I read an article recently suggesting that coloring has meditative benefits for adults, not just artistic benefits for children. It makes sense: coloring mandalas, for example, requires both the logic of the left brain and the creativity of the right brain. It turns out that googling "mandala" or "complex mandala" will turn up a boat-load of images that are free to print.
Here are some examples (clicking on any of the images will take you to the printable version of it):
I invite you to print one of these and color it as a meditation. Write down what your mood, sensations, and thoughts are beforehand, and when you're finished coloring, write an update. Does anything change? What do you notice? Are you pleased, indifferent, or displeased with your work and the time you spent on it? Why?
This is it. This is the year I'm going to write my first novel, and I'm going to begin from word one on November 1 in the annual NaNoWriMo event.
To write fifty thousand words in thirty days is no small task. Will I master this challenge? Will I be able to endure dry, uninspired, hopeless days and write 1,667 words anyway? Will I throw in the towel as I have so many NaNoWriMo's before?
I want this for myself. I want it because the writer in me has longed to be set free, to shine. I want it because my call to write has been so resoundingly clear for so long. It's time that I fully embrace that call.
My second daughter, like my first daughter at age one, likes to pull my books off my bookshelves and strew them about the floor. I glanced at the carpet today and noticed there one of the books I was introduced to during my spiritual direction training, Miriam Greenspan's Healing Through the Dark Emotions. Apart from having found the next book to put on my to-read list, I've also been reminded that the dark emotions--grief, fear, and despair--have the power to teach, to transform, and to heal.
As I've continued to discern my vocation from God, I have come to a new awareness: if I am to be a Benedictine Canon or a priest or any other thing, I must release every motivation to do so that is driven by grief, fear, or despair. My vocation cannot belong to grief, fear, or despair. It must belong to love.
That isn't to say I must become perfect before I become what I am called to be, because no one would be able to embrace her vocation if perfection were a prerequisite. It is rather to say that my call must resound in the key of love. My grief, fear, and despair teach me what is dissonant in the key of love, and their dissonance bears its own beauty. But love is ultimately the sound I seek; love is the sound of God's beckoning voice.
This morning my spiritual director sent me Richard Rohr's daily meditation e-mail. He wrote of John of the Cross' dark night of the soul:
You can’t go forward by “knowing” in the usual way, but only by experiencing. At some time in your life, I hope you are so ambushed by God, that God catches you by surprise. If you try to go by what you already know—John of the Cross makes it clear—you will pull God back into your pre-existent categories, and you won’t get very far. That is why most people stay with their childish faith.
When God leads you into a dark night, it is to deepen and mature your faith—which, by its very definition, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) The gift of darkness draws you to know God’s presence beyond what thought, imagination, or sensory feeling can comprehend. During the dark night the tried-and-true rituals and creeds of religion no longer satisfy or bring assurances of God’s love. (So you might get bored with church services for very good reasons too, but that is not the same as mere spiritual laziness or a lack of faith.)
God is calling you into deeper and closer intimacy, beyond anything you could achieve with your most sincere attempts, closer than you could even dream. But you must learn to proceed without any guarantees from your feelings or your intellect. That’s the only real way to grow in faith and divine love.
I wonder if that dark night isn't where my soul has made its nest over the last three months. For a long time--years and years--I have sought my life's value outside of myself. And I wonder if it hasn't been within me all along, in that deep place within which God's fiery life flickers.
I wonder now if I would find comfort in this dark night by writing not to or for or about others, but simply to God, my life's source. In intimate communication with God, could there be any doubt of my value? What would I discover?
Perhaps I, the expert in liturgical prayer, have been praying in the wrong way, with the wrong words. Perhaps my own words were the ones God beckoned from me. It is one thing to pray the psalms, and another to pray the psalms of one's heart. Is one thing to read God's word, and another to enflesh it.
Maybe what God is bringing to birth in me is not what I can do for others, but the birth of God's name for me: "Beloved."
Last night I had a friend over for dinner, and we talked and talked. We talked about a book we'd both read and laughed over because it was so awful. We talked about exciting and calming things that had happened since we'd last seen each other. She brought two roses cut fresh from her garden--the last two full ones she had on her rosebush. I handled the thorny stems gently as I transferred them to a vase and set them on the dining room table, and then we nibbled on lasagna I had made--her favorite food. We ate bread pudding that I had made from a recipe in the back of the dreadful novel we had read, and we agreed that it was the best part about the book. We talked quietly about the difficulties of our lives, and I spent a long time listening softly as she shared with me a difficult story that she hadn't yet shared with anyone else.
That, there--that is what spiritual companioning looks like to me. It is mutual presence, openness, attention to the details that matter, and easiness; it's the sharing of everything from joy to sorrow. It is listening without judgment. It is responding in love and with deep kindness.
I've spent a good deal of time noticing my weaknesses lately, but last night I noticed one of my great strengths. In my vulnerable listening, I am a strong companion. Out of silence, Spirit speaks through the tears and tremors and tentative smiles of my friend, and my heart perceives messages that run deeper than words.
But I have yet to fully accept the companionship of others when I am the one who brings tears, tremors, and tentative smiles. What trust it takes! What boldness, when trust has been violated in the past!
My friend inspires me to trust more readily when my fear might otherwise paralyze me. Step by small step, I inch forward. By receiving her trust, I expand my own capacity to trust, to draw Spirit's breath into my body and live.
A difficult lesson I've learned over the last few weeks is that my well-being depends on my willingness to be patient--patient with myself, patient with other people, patient with God.
It is easy to name wants in the immediate moment. It is hard to take the time to discern whether that want springs from the safest depths of my heart, rather than a shallow place of fear.
With this hard lesson I've received a consolation, though: in patience, I learn the difference between fear and love. I learn their respective shapes and signals and sounds. I learn how to be the person God imagines me to be, rather than the person I imagine myself to be.
I am so much lovelier and wonder-full than I would imagine myself to be. Patience grants me the gift of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching the horizon of wonder that is my small life--through God's eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands.
Amma, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
These days I find myself aware of how little control I have over a great many things.
I also find myself seeking warmth by the small flame of courage that burns in my heart.
Over the last few days, I've read about Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. I've been reminded that I am not she and she is not I, but we two are in relationship. And that is something. It is enough.
Today I am grateful for yesterday's sunrise, which took my breath away. I am grateful for the persnickety man who told me after that sunrise that I seemed mellow--an adjective that has been a stranger to me lately after many years of being a dear friend. I am grateful for those who have seen the fruits of my recent creative labors and found joy in them. I am grateful for the unflagging steadiness of my husband's and children's love. I am grateful for the prayers and kindness of all those who surround and buoy me with their loving intention.
I am so grateful to be alive on this new, precious day.