Remembering: Our Foundational Moments

On Wednesday, July 5, while my friends Kathryn and Sharon visited, another seminary friend, Pam, came for lunch. I wish I could convey in words the energy created in my home as we visited with each other. It was palpable and filled me with gratitude for these women and for the opportunities we have experienced in our lives.

Sharon (from Pittsburgh), Linda (from Dayton OH), Pam (from Austin), Kathryn (from Wichita)

I met Sharon and Kathryn in 1975 when we all began our sojourn with United Theological Seminary here in Dayton, Ohio. They graduated in 1978, a year before I did. Pam came to United later and had never met Sharon. Because Kathryn stayed in the area for a couple of years and I worked at the seminary for six years following my graduation, we had both met Pam.

So we began our visit by sharing how our lives had unfolded during the past thirty-nine years. And then we began to reminisce about our experiences at United — foundational moments for each of us.

Chapters 7 and 9 of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace*, recount how I was encouraged to enroll in United and some of my experiences while I was there.

Sharon, Kathryn, Pam, and I were among the first wave of women attending seminary in large numbers and we brought our curious minds and passionate hearts to our studies and the relationships we formed. We found our professors excited about the depth and breadth of the thinking of women students as well as our enthusiasm for our studies. Because women being called to ministry was a boundary breaking experience, we came with fresh perspectives.

We were unaware at the time how refreshing our presence proved to be for the faculty. One professor in particular had a reputation for being tough. But we didn’t experience him that way. He just loved quality work and expressed gratitude for women students giving it to him. He rewarded our efforts generously.

“Whoever believes in the good in people, draws forth the good in people.”  ~Jean Paul

All of us experienced being mentored and encouraged by faculty members to pursue the paths we were drawn to follow after graduation. The four of us looked back with awe at our professor’s generosity. We are all grateful to have attended United during this pivotal time in her history … a time when the faculty created a curriculum and an environment that drew out the best in those of us hungering to experience and live in alignment with the heart of Christianity.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  ~Luke 10:27

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  ~John 15:12

*A Long Awakening to Grace is slated for publication the end of August 2017.

Inspiration

 

This is the photo I used when writing my last blog post to depict the dark clouds of fear that had been hovering over me in recent weeks. At the time I wrote “Noticing,” I didn’t know anything about the photo. I saw it,  felt drawn to it, copied it, and used it.

Yesterday, in an internet search, I serendipitously found the photographer who created this work of art. Seb Janiak is from France and what an inspiration he is.

“If you are spiritual and believe the invisible world is bigger than our visible world, mean if you believe there is something behind the matter’s veils, you will interpret the photo differently. I strongly believe matter came from spirit-conscience and not the opposite as most of the scientist want to believe

Using art to reveal what is behind the veil of the matter is fascinating and full of discoveries.” ~Seb Janiak

 

Here is a link to his website.

His photo, “Fear” has found a home in NYC. He and his works of art have found a home in my heart.

 

 

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Our Sage Sister Revolution

My Sage Sister book study group met yesterday. We dug into Chapter One in our newest selection, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older.

At this time in our life, late 60s to early 80s, this book encourages us to view elderhood as an opportunity to reconnect with the sacred dimension of life:

  • find a sense of “enoughness” from within
  • connect with our inmost essence and cultivate the calmness and self-knowledge that breeds wisdom
  • transcend “doing” in favor of “being” and a clarity of consciousness that comes from spiritual growth
  • cultivate the quietness and inwardness from which mystical experience is possible
  • pursue our own paths to fulfillment … following our own inner promptings and intuitive leads.

An example was given of a seventy-four-year-old women pursuing a Ph.D. in conflict resolution to sharpen her skills as a mediator. Our conversation was energized by her view that “elders have a special responsibility to infuse public life with higher values that stress cross-cultural understanding, social justice, and world peace.” Growing into her full stature, this woman plans to speak out more often and from her inner authority.

We shared around the circle how we struggle to transcend “doing” in favor of “being.” Letting go of our all too familiar “doing” mode, we are seeking balance by going within to discern how we are being called to infuse public life with higher values … how we are to speak out from our own inner authority.

Cindi shared a recent experience of interacting with college students at an event focusing on protecting the environment. The only white-haired person in a small focus group, she was shocked to find these students unconcerned about climate change. She has no idea the effect she had on these students, but she took the opportunity to ask them probing questions, hoping to stimulate their critical thinking on this issue so vital to her and her husband.

Cindi also shared about her passion for healthy eating. She made an offer to her local food bank to work one on one with those they serve to teach recipients how to prepare unfamiliar fresh vegetables.

Sue, our youngest member and a retired teacher, shared her passion for working with young people to increase their understanding and empathy for people who are different and the spiritual community in which she participates that focuses on raising the consciousness of humankind. She is currently substitute teaching, but her greatest joy is nurturing her grandson’s development and awareness of the differences that enrich his world.

