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each of us is different

            This iris was nestled between the weeds outside my front door. After painting this, I realized that each iris I see looks different.  The irises have not changed, but I am seeing each of them in new ways. Previously when I looked at it I would have thought, ‘Oh yes, another iris,’ and put it into a file of cartoon-like irises in my mind – maybe some color variations, but basically all the same.  But each iris has a particular quality, exists in a particular space, and is seen by me in a moment that for me is different from all those before and after. Each human being needs to be viewed like that too. We put each other into boxes and categories so easily, yet each one of us is so distinct, and each encounter is so different.

Becoming friendly with words again

Have you ever written poetry? Not to produce a poem as professional poets do or with the aim of creating something to be admired, but just for the fun of playing with words, being friendly with them? Sestinas are a poetic form, where 6 words are used over and over again in 7 stanzas, no rhyming.  (A good example is Elizabeth Bishop’s poem entitled Sestina, which was my first introduction to the form in the book, The Redress of Poetry by Seamus Heaney.) In a college class I taught, students were asked to write sestinas to explore who they were and picked words that resonated with them or meant something to them.  The repetition took them beyond the superficial as they continued with repetition to put the words in different contexts, with a final stanza pulling all together.  Although skeptical to start with, most of them quite appreciated the process in the end, and many also enjoyed the opportunity to share their final poem with others if they wanted to.

I am currently writing sestinas myself as a daily exercise.  I pick my 6 words, sometimes the day before, and then in my morning contemplative time I write one.  These are not intended to be great poems, or read by anyone other than me, but the stretching into the words, the playing with them, the exploration – this feels good.  I dig into my desires and emotions that are under the surface, unarticulated. I sometimes pick words from my journal from the day before, or take a theme of interest to me, and pick words related to that.

Structure helps. I follow the requirement of having the 6 words at the end of each line in the first 6 stanzas, in a set order, and then pull all together in the last 3-line stanza using all 6 words, which feels very satisfying. You may want to try this.  The rules seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it really is simple to follow as you go from one set to another as in a square dance, picking up the last word in the last line, and making that occur at the end of the first line in the next stanza.

We so often think of poetry in terms of the end result, the poem itself to be read and hopefully appreciated.  But this exercise of writing these sestinas has no such aim.  My aim is to become friendly with words again, and to dig into my thoughts and feelings that are bubbling under the surface, and give them air.


I ‘listen’ to poetry to hear what speaks to me.  Each of us hears a poem in a different way.  I have been finding nourishment in these lines from the poem “Somewhere” (from Laboratories of the Spirit, Macmillan 1975) by the Welsh poet R.S.Thomas.

What speaks to you in these lines after reading them slowly?

…the point of travelling is not

to arrive, but to return home

laden with pollen you shall work up

into the honey the mind feeds on.


What are our lives but harbours

we are continually setting out

from, airports at which we touch

down and remain in too briefly

to recognize what it is they remind

us of? And always in one

another we seek the proof

of experiences it would be worth dying for.


…Surely there exists somewhere,

as the justification for our looking for it,

the one light that can cast such shadows?

Where do you find evidence of “the one light that casts such shadows”?  Now that you are spending more time at home, do you find yourself using the pollen you have gathered up on your travels in the past, to make honey for your mind to feed on?


Is being vulnerable something we should avoid at all costs? There is a welcoming quality in vulnerability. Who wants to be hugged by, or hug, a suit of armor?  This quilt on my sofa invites someone to sit on it.  Not like metal, square edges, hard corners, which might represent a ‘cool’ place.   Softness represents invitation and warmth.  Soft, vulnerable people can easily get injured, but also create a safe space, a welcoming space, for someone to relax and rest, and be who they are.

the peril of trying to be someone else

“One learns who one is and it is at one’s peril that one attempts to become someone else.” —John Barth

art by lynn


                   drawing by lynn




The person is prudent who does not allow his vision of reality to be controlled by the yes or no of his will but rather makes this yes or no of the will dependent upon the truth of reality.

-Josef Pieper summarizing Thomas Aquinas


Some people say that crpweedslynnunderwoodweeds are just plants that are growing in the wrong place. I recently drew some plants of indeterminate nature outside our front door. A final burst of flowers before autumn hits.  I often have trouble telling weeds from flowers. It is the same in my life too – sometimes those things I am sure are weeds, end up with beautiful blooms.



good glue

Brush it on, rub it off,comprcropgluelynnunderwood

under or over,

Rub-ber ce-ment.

