Friday, November 13, 2015

All souls and stuff

An altar in our kitchen
All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead has passed. We drank, ate, laughed and cried with the company of all souls. The cemetery was filled was a cacophony of people, children, dogs, boom boxes and roving musicians. Graves were piled high with flowers and tables were laden with food and drink, braziers wafting the smoke of roasting meat. In the late afternoon, mass was celebrated. People gathered to sit on graves and to stand in groups awaiting the part where their beloved's name would be spoken. For many of the elders, the names read out loud are as familiar as the backs of their hands. Here, everyone knows one another for a lifetime. There is a complex interconnection of marriages and relationships so that the corporate memory is exponentially broad, wide and deep.

When people stop to linger in memories the dead return to us in their essence. They rise again in a tender, more merciful re-collection. Death awakens us, hopefully, to live like everything we do and say matters, that the ripples of our lives continue forward in time like the ripples of the dead that move through us. We are imperfectly-holy saints abiding alongside those who have gone before us. When we think we are separate there can be no healing.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nest and nester...

Lucy has a nose for chick-care
My husband, Wally's rough hands cup a chick.  The rainy season is a harsh environment for the little ones. He has brought the hatchling for me to keep warm and sheltered, to give her a chance of surviving this setback. We've done this countless times. Sometimes I put the little life in the front of my shirt in the space between my breasts and move about doing my chores as the little chick sleeps as if under a wing of different sorts. Sometimes I make a nest in the pocket of my apron with a torn piece of t-shirt to catch droppings - a chick diaper. 

The noise of the chicken yard is our soundscape. At times the chick I'm carrying responds to its sounds. Maybe she hears her mother's cluck or the cheep-cheep (pio-pio in Spanish) of her siblings. It's a good sign. Her low trilling is the sound of content like a baby's gurgle or the purring of a cat. She feels safe. 
I am a nest.

Caring for her is not just good for the chick, it's good for me too. I do things more slowly and finally sit to marvel for 20 minutes at the perfect markings on her wings and back, a collection of finest feathers that makes a unity of design in a rich array of browns accented with ink black calligraphy. If only I could decipher its message. Who says brown is drab? Brown becomes more than a color but an experience of velvet-soft darkness.  Brown becomes worthy of a long study into weightless, ephemeral, featherness. 

Are we any less a wonder? 

How much do we miss by hurrying?
Contemplative-worshiper-chick of the chicken species

My hands today are good for chick care and little else. Stung by hornets, my hands are like two inflated gloves on the ends of my arms. It's a reprieve from my chores, I can take ease without guilt. Like the chick, I let the full weight of my being rest in the shelter of this day, this place. It can be a gift to be small and helpless. I can still multi-task as nest and chick-care-giver, a contemplative-worshiper-chick of the human species.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Body theology...

Capable Flesh

The tender flesh itself
will be found one day
- quite surprisingly - 
to be capable of receiving,
and yes, full
capable of embracing
the searing energies of God.
Go figure. Fear not.
For even at its beginning
the humble clay received
God's art, whereby
one part became the eye,
another the ear, and yet
another this impetuous hand.
Therefore, the flesh
is not to be excluded
from the wisdom and the power
that now and ever animates
all things.  His life-giving
agency is made perfect,
we are told, in weakness -
made perfect in the flesh.
 - St. Irenaeus
adapted and translated by Scott Cairns

This message is brought to you by your body.  Your sensory system is calling for a sound check...can you hear this or are you ignoring your body's attempts at communication? 

We know the things you put into your ears and your brain and what comes out of your mouth. The hope is for a dependable connection from your head to your heart - that's why we make this appeal. 

Pay attention to your body.  It's talking to you.

Listening is something everyone assumes they already do, but just because you have two ears doesn't mean you hear.

You say that all things are connected and are a part of a great wholeness of one, that the universe with all its multiplicity is ultimately one essential reality. Do you really believe that? Your very own body is integral within that wonder-world universe. You have a part to play.  

