making meaningful connections

Each morning for over a week now, I have sat down, intending to write, and each day, I get a just few paragraphs down in my journal, before the distractions besiege. I suspect what I am noticing is more than simple distraction, though. Yes, I am having difficulty quieting. Yes, there is worry, obsession, and anxiety. Yes, my mind is racing. Yes, I am being re-minded (of my own cataclysmic, life altering experiences). Yes, I am afraid of missing some vital piece of information or connection. (FOMO overload) Yes, there has even been an overwhelming amount of positive offerings of human connection — poetry, art, reflections, spiritual practices, phone calls. Yes, I am being ‘fed’ with (consumed by?) so many ideas of things I could “do” to fill my alone time that there doesn’t seem to be any room in my bloated belly to just “be”.*

But this morning I had the thought that perhaps the inability to turn inward during this time, to listen for that still small voice within, is that my attention is being drawn outwards from my center for good reason. How can I withdraw from the world at a time such as this?

This has surprised me. I expected my introverted nature to relish the permission to practice isolation, though I prefer the word, solitude– and therein lies the rub, I suppose. It is, in fact, much more difficult to practice solitude, to fall into its grace and gift, during a time when we are being forced into isolation while at the same time being poignantly reminded of our interconnectedness, our shared humanity, and our need for one another. I find myself wanting to see, wanting to hear, wanting to feel, wanting to know, wanting to hold, wanting to care –about my fellow human beings.

So , I also find myself wanting to share my experience, not to inundate an already oversaturated world with more words, but to connect. I pray it is not merely self-centered indulgence to do so. This is after all a ‘shared experience’, unlike perhaps any other. It sometimes feels a bit like the sharing birthing stories. Mothers all have one– each one unique even in its commonality, each one needing to be told over and over — and those stories welcome us into the fold of motherhood/humanity, bringing intimacy and communion.

Something I began imagining a few years ago, after my first granddaughter was born, was that was iwriting to my great-great-granddaughters, and I have sporadically followed that nudging call. Once, that impulse rose in me while walking through a nursery bed of young hemlock, nestled together atop a ridge, which rimmed a valley carved by the poetically named, Love Run. At the time it was feared that all of our hemlock were dying from the pandemic of the day, the wooly adelgid outbreak. I felt such tenderness and hope for those young hemlock, seeded in the death throes of their mothers. In telling the story of them into the future, I realized I also wanted my great granddaughters to return to that place with me, to whisper back to me what the future looked like.

That instinct in me has risen again in response to this pandemic, speaking into the future of what it is like here today, imagining a future that wonders what it was like in those days for their mother’s mothers, when the world was different. How we felt, how we feared, how we were the same as them, how we changed the world through our Love for it.

But that letter will have to wait for tomorrow, because it is already 1 o’clock in the afternoon and the distractions(connections) have squandered(blessed) the morning away.

*I wrote about this feeling of being overwhelmed on a Facebook post. I have copied it below

Ok introverts, how are you doing. Feeling overwhelmed? Emotional and informational overload? Remember, an aspect of solitude is also simplicity. Try to keep from filling even this space with noise.
Information overload is perhaps an even greater concern when you are sheltering in place. And phone calls and texts to friends and family, while they can fill the day with vital connection and support for us, can also drain.
I’ve noticed even the sudden flood of generous connective offerings here on social media has begun to make me feel oversaturated. (I know from my years of watching my diet that gluttony can be a thing even when overconsuming healthy food!) so I’ve decided to wean, knowing I will probably miss some tender wisdoms, profound words of healing, connective offerings, thoughtful essays, elegant museums tours, shared experiences, new learnings, art courses, etc, etc, etc
But I don’t think my human brain is made to process this all, and I am trusting that what I do choose to taste will be nourishing enough, as will that which you find, even it comes from a vastly different food source. You really don’t need me to share the latest tidbit that I have found tasty or satisfying … you also will be led to what your own spirit craves. So, I can slowly savor that poem or newsbit without having to regurgitate its profundity for your benefit.
So, yes, I have decided to wean. I’ve chosen one news source to check in with twice daily for 10 minutes each. And just a few offerings of community. (For me, I’ve realized that if I have a previous connection in the real world with what is now a virtual community, that the offering feels more connective for me, rather than trying to plug myself in to a something new). I am seeking mostly spacious containers that bring quieting and peace.
For introverts like me, it is an intimacy thing, really. We do deeply treasure human-to-human connection but it has to feel authentic, slow, soft, deep, and never too many (at once, or in succession). However, I also believe this is true for all of us… we are not meant to be processing/consuming so much.
Perhaps this phenomena is something like the rush on toilet paper, except it is happening now in virtual space. We really don’t need that much after all, but there is something in us that grasps onto anything in times of uncertainty and becomes obsessed with it. Try not to add just one more, out of despair. The energy will settle here too…and we will be able to see what is truly needed, to choose only what is vital
There is the story of Indra’s net that always brings me home. In it, each of us imagined to be a jewel, called to hold our own place in the net. If we don’t do so, the whole thing comes unraveled. I think of that jewel, holding the threads that spire outward from it, as having maybe 6 strands. My job is to hold onto just those… and you to hold onto yours. That’s the way we hold onto one another. One by one. To try to grasp the entire mind-boggling vastness of that web would be an exercise in futility and exhaustion for me.
So thank you for all that you offer and hold. I trust that each of us, and all of us together, holding one onto the other will hold this fragile web together.
Find one thing you can do. One person you can attend to. One loving word , or prayer you can share. One moment of quiet. Small things. Great love

Hope in the midst of loss

I have been thinking about loss

Again.

