“Courage is a kind of salvation.”
—Plato

I was around 20 years old when I decided to jump out of an airplane for the first time. It was a static-line jump in which I climbed out of a rickety, old, seemingly taped-together airplane on a sweaty summer day. We were around 5,000 feet up when the door was opened—wind gushing in, loud and powerful in its pressure against our forward movement. I knew enough from our meager four or five hour training not to hesitate too long and was one of the first to climb out of the plane. Bracing my hands on the strut of the wing, I climbed forward and then hung there with my legs dangling out behind me. Counting down and out loud from three—fighting the deafening wind—I let go—my arms stretched out behind me in a “V” so as not to become intertwined with the line that I was attached to. With this type of jump there is almost no free-fall and you are entirely on your own. The line of the chute is pulled by its attachment to the plane within a few moments. I was trembling before and during the climb out of the plane—my heart beating wildly. Very afraid, I coaxed myself through each step, though outwardly I might have seemed calm.

Once the parachute opened I found myself in another world entirely and suddenly everything was very, very still, tranquil. I was floating across a patchwork movie screen of the world, the fear had vanished—sucked out of me and back up into the plane with the static line as if in a vacuum. I was perfectly—wonderfully—free from fear. I was perfectly—wonderfully—free from anything I had ever known. It was so incredibly quiet—a stillness came over me like I had never before experienced. I felt both entirely in myself and outside of myself at the same time. It did not in any way feel as if I were traveling downward through the sky, rapidly falling—although I was. And just as suddenly as I came into the stillness, I came out of it. The ground started to approach—objects becoming larger and larger, my speed seeming faster and faster. In a flash, I was back in my normal reality. I began to consider and then consciously operate the toggles which I had been holding onto—remembering now to guide myself to a particular spot on the landscape. The ground was coming now more quickly than I could have imagined. Suddenly a line was a fence, an abstract shape—a tree. It was time for me to land and I was not prepared. I just nearly missed the fence as it transformed before my eyes into something sturdy and tangible and sharp. I pulled my toggles down with all my might, steering sharply away from the obstacles and finally slowing myself but not in enough time to keep from hitting the ground with a dusty, graceless thud. My legs and feet were beneath me but it was no delicate landing. I was glad to be alive.

I have been listening to the language of fear these last weeks, noting the way in which the world speaks to us in themes through our experiences, through the things that show up as we float—or surge—along the cinema screens of our lives. Fear has shown up in my children at bedtime—their worries about being alone, unheld, unusually strong in these last months. Fear is steeped in the language of our politicians—both very real and exaggerated fears at the root of most platforms and coming across through all range of media. We are discussing the soothing of fears in the place that I go for spiritual nourishment—a welcome break from the usual focus on the fear itself. And as I take on new challenges in my own life—fears—those snarling, spitting beasts—have been lunging for me in their many shifty ways—so much more subtle and nuanced than the threat of a risky jump from a great height.

I have been thinking about how we might navigate fear so that it does not consume us and so that we might continue pursuing the things that we are called to. I’ve been thinking about how we might better notice fear, receive its sometimes worthy message, sidestep it, even, but not submerge it beneath us where it might take root and grow stronger. Naming fear is helpful. Like in meditation—as thoughts come up—we might describe them as something. Thinking, planning, storytelling, we might say to ourselves as thoughts arise—our breath rising and falling as an anchor. In this way we can receive the thoughts and then more readily send them along with less weight. It is as if in recognizing them, we may free them to stop prodding us. We can utilize a similar process when fears come near. I have also found that my fears die down—once acknowledged—when I then turn firmly away and press forward toward the things that I love. In this way, fear can see that there is no space left here in my home.

Despite the calendar turning toward February, the air was springlike this morning here in Maine. I entered my yoga class coatless—the sun warming me. As I’ve been sitting here, the sky has transformed from light blue to pale grey. It has grown darker—overcast, like it might rain. The water has been picking up its pace—moving along more like a river than a bay, icy segments breaking up before me. The tide has traveled inward, first rising beneath the ice, then meandering through it and finally moving the pieces apart completely. Crows dart back and forth from the trees in our yard eventually making their way out along the coastline.

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“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” —Frederick Douglass

I’ve just come from a doctor’s appointment. It was so cold in the office that I was shivering when I left. The good news is, the doctor was warm. Now I am sitting in a sunny spot thawing my body with a cup of soup and the sun is streaming in on me. I played musical chairs for a few minutes when I arrived here in a cafe, moving from table to table ending up back where I started—drawn to the sunny rays. There is an hard-working woman on her cell phone a few tables away from me arranging wedding receptions and two older women are seated in front of me getting to know one another over sandwiches and iced tea. One of the older ladies—the one with her back to me—has a silvery braid swept over to one side, draping over her shoulder. I haven’t written in a while. It isn’t for a lack of yearning. I sat down a few weeks ago to share my thoughts and found myself imitating something I had written in the past. It didn’t feel honest. Another afternoon, just as the words began to flow I had an impulse to check my phone messages. I began to admonish myself for my distraction, but upon looking I saw that I had a message from the school. Off I went to pick up my bigger boy, my under-the-weather boy. I am quite often inspired to write as I am driving—truth rising up in me like a fountain erupting as I take in the vast and magnificent Maine sky, fields filling up with hay passing me by. Words and images flood my senses—exquisite and lifelike. These stories are fleeting, though, and I would need to turn the car around and rush home if I wanted to capture them to the page. So here I am again, giving this another go.

I limit my (bad) news intake. I only need to take in a tiny sliver of a story to experience the impact of the suffering. Thirty minutes of NPR on my car radio. A scan of the cover of the Wall Street Journal. A few minutes of CNN. I am in awe of this world. I am in awe of the enormous scope of ways in which we humans may live and how amazingly good and horrendously bad we may be. I’ve been wondering how much choice we have in it all. I’ve been wondering why it all seems so inequitable. I want to be of service. I’ve possessed a servant’s heart before in my life but as a mother—observing so intimately the evolution of my own two children—I’ve come to understand what is at stake. I’ve come to better understand the place from which we all came. We were all once innocent. One might have come into this world surrounded by luxury, another by squaller, but our essence—if only briefly—was good and pure and divine. What happened, then? Connection. Separation. Praise. Shame. Attention. Neglect. Regard. Disregard. Activity. Idleness. Love. Hate. For every human alive today there has been a unique combination of actions and reactions making up each of our very own personal lives and here we are. Here we are, friends. I want to be of service. My servant’s heart is calling.

It’s later in the day now and I’ve come home for a few rare hours of “one-on-one” time with my littler boy Adrian. He’s an “older-four” as he likes to say and remains in the realm where time is fuzzy—though he is trying to calculate it—and magic hovers like a settling fog. We’ve pieced together a puzzle and now we are in-between books on the couch. He is standing and I am sitting. He is leaning backward against the back of the couch and he is sort of looking down on me and the light from the sky-light above us is shining down on him. I am looking up toward him and he is coming in and out of my focus as he rocks back and forth with the bright streams of light showering over him. He is singing a little song to me and laughing because it is funny the way he is singing and our eyes are connected and our hearts and I am just observing him and just holding onto this moment and witnessing him as all of his innocence remains.

 

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“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” —Albert Einstein

Etched in my mind is the image of my mother on the day she taught me to pray. She is sitting at a table, her back very straight, her hair curly. She brings her hands together in front of her, aligning her long slender fingers—one to the other—her elbows are on the table. Then speaking to us—a group of 10 year old catechism students—she intertwines her fingers and folds her head over against them reverently. She speaks of the, “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary’s.” She speaks of talking to God. I remember her at Mass in those years, coming back to our pew after Communion and settling into the position she showed us that day. I thought then and I believe now that my Mother said far more to God in those moments than the learned words of our Catholic faith. I don’t know what was in her heart but from her posture I knew that she believed that she was being heard. Although we never spoke of the exact nature of my Mother’s faith at that time, I believe that in watching her I first awakened to the idea of a higher being who was listening to and even observing me. This was sometimes comforting, sometimes frightening. I remember attending a youth retreat at our church in which a visiting priest interrogated me, saying to me over and over, “what did you do? what did you do?” because I was crying during my “confession.” My tears were tears of discomfort, tears of sadness even but this priest assumed I must have done something terribly wrong to be crying in front of him. He must have believed in a punishing God. I remember also a warm and loving priest, Father Balthazar from Hungary—lovingly referred to as “Father B” by the many who adored him. He hosted a day for blessing animals at our church and had a laugh that made you feel warm, like you wanted to smile. He was kind and remembered all of our names, the details of our lives, even in a very large congregation. I believe he knew a loving God.

I remember attending a warm and wonderful Baptist church in my teen years on many occasions with a dear friend. It was a humble place with after-service pot-lucks and the preacher’s house rested a stones throw from the chapel. Everyone was welcome. I remember several times looking around the congregation—with a lump in my throat—the many faithful were singing, hands raised up high in the air. I felt enveloped in love in that room. I felt envious and out-of-place and seen all at the same time. My prayer life continued and deepened in the years that followed and I attended both Catholic and protestant churches throughout much of college.

I remember sitting on an airplane when I was twenty-two years old and opening a book titled, “Living with Joy.” My older sister had given it to me and I was trying to ignore the fact that the forward of the book claimed that the writing had been “channeled.” I was trying to ignore the swirling, purple and pink cover so typical of late 90’s New Age books. It was the same year that my sister began telling me that she loved me. As I read the words in this book a tremendous peace began to come over me. I have often thought back to those tranquil moments. I can see myself then—as if on a movie reel—peering out the oval window to my left at mountainous clouds, taking in the warmth of the sun streaming in on me. Although I was ten thousand feet up in the air, I remember finding myself feeling grounded and settling into two very big new ideas. I was settling into the idea of being incredibly valuable just simply in being myself, all that I inherently am—imagined and created by the most magnificent energy in the Universe. In those same moments, I was settling into the knowledge that I was a part of something so much bigger than I could ever begin to be alone. I did not recognize what each of those feeling meant at the time, I just knew that I felt safe and at peace and in control and free and loved and cherished and a part of something and just very, very good for maybe the first time in my life.

I carried that book around with me for months and like an elixir, every time I read the words within I was healed. A fundamental change occurred for me with that book. It was a simple yet profound little book (along with the dozens of other like-minded books and teachers that followed) that took the many pathways that I had been traveling toward God and led me directly to *Him. It was then and over the course of the next nineteen years that I came into my beliefs about the God which I hold dear to me today. I believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and that we are here to grow and expand and to heal and become whole. I believe that we have the opportunity to co-create with God through our intentions and our words and even our desires and that we may not always understand why we have created that which we have. I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. I believe that God hears us and sees us and knows us but in a way that is mysterious and with a wisdom so colossal that it cannot be explained. I believe that communication from God may come through the wisdoms of many different religions and spiritual traditions as well as from the headline of a newspaper or a graffiti scrolled on a highway bridge. I believe that there is a piece of God inside of us, near to our hearts, that is always accessible, but that we are free to ignore for as long as we choose. I believe that God is in the world around us—the acorn with it’s little perfect hat, the curl of a wave. I believe God is in our children—the miracle of their creation, the miracle of their coming here into our lives.

My desire is for my boys to start with God where I found him in my twenties. My desire is that they only know a God of love, not of guilt or need for repentance. I hope that they will know a God of comfort and guidance and feel powerful in their ability to co-create their lives and know their purposes by listening to their hearts. I want for them to know that the best expression of their love of God will be a life in which they use their gifts, are true to themselves and loving toward others.

I’ve been surprised at how readily my four year old Jonah has embraced the idea of God. I’ve been careful not to be heavy-handed, knowing that within him he has access to a truth that for me I’ve had to unearth. I began with regular night-time prayers when he was around 2 years old but then backed off when it began to feel forced. Instead we now do spontaneous praying when the moment feels right. From time-to-time I will pray for guidance in front of him and my littler boy Adrian. We frequently pray for our family and share the things we are grateful for surrounding our breakfast and dinner. Together we attend a weekly service at a Unitarian Universalist Church and Jonah has stated that we go there to learn about God. He likes our having a church. He likes the Pie Sunday tradition that we experienced last week. Adrian does not like being left in the nursery and enjoys speaking loudly over the reverend when we bring him into the service with us. When my husband and I were married we chose to honor the religions and traditions of both of our families and so our wedding was officiated by both a rabbi and a priest. During the preparations, our priest was required to have us sign a document declaring that we would raise our children Catholic. A wise and incredibly loving man, he assured us that all this meant to him was that we would raise our children in a house of love. Let me be a loving example to my children. This is my greatest desire in sharing God with each of them.

Jonah has struggled at times to be gentle with his little brother. It has not always been easy for him to share me and to share my husband with another little soul. Witnessing this has allowed for me to see my older sister in a different light (here is an example of God’s wisdom that I could never have orchestrated myself). I have urged Jonah to listen to his heart so that he may know how to treat his brother. Developmentally I am not certain that it is correct, but I am listening to my own heart when I guide him this way. Last night, as he and his brother were bathing together, Jonah shrieked out in the most delightful and excited way wanting to share something with me. He said, “I listened to my heart! I listened to my heart!” He used a voice that could only be described as overflowing with pure joy. He went on to explain that he had experienced an urge to be less than gentle with Adrian and that all of a sudden he had listened to his heart and made a different decision. I shrieked out in joy with him not because he had done the “right” thing so much as because I could see the light of God in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I will tread so very lightly with this knowledge and try not to “use” it or manipulate this new knowledge of his in any way. I want for him to settle into the truth of his own heart in his own way and at his own pace.

 

*I refer to my idea of God as “Him” simply for editorial ease. The God I know is much too all-encompassing to be categorized as either masculine or feminine. He just is.