November 2001 -- Enjoying the Puzzle
Another surreal Sunday. After being away for 3 weeks I'm glad to be back at my home church, however odd the fit. Good to have a base.
A steady young man wearing gray T-shirt with USMC across chest opened worship playing "the Stars Spangled Banner" on cornet (trumpet?), slowly, beautifully. His timing, even his slight adjustments coming into those large intervals were perfect to my mind. Some of us faced the flag. My eyes filled at the simple beauty of the moment. Noticed other folks wiping tears, as did the cornestist when he finished. If being in the Marines is tough, I'd guess playing unaccompanied before hundreds would take even more courage. Veterans Day--oops, forgot!
Freedom reigns in this place,
Showers of mercy and grace,
Falling on every face,
There is freedom!
I was glad to be right where I was. The cornetist ended worship with "America the Beautiful"; this time we sang along. I was reminded of the sensational an acapella soloist singing the national anthem at Weiser Fiddle Festival last summer!! Idaho is full of surprises. Life is.
With recent publication of his father's military story I expected the pastor to address Veterans Day. No. Although usually I have little trouble following him, this morning he seemed all over the board, defining “peculiar” in Biblical terms. I wasn't able to make the connection between peculiar Israelites and today's peculiarity. Was he trying to say follow the crowd without being sheep? I was in the fog, but perked up when he reminded us God does things in unexpected ways that might seem backward. No kidding, I thought!
Suddenly, what was eating at Tri this Veterans Day flew out and he was praying for the Salvation Army. Something about accepting funding in San Francisco linked to recognizing same sex households. The Bible, he said, is clearly being violated by one of the oldest, Godliest groups, in the name of money. I was disappointed: Tri, you just said God works in unexpected ways! Might not this be one? If it takes money to raise consciousness to accept all people as equals, so be it! If men write and read inequality into the Bible, it's the job of women and men job to rise above it. Statistically, even in Idaho, within a congregation of hundreds, there have absolutely got to be families with loved ones in same sex relationships as well as individuals who've wandered around the sexual field, or cross cultural families, or relationships with nontraditional roles... Simply not possible an entire congregation lives in glass houses! Of course, that was my thinking! The congregation was silent.
Jumping back on track, Tri went on to describe the tv commercial he wants to make for another church. There ya go, stick to that kind of upside down thinking, that's God sized. Judging (the Salvation Army)'s a waste of energy!
Maybe if I'd never lived on the coast, I’d ignore judging "others", people by religion, skin color, language or lifestyle. Maybe. Maybe not. Long curious about different countries and cultures, I went straight into anthropology first opportunity in college, where I learned many other ways--filed teeth, attractive??!! The injustice of destroying lives and life styles based on a belief that one is better than another, whether through war, disease or missionaries, has long been painful to me.
Decades later I know for sure God's children are NOT all exactly the same and never will be, try as we might to conform! We're peculiar in magnificent ways, all around the world. Having just watched a documentary film in Boise about Tobias Schneebaum's remarkable ability to live comfortably with tribes in Ecuador and Indonesia, the ability to accept others is fresh in my mind. Clean your own stable first, I often grumble to myself when I hear judgment, my own and others'.
The following weekend found me in Bozeman, Montana, at a meditation retreat that included periods of sitting, standing, walking and discussion. I only knew Reb Anderson to be a popular San Francisco zen teacher, who was teaching within driving distance of Boise, an opportunity that might not get any closer as we head into what always seem like endless winter. Carpe diem!; roads were clear! As soon as I saw Reb, Zen priest for 30 years, I recognized his authenticity; his defenselessness identified him as a holy man in my eyes. I knew he walked the path of loving kindness and compassion. Listening to Reb talk about the practice of letting go of body and mind that separate us from being one with all things was music to my ears. In response to the fear of the times he advised: relax, relax, relax into everything; don't try to control. You're never in charge, he reminded us. Reb didn't mention God, but I heard it; I heard the high road of Christianity in this study of ancient Buddhism. He might have been a Christian mystic.
In the eerily warm late fall afternoon Reb fielded questions about the complex theory behind the simple practice of (Buddhist) meditation. I found it heady stuff, moved my cushions and blanket to the side of the room, lay back over blanket and coat, put moon shaped cushion under head, and let his words drift through my consciousness. When I caught myself starting to snore, I rolled to my side, hoping I hadn't amused the group.
I was delighted with the intimate way Reb teaches, learning names, modeling before our very eyes how to listen, answer, and build community. Community he reminded us, is non negotiable for spiritual practice, essential. His final morning's comments on the roles of teacher/student (also parent and child) and communication in relationship and community were incomparably illuminating. He affirmed my instinct towards community (alas as strong as my independent streak) that seems to pit me against Idaho. His teaching was completely compatible with my major teachers--yoga master Char, qigong master Ken and reverend Mary. Relax, relax, relax could be qigong, or yoga, or church. Reb's unique wisdom added one more piece to my jigsaw puzzle of life.
