Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Your fault, Stuart

Weeks ago, I am not even certain how many, Stuart, a F/friend (that's how we Quakers address each other since we are also known as the Religious Society of Friends) I met last summer at a mystics' gathering e-mailed and asked "how things were going?"

The last time we spoke, which, really was also the first time, it was in a goodbye embrace and an admonishment from me for his having opened the door at the gathering with a prayer of "help me." I've blogged about that experience previously (http://salonforthesoul.blogspot.com/2013/06/lay-it-down.html).

It's not that I haven't wanted to answer. I have, but there were no words and I was still in process. Who am I kidding? I will always be "in process," but I knew at the time things were shifting and I wasn't ready to name the shift or even attempt to understand what was happening. I just wanted to let it flow and Spirit have her way as much as I could push my ego aside.

Lent was happening, really happening for me.

Saturday at a beautiful, full and rich Easter Vigil, the preacher, my spiritual director, spoke of this time as waiting-room "liminal," which had been her introduction 20 years ago to the ritual. I clearly identify with the idea of liminal and feel as if I have lived here for 15 years, managing to deal with fibromyalgia. She further described it as the space between the room we have left and the one we have not yet entered. Though we are waiting, alternately anxious and patient, we have the option to shape where we will head next. That comment broke in and grabbed me by the throat. What have I been shaping? I wondered, remembering that I was experiencing an even more liminal space within my longer bout.

My shaping hasn't always been so graceful, pleasant, beautiful, positive or peaceful. Chronic pain is a hard place sometimes, even for the usually patient. Yet, these weeks before Easter have been nothing short of miraculous, if even on a small scale. I've been able to give up a few things and gain some spiritual depth in exchange:
– On my shaman's massage table, I experienced the cross as it seared into my chest and I intimately and fleetingly knew God's overwhelming love for me, moments after she released an awful darkness trapped inside my hips.
– I have begun to shed my former partners of fear and doubt, replacing them with trust and empowerment.
– My word for this year, purification, is happening on many levels from cellular to spiritual, physical to mental.
– A naturopath has helped me see cleansing my body of toxins may ease my pain.
– A low-dose, generic antidepressant recommended by a fibro friend and prescribed by my primary-care doc, has me sleeping, really sleeping for the first time in years. With that deep, relaxing sleep, my pain has vastly decreased!
– All because I was sick on New Year's and missed the retreat, I have come to know its leader in a more personal way; such that she is my new spiritual director.
– Her spirit has gently nudged me toward Lent, where I have felt so attached in discovering for myself what Jesus and resurrection truly mean. I have been playing with the idea of the cross since summer and the mystics' gathering when a dear woman helped me locate the seed of God within myself.
– As my mind and body have cleared, I can almost use the word healed, I am able to surrender to Spirit more deeply than I did on the bench in worship during the mystic's weekend. So many things are up in the air in my life, but it's okay, because I am following Spirit.

So, clearly it still is Stuart's fault that all of these things are joyously happening.

In his e-mail, he admitted to the Holy Spirit commanding him to stand in that June worship by "making use of my brokenness, plant(ing) the seed-word 'help' in many of our hearts. From things I heard about and witnessed as the weekend progressed, it seemed that this seed grew according to the need of the heart in which it was planted."

Maybe it was the next couple of sentences that caused me to delay a response. "... what a beauty it was to witness you being called to turn your life over to Christ ... For a while as the worship ended the Spirit allowed me to feel a bit of the awe of your experience. It so exercised me that I had to retreat to a corner of the room to be apart from the crowd till the sense subsided."

"Turn your life over to Christ" – what language is that? God merely told me to surrender and I did, though it seemed very awkward and not beautiful as I argued like a teenager before finally giving in.

And then, there was my fascination with the center of the cross. My experience on the massage table of fusing with it and finally, during Saurday's vigil after we left the parish hall in darkness, our way lit by the candles we each held, traveled to the knave to hear a loud knocking on the sanctuarty door, it being opened and a flood of light and wondrous music pouring out, I felt the joy of resurrection. For real. Mine and Jesus'.

The next day in Quaker worship when others shared their Easter experience, not all positive, I knew ministry was forming in my heart if not yet on my lips. I was struggling to articulate that, for me, Easter is about the Christ energy (or consciousness as some would call it) that emerged in the transformational resurrection. The energy that I know and is accessible to all. God exchanged his human self-son for a mystic energy found within each one of us. I am now ready to claim it.

So if claiming my Christ energy is the same as turning my life ever to Christ – and I think it is – then I am definitely in.

So, to answer your question, Stuart, things are going incredibly, miraculously well and I still believe in some small way, it IS your fault. You only spoke what was in my heart and for that I will be forever grateful.

• When has a plea for help from Spirit spoken to me?
• When have I made that plea?
• How did I know it was heard?
• What miracles has Spirit worked in my life?
• How do I know the Christ energy?

some Quaker guy
who lives in Maryland
near my sister

blurted out
"help me" 
in worship

I'd never
met him, so
how could he
know what was
in my heart?

and, ever since,
nothing has
been the same


Listen to this post:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Willing servant

Dinnertime yesterday was gloriously beautiful. I'd hesitated to initiate preparations because I was ensconced in my reading hammock on the screened-in back porch. I'd just opened a new book, my pick for book club next month, and was mesmerized. "Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain had me at the title. Our culture has been so tilted toward coveting extraversion that its opposite has been deemed a pathology in some decades. Perhaps not now, but there are times I have wanted to scream: "Stop making so much noise so I can think" or "Why do you always have to say something just to fill the silence?"

Getting on toward 7, I decided to rouse myself and figure out, exactly, what I was doing with the brussell sprouts and asparagus. As I was steaming the sprouts, not wanting to overcook them, there was a knock at our front door. No one we know well comes to the front door. They know we live toward the back of our house. I assumed it was a sales pitch and hollered out onto the porch that someone was at the door, not really figuring anyone else would answer. My husband went around front and met a campaigner – the ACTUAL person campaigning for office. That impressed both of us. He really liked the guy, which piqued my curiosity. Plus, there was a handwritten note on the placard he left in the door. Handwritten. Who does that anymore?

As soon as I got my veggies to the perfect point, I turned them off, stopped the rest of the cooking and perused the street looking for the political hopeful. Soon I discovered John and Ana Sheil. He, looking professional and she, ever the supporter in her crisp blue-and-white campaign t-shirt.
Ana and John Sheil in my front yard

They seemed genuinely tickled that I had looked for them. And we had a pleasant conversion, cut somewhat short by my awaiting dinner. He was executive director of a non-profit, Gary Burbank's Play it Forward, assisting musicians with health emergencies while attending law school, so a lot of his current business revolves around entertainers. He's a healthcare advocate and helps the disenfranchised – maybe that's why I was drawn to him. His office is smack off I-275 at Beechmont and a sister with Downs Syndrome inspired him to serve his community just as she has served hers. "Plus I think we can do better," he said of his aspirations for U.S. Congress. I asked if he had dreamt of reaching beyond congress. For now, he said, that's enough.

I loved that he was walking the neighborhood, knocking on doors, introducing himself in the old-fashioned way. Don't get me wrong, they're young and tech savvy. When I asked if I could take their photo in my yard by the street sign to prove they'd actually been here and post on Facebook, Ana offered me their hashtag.

What strikes me most about John (and Ana) is how approachable they are, willing to put it out there and connect personally with future constituents. This is exactly what we need in congress, not career politicians who serve lobbyists and every other interest beyond whom they are really here to serve: the people in their district, whether they voted in their favor or not. Not the best interests of the people, but the people.

As a journalist, I covered many local governments and never ceased to be amazed at how many politicians, even in the most insignificant offices, changed from sensible, representative-minded individuals to power-hungry, ego-driven politicos. Of course, there are still decent people unmarred by the sirens of holding office. When they began to say they were doing thus-and-such "in the best interested of the people" I knew ego had taken a strong root. They are here to act as their district wants not in the magnanimous way of monarchy, deciding what the people need.

John Sheil doesn't appear the sort to have his head turned by power or become jaded. That's what we need in congress. So I hope the young man I met on my street corner can get himself elected and retains his ideals to serve me, my neighbors and residents of Ohio's Second Congressional District. Please check him out at http://sheilforcongress.com/

• Where do I see the enthusiasm and energy of youth?
• What makes me hopeful about the direction of our country?
• What qualities do I seek in an elected official?
• Who exemplifies that?
• In whom do I see Spirit's spark of service?

rolling up his sleeves,
list in hand and
wife assisting,
the congressional
hopeful opted
for the grassroots

actually meeting
his neighbors and
potential constituents

pursuing office
because, as he said,
"to whom much has been
given, much is expected"

which is what Jesus
taught (Luke 12:48)
in our waiting
on Spirit

Listen to this post:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Burning the empty props

On paper, she's looked terminal and yet she risked it for a tenuous surgery and is on her way back – big time.

On paper, I look ultra healthy, and yet the 15 years of fibro have taken its toll physically, mentally and emotionally. I hadn't understood how I appeared medically until two rounds of routine visits in the last couple of weeks. There are no short-cut answers for the pain, although I see promise in a new med that has helped me sleep. Deep sleep that I had forgotten how it felt. A week in and it hasn't performed every night, but when it has, wow, I feel like a different person. I almost want to say how I used to feel, but I am not that person.

Neither is my mom. She's tougher, more resilient, faithful and good-humored than I ever remember. Her path was clear cut for her. Last minute, she found she was a candidate for surgery and, by golly, she was going for it with the best surgeon for her condition in the world. There were bumps, bruises and a lot of answered prayers along the way but, in some respects, she's better than pre-surgery. In others, she's still struggling and engaged in the healing process. Anyone she ever consulted with told her it would be a good year to know how the surgery took. At one month, she moved out of the Cleveland Clinic. At three, she came home from rehab. At four, she and my dad traveled to Florida for a month. At five, she's bent on solving the riddle of her vision disturbances.

Her risk seems to be paying off, which leads me to ask, what have I risked? My typing stops dead at that question. Not sure I have an answer, but growing more certain that risk is where Spirit is leading.

I understand my life path has been irrevocably altered, steering me away from mainstream culture and into a more contemplative mode. In learning to deal with the pain, I have had to deal with myself, shadow and all – and not always so gracefully. Alone in God's presence, mostly. The work is far from complete. The more I do, I see the more there is to do. Stopping, again. I am re-calibrating with that last phrase "the more there is to do." Yes, there is more, but it is out of my control. So much in 15 years has seemed out of my control: my health, my life, my career, my relationships. I keep reading that it's the props Spirit wants us to drop as we enter into deeper communion. Can't say I have always dropped them willingly, but I have dropped many of them.

Last summer, during an unusually vivid time of spiritual formation, Spirit specifically told me I didn't need any props, such as a book, blog or studio. I had not ever heard that term used in a spiritual sense until some Lenten meditations and now I can't seem to avoid it.

Is Spirit asking me to risk the props? Just as my mom was willing to lay her physical life on the line, am I being asked to lay my ego on the line? To let go of projections for name and fame. I've let go of a lot of it, but not all of it. Fear and doubt have also been my props. What would it look like if I surrendered the fear? I sure know what it looks like not to and it's not a pretty picture. I feel so divided, longing to follow God, but feeling caught by daily life, expectations and responsibilities.

Both my shaman and new spiritual director have suggested I burn off those props, the things that no longer serve me or never did. So, I light a candle each time I enter my studio as a virtual reminder. I cut sheets of paper in the shape of logs and have begun to fill the pages with the things I wish to surrender. Next time I meet with my spiritual director, we'll burn them. So far I have: fear, doubt, anger, worthlessness, judgment, disease and lack of trust. I can't even conceive of how much lighter life would without those.

Do I dare?

• How do my paper and real personas fit?
• How is Spirit shaping my persona?
• Who models surrender for me?
• What am I being asked to surrender?
• What can I burn off?

since meeting
her really big goal,
well, shall we say
her second

surviving surgery
was number one

my mom's been
a bit down about
some of the
minor complications

while everyone else
trumpets her remarkable

she mirrors my own
tendency to downplay
the gifts and path
I have been given,
comparing them to
what the world

when I can burn
the empty props,
I see how rich
I truly am

Listen to this post: