Posts Tagged ‘Faith



13
May
10

addenda

Seven days ago Adopted Daughter and I came to terms. She spoke to me and I to her. I felt her presence. That evening I went to a Taize prayer service and lit a candle for her, for my sister, for Darling Daughter and for some other souls dear to me. It was a spectacular experience being in that church, bathed in beauty and feeling her presence.

My freedom from acedia lasted 4 days. Sometimes all it takes is for a well meaning person to say something a bit off putting and my whole structure comes tumbling down like a child’s tower of blocks. We call this phenomenon the last straw, or the straw that broke the camel’s back, or…that was just one too many! So that is what happened after 4 acedia-free days: one too many straws and I’m back slogging through the dense underbrush.

For the past 3 days I again feel as though I am moving about in a tent of gauze—layers and layers of gauze. In this gauzy tent I have added 2 more Kathleen Norris books: Amazing Grace and The Virgin of Bennington. I am now starting on The Cloister Walk, her account of becoming a Benedictine Oblate. I am looking for something…an answer to a question I do not know and cannot ask.

I have to balance carefully so that I do not slip off into depression. Now in my 7th decade, having lost more than I care to count, I no longer see an open ended future as I once did—as the young do. I see an ending now and time becomes a gift…no longer taken for granted. One day I will pass to the other side and I think it will be grand. I do not plan to leave any secrets behind—any stones unturned—any opportunities unappreciated, even if unacceptable.

07
May
10

what could have been

I’ve been reading a new book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Ms. Norris is a highly acclaimed poet, and author. All of the words in the title of this book are appealing to me, even the word acedia, and that is because I had no idea what it meant. Acedia, I am told, is a state of spiritual listlessness, sadness, melancholy, apathy, carelessness, and lethargy—a pathway to sloth. Originally an affliction among the monastics and religious, it was considered to have the potential of undermining faith and sensibility. It differs from clinical depression in its spiritual orientation, but can be the precursor of depression.

After the first several chapters I came to see the funk I’ve been in much of the time since adopted daughter’s death, as acedia in varying degrees. This definition stops my free-fall state with a safety net of insight. Like a person ill for years and finally getting a diagnosis that it is not “all in the head”, I feel relief. The book is dense with messages for me on all levels of my life—from aspects of faith life, to matters of creative work, marriage, illness and death, I am infused with new insights to my own shadow side.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ms Norris shares the story of her husband’s illness and death from cancer, and her experience as sole caregiver, that got my heartfelt attention. I identify. That’s me in both places: cancer patient and caregiver. Her account of care giving, both during her husband’s illness and after his death speak loudly to me. I’ve been there. I know. I’m still there.

It has been 9 weeks since adopted daughter died. Not really that long in grieving terms, but my grief has a twist to it. As executors of the estate and caretakers of all things left behind, we have been stunned to find shelves and shelves of her life that she did not share with us—did not share with anyone. In fact, we see that she lived her life in serial compartments, like an old-fashioned rolltop desk. There is a quotation my mother would offer about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This could be applied. The problem is that the original comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:3) and is a moral directive to giving, not hiding.

What I have seen is a person I loved dearly enough to call daughter, who didn’t trust me, or anyone else enough to confide the many truths of her life that would have made the executing of her estate a far less messy and painful affair. But more than this consideration is that the love and trust she did give me was the best she could do. That says volumes. Hidden until the end. Every time she called me mamacita, she did so with the half she felt would not be rejected. “I would have loved you anyway’, I say to her memory. ‘I would have loved you and helped you make the crooked as straight as possible in the few days and weeks that were left”. If she were anyone else, I would be speaking philosophically and with a bit of distance, but because I took her as a daughter, I speak with the pain of not having been able to do all I know I could have done for her. This is a tragedy to me. Although I witnessed God’s redeeming forgiveness to her in those last few days, and know Grace was given completely, I feel a mourning for what was left out between us. I would have liked to give her the human forgiveness she was sure she didn’t deserve. But maybe in her morphine altered days, she knew it was there, and maybe she made that transaction in the shadows of her heart and soul…maybe that’s what I saw in her face as I administered the meds hour after hour with more tender love than I thought I had in me to give.

So what is the problem? Why does acedia haunt me like a child playing hide and seek in dress-up clothes? I don’t know. I am beginning to think that acceptance, letting go, and letting be is my spiritual discipline forevermore.

I hoped that by the time I finished writing this post I would have pushed through acedia, at least for a time. The estate is not yet settled and my personal sense of mourning for what could have been is not over. I do not have the sense of adopted daughter’s presence as I did with my sister after she died. I cannot explain this except to say that she never allowed herself to belong to anyone. Despite her promise to learn to hover in our lives, she does not. Perhaps there is a learning curve in the afterlife. Perhaps we are connected by this curve…she over there and me over here. Perhaps there will be a happy ending when my soul finally floats free.

