February 9th, 2011

The Climbing

February 9th, 2011

What is the image you would–or do–hold in your mind to help you in your meditation? 

Mine is of a tree.  When I first began, the tree was gorgeous, perfectly straight trunk and branches upswept towards an immaculate cerulean sky, covered with glinting, glossy green leaves, a lush thing that rustled with dignity as the wind blew through short green grass awash on the ground beneath.  Sometimes, a small bird would take off from inside and flutter past my line of sight.  It was quiet there with the tree, and I would imagine myself sitting on the ground, on top of the roots, back up against a smooth trunk with perfectly modeled bark. 

This tree of my contemplation was not just any old perfect tree it was the Form for all trees (thanks, citizen Plato). 

And I’ve always found trees inspiring, comforting, encouraging and nurturing.  I am at ease in their company, feel accepted, sheltered, energized, fed and hopeful for continuing personal transformation. 

But that’s not how this image, this Form made me feel.  Here’s how I felt while meditating on that perfect tree–remote, detatched, unable to reach or grasp, separated, enervated, insecure, anxious, needy. 

Yeah, and I wondered for a long while why i didn’t rush into the arms of my practice.  To strangle? 

Then, something happened. 

I walked, sometimes trudged, sometimes crawled through a period of intense emotions and at the other end of the gauntlet I sat down and meditated, again, and again and again and again and then one day I sat and rebelled. 

I really let the perfect tree have it.

Instead of subjecting myself on the roots of the lofty, leafy Form my spine straightened, my head rose towards the heavens, my ribcage opened up, my breathing deepened and I took hold of that tree in my mind and bent its branches, making some of them wider and bringing them closer to the ground so that I could reach them, climb up and into them.  The trunk I pulled and pushed so that it dented, broke apart a bit.  I roughed up the tree’s bark so I could kick off my shoes and run up into its heart.  I shook it to see what would happen.   

Its leaves still juicy green and scintillating but now instead of an occassional small bird fluttering out of the depths of the boughs there are all kinds of creatures alighting and scampering.  There are people there, some standing looking up some climbing some enjoying a picnic–all welcome and peaceful and delighted to be there.  There is noise where disquieting silence threatened before and it is a spirited humming thrumming and swirling and bubbling with laughter and curious intent. 

I climb, I rest, I climb higher and jump down into the lap of the soft earth and climb again clinging to arms and towards a heart I can hear and feel and be part of.  This tree is all mine and I am finally falling in love with my meditation practice. 

Real Power is crushing the herbs to release their power and fragrance–their potency.  The wind is blowing through my leaves and I am shaking like a tambourine.  Now that I can climb, I wonder when I’ll dance.

I’m Right Here

February 4th, 2011

Some days, just getting through is good enough.  This has been one of those weeks.  I need some time to deconstruct events, my feelings, process the whole lot and seek some direction onward in a peaceful, meditative exercise. 

I remember when I was younger, living on my parent’s  farm, taking care of the horses.  The barn was the safest, most serene place in the world, anytime of day.  I should meditate on that feeling.

I’m sitting on my couch.  The dog has her head in my lap and my boys are arguing, louder and louder and more animated-agitated.  I didn’t start this entry with an expectation of writing a very thoughtful piece.  Simply to write something.  To begin and get through some words until I stop.  This one only has to be good enough.  And here we are, at the end.  After all, I’m right here.

Let Me Be Clear

March 27th, 2010

I just finished watching an exchange between a “liberal” and “conservative” “political strategist” “discussing” the current, vituperative atmosphere dominating public discourse surrounding the “healthcare” bill. 

I’m amazed, myself, that I need to use quotation marks around so many of those words, but honestly, can any of them stand on their own without eliciting a snicker or twitch? 

The party in power tells unhappy citizens to hush up, you voted for it.  It’s for your own good.  You made us do it, anyway–asked for it–We didn’t want to do it this way, but you left us no choice. 

The loyal opposition gets fired up for a few seconds, but then when faced with the unmasked joy of the bully, bullying, their shoulders begin to hunch and quiver and they back away, wondering how the conversation went against them when they know they had a good point..well, maybe we did do something to deserve this…

In graduate school, we were learning about deconstructionism.  Deconstructionists believe (SIMPLIFICATION ALERT) in part, that it is unlikely-perhaps impossible-for individuals to share feelings and ideas in any real and authentic manner, because we all approach each incident in our lives with a completely different frame of reference…in essence, we exist beside each other, but can never really be with each other–

Whatever.  The whole thing is patently absurd, and pointless.  Why, I asked my professor, were we bothering to learn about deconstructionism?  The theory states we’re not capable of having a meaninful conversation about anything with each other, anyway.  Aren’t we all wasting our time talking about it?  Well, she didn’t appreciate my question.  Watching politicians now, she must be hooting with glee.  A deconstructionist’s dream–nothing really means anything so we say anything to get our way.  No need to stand by an idea or conviction, since there is no such thing as mutual accountability since the only real thing is Me in whatever context I choose…

Let me be clear–this is cowards thinking–bully thinking.  What we are witnessing, perhaps even participating in, is a domestic abuse situation.  The abuser’s party designation has changed, but it’s the same sad story of twisted words and intentions, vicious bullying and blaming, and complete disregard for the other–deliberate, hostile and gleeful violence in thought, word and deed to advance a selfish, self-serving agenda. 

You’ve seen it–maybe been there.  Someone gets up the courage to say enough is enough, and by the time the conversation is ended, their words and intentions have been turned inside out, upside down and reworked so that the person ends up shaken, confused and feeling utterly defeated, responsible for causing the problem in the first place and willing to take their punishment.

I’m told that I have to be happy with, and support the new ‘healthcare’ bill becuase I voted for change. 

I’m told that abuses of the past justify present incivility and aggression.

 Well, I didn’t take it with the R’s either.  You can’t make me believe what you want by bullying me and telling me over and over again it’s for my own good.  You can’t shut me up with glares and threats of censure and ridicule. 

Let me be clear, I believe in the Lone Ranger’s Creed. (See April 15, 2009 entry to read) 

I believe that people can be good and fair and compassionate and trusted to do the right thing.  I believe that we can govern ourselves with dignity, according to principles and values that will lift everyone up to stand together instead of push everyone down far enough to slap a lid on it. 

And I do not believe– I Renounce– the idea that the ends justify the means.  What is wrong and reprehensible for R’s is wrong and reprehensible for D’s–all the time, in every circumstance.  R and D is about perspective and strategy–I hope the goal and tactics of each party is the same:  goal–preservation of our republic so we the people enjoy the liberty to live lives of dignity, with reasonable expectation of safety and access for us and for the other person to (and I do not mean handouts of) a decent portion of those things (food, shelter, education and health, the pursuit of happiness) that we want for ourselves.  Tactics–honest, forthright actions, respectful disagreement in speech, and the willingess to lead by example and be a servant, first.

Break the cycle of abuse and neglect.  Reach out and help someone else who is struggling with something too hard for them to bear alone.  Turn the other cheek to self-deluded hypocrites and show them you can’t be pushed around by reaching out to another with compassion and real assistance.  Encourage me by showing me there is still some spirit, some will in this nation of the people, by the people and for the people. 

Because Let me be Clear–freedom isn’t something that can be taken away, but only given away.  Liberty, however, is another story.  

Walk the Dog

November 11th, 2009

I’m frustrating the dog.  She wants to go for a walk. I want to take a few moments before the day blasts out of the cannon to write.  If I wait around for her to get old enough to sit quietly and not bother me, I will also be older, and maybe not as bothersome. 


Compromise.  I’ll give out the identity of the Question I caught (as no one has guessed), and then take that walk.

“What does a future look like for a community of people who mostly don’t make anything with their hands or minds that adds to the common good?”   

This Question troubles me.  Agitates me to feel uncomfortable since I, like so many others I know and admire, are engaged to some degree in the growing culture of the Personality-As-Product, or as I am coining this idea right now, PAP.  PAP Culture; the PAP Generation, PAPWorld, whatever.  

What will a world where hundreds of thousands of people make their living by being gurus, consultants, coaches, change agents and tranformation operatives feel like, offer us–how will it sustain and nurture us?  Is this a glorious turn of events that will catalyze our global society into a peaceful and compassionate place where we delight in helping others achieve the same things we want for ourselves? 

Is this the next step in the rotting out of the core of an effete society of self-indulgent cynics who use Abundance, Bliss, Peace and Generosity as the mule team that pulls the stones of the pyramids being built to hold the PAP’s stuff long after he/she dies–a bid for immortality that grinds to dust the bones out of thosands of others attracted to the glitter of PAP?

