Dear Loved Ones,
I don’t know if you watched any of the inauguration. I caught some of it, and was most thankful to see Amanda Gorman read her poem, ‘The Hill We Climb’. Amanda is a twenty-two year old black woman, and the first person named national youth poet laureate, an honor she received when she was nineteen. And she was a bright beacon of light at the ceremony. The whole poem was powerful with images and truth, but the words that have stayed with me, ringing in my head all night, are these:
“When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace…..
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
I feel these words speak to the trauma we have experienced as a nation over the last four years, the waiting in terror to see what new pain would be inflicted on our communities, what new lies would be told, what new ways devised to gaslight and minimize our pain, or to stir up more division and violence, but they also speak loudly to personal trauma and healing.
Most people I work with get to a point where it feels like the trauma has won. The healing is too slow, new memories still come up, new feelings are allowed to have a space in the body, and the overwhelm can feel like it’s never going to get better. After working hard on healing, shouldn’t all this be done? Shouldn’t I feel better? How much more can there be to be uncovered and felt (often actually felt as never before), and talked about? Why aren’t I healed? Will I always be broken?
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
And yet, I find these very times of exhaustion and doubt are often a turning point in someone’s healing. The very fact they are asking the questions feel pivotal, as it’s often a time when the light at the end of the tunnel is glimpsed for the first time…. And it seems so far away. But it’s there! It’s as if there is a sudden realization that they deserve to be healed, are worthy of feeling love and peace, that it is a possibility for this pain to be transformed into a gift for the world…. And the fact that the trauma from their past still clouds all this is painful and scary, as, maybe for the first time, the love and hope work their way through the cracks in the defenses and survival mechanisms, break open with the healing.
And so, my dear ones who have braved the belly of the beast, know this.
The dawn is yours.
You are not broken.
You may not be finished, but you are not broken.
Whatever they did to you did not break you. You are beautiful and loved and healing…. And simply unfinished!
So continue to wade through the grief and healing, continue to wade through the lies and pain, continue to wade through the times of despair and sorrow. For now, as an unbroken, unfinished being, you get to help create who you are as a healed, strong, compassionate, brave, kind, loving, light filled person in our world! And what a miracle that is.
Dear Loved Ones,
Many of you know that I had to have Gibbs euthanized on Friday. My sweet, faithful, loving, friendly, spiritual, adventurous dog. He had gone lame in one leg after Christmas, and the vet thought he had probably frayed his ACL, and I was told to have him rest and be still. But by Thursday evening his breathing was shallower than normal and by Friday morning he was unable to draw an easy breath. I took him back to the vet, and they x-rayed his lungs, finding that both lungs were fully clouded, leading them to think he either had metastasized cancer or a fungal infection caused by spores breathed in. They could not start treatment for either as the treatments would clash. They told me to take him home to wait for the results. By the afternoon he was really struggling to breathe. He was sitting up, stretching his chest out like he was trying to make room in his lungs, and wheezing. I asked my friend to come down to my house, and we were soon heading back to the vet. They still had no treatment that would help him immediately, the drugs would take two weeks to kick in, and so I made the hard decision to relieve him of his suffering. It was painful to watch him trying to breathe, so I can’t imagine how hard he was struggling.
Since then, I’ve avoided walking in his favorite places, but today, as I was trying to write my sermon I realized I needed to walk. I pulled on a hat and some shoes and headed out on this warm winter day. And, without thinking, started on a route that we had walked hundreds of times. I headed over to the monastery and walked all around the grounds. Tears began to flow as I passed the bush he always had to pee on, as I walked past one of the sisters who would always say hi to him, as I passed the apartments where his buddy lives…. So many memories with each footstep. As the tears came, I thought about those last minutes with Gibbs and how sacred they were.
When we arrived at the vets that afternoon, I carried Gibbs in. They led us into a room, and I sat with him snuggled close. By then, I could tell he was exhausted, and just wanted to be held and loved. The vet came in and we talked options, and they took him away to put the line in his leg. When they returned, they had wrapped him in a blanket, and handed him back to me. We sat there together, my friend standing by our side. And he just moved in as close to me as he could get. I whispered some words to him, and held him, slowly stroking his head head and ears. Mary said goodbye, and I kissed him. When the injection went in, his head was laying on me, his body held close, safe and secure and loved. And then his pain was gone, his suffering over, his little body at peace.
There was beauty in those moments, even in the pain. That trust and love, followed by the peace. The passing of his spirit back to God. My tears turned from anguish at his suffering to relief at his rest. Grief would come, but in that moment I felt it was a blessing.
The scene reminded me of a sculpture at St. Ben’s monastery. It is of a group of Sisters keeping vigil with someone who is dying. The quietness and beauty and holding and love depicted in that sculpture captures the sacredness of community and death, and it is an image of how death should be…. Surrounded by love as that bridge is crossed. Surrounded by people who know that this moment is sacred and filled with God. Surrounded by people who carry hope in their hearts as last breaths are taken.
