I have a process that is very internal, happens every year, starting at about the solstice and intensifies as the calendar year draws to a close. I know the year end is an arbitrary system of time that humans developed, but I have been connected to it ever since I became aware of it, so my body, mind, and spirit respond to this cycle of time. I usually get very introverted and crave quiet…it happened again this year. I used the time to begin reflecting and thinking on my word for the year.
Last year I worked with the word presence, and got some beautiful, profound lessons in it. Some were difficult and harsh, while others were ecstatic and magical. It was a good word for the year, and was supported by a cast of characters called, patience, sacred, love, possibility, spaciousness and beauty. Wonderful words, wonderful lessons!
The events of the last few months of 2014 began to shape the word for 2015 and it’s support team. It became very clear as the year drew to a close that Trust (with a capital T) was the leading word for the year ahead. I have found that other words join in as the year unfolds, but already trust has been joined by expansion, vulnerability and adventure. This will no doubt be a powerful year. I can feel it already. I have spent time with my dear astrologer and friend, Gretchen, I see how the planets are lining up. I have a taste of things to come. Yet, that word from last year and the lessons learned call me back to presence and now to Trust..
Already in the first days of the year, I have learned something about Trust. I have learned that when Spirit calls, I listen and I trust, whether I really feel like it or not. I have learned yet again that most of the time, I just need to show up in the world (with some preparation, like the right poems) and Spirit takes care of the rest.
I am beginning to get the capital T already, this level of trust is about big things, from big sources, aka Divine Spirit. Which brings me to the question of who and what do we trust?
I have read hundreds of books; self help, personal growth, spiritual, inspirational, scientific, from many, many different authors. I have learned to read these books, keeping in mind what a wise teacher of mine said once, keep an open mind, but don’t let your brain fall out. I realize that all of these authors are simply writing from their point of view and experience, and I must always remember that.
I have listened to well meaning and wise friends. Again, all of the wonderful advice and wisdom comes from their own story, their own life journey, not mine. All of it is valuable and rich, but must always be taken in and measured with the wisdom and truth from my highest self and Spirit.
The same is true for the wisest of the wise, my spiritual teachers. They guide me and show me the way based on their path and their knowledge. My journey with trust and growth is to measure that wisdom against my internal wise ones and guides. Does the teaching resonate? Does the wisdom ring true? I would advise anyone who comes to me for spiritual guidance and teaching to do the same. My teachings come from Spirit but still they must be measured against your teachings from Spirit. If it is truly from Spirit it is mostly in alignment, and is clear to see.
In 2015, let’s not blindly follow the leaders, the teachers, the books and latest truths. Let’s take in all the wisdom, and see what rings true for us. I know this requires a certain level of development, awareness of shadow, projection, fear, and consciousness about all the other juicy stuff that gets in the way of clear seeing and knowing. Welcome to the ongoing journey of life, those things will always be true, always need to be in our consciousness. I know it is not a simple process, and I am somewhat making it out to be that. But really it just comes back to the T word….Trust in the whole process, in the whole unfolding mystery.
What I can see already is that Trust at the level I am to learn it and live it, comes from my guides, Divine Spirit and my highest self. The questions will be; Am I listening?, Am I ready to hear what they say?, Do I believe it?, Will I live from it? Already in less than 48 hours, the word has brought up all kinds of fear and doubt. Part of me wants to retreat, call it bullshit and pick another word, a fun one perhaps. The other part of me says this is the word of your life, are you ready to live it? Trust with a capital T
It’s not like I won’t read anymore books, I have a stack of about 10 of them right next to me, and another 10 on the kindle. It’s not like I won’t listen to my dear, wise friends or seek out the guidance from my teachers and therapists, because I will. I will keep an open mind, listen and learn, and I will take all that information and wisdom and bring it to the wisest council I know, the circle of Grandmothers and animal guides, led by Divine Spirit, that lives in me and guides me from the spirit world. And I will listen, I will believe, I will Trust. It is part of my vow, I say yes to where I am called and serve with a grateful heart. That yes means Trust, and I say yes, again and again.
