Chutes and ladders and the spiritual life

 

IMAG9717

This has to be one of the simplest games ever invented.  You spin, move your token, and if you land on good action (like rescuing a kitten from a tree), you go up the ladder; if you land on a bad action (like stealing a cookie), you go down the chute.

I hadn’t played this game in decades, until my kids spotted it in the closet at my parents’ house and wanted to get it out.  So lately, we’ve had a few Chutes and Ladders tournaments chez Moyer.  I will admit that it’s not the most intellectually gripping game — perhaps only CandyLand exceeds it for its totally stultifying lack of strategy — but it is strangely addictive.

IMG_0314

And I’m grateful for it, because it has given me a little spiritual food for thought.

As my summer vacation gets under way, and now that I’m not spending hours teaching, planning, and grading, I find I’m thinking more deeply about my daily habits.  What are the things I do that make me grounded, more mindful, more healthy?  What are the things I do that don’t?

The whole point of the game is that our actions have consequences.  Obviously, this is a point that kids need to learn – you lie to your teacher, you miss recess; you help your mom without asking, she rewards you with a huge hug and maybe an extra dessert.  But I’m embarrassed to admit that at the age of 43, I still struggle at times to accept that my actions lead to effects that I may not want.  I often know what I should do to reach my goals, but — due to inertia, or lethargy, or stubbornness – I choose the opposite.

What does my own personal Chutes and Ladders board look like?  Well, much like this:

Spend too much time on social media rather than reading a good book: slide down the chute and go to bed with the niggling feeling that I’ve wasted the evening.

Get up early to exercise: climb the ladder and feel healthy and energized all day

Stay up way too late watching Netflix: slide down the chute and feel like death warmed over the next morning

Make time for writing or prayer, or writing AS prayer: climb the ladder and stay in touch with the core of  who I am (with the added bonus of finding a gem of an idea for the next writing project)

I know, of course, that life isn’t quite as easy as a board game.  There are plenty of situations where I make thoughtful choices and end up taking bad tumbles just the same, through no fault of my own.  Likewise, we’ve probably all had that experience of suddenly getting a huge blessing or gift that we’ve done nothing to earn (in the biz, I believe that’s called “grace”).   Sometimes, there is no cause/effect we can control. Period.

But often there is, especially when it comes to the daily routines and habits that define me.   And that’s why this summer, with a lot more free and thinking time on my hands, I’m going to do some extra discernment about which things lift me up, and which drag me down.

IMG_0318

Because don’t we all want that good feeling of rescuing the kitten from the tree and climbing up to the sky, our new best friend by our side?

IMG_0310

A rose is a rose is a rose …

IMAG9588

Sometimes I wonder which phrases my kids will associate with me in years to come.  Which sayings do I repeat over and over?  I’d guess “Be careful!” and “Did you remember to flush?” are two of the most common ones.  I hope, though, that “Look at those roses!” is right behind.

I’m a rose junkie.  An entire chapter of Taste and See is devoted to them, not just because they offer such beautiful sensory experiences but because they invite me to think about how humans can co-create beauty with God. (We humans are the ones who have hybridized and come up with all these different marvelously colorful varieties, tapping into the Creator’s artistic genius.) So now that it’s summer and rose season is in full bloom, I thought I’d share a little visual complement to that chapter and share some of the glorious beauties I’ve come across lately.  (No, these aren’t from my yard – though I wish they were!).

Let’s start with red:

IMAG9298
Pink more your speed?  There are no lack of those, either.

IMAG9385

 

IMAG9593

I know the Yellow Rose of Texas has its own song, but the Yellow Roses of California are pretty nice, too:

IMAG9264

 

IMAG9382

Purple isn’t the color I naturally associate with roses, but they are striking as well.

IMAG9590
White has its own purity and grace:

IMAG9253

And I love this one, too — sort of peach, sort of yellow:

IMAG9236

Where are you seeing beauty lately?

A whole lot of Mary

Somehow or other, the month of May almost passed without me writing a single post about Mary.  The spirit was willing, but the flesh — exhausted by end-of-the-semester grading — was weak.

But here in the eleventh hour, I’m finally putting together a little celebration of one of my favorite moms.  So here are some of my favorite Mary-themed photos, all taken by me at various times over the years.

Enjoy!

