Harriet Tubman

How hard is it to throw a way an old t-shirt? I have one that is so faded Harriet could pass for white. There are tears in the arm pits. Ready for the rag bag. Really? Can I really let Harriet Tubman go to wiping up spilled spaghetti sauce or washing my tires? Her words have been inspiring me ever since I visited her home four years ago in Auburn,                 New York. First I proudly wore the shirt, spreading her good news about the town for friends and neighbors to ponder. As the shirt wore down, I continued to wear her about my yard card for the inspiration of the trees and critters. Finally,when the threads began to give way, I wore the shirt to bed, Harriet’s words between me and my sheets.

Then I thought about my blog. Here I can record Tubman’s words and pass them onto my few fans. Best of all I can go back and find her for inspiration whenever I may need her in the future. Here are the words from my shirt:




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Inspiration and Art

I pulled back from writing my blog for a while because I was working on my first book. I finally finished it in August and sent it out to a few willing folks to review. I am starting to receive their reflections and can see that I have more work to do before I publish.

Asking for honest comments on a work of art is a truly vulnerable thing to do. Fortunately the people I chose are kind-hearted and their criticisms come through softly. What is important to me is that they took me seriously enough to be honest. They understand how important it is if one wants to put something out into the world that people will like and want to share with others. Once I get all of my readers’ responses back, I will edit the book one more time before moving toward publishing.

My daughter, Heidi, shared with me a marvelous book by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the popular Eat, Pray, Love. “What is Creativity?” she poses in the opening page of her Big Magic. She answers, “The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” What I got from the book is that art is not totally our own. Rather, we are in-Spirited. We don’t have to do anything about the Spirit come to work through us, but when we do, the outcome is something not totally our own. Rather, it is a dance between the Spirit within us and our own talent, hard work, and determination. Gilbert did a good job communicating just how inspiration works and how we can cooperate to produce our art.

Gilbert’s book was timely for me. It not only helped me in the finishing of the book, but it enabled me to let go as I moved into the next phase. It is amazing to me how free I felt handing the manuscript out for review. I had little or no fear of rejection because I believe that the work is inspired.

Those who read this blog will know when the book finally gets published. Meanwhile, I look forward to returning to writing my blog. I have had to let many thoughts pass by without grabbing them because I was focusing on the book. Hopefully, if they were worthy, someone else plucked them and shared them through their art.

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Happy Birthday, Heidi

Today is the birthday of my youngest daughter, Heidi. She is turning 40!

I was telling her this  morning that I celebrated my 40th birthday by treating myself to a private retreat at a nearby retreat center. I felt it was a time to reflect on my life and to think about the future.  I don’t recall what my thoughts were about the future, but I believe they had something to do with taking care of my soul. I began around that time to read books that are designed to help one grow spiritually. I remember reading A Course in Miracles in my forties. I didn’t understand a word of it. I wasn’t ready. But it was like a light for me, not so much to guide me as to see at the end of a long tunnel.

I have read many spirituality books in the 30 plus years since then. I have gone on retreats and joined communities that focused growing on the inside where the spirit resides. Growing was an adventure even though there were many perils along the way. I have gathered around me friends who also want to grow and we commit to helping one another.

The decade of my 70’s is a far cry from my 40’s but I can say that the work I began back then has everything to do with the serenity and faith I have today.

Happy Birthday, youngest child. May your 40’s be years of increasing light.

Love, Mom

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Become What Your Country to Be

A story told by Anthony deMello in his book, Awareness:

“A Jesuit once wrote to Father Arrupe, his superior general, asking him about the relative value of communism, socialism, and capitalism. Father Arrupe gave him a lovely reply. He said, ‘A system is about as good or bad as the people who use it.’ People with golden hearts would make capitalism or communism or socialism work beautifully.”

DeMello goes on to say, “Don’t ask the world to change-you change first.” My philosophy in a nutshell. I would expand on his statement by saying that I am part of a community and one person changing is a start of the whole community changing. This is, by the way, what a prophet does.

In our current political situation,  this is a hard concept to get let alone live. I have to ask myself, “What do I want my country to be?” Then I have to decide to effect change by changing myself into that. I want my country to be fair and just and merciful. I want my country to listen to the poor and disadvantaged and use its collective power to lift them up and help meet their needs. I want my country to value each person or group as part of the whole. I want my country to work for the good of all and for worthy purposes, not just the good of those who watch out only for themselves. I want my country to seek peaceful negotiation over violent means to solve problems, especially international problems and always to respect the fact that other countries need to watch out for their own just as we do. This requires compromise and even sacrifice.

That is a big order that I am laying out for my country. I have changed a lot in my years toward becoming person that might look like I describe above. I need to say that I could not have changed at all were it not for those souls who have journeyed with me. It is these people who form the communities around me that give me hope. These are people who, like myself, work to become what they want their world to be.


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Christian Seeking The Truth

I read a posting on Facebook recently about how Christians should be seekers of The Truth. I am a Christian and I have one question for the author of this post: “What in the heck are you talking about?!” Comments that followed went political. One person posted a picture of President Obama and some things he was supposed to have said, bad things. Whatever! It could have been someone posting a pic of Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton speaking bad things in the angriest of tone.

This blog post is about truth. I suppose that for most people, truth is facts. In other words, did such words actually come out of the mouth of such and such a person? And the next reasonable questions might be “Was this all that the person said or were there other things they said that might change the meaning of the words?” Another thing to consider is the speaker’s intention.Where they quoting someone else to make a point? Were they doing a comedy routine?

The same questions can be applied to events. What is the broader context in a situation, events that come before or after? What is the purpose of the event? A funeral, a wedding, a debate? What is the intention of those involved? All important truth-seeking questions to ask. Good stuff.

But I don’t think this is really what some people mean when they talk about truth seeking. Christians, some say, should seek The Truth (two capital T’s). This is what baffles me. I asked someone about this once and he pointed out to me that truth is not relative. “There is an absolute Truth,” he said. I don’t know about the relative part, but I couldn’t agree more with the belief in an Absolute Truth.” What I don’t agree with is that you or anyone else that is human with a finite mind and confused heart can possibly know the absolute truth about anything.  The best we can do is choose to follow whatever seems true to us today.

Peace Pilgrim said that we should live by our highest truth that we can grasp today. I really like that because I cn to tell you that my life has been full of days when I look back and realize that what I believed in the past is no longer true in the light of new evidence and awareness. Maybe that is what relative truth is. What I believe today is truer than yesterday’s truth but … there is always tomorrow.

My highest truth today is this: “Love God with your whole heart and your whole mind and your neighbor as yourself.” And for me, my neighbor means everybody.

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The True “I” in Me

Doing some deep thinking as I read Anthony deMello’s book, Awareness, this morning on the true “I” which he distinguishes from “me”. “Me” refers to a description or a statement we might make about ourselves. It is what we say that we hope will help another person know who we are. When we do this we use the word “I” but, really, no matter what I say, the words that follow never really tell who “I” am. I am Judy but if I change my name the person inside stays the same. I may say I am my body (am fat, am strong, am flexible). Every seven years, scientists tell us, the cells in my body totally change over to new cells yet “I” remain. I can say that I am a Catholic or a democrat, but this can change and “I” would still be here. I can say that I am an American but that is just a happenstance of where I was born. Had I been born elsewhere, would “I” actually be a different person?

DeMello says that “I” am the one watching “me”. “I” am the observer of “me”. I pay attention to what I am doing, to the feelings in my body, to my emotions and to my thoughts, knowing that none of this is my true self. I believe that this “I” that knows itself is actually the Spirit that dwells within. I also believe that the goal of life on this earth is to become increasingly aware of the difference between the “I” and “me”. I am here on this planet to discover who “I” truly am.

Why is this awareness important? “I” can notice that when someone says something or posts something on Facebook an emotion arises in me that I have learned to identify as anger. “I” can notice that when this happens, thoughts start running through my mind that defend me or convince me that I am right in my anger. A desire may rise up to have my say, to argue and to win an argument, to make the other person look foolish or take back what he or she said. When one is aware, “I” can know that all of these thoughts and feelings are not the true self.

“I” or the true self can ask questions like, “Why did what that person say or post make me angry?” “I” can be curious. “Did what they say challenge a belief that I have clung to for a long time?” “Did this post frighten me?” “Do these ideas make me feel that things are out of control, that is, out of my control?” “As a result of my hearing or reading these words, do I feel disrespected,  judged, or isolated?” “Am I worried about what this person or others might think of me?”

Then “I” can make a choice. “I” can choose to change my thoughts about the situation. “I” can shift from judgment to compassion. “I” can choose to find something else to think about. If the thoughts are persistent, I can step out of the situation, seek an activity that is fun or interesting to distract me. If I still have trouble shaking the thought, I can talk with someone who has helped me in the past, someone who knows me. Someone who has a sense of humor and a way of putting things in perspective.

“I” can be aware of the negative feelings sitting in me or even the pain in my body and say to it, “I know you are here, but I also know that you will not be staying.””I” knows this because it has always been so. “I” can choose not to take action while negative emotions and pain are around.

I cannot describe to you this “I” the way I can describe “me” if anyone were to ask. But “I” know that “I” am here. Sometimes I forget who “I” am but, as I get older, I remember more and more and I am grateful.

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Anthony DeMello – Awareness

I am reading Awareness by Anthony DeMello. One of the comments on the book’s back cover is “You may not have even realized you were sleepwalking.” I remember having a dream in which I woke up remembering my dream, but then realize that I was yet asleep and that my waking up was part of my dream. I had only entered a new place that felt more like being awake. Awareness, it seems, is a relative thing. One is never fully awake, only more awake than yesterday or than a few minutes ago.

DeMello was a psychologist/therapist as well as a Jesuit concerned with spirituality. “I have this great conflict within me when I choose between psychology and spirituality,” he wrote. All a psychologist can do, he says, is relieve pressure. (But) “nothing is more practical than spirituality.”

This idea seems strange to me. While spirituality feels good and important to me, to understand how my psyche works seems much more useful in the workings of the world and in my relationships with those around me.

What is spirituality? I separated it out of my religious experience a long time ago. Religion is a tool that can assist me in finding and staying on a spiritual path, but it is not the path. Spirituality, I have come to realize, is a relationship with God or with Spirit or with whatever that is that is not material. Words like “Higher Power”, “Divine Energy,” and “Life Force” come to mind. These are pretty lame yet useful attempts to describe an indescribable reality. “Love” serves well if it were not for the misuse of the word.

Psychology is the study of the psyche. I understand the psyche to mean the mind. This is why I would go to a psychologist, to discover how my mind works, how I think about and interpret the world. The role of a psychologist is to help a client see where their perceptions are misguided and then help them understand why. The “why” is not necessary but can be very helpful in order to move beyond misconceptions.

This sounds very practical to me. DeMello says that spirituality is even more practical than this. Understanding or realizing that we have been misinterpreting the world (or asleep) is no small accomplishment. In other words, waking up is when we see that what we thought was true isn’t. But psychology is less about finding truth than realizing our obstacles to the truth. “I cannot describe the truth,” he says, “No one can. All I can do (as a psychologist) is give you a description of your falsehoods so that you can drop them. All I can do for you is challenge your beliefs and belief system that makes you unhappy. All I can do for you is help you to unlearn. That is what learning is all about where spirituality is concerned – unlearning almost everything that you have ever been taught. It is about a willingness to unlearn and listen.” This reminds me of a well-known book on spirituality, The Cloud of Unknowing. But not knowing is very painful and scary. Not knowing why things happen or why people are acting as they are, not knowing outcomes, not knowing why I do what I do or think the way I think (remember Paul?)…this is very frightening, indeed.

DeMello says that most people listen for what confirms what they already think. It is hard, he says, to listen in order to discern something new. We want to think we know – it feels safer and powerful. I think DeMello is suggesting surrender, or a leap into the unknown ie. faith! Faith, he says, is an openness to the truth, no matter the consequences, no matter where it leads you and when you don’t even know where it is going to lead you. Your beliefs give you a lot of security, but faith is insecurity. (Ouch!) Faith, he says, is “being ready to listen.” He says to be open does not mean being gullible, swallowing whatever (someone) is saying. Challenge everything, he suggests. But if you want to wake up, you have to be open to the possibility that you have been asleep, or that what you believed is not the truth. Like my dream experience. “When you do that,” he says, “that is the first step to waking up.”

This is spirituality as I understand it. Much of my prayer consists of sitting in silence. My silence is not necessarily peaceful. Sometimes it feels like sitting in shackles. It is a place of not understanding what is happening around me much less what to do or say. As one who seeks God’s will in my life, it is frustrating to not know clearly what that is. Jesus said in the end, “Not my will, but thine.” Don’t deceive yourself into thinking he understood what God was up to and therefore surrendered. He had not a clue and all he could do is either fight or surrender while the shackles were attached to chains that had soldiers on the other end pulling him to places he did not wish to go.

Aware of the circumstances of my life at any given moment, I don’t know whether to act or to wait, to speak or be quiet, to let others guide me or to take control. I am in the Cloud of Unknowing. Strangely, it is out of this place that I seem to act rightly, but that is beside the point. The reason spirituality is practical is that it enables me to walk forward even when I don’t know what comes next. I may not see the road before me. I may not have the assurance that what I say or do next is the perfect thing to do or say.

In my twelve step program, we say to people who struggle to find the will of God in their lives, “Just do the next right thing.” Deep down inside we know what that is. It is the kinder of two choices. It is whatever we committed to, the responsible thing to do. It is simple. It is putting the left shoe on after the other shoe is already on the right foot. It is answering the phone with a cheery hello even when we don’t know who is on the other end. It is letting interruptions come when someone needs us more than we need to be doing our thing. It is listening more than talking because we don’t really know much anyway. It is suiting up and showing up to life as life is, not trying to recreate it into the way we would prefer it.

Waking up is what I do as I walk this spiritual path. I am aware of my steps even though I can see only a few feet before me. Once in a while, the cloud lifts and I can see the landscape. But that is temporary, for I am yet a little asleep. But I am learning to be okay with seeing only a little way before me…it is enough. This is what spirituality does for me.

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