Faith, Healing meditation, Trauma recovery

Gathering Stars

 

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“He (The LORD) brought him (Abram) outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  (Genesis 15:5 NRSV)

 

There once was a man named Abram who felt God abandoned him. God had promised him something, a son with his wife Sarai.  A son, ensuring life continuing after Abram was gone. Now Abram and Sarai were too old to have a child.

But God asked Abram to go outside and look up into the night sky. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them,” God said.

Abram looked up. Not down. Or straight ahead. Or behind. Or to the side. But up. Up! Discovering sky covering him like a gigantic tent. Stars hanging from its roof. Some bright. Some faded. Some painting the night sky with streaks of light. Stars everywhere! So many stars Abram could not count them.

And God said, “So, shall your descendant be.”

 

Abram’s time and place is not our time and place. Yet the sky still exists. It fills nightly with clouds, stars, planets, and a moon. A sky full. Reminding us of God’s presence among us. Now. Today. Tonight. Next week. Month. Year. God remains. God always remains. God remains promising tomorrow.

 

Healing Activity

 

Imagine in your mind you are standing or sitting outside under a night sky. On a patio or deck or balcony. In a large field, out in the desert, on top of a hill. Anywhere your mind takes you.

Fill your lungs with air. Feel the cool night air on your limbs. Listen to the night’s noises. Feel your feet on the ground. Or your hips in a chair.

Now look up. Into the sky. Notice the night. Notice if the night is clear or cloudy. Notice if the moon is waxing, waning, or full.

Still looking up, take a deep breath in and exhale slowly out.

Breathe in again, with gentleness. Breathe out with relief.

Breathe in with gentleness. Out with relief.

This time breathe in opening your arms wide and out to the side. Exhale lifting your arms up into the sky. And look up.

Breathe in again reaching as far as you can into the sky. Gathering the night’s stars or clouds or air in your arms. Exhale, bringing your arms toward your chest. Placing your hands on your heart. Like a heart hug.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in again. This time reaching your arms into the night sky. Gathering stars or clouds or air. Exhale bringing your arms down. Placing your hands on your heart.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in again. Reach. Gathering the night.  Exhale. Placing gifts on your heart.

Breathe in. Leaving your hands on your heart. Breathe out.

Breathe in all the promises sitting on your heart now with gentleness. Out with relief.

Breathe in with gentleness. Out with relief.

Breathe in with gentleness. Out with relief.

Prayer

God who created vastness in night’s sky, clouds moving on wind, moon in muted light, and all seen and unseen stars. Remind us each night you are always with us. Guide us with night time wonders.  Move us toward healing salve, beloved community, and further into your work on earth.

Go in peace, holding God’s promise in your heart. Amen.

~~~

Find a video of this meditation at https://community.contemplativelife.org/forum/gathering-stars 

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/photos/starry-night-starry-sky-silhouette-1149815/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Slow Trauma, Psalmist Style

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Every day I check the maps. First, my state map. How many cases in my county? How many deaths in my state? Watch Iowa’s numbers increase daily. Each day showing additions. Not subtractions. Yesterday, 1710. Today?

Move to the country’s map. How many states in the United States of America are on stay-at-home orders?  Most states now have them. Mine does not. Governor refuses. Claiming freedom, more important than life. Asking us to die for it. Her stubborn stance making us more anxious, lonely, afraid, and unprotected.

My last check, the world. Numbers, never the same. Never less. Only more. Throwing me back into the cushions I lean on. Despair’s long sigh escaping through my nose. Sinking my heart lower and lower. Until questions erupt. Not of maps, leaders, or politicians. But of God.

 

How long, O Lord?

Will you forget me forever?

 

 How long will you hide your face from me?

 How long must I bear pain in my soul,  and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

 

 How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 

Ancient words still keening. Sounded from the psalmist. Written in Psalm 13, first two verses. (NRSV) Naming our feelings of abandoned-ness, pain, sorrow.

Walk on path one bright day. Hear frogs sing. Filling woods with sound. Notice flock of gulls dancing in sun’s rays. Breathe in spring’s warming air.  “I feel like a bowling pin,” I say. “A bowling ball rolls toward me. In slow motion. Growing larger as I watch.”

Mind sees me standing with all my beloveds. Facing forward. At the end of alley ’s lane. Watching the ball. Praying it veers off to one side, teeters on the edge, finds the gutter. But the ball stays on course. Toward us. As we freeze. Immobilized. Caught in a slow form of trauma. Spanning days, weeks, months. Trauma approaching, getting closer and closer. As we continue standing. Hearing ball against wood floor. Feeling moving vibrations beneath our feet. Ball growing bigger and bigger. Soul asking again like the psalmist. “How long, O LORD?” (v 1)

Brain, a funny organ in humans. Mine flashes. With wonderings in trauma’s watch. How does the psalmist manage hope in the last two verses? Beginning with, “But I trust in your unfailing love…” (v 5)

How do we hope when the ball keeps rolling? Answer my own question. Out of something I tell my son these days. “We can hold both sadness and hope at the same time.”

A paradox. Holding both. Something I learned from living in concurrent grief and trauma recovery. Sadness, sorrow, and despair are emotions. But hope? Hope is learned. Practiced. Acquired. What is called a cognitive function.

Holding both, wisdom. Excelled in by the psalmist. Through first naming and listing experiences surrounding pain. Pain, intrusive thoughts, sorrow, abandonment, defeat. This listing, a crying out called lament. Lament defining deep unmet basic needs such as safety. Lament leading to an ask for help called prayer.  “…Give light to my eyes…” (v 3) the psalmist prays.

Then the psalmist shifts. Into recognizing gifts. God’s gifts of “trust,” “unfailing love,” and “salvation.” ( v 5)  Remembering these good gifts, the psalmist builds hope. In a future filled with song and “good“-ness . (v 6)

Yes, we can hold sadness and hope at the same time. Sadness begins a necessary journey in emotional survival. Leading us to act by lamenting. Lament opening us into another act. The act of prayer. For our pain and needs. Leading us into naming the gifts we have already received. Gratitude for these gifts creating a sense of hope from within. Hope living alongside sadness. Sadness, the beginning. Hope, the last word. Together creating a never-ending map for living. One providing ongoing healing balm. Making the ball rolling toward us something we can deal with.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

 

This post also appears at https://compassionatechristianity.org/trauma-recover/

Photo courtesy of Pixabay at http://www.pixabay.com

 

 

 

Faith, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Sitting Lonely

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How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

Lamentations 1:1

Walking my normal route. On a Sunday afternoon in early spring. Temperature in the fifties. Slightly overcast with sun flitting in and out. Air smelling of trees swelling into resurrected life. And soil. Soil pining to be planted. So much so I must breathe in its scent as breezes brush against my face.

I see no one. No people. No one out. No children playing on the playground.  No families strolling by pushing baby carriages. No runners. No other walkers.

Cars roll by slowly. No longer in a hurry. But not many cars. Cars resting. Found parked in driveways, garages, and along the streets of my neighborhood. As if it is Thanksgiving or Christmas day. Everyone home on forced holiday.

Back home my son reports the store shelves are bare. He returning from stocking up on a few items—toothbrushes, acetaminophen, milk. Tells me this news as we make a list for my grocery run the next day. Writing down what we really need. What we can do without. Thinking ahead for a future we do not understand and cannot predict.

Like most of my friends, I spend time on the phone with loved ones scattered in other places. Feel a need to connect daily now. Check in. But also to help convince or plan. For my oldest to leave Mexico amidst flight cancellations and possible border closings. For my mother to stay south as long as possible instead of coming home to community spread.

When not on the phone or email or text, check the maps. The ones telling me the latest reports. The ones showing the growing numbers. In between checks trying to study, answer emails, read the latest update from seminary, reschedule my life as meetings, events, and deadlines change hourly. All part of my new job as home manager of crisis’ constant change.

The writer of Lamentations imagines or looks out over an empty Jerusalem. After war’s sieges took lives. Captured prisoners. Enemy conquering, creating new reality. Forcing residents to move far away. Emptying a city. Leaving smoldering bits of a recent past. Only seen by those remaining. A desecrated temple. A destroyed way of life.

The prophet looks out over what once was and is no longer. Allows the scene to enter his body. For woe to fill his heart.With scene in mind, heart, and body, calls it like it is. Words allowing the sharing of sorrow with other mourners. “How lonely sits the city…!”

We live in a new form of exile. Not exile like those escaping war or political persecution or famine. Even a pandemic does not compare to these atrocities. Yet there remains a flavor here of exile now. Of being refugees. Even if our camp is in our own home. We are torn away from loved ones, work, friends, activities, faith communities, and school. Separated from routines, predictability, and calm.

So I sit at my kitchen table. Stare out the window. Watch a dog and its person walk across the field. Track their progress. Become aware of my held breath.

Begin to breathe. First in, then out. Again. Again. Deeper. Fuller. Breath reaching behind tired eyes. Loosening jaws. Unfurling forehead. Finding shoulders through collar bones. Down arms into fingers. Belly filling up. Hips letting go. Breath running down silent legs. Into ankles, toes. Eyes closing. Mind blanking. Body breathing into prayer spilling out.

Be present, God. Here. Everywhere. Make your presence known to all. Heal us with holy breath for this day. And tomorrow. And the days already on their way. Strengthen us. For the work to be done. The decisions to be made. The sacrifices we must make for neighbor and stranger and self. Fuel and refuel us with your Spirit each hour, day, week, month. Grow Spirit’s compassion in us. For each other. Amen.

~~~

Scripture quotation from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Image Credit:  Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/gregroose-2823595/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3091078″>Grégory ROOSE</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3091078″>Pixabay</a&gt;

Advent, Christmas, Faith

Another Chance at Adoration

Originally posted on December 14, 2018

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O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ the LORD!

 

Hymn sung each Christmas Eve in our worship tradition. Words riding on melody soaring up into rafter beams. Organ pulling out celebratory stops. Chords supporting voices in singing as one voice, one body. Some standing in this knowledge. Others in ignorance. All in hope for some inexpressible need.

Together chanting lyrics verse after verse calling for some sort of congregational effort. Text expressing felt want to be near the child. Not only in singing. Walking word by word toward him. Yet as we do, discovering a thin infant. Just having slid through the birth canal. Tiny, discolored, sticky with blood. Face screwed up. Smelling of birth. Hope draining out. Adore this one? Why?

Newborn’s family visiting Bethlehem only under governmental orders. Parents finding no place in homes and hearts of those with doors this night. Citizens blind, but not really, to Mary’s bulging belly. Man at each door saying “no,” while behind him cowers a woman. Scrubbing a pot. Mending a tunic. Silently asking for mercy with each stitch and scour.

Perhaps it is an old crone in the corner at the last door who risks nothing this night. Her  aged bones aching. Sight fading. Fingers gnarling. Tired of justifying the food it takes to keep her alive each day. Her heart in those five tiny mounds below the hill. Perhaps it is this old woman Joseph hears behind the last door’s keeper. In the hanging quiet between his ask and a stranger’s answer. After nervously begging for the seemingly small necessity of shelter. Having come this far in an unwanted journey. Far from home. Far from normal. Joseph scared into defying culture by an angelic, winged, fearsome messenger in the night. Now scared for Mary, himself, and an unknown future. Barely hearing the words uttered from within this place. Delivered in a gravely, high-pitched voice. The old mother making one last admonishment.  “Well go on. Give them the barn at least. Better than digging another grave at dawn.”

