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

Learning How to Climb a Different Mountain

I’ve been a visitor to Denali National Park since 1975 and each time I approach the entrance, I feel a strange elation–for I’ve learned from experience, anything can happen here. This vast wildness fuels the wild naturalness in me. I both relax into the letting go of all my roles in life as I pass the final checkpoint at Savage River and then tense with the excitement what may happen here where I’m not in control–where beauty may overwhelm me or wildlife thrill me or an awakening may come here just being close to Denali itself.

Once I literally bumped into a moose as I hiked through a thick spruce forest during the rutting season. My partner was calling for the bull, but instead we bumped into one of his harem, eyes red, hormones flowing. I was so close I looked up into her nostrils that were flaring, ears laid back and eyes wide open. She didn’t move, but she huffed, her breath hitting my face. I didn’t move either. I stared into her fear and confusion and she into mine. Then I backed away, saying soothing words, “There, there, momma, so sorry, so sorry,” and she granted me the mercy of standing still while I backed away. She could have stomped me down, but instead we were wild and close.

I once saw caribou in the rain on the Toklat River so near I felt I could be part of the migration. I still remember that bend in the wide braided river where they were moving to an ancient rhythm that I couldn’t sense. But I felt their purpose and a kind of wisdom old and slow. Their eyes shifted to take me in as I sat and sketched them. A pause. And then a continued slow, undeterred walk to the inner siren that moved them one and all down that gray slate river, leaving me behind and just a little desolate.

And once I saw the rare jaeger, hovering about the muted green tundra. The bus driver stopped and jumped up out of excitement to point it out to the six of us on the nearly vacant bus. It was raining hard, yet just then, in that very moment, the clouds parted and a shaft of sun spotlighted the rare and beautiful bird as it searched for sustenance, glistening and sparkling in the raining sun; and for a few moments I did not know I was a soggy tired body in a bus. I was the rain and the sun and the ferocious intent of that bird.

And once I was making noise as I walked up Tattler Creek, the creek making almost as much noise gurgling and chuckling and most likely gossiping as was its namesake, when a golden grizzly broke out of the alders and brush up above me. She had heard me and chose to give me my leave. How humbling when she was the queen of this place. With one swat, she could have barreled over me, impatient with the intrusion. But she showed me compromise. Her body moved effortlessly up the steep side of the canyon, body golden and flowing, her head and legs a dark brown. I began to breathe again, felt my aliveness.

And this was the place I first climbed a real Alaskan mountain. I was helping out with a sheep survey with a biologist friend of mine. We were on our way up to count Dall sheep on Igloo Mountain. It was thus the first time I also learned about how to weave my way through alders, which always seem to be at the base of the mountain. If you fight them, they will fight you back. But if you go slowly and feel the branches and where they give, you can almost feel elegant in the process. The slope suddenly steepened after breaking through the alders and I couldn’t stand up anymore. With my hands clutching for a hold and my feet searching for purchase, each step was an effort. Lungs burning and calves aching, I was taking big steps to keep up, but then my partner whispered, “Small steps, small steps.” I adjusted. I felt the rightness of this rhythm. Small steps changed my breathing, and I felt the needed surrender to the terrain. We climbed and traversed until near the top, the slope eased and we were in the wonder of alpine flowers–dryas octopetala, moss campion, pink pincushion, dwarf harebells–all clinging to a scratch of tundra. It was here at the very top that the Dall rams abide. We could follow their narrow trail, marked with tufts of white hollow hair and little balls of scat. At one point, I made the mistake of looking down. Only six inches of trail kept me from plunging a couple thousand feet down a rocky slope. I wavered. But I was already on the trail. My only choice was to do as I had done. To focus on what was right in front of me and take another step. We found those Dall rams, crawling on our bellies, slowly, taking our time. The thrill of seeing those regal animals on that mountain top altered my soul.

This altering of soul I remember– climbing that mountain and the wildness of that park– as I now live in wild times, when anything could happen. And yet I’m not relaxed and there is not the same anticipation as I had visiting Denali. What I’m learning now is how to climb the mountain of uncertainty that comes with having my dear soul sister so ill with metastatic cancer. And if not insult enough, during a pandemic. It’s unimaginable not to be able to be by her side, not able to give her a hug or hold her hand. And after 9 weeks of chemo-induced vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, brain fog, and insomnia, it wasn’t worth it. It didn’t work. It didn’t work. On now to the experimental treatment. The journey stretches out ahead dark and unknowable. A narrow trail with lots of exposure. How am I to be with her? It’s like climbing a mountain– through thick alders, struggling up a steep slope, finding it hard to breathe, wavering with gut-wrenching fear. So these old old lessons arise as I hold the memory of that first ascent of Igloo Mountain. Old wisdom is what I need now. Maybe that is why it comes back to me–learning how to climb this unnerving mountain has me staggering. The mountain says, “Move with the same elegance through obstacles, sensing the way through.” I know on one hand this wisdom holds true. It’s exactly what I need to do. But I’ve barely broken through the alders of this mountain. Really, I want to just scream, throw things and demand a better explanation from whoever God is in this.

I got to see her last night–on her back deck, both of us with masks on, 10 feet apart. She wearing her blue cap to keep her bare head warm and me in my turban, trying to imagine no hair. She’s thinner. She’s reflective, grateful and gracious as always–still pays great attention to detail, still loves to talk about her grandchildren, still brightens with creativity. Others have gathered too to wish her well, make prayer flags, dance in her labyrinth while she watches and we all howled. We are her wolfpack. It’s good, I tell myself. This is enough. This moment. This laughter. This joy. This deep connection. But in my car on the way home, I feel a little desolate.

I’ve had some nausea since I first learned about it 10 weeks ago. It does make me sick. I’ve learned to say those same soothing words to myself as I said to the moose when I’m torn open, “There, there, I know, so sorry, so sorry.” I’ve backed away from the brute force of my friend’s reality at times, but I’ve never been in denial. In fact, I am what they say, “preparing myself.” Oh yes, there are “flowers” of defiant, rugged beauty along the way, delicate and hardy as those alpine flowers. I’ve seen love in the tenderest of ways that tip me back to balance and hope. The new treatment seems to be helping. I’ve seen some miracles. But I’m just starting up that steep slope, breathing hard, aching, reciting my mantra, “small steps, small steps.” Finding my way to the top.

View near the top of Igloo Mountain, looking across to Cathedral Mountain in Denali National Park 9/19

Zuihitsu: A Perfect Form for the Times

I was introduced to a new writing form today on a forum I follow called 49 Writers. ( Alaska is the 49th state to join the Union.) They’ve devoted a post a day to bridge the gaps in meeting with fellow writers during the pandemic restrictions. Today’s post was from John Morgan of Fairbanks who defines a zuihitsu as ” a Japanese form involving loosely related prose sections, often numbered. Calling on free association, it makes use of diary material, lyrical fragments, and brief essays. The word zuihitsu means “follow the brushstroke.”” I’m intrigued to give it a try.

