Artistry

You may remember my “once in a lifetime” trip to Discovery Cove two years ago.  If not, you can read about it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/my-date-with-the-dolphins/ andhttp://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/school-of-dolphins/  You might also remember my second trip to Discovery Cove last year, when I returned to make sure it was as wonderful as I thought it was.  You can read about that trip at  http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/07/discovery-in-the-cove/



I just made a third “once in a lifetime” visit.  It is time to stop kidding myself.  It is time to start calling it what it is…. My annual retreat to Dolphinland.

Some people go to monasteries or retreat houses for their yearly spiritual sojourns.  Not me.  I say there is nothing wrong with going to Discovery Cove to take spiritual inventory and commune with God.  I think God was definitely there. 

I spent a wonderful day frolicking with the dolphins, swimming with the rays, winding my way down a lazy river, wading past otters and marmosets, and examining the vibrant feathers of numerous bird species.  I also cuddled with a kinkajou, who stuck her arm in her mouth while I was petting her, much as a human baby might suck her thumb.  I faced my fear of rodents with long, scaly tails, when I interacted with a young three-legged possum named Ricky.  I also ate a lot of rice crispy treats and soft, hot pretzels.  I relaxed, rested, warmed my bones in the sun, listened to God, and prayed.  Maybe the most important thing I did was just observe.

The animals at Discovery Cove are real.  Of course, Discovery Coves busses them in from various places around the world.  Orlando is not even remotely close to a sea or a rain forest, so most of the animals I visited are not to be found in nature anywhere in the greater metropolitan area.  Ricky, the three-legged possum, was the exception.  He was a three-legged possum precisely because he was run over by a car in a local populated area.  My other new animal friends, however, were strangers in a strange land in Orlando.  That doesn’t make them any less real.  The plant life in Discovery Cove is also largely imported, but it is beautiful and lush and abundantly real. 

Spending the day at Discovery Cove forces me to forget the world I know intimately and enter the natural world the Busch Entertainment Company has built in the shadow of the Central Florida roller coasters.  The act of observing this manufactured natural world with all my senses frees my soul in a way that is as real as the surroundings.  Maybe this Discovery Cove natural world is assembled by human beings and maybe those same human beings are manipulating my soul to feel free in a way that isn’t quite organic.  I don’t really care.  Experiencing that world, losing myself in it, and imprinting it on my memory is very, very valuable.  And human beings may have assembled this magical self-contained world, but God created the components. 

So I refuel and retool- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually- during my dolphin retreat.  Something actually changes about the way I see the world.  I began to notice things that I never saw before because I was so incredibly present.  I was living in the moment and observing the moment and analyzing the moment instead of just getting through the moment and going on to the next one. 

For instance, after taking a last lap through the snorkeling reef, I settled myself on a quiet island in the middle of the reef.  I snuggled down into a rope hammock and closed my eyes.  I could smell the scent of jasmine.  I could taste the salt water on my lips.  I could hear breezes rustling the palm fronds, punctuating the impossible quiet of a theme park in Orlando. It was more than pleasant; it was healing.  I opened my eyes and noticed a cloud shaped just like the face of the kinkajou I snuggled earlier in the day.  I watched, fascinated, as the shape flattened and distorted and slipped away.  I also noticed colors.  If you had asked me to describe leaves before my retreat of observation and discovery, I would have told you that they are green.  When I looked around from my vantage point in the hammock, I saw many, many colors of leaves- greens and yellows and reds and fuchsias and pale pinks and oranges.  Also, did you ever realize that the sky is not sky blue?  In fact, the sky is not blue at all.  It is most definitely blueS.  I saw a swath of sky that melded sections the color of stone-washed denim and the color of Wedgewood and the color of lapis lazuli and the color of robins’ eggs. 

Maybe, in addition to enriching my body and soul, my dolphin retreat developed my senses, too.  Maybe my discoveries about color and perspective mean that I had a moment of artistic inspiration.  Maybe I was seeing the world through the eyes of an artist.  And God is a pretty amazing artist. 

