Good Grief!

Grief is a river
Constantly flowing, flowing...

Connecting all hearts.

These last few days, grief had been my visitor. And yes, I welcomed them. 

First there was mom's worsening dementia which I witnessed in person when I visited the Bay Area for Thanksgiving. The process of going through end-of-life decisions (where does she live, who will take care of her) took me to a wild spin. Not mentioning... grief.

Then, I went to Memphis to co-lead a workshop involving my book with the other authors of the series Active Prayer. There I heard soul music, visited Graceland where Elvis Lives, and for meditation, I walked the Mississippi River and listened to Old Man River himself. There I saw the Memphis poor and their chronically homeless folks. But this town also showed me soul. They are tender, loving people who live through music and art and food and each other's company. Yes, there is crime. But is that surprising in a poor town?

Then I get an email from a dear friend who is scared because this is the first time in her life she is wondering how she's going to pay for her next month's bills. And last night, a yoga friend whom I haven't seen for 9 years, asked me to jon him for dinner at a pancake house. There he told me the story of how her wife passed away a few days back. He showed me the tattoos she created on his body. Fantastic tattoo artist. I wish I knew her when she was still active. I've been thinking about having a tattoo. 

Grief followed me, called me, emailed me, talked with me, looked at me with teary eyes, and once or twice, with old, tired, blank eyes. I welcomed her to sit by me. I settled myself down to listen. That's the least one can do when one knows not what to do... stay out of the way.

So today, I sat down for meditation. Tears poured. For my mom, for the poor of Memphis, for my economically challenged friend, for my widowed friend. And for all who is suffering in one way or the other. For those in pain, I inhaled the heat of their tears, the shortness of their breaths, the tightness of their hearts. And I breathed out space, light, hugs, smiles. And I chanted "The Lord is my light and my salvation... of whom shall I be afraid" over and over again.

How about you? What is your relationship with grief? Do you try to get busy when grief comes visiting? Or do you pause, sit down, and listen to her stories?


Be Christ! (How-To)

Father, if you are willing,
take this cup from me;
yet not my will,
but yours be done.
-Luke 22

It is easy being Christ in pleasant situations, when everything is going according to plan and expectations. When all is well as far as we can sense.

But how do you practice being Christ in trying situations? I was given what I think is the beginning of an answer last night when I went for a Chinese foot massage. You know, the kind that makes you wince because of the pressure. The guy who massaged me was incredibly strong (or knew how to position his body to exert the right amount of pressure) and he was hitting the right spots in the soles of my feet. At the time it was happening, I resorted to focusing on my exhales. I consciously relaxed my whole body from my facial muscles and my shoulder muscles, my back muscles, all my joints, and especially the muscles he was working on.

Only now in retrospect did I realize that I surrendered to the pressure he was applying to me. By surrender, I meant, the embodiment of, Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit. I softened my muscles, but that starts from the mind and the heart. The space of receptivity opens up, expands, and welcomes the pressure. Metaphorically, welcoming the stranger, the "least of these," the visitors in Rumi's 'guest house.'

For that is when our Christ-consciousness is tried and manifested. Those are the times when I am asked to grow and mature in my Love, my Faith in the Beloved. Those are graced times, when God truly has her loving hands on me. She is somehow saying, I Am here. Feel me. I Am with you. Do not be afraid.

How about you? Can you visualize the hand of the Divine Massage Therapist working on your 'spiritual muscles' when it feels you are in the valley of death? Can you treat those times detoxifying you, cleansing you, like a deep-tissue massage would?

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new spirit within me.

The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

-Psalm 51


Be Christ!

Who is my mother and who are my brothers?
Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven
is my brother, and sister and mother.

Mt 12:48-50

Next week I am in the Bay Area with my nuclear family. From Monday to Friday, my wife and I will be with my 80-year old mom, 5 siblings, and numerous nephews and nieces. Being with my family has its joys, and its challenges. So I decided to have a spiritual direction session, well, for spiritual direction.

At the end of my session, my spiritual director said, Be Christ. Use words only when necessary. I lighted up when she said that. Now that's a challenge I will gladly face. The benefits will go way beyond next week. And why not Be Christ in every moment, in every place?

Isn't that why Jesus came to be? For Jesus to show us God's Will and how to fulfill it? For us to be God's Love no matter what, where, and when?

How about you? Where or when do you find it challenging to be Christ and where or when do you find it so easy it feels like you can walk on water?

Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell
in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
-Psalm 23


Return of the Soul

I thank you, O God
Who lives now and forever,

that You have restored to me my soul with mercy;
great is your faithfulness

The above is the Jewish tradition's Modeh Ani prayed as soon as one wakes up. Before one gets out of bed, before the toes touch the floor. Ever since I came across this prayer from the excellent book about traditional Jewish prayer, movement, and meditation Minding the Temple of the Soul, I have been praying it as prescribed.

According to this book, the
Code of Jewish Law explains "when a person is asleep, the holy soul departs from his body." I have always asked myself what the soul does when I am asleep. Does God take it to be cleansed, repaired, schooled, taken on field trips complete with roller coaster rides and cotton candies just like a granddad would?

And yesterday, after teaching a Practicing Yoga with Sacred Poetry (by Rumi, Hafiz, and Gibran), I learned another prayer from another book while climbing stairs (
Yoga Barn, where I led the workshop, has a flight of stairs): O God, may every step I make take me closer to you. I am confident that it is possible to pray unceasingly. All the time. In all ways.

How about you? How else can you fill your day with prayer in relation to your activities?

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.

-from Psalm 104


O God, Where art Thou?

Do not disdain your body
for the soul is just as safe
in its body as in the
kingdom of God.

-Mechtilde of Magdeburg

But what do you do if you were violated, abused, raped? Trampled on, reduced to trash, betrayed, emotionally and psychologically murdered?

Such is the challenge of this children's hospital chaplain who bought my book and wrote me for help with her 'kids'? Her clientele are adolescents, mostly girls, who were abused. She wanted body prayer poses for her kids but with some warning. She said her kids can not and will not do poses that exposes the chest, that pushes the pelvis forward, that sticks the tail out, that makes them squat, that asks them to lay down either on their backs or on their tummies.

Just imagine moving within that prison cell. If you can call that movement. It is an emotional and psychological straight jacket. It is like being held back by an invisible electric fence. Venture out, and it will be hell. Stay inside, and it is hell. Imagine living like that.

How about you? What are you afraid of? What past experience holds you back from freedom, from dancing out of sync, from singing out of tune? What makes you cry?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
And by night, but find no rest.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
- from Psalm 22 (NRSV)


Dancing with God

You don't have a soul.
You are a soul.
You have a body.
-C S Lewis

Six hours ago, I led a prayer group at the Bothell United Methodist Church. For most of the 14 people who came, it was their first time to include the body in praying. To feel the body in prayer is a gift, an awareness of Christ, the Word Incarnate.

Jesus Christ is God's prayer. Jesus, God's Word, is God's answer to our prayers. The answer to our prayers is God's prayer. This flesh! This blood! These bones! In every cell of my body is God.

This body contains, houses the Beloved One. Within is the answer to all my prayers. Feel it. C'mon. Savor it. Drink it all in. Quench your thirst for Love.

And always remember, never forget who breathes you at this moment. And this moment. And this moment... Then let the Breath, the Spirit, move the body. This way. That way. Just like that. Loose yourself in the dance. And closing your eyes, surrendering, saying Amen... Amen... Amen...

How about you? When did you last dance with God in prayer?

Alleluia! Sing a new song to Yahweh:
his praise in the assembly of the faithful!
Israel shall rejoice in its Maker,
the children of Zion delight in their King;
They shall dance in praise of his name,
play to him on tambourines and harp!

-PSALM 149


You in me, me in You.

But from the beginning of creation,
God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.

-from Matthew 10

"I bow to the Divine in you." That's what the greeting namaste means. And it is said in India, the country of its origin, with both hands together and a slight bow of the head.

I invite you now to bring your hands to the praying position. Feel the left hand together with the right hand... becoming one. With eyes softly closed, bow your head to the Divine in you.

"What God has joined together (you and God), no human being must separate." Once I fool myself that I am separate from that love, which activates fear and judging and anxiety, I suffer.

Therefore, for me, this word and gesture is a symbol of reconciliation, of integration, of union of the opposites. This is what Jesus came here for, and what is being asked of us: reconciliation with God. He came to teach us about love, especially the radical teaching of loving my enemies. Love. The greatest tool of reconciliation. Without love, true union is impossible.

That's how I interpret the passage today from Matthew. I am asked to bring union and harmony wherever I go. To be an instrument of love, of joy, of peace. To be with God.

How about you? Where can you bring reconciliation, harmony, wholeness, oneness, in your life now? What is one small, simple, doable step can you take right now toward that goal?

Here's a simple breath prayer:
Be still and quiet and be aware of the presence of God around and within you.
Inhaling, quietly say "You are in me,"
Exhaling, say "I am in you."
Repeat as much as you want.

"As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us,
so that the world may believe
that you have sent me."
- John 17


Angels among us

Remember always to welcome strangers,
for by doing this,
some people have entertained angels
without knowing it.
-Hebrews 13:2

Easier said than done. Easier to accept the strange, the oddity, the abnormal, the out of the ordinary, when they are on TV, or online, or in the news, or at our neighbor's door. But as soon as they knock on our doors, maybe our hearts harden, suddenly paralyzed and tongue-tied, looking for an excuse to close the door.

What do you do if your husband told you he has prostate cancer, lost his job, or wants a divorce? What if your son tells you he is gay or a member of a hate group? What if you found out your daughter is a prostitute to support her meth addiction?

How welcoming will you be when you are face to face with these issues? Would you be able to do what you would advise a friend, a neighbor, when they are experiencing these strangeness? Can you keep your heart open in hell?

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,

and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

-Psalm 34


Wakan Tonka

Great Spirit, help me never to judge another
until I have walked in his moccasins.
-Sioux Indian Prayer

Wakan Tonka. That is "Heavenly Father" in Sioux language as told to me by Marlon Red Elk. He is a tall, 50-ish Sioux Indian I met at Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn , Washington when my wife and daughter and friends went to see a show. A kind and friendly guy who saw me and asked: How are you doing, young man? I answered, I am doing fine. I am not so young anymore, but thank you. He replied, me either, but I am young at heart.

I found out he dances in full Sioux Indian gear and showed me a photo of his brother in dance costume complete with face paint. I asked him what he wished were different in his Montana reservation. He wished that the community elders just accept the fact that the white men are here to stay. The elders still have a lot of anger in them. But he, Marlon, struck me as a happy, content person who seeks peace. Respectful of the land, he is grateful for what the earth provides.

Every morning, when he wakes up, he faces eastward, and give thanks to the rising sun. He asks rhetorically, How hard is that?

How about you? Can you remember to stay in bed for a few seconds after waking up and be aware of a few breaths then say thanks for a new beginning, a new day, a new life, before your toes touch the floor?

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
-Psalm 100


Ephphatha, be opened.

He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.

-Mark 7

My old ears suffer from tinnitus, and they just don't hear very well. So my hearing is not reliable, to say the least. One time, while watching a car commercial, I heard "and the squirrel is standard option." What squirrel. I asked my wife. She corrected me: spoiler. Squirrel is funnier.

So when I read this gospel, I connected with the cured man's excitement. And yet, I wondered what the symbolism in Jesus opening his ears. Thanks to Father Larry Gillick, SJ. He enlightened me.

The following is excerpted from his Creighton U's Daily Reflection:

The Gospel calls this fellow, “a deaf person”. That is what others called him and so that was his name, his image, his defectiveness. In placing His fingers into the man’s ears, Jesus is asking the man to be open to whom Jesus names him. The challenge before the man then, would be to live that healed name.

Jesus redeems this man more than heals him. This is the work, the laboring, of Jesus to bring all of us out of our deafness, to lives of hearing deeply that to which Jesus asks us to listen. He did all things well, except He cannot force any of us to really listen and allow what we hear to bring us more into full creation. Listening to adjectives by which we define ourselves impedes our ability to hear. We have our own personal fingers in our ears and we can be so accustomed to not listening that we can assume nothing different is being spoken.

How about you? What might you hear if your ears are open to the Voice of the One who calls us to Love, instead of the voice of your willful mind or of your neurotic, fearful ego?

Happy those whose help is Jacob's God, whose hope is in the LORD, their God,The maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, Who keeps faith forever,secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free;the LORD gives sight to the blind. The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

-Ps. 146


Digging Water

The blessings of the four directions upon your soul. I annoint you with the four elements: soil, water, air, fire.

I went digging in the ocean, along the water, through the tide. In one belief system, my sign is water, and in another, air. The line between the two is often blurred, and more often, tenuous. Read the tension of that line between heaven and hell in the story of the great white whale. The sky heavenward; the mystery of cold dark hell below.

