminder of this slow work, this gentling, this restoring is necessary so I’m making bread. The sponge is bubbling away; in a couple of hours I will knead it and let it rest to rise. It becomes something new in the resting. So do we.

October 15, 2020

Acknowledge the little braveries. We have mice. It happens. The weather turns cooler, and the mice look for a nice, warm home with food. Despite our dogs and cat, apparently we are hospitable hosts. I do not like mice. They scare me. I think they are disease-ridden filth monsters waiting to somehow attack me. They scurry and are unpredictable. And I also don’t like that they get killed by my cat or by traps. They’re cute and furry. I don’t like killing things, and the fact that I live with a creature made of claws and teeth that turns into all-instinct when mouse season arrives is disconcerting. We know pretty quickly when we have a mouse because Scout suddenly hangs out in the kitchen a lot. There’s a cabinet they like, and it happens to be where I keep my baking tools: measuring cups and spoons, whisks, piping bag. Until last year, I had these things just out loose in the drawer like a normal person. But then we’d get mice and I’d have to bleach all the things. So I finally got wise and put them in a container that I can disinfect easily. But I still have to open the drawer where mice have been. Where mice could still be. Waiting to get me. Last week I needed to make a cake. (Yes, needed.) So I finally screwed up my courage and opened the drawer, got out the boxes, disinfected all the things. And felt like a brave badass Wonder Woman for doing this little thing that had absolutely no real danger attached to it. Anxiety likes you afraid; it thrives in paralyzing you. Over the years, I’ve learned to celebrate the little braveries, the ones that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Because these little braveries lead to big ones. It’s like using a courage muscle, an anti-anxiety muscle. These need exercising, and sometimes the silly little things that get in our way need to get out of our way so we can move forward to other, bigger braveries. Like learning how to use a double boiler for Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.

October 19, 2020

Now the rubber hits the road. The last couple of weeks have been strange. I’ve been blah. Not anxious or depressed, but meh. This is the first day in I don’t know how long that I haven’t napped. This is acedia, which I wrote about several weeks (months?) ago. I am adrift. I’ve been craving fall and winter. If we can’t go anywhere or really see anyone, let’s have the weather that inspires coziness and isolation. But now that the weather has followed my line of thinking, I find myself staring down months of home and even more limited interactions with people. I’ve gotten used to in-person book clubs and my weekly cocktail hour with a good friend, outdoor gatherings around a fire and visiting with neighbors over the fence. Poof. Tomorrow it will snow several inches; meteorologists are predicting colder than average temperatures for the next couple of weeks. I’ll see you all next April. Except this is where it matters. This is where the resilience and self-care get put to the test. Yes, curling up in a ball and hibernating for a few months sounds great. But only sort of; it also sounds like giving up. Now it’s even more important to get up and do the writing, do the yoga, do the work. This is when eating good food and drinking lots of water refreshes and refuels. The living room dance parties and playing with puppies or kids aren’t optional; they’re warming and centering. Diving in to the hobbies keep us engaged and learning. These are important as we deal with the chronic stress of living this year. We have some heavy months still ahead of us. We might have hoped or thought this would be over by now. It isn’t. You may think the rubber has been hitting the road all year long, and it has. But we don’t get to let up now. We keep digging deep, we keep doing the good things that keep us healthy, we rest when it’s necessary, and we keep our hopes on hugs to be given in the future.

October 21, 2020

Make room for grief. My grandma has MS. There have been ups and downs through her life with MS, and this year the trend of ups and downs continues. This is how chronic diseases work. But in this year of shifting ground, I’m considering what her life has been and the ways in which we prepare for or make room for grieving. All of us, in one way or another, are confronting a variety of grievings this year. We are flailing and steadying constantly. Grief is here. Grandma’s MS is an odd way for our family to experience grief. My uncle Kevin drowned. My dad died three weeks after his diagnosis of colon cancer. Uncles Shaun and Ryan died by suicide. These are deaths that don’t give you much time to think about what’s coming. Because what’s coming has already arrived, and you are faced with reality. There are still elements of denial, but the knowledge of death is immediate even if it is unbelievable. But with Grandma, the process is prolonged. She has, over the years, gone from driving to not driving, walking to wheelchair, quilting to not quilting. The losses are visible and gradual. I find myself making room for Grief when I consider my grandma and her health. Rather than rushing in and upending everything in the house, Grief is visiting me as a well-behaved houseguest, sitting with me, offering a blanket, a shoulder to lean on. She’s gentle. Somehow, at this point, I have befriended her. I’m sure that won’t always be the case. But she is an old friend, a wise friend, who has more to teach me. And what she seems to be teaching me now is that we create some space for what will be hard. Not to wallow in it or become preoccupied with it, but to, if possible, let peace be present in the process too. I have started a new quilt; it is an homage to my grandma. I have been wrapping myself in the quilts she made me with more tenderness and care, running my fingers over stitches she made. I have been thinking about her laugh, her relationship with my grandpa, which has taught me so much about how to be in relationship with Patrick. I have seen her hands in my hands as I work on a quilt for my mom. I am attentive. Grief has walked in the door, and I’m letting her, subtly and quietly, be present. I know she’s here. I know that she is preparing me for someday down the road. I make a pot of tea and see what she has to unfold in the meantime.

October 22, 2020

Wobble. I think I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. This week at Thornphy Manor has been strange, out of balance, stressful. It’s manageable and getting better, but yesterday I was pretty overwhelmed with all the things. I didn’t work well. I didn’t feel well. I didn’t move much. I didn’t do anything to reign in my thoughts. It was the culmination of several days of crud building. When I wake up and do my morning writing, it often happens that I write about what my day will look like: bake bread, work, yoga, plans, laundry, food. I proclaim that it’s going to be a good day. This week, I’ve been doing that, and about three minutes after the writing is done, the day goes to pieces. So today I gave up on that. I decided to focus on the moment, like a good little enlightened millennial. It’s been working. I have felt myself rebalancing each time I pull myself back to the present. In today’s yoga class, we had to do one-legged chair, with the ankle of our other leg resting on the knee of the standing leg. Then add a moving meditation with the arms. It was challenging. And I could hear Clara’s laughter as she gave the cues. And at one point I looked at the screen, which I don’t do very often, and saw her wobbling and smiling. It made me grin. Wobbles happen. We build strength in the balancing act. Yes, I’m ready to be sleeping really well, feeling energized, and preparing for a hibernating winter. I thought I was doing those things. Turns out I had to wobble a bit. I didn’t realize how much my thoughts have been racing or projecting forward until I slowed it down today, reeled it in, recentered. I know I keep harping on this, but we have to work harder than usual on our mental health these days. And while the wobbles might feel unnerving, they’re doing hard work of creating mental and emotional muscle memory as we proceed through this year. I might get just as frustrated and worn down next time I start to wobble, but maybe I’ll remember to smile, tap my toe on the ground, and rebalance into this challenging place.

October 26, 2020

Keep leaning toward hope. It’s hard today. I know. We have another Supreme Court justice who doesn’t deserve to be on the bench. The hypocrisy is astounding. The threats to law are frightening. The damage this court can now do is unnerving. This is one more assault on the norms of our democracy. One more, after almost five long years of constant disruption, distortion, and disturbance. We are so tired of this. We should be tired of this. But do not lay down in this despair and refuse to get up. One week. We have one week to go until the election. I am hopeful. I am encouraged and amazed by the lines of people voting. I am watching the numbers of ballots already cast, and I’m inspired. People are turning out in droves. No, we don’t know what that means exactly. Not yet. But I am hopeful. I wanted to maintain a healthy cynicism or skepticism this election. We got so burned last time. It hurt. I wanted to protect myself. But day by day, I feel hope growing again. It’s how I know that Trump hasn’t stolen my humanity. It’s how I know, despite the years of kids in cages, rampant disease, disrespect and dismissal toward anyone who isn’t white or male or him, utter chaos and inability to govern, profiting off of his office, total disregard for established norms and laws—despite all of this, I still have a heart. I still have joy and grief, excitement and frustration, anticipation and apprehension. I have not been dehumanized by this administration. I remain hopeful that we can and will do better. Fingers crossed. We still have hard days ahead of us. We are not through this. We have to keep getting the work done, whether it’s volunteering for campaigns, donating, putting up signs, reminding people to vote, voting ourselves. Most important, we have to stay human, stay hopeful. Let out your rage. Acknowledge that this theft of a Supreme Court seat is not acceptable. But know that this isn’t over yet. Lean toward hope. You might just fall into it and splash some of that hopefulness on others.

October 27, 2020

Engage your belief. We need to talk about what it means to be voters who are people of faith. This is part 1 of a three-part series on that topic. As most of you know, I am Catholic. My hope, though, is that these reflections can touch on whatever your faith might be. (I know I have friends who used to practice a faith or who never have, who are agnostics and atheists. I do not deny your ability to be moral and good people; obviously, which is why we are friends. Maybe, though, these posts can shed light on what participating in democracy and believing in God can look like.) Religion is a powerful force in American discourse. We esteem it and denigrate it. We talk about separation of church and state, but then we argue about prayer in schools or legislating morality. Churches have tax-exempt status, but every four years (at least) they dip their toes in the pool of politics. The waters of religion and governance are muddied. This should not come as a surprise. Religion is not a thing that one takes on and off. It is a thing that forms who one is. At worst, this is a type of brainwashing. At best, it is formation of conscience and identity within a community that recognizes God as the source of all life. I think and vote and write and relate because of who I am as a Catholic. It is bone deep, in my sinews and cells. I can’t separate that part of me from other parts. But not everyone shares my religion; nor should they. Additionally, faith is not an excuse for thinking uncritically. It is not a crutch. It does not provide a way out when considering difficult decisions. As humans in the twenty-first century, we have a lot of questions without ready answers; we are wrestling with much ambiguity. The ground has shifted under our feet in many ways. We have a variety of ways to deal with this as religious voters. One way is to find one thing, one issue, and zero in on it. This is all that matters, and it’s what we base our votes on. This is how we get single-issue voters. Another way is to throw our hands in the air, claim it’s all corrupt, and hold our noses to vote. We claim that we’re choosing “the lesser of two evils.” This is how we get voters who don’t actually engage the issues or learn about them; it’s how we get religious people who don’t vote at all. But there’s another way: to embrace the age-old concept of faith and reason, to exercise critical thinking skills with our conscience. This is a way of engaging the issues that matter deeply to the world and to us, to listen with the “ear of our heart” to what those around us need and see how we can meet that need. It places us squarely within the human community, not above or outside of it. The first two options create a really messy anthropology: My one issue is more important than any other issue that anyone else might have in this country or in the world; I can’t think outside my own priorities to embrace someone else’s concerns. Or: The world is corrupt, evil, and bad; my vote is a participation in that evil, but I’ll try to mitigate it as best I can by choosing what’s less evil. In a world that was created and named “good” by God; as a person who believes in a Savior who healed the sick, spoke of freedom from bondage, fed the hungry, and constantly turned attention to the poor and needy; as a believer anointed with oil to signify being sealed by the Spirit of joy, play, creativity, and wonder—how sad that the best some people of faith can do is limit their vision or look with disdain on processes of governance and the needs of their neighbors. We are called to think bigger, more faithfully, more creatively, more compassionately. Voting is a responsibility. It is not a burden. It’s another way we lovingly stoop to wash the feet of those around us.

October 28, 2020

Be a discerner. I love West Wing. It’s probably my favorite show. I love the characters and the storylines. I love the humor and the writing. I love the explanations of how government works and the hopeful view of citizenship and public service. But one of the things I love most is the way it shows a Catholic president and faithful civil workers. It’s not a main theme, but you get glimpses of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the episode titled “Take This Sabbath Day.” In the episode, the Supreme Court refuses to grant a stay of execution to a man on death row. He’s been convicted of murdering two people. One of the defense attorneys contacts one of the president’s senior staff, Sam. The goal is to get President Bartlett to bypass the Supreme Court and grant the stay. As a Catholic person, President Bartlett is against the death penalty; throughout the episode, he wrestles with the decision he has to make. But as president, he knows he has to uphold the law. Bypassing the Supreme Court could create precedent that would wreak havoc on the balance of powers. It is an episode that shows the sharp distinction between person and office. Bartlett decides not to grant the stay. A priest friend is visiting with him when he gets the news that the man has been executed. After a minute, the priest asks if Bartlett wants to make his confession. It is a powerful, sobering, grave scene. When Patrick and I watched this episode together for the first time, he was very troubled by Bartlett’s faith playing any part in his decision making. He still is. But I see it as a thin line he has to walk, and it highlights what I wrote about yesterday: religion isn’t something you take on and off; it can be the basis of who a person is and how they act. Our political leaders who are people of faith have to figure out how to walk this line. We have a very stark example of this in the differences between Joe Biden and Amy Coney Barrett. Both are Catholic. Both have been labeled not Catholic enough or the wrong kind of Catholic; I refuse to enter conversations along these lines. Catholicism (most religions, generally) is a big tent. We share the same baptism, and slinging mud at each other’s Catholicity is fruitless. We can have different opinions on doctrine or dogma, different ecclesiologies or anthropologies, even different Christologies or pneumatologies. But we have been washed in the waters of baptism and anointed with oil in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We are Catholic. Nevertheless, when it comes to being a voter who is looking at candidates, then I think we have to consider discernment. Our own and that displayed by candidates. (Yes, I know Barrett isn’t in an electable position, but she’s the most prominent Catholic foil at this point.) How do they make the decisions that affect people? How do they think things through? Who guides them? Where do they seek advice? President Bartlett shows discernment throughout the episode on the death penalty. He talks, he ponders, he prays. He is very obviously torn; he searches for advice and wisdom. Discernment is an intentional and critical approach to what must be decided. Slow, thoughtful, prayerful deciding. Gathering information, sifting through it, listening for where God is calling one to be. Listening to where peace is in the process. Not ease. Not denial. Not a lack of resistance. Peace. Being a voter of faith means that we go through this discernment process and watch for candidates who embody discernment themselves, regardless of whether they practice a faith. Being a discerning person means we’re willing to wrestle with options, play out scenarios, challenge and be challenged. The peace comes, not in perfection, but in knowing you’re on the right track. It comes when there’s still work to be done, still improvement to be made, but you also know that you are ready and willing and capable to face that work. It comes when that still, small voice whispers and tells you you’re on to something.

October 30, 2020

Voting for life is messy. I tried writing this tip yesterday, but it didn’t work. I was too defensive, too guarded. This is a topic I feel, in many ways, unqualified to write about. I would much rather stay out of it. But life issues matter greatly, and refusing to talk about it, refusing to examine how we as voters consider life, does a disservice to ourselves, our faith, our world. (Throughout this reflection, I use the term “anti-abortion” for those who are against abortion. I refuse to use “pro-life” for such voters because, for this segment, they often are concerned with one facet of life, and that is abortion. Please note, however, that pro-choice people are not “pro-abortion”; they think it should be legal and accessible, but they aren’t advocating abortion for all the women all the time; to think they are is ridiculous.) For a lot of Catholic and Christian voters, abortion is the issue. Everything else falls away, and they make a decision on what circle to fill in based on what a candidate says they’ll do about a court case that legalized abortion. I have never understood this. When you consider the many and varied ways that life is or can be diminished for the already born, how is it even possible to elevate abortion to the highest of issues? I get that protecting the unborn is a good thing. But what is it we want them born into? I have seen too many people advocate for babies to be born while in the same breath supporting a defunding of education or restricted access to health care. They want babies to be born but have no problem with the abundance of guns in our country. They want babies to be born but think capital punishment is acceptable. They want babies to be born but don’t care that the water supplies in our nation are increasingly unhealthy. They want babies to be born but deny that the climate these babies will inherit could be unlivable. They want babies to be born but do not understand that Black, Brown, and Native babies grow up in a radically different world from white babies. They want babies to be born but they sure better be straight. They want babies to be born but support economic policies that continue to hold back, discriminate against, and harm the poor. They want babies to be born but don’t foster life in any other way. Life is more than babies being born. We are so stuck on the legality of abortion that we are missing creative, intelligent, and compassionate ways to make it less prevalent. Abortion will not disappear because it’s made illegal. This is why I support legal abortion. I want it to be safe for women. Women who cannot, for whatever reason, carry a baby to term need to be able to make decisions for themselves and for their families without being taken advantage of, traumatized, or judged. When we talk about making abortion illegal, we ignore the possibility of desperation and we ignore the invitation to be caregivers. We ignore the call to be prophets of love in an untidy world. Over and over again, statistics have proven that abortion rates decline when government services are stronger, when social safety networks are robust, when education and health care are funded. This happens in Democratic administrations, not Republican ones. I understand that many anti-abortion voters have problems with voting for Democrats because they want to keep abortion legal, but closing your eyes to reality that it will exist anyway does not help. Republicans have an easy talking point with abortion. They’ve had almost fifty years to make good on the promise to overturn Roe v. Wade, to make abortion illegal. Maybe they don’t want to because (a) they know it won’t work and (b) they need the votes of a dangled carrot. Why, then, are Catholic voters so easily duped on this issue? I suspect a couple of things are happening. It’s easy to be an anti-abortion voter. You have one thing to consider. You don’t have to weigh pros and cons of other issues. You don’t have to read platforms or policies. You don’t have to dig deeper. We’ve all got a lot going on. What can it really matter? Except it does. A lot. Our world isn’t simple, and our voting discernment shouldn’t be either. I think it’s also easy to protect the innocent. The unborn aren’t making mistakes; they aren’t living and breathing like the rest of us. They don’t annoy or frustrate. They don’t complain or have thoughts on how precisely they want to receive your care and concern. Voting for the unborn feels virtuous because we don’t have to confront the real, pressing, troubling issues facing our world. People are messy. We do all sorts of things—good and bad, marvelous and infuriating. Voting on behalf of people is hard because you have to empathize. But this is precisely what being a pro-life voter is. It’s seeing our brokenness and redemption. It’s acknowledging how we are fallen and graced. Being a pro-life voter means looking at the massive, tangled, amorphous mess of issues that make us human and finding hope in the midst of it. Being a pro-life voter is looking at all the ways life is devalued—guns, poverty, war, violence, lack of education, climate crisis, deregulation, unfettered capitalism—and taking a prophetic stance for values that foster life instead: education, racial justice, access to clean water and healthy food, environmental care, regulation of business, quality health care, human rights, especially for women and LGBTQ persons. For people of faith, we cannot limit our participation in the many ways that life is and can be cultivated. We believe in a God who continues to work, who didn’t merely create this world and then leave it be. As such, we cannot be voters who concern ourselves with bringing babies to birth only to let them trudge through their infancies and childhoods and adulthoods without proper resources and care. No, we must be continuous cocreators with God—seeing the world that is and imagining the ways in can be more. This is how we be faith-filled voters.

November 2, 2020

Steady on. I’m stealing that phrase from Dan Rather, who uses it a lot in his posts. I need it right now. The ups and downs of the past few days have surprised me. I feel incredibly hopeful, and then the next moment I’m awash in doubts and fears. I think about how great it’s going to feel to vote for Biden and Harris; I imagine what it’s going to feel like when Biden is declared the winner; I wonder what breathing will feel like when I’m not subconsciously braced for the next thing Trump will do. But then I remember that there’s a lot of chaos planned: from declaring early victory to legal battles to whatever crazy plan Trump and his enablers concoct to sow chaos. We won’t be out of the woods if Biden wins—even if he wins in a landslide. We have long days and nights ahead of us. Steady on. I’m thinking of two things to keep the steadiness. The first is breath. I’ve written a lot over these months about breathing and how important it is, how it has been denied, how it brings us back to ourselves. I’m keeping this front and center today. In yoga you attend to your breath to build heat or cool down. You breathe into difficult poses, tight spots, tense moments. Clara has added some mini tutorials to her site, and one of them is on a type of breathing called ujjaiy breath. I’m learning to understand it. In her video, she talks about the solar and lunar aspects of breathing. The inhale is solar: it is warming, energizing. Notice your heart rate as you breathe in; it rises. The exhale is lunar: it’s cooling, calming. Again, notice your heart rate when you let out a long exhale; it slows. We hold the sun and moon within us when we breathe. This push and pull, this up and down, this hopefulness and doubtfulness—they are solar and lunar. The key is to hold them in balance. Steady on. The second thing I’m holding on to today is the feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls’ Day. Today we remember those who have died, that cloud of witnesses. We Murphys talk a lot about “all our dead people.” This weekend I was reading the latest issue of the London Review of Books. There’s an article on TS Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale, which were recently unsealed. In the article, the author references something Eliot wrote about his dead people: “Sometimes one is just oneself, but for the most part one is being hustled about by one or another of a crowd of shadows.” I get that. Today, as I try to cultivate steadiness, it helps to remember what this crowd of shadows has endured. What they lived through, saw, did. We are not the first ones to live through extraordinary times; we will not be the last. This moment reaches backward to that cloud, to those witnesses, to those saints and sinners—to those humans—who walked before us and among us. It reaches forward to the crowd who is yet to be, those who will live long after we have. It is humbling to place yourself in the midst of this communion of saints, to acknowledge that you are one among many witnessing to a time and place. So, today, take deep breaths, recall those who have died, remember that we are not alone in our uncertainty. Be hopeful, acknowledge the doubt, and try to find the middle way. The steady way.

November 3, 2020

Practice Advent. We are in a not-knowing time. I used to struggle a lot with unknowns. When I was in college, I wanted all the answers. I wanted to know what my path would be, what career I’d choose, what all the things would look like. I hated the not knowing. I wanted the knowing so badly. I’ve mellowed a little since then. Maybe. Anxiety is a result of struggling with the unknown. You want what’s predictable, stable, safe. But I think one of the gifts grief has given me is an acceptance of what’s not known and more of a willingness to sit in the muddle. It’s not always easy, but I’m slightly more patient with it now. Slightly. The church builds a not-knowing time into the liturgical year. Advent is the time we wait, we prepare, we anticipate. It’s a time of gestation and wonder. New things come to be in the waiting. It is rich soil. Today feels pregnant with possibility. And heartbreak. We don’t know. We want to know. We have to sit here a while longer, let it be unknown, confusing, anxiety-producing. We have to put our self-care tools to work: deep breathing, meditation, movement, healthy food, much water, good music, connecting with friends and family. Today is strange: it’s the one we’ve been waiting for and yet there’s still so much that’s uncertain. So much that will remain uncertain for a while longer. We wait. We let this not-knowing time do some work on us, even if we’re oh-so-done with it. It’s not done with us. Sit here today in the hope of what can be, in the fear of what may be, in the uncertainty of what will be. Sit here with the unknown and let it be hard—because it is. But know too that there will come a time of knowing. And then we move forward. In hope. Always in hope.

