Sunday, February 28, 2016

Another Lenten Labryinth walk

 It's often been said that walking a labyrinth is a metaphor for your own spiritual journey; 
that the experience you have,
on any given occasion, 
mirrors what's going on in your life at the time.

This was certainly true yesterday.
I was unable to walk Labyrinth #3 in the morning
because of a Vestry retreat at church
but a late afternoon session, 
before joining friends for dinner,
 fit my schedule perfectly.

It surprised, yet suited, me that
as shadows lengthened and darkness approached,
I walked on ground less firm than the preceding two weeks.
many with sharp jagged edges,
and ground giving way beneath my feet,
echoed where my thoughts have been lately.

Given the depth of the gravel
and how difficult it was to get a firm footing
the walk was more challenging,
demanding more attention.
My inability to 'get a grip' due to
small stones infiltrating my shoes
which caused me to readjust my footing or stop,
attempt to balance on one leg
and empty out my shoe of the offending pebble -
rendered the walk less enjoyable.
Shifting ground,
being off balance
and aware of approaching darkness
were themes that echoed
in my soul.

I have become increasingly concerned
that we in the United States
are living through a period in our history
which echoes that of pre-Hitler Germany;
that what once would have been 'the unthinkable'
is being given room to grow
and become 'the possible'.

All week,
I've wondered if this is how 'regular' Germans felt
as the Nazis were growing in strength,
spreading their hate.

I've wondered if 'regular' German citizens were pacified
by the media,
their neighbors,
their institutions
and told not to worry so much ...

that the foolish little caricature of a man,
as spellbinding a speaker as he was,
was just a showman;
he would never have enough followers
to be too much trouble;

that certainly the 'good' citizens
of one of the greatest empires in the world
would never fall for his empty promises,
his lack of a true 'plan',
his overt hatred of 'the other'
wrapped in the national flag.

Hitler promised the disenchanted a better life 
and a new and glorious Germany. 
The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, 
and members of the lower middle class 
(small store owners, office employees, craftsmen, and farmers).
Sound familiar, anyone?

The party's rise to power was rapid. 
Before the economic depression struck, 
the Nazis were practically unknown, 
winning only 3 percent of the vote 
to the Reichstag (German parliament) in elections in 1924. 
The Tea Party?
In the 1932 elections, 
the Nazis won 33 percent of the votes, 
more than any other party. 

In January 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor, 
the head of the German government,
 and many Germans believed that they had found a savior 
for their nation
 I've wondered how these people could be reading the same texts in the Bible that I read:
the texts in which LOVE is the main message,

especially LOVE towards,
the outcast, 
the alien, 
the poor,

I've wondered how they could have had experiences
so different from mine;
 their education so limited,
critical thinking so meager,
they can't see a charlatan
when he's frothing at the mouth 
right in front of their faces.
I don't recognize our country anymore
and I'm afraid for its future.
Then I realized where Labyrinth # 3 was located.

It's the only labyrinth in St Louis
maintained by a Jewish congregation.
 If any people know the dangers
of doing nothing,
saying nothing,
giving room for evil to take root, 
it's the Jewish community.

I realized that now, in the United States,
we have an advantage
pre Hitler Germans didn't have.

We have history;
we know that braggadocios buffoons are capable of great evil;

we mustn't forget.

We know that silence
gives consent to evil.

It may be bleak ...
 but the darkness hasn't completely taken over yet.
 At least, I hope it hasn't.
I'm ready to join the Resistance - 
 even as ground shifts beneath my feet -
I'm ready to walk the walk!

It starts with a few of us ...
and it starts now.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Second Saturday; second Labryinth

What a difference a week makes!
Morning temperatures yesterday were in the 60's
(hitting a high of 78 by the end of the day);

a labyrinth
not set apart in a secluded glen
but planted right in the midst
of businesses and modest homes;
not from expensive matching stones
but painted on the pavement of a small church parking lot.

completely unencumbered by winter coats
in temperatures that spoke of spring and new life,
accompanied by birdsong on every side
loud enough to drown out street traffic,

it was a wonderful reminder that
in the clear light of day,
we can look at ourselves -
and our shadow side -
 and still find peace at the center.
 Space for reflection of the holy doesn't need to be in some remote location;
we can find it where we live and work;
we only need to take the time to look for it.

Walking through Lent

We pretend that going into the wilderness 
isn’t something we have to contend with in our age and time.

Jeremiah and Isaiah talked about the wilderness. 
Moses led his people through it 
on a journey lasting years. 
John the Baptist wandered around in it, 
wearing animal skins and eating insects.

Jesus went into the wilderness too; 
to be tempted; 
to confront the devils, 
within and without.

From the safety of our tidy, climate controlled houses, 
we read the stories. 
We sit on polished pews, 
trying to peer over the coiffed head 
of the blue haired, blue blood parishioner 
sitting in front of us and hear words coming from the pulpit 
telling us that the Lent in which we immerse ourselves for the next 40 days 
is about going into our own wilderness; 
but we know better.

We know that the most ‘wilderness’ we’re likely to see 
is if measurable snow is predicted
and we go to the grocery store. 
Then we’ll be elbowing our way down aisles,
past the hordes of desperate neighbors,
willing to sell our kingdoms 
with all our earthly possessions 
to grab the last dozen eggs, a loaf of bread and gallon of milk 
for survival French toast.

We have a life of ease and privilege – 
and most of us don’t spend much time 
looking at the emptiness and barrenness 
created by the lifestyles we assume are ‘the norm’.

After my experience with walking labyrinths in San Francisco 
(and memories of others walked in France 
and New Harmony, Indiana), 
I decided that, rather than giving something up,
my Lenten discipline would be to walk 
a different labyrinth in St Louis 
every Saturday morning.

I designed a schedule for myself 
which started with the labyrinths on the edges of our region, 
working toward the center, 
imitating the loops of a labyrinth itself. 
I’m excited about how different the settings and patterns are – 
and am curious about how that will influence the experience each Saturday.

I headed out last weekend
in below freezing weather,
with winds that chilled to the bones; 
passing undeveloped land, abandoned houses 
and shuttered malls.
The bleakness and loss of hope they represent seemed to seep into the car 
and into my blood 
with every breath I took.
It was a vivid reminder that there are, in fact,  deserts in our midst;
we don't need to travel to other regions of the world.
to see them.

 Given its surroundings,
the labyrinth itself felt like an oasis;
 the way 
clear and defined;
at least, in most places.
While walking, 
I felt the sun on my back
even as my hands, ears and feet became numb.
Traffic sounds in the distance were muffled,
drowned out by the staccato of a nearby woodpecker.

Solitary and serene,
it was a beautiful walk
and a delightful end to a busy week

in which I had often felt 
between a rock and a hard place!
I will visit it again
to see how it looks/feels
in spring and summer.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

An ominous foreboding

I have tried mightily to ignore the political nonsense barraging us on a daily basis;
an unceasing stream of news bites and barbs.

It's been going on for months
and will only escalate as we get closer to Election Day.

The level of dishonesty, incivility,  bullying and baiting 
which seem to be hallmarks of every candidate 
is not only morally reprehensible
but terrifying in what it reveals about our 'national character'.

Am I the only one who remembers when our 'leaders' inspired us 
to be our better selves,
whose words gave us hope?
when their speeches addressed our commonalities 
instead of preyed on our differences?
when you were proud to have them represent us - 
knowing they had a vision for the future
and an actual plan for how to get us there?

Now, I cringe every time one of the candidates open their mouths.
I'm ashamed to think that people in other countries, 
with no experience of our society, 
will believe these misguided souls represent 
what all Americans think. 

And I wonder how in the world we got here.
What happened to reporters who actually did background and fact checking missions 
before interviews? 
Where are the reporters who held people accountable, 
who called people out on their lies? 
What happened to exposes and investigative reporting? 

For that matter, what happened to critical thinking?

Given that backdrop,
it's no wonder this poem spoke to my heart when I saw it recently.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
and whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to  praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
Who allow their rights to erode
Who allow their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears for thee
Sweet land of liberty!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Pity the nation indeed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Grace Cathedral

Not one to be deterred by a little condescension,
I did, in fact, return to the Cathedral on a less busy day!

I wasn't disappointed.

Some of the painted panels were fascinating...
clearly this Native American wasn't pickin up 
whatever the priest was puttin down!
For all kinds of good reasons, no doubt.

It was definitely worth a visit.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

There were no circumstances

under which we'd ever have been in the same room.   

He apparently, was an icon of fashionable, and powerful, 
San Francisco society; 
an internationally known clothier and fashion designer 
touted in Women's Wear Daily 
and toasted in all the best restaurants and hot spots in town. 
 He had a multitude of famous friends. 
 He was, by all accounts, 
well respected, 
loved by many 
and the center of his own universe.
The suits in his stores, 
routinely sell for sums ranging from 
$5,000.00 - $17, 000.00.

My Kohl's card recoils at the very idea. 
Frankly, I hate to spend that much money on a CAR!

Clearly his customers didn't have jobs where children,
involuntarily, and often,
share their body fluids with you!

But just to prove that God has a sense of humor,
I ended up attending his funeral.

Trust me, it wasn't planned.
Since I hadn't known he existed, 
I had no idea he had sloughed off his earthly coil.

I had gone to the Cathedral to walk the labyrinth.
It's the same size and pattern of the labyrinth in Chartres, France 
 and, since I had walked that several years ago 
and had a powerful experience, 
I thought I'd spend an hour or so of my time in San Francisco 
taking in the sights, sounds and spirit of Grace Cathedral.

So I arrived - 
and, at first, didn't notice anything
 beyond a heavy police presence in the narthex.
(Or entryway, for those of you not of the Episcopal persuasion. 
We can't seem to help ourselves; 
if's there a fancy name for some common feature of our churches, 
we seem honor bound 
to throw a nod to Mother Church in England 
and use it!)

Then I noticed the cloying smell of massive banks of flowers.

Then I noticed chairs set up throughout the entire sanctuary,
rendering the labyrinth unusable.
Then I was noticed by one of the official 'greeters'
(a polite term for Episcopalian bouncers)
who quickly surmised 
from my Keen walkers, 
'mom' jeans
and Arc'teryx windbreaker 
that I wasn't one of the beautiful people they were expecting 
for such an august occasion.

She made a beeline in my direction, asking if I needed help  -
in a tone which implied that, in her mind, 
I was clearly beyond all help.

While my New Jersey roots rose up and almost led me to reply "Bite me",
decades of living among the good people in the Midwest came to my rescue
and I simply replied that I had been hoping to walk the labyrinth.

She intoned, Clearly you can see we're preparing for the funeral 
I took a guess - Oh, did a police officer get killed? 
(People who die serving others are MY idea of important people.)

No, she said, they're merely here to protect 
all the politicians, celebrities and dignitaries 
who are expected to honor Wilkes Bashford.
 Surely, even you've heard of him?

Looking like a deer in the headlights,
yet strangely reluctant to add a chaser of disappointment to her cup of disdain, 
I shook my head No.

The conversation picked up speed as it headed south.

"Where are you from?" she asked
(The implication being Mars).

"The Diocese of Missouri".

Well, you know this is an Anglican church.
 Yes, I know. I'm Anglican too.
(And, Sister, I can recite all the services in the Book of Common Prayer by heart - 
even with this piece of invisible straw 
you apparently can see hanging out the corner of my mouth.)

I only said that, she stated, because there are so many  - 
she paused and lowered her voice
for dramatic effect - 

Yes, I know; I work with many of them. 
But there are also Episcopalians, Baptists, Muslims, 
Jews, Lutherans and Presbyterians. 
Surely you even have them in San Francisco?

I was dismissed.
She informed me I could look around all I'd like "for 15 more minutes". 
She then suggested I come back another day that was 'less busy'.
Not surprisingly, she didn't invite me to stay for the service. 

On that score, 
she was safe,
I had no intention of adding ruination to her day
 or mine.

Hours later, relating my experience to my San Franciscan friend, 
she hooted and said I should have stayed for his funeral. 

But I'm a realist.
I've walked enough labyrinths to appreciate that 
while we're all on the same metaphorical journey in this lifetime
 - with one way in (Birth) and one way out (Death) - 
the reality is that many paths simply do NOT intersect.

There were NO circumstances under which we'd ever have been in the same room.

I can't speak for Wilkes,
but I'm OK with that!
Although you do have to love a man that loves his dogs!

Let's see:
Loves dogs

Maybe we'd have more in common 
than either of us would have thought.

We'll never know.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Random shots from my trip that didn't fit neatly into the other posts 
but which I wanted to share anyway!

What fun I had!