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There is no enough to gratitude, and it does not in the least seem an ill-conceived exercise, devotion, project, life, to do nothing other than … catalog said gratitudes, perhaps starting with the interior of what, before your devotional, your practice, you considered your body…
~ Ross Gay, Inciting Joy


I say my nostrils, two different shapes they have, and baby Edith has the same, some gene from me, perhaps.
These nostrils sniff when garbage and drainer need to be emptied or food is suspect.
They smell the roses, cliché for sure, except the scent always makes me think of Grandma Van Zwol, who maybe gave me these nostrils to begin with.
They smell the damp, dark soil here in Iowa and take me off to Sweden, the countryside around Håå.
They smell the wetted, dry red earth, and I am at home again in desert paradise.
Coffee brewing, and I am utterly grateful I can still smell, if not drink it. The same of onions frying.
And a poopy nappy because it means baby's tubes are all working as meant. Thank you.
For this old body that still heals its cuts and is quick to respond to a beneficent change.
Limbs that move and hold me mostly upright. Thank you.
The times when one small, otherwise insignificant act makes me intensely love my life––like tossing my favorite old, patched night hat onto the comforter cover with its pandas and bamboo leaves.
There is no enough to gratitude. 


Tell me

One thing

Or more

You are grateful for today.


Our practice.

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One of my friends is an immigrant. He doesn't always get the English quite right, just as I don't always get Danish quite right. Or maybe my friend was speaking into his phone, and it was the technology that didn't get it quite right. It happens all the time. My friend wrote, on the event of my becoming a biological grandmother this week, "You must be fulfilling euphoria." In fact, maybe he said it exactly right: maybe we can fulfill a feeling––an idea I like. Or maybe it was poetic license.
Although it wasn't exactly right in this case. Everyone told me before it happened how wonderful it is to be a grandparent. The best job in the world. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I was excited, but not over the moon, as people thought I would be. However, to my surprise the expected baby made me want to stay in Iowa, and that's huge, which you would know, if you know me. One friend called the forthcoming baby my "anchor baby." And she may well be.
I've often said, and I've probably said it here on the blog, joy is not the same as happiness. By comparison, happiness is something light—like an on-the-float balloon. In fact, joy is not euphoria, either. Joy has contrasting or complementary colors––there is the brilliant gold, which might be euphoria, and there is ochre, which is a darker shade. There is rose, and there is umber––the bright and the dark.
First, before I go to the ochre, let me tell you the gold. I have my first biological grandchild––Edith Ina Nordquist, born at 9:45 pm on May 16, 2023, weighing 8 pounds and 6 ounces, measuring 19 inches long and having the most perfect little pink beans of toes, a nose with nostrils of two different shapes that happen to be just like mine, and with a set of powerful lungs. In other words, she is gorgeous and a great communicator. Holding her close in to me is like nothing else, not even like holding her mother, when she was hours old.
The ochre. The birth did not go as we had hoped. After 13 hours, labor had stopped progressing, and a C-section was advised. A little backstory––I had a homebirth, so my bias leans to as natural as possible. I also put myself through school as an operating room technician, and I knew from all the indications that this was the right decision. But this hospital allows only one family member in the OR, and it needed to be David. This is a small rural hospital, so when Cheyenne was taken down to the OR, I was the only person left on the OB floor.
I was scared. It was the first time I couldn't be there for my baby when she was going through something huge, as I had been when she broke her arm, had a toenail removed, her wisdom teeth out. It was excruciating. And I was alone. Alone is an aspect of the human condition. Yes, we are all connected, and yet we are, in some way, also alone; or at least circumstances conspire to cause us to feel we are. I also know I have a tendency to feel things intensely, to be immersed in whatever it is I'm feeling, so please don't judge me for not just overcoming these things and not fulfilling euphoria. And please don't think I thought it was all about me, but the me part is the story I'm telling right now. So bear with me. Please.
I am thrilled to have this little human being in my life. I am thrilled I get to be whatever it will mean to be her grandmother. Who wants to be called Nana, by the way. But joy is not one-dimensional. It encompasses all the feels. Ross Gay, in Inciting Joy calls it "grave joy." He writes about us falling into each other when we are falling apart, and this is grave joy. He names grief as one of the incitements of joy. There was grief that I could not be part of that moment that Cheyenne wanted me to be part of, that I wanted so much to be part of. There was fear of the danger, and there was letting go of control, and there was existential aloneness, and there was anger that it could only be one person, which seemed so arbitrary. And there is love. And there is joy. And gratitude to everyone involved––the surgeon, the anesthetist, the nurses, David, Cheyenne, baby Edith, my friend Janet who listened to me sob from 1,000 miles away, and Kate, the nurse who listened to me when she came back upstairs to let me know it was all okay and what had caused the impossibility of a normal birth.
Gratitude, joy, and moments of, yes, euphoria.

