Category Archives: Spiritual journey

Isolation Journal: Week Whatever (13) – Fire, lethargy, and renewal

I missed writing my regular Friday blog post because I forgot it was Friday (until dinner P1070367time) and on Friday I’m supposed to do something. So, today is Saturday, and I’m writing.

There seems to be less and less to say and less motivation to say it.

Things have changed over the past few weeks. It is sort of a COVID-19 free-for-all. Each family or home is deciding to isolate or not to isolate, to wear a mask or not to wear it; resuming life, working, socializing, getting haircuts – or isolating and feeling ready to burst with longing for normalcy and companionship. This morning I found out that one of my friends has the virus and am sending prayers for healing.

Protests continue over racism in our country – we’re each for this or against it; angered by the lack of wise leadership on many levels or confused; and, alternately, hopeless and hopeful.

_LAN6609_1In our little neck of the desert, we’ve had wildfires running rampant nearby. A friend evacuated from her home last night (close to the mountains and fire). We watch the billows of smoke, hope for winds to settle and moisture to arrive. Another thing over which we have little control. Personally, this means – with my twitchy lungs (asthma) – that I must stay indoors. I am grateful for air conditioning, since temperatures are over 100 degrees, but my mental health is rapidly deteriorating without my daily time outdoors – in the backyard and taking our vigorous daily walk. Sigh. I also am beginning to feel additional body weight from this inactivity. Inactivity in my body and mind lead me to a dullness and discouragement. 

My eating habits are weird – watermelon and pistachios for lunch, cherries and chocolate _LAN6911almond flour muffin for breakfast – maybe a salad for dinner or not…maybe tortilla chips and carrots and sugar-free chocolate chips. Eating at all different times of day. Food seems boring and effortful. Sleep habits are discombobulated.

Watching British mysteries on television, building villages on Minecraft, laughing or chatting with friends and family, texting, playing games, and looking through Facebook /Twitter/Instagram seem to be the going pastime activities. John monitors the tornado season and the fire season. He stays abreast of the big picture and is always eagerly learning.

should be grateful, counting my blessings, meditating, doing yoga. I should be more involved in something beyond my little realm. But right now it seems like it is just my lot to put one foot in front of the other and tidy (slightly) our home.

My Resolve this week is to get out of doors one way or another. We need Mother Nature’s healing touch. I need my body to feel alive and my breath to be strong and clear. Things change every day – forecasts, protocols, conditions. The Earth, even in fire and storm, is a source of stability, beauty, and regeneration. We give thanks to our Source for this gift and I will get my body out where it can experience this renewal. Blessings on your week.

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

– William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned

 

 

 

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)

IMG-0894

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 10 – Miracles in our midst

Every visible thing in this world is put in the charge of an angel.
– Augustine of Hippo, Eight Questions

Do not believe me simply because I have seen Heaven and Hell,
have discoursed with angels…. Believe me because
I tell you what your consciousness and intuitions will tell you
if you listen closely to their voice.
– Emanuel Swedenborg, Concerning Divine Love & Wisdom

IMG-0807In recent years, I have been thinking of writing down my life story – just for my kids, for posterity. This is something of a joke in my family because my mother’s “autobiography” upset all of her relatives (including her children). It definitely had something in it to upset everyone. I guess she just needed to get her perspective out there for all to hear. Oh well. But the story I’m thinking of putting down on paper isn’t from that perspective at all – a listing of all the hurts, upsets, and disappointments of life. I realized one day, just a few years back, that my life story is a series of miracles – one right after the other. Plenty of ups and downs, but whenever I was in desperate need of help, it always, always arrived.

I’ve told stories to my spiritual community about people on my journey who have, unbidden, entered my life and brought with them a message, a relief, or some comfort that I needed. This past week I’ve been reading an interesting book about angels and spirit guides which really – if I get critical thinking and analysis out of the way – would explain a lot of events in my life. (Yes, this is pretty “out there” and may be too woo-woo for you. That’s okay. I’m sharing this for others who may have inklings of what I’m talking about, but don’t like to say it out loud.)

