Monday, May 9, 2016

Journey to the International Day of Prayer's Chapel This Year

I was on my way home from a several day journey taking me from home on Sunday, May 1 to Florida and then on Wednesday, May 4 returning to see my grandson and daughter near Philly that afternoon and evening. On Thursday, I returned from Pennsylvania to start back to work that afternoon in Frederick, Maryland. I love my work, but I needed a break.

May 5 is also the International Day of Prayer. I decided that an hour of prayer and meditation before entering back into the not-vacation mode would be good. Coming down Rt 15 from Pa into Md, I wondered where could I worship and pray?

I figured my fall back would be the Basilica at Emmitsburg or the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes where Mother Seton had her vision of Mary an exit or two further down the road. I called a colleague, who is a minister, to see if her church was open on the auspicious day. But I got her voicemail.

My van drove past the exit for the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton. When I went to the Grotto, I was surprised (and had forgotten) that it no longer is a quaint little quiet spot for reflection, but a tourist center, with two large buses in the outer parking lot today and a store by the bell tower.

I turned around and headed back to the highway and continued thinking, maybe I just needed to pull along side the road at 11 a.m. and take my chances. Prayer can be anywhere. The Catoctin Mountains are beautiful. The Blue Ridge mountains represent home in so many ways for me. I find myself exhaling a little more deeply when I am near them. Besides, I didn't want to spend my time driving around looking for a place since I had to be in town for work at 12:30 p.m.

As 11 a.m. arrived, I had not heard from my friend. The roadside shoulder off Rt 15 hardly seemed to be the prayerful place I was seeking. At 11:01 a.m., I found myself pulling into the Catoctin Mountain State Park's Manor Area. The Visitor Center was closed. A lone car was sitting there. No one was in the first picnic/play area. No cars were in the furthest parking lot, either.

I parked and got out of Partner's vehicle, a Dodge Journey, aptly named Pegasus. The air was chilly, the sky cloudy, and a light drizzle kept trying to get established.

Ah, today's chapel is here:


And here:

My family roots on my mother's side lived a few miles from here. I know my grandparents walked this area. My youngest daughter held a birthday party at the park one year. Memories that are deeper than my own lifespan live in these woods. Connections to these spring-fed mountain waters and rocks resonate in my bones.

I had come from a re-baptism in the ocean waters while on the Florida trip just two days prior. The feminine water pulsing in those waves was salty and gritty. In contrast, the peewees and the thrush were singing here with a crispness and sharp echoing in the woods that no electronic music could recreate. The babbling brook uttered its' own song.

I prayed and sang and did a walking meditation in these old woods alive with spring. I tried to take in everything that I saw and heard and felt. Lots of green. Familiar friends, the trees were comforting.

When I left the park, families with children and older couples were in the other parking areas. Life looked ordinary and normal. I returned to work.

The next day, a friend who knew about this side trip, said with great excitement, "Do you know where Catoctin Hollow Road is?" I couldn't place it. But after a wracking of the collective brains in our household, someone got a map. It was the road beside the park off Rt 15. A body had been found by morel hunters just off the road.

Was the dead body there the day before when I was? 

It grieved me to think that while I was walking the banks of the creek, a 1/2 mile away there probably was a body dead in the woods. I can only hope it was a naturally occurring death and fresh on Friday, May 6. But I am aware of the violence in the world. There certainly have been times of great violence in the world. But the chilling and increasing ease with which people are killing each other frightens me.

No word on the cause of death yet. But as I looked at the pictures I had taken with my little camera phone at the park that day, I noticed a photo where at the bottom of a tree someone had knifed in the word/name: DANA.

For most people, Dana is a name of a person. For Buddhist and mindfulness practitioners, this has a different meaning. Dana (pronounced like the name Donna) is the practice of giving freely a donation to teachers who teach on how to end unnecessary suffering (the dharma).
Look towards top of beech in picture: dana
Yes, of course. The trees stood witness to something in the woods down the road. The birds are singing of spring in the midst of the world's turmoil. The babbling creek upstream, in its unformed words, rhythmically flow from the mountain springs to the salty ocean without thought about how. But we too, can stand witness to and sing of and swim down towards our final destination called home as we put our hands together in prayer celebrating, lamenting and giving, what is ultimately, only ours for a brief span to time, back to the earth. It is our seemingly unique gift as humans to do this act in this particular form: praying in all manner and in all ways.

