Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Weeping Under the Rug

As always, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Dia de Muertos throw me into emotional upheaval. It's a time of reflection, of praying for and with those who came before us, of asking for prayers and blessings from them.

There was a time I didn't cry in public. Or at home. Or even barely in the privacy of my own room. It's that upbringing - societal, family, cultural - that says men aren't supposed to cry for some reason. Or, you're not supposed to cry because you're the oldest child and you're helping take care of your siblings. You're not supposed to cry as a developing teenager because then people might realize that you're gay.

There was a time I would sit in the theatre and if I felt the tears coming, I'd shield my face so that only the movie screen could see the tears welling up in my eyes. Or streaming down my face. There was a time when I'd curse and spit and shout when I got injured in sports because crying over the pain wasn't "manly". There was a time when I feared that crying after a fist fight just because I looked different than the other kids in rural Illinois would just lead to more fights.

Nope. Instead, I bottled it up. "Don't cry!" Sweep. Sweep the tears under the rug. Sweep not weep.

My lower face would be made of steel if my stiff upper lip were any sturdier.

I'd like to say that I'm past all this. I'd like to think I'm enlightened and to say that I don't think this way anymore.

Well it's a work in progress. I still try not to cry at the theatre. Some of that is an issue of politeness. I sob, and I mean SOB, at some scenes of  Les Miserables and other favorites and it can be distracting to the other patrons. Heck, distracting for the actors.

I recognize that I'm a feeler. I've known this for a long time. I was a Psychobiology major while an undergraduate at USC. My research was in Alzheimer's Disease. Every other day when I was a senior;, I'd head over to the Health Science Campus and do cognitive tests with subjects (actually people, but dehumanized when we call them subjects) who participated in a study. In time, I grew weary of this work. Not because it was challenging driving through downtown Los Angeles to do the study, but because of the wonderful people I met. People who were like me, my parents, my grandparents. People who were possibly suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Every time I got home, I'd feel the emotions of the day unfold in me. I had to cork it up all day and it would spill out in the privacy of my apartment. At first, I didn't understand what was happening but one person made it obvious.

She was a world-traveling journalist with a Ph.D. and a spouse who was a professor. She was dressed in the sort of smart suit that my mother favored. This seemingly "normal" woman sat in front of me and, before we began our cognitive test, shared a pleasant conversation. But as I started the test, she became increasingly anxious, because she started to struggle with the test. And, finally, when she could not repeat three single-digit numbers in a row (much less a 7 digit phone number), she cracked. She broke down and wept. And sobbed.

This woman, who was in her early 50s and would be younger than I am today, knew what this was suggesting and she was fearful, she was grieving, she was furious. And she was rational. She was human.

Meanwhile, I was dying inside. I get tearful every single time I think of this story, as I am as I write this down. I could feel her sense of mortality and feel the range of emotions she shared with me so intimately. And despite the cold, antiseptic, clinical office with chilly fluorescent lights, I felt fearful with her. I grieved with her. I was furious with her.

Meanwhile, I was scared inside. I ran to the physician in charge for assistance, as I didn't know how to handle the situation. We weren't trained to deal with this response. I didn't have any other subjects as it turned out after her, so I had to sit around those cold rooms, confused and burdened by my emotions. She got some counseling. Unfortunately, I did not.

I didn't even realize I needed counseling. I thought, stiffen up. Don't be upset. Stop crying.

Well, I did need counseling. Today, I think many who work with patients and their families should be first in line for workplace counseling. But I didn't think this way back then.

In the next couple of years, I found myself placing impediments to going to medical school. I subconsciously had decided I couldn't do this for the rest of my life, but my conscious brain didn't know this. If I had counseling, if I let myself cry, perhaps I would have been a physician today. Who knows? I just know that I felt a lot better when I could avoid painful moments.

In regards to medical school, I asked to be deferred eventually. And further on, I chose not to go. I instead decided to continue working in technology. It paid the bills. It was logical and didn't require you to face difficult life moments. Tech pointed 180 degrees away from a workplace filled with emotions.

There was no weeping. I didn't need to sweep the weep under the rug.

But life doesn't stop. The AIDS crisis started knocking off people I knew. Friends. You could not escape it in Los Angeles. And people get older and eventually die. Family members struggled with cancer, struggled with death. So though work offered some protection, I still had to cry. I still had to face the reality of being a human being.

I had this in the back of my head when, about 15 years ago, I was in a ministry leadership class at All Saints Pasadena. One night, Rev. Richardson led a discussion about pastoral care. With my fears and lifetime of avoidance, I raised my hand with a simple question.

"What if you suck at pastoral care?"

He looked at me kindly, almost bemused, asking why I thought this. I looked around me and felt comfortable sharing my answer. "I cry. I cry easily. I cry visibly. And I cry a lot." He caught me off-guard with his answer. He basically said that many people don't have that sort of empathy. And he thought that I might actually be really good at pastoral care because of these feelings, not despite of them.

After Christmas last year, Rev. Zelda Kennedy died, less than six months after she retired from All Saints Pasadena. When her medical diagnosis was shared via email back in July 2017, I was walking in another country with my husband. I glanced at the email and I crumbled onto the cold, wet pavement. It was around 10pm at night and I sobbed. I was furious at God. And I needed Stephen to help me keep it together to get back to the hotel.

Through the years, Zelda saw my emotional side and felt that they belonged in pastoral care. I argued with her. I argued with our Rector Ed Bacon when he asked me to serve as a vestry liaison to pastoral care. But Zelda insisted. She persisted. She later told me that I needed to realize that this is where I belonged. She was a force moved by the Holy Spirit, and I wasn't going to be able to say no.

This weekend, holy and passionate, stirred up these memories, as they do every year. I no longer fear the emotions that awakened. Those emotions are real. They flow from within, flow through, flow out of me. And they're a gift. A blessing. And there's no way I can hide them.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16... Before the sermon on the mount (which we read about this weekend)...
The flames of our lamps are fed with oil made of tears. May we remember to let the flames glow bright so that our eyes can be opened, so that we can see the love that surrounds us all. May we weep on the rug, not under it, so that others can place a shawl of comfort and healing when we need it most. May God fill our eyes with tears so as to make our ears stronger, so that we can hear the cries, the laughter, the anxieties, the love of all yearning to share their lives with us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Picturing a Scary Love


Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit works tricks on me, because She likes to throw coincidences at me that catch me by surprise, leaving me to wonder what I'm supposed to make of things. Two different sets of coincidences in two days make me think, "ok, someone's trying to get me to think about this."

The first coincidence was on Sunday afternoon. Kristen Johannesen, an artist friend, had an exhibition going on at the Avenue 50 gallery in now trendy Highland Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. She and I were very close in high school and so I wanted to see her latest work. And, for some reason, perhaps because I knew he lived near there, I invited another high school friend, Glenn. Now, it wasn't planned, but Glenn and Kristen were influential in getting me to see photography as something as other than poorly cropped, overly posed family photos. They were particularly skilled in black and white photos and I learned much from them through the years.

I would have gone into the gallery but there was a poetry reading going on so I thought I'd wait outside. I paced a little. I watched the Gold Line metro go by a couple times. Then I decided to stand at the doorway and listen to the poetry. And I was stunned.

In the main gallery, there was a sign that said "Viva Las Fotos - A Memorial for Laura Aguilar", along with a photo of Laura. Laura's a friend from All Saints Pasadena, a brilliant photographer who died earlier this year. Her memorial in church was just one month ago.

I had first met her years ago, when she and I would set up the Taize service. She never talked about her profession. She would set the candles on the table and sat with us as we prayed, sang, and worshiped together. And one time, when I was taking photos of the candles, she adjusted them for me so that I would have a better shot. And another she asked if I could help her get the candles in just the right positions for her perfect photos. And they were beautiful. They were beautiful because she's a gifted photographer who until that day was just my friend Laura. Since then, I learned from others that her work has been shown in famous galleries and the tips she had been giving me were like private lessons from a master.

The main room of Avenue 50 Studio was filled with homages to Laura, created by other artists. And another room held some of her work from 1990 that had been filed away and forgotten. And there was a beautiful Dia de los Muertos ofrenda for her.

As I walked through the gallery with Kristen and Glenn, it occurred to me that perhaps the three who gave me the most guidance on photography were in the same space. The veil between the physically present and the spiritually present was remarkably sheer that afternoon. Laura was smiling at us from another level and it was a soothing balm to the grief.

Then yesterday, I was working away and popped a couple videos to play in the background. One was "Addams Family Values", one of many of my regular flicks we watch as Halloween approaches. It's a movie that juxtaposes unconventional (ok, amusingly scary) love and affection against what's expected from us. It's subversive, ironic, and a great way to celebrate the different faces of love.

