I begin and end almost every day with a prayer of gratitude, one given me by my father in the fall of 1988, written in his longhand on a piece of yellow legal paper. It was my first year living away from my home state of Oregon, away from my family. I was lonely and homesick, and struggling through my first year as a Montessori teacher.
In response to my woeful cries of "I want to come home," my wise father counseled me to spend more time in gratitude, and offered to send me the daily prayer with which he began and ended his days. That was the first and only letter I ever received from my father, a man of few words, and formed the foundation of my daily spiritual practice.
I carried that yellow piece of paper around in my wallet for almost thirty years, until it nearly fell apart, and still carry a copy of the original. Over the years, Dad's words merged with mine as my spiritual practice evolved.
In recent months, as the pandemic rages on and more and more people face hardships of health and well-being, I often find myself in prayer throughout day. And several times a week I visit an old, towering Western Red Cedar tree in Tryon Creek Forest, where I lean in close with my prayer requests for healing and gratitude.
This morning, snuggled up against that old familiar tree friend, having finished prayers in which some of you were included, I surveyed my view of the forest. And I allowed my heart to open to the vast beauty in which I am held; and through which we are connected.
I offer this glimpse of my morning view as I give thanks, with love, for you.
Eight months in, I sense I'm living out of time. There are endless things to worry about, and almost continuous anxiety during waking hours, but very little to be done about these concerns. Other than avoiding others.
My wee house and suburban forest are filled with comforts for which I have never been more grateful. There is unhurried time for gazing out the window or writing in my journal or walking barefoot out back. When I feel lonely, which is often, there is time for my tears to flow until they naturally cease.
There is time to contemplate the meaning of living through such a tumultuous time, and how I might translate it into something meaningful for the future. An uncertain yet probable future.
There is time to bask in the beauty of moss, and other important things.
My mother died on an autumn evening in October, 2011. I don't think there is a way to ready oneself for the experience of saying goodbye to the person who carried you into the world. In Ma's case, it came upon us quickly. She and Dad called one day near the end of September to say "please come;" a late-stage announcement of the hideous disease that took her from us.
In the years since my parents departed this place, he just eight months after she, I've often longed for their familiar and comforting presence and words of encouragement but never as much as in these last few months.
Preparing for the possibility of evacuating, a few days ago I opened a large stack of letters from my mother. I set aside a few and tossed the rest into the recycling bin; because it seemed silly to hold on to so much of the past. This afternoon as I emptied the recycling, one card had stuck to the bottom with its message staring back at me like a prophetic proclamation. "Try not to get so stressed out," my mother wrote on March 3, 1988. "after all, you are a Rabbit!" (referring to my Chinese zodiac sign).
I laughed and I cried. My devout Lutheran mother was a complex person who followed both the scriptures and the stars. Thanks, Ma, for showing up with a much-needed message from home.
Helmer and Lila Swensen, my beloved gram and gramp, were happily - really truly, happily - married for 74 years. I like imagining them out there somewhere, married now 86 years, sprinkling a bit of their extraordinary love into a world that is desperately in need of it.
Michelle Obama is known for saying, "when they go low we go high."
With the frighteningly chaotic state of this nation and my beloved hometown, Portland, at the center as hatred and violence are waged by a bunch of right-wing extremists supported by the American president, it's easy to lose hope in the less-traveled, higher road. Yet, we mustn't lose hope.
Sometimes the high road sounds with a loud, raucous cacophony of passionate voices in protest for peace. Sometimes it is a quiet, contemplative mantra that seeks to rebalance heavy hearts and open the way for healing.
Today, for all who suffer in big ways and small, I offer prayers at the altar of the great goddess Guadalupe and grandmother Cedar, with the indomitable Spirit of my own mama added for good measure, because I'm missing her a lot these days.
May we each find solace in the ways we know how, and may our highest potential for good be revealed in the days ahead.
"God is in the blueberries," Gram used to say.
And in the branches and the stones and breath of our bones.