Thursday, April 30, 2009

so--who's driving?

Remember the weather forecaster's high wind warning I referred to yesterday in my blog?
They were right.   There were high winds in spades.   They swept our very roadworthy vehicle from one side of the road to the other.  Poor John had all he could do to keep it on the road sometimes.  His hands had to grip the wheel so tightly they got numb.  All around us in the desert of New Mexico between Gallup and Santa Rosa, dust devils whirled wickedly in the air, dancing along the dusty ground picking up speed, debris, and more dust as they went along.
The air was filled with dust, but at least we could see.  After hours of this,  we were ready to quit.  It was just four o'clock, and we thought we would be in good time to pick up a spot at the State Park outside Santa Rosa.  Nope.  No such luck.  We pulled in right after a truck pulling a big 5th wheel took the last spot.   O well.   Back to the drawing board.  The next nearest campground was on Route 66 just outside Santa Rosa.  (Route 66, in our humble opinion, is vastly over-rated these days as a tourist attraction.)   We found, you guessed it, another KOA campground.  This one had plenty of room and was a bit ramshackle, but hey, any port in a storm.  And a storm of wind it was.  It howled around our rig and when we tried to have supper outside in the sun, the wind ripped the plates and food right out of our hands and all over the ground, to Leo's great delight.  So we just sat in our camp chairs overlooking the rather barren landscape, and rested.  Well, John rested.  I took Leo for a long walk in the evening sunlight through a field of dusty gold grass.  
       You may have noticed in the pics posted above that while John is driving in one picture, he definitely is not in another  (he's napping) and it seems Leo is driving in still another.  Every time John leaves the Road Treck to get gas or whatever, Leo hops into his seat and when John returns, he has to be driven out.  But actually,  the Driver of the Day was neither John nor Leo, but that doggone Wind.  Whew!  The folks we chatted with in the campground agreed it was the worst they had driven through.   We were so exhausted, we went to bed around 8 pm and slept at least ten hours before heading off again, this time for someplace in Oklahoma.  Had we known what we were getting into.........but that's for tomorrow's blog!  
     One short philosophical reflection:  just in case we suffer the illusion that we are in the driver's seat of our life and can nicely control how the drive goes----an experience like this reminds us that the Wind of the Spirit blows where It wills, as Jesus once said, and that isn't always in the way we had planned!  And the smartest thing may not be to just drive ourselves on, wrestling with the wheel of attempted control, and buffeted by forces beyond our control.
Maybe stopping to rest, reconsider, and refresh is the best thing.  This is sometimes called a "retreat"--not quite the right word for what I am trying to say, but I am sure you get the drift.
So, if we are willing to wind down, we are not as likely to wind up being blown about to the point of exhaustion on the road of life.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

on the road again

After three days of packing, cleaning, and making arrangements for closing one place down and opening up the other, we finally pulled out of Sedona to start the long drive back to Michigan, but way too tired to go very far.  So we drove just a few hours, and stopped at the campground pictured below.  It was in Gallup, New Mexico.
The scenery around Gallup contains a lot of big red rock buttes, and reminds me of Sedona a little bit.  We had hoped to reach a state camp ground, but decided instead to pull into the first decent campground we could find.   It was already dark, and all we wanted to do was plug in and go to sleep.  Fortunately, our nice little Road Treck provided us with a heap more comfort than the wagon pictured above!  I just don't know how those hardy pioneers did it, bumping over endless miles of desert in wagons like these, or covered wagons if they were lucky. They endured hardship we can hardly imagine. What a hardy bunch!  We are all a bunch of softies by comparison.  If we were the ones who had to go settle the West, it might still be in the hands of the Native Americans.  Which would probably be a good thing!  
As it is, we were saddened, as we drove in the fading light, by piles of rubble, rusting cars, tumbling down shacks, and assorted "stuff"  lying around cluttering up what would otherwise have been a stark, yet beautiful landscape.  The little towns we went through were ugly too.
How sad that with no more money, but a little more love of beauty and imagination and effort, they could have been nestled into the landscape in a way that provided shelter and took advantage of the environment in a respectful way.  Poverty and ugliness are not necessary partners.  I have been in very poor villages in Africa and India where people had very little indeed, but their dwellings and villages were pleasing to the eye, and fitting in their environment.  Maybe someday people will remake those ugly towns, if they don't abandon them first.  Of course, campgrounds like the KOA we stayed at don't exactly contribute to the beauty of a place.  But they do provide a safe place with nice things like hot showers to make travel more pleasant.  And they sometimes even do a bit of decorating!
       The two statues are of the omnipresent Kokopelli, the legendary Native American trader and flute player who has become a tourist icon, but was once a symbol of the Hopi flute clan, I am told. They did add a certain kitsch like charm to the campground, along with the wagon, and the little statue of Liberty.  It was certainly an "Americana" experience!   
     After a good night's sleep, we headed out the next morning, intending to cover more miles and end up at a nice state campground near the town of Santa Rosa (love that name!) on the other side of New Mexico. The forecast was not too good---dangerous cross winds, dust storms.
More about that tomorrow!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Farewell Sedona Sunrise walk

