God’s Country

I’m reprinting this story, written in January 2009, in honor of my sister, Nancy, and her husband, John, who are celebrating their 50th Anniversary today.

Most of my wandering in the desert I’ve done alone. Not so much from choice as from necessity – I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not
too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.”

— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

I remember my sister, Nancy, and her new husband, John, taking me away for long IMG_7120weekends – to their home in Sacramento, and, once, to John’s hometown in Nevada.

Nancy was fun – laughing a lot and telling stories, playing music. John was funny. He was able to make anything comedic. He was a satirist in his own right – and reminded me of George Carlin. But, as the little sister, it bothered me when he teased Nancy, which he frequently did. She laughed it off and took it in stride.

In Sacramento, I remember John building waterfalls out of driftwood and pipe for their little home. I seem to remember a flood of some sort one weekend I was there – some appliance or waterfall gone wrong. I loved their big dog, “Bear.” He did indeed look like a big black bear – and was the sweetest and most loyal dog I ever knew. John also gave me my first (and last) ride on a motorcycle. It scared the bejezus out of me. I was a tough kid in a lot of ways, but fast car rides and this ride on a motorcycle scared me. But I liked that John took the time for something special like that with me. I think we also floated in inner tubes or a raft down the American River.

John’s sister, Kathy, was a year older than I. A couple of times, John and Nancy arranged for us to be at their house on the same weekend. Kathy was nice to me – and I thought she was very cool. She and I kept planning what we would do when I visited her home in Nevada. At last, we bugged John and Nancy so much that they decided to do it – to take me to Kathy’s for a long weekend.

I had been through Nevada on family vacations – we had driven several times from Reno to Salt Lake City. But no one in my family had ever considered hanging out there or staying there for fun. There was always a great fear that our car would break down somewhere in Nevada and the buzzards would find us later. I thought it was absolutely hilarious that John pretended to prefer Nevada to California. (He must have been pretending, right?) As we drove over the Sierra’s and crossed the border, he shouted, “Look, Karie! God’s country!” He had to be joking.

As we descended from the heights of the Sierras to the Nevada desert, John pointed out the difference in the roads. It was something I, as an eleven-year-old, had never considered: road surfaces. The road did seem blacker and less bumpy. John said it was because of gambling revenue. Nevada had much better roads than California. Okay, I could give him that one.

We left Reno and headed east. John taught me that you could tell what county a Nevada car was from by reading their license plate. He taught me the code for Washoe County, his county. There were lots of cars with those licenses driving around. Soon we were in the desert.

This is God’s country?” I asked. John scowled at me in the rear view mirror and shook his head.

lovelock 1At last we arrived in the small rural town where John had grown up. It was something like a movie set. I could picture Ben Cartwright riding into town. No, we weren’t in the Bay Area anymore. The home where John’s mother, stepfather, sister and brother lived completed the set. To me it was like Big Valley or the Ponderosa. The house seemed rather grand – with French doors leading in to the living room and shelves and windowsills full of antique glass. So, this was Nevada.

John’s mom introduced me to a feral cat living in their garage. I spent my spare moments that weekend attempting to tame it. I always had a special way with cats. I coaxed it into letting me pet it for a moment, but then some movement in the distance spooked it and it was gone in an instant.

John’s mother also took us all on a day of arrowhead hunting. It was fuel for the imagination. We drove out to the middle of nowhere and she said, “Okay, here it is.” I couldn’t imagine anything interesting in this bright white, hard desert. But sure enough, in just minutes we were finding tiny seed beads – real Native American beads. I imagined the people who lived and apparently fought or hunted here. We found arrowheads and parts of arrowheads. It reminded me of hunting for seashells – without the ocean.

Then we had some kind of car problem. A “float in the engine” – whatever that was – was causing us trouble. John’s brother rescued us with his pickup truck. John’s brother was a good looking older teenager. He was nice to me, quite mature, and reminded me of a cowboy.

Late that afternoon, things got exciting after we got home. The bright sunny day became cloudy in an instant and everyone ran through the beautiful house closing windows. I had never experienced a dust storm before. The wind blew black clouds of dust and then the rain came down in huge drops like mud. Nevada weather was more intense than I had experienced. I worried about the cat hiding in rafters of the garage.

In Nevada, I got acquainted with Kathy’s small town world. I knew she was always talking about boys. The boys in my life, who I talked about, were just that: sixth grade boys. The boys in Kathy’s world were something else.

On Saturday night, there was a street dance – something I’d never heard of. The girls in town wore their jeans skin tight. I mean skin tight. Kathy helped me to baste a seam in my baggier pants so that I wouldn’t look so out of place. Kathy was tiny and I could never have fit into her jeans. These were not boot cut jeans, though they did wear boots. I remember she had a technique involving a pencil to get her socks up under the bottom of her jeans. All of the girls at the dance were dressed identically. No we were not in the Bay Area – where we wore peasant blouses and faded, baggy jeans. And these were not boys asking Kathy to dance, these were young men.

There was live music – and the guys checked out the girls. We stood with other girls waiting for someone to come over and ask us to dance. I was out of my comfort zone and felt like a child. I don’t recall all of the details of the evening. I do know I was relieved when we finally got home, later that night. I thought California girls were wild. Nevada girls were wilder.

Rye Patch DamThe next day, we went water-skiing, of all things. We drove for miles through a bleak landscape. But there, sure enough, in the middle of the desert was a huge body of water – Rye Patch Dam. I had experienced my first taste of water-skiing on Lake Leander in Minnesota, where my sister, Martie, now lived. I couldn’t wait to ski again. We skied all day and had a picnic on the rocky beach. But the thing I remember most was “Bear Dog” jumping out of the boat and off of the land, over and over – wanting to save us when we fell. It was the most endearing thing. This dog was fished out of deep water again and again because he was afraid John, Nancy, Kathy or I were going to drown.

At last, we were all packed up and ready to head home. I made one last attempt to befriend the cat. It peeked out from the rafters, but wouldn’t come down to say goodbye. I had a tiny bag full of beads and arrowheads to show everyone at home. I said goodbye to Kathy and promised to write her all summer – which I did. I also went home and mangled two perfectly good pairs of jeans trying to tailor them and wear them the way they did in Nevada.

As we drove out of Reno and over the Sierras, John looked at me in the mirror as we crossed the state line. “Okay Karie, say goodbye to God’s country…and get ready for pollution, crowded highways, and crappy California roads.”

I looked back out the window. The weekend had truly been an adventure – it introduced me to a completely different world. “Hmmm…” I thought, “Maybe Nevada is part of ‘God’s country’ too….” But I’d never give John the satisfaction of admitting it.

Kathy, my sister, Judy, & me just before Nancy’s wedding.

To be or not to be “Church”

“Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Barbara & Karen work on Solstice mandalaWhen I was frustrated with my own lack of spiritual “progress” or evidence of growth, a wise guide said to me, “The longing you have is very important – as important as anything. Longing is good.” I have pondered this statement on and off for a year somewhere in the back of my mind.

My version of spring fever – in a climate where we don’t really get lots of new growth until mid-May or June – is spring yearning. I want, I NEED green. I need water, rain, lightening, humidity. All of the stuff that is marketed at Eastertime. Somewhere deep in my soul, I need to see a green shoot pushing up through soft earth and raindrops or dewdrops adorning the leaves, the petals. I think of ocean, fog, daffodils, tulips, almond groves. I know this stuff is out there. This is the curse of growing up in California and relocating. The body knows, the visceral memory knows: Somewhere it is spring.

When I lived in California, though, I had the same condition all times of the year. The yearning, longing for what is not quite here. Often, in some vague form, I’d be wanting connection with others, with community. In my little Central Valley home, I eventually found my Tribes. I found a church that welcomed my quirkiness. I found my sisters and brothers of the Yoga Tribe who provided weekly, sometimes bi- and tri-weekly conversation and connection. In Berkeley, I met my spiritually-questing-Tribe. Such a time! Yearning for community fulfilled!

