religion

After the Fall

joan xray 2Conscience makes cowards of us all, the Bard observed. And after a fall and consequent wrist surgery and three days of hospitalization, I would add that that pain makes cowards of us too.

There was a point when a chasm opened, and I was a helpless crawling worm. Forget all my noble Buddhist thoughts about the difference between pain and suffering. Forget my prayers, my devotion to the 23rd Psalm, yogic breathing, meditation or mindfulness.  There was nothing I could do or think or imagine. No self to ravel up the loosening parts. No one home.

Except there was. My husband. Who came with tea and the next dose of pain meds.

We do need each other. Absolutely. Undeniably.

In my fitful meanderings yesterday I looked up the origins of the phrase “apple of your eye”. This mysterious phrase first appears in Hebrew Scripture, including a description of God’s care for Jacob. “He found him in a desert land, in a howling wilderness waste. He encircled him, cared for him, guarded him as the apple of his eye.”

Apparently this phrase was also translated as little man of the eye– the reflection of yourself that you see in another’s pupil if you are gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. I’m still pondering the depth and wonder of this metaphor of relationship. A sacramental image of intimate knowing.

Last night in a dream I was instructed to start writing. So I have. With one finger of my left hand.

I think there will be many more reflections to come.


 

Posted by admin in personal reflection, religion, spirituality, 2 comments

Walking the Streets

Campania,Casecta, Capua, Image274getty

 

I walked through the Tenderloin in San Francisco this week from 10:00 PM until midnight. I saw several drug deals. A variety of sex workers were on the streets. A scuffle erupted beside me. Something to do with an unpaid debt.  Yet I felt completely safe. I was in the company of Lyell, a night minister. I felt like I was walking with a beloved saint.

 

Lyell walks the streets of San Francisco from 10PM until 4AM wearing his clerical collar. He’s been doing this for ten years. He does not proselytize. He does not judge. He does not give away money. He walks, offering only a listening ear and an open heart. If asked, he’ll pray with someone. Mostly he smiles, nods, and banters. Often he gets into a lengthy encounter when someone pours out their troubles.

 

Seven of us from my church were in San Francisco for a week of service projects. We helped serve breakfast and cook lunch at Glide Memorial; we toured a teen homeless shelter and served a spaghetti dinner in Berkeley; we packed boxes at the Food Bank; we priced, sorted, and cleaned furniture at Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store.  And we walked the streets with two night ministers: Lyell and Megan.  Lyell strolled through the Tenderloin; Megan walked through the Castro.

 

San Francisco Night Ministry was founded in 1964 as an ecumenical response to the tsunami of homeless teens who’d made their way to San Francisco seeking sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll but ended up destitute on the streets. For fifty years, without missing a single night, at least one minister has strolled the streets of San Francisco, offering a compassionate presence during the darkest hours.

 

Lyell started our night’s walk by teaching us the Night Ministry saunter. “We’re not in a hurry. We’re not going anywhere. We’re just walking. Keep your head up. Look people in the eye.  Nod or smile. Many of these people aren’t used to being smiled at.”

 

It was clear that Lyell loved this neighborhood. Loved these neighbors. And the feeling was mutual. We were greeted on every block. “Hi Pastor.” “Hi Father.”  We stopped to talk with three men outside the Iriquois Hotel. Lyell got into deep conversation with an agitated man while we chatted with a man in a wheelchair and another who told us about his mother in Memphis. After about 20 minutes, we said goodbye. Lyell handed the agitated man a pen with the Crisis Line phone number and told him he’d swing back by later.

 

Lyell pointed out beautiful architectural details and historic plaques as we ambled down O’Farrell and around the Civic Center. It was a very quiet night Lyell told us as we ended our stroll around 12:30. We headed to our beds. Lyell headed back out into the streets.


 

 

Image above is Campania, Image 274, courtesy of the Getty Museum.

Posted by admin in Inspiration, religion, 1 comment

Taste of Hope

R-20100106-0003.jpg  Hope

I certainly received it—a taste of hope—at The Ruin last weekend. The Ruin is a wondrously made outdoor environment built by Gabe and Sarah Acrich at their home in the Sierra foothills. Envision a very large living room, made of rock walls, minus the ceiling and fourth wall, so the space is open to the sky and fields. Now imagine that the walls slope downward, lined with tall glass votive holders, and pierced with niches, so the perimeter is dotted with candle light. Within this powerfully moving space, Sarah staged a play set in a Nazi concentration camp: Taste of Hope: A Play in Three Courses.