Further fear and embarrassment for Joseph serving as midwife just a few hours later.  Relieved when the wife of the place sneaks out with somewhat fresh water and a few rags. Because she can’t sleep after the first birth pangs ring through crystal, clear night. Resonating off her hollow womb while her husband snores, blissfully ignorant of this night’s worth.  Finding Mary moaning. Her hormones surging. Regretting saying “yes,” to that crazy angel. The wife nodding. Understanding the anger of birth pains. Squeezing her hand. Murmuring words of support before hurrying back. Not wanting to be discovered absent from her place.

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Night’s wind seeping in through doorless openings and cracks. Snorts, smells, and stars accompanying birthing howls. Surroundings ringing dissonance into the night. After a final push when all seems so terribly lost, a slim-shouldered, hairy neonate slides to the floor below crouching mother.  Amidst dirty hay and dried animal feces. No harmonic overtones reverberating with cries of new life. The crone at inn’s hearth muttering, “he’ll be cold by morning if we don’t get the mother some broth.”

Waking the oldest girl sleeping nearby. “Take this bowl to the mother,” she orders. Girl obeying. Also curious about the strangers. Thankful for this adventure breaking in on her pre-determined monotony.

It’s the girl who holds the babe while Mary sips. The third to stare at him in awe. Joseph off on hill’s ledge staring into stars. Overwhelmed by what happened. Even though it did not happen to his body. His life never in peril. Remembering Abraham. Knowing he, Joseph, is no patriarch. Feeling more like a pawn.

The girl passes the newborn babe back to Mary. Watches him suckle. Then sleep before creeping back to her pallet. Assuring grandmother all is well this night. Not questioning why this little being should be adored. Her mother having taught her to listen to the wisdom of the body.

Not like us now. Adore him? For what? So we can now fully adore the dirty man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money? And the youths throwing punches or bullets at each other in high school hallways? Adore the family climbing into a life raft and the soldiers pursuing them. Adore the “me too” survivor and her predator. Adore the family member, neighbor, friend whose politics send us spinning? Adore every person in the squad car? Adore the beautiful soul hidden under depths of substance addiction and her dealer or doctor? Adore the dirty, the violent, the undesirable, and all our culture’s un-adorables?

Easier as we exchange presents, trim trees, and gobble up holiday treats to not adore him or anyone. Whirl around in our busyness, forgetting. Leaving this baby under the tree fending for himself. Or placing him in another room where we cannot hear his cries for food. Bury our modern-mixed-with-age-old knowledge of human infant needs under distilled spirits, bigger screens, and business. Blocking out that article we read online recently about how infants experience hunger as true pain. And soiled diapers left unchanged infuse their little bodies with worthlessness. Crying it out teaches lonely individualism not relational well-being.  Prolonged separation from parents creates trauma’s breeding ground for current and future pain. Lack of human interaction causes an all body shut-down called failure-to-thrive.

Maybe this infant is just too much work. Deciding right after the big day while still off work or stuffed with too much merriment to return this child whose reality smacks us in the face. Wrap him in swaddling clothes and lie him in an Amazon Prime box. Affix a preprinted label, and drop him off at the post office. Ask to exchange him for something or someone more to our liking. A gift asking nothing of us. One in which our own internal wrappings stay tightly wound around our souls. Our truths never exposed even to us. Shunning the messenger’s words, “do not be afraid.”

Words heard by Mary long ago. Embraced and in doing so risking her life and future of her unborn child. Holding her heart full with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Not all comfort and joy. Praising God when really what else can she do? Running away meaning life on the street. Begging for food. Using her disassociated body for survival.  In saying “yes” making a choice to stay. Clasping fear to swelling breasts. Uttering words of praise, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“Do not be afraid,” heard also by lonely, smelly shepherds staying in fields. Probably because no one else in their little, little, world welcomed them into village or home. Undesirables ostracized into hills. Trusted with necessary function of tending sheep. But out of sight. Out of mind. Found in their hiding by God’s messengers with an invitation into awe. Risking their livelihoods for a chance to adore another human. When so often denied any exchange of humanly love.

We try to ignore these words, “do not be afraid.”  Thinking they cannot possibly be meant for us now. Part of a quaint story told each Advent and Christmastide from long ago. But this hungry, cold, pooping, spitting up, sort-of un-adorable baby somehow breaks through our internal walls anyway. Not with words. But with wails cutting into inner workings of bodies. Dwelling in our hearts. Causing agitation in our nervous systems. Our empty breasts to ache. Our stiff arms to fill with yearning.  So much yearning we must pick up him up. Keep him at arm’s length until his small body melds into ours. Then we sway. Feeling fully alive. Cherishing the moment. Washed with felt love. And his sweet baby smell. Existing together, almost as one. Not fully. Yet needing the other. For different reasons. Need though none-the-less.

What if we were to adore the un-adorable? What then for us? For them? What if we heard their wails, unsounded, emanating from deep within their hearts? What if we understood our need for them. Perhaps greater than their need for us? Would we then leave our sheep, our only way of life, like the shepherds did? Or give up the right to abandon or kill like Joseph? Bring a family to shelter. Sneak food to them in the night? Give them basic human supplies defying cultural expectations?

Our singing this night of all nights is not static. We do not perform a yearly empty ritual before going home to egg nog, a fire, and our annual viewing of Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. These words call us to action.  The lyricist is poetic. But he commands in imperative, “get going!” Go and adore the Christ child alive in all of us and in all others now. Leave wants behind the inn door next to the old crone.  Sing in a choir of earthly messengers to a deaf world.  Answer the cries of the child now with our opening arms. Feed the child now as if our breasts are about to leak milk or our own child’s life depends on it. Support the mother and father now as if we were once penniless. Give shelter to the family now as if we know homelessness. Adore the child now with trembling fear and courage like Mary. And in doing so, see God face-to-face, “now in flesh appearing.”

