Secret Work

Rumi fire and smoke secret

There’s a secret work going on. Collectively and personally.

At Jardin de Milagros, where I’ve started volunteering one morning a week, the planting is a good metaphor for this secret work. As I gently push the sweet potato seedling into the hole – one among a dozen rows of holes waiting for seedlings – I wonder how it will fare. Will this tiny thing survive?

I have no idea, but it’s not mine to know. Mine is only to do my part and surrender the rest.

It’s a lesson in non-clinging, in letting go of the outcome. Like a good spiritual practice, nature is teaching me that I must allow the work to unfold under the surface, without knowing what is happening. Yet I must fulfill my responsibility in this process.

On a larger scale, I see this unfolding in the midst of COVID-19. I am asked, as we all are, to let go of any attachment to how I think this is supposed to turn out, and, instead, to open to limitless possibilities. To be willing to step over this threshold in the liminal space in which we find ourselves. And leave our egos outside the door. So that we may enter with new vision.

This requires qualities we humans do not take on easily: patience, trust, non-resistance, humility, and self-emptying, or kenosis, as it’s known on the Christian path. Not easy, but we learn through practice. By waking up and stepping up.

For me, stepping up has meant to delve more deeply into body wisdom and other spiritual exercises and resources. To daily ground in my practice so that I don’t fall prey to the anxiety, fear, and negativity circulating. To listen more intently. And to more fully enter the heart space.

I know that I am privileged, even as I write this. I sit in my living room participating in online spiritual talks and programs. I am not suffering, not going hungry, or worse, starving to death, as so many people are in countries that were impoverished before this pandemic began.

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic who lived during the Black Death – a plague that wiped out one-third of the residents of Norwich – knew firsthand about the mystery of suffering and the unconditional love of a God she saw as Mother. Like all spiritual teachers, Julian recognized suffering is finite. Only Love is infinite.

And in that regard, I have a significant part to play in this cosmic evolution.

For we are in the midst of evolution. As scientist and Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio says, “Whether or not you want to accept evolution, you are in evolution.”

We need “science and spirituality to heal our divisions, deepen our compassion, and ignite the human spirit toward greater unity and flourishing,” says Sr. Ilia, who founded the Omega Center, based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s teachings of the Omega Point, the concept of “deepening toward a more unified future. Teilhard was aware that the energies of creativity bring with them a certain terror, a not-knowing what the outcome will be. Hence, he advocated radical trust in the inner presence of God and the holiness of the world.”

She says that “Teilhard would view this pandemic as an opportunity to harness the energies of love in new ways. Every act of suffering in his view is an invitation to a new creative moment, a wake-up call that something old is breaking down and something new is taking place in our midst.”

Pierre-Teilhard-de-Chardin-after-mastering-the-winds

From mystics to scientists, from wisdom teachers to ecologists, all speak of the universe as evolving in a relational field that needs our conscious contribution in love. They use words like reciprocity, flourishing in mutuality, greater relationality, a new vision and a new world, a more unified Whole, and a Divine exchange – the practice of giving-and-receiving.

Spiritual teachers like Teilhard de Chardin and the Pathwork Guide speak of how we are “instruments” in the changes taking place in the evolution into Christ consciousness. In Pathwork lecture #233, we are told: “you need to realize the importance of your task from an inner place that is not ego-involved, not steeped in vanity or pride…for a higher cause of the deepest significance.”

These teachers give me hope, and they challenge me, too.

I’m learning more and more how everything I have, I’ve been given. And I am to give it away – not cling to anything – in this dance of reciprocity. A dance in which my ego moves further away from center stage.

Volunteering at Jardin de Milagros, the garden of miracles, is one way I have chosen to participate. Owned by a retired couple, the garden produces 3 acres of fresh fruits and vegetables. They donate all of it to a food pantry in El Paso to feed the hungry. A food pantry that normally gives 3,000 to 5,000 boxes of food a month to hungry families. Now they give 5,000 a week! The garden needs volunteers. This is something I can do as an instrument of giving-and-receiving.

And since I can no longer accompany immigrants at the border, I’ve been practicing a different kind of accompaniment. Daily I energetically accompany someone who is dying or has died alone in the midst of the coronavirus. I accompany this beloved stranger into another realm surrounded by love and gratitude for his or her life. It feels like powerful “work,” emerging from my heart space.

