Thursday, February 25, 2010

Take Care of Yourself


“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama



Sometimes those who are in caring professions need to be reminded to take care of themselves. Fifteen years ago I made the decision to move from social services into nursing because I saw that it would broaden my training and provide more opportunities to do meaningful work. Social work and healthcare are both fields that have high incidences of “burnout.” I can see first hand the importance of what the Dalai Lama advises. I found this statement in The Path to Tranquility: Daily Wisdom compiled and edited by Renuka Singh. The book offers words from the Dalai Lama for each day of the year.

Tenured academics are typically granted sabbatical leave to give them opportunity to rejuvenate and gain new experiences in their fields of study. This is an excellent idea, but for most of us, we must plan our own “sabbatical time.” Consequently, that time often does not come. Both of my parents were public school teachers, my father was also a Baptist minister. Public school teachers are probably in greater need of sabbatical leave than college professors, but there again, in most cases they must make their own time for themselves if there is to be any rejuvenation.

For many of us in helping professions, finding that time is difficult because we tend to live from paycheck to paycheck. In addition, the needs are so great that we often feel that “If I don’t take care of these people, who will?” Still, it is important to be conscious of our own needs and limitations. As the Dalai Lama says, if we wish to provide help, “The point is to have a long-term perspective.” When we find ourselves in that “burnout” stage, it is harder to do effective work, and the consequences upon our own health are compounded. Sometimes we need a "mental health day."

Sabbaticals may be out of the question in your profession, and vacations sometimes become more work and expense than we counted on. It may be more helpful to set aside a weekend or an afternoon to do some calming, relaxing, or rejuvenating activity. For one it may be an afternoon at the museum, for another it could be time at the park or a drive in the country. For some it will be a regular time of meditation or yoga. Others will find moments of sustenance in gardening or bird-watching.

Today, I salute all who labor in helping professions. Take good care of yourselves – your care is needed and your value is immeasurable. To those who have benefited today from a nurse, a teacher, a social worker or a counselor, take some time to thank them for the work they do.



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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dreams, Jet lag and Synchronicity

“When you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you’ve come home you’ll dream of where you were. It’s a kind of jet lag of the unconscious.”
- Barbara Kingsolver (from Animal Dreams)


Sometimes I am amazed by synchronicity. Just last week I came across a poem I had written back in 1985. Usually my poems do not rhyme. Rhyme fits in well with the 19th century and Hallmark Cards, but is not a scheme that I routinely choose. “Threnody Praise,” however, was one of those poems that came to me insisting upon rhyme and meter. The background for this poem is that I had spent two wonderful years teaching English in Hong Kong. While I was there, there were a few occasions in which I had vivid dreams of life back in the USA. Then when I returned home, I had many dreams of being back in Hong Kong. Sometimes I will still have a dream in which I hop on a bus and travel over the hill and across a bridge to arrive in Hong Kong – always a great dream!

So here comes the synchronicity part: reading another blog, I found the quote from Barbara Kingsolver’s 1991 book, Animal Dreams. She seems to be commenting on the very phenomenon that I was experiencing. So here is the poem. I hope you like it.



Threnody Praise

On a warm night in China
I saw the streets of Nevada -
Saw a breakfast cafe in early morning light.
And the hint of brewed coffee was such a delight.

Now I am back in the houses of the West.
Sometimes at night when I lie down to rest,
The sights and the smells of the crowded East
Fill my dreams when I suspect it the least.

In the heat of the race a child appears,
Silently pointing to what I once held dear.
And in the stillness of winter, sometimes it seems
That the spring of times past threatens future dreams.

Memory can be a joy or a dirge,
But remembrance allows my presence to merge
Songs of the past with hopes of the heart,
Weaving the being of a wandering bard.



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Sunday, February 21, 2010

On Transcendence (and Being Discrete)

I have to hide it the way some men hide their whiskey – or their girlie magazines. You see, my wife has not always been pleased about my relationship with poetry. I can get lost in it. For me, a poem can be that portal that slips me into another realm.