It's basic.  When you ignore the messages of the body eventually things go a wry, disorder ensues and can spread faster than repair! You become lost in feeling bad. It can result in a paralysis, like an impassive response to the news of climate change, you do nothing.

This is not simple aging, and please, stop bemoaning it.  Of course there's wear and tear that comes with the years, but in fact, a large part is due to the natural consequences of regular neglect over decades.  To make things worse, you speak with such impatience of your body, the body that has served you faithfully and remarkably well.

This probably comes as a shock to your good opinion of yourself.  You think yourself a peace-maker but you act like a slave-driver to the body, making demands, never listening.  

It's time to make peace with your body.  This body wants to enlighten your soul, be a God-house, save your life for heaven's sake!

Be receptive. You already have everything you need. Listen to your body with your breath, not your ears. Breath is the basis of language and creation. In the beginning, God spoke the world into existence and breathed life into creation. Nature knows what to do. There is innate wisdom in every cell. It's a dynamic system! The maps of that wondrous circuitry are marvels of art. 

Minister, like a priestess or a doctor, loving intentions with your powerful, creative, healing imagination. That's what it's there for - it's part of the design. Attend the aches and pains with an intuitive probing. Initiate healing with an empathetic hand over the body's weakness. Repair is a reflexive response of each cell. Your body will know what to do. Be healer and patient, for who knows your body like you?

Practice this each day and you will begin to feel like your standing on the bright, red X of life again. Be thankful for all your parts and their service.  It's a body wonderland of love.  Give thanks to the kidneys and bladder, thanks to the stomach and intestines, thanks to the shoulders and wrists, hands and fingers, knees and toes.  


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The joy of gentle motion

My mother's passion was ballet.  She began taking lessons when I was a teenager. She was a "natural". Her body and soul responded to music like a sea anemone in a tidal pool.  The discipline of ballet was the firm bed of sand on which her art rested, turning the things she felt into poetry of motion.  

Many times, when I visited her in Washington DC and later in Tucson, I accompanied her to ballet classes. I loved watching her. For more than 40 years she attended classes multiple times a week. Even at the bar, she warmed up with a goal to perfection.  She approached each class as a serious student. I understand now how she set perfection as her goal.  She was straining to gain the skill that matched her art and depth of feeling.  She was that way about many things. Perfected skill was the medium that expressed what she could not say with words.  Everyone could see that Junko had "it". It defied age or the limitations of her body.  It was innate grace - the pale, pink petal drifting to the ground, the effortless lift of the butterfly's glide, the sea anemone in concert with microscopic algae.  Her impulse was as uninhibited as any unself-conscious creature of nature.

Once while sitting in a restaurant with friends in Kyoto, my mother wowed us with a spontaneous, joyful dance of classical ballet.  Who knew that the sweet joy of that moment with friends could be so beautifully embodied.

On her 90th birthday, Wally sent a link to Earth, Wind and Fire performing "Woogie Wonderland".  Mom and everyone jumped up to dance, spun and flung into motion by the force of celebration and joy.  It wasn't ballet...

Acupuncturist and friend, Larry, would come weekly to give her a treatment - mostly he came to hang out and talk with my mother. One visit, they danced together, mom in bed on oxygen and Larry sitting in a chair across from her. They danced with their upper bodies to a music they alone could sense.  It wasn't sound that moved them, it was feeling. I believe it was healing for both of them because I too could feel something of what they shared soothing me.

In my mother's last week she had a dream.  She wanted to thank hospice for their goodness and proposed to teach people in hospice care "the joy of gentle motion".  In her dream, she taught people to move their arms, hands, head, eyes, in whatever capacity they could, to move gently to music. She believed this would help them to feel better.  The next morning when hospice came, she excitedly asked if she could teach the joy of gentle motion to their patients.  She was told that most people in hospice were in no shape to respond to her teaching, much less move.  So, she asked if she could teach the nurses and caregivers...they just smiled. Mom seemed stunned.  It hadn't occurred to her that there was a point of no dance. I could see that death was becoming real.