Merry Christmas.

 

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Notes

All photos courtesy of Pixabay. Glass window by Hanneke Visschers at Pixabay.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, text and music attributed to John Francis Wade.

Scripture quoted from Luke 1:30; 46-47, and Luke 2:10. (NRSV)

Scripture referred to from Matthew 1:19-21 and Luke, 1-2.

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Minimized: A Healing Meditation

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“For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” Job 3:24-26 (NRSV)

Meditation

Torment escapes from deep within Job’s body on breath’s exhale. Agony flees inner captivity on long streams of air. Wind erupts in animalistic sounds showing injuries’ truths: dread, disquiet, dis-ease, anxious anticipation. All unseen damage from suffering’s somatic experiences.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar hear Job’s pain. Come in consoling comfort. Observe immense heartbreak. Sit with him in silence. Witness loss, illness, grief, and trauma. No words spoken. Saints sitting with sinful natures.

Until these bystanders can stand Job’s pain no longer. Something spins within. Filling each friend with verbal masses rolling into wounding words. Words interrupting air. Stinging silence. Tearing further into wounded flesh and internal organs. Each feeling sanctioned by God or each other to deem worthiness or un-right-ness. Blame Job in entitled convenience. Forgetting life’s immeasurable unknowns. Making small Job’s collective human losses with narrow visions of the Divine. Asking in word and deed, “’Why should God have time’ for you in all your iniquities?”*

Job’s groaning unmasks these carefully constructed faces of others. Uncovers deeply buried wounds. Unhealed lacerations still oozing with infection. Bacteria to be shared. Using Job as a new host. As these speakers hide behind royal judgments. Old pain towering over recently rendered and suffering peasant.

 

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We who live in trauma’s truth sit with Job in a different way. In shared experience of life after trauma. We learn along with Job that our worlds at home, work, community, and extended family minimize trauma. Our trauma. Their trauma. Anyone’s trauma. Others diminishing it when we are weak in our inabilities to cope or heal. Trivializing trauma’s ravages. Asking in verbal, nonverbal, subtle ways for us to move on. Act healed. Use our trauma for the greater good of a broken world. Because surrounding witnesses name us now as damage experts needing to be sent out on patrol.

But this shrinking behavior of others in the story of Job and in our lives today is not an act of God or earthly king. It is a “that’s their stuff,” moment. An alert to something unhealed in others. Resulting in distancing or dissociating behavior of the supposed helper from our lived, daily, experienced pain. Trauma’s evil alive in others hurling in secondary waves through our hearts, minds, and bodies. Sinner outweighing saint.

We cannot force others to unbury and heal their pain. But we can ask ourselves if we too minimize our own traumas. Wonder if we make smaller what really was. Or hide our traumas away so others don’t feel uncomfortable. Absorb these evils further into our bodies. Send messages out into the world such as “It’s in the past,” and “What’s done is done,” and “It is what it is.”

 

Healing Action

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Fill a piece of paper of any size with one large circle. Leave a little space at the corners of the paper. Inside the circle draw a large heart. Along the outline of the heart write “God, God, God,” over and over again in a chain of words.

Write your name inside the heart. If other people living in your immediate family share your trauma (such as children) write their names on the heart as well.

Between the heart and the outline of the circle write names of people who try to not minimize what happened. They are not perfect or one hundred percent. But consistent in making an effort.

Outside the circle write names of people who are not dependable for you now. They may try. But when they do their unhealed pain lives like a big box of heavy bricks between them and you. “Help me hold my box,” they ask you again and again.

In the farthest corner of the page write names of people or organizations who exited or need to exit your life because of your traumas. These entities add lesions to your internal injuries. Creating circles of additional traumas around you with pricks, pokes, and stabs.

Look at your work. What demands your attention? Are your friends better at being with you than your extended family? Or is it the other way around? A mix? Who surprises you with their ability to not judge or minimize? Where are most of your people, inside or outside your circle?

If you need to, cut away the outside-of-the-circle names for now. Crumple up the scraps. Throw them in the recycling bin. You do not need these people or organizations right now. You don’t need their stuff, crap, or pain. Fire them. Forever. Temporarily. Lay them off. Whatever you need this day. You are in charge.

Lay a finger, one by one, on all remaining names including your own. Breathe as you do so.

Prayer

God holding close my pain, surround me with emotionally fearless people. People whose presence and actions bring healing to me and others. Send them God, quickly. Open my eyes in recognition when these healers come into my world. Help me accept their love. Amen.

_______

*Quote from J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. Published by Houghton Mifflin (1986). Page 119.

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~All images courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

Faith, Love

Love’s Truth

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Valentine’s Day, 2012. Late. Hung up with a project, errands, arrangements for this or that. Don’t’ remember. Throw on coat. Check myself in the mirror. Head downtown. Make wrong turn after wrong turn. Town still new to me. Check watch. Feel my arms tighten. Call Tony. His voice calm, clear navigates me toward the restaurant. Greets me at the door. Ushers me to our booth. In a small, quiet, elegant restaurant. Chosen for this special day.

We order. I am edgy, angry. Tony keeps his responses slow. Checks his reactions to my emotional state. Breathes. But I escalate. Negative thoughts cascading. Unmasking resentment over moving here. Away from family, friends, beloved church. Toward better schools, more time with Tony and for my dreams. Plans now hidden under ongoing business issues and beginnings of one son’s mystery illness. Stare down at plate. Wish I could stop. Delight in our time together. Pause. Close my eyes. Open to tears falling. Onto beautiful salmon.

