Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Next Bad Thing: A Healing Meditation

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The prophet Habakkuk prays. Asks God to return from being absent. “In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known;” (3:2b) Followed by acclamation. “His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.” (3:3b)

God’s portrayal in Habakkuk’s prayer is often violent. God’s earthly activities ongoing. “…You split the earth with rivers.” (3:9b) A omnipotent superpower saving good guys from bad ones. “You crushed the head of the wicked house…” (3:13b)

Habakkuk’s words reveal multiple tragedies. Agitation anticipating next impending crushing. More devastation means wiping out enemies and attackers. Perhaps Habakkuk hopes he does not get caught in the ensuing panic.

“I hear, and I tremble within: my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.” (3: 16)

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We in trauma wait for the next catastrophe like the prophet Habakkuk. From the outside we may look still. Barely breathing. Within we stand at the edge of an interior precipice. Waiting. For a push into caverns below. Thrust in by world’s cruelty. Found in the form of people, natural disasters, human made dictators, wars, and diseases. Uncontrollable foes attacking us or our loved ones.

We wait. Trembling within. Watching. Always alert. Skittish. Wary. No breaks. Exhausted by constant effort. Rotting in this hidden prison. Body held captive by what grows within us. Dictating our lives. Holding our bodies hostage. Trepidation becoming an angry energy like fuel.

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Healing Action

Look at your hands. Curve them in as if your hands hold something. Feel the weight of your hands. Observe the shape of curved fingers. The creases in your palms. Notice any scars, rings, tattoos.

Now cup your hands together. Allowing fingers and sides of upturned palms to touch. Forming a bowl.

Breathe in. Sigh out into your bowl. Repeat forming a steady beat of breathing in and breathing out with a sigh, silent or sung. Continue on if it feels good to you to do so.

Breath in again. This time on your next sighing, send your traumas into the bowl. Any trauma you hold in your body. Recent traumas. Trauma from a few years ago. Older traumas from youth and childhood.  Sigh all your life’s traumas into your cupped hands.

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Prayer

Lift your cupped hands up above your head. As far into the air above as you are able.

God, take these harms from me this day.

And tomorrow.

And all the days to come. Amen.

Push your hands farther up into the sky beyond. Open your hands with a final push. Send your traumas out into the world. When your hands are empty, slowly let your arms fall to your sides. Leave your traumas to the universe and to God.

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*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. Some humble accommodation suggestions are: 

  • Use a bowl instead of hands.
  • Use a friend’s arms.
  • Use feet and legs instead of hands and arms. 
  • Move bowl outwards instead of upwards. 

 

***All scripture quotes are NRSV.

****Photos courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

Shirted Memories

Blues, burgundies, blacks, greens. Assorted colors pile on floor. Next to empty card board box. Awaiting purpose.

Sit on floor surrounded by shirts. Late. When sleep could sooth. But day not over. Because sometimes life takes me back. Asks me to remember. Or grow. Or move more into the me who is now. Tonight body full of intermittent shakes. Small tremblings. Signaling stressful day. Tension reminding anatomy of former trauma. Forcing confrontation with realities. Emotions. What has happened to me, to us, since Tony died. In wounding aftermath.

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So sort instead of sleep. Decide what to give away. What to keep. Think about what sons may want, be interested in, miss if gone. Suspect this division, this last ordering of Tony’s shirts, may take entire month. Shirts already gone through many times in past two years, eight months. Shirt by shirt leaving what once was our closet. Only a few remaining. My favorites. Cloth I cannot bear to part with. This night scattered on floor. Ready to be folded. Placed. Put away.

Ask many questions. Think many thoughts. “How many favorites do I need to live on well? How often will I really open this box? Sit among these shirts once again? Tears silently falling on disintegrating fibers? A dead man’s shirts are in reality dead. Not living. Just thread woven into being. A sum of things. Inanimate. Infused momentarily with characteristics of person once wearing clothing items. Temporary anthropomorphism of loved one’s stuff. Like fleeting wisps of wind on a hot summer’s night.”

