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,


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