And then we moved.

I’ve been back in yearning mode much of the time since. But the guidance I received_ACT6304 about “longing being good” turns out to have contained an unexpected wisdom. Longing turns out to be a finely honed navigational system. It overrides the mind’s chatter.

I had begun to craft a spiritual home outside of my long-beloved church, after I left my last ministry position. The other tribes I joined fit me to a “T” for that moment and place. It was a time of expansion and reunion with an even wider spiritual circle.

But after my sister passed away, in the process of grieving, I found myself longing – and actively seeking a spiritual home. I tried everything. Then John and I went to a Railroad History presentation at a small local church. There was absolutely no spiritual content or setting to the event. The talk was to be held in a less-than-beautiful, humble Fellowship Hall in a rural church. But the church members (unbeknownst to us) were offering a soup dinner before the presentation to anyone who wanted it.

I walked through the door and felt as Lucy must have felt when she passed through that wardrobe full of coats into Narnia. It bowled me over. This earthy crowd, this less than mystical group, was family. My husband didn’t want food, but by all that’s holy, I was bound and determined to eat a bowl of that soup – and did so. Heavenly.

After all of that joy, I still didn’t settle on that particular congregation. But – it being a Saturday – as soon as I got home, I looked for a church in that same town. I found the funkiest, most humble little church you can imagine. Its webpage said, “All are welcome. No exceptions.” The next morning, I drove about 8 miles up the highway. Inside, I found a warm welcome – open hearts, open minds (as the saying goes). Home.

My brain has kicked in numerous times since then. “But these people don’t get me.” “I need an Interfaith Tribe of journeyers.” It goes on and on. They don’t use the right hymnal. They use a hymnal. They don’t use the right language about God. They don’t wipe the tables right after coffee hour. They’ve had a lot of problems. I don’t know if there is anything for me to do here. There is way too much to do here.

I’m not sure if this is a church for webcasts or live feed, but perhaps that is why it feels like home. It is cozy and real.

IMG_5680They know how to host an awesome potluck. They show up at Marches and celebrate Pride. With a ragtag group, they know how to make lovely music. They know how to hold each other in prayer and love when times get hard. They forget social niceties, but love children to a fault. As humans go, our fearless leader is as kind and compassionate as I’ve ever known.

Hmmmmm. Not my Tribe? The tribe members call this place home because they love God and Jesus, love their neighbors, they love the mountains, the trees, the earth and they’re fiercely independent. They seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Sometimes, I think, my many requirements for personhood – and “how to be a good human being” or an authentic spiritual explorer get in the way of connecting. My husband never talks about it, but I know he observes me out there on my perfectionistic quest to find a truly holy Sangha. I don’t think he understands the importance of the high bar I set. (Ha!)

The day I walked into this place, I knew he’d like it. No façade. No airs.

There is this other thing, too. The “spiritual but not religious” voice in me. The part that sees that Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, loving Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans, Native People, other New Agers – they are generally not the ones out there shouting hateful, racist, woman-hating, immigrant-hating, abusive stuff in our country these days. No, those screaming, fearful ones are my peeps. Those are the voices of Christians. Even though I love Church in a big, deep way, and love Jesus in a bigger, deeper way, there is a longing to be clearly Other than my fellow Christians who don’t have a clue what Jesus was up to (or so it seems from my totally non-judgmental vantage point). It’s easier to feel good about being part of a tribe versus part of a church.

Unfortunately, for those who do have a clue what Jesus was doing, we oh-so-enlightened  (and self proclaimed) ones don’t get to draw that line. We don’t get to be Other. We have to stay in the same boat and figure out how to get along and love folks. Even those who sound so very hateful and who support a guy who…well…it doesn’t really matter. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and figure out how in the world to love that guy, too. We have to get ourselves ready for understanding to break through between us – for compassion and wisdom to light the way to embracing each other again. (I’m not sure we ever did get there in the past, but it was easier to imagine it – to get glimpses of it anyway.)

