Category Archives: Gratitude

For Fraught Souls

Autumn Invocation

Lord of courtesy, you’ve brought the corn
In, you’ve hung the trees with ripe, rich fruit,
Master of tides,  you’re cooling down the sea,
Watcher at horizons,  you’ll deliver
Most ships securely at home.
But Master of the moon,  this world is dark
With terror,  evil,  not dark like dark of space
And stars.  O God,  save us from our fraught selves,
Put prayer into our minds.  Be in the shrine
Of vivid,  innocent imaginations.
Receive the love there is,  Lord,  help all nations.
Author unknown

In this season of thanks, let us pray for all fraught souls, those heavy laden with sorrow, the oppressed, the lost, and discouraged. May each one reach into the eternal harvest of gratitude that opens to those, who have passed through suffering and loss. Sustain us,  Oh Master of the tides, with appreciation for the simple gifts of life. Amen.

I have loved this poem for years, but somehow lost the name of the author. If you know, please leave the name in the comments. I would like to give credit for this beautiful piece of writing.

How To Eat A Piece Of Chocolate

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Wake up. Pay Attention.

It matters little to the soul in what manner
it is obliged to abandon itself,
and what the present moment contains;
all that is absolutely necessary
is that it should abandon itself unreservedly.
Jean Pierre de Caussade

Don’t gobble it.
Don’t do anything else while you are eating it.

Do not read email.
Do not watch TV.
Do not adjust your makeup.
Do not drive the car.
Do not talk to someone.
Do not try to write about eating chocolate.

Sit down. (This is going to take a while.)

See the wrapper.

Examine it, noting the color, graphics, ingredients, and company information.

See the lineage of your chocolate.

A small tree is tucked under the upper canopy of the rainforest, probably in West Africa. Anchored in rich soil, bathed in high humidity and tropical heat, the cacao tree sways in the breeze. A tiny midge, bred in the tree’s decaying leaves on the forest floor, begins its journey upward to crawl within the five petals of the white, dime-sized flowers blooming directly from the trunk. After the flower fades, a pod develops, stuffed with seeds, which are picked, fermented, dried, and ground to make your chocolate.

English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Plan...

See the farmer who planted and cared for the cacao tree.

See the workers harvesting the beans, hauling the harvest, inventing, and operating machines. See the long train of people who have brought this chocolate to your hands and at what price? How many were children? Who suffered? Who gained? What has it taken to bring this smoky rich flavor to your mouth? How many miles has it traveled on someone’s back, by cart, conveyor belt, crate, ship, plane, or truck? How many hands has it passed through – plantation owner, shipper, factory worker, buyer, grocery stocker, check out clerk – to bring it to your hand?

Say thanks.

Relax. There is no rush here. Not now.
You hold eternity in your palm.

To pay attention and be fully present in each moment is to meet eternity. For each moment offers in its endless treasures all you will ever need for that moment. Some call this the sacrament of the present moment, or being present. Others call it mindfulness. Jesus called this quality of trust-filled awareness the kingdom of God.

Remove the wrapper.

Feel the weight, see the color and shape of the chocolate. Lift it to your nose and sniff its fragrance. Do you catch the whiff of forest nights, heavy with insect song and stars?

Run your finger over the chocolate. Is it smooth like satin, rough, or molded in some way?

Break off a piece. See it separate and reveal its interior.

Now bring it to your mouth.
Wait. You are getting ahead of yourself.

Slow down.

Do not eat it before you eat it.
First, bring it to your mouth to bring it to your mouth.

Pay attention to the impulse to lift your hand and the complex brain chemistry and mechanics of respiration, circulation, nerve, muscle, tendon, and bone, which perform this feat at your merest whim.

Feel the chocolate touch your lips. Run your tongue over the surface.
your teeth into it until the chocolate gives itself to you
and splits in two.

Hold the forest, the flower, the midge, the wind, the suffering,
the unappeasable appetite of commerce, a thousand sweaty hands,
and a thousand sultry nights
in your mouth.

Feel them soften and release their sweet, spreading river of bitter, buttery cacao.


Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. It is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each moment of life. Thich Naht Hahn

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure, it contains more than you have capacity to hold. . . .The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires. Jean Pierre de Caussade

Writing Exercise
Eat something mindfully, awake and aware in the present moment, and write about your experience. How did you feel when you began this exercise? How did you feel when you completed it? What did you notice, experience, or learn?

Chocolate tasting selection

Friends, I will be away from writing and reading for the next two weeks . I will spend ten days in silence and meditation, practicing mindfulness, as I walk, breathe, wash my face, and eat a little chocolate.

Perhaps we will meet in the spaces of eternity in each new moment.
Until then, pay attention!


Still Not Enough? ~ Redux

Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope, not enough money, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough love, not enough peace …

not enuf nuthin !

So goes the lie.

As the holiday season of plenty, hope, and generosity opens its arms to us, some of us brace ourselves, suspicious of the season’s glittering wares. The family, who lost their home to foreclosure, the unemployed factory worker, and other despairing and heartsick souls may feel plenty is beyond their reach and scarcity their new normal.

The media depictions of holiday cheer play on our insecurity and sense of lack. They insinuate that no matter how much we have, we do not have the latest and greatest. Advertisers lure us with promises of more. We may find ourselves stumbling after ghostly phantoms in the desperate hope that this year we might find that illusive wholeness we are seeking.

How does one feel whole and fulfilled, when one is more aware of scarcity in one’s life? Perhaps abundance in the midst of scarcity occurs for us as it did for Jesus, when he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish.

We welcome what we have,
however meager.
We give thanks,
and watch it multiply.

Practice a Miracle: The Welcoming Prayer

Here is a simple, yet demanding, exercise to practice such a miracle in your own life. It is called The Welcoming Prayer. It was developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of Thomas Keating‘s closest associates and a prime mover in the development of centering prayer. She based the Welcoming Prayer on the 17th-century French spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade as well as Fr. Keating’s teachings and her own lived experience of transformation with its underlying attitude of surrender. There are a number of variations on this prayer. Here is one.


  • Become aware of what is troubling you or occupying your mind. For example, your sadness, anger, or fear regarding scarcity of some kind in your life. Focus on your feelings, both cognitively and physically, noting how and where the feeling affects your body.

  • Instead of resisting, or feeling ashamed or denying, welcome the truth of what is troubling you. Welcome the feelings with curiosity and compassion.

LET GO: (Here is the hard part)

  • Let go of your desire for power and control over the situation. Release your desire to be “right.”
  • Let go of your desire for affection and esteem from others.
  • Let go of your desire for survival and security.
  • Let go of your desire to change the way things are.


  • Allow yourself to sink into the abundant flowing love of this moment.

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. … The will of God is at each moment before us like an immense, inexhaustible ocean that no human heart can fathom; but none can receive from it more than he has capacity to contain, it is necessary to enlarge this capacity by faith, confidence, and love…French priest, Jeanne Pierre de Caussade

You may find the letting go section of the prayer difficult to do. One or two of the desires may be harder to release than others. Think of this as useful information about what things, other than God, are of primary importance in your life. Notice which desires might be getting in the way of your freedom in Christ. If you find you cannot release one of these, you might simply pray that God give you the desire to desire to let go.

The Welcoming Prayer invites us to trust in God’s presence and providence and to discover the infinite wealth of God available to us in each moment. “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires,” writes de Caussade.

I believe this is absolutely true. Over and over in the midst of distress, I have wrung my hands about there not being enough of one thing or another in my life. Yet as I have focused and welcomed the feelings and my present reality, let go of my ego’s desires, and rested in God, my need has been supplied with an abundant depth and power that swept away all my grasping and anxiety.

I heard the geese honking at dawn last week. My dog halted at the door and cocked his head and we listened together in wonder. I love the sound of them moving over head, giving themselves to the skies. Trusting in their ancient faith they make their way.

In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I believe there is enough.

The Wild Geese

Abandon, as in love or sleep,
Holds them to their way
clear in the ancient faith:
what we need is here.
And we pray not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart
and in eye clear.
What we need is here.       Wendell Berry

I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God.
My times are in your hands. Psalm 30:1


This post is a lightly edited version of a previous post. May this season fill your cup with overflowing goodness and a steady supply of all that you need!

The Second Happiest State

Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 5:3

Kansas is not at its best right now. Day after day of colorless, dishwater skies, slushy piles of dirty snow, and car eating potholes are taking a toll on our general cheer.  The dog is tracking in mud, and both he and the listless cat are shedding. Our legislature is in session and arguing about out how the state can stay in business. The letters to the editor in the newspaper bristle with hostility and cynicism. Some Kansans, who are out of work, feel betrayed by those whom they thought they could trust.

The stunning, wrenching facts of human limitation and sin in the face of factors beyond our capacity to control or fully understand have left many disheartened and bitter. This is described as “populist discontent” – a response of anger and frustration by those slammed the hardest by the recession.

I vacuum and re-vacuum dog and cat hair. I mop up the mud. The dog mopes after being scolded for chewing up a shoe, his bed, and pulling out the edging from my flower beds. The cat stretches herself out on my computer keyboard or clings to me like lint.

You may be surprised to know that Kansas ranks second in a tie with Nebraska, after number one Hawaii as happiest state in the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted research on frequent mental distress (FMD) in America. Frequent mental distress was defined as 14 or more bad days out of 30. In the most recent survey (2003-2006) 10.2% of Americans were suffering from frequent mental distress. The saddest state was Kentucky with 14.4%. You can probably guess that Hawaii was the happiest state at 6.6%. But get this: Kansas and Nebraska tied for second happiest states at 7.5%. Clearly those surveys were not conducted in January.  Time Magazine

In periods of FMD the temptation is great to kick the dog, toss out the cat and find someone to blame and pay for my losses and pain. Justice does require accountability. Justice also requires faith. And faith requires belief for no good reason, belief in something unknown, unseen. Faith asks us to trust when it appears that nothing is worthy of our trust.

Such a season of perseverance, of faith and hope withoutpositive leading indicators or pollster confirmation is upon us. For the spiritually inclined it is an invitation for deepening maturity and service to God as vessels of hope and light in a time of darkness and confusion. It is a time to dig down for the promised Kingdom of Heaven promised to the poor in spirit.

Here in the second happiest state, I can’t get Haiti off my mind and really do not want to – the orphans, the ocean of grief, the suffering, the sudden swift severing of meaning, purpose, and security.

I listen to a woman singing, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen”

I hear about a concert violinist keeping himself alive in his buried tomb of rubble by replaying in his mind every piece he had ever performed.

I see a world rushing to give their best to Haiti’s worst.

The big eyed child asks, “Mister, have you seen my mama, my papa?

Here in Kansas, the second happiest state, I have no problems even in a recession.

But somehow I think I would be happier in Haiti.

may Haiti bring an earthquake in my soul – a leveling of all that is unnecessary
and a re-formation of the infrastructure of my being

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Thanksgiving Reverie

My ninety six year old mother dozes in her chair. Her toast remains half eaten on the tray. The dog sleeps at her side.

Frost last night. Now bright morning sun streams through the windows. The refrigerator hums. Outside the gnarly cedar with its silvered bark shelters the house. When did it get so tall?

Memories – laughter, faces of loved ones, snatches of conversation, four dogs romping in the back yard, good food – play in the mind.

Today is Black Friday, the make or break retail sales day of the U.S. economy. Only twenty eight days until Christmas.

There is no rush here. No need to shop.

All is calm
All is bright
Round yon mother and dog.

Here in this old house on Madison Street, whatever it was we thought we needed to do has given way to the art of being – of watching the leaf shadows play on the trunk of the cedar, and peering long into the deep blue sky.

The mother dozes. The dog stirs, turns on his side. His breath is slow and deep.

The air is tender and mild. Nothing to disturb the flow of grace.
Relax. Christmas already came here a long time ago.

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Solving Problems Elijah’s Way

Elijah and leaseI took my puppy, Elijah, for a walk to chew over something I had read by Nicolas Berdyaev. “There is something morally repulsive about modern activistic theories which deny contemplation and recognize nothing but struggle. For them, not a single moment has value in itself, but is only a means for what follows.”

Berdyaev was a Russian Christian philosopher who spent a lot of time in exile, first for criticizing the institutional church (Russian Orthodox), and then for not accepting the  Bolshevik government.

Contemplation as a “legitimate,” widely recognized means for understanding and finding resolution for the issues we face is largely denied or relegated to something one might do for a few minutes in the shower, or before drifting off to sleep. The prevailing images for our corporate approach to problems include struggle, battle, war, and exertion of power, control, or persuasion. Such approaches assume winners and losers, victories, and defeat. The struggle approach both creates and thrives on resistance.

Elijah, I am discovering, is a dog with a contemplative bent. He stops still in the middle of the quiet street, sits down, and looks at the house on our right. He looks at the roof, the yellow flag waving in the breeze, the rows of orange, magenta, white, and yellow mums. He looks at the front door with the flowered wreath. He watches a flock of starlings rise out of the oak tree and scatter across the blue sky.

I tug on the leash. “Elijah, come. Let’s go.” He, intent on his reflection, will not budge. He gazes at the windows. He tiElijah contemplatinglts his head and looks at the shrubs. He sniffs the air. “Elijah, come!” I have to write a blog, do bookkeeping, and clean off my desk. I want to cross off “take dog for walk” on my list and get on with things. He looks at me calmly, sighs, rises, and trots along.

Contemplation begins and ends with surrender, with saying I do not know the answer and with recognizing the truth that we all see truth from different perspectives – “through a glass darkly.”  It is sitting down in the middle of things and looking long and hard and sniffing the air. It is refusing to be dragged along by someone else’s agenda. Contemplation is the willingness to walk around an issue, nose, nudge it, and tilt one’s head in order to view reality deeply and truly.

Contemplation requires one to divest oneself from a particular outcome, to detach, let go and trust the Spirit working in the spaces we create by our self-emptying. Contemplation is not about being efficient and productive, nor does it promise quick resolution. Contemplation cannot be made to be a means to anybody’s end. Instead contemplation asks us to see ourselves and whatever dilemmas we face as subjects of the ends and purposes of One who is greater than we.

