practicing my practice

I went on a day retreat recently.  I was there to hear Dr. James Finely speak.  For six years, Thomas Merton was Finely’s mentor and spiritual director.  Me, being a huge Thomas Merton fan, was intrigued to hear from someone who not only knew Merton but studied under him for so many years.  Little did I know that I would fall in love with Finely and his wisdom just as I have fallen in love with Merton and his writings.

One simple, yet profound, statement Finely shared was this:

 Find your practice and practice it. 

Find your teacher and follow it. 

Find your community and enter it.  

This hit my heart just where I needed it.  I was excited to come home and take this wisdom and make it my mantra for the next year or so.  Part of my practice will be reading Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island again. I will be reading it slowly, just one or two paragraphs at a time. I will be collecting some of my favorite quotes, pairing them with images that seem to hold those words, and posting them here monthly.

I have just begun, but I already have a few favorites.

sarahtulips

“A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found:

for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.”

 ~Thomas Merton

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“So love can only be kept by being given away and it can only be given perfectly wit it is also received,”  ~Thomas Merton

The words happy, love, and journey seem to be repeating themselves during my practice. Throughout the day, I will look for things that say these things- happy, love, and journey-to me and Instagram them.  I will be tagging these photos with #practicingmypractice.  If you see things that hold these words for you, please feel free to join me!  I would love to see what you discover.

enough

The first time I do anything, I am a bundle of nerves.  I like knowing exactly what to expect and how it will look and feel.  When I had the opportunity to show my work in a gallery for the first time, all my nerves got together and decided to throw a party.   After all the big decisions of what to show and getting my photos down to the curator, I had the smaller decisions to make.  What do I wear?  How early do I get there?  How late do I stay? What will I feel like afterwards?  I started reading blog posts and articles on the subject.  One recurring theme was the warning of the let down after the show was over.  Let down?  I just reached my big goal for 2014 and I am going to feel let down?

 

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Yes, yes I am. A few days after the show, a sadness crept over me.  I have spent some time processing it and I think I landed on why I am feeling this sadness and disappointment.  When I imagined my photos hanging on the walls of a public building, I imagined my heart knowing…. really knowing… that I was a photographer. Somehow, I thought I would believe in myself more.  I imagined that my heart and mind would change the way I felt about my work.  However, my heart and mind did not change that quickly.

 

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With some time, change did come.  For the first time in my journey of taking photographs, I realized wanted to please myself.  I think any photographer, or any artist, would say this is a huge shift in thinking.  Suddenly, what I think of myself and my work is the most important thing. I have finally answered the questions, “What am doing with my photography? What is reason behind each click?”  Ready for it?  I take photos because I love it. And with each click, I see light dancing on something and I must capture it.

Does this mean I don’t care what other people think of my photography or that I don’t want to hear if it moves them? No.  Every artist loves to hear those things. We long to inspire others.  We hope we touch hearts.  It means that I also long to inspire myself. It means I have become my own muse.  My love for light is all there is, and it is enough.

messy and loving it

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I started a 365 project this year.  I love looking into my big, beautiful kitchen sink.  I decided to take a picture of it one morning , and half kidding, told my husband I was going to do it everyday for a year.  He double dog dared me.  I am a sucker for double dog dares.  At first, I really loved the project.  Around February, I started getting bored.  March came and I started getting comments about my little sink project.  One day someone said, “I just don’t get it. When will you stop doing it?”  Something in me clicked.  I decided right there and then that I would finish my project.  Because art stirs emotion… even if that emotion is frustration and confusion.

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For me, however, my project isn’t at all confusing.  I know exactly why it is meaningful for me and it brings me joy.  Especially the really messy sinks.  They bring me the biggest joy.  They remind me that life is made of messes.   Messiness is what is left after play and work.  Messiness is what happens while making art.  And messiness is  necessary for authentic love.

