Friday, December 18, 2009

The Christmas Pageant

This morning I sat in a church and watched a kids' Christmas pageant. The angels were marked with tinsel halos, the shepherds wore bathrobes (the green one with polka dots was my favorite), and the sheep had faces made of paper plates and cotton balls. A couple of babies were crying and lots of mammas and daddys were taking pictures all around. The singers' voices were tinny, the speakers mumbled, and more than a few of the kids looked scared or bored. It was perfect.

This wasn't the Christmas of Santa and Walmart. There was no Hollywood-quality production, no money spent on costumes or set, and the only presents were the ones being offered to the Christ Child. This was a Christmas of kids working in community, and parents proud of their beautiful children, and a whole bunch of people reminding each other with their very presence that God has come among us.

I felt God there in the voices of the children, in the faces of the parents and grandparents, in the Advent candles glowing on the altar, in the tinsel of the angels' halos, in the pillars around the church. This is it, this is what Christmas is about: people gathering, sharing in word and song, and remembering that the holy is among us every moment of every day, whether we are celebrating Christmas and wishing each other joy or caught up in our daily cares and not heeding the holiness in which we live. This is Christmas unadorned, astonishing and ordinary, pure and perfect, and no Santa can bring more magic to the world than this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

God in the Chips

Yesterday I was sitting at a restaurant eating nachos - "when in doubt, eat Mexican," that's my motto - when it happened again. I was reading about mysticism, about how some people see a different level of reality breaking through the veil of everyday life. Munching my chips. And then suddenly I wasn't reading but experiencing: God in the face of every person I could see, God in the walls surrounding me, God in the floor and the ceiling and spoon and napkin. God in the chips.

The intensity and brilliance and beauty of everything around me struck my senses like a drum, pounding the rhythm of perfection through my seeing and hearing, past my knowing, into my being. It's overwhelming, this experience, disturbing in some ways. It's kind of like running around on the peak of a really high mountain: the view is breathtaking, but even so you might pass out from lack of oxygen. That's not a complaint, mind you; just a description.

It came to me again today, carried on the muscial waves of a Christmas song (in mid-November!) that I heard in a store. I don't know why, but the song triggered this vision again, so I just stayed put and let it be until, inevitably, it passed. I wonder if someday it will not pass, if I will begin to see with that clarity all the time rather than at random moments. Maybe, maybe not; that's for God and the future to know, not me. My work is just to accept the vision when it comes to me, to let it permeate my being so that it continues to seep through my veins and settle in my bones even when the veil of daily life settles around me again. Even when I'm not seeing God in the chips.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I get frustrated with my child. Way too often. Every now and then I get downright mad, have to go sit in another room and spend a few minutes looking for the cool I have so totally blow, but that doesn't happen much. Mostly it's just that low-level annoyance that results in one carefully enunciated, slightly raised "I mean it" type statement (after, of course, the couple of gentler, kinder requests to get to whatever it is have been ignored). When the 6-year-old won't stop talking about poop and farts despite my repeated requests (he's a boy, after all), or when he adamantly and unreasonably refuses to put on his pajamas, or when we're running late and he's supposed to be getting ready for school but instead he's huddled in a corner in nothing but his underwear playing with some toy, I get really frustrated. I whine out his name and stomp off to another room feeling put upon and annoyed. Frustrated.

If you don't have a child, you're probably thinking, "You really should have more patience; he's just a child, after all." If you do have a child, your thoughts are probably running more along the lines of, "Yeah, that's about right." Frustration is just a fact of parenting. And of many of our relationships, really. Friends, parents, lovers, spouses, siblings, co-workers, bosses - any of these people might annoy and frustrate us, and we just accept this as part of the challenge and joy of having these relationships. (Okay, so we might also ignore our friends, get divorced, quit our jobs, whatever, but just go with me here.)

So I got to thinking, what is frustration? It seems just shy of a bunch of fairly negative emotions - not quite annoyance, not quite anger. I cast about for a definition, and it came to me: it's discomfiture over not being in control. I want things to happen a certain way; they don't happen that way; I get frustrated. Simple.

I don't think of myself as having lots of control issues, but then again I'm human, so that's kind of like a tree saying it doesn't have leaf issues. My control issues may not be as strong as those of some people, but that doesn't mean that they're not there. Or that I won't get frustrated with my control issues!

