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When I Look at All This Beauty
(For John N.)

You bask in all of this beauty

The scent of early daffodils
The quiet of new fallen snow

The sound of baby birds chirping
with mouths wide open to love

The embrace of a lost son
returning home to heal

The moan of recognition that your
worst flaws are a holy gift in disguise

Look listen touch smell God says

When you bask in all this beauty
Does it remind you of me

When I look at all this beauty

I think of nothing but you

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006

 

Reflections on this poem

What is a favorite beautiful moment for you?

What makes it beautiful?

How have you basked in beauty recently?

How does beauty suggest the presence of God for you?

How does it feel to imagine God focusing on you in the midst of beauty?

God and My Brass Bed

 

On my journey of becoming smaller and simpler, I’ve noticed that God has a gentle way of pointing out what I need to release. It is usually something I am clinging to. It’s not that God makes me release things I love, but I can see that the things I cling to are usually related to status, security, ego or fear. And what do I receive when I release them? More intimacy with God. more interior freedom and even joy. My visual image of this process is that God wanders around my condo—and my psyche—looking for the items I need to relinquish and then points to them with a mischievous grin.

My beautiful and expensive brass bed is one example. It is such a lovely bed, with a lily pattern at both the foot and the head of the bed. I love this bed and I made a special quilt for it using a quilt top my grandmother started in the 1930s. This bed also has some poignant memories since it was my marriage bed for a dozen years during an especially transformative time of sorting out and healing. So this bed carries a lot of memories and stories for me.

As part of my simplifying I was considering a move to a smaller apartment and I realized that I may not have room for my queen sized bed. I felt dismay at first because I did not want to feel diminished in this move. But then I prayed about this and decided to let the process proceed and see what happened. It seemed to me that God was raising this issue of my bed with something else in mind, like a new way to think about my home and belongings. I had no idea how to sell it or who would buy it in a time of deep financial stress in the county.

One of my twenty-something friends, Heather, was at my condo for tea before the holidays and it suddenly occurred to me that she might be a perfect match for my bed. She was in law school and her apartment was not completely furnished. In fact, she and her fiance were sleeping on a mattress on the floor. So I casually mentioned to her that I might be letting the bed go when I moved. I asked her if she would want it. Her eyes lit up and she looked at me in surprise. “You’re serious? Really? You’d just give it to me?” I said I really meant it. I told her to think about it since she lived in another city and the bed would not be easy to transport.

I said I would give it to her but asked her to consider paying it forward by helping a refugee friend of mine, from Uganda, buy a plane ticket for her youngest son to join her in America. My friend had to flee the country after being tortured and now she wanted to reunite with her children.

Heather readily agreed to pay it forward and the deal was struck. Then things started speeding up. She called a few days later confirming that she and her fiance would love to have my bed and that they were going to be back in my city in a month. I was startled. That was three months earlier than I had planned. A little shock wave went through me. Was I really ready to let go of this lovely bed? It felt like a little divine joke on me and I realized that God was masterminding the process now. So I tried sleeping on my day bed, the bed I would be using instead of my brass bed, just to see how it would feel. It was a much smaller bed and I would be sleeping with my back against the headboard, a whole new experience. It also felt so permanent. But to my surprise, it did not feel as weird as I had imagined. I was going to be OK.

When Heather’s fiancé, Ben, came to pick up the bed he had two friends with him. (I just love this part of the story). The young woman just happened to work for a non-profit organization that helped homeless people find housing and furniture, including beds. When she saw my mattresses she asked me what I was planning to do with them. I had no idea. She said they could use them immediately! So that day my bed went to Heather and Ben and the next week my mattresses went to a homeless man who Heather’s friend had been working with to find a bed.

