Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Endings and Beginnings

Well, it's been two years since I last posted in this blog. Jamie has grown up to be a big, beautiful, beloved companion. (although he still bites too much).  I have made many changes in my life, including finally, finally leaving the faith community that seemed to suck the life out of me on far too many occasions. If you're hanging out with anyone who makes you feel small or insignificant or not worth bothering with, get the heck out of there. Because you are NOT small. You are valuable and precious and worthwhile.  I drive about twice as far to my new faith community, but it's worth every mile to feel valued. 

I graduated from the Living School for Action and Contemplation this summer but continue reading and praying and just being faithful to the journey. 

I have also -- with a friend -- started a new blog. If you are interested in checking it out, it's at https://womenbecoming.wordpress.com/  We are both women over 60 and share what wisdom we have about getting older.

This year I fulfilled several "bucket-list" items: I traveled to Greece for three weeks; I spent a week in Palestine/Israel; I took a hot air balloon ride with a friend; I did a pack-in horse-back trail ride for a weekend with friends from high school. But no longer term traveling, although sometimes I think it would be fun to take Jamie on his own cross-country trip.  I'd do it differently this time -- I think. I'd want to spend longer periods of time, explore more places. But since I sold the Mo, that's not going to happen. 

I still have no "significant other" in my life, and the older I get, the less likely I think that will be to happen.  There have been some "maybes" over the years but nothing quite right. And I'm just fine with that. I have a good life and am incredibly blessed.  I hope you are also happy and blessed. 

I'm signing off from this site. I don't think I'll renew the website. I hope I can still access old posts through travelinwithcharlie.blogspot.com. but if not, I hope I can find my posts (most anyway) still on my computer. Sometimes it's good to go back and read them and see where I've been and how my journey has progressed and changed.  Taking inventory. Many things have changed but not everything, and that's okay, too. It's about acceptance and just being okay, no matter what.



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Who Trains Whom?

Jameson of the Heath aka Jameson Irish Whiskers
Yesterday was a difficult day. It started with two meetings in the morning, followed by my dream group (sandwiched between difficult traffic because of bridge construction on my route; the traffic made me so late I missed my last Tai Chi class).  The really difficult part of the day, though, came from working a dream I’d had a few days earlier in which I was very angry, was then confused and frightened by and  because of my anger, and ended up feeling disrespected and my needs ignored. All this emotion was experienced in a very short dream. Working it brought all those feelings back in full force and made me realize I still have some unresolved anger about things that have happened in the last few years that I thought I had put behind me.  Hurtful things, unfortunately, that have happened through and because of my faith community – both my own parish and the larger Catholic Church.  And once again I question why I am still there.

This anger continued to simmer and erupted later when my darling puppy, Jamie, was being an almost-five-month-old puppy (teenage years for puppies) and being defiant, disobedient and just generally a brat, in my mind. He, too, was disrespecting me, ignoring my wants and needs.  Of course, I immediately felt remorse for losing my temper and yelling at him but I’m sure my moments of anger and impatience did some damage. His negative energy feeds on mine and it becomes an unpleasant cycle. So I regathered myself, calmed myself and spent time working with him in a more positive way, hoping to counteract some of my negative responses. 

This morning things have gone much more smoothly, though he still continues to be way too mouthy and bitey. We’ve been working on this more three months and I don’t feel like we’ve made any headway. He is very well behaved in most other ways,  smart and cooperative and willing, but the biting/mouthing can be painful, and he’s managed to put tears in a few of my clothes so it’s destructive.  And I continued to feel frustrated, not for the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. Sometimes I seriously question whatever possessed me to get a puppy; I’m not sure I have the energy or patience for it at this point in my life, let alone the time it requires.  I wonder if I can get a “do-over,” as I so often wish for when some of my decisions create challenges in my life. Part of me just wants life to be easy.

I was watching him this morning as he was playing outside. He sat and looked up at the sky, watching something intently. It could have been a squirrel or crow in the tree, or a plane or helicopter or a flock of geese flying over.  Immediately I realized why I have a dog: to remind me of the wonder of life. To remember the joy of discovery, of curiosity, of just being in the world and seeing it with fresh eyes.  And to realize again the preciousness of everything, the essence of God imbued in all of creation.  This morning do-overs regarding adopting Jamie would be soundly rejected, even if they were possible. Truly, I couldn’t bear to part with him, even when he behaves like . . . a puppy!

Really, mom, how could you lose patience with me?

So how does this help me deal with those apparently unresolved hurts? How does it help me love those people who seem to have disrespected me, to see the preciousness in them? The Godliness within them? Can I transcend and include, as the mystics tell us? Can I understand that people aren’t always what I would want and hope they would be and love and understand them anyway? Learn not to judge them and let go of their perceived judgments of me?  Am I “still there” in this faith community because there is still something I need to learn? Perhaps it could be . . . just maybe . . . to remember that I myself am precious, that I don’t need to have anyone “out there” confirm my worth, my beauty, my value, and that I don’t need to prove that to anyone by being what I think is expected or what will make me look good.

This has been such a difficult lesson in my life.  Just when I think I have it figured out, something happens to trigger my reactivity and my sense of not being understood or appreciated or even wanted. I am, after all, a Four on the Enneagram. Why can’t people just realize how special I am?  Maybe the first – and maybe the only – thing is for me to accept that I am special whether anyone else recognizes that truth. And, at the same time, to recognize the uniqueness, specialness, and beauty in all others, in all of creation, and to celebrate that. To gaze upon it in wonder, as my lovely puppy was doing this morning.  

With a little awareness and introspection, with a little listening to my dreams and the messages from my subconscious, I have come back to a place of peace and of letting go. For now, anyway. Two steps forward, one step back.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Be the Rock in the Flow

I was thinking the other day about the flow of love. Like water pouring out from a never-ending, generous spring, love flows among the three persons of the Trinity – in fact, some theologians and mystics believe the Mystery  of the Trinity IS the relationships, the flow of love among Father, Son and Spirit. And we are part of that flow if we open ourselves to it. All we have to do is accept that flow of love, claim that, and then share it out and back.  

 In my reflections, the image of a waterfall came to my mind and I thought of the rocks below that the water hits.  If you’ve ever stood at the foot of a waterfall, you have seen how the water is dispersed out from the rocks, hitting them with such force that the water is dispersed in various ways, sometimes reaching far beyond the pool the falls drop into. Some flows back into the stream but some splashes out in little droplets on the ground surrounding the waterfall, watering the ferns and other plants that thrive on the moisture. And some of it becomes mist and goes out into the air and creates rainbows when the sun hits it.  And this moisture, this mist, vaporizes and becomes part of the atmosphere and eventually falls as rain back into the stream, continually feeding the never-ending flow. 

I imagined this is what it feels like to be in the flow of Love – it hits us with a force that compels us to send that love on in various ways so that eventually the love makes its way back into the Divine Flow, God moving within us and through us.  We just have to be there, waiting, like the rocks at the foot of the falls. And the best way I know of waiting is awareness, openness, willingness, and quiet prayer and reflection – which is what helps us be aware, open and willing. 

The other truth about rocks under the waterfall is that eventually this flow of water removes the rough edges, smooths the rocks. And this is also how love smooths our rough edges. We learn compassion, generosity, self-giving. We pray that those who have not yet found the flow of love will find that refreshment in their own lives and begin to spread that out to others. We do what we can to be loving to all of Creation, knowing that our love is a pale glimmer of hope but that God’s love is brighter and stronger and warmer than a billion suns. We long for a world where Love -- not power, not riches, not fear – is the guiding force.   If we stay in the flow long enough, like rocks under a waterfall, one day all the hardness will be dissolved and all that will be left is The Flow Itself.