So when I get frustrated with my child, I'm trying to remember what a wonderful teacher he is for me, what he's helping me learn about acceptance, and love. Now if only he would teach me a little less often...Because, and here's the scary part, I'm a teacher, too, and I'm teaching him how to be frustrated rather than accepting and loving, and those are lessons I definitely need to teach him a little less often.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dodging Bullets

I rarely make mistakes anymore. Okay, yes, I burn the bread, stick my foot in my mouth, get too frustrated with my child, flake off when I need to work - these sorts of little mistakes run in rivulets through my day, bringing annoyance in their wake. But I rarely make the big, life-changing mistakes anymore. I'd love to say that it's because I've become so holy and wise, always in tune with the universe, always knowing the right answers. Yeah, that'd be great, I'll put it on the Christmas wish list and see if Santa's got an extra helping of "holy and wise" that he can drop down my non-existent chimney.

The truth is that I usually just end up dodging a bullet. Not that I'm trying to dodge the bullet, mind you: oftentimes I'm standing around with a bullseye painted on my chest, just waiting for the damn thing to go ahead and hit the mark. But then, often at the last possible second, God (or the universe, Life, my Higher Self, little invisible gnomes, whatever) throws up a force field around me, deflecting the bullet and leaving me bewildered. "But it's so good, I want it, why can't I have it?" I whine and moan, realizing only later - often much later - that yep, it was a bullet, and that once again I have been saved in spite of my own stupidity.

I can't count the number of times this has happened in my life. I can't count them because I'm pretty sure that there are episodes like this in my past that I still haven't recognized and others that I'll never be able to see. But I'm seeing more clearly these days, clearly enough to be grateful for all the times God has said "No" to my prayers. Maybe one day I'll get a little more holy and wise going on and I won't have to be saved from my own stupidity so regularly, but for now, I'll just be glad for force fields and shields of love that I can't explain, don't deserve and would be lost without.

Now, don't hold me to this if I go out and make some big-ass stupid life-changing mistake tomorrow...

Friday, October 23, 2009


I couldn't find my balance in yoga class yesterday. The same half-moons and prayer twist lunges that I had moved into so beautifully a few days before were like dreams in the mist, just out of my reach. I stumbled and tripped and fell over, unable to hold onto the lightness and ease that call these poses into being. I kept struggling toward them, and the struggle itself just drove them farther away.

There is little in yoga that shows me my mental state more clearly than balance poses. I can move through the warrior variations mindlessly and be totally oblivious in downward dog, but attempt just one half-moon with anything other than a perfectly calm mind and I'm doomed to wiggle and wobble - and unlike a Weeble, I do fall down. So my mind affects my body's abilities, and my emotions affect my mind's abilities, and from trying to balance on one hand and one foot I find myself ensnared in raw, unfiltered emotion. When there is something I am fighting, something I haven't accepted, something I can't let go of, I tumble and fall. When I am in harmony with all that is, when I put aside liking and disliking and focus on being, I settle peacefully into the pose.

Not hard to see this as a metaphor for all of life, is it?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Current

I've been fighting the current. That's never a good idea, but sometimes I just can't figure out how not to do it. And the truth is, I didn't figure out how not to do it, I just got to a point where I stopped. After whatever ponderings and mental gymnastics and self-pity and just plain fighting I did, from one breath to the next I stopped.

This time around it had to do with solitude. I spent five years basically wanting to go hide under a rock somewhere; if I had to be on this planet, then at least I could be as alone and quiet as possible. In the last few months, though, I've begun to feel differently - I've had the desire to get up and go, to be out in the world. I want to go hiking and kayaking and riding, I want to try a dance class and see movies and go to concerts, I want to go to Italy and Spain and Peru not so that I can run away from here but just to enjoy being there. I want to explore and enjoy and try new things - all of which involves leaving my house.

But a confluence of events is working against that, at least against it happening very often. From a number of different directions in my life I am getting the message that I need to be staying home, moving into silence, embracing solitude. I've been fighting against it, but last night I suddenly breathed that breath of acceptance, understanding again that somewhere in this solitude is a gift even though it may take me a while to recognize it.

The Buddhists say that the real cause of suffering and unhappiness is wanting things to be different than they are, and I think they've got it exactly right. Last night I stopped wanting things to be different and today I feel renewed. I've let the current carry me; I don't know where it will take me, but I am sure that it's wherever I am supposed to go.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eating and Reading and Mystics, Oh My

I don't want to hear about no PB&J or socks and shoes or Burns and Allen - eating and reading, now that's the combo that approximates perfection. A book in one hand, a fork in the other, and there's not a thing more in the world that I need.

So there I was at a restaurant today, luxuriating in the moment of combining my two favorite activities. A middle aged man wearing a shirt marking him as a retail worker walks up to a table next to me, sees my book and exclaims, "Evelyn Underhill? Cool!" referring to the book on mysticism that I was reading. Turns out that he is steadily making his way through works on mysticism - Underhill, The Cloud of Unknowing, etc. He thinks it's amazing that I'm reading the book right out there in public; I think it's amazing that anyone would think anything other than "Gee, what a geek" upon seeing me with said book in public.