Feels Like Spring: May 3, 2020

  1. The buds on the birch tree by the deck have hesitantly emerged. After all, it was still 33 degrees last night. But those 55 degree days of sun are alluring. Local wisdom says when those buds are as big as a squirrel’s ear, we can plant. I’m watching for squirrels.
  2. I’m planning a party for a friend who is on cancer treatment. She’s been on strict quarantine of course. Yet with precautions, she and her husband agreed that some social interaction would be healing. But I never had to take into a consideration that I could kill someone if I had a party. We are planning the distance apart we can take on the deck and everyone is to BYOM–bring your own mask. Sanitizers will be at the base of the stairs to the deck. No food. Provide your own drink and glass. If you bring a gift, wipe it down with chlorox wipes or just don’t bring one. Whew. Sounding less like a party. Counting on Love to carry us through.
  3. My three year old granddaughter told me yesterday that “My shadow very loves me.” I said, “Oh how do you know?” She explained,”Because when I’m swinging or running or on my scooter, it always comes with me.” Very love.
  4. Took a deep breath and tried going to Costco for the first time since the shutdown. The variety of masks in colors, styles and sizes alone is engaging. But when I got hemmed in by carts near the cheese aisle, I had some momentary panic. I don’t want to think of my fellow human beings as toxic to me–but I did.
  5. If not for the pandemic, I would be at a campground in Capitol Reefs National Park right now. But the Park is closed, my reservation money has been sent back and we couldn’t drive our camper through Canada anyway with the borders closed. I haven’t been home in April for a long time. So I’ve planted seeds, seeds and more seeds. My dining room table is now the greenhouse. There is that moment of looking a seed that is almost microscopic and trying to believe that will become a green thriving plant. Yet they are pushing up through the black soil and leaning with all their might toward the light of the window. It’s hard to believe a virus so so much smaller than that seed can kill. Yet I see the statistics every night on the late news. I’m glad it’s the season of long days here where I rarely see the dark anymore. I’m leaning into light too.
  6. A notice went out from the local church that if the church buildings open up again for worship, there can only be 20 people inside. And no communion. No greeting handshake, no sharing of the peace. And no singing. “A singer can spray up to 27 feet,” the message advises. I notice I’m humming hymns much of the time these days as I putter in the yard. No conscious intent to do so, they just arise. My latest is What Wondrous Love is This O My Soul.
  7. My mother is still in isolation at the rehab facility after her fall and resulting hip fracture. It’s 3500 miles away from me. Her dementia keeps her isolated as well from understanding where she is, why she is there and why the heck we don’t get her out of there and take her home. The adjoining facility for those in assisted living has an outbreak of Covid19. I wait for daily updates and send her emails through the social worker.
  8. One day at a time has taken new meaning. I wake up, sense my body and with a sigh of relief say to myself, “I’m not sick.”
  9. I didn’t want to write about the virus today.
  10. ” It is I who must begin. Once I begin, once I try– here and now, right where I am, not excusing myself by saying things would be easier elsewhere, without grand speeches and ostentatious gestures, but all the more persistently–to live in harmony with the “voice of Being,” as I understand it within myself–as as soon as I begin that, I suddenly discover, to my surprise, that I am neither the only one, nor the first, nor the most important one to have set out upon this road. Whether all is really lost or not depends entirely on whether or not I am lost.” A poem by Vaclav Havel.

Breaking Open at Break Up

It was magic. In the morning my labyrinth was covered in snow. In the afternoon it had appeared. It was the first day that felt like warmth in the air again, a warmth that stopped me, and willed me to stop and turn around in all directions to see from whence it had come. It was as if someone had broken into winter and with great stealth and in rich stillness, the earth reappeared. The solid ground was still there under the months of heavy snow cover. The sodden leaves strewn across the labyrinth spoke of the distant fall. The broken branches littering its circuits bore testimony of winter storms. Yet now the spiraling paths in the labyrinth were appearing again, the paths unchanged as I expected, yet NEW.

I hear anew each night the toll that the COVID19 virus is taking on the world. More deaths, more hospitalizations, more cases, more frustration, more anger to open up business again (busy-ness) again, more doubt, more grief. And each night I hear of more kindnesses; food deliveries, drive-by parties, donations of masks, medical personnel volunteering to return to work, artwork on sidewalks, donated online sessions of music and spiritual and social healing. A willingness to close down, to shelter in, to not fly, to stay 6 feet apart to save lives. All so new to a ways of life now, all part of what is here now.

The ground is soggy with the melt and the snow that still clings outside the edges of the labyrinth is mushy and soft, just like my heart these days. I pull on my breakup boots, feeling the ritual of that act that marks spring in Alaska. Stepping into the labyrinth, new questions arise as I walk the loopy spirals to the center. Do I risk getting the virus by staying in contact with my children and grandchildren? Or do I savor this time with them when they are out of school and wanting to be with me, even though it could possibly be the “death of me”? Am I afraid of death? Or afraid of the idea of it? Better safe than sorry? Or take care with good precautions and not let my life be run by fear? Is this a time to face the challenge of taking better care of self than of others? Yet isn’t this a time for love as its never been before in the world? Won’t I be protected and held? Aren’t I healthy enough to withstand the virus if it does come?

Amid the churning, churning, churning of these questions in my mind, there is something else here. A rising sense of being quiet comes as I walk and turn and wind to the center of this sacred path. It takes its time, it slowly reveals itself. It is a quiet that is greater than the questions or the fear or the doubt or confusion. It’s not the satisfaction of getting clear answers. It is simply stillness again.. as another way of being. The psalmist said it simply as “Be still and know that I am God.” As psalmist, I write,

You ask me to be still, O Beloved as the world weeps.

You ask me to trust when I cannot know if the virus will strike me down.

You ask me to be and not to do.

To stay home, go within, shelter myself, and simply be still.

That simple.

Be still.

I listen as you wish me spring,

as you bring me spring again.

It’s Time to Howl

I met a woman from Mill Valley, California last night online as part of a course I’m taking called Live the Sacred Blessings of the Women Mystics and Goddesses. After the teaching portion of the class, we were put into breakout rooms on Zoom. (seems to be a big part of my life now) As we were ending the session, she mentioned that she needed to go because at 8:00 it was time to go outside her door and howl. Taken aback, I said, “Did you say howl?” ‘

“Yes,” she said. “The whole valley does it at 8:00. It just seems the time in our world to howl. Howl for anger, frustration, joy, connection, grief, or whatever comes up. We just go out and howl.”

I’ve been wanting to write something about this time in the life of the world right now as the pandemic has rearranged our routines, our assumptions, our awareness of mortality. But it seems so MUCH is being written and said. Yet this is what I want to put out into the world and put into my life. I just want to HOWL right now. I want to howl that people are dying alone; I want to howl that my fellow sojourners on this planet are without work. I want to howl that my best friend has metastatic cancer and the chemo isn’t working but I can’t sit by her bedside; I want to howl that my mom broke her hip and is confused with dementia and I can’t fly to be with her or enter the locked down rehab facility; I want to howl that my sister has pneumonia at a time this is more than dangerous for her to leave home; I want to howl that I have to check myself all the time when I see another person first as a possible carrier of a disease instead of a human being; I want to howl when I can’t see my grandkids because their mom works in a medical clinic. I want to howl at all that we just don’t know yet about this virus or how we should adequately respond.

And then…. I want to howl at the full knowing of how precious my family and friends are to me especially NOW when I can’t hug them and go to them. I want to howl at the beauty of the moon and all it teaches about light the darkness. I want to howl at the great space that has opened in my heart as I have this time to meditate and inquire and write and just be. I want to howl at the pussy willows just beginning to bud and the way my labyrinth is slowly appearing in my yard as the snow melts. I want to howl that I never felt so close to the chickadees in my bird feeder and how they too have never flown so close to me and landed by my chair. I want to howl at the mountains draped in white and the way Eagle River flows clear in the spring as the ice hangs on a foot thick on the banks.

I want to howl at being a human being that can live a life so rich and full of potential and that a tiny tiny virus can kill me. Tonight and every night at 8:00, I’m going to. I am going to howl in my valley.

I listen to see if you will howl too. Join the wolf pack.

The Words I Would Miss

Sometimes when I’m reading or listening to conversation I will hear a word that turns up the corners of my mouth. A little thing called joy arises. And I say that word again and again, feeling it in my mouth, noticing how the air moves or how my lips accommodate to pronounce it. More than pronouncing though, it feels like announcing, “Here is a word that I never knew I loved until I heard it.” There is no rhyme to why I like a word in this intimate way; it isn’t the meaning. It isn’t the length. Or certain sounds that letters make. It is as if I’ve seen the soul of that word and why it absolutely must be in language. Who said it first? What compelled that exact word into existence? Why do I hear it and feel it resonate in my heart? I love the mystery of it. Below are a few of the many that I hold cupped in my hands like a cherished gift. And say when I move closer to who I AM.

Suffice. Impeccable. Nuanced. Similitude. Preposterous. Incandescence. Segue. Luminosity. Plethora. Flourish. Voluptuous. Labyrinthine. Bereft. Mythos. Solace. Shimmer. Quintessential. Speculate.

Do you love words? Do you have those you know in this way? I’d love to hear them. Please share below in the message box.

COV19, Prairie Dogs and the Existential Questions

I recently returned from my semiannual retreat in Connecticut that focused on none other than The Point of Existence. Yes, it asked those big questions of  “Who am I?” “What am I ? if I’m not the conditioned familiar self of my history and culture. I began this work of knowing who I AM through the Diamond Approach seven years ago (and started even as a teenager scribbling in my diary.) But this retreat brought home to me a sure conviction. I need to slow down in all aspects of my life to self-realize—in the way I get up from a chair, in the speed of my speech, in the incessant planning in my mind, what I and when I buy anything, how I read a book, the way I cook food, the style of my writing, the rate of movement in my exercise. It is THE pivotal way to invite presence and awareness into my life—to nothing less than to transform.

And during this same retreat, I became aware of the burgeoning fear around COV19. One of my colleagues had flown in from Milan and had to be quarantined at the retreat center. I flew home wondering if I would become a carrier and went into two weeks of quarantine. Despite the drastic difficulty the virus is causing in the world and in my own life, it has also been an ally in my becoming. I had no choice but to slow down my life. I’ve come to our wilderness cabin where there is nothing I have to do and the Internet connection isn’t easy. Watching the mountain turn colors at sunrise and sunset takes some hours. Watching snow fall is an exercise in considering my place in the universe—a single snowflake, part of the whole. Planning the day by simply taking the next step. 

Yesterday I listened to Terry Tempest Williams talk about her work as a naturalist doing research on prairie dogs, a species now endangered by environmental policies. During her days of watching the prairie dogs from sun up to sundown, she observed a prairie dog ritual; at sunrise, the prairie dog community comes out of their burrows, turn to the east, press their forepaws together as if in prayer, and stand absolutely still for 30 minutes. Then they return to the burrows. At sunset, they come out, press their forepaws together, and face west for 30 minutes. Then return to their burrows. 

This image is so alive in me today. I can envision it as if I am there. To be still, turned to the light, in prayer as daily practice. And then, returning to just being a prairie dog, doing what is natural. 

Returning to my True Nature, what is really “natural” for me has been so obscured by wanting to be loved rather than loving myself, by being so busy and multitasking rather than just being, by being desperate to change myself rather than allowing myself to be changed— is my deepest desire. I couldn’t have imagined that the COV19 virus and prairie dogs would be my friends on that path. But that is what intrigues me about this journey—it’s never how I thought it would be and yet it is MORE.  

Williams remarked at the end of her talk that the greatest edge is becoming fully who you are—and from that place, to be of use. I translate that as, instead of knowing who I AM by what I do, I know myself as I AM and then follow what compels me.

What is compelling me now is writing and reading poetry; it’s the only thing that makes sense to me in these days, most days, always. The following addresses the fears of our world in the wake of the virus. This poem was written in 1997 when the fear of what would happen to all the computers when the world began marking time as the year 2000. Remember that fear? 

Jasmine

Almost the 21st century,

How quickly the thought will 

grow dated, 

quaint.

Our hopes, our futures, 

will pass like the hopes and futures

of others.

And all our anxieties and terrors,

nights of sleeplessness,

griefs,

will appear truly as they are—

Stumbling, delirious bees in

the tea scent of jasmine. 

Jane Hirschfield from The Lives of the Heart” collection