My eldest sister sent me a short presentation on the retirement of my grandmother. I had no idea of the influence she had had. There were newspaper articles celebrating her contribution, in particular founding the school library at Roosevelt in what was then Rhodesia.
I knew she had been a well loved teacher. But I was completely unaware of the influence that she did have. She retired at 71 – four years before I was born.
In this month when we celebrate the contribution of women, it is perhaps fitting for me to salute this woman. She clearly had great courage and great strength of will. She came out to Rhodesia from Scotland when she was 25 in 1925. No small move in those days.
She worked as a teacher for several years before marrying and having children. When she returned to full time work she took a position as an income tax assessor – the first woman in the country to have that role! She returned to her passion – teaching – ten years later.
She raised three children on her own. And took on this task of building this library when my mother was still a teenager.
As I look back now I recognise there must have been so much more to her than I ever realised. But families are never simple and she died when I was 15.
It is decades too late to speak in person, but I salute my Granny Appleby – my mother’s mother – nonetheless.
Cynthia Bourgeault speaks of Centering Prayer as a practice of kenosis. A practice of surrendering one’s thoughts through the use of the centering word.
Richard Rohr and Jim Finley are both slightly more pragmatic – it is an opportunity to encounter failure and keep on trying.
James Alison would frame it as allowing our desires to be shaped by the desires of God.
How one understands what happens is almost immaterial. It remains true for most of us that for the vast majority of time we cannot sustain not getting caught by any particular thought for a 20 minute period.
We can try, and the attempt is valuable. It is in the attempt that consciousness is rewired. All we can do is to show up and try. The rare occasion it actually does give way to contemplation is not in our hands to achieve. All we can do is place ourselves in the path of least resistance.
It occurs to me that perhaps love between two people is not dissimilar (and I mean any kind of relationship from close friendship to spouse). In recent years I have made a commitment to be as honest as I can be in my close friendships. The result is not always comfortable.
What is most evident is how often misunderstanding and miscommunication are in play. The attempt to show up as most fully myself is a business of trial and plenty of error.
Mostly I fail.
But the attempt to show up is the act of love.
There is miscommunication and there is misunderstanding, but if we are both able to presume generosity of spirit, then all is grist to the mill.
The me that is showing up is not the socially conditioned me, it is version of me which is closest to my True Self as I am capable of today. I’m not sure there is anything else.
I’m grateful to those those who have been willing to enter this space with me. And I am grateful that occasionally it does break open into a feeling of loving and being loved.
On Saturday I wandered into Greenpoint Park and walked the labyrinth. While I was slowly making my way out, a family came along. The two little girls, aged about 5 and 7, joined me. They rushed around jumping through gaps, the elder instructing the younger on what not to do. Both were slightly wary of the woman slowly walking around and around.
After successfully getting to the center (several times, using multiple ‘routes’) they left. As they departed the older one commented decisively ‘This maze is useless!’
She was right. As a maze it was utterly pointless.
Her declaration was useful to me though – it got me wondering…
When we get caught up in being successful and achieving and reaching goals that only have status meaning in the microcosmic world which we inhabit, life can feel a bit like a maze. But what if it is actually a labyrinth…
How many of us are desperately trying to solve the riddle rather than simply being present?
When we begin the labyrinth we don’t the exact path we are going to take, but we know we’ll get to the center eventually, and then we will walk back out. If we take each step slowly and deliberately, and if we try to remain present (even with interruption of little people) something will happen.
If we take each step through life slowly and deliberately, putting in the effort we should, some successes may well come. There will be a few curve balls, and perhaps some unexpected crushing disappointments. But I am sure my success is more likely with this approach than trying to ‘solve the maze’ anyway.
So I am left asking myself where am I still trying to conquer the maze when I am really called to walk the labyrinth?