Antidotes to Fear of Death

The following poem was written by Rebecca Elson, young astrophysicist studying the first images from the Hubble telescope, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 29. She was not yet forty when she “returned her atoms to the universe” (Maria Popova in Brain Pickings). My friend who just died had a fascination with her relationship to the universe, often referring to herself as “stardust” and captivated with the cosmology of Brian Swimme (The Universe is a Green Dragon.) I thought of her as I read this poem; we have laid on our backs before “eating stars.”

Antidotes to the Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote To fear of death, I eat the stars

Those nights, lying on my back, I suck them from the quenching dark Til they are all, all inside me, Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself into a universe still young, Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space, the light of all the not yet stars Drifting like a bright mist, And all of us, and everything Already there but unconstrained by form.

And sometimes it’s enough To lie down here on earth Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields Of our discarded skulls, Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis, Thinking: whatever left these husks Flew off on bright wings.

Just This

Yesterday at this time, I was blessing the body of my exquisite soul friend. She passed away in the night after a nearly 8 month journey with metastatic cancer. I’ve written a lot about it in my prior posts. Yet today, as much as I wanted to write about her, write about the end, I couldn’t find a way to begin. It all sounded too cliched to say how amazing she was, how loving she was, how creative she was. It wouldn’t explain how our souls wound together like a walk in a labyrinth, just waiting and trusting that the path would unfold before us, how our deepest yearning was to rend the veils that kept us from being with Being. How we swam in the wavy path of the full moon on tropical oceans, how we dressed up in ridiculous costumes and danced to the pull of the Spirit on retreat, how we met and walked and talked ourselves into a friendship that was as deep as a pilgrim path. Could simple words honor the challenge we made to each other to always see “the more to the More”? Do I even know now how that 35 year-old friendship crafted and sculpted my soul, trimmed my fears, exulted my joy?

I surrendered all the trying and just sat, feeling defeated. Maybe I wouldn’t write anything at all. Maybe sometimes that aren’t enough words or the right ones. I sat….and I noticed the flowers in the vase before me on the coffee table, the last of those blooming on my deck. I had cut them and brought them inside to eke out a little more of summer beauty, as the leaves fall and the garden goes fallow.

I realized as I gazed at them, that surprisingly my heart was supremely happy and undeniably content. Just that. I loved the dusty pink of their petals, the petals themselves as they radiated out. I loved their tiny centers, the little seeds that promised life again in the spring. I loved their stillness. I loved their simple Beauty. Their undeniable being just as they are. Their touching closeness. Their steady blooming even as others in the vase were wilting.

Their beckoning me to dwell in simple presence.

Yes, this was our love for each other.

This is our love for each other.

Just this is enough to say.

Zuihitsu Revisited:

I explored this form in a previous blog–it is Japanese for “follow the brushstroke.” What is here now.

  1. It happened this week. Summer became fall. Not because of any date per se, but because I feel the land itself sigh and begin to slow. Just a few leaves, but they are falling, yellow and brown. The high bush cranberry bushes on my path are a brilliant red and soon, but not quite yet the berries will begin to smell as if something has died. The garden has begun to fade and there are big bare patches now where the spinach, peas and turnips have been harvested. The flowers are getting leggy and the bleeding hearts are collapsing. Time to trim and cut. It is dark again at night and it’s like lingering to let go of a lover’s hand to see the light slip away again. And most of all, I know it’s fall, because it’s something in the air–a new chill, a more rugged wind, the scent of snow on the mountain tops in the morning. The rains have begun, my husband is packing for moose camp and I’m harvesting late raspberries. The earth is turning away from the sun in my part of the world and I feel the stillness of deep winter whispering up the valley.
  2. I’m wondering why grief feels so tiring to my body. What is the chemical reaction going on that translates to this sluggishness? Do I ken into her dying, her slowing down? The wedding of her daughter this past weekend miraculously balanced joy with the poignancy of her being able to attend the wedding. Against the odds, she is still here 7 months since the diagnosis and although weak and thin, the inner beauty radiates. But it was like being at a wake for her before she has died. There was a good bye in the ceremony and celebration that added depth and intensity to the wedding, as if we all attuned to that very moment, forgetting ourselves and opening to Love in many expressions. It was so imperfectly perfect. And I am tired. And letting it be.
  3. My 3 year old granddaughter is learning Bible stories and educated me yesterday; she had the creation story down to about Day 3 so there were the heavens and earth, the sky and the water, the sun and the moon and the stars. Then she said, “That’s it.” So no animals, trees or humans in her story. Then she said, “You remember Jesus?” “Yes,” I said. “Well, he just buyed one of the grapes at the animal farm where the giraffes and lions and tigers live. Then he fell asleep where the lions and tigers were super mean.” “Really,” I said. “What did Jesus do?” “He woke up and that was it,” she said. I’m trying to decide if this was an embellished version of Daniel in the lion’s den??
  4. Reading Love Unveiled by A.H. Almaas, in which he quotes this Rumi poem. “To rend, every instant, a hundred veils. The first moment, to renounce life; The last step, to fare without feet. To regard this world as invisible, Not to see what appears to one’s self. “O heart,” I said, “may it bless thee to have entered the circle of lovers, to look beyond the range of the eye, to penetrate the siding of the bosom!” Rending veils is becoming my work now.
  5. I sometimes pull a Tarot card, not for divination but to see what the card evokes in me for the day and how it makes meaning; today I pulled the Major Arcana card called STRENGTH. It shows a woman in a white gown opening a lion’s mouth. An infinity sign is above her head and the scene around her is bright golden and green. After just acknowledging how tired I am, I could read this as a message of hope–that strength will be given to me in some form, power enough to open a lion’s mouth. But it could also mean taming my animal soul–that part of me that lives and reacts by the instinctual needs of survival, being social, finding pleasure. To live beyond these needs meets the truly human soul that is learning to love and to find truth. The infinity symbol represents the never-ending cycle of this evolution. Is this tiredness my animal soul just wanting pleasure instead of this pain? Or my human soul grieving my friend’s dying?
  6. My mother turns 96 tomorrow. I can’t be with her in her locked down nursing home. She will light up with joy to see me if we can connect by FaceTime tomorrow, but she won’t remember we talked when the screen goes dark. Yet I am still there in her. And she is still in me. As the card said that I sent her, “I MISS MY MOM”–in many ways.
  7. “If you realize all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold onto. If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Trying to control the future is like trying to take the Master Carpenter’s place; when you handle the Master Carpenter’s tools, chances are, you’ll cut yourself.” Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

The Gift of a Ring

I am wearing a ring that I once gave to my friend who is dying. She returned it to me this week, along with several sets of earrings we bought together over the years as we traveled, both outwardly and inwardly. There’s the Eiffel Tower earrings from our trip to Paris, the Celtic earrings we bought in the lower bowels of the abbey in Iona. Moonstones earrings that we often traveled with in tropical places and laid out in the light of the full moon to “recharge”. And the ring with the pearl that I am wearing now that symbolized for me the luminescent quality of her being when I gave it to her. Only now, the pearl is missing from the ring. And she doesn’t have the energy or will to find it. But I want it on my hand. I am wearing it without a setting, without that pearl and it feels strangely right.

When I sense into what that rightness is, it’s not symbolic really of the loss I feel as she is leaving this earth– which would seem to make sense. There is an obvious hole in the setting, something surely missing. But that sentiment is not here. My months of shock, dread, rejection, descent, nausea, weeping, and anxiety have all quieted down. What is here is a surprising sense of wonder. What will I replace in the setting? Another pearl? A stone that is meaningful to each of us? Even a diamond to represent the eternal nature of our soul connection? What will I find? What will find me? I want something that isn’t so much keeping a memory but a continuing of our travel together, but now in a new way. Something of wonder, of mystery, of potential.

Another gift from her was a small sterling silver mobius–the never-ending twisted loop. On it are inscribed the words, “My possibilities are endless.” I let my fingers rub over its edges, feeling not only possibility of her journey onward into realms beyond this one, but the endlessness of love that will travel with her. That’s a wonder too.

“The Thrilling Emergency of the Present”

In answer to a question put to him by a follower on his website, Nick Cave answered her question about the lapping circles of loss when a loved one dies with these beautiful words:

” I think this feeling you describe, of alertness to the inner-spirit of things — this humming — comes from a hard-earned understanding of the impermanence of things and, indeed, our own impermanence. This lesson ultimately animates and illuminates our lives. We become witnesses to the thrilling emergency of the present — a series of exquisite and burning moments, each extinguished as the next arises. These magical moments are the bright jewels of loss to which we cling.” (the redhandfiles.com)

I have just read the tender words of my dear friend, Bill who wrote his update on his wife’s journey with cancer. His clarity and courage brought my tears and gratitude for his integrity on a journey he never wanted to take. Now there are no more treatment options and the plan to bring her home today and begin hospice for her final days is clear. And his acceptance begins.

