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,

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


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…..

– 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.