Linda DeGraf

June 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 6)

Dear Friends ~ Since people have such diverse personalities and ways of engaging, it is good that there are likewise many paths to contemplation, many doorways into silence. Two practices that may be nurturing to some are watercolor painting and visio divina. Watercolor painting may seem at first glance like an art project for the grandchildren or a medium only for the fine arts. However, painting as a mindfulness practice can stop the mind from racing, help focus attention on the present moment, and allow one to listen— it can become an exploration for the soul. Watercolors do not yield easily to control—rather they invite play and observation. One can perceive the hue and texture of the colors, but it is the water that gives them movement, light and life; a bit like seeing ourselves as the paint and the Spirit as water. When you allow the dynamic interaction between paint and water to flow without constraint, shapes and images can emerge in unexpected and illuminating ways.

May 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 5)

Dear Friends ~ I shall now expose myself for the fraud that I am—I know nothing about prayer, have no attention span, no disciplined prayer practice, and often struggle with depressing periods of doubt. I veer from "Here am I Lord. Forgive my unbelief," to queasy periods of anxiety or guilt when I think I should pray or fear not to pray, to longer spells of hurrying through life distracted and forgetful. Perhaps if I lived where I heard the muezzin call for prayer five times a day or where monastery bells rang to mark the hours—would that make a difference? It's a good thing that we are loved all the same. As Anne Lamott says, perhaps it is enough to say, "Help. Wow. Thanks." Just as flower blossoms emerge on tree limbs that were in winter stark and bare, so too can hearts try once again to open themselves toward Light. It's not too late...

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April 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 4)

Dear Friends ~ I recently participated in a conversation in which dissatisfaction or dissonance was a recurring theme poignantly and piercingly captured in a line quoted from a Mary Oliver poem:

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment...

March 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 3)

Dear Friends ~ We talk so much about the stress, anxiety, and turmoil of these times and the difficulty of "living in the world but not of it" while that very world pounds on our minds and batters our spirits. Contemplative practices are often done behind closed doors, holding the clamor at bay for a few moments. In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo said, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door…" But sometimes it's the very act of moving, of going out the door and setting off on a walk that heals, centers, reminds us to be grateful, and brings balance back into our lives. Whether you practice walking meditation, saunter through the woods, or climb mountains one intense step after another, walking has the potential to integrate body, mind, and spirit. It is a simple gift best not taken for granted. "...there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

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February 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 2)

Dear Friends ~ A lawyer, attempting to qualify who he ought to love as himself, asked Jesus: "Who is my neighbor?" After responding with the now well -known parable, Jesus asked in return —"Who acted like a neighbor?" I can still remember an incident at the end of a whole year of working to build community in my class of kindergartners. During field day, one boy refused to partner, even momentarily, with a girl who didn't look like him or play like him. He chose to sit out the game instead, sullenly muttering, "You don't get it. You think we're all friends but we're not." I told him I knew full well that they were not all friends; that was beside the point — the point was they needed to treat each other well whether they were friends or not.

January 2018 (Vol. XXXI, No. 1)

Dear Friends ~ Recently I came across a few lines I’d written years ago in a journal: “They say that trees and plants encased in ice incur more damage by attempts to free them. The slow work of the sun gently melting them heals by warmth. We too, should learn, as Barry Lopez says, to ‘lean into the light.’” In winter it is all too easy to succumb to gloom, lamenting the long nights of darkness. World events echo this seemingly endless chill, encasing hearts in unyielding ice. What more urgent time than now, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, to “trust in the slow work of God.”

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December 2017 (Vol. XXX, No. 11)

Dear Friends ~ Having just celebrated a holiday meant to remind us to give thanks, it seems appropriate to contemplate cultivating a practice of gratefulness that would not just fall on one day of the calendar. It would permeate the whole of our lives. To be grateful for blessings does not need to mean that one is turning a blind eye to all that is running amok in the world. Rather it is to latch on hopefully to the ever-present reality that, in the midst of chaos and disaster, we still receive abundant gifts of life and breath and beauty and grace. That is not to say that we should mistake privilege for blessing or an attitude of entitlement for one of appreciation or what has been taken for what has been given. It is, however, to pay attention to the blessings falling gently all around us like a soft and silent snowfall and to respond with grateful hearts.

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November 2017 (Vol. XXX, No. 10)

Dear Friends ~ Last weekend, amid the slowly turning leaves of autumn, we held a celebration of Nan's life and her gift of the Friends of Silence network. Walking the labyrinth accompanied by the graceful notes of the dulcimer, we listened together for the whispering wisdom that comes out of the silence of our hearts. The verse from Psalms for Praying that I carried with me into the labyrinth ended with this line: "Who will enter the Heart of Love?" When Nan began 30 years ago to gather friends together to pray for peace in turbulent times in Detroit, I think she was asking that question. This humble little community has grown over the years and yet it seems as though this is still the crux of it.

October 2017 (Vol. XXX, No. 9)

Dear Friends ~ All around us seasonal changes are beginning to mark the passage of time and I wonder—have the efficiencies of technology and the urgencies of modern culture's pace changed our relationship with time itself? I recently participated in a workshop on nature drawing. With naught but a couple of charcoal pencils and a sketchbook, I sat down in the dewy morning grass to look at a mushroom. Twenty minutes passed as we encountered each other. The feathery white fringe encircling its narrow dome caught minuscule pearls of dew. Peering under its cap, I discovered a delicate collar necklace draped at an angle around the top of its pristine silk-smooth stalk. Without disturbing this elegantly turbaned upright specimen, I peered inside another fallen-over comrade to discover a whole ream of filmy, tissue-thin "pages" hidden within its cap.

September 2017 (Vol. XXX, No. 8)

Dear Friends ~ In the wake of so much prejudice, violence and hatred, we must once again search our hearts for seeds of love and compassion. Why is it so hard to cultivate human kindness and respect? How is it that we can invent incredibly complex technology, push the limits of physical endeavor, and hone our intellects and yet be unable to transform the human heart? When will moral development and ethical evolution even catch up to, let alone surpass, our capacity for animosity and contempt and havoc? Who will be the teachers of peace, the champions of compassion?

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