We do have to keep longing for Truth and putting ourselves on the line for the well-being of the vulnerable. We have to insist, with love, that all of God’s children are welcome and treated justly.  Luckily, we have little homes, tribes, covens, congregations and sanghas to yearn with us and support us in this effort.

After all of my wandering – and my highly creative Bay Area and south Minneapolis leanings – I thought my Home or my Tribe was going to be way cooler. It was gonna be frickin’ awesome. I thought it would be fancier, more polished, or at least more Feng Shui. For sure, I assumed there would be organic and vegan options. But I guess that’s not what I was really longing for. Here I am: A happy wanderer, home at last.

There is a labyrinth out there behind the weeds, after all. And we do have free-range chicken and duck eggs, and gluten-free options.

Y’all come visit. You’ll be most welcome.

Wichita 2017

New Year’s Blessing

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; the Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come…

William Wordsworth, c. 1804

This week I had the opportunity to share the gifts of my spiritual journey with my husband and a good friend. We had both deeply spiritual and highly irreverent conversations. We touched on our deepest difficulties and hurts and we laughed until our sides hurt about our current lives and all that confounds us in this world.

Now, it is New Year’s Day. I’m remembering that we are not here to conquer or control life. We are here to open our eyes – to heighten our senses – and be present. If we pay attention, we will witness a series of miracles and moments of grace – of extraordinary moments in a sea of confusingly ordinary and sometimes overwhelming ones. That’s my experience, anyway. Whenever I feel that I have things figured out, the cosmos stirs things up and turns the world upside down, just to keep the process interesting. Laughter and a sense of humor are as essential, as is the ability to ride the ever-changing waves.

At midnight last night, after a quiet evening at home, I came upstairs and discovered my new year’s gift. The moon was shining bright and it had snowed about an eighth of an inch of big elegant flakes – enough to cover our deck and the fields below. The moon reflected like diamonds, making each surface sparkle with light. If you have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a soul that senses – our Source is seeking our awareness.

Let’s see if this year sparkles with that same promise as it continues to unfold. Let’s tell each other about the miracles we experience. Let’s laugh and cry and hold each other in our grief. And in the midst of all that, let’s find out if it is possible to stand in awe and soak in gratitude each and every day.

Valley clouds

Sifting and Seeking Truth

“This above all: to thine own self be true…”
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet

But strive first for the realm of God and God’s righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.

– Jesus’ Teaching, Matthew 6:33

Above Palisades 3How can we talk to each other about what we know to be Sacred? I’m often at a loss for knowing how to connect with others because our spiritual understandings vary so widely.

Perhaps we have a particular tradition in common or spiritual teacher, master, guru, or writer whom we may reference and point towards. We may point to inspirational stories, words that have offered comfort, or a moral guideline which we feel is essential and then we can discuss our similarities and differences, doubts and confusion. More often, though, we have widely varying beliefs and have few people to talk to about these things. The teachings we bump into are all over the map.

Each of us has our own way of “knowing” and understanding, we each have different life experiences, different levels of openness to new thought and differing barriers or obstacles. At a certain point we reach an impasse with, well, everyone – unless we value unquestioning faith and blind trust. There is probably no one person who believes exactly as we do.

My ultimate Guide is an internal one, connected to Spirit. We each are born with a sort of inner GPS which helps us to navigate and find our way. Another metaphor that might be more helpful is that of an “inner filter.”

We take a particular story, lesson, or belief and pass it through the interior filter. For instance, though I have studied religion, philosophy, and spirituality in great depth, all of those classes and each of those teachings have to first pass through this filtration system before any material makes it into my archive of Truth (and truth today is not always truth for tomorrow). Words, beliefs, moral standards must pass through the following filters:

  • Who is telling me this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching? Are they a person of wisdom and integrity? Or innocence and truth? Are they without guile, self-interest or bias? The scriptural phrase that comes to mind is, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Is the source of the information a truly good/wise/truthful one?
  • How does this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching interact with my foundational beliefs? (Beliefs such as, “Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or “Do no harm to yourself or others.” Or “Treat others as you would wish to be treated.”) Does it promote goodwill and well-being for all or does it promote harm/oppression/injustice/rigidity/ selfishness/fear (etc.)? Note: Some of our ancient religious teachings don’t meet this standard. Just because it made sense in one time and setting, does not mean it unquestioningly applies today. The Sacred calls us to keep filtering.
  • Then – perhaps the most subjective of filters – does this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching contain an essence of Living Spirit, God, Highest Consciousness or my Higher Power as I define that Power? Does it resonate with my experience of that Spirit/God/Consciousness/Power in my life? Perhaps we are presented with dogma or rules or beliefs that are part of a religious, moral or political tradition that don’t meet the highest values or truth of this same tradition. We must set those inferior or untrue teachings aside. Perhaps there is a layer of truth, but other false teachings have been added to it, then we must sort this out. Does it align with the One we seek prayerful guidance from?


My mind keeps turning away from spirituality to the world of politics as I’m writing because this filtering process obviously applies there, too. But my primary purpose today is to talk about our spiritual growth process – mine and yours. This bright light of spiritual truth, once filtered, is the beacon we need to shine on social, political, relational situations as we seek the right path.

I don’t know about you, but I am easily distracted from spiritual growth. That’s not a problem though, because if the distraction grows and I ignore my path, I become so miserable that I’m forced to return. This has been the basic road map of my spiritual walk. Hopefully, you’re not as easily set off-course as I am.

Once we are on our path, here are some basics:

  • Spend time connecting to Living Spirit every day, and seek to sustain that connection throughout the day.
  • See everything that comes your way as an avenue of spiritual learning and growth, whether you’re cleaning the kitchen, fixing the car, meditating on a mountaintop, listening to an upsetting political speech, or sitting in a dull meeting.
  • Stay with those deep Truths, the ones that have lifted you again and again from the muck and mire of life. Stay with what you know from your own experience to be true. When it becomes blurry, seek the guidance of Spirit and of trusted friends and mentors.
  • Send everything (including your own beliefs) through the filtration system.
  • Soak in the Love and Light of Spirit as often as you can – through whatever avenues lift you (silence, music, nature, prayer, writing, companionship, play, creativity, and so on).
  • Give thanks for every small or large miracle, gift or grace in your life. Share these stories with yourself and others again and again. Gratitude and joy are close companions.
  • When all else fails, start over with the first step (return to your Source).

P.S. Moving out of the purely spiritual realm and going back to politics – to be clear and not vague: If all of this light, love and filtration is applied to the teachings of Neo-Nazis (or traditional Nazis), or to the teachings of the KKK, obviously these land in the “rejected beliefs” pile. Right??? I’ve been reminded again lately that it is our job to share love and light AND to speak up for others who are the objects of hatred or injustice, even when it seems too obvious to need articulating. To be passive is to passively agree or accept the words of haters. In the process above LOVE WINS everytime!


Swimming in a Sea of Sacred Stuff

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names

Rainer Maria Rilke, from “The Man Watching,” Trans. Robert Bly

IMG_2953I guess the planet, Mother Earth, is saying that it is time for us all to dive in and deepen our journeys. This is a time of great spiritual expansion. So much going on. So much light, love, and connection being shared upon the globe. Perhaps it is the balance to the many other things taking place where energies which are not creative, loving, or constructive are dominating attention. Many of us, however, are choosing to focus elsewhere.

I have two friends who, like me, felt called to start a women’s group – delving deeper into expansion, providing a sacred space for each other to share life journeys and amplify the sacred Feminine. I call this “soul support.” We all need it so much at this time (I know I do). How are you bringing or magnifying the love and light that is needed?

The Circle of Grandmothers and the net of light (netoflight.org) are quietly capturing attention and bringing the support of the sacred to those who feel they need additional support and clarity. Magic is happening where the Grandmothers are working with groups and individuals to anchor the net of spiritual light and love for our planet. I call on the Grandmothers many times each day.

My forays into the woods, the mountains, and the mystical right now are so rich. I’m hearing from others that this is the same for them. Growth, connection to the Sacred and to Mother Earth seem to be accelerating.