November 4, 2020

This is the day to be careful. We are still in the not-knowing time. I trust the people who say that’s to be expected, and I’m hanging my hope on their reminders to wait this out. But it doesn’t make it easy. I find myself scrolling a lot—and it’s not even eight o’clock yet. I haven’t had coffee yet. (Yes, we should have planned better. No coffee in the house the day after the election was a stupid move. Co-op opens in thirteen minutes. Not that I’m counting.) I did manage to do a meditation but not yoga. I’m hungry and am tempted to have a piece of cake for breakfast, but I’ll have toast and a piece of fruit. I want to watch the news. I probably will dip in and out. I know I’m dehydrated. I had only a glass of wine last night, but I haven’t been so good at my water intake lately. I’ve had a headache for three days. It’s tension; I can feel it in my shoulders, neck, and jaw. I’ve gone to a variety of massage therapists over the years; when they touch my neck, they always ask me if I get headaches, and they’re shocked when I say no. But now, yes. Days like this are ones we want to ignore, just get through, move past. In so many ways, this is 2020 in a nutshell. We want out of the crisis. This is the day to watch what we eat, what we read, how we breathe and move and have our being. I woke up remembering what I wrote after Ryan died, about what I had forgotten about grief: the exhaustion of grieving, the need for stillness and silence, the sensitivity to noise, the gathering of mementos to be close to you. There’s an element of this happening for me today, but it’s not quite so dramatic. I’m remembering how to hold on to hope: vetting sources, not being drawn in to drama, recognizing that people will be who they are, keeping an eye on the good. We’re not out of the woods yet, but maybe we’re not so deep in the forest as we were. Time will tell. Today we be careful with ourselves and with others. We remember that all of us have expectations, hopes, and fears. We give a wide berth to those who have us on edge because we know we are all on edge. We listen to the people who know things. We keep drinking water and moving our bodies and taking naps and finding things to laugh about. And we go get some coffee.

November 5, 2020

The doing never ends. These days of not-knowing have me realizing a few things. First, there was a big difference between knowing the counts would take time and living the time the counting takes. Second, I was very much looking forward to the deep breaths and peaceful slumber of a Biden win. Third, oh, the privilege I continue to uncover in myself even when I think I’m aware. As we move through this week, it’s dawning on me that we are not done. Even if things look promising, and they do at this point, it’s not leading to the feeling of unfettered joy and calm that I so desperately crave. There is joy and relief, yes, but it is tempered by the knowledge that about 69 million people still think Donald Trump deserves to be in charge. Sixty-nine million people have lived through these five years (I’m including his first campaign) and decided that we need more of this. Sixty-nine million people are okay, not just with racism, not just with sexism, not just with xenophobia, not just with caged children, not just with mocking the disabled, not just with disregarding a deadly pandemic, not just with prejudice against LGBTQIA individuals, not just with selfishness, not just with financial fraud and misdealing, but with all of it. Sixty-nine million people are justifying the means for the end—whatever they think that end might be. I have a very hard time breathing deeply and sleeping peacefully with this knowledge. How did we get this so very wrong? One of the most divisive areas of this election is among religious voters, particularly the Christian flavors. I’m wondering where we go from here when we read the gospel so differently. What role does the church play in healing the divisions in families because of the election? Divisions the church itself often exacerbates. It’s no wonder that atheists, agnostics, and nones look with skepticism at the role religion plays in politics. We’re inconsistent and hypocritical. While I think faithful people have a place in politics and that churches can be sources of intelligence and discernment, I also think we need to look at how this is done. It’s failing now. One of the things I remember from a moral theology class in college is that the ends cannot justify the means. The professor hit this part home hard. And yet, I see many of my fellow baptized justifying or not even caring about the means. The inconsistency boggles the mind and wearies the spirit. So as relieved as I am that things look promising, I am also concerned with the work yet to be done. And therein lies the privilege. The lack of a landslide makes glaringly obvious what I should have known (and, to be honest, knew but didn’t want to admit): the work will never be done. Every day we have to move this country, this world, toward justice. Every day we have to fight for an environment we can sustain. Every day we have to amplify the voices of the marginalized. Every day we have to look at what’s hard and try to solve the problems. This has been an exhausting marathon. But marathons have end points. This doesn’t. When Biden wins, we still have work to do. We don’t get to let our guard down. Much as we might want to, we will still need to remain vigilant on behalf of those who need us, on behalf of ourselves, on behalf of our country and the world. We’re not sprinting or marathoning. We’re making our way through history—and that’s never-ending.

tips at the six-month mark

Today marks six months since I began writing tips for these days. What a wild six months it’s been. Thank you for reading these words.

September 8, 2020

You need more nourishment than you think. Labor Day crept up on me. Usually we travel to Kansas City, but since that wasn’t happening, I just forgot it was a thing. Until last week when Patrick mentioned that he’d have the day off. I figured I’d still get a couple of hours of work in because I could and why not? But as Friday continued, I realized that my work is actually in a good spot; I could afford a long weekend. Maybe it would even be good for me. I could honor my labor by enjoying my rest. Our weekends are usually pretty relaxed at Thornphy Manor. There is reading and tea, quiet and television, good cooking and maybe a walk. Definitely a nap. We run errands and clean the house a bit; sometimes we even do yard work. Truly, we are fortunate. But yesterday was pure gift. The cooler weather inspired coziness. It was a bonus day of morning reading and tea. I made puff pastry and picked up a quilt that has been waiting for precisely this weather. Perhaps we spent more time watching television than we should have, but who’s keeping track? We also ate good food, nourishing food, fall food. I didn’t realize how much I needed that extra day of rest. Today I have felt restored and refreshed. My life isn’t hard, I know. But we’re all doing some heavy lifting these days. Certainly mentally and emotionally, if not physically—though, I would argue, quarantine takes a physical toll. We need more nourishment, more sustenance than we think. This pandemic, these politics, this day and age—it drains and exhausts and maddens. While our normal coping mechanisms can work quite well, they are also working overtime. We are like sponges, soaking up all the stress and insanity of these days. Remember to wring it out, to find the good and caring and loving and healthy to soak up too. You will feel so much better for it.

September 9, 2020

Hold and be held. When Ryan died, Patrick was the one who told me. He drove to my work, but I wasn’t in my office because I was across campus at a meeting. He found a coworker friend and told her. Together, they came to get me and tell me some of the worst news I could be told. Again. It had happened again. Another suicide. Another uncle. Another grief. I collapsed onto the floor. They knelt with me. They held me. After a while, they bundled me off the floor and into the car and back to home. I hate that that moment exists in their lives. I am so grateful their holding exists in mine. This holding was very literal; it isn’t always so. When we talk about praying for or thinking of someone who is struggling, we often say we “hold them in prayer” or “hold them in our thoughts.” There is a tenderness with this holding, an intimacy. For the one being held, it involves vulnerability, trust, hope. Being held means you can share what burdens you. Maybe you don’t express precisely what needs to be held, but you let others know the holding is needed. Being held is grace. For the one who holds, it is holy work. It involves compassion, selflessness, attention. Holding means you grant space and energy to what burdens another. You honor the story, honor the struggle. You do not fix it, because often you can’t. But you give it room, let what needs to be held breathe a bit, let the one burdened unfurl into shared burden. Holding is grace. Our holding and being held are heightened this year. That happens in grieving times. This is a grieving time. Let yourself be held. Give thanks for the holders. Let yourself hold others. Give thanks for the ability to hold. This space of being held and holding is sacred. Challenging, but sacred.

September 10, 2020

Release. Of course, thinking about holding leads to thinking about letting go. I am not a “Let go and let God” person. That is another platitude to which I say, “Bullshit.” Even if you believe that we are created by God, which I do, then you recognize that we, as humans created in God’s image and likeness, have agency. We are able to act. Letting go and letting God removes our agency. It removes our ability to do and think. It is a resignation. A throwing up of our hands and denying responsibility. That is not why we were created. And that is not the release I mean. As 2020 continues its march, we are reminded over and over again of what is essential: people, health, justice, earth. We are looking at those around us with fresh eyes, understanding who they are and who we are in relationship with them. We are considering what it means to be healthy and to give care to those who need it. We are reckoning with justice and what a lack of it has done to our communities, to the bodies and spirits of people of color, to the hearts and minds of white people. We are seeing a ravaged earth: floods and fires that seem biblical, apocalyptic, terrifying. Our attention is being brought to what matters. Women often talk about the freedom that arrives when they grow older. Each decade involves a letting go of caring what others think, of trying to fit a certain jean size, of bending oneself to meet expectations that curtail us. You know these women. They might have wild hair; their eyes sparkle; their clothes flow. They are comfortable in their bodies and free with laughter and curse words. They do what makes their spirits sing, and they listen to the Spirit to move them. I want to be these women. As this year strips away so much, it is also an invitation to let go of what we don’t need to carry anymore: unrealistic expectations, guilt, shame. Maybe even fear. If we let go of these things, what might we be able to carry? Or, perhaps, where might we fly?

September 11, 2020

Attend to what you remember. I was a senior in high school on September 11, 2001. I didn’t know what the Twin Towers were. (New York has never been high on my list of places to visit or know much about. It just seems too big and overwhelming.) I didn’t get it. Cell phones weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are now, and the ones we had weren’t smart; none of us had laptops connected to wifi. The information we received was patchy. The school administration tried to keep us away from televisions. Our Spanish teacher, who was on the North Campus, across the street from the main building, turned on the television when we got to class because she thought we needed to see what was happening. We did. It was bad. So much changed on September 11, 2001. We became a nation afraid. We became protective, nativist, isolationist. Not always and not everyone. But when you consider what 9/11 did to our psyches, Trump makes a lot of sense as a response. People often speak of 9/11 with reverence. I understand. The death and destruction were overwhelming: New York, a field in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon. The fallout has been overwhelming too: lives lost in wars and continued conflict, the health problems that plague first responders and those who were at the crash sites, the mental and emotional trauma that persists. But there is a very dark side to 9/11 that I think frames the narrative of this national holy day. It is one of racism, fear, American exceptionalism, and posturing. When we “remember” on 9/11, so often we cloak ourselves in the flag and think of the destruction that took place on American soil. We remember American lives lost, and we grieve them, as we should. But that is not all today represents. We are facing our demons in 2020, and maybe we need to face the ones created and augmented on September 11, 2001. Did we become afraid of Muslims? Do we assume all Middle Easterners are out to get us? Have we grown complacent about the wars being waged in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” ignoring the fact that we’ve moved the place of terror from US soil to Afghan and Iraqi soil? Is it possible for us to take responsibility for how other countries view us rather than assuming they’re just not good enough? Are we open to learning from rather than shutting down what can be offered from the Other? Can we honor those who died while also standing firmly against the ugliness that came forward as a response to tragedy? Is it possible to bring peace and forgiveness to this day, to this remembering? September 11 created a gaping wound in the American landscape. We need to heal it. We won’t do so through patriotism. We’ll do so by looking at all the facets of this tragedy and reckoning with who we have become as a result of it.

September 15, 2020

Look closely. Hanging on the wall above my desk, off to the side, is my mom’s old darkroom easel. Back in the day, the easel was the thing that held the paper under the enlarger lens. The light from the enlarger exposed the paper and, by putting the paper through various chemicals, the image would emerge. This easel, on the side that I have facing out, has two size options: 2×3 inches and 3×4.5 inches. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about having a one-inch frame on her desk. There’s nothing in the frame: no picture or little quote. It’s empty. It sits there to remind her to focus in, to get close. She uses it to inspire detail in her writing. I don’t have a one-inch frame. I have mom’s easel. It serves a similar purpose, but it does more than that. It reminds me of what creation is. Mom had a darkroom for most of my growing-up years. It was sacred space. I’d often join her while she developed film or made prints. I’d rock the trays with chemicals once she’d put the exposed paper in. I’d never, ever enter or leave without letting her know, lest a stray beam of light sneak in and ruin a print or box of paper. I learned about Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seeger, Les Miserables, and Melissa Etheridge in the darkroom. We talked about my dad and her siblings. Sharing that space with her, I now know, was thin space: I got to see her create. Photographers see the world in images. I see it in words. Yes, I see the images, but I am often working out how to describe it, how it affects me, what it means in language. My mom doesn’t do that as much. She sees the light, the numbers, the relationships between objects. She’s framing images constantly. It’s a very different way to interact with the world. In some ways, I think it’s more intimate. It breaks things down. Even someone like Ansel Adams: I have no doubt that he was very aware of how every element in a sweeping landscape worked together. I digress. The darkroom was where mom’s work went from her head to the world. It’s where I was able to see what she saw. And she sees things closely. Murphys are detail oriented; we express it in different ways, but we each attend to the little things that make a difference. Our world is overwhelmingly big these days. The problems are significant and scary. We waffle between hopefulness and despair a lot. This is going to continue, at least for a few more weeks. God willing, it’ll settle down on January 20, 2021. But for now, things feel big. That’s when looking closely helps. I can’t solve climate change; I can be aware of my own consumption. I can’t fix racism; I can root it out of my head and heart and speak out when I see injustice. I can’t fix this virus; I can wash my hands and wear a mask. I can’t fix Donald Trump and the poison he has unleashed; I can vote and counteract his poison with goodness in the face of hatred. Look closely at what you’re developing. This is a creation time; it is thin space. We don’t have to create on a giant canvas. It can be enough to fill a 2×3-inch frame.

September 16, 2020

Show up. This tip has three parts. First, we need to be showing up for ourselves. The self-care and wellness industry like to say how this should look: bubble baths, gorgeous yoga sessions, painted nails, all the fancy coffee drinks, so much pampering. Those things might work for you. But showing up for ourselves also means doing the work. Even though my personal writing has been whiny of late, I keep showing up every morning to put pen to paper. Eventually something good will come of it. Or not. But I’m showing up because if I’m whiny there, I’m less inclined to be whiny to Patrick or my friends. I’m showing up there because I know it’s developing muscles that need developing: self-reflection, challenge, critiquing the world, self-kindness, and, at the most basic level, language play. Giving up on the writing time would be a way of giving up on myself, on a part of myself that I have come to love very much. I have to show up for that. Second, we need to show up for each other. We can’t be all things to all people. I would love to go out of my way for everyone, to call all the people on my list, to drop off cookies or love notes. I can’t. I’m an introvert and the idea of that makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep for hours. But I can show up for a few people. I can text when someone crosses my mind. I can try, when people are struggling, to reach out. Showing up for others means putting your energy where you know it’s needed. Right now it’s needed in a lot of places, so it also means being aware of your energy, what’s zapping it, what’s restoring it, and what’s wasting it. It’s possible you’ll need to put up boundaries; it’s also possible you need to take some boundaries down. Third, notice who’s showing up for you. Acknowledge it. One of the things my family has marveled at over the years is how the people you expect to show up in a moment of crisis aren’t necessarily the ones who do. Maybe they just want you to be okay, better, how you were. They’re too close to see what’s truly needed. It’s heartbreaking when this happens and piles grief upon grief. But then there’s that random person who comes out from the periphery to give you precisely what you need when you need it. That showing up is a breath of fresh air, a lifeline, a grace. We are, this year, showing up in all these ways; and others are meeting us in this showing. These spaces of encounter are creating something new, something healing. We just have to be present to it.

September 17, 2020

Mind the gap. There’s a part in To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus Finch explains to his daughter, Scout, that understanding others requires going outside of oneself. “You never really understand a person,” Atticus says, “until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” We often hear this stated as “walking in someone else’s shoes.” I think one of the difficulties in conversations about race is that we can never know what it’s truly like to wear someone else’s skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be a Black or Brown person. I don’t know what it’s like to be Asian or Native American or Hispanic. I don’t get looked at suspiciously when I’m shopping, and I’ve been pulled over once for speeding. My car tags are expired. I keep forgetting that. I’ve been driving with expired tags since May. I’ve driven past cops. Not once have I been stopped. (Yes, mom, I’ll get this dealt with.) I don’t even think about it because I’m not driving a lot, and I don’t have to think about it because my skin color protects me. This is privilege. A few weeks ago I ordered a Black Lives Matter sweatshirt. It took a while to get here, but it’s here, and I love it. Today was cool enough to wear it, and I ran errands. I was very aware, as I traveled about my reddish town, that I was wearing what would be considered by some to be a provocative sweatshirt. I expected comments. I expected looks. I got nothing. Proud as I am of this sweatshirt, much as I support Black Lives Matter and believe that Black lives do, indeed, matter, I was self-conscious. And in that self-consciousness, awareness of my privilege rose. I get to take this sweatshirt off. It’s not my skin; it’s a thing I’m wearing. And for about an hour today I considered how people might respond to a thing I wore. I’m not stupid enough to think this gives me even a shred of the experience of walking through this country with Black skin. It doesn’t. If anything, it alerted me to how very little I know about other people’s experiences in their skin. We need to stretch our consideration muscles, to think about what it might be like to be another person with different experiences and traumas, joys and passions. This is empathy. But we also need to see that there’s a gap between how we do that considering and what the reality is. There is space between our thinking and our being. For some of us, that space is where we acknowledge our privilege, where we allow humility into our relationships. For others, that gap is a chasm filled with fear and prejudice. Nudging ourselves into that gap, seeing if we feel fear or humility, allowing it to grow our awareness instead of shrinking it—this is the hard work we are called to right now.

September 18, 2020

Admire your friends. In recent years, we’ve focused a lot on ruptured relationships. People support politicians we find unsupportable. They back policies we find morally repugnant. We approach family and friends, not to mention strangers, with wariness. We are renegotiating boundaries. There is much to grieve about the relationships that have fallen apart or become strained. But I think that has also opened space for new relationships and admirations. Over the years I have seen friends and acquaintances from high school blossom into incredible women. That sounds so cliche and saccharine, I know. But I am in awe of the way they work for justice, speak their truths, protest, advocate for issues dear to them, step into the fray, raise their kids to be good humans, and live joyously. It’s not easy, I know, and they don’t make it look easy. They make it look doable. And that’s encouraging. I am also amazed by my friends who are teachers these days. So much has been heaped on their plates. And rather than scrape them off into the trash or just drop the damn things on the floor, these friends have taken the time to assess the situation, grapple with what’s going on, and create a (flexible) plan for moving forward. They are struggling, but they are doing. I am in awe. We can become complacent about the people we surround ourselves with. They are just part of the woodwork. It’s good to step back every so often and look at your friends anew, to see who they are in their own right, not just in your own eyes. See the work they’re doing, the people they’re trying to become, and be amazed by that process. People—even the ones near and dear to us—are truly amazing.

September 19, 2020

Attend to the flame. I have seen so much despair since the announcement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last night. I’ve felt some of it too. This is not good. Trump will rush a nomination. McConnell will ram it through the Senate. I don’t deny that this is bad. But here’s what else I know: McConnell, Trump, and their enablers are vampires who feed on our despair, fear, and hopelessness. Let’s starve them by joyously celebrating the legacy of an incredible woman. Let’s deny them the meal they so desperately want by committing ourselves to continue her fights. Do not let this moment be about these men. Let this be about a woman of strength, integrity, and justice. Yes, we need to keep our eyes on the shenanigans these guys are going to play. I get that. But by focusing on how shitty they are, we’re losing sight of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy and what she gave to us. A friend shared that her “hope is a guttering flame.” I understand that. We all have moments when our lights flicker. So know this, if your light is not as strong as it usually is, that’s okay. Others are holding the flames. When your flame is steady again, you can hold it for someone else. That’s how we do this. Take this literally: Light a candle. Watch the flame. See it flicker and steady. Over and over again. Take heart. As I said to this friend, if you can’t see the flame inside yourself, look for it outside until you find it again. Revel in the life of a good woman. She deserves that.

September 21, 2020

Consider the waffling. When I was in high school, we analyzed a poem by Thomas Lux called “Refrigerator, 1957.” It has since been one of my favorite poems. I love the vividness of it. I love the challenge of it. The poem’s narrator speaks about a jar of maraschino cherries kept in the fridge but never used. He muses about these cherries, the brightest and most enticing thing in the refrigerator. No one eats them; they’re never used. But the jar is always there. The narrator contemplates why he never ate one, and at the end of the poem, he admits, “because you do not eat that which rips your heart with joy.” I struggle with that line, with that mentality. And yet, I understand it. Can reality ever be as good as the ideal we construct? He knew the sweetness of those cherries without eating them; they couldn’t ever match his imagination. This morning I did the new yoga class offered by Clara. To start, she recites a poem by John O’Donohue, “A Morning Offering.” It’s a prayer of awakening and arising. It is a call to embrace the new day and be awed by it. He concludes this way: “May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer but do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more.” That has become, in many ways, my prayer this year. It just wasn’t quite articulated until I heard these lines. Or, rather, it was articulated by Mary Oliver from her poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Truth to tell, I waffle between these poems. The life I want as a writer seems so glorious, so lovely, so unattainable. And yet, I work to create it daily. It is, at once, the maraschino cherry that could rip my heart with joy—best avoided because not perfect—and the thing I came here for, the life I love. We, women particularly, receive so many messages about how to lean in! Create the life you want! Boss bitch! Do it all! Do only what matters to you! But, truth to tell, we’re all wavering between avoiding ripping our hearts with joy by doing what we love and, well, doing what we love. It isn’t necessarily one or the other. Maybe it depends on the day. Maybe it depends on whether we can get that jar of cherries opened in the first place.

