Isolation Journal: Week Three (needing some Love)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of you saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
–     from Psalm 51

IMG-0220I am in a religious-y mood today, which probably makes sense. In two days it will be Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week in the Christian tradition. Passover begins next Wednesday – the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and God’s sparing of the children of Israel from a deadly plague. It is a religious-y time. Undoubtedly, much will be made of the experience of suffering and the ultimately hopeful messages in these traditions in the week to come and parallels to our current situation will be drawn.

I am no longer tasked, though, with helping to make sense of such things for others (as I was in my ministry). I am, like many others who are now mostly retired, left instead to simply live the experiences life brings me from day to day. Primarily, the task for me now is to find meaning in the rhythms of the day. This is a challenge for those of us who have found our worth in serving others, or just in doing.

IMG-0266Most of this week has been quiet, with moments of true contentment in our sweet little life. We putter around, we clean and cook, we chat, we go for our walk. We had one joyful delivery of food and one mildly frustrating delivery (the frustration lies in the lack of control over things). Spring – nearly summer here in Arizona – brings beauty and new life. John and I are also celebrating 10 years of being back in contact with each other in just over a week – a reunion for which we are grateful each day.

We are all also living under stress and new circumstances – which change somewhat every hour. We have new rules, new routines. We have new challenges and fears. And we are bombarded with numbers, stories, theories, and fears by the dozens. We see people rising to heroics and people hoarding and buying handguns. We wonder where to look for wisdom and leadership.

So, today, I am sad. There’s no one particular reason. Mortality and the exhausting efforts to stay healthy have worn me down a bit. The world’s grief is palpable, loss is palpable. Danger lurks around every turn.

IMG-0248Oddly, I think part of it is also that my birthday is coming up, too. In adulthood, I have often had an emotional “dip” around my birthday. I don’t think I’m sad about getting older at birthday time. It feels like a grief about how life and gifts and things aren’t able to soothe the soul. Grief that stuff like food, presents, activities don’t deliver joy or healing.

When melancholy sets in like this, I’ve found only the most basic steps will help.

  • Being gentle with oneself. Curling up with a blanket and a book or movie, taking a hot bath, having a cry as needed, then a nap. Sometimes writing helps, music helps.
  • Subtle, real nourishment. Comfort food helps only a bit, but real nourishing food – like soup or stew – seems to help the healing along.
  • It helps to tell a friend that you’re feeling blue, feeling low. It especially helps to talk to a friend who won’t try to fix us, who will just walk with us and be with us as we find our way.
  • Words and prayers like the ones in the psalm, above, help me. This psalm has been one I have resonated with since my early 12 Step days. The words recognize that the one speaking them is off kilter – perhaps based on actions, or perhaps based on attitude – but they remind us that the Sacred is waiting, in fact invites us, to reunite and get back on track. Divine Love is waiting for each of us (as needed) with open arms. And I have learned again and again and again that there is nothing (yes, nothing) that can separate us from this Love.

I think we all need to give ourselves a little break right now. A break from high expectations. At least a momentary break from the rigors we are putting ourselves through. Spiritually and emotionally, we each need to be held for a moment in this divine Love and Compassion.

This reality brings to mind a chapter in a beloved book, Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. In this memoir, Anne tells of the death of a beloved friend in her eighties and how it had really brought her to a low point. It was springtime and had been rainy, but her friend, Nashama, suggested that they go for a walk – so they did. Lamott writes:

Suddenly…the ground and vegetation at our feet began to get a little watery, and then we began to hear sucking noises, swampy quicksandy sucking noises, and pretty soon my overpriced walking sandals had been swallowed up by mud…

“Let me help you there, little lady,” I said. “I’ll go up first and then give you a hand.”
        …
“Is this a good idea?” she asked. “Are you braced?”

“Yes,” I insisted, and pulled her toward me, and she lifted up off the ground and moved upward a couple of feet, until I started sliding back down toward her and we both landed noisily on our butts in the mud….

I was laughing so hard that I felt maniacal and not at all sure that I wasn’t about to cry. But I felt like air was bubbling into a place inside me that hadn’t been getting much lately….

Against the sparkly black screen behind my eyes, all these people appeared, like people in a come-as-you-are fashion show, strangers to each but beloved by me. There were all the sick little kids we know, and all the friends who had died…and the old people in my family and church who had grown so suddenly frail.… And I thought to myself, “Well, no wonder you’re this sad.” The silence of the marsh was…profound….

