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The Way of Grace

It would seem that each of us has a choice to make in every moment of every given day. We choose constantly between the way of power and the way of Grace.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Power uses other people; sees the world as a series of pocketed resources; is hierarchical; and, quite often, denies the sanctity of an individual life.

The way of Grace values other people as potential contributors; views the world as a series of living systems to be supported, upheld and, if compromised, repaired; acknowledges the parity of a life in the grand scheme of things; and, respects the sanctity of an individual life.

Readings

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about what you said.” The woman on the phone takes a breath with her next pause and, then proceeds,  “I suppose I wanted to tell you this in order to validate the work that you do.”

Spirituality
Spirituality

On the telephone with a peripheral acquaintance, I am talking with someone with whom I very rarely communicate. She has been battling breast cancer for more than two years.

Over ten years ago, as a gift to celebrate a personal, life transition, I facilitated an energetic rebalancing session, which included a “reading.” During the session, I related to her that a grey film in her energetic field appeared to be covering one breast and that her body might need additional selenium to help shift out or release this non-luminescent film.  This is one of the potential gifts of second sight—preemptive self-care.

In truth, I had forgotten about both this session and its details. As I tried to recall the where and when of our session, she continues speaking, “I wanted you to know that selenium is used as a supplement to help support cancer patients.” Our conversation soon concludes.

For some time, feelings of gravity regarding our short exchange do not lift from my heart. I recall the many occasions I had hoped that an energetic session might cause a profound, positive series of changes in someone’s life, inspire an altered and more optimal life routine or open up a sense of reverence for the gift of any given day.

It is true, that on rare occasions, I might receive a short note of gratitude or some helpful feedback about the profundity of the work. Yet, what caused my heart so much heaviness in general was that, during most sessions, I never felt that the Grace extended was ever acknowledged in a way that made me feel sufficiently full or that the Light was properly acknowledged. (I am aware that these observations may say something more about some deficiency in me than anything else.)

Visiting a Light worker, who may employ almost any alternative-care modality, is a stretch for most people. Know that it takes a great deal of commitment, exceptional self-care and a lot of devotional work, on the part of a dedicated practitioner, to remain clear and connected to be able to facilitate such a session—on behalf of the Light residing in another. Listening, really listening, to bodies, personal rhythms, guardian Angels, as well as for topical and sacred feedback, requires clarity and effort.

Thus, if life circumstances ever cause you to cross the threshold of an alternative-care practitioner’s space, who is committed to working with the Light, go with a pure and open heart ready to turn. There is nothing idle about Grace.

Sanctuary

“What is the point of hanging on?” an elderly friend asks me in a downcast tone one day. “I am not contributing anything.”

Spirituality

Then, I remind him that he has a passel of dogs and one cat who all rely upon him for daily feedings and at least one walk. He considers what I have said.

“Yes, I suppose,” he muses, growing a little brighter.

So, you are actually providing sactuary for some of God’s creatures, who would otherwise have no place to go.

And, isn’t this what we should all be striving to create, safe-space for ourselves and others?

Conviction

“Can I come in?” Gator asks me softly, after having knocked almost imperceptibly on our apartment door.

“Of course,” I answer, opening the door further to let him enter. “I’ll call Matthew.” Turning my face to call around the corner, I shout out, “Hey, Matthew, Gator is here.”

I hear the door to my son’s room open. Then, Matthew rounds the corner, entering the small living room to our modest, two-bedroom graduate-school apartment.

Spirituality
Spirituality

At this university, the housing units for graduate students, where we live, were built post-WWII to accommodate the students attending university on the GI Bill. Refurbished and updated at least twice since they were first erected, these apartments were meant to be temporary, yet they remain tiny spaces of retreat for graduate students, visiting faculty and their families.

Gator crosses the living area in five or six easy strides, coming to sit with Matthew at the table-level breakfast bar, which separates our galley kitchen from the sunny living area facing the lake. It was here, not long ago, that Gator underscored his preference for being referred to as “Gator” and not by his given name—a mark of burgeoning individuation and entry into a healthy adolescence.

Moving into the kitchen and past Gator and Matthew, I open the door on our refrigerator to find some peanut butter and apples to have with crackers.

Gator sits down wearily and begins to explain that he had to travel down the hill to visit us after walking out on a one-sided argument with his mother.

“She kept trying to get me to repeat this: ‘I will become a straight-A student. I want to be a straight-A student.’ At first, she was just saying it, and then she was right in my face with her voice raised. I told her calmly that I was not going to lie…

“I have never been a straight-A student. What makes her think that she is going to turn me into something that I am not—something I have never been? And, I won’t lie,” Gator shakes his head in quiet frustration as he finishes explaining his sudden appearance in our home.

Trying to sound nonchalant, I ask Gator, “Does your mom know you’re here?”

Gator continues the thread of his story, “Maybe she is all uptight about scholarships for college or something. But, I won’t lie like that. Don’t you think lying is worse than facing the truth?”

Gator’s question hangs in the air. Matthew is an exceptional listener, leaving Gator a lot of space to work through his conversational experience.

Then, Gator turns to answer my earlier question, “No. she doesn’t know where I am. She just knows that I went for a walk.”

My heart goes out to Gator. I feel gratitude for his presence and the feeling that he considers our home safe space. He is a “good kid”—a thoughtful kid.

“Hey, Gator, would you be alright with my calling your mom, to let her know that you are here?” I ask.

“Yeah, go ahead. She might be getting concerned, with the fight and all,” Gator responds.

As I dial, I think about the issue of conviction, as a trait, and how our own rigidity—in the areas of belief, desire and relationship—can lead us to breaking rather than carry us forward and over the bridge to the safety of compassion and release.

Why are we so hard on the people we love most?

Databases

Setting my things down on the empty couch at a local coffeehouse to begin working, I overhear a conversation going on between the shop’s proprietor and another customer. The customer is sitting adjacent to me at a table with two duffle bags tucked neatly under his table and a spare pair of shoes tied to the ends of each of his bags.

Spirituality
Spirituality

A “homeless” man, whom Taoists would term a “noble” traveler, this customer is looking for a safe place to sleep before moving through and out of town tomorrow.

“I was going to stay at Happy Homes shelter tonight, before moving on tomorrow,” he explains. “But, after I gave them my name, they looked me up in some medical database and found out that I had been diagnosed as being bipolar years ago. They told me that I had to see a doctor before I could get in.

He continues, “I haven’t had problems with my bipolar disorder in years, so I stopped taking the medication. Isn’t that stupid?”

Hearing what this man is saying, I ponder the logistics of what the shelter has proposed. Here is a man with an insufficient amount of cash to be able to afford a motel for the night. He is moving through. Yet, the shelter wants him to be able to afford a doctor’s visit. Then, there is the issue of how long it actually takes to get in to see a physician in this area—somewhere between three to six months.

In addition to these logistical issues regarding seeing a physician, I consider the fact that the man is not being allowed to acknowledge his own healing or the apparent improvement in his mental health. The other, larger issue is that of an organization having access, not only to one’s criminal record, but to one’s personal medical records.

Because of the hour, there are three of us in the coffeehouse. To assist in the process of finding a safe place to sleep, I pull out my phone to help search for the addresses of nearby shelters. Due to my walking patterns, I know where most of the neighborhood shelters are located, but I do not have addresses memorized.

In a few minutes, we have the address of another walkable shelter for this gentleman to try. Bending over his things to organize the few belongings he carries, he prepares to walk the eight or ten blocks to the proposed place of safety for the night.

It is late in the afternoon. I hope he makes the shelter’s narrow in-take hours and passes their “entrance examination.”

I would that a prayer of mine could solve this man’s issues. Instead, as he reaches to push the door of the coffeehouse open onto a very blustery late October afternoon, I shout out a lame cliché, “Hey, good luck tonight.” He nods in my direction, in acknowledgement of my statement.

And, I think, “It is I who should be acknowledging you, dear Sir.”

Remembering Who We Are

Leaving the house in search of some downtime, I take a chance on spending part of the late afternoon at a charitable thrift store.

Pulling into the parking lot of one of this area’s largest stores, I find only two spaces remaining. Balloons and special signs tell me today is a serious sale day. People are everywhere, arriving, leaving and milling about.

Over the years I have lived here, I have come to recognize a few of this community’s most serious secondhand shoppers-not by name but by appearance. And, when I begin to bump into any one of them frequently, it is a signal that I need a few months off from my own charitable-thrift-store “ministry.”

Spirituality
Spirituality

This afternoon’s trip is about getting out of the house to regroup, ground and center, rather than being about hunting for something in particular. Walking into the warehouse-sized store, oldies blare through the PA. My mood, which is upbeat, elevates even more. And, though the store is very busy, the racks are full enough for the methodical shifting of garments in front of my chasséing body. I will be able to regain center amid the chaos of people.

Moving through one section of the store, I notice a mother-daughter pair, whom I have not seen in a long while. The daughter is a mature woman, and her mother looks more frail than she did the last time I saw them bargain hunting. More frail or not, the mother maintains her general sparkle—a sparkliness of countenance which I love seeing.

Two sections later and with a one-half-hour between us, all three of us end up in the same area. To bypass the lines at the dressing rooms, I use a full-length mirror to try a dress on over my clothing.

Setting her frail body down on a steam trunk which is for sale, the mother glances my way. “It looks like a fit!” she announces. (Supportive, team shopping is not uncommon in this area.)

Struggling to release the hem of the garment from the grip of my blue jeans, I answer, “Well, almost. I need to drop the hem to make sure.”

We talk a little more—idle chit chat of the girl variety. I am reminded that this type of banter is a luxury, a gift representing a certain amount of leisure time. We are fortunate. Having finally dropped the hem, I zip the dress up. It fits in a lumpy manner over my clothing, but it is good enough to take home and retry. Unzipping the garment, I slip it over my head and fold it, placing it on the small stack of items I have.

Readying myself to leave, I stop briefly in front of the elderly mother, with whom I have been conversing.

“Where have you been?” I ask frankly. “I have not seen you or your daughter out for a long while.”

“Oh, I have had such adventures this year,” she replies. “First I had a mild heart attack, then, a mild stroke. After that, I was mending.”

Worn into her daughter’s face are the lines of an exceptional care-giver. Every new line has been translated.

“Oh, my. You have had quite a year,” I respond simply.

Then, reaching for my hand, she takes it into the smooth cradle of both of her soft-skinned arthritic hands, saying, “You look like a praying woman. Please pray for me. Pray for my health.”

She has granted me a blessing. The blessing of being seen.

As she releases my hand, I assure her that I will add her to my prayers.

Setting Boundaries

There was a bank robbery. Or, more accurately, there was an attempted bank robbery. The bank was a counter outlet with two tellers within a large grocery store.

Approaching the bank counter with a note, a man demands all of the money in the teller’s drawer. Amy, the teller, looks the man in the eye, demanding back, “Do you have a withdrawal slip?”

Knocked off course and flustered by the unexpected question, the man stammers, “No.”

“Well, at this bank in order to withdraw money, you need to have and complete a withdrawal slip. No slip. No money,” Amy concludes firmly.

Dazed and confused, the would-be robber turns to leave the store. The police arrive shortly.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Later, a short report of the incident appears in the local paper, cautioning readers never to behave as Amy did and, instead, hand over any funds that are available.

But, if you knew Amy—one of my favorite bank tellers ever—you, too, would understand why that man left empty handed.

Diva

“I am so sick of you Americans and your Puritanical thinking; I can hardly wait to go home,” Bernard responds to me in a flat, literary-salon tone through his French accent. Walking slowly up the aisle of the movie theatre together toward the exit, we take our time as the lights come up in the house, allowing our eyes to adjust.

For Bernard, it is the end of a long academic semester of foreign exchange. And, I imagine, he is quite tired and ready to go home.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Standing near the exit, I am eager to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine. I know the sun is warming the broad leaves and blooms on vast spreads of tulips planted across campus. Along with tulips, remnants of plowed snow still lay melting in small, scattered patches across the landscape—even as we approach the beginning of May.

Having just viewed the French film, “Diva,”  from the director Jean-Jacques Beineix, my Belgian friend had asked me what I thought of the film, a thriller. Quite candidly, I revealed that I had found portions of the film challenging—especially the script’s treatment of women.  And, in some instances, the film had been disturbing because it was difficult to discern which characters adhered to a code of ethics concerned about something or someone more than their individual interests.

Unlike many typical or “traditional” American cinematic works—especially Westerns—this film, its script and characters were not presented in a moralistic black-and-white format. Due in part to the film’s genre, there were no “overly” simplistic ethical lines.

These observations had served as the catalyst for Bernard’s heartfelt retort. Homesick and longing to return to a place and a people who knew him and the unspoken, internal norms from which he operated, he had responded to me directly from his heart.

Dogs

Everyone wants to write a story in which he is the hero. I wish I could tell this story from that perspective, but I cannot.

A block and a half away from where I am walking with my dogs, I see a sinewy, tan chihuahua-mix with extralong legs, darting into and out from the edge of the road. The dog is perhaps fifteen pounds and wrestling small, bite-size pieces from a discarded pizza. The pizza is stuck to its delivery box, making every bite a hard-won prize. The dog is lean. And, its demeanor tells me that it has never really been treated properly, that it has never been loved.

As I stand there observing the dog at work, two ladies pass before us. They are also out for a walk—a talking walk. Interrupting their conversation and hanging onto hope, I call out, “Is that your dog?”

“No,” one of them shouts back. “We thought it was yours,” a woman finishes while nodding toward my two dogs, one on each lead in each of my hands.

I think to myself, “Another loose or stray dog. Why?”

When we first moved into this region, we were amazed by the number of stray cats in the neighborhood, as well as the sheer number of animals people kept. We also learned that the region boasts an unusually high rate of reported domestic abuse and/or violence. Not a good combination.

As I stand still, a Divine nudge comes through. “Go get that dog.”

Observing the skittish creature running to safety on the curb then back into the street for a bite of pizza, I see the gaping mouth of the city’s storm sewer system. Rain storms here can come so fast and heavy that, if the skies were to open up right now, the pizza, its box and the dog might all be swept away into the mouth of the drainage system’s toothless grin. Watching this poor dog, the world does not feel like such a safe place.

I answer my leading, “Not with two dogs already at home. Look at that dog. Somehow it has been abused or hurt. How could I possibly bring another emotionally compromised animal into our household?”

I look down at our first rescue dog, Lily, wagging her tail and looking back at me. She came to us as having been both neglected and abused. When she first arrived at our house, Lily could not even cross our yard without experiencing exercise-induced fatigue because she had been kept in a cage for so long. And, most of her front teeth were ground down to the gum because, as the vet put it, “She had probably been a cage-chewer.”

Lily’s own road to recovery had taken time and effort. We treated her with consistent respect, reinforcing basic household rules. We take turns. Everyone has a chance—to fetch, get a treat, be fed. Making salmon a regular part of her diet at the beginning of her tenure with us helped her cognitive functions improve as we trained her. The ash-colored places under her single layered coat eventually turned a healthy pink. And, we came to trust one another, though Lily sometimes still resented having to share her new-found home with our preexisting and more senior dog.

Then, considering the force of the Divine nudge, I attempt to envision the logistics of even approaching the Chihuahua-mix. Both of my dogs would have to share one lead. If I were to approach the pizza-eating stray from this direction, it might send the dog into the traffic on the busy cross street. Standing under the hot sun, mulling over the details of a potential “rescue,” I feel the perspiration begin to drip down the front of my body.

Upon moving into this community, I recall one of my husband’s first observations of several years ago. After returning home from a walk, he said, “You know, if we were at home (in the Upper Midwest) and people were addressing their children like they address their animals around here, I would be calling child protective services.”

Then, while turning my back on my guidance and a situation that desperately needs addressing, I mutter, “No. I cannot.”

In exasperation, I utter a pathetic prayer, “Dear God, please grant that this little creature finds a situation of safety and a good home. Amen.” I send the prayer up.

I mollify my conscience by promising the Divine that I will drive through this neighborhood again, during my afternoon errands. I do. The dog is gone. In my heart, I hope the dog is safe.

Two or three days later, as I am walking solo to work at a downtown coffeeshop, I find myself not two blocks away from the corner where I first sighted the Chihuahua-mix eating a discarded pizza. It is an average residential street in an average, local neighborhood.

Hearing a painfully loud yelp from a distressed animal, I turn to look across the street from where I am walking. With a broad back to me, I see a massive, not overly-tall human beast—of perhaps two-hundred-eighty-five-pounds and a non-descript gender—holding the same Chihuahua-mix dog by its back legs, upside-down in one fat fist. The human beast is systematically pinching the distressed animal with its free hand. The dog is yelping in pain at every assault.

Crossing the street, as I fold the umbrella I use against the sun, rage rises in me. I see the human beast retreat into the side door of a house. I follow, stepping firmly onto the front porch of the same house. The blinds are drawn. Taking the handle of my umbrella, I wrap firmly on the front, screen-door.

“Open up. Open this door,” I demand loudly. One of the blinds in a front window moves ever so slightly. “Open up,” I repeat. I knock again, repeating my demand.

There is no answer. There will be no answer.

Backing off of the porch, I make a note of the house address. Abandoning my plans for the coffeehouse, I walk straight home and sit down to type up a report about what I have just witnessed.

In clear, precise prose, I describe the manner in which this small, perhaps, fifteen-pound animal was being abused. Leaving the house, I travel immediately to the city’s animal shelter, north of town. The facility’s door is locked. All of the officers are out, responding to calls about stray animals. Taping the report to the facility’s locked door, I wonder how long it will be until this dog can be delivered from this abusive situation. How long will it be until we can all live in safety?