Sunday, December 25, 2011

Believing is seeing.

For the past ten years or so, I have enjoyed heralding in the season with a lovely Christmas tradition within my spiritual community.  Part of it includes a worship service, filled with music, stories, candlelight, and silence.  This year we were fortunate to hear this wonderful story by Robert Fulghum as part of the service...

Once a juggler came to our church on Christmas Eve for the midnight service. I wanted to read an old story from long ago about a wandering juggler who happened into a monastery in deep winter and asked for refuge.
            The story says that the monks were busy making gifts to lay before the high altar of the monastery chapel in honor of the Virgin Mary – because if she was pleased, her statue would shed a tear of compassion for humanity. But when the gifts were presented at the Feast of the Nativity, the statue did not respond. In the middle of the night, the juggler, who thought he had no gift to give, went in alone and juggled before the statue – and juggled to the very limit of his capacity. To make a long story short, the statue of the Virgin Mary shed a tear – and the baby Jesus in her arms smiled – because the juggler had given everything he had, holding back nothing in his generosity. So goes the story.
            To bring the story to life, I wanted to have a real juggler perform for the congregation first, and then I’d tell the story and turn it into my Christmas sermon. A little show-business pizzazz for the midnight service.
            When time for the service came, the juggler had not arrived. Not until the middle of the second carol did I see him working his way up the crowded side aisle. But no costume. I had specifically asked him to wear his jester outfit. And no juggling equipment, either. What a disappointment. So much for magic at midnight.
            While the congregation headed into the last verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the juggler and I held a whispered conference. His car had been stolen, with all his possessions and equipment. But not to worry – he had an idea. All I had to do was to tell the fairy story, and he, the juggler, would take it from there.
            No time to argue. The carol was done, and the service had to go on. I assumed that when it came time for his performance, the juggler would explain his circumstances and use some things he had found in the church kitchen for a short act. Reasonable enough. However Christmas Eve is not a time for reasonableness. I ought to know that by now. So I read the story.
            And the juggler stepped into the light from out of the congregation. Slim young man, the wiry, athletic kind. black tennis shoes, jeans, green turtleneck shirt. Solemn expression and freckles on his face in place of the expected makeup. Nothing special to look at. And no tools of his trade. He smiled. And began his routine. In fact, he went through his entire routine just as if he had brought balls and clubs and knives and scarves with him. We had all seen enough juggling to know what was going on. And in each part of the routine, he went one step further than he had ever juggled and we had ever seen. Seven balls is supposed to be the limit for the very best professional juggler. Our guy did eight, and we knew it when he did it and applauded the moment of triumph. On through twelve silk scarves in the air at once and seven knives, and we even knew when he set his torches on fire and got eight torches in the air all at once and caught them without burning himself. We laughed and shouted encouragement and applauded this remarkable performance. We couldn’t see it, but we believed it. We gave him a standing ovation. On Christmas Eve in church – a standing ovation! He held up his hand for silence, and the congregation sat down. The juggler wasn’t through. He was going to do an encore.
            He started juggling things we couldn’t quite recognize. What’s this? Chickens? Birds? Some kind of tree. Rings. One off of each finger. Five? Five gold rings. Got it. “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” He was going to juggle one of everything in the Twelve Days. The partidge, the pear tree, and all the rest. Impossible. But he was doing it. A swan. A goose and an egg. I was thinking, he’ll never get the maid and the cow off the ground, but with a great heaving effort, he did it. After that, the leaping lady and the dancing lord and the drum with drummer were a piece of cake. Every gift was in the air – way, way up in the air, because this was a lot of stuff. And as each piece came around, we knew what it was and shouted out its name as he caught it and threw it back into the air again. Fantastic! Nobody had ever done this before. The juggler was laughing. The congregation cheered like a crowd at a championship game when a last-minute score won it for the home team. The juggler suddenly clapped his hands loudly and stood still. One finger in front of his lips called for silence. And silence came.
            We stood looking at him and he at us – in the most powerful and meaningful moment of quiet I’ve witnessed at Christmas Eve. The sermon was supposed to follow the juggler. And it did. But it was not I who spoke. We were all addressed by a sermon of eloquent instructive silence. The silence in which we absorbed the power of the vision we had of the impossible event we had wished into being. The silence in which we thought about our capacity to realize things we can sometimes only imagine. Some of the most wonderful things have to be believed to be seen. Like flying reindeer and angels. Like peace on earth, goodwill, hope and joy. Real because they can be imagined into being. Christmas is not a date on a calendar but a state of mind.
Someone began to sing “Silent Night.” The small candles of those in the front were lit and they passed the flame on to the candles of those in rows behind them. The church filled with light. And we filed out of the church singing into the night and went home, taking our light with us.

Authentically yours, and with much love,


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Attitude of Gratitude

The word gratitude comes from the Latin ‘gratia’ meaning favor, charm and thanks. It is similar to the Sanskrit word ‘gmati’ meaning, he praises. Today I feel grateful. This warmth in my body is calling me to get creative and express it…give it away.

