Dormant, not dead

Although this blog has remained without post for awhile, it is not dead.  Life’s circumstances have crept in the way of consistent writing.  The good news is that I have a job; the bad news, of course, is that said job has been busy enough to keep me from writing in this place.

Nevertheless, I am brimming with ideas, and I hope to post about at least one or two of them.  For this job I’ve done a considerable amount of travel in a short amount of time, thus renewing my interest in writing about travel as a form of discernment.

I don’t know when that post will be published.  Sometimes I question whether I should continue with this blog, and I always come back to the desire to write and not care if anyone reads these words.  I do know I still receive many hits for a two and a half year old post containing a poem from Hafiz on loneliness (by far the most popular piece).

That, too, is worth blogging about again.  Loneliness.  Right now I’m in a season of being on my own, and working hard.  Loneliness does accompany me on my work related travel, but I am most grateful for friends and family, though sometimes they are far off.  The loneliness I sometimes feel now is good, because behind it, I feel loved.  This lonelieness is a longing for those I hold dear and whose company I miss.

That post from 2008 highlights a time in my life when loneliness was an emptiness—and yet, as the Hafiz poem suggests, I let it cut me more deep; it fermented and seasoned me.  After that post, I descended even further into a lonely and depressed place, but eventually I emerged.  And here I am, full of life, and yes, still lonely and ever so aware of my need for God.

No,  this blog is not dead.  Even if my posts still are months from each other, and may at times be dormant, it is not dead.  So long as people continue to search and read the Hafiz poem, it will be alive…

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Love from a Stranger

If I were to speak my previous entries in a spiritual direction session, I, as spiritual director, might ask a question often used: “What does it look like?”  That is, when I say love, what do I mean?  How is that expressed?  Here is a story of what I mean, because I am not merely talking of eros love.  No, I love with compassion, too.  Though I have stories from my work with the homeless of deep love being manifest in and through them, I have a story when compassion was shown to me.

It was July of 1985.  My family was present at a church retreat at Ocean Shores, WA.  I was 5 years old, but I have vague memories of campfires at the beach, and even falling out of the bunk bed one night.  The return home, however, has been forever and vividly burned into my memory.

Our car took the lead in a caravan of carpools.  My dad was at the wheel with my mom as passenger; my sister and I sat in the back, largely ignoring each other, lest one of us dared to cross the middle boundary that lay between.

We only had a few split seconds before the car hit us, barely enough time for the brain to register that a car was heading straight in our direction.  My dad hit the brakes, but we were on a bridge and it was too late.  I remember looking up and seeing the swerving car; I didn’t even have time to be afraid.

There was so much love that day, in the presence of our church family, and those who stopped to help.  The driver of the other car had fallen asleep, and hit us head-on.  The impact of the accident knocked me out.  I remember being carried out of the car by the vicar’s wife.  Barely conscious, I remember seeing the remains of our crumpled car, though I blacked out and regained consciousness again in the ambulance.  I have no memory of pain until I entered the emergency room.  There, while the doctors were working to save me, my body went into trauma.  The seat belt that saved my life also caused internal bleeding.  I remember convulsing and throwing up blood; my body felt as if thousands of needles were sticking into me all at once.

Meanwhile, my mom and sister were going through their own trauma—my dad was the only one not seriously injured.  And that God for that, as his attentiveness was much needed.

I spent a week in the hospital.  My mom was severely injured.  The dashboard had crushed her right leg.  So at five years old, I spent those nights in the hospital without my mom to comfort and hold me.

One of those days in the hospital I received a visit from an elderly gentleman.  He stopped to see me and talk with me, although I barely remember his face or what he said.  But I will never forget his presence.  He brought to me, as he did with other children in the hospital, stuffed animals hand-made by his wife.

Three years ago I was a hospital chaplain for 10 weeks…there I was able to love others as this man had loved me.  My calling may not be to hospital chaplain, but the love I speak of fills my heart so much that I have no choice but to give this love.  This is what I mean when I say I may not be meant for an eros love relationship (see C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves).  I am searching for love, yes, but even more I must search for ways that my love may be shown and how to let love be shown to me.