September 22, 2020

Look up. I look down a lot. There are dog toys and shoes and things about. Outside, there are sticks, more dog toys, and puppy-dug holes. All sorts of things can trip one up. Add to this the natural position of hunching over a phone or laptop or notebook. But as summer turns to fall, I am reminded of the importance of looking up. I seem to have come full circle over the years. I left Kansas City loving autumn; it was my favorite season. When I moved to Minnesota, fall meant that winter was close behind, which meant months of snow and cold. Spring became my favorite season. But I have returned to loving fall. It reminds me to slow down, to relish the green of summer, to give thanks for what has been and what will be. I love the warming foods of fall, the comfort of a hot cup of tea, wooly socks that warm the toes. I love the crisp smell of the air as the temperatures cool. As I’ve waited for the trees to change colors, I’ve been looking up a lot. Looking out. Rather than run up the stairs and past the window on the landing, I pause for a second to take in the gloriousness that is the orange tree in a neighbor’s yard. I’m keeping an eye on the heart-shaped tree down the street that always turns a stunning shade of red. I’m watching the shades of blue in the sky, hazy from wildfire smoke aloft. I’m noticing that the sun has shifted position, and the light hits my desk differently now than it did just a few weeks ago. The lushness of summer is giving way to the sparseness of winter, but we’re given these weeks of transition, of moving through the letting go. Sometimes change is instant, and maybe it’s having experienced such abrupt and breathtaking shifts that has made me more aware of the grace in slow change. We have become used to instant gratification: I want this, so I order it, and it’s here the next day; I have a question, so I pull out my phone, and the answer is found immediately. We don’t always sit comfortably in the waiting time. Autumn reminds us to sit still and see the beauty in slow transformation, in prolonged gratification.

September 23, 2020

Attempt compassionate gazing. I failed at this today. I’ve been failing at this a lot of days when I leave our house. People are just so trying right now. It was my last stop. I’d been to the co-op, Costco, another store to grab lunch, and was just getting a Sprite at the gas station. An older man walked in without a mask. He cut in front of me in line. Okay, we were both walking up to the line and he got there first. (See, failing.) He was mouth breathing. And obviously couldn’t see very well. He got very close, with all his mouth-breathing breathiness, to the credit card thing. All the breathing on all the things! I scowled. I grumbled. I rolled my eyes. Perhaps I huffed. I paid for my Sprite once he left (with the exact change because I sure wasn’t going to touch that keypad). And I murmured my way to my car and home and away from people. Ugh. People. When I was in college one of the Benedictine sisters told me about compassionate gazing. What I recall of her explanation is that it’s to see with kindness, to look at others gently. I look at others with a great deal of wariness right now. Maybe sometimes with open hostility. Why are you getting so close? Do you know that your nose is supposed to go inside the mask? Are you aware that your bandana is not helpful? Can you just stop touching everything? No, taking your mask down to talk to the clerk is not helpful! None of this is compassionate. All of it is based in judgment. And part of me thinks that’s just fine for this day and age. Except that’s not true. Habits of thought build, and if I’m allowing wariness and hostility into my thoughts, there’s no way that doesn’t make an impact. Benedictines have two things to offer when it comes to compassionate gazing. First, they are big on hospitality. In his Rule, St. Benedict says that we are to welcome the stranger as Christ. We are to open the door to others, not close it. We feed, clothe, shelter, welcome. Hospitality looks different these days. It is no longer about opening our homes for dinner parties. We’re less inclined to interact with strangers. Dropping by for a beer or a cup of tea isn’t the easy delight it used to be. Second, Benedict was quite emphatic about the dangers of murmuring: when community members murmur, it leads to a toxic communal life. We are murmuring a lot about people: how they act, what politicians they support, how they’re failing. Maybe what’s needed is compassionate looking. Instead of murmuring, maybe we extend the hospitality of gentleness and compassion. Instead of huffing, maybe we keep our distance while considering all the factors that might be at play in a person’s noncompliance. Not just stubbornness but illness, loneliness, plain ignorance. I can’t guarantee I’ll do much better next time I’m in public. But maybe writing about it will allow compassionate gazing to come to mind before I start the grumbling instead of after.

September 24, 2020

Behold the waves. I grew up in Kansas City. I live in Minnesota. My experiences with oceans are limited. I am awed by them, though. Standing on the shore as waves roll in, watching the way the sand moves and adjusts, seeing what’s left behind as the water rolls back out. Waves are relentless. Last year when we went to Ireland, we stopped at a place where the Atlantic waves were overwhelming. Big. Crashing. They were intimidating and all-consuming. It made me wonder why people would ever get in boats and fish. The water roiled. I was both drawn to and horrified by these waves. I have not read a lot about the Breonna Taylor decision. I know that they’re charging an officer for endangering neighbors. Taylor is not receiving justice. I am mad. I am tired of the injustice. I am tired for my Black friends who are exhausted. I am ready for this shit to end. I am reminded of waves. This year feels like we’re standing in the midst of an unrelenting barrage of waves. Over and over again the current is trying to pull us under. But there are other waves too, and those are the ones we need to see right now. I looked at the news before bed, something I try not to do much of. But the Guardian had a live feed of protests that were happening across this nation in honor of Taylor. People standing up to say that this is not right. This is exhausting. This is not acceptable. They were chanting her name. This too is a wave. These protests are waves that are as unrelenting as Trump’s attempted attacks on democracy, decency, and humanity. It’s tempting to look only at the waves that destroy or exhaust. But there are other waves here too: we’re seeing people take to the streets in droves to protest; voter registration efforts are booming; there are lines for early voting; Democrats raised huge amounts of money after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death; women continue to speak out against harassment, assault, rape, even when they know they will be ostracized or worse; white people who have coasted through life believing we aren’t racist are seeing ways we prop up racist systems, and we’re educating ourselves to change that; businesses and sports teams are taking stances against racism, voter suppression, and police brutality. The tide does turn. For every wave of horror from this administration, there’s another that restores my hope in our country, our humanity. Trump isn’t the only one making waves. We are too. And they’re big ones. Behold their power.

September 25, 2020

Keep vigil. Tomorrow marks a milestone for these tips: I wrote the first one six months ago. We’ve been through a lot since then. As I hit this marker, I’m thinking about what these daily writings have been. As the daughter of a photographer, I often lean toward photographic metaphors. These tips are snapshots of what our world has experienced this year: the turmoil, despair, hope, joy, fear, resetting. The tips became my way of remembering, of reflecting, of engaging. They are a wrestling with the world as we know it now; there is blessing here too. They have also been my way of keeping vigil. One of the most beautiful things I know of the Benedictine community I was close to in college is the way they sit with dying sisters. When one of the women is close to death, the other sisters sit with her; they take turns keeping vigil. They accompany her as she journeys from this world to the next. The sisters live in community and die in community. I love this. At the risk of sounding dramatic, our world has been going through a dying process. Maybe it has always been thus. St. Paul expected the Second Coming any day. We still read his letters in church and prayer two thousand years later. The world keeps turning. But in 2020, we are reckoning in new ways with the fact that what was no longer is. The effects of climate change make this very evident. That we had to rethink our ways of being in and moving about the world because of a virus make this very evident. There are times, I admit, when I wonder what the point of being a writer, an artist, is when the end of the world is nigh. If it’s all going to burn, why write it down? The fact that I turned to words in this year of chaos tells me why: because we need vigil keepers. We have been keeping vigil in various ways this year. We are vigilant as we wash hands, wear masks, wipe down surfaces, keep distance. We are vigilant as we keep our eyes on cops who keep killing Black people and getting away with it. We are vigilant as we take to the streets or put up signs or proclaim on social media that justice needs doing. We are vigilant as we research politicians and make decisions about whom we will vote for. We are vigilant as we mourn the losses of giants like John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As tiring as this vigilance can be, it is the way we journey together. It is our being in community. I am so grateful you have let me write for and with you. There will be more. But today I want to honor the vigils we have been keeping. And will continue to keep.

tips, round 8

August 17, 2020

Imagine. A few years ago, one of my friends gave birth to twin girls who died within days of their birthing. Laura wrote about the process of knowing this pregnancy had turned from full of promise to full of grief. She wrote powerfully and strongly and unapologetically. She let us in on her grieving, and I think that’s one of the hardest and most beautiful gifts anyone can give: to let you see them at their worst so you know the process is both dreadful and incredible. That it is survivable. In one of her posts on the loss of her daughters, Laura wrote about how people often say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” She pointed out something that has stayed with me these years: the person saying this can imagine. That’s all they can do. They can’t feel it or know it or live it. They can imagine it. And while imagining can’t touch the pain, it is the door to empathy. I have been very deliberate about what my imagination can and cannot do since I read her post. And I find myself imagining a lot this year. I imagine the pain of people separated as loved ones go to the hospital without assurances that they’ll return home or be able to say goodbye. I imagine the disappointment of plans cancelled, whether they’re weddings or birthday celebrations or simply the usual getting together that makes us human. I imagine the feeling of brokenness that people who desperately want to go to church are feeling. I imagine the confusion that children feel as they watch the adults in their worlds try to figure out what to do with them and how to best protect and educate them. I imagine the fear that parents are feeling as they navigate home schooling or pack their kids off for first days in school buildings or send children to college miles and miles away. I imagine the worry that teachers have as they prepare to host germ-bombs all day within close proximity, attempting to keep them healthy and teach them something in the process. I imagine a lot. This imagining goes the other way too: I imagine how incredible hugs will feel when we’re comfortable giving them again. I imagine what it will be like to step foot in Ireland again. I imagine how comforting it will be to know that, should a crisis arise and you need to get somewhere, you can go without calculating the risk of transmission and days of quarantine and rations of sanitizing products. I imagine the creativity that’s being fostered as people strive to find solutions to the variety of problems we’re facing. I imagine the way children will rethink schooling and work as a result of their experiences of this pandemic. Part of me wants to shut all of this imagining off, to settle in to the numbness that 2020 desperately wants to create. But that would be to turn away from what this time is giving us: a heart open to others.

August 18, 2020

Find the sweet spot. The stretchiness of yoga is about finding the sweet spot or, as Clara Roberts Oss says, the stretch without the strain. It’s the spot where you feel the pull, the activation, the use of the muscle, but not the pain. It is, indeed, a sweet spot. And it changes day to day. The sweet spots I have now are not what they were a few weeks ago. My body has shifted in this practice. So has the sweetness. It’s hard to find sweet spots in the world these days, to be stretched beyond who we are and challenged to become more. That spot where we aren’t quite comfortable but we aren’t in pain either. That spot where growth is occurring. We are dancing or wobbling between many things. We are called to balance awareness and sanity, intelligence and humility, logic and anxiety. We know what it feels like when we’ve overdone it: exhaustion, sadness, anger, so much frustration, all the fears, a never-ending cycle of thoughts, inability to pull ourselves away from screens that simply increase negative feelings. This is not the sweet spot. We know when we’re not doing enough too: lethargy, numbness, inability to concentrate, unwillingness to engage, too much sleep, escaping into music or books or television, not reaching out to those we love. This is not the sweet spot either. No, it’s between these extremes: dancing after reading an article that enrages, knowing when to engage and when to let trolls be trolls, stepping outside to breathe fresh air, setting boundaries around when news is read or heard or watched, finding sources you trust, letting go of sources you don’t, knowing when it’s time to back away from toxic people, finding activities that make you feel empowered and strong, doing at least one thing each day that settles your soul, looking for humor and laughing hard. We can’t live in a constant state of pain; nor can we live constantly disengaged. We have to find our sweet spots—not just once, but day after day, hour after hour.

August 19, 2020

Thank your body. At thirty-six, my body doesn’t look like it did at twenty-six. It’s rounder, softer, less defined. I used to eat all the things (well, I am picky) and not care. I am more attentive to the eating and the caring now. Health matters, and what we eat very much affects how we feel. When I was twenty-six, as it happens, Shaun died. I became afraid of food. Not anorexic or bulimic, but afraid that I’d get food poisoning and die. Because that’s what anxiety does to the brain. It doesn’t be logical. I dropped fifteen pounds in a week or two because I was living on toast, bananas, and peppermint tea. It was not a healthy approach to food or the body or thoughts. It was terrifying because I knew it was wrong but still couldn’t eat. Slowly, I got through it. I am still wary of certain foods, and occasionally eating is a great act of trust. I have gotten food poisoning in the past ten years, and, surprise, I didn’t die. It’s scary to not trust the things that are supposed to fuel you. It is grace to believe that what you put in your body is good for it and sustains it. Part of me misses the lean and long body I had when I was younger, the look of that body. But I refuse to berate myself for gaining weight. I will not shame this body. At the end of most of her yoga classes, Clara closes by asking practitioners to thank themselves for taking the time to get to the mat. And then she says we should thank our bodies. It is a moment of blessing. We spend so much time wanting our bodies to be something else: skinnier, more flexible, less round, less freckled, more toned, less awkward or gangly, more able. But these bodies we have are quite incredible. When you start thanking it for what it is, you see it as stunning and miraculous. You see the ways your body moves and the strength you have and can build. Our bodies are unpredictable: they hurt sometimes or lose balance or are unable to do certain things. But they are surprising too: they heal and move gracefully (or not) and give and receive love. Our bodies have so much capacity, promise, and ability—even if they don’t look the way we think they should because of some idealized dream. The body you have is beautiful. Take some time today to stand in front of a mirror, naked or not, and thank—bless—this body.

August 20, 2020

Practice. Our dogs aren’t horrible beggars. They don’t steal food from our plates, and they’re just as likely to lay in the other room while we eat dinner as they are to watch us eat. They aren’t stupid, though, so they do tend to get underfoot when we cook. And if they hear a bag of cheese get pulled out the fridge, they appear from nowhere to make their presences known. Cully knows the difference between toast (of which I always give her a bite) and granola (which never gets shared). When they watch us cooking or stand at attention waiting for cheese, Patrick often says, “We have the most optimistic dogs in the world.” Yes, these animals of ours live in hope. It’s a daily thing they do. I am reminded by them that I have to practice who I want to be. Sometimes we slip into the laziness of thinking that because we want to be certain things—wise, kind, gentle, patient, hopeful, brave, just—we are those things in reality. But that’s not how it works. We have to practice these virtues. We don’t commit to them once and call it good. We commit to them every day, in every interaction. We practice them. Over and over again. This reminds me of something Toni Morrison wrote in her novel Paradise: “Love is divine only and difficult always. . . . It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God. . . . You can only earn—by practice and careful contemplation—the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God—carefully.” I wrestle with the idea of having to “earn” God, but I completely understand the idea of “practicing” God. I think that’s what being in relationship—with others, with the self, with God—is. It is practice. It is contemplation of who we are called to be and intentionally practicing that being. There is much to be afraid of. Devolving into fear, uncertainty, hatred, anger, anxiety, and self-protection is a pattern of behavior. It too is practiced. We are not at the mercy of these negatives, despite how overwhelming they might feel at any given time. What are you practicing today? What are you brining forward in your interactions with others, with yourself, with God? Who is it you want to develop into and how do you work on being that person today?

August 24, 2020

Embrace the exhaustion. I didn’t hear about it until this morning. Another shooting of a Black man by police officers. Seven times. In the back. In front of his children. Jacob Blake is in serious condition; his children are no doubt traumatized. According to NPR, he had tried to break up a fight between two women. The Guardian gives no details of events leading up to the shooting, just that he was trying to get in his car. The car where his children were. The story is, of course, developing. But what we know now is that a Black man was shot in front of his children. Can we stop doing this? I am so tired of these stories. I am so exhausted for my Black friends who are living the reality of this fear daily. I am tired of the noise from “All Lives Matter” people when, clearly, all lives don’t matter. I am tired of antiabortion people claiming to be pro-life when this man’s life doesn’t matter one iota to them. I am tired of having to explain what dignity is. I am tired of having to tell people that guns—no matter whose hands hold them—are dangerous. I am tired of living in a country where Black men and women are shot, where Black children witness it if they aren’t shot themselves. I’m tired of carnage. This is a year of carnage. I am tired of it. But here’s the flip side of exhaustion: it tells you that you’re feeling. That you’re paying attention. That you’re not numb. Being tired is a reminder that your heart hasn’t hardened. It is a sign that you need to take care, rest, be gentle, get and give a hug or two, shed some tears, drink something soothing. These are not actions of avoidance; they are sustenance. Being tired is a result of awareness, and if we don’t sustain ourselves in the midst of it, we cannot work to make it different. The exhaustion drains. But it also lets us know we have more to give, more to do, more to become.

August 25, 2020

Put up your guard. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: you have to watch what you let into your brain and body. I don’t watch movies or shows that have to do with demonic possession. I won’t watch The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. I did not like the Psych episode that was a riff on this genre. I sat through Paranormal Activity with some grad school friends, and Timothy’s laughter through it was the only thing that got me through. I think there are things we shouldn’t mess with, and demons are one of them. Call me superstitious or weirdly Catholic or whatever. Inviting evil in isn’t a good idea, even if it is just for entertainment purposes. I feel the same way about watching the Republican National Convention. We’re not watching it at our house. I’ll read about it from folks I trust, but I’m not watching clips or speeches. Given the trajectory of the Republican Party, I have a sense of what these days will be. Trump will be Trump. His enablers will be who they have been. We will be lied to, told who and what to be afraid of, and provided reasons for dismissing or devaluing other humans. I don’t need that kind of hate and fear in my head and heart. Am I burying my head in a carefully chosen sandbox? Perhaps. But I prefer to think of it in line with the monastic mothers and fathers: guarding the thoughts and the heart. You have to watch these things or they will run amok. We have to watch our thoughts, and one way to do that is to watch what we see and hear. There is so much to weary the heart these days. I don’t need to add to it by watching things that don’t feed the soul or lift the heart or challenge the brain. You can opt out. It might just be the healthiest thing you do this week.

August 26, 2020

Relax. Yep. I said it. Relax. I’ve been braced all day today. Not anxious or nervous or wired. Just braced, tensed. I’ve done a good job of not looking at my phone after 10:00 each night, and I wait until after writing, yoga, and breakfast to look at anything except weather each morning. But this morning there was a news alert about the two people shot in Kenosha during protests last night; I couldn’t not see it because it showed up on my lock screen. Maybe that’s what started the bracing. And then, even if I’m not watching the RNC, the news and social feeds are full of the RNC. And there’s a massive hurricane heading for Louisiana. And all the fires in California. So of course, I’m braced for more bad news. When you experience trauma, it becomes hard to trust goodness, happiness, relaxation. You start feeling happy at some point in the grieving process, but it’s accompanied by wariness. When I started dating Patrick, I remember telling a friend that I was so happy, but I was just waiting for it to get messed up, for the other shoe to drop. “There might not be another shoe,” she said. I needed those words. We’ve had a lot of shoes drop in 2020. The natural reaction is to remain braced against what’s coming next. It’s logical to do so. It’s instinct to do so. But constant bracing isn’t healthy, so it’s also important to lower the shoulders and take some deep breaths. To be aware of what’s happening but recognize what’s in your power to change and what isn’t. Yes, to relax.

August 27, 2020

Find your metaphor. I have been thinking a lot about quilting lately. I finished a quilt top last weekend, and I’ve started cutting pieces for another project. I have four quilts that need to be quilted (yes, I’m a procrastinator), and I’m looking forward to the cooler weather for that job. My grandmother, the one who taught me to quilt, told me once that she pieces in summer and quilts in winter. I know why: quilting isn’t cooling work. I started quilting after Shaun died. My mom came to visit, noticed I didn’t have a television and was surrounded by so much quiet, and thought perhaps the quiet wasn’t helping the anxiety. A television was purchased, but I needed/wanted something to do besides just sitting there. So the quilting habit was begun. Over the past decade, it has become my metaphor. Metaphors are comparisons; they create a framework, a symbolism, a context. They make what is abstract concrete. Quilting is very much the metaphor for my grief. It’s the cutting apart of a world once whole and the putting it together again in a new way. It’s taking different pieces of fabric, different patterns, and making something beautiful with them. And all of it is held together by threads. It’s scrappy and complicated and tedious and creative. Grief is all of those things too. The fluidity and slipperiness of grief can get very big and very overwhelming. When that happens, grabbing fabric and thread makes it manageable. There have been days I’ve felt that I’m literally stitching my world back together as I put needle through fabric. Each stitch, each block, each quilt has been a way to make sense of what has felt senseless. It might not be sensible yet, but I can wrap myself in the warmth of trying.

August 28, 2020

Wring it out. There are some twisting poses in yoga that I love. Reclined spinal twist is divine. The one where you have one leg straight, the other foot on the floor, and opposite elbow to the knee (that makes sense, right?) is lovely. I hate twisting in chair pose, but I like it in lunges. Much of what we do in a given day is forward, backward, maybe sideways. We don’t really do much twisting. Or we don’t pay attention to it, unless it makes us hurt. Twists in yoga are cleansing. They “wring out” the spine and the guts. They move you in ways you’re not quite used to, but they give you a new appreciation for “coming back to center.” My morning writing time has felt stodgy lately. It’s a thing I do, but I don’t feel like it’s really going anywhere. I keep showing up, though, and I keep putting words on the page. They might not mean much in and of themselves, but the showing up is important. It is discipline and grit and determination and gift to myself. This morning I realized that maybe I don’t need the morning journaling time to “go anywhere.” Maybe it’s like twisting: it’s wringing out my brain after a night of sleep. It’s cleansing. It’s awakening and allows me to come back to center refreshed. I think our world is wringing itself out too. As protests continue because cops keep killing Black people, as the numbers of infected and dead continue to rise, as ugliness and hatred keep surfacing—this is a twisting. It’s not pleasant; it’s uncomfortable. We want to know when we can come back to center. But there is more to be wrung out. You don’t twist one day and be done with it forever; no, the wringing is necessary almost daily. It’s how the spine and core strengthen. The more we twist, the more we breathe into this uncomfortable space, the more we breathe for those who no longer can, the more we wring out the toxicity and ugliness—the stronger we will become. I firmly believe this. Not everyone wants to twist with us; not everyone is capable. But while they stay put, we twist anyway. We show them how. Because sometimes people need to see what growing strength looks like. These days, it looks like a fist raised in protest, masks worn properly, donating money to places doing good work, supporting businesses with ideals we hold dear, saying thank you to the people doing extra cleaning work. We will get to come back to center. It’ll be a very different center from the one we left when we began this twisting.

