Being Present: Stay in Touch

Years ago, when I was writing part of the eulogy for my father-in-law’s funeral service, I asked for each of the five grandsons to share a special memory of their ‘PaPa’.  My younger son, Ross told me that his Papa was a really good listener. His example to support this was that when he told his grandfather about a trip to the store to buy a baseball, his PaPa took the ball Ross had purchased and held it, moving it around in his hands and examining the surface. Ross believed his PaPa wanted to understand what his grandson valued by taking it in and experiencing it in the only way he could. Since PaPa was bedridden, he was not able to go outside and throw the ball with his grandson, but he could give his undivided attention by listening and touching the baseball.

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While it was a simple example from an eighth-grade boy, it impressed me that by that act my son made the judgement that his PaPa was a really good listener. He was totally absorbed in what my son was telling him with his ears and his hands. I’ve thought of how many times I’ve looked at something without taking the time and effort to engage it with my hands, my sense of touch to experience something more fully.

Now I watch my six-month old grandson as he discovers the world. He’s not content to just look at things; he fully engages by touching each thing multiple times, trying to figure out what it is. When he touches the metal tile on the wall, he fans his fingers back and forth across the surface, examining the raised areas, learning by experience that it feels different from the wooden handrail by the stairs. And on flat surfaces like the table, he slaps his hands down hard, perhaps liking the sound, feeling the power of his own force.

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I copy him and close my eyes and touch the same surfaces, wondering what it feels like when you’re at the beginning of life. By the time you’re sixty-three, you know the uses for the objects, how they’re constructed, and have childhood memories associated with each: sliding down the wood bannister of our farmhouse, the coolness of the surface of our Formica kitchen table, opening the tin vents on the side of our tobacco barn and being stung by wasps.

Last year when I traveled to Iona, Scotland, I wanted to totally engage my senses. I touched things in my path to increase my memory of that pilgrimage. I rubbed my hand across the ancient carvings in the oldest tall cross at Iona Abbey, MacLean’s Cross. Now, when I close my eyes and think of being there, I remember the rough texture and feel that ever-present breeze on my face.

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When we hiked into the hills near the Abbey, I picked a piece of heather, and felt the scratchiness of the plant while enjoying the visual beauty of the small bloom. I made sure to put my hands in the cold water of Iona Sound, feeling the sugar-soft sand and searching for a special rock to take home.

Now that winter is approaching, I think of how important the texture of fabric is to feeling warm when the temperatures drops. I look forward to wearing my corduroy coat and remembering how much I liked that fabric as a child. I think of the ways the touch of fabric brings comfort, like the fleece throws that volunteers have made for Mama and others at Parkview, and prayer shawls knitted for survivors going through cancer treatment. Those warm coverlets of care have a way of making you feel grounded.

I think of how my grandson is re-teaching his ‘Grammy’ the importance of touch for engaging more fully with the world. It’s not enough to look at something and keep going. Now I need to slow down, be in the moment, and ‘Stay in Touch’ with what is around me to be fully engaged in life.

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How About You?

How can you slow down and be present through the use of touch?

What objects have you rediscovered by taking the time to fully engage with them?

 

 

 

 

You Are Enough

That Saturday morning a year ago, I stood waiting for the ferry that would take me across the sound to the island of Iona for my week’s stay at the Abbey. I’d dreamed of going to Scotland to that historic pilgrimage site and it was becoming a reality. When the ferry workers were preparing for our group of passengers, a wave of anxiety hit me, and the critical voice of doubt said, “Who are you to be going to Iona?”

Won’t the other participants be more worldly, more theologically trained, veterans of international pilgrimages? Won’t you sound less educated, less cultured, less sophisticated with yout Southern, small-town roots?

The ferry workers motioned for us to cross over the ramp and I took a deep breath and stepped forward. As I did, the still small voice of God came to me and said, “You are my child. That is enough.” I felt a bit of relief and assured that I was following where God had led me.

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Iona Abbey Cloisters

That afternoon, we gathered in the Refectory– the group dining hall and met for the first time over tea and oat cakes. We learned about our housekeeping responsibilities, meal duties, and our dorm assignment. I shared a room with women from England, Canada, and Minnesota. We ranged in age from late twenties to late sixties and enjoyed conversations about what we were seeking that week.

When we met for our first session in the large group, there were a number who were pastors and seminary trained. But more of the group were folks like me; seekers wanting to be in fellowship with an international community of faith, all of us focusing on the Pilgrimage of Life, our theme for the week.

