Archive | January, 2009

A Dangerous Dance

24 Jan

I remember the first time I slow danced with a boy I liked. It was utterly terrifying to be so physically near the person. I wonder if dancing with God is similar: scary yet electrifying. 

Although I love connection, relationships aren’t really my thing. (I know that is a paradox but light can be a particle and a wave…) But I’m the first to admit that it is much easier to have a day to day relationship with my cats than with humans. After all, they are pretty predictable. I know they will meow, want to be fed and will jump on my lap every second possible. Humans are less so. Sometimes they are in a good mood; sometimes a crappy one. Sometimes they shower you with affection; other times they are down right mean. Or needy. Or depressing to be around. And sometimes, they severely disappoint.  

So what is God like to be around? 

Like a newlywed, I am just starting to find out as my idea of who He is breaks down and the reality of who He is sinks in. So far, He isn’t predictable — but he isn’t mean, needy or depressing. He also doesn’t let me down. However, I often keep him at arms length, a cool aloof partner instead of a spontaneous, loving one. I get too pre-occupied with my to-do list and my worries and fears instead of just letting Him hold me and take care of things every once in a while. When you’re used to doing everything on your own, how do you begin to rely on Another, the Supreme Other? How do you surrender into this Love and let someone else lead for awhile? I don’t know. It can feel like a dangerous dance.

When you do actually learn to dance as a female, there is this weird moment where you have to trust the guy – because he has the lead. Half the time I don’t know the dance but if the guy knows what he is doing, it doesn’t matter. If you simply surrender and follow, the next thing you know you’re being twirled all over the dance floor. And it’s so much fun. You twirl and swirl all over the place and sometimes get lifted or dipped when you least expect it. 

When it comes to God, I am very much like that star struck teenager pining for a dance but too afraid to even show my face. Ever the wall flower. Thankfully, God is a more persistent suitor and occasionally insists on a turn whether I want to move or not.

In relationships, the real danger occurs when you get past the introductions and babbling and start to just be. But that is also where comfort starts to sink in. Getting closer to God is teaching me that it almost more dangerous not to seek Him because quite frankly, life is off kilter without Him. He is what makes one complete; not a romantic partner. And as I start to be with Him, I’m experiencing a kind of love that surpasses anything human and that just keeps showing up.

Intimacy with God. A very dangerous dance indeed. But how wonderful.

The Space Between the Breaths

19 Jan

One of the true miracles of my life occurred when Diane B., a friend of mine in high school asked if I could take her place baby-sitting for a family because an unexpected commitment came up. I did and soon became the family’s regular sitter. (I don’t remember how Diane felt about that…) It wasn’t long afterwards that the family began to look after me; they became my surrogate parents at a time when I needed a safe place to fall. 

Twenty-four years later, their daughter, that I took care of is now a mother. (It’s really surreal when the kids you babysat for start having kids and you haven’t). And all these years later, they still treat me like a family member, which is why I’ve been visiting them for the last number of days. But now the trip is over and I’m waiting to board a plane for home (God willing we won’t have an emergency landing in the Hudson). 

Endings and beginnings are a funny thing. There is this pregnant pause in-between them that can be both exhilarating and unnerving. The Buddhists call this the Bardo state, signifying the ending of one form and the beginning of another where you don’t really know what is going to occur next. Rilke called it the “rest between the notes”; yoga practitioners call it the space between the breaths. In many ways, it’s the essence of life and creativity in which things constantly transform. 

Whenever, you’ve been away from regular life (as in a vacation) there is this weird space as you leave the people and places you’ve been experiencing and start to transition back into the old life. Only the old life is now slightly altered – because you are – by the experience you’ve just had. Sure work and relationships catapult you right back into the swing of things from before but for just a moment, you are there suspended – floating in free form. I am there right at this moment. Wondering what is to be.

A number of people I know surf. I don’t except for body surfing which isn’t the same thing. But I do understand the cycle of waiting for a wave to slowly swell, swimming out in front of it until it builds momentum and then riding it as it crashes into an explosion of foam. I hope as I return home, I catch a good wave, carrying me along with ease and joy. Cowabunga.

What God, what?

17 Jan

I’m on vacation in a cold climate so in the last three days I have seen three movies (plus we’re in pre-Oscar season and I’m way behind in my viewing schedule). Oddly, every film I’ve seen has dealt with personal sacrifice, in the form of death for the greater good of others. So I’m beginning to wonder if God is trying to say something to me. 

The films, ranging in quality and in descending order were the BRILLIANT “Grand Torino”, the well executed “Milk” and the almost absurdly melodramatic “Seven Pounds” (nonetheless it still squeezed some tears out of me – as well as laughs). In GT and Milk, two characters are shot; in 7 Pounds, the Will Smith character takes his own life. All three deaths symbolize a legacy left behind for others. Clint Eastwood’s character takes the bullets so that a gang of thugs finally can be caught in a crime that locks them away (and out of the neighborhood they tyrannize); Harvey Milk, although murdered fought effortlessly not just for gay rights but for civil rights, thus leaving a legacy; And Will Smith’s character left behind vital organs so that seven people could live and/or have a better quality of life. 