"I used to attend this evangelical church, and I started reading this stuff," he told me. "And I got mad - it was like they were hiding all the good stuff, all this richness, all what it's supposed to be. But you know what? They weren't hiding it - they didn't know it, either." His friends were leaving, so he waved and headed out the door after that.

Do people know it? Is anyone hiding it? Does anyone need it? Does it matter? Questions to explore...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chasing Serenity

"I've got to find my serenity," I thought for the 15th time today, emotions crowding out thoughts which were chaotic anyway, as I bent over to pick up a bit of paper on the floor. But as I stood back up the thought came to me unbidden: "No, I need to breathe and accept what is right here right now. Chasing serenity isn't going to help."

That put the brakes on a whole lot of random thoughts floating through my head, and I started in amazement as that simple truth unfolded within me. My job isn't to be serene, it is to be present, and running after peace isn't any more peaceful than running after fame or fortune or the next high; it's all still just running.

So I am trying to be here now. And right here right now is a hard place to be. It's the 43rd birthday of my beloved David, and the 6th I will mark without him here. It's one of those hard days, the kind that's always going to be a hard day. I am grateful for the amazing beauty he brought to my life and bereft at his absence and aware that something of him is always with me, all at the same time. This is right here right now, not some cool serenity that moves gently and peacefully through my heart. Right here right now I am heartsick and sad, and so I will be heartsick and sad without trying to run away from it. I will breathe and I will be and the serenity will return or it won't. It's not my job to figure it out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I have long seen life as a series of lessons - long being something around the 40-year mark - but that vision of life has been giving way lately to a new vision: of life as a series of gifts. Hold up there, buckaroo, don't get too excited. You know that dry-as-a-bone, you-can't-believe-people-would-let-this-stuff-invade-their-mouths fruitcake you got from Aunt Mildred last Christmas? That's a gift. So is the ugliest sweater you ever got and hoped never to be forced to wear in public. Don't be getting all giddy with excitement about the idea of an infinite series of gifts coming your way; just because it's a gift doesn't mean you're going to like it. And I'm here to tell you, friends, sometimes I don't like it.

Lessons are supposed to teach us something; gifts don't have that kind of baggage attached to them. They are simply given, and we can do whatever we want with them. Ever been given a gift that you stuck in a drawer and then months later found just when you needed whatever it was? Serendipity! So that's what I'm seeing: even the stuff that seems boring or stupid or just plain painful will eventually unfold into something really cool and wonderful, and I know that on the front end.

For a while I've been receiving the gift of serenity; lately I'm getting the gift of seeing my serenity crumbling. I don't know what amazing and cool thing that's going to help bring about, but these days I can't help but believe that the cool thing is in there somewhere, that what I'm experiencing is not just a fact or a failing or a lesson but an actual bonafide gift that is bringing something good to my life somehow.

Still don't like it. A pretty good groove is a pretty good place to be, and being shaken out of it is not making the top ten on my wish list. I don't wake up in the mornings perkily asking God for the gifts of grief and pain and self-doubt with a side of discouragement that I haven't gotten all spiritual enough to be beyond grief and pain and self-doubt. (Gotta love the ego; at least it keeps things entertaining.) I'm just going to stick this in a drawer for awhile; someday I'll happen across it and it will be just what I need.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dark Night

I'm not feelin' the love today. It happens. Those moments of union and perfection that have come with amazing regularity these past few months feel about as far away as Timbuktu, like they come from a book I read rather than my own life. This is all part of being human, I know: feeling lost or alone or (and here's where I end up most often) like you just don't want to do this whole life thing anymore - it's all just part of the game. We can bury it in work, or simply ignore it, or give in to it and sink into the depression that always beckons like a siren. The feeling may be experienced in the background or take over all our thought, be more or less destructive, sap our energy for living for a day or a week or a year (or 5), but eventually it will change and pass.

So it's part of being human, and it's part of the spiritual path, too. Ever heard of the dark night of the soul? It's that time when outer things are stripped away, when what previously gave you pleasure seems hollow and empty. Read the mystics and you'll see that it happens a lot on the spiritual path, and (like everything) it seems to be there for a purpose: what gets stripped away is whatever your latest misconception is. God loves me because I do good things; I'm special because I experience these moments of union; there is something solid and unchanging that my logical mind or incoherent heart can hold onto. Yeah, all that gets unceremoniously trashed. It's got to, to make room for the better stuff, the truer stuff. But it feels like hell getting from here to there.