It was interesting to hear the forty-one participants share with cultural perspecitives and accents from Latvia, Germay, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, and the U.S. I’d wondered what it would be like to be part of that community. It felt like going on a church retreat with people whom you didn’t know before gathering, but yet you knew because you all shared a spiritual connection.

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The Sanctuary of the Abbey where we had worship on Sunday and each evening

I never felt the need for an escape route that week. We were allowed time on our own in the afternoons to explore the island. I chose to be by myself because the demands of the group interaction, while stimulating, were also draining. Some of the more extroverted folks would go out in groups, but there was no pressure to do anything other than what felt right for you.

One of my concerns had been how I would fit in. I had set an intention, like I’ve done on other pilgrimages, to be present, to absorb all that was going on around me. I knew Iona was a rich place and I wanted every benefit. One of the things we did as a group was to take a day walking the island and visiting the historic spots. At each place we stopped, our leader did a reading and then there was time for meditation. The most meaningful one for me was stopping at the shoreline of the bay and throwing in a rock that represented something we wanted to leave behind.

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St. Columba’s Bay

I tossed in a big rock that represented my pride, my fear of trying new things because I could make errors and look foolish. Flinging that rock out into the water, I vowed to just follow God’s lead and let go of my self-consciousness. Releasing that burden allowed me to relax and be myself during the week at Iona.

I did fit in, because I, like the other participants, was enough, and felt at home in that body of believers.

Toward the end of that walk across the island, we hiked to the highest point where we could see the sound and the Atlantic sides. In the sweeping view of that remote island, I felt my breath catch as I realized God had opened up my life, the wider space that had been provided through my pilgrimage to Iona.

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That Friday morning when our week together ended, a group of us walked to the ferry dock in the dark, with rain blowing sideways. We held our arms out to the sides to keep our balance while we made our way across the slippery landing. I remembered my fear when I’d boarded the ferry the previous Saturday, the doubt that attacked me.

Yes, I am enough, I thought, and made my way onto the ferry. And I am grateful for all the  richness of this past week with my new friends of faith from around the world.

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How about you?

Do you have times when you feel that you’re not enough?

How do you handle those feelings?

How do you move beyond that voice of doubt?

 

 

Free to Be Me

During the week in which we celebrated our country’s independence, our freedom, I think about what it means to be free as an individual– not to say and do things that hurt others, but to be my unique self. It seems that much of my ability to just be me has been limited by my self-consciousness, my over concern with how I appear to others. I’ve lived with too much fear of ‘doing things wrong,’ as if there is some standard of doing things right that I’m being judged by.

Now, at 63 years old, I’m learning to let go of those things that have bound me. In my part-time position as a research nurse, I’m working with a group of staff who are mostly forty-and-under, employment counselors, none of them nurses. They have a much more relaxed view of work than what I’ve been accustomed to as a professional nurse for the last forty years. There  are some things they can learn from me, but overall, I think now we live in a different time and I need to change to adapt to my new working environment. I can learn from these ‘young people’ who would probably tell me to, “lighten up.”

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Even in the writing community, through speakers at conferences and on podcasts, their sage advice is to remember, “It’s not about you. It’s about your readers.” At first I thought, “What? I’m doing all the work of getting things onto the page. It’s not about me, my story?” But later, as I considered myself as a reader, when I’m engrossed in a good book, I’m applying my perception to that story, my interpretation of everything I read is through the lens of my life, not the author’s. I also consider that if I keep this in mind, I can let go of some of my worry with writing the perfect post or chapter. Instead, with each time I sit at my computer, I can think of you and before I start writing I pray that through the muse that God’s given me, I’ll construct something that will speak to you. It helps me to be free of the burden of outcomes.

This morning when I walked, it was cool and raining and reminded me of my solo journey last September to Iona, Scotland. There I lived in a faith community at the Abbey for a week. The night before I was to check in, I stayed at a B & B across the sound from Iona. That Saturday morning, watching the ferry approach, I was suddenly gripped by fear, by not feeling ‘good enough.’  I said to myself, “Who am I to go to this international pilgrimage site?” Surely those I’d join would be more theologically educated, more international, more of something. I thought of my small-town-roots, my Southern accent, my tendency to hang back, my fear of the spotlight being thrust on me.

As the ferry workers motioned for us to approach the boat, the answer came, what felt like God’s still small voice speaking to me.

You are my child and that is enough.”

