Archive | April, 2014

In Mother’s House

27 Apr

As I push the door open, silence hits me. Fifteen minutes before six and there is no one inside Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston S.C, the Holy City. Before my Tuesday afternoon horse and carriage tour, I didn’t know the city’s nickname, but the synchronicity is undeniable. A smiling lady, her wide face the color of dark cocoa, rounds the corner. She is puzzled until I ask about the service. She tells me its at seven since it’s Maundy Thursday.

Over an hour away. But we have dinner reservations at 8:30.

“It will last about an hour, right?” I ask.

The lady chuckles a bit, “Well, that depends on where the spirit takes Brother Singleton. Ain’t no telling how long it might be.” She turns and moves back through the sanctuary doors, leaving us to the silence of the dim vestibule.

Should I. . .shouldn’t I?

Mom asks, “Well, what do you want to do now?”

We could easily go have cheese, crackers and wine and forget this attempt to go to one of the first all African churches of the south, one in which I am sure to encounter a more physical expression of the Divine…something vocal, something physical.  In this place will be “Jesus” up close and out loud.

“Let me take some photos while the light is good”, I tell her, but really I’m buying time to decide. I take pictures in the empty church while I contemplate. Mom’s brave faced acquiescence to attend this part of my pilgrimage still evokes my guilt every time I move past the rich red cushioned pew on which she perches.

This would be so much easier if I was alone. I’d just sit and wait. I wouldn’t have her schedule to contend with.

“Maybe we should find a place to be until the service? I’ll call and see if we can delay our reservations.” I sigh irritatingly while getting the number. Being in charge of myself all the time is one thing, being in charge of others all the time can wear on a soul. A quick phone call while descending the stone stairs takes care of one reservation, but not one which is building inside me.

Maybe I should just give this up. Mom really doesn’t want to go. I have enough to do to keep her calm. 

A slow increasingly uncomfortable resentment starts to build as we brave the stiff breeze for a few blocks. Mom’s displeasure at having her hair disturbed expresses in her drawn face and tight jaw. I wish I could put her in a limousine which would deliver her in pristine condition from one location to the next, so I don’t have to solve her ever present concern for hair, lipstick, crisp dry clothes, shoes made only to adorn the feet not to walk city blocks.

Ok, that’s it…we’ll just go find a bistro. I make a quick plan to go to an A.M.E.service for Easter Sunday morning at home, until I see a biracial couple, probably in their 50’s walking directly toward us down the sidewalk.

A woman’s deep voice speaks in my head.

What did you come here for? Why are you afraid?

I stop on the sidewalk. I turn to Mom, “See them Mom? There’s the sign. We have to go back. I’m sorry. I hope that’s okay.” She sees the couple and for the first time, I think she understands.

“Ok”, she says looking at the couple as they pass by. “At least we will be out of the wind. It’s whatever you want to do.” We turn and walk back.
Once again in the sanctuary, we sit in the rich red, amber, and dark mahogany expanse quietly waiting. I’m reminded of my visit to the Ann Spencer House last April and my unexplainable love for dark people. It feels more peaceful to be among them. Somehow I feel like I belong, like I can be more me. How can a butterfly remember wings of a color she never wore? How can there be this river of memory never lived?

Sitting in the church pew waiting for the service, I think about the fact that I have to keep going, following signs until I’m not heavy in my heart any longer.  I’m tired of pretending to enjoy all this freedom. I’m tired of the journey now.  I’m tired of trying to figure everything out. I just want it to be over. I want someone else to show me what to do, how to be. Someone who will take care . . .of me. And the safest most loving place is here, in the House named after the most loving Mother of all. At this moment, I don’t have to be a mother to anyone. Not my students, not my friends, not my own mother, not even me. At this moment I get to be the child.

People begin to file in, some in feathered hats and Sunday best. Some in humble attire, wearing their modesty as suit jacket and tie.  A tall white robed man approaches the pulpit and begins the service. Brother Wayne Singleton, the music minister, is filling in for the pastor.We begin by singing, and almost immediately a sensation of peacefulness spreads over me like a well worn quilt. Comfort and familiarity spills out into my consciousness. We move through the hymns, traditional ones I remember from my childhood, but this time they produce no anger, no angst…no interior guilt. Only joy. And the call which begins from the choir loft, the “Amen” and the “Yes, Jesus!” Don’t unnerve me. They don’t make me feel uncomfortable or odd. I understand them now, this shouting to the Divine. This joy that can’t stay quiet and still. A voice that breaks the rules of proper expression.

I try to avoid looking at my mother. I don’t want to see her rigidity, the acceptable religious participation rules have been transgressed I’m sure. Because if I do look, I will slip unwillingly into the pool of her judgment, and feel responsible for her emotions once more. I will lose my focus in trying to make it right for her. To ease my sense of having done the wrong thing, I try to imagine that I’m alone.

Brother Singleton begins his sermon, a message resting on Matthew 27:22.

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!”

As Brother Singleton moves through the sermon, his focus deepens on the first part of the verse; he speaks of the ways we should answer the question: What shall I do with Jesus? My own understanding of the message blooms like the blossoming limbs lining the Charleston streets.

Then what shall I do with Love?

I become increasingly aware of my mother as he speaks; the microphone is too loud it seems for his charismatic words. She holds her ears; a slight scowl descends over her brow. I notice that my belongings are lying between us. What shall I do? I move my things to the floor. I take her hand, rub my thumb across its thinning skin and give it a squeeze. I smile.

Don’t’ reason! You can’t come to the answer in your head…in your reason like Pilate tried to. You can’t figure out Jesus in your head. You gotta come to Him in your heart.

As I hold my mother’s hand I think about my new commitment to allowing. To love what is, rather than love after my preferences have been met. To hold my heart open for the coming and going of people is still too scary. To be vulnerable is to invite more pain, but now I realize a closed heart is condemned to pain permanently. Real love can only come from a genuine place, a place only visible in an allowing state. Having the courage to possibly be hurt is the only way I will be able to experience a genuine love. I must love people for who they are and the love they uniquely manifest.

You are the only one who can answer the question. No one can help you. No one can go for you. No one can tell you what to do with Him. You can’t ask somebody else to bear your cross. You gotta decide for yourself one on one what you gonna do.

I begin to nod, as the “Amens” descend from the choir loft echoing to the pulpit. The path is a single one, ultimately. It just is. I can hate it all I want, but it doesn’t change that people will come and go. The challenge is to take joy in the comings and try to take more than sorrow from the leavings. I think of my mother and how she is supervising my grandmother and maiden aunt now. Maybe her clinging to extraneous trivialities is a way of feeling stable. . .safe, feeling in control of the loss that’s surely to come.

Once you know Him, there ain’t no substitute. You wake up on Sunday sometime. You think, I got more important things to do. I got this. I got that. I feel better doing something else than be with Jesus. But I’m here to tell you even the food down at Jestine’s ain’t no substitute for Jesus.

Mom turns and smiles at me for a moment and then releases my hand She has scooted closer. Unseeing the challenge of loving others as I love myself isn’t possible now. I can’t unsee the need for kindness. I can’t unsee the need for justice or the need for empathy. Unseeing is the closest thing to “sin” I can think of. If I can’t unsee my own shortcomings, I might as well learn to live with them…for that is the only way I will have deep loving relationships. It’s the only way my closeness with Mom, the only permanent relationship of my life, will survive and grow.

And the question remains, “What shall I do with Jesus?” You won’t ever answer it in this life. You answer it every day. In every way. With everybody. You answer the question every morning and every night. You answer it when ya suffer. You answer it when ya sing. You answer the question on every step of the way. Cause the answerin leads ya right back to Him.

I ask myself.

What then shall I do with Love?

What then shall I do with Peace?

What shall I do with this heart laid open?

We rise to sing a hymn before communion; unbelievably it’s one of Mom’s favorites:

And He walks with me and He talks with me and he tells me I am his own

And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

I slip my arm around her waist and hug her tininess. She begins to cry. It’s something to simply accept, this being there for her in ways she needs, and her being there for me the ways she can. All she has ever wanted was my happiness. Love isn’t any simpler than that.

