Posts Tagged ‘Transitions



25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

And a little child shall lead them….

04
Nov
10

update and post script

My posts have been few and far between for a while now. I have been on a journey and not through yet, but thought I’d just try to bring this blog somewhat up to date before doing so becomes a gigantic, uphill climb with a backpack too full of stuff to sort out, let alone write down for public consumption.

This year’s summer was a hard trek, but in a different way than last year’s summer when I was torn into pieces by the church we were invited—then uninvited—to join. Last summer the pangs of betrayal I experienced were felt in the warmth of my family—Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter Bettina and I. We set about fitting into the little church that welcomed us in on the rebound. We were beginning to breathe, but by September Bettina’s cancer returned for a fourth and final time. She died just ten weeks into the new year.

I was completely absorbed in caring for Bettina, and completely involved in helping her to die well. For a long time afterward I was equally absorbed in the loss of her and of our family of three. There were many losses since my cancer diagnosis in 2006 and they came swarming together in a great anguished whoosh. The repercussions were enormous. By spring, I no longer knew where I belonged or why. I was a traveler on the grief road without a sense of direction…just drifting in deep pools of sadness and disconnection. Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, quite unexpectedly as if by magic, I became a mother-in-law and a grandmother. There was no time to practice. The summer wore on and still the quiet, disconnected sadness. I yearned for spiritual connection and began attending Catholic Mass, while at the same time continuing in my position as visual art maven at the little quirky church on the edge of the city. The grandchildren were pinpoints of joy—lone stars in a dark sky. I became a woman with many faces, but no mirror in which to see them.

August was a particularly desperate time and called for desperate measures. I could not relate to the little church and could not keep from receiving the sadness bubbling up within. It was a time of affirming forgiveness, 70 x 7 and then some. My path became stony and disorienting. In response, the little church said don’t leave…let’s talk, and formed a small listening group around BD and me. Many things happened in rapid succession, both inside and outside the group. Issues fell into place as we became aware that four years of losses with little time between amounts to post traumatic stress. I don’t normally cotton with these labels, but this time it is fitting, and we are glad to have this understanding as a way to make sense of our wobbly-top selves. I am grateful to the several persons who were angels unaware in this drama, for I was not always so lovable. These people were willing spiritual conduits, each with a different message, each with a different angel’s feather touch. Each bearing God’s love and grace.

In the end, an aha moment was this:  understanding that in the loose, laid-back character of this quirky little church, lay freedom and trust and possibilities, and in return, I must give it all I’ve got. I’ve been busy ever since, not with more than you younger readers are prone to taking on, but with more than I am accustomed to taking on in quite this faith centered way. There are not enough days or hours in the days, and certainly not enough weeks in the month for me. I am swimming in a rushing river to some where that I know not…every now and then caught by an eddy of old thoughts and memories that must be untangled and set out to dry. In a couple of weeks I will turn a ripe 72… Despite my good health report, I am very aware of the time I have left—sensitized to it. Insomnia plagues me lately. It’s not a workaholic compulsion that is the culprit, it is this sense that I am in transition—in training if you will—for the last chapter of my life as a doer/giver. I am such a late bloomer…I want 20 years doing and giving in the space of 10! Sometimes I feel like a child who cannot wait for Christmas morning. Other times I feel like skipping Christmas morning entirely, for surely a gift with my name on it will be much too heavy for me to manage.

Called by name…that is the word I received many times in the dark chemotherapy nights.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame  shall not consume you. Isaiah 43

So when I am not wobbling over with extremes of joy and anxiety, I generally say, Here am I. Send me!”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me! Isaiah 6:8

06
Oct
10

after accounting for the selves

My late-life crisis is nuancing into the light of day. I am relieved. Having stepped outside myself to see my many selves and all those lives they’ve lived, I see progress and that is reconciling. The windy corner is calming and I see the rainbow…most of the time.

A voice speaks to me:

Your days will be an autumn harvest way before winter sets in.

A place at the table is waiting for you.

Follow the raven. He knows the way.

