Monthly Archives: March 2020

To See the Face of God

And So…We Sing Reflection

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.   

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7 Things

And So…We Sing Reflections…

We hear it all the time. Don’t wait ’til tomorrow to say I love you; I forgive you; I’ve been a better person because of you; what I’ve most appreciated about you; how you’ve gifted my life…because we never know if we’re going to get tomorrow. We know this . . . but we don’t—until we’re caught in a pandemic. Recently, my heart, quite tenderly, settled on the knowing that, should I get sick and need to be quarantined, I could die without ever seeing my family and all those I love again. Now, interestingly, it is not the dying part that bothers me half as much as the Oh no!!! I wish I had told them…part.

So, I’ve decided not to wait. I’ve started making notes I’m calling 7 Things . . . 7 Things I Love about You . . . 7 Sweet Memories of You . . . 7 Things I Appreciate about You… I’m not sure how I landed on 7 but there it is. But I can tell you that it’s the sweetest thing on the planet to be writing them. It’s like, finally, I’m doing the most important thing . . . that very thing that answers that proverbial question, What would you do if you knew you only had a day, month, year to live?

Far from feeling like doomsday or some self–fulfilling prophesy, (News Flash: We’re all going at some point and none of us know when!) I feel so very happy, at peace, and truly in love when I’m writing these notes—especially to those where things have felt unclear, unresolved or in any way strained or broken. In these cases, as I’m pulling out of me what I most love or appreciate about them, I remember that it’s not important that they love me. It is only important that I love them. This is what sets my heart at peace.

7 things that fill my heart to overflowing . . .

7 things that help me to remember what it truly means to live . . . 

7 things that crack my heart open to love unconditionally . . .

7 things that set my soul free . . .

Thank you, Coronavirus.

PS: Many of you reading this know of my grandson Sean who has autism. Thought I’d share the one I recently made for him… 

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And So…We Sing Reflections – 1

They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

We are being tested. No doubt about it. Tested to see if we can continue living our deep spiritual principles in times of intense struggle and uncertainty. In the Tree of Life community, we’ve talked a lot about the purpose of being tested over the years always saying it was really a good thing. No fun for sure. But, certainly, a way of mining—way down—to excavate some buried treasure we didn’t even know we had—to, ultimately, see for ourselves that we really do blossom, not in spite of, but because of.

So, I’ve made a commitment to live through this time, every day, looking with soft eyes, to see just where I may extract some of those spiritual gems that only reveal themselves when we are forced to dive deep. The first one came this past Friday. May it bless your day as we begin this journey together . . .

What? No toilet paper?! There’s nothing like the toilet paper shelves being empty to jar us awake! Like most, I’ve been dealing with my own fears, insecurities, and watching my own need to hoard—just in case. Then, recently in the grocery store, passing those empty shelves, and waiting in that very long line on the way up to the additional lines at the terminals, I suddenly took in the gravity of our situation. I didn’t fully realize it at the time but our would become the operative word.

It became so the next morning when, in my spiritual practice, I prayed to our beloved God to please show me what I needed to know about this critical time. In the silence, I was surprised to sense that the coronavirus could actually be a blessing—that how the instinctual impulse to hoard, when we perceive there’s not enough, can actually awaken a deeper sense of our interconnectedness. How? I suddenly saw how in our affluent way of living, indeed satiated fullness, we so easily can become comatose forgetting we are utterly and completely dependent upon other people, people just like you and me, to show up every day and do their part so we may continue to enjoy the life we’ve come to know and, all too often, take for granted.  

I saw images of the farmers in the fields growing our food, the packers, truck drivers and, finally, the grocery store attendants placing the items on the shelves. And, as for the most revered item in times of crisis, toilet paper, I could now imagine the tree cutters, paper manufacturers, assembly line workers, and again, the haulers and, finally, the store attendants placing this most coveted of all items on the shelves. Now, add in a pandemic and the possibility of just any one of these groups falling away, and suddenly I was awakened to the very real truth that any broken link in this human chain impacts the whole.

From there, in the silence of my heart, I began to feel how I, as one of the affluent ones, have actually contributed to the kind of global hoarding that’s now being played out in neighborhood grocery stores all around the world. For example, my husband and I are not rich by any means. We enjoy a comfortable middle–class retirement lifestyle. Yet, look inside our refrigerator and cupboards and you’ll find almond milk and regular milk, Ezekiel bread and regular bread, almond butter and peanut butter, fancy organic granola and Cherrios, just to name a few examples. Really? When there are many people around the world who have no milk, no bread, no peanut butter, no cereal.

Gratefully, I came out of my prayers feeling both deeply connected to the web of life as well as fully culpable for my part in it. I can’t pretend now I don’t recognize my part in creating hunger in a faraway land. I can’t turn away from the suffering I now sense ever more deeply. And, as a result, my heart has been pierced to a new depth with the most tender of all remembrances—that every person is my brother, my sister. So, as suffering and death increase with this pandemic, I’m reminded of the importance of not isolating my heart—but, quite the contrary, to keeping it open to all, in all ways, as I am able. For, in truth, I’m as intricately connected to the one far away working in the fields as I am to my neighbor tending her garden.

I have been jarred awake in a way I had not imagined and I realize I have only begun to see just the tip of the proverbial iceberg . . . but I will continue to pray, day by day, and dive deeper and deeper. And I pray many of you will too for, if so, the coronavirus may just leave us with the greatest blessing of all . . .

A new way of seeing, being, and living in the world . . . born of an ever–deepening sense of interconnectedness with all peoples.

And so . . . we sing.

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Why I’m a Dancer

If you caught my October 2, 2019 blog, An Unexpected Gift of Grace, you know I broke my wrist shortly after returning to dance. I’m back now taking private lessons with Jen, owner of Allegro Dance Academy, to build up my repertoire before returning to a class. Today we did ballet and I told her I’d send her one of my favorite stories about dance—actually, one that’s much more than just about dance—one that offered a life–changing lesson for me. Curious? Here’s the story I first told in An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita, followed by an addendum story I’ve not shared publicly. You’ll see the connection. Enjoy!

Dance was always my first love but after an auto accident at sixteen I had to stop. Then in my mid–twenties, I discovered an adult beginning ballet class just up the street from where I worked in Honolulu, Hawaii. My teacher’s name was Jack Clause and he definitely did not look like a ballet teacher. He was rather short and stocky and had very little hair, but, his face—oh, that face with those glowing eyes—held me fast. I always knew something special was about to happen when he walked in the room. No chitchat allowed. No coming in late. Nothing less than our full attention was accepted. Later I learned he was quite accomplished and had been brought in from the mainland to work with the Honolulu Ballet Company.

As we worked at the barre, he’d come around to each of us and say, “Up . . . up!” and stand there until we were lifted and shining. But most importantly, he told us to be beautiful as we moved across the floor. Now, most adult beginning ballet students look anything but beautiful moving across the floor! Still, he would bellow, “Be beautiful! There are many technicians but very few dancers! Be a dancer!” After class, it was all I could do to remember it was not appropriate to grande jette down the sidewalk on my way to catch the last bus home!

After just over a year, we left Hawaii to spend a year in Japan. It was during that time I realized the true gift of his teaching—the true gift of allowing myself, daring myself to be a dancer—not just a technician—in many parts of my life! And it felt very important to say thank you. I anxiously waited for the day we’d return home as I knew there’d be a layover in Honolulu. I would tell him then.

Finally, the day came when I found myself on the familiar sidewalk outside the old building. As I was about eight months pregnant, I hobbled up the stairs and, breathlessly, asked the girl at the desk how I might find Jack. She stared at me with a kind of awkward look and said, “You don’t know?”

“Know what?” I asked.

“Jack died a few months ago,” she said. “He had a heart ailment. He knew he could die at any time. You didn’t know? Most people knew.” All I could do was shake my head and make my way back down the stairs, stunned and sad.

But the blessed gift he gave me has remained and has continued to serve me all the days of my life. Thank you, Jack.

Now…

Fast forward a few years. I’m living in Pensacola, Florida and have just heard that Mikhail Baryshnikov himself is coming to Birmingham, Alabama! Though I was pregnant again with our second child and about due, I was determined there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity! My husband at the time wasn’t able to go so I reserved a single seat, front and center, in the very first row of the mezzanine. My dear friend lent me a gown I could wear in my current condition which happened to be very low–cut and crimson red. “Perfect!” And, off I went.

Okay, I confess I did enjoy some of the puzzled to slightly–taken–aback to clearly disagreeable looks I got as I joined the others seated around me, distinguished gentlemen with their ladies, all decked out in their furs with dangled purses. Given the times and context, I did feel a bit like Hester in the Scarlet Letter, but I just kept telling myself, “No matter! I’m going to see Baryshnikov!”

But, as usual, I was to receive what I didn’t see coming.

A few days earlier there’d been some buzz that Baryshnikov had been ill and some question as to whether he’d dance. But, gratefully, last minute, we were told he would. But the first solo performer that night was another well–known dancer of the day, Peter Martins. Now, Martins was clearly at the top of his game. He was, technically, nothing short of brilliant. It was truly amazing to watch.

But, then, finally, it was time for Baryshnikov. Suddenly, as if shot from a cannon, he leaped out from the side into the air, leaping over and over, making a wide circle around the stage. Instantly, we were on our feet clapping and cheering! He went on to dance solo and with partners but, somehow, no matter what he was dancing there was that certain something. Having danced, I could tell, on that night, he wasn’t quite up to Martin’s technical brilliance . . . but it didn’t matter. Even perhaps not feeling well, it was still he who stole the show for it was he who had that certain something.

My beloved teacher, Jack Clause, called that something . . . beauty when he demanded we, “Be beautiful!” Truly, I have always held a soft spot in my heart for Peter Martins when I remember that night because, for all his technical brilliance, he just couldn’t stir the heart, as only that something can, in the way Baryshnikov could.  

Whatever our craft, becoming a true dancer requires, in any moment, that we unleash all the skill, technique, we’ve been cultivating so that all our preparation may serve the creation of that something beautiful seeking expression through us. It requires we throw off self–consciousness, faintheartedness, and get out of the way so that this thing of beauty can be revealed—to us and to all. It requires we remember that such a creation of beauty can only soar when our spirit is free.

Sitting here some forty-five years later, I can still see that glowing face and hear that bellowing voice, Be beautiful! There are many technicians but very few dancers! Be a dancer!

It was a seeding in my heart of that . . .something . . . which I have, graciously, come to witness in many forms over the years . . .

A seeding most joyfully and lovingly offered by the voice of one who knew . . . that very day . . . could be his last.

The ultimate gift of beauty from him . . . to us…

Finally, I thought you might enjoy seeing a couple of pictures of me dancing all those years ago…

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