Communion around the purple draped and lily strewn altar places us on our knees at the rail. As a part of the body of this congregation now, our lighter faces fade into the darker ones. Our eyes shine in the candles and lamplight of this century old building. Kind faces. Open hearts. Humble spirits. The ladies near us who have helped my mother to her knees, make extra space for me, but I stay on my knees on the floor behind her. It seems the right place. At the table of common love and human suffering, we are all one. It doesn’t matter that the particulars of my faith aren’t aligned with theirs. When Brother Singleton cracks a wafer and places it into my hand, I think of how I’ve been cracked open by going on this pilgrimage. Thirty seven days ago I made two decisions that changed everything. I left a relationship for the wrong reasons, but I regained focus upon a spiritual journey that began last September. Both ultimately healed me in many ways. As we pray and share this ritual meal, I think about how I would never be kneeling here, experiencing this without those decisions. Gifts come from the Universe when we least expect them; how fruitless it is to believe the unfolding of our lives is within our control.

After communion and closing benediction, Mom and I visit with folks. When they ask us about our presence, I tell them about my journey, how I felt led there, how it all seemed part of some big design. Their acceptance and understanding of my story is obvious in their hugs and “Bless you, baby’”. We are both showered with genuine affection which travels with us out of the huge wooden doors, down the stone steps and out onto the night street, wind still crisply blowing.

As Mom and I ride in the taxi to dinner, she takes my hand.

“You know, tonight reminded me a lot of growing up in the Methodist Church. I really enjoyed it hun. I’m glad we went.”

She squeezes my hand, all smiles, as the streetlights flash and fade across her face. When she begins to make small talk with the driver, I have a few moments to reflect. I think of the person who unknowingly sent me on this part of my journey. One day, I want to share with him that my leaving opened a space for something beautiful to bloom.

My challenge is to live in those lessons every day, alone or partnered. And to live in Love fiercely as much as surrender to it. For in the surrender comes the rising again of hope. . . and hope has wings.



You got the Silver, You got the Gold

10 Apr


Open the eyes. . .open the ears of your heart. — Imaculee Ilibagiza

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I sit in the sun outside The Cheese Shop with a glass of Cotes du Rhone and a plate of Taleggio, Humboldt Fog , and Comte with wide crackers, dried fig, and honey. The sunshine warms the air into a comfortable springish cloud. I sit reverie.  As a person who has followed signs for two years, the last 24 hours has produced a catalog of synchronicities all confirming the necessity of being in this place.

I watch for the signs now. They tell me where I need to go. They show me that indeed there is a Universal power which governs my walking. After attending the lectures of Imaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan genocide survivor, at St Joan of Arc Church in Yorktown, Virginia no one could persuade me that I am wrong. For sign after sign assured me…

I watch over you.

 With you, I abide.

 After two days of intense introspection, I bask in the light of consciousness and inner conviction. I want to capture this moment in a bottle. . . this intensity of love and connected emotion. I want to tell everyone as they walk down the 18th century cobblestone paths or sip their wine and nibble from their plates.

You are Love. . . beyond words.

 I am Love.

 A power exists which loves us enough to transform human suffering into gold…if we only allow.

 When we awaken …we see Her everywhere. And She is with us …always.

It seems as though I have caught “religion”, but it isn’t that simple or convenient. The conviction of love has no expression other than the witness of the believer. To those who have never experienced atonement in the truest sense of the archetype, this type of belief is a street corner proselyte, dressed in the linen and ashes of something outside of the Self.

I open my little book and begin to write and a small old man rounds my left side. His face like a dried carved apple is topped with a black French beret. His smile extends genuine warmth.

“May vee share your table?” he says.  I detect a slight accent.

“Oh, yes!” I say.

I know by now that meetings are no accident. That the connections we make in life are food for our souls.

“Vee don’t vish to disturb”, the lady says nervously.

I can tell she doesn’t want to sit here, perhaps thinking I am wrapped in my writing. But I tell her quickly that it is fine. Whatever makes her most comfortable is best. She smiles, sits, pulls a small packet of tin foil from her purse.

“Vee come here every day”, the man says. “To have tea, read…”

He waves a thin newspaper. I look at them both closely. They must be in their eighties, small and fragile. Their eyes show the letting go of years, a slow assent to inner understanding.  The man gestures to my plate.

