Sacred pauses

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Crisis is always a purification if we understand it correctly. The very word ‘crisis’ comes from a root that means sifting out. Crisis is a separation, a sifting out of that which is viable and can go on from that which is dead and has to be left behind.”David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day   Photo (Rochester, NY) by A. Hallinan.

 

I’ve been wondering how to render my long, isolating, pandemic days so they are meaningful, enjoyable, and conducive to doing the deep writing and other work I’ve been wanting to do.

It just so happens that a friend of mine recently published an essay about her practice of observing sacred pauses throughout the day based on the Benedictine practice of marking the hours. She does so not for religious purposes, but to structure and inspire her days and to be in touch with the cycles of the natural world.

Her essay motivated me to see if this approach might be helpful. Plus, I’ve long been interested in books of hours which, originally, were personalized medieval Christian prayer books that marked the sacred hours of the day.

I tracked down a used copy of a book Louisa recommended by Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day. 

Macrina led me to David Steindl-Rast’s book, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day.

Both books are rich and motivating, a pleasure to read in small bits. You don’t have to be religious to structure your day around these sacred pauses; you can make the practice your own, and I think you’ll find many unexpected benefits.

I’ve been delving into these books of hours and taking sacred pauses while also renewing my mindfulness meditation practice (with the help of an online class offered by the teacher who originally got me into meditation over a dozen years ago.) Mindfulness mediation and marking the sacred hours are both concerned with consciously embracing the present moment. The two pursuits complement each other.

Here are some of my favorite passages from David Steindl-Rast’s book:

“….the hours of their days and nights have turned into couriers for them, each with a distinctive dispatch.” “…each hour had a character and presence infinitely richer and more complex than our sterile clock time.”   “The hours are the inner structure of living consciously and responsively through the stages of the day.”

“The original notion of hour is something quite different from a unit of time composed of sixty minutes. It is not a numerical measure; it is a soul measure.”

“…time is not conceived as running out, but as rising like water in a well, rising to that fullness of time that is now. It is to that centered, present living in the now that chant calls us.”

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“The paced hours teach us how to pace our lives.” David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence

 

And these from Macrina’s book:

“God’s angels companion you on your pilgrimage through the day. You are never alone. Pausing to remember such truths changes the hours to gold.”

“Even if you have a lot of work to do, if you think of it as wonderful, and if you feel it as wonderful, it will transform into the energy of joy and fire, instead of becoming a burden.” – Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, as quoted in Seven Sacred Pauses.

 

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A still from the video installation “Visitation” by Bill Viola, in Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden. I took this photo on my trip to Sweden last year. “Visitation” is an extraordinary silent work that held me for 20 minutes like it was just twenty seconds. Viola’s subjects are birth, death, transformation and liberation. In this baptism by water, the subject goes from “a life of obscurity to another life where light and color envelop her, perhaps like an inner birth giving her the strength to move on.”  (Quoted from the installation commentary) Some people view our difficult times as a sweeping and necessary transformation. This still photo, a sacred, single moment from the video, seems relevant to me.

 

The sacred pauses:

Matins or Vigils (The Night Watch) “Vigils is a time of exquisite beauty. It is a time for waiting and watching under the mantle of mystery.” DS-R

Lauds or Morning Prayer (Daybreak, The Awakening Hour) “Dawn is like medicine, and morning is a healing drink that I have to brew in my heart just as I brew my coffee.” MW

Prime (About 6 am, Deliberate Beginning)  “…the monastic attitude is to begin deliberately and to do anything we do with an even, stately pace and with whole-hearted attention. This is how master artisans, weavers, experienced farmers, and other sage laborers work. That way even difficult tasks can be done leisurely and with joy, for their own sake. And then they become life-giving.” DS-R

Terce (9 am, The Blessing Hour) “Imagine you are sitting at the dawn of your workday watching your creativity blossom. Rather than trying to grab the first blossom you seek, spend time beholding that blossom and looking at it from all angles. Prayerfully reflecting on the first blossom of your day will awaken other ideas that are in the budding stage.” MW