How about you?  Where do you go for your spiritual retreats?  Where do you find God and do you think it is weird that I find him in a central Florida amusement park?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have an artistic day discovering God and yourself!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Me dolphin surfing with Thelma!



kisses for Thelma

Dolphin delight!
petting a kinkajou

So many colors of leaves!

The Path To Easter

Someone I know once said that people should be careful what they wish for when they pray for faith.  Sometimes, God just gives them faith.  Sometimes, He sends challenges to help them develop their faith muscles.  Sometimes, He puts them in situations to show them just how much faith they already have. In short, at least two out of three of those options tend to be uncomfortable.

Last Lent, I felt like I was on a pretty good path of spiritual development. I felt like I had been spending years lazily luxuriating in a big, soft Catholic feather bed.  I had been comfortable for a long time, but had not really done anything to grow or focus my faith.  When I retired, I began investing more time and energy into spiritual development.   I was participating in a program called “Best Lent Ever” and it kind of was. Every day, the administrators of the program sent me an email with a video message, Scripture readings, reflection questions, and suggested activities.  I opened my heart and my mind.  I felt like I was learning a lot. I journaled about the program’s reflections every day.  Sometimes, I even posted comments on the program’s discussion boards.  In short, I felt like I really took last Lent as an opportunity to deepen my commitment and understanding.

This Lent, not so much.  The church I have been attending has offered Lenten activities, but I haven’t been able to summon the energy to attend.  I started going to Sunday school a few months ago, but have missed several sessions lately.  I even missed the service a few weeks ago when I messed up on the whole “springing ahead” thing.  In general, I feel like I’ve just kept stumbling over my feet this Lent without making any spiritual progress.

Some of you might point out that my stumbling has not been confined to spiritual progress. You would be correct. Since my mother’s stroke and the ensuing chaos in my external and internal life, I’ve been fairly lacking in competency in any arena.  I sort of stumble through everything now.  And maybe that is really more in keeping with the spirit of Lent than my activities with the “Best Lent Ever” program.

I think maybe God puts us in whatever desert He thinks we need for Lent.  Last year, I was just starting to re-examine the depth and maturity of my faith.  Maybe God wanted to tempt me to continue by providing me exactly what makes me comfortable- orderly growth and tidy spiritual development.

But no one gets to Easter without going through Calvary. This Lent, I think perhaps God is using the sad path I am navigating to grow and develop my spirituality.  It isn’t orderly or tidy.  It is certainly not comfortable.  But it seems to be my Calvary. I try to accept His will and offer up my pain for love.

I’m not equating my struggles in any way with those of Jesus at the Crucifixion.  In fact, I am clear on the fact that no one will ever have to endure the complete pain and emptiness that Jesus experienced on His Calvary, simply because He did experience it.  He endured it exactly so we would never have to.  And, truly, the challenges I’m experiencing are nothing when compared to those that many other people battle.  Still, I don’t think God minds too much when I complain and cry over my difficulties…. Especially when it is to Him I cry.

This Easter, I will rise above my difficulties and celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.  I will try to rejoice that, just as I share Calvary in my very small, weak way, I will one day also share in the Resurrection.

Have you done anything special to prepare for Easter this year?  How has it been working for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂

Psychedelic Prayer

I’ve noticed something odd recently.  Since my mother has settled into the nursing facility and she has begun exploring the shadow world inside her head that I cannot quite fathom, I feel different.  I’m not sure what words to use to describe the difference.  The feeling isn’t happier or more positive or more resigned exactly.  Maybe the better description would be a feeling of “surrender” or “being reconciled” or “contented.”  Whatever it is, it sure beats the constant agitation and relentless heartbreak that have accompanied me since my mom’s stroke.

Maybe the change is just because I find myself smack in the middle of the worst possible outcome that I dreaded for months and the result is not as bad as I feared. The world continues to revolve around the sun and my mom actually seems pretty cheerful.

Maybe it is prayer.

I attended a workshop on prayer the other day.  The leader asked us what factors we thought led to the most effective prayer.  I thought for a nanosecond and realized that the memorable common factor in all my most fervent prayer is confusion.  It seems that I pray most effectively when I come to prayer in a state of disorientation and dismay.  I’m not sure why that is.  Maybe it is because I am most genuine in my discombobulation.

Too often, I think I come to prayer with a solid, well-defined vision of the desired outcome for which I am praying.  I say I am praying to find God’s will and to have the strength to accept His plan.  I think my head even tries to believe that.  Still, in my heart of hearts, I think I am usually praying for things to turn out the way I want them.  It isn’t necessarily that I am being demanding or selfish.  It isn’t even that I am praying for an outcome that is easy or pain-free. I’m just scared.  I’m scared of what God’s unknown is for me. I’m scared that I don’t have the necessary faith and virtue to travel His path rather than the path I can envision for myself.

hroughout my mother’s illness, I have wrestled with confusion, grief, and fear almost all the time.  Originally, I had the sense that God was exposing me to these emotions to give me some small idea of the journey my mother has been navigating in order that I might be more empathetic.  Now, on a deeper level, I also have the idea that He is trying to train me, as I’ve walked this path with my mother.  He may be trying to teach me to truly understand that all that control and organization and planning that I so love is not where my strength lies.  In fact, I believe He is showing me that there is actually grace in letting go of it.

They do say that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  The thing is- I never wanted to be so freakin’ strong.  Apparently, God does and He is using my mother’s illness to build that strength.  I am afraid I cannot say that I am wholeheartedly grateful.  However, I know that God has unfailing patience with me.  Maybe I’ll get to that gratitude place someday.  In the meantime, I think my confusion-born prayer is at least helping me find a little more confidence that I’ll be able to manage God’s unknown for me, with His help.

As I thought through my ideas on confusion-based prayer, other people in the class were talking about what helps them pray. Most of the other students seemed to concentrate their responses on strategies or “tethers” to help them focus and shut out distractions in order to pray most effectively.  All the discussion about focus made me wonder about my experience of finding confusion to be the sweetest starting point for prayer.  Maybe we do need to be “tethered” to pray most effectively.  Maybe, though, it is sometimes best to allow God to do the tethering rather than me hitching myself to a rather wobbly post.  Maybe, sometimes, the confusion is actually God’s call and the distractions are the ingredients for prayer.

A number of students also mentioned external items that help them connect to God and His majesty.  Some people mentioned rosary beads, icons, stained glass, statues, etc.  I understand that perspective and even share it.  After all, I come from a Roman Catholic tradition.  I own and use a rosary.  Liturgical prayer sings to my soul.  I have worshiped in the ancient churches in Europe, marveling at the prayerfulness of artistic renderings.  When I loosened my grip on Roman Catholicism, I turned towards the Episcopal Church.  I’ve learned that Episcopalians express their unity as a denomination in their unity of worship.  After all, we base our worship on the Book of Common Prayer.  There is little that is more focused, orderly, and tethering than praying in a common, liturgical way. I rejoice in that unity.

Still, there is room and, perhaps, necessity in Christian life for a more individual kind of prayer. That is the kind of prayer that I find often comes from my confusion. It is a psychedelic kind of prayer.   It is colorful, explosive, and implosive.  It is often disorganized and chaotic.  It moves and pulses and morphs.  It can start out as one thing but end up as something completely different.  It is uncontrollable- breaking free of the form I gave it and rearranging itself into what it needs to be. It can be so odd and so weird and so disorderly that it makes no sense.  At least, it makes no sense to anyone but God.  And maybe, with the grace that comes from letting go, the psychedelic prayer will one day make sense to me.

What do you think?  Does prayer ever seem to be born of confusion for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a blessed day!

Terri 🙂