Harvest from Mercy Convent retreat, November 15th 2015

The theme of the retreat was “Autumn: A Season of New Beginnings”. The Bible reading was Mark 4:1-20 and 30-32. These are the Parables of the Sower and the Mustard Seed. Here’s my Condensed Gospel version of them:

The parable of the sower

Jesus was again teaching beside the sea. He decided to teach while sitting in a boat in the water because a large crowd had gathered around him. The crowd stood on the shore to listen to him. They had come to hear him from every town.

He taught them many things using parables, including this one: “Think about the person who went out to sow his field. While he was sowing, some seeds fell along the path and birds came and ate it. Other seeds fell where there were more rocks then soil. The seed sprang up quickly, but then withered just as quickly in the sun because it didn’t have deep roots to gather moisture. Other seeds fell among the thorn bushes and the thorns made it impossible for them to produce a crop. Yet other seeds fell on good ground and were able to produce 30, 60, even 100 times what was sown. Anyone who has ears should listen to this!”

MT 13:1-9, MK 4:1-9, LK 8:4-8

When Jesus was alone with his disciples, they came up and said to him “Why do you speak to people in parables? What does the parable of the sower mean?”
Jesus answered them “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been revealed to you but not to everyone. For them the information is transmitted in parables so that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled. It says ‘They may listen but never understand, and they may look and never see. For people’s hearts have grown hard and their ears have grown deaf, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they might see, hear, and then understand and turn back, and I would heal them.'”

MT 13:10-15, MK 4:10-12, LK 8:9-10

Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”

“As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.”

“Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.”

“But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”

MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15

The parable of the mustard seed

“How can I explain what the kingdom of God is like? What can I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed sown in the ground. It is smaller than any other seed, but when grown, it is a huge tree, taller than any plant in the garden. It becomes a tree big enough for birds to make nests in its large branches.”

MT 13:31-32, MK 4:30-32, LK 13:18-19

I’d never thought of Autumn as a time of new beginnings. To me, it was always seen as a sign of endings. It is harvest time, a time of wrapping up, of preparing against the winter that is to come. It is a beautiful time, but short-lived, and leads to a time of sparseness and lack. It is hard to fully enjoy the glory of Autumn knowing that the trees will soon be bare and ice and snow are coming.

But I like this new idea that was offered at the retreat – think of Autumn as a time to sow seeds. They have to be planted in the ground in Autumn, and rest quietly underground in darkness, in silence, unseen, in order to grow into what they are to become.

The poet Mary Oliver said “Is it not incredible that in an acorn something has hidden an entire tree?”

I saw a church sign recently that said “We can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”

Seeds are powerful things to think about.

It is also a gift to be invited to see old things in new ways.

My Mom gave me shiny pennies. My Dad gave me leaves. I’m grateful that they gave me simple things to remember them by. But interestingly, these things are both brown. I’ve been drawn to brown for a few months now, sketching with it, writing with it, painting with it, making jewelry with it. Different shades of brown – chocolate, caramel, sepia, café au lait.

I’ve been meditating on the fact that Dad was red-green color blind, so most of the time he saw nature as brown. The army green that I wear as my neutral color these days would have been brown to him. Autumn was his favorite time of the year because he could finally see colors.

While at the retreat I made some art to think about him and how he saw the Autumn world, the time when he was happiest. This is the first one I made. It is 7” x 10”.

Dad collage at Mercy 1

I was going to make a simple one on a 4 x 6 index card, but I couldn’t find them in the craft supplies so I decided to work bigger instead. I’m glad I did.

I had some leftover materials so I made a second one. They work perfectly together. It is hard to see that here, and I don’t have a larger scanner. You could click on the pictures, print them out, and put them together to see what I mean.

Dad collage at Mercy 2

While making these pieces I had quite a bit of understanding and peace come over me concerning my parents. I’m grateful I took the time to make this art, and also grateful that I was in the craft room alone so I could cry a little.