What keeps us together?

What pulls us apart?

Strings of sticky.

Separation– no tearing.

Closeness– no wrinkling.


one reason that work can feel bad

“Work without love is slavery.”

–Mother Teresa

drawing by lynn

getting ready to work

resolving through art

“I like the feeling of being able to confront an experience and resolve it as art.”

—Eudora Welty, novelist

Do you have an art form that you enjoy? If not, is there one you want to try? Photography, Music, Sketching, Writing fiction or poetry? Your creative path may even be in your garden or your kitchen.  Doing art can increase our awareness of the beauty and coherence of the ordinary.

snacks by lynn

snacks by lynn


photo by macrina wiederkehr

photo by macrina wiederkehr


Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu:
“All your teaching is centered on what has no use.”

Chuang Tzu replied:
“If you have no appreciation for what has no use
You cannot begin to talk about what can be used.
The earth for example, is broad and vast
But of all this expanse a man uses only a few inches
Upon which he happens to be standing.
Now suppose you suddenly take away
all that he is not actually using
So that, all around his feet a gulf
Yawns, and he stands in the Void
with nowhere solid except right under each foot:
How long will he be able to use what he is using?”

Hui Tzu said: “It would cease to serve any purpose.”

Chuang Tzu concluded:
“This shows the absolute necessity of what has ‘no use.’”

(From The Way of Chuang Tzu, transl. by Thomas Merton, 1965)

six impossible things before breakfast

art by lynn

art by lynn

At the farmers market in Michigan a few weeks ago, I bought a punnet of sweet carrots. On arriving home and unpacking them, I discovered these. Sometimes things we think are impossible are possible after all.

too many

art by lynn

art by lynn

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times.” – Thomas Merton

Everything we miss

drawing by lynn

drawing by lynn

While looking through the little notebooks that I keep when I travel, reviewing jottings from this past year, I discovered notes on a graphic novel called Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson in the Fruitmarket art gallery in Edinburgh.  The back blurb reads,  “Have you ever wondered what goes on in your life when you’re looking the other way? Perhaps you’re so drawn into what’s going on with you that you fail to notice the events taking place in your periphery—or even right under your nose?”

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to pay attention to the little things around me, and appreciate them…those treasures that I so often miss. Hidden glory.

Moving towards resting places


drawing by lynn

“A body tends by its weight towards the place proper to it – weight does not necessarily tend towards the lowest place but towards its proper place. Fire tends upwards, stone downwards. By their weight they are moved and seek their proper place…. Things out of their place are in motion: they come to their place and are at rest. My love is my weight: wherever I go, my love is what brings me there.”

– St Augustine


Conflict Resolution and Spiritual Connection Podcast

georgemasonlynnunderwoodThis summer I was invited to give a presentation on the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.  One of the uses of the 16 Daily Spiritual Experience Questions is in opening conversations to bridge differences in beliefs, and help in community building.  After the presentation and the lively discussion, Jacqueline Greiff, the Executive Director of their Center for Peacemaking Practice, invited me to be interviewed. You can listen to a podcast of this by scrolling to the bottom of the page at

It excites me to see how useful the 16 DSES questions are for those from so many religions, as well as those who are not comfortable with religion.  The specific experiences that people have can bridge differences in belief and culture, often creating connections at a deep level between people. The resulting conversations do not reduce spiritual experience to mush, but create space for the marvelous variety and depth of experiences that sustain and enrich so many different people’s lives.

Leaves on the Ground at our Feet

leavesanna24lynnunderwoodcompressed  I noticed these leaves while out walking today, and picked up these two from the grey pavement to take home. I drew and painted them to help the beauty stick with me longer. As they sit here on the table together, I also find myself thinking about my relationships with those I am close to.

opening windows with art


“Art in the spirit opens a window onto these transcendental realities of which the ancients called the Passio Entis, the “accidents of Being.” They are the Holiness of all that is. And from these transcendental involvements flow all the other humanizing values of our existence: love, compassion, simplicity, fidelity, forgiveness, freedom, justice, peace. For you see it is the function of art to open the human heart.”

Some food for my morning contemplative time these past weeks has been a beautiful book, Creation out of Clay: The Ceramic Art and Writings of Brother Thomas

(Ed. Rosemary Williams, Pucker Art Publications, Boston 1999, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids)

It is a large book full of luscious pictures of Brother Thomas’ pottery that make me want to touch them, and full of his essays, which include wisdom that feeds me.