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Soul and Spirit: Holding Hope

Soul and Spirit, Art by Kathy Manis Findley.


Sometimes I counsel persons who feel hopeless. I tell them that I will hold their hope for them until they are ready to hold it for themselves. I have always liked that image of holding hope for another person. It respects the genuine difficulty of feeling hopeless, while leaving the door open for hope to return in another and better time. Just so you know, I am not feeling hopeless, but many times in every day brings a hopeless moment—my hands might shake when I try to thread a needle; my legs might get suddenly weak; I might be very dizzy while cooking dinner; I might fall face-first into the flower bed and fracture my wrist while trimming a shrub. In those times and others like them, I need someone to hold my hope until I can again hold hope for myself!

I have to tell you: I am a pretty strong person that doesn’t yet know how to live my life being unable to trim a bush in my front flower bed! But at the same time, physical deficiencies bring on feelings of hopelessness that take a toll on my soul and spirit. Deep down grief it causes, when you are gradually losing your ability to do something you loved to do in the past. I tell myself that maybe I should admit the losses I’m experiencing and ask a friend to hold my hope until I can hold it for myself. But of course, that would be falling of a pedestal marked “Super Woman.” How could I do that?

So on this day, since I have been suffering with Covid for six weeks, I turned my thoughts to the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the questions of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal those places inside me?

Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:

May your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus.
(I Thessalonians 5:23)

Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are so much less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires and our emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.

Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way theologian David Galston explains it: 

“The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul . . . both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.”

I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They almost always understand how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to know my heart more easily. I am more in touch with it. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised and I place my hand over my heart, it is as if I have literally touched it, and my heart tells me what emotion is there.

As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me, always waiting for the brush of Spirit wind, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens.

So what is the lesson here? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us a thoroughly uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, and uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.”

From Joshua:
“Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.”

From Deuteronomy:
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.”

From Proverbs:
“Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.”

From 1 Thessalonians:
“And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And that’s it! So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet room filled with sounds of music. Whatever your experience of loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort. Whatever your experience of being unable to hold your own hope, may you find someone who will hold hope for you until you are healed enough to hold it for yourself. And may you hear the sounds of soul and spirit nearby, and perhaps find the brightest hope yet in the words of poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, here turned into beautiful music.

Until another day, hold on to hope,
Kathy

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory of a dream.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

“There Was a Time” by Elaine Hagenberg
Poem by William Wordsworth
https://www.elainehagenberg.com/there…

Black History Month, Lynching, Racial injustice, The Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum

“Your names were never lost, each name a holy word. The rocks cry out.”

BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2023

Sculpture of slaves by
Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

The Memorial for Peace and Justice
and the Legacy Museum
Montgomery, Alabama

The Memorial site is designed to contextualize this horrific past of racial terror in our counties history. It is part of our collective history and these events should be remembered, recognized and reconciled. Comprised of eight hundred and five Corten steel markers hung from the ceiling and etched with the names of the victims, one for each county where a lynching took place throughout the United States.


INVOCATION

The wind brings your names.
We will never dissever your names
nor your shadows beneath each branch and tree.

The truth comes in on the wind, is carried by water.
There is such a thing as the truth. Tell us
how you got over. Say, Soul I look back in wonder.

Your names were never lost,
each name a holy word.
The rocks cry out—

call out each name to sanctify this place.
Sounds in human voices, silver or soil,
a moan, a sorrow song,

a keen, a cackle, harmony,
a hymnal, handbook, chart,
a sacred text, a stomp, an exhortation.

Ancestors, you will find us still in cages,
despised and disciplined.
You will find us still mis-named.

Here you will find us despite.
You will not find us extinct.
You will find us here memoried and storied.

You will find us here mighty.
You will find us here divine.
You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.

Here you endure and are luminous.
You are not lost to us.
The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts.

The wind brings everything. Nothing is lost.
 
Elizabeth Alexander, “Invocation” 

This poem is posted at the exit of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.


Please give thanks for the Oakwood University Aeolians performing the inspiring hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

anxiety, Calm, Comfort, Fear, Feelings, Kindness, Life storms, Nature, Protection, Psalm 57, Refuge, Tenderly

Safe Under the Shadow of Your Wings

O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in you;
And in the shadow of your wings
I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.

— Psalm 57:1


Last night we had thunderstorms, loud ones. All of us were awakened from a deep sleep—me, my husband Fred, and Kikí the cat. And all three of us ended up in the bed together, Kikí snuggled between us in the soft covers. Sleeping in our bed is not Kikí’s normal habit, but the storm frightened her, and it was her safe place for the long, long night of the scary thunder!