My last morning in Sedona for at least six months.   I get up extra early so I have more time to watch the light dawn, and the sun slowly slip up behind the distant mountains.   I slip on Leo's leash, take up my bear staff, and begin our walk.   So many memories of the many sunrise walks we have taken fill my mind, I have to make a special effort to focus on here and now---to take in the changing light, the shadows, my shadow.   I am choosing to believe that the imprint of my presence in the beautiful places I have walked so often with my heart singing and full of gratitude will be more lasting than my shadow!  Yet,  the truth is that our lives are like shadows in the landscape, constantly changing with the terrain and the light, and as swiftly fleeting.   Nevertheless, they are part of a larger Mystery and Divine Pattern and Beauty which we can only glimpse as we live the moments of our lives.   
      On this morning, I take pictures of my shadow and the shadows of the trees, rocks, and plants, and then sit under a great Grand Mother Cedar tree that stands on the banks of Dry Creek.  Once more, I play my flute as the sun comes up.  Once more, I lean back against the great tree and feel its energy blending with mine, and its strength and support--physical expressions of God's strength and support every day of my life.  
       I will carry the memory of this sacred land and these special hours out in it with me, and will look forward to the time when I can once again take a Sedona Sunrise walk.  
      Until then, there will be beautiful walks on the beach of Lake Michigan, and many times of sunset prayer,  balancing the sunrise prayer:  Beauty at the beginning and the end of each day and of life.  Gerard Manley Hopkins' lines come to mind: "Give Beauty, beauty, beauty back to God, Beauty's Self and Beauty's Giver."  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

the mystery of time and home

Its hard for us to believe, but we are now on the eve of departure from Sedona.   The months we have been here have been captured in many pictures, some of which I have shared on this blog.
Yet, the pictures are just little glimpses of the treasure house of memories of our time here.
We will carry those memories with us, and they will continue to do their alchemy in our souls.
The little place perched high on a hill we call home here will continue to house many of those memories, and it will be good to imagine this special heart space waiting for us when we return next winter.  
But now our hearts are turning towards our home in Michigan.  How blessed we are to be able to live in two such beautiful places, and to be able to enjoy the company of friends and family in them both.   Sedona and Saugatuck/Douglas are so very different.  Yet beauty and love tie them together in our hearts.  
     As we pack up, clean up, and make all the necessary arrangements for closing down one place and opening up the other, we remind ourselves, when it all seems a bit much, that this is what goes with the privilege of having two places we call home. 
      I look around me at this place, and it is so vivid and real.  Michigan seems so far away and in some ways unreal.   Yet I know that in a a little more than a week, it will be just the opposite.  I will be back into life in Michigan, and looking out at the Great Lake instead of the valley and red rock mountains.   And our life here will seem almost like a dream, or another world.  
      Many sages remind us that life really is much like a dream.   Places and events and patterns of daily life slip through us and merge into the river of life now behind us in a past we can only touch through memory.  Every moment quickly passes.   Life cannot be grasped and held, it can only be lived as fully as we can, one moment at a time.   Many people our age  (that would be the senior stage of life!) agree that as we draw closer to the end of our years on this planet,  that river of life seems to flow more and more swiftly towards that great waterfall at the end that plunges into Life Eternal.  Yet, that Life Eternal is mysteriously present in each "Now"  as well.  It is the Divine Presence which is our true home, wherever we live.  And for me, that Presence is experienced most intensely in Beauty and Love.