In my life, it has also been a time of grief and transition. Others are also opening to their own grief (both old and fresh), and learning how to let it rise to the surface, hold it, observe it, and hear what it may have to say to them. The journey is a deepening one and very expansive – connecting us to all beings. (This article by Jack Kornfield is lovely.)

IMG_3012Solstice has just passed and we are heading toward the full Buck Moon (or Thunder Moon). In August, a total eclipse of the sun is attracting solar tourists and driving prices for lodging way up due to the number of people who want the “best seat” for this event.

Each of these occurrences serves to remind us of greater forces all around us. Perhaps their message is to look up and out, or dive deeper – beyond the hubbub of distractions to what is greater than we are. Look beyond what is clambering all around you to see the cosmic backdrop, the sacred sea stretching out beyond the horizon. As a trusted guide recently said to me, “Pay attention.” The Sacred is right in front of us if we just open our eyes to see.

Let’s dive in together,

Learning how to shine in dark times

“The world today is challenging and life so confusing that sometimes you feel overwhelmed by its seeming craziness. This is the Kali Yuga; you are living through the depth of negativity foretold in scripture thousands of years ago. It is true that you are living in difficult times, and… it is also true that you signed up for these times. You signed up because you wanted to serve the light. You wanted to perform work of great value
and so your being alive at this time is no accident.

You were called to earth to hold light steady in an unsteady world. You answered the call. And once you responded to the call, there was nothing more for you to do.
From The Circle of Grandmothers, netoflight.org, “December 12, 2016 Newsletter”

Circle of Light“You were called to earth to hold light steady in an unsteady world.” That task is both awe-inspiring and a daunting. Right? It is so easy, these days, to be swept into reacting, into darkness instead of holding steady and radiating light. I react every time I open my Twitter feed and read the latest news in the world of politics. Ugh. I allow myself to indulge in this for a limited period of time – and some days not at all. If I am feeling depleted, it is far better if I focus on what I love and the beauty I am surrounded by, and try to be of some help to my fellow humans on this planet.

Most days, though, a primary reason for allowing myself to RT on Twitter and voice my daily opinion, is to be of support to those who are out there doing the hard work of keeping a close eye on things – investigating, planning strategies, and basically seeking Truth and justice. I’m not one who is called to be on the front lines of that process these days, but I do my small part to say “thank you” to those who are so called.

Pasque FlowerI’ve been loving my spiritual path as it unfolds lately – lots of light has been streaming through – gathering “sisters” in a circle at my home, venturing out to meditate with mindful Buddhists, drumming Kirtan-style down near Denver, playing with profound, wise and crazy grandkids, reflecting and hiking (soaking in earth energy) with my soul mate and chatting with soul friends. When I am engaged in this way, it feels like I’m doing my bit to channel the Light.

Some reassuring words from the Circle of Grandmothers state, “As soon as you said ‘Yes’ to us, you became an instrument for light. So now, at every moment, light and love are flooding through you. Unfortunately sometimes you become so distracted by the drama surrounding you that you lose awareness of this. But the truth is, you are channeling light – you are always channeling light. Even when you feel tired, discouraged, and lost, you aren’t really lost. As soon as you answered, ‘Yes,’ we stepped in to fill you, to guide and direct you, so that now you are never alone. Never! We are as close to you as your breath.” (From The Circle of Grandmothers, Sharon McErlane, netoflight.org, “December 12, 2016 Newsletter”)

I love this reminder. Our connection to the universal powers-that-be is greater than the strength of the earthly ones who seek to spread darkness. Thank goodness. The forces of Love and Light uphold us always – whether we can see or feel them or not.

And so I’m giving thanks today for earthly sisters and brothers, near and far – you are each bright lights as you anchor your point on the net of light. Thank you for being out there! Love you.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes


“My love is on the high seas”

On a quiet evening at the beginning of May,
When the bat was in the skies,
I heard a tearful young maiden

Singing beneath the shadow of the green branches…”
– “
Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird A’ Chuain,”
as arranged by Julie Fowlis, Kris Drever & Iain MacDonald

img_2209Julie Fowlis performs a traditional Gaelic tune about being parted, lost love, fear, grief, and joy. It has a magical, mystical quality to it.