I received another level of teaching as well. I was not prepared to meet such a fragile being, looking 20 years older than his 50-some years, yet with perhaps the strongest upright neck muscles I'd ever seen. I'd never witnessed such fragility, translucence, luminosity. It was a bit haunting. Reb’s blue eyes were lit with more than late fall light. Although I only know of Reb's root teacher Suzuki Roshi by reputation (we may have crossed paths at Tassajara when I visited one evening in 1970!), I saw him in Reb’s profile. In the sunken eyes, shaved skull and message to relax into whatever is present, I saw an androgynous being practicing (the Tibetan Buddhist teaching of) dying. The way he beamed fondly at us, reminded me of stories of Oriental masters suddenly sitting up and dying. Just like that! I was riveted by the experience. Reb seemed to have a foot in both worlds, this teaching a once in a life time opportunity.
God, give this magnificent teacher strength!
I've chosen to live away from the coast, away from a spiritual community of like minded beings who accept all spiritual traditions. As one delightful Jesus-is-the-only-way believer put it to me--you're not going to find a church like "that" here! I've learned to seek out and soak up holiness in assorted ways. I call my neighborhood, "community". I wave, I knock and 'ello! I recharge my spiritual batteries in churches and retreats of all denominations, in small group meditation, in books, and nature. I'm drawn to those who've made friends with life. I sit upright in my one woman urban monastery, breathing, writing, enjoying the jigsaw puzzle.
September 2001 -- of Bombs and Bursts of LaughterAlways keen to attend church but away from home the weekend following the bombing of the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon, I was especially curious to touch base with the pulse of the Idaho. Found an early service 'round the corner from where I was visiting in Hailey, Idaho. To the handful of us the priest asked rhetorically, how to deal with the shattering events of the week?
I sat on the edge of the wonderful firm pew wanting desperately to respond, share a secret with these strangers I hoped to connect with. But I was the stranger; I listened. The priest's small flock had turned to her during the week; the President's words on Friday restored her shaken foundation. My restorative experience had been a little different—same elements and needs, different path.
One thing for sure about the label “yoga teacher” is I know that I don't know. I will never stop learning, being awed by the sensitivity and wisdom of those with whom I yoke. Especially the week of the bombing I couldn't outguess students. I also knew for a few hours that week, I was in the humbling position of leader, as this priest was (as most of us are in our roles as parents, friends and teachers). We don't know where our fingerprints reach, Rachel Naomi Remen reminds us.
I don't remember Tuesday morning's small class well. I learned of the bombing as I walked in. After class one student-friend asked, “What do you think?” Instead of asking what she thought, I shared that my first reaction to the news, which was to hear words from the hymn that touches me so. I know "All is Well" I told her. She nodded.
That evening I met with a neighborhood Christian study group. I shared that recently I'd been studying forgiveness. Silence fell, then prayers, politics and fear resumed.
By Thursday more students were back. Road rage too, everyone processing their own way. The only television I'd watched was the half-hour I sat with my hospice woman the day of the bombings. About the 10th time I saw the same footage and heard the same report, I left, feeling I shouldn't watch any longer. (For years this hyper sensitive has plugged ears, covered eyes, walked out, switched off.)
Sensing sharing was valuable, I listened and followed the class. As I shared that the night before we focused on peace as we breathed, a woman announced she was sick and tired of it all, didn't want to hear another word. Right. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself today. How to walk the balance between stillness and movement in times of tension? What fun to weave religion and yoga when there's no line in my mind and many different lines sitting with me. How blessed can one be!
I'd already talked to God about class. Always do. What does one do with a pregnant gal, a restless fellow, a body builder, a recent widow, a brain surgery recuper, an uneasy church goer, a bent senior and a collapsed young mom? Pray, of course, to know the common ground.
That evening in class in my home I again listened, waiting for the group to shift into class. I'd searched for an article to share during class. Quickly realized it wasn't a week for information. The one article that caught my attention was on breathing. Shall we start with sitting upright, maybe look at an article on breathing later? Simple is good; let your breath become deep, even, slow, soft.
