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A MODERATELY ATYPICAL SUMMER

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Greetings Dear Readers! 

Across the meadow this morning, beyond the orange day lilies, red bee balm, and purple phlox, I can see two deer and a family of wild turkeys. All is quiet, except for the neighbor’s confused rooster who crows enthusiastically and incessantly, no matter the time. And thanks to my totally awesome new app “Merlin,” I can also identify the conversation of a red-eyed vireo, a tufted titmouse, and a pileated woodpecker.

I’ve just arrived back at my sweet little house in New Hampshire after a wild & crazy June and July, full of people and travel and what felt like great adventures — though pre-pandemic they wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. 

I’ve been to North Carolina twice, to the Outer Banks and to my beloved Wild Goose Festival near Winston-Salem. I’ve seen nearly every member of my family, including my sister whom I hadn’t seen in ten years and a cousin I hadn’t seen in even longer. I explored dinosaurs, evolution, mass extinction, and climate science at the Smithsonian Museum with my oldest friend, and served two days of jury duty with some men I do not want for new friends.

Smithsonian Wanderings

ANSWERED PRAYERS

Like many of us, I’ve been left drained and deadened by the pandemic. For several years, I’ve felt stuck, flat-lined, uninspired to do anything, let alone help save our democracy or our planet. 

But finally, God has answered my desperate plea for renewed passion and a new vision of what I am meant to be doing in these precarious times. I’m not yet ready to write about it, but I hope to share in the months to come. There are ducks to line up and God’s timing always has its way, but the Wild Goose Festival provided new connections, creative energy, and much-needed hope. I am spirit-charged and ready to go! 

Goose Gals!

Another answered prayer took the form of a phone call from my dermatologist announcing a “moderately atypical” mole that is not dangerous. Phew! Last year, her phone call announced “squamous cell cancer” which was not nearly so welcome. Not only did she send me off to New Hampshire worry-free, she gifted me with a new favorite phrase to describe myself and my life: moderately atypical. It fits. 

On My Atypical Way Again

Day before yesterday, I stood on the shoulder of I-90 in Massachusetts staring at my flat tire as tractor trailers plummeted down a steep hill towards me and a gritty wind whipped my face. Forty minutes later, my rescuers had dragged a spare tire from the hatch, mounted it, and then stayed to repack my belongings. The state trooper held two boxes of houseplants, a cheerful white orchid blossom bobbing about her face. The bemused and be-greased truck driver cradled a crumpled plastic four-pack of wilting parsley and decrepit thyme. When my backseat garden had been safely tucked in, the trooper got in her car and set the lights flashing.

“Moderately atypical,” I said to my cat Alice as I buckled up, eased into traffic, and headed north.

Just One of My Moderately Atypical Neighbors

Life is Good. Death is Not Bad.

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Today is National Death Doula Day. “OK, what the heck is a Death Doula?” you may well ask. If you’ve heard of Doulas at all, you probably think of them as companions who support women through the birthing experience and care for new babies. But increasingly, Doulas are there to care for us at the other end of life, and the movement has really taken off during the pandemic.

A Death Doula is a trained non-medical companion who supports others through the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual experiences involved with leaving this life. They’re trained in end-of-life stages and help families understand the natural processes, while providing comfort and practical support, 24/7. They are sometimes called Soul Midwives, Transition Guides, or End-of-Life Coaches. Whatever you call them, they can fill the gaps in mainstream medical and hospice care.

Death used to be revered as a sacred part of the life journey. It’s only within the last century that we’ve stopped accepting the end of life as a natural component of our lives. Western culture doesn’t like to talk about it or hear about it, so when death visits our lives, we are often completely unprepared. Denial and avoidance make death and grief far more difficult for patients and family members.

I’ve taken some training in this field and am considering doing more. It takes a deep commitment, as you can imagine, but it seems to be a place I am naturally gifted and called. I’m pondering and praying about it. These words from Suzanne O’Brien, who trains Death Doulas, really resonate with me:

End of life is a human experience –  not a medical one. With the right education, kindness, and support, end of life can be the sacred, positive experience it was meant to be.”