The dark night and me, we're old friends. But now that we've gotten so chummy, I can see that it comes around for a purpose; it's a gift even when it feels like a dagger. I played this song over and over last night that has this line:

You wonder what you gain
Living through so much pain
But you find again
That you know who you are

So it helps, this dark night, this stripping away. It helps me find the deeper truth, figure out more about who I really am. But it still feels like hell.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ordinary Time

For much of my life I have felt special – exceptional and wonderful at times, isolated and cursed at others, but always unique and extraordinary in some way. This comes partly from my deep desire to feel always and everywhere unique. I am an Enneagram type 4, called variously the Artist, the Romantic, or – you guessed it – the Individualist. In fact, I was somewhat distraught when I read a multi-page description of type 4’s and found myself described so thoroughly – after all, it’s hard to feel unique when someone with whom you’ve never had any contact whatsoever has nailed you AND ALL THE OTHERS LIKE YOU to a tee. Sigh.

But sometimes that sense of uniqueness has come from experiencing the vision of a few others who have felt me to be exceptional. I have generally felt that they obviously knew only a surface version of me, or a mental creation of their own making, because they clearly didn’t see the vast character flaws and desperate insecurities that I know in myself. And yet I was pleased by this vision, and accepted it to a certain degree.

Lately, though, I have begun to see myself as very ordinary. This is a gift from a few men of my acquaintance: having gotten to know me to a greater or lesser degree, they have clearly not come across anything that seemed to them unusually lovely or wondrous. The mirror they have held up to me is of a smart, fairly attractive, sometimes funny, often too self-absorbed middle-aged woman – in other words, not some bright lustrous shining star, but a typical 40-something female solid citizen. Dime a dozen. Ordinary. To tell the truth, this has been a bit difficult: shouldn’t everyone acknowledge the wonder that is me? Sounds like a fine idea to my ego, which apparently doesn’t get sarcasm very well (luckily my conscious mind more than makes up for this lack).

So, that doesn’t sound like a gift, right? And it has taken me a while to see it as one, but I’m starting to catch on. To be extraordinary, I have to define myself in terms of how I compare to others - others become the standard by which I judge what it means to be me. But there is a much different standard lurking at the edges of my consciousness these days, of a perfection in the totality and unity of all that is – no comparison, no standard, because no distinction. I am ordinary and you are ordinary and Gandhi and the street vendor and the Wall Street exec are ordinary parts of the extraordinary unity of everything that is.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, those times which do not fall within a particular season or holiday are called Ordinary Time. This isn’t “ordinary” as in “common” or “unimportant” – it actually comes from “ordinal”, in the sense of being counted – but the deeper concept is that the mystery and wonder that might get celebrated most spectacularly in the holidays and seasons is nonetheless present in the midst of every day.

So as I come to accept myself as an ordinary woman living in Ordinary Time, I will thank these men. They will give other women the gift of finding them fascinating, but I am grateful for the blessing they have brought me, even though they are probably unaware of it. But that’s ordinary in itself: blessings abound in all directions, if we only have our eyes open to see.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In Praise of Excess

I'm sitting at McDonald's, bastion of fine dining and tasteful elegance. Can you hear my arteries clogging from all the way out there in cyberland? Actually it's the young'un who has partaken today, and only of an afternoon snack and a solid length of playtime on a rainy afternoon. But sitting here in this monument to instant gratification and supersizing has me thinking about moderation. I'm not going to claim that they are healthy, but burgers and fries and chicken nuggets are fine in moderation. So are donuts and burritos and eating ice cream for dinner. Everything in moderation, right?

But maybe moderation has taken center stage too much; maybe excess has gotten a bum rap. "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," William Blake tells us. Moderation may help us stay the course or walk the line, but can it take us to the palace of wisdom? Saints and madmen through the ages would tell us otherwise. They have believed in excess, and led lives outside the mainstream to follow it.

Do we really want compassion in moderation? What about kindness? And let's flip that coin: do we want even a moderate amount of evil? Personally I'd like an excess of good and a dearth of evil, but I don't get to be in charge of the world. I can watch the work of the one who is, though, and see excesses of fragile beauty in spring and riotous color in fall, of heat in summer and cold in winter. If ever I get away from the lights of the city, I can see excesses of glowing stars and darkness like velvet upon my skin. But there are also lovely golden afternoons and blue sky mornings and the peace of sitting beside water. God works in excess as well as in moderation, and I think maybe we humans do as well.

Maybe we're not seeking moderation so much as wanting to avoid an excess of excess, everything thrown hurly-burly about until there is no telling top from bottom and no way to be anything other than numb in the face of all that stimuli. Maybe we want our excesses in moderation. An excess of love and a moderate amount of disappointment, an excess of laughter and crying in moderation. Maybe we can praise the excess that comes our way and know that we are richer for it.