After a few weeks of sleeping in my day bed I felt kind of cuddly leaning my back against the headboard and I began to think of this as an adventure. Leaning on the headboard gave me a sense of security before going to sleep. And my bedroom looked spacious, with room to spare. It would easily accommodate my desk if I moved into a one-bedroom apartment. So I knew I could move into a smaller space and be happy. And, to my surprise, the lovely quilt worked just fine on my new bed.

When I had a chance to reflect on this whole experience, I couldn’t imagine making any other decision, even though it was hard at first. I had released what I was clinging to, the bed and the memories that were associated with that bed. My friend, Heather and her fiance would have the joy of a beautiful brass bed. My friend from Uganda could bring her son to the US. And a man who had been homeless for twenty years would have a bed of his own. That made me wonder how I could have held onto that bed for as long as I did. Imagine if I had never released it?

And now I am watching God wander around my condo again. I notice God’s pace slowing at my dining room table and chairs, and there is that mischievous grin again. Oh, oh, I think I can tell what my next assignment is going to be.

 

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

What are you holding onto that you need to release?

What memories does it/they have for you?

What will you gain when you release this?

Do you feel diminished or enriched when you release things you are clinging to?

Who will benefit from your giving?

What surprises you about this release—or even thinking about releasing something?

 

Dear Subscribers,

We are moving into a new topic for the next several weeks. The topic is God’s Grace and Humor. I will include several essays, a video, a poem and an icon, all related to this theme. As we become more intimate with God it becomes clear that God has a special grace, a way of visiting us that we may not even notice unless we are looking. For example, I notice God’s grace in beauty, in generosity, and in deep calm within a chaotic situation.

God also has a a wise and tender sense of humor, sometimes a bit unusual, but always life giving. I’ve experienced God’s humor with strange coincidences, multiple troublesome people with the same name showing up in my life, and in a series of events that is so surreal it could only be the hand of God. My spiritual director used to say that certain situations just “reeked” of God and I could feel what she meant. So just sit back and experience God’s grace and humor in your own life. Look for God, even in the difficult things, so you can have a little chuckle. In my experience, God chuckles a lot.

Janet

You are My Light in the World
For Tracy M

I chose you to be my light in the world
but along the way you needed
a few deepening experiences

To learn about beauty
you were smitten with
thousands of moments
that lifted the veil
between us

To experience courage
you faced the worst
that could possibly happen
and kept moving forward

To learn how to love
you suffered with people
and bonded in mutual pain

To embrace compassion
you tried everything
to avoid failure but
gained more by failing

To experience joy
you abandoned your life to me
and emerged with gratitude

I apologize to you for not
expecting you to stay the course
once you knew the cost

Your faithfulness like others
who took this path before you
astounds me

You are my light in the world

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006

Reflections on this poem

How do you feel about God inviting you to have a few deepening experiences?

When have you been struck by God’s presence in beauty?

How have you moved forward with courage even though it was enormously difficult to do so?

Who have you suffered with and in that way bonded closer to one another?

How has failure made you a more humane or compassionate person?

Where do you feel the most joy in your life?

How are you aware of being faithful to the journey and of being God’s light in the world?

To purchase a book of these poems, Conversing with God

go to http://www.janethagberg.com

White Blouse Blues

I walked past a creative clothing store on my way to a meeting and a very unusual blouse in the window caught my eye. It was made of soft white gauzy fabric with handmade white flowers and vines trailing over the surface. The effect was subtle and almost mystical which made it all the more attractive to me. My instant reaction was “I’ve got to have this blouse.” I stopped in the store to look more closely at it and imagined how I would look in it. Then I checked the price. $94.00. Whoa. That was way over my budget. A few years ago I would have bought it on the spot anyway. I knew I couldn’t buy it now and I was deflated, discouraged and a bit depressed. But I let it go and went on to the meeting.

I dreaded going to this meeting but I felt an obligation to a friend and I wanted to honor it. My dread involved a woman with whom I was having conflict who I would see at the meeting. Just knowing she would be there dampened the evening. But my friend and I enjoyed being together so that made it salvageable.

