Sunday, January 25, 2015

"how many roads…"



"how many years
can some people exist
before they're allowed
to be free…"



I remember the first time I heard Peter, Paul, and Mary's hauntingly beautiful recording Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind. I was already a strange child. A quiet girl who would rather listen to grownups talk than play with her peers. I sought out stories of loss and abandonment. I would cry at the sound of bagpipes. To see a parent spanking his/her child made me nauseous. Hearing a song about tired doves made my heart ache.

It still does.

For many years I thought there was something terribly broken in me. Why would anyone who was whole want to sit with strangers in a hospital waiting room or seek out the most marginalized members of society? I tried everything to be a happy girl. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to fit in -- truly I did.

But something always gave me away. The book secreted under my sweater when my sister and I were sent out to play kickball with the other neighborhood children. The awkwardness at slumber parties. Being the only student in our current events class who wept over the latest news about the Viet Nam War.  These things did not endear me to my peers.  It was often interpreted as dramatic, selfish, or over-sensitive.

I couldn't blame the people for running in the other direction when I started weeping "for no reason."  I resisted me. I didn't want to be around me most of the time.  And I certainly didn't want to be me. Being me meant being teased as a bookworm, a cry baby, a mole who liked to spend her time in the dark. If that's who I was -- and it was -- I didn't want be me.

Until one day, I did. It was a rainy day in early Spring. One of those days filled with melancholy and memory. I was sitting in a small cafe watching a studious boy at the far end of a large nearby table. He was trying to disappear into himself or behind the covers of the book he'd been reading, so that a group of gregarious, loud teens who'd just come through the door wouldn't notice him. It wasn't hard to see that this boy was familiar with being teased and bullied. I could almost feel his feelings.

But as I sat there watching from my safe distance, a girl from another table stood up and walked over to the table where he was sitting. She asked if she could join him. Without looking up, he nodded and she sat down.

After ordering their drinks, the other group of teens looked around the cafe for some place to sit. When they saw the boy hunched over his books, it was clear they were ready to roust him from the table where he was sitting with the lovely girl.

But she looked up at them, and without saying a word, made it clear that they should rethink that plan. And they did. In a moment she had diffused the situation. Then she set about engaging the young man at the table with her in conversation. It was a small thing. But it was powerful.

Something in me woke up. I knew her heart -- and I knew his. In that moment I understood why I had spent my childhood feeling shy, marginalized, awkward, and insecure. And I also knew why I had spent my entire life feeling heartache whenever I saw, heard of, or experienced violence, teasing, poverty, or sorrow.

The first gave me compassion. The second gave me courage. It was clear to me that I'd been prepared for my life's purpose. I wasn't broken, I was destined to be brave. I wasn't shy, I was quietly alert and observant. I wasn't awkward, I was empathic. I wasn't overly sensitive, I was understanding.  I wasn't paralyzed by self-loathing, I was empowered to act.

Instead of feeling insecure about myself, I felt secure in my purpose. I could make a difference in the lives of others. I could be like that young girl. In fact, I realized that in my heart, I had always been like that young girl. Her example simply served to demonstrate to me that empathy is only as good as it empowers our compassion, humanity, and courage.

We all have things we are aware of. Injustices and secret sorrows that we see played out in the harsh light of society as we go about our days. It might be a child on the playground who seems particularly self-isolating and sad. A waitress who is uncharacteristically distracted. A stranger who is weeping on a park bench. A young mom who is clearly worried about paying for the groceries in her arms at the checkout line.

But we are not helpless in these situations, we are acutely aware. We are conscious of a need for compassion, and we already have the heart to do something that will make a difference. In each of these moments we have the right to be still, to listen for guidance, and to act with courage, humility, and grace. Sometimes that action may be a silent prayer of blessing. At other times it may take the form of a kind word, a warm introduction at a cafe table, or the willingness to listen quietly. You will know.

Whatever your life has prepared your heart to see and imagine yourself doing -- do. You just might find that you like yourself better for it.

In her book about the law of Love, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy makes this remarkable statement of encouragement:

"God gives the lesser idea of Himself
for a link to the greater, and in return,
the higher always protects lower.

"The rich in spirit help the poor
in one grand brotherhood, all having
the same Principle, or Father;
and blessed is that man who seeth
his brother’s need and supplieth it,
seeking his own in another’s good.

"Love giveth to the least spiritual idea
might, immortality, and goodness,
which shine through all as the blossom
shines through the bud."
 

What a promise. Even when we feel like we are the least equipped, the least likely to be heroic or make a difference in a difficult situation -- we aren't. We have might -- both the power and the potential -- to see our brother's need and supply it. This is how we find our own goodness - in helping another.

Dylan's lyrics come alive for me in connection with this inspired promise -- and our capacity to help other:


"how many times
can a man turn his head
and pretend that he just
doesn't see…"
 

Perhaps it's time to stop turning our heads away from what is difficult. Often these situations that are so difficult to see, are so painful because they call up feelings in us that we don't understand, or feel all too familiar. But maybe those feelings are really the resurrection of empathy and compassion. And when we honor these feelings, we discover that our hearts have been prepared to actually see when another person needs our help. And by acting with courage and kindness we redeem those old experiences and learn to love ourselves more.

Just something to think about --

offered with Love,


Kate

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"God gave me you…"


"God gave you
for the ups and downs.
God gave you
for the days of doubt.

For when I think
I've lost my way,
there are no words
here left to say,

It's true,
God gave me you..."


It's been wonderful living on the periphery -- witnessing, from a gentle distance a blessed wedding that will take place this weekend. Seeing dear friends gather to celebrate a couple's love for one another and their hope for the future -- well, I can't imagine a more beautiful view.

Thinking about marriage, and what it takes to open the door of our hearts and our lives so completely to another human being, takes my breath away. There is something so sacred about this holy space that Love is continually carving out in us. And today, it's Blake Shelton's "God Gave Me You." that speaks to what I believe about marriage -- with all my being.

It's no secret that I've been divorced and remarried. And I've discovered that generally, people think that I must  consider my earlier marriage a "mistake."

But that's not true. Not at all true. I believe that every marriage -- every relationship -- is blessed, sacred, and holy. I was deeply blessed by my earlier marriage. However I've come to learn that for me -- and I can only speak for myself -- relationships evolve.  They don't end. My children's dad and I -- with our current spouses -- are devoted parenting partners. I continue to be blessed by what we are learning together. It's just that now we have expanded that circle to include more love, more care, more support.

I am also learning that we never really end any relationship. We continue to think about the people who have been in our lives. And that act of "thinking about" them is always in done in the present tense. We don't actually think in the past. So, how we are thinking of them - in any given "present" moment -- is our only truth about the relationship. And how we treat them -- in our thoughts, even as memory -- is all that matters.

This is what defines us -- our capacity to love without the permission of roles or reasons. We just continue to love -- honestly, appropriately, trustingly. It doesn't end, it just changes, or evolves.

I won't lie. To believe that my former spouse and I had once made a mistake -- and that we had now corrected it by "moving on," would romantically tie all my loose ends up in a neat little bow. I could say, "whew, I got it wrong, and then I got it right. Thank you God. Now I can be happy."

But that would put happiness on a personal, rather than a spiritual, basis. And it would also mean that at some point we had each been separated from God's guidance, care, direction, and wisdom. It would mean that at some juncture our omnipotent God ceased to have all power in our lives.  Or He did have all-power, but He really didn't love us all that much -- otherwise, wouldn't He/She have intervened on our behalf and saved us from our mistakes?

Nope, I can't afford the luxury of that thinking. It would send a fissure through every holy place in my heart. It would shake my trust in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who is impartial and universal Love.

The alternative is so much better.:

"God gave me you..."
 

And not just the "you" I married, but all the yous in my life. Family members, neighbors, friends, fellow parents at school, the driver next to me on the road, those who hold a different viewpoint -- everyone.

Every person in my life - for whatever reason - is God-appointed, God-annointed, and God-sent as a blessing. Or as Blake sings, we are all part of "a divine conspiracy" designed for our spiritual awakening.

As I learn to let love unfold itself in my heart - within the context of each relationship - I am learning something new about my capacity to reflect the divine Source of that love. I discover that "Love is reflected in love" -- unconditional love, impartial love -- in me, through me, as me. No exceptions.

But, I haven't always seen it this way. In fact, there was a time when I thought I had the privilege of choosing whether to love, how to love, and when to love the people in my life. I doled love out like a commodity -- and hoped it would return in kind. When it didn't, I judged the relationship as either good, or "not so good," and adjusted my affection, and expectations, accordingly.

But this never worked. I was always on the edge, waiting for something to improve -- or to end. If someone hurt me, I had the right to expect an apology. If I hurt someone else, I deserved to feel self-loathing, regret, sorrow, and hope for their forgiveness.

It was all in our hands. We determined the success or failure of our relationships. And God help us, if we were doomed from the outset by a poor initial choice.

Then one day I actually realized that I was dishonoring God with this thinking. It was unholy. It left God out of His own creation.

So, you may ask, if this is the case how could I possibly allow myself to even entertain the concept of "divorce." To be honest, I never did. I was completely intractable when it came to my commitment of "making it work."

But then one day, there was an inbreaking of the heart -- and from that space of surrender, grace began to flow. Where once, I had been rigid about what a "spiritual outcome" had to look like, there was a new gentleness and humility.

Something shifted, and I felt led towards a kinder version of myself. I was willing to let God unfold a more authentic relationship with my former spouse. An honest relationship that was/is filled with fresh hope and a more radical trust in God's plan for each of us -- individually and collectively. A relationship based on God's love for him, for our children, and yes, for me.

The other day, as I was thinking about our friends' marriage, and the beauty of weddings -- first weddings, second weddings -- and in some cases third or fourth marriages. And I was reminded of Mary Baker Eddy's wedding blessing from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:


"May Christ, Truth,
be present at every bridal altar
to turn the water into wine
and to give to human life
an inspiration by which
man's spiritual and
eternal existence may be discerned."
 

Every bridal altar. What a blessed promise!

Eddy, herself, was a new bride -- three times. And I pray with all my heart that she felt beautiful, pure, hopeful, filled with promise -- each time. I pray that we all do.

Whether the "new" relationship in your life is the birth of a child, the resurrection of a once-stale friendship, a business partnership that excites you, or a first, second, or third walk down the aisle -- may it feel like a miracle. For in each case, it really is.  It is a divine gift. A gift of grace.

I know -- because God gave me you. Each of you.


"There are no greater miracles known to earth
than perfection
and an unbroken friendship."
 

with great hope, and always with Love,


Kate


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"i never made promises lightly…"



"I never made promises lightly,
there have been some that I've broken,
but I swear in the days still left,
we'll walk in fields of gold…"


If you want to see me weep at the first strains of a song's vocal performance, just play Eva Cassidy's recording of "Fields of Gold." It gets me every time.

It's full of heartbreak, pathos, and promise. There are times when I've felt these emotions so viscerally that my knees buckle.

It happened a year ago last autumn. I was driving through the lush evening light of our mountain valley, and had Eva's recording playing while the sun dipped below the ragged crest of Mt. Princeton. The meadow, to the south of the Link road, was cast in gold and I felt a sob explode from somewhere deep in my heart.

The golden light, the song, the setting -- a perfect emotional storm. Joy, sorrow, memories, regret. I couldn't sort one out from another.

I was headed up the mountain to sit in on one of our daughters' classes, Explorations in Spiritual Literature, at the expeditionary school they attend here in the valley. I knew I had to put my emotional breakdown on hold and pull it together, or the girls would have noticed.

I arrived just in time for the start of the class. I was still wrestling with my emotions when the teacher opened a discussion on  the spiritual message in Jesus' parable of the tares and the wheat (Matthew 13: 24 - 30):

"Another parable put he forth unto them,
saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened
unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
But while men slept, his enemy came
and sowed tares among the wheat,
and went his way.

But when the blade was sprung up,
and brought forth fruit,
then appeared the tares also.

So the servants of the householder
came and said unto him,
Sir, didst not thou sow good seed
in thy field? from whence then
hath it tares? He said unto them,
An enemy hath done this.

