Are You Content?

let goIt’s hard to believe I started writing this blog  five years ago. Seems like five months in many ways—and yet, so much has changed and at breakneck speed.  The trailblazers along the social-media super highway—accelerators such as Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, Beth Kanter and Clay Shirky—continue to inspire and challenge my thinking as they constantly reinvent, re-calibrate and re-conceptualize their own approaches to social media, their audiences, the web and their own livelihoods. It is, indeed, an ever-changing frontier out there . . .well, out here, as well.

Where are we five years later? Where am I? Good question.

I suspect I am inordinately philosophical as I review the past five years today. Such monumental milestones. Such enormous challenges. Such “opportunities for growth.” “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Kelly Clarkson? Well, I believe Friedrich Nietzsche said it first.

Having just returned from another day of waiting in the hospital to hear news about a gravely ill parent, I am considering the past five years even more pensively.  Just moments ago, I was straightening the few sparse gray hairs dancing across my emaciated father’s damp, ashen forehead as I watched him fight for every shallow breath.

The weight of the past few years as a single mom has been palpable —encompassing my mother’s death a year a half ago after complications from a massive stroke—as well as other daunting challenges.  Let’s just say, life has been messy. However, thank goodness, the learning has been rich and the clarity gleaming beyond the fog. Fortunately, I have been open to it. Not just about the social media stuff, mind you—but most everything, really— life, love, the way I tick, and  my relationship to all of it—media, circumstances, feelings, places, people . . . That’s the good part.

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me

and 90% how I react to it.” 

― Charles R. Swindoll

This awareness is informing my writing, as well. Hence, I have arrived at this very blog post. In fact, I now think our relationship to our content is probably more important than the content itself.  In this new media, mega-sphere world, we have admittedly become obsessed with our gadgets—with the act of communicating. As Sherry Turkle says in Alone Together, we are too busy communicating to really connect.

Ironically, we began this social journey with rabid focus on the technology—the latest whiz-bang toy du jour. What will we do with Twitter? Instagram? Yada? Yada? Then, we moved to “content marketing.” We’re all about the content. The what. Serve it up in giant scoops of frothy, delicious digital goodness—early and often to satisfy Google’s ravenous, insatiable appetites. Businesses and thought leaders have been maniacal about producing “the right content” with the right words at the right time. SEO-yea!  Maximizing, masticating and matriculating . . .

But, now, I think it’s really and truly about relating.  Getting to the heart of the matter, right?  Who are we? What are we about?  Not another refill of the cloying Kool-Aid. After all, what does really matter?

Am I conscious? Am I present?  Am I paying attention? No more facade, thank you.

What does this mean to our marketing plans? Not sure. And more important, what does this mean to our relationships—whether they are with friends, romantic partners, business partners, parents, children, subordinates, siblings, superiors, colleagues, employees, customers, shareholders, vendors, service technicians, teachers, neighbors, customers, students, etc.  . . . or the person behind us in line at Target? Anyone.  You? It means being fully present, in the present—in the relationship.  (And I don’t mean with your phone, but that’s another post.) In fact, the truth is there will come time when . . .

The words don’t matter, because we cannot hear them.

The affectations, witty banter and posh color choices don’t matter, because we cannot see them.

And what matters is simply spirit—being there.

Life coach Martha Beck says, “Little miracles begin happening to you whenever you turn toward your right life – even if it’s in the middle of the muck and mire. Small miracles turn into big ones.” We just need to pay attention.

So, once again, I ask the question, are you content?

Time for Social Media Therapy in 2014?

enough time for social mediaBrian Solis, one of the pioneering voices in social media and one of my fave raconteurs, wrote a provocative year-end post called My So-Called Digital Life. In it, he turns a harsh light on social media behavior and questioned its value in our lives. As we look to the year ahead and prepare to orchestrate our communication plans—either for personal or business impact, I believe Solis’ thoughts resonate.

