“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” William Blake
It’s true that only a few months ago I had thought those trees, three in particular, were only green things that stood in the way—daring to block my view of those sloping mountains just off on the horizon. “Yes,” I thought, “They’ll have to go.” It was early May and we’d just bought our new wilderness camp perched high on the side of our mountain. The trees had not grown in their leaves yet and those mountains were still in full view of my dancing heart.
I was already imaging how it would be: Yes, of course, I’d create a special ritual and ask permission to take them down. But, I surmised, there certainly would be no problem with their agreement as I’d promise to use them as firewood. Yes, neatly glossing over the permission part, it was all quite settled—at least in my mind.
Little did I know the trees were smiling.
Indeed, for over the summer months, something happened. The first time was in my hammock looking up at that wondrous tree, the one from which the foot of my hammock hung. It was a bright glorious day and I was belting out Sing Allelu and wondering how George Washington Carver knew how to listen to that little flower he’d always worn in the lapel of his scruffy jacket. You have to love it enough, he had said. Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.
So, why not? I thought. In that moment, feeling like I couldn’t love that tree any more, I closed my eyes and gathered all the love I was feeling and then silently asked the tree if it might share with me. Soon, it felt something like I just dissolved as I was taken gently inside. During my visit, the tree showed me how to enter into the soul of the world, the spirit side of things, right here in this wondrous creation of the most Holy.
Suddenly, I knew, not just that all was alive in this most sacred way, but that it was truly possible to be in relationship with our sacred Mother in a very real, visceral way. I started taking my drum and rattle on walks and found myself singing to the trees, the stones, the leaves, the dragonflies, and sometimes, when I paused and closed my eyes, I could swear I heard them singing back. And every time, without fail, I would find myself restored, held and loved in ways I seldom even realized were needed. One day a song escaped from my heart onto the wind, one I’d never heard before, and I knew it’d been given to me to take and use in my ritual and healing work.
And then one day in late August, looking out from our porch through the trees at the edge of those sloping mountains on the horizon, I shuttered in horror as my eyes fell on those three I had marked for cutting. Oh my, please forgive me. I love you so. Thank you for being here. Thank you for providing a beautiful window through which those sloping mountains are made even more wondrous.
Yes, I have always believed I was one with all in a way that lived just beyond my understanding. But now, I know I am one with all . . . in a way that pulses inside my singing, dancing, heart because . . .
a tree taught me to love enough.
Below is a picture from last May and then two taken around sunset over the summer months…
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m writing today because I don’t want to be such a friend—most especially to the young man who struggled passed me in the park today. He was jogging, trailing behind a large group of other teens, but he wasn’t smiling or enjoying the camaraderie with the others. His body was twisted and he was leaning forward, looking down, and trying hard to keep up. Still reeling from recent events: the unpresidential debate, Trump testing positive for COVID-19, his calculated, defiant, act of removing his mask on the balcony carelessly exposing the White House staff to infection, I found myself wondering what place that young man would have in the new America—yes, the new America if Trump were successful in declaring a fraudulent election and were then reinstated by the Supreme Court.
I suspect this struggling young man would be relegated to the same place where all the others deemed to be dispensable would go, like the disabled reporter whom Trump mocked, people of color, Jews, and, most especially, anyone daring to express a dissenting view in this new Trump regime. I could imagine that, as part of the banishment, each would be branded with the appropriate scarlet insignia: “loser,” “disaster,” or most recently, “monster,” given to Senator Kamala Harris after the Vice–Presidential debate.
A stretch, you say? Just a cursory look at the key steps would–be dictators follow to come to power in a democracy, combined with the most basic understanding of narcissism, paints a clear picture that is as unmistakable as it is terrifying. And you can’t say we weren’t warned. Donald Trump has given us the true deal since that first debate moderated by Megan Kelly. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse to, now, simply dangerous because now he is unabashedly calling out white supremacists, with neo–Nazi leanings, like the Proud Boys, to “stand by.” Dare we imagine for what?
It certainly isn’t hard to see how we got here. This isn’t about political ideology or public policy. No, this is about a man, largely protected by his own party, who’s been allowed to progressively flaunt dictatorial bullying behaviors: controlling the public narrative, declaring all differing opinions “fake,” showing no true empathy, flaunting established norms and rules of operation, displaying little respect for authority to name a few. And many of his fellow Republicans have consistently looked away when he’s acted most predictably: the indiscriminate lying; the degradation of others, the public mocking and name calling—behaviors that would be deemed unacceptable by most in any ten–year–old.
And, so, we shouldn’t be surprised with the results: an inability to distinguish the reality of what is from desired fabrications; to hear the cries of small children taken from their parents and left in cages; to witness the shameless cowering to dictators like Putin while disparaging true heroes like John McCain; or his refusal to denounce white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups like the Proud Boys because simply—they worship him.
If I put on my mental health hat or dawn my ministerial robes, I can truly feel compassion for him . . . and for the Proud Boys and others like them. Anyone able to see past the exterior to what is essential will find there an abyss of sorrow, rage and tears. But that cannot sway us, in the moment, to allow or excuse behaviors that are hateful and harmful without calling them out. And, let’s not forget, that we, you and I, are not immune from culpability. Collectively, we’ve participated in this society where we’ve allowed a great chasm of inequity to separate us one from another, leaving many behind, creating ripe conditions for a would–be savior–autocrat. And, sadly, along the way, many of us of privilege have continued to see–but–not–see how systemic racism has progressively continued to marginalize our African American brothers and sisters—the results of which are now being laid bare on our streets as, surely, they must. For the human spirit in search of fairness, justice and equality will not be silenced for long. It will rise up and, rest assured, will ultimately prevail.
None of this is news! It’s all being said every day on news outlets and on social media. What’s new is that I, a clergy member, am now speaking out to join others sounding the alarm. Why? We know that it was clergy among those who remained largely silent when Hitler was coming to power. Yes, clergy. So, particularly for those of us of faith, it’s important for us to lead, following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraging all who can to follow, today, and to join in the great march to that most sovereign representation of our democracy—the ballot box. Then, critically, we must join together to address those economic and systemic injustices festering in that vast, stark, abyss that continue to scream out for equity and healing. It’s the only way we can have any hope of becoming one America again.
I’m so grateful for the young man who jogged passed me today. I was reminded of who it is who suffers most in an autocratic regime: the “so–called” weak and imperfect, the marginal, unimportant, the imperfect in measuring up to the standards of narcissistic perfectionism. He reminded me that there is nothing religious or spiritual about seeking to bask, or hide, in the light while the shadow of darkness is quickly shrouding our very existence.
So, today this clergywoman made a silent vow to my friend who passed me in the park to speak out and to be heard. I encourage all of you to do the same in the ways that feel most appropriate for you. It’s our last hope because Trump’s call to the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” crossed a line—the last line clearly separating our cherished democracy from his autocratic rule.
Do it for the children. Do it for all who would be left behind. Do it for that stranger you never knew who hobbled by me on the trail—a young man, a little different from the rest, who struggled to keep up. Now your friend as well as mine . . .
Then one day I knew if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. God is everywhere. Alice Walker
For many summers now I’ve written about our wonderful return to our favorite spot in the Maine wilderness my husband and I first discovered some twenty–five years ago. And every year I’ve rejoiced in what we’ve received.
This year was different—yet equally wonderful, perhaps even more so, in a way I could not have anticipated. This year, I was called to return the love that the Spirit of this place has so generously shared with us over the years—for when we excitedly walked into our special place, my heart stopped . . . and was left dangling in my breath. A violent storm had gone through. Limbs and downed trees were scattered around the site and, most painfully, two large beautiful trees lay uprooted and still across the waters of our sacred pond.
Yes, this is the wilderness. Still, my heart broke for the Spirit of this place. As I sat at the water’s edge, I thought about how our Mother is simply reflecting back to us through fires, droughts and floods, tornadoes, storms and hurricanes our long lack of disregard for her, our pervasive inability to live as if every stone, tree, and animal is our kin in this sacred web of life—and our seemingly innate failure to recognize that when any part of this web, tenderly cradling the Soul of the World, is torn . . . we all bleed. Yes, certainly, it is tragic and devastating when large portions of our human population are impacted but, if we are all truly connected in the great web, are all a part of the Soul of the World as the ancient ones have told us, in the end, can any part be regarded as more important than another?
So, I asked myself, “What can I do, here, today?” And I instantly remembered that harmony can only be restored through reciprocity—a willingness to engage in the great dance of give and take with all of life. For so long, this special place had filled, healed and enlivened my soul. Now it was my turn . . . to give back, to merge with the Spirit of this place to help restore it through the offer of my love—that devotional love not contingent upon weather conditions or circumstance; that love that is so wide, so still, so infinite that it can touch the sand, stones, rocks; the marsh grasses, plants, trees; the ants, fish, birds, and speak to them in their language. A love that permeates yet lives outside the confines of time and space, and yet is more real, more visceral, more eternally present in each moment than we could ever fathom—yes, a love fully capable of making our arm bleed if we cut a tree.
And so, I sat quietly at the edge of the pond and sent my prayers on the windy breath of the Great Spirit into the Spirit of this place. I called to the Spirit of the turtle, who has long been the guardian of these waters, but he did not emerge. I thanked him for his long service over the years and sent prayers of hope that he might be well. I thanked the Spirit of the two large downed trees for having kept watch over the pond for so many years. I thanked the Spirit of the water for providing a resting place for the trees whose Spirits can now seek new forms over time. I imagined my love as a sacred stone dropping into the center of the pond sending out a soothing balm and, soon, I heard myself singing . . . a kind of lullaby known only to the Mother . . . and my body gently rocked as my soul merged with the Spirit of this place.
I sat for a long time and was slowly aware, beyond my sadness, of a deeper more tender love emerging than I had ever felt for this place. For now, we were silent together in the fullness of love’s reciprocity where there is no beginning or end. And some sense of completeness filled my soul.
“Thank you for this blessed opportunity to serve you, to love you, as you have so loved me and given to me all these years.”
And as we walked out for the last time this year, my heart felt light as it continued to be sung . . . and suddenly I could hear the song of the stones, trees and dragonflies echoing back in reply . . . and, together, our song filled the Soul of the World.
And I was glad.
Below are pictures – the first of our beloved pond and the rest from the Pines Lodge where we are blessed to stay each year. Enjoy!
Since acquiring our camp, now loving called 3 Feathers, I’ve shared some of those oh–so blissful moments—and there have been many. I’ve basked in the practices connecting me to the soul of the world. Ahhhhhh . . . It’s all been quite idyllic. But then, just a few days ago . . . enter the spider in the outhouse hole.
We were just back from a few days away and I made my way out to the outhouse. I lifted the cover of our new wooden maple toilet seat (who says we don’t have class😊?) and was startled to see a fine display of spider webs wrapped around the edges of the seat. Hummmm, I thought. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to get a stick and wipe them away.” But then my mind went to, “But what if the spider is still in there?” Thinking it may not appreciate being peed on, I imagined that my bare bottom would be in real danger! Yes . . . what’s really important shows up in entirely different ways in the wilderness😊
But remembering that we’re all one in the soul of the world and I am, after all, exploring ways to connect with all of our nature friends in this grand creation, I decided to have a conversation with the spider.
“Okay, dear spider, I really don’t want to tear down your beautiful webs but, you see, I have to pee . . .” Wait!! Am I really trying to have a rational conversation with a spider??? OMG!!! Pause . . . breathe . . . let me think about this. No. The rational mind won’t work. This is going to require my full arsenal of piercing–through–the–veil tricks!
Okay. So, I decided to find a place to settle and meditate . . . and was a bit surprised to find myself starting in the same way. “Dear spider, I really don’t want to tear down your beautiful webs but you see, I, and others, have to use the outhouse. So, (and I can feel my resolve crescendoing now) I need to tell you that if I see you again, I will offer you a stick to crawl on so I can put you outside . . . but then . . . I will sweep away your beautiful webs. This is your warning!”
So much for unconditional, soul of the world, be–one–with–the–spider consciousness building . . . 😊
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that answer the biggest questions. Maybe that’s why, even when they’re right in front of us, they can often be overlooked, seem too simplistic, even frivolous. And, sometimes, those answers can even come before the questions. Such a time happened just recently on wilderness walks with my grandchildren—something we hadn’t been able to do since the pandemic hit. First was with my five–year–old grandson I affectionately call One Sock.
“Grandma! Let’s go look for treasures!” he said bounding down the slope of our wilderness camp with his special treasure bag close in hand. “Look at all these acorns Grandma! Can we put them on the mantel?” The fireplace mantel has become our designated place for all those special objects found on the land.
“Of course, One Sock,” I answered and then bent down to whisper softly in his ear, “But, did you remember to ask permission?” His wide bright eyes shot up at me and with a voice filled with such sweet tenderness, full of expectation, looked down at those acorns, waiting still and silent in this small hand, and said, “Do you want to come with us acorns? Do you want to be on the mantel?” And in less than half a second, “Yes! Grandma! They said yes!” And off we went again in search of the next treasure, and the next, always repeating the same ritual we’d done so many times in the wonderful wilds of his own back yard. And, soon, he was struggling to haul his small bag filled with all those treasures.
A little later, my eight–year–old granddaughter, whom I call Sweetness, and I were walking down our steep winding wilderness driveway. She wanted to hold hands as we walked and just the feeling of her small hand in mine was enough to make me blink back tears. It had been so long. We strolled slowly as she just chatted about this and that. Didn’t matter to me. I just wanted time to stand still.
Then, suddenly, “Look at all these pine cones, Grandma! Can we bring some to the mantel?”
“Should we ask permission, Sweetness?”
My dear granddaughter, now a little older and more wise to the ritual, said with much assurance, “Grandma! I’ve already asked all the pine cones around this whole place and they’ve all already said ‘yes!’”
“How wonderful,” I said smiling and on we went. And, then suddenly . . .
“Look Grandma! There’s a big heart rock!” I strained to see it but, sure enough, off to the side, partially hidden under leaves and moss, was a large—well, somewhat, heart shaped large rock just waiting for one with–the–eyes–to–see. “Let’s sit Grandma! It’s too big for the mantel,” she said matter–of–factly, “but, don’t worry, we can still sit here. I know it’s okay. I’ve already asked for permission.” And, so we did.
And, once again, graciously, time stood still to hold the brief moment of sweet chatter.
And, sometimes, those answers come even before the questions. Native American spirituality as well as the Shamans, medicine men and women across cultures since the beginning of time, have known about the great web of life within which we all live. They have taught that everything in this great web is alive, interconnected and that we humans are just another part of this great web. Today we are witnessing a great resurgence in these ancient teachings because, I believe, our blessed earth is crying out for us to remember our ancient roots, our innate connectedness with all of life. But I know for me, just imagining what I may be able to do to address our current climate–earth crisis has felt almost too overwhelming even to ponder. But then an answer came on those walks—something so small, simple, playful, childlike that it was almost overlooked. I could simply ask:
Did you remember to ask permission?
Pause. Remember. Imagine how it might shift our relationship with our Great Mother earth if we were to suddenly see, hear, taste, touch, smell every living thing as alive, worthy of our respect, worthy of our asking permission. Imagine what we could learn, as the great George Washington Carver discovered, if we too could love enough—from each acorn, pinecone, stone. What if we could suddenly sense the Great Spirit growing the tree, cooing the mourning dove, budding the dandelion, stirring the waters, raising the fire? What if we too could hear the voice of the wind whispering important messages to our hearts? What if we too could suddenly see that everything around us is a treasure worthy of a special place on the mantel?
And what if, as a result, feeling so deeply connected to each treasure it would become naturally impossible to harm it for, like hurting anything to which we’re deeply connected, we’d be the first to feel it.
And, how could such a deep connection to our Mother Earth begin to change not just our relationship to our mineral, plant and animal friends but to our fellow human friends as well? Perhaps it would bring us to rest, more often, in simple stillness and presence, like on that heart shaped rock, to truly feel tenderly the small hand holding ours and to sense the deep joy of connection running deep beneath the sweet chatter. Could we then begin to imagine what might happen if we could practice bringing such presence to a stranger, a member of our human family in this great web of life?
Perhaps, if so, we too could then know the love Carver knew. For this love is no ordinary love—at least not the kind we’re used to thinking about. No! This love is so unconditional, so free of circumstance, so eternally neutral that it is capable of binding us to all of life—freeing us in ways we’ve yet to imagine to love and care for the stones, flowers, animals and for all of our dear loved ones in our human family.
Yes, my friends. Far beyond any teachings I may offer, degrees I may have, books I may write, I have graciously been given an answer to how I may make a difference to the web of life in my lifetime.
Did you remember to ask permission?
So, perhaps, just perhaps, one day, long after I am gone, one of my dear grandchildren, grown and walking with their own children or grandchildren, might say, “Let’s go look for treasures! But, remember it’s important to ask if they want to come with us.”
If so, I will know I have done one thing well—perhaps the most important thing I could offer—I’ll have helped my dear grandchildren to remember that they are a part of all that is—that everything is a treasure if we have the eyes to see—that everything can teach us if we have the ears to hear—and that we are each a glorious, unique and necessary part of the great web of life woven most graciously by the Great Spirit . . .
How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. And what is the Infinite? It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies. Dr. George Washington Carver
We are used to thinking of one another as spirit beings. Many of us see our beloved animals as spirit partners. Fewer may recognize the flowers and stones as spirit beings. Fewer still may know that places, too, have a spirit essence. Just a couple of days ago, I walked into our old Tree of Life space to leave my keys. Luckily, I was alone in the space so I took the time to really feel being there as I knew it would be the last time. I walked into the front half of our sanctuary, which was my first office many years ago, and where the connection with Dick the barber began and the subsequent three grace-filled experiences with the Mother Teresa rosary. [I tell the first story in An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita, pp. 153-4, the second on my blog, The Mother Teresa Rosary: The Next Chapter, and the third on my blog, Gratia Plena.] And I thought about how the space had become a part of our Temple’s first sanctuary all these years later. I stood a long while and offered a deep, sweet, prayer of thanksgiving to the spirit of that place.
Then, I wondered into my old mentoring room and lovingly remembered all the seminarians with whom I’d been blessed to sit. There, too, I laid my heart bare in thanksgiving. And then, finally, I stepped into my classroom. I let my heart feel all the sacred circles that had gathered there, all the dancing, meditation, and profound sharing that had occurred over the years. I remembered having moved there from a much larger space because I was going back to school and needed to shift my focus for the next several years. Yet, having been in the building before, it felt like coming home. I remembered doing my morning meditations there in the middle of all the dirt and debris as it’d been vacant for quite a while before my son, Mitch, painted and the decorating began. Here I stayed the longest praying in thanksgiving. And, finally, as I walked down the stairs, I took one last look back and thanked the collective spirit of the place for having supported me and the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple’s vision and community for so long.
The spirit of place. I am now being led into a new sacred place, nature, and into the wild. No surprise! My next book, Lovers in the Wilderness: Discover Your Path to Mystical Unity with Mantra Prayer, is due out in the fall. And, today, during a long walk in nature, I was gifted with not one, not two, but three feathers. (see below) As I paused and meditated on them, I could suddenly see the Sonic Trilogy of Love right before me. For those of you who may not know, I first conceived of the Trilogy in my dissertation and later it was highlighted in The Call of the Mourning Dove: How Sacred Sound Awakens Mystical Unity.
In the Trilogy, we as Lovers enter into the Love, sacred sound, to create the conditions for mystical unity with our Beloved God. (see diagram below) In Call of the Mourning Dove, as with my upcoming companion book, Lovers in the Wilderness, the Love is expressed as the sound current of the prayers from across faith traditions. But, it’s important to note that this Love, this sacred sound, is also experienced in many other meditative and prayerful contexts. Christians experience it in centering prayer as the sacred word to which they return again and again. Sufis experience it as they inaudibly chant the name of Allah while spinning. And Shamans, throughout the ages, have entered into unity with their Beloved Great Spirit as they have chanted and danced on the spirit of the rattle and drum.
Three feathers. In Shamanistic practice, all of God’s creation, nature, is imbued with the sacred spirit of place and feathers, gifted from this place, are considered an important omen. In this practice, we too may journey on the spirit of the rattle and drum, the Love, the sacred sound, and come into unity with our Beloved God, the Great Spirit, who now appears to us in the form of our spirit animal helpers and spirit guides. It is a beautiful practice that brings us to that place beyond our understanding again and again. Yes, right now, I’m being called into the spirit of the inner wild by those blessed feathers—to sing and dance from that place where Lover, Love and Beloved merge without distinction to create the conditions for mystical unity with the Great Spirit. It is where I started my spiritual journey in the early 90s and it’s where I am now returning coming full circle.
And what does the spirit of place and three feathers have to do with our opening quote from Dr. George Washington Carver? Well, those of you who know me well know that he is one of my most revered spiritual teachers. [Kindly see The Man Who Talks with the Flowers: The Life Story of Dr. George Washington Carver and you’ll understand.] No one that I know of has embodied the full integration of nature and spirit more than Carver. An African American who lived in the south during the late 1800s and early 1900s, he is best known as a renowned scientist who discovered many uses for the peanut and sweet potato. Fewer know that he attributed all his successes to his daily communion with God which he felt enabled him to see into the spirit of things and bring forth what was possible. To Carver it was all about love—what I would call devotional love not the more common emotional love. It’s why he said, “Anything will reveal its secrets to you if you love it enough.” Peanuts, flowers, and people.
My Shamanism teacher, Sandra Ingerman, compares Carver’s work to the Shaman’s work and, indeed, it is. Bottom line, I’m being led to follow in a similar direction on the spirit of the rattle and drum, to commune more deeply with the Beloved Great Spirit, to see how we too may learn to love enough to see more deeply into the spirit of things.
Journey into the outer wilderness and you will, very likely, find there a portal into your inner wild—that place where mystical unity occurs. The place where, as Native Americans say, the wind talks, the silence speaks and, suddenly, the heart knows.
It’s hard for me to look when evil is happening right in front of me. Most of the time my usual coping mechanisms kick in: see but-not-really see; consider it some anomaly of behavior perpetrated and experienced by those not like me; feel relieved and grateful to let others take up the mantel of justice so that I can return to the more pressing problems in my own life. Sometimes it’s just more than I can take in. Too painful to bear.
And then, for the second time, I heard, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” and all my usual ways of coping crumbled. Seeing one of my dear black brothers crushed under the knee of another white brother–yes, brother–split my heart open and left me hemorrhaging, spewing raw sorrow from the jagged edges. No. This time, I could not see but–not–really see or hear but–not–really hear. This time, though this type of violence is played out every day on streets across our nation and the world, this time I truly saw and heard.
And now, my life is George Floyd’s life. My breath his.
We as peoples of faith are fond of calling all peoples our brothers and sisters. We proclaim our unity with all of life. We delight in building bridges of unity across diversity. And at times like these, we are the ones who often call for societal reflection on how we may eradicate the causes of such vile and insidious behaviors and invite discourse on what might be done to enact supportive public policy. All these efforts are most noble.
But, as important as they are, I don’t believe true, lasting, change comes solely from inter–relational discourse or from the enactment of public policy. You can’t legislate brotherly love. No, such love, necessary to move the needle from impulsive reactions toward more laser-focused compassionate ones, can only come from a true change of heart, a change that lifts the veil so, finally, we truly see and truly hear. A change that leaves the heart aching and tender to its unity with all its brothers and sisters. A heart, that, when confronted with one brother sadistically killing another, can only respond from a visceral, innate, knowledge that what is happening to one of my brothers is happening to me–right there, right here, right now. Bottom line, standing idly by, watching for eight minutes and forty–six seconds would simply not be an option.
So, how do we, you and I, go about experiencing this change of heart for ourselves? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left us clear direction. When delivering the eulogy to the congregation of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, after the bombing where four children were killed and many others injured, warned, “And so in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter; nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. We must not lose faith in our white brothers.” White brothers.
How do we possibly get there? In his sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” he tells us. “We begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us, whether in collective or individual life, by looking at ourselves.” Oh…..
Truth is each of us must be willing to do the hard work of excavating the hate that festers within us. We must have the courage to ask ourselves: when, where and how have I seen but–not–really seen? What prejudices exist within me that need my true seeing? So many of us want to change the world. Yet, harder still is changing ourselves so that our hearts can finally, truly, see. Such seeing would not, could not, exchange hate for hate or violence for violence. Instead, such seeing, emanating from a heart now changed, could only respond with that laser–focused compassion for both victim and perpetrator. Not easy. Yet, most faith traditions call us to love . . . to love one another in just this way. Perhaps this is a perfect moment in time for all of us to better practice our faith—not from place of exalted righteousness but, rather, from a place of humbled culpability.
Like me, so many of us have had our hearts torn open watching the killing of George Floyd, sadly, just the most recent killing in what has felt like an endless string of brutal violence against our black brothers and sisters. My prayer is that we continue to keep our hearts open so, going forward, we may better truly see and hear what is right before us. Let’s allow our deep sadness and rage to be funneled into actions of love fueled by that visceral knowledge that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. And, most of all, let’s continue to cleanse our own hearts of the residue of hate and prejudice that would continue to cause us to see but–not–really see.
Let’s join all those who have walked out in faith to pray with their feet. Black. White. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Let’s use this moment, when the veil has been torn off, to truly see . . . to ignite the heart . . . to seek to love all our brothers and sisters. For it is only in this way that peace may one day prevail in this one heart of God in which we all move, breathe . . . and have our being . . .
in this one heart where, graciously, I and my brother, my sister, are one.
We didn’t know it was going to happen—at least not this fast. But, of course, the timing was perfect. Now, if you know my husband and me you know that, although we absolutely love our simple apartment living, we are, in that deep–inner–most–sweet–spot, first and foremost, wilderness people. So, awhile back, my husband started looking for a camp for us. Never mind that we really didn’t have a clue as to how we could make it happen. Then, unexpectedly, a series of events merged in that heart–pausing dance of divine synchronicity and . . . heaven arrived—complete with a purple outhouse! I mean, really! How could it get any better?!
Our wonderful realtor was a bit shocked when we called all excited. “You do realize it has no plumbing, no electricity, no running water?”
“Yes!” Didn’t budge the needle on our heart meter! We’d seen the pictures. This was our place!
“Uhhh, I think there’s a hose that comes down from the underground stream up the mountain. But that’s all the water that goes to the place.”
“And, it’s quite a long drive up.”
Why was she discouraging us???
When we arrived, she wasn’t able to make it up the drive either by car or foot so she missed the showing. So, boy, was she surprised when we called–on the way home–to say, “This is our place! We’d like to make an offer!”
“Okay . . .” she said slowly trying to hide that, “What are you doing?” in her voice.
And then, our kids thought we should be seriously committed!
“You crazy kids!”
“Are you sure you’re ready for outhouse living?”
“Have you really thought this through? It looks like a lot to take on.”
“Are you sure you can handle it all–afford it?”
And, on and on and on!
Ahhhhhhh . . . but in just the few weeks we’ve owned it I’ve already discovered some important things: how much soot and ash can come out of an old antique stove and how good it can feel to bring it back to life; how our blessed spring bubbles up our water without fail and how it can only flow straight down into our sink–as long as we keep the hose clear😊; how the spirit of the land is wild and has clearly been well loved; how the tall trees and hovering mountains shelter us and whisper in the sweet night sounds; how the outhouse is actually a step up from the in–the–dirt we used to do when wilderness camping; how the old stone fireplace keeps close the special rocks from children exploring in days past; how a screen porch opening to the wild can be all that is needed to cleanse, heal and restore a weary soul; how dirty feet and a hair tie is the most appropriate attire to dine in God’s hall. And, how, as I walk around the land my heart can suddenly, without notice, irrupt singing aloud . . . Allelu . . . (Check out the song Sing Allelu on the Odes of Solomon Project CD and you’ll understand.)
So, crazy? “YES!” Thank God!
But . . . I’ll let you be the judge . . . here are some pictures. The first ones are from our first night and the rest are from just the few visits since . . .
“It is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.” Hinds’ Feet on High Places
Moments. I can close my eyes and remember the very day the What If? poem flowed through me, sitting on the floor, at the Tree of Life Interfaith Fellowship off the Milford Oval in 2005. It was the vision given to me for what was to become our beloved Temple. I can remember the very morning I was told to create the Living Your Purpose: The Heart of Spiritual Practice course in 2007 which was to generate the initial curriculum for the seminary and then, two years later, the morning I was told to start the seminary. Moments when that undeniable whisper would have its way. Love is like that. Moments that have charted my course to which I only needed to set the sails. Truly, looking back, all that was needed was my answer and response for the vision did not come from me but rather, graciously, poured through me.
Funny thing about those visions. If we’re lucky, one day we get to see and know that we were, indeed, only the caretaker for a little while. For a vision, particularly one held by many souls, needs new caretakers to infuse seasons of growth with a beauty it could not have known otherwise. It is only in this way that the vision may continue to evolve into what has already been ordained and held in the mind of God from the beginning. As the initial caretaker, I was blessed beyond measure to receive the seed for the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple, to plant it lovingly in the fertile ground of our collective love, and to tender its growth. But now it is time for a new caretaker and a new season of growth to bring forth the next season of that flowering beauty.
I would like to honor and to thank Rev. Linda Goodman who will soon be our new humble caretaker, Presiding Minister, for her deep desire, steadfast love, and total commitment to our vision and to guiding the Temple to become what is next for its life and joy. My heart is grateful beyond measure.
So, yes, there is pain too, certainly, but, most graciously, Love does not think that very significant. For, as the seasons pass and I get to look upon all your treasured faces, many of whom I have long loved, I know I will not be able to keep from smiling. Love is like that. It leaves the heart open and tender and, me, simply unable to stop singing…
The coronavirus is offering us a most timely and colossal gift—the gift of, at last, awakening to our common humanity with all peoples. Suffering does that. Nothing galvanizes us to act unconditionally more than witnessing the suffering of the innocent around us—and, in this case, we’re all innocent. The virus has done this by not being partial to the rich, the poor, the well–loved or the unloved. It doesn’t care if we live in a developing nation or an underdeveloped one. It’s immune to our political and religious affiliations. It doesn’t notice if we’re gay or straight or what color our skin is. By leaving a trail of suffering across all of our faces, it is showing us that we are all in this together, experiencing the same thing, at the same time, in the same way.
And, suddenly, many of us find ourselves writing notes, making food packages, giving rides, leaving groceries and supplies at front doors, smiling shyly at one another across our six feet of distance. It doesn’t occur to us to assess worthiness or to gauge eligibility; to ask what religion someone is or to require proof of nationality. No, we simply respond because we are compelled to do so from that place that can now see beyond the differences to what’s the same in all of us—to see that those very strangers we never knew were just like us, children of the one Creator and, as such, our very brothers and sisters in this one human family in which we all live. The coronavirus is breaking us open enabling us to see with new eyes and to respond with a new heart laid bare by our common suffering.
While there are those already sensing how our planetary and global conversation might evolve as a result of this common experience—incredibly important and, in truth, likely the only thing that will save us and our planet—I find myself thinking about it more from the other direction, from the depths of that new, collective, heart emerging. For I don’t believe, in the end, any aspirations of global transformation will hold unless they arise from a transformation of the human heart—inspired by nothing short of, truly, seeing one another. For, I know for myself, in moments when I’ve been able to . . .
I suddenly see…
You . . . the man I passed in the isle, talking gibberish, looking afraid, confused . . . You are in my heart today. I hope you found a home . . . a meal.
You . . . the woman with the nice smile with whom I had a fun conversation about that last roll of toilet paper—the one we both found hidden behind a crate on the shelf . . . Your smile still warms my heart. Gosh, how I would love to have a cup of tea with you.
You . . . my neighbor I passed in the hall today and with whom I exchanged a friendly smile . . . I’ve seen you but still don’t know your name. When this is over, I’ll remedy that.
You . . . the woman I saw at the elevator who, as the door opened, suddenly asked, “Is it safe to go out?” Oh, if I had thought more quickly, I would have said, “Yes! Would you like to go for a walk?”
And . . . from my mind’s eye . . . I can suddenly see . . .
You . . . all the ones who will find out today you tested positive . . . My heart cries with you.
You . . . the one who’s discovering that time with your children is forging a new bond . . . My heart celebrates with you.
And You . . . the one caught in hurtful family dynamics unable to escape . . . My heart grieves with you.
You . . . the one who’s lost your job and now, literally, worries about how many more loaves of bread you can buy to feed your children before the money runs out or help arrives . . . I stand with you and would invite you and yours to dinner if I could.
You . . . the man pulling that cart of supplies to deliver to a neighbor . . . You made my heart skip all the way back home.
You . . . the one who is alone during the long days of lockdown . . . My heart would so love to reach out across the miles or through my computer screen to touch you.
You . . . who selflessly go to work to help the sick knowing you are exposing yourself . . . and you who work behind the counters bagging our food and, you, helping us with needed supplies . . . many of you quarantined from your own family and loved ones . . . Oh my, yes, it is truly YOU who are the heroes we will long remember.
But, mostly, it is You . . . who are sick, confined, quarantined in a sterile hospital room knowing you could die alone without the touch of a loved one’s hand or hearing a loved one’s voice . . . and to all those who love you and can’t touch you or share a tender moment with you . . . It is to you my heart reaches out the most.
Truly seeing you, my brothers and sisters, cracks my heart open to greater and greater depths enabling me to both sing and cry from that place that knows your joy is my joy and your tears are my tears. We go together, you and I, for we are all a part of our one human family.
So, my prayer is that we’ll use this incredibly unique moment in our evolutionary history to pause, look, feel, and see our beloved Creator right there before us . . . looking out at us through one another’s eyes, speaking to us through one another’s voice, reaching out to us through one another’s hearts. That we may hear the voice of the Psalmist: Create in me a new heart; heed the words of Krishna: Deep in the heart of all lies the light of all lights forever beyond darkness; rest in the reassurance of Allah that there is only one God: la il laha illa allah; and, awaken to the holy commandment of Jesus: Love one another as I have loved you.
Oh, my dear brothers and sisters . . . let us all . . .
Look out . . . and see . . . the face of God everywhere.