Now here is where I am supposed to say something clever or that thematically sums all this up. I can’t. I’m still taking it all in. What am I giving my life to? What would I die for? Who would I save?

Two people came to mind as I watched these films. Jesus of course who in His death made the ultimate sacrifice for others (and it’s no coincidence that when the C. E. character is shot his body falls in the position of the cross). And sadly, my mother who like Will Smith’s character was not at peace. She had remorse. She felt her life used up. I don’t condone suicide but the reason I cried in 7 Pounds (schmaltzy though it was) is because my  mom took her life for me. This sounds crazy and self-absorbed but her note reveals it. People close to me (and her) don’t deny it. She wanted to free me from the burden of an increasingly depressed and troubled mother. And when I think of her death, more than anything, I think of the ultimate sacrifice she made for me. In life, there were many things she couldn’t give me emotionally due to her frailties, but ever the mother, she only wanted what was best for me – for me to have a full and happy life. She gave birth to me twice – in physical labor and in death. 

The theme connecting these movies is love. It’s the thread that also connects me to my mother, even in her death.

Snow Softly Falling

15 Jan

Nothing is more beautiful than snow softly falling. When it comes down gracefully (as opposed to when it blows harshly, hitting the face like stinging nettle), it’s like manna from heaven. I could lie in bed all day watching it slowly coat the ground like icing a cake with Cool Whip. Whether in the city or country , snow does something to the sound barrier, muting everyday cacophony and replacing it with God’s grace: silence. And the sky takes on blue tones, making one want to take up painting or cinematography to capture the unusual quality  of light (or absence of it).

I awoke this morning to snow. I’m not sure if it’s because I slept ten hours or if it’s because the snow is so pretty, but I’m at peace. I thought seeing the Jefferson Memorial and Capitol from a train window a week before Obama’s inauguration marked the visual highlight of my trip, but this tops it.

I actually saw snow two months ago but I was standing in it during a frigid burial. The poor soldiers there to give my grandfather a military send-off, dressed in full regalia prevented them from wearing coats. Bless them, if they were cold, they never let on. Instead they stood stoically and at attention until it was their turn to fire off their riffles. There was something very touching about this respectful thanks for service. 

Watching snow from a warm bed while drinking coffee is very different. But quite wonderful.

How Great is Our God

13 Jan

The song “How Great is Our God” is sung in churches across America. However, I didn’t expect to be singing it this Sunday in Williamsburg, Virginia sitting next to my aunt, uncle and 89 year old Grandma. As I looked around, everything about the church was different from my home church in California except for one thing – the feeling I get when singing the song. My skin started to tingle letting me know God had entered the room. I started to cry. I looked at my aunt embarrassed. “I always cry in church,” I apologized. “Honey, it’s okay. You’re finally realizing that everything is alright when you walk with the Lord.” 

I was once very close to my family but as my parents’ addictions escalated, their problems (and my ensuing sorrow) put a wedge between us (to no fault of one’s own). Perhaps discomfort, helplessness and geography crept in on their end; and self-isolation settled in on mine because where does one fit into a happy family when your link to the membership is self-destructing? It almost hurt to be around the love – a reminder of all that I was losing. 

In the end, my parents did self-destruct. After my mom’s death this summer, my other aunt sent me a card with an elephant on it. “When an elephant dies or is hurt, the others in the herd come forward to help.” I thought about this as I looked at the photos of elephants in my grandma’s home that she took while on a Safari to Africa. And at the odd synchronicity that occurs when God puts his healing Hand on things. After twenty years of nightmares, the drama is over. My parents are now with God. 

Today my Grandma and I walked through Colonial Williamsburg and sat in the courthouse talking to a docent. It turns out that in those days if you missed church for a month, you had to go to court and pay five shillings. Then we stepped into the church where Thomas Jefferson and George Washington attended. It was a different but exciting time to worship!

In contrast, on Sunday, we took three different cars to church. Granny went early so she could fulfill her duty as greeter, my uncle took his so he could stay late afterwards and my aunt and I drove together so we could sleep in. I didn’t belong to a church in this way when I was a kid but now I do. I find it oddly reassuring that my relatives and I spend our Sundays the same way now. I also wonder what my life would have been like when I was younger if I had had a church community. Would it have been different? Would life have been easier? The course more smooth? I don’t know.

I do know I couldn’t save my parents and maybe my loss helped me to Gain. All that matters is that I am here now. As my aunt said, “Everything is okay when you walk with the Lord.” Amen.

Ctrl/Alt/Delete

10 Jan

One Friday night I dragged myself to a restorative yoga class, which was routine for me at one point in time. If you’ve never taken restorative yoga, it’s designed to calm the central nervous system. All the poses are specific to relaxation and typically involve laying or stretching on bolsters and pillows, suspending from a chair or hanging upside down in ropes like a bat. The after effects of doing this for an hour and a half put one on such a high it’s indescribable. Which is why I kept going.