Decide one box. One box of favorites to keep. That’s it. That’s all I’m willing to carry with me the rest of my life. For times of major life events. When remembering, telling the story of who we were as a family and who Tony was as a human being a ritual to live into. Not performance. But dance. His atoms still floating among us. Partnering in silent breezes.

First item in, Baja hoodie. Hands run over coarse woven thread. See scene from first night we kissed. Held each other in nervous embrace. Wondering together and as individuals what it all meant.

Fold black t-shirt with one bright pink triangle in center. With words “Silence = Death.”  Remember shame world’s people placed once again on suffering’s shoulders. Remember determination and courage of ACT-UP. Remember dear ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Remember Tony as a young man wearing this t-shirt with tenacious anger.

Smooth out white tank. With The Men’s Center logo on it. Tony up late night before big run in Davenport, Iowa. Making logo of our fledgling company. Ironing on tank. Soon after we opened. Staking savings into dream. Into serving other people. Tony and nephew running race with pride and a bit of free advertisement.

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A camp t-shirt. From Paul’s school trip to southern Wisconsin. Tony went as parent chaperone. Taking his responsibilities with predictable seriousness. Intensity I fell in love with. Under his supervision, first grade boy fell out of top bunk. Boy’s father of five not concerned. Tony up all night worrying.

Tye-die shirt. Hand made by Ricky on our deck when he was maybe ten. Paul helping. Another shirt with logo on it. Designed by niece Marissa. Creator of The Men’s Center logo. New logo for entrepreneurial son. Risky in sky blue against bleached white. Folded and placed next to local school district fund-raiser t-shirt. From yearly run downtown. On October Sunday morning. Tony running with our sons. But really after them as I watched.

Two t-shirts bought as presents. At birthday or father’s day. Silly shirts full of fun. Gifts I sent our sons out to buy once Ricky drove. Always coming home with loads of snack food, outrageous card, and t-shirt. Like this one displaying a beer-logo because Tony hated beer.

Place black shirt. White lettering in English and Arabic. Bought from an organization dedicated to hard conversations. For Tony, hard conversation about sexual violence and boys. Prevalence hidden. Healing lacking. Shirt shouting to the world, we will not be silent! 

T-shirts, hoodie, topped with dress shirts. One, monogrammed ADR. Another, my favorite bright blue. Black linen left from our early days. All sniffed before packed away. Smelling of nothing. Not Tony. Just slight mustiness of unused clothing. In first months after Tony died repulsed by anything with his smell. Feeling guilty. Like I should sleep with his shirt. Or spend hours lying on our closet floor. Surrounded by symbols of his life, behavior, smell.

But aversion is trauma. Not grief, loss, sorrow. Trauma thieving truth in evil. Stealing necessary moments of love. Two years, eight months of inner work eradicating maliciousness in my body of this villain. Or enough to enact ancient rite of breathing in odor of loved one gone. Bury face in pile of sleeves once yours. Prints, flowers, paisley. Bright as light. Like flowers in rainforest. Reduced to fabric. No longer anything but shirts taking up space. Hanging limply. Waiting for new life. Inhale. Image your smell. Known now only in memory. Memory clear. Bright like your shirts. Rite complete. Enough to continue into next ritual.

One of putting away, making room. Signaling something. An ending. Another completion. Of this place as our home with you. Your shirts, last of things cleaned out. Like socks still in dresser’s drawer. Waiting. Not for you to come back. But for us to move into space and time without your things. Knowing this time approaches. Is even here. Not reactive time. Which somehow is more understood by others. But slow response full of methodical, unknowing, receptive knowledge, and questioning.

Ask again, “How long do we keep the stuff?”

Find no answer in word or reason. Only in action. Shirt by shirt. Some tossed. Some given away. Some saved. Until box full. Sitting Shiva on family room ping-pong table. Marked “Tony’s life in shirts,” in black marker.

