Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

prayer list

September 14th, 2013    -    56 Comments

imagesWhenever I am feeling injured or ignored, which I’m sorry to say is quite a bit, all I have to do is open my eyes to someone who has real suffering, not just the imaginary kind like me.

That’s what I’m feeling now as I consider the devastation and despair passing through every news stream in front of me. I feel a triple, quadruple whammy of sad helplessness, which is a powerful invitation to pray.

I’m saying a prayer service today, and tomorrow, and the day after, and after, and after. Let’s assemble a prayer list, shall we? I’ll start the list, and please leave a comment or two and add to it. Tell me who or what to pray for. You can give me actual names if you like. In the face of our suffering world, I can’t imagine doing less, and I don’t know how to do more.

I’m praying for:

All the people of Syria.
All victims of war.
All victims of the Jersey boardwalk fire.
All victims of the Colorado floods.
All victims of natural disasters.
Our mother the Earth.
All children who are troubled and want to die.
All children who are sick and want to live.
All parents who need strength and guidance.
All animals suffering from abuse and neglect.
All beings suffering the pain of parting.

So far it is a short list, but it is a neverending need. Please add your prayers to the list.

beyond gone

July 25th, 2013    -    2 Comments

flood-memorial-site-

This is the scene at Maezumi Roshi’s memorial site in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles after recent wildfires and mudslides.

The stones still stand, but much work remains to restore and protect this hillside, which is in the canyon home of the the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. Volunteer crews defended the property from destruction by fire, but soon after, rains triggered floods that engulfed much of the property and destroyed its sustainable systems for water and power. It will be rebuilt.

This land is where Maezumi Roshi planted his greatest faith. He aspired to create a major training center—an incubator—for the seeds of Dharma in the west. But it was untamed acreage, and the conversion of rocky timberland into a peaceful dwelling took more time, work, and money than one lifetime could muster.

“Little by little,” he would say.

He brought in a geomancer to choose the most favorable locations for the Buddha hall and the zendo, and then he began to dig. The scale of labor taxed blood and tears out of his students at the time. They told stories of the endless excavations, the patience spent as Maezumi hauled and hoisted rocks into arrangements that were inexplicable to their tired eyes. Now, the work goes on.

Each rock had a face, Maezumi said. He lifted and turned each rock until it faced forward. Until you could see it straight on.

You can still see the rocks straight on. Although I no longer call this mountain my home, my practice still resides here with Maezumi. If you’d like to help out even a little with repairing the damage, please consider a gift to the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. It will go to immediate use, and we will all benefit from your selflessness.

the age of undoing

July 9th, 2013    -    9 Comments

2598633360_a457f5dce1_z

In the end, what ties everything together is how predictably it falls apart.

Like everyone, I must have seen heaps of leaves all my life, but I never really noticed the part where they fall to the earth.  When you watch a tree drop its leaves, it will change you. It will alter your ambition and interrupt your agenda. There’s nothing like the sight of falling leaves to give you a glimpse of reality, especially if it’s in your own backyard.

It was my forty-first birthday. I was looking out the garden window in our guest room, also called our office, but which would be lost to either use when a baby took up residence a year later. I was alone, in the middle of the day, amid September’s melancholy stillness, with nothing to do except give undue consideration to the sad landscape of my recent loss. Three months earlier I’d left my job, planted my savings into this decrepit house, sacrificed my slim claim to fame and greatness and brought myself down to earth. And for what? I was no clearer on the why. Then it began to rain, more like the suggestion of rain, a translucent veil that fell like lace from the crown of the sky. Did this even qualify as rain? I had to wonder, being a transplant from the land of whipcracking cloudbursts and tornado warnings with sudden raging floods that crested two feet higher than your front door. That was rain.

I remember this event not because of the birthday, one of many that would come after the year I stopped counting, but because of the delicate mists that carried the first leaves down from the sycamores, leaves still partly green and as wide across as my two hands. What a show—the water, the light, and the leaves gliding into a soft landing of letting go.

I was forty-one years old before I ever saw a tree lose its leaves. After that, everything I saw was a falling leaf. Everything came down. read more

oak tree in the garden

July 5th, 2013    -    14 Comments

big-oak

This is an excerpt from my next book Paradise in Plain Sight, coming next spring from New World Library.

A monk asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming to China?” Joshu said, “The oak tree in the garden.” —Gateless Gate, Case 37

From the beginning, I called it a grandfather tree, the oak tree in the garden. The reasons were self-evident. It was tall, broad-shouldered and thick around the middle, like my grandfathers. Plus, I had an album of photos that showed it standing at full height before I was born. Only later did I learn that there wasn’t even such a description in arboriculture. What I called a grandfather tree was instead grandfathered, protected from removal by a village tree ordinance. But that made sense, too. It’s impossible to remove your grandfathers from the line of life you’ve been given. When you’re little, they hold you. You look up to them. They might teach you something useful that no one else has the time or patience for. In time, they slow down, grow feeble, drop things—but you can’t do a damn thing about it.