Hope and concentration camps might seem mutually exclusive. But the profound territory that this play explores is how hope was kept alive in a hopeless situation.

The Acrich’s have a personal connection to the Holocaust; Gabe’s grandfather survived Mauthjausen. When Sarah read In Memory’s Kitchen, A Legacy From the Women of Terezin, a nonfiction book based on recipes secretly collected in a Czech concentration camp, she was immediately inspired to work with that material, family material, and other Holocaust stories to create a play affirming the faith, strength, love, and courage of the women in the camps.

Sarah is a woman of extraordinary vision, creativity and energy. Not only did she write the play, create The Ruin, recruit talented actors and musicians (drawn from friends, students and family), she also cooked latkes, matzo ball soup, carmels and honey cake—recipes which the women discussed fervently in the camp. After each act, the audience was served a hearty taste of these dishes, which were now soaked in meaning, significance and wonder.

I was seated next to a Jewish woman. Her husband did not attend; Holocaust events are too raw for him. She, however, was delighted with the play, and during each course shared with me how she had learned to cook that dish, family variations in recipes, and memories of the holidays. I was thus privileged to experience the continuity that the women in the camp desperately longed for and dedicated themselves to insuring.  

The play worked with the theme of continuity by having three areas always present on stage: a modern kitchen, with a contemporary mother and daughter cooking and occasionally  talking; a kitchen from the pre-war era with a grandmother instructing a granddaughter; and the main focus of the bunks, where four starving women prisoners engaged in intimate dialogue.  I would have found the concentration camp conversations almost too excruciating to bear, if not for the silent testimony of the past kitchen anchored in tradition and the modern kitchen witnessing  to ongoing life.  In this way, the play’s structure beautifully gave us a paradigm of time’s effect on suffering, evil, and healing.

In a further amplification of the themes of food, community, and hope, each performance was a fundraiser. There was no admission fee; all donations received went to hunger-relief organizations.  The performance I attended was an Empty Bowl Project in support of the Gathering Inn, a private nonprofit serving the county’s homeless. 

After the play, audience members lingered in the ruin, licking honey cake and carmels from our fingers. A slender moon hung overhead.  “Puts things in perspective,” someone said. “Made me think about hope,” another affirmed. And then there was mostly the crunch of gravel as we made our way down the driveway, our flashlights flickering in the dark.

The sketch above is Giacomo Cavedone’s Clasped Hands, 1612, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

The photograph was taken during a performance.


 

Posted by admin in arts, community, Inspiration, religion, 5 comments

Ashes

firering.jpgSeveral months ago I burned a manuscript of a fantasy novel. This was not a spontaneous act.  Altogether, I’d spent thousands of hours scribbling, doodling, plotting, and outright writing.

But the work was dead. I’d bullied it into submission and knew it. I’d kept writing through sheer will long after losing the authentic energy of the story. I needed a fresh start.  

I heard a subtle inner whisper, “Burn it.”  I wondered if I was crazy, if my inner saboteur had finally taken control. But the guidance persisted. What would it be like to be free of the manuscript? If I didn’t have all those pages to paw through, to edit, to try to get a jumpstart from? I remembered Faulkner’s advice. “Murder your darlings.”

It took me several months to actually haul the manuscript out to the fire ring. I’d debated about ritualizing the burning and inviting friends to witness the deed, but in the end, I did it alone. It was surprisingly easy.

One of the characters has reappeared in dreams, which is a good sign. The psyche is resurgent and forgiving.

Last night I went to an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. Nine clergy presided: two Catholics, one Presbyterian, one Methodist, one Episcopalian, one Adventist, one Congregationalist and two Lutherans. Three of the clergy were women.

I was moved by the service, which felt humble and authentic. We were invited to lay our burdens down. To reflect on what separated us from Love. And hundreds of people, filing contemplatively up to the altar to receive a mark of ashes, did just that.

I’ve put away my childhood Lenten disciplines. I no longer give up candy or try to cheerfully obey my parents. Instead, I’ll pay attention to dreams and whispers: listening for guidance, sensing what is emerging and what needs to be put to rest.


 

Posted by admin in religion, 1 comment