And who knows, if enough of us become rocks and disperse that love, it could happen.  Be the rock. Welcome The Flow.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Growing and Descending

This week I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the places I wanted to see while I was traveling in 2008 but missed because I had to cut my trip short. (If you read my book, 42 States of Grace: A Woman’s Journey, you understand why.) But I believe if there’s somewhere you’re SUPPOSED to be, you will get other opportunities. This is my third time here in the last four years, so I guess I really was supposed to visit here. But as with all things, I’ve come to accept that maybe I wasn’t ready to be here six years ago.

I’m here with 25 other students from among the 180 in the first cohort of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. We started Monday and it’s only Tuesday night and yet I feel as though I’ve been here for a very long time – but not in a bad way! There’s a sense of true belonging here – and acceptance – and I think that feeling of belonging will go back home with me to Oregon. This is a great gift since feeling like I belong has been a hard thing to come by in my life. Sitting with like-minded, seeking adults listening to Richard Rohr talk about spirituality, filling our thirsty hearts and souls, has already been a deeply moving and gratifying spiritual experience. And I still get to spend three more days this week and then come back again the next two Septembers!! I feel incredibly blessed and thankful!

As someone who usually brings a camera, I’m sad that I don’t have mine with me this time; I was trying to travel a little lighter. There is an amazing tree in the back yard of the Center for Action and Contemplation here. I believe it is a cottonwood. It has a huge trunk but what really fascinates me are the branches. I’m not sure if it was pruned this way or somehow grew naturally, but the branches  -- which are also huge -- weave back and forth on each other, sometimes turning sharply 180 degrees, doubling back on themselves; sometimes curving in almost a full circle or abruptly spinning off in another direction.  They feel like multiple arms reaching around to hug the tree  and dancing for the joy of being here. With no leaves this time of year the silver bark is highlighted against the brilliant blue New Mexico sky, creating a magnificent piece of art.  I am in awe of it.

While standing under the tree, gazing up and reflecting on it today, I was reminded of our spiritual journeys, our growth as spiritual creatures. Sometimes the direction we were going was aborted somehow. Some obstacle – material or emotional – has caused us to change direction. Maybe it was for good reasons  -- perhaps a realization this wasn’t our right path right now; but maybe it was fear of no longer fitting in or losing something we weren't ready to let go of yet if we stayed on that particular trajectory. Maybe someone talked us out of it, and we listened. Maybe we just needed to turn back to the trunk (the heart) and get realigned.  Touch base. Find safety.  But then maybe we reach out again, possibly in a similar direction or maybe in a completely different direction.  And we continue to grow where we are pulled.  And in this growing and changing we can create a beautiful and unique masterpiece of imperfection that is us.

Today we talked about transformation and spiritual growth and the idea that great love and great suffering  are often required before one can move to deeper levels of spiritual consciousness. Richard used as an example of great love the intense connection that passes between a mother and baby when the baby is first able to focus on her face as she nurses her infant. And it occurred to me, as a mother who nursed both her children and remembers well  these 30-some years later that deep connection, that this is how God looks at each of us: with eyes that see how incredibly precious we are.  May we learn to gaze back upon the face of God with the absolute trust and love  that are in an infant’s eyes when he or she first stares into the mother’s face, the source of all contentment and happiness and joy, the absolute source of our life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The More I Learn, the Less I Know

Several people lately have encouraged me to continue writing. One friend said she still checks the blog regularly and . . . there’s nothing new. Another encouraged me just this morning to be writing more about the experiences I’m having in the Living School for Action and Contemplation.  And yes, I should be writing . . .  I know that and I know these voices are little nudges I should pay attention to. I tell myself I just don’t have time, which holds some validity because I am very busy these days with a myriad of responsibilities. I have managed to fill my life to the brim with very good things. Isn’t that what retirement is for? Publishing books, starting new non-profit programs to help those on the margins, adopting and training puppies, taking Tai Chi and other great workout programs to take care of our bodies as they age, playing with grandchildren, studying theology/philosophy/mysticism/non-dual consciousness . . .  and God is in all of that.

