As I walked this morning, I became aware of the bareness of winter branches and the beauty of naked tree limbs dark against the sky. The questions of winter stirred in me. This year a new one is emerging: When I let go of all the embellishments of my life, what is the core that remains? What constitutes the bare bones of my life?
I am reflecting on this question in a number of ways. Part of it is the literal level of the question. I have felt the impulse to make space lately in my home for something new that is emerging and yet unknown. Clearing things out has become a physical meditation. As I move into Sabbath time, my teaching load is reduced as well as my income, and I am needing to be very careful with money. Taking a sabbatical means more space, but it also means living my life more simply than I already do. I listen for what I can let go of for now. I ask myself what is worth the sacrifice for the freedom that comes with the gift of time? I also listen for the places I am invited into generosity and trust.
There are other ways I am stripping down though, more figurative ways. I am moving more deeply into my identity as an artist and writer, part of the core of who I am. I am reflecting on what is most important to me. Last Saturday one of my fellow Oblates died peacefully in her home with her husband by her side. I was praying for Mary over the weekend and reflecting again on the ways that death can lead us to ponder those things in life that feel most important, most basic, the bones of our lives. Sometimes I have moments of grace where I truly feel if I were to die in this moment I have lived my life fully and loved well. Of course, I hope for many more years of loving this world, but we never know when we will be taken to the place of barest bones, when we will return to dust.
Often the process of release that winter calls us into — the surrender of ego and things and desires — can reveal beneath all the foliage, a nest hidden in the brances. We suddenly discover in the letting go, a place within that is nurturing the tender young life always unfolding anew. We journey toward the new birth and sometimes it takes death for us to see it.
Mary was blessed with time to prepare for her death. She shared a beautiful vision she had with the Oblates that arose out of a labyrinth walk. She was given the gift of Sister Crow as a companion: "I saw her flying through the rosy dawn, bearing my soul (in the form of a maple seed) to heaven. I am on my way to becoming a new creation." She wrote these words to accompany a mandala she gave each of us a copy of:
Bless Mary in her becoming a new creation. Bless her family as they grieve deeply her loss and fill with oceans of sorrow. May we all recognize the new creation God is fashioning within us. In this season of waiting for new birth, we also know the ending of that story — a painful and unjust death — and then another new creation.
What are the bones of your life? What is most essential to your being? What is the nest that is hidden in your branches?
-Christine Valters Paintner