Monday, January 26, 2009

'Praise Song For Walking Forward In That Light'

Oh, what a week this has been! An African-American man has become the 44th President of our country.

While much has rightly been made of this historic event, I continue to be drawn to the story behind the story. How did this happen? What changes came to our national consciousness that allowed this feat to occur and with such relative ease?

Obviously, Obama himself is a man unique. He possesses the intellectual vigor to properly perceive our challenges, and the verbal acuity to convey them in terms that inspire. And in his method of doing so, he demonstrates as well an extraordinary steadiness and a remarkable depth of character.

It has been a very long time since we have been offered a leader with such a rare combination of qualities. This is fact.

But it was we who listened, and we who are listening still.

In his Inaugural Address, Obama told us that, “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them~~that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

I know that Obama was not speaking to those cynics who reside somewhere out there. He was speaking to the cynic who lives still within my heart and yours. 

We all have them. These internal pessimists believe in scarcity, assume strife, cling to the idea that we stand apart and alone.

However, I disagree with my president on one point. These cynics of ours have felt the earth shift.

They have seen it in the eyes of folks gathered in D.C to make history, 1.9 million huddled peacefully together against the frigid January temperatures.

They gather it from news polls showing that, in the midst of such difficult times and even among those who did not vote for Obama, Americans are hopeful about his presidency and our future.

They feel it in the softening of divisions among us and in our response to Obama's call that we “embody a spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater” than ourselves.

This is the story behind the story: this man of unique talents has inspired us to listen to our higher selves, despite the rumblings of fear.

We believe his words that, “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea…that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

Certainly our cynics have felt this shift in consciousness. I don't, though, believe that they will abandon mistrust so easily. We will hear their clamor in our response to news stories in the weeks to come. We will sense them, too, amid our personal challenges during these difficult times.

How shall we respond?

In her Inaugural poem, Praise Song For the Day, whose closing line is the title for this column, Elizabeth Alexander suggests that, “the mightiest word is love…love that casts a widening pool of light.”

Let us walk forward into that shimmering pool, and bring our fearful critics with us. Perhaps then they will feel free to shrink a bit. At the very least, we can vow to no longer let them run the show.

And to echo the words of civil rights leader, Reverend Joseph Lowery, in his Inaugural benediction, perhaps to that we can all, “say amen…say amen…and amen!”


Loanne Marie

For other essays regarding this election year, see Praying With My Feet, Be The Change, A Shift In Consciousness, and An Open Letter To McCain Supporters.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wide-Eyed Amid Brilliance

The clock chimes a little past four. I rise from my narrow bed, dress quickly, and step into the frigid air. The half moon has long since set, but the light of a thousand stars illuminates the path. Only occasionally do I flash my small light to distinguish the white of the plowed walkway from the thicker white at its edges. The only sound on the ten-minute walk is the steady crunch of my boots against snow. A deep stillness fills this bowl of a valley, and me with it.

I've come to the Trappist monastery at Snowmass for a writing retreat. I didn't realize when I registered that we would be permitted, even welcomed, into the periods of worship held throughout the day.

I arrive at the building that houses the chapel. The entrance brings me into the small bookstore, with its array of works from various contemplative traditions. I remove my gloves, coat, and scarf, and leave them here. As I wrap my shawl close against the cool air, a bell gently but clearly peals from the tower above, signaling that it is nearly time to begin.

I walk down the tiled hallway, open the wooden door, step into the chapel. Monks, in robes glowing white in the dim light, sit in prayer on the simple benches of this upper room. I sit, too, and my breath settles into an easy rhythm.

A monk rises behind me, robes shuffling, and pulls a rope that stretches to the belfry far above. Clapper strikes cast metal once, twice, three times. Silence returns. Morning vigil begins.

The monks rise together and descend the few steps to the main room of the chapel, taking their place in a semi-circle of chairs. Another extended silence.

And then, chanting.

Rich baritones rise and fall in monophonic song, resonant voices reverberating from unadorned walls. The fullness of the sound seizes me, carries me with it, until silence returns once more.

