Walking meditation

This year I celebrated my birthday with a three-day weekend dedicated to prayer, meditation and reflection. Only instead of sequestering myself indoors, I tried to stay outside as much as possible.

A highlight of the weekend was a trip to Jubilee Farm, where my husband Pete and I walked their labyrinth for the first time.

Jubilee Farm was established in 1999 by the Dominican Sisters as a center for ecology and spirituality, according to their web site (link HERE).

The labyrinth – one of the farm’s more amazing and popular features – allows us to follow a defined pathway to the center of the circle and back out again, praying and meditating as we go.

Many labyrinths are located in churches or other buildings, but the one at Jubilee Farm is outside.

For more than three millennia, millions of people have used labyrinths as an aid for prayer, according to the Jublilee Farm web site (link HERE for an article about the labyrinth itself).

One of the most famous labyrinths – and the one replicated at Jubilee Farm – is embedded in the stone floor of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France. 

At the entrance to (or exit from) the Jubilee Farm labyrinth is a bench where we can sit for a moment to gather our thoughts.

The labyrinth is a single circular path which takes us to a center place and back out again,

At Jubilee Farm, the labyrinth path is mowed right into the pasture grass, as pictured above and below.

There are no wrong turns or dead ends in a labyrinth, the Dominican Sisters assure us. There is one way in and one way out. 

There is also no right or wrong way to pray while walking the labyrinth, a Sister who lives at the farm assured us the first time we visited Jubilee Farm in the spring.

We can pray for people or situations that are on our mind. We can ask a question and leave space for the Holy Spirit to respond. We can give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

Or we can walk in silence, observing the scenery around us and drinking in God’s presence.

All along the path at Jubilee Farm’s labyrinth, Pete and I encountered an abundance of milkweed, red clover and wildflowers.

We also encountered this little guy, who reminds us God wants us to pay attention! Is he magnificent or what?!

Finally we came to the center of the labyrinth, which had a couple of stumps where we could once again sit for rest or contemplation if we wished.

Walking to and from the labyrinth was an experience in itself. On the way back to our car, we walked past this pretty little pond.

Below is a close-up of the water lilies and lily pads in the middle of the pond.

Millions of people around the world use labyrinths as a spiritual practice.

At Jubilee Farm, walking their labyrinth turned out to be nature prayer at its finest! And a great way to start my personal new year.

God’s other book: A new peek at our amazing universe

My inner Nerd Girl got to experience some real excitement this week!

The James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest images of the distant universe to date, according to a special web site created by NASA, who released the first of the images to the public earlier this week (link HERE).

These images of our amazing universe serve to remind me that religion and science need not be seen as opposed to each other. Who can look at these astonishing images and not see evidence of a Creator?

At any rate, I couldn’t resist sharing some of them in a blog post.

First, here is an artist’s rendition of the telescope. Launched in December 2021, the telescope is about the size of a tennis court, according to NASA, and will operate nearly a million miles beyond Earth’s orbit around the sun. (And I thought my little camera with the 40X zoom lens was fabulous.)

Webb will spend the next 20 years or so collecting data to help scientists study the farthest reaches of the known universe.

The image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field, gives us a sense of the sheer vastness of the universe. Just think: Each speck of light in the image below is an entire galaxy, except for the brighter specks with spikes, which are stars in our own galaxy.

Each galaxy, in turn, may contain billions of stars, moons and planets. Compared to the universe as a whole, the slice of universe shown in this image is equivalent to the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground, according to NASA.

Sort of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

When I look at this photo, I’m immediately reminded of Genesis 1:3: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

The next image is the Carina Nebula, the largest nebula in our own Milky Way galaxy. The nebula is the part of the image which resembles a mountaintop.

It looks solid, but is actually a giant cloud of gas and dust where stars are born, according to NASA. The stars are formed from the dust in the nebula.

Read Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Then look at this image. Wow. God certainly is an artist!

What looks like a cosmic fireworks display in the image below is Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies. Some of the galaxies are so close they bump into each other, forming new stars, according to NASA.

If we think our Fourth of July fireworks are spectacular, just look at God’s fireworks …

The galaxy group is visible from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Stephan’s Quintet is perhaps best known for being prominently featured in the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The next image, of the Southern Ring Nebula, shows how a star similar to our sun looks as it is dying. The star has been sending out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years, according to NASA.

