Adventures in travel, music, and ministry

Shelter from the Storm

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

First Unitarian Universalist Church

Houston, TX

March 23, 2014

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Today’s topic may be challenging to you. It is for me. But I begin with these words of hope from Iain Thomas [frequently attributed to Kurt Vonnegut in error]:

“Be soft.  Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

For my whole life I have lived in a house or a trailer or an apartment—I’ve been lucky that way. My parents did all the work of moving when I was a kid—first when I was less than a year old, and again after 2nd grade when we moved into a big 2-story house for our family of six. That’s where we stayed until I left to go to college. As an adult, every time I move it takes a while to unpack boxes and get used to the new space. One of the best parts is to decide where to hang favorite pictures. THEN it feels more like home.

Home is a place to relax and recuperate from the stress of work and school. We can offer hospitality to invited guests; we can fill it with good food, art, music, laughter, and tears. We can raise children and pets in a safe environment. As long as we have four walls and a roof, we’ll have shelter from wind and rain, heat and cold.

Many of us enjoy the image of home as described by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—“Our house is a very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard, now everything is easy ‘cause of you.” Or the one sung by Madness: “Our house, in the middle of our street . . .” I hope you have wonderful memories of home and a comfortable place to call home today.

However, for this sermon I want to touch on a painful subject—the times when home is not safe for one or more of the residents. Every family is a little bit dysfunctional, I guess, since families are made of real people who get tired and cranky and take it out on the ones we love.

Some homes … are downright dangerous. When a family member is abusive, the rest of the family experiences trauma. I lived in such a home as a child. Even though we had a lot of good times, there was a secret trauma eating away at our innocence.

I am a survivor. I escaped the worst of the abuse, but all of us kids grew up terrified of our father. By the time I was a year old, he had begun molesting my eldest sister Madeleine, who was 9 years old. Two years later, he started in on our sister Jean, when she was 8.

When I was 8 years old, he made me touch him and I remember how scared I was. He must have seen the terrified look on my face. Nothing more happened after that, probably because the only way to get to my bedroom was by passing through another sister’s bedroom.

All four of us were subject to emotional abuse. His nicknames for us were degrading: Moldy, Mildew, Fungus, and Rancid. I was Fungus. Our little brother Hall, otherwise known as Rancid, was physically abused. I watched when Daddy threw him against the wall, just like he kicked my purse across the room when it was in his way, and just like his cruelty to the family dog.

We coped. Madeleine became the perfect child who excelled at everything. Jean became the defiant child who resisted every rule in the house. I learned to disappear and escape notice. Hall became paranoid schizophrenic. Our mother was probably afraid of Daddy’s anger, too. At any rate, she was unable to protect us from his wrath.

How could she not know what was going on? Well, WE didn’t tell anyone because Daddy said if we told, something bad would happen. He never said what that would be, but to a kid, it means that someone will die. So we didn’t tell her. We didn’t tell any trusted adults. We were afraid of the unknown, and filled with shame and embarrassment. In the usual scheme of things, when we got in trouble with our mother and she would tell our dad, he would dish out more punishment, so why make it worse?

Instead, we focused on the good times, especially when Daddy was at work or out of town. Other relatives were patient with us and loved us to pieces. We joined the church choir, and Scout troops, and learned that even school and homework provided an outlet. For years I was in denial of my own trauma. “It wasn’t that bad,” I told myself and others. No bones were broken, no dishes were thrown, and I didn’t know how bad it was for my sisters until I was almost 30 years old.

When we left home we were safe. It took time and effort to live into Iaian Thomas’s words: “Be soft.  Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

Establishing safety is the first step toward recovery from trauma. My sisters and I all had good therapy. We had friends who helped us draw on our strengths to overcome fear and anxiety. When we married and started raising children we were determined not to tolerate an abusive environment.

To teach my sons how to manage anger when they were young, I stuffed an old sock full of old socks, knotted the end and let them use that to beat the tar out of the bed or the floor. Our younger son liked to kick the floor, so his dad made a padded stool covered in Naugahyde. Then when the boys were old enough we taught them to chop wood. It is so satisfying to swing an axe and hear the wood split. And we collected plenty of wood for the fireplace. We taught them from early on that “people are not for hitting.”

With my experience of childhood abuse and my experience in raising children without it, I took a job with the Montgomery County, TX, Women’s Center Shelter as a Resident Advocate. The work was all-encompassing. We fielded phone calls from frightened women, met them at a restaurant, brought them and their children to the shelter, and did the intake interviews and oversaw their progress toward an independent living situation.

We taught parenting skills like how to discipline children without hitting, because that was against shelter rules. We built partnerships with other community organizations and referred residents to them. We taught children how to play cooperative games. We established a support group for former residents. All of us learned about the Cycle of Violence.

At the first stage of a simple 4-part Cycle of Violence, all is calm. No abuse is taking place. It’s like a honeymoon of delight.

Second stage, stress enters the home. Tensions rise and communication is sharper and meaner. The victim becomes fearful and tries to placate the abuser.

Third stage, there’s an explosive incident. It may involve verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. There are threats and intimidation, anger, blaming, and argument. That may sound like a fairly normal day! The difference is that in an abusive situation, the explosion is way out of proportion to any incident that triggered it.

Fourth stage, after the blowup, the abuser apologizes and gives excuses. There are escalating defense mechanisms:

  • It never happened.
  • The victim lied.
  • The victim exaggerated.
  • The victim brought it on.
  • It will never happen again.
  • It’s time to forget the past and move on.

Typically, the family does move on, right back to the stage of calm equilibrium, unless there is a major intervention.

A bystander is at a huge disadvantage, especially if she or he knows both the victim and the perpetrator. Given their different stories, it’s hard to know who to believe. It’s easier to look the other way—it’s not our business and things are going smoothly now. The victim may also participate in the denial, often out of fear, so how could we argue with that?

The perpetrator depends on bystanders. The victim hopes that things will be better … THIS time. Instead, it usually escalates and gets worse the next time unless there is significant intervention.

My work at the shelter taught me a lot about the dynamics of domestic violence. For one thing, it really does cross boundaries of income level, ethnic background, and sexual orientation.  Statistics tell us that

  • 70% of batterers also abuse their children
  • 75% of batterers witnessed abuse between their parents
  • 50% of batterers experienced abuse themselves as children

Domestic violence is carried out predominantly by men, but I personally know two women who use violence against their partners. Men tend to underreport because they don’t want to be seen as weak and vulnerable. As a result 90% of battering is ascribed to men, who are strong and powerful in society and in the home.

Sometimes people are so vulnerable that they make poor choices and become re-victimized. Some people move happily into new relationships and discover too late that the partner is gradually becoming more and more oppressive.

According to Jeff Temple in the Houston Chronicle, “Last year and the year before, the Harris County District Attorney’s office filed more than 10,500 cases of domestic violence.”[i]

Not only that, in every church I’ve served, including this one, there have been cases of domestic violence that were reported directly to me in confidence.  And even though these men and women have experienced physical or sexual violence, it is the emotional abuse that has the most devastating impact. It boils down to power and control.

Abusers might say that you can never do anything right; discourage you from seeing friends or family members; control every penny, take your money or refuse to give you money for expenses; control who you see, where you go, or what you do; intimidate you with fist, knife, gun, or other weapons; or cause actual physical injury. The list goes on. Why don’t they just leave? Here’s what a survivor posted on her blog:

“Why don’t we just leave? Because we’re afraid of the perpetrator’s cruelty, violence, and punishments, and because we feel defeated.

. . . “Why don’t we just leave? It’s because our batterers are cruel and will punish us and our kids, and because we’re afraid. They’ve made us feel helpless and worthless, and we believe them. I used to believe what he told me: that everything was my fault, that I was disgusting and nobody would ever want me, that I would lose my children and become penniless if I left him, that I was stupid and crazy and pathetic and worse. But he was wrong!

