I just came back from a retreat given by my Oblate Director, Sr Lucy Wynkoop at St Placid Priory. It focused on Joan Chittister's Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light. It's an ABC of "qualities the world's most ancient of seekers say are the components of a contemplative life."
Sr Lucy chose ten qualities and enriched the discussion by including glorious illuminations from the magnificent St John's Bible. One of the qualities discussed was Silence which I chose for my assignment. With a quote from the book, I painted a watercolor portrait of Sr Redempta of Tanzania who is a guest at the Priory while she is studying at nearby St Martin's College.
The calligraphy on the portrait says:
Silence: It is the void in which God and I meet in the center of my soul.
Where in nature do you find sacred silence? How do you access that in yourself?What benefits might one get from practicing silence in this noisy world?
I was also tasked to offer body prayers for each quality. Let me share with you the movements we used for Silence. I used Sh'ma from the Torah which means (I liberally paraphrase Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit, from SDI's Newsletter Listen, 3.2) the final exhale as we go back to the Source of All Breath:
Standing on holy ground, prayer hands on chest, we say:
(the sound of silence, of quieting the mind so we can hear the still, small voice within)
Open the arms, we intone:
(the sound of contentment, of having enough, of abundance...)
Bending forward, as we say:
(the universal sound of surrender, of letting go, of release into the unknown...)
For all we know we may never meet again
Before you go make this moment sweet again
We wont say good night until the last minute
I'll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it
For all we know this may only be a dream
We come and go like a ripple on a stream
So love me tonight; tomorrow was made for some
Tomorrow may never come for all we know
(artist: nat king cole; words by sam m. lewis; music by j. fred coots)
It was a rich day today. So many gifts, so many blessings. I went to look at eyeglass frames and Nancy who waited on me mentioned that she reads poetry. I asked, your poetry? She said yes proudly. As we were looking at frames, she asked me if I would like to hear one. Of course I said yes. Nancy has great big eyes, an expressive face and an expressive way of talking. She wears quirky accessories on her hair. Great large bead necklace. But like a beautifully composed poem, they looked perfect on her.
So she recited her poem. Imagery-filled, and with her calculated pauses, I 'saw' in my mind's 'screen' the movie of her poem. About 2 lovers escaping to the woods and discovering themselves as they explore the forest. She used common words, but she used those words like a great chef would cook a gourmet meal with whatever is in the refrigerator. In short, it was a treat listening to her poem.
On my way to teaching my yoga class, I was listening to Donny Hathaway and this song, For All We Know, came on. Wow. We may never meet again. Tomorrow may never come for all we know. Yes. My lectio practice kicked in again. What are you telling me, my God? How do I listen to these words? What is your invitation?
So after the yoga class, I shared my experience with this song. And as one they all said, stop talking nonsense, Roy. I shared the invitation within the song: that we don't know what happens next. Nothing stays the same. This too shall pass.
Therefore, be fully, totally, utterly, completely here now. Be rooted in goodness, kindness, and truth. Be truly present to what I am attending to. Be truly open for anything, and have the ears of the heart ready to receive God's voice. For tomorrow may never come. For all we know.
How about you: What is your relationship with the idea of death? Are you ready to let go and be with God? What needs to die in you, right now, to experience the kingdom of heaven within?
(from PSALM 90:12)
O Lord, our God,
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
The best way to get rid of temptation
is to surrender to it.
It was a crazy busy day today at the office. Emails flying, phone ringing off the hook due to a deadline the next day. I found myself focusing on my exhale. I guess my exhales were becoming audible enough for my next cube neighbor to hear. She told me when she hears me breathing like that, she knows I am under a lot pressure. She's the project production manager. She also warned me that the client I am working with had been called Tasmanian devil. She even labeled her "chaos incarnate." The client, sure enough, told me she thrives on chaos. This client has been known to belittle people, even scream at them in public.
Fortunately, I was spared the force of the client's dark side. We even had a laugh once during a phone call. Focusing on the exhale, the breath of letting go, served me well. I resisted the temptation of thinking about the client as a difficult, disrespectful dictator. I focused on doing the best job I can without the distracting stories. It turned out good. The client's deputy manager emailed and said it was a joy working with me and my team and that we set the gold standard. Ahhh, how sweet it is.
Talking about sweet: I quit on sugar for Lent, in addition to TV. I have been successful. But two nights ago my daughter decided to bake chocolate chip cookies and banana bread with chocolate chips. The next day, I worked from home, and these cookies and bread were all spread out on the dining table. But I was able to resist.
Then after dinner, she sliced the bread and offered me a bite. After the second offer, I gave in and took a bite-size piece. I made that piece last, like it's the last time for me to taste something like this. And it was goooood. It must have taken me about 15-20 minutes to finish it. Every morsel was intense with sweetness. Every texture was noted. Every swallow was slow and luxurious. And, I surprised myself! I didn't ask for more.
Temptations abound in daily life. The temptation to eat what is unhealthy, to say what is unnecessary, to act disrespectfully, and more. In what ways do you resist temptation? What prayer do you say when faced with temptation?
This prayer, from St Benedict's medal, is one of my favorite in fighting temptation. I love reciting it in Latin. It sounds juicier, more powerful, when said in Latin. -
Okay. I am working from home. I was in the middle of creating an illustration of the before and after of a fish passageway. I was having fun. I even pumped my fist and shouted "Yes! Woohoo!" when I finally broke through a visual problem.
I paused and began admiring my work, mentally patting my back. Then a Church song sprung in my head:
Glory to you,
O Word of God,
Lord, Jesus Christ...
What does one do when God interrupts? Well, I stopped and chanted those words for a minute or so until it faded, and I just sat there in silence aware of the Divine Presence.
What did I learn from that experience? To give thanks always for our daily bread is delivered every moment without fail.
How about you? When did God interrupt your chore, your job, your busyness? How did you respond?
For he is our God
And we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if you hear his voice,
Harden not your hearts.
The divine in me
Bows to the divine in you.
- common definition of Namaste
As I walked today, I saw flowers springing up, waking up, thirsty for light after a long darkness. Daffodils aren't usually out yet, but on this particular sidewalk, there it is: one lone daffodil, with its head bowing almost touching the concrete, at the end of its blooming days.
Somehow I saw this daffodil bowing and saying "Namaste." And I said "Namaste" back with a short pause and a bow. I smiled as I walked on.
In my meditation class, we practice a short slow walking meditation. At the end of the walk and we reach our places, we stop and bring hands to prayer pose, bow deeply to each other as we say "Namaste." This is to remind each of us that the divine dwells in each of us. Reminded of that, how can I hate and fear you, and wish and do and say hurtful things to you.
Here's Ram Dass' beautiful definition of Namaste -
"I honor the place in you
in which the entire Universe dwells.
I honor the place in you
which is of love,
and of peace.
When you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
We are One."
Love consists in this:
That two solitudes protect, and touch,
And greet each other.
- R I L K E
A soul friend of mine had a rough 3 months. After 20 years of marriage, she was kicked out by her husband. I am not much for details, but my friend is a good human being. I'll vouch for her. I can't say much more about her to protect her identity. So, please trust me that she didn't deserve the undignified way her marriage ended. No one does.
Fast forward to today. We had lunch. When I saw her walking down the street toward me as I wait outside the restaurant, she was smiling and with a little spring on her walk. We entered the restaurant and were led to our seats. We ordered identical tomato and basil soup with a side of baby greens and mandarin with raspberry dressing. After some brainstorming on a project we are working on, we went down to personal business.
"Guess what! I found someone on match.com!" She freaked out when she received the guy's email saying he read the same books she read and is in love with the way she uses words. The guy even told himself that "if I find someone with your bio, I would think I must have died and went to heaven." My 60-year old friend was telling me this like she's 16! She was having stomach cramps, and a little headache. She was meeting this guy at 4pm. It was now 2:30! She was giddy. She wasn't sleeping very much in the past two nights. She wanted to be at the meeting place early to calm down. I hugged the teenager goodbye and wished her luck. She blew me a kiss as she drove by.
This was how it felt when I became aware of my first God-moments. Those were moments when I felt the Divine Presence so strong it sends chills down my spine. The first one was as I was meditating on a daffodil and I burst out crying because my whole being did not have a response to the exuberant yellow openness of this daffodil! One time it was a sunset and I had to pullover to the side to just look - on the opposite side! Not were the setting sun is but on where the fading sunlight is resting. Or, just recently, an email with the words "Why are you angry?" and what I felt was gentleness and compassion instead of bulging eyes and a finger jabbing at my chest. These God-moments fire me up, and give me fuel for this journey.
How about you? How did you feel when you first met your match? What God-moments stoke the fire in your heart?
O God of Light-
You are the fire
I am the match.
You hide in me
Then you strike me
And I am on fire.
Create in me a clean heart, O Lord,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
He looked like Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I sat down in front of him and he caught my hands into his large warm smooth soft hands. Our knees touching, he leaned forward with that gentle grin. His face is so smooth, so open. He squeezed my hands, leaned a little bit more toward me, inviting me to do the same. So my face was just about an inch from his. I had complete trust in him. And I began... Bless me, Father, for I have sinned...
I spilled it. Mostly it's about thoughts. Thoughts that come without warning, without invitation. I asked Captain Picard what to do when these unsavory characters in my mind come running around in my space, like a home invasion. Like a Buddhist monk with a Christian spin, he said: We can not control our thoughts, when and how and what. But when we become aware of it, and we turn away, we give thanks to our God. You are forgiven. Just you being here took a lot of courage. You are blessed to be here. And he placed his large hands on my head and said his blessing. And, wow, I was tingling from my head to my toes.
You can't know how clean I felt. Like a spring rain in the forest. I felt so brand new, so light. As if it's alright to face the world. I am not hiding anything from anyone because I am forgiven. I heard it. I felt it.
A new and right spirit is now within me.
A clean heart you created in me.
My soul dances to your song.
Your light lifts me to your Love.
So wildflowers will come up where you are.
You've been stony for so many years.
Try something different.
Millions of people love Rumi as I do. Now this particular writing hits the spot. Since I started practicing yoga, which led to the exploration of and the practice of meditation and prayer, my heart has softened. Now I am getting greedy, I suppose. I want more of this yearning for a spacious, open heart. I want to know how it feels to have the heart of a St Francis, of St Benedict, of Mother Teresa, of Thomas Merton. I want to know how it feels to have such a heart and observe how I would act, talk, walk, think, discern, see, touch, eat, sleep, and wake up. I want to know what they hear in silence, what they see in darkness, what they feel during fearful times. I want to experience the compassion they feel for others.
I want to be like them. I want to be a saint like them. Not the canonized saints of the Vatican, but the simple, humble, human saint-ness of these beings of light. I want to be loving without asking for anything in return, without wanting to own what I love. I want to be in love all the time with everyone, without holding back, without reservation.
I know this is not impossible because thousands of saints and mystics in all spiritual traditions have done it. It is bold to say this, but I feel and hear the call of the saints and the mystics: Come, sit with us. We'd love to have you here.
What's the call you hear in the quiet spaces between your thoughts? When you close your eyes, and aware of your inhale and your exhale, can you hear the call coming from deep in your heart?
(from Psalm 139)
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
"I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it." -Jesus
This is the phrase that jumped out to me in today's Gospel reading. And he continues: Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth passes away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
I ruminate on that phrase and why it called me. The questions that came up: What have I come to fulfill, to accomplish? What am I here for? What is my Job "until all things have taken place"?
I have a spiritual director friend, my anam cara really, who is crazy in love with her ministry of companioning those seeking spiritual fellowship. She cries with them, laughs with them. She cares for them like Jesus cared for the little children. She sees the beauty in the soul of each of her directees. She has more than 12 directees now. And she's blessed not to need to be paid, which she says makes for a cleaner and purer session. She is, as she says, is quietly joyful. And I bet that feeling comes from the fulfillment of the Job she's meant to do until all things have taken place.
For me, I get my kick when I teach yoga. Especially at the YMCA. Most die-hard yogis and yoginis look down on gym yoga. But there are yoga teachers in those gyms who teach from the heart, who teach a holistic way of movement: a movement that involves the whole being. I do. The YMCA crowd seems more like the crowd that gathered to hear the Sermon on the Mount. (No! I don't see myself as the Teacher.) Like that crowd, the Y folks are from different walks of life. All body shapes and sizes, all ages. They come in with sweats or baggy pants or whatever they wear when they go to Taco Bell. Some also come in like regular die-hard yogis in spandex and other cool yoga gear. But they are there to soak it all in, at least in my classes. And I love them to death, as my anam cara, like they are my children.
This is part of my Job to fulfill with all my heart, with my whole being. This is how I am able to bring them the good news that they are loved and that they are lovable beings no matter what anyone says. My book fulfills this Job too. It's becoming clearer that my ministry is to help others bring the body, the mind, the heart, and the soul together, as one, to praise, give thanks, and rejoice always in Him, with Him and through Him.
What is yours to fulfill until all things have taken place? What do you need to do what you love, what your heart calls you to do?
Oremus/Let us pray:
Sitting or standing, hands together on your heart, knowing you are on holy ground:
May I think, say, and do your will, O God-
Inhale and lift your chest, arms down:
Arms to a "T" as you exhale:
Inhale, arms stretched upward:
Exhale and bring hands flat to your chest and bow:
In the unity of the Spirit of Love-
Inhale and spread your arms wide:
All glory and honor is yours Almighty God-
Exhale and bring palms together to your heart and bow the head:
Forever and ever.
What's in front?
So why do we kill,
Why do we harm each other?
Why do we cheat and lie,
Why do we fear each other?
What's up with that?
Here's a body prayer session from my book, based on Psalm 139. This is for you, Ronna.
Stand, feet wide and arms spread, inhale and lift up your heart, and say:
O God, you know when I am happy.
Slowly, as you exhale, sag your body down, drained of life:
You know it when I am in the gutter.
Inhaling, step one foot forward and lift both hands to a lunge:
You know well the choices I make,
Exhale and bring your hands toward your front foot, and say:
And the paths they lead to.
Bring your feet hip width apart, inhale and raise up your arms:
Your thoughts go beyond my reach.
Exhaling, flex your knees and reach down and let your head dangle freely:
Your depth beyond all thoughts.
Coming down to your belly, inhale, lift up your head and chest, and look up:
I open my eyes and there you are.
Push your self up and bring your hips to your heels and your head to the floor:
I look inward and there you are.
Come to a sitting position and raise your arms and give thanks:
Thanks for your wonderful gifts.
Lie down on your back, spread your feet and arms and smile:
Because of you, I am wonder!
Then sitting in a comfortable position, be still and silent with the Divine Presence. Just breathing in what is life-giving, and breathing out what is life-draining. Stay as long as you like. +
You have made a lot of people happy during your lifetime. It's now up to us, those you have touched, to continue what you've started.
Long live Ronna!
After finishing a job, around 7:15 tonight, I went to the hospice to visit Ronna. (see the Any Day Now post). I was signing in and told the receptionist that I can't remember her room number. She looked her up, and said, let me call someone. I am just volunteering tonight. I heard her on the phone. She explained that a friend is looking for Ronna who is supposed to be in Room 7. At that moment, I knew. Of course they wouldn't give me any detail. I am not family. I understood.
I asked if there is a chapel or a quiet room where I can sit for awhile. I was shown the Reflection Room. I sat there. I felt my body surrender to the chair. I felt the weight of this body, held up by the chair. My arms are on the arm rest, my back supported by the back rest. My legs spilling out onto the floor, my knees separate, my feet on their outer edge. I was slumped. Like I died sitting. I connected with Ronna. I felt her presence. And I was taken back to Tuesday when I visited her.
I remember how I said goodbye. I went to her left side of the bed. With my left hand, I touched her right arm laying on her left arm. My right hand was on her hair. I let her feel my presence, and I think she moved to let me know she felt me. A couple of minutes later, I cupped her head and I kissed her forehead. And I said, I might not see you again, Ronna. Goodbye.