I have to laugh at how playful the universe can be. Maybe I say this just to amuse myself in the midst of the hardness of life. But how can I take myself so seriously when the trees look tatooed with the message I need?  Where the exposed roots seem like outstretched arms, perhaps a version of the multi-armed Buddha of Compassion? This tree certainly gave its bark freely to carry the word Dana. 

Although, I do wonder how Dana is doing these days? Did she/he cut it into the bark her/himself as a declaration of existence to the world? Or, did a lover mark the tree in hope of eternal love for each other? These, too, seem like acts of prayer. 

I bow to the teachers and the teachings and the community of living things everywhere! May there be peace, love and humor in the world, just the way the world is.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Dog fur

Back in November 2015, I wrote this piece and never posted it. Before I add more to the collie story, this part needs to be told.

What brings joy?

After 16 months of a reclaimed granite counter sitting outside in front of the garage, it finally got moved inside. (Long story, not for here.) Hooray! 

This meant that I needed to clean and rearrange the office to create a desk with it. Actually, Partner and some co-workers moved the granite onto two two-drawer file cabinets, and wha-lah! A desk. Now my job was to clean it and set it up. 

I think this would be a happier moment if I didn't feel like crud. A low-grade cold has been settling in for the past two days. I put off cleaning flower beds for the winter because of the sinus pressure.

With the desk set up, I needed to clean the floors. This required bent over, nose-dripping scrubbing. 

I began to feel weepy. Why?

Maybe I feel worse than I let myself know. Maybe it is the dog hair from Finn swirling around the edges and being caught up in items stored behind the cabinets. He'd passed over last January, but those fluffy collie fur bunnies still showed up in odd places.

I've been looking at collie porn on Facebook. That means I look longingly at those beautiful pictures of well-groomed dogs with stately smiles. But the stronger experience of looking at those pictures is the strong felt-sense of soft fur. I miss Finn's softness.

Pictures don't capture the work involved. In and out several times daily for potty breaks, regular feedings no matter what, grooming, vet visits, etc. He was a rescue dog with lots of quirks. But Finn was a companion. Always there. Nosing me in the leg for a pet or snack.

Last night, I went to sleep on the recliner. Partner had been in bed for a few hours. Reading, I fell asleep.

The dream was set on a familiar farm. The farmhouse had a wrap-around porch. I was down the lane at the barn. I saw on the hill a coyote-wolf cross. It was coming toward me. Frightened and nowhere to go, I stood. This creature turned into a collie. Then there were five beautiful collies. They seemed ready to come with me in a pick-up truck. A very pregnant collie was directly in front of me.

I awoke in a scared, racing-heart kind of way.

The collies were beautiful and comforting. It was the fear of the wild coyote-wolf coming toward me that affected me.

Who knows what is basic physiology of the the mind/body - racing heart/panic and dream imagery?

I awoke enough to go to bed and snuggle with Partner.  While dread of the wild coyote-wolf cross was with me, so, too, were the beautiful, gentle, soft collies. (Ironically, those fuzzy collies are called rough collies.)

I could never have predicted the power of having a collie in my life a few years ago. I miss Finn.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Justice


Sometimes, there are just no decent words that capture the times. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Magic of Surprise

Sometimes there is an intersection of magic and surprise. Those are times when you get more than you can imagine. A few Sundays ago was just such a time.
Agnes
Agnes was going to play at a local church on the first Sunday in August with two services, each with communion. I decided to sign up as a volunteer musician on that Sunday because I figured attendance would probably be at its lowest point for the year with people on vacations. Thus, less pressure.

In the process of planning the morning, Partner and I talked about his role. Yes, he is the Sacred Schleper of the harps – especially in moving Agnes to and from the house to a venue. But, he also helps me by walking the space while I tune and warm-up. Harps are not the loudest instrument and I don’t have sound equipment. He gives me feedback on how the sound carries and what I need to do to accommodate this.