At the end of class as I announced time to relax a voice hesitantly said, “I've got to tell you that last week when you said listen for the bell to end relaxation, but the music was all bells, I couldn't relax. I kept jumping, looking at you to see if it was the end!”. “Oh, no”, I said embarrassed, as I relived my blunder of having chosen music with bells in it. “I'm incredibly sorry”, I stammered, mortified at how I'd violated creating a safe place for relaxation. Suddenly a muffled snicker slipped out of second gal, then another. “What if you fell asleep, what would we do?”, the first woman continued, causing more laughter. I vividly recalled excruciatingly awkward times over the years when my teachers had fallen into deep sleeps. Not one to miss the rare opportunity to laugh, as the “leader”, I too giggled, a bit uncertainly. What was happening? Although it's gossip, it might be helpful to mention those first comments were made by the group's spokeswoman, whom I'm told, once borrowed a kid's scooter and raced around the work place.
Ever since seeing the Indian documentary “The Laughing Club” in Seattle last May, I've been wondering how to start a Boise chapter; I was acutely interested in the moment, as laughter built. “Laugh or cry”, one woman choked out. We chose helpless, spontaneous, joke-free, you-had-to-be- there laughter. When I realized I couldn't fully enjoy the moment unless I emptied my bladder, I dashed off, causing another round of hilarity. Snickering as I crossed the room, I told myself a true leader listens to her body. Still laughing when I returned, they blamed my muffled giggles. “We were going to stop, but you didn't”, they pointed the finger. I grabbed the blame enthusiastically. How I needed this unrestrained, gasping for breath, after the last tense three days. With each round of laughter, I got hotter and sweatier. I'd lost control of the class and loved it. Lying on our backs we laughed ourselves into exhaustion, the ultimate letting go session, filled with peals and snorts.
Several of us sat up to breath. No better breathing exercise on earth than laughter! The more I laughed, the lighter and better I felt. Not wanting to cut the precious, healing moment short, I wasn't sure when or how to wind down. Trust the group process, Remen teaches. Finally I rubbed my tight laugh muscles, jaw and eyes and wiped back the sweat. Maybe laying on my stomach would calm me down! Eventually we lay in a variety of heaps. I was utterly spent. There was a twinge of sheepishness as we ended class. We couldn't help it we silently communicated; hadn't had fun the last three days.
“Never underestimate our gifts” was all I could think to end with. There was sparkle in our eyes as we said goodnight. The rest of the evening I felt exhausted but remarkably renewed. Thank you God!
This is what I wanted to share that Sunday morning. “This week I learned laughter is a way to deal with tragedy.” It feels like a secret that needs to be told. I bet laughter and forgiveness walk together.
September 2001 -- Bringing Soul Explosion HomeAgain this August I treated myself to Soul Explosion, a new thought revival, at Living Enrichment Center in Oregon. Evenings, under the big top were facilitated by Rev Mary Morrissey. We heard Brother Ishmael Tetteh from Ghana, Richard Rogers from Phoenix and Gary Zukav, Oregon, speak. Terrific bursts of rain pounded the tent the first night so hard at times we stood up and cheered; the following days sun and stars shown. I sat with Grangeville buddy Lou who I see only in Wilsonville, and my blessed local email pal and prayer partner Audrey; we sang, danced and listened shoulder to shoulder with other joyful neighbors. Days, I attended dance workshops while others went to a variety of "thinking" workshops.
Sunday morning Mary wove the week together with her message, "Living a Soul Sized Life"; as I often do, I listened to two services. What a wonderful, much appreciated recharge, this reminder that the Loving God who loves us as is, is everywhere, in everyone, in every breath.
Before heading home, I detoured to the coast for a long barefoot walk on a sunny beach. Icing on the cake! How good can it get! Very good!
The following Sunday I was back at my pentecostal-evangelical home church, putting love in every space in the songs that felt like straying from the big God I'd been reminded of the week before. New songs delighted me, "Let My Words Be Few" and "Fall on Me".
Fall on me, ever so gently
Breathe on, breathe on...
Decided to change, "These dry bones" to
These strong bones.
New Thought, ya know. Every thought, a prayer. I affirm my bones are strong! My God is mighty!
Assistant pastor Chad taught from Proverbs, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick". Sporting an "Idaho Aryan" look of nearly shaved head, he stood solidly in jeans and work boots. A tad alarming was the bright orange plaid, short sleeved cotton shirt, shirt-tail out, that covered his belly. Immediately I felt more comfortable than watching Zukav look uneasy in a designer suit. I squinted at the sculpture to Chad's left. Could it be Mother Teresa!! It's been my impression from listening to sermons the past year and a half that Catholics just don't "Get It"; no one, in fact, but Us Jesus Worshipers "Gets It". Interesting. Perhaps they do, tee hee.
As he took his glasses off, Pastor Chad warned us that the passage he wanted to talk about in Revelations was "emotional time". He wiped his eyes as he spoke about the mighty lion that can open the scroll and reveal God's plans. Unabashed emotion and passion keep me coming back, just as a loving truth and respect for all traditions keeps me returning to Oregon. Wish these folks could hear Brother Tetteh, standing tall and powreful in African robes, tell about The One Big Loving God!! Buckle those seat belts, folks! There's Another Way, just a blink away! Listen to Brother Tetteh: a loving God wouldn't put a devil in his beloved children's house. No way!
The scene of this ordinary pastor talking to ordinary people, touched me deeply. In my line of sight was the profile of a young man, clearly tuned into his own channel, who laughed and rocked throughout the service, while the women beside him wiped their eyes. I didn't understand Revelations well, but I understood that this was a place that gave people hope, to live with the challenges of life.
Afterwards I charged up front to see the sculptures. Lo and behold, Mother Teresa was on the left! On the right was Ann Frank with an inscription of her words of hope. The sculptor of these fine bronzes was Chad's father!
Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, the line between Us and Them blurs when we take time to listen instead of judge. As pastor Mike says, "It's one big party". When pastors walk the high ground, followers will follow higher and higher.
Ho! In the Beginning God Created!
July 2001 -- Divine OnenessAll winter I stewed over and sorted through the confusion that comes from having mixed religious metaphors while trying to straddle the world's great religious traditions. Persistently I searched for peace and sangha outside, knowing it's gotta be inside too. Where the heck is that sangha of support the Buddhist speak of, that body of Christ Christians refer to? How I wished my idea of a good time was a movie with the gals rather than peace of mind! I want spiritual community, to know my unique expression of life, not to be distracted from it! Lighten up, Jeannie!
Everywhere I went, something was missing. Buddhist circles, too heady, heart disassociated. Have grown to love the passion of some Christian communities, yet felt a piece of the message is missing. All groups speak of "us" and "them", their individuals, sometimes even their leaders. My own separation issues are clearly reflected in the collective unconscious around me. My idea of New Thought hasn't made it to Boise yet, though I notice sprouts. Root on! At Easter I went over to Oregon to recharge my confused and depleted soul at a New Thought source. Yum. I'm not nuts, there is a higher, common ground of love and acceptance!
My meeting a Christian Scientist at the fitness club has gotta be proof of God. As I observed the love with which Sue taught, I recognized our common vision: all things are possible! She noticed first. Eventually I asked the R(religion) word and instantly understood: of course! This long, stressful winter, we shared desires and support, worked through our respective moves--mine across town, hers out of state. We swapped music, books, and best of all, hearts. At last I could share my adventures with religion with an open minded church goer, be heard. Sue's been there, done that, knows herself. When I gave her Mutant Messenger Downunder, a book that has helped me recognize truth as much as any other, she too loved the way the aborigines speak of Divine Oneness. I was tickled when Sue, a Bible student unlike myself, shared that Enoch(sp) must have been an aborigine.
All winter I wrestled with my mind. I love the Buddhist teaching: of course the mind can be tamed/trained. Isn't that awesome! It's like New Thought's "Change your thinking, change your mind!" Ok, when was my last new thought? Or, as Byron Katie puts it, "Is it really true?" Is it ego or is it will? Mary Morrissey challenges, "What would love do?" I backed up and saw the toxicity of judgment in ever clearer light. Saw my commitment phobia clearer. Old thinking has simply gotta go if we're to live in harmony. Harmony, I love the word. Judgment be gone! Physician heal thyself! We can no longer afford to believe there is only way, to God, to do a project, to love, to live. We're all God's children, full of grace, no matter how we express ourselves. We all want happiness. Every one of us.
If Jesus said, You reap as you sow, and eastern religions believe in karma, cause and effect-- everything happens for a reason--where ever did the "Christian" devil come from, I keep wondering? The degree to which responsibility is taken for one's actions seems to be one of the distinctions among churches and religions. Whereas it gives me comfort to know I can change my thinking, get a hold of my mind, perhaps it gives others comfort to know the devil made 'em do it. Hmm.
Many teachers great and small have helped me integrate Christianity, Buddhism and indigenous religion. Possibly none like the Dalai Lama, who I believe, walks his talk with unparalleled authenticity. The main message I heard from attending his talk in Salt Lake in May was he is not promoting Buddhism. Stick to your own religion, he pointedly said. Sharing religion is ok; trying to change another's religion is a another matter. Ho! Went home a bit clearer about the obvious: Americans live in a Christian founded nation, one nation, under God, indivisible...
