Welcome to My Table

This holiday season, in the midst of continued national divisiveness, I am feeling especially drawn to invite all my brothers and sisters to my table, those who may hold very different views about the presidential election than I, as well as those who hold similar views to my own. I invite all my brothers and sisters from both sides because, in the end, we are all children of God.

I invite the mother whose daughter died of a drug overdose. I grieve with you and now better understand your concerns about boarder control and illegal immigration. I invite the man who lost his job and then, like dominoes, his house and, finally, his health. I stand with you and can now better relate to your anger about global trade deals that have impacted you so personally. I invite all my evangelical brothers and sisters who feel as though our nation has lost its way through the narrow gate to life. While I have a different view, I am grateful to join with you in joyful song praising our Lord. And, to all others who have experienced disenfranchisement, I gladly offer you my listening heart.

In addition, I invite all my disabled brothers and sisters. Alongside my grandson who has Autism, you will be celebrated for your wonderful uniqueness and beauty. I invite all young girls and women. You will be held up and affirmed as valued contributors to our common good. I invite my Muslim brothers and sisters. You will be respected as lovers of God and keepers of the faith. I invite my brothers and sisters of color. You will be honored and appreciated for your ongoing struggle for true equality. I invite all immigrants who now fear deportation and separation from family members. Know you are safe at my table.

To my white brothers and sisters, yes, brothers and sisters, believing in white supremacy ideology, know two things. First, as children of God, I would gladly feed you if you were hungry, take you in and care for you if you were outcast, pray with you if you were overcome by life’s challenges. But, know also, at my table, we recognize that we are all equal in God’s sight so we strive to see one another the same. Any contrary intention, hateful or inflammatory rhetoric, simply will not be tolerated. You see, we stand strong, together, for the dignity of all God’s children and believe, first and foremost, in the power of love, the greatest on earth, to transform the human heart. So, you are welcome to join – but at your own risk – the risk of losing what separates you and, graciously, finding what joins you to all of us.

And so, this holiday season, I invite all my brothers and sisters to my table where we can, particularly in today’s climate, celebrate the words of the Prophet Muhammad who reminded us, “None of you are true believers until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” and, together, fulfill the great Commandment of Jesus to, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

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The Caller

This past weekend my husband and I drove down to the World Alliance of Interfaith Clergy conference in Marriottsville, MD. On the way, we found ourselves listening to a talk show which was inviting callers to share their feelings regarding the recent election of Donald Trump. I was struck at the level of anger on both sides. One caller, a strong Trump supporter, was particularly angry leveling much venom at those who were now protesting his election. After a follow-up question, she suddenly launched into what could only be called a full-blown, unstoppable, tirade.

Frankly, I found myself becoming more and more irritated. I felt quite sure that had she been in my physical view I would have leveled back in defense. And then, somewhere, tucked in the middle of the tirade, I heard a short phrase (they usually are) that stopped me cold. She said, “My daughter died…” and a little later, “from a drug overdose.” Suddenly, I could hear all of her complaints about the lack of border control, illegal immigrants, health care challenges, financial strain, in a whole new light. And, most of all, I remembered: behind every anger is a hurt.

And then, Grace stepped in. When the caller finally stopped talking, one of the hosts, a woman, said simply and softly, “First of all, I just want to say how very sorry I am about your daughter. I just can’t imagine how painful that must have been for you. I can’t even imagine.” And, it was clear the host’s words were heartfelt. No more follow-up questions. No commentary. No slickly spun analysis. No defense. Then, there was a slight pause of silence that could have been an eternity. When the caller finally spoke, her voice had changed completely. Quieter. Softer. And, soon, she politely ended the conversation.

Behind every anger is a hurt. On some level, the host knew this and simply provided a space for the caller to be heard. And, what did the caller most want heard? Not her political opinions or even her good reasons for voting one way or another. What she wanted heard was her grieving heart. But it took someone to hear beyond the accusatory rant, closed opinions and gritty insults – a someone who could respond, not react, from the depth of the human heart instead of from the customary socioeconomic commentary or intellectual analyses.

I am convinced that political opinions are much like religious opinions. We all have them and, though they can be similar, are rarely identical to others. Why? Because we each have a unique life story that has helped shape our beliefs. Know the story and you understand the beliefs and consequential behaviors. For example, the caller had not been derailed by Trump’s egregious rhetoric, as I, because his message had been as a balm to her wounds. Did that suddenly make his rhetoric okay? Absolutely not. But, it did help me to understand the caller better and, I suspect, others in a movement of those who have felt left behind, unacknowledged and unheard.

And, perhaps, it is here where our work resides. While it is our job to stand clear, strong and true in creating the world we would like to see, it is also equally important that we are able to listen deeply to those with whom we disagree. For, it is only in this way that we can find understanding in place of judgement, unity beyond uniformity with our sisters and brothers, and, as Grace allows, that love everlasting.

Today, I feel somehow deeply connected with the caller though I no longer remember her name or where she lives. And, it no longer matters to me for whom she voted.

She touched my heart that day…and I am grateful.

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Love Put Into Action

Love Has to Be Put into Action ~ Mother ‘Saint’ Teresa

And so we walked. In the rain. With full hearts and strong steps. The unexpected rain in a season of drought reminded me that it’s not always easy, or even convenient, to step out in support of what the heart is asking. And, it is always our choice. Yet, this past Saturday, many from different faith communities, did just that in the first Interfaith Peace Walk sponsored by the Souhegan Valley Interfaith Council. Though the vision had landed in my heart last winter, it took many hands joining together to bring this vision to fruition, a vision of many footsteps walking together, across faith traditions, in a common prayer for peace. Together, we showed, in our not-so-small way, in our corner of the world, what is possible.

We live in tumultuous times. I believe it is imperative that each of us who seeks collaboration, inclusion, unity free of uniformity, makes our voice heard. It doesn’t matter if that voice finds a public forum such as with our Interfaith Peace Walk or if it finds expression in the quiet, private moments of spiritual practice. Each impacts the collective consciousness in unique and important ways. In fact, it is always the quality of our inner practices that determines the outer expression. It is why Gandhi said we must be the change we’d like to see in the world. So, let’s each follow our heart’s prompt to do what most stirs love in us, as Saint Teresa of Avila said, to bring peace to ourselves and others.

And, lets resolve to stand together, rain or shine, in our common desire to bring all God’s sisters and brothers together to celebrate what unites us beyond difference. It is our charge. Our blessing. Our duty.

To see one another as God sees us. One and the same.

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The Beauty-Ripe

 

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The Way to the Wild Sacred 

Last week my husband and I returned to our special spot hidden deep in the Maine woods. I call it the Wild Sacred. (See my August 24, 2015 blog The Wild Sacred) This year, as last, we stayed at a rustic lodge near our site called The Pines. During the day, we enjoyed our site and also went exploring on lake and land. Below is a thumb sketch of what was revealed.

Once in a while you wander onto one – one of those soft, mossy hideaways that blanket the earth beneath hanging leafy boughs – once in a while – but not often. From parts I’ve known, the Maine wilderness is more often gritty, gravelly, dusty, dry and can be quite unforgiving of your slightest misstep. But yet it is, surprisingly, the latter that leads to the most elusive of treasures, the uncut kind. For, like a master sculptor, this land carves deep into your soul chipping away any pretense and all preconceived notions of what you may have thought yourself to be, revealing only what is naked, pure and Beauty-ripe. Here, there is no room for self-imposed importance or notions of superiority. No, Nature rules here and we, as faithful subjects, do well to follow.

Submit howls the wind swaying the giant pine, cedar and spruce trees.
Surrender whispers the water gliding over deep boulders and drowned limbs.
Become the wood crackles the fire against the night air.

And, if you are able, the wilderness may just bless you with unexpected moments of magic as if Nature was putting on a tailored-made show of pure delight just for you. A quick glance into the eyes of a deer just before she ducks into the woods with her fawn. An eagle majestically lifting up and out of a tree top spreading wide against the sky. A crow swooping down in front to serve as our guide down the dusty road.

Or, maybe it is the challenge of bushwhacking a trail to a lake hidden deep being sure to stay in sight or sound of the river. Sweating, scraping, ouch!, climbing, lunging and, finally, resting on a raised bounder in a hidden cove peering through the tall grasses at the lake just ahead. No short cuts here. No easy way. But, as promised, the reward is sweet and untamed gifting all who dare to venture just a taste of the Beauty-ripe.

Unplugged. No internet. No TV. No news. Pond bathing and star gazing the top of the “to do” list. Coming home was hard. Sitting on the interstate stuck in traffic with cars as far as the eye could see felt contrived and artificial. Hearing the first news on the radio felt intrusive and unwelcomed. Nooooooo!!!!!

And then I remembered why we go to the wild – to re-discover the Beauty-ripe deep within us. That uncut, wild sacred, that yearns for Nature’s chisel to set us free of all non-essentials. For it is only then that we may return to walk the paved roads of our daily lives with a lighter footprint and with a bit more buoyancy.

And to find ourselves even there…Untamed. Uncut. Gritty. Dusty.

And free.

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Would U Still Love Me?

Would U still love me?
                  If I would hurt U
                                  call U names
                                 curse yr women
                                 enslave yr children’s minds,
                                 lie to U about yr trueself
                  Would U still love me?
                                                W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

In 1971, I ended a paper for a Black Studies course at the University of Southern Mississippi with this poem. Last summer, cleaning out the basement, I found the paper and remembered this poignant passage. It caused me to reflect on what has changed since then and on the events unfolding today with the “Black Lives Matter” and the responsive “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” movements. The line that resonated most then and still today is lie to U about yr trueself.

Of course all lives matter! Yet, many disenfranchised groups have had to fight to matter, for inclusion in our founding All men are created equal ideal: women, many ethnic minorities, gays, lesbians and the transgendered, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill. As a result, “All Lives Matter” chanted in response to the “Black Lives Matter” feels like a not so subtle attempt to veil the historical legacy of racism found in these United States where the All men are created equal ideal neglected to specify that it, in essence, only referred to white males.

Truth is black lives have not and, in lingering degree, still do not matter the same as white lives. Why? Because, historically, we have collectively lied to them about their true self and now we are living in the fallout of this horrific injustice. Today, we see young black men in full retaliation for recent events shooting innocent unsuspecting police officers. Sadly, they are abandoning Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s charge to resist retaliation even in the face of horrific injustice. As a result, the cycle of hate and violence continues to be perpetuated because, just like black lives, blue lives matter too.

I wish we didn’t need a “Black Lives Matter” movement. But, I’ve seen too much. Felt too much. Known to much to deny my part, yes, my part. I remember “White Only” drinking fountains and bathrooms and not just in the deep south. I remember shacks clustered on back dusty roads and hearing of colored towns hidden deep in the woods. In the city, I could see at the edge of town those segregated neighborhoods, especially at night when the oil lamps glowed, where white folks just didn’t go, ‘cause, you know, colored people live there. I am old enough to remember that, of course, I must be somehow better ‘cause yous is white. Sheltered in my privileged status, I could easily look away, get busy, deny, rationalize, anything but recognize and acknowledge my sister’s, my brother’s disenfranchised isolation. Like so many of my status, by not giving voice to the truth, I helped to perpetuate the lie.

And such complacency, however innocent or unintended, continues to allow for the seed of racism to take hold, generation after generation. This seed begins with what I call the moment and it happens, mercilessly, in the hearts of children. Something happens and suddenly they know they are different and that difference isn’t good. Sadly, in that moment, they start to believe the lie being told to them about their trueself. For our African American brothers and sisters, I can imagine it happening one Christmas sitting on Santa’s lap. Why does Santa look different? Or, perhaps in church. Why does Jesus? Maybe the moment happens on a playground when being bullied and taunted makes them cry or lash out. In not so many years past, perhaps it happened when they asked, Why can’t we go in there? I’m hungry. Or, maybe when they drank from one of those “White Only” drinking fountains only to be yanked away by a horrified bystander. Or, perhaps, there was not one specific event but just, one day, that sour, sinking, it aint ever goin’ away feeling that black made them different, less than, and worst of all, it couldn’t be changed or gotten rid of. Today, this moment is galvanized by the talk African American parents must have with their children about how to behave around white authority.

When we allow any group of people to believe the lie about their trueselves, something dies within them and, as a result, within us as well. This is actually a great blessing because this painful acknowledgement can only arise from an undeniable knowing that we are all one family in this heart of God so what we do to the other we do to ourselves. The good news is we can choose to reject the lie and follow the truth that, with time, together, can set us all free. But, this is not a path for the faint hearted. We must be willing, again, to follow the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and first look within ourselves. Yes, within. We must search our own hearts for where we have been blind but now are willing to see. We must ask ourselves, What can I do to assure the ‘moment’ never happens to another innocent child – any child – of any color – again? For, in this heart of God, all lives really do matter the same. And, if we can each do this, perhaps the day will come when none of us, black or white, will feel the need to ask…

If I lied to U about yr trueself, would U still love me?

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Gratia Plena

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I wear it all the time now. It came on my birthday in a small box from a lifelong friend far away. I was surprised because, though we always exchange cards and sometimes a phone call on our birthdays, we have not exchanged gifts in many years. Yet, when I opened the box, I understood. It was a breathe blessing bracelet and the packaging said, “Made with love in the small pilgrimage town of Medjugorje.” Medjogorje is where the Blessed Mother Mary has appeared since 1981 giving messages to the world. My dear friend had absolutely no idea what had been happening in my life. Later, she would tell me she just knew she was drawn to send it to me. You will understand better the significance of this gift by the end of the story – a story that has left me gratia plena, full of grace.

The telling of this unfolding I most humbly and gratefully dedicate to the Blessed Mother Mary. Ave Maria! My heart has no words to thank you for being with me, for being my Mother in my most desperate hour, and for staying with me going forward to teach me ever more deeply the mysteries of birthing God. Oh, how I thank you! How I love you!

Here is a simple accounting of the events sprinkled with insights gleamed along the way. I sense the larger spiritual journey has only just begun. Yet, it feels ripe to share at this juncture. I trust completely that each of you will receive something important for your life and journey. It is in this spirit, I offer my personal story.

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After an extremely busy school year, I was very much looking forward to my summer break and my hammock. What I didn’t realize was just how much my body was needing the rest for, by the first week of June, I was starting to have neck and head pain.

Whether we are aware or not, God’s Law will calibrate us when we have wondered too far off balance. Yet, truly, this shows how much we are Loved. The body registers this as dis-ease.

During this time, a friend dropped by to pick up the key to the Sparrow’s Nest as I was too sick to go to a meeting. In our brief conversation, he told my husband and I of having had Bells Palsy. In my state, the story barely registered. Later, someone would reflect, “It was like God sent him to let you know this was going to happen and that, like him, you’d be okay.”

Pay attention. From the most seemingly insignificant places, God is always reaching out to us. How blessed to know we are so very cared for.

Within a few days, I woke and noticed my mouth felt strange. Looking in the mirror, I saw that one side was drooping and not responsive to any of my efforts to fix it. My husband took me immediately to the ER. My mother had had her first stroke at about my age. I remember feeling numb. After a brief examination, the doctor said matter-of-factly, “It looks like you’ve had a stroke in the middle of the night. We’ll get a cat-scan to be sure. Meanwhile, I’m going to admit you overnight.” And, off he went. What? Is this really happening?

After two cat-scans and an MRI came back normal, the doctor looked clearly puzzled. But, by this time, my daughter had arrived and noticed my right eye was not closing in sync with my left. The doctor took another look. “Okay, now I understand. It’s Bells Palsy.” “So, no stroke?” I asked. And, “What is Bells Palsy?” not recalling, at that moment, the earlier conversation with my friend. After some explanation, I was released with medication. Still numb. What just happened?

Though all is unfolding quite perfectly, it can be difficult to understand the reasons for our most troubling and challenging times. It can take a while, sometimes quite a while, perhaps not even in this lifetime, for the deeper lessons being gifted to come into focus. But I so trust that the heart knows, sees, what may be, initially, invisible to the eye.

Shortly after returning home, I wrote to you, my blessed community, to ask for your prayers. That evening, one of my dear friends to whom I had loaned my Mother Teresa rosary called to insist that she come over and return the rosary. At some point, she suggested praying with the rosary together stressing, “The rosary is all about Mother Mary.” At that very moment, it struck me that, for all my extraordinary experiences with the rosary (see my February 11, 2011 blog, “The Mother Teresa Rosary – The Next Chapter”), I had never particularly associated the rosary with Mother Mary. But, that night, as I clutched my rosary close in bed, I started calling on the Blessed Mother…

God often speaks to us through one another. It is why we are given to one another. When we reach out, share in Love, God is there for Love can only beget Love.

And every day and night I started praying to the Blessed Mother. Oh, how loved and supported I felt. I just knew she was near.

A few days later, I went see my doctor for the follow up visit. “The doctor at the hospital ordered a test for Lyme,” he said. “The first results have come back positive. We’re now going to send it off for the next level to verify. I will call you in the next few days to let you know.” Feeling better and still elated not to have had a stroke, I thought: Hummmm, Lyme? Okay. Anything else is secondary. Anything else I can handle. And, I felt impatient to leave.

Then I noticed a slight shift in his posture as he looked down at my chart. I can remember feeling a pause. “But, there is something else we need to talk about. One of the cat-scans taken at the hospital showed a spot on your lungs, a small nodule. It looks like the kind that can grow unnoticed and silent for years until finally lung cancer is diagnosed but, by then, it’s too late. If this is the case, we can say, ‘Thank you Bells Palsy!’” What? Geeeeeees!! What else??? “The hospital will call you in the next few days to schedule another cat-scan for your lungs. Try not to worry. Most of the time these things are benign or just turn out to be scar tissue.”

On the ride home, it suddenly became quite clear to me why the rosary and the Blessed Mother were with me. I told my husband but decided not to say anything to anyone else until I knew for sure. And, right away, I wrote a prayer and started sending love to my nodule. Gently touching my upper lungs…

Little one, what has formed you? What are you here to tell me? I am listening. Help me to receive all you have for me. Talk to me in the silence so you, so I, so we may be healed. Meanwhile, know that I am surrounding you with Light and infusing you with Love. Any dis-ease you may hold is returning to easy for nothing lives in my body but Light and Love. Be well, little one, for all is well.

I started saying this all during the day – in the shower, in the car, in my hammock. I began and ended each day with my rosary thanking Mother Mary for being with me, for holding me in her tender care and healing love.

The next week was my yearly retreat with my seminarians at the House of Prayer in New Ipswich, NH. I decide it should go forward. The first night there, we were introduced to a nun, Sister Miriam, visiting from a Carmelite order. Immediately, I remembered that the Chasuble my mentor in seminary had given me for my graduation was from a Carmelite order in Italy. Its picture is above. I have always wondered if the image on it was of Mother Teresa because of the blue and white coloring. I asked my husband to text me a picture to show Sister Miriam and the next day she assured me it was not Mother Teresa but, rather, the Mother Mary. That same day, I received a call confirming my positive results for Lyme and a call to schedule my lung cat-scan.

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10: I am all around you. I yearn for you. I am as close as your breath and as dear as your heartbeat. You are my Beloved…All these years the Blessed Mother had been right here with me in a way I had not known or recognized. Where else are you hiding? Smiling, I can only wonder! Help me to stay open, looking with soft eyes, so I may better see You, feel You, know You everywhere.

Before leaving the House of Prayer, I discussed my fall workshop offering with Sister Rita and knew, without a doubt, that I would be offering a workshop honoring Mother Mary conceived on Mister Eckhart’s well known saying, “We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.” I could feel the Blessed Mother now steadily each moment, palpable, always with me.

The next week, I had my lung cat-scan and a few days later, right before my birthday, I received a call confirming that only scar tissue was found and there was no need for a biopsy. Do I believe I had a cancer nodule? I don’t know. Truly, it doesn’t feel important to know. What I do know is that I have felt held, loved, supported and cared for each step of the way. And, I continue to do my part – to practice consciously loving myself, a little more deeply, back to balance…back to health.

Recall now the beginning of this story: receiving the breathe blessing bracelet from my dear lifelong friend made in the small pilgrimage town of Medjugorje. Amen. For me, receiving the bracelet confirmed what I had felt all along – that the Blessed Mother had been with me, was with me, and, as importantly, would continue to be with me going forward. For, blessedly now, I can feel her each moment directing, guiding and breathing through me the very gift God is now seeking to birth next through my humble, joyous and most expectant life.

Gratia plena I am for the Blessed Mother is caring for me; Love is healing me; and, full with silent wonder, the Grace of God is birthing me. Ave Maria!

We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.
Meister Eckhart

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To Brussels with Love

I wondered about the baby picked up off the subway floor. I flinched at the piercing sounds of the child screaming. I tried to imagine the story behind the bouquet of flowers clenched fast by the man hurrying away. And then, for just a few seconds, I felt my jaw soften as I saw someone kneeling down on the sidewalk writing in blue chalk, “WE ARE ONE.”

And I thought about what Anne Frank said, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness,” a sentiment expressed across many faith traditions. We too can light a candle dear community, indeed, many candles from the one. For Brussels and for the millions who are suffering violence at this moment. We must.

Blessedly, there is a stirring right here in our community right now. We are beginning to gather together, people from many faith communities. We are visioning together making a visible, public statement of peaceful solidarity, purpose and hope – making visible that blue message on that sidewalk, “WE ARE ONE.” If you are wondering what you can do, how you can help to bring light into the darkness of ignorance, join us for we will be walking together, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, Hindus, Sikhs, Native Americans, to name only a few, lighting many candles against the backdrop of horror and suffering.

Muhammad said, “None of you are true believers until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” My love yearns for the baby to be well, the child comforted, the flowers to be delivered, and, mostly, for many of us to come together for peace – to rise up as we kneel together, side by side, with blue chalk to write in a thousand languages, “WE ARE ONE.”

For Brussels. For all humankind.

Join us. It is time.

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