Earlier this week, reminded of my own devastating losses by the flood of images of late-term fetuses appearing on the internet, in response to the current escalation in attention to abortion laws, I found myself revisiting those pregnancy loss experiences. (I have carefully chosen the word ‘reminded’ over the word ‘triggered’ here, because ‘triggered’ can indicate an irrational, uncontrollable emotionally laden response, and my attention to these images was more mindful- an intentional gaze). I wanted to see if my memory of those one-pound, 20 1/2 week babies – whom my body had failed, and for whom I had labored and delivered into birth and death, then reburied in the womb of the earth – was accurate (it was)—because, from stories I have been told, I seem to have lost a few weeks of my memory around those periods of time.

In my explorations, I learned that, while I have always referred to these losses as miscarriages, it is more accurate to call them stillbirths (although even that distinction feels inaccurate to me, as one of those girls lived outside the womb for an hour, or so I was told).  It was also satisfying to find that some of the stigma and shame has been lifted, that the understanding of and compassion for that particular grief has improved, and that supportive environments for that bereavement have evolved. There are women out there who are allowed to hold their dead 21 week babies for as long as they need. (there are youtube videos out there of this) No more propping of hips upon bedpans while the doctor swears under his breath because the placenta (not realizing its job has prematurely ended) won’t come loose, or sending a naïve candystriper, who has experienced a miscarriage, into the hospital room the next day because no one on staff knows how to talk to you when they come to administer the drugs to dry up your engorged breasts. No more having the room filled with medical students, gazing at the anomaly between your stirrupped legs, where the amniotic sac descended to blow up like a water balloon before it ruptured.

No more is the loss diminished as irrelevant.

I have digressed. (Regressed? Progressed?) There is a relevant point I wanted to make here, some connection made in my brain between these visitations I made earlier in the week and the expressions of sadness I saw flooding the internet last evening.

Yesterday, I watched women I love try to come to terms with, accept the new reality, and begin to openly grieve their own losses in the ending of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.  Unlike the last loss, at the end of the election of 2016, which felt so traumatic and unexpected (like a full term pregnancy, so full of expectation and hope, showing no signs of distress one day and the next was suddenly over, leaving the emptiness and shock of stillbirth in its wake), this one was indeed showing signs of trouble. This time, there was (at least?) some time to prepare, emotionally, to accept that the hope for which you longed was dying.  Still, there comes that moment when the final blow comes -one minute there is clinging hope and the next it is stripped away- when the miscarriage is complete. Still, there is shock, at least disbelief. (It feels unreal for a moment). Then there is blame, anger, self-hatred… or, sometimes, even numbness.

There is always aftermath.

Watching them, I noticed the similarities, of course. The way we invest our hearts in a dream of a future. The way we fall in love with Hope. The way that it feels like a blessing. The way it fills us with promise and joy. The way we imagine a fresh reality. The way that we Love. The way that we feel connected, valued, important…. Beloved even.

It is right to grieve after a loss such as this. It is also good to hold onto that vision for as long as you need. … to drink it in, to count its fingers and toes…and then to let go.

I noticed in myself a deep disappointment, a sigh of sadness, but nowhere near the devastation I had experienced the last time. Perhaps the pregnancy hadn’t gotten to the point of viability for me? Wasn’t yet something ‘real’? Or perhaps I had withheld some part of my heart from investing, kept myself numb?

It is true, I have disconnected ( I don’t think the proper word here is ‘dissociated’ for, like the word ‘trigger’, it connotes a lack of conscious choice). In my own healing from the grief of the last election, I realized how swept into the narrative of devastation (and demonization) I had become. I needed to look for goodness in a worldview, which was clouded everywhere by the pain of that seeming volcanic eruption, in order to find healing and hope and clearer vision of humanity.   In my personal healing from the grief of pregnancy loss I had also needed to learn to rename and reclaim, to choose language that was healing and redemptive, to tell a different story. Hatred (of self or other or life itself), cynicism, the overarching sense of unfairness, and/or hyperbolic fear keep us stuck in the narrative of ugliness and despair.

We are meaning-making beings.  It is important to take care with our storytelling.

I don’t think it was exactly that I didn’t want to invest myself again in hope; rather that my hope- my sense of life’s goodness and possibility-  was not based upon a specific outcome. Perhaps I am blind to myself though (we all are, aren’t we?) . Perhaps I chose not to care. Perhaps I was numb. Perhaps I was burying my head in the sand. Perhaps I was afraid to feel the pain of loss again. But I don’t think so. This felt more like a choice to see beneath the ugliness and beyond the chaos, to stay centered within the storm. To know that Hope is always here.

The trauma of loss affects us all. Sometimes it makes us so fearful we won’t take a chance again, knowing firsthand the devastating consequences of the last time we hoped, the last time we felt safe. All fear, after all,  is not irrational or unconscious. Fear can also make us wiser (don’t touch the hot stove). It can also make us – to follow its consequence down through the spectrum of human response—more thoughtful, deliberate, cautious, timid, apprehensive, anxious, or even paralyzed.  If we let it make us wiser, we learn resilience (buzz word or not). We grow stronger with it. We grow bigger than it.  We know the story is not over, nor is it the totality of the story contained in that one experience. Our losses, failures and suffering teach us about our strength and reveal to us our beauty.

And, miraculous beings that we are, we try again beyond all ‘reasonableness’. To conceive again the image of a new life, trusting in our innate goodness and our ability to love (despite what the misplaced shame in our history/herstory wants us to believe about ourselves – our worthiness, potential, possibility or our ability) . We nurture the seed. We pump our breasts to keep the next preterm neonate alive. We even let the machines do their job.