But the real truth is, these days I just don’t know if I have anything of value to say or, if there is something I think is worth writing about, I’m not even sure how to do it any more.  I used to think I was wise, that I’d had some experiences and discoveries in my life that – if not outright helpful – might be at least entertaining to readers.  I used to think I had it mostly figured out.  But truly, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t really understand much at all.

Last December I learned I had been accepted into the first cohort of the new Living School for Action and Contemplation https://cac.org/rohr-inst. Out of some 700 people who completed the overwhelming application, I was one of the 180 who were accepted. After recovering from my shock (my ego wasn’t shocked at all; my ego expected that of COURSE I would be part of the program after how hard I’d worked on the application and during my years of spiritual seeking/journeying; my ego thinks I’m way wiser than I truly am), I was determined to put my all into this program. There have been too many times when I’ve been blessed with opportunities to further my spiritual growth and kind of dropped the ball, blown them off. I told myself that wouldn’t happen this time.

So in September I gathered in Albuquerque with the other members of the cohort and quickly learned what rare company I was in. And then I began to wonder how, exactly, I had been graced with this opportunity to study and grow with people who were clearly more educated, more skilled, more serious, more spiritual . . . more everything. Ordained ministers, people with PhDs in philosophy or theology, college professors, MDs, counselors, spiritual directors (okay, yes, technically I am a spiritual director, although I’m not sure it counts if you really have no directees!) – these were some of the classmates I was to be journeying with. And I found myself quickly going into the dualistic mode of thinking, of comparing and judging. “It must have been a mistake, a fluke. I don’t belong here.” THIS is what I wanted to learn to let go of: the egoic operating system, as one of our master instructors, Cynthia Bourgeault calls it.  I wanted to learn to let go of those thoughts that continue to berate me as not good enough, or alternatively, that try to find ways to reinforce my need to be better than others, to be more lovable, or smarter, or nicer or whatever the heck I think will make me worthy, acceptable, special.

Reading some of the mystics and early church fathers and mothers, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Guigo, Meister Eckart and more modern scientists and philosophers/theologians/Christologists like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner, Ilia Delio, Ken Wilber, Raimon Panikkar among many others, I have felt overwhelmed, overmatched and realized how really unprepared I was.  This was not going to be something I could just blow off and skim through. This wasn’t going to be just a reinforcement of what I already thought I knew, though much of what I already knew deep down is, in fact, being reinforced.  But this is not light reading; in fact, I often have to sit with and reread section after section to try to “get it.” It’s frustrating when my brain just seems incapable of grasping some of this deep wisdom. I keep telling myself it is taking root, somewhere deep, and in the fullness of time, it will flower.  When I need that wisdom for my journey, it will be there, deep in my heart and in a way that makes sense to me. I trust this.

The more I read and study, the more clear it becomes to me that we have an amazing God who loves us completely, beyond measure. This is not the punishing, judging God many of us grew up with, not the kind of God who only chooses a few favorites. Each of us, no matter what, are God’s favorites.  That’s the hard part: understanding and accepting that you and I and the homeless person under the bridge, and the young drug-pushing gang member, and the teenage prostitute – we are ALL God’s favorites, special and unique and yet equally beloved.

Exactly who or what that God is remains a great mystery to me, beyond the Christian recognition of Jesus Christ as the incarnation, the material manifestation of Love, God’s Word come to be with us to show us better how to love. How that God makes His/Her/Its Word and presence known to other individuals throughout the world is not mine to judge or question, nor should anyone.  We’re here to try to love and let go of the need to be certain of anything. Faith is, after all, belief in the absence of certainty.  And so I continue to read and listen, trying to let go of my need to control information and facts and just trust, and, most of all, to pray, to sit in silence and wait on God.   As much, that is,  as my new golden retriever puppy, Jameson, will allow. But he, too, is a special grace and gift. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Falling: A Symphony of Love

The osprey are gone. Today I walked on my favorite path along the Clackamas River and the nest is empty. I haven’t walked this trail very often this year – it was too hard to do it without Charlie, who loved this walk (truthfully I think he loved every walk; it’s just that this one had so much water to play in!). But I’ve been there often enough to know Mr. & Mrs. Osprey had raised another family on the light pole overlooking the river.  Their empty nest is another reminder (along with the rain and chillier weather we’ve been having in Portland the last week or two) that another summer is over.

