Getting Ready for the Big Storm

People are fascinated by talk of a BIG STORM. The weather professionals heighten our anticipation giving us a step by step breakdown of the storms impending arrival. We rush to the store for milk, bread and batteries.

Those of us with miles on our odometer hearken back to the ‘Great New England Blizzard of 1978’.   The ‘Blizzards of 2015’ which dumped nine feet of snow on our coastal town remain a vivid memory.

Blizzard of 1978

Storms have a way of bringing people together. In many ways it brings out the best in us. We check in on our neighbors, help out strangers.

Storms also highlight the precariousness of neighbors living on the streets.  I’ve been thinking about two friends in particular, Earl and Lyle (not their real names).  Earl is an alcoholic active in his addiction.  Lyle wrestles with mental illness and  self medicates with alcohol and drugs.

Earl and Lyle come to the church I serve for a hot meal, use the rest room or warm up in the hallway.  We’ve gotten to know one another.  I’ve learned about their past, their struggles, their hopes for the future.  I’ve come to see them as brothers, each of us doing our best to get by.

Tonight as I often do, I worry for their safety.  We have a limited emergency shelter system here on the North Shore.   Most shelters are ‘dry’, which means they won’t accept a person like Earl or Lyle if drunk or high.  The one ‘wet’ shelter for the most fragile of the fragile is full.

On this eve of the storm I’ll offer a prayer for my homeless sisters and brothers.  I’ll offer a prayer for city workers who plow our streets and first responders who do their best to keep us safe.  A prayer too for those who staff our shelters.

Tonight weather experts tell us the BIG STORM will come.  In the days following the temperature is forecast to plummet down to the single digits.

My hope is that we will take good care of each other.   My hope too is that we will recommit ourselves to strengthening our fragile social service safety net.  It will require an ongoing commitment and collaboration of faith communities, non-profits and government.

This storm will pass.  The need to take care of each other continues.

Contemplative Paddling

We live in a culture that celebrates our ability to spin many plates, both professional and personal. We also remain highly connected through multi-media, not the least being the ubiquitous ‘Smart Phone’.

I’m not writing to bemoan the state of our culture. There is a lot to be said for the ability to multi-task and staying connected to our immediate and wider community.

Yet there are times when our brain, heart and spirit ask that we let our plates drop (for a while) and tune out from technology (for a while). The reason is that physiologically, emotionally and spiritually we need time to rest, reflect and restore.

A wonderful way to do this is through contemplative paddling. Recently I paddled with a group from the church I serve. We met early in the morning on the banks of a local lake. Our instruction was to limit our talking and to paddle slowly. We were given a meditation mantra from the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in I calm my spirit….Breathing out I smile….(inhale) Living in the moment….(exhale) This is the only moment…”

Kayak lone paddler photo

As we paddled on the lake, we were invited to practice this mantra when we found our thoughts pulling us away from being present to where we were. Half the time we simply floated and allowed the wind to take us where it would.

As we slowly paddled or simply floated we found that our minds, hearts and imaginations slowly began to be filled with the simple and profound beauty that was under and around us. Those busy spinning plates or glued to their computer, were missing the beauty that we floated upon.

3000 years ago a Jewish prophet named Isaiah offered this: “Listen and your soul will live”. From the waters of the lake we listened deeply, to the call of a mallard duck, to the soft wind, to the hopes and dreams that slowly emerged as we paddled or floated.

There’s a reason Jesus often removed himself from the demands and busyness of life, to go to a quiet place to pray, to listen. In the late 19th century a mystic and theologian named Soren Kierkegaard said: “The Sacred is always present, simply waiting to be found.”

Sometimes all it takes is time on the water to rest, renew and restore one’s soul. Sometimes all we need to do is slow down to find that a blessing is simply waiting to be found.

Paddle well.