"Excess of sorrow laughs," Blake tells us, and "Excess of joy weeps." Excess can lead us beyond ourselves, or what we think of as ourselves, and maybe beyond is just where we need to be sometimes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I went to spin class again. Masochism abounding. And the really scary part is that I think I acutally liked it. There is this meditative quality to the repetitive motion, and the burn in the legs and the strength in the body - I found myself pouring out gratitude to God for bringing me to this moment.

But then. There’s always a “but then,” isn’t there? The teacher was leading us in sprints. “Pedal faster,” she yelled. “Imagine that you need to get somewhere really quickly, quicker than you’ve ever gotten anywhere.” The image that flew unbidden to my mind was of me driving my car the wrong way through a bank parking lot to avoid a light, on the way to Vanderbilt hospital after I got the call that David’s surgery had gone awry. I left the house at a flat-out run, my heart pounding so that I couldn’t hear, and sped down every street between my house and the hospital, cursing street signs and pedestrians alike. I never wanted to get anywhere more quickly, and it never made less of a difference.

Suddenly there in the spin class I couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone had reached into my chest and squeezed my lungs and heart, with bolts of pain radiating out from the center of my chest. For a minute I thought I was going to pass out, but I kept pedaling, sat up straight and concentrated on breathing. Breathing always helps. Okay, usually. After a bit the pain subsided and my lung capacity began to increase back up from miniscule to normal.

It was just a filament of pain and sorrow woven into my day, but I wonder how many filaments and threads we just don’t see. Imagine a neutral colored cloth; if there is a shiny gold thread running through it you’ll notice that thread rather than the bulk of the neutral background. I think that’s how we live our lives: noticing the filaments of pain or threads of joy and too-often heedless of the everyday experience. But the grace of living isn’t just in those shiny moments, it’s in the sound of the rain on the roof right now, and the knowledge of tasks to be done later in the day.

I know I will experience those filaments of pain again, and the threads of joy. But I will try to take note of the neutral background as well, to hold the moments of everyday life in mindfulness. And I’ll go back to spin class, and give thanks for the leg burns and the muscle strength and the perfection of every moment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This Mortal Coil

I haven't completely thrown out my back, but there is neither baby nor bathwater close at hand, so the back might be the only option. I went to my first-ever spin class today, giving in to masochistic tendencies that have crept into my psyche of late, and I'm thinking there might be a direct correlation between the tightness and squeezing sensation flaring forth from just below my shoulder blades and the amount of time I spent hunched over like a nearly-blind scribe trying to see his work as I pedaled madly (and then less and less madly as my legs decided to simply stop motor function).

But maybe not. Maybe I willed this small ailment into existence by the fact of noting on the phone with a friend today that I never had to worry about throwing out my back when I was 20. Of course, that was just after I cackled to him that he's old in response to hearing of a few of his body woes. The universe is paying me back for the glee with which I poked my friend; might still be worth it.

I think that a hot shower and a heating pad are working their wonders and I'm likely to awaken in the morning hearty and hale once more. But what of the people I love who won't wake up tomorrow in healthy bodies? What of those whose lives are laid on a foundation of physical pain? How do their spirits soar when the bolts of pain twist round and hold them like ivy on a stone wall?

This past weekend I attended an Interplay workshop where we played with sound and movement and meaning. At the end we were asked to choose a partner and tell them of someone we carried on our hearts that day; the partner was then asked to dance for that person sharing our heart. I thought immediately of my beautiful Monique, whose spirit and joy and beauty I have loved for many years now even as pain and struggle have left their marks across her life. I told my stranger-partner, Sela, of Monique and then watched with a rush of peace and gratitude as she danced a struggle of pain and then an opening into the light and an inrush of joy. That is what I wish for my dear friend, light and joy.

I cannot send it to her, though, I haven't that gift to give. I can merely witness to her pain, her striving, the path of her life and the beauty of her spirit. I can send her love in waves and clouds of prayers, but still she is likely to face another day of pain.

Tomorow morning as I move from my bed, most likely back in shape and ready for action, I will stop for a moment and send yet another cloud of prayers to my friend. And tell the world of her beauty.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Angry Girl Song

Peace and light and harmony - this is how I try to move through the world, more successfully at some times than others. But every now and then I find myself raging against the hatred and pain in what feels like an uncaring world. At times like that I'll often find myself listening to my favorite angry girl song, Metric's Monster Hopsital:

I fought the war
But the war won't stop for the love of God
I fought the war
But the war won

That's how it feels: like even believing in peace and harmony is a massive exercise in futility. Like sides don't matter because the war itself wins, with the anger and violence and downright craziness woven into the very fabric of this terra all-to-cognita.