IMG-0791It is my dear friend, Robin’s, birthday today. She wrote, this morning on Facebook, “This morning while I was having my coffee on my patio a white feather floated by me and there were no birds around. So, I googled it: ‘This is the most common angel feather and is thought to be a sign of faith and protection. A white feather can also be your Angel telling you that any loved ones in heaven are safe and well.’” She concluded by saying, “Thank you Heidi and Gammy, the best birthday present ever.” What a beautiful story, symbol and message. And to think that Google was the intermediary! But, knowing Robin, she already knew what this meant. She just wanted written confirmation. 🙂

I’ve had angels watching over me since early childhood. And I have needed their help because I’ve gotten myself into many predicaments. The earliest one that I’ve been told about is when I very quietly fell into a pool as a toddler while my mom was deep in conversation with her friend, Shirley. Mother said that I went in head first and was sinking straight to the bottom without making a sound or a motion when she noticed, jumped up, and caught me by the ankle, pulling me out to safety. She was always mystified by how calm I was, how like a lead weight I was, and how she happened to look up at precisely the right moment. Swimming lessons began almost the moment we got home.

IMG-0799The other story my mother found even more traumatic and that she never could quite explain was when our family went to see the Chinese New Year parade in China Town (in San Francisco) when I was around three years old. The crowd that gathers for this event is huge and tightly packed on the streets. I was old enough to not want to be held or carried, and heavy enough for my mom to agree to just hold my hand. Because of the crowd, she and I got separated from my dad and sisters. As she told the story, we were packed so tight as the dragon began to go by and the crowd celebrated, that she couldn’t move. But when the main attraction passed, the crowd began to move like an excited river, with a lot of force and momentum completely heedless of anything in its path. She tried to pick me up but was unable to reach me. She said, “Out of nowhere a very big man appeared and could see the panic on my face. He looked down and saw you there and, without a word, he just planted himself there like a brick wall between you and the crowd. I started crying. When at last I was able to bend down and pick you up, I looked up to thank him and he was nowhere to be seen. He was just gone.” These are stories I’ve been told most of my life – but I don’t remember either of them. I am claustrophobic, though, and I get panicked in crowded rooms. My mom thought there was a connection.

And then there is my first conscious childhood memory of a miracle. I’ve told the story to my spiritual community and I count it as the moment I really had a visceral connection to the Divine. I’ll share it with you here. Picture a tired and stressed mother taking me, her daughter of age seven or eight, to the beach. She needed peace and quiet and time to write in her journal. It was too cold and foggy to be in the water so I was told in no uncertain terms to stay out of the water and to stay where she could see me. She said, “If you can see me, I can see you.” Contrary to what my husband says when he imagines what I was like as a kid, I must have been somewhat well-behaved at times, because she was so confident that I’d do what she said that she never looked around to find me again. I played in the sand for awhile, then I turned around and started to explore the sandy, brush-covered hillside. I climbed up on little animal paths through the brambles. I was a very confident climber since I climbed fences and trees all day at home. But I didn’t have much experience with hills. Somehow or another, I got myself up on a sort of cliff or overhang and scurried up on the dusty, dry hill and got to where I couldn’t move forward or backward. There was nothing to hang onto – no brush or bramble. And looking behind me, it was steep, dusty, and would mean a long fall if I slipped. I tried every available stick of grass, handhold or foothold and there was nothing strong enough to move me up or hold me as I tried to go back. I yelled for help, first timidly, then as loud as I could. No response. The crashing waves below, must have muted my cries. I could still see my mom in the distance, but she didn’t look up. I started to cry. Then I asked God to please help me (something I don’t remember ever doing before). At that moment or very shortly after, something shifted. I felt calmer. I looked around and there, against the hillside – just where I had been looking and finding nothing before – was a drainpipe. A drain pipe! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I shifted a bit, reached for it and got ahold. It was anchored strongly enough that I could use it to support me as I crept up the hill past the steep, almost vertical, section. As I got to the top, to the parking lot above the beach, I looked down. Where did that come from? Why was this tiny drain even there? I joyfully, but shakily, ran down the stairway from the parking lot and ran back to my mom. I plopped down on her blanket to tell her the story and she got upset with me for getting it all sandy. She asked for just a few more minutes of “peace and quiet” so the story went untold. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, in a conversation with an Episcopal priest, that I ever told the story again – but I pondered it for years – my own deep knowing that God came to my rescue. I now think that an angel placed the drainpipe there.