“For those women who are still living with your abuser, start thinking “Liar!” every time he insults or blames you. The truth is that you deserve a better life! If I could change my life and transform myself from victim to victor, you can, too!”[ii]

What can a congregation do? You have already been reminded of the problem, its pervasive nature in our own communities and churches, and the cycle of violence. You may know that we provide space at the Museum District Campus for a Batterers Intervention & Prevention Program.

Our teachers know about mandatory reporting of any suspected child abuse. Some of you are engaged in Growth Groups and other small groups in which you can share the stress of your lives. You have a resource list inside your order of service. You may choose to consult with a minister who can guide you to resources that you or a friend may need.

Judith Herman, who wrote Trauma and Recovery, says that multiple populations suffer post-traumatic stress. These include rape survivors, combat veterans, political prisoners, survivors of vast concentration camps created by tyrants, and survivors of private concentration camps created by tyrants in their own homes.

Recovery takes time for survivors. They need to find safety first. They need to reconstruct their story bit by bit as they begin to reconnect fragments of memories. They need to restore connections to their community and feel as though they belong. They need, finally, to restore their faith in life’s purpose and meaning. Often they find meaning in working to help other survivors. When I hear stories of abuse and trauma, I can understand some of the factors that come to bear. I know that recovery is possible.

The hardships of your life may leave you stronger but they may also leave scars and hollow places. These may be the very reason that you can listen to difficult stories and help one another restore connections.

“A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul,” said Phillip Moffitt. May the interior of your home be a shelter from the storm.

Amen

[i] Jeff Temple, “Violence against women hurts us all,” Houston Chronicle, March 9, 2014, http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Violence-against-women-hurts-us-all-5301980.php

[ii] Lisa Moss, “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” The National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog, March 3, 2011, http://www.thehotline.org/2011/03/why-doesnt-she-just-leave/

Domestic Violence: Help Is Near!

National Hotline: thehotline.org or 800-799-7233

Houston Area Women’s Center: hawc.org / 713-528-2121

Ft. Bend County Women’s Center: fortbendwomenscenter.org / 281-344-5750

How to Stay Safe in an Abusive Environment

  • Computer use and cell phone use can be monitored; try the public library.
  • Find Home Page of thehotline.org, click on Get Help, then click on Path to Safety.
  • Look for the Escape Key on each hotline page to exit immediately. Find and test it first.
  • Memorize the hotline number; don’t leave it lying around on paper.
  • Leave a small bag of essentials at the friend’s home, such as

o   copies of important documents

o   prepaid cell phone

 In the event of escape, turn your regular cell phone off and travel in a friend’s car.

 How Some Abusers Learn to Handle Anger

  • Tell yourself to calm down. Slowly repeat gentle phrases to yourself like “take it easy,” “cool off,” or whatever works for you.
  • Force yourself to leave the situation. Take a time out, walk away, and avoid coming back too soon. Take a walk or go for a run.
  • Use visualization to calm down. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your favorite place.
  • Count to 10 (or 50… or 100) if you feel like you’re about to do or say something harmful.
  • Splash some cold water on your face.
  • Slow down and focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  • Phone a friend or family member who can lend an ear and calm you down.Replace negative, angry thoughts with positive, rational ones. Getting angry won’t fix the way that you’re feeling.
  • Learn to communicate with others in a healthy way.
  • Enter a Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP)

Living Intentions

Living Intentions.

Flesh and Skin

“The Practice of Wearing Skin,” a chapter by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World, has me weeping (as has every chapter in the book).

If God became flesh (as Christians believe) or if God can be found within and among us (as I believe), then God loves the body. Each body. Lovely and irregular.

This idea links directly to a sweet, captivating story I saw yesterday of a father who tells his toddler daughter that she has a beautiful body–two strong legs on which she can walk and run, ears to hear voices and birds, a brain that can think and figure things out, a belly where food is digested to keep her healthy, and so on. [I can't find the story! Can anyone else find it?]

