Monday, December 28, 2009

Be Transformed ~ by the renewal of your mind

This post is a meditation on the "heart of the matter" of this blog:  Tying together different themes, avenues toward the same deep place of the spirit.  One which I termed "nothingness" ~ which others refer to as the "deep heart" or point vierge (Virgin Heart).  A hidden place, from which flows such inner power, that even to read about it or to meet someone who speaks or acts from this place can be perilous, in the sense that one's life may be so touched by that person, event, or experience that one is never the same.  As in, "Take off your shoes, for this is holy ground."  Or, as this writer suggests:
"In studying the writings of any of the mystics ... we take the risk of being transformed by them.[Dorothy C. Buck]
But I would go further:  Whether studying sacred scriptures / poetry, being in the presence of a mystic, opening oneself to sacred art, rites or mysteries, even placing oneself into the mindset of such a seeker (after Holy Mystery), we risk being transformed.  Transformed because - as the same writer describes and then quotes: 
The mystery of The Virgin Heart is a call to recognize the Transcendent in our midst and overcome our illusions of power and control.  [DC Buck ~ linked above]
Like a beggar:  "God makes Himself explicit through everything which is perceived and considered; everything that one sees face to face signifies Him. And this is why I have said: I have seen nothing in which I have not seen God." (Massignon 1983, Vol.lll p.68)
A similar quote could be taken from Eckhart, the man "from whom God hid nothing."

Thus I begin to have a glimpse:  That what I have been groping after and pondering, in my life, here in this blog, revolves around this point vierge - "that God can relate only to the virginal found in the heart of the human soul."  What Hesychasm refers to as the deep heart.  A place of transformation.  A place of meeting.  Meeting Holy Mystery.  And this revelation seems to spring forth in different traditions.  For example a Sufi (Muslim) mystic - martyred for loving God - named al-Hallaj - posited:
God's secret holy place at the core of each of us "whether we are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, worthy or not" which "remains forever whole and intact regardless of our fear and pain, self-defeating habits or ungracious thoughts and desires."
Which rings to me like the experience I wrote about in the first post of this blog, from whence comes its name, the same word Merton usedNothingness.   A concept he gleaned from Massignon's point vierge and (likely) the Hesychasts' focus on the heart.  Massignon refers to this "place" (akin to my "window onto eternity") in relation to the Annunciation - much to my amazement (!) -  given my title for that first post, a line from the Magnificat:  "He looked on his servant in her nothingness..."  And the Virgin's welcoming Yes (her response to the Annunciation), is depicted by Massignon as akin to Abraham's hospitality to the three strangers: 
Imaging God as the stranger who comes to our door begging for food and shelter, or the refugee who struggles to speak our language, or the poor and marginalized in our society Massignon envisions Mary, who was also an outcast in her society. She represents the sacred hospitality in the center of every human soul that welcomes the stranger, God. ... The ultimate manifestation of Massignon's sacred hospitality is the divine Guest seeking hospitality in the center of every human soul.
And for me that also plays out in the social/political spheres, something I had earlier termed Dignity, Hospitality, Community.   And thus, the inner and the outer become ONE transformative experience.

And here I must bow to TS Eliot, ending Four Quartets:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
As Merton wrote:  "The Gate of Heaven is everywhere!"

Monday, November 30, 2009

First Frost

The grass - so green
       after the early autumn rains
Each tip now glistening - silvery white
       in the early dawn.

A bunny stops to study a plant
Carefully choosing just one slender
       stalk of grass
       among the tangle of dry leaves.

Sun slowly warms tall tree branches,
       their leaves - now yellow - catching
       sunlight - into gold.

Every thing is still
       this quiet Sunday morning
As the first frost slowly
       lets go its grip - where sunlight falls.

Seasons contending on the Sunday morning lawn:
       Patches of shadow
               harboring hints of winter
               in frost-tinged waves - of grass
       While sunlight's gleams glisten
               tiny dewdrops,
               of still green summer.

I too sit between seasons this Sunday,
       white hair hinting of wintry times ahead,
A promise of wisdom gaining precious ground
        amidst earlier seasons, contending for my soul.

November 1, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A State of Mind

We were cleaning our cars.  Of piles and piles of snow.  We were getting ready to leave.  He, after a week.   And I after a weekend.  He'd already told me how all of his female cousins had been abused by one male uncle... We were cleaning our cars of piles of snow...  (This was many years ago.)

He was a priest.  He'd been there on retreat.  And, in his sadness to leave the monastery - he told me he felt sorry I'd only had just the weekend.  But I wasn't sad.  I'd used to live near there.  I had received all I needed in a brief visit.  How could he know that?  For nearly 10 years I could come almost any time I wanted.  Every Sunday morning.  For Vespers on a Sunday evening. And sometimes, when the mood hit, we'd simply driven there (half an hour) just for Compline.  Many times I'd come up alone and spend long hours there.  That was when I needed something external.  They'd asked us to take charge on the hayrides at the yearly Festival. When we lived there.  

That was when they were still a dairy farm.  Before they sold the cows and became sheep farmers.

