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”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Soul Work

Such a Time as This

“Courage and optimism are your best traits,” reads a fortune from a Chinese restaurant years ago. I’ve kept it so long because it speaks to my best self. Even so, on my dark days, I despair. I know you don’t need me to list everything that sends me to the depths because I think you feel them as well as I do. They’re like tall ghouls laughing at our puny hopes and futile attempts to bring order to the chaos in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Be still. Stop. Breathe. Look out the window. Remember whose world this is, and how you came to be in it. We have been in a near constant state of war for years now, so imagining a different approach to global problems seems impossible. But that’s what God calls us to do: imagine a different way for events to unfold, for people to engage with others. What is the faith that makes this possible? Waiting and walking with God. When we wait upon God, God draws near to us.

 

Clarissa P. Estes emboldened many with her 2004 essay. She said, “We were made for these times….do not lose hope….Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…will help immensely.”

 

While the talk of walls and hate preys on our fears, I watch a robin’s nest outside my window with three hardy babies straining to fly. The strongest one is jumping and trying to flex his wings while his siblings still sit with their mouths wide open for the parent’s next visit. Yesterday a murder of crows was flying about, gathering strength and calling for others to join forces. I went out with a broom to ward off any attack that might come to this nest tucked on the joist beneath our deck. Only one or two robbers flew over the house, but I was at the ready to wave them off.

 

This is a time for the courage to imagine different ways to engage with the world far beyond us, or right in our back yard, with our friends and allies. This is soul work. Soul work requires that we rely on God’s promises. If we wait upon the Lord, we will renew our strength, even fly like eagles. [Isaiah 40:31] How can we resist? It may be our only way to refrain from spreading the gloom.

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.

 

 

Discovery, Soul Work

An Afternoon of Writing

I was ready to write when I came home from lunch last week. I had a great opening line and confidence that more would follow; my mind was alive with images. Not something a writer ignores. On the way to the house I wondered if aphids were still after the perennial hellebores. I’ve been spraying them with dish soap and water, but I saw aphids still ruled. I’d also forgotten to clean out last year’s old leaves lying dyspeptically on the ground underneath the new, moldy with rot and now covered with the insects. I was dressed casually enough that I didn’t need to change clothes, so I dropped my purse inside the study, grabbed the spray from the garage, and headed out front.

Writing could wait a few minutes. This exercise would be good—as well as a fresh break from staying indoors too long with good books.

I sprayed, noticing the various developmental stages of the tiny white nits, light green eggs (maggots?) and winged predators. Some of the darker leaves were so sticky with aphid poop I had to wash them by hand. That took longer than I thought, but there were essentially only three plants to focus on, so I kept at it. These hellebores and two newer hosta spent so much time in the shade of the coral bark maple and dogwood, not to mention the neighbor’s huge camellia, that surely other shade-loving plants were not as infested as these. Blended chartreuse, lime and celery-green leaves nestled along the stone walk that wound its way to the front door. They were fine.

Who knew a hellebore could grow so large! I had to hunt for an old bamboo stake and pound it in with the back of a hatchet to prop up a mature, tall branch. Some of the wilted bottom leaves refused to be pulled out and crumpled by hand, so I went back to the garage for a pair of clippers, the kind with gears that protect my joints—not that these juicy stems needed that much strength. As an afterthought, I grabbed the white 5-gallon bucket I use for yard waste to stow what I pulled out from under and within the plants.

I had a line or two in mind for the article I planned, but for a moment I let it drift. It would come back to me. Scoping out the larger area where I was working revealed that the pebbled slab where the birdbath stands was three-quarters covered with dirt. I would need the rake and then a whisk broom to spiff it up. While I was at it, it would help if I raked over the mulch after everything else was done.

Back to the garage for the rake and whisk broom and then, pleased by the fragrance of freshly-turned earth, I surveyed this half of the front yard, pulling out several more dying leaves, shaking off the wilted blossoms of the crabapple tree that had fallen on the plants below. As I had suspected, more sun kept those hellebores freer of aphids.

Finally I stood up, straightening my tired back. Following the sounds of calling crows, I looked up to see a murder of them harrying a young eagle who led them on a chase around the east side of the adjacent cemetery behind fir and cedar, his white tail gleaming against the azure sky.

What time was it? I had started this project before sitting down to write. It was not yet two. Now it was four. Satisfied, I had still to finish the overall raking, toss my clippers, gloves, spray bottle and whisk broom into the bucket with the detritus of hellebore and hosta, bundle up the rake and a stake I had not used, and head for the garage.

Now, what was that line I had in mind?

Being Quiet, Ordinary Miracles, Soul Work

Other Dimensions

 

I began my day with a 30-minute swim. A time when I lose sense of time and even space, except for the tiled lines of my lane. The gym complex is near, although its nearness doesn’t make getting there much easier. Now that I am retired inertia can prevent me from lots of obligations, including Sunday worship.