The tears come because I have rarely loved my body and it never crossed my mind that God did. Taylor points out some reasons why we have a hard time loving our bodies: the Greek division between body and soul; the divide Descartes made between nature and reason; Protestant disdain for matters of the flesh; Freud and his sexual nonsense (my word, not hers); modern science that objectifies bodies and bodily functions; and an overlay of public sex from Victoria’s Secret to twerking.

I was terrified when Daddy made me touch him. I was ashamed of my body and the way it grew. I am embarrassed by the way it looks now. I am slothful when it comes to exercise and nutrition. I don’t like that it’s getting older and gray and sagging. I am loathe to admit these things semi-publicly.

But my body carries me around with some ease. It houses my brain and digests my food and allows my fingers to type. It feels pain, expresses empathy, and gives me access to sight, sound, touch, taste, and sometimes smell. It can do ordinary things like plant bulbs, read An Altar in the World, enjoy a cup of coffee, distract myself with email (stop it!).

God loves all that. God understands the shame, embarrassment, and slothfulness, and loves me anyway. Maybe it pisses God off that I don’t love my body well enough to care for it. New meaning to the prayer excerpt, “There is no health in me.”

My starting place this morning is to love my body as it is. While writing that sentence, I thought and wrote and scratched my head and shifted in my chair. My stomach growled. Then my mind turned toward gratitude. Taylor recommends that we pray in front of a mirror, naked (gulp), and give thanks for our bodies instead of rushing to cover them up. [Don't children love to run around naked and sometimes even run outside that way?]

It is time now for me to change from comfy pj’s to comfy clothes to go get my package delivered yesterday to the apartment office. Naturally I will be properly clothed. But first I shall pause before the mirror and give thanks. Look how it can bend and stretch. Admire the shapes and scars. Wriggle fingers and toes and count them all like our parents did.

Isn’t that a good way to start the day?

Second (spiritual) Childhood

I seem to have entered my second childhood, spiritually speaking. Earliest lesson that I remember from Sunday School: God is Love.

Decades have gone by; theological studies; ponderings. For many years I have labeled myself a Panentheist: in short, God infuses the cosmos and also transcends it (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism).  Maybe that was my grownup way to understand God as Love that flows through us yet is greater than all, the Love that abides.

I have spent time in prayer. Always before, it was meditation or silent reflection. It is more likely now to be addressed to God, a surprise even to me!

How shall we find God? Tony deMello says it by looking at creation in a special way. If you look at the sky you might see clouds and the angle of light and outlines of trees and vast stretches of blue, but it becomes beautiful with that special way of looking. You will seek God in vain until you know God is not an object but a special way of looking.

As I go about the rest of this  Thanksgiving Day I will remind myself to see God and to see Love. My husband and I will go to a church potluck where there will be all kinds of people with whom I have a range of relationships. I will tune in to Love and look for God in each person.

For each of you, I am grateful. May our hearts swell a little more through the art and practice of Love.

People who evoke an emotion within us are a reflection of ourselves, based on the vibrations we send out. We raise the vibration level and the other person/people respond in kind. It’s easy to “blame” the environment but it’s more about ourselves. Blommaert says it’s possible to transform your inner life and alter your personal vibration level to attract what you want in life.

These reflections came from a set of videos on tubeinspirations.wordpress.com

Jean-Paul Blommaert has a blog full of videos on how to achieve financial freedom. He lives in London, but he went to his hometown in The Netherlands to develop his personal transformation.

Life experiences mirror who we are, he says. “Why do I suffer? Why do I feel joy?” Financial freedom actually gives us freedom of time. What you discover can tell you about yourself.

What will you discover today?

Sacred Space (sermon)

Sacred Space

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

September 29, 2013

 

The Episcopal Church taught me everything I knew about God. I had absorbed the idea that God is Love, Jesus was my friend, and of course, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Details of theology like the virgin birth, resurrection, the Trinity, or salvation only through Jesus, never made logical sense to a literal-minded 10-year old. I loved the music and my friends and stayed with the church through high school.

 

I found my way gradually to marriage, motherhood, and Unitarian Universalism.