The servants said unto him,
Wilt thou then that we go
and gather them up? But he said,
Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares,
ye root up also the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest:
and in the time of harvest
I will say to the reapers,
Gather ye together first the tares,
and bind them in bundles to burn them:
but gather the wheat into my barn."
 

I love this parable, so he had my full attention. I've spent many hours, over the years, exploring its spiritual relevance in my life.

I have to admit that I would have loved to just jump in and shared my insights -- but I was a guest. Thank goodness! It made me listen more attentively.  But I sat there wondering, "was someone going to share that the kingdom of heaven is likened unto the man, not the field, or the seed? Was anyone going to have seen that the man doesn't accuse his servants or anyone in his household -- but immediately knows that an enemy that must have done this?"

"Wasn't someone going to share that the roots of the tares would have helped to stabilize the roots of the wheat, so that there was less crop loss from erosion during a heavy rainfall?"

But because I couldn't share -- I listened. And was I ever blessed. The teacher shared an insight that took my breath away. He said that perhaps the householder knew, that when fully grown, the tares would be more easily discernible from the wheat. And, that once separated and gathered into bundles, the dry, brittle tares would be very useful as kindling for starting fires.

Wow!

They weren't being burned just to destroy them because they were of no value, but gathered into bundles so that they could be used to start fires. Fires that would keep them warm on cool desert nights. Fires for cooking meals. Fires for light, and protection from animals that might come too close to their sleeping circles at night during the harvest.

Everything had usefulness. And wasn't this the exact message I needed at that moment. I'd been so confused on the drive up the mountain. All my wonderful, holy, beautiful memories -- of a relationship set in that golden valley -- seemed intertwined with the sorrow of it not being the forever relationship in my life. Regret was mixed with joy, inspiration twisted up with the surrender of a long-cherished dream.

But this insight about the tares and the wheat gave me back the sense of wholeness about my life's path that I'd longed for.

Nothing had been lost. It had all been purposeful. I'd learned lessons that I may not have sought out any other way. I'd discovered things about my relationship with God that will endure far beyond any particular chapter in my life. Those years were vital to strengthening the roots of my spiritual trust in the unseen power of Love.

The promises that were never lightly made -- and yet, were still broken -- had brought me to my knees in humble recognition that personal self-certainty is not the same thing as spiritual self-surrender.  My self-certainty had nothing to do with "Thy will be done," and more to do with "well, I can tell you, that I will never…"

Out of those experiences came a sweeter heart, less judgment of others, and a deeper trust in God's ability to override a prideful sense of right, for the sake of my growth in humility. And in truth, I didn't need to harvest a sense of myself that always got it right -- what I really needed was to find greater compassion for others, less self-righteousness, and more grace.

I left that class a different person.  I'd been ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven -- by myself.  I was walking in fields of gold, where even my tares were useful, valued, and desirable. Those golden days had given me something warm, nourishing, and enlightening to share -- a kinder heart.

I am so grateful I was led to listen that night. I was given the gift of redemption. My trip down the Link road was under a bowl of stars set in midnight velvet and yet, I was still seeing fields of gold (here is "Sting's version.)

thanks Bobby --


shared with Love,


Kate


Monday, January 19, 2015

"it wasn't written for you …"



"You can play the game,
you can act out the part,
though you know
it wasn't written for you..."


All week long, these lyrics from James Taylor's beautiful, "Shower the People," acted as a reminder for me to "check the script." It's a practice I started some years ago when I found myself caught up in cycles of drama that threatened to suck the life out of a cherished friendship. And since then, I've found it useful in arresting all kinds of stories that I know weren't written for me -- at least not by God.

Here's how it goes -- I will catch myself holding a script for a story that I haven't agreed to be cast in. The oldest child, the tired mom, the introvert, the organizer, the victim. It's not that these roles are -- in and of themselves -- bad. That's not the point. It's that I find myself reading lines - or in conversation, feeding someone else lines - that are not healthy, consistent with my sense of spiritual purpose, or in line with an accurate sense of my true identity.

Take for instance, a conversation I found myself in a week ago. It was steeped in the past -- an outgrown version of myself that I no longer have any attachment to, or relationship with. The character who's story I was being asked to "act out,"believed she was a victim of tragic circumstances.  And of course, if that was my character's backstory, then an invitation to talk about it would soon devolve into emotional fragility and grief.  That's how the script was written. 


For about five minutes, I read the lines.  I was so into it. Wow, I knew this character. I could play her with authenticity and great feeling. And then, the questions came gently but firmly, "Is this a part you are really willing to audition for? Is this a script you believe will tell a healing story?" The answer was immediate, "No."

I knew it was time to drop the script and refuse the role. I wasn't going to read the lines that were written, or feed the next line to my companion for her response - a response that would only forward that sad, sorry storyline -- again.

Whether the script is one of a broken heart, an inflated ego, or victimization -- we can drop it without even reading the first line. If the character description says: "obsessively neat, older sister, a bit of a control freak" -- well, I'm throwing that script across the room. 


Sometimes, we can actually refuse a script based on the screenwriter. If I know that a particular writer's repertoire is filled with heart-breaking story lines played out by pathetic characters, and I don't want to take on those roles, I'm not going to look at anything he/she has written.

This happened to me a few weeks ago. I was sitting at my desk when the thought came, "what if you had never…" I knew that "voice." It was the work of "what if…" and his scripts never play out in stories that are beautiful and healing. So, I dropped it.

These days I'm looking for script that are filled with hope, affection, honesty, humanity. I am eager to take on those roles. I know the Writer. I trust Her work. Her name is Love. Her stories bring out the best in her characters. Her plot development includes humility, attentiveness, meekness, redemption, healing. She leads her characters towards paths of peace. Sure, Her stories may not be filled with drama, villains, or chase scenes, but these are the roles I'm meant for.  These are the kinds of roles I've studied.  Her stories include character development and redemption. These are the stories I want to participate in telling.

Sure, as James Taylor sings:


"You can play the game,
you can act out the part,
though you know
it wasn't written for you.."
 
But why would we?

One of the things I imagine myself doing -- when I feel like I am standing there, script in hand, reading lines for a story I don't want to participate in producing -- is to turn to the casting director and say, "Are you kidding me, I am much too good for this role." And then, tossing the script in his face, I turn on my heels and walk off the stage.

Because I am.  We all are. We are all too good for roles that debase us. Roles that ask us to play out characters that are selfish, frustrated, tired, sick, sad, angry, gossipy, controlling -- you get the picture.

Practice dropping scripts that are not in line with stories you wish to participate in telling. Even if you have read for that part in the past. Even if you once played it with great meaning and pathos. If it is no longer your highest sense of your story you can say, "no," and leave the stage.

You won't be without a good part.  God has a perfect role that is just right for you. It is consistent with His nature. It is vital to the telling of His story. And you deserve to play it with confidence, meaning, purpose, and joy. You deserve to forward a story that will bless and heal. We all do.


offered with love,



Kate

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"How great Thou art…"



"Then sings my soul,
my Saviour, God, to Thee
how great Thou art,
how great Thou art..."


We approached this Christmas break with open hearts and willing hands. Our children would be celebrating the holidays with family in other parts of the country, and Jeff and I would be working Adventure Unlimited's Christmas Ranching program. It's one of my favorite programs offered at camp, and it was the perfect answer for us --  spending Christmas together in a meaningful way.

We would be surrounded by people we loved, programs we believed in, and a mission we cherished -- offering a quiet, sacred manger-like Christmas for our guests. And the Christmas Ranching metaphysical theme couldn't have been more perfect, or practical: "Dear Christ, forever here and near…" from Mary Baker Eddy's poem Christmas Morn.

At the last minute my sister-in-law, Laurie, and her daughters -- Kristen and Lily, decided to join us at the ranches. What a blessing it was to share this precious, healing time with them. And it was a healing time -- for everyone. You can't focus on Christ's forever dear-ness, here-ness, and  nearness, and not experience wholeness, wellness -- healing.

For me,  it felt -- from the very first moment staff arrived -- that we were in for a holy week. And as each guest came through the door of the lodge for dinner that first night, it was clear we had each been sent, called, drawn forth -- like shepherds, wisemen, lambs, and doves -- to discover something blessed during our time together.

Each day -- morning scripture study, activities in the lodge, adventures in the snow, traveling in the vans, breaking bread together at meals -- sparkled with promise.  "Dear Christ, forever here and near…" rang through the brisk mountain air.  The fire crackled with it. It was in the whinnying of the horses, the laughter of children, the sound of a hockey puck rushing across the ice.  Each moment gave new birth to a fresh sense of Emmanuel, or "God with us…"

Christmas Eve, while navigating the path from my cabin to the lodge, I took a hard fall on the ice. Immediately, I felt strong arms under me, and a voice saying, "God is Love, you are loved." Moments later, a young man I knew well, was at my side assuring me that I was fine. With his help I made my way to the lodge.  

During the evening's activities, I remembered the promise in our metaphysical theme: "dear Christ, forever here and near." It helped me let go of the false story. It was abundantly clear to me that God was with me, had always been with me, and that I had never fallen out of his care.  Holding to this fact, I stayed conscious and upright. I wrote about this experience in an earlier post, but as I have thought about it further, there were a few other details that I remembered.

For example, the next day I grateful to be able to do everything I needed to do in caring for our guests. And a quote by A.W. Tozer kept coming to my heart:

"What comes into our minds
when we think about God,
is the most important thing about us."
 
Throughout the day, I tried to be consciously aware of what came into my mind when I thought about God.  And I was also conscious of what I felt, when I thought about God. I took moments throughout the day to find a quiet space -- even for a few moments -- to sit still, and let myself feel deeply the peace, awe, joy, wonder, and trust that I was actually experiencing when I thought about God.

And later that day -- after a beautiful meal -- we gathered for a Christmas program that included scripture, carols, inspiration, and this beautiful performance of "How Great Thou Art," by my niece Lily, with my husband on guitar and singing harmonies. This pure focus on God's greatness touched me deeply -- and I felt it.

As I've pondered all that we shared and experienced together during that Christmas week -- staff, volunteers, guests, horses -- I keep coming back to our theme, "dear Christ, forever here and near…" As well as Christ's dear message of "God with us…"

On the first page of her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines the prayer reforms the sinner and heals the sick as:

"an absolute faith
that all things are possible to God,
a spiritual understanding of Him,
an unselfed love..."
 
Not a spiritual understanding of our human circumstances or of our thoughts, a spiritual understanding of our human histories or of the motives and intentions of the people around us -- but of God, of Him.

And later in this same book she reminds us that:

"“Truth and Love
come nearer in the hour of woe,
when strong faith or spiritual strength
wrestles and prevails through
the understanding of God."
 
How often have I been distracted into thinking that I needed to understand where I've gone wrong -- where my thinking was out of alignment, how was I identifying myself, what mistakes did I need to correct, what sin needed to be repented of, or what was someone else was thinking about me?  What did I need to fix, in order to experience healing, transformation, redemption, salvation? And how often did I fall prey to this mental hunt for what was true -- or false -- about the human picture?  Too often.

But it's never about me. And it's never about you, or her, or them. It's never about our mistakes, circumstances, or our thinking -- it's always about God. If anything is pulling our focus off of the allness and goodness of God -- we need to pull it back.  It's an understanding of God that brings healing.  It's what we know about Him that makes all the difference.

I believe that what comes to mind -- and what I feel in my heart -- when I think about God, is the most important thing about me.  So that's where I'm training my focus -- on Him.

I can't say enough about our week together during Christmas Ranching.  There -- in the sacred manger of "dear Christ, forever here and near…" -- something holy was born, and  took root in our hearts. God was with us. God is always with us - each of us - individually and collectively.

Oh Lord, my God, how great Thou art…


offered with love,



Kate

Friday, January 9, 2015

"a golden second marriage…"



"I want a moment of silence,
and a moment of prayer,
for the love we'll need to make it
in the world out there..."


I know that I have used Don Henley's, "For My Wedding," before to illustrate a sentiment. But today, it leapt into my heart as a song of gratitude.