I love Annie Dillard’s writing, because she is both highly rational and scientific and highly mystical. Her memoirs are considered non-fiction. In one passage, she describes a solitary and awe-inspiring moment in her life that I have shared in sermons throughout the years. Perhaps I repeat it because it captures that odd sensation that there is more to what is in front of us than meets the eye – a sense of the transformation of the ordinary. This story she tells is about a day when she was walking near a farm on a dirt road and everything changed – the silence of the field next to her overwhelmed her.

She writes: The roosters across the road started, answering the proclamation [of the lone maniac bird] or cranking out another round, arhythmically, interrupting.… I shifted along the fence to see if either of the owners was coming or going. To the rooster I said nothing but only stared… When I was turned away in this manner, the silence gathered and struck me. It bashed me broadside from the heavens above me like yard goods; ten acres of fallen, invisible sky choked the fields. The pastures on either side of the road turned green in a surrealistic fashion, monstrous, impeccable, as if they were holding their breaths. The roosters stopped. All the things of the world – the field and the fencing, the road, a parked orange truck – were stricken and self- conscious…” “…[T]he silent fields were the real world, eternity’s outpost in time, whose look I remembered but never like this… I turned away, willful, and the whole show vanished. The realness of things disassembled…” She continues, “Several months later walking past the farm on the way to a volleyball game, I remarked to a friend…, ‘There are angels in those fields.’ Angels! That silence so grave and so stricken, that choked and unbearable green! I have rarely been so surprised at something I’ve said. Angels!” (from Teaching a Stone to Talk).

Okay, I’ve rambled about these encounters with the miraculous for way too long today, but I guess I’m attempting to make the point that even through this dull, inactive phase of life in which some of us currently find ourselves, we may still be surprised. It is possible to see that this life – despite politicians, uncaring humans, repetition, and pandemics – may be filled to the brim with magic, with spiritual presence. If we have the eyes to see, miracles abound. Now if I can just remember….

Love, magic, and miracles to you,
Karen

P.S. I’d love to hear your miracle stories, too!

IMG-0833

Isolation Journal: Week 9 – Inner Peace & Junk Food

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy:
“It takes more than bread to stay alive.
It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”
– Matthew 4:4 (The Message version)

Never place a period where God has placed a comma.
God is still speaking.
– past slogan of the United Church of Christ, partially attributed to George Burns

It feels as if those of us who have been in isolation for many weeks have settled into a rhythm. We are learning, by virtue of repetition, what works for us, what doesn’t.

—-

IMG-0701Note: I know that my isolation time and that of most of my dear friends is one of privilege. Some are still working hard out in the world. (Thanks to each one!) Without the support of the workers, those of us in isolation would waste away or be forced out to risk contagion and spreading the virus. So, we are here, learning lessons of isolation, by the grace of other human beings who are making it possible. Others, in isolation, are suffering from poverty and various forms of abuse within the home. It is not a pretty picture – not a gracious learning time – for them. This is the reality of many of our neighbors. We each need to figure out how to offer a word of safe encouragement and support to these folks. Often, in later years, we may rely on our spiritual community to be the haven to which those in dire straights can flee – so we can support their ministries, their leaders, and other social services where possible. Hopefully, they are able to point those at risk to shelter and relief.

