When I told my sister Terry that I hoped to be able to speak at Lisa’s memorial, that same old look of anxiety passed over her face. I guess this is the fate of all youngest siblings who have a history of teasing older ones by saying or doing outrageous things. I mean, it is SO MUCH FUN to make your dearest relatives turn red and sputter.
I assured Terry that that I would say nothing controversial to embarrass either or her or the church and I intend to keep that promise. I am so grateful to the Fountainhead Congregation for loving Lisa and being there to support Terry and Bob…...and all the rest of the family…during these last dreadful weeks.
Besides that, I feel confident about what I am about to say, which, for me, is an extremely rare condition. In a mood of prayerful contemplation, I listened to the prompting of my heart, and wrote and wrote and wrote in a burst of creativity
When that occurs, I usually trust what is produced, but, of course, as we all know, truth and perception sometimes fail to synchronize. As, Saint Paul wrote, we see through a glass darkly. This is especially true when the glass reflects our own image and, as human beings, we all, to some degree, live in a house of mirrors.
When asked how he wrote such Heavenly music, Mozart is said to have replied…."I open up my soul and God’s pours Himself through me." Then, with a smile of amusement, he added, "With a Mozartian touch, of course."
Well, I am most certainly no Mozart, but the process is very much the same, and my words, for better or worse, will surely have a Saralynnian touch. All I shall do is tell my story, a memory of a memory. I will leave it to others to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Just a bit of historical background for the younger people who are here…..
In the olden days, there were establishments that were called "Used Book Stores", where people who loved to read would spend hours inching their way through narrow aisles formed between towering bookshelves, searching for musty buried treasures. I was once one of those exhilarated wanderers and it is a form of recreation that I greatly miss.
Anyway, last week, I walked into our local library and lo & behold, and much to my delight, I found out that they were having a used book sale in the basement!
I immediately rushed to join about a dozen other senior citizens shuffling in subdued excitement around tables piled high with books.
At first I was disappointed. Most of the books had either to do with romance, murder, mayhem or political intrigue. You know, sort of like the 24 hour news channels. However, I did find a book by Richard Maurice Burke entitled "Cosmic Consciousness", which aroused my curiosity.
It was written in 1901. That was a plus. Most of my favorite authors are about a century older than I am. However, it was the title that made my heart thump a little faster.
"Cosmic Consciousness". That is just up my alley; a perfect book for someone like me, who has been a Jew, a Buddhist, a Catholic, an Episcopalian, a Quaker, a Sufi, a Unitarian, an Emersonian and attended AA meetings, not because I have a drinking problem, but because I enjoy stories about people getting in touch with their higher power. Oh yes, lest I forget, I also studied and flunked out of a Course in Miracles.
Okay, I will admit it. I am sometimes characterized as being a spiritual dilettante who runs around in circles trying to find God.
Once, my husband said to me in exasperation, "Why don’t you take a more leisurely journey to enlightenment? Take a break from asking questions that have no answers. Instead of trotting around from religion to religion, why not lie outside on a blanket, contemplate the the clouds drifting by, and think of nothing in particular. Let the breeze caress your face. How about doing volunteer work at a soup kitchen? Kiss a baby. Listen to Pavarotti!"
Like all advice, I ignored it. And like all advice which is viewed in retrospect, his words now seem very wise, indeed.
That being said, I don’t perceive my quest as being circular; I prefer to think of it as a spiral.
The heart of my faith is that I am traveling on an "upward" rather than a "downward" spiral--- even though, at times, the journey appears to take the form of a spaghetti dinner that’s been dumped upon a floor.
Anyway….back to the library. The book was 25 cents! That clinched it. I snatched it up, brought it home, placed it on my coffee table, and promptly forgot about it when Lisa got sick and was maybe even dying. The thought of reading what was most likely sentimental "woo"" filled me with disgust.
I was extraordinarily ANGRY at God that week; I felt like shoving "Cosmic Consciousness" up His supposedly loving "you know what."
Sorry, Terry, but that is how I felt. Sorry God…. but you KNOW that is how I felt. No use pretending otherwise.
One evening, after an emotionally exhausting afternoon at the hospital with my family, I plopped down on the couch, heartsick and outraged and, yes, spiritually bitter. I mean, "never-hurt-another- human- being Lisa" might die and Donald Trump was still strutting around in perfect health, making stupid, mean-spirited remarks and building palaces to honor himself----yet LISA MIGHT DIE!!!!