August 31, 2020

Vocation changes. Does it feel like we are at a crossroad? Or that it’s not even that simple? Maybe that we’re in the middle of an intersection with six different street options and a few sidewalks? Throw a bus, subway, or streetcar track in for good measure. This is a time that is ripe for transformation and transition. There was a time I was going to be a Benedictine sister. It was a decision I struggled with for many years. Once I finally decided to go to the monastery, to leave the life I’d created in Minnesota, the decision suddenly became wrong. What had been right, what I had resisted but known was coming, suddenly wasn’t right anymore. There wasn’t peace in it. I knew it was wrong because of this lack of peace. Catholics grow up hearing about vocations: to married life, single life, or priesthood/religious life. These are permanent—or are believed to be so, even if reality is messy. They are big decisions, and the deciding of them can be overwhelming. But as I’ve gotten older, as I wrestled with my own life vocation, what I realized is that it isn’t just about choosing one of these options. We live vocation daily. We are called daily. For Catholics and Christians, this is a call to live the Gospel in what we do. For Jews, perhaps it is to love the Lord our G-d with heart, soul, and might each day. For atheists and agnostics, perhaps it’s a call to love others and do good because that’s what being human is. For Muslims, perhaps it is to surrender to Allah in everything. That’s the overarching call. Underneath it are little vocations. To be an artist, to care for home and children, to teach, to make food, to advocate for others, to rescue animals, to stock grocery shelves, to listen in a variety of ways. We live a plurality of vocations. I am editor and writer, daughter and wife, friend and practicer of yoga. So how does this connect to a crossroad? A vocation that applied at one time might not at another time. Or one might develop. We never really leave the crossroad. I am growing into this writer vocation. It has been dormant for a while, always a hoped-for thing, but never quite a reality. Since March, that has shifted. Partly because I’ve made time for it, but partly because the time itself became right. This era of pandemic and protest is not arid; it is not parched or lifeless. It can be rich and transformative. It can reveal more of ourselves. It can be a time of great peace. Not serenity or tranquility. I mean “peace” in terms of knowing you are where you belong or working toward creating the life you are called to. Frederick Buechner wrote that “God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That meeting place is peace. It shifts, and we must work to keep it in sight, to be aware if we are being called to shift as well.

September 1, 2020

Embrace surprise. Piggy-backing off of yesterday’s post, I think surprise is a key element of vocation. I had an acquaintance who knew I was going to join the monastery. She visited Saint John’s after I was supposed to have left and wanted to know why I was still there. “Well, it wasn’t right anymore,” I told her. “I’m as surprised as anyone.” “Ah,” she said, “That’s how you know it’s from God.” I think there was much wisdom in her observation. As someone with anxiety, I prefer what is predictable. I like control; I like knowing what’s coming. Things that are out of the ordinary are disconcerting, uncomfortable, unsettling. But God comes to us in the surprises: as a burning bush, in a whisper rather than a whirlwind, as a baby in a manger. God calls those who are least likely: the youngest son, an unwed virgin, all sorts of reluctant men and women who become prophets and disciples. We too are called to be surprised. This doesn’t have to be a God thing, though that’s the lens through which I see surprises. It can be nature doing what nature does, which still takes our breath away. It can be that thrilling of the heart and butterflies in the stomach that tells us we are on to something new and delightful, even if there’s a touch of wariness and fear mixed in. Yesterday I wrote about being at a crossroad. We think vocation is standing in that crossroad and choosing a path. One reason I struggled so greatly with “choosing” vocation was that the paths seemed irreversible; you choose one, and then all other roads close. But more often finding vocation is noticing that there’s a field of wildflowers over there that we need to go check out. If we’re not open to surprise, we never notice the wildflowers.

September 2, 2020

Acknowledge the inner crab. I ran errands yesterday. There were people out there. They bugged the hell out of me. There were people flagrantly disobeying the mask mandate by not wearing masks at all. There were others who decided that the suffocation of masks is really annoying and they didn’t need to be bothered the whole time they were in the stores, so their masks were pulled down while they breathed on all the things. Some guy on Facebook wanted “context” for why someone with a skateboard was beating up on a kid with a AR-15 who was shooting people. I shared the link to Google and suggested he find his own “context.” People were a bit much for me yesterday. So I took a nap, did some work, made a galette. I’m struggling with people. Even our friends. I love them and I miss them. But it takes me a while to settle in to being with them when we get together. (Safely, outside, distantly.) Patrick and I have our routine; my work permits me to keep people at arm’s length; I am an introvert. All of these things make the isolation of quarantining pretty simple. Yes, there is restlessness and wanderlust and annoyance. But I am quite content, on the whole, to be where I am in my very small bubble. One of my grad school professors used to talk about pious people who were jerks or didn’t care about helping their neighbors: “They think they love God because they don’t love anybody.” Those words came back to me as I was mentally preparing another Facebook retort to “context” guy while driving from one store to another. I rolled my eyes in Fr. Kevin’s heavenly direction and grumbled something about just wanting to be pissy. The paradox of this quarantine age is that we are caring for or loving others by being physically distant from them and wearing masks that hide our faces, but we are also becoming wary of, annoyed by, or judgmental toward others when they do not act the way we think they should. Our care and our critique are both heightened. No wonder we’re crabby. We have expectations and they are so very rarely met these days. But these people who are around us, driving us batty, they’re doing the best they can. Mostly. Some of them aren’t, and it’s best to just leave them be. But the rest—they’re just as tired and confused and scared as we are. Our inner crabs are much closer to the surface, perhaps, than normal times. These are not normal times, so we need to make room for that crabbiness, let it surface, wave its claws around for a bit, scuttle from one side to another. Then maybe we need to take a nap and remember that loving God involves loving these people who irritate us so very much.

September 3, 2020

Break. Friends have been posting about being broken, shattered, torn apart. Friends feel disconnected, isolated, restless, blah. I feel numb, snarky, and tired. We are all working so hard to hold all of it together. We’re attending to workplaces and schools changing or not or being constantly in flux; we’re washing hands and wearing masks and mad at those who aren’t; we’re exercising more or being lethargic, maybe both on the same day; we’re trying to get from here to November 3 in one piece; we’re seeing that the protests have to continue because cops keep killing Black people and certain segments of our population think this is acceptable; we’re being met with news of brutality from police, government forces, and random kids who get their hands on guns; we’re confronting the reality of how we perpetuate systemic racism; we’re drawing battle lines in churches about who is or is not Catholic, who is or is not Christian, who is or is not sinning. We are holding. We are straining. But here’s something I know: we grieve for a reason. We shatter in the midst of grief. We break open and let ourselves be raw, feel the overwhelming power of emotion and things beyond our control. We are laid flat and cannot deal. There’s a platitude that often accompanies tragedy: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. To that I say, “Bullshit.” God gives us so much, and sometimes it is more than we can handle. God breaks us. God pushes our buttons and drives us up the wall. And God is big enough to take our frustration with this fact. God doesn’t pick us up and carry us along the beach. No, God sits there with us in the muck and mire and holds the pieces for us. She gathers them together, the Great Collector. At some point, in our brokenness, we become ready to to put one piece with another; we become puzzlers. Sometimes we glue the pieces back together; sometimes we let them sit, unsteady and unglued, in case we need to move them about for a bit. Even if you don’t believe in this Divine Accompanist, that’s fine. You too break; you too are an artist who puts yourself back together over and over again. All of us have chipped paint, cracks, ragged edges. We break and we mend. We aren’t meant to hold all of this perfectly right now. It is too much. Let yourself break: cry it out, scream, rage, kick a ball really, really hard, curl up in the fetal position, sleep, run as fast as you can down the street, turn up the music as loud as it will go. Shatter. But make sure you come back: settle your shoulders, dry the tears, drink lots of water, walk, listen to soothing music, talk gently and kindly to yourself and others, look at the trees, feel some sun, invite a friend to join you for a drink on the patio, drink more water. Shattering doesn’t mean we’re broken forever; it means we get creative about putting the pieces back. And they don’t have to go back precisely the way they were. Therein lies the magic of breaking.

September 4, 2020

Create a ritual. We are big Kansas City Irish Fest fans. This is the eighteenth year for the Fest, but like most things this year, it’s not the same. Usually, Patrick and I head to Kansas City on the Friday before Labor Day; we meet up with my family and head to Crown Center to kick off the festivities. Weeks of researching musicians and planning schedules have prepared us for this moment. Drink tickets are purchased; the Visitation beer tent is found; food trucks are scoped out. Vendors are perused; Patrick and I plot which tile we’ll get from Earthen Craft Pottery; I keep my eyes open for a sweater or scarf that must be added to my collection. During super hot years, we take refuge in Crown Center every so often; when it rains, we scamper under whatever tent is nearby; we are not fair-weather festers. Through it all, we dance to, marvel at, and sing along with musicians we’ve known of for years and others who are new discoveries. For three days, we fest; on Labor Day, we drag our weary selves north to home and pets and normal life. Before 2017, we dreamed of a trip to Ireland, vicariously visiting it during the Fest; after our first trip, we used Fest time to reminisce about how delightful it was to go there and prepare for our next March trip. This year isn’t like that at all. There are no tents or vendors or drink tickets. I imagine Crown Center looks forlorn. Irish Fest is my event, the one I want to have happen and am sad isn’t. For other people, it has been other concerts or celebrations, family gatherings or travels. I’ve missed other things, of course. That aforementioned March trip to Ireland, for example. But I’m missing Irish Fest a lot today. My mother taught me the importance of ritualizing. Being Catholic did too, but mom gave me the gift of honoring and celebrating what you miss. On Dad’s death anniversary, we always went to the cemetery and poured a Coke on his grave; even now, for Christmas, we sing “Jingle Bells” to his headstone. After we’ve said goodbye, we march over to where my uncle Kevin is buried and say hello to him. The cookies and milk I have on Dad’s anniversary, the beer on Shaun’s—these are communion. I learned to create space for what’s missing. Today I’m ritualizing the Fest: Irish music is playing; I’m wearing one of my souvenir shirts; soon I’ll write an e-mail to the Earthen Craft Pottery people and tell them how much we miss seeing them. It’s nowhere near the same, but we can still make it special. New ways of being are coming to light this year, and much as we may resent their having to be, there is goodness in recognizing the important things that aren’t what they were. Someday we’ll fest again. Until then, sláinte!

tips, round 7

Another few weeks. Another compilation of tips for these crazy days.

July 27, 2020

Return. Yesterday evening I watched a video of Rep. John Lewis’s casket being carried in a horse-drawn carriage over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I didn’t think I’d cry while watching this. I cried. I couldn’t help but think of the man that bridge created. Rep. Lewis nearly died on that bridge, and he returned to it throughout his life. He experienced fear and prejudice and violence on that bridge. And he came back. He marched over it multiple times after that first horrifying march. He was a different person each time, the world was different each time, but no doubt marching over that bridge was never easy. We all have our bridges. Most likely, we haven’t been beaten or tear gassed on them, but in some way, we’ve been brought to our knees on a bridge, on a journey from one place to another. This year is a bridge. I see the sentiment cropping up: Just get to 2021. Make this year end already! How much more can we handle? We are wishing away the upset of 2020. We want to put it behind us and never look back. I suspect, though, that there will need to be much healing of what has happened in 2020. We not only have to live it but also have to return to it. We need to reckon with how we did or did not care for the vulnerable and sick, with our own fear about illness, with the realities of economic uncertainty, with our belief in systems being shattered, with the ugliness of racism that keeps coming back, with the sneaky racism that infects those we know and love, with the relationships unsettled or torn apart by what we’ve learned about each other in this year. We need to return to these things again and again as different people in a different world. When Ryan died, I did not push myself in any grieving direction. I knew it would happen. That was different from when Shaun had died seven years before. I was in awe of that process and fought a lot of it, despite being utterly at its mercy. With Ryan, I trusted the process, still at its mercy but more willing to let it be what it needed to be. In the Gospel of Luke, Mary treasures things about Jesus in her heart. She stores them there and reflects on them. I gathered and stored thoughts and feelings and griefs about Ryan after his suicide. I treasured them. I couldn’t process them right away, but I had to let them find a place in my heart. In 2020, we are gathering many things into our hearts. We cannot process them now; they will unfold over months and years, but we are storing them away. Returning to this treasure trove will not be easy, but it is a process we will go through for a long time. We cannot be afraid of this year. (Tired of it? Yes. Exasperated? Yes.) Rep. Lewis was an example of strength, dignity, and courage in so many ways. One of the most concrete ways was that he stepped foot, over and over again, on the place that caused him some of the most pain. He returned, and he showed us how to be transformed.

July 28, 2020

Your body is wise. Yesterday I was visiting with a friend about how grief affects the body. She’s tired; her body is exhausted. It reminded me of that utterly worn-out feeling you get with grief. It’s not like normal tiredness or sick tiredness or anxious tiredness. It is a bone-deep exhaustion that’s emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual all at once. We don’t talk about this very often when we discuss grief. But it’s definitely a piece of the grieving process. Grief is sensual. It’s a head thing, but it is very much a body thing too. You hold it in your muscles and bones, as well as in your heart and soul. Covid exhaustion isn’t quite the same as grief exhaustion, but there’s a certain listlessness occurring these days. I’ve seen the meme where it’s described as the “covidcoaster”: one day you’re great and doing all the healthy things; the next you drink heavily and can’t remember how to put on real pants. We are disoriented. We are being told so many things. Some of it rings true; some of it rings very, very hollow. We are struggling to let our guards down, which is keeping us safe. But it is also exhausting us. This exhaustion takes us by surprise, perhaps. We think we’re fine and then, boom, we’re not. Listen to your body. Listen to that exhaustion. It’s how you know that you need to slow down, that you need to acknowledge the grief that’s occurring. Our bodies know in ways our minds don’t (always) that this is unusual and scary and tiring. We can rationalize our safety measures and risk factors. We can think logically about masks, distance, and hygiene. But our bodies are doing the work of holding the tension, fear, and depression about this new world. So of course they’re exhausted. Let your body rest. Let it settle. Listen to what it has to tell you these days. And honor it by paying attention.

July 29, 2020

Reconsider women’s beauty. A “challenge” started this week: post a selfie where you feel beautiful; ask other women to do the same; flood social media with photos of ourselves being pretty. My feeds, of course, have been full of beautiful women. Strong women. Intelligent women. But that’s always been the case. I’ve been tagged to participate in this challenge by a few women. I’m grateful, but I haven’t done it yet. Until now. I was looking for a way in, to make it resonate. The point of social media is to put our best selves forward. We do it all the time. I post the beautiful loaves of bread, not the wonky ones. (Okay, I admit, they all have their beauty.) We post ourselves at our best. Who wants to see us with unbrushed hair, the holey pajamas, just trying to get through the days? No one. Maybe our significant others. Maybe. Social media allows us to show off our shiny, pretty selves. I’ve mentioned Breonna Taylor a few times in these tips, mostly in tandem with other Black people who have been killed recently. But she was a beautiful woman too. She doesn’t get to post her photo this week. She was killed while sleeping. The cops executed a no-knock raid on the wrong house. Her boyfriend, a licensed gun owner, opened fire when the house was being broken into. Of course, he did. Because a gun was there and at the ready, presumably for “protection.” But Breonna had been sleeping, and the cops returned fire, and she was killed. I certainly have thoughts about the elements of this story, particularly the raised stakes once guns are present in any situation, but that’s slightly beside the point. What matters is a young woman is dead and shouldn’t be. When we consider our activism, when we consider our votes and campaigning and issues, do we consider the women? Do we see the Breonna Taylors? Even those of us who have long called ourselves feminists: Do we look for the women? Or do we get tired of having to search all the time for the equality? It’s easy to post a photo of ourselves on the socials. It takes much more effort to find ways to truly keep our eyes on women and the justice they deserve. We women need to be heard. We have voices of strength and integrity. Women have been releasing roars of lament and rage in recent years. At times, we have whimpered in exhaustion or sat in stunned silence. We are as beautiful in these moments as we are when we’re all done up and ready to party. When we consider our beauty, we need to attend to the beauty that isn’t as obvious. Breonna Taylor’s death is ugly; it’s uncomfortable; it’s unjust. But take the time today to find photos of her. See her face. Say her name. Pray and work and vote for justice. If we’re aiming for beauty, maybe justice is how we’ll achieve it.

July 30, 2020

Keep your eye on the ball. Today Trump has done what Trump does: distract. Today is John Lewis’s funeral; a devastating economic report on the last quarter was released. John Lewis, who had more integrity in his pinky finger than Trump has had in his whole life, is being laid to rest. He has been laying in state as people pay their respects. He is being mourned. And our economy is doing poorly. It was being propped up before the pandemic, and a recession was expected even before that crisis threw everything up in the air. The economy that was “great” wasn’t actually doing all that well, and we’re seeing just how bad it has become. Add to that the continued failed response to covid-19 and over 150,000 American deaths. Of course, Trump needed a distraction today. Of course, he went for the election. It is extremely unlikely that the election will be moved or canceled. I’m sure AG Barr is tying himself in knots trying to find a legal (or semi-legal) way to make it happen. Take some deep breaths, though. See the distraction for what it is. Look at Lewis. Watch some of the funeral if you can. Read his piece in the New York Times today. Look at the people who are out of work and struggling and in need of help. Donate to the food shelf or a women’s shelter or a medical charity. See if there’s a way to help parents who don’t know what school will look like this fall. Ask your teacher friends if they need sanitizing products and pick up some extras next time you’re at the store. Donate to or volunteer for an organization that registers voters and works for voting rights. Trump threw a flaming torch into all the balls we’re trying to juggle these days. Let it fall, stomp on it to put out the flames, and keep your eye on what matters. Trump is being Trump. Let’s not allow that to stop us being the thoughtful, intelligent, and kind humans we are.

July 31, 2020

Rethink. Writing and editing are continuous rethinking. A sentence doesn’t work, so you rework it. The word you want doesn’t fit, so you find a way to fit it. You can’t remember the rules for lay/lie, so you rework the piece to avoid those words. (I will neither confirm nor deny that the last is an autobiographical confession.) The Chicago Manual of Style has a Q&A section on their website. It’s updated monthly with questions from editors and writers. Some of the discussions get into the editorial weeds; others are applicable to all areas of life. It was in response to one of the questions submitted to Chicago that one of their editors answered, “There is almost always a way to rethink.” I have loved that from the moment I first read it years ago. We can fall into patterns of thinking; it’s easy and we’re lazy. New thinking takes work and creativity and imagination. We don’t always have the time or energy for it. And that’s not necessarily a problem. But I suspect that one of the reasons 2020 is hitting us so hard is that it’s requiring a lot of rethinking. And that’s taking a lot of energy and making us tired and crabby. We need to find the excitement of rethinking. We need to tap into the creativity of this time. Some of our problems are new or haven’t affected us the same as they are now, and they require new solutions. Some of our problems are age-old, and we’re realizing just how insidious they are and have been; they require new solutions. When old solutions no longer work, when they become tired and problematic in and of themselves, it’s time to rethink. All the pieces have been thrown up in the air. We can rearrange them if we so choose. Some of us want to put them back exactly the way they were, and that’s an understandable reaction. But it isn’t realistic. It’s up to those of us who have the energy, desire, and creativity to rethink the pieces, to try new orders and new ways. That’s a big ask. So let’s start small. Where can you rethink in your day? What’s not working for you that you simply put up with? Can you rearrange it, let it go, do it differently so whatever it is actually works for you? Is there a person who drains you? Can you rethink your relationship with them? We need to practice rethinking so it doesn’t become quite so exhausting, so we can allow the imagination to flow rather than stagnate. And if we rethink here, within our own lives and homes and workplaces, maybe it’ll expand into our country and world.

August 3, 2020

Breathe into the space. I am not the only one to note the parallels between an infection that inflicts the lungs and a Black man crying out for breath—both of which have caused massive upheaval. Our breath is sacred, grounding, life-giving. It sustains and refreshes. When we talk about being inspired, we are talking about how the Spirit, a breath, invigorates and moves us. We have been holding our breath and trying to let it out again during these months. We have become very attentive to our own breathing and that of others. We are not, in many ways, comfortable, and our breath is strained as a result. There’s a slightly annoying thing that yoga teachers say when they direct you into a difficult pose: “Breathe into this space.” You might be stretched out into a shape that you never could have imagined your body taking, but they want you to “breathe into it.” Sometimes, the teacher suggests you scan your body at the beginning of a class, noticing what places in your body are holding tension or pain or stress. Then they suggest you breathe into these spaces. It takes a while to realize the wisdom of this concept. When we are bound, when we are holding things, when we feel like we’re not quite moving right, we need breath. Breath is what gives us the ability to loosen, to move, to expand. When we are afraid or stressed, we tighten to protect. It freezes and calcifies. But breathing into a space, as impossible as it might seem in the moment, gives us something new. It brings our attention to what needs healing. It slows us down so we can attend to what needs movement or stilling or touch. Our inclination in these months of pandemic and protest is to conserve our breath, to protect, to strain in these spaces. Natural as that inclination may be, it’s not helpful. We are being called to stretch. Still. It’s an ongoing call this year. (It’s an ongoing call in life, really.) And as impossible as it may seem, we need to breathe into this space. So many lives have been lost. So many have been deprived of breath. We need to be breathing in honor and memory of them. By breathing into this space, we may be able to loosen it to create new space, new movement, new abilities.