Even approaching a hundred years old, the oak tree in our garden was a fount of life. It cradled nests of marauding rats and raccoons. Noisy squirrels chased the length of it all day long. Jays shrieked, hawks roosted, and the wind flew through its wide-open arms. Its canopy shaded a teahouse built by a groundskeeper in the 1920s for his kids to play in. That’s a lot of hide-and-seek and games of tag: generations of joy and laughter. Two years after we got here, our daughter Georgia was born. Suddenly, we saw only peril in a yard full of rocks and water, not to mention dirt. If it had been left to me, fear would have kept us locked indoors. But Georgia kept proving that she was born to play in the garden, as we are all born to play in the garden. She watched her step; she knew her place. Before long, the neglected teahouse was crawling with kids for parties and play-acts: revivals of The Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie, stories about making yourself at home wherever you are, stories retold with every generation.

The oak tree in the garden drops more than two thousand acorns a year. Each acorn is both a culmination and a seed; each carries its own ancestral imprint and the full potential to evolve. In California, the principal propagator of oaks is the scrub jay. A jay picks up thousands of acorns and stores them underground in the fall, and when it’s time to eat, remembers where nearly all of them are placed. Nearly all. A few stay undisturbed underground, and those are the ones that sprout. The lineage of the coastal live oak depends on what a bird forgets, and the survival of the Western scrub jay depends on what a live oak leaves behind. It sounds like a willy-nilly proposition, only it isn’t.

One acorn in ten thousand becomes a tree. On the one hand, what a waste. On the other, it works. In the crapshoot of life, you—I mean you—turned up. You rose from the ground of your ancestors, their dust in your bones. Without accomplishing another thing, you are the complete fulfillment of all those who came before you. How can you doubt yourself?

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the long way

June 4th, 2013    -    12 Comments

IMG_6002“Great words of inspiration. I really admire you for embracing your life as it is.”

She wrote it by hand in a card and then mailed it to the publisher named on the copyright page and then someone at the office tucked it into another envelope and mailed it to me and I opened it on Saturday evening when my husband handed me the day’s forgotten mail while I was sitting in the green chair in the living room, and what struck me was not the words, although they did make up in small part for the last jaw shattering one-star review on Amazon, “self-centered drivel, not worth my time.” No, it wasn’t what she said in the card with the picture of a yellow bird sitting on a blossoming branch, it was the faith and patience, the few minutes of time and trouble, the paper, the pen, the flowing stroke of the letters, the tenderness expended in doing a little something the long way and sending it straight into my heart.

I’m slowly gathering materials and supplies, robes, pillows, bells, things remembered and nearly missed, for a long drive north on Friday to sit with folks for two days in lightness and dark at the ocean’s edge. Honestly, I don’t much like this part. The packing and organizing, listing, thinking, all the thinking, the miles, the money, the time. But I do it. I do things the long way. Because when I finally get to that place in the room where the silence rolls in my heart fills with the fullness of peace and I come to rest on the good ground of forever.

The long way is the straight way to the human heart.

For anyone who ever wondered if I saved the card you sent. Yes, I saved it in a woven basket of forever.

prayer for a mother becoming

May 8th, 2013    -    74 Comments

With time, your roots grow deep and your branches long. You lean a little less backward in fear and a little less forward in doubt, resting solidly right where you are. When the wind blows, you bend. When it stops, you straighten. Your boughs provide shelter and shade. Your strength supports the sky.

Momma Zen

There is a quiet hollow to my days now. I have less to do and more time to observe. I can see inside the hearts of new mothers and old mothers and grandmothers. And grandfathers too. Good folks in every trembling state of hope, exhilaration, despair, exhaustion and worry. And so I fold my hands and pray.

May you be tired and afraid
overwhelmed and ready to quit.
Quit!
Start over, over
ten thousand times over
roll out, get up, fall down
break into tears
open in laughter
sing and dance
be silly, be glad.
May you forget most things,
remember everything,
come to know in your bones
with your blood
through your eyes
from your lips
out of earth
deep below, well beyond
you are love.
You are just love.
Amen.

A companion to Prayer for a Girl Becoming.

You might also like “Motherhood is everything,” an interview at Sweeping Zen.

These are the last days to register for the weekend retreat June 8-9 in Marin.