Today is a day set aside to bring awareness to the field and to the benefits it offers patients and families. So I thought I’d share. Here are a few articles and a podcast that give some history and an overview of the movement:

https://hospicenews.com/2022/04/11/pandemic-pushes-death-doula-awareness-hospices-seek-strengthened-ties/

https://time.com/6128469/death-doulas-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONAvdqyDfFM



You Are Awesome – Please Consider Changing

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“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Carl rogers

I came across this quote today, from psychologist and author Carl Rogers. I think it’s the perfect sentiment for the season of Lent, which started this week. 

In the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday, many Christians adopt Lenten practices that help them explore who they truly are, as Jesus did in the Biblical story of his forty days of fasting in the desert. When confronted by the devil, Jesus basically said, “No, you can’t tempt me with material things, that’s not what I’m about. No, you can’t tempt me with fame and fortune, that’s not who I am.” The devil couldn’t even tempt him with immortality. Jesus had figured out and accepted exactly who he was: He was God’s child, and he responded only to God’s guidance. 

Jesus wasn’t going to accept all the false selves the world wanted him to put on. He went inward to find his true self, the one not driven by ego or fear or insecurity. The one lovingly dreamed up by God. 

Embracing Humility

And that’s what we do during Lent; we courageously examine ourselves, we explore our motivations, accept our imperfections, and become willing to change — or “repent.” When we are weighed down by egoic insecurity and fear, we are too busy covering up and defending our fragile false self to accept our true selves just as we are. It takes humility to become willing to change. 

Sometimes a whole religious sect can become a “false self,” defending itself as perfect and its scriptures as “inerrant,” fearing change instead of embracing God’s living presence and guidance, rejecting self-examination and declaring ever louder that their particular IMAGE of God actually IS God. 

God, the Divine, is way too big to be contained in the constructs of a human mind. Hence, humility.

My Lenten Prayer for You

My prayer for you, dear readers, whether or not you consider yourself religious or spiritual, is that you might take some time to look inward during this spring season of new beginnings. To gently prod your sore spots, warm your frozen places, and open your heart to accept the truth that you are unimaginably awesome just as you are. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the ancient Hebrew scriptures say. 

Once you accept that, may you recognize that you have unique and glorious gifts to offer to the rest of us. And that it would be best for everyone if you jettison the crap that holds you back from being fully who you are meant to be.

Amen. 

This post is dedicated to my beautiful friend Bill Duncan, who passed away from COVID a year ago today. He spent his life humbly striving to be his best, truest self, the person God created him to be. 

Grumpy Advent

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I’m home in Maryland after five months at my grandmother’s place, one of those cozy white Cape Cods with green shutters in the woods of New England. The kind of place Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye might show up wearing Santa hats and caroling at the front door, and I would invite them in for mulled wine and ginger cookies and we would sit by the Christmas tree and reminisce about the war. 

Isn’t it weird how that generation is so sentimental and misty eyed about World War II? I think it was the pinnacle of both my parent’s lives. I guess it’s because national – and even global – crises bring people together with a sense of unity and purpose and sacrifice for the common good. We could sure some good old fashioned “goodwill towards all,” these days. Too bad there’s nothing traumatic happening to bring out the best in us, like a deadly pandemic or maybe an ecological crisis that makes polluted air and water seem like a picnic in the park.

Anyway, I’ve buttoned up my little hideaway in New Hampshire for the winter. Funny I still think of it as “Beedie’s house” even though my grandmother has been gone, near as I can tell, for thirty-plus years. I say “near as I can tell” because I’ve been wondering lately if all my departed loved ones have actually departed. There are so many family memories in that creaky old house, it’s hard *not* to believe there are loving spirits hovering about, still rooting for me, comforting me, encouraging me, playing a role in my life that I’m totally unaware of.

I’m currently planning a contemplative Advent Quiet Day at my church, something I organized for years with my recently departed friend Bill Duncan. I swear I can hear his voice, his skeptical reactions to my musings, his laugh. He feels so close sometimes, not “gone” at all.