Whether it’s selfies, the sandwich on your plate, life events, new profile pictures, a vacation spot, your updated relationship status, a provocative quote, a random icebreaker, or humble brag,  we are wired for instant response and reaction. He observes, “With every action, we expect an equal or greater reaction.” It seems we are learning to measure our intrinsic worth as human beings in likes, comments, shares, retweets, and the coveted “favorite-d” tweet.  Solis contends, “We invite attention because we’re learning to lean on it and the reactions that pour through our screens warm us.  It reminds us that we’re appreciated, that we’re loved, that we’re alive.”

But, this is hollow praise, isn’t it? Superficial, temporal, and oh so fleeting—plus, it’s dependent on the whims and approval of others.  It is only a flimsy substitution for a core sense of self-worth and soul substance. Most any therapist would tell you this is not a solid plan for long-term mental health. Perhaps Solis is right. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate “the system”—to move on to a more psychologically healthy phase of social media– giving us the opportunity to invest differently and get more substance out of our digital lifestyle—and  perhaps more meaning out of our lives as a whole. Here are some initial musings for 2014:

mindfulness1. Engage in mindfulness. I think one way to transcend the shallow cycle of self-involvement is to approach social media with a sense of mindfulness—that is, try experiencing the moment fully for yourself first before commenting or feeling compelled to share or garner feedback.  Stay present and conscious – with yourself and for yourself first and foremost. Stay in the moment. Observe, yes, but participate fully and mindfully  in your own life.

2. Make it valuable.  The second is also pretty practical, too. If you are in business, focus on your customer’s needs and therefore and serving up relevant, engaging content that is worth their time and attention. Make it about value—early and often.

3. Put it in context. For the most part, we’ve begun to embrace content marketing, but in 2014, we’ll become more sophisticated about its deployment. We’ll discover that context is essential—especially with respect to the specific social channels used, media, target audiences, times of day . . . the many variables that define and design its relevance.   Brands should start asking themselves, “How are people using a particular social channel?” and “What makes a channel unique?” Then they will create contextually relevant content based on those insights. More and more, marketers will discover content may be king, but the power is in the context.

4.   Communicate from the inside out. This has been my mantra for a couple of years—particularly for small businesses, but it’s expanding into the enterprise social media realm.  This may seem painfully obvious, but social media synergy happens, well, socially.  Collaboration is the best way to ignite engagement. It’s that simple, and it starts with your internal team. They know your business best, anyway. You pay them to make it their business, right?  Empower them instead of thwarting them on social profiles. Give them guidelines and messaging to carry forward, around, and through.  We are talking about cultivating the social employee. We cannot communicate externally until we communicate internally. Good to remember in just about any context.

Snack, nibble, taste5. Snack, nibble and taste. Content need not be a bitter pill or a long dreary blog post. Make it tasty, fun and delicious. Make a quick 60-second video. Share a serious of fun photos or a really cool infographic.  Video. Video. Video.  Short-form video—Twitter’s Vine app and Instagram’s 15-second video make it incredibly easy to create and share this short-form content, so take the time to not only understand how to use these platforms but also how users consume content on them.

6.  Divide and conquer. It’s time to reel in the scatter-shot approach. Cultivate a solid presence in one or two channels rather than dominate every single platform.  Re-purpose your content as webinars, blog posts, ebooks, videos and social media content. Go for frequency and volume.  Stop whipping yourself into a social media frenzy– unless you enjoy that sort of thing! And for heaven’s sake, go for LinkedIn—especially if you are not maximizing it already. Develop a comprehensive LI strategy that leverages leadership profiles, group participation and your company profile.  LinkedIn is poised for major growth and impact in 2014—and if you’re in business and not on there, you’ll be missing the boat. Watch for some big feature announcements.

Your content awaits  . . . What are your thoughts for social media mindfulness?

CONTACT ME ANY TIME!

UPDATED Due to Ice Storm: Holiday Customer Art Show at Stoney’s Wine Lounge | Dec. 13 | 5:00 –7:00

Sommelier Necklace

Sommelier Necklace

Join us next week when we thaw. . .

I am excited and honored to participate in a Holiday Customer Art Show at Stoney’s Wine Lounge.  It’s a festive way to sip luscious wines from around the globe, shop for one-of-a-kind gifts crafted by eclectic and surprising artists from around the corner — and savor delicious jazz with friends in a cozy neighborhood atmosphere. What could be better?

