Dear Loved Ones,
Do you have a place that is one where God meets you, where you meet yourself?
I am staying at my friends home for a couple of nights while she is away. It’s a place I stayed often before I moved to Minnesota, but now mostly come for an afternoon, not overnight. My times of staying here before were usually tagged on to our monastic retreat, either before or after our monastery gathered in person, and was an extension of this retreat time. The home is a small cabin on the banks of a lake, the water visible through the trees, a dock to sit and pray on in the mornings, a shady lawn to be on if the bugs are not biting, a screen porch with recliners and a lake view. And while other houses are around and kids are playing, it feels like a sacred space for me.
When I arrived here this trip I had left some things undone at home, and my mind was playing the guilt vs. need to stop record. I should have finished painting the garage before I came, I still didn’t write that email that needed to go out, I have thank you cards to write, my carpet needs shampooing and the bathroom needs cleaning. What gives me the right to leave all that behind and escape for two nights? And, since starting at Clearwater UMC at the beginning of the month and just finishing up 4 weeks of intensive healing sessions with a client, (all really good), I was tired, and had only had one day of absolutely no work in a few weeks.
So I arrived at the cabin, unpacked some groceries and a swim suit and the dog, and sat on the porch to breathe. Within a few minutes I felt my body begin to open, to relax, my breathing got deeper, my mind slowed down, and peace washed over me. It was as though God was saying, “Welcome, have a drink of water, sit and relax. I’m here with you!” And it was as though the land itself were saying, “Welcome! You know how to do this place. Slow. Relax. Retreat. Be.”
I love that this land and God know how to welcome me into this physical place in such a tangible and grounding way. My body remembers all the summers when I spent time here and falls back into that space easily. The dock draws me for morning prayers, the water for afternoon floats, the porch to just sit and be and sit and be some more, the bed calls for naps and the nearby woods are becoming a place to walk Gibbs before the heat catches up with us.
I am filled with gratitude for the space, and for the prayers that have been prayed here over the decades, the people who have made this a sacred space…. As well as a space to gather and laugh and enjoy one another. I am grateful for Sue’s hospitality and care of her home, this little piece of land on the edge of a lake! And I am grateful for the lake and the land and God, for the fireflies, loons and a great blue heron, and for who all meet me there with arms and wings wide open!
Where are some of your sacred spaces? Where are those lands and waters where your body remembers to slow down, where God meets you with open arms?
Dear Loved Ones,
I was cutting the lawn the other day toward the end of a day of hard work. The weather was nice and the grass cool beneath my feet. My lawn mower is a push one…. No loud motor running, and I was enjoying the task, my mind wandering and quieting and the sound of birds filling the air. All of a sudden a piece of broken stick was thrown up into my face, hitting with a hard whack. It stung, but wasn’t too bad; there was blood, but not much. So I decided I wanted to finish mowing the lawn, I was so close to being done. But soon my chest closed up and I was finding it hard to breathe, the memory of other times I had been hit causing a feeling of panic to rise up. “Just push through,” was the old mantra coming up. “You’re fine…. It didn’t hurt that much. It’s your fault. Don’t be a baby. Keep going and pretend nothing is wrong.” All phrases that came in rapid succession as it was getting harder to catch my breath. (note…. All this took place in about 30 seconds or less!)
So I turned the mower back to the garage, went inside the house, got a cold cloth and sat down. Immediately the voices stopped. They saw the compassion and love I was giving myself and had nothing left to say. My chest opened and my breathing was easy once more. Within a minute I was regulated and calm.
I looked at the damage to my face…. Just a small scrape, and held the cold cloth on it a little more, and smiled to myself, kind of in shock and awe at the whole incident. Firstly, that the reaction had been that big. And secondly, that the compassion had come so quickly and, as soon as it was enacted, the calmness descended and all the feelings settled.
This made me think about all the times when I have had to push through pain, to keep going, to pretend nothing was wrong even when it felt like I couldn’t breath, even when the pain was far greater. And it made me realize how far a little love can go, how quickly feelings can dissipate when they are given the compassion and attention then deserve, when they are seen and heard and cared about. I’ve witnessed this with little kids who fall over and scrape a knee…. They sit there for a minute to see if someone will notice, and if they are asked if they are ok will say, “Yes,” and spring back up to play. But if no one pays attention they may begin to cry, looking for and needing on a primal level some compassion and love, someone to see their hurt and care. The pain is the same whether they are seen or not, but the response from those who should love them is what is important.
