Friday, August 9, 2013


I woke up the other morning, did a bit of yoga, got some coffee and sat down at the computer. I went to a newspage and saw it there, the same thing that’s always there: Terrorism. Corruption. Lies. Threats. The million ways people think to hurt and kill each other. And the thought, the one that has hovered at the edge of my consciousness for more years than I can count, came unbidden to my head: “I’m supposed to want to live in this world? Why would I ever choose that? With all this suffering and death, why would I ever want anything except not to be here?”

Despite the many benefits of my privileged, white, Western, middle class, educated status and my relatively easy life, I have never found the act of living an easy thing to do. It’s not that my life is too difficult, but that I look around and sometimes all I see are the sorrows and cares and pains of a world that is hurting. Hurting all the time. Without respite, without end. We struggle and we strive and we try to help, and we go on because we have to, but why, I think, why would anyone want to?

I sat down the coffee cup and got up from my computer – time to wake up the 10-year-old for school. He giggled and laughed; the dog licked his nose, causing him to roll around snorting, trying to get out the dog breath smell; and he gave me a hug. “Hey Mom, come watch this!” “Hey Mom, did I tell you about this?” Thus our morning went, all laughter and smiles. And I remembered that in the midst of the struggle and the striving, alongside the sorrows and cares, there is laughter and love and joy. After I got my son to school, I went and helped my mom with some things, where I remembered that what we do matters, that our actions can bring something good into someone else’s life, even if only in the smallest of ways.

My son and my mother gave me great gifts that day, although they didn’t realize it. They helped me remember the balance of the world, it’s beauty and goodness alongside its pain and suffering. In the most ordinary of ways, they showed me the extraordinary depth and richness in which we live every day. And I do so very much thank them for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dancing and Amen

The night was clear and dark, only the lights from camps nearby and those adorning the people walking through the fragrant fall evening dotting the darkness like bright flowers in a deepening field. In front of me the glow of one particular set of lights cast their spell – those from the DJ’s booth, a few small steady streams and some lasers dancing patterns around the 30 or 40 people gathered in the forest clearing. The trance music was opening a mind-state more than a mood, where the dancers moved with a gladness and ease beyond conscious thought. The music thumped and thrilled as bodies and the souls inhabiting them twisted and twirled in the ribbons of light bouncing off the trees.

My friend pulled me to the side, pointed to the twirling bodies and swirling lights, and asked, “You say you like church; have you ever seen worship like this?” Suddenly my perception shifted and I realized that he was speaking a deep truth. No one was reading sacred texts, holding out holy bread or engaging in solemn reflection, but this was worship of the most primal kind. This was joy in action, the homily of sound, the liturgy of movement. No one needed to go anywhere, to do any action, to believe any creed; all they – all we – needed was to be, celebrating this grace-filled moment with our bodies, dancing with all the joy that filled our hearts. 


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beside the Fountain

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

I sat in a Catholic cathedral a few mornings ago, gold stars shining from the celestial blue of its ceiling, stained glass window in front of me, and a quality of reverent silence in the air that only a church can hold. I prayed, and let the peace of that sacred space spill over me, gently washing away the tension I only vaguely realized that I was carrying.

Places like that, places of holiness and quiet, have always been my refuge, the space for which my soul longs amidst the business and busyness of the workaday world. And a cathedral, spires soaring to heaven and stained glass windows pouring in a garden of light, is the image I hold of this refuge.

But a few moments before, I had been sitting on a bench in a little urban meditation garden next door to the cathedral. The small park honors Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk, social activist, and mystic who wrote movingly of his conversion experience and his rich work and conversations with Asian religious figures such as the Dalai Lama and Thic Naht Hanh at a time when most people were deeply suspicious of anything that might now be called “interfaith”. The little park was well shaded, with two lovely fountains adding the soothing sound of running water to the street noises from the road running alongside, and a mural of Merton and Hanh together. It is just a bit of quiet and serenity placed smack in the middle of the clamor and commotion of urban life.