We know that life goes on.

waking up

“Love is the cure, for your pain will keep giving birth to new pain, unless you constantly exhale Love as effortlessly as your body yields its scent”- Rumi

I awoke this morning thinking (although perhaps it might be more accurate to call it listening, as the thoughts seemed to be in my head for me to hear upon awakening) about shame. The voice was a gentle corrective reminding me that shame can never be the way forward, that the image of humanity as a plague is not a helpful one, no matter how that image sought to turn itself in the end to one that was worthy of deep and tender-hearted compassion, received with grace by a forgiving earth. Understanding humanity as a prolific family of squirrels perhaps, as a humble part of the natural cycle (rather than a noxious aberration!), might be okay, but to follow that idea down the path of shame, where the bandwagon of scorn awaits to carry me to the angry  mob that has gathered, threatening to reject humanity as unredeemable, is a grievous error.

Shame never uplifts. It oppresses, pressing those beneath its heavy shoe into shadows of self-contempt. Many of us have been led by individual experiences to believe that who we are is unworthy. It doesn’t help that we also seem to be veritably swimming in a culture of blame and despair. ‘Just look at how horrible we/you are!’

I wonder about the backlash of shame. As it cannot lift, does it perhaps give rise… to the shadow? What does that shadow look like? Defense mechanisms and defensive maneuvers?  Mirrored contempt? Reciprocal scapegoating and blame?

Sadly, it happens on both sides, an ironic side-effect of our passion to protect that which we hold dear is to despise that which we perceive as threatening it.  So, when I use the language of shame (plague) when I fear what we are doing to the earth, I am guilty of scorn-mongering. My small mind can rationalize an awful lot of wrong-headed ideals, but I risk my heart dabbling in that place. I must take care not to move in to there. Soon I will be pointing a crooked finger at all that is broken and wrong, spewing my own version of apocalyptic doom.

Instead, I must practice exhaling Love.

Mercifully, I find that if I spend too much time dipping my toes into those toxic waters, I quite soon feel as if I am drowning, overcome by the harshness of the judgments, the woeful appraisals of humanity, the apocalyptic doom….. and I am repelled by it back to middle ground.

Where a voice whispers, Abide in Love. Let Love abide in you.  

And so, I wonder again if this inclination in me, to stand in the center, as paralyzing and ineffectual as that sometimes feels, is the very place where I am called to Be and to Hold— to behold. I wonder about that voice that awakened me this morning, imploring me to ennoble the ignobled, to recall that we humans are also ‘ Beloveds in whom I am well pleased’, only ‘slightly lower than the angels’, proclaimed to be ‘good’. Perhaps my ‘work’ then is to re-mind, to uplift, to restore to grace.

Of course, this does not mean that we/I/humanity can and will do no wrong, nor that we are not misguided and blind (our minds are small, after all) , terribly imperfect, but it is to recall our innate goodness, our lovability, and to lift that to the light rather than squash it into the shadows.

Look for the good, and you will surely see it. Look for the brokenness and you will find that too. Both are worthy of abiding love.

If I am to equate humanity to any other aspect of the natural world, I want to be filled with wonder for humanity in the same way I fill with wonder for the forest, to come alive when I come across a lichen-speckled human, to be delighted by a chattering bushy-tailed human dropping the plethora of pinecones next to my head. When crossing the boundary into the human realm, I want to Kiss that signpost in the same way that I delight in the one that announces that am crossing into any other wilderness zone. But I want to see it as more than a de-fining label, remember it truly as the wild place it is, and enter with an attitude of receptivity, recognizing the same potential for unorchestrated spiritual encounter.

I want to simply Love humanity, with all its flaws and ferocity, because it truly is a wondrous thing of wild, untameable beauty.

Love in the time of Cholera

Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on the brow of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing

– Galway Kinnel

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, talk of Love is in the air. This morning, I read the first chapter from the next book on my stack, a collection of essays, stories, and love poems, released just in time for the holiday, entitled, Earthly Love, by the editors of Orion Magazine. This first essay left me feeling the full spectrum, the bitter and sweet, of Love for- and Love in- this beautiful Earth, which we are gradually losing (whether you believe that loss to be of an individual nature- as each of us will one day have to let go of life in this place at our personal deaths, or of the more global loss of Life on this Earth, as we know it, now perhaps in its own death throes).

Of course, we always have been losing it. Each day, life here marches ever closer to death and we all fall off of that cliff in the end, but somehow, it feels much harder for us to embrace the death of us/it all. Yet, being willing to look closely, it seems evident that this will surely come to pass, as we seem to be consuming the earth so voraciously that She will no longer be able to sustain us.

It seems to be in our nature to live ‘as if’ we are not dying, to turn our eyes away, keeping them trained instead upon the current pleasure or peace, for to do otherwise can send us into meaningless despair. Throughout most of our existence, some ironic survival instinct allows us to live as if we are above it, until we at last are brought low to come face to face.

Perhaps there is something in the idea of our continuity through our progeny that also keeps that ultimate despair at bay, holds off the harsh reality that life leaves us. Subconsciously, perhaps, this is the Hope we cling to, this notion that some part of us lives on through them. So, it’s much harder to look at ourselves as a species coming to an end, as merely one of the Earth’s cycles of life, an apex species that will prey upon the earth until it is subdued.

Actually, sometimes I imagine we are more like an explosion of rodents— squirrels, for instance, proliferating exponentially during a time of apparent, but misleading, permanent abundance to overrun the resource of nuts in the forest such that the forest cannot reseed itself. Of course, in that scenario, the rodents are eventually brought back into balance. Their sheer numbers no longer able to be sustained, they succumb to starvation, or to population drops via smaller litters, or to the influx of predators who follow along behind such mast years. Of course, soon enough, those predators also will starve or move on, having likewise proliferated and consumed all of their resources for food, and the patient trees will once again produce seeds in prolific abundance to replenish the cycle, ensuring that some of their own will survive.

