Turning 40

A remarkable thing happened at midnight on Saturday – I left my 30s behind and entered my 40s. At that point, I was sitting around a backyard fire with a bunch of my friends around me, having celebrated for most of the evening together. It was a fantastic day, ending a fantastic decade.

S’More creation
The reel

The weekend started heading north as fast as possible after work. Camp Wilmot was hosting a 5k, and Grey had begged to be able to go. My husband was mysteriously hiding in the kitchen and forbidding me to look in. So up north Grey and I went, arriving at Wilmot shortly after dark. We sang songs by the fire in the 100 year old barn, then moved to the equally ancient farmhouse for a ceilidh. That evokes a certain celtic air, but in fact there was rather more Macarena – although we did do one really fun reel! It was about 11 when we went to sleep in the gables of the old farm house. I was amazed at how quiet it was outside. There was no noise of traffic – no matter distance. All you could hear was the rustling leaves.

Camp Wilmot from the other side of White’s Pond
A friendly squirrel

We slept well and woke up sliiiiightly late for breakfast (but not too late!) After breakfast, we were at our leisure for a few hours. As Grey caught up with old friends, I took myself on a tour of the grounds and walked around White’s Pond. It was a remarkably peaceful hour. I was responsible only for myself. There was nothing I needed to be doing, or even could be doing. I could walk at my own pace, take as many pictures as I felt like taking when I felt like taking them. It is a beautiful place – so quiet and peaceful but full of so much vibrancy and life. And it’s a place my children love deeply. Grey waxed rhapsodic about waking to the sound of the loons in pearly gray mornings there.

Ready to run
The runners

I was back in plenty of time to get ready for the race. The weather was perfect – cool without being cold with a bit of a breeze and a bit of a haze. I forgot my arm band, so I handed my phone over to my son to capture the memorable moments. I got off to a fast start – it’s hard to accept being passed up by thirteen year old girls who are singing Moana as they easily swoop by you. But the route was not an easy one. It was picked to be as unhilly as possible, but Camp Wilmot is in a hilly area. So there was a pretty brutal last hill up to the North Wilmot church. Still, thanks to a summer of running about 4.5 miles per run, I didn’t die (or, you know, stop running). I ended up with a pretty darn decent 33:24 finish – 19th of 43 total runners (I thought there were 61 – alas no). I even had some church friends who made the trip up and were cheering for me as I crossed the finish line! It was a pretty affirming way to say goodbye to this decade. But best of all was that through the generosity of my friends, family and especially my church, I raised enough to send a kid to a week of summer camp next summer. Overall, Camp Wilmot raise $5,233.50! I know how important Camp Wilmot is in the life of my kids, and I’m thrilled that more kids will be able to go!

Grey would like you to know that the tennis courts are a lie

We came home immediately after I finished running the race. I went upstairs and gave myself the gift of taking a shower in my brand new shower. The steam unit is CRAZY POWERFUL. It’s a really, really sweet experience and I don’t think I can go back to my old shower. Then I came downstairs, willfully ignoring what was going on around me, and got dressed in a nice dress just because. Finally , Adam told me what the circumstances really were. He’d spent days getting ready to make all my favorite foods, and invited as many of my friends as he could find contact information for. He was expecting 60 people and was wondering if: chili, cornbread, six loaves of bread, cassoulet, beef barley soup, macaroni and cheese, egg salad sandwiches, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, bagels with cream cheese and lox, Doritos, watermelon, massive amounts of Lucky Charms, butter toffee peanuts and a Grey-made chocolate birthday cake were going to be enough food. (Edited to add: also, four pork tenderloins, wilted leaf lettuce salad & a charcuterie plate of my favorite meats and cheeses) (Fun fact: it sure was!) Those are, of course, all my favorite foods. I stuffed myself past stuffing. He did a fantastic job and it was all really delicious.

We all have our own guilty pleasures
Dramatic re-interpretations

The first guest to arrive was, to my great surprise, my sister! She and I don’t get a chance to see each other very often, and it was amazing to have her here! It was also rather fun to watch people do double-takes when they heard my voice from someone who wasn’t me. Heh. We sound a lot alike. I was incredibly touched by the fact that Adam had asked people to bring or send poems/writings about me. They were amazing. Adam’s was an ode to coffee (which I think we can all get behind). One friend wrote a column. There were a significant number of limericks. (Apparently Brenda rhymes with Splenda.) A friend’s daughter drew a picture of “Brenda the Bold”. I woke up this morning and reread them all – my heart is greatly touched.

