Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What Are You Waiting For?

I'm impatient.

For those who've worked with me or lived with me or sat as a passenger in a car I was driving, that's not exactly a surprise. It's something I've been working on, and it's definitely a challenge. There's an impatience directed towards myself and there's an impatience directed at others. I've been trying for years to get the words "What are you waiting for?" out of my system. The work is ongoing and may never cease.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I like being on time. I like getting things done on time. And like many, I can also procrastinate when I'm not drawn to a task. Sometimes the words "What are you waiting for?" help me get motivated to starting something. There's no problem when it's about motivating yourself into action. There are issues, though, when the words or thoughts are directed at others. I feel I should watch myself and my expectations because I'm not in control of others nor of life nor of God's plans. When my thoughts and words are pointed to others, it's as if I am directing their behaviours, and of course, life doesn't work that way. So for most situations, it's a practice that would best be left behind on this journey.

Yet... there are times when the phrase "What are you waiting for?" makes perfect sense. Times like now, for instance.

This year, Advent starts on Sunday, December 2 and as always ends on December 24. The word "Advent" comes from "To Come" in Latin. It's a church season named to focus on anticipating on what's "to come". It's all about waiting,  about expecting, about times pregnant with possibility. We should be willing to wait now. But for what?

What are you waiting for?

Rather than thinking of "waiting" as something to be avoided, there are times "waiting" should be enjoyed, cherished, appreciated. We can wait in anticipation, rather than in agitation. Advent is a season where waiting can lead to wonderful joys and insights. And maybe, we can figure out what it is we're waiting for.

Waiting is part of the gift of Advent. We await the gift of what is to come. Our waiting builds up hope. The time spent waiting opens a space for us to let the light inside of us grow, gestate, and expand until it bursts out of all of us.

When Christmas arrives, it brings us that joy in a real way, breathing, with a heartbeat of love that surpasses our comprehension. The wait for this annual reminder doesn't have to be marked by anxieties of store lines and parties and schedules. No, the wait can be simple and tender.

I recognize that there are times expectant mothers cannot wait for a baby to be born. But many times, moms talk about the dreams, the hopes, the joys of new life. That's the anticipation I like most about Advent. I like being part of those dreams, part of those hopes, part of the celebration and joy of new life.

The approach of Christmas doesn't have to be filled with an impatient waiting, but with a loving waiting. We can enter this darkest time of the year with joyful, edge of the seat anticipation. We can wait in the darkness, not forever, but for just a little while longer. Watching with our lamps lit. Waiting for the light to appear.

What are you waiting for?

May your Advent be a journey in the darkness, filled with waiting, and watching, and yearning for a love full of a light, a love full of life, a love where there is no darkness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thanksgiving Bookends

I posted these on the Camino of Healing page or on my personal Facebook page. I'm consolidating them on this post as a duet of reflections for Thanksgiving and gratitude. Though the posts were only 3 days apart, they seem to go together like bookends. The first was posted the morning after I attended a church gathering at a friend's home. The second was posted as I was on my way to setup the Thanksgiving dinner in the park for our community in need. I share them with you here in case you missed them or are not on Facebook.

(1) Monday morning - November 19

I was at a dinner gathering this weekend and I sat at a table where a family fed their two sons. They put the hot dogs and mac-n-cheese and kale on their plates. The veggies surprised me because I didn't like them for dinner as a child and these two youngsters wanted them.

Then the parents did their nightly dinner practice, asking the boys to share their gratitudes. The boys shared things like mac-n-cheese, baseball, bread, and a game they made up.

It was all so innocent. Simple really. Expressing gratitude as we broke bread.

And I wished, how I wished, we all could remember to say thanks for all these little things. For the bread in our lives, for the mac-n-cheese, for the games.

We don't have to be grateful for big things only. We can be grateful for the small things. On my Facebook page, I've been posting every day some gratitude that I have. And they're the photo opps of thanksgivings: family, love, jobs, sunsets, etc. But let's not forget the little joys, the games and jokes that put smiles on our faces every day. Let's be grateful for the tears as well as the giggles, the range and rainbow of human emotions, with people we know and love, with people we're getting to know, with people we've never even met. Because all these things remind us that we are alive, and that's the biggest gift of all.

(2) Thanksgiving 6:30am - November 22

I shivered as the cold leaves slipped silently under my feet, threatening ever so slyly to trip me to the ground. I smelled the damp cedars and memories began to fill me.

There was the woman without a home who apparently walked 3 miles from All Saints to the coffee shop I frequent. She had gotten a gift card from our church to help her out, began walking to the store, and became lost. The coffee shop owner told me earlier this week about how she took this woman to the store to help her and then took her back down to the church. The owner didn’t try to take the woman to her nearby church, but back to All Saints, because that’s where she wanted to go. I pondered what it felt like to have to walk everywhere and to get lost.

When I walk, it’s a privilege. I get to walk. And someday my body or my circumstances might not allow that luxury. Or, Someday I might be forced to walk.

I shivered this chilly morning as I smelled the rain-filled air and prepared to head down to the park. We have to set up the tables and chairs, for the diners and for the volunteers, giving a Thanksgiving dinner to those who might not be able to do something special for themselves or their families.

I shivered when I thought of all the drenched people who might have to walk to the park for this meal. Who had to sleep in the rain. We woke up when the rain started, hearing it tap against the windows, then pulled our comforter over us and drifted back to sleep. I didn’t think about those sleeping on the streets at that moment. But I did once I went outside.

I shivered as I remembered walking in the rain on Camino. I wondered where to find safety. Where to dry my clothes. Where to wash the mud off my face, shoes, trousers. Where the next village was. Where to find a bathroom. I wondered where the path before me was leading me.

I shivered. And I parked. Got out of my car. I put on my backpack of supplies I needed for today. I grabbed a bottle of water.

And I am walking the two hours from Altadena down to the park. Right now, I’m nursing a cup of coffee at a different coffee shop, warming my hands. I’m back on my camino, meeting people in the shadows, smiling, shivering together, wishing each other good mornings and happy thanksgivings.

Soon I’ll be at the park, and Stephen will join me and we will set the table for a great thanksgiving. I won’t be cold once we start hauling the many hundreds of tables and chairs around.

The food will come out. People will break bread together. We will give thanks.

And I might just shiver one more time.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with grace, fellowship, family, and love and may our tables be set for the whole human family.

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.