Does this image look like a giant cosmic eye, or what? It brings to mind Job 28:24: “For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.”

NASA has made its entire collection of images, sounds and video available and publicly searchable online, including more than 140,000 photos and other resources we can download and use any way we like.

The images are available to everyone free of charge and free of copyright restrictions – NASA simply asks to be acknowledged as the source of the material. Their entire collection can be accessed via NASA’s Image and Video Library (link HERE).

And I’m not the only one who thinks our amazing universe points to the existence of a Creator. Turns out many of the the astronauts and other scientists who work at NASA share a strong faith as well.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle (link HERE), Webster Presbyterian, just down the road from NASA’s mission control center in Houston. is spiritual home to dozens of NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts, lunar mission contractors and their families.

The church, now known as the Church of the Astronauts, has stained glass windows featuring images of the moon, the stars and distant nebulae. How cool is that?

God’s other book: Dandelions

Just my humble opinion, but what’s not to love about dandelions?

They are among the first signs of spring, popping up in our yard even before the grass starts greening.

One can’t help but admire their irrepressible resiliency. These masters of survival can grow up through cracks in a sidewalk and thrive.

Many pollinators rely on dandelions, violets and other early-spring wildflowers to provide nectar before other flowers begin to bloom.

Sadly, people use millions of gallons of herbicides each year to kill these delightful flowers, thus taking a terrible toll on the environment.

We’ve made the decision to keep our lawn chemical-free. Don’t worry, we do mow (though we put off the first mowing for as long as possible).

By about mid-spring, our entire yard has become a colorful dandelion-and-violet patch, which keeps the butterflies and bees very happy.

Even our resident chipmunks like the wildflowers.

And then there are the seed puffs. When I was a child, I loved plucking dandelions and blowing the seeds into the air.

I also loved hooking their long hollow stems together to make a necklace or bracelet.

If we must pull them up, the greens can be added to a salad. Some people also use them to make tea or wine.

I saw the paperweight and necklace below on Etsy. What will folks think of next?

So when others talk about getting rid of dandelions, I always want to ask this one-word question: “Why?”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I love my dandelions! And I’m letting them stay exactly where they are.

Another prayer of thanksgiving

Dear God,

I recently wrote a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of having my beautiful Olaf DaVinci in my life for 15 years (link HERE). Today, I’d like to offer another prayer of thanksgiving.

My little Champaign Le Chat has been such a source of comfort to me while I grieve the loss of his brother. And he’s definitely been a blessing to me in his own right.

Oley and Champaign were adopted together from an Animal Protective League shelter 15 years ago, and they were inseparable right up until Oley’s passing. So I’ve had I to remind myself that he is grieving as much as we are.

Champaign has his own story, which is pretty remarkable, actually. We have reason to believe he was abused in a previous home and it took time and lots of love to heal his fear of people.

But, as we would discover, love wins. Every time.

When we first encountered him at the shelter, the poor little guy was hiding under a chair. He trembled as I reached under the chair to pet him, but when I stroked his fur, he leaned into my hand, as if drinking in the affection. There was no way, however, that he planned to come out from his hiding place.

Once we got Champie home from the shelter, he took a long time to warm up to us. For the first two weeks, he hid in the basement, only coming up to eat when Pete and I were gone.

Fortunately, Oley cheerfully served as his guardian angel. The two liked to hang out together, and they loved to chase each other around the house while yowling loudly – especially at 3 a.m.

Slowly but surely, Champie finally came out of his shell. And when he did, he became quite the little character.

There’s nothing like being ignored by a cat, but he lets me know I’d better not ignore him! This little guy will actually hiss at me to let me know I need to pet him.

Sometimes in the morning when I’m getting dressed, he walks up to me, hisses at me, and then immediately hops up on the bed and rubs up against me, clamoring for attention. Too funny!

Here he sits, on his throne, the king of all he surveys.

He has a talent for finding the sunniest spots in the house. Here he is, rolling over and playing cute, as he basks in a shaft of light in the sunroom.

The Champ has made it known that a cat bed is whatever he decides it should be. (Cat beds purchased specifically for that purpose from Chewy? Boring!)

He loves to turn pillows into cat beds. This is one of my favorite photos – I like to call it “the Prince and the Pea.”

Speaking of cat beds, people clothes are the absolute best. He may have the whole bed to snooze on here, but Pete’s clothes prove too irresistible.

