Monthly Archives: June 2013

For Mini

This week the Supreme Court made an historic change to civil rights legislation causing much debate. It’s made me think of Mini and my heart wrote this in honor of her.

You could sit on my great-grandparent’s porch, deep in the southern woods, and count to at least 90 before the first faint sound of the next car to pass our way could be heard. The sound was something like the hum the wind makes as it is first gathering steam. As Don Williams once sung, I can still hear soft Southern winds in the live oak trees. This was where Joe grew up, the one to whom I dedicated my first book An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita. It’s also where Mini would come to cook and clean for us.

We were not the old money antebellum south. We were the other south, poor, yet fiercely proud. And, like such families, with many children to feed and crops to plow, extra hands were needed in the house and in the fields. And, those hands were black. Of course, by the time I was growing up and spending long, hot, pick-wild-flowers-in-the-field days there, an image of the those extra black hands in the fields could only be held alive in the vapors of memory. But, Mini, was no vapor. She was right there making the biscuits and, then, making my bed.

And so, she labored for our family for most of her long life. No doubt she would have said she loved us dearly, as we certainly felt so, and we always said we loved her like family. And, I believe, both were, unequivocally, true. Me, living in a different part of the country for the school year, did not have the long history with Mini. I was also part of a new generation enlivened by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So, though I was always happy to see her come through our back door (yes, only the back), mostly, I just tried to turn away and not think about it too much. But, sometimes I couldn’t and that sour feeling would come back again in my stomach, curdling.

I suppose I could have made it through without any unnecessary upheaval for those few short weeks each summer. After all, this was where my roots were, my home. This was my family, the only place I knew I belonged, and always a welcome respite from the difficult school year. My family was good, salt of the earth, and I loved them. And, of course, still do.

I could have had it not been for that outhouse at the outer edge of our back yard. Mini wasn’t allowed to use the indoor bathroom. The outhouse was for her. One day, as I watched her make her way out to that outhouse, I could feel that curdling again. But, this time the inevitable tide, like nausea, having festered for many summers, was not to be curtailed. I waited for her to return to the kitchen and, finding us alone, blurted out, Mini, why don’t you use the indoor bathroom?

And, exactly in that moment, would have given my life to take it all back. Her stunned, piercing glance felt volcanic, like hot embers, long dormant, suddenly now in real danger of erupting without regard to fallout. And I, in the wake, stopped breathing, paralyzed. Oh, but my young, naive, heart was screaming, But, Mini, it’s wrong! I’m so ashamed! I’m so sorry!

Gratefully, her lifetime of well adapted this is how you behave ‘round whites instinct kicked in and she quickly recovered but not before giving me a good tongue lashing. Youse knows better’in dat Miss Stetnee. Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! And, turning from me, she threw the dry cloth over her shoulder and flashed me one last clear look of warning, We be done w’ this Miss Stetnee. We be done w’ this. And, so we were.

Things is how they is. You best leave it ‘lone now! My family would have echoed the exact same sentiment. Still, since, I have winced every time I remember. Just what was she to do with that? In truth, none of us, least of all me, were equipped to do anything with, simply, yet regrettably, what was. It was more than what we did. It seemed to be who we were.

We never talked about it again. I returned to school and, in later summers, would come to see Mini less and less as age and health issues took hold. Still, over the years, I’ve often prayed that she knew what was in my heart that day in the kitchen. I have imagined being able to sit with her and to say please forgive me. I just couldn’t watch you walk out to that outhouse anymore. I just couldn’t. Still, I am sorry I was so unkind to you. I just so wanted you to know, dear Mini, that I ‘saw’ you…and so ‘felt’ for you. This was what was in my heart to say. I just didn’t know how.

Oh, dear Mini, thank you for your hands, sturdy and skilled, given in the long, faithful service to my family. Thank you for still making our biscuits and our beds, for loving us, even when we did not know how to best love you.

I am so grateful for all you were to us…even to have witnessed your long, heavy, walk across the yard to that outhouse…For, only in doing so, have I came to more fully appreciate the fullness of your gift to us…a gift born only of Grace.

I wonder what Mini would have to say about the Supreme Court ruling? I like to imagine that, with just her presence, she might remind us all of where we have been and where we would not want to return.

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees. And, when I close my eyes, I can see in the vapors dear Mini standing there in the kitchen.

Smiling at me. Unburdened and free.


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I Have Called You by Your Name, You Are Mine. Isaiah 43:1

It makes me smile to imagine what our postal delivery person must think. “What a strange mixture of folks live here. Stephanie Rutt and Doug Rutt. Stephanie Rutt is sometimes Reverend Stephanie Rutt. Then there is also someone called Sat Darshan Kaur and someone else called Saki.” How even further perplexed our dear mailperson might be realizing that all of the above, except Doug of course, are one in the same. At the risk of being perceived a spiritual name junky, I could imagine sitting on the grass having an earnest, heartfelt dialogue explaining how my years with each name has helped me to cultivate something unique – something that has helped me to become more me. But, then, all I can envision is an even greater look of polite, yet growing, perplexity on my mailperson’s face, just barely masking the desperate need to escape, “Hey lady, can I just go deliver the mail now?!”

Many faith traditions, of course, recommend taking on a new name as we journey along the spiritual path. In eastern traditions it is a well known practice. From my years with the Sikhs, I am lovingly called Sat Darshan and from my years with the Sufis, Saki. As an interfaith minister, I am called Reverend. Though less a Christian practice for lay people, in Hinds’ Feet on High Places, the beloved Christian allegory, Much Afraid is also given a new name as she moves onto the high places with the Good Shepherd.

I have a deep respect for the purpose of being given a new name. Such a name points us in the direction of being what we may become. But, today, I find myself looking back to where I first began. Sixty-three years ago, today actually, I was born a small, premature, child in Meridian, Mississippi and was given the name Stephanie. Like many of us with challenging childhoods, I spent most of my early years wishing I were someone else, or somewhere else, having a more normal, carefree life – someone who might even get to have some other new exotic name to match.

Today, I keep a childhood picture on my altar. There I am smiling back at me. What tender love and gratitude I have for her – this early image of me. It is because of her, I have truly been able to know I blossom not in spite of but because of. It is because of her, I can remember I am enough so I can be nothing. She is the one that teaches me, again and again, about ever deepening levels of forgiveness, healing and, especially, self-acceptance. And, she is the one, who has always known, right from the beginning, what I may be.

I still happily answer to my spiritual names and follow their impulse. But, today when I hear the Beloved’s call, I hear my name given all those years ago. And, I can imagine taking my little one by the hand as, together, we respond.

For it seems, only together, do we fully recognize to Whom we belong…

And, so it is together, we gladly answer…

To the only name that holds all we have been and will be.



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Saying “Yes”!

This past weekend I was blessed to take my beloved Tree of Life Interfaith Seminary Class of 2013 on their final retreat before their ordination next Saturday. Every seminary class is, of course, uniquely special having its own energy, essence and presence. Witnessing this beloved Class of 2013, I have been most profoundly struck by their faith, individually and collectively. Along their two year journey, some have experienced life circumstances capable of derailing the most resolute in resolve. Yet, hand in hand, they have emerged full of Grace – strong, humble, and fully ready to say Yes! As I looked at each one, I felt such gratitude and blessing to be in their presence. Along with joyful hearts tuned in beauty’s way, they carry the gift of blossoming not in spite of…but because of into the world. They are my inspiration.

And, it’s an important reminder for all of us that, sometimes, seeking to live a more divinely inspired life, may not necessarily mean that life gets more joyous or even easier. Tests are an inherent part of the experience. But, I agree with Peace Pilgrim when she says that it is good to be tested as then we really get to find out just where we are.

But, here is the good news! As we are seeking to step into what’s next, it actually makes perfect sense that a kind of tune up would be in order. Why? New expressions of being require new expansions of awareness and energetic vibration. What we are cultivating next actually needs the essence and energy, held knotted in our fears, to blossom and thrive. This is why when we are allowing ourselves to be silently drawn toward what we truly love (Rumi sentiment), the fears often, suddenly, show up in tow: Can I really do this? Am I worthy? Will I be good enough? Saying Yes requires we love our self enough to untie the knots and get free from what binds us and this getting free is exactly what makes for good compost ready to nourish what is next. It’s a kind of transformation born of radical self-acceptance and it does, slowly yet surely, set us free.

So, while getting our spiritual engines cleaned and tuned may not be the fun part, we emerge better fit for the road and for what the journey may bring. We start to get that it’s not about perfection but authenticity. We start to know that we are not alone. We know now we are enough and we are nothing. And, most wondrous of all, Grace seems to have taken over our GPS! And, we gladly follow the Beloved’s directions. We know now that Love is the only destination there is.

This is faith. This is freedom.

Congratulations Class of 2013!

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