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.