This is going to be quite the journey. I Trust it will unfold just as it needs too. I invite you to share your word (s) for 2015. Blessings and love to you.
A few years back, it was with reverence and honor that I named my two new cats after two of my favorite poets, Rumi and Mary Oliver.
Oliver was an adorable, loving, spunky and talkative little guy. He lived life full on, and then in one of the most heartbreaking animal moments of my life, I watched him die with Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It is a horrible disease, that quickly put an end to this poet kitten’s life at only 7 months of age.
I adopted Rumi’s sister, who went through a serious of names, before i decided on Coco, partially for her color, and also to give her a bit of Coco Chanel elegance..a name she does not live up to. :) They were later joined by Kylie, a feisty girl who rules the house.
But this is about Rumi, for years he has lived up to his namesake in extraordinary ways. I seem to be the only one who notices, but then he is devoted to me…I seem to be the version of the Divine Beloved that he is most enamored with. He flops at my feet, looks up at me with eyes filled with adoration and praise. Perhaps, it is only for pets or the promise of breakfast, but it is real worship to me.
And most mornings beginning at about 3 am, he sings praises to Allah, to God, to the Divine Beloved behind the bedroom door. This morning it was particularly loud and mournful, accompanied by many prostrations on the floor, which led to great banging on the door, he wanted to be heard, to be clear, “I am devoted”, “Allah, Allah, I am here!!
I must admit that I was initially not able to access the Divine within and appreciate this devotion…I tried baptism by spray bottle, acknowledging his presence with kind and not so kind words; but he is a devoted one, and the songs of praise continued.
At one point, I found myself yelling out “Rumi, Rumi, I know you are here.” and then I shifted into imagining the great Persian poet crying out to Allah…this brought a momentary sense of peace, followed by the thought that I really just want to sleep, and that devotion is so much better after I am awake. I get up at 4:30, anyway, is that too long to wait?
I must have drifted to sleep though, because I woke a bit later to a moment of silence before the lamentations began again. This was the poem that came to my mind in that moment-
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
Ah yes, this is it….my Rumi’s version is of course, Love Cats. “Listen to the moan of the cat for its master. That whining is the connection. There are love cats no one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them.”
There is indeed a lesson in everything. Unfortunately, this poem seems to be in support of early morning praising, but the adoration wasn’t going to stop anyway, so like most things in life, a little reframing is often just what is needed to go on.
As I write this, the devoted one is purring loudly in my ear, about to curl up for a long days nap, feeling content that his adoration has been heard.
One morning this week I opened my journal to write and discovered the words, "How can we have peace if we don't practice peace?" The evening prior I had been reading several articles about world events that clearly demonstrated that we are not practicing peace very well. I thought about some of the great teachings on peace-
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
― Fred Rogers
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
― Gautama Buddha
Pondering the question, where does peace begin? I thought of the words to an old song, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me" I am sure many of us have the grand utopian thought that the world would be a different place if each of us were to address within us what needed to be addressed so that we could move forward in a beautiful and loving way. Why yes, the world would be at peace..
In January of this year I wrote a worship service for seminary that was honoring some of the great peaceful leaders of our world, specifically Martin Luther King Jr,, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. I started to wonder if they had peace within..
More importantly in this moment, is for me to take the look inward and notice whether I have peace within and what areas need a bit of work, gentle guidance or strong encouragement, to come to some resolution or at minimum some movement toward peace. I think for many of us the turmoil and inner struggle may arise when we only live from one aspect of ourselves, namely the mind. The mind is not meant to be the master. When given control, it often takes us on a trajectory that includes judgement of others, especially those who are different or see the world in a different way. The mind left to its own devices wants to be right and will fight to be right often in irrational and yes, even violent ways. Quite often this "war" is first an inward battle, where our mind points out all the ways we are not good enough, not measuring up, never going to get what we need or be perfect enough. As you can see, as with other violent battles, this is a losing one.