After I finished working, I sat down to watch "Coco". This Dia de los Muertos movie came out last year, a celebration of family, love, and the timelessness of unity. My face was awash in tears, which happens whenever I watch it. I mean, the abuela look just like my own grandmothers!

Then before I walked over to an evening meeting, I took a look at this week's lectionary. It happened to be from the Gospel of John - the story of Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the "stink of death".

I couldn't help but reflect on this second set of coincidences. I just watched two movies, ostensibly about Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, but were about unifying love that goes beyond the living, lies outside the pace of the regular world, explores family and death. And now I'm thinking of Lazarus, his family, and the love that brought Lazarus back to life. It was a quiet, pensive walk that made me think of the concept of contrasts. And I found myself taking photos of images that made me think about juxtaposed, jarring contrasts.

There was a time when I'd laugh off a coincidence or two. But the ones from the past couple days, well, I think I was meant to reflect on them instead. Love, friends, and family eventually confront death. Death can be scary. Death can push away. Death can cause denial.

But death can also just be one scary moment, a blip in an endless timeline. We fear the loss, but that loss is effectively illusory. In love, in believing in love, in giving in to love, we can salve the hurts and walk out of our dark caves, into a timeless unity.

May your Halloween give way to a celebration of the love and spirits of all the souls and saints in your life. May that celebration be a picture that you can place in the ofrenda within you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Angels By Our Side

I'm often asked about what I discover while walking along Spain's Camino de Santiago. I say that it's the people I meet that show me what I seek. It's not about me, my thoughts, the flowers, or sights. I learn and grow because of the relationships, short or long-lasting. The universe calms you on the walk and in the wild, quiets you down so that you can really meet people and listen to them, be present with them. And in doing so, well, in doing so that's really how I feel like I'm in touch with God.



In the 600 mile walk in 2016, besides my husband Stephen who joined me on the final 200 miles, I can say that I found three people who most influenced me. Three people who I view as messengers in my life. Angels really.

The first came to me during my most fearful moments in decades. I held back tears and panic because I was afraid that I would die of exposure while crossing the Pyrenees. I thought I had such good fortune because just when I thought, with the hot temperatures, my hyperextended hip could not get me over the mountains, I saw a luggage transport van which took my backpack to my destination. Unfortunately, in my haste, I grabbed almost everything I needed for the daypack I retained, everything except my jacket. As the clouds came, the temperature plunged, the rains attacked, and painful hail poured down for two hours, shredding my poncho and leaving me basically with just my daypack and quick-dry T-shirt. I could barely see past the fog and my steam-covered eyeglasses, where the trail twisted and where the cliffs threatened.

A figure came from behind me. I only saw his chin peeking out from his hat, a chin where my immediate reaction was "Oh, looks like the guy who starred in Jesus Christ Superstar". He asked me in an accent how I was and I responded with "cold, frightened." This young man just smiled, saying "You'll be fine. Where are you going?" I answered "To Roncesvalles (on the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains 15km away)". Calmly smiling, he said, "I'll see you on the other side" and continued walking into the foggy hail. For some reason, this was weirdly re-assuring. Better yet, he wore a fluorescent red poncho, a colour so bright that I could actually see it through the fog and follow him along the unseen trail. I followed the young man into the swirling fog and hail, somehow comforted, somehow feeling safe, somehow confident. I wept as the hail stopped and I made it to the monastery which would house me, skipped dinner, and just slept.

I was back on the trail the next morning when someone placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see him once again, and he said that he knew I would make it. We smiled and he walked with me the whole day. We broke bread together on a mountain top. When I found out that his name was Thore, after the Norse God of storms and protection, my jaw dropped.

The next person who deeply touched me appeared after Pamplona. I had been upset and fearful that my blisters, earned from wet feet and the struggle over the Pyrenees, would impair me. For now, I was doing better. And I came across a person who simply radiated love. In fact, almost every person who ever met Daniel from Oxford described his intensely caring eyes and his beautiful affection for everyone he met. He was astonishingly humble, touching almost everyone he met. We talked and walked all day, breaking bread at dinner and the next day at breakfast. He was thrilled that I started in Lourdes and had some of the water that some say is filled with miraculous healing power. I brought the water to share with those on the Camino. He took a sip and I rubbed some into his hands.

And he did this while walking on crutches. You didn't notice them after you talked with him; you stopped seeing his bruised hands and feet. The reality was that his life-long condition slowed him down to just over 1-2 mph and it would take him three months to reach Santiago, three times longer than most. I can't imagine how he navigated the muddy, rocky slopes of the various mountains we crossed. When asked why he was on the Camino, he would respond "so that every day I can learn to walk." But he inspired such care in others, as we all cared for him. After evening church services, I lost track of him even though he had been beside me. I found him: he was giving alms to a needy man and asking if he had a place to sleep.

He embodied so comfortably, so easily, the unconditional love of the universe. Despite his challenges, he feared not. Yes, I shared the healing waters with him, and in his presence, I myself felt healed. Like St Francis' prayer, I saw us both receiving when we were giving... And every day, I learned to walk.

A third person who touched me was a deeply spiritual professor from Hungary. She was a talker and lit up every conversation. Annamarie speaks 7 languages fluently and showed deep caring about all she met. Soon after she checked into any albergue, she'd be leading yoga with anyone interested. At every stream she found, off came her shoes and socks, and up came her trouser legs. Wading into the rather cold waters, she'd laugh and thank nature, God, the universe and invite others to wade in with her. Despite my blisters, I would accept her invitation and wade in - albeit briefly - just to share in the invigorating joy of waters full of life.

To me, she was a messenger that said life isn't just for just walking the camino, but for living and being part of the camino. Annamerie reminded me that we don't just talk the talk, or even just walk the walk, but that we also live the life. Walking with her filled my days with joy and gratitude.

All three taught me lessons along the Camino. And like the dense person that I can be, I didn't realize it can work the other way too. I now realize that I too could sometimes act as a messenger, an angel, to others, if I let myself be present in the journey.

I took a rest day in Burgos because my blisters were so painful. After that rest day, I continued onward, feeling much less pain. And for some reason, on a day I was feeling healthy, I saw a grove of trees next to a sign that said "Fuente" (water fountain). I had lots of water, wasn't tired, and was only an hour away from my destination. But for some reason, I felt called to stop. To sit. To soak be a part of this rural setting under these trees. I had no reason to stop, but I turned down that path to stop. So I walked into the grove and sat at the tables. I chatted with other pilgrims and learned the well was empty. Soon, a woman from Italy stopped by looking for water at the well. She became concerned when she learned that the well was dry.

I offered her my water since I had plenty and was near my final stop. She filled her bottle and drank most of it so I topped it off for her. In talking, she found out I started in Lourdes and she expressed her interest in visiting it one day. I offered her some of the Lourdes water. And that's when she did the unexpected. She burst into tears, hugging me for a couple minutes, sobbing. Silvia drank the Lourdes water and asked to be anointed by it. In the next week, I would come across her several more times, including walking with her for a whole day surrounded by glorious, bountiful flowers. Stephen got to meet her in Leon on his first day of his Camino, as she translated the pilgrim's blessing from Spanish to English for the basilica priest.

That day I met her, that evening, I pondered why she cried. I didn't have a clue at the time. It took several more encounters with her to understand that she was exhausted, thirsty, and spiritually challenged. She had come onto the Camino looking for a spiritual experience but she was coming away tired and longing for inspiration, for the mystical. It took me a while to figure out what was really happening. In fact, I needed my spiritual advisor to help me figure out why I was confused. Here I was, thinking I was merely offering her water, but when I got called to that well, I was guided to the well, prodded to be present. I was sent to help her, share the water, share some rest and a smile. With the woman at the well, thirsting for water and something deeper than a well, I offered her a gift and a message that she needed to hear. To be her angel.

So I walked with three angels. And with a woman at the well, I eventually realized that I was the voice and flesh by which angels had come to her. Life can be that way in so many ways. We walk with people who we may immediately recognize as important messengers to us, telling us to wake up and smell the roses, to find ourselves, to be inspired. And maybe without us knowing it, we too may be that angel messenger to others.

Most often, we're too close to our own stories to realize what's happening. We forget that we should walk intentionally, always awake, always open to the new. Sometimes it takes a prolonged journey to realize that you're always on a pilgrimage and should be ever present to those who may be there to help you and guide you. May your heart be always open to so that you can hear and see and touch the angels walking by your side.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Estamos Caminando por la Ciudad de los √Āngeles

We are walking through the city of angels. Yes, you can take that to mean that I'm a resident of Los Angeles, and I walk through it. I walk between great buildings, through children-packed parks, among camps of homeless, and beside an untamed ocean. This city is crisscrossed with fault lines: not just geological ones, but political and economic as well.

