Thursday, September 27, 2012

Finding time to write and reflect, and finding a balance in my life

Over a month has passed since my last blog entry, and I am feeling quite frustrated by my inability to find time to write. Am I really too busy? Or is this just an excuse? What is happening to my usual prolific muse? These are hard questions for me since writing has been my spiritual practice for many a year, as well as one of my life's primary joys. And this blog has been an important way for me to feel connected with Spirit.

Finally, this morning, I managed to find a little time to sit down with my netbook and catch up on my blog. I am here with Jill in Minneapolis, where I am attending a conference of the Christian Community Development Association. The conference starts later today, so I decided to devote this precious bit of unplanned time to writing.

It hasn't been easy. When I settled down to write an hour ago, I received two phone calls--one from a homeless woman who calls me her "Father in Christ" and is struggling to survive on her pittance SSI allowance. Another caller was someone I met at Occupy LA who wanted to know more about Quakers and the Mennonites. Both callers needed my attention, so I couldn't ignore them.

Such is my life. Every time I try to settle down to write or meditate, phones ring or something else "urgent" comes up. I'm sure you have similar experiences.

I finally realized that if I am going to write, I will have to take drastic steps to prevent interruptions. To begin with, I am turning off my cell phone. That is a baby step towards the inner peace I need for writing.

First, let me share what's been happening over the past month. Right after my post about Ramadan, Jill and I went on a three-week "road trip in the ministry." We went to Pacific Yearly Meeting, the annual gathering of Quakers from  California, Hawaii and Mexico, and had a wonderful time. This gathering of 300 or so Quakers took place at Walker Creek Ranch, a beautiful site amid the rolling, golden hills of Marin county, a nature preserve and education center, where we saw deer as well as cattle. This was Jill's first experience with a large Quaker gathering and she loved it. She connected with my Friends, and made new friends of her own. Together we took part in daily Bible study led by Steve Matchett--something we both loved. Jill gave an interest group on affordable housing, and was even led to share vocal ministry during one of the plenary sessions. At heart, she is truly a Quaker as well as an Evangelical Christian!

We had fun tenting it, and going to sing-a-longs. Jill fits right into my Quaker world, and I also fit into her Evangelical world. We are making our odd marriage work!

After this week-long gathering, we drove north to connect with Jill's donors and friends. We went to Ukiah (CA) as well as various places in Oregon and Washington: Gold Beach (on the Oregon coast), Eugene, Portland, Seattle, and Bellingham. We stayed in a log cabin in the woods at the home of Ray Bakke, Jill's mentor and doctoral advisor. We could write a book about the amazing people and places we visited.

Perhaps that's onr reason it's so hard to write. There is too much to write about!

When we got back, we have been involved in a continuous round of peacemaking and interfaith activities. First, we attended an ICUJP event honoring Rev James Lawson. Then  I helped organize an interfaith cafe at Orange Grove Meeting. The next weekend I was facilitator at a Peace Fest in Culver City.

In the midst of all this, Jill's book, our new "baby," finally appeared in print. I have been helping her to promote her book through her new blog and facebook page.

In addition to this activism, I have felt led to take steps to reconnect with Spirit at a deeper level. Last spring I heard about Stillpoint, a program that helps train spiritual directors. Jill expressed interest in spiritual direction, and Kathleen wanted to enroll in a program to become a spiritual director just before discovering she had cancer. It became clear to me that I needed to explore this aspect of the spiritual life.

I'm pleased to report that I found a wonderful spiritual director, my old friend Jochen Strack, who just graduated from the Sillpoint Spiritual Direction program this summer. I have been meeting with him once a month and it's been very helpful.

I also took part in the first Stillpoint "Spiritual Journey" session a week or so ago. Participants in this program commit to meeting for a full day once a month to focus on their spiritual lives. It's the first stage of preparation for becoming a spiritual director. My group consists of around eight women, half of them Episcopalians. It felt good to be among people who were focusing on the question: how is Spirit/God at work in your life? Where do you experience the Divine Presence?

There are also exercises and readings (such "Hidden Wholeness" by Parker Palmer, whom I know well through his involvement with Pendle Hill, the Quaker center for study and contemplation, where I studied for a year). I'm thoroughly enjoying this book, in which Parker talks about "circles of truth" that help us to get in touch with and reveal our inner life, our soul, in a safe setting.

He explains how he first encountered such circles of trust at Pendle Hill and spends nearly an entire chapter describing how Quakers create safe spaces for spiritual discernment. I smiled, remembering what Parker once said at a talk: "I have spent my career repackaging ideas I learned from the Quakers." And I am looking forward to the next Stillpoint session where I can experience such a circle of trust.

I am praying and hoping to find balance in my life--a balance between study and contemplation, prayer and action, writing and reading. Right now I have only glimmerings of this balanced life--memories of times when my life felt more balanced, and hopes that I am on the path to finding a more balanced life in the times to come. I trust that the Spirit is leading me: I just need to make time to listen.