Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lessons from a Mystery Writer

I'm slowly reading through a book by best-selling author Nevada Barr entitled "Seeking Enlightenment Hat by Hat: A Skeptic's Path to Religion". If you don't know her writing, Ms. Barr created the character Anna Pigeon for a series of contemporary mysteries, each one set in a different US National Park. The fact that the author is a former park ranger just gives the whole series that extra ring of authenticity.

"Seeking Enlightenment" is a joy.

The religion she ultimately travels to is the Episcopal Church, but this book has UU Christian written all over it. The book includes over 40 essays, each a few pages in length about a specific topic: Fear, Children of God, Sex, Humility, Stillness.

Stillness is a continuing source of challenge for me; that's why I write so much about it. Nevada Barr reminds us that the yak and yammer of our lives give us the sense that we are so-o-o important and there may be a myriad of connections we sustain, but there is no relationship. To truly relate, she says, there must first be stillness. It takes two to build a relationship and if we do not take the quiet time to know ourselves and our needs, we will never be able to relate to anyone else, especially God. Here come the buts, our arguments for not slowing down--but I have to..., but I'm expected to..., but if I don't...
In essence, when I say those things, I am saying: "I am too important to stop. I am too important to take the time for this 'knowing God' nonsense". I am giving into the belief that all I have to offer is the running of errands, commenting on the lives around me. I am not offering myself, merely my time and attention.
Page 62
Time and attention are all well and good, but they're surface giving, not relating and connecting; responding to the roles we all play, not to the essence of another person.

Nevada suggests to remind yourself "a hundred times a day" to turn down the static, take a breath and return to your own skin.

Without the stillness, we can't filter out life's jangling noise. Without emptying silence, we have no room to fill up with meaningful communication.

Be still.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Patience Is a Virtue

Yesterday, I had cleared my calendar to work on some pressing tasks for my business. Since I work from home, taking care of business sometimes slides until it becomes pressing. At any rate, one of those items was to get some quick advice on an e-mail formatting issue that has been annoying both me and my clients. A promised 15-minute fix turned into 90 minutes as a cascade of underlying issues was uncovered, followed by two more, separate 20-minute phone conversations with technical specialists. As of today the issue is still not resolved. But I do have my computer functioning close to where I started yesterday morning.

By the end of that first 90 minutes yesterday, I was completely infuriated and could barely think straight. There were other--and more to the point, money-making--matters that needed my attention. And I was stuck watching someone else poke around in my computer. Frustrating, irritating. My heart was racing. Brain fog was setting in.

Through the fog, one word dropped into my brain.
I was searching desperately for what Job seemed to have in spades (even if he did shake his fist a bit), but I was not finding it. I grabbed my Bible concordance and searched for references to patience.

One that caught my eye was Ecclesiastes 7:8--
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning [oh, yeah, I'm all for the end of this thing];
the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.
"Proud." I can admit to a bit of pride, thinking that I have perfect control over what happens in my day. NOT!

Most of chapters 8 and 9 in Ecclesiastes comprise an ode to the balances in life. Righteousness balancing wickedness, wisdom balancing foolishness. Patience versus a restlessness to be! Reading a bit of the prophet helped to calm me down.

The idea of those grand plans I had also brought to mind one of my favorite of the Proverbs:
The human mind may devise many plans;
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. (19:21)
I finally found my patience by going to the Curves gym and burning off the frustration with a round of weights and aerobics and then joining a team who are planning a 6-week class this winter on knitting and crocheting as spiritual practices. By the time I got home, I was ready to listen to God's plans--and face more technical conversations.

May you have patience as deep as the ocean--or at least access to a Bible and a good workout!

May it be so.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Questions for the New Year

During this busy month of holidays and transition to a new year, an idea kept rising around me that the QUESTIONS in our lives have the power to steer our direction and influence our choices.

My winter meditation began on Christmas Day using a series of questions for The 12 Days of Solstice offered by the Rev. Mary Grigolia and based on insights from Carl Jung. Questions like: Who am I? What is my treasure? What is home for me? and How do I honor creativity? These questions have guided me to take stock of my choices this past year from different angles. The final question is: What are my intentions for the next cycle of growth? which puts no boundaries on the timetable for that next "cycle" and suggests only that I form intentions which will be my framework for the coming growth period.

In my training as a reference librarian, I was told that when a patron poses a reference question at the reference desk, I must ask at least 3 questions of the patron. Otherwise I will not understand what the patron really wants. And I have found this to be true. Every time.

More recently, after years as a medical and pharmaceutical librarian in large academic and corporate libraries, I found that I was no longer interested in the issues, in the questions that librarians in those environments face every day. That led me to consulting. Now I'm finding the same recognition. The questions I answer today, the issues I try to solve today are of less interest to me than when I started my consulting business. Now I'm seeking the questions that I do want to answer. What issues do I want to tackle for the next few years? What message will I be able to communicate through the questions I feel compelled to answer?

My husband and I exchange presents on Christmas Day, usually buying for each other something that we both want. This year was no different. I bought a new book for us by Dr. Jan Garavaglia (Dr. G, Medical Examiner on the Discovery Health cable channel) entitled "How Not To Die". In it Dr. G talks about how she chose forensic pathology for her life's work. She says that it is in forensics that she discovered the questions that most interested her--the ones that she wanted to answer, felt compelled to answer.

For his present, George bought Susan Boyle's new CD for us. One of the songs is "Who I Was Born To Be". The chorus is:
And though I may not know the answers,
I can finally say I'm free
And if the questions led me here, then
I am who I was born to be.

So in the light of the Blue Moon,(by modern folklore, the second full moon which rose in December), whose light crosses the New Year's boundary with casual disregard, I give you the idea of questions.

Which questions interest you? Which questions do you enjoy exploring and answering? Do you need to choose new questions? Which questions will lead you to be who were born to be?

Happy New Year!