April 24th, 2011

My mother had come to me in a dream. Four years dead, she was standing on my front porch. I rushed up and hugged her. Her body was like ash in my arms, crumbling and decayed, but I was not afraid or repulsed. She took me up. We flew into space, into the vast darkness and pulsing light. I felt celestial wind in my face. It was exhilarating.

I asked her, “Is there a heaven?”

She said yes.

“What’s it like?”

Like this, she said, like this.

It was an attribute of her deep faith and her final, modest confusion that my mother believed she was dying on Easter, and it was, for her. But for the rest of us it was in the small hours before Good Friday, the dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them.

Not too long ago I chanced upon a telling of what has become a bit of family lore, that my mother, a devoted Lutheran and good churchgoer, had never known that I was Buddhist. She would not have stood for that, the reasoning goes among my relatives, who have mistaken the strength of her faith for hardness.

What is true for me, what I remember, is what my mother said when I told her of my first encounter with my Zen teacher and the peace that I had found. What she said then was what I recognize today as the ultimate sanction a mother can give.

“Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”

In the dream my mom brought me back home to my own front door, and then she said something.

“There’s only one thing I want you to do.”

‘What is it?”  I would have done anything she said. I was filled with immense joy and thankfulness.

“Love Jesus,” my mother said.

I will, I said. I will.

Only later, upon waking, did I wonder. And then I stopped wondering.

There are many names, many stories, but only one love, and only one place or time that I can love them all without exception.


An excerpt from Hand Wash Cold.

Love Beyond Limits Workshop, Wash., DC, Sat., April 30
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Fan me • Follow me.


  1. This speaks so much to my faith. Thank you.

    Comment by blair — April 24, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  2. If not everything, then no thing. If not everyone, then no one. Love is not selective. It just is.

    Comment by Connie Assadi — April 24, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  3. You do love Jesus. You have refuge in the Dharma. All great teachers are part of the Dharma.

    Comment by Suzanne — April 24, 2011 @ 8:18 am

  4. great and small, one and many, all are dharma, all are love.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 24, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  5. Love is love is love. Your posts about your mother always hit me right in the heart. Right in the spot where I carry my mother.

    Comment by Mani — April 24, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  6. My mother,gone four years now, I feel so strongly
    today…Greek Easter was huge in my family.
    Thank you so much for this post Karen.

    Comment by Marcea Pugliese — April 24, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  7. Ah.

    Comment by Puerhan — April 24, 2011 @ 11:17 am

  8. This was happy-making today on Easter as I keep starting to cry with memories of all my young Easters Mother made special, and sorry I did not dress and go to Church for her. Shared this with friend who recently lost mother…thank you.

    Comment by Kay — April 24, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  9. How ironic(?) that you post this from Hand Wash Cole as I am currently rereading it. I can relate to this as I am a child of Lutheran parents, in fact, a father who is a Lutheran pastor. Despite my disagreements with the faith of my youth there is love.

    Comment by playcrane — April 24, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  10. Oh, oh, we do ourselves such harm by clinging to these sad understandings. Delusions are inexhaustible, and here we are, all us Posters and Karen, vowing to bring an end to them. All the sad past Easters are gone, gone, past gone.

    Blessings on us, one and all! Buttering the toast is all we need. Make extra for everyone in the house; leave off the butter for the one you give the birds.

    Comment by Ray Watkins — April 25, 2011 @ 3:22 am

  11. All you need is love

    Comment by Bobbi — April 25, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  12. This really hit a place in my heart. My mother in law who I loved dearly said these same words

    “Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.”

    when my husband began his recovery after 35 years of addiction.

    Then she passed away only 18 months later. As if she was hanging on waiting for him to find his way.

    Comment by Rachael — April 25, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  13. This is so beautiful and true. The love that transcends, embraces, lets go, and awakens. It’s telling that your mother’s request was to “love Jesus” not to “believe”. One is mind-based. The other, heart-mind-body-breath-based.

    Comment by Eric — April 26, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  14. Thank you. For me this is about my father, gone three years on Easter.

    Comment by Amanda — April 27, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  15. One of my favorite passages in your book, which our book club just chose as our May read. I’m going to try very hard to listen and not be so tied to my own opinions at that gathering:)

    Any word of a Plunge retreat offering?

    Comment by Deirdre — April 28, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

  16. I came here for comfort and that is what I leave with. Thank you.

    Comment by Mary Ann — May 1, 2011 @ 10:07 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month