You see, my dear friend Barbye posted a status update on Facebook that read: "On my way to help my dad and stepmom celebrate their golden anniversary." It took me apart.  And since my friend mentioned that it was her stepmom -- it was obviously a second marriage for her dad.  It touched me deeply, and I found myself weeping with joy for them.

I remember, not long ago, sharing with an acquaintance that my husband and I would be celebrating our anniversary. I was so grateful for all the ways we'd navigated unaddressed issues, grown in grace, and worked together as a couple -- and as partners with my former spouse and his wife -- in parenting our children. But the response I got was heart-breaking. She said, "Well really Kate,  it isn't your first marriage, so I don't think it matters if you are together for seven years, or twenty-five years -- you've already failed."

I was stunned into silence. Truly. I didn't have a single thing to say.  And she'd said it so matter-of-factly, that it was clear to me that it held no malice. It was not her intent to be hurtful. But it was, never-the-less, hard to hear.

We went on with our meeting, and when I was finally seated behind the wheel of my car, I lost it. I let my head fall into my hands, and wept long and hard. Not just for myself and our marriage, but for all the couples who have given themselves another chance at loving unconditionally, sharing selflessly, and hoping for "forever," even in the face of a disappointing sense of loss.

Every second - or third - marriage is a tribute to the power of hope over experience. And to hear that my friend's dad and stepmom were celebrating their 50th anniversary, was an unexpected gift today. I wanted to stand on a mountaintop and sing a song of grateful praise.

I don't believe that any couple goes into their marriage with a "plan B." We all hope and pray that we will not fall. We pray that we have what it takes to endure, to find solutions to our problems, to feel grace coursing through our days together. As Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Itzak, once wrote, "When any marriage ends, even the altar weeps."

But, I believe, that when we have the courage - and hope - that it takes to try again, "even the altar kneels…" in holy wonder and benediction.

In her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy offers this blessing:

"May Christ, Truth,
be present at every bridal altar
to turn the water into wine
and to give to human life
an inspiration by which
man's spiritual, eternal existence
may be discerned."
 
Christ, Truth, present at every bridal altar. First marriages, second marriages -- all marriages. Because marriage is a triumph of hope. And, as poet Emily Dickinson so beautiful writes:

"Hope is the thing with feathers,
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune,
without the words,
and never stops - at all…"
 
So, bless you Barbye's parents. Bless your marriage, and your example of enduring love.  Bless your family gathered to celebrate you, and bless your willingness to allow hope to triumph -- 50 years ago, and every day since.

Every marriage is a blessing. Every moment we spend in the laboratory of persistent, cooperative loving is a triumph of selflessness over self-interest. Every day is a gift of grace. First marriages, second marriages, eighth marriages. A first anniversary or a fiftieth -- each is a triumph, worthy of celebration.

As Don Henley so humbly sings, this is my prayer:


"To want what I have
And take what I am given, with grace.
For this I pray…"
 

On my wedding day, on your wedding day, and at each anniversary - let's celebrate each other's triumphs of hope and love.

So grateful,



Kate

Monday, January 5, 2015

"the quiet sanctuary…."



"no one
dared disturb
the sound of silence..."


Today, I discovered this haunting rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's, "Sound of Silence," by Emiliana Torrini. There is something raw and lovely about it. It seems to speak to my inner most longings.

And it fit perfectly in the context of this scripture:

"Commune
with your own heart
upon your bed, and be still…"
 
It took my breath away. I'd read this Psalm countless times before, but this morning it felt like everything.

And to discover that it was followed by Mary Baker Eddy's statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:


"In the quiet sanctuary
of earnest longings,
we must deny sin
and please God's allness…"
 
made me weep.  I felt known, understood, encouraged.

One dictionary gives the etymological root of the word sin as "to sunder." For me, to sunder, or to separate our sense of anyone -- or anything -- from it's divine source is to believe in sin.  On the other hand, to see the all-presence and all-power of God in all things -- and at all times -- is to live with vision -- and with a holy purpose.

I have to admit, I spend a lot of time in "communion with my heart, upon my bed, in stillness."  A lot. Hours a day - in fact. It is where i do my best work. It is not on the phone, at a desk, or even in conversation.  And when I am in this space -- a bed, a chair, behind the wheel in a traffic jam -- becomes a holy place.  It is in this still space of a silent heart -- that I listen for God's influence on my heart and in my life.

This is where I am clearest about what is true. It is where I am rebuked by a loving Parent. It is where I am encouraged by my dearest Friend. It is where I find the courage to go forward, and the grace to stand still.

At camp each summer we celebrate our most cherished tradition, "Alone with Your Thoughts." Camp comes to a stop, and every staff member, counselor, and camper -- regardless of age -- takes an hour alone in nature. No books, no media, no cameras, no inspirational material -- just time alone with your thoughts.

It is for me, without question, the most important tradition we have at camp. It is the activity most remembered by campers. It is the activity that has one of the most lasting effects on all of us. Year, after year.

It is encourages a relationship with the divine that can only be found in that "quiet sanctuary." It reminds each of us that wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, we can resort to this place -- this kingdom within -- to find peace, comfort, direction, encouragement, joy. On a mountaintop or in the depths of despair -- we can find refuge in this stillness.

This is the place of "I am…" This is the space where we find the power to bless. This is where we are one with all creation.  This is where we share a common inner landscape, one which we all must navigate.

Deepening my relationship to this space is the most valuable gift I can give to myself, my family, and my world. When I think of Cap and Marianne Andrews' greatest contribution to the world, it is this nurturing of "alone with your thoughts," in girls and boys, young men and women, who will go out to bless humanity.

As much as I love our horse programs, or rafting adventures, and our mountaineering expeditions -- it pales in comparison to what I see "Alone with Your Thoughts" do in the lives of campers and counselors, year after year.

Those adventures and activities are simply the laboratory for deepening one's relationship to this space of spiritual stillness.  This is the place of unlimited adventure. This is camp - no matter where we live, no matter who we are with -- it is always with us. Just as it was with the boy/king/psalmist David. Just as it companioned with Mandela in prison, and Jesus in the wilderness. It is always there for us -- at any moment.