After meeting with the Dalai Lama again this spring, in May Mary Morrissey gave a series of talks on the experience. While discussing spirituality, his Holiness suddenly asked, "What do you mean by God?" "...Infinite presence, everywhere present, infinite and imminent....", Mary told him. "I believe that," his holiness said, jovially slapping her on the back. There you have it again, I thought. Once and for all, One presence, One power, known by many names. Straight from the mouth of one of the world's most famous "atheists", who has spent a lifetime in intense spiritual practice and discipline. Who considers a month of prayer, not long enough, who starts each day with hours prayer. How many of us have that kind of practice? Who can afford to throw stones? I'm not wondering any more if Buddhism, Native American practice, Hinduism and Christianity etc are compatible. There is only One. I find it everywhere I go. Divine Oneness. The aborigines knew it millennia ago.
Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self!
June 2001 - Moving On!Since April this free spirit has been consumed, buying and moving into her first house. The idea weaseled its way into my psyche last fall after a rare family visit, combined with the frustration of shopping for yoga space to rent. "Jeannie's ashram", my Republican brother who misses nothing zeroed directly in on the concept.
'Bout time, some might say! For 20 years, I've felt like the last renter on earth among old school friends and associates! (As if it weren't enough being the only person on earth without children or pets!) As far as I know, I'm the only non landed member on either side of my scattered family. When the idea of buying struck, I was old enough to know the cherished freedom I was waving good bye to and be nervous about responsibility I was taking on; almost too old to change! No more dashing off willy nilly to listen to spring frogs in the Cascades! A thought that kept recurring: move fast before you fossilize. I envied the naivety and confidence of youth that takes on relationship and real estate fearlessly. I yearned for the Biblical faith of little children. My mustard seeds are tiny.
My elder wisdom told me that for me buying a house couldn't possibly simply be about money, the mythical "great investment" that early retired several financially savvy acquaintances over the years. I've spent a lifetime wishing I'd bought back in the good old days so my payments would be minuscule like my old friends, or finished! Having more or less retired myself from the traditional working world into which I didn't fit anyhow, it wasn't about money. After all, if I rented a luxury condo the rest of my life I wouldn't even come close to the mortgage I was taking out! No, it was more about grounding, rooting, getting on with life... and death.
Recently I heard, every crisis is a spiritual crisis. Indeed. If I had time, I could write a book about the house experience! Mercifully, no time now: I'm a homeowner. These ramblings are it, my version of being an overwhelmed single parent. With eyes wide open, I acquired my very first major dependent, which, although embarrassingly small by American standards, is still, 30 times spendier than my largest acquisition to date, the toyota, and not a lot bigger than the apartment by the river I moved from. How could I have ended up choosing to root in a subdivision with the dread American green square of lawn and not one shade tree that were my bottom line!
The idea of, home ownership rang like a death knell, both literally and figuratively. Will I stop traveling, tell people I can't get together because there's water on the kitchen floor and I don't know why or I'm digging up the sewer line? Will I become one of those recluses with boxes stacked to the ceiling, sleeping on the floor? Is this the home in which I'll die! It also felt like much needed growth. In the process of committing to buy, I pretty much ran headlong into all my issues and fears.
I wrestled with the distasteful American myth: happiness is a huge home, 3 car garage, trophy spouses and children, multiple marriages. I flinch at the unalienable right to color tvs, new cars, barbecue units, air conditioning, to be young, blond, sexy. My head swam. I knew the picture was wrong, yet I was stepping into it, knowing full well having "my own" home was not going to make me happy. In fact, it could only work against my yearning for simplicity and create unhappiness! Mother Teresa wouldn't spent her inheritance on a house; I don't wanner either! What do I know of Mother T!! For months I thrashed through the night, working through issue after issue, the biggest purchase of my life. Something like my recurrent mid-life crisis plus life review was going on!
Luckily I'd gone through a similar values clarification last year when I bought a car: brand new v. used. Slowly bits of peace sifted in. The bottom line was I knew I was stuck and had to change; buying a house would be my vehicle. Could have been anything. For the first time in decades, my apartment neighbors got louder, younger, more numerous, less considerate. Again and again, I said Thank You God for nudging me out. Ouch. Ultimately, the only thing that put my mind at ease was accepting the spiritual teaching, "God's money, not mine". I had to let go of the unconscionable going price of homes in Boise. And, be grateful for the inheritances that allowed this step.
Bit by bit, I turned as many of "my big problems" as I could over. Let go, or lose mind. Oh, the worries I found! How I looked forward to church on Sundays, any group, borrowing their faith!