August 4, 2020

Fold the laundry. You’ve heard about the seven deadly sins, I assume. They originated from what were actually eight deadly thoughts, not necessarily actions. The desert fathers and mothers, the early monastics, warned against sinful thinking. If you were constantly thinking about food, you were not thinking of God and how God provides for all one needs. If you thought about how great you were, filling yourself with pride, then you were putting yourself in God’s shoes, not letting God be God. Today we might consider mindfulness as the way we control our thoughts, to not get carried away with dangerous or unhealthy thinking; for the early monastics, watching our thoughts was a way to focus solely on God. The eighth thought, the one that got lost in the move from thinking to doing, is acedia. In today’s medicalized world, it often gets described as a kind of depression. There are distinct differences, however, between depression and acedia. One can and sometimes should be treated medically; the other is a spiritual “sickness” and therefore has a different treatment. Acedia is a listlessness, a heaviness. But the desert monastics also called it the noonday demon: it’s the thing that doesn’t allow you to settle into where you are and what you are doing. In the middle of praying your daily psalms, you get up and wander to your next-cave neighbor to see what’s happening with her. You chat for a bit. Then you wander back home. And instead of continuing your prayers, maybe you dust the cave. And because that was work, you decide a nap is necessary. By the time your nap is over, you haven’t said your prayers or you’ve rushed through them. You meander into nighttime. And then you get up the next day and it all happens again. Over and over again. Acedia is the tedium of the quotidian endlessly spreading out before us. The pandemic has created a sense of acedia within me at times. Why vacuum today when the floors will still be there tomorrow and guests will not be? A nap sounds so much better than weeding the gardens. Ordering pizza requires much less effort than actually cooking decent and healthy food. Scrolling through Facebook is more mind-numbing and somehow satisfying than actually working. In her book Acedia and Me, Kathleen Norris addresses this deadly thought and how she has come to terms with it. One of the things she suggests is doing the daily work. With acedia, you want to avoid the tedium, but, oddly enough, doing those tedious little things is what moves you out of the listlessness. So you say the prayers, you do the dishes, you check in on your neighbors to make sure they’re alive and well (not as distraction but as genuine care), and you fold the laundry. You enter into the quotidian rather than wish it away or waste it. I am not always good at this. Naps are some of my favorite things, and occasionally laziness feels nice. But so does a freshly dusted home and a clean kitchen. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the tedium of these pandemic days, despite the fact that your days might seem more “normal” than they have in a while, consider entering that tedium and doing the work of it anyway. As for me, there’s a basket of laundry that’s calling out to be folded.

August 5, 2020

Choose the open spaces. Today marks one year since Toni Morrison died. I still can’t believe we live in a world without her. That seems dramatic and strange to say, given that I never met her and she wasn’t a close friend. And yet, in some sense, I fancy that I know her well. Her words ring in my head and heart. They bring me back to myself when I falter. They sing to me and hug me and comfort me. They challenge me and awe me and expand me. I am a different person because I have read Toni Morrison. I can’t say that about everyone I’ve read, but she moved something in me from the first sentence of Song of Solomon. She’s moving me still. Her last published book was The Source of Self-Regard, a book of essays. I haven’t made it all the way through them, in large part because I’m savoring them. I want to stretch this out, so I pick it up and chew on a few essays at a time. Then I put it back down, knowing that in a few months, I’ll need more sustenance. I would love to read what she would have to say about our world today, in the year since her passing. I am certain it would cut to our core. I share two quotes, though, from The Source of Self-Regard that I think capture much of what she would tell us today:

“No more apologies for a bleeding heart when the opposite is no heart at all. Danger of losing our humanity must be met with more humanity.” (“The War on Error,” 29)

“Our past is bleak. Our future is dim. But I am not reasonable. A reasonable man adjusts to his environment. An unreasonable man does not. All progress, therefore, depends on the unreasonable man. I prefer not to adjust to my environment. I refuse the prison of ‘I’ and choose the open spaces of ‘we.'” (“Moral Inhabitants,” 47)

I do not want to be reasonable either. Our problems these days call for unreasonable imaginations. They require humanity and openness and refusing to accept what has been normalized. When we choose the “we,” we expand. When we choose the “I,” it becomes a prison. We’re seeing this play out over and over again in 2020. We have to elbow our way into the open spaces. We have to be unreasonable. We have to be human.

August 6, 2020

Consider what’s radiating. One of the things I’ve learned from going to the chiropractor and getting massages is that what you think is the problem isn’t always the problem. You might go in with a locked-up right shoulder, but it’s actually your left hip that’s out of place. Your right knee feels off, but it’s actually your left knee that’s wonky. Something hurts or is injured, but we protect it and therefore other things get off balance. The chiropractor or massage therapist deals with the immediate problem—the locked shoulder or off knee—but then they go to some unexpected place to get to the root of the issue. The problem, the pain, has radiated. The way it’s manifesting needs to be dealt with, but true healing won’t happen unless you dig a little deeper to find out where the real problem is. Our society is like this too. The more I pay attention to the political, the more I realize that the problems we see are not the main issues. I think Elizabeth Warren was brilliant at articulating this in her platform when she was a primary candidate. The immediate problem is x, but the root of the problem is y; so she had plans for dealing with x but also for addressing y. Hearing her speak about our issues has taught me a lot about cause and effect, about what’s radiating through society. If we address only the immediate crises, we will never heal, never be the country or people or world we are called to be. The pandemic and the protests have shed light on what we have been protecting and what has therefore gotten off balance. At the roots are racism, unfettered capitalism, deregulation, individualism, and, I would say, a skewed understanding of the “American dream.” These are the issues that need addressing so we can heal what ails us. But it isn’t just out there, in society, in the world. It’s in our homes and neighborhoods, our churches and groups of friends too. What are we protecting in our little worlds? What’s getting off balance because we aren’t attending to root issues? What is it that we need to address on the surface, and where do we need to go deeper? What is radiating? And if we heal these things, what will radiate instead?

August 7, 2020

Arrive. Over the years I have done morning writing off and on. I get up, get a glass of water, set a timer, and write. It’s a way to clear my head and heart. At some point, I realized that the writing needed to be paired with movement. As I worked through my uncles’ suicides and the resulting grief and anxiety, the writing brought stuff up; I started doing yoga to let it out of my body. This was a stop-and-start process. Until three months ago when it became daily (minus weekends). The writing begins my day; the yoga sets the tone for it. I have noticed, though, that in recent weeks the writing time is scattered. I haven’t settled into it well. My mind wanders, and much of the writing time is spent thinking about what to write or staring out the window. It feels fruitless. So I decided to try something I’ve learned in the yoga time: arriving. Often at the start of a yoga class the teacher gives you time to settle onto the mat. You sit or stand still. You arrive. You take time to let your breath slow down, let your mind calm, let your spirit catch up with your body. You set an intention and think about what you want the practice to be about, what it might have to teach you. And then you begin to move. But first you have to arrive. This morning I arrived to the page. I set my timer for a few minutes longer than normal, and I allowed myself to sit in silence for a bit. It transformed the time. Rather than rushing into words, I allowed stillness and silence to create space for the words. There was still some window gazing, but I was much more focused on the page than I have been. Arriving makes for a different way of being present. There is a mystic who says that when you do the dishes, you should do the dishes. (I can’t remember if it’s Merton or Nouwen or a Buddhist monk.) I think of that often while I scrub pans and silverware. Be present to the work you’re doing at the time you’re doing it. This is another form of arrival. So often we move from one thing to another without thinking much about it; we carry what we’ve done with us, or we are mentally five steps ahead of where we are physically. But to arrive at where you are and do what you’re doing can transform what’s being done. It allows for more attention and intention. It allows grace to seep into the process and, perhaps, into the self.

August 10, 2020

Attend to your perception. A few years ago I purchased writing book called A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie. Each day has a reflection on the writing life and a quote from someone wonderful. They’re short, perfect little lectios for my writing time. I usually read one as I start my morning writing, and I reflect on it or not, depending on how I feel or what the topic is. Today’s reflection was about how Abercrombie takes her dog for a walk, and he smells and hears so much more than she can comprehend. She’s lost in her brain fog while he’s sniffing away, getting all the news he needs for his day. They can walk the same path over and over again, but he’s still sniffing and listening, gathering information about his little world. Our dogs do this too. The way Buddy can sense a storm coming is truly remarkable (if annoying). And Cully’s ability to know where chipmunks are in the yard is impressive. Scout too has her instincts: I love watching her hunt a spider who finds his way in the house or be dazzled by the way light moves across a wall or the ceiling. These animals teach us to notice things differently. Covid-19 is raging unchecked in the United States. Our worlds got very small very quickly earlier this year. We have been expanding them, sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly. I understand the inclination. But the more I read about infection rates, the more I want to stay home and never leave. I can get trapped in this small world. I can feel hemmed in by it, constrained by it. While I find safety and comfort here, it can also cause a kind of claustrophobia. But what if we shift our perception? What if we open our eyes and ears to see and hear what’s happening right here? What if we smell the changing seasons, the different times of day? What can we perceive about who we are where we are? What self-discovery, what human discovery can we unlock if we shift our perception?

August 11, 2020

See Mary. An interesting thing happened yesterday. I went to get the mail, but when I got to the front door, a woman and her two daughters were standing there. Their car had run out of gas. The person in the house across the street from where the car was stalled was threatening to have it towed because it “bothered his dogs.” I have a hunch he was bothered by their Blackness. She was frightened. They had been trying to get in to the local women’s shelter over the weekend but were not having luck. She had no phone. She had come here from elsewhere. She was trying to find safe haven. She looked exhausted. The girls looked confused but resigned. They were vulnerable. I called people. I tried to get help. I learned that it is incredibly hard to get help. She did not want the cops because she said they had not been helpful in the past and they’d not had good experiences with cops. I understood. When a Black person tells you they don’t want the cops called, and that Black person is not threatening you in any way, you listen. You listen especially hard because there’s a litany of Black names ringing in your head, names belonging to people who should still be alive today but aren’t. I am not confronted by vulnerable and endangered people very often, if ever. I sit in my home, do my work, run some errands, live a comfortable and unbothered life. There are little crises here and there, of course. Friends and family with medical concerns. Various griefs that life brings. Mental and emotional struggles. But fleeing for one’s life and safety? That’s new to me. Nothing about the encounter was easy. She was wary. So was I. Strangers on the doorstop rarely make one comfortable. We watch a lot of detective shows; they make an impression. And I admit that during a few of the phone calls, I simply wanted her to go away. Thank me for trying. Move along. Find someone else more qualified and able to help. But she was Mary with her two Christs standing at my door, asking for concern. I could give her that—and some granola bars. I got them some gas as well, and, with the help of another neighbor, we gave her a couple of gallons to at least get her along her way. In the direction of safe haven. She has weighed heavy on my heart since I left her and her daughters at their car. I am hopeful they find rest, safety, care. I met Mary yesterday; she was tired.

August 12, 2020

Watch what you buy into. I’m not the first one to say this: we are being bombarded with information. Social media has changed the landscape. New stuff comes at us all the time. It’s tempting to take what we see at face value. Take this new “save the children” hashtag that’s been going around. On the surface, saving children from trafficking is certainly an admirable and important thing. But the hashtag is not about that. It’s a code for a theory tied to QAnon: that Hollywood and various political and celebrity elites are involved in a pedophile ring. This is the same thinking and theory that led to the shooting a few years ago at a pizza parlor because the guy thought Hillary Clinton was running a trafficking ring out of the restaurant’s basement (which didn’t exist). This hashtag and conspiracy claim that people are more focused on covid deaths, which are minimal and possibly a hoax, than on trafficking victims. Because apparently we can’t care about more than one thing at a time. People, we are smarter than this. We can dig a little deeper into memes and stories to find out where they come from and why they’re trending. Keep this in mind as we move toward the election too. Already Trump and his enablers are trying to push Kamala Harris as an extremist for the left wing of the Democrats, also claiming that she’s not qualified to be a vice president because her parents are immigrants. This is simply false: she’s very much a moderate Democrat, and she is qualified. We can discuss what level of moderation or progressivism is needed right now, but let’s keep our eye on the ball. She’s intelligent, solid, and strong. (From the speculation I saw, all of the candidates shortlisted for vp had these qualities.) Maybe, maybe we look for the good here instead of tearing down or being tempted to the fantastical. Rash judgments are easy, and Lord knows I make plenty of them. But stepping back to see what’s behind a trend or a hashtag or a story is essential, especially in these final months of the election. We too are intelligent, solid, and strong. Let’s put these qualities to good use.

August 14, 2020

Take courage. I was recently reminded of something one of my high school religion teachers wrote to me. I had asked her about courage. She responded with a beautiful letter. In returning to this letter, almost twenty years after she sent it, I see how very much she gave me in her words. As a freshman in college, I relished these words for the support they gave from a favorite teacher. Now, I see them as communion, as visitation, as encounter. As I have worked through anxiety over the years, one of her lines has come back to me regularly: “Lauren, some days it takes courage to simply get out of bed—and begin the process of trying to be real all over again.” This week has been difficult for me. From Mary on our doorstep to voting on Tuesday, from being behind on a work project to worrying about someone I know who’s sick—the anxiety has been high. I am keeping my chin up, trying to push through. I can’t not push through right now. I would love to spend this rainy day curled up in bed with a book and tea, letting my mind and body reset. I don’t have that time, though. So I’m creating smaller resets: enjoying writing, doing gentler yoga, quilting at night, doing the work that needs to get done. Slowly things will get set back to right. They always do. When we struggle with anxiety and grief, it’s easy to think we are not strong or capable or courageous. We are tempted into believing that we are less. But the truth is, opening our eyes every morning and putting our feet on the floor is an act of courage. Being real, opening ourselves to what makes us vulnerable, letting the fear come but not being swept away by it—this is courage. Marvel movies and action blockbusters have distorted our sense of courage. We think we need big guns and lots of explosions and sexy outfits. Sometimes we just need yoga pants, a comfy shirt, some coffee, loving words from loving ones, and a commitment to be real in the face of what comes. Yes, this is courage.

tips, round 6

Greetings. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog with the Tips for Today. These go through last Thursday. (I didn’t write a tip on Friday.) Thank you for reading.

June 29, 2020

We’re not done yet. I know. We want things to be normal. We want to eat out and hug friends and do the things we used to do in February before the world changed. More and more, we realize that we can’t yet. It’s not time yet. We’re not done yet. There’s an interesting point in grieving where you realize you’re not quite in the deep grief space but you’re not quite out of it either. It’s a liminal space, a threshold space. Every time you laugh, you feel some guilt about feeling an inkling of happiness. Every time you do something normal, like take a shower or do the dishes or cook a healthy meal, you think about how effortless it was to do, but then you get sad because it was effortless. The grief is getting easier to carry, but it’s still very much there. Some days you feel like your old self; other days you just sit on the couch and move as little as possible because you simply can’t. It’s an odd tug-of-war on the self. The grief work isn’t done yet. It still has more to teach you. This is where we are with the pandemic. Part of us is very much done with this constant attention to carefulness. We want to move through the world with the reckless abandon we had just a few months ago. But we can’t yet. We are growing resentful of the people we see as being unhelpful: those who don’t wear masks, who have parties, who demand places open. We can resent all we want, but it’s not going to move us out of this space faster. We still have work to do here. So give yourself some space to be resentful for a bit if you need, but then remember the hopes we had as we settled in to quarantine. We wanted to come out of this kinder, more attentive, more intentional. We wanted to be more accepting of stillness and more grateful for those people who do work behind the scenes. We haven’t learned the lessons yet. We haven’t finished the work yet. We’re not done yet.

June 30, 2020

Capacity shifts. Today ends the 30 Opportunities for Yoga that I’ve been doing. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m capable of through these weeks. As my body has become stronger, more things have become more accessible to me. I am astounded each time it happens. I am less afraid because of this challenge. I used to avoid “intermediate” or “advanced” classes. I won’t now. Not everything will be doable, but much of it will. And I can adjust what isn’t. This doesn’t just apply to yoga, of course. I notice myself being more flexible overall, more resilient overall. Anxiety forces us into small spaces. It makes you stick to what’s comfortable, what doesn’t cause panic. Movements can become very constrained. The body is tense, ready to fight or fly at any provocation. In many ways, I feel like I’ve lived this way for ten years, since Shaun’s suicide. That experience forced me into a tight little ball of self-protection. For whatever reason, the time has finally come to unfurl. I’m doing that in a very concrete way with yoga, but it’s happening in a more abstract way as I embrace my call as a writer. Unfurling. Over and over again. Into this new space. As we reckon with the continuing pandemic, as we are exhausted by the never-ending-ness of it, how is our capacity changing? Are we doing less or more? If it has shrunk you, how can you expand into your space again? Where can you build strength? Where can you breathe deeper? This pandemic has changed us. Our abilities have changed as a result. We are more capable than we think.

July 1, 2020

Do the thing that brings some joy. I’m exhausted. Again. Three nights in a row of very interrupted sleep because of fireworks, storms, and a dog who hates both. Buddy is, on some level, getting conditioned to hate nighttime. I think our last night of totally uninterrupted sleep was two weeks ago. It was glorious. I miss that night. We’ll get through this strange time of sleeplessness, but it has me feeling foggy today. (No doubt those of you who have had newborns are laughing at me.) I’m tempted to go crawl in to bed, but that seems like defeat. I have work to do, deadlines to meet. A nap will happen later. In the afternoon it doesn’t feel like defeat; it feels like luxury. But here’s the joy part: I’m going to bake a cake today. I’ve had a hankering for a chocolate stout cake. It’s taken a few days to decide what kind of frosting I want: the middle layer will be a whipped cream with Irish cream; the frosting itself will be a whipped ganache. If that doesn’t infuse some joy into this sleepless delirium, I don’t know what will. These pandemic days have grown tedious. As we reckon with how or if it will change in the States, it feels as if we’ve made no progress. On the one hand, we haven’t. On the other, there are broader, bigger shifts taking place. But as we look at news and increasing numbers and travel bans and continued (necessary) protests, I feel the need to find the joy. So much of what we’re doing is hard work, important work; we need to let ourselves rest into some easy and joyous work too. Today, that looks like cake.

July 2, 2020

Be inspired. Recently we’ve watched several shows/specials about people doing their thing. I’m going to draw parallels between two unlikely people: Kevin Smith and Toni Morrison. Kevin Smith is a filmmaker. You might know him for Dogma or Clerks or other random things. His work isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. But Patrick finds him funny, and we’ve watched some of his “stand up” shows. They’re not comedy, exactly, but they’re talks where he tells stories about his experiences as a filmmaker. We actually went to see him live a few years ago. He’s ridiculous and funny and irreverent and crass and likes weed. I appreciate some of those things and tolerate others. But here’s what I do love about him: he does his art and he encourages others to do theirs. Unabashedly. I love this. He tells his audiences that if they’re waiting for “talent” to show up, they’ll be waiting forever. If they have an idea for a book or movie or tv show—DO IT! He calls failure “success training.” How cool is that? He has found a way to do his art and wants others to do the same so they don’t live with regret about what could have been. And Morrison. Did you all watch The Pieces I Am on PBS last week? It’s streaming now. Go. Watch it. I’ll wait . . . Okay. Did you hear that part where she wrote the list of things that needed to get done, like going to the grocery store and cooking and paying bills? And then she wrote the things she had to do to survive: being a mom and writing. Two things. Morrison was an editor who amplified the voices of people needing to be heard. She was a voice that needed to be heard too so she wrote the books she wanted to read. And she raised two kids while writing these incredible novels about being human. She did her art. Slowly I am stepping in to the space of calling myself a writer. Hearing these two very different voices say essentially the same thing—do your art—moves me closer and closer to that space. I’m not sure what clicked within this pandemic and protest time for me, but within these days I have found inspiration. Within the tedium and fear and static, there is a spark bursting into flame. Find your inspiration.

July 3, 2020

Think through freedom. I have a love-hate relationship with the Fourth. (And no, it’s not just because of Buddy’s fear of fireworks.) I appreciate that we’re free in the United States, but there are two big caveats to that statement: (1) we aren’t the only free country in this world; (2) a lot of people within our borders do not experience the freedom the Fourth celebrates. The United States is a grand experiment. It has been tested. It is being tested. Maybe this year is a great time to consider what freedom truly means for us. It’s an election year. We have the freedom to vote, but more and more we’re learning how that freedom is restricted or suppressed. How free are we if polling places are strategically closed? How free are we if voter registration is not automatic? How free are we when disenfranchisement is an assumed part of the voting process? We have been confined, at least somewhat, to our homes. We have been asked to put our own needs aside to help others. As a country. As a world. But then, as a country, we started to fail. So where are we now? What does freedom mean when we can’t figure out how to put a little piece of fabric over our nose and mouth to protect others? What does freedom mean when we’re so concerned with getting haircuts and going to bars that we don’t care how this affects others around us? What does freedom mean when we’ll sacrifice people for the economy (i.e., a living being for an abstract, constructed reality)? This year we are reckoning with racism in a way I certainly haven’t seen in my lifetime, with the exception, perhaps, of the LA Riots, but I was young and don’t recall those very well. Are we free if a large portion of our citizenry can’t do everyday things (e.g., jog, go to the store, sleep in their own bed) without fear of being killed by cops? Are we free if incarceration is a modern form of slavery? Are we free if we construct walls to keep people out and stoke the fires of fear and hate? There is a lot to celebrate about the United States. But there’s a lot to think critically about too. So, sure, enjoy the celebration, but consider that the freedom we celebrate isn’t unfettered, universal, equal. Maybe this Fourth we can make a commitment to change that.

July 6, 2020

Refresh. I took three days off of yoga. I took three days off of makeup and bras and demands. (I did work on Friday, but it was a “relax day” too.) I took naps. I read fiction and the London Review of Books. I drank tea and made scones. I quilted and we watched shows. The last two weeks have been rough at our house. We’ve been tired. We’ve been pushing through. Patrick and I don’t tend to fight. We might snip at each other, but generally, we talk things out pretty well. I’m lucky he lets a lot roll off his back. He’s lucky I have learned from him how to do that. We’re lucky. But we had a fight last week. It got resolved, and the blame is squarely on lack of sleep and short fuses. So this weekend, I went into restore mode. I knew Friday and Saturday nights would be rough with Buddy (the dog who hates fireworks). They were. We have a system that mostly works now, but it means Patrick is sleeping on a cot in the basement, and I don’t sleep well if he’s not snoring by me. Yesterday I got up at 8, made tea, had a few sips, ate breakfast and read an article from the LRB, then promptly fell asleep until 10:30. Then we took a nap in the afternoon. It was supposed to be twenty minutes. It ended up being two hours. We needed it. It’s tempting to feel guilty about taking multiple long naps. I’m embarrassed to admit it. Weekends are for doing! We should have done stuff yesterday! Like laundry! And more cleaning! And work! And all the things! But we didn’t. We checked out. And it felt good. This morning, I got up and wrote. I got to my yoga mat. As you begin a yoga class, the teacher will often ask you to consider an intention for the class. The word that came to me again and again today was “Refreshment.” Things can grow pretty stale these days. We might not be moving as much as we have been, or we’re moving very differently. We’re holding a lot of emotions and thoughts in our heads and hearts. We may have hit the start button after being paused for a bit, but it still feels like the tape isn’t quite right yet. We feel we should be doing so much more, but that’s not necessarily doable or good yet. I know it’s Monday, and weeks are not good times to “refresh,” but I’m going to challenge you to find refreshment this week. A cool drink on the patio. Finding five minutes of quiet in the midst of a chaotic or frustrating day. Doing a thing you love instead of a thing you have to for a bit. Listening to music that makes you dance. Find that well of refreshment and rejuvenation. Drink deep. You’ll come back to your day stronger, better, steadier.