I tried to help him see:  I hadn't lost anything by coming for a weekend.  So  I told him, and it struck me at that moment:   Mt. Savior is a State of Mind.

How could he understand?  When I'd first gone there, the serenity and recollection of the monks was something I lacked.  Something they had.  ... But gradually, over time, it had seeped into me.  I hadn't realized it:  Not till that moment.

Mount Savior had become for me a State of Mind.


It was snowing so much - by the time I arrived - that it surpassed my recollection of my favorite memory of the place.

Driving up the hill, every tree, every branch was white with moist snow.  And it continued to snow, even as I reached the parking lot and struggled inside.  Where I was met with amazement!  They had never expected I would make it.  Indeed the plow had only just been through, the closed road opened.  Even the power was out.  And they had gathered in the entrance, full of windows - where they could see, with the power off.   Never expecting the traveler - me - to stagger in from the blizzard.   Driving.

Thank goodness I'd flown into Syracuse!  (The Abbot, himself, was stuck in New York City.)  I wanted to have the long, familiar road to myself.  It was like a pilgrimage.  I needed time - to go back in time - to relish the road, its curves, the hills.  To see Ithaca, the Lake - startling in its beauty as I reached the long, steep drop in altitude.  The road almost terrifying - in its nearly straight drop - to the valley below.  Then... up the steep hill on the other side - and winding my way - so familiar - so much of my past - toward Elmira and then on to Pine City - to the turn-off I'd just taken - actually arriving in the snowstorm - to the amazement of monks and guests alike.

The snow had increased at every step of my journey in the rented car.  I couldn't even turn back:  Home was no longer there to go to.  All I could do was press on - slowly - carefully - grateful it was still daylight and the road so well known - indeed more familiar the closer I got -  and the deeper the snow.

It was magical!

Like Orhan Pamuk's Snow - it was like that!  Except not like that.

My favorite memory of this place.  Recreated for me - surpassed even.  What a gift!

It was a snow of the kind for which poetry was invented.

Pure.  Wet.  Heavy snow.  Falling softly.  Every path magical in its transformation.  Every branch.  Every step.  Every instant.  Magical with snow!  The quietness of snow.  The sense of intimacy of snow falling.  Of going to sleep with it.  Of waking up to it.  Paths of snow.  Branches of snow.  Magical.  Mystical.  Pure.  White.  Wet.  Snow.

I'd come there to talk to the monks.  To ask them to pray.  To pray for victims of abuse.  And for their therapists.

But the Abbot was stuck in New York.  The monks knew nothing of my correspondence with him.

But everywhere I turned was confirmation of my task.  The old friend, a supervisor actually:  He recognized me at the Chapel.  He revealed he'd been abused by a priest.  The family we'd donated our car to:  The people who had taken in so many abused, neglected, and disabled children.  (I'd forgotten we gave away a used car... But they hadn't.)

It was snowing.  And I ran into so many old friends.

Amazingly, the Abbot made it back from New York City.  Just in time.  In time for me to talk to the monks.  To tell them of the plight of abused persons. Of how they felt abandoned by God and human kind.  To ask for their prayers.

I was touched at Mass that even the sermon seemed to reflect my plea.

It was timely.  The Church in the dock!  So many persons betrayed!  Like my former supervisor.  At Mass the day before.  Who could have known?

It seemed everyone had been touched by abuse.   The Abbot's godchild.  The priest's female relatives.  My friend, the former supervisor from my teaching days.

Is there no end to it!  No end to those abused by someone?

So there we were.  Cleaning our cars of snow.  And he, wishing I'd had more time there.  Really - wishing he'd had more time.  

The Church.  It's pastors so over-burdened....

I tried to tell him, to give it to him:  Mount Savior ~ as a State of Mind.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moral Hazards

She was a professional woman.  Raised in a strict, churchgoing and dysfunctional family.  And she was gay.  That's what brought her to my doorstep.  Seeking a way out of her dilemma.  Seeking, but not finding, something I could not give her.  Because she was also trapped in her own mind - her beliefs and her self-evaluations and her view of God so powerfully stuck, so resistant to change.

Her church was telling her that what her mind and body felt were sinful longings.  As to behavior, she really hadn't done much of that.  Too much rejection from family the one time she briefly lived with a woman.   Church was important to her.  Her main source of social interaction outside her family of origin.  But God was, for her, a demanding judge, someone to fear.  And the bible hadn't seemed to help either - as she tended to focus on those passages which, she feared, would be in waiting for her when her behavior came to "Judgment" one day.

She really didn't make much progress, I think.  As her mind was so fixed - like concrete that had set long ago.  And she finally stopped coming.  Still depressed, but no longer suicidal. 

But though she left therapy, her therapy did not leave me.  Her plight was not just one of being rejected for being gay.  Though she had been.  More than anything it was related to a failure of religion to be there for her.  A failure of her faith community to provide solace or even a chance to open up.  A failure of her church to reassure her of God's care and protection and love; God's ultimate delight in her and fervent wish for her well-being.  But it wasn't only that.  Our image of God is powerfully affected by the image we form, based upon our parents.  Our conscience is formed from interaction with parents.  And she just couldn't take the risk of "giving up" her long-ago cemented ideas about God, sin, faith, religion, and the parental rejection they all symbolized.