An ode to the transforming effect of coffee on me

I think it’s natural at moments like this to take stock of your life and ask yourself whether you are living your one and only life in the way you intend. This weekend felt pretty amazing that way. I’m physically healthy and strong. I’m raising my children to be people I enjoy spending time with, to have strong moral and philosophical cores. I know how to nurture myself in nature. I have an amazing relationship with a remarkable man who shows his love for me in thought, word and deed. And caffeine. And I’m surrounded by an astonishing number of people who care about me. I really can’t imagine what more I could ask for in life.

My sister and me

Thank you to all of you who came, or sent notes, or sponsored my run, or wished me a happy birthday. It mattered a lot to me, and I’m very grateful. If we missed someone in this, forgive us! Finally, if you were there and you have pictures, please add them to my album!

Not going to rush to take this down!

The prophet John Muir

“I must drift about these love-monument mountains, glad to be a servant of servants in so holy a wilderness.” John Muir – “My First Summer in the Sierra”

My friends, I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love. This is the literary equivalent of texting your bestie from the bathroom at a date to tell her that you have found *the one*. I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without really getting to know this man who is so very perfect for me.

My heart-throb

In a desultory fashion, I saw his book when I was up at Mt. Rainier buying All The Mt. Rainier Things. And I now own no fewer than two t-shirts that say “The mountains are calling and I must go” citing him and Rainier in the same breath. So before I headed off backpacking with my son I downloaded his “Nature Writings” – which start with his autobiography. His life starts out both hard and common. He speaks of the beatings, the fighting, the memorization that mark his childhood. To modern ears it sounds beyond brutal and brutalizing. In his teenage years, his father abandons him down a well for the better part of a day for days on end (where he nearly dies), and his growth is stunted by the heavy constant labors of plowing and toiling in fields. But somehow he wakes up hours early every day and invents (without the internet, or even many books) devices whose purpose I can’t even understand, never mind whose workings.

Somehow, from that drudgery and brutality, is born an open-hearted poet.

This man speaks to me in a way I thought only Tolkien could. He is a co-religionist in every sense. Like me, he was a Presbyterian, although raised in a much more stern and unforgiving religious environment. But he seems to find God in the same places I do – in the mountains and streams and forests. His love of nature is a worshipful reflection of a God whom he never seems to be able to see as nearly as cold and unkind and punishing as his father apparently did. While is story of his youth makes you want to pity him, you can’t. Because through the 16 hour days, the frozen feet, the stunted growth he’s always noticing the beauty and the loveliness of the world and people around him.

Me and the mountain that most often picks up the phone to call me

I’ve just started on his “My First Summer in the Sierra” and oh! How he speaks of the mountains! It’s like hearing someone praise your own beloved, but in words better than you could find. It’s like hearing a prophet speak of your faith, or finding a poet whose words express your heart’s great secrets. I thought that in reading Muir I’d have to put on my “reading 19th century white dude” filter (well-honed to note and then pass by mysogyny, colonialism, racism, and a belief that not only were the spoils of the Americas limitless they were the rightful property of white folks). I’ve been astonished to meet among the pages of these mountain praises the thoughts of a man who generally seems to see all other humans as of equal worth – a man who also understands the gift and limitation of nature’s bounty. Even as he leads sheep to fatten on alpine meadows, he laments the impact of mankind and our beasts on the world, “Only the sky will then be safe, though hid from view by dust and smoke, incense of a bad sacrifice.” (p. 208) One begins to understand by whose hand, and why and how, these marvels were set aside for us in the first place.

My reading has just begun. I start to wish that I had a lovely copy of his works – a Riverside Muir as you would. It seems almost sacrilegious to read his works on the most quintessentially modern Kindle. I feel like I should find a grove in which to encounter his texts as sacred witness to God’s most glorious creations.