He often likes to station himself in my office as well, and does a superb job of monitoring me while I’m at my computer.

He can be such a sweet, silly boy! Sometimes he just sits in the litter box. Yep, just sits there, as if daring anyone to come into his territory.

Not to worry, the litter box was clean when this photo was taken. But still …

Champaign has never been a “lap cat,” even after deciding that Pete and I were safe. The few times I’ve tried putting him on my lap, he scrambles back off as quickly as he can.

But he does enjoy snuggling next to Pete and me in the evenings, and we get to take turns cuddling him. The former little scaredy-cat loves the attention. It’s like he’s making up for lost time.

One of his favorite snuggle-time activities is “helping” me read. He cuddles up next to me most nights while I’m reading myself to sleep, and sometimes in the afternoon during nap time.

To help our little Champie through the process of grieving for his brother, the vet has recommended we give him lots of hugs and snuggling, and we’ve been happily complying with doctor’s orders.

I think the love is helping both him and us. I know for sure it’s helping us, anyway!

With love and gratitude,

God’s other book: Jubilee Farm

What better way to spend a lovely spring day than walking around a little piece of Eden?

Jubilee Farm was established in 1999 by the Dominican Sisters in our community as a center for ecology and spirituality.

According to their web site (link HERE), the farm is designed to be “a peaceful destination, a place of integrity, a home to farm animals and wildlife, an educational resource, a demonstration of living in an ecologically responsible way, an oasis for spirituality, a special gift to those who seek solace and spiritual enrichment in nature.”

For Pete and I last weekend, the farm was also a just-plain-magical place to spend a warm sunny Sunday afternoon and snap lots of photos.

While we didn’t even begin to explore all 164 acres of this mini-paradise, we did get to meet some lovely farm animals. The llama and alpaca, below, provide fiber for the Sisters’ weaving and craft classes as well as plenty of friendly hospitality to guests who visit the farm.

In the photo below, we see more than a pretty little pond. Working together with the local university, the Sisters at Jubilee Farm are engaged in a long-term plan to revitalize the farm’s prairie areas, small wetlands and remnant oak savannas.

In the summer and fall, we’ll be able to see several species of native wildflowers in bloom.

Next to the farm’s entrance, we encountered about a dozen chickens, which the Sisters raise for eggs.

These hens came in a variety of beautiful colors and were very friendly, some of them coming up to greet us as we stood at the edge of the fence looking in.

Peering into a greenhouse, below, we could see tables full of herb, vegetable and flower seedlings grown from organic seeds with no chemicals.

The Sisters sell herbs and pollinator-friendly seedlings and engage in study to learn about sustainable agriculture and healthy foods. They also conduct vegetarian cooking classes.

Amiga, a gorgeous and very friendly tortoiseshell cat adopted from a local shelter, introduced herself to us early on.

She followed us everywhere and managed to appear in several of my photos. Of course, a creature as adorable as Amiga can “photobomb” all she wants to! Right?

One of the farm’s more amazing and popular features is an outdoor labyrinth. A labyrinth allows people (and certain creatures) to follow a defined pathway to the center of the circle and back out again, praying and meditating as we go.

For more than three millennia, millions of people have used labyrinths as an aid for prayer. The one at Jubilee Farm is mowed right into the grass, as pictured below.

All along one of the walking trails, we could see raptors silhouetted against the sky. We also found this “Peace Pole,” pictured below, which proclaims its message in six different languages.

Jubilee Farm has three major walking trails, the longest a half mile, and all trails have benches along the route where we can stop, rest and engage in spiritual reflection.

Nature prayer is one of my favorite kinds of prayer, and Jubilee Farm certainly lends itself to the practice. We already know that we will be visiting again and again.

A prayer of thanksgiving for a truly magnificent cat

Dear God,

My heart is broken!! Two weeks ago we said goodbye to our sweet Olaf DaVinci. I’m just now able to write about it.

I firmly believe animals are one of your great gifts to us, God, and I thank you for every day of the 15 years that this furry little friend and constant companion graced my life.

Oley was a big, beautiful, majestic and totally lovable Maine Coon cat with a flamboyantly irrepressible personality. He had a studious little face, thick luxurious fur and a magnificent plume of a tail. Here he is on the table in our sunroom, the king of all he surveys.

You first brought him into our lives at an Animal Protective League shelter when he was a year and a half old. He insisted on coming home with us. And I do mean insisted.

