Friday, July 31, 2009

Return to Pocatello - changes coming

I'm writing this while riding in a jouncy, elderly bus along Interstate 15 heading north from Salt Lake City to Pocatello, ID, where I grew up. A slight taint in the air wafts from the onboard bathroom in the back. The wide valley is bordered by gray mountains and gray-brown hills, though there is more green than is usual for this time of year.

Back at home in Minnesota, the dog – who had been holding almost steady in a frail, elderly way – seems to be hitting a definite slide down: no appetite to speak of, seems very uncomfortable, shaky hind legs. He has had a growth or something in his nasal cavities that was untreatable, and this has worsened in the past weeks, pretty much destroying his sense of smell. I’ll be surprised if he holds on long enough for me to see him again at the end of this ten-day visit to my folks. Mostly, I'm weary from trying over and over to coax him to eat and from waking in the very early morning to listen to his uncomfortable panting.

Still, it’s sad that the spouse is left alone faced with making the inevitable decision (that is, unless Rufus surprises us again, as he has a couple of times in recent months, by rebounding). It would feel awkward, vacant, unhomelike, to have him missing when I get back.

Soon, however, I’ll be immersed in all things family: two brothers and my sister are there, my older brother leaving in a couple of days on a Harley trip with his long-time Harley cronies. My youngest brother is down from Alaska, just retired with a generous state pension at 54. I wish.

At work, there are rumblings of more disruption and change around the corner. A colleague is leaving for a new position in another collegiate unit of the university, a real advancement opportunity for her, and potentially leaving a hole that presents some creative possibilities for me. Another colleague in a different office has just left unexpectedly, taking a severance package, as her contract was not renewed. In our job class, that can happen to anyone at any time, and the University is facing another big set of cuts next year, post stimulus semi-reprieve.

On the trip today (airports, airplanes, bus) – I’m reading Krista Tippett Speaking of Faith and gearing up to teach again this fall (in my moonlighting adjunct instructor job), “The Spiritual Journey.” What I present in this class is wonderfully convergent with the insights Tippett shares in her book (part personal journey, part passionate defense of the importance of deep and informed thought to the vitality of religious life). For me, that’s very much what it’s all about. Lots of sparks of recognition, names to file away for further investigation, good ideas to share in class, from this book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Late afternoon in the office cube

Picture me, sitting here, long after the rest of the work-day folks have slipped away (except the young phone-bank student-workers who are calling prospective students in a separate area - when they aren't having snacks and loud conversations in the nearby kitchen nook).

I took a break from some work I'm trying to get done this afternoon, and an hour melted away with the reading of recent blog posts from you all out there. I haven't quite got the rhythm of how much time feels right to spend reading and commenting, but I'm getting better at knowing when it feels right to comment, and when I can slide on by. But I haven't been writing my own blog for a while.

I've had a couple of possible blog posts come into my head and not quite materialize. One was a rather somber post about a trial starting yesterday in Syracuse, NY, for the accused killer of a young trans woman, Teish Green. The described murder was chilling, but it was also chilling to note how little publicity this event (last November) got - likely both because the victim was trans, and because the victim and the accused were both Black. (I came across this situation through this post by Peter Toscano - who educates me in my efforts to be a GLBTQ+ ally with his witty and clear-eyed posts).

Another blog I didn't write circled around quakerblogs, and why mine isn't one, exactly. Of course, many blogs by Quakers are like any other blogs: some serious, some witty, some warm and personable. But behind the scenes, I think, is the centuries-long tradition of spiritual journals written by Quakers to do inner scrutiny and also to give guidance and support to others.

A religious tradition that's somewhat short on theology and long on individual experience lends itself to the use of spiritual journals as guidebooks. It's not the "belief" that is important, but the life and actions that are shaped by convictions and by the Light that comes from - inside? above? - somewhere both intimate and objective.

OK - that was the gist of the unwritten post. I guess it will take a while to get myself clear on a definition or description of my spiritual orientation, and it's sometimes a bit heavy going to both write or read. And it's more fun to just chat about what's happening in my world.