Jasmine, our oldest member, and her husband are the parents of nine children. One is gay and another is lesbian. Her love for them was undiminished when they came out to her. She shared her concern about the hatred that is directed at LGBTQ people and how she tries to dissipate animosity by openly sharing about her love for her extraordinary children. Jasmine spends a lot of time in prayer and knits prayer shawls which she donates to local hospitals and nursing homes.

Cathy has a passion for social justice especially as it relates to underprivileged and marginalized folks. She, too, has been active in donating to our local food pantry and educating others to the food insecurity that exists in our region of the country. Dayton is in the top ten of the hungriest cities in the country. Cathy has also been active in helping immigrants get settled living in this new and strange country and city.

I shared my concern that responsibility is often omitted when we talk about freedom … responsibility infusing freedom with a higher value. I have recently awakened to my responsibility in our current political environment. I asked to be appointed as a precinct captain, something I am capable of doing, assuming a larger role in my community than I ever imagined. This action speaks to my concern for our government to be in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am educating myself about actions I can take to free our government from the undermining effects of big money and using my writing and speaking skills to call our government officials to engage in responsible prophetic action.

We Sage Sisters will meet again next month to give each other support on our continuing journey of conscious aging. I am so grateful to have these outstanding women accompanying me on the journey of becoming a conscious elder.

 

Influences: My Father’s Shining Example

Robert E. Marshall 1918-2009

Robert E. Marshall
1918-2009

In 1951, when I was nine and my brother eight, our parents sold our house in Sidney, Ohio, auctioned off most of our belongings, and moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Leaving our numerous playmates and beloved neighbors was not easy. I remember the morning we left, sitting in the backseat of the car with my stomach in knots, holding back tears as we said our goodbyes to John, Celeste, and Annie Voress, neighbors who were like family. I had no idea when we embarked on this one-year odyssey that it would have such a profound influence on me.

Dad dropped out of high school after his junior year. Sugar in his urine shattered his dream of joining the air force at the beginning of World War II and becoming an airplane mechanic. Never abandoning his fascination with flight and eventually the space program, he actualized his passion by focusing on car mechanics.

dads-gas-station

When we moved to Florida, Dad purchased a gasoline station. Because of the long hours involved, it became a family business. In order to spend time with Dad, Mom often worked there. Self-service was not yet a reality. Many a customer’s mouth dropped open when Mom approached their car to pump their gas. After school, my brother and I hung out at the station. I mostly remember causing trouble, but I’m sure we were given chores. I observed with keen interest this new environment, learning a great deal about the culture of The South, and being influenced by my father’s behavior and attitude.

The previous owner of the station attempted to teach my northern father how Jim Crow worked in The South. Jim Crow laws replaced earlier “black codes” which were designed to restrict and deny civil rights and liberties to African Americans. In 1951, they were part of the state constitution of Florida and mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. The previous owner showed Dad how to cheat “negro” customers, though he used a derogatory term when referring to them. He didn’t need to tell Dad about the rules regarding the use of the one bathroom and one drinking fountain. “Whites Only” signs were prominently posted.

As soon as Dad took possession, those signs came down. I don’t know who influenced my father, but Dad always had a soft spot in his heart for the underdog. He treated his black customers with the respect they deserved. We developed a large black clientele.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

When these customers needed work done on their cars but couldn’t afford to pay for it, Dad gave them odd jobs to do around the station in exchange. One day, a black gentleman approached my dad asking for a loan. Even though Dad wasn’t growing rich as a business owner, he loaned the man the money. I was there the next afternoon when this man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, returned the money. “I didn’t need it after all,” he told my dad. Later, I overheard my parents speaking of the irony around the way blacks are viewed in relation to whites … comparing the integrity this black man displayed with the lack of character demonstrated by a white male employee who stole from us.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I began listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by New York Times Best Selling and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. Tuesday, I learned some shocking information about Florida I’m fairly certain my parents didn’t know … some facts that I’m sure the man who asked for a loan did.

Florida was one of the first states to secede from the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War and was one of the first in the South to institute a formal caste system designed to restrict black people after the war. Because Florida was shut off at that time from the rest of the world by its cypress woods and turpentine camps, it instituted its own laws and constitution, allowing this state to commit among the most heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated anywhere. Violence had become such an accepted way of life that a 1950 special investigation, just one year before we moved there, found that there had been so many mob executions in one county in the 1930s, there weren’t any negroes left to go to trial. In this culture, no negro man could have grown up without the fear of being lynched. That would have included the courageous man who asked dad for a loan.

I doubt when Dad removed the “Whites Only” signs and when he treated his black customers with fairness, he knew he was breaking the law, laws that continued in force until 1965. I’m sure he didn’t view this as an act of civil disobedience, even though that is what it was. I like to think his behavior wouldn’t have changed if he had known. It is the aspect of my father for which I carry the most pride.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

I didn’t know until this week the enormity of the action my father took when he removed those signs. To him, he was only showing respect for another human being. To me, he showed compassion for the struggle of those relegated to the ranks of so-called “losers.”

Dad demonstrated that same soft spot in his heart after we moved back to Ohio. At that time, New Bremen had about 1500 residents. Sometime during the next eight years before I graduated high school and moved away, black people were employed by the alfalfa mill on the edge of town. They lived in run down houses near the mill. I don’t remember seeing them in town except for one high school student two to three years older than I, a beautiful young woman who had the courage to attend one of the weekly dances held for teenagers at the hall above the hotel. I admired the farmer boy who asked her to dance.

I don’t think it was her family, but a fire destroyed the home of one mill family who bore the same last name as ours. Dad went around town collecting food, clothing, and household items for them. Someone asked him why he was doing that. He said, “They’re my cousins.”

“You are the salt of the earth;” Matthew 5:13a

001-2

2008

During the 2008 presidential election, Dad was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. After the election, his health deteriorated rapidly as he grieved the loss of my mother who died early in the morning following Thanksgiving Day. He said he wanted to live to see how Obama fared in office. Sadly, he died on January 3, seventeen days before the inauguration. I have sometimes been grateful he didn’t live to witness the bigotry and obstructionism foisted upon our first black president. It probably wouldn’t have surprised him, but it would have only added to his grief.

In recent weeks I have been contemplating what influences people to be who and how they are. After twenty-six years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela transcended his anger and embraced forgiveness while his compatriots continued to harbor revenge? I read a story this week about a Muslim man who was shot in the face by a white supremacist after 9/11. His faith led him to forgiveness to the point he tried to save his assailant from death row and give his life to educating people about the transformative power of mercy and forgiveness. His actions changed the white supremacist’s attitude from hatred, which he had learned from his step-father, to admiration for this Muslim man and his parents who he realized were extraordinarily good people. These and other stories have caused me to reflect upon how influences in all our lives can be seen in our behavior for good or for ill.

I will never know the influences on my dad. Dad wasn’t a religious man, but in his interactions with those less fortunate than he, I see him doing his best to live “the way of love.”

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13

What I do know is that it is Dad who influences me to use my talents in the service of deeper spiritual values like respect, compassion, justice, forgiveness, authenticity, beauty. It is Dad who influenced me to write about Leymah Gbowee, Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, and Elizabeth Lesser, people who embody these values. It is Dad who influences me to continue to seek and lift up voices of wisdom, inspiration, and hope who bring light and enlightenment to our dark and murky world.

Thank you, Dad.

I have never been more grateful for your shining example.

1942

1942

1991

1991

1945


1945

Who has been a shining example in your life?

 What values have you adopted because of their example?

How have they influenced your behavior today?

In what way is your behavior contributing to “the way of love?”

A Synchronistic Meeting

sychronicity

After I retired, I joined a spirituality forum held at our local senior citizens’ center. A few members of the group gathered for a brown-bag lunch following our two-hour meeting. One day a new member joined us and during lunch mentioned that she was writing her memoir. I said to her, “I’m writing mine, too. We should become writing partners.”

Nita agreed to give my suggestion a try. That was in March or April 2012. With few interruptions until recently, we met every two weeks. This provided a structure to move forward. Every two weeks, I needed to have written something to read to Nita for her critique and vice versa.

As I listened to Nita’s story, it became clear to me that she was just the kind of woman I expected to judge me. Her marriage is fulfilling, her husband is supportive, she has four high-functioning children, and she developed a successful career. Of course, she faced challenges. Otherwise what would she have to write about in a memoir. But she handled her challenges with wisdom and skill.

My story is full of family challenges that it took me a long time to learn to handle with wisdom and skill. As we began meeting, I carried a great deal of shame and it took every ounce of courage I possessed to read some of my chapters to her.

Nita gave me excellent suggestions for improvement without an ounce of judgment. We developed a ritual of giving each other a hug as we came together and before we departed.

After we had been meeting for a year or so, I wanted to send Nita a card by snail mail. I searched for her zip code through google. Up popped a whole page of entries about Nita. I sat back in awe, exclaiming to myself, “Wow, she’s a famous artist! I had no idea.”

That gives you a picture of Nita’s character. She is confident and humble and doesn’t have a need to flaunt her success. In fact, she may not be happy with my writing about her success in this blog post. But, to me, it is an important part of our synchronistic meeting.

One day, after reading a particularly painful part of my story, Nita said, “I think I was chosen to hear your story.”

I replied, “It was definitely Divine guidance that brought us together.”

Recently, Nita and I were forced to put our memoirs on the back burner and take a break from meeting. My daughter’s healthcare crisis and her subsequent moving in with me took first priority. Nita’s publisher wanted her to put together a thirtieth anniversary edition of her first book, Exploring Color, and she needed to focus on that.

ExploringColor_CVR.indd

Links to Northlight and Amazon

My daughter is stabilized now and Exploring Color is out in the world to enthusiastic acclaim, so Nita and I are meeting again. Our memoirs are written and in various stages of editing. We no longer need to read passages for critique. But we find each other’s support invaluable as we continue the process toward publication. We still hug upon greeting and departing.

When I suggested to Nita that we be writing partners, I had no awareness that a “magical” connection was being made that would propel my soul’s longing forward. How blessed I am that Divine guidance chose Nita to be the first to hear my story.