July 7, 2020

Watch your language. Ever since George Floyd was murdered, I’ve been very attentive to how I use “light” and “dark” in these tips. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or taking care where care isn’t needed, but I don’t think so. Language shapes who we are. It’s how we express ourselves but also how we form ourselves. It gives us context. We interpret the world through our language, which is both concrete and symbolic. It’s the symbolic function of “light” and “dark” that I’ve been considering a lot lately. Consider art or literature or movies. The light spaces are the safe ones. Julie Andrews singing on a mountaintop. Mufasa showing Simba the kingdom and describing it as the place where the light touches. The dark spaces are the dangerous ones. The dark woods where little girls in red hoods encounter wolves. Mufasa telling Simba not to go to the shadowy place. Consider too the ways in which “bad guys” are portrayed in films. Very often it’s Black or Brown men (and sometimes women) used to subtly tell us, hey, this character isn’t good. And this isn’t just an old phenomenon. Watch Guardians of the Galaxy; it happens there too. But there’s another side to “light” and “dark.” Consider the fear we feel when a heinous crime is committed in broad daylight. It seems unthinkable. Think also of the richness of what darkness gives us: the dirt in which seeds grow; the magical woods of Lothlorien or Midsummer Night’s Dream; the chance for rest and restoration through sleep. My point is this: we have to watch our symbolic language. We lean very heavily on the light/good–dark/bad symbols. This seeps ever so subtly into our thinking about how we see light and dark skin too. If you pay any attention to what Trump and other white supremacists are telling us, it’s that protestors and those working for racial justice are trying to take away “our history.” They claim that racial equality and justice diminishes who white people are. Aside from being total bollocks, it’s a complete lack of understanding how expansive this equality and justice are. We are being called to look at who we have been and see that we can be more. Our images of light and dark aren’t one sided. So don’t use them as such. Use the dark to describe beauty and goodness and richness. Use light to describe the unexpected ways fear shows up. Flip the narratives to see what our language can do. Flip it to see who we can become.

A note about capitalization: The Chicago Manual of Style has changed their recommendation to now capitalize “Black” and “Brown.” Other guides are making the same change. It is a good one. Capitalization of “white” is not as clear-cut, and Chicago leaves it up to authors and presses. I am choosing to lowercase it. When considering that “Black” encompasses a tradition, albeit varied, and a history, capitalization makes a lot of sense. Similar statements could be said about Brown culture, but that’s much more varied. Still, the cap seems appropriate. But “white” doesn’t have the same cultural cohesiveness. Add to that, white supremacists often choose to capitalize “white.” My biggest reason for the lowercase is that it implies humility, and that’s something we white people desperately need to foster these days. More on that tomorrow.

July 8, 2020

Cultivate humility. The best editing advice I ever got came from a chiropractor. Barb Hoyt was a family friend who also got me to stand up straight. She was fierce and kind and witty. She taught me about wine and how to say “fuck.” I know that last thing is a strange one, but she said it so beautifully. It was poetry coming from Barb. She died in 2013, and I miss her. But before I started my job at Liturgical Press in 2008, I went home to Kansas City for a few weeks. I saw Barb for an adjustment. Splayed out on her table, I was at her mercy. She had a particular way of holding her hands when she made a point, and as she alternated between cracking and sermonizing, she pointed her finger and said, “Humility. Humility. Humility. Remember that. When you edit, you’re dealing with people’s babies.” These words have resonated as I’ve worked with authors I’ve loved and others who challenged and frustrated me. The work isn’t about me. It did take me some time to figure this out, but with Barb’s words ringing in my ears, I eventually learned it. We tend to think of humility as a negative, and there certainly is a “doormat” philosophy that is dangerous. But that’s not actually humility. In his Rule, Benedict lays out twelve steps of humility. There’s some doormat potential, as he writes that we are but “worms,” but Benedict’s whole goal is to remind the monks that they are not God. They are God’s workers. Benedictines have a strong sense of self. Sure, you get some who are rather arrogant. But in general, the Benedictines I know live in such a way that they know their gifts and weaknesses, they thank God for their abilities, and they do not strive to puff themselves up with pride. This is humility: to know yourself, both your gifts and your limits. This has been a year of learning humility. As we confront covid-19, we must learn that we are not capable of all the things all the time and that others matter as much as we do. As we confront racism and white supremacy, many of us are reckoning with how we have allowed such evils to flourish. It takes humility to put on a mask. It takes humility to acknowledge how you’ve participated in systems of abuse. As people push back against masks or safety measures, as they claim that “all lives matter” and Confederate monuments are “our history,” I see a confusion between humility and humiliation. Humiliation belittles and shames. It leaves no room for discussion or growth. I suspect that those who are fighting against current reality feel humiliated or fear humiliation. Humility, on the other hand, is expansive. It is grace-filled. In humility, we see our strengths and know how much room there is for improvement. Barb’s advice still rings true in these days of pandemic and protest: we are dealing with people’s babies. We must bring humility to the table.

July 9, 2020

Notice the things that set you off. I had a rough patch yesterday. After getting up early with the dog for the storm, making berry scones, and working, I got really nervous mid-morning. Nervous like I had been in late March and April. Unsettled. Breathing tight. Slightly spinny. I noticed it immediately. (Sometimes, nervousness sneaks up on you. It takes a while to realize that you’re holding your breath. That wasn’t yesterday.) And then I thought about what I’d read in the morning: an article about covid brain damage; information about the Broadway star who died of it; another article about all the unknowns. So, duh. Of course I was anxious. I had steeped myself in the muck. Anxiety requires that you get to know yourself pretty well. And it lets you know when you’ve forgotten. Yesterday I forgot. Once I remembered, it was easier to settle back down, to get back to work, to breathe deeper. It was a blip, but a helpful, if disconcerting, one. We have become very sensitive to things that “trigger” people in recent years. It’s an important and kind thing to let them know they may encounter unsettling information. But sometimes we can’t be prepared for how we’ll react; what triggers us one day doesn’t the next. So we have to be constantly and consistently aware of our responses and reactions. Not in a hyperactive or panicked way, though that can happen and is a signal that things need to shift. But in an intentional way, a way that allows us to see when we can enter the muck and when it might be best to stay among the wildflowers. We’re not through this yet, and exhausting though it may be, such awareness is the only way forward. Know what rocks your boat; know too what steadies your ship. Either way, keep sailing.

July 10, 2020

Embrace humility, part 2. Last night someone forwarded me an e-mail about being proud to be white. It was all those racist tropes about how there’s an NAACP but no protection for white people; about how there’s a Black history month but not a white history month; about how white people are called racist just for being proud of who they are. I was angry. I’m still angry. I requested that forwards of this sort not be sent to me again and explained that I live an hour from where George Floyd was murdered and that people drive around our town with Confederate flags on their trucks to terrorize Somali refugees. This week a woman had to explain to her two-year-old and four-year-old children what the swastika and “N” word carved on to the slide at a local playground mean. Two and four. Tell me again why I should be proud of my whiteness. I also suggested articles and podcasts for further education on why Black lives matter and what the big deal is. Because it is a big deal. I was told, in response, to reread the original screed. I didn’t. As I’ve reflected on this for the last twelve hours (minus, of course, the sleeping time), I’ve landed here: I am not proud to be white. I am proud to be Irish. The history of the Irish is tenacious and wise and deep. We have dark senses of humor, and music courses through our blood (even if some of us can’t carry a tune in a bucket). Our literature is full of the beauty of green hills and the unpredictability of the sea. Our religion is a stunning mixture of the devout and the pagan. We carry hunger and oppression within us, and we have mixed relationships with alcohol. Being Irish is a thing to be proud of, but it is not dependent on whiteness. Being proud of whiteness carries with it a history of supremacy, evil, and hatred. The history of being white in the United States is one of inflicting terror on Black and Brown people. I will never be proud of that. One of the most stunning realizations that we, as white people, can come to is that we often erased Black people’s history. I can be proud to be Irish because I know where I come from. Due to slavery, Black people sometimes don’t know where they come from. When I first stepped on Irish soil, I knew I had landed at home. It was one of the most surreal and incredible experiences of my life. I knew my people had walked on that land, and I felt it course through me. White people stole home from Black people. I am not proud of that. I do, however, support Black pride. Here’s why: Black pride is a reclaiming of identity and dignity that white people took. Black pride is taking up space when they have been told for four hundred years to shut up and get on with the work. Black pride carries hunger and oppression within and keeps going anyway; we Irish folks should be able to get that. Black pride is singing subversive songs of faith despite being whipped and beaten and killed. Black pride does not diminish me. It shows me how to be human, resilient, faithful, and strong. Black pride is about breaking chains and flying. I will always, always, stand on the ground in awe of those taking flight.

July 13, 2020

This is not normal. Nothing about this year is normal. We are trying to get back to “normal,” but that doesn’t exist anymore. As I hear about schools reopening, as the secretary of education dismisses the dangers of “only” .02 percent of children dying from covid, as I see friends who are parents and teachers trying to figure out how to manage logistics and fear, as we hit record numbers of daily diagnoses, as our death rate increases largely unchecked, as people fight about masks and personal space—it is so tempting to slip into numbness. To let this become a new normal. As we see the fallout from Floyd’s, Taylor’s, Arbery’s deaths; as we continue to see instances of police brutality; as people argue over whether Black and Brown people should have rights; as we witness lynchings—it is so tempting to turn away from the pain. To say it’s always been this way and cannot change. In pandemic and protest, it has become tempting to allow normalization to be normal. The Trump Administration is trying to get us to accept the covid response as good, decent, fine. It isn’t. There is so much that could have been done. There is so much that could still be done. We are nearing 140,000 deaths in the United States; that should haunt this administration for the rest of their lives. They are making a choice. They are normalizing what is abhorrent. White supremacists, the Trump Administration, and racists want us to believe that violence against Black and Brown people is okay. They deserve it. They’ve asked for it. They are to blame for how they are treated. This has been the normalized narrative for over four hundred years. Many of us white people have accepted this othering language; we have normalized it, intentionally or not. But it is very abnormal. We are committing ourselves to changing the norms. We don’t have to accept what the Trump Administration is allowing. On November 3, we have a very real chance to change things. Until then, we must remember that sacrificing .02 percent of children isn’t acceptable or normal. We must remember that caging or killing Black and Brown people isn’t acceptable, though it has been normalized. We get to create a new sense of what’s normal. That is what this pandemic and these protests have given us. They have ripped out the weeds and tilled the soil. We get to decide what seeds to plant. What do we want to grow here? What “normal” are we tending? The seeds I’m planting are these: kindness, listening deeply, commitment to justice, critical thinking, prophetic speaking, compassion, unwillingness to accept brutality in any form, nonviolence, an open heart. Your seeds might be different. Together we can grow a new normal. One that isn’t so damn awful.

July 14, 2020

Dance. It happened again. Another e-mail. More hate. I got sad. I got angry. I felt frustration building and coursing through me. I took Cully outside and let out a guttural groan of frustration. The release felt good, but not enough. And I didn’t want the neighbors to get concerned if I just started screaming, which was, I admit, kind of what I wanted to do. I came inside and tried to settle to work. I turned on Sinead O’Connor’s “Daddy, I’m Fine” instead and cranked up the volume. I danced. Flailing arms and swaying hips and loud singing. Then I turned on some Alanis Morrisette and did the same for two songs. By the end of “You Oughta Know,” I was drained. The anger somewhat dissipated. The frustration no longer building up and being stored in my body. My inclination when agitated is to settle, to be still. Since anxiety can create jitteriness, a need to fidget, a desire to be anywhere but where you are, I try to counteract that by quieting and stilling. But not all emotions require stillness. Sometimes they require movement and release. We hold a lot. That holding can create hardness. I don’t want another person’s ignorance to harden my heart. I want to move freely, so yesterday I danced. In so doing, I let go of what doesn’t serve me and grabbed hold of what does. I returned to love.

July 15, 2020

Change. I’ve never understood why, when signing yearbooks, people write, “Don’t ever change!” Even as a high schooler, I knew there would be changes ahead and that I should embrace them. As delightful as I was as a teenager, I figured there might be more I could become. I saw it in the incredible and strong women who surrounded me and grew me up. Recently I’ve been rereading Wuthering Heights, a book I first read as a junior in high school. I hated it back then. The characters were whiny, and I couldn’t understand why they used death as a punishment for lack of love. As if that would solve anything. I distinctly recall telling my mother this, and she said, “Oh, dear, someday you’ll understand that book.” Twenty years later, I am not who I was. The book is the same, but I have changed a lot. I see the darkness in this book now. It isn’t a love story; it’s a horror story. I can’t decide if I love this book for the way it subverts the normal narrative of love with one of revenge or if I’m utterly disturbed by the abuse, control, and dysfunction. Probably both. So much of 2020 is about embracing change. We’re wavering between loving, or at least accepting, the changes and being utterly disturbed by them. Some we welcome with open arms; others require a lot more work. Much of the pushback we’re seeing to various covid restrictions and protest demands has to do with resisting change. The status quo has worked really well for some people for a long time. Changing that is unnerving for them. But for those for whom the status quo hasn’t been working, these changes are an awakening, a refreshment, an enlightenment. Many of us are ready to step into the next phase of what pandemic and protest are bringing. We see potential and are ready to make it real. For the rest, for those entrenched in what was and afraid of what will be, I hear my mother’s words ringing, “Oh, dear, someday you’ll understand.” I sure hope so.

July 16, 2020

Listen to the prophets. There is a common misconception that prophets tell us what will be. The more accurate understanding of prophets is that they hold up a mirror so we can clearly see what is; the what-will-be of prophecy has to do with the consequences of what is. Prophets tell us how our relationships have become imbalanced; they point out the ways in which we have become abusive of earth or others. They show us how we have turned from God and therefore turned toward sin or disorder or chaos. Prophets call us to repent, to turn from what harms to what gives life. Prophets are always moving us from wrong relationship to right relationship. They restore balance; they are not always thanked for this. The prophets I’m attending to these days are Greta Thunberg, Heather Cox Richardson, Rachel Cargle, Jim Martin, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, John Lewis. (I’m probably forgetting some, but these are my go-to prophets right now.) These prophets are opening our eyes to injustice. But they also show a way forward. They have a vision for making the world better. They tell us what is, but they show us what can be. When we get stuck in the muck and mire of how unpleasant things are, our prophets lift us up. They show us how to persevere, how to face reality, how to hope. We need our prophets these days. We need to open our hearts and ears to them. The reality they show might be grim, but turning away from it leads to more destruction. Turning toward what they say, turning toward right relationship with earth, with others, with God—this is how we will heal what has been torn apart in 2020.

July 17, 2020

Consider the gifts. We are all kinds of muddled right now. I feel particularly for teachers, parents, and students preparing to go back to school or navigating what options are available for different ways of learning. I can only imagine the stress, fear, and frustration. All of us are exasperated. Things that seem so simple are now fraught with medical or political implications. We moved, within a matter of months, from “We’re all in this together!” to “Why are people so stupid!?!” or “You can’t control me!” Of course we did. A friend posted yesterday about the necessity of story right now. We have forgotten the narratives. I think too that we’ve forgotten the gifts. Covid has taken away things, but it has also given us things. If we focus on what has been destroyed by covid, and there is a time and place and necessity for that, then we step into a place of fear and grief and unsettledness. We need to recognize and feel this. But we also need to see the gifts that have come about. Because there are gifts here, in the midst of the difficulty. Personally, I don’t know that I’d have claimed my role as a writer as strongly as I have without this time. It has allowed me to blossom and unfurl. The past ten years of grappling with grief and anxiety have made sense in these months in a way they never have before. That has been gift. The slowing down of the world worked for my brain and body. The pressure to be certain ways was lifted a little. I recognize that I sit in a privileged place where this is concerned. I work from home already, and I’m an introvert without kids to manage and educate. But even if you feel like this has been a time of nothing but chaos, can you take time to find a gift? Were new relationships or boundaries created or strengthened? Did you discover different rhythms for your day? Do you feel more attuned to the needs of others? Are you more aware of how connected all of us are? Have you incorporated dance parties or exercise into your day? Did you rediscover a hobby that has been on the back burner since you had kids or started your career? Were your eyes opened to injustice in such a way that you feel unable to go back to how things were? Are you committed to stepping into the world differently now? There are gifts here. Give yourself time to see what they are.

July 20, 2020

Find the still point. One anxiety symptom I have is dizziness. It’s not actual dizziness but a sensation of it. Kind of hard to describe. I know I’m not spinning, but I feel like I’m spinning. When it happens, I generally notice that my chest is tight, and I’m not breathing freely. I stop. I find a focus. I note that, no, I’m not spinning. No, I’m not breathing. Doing that might help. It always helps. The still point brings me back. We are swirling these days. Be it the conversations about schools and public spaces opening, be it having to continually insist that Black and Brown lives matter and being horrified by unmarked officers dragging protestors into unmarked cars—we are spinning. It shouldn’t be this hard, but it is this hard. We can get lost in this. We can get overwhelmed by it. We must find a still point, a steadying point. For me, that has been yoga and writing. It has also been finding the good: the tributes to John Lewis this weekend; spending time with friends, miming hugs and laughing in each other’s presence; swinging a golf club and actually hitting the ball; opening my ears to more Black musicians and letting their voices and compositions move my body, mind, and heart; seeing the “Black Lives Matter” murals being painted on streets; kneading dough to make bread. Your still points may be different, but find them. So much of what’s happening is designed to unsteady us, to disorient us, to knock us off center. Finding the still point is an act of resistance. It is a refusal to lose focus, to move our concentration from what matters. By finding the still point in the midst of the chaos, we root down and stand firm. We become a still point ourselves.

July 21, 2020

Do what you can. In some ways, I feel utterly useless in these days of pandemic and protest. I sit here doing my work and writing some stuff on Facebook. I haven’t joined physical protests because I don’t want to be around that many people, and I’m scared (of violence by people threatened by protestors, not by protestors themselves). So I sit here and write. It’s what I can do. Since you all have watched Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am from American Masters on PBS, I know you’ll understand this next bit. Morrison was an editor before she was a writer. She worked for a division of Random House, and one of the things she did while there was publish Black authors who were leading and participating in protests in the late 1960s and 1970s. She acknowledged that she wasn’t on the streets protesting, but what she could do was make the protestors’ voices heard in a different, perhaps more permanent way. She brought Black voices front and center in a way they may not have been without her foresight and persistence. She did what she could where she was. As we mourn John Lewis, I’ve been struck, as many people have, by his quote about causing “good trouble.” It reminds me of something Wangari Maathai once said, that we need to be “stubbornly hopeful.” Lewis and Maathai experienced precisely the violence I fear: beatings, harassment, torture. Maathai’s hair was ripped out of her head when she was imprisoned for causing a movement of women planting trees in Kenya. And still, she went on planting. These two did what they could where they were. Their “could” looks different from mine. I don’t know what “good trouble” I’m causing. In many ways, I think I’m simply troubling my heart to open itself to the pain and fear that people experience daily. Knowledge is power, and my heart is knowing things differently this year. I am growing in power. I am persisting in my stubborn hopefulness while sitting here typing words that at times feel insubstantial. We may want to do all the things all the time, but we can’t. I am in awe when I watch videos of protestors chanting the names of Black people murdered by cops; it is a modern-day litany of saints. I am moved to tears as I read about the moms standing between Homeland Security officers and protestors in Portland, being tear-gassed and singing, “Hands up, please don’t shoot me”; it is a new and dangerous form of vigil. I cannot be there, but I can be here, and what I have are words. We must all figure out what it is we have to offer these times. And then we have to offer it.

July 22, 2020

Sometimes you just have to fight through it. Last night I was so excited for today’s yoga. The weather would be cooler, so I could open the windows; the breeze would be glorious. I had a class picked out. I was ready to go. But then I woke up this morning and had no desire to get on the mat. I did it anyway. And I fought myself through the class. And the windows were open, but there wasn’t really a breeze. I twisted and folded and lunged and planked. At some point I went rogue and did some stretching I felt like doing rather than what Clara said to do. (Rogue yoga is kind of fun; it feels so rebellious.) But I so didn’t want to be there. I haven’t felt this way about yoga for a while. It’s been a beautiful space in my day: challenging, expansive, strengthening, stilling. Today it was not that. I did it anyway. And, oddly enough, some words of Patrick Mahomes came to me. Remember when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl? That seems so very far away. There was still some time left on the clock, but the Chiefs had clearly won it. There was an extra point to make, or something like that. The team was going bonkers. They were celebrating and excited. I think most of them had left the field; there was partying to do. Except there were those extra seconds to finish. The camera panned to Mahomes, and you could see him saying, “Finish the game! Finish the game!” I loved that. He wasn’t going to let those seconds go to waste. He was not letting go of the game because it wasn’t finished yet. I didn’t want to finish the game today. I wanted to lay down on the mat and just be done moving. But sometimes you have to keep fighting through the game. If only the prove to yourself that you can.

July 23, 2020

We learn. Yesterday Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota announced a mask mandate for the state. Several other governors have done the same. A little over half of the states have such mandates. I’m glad Gov. Walz has made this move. I wish it had been done earlier, but I understand why it wasn’t. (He was trying to get support from state GOP legislators so this would be a bipartisan move. It appears they still don’t support it. Gov. Walz is moving forward anyway.) There has been some waffling on masks, especially early on in the pandemic. They were not advised, and then they were. Their effectiveness was downplayed, and then it wasn’t. But here’s the trick: we know more now. There’s still a lot we don’t know, but we’ve had, globally, over six months of learning about covid-19. We can put that knowledge to use, and one of the ways to do that is to wear a mask. Sometimes politicians are accused of being wishy-washy when they change their minds or support policies they previously opposed. Certainly, pandering happens. But I think learning does too. Education does not end when we get a diploma. And one of the amazing things about education is that it makes us grow and change. We are invited to behave differently because of what we learn. It isn’t wishy-washy or flip-flopping. It’s becoming, growing, maturing, converting. We’ve seen this over and over again throughout history. We’re seeing it now as we learn about epidemiology, about racism, about women’s issues, about LGBTQ rights. We don’t necessarily learn a thing and then it stays that way all the time. Except, perhaps, math. But when it comes to science and humans and language, we are continually learning and developing. What we know builds on what came before. If we stay stuck in the knowledge we had, despite what has come to be known since, then we are not working very hard to be better humans. Changing behaviors or thoughts because you learned something new is not shameful. It shows that you are committed to your humanity.

tips, round 5

Two more weeks have passed since the last compilation. Here we go.