Instead of escaping to Hawaii to break the winter blues, like I promised myself last year, I shopped for houses until I ran out of steam, meeting wonderful people. My tough job was to clarify priorities, listen to nudges and be grateful for every step of the journey. Learned I preferred just driving around for my search. The important thing was to keep going. Repeatedly I was advised, "Don't consider anything you don't really like; the perfect house is there for you". However, something I'd read last winter about knowing when things are good enough kept echoing in my mind. When I drove into a new subdivision, recognized a friend and her kids out walking, and saw the agreeably designed front yard, I dialed quickly. (Not the first time this happened, but this time the house was still for sale). My original priorities-- mature vegetation and a large family room for yoga in the cabin by the river--collapsed in a heap. When the owners said they'd been praying for the right buyer for the neighborhood, I got nervous, realizing signals were lining up. Good enough.
When my shaky faith combined with their deep faith, we signed. I looked no more, though my mind kept on. God would have to find a way to re-sell a house with only one car garage and 2 bedrooms, in an escalating material world! Very slowly peace began to settle in (along with panic!). "If onlies" and regrets rested, albeit uneasily.
"You don't sound excited." How could I be excited; I was moving again. During April I packed and moved things into storage; in May, storage to Glencrest, with help from unexpected places, moral support, pickups and muscles. The first night I spent, the full moon rose. I walked through the house with a candle, knowing I was home. The next day, there was water on the kitchen floor. And so it has gone, peaceful moments, challenges.
Perhaps the most painful, most important lesson of owning a house has been learning to reach out. Little stuff, big stuff, no way can I do it all. What a humbling, rewarding and challenging stretch! What grace, the sudden acts of assistance out of the blue.
On the verge of experiencing my third full moon, I suddenly realized some of my reluctance to get going in the morning is due to the huge number of things that "need doing"! Everyday feels a bit like triage in the emergency room. As much as I appreciate advice from homeowners who drop by, I dread well meant suggestions like your strawberries would do much better if they were moved. Having only snagged two under ripe berries from the jaws or beaks of whoever is dispatching with them (I "don't have time" to sit by and watch), it's easy to dismiss that suggestion; still even unwritten items add to my current sense of overwhelm.
"Excited yet?" Folks are giving up on me. I oughta be sharing the joy of buying a house! Who said! Instead I've been a whining disappointment to well meaning folks, expressing worry every time the disposal backs up, a plank pops out of the fence. Then I realized I'm like the tree that Rev Kathianne dug up because she was impatient that it hadn't grown. She was startled to find the extent of its new roots. I try to explain I'm rooting, very slowly. With each shovel of soil I dig, each nail hole I fill, I root, afraid of attachment, yet yearning to ground in this unstable times. The promise I made to move to Oregon for spiritual community some day is still there, on hold while I figure out where to plant the iris bulbs Helen and Warren brought by and the rock rose I brought home.
May All Beings Know Endless Peace! All is Well!
older pic of new digs!
March 2001 -- Parting language
Two weekends ago Robina Courtin taught in Boise. Flyers identified her as an Australian born, Tibetan Buddhist nun, founder of Liberation Prison Project. Too cautious to sign up for workshops sight unseen any longer, I waited for her video and introductory talk. Already moved to tears by the compassion I felt through her video, as soon as I saw her and heard her speak about the inspiration she gains from working with prisoners, I knew I wanted to be with be with this Buddhist Mother Teresa for the weekend. I'd love to do prison ministry!
Next morning I was surprised to find a room full of hungry searchers. Half of us sat on the floor, half on chairs, right here at river city Double Tree Inn! I was startled by how different Robina appeared, one cheek too rosy, head stuffed up; several knuckles red and raw. Traveling's hard; Robina made no mention of her health. As hours rolled by, I studied the slight imbalance in right and left sides of her round face (I'm prone to noticing this sort of detail in faces). A photo of the Dalai Lama sat on a table behind her. Despite entirely different cultural roots, the similarity was astonishing: an identical peaceful and joyous spirit radiated from both.
Never had I heard Buddhism interpreted so clearly for Westerners! I was definitely in the presence of a master: ordinariness and transparency; ease with herself and others, told me so. Robina's warmth shot through me; yet another woman with a mission. Amazing teachers continue to distill out of the restless '60s; Robina's a few years my junior--getting younger, these teachers! She spoke rapidly in charming King's English, eyes closed, eye glasses aside, sensing what the group needed to learn. As one fellow listener put it later: her explanation of karma was brilliant. Never, ever had I understood attachment or killing so profoundly. Nor the urgency for understanding and loving one's self, the absurdity of not changing, the power of questioning one's reality, of releasing ego, of developing compassion. Good bye suffering, hello happiness! Yes!
By the end of the weekend, I was eating only vegetables, rattled to my twisted core! As if house hunting wasn't disturbing enough, now Robina's lucid teachings ricocheted around my mind! How could my untamed mind possibly sleep!