If the entire Earth itself is the ecosystem of the human, when will these cycles tip to bring us into balance, taking care of our numbers by such a natural culling? How will that look? Will we be unable to bear children? Will we slowly starve? Will we be overcome by unknown predators (of the microbial variety perhaps?). Will we merely dwindle to sustainable numbers , or will we simply cease to be, as so many of the earth’s creatures seem to be doing during this period of mass extinct?

This story is a bleak exercise of imagination, indeed…. save that enduring patience of the forest.

For some reason the title of a book, of which I am aware but have not read, is evoked in me. It surfaces from time to time, actually, the seed of its title evidently having nestled itself into the soil of my imagination. ‘Love in the time of Cholera’.

What does it mean to Love during such a time as this?  To witness the one that you love slip so quickly from your grasp, wasting suddenly, spewing the putrid contents of its unwitting contamination, after taking in what appeared to be safe, what once WAS safe before it was polluted with sewage? If we humans are the plague, what does it mean to love the contaminator itself… to let the contaminator in us be Loved?

There was this line that I underscored in this morning’s essay – ‘How to love straight out of my heart without it getting all gummed up in my brain’. If I think about this over much, I can get lost in hopeless but rational despair (hmmm… does despair reside in the head? Or the heart?) for my mind is so small and I know enough to know that I don’t know how to fix this (or even if it needs to be fixed, for that matter!).

Of course, that’s the thing about the head, it gets caught up in the idea that ‘to fix’ is ‘to love’, and while tending, healing, and restoring are indeed acts of love, attempting to fix can sometimes be a way to protect the heart from feeling the full catastrophe of love.  It can be a denial of- a refusal to look at – the one whom I love, slipping away in my arms, when S/he instead begs to just be embraced. As she is. Should I be blessing this one that I love instead, anointing it with Kisses as it passes?

What would it look like to bless this earth, to anoint it with kisses?

Oh! But perhaps the earth is not the one that requires my love and my blessing in this scenario I have laid out. For the earth is not perhaps the one dying, slipping from grasp. E.O. Wilson asserts that ‘we could take the Earth all the way down to her microbes and she would find a way to recover’. Once she rids herself of the plague that is humanity, she will heal herself. So then… what does it look like to bless the plague of humanity itself? To love it with all of its flaws, to forgive it its shame, to kiss its putrid lesions, to anoint it with blessing, to behold it with tenderness and mercy. To open my heart fully to the fatal flaw of our humanity and embrace it as lovable, refusing to turn my face from its terrible beauty, to let it be broken AND beloved.

______________________

Later this afternoon, I read an essay written by an Unupiat woman, in response to the question, “What kind of ancestor do you want to be?” Part of her response was this, “It is taught that our lives are not written in history books or put into archives, but are written in the stars, the rivers and lakes, the mighty ocean, the land that provides’.

While it may be true that my very body becomes these other ones, its elements and essences absorbed and recycled by the earth into something new that retells the story of who i was (and perhaps, if you believe in such things, my spirit may inhabit them as well), this is not, I think, the way We bless them… with our decaying lives….but the way that they Bless us.

What will the rivers and lakes, the land, look like in the future, after the plague that we are has been dumped into them? How will the earth re-member us, with or without our grandchildren in its arms? Will it remember us as Beloved or Curse, or both. What is the fond or horrific story of us that it will tell?

If we have become a toxin, spewing the sewage remnants of our rampant consumption into the waters of life (both literally and metaphorically) how might we clean up ourselves, make of ourselves something safe enough to drink, safe enough for the earth to take us back into its life blood, safe enough to be recycled into blessing, once again, so that our children might drink of her beauty too?

What is the antibiotic for us?

I don’t believe healing ever comes from cursing the one who is ill, by scorning the one who has faltered, by judging with contempt the ignorant. It’s hard to see ourselves as such. We want to believe we are respons-able, that we are capable, intelligent, pinnacles of the earth. But what if we are not. What if we are, as late arrivals in this place, merely immature, merely the unwise, less evolved than our earth’s kin, and their patient tolerance of us is nothing short of compassion for our weakness, embracing the error of our ways and transforming them into Blessing.

To recover from Cholera, one must rehydrate.  Might we rehydrate the blood of this planet with the blessing of being known as Beheld and Beloved as children here, let Love heal us until we are recognizable to the earth once again as something safe, as a source of blessing. Perhaps the Earth itself will do the healing, receiving us as we are, transforming our brokenness into its wholeness, cradling us in its patient arms.

Or…. perhaps not. Perhaps we return dust to dust, our time in this place run dry, and we will be forgotten, nevermore. If that is so, then how do we grace-fully say ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, ‘forgive us’ with both grief and love in our hearts.. How do we, at least, leave this place with Love intact.

my soul in silence waits* – day 8 – listening

At the end of this journey, I am promised Peace, a sense of wholeness and harmony, if I live a life rooted in Love. In an enlightening glance at the etymology of the word translated as ‘repay’, (as in, your deeds will be repaid), I learn that at its root is the world Shalom.

Conversely, when I am feeling discord, perhaps it is because I have forgotten, or forgotten how, to root myself in Love- the connection blocked or broken so that there is not flow, rather stagnation or draining emptiness. (here again is that water metaphor that fills me so)

I wonder how this journey has subtly shifted, deepened perhaps, from the innate knowledge of Hope, from whence I began, to Peace. Simply, I notice that the source seems to have a different center. The All is Well of “Hope” alone was perhaps distant/outside of myself, a trusting deeply in something bigger and more powerful than (my) humanity, perhaps even something impersonal that would continue beyond and indifferent to human beings, an assurance that Life and Love would go on, with or without us. This Peace, however, is centered within my very humanity, rooted in my own power to Love and do Good, to be a Part of that Hope.