Somehow she could never chip away at that cement:  For the Bible told her so.  And she was so closed-off, from having to hide so much of herself, feeling so ashamed - that it prevented her from forming a close enough bond with me.  A bond that might have given her enough "security" and "safety" to risk letting go of what kept her imprisoned, unhappy, unfulfilled, isolated.

She needed to protect herself.  But in doing that she was also (unwittingly) hemming herself in.  She was too fearful of parental disapproval, church disapproval, bible disapproval, God disapproval.  So what did it matter if I was OK with it?  She herself disapproved.

One thing about being a therapist.  So many people get better, move on.  There's a sense of completion.  But you never forget the people you couldn't help.  That thought nags at you.  Especially when, like this person, part of the problem lies in society and in religion.  You get concerned about the many ways churches hurt people, rather than helping them.  You cringe at so many ways that society hurts and fails to help.  Of course you knew that before, but that was before you knew this person.  (And naturally, it's not just one person I'm thinking of.  I just picked the one that's nagged at me the most.)

That's why civil unions alone will never be enough.  People like my former patient need compassionate pastoral and communal care as well.  God is Love.  Love is of God.  So long as we are faithful to the one we love, how could that love possibly displease the One who first LOVED us?  Who literally loved us - into BEING? 

Long ago I decided that if I had to choose between moral hazards, I would prefer to err on the side of love.   (Seems to me I picked that up from an itinerant Jewish Rabbi "who spoke with authority" and whose actions, according to his own testimony, were meant to reveal his Father's Love - love especially for the lost and forsaken, the excluded and the outcast.) 

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Great Divide

I think I understand
what is happening
in our land.

It's the solution
that evades me.
There is a huge fissure in the social fabric.  Indeed there is, on the part of some, an inability to even see the social fabric.

To those who cry for personal freedom and decry efforts, of whatever type, to care for our brothers and sisters (the least among us, the excluded, the poor, the sick, the illegal immigrant, those who cover their heads or use a different name for god, those who ask simply to marry the one they love), selfishness is a god, not freedom.  But they don't seem to see that.

What pains me most, what makes it nearly impossible to write at all lately, is this deeply ingrained selfishness and greed, which asserts that individuals are somehow "free" when they most disregard their fellow human beings.  Oh, I'm sure they wouldn't see it that way.  They think of themselves as fine, upstanding patriots - who are only interested in urging others to "stand up" and "fend for themselves".  Yes, they would say this to the sick and the lame and the poor and the downtrodden.  They would tell them, without performing any miracle, to "take up your bed and walk" - something that Jesus is described as saying.  But when Jesus said it, there was a gift of healing.
I am at a loss
for how
to get across
to folks
who are the haves and have mores
that we are put
upon this earth
to share
and care.
This is my dilemma.  This is a source of great suffering to me. 

How do we first get people to open their hearts?  This is breaking my own heart!
To dwell with the suffering,
 in the suffering,
 that is sometimes all we can do.

 that somehow,
 if enough of us are willing to dwell there,
 it will become some kind of black hole -
 which pulls others
 into it.

Peace upon all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Merton on Nothingness

"At the center of our being is a point of nothingness, which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point, a spark, which belongs entirely to God.
It's like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.  It is in everybody!
I have no program to seize this.  It is only given.   But the Gate of Heaven is everywhere!"
Now give yourself the treat of testing Merton's words.  Go here.  Watch.  Listen.  You may find yourself drawn to that very point of nothingness.  I did.

Another exquisite example.

Addendum (12/26/09) - A more complete quote of Merton's on Nothingness:
"At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will.  This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us.  It is, so to speak, His name written in us.  As our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our son-ship, it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven.  It is in everybody.  And if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.  I have no program for this seeing; is it only given.  But the Gate of Heaven is everywhere."
[Quoted by Kallistos Ware from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander]

And I just came across this comment (of my own) to Lux Umbra Dei:
I've also read widely in many traditions. They're all pointing at the same vanishing point. This is all that really matters to me. But the "vanishing point" is also within all of us... and like the heart of reality.
 What amazes me (literally blows me away!) is their similarity to the first post of this blog.


Monday, August 10, 2009

My "Song of Songs"

 Like a truth ~ I did not really understand.

Till now...  

This poem, dating back to my college years, still speaks to me.  

I found a rock upon the beach
A weather-beaten, battered rock
Who loved to stand and bear the waves
And greet the rushing waters - day by day.
I bound myself to that rock I found -
I could not tear myself away.
Two fearless lovers we became
And met the rushing waters in our way.
But rocky coast turns into sand
When time and waters have their way.
And two who stood to face the waves
Turned into sand and blew away.

"The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God... In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, but they are at peace."  [Wisdom 3:1-2,3]

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mystery lifts its veil ...

