Friday, January 19, 2018

"there are ties between us..."

"let us recognize
that there are ties between us,
ties of hope and love,
sister and brotherhood..." 

This morning, Facebook provided a perfect storm.  James Taylor's performance of "Shed a Little Light" with Low Country Voices, another friend's posting of Jane Elliott's social experiment on discrimination with her third grade class in the 1960s, and a FB reminder - from last year - of my posting of this Marcus Aurelius quote: 

"Never forget that the universe
is a single living organism
possessed of one Substance and one Soul,
holding all things suspended in
a single consciousness and creating
all things with a single purpose
that they might work together,
spinning, and weaving, and knotting
whatever comes to pass."

It was what I needed.  If you can watch the Jane Elliott video clip without feeling a tension in your chest -- you are a stronger person than I am.

Discrimination comes in many forms.  Men and women of color don't have the luxury of deciding whether to let their differences be known.  But some of us can live with the things that make us feel small, while keeping them hidden. We think they are harmless there in the closet of secrecy.  But hidden in the dark, they fester -- becoming a hot pain of humiliation and shame.  

For me, that hidden "difference" was poverty.  My fear of being seen as poor was debilitating.  

When I was in grade school we learned that there was once a period - in the history of this country - when only those who owned property were allowed to vote.  At the same time we were learning about the extraordinary privilege and societal value of voting.  

Earlier that year, my parents had fallen into dire financial circumstances after two hospitalizations.  As the oldest child in a family of six children, I was privy to more information about our finances than I was prepared to process.  When we lost our home and had to move into a rental that was subsidized by a local philanthropy -- I was terrified.  

My skin color may have been as Irish-pale as a Kennedy, but I was a "renter," and this frightened me more than I could say for decades.  

After my dad's sudden passing, and our family's deep dive into survival mode, I stepped back from indulging in many dreams.  I didn't have the luxury of regretting our housing status. At that point, it was simply a miracle that anyone was willing to rent to a widow, her almost adult daughter, and their seven younger dependents.  

But it was never very far from my heart.  I felt that, as long as I was a renter, I was somehow less.  It made me feel small and vulnerable.  As a wife and mother -- my deeper confidence ebbed and flowed based on home ownership.  I would say that it didn't matter -- but it always did.  How often do you think people have the nerve to ask if you own or rent your home?  Well, as someone who is very sensitive to this question, I can tell you -- a lot.

For me, renting meant "poor," and poor translated into all kinds of negative self-speak.  "You have failed.  You have failed to "demonstrate" supply, provide a secure sense of home for your children, overcome your childhood, take back all the potential that you had before your dad was killed. Without property ownership you really have no voice, no right to a vote."

It didn't matter that I had been a faithful daughter, a hard-working wife and mother, a professional who was available to her clients 24/7, 365 days a year.  If I didn't own my own home - I was less.  Whenever my husband and I owned our home, I felt better. When we rented, I always felt as if I had failed to rise out of the poverty of my childhood.  There was always an unreasonable fear niggling in the back of my mind that if legislators ever decided to return to the policies of the past -- I might lose my right to vote.

One afternoon I was caught off guard.  We were leasing a small house in an upscale suburb.  Our landlord's son was our contact, and he was respectful and kind.  But he was out of town, and his mother's new husband came by to check on a fallen tree after a storm.

I went out to offer him a glass of something cold to drink and we got to talking.  He asked me why such a smart woman would be renting.  He said, "I just don't have any respect for losers who don't work hard enough to get themselves out of this situation."  And yes, he did say this to my face.  With a smirk.

I didn't try to defend my current situation, but I explained to him how, as a young woman my dad had been killed and that my mom and I had had to find housing for 9 people - over and over again.  I told him how grateful we were for every landlord who had entrusted us with their property -- property that we had improved and worked to make beautiful through our handwork and creativity.

His response was "that still makes you losers in my book and you should have no vote in how our country is run, or how our tax money is spent."  I was stunned.  I was hurt.  I was humiliated.  I had been in the public practice of spiritual healing for over 25 years at that time.  I knew how to detect rank hatred and impersonalize it.  I knew how to pray to diffuse its false sting.  But all I wanted to do was run in the house and weep.

The truth of my hidden shame and different-ness had been exposed.  I felt so small and discriminated against.  It was clear that nothing could have convinced that man that I was worthy of his respect -- or had any worth as a fellow citizen.  I had to claim it for myself.

Later that day, I was sitting in my office and the line: "can't get no light from a dollar bill" - from James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light" whispered itself into my heart.  I started to heal.  Light was what I wanted to be in the world.  And light didn't seek to own the object of its illuminating.  It was a beginning.  And I have prayed with this sense of illuminating every space I am in vs. owing my own space -- ever since.

Not long ago, I was at a meeting where it had long been assumed, by my neighbors, that I was invested in solving an important issue, because I was a fellow homeowner.  But I was not a fellow homeowner.  I was a renter who loved her neighbors and her neighborhood.  I had participated in the discussions and worked tirelessly towards finding a solution for over three years. It was an issue that had reached a tipping point, and needed resolution. I had been best suited to navigate the terrain of  working with state and local agencies to find an answer that would have the least impact on the homeowners.

At the meeting there came a moment when an important vote was being called for, and I had to recuse myself from weighing in because I was not a "legitimate property owner."  I did so without shame.  That was a step.  When one of the more self-sure owners made a disparaging remark - under his breath, I navigated the moment with grace -- and without tears.  That was a leap.  Writing this post -- this is quantum mechanics.

Discrimination is not just about skin color or eye color.  It is an ugly practice that is not limited to the measuring of another's value or worth based what is obvious.  Sometimes it is based on educational achievement or job title; home ownership, or rental status; religious acceptability based on geography and symbology, or marginalization of those who wear a hijab and carry a prayer rug; the kind of car you drive, or the texture of your hair.  Whether Spanish is your first language or the cool language you are fluent in for travel and business.  And discrimination is not just about the way others see and treat us.  It is about the way we see and treat ourselves.  I was my worst discriminator.  

I had been a fierce opponent of discrimination when it came to others.  But I had been taught to accept a false paradigm about my own worth, and I hadn't been brave enough to challenge its premise or conclusion in my own life.

We are all "enough" just the way we are.  I don't care who you are, you are enough for me. You are beautiful.  Your life is a triumph of hope -- every day. Your desire to make the lives of others - even just a little less sad, difficult, humiliating, scary, small -- is noble, and decent, and deserving of honor.

The world of the ego -- individually and collectively -- has an obsessive need to feel that it is higher on the scale of being than someone else.  Persons, organizations, schools, neighborhoods, nations - none are immune.  I call it the "best dentist" theory.  Try it.  Call someone and ask them if they would recommend their dentist.  Most people will say that they have "the best dentist" in the whole town or city.

It makes perfect sense in a world defined by hierarchies of separation, ambition, and comparison.  Who wants to think that they have a mediocre dentist?  But for me, the more important question is, why would anyone ever want to think that someone else had a mediocre dentist? That is a line of thinking that makes no spiritual sense.  Only the ego would defend that kind of thinking.

This egoic need to be better than someone else -- to have more than someone else -- well, that's just what egos do.  But we aren't egos, we are spiritual ideas.  And as Aurelius suggests (above) we are one single living organism.  We are not separate trees on a hillside.  We are one tree with a billion branches that we call individual trees, only because we cannot fathom the connection. When in fact, we are all connected -- beneath the surface -- by one, invisible root system.

I had a teacher once who would never let us forget that when we point a finger at someone else, there are three more pointing back at us.  Our discriminatory practices only point out our own smallness of heart and narrowness of view about our place in the vast oneness of spiritual being.

Just think -- what if tomorrow, the measure of our worth becomes the size of our feet or the tiny-ness of our house -- instead of its massive footprint.  What if the person who lovingly cares for the most animals is seen as the most important member in a community?  Or the person who lives with the least "stuff" is the richest?   Then who would we be.  In that social construct, how would the cards fall in assigning wisdom, value, worth.

I have discovered that I have to be the first one to tell me that my worth is not defined by having my name on a deed.  I have to be the one to remember that I am defined by my heart's commitment to seeing and calling attention to the good in others.  When I am doing this most consistently, I am able to fiercely defend the value of others more effectively.  I am standing up for the merit of our individual and collective humanity in the broader global community.

As James Taylor sings, "let us recognize that there are ties between us, ties of hope and love; sister and brotherhood. Jesus said that "the kingdom of God is within you." Within us all. And this kingdom of God within us, is not religious, cultural, or national -- it is the Love that Mary Baker Eddy assures us is, "impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals." 

Racial, gender, religious, economic, political, or color blindness is not something that someone else can give us.  It is something we hold within ourselves.  For me, the lesson in all this has been that home is not a place to be owned -- it is something that I carry within me. And it is something that I now realize I have brought to every house I have lived in -- whether we owned that house or not.

We are bound together -- we are bound and we are bound.  The imperative is upon us to actually live this oneness. To treat one another as we would wish to be treated. To refuse to sort each other into wealthy and poor, persons of color and what-- no color? Right and left, right and wrong.  We are bound together.  We are not separate. My abundance shall supply your want -- for we are of one body.  Without your want, I have no place to give my abundance of love, of joy, of silence when you need to be heard.  There are ties, not fences, between us.  

offered in oneness - and with humble love,


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"to forgive..."

"do you want to be free,
do you want to believe,
do you want breathe again,
live again, love again..." 

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when my eyes caught the title of a post on the Sojourner blogsite, "Are Christians Supposed to Forgive Abusers?"

It made me think of Sara Renner's hauntingly beautiful song, "Forgive".  It is a song that has brought such healing peace to me over the years.

But it also reminded me of an experience I had over 25 years ago.  I was on a panel of speakers addressing the topic of addiction from a spiritual perspective.

We were fielding questions from the audience when a young mother stood up and asked, "What if my husband is abusive while using drugs, do I leave him -- or do I need to stay and pray for him?  I love him but I don't know how to forgive him?"

The auditorium became silent.  For some reason, the rest of the panelists turned to me -- perhaps because I was the oldest on the panel and a woman.  But I felt trapped.  I'd suffered so much abuse in my life.  I didn't know what to say.  The atmospheric pressure in that hall felt heavy and demanding.

I stopped breathing and sat in the absolute stillness of my true being -- not a girl who'd been molested, not the young woman who'd been beaten unconscious -- but the daughter of God who had never been touched by anger or fear.  The child of God whose right to love had never been violated or stunted by trauma.

But what should I say? What could I say?  The theme of the conference was, "The Love that Heals."  And that was the thought that filled me like a soaring balloon. Whatever I said, it had to be about love -- at every point.

I heard myself begin slowly, "Sometimes we have to love someone enough to separate ourselves from them when they are behaving or making choices that we absolutely know they will regret when they awaken from the dream of a false sense of who they are.  We have to love them enough to say "no" in a way that doesn't allow them to act out those hideous lies in our presence.

In that moment, it became as clear as day to me -- Love is always the motive.  Sometimes we have leave.  Not because we hate or despise the other person, but because we love them too much to let them use us in a way that they will regret. Not because we are afraid, but because we love their true nature.  

We walk away from being a witness to any violation of their deepest humanity.  We remove the opportunity for self-loathing. We let nothing obscure their path to self-forgiveness.

This wasn't just a cool thought.  It was visceral.  I felt the truth of this inspiration course through every vein in my body.

I didn't need to forgive the perpetrators of my abuse or the abuse of others -- I needed to love them enough to not let my human thinking about them -- and our story -- get in the way of their direct and immediate relationship with God, divine Love.

In her "Daily Prayer," Mary Baker Eddy asks us to give up our right to be the forgiver, the savior, the assessor, the judge and jury:

"Thy kingdom come,
let the reign of divine Truth, Life, and Love 
be established in me, and rule out of me all sin,
and may Thy Word enrich the affections 

of all mankind and govern them."

As I sat there listening to the other panelists share their thoughts in response to her question, it all began to make sense to me.  My job wasn't to figure out whether someone deserved my love, my forgiveness, my consent to their right to experience God's mercy -- my job was to trust God's direct and unwavering presence in their hearts.  It is God's ability -- not mine -- to make someone aware of their mistakes, to correct those lies, to move them beyond behavior that was regrettable, to free them from the bondage of falsely identifying themselves.

What I could do, was deprive them of "me" - as a prop in their dream.  And I could do that out of love, not out of fear or anger.

I could separate them from my hurt feelings -- and thereby separating myself from them as well.  I could forgive - forego - any sense of sin -- a word which shares the same etymological root as the word "sunder - to separate" I could forego the belief that I, or anyone else, could ever be separated from God as Love.

I could set clear boundaries for what was acceptable behavior from a child of God.  I could love enough to not let someone violate those boundaries -- with me.

This was not about letting go, but letting God.  It was loving more, not less.  I made room for healing and restoration.  It opened the door to redemption and promise.

What it boiled down to -- was Love.  Love, love love love love.

This insight has helped me more times than I can say.

When someone asks, "Do you forgive me?" I am perplexed and stunned by the question. I can't help but remember Jesus' beautiful plea from the cross:

"Father forgive them..." 

He doesn't say: "Father, show me how to forgive them." But Father, forgive them.   The forgiveness is all Thine.  

In referring to this Scripture, Mary Baker Eddy states in her last published work, The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany

"In our struggles with sin and sinners, 
the we drop compliance with their desires, 
insist on what we know is right, and act
accordingly, the disguised or the self-satisfied
mind, not ready to be uplifted, rebels, 
misconstrues our best motives, and calls 
them unkind.  But this is the cross.  Take it up,
-- it wants the crown; and in the spirit of our 
great Exemplar pray: 

"Father, forgive them
for they know not
what they do." 

In each of these profoundly practical statements of inspiration and guidance, we are looking at the most current recorded words - of Jesus and Mary Baker Eddy - on the subject of forgiveness.  

Forgiveness is "of the Father."  For me, Eddy's "Daily Prayer" and Jesus' example from the cross are the highest sense of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not mine to give -- it happens in the sacred sanctuary of one's relationship with the Father.  

While it is our privilege to step back -- and let the dear Christ enter in -- to heal.    

offered with Love,


Sunday, January 14, 2018

"deeper, and deeper - still..."

"Every valley
made me lift my eyes up, 

Every burden 
only made me stronger,

Every sorrow
only made your joy 
go deeper and deeper,
deeper and deeper..." 

Today in Sunday School I was blessed to have six visitors from Adventure Unlimited's Compass program.  Their mid-year retreat was being held at the ranches and they came into town for church.  I was so happy - since my normally bursting class of Link School students were in Peru this month for their expedition. 

Since we are a class of high school juniors and seniors, it didn't surprise me that our spiritual discussion circled back to college.  Since one of our class charters is: "what happens in Sunday School, stays in Sunday School" -- we never share what anyone else has said during class.  This provides a safe space for speaking our hearts.  So, I will not share anyone else's comments here -- only my own.  

When I got home - after Sunday School - I wondered if I'd ever written a post about an experience I'd had in high school -- and one that I shared with the class today.  I searched and found I hadn't.  And because every experience has to have a song - here is Meredith Andrews' "Deeper" to kick things off.  It reminds me to use the noise, in order to find the silence.  

During my junior and senior years of high school I was obsessed with getting good grades so that I could get away from the smallness of my life.  Our family of ten lived in a tiny house before tiny houses were even a "thing." It was a 1,000 square foot carriage house on a beautiful estate.  But it was tiny.  The first floor was 20' by 25' and the second floor was the same size, but under the eaves -- and right in the middle was a wide staircase that took up even more floor space on both levels.  I shared a long narrow bedroom with my four younger sisters.  

With two adults, two in high school, two in middle school, two in elementary school, and infant twins, it was less than 100 square feet (10 feet by 10 feet) for each person.  Thanks to my parents' compulsion for tidiness and their mutual disdain for clutter -- it was actually quite charming and livable.  But there were times when the noise was unbearable for me.  I loved stillness, quiet, solitude -- I still do.  

Because we lived in a rural community and I didn't drive, going to the library or a coffeehouse was not an option.  In the winter months I couldn't even escape outside.  I was stuck in the house with giggling girls, crying babies, and arguing middle schoolers.  

My junior and senior years were all about grades.  Grades and SAT scores.  I spent every lunch hour in the library and stayed after school whenever I didn't have to work or babysit my siblings.  But there were still many nights when I finished doing dishes and had piles of homework to tackle or studying to do - before I went to bed.  

So, after the kitchen table was cleared, I would stack up my books, lay out my papers, and get to work.  I loved studying.  Some things never change!  But most nights, the chatter and pre-bedtime noise in our house was cacophonous.

One night I couldn't take it anymore.  I went to my mom and told her that I had a very big exam the next day, and still had to prepare for a college placement test that had me a bit rattled.  I told her that she needed to make everyone be quiet so that I could study.  

She looked at me like I were a tad insane.  She said, "this is your life and you need to figure out how to do this."  I knew she meant that nothing was going to change -- I needed to change my expectations and my approach to the problem.  

I went back to the kitchen table and put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.  The noise seemed louder than ever.  There were two thoughts that came to me.  