My daughter, a mom, visual artist and illustrator (who is often at home caring for her daughters as her partner – and true love – travels), was inspired. She collaborated with Julie to create this video – “Tha mo ghaol air àird a’ chuain” or “My love is on the high seas.”

img_2203I love the air of mysteriousness and both the fear and love of this woman set side-by-side. It captures the longing we feel when our hearts are reaching out to what is most dear for us…but still we can’t quite “touch” it. Finally, the love and longing manifest into reality – from darkness, joy emerges. Her true love touches her hand and the spells of grief and longing are broken at last. Joyful reunion begins.

Life is like that sometimes and we treasure the miracles that are beyond words. These are the tales that only music and art can help us to capture and even then only partially.

img_2206Most of us know the feeling. Some reunions we experience in full now, others we still long and wait for – holding vigil in our hearts. But hope continues. We can feel the presence and connection that love provides in life and beyond. We know the truth: though we can’t always see it, love abides and lives.

Hope you enjoy it. Share it if you do!

(Shared with permission of Julie Fowlis and Courtney O’Connell Carlson.)
“Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird A’ Chuain” English/Gaelic Lyrics and information

Courtney O’Connell Carlson illustration website

Starting Fresh

Good People,
most royal greening verdancy,
rooted in the sun,
you shine with radiant light.
Hildegard of Bingen, 1098–1179

Hildegard-mandalaIn some spiritual traditions, there is a time of reflection that precedes the start of spring. In the Christian tradition, it is linked to Lent and Easter – the time of wandering in the desert – facing our dark side – and resurrection. In rituals surrounding the new and full moon, many people use the Full Moon as a time to acknowledge and let go of behaviors or beliefs which no longer serve our best interest. The New Moon is a time to invite in new behaviors, beliefs, or manifestations which we are ready now to embrace.

For me, one obstacle that often gets in my way is my attitude toward myself – in the spring or any other time. Do you know what I mean?

I let so many things interfere with a loving relationship with myself. For instance, I:

…think it is my job to take care of and give love to everyone else before I tend to Me;
…haven’t yet forgiven myself for hurting others or making mistakes in my life;
…am self-conscious because I am poignantly aware of my flaws;
…think that it is my job to make the toxic people who have hurt me feel okay, too;
…believe that if I’m not perfect, that makes me bad;
…essentially, drive myself nuts.

This is all such craziness brought on by the self (small “s”). My higher Self knows that I need to:

…love myself first (fill the inner well), so that I have some inner resources to share when I choose to do so;
…love myself, forgive myself, have compassion for myself – treat myself as I would treat my very best friend;
…get over thinking so much about the little self, the ego-driven self. Who really cares about my flaws? Only me. (And if someone does care about them… Oh well. That’s their deal.)
…love myself by setting boundaries and saying, “No” to those who are toxic to my spirit and soul – lovingly, but firmly, and without guilt;
…get over perfectionism. Who wants to be around a perfect person anyway? Not me. I want real, nitty, gritty friends and neighbors who have been through the mill, down through the dark valley, and back again; who laugh at their flaws, struggle, and have compassion for the journey. It can be rough! And if we don’t have a sense of humor and humility, we will end up bitter, brittle, and broken.
…give ourselves a break, with the help of God/Goddess, the Universe, friends, our spiritual guides and helpers.

So here’s what I’m doing this spring. I’m soaking in the Love. Try it! Take some time to absorb beauty, to allow love (from you, others, the Universe, God, Spirit) to permeate your molecules, to feel connection with Nature, to soak in the tub and release toxins, and begin to open to something new. Allow the wind of spirit to blow through your soul and clear out all of those dark, cobwebby corners. Then, open to new beginnings – whatever that means to you. Seek soul support. Share your light wherever you go. And allow the Sacred to tend those tender seeds and sprouts and bring new growth.