In life without Tony, I want so very much to remember romantic times full of movie moments. But often remember instead truthful ones. Times showing me not as a good wife. But as a human one. Sobbing into salmon in public on Valentine’s Day. A memory now making me smile, laugh, shake my head. Love’s beauty held not in a commercially dictated day depicting love as an experience. But as a real moment of true love lived in action as an ongoing verb.

I cried that day because I felt emotionally safe to do so. Tony knew how to hold emotionally uncomfortable spaces. The ones we want to avoid. Gloss over with fancy greeting cards, ribbons, roses, and lingerie. Because holding emotionally uncomfortable spaces is a true act of shared love. Part of providing emotional containment for one another. Bearing the other’s burdens, baggage, built-up unmet needs. Holding one another’s pain.

Few people ask a widow for relationship advice. An intense irony of the experience. But today in unsolicited commentary I embrace the most difficult verb in our collective experience—to love. Lift up those moments when all seems lost, life makes no sense, future appears fuzzy. And in the midst of it all the person who shares the work of love with you or me says in action or word, “I am here. I am not going anywhere. We will figure this out. Whatever this is. We will figure this out, together.”

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

Faith

Sabbath Sharing

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Fallen leaves gather on cobbled pavement. Swirling together. Making scraping sounds. Tiny melodies clobbered by footfalls. Saturday revelers dressed in school colors walking bar to bar. Bodies listing like sails in fall’s wind. Voices shouting slurred words. Blurry eyes focusing on nothing as day moves into dusk.

My steps among this crowd ring quiet by contrast. Hastily taken strides marking prayers for young strangers. Echoing unspoken truths. My internal petitions weaving in and out of beer and cigarette smells. Rising like incense with gusts of blustery wind. Hoping this blowing is Spirit.

Around the corner children play, run, giggle, shriek. On a playground next to the public library. Young children wrapped in sweaters and light jackets. Covered for safety against dropping temperatures. Many topped with yarmulkes pinned down. Parents relaxing on nearby park benches. Enjoying Sabbath, Saturday evening, and the ability to keep little ones somewhat safe.

Sounds of playing children join party noises. Follow me through an unlocked glass door at the corner. Into a small-business incubator space. Warm and quiet. Modern. Hip. Large windows overlooking playground, pedestrian mall, and hotel. Street’s song closing one Sabbath as my tiny Christian community readies for another. Setting up chairs. Covering kitchen table in gently used cloths. Tuning a saxophone.

Today is not Sunday, the first day of the week. A new week begun in morning praise and thanksgiving to God. Instead today is the end of the week, the very end. Last crumbs of what just passed by us. Lived with sorrows both large and small. Moments of joy. Maybe a bit of pleasure or even delight. Mixed with worries circulating in and out of a week’s dreams. No, this evening is not traditional Christian Sabbath. But it is something. Whatever this evening is, it clashes with the outside world.

Those of us gathered, chat. Welcome new people. Forget each other’s names. Find seats on sofas, stools, and chairs. Help pastors fuss with clergy wear. Show wandering, drunk people where the bathroom is. Then we quiet. Singing bowl’s ringing calling us in. Into worship. Further into God’s mystery. Into Sabbath. Breathing sacred in. Stillness accessing our hearts. Street noises harmonizing. Playing prelude with our quiet.

We begin. Our cry for God’s mercy falls over empty chairs, desks, the young entrepreneur still working at his station, his partner helping himself to coffee behind our table set with God’s meal of grace, the drunk man in the bathroom.

“Kyrie eleison,”

In our midst, a person stands. Reads God’s Word. We share our thoughts. Scripture’s words jumping out at us. Making us think and wonder.

“Thanks be to God,”

Hear Jan or Sarah preach. Surrounding us with more thoughts. Some shared. Some tucked safely within our hearts. Sing in response to God’s Word illuminated. Pray for those outside our borrowed walls. Share peace with everyone in the room. Sometimes more than once. No one wanting to miss one soul in our small group.

“Peace be with you,”

Peace sending us on a pilgrimage toward offering. Our basket set at the table. Hands ducking deeply into its depth giving and blessing. Staying at the table. Hearing old and new words of welcome here. Serving one another Holy food as if washing one another’s feet.

“Given for you,”

Night wafts in through the window as God’s blessing readies us once again for the world. But first we return to the table eating and drinking what is left of our meal together. Adding some cheese to the mix. Maybe a plate of cookies. Over food and drink, meeting new friends. Catching up with old ones. Somehow our faces glowing more than when we arrived an hour or so ago.

“The Lord bless, keep, and shine on you,”

Filled, we clean up. Blow out candles. Return chairs to the conference room. Strip the table as if it is Holy Week. Wash, dry, and stack dishes. Empty the baptismal bowl. Set it on a shelf in a shared closet. Place the cross there as well.

Then having broken our Sabbath fast, we open the door. Step over the threshold. Reenter the street scene still moving outside.  Notice a few changes. Children and parents gone home. Eating dinner or readying for bedtime stories.  Partiers winding down. Slumped in nearby diners eating starchy food.

“Go beloveds, fed and nourished,”

We stand on the sidewalk breathing in the world’s hurts. Breathing out Sabbath solace. Our breathe this night acknowledging our human and collective mess. Lift our palms up into night’s sky, sharing our restored peace. Sending Sabbath back into the world. Allowing night breezes to take Sabbath from us. Surround college students into the wee hours of morning. Land on church buildings’ doorsteps. Keep company with sleeping homeless men.

Sabbath entering churches the next morning. Not stopping, quieting, or staying still until last candles blown out after Sunday evening worship services. Last doors closed and locked. Sabbath hovering one silent second before flowing back into the world having shared God’s sacredness with all who hunger and thirst. Sabbath nudging us as it goes to be God’s peace in the world.

“Shabbat shalom, Shabbat shalom.”

Essay written in response to and with love for the community called JustChurch in Iowa City, Iowa. 

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Photos courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

 

 

Advent, Christmas, Faith, Uncategorized

Adoration

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O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ the LORD!

 

Hymn sung each Christmas Eve in our worship tradition. Words riding on melody soaring into rafter beams. Organ pulling out celebratory stops. Chords supporting voices in singing as one voice, one body. Some standing in this knowledge. Others in ignorance. All in hope for some inexpressible need.

Together chanting lyrics verse after verse. Calling for some sort of congregational effort. Text expressing felt want to be near the child. Not only in singing. Walking word by word toward him. Yet as we do, discovering a thin infant. Just having slid through the birth canal. Tiny, discolored, sticky with blood. Face screwed up. Smelling of birth. Hope draining out. Adore this one? Why?

Newborn’s family visiting Bethlehem only under governmental orders. Parents finding no place in homes and hearts of those with doors this night. Citizens blind, but not really, to Mary’s bulging belly. Man at each door saying “no,” while behind him cowers a woman. Scrubbing a pot. Mending a tunic. Silently asking for mercy with each stitch and scour.

Perhaps it is an old crone in the corner at the last door who risks nothing this night. Her  aged bones aching. Sight fading. Fingers gnarling. Tired of justifying the food it takes to keep her alive each day. Her heart in those five tiny graves below the hill. Perhaps it is she Joseph hears behind the last door’s keeper. In the hanging quiet between ask and answer. After nervously begging for the seemingly small necessity of shelter. Having come this far in an unwanted journey. Far from home. Far from normal. Joseph scared into defying culture by an angelic, winged, fearsome messenger in the night. Now scared for Mary, himself, and an unknown future. Barely hearing the words uttered from within this place. Delivered in a gravely, high-pitched voice. The old mother making one last admonishment.  “Well go on. Give them the barn at least. Better than digging another grave at dawn.”

Further fear and embarrassment for Joseph serving as mid-wife just a few hours later.  Relieved when the wife of the place sneaks out with somewhat fresh water and a few rags. Because she can’t sleep after the first birth pangs ring through crystal, clear night. Resonating off her hollow womb while her husband snores, blissfully ignorant of this night’s worth.  Finding Mary moaning. Her hormones surging. Regretting saying “yes,” to that crazy angel. The wife nodding. Understanding the anger of birth pains. Squeezing her hand. Murmuring words of support before hurrying back. Not wanting to be discovered absent from her place.

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Night’s wind seeping in through doorless openings and cracks. Snorts, smells, and stars accompanying birthing howls. Surroundings ringing dissonance into the night. After a final push when all seems so terribly lost, a slim-shouldered, hairy neonate slides to the floor below crouching mother.  Amidst dirty hay and dried animal feces. No harmonic overtones reverberating with cries of new life. The crone at inn’s hearth muttering, “he’ll be cold by morning if we don’t get the mother some broth.”

Waking the oldest girl sleeping nearby. “Take this bowl to the mother,” she orders. Girl obeying. Also curious about the strangers. Thankful for this adventure breaking in on her pre-determined monotony.

It’s the girl who holds the babe while Mary sips. The third to stare at him in awe. Joseph off on hill’s ledge staring into stars. Overwhelmed by what happened. Even though it did not happen to his body. His life never in peril. Remembering Abraham. Knowing he, Joseph, is no patriarch. Feeling more like a pawn.

The girl passing babe back to Mary. Watching him suckle. Then sleep. Creeping back to her pallet. Assuring grandmother all is well this night. Not questioning why this little being should be adored. Her mother having taught her to listen to the wisdom of the body.

Not like us now. Adore him? For what? So we can now fully adore the dirty man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money? And the youths punching each other out in high school hallway? Adore the family climbing into a life raft and the soldiers pursuing them. Adore the “me too” survivor and her predator. Adore the family member, neighbor, friend whose politics send us spinning? Adore every one in the squad car? Adore the beautiful soul hidden under depths of substance addiction and her dealer? Adore the dirty, the violent, the undesirable, and all our culture’s un-adorable?

Easier as we exchange presents, trim trees, and gobble up holiday treats to not adore him or anyone. Whirl around in our busyness, forgetting. Leaving this baby under the tree fending for himself. Or placing him in another room where we cannot hear his cries for food. Bury our modern-mixed-with-age-old knowledge of human infant needs under distilled spirits, bigger screens, and business. Blocking out that article we read online recently about how infants experience hunger as true pain. And soiled diapers left unchanged infuse their little bodies with worthlessness. Crying it out teaches lonely individualism not relational well-being.  Prolonged separation from parents creates trauma’s breeding ground for current and future pain. Lack of human interaction causes an all body shut-down called failure-to-thrive.

Maybe this infant is just too much work. Deciding right after the big day while still off work or stuffed with too much merriment to return this child whose reality smacks us in the face. Wrap him in swaddling clothes and lie him in an Amazon Prime box. Affix a preprinted label, and drop him off at the post office. Ask to exchange him for something or someone more to our liking. A gift asking nothing of us. One in which our own internal wrappings stay tightly wound around our souls. Our truths never exposed even to us. Shunning the messenger’s words, “do not be afraid.”

