Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prayer Changes Everything

Prayer can make a difference especially if one prays for more love, healing, compassion, understanding, etc.... Praying for stuff, not so much. Prayer changes us at even the cellular level. Interesting article form Spirit Science and Metaphysics

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Good List for Prayer

Here's another list for the day. I think this list makes for a prayer. Sit in a quiet place, relax, breathe and say this list slowly. Let it penetrate your being. This will be my prayer tomorrow. What's your meditation plan for the morning?

From the Zen Haiku and Writing folks -

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hello Depression My Old Friend

I write this post not to gain sympathy but to identify with many of you. Many of us walk this path together but because of the stigma of mental illness, we believe we are all alone.

Depression is a terrible illness. I know because I have suffered from it since childhood. And like many religious leaders, pastors, priests, mystics, chaplains and other spiritual types, it affects us about twice as often as the general population. Madness and Mysticism know a fine line and some of us are called to walk it. The very salve we seek for our heart also pushes us closer to ruminating about human suffering.

Meditation helps. Going on silent retreat helps. Listening to Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and a whole host of others help. Anyone who has battled this demon and composes a song to sing about it helps. Being older helps. I know this darkness. Daylight will come. The dark alley will turn a corner into light. But until then . . . .

I will try awfully hard not to think only of myself, my illness, my turn of events. The real scourge of depression is how narcissistic one can become. I reach out to you who suffer from this illness to remind you of this truth: you are not alone and neither am I.
I will try awfully hard not to think only of myself, my illness, my turn of events. The real scourge of depression is how narcissistic one can become. I reach out to you who suffer from this illness to remind you of this truth: you are not alone and neither am I.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Capitalism is Evil

While it is an inflammatory title, it is nonetheless a true statement from a Christian (and many other religions) worldview. Capitalism, according to Wikipedia, "is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production, with the goal of making a profit. Central elements of capitalism include capital accumulation, competitive markets, and a price system." By it's very nature it is a beast bent on consuming resources including land, product and labor to line the pockets of a few. Need further proof? According to the Global Wealth Report, the wealthiest 1% now own 39% of the world wealth. 39%!!! An outrage when 25,000 people, mostly children, die everyday due to starvation.

Capitalism is Evil and Greed is Her Bitch.

Capitalism requires growth to survive and so by its very nature, just like a cancer spreading through a healthy body, murders the host. The Earth provides finite resources and space. The few rise on the backs of the many.

The Old Testament has many choice things to say about systems relegating people to poverty:
"This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.'" Amos 2:6-7
"They have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor." Jeremiah 5:28
And Jesus had a few choice words, too:
"They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." Mark 12:40
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed." Luke 4:18

Capitalism can be made better. Much Better, but it will never be endorsed by God.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Be Kind

"Be Kind. Everyone you know is struggling."

Meditation puts me in the right frame of mind for my heart to meet your heart. Even when I am in the foulest of moods, I can sit quietly and bring in the light; a light I then can share. How do you maintain a compassionate heart?

For more information, check out this blog posting.

Living to 100

Friday, May 24, 2013

In the tragedy of others when the horror is unspeakable, we learn this truth: All beings are interdependent; All souls are in communion.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I see the flattened homes, crumbled schools, piled up cars, and tear lined faces and I wonder how I could make a difference from so far away. This is Oklahoma but it is also Syria, sub-Saharan Africa, and Afghanistan.  So I do what matters most -- I pray knowing I am a drop in a larger ocean of prayers offering courage for first responders, hope for refuges, strength for parents who face the unthinkable loss, and healing for broken hearts. I know prayer makes it possible for us to reach out in love when all we feel is crippling helplessness. So pray dear friends and do so with the faith of a child.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Moth to Flame

Beauty does have power and like all power it can abuse and corrupt. Take Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch. It's bad enough he defends the store's policy of not carrying any clothing for plus size women, but he demands those who work for him in submissive positions -- his housekeepers, the cabin crew for his private jet, and his drivers -- come from his own modeling agency and adhere to the advertising "look"  of A&F: all must wear the polo, blue jean, underwear, and flip flops of an A&F ad with a spritz of cologne. The beauty of people on television or in magazine ads is exceptional so unless you live in LA and frequent only the "in" places, beauty of that scale is for the few and not for the rest of us. I am not Angelina Jolie and neither do I work with someone of her beauty in any of my circles. Ever. Yes there are attractive people in my office, some are my patients and others my clients but none of them come close to looking as good as A & F ad or the hundreds of others in Hollywood. No Brad Pitts or George Clooney types either.