Empowered Peace almost feels like an oxymoron, but today’s reading implores me to see the relationship between Love and Power. Love is not a wishy washy sentiment, ineffectual and (im)passive. Nor is power, devoid of Love, a force of Hope. Pure power is not to be grasped as a solution for apathy (Do Something! Anything! rather than stand, paralyzed, wallowing in the center of compassionate uncertainty), for power, unrooted in Love, would also leave me feeling the emptiness of purpose.

I am brought full circle, yet I am at a brand new place, arriving ‘where I started, to know the place for the first time’, for here I am again, seemingly at the same place where the invitation to name my longing (day 1) opened the door to naming what it is that is the source of my comfort and strength. On that day, I sought a language of prayer that might make of this Pervasive Energy of the Universe, something accessible and personal. Something into which I might root myself, draw strength and power, as well as comfort and sustenance- a more intimate presence.

To abide in Love, however, and for Love to abide in me, feels closer even than the boundaries of my skin. This is a prayer that moves beyond the rational, scientific-only coldness of pure energy (power), to a feeling of being infused by warmth, encompassed, enveloped, supported and imbued by Love. Power and Love, intensity and intimacy in One.

The Power to Love is ‘here in our world, accessible to us all’. Power to Act. Power to Be. We are not mere spectators of an impersonal, if wondrous, calculation, but participants in the dance.

Waiting for the fog to life, I stick close to the shoreline, move slowly and watch closely, seeking the shape of something by which to discern a course.

This is a power, I am told, that is ‘insistent, yet tolerant’. If I am to act from Love, as I am called to do, I may indeed err in my judgment of ‘right or wrong’, of where to place my compassion or my empathy. But I am to use that power to Love, nonetheless, assured that there will be not only grace (tolerance) but blessing. Not regret, but Peace, the peace of being rooted in Love. And if I listen, carefully, I may discern, feel the resonance of Love within, feel the filling from without (empowered?) when I am in alignment with Goodness. I will know that I am standing upon Holy Ground, where Who I am is Where I am called to be.

In Harmony.

I think of all those pithy quotes ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Buechner) or “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’ (Thurman). They are speaking also of this Power infused by Love. Of Holy Passion.

Fear not.

It is said that the fruits of fear are not only ‘violence’ (hatred) but also spiritual deadness (apathy). Is this fear of loving in the ‘wrong’ place, or the wrong thing, or the wrong way? I am called instead to be a wildly expansive lover, as is the universe itself. Wildly expansive can hold it all, while still choosing to express itself here in this place and time as particular….

Shalom is my reward. Inner peace from the torment of getting it right, or being enough.

The fog enshrouded lake returns to my imagination. I am in the canoe feeling my way carefully. The morning is ahush, the dipping of the paddle soft as I can make it. Earlier, I pulled onto the shore, disembarked to wait, until I could detect a subtle lifting– the hazy ball of light on the horizon coaxing it to lift– and now subtle gradients of gray indicate an edge. Following that edge, soon a passage opens, the curtain lifts, ushering me across the water, into the clarity of – not black and white but – Blue.

* this series of posts were my responses to the blood , “My oul in silence waits”, by Margaret Guenther

breakfast with Don

‘How do you determine what is truth?, I asked. I’d spent a bit of time early this morning perusing commentaries on the current state of affairs in our country, trying to decide if I should be alarmed or if what I am reading might be alarmist, if I am being blind, or conversely at risk of being influenced by blind by rage. I had read about how easily we are micro-targeted to be fed bits of information based upon what is known about us. Information, knowledge even, then is not the same as truth, and while it is easy to point at the information that those on the ‘other side’ are being fed, it’s much harder to accept that the same is happening to us ‘good’ people on this side. Some of the articles I read are written by respected academic scholars, students of the topic infinitely more versed than I, and yet I also am aware that even these are largely influenced by the lens through which academia has been bent to look. Alternately, I read the more heart-centered lamentation by a quaker spiritual leader, whom I respect (albeit he had conferred with a political scientist for help). In this world, where the truth is turned upside down and where catastrophizing has become the language of justice (Is that really new? Or are we just more aware of it today? Or has the viral speed by which mistruths are transmitted made it more of an epidemic?), how do we discern when we are being deluded? What is your measuring stick?

Don’s answer, as is my own, was Love. And yet, even Love is not black and white when it comes to right and wrong. Am I acting out of love when I want to save the jobs of the family who depend upon it, which may mean disallowing another family from that opportunity? Is my husband acting out of love when he uses violence to protect me from harm? Is it loving to extend grace to a family in our community that has been unable to pay their share of taxes when another family has gone without? I have also been poor and unable to pay. The lines are fluid, and ironically, I think that often persons on both sides of a divide believe they are acting from Love.

I believe it was Confucius who taught the model of expanding one’s circle of grace and compassion. Along the journey, at first we love our self, then we love our immediate family (if someone comes to the door needing bread and I have only enough bread to feed my child that day, would I give it away?), then our extended family, parochial community, nation, world, earth….

I have heard it said that the Ten Commandments were a way to codify Love, at a time in human evolution when we were not yet able to act from the seat of Love—when we were perhaps in a place of survival on the hierarchy of needs. This same argument led to the idea that during Jesus’ time, those same laws (along with others) had become corrupted, into a zero-tolerance kind of administration, whereby compassion and understanding could not be used to weigh the circumstances. According to this line of thought, Jesus preached Love as the measuring stick I seek.