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Ignored for days. Until place my hands on box. Allow contents to radiate of dreams fulfilled, dreams incomplete, love lived, memories of all kinds, and something else. Not your smell, nor your smile, chuckle, silences, words. But prayer. Your prayers. For us to carry you within. Box, nice but…not necessary. A little too heavy for daily lifting. But your love, light. Dancing up and down our vagal nerves. Interacting within and with each other. Looking inward into self. Looking outward into world. Leaving box behind.

 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Priscilla du Preez. Check out her work on Unsplash. 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

I Touched Your Star Today

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I touched your star today. Not light seen off our deck back home. To the left a bit. East, shining on clear nights. Near moon. Clouds floating by. Glow steady since second night without you. Night after night, light there with me. Staring off into an unknown world. Brightness constant. Unwavering. Abiding. A planet, perhaps.

Remember last year here. At this trailhead. One thousand five hundred eighteen miles from home. Discovering memorial idea on bulletin board. One making sense to our life together. Sons grumbling agreement, “Just no recycled, milk-bottle bench with a plaque, Mom.”

Fill out form. Speak weekly with park ranger. Over phone. Via email. Each time forgetting to send money. Misplacing task in jumbled mind. Procrastinating. Until months later he says, “There are only stars left,”

“Perfect,” I say.

This year memorial mosaic greets me at same trailhead. Before entering the Sutherland. On Sabbath sojourn. Alone. Find you shining between strangers. Press fingertips against words spelling your name. Feel warm, glossy surface. Discover smooth terra-cotta edges. See stars falling in Milky Way heading for moon.

Leave you in good company. Walk well-worn path. Rushing spring stream forcing boots off. Wading through shocking coolness in day’s high heat. Toes gripping sand. Eyes following flow. Joined in water’s joy by children, dogs, and chuckling grandfathers. Told, “keep your boots off. You’ll just be taking them off again in a bit.”

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Heed advice as yearly visitor here. Continue barefooted. Sand wedging up between toes, tickling feet, linking heart to earth. Walk like girl I once was. Befriending old oaks in Illinois forest. Singing with gurgling, muddy stream pulled toward great river. Losing self in jack in the pulpits, violets, fallen oak leaves, smells of loam and humus. Mud caking shoes. Burrs joining jacket. Landing in hair.

Today climb up and up in bare feet. Sand clinging to sweat and sunscreen. Until official trail ends with signed notice. Walk on. Emboldened. Curious. As foothills meld into mountain. Remember field of poppies worth visiting. Retreat. Wade through stream. Rolled pant legs meeting splashing water.

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Scramble up another foothill. Wet, leaping legs collecting desert. Bare feet screaming in delight. Twirling at crest. Meeting saguaro at each turn. Land stretching out limbs in all directions.

Skip down. On right, take small path. Land in field of poppies. Yellow, mustard gold illuminating desert. Find another rocky, crusty path up. Climb knowing you are here. Not just on ceramic star. But here in this place we hiked every year. For twenty years. With my mother and cousins. As a couple. With our sons. First as babies on your back. Then as little ones dwarfed by towering cactuses reaching for our hands. Toward boys emerging from snow’s melting stream, soaking and hungry. Into grumbling teenagers plodding on path. Taking refuge in phones.

Flashes of halted hike on distant foothill years ago. Cell phone reception weaving in and out. Except for one spot on hill’s top. You, pressing phone to ear. Me, knowing. Walking family on to stream. Giving sons something to do. While you worked. Saving one man from taking his own life one thousand miles away. Memory silencing me. Except for stream within. Coursing with small bits of stress. Cortisol reminding me of that day’s fear.