Real Power is recognizing when it’s time to stop writing and go walk the dog. 



I have a Question!

October 23rd, 2009

Caught it trying to sneak out the back door of my attention when the dog started barking at the wind outside and my older son called for me to come and see how he beat level 15 of his new game.

Knowing how Questions are usually elusive and reistent to inspection, I threw my golden lasso around it and pulled it behind me while I shut the blinds (and took away the dog’s access to the Nothingness that was agitating her), and walked over (drag, drag–Question is sometimes heavy!) to congratulate my boy on his fine accomplishment.   Drag, drag to the coffee pot for a refill, and then, after a couple of long sips, I took a good look at this Question I held hostage. 

Now, I haven’t made time to really look at a Question since college.  In college, I used to regularly hunt down Questions, pin them, Kafkaesque to the wall, and interrogate them to near death.  Then, I would follow the assignment–find some Answer, and build a wall of Facts so thick and high the Question would have no chance of escaping-no chance of returning into the Great Unknown.   Perhaps it was good that I was actually interested enough in Questions, then, to take time away from getting through my day to really spend time with them. 

Recently, I’ve gotten the feeling that my method of paying attention to Questions is misdirected, misguided and mistaken.  Interrogation and incarceration of Questions…I’m wondering. 

But, back to the Question.  But before anything else, I am curious. 

What Question do you think I have ensnared in my golden lasso?   

I’m Content

August 18th, 2009

I’ve been awake since 3am, when the dog woke up.  She was anxious to get downstairs and outside.  There is something that draws her to the back fence where she bounds, tail high and ears perked.  The coffee is strong this morning, and so am I. 

I’m content.  Another day on this earth, and another day to discover again how perfect my life is for me.  Lucky, and wise.  The wisdom comes from all that I have done and all that I have failed to do.  Wisdom is the memory of mercy. 

Lucky, as I have a list of blessings longer than both of Atlas’ arms–health, education, experiences, family and friends, the basic necessities for life and some decorative trinkets as well.  I will not shrug at this and rejoicing will not upset the balance.

The Great Spirit holds me in the palm of its hand this morning, and I feel tall and fierce in a gentle way–swaying with the wind.   I feed myself with good food.  I take my exercise.  Meditate and pray.  Sometimes, I lie awake with ghosts and demons who whisper, but I have learned to get up out of bed and get busy.  Ghosts and demons don’t like to clean under the stove!

My sons are growing up like my coral-bark maple tree — just as they should — full and deeply colorful, resilient and quick while still, wise in their silence and embraced by everything that rushes by while roots go deep to secure them where they belong each day. 

My lover is growing up with me and we will grow older together.  My spiritual compass, one of his projects in this life is to point me to the next great lesson that will reveal me to myself as I was created, pulsing with exuberance and perfectly perfected.  He is more beautifully himself every day, and each day I recognize him in something else I used to not see. 

My work reveals the world to me.  Every bright yearning, dark crevice, the greedy, needy, feedy feelings and actions that force our heads down, the heroic moments of recovery from failure and devastation tumbled against the shore of our striving along with all the bold, defiant fits of self-destruction, ambivalence and apathy.

It’s six o’clock in the morning, and already I have petted the dog, folded two loads of laundry, researched pesticides in dog flea and tick treatments, and cleaned under my stove.  I probably did other stuff that I’ve forgotten, or didn’t pay attention to.  What’s next?  A walk with the dawn and dog?  Another cup of coffee? 

An end to this episode, and all it’s content? 

No way! 

I Am content. 

The Blurted Truth

August 8th, 2009

I graduated from graduate school with almost no debt–none from undergraduate school and only about $11K from graduate school.  Why?  I went on scholarship. 

Back then, they gave real scholarships–enough money to pay for your entire tuition bill, fees and even most of your room and board.  There were no fancy ‘recruitment and retention’ algorithms that proved you could sucker in more first-year students than your rival by paying slightly more in partial scholarships.  And that’s what it is…paying, because many, many colleges and universities are ready to levy high fees, extort students for meal plans and books/class materials (they have deals with these vendors that help them recoup part of the cost of these things), and they have deliberate plans to schedule classes for high-demand majors so that no one can graduate in four-years, but must stay for at least 5, paying another year’s worth of fees and room and board.  Oh yeah, they’re ‘paying’ for students because the small amount they lure them in with using so-called scholarships, they more than recoup with their other schemes. 

However, I digress.  (And by the way, it’s not the idea of higher education that I am compelled to rail against, it’s the bloated, self-serving bureaucracy that disgusts me.)

The point of this installment is to tell a story of an experience I had in graduate school — one that opened my eyes and proved to me that yes, Virginia, evil does exist. 

I went to Georgetown to study English (I learned more about punitive and barren feminist literary criticism and theory than I did about English, unfortunately, but again, I digress.) on scholarship.  I had done quite a bit of tutoring for basic writing, reading and critical thinking skills as an undergraduate, and that’s what I would be doing at Georgetown as part of a program that accepted bright, passionate first-years from underperforming school districts in mostly urban US cities, gave them a year of intensive skills training and then mainstreamed them. 

It was (any may still be) a great program that attracted brilliant faculty and equally brilliant students.  It is an honor to have been part of that program for the two years I studied at Georgetown.  In fact, I learned my greatest lessons of those two years from the students I taught.  

Case in point — My role was to sit with students in the intensive reading/writing/critical thinking classes and then to meet with them in small groups and one-on-one to teach/tutor them through assignments, giving them the opportunity to take ownership of goals and what they were learning and help reinforce their confidence and practice so they could kick the program and go ‘live’ with the rest of their classmates.  Most of us were very happy to be doing what we were doing.  We got along well and enjoyed the classes and tutoring work –both students and teachers and student-teachers.

And then there was Tracy (name changed, due to the fact that my memory for people’s names stinks and I can’t remember her real name.).  Tracy would sit in class and glower at teachers and tutors.  Sit in tutoring sessions with peers and glower, silent and obviously working to control her anger.  She didn’t participate–wouldn’t.  She always turned in phenomenal work, that when well reviewed in class or session, this seemed to inspire even more hostility.

Completely out of character for me, one day, I confronted her.  After all, I was doing my level best to be civil and encouraging and she was messing up the cool vibe I was trying for in my sessions.  Everyone else was on board.  What was her problem?  And that’s what I asked her.

“Tracy, What’s your problem, anyway? Why are you so angry and unwilling to participate?  I’m just trying to help you.”

Tracy looked up at me and bore down on me with furious eyes.

“What’s in this for you, white girl?  You get money for doing this, right?  And what else?  You could make money doing other things–you tell me why you’re spending your time with black people.”

Ok.  Ok.  I nearly slid off the chair.  What the hell did she just say?  What was going on? 

I probably just sat there, stunned for a minute.   During that silent interlude, she set free what had been tearing at her since she got to the program.

Tracy told me and the other three students,

“I lived in northern California until I was about 11.  I was always the teacher’s favorite, got all A’s and I earned them, too. I loved school.  Then we moved to southern California.  My grades started to go down–free fall, actually.  Couldn’t get any of the teachers to talk with me, work with me.  I was ignored.  I’d look at the work of kids sitting next to me, and their work was obviously inferior to mine, and I was the one getting C’s and D’s while they got A’s.  One day, we got a civics assignment to go to a community meeting, take  notes on procedure and report back to the class. 

My father, a long time ago, was a Black Panther.  When the movement got ugly, he left and stayed involved in other ways.  But I love him and I loved his stories of being out there — doing something good for people– and so a friend and I decided to attend a KKK meeting we’d heard some other kids talking about around school.

I walked in, (And I’ve resisted interrupting her story with a string of my own memories of her demeanor, but here, I will say that her voice dropped and she looked down.  It’s not refurbished memory when I tell you this next part caused her pain–even sitting in a faculty office in Georgetown on the other coast.) 

(Tracy again) “I walked in and looked around.  My teachers were there. Not all of them, but several, and school administrators–the vice principal and guidance counselor– I saw them.  When they saw us, they picked up stuff–one had a bat, I think.  A chair.  They screamed at us; called us names and chased us out.  We ran.”

Silence, again.

“What did your parents do when they found out?” This was me. 

“Dad was furious…..And those kids with A’s–my work was SO MUCH better–they were white.  So don’t tell me that you’re here to help me.  I don’t need YOUR help.  I shouldn’t even be here.” 

Meaning, a special program for kids who needed skills training.  And she was right about that.  Her writing and critical thinking was leagues above most first-year students attending anywhere. 

“So you tell me, Teacher.  Why are you really here doing this?” 

Her anger had faded, but it was still issued as a challenge.  And she was genuinely curious.

I don’t remember the exact words or order of words I used to answer her, just like I don’t remember her exact words anymore.  But the intent, and motivation– I remember that fine. 

“Because I don’t want your children to try and kill my children.  I don’t want children growing up angry, like you.” 

Now, in hindsight granted by a 20 year distance from the event, I can tell you that I went to Georgetown because they paid me.  I was a kid from a family that existed below the poverty-line for most of my life.  I didn’t know anything about leveraging debt (thank God) and I was still amazed that I was in graduate school at all.  I knew I was smart, but still didn’t see anything extraordinary about any gifts, or even recognize my gifts.  When I was a senior undergrad, I applied for jobs and to schools almost at random.  The job market was awful and I didn’t have any idea what I could do.  I got one job offer, from the Treasury department for $19,000 (more than my father made as head of household for four people for a long, long time.), and two school offers, one for NYU PhD program (very little money in scholarships, big price tag, NYC terrified me), and one for a terminal master’s program at Georgetown, free thanks to a full scholarship and in a city I was familar with and adored.  I was happy to teach for the Community Scholars program, but I would have gone if they had me counting clouds that passed by the steeple or shuffling cards all day.  It was a great school, and it was free.

So, all these years later, my response to Tracy still amazes me.  Because, truth of it, I was there doing what I was doing because I was a poor kid from a rural south-Jersey town who had gotten an amazing opportunity that I now realize I indeed, did earn and therefore deserve, but I wasn’t a social justice crusader or, obviously, even aware of the raging demand for justice that many people felt and still feel. 

Tracy gave me too much credit that day for having more sophisitcated motives (albeit devious) than I had.  But my response opened a door for me into my own learning–learning about the many disguises of hatred and fear that I was blind to, before that afternoon. 

Her story scared me.  I looked at her and listened to her– and if she, a brilliant, attractive, passionate person could be abused and ignored by people who were supposed to, who would SAY that they respected her and were professionals trained and disposed to nurture her–well, it wasn’t safe, anywhere, for anyone.  Unless the world started to make sense, her kids would grow up loving and feeling protective of a woman who’s anger was entirely justified, even if it didn’t ultimately serve to set her free.  Anger never does that, you know. 

Our kids might meet and instead of playing together, they might go to war– because of one mother’s anger and another mother’s ignorance.  I felt that right then.  I said to her, (or something like this…)

“Tracy.  I’m not even going to try to say anything about what you just shared.  But what I will say is this–it’s not fair that you’re here being tutored what you could probably already teach, but you ARE her at Georgetown, and the education you get here and where ever else you go will give you real power to change the endings of the stories your children will tell about school.  Don’t stay here angry.  Take whatever you can and use it to get real revenge–being content, successful and full of every good thing, in spite of the deranged idiots in your story. ”

Geeze.  I’m pretty sure I wan’t half as eloquent as all that, but that was my point to her.  Screw those teachers and administrators.  She WAS brilliant and capable and now she had a chance to prove it and use education to give her power over her own story.  Don’t let her suspicion of me or hatred of them rob her of the opportunity that she was sitting on.  

Did she take my advice?  I wish I knew the rest of Tracy’s story, up till now, anyway.  I think so, anyway.  But, then again, I only want to know if she went on to find somethings and someones she loved and worked like hell to make her passion manifest in a good and productive way– a way that proved her real worth and paved a little more road for hope that deranged idiots aren’t stronger than she is.  If she gave up and let her anger and frustration rot away her will to do good and poison her body and spirit– don’t tell me, please.  Leave me to my ignorance on that one.

20 years later, my two sons, six and nearly four, attend school/pre-school in an Abbott district (tagged as socio-economically challenged).  They are easy to spot in a classroom–most of their other classmates have darker skin pigmentation than they do.  Kids with skin the colors of burnished ambers to silky siennas, to velvet, attention-grabbing obsidians– their friends flock around them and cover them in color at the beginning and end of each day.  Affectionate, yes — and loving, they delight in each other for every reason.  The games they play, the songs they sing, the food they share, the jokes they try to tell with hilarious results, the books they read, the secrets they share about who’s got a crush on who.  Kid stuff.   

