Say Yes

If to say it once

And only once


To say: yes

And say it complete

Say it as if the word

Filled the whole moment

With its absolute saying


Later for ‘but’

Later for ‘if’

Now only the single syllable

That is the beloved

That is the world


Gregory Orr

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This is a picture of me, taking a dip in an icy river pool in the highlands of Scotland, last September. My aunt and I were hiking a five day stretch of the West Highland Way, and our guidebook mentioned that we would be passing by the ruins of the priory of St Fillan, a monk who ministered there in the thirteenth century. The pool was thought to be a sacred place, where St Fillan was said to work miracles of healing, especially for mental illness. I packed my costume; my mind being in need of some refreshing and healing from the wear and tear of life. (And it seemed like a good opportunity for some fun.) We hadn’t planned on the fisherman, enjoying a quiet afternoon on the opposite bank. What he thought of the shrieking and laughter from us both, I have no idea. But this moment is one of my favourite memories of the walk, and of the entire four week trip. It was cold, inside the water and out of it, and getting into and out of my costume was a hassle. I was so tempted to just leave the whole idea and get back onto the trail. I’m so glad I took the plunge and made the memory; I’m so glad I said yes.

I have a very hardworking little voice in my head. It loves to tell me why I shouldn’t do things, or why I should. It’s quite good at reminding me of the many things that can go wrong. It assures me that it’s more important to be careful than adventurous, that caution and planning are my guideposts, and that fun is overrated. It second guesses every idea, every crazy thought, every spontaneous emotion, and puts them in a little box labelled “no”. Over the years, this voice has become more and more powerful, questioning everything I think, say and do. “Was that good enough, was that the right thing to do? It would be better if… you should have… what were you thinking?” It doesn’t take much for me to feel paralysed, incapable of  feeling any kind of presence or joy. That’s why I love moments like the one in that chilly pool. They interrupt that little voice, leave it speechless and gasping for breath. Saying yes breaks the pattern, just long enough for me to create a distance between the voice and pure experience. It allows me to immerse myself in something without getting stuck in my head.

So I am going to be saying yes a lot more. I know I need my voice of caution; it’s been good for me in so many ways. But it’s gotten way too big for its boots, and it’s time to put it in its place.

Slower

Purpose
____________
Living in grace

open arms, looking forward

a flower unfurling gently

a light and hopeful spirit

quietly stepping

softly moving

a path clear, a heart of understanding

with steady, certain movements

presence of mind, a sweet surrender

a knowing, walking quiet through

time and tide, ebb and flow

into stillness
___________
stillness into

flow and ebb, tide and time

through quiet walking, knowing a

sweet surrender, a mind of presence

movements certain, steady with

understanding of heart, a clear path

 a moving softly

stepping quietly

spirit hopeful and light

a gently unfurling flower

a forward looking, arms open

grace in living

“Distraction is, always has been, and probably always will be, inherent in woman’s life. For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes form the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass: husband,children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the idea of the contemplative, artist, or saint – the inviolable core, the single eye. With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women…The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life…how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off centre; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” (Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “Gift from the Sea”)

SAM_0232

My older is son is writing his final  matric exams this month. He chose to remain at home (we educated our sons at home from the time they were in Grade One) when our younger son decided he’d rather go to school, at the beginning of Grade Nine. I decided that I wanted to pare down my activities for the time he’d be writing. I did this not only so that I would be home more, but because I knew that doing less would help me to have more mental focus too. It’s never easy for me to say no (although it’s easier than it used to be). But I did find that it was quite easy to decide what I would put on hold for a few weeks. Having to make choices about my time, created an opportunity for me to get in touch with what is most important right now. It’s not always easy to see this, or to act on it even when I do. I feel so bound to keep saying yes to things, good things, even when there are sometimes better, more essential things that need my attention. I remember a friend saying years ago, that when you try to make everything (or everyone) important, the result is that nothing (and no-one) is. For years I have bought into the idea that I have to do it all, and that I can do it all. The problem is not that I don’t see the impossibility of that notion. You don’t have to think about it for long at all to see that choices have to be made, that “no” has to become a word you are very comfortable with. It’s that deep inside us (especially as women) there is a conviction, a sense that this is what we are expected to do, that this is who we are meant to be. And that if we start setting boundaries, that we are somehow failing in our fundamental identity and role in the world. This conviction often sabotages my intentions to simplify, to do less and be more available to the people and activities that resonate with my sense of purpose and calling. I am also very good at comparing myself to others; I look at the women who seem to do so much more than I do, who are apparently so comfortable in roles and responsibilities that are overwhelming to me, and I feel inadequate. Add to this the weight of expectation created by church, community and friends, and it’s not long before I have convinced myself that saying no and bowing out is unacceptable and self-absorbed. In my heart of hearts I know what is important. I know what feeds my soul and makes me a blessing in the world. When I reflect on these things; when I think about living a life with that kind of integrity, a quiet seeps into my being. I feel at peace. It’s not that I want only to do what is easy; some of those things are hard and challenge me. But there is a sense that in them, I am living into the unique shape of my place in the story God is telling.

