Monthly Archives: September 2014

Breathing Together

Conspirare

Friday night, I caught myself holding my breath.

It happened while sitting in Bates Recital Hall at the University of Texas-Austin in the middle of a Conspirare concert. Conspirare is an enormously talented Austin-based choral group whose name, ironically, means “to breathe together.”

That night they were performing the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, set to music. And the breathtaking piece was Soneto de la Noche.

But the beauty and sentiment of the poetry were not what had caused this reaction in me. It was much more than that.

I’d first experienced Conspirare singing this piece five years ago. My very dear friend Rob had brought a DVD of a live performance of the choral group to a weekend gathering of friends. Awed and inspired by these talented artists, Rob wanted to share their music with us. It was July 2009 — three months after my beloved husband had died.

I remember Rob sitting next to me on the sofa as we watched and listened to voices and music that took me to another realm. Then, one of the men from the choir stepped forward for the next piece, and Rob suddenly reached over and grabbed my hand. He’d forgotten this song was among the selections, and he knew what was coming would cause me pain. It was Soneto de la Noche.

Although the poem is in Spanish, the soloist spoke the words in English. In his deep, gentle voice — not unlike my husband David’s — he began:

      “When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes; I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me one more time…”

My tears flowed, unrestrained. I cried from a deep pit of grief — this dark place that I thought, at the time, could never be healed. But I also cried from the recognition that I was being comforted by those reassuring words, as if my own dear David were speaking them to my heart. I heard David telling me to go on living, to live a full life, the kind of life he knew that I was capable of and that he so often saw and admired in me.

Knowing how much that song, and Conspirare, meant to me, Rob later gifted me with both the DVD and CD, and I must have listened to Soneto de la Noche hundreds of times. I’m well past the place of crying when I hear it. Now it’s simply a bittersweet memory.

Or so I thought.

When that same soloist stepped forward for this song Friday night, I found myself holding my breath in anticipation. Was it in anticipation of experiencing this gorgeous piece of music “live”? Or did it have something to do with the fact that I’m standing at yet another crossroads in my life? As I let go and exhaled, surprisingly and instantly, tears formed again.

But this time, I heard the words spoken to me not from David, but from a Loving Presence within me:

“I want you to live, Pauline…

I want all that I love to keep on living, and you whom I loved and sang above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom, so that you can touch all that my love provides you.”

 

I exhaled and took in the words. Breathed them in, gulping them like much-needed oxygen.

 “…flowering into full bloom.”

Yes!

Isn’t that what the poet Neruda, the composer of these beautiful pieces of music, the musicians, and the singers were doing — flowering, allowing their remarkable talents to fully bloom?

And isn’t that what God asks of us?

How we use our life, how we manifest our gifts and talents is our responsibility. Just like the parable of the talents. We’re not meant to bury our gifts. Our spirit isn’t meant to “die” with the one who passed on before us. We are meant to fully live, just as Neruda urged his lover. And just as God, our Divine Lover, urges us.

When I consciously allow this Loving Presence to breathe through me, then I am my truest self.

And as my truest self, I can “touch all that Love provides me.”

And isn’t that what God asks of us?

 

Turns out that today, September 23rd, is the 41st anniversary of Neruda’s death. He died at the young age of 69. Below is his poem, Soneto de la Noche:Pablo Neruda (2)

 Soneto de la Noche

When I die, I want your hands upon my eyes;

I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands to pass their freshness over me one more time;

I want to feel the gentleness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,

I want your ears to still hear the wind,

I want you to smell the scent of the sea we both loved,

And to continue walking on the sand we walked on.

I want all that I love to keep on living, and you whom I loved and sang above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom, so that you can touch all that my love provides you,

so that my shadow may pass over your hair,

So that all may know the reason for my song.

 

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The Gift in El Paso

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Call me crazy but I drove to El Paso this past weekend. 550 miles one way. A straight line right through the desert along I-10. And a speed limit of 80 mph all the way. Not that I drove that fast!

My reason for going? To begin the first of four weekend trainings in Capacitar — a multicultural wellness program that I wrote about in an earlier blog. Ever since I was exposed to Capacitar during my first visit to El Paso, I’ve been attracted to it and inspired by its founder Pat Cane. Capacitar — a Spanish word meaning “to empower, bring forth”— integrates body-mind-spirit practices to bring healing to people all over the world who have experienced trauma, violence, and emotional and physical stress. (You can read more about it at http://www.capacitar.org)

Now I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to receive training and certification in this program, with the idea that I will bring it to others who need healing. Not only did I receive the assistance I needed to do this, but the sisters here in San Antonio allowed me to extend my weekend in order to take advantage of the program. I was pretty excited about how this all came together. My hope is that I can teach some of these practices to the women at our little learning center, La Casita.

But even more than feeling extremely grateful to be participating in the Capacitar training, I recognized the excitement growing in me as I drove closer and closer to El Paso.

As soon as I exited off I-10 onto Lee Trevino and headed to North Loop, I felt like I’d come home. The familiar roads. The bus route I’d taken, along with all my Hispanic neighbors. Even the Whataburger on the corner. I’d treated myself to a great chocolate shake there. I was smiling from ear to ear.

When I called my cousin in Austin to let her know I’d arrived safely, I couldn’t contain the feelings.

“I’m so happy to be here!” I blurted.

I heard her chuckle. “Nobody’s happy to be in El Paso.”

“Well, I am. My heart is happy here. It’s like being home.”

I’m sure I must have left a piece of my heart in El Paso when I left back in March. Certainly the sisters welcomed me as if I were home.

I talked to them nonstop through dinner, pouring out every detail of my journey to San Antonio. Where I am and what I’m doing. The questions and concerns that still remain.

They listened to all of it. Then one of them suggested something that struck a chord.

“Sounds to me like you’re in liminal space, Pauline.”

Hmm. Liminal space. I’d heard that term before.

Having read many books and reflections by Richard Rohr — a Franciscan and contemporary spiritual writer — I knew that liminal space meant that inbetween place where you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of a threshold, about to cross over into something yet unknown and unforeseen.

When I got back to San Antonio on Monday, I looked up Richard Rohr’s explanation of liminal space:

…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 

I’ve certainly lived through stages like that in my life. But this one feels different. It challenges me from a tougher place. Something in me knows that I will experience deeper spiritual growth and maturity. That is, if I can hang out long enough with the discomfort and the questions, not to mention my aversion to finding myself in this position. To be honest, I don’t like this version of living in liminal space.

To help me manage living here for a while, I’ve set some goals for myself:

  • Focus on the healing work of Capacitar
  • Learn Spanish while hanging out
  • Be open to the surprises, to whatever comes
  • Trust that God is with me in this
  • Look for the little graces every day —

Graces like this opportunity to participate in Capacitar. And the gift of being able to return to El Paso — at least every now and then.

 

 

An Opportunity to Grow

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I’ve been experiencing growing pains. Yes, at my age. But I’d call them spiritual growing pains. The kind you get when you sincerely say, “Your will, not mine, be done.”

If you know me, you know I’ve been praying for some time to fulfill my longing to serve something greater than myself, and to deepen my connection with the Divine. Now I find myself asking, “Am I willing to pay the price?”

Because I’m finding that letting go of my little self-will’s desire to have things be as I want them to be is not easy.

Like this situation in San Antonio, for instance. Some things haven’t quite been turning out as I’d hoped or expected. I’m facing challenges in several areas. And in the process, I’m being shown just how much I struggle against what is present when it goes against what I’d prefer or what I think it should be.

The other day I came across some notes I’d scribbled during a Tara Brach weekend workshop I’d taken last year. Tara Brach is a Buddhist Insight Meditation teacher and presenter in the Washington, D.C., metro area who gives excellent talks available free of charge online. Her sage teachings have often helped me. Now, this particular line of hers popped off the page:

“Peace is this moment without judgment— that is all.”

This moment, in my heart space, without judgment. Completely open to what is in front of me. No matter whether my little ego likes it or not. No matter whether my self-will would like to change it into something else. That’s peace. It’s also the meaning of surrender.

A wonderful model of this for me, in the Christian tradition, is Mary. Her total surrender to God with the words, “Let it be done unto me,” are an example I find hard to replicate. Yet, I’ve said “yes” to a calling, and this is where it’s taken me.

At least for now.

And I do believe I’m here to learn and to grow in preparation for the next step on my journey. Whatever that may be.

In the meantime, I find San Antonio to be more of a desert experience than El Paso was. These are some of the temptations I’m facing in this desert:

  • To desire clarity and understanding over living with mystery and “allowing”
  • To doubt my faith and my discernment
  • To want to turn back when I don’t understand or I feel scared or I don’t have control
  • To want to mold and make what is present into something different
  • To take back my “yes” and resort to my more comfortable self-will

I’ve been humbled more than a few times as I’ve recognized these places within myself. It’s humbling to come up against my ego’s demands and my “no.”

Can I wait it out for a while? I think so. Because I truly do see this as an opportunity for growth.

Since I started this journey, I’ve been keeping a file of inspirational quotes that speak to my heart. Here are a few that especially speak to me now:

“In this well ordered universe, the perfect vehicle for our spiritual growth and unfoldment is exactly our present situation.”

 ~ Sevakra

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

~ Thomas Merton