I think I have a love-hate relationship with fall.  This is a beautiful, cozy time of year but often melancholy for me. Next week will be the 10th anniversary of John’s death, and the first anniversary of losing Charlie.  It’s hard to watch the days grow shorter and the darkness come earlier. There’s a sense of things dying. The ospreys’ absence is just one little death.  The Canada geese, usually so abundant along the river, are missing also. The grasses all bear empty seed pods, the Canadian thistle and Queen Anne’s lace, the teasel and clematis have all gone to seed.  The swallows (or martins or swifts, I’m not sure which) were still swooping in circles, hunting for insects, but they will soon be gone too.  Heading south to warmth and longer days. 

The osprey, the geese, the swallows and the green grass will return in the spring with the warmth of the sun. Most likely I will be here to greet them and celebrate their return like old friends. But I’ve lived long enough to know there is no certainty in where I will be or how I will be; I know today, right now, is the only certainty I have, and that has to be enough.

I have missed my contemplative walks in nature, where I find such a strong connection to the Divine. I’ve been reading St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God for my Living School program. It’s difficult reading; it might have been slightly less challenging had I ever taken a philosophy course, but I haven’t.  However, it is stretching my mind a little.

He talks about the steps to Union,  contemplative consciousness, and one step is seeing God in Creation, realizing the love and abundance and generosity in all things. But the next step is not only seeing that they are gifts from God, but seeing God present in all of creation, realizing how Creation mirrors the Divine. Just as we do not draw breath without it being God’s will, God breathing love into us, according to many theologians, so too does each created thing contain a spark of God’s love. And each thing is capable of love, because God is present within it. All of creation exemplifies and returns God’s love by being what it was created to be.  And doing what it has been created to do, in the fullness of God’s time.

So by abandoning their nest for this year and heading to Mexico for the winter, the osprey are loving God. So too are the geese and all migratory birds and animals when they begin their journeys, and then next spring journey back to the Northwest. The grasses and other plants likewise are showing us how to let go and surrender to Love when they scatter their seeds and die. The trees show their love of God by reaching green arms to the heavens, waving them in the wind, but allowing those green leaves to turn golden, then brown, then drift to earth.

As I sit at my computer and think about this beautiful dance of the seasons, I can imagine God conducting the orchestra, and the symphony of love and creation, of living and dying, of the flow of life draws me deeper into this mystery. And I imagine God smiling with the beauty of it all, so in love with you and me, with the osprey and the teasel, with the trees and the river. What God has created delights God endlessly; and when we can see that, we, too, are delighted and desire nothing more than to be part of this beautiful melody.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lost and Found

I just returned from my first week at The Living School for Action and Contemplation just outside of Albuquerque. So much to think about but so important to try to consider those things with my "heart-cognition" rather than just my logical brain. One of the ways to get out of that "neocortex" reasoning brain and more into the deeper heart perception is through silence, especially silent prayer like Centering Prayer, Lectio Divino, meditation, etc. I've done Centering Prayer for years, but I am a lector this coming weekend and decided to try some Lectio on the upcoming Gospel. What a rich source this weekend, one that nearly everyone is familiar with and that we've all no doubt heard countless interpretations and homilies on. Here are some thoughts I came up with about the Good Shepherd during my prayer:

Why would anyone leave 99 sheep “in the desert” to go and search for one lost sheep? It defies human logic, and yet in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-32) Jesus states the question as if it is a no brainer. As if every one of the Pharisees and scribes would do exactly that.  Never mind that probably the closest any of them ever came to sheep were those being sacrificed or prepared for  Passover; in other words, probably either dead or “mostly dead.” One wouldn’t expect these “temple courtiers” would have the first clue about shepherding. (That fact, alone, is rather telling; obviously Jesus wasn’t really talking to them. He knew they wouldn’t get it no matter how he presented it to them.)