The knitted goose this man gave to me has been one of my symbols of love, compassion, and grace.  And, as a clever 5-year-old, I named this creature, “Goosey”.  My Goosey stayed by my side throughout my childhood, and on my most recent trip home, I brought him back to Seattle.  Goosey has fared well over the years, only once needing to be mended.  That goose is strong, independent, and well-worn—just like me.

I love this goose, and the goose was made with love.  I love that man, who surely has passed away by now. And I know that he loved me.

Amen.

On Dying and Being Reborn

If love is the emotion which awakens my being, autumn is also the season which stirs my soul.  The mystic in me surfaces during seasonal transition.  One can liken our human spiritual well-being to the seasons…and it is no surprise that in the span of a year, my heart has seen all four seasons.  Gazing upon the seasonal beauty of transition now unfolding in New England has indeed stirred me.  Hence the entry of love…

But when I speak of love and loss, I also speak of birthing and dying.  For, the wonder of golden and red leaves bears news of death and winter’s approach.  As the trees let go of their leaves, I too, have things to let go.  As much as I would like to shield myself from any sort of death, I cannot.  Again, I grieve for the loss of things, for one who has been abused, for one who has lost a loved one, for several who have lost jobs…I grieve for myself.

The spring will come again…but before then, I must let go.  I will let go…

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The only words left to say are the words of a Rabbi:

Life and death,
a twisted vine sharing a single root.

A water bright green
stretching to top a twisted yellow
only to wither itself
as another green unfolds overhead.

One leaf atop another
yet under the next;
a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls
all in the act of becoming.

Death is the passing of life.
And life
is the stringing together of so many little passings.

Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

on breaking free from fears

This morning I went on a run with a friend, a nice loop of about 6 or seven miles. It was an interesting run on a not-so-interesting morning blanketed by gray stratus clouds. Back at home, blissfully enjoying the post-run endorphin high, I engaged with my heart. But the bliss soon wore off, leaving a vacancy for something more somber. Something I have noticed lately is a joyful life, with much to be thankful for and bathed in laughter and shared time with good friends. And yet, a great paradox exists as I am deeply lonely; even in the midst of comfortable company, I find a sadness in my soul. I find solace in the music of Evanescence and Linkin Park, whose music and lyrics embody intense emotional wounds that speak to me. So….for me…such joy, such love of life…and such sadness…brokenness. And I’m not the only one.

Furthermore, inside my spirit is fear. In addition to joy and love of life, I have an array of possibilities before me as I prepare to receive my master’s degree. Enter the fear. This is by no means an abnormal fear to have–but looking deeper, I really am afraid: Afraid to leave (Seattle, my friends, my community). Afraid to stay here…fear wants to tell me to run away because it’s easier, I won’t have to deal with the complexities of relationality. And more…

All this was flowing through my head as I sat down to read for my class on spiritual discernment. Ha, what fun…here I am lost in the midst of deep inner feelings, and my homework is right in line, a huge help for both spirit and studies. So here I am…doing what I do, and doing what I help other people do…discerning. Sometimes it’s a bit much and I’m thankful for friends to bring me back to life, back to reality with laughter and shared conversation.

I know I have courage and a strong spirit. Now is the time to summon up that inner strength, the sort of courage only known from experiencing pain and brokenness. It seasons my life, never quite disappearing, yet sometimes remaining beneath the surface of my being. So here I go…I dive into the waters and go with the swift flow of the river in hopes that my courage will carry me through.

And here, when can I reach this place in my spirit, I am free. Although loneliness and fear are present, I am not bound to them and I do not have to hide my brokenness. I can however, break free from their distortions to engage more deeply with life and learn to love more deeply.   As my friend and I ran this morning, we pondered potential names for what I’d name a spiritual direction practice if I had one: I am free to be broken…

God help me to find the courage to face these fears and break free from them!