I encourage all of us to pay attention to the hurts and pains that arise, the feelings that come. Surround them with compassion and love, ask them, “are you ok?” Hold them for a while until they know that they are loved. Stay with them until they re-regulate. For if we don’t do this, they build and build until they are harder to love, harder to calm down from, bigger to face.
I believe if we can do this with our own small (and large) hurts and pains, we can begin to do this with the pain of the world, spreading ripples of love and compassion to all the places of hurt, re-regulating our communities and beyond so that healing may happen and everyone will be able to breathe with more ease.
In these warmer days, Gibbs has a funny habit during his afternoon walks. He will start off in a patch of shade, sniff around and sit for a while, then run with a big smile on his face and tail wagging to the next patch of shade to repeat this all over again. The park we have taken to walking in during the afternoons has plenty of shade for him to do this in, and grass to run on, and there is always a breeze. And at the end of the short walk there is a stream to drink from and swim in. So he is a happy little walker whose shade hopping amuses me!
Watching him the other day I realized that this is life at the moment though. We hop from one safe spot to the next, running in between them as quickly as possible. We stay in the shade of our homes, then run out to the shops, grabbing what we can as quickly as possible before running back to the shade of our homes. Or deliver meals for the homeless without stopping to chat, or walk in nature keeping far away from other walkers. While some feel it’s safe to linger in those exposed places, even with a mask on I still try to limit my time where I might transmit or pick up CoVid, and not in a fearful way, but in a “I care about you, and want to protect you,” way. I hop from shade to shade, lingering in the shady places for, maybe, a tad too long, but when in the sun scurry along quickly with a masked smile to all I meet. If I had a tail, it might well be wagging as my love for the world shines forth in this way!
I think I am also this way with my feelings. Mostly I try to hang out in the shade, the feelings that are easy, or nothingness, even the apathy and holding it all at arms length. The shade is a place to feel somewhat safe, somewhat protected from the frenetic vibrations of the world around. Yet, every now and then I have to venture into the burning sun of feelings…. The anger, the fear, the grief, the anxiety of the unknown, both the worlds’ and my own. For as much as the shade is ok, the sun is full of life and people and noise and the vibrations scream so loudly that I cannot ignore them any more. It is right to pay attention, to see what the world is seeing. And, yes, it can be hot and dangerous, but these spaces between the shade are bright with truth, and it is more dangerous to ignore these flashes of reality even if they feel like they are burning.
I find though, after dashing through an intense feeling, the shade is no longer a place I want to hang out in. It feels dull, lifeless, a false sense of safety lives there. While it may offer some protection, it slows everything down, makes me feel like I am moving through thick molasses, my thought processes are dull and my body is heavy. The sun is, perhaps, where the life is, the feelings are what brings everything into focus. The shade just keeps it all at bay, yet there is so much more to living that holding those feelings out at arms length.
I think what I really need, though, is that stream of water to plunge into at the end of that sun-shade dance. The water that cools and refreshes, the water where I can soak in God’s love, no matter what I have been feeling before. The stream of grace and mercy and hope. This allows the feelings to be felt in a way that is safe and good, it allows the shade to be seen as a safe, but somewhat lifeless place. The water is what brings true life.
John Lewis wrote these words just before he died:
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
I may write the same sentiment saying, “When historians write this story, let them say it was our generation who stepped out of the shade, who felt the burn of the suns of war and violence and aggression, and waded into Peace and Love, allowing these to guide and refresh and challenge to make good trouble. Let the Living Water be your guide.”
May we not linger too long in the shade, not get burnt too badly by the sun, but let us seek the living waters of Love to show us the way.
Dear Loved Ones,
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and came across a picture of a friend with her 8 year old son. It was a typical summer photo, mom in large straw hat, son in swim trunks, sun lightened hair glistening, wet from the lake he had just been in, big smiles on their faces. At first it made me smile, but after a while my mind kept returning to the image and a sadness set in.
The sadness was brought on by how much this child has changed since I last saw him back in March. He is in that stage where his face structure is changing, teeth falling out, cheeks loosing their baby look, body lengthening, and all this made me realize just how long social distancing has been happening. While my life has not changed drastically, it has been a long haul since I went to church, ate a restaurant, visited friends without thinking (and only two of my circle have even been on this list), went to a thrift store, visited someone in hospital, hugged or shaken hands… the list goes on. And it made me think of all the lives that have been lost or people who are still suffering from CoVid, many seriously ill for a couple of months. It made me remember all who have lost their jobs, or income from reduced jobs.
