One spring day in 1949 a man strolled through our lazy Seattle neighborhood, leading a black and white pinto pony. I left my little heart on 50th St. in West Seattle that day. “Hey, kids, you want to ride my pony?” Duh. We ran into the house and wore Mom down with begging. After all, for just $5 she would have a swell portrait of us.
I remember that day as the happiest of my childhood- not the details- I didn’t know until recently that my sister had wanted to wear the chaps, but she let me instead. It’s the experience of ecstasy I remember. It’s there on my face, bursting through the dimples.
I also remember sitting on the floor in front of the book case at age seven and a half, ecstatic at my re-discovery of a book, If Jesus Came To My House. It portrayed a child leading Jesus by the hand through the house and neighborhood, pointing out the most special people, places and toys. I remember feeling so close to Jesus as I read, and the yearning for him to come to my house and stay. The seeds of mysticism planted. A remodled house now, an evolved image of Jesus; nevertheless, the same yearning.
Jesus arrived at my house the day the black and white pinto pony came, and every time since then, when I watch toddlers play, and my cat chase her tail. This old shaker song ,“Simple Gifts” was written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. It says it all.
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
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.
I used to raise consciousness at a navy subase about the violence inherent in possessing and using nuclear weapons. Weekly, a worker drove through into the base as I passed out leaflets. His truck carried a rifle rack and he looked straight ahead, never acknowledging my presence. I was convinced that he was an irreconcilable “redneck” who surely hated this “bleeding heart liberal.” One day he seemed different. His despondence was palatable. I responded to it by blurting out, “How are you?” He shouted back, “How am I? I’m terrible. How else would I be having to go in there every day and do what I have to do?” I had reduced him to my erroneous perception of him. In the spirit of today’s Eckhart quote, I would say I had divided him from his true self by dwelling on what I thought to be his flaws. Not exactly following the call to love God with my whole heart, and my neighbor as myself.
As human beings we seem destined to make judgments about one another. Nothing alarming about it- it’s the human condition; however, when we choose to dwell on the flaws of others until that’s all we see- it divides us from our own best self, from the other, and from God. We are all more than our flaws.
My meditation birthed this prayer. If it speaks to you too, I thank the Spirit: