“God Set the North Star in the Heavens”

Blackwater NWR & Harriet Tubman Underground Railway

Last weekend we took an overnight trip to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to view the wintering waterfowl at Blackwater NWR and take in the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railway site. I’ll admit that the “Eastern Shore” terminology confuses me.

The region gets its name from the stretch of Maryland’s Atlantic shoreline that’s sandwiched between Delaware and Virginia — but the part of Maryland’s “Eastern Shore” we explore (closer to the metro area) wraps around the Chesapeake Bay, which has both eastern and western shores. As someone who has trouble with time zones, this confusion of west and east seems unnecessarily complicated! I suppose a person always needs to know which direction they’re pointed, no matter which body of water is in front of her. Basic orientation — now that’s an appropriate thought for the New Year! No wonder I appreciated Harriet Tubman’s words about the North Star (we’ll get to her below).

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a marsh that’s actively managed to have freshwater, brackish, and saltwater areas, to provide for a variety of species. The Blackwater “River” spreads rather than flows. Nearby is the Choptank River which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The closest town is Cambridge. The new Harriet Tubman site is entirely surrounded by Blackwater NWR, which is appropriate because these marshes and inlets provided cover as Harriet escaped slavery, and then returned to lead other enslaved persons to freedom.

My husband and I arrived around sunset and saw thousands of geese in the marsh and the air, continually rising and resettling — huge flocks of Canada Geese and Snow Geese. We also saw a lone pair of Tundra Swans enjoying a moment on the tidal flats, their white bodies forming the two halves of a heart shape. Later we saw (more…)

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Intentions for 2017

Do you write Resolutions or Intentions for the New Year?

As each old year draws to a close, I like to choose a word or phrase that captures my intention for the new year.

The first year I chose a phrase was 2012. I had quit my church work to focus on writing and felt the need for direction as I sifted through writing projects. I chose the phrase: “Close the Loop.” Surprisingly enough, my focus was on housework. If I started a load of laundry could I actually “close the loop” by getting those items dried and put away? As I became more conscious of open loops, I began to see them everywhere: my piles of papers not dealt with, the unworn clothes in my closet, the projects I had not finished. I became aware that these were open loops that sapped my energy. It’s no surprise that this became a year of purging!

My 2013 phrase was: “Be Lighthearted and Gracious.” My mental image was a fluffy white feather. I had completely immersed myself in one writing project — the work that became my memoir. The phrase was helpful, particularly as I had to spend so much time reliving painful memories and writing about the topic of sexual violence.

My 2014 phrase was “Do the Work.” Now I had so much work in progress that I felt overwhelmed. How would I ever get the writing done? The task seemed impossible. But I wanted to finish, desperately. The work was an open loop I needed to close. I realized I had to just put my nose down and see the work through.

My 2015 phrase was “Love the Work,” as I realized that when one phase of work ended, another appeared. I now envisioned myself as a writer, vocationally, and embraced the writing life as a gift. The opportunity to exercise my creativity would be enough reward, no matter what else might happen.

My 2016 phrase continued the theme, only I embraced both the sweat and the beauty: “Love the Work, Do the Work.” And after 5 years of sustained effort, 2016 became the year that my memoir was published.

Now it is almost 2017! I am still pondering phrases to capture my intention for the year ahead.

What about you? Care to share your phrase in the comments?

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2015 Intentions

One of my blogposts was among the 14 most-read Christian Century blogposts in 2014. Perhaps I should use foul language like “stinkin'” in my titles more often! My thanks to all of you for reading, and to the good folk at CC, especially Celeste Kennel-Shank and Steve Thorngate who curate a tremendous amount of blog material related to church, religion, spirituality, culture.

Onward to 2015! Do you write Resolutions or Intentions? Some people scoff at the practice, but each year I choose a phrase to remind me how I intend to live my life in the year ahead. It helps me focus. My 2014 intention was Do the Work. I often muttered this to myself as I sat down to write. It was so helpful that I even renamed this blog, which used to be Work in Progress. I prefer the verb: Do.

My 2015 intention is similar: Love the Work. (You might remember that I’m borrowing the phrase from Gordon Lightfoot.) May all of us love our work in the year ahead! Isn’t that one of the secrets of happiness? Work is one way we become ourselves.

Want to share your intention for the year ahead? I’d love to hear it.

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2014 Intentions: a Word

As the old year ends, I like to choose a word or phrase that captures my intention for the new year. I might put this phrase on a card over my desk, or at the bottom of my emails, somewhere I’ll see it with some regularity.