A monk rises, crosses to the corner, switches on a small lamp, and reads Psalm 108: My heart is ready, oh God: I will sing and will give praise, with my glory.

These words, intoned in this sacred place and moment, break through the confines of my small self. My heart is ready...and it bursts.

The previous afternoon, I had written of how the whiteness of fresh snow intensified the brilliance of the sun's rays and led me “to squint despite my hunger for just such a brightness.” These words return to me now, and I vow to not look away, no matter how vivid the radiance. As thoughts call out to me, I pay them no heed. I open again and again to the Light.

As the service continues, chanting, sacred readings, and silence weave together, and I am twined within them, vaguely aware at times of tears streaming down my cheeks.


I am home now. As these words flow through my fingers and onto the keyboard, I return to that small chapel in the northern mountains. I realize that events were configured in such a way during that weekend that I was able to open to something that is always present, ceaselessly available. I open once again now.

We don't have to travel to a monastery or rise at 4 a.m. We need only quiet ourselves and turn to face the brilliance. And try, as best we can, not to squint.

May you turn, wide~eyed, toward that radiance this day.


Loanne Marie

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Week Off

Hello there!

An incredible writers retreat, held at a Trappist monastery in the mountains, has led to a week's break in posting here. I will be back next week.

Until then,


Loanne Marie

Monday, January 5, 2009

Finding Acceptance Amid the Ugliness of Life

As every reader knows, perhaps from personal experience, our world is replete with horrors: children and adults violated by those who are supposed to love them; incapacitating injuries and illnesses; tragic deaths; abject poverty; war, genocide and other atrocities.

If such realities don't toss you into spiritual turmoil at times, your faith is stronger than most.

My gravest spiritual crisis came in the first years after graduate school when I worked in a program that specialized in the treatment of child sexual abuse. There is simply nothing like a 5-year-old rape victim to make one question one's spiritual beliefs.

As these children shared their experiences with me, I was carried into a full-blown spiritual storm that raged for many months, fueled by my inability to accept that such cruelty exists. Divine intercession seemed a lie, and I increasingly referred to myself as agnostic.

One day, though, something spontaneously shifted. I happened upon a line in a book stating that certain things are not ours to understand.

Hardly a novel concept, I realize. Yet as often happens when the timing is true, those few simple words penetrated my funk and entered my heart.

My outrage and confusion were based on the assumption that I should understand why life was as it was. Me, with this limited human brain. What arrogance!

Something within me relaxed in that moment, and a process began which ultimately transformed my life and my work.

I grew to acknowledge that while there may be nothing like a 5-year-old rape victim to make one question the existence of God, there is also nothing like witnessing her heal to reinforce that Spirit is ever available, if only we can open to it.

As I watched my small clients expand beyond their wounding in a way that could only be described as miraculous, I increasingly sensed an unfathomable Presence sharing the room with us. I learned to listen for and trust the guidance that was always available, ceaselessly flowing.

I was no longer paralyzed by those realities lying beyond my realm of understanding. More and more, I allowed my focus to be called instead to that which lived and breathed within my sphere of influence.

I learned to do what was mine to do and no more. I knew, too, that doing so was not the same as condoning the harm done, nor did it excuse me from working for societal change.

But there was more. My acceptance that there were things beyond my comprehension did not arrive with a passive resignation; it bloomed with an active reverence.

Nearly two decades after that pivotal moment, the not knowing which had previously tormented me, now inspires an awe of the vast Mystery that is the cosmos and the small part that is my own slice. I have come to embrace more fully the unknowns and ambiguities of life as evidence of the Divine expressed through the confines of human experience.

Today as I sit with clients of all ages, I am still touched by the pain of their experience. However, I also feel the Spirit that moves just below the surface and forever seeks a toehold to rise into our consciousness.

Each of us is continually presented with the raw material of a human life. As in any artistic endeavor, we are called to craft a thing of beauty from whatever comes our way.

This alone is our task. The rest is outside our jurisdiction.

I wish you well in making peace with life's ugliness and would love to hear about your efforts.


Loanne Marie