And it made me think of the countless thousands of people who have died alone during these pandemic times, family and loved ones kept away for safety. My heart breaks at the thought of their loneliness, and for the nurses scrambling to bring them comfort as they die, over stretched with patients and exhaustion as they try to bring compassion in those last moments. And tears flow once more as I wish that each being that crosses over could be held by one who loves them, could be surrounded by comfort and witnesses to that hallowed moment between life and death, to be accompanied across that threshold, for it is a holy experience for both the one dying and those left behind. God is tangible, and the air feels sparkly with the wings of angels and the blessing in the pain of saying goodbye.
I have long said that I’m not scared of death, but scared of dying. But I think, if I were surrounded by such love as I died, even dying would not be scary. If community were there, people who recognized the sacredness of the moment, if those wings of angels were heard beating as they waited to carry me away, if I remembered that great Love in that moment and snuggled in to it, then, I trust, it could be a time of peace and beauty and freedom from whatever struggle had led me to that point. The any fear would be replaced with peace and surrender would be easy.
In these weeks and months ahead we will continue to be surrounded by too much death. I pray that each person knows they are held by those that love them, whether they are physically able to be present or not. But, more than this, I hope that each one feels the Great Love, the Divine Love, holding them as they cross over the threshold, that they know the peace and beauty of this as they let go of life, that they hear the angels’ song as they breathe their last breath, and that fear is dissipated as peace flows through.
While I am sad, I am thankful that Gibbs knew this, and thankful that Mary came with me so I could know that I was not alone. And although there may be no more stories that begin with the words, “As I was walking with Gibbs,” I know that his love with stay with me for a long time.
On October 26th, after nearly a week of snow on the ground, temps in the low 20’s, and a cloudy sky, I took Gibbs (the dog) out for a walk at Quarry Park. I have spent a fair amount of time there, exploring the trails. But on this morning I decided to take some unknown trails and get lost. When I first discovered the park I did this often so I could find my way around…. Sometimes I take my spiritual direction clients out there for a session and it’s always good to know how to get back to the parking lot! But I haven’t purposefully got lost for a while. The park was quiet as we set off on one of the trails we knew, but I turned down a few trails I didn’t know, just to explore. We found a new to us quarry pond, a different grove of birch trees, some pretty mushrooms and a deer! After wandering for a while I thought it was probably time to make our way back, so I looked around me, set off in a direction I thought was right, and before long we were back on a trial we knew.
While I ‘get lost’ on purpose sometimes, I do so with intention. Either to make sure I know my way around the woods where I take clients, or to try a new path to see what I may discover…. New terrains, new vistas, new plants, new quiet spots to reflect, and so much more. Thankfully, I have a pretty good sense of direction, and was taught from a young age to be observant of my surroundings including turning around to see where I have been as well as looking forward. And I have yet to get totally lost on my expeditions, but have often ended up with wet feet before finding my way back to a path I know.
As I walked, I wondered why I don’t do this more in the rest of my life… explore different trails! And what I am missing out on by doing the same things. For sure, there is comfort in this, and I need a stable rhythm in my life to feel secure, but why do I so often go down the same paths in so many areas of my life? I find things that are easy to make for dinner and rotate them, but don’t get too adventurous in trying new recipes. I find an author I like and read through their books. I find a show I like and binge watch. The same with art and friends and things to do And while I don’t live with FOMO (as the young like to say…. Fear of missing out), I do, at times, wonder what I’m missing.
Every so often, I challenge myself to try something new, to explore and expand on what I like. I’ve been trying tofu recipes, for example, as I have never been able to cook it well. And this year I have chosen to mainly read books written by people of color… both fiction and non fiction, and I have enjoyed learning about the experiences of the authors and the ways they experience racism and society and life, getting a glimpse of life through their lenses. I got my kayak out this summer and began exploring the local lakes, and have been camping in some new places. And some times things have felt like a big miss…. Campsites not what they were made out to be, books that I didn’t enjoy, tofu mush! But I rest assured that I can always find my way back from my exploration to the paths I know and love. The well trodden recipes that don’t have tofu in them, the books I love, the people I find it easy to be with. They don’t go away, just because I’m exploring something new.
It makes me think of the time Jesus sent his disciples out to heal and proclaim the good news. He sent them off exploring new places without their things of comfort… no gold in their belts, no spare tunic. And when they arrived somewhere they were to stay until they had done what they went there to do, offering their peace. When they went out to explore, if they were unwelcome, they were instructed to return to the well worn path of life, shaking the dust from their feet.
I think this is the call for us. We can stray from the path of what we know to explore new things, and if it doesn’t work out, we can return to the path we know. That path doesn’t disappear because we open ourselves to new experiences. It is like God, always there to welcome us back. But the invitation is to try something new, to explore a little, to trust there is even more waiting to welcome us when we step outside of our comfort zones.
So wander off trail! Explore new things! Open yourself to learning something new. And see what wonders await you, knowing the well trodden path will always still be there.
