Hide-out or Find out?

Taos Mountain - Land & Sky

Taos Mountain – Land & Sky

This will be the first Christmas, since I moved to Taos five years ago – November of 2008, that I won’t be here for the holiday.

When I came to Taos five years ago, I hadn’t intended to stay; I came simply to check Taos off my “bucket list”.  Even before I had arrived, when I was on the road to Taos (a little like the ‘road to Damascus’), I heard a voice saying, “You never have to leave again.”  What?  I have a life back in Europe, where I’d been living for nearly 12 years.

The precise point in the road where I heard the voice is unknown.   However, recently I traced with a friend who’s lived in Taos most of his life, that it’s very likely that the place I had my Taos conversion experience was where Taos Mountain peeks in-between the heights of the canyon road.

Since I moved to Taos, nearly every year on Christmas Eve, I’ve visited Taos Pueblo for its annual procession of the Virgin Mary at twilight and bonfires into the night. The Pueblo is open to visitors and thousands of us pour in.   It feels primal. All the communities – Native American, Hispanic, Anglo and visitors – come together in the always frigid desert night and bask in the timelessness of this ritual.

Why did I leave behind my former life and root myself to this place?

A look at this photo might tell you why.

The sky, the earth, the mountain – living here is primal, it is intimate, it is connected, it is big.

Some people say people move to Taos to “hide out.”

I say I moved to Taos to find out.

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Grief sits with joy

CAM01455The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio, “to come to.”  It refers to the coming of Christ. And following the birth of Christ, later will come the story of the death of Christ, the Cross. And coming from that, the Resurrection. There is a coming to embrace all of this, the whole story.

The second step of many twelve-step programs also uses a form of this phrase “to come to”:  ”We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

So often healing is, indeed, a matter of “coming to.” After the long disease of denial, something breaks through. We come to our senses. Come out of the fog. Come out of delusion, distraction, wrong thinking, insanity.

The deepest of faith is that which is held onto, in the midst of the dark night of the soul. Even in deepest moments of despair, grief, loss, there is hope when one knows that everything is impermanent. This feeling of despair, too, shall pass.

I feel it’s so important to remember this, in the season where smiles and joy and happy families are the expectation. Reality can be blatantly different.  But all is not darkness, just as all is not light. There is always the mix, the shadow, the dance.

In the middle of this impermanence, this very human condition,  the Christmas message is that God’s child is born.  Emmanuel, God with us, the one who comes to us, invites us to embrace both the cross and the resurrection.   Death and life.  Grief and joy are united, inseparable.

Let us not deny grief, but make room for it at the table this season. Grief is as human as we are.   Grief can sit side by side with joy.   All are welcome here.

 

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On the road….

Santa Cruz de la Canada

Santa Cruz de la Canada

Today I drove again to Espanola, to the parish of Santa Cruz de la Canada, to Sunday Mass.  I never had intended to start attending church there. A few weeks ago, I had set out to go to the Sanctuario of Chimayo.  On the road to Chimayo, I came upon the intersection of the Santa Cruz plaza, where the Church of the Holy Cross is. Mass was starting in about a quarter of an hour. I could go in early and spend some quiet time. I listened to “the voice”, the inner prompting. I do not regret this, for I’ve decided to return each week.

It seems to me that pilgrimage is almost never about the “destination”.  Instead it is about being awake, on the journey. Sometimes God is calling to you at a crossroads before the holy place. Who knows, God could be calling you at Wal-mart!  You have to be willing to let go of all your old ideas, and be awake – each step of the way. You have to be ready to go left, when your map says to go right.

Receptivity may be the key idea of Advent.  Opening one’s self up to the entry of the Cosmic Christ in our lives. Again, this does not just happen on ‘silent nights’ and under portends of great stars.

In the Gospel, the Son of God comes in the form of an innocent baby.  Maybe this is to remind all of us of our innocent beginnings.

On the road to Santa Cruz

On the road to Santa Cruz

I do believe in original blessing. I was going to say that I don’t believe in original sin. But on deeper reflection, I cannot deny original sin, either.

It seems to me that we are born with both light and shadow, blessing and sin, if you like. How we choose to embrace them both is the story of our lives. Because there cannot be one without the other. The light and shadow play with each other.

What we do before, and after, the pilgrimage to the holy place – this is what matters. If not, if we are not striving to be awake the whole journey, what does it matter if we go on pilgrimage? What might we miss along the way, on the side of the road, if we only have tunnel vision to the goal?  God is only available in the present moment.

Across from the churchyard

Across from the churchyard

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Stay Away, Please – Lighting Candles for Newtown.

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Powerful message from the families of Newtown on the one year anniversary.  ”Stay away.”  They ask the press for the dignity to grieve and to grow and heal in private.  Please watch this powerful CNN message.

Light a candle. Remember. Pray.

I will pray, as so many others do, for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Together we can do what we cannot do alone.

 

 

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“The Welcoming Prayer” by Fr. Keating

Welcome at Norbertine

Friday, December the 13th.

End of a long week.

Eve of an extraordinarily painful anniversary for the people of Newtown and all who care about them.

I offer this prayer as a starting point, a reflection.

The prayer alone is so powerful; commentary is secondary.

Silence is the gateway.

 

 

 

Welcome, welcome, welcome.

I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.

I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.

I let go of my desire for power and control.

I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval, and pleasure.

I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.

I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.

Amen.

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“… all my love, my compassion, my help & protection to the people.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in OLG Parish, Taos, NM

Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in OLG Parish, Taos, NM

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Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Americas

Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth.  It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor.  Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people.  I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me.  Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.

Words spoken in Nahuatl to Juan Diego, on Dec. 9th, 1531, in Tepeyac, near Mexico City.

OLG Window at Taos OLG Parish

Our Lady of Guadalupe Window at Taos OLG Parish

The "Tilma" - Miraculous Cloak

The “Tilma” – Miraculous Cloak

Roses in December

Roses in December

 

Juan Diego of Our Lady of Guadalupe


Our Lady's Message

Our Lady’s Message

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Fullness from fullness

Swami Beach, Encinitas, California

Swami Beach, Encinitas, California

Purnamadah Purnamidam…  This Sanskrit mantra rose up tonight as I sat after a long, very full day. As there are endless variations on the translations and meanings, I will revert to the first translation I learned some years ago. Fullness coming from fullness.  My cup runneth over, perhaps…

Some days are like this, and more may be heading this way, if we peak into the crystal ball of December.

I was almost tempted to skip posting, but here I am. It feels like a sacred commitment, just to show up, no matter how tired, how full.

In the midst of all this fullness, it is more important than ever to stop, sit, empty the mind. Quiet the mind.  Let it rest.

To rest in the fullness of God, the embrace of the Universe.

To know that one is never apart from it.

Classic “om purnamadah purnaimdam” mantras typically end with “om shantih, shantih, shantih“. Simpler to translate, shantih means peace.  Shalom.

Good night, good morning, sinking into the fullness, rising up from the fullness, be at peace.

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Do-Be, Do-Be, Do-Be

Sunset Walk, El Prado, NM

Roxy on her Sunset Walk, El Prado, NM

Today’s post comes after sunset.  It’s been a long day, on the road, traveling back to Taos from business in Albuquerque.  About 130 miles, through the high mountain desert, the highways pass through eight Native American pueblos.  I am pulled to the city at times – the people, the work, the opportunities, and I entertain leaving Taos.  But as soon as I hit a certain stretch of the canyon road – the last miles of Rio Arriba before the Taos County border, I shake my head at how I could entertain leaving Taos.

My car had to be dropped off in Taos for a costly repair.  Why is it that these repairs, and other unforeseen expenses like costly dental work, always seem to hit in December, when the budgets are the tightest?

My boyfriend drove me back home and left for his evening shift.  I had time for a short walk with Roxy at sunset.The air was frigid, but the wind was still. Everything was still. December light is soft, a feathery pink cast to the sky.

I dropped into the quiet.  A phrase from Will Howard’s poem that I posted yesterday came to me:  “expecting nothing”. He was speaking of Mary at prayer, expecting the child Jesus.

How difficult and challenging it is to “expect nothing”.  How liberating, too.

It reminds me of a graphic poster I saw on Facebook this weekend: “Relax. Nothing is under control.”

So many of us try so hard at this time of year. We show up for families, loved ones, friends.  We try to find the perfect gift, decorate the home with warmth and festivity. Along with all the social to-do’s, we go inside – to pray, meditate and prepare.  It’s letting go of the to-do and entering into the to-be.

On Road to Monastery

On road to Christ in the Desert monastery

I have found it almost impossible to “expect nothing”. Even when I consciously work at not having expectations, I carry them – subconsciously.  I work again and again at “letting go and letting God”… and again and again, I find the strings I have attached to my giving.

To expect nothing is hard work. It demands staying in the present moment.

When I walk out in the snowy desert sagebrush, and watch the light gently shift and glow, then recede – I expect. I expect the night, and the morning to follow.  But for a moment, the moment, before I get lost in the next thought… I am there, held by the light – receiving – and yes, for a moment, expecting nothing. No doing, just being.

Glow on Western Horizon

Glow on Western Horizon

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Our Lady & the Light

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December 9th, today, is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This icon of Our Lady was a gift given by my grand-aunt, Sister Killian, to my parents. Sister Killian was a Columban missionary sister, an Irish nun who spent most of her life in missions in the Far East.  http://www.columbansisters.org/ I once had the privilege of staying at her convent in Ireland for about 10 days. At the time, I was a graduate student in Ireland. On a fellowship at the University College Cork, I was tasked with grading stacks of matriculation essays – literally over a thousand essays to read and grade in ten days! Sr. Killian offered me a place of little or no distraction, to accomplish this task.  Thus I stayed at the Order’s convent by the Irish Sea, in County Wicklow, and cherish my time there. I had good laughs with the sisters; I hope to tell more in the days to come.

In honor of today’s feast day, I asked a friend of mine in Taos, Will Howard, if he had a Marian poem to share.  He’d confided with me a year or more ago that he had a practice of writing devotional poetry.   Well, being the talented guy that he is, Will went off and penned a fresh poem in honor of Mary. It’s in the spirit of Advent, and the waning of the light.

I’m grateful for our spiritual friendship. One’s relationship with God is private and interior in one respect, but there are ways to connect and support each other on the journey. Thank you, Will, for this beautiful poem.   I chose the Pacific Sunset below as an attempt to complement your words.

The Light Is Dying

by Will Howard

The light is dying, slowly dimming,

Ebbing into darkness,

Like a sigh,

Shadows fall across the hills of Nazareth.

Darkness strengthens, shadows lengthen,

Slowly, minute by minute changing,

The sun descends,

Spreading out in fiery yellow, orange, and red.

Alone in her room,

Mary sits and waits,

Pondering in her heart.

Her mind sinks deeper into prayer,

With each breath,

Deeper into stillness,

Searching, not expecting

Simply present,

Making room

For the coming of the Light

Within her.

Sunset with leaves

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On Bodhi Day & Stealing a Buddha Book

Book by Frederick Franck

The Christ = Buddha by Frederick Franck

I lied to myself that it was just somehow ended up ‘by accident’ in my boxes. I was unpacking books after a break-up.  The truth is I stole this Buddha book from from my ex in my 20s.  I’ve carried it from Boston to New York to Belgium to New Mexico.  I never read it cover to cover. I loved the title; it seemed to say it all.  All I needed to do was look at the spine.  Oh, yes, The Christ = Buddha.   A kind of koan, perhaps. Non-dualism, at least.

Will stealing a Buddha/Christ book earn me a double-hell – the inferno of Christian lore AND the endless cycle of birth & death in reincarnation?  Reincarnation theory holds that we return, again and again, until we finish all our karma. Each life has its own kind of hell, with the return of human suffering.  In the traditional Christian deal, you only get one shot – what’ll it be: heaven or hell? I think most of us end up in “purgatory”, which may just be the Christian translation of reincarnation, until we get it right.

Damn, as I write this, I recall another spiritual book I stole, this one  from Boston College – Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton.  I think there’s a theme here, with Thomas Merton’s contemplative nature and interest in Eastern practices.   In that case,  I think I ‘forgot’ that it was a loan, or maybe I never actually checked it out… I had underlined so much of it that when I realized it wasn’t mine, I felt bad returning it.

What’s all this Buddha business doing in an Advent blog?  Well, if you’ve been reading since last Sunday, you may have gathered I’m not doing this as a typical Advent blog. I’m not qualified to do that. What I can do, what I have learned from all my spiritual practices, is to find the Christ, the Buddha, the Divine, the Reality – right where you are. And today, The Christ = Buddha.   And yes, I am a ‘sinner’… I have stolen books.  Full disclaimer.

Plus, December 8th, today, is Bodhi Day – the celebration of Siddhartha’s enlightenment.  I have never been a Buddhist, per se, though I have read a few books (though not Franck’s book).  The Buddhist teacher I have learned the most from has been Thich Nhat Hahn.   Once, about 10 or 11 years ago in Brussels, I attended a discourse by him. It was sweet to see his smile, face-to-face. It was no different from the beautiful smile I had come across in his videos, my favorite being “Peace Is Every Step.”  I learned about walking meditation from him, which may be why I was attracted to this Buddha statue – not the typical sitting posture, with the abundant Buddha belly, but the Buddha in action, Buddha in motion.

Walking Buddha

Walking Buddha

One reason why I have been attracted to Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings is their grounding in “engaged Buddhism”, Buddhism that underlies social justice.  Social justice – “men and women for others” is what was practiced and preached in my undergraduate education by the Jesuits at Boston College.    As I journeyed through life and found myself later in a yoga meditation community, one of the things I found missing there was a lack of emphasis on social justice.  The argument was a kind of traditional yoga deal, that you really can’t help humanity until you become enlightened, the Guru, or a Bodhisattva, to borrow the Buddhist terminology.  That if one was motivated towards social justice before enlightenment that is was only a kind of ego trip.

While I follow some of the logic in that, my heart did not agree. In order to stay in the practice and be a good disciple of this particular yoga meditation master, I kept trying to tell myself I was wrong, unenlightened. But the nagging inner voice did not go away.  The truth is, I don’t buy that.   There is so much one can do to relieve suffering, to work for social justice, before Enlightenment.  Ask anyone in Alcoholics Anonymous, where there are no gurus, where someone with a week of sobriety can help the person coming into their first meeting.   “Hey, friend, if I can do this, you can, too. I been sober a week now. It’s a miracle.” And that’s how it works. For AA or any 12-step fellowship, maybe why they work so well is because, as it says in the Big Book of AA: “We are not saints.” Instead it is spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.  Just people there for others – step by step. Men and women, both for themselves, and for others.  All this echoes Rabbi Hillel from December 2nd’s post: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am not for others, then what am I?”  

In the end, I put my trust in people who walk the talk. Maybe that’s the other reason I love the walking Buddha.

So, just for today – The Christ = Buddha.  I’m sorry I stole the book(s).   And I do believe in grace, forgiveness. It’s what you do with the mistakes that really matters.  Now I can share The Christ = Buddha with all of you. All three of you who are reading, that is!  :-)

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