I’d like it to be both/and, but I realize even that is often impossible to implement.

In order to live in community, and in order to benefit from the gifts of that community of diverse gifts and resources, ideas and talents (none of us are self-sufficient), I relinquish certain freedoms. I sign on to the greater good, such that even when I disagree with certain decisions that are made I submit. That happens in a marriage, in a career, in a nation. If, for my community, not cutting trees is decided to be a value we hold as important, I give up my ‘right’ to cut the large tree that may one day fall upon my roof. Again, each of these choices could be viewed as based upon Love—or its flip side, fear, for what is fear but the desire to protect that which we love?

Sometimes, I just want absolutes. I want it to be wrong to rape, for instance (and that is not even one of the Ten!), yet even that seems to be a slippery slope. What exactly is consent? What is seduction, coercion? What is retrospective shame? I want it to be wrong to bomb. I want it to be wrong to beat a woman, (here, I admit, I can find no relativism) I want it to be wrong to beat a man! I want it to be wrong to cheat. I want it to be wrong to abuse and intimidate….

Heaven help us.

Perhaps the world of humanity has always been thus. Perhaps this internal conflict is the source of all religion, philosophy, ethics. I have heard it said that the impetus of all religion stemmed from the harsh reality that something must die in order for us to live. Within that harsh reality, we struggle with the ideas of justice and mercy, kindness and compassion. ( Is it just, compassionate, or merciful that the baby seal dies so that the baby shark may live?) This afternoon I caught a PBS program about the lowly weasel.A program for our times? What is the truth about this diverse family? Is it an unsavory, untrustworthy, treacherous, deceitful, betraying, tormenting, harassing plague…. Or a cunning, intelligent, persistent, delving, problem-solving, super-sensed, , flexible, feisty, fearless, accomplished, Brainiac, innovator.

We have hidden from view the physical/visceral realities of that. We no longer witness the deaths and butchering of animals that feed our bodies, no longer witness the burning of the earth that offers us warmth- those fires are hidden too. Perhaps we too have forgotten how to balance.

God have mercy.

My soul in silence waits- day 7- weighing in

“Those of low estate are but a breath;

those of high estate are a delusion.

Together they are lighter than a breath’

What does it mean to be weightless? For all that I am and all that I love to have no substance at all, to be, in the end, nothing?

There is, of course, freedom in that thought, a lifting of the weightiness of it all – self-importance, a ‘meaningful’ life, my life’s purpose, achievement, ‘making a difference’, “Who Am I?’ even. I think of the great sigh of release I felt when I finally understood Mary Oliver’s infamous line, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” within the context of the rest of her poem, in which she is lying in the grass watching a grasshopper’s jaws move back and forth. The ‘ah’ of that release was deep, relief from the weight of enoughness—doing enough, being enough, good enough.

More recently, I have noticed within me that the need to be known also seems to be lifting. While once I feared leaving no trace when I departed this place, nothing to be re-membered by, today those piles of diaries could be tossed into the pyre. I suppose, then, that weightlessness has something to do with letting go of the albatross, or the burden, of being seen. I also realize somehow that my detachment from those journals of old has to do with my self having moved on from that place; something in me has already passed over. I am no longer the woman who wrote those words – 10, 20, 30 years ago. She, you see, has also become weightless as the sheets of paper upon which she scribbled.

This is not merely an exercise in the letting go of material things, though the all too common giveaway of old age has already begun for me, but in letting go of self-possession. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This is also what it means to be human.

Perhaps my image of God, becoming diffuse as it is, is merely a mirror of my soul’s own journey within this human body, my spirit beginning to seep out from its containment within form, my sense of self leaving its seat in the ‘Vicki that I am here in this place and time’, to whom it has been attached as identity. I also am nothing. No Thing.

I ponder the one I was even a decade ago, feeling set free from her role as mother, believing that ‘now’ was surely the time when She would come alive, figure out Who She Was ‘separate from’, discover what was the ‘Gift’ she was to carry into this world. She perhaps had to come to terms with her Ego, let it release its hold, not that it was a ‘bad’ thing, but one that had passed its usefulness. Today, what felt so important to me then has no energy to animate it, no need infusing it.

No emptiness to fill? Hmmm.. how interesting is that. Who would have guessed that becoming emptier would lead to satisfaction.

Of course, even here I lie to myself, because that is what we do, even as we are blind to the fact that we are doing it, for it feels so true to us at the time. Children, we are, certain that the world is flat. Then, time shifts, and truths lift, becoming weightless too.

But, I am also invited to prayerfully imagine such a letting go of actual things– people, possessions, intangibles– to name those I care about today. To imagine them as weightless. To list ten.

My daughter. My sons. My husband. My granddaughters. My friends. My Algonquin. This beautiful earth. My home. My eyes. My mind.

And as I ponder these, there is grief. Of course. Grief bears the weight, perhaps. Love is perhaps the bind that ties, after all.

Is love merely another human quality, which will only dissipate into ether? Something in me, today at least, whispers ‘No ‘. “Love is essence’, it says. Weightless perhaps, but perhaps also the Whole of who I am—filling emptiness from hidden corner to hidden corner, nay, spreading out, expanding beyond boundaries of form.

Perhaps this is what it means to be weightless.

my soul in silence waits- day 6- refuge

Refuge

This day, I am invited to pour it out, to let it be both spoken and heard, expressed and received, to let myself be vulnerable, my fears and griefs, my despair even, be unguarded (can it ever truly be guarded, after all?…there is no defense, merely the illusion of it), to let myself be human, in other words.

