Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lockdown

I was surprised
by the red-tailed hawk that landed in our yard,
the poison ivy on my legs,
the worry and stress,
the civil unrest.
So…painting the house
and mowing the yard,
gathering only with one friend
who was ill
and watched her worsen,
on the chairs in our yard
made by our son.
Feeding peanuts to squirrels
and seeds to birds,
watching the hummingbirds,
and knitting and knitting and knitting.
My husband went to hospital
the pressure in his veins too high,
watched my brother’s marriage dissolve,
then one brother-in-law sick with the virus died.
And we could not gather.
Raking loads of leaves and
and then we caught the virus but did not die.
Then one brother-in-law’s heart stopped.
And we could not gather.
Then cancer claimed my friend.
And we could not gather.
And I could not write.
Our mothers lived through this,
each loosing a son.
Our children marched on
and I’m amazed by them all.
And it began when a red-tailed hawk
landed in our yard and sat in solitude
on a chair that our son made.

Mary, My Older Sister

Mary, my older sister,
you risked the sacred silence,
And found an angel facing you.
Your brave “yes”, 
became a womb,
(a hidden basket among the reeds)
Holding child and promise,
For love and freedom’s sake.

Your “yes”, is water turned to wine.
Becomes a key for those held hostage,
A message of hope for those who grieve,
A hand to the poor and ill,
And still, a friend to strangers.

Those things pondered in your heart,
Of a child whose values included you,
Whose love embraced the earth,
The skies and every living thing.
Sweet Mary, your example for us all.
If there is no time in heaven,
Pray for me now, pray for us now,
for the need is great.

Pray for us now, 
And help us give our grandest, yes,
to set aside our fear
and give us vision for what may be.
As the messenger greets us now,
I sing your praise, and ask you,
Help us with our, yes.
Help me with my yes and amen.

***********

This poem comes from a number of places, mainly from my heart being disturbed by recent political events, an exercise in the book, Birthing the Holy, by Christine Valters Paintner, p.6, and a centering prayer time around M. Basil Pennington:

“In the silence, whether we listen to the creation around us,
The words of revelation, or the deepest stirrings of our own hearts,
We begin to perceive another voice,
One that is too often lost in the static of life.
It is no use saying: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant wants to hear,’
If we never risk the silence to listen.”

Many of my more traditional friends will enjoy this poem, while many of my evangelical friends will probably shake their heads and be concerned. But, I would ask all to examine what is going on inside themselves and if they have ever asked others to pray for them, or if they have reverenced Paul, or Peter? Why not Mary? Her ‘Yes’, was as grand as any.

Boundaries.

Are. Hard.

I have experienced things in the past 16 years of life that I never anticipated growing up in my very protected Midwestern home. Those aspects of my life, who I am, what I have endured, I have accepted. Little me would not recognize old me’s identity and liberty.

But what the heck does that have to do with boundaries? Well, on the surface not much. But I only began changing my perception of myself 11 or so years ago. So, 25 solid years established really deep brain paths, but 11 years is a good start on new ones.

I used to think that to be a good Christian was to give people what ever they needed emotionally. No matter the cost to myself. Do you need to talk? Do you need a hug? Someone to just sit with you? Do you need me to do the talking? Do you need me to open up about something? And those are not bad things. I do not regret giving of myself like that and will continue to for whoever needs it, whenever they need it.

But that original understanding wasn’t complete. Because I too am a person deserving of a safe space. Or we could write that truth as this: Because I too am a person. You are a person.

Now, I don’t really strive to be a “good Christian,” I love Jesus… but that label and all it misrepresents more often than not leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t care if your are white or black, straight or part of the beautiful LGTBQIA community. In a committed relationship with one or you are more fluid and are with many. I see your color, your community, your situation, I see your joy, pain, grief, and I hold it close to my heart. Or maybe that is what it means to be a “good Christian.”

What I have realized this month is that my boundaries come into play when I ask for space in turn, for someone to care for me and that request is denied or belittled over and over again. It is usually like a giant red flag is thrown and I see it for the first time along with seven others flags already in the field. My boundaries help me to communicate, usually to myself, that I need to step back no matter if it is because of myself, someone else, or the situation requires it. This gives me the space to evaluate and reevaluate (probably multiple times) what is going on inside of me.

So here is my philosophy on empathy, compassion and the practice of holding space for people. We as people create an area for ourselves in our thoughts and the deepest parts of our soul where we ponder… cherish… protect those things that effect us the most whether positive or negative. We guard them, place boundaries around them. When we are overflowing with the bubbly feel goods, we naturally bring people into the joy to celebrate with us. When our being is crumbling because of trauma or sorrow or mental desperation, we ask people into the space to hold the line for us. Usually, I think, we are both scenarios at the same time to some extent. In that place we are simply ourselves and it is holy. Authentic. Unmasked.

Simplified down, my understanding of compassion is that at its core, it is genuine, about you, concern; empathy is compassion in gentle action. Now add that to the concept of the sacred self in you and that of the sacred in others. And here, what we have now created, is the space we hold for each other. It is hard because it requires vulnerability and openness. It is hard because it isn’t always accepted. It is hard to be the one asking if people want to come in and it is hard to be willing to come.