Sitting on that park bench, glancing up at the church spire visible above the trees, I realized that I am always going to find my refuge in the cathedral but that nonetheless I am called to be like the little urban park. For much of my life I have wanted to flee to the quiet, secluded refuge, to be alone with books and thinking and God in my cathedral with the doors shut firmly behind me. But God will not let me shut those doors. Instead, I must carry that holy space with me into the world, create it around me as a bit of refuge for myself and maybe also for others who need it. It is not my work alone to do – one person does not build a park, even a small one – but nonetheless it is my work.  So I will pray amidst the street noises, watch close for the tranquil flow of water when all I am seeing is concrete, and know that everything I touch is just as holy as light pouring through stained glass windows. Cathedral and concrete, fountain and fire hydrant, it is all beautiful, it is all God, and I will go where I am called to be.  

Quotation from

Friday, May 17, 2013

More Than a Nod of the Head

“It’s a beautiful day,” I observed to the older gentleman helping me at the quiet little store.

“When you get to be my age,” he said decidedly, with a piercing gaze, “you’ll realize that they are all beautiful days.”

We had never met before, but this sparked a lovely conversation. The gentleman, in his status of elder, clearly wanted to share the distillations of his lifetime of wisdom-gathering with someone willing to listen; I, with some time to spare before I had to be elsewhere, was happy to hear what my new friend had to say. This is what he told me:
·      Recognize the blessing of each new day; the blessing is always there, whether or not you see it at first.
·      Be sure to have goals, but don’t get caught up in thinking that attaining them is all-important: it’s the journey toward them that matters most.
·      Keep your body in good working condition; you’ll need it.
·      Listen more, and trust those around you.
·      Recognize a good friend when you’ve got one.
·      If you connect with your soul mate, count yourself immeasurably blessed.
There is nothing new or revelatory on this list; anyone reading it probably nods their head in agreement with a “yeah, sure, of course” attitude. The very fact that we know these things is what allows us to mentally acknowledge and then dismiss them.

But after 84 years of running and going, raising a family and doing business, all the desires and dreams and frustrations and sorrows to which this mortal coil is prone, it is these simple truths that my elder friend has distilled. They are simple, yes; that means that they are not complex, but not that they are not profound. There is more about really living contained in these simple words than a simple nod of the head can begin to acknowledge.

Thoughts of this conversation stayed with me as I went over to a routine doctor’s appointment a little later. My doctor’s office is housed next to the hospital where my husband David died, and the two share a parking garage. As I got out of my car to walk to the elevator, I thought about the 17 days in that other May, 9 years ago now, when I more or less lived in that hospital, when walking through that parking garage was a journey of heart-wrenching pain and unbearable love and felt like the most important thing that I could possibly do. I thought of my new elder friend’s words, and I stopped for a moment to recognize the blessing of those days, and this one; to remember the importance of that journey, and how it continues; and to give thanks for the immeasurable blessing of a soul mate whose love is always with me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sunshine and Serenity: In Memory of Rita

“Hey, immortal one, you who was called Rita! The time has come for you to find your path in the reality of the spirit.”
            Tibetan Book of the Dead

I didn’t see Rita the first day she came to our church, but she saw me. I was speaking from the pulpit about my mystical experiences, those times when the scales fall from my eyes and I see and feel God quite literally in everyone and everything around me. Rita later told me that she recognized her own experiences in what I was saying, and they gave her an immediate connection to this place she had never been before. Her exact words were, “I knew I was home.”

And she knew she had found a friend and soul companion, too. Rita and I formed an immediate connection. We didn’t spend as much time together as either of us would have liked, but when we did our conversations were often intense and profound.  She talked about her deep study and subsequent teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, and I told her of my readings in world religions. We shared stories about our husbands, the ways in which we had lost them, and the different kinds of letting go that these losses required of us.

“Hey, immortal one, you who was called Rita! Now you have arrived at what is called "physical death". You are transitioning from the physical reality to the spiritual reality. You are not alone; it happens to everyone.”
            Tibetan Book of the Dead

Among the things I loved in Rita was her gift of effortlessly combining passion and serenity. An actress in her younger years, it was clear that all endeavors that give expression to the deepest and wildest of human emotions – theatre, dance, music, art – called to Rita at her core. And yet such calmness she carried with her at all times, and offered to others. This was a product of her Buddhist training, I am sure, but also of simply who she was. 

