"The meaning we attach to things matters. In my experience, it gives itself to us as grace over and over again."
Dear Ones: My little boys lived every child’s dream yesterday as their school declared a SNOW DAY!!!!! After a lazy early morning, we headed over to the gulley – a natural space in our urban neighborhood – to play in the snow. Amid our play, the sound of the creek purling behind me came into my awareness. It recalled my cross-country ski adventure from last month and The Flow I talked about last time I wrote. And a similar memory snuck in, too. A snowshoe trek with my favorite college girlfriends many years ago, during which I also stood in wonder amid a babbling brook flowing under deep snow.
In the middle of a snow day, while playing with my kids, dealing with my own upended plans, and preparing to head out to work in a mere hour, the creek flowing through the gulley gave me the gift of a couple precious seconds of contemplation. The sound of the creek drew me into previous insights and meaningful memories. My awareness of it, opened me to an awareness of God’s presence - always with me and too often overlooked.
The time we take to create meaning in our lives matters. The little bit of intention we invoke to connect meaning to a certain sound or sight in nature, or a gesture we offer in relationship, or a name or nickname we give to something or someone makes a difference. In my family, flickering indoor lights indicate my grandpa’s presence from the other side of the veil. A red cardinal is an invitation to remember my husband’s Grandma Pat. In our house, when I ask my boys, “Guess what?” they know the appropriate answer is, “You love me.” The meaning we attach to things matters. In my experience, it gives itself to us as grace over and over again.
In my Christian tradition, we are beginning the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday was yesterday – a day our foreheads are marked with ash, and we are invited to “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I love this ritual. For me, its meaning has evolved and changed over all the years of my life I have engaged in it. This year, I discovered an Ash Wednesday liturgy written by Rev. M. Barclay at enfleshed. The liturgy changes the Ash Wednesday refrain just a little bit from the one I referred to above. Barclay’s liturgy says, “From dust we were created, and to dust we will return.” For many people, this ritual can be uncomfortable because it so blatantly reminds us of our mortality – our death. (“To dust you shall return.”) If there was ever a year, we did not need the reminder it would be this year. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, death is all around us in ways many of us have never experienced before. Barclay’s beautiful liturgy works on me a bit differently. For me, this year, I hear an invitation to come alive to the promise of Christ’s presence with me every step of the way in my life. “From dust we were created, and to dust we will return. Christ is with us at the very beginning and the very end. And Christ is with us in every moment in between.
In this season of Lent, how might you play with and explore the rituals and meaning making you engage in your own life?
What is a meaningful ritual you have in your life? When was the last time you got to partake of it? What was its gift to you in the moment? What are the fruits it bears in your life in the aftermath?
When have you intentionally attached meaning to something? Does it keep showing up? What difference has it made? If you can’t think of an example, what meaning can you create today in your life? (After you create it, remember to keep watch for how it shows up again down the road.)
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DanaLee Simon is a Pastor and Spiritual Director, living in Salt Lake City, UT. When she’s not hiking in the mountains or playing with her two little boys, she meets with people in one on one spiritual direction, leads retreats (virtually, these days), and teaches classes on self-compassion and group spiritual direction. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.