Most of us tend to take feeling safe for granted. It’s all about knowing we live in a safe home, in a safe neighborhood, with the things we need. Typically, we aren’t stranded outdoors in a storm or wandering about in a scorching desert. For the most part, we are not left outdoors in freezing weather. We are the fortunate ones who have choices, but there are people all over the world who do not have the comforts they need and deserve.

In this season, we think about people who have needs more than we do in other times of the year. We may give more to organizations that help them, or we may reach out ourselves to offer a safe place for them. As we think about gifts and ribbons and bows (and gift cards for our teens), I hope all of us will remember the many people in our communities who truly need our gifts and our caring.

Truth is, we all need safe places almost more than we need anything else—physical safe places as well as emotional safe places. I suspect the little puppy in the photo above found both in the shelter of a goose’s wings. The animal kingdom is truly incredible. While we assume that animals are only focused on the safety and survival of their own kind, this simply isn’t true.

We have all heard stories about interspecies friendships. A dog who makes friends a cat. Or even a dog and a cow who have become friends. Usually the story is about an animal who went out of his/her way to comfort another, even though the two animals might be of different species and have very little in common. I want to share a true story with you.

It’s the story of a goose who sheltered a puppy from the cold during some dangerously low temperatures. The original story of this unlikely couple went something like this: In January of 2019, a polar vortex hit North America. In Montana, an especially frigid place, a passerby spotted a goose cradling a freezing puppy under its wings.

This goose’s motherly instincts immediately kicked in when she saw the puppy. Not wanting the tiny puppy to suffer, she covered the baby with her plumage to shelter it from the bitter cold. She hoped that her efforts would keep the puppy alive. Another source of this story tells us that the goose and the puppy—not at all of the same species—were adopted together. What a truly beautiful thing to witness!

There are plenty of humans that love and respect one another and even go out of their way to help those in need, even those who are not like them. But there is still far too much hatred and intolerance in the world. What might it be like if every person, animal, and every part of God’s creation could count on safe places, shelter from the danger, protection from fear, or a refuge in troubled times?

And how graced we are when we believe the Psalmist’s promise . . .

In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.


During your meditation time, you may listen to the lyrics of this song.
Original Songwriter/Composer: Scott Brenner, Cheryl Thomas

Beauty, Bewilderment, Brokenness, Color, Covid-19, God’s creation, Grace, Gun violence, Hate, Heartbreak, Hope, Injustice, Inspiration, Movement, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Ukraine

Beauty

Beauty

I know some things about beauty . . .

Most folk don’t take nearly enough time to notice it.
These days way too much ugliness hides the beauty that’s always around us.
Even when we don’t pay attention, beauty surprises us with magic and mystery.
Beauty is a lot like hope.

The magical appearance of beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. For me, beauty can inspire me by color and movement, by the shimmering stars on a clear night, by the magnificence of a tree’s movement in the breeze, by looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Beauty is there for us always—to be seen, to be heard, to be sensed deeply in our bodies and in our spirits.

These days, I need more of it—more hope, more beauty. I need more visions of beauty to supersede the ugliness of injustice, division, racism, misogyny, homophobia, political warring, brokenhearted immigrants looking for life, mass shootings, Covid, gun violence, child trafficking, suffering in Ukraine—all the varied chaos around the world.

And then there are the people here and there who bring grace to us all by transforming ugliness into beauty and hope.


As for the beauty revealed in the opening photo, I don’t know who created it or photographed it. I do know that he or she is a person who finds beauty in unlikely places at unexpected times, and translates that beauty into grace to be shared with those who most need it.

Who knows about that image? The striking silhouette of the trees, the birds flying above, the twinkling stars in the sky, and all of that with swirls of color that seem to me like holy movement. Regardless of the source of that photograph, I like to believe that its beauty—all beauty—comes directly from God as grace for me, and for you.

Hope! Beauty! Even in the ugliest of times!

Forest, Interconnectedness, John Muir, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Smithsonian Magazine, Trees

Our Enchanted Forest

A large limb fallen in our backyard, blown to the ground by heavy winds.


