Whenever sorrow comes, be kind to it. For God has placed a pearl in sorrow’s hand. Rumi
It’s a funny thing about those pearls. They’re only found in the depths of the ocean floor. Hidden in the deepest recesses out of sight and out of reach. We cherish them for their purity and beauty but truth is most of us wouldn’t choose to make the long journey down to uncover them. Instead, we’re happy to enjoy them in the bright light that lingers just above the water’s edge.
And then something happens. In our case, it was those letters, blazing red and in all caps, POSITIVE. Doug and I had both tested positive for COVID–19. And before I could fully recover or comprehend what was happening, Doug became very sick. And, day by day, I felt like I was being pulled down, down, down, into those darker and darker waters where I could no longer see or navigate. And, yet, it was in those very depths, at those very times, just when I felt I could simply go no further, that the pearl somehow found me—the one God had put there in sorrow’s hand—waiting just within my reach. And it seemed to say to me . . .
You are not alone. I am here with both of you. Place all of you, and all of Doug, in God’s hands. And rest.
Rest. This is the blessed gift of the pearl that God leaves in sorrow’s opened hand. Blessedly, in times like these, I often imagine myself laying down, with all the despair, struggle and fear, to rest fully in the cupped hands of God who, alone, I know can carry me through. And, in such moments, my quiet, still, heart can only wonder, “What greater gift, treasure, could there possibly be?” For now, my sorrow’s hand has become God’s hands.
Some folks think it’s only spiritual to stay on the surface and to bask in the sunlight wearing that new strand of pearls. That somehow the darkness of the deep waters is outside of God’s realm and purview. I would disagree. I believe it is God’s true purview. While the mind loves to surf off the shoreline, the soul alone knows the true depths. All I know is that the deepest love I’ve ever known, been shown, lived has happened in those deep waters where I’ve found the only true rest in those cupped hands of God.
We blossom, not in spite of, but because of. I can already hear the deepening whispers and etheric melodies breathing through my heart ready to burst out singing on my walks at 3 Feathers this summer. I know I will look at Doug across the room a little longer and smile that smile only he knows. I know I’ll hug my children a little tighter and spend time treasure hunting with my grandkids a little longer. For nothing brings us to life like just the threat of death.
Gratefully, Doug is doing better day by day. Me too. I only had mild symptoms which allowed me to care for him as I’ve been able. But even as we make our journey back to normal, I find I still hold that pearl close—the one from the dark depths. And when I am just still and quiet enough, I can still hear it speaking:
Remember that it is out of the depths that I come to shine in the light of day. No darkness, deadly current or undertow can erase my gift for you. No matter how hidden I may seem, I’m always waiting for you. Swim deep. And know you can always find me nestled there in your fingers, right where God has left me. . .
Most of the time I hate graffiti. It defaces property and reminds me of gangs marking their territory. But, the other day, my husband and I were out walking and we passed a large cement block that had a message sprawled across it: CANCEL FEAR. Surprised, I thought, “Well, this is actually something incredibly helpful for this moment in which we’re living. (See picture below)
And I remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we’re celebrating today. I can only imagine the great trepidation he and his followers must have felt walking straight into the crowds full of sweaty clenched fists, high flying billy clubs, stretched hoses spewing out stinging daggers, and the shouts, those shouts, all wrapped around, infusing, and punctuating that crowing jewel of all insults . . . nigger.
Still, he and his followers walked. And later he would even refer to them, those very ones who aimed fists, billy clubs, hoses and insults, as his white brothers.
As an interfaith minister, I’ve long championed the path of inter–spiritual, inter–cultural, dialogue and communication. From the To Hear How Others Pray series fifteen years ago co–sponsored with the Souhegan Valley and Nashua Interfaith Councils to the Under One Sky Interfaith Peace Walks of 2016 and 2017, sponsored by the Souhegan Valley Interfaith Council, to my TEDx talk of 2018 stressing how we can find unity in diversity one encounter at a time. Over the years, my ministry has centered around galvanizing people for collaboration—particularly with those with whom we may feel tempted to label as the other.
However, I believe this moment is calling for a different response—very similar to the time of Dr. King. Sadly, the path of collaboration only works when both others (yes, we’re all the other to someone) are wanting and willing to sit together to find common ground. But, just like the angry white mobs that accosted Dr. King and his followers, those today who are exhibiting rage, hatred and terror in the name of certain political ideologies are also clearly not interested in the path of collaboration. And, as a result, our very democracy now hangs dangling from a noose, each moment losing breath and strength to kick.
