Category Archives: Love

Isolation Journal: Week Twelve – Black Lives DO Matter

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.

– Jeremiah 31:15 (NRSV)

I don’t feel that I have much to offer in terms of perspective and wisdom this week. I know that tragedy and injustice have been done to George Floyd at the hands of one Minneapolis police officer and with the support of three others. I know that the world is in great turmoil and grief. Good people from all political persuasions have spoken out against this, and the president of the United States has not. I know that riots and destruction are not the answer (some rioting and violence was fueled by white people seeking to add fire to an already ugly situation, but much was pure rage and desperation) but I understand from my limited perspective where this fury comes from.

12742649_948627328565182_3877860098209780865_n
from Austin Channing Brown

Here are some of the clearest pieces that I’ve seen (most already shared on FB) this week – from voices much closer to the topic:

I am heartened and inspired by the many people in my world who have stepped up – some briefly and many more consistently – to voice their concern and support for those who are protesting (numerous out there lending their voice and their support in person). Lots of these beloved folks are in the Twin Cities and others scattered around the globe. Additional inspiration comes from those who have been plugging away throughout COVID-19, my healthcare and ministry friends who’ve had to keep putting one foot in front of the other through all of this (including a high school friend with whom I reconnected this week who runs a nursing home). They are weary, challenged, and still determined.

I shared a personal update Wednesday evening (FB post), “I’m dealing with my asthma for past couple of days, so no 100 degree walks for me today or yesterday…. Highlight of the week has been a nice long chat with [my daughter and her family], Minecraft sessions with [my granddaughter] and laughing with [loved ones]…. Despite the painful week on so many levels, there have been rays of sunshine.” There have been other moments of hope and cheer, but I don’t want to gloss over the mess this country is in with much “shine” from my isolated little corner. Things are in tatters.

The good news for me is that the Spirit is with all of us in the midst of all of this. Humans may blame and point fingers, justifying oppression, but Truth is being spoken. The Sacred breaks through in the smallest of gestures and in the courage of the broken and mistreated ones. Prayers, casting the net, meditation, meta practice, Tonglen, all send a ripple of love – a Sacred Breath, you might say – to the planet. Keep your candles burning, and as I often say to one of my besties, “roll those beads, sister.”

We all have homework to do on in order to become fully educated on the anti-racism work that is needed – and no one person will have the full solution. But I’ll start by attending some (virtual) education events in the coming week and see where that leads. I hope you will find your place in this work and share it widely.

Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand.
If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue.
If he is unable to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith.

– Saying of the Prophet Mohammed (shared by Jamal Rahman)

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Isolation Journal: Week Eleven – Grief

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.
Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the difference that comes between them.
There are two things which [human beings] can do
about the pain of disunion with other [humans]. They can love or they can hate.

Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price
of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion.

But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.
– Thomas Merton, “A Body of Broken Bones,” New Seeds of Contemplation

While people are dying in unimaginably large numbers, we are trying to go back to “normal” because it is our right and because we can’t afford to do otherwise. The racism in our country has jumped out at us while we are at our worst. Tragedy upon tragedy. Violence erupting. I don’t have many words today. Just feeling for the world’s pain.

A poem for the day:

06829de08fa5d9ce005e35242be8860fGrief
is the stuff
which drives us
to poetry
and short sentences.
Sorrow
for the world’s woes….
We barely find the will to speak.
O dear planet –
sisters,
brothers –
how we wish to hold you,
how we long
to cradle and rock
’til you are soothed.
“Love,” we sing.
We cast our life-preserving, life-restoring prayers.
O dear planet –
sisters, brothers –
words will not suffice.
Even prayers don’t do it –
only acts of love have the power of transformation.
Songs sung in unity come close.

How do I open my solitary, fearful heart
to your rage, your pain and despair?
How may I not drown in its torrents?
Grandmothers,
we call on your powerful love.
Great-grandmothers,
we call on your strength.
Ancestors,
we need your perspective and hard-won wisdom.