The evening was so still, and movement became stillness. Floating on glass, a little above, a little below. The air mingled with water and lifts mist into mystery. My paddle was a water shovel, and the blade slid right in as my shoulder engaged and moved forward. The stillness belied secret movement below, for nothing is without an undercurrent. No thought, no air, no water. There are only silent signals. The silence becomes loud, our breath predominates along drops of water. Flapping wings above, and voices carried over the glass, carried past the trees. The stillness can carry me forward or back, but does not remain still. The undercurrents remind me of breath – that movement is needed. Dip the paddle, sink the blade, pull forward, breathe deep.

Each stroke repeated feels strong,and soon I’m compelled to propel. Reach over, dip, pull, lift. It’s a strange satisfaction to pull through what was once air, and that air I breathe in to move forward, balancing side to side, gliding forward, sailing on.

Quiet nights of quiet stars

Quiet nights of quiet stars quiet chords from my guitar
floating on the silence that surrounds us.

Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams quiet walks by quiet streams
and a window that looks out on the mountains and the sea, oh how lovely

This is where I want to be here with you so close to me
until the final flicker of life's ember.

I who was lost and lonely believing life was only
a bitter tragic joke, have found with you,
the meaning of existence, oh my love

-Antonio Carlos Jobim

Beautiful songs. Beautiful summer night. We were enjoying a concert with Diana Krall at Ste Michele Winery in Woodinville, WA, with my wife and a couple of friends. As Diana sang this song, to the right side of the stage on the ground, was a couple silhouetted by the surrounding lights, dancing as if they were in a ballroom. Then I looked up at the stars. The major stars were visible, the lesser ones overpowered by the bright lights below. They were in a ballroom.

Looking up, my eyes closed, I smiled as the song flowed in the night air through my heart. I am in Love.

As one of my prayer practices, I listened to this song as either me or the Divine singing it to the other. Look at the last 3 lines of the song... that's a contemporary psalm of someone lost and now found, someone blind and now can see, someone dead and now brought back to life.

How about you? What song or poem bring you closer to experiencing the Divine who is always singing to you, serenading you with his love songs?

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.
-from Psalm 19


Seen the Holy One lately?

Be not afraid,
I go before you always.
Come, and follow me.
And I will give you rest.

-John Michael Talbot

What an invitation. So that's how my walk to the grocery store started on this cloudless blue sky sunny day. I wanted the walk to be a prayer, a meditation. A search for the Divine Presence. My eyes were open. My ears listening. All my other senses equally softly alert.

Then there he was... crossing the street to my side of the street, wearing a black t-shirt with what seemed to be an image of crown of thorns with a small cross below it in silver, or white. This young man, holding a water bottle on his right hand, now walking ahead of me was talking on his cell phone. Once in a while he looked back, as if checking up on me.

I saw this young man as the Christ. The cell phone represented his constant communication with the One who sent him. His looking back making sure I'm still on the path, ready to help me get right back on if I strayed. Sometimes we walked in the shade, sometimes in full sun, symbolizing the darkness and the light, the sadness and joy that is the human experience.

How about you? Where have you seen the Sacred One lately? When was the last time you were aware of the Divine Presence outside in the world?

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

-Psalm 139 /nrsv


We are all immigrants seeking asylum.

Now after they had left,
an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,
and remain there until I tell you;
for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’
-Matthew 2:13 (nrsv)

The story above is a perfect illustration of the definition for an emigre: a person who flees from his or her native land because of political conditions.

I know of an immigration attorney. Her clients mostly are ignorant of the ins and outs of immigration laws. Helping these individuals is her love and passion. And she's very good at it. She rarely loses her case. This attorney also has professional challenges that can make a lesser person drop it all and quit. Her faith and family and friends keep her grounded, strong, and determined to get through her difficulties.

I offered an image to her during one of our conversations: of her being an immigrant, and Reality (as she prefers to name the Nameless) as the True Immigration Attorney to help her enter and navigate this new and strange land. That her difficult experiences can be likened to what most of her clients (some are seeking asylum from political persecution in their native land) experience.

The services of an immigration attorney cost a lot of money and time. Seeing myself as that immigrant seeking asylum in God's Kingdom, I have to pay for His services, for the privilege to be in his care, with my life as I know it... I have to 'die in order to live.'

How about you? Jesus said: For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. How would these words affect the way you live right now?

O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
Many are saying, "There is no help for you in God."
But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
May your blessings be on your people!
-from Psalm 3