And yet, these are the people ad agencies what us to aspire to. Let's be honest. Truthfully, we aspire to them. We are our own worst enemies. We then parade these ads to young people and the cycle of desire and self-loathing starts all over again. No wonder the Buddhist adage of "we all become what we hate," rings so true. How can we not be miserable when our hopes are impossible dreams of physical beauty.

Then there is aging as OLD Jeffries is discovering. Aging has a way of making us all look the same unless one choses the plastic surgery route as Jeffries has done.
 Then its old and creepy looking.

Jesus, the Buddha and other mystics rejected physical beauty as power and instead embraced the power of Love. And why is Love powerful? Because its source cannot be corrupted or abused. The Love from God heals the sick, brings comfort to the grief-stricken, food to the hungry and hope to the heartbroken. This Love does not seek physical beauty but radical kindness, life-changing compassion and inner humility.

Why have I worked as a hospice chaplain for children and adults all these years? Because as the body decays due to aging or cancer, the inner light of the dying person shines brighter. I am a moth to the flame.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rich Manhattanites Pay Disabled Tour Guides so Kids Can Cut Lines at Disney World

I hope this article is a hoax. Wealthy Manhattan families hire disabled people to jump ahead in the lines at Disney World in Florida. This is so wrong on so many levels. "The love of money is the root of all evil." Money leads to greed --to love of money--to love of entitlement--to cynicism--to callousness--to evil.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

When A Mother's Love is Not Enough

For some, Mother's Day is heartbreaking. Women who want or wanted to be mothers but never had children, mothers whose children died before them, and people everywhere who miss a mother who has passed too soon, Mother's Day becomes a holiday to avoid at best and to flee from at worst. But for those of us who endure painful relationships with our mothers, we keep our mouths shut. There is no Hallmark card for the broken mother/child bond.

My mother was the best mother she could be. Raised in crippling poverty as the daughter of sharecropper parents, my mother knew hunger and shame everyday. Her father beat her, her siblings, and her mother whenever the mood struck him. And what love she received from her own mother was divided between six brothers and sisters. Life for her was so much harder than I will ever know.

Mother and Daughters
Our relationship has always been a perfect storm of alienation. Born too small to leave the hospital, I spent the first six weeks of my life in an incubator. The nurses prohibited my mother from holding me. It would be thirty-five years later before one of my many therapists would use the term "attachment" disorder to describe my issues. Growing up, my mother saw in me everything she didn't like about herself, and by my teenage years, I felt the same. We are naturally loud, opinionated, and big in our movements. My mother often told me the "truth" of what she thought about me both as a child and as an adult.  I felt her words as nausea-inflicting punches to my gut. Later I would understand what she was really saying -- I love you, but I don't like you. Worse it was the 60's and 70's when hitting kids was okay and there were no motherhood support groups. Nails dug into my arms and slaps across my face were acceptable forms of punishment. I won't get into the jealously conundrum. Thankfully, my Dad mediated and loved us both through our years together.

Mother was a rage-a-holic just like her own father and of course, I became one, too. It's neurological as much as its psychological. I can feel nerves fire and I want to cry out, lash out, rage against the universe, beat someone or something to a pulp -- sort of an adult form of colic. More therapy and frankly, meds have helped. God helped even more. My sister's love helped too.

As my mother aged, she mellowed and so did I, but once in my early 40's, she came up from behind and gave me a spontaneous and unexpected hug, I should have reveled in the affection, but my body tensed and cringed before my mind even knew what had hit it. Cell memory runs deep.

Now we have a kind of truce -- a love brokered in silence and anger. She is no longer critical of me and I pretend the past never happened. I watch her love her grandchildren unconditionally and I tell myself it's enough to heal my wounds. So here's my Hallmark card -- you were not the mother I needed or wanted, but I thank you for being the best mother you could be. And please know, I did my best, too.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Falling Up on Cheater's Mountain

Ten years ago, I climbed Mt. Sniktau in Colorado by myself. The mountain rises to 13,234 feet and at the top, I took in views of Loveland Pass, the Gore Range and Arapahoe Ski Resort.

But it's a cheater's mountain. 
With a starting elevation of only 12,000 feet and a hiking trail which requires no rope or gear, almost anyone with acclimated to high altitude lungs can huff and puff his/her way to the top. Even on this summer day, low clouds huddled in their own grey cloaks to keep out the cold, wind-chilled air. I certainly had on my sweater underneath my wind cheater. And at the top, I had my "Hills are alive moment," complete with me singing and twirling around, patting myself on the back, and in the age of cell phones, calling my workmates to gloat about my accomplishment. 