These past few weeks, as I’ve lived with a different rhythm, I’ve felt so much better. I didn’t realise the extent to which my habits were wearing away at my sanity and peace of mind. I have not been careful; I have not been mindful of the importance of honouring the particular gifts and capacities that are mine. This little season has opened my eyes to the power of honestly evaluating what I can and can’t do. It means that I will be making some changes, and I know that not everyone will understand. But that’s okay, because the people that need me most will get more of me, more of the best of me, rather than the leftovers. I will have more time and energy to invest in the things that I believe God is calling me to. I came across a lovely quote the other day; it was an answer to a prayer I had just prayed, asking God to help me to know what he wanted me to do. That morning I was feeling particularly torn between doing what I knew I wanted and needed to do, and what I felt the expectations and opinions of others demanded of me. These words were a balm; I hope you feel encouraged by them:

Lord, today I take my eyes off anyone else’s assignment and I thank you for the beauty of mine. (Suzie Eller)

Random Acts

Today is Random Acts of Poetry Day, so I am sharing a favourite poem with you. It’s by Morgan Farley.

SAM_0074

Clearing

I am clearing a space
here, where the trees stand back.
I am making a circle so open
the moon will fall in love
and stroke these grasses with her silver.

I am setting stones in the four directions,
stones that have called my name
from mountaintops and riverbeds, canyons and mesas.
Here I will stand with my hands empty,
mind gaping under the moon.

I know there is another way to live.
When I find it, the angels
will cry out in rapture,
each cell of my body
will be a rose, a star.

If something seized my life tonight,
if a sudden wind swept through me,
changing everything,
I would not resist.
I am ready for whatever comes.

But I think it will be
something small, an animal
padding out from the shadows,
or a word spoken so softly
I hear it inside.

It is dark out here, and cold.
The moon is stone.
I am alone with my longing.
Nothing is happening
but the next breath.

Simple Graces

Thankful

It is an ordinary day

I wake up in the early light of Spring

and pull on my jodhpurs

drive the long hour to the paddock

where a piece of my heart lives

I wheel the barrow

and fill the nets with hay

and the bath with water

it is warm today

they will be thirsty

the sound of the buckets brings them trotting

up from the far end of the lower field

nickering and grunting for breakfast

I listen to them eat

watch as they tug at the nets

scattered in the grass

afterwards they sleep

and I pray

in their presence

to the sound of their breathing

a prayer for re-creation

for newness in the old

and I know I am heard

and I go home full

fringed with morning’s gold

SAM_0132

Two weeks ago I was in Johannesburg, visiting my brother and his family. I try to get up there a couple of times a year to spend time with him and my sister-in-law and my little four year old niece. It is lovely to delight myself in the company of a little girl and to enjoy being in a household where I am not the only woman. (I love my men but it can be a challenge some days…) My niece is a feisty young lady who keeps me on my toes (or my knees, depending on whether I am a ballerina or a cat, or even a princess guarding my invisible treasure from stinky pirates). Danny Kaye once said: “Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it”. That is what she does, every day, with her whole heart. I used to be like that. I remember waking up as a child. Morning was my favourite time of the day; I loved the way the air felt in the early light, before you could feel the real warmth of the day. Before the sun crept above the walls and rooftops. I couldn’t wait to be out of bed and dressed, moving into my day with excitement and purpose. I think of my older son who, as a toddler, liked to be up before six. One morning when my mother came to visit (they lived far away at the time) he went up to her, asleep in bed, and with his hands on his hips said: “I can’t believe this, Granny get up!”

Morning is not my favourite time of the day anymore. I wake up with a sense of dread and urgency, an awareness of all that must be done and all that I would like to do, and all that I think I should do. And it’s all so overwhelming and confusing. I have lost the wonder and joy that comes from considering each day as a gift, full of possibility. This morning as I sat with the horses, I prayed. The father of a good friend recently introduced me to a book of guided retreats for the soul, and today’s meditation was all about taking the old things, the things you may have given up on, and laying them down in faith and trust that they can be made new. There are dry and dusty things I carry around, not sure that they will change, but I am not yet ready to leave them behind. Some are heavy and weigh me down. Some are brittle; I hold them close, afraid they will break. Sitting there in the quiet company of sleeping horses, I imagined letting these burdens go. I breathed deep and allowed myself to trust that God can breathe new life into them, into me. I felt lighter afterwards, and a kind of stillness too.

My little niece does not yet know about these things. She carries only the weight of expectation that today will be as wonderful as the one before it. What a gift. But I want to remember what it is to feel that way, to wake up anticipating good things, to look for them. Because they are there, even on the most challenging days.