A mess like this used to make me feel like I wasn’t good enough. I would live to clean.  I remember making dinner, cleaning all the dishes, then sitting down to eat.  A big pile of dirty dishes some how said I was a lazy good for nothing.  Now I know to look for the fruit of the mess.  Now I look at a big pile of dirty dishes and it reminds me of the wonderful meal I created.  I see love.  I see art.

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I am posting my sink project on instagram.  If you want to find some art in the middle of a messy kitchen, please join me.  I am using the hashtag #yearofthesink.

the ugly side of grace

Grace is a miracle.  Poems have been written about its beauty.  Songs have been sung declaring its praise. Stories have been told explaining its power.  And in each of these, there is first something horribly wrong and ugly that is in need of grace’s gentle touch.

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Just over eight years ago, I had the worst day of my life.  My husband told me that he no longer loved me, that he was in love with someone else, and that our marriage was over.  Just typing that sentence still breaks my heart.

We sold our big, beautiful home.  We both hired lawyers and started the divorce proceedings.   I started therapy. Our children started therapy. He started therapy. And I tried to start over.  I rented a small home in the neighboring city.  I tried my best to take care of the kids and create a new normal.   And I cried. I cried about the lies. I cried for my children. I cried at the thought of being alone.  I also prayed.  I prayed for hope. I prayed for joy.  I prayed that my soon to be ex-husband would be hit by a bus.  And secretly, in the depth of my soul, I prayed that by some miracle, we could be together again.

As the months went on, my lying, cheating husband began having a change of heart. Friends and family would come and tell me how he had changed.  How he was gentler… how he had been humbled.  I, understandably, wanted nothing to do with him.  I was not going to be a “weak” woman and take him back.  I remember sitting across from my dear friend, Susan.  She was telling me how much he had changed and how much he wanted his wife back.  I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I will never, never take that bastard back.”  Without flinching, she replied with perfect love, “I don’t think never means what you think it means.”

The word never did not mean what I thought it meant.  This broken and afraid man had changed and he did want our marriage restored.  He started to pursue me.  He started asking for grace.

I had a huge decision to make.  Do I risk everything and take back a man who had stomped and crushed my heart?  Or, do I risk everything and start my life all over without the only man I had ever loved?  I was afraid, but I knew how I wanted my story to read.  I knew I wanted the miracle.  So, I sided with grace.  It was the most courageous thing I have ever done.  I learned that weak women don’t take their cheating husbands back.  Kick ass women do.

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One of my favorite songs is Grace by U2.  Here is the last verse:

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

And that is the main problem with grace… it only comes after pain.  Grace can only intervene when there has been heartbreak and hurt.  It was made for the ugly things.

I am not going to lie, it wasn’t easy.  The divorce was so far along, that we had to pay our lawyers to stop it.   For the first few years, many of our days were painful and rough.  However, now that I am this far from the climb out of the ugliest place of my life, I can see the fruit of grace.  My marriage is a place of utter safety and freedom.  My husband and I feel more loved and known than we ever have before, and in a deep and honest way.   We are naturally hopeful in seemingly hopeless situations.  When life throws us or our friends a curve ball, we have hope that love will win and time will heal.  Mostly, we are extremely graceful.  Not only with each other, but with ourselves.

Now, when I hear poems, songs, or stories of grace, I hear my story.  I feel the pain and ugliness that must come.  I cry for the hopelessness that must proceed it.  I morn the dreams that must die.  All the ugly is worth knowing and feeling the fullness of grace… to completely feel hope… to completely feel the rebirth.  I know that choosing grace was not only the craziest thing I have ever done, but also the bravest.  It gave me one of the most beautiful miracles I have ever witnessed… my marriage.
I am doing this blog prompt with some amazing women.  Start with Susan’s blog, then click on through to read more about grace.

 

finding shelter

I have never been one to fast for lent. I did watch my Grandmother and Grandfather practice lent. They would cut out sweets for forty days. My darling Grandfather would slowly change it to all sweets that weren’t chocolate. Then finally, all sweets that weren’t chocolate and ice cream.   And while fasting something for forty days is a good thing, I am not sure it would help my heart prepare for Easter.   I have tried to do devotionals for lent the past few years, but it isn’t something I have kept up with for the whole forty days. By the 19th day, I am overwhelmed with life and I skip one day.. then two… then give up on the whole darn thing.  Shame is not something I think lent should be producing.

