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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Encountering the Spirit #1

Yvonne McGillivray is an outsider artist, painter and fashion designer who grew up in the west Highlands of Scotland, and has resided in the magical and wild Cornwall and the liberal and diverse city of Brighton, England. The common motif across her vast body of work is the inter-relationship of humanity with the plant realm. The human form is frequently depicted as interpenetrated by root and shoot, vine and leaf. In this way they are, for me, iconic. 
While Proctor Scholar at EDS, I am taking a a course entitled "Spirituality for the Contemporary World" with Kwok Pui Lan. Part of the course requirement is that, every two weeks, we are to submit a journal entry.

Pui Lan has encouraged the class members to do our journal as a Blog, either as part of Blackboard or Blogger. I'm not sure if you can access her blog because it's on Blackboard. If you can, you may find her entry for January 31st of particular interest in terms of this blog post.

Last week, she took part of the class time to show us just how easy it was to set up our own blog and how, especially with either Blackboard or Blogger, one can limit - or, expand - who sees the Blog.

We are encouraged to use "words, arts, images, collages, music, and other creative forms".

Well, she found a highly receptive audience for her message with me. This blog, as some of you might have already surmised, is part of my spiritual discipline. I'll say more about that later.

My assignment for this first entry, is to "include a brief introduction of yourself, your spiritual practice if any, and your expectations for the course." Pui Lan also asked us to "draw our spiritual landscape". I have incorporated pictures in this blog entry which attempt to do just that.

So, off I go then.

My name is Elizabeth Kaeton. I like to think of myself as a joyful 'spiritual pilgrim' who longs for and delights in the company of others on this journey.

I do not have a particular destination on this spiritual pilgrimage. I'm not trying to "get somewhere" magical or mysterious. I'm not particularly intentional about where I go or what I need to know in order to "get there".

I have other places in my life where I am deeply focused on intentionality and purpose and goals. My spiritual life is not one of those places.

For me, the spiritual journey is my spiritual home. It's where I belong. It's where my heart sings and my spirit soars in the wanderlust of the landscape of the Spirit.

It is also where I can weep and lament, where my anger is holy and my tears are a sacred gift.

It is a place where the well is deep enough for me to drink from when I thirst, the sky rains down manna when I hunger, and the stars illumine my path when the world gets cloudy or dark. It is a place that offers healing when I am bruised and broken, and hope always beckons to me from the horizon.

It is a place where I can find companions on the journey, to share bread and stories, despair and hope, laughter and tears.

The spiritual journey is where I can become more of who God made me to be.

That does not mean that I am not deeply committed to my own spiritual development. I am. I have, in the past, been highly goal oriented in my spiritual journey. "I want to learn how to meditate," I heard myself say at one time. And so, I went to class to learn how to meditate.

I found myself enormously frustrated trying to "learn" how to meditate. I have discovered that one learns how to meditate in the same way one learns how to ride a bike or surf. You can, I suppose, learn some techniques, but ultimately, it is finding one's balance that becomes the central focus of the work.

One cannot be taught how to balance. One can only learn that by falling - again and again and again - and getting back up - again and again and again.

One learns by doing. Failing and succeeding.

In the process, one learns to be compassionate to the self. It is part of the way one begins to learn compassion for others.

So, that is my commitment and my goal. To learn by doing. To become a compassionate person. To see failure not as something bad or success as good. Both are companions and guides who have lessons to teach I perhaps could not learn any other way.

I begin my day with prayer in the form of coffee. Yes, coffee. Decaf. I don't need it to wake up. The smell of it awakens memories and arouses my prayers of gratitude.

The smell of coffee brewing on the stove is my earliest sensory memory. When I smell it, I remember being a small child living in a tenement house in Fall River, MA, in the apartment above my Portuguese grandmother, mia VaVoa, who was my first spiritual guide.

I would get dressed in the early morning hours, leaving my parents and three siblings, and head downstairs to be with her as she sat at the kitchen table, combing her hair. I watched in utter fascination as she braided it and then wind it round and round in a bun on the back of her head. Then, she would comb and braid my hair while we talked talked to me about Jesus and tell me one of His stories.

Once we were dressed and we had finished our coffee - mine with just a splash of coffee and lots of scalded milk - we would walk to church where we would attend daily mass together at our neighborhood Roman Catholic Church.

I cherish those memories and give thanks for the spiritual formation and disciple she gave me. My morning coffee provides me with the opportunity to say a prayer of deep, profound gratitude for all I have been and all I am about to become.

I enjoy saying Morning Prayer from the Daily Office with people, but I find that I grow restless and bored saying it alone. Generally, I look to the lectionary lesson for the day - especially the psalms - and use one of the lessons as the focus of my morning meditation, just as I did with my Grandmother.

I'm pretty Benedictine in my spiritual meditation - lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio - always considering, "What is this gospel calling me to do today?" I find that it helps me create my reality for the day and sets me on a path to discover deeper ways to live the Gospel.

Sometimes during my morning meditation, I have an auditory experience. Usually a 'word' will come to me, clear as the 'singing bell' both Pui Lan and Patrick Cheng use in their classes.