The Sixth Hour (Noon, The Hour of Illumination; Fervor and Commitment) “The hour is rousing us to summon the courage to stay the course, to remain true to our ideals through the rest of the day.” DS-R

None (3 pm, The Wisdom Hour) “Our doing flows out of our being, and that is why it is necessary for us to learn to pause.”  MW

Vespers or Evensong (Early evening, The Twilight Hour) “The way that we can actively bring the spirit of Vespers into everyday life is to light whatever lights we can in this dark world.” DS-R

Compline: (Just before retiring, Entering the Great Silence)  “Preparing for the night, for going into the realm of dreams, we pray for good dreams: nourishing dreams, teaching dreams.”  DS-R

 

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As we explored Uppsala Cathedral, the organist was practicing, and we were lucky to hear Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach several times. The chandeliers (ljuskrona, or “light crown” in Swedish) are common in Swedish churches. Delving into the sacred hours and reading Kristin Lavransdatter reminded me of my visit to this 13th century cathedral.

 

Christ Church in Rochester, NY, which draws upon many fine musicians, singers and composers from the Eastman School of Music, has been streaming great music during the pandemic. I like the description of this short Bach piece and its moods by organist David Higgs almost as much as I like the piece itself:

 

A Letter from the virus

The powerful, poignant video letter from the coronavirus at the link below is pure poetry. Please listen: our troubled times could be viewed as one gigantic pause imposed on us by the virus for the most sacred of purposes. This version is narrated in beautiful Italian with English subtitles – as the poet I’m linking to suggests, the Italian version has more urgency and poetry than the English version:

https://www.jhwriter.com/a-letter-from-the-virus-italian-with-english-subtitles/

“We have a right to feel at home here in the universe.” David Steindl-Rast

Coming up on Books Can Save a Life: A luscious, luscious newly published book. (Think: flowers; floral masterpieces; color; design; creativity; art; literature; deep ecology; learning how to see; things of the spirit.)

On the twelfth day of Christmas: James Fielden

lake, close-up of water

I discovered James Fielden’s site more than a year ago. Ever since, I’ve been enjoying his writing, photography and, more recently, his music and audio meditations – all paths in which James explores aspects of spirituality and the inner life. James lives in Los Angeles, where he mixes sound for film and television.

His 23-minute guided meditation, Journey Across a Lake, is a wonderful way to begin the new year.

Photo by James Fielden.

Summer day meditation, week 5

Waterfall

Last meditation class.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are.

He says live with the world inside you.

Contentment is Life living through you.

                          excerpts from  Hokusai Says, by Roger Keyes

Summer day meditation, week 4

water lily

I found this in the backyard pond this morning.

In meditation class, our instructor read a poem by Rumi about welcoming all emotions as you would a house guest, even the negative ones, as they may be clearing you out for something else.

Also a poem by Derek Walcott about loving again the stranger who was yourself, published in David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. For a time, David Whyte was a visiting poet at a major corporation. I’ve never read a book quite like it.

You can sample some of David Whyte’s poems on his beautiful, rich website. David leads groups on hiking tours in Italy, England, and Ireland, where he reads his poetry and visits artists, cooks, gardeners, farmers, and other creatives committed to their locales.

Summer day meditation, week 3

pergola, hummingbird feeder

Under the pergola

A moment of pleasure: Sitting under the pergola at my brother’s house outside of Cleveland. Taking in the Cleveland-ness of being here.

I can’t really explain this. Something in the air has a distinctive quality, maybe the humidity and the heat of Ohio, and it takes me back to summers growing up here: listening to the Beatles on my transistor radio (WIXY 1260), swimming with my friend, Nena, at Stafford Park, play-by-play of the Indians’ baseball game always in the background….

In meditation class this week, our teacher read Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, who is from my hometown.

Summer morning meditation, week 2

Pond with Buddha

Meditation at the pond, 7:30 am.

For my mindfulness meditation class, this week we are to record one pleasurable moment each day.  Here are two:

Friday morning: helping a medical student find information about adolescent health. Enjoying her youth, beauty, enthusiasm, the unfolding of her potential. She will help many people.

Saturday morning: visiting the backyard pond, enjoying the coolness.