Monday, April 20, 2009

sunday afternoon

I don't know if you have any thing you often do on Sunday afternoons.   
One thing I have never done on a Sunday afternoon is to visit a beautiful Buddhist stupa in a stunning natural setting.  That is just what I did yesterday (Sunday afternoon) with family and friends.   
Although I grew up in India, and visited Buddhist stupas there, I didn't know their meaning and significance then.  I learned, from a brochure and sign at the site,  that stupas are rare here in the West, and it is considered great good fortune to be able to actually visit and see one.  Every stupa is filled to the brim  (and this, as you see in the picture, is a big one!)  with scrolls on which mantras and prayers are written,  sacred relics and objects, blessings from lamas (Buddhist holy men)  etc.   Once the stupa is filled with all of this, it is sealed up, but the energy of the prayers and sacred objects radiates out from the stupa into the world, and is especially beneficent to those who come to the stupa in a spirit of prayer and reverence.   Of course, as at all sacred sites, some people come with no sacred intention, and simply as tourists or out of curiosity.   As with most things in life,  your intent and focus shapes what you experience, and you get out of it what you put into it.   I don't believe there is anything is any building or object in and of itself, which has sacred power.  It is the faith, the belief, the intent of the human heart which imbues it with whatever power and blessing is experienced.    I don't believe that there are only certain places or buildings or objects that are sacred.   Rather,  those considered sacred point to the larger truth that everything created by God is sacred.   But most of us humans need to be reminded of this by learning to cultivate a spirit of reverence and prayer with respect to specific days, places, or objects so that we can grow into the larger spirit of seeing the sacred in all of life.   
      I must confess that walking around the stupa and the grounds, hearing the hundreds of colorful prayerflags fluttering in the breeze, and seeing the beauty of the architecture and the lovely statue of the Buddha overlooking the stupa helped me see the surrounding red rock landscape with a fresh perspective.  Whoever chose the site for this Buddhist stupa knew what they were doing!  
      I suggest that you consider an occasional visit to a sacred site revered by people of one of the world's wisdom traditions some time, and see how it might expand and feed your soul.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Here I am again, after more than a week away from my blog.   I have been to Los Angeles and back since my last blog, visiting my daughter Rachel and my brother Ron and his wife Gail.
Friends are here visiting us this week.   I have discovered that when I am immersed in spending time with people,  writing takes a back seat.   However, now that I am back home here in Sedona, if any of you are still checking my blog, I will once again write it more regularly.   Don't give up on me!  

Yesterday I took our friends Joey and Laurel to a lovely nearby retreat center called Angel Valley.  It is located in a valley surrounded by mountains---four, to be exact.  There is one mountain in each of the four major directions, and they are named for four major archangels of Christian tradition;  Michael (east), Raphael(south) Uriel(west) and Gabriel(north).   I see a parallel in the Native American tradition of the Spirits of the Four Directions, which are often symbolized by animals or birds: for example,  Eagle for the East,  Coyote for the South, Bear for the West, and Buffalo for the north.   Different tribes, of course, have different creatures as their symbols for the directions.  But what all these traditions have in common is the universal human experience of feeling certain power, or qualities, in each of the four directions.  Think of it for yourself.  What comes to mind, and what do you feel, when you face or ponder "north?" 
east? west? south?    Up above?  down below?  within?   Its also kind of fun to associate flowers, trees, animals, birds, and certain virtues with the directions.   Its a good way to integrate qualities and virtues you would like to have in your life with things from nature you naturally resonate with.   For instance,  the eagle represents, for me,  keen sight and insight, vision, seeing the big picture, and flying high.  It naturally symbolizes the east, the direction of dawn, new light, illumination, wisdom, and the like.  
      Speaking of light, back to angels!   It is fascinating to realize how universal the belief in angels is in various religions and cultures.  They may have other names:  devas,  spirits,  jinn,  etc.  but they seem to be a regular feature of human imagination and experience.  Angel Valley focuses on them,  and offers suggestions for exploring their presence in one's life.  There is, for instance, a beautiful very large Angel Wheel, divided into twelve equal sections, one for each of twelve angels. Each of their names ends in "el" or "shining one."  So, am I seeing angels when I see light?  H-m-m-m-m  
After spending a day in Angel Valley,  I am much more aware of angelic presences, which for me mediate the One Presence and Power of The Holy Spirit, The Light of God,  in my life and all life.  And I am pondering again the traditional Christian teaching that each of us has a guardian guiding angel with us throughout our lives.  In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, there are beautiful prayers to this angel.  Is this angel another way of symbolizing our soul or spirit, our divine essence?
Or does it have its own separate personality and being?   Why do angels play such a large part in the Bible?  in other traditions?  Who or what are they, really?   I have a lot more questions than answers.  
What are angels to you?