One thing I’m coming to understand is that there is great beauty in just allowing experiences to be what they are without defining them. I’m also learning that life is richer if it is a blend of things – for instance, happy/sad/wistful/grieving/hopeful is a valid feeling, even though we don’t have a word for it. Just like with Autumn leaves, they are more beautiful if they are a range of colors – reds, greens, yellow, orange, brown – all on the same tree, and often on the same leaf.

It was a gift from my Dad’s spirit that when we happened to take his ashes to scatter, it was the peak of Autumn in the mountains. This is where I sat to disperse his ashes, some 20 years after he had died.

GM 10 2015 a

GM 10 2015 c

GM 10 2015 d

GM 10 2015 e

GM 102015 b

You know where you stand with Autumn.
Not tall, not short.
But between.
Between life and death,
awakening and slumber,
the present and the future,
the known and the unknown.
Autumn is a time of harvests, of reaping
yet also sowing, of planting.
Hardy bulbs planted now sleep deeply,
hibernate like mother bears,
deep underground,
in darkness,
in silence,
in stillness.
Both awake in spring,
with flowers, with cubs,
new growth, new life
out of that stillness,
that silence,
that darkness.

We too are called into that cave, that tomb, that dark earth into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We too are called into quiet, into stillness, so the seeds that God has planted within us can grow.

In the beginning.

I feel like I am a free diver when I go on a day retreat. Free divers hold their breath and dive down for pearls in semi-shallow waters. When I go on a day retreat, just 6 hours, I have just enough time to dip in, grab something beautiful, and then surface to the “real” world to look at and share what I found. There are so many beautiful things to be gotten on retreat, so many beautiful jewels. Can I see them? How do I choose which one to take? How do I prepare myself to go under the water/ truly enter the retreat?

This time I took a week to mentally prepare. I wanted to get the most out of it. I never know what supplies I should bring, and I always try to pare down to make sure I’m not over-thinking it. Jesus and Moses didn’t take anything with them when they went away, and they were gone for 40 days. I’m only going to be “away” for 6 hours. There are art supplies there, and things to read and eat. How will God contact me this time? How will I want to be with God? Going on retreat is like going on a play-date with God.

This time I took a notebook that I’ve used for the past several retreats. I also brought a folder in case I had any art projects I wanted to take home, some watercolor pencils, and a very brief amount of Hebrew homework. While I saw a lot of jewels, here is the one I’m going to share with you right now.

There is a podcast I listen to where the speaker really gets into the first word of the Bible. It is one word – Breyshit is how it is pronounced (Bet, Resh, Aleph, Shin, Yud, Taf) is how it is spelled in Hebrew. That one word is usually translated as “In the beginning”. Yet he says if you translate it another way, it can also mean “with beginnings”. He also said that it is common to take the letters of a Hebrew word and mix them up to see what else the word spells, and it says “The song of the alphabet” – that God sang the world into existence using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

If moving the letters around is acceptable practice, then I decided to do it too. I used my very limited Hebrew lexicon that I brought with me and wrote down all the words that have just those letters (Bet, Resh, Aleph, Shin, Yud, Taf) in any order. I then picked the combinations of words that didn’t duplicate any of the letters, yet used up all of the letters.

I got some pretty amazing stuff. I’ll admit that my interpretation is a little poetic at times, but it goes with the meanings of the individual words.

That one word can be broken up and rearranged to mean any of these things –

“Singing together” or “Together in song”
“This is the home of the best”
“The life-giving river of the Sabbath”
“Honor the Sabbath”
“God gathers us in with Him and claims us as His own”
And finally “True daughter of God”

Command – on distractions and religious observance

I’m at a silent retreat. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to Not do anything either. I could check email. I could check Facebook. One of the nuns even told me I could go watch TV in their communal TV room. Normally that room is off limits to visitors. They have to have some areas that are theirs. We are basically in their home, after all.