I will be including some of my favorite jewelry creations. Here are a few examples—incorporating copper, abalone, quartz amethyst, brass, silver plate, gold wire, and other semi-precious gemstones. Prices range from $35 – $150.

SaxophoneElaineGantzWright Jewelry

Artists’ Reception
Friday, Dec. 13
5:00 – 7:00 pm
Stoney’s  Wine Lounge
6038 Oram St.

Dallas, TX 75206

And here’s a little back story.

Ms. Dill

Ms. Dill

Diana, Stoney and I have an interesting history. Our paths have continued to cross since I first met Diana when she was as my seventh grade French teacher at Hockaday.

Mademoiselle Dill at the time, she may have been one the absolute “coolest” teachers on the planet.  She and Patty Edwards, my speech and debate coach in high school, would both hold that title.  “Ms. Dill” would weave in French pop-culture references and even sing to us – Francoise Hardy Tous les Garcons. Formidable!

And there’s more . . . Stoney and I both landed at the Dallas Museum of Art simultaneously in the late 1980s. I was arranging fabulous fetes for the Associates and President Circle-level members and his fabulous band played at those receptions. Then, when I happened to be planning my own wedding at the time, I asked Stone to play. So, there you have it . . . some saucy synchronicity—since single, however.

So, stop by on Friday or Saturday at Stoney’s. Shop, saunter or sip.  Cheers. xo

CONTACT ME ANY TIME!

Creating Content. Inspiring Results.

Triune Web Content

RECENT PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS:

Romancing the Pants  | HAGGAR CLOTHING CO.

Haggar Content Elaine Gantz WrightWhen Joseph Marion Haggar, Sr. started the Haggar Company in 1926, the most prominent apparel manufacturers on the East Coast said, “Haggar can’t make clothes in Texas, and he won’t last one year!”  Today, it’s clear that more than 87 years of persistent innovation and keen ingenuity have certainly proved them wrong.  As one of the apparel industry’s most durable brands, Haggar has maintained a stable market position for almost a century—which provides a fertile ground for new creative energy and expansion to take root.

Led by apparel impresario, Rich Honiball, Haggar’s SVP of marketing, licensing and e-commerce, the Perfecting Our Craft Campaign has reignited the 87-year-old Haggar brand from the inside out—supporting Haggar sales, merchandising, and design partners in crafting creative strategies— not just building individual packages and promotions.  I had the privilege of helping weave the Haggar “back story” or essence into the venerable American menswear label through the fine-tuning of a compelling, fully integrated brand voice.  Now, the process continues as we interpret the story, bolster the brand,  and engage the Haggar man with various media—including web, email,  Football Hall of Fame events, fashion industry initiatives, social media, blogs, Sports Illustrated and even Mike & Mike radio spots on ESPN.  So, don’t just sit there, #GetAPair.

Discovering “A New Nation” | BENEVOLENT MUSIC

Benevolent MusicTexas and California-based Benevolent Music presents the world premiere of A New Nation,” the captivating new opera based on the biblical conflict between Jacob and Esau at the Fort Worth Community Art Center’s Scott Theatre Sept. 20 -22. Directed by Dr. Rick Piersall, opera director at Abilene Christian University, and conducted by Dr. David Thye, director of the Fort Worth Symphony Chorus and conducting chair at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “A New Nation” stars tenor Samuel Cook as Jacob and baritone Daniel Lickteig as Esau.

Over the past month, I have been consulting with artistic director Mark Peterson on building a content marketing strategy to introduce his organization, vision, collaboration, as well as his world premiere work to Texas with five performances scheduled over two weeks in Abilene and Fort Worth. Tactics include integrated social media content, targeted promotions, video, inside-out campaigns leveraging production relationships, radio spots/interviews, and PPC advertising. Visit to https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34320 to purchase tickets. Read more about the production at Benevolent Music Notes; engage on Facebook – Facebook.com/benevolentmusic, Follow us on Twitter @MusicBenevolent and #ANewNation.