Once when I had a day off, I decided to spend the afternoon reading poetry. Time got away from me. My wife can home that evening and came back to the study. She took one look and said, “What is the matter?” (brief pause) “You’ve been fooling around with poetry again haven’t you?” I know how I felt, but I’m not sure what she saw. Maybe it was a distant look in my eye, some inward orientation, or perhaps my ear was tuned to some other-worldly beacon. Maybe I was just “visibly moved.” I know that for me, those moments of transcendence can leave me feeling somewhat “out-of-sync” with my surroundings. It may take me a while to get my bearings.

Hidden Beauty and Higher Callings

Consider what Percy Bysshe Shelley says of poetry: “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” Is it any surprise that poetry can move the reader or listener to a world beyond space and time?

There are a number of poetic witnesses whose words can tip me over the edge. When Edna St. Vincent Millay says, “I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for death” or Emily Dickenson declares that “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul” my mind may shift into a higher frequency. When I hear William Shakespeare tell of riding away from the one he loves, I begin to move within that world. By the time I get to that last line, “My grief lies onward, my joy behind,” life is moving at a different pace and sounds have a new cadence. Hearing Bob Dylan sing “In another lifetime she must have owned the world, or been faithfully wed / To some righteous king who wrote psalms beside moonlit streams,” can make my spirit take flight in pursuit of those distant streams. Or consider those ominous words of William Butler Yeats in a poem set in wartime, “Those that I fight I do not hate, / Those that I guard I do not love.”

To quote Shelley once more: “A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.” Indeed, that eternal truth gives weight to our ordinary life. Of course, it is not always a question of transport to another realm during those times spent with poetic voices. Sometimes it is simply a feeling of joy or a recognition of longing. There may be a subtle illumination or an “aha moment” when a new insight is gained by seeing from another perspective.

During those times of transcendence, the coming back is just as important as the experience itself. Relative to this there is an old Christian saying, “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” Likewise, there is a Buddhist saying often used in reference to new practitioners of meditation, “He stinks of Zen.”

Since I did not want to be caught “fooling around with poetry,” I did not want my wife to see me coming in the door with a new book of poems from the library. I made sure it was hidden among other things I was carrying and I surreptitiously moved the book to the back of the house post-haste. I left it on a table to wait for an opportune time.

Finding a Remedy to the Poetry Problem

My wife and I attended a Jungian workshop which explored various means of transcendence in different cultures (my wife is a licensed professional counselor and I enjoy Jungian studies, so that is an interest we share). There were discussions and film presentations of various religious rituals designed to achieve religious ecstasy. One thing that was addressed in the workshop was the importance of having someone skilled not only in achieving an altered state of consciousness, but also in assisting the practitioner back to a normal state after the experience is complete.

After one of the sessions my wife and I approached the workshop leader. We told her of my “problem with poetry” and asked how it might be managed. She gave what I thought was very sound advice. She suggested that I create my own ritual. It could be the lighting of a candle at the beginning and the extinguishing of the flame at the end of the reading – something to signify a beginning and an end. The ritual would serve as a kind of container for the experience, thereby easing the transition back to the everyday world.

Finding those moments of transcendence seems to be a universal human trait. Some find it in music, whether it be listening to a symphony or hearing one’s favorite hymn. Others may find it in dance, theatre, or other forms of the arts. John Muir spoke and wrote of the wonders of nature in explicitly transcendent and religious terms. There are multiple ways of finding transcendence. Even for one individual there are many ways to experience the wonder. However you get there, I’m all for it. Just be sure you come back to carry on with life and be with the ones you love.

Works cited:

A Defence of Poetry, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“Conscientious Objector,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” (Poem 254), by Emily Dickinson
“Sonnet 50,” by William Shakespeare
“I and I,” by Bob Dylan (From Infidels)
“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” by William Butler Yeats



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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Remembering Those Who have Gone Before Us (Part 2)

“Death ends a life, not a relationship”
– Robert Benchley


Special bonds that exist in life do not dissipate with death. I am finding more and more that the dynamic of a meaningful relationship continues. Sometimes we hear of instances where someone who is grieving over the loss of a loved one has an encounter of some kind with that one who has gone before. The most significant people in my life who have died are my grandmother, my father, and my mother. I name them in the order in which they departed for that unknown country. I have never had any kind of vision of any one of them appearing in any form or dream. I have been aware, however, that somehow I continue to interact with them. Their personalities and influence continue to affect my responses to situations in life. I believe that those relationships, especially close familial relationships will, for good or ill, continue to hold sway in our lives, even after that person has left this world.

There are times when I become acutely aware of my father’s continuing presence. Often my own actions bring on this awareness. I find myself standing a certain way, or positioning my body a certain way that suddenly reminds me of my father. Or, I may call to mind how my father might have reacted in a situation similar to one I may be facing. Many times I may recall the words that my mother or father said to me at one time or another.

My daughter, Elaine, now a sophomore in college, said it better than I could many years ago. When she was four years old she showed me a truth of remembering our loved ones. One day my wife, Vicki, was moving a cedar chest which had belonged to Vicki's grandmother. She commented to Elaine that her grandmother had left the chest to her when she died.

"Were you sad when your grandmother died?" Elaine asked.

"Yes, I was very sad," Vicki replied.

"Did you cry?"

"Yes, I cried a lot."

"How long did you cry?"

"I cried for days and days, "Vicki told her.

"You mean you just cried and cried and cried until you knew she was in your heart?" Elaine asked as she looked to her mother for confirmation.

I can think of no better way to summarize love, loss, grief and remembrance.



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Friday, February 19, 2010

Remembering Those Who Have Gone Before Us (Part 1)

In my previous blog post, I mentioned Thomas Merton in passing. Since then, yet another older poem has come to mind. I wrote the following poem to express how important a life can be even when mortality separates life from life to leave an empty space. There are many ways that I am aware of a certain "communion of saints" in which I continue to learn from friends and family who have departed this life. I hope to write more about that in the future. For now, I give you this tribute brought to mind by thoughts of Gethsemani Abbey.



To Thomas Merton

"Father Louis has died."
I meet the words with disbelief.
He accepted my nature and encouraged my vocation.
It feels as though he should still be here,
So news of his death brings a sense of loss.

But it happened in 1968
When the events of a Thousand Years took place.
I was a boy, awakened by violence -
hope slipping away,
And the one who would be my guide to peace
Lay among the dead
transported in a war plane.

"Father Louis has died."
I meet the words with disbelief.
Did he not tell me about solitude
and of the richness found within?
I think I saw him planting an oak,
but that was long ago.

But wait - I know he directed me to the East
And he affirmed my contemplative stirrings...
On second thought, that was after the fact -
it was all after the fact.
Everything happened after the message,
"Father Louis has died."

I meet the words with disbelief.
He is much too present for me to remember
That he is dead.
Sometimes I find myself in a realm
Where Thomas Merton and I are contemporaries
Comparing experiences and hopes.
I learn from his insights;
I am at home with him.
But then comes the disturbing news,
"Father Louis has died."



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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday


Today is Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, it is a time to remember our mortality as we enter the penitential season of Lent in preparation for Easter. For me, it serves as a natural marker, a seasonal event to remind me to take stock of my life. Perhaps it is natural that I should now think back to a time of introspection some 25 years ago.

It was around my 30th birthday that I decided to spend a few days at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. Gethsemani is the trappist monastery best know as the place where Thomas Merton lived after taking vows in the order. Mine was a personal, unstructured retreat. I prayed the hours with the monks, hiked in the Kentucky woodlands, and ate the simple fare offered at the monastery. At the end of my stay, I stopped by the gift shop and left with some excellent cheese and fruitcake (crafted by the monks there), and at least one insight which I wrote down in the poem that follows.




A Small Brown Bird, a Red Bandanna, and a Fat Man Coughing
(Day One at a Trappist Monastery)


I'm not sure I know what a distraction is.

Today I spent a couple of hours walking through
the autumn woods near Gethsemani Abbey.
A small brown bird caught my attention as he
chirped and flitted among the bushes
down by a pond.

During afternoon prayer
a monk pulled out a red bandanna
and blew his nose.
It was just like the bandannas Dad gave
my brother and me when we were children.
We loved our bandannas, and we used them
to wipe sweat, to be cowboys, to be hobos,
and to carry Mom's oatmeal cookies.

By one small act, this monk
brought a part of my childhood
before God.

There was a fat man in the guesthouse.
I kept seeing him there.
He chain-smoked cigarettes and coughed every fifteen
seconds.
I drank a cup of coffee in the next room.
I kept hearing that fat man cough.
I read about Julian of Norwich in the library.
I heard the hacking cough - like a carpenter's saw
every fifteen seconds.

Did the bird make me forget the autumn woods?
Did the bandanna interrupt my prayer?
Did the fat man's cough disturb my inner silence,
or did it punctuate my inner noise?

I'm not sure I know what a distraction is.



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Sunday, February 14, 2010

For Valentine's Day


I found these two old poems I had written (circa 1993) that remind me why I am a very lucky man. I offer them on my blog this Valentine's Day.



A Moment of Grace

If not for you,
The dreams that I had
Might have slipped away.
If not for you,
The hope I had
Might have been beyond my grasp.

The hero makes a thousand journeys
And his treasure
(When he finds it)
Is at home.

It was a moment of grace
When I met you.
It was as though I were at an airport cafe
Waiting for the next flight out
When you invited me to stay for awhile.



Sitting with the Vision

When I was young
I sought the Beatific Vision.
At all costs, I would see it and it would be seen.
And with that vision I would connect with
the harmony of all that is
(I said when I was young).

Then you came.
With great surprise I stepped aside
Onto another path.
Youthful arrogance would say,
"Do not forsake your quest."
(But if the Grail will be found,
It will find and be found
And the traveler will not disdain surprises).

Now I delight in everyday things
And find joy in our life together.
And what greater wonder than sharing life
With our daughter
Who is fascinated by so many things,
even small things like her goldfish
whom she calls "Pish".

The delight it brings to our daughter
Lets me know that for the moment
My most important task
Is to make sure that Pish has clean water in his bowl
and food every day.

And I sit in amazement
As a little goldfish gracefully reflects
The unconscious beatific vision
Made known in an instant
As it swims about within the Holy Grail.



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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Remembrance

.

I dare not ask that you remember me
When you cannot even remember who built Stonehenge,
Or how the Great Pyramids' stones were laid.

I cannot ask that you remember my song
When you cannot name the hymn that was sung
as Lincoln's body lay in state,
When you cannot recall the eagle's cry
as she mourned the loss of her young.

When you have forgotten the corner
Where your grandfather first courted his wife-to-be,
I cannot hope for you to recall that crossroads
where we met
Before taking different paths.

Yet if you can remember the laughter
Of your great, great grandchildren,
Memory will begin to return,
And life will awaken.



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Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Important Life Lesson

Lately I have been reading a poem every morning before going to work – instead of watching the news on T.V. This morning I was especially moved by a poem by Julia Kasdorf called “What I Learned from My Mother.” When I got home this evening I had to share it with my wife, and barely got through the reading of it without choking up. It shows something important that many mothers pass on to their daughters, but it also speaks of what I do in my profession as a nurse."I learned to create from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once you know how to do this, you can never refuse."
To me, it also speaks of something so very human and very important. It speaks of a compassion shown by being there rather than by saying profound things.


What I Learned From My Mother
by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewing even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.


I found the poem in Good Poems, Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor, Viking Press. The poem can also be found online at http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/columns/060.html



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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Words of Celebration

Here's a poem I wrote years ago which I still like. I wrote it for my friend Felix Joffrion. It speaks of the work of a counselor, framing it with language of a Eucharistic service.



To the Priest without a Collar
(On the Work of a Counselor)

Not being one to mistake
Shadow for substance,
He chooses the liturgy of the heart
For his work and worship.

With the pre-ecclesiastical natural rhythm
Of the human calendar,
And with processions that are not just
Anonymously cloaked actors waiting for Sunday lunch,
The Great Litany of the Soul slowly unwinds
Until the heart is truly open,
All desires known,
And truly no secrets are hid.

Arms unloosed from cords of the past
Are then free to receive the grace
that flows from the Lord's Table,
And are free to embrace the fellow traveler
who had seemed so distant.

And the lights upon the altar of the heart
Are not extinguished,
For the real presence of grace remains
Awaiting the next Holy Procession.




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On Crabgrass and Curmudgeons

-


I don't like it
That there is crabgrass in my yard.
I hate that it creeps across the walkway
No matter how often I clear it away.
Yet I must admit
That except for the crabgrass,
Some parts of the lawn
Would never be green.



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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Distant Hope

-


There are some days
When one is drained -
Curiosity is flat
Mental strength strained
Spiritual energy depleted.

Today
Watching a goldfinch
At the thistle feeder
Outside the kitchen window
Is the only intellectual inquiry I can make
And the only prayer I can offer.
Yet today
It is all I need
To see hope on the wing.



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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Living with Virtue: A Tribute to Mr. Higgins


“For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.”
-- William Blake

We named him Mr. Higgins, but we just called him Higgins. He was half English shepherd, half Border collie and half Belgian shepherd, which, if you add all that up you will see that he was a dog and a half. More than anyone else, he taught me to "be here now," although I do not think he originated that phrase.

Grand is the best single word to describe him. In his prime, he was 90 pounds, looking like a longhaired black and tan German shepherd. He had the confident and precise gait of a Tennessee walker as he patrolled the perimeter of our back yard anytime he suspected something unusual or amiss. He was something of a changeling. Higgins could become very small in the presence of a toddler at play as he delighted at getting down at the child's level. He could become extremely large whenever an unknown meter reader approached the house, with hair rising above his haunches, a booming voice, and a mouthful of teeth that looked as though they could engulf a Halloween pumpkin.

I heard Buddhist scholar, Robert Thurman, say that to be born a human being meant that one had been extremely virtuous in a former life. I like what that concept says about human existence: that humanity begins in virtue. I also like what it says about reverence for all of life. Mr. Higgins showed me by example the virtue of being. He was loyal, grateful, inquisitive, loving and defending. He enjoyed work, loved to play, and he was happy to be wherever he happened to be.

On one occasion, I saw Higgins do something I have never seen in a dog before or since. We had acquired a little terrier puppy for my daughter. Higgins, of course, was delighted with the company and took very seriously the task of showing the little tike all the ways of life as a dog. One thing Higgins particularly enjoyed, aside from his squeaky toys, was a good bone to chew. We always had two or three of those beef bones from the pet store scattered about the yard. On this one particular day, Higgins was lying in the yard gnawing his bone while the little terrier was in his face making it known that she would love to chew on a bone. Instead of snarling or snapping, Higgins stopped his chewing, raised his head and looked about. He got up from his spot, walked over to another part of the yard and retrieved one of his other bones. He then took the bone back to his spot, dropped it in front of the puppy, and lay back down as they both proceeded to enjoy a bone chewing session together.

We are influenced by whomever we live with, whether that one be human, canine, equine, feline, fish, fowl, or rodent. Mr. Higgins certainly affected my own existence for the better. Any life that we let into our circle of being expands our awareness and broadens our experience. Mr. Higgins helped me to live in the present moment. He taught me something about delight and devotion. He exemplified trust and companionship. He also taught me something about aging and dying.

By the time he was 12 years old, he was slowing down, but still exuberant. Cataracts dimmed his sight, and he also became hard of hearing. He had always been an inside/outside dog, but we began keeping him in more, letting him sleep in the kitchen every night, and always bringing him in during very hot or cold weather. During his last year, he struggled with arthritis and frequent incontinence. One day a friend, who was obviously not an animal person, asked me how long I was going to keep a dog that pooped in the house. My reply to her was that Higgins continued to be a valued companion. I told her that I intended to treat him with the same regard that I hoped someone would give to me when I am old and incontinent.

For 14 years, Mr. Higgins lived his dog nature with virtue. My life was made richer and more down-to-earth by his presence. If the Buddhists are right, I might meet him again in his human nature one day. If not, it was certainly enough that our life forms made contact and learned from one another for 14 years.



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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day: A Long Tradition of Looking Toward Spring


Several years ago I was given a new insight into the origins of Groundhog Day. I was a new member of an Episcopal Church which was in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition. I was also new to all things liturgical, since I had grown up Baptist. One of the liturgical services celebrated by that church was The Feast of the Presentation, which always falls on February 2nd. At the beginning of the service, one of the choir members came to the front and began chanting the dates that were set for Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Easter. I thought it was rather unusual to be chanting what sounded like announcements upcoming church services.

Afterwards, the priest explained to me that in medieval times, the tradition was that on The Feast of the Presentation the bishop would announce the dates for Easter. Since Easter is determined by lunar dates it can be as early as March 22 or as late as April 25. Among agrarian cultures, is was quite vital to know when Easter would fall since everyone knew that planting should start on Good Friday. I can remember from my childhood in rural Alabama there were still many who farmed (usually to supplement their mill worker incomes). I remember the old folks swearing that you had to get your first crop planted on Good Friday.

Anyway, my priest went on to tell how Ground Hog Day was a Puritan anti-Catholic device for the New World colonists. The Puritans were so anti-liturgical, they did not want anything resembling the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas as it is also known. They did, however, need a way to inform the community when they could plant their crops. Hence, the concept of Ground Hog Day was implemented. Think about it, Ground Hog Day, on February 2, will let people know whether there will be six more weeks of winter. In other words, will Easter arrive in March of April?

I have to say I was amazed. I had never associated the ground hog and his shadow with how late Easter would arrive. If the priest was correct, the Puritans were successful in giving us a tradition to herald the arrival of spring that doesn’t remind us in the least of Catholic ritual, or even church. I decided to google Ground Hog Day to check out my priest’s version of its origin. I didn’t find it stated so explicitly, but on Wikipedia I saw that Ground Hog Day “bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas” which actually harks back to an even older pagan holiday of Imbolc.

So this Ground Hog Day, you can wait in anticipation to see if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, or you can just look at the calendar to see when Easter is this year. I will say from my own planting experience, you can’t rule out a late freeze before Easter. So when you see all those flats of flower seedlings for sale, just remember to wait until Good Friday to plant anything, or you may just have to buy everything again after that late freeze kills what you put out in the yard.



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Monday, February 1, 2010

A Poetic Sense of Life


“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:17 (RSV)


Mircea Eliade wrote many books about mythology. He made it quite clear that ancient people were not simple-minded. They were every bit as sophisticated in their thinking as we modern people are. The difference is that their mode of thinking was mythopoeic – mythopoetic, if you will – while our modern mindset is scientific and analytical. Reading Mircea Eliade convinced me that myth is not falsehood. Myth is truth, spoken from a poetic mind set.

Another author I would recommend is Robert Coles who wrote a book called The Spirituality of Children. He showed us that children have a much greater grasp of the truths of life than we adults often give them credit for. I think that children have that poetic sense that our ancient ancestors had and that all of us once had before it was socialized out of us.

When my daughter, Elaine, was six years old, I overheard a remarkable conversation between her and her playmate. They were involved in an art project painting rocks at our dining/arts-and-crafts table. Elaine (while painting a rock) said, "There's the right color! I knew God would show me."

Her friend said, "God is in my heart."

Elaine replied, "There's Mother God and Father God. Mother God is the Earth and Father God is up there watching over us." She made a big sweep of her arm as she said this. "Father God can't watch everyone at the same time, but Mother God can."

Her friend responded, "There's two – there’s God and Jesus."

To which my daughter replied, "Well, I know Mother God very well – I'm like her."

Her friend, not exactly following Elaine's statement said, "I like her to."

"Do you sway with the grass?" Elaine asked her. "Mother God sways with the grass," swaying her arms and her body back and forth as she spoke.

At six years of age, my daughter had a remarkable gift. She had latched onto a feminine identification with the divine. "I know Mother God very well – I'm like her... Mother God sways with the grass."

Elaine had talked to me before about her ideas. I once told a theologian friend of mine about a conversation I had with her about Mother God and Father God when she was four years old. She said, "It's hard for me to say something about Father God, but it's easier to talk about Mother God." I asked her why that was. She said, "Well, Father God – I don't really know him, but I know Mother God. I was in Mother God's belly before it was time to be in my mother's belly to be born. You see, I have two mothers: Mommy and Mother God."

I had marveled at her honesty and insight. My thought was that she captured the notion of the imminence of God vs. the transcendence of God. My theologian friend's comment was that Elaine's idea was "classic Meister Ekhart." Not bad company for a young observer of life. My daughter is a sophomore in college now. My hope for her is that she will always remember the God who is like her, and that she never forgets how to sway with the grass.



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