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, March 28, 2014

All the Single Maybes (Put a Sting on It)

On Saturday, it will be exactly four weeks to our wedding day. After five decades where I was told, taught, and raised to think that marriage was meant for some but not all, I finally get to have my own partnership blessed in the church. Three amazing priests will be have to keep me from crying the entire hour as I stand, kneel, and walk in a daze.

It's not really a dream come true. A dream is when you imagine something possibly happening. I never had these dreams because I didn't think it was possible. That's how oppressive it felt to me. I was unimaginative and thought that God and society only worked in limited ways. That God wasn't all powerful and all loving because that God was boxed in by our definitions and legalisms. But, like some dreams, the creative mind hits you by surprise and suddenly you find yourself sweating at the all too real possibilities.

My theological and faith journeys have led me to know, just know, that if marriage equality came to my church, my state, my home, I would want to my partnership to be consecrated with the solemnity that such a union merits. I grew up watching priests bless homes, pets, rosaries, schools, plumbing, bibles, and even sewer pipes. Certainly something as important as a loving commitment to another person should receive an important blessing. Until the last few years, this was just not so, and I like others watched inanimate objects receive God's favors, while my love was left behind.

The changes have been all too wonderful for me. But it's not for some gay people.

I've met many couples and singles who aren't rushing to get married or who find the focus on marriage equality discomforting. Of these, there are couples who don't see the need to have a state sactioned marriage in their union. They've worked and functioned as a couple for a long enough time that they don't require the apparent trappings that marriage entails. Some of these couples are even church goers, and they feel satisfied by their current status.

And then of course there's all the single people dream of finding their love but watch as we celebrate gay couple after gay couple. I find it hard to imagine the longing it might bring to them when they attend all their friend's weddings. I know of a few who don't attend weddings simply because it hurts them so much. They feel the sting when we flaunt a ring. They are ignored by the today's media because there are no laws that they're trying to overturn.

Then there's the example from pop-music. Beyoncé's "All the Single Ladies" is sung from the perspective of a woman who wants commitment but doesn't get it from her partner. Furthermore, that partner has hypocritical anger when she goes out to have fun, despite his unwillingness to commit. It's a fun dance number but I always wonder about their conflict in terms of marriage equality. What if one partner wants marriage and the other, because of hurt and anger at society and church, won't marry under any circumstance? I've met a couple like this and they on the surface seem reconciled to their differences, but I do wonder what it means when your concept of unity differs.

I cherish my friends who intentionally or uninentionally remain unmarried. For those who choose to stay unmarried, I pray that they may continue to cultivate the emotional bonds that satisfy them each and every day. Maybe they'll marry some day, maybe they won't. It's the networked loving bonds of family and friends that they value most.

But for those who watch the marriage equality changes and yearn for their role in it, I feel that it's more important to be true to your intended self than simply to be married. The love that can sustain for a lifetime isn't one that magically appears overnight when you find yourself single. It's part looking, part not looking, part intention, part luck. Some think of it as a game that has to be played.

I for one prefer to think of it as a journey. We are all on our individual adventures on this planet. If our trek brings us into communion with God and with another person, then a celebration seems called for, seems appropriate. But the journey doesn't end. It continues.

We're using a unity candle at our wedding. We each will have our own candles and, during the actual wedding vows, we take our candles and light one candle in unison, merging our individual flames into one flame. Unlike other services that I've attended however, we're not going to extinguish the original candles. We're going to keep them lit. I want to think that the spark of life, the magic of the Holy Spirit, as more than a zero sum game. By merging our lives and fire together, we can create more, enlighten more, see more clearly. We spread the Word and the light by sharing our lives and creation both as individuals and as couples.

We merge and create, rather than merge and extinguish.

Singles and unmarried couples have a light to share and I hope my marriage won't mask their joys, their pains, and their journeys. I pray that we all appreciate each other's lives and that our journeys together are of wrapped in beauty, creation, and sustaining love.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ironic Heart of Mary

While working in Salt Lake City this week, I came across a marvelous mural by Los Angeles artist Miles "Mac" McGregor. Like his other works, tt was a gripping piece, clasping onto the brick wall and illuminated by a reflecting sunset. To the east, a serene 19th century Methodist church stood strong on a street gentrifying from urban decline towards a hipster vibe. The building itself housed a New York style pizza hot spot.

The focal point of the mural was Our Lady, clasping her immaculate heart. Colorful ornamentation framed her loving body. She gazed peacefully at the scene below her, the sacred heart glowing with passion and love.

And down below her watchful eyes stood a gun shop.

The shop carried ammo, new and refurbished arms, machinery with automatic reloading equipment, and a convenient loan operation. Nostalgic posters glamorizing the lives of soldiers in times of war festooned the walls and windows. I watched men in fatigues entering the store and saw women perusing the sales aisles.

I'm not against personal gun ownership nor am I against the use of recreational firearms. I don't glamorize war, though, and I feel that the term "well-regulated" in fact means there can exist a list of regulations that meet the standard of "well-regulated". I'm a moderate that thinks some people aren't trained or capable of handling deadly force, though most people are. I also think that accidents happen and also that people just SNAP, losing all manner of judgment and morality.

So why am I blogging about this?

I was enroute to the Episcopal cathedral. St Marks as it turned out was closed, but I was looking forward to quiet contemplation after a long day's work. I didn't have a topic for my intended prayers, nor did I have a meditation plan. At best I was going to continue my prayers about the notion of doubt. But this mural was so beautiful and the ironic positioning so striking, I had to understand it.

What does Our Lady's icon represent? In Roman Catholicism and Eastern traditions, it represents Mary's life filled with joys and sorrows, her virtue, and her all-encompassing love. Like all who mortals who see pain and joy in their lives, Mary experienced all these things, but from her special place as the mother of Jesus.

I've seen many icons with swords, fire, or wounds on the heart. This emphasizes the sadness that Mary, as intercessor, hears from our prayers. This imagery was central to my upbringing as a Roman Catholic and played a significant role in many of our prayers at home.

Mary's empathy and love therefore strikes me as having greater depth and meaning when she's looking towards the gun shop. We in America certainly face an unsettling number of murder sprees. Moreover, an incredible number of accidental deaths involve firearms. Sadly, a disproportionate number of victims are children

The heart of Mary is on fire with these traumas. As we pray for the victims, for the wounded, even for the killers, we must also acknowledge that we are participants in this culture. We don't enforce safety laws and even worse are trying to dismantle many regulations. George is about to remove almost all of its gun regulations. We are culpable in every way for causing the pains that afflict us, if not directly then indirectly.

I pray that we are guided, consoled, and encouraged to work towards a safer, respectful, loving world where the Immaculate Heart no longer has a bullet lodged inside.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Anybody There?

One of my favorite musicals since I was in middle school is 1776, by Sherman Edwards. The tunes were good, but more importantly, the book was exceptional and made history musically engaging.

I was thinking of one of the key songs, as sung by John Adams, well before he was President.
Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?
They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to England I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may
The croakers all say we'll rue the day
There'll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I see the rays of ravishing light and glory!
Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?
I see fireworks! I see the pageant and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more
How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is
Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

These are the words of an inspired leader. He clearly sees us in a new place, a separate place, not because he lusts for fireworks, pomp, and parade. He sees those as by-products of his dream that all Americans can be free of the political bondage and yoke of Britain.

But it doesn't come easy. And in the still quiet room, he ponders if anyone is listening. Or worse, is anybody even there.

Existential thoughts such as these come across my mind often during Lent. Are we seeking freedom from our mortal pains in futility? Why can't we solve our problems with poverty, homelessness, addiction, and so on? Is anybody there? Does anybody care?

I'm not so arrogant to think that I've got the only solutions, or that I'm the only one who cares. The character of John Adams in this play may seem so, but I think most people know others who do indeed care. But it all seems so intractable at times.

And it leads me to wonder how God can allow such pain to exist? Doesn't He care? Isn't She there?

I'm fairly certain that whether these questions can get answered isn't up to God. It's up to me. I think there might be three steps for moving past the psychic trauma caused by dwelling on these questions.

1. Trust God.

Questioning God is an easy past-time. It certainly is normal to doubt our leaders, parents, bosses, and other figures of authority. During Lent, when all these thoughts foam up in my head, I have to be able to say, "Despite it all, I trust God." It's comforting, relaxing us like possibly the atheistic opiates are thought to work. But it moves further than that to me. Even if God doesn't exist, my trust in something calms me and strengthens me to sally forth. One cannot trust and be strengthened in a non-being. So regardless of whether God exists or cares, I march trusting because it's without doubt better than the alternative to me.

2. Allow God into our lives

This is actually harder than it seems. Once you trust God, you have to hand over the keys and let God drive. Control freaks like me hate handing over the keys. It's my car/life and I can drive it better than anyone else can, even if they have better driver's training scores than I got. It happens all the time in our lives and yet we forget that by building barriers to God, we aren't really trusting God. We're lamenting at something that we're causing. Lent reminds me of this and allows me to focus on ways of creating space for God in my life.

3. Waiting for God

Lastly, in that control freak way that bugs me most, I need to remember to get past the question of God, I have to be willing to wait. Waiting isn't easy for most. I get nastiest, rudest, and meanest when I'm forced to wait. And it's in that failing that I am pushing away God further and further away. I pray hardest at Lent to have the patience in life and so as to give God time to work on me and those around me.

My challenge at Lent is to allow these questions and steps to flow through me, with me, and beyond me as I pray on my journey.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I Love to Forgive... But You Go First - Part 2

Continued from "I Love to Forgive... But You Go First - Part 1"

The key takeaway from the last blog seems to be the focal point. We cannot forgive until we stop focusing on the other person. When we think about the pain, we think of ourselves. When we think of the solution, we look to the other person to heal us. That's not possible. Even if they said "Sorry", you cannot internally be healed by such words. The healing is intrinsic to yourself.

Forgiveness is not so much about the other person as it is about what is happening within us. Do our hearts allow us to heal? Forgiveness is all about us through and through. If we truly want to heal, we have to exorcise the demon controlling us from within. Only with such an expulsion will we have enough room to heal. That monster stops us from letting the Holy Spirit in because we're too busy focusing on the other person.

The sad part about not forgiving is that you become your own prisoner. You poison the well not because you're trying to harm yourself, but because you're so focused on others, you don't realize that your well has gotten infested with disease. It's vital to let go of the anger and hurt. Leave it somewhere else. Do yoWe u practice meditative walks in a labyrinth? Leave the pain in the center. Do you walk in the countryside? Leave it in the woods. Some who attend church services on Ash Wednesday write down their pains and sins on a piece of paper and it's those papers that are burned into ashes. Mark your head with those ashes, reminding yourself that they came from you but have been sent to the fire.

This isn't easy and doesn't come overnight. You've got to wait, strengthen, and find nourishment to swell past the small space you left for your heart. But always remember, when patience is lacking, that God's grace forgives first and foremost. If Jesus asks that we be forgiven, then we ourselves must work towards that same forgiveness of others. Our rebirth comes from God forgiving us our sins. We can be set free, if only we allow and see that freedom.

Perhaps we need to consider forgiveness and pain in context with other contrasting reactions. The prayer normally attributed to St Francis is one of my favorite healing prayers, especially in times when forgiveness is challenging. It helps me because it contrasts pain and pardon with other difficult reconciliations. When I pray for the strength to forgive, I start here.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
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 is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I Love to Forgive... But You Go First - Part 1

The great political news of today and of my entire life seems to revolve around retaliation and mistrust. We have to account for past grievances and don't believe you're going to follow through. Every gets mad at countries for pursuing such tactics. We're always climbing into war, wasting resources, sacrificing our young men and women on the battlefield.

Yet this isn't something unique to countries or politics. It's within us. It's a human trait. And if we retaliate and mistrust, we're not going to be able to forgive.

We talk about forgiveness often in church. I mean, really, very often. But it's almost as though we can't help ourselves in blocking efforts to forgive. We automatically abandon or make impossible forgiveness when we place demands on the other person. We ask that they accept responsibility for their actions. I don't want to forgive but feel like I'm required to do so. Only the weak forgive.

People tend to put words in other people's mouths. We assume that they don't really want to move forward. We give them unpleasant personalities characteristics, thinking that they're careless at best, but like just unappreciative or mean. Our own personal accountability is negated because it's entirely the other person's fault. We say, "I'm willing to forgive, but you have to take the first step."

We can't move forward with such thinking. And during Lent, I think and pray hard on how to dispel these innate actions every human being seems to do. To forgive, we have to be stronger than this. This action, this default, genetic way of doing things, is actually the weaker position. It takes enormous strength to overcome our predispositions. For many it seems impossible. It may be, but I think as Christians we're urged and compelled to try.

Now, I'm not saying that forgiveness means the other person has no responsibility. That person may be 99% responsible for every action leading to the transgression. Actions lead to consequences and that cannot be circumvented. But the key to forgiveness is not to let the other person off the hook. It's to let YOU off the hook.

It's all about you after all!

Maybe time to change the words to Carly Simon's song. "You're in pain, you really should think this wrong is about you."

When we fail to forgive, we're hostage to the other person. They have control over us that we cannot escape. They're not even trying and they have you in their hands.

So how do we move forward?