My son just got back from school and writing some grueling exams. I plan on grinding up some dark roast, making his favorite omlettee, maybe even frothing his cappuccino as he claims the sofa for a well deserved day of relaxation. In truth I am not into sports on TV but with gratitude as my eau de cologne I only see how his happiness fills me with joy. So I cater and think of simple ways to let him know he is cared for. In truth it is these little acts of kindness that grow my appreciation and nourish me at the same time. There are not separate doorways one called giving and the other receiving. They are one. In the very moment I give thanks, I receive it.

I am grateful for my morning brew, gorgeous dark beans with a hint of chocolate. I am grateful that my holiday dog is coming to stay today. I am grateful for this home and the huge canvas vision board I will finish today endowing it with artistic representations of my hearts desire. And the people...all of the beautiful lights that surround me. Just thinking about it cultivates more of this delicious feeling.

Melanie Beattie, a writer who first opened my eyes to the ache of co-dependency in relationship, writes, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

And if you are not feeling well, if you are lost in the veil of suffering, gratitude is the quickest way I know to shift out of it. Make a list, make a call, send an email. Each action generates more of those delightful bubbles that can accompany the state of gratitude, the state of grace.

Yes, I do love that feeling of grace. It touches my vision of tomorrow with the gentle sweetness of a mother’s hand on her child’s brow. It includes hope and possibility and openness to surprises. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow but I trust that if I keep resonating with gratitude today whatever it is will support me to expand and grow. Maybe it will even make me laugh out loud!  Living in gratitude makes me feel unconditionally loved and that’s a feeling I cannot live without. I once read that when we practice gratitude it’s as if we are practicing feeling loved. That concept intrigues me and inspires me.

So I am going to go practice some more now and maybe even reach out to someone who has been on my ‘I am not so happy with you list’ in order to ripple out and radiate my true essence. Even the struggles have inherent wisdom and opportunity to stretch and grow beyond our littleness.

I will never forget the day many years ago when I called my ex husband after years of living in the war zone of legal issues. I survived those times with as much grace as I could muster and when I failed at that task I stick handled my fear like a psychotic hockey puck. 
The learning was tremendous and I woke up from the dream one day, dropped with a thud into a new knowing of my essential self and realized that EVERYTHING that had happened during those times of strife were necessary pieces for me to grow through.

I called and thanked him. He was floored and didn’t believe me but that is not the point. What I felt was real. I thanked him and felt my heart stretch. This is the person I truly am, bigger than all the judgments I had held around his bad behavior and instead able to see the pain and fear that was driving it. And the gratitude was the knowing that if he hadn’t made his choices, painful as they were at the time , I would never have reached this willingness to now be so vulnerable…all in order to live in grace.

Charles Dickens said it so very simply, “Reflect on your present blessing-of which ever man has many-not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

What are you grateful for?

The good, the bad …the silly?

 Who can you say thanks to today? Where are you being called to stretch?

Sleigh bells ring…are you listening?  Yes, go ahead sing it out loud.

Authentically Yours,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A week in the life of a Christmas elf

Years ago, when my kids were small, I would run myself ragged, trying to create the most perfect Christmas for them.  It seemed important that the tree was trimmed just so, the mound of presents was enticing, and the food good and plentiful.  This was based on what I thought were perfect Christmases as I was growing up – my mom was an exceptional Christmas elf.  The house was always beautifully decorated, the baking aromas leading up to the Big Day were to die for, and everything seemed effortless.  Little did I know that it would take her weeks to recover after every season – she hid it well.  I tried to live up to her reputation and in my mind’s eye, I didn’t quite cut it.  This led me to sleepless nights, worry about finances, anxiety attacks (one so devastating that we had to cancel our own plans so I could go home to Mom so she could look after me!).  In this mode, I would get through Christmas with a smile on my face, and a deep longing in my heart for something more meaningful and less weighty.

Since Duncan’s passing, my Christmas experience includes moments of missing his antics and his tender gift giving, and I have trouble listening to and singing certain carols which remind me of him (especially if the words have anything to do with a mother kissing a tiny boy’s head). This is not to say that I haven't had some beautiful Christmas moments with Sean and my family and  dear friends.  I treasure that immensely.

But I am noticing something quite different this year.  

Let me tell you about my week that just was.  It began with a Christmas event last Sunday where my spiritual community spent the entre day putting on a worship service, enjoyed some silent time, had enough food to feed a small country, lots and lots of singing – an early Christmas Day spent with lovely people.  It was sprinkled with mishaps and tears and at the same time, a wonderfully healing day. I was heavily involved for months prior, and yet unlike other years, I didn’t collapse into a state of exhaustion.  I couldn’t.  My week was just beginning.

The next day saw me at a friend’s early Christmas dinner party, where this time I was simply the lucky recipient of some fabulous food.  Okay, so I made some appetizers, but that was it.  Next was the local residents’ association and their Christmas dinner.  I helped a bit with this one, but my main job was to help make sure the food was enjoyed.  No problem with that task.  Wednesday, my class, and Thursday a business event which was again, centered around incredible food.  I was a bit more involved with this one as I was helping on the fund-raising side of things.  (Did I mention the food was amazing?)

On Friday, while I didn’t have any social commitments, my cottage needed some attention – it looked like a bomb had gone off inside and I was having people over the next evening for a progressive appetizer party. I needed to tidy up, decorate, finish putting the lights up, and prepare some goodies for my fellow cottagers. At the same time, I had to learn a bunch of new songs as it seemed the party I was going to the following night had a live band with a missing harmony singer.  I was invited to sit in with this 7-piece band.  I hadn’t met any of them before, nor did I know most of their repertoire so it behooved me to go to a sound check and short rehearsal after work/before my own party.  You get the picture.  It was an action-packed Saturday to be sure.

Sunday I decided to sleep in.  Maybe do a little shopping for myself.  Take a little break.  Well, I started out to do some errands, and it didn’t go well.  Everywhere I went, they didn’t have what I was looking for.  Clearly I wasn’t meant to be anywhere but in my cozy little cottage, watching the Grinch, fire alight, all my Christmas decorations twinkling, with a pile of leftover appetizers within arm’s reach, and my knitting project close by should I be able to summon up the energy to hold the needles and create Christmas booties for my darling little godson, Hugo. It was a lovely day, although I admit to a few tears when the Grinch’s heart grew three times its size…

Why do I tell you all this?  I’m actually helping myself realize that Christmas isn’t defined by how busy one is or isn’t, or by exhausting all one’s resources to “produce” the yearly holiday event.  For me, it is a state of being.  I can have it whether I’m at a day-long function with lots to do or sitting in front of my fire by myself, relishing a much-loved Dr. Seuss story.  I am at peace with this Christmas thing.  I’m not just trying to get through it. 

Authentically yours,

Buns (with Christmas bells on!)

P.S. I can’t wait until Christmas Day’s post… I have a wonderful story for you!  And it doesn’t hurt that I’m off to Hawaii three days later!  Adventure awaits!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pretty Tree, Scary tree

I love Christmas.
The crowded stores, the incessant carols, the sleet and hail, not even the contractions around finances and spending, ever succeeds in dampening my enthusiasm for this time of year. I just plain love it.

Give me the smell of Christmas baking, spruce boughs alight with tiny lights, pristine mountains and wood burning fireplaces, throw in all the smiling at strangers, just cause, and I light up like a Christmas tree. If we all had a sound track that followed us around ( and in my dream world we all do) mine would be I Really Can’t Stay/ It’s Cold Outside…the Ella Fitzgerald version.

There is something about holidays that brings out the best in me although it wasn’t always that way. I remember after my divorce feeling the ache for family and the corresponding loneliness so acutely. I now see that as a period of growth, a dark night of the soul if you will that gave birth to new understanding, the knowing that I always have choice about how I feel in the present moment.

What’s important to me now is the joy I am capable of whenever I decide it’s what I want, what I deserve. It’s just a song away, just a laugh away, just a breath away, as I gaze up to the heavens and wish for a sudden flutter of transcendent white from the sky. I only have two burning questions at time of year. Where is that darned snow and where is my holiday dog, Roxy?

She is a huge, red, curly haired bundle of loving energy and I miss her. I look forward to her owners going out of town so she can come and live with me and I can be a dog parent once again. In my world, Christmas is not complete without a dog and at least a few romps in the snow. It also calls for many rituals without which I would feel loss.   It all starts when the first star appears on Christmas Eve, although the decorating and preparation began long before.
We have 13 courses for our Christmas feast.  There is always a place set at the table to honor the departed and if anyone knocks on your door that night, you ask them to join you for your meal. The table is covered with linen under which is straw, inside which are hidden candies that the kids (big or little) try to steal without being detected. We raise shots of ice chilled Vodka with profound and heartfelt toasts and we share a blessed wafer before we sit for dinner where you connect with a person deeply and express what is in your heart for them and your wishes for the coming year. It’s lovely and emotional and newbies introduced to the ceremony only feel shy for a second till the warmth of the moment melts tension away.

On Christmas morning everyone who has slept over jumps into the same bed and we open stockings, one wrapped gift at a time, while enjoying champagne and bagels, lox and cream cheese. Rituals radiate a certain familiar graciousness and bind the participants in memory that goes far beyond just eating and getting presents. It is the glue of connection and appreciation.

And after Christmas ….are you ready!!!!!  Buns and I are going to Hawaii for New Years Eve.

I am so excited I could scream, jump up and down and shake, shake, shake… shake my bootie! We are going to a 25th year wedding reunion, on the beach in Maui. My friends got married to Van Halen and I think Shake Your Bootie might have been on the charts at that time too, although god knows things were so cloudy back in those days that my time related details are not to be counted on as accurate.  Suffice to say Buns and I will keep you in the loop if we can drag ourselves out of our beach chairs long enough to reach a computer.

Christmas ritual and snow, palm trees and sand…really does it get any better? I guess we will have to see what new learnings the island will bring. Travel has a tendency to invite things like that and certainly when we two gal pals decide to have fun, adventure is a given. Heck it happens when we go for a drive so I am grinning imagining it in the tropics.

Authentically yours