This is the time of year for celebrating trees as they put on their autumn display. Enchanted forests transform into even more magical places in this season. It can be pure glory to watch the vibrancy of fall. So I’m thinking about trees today, but I’m thinking of them with a bit of nostalgia. Several months ago our landlord had my favorite tree cut down to the ground—all the way with nothing left but a stump and an ugly, sawdust-looking mess. I was angry. I still am. The problem was the tree’s roots endangering the foundation of the house.

For me, the peril of the house’s foundation was not a significant concern. My concern was simply losing a “friend.” When we first moved into our house in Macon, I began photographing the tree, almost every day for a year, to capture its fascinating life cycle. I took photos of the leaves and the limbs and the bark, and found the tree’s transitions to be fascinating. In that time, I became attached to my Chinese Tallow tree with its beautiful leaves.

Scroll left to see a brief slideshow of a few of those Chinese Tallow photos.

Just a few months after I lost my tallow tree, a large limb in our enchanting backyard forest succumbed to heavy winds and fell to the ground, just missing our house. Behind our house, by the way, is a small forest. The forest is dense, with very large, tall trees providing a lush canopy, smaller trees providing a shorter canopy, and even smaller shrub-like trees and bushes filling in the rest. Sunlight peeks in through small areas of the thick canopy, but not enough to breach the dense foliage underneath. The forest provided shade for us, cool breezes in that part of our yard, nesting birds and small creatures, pleasant forest noises of rustling leaves and creaking limbs—natural beauty.

So, back to the limb that fell down in our forest. The landlord arrived with a small work crew to remove the limb and clean up. The small crew created big chaos in our little forest. The landlord asked them to go ahead and cut down the entire huge tree that had lost the one limb. Down came that tree. And another, and another, and another, leaving behind scarred, dusty, devastated earth. It hurt my heart. I could not look at it for several hours, as my husband described the desolation of our once-enchanting forest. Eventually, I went with him to the backyard. I could barely look at it. A lump rose up in my throat followed by anger that asked how humans dare to cut down large, living trees that may have been alive for a hundred years or more. Who gives us humans the right to do that?

I know that plenty of things (and people) harm trees. Lethal threats come in many forms: windstorms, ice storms, lightning strikes, wildfires, droughts, floods, a host of constantly evolving diseases, swarms of voracious insects.

Tender young seedlings are easily consumed by grazing mammals. Hostile fungi are a constant menace, waiting to exploit a wound, or a weakness, and begin devouring a tree’s flesh. But there is one predator whose acts are unforgivable. That predator is a human who is intent on cutting down breathing, oxygen-creating, life-giving trees.

Research tells us that the trees known as “mother trees” are a vital defense against many of these threats. When the biggest, oldest trees are cut down in a forest, the survival rate of younger trees is substantially diminished.

For young saplings in a deeply shaded part of the forest, the network of trees is literally a lifeline. Lacking the sunlight to photosynthesize, they survive because big trees pump sugar into their roots through the network.

At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Suzanne Simard and her grad students are making astonishing new discoveries about the sensitivity and interconnectedness of trees. Her research described the concept of “mother trees,” which she describes as the biggest, oldest trees in the forest with the most fungal connections. She says that the trees are not necessarily female, but she sees them performing a nurturing, supportive, maternal role. With their deep roots, they draw up water and make it available to shallow-rooted seedlings. They help neighboring trees by sending them nutrients, and when the neighbors are struggling, mother trees detect their distress signals and increase the flow of nutrients accordingly.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, especially if what I’m saying sounds unbelievable to you. Instead, I point you to an article published in The Smithsonian Magazine website, where I gleaned the scientific information for this blog post.

Journalist Richard Grant begins his article in The Smithsonian Magazine with an intriguing question: Do Trees Talk to Each Other? The controversial German forester, Peter Wohlleben, says yes, and his ideas are shaking up the scientific world.

Richard Grant writes, “My guide here is a kind of tree whisperer. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. Wohlleben has devoted his life to the study and care of trees.”

Grant goes on to explain . . .

Now, at the age of 53, Wohlleben has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada. 

— Richard Grant

“Some are calling it the ‘wood-wide web,’” says Wohlleben. “All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”

Grant continues . . .

Wohlleben takes me to two massive beech trees growing next to each other. He points up at their skeletal winter crowns, which appear careful not to encroach into each other’s space. “These two are old friends,” he says. “They are very considerate in sharing the sunlight, and their root systems are closely connected. In cases like this, when one dies, the other usually dies soon afterward, because they are dependent on each other.”

– Richard Grant

One can only be mesmerized by this botanical research that gives a “human quality” to trees and makes forests even more enchanting to us.

