Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Remaining, reaching, receiving

I don't have a clue: white suburban woman with a college education waltzing into a homeless dinner, then discussing white privilege with a homeless African-American man. And, yet, that is where Spirit directed me.

After an energetic round of creating sculpture with kids at Washington Park, I needed to regroup with a hot chai and a good book: by myself, no conversation and some introvert space. Recharged, I left the coffee shop in Over the Rhine (OTR) getting only a few steps when Mark Anthony jumped off his bike, Street Vibe satchel in hand, looked me in the eyes and said "God told me to give to you something."

New, fun friends @ Washington Park
I believed him and walked to the closest alcove as he unzipped his backpack. Meanwhile, I shuffled through my exterior purse compartment for the few singles I would donate for the copy of the paper. Accidentally, a $20 spilled out. "That would buy a lot of Chipotle," Mark Anthony said. "That's my kids' lunch money," I lied, handing him a bundle of singles instead, holding two back. "Could I have all of them," he said and instantly I complied.

Then he pulled out a necklace with a small bird pendant. I thought it looked like a dove. "This is for you," he said. I was flabbergasted with the way in which Spirit works and humbled by this gift from someone homeless. "I gave him the twenty saying "you need this more than I do" feeling ashamed that I had even hesitated.

A couple of younger, hip African-American men confirmed that, indeed, this was Mark Anthony and he was okay. "Mayor of OTR," he had told me. After exchanging gifts, I asked about an earlier passing remark. "So what about this cancer?" "Got colon cancer," Mark Anthony said patting his left side. If I don't get the colostomy bag, I got six weeks." Apparently he'd beaten this once before when a local artist friend turned him on to green juicing. "Put me in remission; now it's back."

For some odd reason, we just kept hugging. I gave him one last last long embrace, saying I was wrapping him in healing. He cited scripture so fast, all I got was Timothy. Before we parted, he said with the same earnestness as when I heard God speaking through him, "You've got to go two doors down and go inside." 'OK," I responded.

I had no idea what he meant, but I was just as certain of following this command as his earlier prognostication that God told him to give me something. I pushed open the door, reminded of years go when I entered a predominately African-American church on my street. Both times I was very aware that I was doing as Spirit directed and that this could be life altering.

There was a square of tables with modern, Ikea chairs and a haphazard mix of trimmed younger caucasian men, hard-looking older white men, older and younger African-American men, a youthful male with beautiful tattoos, two women of each color, one well dressed and social, the other wearing the uniform of the homeless and a glazed expression, a woman in a t-shirt looking like she ran the place and, well, me.

One of the white men finally chimed in and welcomed me. In the informal chaos, I did not feel out of place or unwelcome. I simply took it all in. I learned this is a relaxed gathering place focused on the work of Jesus in helping all kinds of people live together, providing "home" and accouterments such as meals and companionship. I was mesmerized. This was the pre-dinner gathering and I was invited to stay for it and the preceding Bible study. I lingered about an hour, through dinner and meeting Brandon 1 and 2. They both have the same name and good naturally disagree over who is #1 and who is #2. Mostly I milled around and conversed with Dan. I'm guessing he is about my age. That's about where any similarity might end.

He is homeless, a gunshot survivor, loves art and works construction. His current job ended with a failed inspection. He has an inviting smile and we conversed easily. He's a native Cincinnatian, but would like to get out. His shooter, a teen 15 years ago who pulled the trigger at close range because Dan stood up on a park bench, will probably be on parole soon. Dan's family lives out of state and, right now, he doesn't possess the means to leave. When he has money, he stays in a motel, otherwise it's on the streets. He's angry that city hall has closed its restrooms. "For centuries the homeless have slept at city hall," he told me. He says the homeless have no way to compete with local politicians.

We talk about Over The Rhine and gentrification. He points to a caucasian male absentmindedly walking a big dog and steering a little too closely to Dan's unlocked bicycle. "Some rich white folks have stolen bikes," he says incredulously. "Why?" he asks the air. We both know I have no answer.

And yet, Dan doesn't sound bitter. He knows lots of folks being displaced after spending generations in the same apartment. "They don't mind a new owner and understand they rent will go up, but then they're forced out in 30 days." "Where do they go?" I ask. He shrugs. I tell him about the elderly but spry nuns I met the day the renovated Washington Park was dedicated. They were protesting because of displacement, I relay. They showed me the pointed iron pickets around the park discouraging anyone from sitting on them. And, I have created art with native OTRers as well as children of gentrifiers and suburban visitors, so I have some sense of the shift.

We both solemnly remember the homeless woman a Cincinnati Police Officer drove over and killed in Washington Park before its facelift. Dan reminds me that the park had been a cemetery. I know that will haunt me next week when I leave my car in the park's bowels. In the name of progress and commerce, we seem to lose any reverence for life and death.

But somebody, hasn't. Higher Branches, where Mark Anthony sent me, has a vision to "enrich individual lives and mobilize change within whole communities. We are compelled by God's Word to remain in Him and sacrificially love one another." (John 15) The nonprofit founded by John and Emily Baumann has nurtured relationships and tended residents via meals, Bible study, yoga, art, music and youth mentorship for three year.

That's a place to find Spirit in the midst of a community moving up without looking back.

• Where do I find diversity in my life?
• When have I trusted God to lead me somewhere intimidating?
• What was the result?
• In whom have I heard Spirit speak?
• As a result, what have I learned about listening?

As my white self
shuffled out of
the hip coffeeshop,
refreshed after
building recycled
sculpture at the
local park

a small, thin
black man wearing
a big grin flew
off his bicycle,
spewing that
God wanted to
give me something
and began searching
his backpack

I, obediently, stood
there certain God,
had, indeed, told
him that

and not so obediently
offering the clearly
needy person
my cash

at least not at first
until after the most
needy gave me a gift

a gift from the heart
and one of his
few possessions

as we embraced several
times on the street,
I finally offered a
prayer of healing 

still under Spirit's
influence, I did as 
the man instructed

reaching and

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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


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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

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