“A NEW NATION” PRESS RELEASE

WRR 101.1 Radio Spots

Triune Web Content

Building Success | TRIUNE GENERAL CONTRACTOR

Headquartered in Dallas, Texas with regional offices servicing the El Paso, Shreveport, Seattle, and Washington D.C. areas, Triune is a nimble, customer-riveted general contractor with a palpable passion for excellence. Since 1997, the team at Triune has been committed to exceeding customer expectations with unsurpassed levels of quality and service. Combining a national vision with regional responsiveness and local know-how, Triune is uniquely positioned to outperform the competition and needed a website that effectively communicated this capability and moxie. I worked with CEO/CFO Vince Fudzie to produce the necessary content to drive results.

TRIUNE WEBSITE

Talk to me about creating content to help drive your results.
Send me a note – and we will connect.

Remembering Ann Cushing Gantz

Ann Cushing GantzIt’s difficult to believe my mom left this earth one year ago today–after a long struggle with the aftermath of devastating stroke. No matter how difficult the journey, life is never really the same after your mother has left your world. Remembering you today, Mom. Once again, here is the poem you asked that we read at your funeral . . . and another from me.  Love, e.

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted
By Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

Glitter Light ShineSpinning Rhythms of Delight Fantastic
By Elaine

 

Transition comes always in motion.
Summer and fall down again.
The cycle repeating so certain,
Who am I less the chagrin?

Fractured yet still—unbroken.
So this is together as one,
For it is all not forgotten.
I go forward in faith alone.

The newness of year’s end beckons
To lead my discoveries of soul.
Joy finally—that  place so vulnerable
Peace on purpose—so whole.

I’m not sure how to rest anymore.
In this place of where I prepare
What I see is now just a wisp
Of a memory on gossamer air.

I will follow the lead of my truest heart
Unfold what is next without fear.
Not a nod to the doubts of others.
Only for what is genuine and clear.

He was a mirror to my deepest ache.
Unconscious, I acquiesced.
Releasing all that, myself I cherish.
Through salted tears, I am blessed.

Remembering . . . there is time to heal.
Now, here I am—flawed and free.
Truth – such the journey uncommon.
Facing lesson’s ubiquity.

Steer no more. Press, push or pull.
In heart-fragile release Divine.
Spinning rhythms of delight fantastic.
Let  that glitter starlight shine.

Finding Myself in the Pickle: The Intersection of Art, Spirituality and Nature

ElaineGantzWright JewelryYou’ve  heard the familiar adage, “the devil is in the details.” Well, last week, I experienced quite the opposite—the yin to that yang—as so often occurs with such idioms. Truth is, I discovered the Divine in the details.  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Art @ Mo—a rejuvenating week combining spirituality and fellowship with a healthy helping of creative nourishment—all served up  in the midst of the most idyllic scenery Texas has to offer.  It was a confluence beyond compare.  How fortunate I was to spend five days of serenity and regeneration in the cradle of the majestic Texas Hill Country outside of San Antonio.

I have been to Mo Ranch more times than I can count— with and without my boys, but this year was a completely different experience. I allowed myself to focus completely and unapologetically on the art of jewelry making, and I’m not just talking about stringing some purple beads and tying a knot (which I have been known to do and to enjoy).  This was the real deal, the artisan craft, and I never knew how liberating and captivating such a pursuit could be.

It involved intense study of the painstaking steps and discipline required to make metal jewelry from concept to creation—using fine materials, such as copper, agate, abalone, amethyst, and the like.  In addition to producing some wonderful pieces under the tutelage of master jeweler Jean Cofer, I learned some lessons that have given me insight and even a sense of peace and enlightenment in my life as a whole.   This brings me to—the pickle.

Pickle is the solution used during jewelry construction to clean away the oxides, imperfections, and discolorations that occur during the prep and soldering process.  (I will describe this in greater detail in a moment.)  It’s kind of a noxious brew of hydrochloric acid and water heated in crock pot or “cauldron.” It’ll take your skin right off, but damn, it makes gorgeous jewelry!!

