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.