I’ve been blessed with an abundance of family/friends/community in the last few weeks, beginning with a short trip to Idaho to celebrate Elise, the young woman who I au-paired for when she was just three years old who just graduated with her Masters in Social Work! I was there, along with her mom, her teacher from grade school, her grandpa and other family members to mark this day. Then my aunt and uncle came from Canada to celebrate my birthday, and then I visited a good friend in Michigan. In all of this I witnessed love…. Both in the celebrations and in the memories of grief and hard times. I witnessed family gathering together to be family, community built over years of living together. I witnessed tears and laughter and joy and sorrow and all the beauty that family brings.
As I began the 12-hour drive back home from Michigan, my heart felt sad. As I sat with it, I heard my young self begin to cry. “That’s what I should have had,” she whispered through her tears. “That’s what I needed.”
My life as a child was far from all I had experienced in the last three weeks. The love that should have been there was replaced with fear, the laughter with silent sobs, the hugs with hurt, the joy with shutting down all emotions as it was far safer not to feel at all than to feel everything.
So as my young self expressed this, I too felt the weight of it, the loss, the pain.
Gibbs and I soon pulled up at a beach on the North Shore of Lake Michigan to run and stretch and feel the ground beneath our feet. As I walked, I spoke to my young self. “Yes”, I said, “We should have had all that love and support and kindness and joy and community and safety. And we didn’t. But look now! Look now! Feel what is true now. We, you, little one, and I, big one, have found the people that are safe and filled with love. We have it now. I’m sad it took so long, but we have it now.” And we breathed and dipped our feet in the water and looked at the waves and the sunlight bouncing off them and the driftwood and I felt the truth seeping in.
And we do have it now, in so many ways. In community and family and friends.
I expressed this to the friend I was driving home from, and the next morning woke up to these words from her, written by Henri Nouwen:
“Joy and sadness are as close to each other as the splendid colored leaves of a New England fall to the soberness of barren trees. When you touch the hand of a returning friend, you already know that s/he will have to leave again. When you are moved by the quiet vastness of a sun-colored ocean, you miss the friend who cannot see the same. Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you can’t find words to capture your complex emotions.”
We left that little beach to continue our journey home, hearts lighter and love sunk deeper into our bones, as another layer of knowing the truth was revealed. And my heart was filled with gratitude for what is… the abundance of family in so many ways that is in my life, even in the sadness of what wasn’t for so long.
On our walk today, Gibbs and I saw a tree that reflected this. It looks like a kind of birch, and the bark is peeling off in layers, slowly revealing the heart of the tree underneath. It’s beautiful and haunting, but feels like the work we do to healing brokenness in the world. Layer by layer, uncovering new truth, new ways of being, new life as we let go of the old. Sometimes we feel exposed, but what is being exposed is soft and gentle and love-filled. The miracle of new life uncovered by old thoughts and feeling being healed.
What in your life is being revealed in this season?
This weekend I was blessed to travel to Idaho to celebrate Elise’s graduation with a Masters in Social Work. I have known Elise since she was 3 when I was her nanny…. She is now a married 28 year old with a passion for life and helping others, and it has been a beautiful thing to watch her growing into this strong, courageous, loving, funny young woman! We had arranged that she would pick me up from the airport, so when I landed I called and texted and got no response, so wandered outside to wait for her. She then called me from her mom’s phone to say they were about ten minutes away, so I sat on a bench to wait.
As I sat there I noticed out of the corner of my eyes a woman holding a piece of paper up in front of her face as though to shield her eyes from the sun. “That’s odd,” I thought, as it was dark outside, and not too bright. But the woman stood there, and then took a step or two towards me. I kept my eyes on the traffic, not sure of the car I was looking for that would hold Elise, and the woman inched her way closer to me, face still shielded by the piece of paper. Ten minutes had passed by now, so I looked even more intently at the cars pulling up to pick up their passengers. Still no Elise. Then the woman sat down next to me. I looked over to smile a welcome at her, and check to make sure I was safe…. And that was when I saw it was an old friend and colleague of mine, Paula, who I had taught with 15 years previously, and someone who had been Elise’s teacher for seven years! I jumped up and threw my arms around her, shocked and surprised, and heard laughter from behind the pillar where Elise and her mom and husband were hiding!