But that night as I tried to fall asleep, anxiety and fear twisted my bowels and kick-booted my heart; I had nearly died that day and only now, did I remember how close I had come. The memory gave me, and I assure you this is the best way to describe how spooked I'd become -- a good case of the heebie jeebies. 
With only 10% more of the climb to pursue to the top, I had managed as always to lose the trail. I am very good, adept really, at finding new paths in parks no one has ever thought of before. I'm also excellent at getting turned around and walking back the way I had just come, misreading maps, and not finding which end is up even with a compass. Getting lost is something of a talent I claim. So well above the treeline and with the trail clearly moving off to the left, I went right toward a severe slope covered in scree.  At one point, I decided it would be safer to scuttle on my butt across the medium sized rocks sliding under each step of my hiking boot, but as I turned to sit down, I saw a fellow hiker. I had just passed him making his way down twenty minutes before and now he was already a good half-mile away. I could barely make him out, but he was clearly watching me, and even from this distance, I felt his helpless, wide-eyed gaze. He could have been in his warm car by now. Why was he so interested in me?

And this is why I believe in ESP:
I heard his voice in my head, "You stupid, stupid bitch. You're about to die and it will be my sorry ass that has to tell the rangers I saw you fall."

And this is why I believe energy imbues all things:
I looked around. The slope area had shortened in width and its face had tilted up onto its side like a Fun House floor but with a thousand foot drop to the valley below. The rocks sang and danced, "we've fallen this far, what's a thousand feet more?"

And this is why I believe in the Divine:
My inner voice, just a whisper, said, "Go back. Carefully."
On my bottom, I inched my way back toward the edge of the scree field. The rocks jutted their pointy chins into my palms of my hand, but even so, slipped toward the drop. The hiker watched me scoot back, a good fifteen minutes, and when I was safe and able to stand again, he shot down the rest of the trail towards his car.

I try not to think about that day because I have the same reaction; panic builds in my cells, my breathing quickens and my heart bursts.  I had kept on walking across the scree, I had slipped and slid over the cliff face. I had fallen so long that for a moment I believed I was safe and could fly, but then I hit the ground.

And this is why I believe in multiple universes. One of me died that die. It all felt so real.

Christians Reject Other Religions on National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer and too many of my Christian brothers and sisters are outraged at President Obama for having the compassion to include all religions in a statement of participation and tolerance. At its best, any religion is a path toward the Divine; at its worst, religion becomes a country club intent on leaving others out. Let all our prayers today burn our hearts with love and empathy for all.

Meditation Makes for Good Genes

We've known for years meditation can improve our mental, emotional and spiritual health. We've suspected it has a positive impact on physical health and a study out of Stanford University confirms this theory and like all things weird and wonderful in our universe -- mediation changes us at the cellular level. You can read the post here and have a Happy Meditation Saturday!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Are Your Mini-Adventures?

When my son, Atticus was in third grade, he was asked to take a paper to the principal's office. When he didn't return for 45 minutes the teacher went to look for him. She found him at the playground swings having a grand time. He had never made it to the principal's office and the paper was no where to be found. Do you have mini-adventures in your day? How do you "get-away" if only for a few moments?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Can Only Men with Guns Change History?

The symbol for Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University is of a mother pelican pecking flesh from her breast to feed her still nesting and famished chicks. It symbolizes God's willingness to feed our soul directly from God's own breast.

We live in a time where we buy the myth that only a man with a gun has power to shape human destiny. How many lives are destroyed and what new course does our future take because of weapons of destruction/ Look at Syria, Iraq, 9/11, Aurora -- not enough space to list them all!

But remember the pelican. Acts of sacrifice, compassion and love do more than change human history. They seek justice for the wounded, provide food for the hungry and healing for the sick soul. \Only acts of love transforms the sins of a sick world.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Can a Starry Night Give Healing Light?

This is the image which comes to my mind whenever I allow the Newtown and now Boston tragedy to come to my consciousness. I say allow because I can't let these events overcome me too often or I might melt like candle wax near an open flame. Grief has a way of paralyzing me, and I have to remain angry. Anger is good. It keeps me alert. I have more phone calls to make to Senators who don't listen to the will of the people. I have to remain loving and prayerful, too. All the victims and their families need my prayers and yours, too.  Can God send them healing love and light? This painting says yes.