Words heard by Mary long ago. Embraced and in doing so risking her life and future of her unborn child. Holding her heart full with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Not all comfort and joy. Praising God when really what else can she do? Running away meaning life on the street. Begging for food. Using her disassociated body for survival.  In saying “yes” making a choice to stay. Clasping fear to swelling breasts. Uttering words of praise, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“Do not be afraid,” heard also by lonely, smelly shepherds staying in fields. Probably because no one else in their little, little, world welcomed them into village or home. Undesirables ostracized into hills. Trusted with necessary function of tending sheep. But out of sight. Out of mind. Found in their hiding by God’s messengers with an invitation into awe. Risking their livelihoods for a chance to adore another human. When so often denied any exchange of humanly love.

We try to ignore these words, “do not be afraid.”  Thinking they cannot possibly be meant for us now. Part of a quaint story told each Advent and Christmastide from long ago. But this hungry, cold, pooping, spitting up, sort-of un-adorable baby somehow breaks through our internal walls anyway. Not with words. But with wails cutting into inner workings of bodies. Dwelling in our hearts. Causing agitation in our nervous systems. Our empty breasts to ache. Our stiff arms fill with yearning.  We must pick up him up. Keep him at arm’s length. Until his small body melds into ours. We sway. Feeling fully alive. Cherishing the moment. Washed with felt love. And his sweet baby smell. Existing together, almost as one. Not fully. Yet needing the other. For different reasons. Need though none-the-less.

What if we were to adore the un-adorable? What then for us? For them? What if we heard their wails, unsounded, emanating from deep within their hearts? What if we understood our need for them. Perhaps greater than their need for us? Would we then leave our sheep, our only way of life, like the shepherds did? Or give up the right to abandon or kill like Joseph? Bring a family to shelter. Sneak food to them in the night? Give them basic human supplies defying cultural expectations?

Our singing this night of all nights is not static. We do not perform a yearly empty ritual before going home to egg nog, a fire, and our annual viewing of Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. These words call us to action.  The lyricist is poetic. But he commands in imperative, “get going!” Go and adore the Christ child alive in all of us and in all others now. Leave wants behind the inn door next to the old crone.  Sing in a choir of earthly messengers to a deaf world.  Answer the cries of the child now with our arms. Feed the child now as if our breasts are about to leak milk or our own child’s life depends on it. Support the mother and father now as if we were once penniless. Give shelter to the family now as if we know homelessness. Adore the child now with trembling fear and courage like Mary. And in doing so, see God face-to-face, “now in flesh appearing.”

 

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All photos courtesy of Pixabay.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, text and music attributed to John Francis Wade.

Scripture quoted from Luke 1:30; 46-47, and Luke 2:10. (NRSV)

Scripture referred to from Matthew 1:19-21 and Luke, 1-2.

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Uncategorized

Wide Water

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Heart heavy again. New wounds and disappointments added to still simmering old ones. Hard to see all the healing I’ve done through my sad haze. Cry for an entire hour on my therapist’s couch. Marit, my clinician, tilting her head a bit to one side. Her eyes teary wet as well. Offering me phone access during her upcoming vacation. Having lived twenty years on the other side of being on-call, hating to intrude. Feeling empathy towards her vacationing family members. “Maybe you could try Reiki,” she suggests.

My head lifts in recognition. Percolating ideas swirling in my thinking of late. “I’ve always wanted to try healing touch,” I reply.

“Excellent!”

Marit showing relief. No more words uttered but I know. Because we’ve been together almost weekly for two and a half years. Since before Tony died. Beginning when my sons were so sick with mysterious illnesses. Me living in caretaker burnout. Marit’s  thinking now, “Jen needs a substitute while I’m away.”

Leave her couch with a plan. Make a healing touch appointment for the following week. Travel to the next city. To a retreat center run by nuns nestled in reclaimed prairie and forest. Ushered into calming silence. Sister Bethel greeting me with gentle tones. My nun experience almost non-existent. Except for Tony’s aunt. The one who reveals all the family stories. Tales no one else speaks of.  Family salt mixing with humored love. This sister today, eighty years on this earth. Looking about sixty.

Enter Sister Bethel’s small, windowless room. Stuffed and stuffed again with angel figurines. On multiple oak shelves hanging from four panels of drywall. Angels collected  over decades in ministry. Repulsed by the crowded assemblage. Muse over what I might be forced to collect once ordained in ministry.

Lie down on the massage table. Harp music playing. Water bubbling from unknown origin. Maybe from behind a shelf of angels. Or perhaps only in my imagination. Cool hands hold my head. Their strength beautiful, reassuring. “Healing hands,” the term healers use. As more than a complement. As recognition of an awe-filled skill. Part mystery, part talent, part practice.

Relax into Sister’s hands. Trust them. Listen to her pray in words punctuated by silences. Words flowing from her lips floating above me before gently raining down. Absorbed through skin into soul.

She shifts on her stool. I hear her say, “Jennifer, you are loved. Deeply, deeply loved.”

Tears fall from beneath closed eyelids. Slide off face into hair. Like a stream flooding my banks. Sister rises. Waving the air over me. Movements sensed not seen. Music swelling time forward. Into the melody of the old Scottish folk tune, “O Waly, Waly.” Text remembered from high school choir. Mind repeating.

 

“The water is wide, I cannot get o’er,

And neither have I wings to fly,

Give me a boat that will carry two,

And both shall row, my love and I.”

 

Woe erupting from toes traveling up legs disseminating throughout my body in recognition, in revelation. What I could not do the day Tony died. Fly across the water separating us. Carry us both in a boat. One with two oars.

And I see Tony’s face in my mind’s eye. Through tears and body tremors. Large. Smiling. Reassuring. Coming toward me. Speaking to my eternal regret. Sadness. Complete upending of life. His love recognizing my truth. What I would have done if possible. Fly. Lift Tony out of the water. Hold him. Save him. A vision floating here in this room full of dusty angels. Carrying forgiveness laced love from my lost one.

Sister Bethel hears more words. Sees more images. Fleeting pictures and oddly strung together words. A rope with many knots. Reminiscent of the Filipino veil and cord wedding ritual. A ritual we participating in during our wedding ceremony. Binding us together in love and hope. An image reassuring me of Tony’s ongoing love  and his push and desire for me to continuing living and loving. And as Sister Bethel repeats again and again, “have some fun,” followed by “whatever that means to you.”

Rise from the table feeling free. Centered. Grounded. Amazed. Lighter. Loved. Uplifted in my deep fears and strong abilities. My call to ministry recognized by another called one. “Your openness to the divine,” Sister Bethel tells me, “is huge.”

I laugh. Thinking I should ask her to share her thoughts with my Bishop and seminary professors.  Instead say, “Thank you for affirming my call to ministry.”

“You will be a powerful healer in ministry,” she replies in words knocking me over internally. Echoing something similar to what both my therapists have said to me in recent months.

Following days bring new calm. I eat again, hungry for the first time in a month. Catch myself smiling. Discover I want to reclaim bits of my old life. Slowly, intentionally, and with care.  A restaurant, a family member, water.

A few days later my daily walk takes me to the Iowa River. On the walking bridge I stop. Watch wild water crashing over the dam. Not avoiding river’s presence by walking quickly by. Like I have for twenty-five months. But gazing at its bubbling, swirling, violent, beautiful flow. Realizing I want to hike its banks, paddle its ways, embrace its beauty once again. Maybe never the Wisconsin River. But this river and all other rivers. Converse once again with wet molecules without my stomach clenching or my mind flashing back to the day Tony died. I want to continue dissipating my trauma by breathing into water’s swelling spirit.

“I keep hearing ‘changed, not changed,'” Sister Bethel told a few days ago during my session. “I wonder what that means?”

Most days think I know.  Losing Tony a formidable change. His love then and now never changed. Me, changed through loss, grief, trauma, and healing. But not changed. Still me, internally resilient. Brimming with life. Always hopeful. Never hiding from challenges for too long. Open to new adventures. Living having been loved. Full of love to give and receive.

My healing pain flowing toward and into joy. Tony leaving a boat of sorts for me to row toward the other side of trauma and grief. Constructed of his love mixed with all the healing methods he professionally practiced or knew about for over two decades. Rowing my boat together although not together. Me here on earth. He with me in spirit. Changed but not changed. Reclaiming wide waters.

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Faith, Grief, Uncategorized

Easter Understanding

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Sitting in a church pew Easter Sunday. Seats at a premium this morning. Finding space third row from the Baptismal font.  On the right almost under the organ pipes.

Swarms surround us. Decked out in Spring’s cold glory. Small limbs buzzing from early morning chocolate bunnies. Syrupy smells poured over church-basement pancakes wafting up sanctuary stairwell.  Scents floating off potted lilies celebrating this day. Distracting our noses.

Me, quietly book-ended by sons. Lanky height towering over shrinking self. Our hearts cradling family variants. Arriving on time for once. Not participating in today’s service. Missing one person in body, spirit, love. Forced imbalances creating new holiday traditions. Because of loss. Because of illness. Because human essence demands continual, dynamic change. Life ever flowing somewhere. Living in all directions. Forward one of many routes. Options include straight back and up above. Existence following verticals and sub-verticals as well like feeds and streams.

During Lent this year understanding the movement of Lot’s wife. Looking back froze her future. Into crumbling salt. Comprehending this can happen to us. So far doesn’t. Ongoing therapy eradicates salt. Revisiting the past orients us into living. Discovering alternatives. Lot’s wife perhaps wanting choice too. Deciding to resist orders. Ones requiring forced obligation in ancient womanhood. A constricted soul experiencing momentary freedom. Salt worth its weight. Me, not so interested in salt. Embracing all directions.

Sitting this Easter day surrounded by young men I once birthed. Now generating warmth and whispering commentary. Feeling in my heart truth inherent in hymn’s text, “Death hath lost its sting!”* 

Where life is after death, still unclear about. Not important to me. Clasping today’s truth: there is life following death. On earth and whatever and where ever after is. Tony, there. Smiling. Laughing. Eyes bright with delight. Wonder. Love.

He, also living among us. Enclosed in sons’ DNA. One wearing his clothing. The other donning his smile. Both purporting his people wisdom. Our loved one existing within memory, healed clients, love-infused family, and friends. In every-man, proverbial sayings. Some framed, sitting on my nightstand. Others remembered at odd moments. Memory creating a chuckle, smile, or sigh.

“That’s goodness”

“What just happened here?”

“How’s that working for you?”

“Get in the pit”

“Write a new narrative”

“Do you want to be seen or do you want to be noticed?”

“Don’t forget your toolbox!”

“That’s your humanity”

 

Tony uniting fully in Emmanuel–God with us. Joining clouds of witnessing saints billowing on before us. We on earth walking on foot. As human. Not salt. Not yet vapor.  Bound with all condensed water masses. Together in one, big, holy, mystery. Called the body of Christ. Perhaps we finding home on earthly knee-caps. Tony residing on a cheek. Near the smile. Head in the clouds.

Down below rejoicing today in life. Tony’s on earth. His life now. Ours then. Ours now. Embracing what we do not know. Accepting God’s command to love one another during this time. Gradually opening out. Accepting all directions. Leading into the world loving friends and family again. Love wafting like flower’s scent. Replacing trauma’s reactions and sorrow’s emotions.

Holding grief near still. Naming it as love of another form. One creating salty, healing tears. Sliding down cheeks this bright, vibrant day. Love resurrecting life.

 

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*Quote from the hymn, Thine is the Glory. Text by Edmond Budry. Tune by George F. Handel, adapted.

**Photo found on http://www.pixabay.com