I am so deeply grateful that - as a child - I was exposed to this practice. I am even more grateful that our children have been nurtured in a love for the importance of time "alone with your thoughts," in navigating the course of their day. To know that wherever you are, whatever decisions you must make, whatever guidance you are seeking, whatever challenges you may be facing, you have a place where you you can retreat for answers and solutions -- this, this is everything.

offered with gratitude and Love,



Kate

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"a vision softly creeping…"



"Hello darkness,
my old friend.
I've come to talk with you, again..."


Something about Nouela's cover of Simon & Garfunkels' "Sound of Silence perfectly captures the tone of my most recent night-ponderings.


Last week, an encounter with persistent, acute pain afforded a wonderful opportunity to explore my beliefs - and what I thought I understood - about the nature of pain. I didn't back away from the lesson, nor did I try to just "get it over with." I walked right into the invitation to probe perplexing questions more thoughtfully.

Doubt tried to hijack many moments of genuine peace. "What if the pain really did have meaning, and I was foolishly ignoring it? What if it never ended, and I could never, ever think a truly peaceful thought again?" And most aggressively, "What if the pain was really part of me, and had taken up residence in my body -- like a noisy tenant?"

But as I was pondering these questions, another thought quietly invited me to consider its veracity. If pain actually has meaning -- if it means that there is something amiss at the site of the discomfort -- how do you reconcile that, with the concept of phantom pain?

Phantom pain, is pain that one feels at the site of a limb that has been amputated. Discomfort that seems to come from a body part that no longer exists. Many amputees report feeling sensations of movement, tingling, or pain in an arm or leg that was surgically removed.

I had never given this much thought until this recent injury left me in acute pain. Everything tried to say, "This pain means something about your body. Pain is a message, and you need to heed it's meaning. You should take it easy, or have it examined to find the root cause -- so that it can be addressed and treated."

But then I thought about phantom pain. When an amputee feels discomfort in a limb that no longer exists, he/she quickly dismisses it as "phantom pain," with no meaning. They know that there is no injured leg to be diagnosed or treated, and so there is no need for alarm. They don't need to go get the arm checked out. They aren't fearful or impressed.

Why then, do we think that pain has a direct correlation to the site where the sensation is seemingly occurring? Why do we think that pain is a reliable or infallible indicator of our state of health? Why, when we feel pain in our hand, do we go and have the hand checked for injury or disease? Why do we react to discomfort in any location by having an examination, to see if there is something wrong? All of these questions flooded my consciousness, sweeping away any concern -- I'd been harboring that pain had information for me -- like a coursing river of Truth.

I am starting to see that all pain, is phantom pain. Just as the pain in an amputated limb is not in the limb, any discomfort we feel is not localized. It has no cause, and therefore, one can't be found by examining the site to find the point of origin, in order to fix or treat it.

And it's the same with phantom anger, or phantom frustration. Phantom resentment, or phantom fear. We think we feel fear, frustration, anger, or doubt, and then we try to trace it back to a locus of origin. If I feel angry after a visit to the grocery store - where I had a long wait in line -- it must be that I am an impatient person. Then I go after my impatience as if it were the real cause, of my real anger. But it's not. That anger, is just a sensation. One that is trying to get me to look for a cause -- other than Love -- as the source, and condition, of my angry identity.

I don't have to fix the anger to become a patient person. I am a patient person because that is the way that God made me. I am not self-created, self-determinted, self-diagnosed, or self-fixed.

Here's what often seems to happen with physical discomfort. Perhaps I feel pain when touching a spot on my arm.  I wonder what caused it.  It's a subtle invitation to think back, and trace it to a recent time when I may have stumbled in the middle of the night, and put my arm in direct contact with the doorjamb. Well then, I conclude, I must be clumsy, vulnerable, and easily bruised -- arm, feelings, human history. Or perhaps I'm stumbling in the middle of the night because I'm getting older and losing a nimble sense of balance and recovery. Or, what if I am getting up in the middle of the night too often, what if…. Soon I am spiraling down a vast vortex of self cross-questioning.

But, all pain, is phantom pain.

Just as darkness cannot fully eradicate the presence of light, but only suggest its absence. So pain tries to convince us that there is an absence of peace -- of God, good. And that, perhaps, this absence is localized, and connected to a particular bodily location. Because we now believe that there could ever be a spot were good is absent, we are left feeling vulnerable, exposed to the possibility that we could even further capitulate into disease, doubt and despair.

But these suggestions of pain are phantoms. They have no location. They are causeless. Peace, however, (the opposite of pain) is a self-assertive power that cannot be limited, contained, or localized. It is All-in-all and therefore indicates the presence of all that is impartial and universal -- Spirit, God, good.

In her primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy states:

We are sometimes led to believe
that darkness is as real as light;
but Science affirms darkness
to be only a mortal sense
of the absence of light,
at the coming of which
darkness loses the appearance
of reality.

So sin and sorrow, disease and death,
are the suppositional absence of Life, God,
and flee as phantoms of error
before truth and love."
 


Something about this insight - into the phantom nature of pain, anger, frustration, and doubt - has left me feeling alive to our inalienable right to feel free from the lie that pain holds information or meaning about our lives, our bodies, and our hopes.

It's time to disconnect pain from having cause, location, meaning.  Refusing it any power to alarm us. Pain is phantom, disembodied -- without a body or a home. It throws its voice like a ventriloquist. But it doesn't have the power to take up residence or even gain entrance into the kingdom of God -- within us.
offered with Love,

Kate

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"a better story…"



"I want to add to the beauty,
I want to tell a better story..."


I love Sara Groves' "Add to the Beauty." I often find myself singing it, when I'm being handed a script with a storyline that isn't mine. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On Christmas Eve I was walking down the hill from my cabin, to the lodge, for the evening. We'd been blessed with warm temperatures that day, following a storm that had dropped almost a foot of snow earlier in the week.  Snow had been melting from cabin rooftops and porches all afternoon. But as the sun set, temperatures began to fall quickly. And puddles of melted snow, turned into sheets black ice on decks and walkways.