The way Van Gogh saw the universe helps me. We are stardust and we are infinite. We are carbon and immortal. We are broken and resilient.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Prayers for Boston

My prayers go out to the victims and their families in Boston today.  For the whole city, may you find healing in the weeks to come.
Faneuil Hall

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Filling Up the Half-Empty Glass

 My middle class neighborhood is a mixed bag politically. During the political season, signs for Obama, Romney and extremes on either end announced each homes persuasion. With the signs gone after the election, the yards aren't so colorful, but I don't feel people are screaming their opinion to me either.

A few weeks ago, (before the awful head cold I'm fighting now) I took a walk in my neighborhood. I had gotten no further than a few houses away when I saw a huge banner down the street. I couldn't make out the sign but as I got closer I made out the word "Fag." First I thought, "oh please no," but then anger punched me. It's bad enough I live in Texas where mean season lasts all year long these days between Gov. Perry and Sen. Cruz vying for the title of whose intellect will first be compared to an amoeba. Now, there are yard signs spreading hate in the most vile ways.

My pace quickened and I could make out a person standing in the yard. I decided I would voice my outrage, but the owner, even from far away, seemed positively giddy.  He was pacing in the yard and looking out on the street. He walked to his porch and then back out to the street. Expectant.

I was up to the yard before I made myself look at that awful sign one more time -- the resolve I needed to speak my peace. Good thing I did, too because this is what the sign did say: WELCOME HOME, Fagans.
Once again, I had let my prejudice and my reflex to always see the glass as half-empty cloud my outlook.
"Expecting someone?" I asked the owner.
"My family," he said. "My grandkids have been with my daughter and her husband overseas for the last three years. They will drive up any minute."
"Have a wonderful and joyous reunion," I said and walked on.
Sometimes, God whispers in my heart the path I should take, but there are those times when a swifter action,  my attention is required, and God whacks me on the side of the head to reorient my thinking.
Politicians and the media will always make noise but I should never let it drown out the decency of most people. Yes, I should speak out on injustice but I should never assume people will work from their basest instincts. Always, I am to approach the goodness in the other.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Breastplate

When I don't have time to meditate, this is my shortcut mantra. I say it while fingering prayer beads, hiking, walking and driving. When called out to see a patient in crisis, a first time visit with a bereaved client or a death, I repeat this prayer until I feel Divine Love flood my being -- from head to toe and cell to cell. This prayer more than any other reminds me I am beloved. In this Catholic prayer, Christ consciousness, like Divine Love, dwells within us all.

St. Patrick's Breastplate

I bind myself to the strong virtue of love.
To the obedience of angels,
to the prediction of prophets
to the faith of the confessors,
and the preaching of the apostles.

I bind myself to power of heaven --
the light of the sun,
the brightness of the moon,
the depth of the sea,
the stability of earth,
and the compactness of rock.

I bind myself to God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to teach me,
and God's word to give me speech.

Christ with me and before me.
Christ behind me and within me.
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me,
Christ above me, Christ beneath me.

Christ in the ears of everyone who hears me.
Christ in the eyes of everyone who sees me.
Christ in heart of everyone who knows me.
I bind myself to the strong virtue of Christ.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Remember the Waltons!

No surprise, my favorite television show as a kid was The Waltons. They did more than love their children, they cherished them despite living in poverty. Well, they said they were poor, right? They were mountain people living off the land. In the Christmas episode they weren't going to get presents. The grandparents lived at their home. They drove around in an old pickup. Poor John Boy. How was he going to go to college without the money to pay for it? To my mind, the Waltons represented the poor in America.

My mother often complained about her own childhood poverty and oddly enough, she didn't like the Waltons. Not at all. I started understanding why when she showed me her childhood home sometime around my 12th or 13th birthday. First, I saw the land near Tell, Texas where she and her family farmed. Sounds idyllic but they didn't own the land. They were sharecroppers. My grandfather had lost what little they had in the 1920's when the farming economy went bust long before people started to use the word "Depression". Their shack was long gone, but their home in Childress, Texas where they moved when my mother was five still stood. Not much bigger than a shack, maybe three rooms, an outhouse, and a stove that required firewood, nine people lived in that house. Where was the big Walton House with a dining room, living room, the big staircase and all those bedrooms? John Boy even had his own room. And where was Coldsmith Mountain? The Waltons might have been cash poor for a few years, but they were not ever asset poor and they never went to bed hungry.