Holy One,
only you know how
to hold the cries
of rage, of anger,
hatred and retaliation.
100802115_1219493608412007_1974709581971980288_nOnly you
know how to
sing to us,
how to stitch us up
after we are torn to pieces.
Dear One,
the tearing is awful and ugly,
revealing all that we’d rather hide.
Teach us
how to see the wounds
and not cover them.
Teach us
how to heal the deep injuries,
without hiding our brokenness.
Vulnerable now,
don’t let us tidy up the mess.
Let it be seen
and felt.
Time to weep.
Time for honesty.
Only love –
the kind that knows and sees woundedness with honest eyes –
will do.
Then,
may the sacred thread of Spirit
begin the long process of
stitching up
our tattered souls.

Love, Reality, and Vulnerability,
Karen

Favorite thoughts of the week:

Pentecost, Prejudice, and Pandemic by Diana Butler Bass

If We Had a Real Leader by David Brooks

From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“…it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

From Nina Jonson, Robbinsdale, MN (Facebook post):

“My heart is as heavy as the air this morning, as heavy as the clouds of smoke.

It is not enough, but here is a prayer I shared with the children, youth and families from our church yesterday.

Everything right now takes away breath. Fear sucks it from our lungs. Viruses drag it out of our reach. Smoke wraps around it poisonously. People forcefully eject it from our throats. I have no answers today, but for those who can breathe, let every breath be a prayer.
Breathe support to the family of George Floyd.
Breathe love into our community.
Breathe justice into our streets.
Breathe peace into our country.
Breathe calm into our children.
Breathe safety into our black, brown and indigenous siblings.
Breathe joy into the space around you.
Breathe strength into our elders.
Breathe patience into yourself.
Breathe compassion into each other.
Breathe dreams for a better future into reality.
May it be so.”

 

Isolation Journal: Week 7 – One true thing

The tree of life, my soul has seen,
laden with fruit and always green.
– Elizabeth Poston

IMG_0596At this point we are all getting down to brass tacks, I think. Comedians are struggling to find fresh humor, government leaders, gurus and ministers are struggling to find anything new or enlightening to say (though I truly do appreciate the effort). The rest of us struggle to find purpose in our daily routines – other than just biding our time. There’s this faint little air of desperation that kind of lingers in the background – even in our jokes.

Here’s my rant for the day (Disclaimer: This paragraph is completely optional and probably not very helpful):

I am tired of most online conversations (and I’ve only had a few), tired of online worship, workshops, and audiobooks. I am sick to death of Hallmark and murder mysteries. I’m tired of my boring healthy food routine. (We again placed a Chipotle order this week – savored every bite.) I am so sick of political bickering that I really need to follow my Colorado friends’ example and howl. I’m tired of trying to figure out if I need to wear a facemask on my walks in 95-plus-degree weather and I’m tired of crossing the street or leaving the sidewalk to avoid my unmasked neighbors. I’m tired of those flagrantly huddling in groups, laughing and conspiring about the rest of us who are apparently “just paranoid.” I’m tired of my own thoughts. The list continues: tired of bathing my groceries, washing my hands, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. Ugh!

So, here’s where the brass tacks come in. What do I actually love?

I love the Holy, the Divine. I love my husband, our kids and grandkids, our siblings, their families, cousins, aunts and uncle. I love my friends – though I long to hang out with them in person. I love Mother Earth and Mother Nature. I love delicious food, fresh water, safe shelter. I love laughing. I love the freedom to walk on safe streets. I love art and music. I love the moments when I can find my center, my core and feel its connection to all of these beloved things above.

Are we all at that point? Are we getting tired of Covid-humor, Covid-rules, Covid-monotony, Zoom torture, and television? Is that why beaches are crowded and the police are having to enforce social distancing rules? I know a few of my friends are handling this with more grace than I. But I’m pretty sure it is not just me who is losing it.

I shared this article by Amy Weatherly on Facebook this morning and thought that this says it all. Weatherly writes:

“I think it was Brene Brown who told a story about a village where all the women washed clothes together down by the river. When they all got washing machines, there was a sudden outbreak of depression and no one could figure out why.

“It wasn’t the washing machines in and of themselves. It was the absence of time spent doing things together. It was the absence of community.

“Friends, we’ve gotten so independent.

“We’re ‘fine’ we tell ourselves even when in reality we’re depressed, we’re overwhelmed, we’re lonely, and we’re hurting. ‘We’re fine, we’re just too busy right now’ we say when days, weeks, months, and years go by without connecting with friends. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s so easy to say even when it’s not true.

“We’ve become so isolated and it’s hard to know how to get back….”

This morning, I sat out on the patio and sipped my coffee. I reached out to the Divine and asked for support, for connection and presence. As I did so, that deep down sadness popped up again, a few tears flowed. I asked the emotion where it had come from, what it needed. It just wanted to be held, acknowledged, and allowed to be. It needed gentle, loving care.

IMG_0588I again asked the Divine for presence, for wisdom, for support. While the birds sang and quails warbled, a breeze blew softly. I watched a lizard on my fence walk sideways, then do pushups in the sun. And then I saw this. Last summer a huge bud appeared on this cactus, then it just folded up and faded away. Today, there was a fragile pink-tinged white bloom with gorgeous yellow center on the most unattractive, lumpy cactus.

And then I thought of this phrase, this Truth that I had put into words long ago:

“…The only thing of which I am sure is that God has been with me, is with me now and will always be with me. From that, I trust, when faced with other persons’ fears and crises that God has been with them, God is with them now, and God will always be with them. That is my one true thing. It is the point of reference from which I go out and come back. It is this truth that has allowed me to put IMG_0587my children on the school bus or the airplane. It is this truth that allows me to sit by a loved one who is gravely ill and not be so afraid. It is this truth that under-girds my hope for humankind.”

Some things don’t change. This one true thing – “brass tack” or touchstone – still rings true for me.

And so we put one foot in front of the other, trusting that on some plane of existence – in the sacred dimension – we are always, always held. And if we need to, we can just lean back into that and let go of all our exhaustion and effort. This week, maybe lean back into your Truth. And then, together, we won’t need to make things into such a demanding duty. Maybe we can kind of luxuriate in the peace of being held. At least until we turn on the T.V…..

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo
– Karen

P.S. Back in the days when I was delivering sermons, I came to realize that I hardly have any advice. There are only one or two things that I really, really know and, therefore, I say the same things over and over and over again in different words. And here we are again.

 

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

All hands on deck…

I awoke this morning with these words of wisdom from Clarissa Pinkola Estes on my mind. It is good to re-read them and soak in the reminder:

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

pexels-photo-1118874I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

This is such an important bit of wisdom. Estes goes on to say that we must each do what is in front of us to contribute, to share our light in our tiny corner of the world. I remember words from Mother Teresa, Abraham Heschel, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others that would reinforce this. We are not required to solve the world’s problems, but neither are we encouraged to simply give up and remove ourselves completely from responsibility for our small corner of the world.

In these odd days of COVID-19, toilet paper and hand-sanitizer hoarding, and self-isolating, social-distancing, what can we do for one another?

The average person can:

  • be responsible about not sharing or spreading our germs (hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, etc., etc.)
  • be loving and caring in our encounters with strangers (service workers, delivery people, grocery clerks, the neighbors we distance ourselves from)
  • send money to those we would typically support – yoga teachers, churches, other charitable organizations and step up our giving to food shelves, shelters, and other organizations like the Red Cross or Salvation Army who will have greater expenses in delivering services right now
  • check on friends and family and offer encouragement and support; help problem-solve or take on a needed task
  • entertain children virtually via Skype, FaceTime, etc., so that their caregivers can take a break or send crafts, books, etc. for their enjoyment.

Another way we can contribute is by:

  • Taking care of our physical and spiritual wellness – continue to meditate and pray; eat as healthily as you can during a time of scarcity; walk, exercise, stretch, do yoga; keep your environment bright, peaceful, and clean
  • Listen to music, be creative, write words of encouragement – for yourself and others, send love to yourself by living with self-compassion
  • Forgive yourself and others as needed, pick yourself up and move on with a fresh start
  • Keep a sense of humor – laugh as much as you can
  • Limit the alcohol, food excess and other substance reliance and focus on connecting with your Source and other people who share concern and provide inspiration for your highest good
  • Share love, love love – for yourself, for family, for neighbor, for strangers. Keep your lamps burning, sisters & brothers
  • Be grateful for the smallest moments of beauty, light, joy, safety, calm
  • Breathe

Pinkola Estes concludes:

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

All aboard, friends. Let’s get those vessels out on the metaphorical sea and share our light as brightly and broadly as we can.

Wherever you are... Rumi

 

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

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?

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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!

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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