When Neshama and I finally got up to go, I was still sad, but better. This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds. It struck me that I have spent so much time trying to pump my way into feeling…solace.… The truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down. Maybe it’s because this – the mud, the bottom – is where it all rises from…. At the marsh, all that mud and one old friend worked like a tenderizing mallet. Where before there had been tough fibers, hardness, and held breath, now there were mud, dirt, water, air, mess – and I felt soft and clean.   (Traveling Mercies, Pantheon Books, NY, 1999, pages 257-265.)

Go easy on yourself and your loved ones right now. We are all raw and hurting. No wonder we are all so sad underneath it all. Life is tough in a big, real way. But love – human or divine – can bring us through. Turn toward love, turn toward the Source of solace, and you will find that you are held.

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Isolation Journal: Week Two

I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long.
If we’re in each other’s dreams,
we can be together all the time.
– A.A. Milne

IMG-0169Last Sunday, I “attended” two full and one partial live-streamed worship. One was more technically successful than the others (must have had someone onboard who knew how to piece these things together – music, written prayers, speaker). The others, as many people discovered, had issues due to the internet capacity on Zoom and FaceBook livestream having overload issues. But they got their points across – their love and care – and all was done with isolation protocols intact.

Another online worship showed a congregation full of mostly elderly people and a regular procession up the center aisle…and it was live. Shocking! I went away making note of that congregation and observing that they apparently live in LaLa Land, not in Tucson.

Later in the week, I listened to pre-recorded meditations and did some chanting, as suggested by a friend. We’ve now got a list of great yoga classes from teachers I know, yoga nidra, gong bath, and other beautiful opportunities coming up – from Brene Brown, David Whyte, Deva Premal, and others. And don’t forget the “happy hour” (and A.A.) invites!

I find that I can only “fit” a few of these online activities in even living in isolation – maybe one or two a day. Then I need time just to be. To putter around and clean, to rest (even napping now and then), to take a break from social media and texting, to put together some nourishing food, hopefully, to exercise or, at minimum, sit in the sun.

Best moments:

  • IMG-0125More Minecraft with my granddaughter (mostly cheerful, but challenging one day – virtually pelting grandma with glass potion bottles) – pretty much like “real” playtime (LOL)
  • A playdate with my friend in which we spent a couple of hours doing soul collage (virtual togetherness)
  • Chatted and shared spiritual direction by phone with another friend twice. Very mentally and spiritually therapeutic
  • Exchanged numerous texts with family and friends encouraging one another – love, humor, support.

Yesterday:

  • Shared an hour, virtually, with church friends via Zoom
  • Picked up groceries from a grocery store parking lot and drove home the long way – the scenic route – which was scope for the imagination and refreshing to the mind (except for irritation at the pack of sweaty adult bicyclists – 10 or more – riding in a non-socially-distanced clump and clumsily crossing the busy roadway)
  • Unloaded the groceries using our special “outside stuff” gloves, I spent half an hour using the grocery sanitizing protocol from the video by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen while John used his new clippers and cut his own hair on the patio (actually looks great!)
  • To celebrate, I then went wild and ordered lunch from Chipotle. (They had our food here in less time than we would have taken to get there and back – but don’t tell anyone, I don’t want them to be inundated next time we want to order. Also, next time, I will order food that can be zapped in the microwave – which I don’t generally use – before serving to terminate any virus germs in the food.)

IMG-0132We’ve now made it to the two-week mark from when we visited my sister. I’m relieved that none of us are having any illness symptoms – so it looks like we weren’t carriers as we thoughtlessly traveled and ignorantly left germs in our wake.

Yesterday, I watched a couple of movies, one of which was Disney’s “Christopher Robin.” It reminded me of the gift of slowing down and living simply and didn’t ramp up my anxiety.

Self observation:

  • As someone who generally brings a non-anxious presence into the world, I am very aware of moments (hours?) of turbulent anxiety.
  • I’m aware, also, of a cabin fever-type irritation that rears its ugly head, and I’m not as calm and self-possessed as I’d like to be (like wanting to shout, “Idiots!” at the cyclists we encountered)
  • The scope of our activities has really narrowed. We’re nesting to keep ourselves (we’re both in high risk groups) and others (many in our retirement community are in highest risk group) safe.

Basic self-care and self-love is in order! Prayer, meditation, walking, yoga, hot baths or showers, naps, nourishment and more.

We are all doing our best in slightly different ways. The wave of illness is quickly moving into our home states, cities and towns. Keep those lines of loving communication open. Share what is working for you with others. Patience, compassion, and love are the watchwords.

Do what you can to soak in the love and light – then share them where you are able.

Love you!
– Karen

P.S. When all else fails: Serenity Prayer, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:13, Gayatri Mantra,  Om mani padme hum….

 

LOVE AND LIGHT IN THE DESERT

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