Lavish loving, Soul Work

One voice in a Many-Voiced Chorus

There I was, perched on a stool at the Genius Bar, Alderwood, contemplating my dark (dead?) iPhone, praying for it, for a tech to rescue me. Misery came in threes this week. First, the Prius was undriveable due to loose bearings in the left rear wheel—garaged while we drove Ardene’s FIT to Oregon last week. Upon our return for a large weekend conference, my phone ran dangerously low on battery. Reentering the passcode numerous times, the system locked me out. Full stop.

And third, after returning home late, we discovered our cat Sugar had thrown up her breakfast. We took fifteen minutes searching hidden corners to find her crouched in the back of the last bedroom closet. She was lethargic and wouldn’t eat. Sunday morning, worried, we carried her to the only open vet: the emergency hospital in Lynnwood where she received fluids and an anti-nausea med. We joined the last plenary late, only to find, that evening, that Sugar still wouldn’t eat enough to survive.

On Monday early we postponed my date at Toyota service and drove to our vet, admitting poor kitty once again for fluids and appetite stimuli overnight. We had one car. No mobile phone. No cat. I spent the third day at Toyota.

Thursday, four days later in my newly safe car, I made it to Apple rescue. Hallelujah. In less than 30 minutes my phone was restored. Finally, I joined Ardene to pick up Sugar and return home with iPhone, cat, and wheels.

This is the stuff of our lives. Luckily it was a cat, a car, and a phone, and not a knee-joint, bleed, or heart attack. Not disease. Not famine. Not war. The world surrounds us with worse hourly. And what good does knowing that do? Millions of our neighbors suffer sorrow, pain, death, and heartbreak worldwide, drowning us in guilt that we can do so little. How useless I felt. I was not ill. We had enough to eat. We were not under attack or afraid of invasion or arrest, as millions are. In fact, despite our quarreling, the lies and vitriol, we are among the most fortunate peoples on the earth. And even here, among our close neighbors, are hunger, sickness, and death; threats of arrest, and abundant hate.

I remember Thoreau writing, “One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”    I found solace in an email….

Remember you are not asked to save the world or even a single creature.

You are asked to listen, to hear what you are called to do/, great or small, and do that….

                     In the chorus you sing only one part, but when you change your note, you change the whole chord.*

 

Let us sing our faithful harmonies into the universe, offering our united choruses of hope close to home, as well as far away.

*Steve Garnass-Holmes, “Unfolding Light”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lavish loving

Learning to Love

How I love this world. An elegant variety in a multitude of growing things: flowers, shrubs, annuals, perennials, and tall dogwood next to tiny purple eruptions from ground I never planted. Could the abundance entice us to bloom as well? To bloom into love for ourselves and others?

Does the tree just tolerate the camellia? The crabapple the crocus? Or do they love their neighbors? The primordial and present forest trees are connected with nearly invisible fungal filigrees beneath the duff that help them send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. The visible roots themselves crisscrossed unpredictably throughout the paths we just walked, or more honestly, climbed and stepped over and around only with occasional slippage.

Wouldn’t it be loverly if we had the same invisible links to humanity? Don’t we already? Isn’t it a relief to recognize a fellow human being (of any stripe) when we feel most exposed and vulnerable?

In my yard I mourn the decline of hosta and anticipate the hellebore. The red coral bark maple is a delight as it turns crimson in the winter. As much as I have to watch my step on damp, slippery leaves, I love how leaves seem strewn by an artist on the rich earth below. The splash of bright yellow beech or larch surprise me amid a stand of evergreen.

How I love the pebbled shore, too, and the sea’s chuckling laugh as it recedes into its vast deep. The steady slap at the pocked, worn bulkhead. The salty air where gulls sail in rising circles.

Im3RSKdFShmDXw0kSi9QAQWhat a blessing to live in the Northwest where temperate winds freshen the air and all we dare to fear is deep within the tectonic grinding below. This world is fragile–dependent on millions of intermixed elements, its inner furnace and molten center hissing out through fissures and shooting out geysers we gleefully cheer to see.

I wish I could embrace it whole. Despite its hazards, how sweet, how precious–more because it might not much longer remain our permanent safe home. Even now, so many of our neighbors across the globe suffer more than we with rising water, drought, hunger, typhoon and hurricane. I hold them in my heart and sing comfort prayers of peace and well-being.

What if our emergence here as infants is the inauguration of our education: learning how to love. Love is taught by a myriad people, peoples far away we’re only beginning to see as neighbors. Distance need not dictate fear more than love—why not neighborliness? What if the dream of earth is for all of us to share this fragile home, our island planet? To love, nurture it, and care for its tender and delicate balance.

I have had a tiny microchip planted near my heart ensuring that it beats methodically–always. It will no longer need to think so hard, after years of unpredictability. Now, will there be more room in it for love? More capacity than mechanics–love that I can teach, model, and offer lavishly without regret? I hope so.

Lavish loving, Loss, Soul Work

Legacy

I was just 12 when my beloved piano teacher Bernice died of brain cancer. Since the fifties were years when children were kept from the traumas of life, I felt shut off from telling her I loved her, even saying goodbye. I remember one rainy Sunday afternoon waiting in our parked car in Seattle at Virginia Mason while my parents left my brothers and me to visit Bernice. When they returned sober-faced, we stopped at St. James Cathedral to pray—unusual practice for us American Baptists. Awed by the space, the silence, the candles, I was drawn to prayer. I missed Bernice at our lessons and was frightened for her. And when she did lose her life, my parents would not take me to her memorial.