I listen to this in the car, turning the volume up past Loud and beyond Deafening and moving right on to Shattering, yelling along with the singer and beating on anything handy, my palms sweating and my heart racing and my spirit feeling torn up by its roots from its grounding. I want to smash things and hear the sound of breaking glass and see blood from cuts and wounds dripping off my hands and feel the pain. Feel the pain. Feel it, free it, let it consume everything until whatever I think of as me disappears into a void of nothingness, of deep, endless, empty silence. Where nothing could ever begin to matter.

Slowly but inevitably I come out of this fog of rage and despair. My surroundings, which disappeared into the void alongside me, begin to become visible again, blueness of sky or the sweet sound of rain on the car's metal roof. I feel my lungs expand, the breath flow in and out of my body. I turn off the CD player and return to the center of my being, knowing that what is all-encompassing is not violence and rage but compassion and acceptance. That even these moments which feel so far from my true self are a part of my walk in the path of God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The To Do List

I got a lot of things done today. I like that. I walk around with at least a couple of to-do lists (I always manage to have more than one going) in handy reach at all times and spend more effort than is anywhere like useful re-writing them. I feel this great sense of accomplishment when I cross off a multitude of things (which, of course, will require a re-write of the list so that it stays neat and organized), but oddly enough the lists never seem to get any shorter. This is the round of life, right? Getting things done, discovering more things to do, getting more things done, finding a whole host of new items for the list, etc. ad infinitum.

But I wonder if all this to-do listing is really a good thing. I feel noticeably better about myself on days when I get a lot done; is the value of my being really to be found in the number of items I cross off a list each day? Is this truly what is important in my life? My actions, speaking annoyingly louder than my words, would seem to say so; the wiser part of me knows that can never be right.

My son told me the other day that I never play with him. On the way home from the park, no less. My first thought was to dismiss this as severe hyperbole on his part - I am always taking him somewhere fun. But then I began to wonder, do I actually play with him? Do I actually give him the attention that he needs, or do I just always see to it that he is entertained? I am with him a great deal of the time, but am I present for him?

I think I need to re-write my to-do list and put "Remember to be present with the people I love" at the very top. And then keep re-writing it every day of my life.

Friday, August 28, 2009


It's going to be warm today, but as I write this I'm sitting outside and it is absolutely perfect. The sky is baby blue and I can see a few wispy clouds; one looks like a shark, and I detect the influence of my shark-obsessed 6-year-old on my imagination. The faintest of breezes feels wonderful on my summer-exposed skin. It's beautiful, and I am joyous being here. But I don't feel at home.

All my life I've felt out of place in this world, like I don't belong, like there has been some snafu and I ended up in the wrong line for my homeroom assignment. I have walked through the world with a sense of dis-ease, never quite comfortable and sometimes mad with longing for my true home, wherever that may be. I have wanted to escape from what is inescapable, in times of gladness as much as in times of sorrow.

Now, though, I begin to see that if I don't belong here then I can be a visitor, a traveler in search of adventure. When I travel it is the foreignness of my surroundings, the very fact of my not belonging that is a source of joy. I delight in being the outsider, the one who is grateful to be included by invitation rather than by right. I am not homesick because I know that home is steadily awaiting me at the end of my journey, whenever that may be. When I feel discomfited and far from home, it is because I am discomfited and far from home; my otherness is a given, neither to be mourned nor celebrated but rather simply stipulated.

So I will try to be a traveler in this world, to accept my otherness with grace, knowing that it is ultimately no more than an illusion because nothing, nothing can ever be other - nothing, nothing can ever be outside of God.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


It happened again today, that rushing outward and inward and forward and upward into the disquieting, jarring knowledge that everything is exactly, immutably where and what and who and why it is supposed to be. Perfection all around me in everything I see and don't see, everything I know and don't know, with not so much as a quark able to stray from the perfection that is, and this knowledge of perfection reverberating in my brain and streaming in my veins and falling in teardrops down my face. It takes me over, this beauty, this mad power, this total disruption of the ordered world in which I think I live, and I sit quietly until the knowledge subsides like the flames of a dying fire and I am once again able to breathe the air of what we have chosen to call reality.

These moments - I don't know where they are taking me. This is a transition, surely, but to what? I wonder sometimes, but I don't worry. What can truly be worrisome when everything is just what it is supposed to be? I'm losing my ability to doubt the outcome, even when I don't know what it is.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Greatest Teachers

For a few weeks, my mom duties have consisted of calling my son once a day to check on his progress and remind him, lest he should forget, that Mom loves him. Just a few short hours from now I will resume my more regular mom duties of getting him dressed and ready for the day, spending time on the playground, cuddling on the couch, getting and giving lots of big hugs, and singing to him every night. I will also resume being exasperated with the messes he leaves in his wake, becoming frustrated when I have to dangle the threat of consequences over his head to get him to follow my instructions, losing patience when he is moving slowly and I am wanting to leave quickly, and a host of other moments ranging from mild annoyance to flat out anger.

