Tag Archives: trust

Blind Faith

At a book-signing, a woman asks me how far from Canada I was raised.

“One lake away,” I respond in an amused tone. Then, I add, “You are not the first person to ask that question.”

Spirituality

Her inquiry reminds me about how far from “home” I have come and sometimes still feel. Yet, every relocation my family and I have made has seemed to be a carefully fulfilled and dovetailed adventure, based upon a combination of thoughtful research and the lovingly patient guidance which the hand of Grace is able to provide.

The furthest afield I have ever moved with my family is when we relocated to a mountain town in the American Southwest. And, this is how that particular story unfolds.

One September day, four months prior to our departure from our home region in the upper Midwest, while riding my bicycle across town, I cruise to a hard stop at a red light. Planting my feet firmly on the ground astraddle my snow-friendly, fat-tired bike, an overwhelming sense of you-do-not-belong-here comes over me.

In response to this sensation, I think, “Where do I belong, if not here?”

Sitting with this question over the next few days, I begin a flurry of research at the local library into other municipalities which I and my family might call home. Where do I and we belong? I consider the list of things we need in a new, home city: employment, good schools and affordable housing amid clean air, water and soil. In my heart, I consider that I would like to try living somewhere below the fortieth parallel, much further south than we have ever lived before. Yet, I feel no clear leadings to take up residence in the Southeast nor do I feel a pull to move due south.

In terms of my research, everything points to the possibility of moving to the American Southwest. This is a region of the country with which I am almost completely unfamiliar and, as “a child of the forest” the notion of barren deserts or scrubby, rocky landscapes at a high degree of altitude give me pause. Nonetheless, in faith, I persist in my efforts to downsize our household’s inventory, as I narrow the field of municipal candidates for relocation.

Finally, having selected a new city to call “home” and with a little more than a month to go before our scheduled departure, we make arrangements with a  cross-country mover. We have no address, no relatives and no friends to meet us on the other end—just a very strong sense that this move will take us where we need to be.

Then, one day, while I am sorting through the few remaining items to be packed in the vehicle along with us, I choke. I choke on the entire idea of guidance, intuitive nudges, Quaker leadings and blind faith. Looking for some form of concrete affirmation outside of myself for the leap we are about to take, I try something for the first (and only) time, which a former Christian roommate used in her daily faith practice: I decide to engage in sortes Biblicae.

Scrambling to find a copy of our Bible to put my Spirit at ease, I paw through the stacks of books which have been set aside to travel with us.  After some searching, I pull the book out from under several others. Then, placing the Bible on a freshly cleared window ledge facing the north side of our apartment, the lake, the arboretum and my own local “forest” sanctuary, I close my eyes and open it, being careful not to injure its delicate pages. With a solid sense of resolve, I plant my extended index finger firmly on one of the two open pages. Picking up the book, while being mindful that I do not shift my finger in a way that would cause me to lose the marked passage, I open my eyes and draw the book closer to me.

Clearly marked by my extended index finger, one line from a verse in Isaiah (40:9) stands out, “…Get thee up into the high mountain….” All tension and doubt melt away. My Spirit grows calm with the affirmation that we are on the right track.

Agent of Grace

“I’ll call the pizza in,” I announce. We have agreed on a medium, cheese-and-onion, something small to celebrate the two-person “girls’ night in.” Our conversation has revolved around listening to the heart and bringing the heart around to becoming a willing and reliable agent of Grace.

“Self-care is imperative,” I continue the thread of our conversation, after the pizza has been ordered. “Don’t think that self-care needs to suffer in order to serve from the heart. But, what does happen is that our definitions of what we consider solid self-care begin to shift.

Spirituality

“For example,” I continue, “where we once thought of self-care as a shopping expedition to purchase a new blouse, blazer or a bit of random bling may shift to revolve around our desiring more quiet, personal time in nature. Or, if shopping is truly a joyful, must-have experience, we may elect to shift our shopping desires toward the purchase of  life necessities for another person, who is in need, choosing to work through a charitable organization.”

My friend breaks in,  “But, how do you know when you are receiving reliable guidance?”

“It should feel right in the heart. There may be a sense of Stillness or Peace around the proposed action or around an idea,” I explain. “It may also feel like it is perennially Christmas Eve–almost everyday. And, genuine guidance from Holy Mother does not injure or harm; it heals.

“Finally,” I explain, “There comes a phase where Holy Mother seems to step in, in order to care for you, in seemingly minor yet very meaningful ways. I’ll explain more later.” Our conversation stops so that I may run to pick up our take-out pizza.

At the pizza place, as the clerk hands me the box for a large pizza, he explains that he “messed up,” adding, “But, don’t worry. I’ll only charge you for the medium.”

It feels like Christmas Eve again–in my heart.

