November -- Thanksgiving 2002
I've been sorting through my spiritual path with gratefulness, teachers great and small, known and unknown, who brought me here. The rough road started in Jacksonville, Illinois, with Reverends Pankhurst and Eitzen of the Congregational Church, where I was confirmed. I hated to go to church, although still remember with delight a childhood choir experience with Chrissy Cleeland’s MacMurray College classic
professor father calling us cherubs. In my mind he still looks like Bach or Beethoven. Gratitude also to Chuck Hopper’s psychologist dad for leading Sunday School, which I quite liked. The scars of being forced to attend church by a parent who did not go took years to fill.
* Twenty some years later the Theosophists of Seattle put up with me, introduced me to meditation, and the idea that my passion for nature was a form of spirituality. Eureka! Thank you, Theosophists.
* Gratitude to the community of Ananda and Unity for bringing terrific spiritual leaders to Seattle.
* Gratitude to the Spokane community choir director for suggesting "try a church choir". To the Unitarian Church in Spokane for honoring all religions and to Debby Jacqueman for taking me into her wonderful choir and Rev Linda Wittenberg for bringing me into the folds of my first adult church. It didn’t hurt that she was from New Berlin, Illinois, a wide spot on the back road to Springfield Illinois, maybe 15 miles from Jacksonville. That loving congregation did wonders to help me lick wounds. Particular gratitude to the alcoholic elder lit the chalice, reminding us he goes to church because he doesn’t know who might need a friend that day.
* To Loveda Elk for teaching love, sharing the unseen world, and hard truths.
* To Gloria Benish for more love and bringing Jesus to life.
* To Mary Lee Lykes for mentioning how much she loved her church. After I left Seattle, I returned to meet the wild and wonderful Kathianne Lewis. Her congregation opened my heart further to the joy of giving, religion, and community, expanding my bruised horizons. Practitioner Ann Bock’s joy was electrifying. To Ernest Holmes of Religious Science for the foundation stone that remains firmly on my path.
* To the Unitarian Church of Moscow for allowing me to try my hand at teaching (yoga) and for pushing me out of Unitarian comfort into my first Christian church, Unity of Lewiston, during Fred Wright’s term.
* To the clerk at Renaissance Books in Portland for pointing to Mary Manin Morrissey’s new book, when I asked for a place to attend church while visiting over 4th of July, 1997. Mary’s New Thought teachings remain the backbone of my faith and of survival in Idaho. Almost single handedly Mary made Christianity work for me by honoring all religions, all paths and all people. I continue to visit several times a year.
* To Religious Science of Boise for pushing me on to nondenominational evangelic pastors of the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel. What an adventure and education! Gratitude to these Jesus movement churches for the opportunity to sing passionately, for in depth Bible study, intellectual challenge, and healing wounds of relationship and Christianity, and clarifying that I am New Thought at heart.
* To 1st Presbyterian of Boise for letting me sing in the choir and great warmth.
* To the Unitarians of Boise who let me tag along at potlucks, campouts and services, restoring me with words like recycle, environment and human rights, omitted from evangelic Christianity, which are such a part of me.
* To innumerable cathedrals, basilicas, churches and fellowships I’ve been visited the past few years. Many cantors, priests, pastors, lay persons I’ve enjoyed and those who’ve welcomed me. Those who moved to another row, helped clarify home base.
* To wonderful yoga, Buddhist, meditation, Zen and qigong teachers who practice the Truth with love and humor.
August 2002 - - "1919"
My father was born in 1919; he died in 1977 before reaching 60 when he could leave air force retirement to mom. Like so many of his generation, he took his responsibility for supporting the family seriously; he worked long hours in his own business. I didn't know him well. When pastor Tri began talking about his dad's reminiscences as a Navy pilot in his new book, Navy Wings of Gold, my ears perked up. This month, I read Robby's story, noting with interest he too was born in 1919. He probably went into the service about the same time as my father, who rarely mentioned his experience as a pilot in Africa. Robby's flight training in Alaska and the navy wouldn't have been exactly like my dad's, but I couldn't help thinking that a lot of the intense experience of training with a group might have been similar: the adventure of
flying, growing up fast, being under strict authority, of making fast friends, of losing so many fellow pilots.