There are times when Holy Mystery manifests itself to us.  Dying is one of those times.  And interestingly, the metaphor of death or dying often describes the entry of Holy Presence - into our midst - beyond the veil of normal seeing.  As if one had happened upon a boundary between the world of sense and the world of spirit:

Photo ~ Courtesy of brotherjohn OED

This story was told to me by a witness, whose veracity I can vouch for.  She sat behind me in a seminar a few years ago, and related the events within days of their occurrence.  Some months later, via email, she assured me that my recollection of her story was accurate.  It is a very simple story.  Yet profound.

My source, a social worker employed by a home hospice, coordinates chaplaincy visits for individuals receiving hospice care at home.  The hospice serves anyone within a county-wide area, who is dying at home.  Thus, nothing out of the ordinary was to be expected, when she went to the home of a dying patient, along with her supervisor - a man unknown to the patient.

As soon as she introduced her supervisor, the patient immediately said to him:  I didn't know that you knew ____."  And her supervisor's response was:  How do you know that I knew ____?  (Knew.... because ____ was dead.)

And the patient answered:  Well, he's sitting right there!  (pointing to thin air) And he just told me.

Now that is the story.

Make of it what you will.....

But the story is true:  My source is entirely credible. 

Something there is - which is way beyond our ken.  Something which the dying often give witness to.  Which spiritual traditions and sacred writings give witness to.  Something which manifests itself within holy individuals; and I have met some.  Something which can break through normal events - so they shine with mysterious translucence - as if a veil were momentarily lifted, as if one could see from one world into another Reality...  one which transcends our world entirely or marks it as mysteriously shot through with holiness.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Places in the Heart

"There are places in the heart that do not yet exist;
  suffering has to enter in for them to come to be".
[Leon Bloy]

God in heaven
      Watching you and me
God in heaven
      Is sad as he can be.
The hurt we feel
      Does pierce His heart
But the hurt we feel
      Is just a part
Of the hurt inside His heart.
God feels our pain
      And others' too
It may be feeling hurt
      Is all He gets to do.
The world he made
      Has gone astray
So sad he feels
      To see what people do and say.
So sad is He
      That He's depressed
That He's worn out
      And sad as death.
Perhaps our God
      Is like us too
That when He's sad
      And feeling blue,
He cannot even tie his shoe.
Perhaps He lies
      In bed all day
And can't make hay
      Or even play.
Perhaps these hurts
      He feels
Are such,
      He can't do much.
He can't get up,
      Get dressed, get food
And all He does
      Is lie in bed - and brood.
The worries that A God can have
So heavy, heavy do they weigh
      That He's depressed,
      That He's inert
For all the long of a Godly day.
He may need help
      But cannot call
Who's thought that
      God needs help at all?
It makes me very sad to think
      That God's so hurt and lonely
      (And no one thinks of this at all)  
That nothing does He get to do,
      But suffer only.
To suffer for eternity
      In hopes the world will change
And all He gets for this
      Is hopes and prayers and
Curses for the things he doesn't arrange.
I don't think I would like to be
A God like this - who cries all day 
And sees all pain
      And suffers still
      And still again
And suffers every, every day
And feels our pain in every way.
It's bad enough
For me to know
That suffering
That has brought you low.
If I had had to know - What He has seen and felt
I don't think I could bear to know
And feel - and still go on.
I'd get depressed and cry all day
And feel so sad - in a Holy way
And I'd give up and say:
      "I'm tired of being God this way!"
I'm tired of knowing all the woes
       And all the hurts and all the pain;
I'm sick to death of suffering.
       Please can't I die?
And not go through all this again?
But God can't die
He only lives
For all eternity
Alone and sad, a whole world's pain
He bears for you and me.
I could go on - in the middle of the night
Telling you all about God's plight.
Like I, He cannot sleep
So sad is He, so sad, so deep.
Imagine being god
      Where day and night
      Without surcease
He watches all our sufferings
      And takes them in His heart
And can do nothing more - That is his part.
So when you're sad - and He can't help
           At least you're in - His suffering heart.
Written for one who suffered much.
Dedicated to all who suffer without comprehension.

I have learned a little - in my work - of Divine Compassion:
Love for - and with - those who suffer.
This suffering love, in which I have participated,
This compassion, which has enlarged my heart,
I cannot call it "mine" alone.
It teaches me - from whence it comes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mining the ground you're standing on ...

Snippets of Poetry - Moments of Insight

In the depths of the Self
        A River of Prayer
You're not aware
        But it's there


These individual moments, which I thought to be like separate beads upon a string...   strands of my life:  Now appearing ... as I look back ... part of a single braid... now disclosing its secret beauty.

Or perhaps like a mine that's gradually being dug in one place.  As if my life were like a piece of ground I'm standing on, ground I've been given.  And as I dig down, gradually, over the years, mining my life:  Sometimes for its insights and blessings.  More often just the daily shoveling of dirt.  But from time to time,  I find ... there in the darkness ... beautiful jewels - like sparks of darkness... leading me on.

Especially has suffering - on behalf of others particularly, but also my own - hollowed me out, deepened me - opened me up, through yearning and stretching at times of utter extremity:  Seeking  to feel my way into the hidden heart and soul of another.  To place myself in a receptive state.  Or to bear the unbearable, along with others.  Or weather the storms of emotion in the mystery of relationship.

Even when I was looking in all the wrong places for the wrong things... that emptiness or nothingness or receptivity or openness - seems to have been answered or echoed or set up an inner resonance, to which I responded, or which simply rose up like a fountain.  As if it's been going on there all the time - and I never knew.  Like a stream running through me - of which I am also a part.

I think we need to value where we're stuck.  Rather than try to get away from it.  To mine it.  To take what we've been dealt - and dwell with it.  That stuckness may be a place of potential transcendence.

Not that I'm very good at any of this .....

Newly arisen -
An emptiness
Appears and reappears

A solitude
A space
A sense of freedom

In the hurly-burly
Of my day

My soul?
A sign
Of the Divine?
A foretaste?

IV.  This lovely photo of stratofrog's seems to belong here.  Click on it and enlarge it.   Ponder it.  There is so much in this photo.  So much beauty.  So much mystery.  So much sheltering darkness.  The transcendent beauty of the clouds above.  Opening in places.  The mysterious translucent peach colors in the distance... like a channel between heaven and earth, clouds and mountains.  It says so much to me!  Thank you, stratofrog!

I am beautiful
        in my soul.
There --
        Even the dark places
              are beautiful
        In silence and in mystery

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Be Still and Know....

So many incidents through my life.  As I look back ... 
I think they have often come when I was feeling at my uttermost limits - when I'd done all I could on my own and I was reaching out - beyond myself.

About 35 years ago, when I was teaching young children, third graders, I had a particularly challenging class of children.  I was at my wit's end.  I would go to bed at night, thinking of a child or an issue - and usually by morning something would come.  Some new idea.  Some energy to try again.  Some way to empathize with a child or find a way to reach them - personally or educationally.  But I was getting weary... and nothing was coming...

As I say, I was at my wit's end ~ at a point of nothingness.

It was during the time when TM was all the rage.  I'd heard about the method.  Relax.  Say a mantra.  But TM cost money.  And we were poor.  My husband was in grad school.  If we had had another child at that time, the children, if they'd been in school, would have qualified for free lunches.  And as I recall I also was taking grad courses, one per semester, in order to get my permanent teaching certificate (to keep the job).  So paying for TM was out.  (Oh, TM? ... Transcendental Meditation)

But I figured, what the heck, give it a try....

I recall sitting down - must have been one afternoon.  I picked a word.  Who knows what word?  Did I say "Ommmmm"?  I have no idea.  However, I can pretty much assure you it was not a Christian word - because shortly after college I had given up on going to church and stopped paying attention to "any of that".  So I assure you, I wasn't deserving of what followed.

So there I was with my "word" - whatever it was.  But here's what happened.

As I sat there, quietly, paying attention to my breathing and saying this word.....  Suddenly, from deep inside myself, I'm not kidding you....  Prayer welled up!  Yes.  Without my bidding.  Without any willing of this.

Prayer... inside myself .... as if a well had been drilled and water just gushed up.  

Shocked the hell out of me!  No kidding....

Honestly, as I look back, over these many years, I think it was like the bell was rungWithout any effort on my part.  Certainly without any deserving on my part.

After this, certain amazing coincidences followed.  I went to the public library, maybe to return some books.  And there, on the bookshelf right near the circulation desk was Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain - the story of his early life and conversion, his entering a monastery.  It was Lent.  I just happened to pass a church - going who knows where.  There was an afternoon Mass and I went in.  We went out to the nearby monastery.  They had a bookstore.  We bought a book of psalms and started to read psalms together.   Well, one thing led to another....  And on my 30th birthday we had a big celebration - with friends.  We had our son baptized and our marriage was blessed by a priest.   This time in a church.  Yup!  The whole shebang!  (it was all one big "ceremony" - with a nice party afterward)

We eventually came to view the monastery as like a second home.  So much of a home that the next Fall, in kindergarten, our son was in the blocks corner, building:  Some kid asked:  What's that?  And after our son replied:  A monastery, the kids asks:  What's a monastery?  They had cows there then (sheep now).  Our son helped the monks milk the cows.  And they took him to the carpenter shop, where he made some things I still have.  One is just a little block of wood that says:  I love you, mama. (after he learned to write, of course)  Another was what he called the portable cross.  Two pieces of wood that fit together - to form a cross.  I still have it.

It's things like this that - for me - are so convincing.

It's not just chance.

There's something "out there" ~ inside.  Paying attention to us.  Drawing us....

At least - that's my experience - and it hasn't just happened once.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Honey Bee on Leek Flower

Our good friend, stratofrog, is a gifted photographer.  And this photo of hers deserves a post all by itself.  Today it serves to point us to the work of the honey bee.  Look carefully on the flower...  The bee is at work.

A long time ago men and women sought the honey of a life of prayer.  They went off to the desert and lived as hermits or in small colonies.  Later they formed monasteries, based on a rule of life drawn up by St. Benedict.  One of Benedict's aphorisms for how the monks should live was:  Ora et Labora - which simply means an integrated life.  A life of both work and prayer.  For prayer, or meditation, you can substitute whatever you use to turn within, to penetrate the sacred in life. Stratofrog's photography, for example, is like a meditation on beauty, depth, poetry - in nature.  And sharing that is like a prayer she's made on our behalf.

Every spiritual tradition I know of seems to have turned to poetry as a way of doing what stratofrog can do with a camera.  The Vedas and the Upanishads.  Buddhist Sutras.  Hebrew Psalms.  You can find these in every tradition.   And many of them are now being put out on the internet, arranged in such a way that you can read small portions of prayer-poems on a daily basis.

On the right sidebar, there's a piece of ironwork I like. The image itself now links to a site which posts Psalms for various Hours of Prayer.  You can pick a time of day and choose a psalm or two. 

Or you can use the banner just below to go there right now:
Like the Honey Bee in the photo, you can find nectar - in the psalms.  And over time ... honey - in your soul.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greeting of the Myrrh-Bearers

I love this icon!

It discloses aspects of my work and myself.

Profound compassion for those who suffer:
  Myself as the kneeling women come to anoint and reverence.

Like a channel flowing through my heart ~ 
The Mystery of Suffering itself.

Could it be as well an Icon of the Mystery of the Trinity?  

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Mystery of Suffering

It was Thanksgiving Day. But nobody knew that there. We'd gone to visit my father-in-law because he was gravely ill. He had already gathered his children (all grown) and tearfully asked for their forgiveness - for any wrong he had done them. That was before our trip could be made. I'm sorry we missed it.

My mother-in-law was a saint. And I'm not kidding you when I say that. When she died, some years after her husband, the whole village turned out. The priest spoke of how he had learned so much from her. She was a benefactor and a friend to many. Always quietly, discreetly.

I had asked her for prayers many times. Especially for my work with victims of abuse. I had asked many people actually. Even strangers. Leaving little notes on bulletin boards (the kind where you could leave such a message): "Please pray for victims of abuse and for their therapists." I'm not kidding you.

Was I the one who wanted to ask the Carmelites to pray too? The tiny convent of aging nuns in this obscure village in Andalusia? Friends and recipients of my mother-in-law's kindness and financial assistance. I can't recall who proposed it.

But on that Thanksgiving morning we walked through the narrow streets to the Carmelite convent. My husband. His mother. And I. Through the closed gate. Under the stone arch. Through the wooden doors. Down a short hallway. Into a tiny room with a grille, which looked into another tiny room. Where, after a short wait, two nuns appeared. Women who had been here for decades, I'm sure. Women with little more than a grammar school education, who'd been in this enclosed environment, gradually turning into saints.

I expected my husband or his mother to do the talking. But no.... They turned to me. Everyone was waiting. The two nuns behind the grille. The three of us, on tiny chairs, crowded together on our side of that little grilled window. And in my broken Spanish I briefly told them of my work. Asked them to pray especially for one person. Made up words to convey that she'd been abused, even tortured as a child. That her own mother had participated in this, earning money from her daughter's suffering. That, for her, this defined her worth. At which point I burst into tears and could say no more.

The one nun began speaking. In Spanish. An elderly woman hidden except for her kind face poking through her veil and plain brown robe. I could hardly understand a word. It seemed she spoke at length. And I tried to be polite and pay attention to the stream of words, picking out phrases like " the Big Teresa" and "the Little Teresa" (the foundress of the order and someone also known as "the little flower"). Both had suffered in different ways - and I presume the old nun might have referred to that - but honestly her words were not making much headway. Until she said: "Pedir a Dios para la fe de aceptar el misterio del sufrimiento." She might have repeated them. She must have seen from my expression that they went straight to my heart. That she'd given me what I needed: "Pray to God - for the faith - to accept the mystery of suffering."

Maybe it was something she had learned from the "Big Teresa" and the "Little Teresa". Maybe it was something she had gathered on her own. I will never know. She also gave me some momentoes of these saints - a keychain, a little triptiche. But mostly she gave me those words. I repeat them sometimes. I love the sound of them in Spanish. I can feel her presence, almost, as I say them.

I've followe
d her advice. I have to say I think it's helped.

When someone s
uffers, it is their suffering. It belongs to them. No one can take it from them. If they let you in, together you can sit before it - or with it - patient, reverent, accepting, caring, letting it seep into your heart and soul.

There are words you can say. But mostly I think it all comes down to presence.

Suffering is a mystery. And so is presence. I think they complement each other - in some way that is also a mystery.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Heart Streams in Dry Land

        As I go walking
                  Like a sower
                  Scattering seeds
                  On unknown ground
                  On a misty day
                  In falling rain

        I pull from my inner self
                  (My bursting heart)
                  Painful and Wonderful

                  Words to the Wind
                  With flowing tears
                  So deeply held

        A sparkling spring
                  Of sobs
                  Comes rushing forth

        Nurturing pregnant thoughts
                  Wellsprings of life
                  To barren soil
                  In mystery.

        How can
                  My unknown heart
                  Bursts of Glorious Blossoms

        Coloring Parched Desert
                  After a thunderstorm?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Gift of Presence

It is just an ordinary grayish rock, weathered by time and the elements, grainy with texture, its rounded form irregular but comfortable in your hand. There are thousands of similar rocks visible in stream beds in that part of the Catskills. I longed for one, when I first saw them in those stream beds.

It had been gathered for a special purpose and was nestled with its fellows around a small pile of sticks and brush. They lay to one side of a lawn behind a small ordinary house, down a winding lane, far away from public traffic. Behind the lawn, down a steep hill, stood an open field in a clearing of trees.

A group had gathered. Anticipation was building. For the town council of this remote, sparsely settled area, upon learning that the Dalai Lama was expected at the tiny Tibetan monastery within their boundaries, had determined to hold an official welcome. Food and flowers stood ready on tables. Soon the helicopter would land. And the Dalai Lama would walk across the field, up the steep hill, and disappear into the monastery - as it turned out.

But first it was necessary to light the sacred fire. For the traditional smoke signal. And the stone played its role, along with its fellows, circling the fire. Never knowing the guest it honored in an ancient rite.

It was a strange sort of "official welcome" - with the guest of honor relaxing, unseen inside, while guests milled about - chatting and nibbling on exquisite tiny pastries, far from his view. I talked with someone whose path had crossed mine years and years before - though neither of us had known it at the tine. I vividly recall it as a brief but meaningful encounter. He asked about my "path" and I told him the truth: Right then - the only thing I was certain of was "the ground" I was standing on. He urged me to continue my practice.

The crowd outside seemed unsure whether or not to wait around. We'd been given to understand that there would be a chance to "meet" the Dalai Lama. But time dragged on. Nothing seemed to be happening. And many left. It was getting to be early evening on a pleasant summer day.

We were part of a small group still remaining, as we'd been guests of a town alderman - whose stepson went to the college where my husband taught. He chose to ask us. And the wonder of it still amazes me! We'd made the long drive a day or so before. And been welcomed lavishly - by people who lived very simply - in a mobile home - in the woods.

Suddenly, with hardly any warning, we were told to line up if we wanted to meet the Dalai Lama. White scarves were handed out - to present to him - the traditional Tibetan greeting of an honored person. I recall being amazed when my young son joined the line, looking solemn.

As I stood there, waiting, I recall mustering up all the awe and reverence I possessed - to honor this revered and holy man . I believe I prepared a short phrase and I must have said it as I placed the white scarf in his hands. But I honestly don't recall my role at all. It was not until much later, I think, that the experience crystalized for me - into a powerful awareness of what had really occurred in the briefest encounter with this man: The Dalai Lama's manner embodied far more reverence for me than I was capable of reverence for him.

Comprehension of that grew over time. Maybe it's growing still. I have pondered it often.

I believe the Dalai Lama taught me something very profound in that brief moment: The power of the presence of a holy person. The power of a holy person honoring a guest. The true meaning of Namaste. It sounds simple when I say it. But it's one of the most profound things anyone has ever taught me. By his mere presence alone. His manner toward me. I understand now what Jesus was trying to convey. What the Buddha must have conveyed. Why Hindus go to simply sit in the presence of a holy hermit.

Oh... the stone? Somehow before we left I had the presence of mind to walk over to the place where the fire had been. I selected one stone. A stone that fit my hand. I have told this story many, many times. Usually I give the person the stone to hold, as I tell the story.

It's just an ordinary stone. But it is invested with the meaning of that memory. I call it my Dalai Lama Rock. And I consider it holy.

I considered taking a photo of the stone. But where would I put it for such a photo? And how could you know its holiness without touching it... without feeling its weight, its grainy texture, its grayness with flecks of black. Without hearing the story and the gift of holding it at the same time.

The next day our kind hosts took us to a Zen monastery within the same township. It was a place of stunning beauty and serenity.

My stone has no such beauty. It is so ordinary.

Instead, I'm including this clip-art. Because I love it:
I think it testifies to the hidden mysteries all around us - just beneath the surface.  But present in the emptiness of an open heart.

A small difference

It was to the most damaged individuals I always felt drawn - those people who didn't know themselves and fought to keep me from knowing them. People who needed a large commitment of time and caring. The very people our healthcare system lets fall through the cracks. And all my life - even as a child - I reached out to the lonely, those on the fringes, the unwanted, the unloved. And in a small way I have made a difference - but this is a population that does not easily endure relationship. And even for the therapist endurance in the face of such ambivalence is very painful.

And it is in the struggle to reach out that over and over again I have needed to turn to God - or perhaps you could say: God has turned to me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Gift of Blessing

                              A blessing for each
                              A blessing for all
                   Now let abundant blessings fall

                              Upon the present
                              Upon the past
                    A rain of blessings that will last

                               Never forgotten
                               Never unknown
                    God’s blessings find you and lead you home

                               Healing your mind
                               Healing your heart
                    Healing your soul so you won’t be apart

                               Bringing you peace
                               Bringing you love
                    Bringing you solace from heaven above
                    Deep in your heart God’s love will abide
                    Deep in your heart – like a nightlight inside
                    Deep in your heart, you’re safe in this light
                               So close your eyes tight
                               And rest well this night

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Loving Kindness Meditation

I'm saying it for you first - slowly, peacefully....

May you be well, peaceful, and free of suffering.
May no harm come to you.
May no difficulties come to you.
May no problems come to you.
May you always find success.
And may you also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination, to meet and overcome, the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

Now you can say it.  First, for yourself.  Then for me or anyone else.  You can say it again and again, moving from the most personal (family members, friends) to those you do not know, to those toward whom you feel neutral, even for enemies or those with whom you are in conflict, and finally for all beings.

This Loving Kindness Meditation comes to me via Kusala Bikshu, a Buddhist monk, whom I met at a conference a few years back.  Different versions of this meditation are used by many Buddhists to cultivate compassion and to transform suffering.  (I hope you took time to click his name and watch the video of Kusala.  Once you meet this man, you never forget him!)

I have found it particularly helpful to say this meditation for someone with whom I am having a conflict.  Somehow, if you repeat this - again and again - for such a person, you will find yourself feeling differently toward them.  And your meditation, your compassion and beneficence toward them, may allow the conflict to loosen up and dissolve.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

No Distance

She was 73. Yet she looked youthful. Her face was tranquil, seemingly unlined, framed by soft, short hair. She lay there peacefully, her husband sitting in a chair beside her, near the window. There was a serene atmosphere in the hospital room. Nothing to suggest anything extraordinary. Not until I placed my hand upon her brow. And spoke a blessing, willing its reach through voice and touch.

My hand against her forehead seemed to find no resistance. I could feel it's weight, pressing gently, seeking that barrier that usually stands between one person and another, falling deeper and deeper. Yet still it seemed this barrier could not be reached. Or was it breached?

Afterward I felt I had to tell her: You have such depth within you.

Did I imagine it?

Or were there tears of understanding in her eyes?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Raindrops: Like the Evanescence of Life

Like a dream

Like a fantasy

They are thus

To be regarded

(Zen saying)

I had a blindingly powerful insight once about "emptiness." It's meaning. I heard the meditation bell. It was at a 10 day meditation retreat. And that reverberation.... felt as if it was happening inside me. Or that I was resonating to the bell. (a brass meditation bowl really) And suddenly I realized that the bell could not "resonate" unless it was empty. And that told me something about the "meaning" of being empty oneself.

It gave me a powerful insight, that has never left me. And it shows that learning is not always something you get by having "more." Sometimes it's gotten by having "less." If that makes any sense.

And I suspect nothingness is like "emptiness" if you let it happen to yourself.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the Stillness Dancing

"So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing."
TS Eliot: Four Quartets
 In memory of Lux Umbra Dei, whose Bio said just:
  Gratitude! Gratitude!
There are people in life who have a profound effect on us - even though we may know them all too briefly.   Their presence in our lives challenges us, hints of depths to which we feel drawn

John Main - was another (also known to Lux):
Many years ago we lived near Mt. Savior Monastery in upstate NY and we were privileged to hear John Main give a sermon at Mass and speak about meditation.  Only once before had I heard someone speak so profoundly, from the heart, in simple words, words which led you into the sacred.  He reminded me instantly of hearing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel speak about the holiness of time, when I was in college.  He too had that quality of "knowing" something from the heart - and putting it into the simplest terms, so that each sentence held a universe of meaning.   Later I was able to briefly meet the Dalai Lama.   And that completed the Trinity for me - three leaders, from different faiths, each one in touch with the deepest heart of Reality, each one able to put a lifetime of practice into the simplest words and actions, as if teaching you from heart to heart.
From a review of John Main's biography:
In The Stillness Dancing describes Main’s life as a journalist, soldier, barrister, and Benedictine monk.  His life was a quest for an authentic life of prayer.  While a civil servant in India, he met an Indian Swami who taught him to meditate using a mantra (holy word).  This form of prayer was taken from him when he entered Ealing Abbey, England. As a novice he was directed to adopt a more “traditional” form of prayer.  Much later, after his ordination to the priesthood, John Main discovered that the form of prayer taught by the swami already existed within the mainstream of Western Christianity, but had fallen into disuse.  The biography describes how he spent the rest of his life attempting to restore this form of Christian meditation to the central place it once occupied in the Church.
John Main exercised a profound influence on us as well as upon the monastery itself.  It was his introduction to meditation that led us, decades later and in a round-about way, to another monastery in the mountains of Colorado - in the dead of winter.  It was there, at a meditation retreat, that I came to understand the meaning of "emptiness" ~ when I heard the meditation bell reverberate ~ as if inside myself.   And Lux Umbra Dei rejoiced!  Gratitude!

One thing leads to another....  It is a wonder to write it all down.  Part of this blog's unfolding path ~ a path which is a mystery, even to me.