But when I say that we are walking through the city of angels, I'm also talking about the angels in our midst. I might not be referring to actual angels as recognized by formal theology, but to angels in effect, in spirit, in love.

I've really enjoyed my new participation in a couple of ministries this past year. Perhaps they're not new in general - as I've done stuff with other programs since high school - but new specifically. And I realize that angels had something to do with me finding these places of love.

First I started attending Laundry Love in East Hollywood. The Laundry Love initiative consists of regular opportunities to come alongside people who are struggling financially by assisting them with their laundry. Laundry Love partners with local laundromats in cleaning clothes and linens of low-income or no-income families and individuals. During select days and times, laundry is free. Just bring your clothes. Quarters, soap, and dryer sheets are provided. There are no income requirements, and everyone is welcome.

I've also started to participate with The Gathering, a community of Asian-American congregants throughout the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese, who wish to share our perspectives on our faith and practices with each other. I spoke on a panel discussing "identity" earlier this spring and am now assisting in organizing a musical event on Oct 13 at St John's Cathedral and featuring musicians in the diocese.

Both have opened my eyes to the multitude of angels that live and breathe and walk around me. You may have noticed that I in prior blog postings have talked about the being awakened periodically to discovering that someone in front of me is acting as a messenger of God. They're opening my eyes, unstopping my ears, and clearing my throat. I become aware of God's grace. I am reminded of God's love. And I feel connected to God ever more closely.

That's what an angel does. The angels that people think of in classical paintings - the cherubims - are chubby pink babies for the most part. But in those places in Scripture where angels are mentioned, the angel is almost always a messenger from God or from the Archangel Michael. They don't show up to be cute.

No, they usually are there to say "Wake up" and "God is here".

These two ministries, like the others that I participate in, poke me, prod me, blare a trumpet at me - anything to catch my distracted attention. In today's world, it's more than a little easy to be distracted after all. I'm undoubtedly as guilty of that as anyone else, if not more so given my job in technology.

Instead, I'm reminded how much we depend on each other to help each other. I'm reminded that regardless of what we look like, we are all welcome to Christ's table. I'm reminded that whether we talk with other, sing with each other, or sit in silence with each other, we are in community together and that we're in this thing as one.

I feel lucky that the wonderful members of Holy Spirit in Silver Lake reminded me of their Laundry Love ministry. I came for prayer and I walked out with my eyes opened. And when I started to attend, I so appreciate it when I can recognize people at the laundromat; I'm not great with names but I'm good with faces and that's a useful place to start. And I'm surprised and happy when they recognize me, too. It means that irrespective of where we are on our journeys, we know we've crossed paths here and that we share something together.

These times at Laundry Love complement all the time Stephen and I have spent with Union Station Homeless Services. We appreciate that society has to both help the emergency nutritional and safety needs of those who lack basic resources but also to help them move past the crisis and into sustainable employment and programs. It's hard to get a job or keep a job if your soiled laundry discourages employers from hiring you. But the reality is too many people have to choose between feeding their families and washing their clothes.

And, I feel so very connected when I'm interacting with The Gathering. I don't often participate in Asian ethnic events. I used to do that as a child and it wasn't something that I enjoyed. Mind you, Filipino families are quite large and, with almost 5 dozen first cousins and 17 nieces and nephews, there's more than enough cultural interaction just hanging out with each other. As I grew older, I enjoyed discovering other cultures. I didn't spend as much time exploring my actual roots, which are Filipino, which is sort of Asian, sort of Pacific Islander, and in some ways sort of Latino. And oh so very Roman Catholic.

So Rev. Peter Huang and the Gathering, by reaching out to me, have opened my eyes to ways I can connect with others in the church who want to experience their faith while acknowledging and celebrating our cultural heritage. It's something I've been wanting and it surprised me that it somehow appeared to happen.

I had heard of both Laundry Love and Episcopal Asian Ministries before, but I think angels are insistent. They're there to make sure you're awake and hearing the message sent to you. We each have our journeys and we'll always have times alone and times in community on the path. But the angels. The angels will tap you on the shoulder and say "If you would just listen, I think there's something you want to hear."

And I think back to the first of three angels that I met on my 600 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2016. (http://letallwhoarethirstycome.blogspot.com/2016/05/camino-2016-0522-angel-messenger-and.html). He told me "You'll be fine". He told me I was safe. And I felt safe. And that's what I needed to hear so that I wouldn't feel alone, so that I wouldn't be afraid.

So keep an open heart to those you encounter on the road. You may not recognize the angels in our midst, but they've got something you need to hear.






Monday, September 24, 2018

Seasons of Love

REPRINTED FROM 


Our lives are full of seasons. I'm surprised that I've lived through a couple hundred of them. Like all seasons, one eventually gives way to the next one. Whether that next one is early or late, hot or cold, we usually know when it's time to yield to a new phase of life.

Things look different. They smell different. They touch you differently. It's just as beautiful as before, but in an entirely new way. We sometimes welcome; we sometimes resist these changes. But the changes come any way. So what was it like for five rounds of 525,600 minutes as a board member of Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow?

I'm glad I could contribute, in my own way, in my own time, to the body of work that bends the arc of history towards justice. I forget that I've done this sort of thing most of my life. It's just me being me, doing what I can, if I can, if I'm able. What matters to me is that I at least pitch in, lend my voice, offer my prayers, and most importantly help others to find their voice.

It's obvious that there's still so much to be done. And there always will be. The OT prophets lived a pretty long time ago, and somehow their calls for justice still ring true today. There's no magic pill that society can swallow to make it all better. We've got to be in it for the long haul. We've got to help our youth, our transgender siblings, our friends and family in LGBTQ-resistant churches and dioceses. And, yes, we've got to address the racism and misogyny within our own family.

And there's also a time for rest. For restoration. We need a Sabbath whether it's full retirement or simply finding space to breathe. And while doing so, we give other voices a chance to be heard, to inspire, to bring new ideas.

So as my second term ends as the Director of Communications at Integrity, I look forward towards attending to some of the other ministries that also feed me. My heart is swayed by the Holy Spirit to spend even more time with lay pastoral visits and participation in diocesan Asian ministries. And I'm looking forward to doing more Camino de Santiago pilgrimages in Spain and Portugal, and blogging about my spiritual journeys on my Let All Who Are Thirsty Come site. And... I'm eager and curious to see where God leads me tomorrow.

But most of all I'm grateful. Grateful that, even though so much needs to be done, I've been exposed to some amazing people who share some of my passions, who speak out as modern prophets, who feel the pain of those who struggle every day. I've grown much working with three Integrity Presidents: Caro Hall, Matt Haines, and Bruce Garner. I am thankful that my journey has allowed me to walk alongside these amazing people and to meet so many living saints. They've helped me measure my life in love, my seasons of love.

I pray that Integrity USA, the Episcopal Rainbow, will continue to be the shelter as well as the light for LGBTQIA+ in the church. I'm excited by the vision that the Rev. Gwen Fry will bring to the organization as the incoming president; I have great trust in the new incoming Director of Communications, Letty Guevara-Cuence; and I'm confident that the new Board will speak for all of us. May God lift up our leaders - past, present, and future - giving them strength, granting us all wisdom, and blessing us with a place at the table.

You can read the original blog posting on the Walking with Integrity blog site.

Friday, August 31, 2018

As You Are


    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘after…’ you answer.

    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘before…’ you answer.

    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘when…’ you answer.

    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘how…’ you answer.

    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘why…’ you answer.

    ‘because
    you are happening now.
    right now.
    right at this moment
    and
    your happening
    is beautiful.
    the thing that keeps me alive
    and
    brings me to my knees.
    you don’t even know how breathtaking you
    are.
    as you are.’ says the universe through tears


    Nayyirah Waheed’s “as you are | you are the prayer” published in her book Nejma
I was reminded of this poem recently. And it's something that strikes me as wildly important to say to every person, even if I don't say it directly. We are loved unconditionally.

"As you are..."

Do we believe it? Do I?



My aspiration is that every word out of my mouth reminds people that the universe is saying this.
My aspiration is that every thought in my head, every beat of my heart, every sound from my mouth reflects a deep understanding that *I* hear the universe saying this.

But I fail every day. I fail because I'm only human. I have doubts, I have self-judgment. I cannot completely trust that the words I'm hearing and saying are for real.

And it's why I like doing Lay Counseling. It's why I enjoy visiting people at nursing homes, at laundrymats, at hospitals. It's why I'm trying to find space in my life to visit prisons. Because when I remind others of this message, it reminds *me* of the message.