It’s true that I don’t fully understand or know the impact of anything I am planting or praying. But I am open to the mystery of it. And trusting the love at its center. A place from which I heard:

“Take up the secret work. The wisdom of the heart knows how.”

 

On Being a Midwife

egg nest-843231_1920Today is a special day. April 18th. The anniversary of David’s death.

But this year, it’s especially meaningful because that date falls on the same place in “time” that it fell on the day David passed. Easter Saturday.

Knowing that this sacred season is filled with special graces, I’ve been taking it slow, going within. Paying attention. And I’ve received one heck of an unexpected, insightful gift. From an unlikely source. The popular Netflix series “Call the Midwife,” based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs of midwifery in 1950’s poverty-stricken East London

First off, I should explain that I’m always behind when it comes to watching anything on TV or otherwise. So, you’ll understand when I say I’m only on season 1. Last week I was watching episode 7, a Christmas story about a newborn being abandoned on the convent steps by an unwed teenager. But it was the scenes around the tragic life of Mrs. Jenkins that held my unexpected gift.

Years earlier, newly widowed with five children to feed, Mrs. Jenkins had made the excruciating decision of turning herself and her brood over to the “care” of one of England’s notorious workhouses. All of her children had died there, malnourished and mistreated. Now she lives in abominable conditions, neglecting her health and hygiene, and the midwife/nurse Jenny Lee is sent to care for her.

In one particularly moving scene, Nurse Jenny, joined by Sr. Evangelina, comes to her home to bathe her. Like a silent intruder, I watch as the two women attempt to remove Mrs. Jenkins’ shoes, stuck to her feet after all these years, and tenderly disrobe her for her bath. With her thin, naked back exposed, O Come, O Come Emmanuel plays over this intimate undertaking. Surely this is God dwelling with us and in us, so evident by the love and care with which these two women lower Mrs. Jenkins into the bath, cover her frontal area as they sponge her back so that she will not feel any shame or discomfort. She appears wide-eyed in disbelief over what they are doing for her.

I cry easily. This selfless act strikes my heart open. No doubt because it’s achingly beautiful.

But it’s something more.

Something deeper that I can’t yet express or identify. The removal of Mrs. Jenkin’s shoes, the tender touches the two women applied to her body. The water and washing.  The one who had difficulty accepting and receiving such care.

It’s all so familiar.

It takes a few days before I understand this scene’s personal significance. Before another tender scene involving water and washing surfaces in my memory.  A scene involving someone who also had difficulty receiving. My husband.

It’s January 2009. David is cashing in on a silly gift I’d given him for New Year’s Eve: a handwritten, magic marker-colored I.O.U. for a foot bath and massage.

David was the serious one in our relationship. I was the let’s-find-some-new-adventure half of our marriage. While he provided stability and focus, I dabbled in creativity and wonderment. Knowing that he would ignore this holiday, let it pass without any fanfare, as he would have so many others if not for me and Davis, I decided to come up with a novel idea. Create a stack of I.O.U.’s, each one a personal treat: a free backscratching, dinner at his favorite restaurant, homemade breakfast any weekend. He chose the foot bath and massage first.

foot-massage-2133279_1920It’d be an understatement to say I was surprised. David – agreeing to such indulgent treatment? David, the guy who could barely handle receiving attention on his birthdays?

But I was grateful. Grateful for this opportunity to lavish him with care.

And months later, I would be grateful for this memory.

As I prepared the footbath, David sat waiting quietly in his favorite easy chair. He wore his terrycloth robe – the one article of clothing I would hold onto longer than anything else he’d owned, as if his scent would never fade. I placed the footbath on the carpet before his feet. And now, this man, this devoted husband who’d given me so much through our years together, allowed me to kneel before him and lovingly wash and caress his tired feet, to gingerly massage his toes, bent and inflamed with diabetes, to rub lotion on his calloused heels, hardened by years of neglect. In giving this to him, I received in return his humble appreciation, visible in his moist eyes as he simply said afterward, “Thank you, honey. That’s the best gift you could’ve given me.”

It was the last gift I would give him. And it turned out to be his gift to me.

