Prayer on Waking and Trying Something New

Do you enjoy trying new things? 

I do, and I don’t.

I do enjoy the mix of experiences, personalities, and perspectives that new things can bring. I enjoy learning and surprises. I enjoy finding unexpected beauty and encountering the world in new ways.

Sometimes, though, I don’t enjoy the vulnerability of immersing myself in things I’m not good at. I don’t like to fail. I fear looking ridiculous when I don’t know what I’m doing.

I had this in mind earlier this spring when I ran across a poetry-focused writing workshop by the Collegeville Institute called “Writing Toward God: The Sacred for the Perplexed.” The title caught my attention. It also made me suspect, even though the workshop focused a great deal on the reading and writing of poetry, that a person like me – who doesn’t regularly read poetry and certainly doesn’t write it – might find an entry point regardless. So, I decided to try immersing myself in poetry. I signed up. 

Two sessions in so far, we’ve read quite a bit by writers like Kafka, Rilke, Joy Harjo, Mary Szybist, Yehuda Amichai, Cesar Vallejo, and Jericho Brown. It’s struck me how poetic reflections on the divine (or the sacred, or the meaningful) can involve what one doesn’t know every bit as much as what one does know. In fact, these reflections can involve way more questions than answers. Perhaps this strikes me all the more because of my fears of vulnerability, and failure, and looking ridiculous. I like carving out space to not fear them quite as much. 

In the spirit of trying my hand at “writing toward God” (and of doing my homework), I wrote a poem called “Prayer on Waking.” I’d enjoyed reading selections of Joy Harjo’s poetry, appreciating how she shows speakers shifting and changing in perspectives over the course of a poem. In my “Prayer on Waking,” I wrote with her in mind.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Prayer on Waking

I have missed that stained glass angel 
in the sanctuary, how it silently sent 
light along the palms 
I’d turned up in hurt
and hope, and longing.
In the beginning, I thought
to capture faith, to hold it
still as glass and see the sacred 
like colored light glowing 
as a sign of something.

Perhaps that is how we wake to the world:
one stained-glass moment
at a time. One meaning imagining 
herself into color, 
gorgeous with the light 
of now.

This morning, strolling past 
that church, I ponder
the hope of that girl who sat
gazing at glass 
in prayer.

I used to believe
that windows, like lenses 
could make each piece fall
into place. I used to expect
that rightness would freeze
into clarity, solid
and stable.

I expect nothing anymore,
not really, as I walk beyond
a childhood’s path. I expect nothing
but movement from here to there,
one window to the next, 
this building to another,
to trees and trails,
and blossoms opening fresh 
before me, breezes in my hair, 
and scents passing through me, 
from blue bell, to lilac, 
to honeysuckle, from glory 
to glory, from one petal
to another as each day dawns.

Perhaps this is how we wake to the world:
scent after scent gathering into a perfection 
of fullness, into colors glowing 
together, each moment growing 
into the next, into a world
without end. 

– Callie J. Smith

I wrote “Prayer on Waking” with a sense of how my hopes for meaning (expecting it, observing it, receiving it, honoring it, risking it) have changed over the years. Perhaps that’s a function of gaining experience and perspective. Perhaps it’s a function of bringing a little less fear and little more openness to those experiences. I’m still reflecting on what exactly emerged for me in this poem, but I think something did. 

What about you? How have your hopes changed over time, and how are you doing with the vulnerability that may have come with it?

Smith’s novel Kat’s Dreams: A Sacred Grounds Novel Book 1* (Clay Patin Press 2022) is available for free on Kindle today (4/26/23 Pacific Time) only.

Silly Things We Do That Keep Us Sane II

What do you do that keeps you sane? 

In my first “Silly Things We Do” essay, I speculated that many of us have these things we do that would appear impractical and odd were it not for the good they do us. Funny how writing about that one habit of resting in winter sunshine has given me a lens for evaluating so many other things I find myself doing.

The “silly thing” I’ve noticed lately involves a collection of teddy bears, two rabbits, a dog, and a pig – all stuffed animals – that sit in a corner of my bedroom closet. I realize that I’m a middle-aged woman admitting to stuffed animals. My Google search as to whether or not this counts as laughable, weird, immature, or otherwise silly was inconclusive. However, I’m still taking a deep breath as I admit that I – a woman with aspirations to emotional maturity and professional gravitas – have a collection of stuffed animals that catches my eyes as I get ready in the morning and wind down at night. 

I can’t help it. There’s nowhere else I’d rather keep these little stuffed critters. They make me smile. Oh, the stories! 

The pig was a joke, of course, but the workplace antics leading up to it represented months of office fun that actually left me feeling pleased when Mondays rolled around. Lest you think that my colleagues and I were slacking, I assure you that I’ve rarely managed as much productivity as I did during that time. (BTW, I believe that employee morale is one of the most under-valued resources of the contemporary workplace, but I’ll save that for another essay.)

My mother gave me one of the rabbits – a big, lop-eared bunny with curly grey fur – during my college days. I’d recently been diagnosed with a mood disorder. I remember how much I judged myself in those days for having trouble (so I thought then) with “adulting.” The gift of that rabbit from a parent who believed in me whole-heartedly and had nothing but love and encouragement for me felt deeply comforting. The term “transitional object” can so diminish the power of these beautiful symbols that remind us of the people who believe in us and get us through our difficult phases of life. 

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

I could tell story after story. These stuffed critters came from family and friends over the years, and while they most often sit there in my closet, I occasionally bring them out for other purposes. A large tan dog with floppy ears went with me to church one Sunday to star in a children’s sermon, and I don’t think I’ve ever had listeners receive anything I’ve said with as much enthusiasm as those children received the visit of the big, floppy-eared dog. I still laugh at the memory of all the children (and even some adults) who wanted to hug the dog afterwards. 

“A memorial is a pocket-sized collection of memories that we can take with us,” writes Dan Moseley in one of my favorite books, Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change.* “The work of remembering,” he explains, “involves downsizing the reality so we can carry it within us into the future.”[1] I like Moseley’s lens on memorials, and as I reread Lose, Love, Live recently, my mind went to the stuffed animals in the corner of my closet. That gathering of button eyes, velvety noses, and worn fur keeps saying to me, “Love.” Each cushy critter reminds me of love and the myriad ways it’s touched my life over the years, both in giving and receiving.

I believe that whatever else sanity means, it means not forgetting love as an active presence in our world. I don’t mean to make gods out of any of the people or relationships that have given me stuffed animals over the years. I do, though, suspect that God resides in love of all kinds, in all the ways love touches, heals, and blesses lives. And why shouldn’t we encounter God in spaces of play and comfort as well as in spaces of seriousness and striving?

I, at least, take the presence of stuffed animals in a person’s life with a great deal of reverence and appreciation. In some cases, I even give them as gifts to other adults. If even one stuffed animal here or there reminds someone of love at a time when they need it, then that soft and furry little life will have been one of great blessing.

What about you? What reminds you of love?

The Beauty of Rest: Contemplative Essays(Clay Patin Press 2023) is available for free on Kindle today (4/12/23 Pacific Time) only.

[1] Dan Moseley. Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change* (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2010), 64-65.

Silly Things We Do That Keep Us Sane

What do you do that keeps you sane?

I’m guessing that a lot of us have things we do that would appear impractical and odd to anyone who observed us doing them (if we actually let anyone observe us doing them). They’d count as silliness were it not for one factor: the good they do us. 

A “thing” I did this last winter was something I learned from Bodhisattva the cat. Over the years, my family has laughed at her for this practice, but she’s never seemed to care.

Bo in the Sun (Photo by Callie Smith)

Late in the day, “Bo” (as we call her) will gravitate to west-facing windows in search of sunrays. She’ll search for a while during the greyest stretches of an Indiana winter. She’ll persevere, though, and when she finds even a hint of sun, she’ll stretch herself out in it. On carpets, in chairs, across bedquilts – she’ll position herself anywhere that lets her stretch that little body out and expose as much black fur as possible to the sun. Soon, her fur feels hot to the touch. 

On cold days that feels wonderful. This last winter I was craving that kind of warmth for myself. I have a condition which worsened this winter and led me to give up outdoors exercise in the cold weather. No more walks during gentle snowfalls, no more bike rides on brisk days, no more getting out to take advantage of winter sunshine – I gave it all up. 

If you don’t love that kind of thing, then that won’t sound like much of a loss. I loved that kind of thing, though. I counted those activities as some of my winter “mental health moments” that helped me change gears, de-stress, let go of whatever I needed to let go of on any given day. Those outings let me get moving and give my mind, body, and spirit some time to relax together, to work together, and to reconnect. I hated that, of all things, these outdoors activities were the very things that my body called me to give up this last winter. 

Have you ever had to give up doing something that you loved to do? 

It meant frustration for me. It meant winter stir-craziness to the nth degree. It meant agitation and discouragement. And, when I started paying a little more attention to Bo the cat, it eventually meant an opportunity for some creativity. At least, that’s how I began to reframe it.

Late in the days when we had anything that even remotely resembled sunshine, I’d join Bo by a west-facing window. With my body so much larger than hers, I didn’t always find a way to stretch out my entire self in a ray of sun. Instead, I focused on letting the last of the day’s sun fall across my face. 

Some days I’d gaze out the window and watch light illuminating the lines of dull-colored winter brush, suddenly not quite so dull. Some days I’d lay on the floor, close my eyes, and bask in the vibrant orange-ish light of sun through my eye lids. Some days I’d take my portable, apartment-sized elliptical machine and push it right up to the window where I could exercise and feel, as much as possible, surrounded by the sun. 

Photo by Ivay Val on Unsplash

What can I say? I felt the brightness in my eyes and the warmth in my body. In my mind, I pictured smiles. For the occasional and briefest of moments, it would sometimes even feel as if the day, or the universe, or some beloved person was smiling upon me. From time to time, it even made me ponder the smile of God and what that would look like.

For those briefest moments, I could almost feel my body, mind, and spirit resting together in a place of wholeness, which is what I think I mean when I refer to “sanity.” I even started to think of these unorthodox winter moments as a spiritual practice of sorts. They changed my gears and let my insides settle. They helped me relax and listen to whatever I was needing to listen to at the time. Mental health moments and spiritual practices – both – can look quite different for different people, and this sunshine through winter windows was doing something very healthy and sanity-nurturing inside of me.

What about you? What do you do that keeps you sane? Like the feel of winter sun on my face, I’m wishing you your own sense of warmth, your own reminders of smiles, and your own pauses of wholeness and sanity these days.

The Beauty of Rest: Contemplative Essays* (Clay Patin Press 2023) is available for free on Kindle today (3/21/23 Pacific Time) only.