The week before I had suggested Paula hop in a car with Elise’s mom and join us, but she had responded that she was too busy preparing for the new school year, but instead, she had just decided to surprise Elise and me by coming! What a joy, and a weekend filled with laughter, love, memories, tears and celebration followed.
I think the Divine can be like this…. Sneaking up on us when we least expect it, coming towards us in disguise, waiting for us to recognize them, and, ultimately, filling us with joy, love and laughter. But how often we ignore Her, or shy away because we don’t immediately know who She is. We edge away on the bench, we turn our face, we even stand up and walk (or sometimes run) in the opposite direction, all because we are not curious about the unknown, or fear-filled about what is not easily recognizable.
The Psalmist reminds us that wherever we go, the Divine will always be there to surprise and guide and love and find us, which I find such a reassurance! The Voice translation of the Bible phrases it this way:
Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit?
Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?
If I go up into heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there.
If I ride on the wings of morning,
if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean,
Even then You will be there to guide me;
Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there.
Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
For You the night is just as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.
No matter if we are in the light or in a place that feels dark, the Divine is there, ready to embrace us and guide us and love on us. Our only job is to recognize Her through the layers of disguise and pain and fear and exhaustion we see with.
In these coming days I invite you to open yourself to be surprised by God! To smile at a stranger on a bench and see it is One who loves you. To feel the light surrounding you, even if you feel you are in a dark place. To observe the One sneaking closer to you and welcome the Presence and embrace. For these encounters lead to laughter, love, memories, tears and celebration!
May you be so blessed!
My heart has been broken this last week watching the news. From shootings to ICE raids, where innocent people, mostly people of color, have been targeted, children have been left without parents, and lives have been destroyed or traumatized. As a response, many of those in power point fingers of blame to others, including parents seeking a good life for their children, or laws that they, themselves, have weakened, leaving compassion and empathy seeming far, far away.
Questions, along with images and sounds of children crying or begging, have been haunting me. Questions have ranged from a helpless, “What can I do,” when the need is so, so great, to “How can ‘those’ people not care, not do something, allow this to happen.” And I find neither of these too productive, as both feel like cries from the depths of grief, and I would rather turn away from the news than feel this, but know that we have to stay aware. We have to feel. We cannot look away.
So what CAN I do? And, maybe, what can you do?
Last week I helped with Vacation Bible School at church. Toddlers through fifth graders came together to create, learn, play, worship and eat. Older youth were there as volunteers alongside the many adults around. Skin tones varied in color, accents were different from one another, learning abilities varied, and taste in food was individual. Yet this community of infants through grandmas (and probably great-grandparents), gathered in harmony to bring kindness and love and compassion to our little part of Minnesota. During the week I got to witness a quiet, shy girl from Puerto Rico grow more confident and come out of her shell as she felt this welcome and love into our community. So much so that on the last night when the kids were asked if they would read something for the closing worship in front of parents, she was the first to volunteer!
Last week an older woman where I worked got tangled up with her walker and fell. She was in pain, laying on the cold floor. So I sat with her, praying and rubbing her back gently, checking to see if she needed a blanket or a hand to squeeze as we waited first, for the nurse, then the security guard and finally an ambulance to arrive. And all the while she was thanking each person who came, and feeling bad she was being an inconvenience, lying there with her broken pelvis.
And last week I prayed, (or, more accurately) pleaded, with God to show me how I could help in practical ways. “Send me to El Paso or Mississippi,” I said. “Make a way for me to go to the border and make a difference,” I asked. “Find ways for me to change laws,” I reluctantly suggested, for politics is not my strong suit. But all I heard from God was, “Keep doing good, sowing love, showing kindness, being open and vulnerable, right where you are.” “It’s not enough,” I cried. “It’s all there is,” God replied.
This conversation threw me right back in to the words from the Talmud: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
So, wherever you are, I invite you to stay open, broken wide so it sometimes feels raw as you bear witness to the injustice in the world. To pray and listen to how God is calling you to respond. To be thankful, to shower grace and kindness into the world, to watch and learn from the children, to look for beauty, and to respond with the most love you can summon, in big ways and small. For, I believe, these will ripple out into the world, changing it love drop by love drop.