What is the point of humanity if not to find those people with whom we can simply be? What is the point if we can’t be that person for others? Nothing quite hurts like a expressing a need for someone to catch you in your brokenness and you hit concert. But there is also no place that is more reassuring than to be caught when you need it most. We can examine the reverse of that as well. There is nothing like trying to support someone and miss the mark, having them walk away from you and know they are more hurt than before. But there is no greater assurance of purpose than to be that safe shoulder for another.

During the last month specifically, I have come to realize that my space is as sacred as others. But I have also realized that I do not voice my boundaries very well, mainly because I have ignored all the other red flags on the field until I am overwhelmed. I now understand that I rarely use boundaries to keep people out, rather I use them to give myself the time to figure out what isn’t working in me and why. Once I understand though, I attempt to open the gates again.

Is it a perfect? Psssh. Please. Heck no, but damn it, I am proud of the trying.


A quick note. The concept of boundaries and safety need to be clearly understood. At no time, while working through my understanding of my boundaries was I physically in danger or emotionally beyond carelessness and unintentional neglect. If you or someone is experiencing physical abuse or emotional manipulation/abuse of any kind, you need to find professional help in maintaining your boundaries. Because you are a person.

Play and Practices

I’m reading a book called, The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God (by Christine Aroney-Sine).  I have no idea how I came across it, but I am delighting in it.  “Nothing lights up the brain like play…”.   “We don’t usually think about having fun with our spiritual practices…I find myself wondering if we need to rethink what spiritual practices are and how they connect us to God.”  “Restoring the joy of play restores the joy of spiritual practice.  It is part of our journey toward redemption and salvation.”  And the question, the beautiful question, “What creative and playful activities do you enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for you?” 

What an amazing idea that play could be a spiritual practice.  A restorative practice as well as a transformative one.  It delights me that play could lead me into mystery, into love, into intimacy.  But, that is something that play does.  It bonds us to our play-mates.  It helps us to stretch and learn new things because it is fun or because we are doing it with someone.  

I no longer play with dolls, or nurses kits.  I don’t pretend to be a cowgirl while riding my bike or of  being a ballerina when I listen to classical music. I no longer build forts in woodlands, and I don’t ice-skate on frozen lakes.  Those were a few of the things that lit my brain when I was a child. 

So what does light up my brain now?  

First, I find it much easier to mention the things that do not light up my brain.  Doing dishes! Doing laundry! Watching sports!  Reading assembly instructions!  Filling out forms!….  But, the question is, “What creative and playful activities do I enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for me?”  Creative and playful being the important words.  

My play seems to be mostly solo.  Walking around the local lakes, being outdoors seems to clear my mind, creates mind space to think without a screen.  Knitting seems to light up my brain….learning a new stitch or technique, or weaving a basket.  But, what would it look like if I were to “play into” those things that don’t seem to light up my brain?  What if I were to change the narrative or make a game out them?  What would a child be doing if they were doing the dishes?  What would they be appreciating or noticing?  What would they be trying to do?  How would they fill out the forms?  (Can I at least think about it?)  I can still do the solo things; Visiting with people one-on-one , reading, writing my thoughts down in a journal.  But, whether I enjoy doing something or not, how would a child do it?  

I may even come up with a list of playful practices to use when I feel depleted?  A quick go-to “playlist”! What might I notice?  God watching?  God playing with me?  And how might it make me feel while I’m doing it?  Can I let go of the “I have to get this done” feeling?  Can I just be with myself in a more joy-filled way?  Will I feel grounded and relaxed?

So if you’ve read this far, I wonder if you have any thoughts about play as a spiritual practice and what other questions I might ask myself when I play.

Centering Prayer

“Praying with a sacred word disposes the one who prays to
the open depths within by drawing to stillness the
wandering mind that flits and skitters all over the place.”
Martin Laird

Dispose, let go, part with
the distraction.
So that
…my intention,
will govern or influence, 
…will be a gift.

Make this matter, this letting go,
be a habit, a tendency, 
be a disposition of sorts,
And…
…finding a word
decide the matter.
Set this aside, …and this, …and this.

Breathe the word.
Be willing and posed…
For presence sake,
…I begin where I now am,
To make this order what it needs to be.
A tendency, an inclination…
This first, this stilled self, this Presence, 
This word that gently brings me back to what is first.
Things let loose, set free, disposed of, 
so I can lean a different way.
Let my disposition be one of leaning toward,
Like a child,
Receiving the Gift.

Mary Herbert. February 2022

This poem comes from meditating on a paragraph written by Martin Laird.  There were two things I thought of as I wrote it.  First the word, “disposed” which has several meanings that fit so well together with some of the ideas within Centering Prayer, which was the second thing I was thinking of.

Centering prayer is a prayer practice, introduced and written about by Father Keating, which at its core is the desire for the presence of the Divine. It is a wordless prayer, yet uses a word to bring oneself gently back to the Presence when our thoughts drift. Father Thomas Keating has written several books on this practice so I won’t try to explain it further.