Now, out in the community, many are returning to work or to social settings before there is a plan in place. To hold on to businesses and jobs, many will be forced to take these risks before the collective wisdom of those who see the patterns clearly says we are ready. There are others who seem forced – by emotional immaturity and the inability to “hold” their turbulent feelings while in isolation – to flee and protest and go against good judgement and leadership in order to find release from spending time with themselves. Some of our political leaders share this immaturity and lack of impulse control which does not help these lost souls to rise above their frustrations and confusions, but instead, encourages them to lash out. “I want what I want when I want it” is the driving principle.

Each of these things, above, are ones over which I currently have little or no control. I can only offer my financial contributions, or my energy, my spiritual condition to the universe (while waiting for election time) and hope that it has a ripple effect on the whole.

—–

IMG-0755So, back to the rhythm of isolation. I don’t know if you are finding it this way, but some weeks I have higher goals and energies than others. Other weeks, I must focus on the simplest of pleasures, those nearest at hand and relax into them as my whole purpose. This has been such a week for me. No lofty purpose or big picture. My journal holds words of appreciation for the birds – especially red ones this week – for a cool breeze,  for shade, for clouds, flowers, trees, and water. Savoring peace.

One vivid moment was a morning on the patio in which all of these things inspired me to refill the finch seed in our feeders. One is a plain “sock” style feeder that hangs from our small lime tree. I was taking the sock down from a small branch and caught a tiny movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking straight at me from about twelve inches away was a frightened, but calm and still, mourning dove on her nest. Wow! I quietly slipped away and slipped back and replaced the feeder at a greater distance on the tree. Back in the pre-COVID days, that would not stand out as the highlight of my week. But here we are on Friday, and that simple pleasure of connection with a tiny bird still rests poignantly in my mind.

I had a loaf of fresh, grain-free, dairy-free bread arrive yesterday in the mail and it was cause for dancing and celebration.

When John heads for bed in the evening – which often signals the end of the day, I also somehow celebrate that. The sweet time of brushing teeth, returning to our “nest” and reading, resting in the pleasure of soft, clean sheets and comfy pillows is deeply reassuring – breathing in our gratitude for the day and for each other. I look forward to the dream world each night, where I will experience unity with the Divine, where I will move beyond the confines of my limited vision to something more creative trying to work itself out, over which I have little control. I give thanks for these “tender mercies.”

IMG-0751But I also can go a bit astray in these “easy” days. Not taking adequate time for prayer and meditation, but instead “reading my phone” or scrolling through social media and playing addictive games. Forgetting to savor the moments on my patio in favor of turning on the TV or getting busy. A couple days of overdoing the mindless distracting and I feel like I’ve eaten junk food – kind of blah. Time to refresh and renew.

Music helps. Cleaning the house helps. Laughing with someone helps. Our almost daily walk time is a necessity.

Photography helps me to focus on the moment. Seeking beauty and taking a picture of it is an excellent pursuit for spiritual well-being. The photos and videos we share on Facebook, Instagram, and here help us to focus our appreciation on a moment of connection with nature, with the Divine. And those few days in which we leave the camera behind are good, too. They remind us that it is that moment, that connection, and not “capturing” it to share that is most important. These things are not junk food – they’re whole grain, organic veggies, sweet raw honey, and herbal tea for the soul.

So, eat, drink, be merry. Savor the simple sweetness wherever you may find it.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet

Love, health, peace, and laughter to you,
Karen

Isolation Journal: Week 8 -Abundant Craziness

As for me and my house
We will stay where we at.
– 1st Isolations 24:7
(From SistasinZion on Facebook)

IMG-0608I have no idea what to write at this point. I don’t think this week will go down as a wise, measured, or well-reasoned one in U.S. history (to put it mildly). No one in the country seems to really have a good plan – though I know some very good people are trying to give us one (and then another, and another).  This response to the pandemic is an experiment through and through. Conspiracy theories abound.

Unfortunately, the seeds of deep division in our country – political, racial, economic, gender-related, spiritual – have grown into a thick jungle of thorny weeds. The only response to this mire seems to be wild flailing whacks with a machete.