When we arrived, Partner unloaded and placed Agnes in her spot. I started tuning and practicing. Partner walked around the church. Later partner told me that the sound guy saw what he was doing and said there was no bad seat in the house and pointed to the rafters and the sound system.

While tuning, Sound Guy quietly set up one single mic beside the harp. He assured me that this was a very good mic. I saw him, but had no concept of what this would mean in the service. Canned harp, I thought, referring to a tinny kind of sound I dread. 


After the first service, Sound Guy came over to Partner and myself after people dispersed.

He had another sound person play back one of the songs I’d played over the sound system in the church.  My reaction was to try to keep talking and deny that it was the song Agnes was playing.
The music sang throughout the church.

The first song he played, I had a pause where I wavered in my playing. He quickly signaled to the other person to change to the next song. It was clear that he was trying to get me to listen in an encouraging way.

I paused and laughed saying that this wasn’t me, it was the magic of the sound system in this space. He patiently leaned in and subtly suggested that wasn’t entirely true.

It was so hard to take this in.

I am used to the sound of Agnes in my ear with the vibrations ringing through my fingers, chest and legs from her powerful voice. This is why Partner is so vital to sounding out new spaces for me. I have no perspective.

Sound Guy shared a bit about his background. Without giving away who he is, let’s just say I now think of him as Super Stealth Sound Guy. He has worked in the music industry for decades. But the thing that got to Partner and me the that Sunday was this man’s huge heart as a person dedicated to children with disabilities. There was a whole-heartedness to his very being. 

Did music help enable or support that in some small way?

He seemed to enjoy the harp. He said he treats the harp like the human voice because of its sound qualities.

After both church services, lots of people came up and said that that the church has its praise band, the organ and choirs, but the harp brought something quieter and more calming. There was so much encouragement from everyone. I was surprised when people clapped after I played in the church in both services . (Those irreverent church-goers.)

Afterwards, I got a cd from the Sound Guy of the tracks that I played in both services. It was shocking.

My playing wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t awful either. I am trained to listen critically to my music. In the midst of playing, I experience mistakes as huge in the context of the piece. It takes a lot of mental energy to play the music, anticipate the problem spots, recover from the oops, and keep playing. However, listening to the cd helped right-size the errors, and show me where I had recovered. In the scope of the whole piece, everything was just fine.

I found myself thinking of this experience as something akin to the Aboriginal peoples’ experiences of the shock of seeing oneself in a photograph for the first time. What is this? This isn’t me, as I pinch myself. Yet, this is me in a certain sense of space and time captured by a particular medium.

When I was a violin student in the 1970’s, my teacher loaned me his reel-to-reel tape recorder for demo tapes for competitions and auditions. One feature it had was  an “echo-plex”  function so that the sound could range from rather dead/flat to sounding like it was being played in a hall to a ridiculous echoing that distorted the music altogether.

I find myself struggling with the technology of sound capturing and containing – beautiful, but non-the-less, manipulating sound. The truth is that there are very important recording artists I would never have heard and who have enriched my life.

Sound Guy literally was a master sound guy.  My shy self has been playing harp because of its sonorous, vibratory qualities; and, I have viewed playing as an act of prayer that is lifted up to the heaven and penetrates hearts. Mostly, it is an act of impermanence. Now what? It has been captured and beautifully.

I forgot that the very healing qualities of the harp might extend beyond my small ideas of healing.


May I not lose sight of the potential in all life. May my life be (and yours) be filled with creativity and beauty as a gift of life. What we do with it matters. May that vitality, bliss, be made manifest until it echoes out in infinity. What magic!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Blessing of the Harps

Agnes, Grace, and Gloria
It seems to be my practice to reserve some things for obsessive planning and others for holding lightly and seeing what comes of it.

Last weekend, we held a Blessing of the Harps. This was done with Partner. But the impulse arose after attending the Therapeutic Harp Forum in July and hearing most of the spokeswomen from various therapeutic harp certification programs speak of some kind of spiritual component that makes this all work for them.