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a moment of shame

March 24th, 2013    -    20 Comments

Let it be well understood: once desire for the truth arises, the desire for fame and riches will disappear in a moment.
– Dogen Zenji

I worked for a few days on a blog post. It expressed my feelings perfectly—outrage, cynicism, moral superiority—but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it up. Then I saw this quote and it corrected me instantly! I was ashamed of my bluster and threw it out.

There’s a lot of psycho/spiritual talk out there. Shame on me if I add to it. All around me are better teachers innocently delivering an instantaneous correction. Who don’t busy themselves talking mighty talk while sitting on comfy sofas or chairs. The purity of their faith and the discipline of their practice humbles me.

When it comes to authenticity and humility, I’ll throw in my lot with a Pope who rides the bus. For courage and vulnerability, I’ll take the TV host who trades fame for farming. For gratitude and compassion, look to the billionaire who gives 99 percent of his wealth to charity. For a teacher, follow anyone who actually gets down on the ground and helps sick babies and teen mothers and old people, the homeless, hopeless and unwanted—while unpaid and unseen.

As for me, I hardly help anyone at all except when I roll down my window at the stoplight and hand a dollar bill to the lost soul on the corner. That’s my master class. I can really learn from people who don’t try to teach me a thing. Who aren’t selling me a credential or an e-course.  People who have more important things to be than right or wise or popular.

Let me well understand myself. Let me be quiet. Let me do good.

 

the appetite

January 6th, 2013    -    24 Comments

7244511-rice-on-a-blue-bowlAnd he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. — Luke 22:19

The communion ritual fascinates me. I suppose for some it can seem an outright lie or ignorant superstition. Even as a girl who came to church solely for the sake of obedience, the words drew me into their mystery, and I partook. I still take communion whenever it is offered to me. I take my sustenance in the mystery.

Last week I was tenzo, or cook, at a five-day retreat, preparing three meals a day for 25 people. I have participated in countless Zen retreats, maybe a hundred, taking many more hundreds of meals, and never cooked. Let me express my deep gratitude to every cook who has ever prepared my food. I had no idea.

Having no idea is the doorway to realization. It is the essential ingredient, you might say, in the miracle.

They sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. They all ate and were satisfied. — Mark 6:40-42

At first my assistant and I were inept and overwhelmed, chased by the doubtful hours and disappearing minutes. We rushed and scrambled. We erred in composition and quantity. Every bowl we set out was returned empty. The diners seemed insatiable. The food was not enough.

But sitting down in the ranks transforms everything. By the third day of sitting, appetites quieted. Minds settled. In the kitchen, we moved with silent purpose. The miracle had begun to unfold. The food became a marvel; our hands, the instruments of magic. The taste was indescribable.

The cooks made an offering of the meal; the guests made an offering of their appetites. Everything in harmony; everyone blessed. By faith alone, we were all fulfilled. read more

one better

January 2nd, 2013    -    86 Comments

open-bird-cage

In my last post I suggested three books on faith to begin the year. Here are ten reasons to begin exploring faith in your life starting now:

1. Now is the only time to begin.

2. Everything ends.

3. People you love will die.

4. There is no way to prepare.

5. One day you might get married.

6. You will face the reality of your choices every day.

7. Children don’t make you happy.

8. They make you grow up.

9. You don’t know as much as you thought.

10. Answers appear as you go.

And one better:

11. It’s free.

The questions in life are universal, and with them, our doubts and fears. In Katrina Kenison’s books, she writes through the questions we share: how do we parent, make a home, let go, be a friend, find a path, and become a true companion to ourselves? I am honored to share her art and kindness with you.

I’ve recommended other books on faith, but here’s one better. Katrina has offered a copy of her newest book, Magical Journey, as a gift to one of my blog readers. Please leave a comment on this post by Friday, Jan. 4 for a chance to take flight on Katrina’s latest journey.

And remember Katrina’s visit to Pasadena’s Vroman’s Bookstore on Feb. 8. Come sit with me in the front row.

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a book of faith

December 25th, 2012    -    6 Comments

Perhaps you have a new tablet, e-reader, or gift card. What should you do with it? Exercise your faith.

Many of the great books I’ve read this year have been faith stories. Some of them, accounts of indomitable spirit, like Unbroken and Wild.  Others, masterpieces by divinely gifted artists for whom writing itself is realized faith.

In one sense, every book you read is a faith journey, starting where you are and taking you who knows where, but these are ones that have illuminated the way for me.

imagesGilead
By Marilynne Robinson

All the stars in heaven shine on Gilead. This is the most stunning articulation of living truth I’ve ever read. It is plain and real, resonant, poignant, honest, sweet, and thoroughly complete. After I finished, I prayed, and my prayers were answered. So I need to read it again.

images-2The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
By Rachel Joyce

This book stole every beat of my wandering heart. It will change you, even before you finish. I received it as an audio book from a wise and generous reader, and was immersed in astonishment. It was a genuine marvel, and a good cry.

kenison-book-coverMagical Journey
By Katrina Kenison

This book is days away from debut, so you won’t have to wait long to start. Here my friend Katrina faces the question that haunts every mother’s empty house and every woman’s passage beyond midlife. What now? Every page shines with beauty and pulses with truth.

I’ll be welcoming Katrina to my favorite bookstore on her West Coast tour in a few weeks. Please mark your calendar and share an hour of faith with us at Vroman’s Bookstore at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8.

And now I’m off to sit the year-end retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. Because all the talk of faith is merely talk until you start walking.

Happy New Year!

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settle

June 18th, 2012    -    12 Comments

When my daughter was little, she would squat for hours every afternoon on a pile of sand in the front yard. I planted little plastic animals underneath, and she’d dig them up with a shovel, handing them over to me with a satisfied grunt. She quarried the same zebra, the same tiger, the same frog, hippo, and horse out of that pile every day. While she wasn’t looking, I’d hide the toys under again. She’d keep at it, tireless. We sat there for what seemed like forever, unearthing purpose from the sodden heap of our new life together. She couldn’t know how much she was teaching me then, in her wordless way, about being satisfied with the same old thing, squashing my every day’s plan to get somewhere else.

I used to think those days were over, but they never really are. We move on to a different pile, but we have to find a way to settle into it just the same.

One time I was interviewed by a radio host about meditation as an antidote to dissatisfaction. She seemed alarmed, even offended, by the suggestion. Staying put runs contrary to the doctrine of self-improvement.

“It seems to me you’re telling people to settle,” she said. I was tongue-tied, and I searched my mind for a response. If I’d had the equanimity of my Zen kin, I would have said what I really meant.

I would have said, “Yes.”

I’m telling you to settle.

What’s wrong with settling? What’s wrong with making peace? What’s wrong with quieting the crazy-making, egocentric mind? This is why we begin our practice, and this is why we keep practicing even when we are no longer entertained. If we are really committed to our own sanity, we keep chasing ourselves out of our ruminating mind and onto different ground. The ground where things come to be.

“People will be drawn to you, and now you have something to share,” Maezumi said to me before I knew anything, least of all what those words could possibly mean. This is how you arrive at the ground of faith—not by what you know, but by what you don’t. Luckily, the ground of faith is, for all practical purposes, the ground itself. It is the ground where we stand, sit, walk, work, and rest. Faith is the ground on which we settle, or we will never settle at all.

Some people settle with shovels and picks, some with tractors and hoes, some on a mat, chair or cushion. Once you learn to settle, you can settle wherever you are, and begin to cultivate the scenery.


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the girl can write

March 5th, 2012    -    60 Comments

About two years ago I read something on the web that I loved. I adore words, and I often admire other writing. But this was different than admiration. It was as if someone cracked open my ribcage and wrote the ache in my heart.

The piece by Joanna Brooks was called There is no Such Thing as Half, a courageous bit of outspokenness against the fractional religious classification of her children, born of a Mormon mom and Jewish dad. I read it and gushed blood, then immediately wrote a fan letter to Joanna. The similarities of our interfaith families, as all similarities, didn’t end there. It turns out she was a beloved professor to my next-door neighbor’s first-born. We both came of age on the suburban rim of the California orange groves. We shared the relative obscurity of all fledgling writers, figuring out how to woo readers, win publishers, and assemble the mythical “platform” that we’ve been told will yield access to the promised land of literary inclusion.

All I could offer her was encouragement. She went on and did everything by her pioneering self, becoming the go-to media girl for progressive Mormonism, a commentator at the frontier of politics, faith and feminism. Last month she published her memoir, and I recommend it to you here.

The Book of Mormon Girl is the story of deeply loving one’s faith, surviving its narrowness, renouncing its arrogance, and ultimately reclaiming the church. It is as smartly rendered as language can be, and it is beautifully, universally true. It gives me hope. Hope for our miscounted daughters, for our misunderstood grandmothers, and for the achingly faithful hearts, like mine, still beating and bleeding for peace, tolerance, and the seemingly lost cause of human respect. It gives me hope for our common lineage: love.

Comment on this post for a chance to win my copy of the book, to be drawn this Friday.

how to train a peanut

February 2nd, 2012    -    6 Comments

I’ve trained a bluejay, out of my own delight, to perch like a cat outside my door.

He doesn’t want me to sprout wings and fly. He can fly.

He doesn’t want a song and dance. He has a song.

He has a dance.

He wants a peanut. That, I can do.

For Jena Strong.

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