Archives for category: Religion

Several months ago, my husband and I were in Fauntleroy Park, which is the closest woods near our house. As we walked down the path, he joked, “Oh scary! Someone could jump out of the bushes at us!” The comment hit me in all of the wrong ways, though this had nothing to do with him. I said to him, only half jokingly,”You’ve ruined my sanctuary!”

I have done a lot of grieving and healing in those particular woods. I have felt my heart rate lower and my spirits lift as I walk into the entrance. I have listened to the creeks, the birds, and the sounds of the rain and wind. I found a hummingbird nest in those woods and waited for the egg to hatch into a chick, whom I discovered had not made it, when I visited the woods last Mother’s Day. As I am often the only one in the park, those woods were a safe place to sit by the trees and the running water, and have a good cry. I have felt the reassuring softness of feathery mosses, watched the emergence of new growth from the forest floor, and sampled berries from bushes that connected me to my childhood, learning about native edibles from my mother, while walking in the woods that surrounded the home in which my parents still live. I have had experiences in those woods, seeing new growth, old growth, and decay, and felt connected to the worlds of living, dying, and dead at a deep spiritual level.

I had avoided going to those woods since the loss of the hummingbird chick and my husband’s ill timed remark. I would never have predicted that I would react that way but it did. Today, as I was ambling through my neighborhood on my daily walk, I decided to get back into the woods. I was greeted with the sound of running water, birds that sounded like they were auditioning for a part in The Jungle Book, the smell of skunk cabbage, and the deep pink of salmon berry blossoms. I saw two hummingbirds. I visited the spot where the hummingbird nest had been last year. It was gone, either blown off by the wind or removed by a hiker.

This week’s stressful mammogram generated another thread of fear, sadness, and gratitude to weave into my life. I am glad to be back in the woods.

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“How long have you been cured?”

Her question caught me by surprise. We were riding on a school bus from a beauty salon to the venue for the breast cancer charity event in which we  were both modeling. I knew that she was diagnosed less than a year ago. She was self-employed and had benefitted from the charity first hand.

I answered, ‘I was diagnosed almost two years ago.’

I could have corrected her but I didn’t. She had also invited everyone to a potluck at her house. I could tell that she was having a powerful experience of belonging, being surrounded by 29 other women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer as recently as 9 months ago and as long as 19 years ago. I could also see the fear in her eyes, that she had transitioned from the shock and adrenaline rush of the active treatment stage to  “Now what?” I figured that I needed to respect her grief process and trust that she would progress in her understanding of her disease.

Her question reminded me of past experiences. I grew up in a politically and socially liberal Roman Catholic church. We didn’t talk about Hell or who was going there. We didn’t talk about “being saved”.

So the first time I was asked, “How long have you been saved?” I was similarly taken by surprise. It just wasn’t the way I was used to thinking about myself because my religious upbringing was different.

I talked to one of my colleagues and friends about this a few years ago. He is a thoughtful man, raised Lutheran who is now a practicing Unitarian. He was shocked that I had been raised without the reassurance of going to Heaven. He’d found this belief quite comforting while growing up.

Being cured and being saved are absolute positives. They can mark an end of struggle and an end to gray.

I don’t wish to disparage anyone’s beliefs as long as they don’t hurt others. My personal belief is that God is beyond my complete understanding but that I experience God is in the love people show each other, how we take care of our world, and the beauty of nature.

I don’t know if I am cured. I don’t know if I am saved.

I know that I am here.

I had a weird dream last night. I went to a photography studio to get my picture taken. It was kind of a combination of high school senior photos and my wedding. Tom Colicchio a famous U.S. chef who can be seen on the show Top Chef was there. My former boss from the University of Washington was there. Once I got to the studio, I realized that I had left my shoes at home. I asked how much time there was left until it was my turn for Senior/wedding photos. I was told 30 minutes. I decided to go back home for the shoes. In an Elizabeth dream first, someone loaned me some sort of jet pack like device and I was able to fly all of the way home and most of the way back to the studio. (My daughter has lots of flying dreams. This was my first. I am growing as a person in my dreams.) Unfortunately, I ran out of fuel and had to run most of the way back. By the time I got to the studio, I realized that I’d again forgotten my shoes. I was also rather disheveled from running and had no make-up to freshen up. And for whatever reason, I was wearing a men’s sport coat over a white wedding dress. (Now that sounds more like a typical dream for me.) My old boss would be thrilled to hear that in my dream he helped me out by fixing my hair. The photographer was a sweet woman who let me borrow some shoes in my size as well as a tube of lipstick that she said was, “just my color.” Friends and strangers helped me out and put me back together again.

I think I am an imaginative person but I don’t fantasize a great deal. Well actually, I fantasize but my fantasies are usually pretty realistic. They are things that could really happen. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy documentaries so much, especially those about every day people having meaningful experiences that are in the range of possibility for many. Last night, I saw the documentary, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago with my former Internet-only friend, Meredyth and her friend, Liz. We belong to a photography group on Facebook. The group includes a couple hundred people from all over the world. Meredyth and Liz live in nearby Vancouver, BC. They came down for the weekend and Meredyth invited me to the movie. We had the best time. There are a lot of lovely and interesting people in the world. Meredyth and Liz are both teachers and I can tell that they are very excellent teachers. It was nice to share our mutual love and commitment to children and their development. Liz, as it turns out, also belongs to the photo group but I have not seen her photos or interacted with her previously. Meredyth posted a photo to the group last night and awoke to a number of charming comments from group members about how happy they were that the three of us had met in “real” life. Most of the people in the group have never met one another in person. Meredyth and Liz were the first group members that I have encountered in the tangible world. I hope to meet more of my cyber friends in the future. It was a very special experience.

The documentary followed a group of people from all over the world, most of whom had never met previously. They were people who traveled to Spain to complete the Camino de Santiago, a long distance spiritual walk from one end of Spain to the other. Pilgrims have been making this walk for over 1000 years. The walk meant different things to each person followed for this documentary. Most of the pilgrims came alone. One set of pilgrims was a young mother, her brother, and her young son. They walked the entire trail, though the mountains, the plains, and the forests, pushing a stroller!

The pilgrims made new friends and were met with great kindness along the trail. People who fed them, housed them, and washed their feet. At one point, one of the pilgrims was so moved by the generosity of at stranger that she cried tears of joy and self-reflection. She was sure that she had never treated another person with the kindness that she had received. It was a beautiful moment because instead of beating herself up for not measuring up, she looked moved and inspired. The pilgrims also experienced ecstasy, times of great mindfulness of their surroundings, love, and lots and lots of struggle with their minds and the rest of their bodies.

A beauty of the film was that not only does the walk serve as a metaphor for life but the film also shows individuals having the day to day experience of transformation over the course of a month or so. I found myself thinking about how different pilgrims might integrate their transformation into the rest of their lives and for how long would they feel transformed and connected to something much larger than themselves or the small worries that consume us on a daily basis. I know that the answer to that question is different for every pilgrim and the answer changes over time.

I am still fighting the treadmill right now. I’m not going to lie to you. I am still feeling the sting of disappointment that my dream of taking my own pilgrimage to see all of my dear friends back East is just not going to happen any time soon due to responsibilities and financial realities. I also told my husband last night that it is unlikely that I will be able to contribute enough to our family income for us to save up for a big trip for our 25th wedding anniversary, which is in 13 months. I know this is a trip on which his heart was set. It was actually supposed to happen last summer so it’s already been postponed once.

Life is like walking the Camino, so is breast cancer. I have experienced both struggle and transformation. I have been the recipient of great kindness and generosity from both old and new loved ones in my life. These are the realities than inspire actual dreams of being unprepared for life and receiving help! (Although I believe I will be able to do my own hair and not need help from my former boss at U.W.)  I have learned the powerful and gentle gifts that come from walking outside. As one of the pilgrims in the film commented after having walked for hours through heavy rain (paraphrasing), “I saw the raindrops hanging from blades of grass. Painters paint this and I get to see it.”