Chocorua from White Lake in November

There should be some great conclusion here – some wrapped up discovery. Instead there’s just a hopefulness – that his other writings refresh and inspire my heart so. The astonishing awakening of the morality and decency of those from whom we expected a more “of their era” myopia – and perhaps a similar inspiration to be better than our own era demands. The rising heart of someone who has discovered a whole body of work that seems designed to inspire them, and of which they’ve barely sipped. I can see my future self slowly meting out writings in moments of either great reflection or great need, to feed a famished soul.

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.”

Mt. Chocorua at sunset

Muir, John. John Muir: Nature Writings (LOA #92): The Story of My Boyhood and Youth / My First Summer in the Sierra / The Mountains of California / Stickeen / essays (Library of America) Library of America. Kindle Edition.

My mind was filled with wonder

I’ve been joking at work lately that I need an upgrade to my short term memory. I’m really good at writing things down, which has been even more critical lately since I struggle to remember the details of meetings I had just a week or two prior – there are so many incoming data pieces, decisions, challenges and threads of conversation. My home life is just as complicated and interwoven. I rarely drop balls and I usually try to be as reliable as sunrise, but before I left I failed to communicate to my husband that a) I had people ready to take our farm share b) he needed to feed the neighbor’s guinea pig. (You’ll all be happy to hear that Nova was just fine, since it turned out our neighbor’s plans had changed.) I find such lapses in myself deeply disturbing. There are many things and people that rely on my reliability.

When I landed in Washington for a week and a half of desperately needed vacation, I felt a great burden temporarily lifted. For a few days, I was beholden to no one but myself, responsible for nothing but myself. Of course, myself had planned a rather rigorous agenda of activities, but the price of failure was only my own disappointment.

My mountain

That first day we landed, tired and thinly spread, I went by myself up the winding mountain roads to Longmire to stake my claim on a piece of the mountain for two nights. And I found myself considering how my wonder and awe had been eroded over the years. Here I was, three thousand miles from the point I had awoken in the morning. Here I was, in the home of my heart looking at the great giant trees who have stood sentinel for longer than the age of a civilization. Here I was, on the exposed bones of a giant volcano fire-God, now sleepily wreathed in ice. And where was my mind and heart? Everywhere but here. I watched my attention flitter and fly like the most frivolous child, returning not to amazement, awe and gratidutude, but rather to the mundane, mean and platitude.

I thought about how my mind used to be, as a kid. I know that I didn’t spend as much time in nature as my memory and stories would make it out to be. But yet. I also know how it feels to break a dandylion stem, and have the slick mucilagenous ichor of that hollow frame slide beneath my fingers. I know the best way to walk only moderately sliced into a blackberry bramble to attain the ripest fruits. I know not only how the underside of a sword fern looks, but how its octopus-sucker spores feel rough and unmoving to the touch. And I know that in comparison to the high-growing bracken fern, sometimes taller than my youthful head, hiding dens of small girls and deer under shadowing leaves. When I was young, I really saw. And I was awed and amazed that I was *here* and got to see *this*.

For years coming home, my passions for place and awe would fly home with me – like an ancient Icarus able to take wings and fly across the clouds with a pace nearly as fast as the setting sun t chased. I was back. I was home. Here was that one Starbucks I’d loved as a girl. Here the view of Mt. Rainier that had stricken my heart with its beauty. But in recent years, that sense of wonder has dimmed. I’ve chased sunset and sunrise across the continent too many times to be impressed with it anymore. I’ve risen on one continent to sleep on another a few too many times. There are too many Starbucks, and their sugary drinks are less interesting to me. The mountain is hard to see in this hazy, fire-strewn sky.

And this year, for the first time, I saw that distance and lack of awe and was greatly grieved by it. There is no gain to such a loss of marvel.

As a parent, I’m a huge proponent of the “growth mentality” – which echoes that ancient thought that we are less who we are born to be and more who we choose to be. Driving highway 12 past the firs and vine maples, I made and affirmed my decision to be a person who notices. A person who sees things. And a person who marvels at their beauty.