We had gone to the shelter looking for a cat to adopt and had spent at least a half hour petting a variety of cute kitties to see if one of them might choose us. When Pete sat down on the floor, Oley immediately hopped into his lap and began giving him repeated head butts, as if to say, “Me! Me! Me! Look no further!”

When we told the shelter staff we wanted Oley, they told us, “He has a friend.” They then introduced us to Champaign, a very frightened kitty who had been abused in his previous home and spent most of his time hiding under a chair to avoid being bullied by other cats.

Champie and Oley had formed a tight bond at the shelter and the staff said it would be really nice if they could be adopted together. So home we went, with two long-haired tomcats. We’ve never regretted that decision, despite a lot of shedding.

Champaign spent the first two weeks hiding in the basement, only coming upstairs to eat when Pete and I left the house, and it took quite a while for him to truly warm up to us. But Oley kept him company and Champie eventually came around. Now he’s a regular cuddle bear, thanks to some socialization from Oley as well as from us.

Oley and Champaign liked to hang out together when they weren’t negotiating territory. (They had the house, and us, neatly divided between them.) One of their favorite places was a chair in the sunroom.

A cat with a personality such as Oley’s naturally managed to acquire a number of nicknames. At the vet’s office, he was Mr. DaVinci. To us, he was Fluff Budget, Little Bud and Baby. Oley could do the “hang dog” look so well, another of his nicknames was Puppy Cat.

No matter what we were doing, Oley always wanted to be in the middle of it. If I was making the bed, he and Champie would both jump up and “help.” If I was sitting at my desk, Oley would literally tap my arm to let me know he wanted onto my lap. If I was sorting laundry, into the basket he’d hop. “Oley, do you need to be washed?” I would ask him.

God, this little cat you created didn’t just have a distinct, unique personality. He was a real character, in the best sense of the word. He was the most irrepressible kitty I ever met, bar none.

Here he is, hoping to persuade Pete to give him a bite of people food. (Cat food? Boring!) When friends came to the house, he would make the rounds, getting each guest to pet him and share tidbits of smoked salmon or cheese.

The camera couldn’t capture the way his cute little nose would work while he brazenly wheedled us for people food. But the photo below captures a little bit of his flamboyant boldness.

Usually during meals, he would start out sitting in the middle of the table, then inch closer to one of our plates very slowly, as if he thought we might not notice.

He loved his water straight from the tap. As he got older and a little arthritic, he had Pete trained to lift him up to the sink so he could have his sip.

According to Oley, one needed appropriate supervision in order to practice one’s instrument. Oley gladly provided this service.

Even the most onerous task can be made more endurable with the right assistance. Oley often helped Pete grade student papers.

He had a way of making sure I kept my priorities straight as well. Anytime I sat down at my desk or in my recliner, there he was. He loved sitting on my lap.

He could be really patient when he needed to indulge his humans a little. Pete and I have a habit of kissing our kitties on the head to show them how much we love them, and just because they’re so darn cute. The oh-so-patient look on Oley’s little face when we did this to him was priceless.

Our cats have always seemed to know when one of us is sick or sad and needs company or comforting. Here, both Oley and Champaign joined me the day I got home from gallbladder surgery.

Oley sat in my lap for hours and let me stroke his soft fur as I mourned the loss of both my parents, followed by at least a dozen family members and close friends during this ghastly pandemic.

One of best things our sweet Oley did was join me for morning meditation. I had already developed a meditation ritual when he came to us – sitting in my recliner with a cup of coffee by my side while I journaled about my priorities for the coming day. And Oley, being Oley, wanted to be right in the middle of it.

For 15 years, my little cat burrowed his way into my morning ritual, sitting in my lap while I journaled and prayed. Sometimes Pete would join us as well, serenading us with his dulcimer. (I wish I had a picture of this.)

Champie always looked up to Oley, and frankly, so did we. In the end, when Oley’s health began to deteriorate, he would prove to be such a brave little trouper as I tried medical interventions that would help him for a while. He certainly taught me some things about life.

The Bible in several places talks about animals on the other side of eternity – lions lying down with lambs, cows and bears grazing together and children safely playing with all of them. I just know Oley is there right now.

I love to imagine that the first thing Oley did when he met Jesus was to jump into his lap and greet him with some serious head butts.