I'll think about this some more... Stay tuned

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Meander and Water Deep

One of my spiritual tools of choice is the labyrinth. Perhaps it's because sitting still has never come easy for me. No doubt, the nuns of my earliest years in elementary school would have agreed. I'm just too fidgety to be physically stationary. To this day, I doodle, tap my fingers, shake my leg, rock back and forth, and play background music in my head to whomever is speaking.

The labyrinth offers an opportunity to walk and pray at the same time. Like my prayer and meditation, I'm urged forward, accepting the twists and turns as I journey forth. Sometimes, I find myself surprised that I've finished my walk and go right back into the labyrinth. Prayer shouldn't have a timer on it, nor should it have an expected outcome. The labyrinth isn't about setting rules on what to think. It just offers in a way bumper guards so that you're guided while you walk, keeping you free to wander without worrying whether you'll fall off an abyss.

The labyrinth is liturgy in motion.

It's been a blessing that All Saints Pasadena has offered the labyrinth every weekday throughout Lent for the past several years. The community gets to walk and pray alone or together. You can even listen to the Taizé service, organ practice, or choir rehearsals while you take your inner journey. And you keep moving.

And while you move in space, you move in your mind. And while you move, you water deep the empty spaces that have been parched and thirsty. A lovely article "The Induced Meandering of the Lenten Season" describes how nature and well-designed landscaping can water gardens when rain comes infrequently. Since moving to Southern California several decades ago, I've learned that the ground here has practically no capacity to absorb water quickly. Despite this, the rain, when it appears, doesn't come down lightly here. It's sunny most of the year or it pours and creates mudslides.

Soil absorbs water because it has spaces in between rocks, dirt particles, roots, and other materials. These gaps can collect the water, if given enough time. Downpours don't allow that, nor do floods. But a river stream has many obstacles that slow water down: rocks, boulders, trees, twists, turns. Nature in a sense creates a way so that water can slow down enough to trickle into those spaces.

Like the labyrinth and prayer.

We slow down, pause, turn every few steps while walking the labyrinth. We breathe in, breathe out to a rhythm that isn't musically consistent, but forces us to accept the winding ways. In doing so, we have an opportunity to find those parched spaces inside and fill them with life-giving water, soothing the thirst, baptizing the recesses with a life made new. A Lent of slow meandering is a Lent of slowly filling.

Let all who are thirsty come. Let all who wish receive the water of life freely. Come.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Remember that you are dust

The phrase I used as I made a sooty cross on dozens of foreheads this morning was "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It's the phrase I'm supposed to use, but I do wish I could change it. I'd rather just say "Remember that you are dust." Full stop. Period. No more.

No need to say "and to dust you shall return." We already are dust. We never left it. One can't return to a condition which they've never left. We still are dust.

But dust, dirt, clay is us through and through. Adam means "earth" or "ground". We come from that ground from the very first book of our Bible. Like clay, we can be molded and shaped in different ways, different forms. That's the diversity that we are assured. God from the first very people made sure we were not clones of each other. We are all different and thrive because of that diversity.

I find it surprising that many people find Lent "a downer". What chorister hasn't lamented "I miss the Alleluias at this time of year"? I admit, the preponderance of minor keys in Western music during Lent can be a maddening, but the season itself can be amazingly fresh.

Like the dirt we come from, Lent should be a fertile bed where we grow new ideas, become strong anew, and rise towards the sun with color. We should be taking the lessons that we learn during this time of
introspection and build a better life, a giving life, a shared bounty as we are charged in the Gospels.

It was the first time I actually placed dust on anyone's forehead in the sign of the cross. I knew it was messy, but had no idea how much dust was going to get splattered around. I even got some bonus ashes on some noses and low hanging bangs and felt awkwardness from the mess. It got on my vestments and I, for a moment, was embarrassed and self-conscious.

Thank goodness.

When I realized that I had become self-conscious during the service, it dawned on me that this was why I was here, on Ash Wednesday, serving at the Eucharist. We are dust and dust is messy. Life isn't meant to be easy and comfortable. We'll always be challenged as mortals to face a world that isn't under our control. Control, like cleanliness, is an illusion. We can't dive deep into Lent without understanding that we aren't in control.

I'll be walking around all day with a sign of this mess, this dust, that I am. And my journey to Easter, though just beginning, will certainly have other mistakes and errors. But from those times of dirt and mess, insights arise. Justice grows. And life abundant springs forth with joy and caring.

We are blessed because we are dust and it's something worth remembering.