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.
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.
Through the front windshield of the bus, I watch the painted white lines on the black pavement of the road passing alongside in mesmerizing, rhythmic order. Thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop, my mind lays down a soundtrack to accompany the hypnotic visuals of the center-line’s fragmented glow under the low beams of the bus’ headlights.
With almost everyone else asleep, I remain awake as we travel through one of the least populated and most desolately beautiful regions of the Four-Corners area of the American Southwest. The time is closing in on midnight, and the highway is relatively deserted. No moon is visible. And, although the interior of the bus is dimly lit, the world immediately around me is bright, filled with spiritual Light.
Sitting quietly, as I review events from the trip, I remain in a state of heightened gratitude for the Grace extended during this excursion of spiritual errand—the Light needed to be reaffirmed in myself and among those whom I visited. Travelling for such a purpose is always humbling. With the aid of Grace, the best and sometimes most unexpected doors open with simple ease.
Sitting in my own bubble of spiritual reverie, I hear the man next to me shift in his seat. The bus is almost full. Then, turning toward me, he leans over to ask a simple question—something about current events. It is an election year. Not wanting to disrupt the thread of connection that is part of the larger picture and my heightened sight, I politely change the subject. Then, after regrouping, he redirects his own conversational energy, asking a series of questions about my religious affiliation.
After a few minutes of polite exchange, where I try to ascertain the general purpose of his line of inquiry, I finally ask him outright, “Are you needing me to pray for you?”
“Yes,” he answers in a hesitant affirmative. Then, with more conviction, “I need you to pray for me.”
The man appears to be Native American. He may be Navajo, Hopi or from another First-Nation group native to this region. One of the things I learned while living in the Southwest is that most Native-American Peoples, who are still in a state of receptive connectivity, understand the Way. They know how Grace flows and moves and are respectful of the nature of sacred contracts.
“Do you know this song?” the man asks me, beginning to hum quietly—slowly—as he adds a few lyrics.
“Yes,” I answer. “I remember that song. It has been a long while since I have heard it.”
“Yes, it is an old song. I only need you to pray for me when you hear that song, that will be your cue that I need you to pray.”
We lean back again into our individual seats. I am amazed at how respectfully he has put forth his request. The parameters of our agreement are clear, tidy and not overly demanding. I find myself filling with gratitude again; this time it is for this man’s respectful politeness toward my own manifestation of the Light.
Trent Palmer sits across from me in the back of Mrs. Patterson’s seventh-grade English-grammar class. He is dark, unusually dark complexioned compared to almost all of the other adolescents in school. Moving through the hallways, among a crowd of third-generation Germanic and Scandinavian immigrants, he is an exotic, ethereal and appears to be almost other worldly.
This trait alone could have set him apart, but he also sports a jaunty limp whenever he walks, setting him further apart from the general, middle-school crowd. When Trent is standing straight, his shoulders do not match and, at the end of the one arm held closer to his body, his right hand curls into a permanent fist. With the diplomacy missing almost universally among all seventh-graders, I tell him it is a good thing he is left handed—attempting to be positive without succeeding at being even remotely socially appropriate.
In the back of English-grammar class, while Mrs. Patterson lectures from her desk in the far, front corner, Trent and I swap one-liners under our breath. He smirks at my quips, and I smile at his one-liners. We have a grand time. And, though I never speak of it, something inside of me loves something inside of him. I love his audaciously rare beauty, his gently skidding speech, his intellect, his brilliant white teeth and, most especially, that we are partners in our own secret comedy club.
Unlike the time I spend in the halls between or in other classes, I actually look forward to English-grammar class and the feeling of wholeness that seems to live there when I sit alongside Trent. No one seems the wiser about my feelings, including Trent. Then, my sense of wholeness comes to an abrupt end when Trent and his family move away suddenly.
Community gossip has it that Trent’s family felt he had been singled out for ridicule, the town was too small and that Trent’s intellectual needs were not being met by the district’s curriculum or teachers. I miss my friend terribly.
Yet, time has a way of gently erasing old hurts. And, the faces and names of middle-school friends become paved-over by the faces and names of those friends we make in high school and college.
Then, decades later, while reading about one of the posters put up in ancient, Roman-occupied Judea, calling for Jesus’ arrest, I read a description of Jesus as being dark, not overly tall, with uneven shoulders and that, if he is seen walking, he walks with a slight limp. From a distant well within my heart, an image of Trent and his radiant Light flood in. At the same time, I also remember some of the most awkward things I said to Trent which must have hurt him terribly.
Recalling how Trent’s one hand formed a permanent right-handed fist, I think if I were he in seventh grade, I would have wanted to punch God full in the face for making my body something less than perfectly symmetrical—especially given the width and breadth of Trent’s joyful Spirit and keen intellect.
My thinking at the time was this: If God had been paying attention, Trent’s whole, radiant and flawless Spirit would have been reflected in a perfectly symmetrical physical presentation for Trent.
But, as an adult, I realize that circumstances on the physical plane often do not work out that way. And, now, when I remember Trent, I know his physical presentation to be a perfect reflection of that which is most certainly of God.
I have a theory that our souls remember every kindness, injury, relationship, pain and Grace bestowed upon us by the actions and inactions of the Light in the souls of Others among us.
Months have gone by since the late morning, early one spring day, when a few words issued from my mouth allowed one teenage boy to regain his Light, after an intense outdoor domestic scene involving his cross and churlish mother.
Walking one of my regular routes to the coffeehouse to work, I see a teenage boy pop out of the same house. The boy is veritably skipping down the long flight of stairs from the front door toward the sidewalk ,where I am passing. From his perspective, the day looks to be a good one.
Almost past the house, I hear the boy shout out to me, “Hey! Are you having a good day?”
A blanket of tense, cogitative fog lifts from around my own dampened Light. Looking over my shoulder to meet his gaze, I give him a standard and socially acceptable reply, “Fine. Thank you for asking.”
Stopping his lank frame at the bottom of the steps, he calls out again, “I want you to have a good day. You need to have a good day.”
His command is a blessing. It is only then that I realize that this may be the same child of Light whom I tried to help one early spring day.
Walking on, I unearth the sacred space in my heart again, and I thank him silently, “And, you too, my friend. And, you too.”
Walking through a neighborhood not far from our own, I observe a woman grab the forearm of her gangly teenage son in vicious impatience. She does this only to yank him closer to herself so that she may spew several ugly, vitriolic phrases in his face about his worthlessness as a human being.
From the looks of the home’s side yard, it appears that the entire family of four has been out working, raking the side-yard dirt to free it from last year’s debris. A new chicken-wire fence is in place. Last fall’s leaves, twigs, sticks and branches, as well as a few scraggily green vines, rest in a heap in the corner of the area which is now cleared dirt.
The only friendly motion in the scene I am witnessing comes from the wriggling swaying tail of a puppy’s unstoppable joy at the undeniable beauty of this early spring day. I suspect the raking has something to do with making way for this family’s new canine friend. I wish that this puppy’s happiness could be magnified and distributed among all five souls present.
Today, I do not hold back. Turning my body halfway around to address the woman, while putting on my very best positive voice, I almost shout, “Wow, are you lucky to have such great help in the yard! Beautiful day to be outside. My own son is all grown up. Hardly see him. Busy. They grow up so fast.”
The woman stares back at me in shocked amazement (maybe at my cheery impudence), loosening her grip on her older male child’s forearm. Her mouth gapes in awe.
Mission accomplished. Further, immediate verbal abuse truncated. But, I can see that the boy’s personal Light is still crumpled up and twisted around his lank physical frame, leaving him vulnerable and emotionally unprotected.
Turning to continue on my walk, I say a silent prayer for this child, “Dear God, please protect this holy child, restore his Light and help him remember who he is—Yours.”
Recently, while travelling to promote books in a region where I had once functioned professionally, I took time off to care for my physical frame by having some bodywork done. Bodywork seems to redress the compression travelling produces in my body.
Because I was in an area where I had once worked, I still know a few of the regions most long-standing alternative-care professionals. Still, for this trip, I opted to work with a practitioner who was completely new to me.
While working through the compression in my body with this new practitioner, the name of yet another of the community’s stalwart alternative-care providers came up. My sense was that this new-to-me bodyworker was about to recommend the work of this other woman. Yet, taking a deep breath, I felt the need to stop her short.
Hearing this other woman’s name for the first time in many years, I informed the new practitioner that although this other woman may be a completely competent alternative-care provider in her chosen field, she behaved uncharitably toward me during my professional tenure in this community.
Because I felt the statute of limitations had passed on my self-imposed silence, I explained to the new practitioner that this other woman had insisted–among friends and clients of hers–that I had “taken her job.” This was her widely propogated story and not the reality.
After this other woman had been released from her job at a local center, I was in fact the “hire” who had replaced her. This employment circumstance did not turn me into the person who “took” her job.
Ultimately, the experience taught me this. We all tell fetid little, or big, lies to protect ourselves, cocoon our egos, shore ourselves up professionally while undermining someone else’s constructive efforts or blind ourselves personally from the various truths in certain of our life circumstances.
In the end, I had to move into forgiveness because, upon carefully combing through my own uncensored history, I unearthed select junctures in my own life where I too had told myself fetid little lies, which kept me separate from the Light in my heart and may have dimmed the Light in the heart of another.
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.
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.
At a luncheon one day, an acquaintance begins a conversation with me about another person’s child, observing that she is disappointed in the manner in which this other person’s child is “turning out.”
I listen in silence as the speaker describes a list of goals, dreams and visions she had for this child, and I remain silent and quietly amazed as my luncheon companion concludes with an almost equally lengthy should-have, could-have and would-have set of statements for another person’s life.
Inside of myself, I ponder the sheer degree of personal energy we are willing to expend in thought and word on other people’s lives—wasted energy really—on gossip and daydreaming.
The one-sided conversation I had that day ended there because I was not willing to weigh in with an equally useless set of empty opinions.
Of late, I have taken this position on people and their very unique and individual paths: When I encounter a person and a set of actions which I do not understand, I hold that person in the Light, asking for all of the holy protection and the whole-hearted extension of sacred support which Grace has to offer. In doing this, I hope Grace will assist another individual in attending to the many quandaries and decisions to be faced and that, somehow, life will be made a little lighter and easier due to my simple, quiet requests.
Sacred scripture—no matter the tradition—usually counsels its readers to become more self-aware, generous and respectful toward humanity by means of teaching some form of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Yet, the cultural and historical details of certain scriptural narratives often feature nuances which lead to a great deal of discomfort and/or interpretive hurdles in terms of deriving a “modern” lesson for current application.
The other day, the story of Hagar came up in a reading from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament in The Bible. Hagar is one of Sarah’s handmaids, an Egyptian slave-girl. At Sarah’s suggestion, Hagar is used by Abraham to produce a male heir (this is prior to Sarah’s own unexpectedly late conception and birthing of her only son, Isaac).
For most modern audiences, there are aspects of this story which are highly problematic, especially in cultures where respect for an individual’s life, sense of personal choice and the sanctity of one’s volition with regard to the body are given priority. Still, in rereading the excerpt, what strikes me the most is that Hagar’s relationship with God is equal to that of Abraham’s and Sarah’s.
God does not forsake Hagar eventhough her worth and life, in the society of that time, are of little to no consequence or value. She and her body may be a means to Sarah’s and Abraham’s end, yet her relationship with God is equal–in terms of protection and guidance.
God listens to Hagar. God talks to Hagar. God reveals to Hagar her unique place in the grand plan. And, ultimately, Grace places an umbrella of protection over Hagar and her son, Ishmael, after they are cast out into the desert.
What I have learned is this: Even as the sands of a social circumstance may become like quicksand and threaten to swallow a person up, Grace is the one surety, toward which we may turn and upon which we may rely.
So, remember to get quiet, open your heart and listen, because cultivating a connection with the Light provides protection and support.
This is what I have learned regarding authentic guidance or leadings.
If we are in alignment with our highest Light and prepared to go the places the Divine hand would lead, not only are we able to unfold, but we are also able to offer a hand of assistance to others who are ready and waiting to unfold.
Everyone has a place at the head table on the dais–because it is God’s party. You are invited.