Funny, I woke thinking about human suffering – not so much my own, though I am certain there is a connection- but the suffering in this world. I’ve been quite ill this week, and so, when the piercing headache behind my eyes and extreme fatigue would not allow me to lift even a book to be read, I found myself turning to Netflix, binging upon episodes of Call the Midwife. Its setting is right in the seat of human suffering (and so joy, of course, too), in the midst of poverty, where a group of women seek to offer solace, comfort, strength, hope, and grace along with their set of practical skills. Sisters of Mercy.

There was a line somewhere in one of the episodes I watched last night before bed. I can’t even recall the exact words—something about human brokenness- about our fractured or frail existence, but it opened a door in me through which to enter, to cease merely being an observer, to acknowledge and  feel the brokenness.

I don’t know if ‘broken’ is quite the right word, for it seems there is nothing necessarily ‘broken’ about it, as if there would be an opposite that did not include suffering which could be called ‘intact’.  It simply IS part of the whole of being human. There is pain. There is grief. I don’t know if that means there must be suffering and despair, though. Which is simply reality, and which is our response to it?

 However, for some, it seems that pain is the whole of it, with no, or few, glimpses of joy, or hope, or love and for these my heart breaks. And I wonder where I might place myself in the midst of that suffering to offer some mercy…

Anyway, I woke thinking of that. I also woke thinking about my mother, as the setting of this series is during the years that she was a young mother, birthing me and my sisters into that world in which women’s and girls’ lives were proscribed. I thought of her own struggle, having caught glimpses of her fear and her shame, the coldness of her protected heart, in the eyes of some of these characters. I have understood how her world must have both formed and informed her. I’ve recalled her response to my own pregnancy as a young girl, how it must have filled her with fear and despair and caused her to walk away… (and this is the understanding of betrayal, or which I spoke yesterday)

Anyway, I also woke this morning thinking about how ‘easy’ my life is, how easy it is sitting in this place of security to speak of Deep Hope and contentment with the way it is, no matter how hard won is my All is Well. If my story had turned out differently, if there had been no mercy, no grace, no relief, would I be able to express such ‘truths’ ? And again, I found myself wanting to place myself somewhere in the midst of human need, of human suffering, to offer myself as such mercy.

But, even this is not the point of today’s exercise. Its invitation is clearly to let myself crawl into that lap, to pour out my own pain or fear or despair… or confession…to be held and received. My fear of not- enoughness, or not good-enoughness, of course, is peeking through these veiled words. My own shame, perhaps.

I was surprised, however, when re-reading the questions for self inquiry, to find the invitation to also express one’s joy into that place of refuge. Yes, even our joy can be a source of shame. As if to reveal it is to open it to ridicule, scorn, reprisal or even harm. This too is a symptom of our brokenness. We are not allowed to invite Joy into the wholeness of being Human any more than we are allowed to acknowledge suffering.

If there is a heaviness this morning, a lingering darkness, it is the pain of my own child. Her fear of being unlovable, in the end, of being alone. Her pain flows less like a torrent now than once it did, but it still spills forth from where she keeps it at bay when she gets too full. I receive that overflow, as best I can, trying to keep my own guilt at bay. I would give away all of my contentment for her to know peace. IF I could draw from that energy of Love that undergirds me, divert its channel fully into her life, I would. OF course, I try, and it seems that only the sorrow is shared. It flows back to me and I carry it forth. At times, I am merely drained, though far less than once, in the end. Then, I must let go, into Trust in a Love that is far bigger than me. And then, the fatigue of it, this draining of me, makes the voice in me mock me. It derides me, saying ‘who do you think you’re kidding, imagining yourself as a conduit of mercy and grace’.

Of course, these journal entries are the place where I also find refuge, where I can pour myself out and be received, offering solace to myself. And/but, of course this is not at all the same as making myself vulnerable to another, as receiving the solace that another human heart can offer. Certainly, when I choose to post them publicly, that is a type of vulnerability, an exposure to air, a proclaiming of my own flawed humanity, my own brokenness. And I have heard, from time to time, from a few that my honesty here offers them solace as well, in the communion they experience in my sharing.

Perhaps there is mercy and grace here in this seat of refuge.

This is my hope.

my soul in silence waits- day 5 – enemies

Day 5 – enemies

‘Take time to identify some of your inner enemy voices. How do they divert you from exercising your gifts? How might you diminish their pervasive power?”

Enemy is not a word that comes easily to me, but this is a question that begs honesty- an honesty that is not about denying the Light at the center of my being, not about negating the Hope that I am, but about being willing to embrace its shadow, without shame.  My ‘enemy’, the darkness I refuse to name or claim, the ‘all is not at all well’ that swims, as a shark to a dolphin, within the deeper All is Well of the Ocean.

Is it true that all light casts a shadow? I think not. I can image even now a sundrenched sky above a sparkling lake, no clouds to cast shadows from above, no obstructions below. So, it is not the light that creates the shadow, but its obstruction. Yes?

So what are the obstructions in me that block the channel of light – filling me and flowing from me—to distort or dim it.  Are these shadows cast by things outside of myself- an external enemy actually offending, those literal ‘wrongs’- or are they shadows of my own creation, such as when I allow myself to be manipulated by the fear that is mongered about into creating monsters, or conversely being complicit in their proliferation by refusing to look them in the eye. Is it the fear and outrage then that is the monster among and within us? Or is it blindness?

I wonder why it can be so difficult to discern the truth? The beast of our times, apocalyptic forecasts of doom, are like the monsters of ancient texts, aided and abetted by the speed of technological viral contagions. 24 hour newsfeeds in a world grown smaller, where the small thing on the screen grows gargantuan in our fearful minds, make it difficult to keep a human sized perspective, let alone step back into a soul sized one.