I’m thinking that a great book to read, lying in the hammock next to the pond, would be The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho.

Please share your recent moments of pleasure in the comments.

Summer evening meditation, week 1

Tonight I attended the first of five mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, which include instruction in meditation. Four years ago, I took a similar series of classes; this summer I hope to renew and re-commit to my meditation practice.

We followed our breath for several minutes. We ate a raisin, mindfully. We practiced the body scan (progressive relaxation of each part of the body, preferably while lying down.) I thought I was totally relaxed, lying on my yoga mat on the hardwood floor. But when our instructor read Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” I found myself lying in a field of grass, giving myself up to it as if I were a kid.

That was my second encounter with Mary Oliver today. The first occurred in my wanderings around the Internet, where I found out she will publish a new book of poems this fall, “A Thousand Mornings.”

When I came home from class, my son had just arrived with fresh-picked raspberries. I ate some with whipped cream. Mindfully, of course.

She wanted to decode her beautiful, quirky genome

…we are each of us temporary depositories of information that has an almost eternal life, and which is passed on and on and on…           Lone Frank, My Beautiful Genome

Staring at the luminous model of the strand of DNA on my computer screen, a sculpture of great beauty, perfect function, and masterful design, I wondered. Who is the designer? And is this a question that even makes sense?

I say perfect function but, when it isn’t perfect, there can be disease, pain, suffering. Or simply quirkiness that doesn’t amount to much, just makes you a little different – a bit of rheumatism in your right big toe, for example, so you can’t wear high heels.

My medical librarian colleagues and I were learning how to search the data generated from the Human Genome Project and other ongoing genetics-based research. Our instructor, a bioinformatics librarian with a PH.D. in molecular biology and years of research under her belt, showed us how to look up the gene associated with cystic fibrosis in humans. We found a map of the gene’s location on a specific chromosome and links to places where you can order a clone of the DNA for research.

And over the course of the two-day class, our instructor, who is also a storyteller, told us the tale of research into the human genome, the explosion of data that’s resulted in a very short time, and how far we’ve yet to go.

My Beautiful Genome book coverA few months later, I discovered Lone Frank’s My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time and added it to my reading list. Over the next weeks, I’ll be reading and discussing it on Books Can Save a Life as I decide whether or not to explore my own beautiful, quirky genome. I’m reasonably certain I will explore my genome unless I’m persuaded otherwise. It’s not a matter of if, but when. There is so much turmoil and confusion surrounding consumer-based genetic testing, I may wait until things settle down a bit.

The lure of this kind of knowledge – the secret of my own, one-of-a-kind, unlike-no-other-in-the-history-of-the-world genetic makeup – is something I don’t think I can resist for long, though.

As with everyone else, it’s personal.

My genetic make-up was of special concern years ago when my husband and I were deciding whether to have children. We’d gone to a genetic counselor to find out the chances of our children inheriting my mother’s schizophrenia. Fortunately, they were quite low. The counselor could tell us this by simply taking a family history and looking at the heritability data of the grandchildren of people with schizophrenia.

More recently, I was curious to know what the Human Genome Project and other research has revealed about the heritability of schizophrenia, and what a look at my signature genome might tell me. I’ll be exploring that, among other things, as I make my way through My Beautiful Genome.

Possessing this kind of personal genetic knowledge will become commonplace, I believe, and learning how to live with it ethically, in a way that will benefit humanity, will be one of the great adventures of our time.

Do you think we’re overreaching, like the mythic Prometheus? Wanting to know more than is good for us and we can responsibly handle? Please comment if you have thoughts about this.

Mindfulness Meditation

In My Beautiful Genome, Lone Frank talks about how everything we perceive is filtered through our brains, which are influenced by our genes, and how our behavior may be genetically determined. I just happen to be starting a mindfulness meditation class that will take place over the next several weeks. It will be my second time through this type of meditation instruction, a refresher that will bolster the meditation practice I began five years ago. So, while I read My Beautiful Genome,  I’ll also be highlighting some of my favorite books about meditation. If you’ve tried meditation yourself or have a practice, please join in the discussion.

Quote from My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time, by Lone Frank, Oneworld Publications, 2011.

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