A Tribute to Mr. Botz

I woke up this morning, rolled out of bed and got into the shower. To my surprise, I found myself singing, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” This amused and amazed me. I did not know I still knew those words. Then I found that I could sing an entire medley from the musical, Oklahoma. Wow. The brain is an amazing mechanism, isn’t it?

Later, this caused me to muse a bit about Mr. Botz, my high school music teacher. I often think about my English teacher, Mrs. Garding, who basically taught me everything I know. But my music teacher, I hadn’t thought of in a while.

Mr. Botz didn’t fit the typical high school teacher profile. Where other teachers, for the most part, attempted to be fun and humorous – or at least oddly witty (in a demonstration that they were smarter than we were) – Mr. Botz was instead a strict and serious military guy. He was a disciplinarian. But his classes were large – Band and Choir. Everyone wanted to be in Choir, an elective with no homework. I was a Choir member. By then, I’d gone downhill enough FullSizeRender (32).jpgto quit the clarinet, so no band for me, but I still had enough presence of mind to sing in the choir.

We were unruly. Some days, someone in class would say (before Mr. Botz arrived – he saved his entrance for the last moment), “Okay, today let’s really pay attention and surprise him!” We would all agree and would have every intention to follow through, but then, one thing led to another and we would be our usual mass attention deficit crowd. Mr. Botz’ blood pressure would visibly rise as the level of distraction rose.

When I took my granddaughters to Fiddler on the Roof last fall, I noticed that I knew almost all of the words to that score – another medley taught to us by Mr. Botz. How he got all of that music, each of the parts, and extensive lyrics into our unruly heads, I will never know.

I was an import into this small, rural Minnesota high school. I had come from the colorful diversity of Palo Alto on the West Coast to join this all-white, nearly all Roman Catholic school . My family and I always felt a bit on the outside of the tight-knit community because we were most definitely Protestant. But on Christmas eve, by virtue of my Choir membership, I got to have a glimpse of the local culture thanks to Mr. Botz. This public school choir sang every year at Midnight Mass at the local parish. High up in the choir loftfullsizerender-33, Mr. Botz’ unruly charges became well-behaved and attention-filled. We loved this ritual. I honestly don’t remember anything about the Mass, except for the candle-filled sanctuary and the beauty of the space.

My other redeeming activity with Mr. Botz was the Color Guard. We were the all-female crew that marched in front of the band on hot, steamy summer days. Mr. Botz’ penchant for order and military precision was in full swing there, and it was really something to behold. Getting us bleary-eyed teenagers to stand at attention and march in formation on the football field was quite an extraordinary achievement. It wasn’t like he had a massive student body from which to choose the motivated students or those with some aptitude for this stuff. My graduating class had 126 kids in it. We, the color guard, were also the partiers (or some of us were). We were mostly people who weren’t interested in or didn’t have the skills for cheerleading, had lost interest in playing an instrument, but we could show up and hold a flag or a wooden rifle and march around the field. We lived in small towns scattered all around the rural area and it was something to do on a Saturday morning.

On parade days, the band and color guard had black wool uniforms. This was back before the time of supportive moms with spray bottles and ice water. We marched when it was ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity through small town streets. And Mr. Botz marched with us. What a guy.

fullsizerender-12Though our behavior in class was consistently bad, and defied Mr. Botz’ sense of decorum, we secretly loved and admired his rigid sense of right and wrong, his quiet dignity and unforgettable presence. In our senior year, we were shocked and grief stricken to learn that he had died of a sudden heart attack. His daughter was just a year or two older than we were. The entire school attended his funeral.

We were in collective grief for the remainder of the year. A new, kindly teacher was found, but the excitement had definitely gone from our choir. Life without the commanding leadership of Mr. Botz would never be quite the same.

So, though I don’t have cause to think of him often these days, some 42 years later, when a catchy show tune, obscure Christmas carol or little-known majestic hymn pops into my head, I know who to thank. Thanks, Mr. Botz. You taught us well.