In Search of Silence



Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.


Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.


♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt: Noise


Guns & Schools



This week has been sadly sweet for me. The sweet part has been spending every day teaching kindergartners. Their innocence and vulnerability turns my heart to mush. The sad part is, I can’t get Sandy Hook out of my head. The nausea clutches at my stomach at unexpected times, like when one child slips his hand in mine or another one asks me to tie her shoe.

Pictures of the children killed at Sandy Hook and their parents have been all over the news since the latest school massacre.

I am anxious at times, angry more often, but mostly sad. It is beyond imagining that our “leaders” have literally been bought by the NRA to the extent that children are being slaughtered in their classrooms and nobody does anything. Nada.

Today, two first-grade girls ran up to me excitedly and said, “Is it true that trump wants teachers to have guns?” One said, “I saw it on TV,” and the other said, “I heard my Mommy and Daddy talking about it.”

I presume that their regular teacher deflected the question, because the girls made a beeline for me when I came into their classroom to supervise lunch. They have questions, and they want answers.

I told them that yes, it is an idea of his, but it is a silly idea and everyone knows it so we don’t have to worry about it.

They asked why he would want to do such a silly thing, and I said because he doesn’t really understand what it means to be safe.

”Well, WE’RE not going to do that,” harumphed one of the girls (a pretty safe bet, since we are a Quaker school).

Like the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Florida, these children know a dumb idea when they hear it. And they know a charlatan. In their own way, they are echoing MSD student Emma Gonzalez’s cry: “We call B.S.!!”

This Time it Feels Different

Many of my friends are saying, “This time it feels different.” And it does. For one thing, the outrage has lasted more than a week. We aren’t just moving on to the next media frenzy. The students won’t let us. The NRA boycott is gathering steam and major airlines and insurance companies have stopped giving discounts to NRA members. Dicks Sporting Goods and Walmart are both tightening their gun purchasing rules.

Even trump has made encouraging noises this week about maybe doing something useful, although his ignorance of the issue is appalling. And he seems dead set on arming teachers (pun intended). Fortunately, many governors are pushing back on behalf of teachers and law enforcement.

Yes, something feels different this time.

Could it be that the pernicious evil that powers the NRA has finally met its match in the bold persistence of America’s high school and middle school and now apparently elementary school kids?

We Call B.S.

The NRA seems desperate and is losing its already tenuous grip on reality. Their spokespeople sound like raving lunatics, hinting at armed rebellion and accusing the media of loving mass shootings because “crying white mothers are ratings gold to you.”

The NRA public relations department is working overtime to remind us that school shootings are “extremely rare events” and that more kids die in pool drownings and bicycle accidents than mass shootings. And comfortingly, although there are 55 million school children in the U.S. only an average of 10 per year are killed by gunfire at school. That’s pretty good odds, right?

God in heaven, who thinks like that??


Political Conservative’s NRA Shame


An interesting word prompt arrived in my inbox today, one that wouldn’t normally interest me except that I taught an eighth-grade science class this week. The word is “assay.” It’s not used a lot in day-to-day speech, but it should be.

It’s defined as “an investigative procedure [in science] for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence, amount, or functional activity of a target entity.” The word comes from fourteenth century Anglo-French “assai,” meaning “trial, test of quality, test of character.”

For instance, if you wanted to test the character or functional activity of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — America’s biggest D.C. shindig for conservative Republicans each year — you would investigate who pays for it and who takes the stage.

The National Rifle Association is generally a big contributor to the event, including sponsoring the festive Ronald Reagan dinner. This year, the money behind the dinner is being kept secret.

Also not made public was the big speech by the NRA’s chief executive Wayne LaPierre. As survivors of the latest school massacre made their way to the nation’s capitol to plead for controls on the lethal weapons that murdered their friends and so many others, CPAC made public their schedule of speakers. LaPierre’s appearance was nowhere to be seen. But lo and behold, he’s on the stage as I write.

He’s the GOP’s secret weapon, literally.