I was walking with Gibbs yesterday in a spot where we have walked before…. A neighborhood park with a trail around a lake. It’s a pretty spot, with lots of wild flowers surrounding the lake, goldfinches and cardinals flitting about, dragonflies searching for their next meal and a mix of shade and sun. There is nearly always a breeze there, making it pleasant on even the warmest of days, and a creek that Gibbs can jump in to cool down if he gets too hot, and lots of other doggy smells for him too.
Yesterday, we walked in the opposite direction from the way we normally go, and something new caught my eye. On one side of the lake there are a number of old oak trees creating a tunnel to walk through. We were wandering slowly when my eyes fell on the bark of these trees. Ruts had formed, up to three inches deep, and created an unusual pattern of light and dark. When I went closer I could see the life they supported, from ants nestling in the furrows to easy footholds for the squirrels; from water collected in the pockets to birds pecking at the bugs. And I imagined the growth that occurred for these furrows to appear, the decades of growth and regression, the expansion and contraction causing the folds and creases.
As I marveled at this, I was glad that these trees did not just shed when their skin grew too tight. The fact that they were able to split wide open and stretch and form new bark over and over again, yet hold on to all they had been before seemed to me a reflection of humans. Often, when we go through times of transformation we try to be like a butterfly emerging, leaving the chrysalis hanging, empty as a tomb. We are tempted to reject what came before as unnecessary to what the ‘new us’ is. But in reality, all that has come before in our lives is still there, folding and creased and, maybe even, scarred looking. We don’t shed the past, but rather incorporate it into the new. And beauty is formed!
As you continue to transform and grow, allow the ruts and folds and creases and scars to stay, showing the shadows of life, providing nourishment for others, giving some an easier foothold on their journey, creating still pools of water to reflect by. Don’t try to leave the past behind… It’s there, the good and bad, the light and the heavy. But crinkle and wrinkle and pleat together all you are, all you have been, and stand proud of where you are now. Split wide open, allow the new growth the room it needs, fold it into the old, and repeat, over and over, decade after decade. Allow the desire to eradicate the pain from past to go and wear it with pride, transformed into something good for all the world to see. For beauty has, indeed, formed!!
Have you ever felt angel wings?
Last week I made my full monastic profession with the Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery, a dispersed ecumenical monastic community in the Methodist and Benedictine traditions. We gather three times a day for prayer by phone, and live our contemplative lives in the world following the Rule of Saint Benedict.
There’s much more to say about Saint Brigid’s Monastery, but I want to speak about angel wings!!
One part of our profession ceremony was the ritual of being covered in a pall while lying prostrate on the floor, signifying new birth as you are uncovered and rise up. I was a little worried about this as I can get claustrophobic, and I was one of the last to be uncovered, so would be down for a while. As I lay there, listening to the prayers spoken over us, I felt the weight of the pall, the chill of the stone floor, the oxygen levels dropping, and felt some fear arise. But then I began to feel the weight as hands of blessings holding me, filling me with light and love. And my breathing slowed as these blessings caressed me.
When it was time to rise, the pall was lifted off. The air rushed in, but then I felt the wings of angels fluttering around me, as though to give me one last blessing, touching me gently and reminding me of their presence, before they flew outward to those gathered, the blessings received returning to the world, the light pouring back out into the sanctuary, the love swirling and gathering momentum before flowing wide and far.
The beauty of this moment took my breath away in a whole new fashion! No longer feeling oppressed or stuck, but reminded of the healing and work it has taken to allow this love to soak into my being, and the promise I have made to continue to turn this healing and love back out into the world. For so often I would push the love away, not trusting it, or greedily cling to it for fear of it disappearing. So now, to allow it to saturate me and then have it turn around was, indeed, a thing of beauty.
It reminded me of this poem by the Sufi poet, Hafiz:
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.
You have waltzed with great style,
My sweet, crushed angel,
To have ever neared God’s Heart at all.
For God will not be able to resist your longing
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One.
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
O my sweet,
Oh my sweet, crushed angel.
My prayer for us all is to remember that we have waltzed with great style, no matter how crushed we have been, and in this we have neared God’s heart! Let us share this with our broken world, bring more and more people to the Divine dance!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.