by Wendy Lew Toda, artist, ACC
Cakes, cookies, breads, desserts, you name it! I love to bake. This means I have gone through a lot of eggs. Typically, the eggshells got tossed without a second thought. But one day, while breaking five eggs for a cake, my eyes lingered along the random edges of the broken shells on the kitchen counter. There was something about the way they held loss and beauty at the same time that drew me in. I decided to keep them. Cleaning these first ten halves felt like prayer as I carefully supported each one through the gentle washing process and held the pieces of shell together in the crushed parts. I sensed a story in each broken half - my journey, your journey, maybe even our journey - all contained in the tiny space of each half eggshell.
Till now, the Tabiji Eggshells have been painted on the insides and presented individually. My brush traces the journey from edge to edge in that inner landscape, color saying what words cannot. This pair is titled "Together", created because grief has a way of stripping us down, often leaving us feeling bare, exposed and empty...those times when there is no color inside or out. These paintless eggshells reflect the beauty of that stark, raw honesty. They bear only God’s fearlessly compassionate touch, tracing a touch of gold over and around our jagged edges. There is no shrinking back here. Only the tender, fierce love of God reaching out to touch and name our brokenness sacred. Holy.
I am a broken eggshell, holding the memory of what it meant to be whole. Perhaps you are too? These two Tabiji Eggshells are together because grief is not meant to be carried alone. “Tabiji” is a Japanese word that means “journey through”.
Please join me for a gently facilitated time of retreat with the Tabiji Eggshells, Honoring Grief and Loss: Preparing Your Heart for the Holiday Season on Saturday November 5. The process is safe, kind, and no art experience is needed. You and your grief and loss are welcome, however you may come on that day, in that moment.
By Monica Romig Green
I tried to read, but he just kept falling asleep too quickly! You see, for most of our marriage, my husband has read to me every night before we go to sleep. We used to take turns reading, but now he is on permanent reading duty, and I get to listen to his sonorous baritone before my head hits the pillow. Usually, he’s sharing the musings of some comedy writer. But currently, he’s reading to me from Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Fr. Greg Boyle.
If you are unfamiliar with Fr. Boyle, he is Jesuit priest and the founder and director of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang-intervention and rehabilitation program in the world. I’ve heard Fr. Boyle speak before in interviews, and his gentle, winsome tone comes through in his writing, as does his important message of boundless compassion, universal kinship, and extravagant tenderness for all. And, what makes his writings and speaking so compelling is not just his important message, it’s also the form he uses to deliver it: story. Or I should more appropriately say, story after story after story. Because Fr. Boyle has been working in and loving his community for many years, he’s collected hundreds, if not thousands, of real-life anecdotes, tales, and parables. These not only support his message; in many ways, they communicate his message better than any statements he makes. His stories are amusing and joyful, tragic and sorrowful. Through them, he paints a picture of how challenging life can be for the clients of Homeboy Industries, but also of how the Divine intervenes and transforms in practical, surprising, and moving ways.
Each night, before I drift off to sleep, I hear six or seven short stories from Fr. Boyle, and I am troubled and challenged as well as delighted and uplifted. His book is probably going to become my bedtime favorite because I am a “God-story junkie.” There is almost nothing I enjoy more than witnessing spiritual journey stories. It must be one of the reasons I became a spiritual director, or perhaps becoming a spiritual director has only heightened my desire and enjoyment in hearing again and again in how the transcendent breaks through to touch our lives.
I’m really looking forward to talking more about Story in Spiritual Direction at the workshop this Saturday. If you aren’t one already, perhaps I can help you become a “God-story junkie,” too. And if you already are like me, I hope that together, we can sharpen our story-listening and collaborative storytelling skills together. Maybe we’ll end up with a great story to tell!
By Kenton W. Smith, D.Min., DASD
The art of spiritual poetry (theopoetics) is the confluence of two rivers: Beauty and Presence flow together and come to speech effortlessly. Intruders like impatience, performance, and ego are pretenders that try too hard.
Inspiration has a life of its own.
But not from me today.
Meanwhile insistent quail call,
mourning dove, hummingbird,
chilled wet air,
sunlight beaming brightly
from a thousand drops like LEDs.
Heavy clouds passing ever so slowly.
The earth speaks for itself
When did prayer become a way to feel alive?
How did sitting still and doing nothing become fulfilling?
I don’t know,
but I’m never turning back.
The art of spiritual poetry and spiritual direction are best expressed in simple terms. That which is most personal is most common. In Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Lost Skull the fictional archeologist Dr.Henry Walton (Indiana Jones) misadventures into a dangerous cavern where he is trapped by an ageless knight protecting the mythical Holy Grail. Jones is tempted by the knight to discern whether for life or death which of the hundreds of ornate cups is the actual grail? Jones is irresistibly drawn to the most beautiful of all the glittering cups. But he draws back, hesitant, measuring the temptation. Then he sees one unadorned wooden cup hidden among the bright shiny things. Of course, the common cup is the Holy Grail of the Last Supper of the Christ.
Writing spiritual poetry and guiding spiritual direction share Jones’ temptation for the elegant, brilliant, and lofty. Words and images can be bright shiny things. But spiritual experience is humbling, it comes from the other side, and is not ours to control. Spiritual experience has a life of its own shared with us in real time, usually a brief time, and disappears into memory only to be rediscovered at a time of its own choosing.
The temptation of theopoetics and spiritual direction is through elegant knowledge to unintentionally distract others from the Holy Grail of self-discovery. That is, to do for others what they must do for themselves. The nature of spiritual experience like the nature of the natural world is the extraordinary in the ordinary, yet common, plentiful, present, and free for everyone. When I am in session with a directee the human stories are expressed in nothing more than everyday speech. In fact, most often the experience of the experience cannot be expressed or described except in emotion, sensation, wonder and AHAH, or inquiry such as, “What was that?” One directee described spiritual experience as a “whoosh.” But it all threads to one Source.
My hope and desire in theopoetics and spiritual direction and the notions that accompany them is not to define spiritual experience but to invite the reader or directee to set down in their own words, emotions, sensations, or art forms, the quality of their own experience. My belief is that when we do, we will know the Life of life in our own life and there will be no turning back.
1 From an unpublished manuscript, Sitting Still Doing Nothing: Contemplative Theopoetics in a Cultivate Garden and Wild Landscape, p. 101-103.
By Rev. Erik Swanson
I’ve been a pastor for most of my life. I love to promote really good things the church has done through time. I like to celebrate the places where she has lived out the gospel in powerful ways and made healthy contributions to the world. Sometimes, I have gone too far in holding up the good.
Particularly since the murder of George Floyd, I have become ever more painfully aware that there is another side of the church that often gets glossed over. The Church has an underbelly. It has participated in the shadow side of our world. It has turned a blind eye, and participated, in injustice.
Lately, Spirit has led me to engaging with the local indigenous people of the Muwekma-Ohlone tribe. Their chairwoman is a remarkable woman whose people have been through unimaginable suffering- much of it, at the hands of the Church through the mission system. A system of the Church that was responsible for some of the greatest atrocities that humanity can perpetuate against other human beings. Clearly this flies in the face of what Jesus taught his disciples.
I am convinced that we cannot be those who turn away any longer. As those who seek to follow in the way of love, justice, compassion and grace, we have a lot of work to do to actually face into what has been done AND work for healing. Yes, this work can feel enormous, heavy and uncertain of where/how to start.
One way we are taking a small step towards healing is having a conversation with the tribe’s Chairwoman. Would you join us to listen and learn more? We’ll hear her story, the story of her tribe, and how their struggle is currently unfolding. Another way we are seeking to engage this work is by partnering with them in a recycling project, as well as, planning a land acknowledgment. Small acts, but don't we have to start somewhere?
Even if you can't come, would you join me in asking the question: How can I face into injustice beyond my fragility, and wanting to defend or deflect? I am convinced this is holy work. I wonder, for you today, where might you being called to act today?
If you would like to join me in facing this issue head on, with hearts open to what the Spirit might be leading us into, I look forward to seeing you on the zoom screen Sunday, August 14th at noon.
By Brooke Maffia Wang
On what would have been her 72nd birthday, we had my mom’s celebration of life service. A one of a kind spectacle with all the different groups of people who seasoned her life. I planned, with detail, the service to include the simplicity she requested— adding a party favor of dental floss for each guest to take with them. She loved a good party, and dental floss about just as much, and something free even more. A dental hygienist by trade, who saw her patients more like friends. People I’ve never met feel like they know me because she would chat them up while her hands were in their mouth cleaning their teeth.
As I sat in the front row in the long narrow church filled to standing room only, what I was not prepared for, was the palpable wave of sound and energy that washed over me as we sang the traditional and familiar words of the old hymns, It Is Well and Amazing Grace. It felt like being swept up and enfolded in a big hug as all the voices joined in on cue. My eyes filled and it was well with my soul and an amazing grace to be there with this unique group of humans.
Music has a mystical way of resonating with us. A way of expressing what is going on in our soul that words fall short to capture. Jake Wesley Rodgers sings a song called Weddings and Funerals. It has become one of my companions in my life that has been full of spectacles lately. Less than a month after my moms service, I attended my brothers second wedding. A spectacle that also used music to express a different range of human emotion. (My mom and his first wife frequented the cancer center together for about two years previously.)
Wesley’s song gorgeously captures the spectacle (his word) we make of both of these life events and others like them— and rightly so. It’s how we mark time. They are undoubtedly important.
However, what resonates with me in this song (Dare I even call it a prayer?) is what we contemplatives would call being in the present moment. His suggestion that love is made/experienced/lived out in the “everyday miracles” invites me to pay attention. To be fully in each moment. To linger with a “long loving look” at what is right in front of me. It calls me to savor that moment of pure delight in the laughter of my kids down the hall, or when I take in the intoxicating smell of the redwoods on a hot day. It asks me to slow down long enough to feel my feels, embrace the gratitude that I could easily rush past, and to name it as holy.
I’m wondering, for you, today:
* What are the spectacles that have marked time in your life lately?
* What are some everyday miracles you’ve noticed this week? What might they be inviting you into?
* How will you linger a bit longer in gratitude and presence today?
May you be fully present to all the holy moments and everyday miracles that fall between the spectacles of your life.