. . . majestic crowns approaching one another make a glorious canopy, through the feathery arches of which the sunbeams pour, silvering the needles and gilding the stately columns and the ground into a scene of enchantment. —John Muir*


Enchanted forests, trees that talk with one another, connectedness between trees—is it science or fantasy? Scientists are only just beginning to learn the language of trees. They admit that most of the time they don’t know what the trees are saying with pheromones. They don’t know how exactly how the trees communicate within their own bodies. They don’t have nervous systems, but they can still feel what’s going on, and experience something analogous to pain. Another plant scientist, Allen Larocque, says, “When a tree is cut, it sends electrical signals like wounded human tissue.”

Perhaps I should just end with these provocative words by John Muir:

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.

— John Muir


*Photography by W. Toman; http://hdr-photographer.com/

Beauty of Nature, Beekeeping, Creation, God’s creation, Honeybees, Nature, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Three Echoes Away

Photography by Josephine Amalie Paysen, Upsplash

I have always been drawn to honeybees, mesmerized by them and by the beekeepers who care for them. Once many years ago, I put on the beekeepers garb and that big, fashionable hat with the dark veil of netting. A friend who had several hives was teaching me how to handle the bees. I actually held them in my hands, rather hesitantly, while noticing how gently the beekeeper held them. From this uncomfortably close proximity, I was able to listen to the buzzing sound of the honeybees, buzzing that I did not hear as harsh, but rather hushed. The honeybees greeted him when he approached the hive. When he held them in his hands and they moved up his arms, it looked like a graceful dance of the beekeeper and his constantly moving honeybees totally in sync with one another. How could one not be enchanted by this wonder of creation?

Yesterday while reading a fascinating interview with Tom Blue Wolf, I was reminded of those breathtaking moments I spent with the honeybees. Tom is a descendant of the AniCoosa, which means “peaceful people,” who are also known as the Creek Tribe, which is a part of the Muscogee Nation. He is a Native American spiritual guide, a man in love with nature, and a keeper of honeybees. One of the questions he was asked in the interview was, “What is it like to be in the presence of the bees, to listen to them?” This is how Tom Blue Wolf responded.

Creator is always talking to us. Most of us are about seven echoes away from the true voice of the Creator. Try to get closer, try to get maybe three echoes away. If you get too close, it’s almost too intense for most people. Like a burning bush. Aaaaah!

His response to the follow-up question was just as intriguing . . .

“What do you and the bees do for each other on the spiritual journey?

How is your relationship to them a spiritual one?”

They give life, and we protect it. We keep the harm away from them; we protect them. I have been in love with honeybees all my life . . . We beekeepers are integral to the bees’ world. They know us; they are in our dreams. We tend to them barefoot, they crawl all over us, they kiss us, they tickle us. It’s hard to talk about. So, of course we think it’s spiritual. Absolutely. The bees love us and we love them.

That kind of spiritual relationship between a human being and one of God’s created inhabitants of the earth would place any of us in a sacred space. Tom Blue Wolf described a state of being as “three echoes away from the true voice of the Creator.” It’s the kind of space most of us never enter, and for so many reasons—we don’t have time; we’re busy with our jobs; we have children to care for, laundry to do, and a plethora of responsibilities listed on the to-do list we seldom complete. We simply get too busy to embrace the beauty of nature and draw closer to the Creator.

Tom Blue Wolf would summon us, if he could, to be “three echoes away” from God’s true voice. So he writes about the Creator, the creation and the importance of protecting it, and our role as caretakers. He urges humans to follow the guidelines of Saint Francis, who thought it critical to have a close and enduring relationship with nature.

From the years I spent as a postulant in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, I learned about the many ways Saint Frances was devoted to the best characteristics of what it means to be a human being on the planet: benevolent, loving, kind, gentle, merciful, reverent, respectful. He treated every life form with dignity.

Saint Francis helps us pull ourselves out of the trap of being completely focused on two-legged humans. An example of that shows how most people describe a destructive incident only be the impact it has on humans. They might report, for instance, that a plane crashed and “we lost 180 people.” Or “the fire killed four hundred people.” In contrast, Saint Francis would say, “Not only did we lose four hundred brothers and sisters, but we also lost three thousand acres of Mother Earth’s flesh. We lost sixty-four thousand winged ones. We lost untold amounts of water, and what’s left is toxic and the ones that swim are no longer with us.”