Part of me wishes that he was always compliant and I never had cause to lose patience. But that, I think, is the reactive rather than reflective part of me. The reflective part has discovered that the people I love who sometimes try my patience, like my son, have much to teach me. They help me see where I too much want my own way, where I put energy into needing to be right rather than into doing the right thing. They teach me that patience is a virtue, the particular virtue of acceptance: of others, of myself, and of situations both beyond and within my control. It is the virtue of clear vision, really. I too often lack this virtue, and so God in his wisdom blesses me with people and situations that will help me see both my lack and how to fill it. I am grateful to these, my greatest teachers; they help me strive to be better.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Moon and Stars

When I was a little girl, I remember looking up at the night sky and thinking that the bits of light I was seeing must be from heaven. God, I knew, lived continually in that brilliant light, in a glory we could at least imagine because we had felt the warmth and comfort of the sun. But that light is too much for us to experience all the time; we humans need the darkness, too, the nighttime of quiet and reflection to prepare us for the blaze of the next day's light. I imagined God covering the world with a blanket so that we would be protected from the radiance of his light, a blanket which obviously had holes in it because on clear nights I could see the pinpoints of light streaming down from God's heaven. Starshine and lightyears meant little to me at this point; everything was God's work for humans' joy. I felt the touch of God's love in the darkness: the daytime may have shown the brilliance of his creation, but the nighttime showed his caring and concern for the creatures of this world.

I didn't have words to say much of this as a child, and later as an adolescent when I could have found at least a few more of these words I knew enough to have discarded the idea of blankets with holes and God tucking the world into sleep. But still I would lay on the hood of a car and watch the moon and stars for hours on end, wondering about the distance the light had traversed to reach that car and me upon it. What numberless worlds had the light passed on its way? Why did the moon, a disk or sliver or slice of light and shadow, draw our gaze upward? Why did its beauty seem so holy?

For three nights in a row this week I felt conjured and called to leave my house of closed doors and artificial illumination for the perfect peace of a night under the moon and stars. One night I simply walked a lonely road in the moonlight, crossing a bridge with cars that seemed tiny as toys passing below. Another I paddled my way across a lake with the moonlight reflected in the water and then, just as when I was young, sitting on my car and simply watching in silence. On the third night I lay in a hammock, the sky framed by the branches of a tree above and only a few stars visible there at the edge of the city. And each night I felt the light seep into my skin, pulling me inside it and carrying me on its beams to my childhood dreams of a blanket and a night and a God who cares for his world. And every moment was a moment of love.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Whirlwind

These days I often find myself called up and pulled out of the workaday world, suddenly shaken from the simplicity and superficiality of going about my regular chores or watching TV or driving down the road. From thinking about what to add to my grocery list or whether I should take the interstate or a side street to get to my destination, I will suddenly be caught up in a whirlwind that I can neither resist nor direct. The intense emotion that the whirlwind sets off will be overwhelming, and something that is commonly held in abeyance in the very depths of my being will rush out and expand up and cover everything I know. But whether this whirlwind will carry me to a bright recognition of the oneness and wonder of all that is or to the dark of a fathomless grief is always the question.

I know this fathomless grief well. I know the sorrow of walking through the world without the one person who helped me feel steady and whole. I know the anguish of realizing that if I could see inside all the houses in my own neighborhood I would see abuse and isolation and despair. I know the agony of not being able to escape from the sense that the world holds more brokenness than beauty, more hurting than healing. I have lived inside this grief for days and weeks on end, and been unable to escape its dark clutches. I have even welcomed it, and made it my friend, and recognized that I can no more run away from it than I can leave behind my arms or legs. I don't live within it every minute now, but at the oddest moments it still claims its right to hold me.

I felt the deluge of this grief yesterday as I lay in the deep relaxation pose sivasana in a yoga class. From the calm and peace of enjoying my well-won rest, I was suddenly shot through with sorrow, wrenching heartache echoing through my body. I could only lay there with it, allowing it be, waiting for it to pass. It did not leave as quickly as it came on; it never does.