Slowly, I walked out of the room, with a heavy heart. It took a while before I was able to drive out of the parking lot. Like tonight.
There is a Portuguese word, SAUDADE (sow-DAH-deh), that is one of the hardest to translate to English. An oblate friend blessed me with this word last Sunday. Saudade. Here's how she beautifully defined it : SAUDADE is the feeling of simultaneous pain and joy at the memory of someone or something loved that is now lost or gone. It is pain because of the loss; it is joy because of the love. Brazilians would say that there is never one without the other and that the only way to be truly human (i.e., to love) is to be willing to enter into the pain. Thus much Brazilian music, poetry, literature is about Saudade - the joy of pain. So Brazilians seek to remember even (especially) when the memories bring pain, because to forget is truly to lose that which was loved; it is willingness to bear the cost of pain in order to love.
The Portuguese "Eu sinto muitas saudades de você" is roughly translated I miss you too much.
I will miss you, Ronna.
I will miss your excited voice
when you tell stories.
I will miss the way you look
straight into my eyes
when you speak to me,
when I speak to you.
I will miss your attention,
and your appreciation,
of who I am.
But I will not miss your spirit.
You are with me always,
here in my heart
where I can always say,
May you be happy.
May you be at peace.
May you be singing and dancing
With all the saints and angels
As they praise our Beloved One
Forever and ever.
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt - marvellous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
by Times Alone
Benedictine spirituality blessed me with a way of prayer that has become a way of listening and reading for me. It's called lectio divina, or divine reading, sometimes called holy listening, usually applied to the Holy Bible. But after practicing for so long, it has become lectio on life. That life is holy and everything I see is an embodiment of God's love for us.
So Mr Machado's poem inevitably brought me to lectio mode. In lectio, one keeps watch for a word or phrase that 'shimmers', that calls your attention. 'Beehive here inside my heart' was that phrase for me tonight. I visualize it. I see and hear busyness in my heart. The buzzing of the bees makes it difficult for me to discern what my heart is really saying to me. It was like having tinnitus in the ear of my heart... There's the marketing of my prayer book. There's missing my anam cara's poems and singing. There's Ronna's impending death. There's my observance of Lent. There's anger at the greed and the suffering it caused all over the world and my impotence to help those in pain. There's the delight in being alone, in prayer, in meditation. Busy indeed.
So I do some heart-opening poses to be with my heart. Then I sit with the Divine Presence. After a few deep breaths, I settle in. My shoulders move down away from the ears, my palms relax toward the pads of my fingertips. My spine straight but rising like a palm tree from the sacrum. After a few minutes of observing the grounding effect of the outbreaths and holding it for a while, my tears decide to flow. I let it flow for a while. And I sat there, delighting in the sitting in the presence of the Divine. I give thanks.
I read the poem again, and this time, what caught my eyes is the phrase 'And the golden bees are making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.' I smile. Because I have made so many mistakes. Some in the long past. Some recently. Some just a few days ago. That is why my bees are busy.
It also reminds me of a passage in Psalm 30 -
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
You have taken my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever.
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Ronna was a few days pregnant with Cole when I met her in 2000. I was teaching prenatal yoga. Yes, I taught prenatal yoga. A guy surrounded by beautiful beings with beautiful beings inside them. How close can you get to the Divine?
She attended as part of the prenatal program at Evergreen Hospital. Immediately one is struck by the stature of this lady. Tall, beautiful, with strong yet kind and soft facial features. We immediately liked each other. She liked the words I said during the poses, and she connected with the guided visualizations during meditation. I liked her for the wisdom in her sharing and the authority in her stance. You don't mess with Ronna. But it was obvious she has a heart as spacious as the universe. The image I have of her is of Wonder Woman with her arms on her hips, feet rooted where she stands, but of course, her heart wide open.
During the years, she came to my classes, always complimenting my way of teaching yoga. She was my most vocal fan! Her lively spirit almost hid the cancer cells wreaking havoc in her body.
Fast forward to today. Because of cervical cancer, her health deteriorated. Not without a fight from Wonder Woman. But nature wins most of the time. I saw her today at the Evergreen Hospice Center. What I saw almost floored me. Because she hasn't been eating for the last 12 days, she was reduced to skin and bones. She was sleeping when I came. Eyes half closed, mouth open, breathing in heavily, and after breathing out comes a very long pause. I let my hand rest on her hand. She is warm.
She'll leave behind a loving husband and 8-year old Cole, whom she loved to death.
Now, I feel sadness, mixed with a little anger. Sadness because a life of joy, hope, optimism, wisdom, and giving is coming to an end. One inspirational being on earth gone. She touched so many lives in the most beautiful, most loving way. A little anger for Cole to not have the other beautiful half of his developing years.
I also feel joy. For my life to be graced by someone like Ronna is like being visited by an angel of God. How else to describe it? How did I deserve to be visited by a radiant being like Ronna?
I want to come back soon to see her awake. I want to see those eyes talk again. I want to hear her voice one last time. I want to feel her strength through a weak squeeze of her hand. I want to say goodbye to someone I love. And if possible, to be there when she says goodbye with her last exhale.
For you, dear Ronna, the Ancient Psalmist prays:
"I will both lie down and rest in peace;
For you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety."
From all those you touched with your verve, with your passion for life-
We love you.
For a few days now, I have been feeling a sadness and a fear the source of which I couldn't pinpoint. Now I know.
Mrs Judith Guion was my daughter's grade-school Teacher in the talented and Gifted Program at school. That was almost 12 years ago. She's at hospice care now, and dying of cancer. She is one of my daughter's favorite teacher. Definitely an inspiration for her. And we had so much respect for her. I found out about her condition yesterday.
Now my good friend, Ronna, is dying. Only a matter of days from now. Her husband emailed me just a few minutes ago. Ronna, another grade-school teacher, is one of my earliest pre-natal yoga students who enjoyed my style. She complimented me publicly it was almost embarrassing. She appreciated who I am and what I brought into her life. She boosted my confidence when I was just starting. We loved being together in class. She's tall, and powerful, and authoritative. Visualize "Wonder Woman" standing with feet shoulder width apart with hands on her hips and you have an accurate image of her.
O God of Life,
Why are you taking these good people away?
Mrs Judith Guion, and now Ronna Thomas!
These two touched so many lives
as teachers and as friends.
They spread your gospel of Love, my God.
They were your messengers of Love.
Help me to be like them.
May others be inspired to live like them.
Let their spirits live on.
O God of Eternal Life-
Make their passage and transition to true life
Be as joyful as their way of being.
Let them feel no pain and suffering,
Just your love and comforting presence.
Let them breathe with peace and calm,
Let them greet you smiling and filled with love.
You will call their names tenderly like a lover would, O God.
Hold their hands as they say goodbye to their loved ones.
As they finally come home to you, my Lord and my God.
This morning, my wife and I walked to Home Depot to look at doors. Our front door needs to be replaced. At the entrance to the parking lot of Home Depot, we saw two Hispanics waiting to be hired for any job. When we finished looking at doors, they were still there. Still jobless. It was noon by then.
As Annie and I walked home, because of my practice of lectio divina (Latin for holy reading, the monastic way of reading Scripture), I asked myself what is God showing me here? What's the wisdom, the teaching here? What am I invited to do?
And Jesus, as he was teaching the Apostles how to pray, saying "Give us this daily bread" came to mind. Those two guys, exposed to the cold, were embodying that phrase from the Lord's prayer, "Please, someone hire us, that we may have something to eat." While most of the time I eat unmindfully, forgetting that every 4 seconds or so, someone in the world dies from hunger. That's every time I inhale a person dies. Every time I exhale, someone dies from hunger. That's atrocious.
So what is God inviting me to do? First of all, to be mindful of how and what I eat and how it affects my health. To give thanks to God, and to be thankful to everyone (farmers, harvesters, truckers, grocers, my employer) and the universe (sun, rain, earthworms, soil, air) for bringing this food to my table. I also started teaching Yoga for Hopelink at Studio Be in Kirkland, WA, every first and third Sundays of the month from 7 to 8:30pm to benefit Hopelink.
May all we do, think, and say, be for Love.