The INJUSTICE of "God’s creation" was driving me crazy.
I was just about to turn on the TV to distract myself and direct my rage at whatever media-inspired controversy was gripping the nation at the moment when I noticed "Cosmic Consciousness" lying in front of me on the coffee table. I leaned over, picked it up and casually riffled through the pages, with a sort of sarcastic attitude, if you know what I mean.
The author was a guy who studied spiritual experiences because, in his youth, his own brief revelation felt so profound that it affected the rest of his life.
He described how, one evening, while he was at home, in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, thinking about the pleasant evening he had just shared with friends, suddenly…, without warning of any kind….., he found himself wrapped in a light of sorts.
No, for any skeptics out there….A Christmas tree had not fallen on him.
It was light that wasn’t a light. Mystics describe it in various ways. "A brilliance that does scorch the eyes" said one. Sometimes it is compared to fire. Sometimes the sun. Many claim it is a state of absolute clarity.
All agree that is impossible to articulate revelation. Words are too heavy. Words are too clumsy. Words are pale shadows of a living reality that cannot be translated into language. Words point at meaning, but are not meaning. They are time bound.
Revelation is different. Revelation unfolds within eternity.
This is how Bucke describes what happened next….
"Directly afterward, there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence;
I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure…. "
(I don’t know what peradventure means either…"
"all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and the happiness of each and all is, in the long run, absolutely certain."
Bucke’s description resonated within me because years ago, I, too, shared an almost identical experience. As with Bucke, it occurred spontaneously while I was thinking about other things. It felt like someone switched on a LIGHT, and I suddenly experienced the "realness" of the world around me.
It ceased to be an inanimate object of perception, but, instead, a living presence, and I was in it and it was in me.
I keep saying "IT", but I should be saying "THOU" because "THOU" expresses a deeply personal interrelationship. "Living love" is the best I can do, even though I cringe because that phrase sounds so corny.
My inner world was filled with joy and the "peace that passeth understanding"; the outer world became breathtakingly beautiful, even the cluttered, "Boy, does this place need vacuuming" room I was in.
I knew with unshakeable certainty that ALL WAS GOOD. In fact, it was perfect. I remember thinking with wonder, "So THIS is the meaning of Saint Paul’s….."In Him, we live, and move and have our being."
The experience ended on that particular thought. Actually, it was the following one "Holy crap, I am having a religious experience!" that brought it to an abrupt close.
The revelation evaporated when my brain became involved and dragged me back into the world of dry and rattling thoughts. I had grabbed at what I was experiencing instead of simply experiencing what I was experiencing. My intention was to look at IT as if IT were an object….a THING to be evaluated.
But, as the saints and mystics tell us, IT is not an IT, IT is an IS.
"IS" cannot be studied, examined, tested, validated or conceptualized. That would be like trying to insert time or eternity or love into an envelope.
"IS" cannot be described, it can only be glimpsed in great works of beauty…. nature, art, music, poetry or by simple acts of piety or compassion.
If you consider…..or better yet, FEEL the truth of this, it is sort of obvious.
If God is who people claim God to be, then God has to be available to everyone, from a scholar with lofty thoughts to a special needs adult to an illiterate peasant who lives on the side of a remote mountain, praying as she stirs her soup.
Someone famous, whose name I cannot recall, once compared humanity’s relation to the Universe as being similar to a dog’s relation to a library.
I mean, you put a dog in a library and it sees books, but it doesn’t have a clue as the purpose of a book or the function of a library. Canine vision is limited when it comes to distinguishing objects that are not in motion. They mostly rely on their sense of smell… and, in the world of doggies, the odor of a book in no way equals the rapturous aroma of another dog’s butt.
So, there’s this dog, trotting around the library, nose to the ground, sniffing the air, trying to figure out what’s going on, confused by the medley of odors wafting through his nostrils. The dog runs from one person to another in a state of frenzied confusion.
But, everything changes when the dog’s master enters the library.
The dog gallops or, in the case of the newer breeds, scampers on two inch legs, to its owner and, in their interaction, there is jubilation, affection, mutual adoration and full-speed- ahead tail-wagging.
Although blessed with free will and a bit more intelligence, we human beings face a similar plight. The world often fails to make sense to us and we can’t understand why things happen as they do. We are filled with delight when the master is present, but why can’t he be with us every second of the day and, more importantly, why does he sometimes seem to abandon us?
The "Good News" is that, unlike dogs, human beings are "created in the likeness and image of God" and have been endowed with the capacity to choose faith, trust, hope and optimism over their opposites. We can say "yes" or we can say "no". That is our blessing. That is our curse.
I then began to reflect upon the events of the day when family and friends had gathered at the hospital, praying & hoping & grieving together, worrying about nothing else aside from our love for Lisa and our concern for each other.
We held hands, we hugged, we wept, we both comforted and were comforted, we gave and received, we looked into each other’s eyes, silently asking the unanswerable question….."Why?" "Why?" "WHY?"
The only thing that mattered was Lisa. All we could do was express our shared understanding and anguished compassion. Supporting each other, and trying to soothe a pain from which there was no relief became more important than enduring our own.
The differences between us melted away. We didn’t argue about whether Obama is really from Kenya or sulk over matters of theology. We didn’t criticize each other or rehash old grievances. We didn’t gossip. We didn’t laugh at people who wear big white sneakers that close with Velcro.
We had reached that blessed state in which we truly become our brother’s keeper and "love our neighbors as ourselves"
For a few days, because of our devotion to Lisa as well as each other, we really did create, in the midst of Hell, "Earth as it is in Heaven".
It certainly didn’t FEEL that way. It felt like, well……torture.
But, from an eternal perspective or, from the point of view that resides in distant memory, it was beautiful.
It occurred to me that THIS shared state of mind, too, is a mystical experience, as profound as the ones that Burke described in his book. However, it is a state of awareness that we must nurture, or it will vanish as quickly as all revelations do that are not honored.
The next few months are going to be challenging for all of us. Let’s face it….the next few YEARS are going to be challenging for all of us and, in time, years evolve into lives.
It is not simply a matter of bearing each other’s burdens, which is relatively easy compared to bearing each other’s personalities, especially in a family as diverse as ours. There are bound to be clashes at times.
But, we can honor Lisa, a woman who was one of the least judgmental people I have ever known, by loving each other in the same steady way she loved each of us. This is the only way to make sense out of what seems to be absurdity.
It is up to us. WE must hope and pray and trust, and maintain a sense of commitment to…..in the words of the poet Auden…."love our crooked neighbor with our crooked heart" or, as my mother used to say, "If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all"
It isn’t easy. It demands humility, good will, self-reflection, a decision to embrace hope and reject cynicism, a conscious effort to see from a higher perspective, service when we don’t feel like serving and, yes, faith. Not only faith in God, but faith that love is the only thing in the world that really matters.
We can do this by REMEMBERING what those days in the hospital were like for all of us and how much, at the core level of our being, we really do love each other, despite our many differences.
New Agers often urge each other to "follow your bliss". Perhaps, as we learned from Christ, it is our obligation to "follow your heartbreak".
There’s a quote I read a long time ago that has always stuck in my mind. I’ve checked the internet to find out who said it, but I can’t find it anywhere. I have a feeling it can be located in one of those old books gathering dust in my attic.
Anyway, it is this…
"We live in a brutal world filled with grace."
Sadly, we can’t do much about the brutality part. Ours is a world in which there are earthquakes, car accidents, disease, social injustice, ignorance, foolishness, folly and sometimes wanton cruelty.
If you think about all the misery on the entire planet, you can feel overwhelmed, and cynical and dispirited. You may be tempted to groan, "Oh, it’s hopeless, I think I’ll post on Facebook or tune into Duck Dynasty or maybe move to a place conducive to rest, relaxation, and fun….. like….hey… Colorado!
No, we can’t do much about the brutality---for, as it says in Ecclesiastes,in terms of the world, "There really is nothing new under the sun."
However, grace is something different. It may be bestowed on us by God, but we make the decision to accept or refuse His gift.
Jesus often uses metaphors drawn from nature in many of his parables. These images make me think of Lisa, who was so at home in the natural world.
She understood that there is perfection in every seed and that with good soil, time, attention, careful pruning and exposure to light, the seed will bloom into a plant that will nourish us or bring beauty to wherever it happens to be placed.
To honor Lisa and to honor God, we must remember to remember that each of us is responsible for nurturing with loving care, the potential within ourselves….AND, just as importantly, the potential within OTHERS to fulfill the glorious possibilities that lie within them.
We can do this by being co-creators, not equal to, but obedient to God’s will, which is expressed so well in the Golden Rule, a version of which is universally recognized throughout the world.
I am sorry if I’m sounding sermony, but I talked it over with Lisa and she told me not only to go ahead, but to be sure and speak loudly so the old folks can hear and the more thick-headed among us might listen. And trust me--I myself fit into both categories.
I’m like everyone else. I really do try to fulfill my spiritual aspirations by forgiving trespasses and by sighing inwardly when I am in contact with frustrating people. I dutifully whisper "Forgive them, Lord, they not know what they do."
What I often fail to appreciate is that, as hard as this is to believe, others may be feeling similar sentiments in their encounters with me.
It isn’t that we don’t know what we SHOULD do. We simply forget to remember to remember.
It is no easy task. It requires dedication, inner discipline and a refusal to succumb to the temptation of responding to the world as if WE are its center and everyone else plays a supporting actor in the drama of our lives.
As impossible as it may be, we have to strive to see others as God sees them, and I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t imagine a God of love saying, "Ugh! She is SUCH a BITCH!"
Yeah, trying to be good is hard. The only thing more difficult is WANTING to be good when being good is not your immediate desire.
I have failed at this more times than I care to admit.
What helps me to remember to remember are three little words
Let’s commit ourselves, in memory of Lisa, to conduct ourselves in a way that would make her both proud and secure in the knowledge that, although she cannot be with us in person, she has left her beloved children in good hands.
I am confident that we are all up to the task ahead of us.
In fact, I can imagine one of the angels reassuring Lisa…..
"Not to worry, sweetie…..your children are safe. You have brothers and sisters, two generations of aunts and uncles, cousins and the children of cousins and many devoted friends who will step in and help. There are the pastors and your church family as well.
Best of all, Russ is determined to be the father that your children have always deserved. It won’t be easy, but he is up to the task and his love of Christ, acting in him and through others, will help him.
Hey, did you see his hair? Looks good, eh?
Your two little girls will be fine. They have the simple and the blessed faith of children.
By the way, Sammy will treasure that 4 leaf clover you helped her find for the rest of her life.
And you do know that you can nag, or let us say "encourage" in that gentle way of yours, from up here, right? One thing I learned from the big guy is that pricking a conscience works far better than threats and exhortation.
In the future, when your loved ones listen to that "still small voice" inside them, they may detect a slight Long Island accent.
The angel I am imagining is beautiful. Her hair turns blonde in the summer, she has soft, trusting eyes; a smile that is genuine rather than polite; a willow rather than an oak tree temperament--definitely not a pine; she had a sense of the ridiculous and laughed easily .
Serene and unflappable….at least after she had her first cup of coffee.
Definitely heart-centered. She tolerated and accepted all sorts of people, some of whom were….well, there’s no way around it…..misfits. Yeah, I am one of them.
Lisa was instinctively able to "walk a mile in another person’s moccasins". It was easy for her to acknowledge diverse points of view, even when no one else seemed aware they exist.
She exemplified, in her personal life, the old adage, "To understand is to forgive."
What an artist! Her sense of visual aesthetics remained with her throughout her life.
The stained-glass pieces that she created were finely crafted. Her floral arrangements were an absolute delight. She could produce large, bold, overflowing displays that seemed to burst forth from their containers in an explosion of frozen-in-motion-beauty or, at the other extreme, a few sprigs placed perfectly in a simple vase
She once decorated a tee shirt for me with a picture of Bach on the front that I gave to my husband on his birthday. She also did another one of his motorcycle.
I was fascinated that she could draw engines, faces, and landscapes with equal facility and enthusiasm
No, it isn’t difficult imagining Lisa in Heaven having a heart to heart with another angel. She was very good at that sort of thing. Knowing Lisa, she probably drifted over to another angel that was, pure of heart, but just a little bit weirder than the others.
It is easy to imagine this because I can close my eyes and picture Lisa, our beloved flesh and blood earth-angel, who, to our great fortune, blessed our lives with her presence.