In my gut, I knew when I started playing the harp that I would need five years of harp lessons before taking the harps into the world. This past year, the sixth year, there was a slow, natural unfolding of taking the harps out of the house and beyond student recitals. Hearing about the healing power of sound, the science and the art, and the relationship to the player and receivers, I found myself ready to act on owning this work in partnership with the harps and Partner. And, Partner, in his supportive role as his role of Sacred Schleper and refiner of the sound, was in agreement.

Partner, growing up Lutheran, thought there would be a formal program. How was this to go?

With our experiences of hosting Quaker meetings for worship, I was thinking of worship in the manner of Friends. This usually means that we sit together with the intention of quieting ourselves and listening for the Still Quiet Voice Within or the Divine; then, speak or share if moved to do so. But we weren't limiting this to Friends-style Unprogrammed worship.

I had asked some friends to attend. Some had experience with Friends' style of worship while others hadn't. Some were familiar with meditation practices. Some were clergy.

Perhaps they could be thinking ahead of time about the role of music in their spiritual life, or music as an instrument of healing. In hindsight, it interesting to note that no one from my spiritual direction peer group (although, some held the event in prayer), nor meditation group, nor Friends meeting showed up. Instead, the women who showed up are spiritual friends with whom there are deeply personal connections. Somehow, this was as it was supposed to be.

I had no set agenda. Just that the three harps, named Grace, Gloria and Agnes, would be blessed as instruments of healing, in service to Love.

Preparation amounted to this: I cleaned house; Partner did yard work; I made cookies for the potluck. We reflected on the teachings I had learned about the harp, music, healing and the sacred.

Friends brought a dish to share. A friend, who grows flowers, brought a beautiful vase of flowers for the room.

My youngest daughter happened to be around and took pictures of the harps. Photography is a gift of hers and I was overjoyed that she would stick around to do so.

At the appointed time, we began to gather. Pictures of the group were taken. Daughter left the room to attend to her art and we settled into our circle.

The singing bell was rung to start the worship/blessing.

Two ordained Interfaith ministers brought their stoles and one of them smudged the harps and each participant with sage. This would have never occurred to me, but was a lovely start. Another person added their opening blessing and gave a precious gift of three 2-cent coins from Ireland - the ones with the national symbol of the harp on it. (Ireland is the only nation with a musical instrument  - a harp at that - as its national symbol.) Later we taped a coin to the bottom of each harp.

Stories of music as truthtelling, of ritual and community building, and healing were shared. Singing. Blessings. Heart-felt connections, weavings of that mystical place that uses words and sounds and silence to evoke something deeper. Love. All present.

A little way into the sacred circle time, there was a pull for me to introduce the harps and let everyone hear each harp's own voice/sound.

Grace is the little lever harp I got started on with the simple tunes. She is a friend's harp on "permanent loan," in need of care at the time I got her. Grace was given to me with the prophesy that: You are going to have a mid-life crisis and need her. She got put back together in playable condition once the crisis hit and launched me into harp playing when words no longer helped for what I was experiencing in life.

Gloria is a petite pedal harp that I got second hand on consignment with no intention of buying one. I thought I was buying a better lever harp to take while getting trained in trauma work. During warm-up before the blessing of the harps, I played around and came upon the pedal settings for that Calgon-bath sound - a pentatonic scale where there are no wrong combinations of notes. It all sounds good together. So I "riffed" on her for a little while during the sharing. Later a friend said she felt transported to her mountain home with creeks and streams running nearby. I would later reflect on how this little powerhouse is often neglected. I need to let her out more.

Agnes. Lamb. What is there to say about the concert grand pedal harp with the big sound box? Agnes named herself. Several mornings I woke up to the name Agnes. "Really, Agnes?" I thought. But she wouldn't let it go. From what I knew of the name Agnes, it come from a celebrated prepubescent girl in the third century A.D. who was martyred for her Christian faith. I could see a bit of Agnes in myself. My mother wrote "strong-willed" in my baby book when I was less than a year old. I can relate to those youthful characteristics of tenderness and rawness of unadulterated youth and the steeliness of strong moral beliefs - a certain kind of innocence. What I really heard in Agnes was "pure tones" of something timeless, beautiful and powerful that belies the outward label of youth. She is my workhorse - of immense intelligence in that big body. Agnes sang Sarajane Williams' music, a contemporary and gifted healer and musician, during the blessing.