In a family much given to seriousness and not a little fear of doing the wrong thing, Bernice brought me laughter and joy, not to mention piano technique. Her vivaciousness prompted smiles even in my dad. When she and her husband Jim visited our home, making an uproarious entrance, it was usually Saturday night. We shared our pancakes. Mom scrounged for the coffee pot (my parents drank only tea) so that the fragrance of coffee accompanied the boisterous laughter in our kitchen—a wondrous visitation.

One of the four great truths is that there is suffering in life. And since most of us at my age are dealing with this reality every day, we need to help one another cope with the losses that come, rather than feeling singled out or badly treated, or that God is looking the other way. Quaker Parker Palmer comments, “The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, not death.” Jesus said, “I come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” Jn 10.10

 For years after I had become a competent pianist and organist, each time I began to play I dedicated my music to Bernice, not so much to my mother, a soloist whom I spent hours accompanying as she sang at memorials and teas and worship services. I had not heard all of Bernice’s music. Her song was cut off. I felt more bonded with her who championed my growing musicianship and my inner need for appreciation. Of course my talents were to be offered to God through others. But my parents saw to it that the gifts were given without having acknowledged the musician.

Whenever I remember Bernice, she is perched at my right hand on a small chair with one hand on the page of my music. I was eight then, warmed by her joy and inspired by her faith to live with hope in spite of the losses to come. In place of the darkness of her absence, she brought me delight that lasts to this day.

 

 

Being Quiet, Grace Happens, Lavish loving, Ordinary Miracles

Here’s the Deal

My cat Sugar’s presence often invites petting—because I need a hug. She’s a 10-year-old tuxedo with elaborate white whiskers and silky thick black fur. Sometimes she tries to ignore me. Sometimes she accepts me with stillness, then purring, other times a tail warning that she is not available just now. Often, in the evening she comes near eyeing my lap, testing my tolerance. It is a balance. We are respectful of each other’s being, listening inwardly both to ourselves, and then to each other. When Sugar comes seeking togetherness, she is pure gift, the soul of our home.

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Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

 This belief of Parker Palmer’s is the wisest advice to those wanting to help others. We have many, many other skills, such as attentive listening, and reflecting the emotions we detect behind the words, but the basic gift to be offered to the sacred being of another is our attention. I experienced the touchy-feely 70s and the needy 80s, encounter groups, trust exercises, and probably too late for some, boundary lessons. We experimented with hugging everyone, then giving others distance, then asking permission to hug, which today, comes fairly naturally to most. I learn when I meet someone what her preferred distance is.

I learned to pay attention at home. I paid attention to my dad who ruled the roost. I paid attention to my mom because she had a lot to share and considered me her best friend. That first obligation, to listen without any limits, led me into a world of unbalanced relationships. When would I have the time to be heard? How would I know?

I hadn’t learned to listen to myself.

God asks us to love the Holy One with our whole heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is this last clause that we too often overlook. We reach out to those who suffer without asking basic questions: how am I doing right now? Do I have what I need for myself, or am I reaching out reflexively from an old habit of doing for others what I, myself, need—a certain route to self-denial.

To be honest, we all do a little of both. But as long as we’re aware of our balance point, and not exceeding what we know we can afford to give, to sacrifice, even, for our neighbors, then the joy of giving, of listening to a friend who needs to share with us, will replenish the energy of our giving.

 

Discovery, Lavish loving, Ordinary Miracles, Uncategorized

The Little Things

            Being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. We need soft night noises—a mother speaking downstairs, a grandfather rumbling in response, cars swishing past on Philadelphia Avenue and their headlights  wheeling about the room. We need the little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness.

 

John Updike describes the comforting “clicks and sighs” of the presence of others in our lives, our awareness of parents talking quietly downstairs, or brothers murmuring in the next room, traffic on Colby cruising to a stoplight.

 

Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection are that kind of presence. Not only does he speak peace to his friends, he appears unannounced as if the dead regularly materialize in our living rooms, urging calm and trust.

 

My favorite story is of the disciples coasting close to shore where Jesus has prepared a small fire on the beach. He is grilling a few fish and some bread. (Jn 21) He calls to them to come closer, tells them where they’ll find more fish, and once they’ve beached their boat, to bring more fish to the fire. They don’t even recognize him at first. And then they’re astonished. You can imagine the smoke blown into the hills behind him, the welcome warmth in the chill salty air, and the fatigue—not only from a night of fishing, but another whole net full of fish pulled in as they arrive.

 

So schooled was I to expect Jesus’ return at any hour of any day, one Sunday night before evening church I thought I saw him standing near a staircase in a brilliant white robe, light shining round about him. I thought Jesus had returned! A second later I realized it was just the pastor in his white baptismal robe standing under a 100-watt light bulb.

 

So much for peace and presence. I was taught that the Lord might return just this way, all of a sudden, in the middle of a football game or church picnic, and especially in spectacular sunsets over Hat Island. Anticipation overran my imagination.

 

I grew up with a “Jesus-and-me” complex, a relationship so tight that I always felt him at my side, walking in the fields together. Years later when this assurance had faded, I began to realize the limitations of my naïve familiarity and the millennia that already distanced believers from its magic. At the same time, there was an other-worldliness to the ways I discovered we can still expect the Mysteries of God in our lives. The soft night voices of those we love, the reflection of the back porch light, phrases of music suddenly distinct when the furnace shuts down, the gifts of clean sheets and hopes for tomorrow.

 

It may not be grilled fish on a rocky beach, but the fragrance of coffee and toast in the kitchen. These little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness still speak to us of the love that will never let us go.

 

 

Rev. Cathy Fransson blogs at SpiritStones.net, and sees individuals for spiritual direction