Less than three months later he would die unexpectedly. A heart attack taking him too soon on that glorious Easter Saturday morning. A morning not unlike the one I experienced today.

Call Jennifer shell broken

In the Midwife episode, after her bath, Mrs. Jenkins appears to be renewed. Wearing the new coat Nurse Jenny obtained for her, she walks upright, no longer carrying the weight of shame. She’s recognized something in herself through the eyes of love. Through their tender attentiveness, Nurse Jenny and Sr. Evangelina had practiced a different kind of midwifery.

A midwife is an intermediary, someone who meets you in the middle of what you’re expecting and assists you all the way through it to the other side. Hadn’t that been what I had done for David, without even realizing it? Holding that in-between space for him? Helping him to receive and accept the selfless, abundant love that awaited him over the threshold he would soon cross?

The irony is that David had been an arbitrator, a labor relations mediator. He had been the one who’d calmly held this in-between place for others, the place between what is and what is possible. He had taught me how to be that for him.

Eleven years is a long time. I no longer grieve as I once did, no longer fear that the well of grief is bottomless. It isn’t.

I have learned that love takes many forms. That it truly is stronger than death. That every act of self-giving love, of selfless service, brings us closer to the threshold of waking up into who we truly are. The Beloved in God.

Maybe I did walk David home.  Maybe I helped him cross that threshold.  And maybe once again, it’s David who’s given me the real gift.

walking each other

Global Lamentation

Wailing wall
A young girl leaves a prayer at the Wailing Wall

It seems we are collectively standing on a threshold. One that places us in the spiritual arena of liminal space.

A space in which there is much lamentation. Isolation. Confusion. Uncertainty. A growing frenzy of fear and helplessness.

A space, also, of much selfless giving. Willingness to be vulnerable. Suffering for and with others.

And a space of dying alone.

All of this strikes me as we enter Semana Santa. The holiest of weeks commemorated in the Christian tradition. I see how what is currently unfolding in our world, through the coronavirus pandemic, runs parallel to the growing fear and foreboding taking place in the life of Jesus, a life that will soon end in a brutal and humiliating death.

This is the path of descent. The path of kenosis. A self-emptying love that, far from making me feel guilty or fearful, is life-giving. It promises me freedom. Freedom from the fear of death. Freedom to love fully and extravagantly.

Poised on this threshold, I ask myself, am I willing? Am I willing to sit in the tension of what is present in this current reality? Am I willing to wait here in the place of not knowing? Of not yet fully understanding?

Yet willing to do whatever is mine to do?

Although I am not someone who is “on the frontlines,” able to physically serve others in the midst of this pandemic, I have a role to play. I can choose to be relational in my self-isolation. Just like so many of us are doing: choosing to stay home for the greater good.

I can stay connected, through prayer and meditation, holding the suffering world. I can hold the pain and fear of those living so close to the effects of this pandemic. Lamenting with those who will lose loved ones this week and cannot be with them as they die. Lamenting with the doctors and nurses and all healthcare and hospice workers who will experience these deaths, and have to steady themselves enough to go back into it again and again.

Coronavirus Sacramento
Mural for healthcare workers in San Jose, CA

I can do the work of remaining faithful to my daily spiritual practices. By remaining spiritually grounded, I am adding to the loving and healing energy being offered in the world at this moment. That seems particularly important.

I can respond to the injustices being played out behind the scenes. A particularly disturbing example is the continued incarceration of asylum seekers, nonviolent non-criminals, in detention facilities, putting them gravely at risk, while we release nonviolent criminals from our prison systems.

And there is something more asked of me.

Can I also face myself in the “other”? Those whom I find harder to love? Those who would support such injustices? Who choose to live in denial as the suffering from coronavirus rages on? Can I hold with love those living with blindness, refusing to see what is before them?

I am reminded of what Jesus did when he couldn’t change the hearts and minds of those who refused to see, who chose their comfortable blindness. He wept. He wept for what could have been. He wept for those who had closed themselves off from the voice of Love.  Jesus wept

Jesus wept.

Can I go down into the place where Jesus experienced that poverty of spirit?

Can I shed tears for those who are blinded by their own fears and illusions? And this includes myself. It can be painful to “see” my own blindness in this. But it’s here.