God, I will always be grateful for the wonderful gift you gave us when you blessed us with our beautiful Olaf DaVinci. Today, as I try through my tears to count my blessings, I certainly count this magnificent little creature to be one of those blessings.

With love and gratitude,

God’s other book: February friends

We hadn’t gotten much snow at all for most of this winter. Just a dusting or two. But the month of February made up for lost time – two major snowstorms just a few days apart.

What I really love, in addition to the beautiful scenery, are those hardy wildlife friends who stick around for the winter rather than flying south or hibernating out of sight.

They are brave …

Good thing God gave all those little birds some warm feathers and outfitted the squirrels with fur coats. Brrrrr!!

God’s other book: Fall colors and a bit of history

This week, both the weather and the leaves were simply too gorgeous for Pete and I to even consider staying inside. So we hopped in our car and drove up to New Salem, where we could drink in some history along with the beautiful fall colors.

Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, one of several popular Lincoln sites in central Illinois, is a reconstruction of the 1830s pioneer village where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood.

A statue of Lincoln as surveyor greets us just before we enter the village. Below is the path leading into the village, where we prepare to be taken back 200 years.

Along the path are a total of 23 cabins, shops and other buildings.

Most of the buildings contain period artifacts, many of which were gathered from descendants of New Salem residents. Lincoln’s surveyor’s tools are on display as well.

Visitors can walk at their leisure on self-guided tours through the grounds to view the buildings. Little plaques on the doors leading into each of the buildings explain their significance.

Costumed interpreters are also present in some of the buildings during the height of the tourist season, but this week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

A covered wagon sits along the side of the road. Wooden fences like the one below can be seen in several places in the village.

My favorite handsome gentleman posed for a photo as we got ready to leave.

Even the parking lot was pretty, as was the scene that greeted us when we turned onto the highway and got back to the 21st century.

God’s other book: Butterfly nursery

We have been hosting monarch butterfly babies this past month.

The venture actually started about two years ago when a friend of ours sent us some milkweed seeds. I planted them in the spring of 2020. And waited …

“Why aren’t the monarchs coming?” I asked my friend.

Be patient, my friend said. They will find our milkweed patch eventually. It takes time.

Complicating the situation, the folks who take care of our yard maintenance would occasionally get overly enthusiastic with their weed pulling and pull out milkweed plants as well. Aaargh!

Fortunately the plants didn’t get pulled up by the roots and some grew back. And one of my sisters gave me three more plants to add to the ones I’d grown from seed.

To prevent further disturbances, Pete made this sign while I roped off the plants.

After a year and a half of not-so-patient waiting, we finally saw … EGGS! I was so excited, only to discover that OOPS! They weren’t monarch eggs at all, but aphids. Oh dear.

But then came a beautiful sight – a tiny caterpillar! Now I was really excited.

The caterpillar ate and ate and ate. And grew. And grew. And grew. It must have tripled in size in the space of a week.

After that, I saw more caterpillars. I ended up having six of them in all, busily munching away on the milkweed we planted for them. Those little guys are voracious eaters.

And then they began to wander off, one by one, to begin the pupa (chrysalis) stage. I spotted one of them crawling up the side of the house, looking for a safe place to turn into a butterfly.

At this point, I was SO tempted to snag one of them and bring it inside, so I could watch the transformation. But I resisted. My research tells me that it disrupts their ability to migrate if they are brought indoors for even a short period of time. So I grudgingly let them all go. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see where any of them went, so I’m just going to hope they’re safe!

The way I see it: I planted the milkweeds. God will do the rest.

Pete has been joking that I’m experiencing the “empty nest syndrome.” I just loved watching those little caterpillars grow. I miss them already, but hopefully I’ll soon get to see a few more monarch butterflies sipping nectar from the other flowers in my yard like this one in the photo above that I snapped last year.

To increase the possibility that I’ll get to host lots more caterpillars next year, I’ve ordered another sixteen milkweed plants to add to other flower beds.

I like to think of this project as “God’s work, our hands.”

God’s other book: Roses, roses

One of the things I’ve missed most about in-person Sunday services at our church is my weekly stroll in the rose garden just outside the back door during our after-service fellowship hour.

The rose garden was lovingly created by two men in our congregation, in memory of wives gone much too soon. A wonderful tribute!

Tucked in among the roses is a plaque reminding us of who is really responsible for all this beauty, and another quoting Martin Luther, who seemed to share my perception about God being immanent in all of creation.