When I got home I felt tired and dissatisfied. In preparing for bed I walked into my closet to hang up my clothes and there, hanging in plain sight, was a blouse almost identical to the one I had craved so strongly at the store just a few hours earlier. I was shocked and felt a little shudder pass through me. I can understand now why I liked the blouse in the shop, but the truth is, I had totally forgotten that I already had a blouse like it. Ironically the blouse in my closet was free—given to me by an acquaintance. This blouse episode got my attention and I needed to unravel this experience.

I confess that one of my addictions is buying clothes and shoes. I have almost no ability to say no, or at least not in my own power. But I have worked on releasing my craving for clothes in the last several years by seeing this release as a spiritual journey. With God’s help I was able to stop using mail order catalogs and I even gave a lot of my clothes away. I simplified my whole wardrobe into very basic colors of pants and skirts with a few lovely jackets. Most of my current clothes came free from a woman in my condo who likes to recycle, or from an annual clothing swap. I have far fewer clothes and am much happier now.

But I craved that blouse with a determination I have not felt in quite some time. What was going on here? It was actually a bit scary to think of what would have happened if I had come home with the $94.00 blouse only to find an identical one already in my closet. I’ve learned I need to attend to these warnings.

Over the last several years of attending to my creative range of addictions, I have come to see a remarkable truth in my life. Whenever I am caught in an addiction I am really searching for God. I am longing for a deep inner truth that scares me so much I need to cover it with activity or anxiety or shopping or an obsession with a troubled relationship. I wrote a poem about this in which God is speaking to me about my addictions. God says, “Your addictions are all just signs that you are looking for me. When you know this is true you will find me.”

When I first realized this truth I knew I needed to pray for the courage to go beneath my cravings to see the deeper things of God that I was longing for, the harder truths of my life I was not yet able to see.  So this blouse incident was not an accident. It was not a fluke. It was not an isolated experience.

The blouse hunger was tapping into a much deeper truth in my soul that came bubbling up as a result of the meeting I was attending that night. Over the next few weeks I knew that the person I feared encountering at the meeting had become a bigger issue that I had to deal with. My relationship with her was repeating a dangerous pattern in my life. I liked this woman and her talents in the group we were both members of, yet she had demonstrated her capacity on several occasions over the past year to use her rage to intimidate me.

I was afraid of her yet I appeased her for the sake of the group. I did not want to ruffle feathers. Yet I was compromising a covenant I had with myself that I would never let myself be in an emotionally abusive relationship. Here I was walking on eggs around her, trying to cheer her up or avoid her. Neither one worked. In fact it seemed to be getting worse. I was tired of it—and this system was very familiar to me from several previous relationships. I had worked very hard to heal my own issues, especially my complicity in this system, so I would not duplicate this experience. Yet here was this blouse episode alerting me to this awful deeper l truth. I was doing it again.

After praying about this situation and waiting for direction from God, I knew I needed to forgive myself and this woman for getting involved in this system we were caught in. I prayerfully wrote a note to the woman commending her on her talents and contributions to our group. Then I also described the conflict system that was going on between us, stating my intent for the future and my boundaries. It was hard to do. When I sent it I felt some fear, but mostly relief. I felt I had let the conflict and tension go and allowed myself to feel a new level of grace and forgiveness. There will be more work for me, finding ways to continually honor this commitment I’ve made to my own emotional well being. But I also know God will give me the clarity and courage to do this work.

The day I sent the note I wore the beautiful embroidered blouse and thanked it for how creatively it had brought me to a new level of intimacy with God.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

The poem referred to in this essay is called These are All Just Signs and is available on this blog site.

Reflections on this essay:

Do any addictions, any “white blouses” hover in your life? If so, can you name them?

How does God work through your addictions to draw closer to you?

How do you take care of yourself around your addictions and what commitments do you honor in your own life?

What humor do you see in working with your addictions?

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