As neophytes, needless to say, we mostly treated the pickle with great respect. Even using the wrong implement, such as aluminum tweezers, could cause a chemical reaction and contaminate it instantly. We were careful to use wooden dowels or copper tweezers. One brazen classmate threw an old door knob or something in the pickle one day, and the cloud of foul, sulfur-smelling gas that enveloped the room required our immediate evacuation.  Jewelry-making is not for the timid! Of course, sometimes you may decide you want  the earthy patina that only contaminated pickle can deliver.  Then, it’s more about the art than the science.

ElaineGantzWright Jewelry DesignSoldering: The Beauty of the Dark Side

I’ve always wanted to learn to solder — the process of joining metal using an alloy designed to melt at a temperature lower than the metal base. Both pieces must be heated simultaneously until the solder melts.  Upon cooling, the solder solidifies to form a firm, lasting joint. The levels of solder are termed extra easy, easy, medium. and hard—depending on their melting points. Typically, they are used in reverse progression on a given piece. It gets pretty complicated.

Then, you actually use a gas blowtorch that you ignite with a bang and flourish on top of a brick. (That’s pretty fun.)  You can use a small piece of  screen perched atop a six-inch-tall, three-legged stand to perform what’s called a “sweat” solder.  And boy, it’s hot.  I find soldering truly a mystical, hypnotic process as you wave the glowing torch in back and fort and in a rotating motion over your work — waiting for the glisten of the shiny silver alloy to “pop” and ooze.  Thinking of that Scottish play, “Bubble, bubble toil and trouble . . . ” kind of an everyday alchemy.

You heat your carefully wrought jewel one step at a time—avoiding over-heating and/or complete incineration but cajoling and coaxing in carefully and gingerly to “flow.” Jean, our wonderful teacher demonstrated how to almost caress the piece of jewelry with the flame and “fluff it” just enough to achieve the desired response at the appropriate moment.    The irony is that the pendant, ring or bracelet turns the blackest black, literally soot-encrusted and then seems to almost undulate with rainbow waves of color rolling and rippling across the once-shiny surface.  Magic.

In addition to the mesmerizing beauty of it all, the process struck me as such a basic metaphor for life’s challenges—the reality of going through the most intense heat, pain and darkness to transform into a beautiful, bright work of art. Even the terms to describe the different types of solder  fit the analogy – sometimes it’s “easy,” even “extra easy” to stay “in flow,” and sometimes it’s pretty “hard,” and we get stuck. So, we start  all over again.

The key learning for me was that every step is essential. No skipping this or that to speed up the process for us impatient, big-picture types.  Trust the process. Hmmm . . . Seems I’ve heard that one before.  This was the spiritual gateway for me –where I was able to leave behind all the “recent character-building” experiences of my Dallas life and find a renewed sense of feeling centered and at peace.  The Zen of soldering, indeed.  Each step is a piece of the puzzle.

Like “flux” – the substance you must always use in soldering to facilitate the flow and the bond.  Now, that is poetry right there.  It’s all about the steps and sequencing.  Very instructive stuff on my latest enlightenment journey.

Plus, I walked away with treasures I am proud to own and wear—along with memories of laughter and song. Win-win-win.

Next up:  Annealing and Praying  . . . don’t you love it? 

Northwestern Alumni Get a Taste of Pizza Hut’s Secret Sauce

whatsoverI had the opportunity to attend a meeting of Dallas area Northwestern University alumni last night.  Pizza Hut/Yum! Brands on Plano’s corporate super highway hosted us—in all our purple panache. Great, convivial crowd—including DFW graduates of the Kellogg School of Management, as well.

Scott Bergren, CEO of Pizza Hut U.S. and Yum! Brands, was a delightful, genuine, and inspiring raconteur. In fact, he launched his presentation with a preamble that demonstrated he is a leader who truly walks his talk. He has effectively turned this fast food ship around through a precise understanding of his customer, as well as his business. He shared that he even did some market research about the NU group’s expectations of his presentation, and he discovered we prefer to hear stories—the tales of his life, personal dilemmas, successes and the connections to Northwestern that have helped propel his life’s trajectory.

He did not disappoint.