I know why I like documentaries. I know why I steep myself in reality. I love life. Life is transformative, powerful, spiritual, inspiring, energizing, exhausting, loud, quiet, painful, scary, and at times very very boring. But life has everything.

Meredyth and me at the movies transforming cyber friendship to something more.

Meredyth and me at the movies transforming cyber friendship to something more.

Lux aeterna luceat eis,
Domine, cum satis tuis
in aeternum, quia pius es.

Let perpetual light shine upon them,
O Lord, in the company of your saints
forever, for you are compassionate.

-From the Concluding Rites of the Missa pro Defunctis (Mass for the Dead).

Last night I went to the Mass of All Souls at the St. James Cathedral in Seattle. This year the choir, in which my mom is a member, sang Mozart’s Requiem. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this piece of music, it is the piece that Mozart is composing toward the end of the film, Amadeus. It is a powerful and beautiful mass, which was sung splendidly by the choir. The beginning of the mass definitely emphasizes the downside of death, the wrath of God, judgment, and burning in eternal fire. This is the part that also has the most exciting music. As the mass progresses, themes of life, grace, and redemption emerge. The music and lyrics become lighter, more peaceful, and let’s face it, not nearly so exciting. Mass ends with a processing of white robes, the crucifix, and candles.

St. James is a popular church and the Requiem Mass draws a large crowd of parishioners as well as lovers of sacred music from a variety of religious faiths. If you don’t arrive early, you have to stand. So I got there about an hour early. My dad, my younger brother James, and his wife, Meagan were already there. I sat next to my brother and we chatted before mass started. The church filled up but the seat to my right was empty because it was reserved for people with physical limitations. After a little bit, a woman, who was accompanied by another woman, sat down next to me. I noticed that she was bald as well as wearing some really cool black and white patent leather shoes that looked like a cross between sneakers and wing-tipped dress shoes.

Several minutes later, I saw my mom, dressed in a choir robe, walk across the church. I waved at her. The woman seated to my right asked, “Do you know her?” And this is how I met Brenda and her wife, Kristen. Brenda is being treated for breast cancer and also gets her treatment at the Swedish Cancer Institute. She was diagnosed last May and underwent a double mastectomy in June. Brenda is currently getting chemotherapy and had an infusion earlier in the day. She told me that she had just switched from Taxol and was pleased to still have some energy on this first day of the new medication. I mentioned my blog and both Brenda and Kristen expressed keen interest. It also turned out that Kristen is also a mental health provider. It just so happened that Brenda was also looking for a supportive community and not sure where to start. I described the wonderful support I have received from the breast cancer blogging community. After the mass, Brenda asked for a hug and I gladly gave her one. I told Kristen and her that they would likely be mentioned in my blog today. It was a lovely and very human encounter.

Today, I have been thinking of Brenda and Kristen, who are near the beginning of this breast cancer mess, a very scary and unfortunately exciting part of treatment. And I hope that with our connection and their potential connection with the many dear souls of this wonderful community that we will all progress further toward grace and light.

Finally, the choir really was magnificent and at the risk of being totally tacky in church, I hid my smartphone under my program and made a sound recording of a portion of the Sequence, which is the longest section of the Requiem. The choir begins after a few croaky bars sung by the congregation. Here they are, The St. James Cathedral Choir and Chamber Orchestra, directed by Dr. James Savage.

A look up at the oculus. (Photo by E. MacKenzie, 2103)

A look up at the oculus.

View of the altar. St. James's original design was more traditional. The altar was moved to the center of the church several years ago.

View of the altar. St. James’s original design was more traditional. The altar was moved to the center of the church several years ago.

 

A view of one of the two pipe organs.

A view of one of the two pipe organs.

Dad, my sister-in-law Deb, Mom, Me, my sister-in-law Meagan, and my brother James. (Mom, I know that your eyes are closed but they were in the other photos, too.)

Dad, my sister-in-law Deb, Mom, Me, my sister-in-law Meagan, and my brother James. (Mom, I know that your eyes are closed but they were in the other photos, too.)

 

 

 

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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