Any plan is upsetting to one group or the other. Racial hatred is again in the news the past few days with vivid and disturbing tragedy. Our national leader seeks to divide rather than unite and to fan the flames of hatred with every tweet. Behind the scenes ugly values are undoing the foundations of justice at a rapid pace (there does seem to be a plan in place in this area). Ugh.

Some U.S. states are making gradual returns to “normal” by allowing parts of the workforce to return. Some are opening restaurants, beaches, churches, others are still banning such gatherings. Angry people are refusing to wear a mask as a political “right” to liberty, and armed, masked (white) protesters have taken to various capitols to protest stay-at-home orders with very few consequences. Ugh again.

willieHere’s a mildly amusing reality. The good and bored and winter-worn folk in Minnesota plan to hold the well-beloved Fishing Opener (a huge state-wide annual weekend event) this weekend (while schools are still closed and shelter in place orders remain). The governor cancelled the “Governor’s Opener” but most everything else is still in place. Let’s see…pickup trucks and SUV’s hauling boats to lakes and resorts all over the state (resorts whose rental cabins are still closed). Only family groups in each boat (in theory) and round-trip is supposed to use only one tank of gas. Uh huh. In theory also, everyone will be socially distanced as they back their boats into the water at the few boat launches on each lake. Social distancing (and masks?) also when they buy fishing licenses, purchase munchies, bait, and so on. Okay. Then add massive quantities of beer and socially starved individuals to the scenario. No doubt this is going to go smoothly. Ditto in Wisconsin. What could possibly go wrong?

Okay, now, where in the world is the Sacred in the midst of these amusing, wacky, disturbing, and seriously menacing realities? Whew. Luckily, the answer is still: Everywhere.

This week, though, I need to step waaaaaaaaay back from social media and news to see this. Each morning, I have started my day with coffee on the patio as the songs of various birds serenade and Nature goes about her business. Today, a small red bird fluttered overhead, a jack rabbit ran by and two coyotes cleared out the brush as they cruised through in search of a morning snack.

D70AAD99-F9EF-4F1F-A6AB-AACF0FBF1601Joy this week has been found in natural beauty,  humor, friendship, music, Minecraft with my granddaughter, occasional texts from my daughters and friends, video chat with my sisters and sharing the occasional tasty morsel of food. (Yes, one more Chipotle order.) I am still “casting the Net of Light” each morning and night – sending love and light to friends and family near and far, to people who are hurting, to creation, to life.

What ways are you finding to support your soul? What contributions to the world’s light, peace, and love have you been making? Sometimes, the only answer we can come up with is that we’re doing our best to take care of ourselves and to not carry illness to our neighbors. If so, I believe that our best is all that is required.

This week, I’m going to try to incorporate Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice on how to cope with things (especially people) who drive you crazy. He writes, “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.  

Love, grace, humor and blessings to you, – Karen

225D72D6-C9C0-49C1-B957-303242C939A2

 

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 6 on our “Blue Boat Home”

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you about mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on….

– Mary Oliver, from “Wild Geese”

IMG-0519This sixth week of social distancing and isolation has gone by rather quickly. Or else I’m just losing track of time altogether. There have been up days, moments of boredom, sadness, and anxiety, but for the most part, this week has been quiet and calm. We have shelter, food, friends, family, health, and a beautiful world outside our door.

It is getting warmish here in our southwestern climate, so we will begin to walk in the morning next week. Tried out the A/C yesterday. This morning, I got up, sat on the patio and listened to the birds, sketched and later water-colored a bit. I listened to music as I painted. Earlier in the week, my birthday present from John – a hand drum – arrived. After I finished water-coloring, I tried drumming along with some of my favorite Kirtan chants. Very fun! I will do that again. There was an eclectic nature to the music I enjoyed today – from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Andrea Boccelli singing the Lord’s Prayer to a Sufi chant for Ramadan to Kirtan. Well rounded, I’d say.

The morning flew by in this pleasant way – and it didn’t occur to me until Noon that this was Friday – Journal check-in Day.