June 15, 2020

Lift your beautiful heart. That’s the phrase the yoga teacher I love uses when she directs listeners to go into cobra. That’s a pose where you lay tummy down and peel your chest off the ground, curling upward. It’s a soft backbend. Your hands are positioned near your shoulders, and the temptation is to push yourself up rather than lift your heart. Lifting your heart creates a very different sensation than pushing yourself back into the pose. It becomes gentler; there’s less strain on the spine. By lifting the heart, you attend to where it is as you stretch. During Mass, we pray something similar during the eucharistic prayer. The priest tells us to “Lift our hearts,” and we respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” I’m not sure I’ve really thought much about these words. They’re at the beginning of the eucharistic prayer. This little dialogue between priest and congregation is moving us from Liturgy of the Word to Liturgy of the Eucharist. The table has been set, and now we get ready for offering and communing. There are some who say that yoga and Christianity cannot coexist. The more I practice both, the more firmly I believe this separation is nonsensical. Matthew Fox has written that there is one river but many wells. In other words, there is one God, but there are many ways to understand, pray to, and reach toward that God. It takes great bravery to lift your heart to God. We often stand in positions of supplication. We bow our heads for blessing. We kneel or genuflect in front of the Eucharist. At times, we prostrate before holiness. There is, indeed, a natural inclination to take a position of humility when confronted with the divine. But we are also called to lift those beautiful hearts of ours and stand firmly within the divine presence, to let it surround us, to be awed by our participation in the divine. Yes, let us lift these beautiful hearts.

June 17, 2020

Acknowledge when you aren’t at your best. If only to yourself. I’m snarky today. We slept poorly at our house. The nightly—why do they have to be nightly?—fireworks are taking a toll on Buddy, which means he’s on edge for a good portion of the night, which means he scratches at the walls or furniture, which means sleep is disturbed. It’s fun. See: snarky. I find that these are the days I want to lash out at everyone. I’ve already been a smart ass to one person on Facebook. I could be to a few others. I’m not proud of it. So, starting now, I’m noting my unwillingness to put up with crud, backing away because it does no one any good for me to be bitchy, and keeping myself to myself. Maybe I’ll listen to some Alanis or Sinead later. Maybe I’ll take a nap. Definitely I’ll focus on work that needs doing, because it’s always nice to accomplish something. Later today or tomorrow, I’ll be a better me. But for now, I’ll just sit in my corner so as not to light the world on fire. Though, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad . . .

June 18, 2020

Stay where you are or . . . I know. You’re probably tired of hearing my yoga talk. But, well, it’s how I start my mornings now, so it tends to settle into my head and heart. One of the things that Clara says when moving through different poses is: “Stay where you are or lift up your back leg.” Or: “Stay where you are or spread your wings.” Or: “Stay where you are or do this other crazy thing.” In other words, she provides modifications. She invites the practicer to honor their body by staying put or going deeper. Some days, I can go deeper. Some days, I need to stay put. As I build strength, I notice myself being more and more willing to step into that “or” space. When I began this daily practice weeks ago, I didn’t even consider the “or.” I marveled at it. I was in awe that anyone would or could go deeper. Globally, we are being called into an “or” space now. Multiple “or” spaces. Once the history books get written about this time, I don’t think we’ll be able to separate the pandemic from the protests from the political. All of this has been tied together, and people with more intelligence and better articulation than I will explain how. But I sense it: Trump has unleashed great political unrest. And without the pandemic, I don’t know that we as a society would have had the room to think about how very unbalanced we have been; the economic and racial disparities have been on stark display. And then the murder of Floyd and continuing murders of black men and women gave us very concrete views of what this unbalanced way of being has made us. We are not okay with it. We can stay where we are—or we can change this. We can go deeper into this imbalance and right it. We can wobble our way through, building strength and integrity. Some of us might need to take a little longer to get to the “or.” Clearly. But perhaps if enough of us step into the “or” space, if enough of us go a little deeper, stretch a little longer, become braver and more aware, we’ll show those who are hesitant that it’s possible to move differently. Stay where you are or . . .

June 19, 2020

Acknowledge the good. Today we celebrate Juneteenth, the end of slavery. If we’ve learned anything in recent weeks (if not years), it’s that slavery as an institution may have come to an end, but white people have devised creative and cruel ways to keep black people bound. When it comes to keeping the status quo afloat, we’re rather imaginative. What would happen if we turned that imagination toward achieving freedom, equality, acceptance, and peace? We might actually achieve it. I digress a bit. These weeks have been heavy ones. They should be. The list of men and women who should still be alive is long. We need to confront and mourn that loss. But today, honor the good. I am astounded by the changes that are occurring. Companies are coming out strongly against racism and are making commitments to be better and do better. Sure, they’re motivated by money and they’ve taken their sweet time making this statement, but I also think they’re seeing what role they play in shaping cultural conversations. This is a big deal. White people, like myself, who have considered themselves nonracist and therefore good to go, are evaluating how maybe that’s not enough. Maybe we need to take it a step further and be antiracist. It’s long past time to speak out when friends or family members make racist comments. It’s long past time to take our business away from companies that don’t support people of color. It’s long past time to vote out people who enable modern-day enslavement. The status quo is changing. How many times can we say that in our lives? Slavery ended. We have work to do. We have people and companies to hold accountable. But today, let’s consider what good has occurred and is occurring. Not to forget or ignore the work yet to do, but to gain strength to keep fighting, keep hoping, keep going.

June 22, 2020

Honor who they were. I have culled my friends list a fair bit since 2015. In recent years, I haven’t hesitated to hit that unfriend button if someone displays racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, or hateful tendencies. Yes, my Facebook is an echo chamber. I’m okay with that. There are other, more fruitful ways to get outside my bubble. But here’s the deal: I’ve unfriended people I was quite close to at one time. They have shown me who they are, though, and I am okay with letting that go. There can be sadness in this process. We can feel betrayed, let down, disappointed, astounded. These people we thought we knew are not what we expected. We might not be to them who they expected either. This shifting is uncomfortable, and it unleashes a grieving. As I let people go, I find it helpful to keep in mind some words of my mother: “They have a little light of Christ in them too.” She often says this as Southerners say, “Bless her heart.” Occasionally she acknowledges that it might be a very dim light. But this little saying of hers has been with me a very long time. And I find it a very grounding reminder. All of us have that little light of Christ—even the people I most struggle to love, tolerate, or understand. People come into our lives at various times. Some stay forever; others drift in and out; still others are bright flames that, for whatever reason, sputter and go out for us. There are people I miss. But I can honor who they were at that time. We needed each other then; we might not need each other now. I trust that somewhere that little light of Christ is shining in them, and maybe it’ll flare up to enlighten toward love.

June 23, 2020

Let’s talk medication. I had been thinking about addressing this topic, but then George Floyd changed the world, and we all had other things to discuss. We still do. But in the midst of it, mental health exists. I’m not here to say whether you should or should not take medication for anxiety or depression. But I do want to say that, if you’re struggling, talk to your doctor about it. I present my experience, though, because we don’t talk much about what it’s like to decide medication is right. I do not have to take meds consistently. It seems like I can be off them for a year or two, and then things get a bit wonky. As I’ve learned to manage anxiety, I have gained a lot of tools to use before medication becomes necessary. When I notice myself getting anxious, I pay attention to what’s around me, what I’m thinking about, where in the year we are, and how I’m treating my brain and body. I talk to Patrick, my mom, some friends. I let people know there’s some unsettled-ness. I have developed a two-week rule: if I have several anxious spells, I become more intentional about meditating, walking, eating better, watching my sleep, and drinking water. I tell myself that if the anxiety persists for two weeks, then I need to talk to the doctor. Usually, within a day or two, things start to right themselves. I keep doing the good things, and generally it works. The two-week rule gives me breathing room. This year, in February, I knew it wasn’t working. Having been through this cycle a few times, I knew medication needed to be seriously considered again. And I resisted it. Because, despite knowing it helps, despite not judging other people for their need for medication, I can judge myself. Every single time I’ve gone on medication, I’ve felt weak and incapable. It is not a pleasant place to be. It is, perhaps, partly necessary. Because it helps me acknowledge the need for assistance, compassion, and gentleness. And it gives me a certain respect for the challenges everyone faces with their mental health. Mine is, to be quite honest, mild in comparison to many others out there. I have a medication that works. It’s a very low dose. I have not had to tweak it. The side effects I experience are generally sweaty hands, some intestinal discomfort, and fear that maybe this time it won’t work; these last for only a few days. Then the medication does indeed do its work, and I know I’m on the upswing. I am very fortunate. But every single time I have to fight it. Coming to terms with weakness is hard. And I don’t mean weakness as a negative or pejorative here. I mean it as an inability to do it all on our own. I mean weakness as that thing that forces us to reach out our hands and ask for someone to help us stand. We can’t do it all on our own. We do need help, and sometimes that help comes in the form of a little pill that rights our chemistry. Sometimes it’s walking in nature, or doing yoga, or just talking to other people. Sometimes it’s a cup of tea and a good night of sleep. There is no shame in doing what makes one healthy, and acknowledging that we feel shame can be the first step in moving it aside and getting on with the work of being well. Again, I share this to shed light on the process of medicating, not to say you should do all the meds or self-medicate. It is a process, and it takes work to figure out what’s best. Do the work.

June 24, 2020

Expect better. I’ve noticed a pattern in my thinking. The yoga I’m doing through this month is part of a challenge, 30 Opportunities for Yoga. Clara has curated the classes for the month, and all of them are available to see. Sometimes, if the class for the next day is one I’ve not done before, I’ll play the video and fast forward so I can see what to expect. Today’s class had some interesting boat pose playfulness in it, and as I glanced at the video last night in preparation for this morning, I thought, “Oh, hell no. I’m not going to be able to do that.” But this morning I got on the mat anyway. And guess what. I did it. Not perfectly. Not beautifully. But done. It happened. I know myself to be certain things, but the older I get, the more I wonder what I don’t know about myself. There is something to be said for “knowing yourself.” But there is also something to be said for “exploring yourself.” Who are you today? What is more, better, different than you anticipated? How have you shifted? Do you think you’re capable of only so much but realize you can, indeed, do more? We get into patterns of thinking that can be helpful but sometimes aren’t. The next time I see a class that intimidates me, I’m going to try to think in terms of capability, excitement, and play. I’m going to expect better of myself.

June 25, 2020

Be awed. Two years ago today, according to those handy FB memories, I stole a question from Muggsy: What historical moment(s) in your life filled you with awe? I suspect that I will forever be awed by 2020. Early in the year, we were adjusting to having an impeached president; then the pandemic hit; then people started protesting the murders of black men, women, and children; then the pandemic continued. We are witnessing history. Daily. It’s not always fun or pleasant or comfortable. But we are being moved from one way of being to another. The processing of this time will take a while to unpack. We’ve been confronted with our own mortality, that of those we love, blatant injustice, the very real consequences of climate change, and the apparently never-ending cesspool of hatred that exists in the world. But we also get to unpack what it’s like to stop everything, if only briefly, to attend to the weakest among us; the voices of all kinds of people shouting “I can’t breathe” and “Justice for [insert murdered black person’s name here]”; the clearer skies that resulted from fewer cars on the road; the different ways of understanding work as some folks adjusted to being home instead of at the office; and conversions or awakenings of heart as society said no to wallowing in that cesspool of hate. These events will continue to unfold for a long time. We can either be cynical and assume things will go back to the way they were or be in awe at the new creation becoming visible. And perhaps if we’re in that cynical space, we can have the grace to stand aside and let the awe-filled folks do the work of changing this world.

June 26, 2020

Be human. Have you noticed how often digressions, sinfulness, and bad behavior are excused with “We’re only human after all”? This is one of my least favorite sayings. It’s true; we are human. But being human doesn’t mean we can get away with being the least of ourselves. The Genesis creation myth, the story where God creates light and dark, sea and sky, earth and animals, the story where we begin—in this story, we are created in the “image and likeness” of God. Yes, we fall. Yes, we fail. But this image and likeness was never wiped away. The shine may have worn off a little when Adam and Eve bit into that apple, but they were still God’s creation. We are still God’s creation. We do ugly things. We eat metaphorical apples daily. But when we look in the mirror, that there is still the image and likeness of God. It can be hard to see this image and likeness in ourselves, much less in others. But in these days, when it’s tempting to see the worst in others, look for the divine. Look for that “little light of Christ.” Do not let yourself off the hook because you are human. Indeed, you are—but you are human in the divine image. Stand in that space for a bit because it’s revolutionary.

tips, round 4

When I started this in March, I didn’t realize it would just keep going. But here we are. Round 4.

May 25, 2020

Use supports. Years ago, when I first started doing yoga, I never used blocks or supports unless the teacher specified to use them. I was tough and could handle the poses without blocks. Blocks were for wimps! I suspect this made practicing harder than it needed to be. It’s taken me a while to learn just how essential these supports are in yoga practice. They are not signs of weakness. They are signs of knowing yourself. And sometimes using them makes you feel a pose differently than you would without. The blocks create something new. They give you a little more room to move your body where you want it to go. Ten years ago today my uncle Shaun took his own life. As this anniversary has approached, I’ve been amazed by how big it feels. Some years are like that. I haven’t felt oppressed by this anniversary, which can happen, but I’ve felt a sense of wonder at it. Anniversaries are days to honor the person who died, but they are also days to honor who we were and who we’ve become. I’m thinking about that more this year than I have before. Who was I before that phone call? Where was I headed? Who have I become, and do I like her? Who am I becoming? It feels a little selfish to be asking these questions rather than thinking solely about Shaun, his wife, his kids, his siblings, his parents. Shaun’s death was a shockwave through our family. It tore apart some things and knit others together. This year, I’m looking at where I am in the midst of it all. I keep circling back to this idea of support. I have grown into a different person because of this particular grief. It created something new. It is still creating. I am grateful for the grace of a network of love. Instead of powering through, I am learning to soften into. Sometimes I can stand on my own two feet and feel the strength that has built over these ten years; sometimes I lean on something or someone and feel that strength differently. No, I am not who I was or who I will be, but I have become someone new because of this grieving. And I love her.

May 26, 2020

Default to care. I don’t like masks. They make me nervous when I see people wearing them, and I don’t like how it feels to breathe through one. (And, no, I’m not worried about poisoning myself with carbon dioxide. I’ve just never liked things covering my face.) But right now, I wear a mask because it’s the caring thing to do. It gives the perception of awareness and kindness. Anxiety makes you turn in on yourself: everything becomes about how you can be safe and stable. As a world, we have come to be very protective: of ourselves, of our loved ones, of our livings. We have, in some ways, been living through a months-long panic attack. As idiotic as I think the protestors of restrictions are, they too are acting out of fear. When I remember that, I can feel compassion for them—even as I roll my eyes at their stupidity.* There have been great examples of selflessness, of course, but caution and wariness abound in the midst of it. As we move toward more interaction, I hope that we remember that care should be our baseline in any interaction. If that means I have to put on a mask, even though I might hate it, so be it. It’s how I care for those around me.

*Please note: These were the protestors wanting haircuts and open bars, not protestors responding to George Floyd’s death. A lot has happened in three weeks.

May 27, 2020

There is always a new day. Getting through birthdays or death anniversaries of loved ones can be really hard. Some years it can be a total slog to wake up and go through a day that marks something you’d rather not remember. But what gives me comfort is that there’s another day after what might be a crappy one. There’s a February 17, March 8, May 16, 21, 26. No matter how stuck you might feel in a given day, it moves along, as time always does, and becomes a new day. When my anxiety was really bad, before I had the tools to manage it, a whole day could be given over to anxious thoughts and feelings. I’d give up on trying to make it not anxious. Now, it’s very rare for that to happen. I might have an anxious hour or five minutes, but it doesn’t often derail the day. But when it was that bad, I relied on that “new day” concept through the anxious fits too. I’d get to the night, have some tea, try to put down the phone, read a book or listen to something soothing, and get to sleep. Healing work happens in sleep. The world restores at night. We wake up fresh. The earth does too. A new day always comes. Always.

May 28, 2020

Slow it down. There is a lot of rightful rage out there these days. From the mask/no-mask controversies to the wrongful killings of black men. From 100,000 Americans dead from a pandemic that could have been mitigated to whatever norms Trump decides to violate today. So much is outrageous. So much demands response or action or thought. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of having to be angry. I’m tired of lamenting. I’m tired of having to process hatred and injustice. I’m tired of having to explain why these modern-day lynchings and caging children are wrong. The reasons should be self-evident. The reasons are self-evident. We are moving from one outrage to another very quickly right now. It takes a toll. So if you feel a bit worn out, slow it down. Adjust the way you take it in. I know I’m saying this from a privileged position. I have the luxury of turning off FB or avoiding news sites. I’m not being deprived of my breath or showered with tear gas. I am safe at home, comfortably able to limit my intake. But I know this too: by turning away, I can more strongly turn toward. By backing off, I can more deeply enter into. So many have been deprived of the gift of breathing. We cannot take it for granted. We need to catch our breath, take it in deeply, allow it to refresh and restore. Then we can roar it out with power, steadiness, determination. Then we can demand with full voice that justice be granted.

May 29, 2020

Stand up. I had horrible posture growing up. It’s not stellar now, but I try. I remember Uncle Shaun giving Aunt Shannon a hard time about standing up straight; she turned that around on me. Standing is instinctive. We assume that it just happens: babies pull themselves up and, voila! Standing! But I had to be taught to stand as I grew up. Not explicitly. I learned it through Barb, who chiropracted my back and hips into a more normal position. I learned it through a yoga class that focused on feet and how they ground and steady us. I’ve learned how defiant standing can be when you’ve been knocked down by grief and anxiety. The Twin Cities are burning. There is pain and fear everywhere. The man who lives in the White House is inciting violence. Some people are more worked up about looting and rioting than about a man who cried for breath and was denied it. I want to curl up in a ball and let it all happen elsewhere, let myself forget that it’s happening an hour away from me. But I can’t. We are called to unfurl into this crisis. We are being called to stand up in the midst of the ugliness, fear, lament, passion, cries for justice and be present to it. We—white people—have to stand in this. We’ve been stepping away from it for far too long. I don’t know how best to be an ally. I’m learning another lesson in standing right now: how to stand with. Together, we are being called to square our shoulders against hatred, injustice, and racism. I wish we didn’t have to. I wish we lived in a world where this wasn’t an issue. But it is—and my friends of color have known that their whole lives. It’s about damn time I join their laments and cries and demands for justice. It’s about damn time I stand up with them.

May 31, 2020, Pentecost Sunday

“I can’t breathe.” —George Floyd
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”—John 20:21-22
Pentecost: The day the Church moved from an upper room, with locked doors and fear, to the streets, proclaiming in all the languages the works of God. Pentecost: The day we were set on fire. Pentecost: The day breath became more than simply the in-and-out of life. It became participation in the movement of God. Pentecost is rupture. It’s before and after. It’s courage in the midst of fear. It’s moving forward into a hurting, uncomfortable world and bringing the balm of love. George Floyd breathed his last a week ago, and in so doing, he moved us. He has broken us open. He has lit us on fire, the kind that ravages and then restores. George Floyd has unleashed the Holy Spirit anew. Are we attending to where it is calling us?

June 1, 2020

Listen. The Rule of Benedict opens with these words: “Listen with the ear of your heart.” I am a writer. I process through words. There is much to process right now. Sometimes it’s hard to still myself and listen because I want to respond to what I’m hearing. Not to shut down but to gnaw on and digest. That’s what words allow me to do. My mother does this through her photographs. Musicians do this through their instruments. I chew on words. We are hearing many things, and as a white woman, I am being called to listen. (Yes, I recognize the irony of writing about listening…putting my words out there while advocating that I shut my mouth for a bit.) In the gospels, Jesus says, “Those who have ears ought to hear.” We have ears. We ought to be hearing. We might not like what we hear; it might be uncomfortable. Maybe it’s calling us to conversion. Maybe it’s calling us to see our complicity in injustice, be it subtle or overt. We are being called to listen to black people right now. They are crying out to us. There is need for action, for doing, for fixing. But there is great need for listening and holding. In grief and anxiety, one of the best things you can do is speak your pain. Just get the words or cry of anguish out there. One of the greatest things someone accompanying a grieving person can do is just hear the words or cry. The lament needs to be released. It is not easy to hear that emotion, to let it wash over you, to sit still in that pain. But that is precisely where we are called to be right now. The ears of our heart will be pierced by this cry. Let us listen to it.

June 2, 2020

Move your body. Yes, we’ve been over this before. But I think we should address it again. There’s new stress settling in us. I’ve seen friends posting about nonstop news watching and/or not sleeping. These are recipes for disaster. So for five minutes today, at least, turn off the television or radio. Close the laptop. Turn your phone screen-side down. And move your body. In the yoga class I did today, the teacher started by having us shake our hands, then arms, one foot and leg, then the other, then the whole body. It was silly and refreshing and warming and soothing. It loosened stuff up and has allowed me to feel freer so far today. Grief, fear, stress—these calcify, paralyze, tense. We can’t get rid of it all, but we can sure move it around a bit. So shake your body. Or turn on your favorite song and dance. Yeah, like nobody’s watching. But if they are, who cares? Ask them to join you. Flail those arms. Move those hips. Let some joy settle in you along with all the other stuff. It’ll help.

June 3, 2020

Embrace silence. I don’t really have words today. I’m that bundle of fine and edgy, grounded and wobbly, that I think most people are these days. So today, rather than a long-winded tip, I invite you to sit in silence for a bit. Ponder George Floyd and all that has been happening. Ponder those you love and haven’t hugged lately. Ponder where we’ve been and where we can go. Ponder love and action.

