Guest Reflection by Julie Bowman
Note: This was written in late September and mentioned in the Eremos poetry retreat, Writing Our Relationship with Trees, by facilitator Cathey Capers on October 17th. We are thrilled to share it with our Eremos community with Julie’s permission.
I woke up this morning with trees on my mind, wondering about the language of trees. A dear friend had shared a writing prompt that inspired her: “I want to learn to speak the language of…”
She chose to write about the eternal sun, and as I considered what language in nature I would like to learn, I was drawn at once to trees. I love learning how trees support each other, send healing chemicals through their root systems to other trees in distress, how they communicate with their offspring. I began imagining my backyard trees having conversations with each other, and with the creatures in and around them.
I pulled myself out of bed, slipped on sandals and a house dress. Coffee in hand, I stepped out into the crisp morning, delighted by the breeze stirring our chimes into song. I walked beneath my beloved ash tree, the centerpiece of our little square of Mother Earth, and wondered what she might be saying. Was she bantering with the lively wind as it twirled her branches in a graceful dance? Was she calling the devoted titmouse couple who perched at her tips before their quick dives to the bird feeder?
Was she chatting with her neighbor trees about the wild squirrel chases that would shortly ensue? Did she chuckle indulgently, having watched generations of arboreal mischief-makers grow up in the high nests of her branches? Maybe she was considering some choice words for the woodpecker who disturbs her peace.
Or whispering an invitation to playful lizards to come explore the crevices of her bark? Perhaps she was singing the praises of the delicate pink clouds in the East, or complimenting the tree across the fence on its lush yellow blossoms.
I never imagined she might be saying goodbye.
At noon, sitting at the kitchen table, I heard a loud crunch. That was it. She was down. My well-loved tree had let go.
Her trunk broke off about 9 feet up, her top 30-plus feet swiftly horizontal, thoughtfully missing the house, fence and shed. She was always a considerate tree.
And now, her gently curved body lies on the ground. Oh, I shall miss her every morning. Who will hold the titmouse couple? The curious chickadee? Who will shade the house? Will the squirrels and cardinals miss her, too? Will their hearts break like mine?
Blessings on you, oh loveliest and most graceful of trees. It was beneath your reaching branches that I recognized this house, this yard, as “home” twenty-four years ago. Thank you for sheltering birds and baby squirrels, shy possums and raucous raccoons. Thank you for holding center at garden parties, for delighting Christmas guests with firefly lights bouncing off your twigs, for letting me get lost in blue sky and green leaves as I lay beneath you. Thank you for your generous shade, and the way you would send moving, dappled light into the sun room to entertain us as we sipped our morning coffee. Thank you for your extraordinary beauty. Thank you for accompanying me through 24 years of living and loving, for creating a place of joy, for comforting me through so many hard goodbyes, for providing solace and serenity. You will be missed, beloved friend.
Julie Bowman – September 28, 2020
Afterword: The morning of her demise, only two birds came to visit the ash, very unusual, but I thought perhaps the wind was dissuading them. Today, the morning after, birds visited in profusion: a family of house finches, a single cardinal, the wren with its impossibly loud series of songs, white-winged doves, a mockingbird nearby, a cluster of sparrows, the woodpecker that sounds like a dog’s squeaky toy, and the reliable pair of titmouse with their fly-buddy, the chickadee. The squirrels came too, scrambling at first, then slowly exploring the broken trunk, the rent and raw wood, stretching and peering about, as if seeking an explanation.
It was comforting to me, this procession of wildlife, this naturally occurring wake. Some seemingly confused, some taking it in stride. Adapting, adjusting, accepting. My feathered and furred companions in grief, sharing our reverence for the beloved ash.
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein
In her book, The Inner Work of Racial Justice, author Rhonda Magee shares a definition of contemplation she learned at the Jesuit university where she teaches: “a long, loving look at the real.”
What if what is real is beyond what our physical senses can experience? What if there are possibilities and potentials for a joyful future that we can’t see? Focusing on and really seeing the ugliness in front of us (or in the news headlines) is important to bring about real change and it can lead to depression and despair if done too long.
The gifts of wonder, awe, and imagination — that children have in abundance — are not childish ways of being in this world. They are lifesavers right now. They can help us imagine a future of a United States of America building towards peace, justice, security, and liberty for all.
If you feel far from the gift of wonder, we invite you to join Annie Spade for her workshop Reclaim Wonder on the morning of Halloween.
May you seek and find many opportunities to experience wonder and awe today. And, may you end your day in wonder as you gaze up at the night sky.
“Walking among them, touching them, listening to their creak and sway, I could feel their connectedness. Above ground, aspen grow as individual trees, but below ground they’re enlivened by one interconnected set of roots.” – Mark Nepo
Eremos began 2020 with the theme: Interspirituality and Compassion for Self, Others, and Earth and Mark Nepo’s words “Shared roots live longer“*. Little did we know how important this need for compassion and underlying connection would be.
If you’ve wondered how you’ll make it to the other side of this election, or to the day you’ll feel safe to meet and hug in person with no masks, then consider the wisdom of the aspen.
Reach out today to a friend with an old-fashioned phone call. Make eye contact with a stranger on a walk or in a grocery store. Smile, even if they can’t see it behind your mask. I bet they can feel it or notice how the corners of your eyes crinkle with that smile. What a gift you’ve given!
If you’re intrigued by the wisdom the trees around you have to share, consider joining Cathey Capers for Writing Our Relationship with Trees One-Day Poetry Retreat (no experience writing poetry is necessary) this Saturday. There are a few spaces left.
May you notice the trees around you today and may you pause to feel your connection to them and their wisdom. (Then, pick up your phone, make a call, and surprise someone with the beauty of your voice!)
*The Aspen Grove essay is featured in Mark Nepo’s book, More Together Than Alone, pp. 15-17
“Slowly I realized that in doing something for my own well-being every day, I was not being selfish. Instead, I was deepening my own capacity for continuing to learn, teach, and work with others here and now, to make a difference that I could feel in work with others.”
– Rhonda V. Magee
Your light in this world matters. Every prayer offered, vision held for a better world, and kindness extended to another makes a difference.
Yes, a lot is being asked of each of us right now. So, take good care of yourself.
What act of self-care can you do today and every day to help you move through these intense days?
May you be reminded by the Divine in delightful ways how much you matter and how worthy you are of tender self-care. May you bravely carve out time for the self-care rituals that sustain you.
P.S. THIS Thursday we have the opportunity to be with Rhonda Magee, the author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice. Her work on bringing mindfulness practices into the often difficult conversations on racism is profound. Please join us!
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back…always ineffectiveness.”
– W. H. Murray
Have you noticed how hard some people are working to make you afraid about the election this year? Every time I see a headline about this, I think of the “fight, flight, or freeze” responses that arise when we’re afraid.
None of those three responses are helpful when it comes to voting. We can’t begin to heal as a country until we’re all crystal clear about what matters to us and we communicate that with our vote.
To counter the fearmongering, I invite you to make a plan right now. Whether mailing in a ballot, early voting, or casting your ballot on election day, find out key dates, locations and times to vote, make your plan, and put it on your calendar.
In the September 24th daily summary of the news, The Morning, by David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Leonhardt reported “Social-science research has found that people who make a specific voting plan — exactly when and where they will vote — are more likely to do so than people who vaguely promise themselves that they will.”
Let your voting plan and any effort to encourage others to vote bring you peace, knowing you are doing what you can to make a difference.
And, as Paula D’Arcy and Craig Hella Johnson so beautifully reminded us this past Sunday, there is kindness and goodness always being revealed in the darkest moments and “love is always holding us.”
May you remember the power of your choices, choose to vote, and call upon the love that is holding you when you feel afraid.
“I am listening to the wheel of the year turning, to the cycle of the seasons, to the call for harmony and balance. I am listening to the circle of life. I am listening.” – Joyce Rupp, from The Circle of Life
Sometimes we miss the arrival of the Autumnal Equinox in Central Texas because it often still feels and looks like summer. As if she knew we needed the reminder of this day of harmony and balance, Mother Nature brought us cooler temperatures and hints of fall this year.
Guest Reflection by Elota Patton
Today, I am filled with gratitude. But that has not always been the case since the pandemic began. For 25 years, I have done Nia, a mind/body/spirit dance practice, with groups ranging from 3-50 people, two to four times a week. I have taught Nia for 10 years, in a dance practice that is physical, spiritual, and communal. When people move together to music, it creates a joyous bond – and we hug a lot before and after class. Now the classes I take and teach are online, through Zoom or Facebook Live; we are dancing small. There is no touch, and I feel the loss. I’m sure that people who regularly attend religious services feel the same; praying or meditating together in person is a powerful experience.
” …race is constructed, negotiated, discussed, and remade daily, through housing law and policy and through so much more. It requires bravery and openness to to reflect on these moments, with the support of mindfulness and compassion practices. We can learn and teach one another about the largely invisible, generally under-acknowledged dynamics that hold the structures of racism in place.”
– Rhonda V. Magee, from her book The Inner Work of Racial Justice
There is something different about the movement in 2020 to address the systemic racial injustice in our country. You can feel the focus, the energy, the commitment to stay “on it” until this scourge is dismantled in every area of our lives.
To be contemplative includes the often challenging work of truly seeing the world as it is and holding space for the beauty to emerge.
For me, the beauty in the ugliness that continues to be revealed during this time of the pandemic is the rising call to action to effectively address racial and other forms of injustice. One of the strengths of Eremos is our ability to hold space for healing and peaceful change for our community and the world. Yet, there comes a time when this powerful endeavor needs to be accompanied by education and action. This feels like one of those times.