I had never read such personal reflections of the WWll, especially from the air. They're probably out there. I see this man in church most weeks; he could be my father. I was quite touched by his taking time to write up his experience, look up and interview some of his fellow flyers. Although most of his story is training, logistics, and weaving in his "impulsive" war-time marriage to the woman he's with at church. He also looks back, marveling at the slim chance of getting through, pondernig who survived and why, and how many, many colleagues were lost and disappeared, often in training, not infrequently killed by their own troops, but also on missions over in the Pacific. To this child of the '60s, this was a HUGE war. I was closer to the Vietnam and still feel the loss of men my age, literally and psychically, but this was a World War. Big, and horrible. And my father, like so many, was a small part. I'm sure it made him who he was, a hard working man, dedicated to family and community. It was like reading the story I never knew of my dad. At the same time, without consciously realizing it, I'd finally checked out Norman Maclean's 1919: the ranger, the cook and a hole in the sky from the library--book on tape. Once again, Maclean left me breathless. What an extraordinary storyteller. What a precious slice of life, of growing up, of the West, he caught. The summer my father and his twin were born in Illinois, Maclean was spending his 17th year tromping trails of the newly created Forest Service on the Montana/Idaho border. His story of growing up, under the authority of an old fashioned head ranger-packer, has the elements of a perfect thriller: real life.
May 2002 -- Discovering More Friends
I want to thank the interviewee in Studs Terkel's Will the Circle Be Unbroken: reflections on death, rebirth and hunger for a faith for mentioning something like "Henri Nouwen's daily message on the web saved my life". Grabbed pencil and paper. A few weeks later the scrap with "Nouwen" surfaced and faster than the speed of light, google brought me to Henri Nouwen's message. Finding my cloudy truth expressed clearly in the daily message caused goose bumps. I liked the amiable face in the photo. Soon I was fetching Nouwen books from the library, one about a retreat to contemplate death (a near and dear subject); a second, Road to Daybreak, described Nouwen's journey in and out of academia, around the world really, searching God. Whow.
When my desire to underline the library's Daybreak became too much, I learned to order used books on the net and had a beautiful copy from St. Paul MN--too beautiful to write in!--in the mailbox in no time at all. Whow again. Read on, feeling I'd at last met someone who understood spiritual emergency (Nouwen's term). As I explored the Nouwen web site I learned how beloved he is of many, of his untimely death a few years ago, and how many considering him a friend never met. Me too, I'm beginning to think!
On a roll, searched my "to read" list. When the library said Ronald Rolheiser's The Holy Longing: the search for a Christian spirituality was waiting, I gasped to find the dedication to Nouwen, and plunged.
"For Henri Nouwen, 1932-96, our generation's Kierkegaard. By sharing his own struggles, he mentored us all, helping us to pray while not knowing how to pray, to rest while feeling restless, to be at peace while tempted, to feel safe while still anxious to be surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, and to love while still in doubt."
Amen. Amid ah ha's and sighs, more pieces of the spiritual puzzle began falling in place. As Rolheiser wrote about the non-negotiables of spiritual life: private prayer, social justice, gratefulness and community, I tore the checkout slip, marking page after page. I nodded as he wrote of the unquenchable human desire and fire that has no exceptions, that is our spirituality. "To join a church is to give up elitism.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to church participation and the greatest benefit." No wonder it's such a big deal in America, no wonder it took me 40 years!
But it was his discussion of community sat me bolt upright, so to speak. For years and years I've whined and yearned for some seemingly out of reach community. Suddenly I was given a new view, both theological and personal. Community is, as I suspected, right before me. But my inability to be part of it perhaps, however, is not mine alone, he explained.
...[to be in apostolic community] is not necessarily to be with others with whom we are emotionally, ideologically, and otherwise compatible. Rather it is to stand, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, precisely with people who are very different from ourselves and, with them, hear a common word, say a common creed, share a common bread, and offer a mutual forgiveness so as, in that way, to bridge our differences and become a common heart. Church is not about a few like-minded persons getting together for mutual support; it is about millions and millions of different kinds of persons transcending their differences so as to become a community beyond temperament, race, ideology, gender, language, and background.
Exactly! That's why I'm so touched to be with clinging couples, red-necks and bikers, doddering elders, indifferent teens, homemade haircuts, mentally and physically "different", all those who show up week after week to sing and listen together. People with whom I seemingly have not a shred in common yet I intuitively love because we agree to meet on sacred ground. Not only is it my assignment to love and accept them, it's theirs to accept the undeclared Buddhist-Christian yogi in their midst. Just as it is the Buddhist community's assignment to accept a sometime Christian in their circle!!
As I stood in line at the bookstore at church, the woman who stopped emailing when I mentioned sensing the same joy in Jesus as the Dalai Lama, accepted the reading glasses I offered. I sensed a deep and holy moment (and prayed for many more!) Not only did Rolheiser help me understand why I can't stay away from church...
