April 29, 2011

Spirit Nudged Me Awake Again at 2 am

So Spirit came swooping through in the night again. I need to get up early to catch a plane to Philadelphia. Really, oh Holy One, what are you thinking?!

I am learning that when I am nudged awake at this terrible hour,  Spirit has a thing or two for me to see or hear. So I start cruising the spiritual blogs I know about. And the one that grabs me the hardest tonight is the first one I go to: Peggy Senger Parson’s blog, A Silly Poor Gospel.

I love Peggy’s blog. I've said so before. Recently. She is bright and talented and Quaker. She’s obviously dived deep into the shadow of her own soul because she gets it about needing and making use of the mystery that is Jesus. She’s a Quaker, too, though not from my branch of Friends. I wish we could claim her.

I wonder what she would think of the shamanic/christian/universalist flavor of my particular expression of Quakerism? I worry about things like that in the middle of the night. Would Peggy, this person I really admire, think I’m a nut, were she to read my blog? Especially that one about listening to the voice of the diamonds. Hoo boy.

I went to Quaker Quaker, too, in my search for spiritual inspiration. I checked all of their groups for one that I could connect with. At least tonight, the liberal blogs seemed to be focused on things having to do with the Light, the Conservative blogs were focused on tradition (as in how important is it?) I found one on the Evangelical site by Johan Mauer about prayer. He inspired me. He prays daily for a list of people whom he divides up in his head into little “villages.” And he is faithful to the prayer discipline, making it very, very specific. That is awesome faithfulness. I left a comment about Meeting for Healing. I wonder if he has ever experienced it?

But it is Peggy’s blog that really sticks with me. She wrote about Mary Magdelene, the Apostola Apostolorum, the Apostle to the Apostles. And about Jesus as Fire Dancer. (Hmmm. Maybe she’d be okay with the talking diamonds….) If you are ever up in the middle of the night, or you ever have need to be released of your demons, check her out at http://www.sillypoorgospel.blogspot.com/.

Blessings and good night.

April 20, 2011

Looking Inside

I saw a blog post today by Peggy Senger-Parsons, a Quaker pastor in Oregon. (April 16 at http://sillypoorgospel.blogspot.com/). It’s a beach scene with these words printed on top of it: “Dear God, I have a problem. It’s me.” She titles the post, “Honesty.” I like Peggy's posts for being so practical. To me this one says something about looking inside when we are tempted to look outside.

Because I have noticed that we – and I include myself here – don’t always do such a good job of looking inside. When something goes emotionally very wrong, we almost always reflexively think that either 1) the problem is outside of us, or 2) the solution is outside of us. It certainly happens with our responses to the big problems: the alcoholic family member who can’t hold a job, the young girls who have sex and get pregnant, the teachers whose students do poorly on the state tests. We do the same thing as a nation, with Republicans blaming Democrats, and Democrats blaming Republicans for the problems we face together, and then passing laws designed to curb the excesses of the other. It’s where we are in our development, I guess, to blame anyone but ourselves, and to respond by trying to control others and our environment, rather than breathe into the problem, accept it, and learn from it so that we can respond differently.

It happens with the small problems, too, the ones where we could be getting really good and frequent practice so that when the big problems come along we’d be ready for them! For example, I might feel angry that my wishes are not being respected around a particular problem in our shared household. My first impulsive thought is that if my partner would only change his habits, we wouldn’t have this problem! (My mistaken belief is that the problem exists outside of me. He is the problem.) One of the effects of some recent poor diet choices I made was an experience of sudden and severe muscle seizures. When they would hit, usually in the middle of the night, my first reflexive motion was to make it stop, get away from the pain, run to a hot bath, shout for help. (The mistaken belief was that the solution was outside of me, rather than in my response to the pain.)

Perhaps it is a Western thing, with our valuing of armaments and industry and engineering and hard science. We want to make things happen the way we want them to be. But mindfulness practice leads us to just the opposite: to receive the experience, accept whatever it is, be relaxed with it, and eventually respond as led - in my language, led by God. Some people get their shorts tied in a knot about the idea of “accepting” something that is unjust or just plain wrong. But for me, accepting doesn’t mean that I agree that this situation should be here now. It is just noticing that it is here now, and that I can’t ignore it or pretend it isn’t here and that wishing it wasn’t here is not going to do me any good at all, at all.

So, the next time the muscle cramps come – please, God, let them be milder, let the practice be successful – I will try to notice them. “Here you are again, cramps. Come to tell me something about how I’m treating my body, eh? Thank you for showing up so I can pay better attention to my body’s needs.” And then I will breathe. "Breathing in, I know I have a body. Breathing out, I am at peace with my body." That’s my intention, anyway. I am willing to experience my life and my body as it is. I expect that, as I continue to practice, I will get better at it.

What are you working to accept in your life? Can we hold each other in the Light?