When the boys were grown I followed my heart into seminary—Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That’s where God was ripped away suddenly and without warning.

 

Let me explain. I had long ago left behind my childhood notions of God. It was a challenge to study religion in a Christian seminary where I was pushed toward a new understanding of theology. I wanted to stand on the edge of religious knowledge where it meets a great mystery beyond human understanding. What was the underlying message? What values still inform my life? We seminary students tried out all sorts of theories in class and in the weekly Chapel services.

 

Perkins Chapel is a lovely, old-fashioned chapel with a tall steeple and white columns at the top of a hill. Inside, there is a plain wooden cross on the sanctuary wall—it is part of Southern Methodist University, after all. One night in the middle of Domestic Violence Awareness Week on campus some students had prepared a special worship service to raise awareness. For this particular service, a startling image appeared on that wall. A photograph was projected and superimposed over the foot of that cross. It was the image of a naked woman–curled up on the floor, face down, utterly defeated. It was a jarring image of domestic violence.

 

I was stunned. Shocked. Furious! How could God let this happen?! Where was God for that woman when she needed help? I jumped to an obvious conclusion: There really IS no God!!

 

I turned and fled. . . . I ran sobbing back to my dorm room with my best friend in pursuit. I had a head start on her, though, and slammed my door with a bang. I wouldn’t let her in. She knocked, she pleaded, she slipped notes under my door. But I couldn’t face her or anyone else. I had to face my own fury and my ultimate isolation. God was dead to me.

I know I’m not alone in my divine isolation because I’ve heard stories from others. Writers, poets, and singers for over a century have declared the Death of God but neither God nor Goddess will ever die. Hindus incorporate thousands of deities; Buddhists have developed a religion with none. Atheists reject them all and agnostics continue to probe, explore, question, and doubt.

 

A young man approached me after a service. He was anxious and agitated as he waited to talk to me and finally blurted out, “I don’t love God anymore.” He went on to explain that if God knows everything that’s going to happen, why does he let bad things happen? He still believes in Jesus— and has no quarrel with the man. But he doesn’t love God and he doesn’t know what to do. It was an echo of my same feelings at Perkins Chapel.

 

The Rev. Joanna Crawford said that when she was a student minister, a woman came to her to talk about God. She was clearly upset. She had been raised “a believer,” but had learned more church history and how books were chosen to be included or left out of the Bible, and had learned that some of her Sunday School lessons from long ago were not literally true. She searched for a new church home and found Unitarian Universalism. She was reasonably happy there. But now she missed her prayer life, even if it no longer seemed real.

 

In the course of the conversation Joanna gently asked her, “Are you missing God?” The woman’s eyes welled up and she said yes.

 

She had what has been called a God-shaped hole in her heart. So did the young man who spoke with me. So did I that night at Perkins Chapel. It’s a hole that opens up when doubt overcomes belief.

 

This idea has resonated for centuries. In the 18th century, philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote,

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

 

Today we can read it in the lyrics of a song by Tiffany Lee[i]:

“. . . Does the world seem gray with empty longing

Wearing every shade of cynical

And do you ever feel that

There is something missing?

There’s a god-shaped hole in all of us

And the restless soul is searching . . .”

 

We’re a restless people, working at work or home, endlessly engaged with electronic devices, computers, and games, serving as volunteers, driving our children to enrich their lives through art, music, and sports, cooking, cleaning, eating out. When anyone asks how we are, the typical answer is “busy.” Who has room for anything more?

 

Dr. Brené Brown is the Houston researcher we ministers have been studying for weeks. She describes the defensive shield of “numbing” that protects us from the crazy-busy lives many of us lead. When we don’t take the time for our souls to catch up with our minds, our feelings go numb. We might not do this compulsively or chronically, which is addiction, but we have a strong tendency to minimize our feelings, both positive and negative. Why in the world would we minimize positive feelings? One answer is that something wonderful is too good to be true. Disaster must be lurking around the corner. So instead of feeling joy, we try not to tempt fate and bring on that disaster.