But I won’t do anything that involves the outside world. These things aren’t part of the “rules” of the retreat, but they are part of my rules for retreats. I think it is important to unplug and stop long enough for God to get a word in edgewise. Maybe if I’m lucky, maybe if I’m quiet enough, God won’t even have to sidle up to me and can talk to me straight on.

At retreats I also make sure to be vegetarian, or at least pescatarian. When food is prepared for me I don’t always have that choice, but I try. I think it helps keep me mindful.

I’m reminded of Daniel, who wanted to keep kosher, but found that it was impossible to do so where he was. He asked for a vegetarian diet because that was the simplest way to keep kosher. I don’t keep kosher, but the idea is the same. I want to make intentional choices, and one of the easiest things to do that with is food. I want to stay all the time in that space that says “Here I am God.”

I want to go online. It is such an itch. But I know if I scratch it, it will get worse. I don’t have to give it up. All I have to do is be silent. But if I go online I’ll be wasting this gift of time.

So I pray. Jesus, I give this craving to you. I can’t handle it. I’m weak and you are strong. Help me give it up so I can get closer to you.

I’ve come through so many other addictions before this, so many distractions and temptations. Life is a series of these. So many obstacles. Yet they strengthen me, the more I notice them and consciously take myself away from them.

I think just noticing them is a big deal. How many times have I gone on autopilot and just reacted to something or someone without being mindful?

And then there’s Peter, telling Jesus to command him to get out of the boat and walk on the water towards him. He’s giving Jesus control. But how much control does Peter have, when he was the one who asked to be commanded?

It is a bit of a mindbender.

It reminds me of when I’d want to learn more about a topic, so I’d volunteer to teach a class on it. Nobody was forcing me to do anything. Nobody’s forcing me to give up anything on this retreat, other than being silent. I’ve added in all this other stuff. But I think it helps.

It is kind of like any religious observance. If wearing a head covering gets your head in the right place to remember to worship – great. If wearing a certain style of clothing does it, great. If eating certain foods do it, great. It isn’t the head covering or the clothing or the food that does it though. It is the fact that you have decided this is going to be your reminder. You’re using that outside stimuli like a bell, to call you to prayer.

(Written on retreat, around 10 pm, 1-17-14. Added to 1-22-14)

Time and silence

(This was written at last weekend’s silent retreat, at 9:30 am on 1-18-14. I’d come to some understanding after this, but as the struggle is part of it, I’m posting this too.)

I keep looking at the clock. I don’t want to be late. I don’t want to miss anything.

This is so much like how I’m living my life right now. I’m not trusting that I’m on the right path, but I know I am. I’m not living in the moment, but I know I should.

There isn’t much going on. It isn’t like this kind of retreat is jam packed. There’s an optional centering prayer. There’s mealtimes. I’ve got an appointment with a spiritual director. Not much going on at all, in fact. That’s the point.

It isn’t like Cursillo at all. Every moment was scheduled with that. There was a little time for a walk or going to the bathroom, but nothing going for naptime. Even regular sleep was shortened. I think that was very intentional. Sleep deprivation is a cheap way to produce altered reality.

But at Cursillo they at least had a bell. I didn’t have to wonder what to do next or when to do it. The retreat leaders did all the thinking for me. It left me open to do as I needed, and that was to plug directly into the Source. Now, one thing there was that you couldn’t skip anything. Everybody had to be present for a program to start.

I was late to centering prayer this morning. I thought I was early but my clock was wrong. I missed the instructions. I’d gotten them the night before and not read them. I’m pretty sure I was doing it wrong. But I was there and quiet and trying to be receptive.

The word I chose was light. I hadn’t planned on it. It is what came to me.

Sometimes I think just showing up is part of it. I think also being honest with yourself is also part of it. I’d signed up to do yoga last night but I skipped it because I was in the middle of a good write. I found myself resenting stopping what I was doing to go to yoga. It was optional anyway.

I’m learning that just because the retreat is silent doesn’t mean my head is silent. There are a lot of thoughts crowded in there, jockeying for attention.

