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Looking for Clues

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“The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest clues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are, even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t ‘found God’ is that we are not looking in the right places.”

I read this little excerpt from Frederick Buechner this morning on one of the spiritual email lists I subscribe to but don’t usually read. The little blurbs have nice inspirational titles like A Pause for Beauty and Inward/Outward and Contemplative Living, but they mostly just look like clutter in my inbox. When I bother to click, though, they often contain gems like Buechner’s.

I suspect Buechner’s quote resonated with me because I’ve been having a lot of these moments lately, these “clues” that make me feel as if I’m in the flow of life, rather than fighting against the current as I often seem to be. Sometimes I recognize them as clues, sometimes I don’t.

If you’re one of those people who “don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet,” perhaps you wouldn’t see these as clues. I get that. The world is an effed up place in many ways, and I can see why some people don’t believe in a loving God.

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Here’s why I think Buechner’s “clues” point to God:

  • “The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips.” I experienced this the other night at a gathering of old environmental lobbyist friends, many of whom I worked with for twenty-plus years. Since I retired six years ago, I rarely connect with any of them except for an occasional Facebook comment. I find this odd, since I had felt so integrally connected with them all. I know how it is, though — I remember the busyness and how Capitol Hill eats your life so that nothing else seems to matter. And part of the separation is my own choice — I haven’t had much time to connect, being so busy with school and taking care of my sick brother. At any rate, as I passed through the crowd the other night, I heard my name over and over. “Melanie’s here . . . did you see Melanie? Remember how Mel used to say . . . ?” Every time I heard my name, I could feel my spirit-self relaxing into a warm, comforting bubblebath, a bubblebath of belonging. They know me, they remember me, I belong here. I think the magic word belonging is one clue to God: we were created as one spiritual whole; we just get disconnected. God puts the longing in our hearts for the unity, the oneness, the belonging. Sadly, it is often organized and compartmentalized religion that causes the disconnect.
  • “The good dream . . .” Oh yes, please. We often remember scary dreams and dreams of loss and fear, and although these can be great teachers if we take the time to work with them, it’s such a gift and a blessing when a “good dream” comes along. These dreams, I think, are a sign that there’s a spirit of goodness floating around in the ether and it communicates with our subconscious. I remember when my older sister, who is vehemently anti-God, told me that she had discovered that the Universe is Good. This filled me with joy because she’s a serious introvert with few connections, so the fact that she ran across this lovely truth through her private meditations meant to me that the good spirit in the ether had taken the initiative to connect with her.
  • “The odd coincidence.” These are the strangest, because the exact same thing could happen to a God-believer and a non-God-believer and their conclusions would be completely different. I love coincidences because they remind me that there’s a plan. That when I’m in the flow, weird little things happen that I could never have dreamed up on my own, like lovely sun-warmed boulders in the river of life on which I can rest for a short time and get a better view of the journey.
  • “The moment that brings tears to your eyes,” reminding us that we are all human and we all share emotional bonds that buoy us up and carry us through the hard times. I tear up a lot, whether it’s sharing someone else’s pain, watching a little girl bang a tambourine and dance at church, or laughing with my friends till we cry and then our eyes connect and we know that we are blessed to be in each other’s lives. Through our tears, God reminds us that we are not alone, that joy and grief are universal. Plus, I think it’s awesome that our creator made tears to lower stress, elevate mood, and carry away toxins from our bodies. How cool is that?
  • “The person who brings life to your life.” Hmmm. I suppose this line could make me sad, since I don’t have one particular person that “brings life to my life” at the moment. No lover, no kids. And it makes me miss my brother, who was also my best buddy. But somehow it doesn’t make me feel sad — I feel like I have a huge community of people who bring life into my life. Different ages, different races, different backgrounds, different interests. I love my life. I’m crazy-blessed. I suppose Buechner’s point here is larger — it’s about love. Unconditional, absurdly generous love. And that, my friends, is the biggest clue to God. We’re swimming in it, if we “look in the right places.”

 

Home, Heart, and Tkei

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The rain pounded on my windshield and the trees at the side of the road began to thrash as I watched the huge black cloudbank to my left turn an ominous yellow and begin to elongate at the bottom.

I told myself that watching The Wizard of Oz the night before had agitated my imagination: I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and not in Kansas with Dorothy and Toto. Still, the images of twirling houses and flying cows would not be banished.

“There’s no place like home,” I said out loud, though I was alone. This made me laugh, which was good, and then there was a sudden burst of sun, and a brief but brilliant rainbow splashed across the darkness.

The rainbow gave me courage, and I decided to nix the idea of a hotel and push on towards home, though New York City’s Friday afternoon traffic had cursed me with several extra hours behind the wheel.

I just wanted to be home.

Theoretically Home

The concept of home is near-mystical to me, even if the reality conjures up never-ending lists, especially in the summer when I shuttle between New Hampshire and Maryland trying to keep up two houses. Mow lawn, buy groceries, do laundry, feed birds, water plants, pay bills.

I’m theoretically home now, back in Maryland. Yet I also feel I’ve been ripped away from home, having left my nephew and his four kids at our house in New England. spring nh 2013b 026.Lillys I have friends in New Hampshire as well, and I miss them when I’m not there. I want to keep up with them, to be a part of their lives, not just a drop-in visitor.

Divided Hearts

They say home is where the heart is, but it’s not that simple.

You see, hearts can be divided.

I’ve got bits of my heart all over the world. People own my heart, places own my heart, animals own my heart — even memories own my heart.

I suspect that memories own an increasingly large part of our hearts as we age.

In the months before my elderly mother passed on, she asked over and over, “Is it time to go home yet? Can I go home now? “ She was clearly torn. Although she was in familiar surroundings with her children, the bits of her heart invested in memories were beginning to outweigh the here and now.

She talked to her father, she talked to her Godmother, and she talked to an old friend. One night, she told my uncle in no uncertain terms, “I know you’re my big brother, Rolphie, but I’m not ready to go yet!” Her conversations and joyful reunions spooked her night nurse, but I found them comforting. I truly felt she had another home, and that she was preparing to go there.

So Where is Home?

The traditional definition of home points to a place — a dwelling or residence or village.

But Dorothy was right when she said, “There’s no place like home.” Home is more a state of mind than any one place. A sense of safety and belonging and familiarity, regardless of where you are.

An etymology dictionary will tell you that the “full range and meaning” of the concept of home “is not covered by any single word.”  That’s true, but I think the early Indo-European root word, tkei, comes close. It means “to lie, to settle down.”

That’s what Mom wanted. To settle down and be done. And that’s what I was pining for on the Jersey Turnpike. To be done with the doing. To rest.

Home is a spiritual and emotional space where you can let down your guard and just be. Even when you’re busy at home, your soul is lying down, at rest.  Familiar routines lower your stress level. Chores and errands aren’t fun, but they are comfortable.

No matter how colorful and exciting Oz seemed to be — what with the dancing Munchkins and talking apple trees and appearing and disappearing witches — from the moment Dorothy arrived, she just wanted to get back to her routine.

For most of us, that familiarity does belong to a place, even though it’s not the place itself that is home. It’s the belonging.

In your home space, people truly know you — they don’t simply tolerate your shortcomings, they smile at them. Their voices plug into well-worn tracks in your brain; their laughter is like an old favorite song.

I am blessed to have more than one of those home spaces.

If I’m blessed with old age as Mom was, I imagine I’ll start feeling less and less at home in any earthly place. Many of those familiar voices and songs of laughter will be just memories.

Then I’ll follow the yellow brick road home for good.

Who, what, and where is your home space?

An interesting related post:
http://james9butler.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/theres-no-place-like-home-in-the-wizard-of-oz-but-what-is-it/

Knowing Love

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They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I would argue the opposite. For me, knowing and being fully known is downright holy.

Let it all hang out.

What you see is what you get.

Take me as you find me.

I would rather not have to wade through a bunch of BS before finding the authentic you. And Lord knows I have wasted enough time and effort over the years erecting barricades and tricky funhouse mirrors to hide the real me – even from myself.

But in recent years I’ve been working on getting to know myself better, and as I become familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly, I am also learning to love myself.

For me, familiarity runs through everything that I love.

The Question

Today the WordPress Gods have posed the Daily Prompt question:

We each have many types of love relationships — parents, children, spouses, friends. And they’re not always with people; you may love an animal, or a place. Is there a single idea or definition that runs through all the varieties of “love”?

So that’s my answer to their question — familiarity.

Knowing God

My main love affair is with God. My Higher Power. Whatever you want to call the spirit that hovers around our heads and hearts causing love. Of course, any idea I might have of God is not actually God, and my inability to grasp the spiritual realm with my intellect pretty much guarantees that I can’t become truly “familiar” with God, no matter how much prayer or meditation I might engage in.

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I think we can, however, become familiar with God’s ways and with the evidence of God, beginning with the ground we walk on and the air we breathe and the water we drink.

In the book of Romans in the Bible, it says that “what may be known about God is plain” because God has made it plain: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal  power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

I take this as a clue that learning about the natural world and spending time in it will help us get to know God. I know that many of my friends who do not believe in God still have a sense of the holy when they are out in nature. I personally believe that’s the Creator knocking.

What Has Been Made

What Has Been Made

The category of “what has been made” includes a lot of things I love…I see God in all of them.

Other Things I Love

I love my friends. Nothing beats getting together with my oldest, dearest friends – it’s like finding a favorite comfy sweater in the back of the closet and snuggling into it. We fit.

I love my family, even their annoying, familiar quirks. My brother and sister have known me since before I was born. How cool is that?

I love my church community. They are my chosen family. It’s where people encourage me to continue to grow into the real me. They know me, love me, and forgive me.

I love my cats. I love that I know everything they are going to do at every moment of the day. How they move to the sunny square on the hallway carpet after the warm spot I’ve left in the covers has cooled. How Mayasika rushes to block my path when I’m going upstairs so that I will scritch her back. How Eliza Bean comes into the kitchen at lunchtime and stands on her hind legs waiting for her cheese.

Mayasika

Mayasika

I love my town. The smell of popcorn in the town center when the theater opens each evening; the Coop grocery clerks who know my name and ask after my sick brother; the annual meetings that always go late into the night because people can’t get enough of talking about our little community.

I love my house, even though it’s usually trashed and causes me great stress and embarrassment. It is home. It is familiar.

Belonging

As I write, I’m realizing that I am talking about something beyond familiarity. Beyond knowing and being known.

I’m talking about belonging.

A sense of belonging is the thread that runs through everything and everyone that I love. This is what grounds me.

What about you? What binds together the things that you love?

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