On the other hand, being exposed like this, has offered a broader lens to see just how much we are conditioned to believe in the ‘truths’ we are fed without examination. Examination of the enemy often reveals him to be much smaller than the shadow he casts. Or what I thought was a monster was a friend, a falsehood proves to be a truth. Sadly, sometimes the converse is also true.

And so, we are caught spinning in circles of uncertainty. Is it possible to simply stand there within it? Right in the midst of the uncertainty (how close is uncertainty to mystery, I wonder?), in the midst of the fog, waiting for it to lift, for in the fog there are no shadows, after all (or is it all shadow there?) There is not black or white, but many shades of gray.

The problem is that it can also be hard to see the source of light within the fog. Again, it is diffuse—though not necessarily in a pervasive way but in a muted one. There are times that I simply want to know what is true. I want certainty. Shades of gray, as seen by one who sees through eyes of empathy and understanding, can make it difficult to be certain what is right and who is wrong. I have felt paralyzed within that fog, at times in my life, not knowing which way to even lean, let alone walk, when each perspective is understood.

And yet certainty of one’s rightness often grows into a monster too, a monster unable to see the harm it does, the trampling and disregard. (is ‘rightness’ then the enemy?) And so, the best, I think that I can do today is to acknowledge, with humility and grace, that I cannot see from my human perspective, and to be willing to accept/dwell in that cloud of unknowing.  That can feel a powerless and lost place to be, for there is an energy concentrated (as opposed to being diluted) in a ‘right’ stance, which can feel both passionate and stabilizing, dynamic and grounding. There is quite a bit more potential fear in uncertainty.

Sometimes I fear standing on the wrong side, here in the middle. I fear the shadow side of Hope may be apathy, for the ability to see Good in All ‘sides’, to trust that ‘All is well’, to perceive with understanding and empathy can lead to indecision and inertia.  And yet, it is said that “God is a circle whose center is everywhere”

For far too long, I have allowed the shame of standing in the center to overcome me, like an enemy. I have allowed my loving gaze to be labeled as blindness or naivitee, my ability to hold it all as weakness, let the shadows of those judgments diminish my light…..

Finally, I am asked about forgiveness- forgiveness of those who have done harm (to me) , and forgiveness of self. “What does forgiveness mean?’ My first response is ‘Where there is understanding, what is there to forgive?’ Yet, even with understanding the source of it, there is still pain. Betrayal and hurt feel real because we are broken off from a place that felt certain and secure. Of course, at times betrayal arises from my own assumptions of ‘rightness’, does it not? My expectations of what ‘should’ be, my inability to see from the other’s perspective. What’s black is also white.  Betrayals of trust are another matter, and feel so very obviously like an enemy that harms, and yet… how often are those understandings seemingly broken because we truly misunderstand. Communication is such a flawed human construct, and human need is so very lovable.

Oh it is all so very vague, a struggle to express, and sometimes I despise the relativism of it all and I long for a moral code of law upon which to stand. The problem, of course, is Love.

And so, I am left to Act with Love – and then to let go of perfection. Otherwise, no action at all will ever be taken at all, and I am struck immobile by the enemy, which is fear of choosing the wrong action, the wrong answer, the wrong side. Regret is a painful, shadow-filled, place to stand. Of course, regret is devoid of compassion- self-compassion, that is- and forgiveness, love and grace. Regret is indeed perhaps the enemy of each of these. Regret is the enemy held prisoner within the soul that must be released if freedom to Love is to be.

And so perhaps that is my answer. That is where I stand in certainty. That is where the fog lifts, where the light infiltrates without obstruction, and a clear path opens across the water. I stand in self-compassion, self-forgiveness, love and grace.

my soul in silence waits, day 4 -imagining

Day 4 – imagining

I search about to follow the prompts at chapter’s end — ‘How do you image God? What name do you give it? How does God image you? What is God’s name for you?‘ — but the trail leads into darkness, for images no longer come, no longer offer comfort, nor even a sense of presence.

While once upon a time, ‘Beloved’ served as the answer to those questions, offering its sweet tasting nurture, healing the unloved and unlovable in me (and the unlovable in God, for me, dare I say, for there is much ugliness and pain in this world that is in need of being beheld with great compassion and tenderness), that image has long since dissolved into the broth of ubiquity.

What image offers itself for omnipresence? Energy has no image. Pervasive presence is uncrystallized , though it might solidify into matter, creating forms that I might wrap my arms about in wonder. I suppose Ground of All Being may be a strong contender- ground from which blossoms push forth, ground- teeming with life of its own, unseeable both because it is hidden from view beneath the soil, and also because aspects of it are smaller than my eye can see. But what kind of ‘image’ is one that cannot be seen?

God- invisible and yet visible everywhere, potential and kinesis, energy and form, emptiness and teeming fullness, sheer abysmal silence and cacophony , dark and numinous.

I understand that the author is beseeching me to grasp a metaphor (not a literal image) to also let myself be held. A finger pointing, as they say. And yet, I cannot, and I am content with that—to let God be mystery, if indeed God is God at all. To let God be nothing. No thing.

Perhaps one day this will shift for me again. God will take form, become embodied or incarnate/personal. Perhaps my need will allow God to be visible. Perhaps this mystic’s soul will drift upon these waters, rising up from these dark depths, to be buoyed and upheld.

Water, then. Perhaps.  Water has been such a source of comfort and strength, deep peace and wonder for me. Water- pervasive even when invisible, within my very breathing in and out, within my very cells.   It soothes and excites, annihilates and animates, is visible and invisible, solid and ungraspable, hidden within and bathing the surface. I feel something in its presence that is undeniable.

Ok. That will do.

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