Wayne LaPierre speaking to his bought-and-paid-for minions

Republicans may be ashamed or afraid to let the public know that the NRA is paying for and speaking at their conference, but they cannot hide the NRA contributions coming straight into their campaign coffers. That’s how we know that when the man who sometimes sits in the Oval Office in between golf games takes the stage at CPAC tomorrow, he’ll be standing on bales of NRA cash that helped get him into office: thirty million bucks, to be exact.

It’s a pretty simple assay experiment to test the character and “functional activity” of the GOP these days. Even high school students can do it.


Love Flowers



Tomorrow when I walk into work, I will be greeted by the smell of roses and fresh greenery and the laid-back reggae beats of Bob Marley. I’ll spend the day reading encouraging, funny, sweet sentiments while chatting with friendly people.

I can’t believe somebody is paying me to do this.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a substitute teacher and a writer and a pastor. Also an office assistant for my housing cooperative. I also have ADD, which helps explain why I’m perfectly happy to be working at half a dozen different pursuits. This keeps my brain bathed in feel-good chemicals. To me, boredom is the ultimate terror.

But this job — this job.

When a friend of mine posted on Linked-In that her florist shop would need extra help during the Valentine’s Day rush, I messaged her right back. I have always thought that working in a flower shop would be the bee’s knees.

(I just had to know, and now you will, too: Turns out, “the bee’s knees” was part of a bizarre slang fashion in 1920s America which consisted of animal/attribute pairings, including elephant’s adenoids, cat’s meow, ant’s pants, tiger’s spots, bullfrog’s beard, and eel’s ankle. So there you have it.)

As I was saying, flowers. 

Being surrounded by flowers is just as wonderful as I’d imagined — it’s a big warehouse bursting with every kind of bloom you could name and a lot you couldn’t.

But even more wonderful are the loving messages that accompany each flower order. I get to print out each one and slip it into an envelope that will be received with love and gratitude. My day is infused with positive, caring sentiments. Congratulations, sympathy, encouragement, apology, new house, new job, new baby, new school, and of course declarations of love for Valentine’s Day.

I love reading people’s pet names for each other. (So far, “Poop” is my fave.) What makes it all even sweeter is the number of messages from husband to husband and wife to wife. Love is love.

I suppose part of what makes this job the eel’s ankle (I just wanted to use that one) is that it’s temporary. Knowing I’ll only be there for one week, albeit working ten to twelve-hour days, makes me appreciate it all the more.

I am grateful to the Higher Power that aligns my stars for me.

Happy Valentine’s week!


Teaching. Or Not.


“You still like the teaching job?” friends often ask.

I’m stymied by the question because I don’t recall ever telling anyone that I liked teaching. I don’t actually know if I like it or not. Do I even teach?

The other day a little blonde girl flounced past me on her way to hang up her jacket, which I had asked her to do. “You’re not a *real* teacher,” she said in a challenging but slightly uncertain tone, like you might say, “There’s no Santa Claus, right?” hoping against hope you didn’t just jeopardize your Christmas Eve visit. She wasn’t sure, but she had a hunch that I did not have the authority of her real teacher.

I sighed. She had a point. I mean, is a substitute a “real teacher ?” I usually feel more like a glorified babysitter with a seating chart.

Every once in a while I get to act like a real teacher — to stand up and say stuff to the class that is more than just “Quiet down” or “Sit down” or “Clean up.” But I’m usually spending so much time trying to control the 2 or 3 wildest kids that I have no time to do more than give cursory instructions to the rest of the class. It doesn’t seem to be getting better as I approach my one-year anniversary of being a substitute teacher.

The little blonde girl’s teacher said to me, “You are a real teacher and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.” I appreciated the support, but that same teacher has told me in so many words, “Our standards for subs are really just to make sure nobody gets seriously hurt.” So much for teaching.

I don’t know if I’m a good substitute; I do know I could get better. I also know that another sub at my school fled the building in tears in the middle of the school day and was never seen again. At least I haven’t done that. Yet.

