Saturday, October 1, 2016

Living From The Heart

It’s the strangest thing, really.  I’ve never been much of a baker.  But suddenly I found myself wondering about notes in mom’s recipe box and eyeing the bread pans in that lower drawer.  Noodling about the qualities of ‘chew’ and tasting the salts and dried herbs in my cupboard.  And feeling curious…is it true that wrapping a loaf in foil protects it from drying yet won’t turn the crust soft?  I found a book called “The Spirituality of Bread” and wandered down memory lane revisiting loaves across the globe.  Czech rye, French croissants, Italian ciabatta, German soft pretzels, English crumpets, San Francisco sourdough, grandma’s cornbread, bagels from Polish street vendors, Ethiopian injera, fresh warm tortillas, Alabama buttermilk biscuits, mom’s cinnamon rolls, a whole grain loaf from Katie’s oven three houses down, rosemary flatbreads baked over the Easter morning beach fire, croutons toasted on my stovetop, flatbread pizza at our favorite date spot after Taize.  And the elements they’ve been paired with.  Herb infused olive oil and decadently syrupy balsamic vinegar, warm goat cheese and parsley, crumbly parmesan, sauerkraut, garlicky hummus and bright green pesto straight from my food processor, the dozen mustards in my fridge, a loose pack of arugula and a runny yolk poached egg, my own Caesar salad dressing, spicy pizza sauce, a smear of avocado with a sprinkle of sea salt, homemade raspberry jam, thickly sliced tomatoes, Dad’s pickled herring, fire-in-your-mouth lentils, chopped egg with fresh dill.  I envisioned a weekly bread-making Friday with Oliver, his little hands kneading away, flour dusting his nose, music playing in the background, a special little bread-making blessing created just for our morning.  And sharing the loaves….I sketched in my mind a family-oriented communion meal around our table with friends….a blend of tasty evening nibbles, a beautiful salad, an awe-inspiring wine, the ceremonial slicing of the center loaf, a sensory liturgy.  So I searched for flour blends and bought the yeast packets and…..  Well, that’s all.  That’s as far as it got.

Somewhere in the middle of the baking aisle, the romance and the reality collided.  The flour dusting on Oliver’s nose turned into a bag of flour dumped all over the floor.  The yeast packet turned into yeast lost because the water was too cold and it never activated.  The sweet time with my boy turned into the frustrations of parenting.  The gathering devolved from an I’m-perfectly-ok-with-child-energy-around-the-table vision to a let’s-just-get-through-this disappointment as the buzz of evening meals with lots of little people peppered my imagination.  The airy quality of the loaves we were making fell flat.  I couldn’t decide on meal accompaniments.  Would Oliver take a nap that day and be good to go, or would he be unable to sleep and turn into a hot mess around 4:37pm?  I wanted to open the bottle now.  Forget it, I thought.  It can’t work to host these things in this season of life.  Just forget the whole thing.


The voice was quiet.

There’s a fresh loaf there on the counter.


There’s a bottle in the pantry.

There is?

Sit.  Eat.  Drink.  Do this in remembrance of ME.


I'm part of a 9 month cohort in a course called Living From The Heart offered through The Selah Center (which I also work for....full disclosure).   Each module folds together a cohort day retreat, ongoing individual spiritual direction, a soul care group, reading, reflective project, and contemplative practices.  This is my reflection launching from our opening retreat, David Benner's Surrender To Love, and Henry Nouwen's The Way of the Heart.

©2016 Mindy Danylak

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Breathing Underwater

In fifth grade I was invited to a school friend's birthday party.  I remember sitting in the car after school one day, seeing my friend's mom jump out of their car and talk to my mom for a minute.  When she slid back behind the steering wheel, Mom said that there would be a movie shown at the party and my friend's mom just wanted to make sure it was ok for me to see it.  Apparently it was ok because I went to the party.  The movie, Splash, is the only thing about the party that I remember.  Other than the old reel-to-reel films shown in school and the time Mom took my sister and I to see The Sound of Music at the public library, I'd never seen a movie before.  Any movie.  Ever.  And I haven't seen Splash since but I still recall scenes from it in vivid detail....Daryl Hannah as the mermaid in a lab tank, incompatible salination of the water causing her distress and making her tail flake and and vision prompting Tom Hanks to shed his known life on the beach and risk diving into the waves at the end, discovering not only companionship in life but that he could breathe in his new, underwater world.

Fast forward several years to my sophomore year of high school.  My brother had a Nintendo system our parents had given him.  We didn't have a TV so we played games on the computer monitor they'd gotten for the Nintendo.  I'm not sure what prompted it but we decided to rent a movie.  Dead Poets Society.  (The irony of that choice is not lost on me.)  We picked up the movie and a VCR (also rentable at that time) and headed home where we escaped to the basement to hook up the VCR and watch the movie on that computer monitor.  That is, after shutting up the house like we'd all died.  Blinds closed on all the windows.  Doors locked and deadbolts secured.  Every upstairs and outdoor light turned off.  No one could know we were watching a movie (was it a Saturday night? if so, then especially then).  No one should know we were even home.  Even the door from the garage to the kitchen was locked, a door no one could have reached unless they'd broken into the garage to begin with.  To have any chance of seeing the flicker of a screen, someone would've had to have parked, come along the side of the house, opened a tall gate, and snuck down to the middle of the lower level of the backyard in order to peer in through a single window....a venture likely to be unsuccessful because we'd pulled the blinds down.  None of those things....breaking into the house, sneaking around the property....would have been undertaken by the kind souls in our church.  Our ministers did have a key so the element of being surprised was certainly real, but they generally didn't come in the evenings.  Definitely not on a Saturday night.

Many watchings of Dead Poets Society (and other movies) later, we were old pros at the routine.  Go get the movie, come home and secure the house, steal away downstairs.  At the hint of the doorbell, the volume would be silenced.  The walls in that house were 10" thick and the front door a floor away, but there wouldn't be any taking chances.  I'm not sure what we thought would happen in the extraordinarily unlikely case that we were 'found out'.  One of my aunts was married to a man who wasn't in the church and they had a TV in their basement, we'd heard of others who had one in their closet, I dated a guy whose family actually went to the theater....something I did for the first time my senior year when my AP American Lit class went to see Huckleberry Finn during school hours.  And nothing bad happened.  But hide away we did.  Movies were not allowed.  And while my family walked the line on some things, that wasn't one of them.  At least, not publicly.

A few years later when we were moving towards leaving the church our leaving was a closely kept family secret until the very last minute.  You don't grow up in this group unscathed.  You certainly do not walk away from it without consequence.  My mom was adamant that she was leaving on her own terms, not being excommunicated, and my parents knew a number of people to whom that had happened.  The upheaval would be difficult enough...uprooting from the center of life-long social and cultural connections....choosing something that would automatically disrupt extended family ties for a long while and bring a swift end to friendships...  We did a lot of work ahead of time to try to mitigate some of the impact that leaving would bring, but you can't necessarily mitigate the relationship side of that kind of thing.

Over sushi downtown last weekend, a dear friend asked me what my life would be like if I'd stayed in the group.  Tears came to my eyes.  I found myself unable to even think such a thing.  When I was 19 I'd determined to leave no matter what, even if that had to happen before my parents were ready to leave.  I wasn't sure how that would play out, and I had some fears about how it would affect them if that were to be the order of how it happened, but I knew I was done.  I lived my entire life with that tension....being inside and trying desperately to live authentically but even as a child not completely buying into it.  If I'd stayed...I can't imagine.  I'd be utterly depressed, possibly suicidal.  You cannot have your spirit squashed the way mine was and survive.  Which is why I knew I had to get out.

I knew it would all be worth it.  So worth it.  Not without considerable costs, but gaining something invaluable.  Discovering that what you trust to be true is actually true....that you can, in fact, breathe underwater.

©2015 Mindy Danylak

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Monday of the Third Week of Lent: Prayer

The moment my baby boy was born he was placed on my chest where he rested quietly for the next four hours.  We were each attended to with him lying right there.  He gazed at me and blinked but mostly he was still and watchful as we began the process of seeing one another.  I did not experience childbirth as particularly painful; rather, intense.intense.intense, and demanding complete focus, relaxation, and calm.  I felt good when he arrived but I was admittedly exhausted.  It had been hard work.  Very hard work.  "Thank you Jesus!" were my spontaneous words when he finally emerged.

Three days later I stepped into the shower at home and the tears finally came, streaming until the water ran cold.  I believe tears are one of the body’s deepest languages.  There was simply so much to express…my entire life frame moving from pregnancy to labor to birth in a matter of hours, the profoundly cellular engagement every nerve of my body participated in during those hours.  There is no way to process any of it as it happens…you just move through it moment by moment and go about the integrating work later.  But that work happens on the go, blended with the early days of having a newborn and moving into a new life.  Over the coming weeks and months I would find myself at my wits’ end, depressed and feeling utterly lost.  It seemed nothing was the same and I was unfamiliar to myself.  I was tired, yes, although that wasn’t the hardest part.  My baby had a dream temperament but I was in the throes of an adjustment that felt more like crawling through thick mud at midnight.  There were some very, very dark days.  I recall one afternoon when my sweet babe was barely a month old, sitting with him in the bedroom, tears drenching my face and thinking, "I have died.  Something in me has died, and it's just going to be this way.  Maybe in a few years I’ll come back but right now I’m just gone.”

