Category Archives: life and death

Between Two Worlds

Spiritual Awakening

I live the depth of my life in two layered worlds.  I have been deeply formed by the Christian message and the life of Jesus.  My life has been dedicated to my conscious and active choice to model my living after this great sage.  It is also true that I have journeyed to find fellow travelers seeking authentic relationship to the Universe, and that journey has moved me beyond Christianity into the broad world of enlightenment and spiritual awakening.

These worlds, for a time, seemed quite separate.  I couldn’t find seekers in my church communities and it was hard to find devotees of Jesus exploring other traditions and spiritual teachers.  These worlds have been coming closer together inside my own journey for the past two years.

It started when I began studying a Hindu meditation style and wondering about what a guru was.  Quite clearly in my meditation, Jesus reminded me that my dedication to him made him my guru and there was an invitation to go deeper.  And so I did.  Jesus and I had been in a strained relationship for years, even though I still modeled my life choices after his example and teaching, so I made amends, got back in my Bible and started to pray.

The experience for me was like the colors after a rain storm.  The text was vibrant in a way it hadn’t been before.  The teachings were wise beyond any reading of them I had done before.  I had eyes to see the meaning now.  I had ears to hear.  I can’t explain how profoundly those scriptures, that had been living in my bones for years, transformed into teaching that explained the process of spiritual awakening.

The Lord’s Prayer was one of those texts that blossomed before my new eyes.  I could see that if I held Jesus in the light of enlightened spiritual teacher, everything changed.  I wondered why everyone didn’t appreciate Jesus more?  I don’t know about you, but I can have intelligent conversation just about anywhere about a teaching of Buddha without fear, but Jesus seems to trigger defensiveness.  It occurred to me that I’ve never had anyone say to me that if I didn’t believe in Buddha’s teachings I’d go right to hell.  Unfortunately, many Christians have stated that if I don’t believe in Jesus, that’s exactly what would happen.  It’s so sad.  That kind of judgement masks the message of love that I feel is the only reality of the Universe.

For these next several weeks I will be offering a daily devotional looking at the intersection of spiritual awakening and the teachings of Jesus as found in the Lord’s Prayer.  Open your eyes anew to the vibrant and relevant teachings of Jesus.  Join me as I knit the worlds together and open our sight and hearing.

The devotionals start tomorrow February 28th.  Please Sign Up to read and pray along.

I Might be Ice

Life Cycle/Water CycleLast week in our Spirit Play class things started a little haphazardly.  I was running late for one and my teacher friends were running even later than me.  There was a little chaos as we gathered in the hallway together and then moved into the classroom in a big bunch to sit on the rug.  Somehow everyone decided to sit in one corner instead of on their square.  Name tags were missing.  None of us were “ready” to begin class.  Someone brought over a book.  Someone wanted to sit on my lap.

One persistent child has been asking for weeks if we would please talk about death today.  I have been telling her that in some way, all stories of change are stories about life and death, but she did not want to deal with metaphor.  She wanted to talk, straight up, about death.  This was our second week of life cycle stories so I assured her that yes, we would talk about frogs today…and death.   Before I could get us organized, another child piped up and wistfully said that she really wished she was Jesus so when she gets dead, she will come alive again.  And that’s all it took.  The conversation was out of the mouth.  Someone chimed in that they know that, yes, all things do die.  Someone else wondered what happens after someone dies.  Another child said that things die, but maybe not her.  Yet another child insisted that their mother told her that everything else might die, but not her.  I smiled amused and echoed that yes, everything does die.  That’s true.  And then, someone wondered what we would be when we came back.  Would we be ice?

Now this question captured me.  A few years ago when our cat was killed, my son asked to hear stories about kids who had died and come back.  I did a lot of research on near death experiences and so that reading entered my mind at the thought of coming back after death.  When I talk to my kids about death and they ask this question about coming back we trace the mystery….no one knows, but some people think we are just gone when we die, others think we come back again maybe in a new life.  But ice?  I had never thought of coming back as ice.  So we thought about it together.

“Maybe” I said.  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me likely that we are indeed ice at some point in our lives and after our deaths.  “Did you know”, I said “that your body is mostly made of water?  Actually, if you live in St. Paul and drink water from the sink, most of your body is made out of the Mississippi River.”  The room exploded with exclamations.  “No!  We aren’t the river!  What?!”  “Yes”, I said “We are the river and that water moves through our bodies all the time.  Was there ice on the river this winter?”  The children said yes there was ice on the river.  “Then it’s probably a sure thing that some of the water that has made your body was ice before it was part of you and will be ice again after you die.”  Again, loud exclamations erupted.  “No way!  That can’t be true!  I don’t believe that!”  It was a delightful exploration that ended as we found our way to our squares marveling at the amazing things that were just said.