Like Saint Frances, perhaps we should focus more of our attention on the natural world, the magnificent creation given to us by the Creator God we worship. For one thing, attention to the creation and its Creator draws us into holy moments that we desperately need for our spiritual nurture. If we lean into those holy moments, and linger there for a time, the burdens we carry could become lighter. The cares that dishearten us might become uncommonly dim. And we just might find ourselves in a most sacred space—the one that places us “three echoes away” from God’s whisper. And as an added grace, perhaps we will also hear the gentle buzz of honeybees!

May it be so for each of us.

Alliance of Baptists, Call, Calling, Challenge, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Faith, journey, Labyrinth, Ministry, Mission, New Book Release, Perseverance, Resilience, Southern Baptists, Stories of Journey, When God Whispered My Name

Unapologetically!

I confess that this is an unapologetic promotion of our newly released book . . .

When God Whispered My Name!

Stories of Journey Told by Baptist Women Called to Ministry

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley and Dr. Kay Wilson Shurden, Editors


Let me tell you why I recommend this book, unapologetically.

In its pages, you will find not only my story, but also the poignant stories of eighteen women who were called to ministry, only to face challenges and obstacles along the way. Simply because they are women! These are diverse women, each one unique, and their journeys follow winding paths, uncharted and serendipitous.


You will be mesmerized by these heartfelt stories about how nineteen ministers each heard a Holy Whisper calling her to a life of ministry and compassionate service to others. Get your copy today at these links:

Smyth & Helwys Publishing

Amazon

Barnes and Noble Bookstores

“There is power in a story well told, a sacredness that speaks to shared experiences, and draws us closer to God and to one another. When God Whispered My Name is full of such stories. Equal parts inspiring, sobering, and challenging, the stories of these women bear witness to the Good News that flourishes when one dares say yes to God’s call. This timely volume is sure to offer hope, encouragement, and community to women and men who are wrestling with that same mysterious call from God and those seeking to empower them.”

—Mandy McMichael
Associate Director and J. David Slover Assistant Professor of Ministry Guidance
Baylor University

For more information, visit the When God Whispered My Name website.

Faith, God's Faithfulness, Labyrinth, Spirituality

“This is the way. Walk in it.”

Art by Kalliope

If you know about labyrinths, you might get this. People often ask me what a labyrinth is or what it’s for. Truth is, you can’t fully understand a labyrinth by definition, nor by reading about it. You won’t get the significance of a labyrinth by what I write here, no matter how eloquent my writing may be. To know a labyrinth, you have to walk one, or trace the circuits of a finger labyrinth, or trace the path on a sand labyrinth and feel the sand under your fingers.

As a part of spiritual direction, many folk tell me that a labyrinth looks like a maze to them, and they fear they’ll get hopelessly lost, unable to make it out. That sounds a lot like life to me. Isn’t there always fear that we’ll get lost on this journey we call life? After we’ve made a few wrong turns in life, we are often fearful of living it. Afraid our wrong turns will end badly. Afraid we’ll get lost.

The truth of the labyrinth is that it is a clearly marked path that will lead you in—to the center—and then lead you out by the same path. Perhaps that’s why it has been called “the sacred path.”

If you know me or follow my blog, you already know that my life has been made up of many curves, turns, twists, dead ends and crossroads. At times, it has felt unnavigable, a dangerous and unpredictable journey. Yours has probably felt much the same. I have learned a few good lessons along the way, though, lessons that I hope will stick with me.

The one overarching lesson is that I can neither predict, nor control my path. The twists and turns will appear before me, and I will walk through them. The curves will seem treacherous at times, and I will lean into them hoping to stay firmly on the road. I will stop in my tracks at the dead ends and simply turn around and start over. The crossroads? Well, they have their own precariousness, danger. The crossroads demand a decision. The road I choose could make a world of difference, good or bad.

It’s enough to make life frightening! And it does. Life is frightening, especially for those of us who need to control our pathways. Here’s where the labyrinth offers me so much comfort. It is a pre-created path in and then out, and when I follow it’s path, I am reminded of one of the core beliefs of my faith: that God has laid out a path uniquely for me. Whether I follow it or not is another part of my faith. I get to make that decision.

When I walk a labyrinth or even trace its circular pathways with my finger, I am aware of a guiding hand, a Comforter beside me, and the peace of knowing the path was created for me. I feel Spirit winds and hear the holy voices of thousands of years of Wisdom whispering into my ear.

And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

—Isaiah 30:21 (NRSVUE)

Amen.

