A Time for Listening

Taking the last swallow of morning coffee, I plunked the empty mug in the sink, picked up my gardening gloves from beside the back door and headed outside with the dog.

The sun was just beginning to appear over the thick pines surrounding my yard, and the garden was still in shade. A neighboring partridge whirred through the underbrush on his way home, and Rufus, my intrepid West Highland terrier, shot off to investigate.

Chuckling, I turned my attention to the garden. A couple of weeks ago, it was beautiful. A bouquet of tall sunflowers in the middle had been surrounded on all four sides by successive plantings of lettuce, beans, and carrots throughout the cool Vermont summer.

Since then, however, chickadees and titmice had stripped the sunflowers bare, and the shorter days had discouraged the beans from flowering. The carrots were still snuggled in their burrows, of course, but the lettuce—Little Gems, my husband’s favorite Romaine—were starting to get that translucent look that signifies impending wilt or insipient bolt.

I pulled a big, woven basket out from its hiding place beneath a tree and began to pull up the beans and any errant weeds. In half an hour, the basket was full and an exhausted Westie had returned to sprawl in the cool grass beside me. He had assured the family’s safety from marauding partridges, and was now content to lie down, ears pricked, and listen to the wind.

I finished weeding, then sat on the grass beside him. “That old partridge outfox you again?” I asked. I ruffled the dog’s coat, inhaled the sweet morning air, and listened with him.

This is my favorite time of year. It’s a deep, slow breath between late summer vacations, soccer sign-ups, and early fall chores like taking out the screens, painting the house, making applesauce, and preparing the garden for winter.

It lasts only moments. But in a world with too many abrupt changes—in places, people, and lives—the breath between summer and fall offers a gentle transition that slows us down and gives us time to listen to our lives.

It gives us time to notice the Canada geese arriving on my neighbor’s pond at dusk with a feathery splash, and like good houseguests, taking themselves off immediately after an early morning breakfast.

It gives us time to notice the hummingbirds gathering in my clearing as they tank up on nectar from the feeder, then take off like small feathered emissaries headed for Central and South America.

How do they know when it’s time to go? How do they know where they’ll find food? How will they keep track of their children? Do they simply take off and have faith that what they need will be provided?

Do I? Could I just hop in the car and head south without credit cards and reservations? How would my life be different if I did?

I looked down at Rufus, content in the morning sun. And listened more deeply.

©Ellen Michaud 2010

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Tending to the Holy

Curled up in a comfortable old reading chair beside the morning fire in my cottage, I nudge the dogs off my lap, reach for a steaming cup of chai, and pick up Bruce and Katherine Epperly’s book, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.My morning lectio divina is a simple sentence that had caught my attention yesterday as I was reading their book: “Spiritual practices enable us to bring to conscious awareness the Spirit’s `sighs too deep for words’ (Rom. 8:26) that give both guidance and comfort.”

Yes, I think, closing my eyes to better hear those sighs moving lightly through body and soul. Inhaling slowly, I sink into their rhythm, open my heart, and listen deeply.

A prayer rises up within me, but it has no words. A part of me struggles to find them, but they’re not there. And I begin to wonder: Are they necessary? Are they ever necessary? Or is the deliberate, conscious deepening of my normal day-to-day awareness of God’s Presence the most glorious prayer of all?

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Today’s Blessing

The rains have stopped. The winds have stilled. And the clear prairie sunlight spreads over this small section of Indiana where God has sent me.

The Quaker Meetinghouse at Earlham School of Religion

My task is to help 10 highly intelligent and perceptive men and women–all graduate writing students at Earlham School of Religion–see with clarity the gifts that have been hidden within them, quietly growing, until ready for harvest.

They are such a joy. They are all men and women who care passionately about their faith and the readers they will serve. They are meant to question, to discover, to reveal, to unveil and to puzzle over everything from how many angels can fit on the head of a pin to how to comfort the smallest, the meanest, and the most hurting of those among us.

They are a blessing. And as I see the light in their eyes as they realize their gifts, the concentration as they take careful and cautious first steps forward, I realize: These are children who will illuminate the darkness.

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Today’s Blessing

A gentle rain. Indiana is parched—its grasses yellowed, its corn stunted, its people exhausted by the relentless heat.

a gentle rain

But, today, here in Richmond, we are nurtured by a sweet moisture that renews .

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Summer Reading

Now that my gardens are flourishing and the spinach harvest is in the freezer, I’ve been spending the summer curled up on the porch with a stack of books. Have been invited to be the writer-in-residence at Earlham School of Religion and am prepping for the graduate seminars I’ll be teaching this summer and fall.

My cup runneth over.

“Writing for God” is first up in a couple of weeks; “Writing Literary Nonfiction” begins at the end of August. So now I’m up to my ears reading and thinking about story theology, narrative nonfiction and how God sends writers—in all media, in all languages, in all countries throughout the world—to illuminate the subtlest movements of Spirit and provide accompaniment through the dark. Am I incredibly blessed or what? Double-click on the photo to see the titles of some of the books I’m reading.

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Blessed Spring

The tulips are up, the late spring daffs in the rock garden are tumbling down the hill, and a sour cream lemon pound cake has just emerged, warm and moist, from the oven. Blessings flow!

Lemon Cream Cake

Daffs Tumbling through the Rock Garden

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