One was that I had everything I needed because the kingdom of God was within me and so everything God was, I included.  There was an infinite well of intelligence, wisdom, grace, patience within me.  I just needed to go deep and draw upon it.  

And the second was more of a feeling.  As I sat there in the cacophony of my family's living, I let myself hear the noise and then I let that noise boomerang me back - like a rubber band - deeper within myself.  The edge of the noise became a bubble of stillness for me to retreat into.  The louder the noise, the deeper I would go within -- to find my core stillness.  

That became my "space" of focus and clarity.  To this day, when I need to find a place of transfixed focus, I will go to a coffeehouse or a bustling cafe and let the chatter and ambient "noise" drive me deeper, and deeper, and deeper still.  

In that place I feel completely at one with all the intelligence of the universe.  In that place I am able to draw upon all wisdom of the ages.  In that place I feel as wise as Solomon because I was drawing on the same infinite well of divine intelligence. 

I did well in high school.  I was able to secure the scholarships that I needed to attend university without burdening my family.  I was accepted into the school of my choice and had every plan to enter in the fall.  

When my dad was killed - not long after I graduated from high school - it was my choice to respond in a way that felt wise and responsible to me.  I never doubted my access to the infinite well of intelligence, just because my educational path took a unexpected turn.  I always knew where to go to access an infinite source wisdom -- and I knew how to get there.

We are told that our path in life is defined by our circumstances.  By chance and choice -- often the choices of others.  I felt that way - many times - as a child.  As if my parents' decision to have ten children pre-determined my path in life.  As if my dad's decision to leave for work 5 minutes early put him in harms way on a rural road and changed the course of my life.  But that thinking,  gets us absolutely nowhere fast.  

It casts us as victims of circumstance -- borne blindly by chance, or the choice of others.  We are not. We are divinely sent into every moment of our lives for a holy purpose -- and that purpose is to know God more deeply and trust Him more humbly. 

The noise I grew up with as a child, made me reach deep within -- for the stillness of a quiet heart.  The detours I took - as I pursued my desire for learning - made me an insatiable lifelong student, rather than a college coed on a traditional four-year plan. 

Every day, we are given countless opportunities to either feel like victims of our circumstances, or hungry children seeking a deeper stillness, a holier trust, a higher goal -- to know how to reach the kingdom of God within us.  It is only there -- in this quiet kingdom -- that everything makes sense.  

offered with Love, 



Saturday, January 13, 2018

"if I were to tell you my story..."

"if I were to tell you
my story, 
you would hear of hope, 
that wouldn't let go..."

The details aren't important -- what I have faced, how long it lasted, who were the perpetrators and the victims.  The real story is one of hope.  

I found Big Daddy Weave's song, "My Story", and played it over, and over again until it had circled in my heart - like a puppy "feathering" her nest.  Then it dropped into place and fell into a peaceful rest.  

I'd been sitting here - waiting.  I'd made a commitment to write daily.  Not to be read by others, or to be heard, but just because it is what gives me incredible joy.  It is my way of listening to God.  From short five-line poems to these longer essays, writing is my way of "taking dictation" from God.  

I will often wait - as long as it takes - for just one word to set off a spark.  I let silence breathe upon that small spark. My love for God's voice serving as the kindling that ignites into story.

Whether this process takes form in poetry, essay, the script for a "talk," or takes flight as a Christian Science treatment - this is what fills my heart with purpose and great joy.

Sometimes those one word sparks lead to a song, or a photograph.  Sometimes they just lead to the next word.  God takes my hand in His, and step-by-step I am walking through a forest of healing experiences, humbling moments of surrender, sweet memories of feeling God's presence -- and power. 

Today, the word was "story."  And it served as a reminder that we all have one - or many.  

Brene' Brown wrote, in the Preface of The Gifts of Imperfection, that:

"Owning our story and loving ourselves
through that process is the bravest thing 
that we will ever do." 

 I believe this with all my heart.  But I also believe that the only way that I can do this bravely, is by putting God as the main character in my story.  

When God is at the heart of my story, the rest is just context for what I am learning about Him/Her as the main character.  I am not alarmed when Kate is afraid or filled with doubt.  I know that this story is really about what God, the main character is going to do. 

I love this lyric from Big Daddy Weave's, "My Story:" 

"And if I were to 
tell you my story, 
you would hear Love
that never gave up..." 

This Love is not personal or emotional.  I can tell you, without shame, that my personal sense of love has often felt like giving up or giving in.  But this Love -- the kind that never gives up -- is spiritual.  Paul assures us, in Romans, that: 

"neither death, nor life, nor angels, 
nor principalities, nor powers, 
nor things present, nor things to come. 
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other 
creature, shall be able to separate us
from the love [that is] of God..." 

This is the Love that all of our stories are about.  The Love that none can take away.  The Love that is our rebellion against all that would say that we are vulnerable to a false narrative.  The Love that -- when named and claimed as the Source of our brave willingness to step into the places where we are filled with uncertainty -- empowers us with unfathomable humility and grace.  This is the Love that never leaves us alone.  Consciously tapping into the core of Love's presence in our hearts, is a constant reminder of this fact. 

So, today -- this is my story.  A story of Love.  Every day, I will write this story.  The details will be there as context - not content.  "Ahh, they will say -- look what Love has done in this field." Fallow, fertile, fearful -- it is not about the field, but the Farmer.   

I offer today's dictation with Love, 


Thursday, January 11, 2018

"the emperor is naked..."

"Four winds that blow
four thousand tongues,
with the word: survive

Four billion souls
striving today to stay alive

We say stand!
And sing out for a great "hooray!"
Why don't we be the ones to exclaim,
"The emperor is naked today..."

- Pete Seeger

I love Tracy Grammer and Dave Carter's recording of Pete Seeger's subtly-written protest song,"The Emperor is Naked Today." It is the perfect keynote for this post.

Some posts come quickly. They fall onto the screen like snow on the frozen earth -- and stick. Some are like acorns -- they fall and slowly burrow themselves deep into the soil, until one day they spring from the earth and begin to grow into a tall oak tree. For me, this is an oak post.

It started over twenty years ago. Our daughter was just a wee thing. She had a story book of classic children's fairytales. One of the stories was "The Emperor's New Clothes." She loved that story and the funny old illustrations. If you don't know the story, here is my cliff notes version: 

There was once an arrogant, self-absorbed emperor who always had to have the best of everything, to be the smartest, and most loved ruler in all the land.

One day, two con men came to the village pretending to be tailors. They convinced the emperor that they possessed fabric that was so fine and beautiful, that only the wisest, most discerning person could see or feel it. They told the emperor that if he hired them -- for a very generous sum of gold -- to make an outfit for him, he would be known as the wisest and most handsomely dressed monarch in the land.

He agreed, and for weeks they pretended to measure, and sew, and fit the emperor in his new clothes while they dined on sumptuous feasts and drank the emperor's wine. The emperor was too proud to admit that he couldn't see anything or feel anything. So, as they oohed and ahhed over his majesty's non-existent finery, he did the same. Turning and preening in front of the mirror.

When the garment was finally finished, the Emperor decided to hold a parade through the kingdom to show off his new clothes. Everyone in the village had heard of the garments  made from such fine material that only the wisest and most discerning eyes could see it. So, as the Emperor paraded through the streets, the villagers exclaimed about how amazing his new clothing was -- since none of them wanted to admit that they couldn't see them either -- an admission that would have revealed that they were not wise or discerning.

As the Emperor sashayed down the cobbled streets, the con artists felt they'd carried out the greatest con of all time. Their ruse had been successful and they would soon leave the kingdom wealthy and ready for the next gullible mark. That was, until a young boy -- not aware of the implications of saying he couldn't see the fine garments, shouted, "The Emperor is naked!"

The minute he said it, everyone realized what was going on and they all started pointing and laughing at the silly emperor. The Emperor looked down and realized that he was actually walking through the streets buck naked.  That not only could he not see the false finery, but neither could anyone else. He ran back to the castle clutching his hat, and the con artists were arrested and thrown into the dungeon.

Our daughter would point and laugh every time we read this story. The illustrations were silly. The Emperor was a chubby little guy with thin legs and a pot-belly. Besides his feathered hat, he was wearing nothing but a pair of bloomers - if that.

One night as we were preparing for bedtime, she asked for the "naked guy story" -- I wasn't feeling well at all. I just wanted to get her into her jammies, sing our prayers, and turn out the light so I could lie quietly next to her and continue to pray. But she was asking so sweetly that I couldn't deny her.

As I read the story, I had the feeling that there was something much deeper at work than a classic fairytale. We finished the story and I turned out the lamp next to her be. Rubbing her back in the dark, I was flooded with these words from Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

" By universal consent,
mortal belief has constituted itself
a law to bind mortals
to sickness, sin, and death."

Lying there, it dawned on me that this was how the practice of Christian Science healing worked. I realized that mortal belief required universal consent. When even one child-like thought refuses to concede to the lie, we have deprived it of what it needs to even exist. We have exposed the con, that arrogantly says we are bound to suffer under the false laws of sin, disease, and death.  The spell is broken -- everyone is free.

Suddenly the statement:

"One with God,
is a majority."

made absolute sense to me. I didn't need to silently or audibly try to convince anyone of anything true. It is always right in front of our eyes. We cannot be conned into thinking that the truth is somehow silly, impractical, unwise, or delusional. God is All-in-all --  is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, good. God is Love and this loving, omnipotent Sovereign has no opponent or opposition.

As I lay there, I could suddenly see that our job is not to rip the garment of sin, sickness and death off of the arrogant, puffed up, self-indulgent bully, but to confidently and joyfully exclaim - with childlike innocence - that:
"The emperor is naked." 

The puffed tyrant is reduced to a cowering scaredy-cat clutching his bloomers and running for cover, the con artist is arrested, thrown into the dungeon, and the keys are tossed in the moat.

We only need to refuse our consent, and mortal belief is deprived of what it needs -- universal consent. Like the boy in the crowd, we can confidently raise our voices and say, "the emperor is naked."

offered with Love,


"a child, a snake, and a spoonful of milk...."

"Were you a blazing ball of fire
before you were ever born?
Did you find the cure for polio?
Invent the telephone?

Or were you disobedient at
the age of thirty-three
When some old Roman soldier
had you nailed up to a tree?

Maybe you were black and tired,
on the front seat of a bus,
Or on a protest march in Bombay
lying face down in the dust.

Maybe you were all of this and more,
Borrowed light from those who came before.

And the children who haven't yet been named
are stronger for your spark,
Stronger for your flame…"

- Randall Williams
from "Praying for Land"

This week's Bible study begs a reposting of this snake story:

"Nice snake..."

I absolutely love Randall William's, "
Stronger for Your Flame," [the song starts at 1:40.] When I hear it I am reminded of a poem that has been a longtime - but missing-in-action - companion. Until yesterday, that is.  My copy of this 1990 Godfrey John poem serendipitously found its way back into my hands.  I originally discovered it in the Christian Science Monitor one morning almost thirty years ago, and tucked lovingly into my wallet.  It became my touchstone through a very difficult period.

Someone I loved and respected for his devotion to public service was being maligned, vilified, and treated with disdain -- after decades of admiration and trust.  I was heartbroken, but he wasn't.  His spiritual poise seemed untouched - unshakable.  When we spoke on the phone, or met in person I was always stunned by his grace -- his pure, unflappable grace.

Because we were friends and colleagues, the integrity of those who were close to him had also been called into question. It felt awful.   That is, until finally found the courage to phone him.  I was hungry for some direction about how I should proceed in correcting the misunderstandings and impositions on us all.  

He calmly asked me if I knew my own truth.  I responded that yes, I did. I was certain that I had done nothing wrong.  I knew that my motives, at every juncture, had been pure. And that even though - in hindsight - I might have taken different steps today, I was confident that I had been honest, prayerful, and humble in asking for divine guidance at the time.

He then turned me to a story that Mary Baker Eddy relates in the article "Taking Offense" from her book,
Miscellaneous Writings 1883 – 1896:

"A courtier told Constantine that a mob had broken the head of
his statue with stones.  The emperor lifted his hands to his head,
saying: "It is very surprising, but I don't feel hurt in the least."

He then said to me, "you are not there."  You are not the "who," that they are throwing stones at.  They are attacking their own concept of the office that you represent to them, and seem to occupy -- healer, director, mother, wife, neighbor, church member.  They are throwing stones at the version of that office that they are holding in consciousness.  But only you know if that is you.  If it is, then it is your opportunity to correct it - with and for God. If it is not you, then you can't feel hurt in the least.  You do not live in their consciousness of you. You live in your consciousness of you.  You must ask yourself, "who is the source of my consciousness of myself - and of them?"

"So," I asked him,  "what should I do when I see them, think of them, or are told stories about what they are saying?"  I swear I could hear his silent smile through the phone as he sighed,  "Why, what else is there to do? You just love them. You truly love them."

This set me back on my heels.  Wasn't I supposed to defend him, me - all of us?