And in so doing, many blessings came my way this past weekend. On Sunday my oldest granddaughter, Miss Green and I spent a lovely afternoon, doing and being. What a lovely bit of gentle light children can be. I can hardly believe I am saying this. How did I get to be old enough to talk this way? That in itself is a mystery. Apparently an additional self has been added to the collection. I shall have to get used to her so I don’t think I am channeling my mother!

Both of my granddaughters attend a bi-lingual school…not Spanish/English…Japanese/English! How extraordinary! Nothing like this would have been in existence way, way, back when I was a child. I am amazed. They are both half Korean, which is really not a whole lot like Japanese except for being Asian. At any rate, they are learning Japanese and bringing home interesting little examples of their lessons with writing I can only look at and admire. Very pretty.

This is my name is Japanese written by youngest granddaughter, Miss Pink (5-1/2).

And this is BD’s name written by oldest granddaughter, Miss Green (8-1/2).

And this is BD’s characterture of them.

And as for me and oncology…I am still in complete remission and might not need another CT/PET scan until January or even March. What luck! Surely, the hairs of my head are truly counted, even the ones that fall to the sink as I comb through in the morning 🙂

28
Aug
10

spiritual direction…loving not leading

Faith journeys are about transformation from one manifestation of self to the next, and the next, and the next. The movement is not immediately forward and  outward. First it is downward and inward to the temple each of us has within–the center space fashioned slowly during the time we were incubating in our mother’s womb—or incarnating, if you will. This is my belief, no one has to agree with me. But if you do, or if you are even curious as to where I am going with this, read on.

None of us were born into a perfect world. All of us were birthed from as perfect a place as we humans can provide. It was good inside and we were happy, growing like Topsy. Then…boom! We outgrew our little homes and had to leave. The passage was tough—arduous, exhausting, shocking, but we couldn’t retreat—couldn’t go home again. And so we grew and learned how to manage our growing selves in this new world with its hungers, hazards, and unknowns. Some of us grew simply and  well, while others of us learned to put on many coats—many layers to protect our natural selves so that we could survive and keep on growing. Twenty, thirty, forty years later, we layered ones are pretty well protected…so well protected that we don’t naturally remember who we divinely were at the start.

At some point in time we begin journeying to regain the sonship or daughtership infused in us from the zygotic start. There are many roads, many ways to journey. I’ve done quite a few of them myself. Then, after a profound experience during my cancer treatment, journeying took me back to my Christian beginnings and here I am now at crossroads, stop lights, curves, even detours, but still traveling home where the light shines and the feathered, white bird waits.

Journeying can be arduous and lonely. I have a number of good friends with whom I can share my challenges, but there is something about talking to a professional, specializing in spiritual direction that is different. We commonly think of spiritual direction as guidance or the giving of advice, but it’s not that,  and definitely not psycho therapy…more like a centering experience…a place to gather the frayed edges of one’s road-weary self. We are all on our own unique, kaleidoscopic journeys—all the same and yet so different. It takes a loving heart to hear, but a practiced, dedicated ear to listen deeply.

While participating in the Bridgefolk conference at St. John’s Abbey this summer. I stopped in at the Abbey’s, Liturgical Press bookstore. Among the many titles, a little spiritual memoir by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew caught my eye: Swinging on the Garden Gate. Thumbing through, I found some parallels to my own experience and took the book home with me. What Ms. Andrew says about her own experience of spiritual direction on pages 116 and 117, sums up quite well what I began to say both in my previous post, Spiritual Healing…Art Not Science and continue here in this posting.