Because I need reminding. All the time. It's ok that I need reminding, and I'm starting to remember it more often.

Usually, it takes something dramatic to happen to me before I remember this. It takes tragedy. It takes failure. It takes monumental grief. But those are just exceptions. Clauses. Conditions. Like in the poem.

The awe-filling truth is that there are no clauses. "As you are". That's it. That's all. Full stop.

When people die, we want them to have dignity in their death. When people take their own lives, we wonder if we've done enough. If people die in tragic accidents, we grieve over the manner in which they died.

It's death focused.

It's not life focused.

And that's ok, because it helps the grieving.

And, at some point, after the grieving or during the grieving, we need to recognize the life of that person. Because we loved them as living, breathing beings. When the universe, nature, God says "As you are" it's life-centered, life-celebrating, life-embracing.

Yes, we die. All of us. Sometimes tragically, sometimes accidentally, sometimes by our own hands. But we are always loved irrespective of the manner of death, just as we are loved irrespective of the manner of our birth, of our station in life. We could be born in a manger. And we are loved as we are. We could die on a cross. And we are loved as we are.

"We don't even know how breathtaking we are."

Accepting this love deeply, without reservation, grants us power over the death that we fear. And, when we accept this love, we can begin to love ourselves as we ourselves are loved: "as we are".


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

You are not alone


There's something that pains me deeply. It's something that I've been exposed to before, but it's the first time that it happened close to me in a very long time. And this breaks my heart. It's been two months now since it happened, and I'm still processing my grief.

You see, I'm a lay counselor at my church. It means I get several hours of training, meeting at least twice a month, so that I can help offer counseling services (10 sessions) to those who need an ear. Sometimes we recommend that our clients go to professionals, especially in situations we aren't equipped to handle. The ministry is as much a blessing to us counselors as we hope it is for those who come to us. And in time, we get better from the training and from more experience.

Sometimes people need help to discuss job changes. Or relationship problems. Or LGBT issues. Or family issues. Or grief. Or this. Or that. The list goes on, because we are all human and there are so many ways we can hurt. There are so many things that can make us anxious. There are so many things that break us down.

The hardest part during mt first year of training and my work with my first clients was the need to resist my tendency to want to fix things. A counselor cannot fix you. Only you can fix yourself. We're here to help you find your own way through the haze. If we can't, we'll suggest professionals who may understand how to help you better.

I'm learning to become a better listener because of this experience. And yet, I feel I missed something. I feel like I could have done better. I feel I did what I was trained to do, and what I thought was best. But I feel like I've let someone down.

I'm working on this with my spiritual advisor and my own counselor, and I'll get past this pain at some point.

But for now, I'm grieving.

For now, I carry tears in my heart.

For now, all I can say is I still want to walk with you if you still want to walk with me.

You see, I lost a client a couple months ago.

I've shed many tears this past year, losing friends and struggling with relatives who are slipping away. But they weren't my clients. And somehow this struck me differently. I feel a responsibility to take special care for a client.

And... my client didn't just die... No... It was intentional... It was a life taken away by its owner.

It was suicide.

At first, I accepted the idea that it was accidental. But I didn't know for sure.

I found out what really happened a month later, while I was putting on robes and getting ready to assist at the memorial.

What's amazing is that it's been such an eye-opener for me. I've come to realize that I have had deep problems with suicide for most of my adult life. Suicide has haunted me for decades, but I've been able to keep it in the shadows. And now, in one of the most difficult years I've had in a long time, it walked out of those shadows and banged loudly on my door.

And somehow, weirdly, ironically, and in a way shockingly, it's been helping me.

It's helping me understand that I cannot run from the specter of suicide. I've seen it before, I've seen it come back, and I will see it some day again. I need to learn how to cope with the expansive issues that trouble me about suicide (the pain, the theology, the social network, the safety net, all of it).

I know some of what pained my client. But apparently not all. Apparently not enough. There were no desperate cries for help. But there were a lot of prayers. I wish I knew more. I can only wish at this point.

You may have noticed I haven't blogged in a couple months, even though I've been on an incredible journey in the past several months. I'll blog about these experiences soon. But in the meantime, I'll just accept that I still hurt. And I'm healing.

And I know, I'm loved and not alone. Just as I pray that you, my friend, know that you are beloved and are not alone.

Everybody Hurts (by REM)
When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on)
(Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you've had too much
Of this life
Well, hang on

'Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don't throw your hand
Oh, no
Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone
No, no, no, you're not alone
If you're on your own
In this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you've had too much
Of this life
To hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on

Everybody hurts

You are not alone

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Camino of Gratitude

The Facebook group I started before I began my third journey along the Camino - The Camino of Healing - has wandered along with me on my pilgrimages, my explorations of the soul, and my life. It always invites prayer requests and offers encouragement to those who take pilgrimages, and celebrates as they find their way home.

And sometimes the journey goes deep into the soul. Healing of the spirit to find peace and reconciliation can't be done by merely scratching the surfaces of our flesh and feelings. Healing things that cause deep pain requires deep attention. Deep care. Deep love.

And one of the things I keep returning to when I am in pain - in search of deep healing, in transition, in the middle of nowhere - is that there's more to healing than merely slapping on a bandage.

I described in my previous blog post (Last Day of School, First Day of Summer) my recent experiences with the transition and the pain I've carried as I tried to work past the troubles - to walk around, over, under, and through my problems. And unsurprisingly my prayers and griefs were often powerfully focused on all manners of pain and grief. Some of my friends, sensitive to all that caresses our souls, felt a pain in me that seemed to go beyond the deaths of beloved friends. They felt a grief that was profoundly personal.

And they were right.

My blog posts revealed grief. My prayers voiced the grief. My heart wept the grief.

And Thursday, as one phase of my life came to an end and another began, I could not even nail down exactly WHAT my feelings were. A friend texted how I felt. How? HOW? I couldn't put it into a word. Sad? Happy? Relieved? Joyful? I didn't know how to respond. So I said:

Image result for emoji faces

Not exactly thoughtful, I know. But I was sort of numb and emojis are an easy way to express thoughts without thinking about the nuance.

I went to bed Thursday night overwhelmed by the reaction by so many family and friends to my posting. The reactions were so loving. So supportive. So connected to me.

And when I awoke on Friday morning, to face the new day and a new phase of my life, to start a new journey, I said my morning prayers. I prayed for those who I knew wanted the prayers and for those who had died. And I then moved into personal prayers.

And when I was done, I realized something. My personal prayers had a different tone. They weren't filled with grief and tears. My prayers were all basically prayers with a common theme.

Gratitude.

I was feeling grateful. Grateful that even though things don't follow our plans, our lives are still full of astonishing love and grace. Grateful that though death comes to us, we still lead lives however long or brief that bring joy, love, and interconnectedness. Grateful that I was remembering this.

When we look at these feelings of gratitude, we find that it materializes when we become aware of our relationship with someone or something. We recognize the intrinsic value of the person or place or situation. And we sense the truth of the interconnectedness between ourselves and that which makes us grateful.

It's not merely the satisfaction of buying a new gadget or trinket. Or enjoying a good dinner. Or winning a game.

Gratitude is a shimmering feeling, a warmth that fills our being, and gives us a sensation of life.

Blood coursing through our body is sent forth from the heart and then returns to the heart. Gratitude coursing through our body also is sent forth from the heart and returns to the heart.

When we feel this close to someone or something or some situation, the relationships become neon bright with love, empathy, and compassion. We unite ourselves to the other. We forget our differences. We become infused with the Holy Spirit and our hearts resonate harmonically, on different notes but somehow in beautiful unity.

That gratitude is powerful. That gratitude heals.

Last month, I listened as Diana Butler Bass, author of Grateful, spoke about gratitude... that our brains can't live in fear and gratitude at the same time. Somehow, after the finality of Thursday's events, I crossed a border from a desolate land of fear into a serene realm of gratitude.

And when we are festooned with the healing power of gratitude, we can grow from any darkness. A scab on our wounds might itch, yet we can leave it alone, we can still appreciate that is doing us good. that the healing will come from that discomfort. We can watch the tissues of a scar mend, unite, become whole once again.

With gratitude, it is possible for us to see that the sanctity of our lives can never bleed and is never at risk because of mere flesh wounds. Because we are still bound by grace to each other and our Creator. And we can rise to the new morning to live out the healing love that courses through our lives. May we all walk our Camino of Healing, a Camino of Gratitude.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Last Day of School, First Day of Summer

Today's the last day of school for Stephen, my husband. He says goodbye to his second-graders, his kids. And he gets to rest and figure out what to do during summer vacation (don't worry, he'll be busy).
New journey. First shave since May 18, 2016, when
I walked out of Lourdes on my 3rd Camino (the 620 miler)

This day is also marked by something else.

My life really hasn't been in much turmoil in comparison to those of many whom I've met through the years. Sure I've moved around a lot as a child, but I seemed to adapt and find my way. Whether it was new homes, new schools, or new countries, I'd face the reality of change and get on with it. I'm a quick learner I'm told, so that probably helped.

I wonder why, as adults, change becomes so much more challenging than when we were younger. We become set in our ways. I've started to think that, despite our best intentions, the things we do become more important to our identity than who we really are. Even though I don't want to think of myself by the activities I enjoy, the work I do, or the habits I can't kick, I fall back on defining myself by these very things. It's quite the opposite of my aspirations, but I do it like everyone else just the same.

Most of us prefer stability. We might be on a gentle simmer, but we know what to expect. And we can find happiness, peace, or satisfaction out of that predictability

Until something upends that stability.

Until we can't do what we've always done, what we're accustomed to, what we see as "us"...

It could be a job change. Or a relocation. Or a changing or failing relationship. Or an illness or death.

And then seemingly all of a sudden, we experience massive stress and anxiety. So much of that anxiety arises from that lack of continuity. And for many, it seems, it leads to a loss of identity.

A parent dies, and suddenly we face a thought that we aren't the eldest child of Mrs. and Mr. So-and-so, aka Mom and Dad. Our long-time job evaporates and suddenly we aren't sure if we can find another job that allows us to maintain our identity. When my ex and I split, I didn't know how to think of myself as an individual person. All of these are based on relationships, on things we do with others. It shows the importance of the relationships in our lives.

All of these things have to do with activities, too. With things we do. With things we've enjoyed doing. With the people we know.

But they aren't who we are as persons. I cannot imagine God created us, saying "You are an insurance adjuster at XYZ Corp." I think God's plans for us have to do with how we were created, not because we filled out a job application in time, or did good things, or made mistakes, or continue to make mistakes.

Thank God.

I'm going through some big changes in my life. Enormous really. For much of what I do hasn't changed significantly for decades. There are things I own and work I do and habits I enjoy that have lasted longer than my first 18 year life-partnership or even my 16 year friendship with my husband, a husband of a mere 4 years.

I've owned this business for 26 years. I've worked on it full-time for almost 22 years. I haven't had a boss in all that time, other than in my customer's requests, demands, wishes. But business hasn't gone well enough for us in the past couple years. We've tried, but we just can't go on. 
So today, after months of discussions with different companies, I've completed the sale of the software and contracts we've developed during the past two decades. I'm having to lay off employees, employees who have worked with me for two decades. And next month, I'll be an employee of the company that is buying these assets.
And I'm lucky. I've known this New Jersey company for over 20 years. They're actually current clients. We've become friends during that time and one of the employees, well she has gone to Broadway musicals with Stephen and me. And I can continue to stay in Pasadena, continue to work from home.
There's new life springing from the darkness that has haunted my work life. I haven't felt this comfortable and, frankly, confident about my work in several years.

But the emotions are mixed because things are changing.

Today's the last day of school for Stephen, my husband. He says goodbye to his second-graders, his kids. And he gets to rest and figure out what to do during summer vacation. AND... soon he will see them again, in third grade, in other classrooms, with other teachers, with wiser eyes, with more to learn.

Today's the last day where I define myself by what I've done for two decades. I say goodbye to my software, my babies. And starting next week, I get to enjoy a new life with a company I respect. AND... soon, I will see my software again, in this new company, with other owners, with my eyes wiser, with more to learn.

So, though I've been struggling with change and who I am, I sort of know better. I can say goodbye on this last day of school.

I know I'm loved unconditionally and expansively and without boundaries and without my comprehension. It's ok to be anxious and fearful and mournful as I face these changes, because arching over those feelings is this love.

And thankfully, be it incrementally, slowly, or sporadically, I turn to people around me and appreciate - really truly appreciate - that I'm loved. I share the details of my fears and my mistakes and my story. I let the tears fall on my face. And they love me nonetheless.

And if they can love me, God loves me even more.

And that's all I really need to know who I am.

And I can face the summer knowing that new adventures await on my journey, a journey that I can experience without having it define me. A journey with adventures that involve new friendships, new things to learn, new challenges. And for all that, I am grateful, oh so very grateful.

And I can rise to a life made new.



Friday, May 4, 2018

Remembering... by Forgetting

I meet regularly with a spiritual director. For those who aren't familiar with what a spiritual director does, he or she is not a guru where you follow their directions unchallenged. No, many religious traditions encourage using spiritual guides to help believers on the path of spiritual growth. A spiritual director serves as a resource on your personal journey of faith. A good spiritual director helps you recognize how the Holy Spirit is working in your life. The emphasis is deepening one’s relationship with God - not with the spiritual director.

One of the things that we've been talking about is why I find the Camino de Santiago so important to my spiritual well being. I feel healthier and stronger - spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally. I may have ups and downs with physical well being, for blisters can be pretty painful and thankfully seem to have disappeared as an issue for me. Why does this journey always make me feel closer to God and why don't I find this closeness as easily at home?

To some, I find God easily, in quiet discussions with people, in celebrations of life, in breaking bread with people I'm learning to know. And yet, that doesn't happen all day long. Other times of the day, I become impatient. Or anxious. Or lazy. Or selfish. And I distance myself from that which I enjoy most. I don't act in the way of unconditional love or in gratitude. It's discouraging, frustrating, and more than a little exasperating because I feel like every time I make a step forward, I'm also taking a step back.

I keep thinking to myself, "Stop forgetting what you've learned, whether here or on the Camino". Remember! Don't forget!

At one point earlier this year, my spiritual director pointed out that perhaps I have it backwards. Perhaps I'm not forgetting what I've learned. Instead, I'm remembering all the wrong things. I'm acting reflexively, remembering all the things I've been taught throughout my life, by society, by stress, by bullies, by bigots. I'm remembering it all and I'm never forgetting.

Except when I'm on Camino.

Now, when I first walked the Camino in 2014, I, in fact, did carry all these things I was taught. I didn't ever mention my spouse's name, though I wore a wedding ring. In sharing his name, I would reveal my sexual orientation, and for some reason, like a stone in my backpack that weighed me down, I buried this and hid it from others. And for what benefit? Was I safer? I doubt it. For my reputation? I didn't know any of these people. Why?

It wasn't until that night in Melide when I realized that I wasn't giving space for the Holy Spirit to work in my life that I began to change how I walked the Camino. You can read about that day at "I Lost My Hat and Found My Head". I avoided Jim because he was different. I feared that he was a bigot, with scant evidence and certainly no benefit of the doubt. And in doing so, I was blocking the very messenger that God was sending me.

In walking differently, I started to leave behind those stones, leave behind the things that hurt me. I started to let the Camino, let God, let my fellow travelers protect me, care for me, and love me as I loved them. In that vulnerability, I traveled more simply, more lightly.

And in doing so, I was unlearning - forgetting - all the defense mechanisms and habits that weren't helping me but instead were holding me back.  I shed the memories of pain and hurt and just walked simply, one step at a time.

What my spiritual director noticed was that I remember who I really am when I'm on Camino. And when I do, people see me, feel me, trust me. They feel my love for them because I intentionally won't carry something that will hold me down.

I forget all the stony defenses so that I can remember who I am.

So that I can remember the Me of flesh and blood. The Me created in the image of God. The Me of spiritual craving and me of unending gratitude.

It's ironic, isn't it, that I remember most when I forget all that I've learned. That I had to learn to forget. That I have to learn that I must unlearn.

Perhaps that's why I started many of my camino days with this prayer attributed to Saint Francis. I should remember to say it every morning here at home... so that I can remember to forget.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

Grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Four More Years

I saw in the news that President George H. W. Bush was hospitalized for a blood infection, a serious situation given his age of 93. This comes a day after the funeral of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush.

Many acknowledge that the first year after the loss of a long-time spouse or partner is laden with risk, as the surviving person faces an existence without someone that they stood with for so long. Many become depressed, confused, sickly, and even die. These risks are greatest within the first three months after death. A study from the University of Michigan says that the increased risk of death is as high as 66%. This increase is irrespective of whether the surviving partner is male or female.

Anecdotally, many of us may know stories of people who have died in pairs like this. It's distressing and it makes some of us rather concerned and cautious with the widow or widower. Since the mechanisms and causes for this increased mortality rate are unknown, we just have to be more attentive and caring.

Though the emotions are painful, I think most of us can understand deeply how the loss of our partner can make us prone to illness. At the very least, there's one less person in the home who tells us to watch our step or put on a sweater or get some rest. But I think we have strong suspicions that our health and will to face the future are somehow related. We can understand that someone who loses their spouse may no longer be interested in living a life alone.

In some ways, I feel this is analogous to the depression experienced by some like me after a marriage breakup. I for one was in an 18 year relationship, and when it ended, despite efforts to sustain it, I didn't know how to live. Why to live. Heck, I didn't even really know where to live. I felt empty and it's a feeling I don't want to experience again.

After a month apart, Stephen joins me
on my 600 mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago
in Leon, Spain in June 2016.
We walk the final 200 miles together.
But, I know...
I might have to one day.

I married my husband 4 years ago this week, at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. And it was a time of joy and wonder. Joy of committing ourselves with solemn vows to each other publicly. And complete wonder that an institution that I once thought would never bless such a union would change and indeed acknowledge and invite God's presence into our voiced promises.

And in making such promises, we said "in sickness and in health, until death do us part". We promised to be there for each other. And it meant that we might have to say goodbye, as we must all one day leave our bodies behind. At that moment we utter our marriage vows, we don't think about what happens after death, but we do think about our commitments until one of us dies.

So this week, as I enjoy thinking about the shifts in my life that my husband brought me, shifts that make me more complete every day, not just in the four years since we got married but in the 16 years we have been friends, I am grateful for the time we've spent together and the wonder of our love. And if I can have four more years, I'll be overjoyed. And if I can have yet another four more years after that, well, it's grace poured upon grace, and I can only be ever grateful.

We may not know the hour of our passing, but until then, I simply say thank you for what we do have, in sickness, in health. I don't know if my final words will be "I love you" or "Thank you", but in prayer and in love, I mean the same thing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Extending an invitation

I invite you to join me in reflections and prayers. This Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday, I'll again be participating in the all night vigil at All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, California. Though it's quite a lot to post on this blog, I'll be posting the prayers and readings and activities throughout the night, as we pray, reflect on the sacraments, sing, walk the labyrinth, and kneel with Christ throughout the night.

If you'd like to stay on top of those reflections and prayers, they'll be posted on my Facebook group called "Camino of Healing". It's at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CaminoOfHealing/ and you're welcome to join our prayer community as we journey towards a healed personhood, life, and world.

Prayer Tree in front of City of Hope Hospital, Feb 2018

Monday, March 26, 2018

Overpacking, Stones, and Strangers - The Camino to Easter

I walk out of the monastery in Sahagun, Spain in Sep 2014
and am awed by the sunset
As we enter Holy Week, after a season of loss, I realize that there are lessons from the Camino which are helping me walk the journey to the cross, with others, with Christ.

Travel lightly

So many of us are encumbered with things that hold us back, hold us down. We want to move easily, with comfort, and in peace. We know that we can save our backs and feet - and especially stay focused - when we don't have luggage that weighs us down.

And yet, we are our own worst enemies. We overpack in our lives. On the Camino de Santiago, this is most often because we want to bring everything in our backpacks. This instinct is almost always grounded in one thing: fear.

Fear of want.

Fear of not having something we feel is necessary.

Fear of hunger, of danger, of darkness.

And yet, a most important saying along the Camino is "The Camino Provides". Most travelers don't realize that there are food options everywhere you go. That we find pharmacies in every village. That we can find people who will share their water with us.

The Camino DOES provide... so long as we accept its generosity and the love. We have to forget about the uncertainty of fear in order to gain the certainty of love.

Release the Stones

Our packs like our lives are overloaded and, within a few days, you start seeing people leave things behind in the albergues. We have to release the materials items, these stones, that weigh us down and say goodbye to them. We let go so that we can flourish on our walks.

But it's not just about releasing a physical stone. It's also about letting go of the emotional stones that hold us down. Unlike the fear that drives us to overpack, the emotion that we can't unpack and leave behind is anger.

People on the camino, myself included, get frustrated by crowded cafes, by bicyclists who don't warn you of their approach, of cars that don't see you. In our exhaustion, we get angry that we have to change plans because there's no room at the albergue, or because blisters appear, or people smoke or talk too loudly, or take selfies, or drink too much. The litany of gripes can seem endless.

We may not have packed that anger in with us, but it's coming along for the walk. And we can't seem to let it go.

So we have to treat our frustration and anger like stones. We have to recognize the weight that they bring to our journey and trust that it's possible to release it. We must set the stone down. We can't walk with Christ, in love, with open eyes, when our hearts are filled with granite.

Embrace the Stranger

We may travel the Camino alone, or we may travel with friends. But around us at all times are strangers. People from other lands, speaking other languages, with different diets and customs. They're like you and me. And they're not.

They are like the Samaritans. Yes, go back far enough, and we're related, but today we're different. And they might be overpacked, with stones, with the same troubles as ourselves.

It's easy to walk past them and not realize what's going on in their lives. But my greatest memories along the Camino are when I didn't walk past the "other", but instead invited them into my space, my life, my journey. By sharing the pilgrimage of life together, we create a larger life, a larger sense of self, and a discovery of shared values.

Often times, it's that moment when we realize that we're overpacked that we also realize that we need the stranger to help us out. Together, you can pool information, resources, food, laughs, memories. The things we yearn to find on the Camino are unknown to us. They await to be learned and discovered, but for now those insights are strangers. And, we can't embrace the insights of the Camino if we can't embrace the stranger.



I hope that your journey through Lent brought you ever closer to Christ, to Easter, and the hope you seek to find and celebrate. And now, as we near the end of this 40 day walk, may your Holy Week remind you of the need to travel lightly, to set down your stones, and to embrace the stranger. May your Holy Week be anointed with grace.




Friday, March 9, 2018

Wiping the Ashes Away

Photo from a visit to Coventry Cathedral, UK. 2013.
There are moments when I realize that the family and people around me mean more than relationships, more than knowledge, more than a good story and a laugh. They represent more than genetic connections and more than shared values.

They represent life. Life flowing from them to me, from me to them, from God to us, and through us, and with us. Life not in isolation but in deep connectedness.

I've been grappling with a lot of loss lately. Some of the loss I've described in prior blog posts, with friends passing on, with family members facing hospice. Local friends have confided their plans to move away this year. On top of all that are issues about "things" that in the end don't mean much, but in our world of flesh often times define us to others.

The accretion of "stuff' in our lives spans from material goods to homes, from jobs to vacations, from entertainment options to vague things like standing in the community. People who retire, become unemployed, downsize in homes - they all confront a destabilizing change in the stuff with which they are familiar. All things pass and yet we hold on to this "stuff" because they delight us, define us, and bring constancy to a changing world.

In facing loss in the "stuff" column, it's easy to describe that loss as a grieving process. But for me, it's hard to grieve over stuff. At least, it's difficult for me to grieve like I grieve over the loss of a person I love.

With a person, I weep. I cry. I sometimes sob. And it takes a while for me to say goodbye. And I continue to talk to that person as though they were still with us.

"Stuff" doesn't mean that much to me. Or so I think. So I often tell people that they should treat the loss of stuff as a loss similar to grieving, but in practice I find it different, difficult even.

I don't weep.
I don't cry.
I don't sob.

In chatting with my mom the other day, I was reminded that wisdom takes years to brew and our elders have much to teach us. Filled with life and love, she pointed out that as I face loss of "stuff", I wasn't grieving right. I was anxious, yes. I was confused, yes. I was upset, yes.

But did I feel the pain, she asked.

Did I let the loss speak from my heart rather than my brain?

No. Because I hadn't wept. I hadn't cried. I hadn't sobbed.

Her words resonated with me. And they complemented a conversation I had had just a week before. My spiritual director pointed out that I'm going through a season of loss right now and that my Lenten disciplines need refining. If I'm to prepare for Easter with all this loss, rather than adding more ashes to my face, rather than bringing yet another reminder of our mortality to my life, I should prepare for new life.

I should wipe the ashes away so that my face can be seen once again.

So after speaking with my mother, I gathered my thoughts together. I gathered my feelings together. I gathered the pain. And I let the pain into my heart.

I wept.
I cried.
I sobbed.

And somehow, I'm starting to feel differently. I'm wiping the ashes from my face, not with oils or soap or water. I'm wiping them with the sacred tears from my eyes, my heart, my soul.

And as I let the pain in, as I let the tears flow, as the ashes slowly get wiped away, I feel the light coming into my wounds. I feel the life of others flow to me. I feel the love of God flow in, around, and through me. The pain is real and I'm letting it in. And somehow, it gives me hope, for it reminds me the promise of Easter.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Just a Matter of Time

There is nothing new in facing death. It's been discussed for thousands of years. And sometimes certain phrases, such as the "to sleep, perchance to dream" soliloquy in Hamlet show that people have ruminated on death versus life ages ago, in words far more poetic than I could offer.

Yet the troubles with family or friends who are slipping away, with death a matter of "when" rather than "if", of "how many days or weeks" rather than "some day in the future", these questions never come easily or become easier with practice. No, there's always a rawness to it, of not wanting to let go.

It's especially acute when there's a bit of an emotional roller coaster involved. Heath and our journey of healing is rarely a straight-forward line. There's usually a twisting road before us. Sometimes, the medical prognosis looks great, other times it's worsening. And sometimes, eventually, it's worsening to the point of just saying "it's just a matter of time."

Just a matter of time.

No amount of time is inconsequential. Every moment counts, to us, to those who love us. Every meal, every bite, every laugh, every tear, it all counts in the calculus of whether life can be more miserable than death itself. I love chocolate, but as the years pass, chocolate increasingly hurts my health and I must choose to limit my consumption of sweets.
To be, or not to be – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune … 
…’Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep —
To sleep – perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil…

For most, the equation is simple. Death must be avoided at all cost. But I think that given the medical advances we have today, there's a prolongation of a life sustained beyond comfort, joy, and dignity. That complicates the dialogue because we have to wonder how much painful intervention do we want as we near the end. Must we continually try to cheat death, to push off the inevitable, to evade the reality of life's cycles? Many of us understand dignity in life, but cannot discuss the dignity of death.

When do we say that it's time to say goodbye?

I don't think there's one answer for all. We each have our individual world views, faiths, and fears that may or may not coincide with those of our family and friends.

We had lunch with a family member on our way back from a weekend trip. She was hospitalized after a massive heart attack and seemed to survive it, surprising everyone around her. And we left with smiles and laughs. We also left hearing that there wasn't going to be much time left. We left hearing that it's just a matter of time. We left with questions of hospice care.

It's just a matter of time before we must pack up our toys and give them away, because we can't take them with us. We say our goodbyes.

It's just a matter of time, but I want that time to matter.

So I say to those still in our midst: I want to laugh with you. Cry with you. Break bread with you. Rejoice, remorse, reminisce, regret, and reveal with you. We have only so much time left with each other. It may be just a matter of time, but it matters to me.



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When Ashes Feel Like Salt


For some who observe the season of Lent, Ash Wednesday is an anchor that prepares us for the penitential season. Before we get to celebrate life made new on Easter, we positively must recognize that all things must die. Christ died. We must die. Death cannot be evaded and we will one day return to the formless clay from which we were created.

And yet this reminder, this lesson, has for me this year been an unnecessary, almost brutal assault. For it's been an emotional roller coaster for me and for the people I care for in my life. I've lost friends to cancer and accidents, and had scary talks of cancer and hospice for some in my family. All within the span of 4 months.

Stephen and I were taking advantage of his day off to take a walk along the beach. It was a beautiful day, one where we rejoiced in the perfect Southern California temperatures and cloud-dappled sunny skies. We could see for miles and breathed in fresh ocean air. The breeze kept the allergens away and for the first time in over a week I could see clearly, breathe easily, and didn't sneeze once.

So I broke down when I saw that a dear friend had lost his battle with cancer. Stephen held me up against the wall of a building beside the beach so that I wouldn't crumble to the ground. I at first felt the sadness of a life gone too soon, but then felt something more profound, and I didn't expect the pain.

I visited with John and Gerti three days before. The hospital visitor sticker is still in the car, as I hadn't even had time to dispose of it. And I might not. For while I stood by John's bed, Gerti and I were unsure of what was happening. That happens when so much medication and so many procedures are in play. But before I left, before she left for classes, she asked me to lead us in a prayer.

There's no doubt in my heart that we become alive when we are stitched together in prayer. We become one tissue, one heart, as we pray together. And I was grateful to the point of tears to have the opportunity to hold hands with John and Gerti, to pray together, to give thanks, to ask for healing. Our hands were in each other's hands and our hearts beat as one.

So I cried yesterday as I recalled that moment. It was a deep cry. It was a cry of mourning because that moment of love and unity was one that I will not have again. I agonized that I could not pray with John and Gerti again, not here, not in these bodies.

And as Ash Wednesday comes, when ashes are imposed upon our foreheads, when I impose ashes on the foreheads of others, I think this morning, "This doesn't feel like ashes I'm imposing. This feels like salt. This feels like the salt from the tears from our faces."

I guess I'm supposed to learn something from all this. Or remember something. Or share something. But it feels so raw. The circle of life feels disrupted because it's just been a litany of scares and deaths. I need to see friends and family having babies so that I can see that cycle of life spinning gracefully.

I don't want to rub salt in our wounds. I don't want it in my raw flesh. I want to feel the fresh air of life. I want to feel the spray of the ocean.

I guess there's the rub, isn't it? We can't appreciate life around us, life renewed in front of us, if we don't recognize death, as well. Our faces may be cleansed by the spray of the ocean, but even in that baptismal washing, we can taste the salt, and our toes are grounded in the sand. I like others want the joys of today, every day.

But the joys, the hands held in prayer, the hugs, they are all temporary. We all return to the land from where we came. We cannot hold on to the illusion of permanence. We can only hold on to the promise of love that never ends, of lives made new, of an understanding that our lives do not belong to us but are a gift to use as best we can for the time we have.

Today, I await the imposition of ashes. Today, I feel the intrusion of the salt. Today is only for today.




Saturday, February 3, 2018

Difficult Discussions

Stephen and I just had a difficult discussion. We were talking about advance medical directives, living wills, and health care durable power of attorney issues. We've never talked about this at length, other than some sad chats after the movie "Million Dollar Baby".

But recently, the family has had to confront these issues. Jim, my father-in-law, is currently caring for his longtime companion, Sheila, who had a massive heart attack this week. She was on a ventilator and there wasn't any confidence that she would ever be able to breathe on her own again. Moreover, her kidneys apparently were no longer working. By Thursday, the family was dealing with a situation where even if she could breathe without the ventilator, we had to be ready to face hospice options. It was a painful discussion for Sheila's sister and Jim.

Fortunately, with much of our family and friends praying with us, we took out the ventilator and she was able to breathe on her own. By the end of the day, when Stephen and I arrived at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of St. Joseph Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, she perked up into her smiling, feisty ways and immediately wanted to hold our hands, give her a kiss, hug us, and chat away. Sheila was "Sheila" and we had to remind her to not speak too loudly and to breathe deeply since she was just on a ventilator. Best of all, her kidneys seemed to be working once again, and talk of hospices are for now on hold

We're thrilled and filled with joy and gratitude. And it's a marked contrast to the dread and sadness we all felt. Sheila's had a colourful life and though her memory has been slipping more quickly lately, she is still a character.

Many people, perhaps most people, are uncomfortable talking about health care options in crisis or terminal illness situations. Many don't have wills much less living wills. Yet accidents and health care emergencies can happen at any time. Are we ready to deal with this? Are you?

I want to say that we resolved everything this morning but our difficult discussions are only beginning. There are lots of things to consider. Stephen, for example, would rather I make all the decisions but agrees that it would a painful burden to place on me. And I wonder how our feelings will change as we get older and how often we will need to change these directives.

But it's a start. Healing isn't just for those who are gravely ill, but also for those who remain here. For us to walk our camino of healing, we have to face everyone's healing, not just our own. We can't do it ourselves. We have to talk, in trust, in love, with mutual respect. In a way, how can healing occur without all that?

I hope that you don't face these issues but the reality is we all must at some point, for ourselves and our families. I can't pray that you won't face this, but I will pray that you will be granted wisdom, compassion, and strength as you confront transitions to the life beyond our visible world. I pray that you can plan and talk in advance, so that when the time comes, you can walk in that thin space aware of the love and light guiding you. And when you or someone must walk through that sacred veil to the other side, we can during that journey intertwine our fingers not out of fear, but out of love, life, and grace.





Wednesday, January 17, 2018

This Little Light of Mine, I'm Gonna Let it Shine

Praying at the Healing Service in Lourdes, France
Many of us said goodbye to Rev. Zelda Kennedy when she retired from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena at the beginning of summer. And, as she battled cancer, many family and friends stood by her side to be with her and to ease her way into eternal light. Some of us had a chance to say goodbye one last time before she passed on December 29.

I didn't say goodbye to her in the end, but I did get to give her a big hug, and she's known for her hugs, at a chance meeting at church in November. I didn't feel moved to say anything to her. I thought afterwards that perhaps I should have. But it didn't seem needed or even appropriate at the time. Apparently she didn't either. We hugged and just felt each other's warmth and love. In retrospect, that hug was sacramental. It was a blessing to me, it was my blessing to her, and we acknowledged the divine during that hug.

Zelda touched many of us with her effusive love and joy. She oozed with the Holy Spirit and felt your heart better than most. And she organized pastoral ministries at All Saints Pasadena so that we could be caring, inclusive, and compassionate, with the parish and also with each other. When she faced the end of her time on earth, it was obvious to all that the grieving would be intense.

And it was. There were daily vigils of prayer and story telling from the moment her move to hospice was announced. And after she moved on through that divine veil, we held a nightly novena, a ritualized way to offer prayers both personally and communally. Her North Carolina family and friends said goodbye last week and this past weekend, we in Southern California did. The memorial was profoundly emotional, sad at times and downright joyful at others. With Zelda dancing down the aisles with us, we sang out "This Little Light of Mine".

I've been examining my heart during the past few weeks. The tears flowed freely at first. Sobbing burst from my lungs since July but were just as powerful after Christmas. And I wasn't a confidante. I was just someone who was touched by her, who worked closely with her for several years as the Pastoral Care liaison from the vestry, and as a Labyrinth ministry leader. She opened my eyes to recognize and accept rather than evade and reject gifts of love.

It might not be obvious from this blog, but before I started it, before Zelda touched me during our regular meetings, I resisted opening up, letting people into my heart, revealing my inner self. I was lousy at hiding my inner feelings, but I wouldn't admit them easily until the wounds grew to unbearable sizes. My first long term relationship suffered from this behavior. But things started to change and my journey took a new turn.

And my journey continues to this day.

So what happened during those weeks between Christmas and the memorial on January 13? I pray daily, so that wasn't different. I pray weekly in Taize worship, and that has in the past made big impacts on me. But I was praying communally, like in Taize, daily during this time. Somehow, in some way, I felt that community prayer working on me.

How is that possible? What was it about repetitious, chanting prayer that comfort many people like me? I don't know the answer but I do know that it's a salve. I get to share my open wound with others as they share theirs with me.

But we don't dwell on the wounds. We repeat our prayers. We acknowledge the pain, and focus on prayer. Together. And it brings life. Like the Lord stitching a baby together in her mother's womb, like the scab stitching together the edges of cut skin, the prayers bind us together into living tissue, living cells that come together and become living membranes, living tissue, living beings.

We become alive when we are stitched together in prayer.

Perhaps that's why I ask for your prayers often. Or why many ask me for mine. We pray so that the light shines on us. On all of us. On all parts of us.

Including the wounds. Because as the mystic Rumi once said, it's in the wounds where the light enters our being.

Let that little light shine. Let it shine on us all. On all parts of us. And like Zelda, be the little light that shines on others.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Letting the Light In: An Advent Reflection

On Monday, I posted on Facebook a comment that got some attention from my friends, including a few tearful hugs.

Driving up Lake Ave, waiting for a pedestrian to cross at Elizabeth St. Two 9yo-ish Boys on scooters racing downhill. One sees me and yells out "Ching Chong", darting away, laughing.
I am tired of being told "to get over it". Raise your kids right.

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by this rude shred of racism. I was coming back from stopping by a store where I was looking at stocking stuffers for my nieces and nephews. The store and my heart were in a Christmas spirit. And I had been marinating in the Advent spirit of waiting penitentially for the hope and Good made incarnate with the coming of the baby Jesus. I was also getting a last-minute item needed to roast a turkey the next day for the Homeless Memorial and Dinner at All Saints Episcopal of Pasadena. And the prior night, I sang with my choir at the beautiful Lessons and Carols evensong service. Needless to say, I was in positive mood.

And then these two boys shook up my Monday.

My last sentence in that post seemed to imply that I had problems with the kids themselves. I didn't mean to do so. I was upset with the parents and other adults in those children's lives who taught or at least enabled the children to say such a pointless, mean remark. The comment was directed not towards the kids but towards us adults.

You see, this wasn't an isolated incident. If this incident happened for the first time in the last decade, I'd be shocked and I'd be glad it was over. Like some freakish accident, I don't expect it to happen again soon. But it's not unusual. It happens to me now, and it's happened to me in the past, and while I'm alive I'll probably have it happen again. Good grief, I can tell you about the fear that coursed through me when I was chased by pipe-wielding guys in gay West Hollywood.

Admittedly, it's not common to me, and for that I'm thankful. It's not common, but it's not unusual. Comments or actions that are based on racism come to me several times a year. And I'm one of the lucky ones because we all know people who experience racism on a daily basis. Well, those of us who have friends or acquaintances who are not in the ethnic majority for their area know such people; a surprising number of people live in segregated enclaves, intentionally or not, where they simply have no opportunity to be in relationship with a minority.

That's not to say that ethnic minorities don't mistreat each other. There's no doubt that there can be as much racism directed from one minority onto another. But racism isn't just a dislike for a minority. It's coupled with power.  So a person of one minority disparaging a person of a different minority class doesn't harm the person as much as a person of the majority, a person with power. Now, a child who calls out names like I experienced typically has no power, but that child represents and is the product of someone who does.  Whether children or adult, these acts are enabled by a society that stays silent about the hurt sustained from the malice. We must dis-enable all who diminish our mutual humanity.

In the past, I've been told "get over it". Well no. No, I won't.

This blog post is a step to "not get over it", to not let it slide, but to call it out publicly. I want to let the light in and shine it on this sickness.

This was NOT an isolated incident. It happens here, in "tolerant" California like elsewhere. I haven't shared these stories in the past, but they happen, and I am just one of the many who experiences unacceptable behavior.

The boys said "Ching Chong". In the past, people have spat out at me "faggot", "chink", "go back to your own country", and "old fat fag"

There have been heroes to help me when these happened. And there are those who turned away.

I am grateful for everyone's words of love and support this past week. I also think that what I experienced was not just youthful indiscretion. I don't think it's just a sign of these political times. I don't feel it's unique to me, to this year, to this location. I don't feel that I'm the only person who experiences this.

I weep when I know this is happening to others. I weep knowing it happens more often and with more physically painful ramifications to others. And I weep when this story surprises my friends. We all suffer, those oppressed AND those who oppress, when these aggressions and microagressions happen. All of us in the human family are diminished.

I have faith that the arc of history bends toward justice. But all of us must speak like the prophets and call out the injustices not just in our lives but in the daily lives of all around us. And all of us must follow and be the shepherd who cares for the fallen, the hurt, the pained.

This country and the world should be bigger than this incident. I pray for it. I dream of it. I want to share my stories so we know what we face.

And while I'm at it, I'd like to bring up one more point. I know of too many friends who defensively make self-directed jokes. "Oh I'm Asian and we ARE the worst drivers" for example. It's considered acceptable for a minority to call others in their community by slurs. I know I've done it, as a Filipino, as an immigrant, as a Pacific-Islander, as an Asian, as a gay person, as a guy, as a geek. It's an easy laugh that we can share with each other, a laugh that is not permissible by those who are not of that same class.

I wonder how hurtful it is that this continues, as we perpetuate stereotypes in such jokes. It's really incorporating the hurtful stereotypes into our own community. The behavior can mask a self-hate. In the gay community, it can mask (or perhaps reveal) internalized homophobia.

None of this is holy. Holy is lifting up, not casting down. We don't have to step on each other to bind ourselves to each other. We don't have to step on minorities to build ourselves up.

We can heal this sickness, this sin. To do so, we have to face the illness, or at least face the fears that prevent us from healing. I recently had a colonoscopy where I (finally) confronted a fear of cancer by actually getting a checkup. I remember that same fear when decades ago I went finally for an HIV test. Those fears impair our ability to heal, but we must accept that we can't begin to heal without first facing the realities of the disease.

Every day we forget who we are, forget that we are made in the image of God, forget what life without fear is, forget what love means. I won't get over this unless by getting over it we mean let's heal. Let's remember. Let's love.

So let's use this time to remember. We can remember who we are and what life and love mean. We can pray in this time of Advent for a future that's filled with love and hope, for a chance to heal what was broken, for a promise to end the sickness of sin.

I heard a sermon recently that pointed out that you can have two rooms, one in light and one in darkness. Open the door between them, and the light pours out of the light-filled room into the dark room. And the light-filled room doesn't look any dimmer. It's still just as light. But the dark room is transformed, with almost as brilliant a light as the adjoining room.

As I pondered that sermon, it struck me that you could have countless rooms of darkness, all connected to that light-filled room. We can open the doors to each and every room and they will immediately fill with light. And the room with light itself does not go dim.

Christmas is coming. We await the Light to fill our darkness. May His promise of hope and salvation be shared with all.