Adventures, Covid-19, Creativity, Depression, Feelings, Freedom, Friends, fun, Immunocompromised, Isolation, Loneliness, New Normal, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Travel

Have a Nice Trip!

It’s my most common statement these days: ”Have a nice trip!” Saying it to my friends is the polite thing to do, given that I am landlocked in my house. And to my credit, I really mean it when I say it. I really do wish them a nice trip—fun and relaxing and safe and an experience of all things good.

At the same time, my heart is always just a little shattered when someone I know embarks on a summer adventure. It makes me long for times past when my family took amazing vacations to Disney World or Sea World, to the ocean or to the mountains, to Oregon, Seattle, or Vancouver, or Gatlinburg, or Nevada, or San Francisco, New Orleans, Reno, Nashville, Nairobi, Mombasa, Athens, Mexico . . . I can’t even remember all the places. “Those were the days,” I’ve heard it said. And so they were!

Today is a very different reality. Travel is harder, for so many reasons, and being confined to home has a host of repercussions. I have experienced many of those repercussions, physical ones, spiritual ones and emotional ones. Immediately after my kidney transplant in 2019, Covid-19 descended upon us. After that, I accepted my personal reality of taking immunosuppressant medications for the rest of my life to prevent organ rejection. That personal reality meant that, no matter the lifting of mask mandates and the full re-opening of everything, I had no immune system to fight Covid or any other infection. And that means forever!

When everyone around me seems free, and carefree, I feel imprisoned. I admit, it has taken an emotional toll on me. It still does affect my sense of freedom, safety, loneliness, boredom, isolation, creativity—the things that fill your soul. I have tried hard and long for three years to stay active and creative and never to feel bored. But I have reached a kind of stasis, worn out from ”keeping busy” and from pushing myself to be productive, creative and happy.

My husband asked me yesterday if I’m depressed. I almost said, “no” before the truth hit me. I haven’t seen my son and grandchildren for two years. I haven’t seen my Atlanta cousins since November. I haven’t seen most of my friends in months. So, yes, I suppose I am depressed, though I so want to push it away by denying it.

Depression has its own trajectory. Most of the time, I just have to ride it out and wait for better days. In the meantime, to all of you travelers out there: Have a nice trip!

I really mean it!

#Uvalde, Texas, Bewilderment, Discernment, Emotions, Feelings, God's presence, Indecision, peace, Understanding

Elusive Understanding

Photography by Andrew Charney on Unsplash

You may have noticed there have been no words coming from this blog in quite a while. No new posts. No graphics. No music. The reason is that inside me, there is nothing, and that has been my situation for several weeks. Part of the reason is that I was very sick for a while, hospitalized actually. In addition, I simply felt empty, without a creative spark that is usually so common for me.

Physically, I have felt unwell for a long time. Emotionally, I have felt the continued sting of isolation because getting Covid could be deadly for my immunocompromised body. Spiritually, I would have to say that the gun violence that has taken the lives of children and teachers in Uvalde has wounded my spirit and left me with so many unanswerable questions about faith and hope.

When all of those things rustle through my mind, it cannot help but reduce me into a silent kind of melancholia that affects my body, mind and spirit. It seems that this time, I can’t move past it. My husband asked me today if I am depressed. I answered, ”yes,” but honestly, I feel more sad than depressed. I don’t understand it this time. I can’t put my finger on the cause no matter how hard I have tried to figure it out.

The myth is that figuring out the root of depression or sadness will help one overcome it. Once you understand your depression and where it comes from, you can get beyond it. Also not necessarily true! Understanding is not a bad thing, but it is also not a cure-all.

These days, I simply cannot understand things—all things me! I recognize my sense of feeling empty, and I still have the ability to use reason and discernment to try to understand my feelings. But the truth is I don’t understand what’s going on in me. The internal web of my physical hurts, my emotional disturbance and my spiritual emptiness defy explanation and understanding. It’s complicated, outside of my ability to understand. So I have craved any flicker of light and life I could find.

I found it today, in a quote shared by a dear friend. This is the quote.

I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.
~ Anne Lamott

I can rest in that. I can find peace beyond my understanding. I can lean into the treasure of not being compelled to understand complicated things, even complicated things about myself. By the way, complicated things about myself may well be the most difficult things to understand, sometimes baffling and elusive. So Instead of the constant struggle to understand, I plan to turn my life over, again, to the One who created me to be complicated in the first place.

Thanks be to God for the ”peace that passes all understanding.” Amen.