Richard Rohr calls the soul the place where the human meets the divine.  While my prayer upon my son’s birth was a two word offering of gratitude, my prayers during the ensuing several months were one word long.  Or less.  And some combined with words I rarely use.  And there were lots of those prayers.  I gave up mascara for the first few months because I cried so much.  I don’t recall exactly but I think the leaves had turned colors before my husband could leave for work most days without seeing me in tears.  But trying to feel God in the midst of the blur kept me closer to some semblance of self-connection even as I felt pretty unhinged.  Often crying was all the language I had, and I used it unsparingly.  I had to.  And I couldn’t help but do it.  I had to voice what was going on in some way.  And it helped remind me that I was actually alive, with a sliver of hope in my heart.  My soul was right there.

I don't have strong traditions around Lent, but this year Jonathan and I are reading through a collection of poetry, one each evening.  The poets range from Alcuin to Anne Bradstreet to Bob Dylan, and span several centuries with everything from slave spirituals to church hymns to modern day jazz lyrics.  We're loving it.  A couple weeks ago I posted a beautiful piece from Joyce Rupp and this evening I have to share George Herbert's thoughts on prayer.  Prayer can be a bit of a moving's not an end in itself but it somehow seems prone to gathering moss along the way, becoming a 'technique' with a list of required elements, and often laden with expectation.  Herbert disallows that.  His list is a little more sunny than I’d like – there are some less “pretty” ways of authentically praying that he doesn’t mention – but I like it nonetheless.  There have been times when I’ve borrowed ancient prayers and times when I’ve cried out with a simple “Help” and times when my heart was simply known to God.  I’m confident we could all add our own lines to Herbert’s list...the varied ways in which people pray is limitless.  For me, this sonnet underscores the living nature of prayer, the breathing of it.  As I reflect this Lent on the past several months, I’m grateful – deeply grateful – for the voice of prayer, for the intertwining of rest and movement in life even when it feels stuck, and that prayer, even when all seems as dross, is yet dynamic as a reach toward hope and liveliness.

Prayer the Church's banquet, Angels' age,
     God's breath in man returning to his birth,
     The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almightie, sinners' towre,
     Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
     The six-daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
     Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
     Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The Milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

     Church-bels beyond the stares heard, the soul's bloud,
     The land of spices; something understood.

Prayer (I) by George Herbert, 1633

©2014 Mindy Danylak (except George Herbert poem)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Cosmos Dreams In Me

The cosmos dreams in me
 while I wait in stillness,
 ready to lean a little further
 into the heart of the Holy.

I, a little blip of life,
 a wisp of unassuming love,
 a quickly passing breeze,
 come once more into Lent.

 No need to sign me
 with the black bleeding ash
 of palms, fried and baked.
 I know my humus place.

This Lent I will sail
 on the graced wings of desire,
 yearning to go deeper
 to the place where
 I am one in the One.

 Oh, may I go there soon,
 in the same breath
 that takes me to the stars
 when the cosmos dreams in me.

-- Joyce Rupp --

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Seeing Through Fog

The small town I grew up in nestles near the foothills of the Blue Mountains.  In winter, fog settles in like a close friend, creating layers of gray that bathe everything like a soft focus lens.  To this day, I completely love fog....its gentle envelopment and quiet mystery.  I feel comforted and held by fog.  It's sacred space for me.  Rest and solitude.  Light and voice.

Where I live now, I am just a few minutes' walk from Puget Sound where vessels large and small make their way through the steel waters all night long.  This week, the fog arrived....mornings of opaque misty gray, amazing banks of clouds hovering over the waves, lit at night by the full autumn moon.  Tonight a symphony of foghorns sound their way across the water into my home.  It's cold out but my windows are open, inviting in the deep resonating tones as boats make their way through the night.  It's a lonely sound and a calling out.

My sweet baby is down, cuddled in soft pajamas and blankets, his ear inclined toward the open window and the foghorns across the way.  He had a long day with little napping so he's somewhat agitated in his sleep.  He cries out periodically and I go to him, offer the gentle pressure of my hand on his little body, lay my head next to his.  He gently sighs his way to letting go.  His tiny hands wrap mine to his chest even in his semi-sleep.  I listen to the foghorns as he sounds his way to rest, warm tears dampening my cheeks as the struggles of this journey flood my heart.  Even with moments of clarity and the growth of an intensely deep and abiding love, the last four months have been foggy.  This is so hard.  And this moment is so right.

I am saying goodbye to a friend this week, a woman I've known for a short period but whose space in my heart is marked indelibly.  Our tears today were hard.  Very hard.  I don't want to let her go.  I listen to the foghorns and reflect on her experiences.  She has taught me about reaching out, about making moves one at a time, about risks toward unseen hopes, about staying in and naming realities, about the "-ing" of faith and in human relationships.  She reminds me that we do not wrap up life in our places, that we take our stories as we move.  She is courageous and loyal and seeks living honestly, and I am better for her voice.  Our relationship reminds me that when the future, even the very moment, is foggy, there is still a sounding to do.