Thing is, I don’t feel like a “real pastor” or a “real writer” either. I have multidimensional Imposter’s Syndrome or whatever it’s called. So who knows? Maybe I am a real teacher. I wonder if I’ll ever get good enough at classroom management so that I can teach a lesson.

Here’s the truth, though, and why my friends probably assume I like teaching. I love the children. I really love them. Even the misbehaving ones, the ones who test me and flounce by me — even the little boy who peed on a stuffed animal the other day.

When I zig-zag down the hall, dodging streams of rambunctious knee-high kindergartners and carelessly nonchalant middle schoolers, I feel . . . joy. There’s no other word for it.

So you tell me: do I like teaching?

A Shock to the System – Loving a Narcissist

Leave a comment

I found this piece to be wise and compassionate. Take care of yourself!


See the source image

I have been giving a lot of thought to those compassionate empathetic people who have had bad experiences where they trusted and gave their heart, where their commitment and loyalty was taken advantage of, and most of all, those who have experienced the psychological tangle of narcissism in their relationships.

Primarily, if anyone ever says that you, your behavior, your caring, or relationship caused them to be angry, harm, to behave badly, or abuse in any way, GET OUT!  An emotionally and mentally mature person is responsible for their own behaviors and claiming otherwise is the first red flag.

This is a mentally and emotionally draining and toxic relationship for those with high levels of empathy.  Because of how strongly we feel about human relations, and expect people to behave as positively and cooperatively as we, we hope to “love” someone out of that kind of behavior or think that time will change…

View original post 357 more words

A Conversation for 2018


It’s 2018, and America — we need to talk. I know, I know, there has been far too much talking, tweeting, ranting, and raging this past year. Words are flying everywhere, criss-crossing our awareness like the maniacal flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. That isn’t what I’m envisioning.

I mean we need to have a conversation, to communicate. Remember? The part where your lips stop moving and then the other person speaks and you listen to them? Where you aren’t just trying to prove your point, but you are actually vaguely curious about what the other person might have to say?

Yeah. I barely remember it either. That’s why we’re in such a mess.

Conversation seems like a quaint idea, something from a bygone era when we had more time, an era before air conditioning when we sat on our front porches after supper to catch an evening breeze and shoot the breeze with our neighbors. A time when we were a little more interdependent, before we all began carrying around a world of information and opinion in our pockets and no longer needed to actually connect with others.

Still longer ago, in the mid-fourteenth century, the word conversation meant “living together, having dealings with others,” and even more broadly, “a manner of conducting oneself in the world.” I like that. The Latin root meaning “to live with, keep company with” literally means “turn about with,” and an even older language root means “to turn, to bend.”

With this understanding, conversation seems like a dance — the dance of living together, turning and bending to accommodate others, sometimes comfortably, sometimes less comfortably, but still, living life together.

These days conversation isn’t a dance, it’s a battle. You can’t really even call it conversation. It’s just a torrent of words, evil monkeys descending from dark skies, stomping on us, tearing us limb from limb and leaving us lying flattened, like Dorothy’s unfortunate scarecrow.

Evil Words

Our so-called “national conversation” is used to divide and conquer, not to find common ground. There’s no gentle bending or turning involved. It’s wrenching and even fatal for people living in poverty, without healthcare, or in cities where police brutality is the norm. My God, our very planet is at stake but if you mention climate change you’re accused of politicizing tragedies like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. 

Make no mistake — there is evil afoot in America. The man-child currently in the White House is the most egregious example, of course. He absolutely glories in causing pain and division, using words as weapons and firing off twitter tirades like some twisted middle-schooler whose parents are secretly worried he might get his hands on a gun.

He is a sick, sick human, and most of us know that by now.

That does not mean that the rest of us have to live in his madness for another year. We have a responsibility to remember a time when America was a lot greater. To the extent that we safely can, we (and I’m talking to myself here) must learn to ignore the invective spewing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let’s leave him ranting in the kitchen while we adults head to the front porch to have a conversation about values and meaning and truth. 

I wish you many edifying conversations in 2018!

Happy New Year!

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt: conversation.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: