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 has 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

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Available nowhere else

This faith business is an act of courage, one I can not do alone. Thankfully, it's a twosome when Spirit is involved; I just have to be reminded. Again and again.

My hopes are high that this Easter season is personally transforming, but in the midst of that transformation, it is hard to see beyond the chaos. And yet Spirit does throw me crumbs.

1. TRUST SPIRIT:  The traveling minister who spoke Sunday at worship was one beacon. Margaret's daughter was murdered four years ago and she prays the murderer be restored to wholeness. That probably was not her initial request, but she did understand that anything short of reconciliation would pull her into the dark hole of no return. "God's justice is greater than my petty imaginings," she told herself. The pain of that loss and the hope of reconciliation led her to confront herself and her ingrained ability "to hold a grudge with the best of them. It was the hardest habit to surrender."

That confession was pivotal for me. Made me look at the Mother of Grudges I have been holding: resentment for living with fibromyalgia. When I had explained to my shaman last week that I was seeing a wonderful Episcopal pastor, now my new spiritual director, and how meaningful Lent had become this season, he asked, "So, what are you giving up?" I had no answer. Sunday, I knew. I have been spending so much time and energy being angry about my circumstance even as I have practiced blessings and gratitude. Lent has dredged up that anger and brought it to the surface. So that I was ready to see it as Margaret spoke. I quietly scribbled in my journal: "Trust Spirit to deal with the injustice of my accident."

2. I AM WORTH IT: I admit that I left worship before it was finished, something I never do. Except this week. I had an engagement with about 40 kids at Washington Park. A newish Quaker from the meeting had e-mailed me a few weeks earlier asking if I'd be interested in assisting. She attached her themes, which touched my heart. After all of the Artsy Fartsy launching, grant writing and continual organizing, assisting seemed just fine. It was a beautiful afternoon. Afterward, Sarah texted me: "... driving home worn out and  happy and covered in glitter, I now understand: you are far more important to me than any materials ..." She was working to fulfill my budget request. I am worth it, she was telling me because that's often not what I tell myself. I AM worth it.

3. MY LIFE IS RICH: I hadn't hosted book club in many months and Monday, it was my turn. Quarter past seven and no one was here, not even my mother. "Are they coming?" my concerned 13-year-old asked. "They will," I responded. Soon, in they streamed, one of the most wonderful groups of women Spirit could assemble (read more about them here http://salonforthesoul.blogspot.com/2013/07/riot-of-rainbow-colors.html ). It was mother's first appearance since her late-October heart surgery, a mighty tough one. And we inquired about Yvonne's dying father. She's traveling this week to visit, probably for the last time. In February, she attended her annual letter-writing retreat on Lake Erie. I asked about that. "You know, it was really different because I wanted to write my father a letter and I had to do that one first." It took her all day and then some. She was eased by the help of companion writers (they have all gathered annually for 7 years), two of whom are Hospice trained. They encouraged her to write about "The Four Things That Matter Most*:"
• "Please forgive me."
• "I forgive you."
• "Thank you."
• "I love you."
They helped her write a letter that brought her dad to tears for days, according to Yvonne's stepmother. Interesting how Spirit works, we all noted, clearing the way for a deep visit this time now that the forgiveness has given way to love and goodbye.

Of course, this discussion turned to Karen's dad
, who had died just three weeks ago. Yvonne took her hand and, holding back tears, said "I understand" and we all knew that she did. I looked at my mother with a prayer of gratitude that she had survived an almost unsurvivable surgery. Wasn't long 'til we were onto the lucky infant Bev and her husband are fostering. Their daughters are all grown and their house was feeling empty. The extreme preemie requires lots of work and periphenalia. Fortunately, many neighbors have responded, including Carol, one of our longtime club members who has changed housing locations, but not her place in our hearts. Carol had picked up dear Margaret en route. She, in her gentleness, feistiness, deep faith and challenging life has been my longtime role model. Seems several of us will be attending the Easter vigil together – how much richer we all will be for coming together in a formally spiritual venue. And, yes, eventually, we did get to discussing the book. But this microcosm of life seared me with the reminder that I am part of something special. Really special, really rich and of Spirit.

4. PAIN IS A GIFT OF TRANSFORMATION: My spiritual friend Char sent one of her peppy, cheerleading e-mails this week. How does she always know when I am struggling? Apparently, we're celebrating our 10th year of friendship and she wanted to let me know how much growth in developing my gifts and clarity about myself and purpose she has witnessed. "And I know that much of this has come though the unwanted 'gift' of pain." I am beginning to understand how very right she is. She attached a New York Times column "What suffering does" by David Brooks. He says suffering is counter to the cultural goal of happiness. He writes that it drags you deeper into yourself, where you must confront your limitations and the fact you can not control the pain or grief. These comments especially speak to me about the transformation of pain:
The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.
5. I AM NOT BROKEN: I hobbled off to the gym somewhat late, but determined to get in my 88 laps. About #82 as I was slowing my pace,  I looked across the pool and thought I spotted Chris, whom I got to know during 5:45 a.m. water aerobics. Her husband died just as we met, then she moved away to build their dream house as planned. One courageous lady. Wasn't entirely sure squinting through scratchy goggles, so I hollered and she joined me in my lane as we tread the deep. We caught up on each other's families and what was going on in  life. I always seems an even exchange, one with a deeply spiritual bent. We haven't talked in a year, but she made sure to ask how my youngest was doing. She always reminds me that God is present and can mend broken lives ... although she never appeared broken to me, even in the wake of her husband's early and unexpected death. Come to think of it, I don't think she considers me broken, either

6. GOD ANSWERS PRAYER: I visited my family physician yesterday, somewhat fearful he'd force me on former meds that increase my pain and give me a lecture for leaving them behind. Instead, he said let's see what the test results bring. Thanks to Jamie, a yoga friend who has lived with fibromyalgia 30 years, I asked about an old, generic drug that really helps her sleep. "That's a good idea," my doc said. "Not only will it help you sleep, but it will relax your muscles." And that's EXACTLY what it did last night. I can hardly believe it. Yesterday, as I entered my studio, tired and in great pain, I asked God for help ... and it came.

Strewn together, those crumbs suggest that, no matter what, Spirit is at work in our lives transforming us with her complete love.

• What does my current dance of faith look like?
• What crumbs has God sent me?
• Where do I see transformation?
• What gift(s) in my life am I not claiming?
• How us Spirit teaching me to trust?

death and pain,
complicated birth
and lengthy surgery

God is present,
teaching us
to believe, that
prayer is answered,
we are wrapped in love,
rooted to one another
and worthy of every
ounce of that pure 
and precious

nowhere else

*The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living by Ira Byock, M.D.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

When Spirit makes worlds collide

The idea of what lays at the center of the cross, where the beams intersect, has fascinated me since last summer. I have desperately wanted to know what, exactly, happens there, understanding it is a place of transformation, perhaps THE place for transformation.

Somehow, a stranger pressing her finger slightly into my breastbone and insisting the seed of God does, indeed, reside in me opened me to the idea of the cross as personal transformation, not just the remote Easter story of childhood.

I know the mysterious Christ energy that became available to all at Jesus' resurrection. I feel it in me, around me and in others.

Years ago, I was transformed reading Marcus Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" and the delineation of Jesus as historical figure from Jesus as mystic. Before death and after; human, then divine energy. Unconsciously, I got that. 

Last fall, I was assimilating the concept  into my own life:
"What's at the crux? An invitation to go beyond the cross, into it and through it ... away from the symbol and to the idea of bearing a cross to freedom. The cross was man's constraint, meant for death. God uses it as a metaphor for new life."

Monday, when I went to visit my shaman/pastoral counselor/massage therapist apparently I was ready for the next step. I hadn't seen him for almost 10 weeks, so there was a lot floating through my mind body and spirit. He suggested we begin with breath work and coached me through the dizziness, which always makes me want to stop. But I trust him and blew through. No one likes losing control, but it is the bridge to deeper work. He guided me into the breath of fire, urging me to really move my sternum. The hot breath was diving deep into my heart and beginning to dislodge gunk with guttural sounds. Wildly, Native-American music magically moved my mind elsewhere, out of the way of body and S/spirit. Gary had invited spirits from all directions to attend and I felt their presence: eagle, bear, ancestors and wind, also my own personal guides, Mike and Aunt Anne.

I found myself in child's pose, surrendering.

I pressed the palm of my right hand deep into my sacrum/lower back and said I wanted "it" out. My shaman helped me breath and scream it out, gently massaging the spot as my body and something else took over. I don't have a word now for it, but I believe it was a negative energy, a darkness trapped in my body. Not of me or Spirit. As I sensed release, I automatically flopped over on my stomach, arms dangling at the sides and my chest pressed hard against the massage table. I felt the intersection of the cross searing into my breastbone, my heart and me. Then a wordless glimmer of the mystery of what happens there, the transformation. Nothing I can explain, except I have never felt more loved, so wholly and completely down to every last cell in my being. It was God's way and I broke into tears of joy, knowing this is surrender.

As the session drew to a close, Gary sat for what seemed like eternity with his hand gently on my back as I returned into my body. I broke the silence and Gary asked "Do you know what that was?" "What?" I responded. "It's your process," he said with a twinkle that made me giggle.

I've experienced a rather profound week when I think about it. Later that day, after I spent some time outside re-grounding, I met one of my favorite people, our former Quaker minister. Early in his ministry, he'd make a monthly visit and we'd chat over tea and busy toddlers. He was the first person I could ask about Jesus and evil and he'd honestly tell me he wasn't certain either. On Monday afternoon, he and a small group of Wilmington College Quaker-Leaders met me at my studio for an introduction to labyrinths. They plan to build one as a service project. They walked the Artsy Fartsy Christmas light spiral in the empty classroom across the hall, then we headed to the Milford Spiritual Center for another experience. While the kids hiked the riverbank, Dan and I became reacquainted. Boy, have I missed him. What a gift this afternoon had been. Sliding down the hill almost to water's edge in my five-finger shoes was just the grounding I had needed.

Tuesday, I spent completing the last half of a New Year's retreat I wanted to finish before meeting with the retreat leader Wednesday. It was about being with the word she had given me a few weeks ago: purification. Meditating on it and listening to Spirit's intention for me and the word. Though I had been reluctant to initially embrace it, I have since discovered it is my word. Yet the listening taught me a new meaning: freedom. Purification means freedom from whatever debases, pollutes or contaminates. And, since Monday, I was free of some darkness.

I couldn't wait to greet Mary for our appointment and express my wonder that she knew Gary, my shaman. She's only been here a year-and-a-half and I wondered what an episcopal minister was doing with a shaman. "When I was in Philly, I worked with a shaman, so I asked around when I got here and I met Gary. He's great." My worlds were colliding.

She loved that he had suggested I add more fire to my life, even with the simple act of a daily candle lighting. We discussed how it tied to the idea of purification and burning off. I recounted Monday's experience knowing I was safe here.Then I shared the five-lines (cinquen) summarizing "God's new thing" this year for me:

bold, trusting
energetic, content, balanced
becoming, embracing, loving, freeing

And Mary gave me scripture from Isaiah 43:
“... Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
 they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze ... "
And then she asked if I'd like her to be my spiritual director. Such blessings this week.

• How has Spirit come alive for me?
• How have I experienced God's love?
• Name a transformational experience.
• How was I changed?
• How do I continue to surrender?

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