Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011.06.23 A Condition Exists...

Life is so serious it’s lovely when a quirk of unexpected humor seizes both me and Dick at the same time. It’s so funny we forget to blame or justify.

Background: he tends to leave early and I tend to leave late. We both make it more or less on time but it’s a constant difference over which we tangle.

Hence: when we are readying to head off somewhere he can be seen striking a casual pose leaning against the door post, one leg draped over the other tapping his fingers together. Oh ye of the ample sigh! Very rakish.

I am bustling around always almost ready, “Be right there.” The time is usually exactly when we decided to leave or maybe just a mere 2-3 minutes past that time. Or, our departure time is lost somewhere in my short-term memory fog.

OK I’m ready.

He turns to push buttons to set the house alarm. He punches in the correct code and a voice (don't you just love the almost liturgical solemnity of computer voices?) informs: “A CONDITION EXISTS.....” Then info flashes on screen informing: “movement in guest room.” The alarm won't set if there is movement in the house It's triggered unless it is set for "stay" ie. we're in for the night. Good thing...we wouldn't want to lock up and secure any unattended burglars.

The alarm also blasts if there is movement in the house after it is set and we're out. Once we forgot this sensitive information and our son's Jack Russell terrier Victor ran upstairs to jump on the bed after we left. The computer voice went into apocalypse now mode. We could hear Victor's panicked barking from 2 blocks away before we got the police call that our house had a "condition."

"Conditions" have names, Victor and Lyn. Victor was innocent. I, however, am taking a last look in the mirror or grabbing a cough drop or my T pass, etc. etc.

Now, Dick waits for me to stop being a condition, pushes the alarm buttons, gets the all clear, and we both exit with a grin and a wave saying, “A condition exists!”

Spontaneous laughter is a sign that Spirit is playfully about. Her job is often to lift us beyond idiosyncrasies or little “wars.”

A conditions exists indeed!

Monday, June 27, 2011

2011.06.27 MIRAMAR of Beauty

I’ve just returned from a week’s silent retreat at MIRAMAR in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

MIRAMAR is a five star retreat center, my review.

Entering into the silence is always daunting no matter how may times I tell myself I’ve done this before. I’m afraid of myself.

So I came with armor: a satchel full of books few of which I read, and comfort food, though the meals were ample and I ate everything in sight. Praying and strolling, breathing and gazing into beauty makes me sooooo hungry.

I brought M&Ms. I ate 25 the first night and never touched them again.

MIRAMAR as its name suggests provides a view of the sea, a long distance view, a streak of blue across the horizon. Beaches and a full view are in easy distance but the streak is all I needed because I felt part of a painting, a great work of art.

I came feeling sad and left rejoicing. No, I didn’t forget or cease to love my usual retreat place Mercy Center, closed for renovations. I simply learned to appreciate Godde’s many and varied outfit changes. What a closet!— and we think women are wardrobe addicts.

The grounds of MIRAMAR deserve special mention. They are tended lovingly by a gardener named Yvonne.

Her predecessor was the late “Spike” Dudink of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), the order that owns and manages MIRAMAR. Dudink, an artist, created a Zen garden, exquisite in every blossom, tree and fountain. Retreatants, I was told, used to weep watching Dudink tend each small plant with a tenderness of the quality that assures thriving. This man prayed the gardens into being, an artist like his Creator.

He also created a tabernacle the like of which I’ve never seen. Most are ugly brass vessels, dumpy and unlovely, not fit for any food let alone spiritual food, my opinion. But this one is made of 6 concentric circles, the outermost one about 4 feet in diameter. The outer 3 circles, made it would seem of sturdy wallboard painted in blues from pale to vibrant; the center three of hammered silver, the centermost a raised metal sculpture of Jesus with his two friends, a woman and a man, breaking bread together and recognizing each other in meal and gaze.

The image is from the biblical story of the road to Emmaus in Luke and of course the Christian eucharist, but the blessing of being daily in sweet communion over good food is like a dream to me and perhaps to others. (How many happy-family meals end in tears I wonder?)

Gardener Yvonne is not a monastic and I don’t know her spirituality but you only have to look around to discern divinity in her designs, her prunings and plantings. If a tree is sick it gets immediate attention. This gardener is a birther and healer of plants. I understand why Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus after his resurrection for a gardener. Not a mistake.

And the two trees with their two trunks I mentioned in my last post, the two that grew into one and brought forth a third and altogether different tree? Is that resurrection or what?

(OK I know I project the beauty of some basic Christian ideas onto everything in sight but who could argue with new life ever-renewed & transformed, abundance, and the divinity of all things?)

There is also much human beauty at MIRAMAR. The staff smiled. They greeted you with a nod. They were silent and they spoke. The inside is as well cared for as the outside. The hierarchy or role and rank was obvious but not intrusive, just part of the fabric of life. Some cooked and some cooked eucharist. Some preached using words and some proclaimed truth with breath.

I have to mention the geese, notorious pests. They reminded me a bit of sheep, all day grazing and fouling the grasses and the small pond, their camp ground for now. They are waddly critters unsteady of gate. They followed the leader well. I never saw them fly except to catch up with the line-up doing a quick hop-flutter.

The flock of nine were military, patrolling the grassy slopes in a wobbly line around the pond. The poor things could hardly thread their way through the pond waters because it was so full of their poop. Clockwork regular, they bedded down at the foot of a line of shrubs every night at 8:15 p.m. in a huddle. (The birds, au contraire, stayed up to party and rose before dawn rose.)

At night I heard the geese make muffled grunty sounds too subtle to be croaky pond frogs. Do geese snore? I listened for the odd sound as a child might for a lullaby.

Geese!? I’ve romanticized. But ah, when they fly off in perfect formation, they touch heaven.

Jessica Powers, OCD, a Carmelite sister and fine poet—published!—sums up the spirituality of MIRAMAR and my retreat experience best.

“The desirable thing about beauty is that we can find great rapture in it, without any consideration of our inadequacies. In this vein I have often thought that the beauty of God is more than the love of God. When I think of the love of God, I become aware of my own emptiness of heart; when I think of the goodness of God, I remember my own failure; when I think of the beauty of God, I cease to exist at all. I become a living adoration.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011.06.23 Bursting With Style

I am on a silent retreat this week and there is noise and clattering joy all around me. It is the liturgy of the natural world doing a shout-out for Creator Godde.

Goldfinches dart and swoop in and out of the Lupine.

A tiny redbreast catches my eye as I gaze into a shrub. He is the first baby out of the nest peering peeping to the world in which he will soon fly up.

A topiaried tree leans toward its neighbor. Wait. Look. The two have two trunks but one has leaned into the other's branched topping so they are one. They have merged and as my eye travels up I see an explosion of new growth. A completely other tree, one we would call a Christmas tree, soars upward.

I am not making this up. (I understand why St.Paul wrote this as he struggled to define grace—the indescribable look and feel of divine creativity.)

It smells like lilacs, is the color of new grass, and tastes like the finest red wine accompanied by deep dark real chocolate.

And Godde said to Abram and Sarai. Go forth! Choose life!

And they went.

And from them grew nations and scriptures and a people of covenant blessing.

And God said to Jesus. Go forth! And he went.

And from his healing and teaching grew gratitude and new life for all. And when Jesus hung dying, then dead, and could no longer go forth or sing or pray, could not choose life Godde did it for him.

The beauty of Holiness is the same for humanity as it is for nature. A shout-out!

And Godde says to me, Go forth and Choose life. And I open all my senses and my pores and taste goodness and touch the sky.

It's raining so I grab my umbrella, grouse, then I go forth.

As I go I shout to Godde, Go forth and strut your stuff. Be Aslan. Rush. Hurl wisdom into all souls. Fling your word far, far, far. This is no time for anonymity or letting be. Make lots of noise. Burst with style. Shout out with all your might. Go!

Todo en el aire is pájaro.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

2011.06.19 Trinity, Seamless Garment

It’s Trinity Sunday, time set aside to remember Godde: Holy Divine Three AND One.

I can not imagine a truly seamless garment.

As someone who used to do lots of sewing I know how important seams are and how hard they are to place, straighten and smooth. Seams make boundaries between different kinds of fabric, parts of a pattern designed to fit different parts of a human body, itself full of seams called alternately joints, ligaments or muscles. (If you’re my age, think wrinkles too.)

Body seams delineate functions and demarcate body parts to make sure one part doesn’t intervene or intrude on another. Seams also connect one part to another—loosely.

Seams are orderly, discrete and, depending on the fabric, hard to execute. When I made the bridesmaids’ dresses for my sister’s wedding out of ecru velvet, the cut and pattern were easy but the seams were difficult—long running lines in the lush thick of velvet that stuck and bunched and didn’t cooperate. If a seam isn’t flat the line of the dress looks uneven, bumpy, ugly like a sudden pimple on your nose when you’re fifteen.

There are seams on books too. If you break one you do worse than breaking your mother’s back.

When I would sit in Mercy Center’s chapel on retreat kneeling on a pillow below the tabernacle and the ceiling-to-floor rose portrait it often felt like a seamless continuity a flow with no hardline stitches.

Tabernacle, rose and I, we three totally dissimilar AND one seamless line of being.

In Godde there is no need for categories, territories, borders, no trespassing signs because though different we are all one.

How lovely would be a seamless religion with no need for fear or aggression or proofs or denominational strictures. We would look different in our clothing, trappings, tenets, structures and song according to our churchly and worldly cultures, but we would have the same soul—and know it.

Seam rippers are sharp, small painstaking tools used to remove seams. To rip a seam takes patience, care, courage, commitment, risk, grief and more love than one alone can muster.

Still, Godde is a Seamstress. It is Her design and Her way.

So to honor the seamless Trinity, the long green pentecostal season and Godde the Seamstress, I pray..............

SEW ME A SEAM OF FINEST SILK
DON’T LET YOUR SEAM END LEST THE THREADS
THAT MARK ITS END ARE PULLED
AND THE ELEGANT FLOW OF FABRIC BECOMES
COCOON, OR WORSE, COSMIC CORSET.
UNSEAM ME, DEAR GODDE,
ONE TINY STITCH AT A TIME.
THEN BREAK MY HEART WITH YOUR GRANDEUR.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

2011.06.15 Human Animals?

The editor’s page of the June issue of Presence, journal of Spiritual Directors International, began with an invitation to complete this sentence: THE HUMAN BEING IS THE ONLY ANIMAL THAT......

My first thought was “believes in Godde.” Or, in sophisticated Neibuhrian language, “can self-transcend.”

My next thought was “thinks s/he is not an animal” and I thought this second was more gut-wrenchingly honest.

I don’t know if animals believe in Godde or not; nor can I know if they self-transcend, behave on more than baseline instinct for survival.

My daughter Jill has always loved animals, secretly more than people. She talks to them and tells me they communicate to her or at least she can understand them in her gifted way of loving them. And she has lots of them.

Animals, particularly horses, dogs, cats and certain apes demonstrate intelligence and awareness of heart. Once a horse followed his owner to a lakeside, nudging at her all the way with his velvety nose and imploring with a low whinny that sufficed for words of life-giving compassion—enough to dissuade the young owner from her intent to take her own life.

And I have watched squirrels patiently give their little ones fence-top skittering and nest compilation lessons. And birds place small Blue Jays in the driveway each waiting their turn for their own personal flying lesson.

There is a continuum of creation not a rank order. Creator God is in all of it to the same degree. There is no spiritual hierarchy as human beings imagine. It is all good.

THE HUMAN BEING IS THE ONLY ANIMAL THAT THINKS S/HE IS NOT AN ANIMAL.

The human being might resist the temptation to lift the phrase in the Genesis creation story that has YHWH/God exclaim VERY GOOD about humanity. Get humble.

P.S. The Presence editor suggested this completion: “The human being is the only animal that can learn to live with the mystery of not-knowing.” Another possibility.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011.06.12 Pentecost. What About Israel?

It’s the day of Pentecost for Christians, a day we celebrate the Holy Spirit, an honored member of the Trinity, the self-expression of Godde that is pure energy in motion. Spirit pulls for transformative healing connections throughout creation. The Spirit represents the breadth, the reach of divine compassion. I call Her the Great Connector.

A good friend and writing companion brought me to attention recently asking a question about Israel. She didn’t say What about Israel but wondered if lawn signs might be in order to remind people not to forget Israel and not to abandon her.

It’s a question again of balance, or both/and not either/or.

The concern brought me up short. Of course we haven’t forgotten Israel. How could we? I plan to visit her in 2012.

But concern for Palestinian displacements and harsh defensive Israeli politics has perhaps displaced compassion for Israel. She is a little country with so much at stake, a country that is also full of innocent people who are afraid of losing a dear homeland. Everyone needs a dear homeland and there is room for all.

Spirit helps people and leaders bend without breaking. This peace is Her job now.

If I were to put up a yard sign it would say something like SAVE ISRAEL TOO.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

2011.06.08 Sacramental Dentistry

One would not normally associate a visit to one’s dentist with anything but pain. But in this case I received radical hospitality, spirituality talk for extending to all warm welcome and first class compassion with grace.

The office staff was warm, natural and humorous sharing their confusion about an insurance recipient named “Ee-pis-CO-ple.” We have insurance with the Episcopal Church.

The dentist took time to find out who I was other than the info form. The assistant was equally relational. They went over every tooth in my mouth, all numbered and with each one’s own pride of place and identity. Every move was thoroughly explained and I was asked if I had questions my comfort level checked at every point.

Dr. Gregory André, Silver Lake Dental in Willmington, MA., had a way of jiggling my cheek whereby the Novacain needle did its business with absolutely no pain. Light interesting conversation went on about their weekends above me as the drill did its job. A nice distraction.

While I waited for camera and computer to be set up the assistant Barbara gave me a shoulder massage!

A little camera went into my mouth, took a picture that registered onto a nearby computer where I watched André fashion the tooth that would go into my mouth.

In a half hour VOILA a crown was inserted into the emptiness and I had a new tooth. (If you will need a crown don’t wait till the tooth breaks and you then need root canal.)Is this laproscopic or its equivalent?

The whole procedure took about two hours. When it was done the dentist and the assistant thanked each other and they thanked me for my good work as a patient. Amazing!

The experience was entirely mutual, non-hierarchal, all of us experts, all of us with necessary gifts to give to the task. I was included and my dignity and needs were as important as theirs.

I felt safe, held and, yes loved, the entire time.

And when I went out I found I’d locked my keys in the car and didn’t freak just calmly took the appropriate actions.

This dental practice is a sacrament: an outer sign of an inward and spiritual whole-heartedness.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

2011.06.05 Slow Down for Sabbath

Today in the world the weather slows us down; in fact it can bring some of us to a grinding halt, forcing us to to pay attention.

Occasionally going to Church can slow us down, praying in silence and in community, listening to lessons, sermons, or drifting free; or listening to music or your lover’s breathing next to you—or your own.

I don’t think the current measure of time is a clock. I think it is a speedometer. To wit:


Now I Become Myself
by May Sarton

Now I become myself.
It's taken
Time, many years and places;

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people's faces,

Run madly, as if Time were there,

Terribly old, crying a warning,

"Hurry, you will be dead before--"

(What? Before you reach the morning?

Or the end of the poem is clear?

Or love safe in the walled city?)

Now to stand still, to be here,

Feel my own weight and density!

The black shadow on the paper

Is my hand; the shadow of a word

As thought shapes the shaper

Falls heavy on the page, is heard.

All fuses now, falls into place

From wish to action, word to silence,

My work, my love, my time, my face

Gathered into one intense

Gesture of growing like a plant.

As slowly as the ripening fruit

Fertile, detached, and always spent,

Falls but does not exhaust the root,

So all the poem is, can give,

Grows in me to become the song,

Made so and rooted by love.

Now there is time and Time is young.

O,in this single hour I live
All by myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran.
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

2011.05.31 Three Muses on Spiritual Writing

I have been guided along my way by three Muses—Religion, Spirituality, Feminism. The three often contend for my soul and they also come together as one when it matters most.

These three Muses taught me:

-that Religion offers nourishing gifts like Eucharist, the Bible, and Jesus
-that institutions though clumsy are not the enemy, and that most communal efforts are organized in some way, hopefully placing equal value on every part of the whole.
-that patriarchy is not men’s fault and that women must help to change it for the sake of relationships
-that Spirituality is not only a catch basin for deep and true feelings but an inner crucible where the divine Spirit stokes holy fires within individuals and also takes divine energy beyond the one to the many, igniting healing connections and creating human community
-that Feminism wherever She lands is a force for justice helping realize the radically egalitarian dream that all creation is one and a beloved community is possible
-that all genders, and today there are many variations, are holy
-that some day Femin-ism won’t be needed to urge us along


Spiritual writing at its best pays attention to the Muses as it seeks to plumb the depth dimension of people, places and things. It seeks within the holy, divine, eternal, beyond. It speaks of Mystery which can not be measured replicated or contained in any way because it is not yours; you don’t make it happen; and it does not belong to you though it is graciously given and shared with you.

The paradox of spiritual writing is this: you have to write it, to put it into some kind of words, but the more you try to explain or define it the more it sluices away from you. (See, I've just tried to do it anyway!)

So just write! (Bull Durham as a hesitant baseball player at bat was told: Just bat!)

Write your words. Write it down. If your words are true and deep they may by accident or grace communicate Mystery to someone else.

That’s all you want isn’t it?