Being the Light, Discovery, Fear of the Dark, Soul Work

Saving the Day

 

I scan the front section of the Seattle Times at breakfast to see the trash at a homeless camp in Montlake, saddened by both the need for such a “shelter” and the lack of support that results in such a mess. I read that the Dems “fumed” at the White House balking to supply their subpoenaed file. A trade war “rattles” our markets. Denver hosts the latest school shooting. And Boeing is suspected of obfuscating causes of an earlier failed altitude sensor in a Turkish Airlines crash in 2009.

Ten minutes of morning news eclipse my calm from a good sleep, delight at another warm, dry day.

I search for remedies to my grief, my dis-ease, at all the known conditions of the world we cannot fix. I used to think a lot of money would fix such things as the homeless camp with its despondent resident, city legislation and resources that could be deployed to fast track the clear necessity for housing. We live in one of the wealthiest cities in the nation and cannot resolve the plight of homelessness. Politicians at loggerheads. Apparently naive and jaundiced political advisors. Businesses that are, after all, all-business with a bottom line and a fixed expenditure list.

The shooting? One more statistic to prove that nearly everyone has a gun or access to one, and it is trendy to “go postal” with one’s grievances and cut short the lives of innocent children…once innocent children. I grew up practicing bomb drills in a concrete hallway, kneeling on the cold floor with one hand protecting my neck, and one over my eyes to dodge an impossibly brilliant flash of ignition. I was afraid of the bomb. Today’s children fear the shooter.

Turning to the natural world restores my soul. But even that is under siege from earth warming and drought. Whales beach themselves to escape the slow pain of starvation. Whole species dwindle steadily from the rising temperatures. The wise aren’t taken seriously. The foolish play at government.

How can I escape the juggernaut of all that is wrong with our world? “This fragile planet, our island home.”

Robert Frost wrote    The way a crow / Shook down on me / The dust of snow / From a hemlock tree /Has given my heart / A change of mood / And saved some part / Of a day I had rued.

I look out the front windows. Three azaleas in bloom, lavender, dark orange, and white. A chickadee splashing in the bird bath under the coral-bark maple. The robins sitting in courage and hope over their turquoise eggs, looking out for the black cat who likes to perch on a cedar stump nearby and simply watch with her wide green eyes. She’s no problem. She’s too old to hunt and never was any good at it. Arthritis in her elbows slows her down. She naps on the flagstones in the front yard, soothed by the warmth from the sun.

“It takes three things to attain a sense of significant being: God, a Soul, and a Moment. And the three are always here.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel) I stop to find God in the world, breathe slowly, and promise to be God’s love in this world today.

 

Being the Light, Discovery, Grace Happens, Ordinary Miracles

Spirit Stones–Undergoing a Transformation

Spirit Stones is alive and well, just undergoing a transformation. You’ve just found me on a redesigned website more easily searchable that will, one day soon, announce the emergence of my new book, Loving the Enemy: When the favorite parent dies first.

You’ll find some of the ‘Stones lovingly cached within the book. And you will also get a look at the ending of my parents’ lives, including the back stories, encounters, and astonishments that reveal how a new relationship comes to fruition with time, care, and love. But not before knowing some of the confusion and pain of family story

So many drafts I cannot count them. So much rewriting following advice from two professional editors in New York. Many of my friends have shared comments and suggestions along the way. It takes a village to write a book.

I am a veritable archive of quotations from others. Many of them appear within as well. How I wish I had begun earlier to get permission from the many publishers to reuse these pithy quotations. They are still trickling in, for example Sue Monk Kidd, Richard Rohr, and Joan Chittister.

A good friend and published writer told me that she would never let a publishing company get hold of her work again. She advised I self-publish as well. She didn’t let on how much work that is, however, and how long it takes to decide when one is finished. I am finished!

It is complete, except for the process of formatting, printing, and arranging marketing to let you know it’s ready. You will see it in late spring. And I will keep you posted.

Here are three short excerpts.

  1. “’Look at all that!’ Mom remarks, as I pull the stringy innards of the pumpkin out and slop them on the newspapers covering the table. She is charmed, seeing the orange pulp as if for the first time. With a large spoon I scoop out handfuls of strings and seeds. Once the shell is clean, I ask, ‘Now, where’s a candle we can put inside?’ I make holes for eyes and carve a large mouth in a smile while she goes to the hall closet. A small votive candle fits perfectly, and I put the pumpkin on my parents’ mantel. “When I drive away I’m pleased; I’ve done something tangible. Should I be doing this more often? Should I be caring for my parents as if were the parent? Is it time? Will they permit it, I wonder? Mom’s marveling at the pumpkin worries me. Why, for her, is this so fresh? Has she forgotten she’d led this exercise for me and my brothers and her grandchildren for years?”
  1. “I betrayed my mother. The two of us face each other in the social worker’s office at Rocky Glen, the nursing home where Dad is already placed. Mom’s red blouse and charcoal sweater punctuate her anger, always dreadful for me. My mouth is dry, my face blank, hiding fear and deep sadness. She has visited Dad here once; she knows where she is, and she knows it’s not her home. She frowns at me, leveling her dark eyes, adamant she will not be admitted against her will. ’This is just for a short while, Mom. It’s not safe for you to stay at home alone.’ My voice is soft and trembling, but full of what I hope is compassion and understanding. She has only rudimentary understanding of what is going on. ‘When Dad is stronger, the two of you can find a retirement home together.’ She glares.”
  2.  “’I can’t see the television captions from my chair,’ Dad explains of the set on top of his bureau but, as I quickly offer to get a larger one, he stops me. ‘No, no. I don’t want a bigger one,’ he insists. But it isn’t the last time he brings up how hard it is to see and understand what’s going on. Apparently it is just one more factor he has accepted. He’s not complaining when he shares these things, he’s reporting. There is nothing I need do. Does he view the circumstances as temporary? Tolerable? Or is he simply done with allowing other people to do things for him? Maybe in his silences at home he was just as content, and I couldn’t read it on his face.”

Loving the Enemy: When the Favorite Parents Dies First.

Catherine Fransson.     Stilwell Press.

Stay Tuned!

Being the Light, Fear of the Dark, Soul Work

Carrying the World’s Grief

I have to wonder about “unintentional contemplation.” Parker Palmer, the great Quaker writer and leader of contemplative life suggested that even a busy life “provides moments of unintentional contemplation….in feelings of disillusionment, pain, dislocation, and unbidden solitude.”

I was surprised with the idea that the discomforts of our lives also give rise to contemplation. I’m rather a romantic. I like to think of green pastures and still waters enhancing my spiritual thinking, my prayer. I often imagine meadows on Mt. Rainier or the steady waves lapping at a rocky beach in Puget Sound to find the depth I seek. But I guess it’s also true that sudden, unexpected silence startles before it comforts. And when I am in pain, I am not fit to be with until I recognize, name, and do something about it. In this sense pain drives me inward which, I must admit, is a contemplative state. If I am thrust into a moment of reverie or loss, I certainly stop what I’m doing to breathe deeply, to plumb the image that prompts the memory, and to give thanks. When projects go well, relationships are rich and opportunities beckon us forward, we feel able to take on the world. But when progress falters, when we’re felled by a virus (worse: cancer) or a sprained ankle (while running for our health), when we are cut off from comfort, and when we feel abandoned, who among us welcomes the “contemplation?” Aren’t such moments, simply, ones we’d rather suppress? How likely is it we’ll accept the call to peaceful prayer?

I believe right now all of us are trying to cope with feelings too painful either to express or to withhold in this nation’s political rancor, the all-too-real videos of refugees streaming out of war, hunger and loss in the Middle East, the delicacy of diplomacy among our neighbor nations.  I try to “fast” from the news but am fascinated by it, looking for a break in the fighting, for fragile and tentative interventions, for champions to rescue thousands of innocents caught in political infighting, flight, suffering and death.

Anne Lamott promises, “Grace…eventually.”  Still I ask, when?!

I wrestle with darkness more and more. I cannot understand (or perhaps I mean accept) the hatred, hunger, displacement, and slaughter that assault far too many peoples of the world. Pernicious racism, the hoarding of money, exclusion and elimination of the have-nots, the flagrant displays of the haves. Is this simply the current state of development of humankind?

I have been reading the WW II diaries of Etty Hillesum. She reveals a curious and unexpected desire to welcome–I don’t know a better word for it–the horror moving closer and closer to her friends and family in Amsterdam and then their evacuation to a German “transit” camp near the German border.

The latest news is that all Jews will be transported out of Holland….the English radio has reported that 700,000 Jews perished last year alone….And even if we stay alive, we shall carry the wounds with us throughout our lives. And yet I don’t think life is meaningless. And God is not accountable to us for the senseless harm we cause one another. We are accountable to Him!  [Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life 1996]

Hillesum, called a “Western Mystic,” writes that every situation, good or bad, can enrich us with new insights; what matters is “not whether we preserve our lives at any cost, but how we preserve them….If we have nothing to offer a desolate postwar world…if we fail to draw new meaning from the deep wells of our distress and despair, then it will not be enough.” Thus, pain and fear elicit her compassion and grief rather than anger and more hate.

I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has  been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place. And I also believe, childishly perhaps but stubbornly, that the earth will become more habitable again only through the love that the Jew Paul described to the citizens of Corinth in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter.

One person, one meeting, one step at a time. We cannot bring peace without embracing it ourselves. And so I breathe in war, pain and loss, and breathe out peace, love, joy and laughter. Joy and laughter…eventually.

Rev. Cathy Fransson keeps regular spiritual direction appointments.