And the sadness made me realize that the days are already noticeably shortening, the sun setting earlier each evening, and our CoVid situation is not getting better. We are in this for the long haul, masks on faces, rolling shutdowns a possibility ahead, schools uncertain of what to do, and so many decisions that need to be made with courage to save the most people possible from contracting the virus. It also brought to mind the many conspiracy theories circling that just seem to diminish the severity of loss and grief and allow people to bypass their true feelings.
Along with all this, there is the unrest in several cities, peaceful protests being turned into zones where tear gas and unmarked ‘law enforcers’ stir up trouble and take citizens away without identifying themselves. There is talk of division and hate that comes from those who should be setting an example. There is the story of a congresswoman being called names by others in congress and death threats against those who are working to contain viruses. So much. So, so much.
So, it is unsurprising, I guess, that sadness came.
I sat with it for a while. I cried some tears. I got upset over some small thing and was irritated over nothing. And I tried to get quiet.
The more quiet I became, the louder the world seemed. “Look at this,” it cried. “Over here,” it shouted. So I stayed searching for the quiet. I pulled weeds and scraped old paint off the garage, I went for walks and immersed myself in a lake, I read a book and sat with directees.
Slowly, the quiet seeped in through the noise. The quiet worked its way through the tears. The quiet got under my skin like the dirt under my fingernails. And beneath it all, beneath the sadness and the noise and the tiredness and the uncertainty; beneath it all, there was peace. An assurance that agreed we are in this for a long while more, that acknowledged the grief and fear, that saw the changes and the things that have been lost. And in the quiet, these lines from a prayer that we say some nights came to me:
“Protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may rest upon Your eternal changelessness.”
I turn again to God’s eternal changelessness….. this is a time of change and challenge and grief, but in it God is with us, God is walking with us with hope, God is a beacon of light to follow, God is not fleeting but in it for the long haul. God is the one on whom and in whom we can rest. It’s like the very center of a fast spinning roundabout (I don’t know if you had them in the US… they were a playground toy, a large metal circle divided into 4 or 5 sections by metal bars, held by a center post. Someone runs around on the outside turning it as fast as they can run while those on the roundabout hold on tight, screaming and laughing. They were banned soon after I was a child as they were super dangerous!). While the outside of the roundabout is spinning wildly, faster and faster, the center is barely moving. While the spinner, if they run fast enough and hold on tight, can lift their feet off the ground and feel like they are flying for a few seconds, the center post holds still and steady. The closer we can move to the center, the stiller we can be. The more changeless we can become and the further away from danger we are.
This sadness helped me move back from the edges, toward the center once more, toward God’s stillness, toward the knowledge of the changelessness of hope and Love. While the world seemingly spins out of control, our task, my task, is to stay close to the center, the Truth, the Love, the Peace. The sadness and fear and guilt and horror are all still there, but I can be with Peace, silent and ready to move and speak as the silence calls me.
It reminds me of this poem by Ana Lisa de Jong in her booklet “Poetry for a Pandemic.”
HOPE IS MADE
Hope is made for such a day as this.
It is not made for when all
is sweet and light.
Although the memory of the good
can be a fueler of the flame.
Because hope was made for when the darkness
is most apparent.
Hope was made for when the sky has changed
Hope was made for those who cannot wake
And for those who have lost their balance
Yes, hope is not made for the day of goodness.
It isn’t made for when our many blessings
cannot be counted,
gifts showered as blossoms
in the wind.
Hope is made for when the world has been shocked
to silence, except for the ‘O’ of disbelief,
and mouthing of a prayer.
Hope is made for the day that tries our understanding.
May we allow the feelings of sadness and grief and fear to arise so we can stay in hope!
With love and hope,
Gibbs has been having a hard time of it recently. It started with a thunderstorm, then fireworks were being shot off each time we stepped outside, then the big firework display held right across the street from us, more thunder and fireworks followed, leaving Gibbs a shaking, tail between legs dog who wasn’t enjoying his walks anymore. We would walk and he would get 100yds from the house, sit down and look back and forth between me and the house, imploring me with his eyes to just take him home. If we did get further, he would walk close, not even stopping to smell his favorite smells in his best places to walk. And at home, every time a loud noise or a shake of the house happened, he curled up close shaking and panting. Nothing I did seemed to help and I was beginning to get worried, thinking my happy, smiling pup had been broken beyond repair. It took several short, safe walks and lots of love to get him back to his tail wagging, smiling faced, curious about the world around him self. And although loud noises still make him enter into a time of shaking, he is not living in fear anymore, and the shakes subside quickly, leaving him in a place of peace once more.