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Healdsburg, CA

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Healdsburg, CA

 

Mary under a mantle of snow, Oneonta, NY

Mary under a mantle of snow, Oneonta, NY

 

Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, Half Moon Bay, CA

Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, Half Moon Bay, CA

 

Mary statue, my backyard

Mary statue, my backyard

 

Nativity set figures made by my mom

Homemade Nativity set figures, my mom’s house

 

Pencil holder on my desk

Pencil holder, my desk

 

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA

A Little League Litany of Thanks

 

Baseball

Hey God –

Remember how, when I was a kid, I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life?  Remember how my softball career consisted of one inglorious season in fifth grade?  Remember how, when my parents asked me what I liked best about softball, I said that my favorite part was getting drinks out of the cooler once the game was over?

So who could have predicted that 1) I’d one day have a son who plays baseball  and 2) I’d love having a son who plays baseball?

(I guess it’s safe to say that You could have predicted it.  I sure didn’t.)

And as this season nears its end, I’m going to try to put my feelings into a little litany of thanks.  Because, when it comes right down to it, for all the driving to practices and sitting on hard bleachers and constantly washing of dirty socks, there are a great many blessings to be found at the ballfield.

So here goes.

Thank you for games played on warm spring evenings when the light is beautiful and you are delighted to be outside.  Thanks also for games played on windy cool evenings when you freeze and wish you had another layer, because either way, you’re away from the computer and out in the fresh air … and sometimes you need that much more than you realize.

IMAG9420

Thank you for coaches who teach kids to respect the game, each other, and the umpires. Thank you for coaches who see the potential in their players and draw it out.  Thanks for the time and energy and heart they put into the game and our kids, not because they are getting paid but just because Baseball.

Thank you for gangly middle school umpires who go out there and have to make hard calls that  they know might not be popular but who do it anyway, often while standing right in the path of errant foul balls.  Thanks for their strength at sticking to their guns and trusting their instincts.

Thanks for the Snack Shack, where you can get soda on a hot day, coffee on a freezing one, donuts at the 8 AM game and pizza at the 6 PM one.  Thanks also for the many candy options that keeps bribable younger siblings entertained.  (Special shout-out, God, to those fabulous ring pops, which take more than an inning to finish.)

Sshack

While we’re on the subject, thanks for other younger siblings who find your own child and somehow find ways to entertain themselves with dirt, spilled chalk, and any toys they happen to bring.  Siblings’ Club at the ballfield!  It’s a good thing, God.

Thanks for the community of other parents who, over the course of a season, you get to know well. Thanks for the cheers and encouragement they give to your kid as he’s up at bat.  And thanks for the fact that sometimes, they have the inspired idea to bring little goodies for the adults in the stands.

 

A Mother's Day mimosa?  Why yes, please.

A Mother’s Day mimosa? Why yes, please.

Thank you for making me face something about myself: that I can, under certain tense conditions, veer awfully chose to becoming one of Those Parents who spontaneously erupt in outrage at a dodgy call.  I always said I’d never be one of those parents, and oh my, it’s much easier to be them than I thought. Thanks for the lesson in humility, God.

Thanks for the fact that every single game is a chance to practice detachment and going with whatever comes.  Even when it’s a nail-biting game that I really want our team to win, I’m finding that I can get myself to the point where I think – and actually believe –  Hey, we’ll be just fine if we lose.  That’s a helpful spiritual attitude to cultivate, on the ballfield and in life (St. Ignatius of Loyola called it “indifference” — the good kind.)

IMAG6236

And I have to give thanks for something else, too: the fact that even in a losing game, something good can happen.  The game where you get clobbered by thirteen points might be the game where your kid gets his first RBI or one of his teammates catches a fly ball that would make Pablo Sandoval proud.

And all this points to another thing I’m thankful for, God: that playing Little League is really not about the win, but about constantly putting on the cleats and warming up and going out there and challenging yourself to do a little better each time and realizing that if you have that attitude, you can still hold your head high no matter what the final score is. That’s a lesson that resonates both on the ballfield and off.  In seeing my son and his fellow players this season, I see how true it really is.  Thank you for that.

Oh, and one final thing: Thank you, God, for your wonderful trickiness in giving a totally unathletic parent like me this sporty little kid who is broadening her world in ways she didn’t even know she needed.

Play ball!

A mother’s touch

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

“I don’t know why God chose to enter the world as an infant; there are many possible reasons, I’m sure.  But I like to think that maybe it’s because God, too, wanted to feel the warmth of a mother’s touch.” 

– from Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses

A blessed Mother’s Day to all.