After reading his entry on the Caring Bridge website, I was called to the door by a friend, and as I stepped out into the morning sunlight, a sparrow hit the kitchen window beside me and fell stunned to the deck a few feet from my door. I groaned with the sadness of watching it suffer, and wavered in my wanting to bend down and help it or let it be. Another sparrow landed at the foot of the stairs to the deck, waiting. My neighbor and I stood and held our breath for a few moments, staying still. And then suddenly it revived itself, shook its head and flew into the branches of the birch tree nearby. I noticed the leaves of the tree were each illuminated by the morning sun, so that they were shining, illuminated, iridescent. As Nick Cave said so brilliantly, I was a witness “to the thrilling emergency of the present.”

This now is my fervent intention, my desire to infiltrate my way of being– as each day becomes a vigil for my friend, my Anam Cara, my Kasama, my soul sister of 36 years. I will honor her by being witness to the bright jewels of loss that will wake me to the wonder of this life, this impermanent life. I will cherish what comes, the way of the shining in the dark that pervades, the lilt of love that embroiders my encounters, that holds my gentle exquisite tears. Tears themselves small jewels as they gather and fall.

Her dying shakes me awake, though I lie stunned…

in that thrilling emergency…

I remember

flying.

Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

And Now…

It’s been four weeks since what we have taken to calling, Black Sunday. On June 14th, my friend who has Stage 4 cancer, called me from the hospital. I hadn’t talked to her since she was admitted and had emergency surgery for a secondary infection. She called me to tell me goodbye. She had decided that she was stopping treatment and going to palliative care. She would just stay in the hospital to make it easier on her family as it wouldn’t be long without the antibiotics to curb the infection.

I remember snippets of our conversation–some special memories, promises I’d made about her children, our cherished gift of our shared love. I struggled to keep the conversation going, just one more little laugh between us, one more confidence, one more assurance that we would always be connected. But other than that she had so few preferences about her ending. Just simple and easy. Whatever we wanted for a celebration of life. And I could sense that I was holding on when she asking for just the opposite.

That night and the next morning was a weeping time, sharing of the news with close friends, texting each other pictures of us together, consoling each other, sitting in silence. And as we had done since she was diagnosed, we howled at 8:00 p.m. facing the far away hospital.

Then the next morning her husband called and said simply, “Linda is back in the game.” Overnight some of the systems that had seemed to shut down were working again. The white cell count was down. The docs assured her that if she wanted it, she could have more time with her family. Ten days later she was released from the hospital. She is home, finding her way back to eating and sleeping and walking on her own. She has lots of preferences again. She wants us to be around and there is much that we can do to assist.

And I..I find that I have been transformed. I almost feel guilty about how much my dear friend is giving me life as she struggles to do the same. Somebody asked what it was like to let her go and then she’s back? Was I resistant or even irritated in some irrational way? I could see what she meant. But somehow in that goodbye phone call, when I at last, had really surrendered my control over keeping her here and had sensed her beyond her bodily form, ready to be formless again, a great peace came, even joy. I remember saying to her, “I think you are going to feel so much more at home where you are going than being here–you’ve always felt part saint to me.” She laughed.

Now a month later, that peace that I thought might be temporary is still here. I sometimes stop and look within deeply to see if I am just in denial, protecting myself from feeling the grief that will come again. But I can’t find it. There’s no sick feeling in my gut anymore. No feeling of waking up with a sense of doom. When I am with her, I see actual luminous light around her. I feel thrilled when I walk in and there she is. Another moment with her or a whole day, just cooking her food she likes or bringing her something to drink or walking the dog or just having one of those conversations about spirituality that we both so love to delve into. I’ve probably said a thousand times or more in my life to “just be present to the moment”. But that was almost me trying to be present, like I should be present because that’s a good thing to do–like “stop and smell the roses.” But now, I simply am living that with her. I am wrapped up in the cherished moment, always sensing it, always grateful, always feeling this ridiculous joy inside just being able to find the right protein bar she can eat.

I don’t know what it’s like for her. She says she made the decision to stay with treatment to give her family a little more time to let her go. She never says she needed it. Although she is stronger every day, it’s incredibly hard still with all the meds and pokes and bandage changes, all the push to eat instead of enjoy eating, all the encouragement to get back up the flight of stairs when just making a loop around the house with her walker takes effort.

The tumors are still there and without the immunotherapy, they have grown a bit from a month ago. Even that news doesn’t strike me in the gut like the last time I heard it. Perhaps it’s no surprise now. Yet also, I have less of a line between good news and bad news. I’ve even let go of that. Who am I to say what is best? For her to stay here or move on to a higher realm and greater purpose? There is a softness about just being here and now, not turning away from reality, letting myself feel what I feel, and watching what grace can do with an open heart. Knowing a different dimension of what I’ve called Love.

The Eighth Commandment

I grew up in a tradition where in my 7th and 8th grade years, I went to confirmation class on Saturday morning in the basement of St. Paul Lutheran Church without fail. There were 12 of us in my class who mostly listened to the pastor tell us what it meant to be a Lutheran. (No spirited discussion and certainly no questions!) We followed the format of a little book written by Martin Luther called the Lutheran Catechism. He explained in it the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, Baptism, Confession and the Eucharist–pretty much covering what it meant to be Lutheran. We were required to memorize not only each of these tenets of faith, but also Luther’s meaning to each one. (That would be unheard of in today’s confirmation classes where there is more understanding of learning styles.) Then at the end of our two years, we were grilled by a member of the church council to recite the meanings in order to be approved for confirmation as a member of the church.

All this is just context for what I really want to write to this morning. And that is Luther’s meaning of the 8th commandment–because it was the hardest for me to follow. In the 8th grade, I didn’t think I had a problem with the other commandments–I loved God, I didn’t swear, I went to church every Sunday, I honored my parents, I didn’t kill anyone, steal or covet my neighbor’s stuff ( well, maybe) or his “wife or his manservant or his maidservant.” But number 8…. that was a challenge.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

Luther’s meaning of this commandment came to mind as I watch our civil discourse–and gird myself for the political election season ahead. What if we followed it? Or rather the tougher question, what if I followed it–since that is person I can change. To the ways of the world, Luther’s meaning appears what? Naive? Idealistic? Impossible? To those who don’t like our President or his opponent, for instance, it might imply that a person cannot point out the faults or perceived lack of character for the highest political office. And certainly that is what it seems I want to see, what is easiest to see, what gives me a feeling of power over someone that makes me feel powerless. And powerlessness leads to hate.

I’m weaving my way down a crooked path as I write this but there is a core part of me, a cellular memory of the meaning of this commandment that still feels its truth. When I first see a person’s faults, no matter how grievous, before I see that person as a human being, I contribute to the violence in the world. I don’t feel I am condoning bad behavior or need to be silent on issues, rather that I recognize it and that I could, at the same time, have eyes to see the original divinity of the person. I believe the 8th commandment still conveys the Divine intention for us as human beings–to live in harmony, to enjoy life and to love one another.

We can do that loving in remarkable ways. A black runner recently was running through a neighborhood in Anchorage when a white woman drove up in an SUV and asked him his name, what he was doing and why he was there. And mentioned that she knew a policeman lived nearby. The man felt then that he was being targeted because of his race and had his own cellular reaction of fear–and couldn’t continue running in the neighborhood. The exchange was recorded and was put on social media. Within days, a group of 50 people organized and came to run with the man through the same neighborhood–and to their surprise, local neighbors gathered with signs and cheers to urge him on, exactly at the point of the interrogation. It brought tears to my eyes to read it. And now in retrospect, I can say this spontaneous crowd of people, “defended him, spoke well of it and explained everything in the kindest way.”

And here is the part I resist–doing the same for the woman in the SUV. What fear or hate drives her life? Where did she learn prejudice? What is her story? And as I write this, I remember when I was attacked by a black man in a gray hooded sweatshirt as I was running the riverwalk in San Antonio one early morning. Can I let go of that cellular memory of terror? And here we go again, can I now forgive that man, not knowing his history? Not knowing what compelled him to take that action? Was it his story of oppression and powerlessness that led to aggression? The recent slogan, “We’re all in this together” means more to me in this moment. We are all in this cycle of fear, this lack of understanding. We all struggle with forgiveness and wanting to be right. We all want to be heard rather than listen– this breaking of the Eighth Commandment.

There is so much more to say obviously. So much more for me to learn about my own racism, my own judgment of others and of my self. I only know this: when I don’t speak well of another person, I always feel a little slimy, like I have colluded with hatred. Like I have not honored who I truly am and who that other person is– a human being of Being.

Lord, have mercy.

Writing in the Dark

It’s 1:00 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I haven’t written in a while as the words almost hurt and the grief does. I’ve been thinking about this grief, living this grief. The acute exquisite grief of hearing my friend was put on the terminal list at Providence after collapsing at home. The only hope–a surgery that might also kill her. Then she makes it through surgery. But each day now a vigil. No cure.

The continuing grief of my mother who feels she is in some sort of limbo, no longer knowing where her home is and not understanding why we don’t come to get her. The second fracture now has led to a third. Her mind remembering less and less and unfortunately, unable to remember that my siblings visit outside her window and I send cards and call. A grief of losing her before she dies, a grief of sensing her abandonment, a grief of not being able to be by her side because of the corona virus.

Grief for all those dying alone. Grief for separation of families and friends. Grief for the homeless and vulnerable with this virus, grief for those who have lost jobs and hope. And not knowing when it will end.

And then this grief of our, my, racism revealed yet again in the death of George Floyd. Grief that I have been silent. Grief of the suffering this has caused. Grief grief grief that as my 23 and Me genetic site tells me, we are 99.5% the same–and yet we see only the .5% difference. It’s incredible. And in seeing it, we fear, judge and oppress. I grieve our human race. For a species called homo sapiens, literally meaning “wise ones”, we have such a long way to go to truth and wisdom.

But what I’ve also learned about grief, is that it comes from the same place as love–my heart. There is a grief of loss, a grief of compassion, a grief of suffering yet they all come from the heart. The greater the grief, the greater the love of what is grieved. I don’t reject my grieving; I won’t try to avoid it. It may lead me home.

I am not writing anything terribly original in this post. But I am writing it down here in the darkness, sending it out. Not staying silent about our shared human condition. Trusting in the power of Love.

Everything Happens For a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved

My niece, Laura, recently sent me a link to a podcast called TTFA: Terrible: Thanks for Asking. I thought it was witty and funny, a little irreverent and provocative. The particular interview was with Kate Bowler, the author of the book, Everything Happens For a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. The segment is entitled: Life after Certainty. (ttfa.org)

Kate Bowler grew up in a Mennonite background which she named a collective faith; “God shows up with people and casseroles.” You don’t suffer by yourself and the community had very low expectations of material goods; theirs was a God who prided Himself on closeness.”

So when a new mega church came to town, she began to be curious about this faith where the congregation gave an offering to the pastor to buy a motorcycle that he then drove around on stage. She called this new theology the Prosperity Gospel; basically God wants you to prosper; and faith was a spiritual power that brought you wanted; cars, kids, wife, wealth, health and a good life. God will give you what you want. It was so different from her modest faith and so fascinating to Kate that she focused on it for her senior thesis in college and for her master’s degree.

She started attending a lot of mega churches to learn more and understand the attraction. Some of the common wisdom in the prosperity gospel seems pretty mainstream these days; “Everything Happens for a Reason.” “God has a plan.” “God closes a door but opens a window.” “The best is yet to come.” “God is building a choir of angels.” (at death). She became a professional academic digging into prosperity gospel in society.

What’s the prosperity gospel? “It’s a language of faith,” she says. “You release the power with words and thoughts.” Everything must be positive. Words are like magic that make it come to pass. Health, wealth and things going well for family will come to you. There were frequent healing rallies for mental illness, physical illness, and acquiring wealth–a belief that all things could be made right in their lifetime; anything is possible; it demands enthusiasm; it expects miracles; “if you think the right things, your life will be better.”

The Prosperity gospel seems encouraging, but it has a sharp edge; what happens if it doesn’t come true? Then of course, it’s your fault and you need to fix it. That’s extremely hard when there’s a serious illness, loss of a child, or a suicide, for instance. “It feels like an indictment,” she said. “If I’m sick, my body had to fit into their belief.” You feel like a failure. If good things happen, thanks to God. If bad things happen, it’s on you.

When I was in a theological seminary, 1999-2003, the professors called this prosperity gospel the Theology of Glory. Same idea. They contrasted this theology with what they felt was more the reality of life; the Theology of the Cross. Good things happen; bad things happen, but God is in it all. As part of that training I was a hospice chaplain for three months, visiting people who were deemed to have less than six months to live. One in particular had lived her life purely by the Prosperity Gospel. She was so positive, bright, charming. She had a beautiful home on a lake and 3 cars in the driveway. She was absolutely devoted to praying and reading her Bible. I remember that Bible so clearly; she had used yellow marker to underline all the passages about healing. And the ones that Jesus spoke of , she also underlined in pink. Most of her New Testament was underlined with some kind of ink and side notes she had made. The pages were worn and bent with her constant reading. The trouble was that this huge tumor in her bowel kept growing. For a few months, her friends from church came to pray and read at her bedside, staying positive and pronouncing that Jesus would heal her. But when she didn’t get better, she told me, they stopped coming. I sat with her weekly for those months, as she struggled with reconciling what she had been told and what was the reality of her life. It was one of the greatest lessons in my life to just listen and be present. This had been her truth that had held her for so long. It pained me to see how she struggled when it no longer supported her. One day as we lay in the bed together propped up, and she was reading me more verses, she stopped and looked at me and said simply, “Maybe Jesus thought of it another way.” I nodded, “Maybe so.” She came to her theology of the Cross in her own way.

Living with these existential questions is complicated and messy at best. With Kate it became messy. Just at the peak of her life, when she had the job she dreamed of, the husband who loved her, the child she waited for, she received news that she had stage 4 cancer. And she realizes that even though she had studied the prosperity gospel for years and knew its limitations, she dropped into that way of thinking herself. “Didn’t I think I was earning myself out of this by having a hard working life?” Even as an objective observer, she was looking for certainty like everyone else. We want to figure out the mechanism for it to work out. When it doesn’t, how does hope feel? “I was going to out-cheer cancer; I was going to be the best cancer patient to deserve to be saved,” she said. “I never stopped auditioning for the role of deserving love.” Finally she began to write out all her questions and frustrations. “Why did I think I wouldn’t be here? What secret prosperity gospel do we all have?” she asks.

I encourage you to hear the rest of the podcast as she explores friendship during crisis and friendship in the chronic long haul of illness. (“I need a chronic, incurable friend.” )Not to ruin the story, but she is still alive 5 years later, laughing often, living on the edge. Hear her wisdom from this place also on her Ted Talk or visits her website, katebowler.com.

“Everything happens,” she summarizes, “and we don’t know the reason.”

Maybe it’s not about climbing a mountain

I realized after driving home last night from seeing my friend who has cancer, that my whole way of being with her and with her diagnosis shifted. I didn’t do anything or figure it out or make a new plan. But as I drove home with the sun still high in the sky at 8:00 p.m., the mountains glistening like diamonds, the birch trees greening in the softest hues imaginable, I realized I was at peace with everything just as it was.

There was no logic to it. Just days before I was lost and stumbling and angry and trying hard to climb a mountain of emotions. Yet now that seems so far away and even amusing to me. It must be grace to feel such a turning to acceptance, but even more than acceptance–which seems to have a passive reluctance embedded in it– it’s like aligning with the truth.

It reminds me of the question the spiritual teacher, Jeff Carreira ( jeffcarreira.com) often asks: “If there’s no problem, what is here?” That seems to sum up where I am. If I don’t look at her illness as a problem, I am open to seeing so much of what else is here that is truly divine, like the beauty of Eagle River Valley as I drove home. Or the deep stillness we had together as we meditated and mused about how to transform hate into peace. Or sampling together a new recipe I found for spinach artichoke lasagna and loving it and saying it was good.

My friend said it in another way; “I’m so grateful I can eat. It tastes so good again. And drink without throwing up. And walking, yes walking standing up straight.” It’s so simple. Just be here now. She is showing me, living it. I’ve said it so many times. It has come and gone in my practice. Yet I feel this as a turning point in my soul life. I do not need to reject anything. Anything. If instead I turn to what I want to reject, things soften, open up and relax–amazingly enough. It’s not that they might soften, open up and relax. They actually do. I’ve learned this repeatedly on my spiritual path in the Diamond Approach. Yet, my friend’s pain and suffering and life-threatening disease seemed too much to turn toward in these past months. Grace reminds me now, even this is not too much for Love to transform.

I want to say this isn’t a way of avoiding the real pain of watching her deal with her cancer and all that it means for her and her family. I’m not rejecting that either. It will arise again. And I will allow myself to feel it and turn to it and see what else is there. I will be met. There is a deeper foundation that holds it all now. I don’t even want to name it, but it is here now.

Julian of Norwich was a nun and medieval mystic who wrote the oldest surviving book written in English by a woman, The Revelations of Divine Love. She received visions during a life-threatening illness and recorded what she was shown. One of these is “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.” 

I will end here with the quote from that book that is most familiar, reassuring and challenging to me– beyond logic, yet I want to live its wisdom: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Eagle River Valley in springtime