Tag: discernment

discernment spiritual practice

Welcome 2024

As the sun set on 2023, I was literally lounging in a hammock in my front yard reading a cookbook until I no longer had enough light to see words on the page. Yes, it was warm enough for that on New Year’s Eve (I also picked tomatoes from my garden that afternoon). And no, I don’t mean figurative “sunset” as in, midnight. I mean literal sunset. I’m always in bed hours before midnight. And if I’m up at midnight, it better be because of a sick kid. But I digress. My point is that I appreciate the Jewish timekeeping practice in which the day ends at sunset and a new one begins. I like that start to a new year or season, also. It is a rhythm that gives me time to mark the ending, and to begin again before resting.

Also, yes, I read cookbooks during my leisure time; I enjoy cooking so much that I find it fun and relaxing, and reading a good cookbook is simply thrilling! I wanted to end the year being gentle with myself, doing something that brought me delight. (Although some joke that I hate fun, I like to say that I have a different idea of fun than most.) When it got too dark to read, I went inside and celebrated the new year with my family, watching the London fireworks at 7pm CT, as is our tradition. This not only follows the rhythm of time that I appreciate, but it also enables the kids to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and the grown-ups too. (See? I’m VERY fun!!)

2023 was a hard year. Perhaps the hardest. My dad died. Parenting is challenging. Parenting children through your own grief and theirs is even more difficult.  But I’m not saying, “good riddance” to 2023; I’m saying, “thank you.”

I am not the same now as I was at the start of 2023. While some may list all their accomplishments, the books they read and the places they traveled in the last year, I am looking back and what I see is a labyrinth. What do I mean by that? I mean that 2023 was not linear, not focused on goals or accomplishments, finishing anything at all. In fact, I put down more than I finished or picked up. (Perhaps you noticed that I barely published anything on my blog all year?!) I released my grip on many things, and I embraced compassion. I practiced being gentle with myself and others. It was a meandering path, one that moved closer to the center and away from the center, a journey not bound by time or goals. When I walk a labyrinth, I wander around a small, fixed area and emerge different than when I entered the labyrinth. That’s what 2023 was like for me.

This was a not a year of having adventures or accomplishing goals. I did not travel far and wide. I traveled to San Antonio from the Austin area about a billion times, and only a few other places within a short driving distance all year. But I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be, with whom I needed to be. I read and re-read poetry and blessings, and I abandoned books and media that did not feed my soul. I focused on nourishing meals and exercise that felt good in my body, taking long walks, and doing lots of yoga. I invested time in nurturing my relationships. I cared for my family, and I cared for myself. And I am grateful for the time and space this year to listen to my needs and those of my loved ones, to grow in compassion for myself and others.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I used to, but I was always too ambitious and aspirational, and then very self-critical when I didn’t achieve them. The process was entirely unhelpful, so I let it go. At some point I began a new practice, almost by accident. I didn’t intend to. Perhaps it was intuitive. I began to listen to my life, to discern what I needed, and to try to describe it in a word or phrase that would serve as my guide through the next year, or season. A breath prayer, of sorts. This isn’t something that I’ve done religiously, or with a specific timeline (although sometimes it has coincided with the beginning of a year, there are times I have engaged in this practice again and chosen a new word or phrase multiple times during a year, as circumstances and seasons changed).

I rarely tell anyone what my word or phrase is, keeping it close to my heart, letting it sink into my soul and permeate my being, without any external input beyond prayer. I will share now that the word that emerged for me as 2022 drew to a close was “compassion.” At the time, I didn’t know where the Holy Spirit was leading me with that word, but it soon became clear that I had not chosen the word; the Spirit had chosen it for me, in her infinite wisdom, knowing I needed to embrace compassion in new ways in my life.

As 2024 dawns, many things are different. I have changed, and my circumstances are incomparable to my life at this time last year. As I say thank you to 2023, I welcome 2024. I have no idea what this year holds, but I pray that I will be able to continue to embrace compassion, and to welcome whatever comes, being present to what is.

In closing, I want to share a blessing from Jan Richardson’s book Circle of Grace. May it bless you, as it has blessed me.  

The Map You Make Yourself
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
by Jan Richardson

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

discernment sacramental

Winter Whether

Last March, I wrote an essay called “Winter Whether” as I was beginning to emerge from a season of winter in my life. A lot has happened since then, and it is definitely “spring” now: I’ve begun serving another church, our children have returned to in-person school, we are building new relationships and settling into new routines. I am so grateful for the “spring” we are experiencing now and for the winter that preceded it. I know that at some point spring will give way to summer, and eventually, another fall and winter. The cycle will continue, and each time, new life will emerge because God is always faithful.

You can read “Winter Whether” in Fidelia Magazine, a publication of Young Clergywomen International. Also, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the poem, “The Sacrament of Letting Go” by Macrina Wiederkehr impacted me very profoundly in the summer of 2020 and it remained with me for many months afterward. You may recognize elements of it in “Winter Whether.”