The last time this happened, just a few weeks ago, I heard the word, "Open". I took it to mean both as a descriptive as well as a directive. My heart and my mind and my spirit are open to what I will learn in these few short months here at EDS.

After my meditation, I generally have another cup of coffee while I read newspapers and blogs online. These provide wonderful opportunities to pray for what is happening in the world and with some of my "blogger" colleagues. There are two bloggers in particular who, at least once a week, post prayer requests. I am always deeply grateful to be invited into prayer for people I have never met - will probably never meet. It's a humbling honor.

And then, I write. I try to write something every day. Sometimes, I write on what's going on in the Anglican Communion or The Episcopal Church. Other times, something I have read in one of the online newspapers or blogs will spark something in me that calls out to be written and reflected upon. Still other times, something that is happening in my own personal life will demand to find new life in words.

I have been blogging since General Convention, 2006. I named it "Telling Secrets, after the book by Frederick Buechner. I am particularly taken by this quote from his book:
"Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell."
When I first began, I had no idea what a blog was, really. My Parish Administrator set one up for me so that my parishioners could stay in touch with me during that convention. They were my intended audience. I had no idea that anyone could read it.

Imagine my surprise when I began getting comments from people all over the world who were hungry for information "from the Convention floor". They also wanted to know how I saw the Spirit moving through the legislative process and politics of the church, which was, primarily, my focus.

To my absolute astonishment, that audience continues to grow and expand, which leads me to believe that there is an enormous hunger for spirituality in the world. I am convinced that Blogs are an incredible tool for evangelism - in the purest form of that word. It is a place where one can tell the spiritual stories of one's life and share the Good News of God in Christ, while tracking the movement of the Spirit.

But, more than that, this Blog has become an integral part of my spiritual discipline. When I begin to write, I often lose myself in the creative process. I look up and, suddenly, an hour has passed. I look at the laptop screen and whole paragraphs have been written and I have no idea how they got there.

I think, in those moments, the Spirit has taken over and I am but the vehicle for Her voice. It is powerful and humbling, exhilarating and magical.

A final word about that piece of art at the beginning of this blog entry. In September, 2010, I moved to a home my partner and I bought eight years ago. We call it Llangollen, a wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay on the Delmarva Peninsula of Delaware.

Our cottage sits on the water, facing one of the marshes on Rehoboth Bay. Our neighbors are Blue Heron, Snowy White Egrets, White Heron, Red-winged Black Birds, Hooded Mergansers Ducks, and, of course, Sea Gulls.

These creatures of the sea and air have lead me to meditate on poverty, prayer, the nature of God, and the deep spiritual lessons Nature has to teach us.

They have become my spiritual guides who carry messages from the Ancients as well as the Divine on their wings and in their calls.

They have also lead me to the artistry of Yvonne McGillivray, who writes
"Living close to nature for many years, I became very aware of the natural cycles, the ways of the birds and animals, the plants, the weather, the seasons. Interacting and communicating with the web of life around me, opened me to receive the messages, signs and symbols that nature constantly provides.

Other inspiration and insights come from dreams and from visions received through meditation, shamanic journeying practices, music and sound.

Listening to certain sounds can open up portals into other realities of magic, mystery and spirit where we can journey and access ancestral memory, future possibilities and present awareness.

A painting unfolds and has its own journey into manifestation so it is often a mystery to me what will appear and what it has to reveal."
I have deep resonance with her words.

I hear them as statement of fact.

I hear them as prayer.

I hear them as an encounter with the Spirit.

May all of our spiritual journeys be so richly blessed.

This is one of the songs I sing on my journey.


Anonymous said...

And we love coming to your blog to read just how the Spirit has been using you.

Thanks for the art, also. This speaks very clearly to me.


Jeffri Harre said...

I feel privileged to be able to share a little of your journey with you. Thanks for allowing us a peek at your experience.

Kwok Pui Lan said...

Thanks so much for your sharing and the wonderful pictures. My blog is available through Blogger and it is
I hope to learn much from you this semester. Pui Lan

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Chrissie - Thanks for your visit. I think the Spirit uses us all, all the time.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jeffri - I have learned so much from you, dear friend. You are a treasured companion on this journey.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Pui Lan - I am honored by your presence here. I'm so glad class is not canceled today. I can't wait for the discussions.

Elaine C. said...

Sister, Cris Williamson -- one of my favorites -- part of how I survive.

And I love the irony -- I started with a new spiritual director this week. As I struggled to introduce myself and my sense of my struggle with prayer, and my relationship with God ... I realized that part of my spiritual walk, that which feeds me, is reading your blog.

Gained the awareness that I am prone to saying "I'm not good at prayer" and yet, the prayer and reflections which come from reading your blog and a couple others ... feeds me profoundly.

Thank you for sharing the spirit in this way -- my gratitude for what you hold out is profound.

it's margaret said...

Elizabeth --you are a constant inspiration and ground for me. I am so very grateful you share your Spirit-walk here.

I look forward to hearing more about your class.

Unknown said...

Lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. To which I would add: naptio.