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Pink contrails ran on a faintly blue sky in the southwest the other morning, three minutes before sunrise, though we were not likely to see sunshine until the ten o'clock hour. I didn't run outside to photograph the pink and the blue, though I've been known to do that. In my pajamas.


We joke about talking about the weather––like we do that when there's nothing better to talk about. Or when we have little else in common with the person we feel we have to say something to. As if talking about the weather is meaningless chatter. 
In fact, when we talk about the weather, we are sharing something important. We are, in that moment, in touch with the natural world. We're noticing the rhythms of sun and moon, wind and rain, morning and evening. We note that the predicted extreme cold of winter seems to have swollen the squirrel population, that they are busier fattening up than usual. We are connecting with Life itself when we talk about the weather, and when we talk about it, we're sharing that connection with a fellow human. There isn't much, if anything, that is more important than connection. My friend Janet says it's the most important political work––connecting.
That day of the contrails became a crisp, sunny day. The lowest temperature of the day was 15ºF (-9ºC). The sun did show its face, earlier than expected, and warmed the air to 35ºF (1.6ºC). As I was returning home from the town's indoor flea market, my purchases in a black bag, a white-tailed doe, trailed by a six-prong stag, thrilled me by bounding across the street I was walking on. They were only feet away from me, and I'm certain the stag made eye contact with me. 
I want to have meaningful conversations. I want to talk about the weather. About the animals. About the trees in their seasons. And other things, too, of course. Connecting. Our most important work. And our play.

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This piece first appeared as a Spiritual Perspectives column in The Gallup Independent on October 8, 2022. Reprinted here by permission



It has been said that here on Earth, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience. Rather, we are spiritual beings having a bodily experience." When I was a child, I had a tremendous longing to take communion in church. I watched my mother, the missionary's wife, cut ordinary white bread into cubes and place it on a silver-plated salver. Then she laid a pure white napkin over it. Suddenly the bread from the plastic wrapper had become holy. I watched people in the worship service put the bread into their mouths and chew it with great solemnity, and I felt so left out. There was something deep within me that recognized, not consciously, the value of this ritual. It was much later that I understood that a sacred rite, which employs our five senses, our bones and muscles, has the power to carry us to the heart of the Holy One more swiftly than less embodied practices.
Back to the idea that we are spiritual beings having a bodily experience, I think there are reasons we're made this way––made of earth. In the biblical story of the creation of the first human, the Holy One takes clay and sculpts Adam and then breathes into him the Breath of Life––inspiring him, inspiriting him. First the body, then the spirit. This is not to say that the body is more important than the spirit in our relationship with the Divine, but our bodies can be used to connect with the sacred. Maybe we even need our bodies for that ultimate connection.

Franciscan father Richard Rohr writes, "The human need for physical, embodied practices seems universal."  In 1969, Rohr was assigned as a deacon to work at Acoma Pueblo. There he was amazed to see that many rituals practiced by the Acoma people had parallels to practices of the Catholic Church, and it was this experience that led him to believe that the need for physical ritual is universal. He saw altars on the mesas covered with prayer sticks, not unlike the candles people lit as they prayed in church. He saw that the Acoma people sprinkled corn pollen at funerals, just as priests sprinkle water at burial services. He felt that mothers teaching their children to wave to the morning sun was like Catholics blessing themselves with the sign of the cross. He saw smudging with sage as a parallel to waving incense at Catholic High Masses. He writes that all these practices have one thing in common: they are embodied expressions of the human spirit.

Rohr also notes that Protestants, who have traditionally valued the mind as a spiritual vehicle more than the body, have more difficulty embracing our need for bodily practices. I can't tell you how often my father, who was a Protestant missionary, applied the words "empty ritual" to Catholic church services. And yet, Sunday after Sunday our church services followed the same pattern every week:  a piano prelude, Bible verses calling us to worship, an opening prayer, singing of hymns, reading of the text for the sermon, preaching followed by a very long prayer, then the taking up of the offering, a final hymn, the Doxology, and at last a postlude. One definition of ritual is "a repeated practice" or a "repeated spiritual practice."

We had repeated spiritual practices at home, too. Before every meal, one of my parents prayed, and we children followed by chanting a blessing in unison. After breakfast my father or mother read from the Bible and a devotional booklet; after lunch we memorized Bible passages; after supper, we heard stories from a children's Bible storybook. The scripture lessons were always followed by another prayer. Ritual. Repeated spiritual practices. And there is something comforting about the repetition, something that nurtures our souls.

There is a way that ritual calls us to attention: now we are going to do something that is different from our ordinary lives. Some people light a candle before praying, and the candlelight takes our minds away from the rush of the everyday. The soft glow can bring us into a space of silence, of contemplation. It can carry us into the God-space. When I attended the yoga school in
Sweden, a teacher lit incense before we began the evening meditation, and that helped us prepare to quiet our busy minds. For yes, we are spiritual beings, and we live in earthly bodies. Sights and sounds, smells and tastes help us join our physicality with our spirituality.

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