This reflection has sat with me this week.  I often contemplate breath in my own practice.  The breath is a transient part of our body and aliveness.  We share the breath with all things breathing that have ever lived on our planet.  The words for spirit and breath are the same in many languages and the action and metaphor of the breath can hold deep meanings for our reflection….but water.  I don’t think of myself often as a water cycle, but I am.  Water is coming and going through me all the time.  It is a resource that is finite on our planet and shared among all living things.  The water was yesterday part of the river and today is nourishing me and then will move back into the river, be evaporated into the sky, fall as rain on a pond and nourish the frog and the fish and the plants.  It makes me wonder as much as meditation on the breath, where my edges are?  If I am water am I everywhere at once?  Am I the oceans?  Am I the clouds?  Who am I to feel separate and alone if we are all one wave together or one fog or one sheet of ice?  What an interesting version of eternal life.  How do I care for the water in me, for the water of our planet so it is pure and healthy and not degraded and fouled?  How do I honor the connection between us that is so much more than the difference?  I am contemplating this as I drink in the Mississippi River, as I walk in the rain and look for the greening of spring, as I look into your eyes.

How do the Waters Open?

I went to my first Bat Mitzvah last week and was moved by the service and the many messages within the readings and Torah.  The part that I keep talking about, though, was a midrash that the Rabbi shared.  Midrash for those unfamiliar with it are stories written as a way to work with and fill in the Torah text.  This particular story was written to illustrate the parting of the waters as the people fled slavery and Pharaoh’s army.

Go Forward

Go Forward

The story goes that God told the people to go forward.  And then they came to the water.  God did not part the water for them to show them the way through however.  God said, “Go forward.” So the leader of the people, even though it may have seemed crazy, even though he maybe didn’t really understand why went forward.  He walked into the water.

He walked in and God still said, “Go forward” so into the water he went, deeper and deeper.  Finally the water was up to his nostrils and he was terrified that he would drown, but he kept walking in.  And that my friends, that faith is what parted the waters.  The practice of listening to the command to go forward and the action of following, even to the point of risking one’s life is what engaged God and parted the waters.  I don’t know about you, but I am seeing in every story, the story of transformation.

I admit that even though I have been through this process countless times, even though I mostly live in a profound trust of the messages I receive from Beyond; this weekend I felt like I was up to my chin in the water and cursing.  I was afraid down to by bones.  I could not see how anything might open up.  I was trying to look over my shoulder to see if there was any way at all to go back.  But there was none.  No tracks, and a force ready to re-enslave me is all I saw.  And when I looked forward all I saw was endless water enveloping me.  I was sure I was going to drown.

And I’m teetering there.  Maybe I’m survival floating; remembering that even in the waters I can hold my breath for a bit and then go deeper.  I want to move forward, so I’ll keep doing so until something opens up or I drown.  Wisdom says that something will open up one way or another, even if I can’t anticipate it.  Even if everything looks shades of impossible.

Walking through the Mighty Waters

As a part of my daily practice, I have been sitting with verses from the Christian tradition in the morning after meditation.  This morning I was sitting with a few verses from a Psalm and one verse from the Signs Gospel.

Psalm 77:17-21  The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were convulsed;  the very deep quaked as well.  Clouds streamed water;  the heavens rumbled;  Your arrows flew about;  Your thunder rumbled like wheels;  lightening lit up the world;  the earth quaked and trembled.  Your way was through the sea, Your path through the mighty waters;  Your tracks could not be seen.  You led Your people like a flock in the care of Moses and Aaron.

Signs Gospel 19:17  So they took Jesus who carried the cross for himself, out to the place called Skull (known in Hebrew as Golgatha).

It always amazes me what captures me when I put two seemingly unrelated things together, how they inform and speak to one another.  This is not the first time I have had reference to the Exodus and Jesus’ crucifixion show up together and I have found deep meaning in reflecting on those two events.  Both are concrete stories illustrating transformation.  The Israelites are led out of Egypt, out of slavery and bondage into a barren wilderness.  It is here that they are provided each day the food and water they need.  It is here where they complain wondering if this wandering is better than the bondage they came from.  Moses himself never realizes the promised land of milk and honey.  I wonder for Jesus as he entered knowingly into the violence that would take his life, what his manna was in that wilderness.  The Israelites had a cloud to guide them by day and a pillar of fire by night.  What guided Jesus and gave him the strength to pass through his own barren wilderness to the cross and then into return to the Holy?  For those who believe in resurrection and transformation what must it have been like to be released by death from Jesus’ body?  Would it feel like liberation into another wilderness?  Would it feel like the fullest essence of milk and honey?