Walking through the door at home, I explain what happened to our pizza order to my friend.

“So, is this the type of care you were talking about?” my friend asks. “Large pizzas at no additional charge, even though you clearly ordered a medium?” Then, in a teasing tone, my friend says through a bite of hot, fresh pizza, “I would like to meet this Holy Mother of yours.”

Practicing Trust III

After several months of missing my classical guitar, I receive a nudge to stop by a local music store, which houses a large, humidified room packed with a wide variety of both new and used stringed instruments—ukuleles, guitars, banjos, dulcimers, basses and mandolins.

Once at the music store, I begin milling about the specially humidified room carefully selecting five or six classical guitars for sampling. Amazingly, one of the used guitars which I have selected carries almost the same full, warm tone I found so appealing in my previous instrument. The only other guitar in the room to match this instrument’s tone is new and almost seven times as expensive as this particular used instrument.

Spirituality

Wanting to make sure that I am on the right track, I hold off in purchasing the instrument. Waiting a full week and sitting through several rounds of meditation to make inquiries about the appropriate application of my energy, I finally ask my husband to go with me to verify that I have made, potentially, the appropriate selection.

After we have arrived in the humidified showroom, I begin pulling the instruments in question. My husband, for his part, goes through them, fine-tuning each. After playing parallel chords on every one of the guitars, we come down to the same pairing that I had come to on the previous week.

“Yes, you are right,” my husband acknowledges. “This used guitar sounds almost identical in tone to that of the other new and more expensive instrument.” We decide to purchase the used instrument.

At the cashier’s counter, the clerk handling our sale’s transaction announces cheerfully, “You’re in luck. This instrument comes with its own case.” Leaving us to retrieve the case, she soon emerges from the storage room with the case in hand.  Back at the counter, she rejoins guitar and case, and we make our way out of the store.

Opening the music shop’s door onto the late-afternoon sunshine outside, I feel a renewed gratitude for the care and support Grace has extended to me—not only for this day, but—when I choose to listen—every day.

Practicing Trust

After finishing my US-Census shift, I happen into a pawnshop on my way to teaching yoga across town. The store has what I have come to recognize as the typical line-up of pawnshop merchandise: tools, electronics, used jewelry—a multitude of stunning ring sets, which may be the undesirable byproducts of once promising relationships, select media and a respectable array of musical instruments—both acoustic and electric—as well as a range of amps. Many of these items are wish-list things which can be traded for quick cash in a pinch or bought back when a person’s finances restabilize.

Pawnshops and pawnshop browsing were not part of my childhood culture—nor are they actually part of my adult culture—except that my father-in-law once remarked, “You can usually find a good deal on a fairly decent instrument in a pawnshop.” The regulation bugle, hanging by a red cord on a wall in our house, was just such a gift—from father to son and a pawnshop buy—many years and miles ago. So, I am walking through this shop for, perhaps, the second or third time trying to find an appropriate, gently used guitar.

Spirituality

There are a myriad of guitars available. Yet, one guitar in particular seems most appropriate. It possesses a glossy, black finish with mother-of-pearl inlay on its fretboard, as well as another circular inlay of mother-of-pearl around the sound hole. The edging on the instrument’s main body are piped, in an off-white plastic material which mimics the look of ivory.  When I ask the salesman to take the instrument down for me to test, the sound is full and smooth, though I do not really know what I am doing—as I do not actually play guitar. What I do know is that the warm hum which the instrument produces when I strum it, while it is held against the midriff of my body, makes me feel whole.

Today is a special sale day. So, I decide to purchase this guitar and its matching case. Still not knowing exactly what I will be doing with it, my only plan is to strum it occasionally so that I might feel that hum against my body which makes me feel whole.

A trip to the library and several books later, I learn that I have purchased a classical guitar. Classical guitars have slightly wider fret boards than do modern, acoustic guitars which are better designed for chord playing. I now know how to tune it and name most of its component parts. (Life Rule # Whatever: You can only talk about things that you know how to name.) Oddly enough, I do not end up doing a lot of bold cord strumming. Instead, I spend most of my time laboriously plucking out tunes to melodies I already know, some of which date back to my early, piano-study years.

A few months into my self-designed six-stringed-instrument melody-rediscovery “course,” I fervently hope Grace will accept my husband for musical-patience sainthood because two to three hours spent on deciphering one melody seems like some twisted form of rare torture for a person as musically gifted as he. For his part, he keeps my new guitar properly tuned and maintains a heroic level of unflagging encouragement, by repeatedly explaining that he was never bothered by his younger sisters’ instrumental practice sessions when they were both studying Suzuki method.

As an academically trained school teacher, at some point I become concerned that the cranky, unused guitar-playing portion of my brain is not gaining in plasticity or skill at the rate that it should be. Quietly, I wonder whether or not that dry, brittle region of my brain has already ossified to the point of no return. Then finally, after a few months, something gives. I observe myself plucking out melodies within twenty to forty minutes until, eventually, I am able to rediscover a tune in less than ten or twelve minutes. Guitar practice has proven to be serious calisthenics for my grey matter.

With the lesson of time and the application of focused energy fresh in my mind, I wonder how many times I have walked away from a soon-to-be-reached plateau of progress after I did not apply myself long enough “to arrive.”

An Economy of Trust II

Connections.  The connections I see when I drive over a newly constructed bridge in the United States have to do with pride in workmanship, integrity in professionalism—no matter where one stands on the socio-economic ladder—and an adherence to values as a culture that we, in general, strive to live, build, create and sustain not only for ourselves and our immediate needs but for the greater good of our posterity.  This is why the newer bridges I drive over are higher, wider and stronger.  We are thinking not only about ourselves and our immediate needs, but also about what is best in the long-term.

Spirituality

In contrast, when an economy is fractured by corruption and moves into a state of duality—or another more complex configuration—(and I am unsure of the cause-effect relationships here) the very nature of base-line social connections at work, to one another and our concepts of integrity begin to change radically.  And, when an economy continues to function with a shrug or a nod toward petty theft and corruption, ethical numbness sets in.  In my experience, trust is lost in these cultures—trust in the economy and trust in social relationships.  Social connections in cultural contexts with active black markets are about making “friends” for purposes of personal economic survival or gain because what is needed–on a material level—cannot be procured reliably at a store or through official means of work.

Ethical numbness is a disquieting set of two words.  As things stand now, in the context of my regional backyard, I still hold trust that you and I will both stop at the next red light,  follow safety codes governing new construction, that the large collection of library materials, we hold in common, will be available for check-out and that the average person remains steady in honoring the principles of pride in workmanship, integrity to use work materials for and at work and that our commitment to service is genuine.  This is why I feel safe driving across a new bridge.

Ultimately, the only thing we as individuals may truly safeguard in any market is our personal integrity.  And, personal integrity has the opportunity to travel to work with us in our lunch pails every day.  Integrity means that the sausage, should I choose to purchase meat, is made of up of what is on an accurately labeled product.  Integrity means that the requisite cement bags and steel at a work site remain at the assigned location to be used in the designated building project.  Integrity means performing with professionalism for the hours we have clocked in to work.

Functioning in this way, with attentiveness to professionalism and integrity, often produces spontaneous purple waves of gratitude and amber waves of awe while driving down some new and beautiful stretch of road.

An Economy of Trust I

Driving across a new four-lane bridge, I feel an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude for the solid safety and engineering of the structure.  Forty feet below and off to the side, I see the old retired bridge, a narrow, two-lane affair, which has stood for about fifty years.  The new bridge is one of many structures being upgraded and expanded on this stretch of highway.  The entire road is being upgraded through a general widening, heightening, as well as the systematic replacement of older bridges which are being improved as a public safety measure in order to better handle additional traffic and potential flood waters.

Spirituality

Generally, when driving across new bridges, I do not experience purple mountains of gratitude or amber waves of awe.  These emotions are conjured because of my experiences of living in foreign cultures with alternate economies.  Academics and theorists might have us believe that economies are cold-blooded constructs devised for the discussion of resource acquisition, distribution, manufacture and the consumption of goods.  Yet, economies are created, shaped, upheld, corrupted or sustained by people and their behaviors.  Economies are in fact warm-blooded.

In countries where there are dual systems of economic distribution—both the official and the black markets, the black market often pulls its resources or goods from the official system.  There was a running joke in one of the countries, where I was a student that addressed this very issue:  Do you know why there are no stray animals around a sausage factory?  They have to get the meat from somewhere.

The “official cuts of meat” slated to make it from farm to factory to table were frequently commandeered through petty theft by workers along the official chain of production, transportation and manufacture.  Thus, the “sausage” making its way to the official supermarkets apparently had substantial portions of unofficial fillers—stray animals, paper and who-knows-what.  One close friend, living in this economy full-time and preferring to purchase imported sausage when it was available, noted that even her dog would not eat the domestic sausage from the grocery store.

Issues of petty theft and corruption, inherent in economies where the black market is strong, do not stop with sausage production.  Where there is an active, dual-system economy in operation, construction sites also might see a few bags of cement disappear or several lengths of steel go missing.  These materials then show up in personal building projects or on the black market to be traded or sold for other goods or services that the average person might not otherwise be able to access (e.g. tickets to a cultural or sporting event).  And, the bridge or high-rise building being constructed goes without the structural benefit of these materials.  The appearance of the bridge or high-rise might match the proposed completed structure on a set of blueprints, but the reality is that these projects are not necessarily complete or structurally sound.

To be continued.