By the time I got to Longmire, I had stilled my attention enough and awoken my wonder sufficiently that the rangers asked if I was ok. Something of it was showing on my face, I think. With a back country permit in hand, I slowly slowly walked the Path of Shadows, to remind myself. I sat still and looked at the lovely framing of Mt. Rainier by Rampart Ridge – made of the volcanic floes stopped by glacial ice. I smelled the sulfur of the hotsprings. I touched the broad needles of the fir with familiar fingers. I contemplated the daytime darkness of the preserved cabin. I marveled at the craftsmanship still on display in the round river stones used to for the wells – themselves harkening back two thousand years to Greek baths. I listened to silence, and I made the silence play in my head.

That lonesome valley

Two mornings later I awoke late and gazed at the most glorious beauty on my way to the high latrine. I looked over this mountain valley in the few glorious weeks in which it is open and unsnowed and covered by flowers. In that entire valley were only two humans living, myself and my son. And my heart was filled with wonder. He walked with me around that lake, and we sat on the far side, perched on warm rocks above the clearest of mountain pools. He told me his favorite hymn, which is also mine. And we sang it together. And my heart was filled with love and awe.

The very rock upon which we sang

I am down off that mountain now. Into the clarity and quiet of that mind, I have put in the highest art. I have filled my eyes, my ears and my mind with new materials (even as I have filled my lungs with smoke and my belly with good foods). Sitting under the ancient ponderosa pines near the babble of ash-filled Lithia Creek, I am readying myself to return to that world where my mind is too small to hold all it needs to hold, and my attention is bespoke by the employer who makes such cross-country jaunts possible in the first place.

As I go to close the book on my vacation, and lay down both the mountains and the Muir, I hold firm to the ground I have reclaimed. I will be and wish to be that person who notices, who marvels, who takes the time to see and know how astonishing and lovely this world is.

The living waters we drank

Teenage Angst at Parties: A How-To Guide run by the Son

We entertain and are entertained pretty often. Grey has had a lot of experience at parties where he is not the primary focus of attention. Following a few parties in which Grey behaved impeccably and carried on some very reputable conversations with adults, he asked to do a guest-blog on my post. The following is his advice to his peers about how to survive social situations “elderly guardians” such as myself inflict upon suffering teens.

Parents/Guardians, call your teens over to read this then vacate the area.

We know what happens. A baby-shower, a office party, a retirement, it’s time for a get together. You go, and you stand around sipping your soda while trying to seem interested in the conversation, after the pause in it you try and add a few words. You get some head nods from condescending adults trying to be nice, and you slowly walk away. You sit down, back-rigid, and pick at your health food while eavesdropping on what’s happening with so-and-so, and who-and-who is having a fight with this-and-this. Some elderly (aka anyone over 30) come over and squeal the typical, “Do you remember me? From that office party like a insert years equal to infinity in teen-time years”, “I remember when you were this tall! *levels hand about waist height*” and the ever so common, “Oh you’ve grown so tall!”.

You. Are. Bored. This is how to fix it, or just barely pacify it.

1. Grab your phone/Ipod/Mp3/etc and listen to music.
This is pretty obvious, but if you grab your music player and make it very obvious that you are listening to music, people will often come over to inquire what you are listening to (Very Important! Make sure it is not rap! Elderly and sometimes even younger couples will not understand or not care!). When you are asked, make sure you gush about it and ask them what music they like. The conversation will probably progress from there.

2. Stick near your guardian.
I know, I know. This sounds terrible, and not very fun, but it has it’s upsides. If you are cynical, sarcastic, or just plain witty, you can usually crack a few jokes and make yourself entertained with whomever your guardian is speaking to. Remember, keep the topic on whatever you are terrible at or amazing at if you are talking about yourself. This will usually open up a few dad jokes, and then progress on. Yes, you will get the elderly woman treatment, but at least you can keep talking about yourself.
Example topics about yourself: Your height, your grades, your skill in ______ sport/s, etc.

3. Bring gags.
Disclosure, not recommended if you are going to a formal party, or if your guardian thinks it’ll be inappropriate.
Bringing gags livens up a party, makes it more casual, and people will usually congratulate you and make it less conformist for you if you do it right. Do not bring any old age gags, inappropriate gags, or gen-z/millennial gags, because these gags will not appeal to a wide audience and could possibly get you in trouble. Remember, everything is key. The performance, the tone, and the audience. For example, I can do a decent Batman voice, so I can bring a Batman mask. This fits in the three categories: Performance: Decent; Tone: Funny and cool; and Audience: Batman has been around since 1939 and has been featured in America, which fits Baby Boomers, Millennial, and Gen-Z Kids. Example of what not to bring: A “Hi, Welcome to Chili’s” vine T-Shirt (They exist, trust me). Performance: Sly (Not great); Tone: Giggly but stupid; Audience: Gen-Z kids, and very late Millennials. This couldn’t appeal to Baby Boomers because they think a vine is something grapes grow on and in an office party, Baby Boomers are most of the people you’ll find. This fits into only one category, tone, and just barely. Not great to bring.

4. Be nice.
It’s annoying and tiring, I get it. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. People will like you better, you’ll leave a good (first, second, third) impression, and you will have more leeway if you do.

So finally, If I’ve missed anything, yell at me on Instagram (@cynicalgrey) or at school next school year. Goodbye, farewell, and amen that I don’t have to go to any parent parties anytime soon.

2018 – Looking forward

This is a fantastic time of year for thinking. We think about what we really believe. We think about the folks who are close to us – or maybe not as close as we want and intend. We think about what we did in the year past. And then, at the end of our thinking time, we think about what we want to do in the coming year so that when our thinking time comes again, we’re satisfied in retrospect. New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap, but if you view them as the annual tradition of thinking hard about where we are and where we want to be – and what we need to do to bridge that gap – it seems more like a virtuous tradition than an exercise in futility.

Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to in the new year.

New Attic
We are finally for reals I swear this time kicking off our attic project. When we brought our drawings to contractors the number they agreed on came back, uh, much higher than we were expecting. More saving was in order to afford it. So after a few false starts and stops (and having cleaned it out and refilled it a bunch of times) we’re now planning to really actually do this thing. Our original start date was in January, but I’m guessing it’ll be more like February given the lack of start date from our contractor. I’m a little nervous. Fun fact – I am not abundantly supplied with taste. I know home renovations can be really disruptive and tiring. And it’s another project to manage. But on the flip side, Grey is a tween. Not sharing a bathroom with him will be great! And our new bathroom will be amazing. And it will finally clear the logjam of projects so we can also do some of the smaller things I’d like to have accomplished. And insulation. And a clawfoot tub and steam-shower. So much awesome.

New Jobs
Adam and I are both getting started on the new roles we landed ourselves last year. It’s always the phase where you need to prove yourself by working extra hard. You have to learn fast, work hard, be patient and show up early. The rewards are great, but there will be no mailing it in during 2018!

The kids
They’ve had a great year so far. I’m looking to help them find good strategies to be 100% on the ol’ homework turning in (my mom has a plan to help with that!). I’m also continuing to try to expose them to things that might inspire passion in them, and when they find it to support them. They’re a huge and joyful part of my life!

I usually plan out all our vacations for the year this week – and this year was no exception. It’s not as ambitious as last year. We have three camping trips (one without kids, possibly). We’re headed to Mexico in February and Washington State in August. I really want to go backpacking AND go to Ashland. I’m getting another week of vacation this year (Adam is not) so in my contemplations on how to do this, I’ve struck on the idea of doing a guided backpacking tour after he’s gone back to work. (Don’t feel too sorry for him – he usually does about a week of gaming conventions while I stay home with the kids.)

Stoneham History
I have two things I’ve been planning to do here for a while. One is run a fund-raiser to put up signs for the Nobility Hill Historic district. I’m not in it, but I can see the cool kids from my house. This is just a matter of getting a design finalized, canvassing the neighborhood to let folks know what we’re doing (and ask for $$$$) and then getting it installed. It’s already a Historic district. I’ve also been saying for a long time that I’d consider being on the Stoneham Historical Commission. I should probably actually get around to doing that. It’s just hard with the timing. But now that the kids are more independent, I have a little more time to do stuff like that. Finally, I’d really love to finish the story I was working on set in Stoneham. I’m like 10k words from done. But I have a hunch they’re the hard 10k. And I haven’t really been able to work up any momentum.

I don’t think it’s lame that after the indulgence and excesses of the holiday season, we all take a moment to reset ourselves to a healthier baseline. I did ok in 2017. I ran 107 miles this year, usually in 5K increments. I did a very rigorous climb. I’ve kept pretty active. I eat a lot of healthy food, but I also eat a lot of unhealthy food. I’d like to make at least an incremental improvement on my health and fitness. We’ve talked about putting a treadmill in the abandoned basement laundry room (once it’s been moved to the 2nd floor). But I think I need to find a few more ways to sneak healthiness into my life.

A few people noted that I wasn’t in the Christmas Card picture we sent out. It’s true. And it’s kind of lame. I signed up for another round of digital photography classes, to refresh what I learned two years ago. I’d like to do a good job of documenting our life in photographs, since they mean a lot to me afterwards. And I want to make sure I’m *in* plenty of the pictures, however I think I look.

What are some of the things you’re looking to do in the coming year? What are you looking forward to?

Is it I, Lord?

Today’s scripture in church was 1 Samuel. If you were a frequent Sunday School go-er, you know this story. Samuel was a late baby. His mother, Hannah, felt her infertility as you only can in a culture that values women for their baby-producing powers. She prayed HARD and promised God that if she only had a baby, she’d give it up to his temple. Well, she had a son and handed him over as soon as he was weaned (likely 2 or 3) to the priest Eli in keeping with her promise.

Two chapters later, we have an old Eli with a young Samuel sleeping nearby. Samuel keeps hearing his name called and keeps going to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. But Eli finally figured out what was going on, “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” (1 Samuel 3:7). Today, the pastor encouraged us to find the Eli’s in our own life, who would help us hear what we are called to do.

But this raised a really great question for me – how the heck do the sages, the mentors, the old men and wise women who populate ever hero’s journey… how do THEY learn how to be the wise folks who stay home, tend fires, and wait for really obnoxious adolescent heroes to come to them? We all know the story of Samuel, but how do you become an Eli?

I can think of many, many stories with these wise, old folk. There’s Gandalf. And Dumbledore. Mr. Miyagi. There’s the Oracle in The Matrix. Uncle Iroh in Avatar. Star Wars has a battle of the mentors: Emperor Palpatine vs. Obi Wan. I bet you can come up with a dozen more. Almost every story that tells the tale of the hero, there’s the sage. The same is true in real life. The advice given to women is business over and over again is to find a mentor or a sponsor.

The other day I heard a story about Millie Bobby Brown (the actress who plays Eleven in Stranger Things). She went to some acting classes and “they” were so blown away by her talent that “they” said in the strongest possible terms that she and her family needed to get to Hollywood, stat. (I mean, “they” were right.) We’ve all heard this tale of the talent discovered (or missed). As kids, we all waited and hoped that someday some mysterious “they” would tap us on the shoulder and tell us that we had heart. Or skill. Or that special something. As I heard the story of Millie, I felt deeply uneasy.

You seem, I’m heading into wise old woman territory, and I’m not sure I know how to do the role. How did that acting person know that this one girl required all the stops to be pulled, and needed to go immediately to Hollywood? How does Mr. Miyagi know how to teach? Where did Uncle Iroh learn the humility to listen to his charge and not explain at great length why he knew better (which he did)? How did Dumbledore control his fears and desires to give Harry enough space to grow into himself without micromanaging? So often these teachers are abandoned and insulted by their charges in fits of pique. The kid goes, learns the hard way, comes back with new humility and the teacher (who was usually deeply hurt) is always gracious and never lashes out or sulks.

I do think that I’m probably the Gandalf-variety mage – meddling, and wants to hang around for the action and not let the kids screw it all up. Please note: Gandalf dies halfway through book one and doesn’t get to come back until book two at which point he’s finally learned to quit meddling so much.

These are very real concerns for me. I’d like to be a sage and mentor to those around me. At work, there are people who have 15 years less experience than I do, who are trying to navigate tricky waters. How do I help them? How do I learn to make it as little as possible about me? (What great sage went on at length about their accomplishments? The crappy ones!) How do I help people at church hear what God is calling them to do? How do I find the greatness in others, and then help them find it?

One last note on Samuel & Eli. If you read the lectionary and the Sunday school stories, you hear about Samuel’s call. What you don’t get is the full picture of Eli. The priesthood in those days was inherited. And Eli’s sons would be priests after him. And they were really bad boys doing bad things and abusing their authority. And Eli? Was an ineffective father. He tried to correct his sons’ behavior, but they were not swayed. So the same wise man who knew that God was calling Samuel couldn’t get through to his own kids about what the Lord expected of them. In fact, the prophecy that God gives Samuel in the dark that night is the destruction of Eli’s family, “His sons blasphemed God and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'” (1 Samuel 3:13&14)

How do I make sure that, if I cannot be that sage to my own sons as Eli was not, I have put them in those places where the wise ones will see them and know them and guide them, when I cannot?

Have you ever read a great story about becoming an oracle or a sage? What does the journey of the wise one look like? What about in real life? What are some of the ways that we can change our life expectations from hoping someone will notice us, to trying to make sure we notice & help the heroes growing behind us?

Mindfulness and the modern mom

Last September, I took a two and a half day course in mindfulness (an updated version of this one). It was my first real exposure to mindfulness. We spent two days talking theory, technique and doing limited practice. Then the half day was spent in near complete silence, meditating.

As with most multi-day training seminars, I took a couple key ideas out of the seminar, vowed to practice and become proficient… and had completely fallen off the meditation wagon about six weeks afterwards.

Then a colleague gave me a copy of “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story” I like to think this was because she had an extra copy, and not a statement of my usual zen perceptions at work but… probably a little of column A and a little of column B. I worked my way through it this week.

The sarcastic “there are studies that back this up” version of mindfulness is, I think, a needed and necessary intermediary technique. As Dan Harris so eloquently lays out, lots of the talk of meditation is wreathed in a religious Buddhist understanding – or perhaps more accurately in the a western idealized & exoticised understanding of Buddhism. Meditation is a work that bespeaks hippies, patchouli and the prefix “transcendental”. (Or at least it was – it is being resurrected by books and courses like I’ve encountered.) I’m a scientifically-minded Christian (not an oxymoron), and deeply skeptical of patchouli. Still, the studies on mindfulness are compelling. And just as I see no conflict between God’s creation & scientific method, I don’t think that the Christianity that exploded across continents from the more rigid roots of Judaism would throw away a useful spiritual technique just because it wasn’t invented in Israel.

For those unfamiliar with the basics of mindfulness, the concept is to stop and pay attention to your own thoughts. This is done with meditation. In it’s simplest form, meditation is the practice of trying to create space between you and your thoughts. Usually you do this by focusing on your breathing, and every time your mind wanders (near constantly) you notice that it has wandered and focus on your breathing again. I’m told that over time, with practice, you eventually are able to respond to your thoughts with intention, instead of a near autonomic reaction. There’s all sorts of benefits ascribed to this sort of mindfulness, from blood pressure to managing temper to happiness.

I’ve thought quite a bit about how the stopping and listening is missing from my spiritual life. I’ve come to realize that what I loved about our Good Friday was just this. It was so long, so dark and so quiet. We had to do the hard work of sitting, quietly, by ourselves, and praying. In fact, apparently I was the only one who loved it, so we’ve switched to a less rigorous service that didn’t require sitting and praying for 60 minutes. But what is prayer but this kind of listening? Does God really need us to tell him what it is that’s on our mind? (Pro tip: God knows. Jesus said so. (Matthew 6:7&8 “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”)

So if Jesus spent an entire night in the garden of Gethsemane praying, and he wasn’t rehearsing his finest arguments to God about why this whole “dying on a cross thing” was a terrible idea… what was he doing? What did that prayer look like? I suspect that there are few options other than perhaps this quiet listening and self reflection. If we still that inner voice, what is it we might indeed be able to hear? Perhaps the still soft voice of the Holy Spirit?

I think it is not impossible.

In meditation practice, it’s very clear that what you’re supposed to be doing is not thinking. It’s also clear that it’s nearly impossible to stop thinking. So the meditator is encouraged to forgive yourself and just start over and try again. While that advice is intended for within the meditation, perhaps it counts for the act of meditating, too. I’ve been distracted away from meditation. Instead of recriminations, perhaps I should just forgive myself and start over again, from the start. And see what might appear in whatever space it is I can create in my mind.


What about you? Have you ever tried meditation? Have you managed to keep it up? Does your spiritual practice contain something that isn’t meditation, but looks shockingly similar to it?