Welcome to Margaret's Bench

Here you'll find postings that tell of Margaret's further adventures on the spiritual path.

Prisoner of Hope

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
—Zechariah 9:12

Prisoner_of_Hope1 [Read more…]

Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution

Gold sun

When I look at the world outside myself, I see a marvelous place. Beauty everywhere.

I see that life goes on, and that every life has its own joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats. Its own love story. No one is to be pitied, unless we are all to be pitied. [Read more…]

A Thanksgiving Reflection – Time On Our Side

If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Went to church on Thanksgiving morning. I got to be one of the lectors, my all-time favorite church job. Had the great pleasure of reading aloud these perfect-for-the-day words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8. (Emphasis added by yours truly.)

During sermon time, members of the congregation stood and said what we were thankful for.

Jane stood and said she was thankful for life. The goodness of life. She didn’t mention that her husband Bob and a beloved daughter-in-law had both died during the past year. But she was among friends; we knew those facts. They were with us, hovering behind and between her truthful words.

Mary stood and spoke about her beloved companion Ruff, who also died this past year. She told about praying with friends at the vet’s office during his last moments of life. Later in the service, Mary carried Ruff’s ashes with her up to communion.

I stood and said that, as the years go by, I grow more and more thankful for time. The way, over time, things look different, and that’s a good thing. I’m thankful that, as time passes, it seems to be possible to actually gain small bits of wisdom.

I happened to stand up after Jane and before Mary, but I didn’t mean my words to refer to either woman’s grief, or to how “time heals all wounds.” Wouldn’t presume, and not sure it works that way anyway. I was just talking about myself. That’s what we do, most of the time.

And when speaking of those small bits of wisdom that come with time, I didn’t mean to deny the wisdom of youth, to imply that the young are foolish and the old wise. The young have their own wisdom. We oldsters delude ourselves if we think that we can retain youth’s wisdom in its entirety, and just pack on more sagacity over time.

No, something of youth’s wisdom is lost across the passing years. A type of courage, maybe, that comes from having your whole life in front of you.

And yet, something is gained in time as well. Only now, looking back, can I see the good in it. Time brings the possibility of forgiveness, and the possibility of healing. Forgiveness for sins that, when committed, seemed unforgivable. Healing of wounds that, when inflicted, felt fatal.

Over time, life offers new possibilities. You move along the path, and your perspective changes. At certain moments, the way ahead broadens into a wide plain. More aspects of life comes into the fold of understanding.

You suffer more, and so come to a better understanding of  the nature of suffering. And of its ubiquity. As a result, compassion grows.

Heroes fall before your eyes and turn into human beings. Villains weep in your presence and turn into human beings. So the fold enlarges, and enlarges again.

I’m thankful for time, for its breadth, and for the possibilities that lie all along its path — past, present, and future.

Dear God, help me open my arms and embrace this life I am given. Grant me the courage to examine the past with compassion, to live in the present with a whole heart, and to look ahead with hope. Amen.

Off to Seabeck Haiku Getaway

Two Double SpiralsDear readers,

I am off to the Seabeck Haiku Getaway for the weekend, where I’ll lead a session on making and walking the spiral labyrinth. It will be fun to see what the haiku poets write on & about the labyrinth!

This means I’ll be off line for a few days, but will return to the conversations next week.

blessings on all your paths,

Margaret

 

The New Courtyard – Coming Together in One Place

The Winding Road

The Winding Road

I’m happy and excited to share with you the new, improved In the Courtyard, my web site devoted to creative attention to everyday life.

After months of planning and hard work, the various pieces of the Courtyard have come together in one unified space.

Our site transformation has 3 goals: [Read more…]

Sharing the Being of Being

From Margaret's Nature Journal

From Margaret’s Nature Journal

This morning when I settled in for centering prayer (meditation), a robin was chirruping — loud! — just outside. Then a frog — loud! — started to croak, I swear in time with the chirrups. As if answering back. [Read more…]

Colloquy On New Life – A Poem for Easter by Carolyn Temte

New HeartColloquy On New Life

 


Between

 


Ezekiel                                                &                                                Carolyn

A new heart I will give you,

A heart of clay
To shape, to mold
To give form as I desire

And a new spirit I will put within you;

A spirit of joy
A spirit of tolerance
A spirit of compassion

[Read more…]

Turning the Spring Compost

Mushroom near the compost pile

Scanned from my nature journal.

Mid-afternoon at the compost pile. Much rain lately. Right now, only an occasional drip from the trees when the air moves.

No … wait … starting to rain again.

