“I will pack you up in the pocket of my heart and take you with me,” I found myself saying to my cat Sherlock as I left on my walk. What a lovely thought. Where did it come from?
My sister in spirit at my church was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last week before Christmas. I don’t know her well, but it doesn’t matter. I carry her in the pocket of my heart.
This is what we do when we hold vigil with someone. We don’t become them, but while living our own lives we keep them present. We create a space in our being where our presence intersects with their presence. A God space where both are free to be who they are while supported by each other’s spiritual energy. Holding Vigil.
P.S. After I posted I bumped up against this gem passed to me by a soulfriend. The last lines complete my thoughts. Unless we give up the clutter there won’t be space for pocket presence.
Give up the world, give up self, finally give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.
Poem: “Instructions” by Sheri Hostetler, from the anthology A Cappella: Memmoite Voices in Poetry”.
On this twenty-fifth anniversary of the birth of the internet, it is so tempting to write a scathing assessment of how it has left us spiritually bankrupt, but I won’t. Instead, because I am a geek decked out in pseudo-holy garb, I’ll say this:
– for the opportunity to realize and monitor a tendency toward addiction.
– for the realization that looking a Dell laptop in the eye is not the same as intimacy with real people.
– for the brilliance of Saint Google who tells me how to fix OS 8.1 before I abandon my vow of nonviolence.
-for connecting me to amazing souls throughout the world who dance the dance of the Universe with me, and return me to myself.
– for awakening us to our duty toward the common good, and connecting us in acts of justice.
– for offering our children the opportunity to learn compassion through their research.
– for those who work toward universal access to the internet, toward a level playing field for all.
– for the availability of the spiritual masters and the great scriptures of humankind available in the public domain.
– for the gift of intelligence and creativity that gave us this gift.
May we use you consciously and with right conscience.
Story Recording: “The Miser’s Slippers” by Shoshannah Brombacher
My Mennonite faith community is situated in the heart of a neighborhood rife with homelessness, and our mission is one of radical hospitality. Praying for the community is a rich sacramental experience for me. Intentions are heartfelt. People listen deeply and check up on one another during the fellowship time that follows the service. Last Sunday desperate, choking sobs emitted from the side of the sanctuary, from “Rita’s” usual place. “I pray, I just beg God, to have my children call me today. Please, God, just today, please.” We talked for a long time outside afterwards. “Rita” has been homeless for fifteen years. She suffers from mental illness, and her children have been unresponsive. She’s been clean for many years, and her shaking hand lighting the cigarette tells that story.
This week we remembered the day Lyndon Johnson declared “War on Poverty” fifty years ago. John Goodman notes that taxpayers have spent $1.5 trillion since 1975 “fighting” poverty. Experts suggest that we now spend $1 trillion a year. (Josh Archambault Jan. 8, 2014 at an NRO Symposium). “Rita” would be grateful just to be SEEN.
Shoshannah Brombacher’s story, “The Miser’s Slippers,” prompted me to name my homeless friend after myself, because if I don’t put myself in her place, there is no room for her in my soul. Shoshannah stresses that the man is a miser. That he is rich seems secondary. When we live miserly lives of attachment to material goods, we don’t see the poor. As human beings, our call is to cultivate a practice of spiritual poverty, by holding our possessions and our status like feathers in our hand. This practice, over time, removes the scales over our eyes and allows us to understand and empathize, and ultimately share. I call the world to this spiritual practice of being poor, to honor what President Johnson began and end the need for the “War on Poverty.”
Day eleven of oppressive, dense fog across the Seattle area. I broke loose to look for something uplifting. Pun intended. A young tree wrapped in a myriad of spider webs caught my eye, and immediately my light-starved spirit waxed eloquently about the wonder of the webs, profoundly reminiscent of interconnectivity, community, and networks. Arriving home, curiosity prevailed, and I asked Saint Google to send a National Geographic video which I hoped would unveil all possible spiritual analogies to spider webs. Reality ensued. I had forgotten what ingenious traps of deception they were. Spider webs ensure the spider’s survival! They catch victims and eat them.
Still, the poet in me couldn’t resist an analogy. To survive spiritually, humans don’t need deception. We can choose to feed on altruism in its many manifestations.
Cast silk threads,
Sticky with the nectar of
Compassion and Forgiveness,
Dangling drops of affirmation
Queued up to plunk down on
The magnetic threads dance
A three-step vibration,
Pulling the visitors into
The expectant vortex,
Where they feast at the
Interlaced souls survive
To cast threads
Another day, another place.
One year after the unexpected death of my sister I still step gingerly. When we grieve we learn that all we CAN do is step out. If we step in harmony with the pain, we become sure-footed. The pain transforms from foe to friend, and we endure in spite of the loss.
My spiritual practice has been intentionality. I ask for the grace to stay conscious, to recognize each wave of grief and to honor my humanity by feeling it. It has also helped me to be aware of my sister’s continued presence in a new way. I have prayed for her spirit as she transitions into this new and unknown existance. And I have practiced letting her go.
Two gifts have emerged from this experience: reinforcement that the ice holds, and realization that we are not in control. Now I try to live into these truths, and to be in solidarity with others who grieve.
In an effort to protect our egos, we leave in our wake, a destructive landscape of regret. Our acts of protection are as much an animal response as protecting their physical lives is for other animals. The difference, of course, is that we can strengthen our egos sufficiently to withstand attacks and move beyond them for the sake of the common good. The process of moving beyond ego creates a soul-landscape rich in variety. Remnants of ego caught on jagged crags, conjure memories of lies to self and others; charred skeletons of timber stand in witness to courageous suffering endured, and hopeless suffering self-inflected.
Our soul’s geography resembles the terrain of active volcanoes years after they have exploded. Destructive lava flow has given way to affluent bursts of bold, bright, wildflowers- the acts of justice and compassion sown as seeds alongside germs of ego. Patches of green miraculously inch their way through the bowl of impenetrable metamorphic rock.
Just as rock can be intrinsically altered by the flow of hot lava, so is the soul dramatically altered by the movement of the Spirit, and our response to her. If we trust the Spirit, and trust ourselves to grapple with our instinct to protect our egos, seedlings will dot the horizon. Wildflowers, once extirpated by fear, will burst forth like fireworks on Independence Day.
I recommend frequent road trips through the terrain of our souls.
I used to raise consciousness at a navy subase about the violence inherent in possessing and using nuclear weapons. Weekly, a worker drove through into the base as I passed out leaflets. His truck carried a rifle rack and he looked straight ahead, never acknowledging my presence. I was convinced that he was an irreconcilable “redneck” who surely hated this “bleeding heart liberal.” One day he seemed different. His despondence was palatable. I responded to it by blurting out, “How are you?” He shouted back, “How am I? I’m terrible. How else would I be having to go in there every day and do what I have to do?” I had reduced him to my erroneous perception of him. In the spirit of today’s Eckhart quote, I would say I had divided him from his true self by dwelling on what I thought to be his flaws. Not exactly following the call to love God with my whole heart, and my neighbor as myself.
As human beings we seem destined to make judgments about one another. Nothing alarming about it- it’s the human condition; however, when we choose to dwell on the flaws of others until that’s all we see- it divides us from our own best self, from the other, and from God. We are all more than our flaws.
My meditation birthed this prayer. If it speaks to you too, I thank the Spirit:
“Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.” Meister Eckhart
Today’s wisdom from Meister Eckhart comes to me as we continue to wrap our minds and hearts around the bombings in Boston.
We are most fully human when we are compassionate. The smallest attempt to understand another’s suffering, and to feel some of what they feel, is stepping into the life of God. As a high school teacher I began to see disturbing indications that this virtue is falling out of practice in our society. I believe that we need a dedicated curriculum to the meaning and practice of compassion, as a way to deal with our increasing focus on violence as a problem-solver. Northern Ireland adopted such a curriculum with great success. The children who studied it have grown up with a commitment to maintain a lasting peace between Protestants and Catholics.
What about us- adults past school age? Do we look upon compassion as a positive habit we can and should develop? Is an act of compassion an act of Godliness for us? In order to respond compassionately, we have to be aware of the need. To become aware, we have to practice stillness. Stillness gives us the space in which to truly see the other as they are, and to choose if, when, or how to respond. To recognize suffering, we need to make opportunities which teach us. I may prefer to read only nonfiction which teaches my brain how to analyze; however, if I never read fiction or see great film or theatre, I miss the opportunity to study human beings in their worst and best moments. I don’t learn about my pain in relation to others’ pain. We can develop a habit of thinking and acting compassionately by daily setting it as an intention: “Today I surround myself with God’s light, that I may see the suffering of others and respond to it with love.”
Tonight my practice will be to set aside my tablet to view the news and listen consciously for ten minutes, to stories of victims in Boston. Then I will ask myself to imagine how they are feeling right now, how their families are feeling. And I will pray with them in solidarity. I believe that this little practice will ripple throughout the world, contributing to an attitude of compassion that one day will prevail.
May compassion be the first outburst of God in our lives.