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I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Satisfying Our Spiritual Hunger; Turkey and Dressing Won’t Do It


Look closely at the photo: the little bluebird on the table is critical to this article.


Fess up. When was the last time anyone told you that using your imagination now and then was important to your sense of well being?


In the early 70s, our family moved from Rochester, Minn., about 35 miles eastward to the small village of West Concord. My son Steve was in the second grade. His adjustment to the change was complicated due to the differences in teaching styles between his old and new schools. He was used to a very traditional, structured classroom in Rochester. But his teacher in West Concord was a nonconformist. An uppity grandmother, she ran a noisy open classroom that was driving my young son a little crazy.

And besides he was homesick and missed his friends in Rochester.

I was in my early 30s at the time, miles away from my own family back in Ohio, and I had never attended a parenting class. I doubt that I’d read Dr. Spock either. But one day, seeing that Steve was still sad when he came home from school, I had an inspiration.

First I read a story to him about a bluebird – as in “the bluebird of happiness.” Then I cut a picture of a bluebird from a magazine. I told Steve to put it in his pocket and take it to school with him each day. “When you feel sad,” I promised, “Just touch the bluebird, and you’ll feel better.”

Well, it worked and before long, Steve had adjusted to his creative second grade teacher’s methods, and he’d made new friends. I made a new friend, too; it turns out his teacher was a local leader in my political party; she and I were both liberals in conservative Dodge County.

But the bluebird story didn’t end in West Concord. Years later, I was living alone in my apartment in New Brighton, Minn. and to be honest, I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself that gray Saturday afternoon. A knock on the door interrupted my pity party. The postman handed me a package postmarked Atlanta, where Steve, a technical director, was in the middle of a Broadway theater tour.

I tore open the box to find of all things a little glass bluebird.

The following day, I was invited to a celebration of Women’s History Month. We’d been asked to bring with us a picture or an object symbolizing what we would most like to take with us into the 21st century.

Remembering the story I’d read to Steve to ease his loneliness in second grade, I took the glass bluebird with me. When it was my turn to speak, I told the gathering of about 100 women that what I’d most like to take with me into the 21st century was the faith of a little child.
(Lest anyone misunderstand, I’m not talking about religious fundamentalism here.)

So here I am well into the 21st century. My faith has wavered a few times, but I’ve cultivated a few habits over the years that help me stay in touch with my spirituality.

I rise early every morning to enjoy coffee at my kitchen table while recording dreams in a loose-leaf journal, and it’s not unusual for me to reflect for an hour or so on mysterious messages still clinging from the night.

Another practice evolved about twenty years ago when I came across an American Indian legend about the power of fresh flowers to chase evil spirits from our households. The idea appealed to me and ever since, I’ve paid a few dollars for a bouquet at the supermarket along with my weekly supply of groceries.

In the last couple of years I’ve also begun practicing mindfulness meditation for half an hour each day, and it’s become clear to me that it’s as important to nourish the soul through this type of discipline, as it is to nourish the body.

Meditation restores me to a different mode of moving through time – a mode in which I feel peaceful and at ease, one task flowing smoothly into the next. And instead of an impatient enslavement to my to-do list, I find myself taking pleasure in simple household chores such as freshening my flowers, unloading the dishwasher, dusting the bookshelves, or preparing my evening meal.

Meditation also helps with my work as a writer. Rather than approaching a writing project with determination and will, I’m learning to relax and settle back into the unconscious, freeing up my imagination.

Nevertheless, I’m human, and once in awhile, I get caught up in one or another of my more worldly pursuits: politics, blogging, bugging Groveland {my church fellowship} about schedules and other left-brained stuff like Roberts Rules of Order and in general, succumbing to the tyranny of my daily to-do list.

Next thing I know I’m completely focused on one deadline or another, while forgetting to take time out for meditation and sloughing off other practices that keep me on my chosen path toward health and wholeness. Predictably, I sometimes lose touch with my spiritual needs.