Frogs calling back and forth in the woods, God bless them. The cluck of the neighbor’s hen, and then the rooster crows, and crows again. [Read more…]

On Holy Ground

The labyrinth at H.J. Carroll Park in Chimacum, Washington.

The labyrinth at H.J. Carroll Park in Chimacum, Washington, the way it looks most of the time.

On New Year’s Eve, I took a morning drive out to H.J. Carroll Park to help repair the labyrinth.

A day or two before Christmas, news had spread among local labyrinthers that the meditative path in the park was all kerfuffled.

Someone—likely more than one person—had come into the secluded glade, pushed stones around, cut branches off encircling cedars, and spread the branches on the labyrinth floor. [Read more…]

Happy Birthday to the Courtyard!

Can it possibly be six years? When I look through the Courtyard archives, I know it’s true. We launched this site in Advent 2006. Now Advent 2012 is just around the corner. And yet, the work still feels new to me … maybe because it is constantly re-inventing itself.

[Read more…]

Crossing Over Into Community

Gather a bunch of women to think and talk about community for a day, and ka-boom, you get a community.

Photo by James Hladecek

Forty women from seven local churches met at Grace Lutheran Church in Port Townsend on Saturday, October 6 for a day “Together On the Path – Crossing Over Into Community.”
This photo shows a light moment during introductions.
(All photos in this post by James Hladecek. My thanks to James for letting me share his images of the day.)

[Read more…]

Meditation for All Saints Day

“Do not let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  —  John 14:1-4

The Rev. Kenneth J. Scott, Fisherman

The Rev. Kenneth J. Scott, Fisherman

When I was a kid visiting my mother’s parents in West Virginia, my grandfather used to take my brother and sister and me fishing with him. First, we’d go to the backyard compost pile that fed my grandmother’s flower garden. [Read more…]

Dream Analysis With Bingo

Morning Walk

Heading off on the morning walk.

This morning’s walk begins as it always does, whether I have a dream to tell Bingo or not.

I snap on his leash and open the front door. Bingo rushes outside and dashes from one side of the porch to the other, sniffing all surfaces to the full extent of his extendo-leash.

“Let’s go this way, Mr. B.” Bingo leaps off the porch ahead of me and runs until the leash is almost taut. Then he slows to my pace.

About halfway up the driveway, Bingo discovers an interesting leaf on the ground under a madrone. He anoints it with his first pee of the day.

[Read more…]

Does a Dog Have Buddha Nature?

Bingo on the Labyrinth

Bingo in the courtyard labyrinth at my home parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Port Townsend.

I like my routines. Our dog Bingo likes his routines, too.

He wants us to do the same stuff every morning—say hello, take a walk, eat breakfast, settle into the day.

It’s just that Bingo wants to do these things as if we really mean it.

[Read more…]

Bless the Tangle

Bits and Pieces Found Along the WayBless the tangle
Whether it unravels or not—
It has brought me here

Diane, from the spiral labyrinth retreat at Shalom Prayer Center

On May 12, I joined with seven other women in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and we created sacred space together. [Read more…]

Creating the Path You Walk

The path is made by walking.    — African Proverb

Friends Kathleen and Johanna, helping me primp the labyrinth for a community labyrinth tour this spring. I met Johanna nearly 15 years ago, when she first taught me how to make a labyrinth.

Whenever I weed and re-set the rocks in our backyard labyrinths, each small task seems to open a door to a memory. And each memory connects to further encounters and mileposts, reaching out into all the pathways of life.

[Read more…]

Letting Go, and Letting Go

Swordfern – Letting go of winter

It’s Lent, and I find myself in a process of letting go, and letting go.

David and I are preparing two plots of our wooded acreage for spring sale. We’ll use the proceeds to build our cottage in town.

I’m ready and eager for the move to town, so my mind wants to fuss about how long it could take for all the dominoes to fall.

Dear mind, I tell the fussy critter, you just have to let that go. 

[Read more…]

What Is Nature?

Early last spring, a pair of rufous-sided towhees started a nest under the eaves of our front porch.

The ledge they chose seemed to be too narrow for the home that the birds wanted to build. [Read more…]

Feet and Pee – Stories of Attention and Change

QUUF LogoFeet and Pee — Stories of Attention and Change

A Sermon for a U.U. Fellowship

by

Margaret D. McGee

Today I’m going to talk about feet and pee, in stories of attention and change. [Read more…]

Blessing Teamwork

On a PilgrimageMay flowers spring up where your feet
touch the earth.

May the feet that walked before you
bless your every step.