One minute I was calling out a greeting to a friend, and the next I'd lost my footing and come down hard on the ice -- flat on my back.

The first thought that came to me was, "this is not my script, or my story."  But I couldn't breathe and the pain was excruciating.  Within seconds, I felt strong hands lifting me up, and someone assuring me, "God is Love, and you are loved." But I still couldn't breathe, much less talk. Soon a young man I knew well, reached my side and helped me to my feet. I continued to insist to myself, "this is not my story."

By the time we reached the lodge, the pain was overwhelming, and I had to find a quiet place where I could vehemently claim my right to stay on my feet, and conscious.

Then I remembered an experience I'd turned to -- many times -- when someone called my office, with a very vivid story.

It was many years ago and I was participating in weekly lunch meetings for those who were either interested in entering the public practice of spiritual healing, or those who were already fully vested in this work. We would meet in a large conference room, to share experiences and offer encouragement to one another.

It was hosted by the manager of the department that nurtured the public offices of spiritual healers from around the world. She was a good friend and an even better advocate for this work we both loved.

At this particular meeting someone asked her what had been most helpful to her -- over the years -- when a patient would share the graphic details of physical injury, or illness.

She started by facilitating a brief discussion among those gathered, until the conversation veered off in another direction. Then, a few minutes into the next topic, she said, "Oh my gosh, you wouldn't believe what happened to me the other night?" Then she went on to tell the story of how she'd come out of our office building, just after dark, and hadn't realized that the bitterly cold February winds had turned the daytime-wet sidewalks, into black ice. Within seconds she'd lost her footing and fallen hard on the ice.

We were all looking at her with rapt expressions. Then she stopped, sat back in her chair, and asked us, "How many of you just went down on the ice with me? How many of you could see the whole scene and could almost hear the thud?" Almost every one of us raised our hand.

Then she went on to say, "That, is what I try to remember when someone calls my office, and feels the need to share the details of a particularly graphic challenge they are facing -- emotionally, physically, or financially. I remember to listen with the intent of knowing how to wake them up, but to not go down on the ice with them. I practice not imagining the fall, the anguish on their face, the tears they must have shed, the pain they must be feeling."

I've never forgotten that story. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is being able to stay awake yourself, while gently rousing someone from a nightmare, understanding that they need to be assured -- by someone who is not caught up in the dream -- that the nightmare is over, was never real, and that they are safely awake. Sympathy, however, is getting sucked into the nightmare with them, and then trying fix the problem, or make it better from within the dream.

Christmas Eve, everything begged me to believe that the story of a debilitating fall, was my story.  That it really happened, and now I had to react to it. I was being handed a script: Kate falls on ice, people come to help her, she is able to walk, but is in a lot of pain. Kate prays, gets better, has a testimony to give. Not!

I never fell out of God's care, from his government, or beyond a state of grace. There is a better story: Kate was on the way to the lodge, ran into friends, someone told her, "God is Love, and that she was loved." Another friend offered his arm as they both navigated the beautiful winter night. There was a lovely dinner. There was laughter, gratitude, kindness. There was uninterrupted peace. This is the story I am choosing to have experienced, and the one I will tell.

In her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection, Mary Baker Eddy shares:

"It is well to know, that our material,
mortal history is but the record of dreams,
not of man’s real existence, and the dream
has no place in the Science of being.

It is “as a tale that is told,”
and “as the shadow when it declineth.”
The heavenly intent of earth’s shadows
is to chasten the affections,
to rebuke human consciousness
and turn it gladly from a material,
false sense of life and happiness,
to spiritual joy and true estimate of being.

The awakening from a false sense of life,
substance, and mind in matter,
is as yet imperfect; but for those lucid
and enduring lessons of Love
which tend to this result, I bless God."
 

That night, as I let go of the story and dropped the script, I also let go of the sidebar stories of pain and injury. It was never "my story." There was never anything to fix.  There was nothing to change. No drama to retell. Only the presence of God to rejoice in. I had a better story to live, and to share.

It was a holy night…and the stars were brightly shining.


offered with Love,


Kate

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Low, sad and sweet…"



"O'er waiting harpstrings
of the mind
there sweeps a strain
low, sad, and sweet,
whose measures bind
the power of pain..."



I love music. I love songs that evoke deep feelings. I love that they break me open, shatter my fragile shell of self-comportment, and leave me borne again in a new, softer form.

One such song is James Taylor's version of "In the Bleak Midwinter." It stops me in my tracks and takes me apart. It's like a good cry -- I am better for having felt that deeply.

The other day someone asked me if I thought it was okay to be sad. I didn't have to think very long. Eddy's lyric (quoted above) came to me instantly. "Yes," I said, without hesitation. But I really didn't have anything very inspiring to say after that. I just knew it was true.

I thought about the woman who wrote that poem. I considered the depth of her own sadness. Widowed as a young pregnant bride, separated from her young son by her father and second husband, betrayed by loved ones, rejected, sued by trusted friends and family members, crucified in the press, maligned by those she'd helped and healed, and then widowed again.

One account shares, that following the passing of her third, and beloved husband, Asa, she went into isolation and wasn't sure she would be able to return to her work -- work that was drawing people to her writings by the thousands.  Work that left her held in such high esteem that she would eventually be recognized as one of the most famous women of her time.

So, when this woman says that measured strains of sad, sweet music bind the power of pain, I trust that she is speaking from experience.  And the next line from that same poem:

"and wake a white-winged angel throng
of thoughts illumined by faith
and breathed in raptured song…"
 

is such a holy promise. I have rested my hopes upon its encouragement countless times.

Some years ago I was navigating a heart-breaking life-chapter. I'd decided that I would do it with joy. Whatever sadness I felt I would "just not feel it."  I would not let myself descend into the depths of despair that loomed like a vast dark hole. I would not walk towards the edge of that abyss, and fall into a sea of tears.

I was doing pretty good. I was proud of my resolve. Then one afternoon I was sitting in a local coffeehouse when James Taylor's "In the Bleak Midwinter" came floating through the air on a cloud of freshly roasted coffee beans.