There's room for some of both, perhaps?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fireworks on the Stone Arch Bridge

Hope you all had a good one!

(The video is a slide show of about a minute and a half of my photos of fireworks - I couldn't figure out how to do a photo slide show, but found out how to do this with a Microsoft media manager on my computer.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Many Blogs - Many Roads Not Taken

(Click picture to enlarge.)

I stayed up too late last night roaming through Blogistan, especially checking out quakerblogs (and more quakerblogs listed on quakerblogs). This morning, after dreams that touched on a couple of times / people long past, I made a connection: I seem to be looking for examples of lives lived along the roads not taken (by me), or only partially taken. What would my life look like if . . .

. . . I had gone into ministry-related work (hospice chaplain? spiritual direction? retreat organizing?) after theological study?

. . . I had been more single-minded and finished my academic work in a timely way, allowing for a full-time college-teaching job?

. . . I had stuck with the writing thing, made all the sacrifices necessary to turn it into my career (as one character in my last-night's dream did - going every day to write in a small rented room, living on next to nothing for those early years)?

. . . I had moved from personal dreamwork to train as a Jungian therapist, maybe doing sand-tray and dream therapy?

Throughout all the choices, and indeed through the choices I have lived, there has been the choice offered to turn toward The-Divine-However-It-Manifests (and it/Thou/they manifest[s] differently through time) in a more disciplined way, or to continue my pattern of off-and-on attention to that dimension.

The quakerblogs are a reminder of this constant option of a more disciplined spiritual path, as these blogs represent many various public statements of putting the religious / spiritual life at the center of attention. My first attempt at a blog was along these lines, but it didn't end up seeming - well - completely honest. This blog, with its quip of a title (grabbed out of the air when I sat down one day to start writing without over-thinking things), suits me better, I think. I can't sustain the tone needed for a true quakerblog, though I reserve the option of doing serious reflection whenever I want to.

Now, I need to say, that most of the possible paths I mentioned have had at least some realization in my adult life.

I managed to do some serious writing and even published a bit of it - and there's still an opportunity to reconnect with old writer friends with the ongoing Women Poets and Writers of the Twin Cities (described here);

I was a part of a planning group for several years organizing retreats for the (now dormant) Spiritual Nurture program of Northern Yearly Meeting (the picture at the head of this blog came from one of our retreats) -and I'm part of two ongoing small spiritual nurture groups which meet at least monthly for mutual support and shared worship;

I have been teaching as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies (in a different system from my "day job"), one or two classes per year, eclectic classes that keep me reading and thinking about emerging forms of spiritual expression and the varieties of spiritual development in real lives (my students astonish and humble me with their accounts of challenge and growth and miracles). These courses allow me to create temporary nurturing communities where students, most in mid-life, can explore ways of thinking about religion and spirituality, and areas to explore for their own practice. I am incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and as a very part-time instructor, I'm free from most of the academic politics of the institution.

It's not that I hate the "day job" working in student services at the University, but it takes most of my availabable energy, leaving me pretty tired a lot of the time, and unable to do justice to the other dimensions of my life. That's also partly my own fault for not being a good enough steward of my own time and physical condition, but I have gotten much better at that, too, over the years. It's also, frankly, because much of the work I do every day - which I believe I do well - is not work that draws on my core strengths. But then, much of it is.

Part of the fatigue comes from being an introvert surrounded by people every day; part of it comes from many hours facing a computer moniter; part of it is (oh heck) the fruits of not being in my 30s or 40s any more. Part of it is related to some health conditions which don't bother me unless I overdo it (which I've been doing recently).

Fortunately, reading many blogs also reveals to me this secret about life: even those lives lived along the paths I've not fully walked look pretty much like mine, in the main: daily decisions, challenges related to family and friends, the tug between the outward demands of the world and the inward motion of the spirit. It's always a rebalancing act. AND - I can do somewhat better, perhaps by dedicating at least a bit of each day to meditation and exercise.

Enjoy your holiday, folks! I'm going to experiment with my "fireworks" setting on my little camera.