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Shudder. Turn back. Join strangers on their own journey. Cross stream allowing water to make room for me seven, eight times total. Until sit on bench. Across from your star. Watch people stop. Find names. Take photos. Approach as others leave. Just me and your star. Touch creamy smoothness again. Still warm like you once were. Feel surrounding surface. Grainy like sand underneath feet. Star near moon like home. People passing like clouds. You, steady in your burn. Movement implied. Toward moon. Toward me.

Return your gazing bright. Catch star in heart. Wonder about your floating atoms bubbling with embrace, fire, and eternity. Remember poet’s words,”…choose something like a star…”

Leave park. Carrying you in my heart. Your brightness glowing not out there in hemisphere. Within. Your star never once beyond my reach. At infinite distance. Even though my hand extends for yours daily. “You’ll always be in my heart,” you told us so many times. But it is us who must find you in our hearts “to stay our minds on and be staid.”

At my mother’s house, find our sons laughing together. Parked at dining room table with laptops and notebooks. Discover mom reading in family room. Greeting me by wondering what we should make for dinner. Trip on piled seminary books falling off chair in guest room. Spill water on current assignment. Sigh with air saved from desert visit. Close eyes for a moment. See me twirling again. Spreading sand everywhere. Meeting love at each turn. Life stretching out limbs in all directions. I touched your star today, my love. And found my face lit with more smiles than tears.

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Mosaic in Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona. 

Quote from the poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost

Strength in Story, Trauma, Trauma recovery, Violence

Pinned

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I am young. In my very early twenties. Long, blonde locks cascade down my back flowing toward earth in gravitational pull. My natural hair color swinging back and forth as I walk. Covering up a bit of my curvy spine when let loose. Creating messes in my hair brush and shower drain.

Garnering me attention. Not wanted. Hurtful. Whistles, cat calls, and sexualized verbiage making my body tense up, harden like a brick. Avoiding certain streets at certain times of the day. Approaching working construction sites with stomach churning. Embracing winter. Muscles finally free within my wrappings. Years and years before I learn phrases describing my almost daily experience then:  Sexual harassment. Specifically street harassment.

Yesterday my friend from long ago days texts me. Asks me if I’d seen the article in a well-known newspaper. The one naming famous classical music people as sexual abusers. Reminding me of one. A guest opera director in our opera prep program at one of the top ten music schools in the country. A man who openly bragged about the thousand women he slept with. Taunting student listeners with his sexual promiscuity as the AIDS epidemic ramped up, eventually killing beloved friends involved in our program.

This man singles me out. Me, a chorister in La Boheme. Begging for a dinner.  Eating alone on the road so very lonely he said. Me, finally saying yes for the adventure of it. Being propositioned at the table. Turning him down. His retort delivered in French accent. Words meant to cut deep. “You know, you are not so very beautiful.”

Soon after this dinner maybe a day later in front of a crew of stage hands, he slams me against the brick wall of the theater’s backstage. Grabs my chin. Forces his lips on mine. Pins me with his body. Between solid brick and anger.

No one helps me.

At first stunned. Body shutting down. Mind not comprehending. Then frantic. Wiggling. Somehow pushing him away. Screaming something at him. Walking into the hallway. Wringing with adrenaline, anger, disgust, and contempt.

Later, maybe that day. Maybe the next. I call him out of rehearsal. Something not done. Ever. Not by a mere chorus girl.  Demanding a moment with a big director taking up his precious and well-paid time. But in the wide corridor of the performing arts complex I say, “What did you think you were doing?” My words echoing off the walls. Words I have not been taught but somehow absorbed into my sense of right and wrong. “You ask first. You ask and then I either say yes or I say no. BUT YOU ASK FIRST!”

It helps in this moment that I am taller than he is. But the power differential is not lost on me. I play now with fire. His strength is not in his height or physical prowess. It is in his ability to make or break my future career. We both know this fact. The incensed anger within me however pushes out into the atmosphere. This time, I scare him. He leaves me alone from then on.