June 4, 2020

What if 2020 isn’t cancelled? What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for? A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw—that it finally forces us to grow. A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year we finally accept the need for change. Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart. 2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.

—Leslie Dwight

Do not wish this year away. Yes, it’s been a difficult one. Yes, there are challenges ahead. Yes, bits of it suck a lot. But we are doing hard work here. We are being called to hard work. Sometimes we might need to lay down and let the world pass us by. Sometimes time just needs to keep going while we rest a bit. But we also have to step into this rushing stream and swim like mad. There is grace here too. It isn’t pretty, flowy, soft grace. It is gritty, edgy, hard grace. It’s a little black girl being held on a man’s shoulders saying, “Daddy changed the world,” with the biggest most brilliant smile you’ve ever seen. This girl whose dad was murdered last week has hope. She’s pointing the way while the adults argue about protesting versus rioting versus looting. She knows what matters. Her dad made this world different. It breaks my heart and makes it stronger all at the same time. We have got to step into the sacred space of this hard time. If we walk around it yet again, God have mercy.

June 5, 2020

Consider nonviolence. Wrestle with it. This is not a plea to protestors to play nice. It’s not an attempt to shut down the raw and justified emotions that occur when we see videos of black people, journalists, or protestors harmed by police. It is, however, a request that each of us consider where violence resides in ourselves. I hope to be a nonviolent person. But we live in a violent culture: Our police have become more and more brutal. Guns are everywhere and glorified. Television shows and movies are gritty and dark. Our nation has been at war for almost twenty years. Nuclear weapons tests are being discussed as possible again. How can we help but have this violence seep into ourselves? And how do we resist it when it does? Nonviolence isn’t a commitment we make once and be done with. It’s something we need to consider again and again. And I can make this commitment pretty easily as I sit here at my nice desk writing on Facebook. I’m not getting shot at with rubber or real bullets or tear gassed. My breath isn’t being forced from me. I am not threatened. Maybe I would respond in violence or self-protection in those situations. Maybe I would escalate rather than deescalate. But here, in this safe world, am I choosing nonviolence? We hold up Gandhi and MLK as heroes of nonviolence, as we should. But they worked hard at that calling. If we want to be nonviolent people, we need to work at this too. Again, not because I want everyone to just love each other so the hate melts away. It’s not that easy. But if I look at the violence in myself, if I reckon with the ways in which I bring harm to others—not necessarily physical, but emotional or mental—maybe I can work that violence out of myself. I can’t demand or expect nonviolence of others without working on it myself. No, I don’t think violence is ever the answer, but I need to start looking at where I harbor it despite this belief. Then I need to let go of that violence if I truly want to be a nonviolent person. Over and over again.

June 8, 2020

Do not apologize for boundaries you are creating. For the past few years, we’ve been walking tightropes. If you own a business or are a public figure, you might have kept quieter than you wanted about political situations. If you live in an area where most people don’t share your beliefs, you might have become very quiet. If you fear for your job if you speak out on any issues, you have gotten very good at disguise. If you’ve learned that your friends support things you find abhorrent or horrifying, the ground has shifted under you as you navigate these relationships and figure out who you are and who they are. Tightropes. Balancing. Dare I say: equivocating. I gave up on this when children were put in cages. I have no patience for people who are okay with this. Family, friends, acquaintances, businesses? They don’t get my support for that. They don’t get my time or attention either. We are experiencing another boundary-setting event. People are telling us who they are, and we get to choose if we let them in our lives or support them with our money. The flip side is also true: we are discovering who we are, and we are proclaiming it. Relationships may shift or change or disappear as a result. New ones will take root. In a moral theology class I took in graduate school, the professor said on the first day of class, “We’re all fundamentalists about something.” It was a revelatory statement. My fundamentalist issue has long been gun control. But I’m discovering that I’ve got a fundamentalist streak when it comes to believing that the people crying out for breath or an uncaged existence deserve to be heard. I refuse to apologize for that.

June 9, 2020

Life changes. Today is George Floyd’s funeral. That has me thinking about some words from the Catholic funeral liturgy: “Life has changed, not ended.” I believe there is an afterlife. I know nothing about it and think speculation about the afterlife is kind of silly. But I think it exists, and someday, I hope to be embraced by God in heaven, to be met with my dad and uncles and friends and pets. Someday. But these words, “Life has changed, not ended,” they’re interesting ones. And I’m going to totally take them out of context here. We have been handed a lot of changes this year. It seems like someone just upended the table and let everything fall to the ground. We’re picking up all the pieces. From pandemic to protest, from political disappointments to political hopes—constant change. This isn’t necessarily new, but it feels accelerated this year. It’s tempting to believe that life as we know it has ended. But it hasn’t. It’s changing. Those are two very different concepts. The pandemic has called us to view our relationships with others differently: with more tenderness, awareness, care. The murders of black men, women, and children and the resulting protests have called us to view our relationships with systems and assumed prejudices differently: with more skepticism, resistance, and outrage. We are changing. Benedictines make three promises, instead of taking vows, when they become monks and sisters. They promise stability, obedience, and conversion to the monastic way of life. Benedict was pretty smart: monastic life, communal life, isn’t easy. It requires a commitment day after day after day. You aren’t converted to it once; you are converted to it daily. You grow into the monastic way of life; it changes you. Many of us are being called to conversion this year. We’re changing how we think about our health and its connection to all those around us. We’re changing how we think of protest and rights and policing. We’re changing how we think of breath. The old ways of being are changing into new ways. Parts of the process may be scary; some of it we might want to avoid. It’s much easier to think I’ve been an ally all my life, but when I see that someone I know has been silencing herself since she can remember, which includes the time I spent with her almost daily, then my allyship needs changing. I may or may not have directly shushed her, but I participated in systems that did. This life needs changing. I hope there are endings in the midst of it: an end to selfishness, greed, prejudice, racism, hatred. That would be nice. But for those to end, there must be change, conversion to new ways of being: selflessness, gratitude, accompaniment, amplification, yes, love. I pray that my life does indeed change.

June 11, 2020

Tip for two days: Behold the new. We are witnessing some incredible moments this year. As the days unfold, more and more of what we have known is being dismantled. There have been protests throughout my life. I remember the LA riots vaguely. I remember protests about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I watched the Women’s March in awe. I cried when I watched the March for Our Lives. This time feels very different. Perhaps it’s the unleashing of pent-up energy. Perhaps it’s years of injustice finally, finally being named and recognized—and heard. Perhaps it’s a bunch of people looking at that injustice and recognizing our own participation in it. Somehow, we seem ready to confront this. Statues are being torn down. Windows have been smashed. Great cries of lament and rage are being released. But all of this is creating space for something new. Look at those boarded windows: they have art on them. I know that the protests were peaceful overall and that crappy people were the majority of troublemakers burning, looting, and breaking. But within that destruction, beauty has taken root. Light is being shed on the ugliness of racism. I’d love to think we didn’t need this illumination, but apparently we did. So now we uproot it. This is a dismantling, destruction, deconstruction. Every so often, fields get burned so they become more fruitful. We are witnessing a burning time. It’s intimidating: fires can burn out of control. Flames leap and dance and envelop. The heat overwhelms. But we need this. We need this scorching. We need to be turned to ash, to have our essence changed. From this, our societies will grow into something new. I have great hope for what we are becoming.

June 12, 2020

Ponder stability. Apparently I’m feeling rather Benedictine this week, so let’s look at another promise, that of stability. Benedictines are committed to one particular monastery. They don’t move around a lot; their ministry might be outside the community, but their home base stays the same. That community is where they return for holidays or prayer or retirement. It’s where they profess and where they are buried. The particular community provides stability, consistency, support. This is a very concrete understanding of stability. But Benedictines also talk about stability of heart. This is a stability of knowing where you are grounded, where you stand. Over the past few years, as Trump campaigned and took office, it became very clear that he and his supporters/enablers wanted to sow chaos. Their goal is knocking us off center. If we’re not stable, then we can’t pay attention to the dismantling of human rights, the tanking of the economy, the illegal activity, the moral depravity. It takes stability of heart to remain balanced and strong. We might wobble as we adjust to the new and innovative ways chaos is sown, but wobbles don’t have to be dangerous. They might be scary, but they are also a signal that we’re trying, we’re working, we’re straining. This stability of heart is essential as we move through these days. It allows me to recognize that as black people cry out for their lives, I am called to cry with them. It allows me to continue calling, over and over again, for the unlocking of cages to free detained children. By refusing to give in to the distractions and chaos, we stand tall with those in need of allies. We can see where we’re needed and go there. In a time of swirling distraction and chaos, planting your feet in a spot and knowing where your heart resides is a radical act.

tips, round 3

Sticking to the two weeks this time! Enjoy, friends.

May 11, 2020

Look where it’s tender. Last Thursday I wrote about the importance of backing off when we feel pain. That’s important because it gives us a rest. But we also need to look at the causes for tenderness. Sometimes there’s an obvious reason or no reason. Sometimes that spot right there just hurts a bit. It will be better later or it won’t. We’ll look at it again then. But sometimes we need to look really closely at what’s tugging and tightening and tweaking. Last week video leaked of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, being killed while jogging. I haven’t read much about it at all. In part because, well, haven’t we read this story before? And aren’t we exhausted with this story? Not because I think Ahmaud’s particular story doesn’t deserve to be told. It does. It deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. It deserves so much lament. But, God, I’m exhausted with how awful white people can be. I’m so damn tired of conversations about protecting unborn babies while we can’t see the inherent dignity of black and brown bodies right here, doing things white bodies do all the time without fear of death or prejudice or sneering or danger. I’m sickened by the ugliness of people with my skin color. And I’m afraid of the ways in which I am blind to my own prejudice. What am I doing to further, how am I participating in these injustices, these tortures, these killings? Yes, that’s tender. I don’t want to look there. I don’t want to read this story because I don’t want to find myself in any part of it. And because I’m white, I can go about my days without reading this story. More, I can go about my days without living this story. I don’t know how to fix systemic racism. I don’t know how to apologize for the sins of my race. Aside from voting out white supremacists and supporting policies, politics, and theologies that honor all bodies, not just white (male) ones, I don’t know what to do to make this better. Except this: I can be kind; I can work to harbor no hatred in my heart; I can fight any inclination toward prejudice I might have when and if it shows up. And for today, I can find the news story of this man, this tragedy, this death, and I can read it. I can look there and let it be tender.

May 12, 2020

Soften. Can you tell I’ve started doing yoga again? My mornings had gotten a bit unwieldy over the past few months, and this month I have a lot of work to do. I needed a way to wake up and get the day started intentionally and with focus. Sometimes I can do that just by getting out of bed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Pandemic Era. So I broke out the yoga mat and decided to start using that subscription to Clara Roberts-Oss‘s yoga that I’ve got. The first couple of days I noticed that my shoulders were actually tighter after my practices. Yes, I’m using muscles that have been a little rusty, but sore neck and shoulders are no fun. So I started paying attention to how I was holding the muscles in these areas when practicing. I realized that I’m tensing them a lot. Even when Clara says to soften, I don’t. Even when I think I’m letting my head hang in forward fold, I’m not. Even when I’m enjoying a pose, my jaw can be tight, which means my neck is tight, which means my shoulders are tight. So I’m learning to soften these things, to be attentive to really letting them gentle. It’s not easy, especially now, when even subconsciously we’re in protective modes. But in today’s practice, I noticed it was easier to soften. And throughout my days, I’ve felt myself attend to the tenseness in my body differently. Hardening through life can be a default position. We harden to protect ourselves from tragedy, to steel ourselves against grief, to preserve joys, to endure anxiety. Softening ourselves into these things is counter-intuitive—unless we practice it again and again. I do not want to be a hardened person. There has been plenty that could make me that way, but each thing is an opportunity to be a softer person, a gentler person. If only I release into it.

May 13, 2020

Consider the obvious. Anxiety creates stellar imaginations. Unfortunately, it’s imagination that tends toward the disastrous. Still, it’s pretty amazing the different reasons your brain can come up with for any number of situations. Last night my sides were super sore. Almost crampy sore. Of course, that meant I have covid and probably cancer. Together. Developed instantaneously. I didn’t spiral with these thoughts, but they did cross my mind. And then I remembered that it was 6:00 and I hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch. So maybe I was hungry. And the yoga class I did focused a lot on the side waist. So maybe my muscles were reacting to, you know, being used. And for the past couple of nights, I’d woken up for about an hour at 4:00. So maybe I was just a bit tired. We ate, and my tummy felt better. I shifted my perspective to gratitude for muscles that work, and they were still sore but less threatening. And I went to bed early and left my phone off and on the nightstand. (Often when I wake up in the night, if my mind gets going, I start playing a game to help me still it again. That’s what I’d been doing the past few nights.) When tempted to go to the worst, consider what’s right in front of you. Consider what’s most logical. It’s very likely that your overactive imagination is playing tricks on you. Maybe it isn’t, but probably it is. You can’t always logic your way out of anxiety, but sometimes you can. So if you’ve given yourself time to consider the fantastical, take a few moments to consider the obvious and see if that helps.

May 14, 2020

Anxiety changes. After Shaun died, my anxiety was about my body and illness. About five years ago, my anxiety was about being unable to get out of crowds or traffic. A lot of mass shootings were occurring, which was a big part of my fear; I felt trapped and paralyzed. This year, my anxiety has been about illness again but also about the shifting of the world. It’s a nasty little trick that anxiety plays, not being the same way all the time. It takes me a while to realize the theme of a given anxiety spell. Every single time, I wonder where this is coming from, why it’s happening, where it’s going. Every single time, I have to remind myself that this is how my brain works, that I am capable of managing it, that I have many tools at my disposal. While it’s really frustrating to have happen, anxiety is a way for your mind and body to let you know that things are out of balance. Maybe I’m not eating or sleeping as well as I should be; maybe I’m not writing and getting it out of my body by exercising; maybe work is more stressful than I am willing to admit; or maybe I’m thinking about all my dead people. Acknowledging the anxiety and recognizing the imbalance is an invitation to return to what centers and grounds me. I use those tools of good food, meditation, yoga or walking, sleep, saying words about anxiety, writing daily, breathing exercises, drinking more water, finding rest for my brain. These are my safety net. This makes it sounds like a swift, easy process. It isn’t. I wrestle with my anxiety a lot; I am surprised by it almost every single time it shows up. But sometimes I’m able to see her and think, “Oh, you. Hi. Well, let’s see what you have to tell me today.” And then I curse at her a bit and get down to the business of being well.

May 15, 2020

This tip was a blog post on keeping death daily before your eyes.

May 18, 2020

Take it slow. Today we move from Stay Home MN to Stay Safe MN. So, as our governor says, we’re turning the dials up on social interaction and economic possibilities. (I refuse to say that we’re “reopening,” because we haven’t been closed. “Reopening” language ignores the fact that plenty of places have been open and that essential workers have had to keep going to work despite this raging pandemic. Certain segments of our economy have been closed, yes, but on the whole, our economy is open and has been all along.) I don’t know about you, but I’m not rushing anywhere. I get the reasons for loosening the restrictions, but personally, I’m not quite there yet. We entered this time of quarantine so quickly. We adapted and changed and revamped our days and took on new responsibilities and let the superfluous things go. We entered a weird time, but it was also sacred time. I’m not ready to leave that yet. The Irish talk of “thin space.” It’s where this world meets the heavens. It’s sacred space: a church or a spot in nature. It’s those places where the veil between worlds is, well, thin. I think there are thin times too, and grief is one of those times. In grieving, we are jolted into a different way of being. We adapt, change, revamp, let go. We aren’t who we were, but we’re also not who we will be. It is strange time. It is very holy time, even if we resist or fight or hate it. Eventually, we start to emerge from the deep grieving. We laugh again or do something our “old self” would have done. We recognize the person we were in the very new light of being a person-without-the-one-we-grieve. It brings us up short. As we emerge, we see just how different we’ve become. And this emergence isn’t a matter of simply jumping back in where we left off. It’s a slow process, one of remembering how to be in a world that hasn’t grieved the way we have. But it’s also a process of deciding what we want to bring with us from that thin time. That deciding takes some time. We’re not through this yet. Plenty of people still need protecting, and even if we’re staying safe instead of staying home, it’s still a weird, sacred time. We’re still figuring out how to be in this strange, new world. So take it slow, remember what you want to carry forward, and keep being attentive to the ways you can help and protect others.

May 19, 2020

Make a list. I slept poorly last night. Woke up feeling anxious and hot and a little panicked. So I put in my headphones and had a somewhat restless night of sleep. This morning I got up to do my writing and acknowledged this anxiety. And then I listed what’s causing it. As I looked at the list, I realized that all of the things on it are logical anxiety-makers. And all of them just have to be got through. And they will be got through. This listing and realizing took the wind out of anxiety’s sails a little bit. Sometimes when I make this list, I see that there’s an equal number of things in my control and out of it. Then I can start focusing on what I can control and try to let go of what I can’t. Other times, I make the list and realize I’m spending a lot of time thinking about ridiculous things that are way beyond my control. It’s a way to reel in the anxiety. By naming the anxiety, it returns to normal size (rather than overwhelming size), and then I can choose where to put my energy. Anxiety likes to spiral. It bounces from one idea to the next, making you think that you’re going crazy. By making a list, you can see that (a) you’re not crazy, (b) some of your anxious thoughts are legitimate, (c) some thoughts aren’t legitimate, and (d) you have power to address some of the things. Even if you can control only one thing on your list, and the rest are wild thoughts having their way with you, focus on that one thing. This gives you some direction and allows the wildness to settle a bit.

May 20, 2020

Think bigger. I am really struggling with churches opening to allow small numbers of people to join liturgies. However they’re choosing to limit attendance (lottery or on a first-come basis), it’s contrary to what church is. This is a fractioning of the community that makes no sense and is unnecessary. Is it unfortunate that liturgies can’t happen in our churches? Yes. Do we miss being in community in person? Absolutely. Does this mean the Body of Christ has been dismembered? Not at all. We are still church. We are always church. But we need to be rediscovering what church means right now. This is opportunity, not oppression. This is a chance to really explore what having a domestic church means. When we talk about sacraments and sacramentals in a church building, we know exactly what that means. But what do they look like at home? Bath time or washing dishes becomes a reminder of baptism. Cooking and baking become Eucharist. Now that we have experienced shortages of food, perhaps we are more attentive to what we’re putting on our tables and in our bodies. We bless it differently; we give thanks for it differently. Bumping into our partners as we figure out how to work from home together is a reminder that we said yes to this relationship in good times and bad, in sickness and health. We say yes again day after day. And are we not ending up learning new ways to say, “I’m sorry,” and, “I forgive you”? Is our reconciliation a little quicker, a little softer, now that we’ve read stories of people being taken to hospitals alone to die alone? And how do we anoint these days: confirming our commitment to stay home, stay safe, stay attentive? We do not pour oil over the sick, perhaps, but we acknowledge that some of us are weaker, more susceptible to complications—we anoint them with consideration instead. We may not be priests or pastors, but we are presiding at the quotidian liturgies that fill our days. Someday we will be able to break bread at church again. All of us. Not just those who “win” the lottery. It will be a time of lamenting and rejoicing, grieving and giving thanks. But until then, we look around us and see that we are church right where we are. We always have been.

May 21, 2020

Mind how you go. We here at Thornphy Manor enjoy all the English mysteries. Midsomer, Morse, Lewis, Endeavour, Unforgotten. Love them. In Endeavour, I was struck by the way DCI Thursday takes his leave of people: “Mind how you go.” It’s such an odd departure, but it has stayed with me. We often go without intention. We interact with people on auto-pilot. We rush to comment on a story or post about how stupid we think people are. We speak rashly or simply ignore others. We do not hear or see. One of the things I hope to carry with me in this new covid world is attentiveness to the other. A slower interaction with the other. We have been awakened to vulnerability in a new way in these months. We have realized our own vulnerability and have been called to act or not on behalf of others who are vulnerable. Some people seem to think this is a time of natural selection: let’s get back to normal and let the weakest fend for themselves. But all of us are weak, all of us are vulnerable on some level. We are emerging from hibernation as stores and restaurants allow (more) people in. Everyone is trying to figure out how to be. Some people are rushing it; others are more timid. We want “normal,” but we’re trying to figure out what kind of normal we mean since we cannot go back to what existed before covid. This is a time of minding how we go. In so doing, perhaps we can create space to recognize vulnerability as a thing to be cherished and protected rather than done away with and erased. Indeed, let us mind how we go.

May 22, 2020

Be both. This morning the Indigo Girls released a new album, Look Long. The last song is called “Sorrow and Joy.” The refrain has this line: “Sorrow and joy are not oil and water. . . . In the end we must hold them together.” Oof. How true that is. And how challenging. Grievings are all different. And they change. My dad’s has become worn and soft; I wear it more comfortably after these many years. Shaun’s tends to be heavy still at various times. One of the things my mom learned in a grief group she attended was that suicide deaths affect survivors like a physical assault. They can be that traumatizing, that surprising, that violating. Shaun’s death hits me sometimes, almost physically. In 2013, a family friend, Barb, died of cancer. Her grieving is odd. It’s actually very similar to my Ryan grieving: it’s a revelation. Their deaths have to dawn on me. Thinking of the world without these two is so strange, so illogical in many ways. Thinking of them takes my breath away. But I learned something with Ryan’s grieving. Because his suicide was so contrary to who he was as a person, I chose to focus on his life. Though I grieve him, I also remember his infectious laugh, his gentle spirit, his wicked sense of humor, his big heart. I think it’s tempting with sudden deaths to get stuck in the final moments. I know that happened to me with Shaun. But with Ryan, I couldn’t focus on the end; I had to look backward. In so doing, I balanced the sorrow of now with the joy of then. It has been an odd tension. I often think that I’ll be in denial about Ryan’s death until my own, but maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’ve learned to be both: sorrow and joy have coexisted here. Sometimes one is more dominant; sometimes they sit together peacefully; sometimes there’s tension. I think this quarantine time has been one of being both: we’ve been afraid and brave, quiet and restless, small and expansive, alone and in solidarity. We have been balancing a lot. That doesn’t end just because restrictions are lifting. At some point, we need to process these months. There is much to lament, but there is also much goodness that we can carry forward. Now’s the time to jostle these things around and see how we can hold them all together.