Christmas is Coming, Ready or Grumpy

I’m working on not getting depressed, because that often happens when I return from New Hampshire. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s the holidays again and everyone’s dead and even if they weren’t, I couldn’t see them because of this unspeakably horrible unending pandemic. And now we are all supposed to be the worried about this new Origami variant? I just can’t.

I spent Thanksgiving night in a hotel room in Pennsylvania with my adorable cat Alice and a fabulous book, and I got to have fried onion rings & tater tots for dinner. So I can’t complain about that.

Alice & Amor

But when I got home Friday, my pipes had frozen and burst and there was a flood in the kitchen. I pulled a muscle in my back trying to drag the washer out from the corner where it was spewing water. So I’m feeling sorry for myself and pissy about the holidays and am really hoping that these hovering spirits give me a good kick in the pants and get me outside for a walk, because I can’t abide self-pity, especially in myself. 

That’s how I am today. Happy Advent to you, if you are one who entertains visions of angels hovering in the sky over shepherds and flocks. You never know about such things. You never know who’s hovering.

I’m going to go outside and cut some cheerful red holly. Because Christmas.

September Journal Snippets: Mountain Musings

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My journal snippets are always some of my most popular posts, so in the absence of anything profound to say, I’ll share some of my September musings with you. The first two weeks of the month were all about road tripping. I drove from my pandemic hiding place in New Hampshire back to my home in Maryland for the COVID funeral of my dear friend Bill, then took my annual pilgrimage south to Hot Springs, North Carolina for the Wild Goose gathering, a festival of “spirit, justice, music, and art.” I briefly returned to Maryland to allow my dermatologist to snip my ear to biopsy, and then headed back to the mountains of New Hampshire.

I will spare you the suspense and let you know that I do, in fact, have skin cancer, but it’s not serious and hasn’t spread. So don’t worry.

Without further ado: 

  • September 1

.Cabin #4, Hot Springs, N.C. Before-bed hot tub. Early morning hot tub. Gonna be a rough trip. I will say, I feel guilty. I’m trying to embrace the both/and. Yes, Taliban terror is already starting in Afghanistan; yes, Bill and 600 thousand others have gone; yes, climate catastrophes abound: Hurricane Ida and another massive direct hit on New Orleans. But also, yes! I hear the wind in the trees, the rushing river, the whir of the wings of the approaching Wild Goose. It’s all captured in the dark clouds of Ida’s remnants roiling over these peaceful mountains.  

I feel so painfully aware of my privilege, sitting here. It’s kind of obscene. It is a gift to have the amount of money and time that I have and to live in the U.S. I want to be fully aware of that, and also to give back where I can. Such abundance. I’m feeling very spoiled. It is a nice connection, too, to know that Bill sat in this very hot tub, relaxed and happy; that he gazed across these treetops to that mountain. Sat at this table on this deck and wrote in his journal. My dear friend. 

At this table, on this deck
  • September 4

Notes I made at Goose Wisdom Camp: “indecision, confusion, restlessness, aimlessness, uncertainty. A little frantic. Fears underneath, of dying, of aging, of not having done enough, been enough, of over-committing, of failing.” At another session, author Gareth Higgins spoke about seven basic fears, the deepest being fear of death, and another being fear of having led “a meaningless life.” That resonated. 

The question is pretty simple, really. How do I spend my remaining time and energy? And how can I best align with my true self, with God’s vision for me? I need to re-read Parker Palmer. My passion for environmental work has faded, for whatever reasons. Too depressed about climate? Disillusioned? Hopeless? Don’t get out in nature enough? I do feel some passion around spiritual growth and pastoral roles. Yet I stepped down from being an official pastor. Kind of lost my mojo around blogging and have to force myself to work on my memoir. 

I believe the small things matter, loving your neighbor, being kind to kids (and adults), serving in simple ways. But I still want to save the world.

  • September 5

Taking a tea and chocolate break to both rest and wake myself before my guests arrive at the cabin. {Bill’s wife Shobha, his sister Linda, and our mutual friend Lori.} I love our tradition of a left-overs feast on the last night of the Goose. Poignant this evening because today is six months since Bill left. That seems incredible to me. I believe I need more chocolate.

What We Need Is Here
  • September 11

Twenty years. Just a check-in, not time to reflect on 9/11, except to note that it wasn’t that long ago that a national or global emergency would bring out the best in us, bring us together regardless of politics, remind us that we are one. No longer. Now millions of grownups refuse to get a shot or even wear a cotton mask to save children’s lives. This Delta variant is cramming pediatric hospitals. No words. And so I just live my life. Today is packing day, I’m on the road back to New Hampshire tomorrow. Awaiting a biopsy. Won’t think about that, I have cleaning and packing to do. 

  • September 13

Ah – what a whirlwind the past few weeks have been. It is good, good, good to be back in the silence. There are just the beginnings of fall, a blush of red and a few orange-tipped branches. I’ve cooked up a batch of hummingbird sugar water in case some of my friends are still around, or at least passing through. How I wish the mosquitos would migrate elsewhere! 

  • September 14

It’s a lovely sunny morning, warming up after a chilly start. The dew is offering up tiny rainbow prisms on the tips of the grass, and the crickets are singing their late-summer chant. There’s a hummer in the phlox, there’s wind in the trees, and the rustle is drier now, crisp, higher pitched than it was a few weeks ago. The maples by the driveway have turned their muted gold, steady and understated sentinels. An orange swallowtail flits from phlox to goldenrod, unaware or unconcerned about its tiny lifespan. It is enough for it to become itself, to taste nectar, to feel the sunshine, to float upwards on the breeze, wings outstretched. An acorn falls. It is enough. More than enough. 

The grasshoppers are mad this year, flinging themselves this way and that, seemingly unsure of  direction or purpose . . . or am I projecting? Need I ask? Better the unconcerned butterfly than the frantic grasshopper. 

An Ash Wednesday Confession

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. It’s really a Catholic thing, but lots of Jesus followers participate in the Lenten season leading up to Easter, usually by giving up something for forty days. Chocolate, sugar, coffee, cursing, whatever. 

I try to refrain from an activity that I feel separates me from God or distracts me from my efforts to more fully become who I’m meant to be, i.e., my spiritual journey. Once I gave up alcohol (thinking it dulled my God-given senses and feelings), once saturated fat (to honor the body God gave me), and once driving over the speed limit (busyness and hurry being antithetical to mindfulness). There was really no question what I needed to release this year, but I fought it.

What the Hell is Happening?

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m somewhat addicted to Twitter. Facebook can give my brain tiny shots of dopamine, but it’s nothing compared to Twitter. I blame donald trump, as I do for most things. But seriously, the heightened sense of anxiety I’ve been drowning in for four-plus years, exacerbated by the COVID stress, made me feel that I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME. DAY AND NIGHT. To feel safe, I had to be on top of the news minute-by-minute. Twitter also made sure I knew what thousands of people thought about that news minute-by-minute. There’s no downtime on Twitter. When east-coasters go to bed, I’m happy to stay up and either chat with or debate with strangers in California. 

I don’t like Twitter. It brings out the absolute worst in me, aggressive behavior and negative energy. Because I’m afraid. I believe that the people who enable trump — even after January 6th — threaten our democracy. I mean, they are pretending the election was illegitimate, hence so is President Biden. They now have us exactly where Putin wants us. His money was well spent on trump. That’s not an excuse for my unhealthy behavior, it’s just the reason: hyper-vigilance and fear. 

Trying to Be Nicer

Once I deactivated my Twitter account for a month because I didn’t like who I was in that world. I gave up all my followers and started over. I followed other writers, other climate activists, other progressive Christians, and — slowly at first, then more and more — news sources and other “resisters” of trump. Before I knew it, I was back in the political fray. 

What Twitter really is, is a giant gossip echo chamber. Fortunately, I know very few Hollywood types, TV shows, sports figures, and the like. So I ignore that gossip. But the politics is just gossip, too. Mean gossip. And I get right down in the mud. 

This is all my doing. There are lovely people on Twitter, delightful things happening. Book lovers sharing treasures, kind people comforting bereaved strangers, writers encouraging each other. (Though it seems most of the writers are just trying to get others to follow them and/or buy their e-books.) I like a lot of the people. But I too often wander into the dark alleys looking for another dopamine hit. And so beginning today, Ash Wednesday, I’m giving it up for Lent. 

I just heard Rush Limbaugh died. I could have spent a lot of my day opining and arguing with strangers about his legacy. I might have been very clever. I would have got some “likes” and maybe a few follows. But instead I was silent because I wasn’t there. 

I expect I will be anxious with all the free brain-time over the next forty days. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a bit of time to think about God and how I can make this world more kind and beautiful.


To dust we shall return

Choosing Joy at Christmas

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I woke w/ Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in my head – not a bad way to start the day! I’m playing it now and remembering my Mom’s dancing giddiness whenever she heard it. I can only imagine her joy, being a young lead soprano w/ the Boston Orchestra and singing her heart out as the organ swelled to a crescendo.

“Forever and ever! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

It’s transporting just to think about. I am glad she had such joy!

Christmas is often sad-sweet, especially once you’ve lost close loved ones. Those ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future dart through your head and heart unannounced, sometimes bringing tears, sometimes laughter.

The season has been especially tough since I lost my beloved brother at Christmas in 2013. This year I lost two dear friends, and I’m hurting for their families. But surprisingly, I’m on a fairly even keel so far. Perhaps I was prepared for a difficult time between COVID, trump trauma, and the prospect of a particularly solitary Christmas.

At any rate, I’m decorating more than I have in years, listening to carols, watching Christmas movies, and reading Advent books of art and poetry. I am fortunate that while I sometimes edge into depression, I am mostly prone to grief — simple sadness. So I can choose what I will pay attention to, what energy I will feed.

Christmas, like all of life, is both/and — sadness and joy, loss and abundance. After all, the season celebrates the birth of a tiny baby who offered peace to everyone on earth for all time, but who was also destined to experience deep grief, betrayal, and a violent death. History has it that he was a poor handyman who became the most influential person who ever lived. The ultimate both/and.

As author Anne Lamott says, “Hallelujah anyway!”

I wish you great, transporting joy this Christmas, if you celebrate the season.

Book Review: On the Brink of Everything, by Parker Palmer

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There’s a lot to love in this little book. Parker Palmer is one of my favorite spiritual authors, and I’ve been fortunate to see him speak a few times. His humility and wisdom are so refreshing and needed these days, and as he ages, his readers just get more of both. This book speaks to my time of life and the subtitle says it all: grace, gravity, and getting old.


Parker says we need to reframe aging as “a passage of discovery and engagement, not decline and inaction.” Then he goes on to tell us what that looks like for him through essays, poems, and stories, plus a good sprinkling of quotes from other wise people. Lots of Thomas Merton. This is a relaxed and friendly read, and his take on spirituality is the same: “an endless effort to penetrate illusion and touch reality.”


No matter your age or spiritual background (or lack thereof), this book could do you good — especially if you have an activist’s heart.

*** Let me apologize for WordPress. Apparently the powers that be decided to completely change the way this site works, and I can’t figure it out, nor have I the inclination to at present. Figures that the only technology I had even a tenuous grip on is now no more. It really was the only user-friendly blog platform I’d found, and now — not so much. So I am unable to categorize or label my blogs, but I’m sending this out anyway. ***

A Mystical Take on Masks, Racism, & the 4th of July

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As always, I have arrived at my family home in New Hampshire happily laden with books and full of dreams of writing. I intend to post here on Writing with Spirit more often, I’m working on a draft of my memoir, and I’ll begin a month-long online writing class next week. You will likely hear about some or all of these pursuits. Meanwhile, I have finished my first book of the trip, Richard Rohr’s “What The Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self.” I thought I’d share a short review because it’s rare that a “spiritual” book so completely jives with what we call “reality.”

And what a reality! As if things weren’t surreal enough lately, the President just celebrated Independence Day with a speech attacking what polls show is a majority of Americans who support the removal of confederate statues from places of honor. He aggressively stoked fear and hatred and division. But all this is nothing new. As he tries to distract us from the deadly pandemic that worsens daily, there will no doubt be more race-baiting and ugliness emanating from the White House.

Orange Fireworks

But back to the book:

I liked this little book. If you’ve read much Richard Rohr, you will find it familiar, with good reason: it’s a book of excerpts from his other writings. I could quibble with the structure of “Mystics;” the “seven pathways” seem forced and kind of random. This is probably because the editor who came up with the idea died part way through the writing, so I think the big picture may have been lost. But since the readings are in small bites, and the book doesn’t pretend to be a straight narrative, the structure isn’t too distracting, and there are plenty of wonderful Rohr nuggets throughout. This makes a fine daily reader for meditation and journaling, and I think I’ll be using it for years to come.

If you haven’t read Rohr, I recommend “Everything Belongs,” my favorite. But “Mystics” is a decent summary of his beliefs about spiritual growth and enlightenment, including growing out of our egoic self-preoccupations and into more compassionate non-dualistic thinking, less “othering” and judging.

It’s unusual for a “mystical” book to track so directly with the day’s headlines, but it’s impossible not to think about my fellow Americans refusing to wear masks because it “infringes on their freedom” when doing so would literally save the lives of others — talk about sick egos! Or about millions of white people yammering about their their precious “heritage” of slave-holding while demonizing black people being murdered in our streets and jails by law enforcement officials. Some seem more concerned about statues made of stone than their fellow citizens made of flesh and blood. Wrong color flesh, it seems.

Also timely, the last section of Father Rohr’s book centers on transforming others and society, and is hopeful but realistic. He recognizes that in North America, “our economy, our self-image, our very psyche have lived in a triumphalist and paranoid stance for so long that it will be hard to change to a positive and creative mode . . . a new way of living based on faith instead of fear, peacemaking instead of moneymaking, community instead of competition.”

May it be so!

 

Lenten “Silent Saturday” in the Time of COVID-19

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I’ve never quite known what to do with the “Silent Saturday” in between Good Friday and Easter. The day between the darkness of unspeakable evil and the dawn of a new life and hope for humanity. In the time of Jesus, his friends and family gathered together in grief, fear, uncertainty, and confusion. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. Jesus was supposed to lead a revolution against the oppressive power of the Roman Empire, he was supposed to usher in an era of justice and peace for all. And instead, he was dead and here they were, huddled together, hiding out from the authorities and praying desperately for — what? They didn’t even know.

The followers of Jesus didn’t know what was to come, and it wasn’t looking good.

Not Looking Good

This whole COVID-19 period feels like a long, drawn-out Silent Saturday. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We can’t trust our government, and it even seems to be working against us. We can’t trust their numbers, their plans, or their motives. We huddle together on Zoom, uncertain and powerless, some of us grieving, some of us afraid. Some of us pray; some of us simply hope because we can’t believe in prayer. We know this is an in-between time, but we don’t know what’s next.

During Silent Saturday, we wait.

In the Christian tradition, after that desperate Saturday came redemption and resurrection on Easter Sunday. I have faith that now as then, the love of God is too great to allow darkness and death to prevail, that love will win. I don’t think that the means or the timeline are always God’s will — I won’t get into theology — but I do believe that love is stronger than all the excrement the world can throw at it.

It is true that a whole lot of people are going to die, especially if the president is stupid enough to “open up America” in the middle of this pandemic and send his true-believers out into the streets to spread infection.

But how’s this for a resurrection story? Most sensible people will continue to stay home. Competent governors and health officials will work with civic-minded businesses to pull together a reality-based plan and non-mythical resources that gradually turn around the infection and death rates.

Then there’s an election in November. The majority of Americans were not fooled by the misinformation in trump’s daily “press conference” rallies and hold him responsible for the testing/resources fiasco. He loses, bigly.

With the economy and our health care system in shambles, President Joe Biden and Vice President Michelle Obama (I know, I know, but just imagine!) have a clean slate. Together with younger progressive leaders, they end voter suppression so this never happens again, and we build a more just, equitable America from the ground up. A Green New Deal creates a massive jobs program, and we become a world leader in climate solutions.

Happy Easter, a day early!

Light in the Darkness

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