Jigsaw puzzle

I did a jigsaw puzzle for the first time in so long that I’ve almost forgotten. Well, I helped some kindergartners do one a few months ago, but that doesn’t really count. They did most of it. I was just there to direct traffic and stop them from fighting. Something about not being able to share was part of the fight. They all wanted to work on the same parts or some were hoarding pieces.

Another lady had started a puzzle. It had 500 pieces. Most of them were green or pink, it looked like. The image was of a butterfly.


This looked too complicated for me. I think it was too complicated for her too because she left it on the table and moved to something else. She found all the edge pieces and put them together. Perhaps she was leaving it for another person to work on.


I was cruising around the tables to see if there was anything else to work on. There are all sorts of art supplies and things to work on.


There are essays and books and poems to read too.


It is all optional, but I like to take advantage of what is offered. I want to get my money’s worth, and I want to open myself up to new experiences.

I came across this cute bag. It is a recloseable puzzle for travel.


And it is of space. And it is a cartoon. And it only has 100 pieces. I’m there.

Nobody had opened it yet, so I ripped off the top. I’m glad that I don’t have a problem with this. I’ll totally go first at a buffet or a recital. I’m not afraid of claiming something as mine.

I started finding the edge pieces but then I didn’t know how big the finished puzzle was going to be. Would I have enough room? I was sharing the table with a painter. I didn’t want to get in her way. Then I started to see pieces that obviously went together.

My inner squirrel started to take over. What do I do next? Do the outer stuff or the inner stuff?

This is so like my spiritual journey it isn’t funny. Well, actually it is funny. It’s always funny how God works things out and I’m almost always the last to know.

I never have the map. Nobody does. We wander around, like the Jews in the desert, moving from camp to camp, from call to call. We go where we are sent. We don’t know where we are going until we get there.

So instead of focusing on the outside, the limits, I chose to focus on the inside, the images. Make a planet. Then make another planet. With this puzzle, as with life, I found myself heavily relying on words. The names of the planets held me together. I used them as a guide.

At times I felt I was cheating by looking at the picture on the bag.

This is the same person who complains that God doesn’t give me a map.

Here’s a map and I’m balking at using it.

There’s a lot to be understood there.

God doesn’t give me a map because God knows I’d rather figure it out on my own. I’d rather be happily surprised when I see the pattern coming together. I’d rather do it my way.

Also, it doesn’t matter if I work on the inside or the outside, as long as I’m working. It will all come together in the end. God’s got the pattern. It is just to me to work on it, and with it, and trust.

(Written on retreat, 1-18-14, 4 p.m. Finished on 1-20-14)


I had a meeting with a different spiritual director while at the retreat. She is the lady who is hosting it. I scheduled for just thirty minutes in the afternoon. I figured by then I’d be a little antsy and want a break from the whole silent thing.

Last time I was going stir crazy around 2 pm on Saturday. This time, not so much. This time I feel like I’m almost overscheduled. This time I don’t have a four hour block of time with nothing specific to do. Some of that is because I’ve got to keep going into the conference room and check on the prayer bracelet station. I’ve got to tie them and make sure the supplies are stocked.

I feel oddly calm and yet there’s more I can’t quite name. Maybe because I’ve done this, here, before. I brought stuff to work on. I know it isn’t like Cursillo. I know where everything is. I know the schedule.

But I digress. This usually means I’m trying to avoid something. So, let’s plunge on in. The best way to confront a fear is to face it.

She asked me what had I intended for this retreat. What was I trying to get out of it?

I had decided not to intend anything. I think that is part of my problem. I plan, and then either I’m disappointed or I only look for that intention.

I will set an intention before yoga and by the time the class is over I’ve learned something entirely different. I’ve received a different gift, and it wasn’t what I expected.

The last time we were together, my usual spiritual director had asked me how would I feel if I knew Jesus was standing behind a door with his arms full of gifts for me. Would I open the door?

So this lady went with that. She told me to imagine that Jesus has a gift for me right now. What is it?

We closed our eyes and I imagined this.

Here’s Jesus, all smiles, and he has a gift. It is wrapped up in shiny blue paper. No bow. Tidy wrapping job. I take off the paper. I’m pretty excited. This is a gift from Jesus, so it has to be good, right? He knows me better than anybody, and has my best interests at heart. It’s going to be awesome.

It’s a wrench. It is a used wrench, in fact. There’s oil on it. Not on the handle, but on the adjusting part.

Confused? Sure. Crestfallen? Definitely. I’m a bit hurt. What the heck am I going to do with a wrench?

Uh, thanks, but no thanks, buddy. It is this kind of thoughtlessness that is the reason I hate Christmas.

So the director asked me to sit with this feeling a bit. What does this mean? Ask Jesus why he gave me a wrench.

“It is for your heart” he says. To loosen it up. To stop being so tight and rigid. To be more playful, more childlike. To not have so many rules and limitations.

The more I decide how things have to be, the less I’m allowing them to just be the way they are.

It is like a bonsai. The more you force a plant into a certain shape, the less you are letting it grow the way God wants it to grow.

Something about organic and trust is in there. Not resisting. Acceptance. Being open to possibility.

I wasn’t really happy about this to start off with. Jesus should love me as I am, right? This sounds a little mean, giving me a wrench. I felt it was like going up to a friend and saying that she isn’t pretty enough, so here’s some makeup.

Nope, it isn’t that at all. True friends want the best for you. They want you to grow into your full potential. They challenge you. They call you on your BS too.

If I truly believe that Jesus is my friend, then I have to believe that he wants the best for me. I have to believe that this is an awesome gift, and exactly what I need, and in fact exactly what I’ve been looking for but I just didn’t know it.

So, a wrench. Why? I asked.

Because a seed doesn’t grow into a flower unless it is watered. It needs work. The seed is great as a seed. Jesus isn’t saying that I’m broken. He’s just saying that if I want to be better, then here’s the tool, and here’s the part that needs work.

So why is it oily and used, I asked?

Because he’s already broken it in for me. It is ready to go. Smooth action.

Then I get silly and realize that wrenches are used on nuts, which are just beads after all. They are hexagonal metal beads, with spiral holes.

Now I want to make a bracelet with nuts and wire.

But it isn’t about that. It is important not to iconize this. It isn’t about the symbol but what the symbol points toward.

While writing this I got a snack of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows, and honey graham crackers shaped like teddy bears. I think this is a good start.

(Written on retreat, around 3 pm on 1-18-14)

Poem – eggs, and books, and words.

We already have an egg.
It is us, becoming.
What if we don’t need to work so hard?
What if we are fine as frog’s hair,
fit as a fiddle,
chicken and egg at the same time?

It is another time for the chosen.

As for me the danger of that is
what I was
because I used to think
that past is just prequel.

I should just leave well enough alone
and leave the future to itself.
It will keep on doing what it wants

There is nothing more sad than seeing your own body
broken in pieces.

Our bodies are books
written by God
in the margins, in the gutter, on the spine.
Scribbled notes or glittering manuscripts
hastily written or lovingly preserved
makes no difference to the One
Who wrote us.
There are no withdrawn
no remaindered
no dog eared copies
In God’s library.

We are all beautiful and all needed.

These books are dry patches of a church.

Every day we walk alone.
Each person is a silent building.
Everything that is beautiful is lonely.

Right now you are not awake.
Really, won’t you take my words?
They aren’t even mine any more.

(A predictive text poem, using the letters in the word “water” as a prompt. Written on retreat, 1-17-14, at 8:30 pm.)

Bucket at the well

I’m at a retreat, and the theme of it is the story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. This is found here –

John 4:4-10 (the Message translation)
4-6 To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

In the retreat, we were asked to put ourselves in the scene. Pick a person or an object, and see things from its perspective. The words we were given were the town, the field, the well, the disciples, the Samaritan woman, bucket, and living water.

The word that stuck out when I was reading that list was “bucket.” What a funny word! Who would ever think of the bucket? It isn’t a character, certainly. But it is. Everything matters. So even though it seemed silly, I worked with it.

We were to think about how we need to nourish ourselves too, and refill from the well that is Jesus.

I’m the bucket by the well. The water is on me, soaking into my wood, slowly rusting my iron bands. I’m glad that the cooper made me so well that I don’t spill a drop.

I’m constantly giving out water, and I’m never drinking it myself.

I love it when I get forgotten. I love it when I’m at the bottom of the well and I’m resting in the water. I love the safety of the rope, ready to pull me up to the bright sunlight again.

Yet I can’t stay in that water too long. My wood will swell. The iron bands that hold me together will corrode past a point of ignoring. In short, I’ll stop being a bucket. I’ll start being something other than useful, something other than needed.

Is that a problem?

What if I go too far, soaking up the water that is God?

I’d love to live in this world. I’d love to stop wading in the ocean that is God and just jump right in.

Well I say that and then I remember that I don’t swim very well. If I was confronted with a hypothetical lake I’d pray for an actual boat to cross it.

I forget that babies breathe liquid. They are liquid. The percentage of water in the human body is the same as the percentage of water on Earth.

There has to be a way to be a mystic in the world. If I retreat fully from the world my husband would have to take on the responsibility of the house all by himself. That isn’t fair.

Jesus didn’t call us to escape from the world. He called us to live in it, to be healers, teachers, repairers. Now, he spent a lot of time alone too. Maybe that is the secret. Do both. Schedule time away, to listen, to replenish, to revive.

How can you constantly give if you aren’t also constantly receiving? You’ll run dry.

In Jewish tradition, water is seen as Torah. Every time water is mentioned it really means Torah. Water is life.

Then I remember my favorite animal is a salamander. It was born in water, but lives on land. It has to stay near water to live. This symbol means more and more now. In order for me to be who I am, I have to stay close to the Water that is Jesus. I have to replenish my soul. Yet to immerse myself fully in that world isn’t healthy either. Salamanders drown. I’d drown.

Balance is key. Return to the well regularly. Remember my roots. Don’t fall in. I’m a little bit of both worlds, all mixed up. Accepting my difference is a good start. I can’t define myself by normal rules.

(Started on retreat, 1-17-14, around 8 p.m. Finished 1-20-14)

Jesus chose everybody who was nobody. So should we.

Jesus was constantly breaking the rules. He especially broke the purity rules. Nobody and nothing was unclean or unworthy. His arms were wide enough for everybody.

He talked to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews and Samaritans never talked to each other. He actually asked her for water. He didn’t obey the traditions that had been part of their upbringings.

He touched a woman who was menstruating. This was unheard of. Even today in Orthodox Jewish culture, women and men sit separately just in case a woman is on her period. Even married couples will sleep in separate beds during a woman’s period and for a week afterwards. For Jesus to touch a woman at all was unheard of.

Jesus touched lepers. Nobody touched lepers. To touch a leper is to become a leper. Lepers had to live outside of the camp for fear of infecting everybody.

Jesus didn’t only touch the untouchables, he hung out with them. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. He hung out with everybody who was nobody. He picked untrained people to be his disciples.

Jesus didn’t choose the educated, the upper class, the elite, the well to do. Jesus didn’t choose the best of the best. He chose the leftovers, the forgotten, the ignored.

Jesus chooses us, too.

Jesus chooses you and me. With our embarrassing laugh and weird fashion sense, he thinks we are cool. With our cowlicks and acne, he thinks we are beautiful, just like we are.

And we, Jesus’ chosen, are to do the same. We are to see the beauty in others. We are to include the excluded. We are to welcome the stranger, the misfit, the weirdo.

There are no misfits with Jesus. He loves us all, and we are to extend that same love and acceptance to everyone. In the same way that we are loved and chosen, we are to love and choose others.

(Written on retreat, 1-17-14, 7:45 pm)