It wasn't the words that did it. It was the music itself - the sound of his voice, the poignancy of his interpretation. At first I refused to "give in." That was, until I heard the lines:


"what then can I give Him,
empty as I am,
if I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man,
I would know my part.

What then can I give Him,
I must give my heart..."
 

It was too much to bear.  Suddenly there was the realization that my emptiness was a legitimate spiritual feeling that I needed to fully experience. And more importantly, that my very, very empty heart was a gift -- and I was holding it back from Him -- well, it broke something wide open in me. I wasn't giving Him my honest feelings.

I'd been so sure that joy was the only reasonable gift of devotion and worship. But that song sent the first fissures of honest emotions through my fragile resolve.  And in the shattering, I gave myself permission to actually feel my sadness. I allowed myself to "go there," and to weep.

And through the lens of my tears I began to see that I wasn't actually empty at all. I was full of hope. I overflowing with deep feelings of love. The sorrow I'd been feeling wasn't because I was empty, but because I was full of yearning, longing to be understood, and accepted.

A white-winged angel throng of thoughts were released from where I'd held them prisoner behind a bulwark of pretense. My tears had melted those walls.

Sometimes, those measures "sad and sweet," can dissolve the very walls that would deprive us of seeing beyond a painful experience. Our tears provide a lens in which we discover something yet unseen about the experience itself. Perhaps through it, we have grown in humility, compassion, grace. Often we can find that we are less judgmental, or we realize that we have loved and been loved very deeply.

So, is it okay to be sad? I can only speak for myself. I welcome anything that reminds me that I have a heart, that I care, and that I feel deeply. I embrace those measures -- low, sad, and sweet -- that bind the power of pain and wake within me, a throng of angels to comfort, instruct, guide, and lead me home.

offered with Love,


Kate

Monday, November 10, 2014

"i am a good child - healing moral injury…"



"I am a good child,
born of God's grace,
whatever would try to claim
deliver me, Almighty One…"



Today, I discovered this post, "Beyond PTSD to Moral Injury," on Krista Tippet's On Being site, and it "had me at hello."

I love the word "moral." Especially since discovering Mary Baker Eddy's definition in her textbook for healing,  Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

"Moral. Humanity, honesty, affection, compassion.
hope, faith, meekness, temperance."
 

Immediately I wanted to call Krista on the phone and say, "No. No, no, no - hope can't be injured. You cannot wound compassion." I wanted to send her a link to Michelle Armstrong's beautiful song,"Unfallen." A song that speaks so gently to the heart of both the wounded -- and the wounder.

Eddy's definition of "Moral," has helped me in so many ways. It continues to bring me to my knees in gratitude.  Realizing that no matter how deep the wounds, nothing can deprive me of my right to act with moral courage -- right now -- has been an untold gift of grace. No matter what I may have done to another -- or what may have been done to me -- I cannot be kept from acting with compassion, meekness, hope and faith -- today.

A few years ago I wrote a piece titled, "An active Moral Imagination." Writing the piece was very healing for me. It provided a space for revisiting memories that had always brought me sadness. It gave me a lens through which I could reclaim the word "moral," as a vital part of my daily ministry.

To be moral, is to be dynamically hopeful. To be moral, is to be actively humane, to have a living faith [trust], to be temperate, meek, honest, affectionate.

To be "moral," was not about what I was not doing -- lying, cheating, lusting, abusing substances, being vengeful.  To be moral is to be engaged in doing something that serves God, and blesses others. And nothing on earth can injure or violate my ability to do that.

In fact, if I were lying in a bed, unable to move a muscle or even speak a word, I could still express compassion in my prayers for others. I could still think with affection, I could still bless my neighbor by holding out hope for the future of our planet, I could still be temperate in my thoughts, consciously meek.

Reading the above article, "Beyond PTSD to Moral Injury," I was flooded with so many opportunities to actually engage my moral compass -- to be moral. As I read each comment at the end of the article, I was absolutely filled with compassion, overflowing with faith, eager to reach out to others with an honest response about my own healing of "moral injury."

The world will tell you that those who have been abused, violated, or exposed to severe trauma are broken. Broken in a way that is almost impossible to heal without scarring. The deeper and longer the wounding, the harder to heal. The bullied, become the bullies. The hurt, hurts others. The abused, turn into abusers. But I am here to tell you that is just not true.

Every abused, bullied, traumatized, wounded, or angry man, woman, and child hopes that they will find freedom from the guilt, and shame, and terror associated with the injury. And the presence of that hope is the power of moral courage asserting itself. You can't just get a little bit of hope. If it's there, it represents just the tip of the iceberg -- and it, hope, is always there. To quote Emily Dickinson:


"Hope is the thing with feathers,
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words,
and never stops, at all..."
 

Resilient hope, persistent faith, unwavering compassion, relentless honesty...

I've seen the most wounded teen hope that she will someday be a loving mother. I've held a weeping soldier who's humanity won't let him forget that he was once a boy, who loved his brother. I've listened to the broken spirit of a convicted child molester, who wanted to help others from the confines of a state prison cell. I've watched while the most hardened among us, kneel to nurse an injured animal.

There is no moral injury -- perpetrated or felt -- that can't be healed. There is no shame so sharp and pointed that it can burrow it's way deeply enough to trespass on who we are at our spiritual core. There is no act of violence that can corrupt our essence. No regrettable choice that can undermine our right to be moral, right now -- to treat others humanely, to be honest, to show affection, to extend compassion, to be hopeful, to have faith, to be meek, to live with temperance.

And sometimes, that seeming broken-ness gives birth to a new light. From the depths of the shattering comes a new compassion, a deeper willingness to understand another's heartache, a gentling of pride, a fathomless humility.  A more profound desire to of care for animals, children, the broken-hearted among us.

No matter which side of the injury you (or a loved one) seem to be on -- the wounded, or the one who regrets having wounded others -- this line from Michelle's song is a prayer of hope:


"I am a good child…"
 

That's the truth for each of us. We're all just children. There are no "adults of God." And we all have a divine Parent who holds us tenderly, loves us unconditionally, and gives us an infinite number of ways to express our freedom from moral injury -- every moment, of every day. We never run of reasons to hope.

with so much affection....


Kate