This sense of being transfixed by something welling up from the center of my being - it comes both in this grief and in that unitive experience where the boundaries of self and other disappear. Are they related? Has the long-time experience of one been a preparation for the other? Maybe the overwhelming sorrow is a clearing out and burning away of fear and longing; maybe I will plunge into the fathomless grief until I truly understand that it is not fathomless, that beneath and beyond it lies the oneness I have also come to know. Maybe both are grace pouring down upon me, neither warranted nor attained, and I simply need to accept them.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Deliberations and Dashboard Lights

I love driving at night. I get this sense of chosen aloneness: of having left behind all that ties and contains me in the home I am not currently inhabiting; of having momentarily stepped aside from all relationships with those not present; even the camaraderie of seeing people in other cars whooshing by my own is carried away by the darkness. It is an alone that feels so eternal, in spite of being by definition transitory as I transition from one place to another, an alone that settles around me as comfortably as the arm of an old friend. I feel rather than see the trees and meadows calm and undisturbed by the speck of my passing car, and the neon brightness of strip malls and gas stations seem to belong to dolls rather than humans. Whether I sing along with a CD or settle into the silence of my solitary ride, what I experience is a quiet that has nothing to do with audible sound. Driving alone at night is a wonder.

At least, until I start to fall asleep. Then it's just a danger.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Barroom Revelations

In a moment of vanity I wore high heels, a decision I wryly came to regret as I stood for a couple of hours, listening. The balls of my feet hurt, and I would slide one foot out of its shoe, stretch it and twist it and press it flat upon the ground for a few seconds before sheathing it once again and sliding the other out to roam free for a moment. I had nowhere to set down the drink in my hands - when you show up too late to get a chair, you're too late to get any table space, either - so I held it in one hand and clapped the other against my leg when clapping was called for.

But the music was stupendous and simple delight wafted in waves over the audience, and I couldn't seem to make the smile leave my face even with the force of will. The people on stage would be paid little for their troubles this evening, but they had other jobs that paid the bills; this one they kept simply for love of their craft. Their delight drew us in, so that what started as entertainment unfolded into a rush of joy.

Joyous as it was, though, it wasn't the music that drew my soul upward and outward and gave me clarity of vision. With my feet hurting and the drink cold in my hand and the music wondrous and fun, with the crowd of people standing around me and the smell of beer and popcorn in the air and the ceiling painted black hanging low over my head, it happened again: that recognition of perfection, the sudden inrush of knowing that everything around me was exactly where it was called to be from the very heart of creation. It wasn't perfect in spite of hurting feet and cold hands: they were part of the perfection, they and everything else I could see and hear and touch and know. Nothing can be out of place because nothing can be outside of God. And I stood still and closed my eyes and simply let it be.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


My mind drifted in church today, but not aimlessly. It was that lovely line from Milton - "They also serve who only stand and wait" - that drew my thoughts inward, though the line was not quoted nor the idea reflected in the sermon. I mused about this waiting that is service to God, this standing in place that is somehow a manifestation of love. And I considered how waiting is a state of action. We drum up the idea of lines that slowly snake forward, or time spent in a car stopped in traffic, or the expectation of words that a lover has not yet spoken. These things seem so passive because they are dependent on others to do something: those ahead of us must move forward in the line, cars that we cannot even see must continue their journeys so that we can continue ours, the lover must feel the force of the words spilling from his or her own heart.

We can do nothing to hurry these things along, but must accept that this is the moment, the situation, the experience in which we find ourselves, and we cannot force it to be what we want nor move it forward an inch faster. We must simply wait - with or without patience, in anticipation or despair, expecting great good to flow or destruction to rain down upon our heads - wait until the situation changes.

The active American take-charge go-getter mindset recoils at this waiting, this sense of dependency, this absolute though oft-unrecognized interbeing. We yell at people to keep the line moving, or slam on our horns, or try to beguile the lover into giving us the words we long to hear. And then, as though we had done nothing at all, we return to waiting, because there is nothing else to do.

But there is another kind of waiting, the kind we mean when we say that he waits tables or she waits on him hand and foot: waiting as active service, as responsiveness to need, as the giving of one's own time and activity so that another may rest and receive. When we wait in this way, we are still experiencing the fullness of interbeing, but now we are aware of it, indeed have chosen it. We wait because we believe that it will lead to something we value, be it a paycheck, the recuperation of a loved one, or an expression of thanks that marks how the other values us. It is waiting marked with purpose, waiting that takes the humanity of the other directly into account, even if we see that humanity as frail or cruel or oblivious to our service. It is waiting that in its finest moments springs directly from the well of compassion and love.

I want to be active in my passive waiting: I want to wait in service to others - to those I love and those I don't, to those who deserve it and those who merely need it - as I wait in stillness for the next droplet of truth to fall upon me and shatter the untruths that I hold so close. The droplets will fall, whether I will them or not; the untruths will shatter and scatter so thoroughly that I won't notice (at least for a while) that I have gathered armfuls of other untruths that are perhaps more subtle but just as untrue. I want my service to spring from compassion, although at times it seems to come rather from compulsion. But there is no question that I will wait: I will wait upon the Lord because there is nothing else I can do.