…the term spiritual director is misleading. It implies a right and a wrong, or that the director points and the client follows. I desired that model for learning; I wanted to sit at a teacher’s feet to receive words of wisdom, confident that someone more practiced in prayer and discernment would have the answers to my aching questions. But Linda didn’t work that way. Everything you need to know God, she said, you’ve already been given. She trusted completely (far more so than I did) the direction of the spirit’s movement within me. Her role, then, was to provide a container into which I slowly poured the stories of my childhood, adolescence, and my journey in Wales. Together we held them up to the light, looking to see where they were infused with the sacred. Linda’s wisdom, I realized, came not from profound insight so much as her ability to listen deeply. It came from her faith that a story unfolding in a place of love is transformative. As I gradually allowed her to be attentive to my journey, with all its dark, crazy and ecstatic moments, I became more attentive as well. Linda’s integrity and care held me accountable. I had to come forward. Such a safe space demanded it.

A spiritual director learns to listen deeply—not something most of us do on the day-to-day–with either family or friends. This in itself is an artful, spiritual practice of loving self-giving.  In that deep listening the Holy Spirit breathes in and around, weaving a basket that holds our thoughts, feelings, secrets, longings, hopes, dreams…all we have to bring to the table. It’s a safe place—a loving, safety deposit box with a key to wear around your heart.

My journey has become tangled once again. I am in another time of great transition. I look and see fog. One foot in front of the other, step by step toward the light I know will be there once I am there too. I am grateful to have a relationship of spiritual direction that not only blesses me, but blesses the one who deeply listens each time we talk.

05
Aug
10

What’s in a word?

Words are units of language from which sentences are made… tools that we humans use to communicate thoughts and emotions. They function in a strange way as symbols of meaning and are not static. Their meanings have no particular permanence beyond their continued usefulness. When we hear such words as forsooth, meet, wist, we think them quaint and find little meaning outside of theater usage. But in their day, forsooth meant in truth or indeed; meet meant fitting or proper and wist meant to know. Today we have words that even a few decades ago would not have been understood. How about infomercial, cyberspace, blog, cisgender, meme, remix, podcast? Words convey the ideas and rhythms of our culture.

BTW…the spell checker on this blog site does not recognize the word cisgender, but I didn’t either until a few days ago. And just to add a note of color to all of this: BTW could have been an acronym for British Telecom Wholesale, or Behind the Wheel (driver’s ed.) prior to the popularization of the internet.

Words come and go, just as we and our bright new ideas come and go (wax and wane). My mother used to say that there was nothing new under the sun. She could say that because Ecclesiastes said it first in chapter 1, verse 9. That was eons ago, but some people still say it. Must be something to it…

I am sorry and I regret, are words expressing sentiments that I am currently turning over in my mind. What is meant by the use of these words? What do people mean when they say to another, “I regret”? Do they mean they are sorry? I don’t think they necessarily do, but those words can carry that meaning (sorrow-repentance) if the recipient understands them in that way. But what if they don’t? I think it may be cultural—some cultures being more reserved than others—more private. But even in such cultures we do not teach our children to say “I regret hitting you over the head, Tommy.” We ask them to say “I am sorry I hit you over the head.” We teach that and the kids learn to say it whether or not sorrow exists as repentance. Those children forced to offer that I’m sorry when they are not, or do not understand the value of the transaction, often grow up hoping never to have to say it because of the humiliation revisited. And so we have a culture that claims, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But I say being sorry for causing pain, discomfort, distress, etc. to a human or animal can only deeply be expressed with the words that most clearly express sorrow. Of course, if one feels only mild sorrow, then regret is the appropriate word.

Definition of regret from my Mac dictionary:

regret |riˈgret|
verb ( -gretted , -gretting ) [ trans. ]
feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, esp. a loss or missed opportunity) : she immediately regretted her words | [with clause ] I regretted that he did not see you.
• used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness over something unfortunate or unpleasant : any inconvenience to readers is regretted | [with clause ] we regret that no tickets may be exchanged.
• archaic feel sorrow for the loss or absence of (something pleasant) : my home, when shall I cease to regret you!
noun
a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done : she expressed her regret at Virginia’s death | he had to decline, to his regret.
• (often regrets) an instance or cause of such a feeling : she had few regrets in leaving the house.
• (often one’s regrets) used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness at an occurrence or an inability to accept an invitation : please give your grandmother my regrets.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French regreter ‘bewail (the dead),’ perhaps from the Germanic base of greet 2 .

I have been one who preferred the I regret option and really believed I was getting down to it. My cancer experience, followed by the 3 years of gut-wrenching pain I encountered in returning to the church has transformed me from I regret… to… I am sorry, please forgive me. And the reason for this is not my doing. God has seen fit to allow suffering to seep into my bones for reasons of God’s own. I’ve been Jonah and I’ve been Job, and to my chagrin, I still don’t seem to rest in the rainbow for any length of time. I get many opportunities to revisit the whale again and again with a Job gig not far behind. The only thing I can say about this is that experiencing deep hurt…holding it without great effort to conceal or discharge…I have come (unwittingly) into an expanded universe, so to speak. I cannot simply regret hitting Tommy over the head if his head is bleeding. And if he is rushed to the emergency room, I am truly sorry…deeply sorry for doing to another what I would not want done to me.

I am sorry for the pain and stress I/we have caused you. These words, so difficult for some to say to us would be so much honey on the wound that keeps opening up as  financial circumstances continue to tie us to the past, leaving marks of desperation. We can forgive, and we do, but it is a 70×7 situation. I do so wish it could all be behind us and we could start living the simple life we set out for 3 years ago.

From today’s Richard Rohr Meditation ( Center for Action and Contemplation), I see I have a very long way to go:

Our ultimate goal is to be able to think and behave like Jesus.  This is a journey toward great love, which invariably becomes a journey of great suffering.  This journey leads us to a divine love where we don’t just love those who love us.  We learn to participate in a larger love—where we experience Someone Else loving through us, in us, and for us.  If we remain autonomous, independent, self-sufficient, we cannot participate in this larger love.

Christian spirituality is a mystery of participation.  Thus the saints and mystics speak so much of surrender, abandonment, and even “falling” into God.

21
Jul
10

going forward while standing still

Last night baby kitty, Bella woke me up  after  only 1.5 hours of sleep by jumping up to nestle down upon my sleeping body. Normally I would manage this but last night and for the past several nights I have been flushed with concerns and anxieties. I am currently overwhelmed with life in general and mine in particular. I would like to know when the golden years begin. I’m thinking this whole golden years idea might have been one of those advertising gimmicks to sell retirement homes or insurance policies. There is nothing golden going on in my life at present. Definitely nickel-plated.

Big Dawg and I still have 2 houses: the big beautiful one we put up for sale 2 years ago when we answered the call to come follow Jesus with the congregation we were attending at the time, and the charming little cottage in which we now reside. There had been ample time for leadership persons to explain to us that the invitation couldn’t include the two of us, but nothing was said until 3 days after we moved and there we were, sort of like your best friend died without leaving you a handkerchief. Two years later, we still have 2 houses and the strain of floating them, along with all the other vicissitudes of 21st century life is killing us. The strain of having lost Adopted Daughter along with what we’d thought would be a church family, comes home to roost quite frequently. I won’t go on. It will sound like a soap opera.

Two and a half days ago I had what we used to call a nervous breakdown—uncontrollable crying, despair, hopelessness, deep depression. I pulled myself up to a level closer to normal with the help of homeopathic medication, but  I am truly tired, inside and out. The prairie style FLW house we rescued from ignominy and poured so much love and money into has slipped from $479K to $300K and still no real buyers. We are reluctantly preparing to seek renters. This is a band-aid and not a good one, but it might lessen the financial leak. The wound remains until such time as the church that invited us, and then uninvited us, publicly accepts and confesses its culpability to us. Although we have extended forgiveness to them, such a statement would be a very healing balm to our battered selves. In the meantime, we practice the rule of 70 x 7.

Tomorrow BD and I will head out to Minnesota to attend the annual conference of Mennonites and Roman Catholics, called Bridgefolk, to be held at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville. We are looking for something more, but don’t know what it is. I have moments of wishing we’d not signed up for this because I feel so out of the Circle of Light, but we will go and God will bless and life will go on…one day at a time.




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