So, what are we to do? I propose we must come together with those of similar minds to explore ways we can fight for the America we want for ourselves and, more importantly, for our children—as opposed to simply succumbing to fighting against the other. This is key for if we fall into fighting against we become no different from those with whom we would resist. Dr. King modeled this great ideal as he marshalled the forces of love for his fellow man, through non–violent action, to confront a tyranny of hate. It would serve us well to take note for it was only in this way that he was able to describe the others as his brothers—assuming we too would desire to aim so high.
Yet, when fear reins, many recall his untimely demise. Yes. But I believe this very moment is also asking each of us, “What are you willing to die for?”
Overplayed? I don’t think so. Consider all the brave men and women who face death every day: our military service men and women, all the first responders, our police force, the health care workers who show up every day to care for the sick and dying in the middle of this pandemic. Every day, so many, not–so–ordinary people just like you and me live the answer to, “What are you willing to die for?”
And, so can we.
Let’s never lose hope or site of the incredible healing that can occur when those of differing viewpoints and beliefs are willing to come together and truly listen with open minds and hearts for the sake of cultivating greater understanding and awareness. But, when such collaboration eludes us, as it did in Dr. King’s time, let’s rise to follow his example. Let’s fight for the forces of love to confront, today, the growing tyranny threatening the welfare of all our people.
It’s our turn. I know together we can restore the soul of our great nation and re–enliven the ideals still burning in that torch held high by our great lady, the Statue of Liberty. So, when our grandchildren ask, “What did you do?” We can answer, “I stood tall and did what I could. And, even though I often had great trepidation, I still worked hard to cancel fear . . .
It could be. Even though the images of insurrection we witnessed yesterday will brand our hearts for a long time to come. We did imagine it could happen. Still, we hoped not. Images. The image that most seared my heart was not the one of the insurrectionist at the front of the People’s Chamber with his arm raised, hand in a fist. It wasn’t of the one posing in the Speaker’s secretary’s office, cocked back in the chair with his feet propped up on the desk. It wasn’t even the one where Trump’s loyalists, on the scaffolding, were trying to replace the American flag with a Trump flag. No. For me, sadly, it was a less provocative image: it was the one of the woman being carried out on a stretcher, covered in blood. The one who didn’t make it.
I don’t know if she was there also to raise a fist or if she was just an innocent staffer who’d gotten up that day to go to work and do her job. Whatever the reasons that brought her to the end of her life, just seeing her awakened in me the tragic reminder of what can happen when we collectively lose control and revert to the ravages of war. Yes, war. Only this time it was not on a faraway land. It was right here at home.
Collectively. I don’t believe we’ll be able to come together to heal this moment unless we also own it. And this ownership is not about judgement or blame of others or ourselves. Rather, it’s about seeing one another behind the masks of hate, bigotry and revenge. It’s about seeing a fellow sister being carried out on a stretcher covered in blood. We can’t bring others into our hearts unless we can find them there first. It begins with us. Then, and only then, will we be able to recognize the very image of God right in front of us. Only then will we be able to rise up to heal the wounds of this time with the laser compassion required in this moment. Laser because justice seeks accountability for harmful action. Compassion because, behind all masks of harm, is a crippling desperation peering out from the face of God.
Our finest hour? Yes, if we remember that just a small amount of light ignites the dark. Just a pause, a second look, can turn the heart. It’s one of those striking paradoxes that nothing opens us to love like hate; to healing like suffering; to unity like divisiveness; to forgiveness like blame.
Let’s come together to find ways not to be better Democrats or Republicans or even better Americans. Let’s broaden our vision to look for ways to become better human beings in and around and with one another.
Let’s do it for the one who was carried out covered in blood. The one who didn’t make it. If we do, just maybe, together, we can create a new spark of hope from the still hot embers of this moment. . .
It’s 1895 and Milton Hershey is an aspiring business man. His dream? Milk chocolate. Unheard of in the US. No matter that he doesn’t have a product yet or even a winning recipe. In Derry Township, PA, factories are already being built and workers hired. And he’s just brought in William F. R. Murrie to interview for the sales manager position. He’s heard of Murrie and feels confident that he’s the right man for the job. So, he tells him that whatever he’s making he’ll beat and offers him a commission on sales. Murrie, of course, is interested and asks to see a sample of the product. But Hershey, showing only a hint of regretful truth–telling, admits quite matter–of–factly that there is no product—yet. But, he says, with great finality, “There will be,” and, in fact, “the product will sell itself.”
Murrie pauses. His squinting eyes unveiling his disbelief, “So, you’re hiring me to sell something that doesn’t exist . . . something people don’t know anything about . . . that’s also gonna sell itself?”
And, in a suspended moment, just long enough for raised eyebrows, Hershey replies, “Is that a problem?” [See The Food that Built America, Season 1, ep. 2]
No, indeed, it was not. For very soon after, Hershey would call on an old acquaintance, a scientist, who would create the winning formula. In addition, an entire town would be built to support his dairy farming enterprise, needed to create the milk for the milk chocolate, and he would, in the end, give his entire fortune away as a philanthropic gift.
Now fast forward to 1973. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has just passed away and I’m in Manchester, NH, for a memorial service. I hear a visiting Cardinal tell a story of how he once rode in a limo with Mother Teresa and that during that ride she’d told him she was going to teach him to pray. Sheepishly, he listened carefully particularly as she culminated her instructions with, “I always thank God ahead of time for what I’m about to receive.”
“thank God ahead of time . . .” And, so it was she was able to create a world–wide organization of compassionate service to the poorest of the poor based on nothing but divine providence. Amen.
So, what did Milton Hershey and Mother Teresa have in common? One a business man and the other a Catholic nun? I would say it was more than faith. It was an impenetrable, incorruptible, there–is–nothing–I–believe–in–more than in that something bigger than myself. Each held the seed of a vision for the future. Each marched straight forward, not according to the dictates of a business plan but, rather, in response to an inner drumbeat that was already moving them. Hershey build factories and hired employees in anticipation of the milk chocolate formula he knew was coming and Mother Teresa drew letters in the sand, with a simple stick, in anticipation of the first school she, also, knew would be created.
So, what can we gleam from their stories for our own lives? Hint: in this case, the important details are not in the nitty–gritty—but, rather, in that something bigger, that energy, that love if you will, that takes over when our hearts become seized by a dream, idea, goal or project. Still, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the possibilities for ourselves.
“Great for them but I’m not like them!” we often think contemplating the great ones. Understandable . . . but look closer. They weren’t special or different from you and me. According to Mother Teresa’s Mother Superior, with whom she lived for many years, she and the other sisters saw nothing special about Sister Teresa. And, I would guess that Murrie had quite the inner dialogue going on about Hershey in his private thoughts!
“Yes, but I’m not meant to do something big like that!” we often protest. Perhaps. All of us aren’t destined to do large deeds in the public arena. Sometimes we may hear that drumbeat, that love, in the private arena of our own hearts and feel called only to share with family and, perhaps, a few close friends. No matter. For when love has its way, we can rest assured that the something bigger is at play and all we need do is respond to that inner drumbeat now already moving us. That something bigger will take care of all deliveries small and large, now one and the same, for love being infinite recognizes no difference. But, sadly, if we shy away from the drumbeat, the love calling us, of this I am certain: a song that could have echoed sweetly through the caverns of this one heart of God in which we all live . . . will remain silent.
Something bigger . . . so, what if, when hearing that inner drumbeat, feeling seized by that love for some new idea, project or venture, we, too, said, “Yes!” And, what if we, too, had the courage to follow as if it was already quite assured? What if we, too, were willing to give our all to some wonder already moving us trusting our efforts will serve some greater good we’ve yet to imagine?
If so, maybe we, too, would find our ordinary, sequential, linear, days suddenly rolled back, spilling into each moment; our rote, well–rehearsed, dialogues paused with suspended anticipation holding the yet unanswered question; our clearly defined outcomes detoured toward destinations playing hide–in–seek just around the next bend; our footsteps lightened to match that giggle now escaping unabated from our wandering hearts, even as our logical minds look on bobbing and perplexed . . .
And, perhaps then we could imagine when others asked about it, even seeing their faces all wrinkled–up with doubt, skepticism, even disbelief, that we, too, could answer with raised eyebrows . . .
Each morning their bright silent colors, red, green, yellow, gold send out a reflection through the window to hover over the river below—those lights on my tree. And I sit still, somewhere deep inside a hidden cavern in my heart, where only the darkness would dare display the soft splattering of their quiet awe. Yet, with each breath I feel a pause, a kind of ache desperately trying to patch up, hold back, stop the sorrow steadily seeping through the tiny crevasses. That sorrow all tangled up now with the unspoiled wonder of those lights. Now one and the same.
I imagine so many of our sisters and brothers lying helpless in those hospital gowns that don’t quite cover their knees, sinking in the quicksand of despair, reaching out with limp fingers for the only thing that matters now—the touch of a loved one. And, I see the heroic caregivers, pushing through, again and again, the rock heavy weight of fatigue and praying now for that last cup of coffee to be the elixir of an unseen hope—a hope that can transmute a war–weary arm to reach back and touch the hope–filled limp fingers. To be the only love left for a dying heart. Again and again.
Yet, the tangled lights shine on.
I’m standing across the corner from a homeless man I saw yesterday. I find myself wondering what’s in his small backpack. Maybe an extra soiled shirt or pair of pants, maybe one of those five–and–dime black combs, maybe even an old toothbrush or just maybe one of those small bars of soap something like the fancy places give out for free. Suddenly, I have a flash of him getting on the school bus with a similar backpack only this time it’s filled with hope for an unknown future. And the sorrow seeps through the tiny crevasses.
Yet, the tangled lights shine on.
I think of the children. The ones who are too young to know, and yet know, that their tiny world, as they know it is about to come to an end. The moms and dads who know there’s not enough extra food to leave carrots for the reindeer this year, or cookies for Santa, or, worst of all, for the presents that Santa always leaves in return. I can imagine moms and dads crying and tossing through sleepless nights only to wake and try to put on a hopeful face for the little ones looking up in unmasked innocence, an innocence tinged now with a mixture of excitement for Santa and confusion as to why mom and dad are so sad and short–tempered. And why, sometimes, they hug a little too tight.
And still the tangled lights shine on.
Many are speaking of these times as being necessary for the evolution of planetary consciousness. I don’t disagree. Yet, in this holy season, with my heart laid bare by the enormity of suffering, I find myself turning instead to the light that shines the wonder just beyond the purview of such lofty thoughts. I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters as they light the menorah for the Festival of Lights celebrating the time when a lantern with only enough oil for one night shown for eight. And I remember that miracles are possible. I stand with Christians who are celebrating the miracle birth of the Christ child, the one who came to remind us that we are each the light of the world. And I remember that means me, us, too.
So, I wake in the morning to sit in that silent cavern of my heart where I find the dying, the caregivers, the homeless, the children and parents. I sit unmoving with the seeping sorrow. And I know that I am the reaching hand, the elixir of a quiet response. I am the one on the corner with a backpack filled now only with lost dreams. I am the mom willing to give it all for just the smallest gift for my child under the tree on Christmas morning. And I am the child who too easily grabs on tight to that smothering hug.
And as I sit, tangled in the sorrow and awe, I also watch the reflection of those lights lost in that unspoiled wonder, undisturbed, and I am brought to a love only my deepest yearning can recognize. A love that fully feels and knows that I am one with all my sisters and brothers. That their pain is my pain. There despair, my despair. And, their faith is mine. Their hope also. And, somewhere in the still, unwavering, glow of those lights, I remember it is only this love that can spark the eternal light already alive within me. It is only this love that can cause me to truly see the silent wonder right there in front of me, right there in the middle of all the despair, right there looking back at me through the eyes of my sisters and brothers.
And, remembering, suddenly those tiny crevasses split and crack open and a torrent of this love spills out of me . . .
“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 . . .
And, if so, I know I will have lived well.
UPDATE! It’s been a year since I posted this blog and we’ve enjoyed many happy times with family at 3 Feathers Camp. One of the most blessed things was Sweetness and One Sock were gifted with small trees to plant on the grounds by their Uncle Mitch. Here are the pictures. Maybe, in this way, some sweet legacy can be passed along across time to bless their children and grandchildren.
Rev. Dr. Stephanie Rutt offers her work through the Tree of Life School for Sacred Living, LLC, and also serves as Founding Minister of the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple in Amherst, NH. She is the author of five books and additional interfaith curricula. To learn more about her books, as well as online and in-person classes and workshops, please visit her website at https://www.stephanierutt.com.