Precious Autumn

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

This week’s spiritual practice is to pause, notice, open to the beauty of autumn.  Last week there were some glorious fall days with azure skies and tangerine leaves, leaving me amazed and delighted as I walked the dog.  It was impossible not to see the intense colours, so strong and alive in the sunlight.

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Pause, Notice, Open is a simple practice that brings us into the moment.

Go out for a walk around your neighbourhood or a local park, during the day, in sunshine or not.

Pause, breath slowly and deeply.  Check in with yourself, stretch and relax. Shake out your body. Re-direct your thoughts to the present. How are you feeling? Take a few moments to sit with what ever emotion you might be experiencing.

Notice, after checking in with yourself, look outwards.  Look at the vegetation around you, at the trees and shrubs, even down at the ground. Try to keep your eyes “soft”, let your eyes roam about you and then return to whatever tree or shrub captures your attention.  Look more closely, study the leaves, look at the light.  Move around to see the tree from different angles. Take photos if it helps you focus.

Open:  Once you’re satisfied with the looking, stand still and breath deeply.  Look a little more, take the experience into your body, and offer some gratitude out in return – to the trees, to life, to God, whatever works for you.  Then take one more slow, deep breath and return to your walk.

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Solstice Blessing

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In the shadowed quiet of winter’s light
earth mourns softly…

Kneel down here
on the frosty grass,
and seek the hope buried in the ground.

Bend your ear to the beating heart of the planet
and listen hard.

A whisper: love this world.

Distill peace from the snow
and water the cities
with mercy.

Weave wonder from the forest
and clothe grief
with beauty.

Rest in the rhythm of the turning year,
trace the golden threads
connecting all beings,
and vow anew to do no harm.

The winter trees stand watch
haloed in the last gleams of the slanting sun.

Branches sway.
Birds sing.
Wonder abounds.

Make your life an answer:
Pay Attention.
Be Connected.
Live in Awe.

adapted from  Rebecca Parker’s A Winter Blessing
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Canadian Wonder

A couple of Sunday mornings past I drove down to the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga after spending a few days with my fellow Canadian Unitarian Council board members at the Ecology Retreat Centre in Hockley Valley. We’d had gorgeous weather on Saturday, with the just beginning to colour leaves glowing in the sunshine in the woods. It was a good meeting but I was tired, and feeling a little unprepared for worship as I left the Centre in the pouring rain.

Fortunately, moments of wonder can happen in the most unexpected places.

I drove down Highway 10, passing green forests with an occasional highlight of red-orange brilliance. Shelagh Rogers was interviewing Lenard Cohen on CBC One. Then KD Lang began singing Cohen’s Hallelujah. And I had one of those moments when you simply are in the moment – the pouring rain, the thunk thunk of the windshield wipers, the flashes of autumn colour, Shelagh’s warm tones, Leonard’s raspiness and the power of KD’s voice offering a bittersweet song all combined into a moment of perfect beingness – a feeling that to simply be alive here and now in this place filled with all sorts of beauty was enough. It’s hard to describe these moments of just being, but they allow me to not be me and just be immersed in the present, in presence.

I stopped worrying about the service and had a peaceful drive through the storm.

Here is K.D. Lang’s gorgeous rendition of Hallelujah from the 2005 Junos.

All Summer is a Temple

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It has been a quiet peaceful summer, a respite before I begin a full time ministry in Mississauga.  Spending my days at home, for all the attention I have offered this small piece of the world, I still managed to miss so much of the abounding life that surrounds my home.  Mary Oliver says it best.

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Mary Oliver
From West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems.

Winter Thanks

This endless winter cold is making me very grateful for all the technology, food and activities that keep me warm. I am grudgingly grateful, but grateful none the less for our gas fireplace, electric stove, and lovely hot water. This poem sums it up.

Winter Thanks

by Marcus Jackson

To the furnace—tall, steel rectangle
containing a flawless flame.
To heat

gliding through ducts, our babies
asleep like bundled opal.
Praise

every furry grain of every
warm hour, praise each
deflection of frost,

praise the fluent veins, praise
the repair person, trudging
in a Carhartt coat

to dig for leaky lines, praise
the equator, where snow
is a stranger,

praise the eminent sun
for letting us orbs buzz around it
like younger brothers,

praise the shooter’s pistol
for silencing its fire by
reason of a chilly chamber

praise our ancestors who shuddered
through winters, bunched
on stark bunks,

praise the owed money
becoming postponed by a lender
who won’t wait

much longer in the icy wind,
praise the neon antifreeze
in our Chevrolet radiator,

and praise the kettle whistle,
imitating an important train,
delivering us

these steam-brimmed sips of tea.

“Winter Thanks” by Marcus Jackson, from Neighborhood Register. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2011.

Winter’s Harsh Beauty

For the UU Spiritual Practices blog I curate for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, where I am the Consulting Minister, I spend some time each week reading and watching and listening to meditations. A few weeks ago, I found this magnificent video of an unusually cold winter in Holland filmed by Paul Klaver at a nature reserve. Death and life are present in the snowy landscape. In the midst of this brutal cold snap, this ode to winter’s strength makes me appreciate my warm house, but also reminds me that the bare bones of winter are strangely beautiful.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/81372566″>Winter</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pklaver”>Paul Klaver</a> on.</p>