 Steve Baranovics, and Junko at 80 
The Washington School of Ballet
Not everyone has clarity, as my mother did, about what moves them passionately.  I believe everyone has the capacity for it, which makes me think that passion can be cultivated.  My mother was in the middle of her life when, with minuscule joy and an ocean of longing, she began. Her pursuit of ballet grew into something that eventually spiraled and propelled her up and out of herself into a much grander movement, then slowing gently, manifesting in dreams until it was simply a final bow. 

I cannot imagine that the dance ends there. All movement is energy and energy doesn't die.  I'm still in the orbit of my mother's dance. I'm following it's motion through a door into another realm of reality where there is more to know and learn, where death is closer but without fear and there is more joy to discover. 

Take a moment to be infected by Junko's joy. Clink on the link below and dance, dance, dance...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Threshold of a journey...

My mother's death was a threshold and now grief is ancient journey to something new (?)  I don't know.  I'm in a state of grace, not knowing, just being, not doing. It's not what I expected and that's it exactly!  I am embraced by mystery, a mystery which is at the heart of everything. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pausing on a threshold...

It's good to be dry when the rain is coming down hard.  The sound of rumbling in the distance, the closeness of the rain on the windows, the leaves of the vines shimmering-shiny against the glass. Everyday the dark clouds build to a crescendo over the mountains and the ocean.  It's a dramatic visual development, the greens darken and intensify, the hills become antique-purple and the clouds leaden blue-silver - a visual symphony of undulating value and contrast. We've all seen those time-lapsed videos but when I rest slow in the afternoon I find that the storm's movement lulls me into productive contemplation. 

The contrast of the rainy season drama and the coziness of home especially resonate in me.  It seems  I've been away a long time.  My mother died in June. After a few years of focusing on my mother through the end of her life  I've come home with her ashes and belongings to merge them with my things.  It has evoked much thinking about our relationship - in what ways we were alike and how we were worlds apart.  Now our belongings are juxtaposed into still lifes in every room, little vignettes that are a tiny spotlight on our story. In this new, harmonious order I can carry on with my mother. I can also look up and out ahead and know that I'm on another threshold.  

It turns out that caring for my mother was not an inconvenient interruption of my life, it was life, an important work for myself and my family.  It enriched me in ways I didn't imagine.  I had hoped in her last days for a deeper connection and it didn't happen the way that I had hoped, but it's not over. Death is not the end I thought. Connections hold and are still in the making.   

Three weeks after my mother died, Wally had a near-fatal accident.  He was testing the voltage on the main transformer and was shocked.  Before losing consciousness he saw the proverbial tunnel of light.  He has no memory of falling 20 feet.   It took me 2 minutes once I heard the explosion to find him. He was on his back staring at the sky, speaking softly of how beautiful it was. He said he felt ok.  I knew he couldn't be. After a few minutes he began to feel aching in his bones, swelling in his head.  He was burned in a few places and one hand was black with a small crater burned into one finger.  In a few days he recovered and was fine, but not the same. He was peaceful, sweeter. To try to explain what happened is to leave out the sheer wonder of it.  The shock stopped his heart and the impact of the fall onto his back started it again.  It was a perfect storm, but for us as a couple it was a miracle on par with the annunciation, so powerful its effect on us. Wally says he feels as if God hit his reset button... And what gets reset in Wally is a reset for me. 

It is a privilege to share the whole of life with someone, especially to the end. There's a rare and open vulnerability especially at the end or at the near-end. It can be a tangle of good and bad. I use those terms without judgement. To take in the full picture there's always a complex mix. It's genuine in its wholeness, that's what's important, and to judge it by a moment is to miss the key to the hidden treasure of understanding.  I realize that I knew too little of my mom and she knew too little of me. Ninety years are not enough.  Humans are complex, one-of-a-kind miracles even on the most ordinary day.  It's the mystery that compels me to make art, to be art, to love in wonder.  I have a stake in learning from my mother. The challenge to meet her with acceptance and love goes for myself and others too. We all have a heritage of gifts and deprivations, but they're both gifts. This was what I see as I look back after the stresses of these recent months.   There's gold in the gleaning.