 

It’s easier to understand why we might want to numb negative feelings. As Brown points out, “Americans today are more debt-ridden, obese, medicated, and addicted than we ever have been.” She goes on to say that in 2011 “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that automobile accidents are now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States. The leading cause? Drug overdoses. In fact, more people die from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine drug use combined.”[ii]

 

Numbness. Isolation. A joy-shaped hole. How do we cope? We don’t have to use drugs. We can sedate feelings with a brownie, maybe 2. We can anesthetize feelings with wine. But the truth is that significant feelings don’t go away for long; they just get bigger. Feelings tug on you to pay attention to them. There is nothing inherently wrong with brownies OR wine. There IS someone wrong with using them to disguise, diffuse, and detach from the emptiness of your spirit.

 

Emptiness was sudden that night in the Chapel. The very idea of God was ripped from my soul like ripping away my skin. It felt raw and painfully tender for a long time. It was the wrenching loss of relationship like the death of a human love. My antidote to all of the losses and numbness was a sense of gratitude and attention to spiritual needs. Gradually I refilled my God-shaped hole with the practical idea that we are her hands and heart because clearly, we are not in control of creation or tragedy. Instead, we are the ones who respond with compassion to the terrible things that happen in our lives and those around us. It is not God’s responsibility but ours.

 

With gratitude and spirituality we can begin to believe in something bigger than ourselves—as big as our galaxy. Start by gazing into a starry night. Do we remember stars, we city dwellers who rarely see a night without light pollution? I remember stars.

 

On a memorable trip to Australia my first husband and our two sons drove an RV up a mountain to a campground. It was a clear, cold night—so cold that ice formed inside the windows, so clear and cold that stars filled the night sky all the way to the horizon in every direction. They made unfamiliar patterns, because we were in the Southern hemisphere. We were inside a bowl of stars! It was a sacred time to see so many of them at one time. Two messages came to us in that moment: One, we are tiny dots in the universe … and two, we belong to the universe just as surely as every other person or rock or tree.

 

And when we make that connection we have found Sacred Space.

 

Much more recently, and on my sabbatical two years ago, I traveled to India with a group of Unitarian Universalists. We were on a spiritual pilgrimage led by the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, a UU minister and a native of south India. We visited ancient and modern temples, mosques, and churches, taking in the diversity of religious practice along with the complexity of India. A pilgrimage is a way to touch the sacred in our lives.

 

The Shiva Temple in Chidambaram, India, had enormous impact.

A nightly ritual (to put the statue of Shiva “to bed”)

Roof open to the stars

Bells of all sizes ringing wildly in the stone temple (Inner thought–this is not noise! these are sound waves!

Hundreds of oil lamps burning

Hundreds of people pressed together, hands raised in homage

Priestly ritual, priestly blessing; a garland from Shiva presented to me by a priest, with a blessing (as though I had been ordained as a Hindu).

 

Without having to travel thousands of miles on a pilgrimage, you have probably read about them. Journeys to Mecca, to the Wailing Wall, Chimayo. In northern Spain, pilgrims since the Middle Ages have walked El Camino de Santiago Compostela. It became the subject of a film entitled “The Way.” Martin Sheen directed and starred in the story of a father whose estranged son had died on El Camino. He didn’t really understand why, but when he traveled to Spain to claim his son’s belongings—a backpack and all the necessary gear, the older man followed in his son’s footsteps and was himself transformed.

 

Sheen said that the story is about the search of every person on earth, whether we believe in God or not, for a singular “moment of clarity” when we realize we are loved. The Way—the Camino—attracts 100,000 pilgrims every year. Many of them are truly on an inner journey to find healing: a “moment of clarity” when they realize they are loved.

 

Sacred Space is available every day and everywhere because it relies on you. You just have to pay attention. When you are open to life or you are opened by life, you have entered sacred space. You don’t have to have a particular ritual or an intermediary. Rituals simply provide an experience that reminds you to open yourself to the sacred.