The Holy One reminds me that this Love laments with us, through us, and in us. As my teacher Cynthia Bourgeault says, “Where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly.”

Divine love is shining forth in this moment. Through all the lamentations. All the pain and all the perceived darkness. Come Maundy Thursday, in the midst of our lamentation, we will again be shown how this extravagant “eucharistic love” desires to manifest in us. I want to surrender to it. Again.

#COVIDA, A Pandemic’s Lessons about Love

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Italian men performing under quarantine (Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

My 85-year-old friend Sr. Bea stands in the doorway with tears in her eyes. She wants to hug me. We cannot touch. I know she loves me, and she knows I, her.

There is something both so sweet and sad about this moment. I do not know when we will be able to hug again because of this coronavirus pandemic. Or even see each other. She seems frail and vulnerable as she hesitates to say goodbye and tries to hide her tears.

This moment is so beautifully vivid in my awareness now. The preciousness of life and of our love for one another. How much I treasure life, love, deep connection with others.

I think of my son, far up in Nome. The special moments we had nearly two weeks ago. Before COVID-19 had reached Alaska. Before Nome would nearly double in population as strangers descended upon it for the end of the Iditarod, making that little town susceptible. I had thought he would be safe, unaffected by the virus. Luckily, he remains healthy.

No matter where we live or who we are, our lives are being affected. We find ourselves coexisting in the midst of something that is not understandable nor within our control. Yet this pandemic has the potential to teach us something invaluable: how we are inexplicably connected.

That’s why I have renamed this virus COVIDA – vida being the Spanish word for “life.”  Because we truly are in this life together. We cannot separate ourselves from that fact. We live on this planet together. We breathe together.

And, as we are witnessing, in reality, no physical barriers can separate us. No 18 ft-tall steel border wall can protect us. When something like this hits, we understand that globally, we are connected. Global solidarity does matter.

From a spiritual perspective, a crisis has the potential to heal and bring us together in ways that nothing else can. It can teach us, “wake us up” to how we have been living, how we have been treating ourselves, each other, and our Mother Earth. It can teach us what we need to change. Reconnect us with our spiritual grounding, cause us to turn to our spiritual practices. Remind us of the spiritual laws of love, of brotherhood/ sisterhood, of our responsibility for one another.

Most importantly, it can remind us to turn to love rather than fear. The Love that loves us so and mysteriously “sustains us, in everything,” as my teacher Jim Finley would say.

Jim Finley_Quotefancy-

Like most people, I have been paying attention to the news. But in small doses. What has struck and uplifted me are the positive and beautiful ways people have been finding to connect. As if they cared. As if we matter to each other.

As if we instinctively know that we don’t have to physically connect to touch someone’s heart.

Strangers are performing selfless acts of kindness: neighbors offering to get groceries for the elderly and homebound, high schools donating medical supplies and face masks to hospitals, volunteers “staffing” food banks and delivering food to low-income children who are missing their school lunches. And, most importantly of all are those selfless nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals who are working such long hours and returning, day after day, to exposure to this virus.

Then there are those positive social media messages and videos. Like the young Danish doctor happy to be able to give back to her country and the elderly who supported her education and career: https://www.boredpanda.com/danish-doctor-wants-to-pay-back-to-her-country-during-coronavirus/?utm_source=smartnews&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=organic

Or the many virtual communal prayer or meditation offerings. Like Contemplative Outreach’s “United in Prayer” Day this Saturday, March 21st: https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/2020-united-prayer-day

Or like blogger Cameron Bellm, a contemplative, “writer of prayers,” and Seattle mom of two boys, who wrote this beautiful Prayer for a Pandemic

prayer for pandemic
Cameron’s prayer found at http://krugthethinker.com/2020/03/prayer-for-a-pandemic/   

As Pope Francis counseled recently, “Don’t waste these difficult days….We must rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer….We must understand that in small things lies our treasure. These gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion are minimal and tend to be lost in the anonymity of everyday life, but they are nonetheless decisive, important.

Loving in place is possible. Even vital. In this time of COVIDA.

Sending you a big, virtual hug, Bea!

Being Truthful

Howard Thurman do not be silent

“We hope your daughter’s funeral will be cheaper than paying us.”