Postscript: The deceptions we keep in our lifetimes may very well come to light after the funeral when there is little that can be done to alter them in any way.

25
Mar
10

birds would walk

I heard an ornithologist say in a documentary program, that birds would walk if they could. That’s how he explained the ostrich and the penguins and the 40 some species of other flightless birds. He said that most of them have evolved in the absence of predators. Hmm, I wonder about this. Why would a bird give up that incredible gift of flying? Why not keep flying on the back burner as a fun thing to do every now and again, just for the heck of it? Evolution, he said.

Well, I envy the birds who fly and fly and fly. I am a bird—clearly evolved past flying—yet something I feel/imagine. My bones, though small, are way too heavy to fly, and yet I think that I should be able to do so. I fly in spirit. Right now, my wings are wet and heavy with grief, so I only make circles low to the ground.

I have entered a time of life when losses seem to be piling up all around me. But still I fly…maybe not so high, maybe not so joyfully, maybe not so vigorously…probably more mournfully than not. But God has provided some angels to walk with me. Each one strokes and dries a different feather. I need all these angels and am grateful for them, even if I don’t seem to sound that way. One of these angels gave me a book that I often read at night. Last night I found this poem. Listen:

THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH

I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,

and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
the forests.

I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
world.

For so many faces do that–
cage us.

The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or

a glance void
of love.

I wanted to live in that cloister of
light’s silence

because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.

St. Catherine of Siena (translated by Daniel Ladinsky from his book, Love Poems from God.

13
Mar
10

one week later

Saturday, March 13, 2010  —  I wake up to a dream I don’t remember, but feel sad and helpless.

One week ago adopted daughter, Bettina Ortiz, died at 2:15 p.m. with her nurse and adopted family around her (see Holiness, March 9). She had slipped into a coma during the night. I had been in a psycho/emotional coma equally as long and longer. We did this together. It was a natural ending to the team work of Tina and Mamacita. Yesterday her ashes arrived in the bronze container I chose, and she approved, on the preceding Wednesday. This engraved, bronze box is now sitting on the floor where her bed used to be…next to my sculpture called Innocents, for the victims of 9/11. The box will stay right where it is until I can think about what to do next. She said I could do anything I wanted with the ashes, but that she wanted Frankie’s ashes added to hers. (Frank was our nearly 20 year old cat who slept with her toward the end, but died two weeks before she did.) We will do that…later. Today we tend to unraveling and settling the affairs of her estate.

My unremembered dream stays with me as sadness. A recording of Jacqueline Du Pre  playing Haydn and Boccherini pours out from the living room. This is music I listened to and lived with while I was sick with cancer in 2006, just across the street from adopted daughter…also sick with cancer.

All this week Richard Rohr’s email meditations dealt with Suffering. Today the meditation is adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25:

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all must “die before they die.” Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as “whenever you are not in control.”

If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust.

If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somewhere in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again.  The soul just wants meaning, and then it can live.

And he leaves us with this Mantra: “God, help me find you, even in suffering.”

24
Feb
10

forgiveness 70 x 7

Last Sunday, we all went back to our former church to support adopted daughter in her desire to address the congregation on the importance of maintaining loving relationships above disagreement. We brought her in a wheel chair with portable oxygen and still the effort was physically considerable for her. I don’t completely  know where this desire has its genesis in her own 48 years. I don’t completely know because AD is a very private person. She does not talk extensively about her feelings in connection with her life growing up in an extended family of wealthy immigrants. I have heard stories, and I know the recent past, but there is not a lot of connection along the emotional road from there to here. And curiously enough…I am a confidante.

So I don’t know all that went in to this effort to speak to the congregation and I don’t understand her request for forgiveness, but it seemed to resonate with some of the people there. The pastor responded by asking forgiveness in behalf of the congregation. I have no way of knowing how the congregation felt about that, but it was an important step for the pastor to take. It was a very dramatic and meaningful time. Ad is now quite exhausted by the effort and I am wandering along the path, not quite with it and not quite without. While 99% were glad to see and receive AD, not everyone was glad to see Big Dawg and me—probably most, but certainly not everyone.

We knew that would be the case going in, and were especially aware when sitting directly across from us was person X,  whose dark and grim demeanor was much the same as it had been a year ago, on Pentecost Sunday, 2009. That was the day the congregation exploded, giving us a clear and painful message that we were not to be included into membership. Not only was X’s demeanor the same, but  X was sitting in just about the same proximity to us as last year! It was eerie and unsettling, but we persevered. Just before AD was wheeled up to the front of the church to speak, person X got up and left the sanctuary. I found this action abruptly rude, careless, egoistic at best and a slap in the face of the Body of Christ at worst.

I did not think about this incident until late in the day when I could put aside my public persona and be at home. The incident began to haunt me as memories of the past year flooded my heart and mind, giving free rise to my autonomic nervous system’s response to remembered pain and agony. We had become scapegoats at that church for nine months. Although I’d come closer to God through that suffering, it was at times extremely painful, bringing up childhood experiences of rejection as well as a string of adult experiences. The forgiveness I’d come to in the past several months was being tested and I was teetering on the brink of despair and self-loathing for about  36 hours—teetering and nearly falling from acceptance of God’s love. I could only breathe YHWH and let the Spirit intercede (Romans 8). By Tuesday, I was climbing back up the ladder and leaving goats behind. Today I find this passage in Richard Rohr’s meditation  (February 24) and it helps me put persons like X, as well as goats, in perspective:

We have always needed to find a way to deal with human anxiety and evil by some means—and it was invariably some practice other than forgiveness or healing. We usually dealt with human anxiety and evil by sacrificial systems of some sort, and that has largely continued to this day. (Exclusion, torture, war, segregation, class division, prejudice, and racism would be its common forms.)

Historically, we moved from human sacrifice, to animal sacrifice, to various modes of seeming self-sacrifice. But even in self-sacrifice, it was not usually the ego self that we sacrificed, but most often the material self as its vicarious substitute. The physical body became our usual scapegoat instead of the real problem which was the ego—a rather clever game of smoke and mirrors. Meanwhile the ego has remained “scot free” and off the hook for most of Christian history, even at the highest levels of church.

Whether you agree with Rohr’s analysis wholly, in part, or not at all is not my concern. What is important to me today is that …the rivers did not overwhelm me and I was not burned.

31
Dec
09

dying and caring

Yesterday, Adopted Daughter talked about her illness, her thoughts about the immediate future and the way in which she wants to ease into her dying days. It was a sobering talk…not long and not short…just about right for managing to mostly stay in-the-now. We are walking together toward an end that will receive her breath, and for a time will encapsulate mine. I have just commemorated my sister’s passing. I am ready, but for the longing to say: “No…not now, not yet!” But we know it is coming…we cancer people know the signs before others do. We know and quickly learn to savor each day. I hope I am not making it sound easy, because it is not.

Last night I also learned how deeply my Darling Daughter suffers from wounds inflicted so early in her life that she doesn’t have recall. But I do…I was there and I have been waiting for decades for confession and forgiveness. Now that perhaps it may happen in the coming year, I am breathless with hope and fear—fear of overload. Although the river has risen high enough to enter my throat at times, I have not swallowed nor drowned.

Learning Trust: I am becoming a receptacle…a wine skin, if you will, and there’s a strange sense of peace in that. In my best moments, I am a receiver of the Spirit through Christ, and through many others who have gone before. Because of this, I can also be a channel for the Spirit: Legacy – Inheritance.

AD and I are reading Henri Nouwen’s, Our Greatest Gift, A Meditation on Dying and Caring for a class our church will host in a few weeks. She and I will go together and learn how best to walk this walk in the company of Sisters and Brothers. We are both student’s in God’s classroom. Nevertheless, I confess to feeling best when she is here in the house with me, whether sleeping, waking, working, reading—whatever. I have two daughters, one biological and one “adopted.”  One is slowly dying and the other slowly living. The wheel turns and we with it.

24
Dec
09

christmas eve

It is late afternoon on Christmas Eve and all through the house not a person is stirring, not even a cat. The laundry is done and folded with care in hopes that my loved ones will have something to wear.

Ah, the memories of childhood…that advent of wonder. The sacred world begins to turn a new page on the first Sunday of Advent each year. As a child, I didn’t know that  Christmas was more than Santa, presents, family and fun.  I love Advent from start to finish. It’s just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that bring a lump to my throat. Family, you know.

Yesterday I marked the first year anniversary of my oldest sister’s death from lymphoma. She was a mother/sister and a cancer buddy to me. A week ago, I learned that my adopted daughter’s cancer has returned. She and I are also cancer buddies—she having been diagnosed two months after me in 2006. She’s has three recurrences in three years, while I spent the past three years recovering and achieving remission. The past week has been full of challenges, both painfully sad and amazingly joyous. I am thankful for God’s grace and the love of friends. This small, chosen family of ours is standing in the wind…holding on tight, even as we let go, as we must…as we all eventually must.

I will write more about this as we go. Right now, it’s time make merry. It’s Christmas! And at midnight, even the animals speak!




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