As luck would have it, the necessity to prepare this talk on the topic of satisfying our spiritual hunger caught me in the midst of one of those “I’m on a treadmill” periods of my life. There was no help for it but to go back in time and re-read a book in which I’d previously found renewal: Thomas Moore’s The Care of the Soul, which interweaves the author’s various interests, including theology, mythology, and depth psychology. Best of all, it honors the importance of the imagination in our lives and its power to heal.

Think little second grade boy heading off to a strange school with a picture of a bluebird in the pocket of his jeans.

Fess up. When was the last time anyone told you that using your imagination now and then was important to your sense of well being?

Moore writes: “Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. I understand therapy as nothing more than bringing imagination to areas that are devoid of it, which then must express themselves by becoming symptomatic.”

Moore continues: “Fulfilling work, rewarding relationships, personal power, and relief from symptoms are all gifts of the soul. They are particularly elusive in our time because we don’t believe in the soul and therefore give it no place in our hierarchy of values…It is commonplace for writers to point out that we live in a time of deep division, in which mind is separated from body, and spirituality is at odds with materialism. But how do we get out of this split?” Moore asks.

Rituals at home and in community help. I’ve mentioned my dream journal, keeping fresh flowers in my apartment, and recent efforts to meditate regularly. Preparing for Thanksgiving has reminded me of long-practiced family rituals. Our dinner menu is handed down from the previous generation. Along with turkey and homemade bread stuffing, it includes required items such as watermelon rind pickles, black olives, rutabaga, and cranberry sauce (the jellied kind that comes in a can).

I may have picked up the last jar of watermelon rind pickles from the supermarket shelf the other day.

My son Steve and his wife Nancy will join me for our Thanksgiving Day feast, and we’ll likely play our traditional game of Scrabble before digging into the pumpkin pie piled high with Cool Whip.

Extending beyond family traditions here at Groveland, we practice community rituals on Sunday mornings. Around the speaker’s presentation and the follow-up discussion, we light the chalice, share our joys and concerns, sing hymns, meditate, and enjoy coffee and treats together before going our separate ways.

Again I quote from Care of the Soul, “Spirituality doesn’t arrive fully formed without effort. Religions around the world demonstrate that spiritual life requires constant attention and a subtle, often beautiful technology by which spiritual principles and understandings are kept alive. For good reason we go to church, temple, or mosque regularly and at appointed times: it’s easy for consciousness to become lodged in the material world and to forget the spiritual. Sacred technology is largely aimed at helping us remain conscious of spiritual ideas and values.”

Revisiting a book is in many ways like revisiting the old home place, a favorite park, or other familiar site after a long absence. Turning the pages of The Care of the Soul in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the person I was at my first reading some ten or fifteen years ago compared to who I am now. And what delights me most is the discovery that wherever we are in our lives we are free to nurture our souls and experience healing and growth.

In the final paragraphs of The Care of the Soul, Moore writes: “Care of the soul is not a project of self-improvement nor a way of being released from the troubles and pains of human existence. It is not at all concerned with living properly or with emotional health. These are the concerns of temporal, heroic, Promethean life. Care of the soul touches another dimension, in no way separate from life, but not identical either with the problem solving that occupies so much of our consciousness. We care for the soul solely by honoring its expressions, by giving it time and opportunity to reveal itself, and by living life in a way that fosters the depth, interiority, and quality in which it flourishes. Soul is its own purpose and end.

“To the soul, memory is more important than planning, art more compelling than reason, and love more fulfilling than understanding. We know we are well on the way toward soul when we feel attachment to the world and the people around us and when we live as much from the heart as from the head.”

May it be so.
Note: This post is the presentation I gave this Sunday morning at Groveland Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Virginia,
    Based on your recent posts and your sensitive writing, I think you may enjoy a blog dedicated to Thomas Moore's work called Barque: Thomas Moore at http://barque.blogspot.com . It links to a free forum that could benefit from your insights and expression. Please continue to share your soulful observations.
    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Deborah

    ReplyDelete