They delight in everything they share, and mostly ignore (at this point in their lives) those things that adults use as weapons against each other to destroy us and divide us from each other.  Watching them, listening to them, hugging them as they run up to hug me and my boys when I pick them up at the end of school — I want so much to believe that they will continue to grow up enjoying each other and protecting each other from harm and hatred. 

Is it possible? 

What’s the next blurted truth? 

Take off the Costume

July 29th, 2009

Yesterday, I asked the folks who are my Facebook friends to consider whether or not they wear a costume for the rest of the world–essentially hiding behind a mask for others, while hiding away who they think they really are. 

 This idea of authenticity is interesting.  Another buzzword that’s been batted around so much recently it’s almost senseless, I’m hesitant to pile on and speculate that we’d all be happier if we just exposed the ‘real’ self within–I meet too many folks who seem all too authentic, and they’re quite annoying. 

Still, it feels to me as if we’re all walking around (well, I’ll speak for me, I feel like I walk around) mostly looking at the ground, leery and sometimes outright afraid of falling in that hole of in the road (gaping chasm) caused by angering the wrong person with unacceptable thinking, or stepping on a scorpion of politically incorrect action, that I too often fail to follow my own instincts, which are often pretty darned good.

Instincts that, despite the fear, I’m practicing on trusting more and more, with great results. 

INSTINCTS.  Ah.  That’s the real thing that’s on my mind this morning.  Now we get to it!

What ARE instincts, anyway?  Are we too civilized to have them, or acknowledge them anymore?  Do we have hardwired responses and preferences for ideas and living that guarantee conflict within ourselves and with others?  Guarantee alliances and cooperation?  In our world of ‘Yes We Can’ are we allowed to be controlled by instincts, or influenced by forces beyond our control, like spiritual forces? 

 In a world that seems bent on regulating, legislating, taxing, convicting, humiliating, censoring, medicating, threatening, and ridiculing behavior and beliefs into some homogenous “HumanKind” mold cast by a PhD level Consortium of Acceptable Thought and Action, are we allowed to have our own, individual and genuine — Authentic — selves, and share them with each other, without fear of punishment?

I know some, many, do.  I am working on this.  And I am going to be late for work if I don’t wrap this up!  The EverBeginning. 

In God We Trust

July 18th, 2009

Naw, this isn’t about currency–unless the currency is acceptance.

So I was on retreat.  Drove up with three women who, like me, had long waited with anticipation for the luxury of leaving home and all its comforts/responsibilities/distractions to spend time with the one who makes it all possible and worthwhile…God.  We were staying with about 120 other women in a gorgeous monastery up in New York along the Hudson River.  

The topic?  Trusting in the love and care of God, your Higher Power.  Letting God do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

Geeze, that’s still a hard one for me.  Even though I’ve reached a point in my life where I do believe that I’m being cared for by a benign, even loving Spirit, and that this Glorious Presence (my thing) can inspire and support me in doing things I never thought I was capable of (or even wanted to do, frankly)–still real, real hard.  I still struggle to find my emotional and intellectual footing on this spiritual log.  Trust God.

During the forty-eight hours of the retreat, there were several inspirational conversations, reassuring exchanges and thought-provoking discussions, both within myself and with others.  I’d brought along two powerfully engaging books, The Complete Works of Rumi, Coleman Barks translation, and Love Poems to God, by Daniel     , and poured through them, taking notes and reflecting on the beauty of Rumi under bright sunlight sifting through the dust on a half-open basement window in one of the great rooms at the monastery. 

And maybe God gave me Rumi to prepare me, because one thing happened there that has pulled open the curtain I drew a long time ago between me and God by at least a foot or more.   

I held Iris’ hand.

Massaged it, actually.  You see the second day of the retreat, the retreat leader invited all of us to join her in the magnificent chapel for a ritual.  This ritual, she explained, would help us release our death-grip on our need to be in control.  We would experience someone taking care of us and we wouldn’t resist.  We would sit there and take it!  We might even enjoy it once those funny feelings of being vulnerable and being held relented, a bit, to the feeling of trust in the one holding our hand.

It should have been a hand-washing ritual, modeled after Christ’s lavish display of affection and care for his disciples (and by extension, us) in his own foot-washing at the Last Supper.  Not having the facilities for washing, though, she’d settled on a compromise–we’d massage a neighbor’s hand, making that touch a focus on the love and devotion we feel for her as a sister and fellow human being, and we’d let them return that love and devotion even if we didn’t feel we deserved it or know how to accept it.  

At the end of each person’s turn as the masseuse, we were to ask for our partner’s blessing.  

Now the night before, a woman had walked in to First Supper (my name for it) and did something people don’t ordinarily do–got my immediate attention.  Truthfully? I’m still working on being attentive and present in each moment and for each person–as I believe this is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other, but I’m sorry to say I’m still fairly inconsistent in my actual practice of this grace. 

Iris (let’s call her Iris after my co-favorite flower.  Daisy would the other), Iris was about 6’2″, broad shouldered and looked startlingly like my father-in-law…but with a blonde wig and long, beautifully painted artificial nails.  I turned to one of my dinnermates and whispered, “Wow, it’s hard to miss her, huh?” 

Hard to miss her, but not hard to dismiss her.  The next day brought conferences, break-out sessions, prayer and informal discussion, and I didn’t see Iris at all during the morning and early afternoon.  When later we filed into the chapel for our ritual, however, I certainly did.  She was sitting alone, in a pew right in the middle of the opposite side of the chapel.  The pews in front of her and behind her were filled, and people kept coming in, walking right past her as if the pew she was sitting in wasn’t there.  As if she wasn’t there.  

I stared for what I thought was too long and looked away.  I kneeled and tried to pray about something to distract myself from feeling ashamed of us.  Here we were, brought together in a holy place to share a sacred ritual meant to open our hearts to God’s love and to accept his caring for us–and there Iris sat alone.  Instead of the reassurance I sought through thoughtless repetition of prayer words, I felt only this–very, very clearly,

“If I don’t go to her and ask her to join me and my friends, this entire ritual is a sham, I am a hypocrite, and we are all just play-acting in front of God.  God brought her here, too.  She’s one of us.” 

I turned to the same friend I’d commented to during the First Supper.  “Hey, I’m going to go over there and ask Iris to join us, unless you feel uncomfortable, and that’s OK–I’ll go sit with her.” 

My friend smiled at me, bright and sweet.  “Go get her.”

The seven steps across the isle to her pew felt loud and awkward.  I kept imagining that she would turn to me after I made my offer and, somewhat dismissively, inform me that her twenty best-friends were coming in that very second and that I shouldn’t presume–it’s insulting.  Then, another feeling, stronger, “That’s fear of rejection and your own inadequacy.  Ignore that and do the right thing, right now.”

I stepped into the pew and put my hand on her arm to get her attention.  She was kneeling, praying.  She looked up, surprised.

“Would you please join us — me and my friends?  This is something we should do together.”

Iris never hesitated.  She looked into my face and smiled.  She got up and walked with me and sat down with me and my friends.  I massaged her hand first, and she sat there and prayed and smiled.  I asked for her blessing.

“May God show you clearly the work he has in mind for you.  May his love for you manifest in ways that give you clarity of His will and the courage to embrace it.  He has a plan for you.” 

Or something like that, anyway.  I can’t remember exactly what she said I was so stunned and overwhelmed, but it was darn close to those exact words.   

Iris and I had a few occassions to talk during the remainder of the retreat.  She ate dinner with us that night, and I hugged her goodbye at the final conference.  On the way home, my car mates and I reviewed the retreat experience and tried to remain wrapped in the glow that the freedom of retreat can give you.  One of them brought up Iris.

“I’m glad you asked her to join us.  She was nice.”

Everyone in the car agreed.  One by one they all shared that they felt accepting Iris revealed more about the secret to accepting love and tender care–from God and from each other. 

My great gift from Iris –well, there are two.  One, she affirmed for me in her blessing what I’m feeling more and more.  That I am being led and that if I follow with acceptance and anticipation, life will be amazing and I will be taken care of.  And two, accepting Iris helped me move two or three steps closer to completely accepting myself, just as I am. 

And I feel stronger having crossed the isle.  Stronger, and more capable. 

Thanks for the blessing, Iris. 

Thanks for Iris, God.