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I walked forward, feeling awkward but assured that I was at the place I should be.  Throughout that week, with seekers from all over the world, I continued to feel assured, through my interactions with individuals and in our group discussions, that I was where I should be.

On Tuesday during our group pilgrimage across the island, we stopped at the bay and threw a rock into the water to symbolize what we were leaving behind. Now that I reread that post from Dec. 31, I see that it was a step in letting go to be free, that I’m revisiting at the half-way point of this year. It is a process. After that rock was flung into the bay, I was interviewed on camera that was a first step of letting go of what others’ thought of me.

 

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Pilgrimage across Iona to the most noted sites

When I go back to my pictures of that journey, I see a video that I made while riding on the ferry from Oban to the Inner Hebrides. I’d planned to do videoblogs through the trip, but partly due to time and being in a new place, and perhaps due to my discomfort, I never posted them.

Now, as an act of being free, able to let go of my hesitation and concerns, I’ll share a video on my Author Facebook Page– Saved by Sedona since I haven’t learned to embed videos on WordPress. The video reminds me of that excitement of anticipation, wondering what lay ahead during my week at the Abbey.

It reminds me that I am Free to Be Me.

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The Tall Cross of Iona, See post “Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage” Aug. 27, 2017

Post for Dec. 31, 2017  “The Things We Leave Behind” located at

https://wordpress.com/post/connierosserriddle.wordpress.com/4444

How About You?

What do you need to let go of in order to be Free to be You?

What step can you take to move forward in that process?

Scotland Calling

In one month, I’ll take off on my yearly solo journey.  This time Scotland is calling me to the ancient and sacred island of Iona located in the Inner Hebrides.  Ten years ago, the seed was planted when I was in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  Riding the island shuttle bus, I met a man from Glasgow and we had an interesting conversation about country music and Scotch Presbyterians.  He described the stunning beauty of the remote islands of the Hebrides, and the deep-rooted faith of his sister and others who lived there.  Later, I said to myself, “Maybe I’ll go there on a journey some day.”

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The shores of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Yearly solo journeys have become intentional pilgrimages for me.  They started with that serendipitous trip to Sedona that interrupted my struggle with the toxic job and breast cancer.  During that time, I experienced the freedom and transformation of moving to God’s spirit in an unfamiliar place that led me to a deeper knowledge of myself.

Later, I landed on the right book at the right time when I discovered Phil Cousineau’s work, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred.  I learned that my journey had the elements of a pilgrimage.  Cousineau taught me, that even travel through your day if experienced with an intentional focus, can be a pilgrimage or “a transformative journey to a sacred center.”  We don’t need a passport for that. 

Recently, I found Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within.  In preparing for Iona, I’m using these steps and will build them into my upcoming posts.  While my journey is intentional, Paintner points out that there are also unintentional pilgrimages.  We all have experience with journeys we would not choose, like cancer or other illnesses, divorce, care of an ailing parent– just to name a few.  While we don’t intentionally choose those paths, we do make the choice of how we walk them, whether they’re meaningful and soulful journeys or times of bitterness and unmet longing.

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The Right Books at the Right Time

Our family has had the unintentional pilgrimage of journeying through our mother’s dementia.  We’ve experienced seasons of grief in our slow loss of her former self, and have been surprised by joy in new ways of knowing her.  I’ve seen aspects of myself in responding to Mama’s changes, that have been both pleasing and disappointing.  It has truly been a journey into the unknown, a foreign land where you walk by faith and not by sight, never knowing what is just around the bend.  The only thing I’m certain of is that God has been faithful each step of the way.  We’ve had people in our path that have helped us and we’ve seen Mama bring light to others through her sweet smile and loving presence.

If she could understand that I’m preparing for Scotland, she’d be excited– except for the part about me going solo.

Years ago when I shared my plans to travel to Sedona, she asked, “Who’s going with you?”  When I said that I was traveling by myself, she responded, “It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.”

I saw that determined, I’m-your-Mama look on her face and knew there was only one way to settle this.

“I won’t be alone,” I said.  “God will be with me.”

She was quiet for a moment, then responded, “Well, you’ll be in the best of hands.  But be careful.”

I’ll continue to prepare for the pilgrimage to Iona, knowing I’ll have to leave Mama behind.  She’ll be in the best of hands.  And so will I.

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Mama in her journey at Parkview

How about you?

Are you feeling the call to take a journey?  How can your trip become a pilgrimage?

Is there an unintentional journey that you’re on that’s making you feel trapped and bitter?  Is there a way to reframe this experience and make it more meaningful and soulful?