Especially intriguing were four purification steps. Recently I'd heard evangelist pastor Tri talk again about the process of changing behavior, renouncing sin. Although Robina clarified where the Buddhist steps differed from those in Christianity, to these soft, unscholarly eyes and ears, they sounded startlingly identical. Same, same (except for guilt)! That very morning I was missing the evangelical service I attend so...uh... religiously. So compelling, though, was this small, powerful woman in maroon robes, I found myself thinking, adios evangelists! Sooner or later I have to stop hanging out with those who fear God and disapprove of those unlike themselves (i.e. me) and find folks who love others as their neighbor. This is rather more like it, I thought, this practicing Buddha nature, developing compassion for all sentient beings! Ernest Holmes would be happy here; Byron Katie, too. Good stuff. What a pleasure to be with a teacher without an unkind word for other religions! Perhaps I'll make a clean break from hanging out with those who worship a fearful God and want to change others rather than themselves!
The following week I was profoundly confused, up-ended, trying to blend Buddha nature and God, metaphors all jumbled. ... Om ... Peace be with me ... May all beings be free ... One God ... I take refuge in the sangha. What sangha!
In spite of Robina's dynamite if sobering teachings and my mind feeling clearer, wiser and freer, the following week, I still had no sense of sangha/spiritual community with which to practice her teachings, to take refuge in. As I mentioned to Robina and the group, I'm much more at home and have more fun sitting with the dying, than with local "sanghas". No one I chatted with at Robina's teachings expressed interest in staying in touch, or did so. My primordial urge to gather, practice, sing with others, have spiritual community and support, remained dangling!
In spite of myself, the very next Sunday I was back with the evangelists, singing my heart out to an easy set of familiar, simple songs. I was delighted to see and hear the pastor again, looking a bit like a short, blond, Poncho Villa that morning. He's a master of personal stories. His intimate revelations of his struggle for truth and peace of mind touch my heart. Like Robina, he speaks for my generation. Uneasy as I am at times about his judgments-- bless his heart-- I appreciate enormously his honesty and keen insight into these turbulent times and the role and state of Christianity. He'd have a fit if he knew I think he cuts to the core like the Green Tara!
Ever searching (stones still unturned in Idaho!) dashed out mid service for a first time visit Mary Baker Eddy's denomination. Warm smiles on happy faces greeted me. The congregation was decidedly formal (well dressed, coiffed); kept my feet on the floor and didn't dare sip tea. The scriptural service, in postive, empowering language, mesmerized me. Afterwards, I returned to the evangelists to hear the rest of talk I'd left earlier. As I slipped into an aisle of chairs, no one smiled, nodded, or paid the slightest attention to me. I covered my lap with my jacket, hiked my skirt up and crossed my honey comb print leggings beneath, on the seat. Chuckling and sipping tea, I listened to second service. In the row ahead, I smiled in appreciation of homemade hair cuts on dad and 2 boys. How various the gatherings of God's children!
I know what I believe. I yearn for a community of similar beliefs. I sip from many local springs, drinking deeply from none. Or, to borrow a smashing metaphor from one of the "red neck" pastors (to my delight I was sure I heard, "Part us out into your kingdom!"), I'm parted out far and wide! Thanks for the challenge, Idaho!
Here's what Hafiz says in I Heard God Laughing:
(as retold by Kathianne Lewis, Seattle)
Would you think it odd if Hafiz said,
"I am in love with every church and mosque and temple and any kind of shrine
Because I know it is there that people say the different names of the One God."
Would you tell your friends that I am a bit strange if I admitted
I am indeed in love with every mind and heart and body.
Oh, I am sincerely plumb crazy about your every thought and yearning and belief
Because, my dear, I know that it is through all these that you search for the One that I love
We love the same.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger!
January 2001 -- Eyes Have itYet another surreal Sunday seeking God in Boise. Backed my small, foreign rig, “red-neck” style, between backed in pickups in the back row at the Vineyard (ready for quick getaway?). To be fair, there are new Subaru wagons, all kinds of rigs among the pickups, although even the pastors joke there are plenty of red necks with cables to jump your rig if you leave lights on! The congregation cheered when Tri announced he watched the new president inaugurated. Love these adventures with the far right! As if for making up for the partisan comment—there’s at least one member who is an avowed democrat—I met her—he scurried to higher ground, reminding us not to take for granted our uniquely peaceful process of changing leaders. Good reminder.
As he moved into Romans, Tri assured us that the belief that we are born loving and good (which he refers to as “New Age” thinking) is faulty. We're born sinners; the Bible says so. “The Bible is absolutely accurate.” As evidence that we are born sinners, he cites his 2 yr old granddaughter practicing, “Go Away!” and “No!” on family and strangers alike.
