Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beyond the cross

Watching my feet clip at a fast pace toward my yoga class at the gym, I whisper my new prayer, the one that began my last post:

Dear Spirit, I lay my burdens at the feet of Christ and give the rest of myself unto You.

I find these morning walks meditative and prayerful; a great way to clear my head and heart before I stretch my stiff-from-sleep body. Being outside is spiritually conducive to prayer, for me.

I look up only to cross the street, when I notice the sky – rather the striking design of a multitude of vapor trails forming multiple crosses (interesting as I am "crossing" the street). Such an affirmation that this is the right prayer for me right now. I can hardly take my eyes off of the sky and it's clear message.

After a refreshing yoga class, I saunter by the local thrift store on my way home and something says "Go in." As if I need a prompt, I'm always on the lookout for a treasure. I quickly survey what I write off as a junky day and head toward the door when a lone book catches my attention. For 50 cents I purchased the Rev. Francis MacNutt's 1974 book simply titled "Healing."

I have not been able to put it down. I am riveted at his insistence that the New Testament is all about healing: Jesus' healings, the Apostles' healings and the idea that ordinary people can become tools of healing, when as he says "The extraordinary has become ordinary." He writes about wholeness and healing as God's way of being with us. But what reaches me most out of this almost-40-year-old tome is the wrong idea that illness is a cross to bear, "yet nowhere in the gospel do we see Christ encouraging the sick to live with their illness." He mentions how our feelings of unworthiness prevent us from praying for our own healing or that of others. "Healing is not on the periphery of Christianity; it is central," he writes.

MacNutt is edging me closer to understanding the resurrection and salvation message(s). These are not words I am very comfortable with, especially the latter. They are terms that I felt beat over the head with, words that became worse than rote and meaningless; they signaled a human judgment of me. I have never, ever experienced that in my Quaker faith community, which is one big reason I am there and have stayed 15 years. We so rarely use that language.

But I am ready to ... on my terms, from my personal experience and with God's guidance.

MacNutt suggests that Jesus's life and work were based on two objectives:
• "To give us a new life, a loving relationship of union with the Holy Father and with himself, through the Holy Spirit.
• "... to heal and free us from all those sick elements in the human personality that need to be transformed so that the new life may freely enter in."

He includes weakness of purpose, disoriented emotions and physical sickness. I understand these prevent me from becoming whole, my true self, the one God means for me to be. And, that what I also desire – deeply.

This – traveling toward wholeness, health and Divine union – is my path whatever you call it. One of last week's online Henri Nouwen meditations described it as the narrow door of Christ, which reminded me of a dialogue in a recent episode of Breaking Bad (yes, I have my dark habits, too) about the idiocy, according to one character, of Georgia O'Keefe repeatedly painting to same door. The other person suggested it was something she loved and she wanted to paint it perfectly.

Sunday as I sat in silent worship, I chose a spot in the sun's path and noticed shadows of the window panes clearly made a cross. And then I doodled and got to thinking about that space, where the two beams actually cross. Perhaps that is the narrow door of Christ. What's in that intersection? I asked myself.

What's at the crux? An invitation to go beyond the cross, into it and through it ... away from the symbol and 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. As I ponder these thoughts in worship, a young woman gets up to speak and mentions times we "cross the line." I wonder, have I? And hope that I have.

• What was I taught the cross meant?
• What does it symbolize for me now?
• What's at the crux of the cross for me at this point in my spiritual life?
• Who is Jesus to me?
• Do I agree that in healing the extraordinary can become ordinary?

avoiding it
for years

the idea of the
cross, the
bloody cross

used to instill
fear, and that
if I didn't
get saved, well
all bets and
were off

now I see it

in the sky,
on the carpet
out my studio

and I smile
because, now
I can claim
it as my own

from pure love

to enter
and be

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spiritual nakedness

Lay your burden                                                                                                                         at the feet of Christ.
Give yourself                                                                                                                         unto me.

With those words murmured into my heart during worship, I was able to begin to truly surrender. I have been moving toward this process since June, when Spirit commanded me to lay down on a pew in a Meeting that wasn't my own and surrender.

Sunday, I did lay my troubles at Jesus' feet and gave the rest to God. Suddenly, I felt jolted awake, really awake. A golden light invaded me and I experienced a wonderful lightness. For me, this is surrender.

And, I believe I must do it every day. Every, single one.

For years, I have "played" with the relationship among me, God and Jesus. I've always known Spirit, but it was Jesus who mystically reached me as a pre-schooler, secretly signaling, when an adult told me my heart was black with sin, NOT to listen. Again, when, as a junior-high student I sat in an evangelical country church listening, then seeing Jesus' image in my shiny, new amber ring. I was jolted into paying attention. Again, the night before my father-in-law's funeral, when I dreamt I was bicycling up a hill as a mini tornado kicked in and a road sign that read "chosen one" burst into flames, then morphed into a shimmering image of Jesus. Again, a few years later in another dream as my now-deceased aunt and I were conversing in a quiet church vestibule and she said "You had better choose." Instantly, the gorgeous stained-glass window parted, Jesus' image fluttered and achingly beautiful, but unearthly, music commenced.

The past two years I have discerned the message of Jesus' resurrection; it's a personal message for me. I now it unconsciously, but desire to articulate it so mind, body and spirit connect with it.

This recent message to hand Jesus my burden and give God the rest moves me to understanding. I have felt so broken for so long and so responsible to fix it. I have begun to see we are all broken and that, perhaps, I am lucky to know my brokenness so intimately. It is through our brokenness that we may approach Jesus, for the Christ energy truly understands and has the ability to absorb our brokenness, freeing us to more wholly give ourselves to God. Jesus is, indeed, the wounded healer through whom we may find our way to God.

As Quaker founder George Fox said, I know this experimentally. I know this from experience, directly from God. God has been revealing this message in bits and pieces and, finally, the puzzle is complete enough for me to begin to get the bigger picture. Although I know that as soon as I say that, things will shift and I will feel that the more I know, the more there is to know.

For now, however, I am satisfied to understand this simple concept of accepting my humanity, giving the dark parts to Jesus and saving for Spirit what is of God.

Wow. So simple and probably I have been told and read this so many times in my life. Only now I begin to understand.

Thank you, Jesus for taking my woes, wrongs, dis-ease and darkness, freeing me and helping me re-claim my spiritual nakedness so I may return to God.

• What role does Jesus play in my life?
• How do I understand the Christ energy?
• How does Jesus prepare my way to Spirit?
• When have I given my true self to God?
• What is surrender like for me?

so serenely simple
and in my face

but the filters 
and the world's

puffed up the
ego, which told
me not to trust

managed to help
me forget my
childhood experience
of Jesus' truthfulness

which has always
been available

I am ready,

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Present in the midst

Driving home from Cleveland, I noticed a peaceful patch of woods and longed to be there, out in Nature and away from the artificiality of the hospital. Granted the Cleveland Clinic sways one with its perks – a Starbuck's, Joseph-Beth Bookstore, fitness center, rooftop labyrinth etc. – but it's still  chock full of white coats, needles and sick patients. And those dag-goned florescent lights. For all of the hype about families and healing, why do they still insist on such lousy light. I even read a 2012 study the clinic conducted that touted how much natural light promotes healing. Enough reason to do away with the freaky, green-cast low light. I wasn't sorry to leave it behind.

I so craved Mother Nature and thanks to the wonderful Artsy Fartsy volunteers who took over for me, I had a free Saturday afternoon to recover from the week. After peaking outside, I knew my recovery meant getting out there. Turns out, I spent the time working myself into a sweat and shedding layers while I methodically raked the front yard. It was so cathartic. I'd considered swimming, but I felt the need to also be productive, not just physical. Raking fit the bill, neatened the yard and burned off the stress.

I began to feel the fibro effects of the past weeks, so I left for Quaker worship early, early enough to spend an hour-and-a-half in the silence. I sat alone a spell, soaking in the sacredness. I was able to feel God's kingdom here and now. Slowly others trickled in as the regular worship hour drew neat. I heard the musician rustling paper and opening the stand. Others whispered. I grow more centered with my eyes closed. Soon, someone smelling of soap and sausage sat next to me. I was immediately permeated by their energy. The celloist commenced what sounded like a prayer, my prayer. I reluctantly opened my eyes to my friend Patia. "I thought you could use an angel," she said as she kissed my cheek, embraced me and offered her hand. 

Hurriedly walking to yoga, already five minutes late, I happened to glance up and was struck by the crisp, clear and vast sky. Last time I'd noticed was on the rooftop of the Cleveland Clinic. I hadn't given it another thought. Frankly, I haven't given much but my mother another thought in the past two weeks. 

The silken sky reminded me of how much more there is to life than my current obsessions. "Lift me out of my littleness," I murmured as a prayer. It's all too easy to gain that microscopic, myopic view, magnifying our concerns way out of proportion. And forget. Beauty. Nature. Creation. Spirit.

I met my dear friend and first yoga teacher, Renee, to finalize details for a workshop on sacred pain we are planning for March. We agreed to meet somewhere between West Chester and Milford and my Quaker Meetinghouse seemed like the perfect spot. It's affirming and amazing to be on the same page with someone else in the work I am called to. Both of us have struggled for years with chronic pain and both of us desire to help others. She's a yogi and counselor, I'm the artist and minister. We make an awesome duo. I stuck around after Renee left, re-connecting with our minister. I have missed my Meeting, being away for my mother and so involved with my family and studio the past year-and-a-half. Walking joyfully and lightly to the car, I see a voicemail message from my father. He says my mother has been moved out of the ICU. THANK YOU, I sing and dance.

I sink my teeth back into centering prayer and am struck almost immediately in my brief lectio-divina practice. The Thomas Keating devotional focused on the present moment. I continually try and fail at this discipline. I know it's important, but never discovered why until I savor this reading. The phrase "the end of time" grabs, almost strangles, me. Not end of the world or humanity, as so many interpretations claim, but the end of time. I find it so very freeing. I live so constrained by time. Pushed and rushed. What would it be like to live outside of time? To do and act when Divinely inspired?

The passage speaks of the Second Coming as the end of time and also when we access the eternal within. The Divine, Keating writes, constantly breaks in on linear time and that each moment of chronological time IS a link to the Divine when we are sensitive enough to Spirit. In essence, it said to me, in the present, we can access God. WOW, I think, WOW. That's why there is a practice of the present moment, an opportunity to connect. A place when God reaches us.

Interestingly, in the evening, I attend a Quaker Quest in-reach session at my Meeting. It's been such a long time since I showed up to be with people outside of worship when I'm not facilitating. It proves to be such a joy to sit with people I've just met,  others I've know for years and explore what God, Jesus and Scripture mean to us. No right or wrong answers. This session gets interrupted by a series of texts and voicemails from family members trying to arrange for my mother's return.

My youngest wakes up sick and I get a little anxious as I am supposed to return to Cleveland with my dad next week to bring mom back to rehab. Yes, I want her home. Now. But not if I give her something. I talk myself into NOT skipping yoga and am rewarded with a giant hug from a longtime Meeting buddy whose work has kept her away a few years. It's a wonderful reunion. I get a good workout, run a few errands, check on my sickie and head to the studio. And the anxiety mounts. I remind myself that I've had a few terrific days in getting back to my work and making spiritual connections. That I have felt God present and that she will figure all of this out. The burden is not mine.

Oh yeah, I remember.

• How do I remain centered when the world is moving ahead?
• When circumstances are tough?
• How does Nature rejuvenate me?
• How does worship nurture me?
• What spiritual practices connect me with Spirit?

A semi week of normalcy
amid the broken
trips to the clinic

my 16-year-old
wants to cuddle
and watch movies

who am I to say no?

my 13-year-old
calls me in dire
pain as I direct
her to an ibuprofen
until I get home

my husband's
out the door
to a convention

and my mother's
still far away

almost too much

until God
breaks in, which
I am pretty sure she
is doing continually

it's just that I am
being present

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Broken promises, answered prayers

Day 10 of my mother's stay in the Cleveland Clinic ICU and she's progressing S - L - O - W - L - Y.  She underwent a whopper of a heart surgery: two valves replaced, a bypass and calcium scraped off her heart.

This is my second trip here. I journeyed for the surgery and the few days after, headed home for my daughter's 16th birthday, then back with my family in tow. It seemed to do my mother good to see her youngest granddaughters.

Every day, we're hopeful the ventilator tube is removed and, every day, they say tomorrow. Today, I really think they meant it. She's been breathing on her own for five hours. It's labored and I know she's frustrated that the tube is still shoved down her throat. Apparently she tried to get it out as they changed her sheets and gown. That's why her hands are restrained. I hate that. No more than she, I expect. For her own good, they say, but it still sounds hollow and patronizing. I can't imagine these hospital professionals feeling any differently as the tied-down patient. Don't get me wrong, the care here is excellent and so patient- and family-focused. But what seems like common procedure to one, looks demeaning to another.

As she lays here, I keep reminding her of what she knew would be her greatest challenge: surrendering to the healing and recovery. I had't expected it to happen so soon after surgery. I was thinking more like down the line.

Yesterday her feistiness was her own worst enemy as she struggled to mime words with the plastic pipe strapped to her chin and plunged beyond her larynx. I just Googled an image and it made me gag.

The tube did not come out although one of the numerous white-coated docs said it was time to quit foolin' around and get it out. Conditions would never be perfect. Some effort was made, apparently, even though my mother is certain they did not attempt to actually [re]move the tube. Disappointing.

One of the many ups and downs we've come to expect and that I am learning to not let set off alarms every time it doesn't happen. Such a lesson in patience and prayer. They promise that if bloodwork looks good they will make another attempt and send us out of ICU. I trek down to the cafeteria once again praying aloud as I wash my hands and continuing silently all through my meal.

My dad goes next and then we decide to call back – enough time has passed – for another disappointment. Instead, we are buoyed with the news that the tube is out. Wow, I think crumpling. It has finally happened.

Each day has become an adventure, some more so than others, but always a slight step ahead. Once off the ventilator, my mother talks incessantly and we feel our visits are too stimulating. Next morning, she's chewing ice chips and getting every doctor to disobey her nurse and feed her. She even convinced the x-ray tech and then Becky, her guardian caretaker, placed a "no ice chips" sign. Then the delusions appear and she's clearly worried about things possibly imagined. To her, they are real. No one happened to mention the reality of cognitive dysfunction following major surgery, particularly long heart procedures.

Finally my dad asks the question on all of our lips; "did the valve replacement work?" Possibly comes the answer. "We'll know Monday after the heart echo."

One day at a time; this truly forces one to live in the present. I am grateful for the baby steps.

• What experiences have taught me patience?
• How aware of that lesson was I at the time?
• How has that affected my current ability to be patient?
• When I am, how am I rewarded?
• What's the relationship between patience and gratitude in my life?

knocking off
the days

one flowing
into another

in the florescent-lit
room with constant

daily promises

constant prayers

God IS present

even if we

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