April 8, 2011

Listening to the Voice of the Diamond

In the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, north of Toronto, there is a painting by Blake Debassige, an Ojibwe artist of the second Woodlands wave. It shows a grandfather holding a baby. They are surrounded by the things of their environment: rock, butterfly, sun, flower, cloud, if I recall. There are lines of connection drawn from the baby to each of these "things."

In the shamanic world view, the indigenous world view, everything is alive. Not only are the foxes, raccoons, butterflies, and snakes alive. The rocks, the mountains, the lakes and rivers, the clouds and the soil also have beingness. Spirit dances in all of them, awakening them to Life in an interconnected web of creation. The Ojibwe baby in the painting, held in the arms of his grandfather, his tradition, easily experienced this sacred connection with all. It is a very different worldview from the one in which both the living and the nonliving are objects without sacredness, things placed here solely for the use of human beings, who may discard them when they are no longer needed or wanted.

The experience of energy also infuses this world view. In a world where everything is alive, there is a lot of sparkle! Every being has a vibration, a sound or light, which is unique to that being. Sometimes it is deep, a slow undercurrent of barely audible sound or a dark and comforting light. Sometimes it is a very high sound, or a brilliant, white light. Often it is something in between.

One can journey through this world of vibration and energy through the power of one's mind alone. One can see and hear and touch and taste things undreamed of in ordinary human perception. One can receive deep insight into the condition of one's own soul; can receive deep healing of body, mind and spirit; can experience openings of perception that places our personal and communal problems in their proper perspective.

In my journeys over the past several months a ring has appeared. It is a golden band with small diamonds inset into the band. The ring has healing properties in these visions; it is a companion to me, and is eager to help me, to show me the way to access a different vibration in my healing work, to take me to a place of merging with the Light that I have never before experienced.

I have felt a little awkward about these visions. I'm a Quaker, and Quakers are supposed to be simple people. We eschew expensive trinkets like diamond rings. Then there is also the human suffering caused by the mining of diamonds; so much suffering that commercial diamonds are often referred to as "blood diamonds." In this view, there are few "good" diamonds; those that have been mined and traded through methods that don't cause human suffering.

In my journeys, the diamonds are intent on healing. They have beingness, they have suffered, they have a desire for wholeness, they want to be of service, and they have a spiritual mission to fulfill. I have cherished these visions, and the spiritual companionship of the ring of gold and diamonds, precious elements of the Earth. I have felt the power of the journeys, but until recently I explained the diamond ring to myself as a metaphor.

Four weeks ago the lapis stone in my silver wedding band popped out and disappeared. It could not be found, and this was the third time that the stone had escaped. Each time before it had been found and professionally repaired. But now it was gone for good. Clearly the lapis was done with me! So I began the process of seeking out a different ring, checking out my friends' wedding rings, imagining a thick gold band with carving on it. Occasionally I considered a gold band with diamonds, as in my visions. But I felt guilty about liking diamonds and put the desire away from me. I was ready to contact the artist who had created our original wedding bands to create new ones. But as I was driving past a local jewelry store, I impulsively stopped in. I looked at the rings, and suddenly saw the ring. I felt an immediate energetic connection with that particular ring. I heard its voice in my mind's "ear": "Yes, it's me, and it's about time you came by. I've been waiting for you a long time." It was the ring in my vision: small diamonds set down into a gold band. I didn't know until the jeweler told me that this was called "channel set."

The price tag was higher than I had ever before considered paying for a piece of jewelry. I was disturbed by liking it so much, and put off making the purchase for a week and a half. I wanted my husband to see it and offer his opinion about it. I searched rings online, thinking that I should be a "good consumer" and check out all the options. I asked my friends if it was a sin to own a diamond – they basically said, "Yes, unless it is a fair trade diamond." But I kept coming back in my mind to this particular ring, with the seven small diamonds channel set into a gold band. Sitting in the case at the jeweler's, being looked at and admired as a potential possession, but not honored, not invited into service. And ultimately, the voice of the ring convinced me.

Since my husband and I bought its freedom two weeks ago, this ring has journeyed with me. I've accessed a different experience of the Light than I have ever had before – just as in the vision. It has shown me the suffering of earth, rock, water, and human community in the mining business, and how the water, humans, and animals near the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan are suffering right now. It has shown me how this and every oppression can be healed through the power of "now Love" – loving the place where you are now, loving the ones whom you see in front of you, and letting that love expand, just as yeast expands to raise the whole loaf. It has shown me that human beings aren't the only ones suffering at the hands of human greed – so are the diamonds, and the trees, and the animals, and the whole planet Earth. And that we are not the only ones who can help with the healing.

We must make friends with all of the beings of Mother Earth, and make room for their help. The survival of this web of Life depends on recognizing that we are a community, and that it doesn't all depend on us. Let's listen for the voices of the diamonds and the trees, the coyotes and the deer, the lakes and the rivers. Listen deeply to them, the voices that are here, right now, in front of us, behind us, all around us. The dog, the cat, the wild parsley, the rabbit, the urban fox, the raindrops. The clouds above, the earthworms below, the oak leaf, the cactus flower, the stones in your driveway, the rain puddle outside your front door, the mountains on the horizon. What do they have to say to you? When you have heard, please don't keep it a secret. We all need to know what they are saying.

April 4, 2011

My Determined Grandmother

My father's mother, Beeda, grew up in Alabama. She was the fourth of ten living children, all girls except one. Her father was a subsistence farmer, as was her father-in-law, who had a larger brood of children. Basically, both of my paternal grandparents grew up dirt poor. As far as I know, all of my grandmother's siblings remained in Alabama except her.

She and my grandfather brought their two young children north to Michigan on the heels of the Great Depression, seeking a better life. He went to work in a factory, but hated it, and later found work in a lumber yard. They built a house, living in the dirt basement through the winter while my grandfather built the house over their heads. My grandmother took cleaning jobs, and eventually got work selling clothing in a small department store, from where she retired in her mid-seventies. Unlike their parents, they never had more than two children. They worked hard. They improved their circumstances.

In my home, while my youngest siblings were still babies and toddlers, there was confusion and chaos and violence. But at my grandmother's house, there was peace and quiet. She would bake big sugar cookies which she would cut out with a water glass dipped in sugar. She made me "Lone Ranger" toast in the oven, which she buttered with real butter and sprinkled with sugar. She would let me sleep in late, and she told me how smart I was. Once when I was sick with a high fever, she kept me at her house, and got up in the middle of the night to check my temperature and wash my body with cool cloths. Although she never finished high school, my grandmother made sure I got a college education. She sent me "spending money" every month to augment my scholarship and job earnings. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. And I knew she loved me.

When I would ask Grandma to please tell me stories about her childhood, she would say, "That was the past. I look to the future." I was always sorely disappointed by this response. I was hoping for happy tales about my family that I could enjoy, and be proud of, and perhaps laugh at.

A few days ago I heard a story that made sense of my grandmother's refusal to talk about the past. Her mother, Mollie, was married at 14 to a man who was ten years older. The family story is that Mollie's husband would say that he married her young so he could "raise her up" the way he wanted to. When I tell this story to my friends, they get very quiet. They understand the implications of a young girl, not yet fully grown, marrying a fully grown man, unprepared in body and spirit to be a sex partner or a mother, being "raised up" exclusively to care for this man and bear many babies. I imagine Beeda as a young girl, watching her mother's life, and wanting something different for herself.

Beeda became a determined woman, and I believe that her intention was to create a different life for her offspring than the life she knew in Alabama. Her "up north" life included all sorts of things like nice clothes, a clean house, adequate money, and education and good jobs for her children and grandchildren. But it also included certain qualities like charity, generosity, and safety for the children. At some point my grandparents moved into a converted garage, a small house with heavy curtains for bedroom doors. When I was a girl and would spend the night there, Grandma would set me up in the spare bedroom and she would always sleep on the couch just outside the room, even though she preferred a different couch for sleeping. Once in the night I heard her talking firmly to my grandfather, "What are you doing, Frank?" Pause. "Go back to your own bed. This isn't Alabama." I can't say that I know for certain what she was referring to. But I had seen my curtain flutter, and I think I know where my grandfather was heading.

As an adult I became estranged from my parents. When my grandmother asked me to call my father and "make it up" with him, I told her that I couldn't do that until he had made an apology to me; that he needed to acknowledge that he had hurt me before I could open my heart to him again. She became very, very quiet. She seemed to know immediately what I was talking about. Then she said, in a broken voice, "I don't know about all that." I heard in her statement both the recognition that she hadn't known, her conflict about knowing now, and her hope that it wasn't true. At the end of her life, when she was dependent on her sons, my grandmother resolved the conflict by withdrawing into silence from me, and eventually into dementia. She may have gotten dementia anyway. But I believe that my determined grandmother, who had wanted something better for her offspring, had heard in my words that her life had been a failure. That while she had been able to get more things, more financial security, and education for her children and her grandchildren, she hadn't been able to stop the family pattern of using girls and women.

Beeda, I want you to know: you were no failure. I am alive and well and strong-spirited. I know my own heart and my own mind, and I don't easily put up with being used or being minimalized. I grow more strongly every day into the true stature of my soul. The pattern, as it played itself out in my life, stopped with me. I see my tender son with his strong-spirited girl children, I see the strong woman he married, and I know that I am enjoying the fruits of my grandmother's determination. Thank you, Beeda. For the sugar cookies, for standing guard, for the college education, for your determination that I would have a better life. I do, and so do my granddaughters. You did it.