Although I have a weakness for those bold enough to speak of the infallibility of children, something didn't add up. It couldn't be that the reason the Vineyard has a cry room (which I so appreciate) and a nursing room is because they consider children sinners? I thought it was because they didn't want the service disturbed! It’s sublime being able to listen to a speaker without the shrieking, cooing and scrambling that literally drown out many a parish priest’s message elsewhere! Now I'm uncertain…
Recently I had an unexpected conversation with a fellow New Thought practitioner. He mentioned how churches around the area are fear based. Yup, I agreed. These worshippers of the messenger, rather than the [love thy neighbor] message, have a vengeful God . I recalled our conversation as I changed “Name” to “Love” in one of the worship songs. Your Love is holy, I harrupfed to myself, not your Name, for heaven's sake. Think about it! I know evangelists take the Bible literally, because they sing the typos on the screen lyrics "as is", without changing them. If the Bible is absolutely accurate, so too, the screen. Flawless.
Sometimes, even in one service, I hear Tri flip between speaking of a God of Love and a vengeful God. I sense contradiction! I may be confused about getting my body in alignment, but I am not confused about my spiritual alignment—I align with a loving God. Now and then, to reinforce the vengeance of God theory, Tri reminds us, those who don't take Jesus as the One and Only are headed for the hot spot, neighborly love or not! I love the way Tri tells it like it is, even when I beg to differ. Wonder if I’ll survive Romans!!
Afterwards I went to a service of a favorite “mainstream” church. One where I continually fumble with my glasses, taking them on and off to read fine print, squint at unfamiliar hymns; and one where we keep jumping up and down--just as I get settled sitting, we stand again. Dread those hymns; in a worst case scenario, unfamiliar blocks of words are completely separate from unfamiliar tunes! Off with spectacles for prayer, on for congregational reading. Sometimes I sense variety show rather than sacred time.
The music was sublime. Where else can I hear “On Eagles Wings” sung to perfection! Where else would I be the only one turned around to take in the breathless scene of the soloist standing in the balcony by a stunning stained glass medallion declaring “I will be with you”! Maybe I'm the only one, in the white headed congregation, able to swivel my neck sufficiently to look up and over one shoulder! Thanks be to yoga! I wanted to leap up and cheer at the end, but all was still.
Like the peaceful resolution of the election, the extraordinary quality of the music appeared to be taken for granted. Then the minister, despite his old fashioned demeanor, challenged the congregation not to rely on commentators for their spiritual knowledge. Read the Word for yourself! What Jesus did not say is just as important as what he did say. Nowhere, he asserted, did Jesus speak of vengeance of God!!! "It’s in Isaiah", he said, "but Jesus didn't say it". Read for yourself. As I listened, I realized these old timers had probably heard this before. My eye caught the gentle forward rotation of a limited rotator cuff, an elderly gent checking his watch!!
I sat there stunned. High in the sanctuary stained glass is “I am the Vine”; below, “Ye are the branches.” The identical reading from scripture is the core of both churches I enjoyed today. The spirit of challenge was the similar. How different the message!! I shook my head hoping divergent, loose pieces would fall in place!! I love both churches; neither is home; both are.
I love the spirit of evangelism. I don't need glasses to enjoy the holiness of singing song after song. I leave uplifted, challenged. If I look at my watch it's because I hope there's more singing to come. I love being in a church where someone kneeling on the floor doesn’t mean call 911! I like knowing it's ok to raise arms, dance, kneel (although I remain conservative, except for once, a few months back, when I recognized strains of “How Great Art Thou” from a visiting musician, and was among the first to open my arms!)
However. I crave to be in community where ALL religions, all people, are respected; no energy is spent teaching “others” are hell bound!
The night before church had been a rare, winter "video night"--I watched both “35 Up” and “Genghis Blues” in one sitting. In "Blues", the eyes on the famous Tuvan Throatsinger, Kongar ool Ondar, sparkled with extraordinary warmth and clarity, absolutely radiating love and life! (I'd been struck by Ondar's presence when I heard and saw him in person in Seattle.) I laughed aloud and choked up at the poignancy this documentary captured. Blind American blues singer Paul Pena on anti- depressants (who found throatsinging via short wave radio) is embraced by ecstatic, spiritually grounded Tuvans! Just recently I heard (via 1999 conference video) Ram Dass say (I paraphrase slightly because of his hesitant voice since his stroke): when you look into the eyes of another person and see God, it is none of your business how they got there. Whether it's Tuvan throatsinger, my hospice woman with sparkling eyes declaring “It’s a miracle!” [that her electronic back pain-easer works], the Dalai Lama, layperson, priest, Hindu, Christian, Jew, it's none of my business how they found God. My business is to learn to do likewise, see God everywhere, in everyone. I got homework!
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