Dear Loved Ones,
I went kayaking at a lake near my new church the other day. I’m part of a group on Facebook where people post where they are going and invite others to join them, so I met a woman at the lake and off we went. She had been to this place before, and showed me a cool bridge you can kayak under, and then said there was a canal off the lake that we could go through. We searched for it, coming upon two dead ends. And then I spotted a narrow opening and decided to try it. It was a long, skinny canal, trees overhanging and too narrow to paddle in. I through it must be the wrong place, but something compelled me to keep going. The beaches were brushing the side of the kayak, and you had to do a one sided paddle to move forward, ducking beneath the branches and scraping the bottom of the canal all the way through. But there was light ahead, a wider opening, where, if nothing else, I thought I would be able to turn around.
As I got to this wider part, my breath was taken away. It was a pristine little lake, covered in water lilies, some of which were flowering. Eagles were hanging out in the tress and beavers were swimming around, sometimes slapping their tails hard on the water making a loud, echoing bang. One beaver let me get super close to them before diving under the water, and the whole feeling was magical and Spirit filled. I hung out in this place as the sun set, reluctant to leave, but my kayaking companion was ready to go as the warmth of the day leaked from the air. We made our way back to the main lake, and back to land, but the peace and beauty of this secret lake has stayed with me.
And more than this, the narrow canal has stayed in my mind. It seemed almost like a birth canal, a tight passage to push through to get to a whole new world, and the world it opened onto was one worth the effort.
It made me think of these times we are in where things seem hard and tight, one where caution is needed to navigate. It feels, right now, as if we are making our arduous way through this canal… slapped by the branches of Covid, the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the deaths of more than 200,000 people in this country from a virus that could have been managed much better, by election campaigns that fuel fear and hate, by protests and racism and an ‘us vs them’ mentality. We are scraping along the bottom of human decency most days, and we think this might turn out to be a dead end.
Yet, somewhere ahead, we catch a glimpse or have a sense of, or hope there may just possibly be a widening, an opening, a place where more light is seeping through. And so we keep on, struggling through this time, figuring out where to put our paddle so we can move forward, trying to duck beneath the worst of the branches while other catch us off guard and at scratch us, slowly inching toward a place of peace and hope and light, one obstacle at a time.
The more I sat with this, the more reassured I felt, as I heard the whisper of truth…. “yes, this time is hard. But you are moving through it. And you are heading toward a place where there is more play and peace and light and loveliness. So keep going, keep going. Dodge what you can, know the scratches likely won’t run top deep, remember you won’t get stuck. So keep moving forward as best you can.”
I feel this is a blessing for all of humanity. Yes, this time is hard. But there is a place ahead that is worth fighting toward. Do what you can to reach it.
May it be so.
Dear Loved Ones,
It was my birthday last week, and, before we got to the day, my friend asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know, except I wanted to get take out from the new restaurant in town for dinner, so I said, “Let’s go on an adventure!” She had heard of a place where we could go tubing, so on my birthday we set off to rent our tubes. The shuttle bus took us upstream to the drop off point, and we walked down to the river. The sun was shining, the water was warm, and I was looking forward to a relaxing float down the river back to the beach.
Right where we got on, there were some rapids, and we navigated those well, but soon, after some more rapids, my water bottle got away from me. I jumped off my tube, holding onto it in the current, and tried to get to my water bottle, but I could not reach it as it swirled in an eddy up against the bank, caught in place by a bend in the river. I swam down river a ways, and my phone floated up, out of my pocket. I grabbed it and stuck it deep in my swim suit. The masks we had worn were gone from my pocket too, and I did not see them continue their adventure. As we caught a break from the rapids, my friend and I were laughing at what had happened, calling it a true adventure, not a calm, restful float down the river, joking about what we would tell the other in our monastery about what happened to the one who got truly lost!
As we approached a new set of rapids, and I tried to paddle into the center of the river, but the current pushed me into the bank, flipping me off the tube and down against a large tree trunk. The tube was caught on a branch, and when I tried to get back to it I kept being pushed back against the trunk, realizing that if I tried to rescue the tube I was likely to be thrown against the tree trunk and possibly be hurt. So I made the choice to abandon the tube.
So now, there I was, no water bottle, no masks, cell phone tucked in my swim suit, and no tube, floating down the river. I kept my feet first, in case of underwater rocks and trees, and we worked/swam/floated our way downstream for another 1 ½ hours to the landing beach.
After I got into the rhythm of this stage, the floating without the extra things, and after I realized that all was well with no tube, I began to relax and feel the presence of God. The river was beautiful, the company great, the day was gorgeous, the water warm enough. A sense of gratitude arose, a wellbeing that I don’t think I would have felt if I had still been juggling the water bottle, the tube, the stuff. In this natural, deep in the water state, fully immersed in the present, I could relax and be, floating in the Waters of Life, held by God’s currents, unencumbered.
I have reflected since then what extra things do I carry that feel cumbersome, both on a physical and emotional/spiritual level. What can I leave behind? What am I struggling to keep a hold of, even when everything is pulling it away? And, I have reflected on the danger of wishing for an adventure!
What is God trying to encourage you to let go of? What is pulling you forward?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.