My mother and her family were hungry all the time. My Uncle Sonny's favorite story was being home with my mother, his older sister with no food in the house except wilted lettuce and bacon grease. My mother fried it up the lettuce in the grease and that was dinner. He was grateful for that meal because he was fed something before bed.

Hugo Chavez had many faults but he did something for Venezuela no one had done before; he listened to the plight of the poor. He heard their stories and he acted. It is why he was so beloved by his countrymen. It is why he was re-elected even after the coup. And weirdly, it's why they will put him in a glass coffin and hold him in stasis just like Snow White. I don't know if he made their lives any better. I hope so. I am not a Communist but I strongly support a regulated and modified Capitalist economy which serves and promotes the poor and the middle class.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

For God and Country???

I abhor violence and when scenes in movies or tv depict cruelty, I shut my eyes until my husband tells me the image has passed. In that way, I am the scared teenager and the appalled adult. My cinema behavior was no different for the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Even so, the windows to my soul were wide open.

On the right and left people denounced the film for portraying torture as a necessary evil to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Maureen Dowd didn't like it for fictionalizing an event and then calling it historic. My beef is with my progressive brothers and sisters who criticized the film for promoting the notion that torture led to information to find OBL.

Of course torture gave the US government leverage to find OBL and many of his underlings. This is historic fact, but even if torture was the most efficacious way to extract information -- even it torture presented the only way to find OBL, it was wrong. Terribly wrong. Waterboarding, starving people, locking persons in boxes and chaining them up like dogs is not a scar on our national psyche but a gaping, oozing, fetid wound.

Despite the graphic violence or really because of it, Zero Dark Thirty indicted the use of torture as a means to an end. In each torture scene, my compassion was with the detainees. Even at the end, I worried for the children. My heart broke for the women. What madness leads any of us, on both sides of a conflict, to sell our souls down the river for a chance to kill our way to victory? Maya is not relieved at the end of the film. As her tears fall, the viewer wonders: was the cost worth it? Was justice done?

So what movie about historical events over the last decade would I have rather seen? One where we didn't invade Iraq or Afghanistan, we used humane means to gather information, and we put OBL on trial for crimes against humanity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The God Who Becomes

We are all different. God created a diverse bunch. Physically, we all come in different sizes, colors, and shapes. Emotionally, our demeanor and outlook, is equally diverse. In our lifetimes, we change constantly -- never the same from moment to moment. Even at a cellular level, change is happening - fast.

So if we are created in God's image, why do we portray the creator of the universe as static? Most people want a God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. They cling to a God who they believe can make all the fast changes stall around us as if our life is a storm and we must hold tight to the mast -- the only way to survive. Nice image right? God the immovable when there is spinning all around.

But what if we are supposed to let go of the mast to seek out God in the storm of pain, hunger, debasement, joy, happiness and suffering? What if God is not the mast but the change? God sure likes to create but with the immovable God, creation is done. It happened a long time ago. With a God who changes, creation is on-going and we are participants in it. God and us are not has been but becoming.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Heart, Soul and Mind?

Those of us who embark upon the spiritual journey long to experience an inner peace so extraordinary our zen-calm outer self can't help but to elicit these types of comments from others: "she's got game," "he's arrived" or "she's comfortable in her own skin."  No matter what hits us, like the Dalai Lama, we are cool and calm. Our skin is Teflon.

But most of us eke out an anxious style of spiritual living: sometimes inner peace, sometimes white knuckle endurance, sometimes ripping our hair out, or the worst -- the gravity of heartbreak pulls us to our knees and we weep in pain begging our God to relieve our suffering.

Aging brings even more losses our children grow up and don't need us anymore; careers stall; friends and family members die; and our bodies break with the minor -- constipation, hair loss, wrinkles, fat redistribution -- and the major -- arthritis, back pain, cancer, dementia, and heart disease. Diminishment, if not death looms like a cloudy day. So it begs the question: how can we be comfortable in our own skin when our "skin" keeps changing?

Over the years, I've facilitated many grief groups and counseled countless people who have endured painful loss. Widows and widowers are often the most heartbreaking. To listen to them for any length of time conjures images of someone who is missing essential parts of himself like an arm or a leg. S/he is no longer whole. The widower perceives himself as halved. His fingers fidget in his lap; his lover no longer there to hold his hand.