It’s been so hard. I’ve sat down time and again to write a new post. I couldn’t do it. Months have passed.

The above words are from a note a Guatemalan family received when they could no longer pay the gang’s extortion money. They brought the note with them, along with other evidence, for their asylum case. The Border agent didn’t care.

Now they fearfully wait in Mexico. While our hospitality center remains nearly empty.

Larry, a fellow shelter volunteer, sheds tears easily over the people. Me, not so much.

But now I’m the one crying as I write this. These days I cannot even bring myself to think about writing a post without feeling emotional.

I wonder, will it matter to anyone? Who will even read this? And will these words touch someone’s heart?

These are the questions I carry as I feel disgusted by what is happening at our southern border.

I don’t go to the shelter anymore. Haven’t for months. Friends like Larry who do go tell me they are receiving maybe a dozen asylum seekers. Sometimes fewer.

One day they received none. Zero.

I think of these people. Still. Especially the Guatemalans, Hondurans, and El Salvadorans. The ones with whom I interacted regularly. The ones who faced so much hardship to get here. Because they are still suffering.

Even though we don’t see them, we know.

They’re still fleeing the violence in their countries – countries that we have forced to sign agreements to be so-called “safe third countries.” The idea of them being safe havens is preposterous.

But the climate in which we’re living is one of preposterous claims.

It’s a climate in which words have lost their true meaning. Where truth hides deep in the recesses of a person’s – like maybe a politician’s – soul. Where it’s hidden by the fear of losing power or financial gain, or some privilege that we imagine others don’t deserve.

I recently took a daylong retreat based on Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited. Howard Thurman Jesus and disinherited

I was struck by his faith that “the effects of truthfulness could be realized in the oppressor as well as the oppressed.”

I tell God I am waiting for that to happen. For truth to be realized.

And I hear, “I am waiting for you to be that voice of truthfulness.”

So here I am, trying again.

Trying to write about the truth. The truth that asylum seekers are still arriving. And being forced to sign papers that will either deport them or send them to wait in Mexico. And if they refuse to sign, a Border agent will illegally sign for them.

The truth that asylum seekers with legitimate cases have almost no chance of winning their case if they’re in Mexico. Yet if they go home, they have slim chances of surviving.

These are their choices.

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A mother sits as children take part in class at “The Sidewalk School” for immigrant children at a camp for asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

At the border in Arizona, migrants sent into Nogales, Mexico, are told they will have to travel to El Paso for their court date. People with no money will somehow have to get bus fare for themselves and their children, travel through dangerous Juarez to enter at the port of entry in El Paso for their initial hearing, and then return to Nogales to wait.

It does not matter how ridiculous, impossible, or life-threatening this is. ICE does not care. Our government does not care.

It’s true, as Thurman said, that the lives of the disinherited do not matter to the powerful.

Why else would we be spending billions on building a steel structure that will cause such irreparable harm – environmentally and socially – rather than on supporting programs and policies for mutually beneficial and humanitarian changes?

I turn to the retreat’s reflection questions. I can’t get past this one:

“What do you believe is God’s prayer for the disinherited: for racial, ethnic, social, and religious groups, refugees, immigrants, and people who still live with their backs against the wall?”

This is when the tears come. I know the answer. I am God’s prayer for the disinherited. And so are people like me.

And the truthfulness I am asked to share comes through the voices of vulnerable people. So, I share these testimonies collected by the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales from the migrants they served: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/testimonies-from-mpp/

     “We left Guatemala because the gangs were targeting my daughter. She is only 11….They followed her everywhere. When this happens, the girls become the property of the gangs, they are raped and disappeared. I had the proof that her life was in danger when I got to the border. I showed it to the agent but he didn’t care. He said I either had to return to Mexico and wait there or return to Guatemala. I said I didn’t want to do either. He said I had to, and that if I didn’t sign the papers, he would sign them for me and no one would know it wasn’t me. I never did sign any papers but here I am. He signed my name for me.”

“I told the [Border] official I didn’t know what to do when I got back to Mexico. He said, ‘you can ask your God if he will let you into the U.S.’”

“We’re not safe in Mexico. We didn’t want to come here. But to return to Guatemala would have meant the death of my husband and daughter.”