Open about being in his mid-60s, the fit and facile corporate mogul spoke with conviction about his intention to keep delivering the pizza profits— indefinitely. Along the way, he inserted several delicious nuggets of wit and wisdom—worth repeating.

  • Be a “possibilitarian.” Bergren  described himself as such—committed to seeing the possibilities in everything and every idea.  He explained that many corporate cultures reward the naysayer and the hole-puncher. The solution may not always be obvious, but he is willing to be relentless in finding one. That’s how true innovation is nurtured and achieved. He observed, “Steve Jobs did not really make anything. He made things happen.”
  • Make your ideas “sticky.” As marketing copywriter from way back, I love this one. It’s not enough to have idea. It needs to resonate and to literally “stick” in the human psyche and/or organizational zeitgeist—working with external markets or internal teams.  His example was his latest buzz concept — “Rebuild America”  inside Pizza Hut. His staff members in the audience nodded enthusiastically. It started out as something like “Rebuild the Pizza Hut business in America,” but it became the internal battle cry for an audacious goal and compelling vision as “Rebuild America.”
  • Find a “work buddy.” This does not mean the girlfriend you go to lunch with and to review the latest gossip. Bergren is talking about a challenging mastermind relationship that provides a rigorous intellectual workout. He says this is particularly important for leaders. He suggests cultivating a comrade in a completely different discipline or functional area—someone who thinks differently. It may be an accountant or a software programmer—someone who can help you see the things you can’t—and from a completely different perspective.
  •  Ask the right questions.  Bergren explained that one of the most critical success qualities in asking the right questions—significantly more important that serving up the right answers. He attributes his success at Pizza Hut to knowing what questions and when to ask them.  Cultivating curiosity. He recommends asking those questions of everyone involved—from customer to colleague.

After all, “There are no right answers to the wrong questions,” says Ursula K. Le Guin.

This was just a taste of last night’s our fascinating fast food feast.  Great times with my Northwestern tribe. Go Wildcats!

What was questions are you asking today?

It’s an inside job

lemons“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Often, the universe dishes up not just one or two pesky, little hurdles – but a veritable tsunami of desolation. The real challenge is  processing it all productively and assessing our authentic truth — not anyone else’s version, mind you, but our very own.  In the aftermath, we do some serious onion peeling – but that’s easier said than done. Life is messy.

I believe these times of vertigo-inducing, tummy-tickling turmoil consume us for a reason — to shake us up and down, over and around — to help us see a new perspective and another side. The trick is identifying the nuggets of wisdom in the swirling vortex and harnessing their positive power to make us stronger, clearer, and wiser — like making lemons into lemonade. (Or sautéing those onion layers into a scrumptious caramelized concoction.) These analogies may seem a little hackneyed, but the truth is that I seem to have harvested a bumper crop of lemons lately — in love, work, family, etc. Sweet turned to sour and fresh to foul.

I read somewhere that this is all a simple law of physics — or metaphysics, as the case may be. “It’s like patterned disorder,” says life coach Martha Beck. “And in nature, it creates beautiful things.” She contends that instead of being tortured, perhaps we are being steered—“dressed as chaos.” It’s all about reversing our assumptions.  Love that!

“Little miracles begin happening to you whenever you turn toward your right life,” says Beck – even if it’s in the middle of the muck and mire. Small miracles turn into big ones. And she’s oh, so correct. The tiny miracles ARE all around me— if I just pay attention.

In fact, here’s one—looking forward to delivering a webinar on Jan. 30, 2013, for NALA, the National Association of Local Advertisers and Jeff Velis, vice president of operations and esteemed former colleague.  It’s called Social Media is an Inside Job. Thank you, Jeff.  Can’t wait!

UntitledWhat are your questions about building a crackerjack content strategy for your business or enterprise? Join us!

And let the new journey begin!

2012 in review

Thank you, gentle readers! Was a busy year in the “life” department. Hang on tight for 2013.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 1,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Penetrating Thin Places

“Pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

- Aeschylus

I’m writing about something different today.  Since my mother’s death, I’ve been thinking about thin places.

“Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer” was the headline of a New York Times article from earlier this year.  The writer highlighted divinely infused places near and far–but added that they need not always be sacred in nature.  One might find an airport, a bar, or your front porch at sunset just as soul inspiring as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

In fact, he held that such significant places may even contain “the confluence of the sacred and the profane”—such as Jerusalem, for instance, combining the timeless profundity of the divine with the historical weight of unending conflict.  And Weiner added, “Getting to a thin place usually requires a bit of sweat. One does not typically hop in a taxi to a thin place, but sometimes you can.”

While I agree with the sweat-equity notion, the actual voyage required can vary significantly—depending on the measure of time, physical distance, heart, mind or soul required.  I have written about the phenomenon of locations as thin places in the past – Mo Ranch and Montreat, the locales that Presbyterians revere so passionately.  Mo Ranch is nestled deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country on the Guadalupe river and requires  many, many hours in a car (a particularly lengthy trip when traveled with a rambunctious collection of adolescent boys.) And Montreat is cradled in the lush, majestic Black mountains in North Carolina’s remotest wilderness.

Yet in recent months, the thin places I have experienced have been characterized less by place and more by spirit. Curiously, they have been almost ubiquitous—those mystical portals to the realm of the soul—where the gossamer veil that separates us from our Source feels more permeable somehow.

These are places where God’s presence is palpable.

I believe I have been encountering this phenomenon with increased frequency—not because there are more around me—but because I have been graced with their recognition as a means of comfort through an extraordinarily difficult time in my life.

The priest who officiated at my mother’s memorial service in August referenced “a thin place” as he endeavored to placate my family in the poignant moments prior to stepping into the St. Michael’s and All Angels Chapel, where my mother’s public waited.  Father Kevin Huddleston framed it in almost Spielberg-esque  terms—as if we might notice the stained glass windows behind the altar dissolving into a hazy image of heaven—thus providing a glimpse of my mother’s welcome release from pain and earthly struggle as she crossed to the other side.

I deeply appreciate the concept of thin places, but ironically, they have a cumulative weight.

But now I know—the thinnest places of all are not on a hill, in a river, or in church building. They are not behind a stained glass window or on a beach. Don’t get me wrong. These can be small pockets of heaven—true glimpses of the divine creation. But, I now know the thinnest places we can know are in the heart.

Somehow, for most of my 50+ years, I lacked the heart connection I so yearned for with my mother and father. There are many reasons and circumstances around this reality, but they are in the past. This makes the bittersweet gift I received during the last few weeks of my mother’s life even more precious and meaningful.  I literally felt the hand of God in our interactions. Undeniable and visceral. Though her stroke completely destroyed the brain cells responsible for her speech, cognition and movement, she was able to make noises, cast her gaze and react—caught in a physical prison offering few options for more than two and a half years. In the moment with my mom, her state was simultaneously devastating and sublime to witness—truly the confluence of the sacred and profane.

It was pure, raw, authentic spirit– unfettered by any conscious understanding of her paralyzed confinement in a wheelchair. Her essence seemed to transcend her circumstances—the angry bed sores, deep purple bruises and expanding edema that rendered her atrophied limbs almost unrecognizable. Even with the misfiring synapses and unpredictable responses, her heart and soul were discernible.  She could not be squelched or muted. Her life force burst out through her eyes and enlivened her playful, coquettish smile. She reached out to me in a way she never had—expressing volumes in a simple squeeze of her hand.

Swollen, paralyzed, aphasic, and racked with by infection in those final days, my mom was unable to comprehend the world around her in conventional ways. But I was certain I was seeing her soul. My eyes would well with tears as I acknowledged the holy privilege of witnessing my her pure spirit – her unvarnished, unadorned, raw being – her Divinity.

What is this heart connection—this exquisite vulnerability that defies description? It is the unique imperative of our being, and yet, it eludes so many of us in our lives. Who are we – beneath the words, languages, thoughts, and unconscious programming? Who are we behind the artifice of the person we think we are, the person we feel we need to be or the person who we want to be? So often, we seem to allow our fears and the perceptions of  others define us—obscuring who we are at the very core. What a remarkable sight to have seen.

It’s nothing short of a miracle – this very thinnest of places, this glimpse of eternity.

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