Faithfulness was a prized church behavior in the “old” days. Remember the gold pin we won for perfect attendance? I had several of those. Because of this obligation in our home, Dad turned up the temperature on the hot water heater every Saturday night so that all five of us could take a bath. (Baths, only once a week!) We’d polish our Sunday shoes, help to wash and vacuum the family car, then all drive together, sometimes picking up Mrs. Duchine on our way. Not all women then had learned to drive. As near as we lived to the center of town where the church was, we could easily walk. And Mom and I often walked to town to shop.

When I was ordained a Baptist pastor in 2000, Rev. C. Elroy Shikles, the minister who baptized me at eight, commented, “My, how many sermons you’ve heard!” I still remember some. I remember when he used my Howdy-Doody marionette to illustrate to us children that God does not operate us with strings from heaven. And he’s the one who taught me with a collection of various-sized sieves how to screen what I say to others: only what is true, kind, and necessary. I learned early that I made my own choices and was responsible for them.

Today twice-weekly swims keep me flexible. And the rhythmic strokes and breathing are calming. Weekly worship engenders less tangible results. But its very familiarity and repetition are like rest to a hummingbird. It isn’t my brain that worships. It’s my heart. When I keep my attention focused, I transcend time and space into another dimension. My breathing slows; my heart fills.

In the midst of song and silence something in me lets go. I remember I am not alone. I rejoice in the reminders of God’s faithfulness even in the midst of trial and loss. I lean into the everlasting arms and relax, rememberP1010168ing the examples of the many disciples I have known who have traveled ahead of me.

I miss those gifts when I skip church for the NY Times, which does not nurture me anywhere near the love that will never let me go. But the silence of the pool during my swim gives me similar time to reach and stroke, aware from shoulder to toe, moving in ways I cannot accomplish in gravity. I let myself down into the water trusting its buoyance in much the same way I let go into the silence of prayer.

Even though I have to make myself get out of the house, I am glad I have done it. I feel rested, refreshed, in the center of my real reality. The news that strikes fear in my heart during the week has somehow found a context. Less harried, less worried, I breathe deeper, and feel confidence I can’t always create for myself. It’s a dimension just a breath away.

Fear of the Dark, Grace Happens, Soul Work

The Flame That Lights Our Way

As you saw from my last post, I believe the tragedies of violence, war and loss must be mourned and honored. But there is more. We must work to step out of those shadows lest we be submerged under the weight of grief. I look to sisters and brothers to remind myself of the strength of a faith that hopes for things unseen–the abundant consolations of the Spirit. We need to look to the unquenchable flame that lights our way out of the darkness.

One of the most profound images of the scriptures is that light that shines in darkness.  In the Christian scriptures John writes that “In [Jesus] was life, and life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” [Jn 1.5] Science and faith tell us the origin of LIGHT is the Big Bang. The infinite cosmos reflects it. The Light is no less than the Mind of God that infuses everything that we are as well as our world of boundless beauty that beckons us toward God.

The Buddhist God Indra spreads a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. In each “eye” of her net is a single brilliant, perfect jewel that also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number, and each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel affects them all, light, dark, a moving panoply of color. We look for that light wherever we can find it. Sometimes it is simply the warmth of a smiling barista who hands over a double-tall latte at a low point of the morning. Or a viewpoint across Puget Sound that highlights the sunset over the Olympic Mountains, and the clouds that back-light the colors that flare out of the west.

IMG_0787 Last week I watched the sun set softly into a haze over the island of Lanai across the bay from Lahaina. The sun beamed rays toward Lanai and the sea as the earth continued to turn to the east.

Life is difficult. We reach to one another for strength and hope. But politically it appears we are being goaded into collective fear that has empowered several presidential candidates to offer us everything we think we ever needed while the details, how to “become great again,” for instance, remain cloudy and undefined. Each person who wonders if the promises are true, who questions whether any one politician can grant our every wish, needs only a fragment of mirror to reflect that question to others. And then, instead of huddling in fear with those who expect disaster, or want rescue, we can stop, recover perspective, and see the light shining for the common good. The light that sees all persons regardless of origin, faith, culture, or resources equal to the others from around the globe. It is the sign of a healthy nation that the least among us also thrive, not simply those with wealth.

Quaker Parker Palmer reminds us how easily we fall under the thrall of a “strong man” who promises to make us “great” again. He quotes from Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 advised how unlikely it is that the U.S. will fall under the attack of another world power. We will, in fact, fall because we become so fearful of each other, of the economic, cultural, and security threats we believe to be posed by “the Other”…that, ultimately, we will die by suicide.       http://www.onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer

One voice is a powerful thing—if we invest it with our full humanity. A question, a doubt, the risk of telling the truth, may stop one other person from falling in thrall to total power or, at least, from closing her mind to doubt. We must simply light one candle against the darkness, refuse to fall prey to demagoguery, and bear our flame in the face of our fear. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out. We are merely its bearers.