If my life is to be a prayer, as I believe it is meant to be, then certainly my voice must be a voice for the disinherited.

Come Alive Howard-thurman-22491

O Holy Darkness, O Joyful Womb

Holy Cross Hermitage Dec 2019
The hermitage at Holy Cross Retreat Center

These are my o Antiphons. My own chants leading me into Christmas.

They’ve been on my heart since I took a few days in solitude earlier this month at a nearby hermitage. A practice that’s become my custom in Advent.

Time for solitude and silence. To slow it right down during a season when most of us are speeding it all up.

The spiritual gifts and graces I receive during those days away are invaluable. But this time was especially rich.

This time I took with me a quote from Jacob Boehme — one of the mystics we read in Living School– to reflect on: “God’s spirit acts only in resigned humility, which neither seeks nor desires itself.”

And I asked myself, what would it take for me to let go of everything I think I am?

Over those three days, I came to an overwhelming awareness of Infinite Love manifesting itself in finite time and space in the miracle of Christmas. And of the kind of humble surrender it took — and continues to take — for that love to incarnate.

For God needs a dark and joyful womb to create something new.

In a few nights I will gather with nearly 200 Annunciation House volunteers and their friends and family to celebrate Las Posadas. It’s true we all have experienced a dark and very challenging year in which we’ve witnessed and accompanied so many suffering people.

But it’s also true that despite the evidence in this world of confusion, fear, prejudice, violence, and greed, Love Incarnate prevails.

This gathering will be an example of that love. It will be an example of the joy that is born from serving the Holy. Of the hope that is born out of darkness.

And it will show me, once again, what extravagant love looks like when it is poured out in the flesh. And how God can act in ” resigned humility, which neither seeks nor desires itself.”

 

Over the Bridge

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Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

On Thursday I ventured over the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez. Not quite like over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

Not at all.

I was on a mission. And I didn’t have a song in my heart or a pumpkin pie in my lap. I simply carried the two things I knew I would need: my passport and my willingness.

It turned out to be more than enough.

We rode in a nondescript white van – myself and two fellow female volunteers. Our driver, a 29-year-old Peace Lutheran volunteer and grad student, had crammed boxes filled with satchels of toiletries and packages of new underwear for adults and children into the back. Insulated bags of warm burritos sat on the floor behind me.

Our destination – no shelter of warmth, but pop-up campsites just over the border where dozens of families had erected tents while they await their “turn” to cross the bridge and request asylum.

These “campers” were mostly Mexican nationals fleeing violence in their home states. Places like Michoacán, Zacatecas, and Guerrero, where cartels seemed to be especially powerful. Places where they’d left behind family homes. Maybe a small farm or herd of animals. Maybe not much of anything. Except their fears about keeping themselves and their children safe.

But Customs and Border Protection agents stop them before they can cross one of the international bridges. They’re told CBP can’t handle them. They’ll have to put their names on a list and wait until their number is called. A process called “metering.”

Over the months since this practice has been put into place, asylum-seeking families, afraid to lose their place in line, have pitched tents close to the bridges. And they wait.

In the meantime, church groups from El Paso all the way to Las Cruces have been bringing food over almost daily. Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Unitarians…they come to feed the people stranded here.

This was to be my first experience witnessing these campsites.

I didn’t know what to expect.

So my prayer before starting out that morning had been that I would have eyes to “see.” That I would be open to whatever I would encounter at the tent “city” where we were to deliver these donations.

The camp is easy to spot. A nest of tents encircling a small park. Wet clothing hanging from atop fences and trees.

Juarez tent city
One of the little tent encampments we visited

As soon as we park and unload, people start lining up. They are used to this routine.

But, once they see the goodies I have in these boxes, it doesn’t take long before any semblance of a line dissolves. Eager children surround me.

I finally stop trying to tell the children to get in line. I let go of my desire to make it more orderly, each one waiting his or her turn. I simply give everything away until the boxes are empty.

Afterwards, while another volunteer pours extra water into people’s empty containers, I speak with a couple of the women. How long have you been waiting to be called, I want to know? Two months, they both say.

Two months! Just to cross over and be processed!

I want to ask if they’re aware they will have to come back here and wait again. Unless they are lucky enough to be released to their family sponsors.

I want to ask if they know how slim their chances are.

Maybe they do. Maybe they know that, especially for Mexicans, the chances of winning asylum are remote.

But maybe they have no place else to go. Maybe they figure even a glimmer of hope is worth holding onto while they sleep on the ground.

As I listen, I realize that I have never known such desperation. I cannot identify with these women living in little tents covered with plastic garbage bags in a crowded and dangerous city. I have nothing to compare it to. I feel so disconnected.

Later, reflecting on this experience, I remember my intention. My willingness to see.

So, I look up the definition of “connection.” human-connection2

The relationship among people and objects across the barrier of space.

 

And then I remember something. Words that come in so clearly in the middle of my meditation:

“Have you been with me this long and still do not see me? Not know me?”

Humbled by how blind I am, I say again, “I want to see.”

 

It had seemed like such a small action. This crossing the bridge to hand out food and new underwear.

But it wasn’t. Not for them. And certainly not for me.

Because taking this small step has shown me. Your love is the bridge. Your love is the connection to recovering my sight.

And I know the way by heart.

Lord I want to see

 

 

 

A Conversation with the Moon

heart-moon

A spiritual connection can come so easily in nature. At least it does when I am open and trusting, like a child, to the mystery. That’s when I discover nature gifts me with answers to my inner questions.

Recently, it happened my last night in Paria Canyon – my last night sleeping under the Milky Way. I had left the cover of my tent off so I could gaze up at the nearly full moon and the preponderance of stars filling the heavens. Feeling comforted and secure, I asked the moon about a concern I had on my heart – a concern about suffering.

And I fell asleep with Sister Moon shining into my tent.

During the night, she gave me a powerful insight through my dreams. I scribbled it all down in my journal, and maybe I will write about it more in depth later on.

But journaling about that experience reminded me of another conversation I’d had with the moon.

Late March 2014.  I had just returned from my first time volunteering in El Paso. The two months I’d spent there had affected me in ways I hadn’t expected. I felt changed somehow.

Already, I was transitioning from my life in rural Virginia.

But I didn’t know that then.

I’d like to share that 2014 journal entry.  Because it expresses the uncertainty I felt about the way forward. It reveals how Love upheld me in my loneliness. And it affirms the benefit of listening inwardly.

God did speak to me in the silence of my heart. And I’ve learned how to listen.

overlooking great room
Looking out the windows from the staircase of my log home

March 2014: Last night I had a conversation with the moon.

It’s easy to do, where I’m living now, from my log home in the woods. Standing in my great room, its huge A-frame windows opening to the trees and sky, I noticed the misty white light pouring in, casting itself in great gulps across my country carpet with its images of bears and moose and acorns.

Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the expansive sky filled with stars tried to soothe and remind me that I am not alone.

loft_sideview
The rafters in my great room

It feels so very different from my sojourn in El Paso – this place in the woods.  Here it’s absolutely still.

When I pause and listen, I hear complete silence. Only the occasional light tinkling of my wind chimes dangling from my porch as a breeze catches them. A gentle interjection. No freight trains blaring their horns as they cross intersections. The daily trains passing through El Paso are a distant memory now. The open, expansive sky hovering above millions of twinkling yellow lights dancing across two border cities – it too has faded. Replaced by a sheath of woods, concealing all neighbors.

So, I asked the moon – my most attentive neighbor – what am I doing back here? In the silence and solitude. Is it to regain my balance? Is it to truly learn what patience and trust mean?

I tend to believe this prayer that I have been saying regularly: “I am exactly where I am meant to be.”  I whispered it to myself in the moonlight. And Sister Moon, she seemed to nod in agreement, reassuring me in the silence.

In the morning, I am greeted by a plump robin perched on a branch as I take my daily morning walk down my long gravel driveway. In the midst of the waning winter cold and these bare branches, I recognize the nourishment that’s been given this creature. She’s obviously been fed well and is quite healthy as she awaits spring’s return. Spirit has given me a gift this morning through this robin – an awareness of God’s providential care.

I begin to notice a few other signs of life.

The bird’s nest in the rafters on my porch.

The small stream of water that runs down the hillside of my property.

But no other human voice. No other sound to match the sighing of my breath as the day passes as it has like so many before it: soundlessly.

Is this how You are caring for me? Through the lonely, silent beauty of nature? What am I to make of this? Whom can I talk to, besides the sky and the earth and the moon?  I am seeking answers, and they come so slowly, so subtly, through these sources. Maybe that is the point. Maybe the answer I seek will come through the uncertainty in waiting. Maybe this is how You have been asking me to listen all along – in the solitude of nature, in the silence of my own heart.

“You will hear my voice in the silence”

A Pilgrim in #Paria

Tiny figures against red rocks

May I stay forever in the stream.”

These poetic words from Mary Oliver were the farthest from my mind while hiking in Paria Canyon recently.

In fact, my mantra had become two simple words: “Stay upright.”

A prayer I uttered to the heavens each day as I focused on my footing while keeping up with my more experienced comrades.

Because between avoiding shoe-sucking mud resembling quicksand, stepping in and out of a flowing stream strewn with glistening rocks, and learning to lift my own weight along with a heavy backpack onto rocks above knee height, keeping my balance was not guaranteed. Teetering on my own two feet is something I do on a good day when I’m walking on a flat sidewalk carrying nothing more than a set of car keys and a cell phone.

I actually did quite a bit of praying on this adventure.

Not that I was scared. My trepidation pretty much disappeared after the first day. That is, once I’d decided to stop listening to that voice in my head questioning what the hell I thought I was doing when I’d agreed to let this challenging, narrow canyon be my first-ever backpacking trip.

I had to make up my mind to get beyond the discomforts. Things like constantly walking in wet shoes with sand and silt that, by the end of the day, lay heavy on the top of my socks, and attempting to accurately use and carry “human waste bags” – these were completely new experiences for me. And they were a little disconcerting.

Outside my tent that first night, the repetitive rhythm of the stream running by and the innumerable stars overhead soothed me. Seeing the massive Milky Way again reminded me of the last place I’d seen it so visibly – my Virginia home in the woods. A place where, despite the challenges that came with living alone and so close to nature, I’d often received spiritual gifts and guidance.

Here, with the majestic beauty of the red canyons rising up around me in the darkening sky, I chose to fall into trusting the rhythm of this adventure, to regard it as a pilgrimage, for that’s what it was. A journey into a place of raw and glorious nature. A place where I felt small and insignificant.

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As I prayed to let go, I knew that in my insignificance lies the presence of the Infinite.

My prayer transformed my attitude overnight. I eased into the next day. Slipping on my still-wet shoes, I silently chanted my usual morning psalm, and off I went, both my head and my footsteps lighter.

In fact, I felt so light, I volunteered to carry an extra bladder of water, increasing the weight of my pack to about 30 pounds. Since fresh water springs were few and far between, this would become a regular practice, but for now, I happily took on this new experience. My two-word mantra ever present.

By late afternoon, my toes hurt, the heat of the sun bore down on my bare arms, and the additional weight of the pack on my back began to strain my right shoulder. A memory surfaced. Davis, 3 years old, plopping himself down in the dirt, whining and claiming he couldn’t make it up the hill we were climbing on our way back from a hike. I hoisted him up and continued on, stopping every now and then to readjust his weight on my back or catch my breath. How much did he weigh then, I wondered?

This question swiftly turned my attention to other memories. Memories of stories from others who journey across uncertain and uncomfortable paths. Across sand and desert carrying, not 30-lb backpacks, but 30- or 40-lb children on their backs.

As I walked, I carried the stories of the people I have accompanied. The story of the mother who carried her disabled child. The story of the 19-year-old who carried a pregnancy caused by her rapist in a homeland where no one could protect her. The story of the boy who carried nothing, except the pain of badly blistered feet.

I also carried the story of my privilege, to be able to take this journey for pleasure. A story that would end in a few days, with a hot shower and a cheeseburger with fries and a beer waiting for me at Marble Canyon Lodge.

I forgot about my feet. My prayer turned to the people. For their journey.

I cannot separate myself from them. Any more than I could separate myself from the mud always at my feet or the clumps of tiny red and violet flowers that popped up along the path or the towering red sandstone.

Gorgeous view

This is the collective story. It belongs to the Infinite. And I must honor it all.

“I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.”
Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays

This is what it means to be a pilgrim on a journey.