Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology. Our church had a blessing of the animals service via Zoom. Participants brought their dogs and cats to their computer to receive the blessing from our priest.
I don’t have any pets right now. I attended the Zoom anyway and requested that we remember the variety of creatures that live in my backyard: squirrels, feral cats, raccoons, hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and a family of raucous crows. They are part of the ecology of neighborhood.
Today is supposed to be a major holiday where I live. But there is no excitement for me today. It is going to be just like any other Saturday. I will work in my garden, do my laundry and get rid of some recyclables. I may even vacuum. It will be more of a day of quiet circumspection than a day for watching fireworks and eating barbecue.
Last week my dryer broke down. Right now I am not inclined to get it fixed. There are several reasons for this, but basically I just don’t want to deal with it. It just seems so irrelevant in the middle of all the global chaos. Instead, I bought a clothesline and some old-fashioned wooden clothespins and this morning I hung my wet laundry out to dry in a discreet place in my yard.
I noticed right away that this is a slow process. It is not just throwing the clothes in a metal box and pressing a button. I had to take my time and hang things properly. It was pleasant standing out in the warm summer sun. I was transported me back to my childhood before we had a dryer in the house and watched my mother tend to this task. (I am sure my mother would not have seen this chore in the same way as I do now which is why I suspect we eventually got a dryer. And ask me my feelings about this again in January when I can’t hang my clothes out because of the freezing rain.).
But today in my yard near my sunflowers and ripening tomatoes, in the midst of a global pandemic, financial crisis, and social unrest, I am reflecting on the state of the world and finding a few minutes of serenity. Or at least I will try.
Like hundreds of millions of people all over the world, I am trying to practice some social distancing during the pandemic. In order to “isolate” for several weeks, I ventured out to do some shopping for essentials to have on hand. At 6 o-my-sweet-Moses-in-the-morning in the darkness and in a pouring rainstorm, I went to one of the local warehouse stores hoping to avoid a crowd and possible exposure to the virus. That idea didn’t work too well. When I arrived there were already about 50 or 60 people waiting to get into the store along with me. I knew the crowds would only get worse so I took the plunge and got in line.
Seriously, I wasn’t there to hoard. I simply wanted to get some pantry staples. For example, I thought I would get a few rolls of paper towels. However, all the store had were huge packs of 24 rolls. I don’t need that many rolls of paper towels and to have purchased them would have been hoarding. So I left them for somebody else. I’ll use old fashioned fabric towels and wash them. It’s better for the environment anyway.
A lot of shelves were empty, but in spite of what I have seen on the news — people fighting over toilet paper and other insane behaviors– everyone I engaged was polite and in some cases even jovial in the attempt to take the edge off the tension. I quickly worked through my list: a few canned items, hand sanitizer, cartons of shelf-safe nut milk, oatmeal, and chocolate. (I can’t face a global crisis without chocolate). Then I checked out and high-tailed it home.
I had originally planned to fill my day with garden work, but since the rain has made that impossible, I had to find something else to occupy the day. I’ve made an inventory of my pantry (I’m good on food and toiletries for several weeks), I fooled around on social media, and now I am writing. This evening I plan to read. I cannot– CANNOT– watch one more minute of the news. It is not that the news about the pandemic frightens me. More to the point, it unsettles me. I am anxious. Not so much about my getting sick, but about things like what this is doing to the stock market, and the global economy, how does this affect my doing my job next week, and how do I keep myself sane when I am spending so much time alone. By the way, Alexa is not very good at holding sustained conversations.
Yesterday, a friend of mine had a digital copy sent to me of a well-known book on Zen meditation. So tomorrow, Sunday, since my diocese has cancelled worship services, I may sit and try to meditate instead. I have the next few weeks to worry about the state of things. Tomorrow, though, I will take a few minutes and try to find some calm in this storm.
I did not create this. But since it is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian Church Calendar, which starts of period of spiritual introspection, I thought sharing these “Lenten fast” ideas a rather cool way to kick start the season. This comes from St. Dennis Catholic Church. I hope they don’t mind me sharing it. I will try to do as many as practically possible.
I have always been a bit of a lazy, undisciplined wretch when it comes to a morning spiritual/wellness practice. Oh, I do just fine with the functions of the day job. In fact, I get criticized for being a bit too rigid in my routines and processes. But when it comes to doing those things that strengthen and motivate my interior life, well, not so much. I’ve tried but usually backslide in a few days after “re-committing myself to my practice.”
But then I decided to collaborate with some technology I have on hand and it has made all the difference.
To make a long story short, I created a “routine” on one of those digital personal assistants. (I don’t want to name names because she wakes up every time I say her name and won’t shut up.) Anyway. I programmed “she-who-must-not-be-named” to run a routine that I activate when I wake that gives me the date, time, weather, news brief, and then an in-bed yoga routine where the last asana gets me out of bed and on my feet. From there I can manage a few sun salutations. When I end with the savasana, I tell HER to play some appropriate music and set a timer for 10 minutes. I know then that I can meditate and pray without falling back to sleep on the floor.