The verses from the Psalm this morning caught my attention imagining the effect on the water of seeing God.  That God was leading through this chaos, this place of creation leaving no visible tracks speaks to me about the invisible forces that move in and around us when the Sacred happens in and to us.  Everything has changed, but nothing seems to have changed.   This is another of those places that I envision as possibly terrifying, but also maybe exhilarating.  It is that same infinite point of life/death.  And in the middle of this chaos, I see Jesus, carrying his cross himself, walking consciously with love.  It makes me wonder, what is my cross?  Is it a burden and a punishment as I was taught or the threshold into milk and honey and liberation so profound that I can’t see it or imagine it?  It may just be a mystery that cannot be put into any kind of words, a way to say yes, a way to be authentic no matter the cost.  Tonight I just want to stand still for a moment, to choose again the mystery I carry.  I just want to be drenched by the waters and feel completely alive in the quaking deep and the streaming waters and the lightening.  Tonight I will let these images and words play in me and dream the trackless path till I rise in the morning to face another day of wonder and challenge.

In the Gap

Sometimes our inner leanings take us to difficult places.  It is extremely challenging to feel led in the exact opposite direction you expected and out beyond where you can imagine.  What am I doing?  Can this be right?  I know that the process of coming clear is not something I arrive at one time.  I move into that space of trust and then I get scared again and move back out.

Clarity

Clarity

This is the middle space of our transformation when we have seen something new, or tasted something that so entices and awakens us that we are utterly changed and incapable of doing what we have always done.  But we are new in this place and have not learned the new ways.  There is no going back.  When you have tasted that fruit, you cannot un-know what is now a part of you.

It hurts to struggle against the new vision; it hurts to try to be who we were.  And yet, we are blind and stumbling.  We are in the darkness trying to adjust.

I have been engaged in conversation with good friends around redeeming our shadows and the monstrous forms they take on when our small selves risk surrender and the invitation into more.  Our shadows, of course, are only broken bits of us begging to come back into the circle of our love and compassion.  I have been working with Scarcity.  She and I have been sitting with one another trying to come to terms.  I am feeding her with every kind of sincere generosity I can muster.  I am trying to let go.  I am laughing.

She is very worried about the path I’m walking.  She is very concerned about my survival.  She is wise.  I won’t survive.  This form is morphing into something else that I cannot envision.  What I know is the inner leading that has tasted something wild and sweet is driving me out of all convention.  I am being led by something much larger than myself and It wants all of me without exception.  And I am consumed with this unruly desire to give all of me to It.

Yes to Life.  Yes, even though I am aware I have no idea the particulars of that consent.  I only know the call and it is taking all of me to follow.

Yes to What?

What is that?!

What is that?!

I had a discussion with a friend about the creative process and the idea that Life comes in all forms, even if at first it looks ugly or unsettling.  Sometimes what we turn away from holds a profound gift that we never get to if we are unwilling to look deeply, look past appearances and see what might be there for us.  The process of choosing Life is a parallel to the creative process as our engagement with Spirit can quickly move from what we thought we knew into a more complicated, wilder, more dangerous feeling arena.  Holding with grief, pain and sorrow is uncomfortable.  We would rather get their gifts of wisdom without actually having to touch them, feel them or hear their stories.  But they don’t give their wisdom so freely.  You have to be present to win.  And not just in the room either.  They demand our complete attention at least for a time.

Heart

Heart

This is also true of those beautiful versions of Life that we say yes to.  At first it may feel easy to say yes.  There is at least some enticement or attraction.  But even this may feel just as terrifying as facing sorrow.  The beauty too comes in inexplicable and unexpected forms.  It can be profoundly disruptive.  One session with my healer, we worked on the pericardium energy channel.  We talked about what my pericardium might look like (This is the essential sac around the heart that keeps out infection).  I imagined mine as more of a masonry wall then a flexible membrane and part of my work was to dismantle that wall and free up the beautiful and soft covering that kept my heart safe, but would allow me to feel everything pressed up against it.

This was something I could say yes to!  What a beautiful and lovely vision.

And then there was the gritty work breaking up the wall; piece by piece with a heavy maul, and my bare hands, and my broken fingernails.

And then there was the terrifying prospect of feeling decades of pain I had shut out.

And then the even more terrifying prospect of feeling a new sense of ecstasy and belovedness.

This is what I was totally unprepared for.  This shocking and familiar sense of belonging that I have experienced in brief transforming bursts before is beyond my ability to explain.  But now…. now it was infused with a deeper, more profound love than I had ever felt or imagined.  It came wrapped in a form I was totally confused by.  I had no idea even how to say yes and to tell you the truth, the power of that ecstasy probably said the yes for me.  It was a baffling, stumbling and clumsy yes.  But worth staying engaged with, worth sitting in the middle of disbelief and anguish with, worth the risk of my life falling apart.  It felt like the only Truth and the way Home.  It takes that much to move completely into the process…to give yourself over in surrender to what makes no logical sense, what feels impossible, to what Spirit is moving through you.  It takes everything.  What is calling you to surrender?  Are you brave enough to engage it and say yes?

Winter Solstice 2015- Darkness is my Mother

2015-12-21 10.51.46

It is the holy of holy days.  It is the day we wish would never come.  It is the long night we wish we didn’t have to sit through.  The light is in short supply.

I sit through this darkness, and lose track of my daytime senses.  I let myself dissolve into the void.  It is the coming apart before creation.  It is the letting go of everything I know or thought I knew.  It is the absolute blindness of not knowing what may happen next, or if, really, there is anything next.  To trust in this moment is a stretch, feels scary, feels like dying.  And I choose to nestle further into this womb space that feels like a grave which it is; both.  This is when practice is essential.  This time when I lose myself to the darkness is the exact time when all my hours of meditation, all my yearning prayers, all my striving and hoping come into a still and profound silence.  In this space may the practice meditate me, the prayers pray me, and the stillness hold this present infinity…ever moving and motionless between the breath.

In the middle of this darkness I choose my own undoing.  I unravel my self.  I don’t need it here in the middle of this breath or the whole Universe breathing.  I need only the emptiness which is the fullness of everything.  It is here encircling me, nurturing me like the fertile soil, like the fecund sea.  I give my self into that liminal space.  The darkness is my mother.  She gently destroys all that I cling to.  She strips me and prepares me for birth, for creation.  I can’t take anything with me but this soul force and so I open my hands ready for everything I can never be prepared for.  I let go.

Sit with me tonight and be undone.  Sit with me tonight and wait for the darkest of the dark to envelop us.  Sit with me through the hours stretched out seemingly endlessly.  Sit until the darkness turns, the earth turns, my heart turns.  Until the dawn, which has always come, proves herself trustworthy again.  I cannot see her from here.  The darkness is all there is.  How will you open to the darkness?  How will you wait for the turning?

The work- yes to life

Crack in the Rock

As I wandered more fully into my work to release old pain and open myself to joy, things slowly began to shift.  Over months I filled my journal, paid attention to my dreaming, walked and practiced yoga and saw my healer and my Spiritual Director.   It was like tracing a line back into the shadows or down into deep waters.  How far down would we go?  Where would it take me?  Would I be able to find my way back out?  Did I really want to do this?  I mean, I had lived without a full experience of joy for a long time.  Was it worth the level of work that I felt was waiting here for me?  Ultimately, in the wondering and the fear of this, I had to choose yes, choose life again and again and again.  The only way through the dark is through.  If you skip it, or run backwards and change your mind, you will never know and you will never get to the other side of this moment.  And let me tell you, it’s terrifying.  As a Spiritual Director myself, I can tell you that the journey of transformation has a cycle like the seasons.  One must surrender to the dying in order for the new birth to come.  Things must fully decay before their energy is available to grow anything new.  I know this.  And I know that the law of impermanence means that everything, whether coming into life or letting things go, will shift and change and be something else quite soon.  Nothing lasts….not pain, nor joy.  To be available to both requires a certain flow or flexibility.

I know all that.  But when it’s me going through the dying, I forget as fast as anyone and think that if I walk into pain, that I might get stuck there forever.  And when it’s me going through the joy, I always forget and hope it will last forever.  In this case I started entering my own surrendering to death…the death of a certain way of being that kept me unavailable to joy.  Except that being immersed in that process I found out that I actually wasn’t available to pain either.  There was a day when I realized that this was a choice to feel everything or to feel nothing.  There isn’t a filter where you get to say I’m only going to experience purely joy and sorrow and broken heartedness are a thing of the past.  The more you feel the joy, the more you can feel everything else.  Saying yes to this…to more life, this is risky.  This opens you up, to yourself, to others, to Spirit and these relationships are almost always disruptive eventually.

I met someone who was telling me about her fiancé.  She had been in an abusive relationship before because she thought she needed that kind of protection to be safe.  She said that this partnership wasn’t safe, but it was fully alive.  Safety is its own kind of death.  For me, choosing relationships and allies who could hold some perspective for me as I went further into darkness was vital.  A beacon in the confusion of walking blind, a safety line as I sank down further and further into the unknown.  Small moments of connection, of love, care and concern were my fuel and my inspiration in the descent.  They gave me the courage to keep saying yes.  Who are the allies who give you the courage to say yes to life?  What gifts have they given you?  How do you express gratitude for their presence?