It serves us so much more, to bring in the other aspects of ourselves, heart, soul and body, to be in conversation with the mind. The mind, or ego as it is often called, has value and we do not want to annihilate it. We really want to train it to be a team player, along with the heart, soul and body, the mind makes a great player on the winning, peaceful team.
Practices such as prayer, meditation, and reading poetry and other forms of inspirational writing can begin to access the beauty of the other parts of us and their desires. Paying attention to our bodies by moving them through exercise, dance and walking meditation can help us reconnect the relationship between our minds and bodies. They often become so disconnected in our daily lives. When we pay attention to what we eat and how much rest we need and we begin to notice the feelings we get in our bodes when something is wrong, or when something feels so right, and we begin to trust those intuitive urgings, we are practicing peace. We practice gratitude and lovingkindness meditation and other activities and states of being that encourage us to drop into our heart space and open up to the beauty within us and then in the world. We ask our soul the big questions of why we are here and what is our hearts desire. We practice compassion and self forgiveness, before we carry that out into the world. There is so much we can do to cultivate a loving and peaceful relationship with all the parts of our self. Perhaps the most important step is to begin.
A powerful book that changed my life and began to help me cultivate peace within, was Peace is Every Step by the wonderful Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. This book arrived in my life at a time when I was struggling with self hatred and a self loathing of my body. It is hard to believe there ever was such a time as I look back from the beautiful place where I live now, but there was. I was in my 20's and life was different then. Perhaps I will tell that story another time. For today, just the title of that book, Peace is Every Step can be a gift to us. As in the powerful 12 step programs that help to transform so many lives, one day at a time, one step at a time, we can achieve an inner peace that will over time effect the outer peace of the world we live in.
When you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the worlds problems, let it be a time for an internal check in. Am I at peace within? Where are the places of my inner life that I need to cultivate peace and compassion? Am I listening to my body? Is my heart open or closed? What is calling to my soul? What steps can I take? Then one step at a time, one day at a time, we practice peace.
Peace is Every Step
Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.
~Thich Nhat Hanh
This morning I posted on Facebook my reflections on why I don't go to the Langley Street Fair after faithful attendance for many years. The story is about moments, precious moments with my Mother who lived in Langley for 13 years before she died in 2011. We had a ritual around this street fair that involved me appearing at her door at 9 am on the first morning of the street festival for coffee and time to chat before heading out to the fair. She liked to go when it first opened for the day, she said it was less crowded and cooler. She was wise. We usually spent the afternoon back at her house where with both doors open on her little Brookhaven apartment, the cool breeze was delightful. With one venture out for street fair food, we were set for the afternoon. She would tell me all the latest from People magazine and this would lead to interesting discussions on the topics of the week. Who knew that People could generate great conversation about gay rights, adoption, religion and other important areas of life that we would discuss. Sometimes we would agree and sometimes agree to disagree, all with respect and love.
In the evening we would head out again to the streets of Langley for the dance. My Mother would find a place to sit and watch me dance up a storm. She had been doing that since I was a little girl and never seemed to lose interest in it. She said these were the simple moments that were the best times of life. Her advice always seemed to contain some version of keeping it simple, and acting from love and kindness.
Now that my Mother is gone from this world, I do not seem to have interest in going to the street fair. I tried once and really enjoyed hearing Quinn play his music, but after that it felt like home was a better place to be.
This is not the anniversary of her death, but it feels like it. It is simply one of those little reminders that I am living through loss.
We all experience loss, some of us an enormous amount, even at an early age or in a tragic way. And if we are here to talk about it, we are living through it. I know some people who struggle to find meaning in any of the moments after the loss of a loved one. I know others who because of the loss, find meaning in every moment. We are all different.
People have asked me how long does it take to feel relief from grief. I usually answer that it takes however long it takes. There is no rushing it, there is no exact timeline with grief. We are all different and experience grief in different ways for different amounts of time. This morning I asked myself if I am still grieving the loss of my Mother after 3 years and the answer was of course I am. Grief is deep sadness and I do feel it from time to time, but not as much as I did initially. I am getting used to the fact that she is not physically here, and that our daily phone calls and yearly adventures to the street fair are not going to happen any longer.
And I am living through the loss. I am happy. I am living the life my Mother would have wanted me to live. And I am working on keeping it simple. My Mother's philosophy of Love and Kindness is alive and well in my personal vow to live a life this way, every day, in her honor.
One of these years I may head into town for the street fair, for now I am grateful for the memories and todays opportunity to reflect.
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
When I first read this poem by Mary Oliver, I declared it the poem that described my life. My mantra then became, “my work is loving the world”.
Since my ordination people have asked, what will you do now? Will this change your work in the world? Will you lead a church? What will you do differently, if anything?
My first response is still this line from the poem, my work is loving the world. That is my purpose at the very core of my being, and it is expressed in various ways in my life. I have certainly seen it expressed in my work with young people over the years, nothing has grown my heart more than seeing them find their light and bring it into the world. I express it now in the way I supervise my dream team, humbled by the opportunity to work with such amazing people. I express it in the way I listen with my heart to others. In the way I move the worm off my kale so I can prepare my morning smoothie, or in the way I stop as I walk out the door and catch the first breath of fresh air in the morning. My work is loving the world.
It is my personal vow, taken as I became ordained, repeated now and lived on a daily basis, as I have lived it for the past 52 years.
Since graduation it seems to have taken on a new life. Perhaps it was speaking it out loud in front of my One Spirit family, perhaps it was the transmission of Spirit and the essence of Love in the ordination ceremony, perhaps it was the declaration of who I am at graduation for all the world to see, but there is now a certain seriousness, an urgency that was not there before.
The time is now and the voice is clear, take it to the next level. I have contemplated whether taking it to the next level means, heading off to a far away place and giving my life to caring for the sick and lonely ones, or shifting gears in my career to perhaps focus on the dying or make myself even more available in crises or to begin to gather people together to talk about how we might change the world. At graduation, an amazing young spiritual director, activist and youth advocate, Adam Bucko, gave an inspiring speech in which he urged us among other things, to become irrelevant so God could be relevant. His humble nature and powerful vision resonated with me and still lingers in my heart. He is truly loving the world.
So the next level of loving the world could be big, perhaps Adam’s reciprocity foundation is calling me, or an ashram in a far off country, but more likely, the next level is really about living the vow in the moment. I am not concerned about knowing the magnitude of my calling right in this very moment. I trust that Spirit will take me up on the other part of my vow which is to serve where I am called with a grateful heart. I will be shown, just as I always am. For today, I want to love the world fully in every moment. Every moment. Every person, every animal, every moment is an opportunity to love the world.
What if we all lived with this awareness, how would what you are doing today be different? In the poem, Mary Oliver also reminds us of gratitude, for our minds, hearts and body-clothes. We start the process of loving the world with ourselves. With deep appreciation for what we have been given and that we are in this magnificent human form so that we can indeed show up fully to the work we are here to do. I am filled with awe and wonder as I think of it all.
My work is loving the world, what’s yours?
A week ago I posted on Facebook that I was pondering this question:
"How can we expect to feel fulfilled if we do not tell each other the truth about who we are and what we feel?"
Little did I know what I was opening up for myself by taking on this question.
During my recent One Spirit Intensive in New York, I was in a small group with Dean Robin and some of my classmates pondering many questions, as we prepared to take our vows and be ordained as Interfaith Ministers. One of the questions was, what is your highest spiritual aspiration? I listened as my classmates shared and as I kept hearing the word vulnerability in my head. When I did share with the others that perhaps the highest spiritual aspiration I could personally achieve was vulnerability, there were a few moments of vulnerable silence as everyone took that in. I don't think I really knew what I meant by vulnerability as highest spiritual aspiration at the moment. I do know there were tears and fears that came along with it.
When the question of how do we feel fulfilled if we do not tell each other the truth about who we are and what we feel came up in my morning practice, that word vulnerability, was there again in my mind for examination. I realized that the fear of vulnerability sometimes keeps me from telling the whole truth to others and certainly from sharing how I really feel. When I tell the truth, I risk. There is always the possibility that the relationship with the person will change. They may not like what I have to say or they may judge me. And worst of all, conflict or an argument may arise. As a peacemaker, conflict and argument are my least favorite places to be.
However, I sometimes forget that as I tell the truth, if it is truly my authentic truth, my heart opens in a way that only the truth can allow, and no matter the response of another, I am free. A great spiritual master once said that the truth will set you free, and it does. It also allows for more intimacy and meaningful conversation and greater depth in relationships. The alternative may be emptiness.
Life has certainly provided me with enough hurts to know this is risky business, and most of us, self preserving creatures that we are, if we get hurt, we want to avoid what hurts. We learn as children that if the stove is hot, we don't touch it. If that person is mean, we don't go near them.
Speaking what is true about who we are and what we feel is essential for intimacy, fulfillment and freedom. It does require a certain amount of vulnerability and risk. We might displease another to honor ourselves. We learn that our own thoughts and feelings are the only ones we have choice about. We learn not to take things so personally. We learn how to deliver potentially difficult words to hear with kindness and respect.
The questions then become- At what level are you willing to communicate? To what degree are you willing to be seen? The greatest fulfillment and freedom lies in being true to who we are and what we feel. It is what we are divinely created for and what is truly nourishing to our soul. There is always more to ponder.....
Last week my dear friend Gretchen Lawlor, astrologer and mystical goddess, gifted me with a wonderful birthday astrology reading. There was so much helpful information and many wise words to ponder, one thought that came out of the reading as we began to discuss what the future held was the idea of "being a chapel".
This week I continue to reflect on what it means to "be a chapel" Naturally, I think about church and how I am feeling called to facilitate some type of inspirational or spiritual discussion group or gathering. I have no idea what that will look like from where I sit now or if there is even interest. Something tells me there is, and that it will look very different than the tradtional setting.
I do know that my ministry seems to be about "being a chapel" and assisting others in seeing how they too can embody the Divine in such a way as to be a chapel for the good work and word of God. For me, being a chapel is about living my faith on a daily basis, moment by moment, irregardless of the outcome, focusing instead on getting out of the way, creating space and an opening for the Divine to work through me. Anytime we are being the love of the Divine and bringing our gifts to the world, we are a chapel. When we take every opportunity to bring love and kindness to the world, we are being a chapel.
Now in the morning when I do my spiritual practices and read my personal vow of ministry, I also focus on how do I be the chapel today. If you think of a chapel as a religious place of fellowship and worship often attached to a larger structure, you can see how this might apply to a person. We each can be a sacred vessel for praise and thanksgiving. We are each a gift to each other and a part of something bigger and greater than each of us individually.
I am not sure what this all means at this point, I think is something I am growing into and will become more aware of as I move ahead into my life of ministry. I am remembering a dream during a vision quest just before I started my seminary program. At one point in the dream I came upon a field filled with yellow daisies. I walked through the field to a grey stone chapel, very old and simple. As I came closer I saw that the chapel had a name next to the door, it was there that I saw my name, Rev. Charlene Ray on a board nailed to the side of the door. In the dream I thought this is my chapel, this is where I teach, this is my home.
How might you be a chapel? What is your purpose for being here and how do you embody the sacred and live a life of deep meaning?
A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.
But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.