Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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


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.