Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Love reflects Love

There are so many teachings of Jesus that have impacted me  - pointing to how we care for each other - ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, strangers, and our enemies. Jesus's words are like the air I breath.

A fundamental understanding of Buddhism is that change is inevitable. It's what we do with change that matters.

Care for each other. Change. 

A driving question in my life has been: Where are my people?

On this day, it is with souls in the warmth of a living room on a foggy, rainy day.

A small group of people met for worship in the home of one of us preparing to enter a hospice facility this week. Everyone in the circle has decades of shared joys and sorrows, celebrations and troubles, and the thick soup of life.

I am reflecting on the changes and the fundamental truths that got me to this point. While I moved my Quaker membership to another meeting 8 years ago, it is this group with whom I spent 20 years of my formative adult years and with whom were called to worship during this particular day. 

Some of us had shared in a Marriage Enrichment training and kept up with potlucks and practicing "the skills" for several years beyond the initial training as we coped with raising kids, working, and trying to get along with our partners. (Okay, sometimes we wanted to kill our beloved or leave them.) Others had not participated in that group, but had served on committees together, raised our kids together (and talked about how our relationships were driving us crazy), and worshipped together. 

The key word: worship. 

We worshipped together in a pretty vulnerable way over these many years.  In an unprogrammed Quaker meeting, this is, indeed, very intimate. There are no paid ministers. There is no one elevated to guide the "service." The service is sitting in silence, waiting for a sense that the Divine or Holy One or Guidance is working through the group and sometimes someone lifts up a message needing to be expressed. Worship is the root practice of opening our hearts to the Mystery of Love.

Infused with our daily lives, we came together with the understanding that the sacred is infused in everything we do, how we live, and most importantly, how we love. And, we often fell short. Often is big ways.  Somehow, the community is still chugging along. Isn't that what Church is all about? 

What eyes am I seeing through in the midst of fog? tears? change? tenderness? fierceness?

At worship with these familiar friends, one person said that "Love reflects Love." The words are intense enough, but he kept saying it like his hair was on fire. 

In the moment right now, I am looking at the autumn trees and see how this is true. Even the woods are aglow with Love reflects Love. In the winter, it will be with the cold crispness and the breathtaking ache of life. And in the spring, it will be with the bursting color of flowers. Maybe there will be another summer for some of us and the juiciness of "Love reflects Love." How beautiful each of these faces, these seasons, in the midst of the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.

What seems true right now is that the immediacy of Love burned away any petty crap that I had been carrying around. Somehow, we all had survived our marriages. Except, now we had to face the loss of our lovers. Each other. What we have fought so hard to build and live within. One Marriage Enrichment couple already experienced a death as the other partner was in the tunnel of dementia. Obviously, they weren't with us in worship physically. Some of us have dealt with cancer, heart disease, and more. We are really getting down to the sick, aging and dying part now.

My hair is on fire with "Love reflects Love." It is a burning truth. Except for me, it is more like the Buddhist Tonglen practice - breathing in hot, difficult suffering and breathing out cool, soothing compassion with my hair on fire.

The roots of these relations are proving to be more important than the history I attach to them. Time and space are unimportant. Simply put, they are friends. They are my people. As we all return to God, I keep learning how we all belong to each other.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When is a heavy heart lightened?

Being one-half of a pair, I am sometimes surprised by our interconnectedness. The knot was tied over 36 years ago. And, we had a few years of fun friendship before that. In many ways, I felt like I got to watch my beloved partner mature into adulthood. Now it feels like we are moving into old age.

I love hair!
Looking back to the winter of 1980, there was a moment as "friends" where we went to leave a gathering and walked out to the parking lot together. We both will never forget the moment there was an absolutely electric/magnetic charge between us. I felt it everywhere. It was one of those moments where the impulse to reach out and kiss this young man was almost unstoppable. I wanted to dive into the unknown with him. I'm pretty sure both of us had the hairs on our body standing on end.

His memory of that moment was just as electric with an added thought: Really, God?! Her? She's the answer to my prayers for a partner?!

At the time, Partner had been running around with a few other women, but he was looking for something more. For those of you who know me, boy if he didn't get something more!

The next week, we made the dive. We went out almost every night until we got married 16 months later.

So much has happened between here and there. So many joys, sorrows, challenges, and juiciness.

One of our saving graces has been that we have a shared desire for God/the Divine/Love. It is not abstract. We see it in everything and through the eyes of each other. We just have to remember to lift our heads from the daily grind.

So when this year's challenges between the sad state of the world, big changes at Partner's work, and minor health things arose, well, it seemed right that his heart felt heavy. My heart felt heavy.

We both had minor skins removals, polyps removed in our insides, tests run. But there was a moment when someone caught his heart doing weird things. This lead to a cardiologist which led to more tests and finally a specialist within cardiology.

This past week he had an ablation procedure done. No big deal to those who do them. Not so minor to those having it done to them.

No need to go into the details. It was a long day for everyone. We left home at 8:15 a.m. and got back home at 11 p.m. (A special thanks to our daughter for covering dogcare, a cousin who lived near the hospital who offered hospitality, and a meditation friend and his wife who lent us their EZPass. Big thanks to those who reached out with cards and prayers.)

As Partner was coming out of the anesthesia, he told me that his heart felt lighter. A week later, it is still so. The added benefit is that he has much more energy. The kind of disease process at work was subtle. He was missing about 1:4 beats, which lead to him feeling his heart wobble in his chest, and extremities becoming more and more numb. The next thing would be to pass out. He drives heavy equipment. Not a good thing.

So, these procedures sometimes take, and sometimes, the heart goes back to its old ways. In which case, a pacemaker is in his future. This summer his cardiologist had pronounced his heart was about 15 years older than his chronological age. Maybe this resets the clock.

It has taken me more time to feel "lighter." I was around to provide gentle, supportive care those first days. No deep bending, lifting or much of anything those first few days for him. I was glad to be around to help or just be present to what arose. I ran the risk of being a nag because he would forget and do something he wasn't supposed to do or vice versa.

It was a time of reflection, laughter, and tears - for both of us. What do we want to do now? How do we want to be in this next phase of life? Can we remember to connect more deeply? It is true that we do Marriage Enrichment skills weekly, which is a spiritual practice for us. But how to freshen up our relationship? We have been holding a Quaker-style meeting for worship most Sunday mornings at our home. We pray at mealtimes.

It got me to thinking how the happiest couple I knew was my mother's parents. They did not argue. Their childhoods had been so difficult that they seemed to have made a pact about how they wanted to be. They had a family business together. And, they were very physical with each other.

They were sexy, really. Even after they aged and had their own health challenges, their touch was physical, even if it was a smile across the room.

I'm not saying sex fixes everything. But for me, it helps me stay connected to myself and not disassociate or go into my thinking mind. And it reminds me how wonderful touch can be when it is hooked with a loving heart.

Can I remember that there is this powerful thing called Love operating in the heart of our relationship? How much have I missed of the Divine by not seeing the gift of Partner as an invitation to more? Can I stand the risk of experiencing such goodness, knowing that this,
too, will end?
May we have more of this

On his first day back to work this week, he became overwhelmed with emotion at an event we shared in the evening. He felt so much better! He had a new lease on life.

I relaxed. Yes. My heart is lighter.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Such gifts

This morning's gift was... muscle spasms in my back. Monday morning getting out of bed. What felt like a "cold" in my back, soon because spasms that depending on my move, would gently clamp to wringing the breath from me.

Today was a retry at a vacation that was supposed to start this past Friday. Friday was basically a work day, but mostly at home.

So Saturday was better. Naps after lunch.

The news of the Charlottesville, VA protests was personal. Friends live there and clergy I know responded to the National Council of Churches request for religious leaders to protest hate and assist those in need. Was is true that Japan launched a missile over North Korea?

Sunday, we held worship together at home. I made a pound cake, my newest comfort food to make. Later in the day, a vigil was held in my hometown in response to the Charlottesville violence, which I attended and saw several familiar brothers and sisters in peace.

Our a/c died last night. So the repairman is here today. First-world problems. More time for art, music, and domestic life while waiting... for things outside my control.

There is an added poignancy in the ordinary during these extraordinary times.

Partner offered to pick the spicy mustard greens I had planted earlier this summer. I am not sure he will eat them. Earlier in the week, he picked the beginning of a concord grape harvest. He doesn't really like them, either.

Such love.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Emerging from the Dark on the Shortest Day

Being an emerging old woman, sleep is something that happens on its own terms. Last night was one of those times when sleep was short. You'd think on the eve of the shortest day that sleep would want to cozy up in bed.

I got up at midnight and moved to the the recliner in the living room for a half-hour or so. (Samson, the collie, followed me.) But my mind kept returning to the state of the world. Oh, Lordy Lord. What a mess.

At 12:30 a.m., I got up in earnest - time to work. I wrote my work notes, filed them, and did other office-related work. That got me to 1:30 a.m. Good ole Samson nearby.

In the dark of the night with my quiet work done, I lit Our Lady of Guadalupe candles on the kitchen table window sill with Samson at my feet. Our Lady who visited the peasant Juan Diego in the mountains, not the church leadership. Our Lady who sees the Suffering in the world and in some way aids them. Our Lady who visits the least of us. Our Lady who hears the cries of the world.

It struck me that this was the perfect time to make a "healing hat."

I have several friends dealing with cancer. I made my second hat and gave it to an artist friend who said her treatment center was the most colorless place she'd ever been to. How are you supposed to heal in a place so grey.

My first hat was actually started in response to a Christmas without my grandson here. I was sad and needing cheering up. I took the mesh from the spiral ham and started tying colorful curling ribbon to sections. I wore it that Christmas Eve evening when the rest of our family showed up. Ironically, my very particularly aware artistic niece at age 5 was not impressed and thought I showed bad taste. But that did not deter me since I had raised teenagers.

I used that hat for a workshop on healing and music this past summer after making my friend her own hat for chemo baldness. Actually, the hat sits over a lamp in her living room and is a conversation piece. She now sends me red mesh from citrus to make other hats.

When I make a hat, there is a process evolving. Last night, I light a candle, play Healing Harp music from Sarajane Williams, and pick the colors for the particular person for which the hat is intended. Measure and cut each strand. Thinking of the Three Norns or Goddesses of Fate in Viking culture, as I write this: one to weave the thread, one to measure the length, one to cut the ribbon's length. One ribbon at a time. Knot by knot. It is an act of prayer.

So in the belly of darkness, I felt drawn to make another hat for another friend undergoing chemo. Instead of the intense brights of summer, these colors were frostier. White, lavendar, mint green, blue-green and purple. Winter in the midst of the fire of disease and treatment and loss.

Praying about the state of the world, my friends and family, my friend with cancer, and my desire, as I listened to Sarajane, to continue to play the harp for sacred events, healing circles, reflection, and celebrations.

I was also thinking about how I and other women have been sharing their stories as grandmothers and their roles in supporting their daughters in birth in some way. Holding the door on unnecessary interventions and c-section advocating for what is called for in the best sense of the family. The memories of my own labors in the middle of the dark and quiet night with birth before or at dawn. Such a thin veil.

The hat was done before sunrise. Partner up and ready to leave at 5:30 a.m. The braiding of his hair, the warm kisses in predawn before heading out to the frigid winter air. Waiting for the rosey dawn sky to emerge in another hour or two. The tending to the household, the meditation group, an elderly friend, a local business fundraising for mental health support in the community, and then later in the day, a nap.

Oh, Blessed Mary that never has it been known that anyone who sought your help was left unaided, with confidence, humble and repentant, full of Love and Hope, this favor I implore. Amen.

May I be an instrument of Your peace.
Healing Hats on Gloria, Samson in foreground.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Yeast of Life is Sour

Sourdough starter showing off it's action.
Ignore the tomatoes muscling in for a picture.

It's summer and a lousy time to be baking. But I have a creative compulsion and a fear of poverty that motivates me to make things. Don't ask me how that's supposed to help since I don't sell these things. And many of the "things" I make, aren't edible or wearable - even the things that are supposed to be edible or at least decorative.

But in the midst of our September heat wave, it seemed a good thing to make some sourdough starter. After paying for breads in the store and not really being satisfied with it, I wanted to give it a go myself.

Sourdough starter is a living thing. My youngest daughter now 30 years old played some kind of a game where the kids checked some sort of technology to feed or tend to their imaginary characters? What those kids needed was some sourdough starter. There is stirring and feeding it. Then making something with it. You can share it with others. The game of Starter as a Living Being (lots of living beings) in a bowl or jar that is growing when on the counter or put to sleep in the coolness of the refrigerator, is way more real than the techno game. And, there is more sensory involvement.

The first thing I learned was that the rottener it smells, the better the tang. As an old farm girl, this had echoes of silage. I think silage was described as sweet. Okay, this was sweet in a rotten kind of way. Who eats rotten?  Well, the dog for one. Maybe there is something primeval about this living blob that demands curiosity. Who eats funk? I remember how my kids love rotten cheeses. Okay, there sometimes is a good funkiness to edibles, I guess.

Don't let the funky smell in the kitchen scare you, I think, as I walked into the kitchen recently. Of course, I had to be sure and checked to see if the compost container (a used quart yogurt tub) was overripe or something was foul in the kitchen garbage. But no, it was the starter being busy.

I also learned that some people have definite ideas about whether to use bought yeast, a "natural" yeast or someone else's starter. I'm too soon into the process to have an opinion about this yet.

I am also thinking there are lots of people who won't eat yeast for their health. Good self-care is my idea of personalize medicine. I respect dietary limitations.

I have learned that for some reason, the rye flour makes a tangier and bubblier starter than when I made it initially with the unbleached bread flour.

The first sourdough bread was made with flat beer. I think I was the only person in the house to willingly eat it. Partner tried it to be polite, but isn't eating it on his own volition. Housemate encourages anything that is homemade as opposed to bought/factory made, but hasn't really helped herself to it. Honestly, the bread didn't have that tang I was looking for, either. But it did have something.

Partner's said it was a passive bread. I think he meant passive-aggressive bread. He described the taste as bland until swallowed, and then, there was a pungency to the flavor on the backside. 

I didn't experience the bread like that, but that is what makes food so interesting. 

We don't always think that visually things are experienced in inherently different ways from person- to-person and assume that people see what we see, unless we know we have a profound visual impairment. But taste? We know growing up in families and in community know how different taste can be perceived, because someone may love a particular food (you could fill in any food) and someone else will seem repulsed or neutral about it. We wonder how that could be, but it is so pervasive these differences that we instinctively know people experience taste very personally.

Round two on making something with the starter meant that I decided to "feed" it with warmed then cooled milk and rye flour in equal parts and let it sit on the counter for at least 24 hours. I let it go 36 hours. Some experts suggest really letting it go for several more days to really give it tang.

The second attempt to use this rotten, living yeast colony feeding on flour, milk and yeast was with a cinnamon sourdough bun recipe. Two weeks ago Partner, in passing, mentioned a hankering for cinnamon rolls before I even thought of sourdough starter. So this time, maybe I could find a way of using the yeast in a way that would, hopefully, be more pleasing. And, this time the funkiness was way more active and exciting.

Good news. Bad news. 

The good news is that Partner liked them. Housemate liked them. I texted a picture of the rising buns on a pan, and one of the kids managed to find their way home to visit on a Saturday night. I sent an extra one home with her. I liked them, too. But, goodness they were sweet!

Bad news. I love how forgiving food is in my world. I rarely can follow a recipe. This time, nothing fatal. I rolled the widest part of the 9" x 15" (except it was longer than that)of the dough and cut 1" circles from the log of cinnamon rolls. So, there should have been 9 larger, with more spirals in them, rolls from the log of dough. I cut back on the baking time in hopes that this wouldn't over bake them.

So, the bad news was... there was no bad news really. Just worry about my inability to follow directions. I tell people I can't hear directions given aloud. But I don't seem to be able to follow written directions, either. 

And, the sourdough starter was given another cup of rye flour and water to replace the amount taken for the recipe. So, the starter has been given another chance at making something new.

I just have to remember to stir it every few days in the fridge... And what's the worst that can happen? I have to make new starter, which means allowing a bowl of yeasty life to grow on my kitchen counter. That is about as much responsibility as I want for life right now.

Yeasty edgy cinnamon goodness

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sorting through the ash

How interesting, a draft from 2014. It is now 2016.

International Day of Prayer 2016,
Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont, MD

Mom is getting ready to turn 75 and Dad died the summer of 2012 with father-in-law 6 months later the same year. The truth seems to be that I never seem to relax. I seem to be waiting for the next shoe to drop.

A beloved member of the mediation group died of cancer May, Friday the 13th, 2016. His memorial service was earlier today, the same day my grandson had his first recital playing the guitar. No way to attend both events. The widow encouraged me to attend to the living.

From 2014:

It's been two years now since Dad died. I wasn't sure what to expect.

As it turns out, there is a slow thaw around his death for me. It gets complicated by the family dynamics of kids doing their things and mom recently having, what I refer to as, her dry run at having a stroke a few weeks ago. She's returning back to work - she's 73 years old, and driving.

I was feeling a bit edgy last week. Friends have had elders and parents die within the past few weeks. I attended a funeral for a co-worker's parent.

The truth is: as my own children are finding their way and settling a bit, I can relax enough to feel. My grandson turned seven-years old in May and recently spent a few nights with us without his parents. After seeing him biweekly for his first four years of life and then losing much of that time with him as a result of a divorce and other family dynamics, this is indeed tender time.

It is a tricky thing these defense mechanisms. I'm reading John Gottman's book called The Science of Trust. For me, it is a slow read because I am trying to take it all in.

One of the ideas is that if we experience things negatively, then we keep using that lens and dismiss the positive.

This is such work for me (a positive, hopeful view) as I feel like the Other Shoe is always dropping. How does one experience mental illness, addiction, physical illness, poverty and death as positive?

As the thaw takes place, what I am aware of is how much I am afraid to love. I don't want to be hurt. I don't want to lose my beloveds. Death is that sharp edge always waiting around the corner to steal away Life.

Writing continues to be a struggle. But what is the point of living if there isn't life to live? Music and making cards seem to be my best hope. Work is work.

On my Fridge is a quote from Leonard Cohen:
Poetry is just the evidence of life.
If your life is burning well, 
poetry is just the ash.
Here's to the ash!

And back to 2016:
Here is to Vic! 

And to the living, 
beloved Grandson.

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.