IMG-0524The political situation is one that triggers still – and I find that I feel agitated when I watch the news. I loved watching the World Health Organization’s press conference. It was a pleasant change to listen to sane and intelligent people who are truly doing their best to solve a crisis of global proportions, focusing on the well-being of human beings everywhere. I learned some things and understood other concepts more clearly. Sad that this is such a novelty.

My spiritual director spent an hour “companioning” me on Monday and that was very helpful. She again nudged me toward being gentle with myself, keeping things simple. A week ago, she sent me a copy of a blog I posted in 2017 and it was actually helpful to me this week to re-read my own advice to “soak in the love” during the April New Moon (which was this week). So that’s what I’ve been doing.

The many Earth Day postings people have shared this week have been great and inspiring. Along with Sharon McErlane’s advice about frequently casting the Net of Light (see her latest video session, below), the week has kept me in touch with Nature and Spirit at a deeper level. It feels calming and centering.

All in all, I am grateful for children and grandchildren who are healthy, a loving companion, the comforts of home, music, movement, beauty, Mother Earth, and the Divine. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all these blessings, Holy One.

Wishing you peace, health, love, and connection,  Karen

IMG-0511

Favorites of the Week:

Second Installment of the Net of Light gatherings with Sharon McErlane.

Imam Jamal Raman’s post for Ramadan – “South Asian Sufi devotional song and Whirling Dervish. Based on a saying by the Prophet Muhammad( pbuh) praising Hazrat Ali. Composed by the sage Amir Khusrao (d.1316 CE).”

Peter Mayer’s Earth Day “Blue Boat Home” – on Facebook and here’s his “Holy Now” (a long-time favorite).

2017 Post from Following the Golden Thread – for the April New Moon

IMG-0504

 

 

Week 5: Isolation Journal (I carry you in my heart…)

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
– e. e. cummings

IMG_0449I had some intense sadness this week…hurt feelings for a moment put a “crack” into my shell that allowed sadness to well out and spill over. I tended to my hurting heart in gentle ways, but really only set it aside.

Most of the week I’ve been ricocheting off the floors, ceiling and walls in a sort of empty-headed routine (getting very little done, I might add). Best moments include Tuesday’s soul collage session with my friend by phone. I had trouble coming into focus long enough to pick images I resonated with – but eventually got momentum, scissors and glue were employed, and finished cards began to appear in front of me.

Each day this week has included a walk – usually 3-4 miles, one day near 5 miles. Today will be a lazy day to give my heel a short break. The weather is warming so we now go later and later in the day. Soon it will become early and earlier to catch the cool morning air. We are looking forward to the switch but we aren’t quite ready. We have seen deer, lizards, bunnies and quail galore, a few coyotes at home, and the occasional javelina.

I must confess that social distancing with humans while walking is an imperfect art. We are not crowded here by any means, but John and I take the distance rules seriously – and we walk in the bike lane or cross the road as needed. There are spots on the route where this becomes challenging maybe once or twice per walk. I must write this up to, “we’re all doing our best” or else I would complain about my neighbors’ awareness or lack thereof. It has, for the most part, done away with the friendly social component of the neighborhood walk except for a wave here and there. There’s a certain tension one senses even in those speeding by as runners or cruising past at high speeds on bikes.

Wednesday we had a grocery delivery and it was so exciting. I told John that I get a little flutter in my heart seeing fresh raspberries, strawberries, and red bell peppers. He said, “You need to get out more.” Then added, “We all do.” Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the bathing of groceries and gently tucking them each into their places in the pantry, cupboard or refrigerator.

IMG_0460I completely forgot to mention that Sunday was Easter and Monday was my birthday. Monday, I was showered with greetings and attention from beloved family and friends all day long. On Easter, I had spent the day doing church with friends from Colorado (via Zoom). We got to see the Easter happiness of the grandkids during video calls. Easter afternoon included a tasty meal and lots of Minecraft with two granddaughters, and an hour of chit chat with the youngest.

Anyway, on my b-day, my sister sent me a beautiful succulent plant via the florist. Who knew that florists were vital workers? Very cool. Homemade and virtual cards from the grandkids and a special Lord of the Rings birthday card from my daughters now adorn the house and my various “altars.” I hate to say that the highlight of the day from a material celebration standpoint was the delivery of some pizza (gluten and dairy-free for me), but it was like I was on a reality TV survival show and had just found a stash of the most delectable food. I wolfed it down at first, then paused to savor realizing that I might not see this again for some time. It was like a tangible connection to “normal” life for which I was starved.

IMG_0400Anyway, here we are on Friday – feels like two weeks later. In my meditation this morning, as I mentioned earlier, I touched on some real tenderness again, sadness, and heard the word “vulnerability.” Somewhere inside we are processing everything that is going on. Though there is a promise of states returning to more normalcy, we are not all feeling the comfort of this.

There have been moments of clarity this week in which I’ve had an awareness of another source of this vulnerability and pain. As a person whose almost entire female gene pool has in common traits of “control,” “resourcefulness” or (my husband might add) “stubborn individualism.” We don’t have great trust, overall, in other people to direct or protect us. We tend to want to chart our own path. We have reasons for these traits. The people in our lives who were supposed to be adept at protecting and directing did an often questionable (and in some cases downright lousy) job.

In addition to social isolation and upheaval in our lives – right now government leaders in charge of our well-being trigger us all day long. There is a degree of deceit and ineptitude that is overwhelming – especially for those of us who don’t trust others easily to begin with. Sane, grounded leaders shine out like beacons.

It brings me back to vulnerability. No amount of control, resourcefulness, or thinking ourselves out of predicaments is going to protect any one of us individually. Brene Brown writes that “vulnerability is the only bridge to build connection.” So, I’m not going to help you by pretending that I’ve got this all together. We’re not going to connect by demonstrating the big routines we’ve built into our new normal. Maybe we can build a bridge to one another by sharing the tenderness, the tears that overflow now and again when we least expect them. Maybe we can be each other’s Winnie the Pooh and Piglet (or Eeyore) and just hang out and let each other be where we are.

There’s a prayerful ritual that I have learned from Sharon McErlane and my friend, Constance, called, “casting the net of light.” When I have enough presence of mind, I do this in the morning or evening. Here’s how it’s done: Prayerfully and energetically – using our imaginations to assist – we envision the Net of Light which covers our earth, its people, creatures, plants, earth, air, water, everything, and connects us. We find our place on the Net, connect to it, and call in those other lights – friends, family, spiritual guides, angels and ancestors, our spiritual anchors, and we find connection. It was during this deep connection, today, that tears came. In the comforting connection of the Net there was enough security to allow vulnerable places to be held.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown reminds, “An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence. These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time.”

So, friends, my beloveds, I reach out to you. I need your presence on the great Net of Light now. And I hold you – your heart – in my heart.

Love, Karen

IMG_0467

Isolation Journal: Week Four (I think that’s right…maybe….)

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem,
but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room
for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Things do seem to have fallen apart and there is still room to fall some more. We feel like we’re on one of those elevators that begins to fall, stops, then falls some more and stops again. We don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet. I look around at this precarious juncture, feel terrified, and think, “Maybe it’s time for a cup of coffee” or “Time for another Hallmark movie or Britcom.”

Often, during this roller coaster ride (yes, mixing metaphors is allowed during lockdowns) it is easier to distract oneself, to find tiny avenues of comfort (coffee, movies, blankets, showers, food, walking) rather than to stop, sit still, and take in this moment’s reality. This week, with the support of some of my favorite people* – online and by telephone – I’ve had the opportunity to sit still and take in the moment. Despite my internal resistance and intense addiction to distraction right now, I’ve had moments of collective stillness and illumination with these folks, moments of deep peace.

