Leaning Into The Questions

My husband brought home a wooden key holder from his parent’s house that was loaded with all kinds of old keys. He tells me that he may very well have been the one who made this, possibly as a Cub Scout project.  As I look at it I can imagine the concentration on his face as he painted it red and put the letters on it.  

The number of keys and the history of them make for some good stories. There is a collection of car keys, another that looks like keys to lock a cabinet or two… hanging on a peg that reads “garage”.  And there is this ring with all these old skeleton keys.  Those are the ones that set me to thinking of old doors and mysterious rooms and key holes that you could see through.  Squeaky hinges.  Old varnish or paint that might be peeling.  And a nail on the door frame, up high out of reach of small hands, a place to hang that key in case the door gets locked from inside.

skeleton keys

We learn at an early age that keys give you access to something, or they keep you out.  Keys to the car when you are old enough to drive.  Keys to your own house or apartment.  Keys to the office.  Access to a place, or a privilege, or information. Keys that we have to return when our job is done.

When I saw this bunch of keys the first time, I knew that there was something for me to learn here.

On my spiritual journey I have come to understand that I try too hard to find the illusive key.  In this culture of fast fixes, rapid responses, and constant information coming at us from all directions, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of having to be certain.  We think we need to have the answers.  I kept searching for the proverbial key that would unlock those answers for me.  

The questions I want to answer:  Who am I really?  And who is this Holy One?

I have been doing a lot of reading, mostly because I enjoy it, and partly because my participation in Souljourners requires it.  No, I have not found that illusive key, but I have learned something important.

Many of us are in the same awkward place, wondering who we really are as opposed to who we think we are supposed to be.  Thanks to some very brave people who have shared their stories over the centuries, I know that I am not alone.  Others have been down this path.

As much as I love reading those stories, I know now that those are not the answers to my own questions.  The stories are helping me see where to go next, pointing the way.  And I will continue to seek the wisdom of those who have gone before.  Which means I will still read books…

But the key. Ah, yes, the key that I want to find.  It does not exist.

What does exist is this Holy One who dwells within me (and you). What I am learning to do is to lean into the questions, wait in silence, and listen for the quiet voice from within.

Geese, the Pond, and Friends

Sometimes winter just isn’t all that pretty.  Like today.

I was determined to get outdoors and find something to photograph.  It’s been a long time since I have done this, and nothing was going to stop me.

On a small pond, in a little park close to home, some geese were just hanging out on the ice. As I walked closer to them, they all carefully waddled toward the other side of the pond. I was using a wide angle lens, which meant I could not zoom in, so this image is cropped a bit.  

A gray winter day. Geese on a frozen pond.  

Ever since I snapped this photo I have been thinking of that story from the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes”. Idgie tells how some ducks landed on a lake, the water froze quickly, and then the ducks just flew away with the frozen pieces of that pond. Last they heard it was somewhere over Georgia.

That is one of the best stories from my favorite movie.  It is such a powerful tale about friendship.  A good mix of humor, joy, sorrow, laughter, mistakes, and forgiveness.  Oh, and fried green tomatoes, of course.

* * *

Friends are a priceless gift. 

Sometimes, when you least expect it, a friend checks in on you, says just the right words that you need to hear in that moment, and you know you have been touched by grace.

Then, even if the day is damp and gray and cloudy and cold, even if you know you want to write something and can’t hear the words, even if you aren’t fond of the photo you post, it’s all good.  Because you know deep inside you that what really matters are those friendships.

That Attentive, Loving Gaze

This precious puppy greeted me Saturday morning as I was walking in the early morning, taking photos at a retreat I attended.  It’s almost a miracle that he was still for this one second and looked right at my camera, because otherwise he was one adorable bundle of puppy love, tail wagging, wiggling his entire little body.  Though he never barked or made one sound, he was all over me, putting his damp paws on my legs, licking my hand, running in circles around me.   And this is his ready to pounce come and play with me pose.

If I had been at home, I think I would have tried to adopt him.  Maybe.  The cats would have had their own committee meeting and voted him out very quickly.

*   *   *

Sometimes we receive lessons in the most surprising places, totally unexpected, little moments that pass quickly by, but often have an impact.  This puppy moment was one of those.

Puppy represented all the goodness I had been experiencing at that retreat:

  • Welcoming love and unconditional acceptance.  He greeted me as though I was his best friend. He had no care in the world about where I came from or what I may have done or what I believe.
  • Sacred silence.  Okay, there was the sound of his little paws on the sidewalk, but not one peep otherwise.  I had spent a lot of time in contemplative silence at this place, which made it a true ‘retreat’ for me.
  • Trust. Puppy rolled over and showed me his soft underbelly for some scratching and petting.  But at this retreat, there were brave souls who trusted us to hear their story, who allowed us to listen. 
  • The attentive, loving gaze. Yes, those brown eyes had me wrapped around his little paws.  I learned a lot at this retreat about how we long for that attentive, loving gaze from The Holy, and how one can grow in the light of that gaze. 
I believe that The Holy comes to us in various ways. In the sacred silence. In the deep conversations with others. In the words of a book, or the lyrics of a song, or a scene in a movie. The Holy uses these times to help us understand something, maybe clarify an issue we have struggled with, or open our eyes and hearts to what we need to know.
How does this happen for you?  Have you had a surprise moment that just made it all click into place?  
*   *   *

The retreat was the first in a series of events I will be attending over the next three years, as a student in the Souljourners Program.   My plan is to share this journey with you here, in photos and words.   

Because, you know, I’m still learning as I go.   And there is so much to learn.

I post this because I can

Sitting down at the computer to write this and share images
is like sending a letter to a good friend.  Maybe
you can imagine opening the envelope and just enjoy 
the view of my little slice of heaven out here in Missouri.
Here are a few things I have noticed…
Goldfinch on sunflower
 Those sunflowers featured in my last post are withered and gone now.
Before they faded away there was a host of birds feasting on those seeds.
BW, the black and white kitty
 This wild little kitty comes by each day for food and a little attention.
Yes, I keep feeding him.
Sun tea on the window sill
Sometimes of a morning I set a jar of tea to brew in the sunny window.
There’s nothing like the flavor of gently brewed tea.
It’s even better when I can sit on the porch to enjoy it.
Butterfly and marigolds
This little beauty appeared one day. 
The garden is mostly dried up now as we’ve had a dry spell for a few weeks.
That’s okay.  This was my year to learn just how much I do not know about gardening.
Next year will be better.
Birdhouse gourds drying in the sun
What I do know now is that gourds love lots of water.
And all that rain was good for the gourds.
They are all drying now and will someday become bird houses.
Sunrise on our street
The days are shorter.
The angle of the sun is different.
Today as the sun came over the tree tops I had to step outside
and just watch the light play on the drops of dew on the grass.
I post this because I can, because I think we need these simple things,
these little snippets of beauty to remind us of the good in this world.
You can read or hear of all the horror and heartbreak, all the wars and battles,
all the politics and hateful words on any number of devices that you may have in 
your possession.  And soon you will have your fill of all that and wonder how we 
can go on living like this.
You can step away from those screens and simply look around in your own back yard,
or watch the sun rise or set, or listen to the laughter of children playing. 
Choose your own adventure, or mantra, or meditation.
Find your way to be renewed and uplifted,
and share it with the world.