To Be Astonished

In reflection to a prompt from last week’s theme in Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist – “Creative Work as Vocation and Holy Service” – a powerful memory was evoked of a group activity of deep listening and sensing into space and collective. Thirty or so of us standing in a room led by a famous percussionist were invited to make a brief improv musical composition using only six sounds, one of each assigned to each of us, to be used only once. Like the maestro, he signaled the start and as I listened, waiting for when to make my contribution with my sound, it became apparent that staying silent was most needed for the coherence of the emerging melody.

“Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.”

Mary Oliver, The Messenger

Over the years, calling back that visceral experience has always been a profound, astonishing even, lesson of  the discernment and value of silence, stillness and spaciousness in works that matter.

Last week that memory gave me a fresh way into understanding my place right now. The waxing and waning between finally feeling – after several fallow and lost months of grieving my sudden, unexpected arrival at “retirement” –  for the first time in my life, a deep contentment with not working, AND, too,  missing the ways in which I had worked, been of service, made a living. Missing the known and felt meaning and value I gave and received for my work. Such missing occasionally “stings” as my circle of women friends are still so employed or creating their “encore” careers.

“Our daily work may rise out of our true calling in the world, or it may just pay the bills; either way, we each have a vocation. We each were given certain gifts to offer in service to others. Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity. The truths we long to express in the world and the way we feel moved to give form to beauty are signs of the Spirit at work in us. Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.” 

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 2011

So how, now in my autumn years, will this unfamiliar “non work” become my “love made visible” in counter-cultural, less obvious, silent, still and spacious ways? How, as I find myself living a long-held dream of having expanses of time and space, unfettered by plans and obligation (thanks in part to the pandemic), may creativity emerge as vocation, take form as holy service? How do I learn to be astonished?

A cursory inventory:

  • Shifting my perspective to give value to home care, meal preparation, dog walking as my labors of love.
  • Trusting that the beauty I notice and express, via written word and photograph – in my blog, on social media, in my practice of hand writing note cards sent to friends – are an offering of my life as poem and prayer.
  • Remembering my meditation and prayer, a lit candle, and passing thought for another, known or unknown, are silent weavings for healing and community.
  • Giving space for my holy grief, holy gratitude and holy love creates space for others to do so.
  • Sitting with the questions of my heart, in the tension of knowing a greater plan is at work, revealed only – word by word, brush stroke by brush stroke, action by action – in the ordinary living into each day.
  • Learning to “move at the pace of guidance,” heeding the wisdom of energies seen and unseen.

“We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.” 

David Whyte, “Work,” in Consolations, 2015

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Ironing

Now I Understand
(in response to Pablo Neruda’s An Ode for Ironing)

Your house cleaned.
Your floors swept.
Your bed made.
Your dishes washed.
Your gardens tended.
Your dog walked.

You, who has the means
to purchase the hands’ work of others
inherited, earned, dignified

Who would have thought
my taking on the task
of ironing your linens and your clothes
as I pressed mine –

my small act of gratitude
for your generous hospitality
for opening your home to me
giving me sanctuary of rest and routine
while I, the novice, explored the world
making true and real my heart’s desire –

would be taking away
this small but necessary
weekly Sunday evening pleasure
bringing you back 
to your self
giving you back
the ground of your being?

Now I understand
this ode’s essence
to bring substance and harmony
to give routine and resurrection
to allow you to feel with
your hands
your way 
into a new week.

– KW –


Joie de Faire

I knew I needed practices to help me flourish with fall’s arrival, its shorter days, and the inevitable snows and cold of winter. No escaping it, even though we here in the parklands of Alberta have had a stellar September and first week of October with no frost nor flakes. I posted on Facebook last week how remarkable that the geraniums and marigolds in their pots looked more beautiful and abundant now than in the peak of summer.

Early in this pandemic, while making photo books from my last trips to Morocco and Andalusia, I saw the hundreds of photos I’d taken over the past decade and decided to sort into a collection those I’d like to use on the cover of note cards. A few years ago, before the advent of the terrific e-cards I now habitually send, I’d make a photo card to celebrate a family member or friend’s birthday, anniversary, wedding or other life transition. A photo, hand- written or stamped greeting, postage stamp and off it’d go in the mail. I chose to resurrect that practice this fall – my version of a non-Zoom hug or love note – to stay connected with friends.

“…I needed that bond to feel whole, competent and grounded, connected to my heart and soul, to my community, to my ancestors, and to the natural world around me…”

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019

Times have changed. It used to be that I had a paper address book with friends’ contact information. As I composed my list of names, I realized for many I had only email addresses. And so, without tipping my hand too much, I asked, via email, for their “old fashioned snail mail” postal address.

“Over the course of just a couple of hundred years in the so-called developed world, we have become passive consumers of products, services, and information rather than active makers, fixers and even thinkers. Most of the time what we buy is made somewhere else, by a machine or by people we’ll never meet…”

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019

Every week since early September, a few days a week, a couple of names on my list, I’d make a card, with a hand written note, maybe include a well-loved verse of poetry or a quote, a specially chosen photo evoking something for me about that person. Affixed a stamp and return address label and slipped it in the community mailbox.

love note bits

“I gradually came to the conclusion that in its most simple sense, art (as a verbal noun that I now call “artifying” or “artification”) is the act of making ordinary things extraordinary. It is a uniquely human impulse.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

After the first week’s batch, I remembered that the cards I use are good quality water colour stock. I remembered how in that earlier iteration I might rubber stamp the inside with a greeting, and occasionally paint a dash of colour over. So now I’ve taken to embellishing the envelope with rubber stamp image and light water colour wash. “Now that’s an envelop worth keeping!” remarked a friend’s husband upon retrieving her card from their post box.

A friend sent me this photo of my love note to her

“Joie de faire – an inherent joy in making:
There is something important, even urgent, to be said about the sheer enjoyment of making something that didn’t exist before, of using one’s own agency, dexterity, feelings and judgment to mold, form, touch, hold, craft physical materials, apart from anticipating the fact of its eventual beauty, uniqueness, or usefulness.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

I’m crystal clear within myself that I make and send these cards with no expectation of hearing back from anyone. And yet I’ve been delighted to read about how surprised or touched by, or perfect the card. Another friend reminisced about days gone by when letters and notes were the way we maintained our relationships and connections, saying she’d been inspired to follow my lead, and that perhaps this was fulfilling my purpose.

“I think a lot of modern people’s ennui, or feelings of depression or meaninglessness, comes from the fact that although our physical and material needs are met, we are not satisfying those psychological and emotional needs of our hunter-gatherer nature.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

While I was touched with her suggestion, I’m not sure this is my purpose, per se, but it is satisfying that yearning to make, to make something beautiful, to share that beauty with people I cherish, and to invite them – for a moment or longer- to feel they are cherished by me. It is responding to my inner need to flourish when I’d felt so fallow and forlorn during the early months of Covid-19.

“…active making, and making special, contributes to satisfactions
(fulfillment of basic emotional needs) that cannot come any other way.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

It is activating my slogan: The power of prayer and the making of beauty are HOLY ALCHEMY for social change.

And quite simply, it brings me joy.

With much love and kindest regards, dear friends.