But to a person, every one makes this claim: they wouldn't trade a single moment of the love they shared then for all the pain they endure now. It is attachment, love and relationship, and not withdrawal which brought them fulfillment. Love is the path to enlightenment.

Can the most healthy of our intimate relationships provide the template for spiritual love?  Template comes from both the word "temple" - a house of worship and "templet" - the horizontal piece undergirding a beam. Our calling is to love God at least as much as the person we love most in the world.  This kind of abiding love, a love than undergirds your being, can take you through a whole host of troubles.  Love of God and God's love for you can give you the wholeness you seek.

The goal of the spiritual life was never to be comfortable in our own skin but even in our anxiety, excitement, contentment or loss to bind ourselves to God through love.
"Love the Lord, your God with all your Heart, Soul and Mind . . . ."


Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine’s Day
by April Coldsmith

I wait for the Mikimoto necklace
Swollen, milky-moon pearls
stretched lucent
A mother’s belly just before birth.
Beads nibble my neck
like kisses from you.

Or those diamond earrings,
pindrop hints in casual conversation:
“Can I zip you up?”
“Yes,” I turn and proclaim
“diamond earrings would look fabulous with this dress.”
I hope for square cut crystals
to catch the light
from my lobes.

My heart burns for a sapphire ring,
Oval shape embedded in diamonds,
blue orb surrounded by white iris,
I gaze into your eyes
with longing.

I could settle for a spa day gift coupon
Asian ladies press my feet,
paint my nails,
massage my skin until it
screams, passion for you.

But instead
you’ll waltz in with a
wrapped in cellophane
eclipsed by barren baby’s breath
studded with a waxy, fern leaf.

A red rose so perfect –
      free of blemish
      or scent –
it passes for plastic.

But you smile a broad strand
of Mikimoto Pearls,
A toothsome grin
dropped just below my neck

I try to be satisfied.
I really do.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Journey's the Thing

Photo by John Davenport

Ten years ago, I had the privilege to get to know and offer support to Brenna Liepold, an 18 year old who made the courageous choice to forego cancer treatment so she could enjoy her last year of life. "Getting chemotherapy isn't living," she told  Good Morning America's Charlie Gibson in 2003. After years of battling rhabdomyosarcoma, a nasty and often terminal cancer in children, Brenna chose to receive palliative care so she could travel to Italy, make frequent trips to Chicago, room with her mother and aunt in Texas and live life as normally as possible, but like all the kids I've worked with who endured or succumbed to life-limiting illnesses, there was nothing normal about Brenna. By far, she was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. She fought hard to experience the simplest of moments especially love and laughter.
Photo by John Davenport

Her favorite movie was Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. When I met Brenna, I had only seen the movie once in theatres, whereas she could quote it chapter and verse. After the second movie came out, I understood her obsession and often watched snippets of each with her, but I had not seen the Fellowship of the Ring in its entireity until after her death. Only then did I understand why it spoke to her so deeply. Yes, the film is about a quest, but not just any journey. For Brenna, the trek to destroy the Ring meant her own living in adversity -- in dying.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.
Even in the evil of cancer, Good would prevail. Brenna never believed her cancer would be cured. Her miracle was the journey in living life on her terms.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tissue Prayers

When I was in fourth grade at Bowie Elementary School in San Angelo, Texas, I kept a messy cubby. My teacher at the time called it my regurgitating locker with papers, pens, spiral notebooks, homework assignments, math sheets and colored pencils struggling to work their way to the edge and out onto the floor. It represented my mind too full of ADHD, daydreams, equations, words, God and deep sadness even as a ten year old. Out of this mess, I wrote poetry, played guitar, hummed and then sang folk music and wondered about God. I was Shiva the Destroyer breaking down my mind and creating from it. Not much has changed in forty years.

My house is relatively neat except for one corner. In my den behind the couch, a regurgitating miasma waits for my full attention; two baskets of paper bills, a world globe, a sewing machine, stacked clear plastic containers of quilting fabrics, a fishing tackle box of beads and beading supplies, photos and the albums they should need to go into, and a fabric cutting mat -- muscle for space in front of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of crafts, theology, fiction and gardening books.

The problem with the past is we perceive it as a regurgitating space of disorder, random experiences, joyful surprises, creative bursts and shameful moments. The past will always encroach on the present and future and it must; the past is who we were and in a universe of constant becoming, the past is along for the ride. Sure I could shove all my clutter under the table in my den, but like the past, shoving dust under a rug only masks it and doesn't solve the issues. And the future? Worry. Always worry.