(We want God, but we don't want church... Without church we have more private fantasy than real faith ... Why? Because the search for God is not a private search for what is highest for oneself or even for what is ultimately for oneself." )
But he clarified my odd fit within--no easy task. Thank you God and Friends!
The greatest of these is Love
March 2002 -- Didn't It Rain!
Saturday morning I headed off to find the Table Mountain cross (as in the "Save the Cross" bumper sticker) to meet the Easter service pre-prayer team. Ever up for prayer--soggy gray morning or not--I'd jumped at the chance to join the group I'd learned about in a forwarded email. (I was feeling a little guilty, though, because I hadn't truly complied with the suggested 24 hour fast. You're spared my rationalizing.)
Dug out long stored rain pants and coat, only to find I'd "out grown" 'em. OK, kids outgrow; I'm ripe for serious physical fasting. As I turned on the road to Table Mountain, watching joggers splash along, I listened to Mahalia Jackson sing "Didn't it Rain, Children!" and thought, no kidding! Hadn't seen rain like this is ages. Pavement became gravel, then dirt; a film of mud kept me wide awake. Low clouds hung across the city, out to the Owyhees; it was beautiful. I'd never been up this way.
Although I was early, I anticipated meeting up with a host of enthusiastic folks. Instead, not another person or car in sight. Where was the hardy prayer team?
Listening to Mahalia, I filled a whole trash bag as I cleaned out the front seat--good grief, what a dump! Finally decided the prayer event must have been canceled, so I put trusty Seattle wool hat over hood and headed out in tight rain pants and coat. A hiker in wet jeans slogged onto the top: "Nope, not with the Vineyard. Gotta go!" and headed back down the muddy trail. Then as I'd hoped, I found myself circumambulating the parking area and cross, chanting "Only God, only Love, before, behind, above, below, all around. No matter that human thinking separates one from another, we are all one and there is only One Loving God. S/he's mighty, glorious and magnificent!" Maybe I was being given the chance to scoop the prep team, lay a foundation of Mother-Father God's love for all children! Jesus said Love Thy Neighbor, not Love this one, but not that. I flooded Table Mountain with the Most High's Love of All People, every last one, regardless of race, religion or lifestyle." I affirmed the Loving God created only Love; there's no Enemy. Forgive them, they know not what they say." On and on I walked, speaking my truth, envisioning raising the consciousness of the whole Easter service.
This was fun. Like tossing my new thought 2 cents into the 72 hour prayer vigil last January. Never dreamed I'd drop in at 10pm and stay until nearly 2am. "Love's bigger than any problem", I reminded folks when they prayed to overcome this and that, the enemy, etc. "God's in charge," I chirped like a broken record. "The good of one church is the good of all churches", I chimed in when I felt thinking and prayers shrinking. A woman from Connecticut (I found out later), a mighty pray-er, took that ball and ran with it.
Bless the Vineyard for not throwing out this non-bluejeaned, child free, lone woman! It's a miracle!
As I got into pacing around, two cars arrived; kids, dog and a couple of adults piled out. I recognized a bundled up face and overheard one fellow saying, "No way could I fast working a double shift". I immediately felt better. Quickly we adults huddled and spoke a few prayers. I affirmed the service to be a beacon of light to reach around the world. Why not. Maybe praying in the rain ain't everybody's idea of a good time. That morning it was mine. Folks are gonna know what hit 'em Easter!
I'll be over in Oregon, recharging my low winter battery with new thought, for another round in Idaho. Like my old friend Toonie used to write, Tee hee! God is good!
Afterwards I joined the young families for juice and tortilla communion around the kitchen table. I left them making submarine sandwiches and headed to look for nettles along the river and a stop for Chinese food.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing to You!
February 2002 -- LIFT HIM UP!!!- Gospel in Idaho
What! I've never heard of Boise Community Gospel Choir! Wrapped in vintage raccoon fur coat, headed downtown in unbelievable snow storm--along with a good number of other troopers, who turned out for this Sunday afternoon Martin Luther King Day concert. Slid the toyota into a parking slot and figured I'd worried about getting out later. Offered a furry arm to shaky black elder Charles--who I recognized from a former church life--when a group of us post holers converged!
What does a white girl from Idaho know about gospel? Maybe not much. Still, I've made a few detours on the way to the (Boise) River. A few years back during a visit to the black church in Salt Lake City my teary eyes and heart knew they'd experienced the real thing, the undiluted tradition of the deep south. Like the supreme court justice who knows porn when he sees it, l think I know gospel when I feel it.