It was that same serenity that Rita carried into a response to her illness, and an awareness of her impending death. “I’m not afraid to die,” I heard her say often. “This is where my practice has led me, and what it has prepared me for.” Rita’s serenity calmed those around her, allowing them, too, to face the coming loss of her earthly presence. Although it happened much more quickly than any of us expected, it happened with Rita serenely greeting death as a welcome friend about whom she had become curious.

“Hey, immortal one, you who was called Rita! Your physical breath has stopped; the perfect clear light of the Infinite Potential of the first phase of your transition into the spiritual reality has begun to manifest. Your immortal, infinite spiritual awareness begins to awaken, clear and empty…”
            Tibetan Book of the Dead

I had the great privilege of being one of those who accompanied Rita in her last days, and to be present as she met that welcome friend. I heard her last words, telling me that she was so very ready to go, and stood and chanted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead with others as she took her last breaths. In those holiest of moments, we watched with awe as Rita departed this life with the same grace with which she moved through it.

Rita’s mother Sarah told me that when Rita was small, Sarah used to say to her, “You are my sunshine.” When she got older, Rita told her mom that maybe that was a little too much pressure – but when she got even older than that, she wanted her mom to start saying it again. Rita brought much serenity and sunshine into this world, and I am so very glad to have felt those rays.

Readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, trans. John WorldPeace
Retrieved from

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Faith and Fear

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, 
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea
Psalm 46:1-2

Many are the prayers that are being said for the people in Boston: for those who died and the families and friends that grieve them; for those who are injured and all the assistance they will require; for those who responded so quickly with help and support to the many who needed it, the wounded in both body and spirit. Many are the prayers, and many are needed, because there is not only grief to contend with, not only physical pain of injury or emotional pain of loss. There is fear, and fear can break much more than we will ever be able to document in the news reports.

Must I fear what others fear?
What   nonsense!
Tao Te Ching, Ch 20 

Fear led someone, possibly more than one someones, to enough brokenness and hatred that he or she or they were willing to put bombs in bags and place them around with the intention to kill people they had never met before. People whose faces and stories were unknown. People who may have looked differently, lived differently, believed differently than the bomb makers – or people who looked, lived and believed exactly the same as the bomb makers; there was no way for the bomb makers to know. Did the bomb makers get a surge of excitement, even exhilaration, at the chaos and panic that the bombs brought into being? Maybe. Maybe they feel powerful, but the act of killing someone for no reason other than random placement on a street shows powerlessness, an inability to make yourself heard any other way, as though the killers question whether the system, value or belief that they want to uphold has enough merit to stand on its own without violent tactics to back it up. It shows fear. And fear always wants to spread. 

They are wise whose thoughts are steady and minds serene,
unaffected by good and bad.
They are awake and free from fear.
 Dhammapada 3.39-40 

Now that the bomb makers have had their say, another fear of another kind comes creeping in, and it affects far more people than a few bombs can ever hope to reach: the fear of those who could carry out an attack like this, and even more, the simple fear of others who don’t look or live or believe like us. Right now we don’t know who did this; someday soon we will. But the fear will still be there, the fear that this can happen again, that it can happen in my town, my neighborhood, to my friends and loved ones, to me. Fear that the person I pass on the street might be a Muslim extremist, or a right-wing extremist, or some other kind of extremist I haven’t even thought of, and that he or she or they might try to kill us or my loved ones or me. Fear that if we don’t keep Muslims from getting a foothold in this country, or stop our next door neighbors from owning guns, or don’t keep those people over there somewhere from learning on the Internet how to make homemade bombs, then something is going to blow up in my town/neighborhood/yard sooner or later. Fear.

He who knows the joy of Brahman,
which words cannot express and the mind cannot reach,
is free from fear.
Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7-9 

The question isn’t whether this fear has a valid grounding: it’s whether we want to live in the middle of it, and whether we are called to be people of fear or people of faith – of all kinds of faiths. 

Oh, verily, they who are close to God –
no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.
Surah 10:62 

Do we want to live in the brokenness of fear, which drops like a rock wall in front of compassion and generosity and openheartedness? Or do we want to follow the call of the scriptures we call sacred, and the example of the people we hold up as the guides of humanity – people like Jesus, the prophets, the Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Dr. King, and so many others who set fear aside and told us of a better way of compassion and action?