Like most women, I grew up eating, sleeping, and breathing this communal disinterest in how often our bodies are commented on and attacked. As if our bodies are fully extracted from our hearts, souls, and minds. Not of our doing. But of others. A right of unasked for cultural passage. No matter how wonderful our homes were, are and our fathers, friends, and partners.

Culture teaches. It molds. Keeps the harassed and abused silent. Then and now. As victims push memories away. Forced into our stomach aches, migraines, depressions, and autoimmune disorders. Into our bodies because until recently there has been no place for these facts to be embraced in the air around us. Lifted up as truths to be told. Unless we are blessed with incredible therapists who understand what sexual trauma does to our bodies over time. If not healed. If ignored like the greater culture minimizes and ignores our pains, no matter the extent of the abuse.

Hearing the news about this man of long ago, brought from the depths of my sinews what it felt like to be pinned against that hard, rough, brick wall. The panic of my breath when forcibly shoved. The being alone or on my own in front of a slew of witnesses. The tightness of my jaw. The pain radiating in the back of my head. The many times since when stressed or angry feeling someone or something pinning me down. Pressing in on my capture. Escape not insured. Sensations whose origins I could not fully place ricocheting within me. Creating emotional and bodily havoc. Until now.

That’s what naming these wrongs out loud in any form of the public square allows us. The many of us. The more of us than others. No matter our birth sex, preferred pronoun, race, ethnicity, religion, neighborhood, town, state, region, income, education. No matter what. Except our category as human beings. Naming begins healing. Allowing us to feel, recognize, remember in our bodies once again these unasked for and unwanted sensations. Connecting sensations with emotions. Realizing how sensation and emotion work together, either for us or against us. But in doing healing work, freeing us from the perpetuated evil of what first occurred. Saying “no” to this ongoing, unasked for payment living in our bodies.

Healing builds strength. An upholding and embracing of inner and outer resources. Mine, my words. Even then before I knew I was a writer. My words providing safety. Breaking me free. Now joining the words of others. Making known to all the narrative of our tragically universal experience wrapped in story, verbal exchange, essay, and in communion with one another. Words tearing down this sexual harassment, abuse, and violence wall. Destroying its silence with language brick by brick by brick by brick.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

For more information on how the human body absorbs trauma see the following books I found on Tony’s shelves after his death:

Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief, Trauma recovery, Uncategorized

Feeling Good Feeling Guilty

 

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My friend, a pastor of many years and talents, told me something. Wisdom strongly spoken in soft words. Repeated a minimum of three times. Three times I remember in the intense aftermath of Tony’s death. Each time sitting on our front stoop in widow’s black. Away from despair’s chaos. Smashing the phone against my right ear. As if I cannot hear.

My friend said I will experience both sorrow and joy during grief’s extended stay.  Capable of two contrary moods even in this condition. Frozen sensations in emotion and body holding court in my shallow breath. Sorrow and joy breaking free from time to time. Occurring in oscillation within seconds of each other. My feelings running a curving, switch back mountain path. Driving lost on a series of one-ways. Playing one of my sons’ video games. Grief holding sorrow and joy close in a paradox of extremes.

He was right. In the beginning sorrow dug deep. Joy jumped high. To the outer limits of these internal experiences. As if using mind altering substances. A more intense version of the coffee-caffeine-red-wine cycle of my twenties.

Glimmers of joy or a wave of feeling good or even slightly good hit. I felt relief. Sort of like having a really bad headache, finding pain reliever, popping two in my mouth. Fifteen minutes later sensing an easing of contracting muscles.

In grief not lasting. A few minutes later, maybe even seconds, spinning down again. Accelerating back toward the starting point. Returning to a frozen dark hole. Believing I couldn’t feel good right now. Or ever again. Tony gone. Soul pining. Sons’ in pain.  Extended family gasping. Who was I to feel good even for a few stolen moments?

Guilt sprouting from a flash of transient relief. A flash unrecognizable at first. Relief already foreign in just a few days’ time. A stranger in pain’s palette. Joy’s occasional visit yo-yoing my heart through an old-fashioned clothes wringer. Squeezed back and forth. Cranked up and down. Wrung in and out.

Fleeting waves occurring while driving. Bringing harmful distraction to a new height. Alone always. My inner self allowed out in the closeness of my car. With only the music blaring. The same song over and over again for months. From a CD found in Tony’s car. Cranked the moment Paul pealed out the door on school days. Squashed seconds before he climbed back in hungry and tired.

Guilt in living. Not saving. Not dying. Here loving two precious children. Closer to men than boys. Finding flashes of our family’s future hidden here and there. Momentary smiles. A shared laugh. Whispered, I love you’s. 

Me, often walking wooded paths alone. Step by step. Accepting crunchy, fallen leaves sweeping across my sauntering feet. Fall’s sunshine spilling on my upturned, searching face. Listening to the gurgle of a running stream heading toward winter.

A myth, my guilt was. One of trauma’s many. A way of making sense of an incomprehensible day. My brain getting it wrong. Needing a new draft of the story. Or two or three. Rewrites occurring weekly in my therapist’s office. Sitting on her sagging, puffy, brown couch. The tick-buzz of the EMDR machine keeping time with my slowly, healing heart.

Acknowledging after a time I need fleeting moments of relief. If I am to survive Tony’s sudden, trauma-laced, death. Allowing tenacity’s strength to return. Reemerge. Live into widowhood with love from before and now. Choosing life as Moses tells the Israelites. For my children’s sake. For mine as well. Finding strength to continue. Rebuild. Thrive.

Certain my late, EMDR-trained, husband approves. Pushing me to do so through mountains of molecules separating life from death. Grief’s guilt for me, an evil. Like all evils, not easily eradicated. Exorcised out again and again in the light of God’s new day. Sorrow, in time, becoming momentary.  Bowing to the light. Night passing into morning. Joy strengthening. Joy exchanging places with sorrow. Joy here to stay.

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EMDR: Short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. A healing technique trained clinicians use with survivors of life’s many traumas.

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Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live (NRSV).”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Faith, Grief, Thanksgiving, Trauma recovery

Invitation Home

 

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You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

The mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

-Isaiah 55: 12 (NIV)


Isaiah 55 contains an invitation home.  The prophet speaks for God to a dispersed people in exile longing for their homeland, way of life, loved ones, peace, and God. God’s invitation for a redemptive journey from forced exile includes a celebration so great that all of nature waits to erupt in praise and thanksgiving.

My sons and I live in an exile of sorts. It’s called trauma. Its name is grief. Sudden loss catapulted us into a heart-ripping wilderness, a vast and unfamiliar terrain. We found ourselves transported into this emotional and physiological desert, far from our previous internal identities and the externally tangible home we once knew.

Day by day I accept God’s invitation out of this exile for myself and for my sons. We travel home together along a path toward healing, joy, and peace. Our map however, like any human trauma course, shows a lengthy journey with many forced stops along the way. Yet countless people pray for us, feed us, teach us how to survive panic attacks, and heal our minds’ need to flash back to the first moments of our banishment. These many loving acts are like shouts along the race route of our marathon. Cheers for each milestone we conquer. Songs of support when we want to give up. Sounds which lead us, through others’ innate human joy and accumulated peace, back to our own. All raised up for us by a multitude of modern prophets repeating God’s invitation whether they themselves believe in God or not.

This Thanksgiving I give quiet thanks for all our figurative mountains, hills, and trees. They have surrounded us in our unasked for expedition these last fifteen months.  We call our varied and beautiful landscape not mountain, hill, or tree but family, friend, pastor, therapist, teacher, classmate, school, doctor, stranger, faith community, colleague, and neighbor. Their collective energy to me now is as glorious a view as the sight of any majestic mountain bursting into song.

 

*Photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com