While away on a spiritual retreat this weekend, my wonderful friend, Megan, mentioned that she wanted to add something, not take away something, for lent. My heart leaped.  I knew adding a something small and meaningful was just what my heart desired.  She had just learned the beauty of the prayer shawl or the tallit.  She had a beautiful experience of spending five minutes under a tallit over our weekend.  Tallit translates to “little tent.” In Psalm 61:4 is says, “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!”  Yes! This is what my soul longs for. This is what I will be adding to my forty days of lent.

Each morning and evening during lent, I will spend three minutes under my tallit.  I chose morning and evening so that I could start and end my days with God. I chose three minutes symbolizing the three days Jesus spent in the tomb.  I will set aside time to shelter under His wings. I will take refuge in Him.  I will sit and just be.  Other than that, I do not have an agenda. I am not doing a devotional.  I am simply sitting under His wings and taking refuge in Him in a purposeful and tangible way.

Would you like to join us in our journey?  We are talking about our experiences here on this facebook page.  If you do not have a traditional tallit, you could use a scarf or blanket.  I did find a beautiful tallit on amazon. I like the idea of having a special garment set aside as my refuge and tent.

I am praying that our forty days, whether we fast something, add something, or do nothing at all, is a holy time that brings us closer to a big God that adores us.

new

My word for 2014 is BECOME.  When making a list of what I want to become in 2014, closer to my Creator and grounded in truth topped my list.  I started pondering how I could make that happen. 
Then I remembered how I became a better photographer.  I surrounded myself with photographers that were better than me.  I watched how they shot, what equipment they used, and how they saw light.  I decided I would surround myself with women with strong spiritual lives that I respected. I would watch how they live, see what they surround themselves with, and learn to see how they see.  For 2014, I will be doing a blog roll project with these four amazing women.  We will pick a theme to write about and post to our blogs once a month.    
For January we chose the words new or beginning.   I really love new things…. new journals, new shoes, new crayons, new days,  and new lenses.   I don’t, however, always love new ways of being or thinking.  If I am out of shape, I don’t want to do something new by working out and eating right.   If I am finding myself surrounded by junk and piles of unorganized papers, I don’t start finding a proper place for things. If every person that crosses my path pisses me off, I don’t want to find a new way of thinking.   If I am dry spiritually, I don’t want to do something new by slowing and quieting my mind and heart. Habits are hard to break, even if they are bad habits. When I do start making new habits, things slowly begin to change.  I find my body moves better and feels stronger.  I no longer stress about where I have put this or that.  I find patience and grace for others, and ultimately myself.  I hear the Comforter tell me I am His beloved and I am surrounded and filled with His love. 
If these new habits bring good things, why don’t I always see new with excitement?  I think I expect perfect change and quick results. I need to remember that I don’t need to change all my bad habits quickly.  I liken it to waking up in the morning and not wanting to turn on the light because it will hurt my eyes.  New doesn’t need to be like that.  New doesn’t need to turn on like a switch.  It can be a slow, steady thing… like the dawn of a new day. 
I had the pleasure of shooting a roll of film during the dawn.  As each minute passed, I clicked one more photo.  I was reminded of the gentleness of dawn.  I was reminded of the hope a new day brings. I was reminded how she slowly surrounds you.   
As you travel through this dawn, I would encourage you to be just as gentle with yourself this year as the dawn is with the day.  We don’t need to lose all the extra pounds by February. We don’t need have our house Pinterest organized by the end of the week.  We don’t need to love each person perfectly by summer. We don’t need to feel like Thomas Merton by Friday.  We can move slowly into the new.  

I am doing this project with some amazing women.  Please visit my friend Cheryl’s blog then roll on through to the others.   
Photos taken with my Mamiya m645 1000s, 80mm extension tube 1, Kodak Portra 400.