IMG-0343
from Sufi Scribe, Facebook

On this day, there is global heaviness unrelated to the pandemic – it is both Good Friday and the third evening of Passover. Humans will take themselves through very painful memories concerning suffering, human failings and cruelty, and will recall those few women and men who found a way to be compassionate and present even during such times.

Moments of illumination, where we can find them, help us to shake off the cosmic heaviness and the “briefings,” “summaries” and alerts coming through the news media. One part of us takes in the data, the news, while the moments of stillness, acceptance, groundedness, and turning toward the Sacred help us to take in something else.

This morning the Friday Summary that popped up in my email was very grim – illness, death tolls, lack of resources, potential food shortages, economic meltdown, political stalemate and so on. As I took my shower following that mental jolt, the phrase that popped into my head was from Byron Katie’s “Four Questions” – “Can you absolutely know that it’s True?”

Katie points to the same reality as Pema Chodron – but she arrives there using a different set of tools. Katie suggests that you identify your stressful thoughts using her “Judge your neighbor” worksheet. Once you’ve written out your fears, stressors, and bald faced complaints, you apply the four questions to what you’ve written. The first question: “Is it true?” The second question sometimes brings one up short, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

For example: If I write, “The world is falling apart. Everything is horrible.” Is it true? Yes. From my perspective, this is true and the news says it’s true. But can I absolutely know it is true? Hmmm…. Well…I suppose not. People are being extraordinarily heroic, sharing resources, sharing their lives and livelihoods. The earth and its creatures are having a IMG-0376hay day. Mountaintops are visible, waters are running more clear. Goats, deer, and sheep (even javelinas) are romping through towns unobstructed by traffic. And actually, now that I think of it and look around, it is a sunny day, flowers are blooming, I have fresh water to drink, I have adequate food, I have shelter, I even have enough TP for the next week or so – and chocolate. So, maybe I can’t absolutely say it is true that everything is horrible. (There are two more questions and interesting turnarounds on the worksheet. Check it out.)

But for the time it took us to write this stuff down, to apply the questions and sit with them, we have held our fears and faced them. We’ve looked at them from one side and another. And we’ve come out in another place. Even in much more dire circumstances, there is some miraculous transformation which can take place as one applies these questions – to any and all situations.

Pema Chodron writes:

“Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
“If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”

So, my summary of Week Four of my journal is that:

  • I’ve had moments of mindlessness – distraction to the point of forgetting which way I was going and why more than once (I also found my measuring tape in a most unlikely place).
  • I’ve had some very low moments of grief. The overwhelming death toll numbers in New York City, illness numbers here in the Navaho Nation, and the death of John Prine was an individual low point – he has been one of the sensitive and accurate narrators of life during my time – and I have just always liked his melodies, humility, hope, humor and grit.
  • IMG-0335I’ve had irrational fears (Do I feel odd? Am I getting sick? Did I remember to bleach the door handle after I washed and bathed the groceries?) including a dream about bugs and worms getting into the house, the food.
  • And I’ve had moments of joy – phone calls from grandkids, kids, friends, and walks with Johnny. I’ve even had some moments of enlightenment – thanks to my favorite shamans, gurus, ministers, and friends.

Several years ago, when I was really grieving and struggling with my sister’s cancer, my daughter sent me this quote from Pema:

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible be found in us.

I cried and cried and was deeply comforted by this truth. We can’t get to the core of things by floating around carefree. We find the indestructible connection, we find the eternal by coming face to face with our own impermanence.

As a collective, we have the opportunity to face this together. I am so grateful for taking this journey with all of you.

Love,
Karen

P.S. Another unlikely “winner” we’ve noticed during all of this. Trampoline sales appear to be skyrocketing.

IMG_0379

* Some favorites this week (in no particular order):

Contemplative Monk on Facebook (Bob Holmes)

The Four Winds Society (Alberto Villodo) on Facebook – livestream shaman updates

-The Psychology Babes on Facebook

Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz (Poems & Quotes) on Facebook

Netoflight.org (website)and Facebook (Sharon McErlane) – have enjoyed livestream events