Pink zinniaBerdyaev makes another point about the denial of contemplation: “Not a single moment has value in itself, but only as a means for what follows.” When we seek to respond to the difficulties and problems we face from a contemplative stance we have a different perspective on time. A moment is not just the means to some greater end. A moment and all it contains has value in itself, for itself: A dog sitting in the street watching the man mow his lawn.  The gray cat sunning herself on the flowered bedspread. The hot pink zinnia licking up the light.  Such are some of the moments in this day free for the seeing and appreciating, each whole and holy in itself. Time is not given so we may accomplish our agendas, so that we can plow through the moments of our day gouging out what we figure we will need for the next moment. We are not given time in order to be ruthless strip miners of the ground of our being, carting off what we can sell or store up in barns or banks.

Elijah stops again. He gazes at the swings in the park, the slide and merry go round. He looks up at the tall pine trees with their thick drooping branches. I follow his gaze and see the branches riddled with slender yellow pods of young pine cones.

A shift occurs in us as we begin to comprehend and appreciate the infinite worth and endless wonder inherent in each moment of our existence. The pragmatic, narcissistic, restlessness which ruthlessly turns everything and everyone into a cog in its agenda of efficiency and accomplishment sits down on its haunches in the middle of everything and looks at what is so. At last it is quieted and stilled by the fullness of a larger Reality than itself.seal sunning

What riches we miss, when our heads are full of our own answers and solutions. What truth remains hidden in those unseen, unsavored moments, when the dog pauses, when the cat yawns, and when the yearning of your heart stops you in your tracks to feast on the beauty of your own precious life.

Elijah sends his love and is available for walks at the drop of a hat.

Elijah lease 2

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The Miracle of Gratitude

woman praying 002Feeling discouraged? Despair breathing down your neck? Are you trapped in a painful situation with no way out?

Count your blessings. I know. It sounds lame. You need a whole life makeover. You need to win the lottery, find a new job, or discover the cure for cancer. Humor me. Do it anyway. Hold up your ten fingers, or however many you have. Count out loud one blessing for each finger.

Now that you are warmed up, take out a piece of paper and get to work filling it up with things you are grateful for. Just put down whatever pops in your head. Keep at it. Include the most specific details – water actually flowed from my faucet at the flick of my wrist when I was thirsty this morning; I can see the mourning dove pecking corn outside my window; my cup of coffee tastes delicious – dark, aromatic, and hot.

A sure way to find hope in a dark time is to count one’s blessings. This simple spiritual practice focuses our attention not on what has happened or what might happen, but on what we can discover to be thankful for in this moment. Gratitude awakens mindfulness, which calms and focuses us on simple pleasures and the miracle of life itself.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.  Melodie Beattie

I can recall some pretty anguished nights in my life. I flailed about rehearsing imagined scenarios, practicing speeches to give to various people, and writing scary science fiction. To what end? Nothing productive. I only became more and more entangled in my own hysterical drama. Some of us come to a point where we are being eaten up by worry and fear. This can be the key to a wonderful discovery. Right about when we say, I can’t live like this anymore, we discover we do not have to. Peace is a choice. We have the freedom through an act of our wills to choose peace of mind.

So much about the spiritual life and happiness in general depends upon where we put our focus. We get to choose what thoughts we entertain and which ones we sweep out the door. At the same time there is tremendous competition among multiple influences to occupy the center stage of our minds. Consider for a moment who or what influences are in charge of your mind? The mantras of our consumer culture? Some nasty critical, negative inner voice? A whiny, fearful, abandoned child? A tangled root of bitterness?

The psalmist puts it succinctly, “Do not fret – it only leads to evil.” Psalm 37: 8. Spiritual teachers of many traditions teach the practice of gratitude. Jesuit priest Jeanne Pierre de Caussade, who died in 1751, advises: The great principle of the interior life lies in peace of the heart: it must be preserved with such care that the moment it is in danger everything else should be abandoned for its re-establishment, just as when a house is on fire, one leaves everything to extinguish it.. . .  And the reason of this is that great peace and tranquility of spirit alone give the soul great strength to achieve all that God wills while trouble and disquiet turn the soul into a languishing invalid. 

De Caussade’s image of the languishing invalid cracks me up. That is exactly what I become as I succumb to fear and anxiety:  infected with negativity, unable to make clear decisions, confined to a bed of worry.

If the only prayer you ever pray is thank you, that would suffice, wrote Meister Eckhart. It seemed to work for Jesus. Remember that embarrassing moment when there were only two fish and five loaves and a huge hungry crowd to feed? The disciples quickly turned into languishing invalids. Jesus takes what he has, lifts his eyes to heaven, and gives thanks. After everyone had enough, they filled twelve baskets with leftovers.

That was Jesus’ miracle. Why don’t you go work a few of your own today?

 Praying hands



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