The foghorns are peace for me tonight as I say goodbye to my friend, pause to settle my sleeping child, wait to hear the resonance of my own heart in the moment.

Despite the dangers in movement, the ship dares not be silent nor still. 
We must move through fog.  And the only way to do that is one layer at a time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

10 years & 1 baby

Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world's worst roommate.
Anne LaMott ... Bird by Bird

Jonathan and I have had a pretty consistent tradition of doing something to celebrate our anniversary every year, be it dinner out or breakfast in, toasting with fizzy water on a picnic or bubbly on the patio, staying in town or exploring on the road.  I almost always write a card for him.  Two years ago I wrote a little piece on the occasion of our 8th wedding anniversary and shared it here.  This year we did something completely different.

Yesterday, Saturday, was our 10th anniversary.  It's the first time we've had an anniversary on a Saturday and we started celebrating Friday night with a bottle of bubbly, both of us hoping for an easy end to a rough boy received 5 vaccinations on Friday morning and was so out of sorts we skipped going to a dinner group of friends I'd been really looking forward to seeing.  So bubbles hit the glass and we smiled and kissed and toasted.  And before I got two sips in baby boy woke up.  A few hours later I woke up around 3 am to feed him and had a sore throat and stuffy nose, a full-on cold in the brew.  In the morning Jonathan made pancakes and I made oatmeal (I'm doing gluten & dairy free for the little guy...) and it was almost 1 pm by the time we got out of the house.  We stopped at Whole Foods for picnic food & took off for a park we'd never been to for a walk we'd never been on.  The clouds turned dark as we drove north and it started sprinkling just after we turned off the main road.  Ten minutes we later discovered that the bird sanctuary stroll we'd been looking forward to started a couple thousand feet down a gravel road past a water treatment facility, complete with treatment pools and the sheriff making an arrest.  We ended up eating our picnic on a table not far from the parking lot, camouflage fishing boats on the launch nearby, then strolled down the river for a little bit before coming home, where I crashed at 4 pm for an hour with a major headache and Jonathan kept the entering-evening-fussiness baby relatively happy.  I was back in bed by 9 pm with the finally-asleep baby boy while Jonathan babysat a book on data warehousing.  I even forgot to have someone take a picture of the 3 of us.  We plan to reschedule our 10th anniversary.

But in the meantime, I have this to say:

When we brought the little guy home, Jonathan carried him into the house and my sister got our bags out of the car and we set up shop.  And a couple days later all hell broke loose as exhaustion and hormones kicked in and breastfeeding appeared to be an utter failure and my body began to process having been through an unmedicated 12 hours of labor plus 4 hours of pushing out an 8 lb 11 oz baby with a 15 inch noggin.  I honestly never felt like it was more than I could handle, but giving birth to him was hard work.  Really hard.  And my body needed to say so.  On top of that I was super tired and completely overwhelmed.  So the tears started and they lasted for about five weeks.  I'm almost not kidding.

I'll share more of that story eventually, but I give those details simply to tell you that my husband is amazing.  Every morning I would eat the five-star breakfast my sister whipped up, feed the baby, hand him off to her, and then crawl, sobbing, back into bed, where Jonathan would simply hold me until I cried myself into sleep.  Jonathan was so tuned into me and himself, processing through his own experience of everything around our little boy's birth and listening as I processed through mine.  Our little roommate is entirely disruptive.  And entirely good.

I've heard women say they fell madly in love with their baby upon the moment of birth, but honestly I felt that more toward Jonathan than my baby.  I adore my baby, but my sense of need for and connection to Jonathan was primal.  We're both pretty independent and the downside of this is that it's too easy to live more parallel to each other than we'd like.  That took a monumental shift in the first few weeks after our son arrived.

As much as I love celebrating in a festive way, I feel like the real celebration of what Jonathan and I are (which I wrote about here) spoke its most powerful voice in those days when we were both simply trying to keep our heads above water and generally not being able to do so, but were instead able to simply be moved along the drift and tumbled through the waves to a better place.  I don't think there's any great honor in seeking out hard stuff for its own sake, but I do think that the most pivotal experiences in life are usually the most difficult.  At least, that's been the case for me.  And like our own personal development, relationships develop new bonds through those times too.

There is no one on earth I would rather be married with, creating life with, moving through reality with.  Happy 10th anniversary, my love!

Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created,
so that together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…
If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not,
as many people think, a rejection of freedom;
rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom,
and the risk of love which is permanent;
into that love which is not possession, but participation…
It takes a lifetime to learn another person…
When love is not possession, but participation,
then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling,
and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.
Madeline L'Engle ... The Irrational Season