Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual’

church time

June 27th, 2019    -    16 Comments

Growing up I spent every Sunday morning in church. The Sundays were always the same although the church moved around a bit. At times, it was on a hill near a misty ocean, stuck in the summer hell of Texas, or in a double-wide trailer parked on the barren fringe of a brand-new suburb. I’d be a good girl during the rounds of mournful hymns and mumbled creeds until we got to the sermon when I’d go numb and cold. But then, before my stiff body could be lowered into its final resting place, the pastor would stand up and face me straight on, holding his arms out like the sun shattering death at dawn, and say these mysterious and melodious words of salvation.

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace

***

Nowadays if I write you a letter I might go on a bit about the wet spring and the cloudy summer. I might mention the lemon crop or the jasmine bloom; recount the ailments of a dog or the antics of a cat. Unless you’ve asked me to tell you something or the other, my letters won’t be about anything in particular. They won’t say anything new and they won’t get there in a hurry, because I’m not in a hurry.

The other day a fellow sent me a very nice message by email.

Please write another book. TY

I can’t say I haven’t given it thought, but I haven’t given it much more than a thought. I replied to him asking which book he’d read that impressed him so. It does make me wonder. He said he’d read all of them and one of them five times. That’s easily four more times than I’ve read any of them. But even that kind of appreciation doesn’t budge me off my butt. It occurs to me now that I’m living on church time, and I feel like I could sit here forever.

***

A good friend sent me this link to an essay that sums up the sad state of our cultural creed, so to speak, the sick addiction of being “crazy busy.” I’ve read a few articles like that, and no doubt have scrawled a desperate message across these pages more than once: slow down! There are various “slow” movements afoot, but we have to be careful that we don’t turn “slow” into a pious virtue, a weapon or a magic wand. It’s deeper than a desire to have a better life, a less anxious mind, a healthier gut or a smarter kid. It’s spiritual.

On Tuesday I tried to put gas in my car. Rounding the corner to the filling station, I saw two or three cars lined up waiting, which in my town constitutes a jam. The front of one pump was opened to its insides. I couldn’t tell what was going on but I repeated my mantra of the moment, “another day” and drove home. I had the time and enough gas to make it.

Yesterday I went back to the station and the same thing was going on but there was only one car in front of me at the pump so I stuck it out. A really old fellow got out of his Honda and looked around like he was confused. Honestly, I wanted to go up and mercifully pump the gas for him. But he gradually shuffled over to the little convenience store and I thought oh my god he’s paying in advance with cash. And that took an eternity and when he came out he stopped and fussed with his money, trying to get the bills back in his wallet before doing anything else, which is what any reasonable person would do, but his hands shook and the money wouldn’t go in and I was boiling. You know then that he struggled with the gas cap, and then he pondered the front of the pump for who-knows-how-long and then I started to calculate how much gas he was going to put in, god forbid, and when it shut off pretty quick I figured that’s about what twenty dollars will buy you. But then I realized oh shit he’s going to have to get that gas cap back on and just like that it wouldn’t go and it wouldn’t go and it wouldn’t go. Eventually he got it on so that the little door to the compartment would shut and he got back in the front seat and I waited. It was eons before he started the car and shifted into drive.

That’s when I realized that I was on fire because something that I expected to take three minutes had taken all of six.

Who said I wasn’t crazy? Who said I wasn’t busy? Who said I was past all that? What’s the point of all my babble if it doesn’t keep me from cussing out my ninety-year-old neighbor for being ninety?

About then I found myself back in church hearing the lovely strains of the benediction. I suddenly knew it wasn’t really about God looking down and smiling at me, but me, looking up and smiling at God driving off in the Honda, with twenty dollars in his tank.

Photo by Josh Applegate

the transfiguration of the bathrobe

January 22nd, 2016    -    5 Comments

1984+The+Robe+Following+Her

The robe my mother wore was blue, quilted, ankle-length, with three-quarter sleeves. She had other robes during my years at home, but this is the one I remember. I remember that she wore it when she got up every morning to make breakfast, and had it on when she opened my bedroom door in the dark and said, “Time to get up, Karen.” I remember her in the robe while we ate our breakfast at the kitchen table—scrambled eggs and toast or cereal and milk—and then we hurriedly got dressed and went to school and her, to work.

My mother did her very best at everything. I would have called her excellent. Our house was small and clean. Sometimes if you looked closely you could see that things were not always so nice. When she wore the blue robe everything seemed warm and safe and reliable. The days began in the same way. There was always breakfast. We were always on time. My mother wasn’t sentimental or silly about anything. She was at all times grown up and good.

None of this may have happened the way I tell it except for the blue bathrobe and the feeling of being loved.

***

There is a lull that opens up between a mother and a daughter. A trench, a sinkhole, a grave and terrible silence. Feelings are overwhelming. Conversation is impossible. Words are dangerous. The truth can seem unbearably close and yet a million miles away.

***

I saw a plush pink bathrobe hanging in the window of a store in town and I knew I would have to buy it. It was expensive but I didn’t care. I took it home and laid it on my daughter’s bed so she would see it the minute she got home.

She put on the robe that night. Then she put it on every night. She would say that she was about to take a long bath and if she washed her hair would I dry it? She would tell me that she was going to take a break and Facetime with a friend. Have some tea with honey. Toast before bed. And twice, seeing me, she would smile, come over and embrace me in a plush hug, suddenly so grown up and good, a mother to a child.

None of this may have happened the way I tell it except for the pink bathrobe and the most excellent, unforgettable feeling of being loved.

***

noun trans·fig·u·ra·tion :  a change in form or appearance :  metamorphosis :  an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

Jim Dine, 1984: The Robe Following Her

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go

November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go.
Go.
Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

The road traveled

August 18th, 2009    -    7 Comments

Spying the untouched package, realize this is the last doll.
Watching her take a bath, realize this is the last of childhood.
Counting the days until deadline, realize this is the last draft.
Lifting the carton from the shelf, realize this is the last Mint Chip.
Tasting the grounds in the cup, realize this is the last coffee.
Facing the shrinking summer, realize these are the last lilies.
Remembering everything, realize this is the last regret.
Nearing the horizon, realize this is the last stretch.
The color! The color!
This is the road traveled.
None traveled less, none traveled more.
Everyone travels the same, alone and yet never apart.
Hello, traveler.

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Ready for something amazing and true*

June 25th, 2009    -    8 Comments


*A hope note given to me by Jen Lemen.


The other night at the bookstore I handed out a list of my recommended summer spiritual reads, and even though I’ve shared some of these before, and even though one of them has been around for two thousand summers, I thought I’d share them again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for something amazing and true.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and Stephen Mitchell – my favorite translation of the ancient Chinese text that informed the ancestry of Zen. Easy, accessible, beautiful and intuitively meaningful.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – a hauntingly honest and powerful response to the question of life’s meaning, particularly to those still chasing idealized notions of love and work.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi – a lovely book “not about Zen,” but rather the spirit of Zen conveyed in talks given by this 20th century teacher. Effortless and spare, this slim work satisfies as a full meal.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – Pulitzer Prize winning novel and modern spiritual classic. An aging country preacher testifies to the plain and lucid miracle of existence in a memoir left to a young son.

Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike – A collection of poems written by the late novelist in the last seven years of his life and assembled shortly before his death. Clear-eyed, stunning and resonant.

My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Noemi Remen, MD – The kitchen table storyteller uses recollections of her rabbi grandfather to spiritualize everyday life.

***
Off for a weekend in San Francisco with family and new friends. Bay Area denizens: Come and get your zenagains!

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Song for reasons of eating

February 26th, 2009    -    10 Comments

There were several items in the New York Times this week that got me salivating. But the one that cut closest to home was this one about the minstrel and erstwhile Zen Buddhist monk, Leonard Cohen: “On the Road: For Reasons Practical and Spiritual.”

As you might expect, the writer finds it paradoxical that Cohen has decided to re-take the stage at this late age. The story’s hook is that Cohen’s road tour is a mystical mingling of the sacred and the secular. The writer thinks that is notable, but I’m certain Cohen doesn’t. He’s not mingling anything. He is simply singing for his supper, because he’s broke.

Can anyone relate?

Cohen doesn’t pit the practical against the spiritual and make a divine quest out of it. There is no difference between the two. There is no either and no or. That ideological distinction is only in the mind of the writer. And it might be in your mind too. When you’re hungry, and you are broke or near-broke, it’s a good time to get your ideas about spiritual versus practical out of your mind and strap them to the bottom of your feet. And then walk the heck out of them.

Eating is a divine act. It is a mingling of the practical and the spiritual. Pass the ketchup.

A painting of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger. – Zen saying

Cohen is the kind of icon to whom we all lay claim. In truth, I have no claim. I was born a poor, illegitimate music lover and I heard my first Cohen when he was all but done as a singer, living as a mountain monk, and his Ten New Songs was released in 2001. A fellow Zen practitioner gave to me. When I heard Cohen’s bottomless voice surfacing from somewhere deep beneath his navel, when I heard the pure, raw, spare simplicity of the words, I was amazed. “Damn,” I thought, “this guy has spent serious time on his butt.”

But there’s a time to get up off your butt, and it’s about the time you realize that coming or going, walking or sitting, standing up or lying down, you’re always on your butt. Run out of money and what are you going to do? Put your butt on the road.

“Past mind is ungraspable. Future mind is ungraspable. Present mind is ungraspable. With which mind will you eat this rice cake?” – Zen koan

So everyone’s struggling now. Who’s not struggling? Since last summer, every idea I had of my illustrious future has been chewed up and swallowed. Every previous source of income has vaporized. These days I do many, many things, and I do anything for money. Little dribs that come when I need it most. Little sums that get me through. Funny, I actually see more possibilities now. There’s far more tunnel, to be sure. And there’s more light that shines in from all those cracks in the way I thought my life would go.

So come on now, everybody, sing along. Let’s sing and then have supper. You’re invited to my place for dinner, you see, because it’s all one place.

Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen

PS My friend Ted says you can find the unfiltered Leonard here. And you can find Ted here.

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