Monday, April 6, 2009

temple making

I recently attended a workshop here in Sedona  with the theme of "temple making."  The leader made an intense study of ancient sacred sites and temples all over the world, and what elements they have in common, which helps understand the effect they have on people who go to them, especially for spiritual purposes, like pilgrimages. 
I found his discoveries very interesting.  I now understand more clearly why, as we have travelled to many places all over the world, I am always drawn to spend as much time as I can in local cathedrals, mosques, shrines, temples, etc.   Silva's explanation (he was the leader of the workshop)  of how such places are constructed to take advantage of locations that have a special energy, or, as the Irish might say, "where the veil between worlds is thin," was quite compelling.  One of the elements of such places is what is called "Sacred Geometry," which goes back many many centuries.  Now geometry is not my forte.  I didn't do so well in geometry in highs chool, and avoided it in college.  I wish now I hadn't.  Education is often wasted on the young!  Be that as it may,  I now find it fascinating.  It turns out that geometric shapes, like the tetrahedon, spiral, and sphere are the very "stuff"  of the created universe, essential building blocks, as it were.  And it also turns out that I/we resonate very differently with different shapes.  F. Silva knows this, because he spent years in the advertising world working with design, etc. and how it affects the human psyche.   We feel quite different in a round room than in a square room than in a pyramid, for example.   Why?  That's the intriguing question.  No, I don't have THE answer. But we did get some clues in the workshop. And we also got some pointers for intentionally creating sacred space in the places we live, indoor or outdoor, by using a basic knowledge of the elements of ancient sacred space.
       This brings me back to my early childhood.  One of my earliest memories  (my mother remembers this quite well)  is of my sitting on the floor of a room in our house in Lahore, Pakistan, making a copy of the tabernacle in the wilderness, using a diagram in a Bible story book we had,  and some small wooden blocks that fit together to make whatever shapes one desired.  How interesting that all these years later, that childhood activity is taking place again in my life, on an adult level.  It does, I find, feel like "Holy Play," and it expresses the fascination with the sacred, the numinous, and the idea of a dwelling place for God on earth that is quite universal in the worlds religious traditions.  
      Today, I was reflecting on how the house we live in here, and the one in Michigan, are really temples too, if that is how I see them, and intend for them to be.   That has a host of implications which I may explore on a later blog, and which you are free to explore any time.
Of course,  the most important truth is that each of us is, as the Good Book says, "a temple of the Holy Spirit."  Or, as the popular praise song puts it, "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and precious, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for You."
    So, in case you had forgotten who/what you are,  remember you are "A Living Sanctuary," a "walking talking temple of the Living God."   Awesome!  AMEN

Sunday, April 5, 2009

what's blooming in your life?

In the high desert country out here in the Sedona area of Arizona, the flowers of spring are beginning to bloom.   The little white ones you see in this picture are anemones, I am told.  Look at the rocky place they are growing.   As I walk outside in the desert these days, there are many beautiful flowers blooming---more of them every day.   It still startles me a bit to see them in what looks like such unlikely if not impossible places for flowers to bloom.  
      This experience has me reflecting on what has bloomed and is blooming in my life in unexpected and unlikely ways.  You might want to reflect on that with respect to your life too.   In my life, as in the desert out here, there are "wildflowers"--- I have no idea how they got started, or how they manage to flourish in this environment, but there they are.  I think of my playing the Native American flute as an example.
Where did that desire come from?  How and why is it flourishing in my life at this time and place?  My only musical training has been on the piano, and that was a long, long time ago!
It certainly gives me the same thrill of joy as seeing the beauty of wildflowers blooming among rocks.  Maybe that's all I need to understand.
       And then there's my recently blooming fascination with crop circles.  Where did that come from?  What seeds and soil brought this fascination into flower?   I did not do well in geometry in highschool, and avoided all math in college.  And crop circles are very much about "sacred geometry."  Again,  the only thing that makes sense to me is that they are radiantly beautiful, and beauty attracts me.   Especially if there is an element of mystery in it.  
       Maybe the important thing is not to figure out why, but to just be grateful for, and enjoy, what is flowering in my life right now.   I have the feeling that the more attention I pay to what is flowering, the more "flowers" I will realize are blooming in my life.  That seems a particularly fitting thing to become aware of in the spring.   