  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment,
and he who fears is not perfected in love.
1 John 4.7-8 

I watch the little girls from down the street come running to play with the next door neighbors. One might have hit the double digit mark; the other certainly hasn’t. They laugh, they skip, they are joyful on this spring day.  And I don’t want to have to fear for these two sweet children just because they wear headscarves. I don’t want fear to lead others to treat them as enemies or criminals, as though they have to answer for things they have never done.  So just as I pray for the people of Boston and those affected by these bombs, I will pray for these two little girls, and for the society that surrounds them, that all of the fear may be cast out, and that they will grow perfected in love.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

They Played That Song

I heard that song on the radio the other day. You know, the one that always reminded me of David when he was alive, and brought on a tsunami of tears after he died. Yeah, that one.

As I listened, I thought of all the times I had heard the first chords begin to play and felt my heart drop like an anchor, the thin tissue between everyday life and overwhelming grief simply disintegrating. I thought of how my tear ducts had worked on overdrive, with more water pouring out of me than I could believe was ever inside, as though I could wash away the terrible pain of grief in the torrent. I thought of the vast emptiness and exhaustion I would feel afterwards, how those experiences left me feeling battered down to my soul.

All of this played in my head as the words of the song played on the radio. But instead of tears falling down a grief-ravaged face, this time I felt a smile breaking out, and a swell of gratitude for the beauty of David’s smile that so often took my breath away, the way he would close his hand over mine anytime we were in the car, the way he always wanted me to be sure and snuggle up to him when I came to bed even if he was already asleep. For the way that all of these things are so much a part of me now. I smiled in boundless gratitude, in overwhelming joy, for the eternal, unbreakable love that David gave me in life and that death cannot diminish; for the love that I had the amazing privilege of giving to him; and for the way that he has become my heart, so that the love I give to others now resonates with his presence.

And I listened with heart raised toward heaven to the rest of that song.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Moment of Quiet

I got to yoga class at the YMCA quite early, so I set up my spot and stretched into my first downward dog of the day. Such a lovely feeling. I did a few more poses to warm up and then settled comfortably on the blanket in Sukhasana, a seated pose. With almost 15 minutes still to go before class was supposed to begin, I closed my eyes for a short meditation.

In the midst of the tug of war between simple silence and monkey mind that is meditation inside my head, I heard the sounds of people coming in and removing their shoes, laying out their mats and settling things around them. In the midst of purses jostling a bit, doors opening and closing, and feet padding around the room, what I did not hear was the sound of voices. In a place where I normally hear the low hum of chatter or higher tinkling of laughter, there was quiet. This usually-busy space, influenced by the presence of one body settled on one mat in one simple pose, took on a meditative feel. 

When the teacher walked in close to 10 minutes late, the room’s silence had been broken. The last two class participants to walk in the door came in chatting and continued their discussion, although at a much muted tone. No matter. The quiet still felt good.

I had not intended to have an effect on this class – and in all honestly, I cannot say that I really did. But something did: the call of stillness, the power of meditation, the promise of quiet. The sight of a figure serenely seated with straight spine and eyes closed did all the work; I was a mere placeholder. But in those few moments, in my skin, in my bones, I felt the vibrations of this quiet flowing from within me move out toward others in the room. And in that flow, I felt the presence of the holy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Want, Need, Must Have

A flame sparks within you: 
i want.”

Tiny tendrils of the flame creep along the edges of your consciousness, the warmth just enough to be felt. Slowly the flame of “I want” makes inroads where other thoughts have been, moving them, burning them, the low flame of “I want” becoming a small but steady fire
I need.”

The steady fire rises to unsteady heights. Higher the flames lick, greater the area they cover, hotter they grow, the orange flames burning into blue until they throw off a white heat consuming everything in their path: 

The burning of your mind with desire for things, for security, for people, for love, for stability, for anything other than what is right now – this is a conflagration that only you can bring under control.

The conflagration begins with the simple flame of 
I want.”

The control begins with the simple peace of 
I accept.”