“Is nice. . .I don’t see many people eat zis way.” He means my luncheon cheese plate and wine.

“Yes, I eat in small bits…the American way is too much.”  I know he will understand.

The man tells me that he and his wife are originally from Czechoslovakia, but have lived here for nearly 30 years. He questions whether I am from Europe and as we talk, I know this is giving me a gift yet to be unwrapped. I must be patient, listen, ask questions if I can. Be present. After two days of signs and revelation, the position of automatic gratitude comes easily.

They begin to share a small slice of pecan pie, revealed from the tinfoil packet the lady has taken from her purse.  She sees me looking.

“Vee get from farmer’s market this morning.  Is sweet… only a little bit,” she smiles. Her large chocolate brown eyes are the richest color on her face other than carmine lipstick, the stuff of a grandmother’s kiss.

As our conversation deepens, the husband reveals that they have been married 65 years.

“That is amazing!” I exclaim.  After a small hesitation, I press on, “May I ask you a question? I hope it isn’t too forward… What’s the secret?”

They look at each other and smile. The question doesn’t seem to be a new one.

“Vell,” he says,  “You must put the other person first…”. “And they…must put you first,” she says over top of him.

Their joint explanation produces more delicate chuckles.  “And vee are best friends… “,  he says.

“Do you have children?” I ask.

“No. Vee didn’t vant any…it was enough to try not to have them!” the wife says raising her eyebrows.

Her more personal comment pushes us all into hearty laughing. Their tiny frames lean together in the shaded afternoon light under the table umbrella. She places her whole arm on top of his, rubbing the navy wool of his sweater. No brothers or sisters, these two are the ends of their lines, by choice.  When I gently ask them about this, she smiles, “Vee are for each other.”

I choke up a bit. No husband, no children or siblings, I have wondered for so long who will be with me at the end. Who will care for me…bury me. Will they be kind? And here are these two connected souls . . .there for each other with no thought to any future other than what is.

The husband leans over the table toward me, “Vhen vee fell in love, it vas a Streetcar named Desire….”

I smile widely, “How so?”

“Vell”, he says . “Vee lived in Prague and on the street car, I see a pretty girl. You know, one stands and one sits, so I stand by her.”

His wife is smiling and nodding at every line.

“And vee have different accents, because I was not born there, so I say to her, ‘Do you know where is this address?’ And of course, is my home address. So she offers to help me find and of course I can’t understand, so she has to take me there herself. To my house…then I ask her for a date”. He glances back and forth between us as the story unfolds, his smile shining from his eyes.  The moments pass so slowly. A peculiar feeling begins to rise, easing the pressure in my left chest. I bask in the sun of a love that has lasted well over half a century.

“So you know vee set a date”, he says, “at square where all the young people meet. And I am to go there and wait. I think…she will be late because girls like to do that…they like to make the man more eager. And I get there and she’s there!”

I look to the wife who says, “I like to be on time!” She shakes her head, “No games…I don’t like the games.”

We talk. We eat together. The delight between us is the sweetness of a first spring afternoon. The husband asks me if I am married. My negative reply prompts his asking, “In past?”

“Yes,” I say.

“And how long?” I tell him and also reveal that it wasn’t my choice that it would be so short.

“Do you see a man now?” he asks.

His wife pats his arm as if to tell him he has gone too far, and she frowns slightly.

“Yes, I did….” I hesitate, “We are. . . apart.” My face reveals a conflict too easily seen.

Words don’t seem to form as I look into his smiling eyes full of a wise heart’s years.

“Ah. . . you want back?” he says tilting his head to look at me through a keen eye.

I nod, which slightly blends into a shake and shrug of shoulders.

This small confession feels so natural in front of him. In the last four weeks, I have slowly been peeled, layer by layer. And I see so much more clearly. This part of the journey has placed mirror after mirror in front of me and the lessons in compassion, love, allowing, being and openness have come in much needed rough waves. High surf equals the most profound ride.

“Vell,” he says, “it depends on what kind of zoup it is.”

“Zoup?” I say, half laughing.

“Yes. Some zoup is better heated up the second time…some zoup?  Eh, not so good….”

My body erupts in laughter with them. The pressure in my chest propels out into the blue and white rippled sky.

“You vill be fine”, he says. “Men…afraid sometimes. They don’t like to feel wrong.”

His words comfort me. Suddenly I can’t contain this feeling welling inside my chest. For the first time, I feel like I can see it…the part inside us that shines…the golden part that has all the love in it. That’s true goodness. We make laundry lists of qualities we think will best serve our egos in relationships, when what we really need to be looking into is the heart and soul  of the person…not our projections or expectations. But is there goodness there? Kindness? Humanity in all its imperfection? The willingness to be authentic and vulnerable. The willingness to love as we really are.

Friday night, Imaculee spoke of forgiveness for the Hutu murderers of her family and friends. She had hidden in a small bathroom with seven other women for 91 days. She learned not only that the Divine loved her even in her suffering, but that the power of this love surpasses hate.

“We cannot put people into boxes of being”, she had said.  “We judge and they judge and we don’t see how miracles come from loving people for who they are not what they do. We cannot blame those who are asleep in their souls. We can only pray that they someday wake up to their actions and then…they too, like us, will ask to be forgiven.”

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

“If you cannot pray it”, she said, “skip that part till you can.”

At the end of a day on which I finally forgave the one who sent me on this long journey, I also asked the Universe to be forgiven for being so blind to the many gifts of love I already have and those I have carelessly lost.

Love is a force we embody. We just need to be awake to it. And in every sign…there is confirmation.

Yes, I am listening.

 Yes, I am with you.

 Yes, you are on the right path. 

 You are not alone.

After finishing their pie and our nearly hour long conversation, the couple made to leave. The wife placed her hand on my shoulder and gave a squeeze.

“Vill be ok”, she said with a most glorious smile. “You are young.  Is nice to travel alone…but nicer when you share.”

She patted me and they walked slowly out of the courtyard onto the path, holding hands.

Love is so simple. This was my first lesson. I must remember that.

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Who Knows?

2 Apr

Breathe in.

My arms stretch upward, reaching for the sky, while I am trying to open a chest that feels as if it has never taken a deep breath.

And sweep down, my yoga instructor says as I hinge at hip, ignoring the pinch and pop.

Anything, I think, anything to help get rid of this heavy ache under the left side of my chest wall. Breathing, I stretch up again and know the more my lungs fill with the rhythm and sweep of wind, the better the day will be. Yoga has now made its way into my life. My left side sends the message that something more than sweating or muscle building is needed. Every posture reveals tiny knotted bundles of unreleased emotions. Anger, sadness, resistance, a multitude of memories stored in each angular curve. For a fairly fit person, I’m strung tighter than a banjo in need of tune.

My right leg extends upward and to the side, bending to the left into a star like pose. While I’m balanced, opening my hips and chest, I become aware of a song drifting from my instructor’s small sound system.

Hey lady, you got the love I need
Maybe more than enough. . .

My body feels the slow instrumental notes like the cold rain that now spots the wide glass of the studio windows filled with grey- white morning fog. In this moment, I look for a lesson, despite the painful pressure rising in my left chest wall.

–Breathe, I think. Allow. This isn’t cruelty. It’s a sign to open more.

I bend.

I breathe.

Hips rise.

Tears fall.

Rain on the glass in spatters. The singing ring of a Tibetan bowl. Namaste.

After class, self care includes warm French croissant and coffee at the Community Market. I sit at a tiny picnic table inside and watch the room filled with pods of people eating. . .talking. I wonder what else the rain will bring.

The hours pass. Its twilight now, or at least I think so in the deluge that is pouring from the sky. The road winds down through dense fog and sheets of cold rain in the diffuse evening light. And I am still allowing puddles left from the emotional shower during my morning practice to evaporate. Perhaps tonight’s Satsang service at Yogaville in Buckingham, VA will give me insight.

I enter a warm, close room in the yoga academy at the beginning of the service and pick my way through the crowd of chairs and cross-legged yogis on the carpet. On an plain dais in the front, sits a man playing drum, and two women, one a violinist, the other playing a free standing accordion. A lotus blossom opens on the wall behind them with a single crystal light on a small shelf. The accordion player sings a line which the crowd offers back in response, over and over. Several audience members jingle tiny tambourines in time with the beat. The effect is hypnotic, but merry. And suddenly, I feel my overcast spirit starting to lift. An overwhelming surge of feeling safe, simply by being in this room washes over me. Am I feeling the energy of joy? At the end of our singing, a bell intones, and the room breathes into a cascading exhalation. . .


The last notes drag out my breath into inner stillness.

The lights dim and a cross legged figure dressed in mango colored robes appears on screen. His voice, like a bemused grandfather begins to unlock my chest.

Always ask, he says, Who am I?”
Ko Hum. . . Ko Hum. . .Ko Hum
Who is asking the question?
Am I the body?
Am I the mind?
Who is happy? Who is unhappy?
Who is unhappy and who knows who is happy or unhappy?
…What is it they say? Know the Knower.
Be nosey about you.

As Sri Swami Satchidananda continues, I know I am meant to hear this wisdom. For he begins to discuss change and resistance to it.

I am sad. I am hungry. I am happy. I am unhappy. I… I… I, he says.
Keep an eye on that I.
The Seeker looks for the never changing one in the midst of the ever changing one.

In essence, he is gently reminding me to always look for and dwell in my higher self, to trust She will be there through constant changing conditions. She is the image of the Divine in me. Every so often in his quiet lecture, he creates an analogy that brings forth the crowd’s laughter. He reminds us of other faiths, how at times they seem too serious to be spiritual. This encourages us to enjoy our changing. And it encourages me to simply lighten up.

Changes are there for you to enjoy. You don’t want the same food every day, or wear the same clothes.
You change your hair, your clothes. That is the show. You come home and take it all off.
Changes are there for your enjoyment.
So accept them. Enjoy them.
Know that you are one who is changing while also unchanging.

And in being this Knower, this watcher connected to the greater “I”, the higher Self, I am a witness. Awareness of my actions and my response to the world is heightened. I am conscious, but also able to laugh at life’s simplicity, my own simplicity as well. As Swami Satchidananda says,

Be the eternal witness to your own life.

I scribble this down quickly. Suddenly, I see the writing of this journey in a new way. Maybe I have been looking at the “alone” thing in the wrong way. How many people get the opportunity for enormous self reflection, for self analysis? To watch their own lives rather than be continually embroiled in it. One of my friends going through intermittent empty nest plaintively tells me, “Oh what I wouldn’t do to be completely alone!” This coming to really love myself doesn’t have to be excruciating. I’ve been bracing for a tsunami and the guru tells me I just need to learn to surf.

Learn the board. Take care of it.
Learn to balance and then surf well on the sea of the world.
When you know how to surf well, you look for big waves, because you know how to enjoy them.

I never thought to look at what challenges me in life as waves to be conquered by not becoming involved. It was always head down, like a ram, tough through it and then recover from the deluge. I let conditions suck me in and affect me rather than using them to perfect my surfing. Maybe this will help to lighten me, for if I am not always battle expectant on the road of trials, I can lose some of the bracing seriousness that tends to keep me armored against allies as well as dragons.


A new understanding about my body comes while driving home, thinking about my physical practice. The guru said, Make yourself strong to lift others. I have worked so much anger and pain into my muscles, building them as a protection and a testament to my strength. But now I’m inflexible. In building so much of an emotional wall in my recent relationship, my left side slowly locked up in response. It’s as if my body responded to the condition. . . it separated from the greatest part of the“I”. Learning to open emotionally and physically and let it all go, means to allow conditions to roll as waves. It doesn’t mean disallowing my emotions; while I am feeling them I always keep an “eye on the I”. That is my security…that never changes. My quest is to keep asking who am I…who is the Knower? The guru tells me this can actually be enjoyed. Finding the courage to love my essence could be a great relief. And isn’t love supposed to feel good?

I’m lifting.

I’m learning.

I’ve come to the first stepping stone. I’m not perfect and so I will hurt others by mistake. Not because I AM the mistake, but because I have the courage to get out on the board and be willing to fall off into the deep end. I’m worth loving. I’m worth knowing. I will keep giving myself that next chance even if I make a mess of things. In all my imperfections, I’m still pretty awesome at simply being human.



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