Macrina Wiederkehr

Those are the first two lines of the blessing that Macrina Wiederkehr sent her friend Joyce Rupp before Rupp set out to walk the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago. [Read more…]

Happy Birthday to the Courtyard!

Happy Birthday to the Courtyard — five years old this month!

In 2011, we added new liturgical prayers by Ann Raymond and poetry by Christine Hemp and Bill Maxwell, as well as prayers, poetry, reflections, and homilies by yours truly.

New voices joined with old friends on the Lectio+Haiku page, including retreat participants from The Priory Spirituality Center in Lacey, Washington and Stillpoint at Beckside in Bellingham, Washington. It’s always a blessing — and so much fun! — to introduce this creative spiritual practice to new people.

[Read more…]

Flavors of Life, Flavors of Earth

Not quite ConcordsThe air cools. Darkness invades the start of morning and the end of afternoon. After rainfall, the earth stays moist for days on end. We are once again vacuuming up fir needles in the house, because the damp needles cling to our damp shoes.

And a little extra spark of anticipation comes with me on trips to the grocery store, because it is the season for Concord grapes.

[Read more…]

Clearing a Path

Cloppers in the woodsWhen clearing a new path, it is a lot more fun to hack away and move forward than it is to clean up the mess you are leaving behind.

This insight came to me while clearing a new path on the acre-and-a-half that David and I call Aunt Helen’s Land.

[Read more…]

Liking the Grayheads

My view of the hairdresser’s drape after a recent haircut. As usual, I’m surprised by just how much gray is mixed in with the brown.

Is it only because I’m older myself that old people look more interesting to me now, and young people less so?

haircut before travel
the snipped ends saltier
than expected

[Read more…]

In the Travel Zone

Dear Hotel Guest, Due to the popularity of our guest room amenities, our Housekeeping Department now offers these items for sale: Alarm Clocks, $25, Coffee Maker, $50.00, Hairdryer, $45.00, Pillows, $25.00.

And so on. The little plastic sign sits on a counter in my room at the airport hotel.  [Read more…]

Turning 60

Me and David at a river outside Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, shortly before my 60th birthday

Turned 60 last month.

That 6 felt kinda big. Drew me to look back over the accumulated years with a sense of wonder and even startled disbelief. Started picking over all the stuff, places I’d lived, relationships come and gone, choices that led down unexpected paths. (Do any of life’s paths turn out as expected?)

Then something—maybe it was the startled disbelief—made me turn, look the other way, and wonder, What will my life will be like five years from now? [Read more…]

My Father Was Zorro

It was 1958, another Thursday night in front of the television set.

Daddy sat in his easy chair, feet propped on the hassock, elbows resting on the little sleeves that kept the stuffing inside the chair’s frayed arms. We three kids sprawled on the oval rag rug.

Sometime between eight and eight-thirty, during Zorro’s commercial break, our father decided we were ready.

“It’s time you knew.” He reached for the bowl of popcorn on his TV tray. “The truth is, I’m Zorro.”

[Read more…]

Mother’s Pearl Pin

Mother's pearl pin and blue scarfI walk under tall hemlocks, opening and closing the black umbrella borrowed from my brother’s hall closet, cutting through the small park at the end of his street before circling back to the house.

cold mist
round a shaded pond
after mom’s service
ducks swim away from me
while ripples widen
[Read more…]

Come to the Party

You Are InvitedSend me a party invitation, and my first impulse is to look for a good reason why I probably can’t make it. Too many nightmare memories of the young Margaret standing against a wall or sitting on a couch, silent and aflame in her very own self-conscious isolation.

[Read more…]

Happy Birthday to the Courtyard!

Happy Birthday to the Courtyard—four years old and growing!

For its birthday this year the Courtyard got a makeover, and proud Mom (that would be me) thinks the kid is looking pretty good. [Read more…]

The Comfort of Old Flannel

The two old sleeping bags were rolled up at the back of an upper closet shelf in the bedroom for most of the time David and I lived in our current house, which is more than 16 years now.

Covered in faded green ducking, each bag had an extra flap of the tightly-woven material at the head. The flap, wrapped all the way around the roll, was secured by green cotton cords sewn into the hem and tied in bows. [Read more…]

The Beauty of Holiness

Illuminated Labyrinth at St. Paul’s

On September 23, 2010 (the evening of the harvest moon), Christine Hamby, with the help of labyrinth-lovers from the parish, created this illuminated labyrinth in the Parish Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Port Townsend, Washington. [Read more…]

Earlier Benches (2007 – 2010).

Link to Archives of Margaret’s Bench from December 2006 through December 2010.