Friday, June 28, 2013

Transparency of evil

Evil disguised/pastel on paper

Sandwiched among e-mails for hair and penile implants, get-rich-quick schemes, you-must-have-this-and-that offers and those unveiling conspiracies, I, fortunately, find Truth. I have to wade through a lot of muck to uncover it, but it’s worth it for these snippets feed my soul and affirm that wordly wisdom is rotten to the core.

These beacons help me shake the earthly doubt and understand my sacred place.

The words of Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr are what I long to hear. Today’s meditations from both reach my heart. Nouwen, though dead since 1996, has left his mark as a priest and prolific writer who spent his last years serving people with disabilities. Rohr is a Franciscan priest, ecumenical teacher, writer and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Rohr, to whom I was recently introduced, has been writing about the evils in our society, the first of which he calls “the world” of group selfishness and the spiral of violence. The second is “the flesh” as witnessed in murder, stealing, rape, lying, adultery and greed. From those, emerges the third, often construed as fully justified because it manufactures systems: oppressive governments, legal, penal, military, economic behemoths we are taught to worship and not question.

According to Rohr: 
“The devil’s secret is camouflage. The devil’s job is to look very moral! It has to look like we are defending some great purpose or cause, like ‘making the world safe for democracy’ or ‘keeping the bad people off the streets.’ Then you can do many evils without any guilt, without any shame or self-doubt, but actually with a sense of high-minded virtue.” 
A few years into my tenure as a Quaker, I asked our minister for his thoughts on evil. I’d had a frightening experience driving home one night from the Meetinghouse after a particularly mystical evening. Everything red glowed at me in a menacing way from the red traffic light to the glow of tail lights. I’d really never believed in a devil, so I wanted his opinion.

I was a bit stunned. He said he believed in institutional evil that takes on a life of its own. Wow, I thought; he’s right and we don’t even see, let alone, question it. This is the third evil Rohr names.

One of my gifts is seeing systems and seeing into them. I hadn’t known it was a gift until recently. They become these super structures that require energy, high maintenance and complete authority; the antithesis of simplicity and Spirit.

This is why I am struggling with my art-exploration ministry for local, under-served kids. It’s a beautifully simple program until I seek funding. Fortunately most of the grants have not been too complex. But, I am beholden to them. Then, if I want to seek individual donations, I’m advised to get non-profit status (filling out a form for the state and sending a $125 check) and an IRS tax exemption, requiring a 30-page document, legal expertise and thousands of dollars in fees.

That’s if I want to grow the ministry. I’m thinking bigger is not better. I want to serve these kids and their community more deeply, not necessarily serve thousands. I want to help these children and their parents see their value, tap themselves within and express what’s there. It’s not a manufacturing process. Early on in this ministry, someone thought they were being kind in offering that their friend operated something similar that served 10,000 kids. Can you imagine the structure that requires?

In this world, unless you’re building, improving, getting bigger, richer or reaching more people, you’re not a success.

I feel very little in that venue. And insignificant. I’m a middle-aged woman with fibromyalgia called to a ministry of spiritual nurture in writing, groups and with at-risk middle schoolers. I have yet to be paid, though, fortunately, most expenses have been covered. And people in my neighborhood and faith communities have been so generous with time and materials.

On the other hand, this – right now – is where God calls me and my gifts.

Thank heavens, today, I read the Henri Nouwen meditation:

Downward Mobility The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up.  Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record - that's what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame. The way of Jesus is radically different.  It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.  It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place!  Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing?  Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.

I am still reflecting on a recent worship experience in which Spirit told me to lay down and surrender. And, I am trying.

• How do I view evil?
• How does Richard Rohr’s view shape this?
• How do I participate in the systemic evil?
• With awareness, how can I shift away from supporting it?
• How does Spirit direct me to lay down and surrender?

sitting, writing, contemplating,
praying, creating in an air-
conditioned studio

wondering about
my part

in society: the
good and bad

but, more

discerning where
God calls me and
if I have been

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So slowly, I hadn't noticed

Evening and I'm just now sitting down to blog, something I almost always do in the morning, when I'm fresh. I haven't been fresh all day: achiness from a poor sleep, red, dry eyes and a general malaise of sadness. My dear companion of almost 20 years is missing and I am in mourning.

Him Kitty, a perky, golden tabby with green eyes is out there somewhere. Declawed, suffering from dementia, sans his thyroid meds and hungry or dead.

Thursday, I gathered him up on my lap after dinner and loved on him til he was ready to get off me and the couch. I gingerly set him down and he found Tad's dinner plate to lick the remains. That's my last memory. A few hours later, as I began to go to bed, I looked for his constant presence on the living-room rug to pet his head and say goodnight, our ritual. One I began three years ago after we sat all day with him as he suffered through a stroke to miraculously emerge the next morning. He wasn't there, nor anywhere else in the house I could detect.

Still absent the next morning as I departed to drive the hour and pick up my youngest at camp. She was devastated when I delivered the news. Too busy to really think about it til dinner. Near bedtime, my 12 year old was still up and we made a few rounds outside. Ah, he's just hiding, we told ourselves and went to bed. The next day our search proved no better and our second cat seemed concerned. Buffalo basks in the flow of attention, so I was surprised he missed the old guy.

Somehow, I felt comforted that he'd taken off to die, yet also wary that we'd smell him before we'd find him. I was okay with it all.

Until Monday evening when a well-intended neighbor reported he'd been in his yard two days earlier, but he'd been injured and ran off. Well, that set me off BIG TIME and I went hunting at dinner, after dinner, this morning and later this morning. I was tortured by the idea he was hurt and alone, My husband reminded me so many cats around here look alike and would a 19-year-old feline run away?

I've shed my share of tears and prayed my heart out, even though I have been trying to live into a message I received in worship 10 days ago to surrender and lay it down ... all of it. I'm thinking that means my worry, guilt and anxiety over the cat. I attempted to meditate and get a sense of the cat but failed thanks to an overactive mind and conscience.

My prayers drifted from be with him to I want to see him NOW and everything in between. At some point, I did release him to God, but I'm sure I waffled and took it back.

Late this afternoon my younger sister called from Maryland. She'd been meditating earlier and shuddered with the image of Him Kitty hunting in the wild: his choice and where he wanted to be. Back to nature, from where he emerged and into my life at six months. In my grief, I almost didn't take her call. Thank God, I did.

It gave me great peace. Did I say great? I am so grateful she meditated, was open and called to tell me of her experience. I had tried to open my heart to my cat, but was too full. Perhaps, Spirit gave the image to my sister because she was truly unblocked.

I am able to let settle what I let the neighbor's call stir up. Not his fault; mine. I had been at peace until there seemed some kind of hope that played into my attachment.

God answered my prayer in the call from my sister. It feels doubly answered as I look out my studio window and notice the gi-normous spider web and am reminded of nature's beauty in all of its seasons and cycles. Nineteen years is a good run and the last three were, perhaps, miraculous.

Goodbye dear friend and companion. Thank you for sparing me the decision to put you down or find your body. Even in death, you have been a real friend. I can now surrender you back to the earth and Spirit.

I will remember you as the vision my sister had: out in the wild hunting and doing what you chose.

UPDATE: It took all I had last night to write this; couldn't think up queries, record or post. Today, however is different. I slept well knowing Himmy is where he wants to be, happily and by choice. In our meditation after yoga, I experienced his green eyes piercing me and felt as if he'd decided to transfer his life force to me. About five years ago, I'd been petting him when I felt a sudden and strange twinge in my hip, the one that had been frozen for years from a car accident. There was a release. I have such gratitude for my time with this wondrous creature. Thank you, Spirit, for the beautifully long, rich and generous life of Him Kitty. 

• How have you connected with an animal?
• How has that softened or transformed your spirit?
• What dimension do animal add to spirituality?
• How do they help us open our hearts?
• How can you detach from them and just be grateful?

golden-green, penetrating
eye begging for
food, attention, love, companionship

so simple, really

to love a furry creature
they make no real demands,
can't talk back in language we
always understand

and yet they love
so easily, so

to the point
of not burdening us
with death

except that my heart
aches in a new place,
one stretched from
the old, over almost
20 years

so slowly, I hadn't

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Lay it down

A week since my sojourn to a Quaker mystics's retreat and, now, the experience smacks of being a dream, one concocted by my greatest desire to be heard, affirmed and seen for who I am, not what I can do. My last post begins to tell this story: 

I want it recorded so that I do NOT forget that it was real. That Spirit spoke to me and, with much argument, I obeyed. That this is a life-changer.

By the second night on the Earlham College Campus, I had become comfortable enough to unpack Mother Turtle for the evening’s open-mic event. So many times I had skipped this portion, but tonight, this time was right. Right enough to offer up the myth I’d drafted after a shamanic waking dream, which explains the personal significance of the turtle that is also universal. As I pulled her out of the blue Ikea bag – it had been drizzling for my trip across campus – I could see the wonder building as I held up the road-weary, damaged and repaired eight-year-old Turtlebox, mother of 60-some commission and gifts. It gave me courage to read the newest piece of the book I’d put aside to live, rather than write, for awhile. I choked at the end as I was reminded of my status as a child of God, one she desperately loves. I noticed heads nod.

The next morning’s home group was bittersweet as we re-capped the way one of us had previously broken open and we responded tenderly, then prepared to leave one another, flowing into worship at the campus Meetinghouse. I had worshipped there before and was looking forward to its peacefulness. There was wonderful ministry that began to work on me:

What? I don’t need a Turtlebox, a book or a studio? No props? Really, God, just me – just myself?

That was a jolt, but nothing compared to the next instruction:

Lay down on the pew and surrender.
What? You’ve got to be kidding? Really – right here, right now. Just lay down on this pew?
What will all of these people think? Maybe that I’m just tired?
Lay down on the pew and surrender.
[With heart palpitations mimicking the ones I get when I have vocal ministry, I recognized I could not deny this request.] Well, if anywhere has ever been safe to do something like this in public, it would be here with all of these mystics. OK.
I’m laying here, now what?
I don’t know how to do that. I need help, God. Human help.
Then, ask.

Worship ends, a gentleman walks over me to shake hands with my neighbor and I am still laying there, unsure what to do, but not moving. A female voice says it’s time for prayers and I find myself rising and blabbering:
God just told me to lay down on this pew and surrender and I don’t know how. Can you pray for me and help me?

Did I really just do that? No one much would have noticed me if I had just lain there. But did I have to dramatically rise up and say something?

No sooner had I asked than the warmth of a body and a pair of hands was holding my feet and soon another was at my head offering a hand, then a clean handkerchief. I grabbed at the hands by my head. As people began to clear, I looked up to see Allison* at my head. “I had the impluse to come right away, but then I always do and wasn’t sure this was right,” she said. “It was,” I responded.

My angels sat with me, then guided me outside for the group picture. They said I looked remarkably well with my glasses on. I still hid in the background. We went to a bench and Allison fetched a drink for me.

“It’s all your fault,” I giggled at her. “You and that tiny seed idea.”

As I re-entered, people came by with hugs and well wishes. Then the woman who had really begun all of this, the 1994 founder of the Quaker mystics publication that sponsored the weekend (What Canst Thou Say), stopped and I blamed her with the same humor. Someone proffered that we had tended to our spirits, but, perhaps, not to our physical needs during the retreat. Others said this was not unusual after a deep gathering. I had totally opened and trusted.

Another meal and surprising goodbyes. Stuart sauntered up with giant hug. “This clearly was your fault,” I jokingly hissed. “You were the one who asked help me in our first worship.”

Quiet Dave said I’d been an inspiration and we began the new chorus of “until next time” instead of goodbye.

Then my grounded, loving weekend roommate offered to drive home.

How do you come home from that? I've been struggling with that answer all week. By slowing down for one, I've learned. I am not ready for complete re-entry. I am also not forcing clarity on the wisdom I was given ... as if I could. In fact, I have asked my Quaker Meeting (church) for a clearness committee, an amazing process of others listening to where God is working in the requester's life.

Mostly, I'm just grateful for the experience and how it will unfold.

• When have I been truly opened?
• What precipitated the opening?
• What did the opening facilitate?
• How have I been faithful to a call from God?
• Where is Spirit currently working in my life?

Lay down and surrender.
Lay it down:
     fear and anger,
     resistance and reluctance,
     woundedness and disease,
     struggle and hardship,
     control and envy,
     ego and attachment,
     disconnection and isolation,
     doubt and murkiness,
     shoulds and regret.

Know my seed within you,
planted in your heart
long ago when you
were pure Spirit.

Our connection is
tonic for bodily living,
empowerment and joy.

Exactly how you live
in this world,
but not of it.

Your tether to the Eternal,
Source of the seed.

Rejoice in this gift.
Sense its power.
Feel its love, healing
and divinity.

You are worthy of
it – you are
MY child.

I am here – within –

Call on me.
Share me.
Shine me
within and without.

*During a difficult period, Allison struggled with God and recognized  the tiny seed of divinity within, asking if this is all and simultaneously knowing its vastness. When she pointed to the center of her chest to identify where it resided, I knew this to be true in myself.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Unraveling the Mystery ... together

 How do you find the words for the indescribable? And yet, I must. I am bound to give voice to this experience. Record it. Be held accountable for it. Remember it and its powerful effect. Savor it. Hold it. Let it continue to transform me.

I knew the weekend would be wonderful. It was intended for Quaker mystics. How I have hungered for just such an event: one long on heart and short on intellectualism. I have been disappointed in other promising venues in which the heart was frozen, missing or unrecognized. I felt drowned out by extraverts and misinterpreted. Perhaps just missed or skipped over by intellectuals.

This was also the first time I traveled and roomed with a companion from my Meeting (church) and one whom I could trust and be lured into playful rebellion. We made great land partners, though not surprisingly as we have shared our spiritual journeys over many years. In addition to an impromptu stop at a roadside landmark netting a tour of the private home and grounds, we snuck a bottle of wine into the dorm one night and gathered with her divinity-school friends for beer another: great balance to all of the deep work.

As the collection of 44 people from coast to coast, mainly from the middle and even Australia, gathered in worship, beginning with the simple plea of “help me,” I understood this would be fertile, personal ground. We splintered into home groups of five, where we would repeatedly meet to get to know one another. That first evening, I was dumbfounded when one suggested it was her goal to have fun. Then I embraced the idea. We moved our second meeting outside and another soul, uncertain as to why she was here or even what constitutes a mystic, burst open and we were able to tend her gently as Spirit’s love streamed in powerfully.

The fabric heart Allison gave each of us to remember
In prayer or worship, when I want to connect, I visualize offering God my heart in the palms of my hands, unpeeling the layers like an onion and handing her the core. As I laid my hand on the back of this woman, I was further directed to offer my heart to her in the same way as I have Spirit.
I’ve never done that before.              Yes, you have with me. Now just go ahead. It’ll work, trust me.
I could feel the energy of love moving through me and into this person. The others joined and we were all connected: to each other and Spirit.

We reluctantly parted after much embracing for lunch.

A few minutes late, I stumbled into the group I had organized – Art and spirituality: living an authentic creative life. It’s something I’ve wanted to discuss forever and this was my chance with an entirely new group of people than my home clan. We were a sculptor, poet, needlework artist and writer/artist and we spoke of our creative process, its spirituality and our passions. It was a lovely opportunity and somewhere I felt another, wordless connection to like-spirited others.

I scuttled upstairs to my next session, one where I was merely a participant in exploring our mystical experiences. Wow … this IS what I am here for, I thought when I saw Jan jot down her subject.

Allison walked in and we kind of looked at each other. After the morning’s worship she said she’d had something to tell me regarding my vocal ministry of
I’ve been sitting here playing with the idea of God within and not out there – somewhere. How would life be if I could do that? 
As we waited for the fifth to gather and saw he was a no-show, we, too, moved outside to the center of the Earlham campus into a cluster of Adirondack chairs under a tree. Jan began by saying she was being given the image of a woman at a market choosing the juiciest fruit and her interpretation is that we should select our juiciest mystical experience to share.

Juicy they were:
• A prayer and desire to see the sacred feminine answered by a giant floating Mother God head gently kissing each person;
• A waking dream of being born to a vacant mother, knocked out in the birthing process, only to remember being held in God’s fingers.
• Swimming in the ocean, losing normal consciousness to be held in the living water of God, being gently rocked and knowing unconditional love.
• Surviving trauma, finding yourself on the floor recognizing the tiny seed of God within, asking if this all and simultaneously knowing the vastness of the minute seed.

We collectively acknowledged connecting these stories as a divine gift we could never have humanly linked. Stories of birth, death and re-birth, of woundedness, healing and love.

When Allision pointed to the center of her chest and identified the seed of God, I knew this to be true in myself. I have been trying for so long to know that of God within. I have witnessed it in others and intellectualized it for myself, but not truly known it without Allison’s help.

As we began a second round, the caution not use this telling as entertainment gave me pause. I shared what had happened earlier that morning. Diana, also in my home group, corroborated that she sensed the energy flowing and added her hands to the collection. She affirmed what I had experienced, giving me confidence in that seed within.

As we contemplated dinner, we opted to continue and ate together, swept up by the magic of Spirit.
[Look for part II]

• H0w have I been called to mysticism?
• How do I experience Spirit?
• When do I have the opportunity to share those experiences?
• Where do I feel safe?
• When have I been swept up with others in Spirit's magic?


not just for
Spirit, but

others who
understand the
deep, bodily
the dreams


and, finally,
an answer to
the hunger and prayer

unraveling the

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