However, this particular night I was exhausted. I didn’t really want to be there. Despite the euphoria class induced, it required a degree of concentration and energy. Quite frankly, I  just wanted to be a blob in front of the t.v. “In order to relax, you have to put in a certain amount of effort,” the teacher told us. I’ll never forget that comment. It seemed such a paradox – that in order to relax, you had to actually invest in the process; work it. But like anything, relaxation is a practice and practice requires investment. I thought about the energy it takes me to swim regularly but how this in turn allows me to sleep and be sane. It was the same principle. It’s the same with prayer and meditation. 

So here I am in the airport. It takes energy to get away. It can be a pain in the tush actually orchestrating plans and taking off half your clothes as you go through security. But once you put in the effort, the surrender takes over and it becomes worth it. I already feel my body softening as I wait to get on the plane. To me, travel (or retreating) is like pressing the ctrl/alt/delete button on the computer. (Okay, I’m a Mac user and that doesn’t apply but you get the analogy). It’s a form of rebooting. Of canceling out the errors and gummed up-ness of our lives and starting over from a fresh mode of operation. I so look forward to rebooting my psyche. To shutting down. Getting out the glitches and listening to what God has in store for me. To see where I’m at, once I slow down and stop processing ad naseum. 

It was a long year. I lost my mother and grandfather in the last four months and prior to that my mother was incarcerated. I also jumped between two different and new job sites within the same hospital system. The work was familiar but the staff and set ups were different. And the kind of work I do requires a lot of people investment. I’m tired. I’m ready for a break. 

I have a window seat but when I flew to Wisconsin for my grandfather’s funeral at Thanksgiving, a travel company had made my arrangements and put me in an aisle seat. (Being Thanksgiving, I was lucky to get a flight). Nonetheless, I asked at the gate, if a window might be available. Surprisingly, there was. As I got on the plane, and looked at the numbers on the over-head compartments, my number wasn’t there. It turns out, they had put me in first class. I’d never flown first class before. It was a trip. Literally. Before I even sat down, a glass of wine was put in my hand and I didn’t have to deal with noise or crowds. And they actually served a meal. I felt like I was flying in the 1950’s. I don’t know what my point here is expect that God always gives us little perks just when we need them.

Ciao. 

*The quote in my last blog posting was from Jackson Browne’s brilliant song “The Pretender.” I forgot to credit him and don’t want the blog police coming after me.

**This blogging is fun. Like being handed a microphone (scary). Maybe I’ll get a digital camera to add photos.

Leaving on a Jet-Blue Plane

9 Jan

Murphy’s law states that the week before going on vacation = NUTS. In addition to the minor things one has to attend to such as arranging pet sitting and canceling the newspaper, it’s quite typical to be slammed at work or hit with other unexpected demands on one’s time and energy. In my case, I think God contrives it this way so that by the time I’m in my window seat on a red-eye, I can actually sleep. 

Despite air travel becoming increasingly a hassle, I still love it. My parents put me on a plane when I was five years old to travel alone from California to Wisconsin so that I could visit both sets of my grandparents. I did this every year until I went to college. From the time the stewardess gave me a set of wings, pack of cards and took me into the cockpit to meet the pilots, I was hooked. When changing planes in Chicago, I was always accompanied by a flight attendant but otherwise I was happy as a clam to read my book, look out the window and study the passengers pretending I was Nancy Drew. “The tall, dark hair man carrying a suspicious package moved towards the aisle…” I’d take note.

Now I typically crash as soon as my seat belt is buckled or feel compelled to turn on my lap top and finish some project I really don’t want to work on, but when I move past this, the sense of duty, fatigue and responsibility begin to evaporate like morning mist revealing streams of light breaking into my consciousness. And this is why we travel. To break through to other vistas. To see the world fresh and new. And to get back in touch with our souls. 

I believe whole heartedly in retreats and solitude as a means of spiritual and creative renewal; getting out of dodge is another wonderful discipline (sometimes the two over-lap). Regardless, change of environment is essential for helping to shift perspectives. Even when time and means are limited, if living in San Diego, you can take the Coaster to Carlsbad for four bucks, disembark and walk down to the ocean. Heaven. Or walk through a museum and for an hour or two fantasize you’re in Paris. House sitting can put one in a whole new neighborhood. And if work demands are insane and income allows, you can check into a hotel for a night or two like my father used to when he had an important trial to prepare for. He found this helped prevent distractions. Kindly, he always let me bring a friend along so I’d have something to do while he worked. 

So this is my annual East Coast vacation, returning to CT, VA and NY to see beloved relatives and friends, (including Granny). The agenda is simple: sleep, eat, take yoga, watch movies, and laugh with loved ones. “And when the morning light comes streaming in, we’ll get up and do it again. Amen.” There isn’t much more variance than that – the perfect vacation. 9:44 pm can not come soon enough!!!

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