I am reminded of Stephen Covey’s wisdom to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As a white woman who wants to be part of this change, I am actively in the “seeking to understand” phase, so I can intelligently vote and engage in efforts to make a difference.
If you feel a similar call to actively participate in addressing systemic racism, please join us in our fall book reflection of The Inner Work of Racial Justice, listen to Rhonda V. Magee share her wisdom with us in our conversation with her on October 8th, or read other great books on this topic. We chose Ms. Magee’s book because she so beautifully articulates the necessity of contemplative practices to hold us and give us the resilience we all need to address, change, and heal the painful beliefs, practices, and laws that have kept racism in place for too long.
May you find the bravery and openness to do the inner work, so your light can shine bright in the movement to end systemic racism. And may you remember that any effort, no matter how small, makes a difference.
” In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.”
– John O’Donohue, from his blessing For One Who Holds Power
A sanctuary. Doesn’t that sound life-giving right about now? Even though I’ve been more isolated than I care for in the past six months, the intensity of these days has me yearning for a safe place away from worries about the future.
John O’Donohue reminds me that this beautiful place of healing stillness can be found within the heart simply by placing our attention there and sitting in silence. And, in his guest reflection below, Rich Lewis speaks to the blessing of silence in Centering Prayer.
This image from the Thracian Sanctuary in Bulgaria spoke to me as a place to rest in stillness surrounded by the wisdom of the stones and trees. I’ll be imagining myself there in my meditations. What does the sanctuary in your heart look like?
May you find the sanctuary in your heart and may it bring you peace and clarity.
P.S. Speaking of sanctuary…I know Sharon Dunn will co-create with attendees a space of soul-nourishing sanctuary this Saturday during the Women’s virtual retreat. Please consider joining her. Click here for Details.
An excerpt from Rich Lewis’ new book, Sitting with God: A Journey to Your True Self Through Centering Prayer
I cannot imagine a better start to each day than a silent sit.
Silence is not empty. It is filled with God. When I practice centering prayer, I respond to the invitation to sit with God. When I center like Jesus, I say, “Not what I want, but what you want”. I sit in silence to be loved and healed by God. Silence creates a space for me to heal. The space created by silence and stillness helps me find my equilibrium, my center of gravity.
I sit in silence because it is a safe place to let go of my anger—and my guilt for this anger. I sit in silence to let go of jealousy, which is an obstacle to the release of my God-given potential. I sit in silence to let the Creator create through me, to let go and trust God. I sit in silence because I love God. I sit in silence to enter a journey that God and I travel together. Silence teaches me how to live.
Silence is not often thought of as a teacher. Most often our society refers to silence as “dead time.” What, if anything, can be special about silence? This is where a transformation has taken place in my life. I have come to see how precious silence is, how silence is God’s first language. As Thomas Keating and a number of other mystics before and since have stated, “Silence is God’s first language and everything else is a poor translation.”
Words do not always need to be said. In contemplative prayer we float in the ocean of God. You can’t sink because God will hold you. Thomas Keating wrote, “Contemplative prayer is the world in which God can do anything.” Our job is to enter and see what happens. We maintain a “beginner’s mind”—an openness that allows all our expectations to drop away. As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the experts mind there are few.”
The heart of centering prayer is “consent”— consent to the presence and action of God in our lives. That is it! We do not need to make it complicated. Like the myriad contemplatives before us, we open to the presence of God in silence. We let God do the work. When we center, we let God take action within (Luke 17:21). If we open to God, God will become present, and when ready, God will act within. And we will take this action into our non-centering times of the day.
In a radio interview, Amos Smith mentioned that he has chosen his well and will dig there (as opposed to digging in several wells [traditions]). I feel the same way. I have chosen my well. It is centering prayer, and here I will dig. The silence of centering prayer is not escape from this world but rather prepares me to engage and fully live in this world. The deep well of centering prayer provides a foundation, which gives me the stability and solidity to carry out my life mission.
About our Guest Author: RICH LEWIS is an author, speaker and coach who focuses on centering prayer as a means of inner transformation. He teaches centering prayer in both his local and virtual community and offers one-on-one coaching. He publishes a weekly meditation, book reviews, and interviews on his site, Silence Teaches.
He has published articles for a number of organizations, including Contemplative Light, Abbey of the Arts, Contemplative Outreach, EerdWord, In Search of a New Eden, the Ordinary Mystic at Patheos, and the Contemplative Writer.
Rich has been a daily practitioner of centering prayer since June 1, 2014. Centering prayer has been so life-giving and life-changing that he feels compelled to share his journey with others who wish to learn more. Rich resides with his family in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Learn more about him at www.SilenceTeaches.com.