While his behavior was troubling, I was thankful he was shaking, for this is what allows that trauma to be released from the body. When we experience a trauma, our natural response is to shake. I think of a time when I broke my ankle. I went into freeze mode, but later that night, lying in the hospital bed, I began to shake and had trouble stopping. The shock was finally being felt and released. And this is a good and natural response to a traumatic event. Yet people who experience a trauma in a place or time when they cannot take time out to shake, can end up with that trauma stuck in their bodies. When childhood abuse happens, when there is no escape as the abuser is often a parent or close family friend the child has to freeze their emotions, and these get stored in the body, as memories and blockages. It’s one reason why those who have experienced childhood trauma often get sick as adults. And I think of soldiers on the frontlines who have no time between attacks to allow the trauma to sink in, but, instead, keep on going as a survival technique, pushing themselves to the limits, then collapsing into sleep when they catch a break. This has long lasting, ongoing affects, until the trauma is looked at.
When the body stores the trauma, it is not able to achieve ‘biological completion’. The body has not been allowed to process and release the traumatic event, and when these events are recurring, the trauma gets more and more stuck. When this happens it can show up in ways far removed from the actual trauma, such as explosive rage over little things, suicidal ideation or self harm, addictions or depression. The person is trying to shake itself from the trauma, but using techniques that cause more harm than healing.
Often, when I am working with someone recounting a time of trauma, we pay attention to what is happening in the body, and shaking happens. Sometimes for a while. This can be scary for the person experiencing it, but it is a good thing, for it is allowing the body to release the trauma on a somatic level, moving it through in a more thorough way as it includes the whole body, not just the head or emotions. The shaking works it’s way out, taking the pain and shame and feelings and thoughts with it, little by little, until there is a completion. It may need to occur multiple times to allow the multiple traumas to be worked through, but biological completion will occur. And the stillness that comes after the shaking is often filled with a peace (along with exhaustion sometimes), but peace in which the stillness inside is deeper and truer than any stillness felt before.
This reminds me of the many times in the Bible when chaos is followed by peace. There is the swirling of tumult, the tossing of the waves, the wrestling. And when that has worked itself out, peace. A quietness or stillness that is more than just the noise or the waves. A peace that seeps through the pores and into the core of who we are, that carries a voice of love and hope that cannot be felt very often. The shaking subsides and there we see God, the very God who has held us while we shake, but now we can really see and feel that Divine love for us, that reminder that we are called God’s beloved, an awareness that drops into our very hearts, even if we only catch it for a moment.
So if something happens that causes shaking, allow it to shake. This feels like it goes against every instinct to try to stop it. The shaking is working the trauma out, and, unpleasant as it is, will allow us to return to normalcy, to heal, to even wag our tails again!
I have been spending a fair amount of time recently with my vegetables. I have three separate spaces they are in…. one large summer garden, one pretty big planter and a bed at the side of my house. Two are ones I can plant early with cool crops, while the large one waits until May. And it has been gratifying this year to see things growing (at least the plants, even though not much harvest yet) much better than last year. I have been out there staking the climbers, caging the tomatoes, laying straw down as mulch, planting a second round of beans and beets, weeding and pruning, and so far I have been rewarded with some really sweet peas! But the other day I was doing some work when I spotted something amongst the leaves. My first zucchini had seemingly sprung up overnight and grown to almost ready to pick stage! I was excited and gave thanks, searched for anything else that might be hiding (nothing) and continued to work, letting this first zucchini grow to maturity.
It occurred to me, seeing that zucchini, that gardening is the same as doing our spiritual, healing work. We can work and weed… doing all those unpleasant, sweaty, dirty things that need to be done. We can water and plant and fertilize, trying to draw out the goodness and encourage the things we want to grow. We can struggle to find time to really do the work, or avoid some of it all together. We can get frustrated when unwanted beings and bugs get into the garden.
All of a sudden
When we least expect it
We spot new hope!
Sometimes it is hidden, hard to see. Sometimes we play that game of showing it to the world now or risking the wait until it matures, hoping that something doesn’t come in to get it. Often it takes us by surprise, seeing all that hard work pay off in one quick new swoop.
For me, gardening is also an issue of justice. We must take care of the earth we have been given, creating spaces for butterflies and bees and squirrels. Planting for future generations, both human and other than human. Sharing the bounty with others. And, again, this too is our healing work. We don’t just do it for us. We do it for those around us, those who have come before us and those who will come after us. For the very creation that, as a peoples, we seem to be destroying, but also for our communities and families.
What in your life needs weeding? What needs watering and nurturing? What needs to be pruned? What seeds of hope and justice need to be sown? What needs to be mulched to keep that moisture of love in? What simply needs to be left alone to mature? What is ready to surprise you!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.