My 2013 phrase was: “Be Lighthearted and Gracious.” My mental image for that phrase was a fluffy white feather. The extended version — the commentary, or midrash, or hashtag — was: “Remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

The phrase was helpful to me, especially during a time that was professionally difficult. I won’t pretend I succeeded in being gracious, but the intention did serve as an anchor, which is the point.

My 2012 phrase was: “Close the Loop” which is still a mantra of sorts. At any rate it helps me get the clothes out of the dryer, or empty the dishwasher.

Now I’m choosing my 2014 phrase. I’m entertaining this one: “Do the Work.” I have a massive amount of writing to plow through and it is rather intimidating.

Do you choose a word or phrase for the year? Want to share?

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An Unwanted Gift at the New Year

a 2012 post explains why I wrote the 2017 #MeToo article

I wrote this post 5 years ago, and just rediscovered it. I appreciate how it illustrates the rather lengthy process of soul work — of knowing you need to do something, but discernment may take years.

Yesterday I spent a few hours getting ready for the new year. There are various ways I like to “clean the slate”:

1) I quickly organized my closet (church clothes, writing clothes, workout clothes) to see if I need to buy something at the excellent sales going on right now (I don’t);

2) I purged a dozen books from my study, since I feel done with them and always need more shelf space for my ongoing projects;

3) I made a first draft of resolutions, mainly about various writing projects. (Plus a very uncreative one: “Lose X pounds.”)

Then last night I had a bad dream and woke up feeling upset. This is very unusual for me. The person in my dream is the one person with whom I have “baggage,” meaning: I am angry with him and the anger is not likely to go away. I feel he owes me an apology which he is not going to offer.

This person is rarely in my conscious thoughts. I was not aware of thinking about him yesterday. But my unconscious offered him up, as if there is work to be done here before the new year begins. In my dream he was pursuing me on different kinds of transportation: train cars, boats, a roller coaster. Maybe a plane? I don’t remember clearly anymore. I do know that he reached over to touch me, and I was both furious and frightened.

I wonder if the dream was from the Holy Spirit, prompting me to clean the slate with this person. I am not sure how to do that. But I was surprised at the intensity of my emotions. There is something unfinished here.

I am trying to regard the bad dream as a gift, although it was an unwanted gift.

In my experience, some of God’s best gifts are the ones I definitely don’t want to receive.

How do you handle these kinds of gifts?

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A New Year Coming

Do you make new year’s resolutions? I do. I call them “intentions” because that describes it better. These are ways I intend to live in the year ahead.

Here were last year’s Intentions:

RUTH's INTENTIONS for 2011   The Year of Lightening Up

MY SELF

Act like I want to feel.
Identify the problem.
Stop. Listen. Feel grateful.
Be easy to please.
Speak with good cheer.

MY WORK

Think big.
Identify the next step.
Avoid timewasters.
Follow the 2-minute rule.
Close the loop.

MY RELATIONSHIPS

Smile. Stop talking. Don't top
Cut people slack.
Be a storehouse of happy memories.
Do something unexpected.
Leave things unsaid.

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Harmonia Sacra

I spent New Year’s Night singing hymns in a church, unaccompanied, with 300 or so other people, all more churchly-dressed than I.  The crowd was diverse in age, but entirely white in skin color. Most of the women wore small white caps over hair that had never been cut.  Their dresses were knee-length or longer, and many were ornamented with small children at the hem.  I whispered to my friend that I felt like a Rahab, in my jeans and quilted vest, but mainly because of my flippy haircut, uncovered.  I was there with an old friend from college and a new Korean friend.  We three sat in the back pew, belting out such strong tenor and alto that the young women in the pew ahead of us turned around and stared, giggling.  The Korean friend had never sung in English before, but managed to sight-read from the Harmonia Sacra book just fine, singing tunes from the 1850s.  Many of the lyrics we sung were about the passing of time, fittingly enough, so many yearned to join friends “gone on ahead.  I don’t mind the pilgrim language, the pining for Jerusalem, and I’ve always loved singing about crossing the Jordan.  But I’m thinking of the actual river, with water, not the metaphorical one that lays before the pearly gates.

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Intention

At the end of the year I like to write Intentions for the year ahead.  How do I intend to live my life just a little bit differently? Working on the list.  My hawk is on her tree branch as I type.  I know one intention will be about being open to the Spirit.  Thing is, I’ve lived that way before and it’s scary. Is that how I want to live 2008?

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