Today is Good Friday, a day of mourning when Christians commemorate Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Holy Saturday is a day of vigil, spent in anticipation of Christ's resurrection. Easter Sunday is the most important Christian holiday, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Earlier this month I reflected on his death and resurrection as a metaphor for our own cycles of fallowness and fertility; how what is old must pass away in order for new life to emerge. Knowing it is easier said than done, today my thoughts turn toward the suffering we so often experience as we go through the process of death and rebirth within ourselves.
Author Gloria Karpinski writes, "We suffer more than necessary when we fail to acknowledge the destructive aspect of sacred cycles, their purposes, and the chaos they temporarily bring." How true it is! I create suffering in my denial of what is — in my belief that something is wrong; in my expectation that things should be other than the way they are.
I know the first noble truth of Buddhism can be summed up as something like, "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." Pain is what happens externally and suffering is what we create internally. Let's just say I'm not enlightened yet. I needed to find a way to work with the is-ness of suffering.
I first heard the phrase "the awful grace" used by Ram Dass, when he spoke about about caring for his dying step-mother. He referred to a quote by Aeschylus, a poet of ancient Greece: "He who learns must suffer. Even in our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
"Against our will, comes wisdom." There's so much humanity in those words! I say them again and again, knowing how hard I've tried - how hard we all try, mostly - to avoid suffering. So often I've thought to myself, If I'd known how hard it was going to be, I never would have done it (signed up, said yes, walked through the door, etc).
And yet, I'm always so glad I did.
I may not be enlightened, but I am optimistic. Often, learning comes through suffering. Wisdom comes through pain. It may be awful, but it's still grace.
My niece turned 3 on Monday. I called that evening to say happy birthday and ask how Maya's big day had been. My sister told me how the day began...
"Maya, how old are you?" my sister asked. Maya answered in her little girl lisp, "I'm going to be 3 soon!" "When will you be 3?" my sister wondered. "On my birthday," Maya replied (as she has these last many months). "Well, today is your birthday so now you're 3." Maya was silent as she comprehended this fact, before a look of joy slowly spread across her face.
Not only am I lucky enough to be Maya's auntie; I'm also her godmother. We even share the same middle name. I remember when my sister called to tell me they were naming her Maya Grace. To my discredit, my initial reaction was a belligerent "Wait a minute! That's MY name!!"
But then I met Maya, when she was still only a few days old, and my heart melted into a pool of love for her. I ached with the honor of being her godmother, of sharing between us such a special name. I wanted to do it all just right, including giving her her first piece of jewelry: a tiny silver baby bracelet hand engraved with her name.
About six months later the family gathered together again for Maya's baby blessing. My sister and brother-in-law created a special part in the ceremony for Maya's godparents to speak, forcing me to consider what that truly meant. Our family isn't religious so I knew being asked wasn't just a formality.
I'd been charged with taking an extra special interest in Maya's life, with helping guide her through the terrain ahead, offering what wisdom and experience I have, or hopefully will have gained by the time she needs it. In the end, I decided to write Maya a letter for her blessing ceremony - my heartfelt wish and humble pledge.
My Dearest Maya Grace,
It is a privilege to share the bond of our name, Grace, and the special meaning it carries. May Grace symbolize your connection to your family, to all the ancestors that have gone before you. May you know the Grace of being alive, of relationship and mystery and discovery, of challenge and accomplishment and change.
Most of all, Dear One, may you dwell in Grace. May you feel the Grace of God moving in you and through you, and may your long years on this earth be filled with that presence. Blessings upon you, sweet one, and blessed are we that will walk this journey with you. As your Godmother I will always be here beside you, to help you know Grace in every way that I can.
With all my love,
Today Maya is 3, and tomorrow she'll be 16. With grace the road ahead of her will be long and winding, filled with the joys and sorrows of a full and vibrant life. For now I'm all grown up and fascinating to her, but soon enough I'll be the one following her life with eager interest. And that seems about the best Grace I could ask for.
Ever wonder why I became a minister? I know some of my friends do! How did I go from ten years managing small businesses to attending an Interfaith seminary? If you have twenty minutes, the talk I gave at Unity in the Pioneer Valley will explain it.
"Reverend Carol’s message that Sunday was about listening for our soul’s purpose; for the thing we’re here on Earth to do. Now, I knew that working in a jewelry store probably wasn’t my soul’s highest calling, but it also wasn’t something I’d given a lot of thought...
"It’s funny – looking back, I can hardly remember anything specific about Reverend Carol’s talk that morning, except that, as she spoke, I felt this tremendous yearning inside me. I can’t really describe it… but it seemed like my heart wanted to leap out of my chest!"
Listen now to the 20-minute talk.
“Conversations With God says all human actions are motivated at their deepest level by fear or love. I chose love when I answered the call; I chose to follow my heart. It’s important to say, though, that when I talk about the heart, it’s not the physical heart or the emotional heart I mean, but the spiritual heart.
"In Sanskrit it’s called the hridayam, which means “essence.” Quaker’s call it “the still, small voice of God.” Ram Dass calls the spiritual heart the “heart-mind,” but he explains that you can’t get to the heart-mind through the rational mind. So when I talk about following my heart, I mean there was a shift in my awareness, from who I think I am, to “I Am.”
My middle name is Grace. From its Hebrew origins, Hannah means “Grace of God.” The week before entering seminary I got two tattoos: on the inside of my left wrist, facing toward me, the word “grace” written in fluid script. On the inside of my right wrist, the same word facing out.
To be a channel for grace - the Grace of Spirit - flowing in me, through me and as me, out into the world... That is why I became a minister.
Poetry and Musings of an Interfaith Minister on the Journey of a Lifetime.