During the service, each harp wore a stole over their post. Each had significance. One stole was woven as a clergy stole for me years ago. Another cloth was hand stitched to read, "The road to a friend's house is never far." The third cloth came from a friend's trip to India with family. When I played a harp, I took off the cloth and wore it, returning it to the harp when finished.

Harps go back to some of the earliest times. There are cave paintings with a lyre-style harp. In the Old Testament, David was called to play to sooth Saul's soul/mind/misery. Pythagoras used music tones to heal. The Celts believed harpers needed to be able to evoke three emotional states: laughter, tears and slumber.

The Celts have a pretty extensive relationship with the harp. Their tradition views harps are living, made from wood and gut. It would take up to one-hundred years to make a harp. The community looked for the harper to play that particular harp and they would be joined for life, with the harp being buried with the harper.

Modern concert harps have so much tension on their soundbox (roughly, one ton of pull), that they don't last much longer than 100 years - as they are only able to take three rebuilds before not being functional. They aren't like other string instruments with a much longer livability time. Yet, a concert harp takes at least a year to break in, and warms in sound over time. Harps live about as long as a long-lived person.

For the Celts, harps are sacred. The harper's job was to play the songs the harp witnessed. In the role of war, harpers would hold up the harp to witness what took place and return to play the harp's story. It was believed that the song would reveal the truth in the hearts of those who could hear.

As the circle deepened in sharing, personal losses and joys and the state of the world were included in our stories. Earlier this spring, a friend in the circle shared with me the story of the Iranian cellist who played at bombing sites to help us all remember our humanity in the face of inhumanity.

How do we attend to each other?

As the timeless time of the blessing of the harps wound down, a song of blessing  and completion was sung. The Nepalese singing bowl sounded. We rose and gathered in the kitchen for food and talking and lots of laughter.

The basic framework of showing up, sharing stories in an honest way, and communing afterwards sounds like a basic formula for tending to the sacred. But it is what we bring to it. And, that cannot be predicted. The tenderness of the Blessing of the Harps blew my mind.

May Grace, Gloria and Agnes sing their songs in a way that attends to the needs of the world with mirth, tenderness, and calming in truth. Blessings.





Friday, August 14, 2015

Waiting for the world to become sane

I keep waiting for the world to become sane and remember that seems similar to wanting to be God. You know, idolatrous, wanting the world to be in my image, not the way it is. Which doesn’t compute, really. Why can’t it be like I want it?


Dad's Bible was always somewhere near one of his many thrones around the house. I got my own Bible for confirmation in 5th grade and still have it with those underlined scriptures, so important to an achingly searching- to-be-okay-with-herself teenager. It was in those texts that spoke of love and kindness and a kind of utopian Kingdom of God that gave voice to what I hungered for.

My own life is anything but a utopian KoG.

Monday before last, with the clinical director out of town, I got a call in the morning from the church administrative assistant: You might want to come in early. A van drove into the side of the building and knocked a hole in the foundation.

Sure enough. Everyone was huddled around the side of the building as the van was being towed and the police were leaving. The building inspector said the building was safe enough. We had power, phones, and water. I leaned over to the administrative assistant and said, “I’ve always told folks that I could counsel from the back of a truck.”

I remembered a picture that I took of a crack in the church parking lot just a few weeks before. Two rogue marigold blooms defied the odds by planting themselves in the ashalt.

I’ve been in worse situations. One counseling job that I had gave me no notice of a problem. The building had been burned overnight and I pulled into the parking lot that morning and wondered why it looked like a fire drill. Building to the left; people on the right side of the parking lot huddled. Next client in a few minutes. Nothing like taking a seriously paranoid schizophrenic to the local McDonalds for coffee and "counseling." 

The fire/arson was related to a recently discharged patient. I was nine days into this particular job. I lasted 10 months at that counseling center before deciding my life was important enough to honor my fear and sleeplessness.

It’s been ten days and the hole is still there with a piece of plywood covering it. Anyone could break in. I found a shoe on the outside steps this week. Staff thought a homeless person had probably been sleeping on the landing and lost their shoe. They kindly placed it nearby, in case the person returned.

This past Monday before leaving for a family funeral, I heard sirens galore near my home. I looked to see if the highway was backed up, but no sign of any problem there. I left the house and drove down the road only to see two police cars and police tape around a popular parking area. A car looked like it had wrecked. I couldn’t make out any people in the car.

A friend texted me soon afterwards and throughout the memorial events. News reports of a possible double homicide – people in the car didn’t die from the “accident.” And, a nearby apartment fire burning out several families was also the home of one of the "accident" victims. It seems likely that the female was murdered by an estranged husband. They were supposed to be signing divorce papers that morning. Other reports surfaced of the male running from the apartment building shortly before the fire.

Relief was my first response when I learned that the victims weren’t on my client roster. This might sound selfish, but I think any reasonable therapist would be worried for their clients. It might be considered one of my worst fears on behalf of my clients.

This week has been a no-radio news and definitely a no-TV news week. I can barely stand the ridiculous political shenanigans while people of all kinds are suffering in ways that are not being addressed in any serious way.

And then there is a weirdness to my own poor timing. Partner and I finally got it together to agree to see Jimmie Carter give one of his famous Sunday School lessons at his church in Plains, GA. I literally booked the flight on the same day it was announced he was having surgery. Since then the news reports indicate he has advanced cancer and is getting treatment. It is highly unlikely he will be giving a Sunday School lesson for the public in September. Sorry Dad. This was a Dad bucket list event that neither of us will get to fulfill.

There was a time I imagined myself a politician or a minister or a lawyer or a social worker or a musician or an artist. Maybe even a teacher or a writer. In all those roles, there seems to have been a desire to create a better world through an idealistic lens. But, I am not sure how sane that would have been. I don't have the juice to save the world anymore, let alone save myself.

But, I seem to be learning a different kind of sanity through the harp as a spiritual practice. It is building on my meditation practice by applying the arts in a way I don’t entirely understand. To be sure, the beautiful and sonorous sound of the harp is a deceptively alluring and challenging partner to master. Do we ever master anything?

In an age where talk is cheap and harsh, I am looking for another way. Perhaps, I am applying the Buddhist concept of the middle way, somewhere between silence and noise: music?

The best part of playing the harp is that talking is optional. Mostly, I let the music speak for itself.

I am feeling more and more like the KoG exists in our heart. I am just one person. Jimmie Carter seems to have mastered many of the things I'd hoped for. (Although, I haven't heard anything about his musical talents.) Dad really struggled with his lessons in failing and failing greatly.  The harp isn’t a substitute for hugs or food or clean water or health or housing or justice. But I can let the harp’s resonant voice sing a song that promotes love and sanity.





Saturday, July 4, 2015

Turtle Mountain meditation

Turtle makes annual trek.
Little Turtle carries home with her. No matter where she goes, there she is. How beautiful. 

There is a turtle who seems to cross from south to north through our property about this time each year. It goes from one small creek to another. We put up a fence for Finn last year in the back yard where the trek usually took place.
What will happen this year? Will the turtle return? Will is get confused or just go around the fence?
Apparently, the birds and trees must have warned the little turtle. It crossed our property in front of the house this time.

The anxiety was all mine.

I am reminded of a week-long silent meditation I was on in March of this year. The words "Turtle Mountain" kept coming up for me. It had something to do with the quiet silence of being with oneself no matter where I was or what is going on.

In Chinese lore, the back is the human body part connected to mountain energy. Unlike mouth that speaks or ears that hear, back is just there supporting activity. The symbol of back as earth's mountains is that one can experience them as easy such as coming down the mountain or resting on a boulder, or taxing as one climbs up the mountain. Sometimes effort is called for; sometimes rest is required. 

Back/Mountain is always there in a self-contained way. It is deeply sacred space and unknowable. You cannot take it all in, yet there are glimpses of its grandeur.

On this day of the turtle crossing, it feels like we have our own little sacred Turtle Mountain. In the silence, we exchange gratitude for this intersection of human and turtle on earth's back.