After this, I set another timer for doing devotional reading and journaling. When that timer goes off, I proceed with getting ready for the day job, preparing breakfast, and packing lunch. Finally, I set one more timer to tell me when to leave for work. This usually is enough time for me to eat, watch the news, and maybe even work in my sketch book.
So far, so good. But it’s only been one day. So we’ll see.
The ancient sages and devotees managed their spiritual practices by watching the movement of the sun and being accountable to each other in the communities where they lived. I guess I am a little like that too — except my abbess is some AI chick in a little round container.
I sometimes feel overwhelmed at the enormity of what we must do to save this planet. As fires rage and oceans rise, as lands become barren and the path we walk along the edge of extinction crumbles away before us, I still feel hope. I am one simple woman. What can I do? I will take my one small corner of green that I am blessed to steward and plant flowers. Sounds silly and naive? Tell that to mourning doves who graze in my garden and the hummingbirds who hover about, and the bees who come looking for my lavender and rosemary. And when I plant milkweed and borage this spring, I hope the butterflies will come. That is what I am doing. Even if all I had was an apartment balcony, I would put out a pot of flowers to feed a passing pollinator. Before I start though, I need to show a little humility and perhaps, to use an old fashioned term, a little repentance for my part in damaging the planet. Then I will put on my gardening gloves and get to work– sowing one tiny seed at a time.
A former rector of my church, many years ago, had a vision of ripping up the manicured lawn on the church campus and planting a garden to provide fresh produce for a local food pantry that serves the poor of our community. This garden came to be and has been an on-going venture for many years. The rector went on to other endeavors and left the garden in the hands of the congregation.
This morning I joined the group that tends the garden. I am an amateur: I know nothing more about gardening except that you need good light, healthy soil, the right amount of water and a lot of energy. The garden manager, who (in her own words) has “a passion for the earth”, is patient and eager to teach individuals like me. What I learn, I plan to implement in my own garden.
So I had my first lesson today: using a natural homemade concoction made of habanero peppers to keep unwanted critters away from the baby plants. For nearly two hours I spritzed and sprayed all manner of vegetable seedlings with red pepper pest deterrent. Other volunteers were working on harvesting seeds for future planting while others were spreading compost, weeding and watering. It was truly a community effort. Another marvel was the diversity of the group. Women, men, and children of all shades and hues were working together in harmony to heal the planet and help the poor.
You can’t do church any better than that in my opinion.
Once upon a time there was a woman, a beautiful woman, filled with life and vigor. She sat for a sculptor who tried to copy her in marble with his chisels. Unfortunately, the sculpture was just a manipulation of her true image. The sculptor could not capture her essence. A few thousand years later, a photographer took a picture of the sculpture which became yet another manipulation of the true woman. Finally, today a bored computer nerd decided she wanted to mess around with Photoshop to pixelize the photo and manipulate the poor woman once again. And on it goes. Who knows what someone might do with this image?
I’m sure you know what happens to a document when you copy it, and then copy the copy, and then copy the copy of the first copy. Do that long enough and eventually you cannot see what was on the original document. But the question is, does the original copy cease to exist? No.
The same is true for the woman. She still exists somewhere in time and space. Well, maybe not the flesh-and-blood woman, but the ideal of that woman, the perfect form of Woman.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato called this the Theory of Forms. He postulated that there is a spiritual realm that contains the blueprints of everything manifested in the physical realm. That vase, that music, that cat, those people, that government, that social relationship—everything— has a perfect and pure template in that realm. The world of forms“…is a philosophical theory, concept, or world-view … that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas. According to this theory, ideas in this sense, often capitalized and translated as ‘Ideas’ or ‘Forms’, are the non-physical essences of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations.” (Wikipedia)
Do scholars and philosophers still believe this explanation of how the universe turns? Not so much anymore. This classical worldview was one of the underpinnings of western civilization for centuries, at least that was what the Jesuits taught us in Philosophy 101.
So I sat down to screw around on a computer and make a pretty picture, and I ended up visiting with Plato one more time and letting him bend my mind.
If you would like to view a short, expedient explanation of this bit of Platonic philosophy and a very practical application of it, take a look here:
Image: “A Manipulated Woman” in Photoshop, LJGloyd 2019
I came across this TedX video about the benefits of a daily writing practice. Since life recently threw me a curve ball, I have fallen out the of that practice. This video has motivated me to pick it up again and make it a part of my daily spiritual routine– just like prayer, meditation and yoga. If you are a writer — or even if you are not– I encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to this writer’s entire presentation. She really provides some practical advice for developing a daily writing routine.