Last spring a handful of us enjoyed an awesome outdoor gospel concert, one damp morning in Seattle. An emcee from the local gospel radio station introduced a woman from England, whose organization had sent her clear across the ocean to learn more about gospel--how often more interest from across the globe than next door! I loved the groups with the scent of Georgia still with them; especially the solid, calm black woman who led one group, who knew to Whom she sang. The casual, comfortable interaction of black and white musicians fed my Idaho based soul.
Boise's MLK day concert was fine jazz, but not gospel in my book. No way could I possibly sing along--my personal test for gospel. No way were voices untrained. When an upcoming gospel workshop was mentioned, my eyes grew wide--might it be "the real thing"?
The following Saturday morning, after a hike back to the car to raid the emergency cash stash--how could I have an empty wallet!--I was registered and sitting among a fabulous mix of classy mini braided Afro-Americans and pale, natural blonde Idahoans. (Conspicuously missing were men-- as though men and music, like oil and water, don't mix! Their loss, but a sad note these days!) Once the cat was let out of the bag (regarding the workshop), more and more chairs had to be fetched, more copies run off! By noon more than a hundred of us crowded the sage at the Special Events Center, where the Idaho Black History Museum's 6th Annual Gospel Music Workshop was clearly a hit! One look at Tim and Sharon Poston and Nathan and Darlene Johnson from Oakland-Berkeley area and I knew we were in strong hands.
The real thing. These black Americans have been singing and directing gospel music all their long lives. One move of petite Darlene's arms--standing on a platform so we could see her--expressed a world of music. I loved her chartreuse sweat suit! We were like clay in the creator's hands. WHAT directors! WHAT voices they each had! Sometimes Tim or Nathan directed from piano or organ; "You're gonna learn 9 songs by the end of the day", they announced. Sharon and Darlene led us in other songs. Sharon's smile could light the whole world. Veterans, they knew exactly how to bring a hall full of black choir folks together with white church folks and who knows what else! "Church?", one woman looked blankly at me.
To understate vastly: I love unabashed, untrained, folk singing, which I think this was. I was in hog heaven, singing in unison or harmony with the altos. We held the words of the (brand new-to-me) songs in our hands. By afternoon we were standing on risers and my feet were yowling.
All day rehearsal moved into the evening concert. At noon I'd made a few quick Come-hear-this- exciting-choir calls. All day I stood with strangers around me--who were these folks? (May never know!) By evening a few of us were introducing ourselves. Lewiston, Idaho! Attendance for the "event of the winter" was light, but those who came were on their feet almost as much as the choir. Directors worked fine soloists into the songs. Fine, not so much because of professional quality of voice or performance, but because of their hearts and passion.
I'm fascinated by the emotion of faith... This was a feast. Was I in, or out? I loved singing at the top of my lungs, knowing it was not about "right" notes. I loved reaching an arm out now and then, as I do at church--usually both, but we carried folders-- movement/music/dance feel right and natural. I've waited a lifetime to sway, unrehearsed, with a gospel choir! There is something glorious and magnificent, bigger than me; I'm sure of it! I'm jealous of singers--anyone--who gets "carried away", loses themselves, especially in the passion of Spirit (v. anger, fear, sex, drugs...). I loved the power of singing with a hundred other enthusiastic people!! Absolutely adored the syncopated rhythm of "He is a Mighty God"! Loved singing "Forever and ever and ever" and "Lift Him Up", back and forth, over and over, the director pointing here and there. Awesome! God is awesome and so is singing about Him, Her, whatever. I didn't care. Holy Spirit, Jesus. "Magnify Him, Glorify Him".
I dived, big time, into the opiate of the masses and inhaled. As we hobbled off the risers, down the aisle at half time, a book club friend reached out and greeted me! Ah ha! Gloria's enjoying herself!
It was an awesome day. As I stood in physical agony, seriously questioning whether my knees could get me off the stage one last time, I thought, no way can body do this again, even if soul wants to!
After a big cup of cocoa, bath and hot tub soak, essential oil foot rub, sleep descended. The next day I was startled to find myself thinking, "Next year..."!
Several mornings since the concert I've awoke humming "You don't know my story, All the things that I've been through". Melodies are fading ... strains remain here and there, stuck in my consciousness--perhaps ones already there. (Sure hope the tape turns out!)
"Awesome" is over used, but I don't know a truer use: the gospel workshop was an awesome experience. Words can't express how incredible the Postens and Johnsons are, clearly channels of Thy Love, sharing their gift, decade after decade. I am so grateful. I remain deeply touched.
His Mercy Endureth Forever and Ever!
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