 

Sacred is the feeling that you belong and that you are connected to something beyond yourself. You might connect with a person, but it doesn’t have to be a person. Children’s author Byrd Baylor tells about following deer tracks when she looked up and saw “a young coyote trotting through the brush.” They stopped and looked at each other, unafraid, just a couple of “creatures following another rocky trail.” They looked at each other for a long time before they went on their way. Because of that encounter, Byrd Baylor says she “never will feel quite the same again.”[iii]

 

A farmer’s market is another example of sacred connection if you think about it. All those fruits and vegetables were planted and harvested by fellow human beings; they were probably grown in soil enriched by compost and worms, pollinated by bees or other creatures. The market brings together sellers and shoppers of all ages. We are all connected.

 

Someone sent me a photograph of a baby last week. This was no ordinary baby to me, because he was the son of a member of a church I once served. Tears sprang to my eyes because I don’t know that baby. I don’t even know his mother, who had joined the church after I left, but I did know the people who surrounded her with love. In the picture, mom held him in a fabric sling. His back was snuggled against her chest and his face looked straight out into the world. His eyes looked bright and curious. What kind of world will he inherit? How will he continue to feel that secure connection while he ventures forth into a universe not of his own making?

 

That one photograph reminded me how we of all ages share basic needs: Our bodies require nourishment or we will die. Our spirits require sustenance of a different kind or we will limit the full meaning of our lives. Whatever you believe to be sacred, be at one with it. Fill the God-shaped hole, the joy-shaped hole, the star-shaped hole, the fill-in-the-blank shaped hole.

 

You are a child of the universe for a lifetime.

You have enough. You do enough. You are enough.

Sacred wisdom is waiting for you.

Sacred wisdom is waiting inside you,

With a unique voice you join the chorus of humanity

Where all beings interconnect into a larger whole.

Listen!

Amen

 

Benediction (Rumi)

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


[i] Tiffany Lee Arbuckle, Wayne Kirkpatrick (aka Plumb), “God-Shaped Hole,” on Beautiful History

[ii] Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Gotham Books, 2012).

[iii] Byrd Baylor, I’m in Charge of Celebrations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986).

Glittery Blue

GlitteryBlueMy toenails sport a glittery blue paint job today. Thanks to bidding on a door prize at Project Row Houses in Houston, I won a gift card from an upscale salon in Houston called The Upper Hand. Just a pedicure today because it lasts so much longer than a manicure. With this card I may be able to pay for 2 more. Sweet!

The building is old. I suspect it has been used for a variety of businesses. Its brick walls (interior and exterior) have original archways through which I can watch the ladies and gentlemen get their hair or nails done. The ceiling is now of varnished wood in an overarching shape. Art from a local high school adorns the walls. It’s comfortably old; nicely remodeled.

I wonder how the stylists walk in those shoes: lovely spiked heels, I mean, with interesting straps and designs. The latest in fashion goes by as on a runway before me. It is a world I seldom enter. Meanwhile, Fibi treats me to a foot bath and conversation. She is married to a U.S. citizen and gets to go back to Iran every 2-3 years to visit her family of origin. Whether in Iran or the U.S. she is treated somewhat as an outsider who doesn’t really belong. Only within her immediate family does she feel at home.

She brightened upon hearing that my son lives in Japan (over 10 years now) and married a woman from Taiwan. She was curious about why he went there. As it happens, her cousin went to China four years ago and has loved it.

If you haven’t lived abroad perhaps you can remember moving to a new neighborhood where you need to find a grocery store, a bank, a school, and a doctor you like. I got lost coming to work for the first week I lived here! I do still get lost outside my usual circuit. Everything was new in my neighborhood but at least I knew the language! I never feel at home in a new place until I take a trip somewhere. Coming back, it starts to feel more like home.

Curious, isn’t it, why people go to different parts of the world? An adventure, a romance, or a job may pull you away. A graduation, a deadline, or an accident may push you along. It’s different for each of us but it requires a similar leave-taking, transition. re-entry, and resettlement.

The move doesn’t even need to be physical! You can stay in one place your whole life and still you can make big changes. What changes will you make this year?

Live The Questions Now

"...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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