But in praying over the first part of this Gospel this morning, I pondered the paradox of leaving 99 sheep in danger – certainly the desert is a dangerous place  -- to go and find one silly sheep that couldn’t even stay with the flock. Then he goes on to say the shepherd carried the lost sheep on his shoulders back home to celebrate. It seems the 99 sheep were still left in the desert. Hmmmm.   

Now if they were my sheep, I would likely have taken the other sheep home first and put them in a safe pasture, then gone out to search for the lost sheep. Or at least found someone--or a good sheepdog--to keep them together and safe so the rest didn’t wander off and get lost or eaten by coyotes. I think that’s what logical people would do. But love isn’t logical. Never has been.

What is it about this one lost sheep that compels the shepherd in this story to abandon all the rest, putting them at risk? Is she special or is it that the shepherd knows the other 99 well. Perhaps he knows they will stick together, will follow their lead sheep (the bellwether) or just remain where they are. Perhaps there is safety in numbers, and they will be protected by just sticking together. That is, perhaps these other 99 sheep are content and secure just being where they are, not taking any risks, not willing to do anything to rock the boat, upset the flock.  (I know a lot of people who are like that; they can’t take the risk of growing and changing because they fit in so well and are so safe and comfortable right where they are, with their little group.)

Perhaps the lost sheep is lost because she stopped for a tasty morsel of grass or perhaps to explore a patch of flowers or chase a butterfly and just lingered too long. She might have stopped for a drink and to wade in the stream or just leaping and jumping and playing, and gotten carried away with the delights of the day. Perhaps there is a joy or sense of adventure in this lost sheep that is missing in the others. Perhaps because of her exuberance, even when she is sometimes naughty, the shepherd loves her better than the sheep who aren’t willing to leave the flock even for a moment.  They find their safety in their group rather than in their shepherd.

Or perhaps there is something special about this lamb; could it be that she is blind or deaf and cannot easily follow the shepherd’s voice or lame and can’t keep up?  Perhaps she needs more of the shepherd’s time and care; and because he loves her he is willing to give her whatever attention she needs. If the other sheep  had cared enough about her, perhaps she would not have gotten lost; maybe they don’t like her and that makes the shepherd love her even more.

As I was thinking about this I wondered about all the lost sheep in the world. I thought especially about the children, those in Syria who have died or suffered from chemical weapons and those who have died from bullets or bombs. I thought of the child soldiers in Africa. I thought of children all over the world who are starving, or beaten, child brides who are sold by their parents and raped by the old men who buy them. So many children here in our country don’t have enough to eat or are abused in various ways or utterly neglected and unloved. If they are not somehow “found” and returned to safety, how many will grow up so terribly wounded that they will, in turn, inflict their pain on others?  How many won’t grow up at all?

And I wondered, aren’t we all shepherds? Don’t we all have a role to play in helping take care of those who are lost in some way? Don’t we have a responsibility to say a kind, loving word to someone who may be on the verge of suicide or feeling down and out, or extend kindness and compassion to all those who come within our lives. Isn’t it really up to us, as God’s hands and arms in the world, to reach out to those who are hurting?

Finally, it was so reassuring to me to know--as I walk along this journey that sometimes puts me at odds with the flock, that could lead others to ostracize me or judge me or think I’m pretty crazy—that no matter what I do, the shepherd loves me and will always come looking for me if I somehow get lost or on the wrong path. And that makes me want to work even harder to pay attention, to listen to that Divine voice and always, always follow it.