Then he reminded me of how Mary Baker Eddy follows up her story about about Constantine and the mob -- she writes:

"We should remember that the world is wide;
that there are a thousand million different human wills,
opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person
has a different history, constitution, culture, character,
from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play,
the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of
these different atoms.

Then, we should go forth into lifewith the smallest
expectations, but with the largest patience; with a
keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful,
great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the
friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities;
with an equanimity so settled that no passing breath
nor accidental disturbance shall agitate or ruffle it;
with a charity broad enough to cover the whole world's evil,
and sweet enough to neutralize what is bitter in it,
--determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant,
nor even when it is, unless the offense be against God.

Nothing short of our own errors should offend us."

This story became a staff - and a rod - for me over the ensuing months.  A staff to lean on, and a rod to prod me forward towards a greater understanding, humility, grace.  It was such a help.

However, I am a visual person.  I love having mental pictures that I can connect with as I exercise new spiritual muscles.  The Constantine story was wearing thin, and I needed something fresh, something I could identify with.  I just didn't feel like an emperor ,and the image of a mob scared me.

That was when Godfrey John's poem appeared on my doorstep wrapped in newsprint.

Here it is:

"Nice Snake"

[Note from poet:  This poem is spun from a story
I was told of an actual little girl in South Africa]

Slowly and with no mistake
the giant snake is inching up
the veranda where the five year old
sits, joyfully sloshing her cereal

As if planned and without noise,
the boa constrictor guiltlessly
encircles the chair and the child in his coils.

He lets his eyes come close to hers.
"Nice snake!" she says, lifting
a spoonful of milk up to his mouth.

He feels excused.  He sips the milk.
She lifts the spoon to her own lips.
His innocence coincides
with hers.  Valued now, he waits.

She feeds him again with special care
"One for you and one for me."
Suddenly he dips his mouth
deep into the bowl.  The child
taps his head with her spoon and laughs:
"Naughty, naughty!  Wait your turn!"

The boa constrictor meekly places
his scaled face against her cheek.
Repentance is responsive to love.

Once again she lifts her spoon
full of light.  His lips sip.
They take turns till the bowl is empty.

Unhurriedly, then, he uncoils
and slides beneath the veranda steps.

We must de-mythologize.

Innocence can not be earned:
innocence is immanent;
innocence is untouched
by guilt or hurt or old age.

is a child with a snake and a bowl of cereal –
astonishing the day,
celebrating art.

- Godfrey John

I connected with this poem on such a deep, visceral level. I had just been to Africa, I had seen snakes, I knew the way they were feared.  And I had a little girl who was fearless when it came to snakes, and bugs, and growling dogs -- I wanted to be like her.

This poem became the space I lived in.  It became my posture in loving.  I was willing to share my cereal, but I was also clear about identifying my tablemate. But more importantly, it helped me understand my friend's spiritual poise -- his unshakable dignity, grace and compassion.

This poem became my companion.  In fact, it was such a priceless treasure that we gave it as a gift to our friends in our Christmas cards that year.  More than one asked if the little girl in the poem was our South African daughter -- it was not.

Through my many moves since then, I had misplaced my original copy of the poem and would often try to recall the words I had memorized over twenty years earlier.  I would have a strong grip on ten or twelve lines and then miss a word and not be able to find the rhythm again.  I had been thinking about it a lot over the last year or so, and had on a number of occasions searched folders full of scrips and scraps of quotes, the insides of books (a favorite home for poems and quotes in my library) and old journals - but to no avail.

Then, out of the blue a letter arrived from my mom.  She was harvesting some of her old files and came upon some Christmas cards, photos, and clippings from "once upon a time" and decided to send them to me -- and in that packet was a copy of the Christmas card with our gift of the "Nice Snake" poem.

So,  today I am sending out this post-Christmas card - again. Some of you received it over 20 years ago  Others might be reading it for the first time today. Its message, for me, is still a precious gift.

There are times when we all face misunderstanding, criticism, persecution.  Knowing where our innocence lies and Who defines us -- to ourselves -- is critical in finding peace of mind, and growth in grace.  Jesus, Gandhi, Mandela, Eddy are our mentors in this classroom.

My utmost thanks to Godfrey John for writing it.  To my dear friend who taught me to live with dignity while under fire, as a "whole-souled woman." To Randall Williams for reminding me that we are all sparks to one another's flame.  And to each of you,  for your ongoing example of humility, courage, affection, and trust. I feel so blessed. 

offered with Love,