Friday, April 3, 2009

A mermaid in my shower?

I have the pleasure of enjoying the beauty of this mermaid watching over me as I take my bath or shower.   It was a gift from a friend.  I smile and think of her whenever I see it.   I am reminded that one of the delights of life can be the unexpected and quirky.  Deliver me from the routine and conventional, except in small doses!  
I have always been a lover of myths and fairytales, from early childhood on. The idea that a mermaid might visit me in my shower keeps me connected to that child like sense of wonder and openness to possibilities that the grown up world of our culture usually dismisses as nonsense.  
     That's why I also have pictures of crop circles on my kitchen cupboards here in Sedona.
(If you haven't heard of crop circles, google 'em")
     And in Michigan, my kitchen cupboards have painted on them figures from my imagination, which enliven the atmosphere considerably!  
     When I go hiking, I sometimes feel that there are invisible spirits along the way, and sometimes my camera catches them! (see picture above)
      When I was in Egypt, I took a picture on the night of my birthday from the balcony of our hotel, from which I could see the pyramids, which were faintly lit and visible in the distance.
I got a lot more than pyramids on the picture!"  Light beings," is what a friend of mine calls them.  What do you think?
     There are those who believe that a thin "veil" separates the physical dimension in which we live from other dimensions which are all around us, but usually not visible to our untrained senses.  The perspective of Native Americans and other Original Peoples world wide, is that physical "things" like animals, mountains, rocks, trees, insects, etc. etc. have a spirit within them, as do humans, and that one can learn how to see and interact with them.   Left brain western scholars sometimes dismiss this as "animism." I like the way poets and story tellers look at it.  One of my favorites isJ.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote a little book called "Everything is Alive."  I think he is right!  
     Little children, of course, live in this magical world of imagination, until it gets educated out of them in our society.  As I age, I am enjoying becoming a child again, and living in that magical world!  I like visual reminders that this world is a  mysterious place with many more dimensions than are normally recognized in our culture.  It is fascinating  experiencing it that way, and I like it when my camera catches glimpses of the mystery!  
Speaking of other dimensions,  my heart resonates with the lullaby I still sing to my grandchildren: "All day, all night, angels watching over you, my love."
Have you seen an angel lately?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

watch for the signs

     The other day, a friend and I were going to go hiking on the Broken Arrow Trail.  She had never been there, and I had last been there several years ago.  I remembered how magnificent it was, and I remembered there was a big sink hole there which locals had called "The Devil's Dining Room."  We both thought this was a negative and strange name for it, so we renamed it "Komwida's Kitchen."   Komwida pukwia, meaning Grandmother White Stone-with-great-stone-medicine-power, is the First Woman of Yavapai creation myth, which I have talked of in a former blog.  We thought honoring her by renaming the place we were eager to check out was a good idea.  We started out early in the morning, and decided that before we did our hike, we should have a good breakfast, because it promised to be a long one.  As we drove into the shopping mall where the breakfast place was we wanted to go to, lo and behold!  there was a big sign, as you see in the picture above. "Kitchen Konnection."   We both laughed and took a picture, seeing it as an interesting synchronicity telling us we were going on the right track with our plans. ( Our hike proved to be a wonderful one, and I am including a couple pictures of it, one of them being "Komwida's Kitchen.")
     If you stop and reflect, you can probably remember similar "co-incidences" in your life, maybe considerably more major than this one.  Maybe not.  The point is that its a useful spiritual practice to be alert for synchronicities in our lives.  If this is a meaningful and essentially benevolent universe  (God is so good!) which I choose to believe, then it makes sense that we would be receiving lots of help and guidance if we want it, ask for it, and then look for the signs of it.  It's interesting.  Since I have been out here, I have found myself becoming far more alert to the signs.  I can tell you, it makes life more fun, more exciting, more interesting, and more rewarding.  It gives me a feeling of being "in the flow,"  and it makes me much more aware of the Guiding Presence of a loving God who cares about my life and my choices, even the small ones.  
     I think of the wonderful old story of the Exodus, which tells us that the people of Israel were led through the desert by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  For forty years, they were guided through trackless wilderness in this way.  A hymn I love celebrates this in the following words. "God's banner is o'er us, God's love goes before us, a pillar of fire shining forth in the night, 'till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished, as forward we travel from light into light. "   YES!   And even little "signs and wonders"  can be that guiding pillar for us, if just have the eyes to see it.