The Buddha is right, one must concentrate on the present moment to explore one's divinity or from my own religious tradition, the Christ within. But what about the pesky past or the anxious future? They're always getting in the way.

A few years ago, I developed a spiritual tradition called "Tissue Prayers." Finding a comfortable position in a chair (meditation does not have to be painful to be successful!) I write on pieces of paper my joys and heartbreaks, hopes and fears, and I place them in a baggie or paper sack. Like tickets in a raffle, I shake them up. At this point I either stand and walk in a circle similar to the Labyrinth discipline or I remain seated and pick out each item one by one. I cry over it, maybe clutch the paper to my heart and when I have honored and accepted every feeling, asked for forgiveness if needed, and offered them up to the Divine Healer, I discard the paper just like a tissue. I have also been known to burn the tissue prayers and on one occasion, I buried them. Either way, my gesture serves one function; I am done with this for now. I perform this prayer discipline at the beginning of every retreat so my mind and heart can be in the present moment -- ready to receive healing in the present for the past and future.

If ever you need to clear the slate and open up your heart to healing and divine love, tissue prayers will get you there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Have Gun Will Enslave

"If you need a gun to make yourself free, then you're not really free."
The right wing gun nuts like to equate their right to own guns to their right to live as free people. If you want to visit a community where everyone arms themselves to the teeth, you don't need a time machine to the Old West but a plane ticket to El Salvador. I visited the country as a seminary student in 1995, shortly after the end of the decades long civil war, and everywhere I saw guns! guns! guns! with children as young as 13 carrying assault style weapons in the dirt filled streets. Posters pasted to concrete walls, on the side of buildings, and tied to metal fences extolled the virtues of a martyr society with pictures of Romero, the six slaughtered Jesuit priests, and other leaders, (some unlike the priests who had used gun violence to achieve their aims) and they had all died by guns. The society was many things, but it was definitely not free.

During our trip, our group met with the head of the Christian Democratic Party. A minister, he carried a gun easily visible at his side. His predecessor had been assassinated the previous year on the front porch of the very building we had entered moments before. One of us pressed the issue and chided him for packing heat as a minister. He explained violent struggle was necessary to achieve democratic results and then he ended with this statement.
"If I don't carry a gun, I can't defend myself. I would die."
Even with the gun, you're going to die, I thought. 

Jesus abhorred violence and with no exceptions, he taught his followers to do the same. Jesus didn't make allowances for just wars, collateral damage or necessary kills. For Jesus, the one who kills another human being murders his own soul. 

Freedom comes from love and not violence. If you need a gun to make yourself free, then you're not really free.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Praying at a Closed Door

As a chaplain and minister, I've heard many prayer requests over the years and most of them from people content to ask for so much less than they deserved or desired. Unlike televangelists or the Pat Robertsons of the world, most folks were humble and contrite in their requests wanting nothing more than a change in their attitude, relationships, physical illness, or job situations. What they were really asking for was healing

When Jesus says "Knock and the door shall be opened," and "Ask, you shall receive," I take him at his word, but so often I have knelt or cradled my wounds at some door -- closed, shut and impenetrable. This is when I'm in real trouble. The easy answer -- find the open door, but when I do, I realize I'm on the Titanic. I don't need a door but a life raft.

Lately, I've been making my knuckles raw pounding on that door: pondering if the best of life is over because of a looming empty nest; knowing I am changing physically and spiritually AGAIN and I can't control the outcome; worrying about my potentially life threatening and certainly quality-of-life threatening illness; responding to the command to finally move out of Texas and into the mountains -- mine and my husband's lifelong dream; but, wanting answers of where, how and when, NOW.

I am asking the right questions, at the right time but from the wrong perspective. God's time is not my time and God's concerns are for my spirit and not so much about my body or earthly constraints. God cares for me, YES, but God cares for that part of me that is infinite -- the spirit living a human existence. Changes the answers doesn't it.

Mother Teresa ministered to the lepers and the Dalia Lama has lived in exile- both over fifty years. Nelson Mandela prayed for the healing of a nation from a jail cell on Robber's Island for twenty-seven years. Jesus spent forty days and nights in a desert, without food and water, seeking his answers. The spiritual life is never easy.

The optimal time for a woman to give birth is when the cervix has thinned one hundred percent and opened to ten centimeters. There is preparing, nesting, laboring and yes, even pain, before the head crowns.

So I will sit at my door to wait for it to open. And knowing me, I will bang on it from time to time, but I will keep this forward in my mind -- pause, breathe, listen and discern. The possibilities are endless and God is choosing the right one for me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sacrifice the Bible on the Altar of Love

This morning my husband, Britt gave Blythe my car to take to Best Buy so she could pick up a new cell phone.  A good plan except for the slow leak in my left-front tire. When I pointed out this problem to my husband, he began to worry. Without anyway to contact our daughter (her cell phone had broken) to hurry home, Britt went looking for her but couldn't find her. He drove to Best Buy, Hastings bookstore, the library, and any other place he thought she might go. Every few minutes he called me in the hopes she had already arrived home safely. Convinced she was stuck on the side of the road somewhere with a flat, we breathed a huge sigh of relief when she drove up the driveway two hours later having gone to Half-Price bookstore and lunch. Good parents worry and do everything possible to keep their children safe.

I spent all afternoon researching the first fifteen verses of Genesis 22 and for my minister and Hebrew speaking friends, I could make a strong, academic and spiritual argument for why Abraham never intended to slay Issac, nor was Yahweh even asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Instead, I want to pass God's test of me this way: if I must interpret the text as it is traditionally presented -- Abraham showed courageous obedience to God by his willingness to murder his only child -- then I reject this story. The Bible is wrong and this part is not inspired by any holy being. This is a text of terror, murder and the opposite of love -- hate.

Which is why this comic is spot on in pointing out the failure of the Bible to be all things to all people in modern times. This is one story we should all throw out especially if we're required to read  it literally or to call it inerrant. Any God who demands the sacrifice of a child is not loving; this God is a monster.

Why read the Bible literally when the writers never meant for it to be so? It is not a history of the middle east, neither is it a science text book about the origins of the universe. It's not even a good example of human relationships with all the raping, pillaging, murdering and destroying going on.  Our best option is to discern where it derives inspiration from God and hence, where we can glean spiritual truths. Jesus argued and debated with the texts of the Hebrew Bible as any good rabbi does because he believed higher truths could be discovered. It's why he taught in parables so each of us, first as listener then as reader, needed to work for our spiritual truths. "Let those with ears, Hear!"

Abandon your simplistic translations of the Bible from child hood: God didn't create the world in six days; God didn't flood the world and kill everything off; God didn't kill people in Sodom and Gomorrah; God didn't murder the first-born of Egypt; and God didn't demand the sacrifice of one little boy, Issac. And the virgin birth, well, let's not go there.

But do embrace these truths: God loves, nurtures and cares for each of us while also making us clean up our messes, be kind to strangers, to respect the earth and to push us to be better human beings -- just like any good parent would do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mediation is for Mystics ONLY!

Or so I thought. When I first started meditating twenty years ago, it was arduous work. Lots of sitting, chanting, breathing and time wasting. As an adult with ADHD, there were days when I fought my thoughts like dragons; mental daggers to keep them from swooping in and destroying my reverie. Worse was the time commitment; every morning at 5am for the only hour to myself and often locked in the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom. My kids and husband knew not to bother me there.

But when my first symptoms of what I now know was RA started to fight with me ten years ago, I had to give it up. Pain and fatigue prevented me from long sessions of deep meditation on a daily basis. Fortunately, I had learned a new form of connection with God from a seminar taught by Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Linn in San Angelo, Texas of all places, and it didn't require long hours absent from my family. All that is required is love and imagination.

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. No need to cross legs or sit up straight. Ask yourself this question: Who loves you most in the world? A parent, sibling, spouse, lover or friend? Living or Dead? Focus on this person and remember a time when you felt his/her love for you. Imagine this love as energy and it flows through you like lifeblood. Now remind yourself of this simple truth:

God  loves you even more. (Insert your name for the Divine: Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Shiva, Nirvana -- you get the idea.)

Then feel the love as God wants you to experience it. Let God's love flood your brain, lungs, heart, mind, spirit, limbs, arms, legs, fingers and toes.  God's love courses through you as light and everywhere it touches, cells are transformed, energy is renewed, broken places are mended, and healing flames your heart. Bathe in this love. Luxuriate in it. Breathe it in as if it were oxygen.  If part of you resists then let the love speak for you to these dark places -- "Honey, s/he deserves this," and watch the love wash over those doubting, limiting thoughts.

Your time is up when you decide even though you may want to stay forever. You will feel grounded, centered and able to give and receive love from the day ahead.

You can also read this post on my Facebook Page -

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human one.
Teilhard deChardin