“I will pack you up in the pocket of my heart and take you with me,” I found myself saying to my cat Sherlock as I left on my walk. What a lovely thought. Where did it come from?
My sister in spirit at my church was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last week before Christmas. I don’t know her well, but it doesn’t matter. I carry her in the pocket of my heart.
This is what we do when we hold vigil with someone. We don’t become them, but while living our own lives we keep them present. We create a space in our being where our presence intersects with their presence. A God space where both are free to be who they are while supported by each other’s spiritual energy. Holding Vigil.
P.S. After I posted I bumped up against this gem passed to me by a soulfriend. The last lines complete my thoughts. Unless we give up the clutter there won’t be space for pocket presence.
Give up the world, give up self, finally give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.
Poem: “Instructions” by Sheri Hostetler, from the anthology A Cappella: Memmoite Voices in Poetry”.
“Jonah” is a poem I wrote during the first Gulf War, which was raging during my tenure as a nonviolent resistor to the nuclear weapons at Subase Bangor in Puget Sound. Living beside the railroad tracks leading into the base, I witnessed monthly shipments of missile propellant fuel destined for Trident submarines. Admiral Trost said that the subs were necessary to “protect the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.” Nevermind, that most people do not share that affluent lifestyle, and they are in poverty partly because taxes are allocated to these weapons, while food stamps are drastically cut. My spiritual practice is to try to live a lifestyle that doesn’t depend on the weapons to protect it.
The poem reflects the despair I felt then and now, but it offers hope that resistance can breed resistance. It was dedicated to Steve, a submariner who applied for, and received, conscientious objector status. We are called by conscience to go to Nineveh. Will we go?
For Steve, Who Broke the Silence
How obscene that submarines slither through unseen.
Journalist to Pentagon briefer: “Sir, is it true that
A cruise missile was fired from a submarine?”
General Kelly: “We never discuss submarines.”
They slither through unseen.
As unseen as the bodies in Baghdad.
Today I sit on Hood Canal-
Mountains, sun, spring wildflowers.
Euphoric, here where
Submarines slither through unseen.
As if to confirm the paradox
Two patrol boats pass.
Do they escort the Leviathan?
I can’t hear it.
I can’t see it.
The beast breaks silence,
Its dark, hulking frame mimicking the
Great Orca of Puget Sound.
Shivering, shedding silent, shame-full tears…
When the beast descends this time
It goes down depleted.
Another Jonah has tumbled out,
And his “No” will echo forever in
The belly of the whale.
One year after the unexpected death of my sister I still step gingerly. When we grieve we learn that all we CAN do is step out. If we step in harmony with the pain, we become sure-footed. The pain transforms from foe to friend, and we endure in spite of the loss.
My spiritual practice has been intentionality. I ask for the grace to stay conscious, to recognize each wave of grief and to honor my humanity by feeling it. It has also helped me to be aware of my sister’s continued presence in a new way. I have prayed for her spirit as she transitions into this new and unknown existance. And I have practiced letting her go.
Two gifts have emerged from this experience: reinforcement that the ice holds, and realization that we are not in control. Now I try to live into these truths, and to be in solidarity with others who grieve.
“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” Gn. 32:24
“…I saw God face to face, and my life was spared.” Gn. 32:32
Recently, I enjoyed viewing the work of my favorite Impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin. “Vision After the Sermon” took me by the shoulders and shook me awake. “Pay attention to me!” it shouted. Initially, it profoundly disturbed me. I identified with Jacob and felt abandoned on the other side of the river, left to wrestle alone. I was angry that the spectators judged from afar, while Jacob fought on their behalf. My response was so intense, I let it live itself out, unattended for a week.
Spirit has done her work in the meantime. Today, as I return to the painting, it whispers, “They are not spectators. They hold vigil for Jacob.” I am overwhelmed with awe. What a holy thing it is to hold vigil for someone who struggles to see the face of God. When we are aware of someone’s struggle and we set aside a time to surround him with the light and grace of God, we are in solidarity with him, even while standing on the other side of the river. Because we vigil, our loved one, or a group about whom we care, is not alone. We can send someone the energy of God whenever we think of her throughout the day. In this way, the spectator becomes a participant.
I have experienced the spiritual practice of holding vigil before an important meeting. It can have a profound effect on the outcome, because it frees us from the need to force a desired outcome, thus allowing the Spirit to guide the struggle. When we intentionally pray for the openness to see the face of God in unexpected places- even in a business meeting- our lives as we know them are spared, changed.
It comes to me that I hold vigil with all of you who read these reflections. We wrestle together. We are a community in search of the Face of God. Thank you. Amen.