Spiritual Scars II

Standing in a very long check-out line to make several purchases, I overhear pieces of several conversations between the woman in front of me and a crew of her closest friends. The woman has recently relocated to escape a situation of domestic abuse.

Pieces of her story hang, unfiltered, amid the air of the retailer’s big box.  She is in town because a friend paid for her transportation, as well as offering her a place of refuge. Her former boyfriend, it seems, had an “addiction” to a string of old girlfriends and prostitutes, though this woman had had hopes of reforming him. The stitches she needed in her face caused her to give up her dreams of reform and seek the help of an old friend.

Spirituality

At one point in our long wait in the slow moving line at a cash register, a woman behind me asks whether or not we are mother and daughter, out on a shopping trip.

I reply, “No. No, we are not.”

Yet, the young woman in front of me could be my daughter, she is young enough, or your daughter or our daughter because her narrative, in many ways, makes her everyone’s daughter.

At one junction in our long wait and in between the young woman’s brief  conversations, a scruffy looking man enters the store. The young woman turns around to face me, asking in an urgent whisper, “Did you see that? That man has a gun.”

“No, I did not see it. Where was it on his person?” I ask, leaning in to reply.

“It was tucked into the edge of his jeans, by his side.”

“If that is what you saw, then you should report it,” I caution.

“I can’t. I am too scared.”

“I did not see what you saw. But, if you are sure and remain concerned, then it should be reported.”

With resolve entering her voice, she says, “With everything that has been in the news lately, I have to say something.”

The young woman motions to the man bagging purchases and whispers a description of the customer to him. Soon, the store’s security guard has been alerted. A search of the immediate area ensues.

Then, in an uncomfortable series of minutes, everyone in line observes as a very sinewy and hardscrabble of a man goes through a brief search. The man is not happy about the invasion of his privacy or the public spectacle. The “gun” is revealed to be an oddly shaped cellphone case attached to the man’s belt.

When the search is over, the store employees apologize to the older man, as he collects–in palpable consternation–the jacket  he had to remove. The tension around the scene begins to dissipate.

Meanwhile, our line has continued to move and the young woman has completed making her purchases. As I take my turn at the cash register, I hear the store security man and the bagger attempt to lighten the tension in the air by making several inappropriate remarks about the young woman’s inability to judge situations and about her “seeing things.”

Turning to face both men, I break my silence to explain that the young woman who reported the incident had just left a situation of domestic violence. And, given her experiential profile and the news lately, she had every right to be concerned about her personal safety in a public place. Her perception of the situation was completely understandable.

This narrative  reminds us to remain compassionate and to foster a respectful attitude toward our very singular perspectives on life, because–as strangers–we never really know what is packed away in another person’s travelling bags.

Spiritual Scars

Our dog of two years, Alfred, has been with us since he was approximately ten weeks old. Alfred sees virtually every long-handled tool–brooms, mops, shovels, rakes, not to mention those mechanized beasts, vacuums–as a threat.

Spirituality

A broom can be resting, immobile in a corner on our deck and, if Alfred takes an interest in it, he will rush the static broom, nipping at its inactive bristles, until the long-handled tool finally comes crashing down.

All alone. By himself. Alfred has created an animated, demonic creature bent on getting him. And, sometimes, when he nips the bristles just right, the broom does smack him as it lands in a crash on the deck.

Before we had Alfred in our home, he spent two interim weeks in the home of a woman and her son, who were fostering him informally. They had collected Alfred from his birth home a few blocks away where, according to his foster mom’s report, Alfred was being abused. The children of that home/neighborhood were taking turns (politely) throwing Alfred (abusively) against an outdoor cement wall which ran along the edge of their yard.

Given Alfred’s singular relationship with long-handled tools, we postulate that this poor dog was most likely abused by an implement such as a broom or mop during his initial weeks on the planet. This is an experience held deep in his memory.

One reading of this narrative renders the mental image of a dog battling his inner demons by taking on an inanimate mop or broom almost comical; although, it is not comical. In reality, this is a profoundly heart-breaking story. As Alfred’s roommate, it is difficult to witness  Alfred’s continued struggles with the live ghost of a memory which is over two years old.

Yet, in a larger sense, this is a tale about the manner in which many of us live our daily lives, battling the demons and ghosts of memories long gone by. How we view and interact with the world is not only impacted by our basic disposition, but it is also filtered through our deep and multi-layered life experiences.

As adults, the most important work we can do is to ensure that our old injuries heal over. Then, once healed over, we have an obligation to massage the ropiness out of these deep tissue wounds. It is the only way to emerge from the fire of life intact and be able to release the desire to do damage to someone or something else as a result of the pain we carry inside.

Spiritual Silence

Outside of a large, indoor flea market, near the metal railings around the expansive entryway, I stop unlocking my bicycle to look up. A middle-aged man is approaching, climbing a steep grade up from the lower-level parking lot. He is accompanied by three, young adult children. Everyone is fresh from church and dressed to the nines.

It is Sunday afternoon. My bicycle trip is a spontaneous break from the intensive gardening I was about all morning, designed to help me get the kinks out of my overworked arms, legs and spine.

Spirituality

Walking about four to five feet apart from one another, the family that is approaching me is so replete with the Light of God’s Grace that the space about them is suffused with a brightness akin to the light of the sun. My mouth opens involuntarily as I observe the spectacle of so much Light gathered about this one family.

Then, I watch as the protector of this group of amazing souls stiffens at the intensity of my gaping gaze, sure that my unkempt gardening clothes, mode of transportation and the dissimilarity of our backgrounds, our ethnicities, may also be putting him on edge.

I want to tell him about what I am seeing, so much Light; the love that each child holds; the radiant Grace present in their family; and, most especially, that his children are blessed and will be further blessed.

But, I say nothing.

Our physicality gets in the way. The physicality of our apparent dissimilarities shuts my mouth. The hurdle of inequitable social treatment silences my voice. Instead of inviting direct contact, I say a prayer of protection for this man and his children, asking God to keep these individuals out of harms way and to help them fulfill their holy blueprint.

Spirituality & Religious Expression

It is in silence that we connect to our highest Light—that spark which lets us know we are part of the Sum of Life. After an experience of the reliable silence of profound spiritual Union and after we have regrounded into our individual bodies, we often search for a physical venue of religious expression.

Spirituality

In mature marriages which have served to grow an individual member’s spiritual depths, there is sometimes a parting of ways because the chosen means of religious expression for an individual member (or both members) of the couple no longer matches that of the younger couple. If a middle-aged seeker returns to a religious organization of childhood familiarity, which he or she may have eschewed in early adulthood, this act of return often draws him or her away from the partner who was part of that person’s spiritual growth.

This is not a theoretical model, but a phenomenon which I have observed on two separate occasions in different unprogrammed Quaker Meetings.

What the two narratives illustrate for me is that in listening to the individualized leadings of our hearts, we are sometimes lead to walk places where we must go alone, to resolve unfinished business or return to a core sense of Self, the expression of which may or may not fall into step with the established rhythm of a mature, marital march.

Associations

Cold, windy and biting is an accurate description of the weather on the day I visit the post office. To protect my ears and neck from the wily and brutal winds outside, I have bundled up in one of my extra-long headscarves. With bright red, wind-chapped cheeks and a frozen nose, I imagine I am quite a sight after a full, four-mile walk.

Spirituality

Moving from the expansive post-office foyer into the line for counter service, I attempt to warm my stiff, cold and almost immoveable hands as I try to remove my gloves. Having crossed the threshold into the warmer counter-for-service area, I observe a postal worker shift through a series of complex body postures as he sees me entering the line.

Initially, he is merely doing his job. Then, as he notices me entering the line, I observe his body stiffen, until he is standing ram-rod straight—rigid. All of his working movements become uncomfortably tense and robotic.

With my fingers slowly thawing, I search my mind for a possible reason why my appearance in line would cause this worker so much discomfort.  Reaching up to unwind my headscarf, memories of living within an international, graduate-school housing community come flooding in.

It was while my husband was in graduate school and we were in university graduate apartments that, to my amazement and for the first (and only) time in my recollection, I qualified as something of a head-turner—but only among men of near-Middle-Eastern or Middle-Eastern origin. I consider the fact that, in terms of visual presentation, I am equally at home at a Greek dance party, a Sufi zhikr or a Jewish celebration.

Parallel to the unwinding of my headscarf, I observe the rigid tension melting out of this man’s body. With my long scarf now resting down the full length of my coat, I consider the fact that former military personnel are awarded extra points on the civil service examinations required of all postal workers, points which civilian test-takers must earn through extra high scores. Perhaps this man has seen active duty in the military.

What an odd encounter. We have not met. We have not spoken. And, yet, through whatever internalized, experiential markers this man carries within him, I was most certainly perceived as an uncomfortable form of “Other.” No matter what my mind postulates, my heart feels a deep sorrow for this man because my own experiences as a guest among Middle-Eastern peoples has given me a completely different set of positive, internalized social markers.

In travelling internationally, what I have learned is this. Among persons who are authentic seekers of a better life and who remain focused on the greater good, our greatest human concerns have to do with the love and respect we hold for one another in the context of family, as well as the desire for a better, safer world for our children. It is that simple.

Errands

Spirituality

Very late one Friday afternoon on a cold day while driving near the center of town, a friend who is accompanying me on errands comments on the twenty-five-plus people congregated with their bags near the edge of a parking lot.

“They are homeless,” I reply.

“But so many?” my companion asks in disbelief.

“Yes. They are probably waiting for a ride to a local shelter. Because of the profoundly Christian nature of this community, there are several shelters operating here. People in this area take serving the homeless quite seriously,” I explain.

“But where do they go during the day time?”

“Many of them spend their time among the various library branches. From what I have been able to discern, most of them are looking for ways to change their circumstances. They search for jobs, try to reconnect with family who might take them in or attempt to take care of more serious medical concerns via email and telephone.”

“That is an awful lot of people,” my companion comments.

“Yes it is.”

John Woolman

In Quaker tradition, individual seekers are encouraged to follow their leadings or individualized spiritual guidance. If feeling uncertain about a particular leading, a member of a Quaker meeting may call for a Clearness Committee to help discern what course of action might be taken around a specific nudge from the Light.

Spirituality

In the 1700’s, John Woolman (1720-1772) referred to his spiritual guidance or revelations as “openings.” Woolman moved through Quaker society speaking out against slavery during a time when many Quakers still held slaves.

Woolman must have been quite a sight as he travelled wearing undyed clothing, of a natural off-white color, after being informed that dyes were produced almost exclusively by slave labor. His work as a travelling minister caused Quakers as a group to renounce slavery decades before society would move in that direction.

John Woolman’s life and work remind us that we, as modern readers and individuals, have the abilty–when we listen closely to the urgings of our hearts–to make significant contributions through our personal decisions and actions.