Saturday, November 29, 2008

A quick story about grace

I’m enrolled in the Masters/ PhD program at Wisdom University in San Francisco. It's a wonderful school, offering degrees in all the things Ive longed to major in all of my life but could never find in “regular “ school

The faculty include: Stanislav Grof, Angeles Arrien, Richard Tarnas, Caroline Myss, Paul Ray, Sam Keen, Alex Grey, Jean Houston, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Rupert Sheldrake, Gabrielle Roth, Lynn Bell, Diane Berke… and on and on…

Just reading through the program offerings--Wisdom Studies, Personal Transformation, Sacred Activism, Women’s Spirituality—is, for me, like taking a bath in grace. There has never been anything more resonant with my sense of mission. And yet, it’s expensive and money’s been tight and this year, I’d had to withdraw from two classes.

At first I was okay about it. But as the dates for the classes I'd be missing drew nearer, I'd been feeling kind of down, not depressed or even sad, just a little down about not being able to attend. And somewhere in there, I prayed, real quietly: Please help me figure this out. If I can get there, I’d like to be there. If not, help me feel at peace about it.

Two days later, I got an email from the president of the school: We have to take care of each other in times like this. He wrote. We want you to be there. Whatever it takes—scholarship, payment plan—ask and we will help you. In his email, he wished my husband well, accidentally calling him MIKE, not Matt, which is my husbands name. I laughed feeling like this must be a a little wink from Archangel Michael.

With tears in my eyes ,I wrote back, accepting the offer to find a payment I could manage. He referred me to call the registrar and, as it was late Friday afternoon, I promised to call her on Monday.

Saturday morning, Katie and I set off for a college visit. We were crossing the bridge across the Hudson River when I remembered this story and began to tell it to her; and, just as I said the name "Archangel Michael," my cell phone rang!

Wow! Katie said. I wonder who THAT is.
"This is Angela from Wisdom University!" the Registrar said. Eyes wide, I looked at Katie, who listened as chills running up my spine, I told her about her synchronous phone call and we made arrangements.

"I'm going to California!" I said, as I hung up the phone.
"Mommy," my daughter said. "Did you notice that woman's name? It was ANGEL-A."

See this is what happens… and I didn't miss the symbolism of the bridge in this story either. Bridges, in dreams, literature and film analysis, always symbolize the passage from one state to another. That phone call came literally on the bridge to transformation. (For me and my daughter, who discovered, a few hours later, the college she would fall in love with and want to attend)

Isn’t life amazing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gratitude and Gratefulness

Everyone's talking about gratitude this time of year. As this first holiday launches us into the month-long season of lights, food and family -- life takes on a kind of glow. We link back to earlier, warmer memories--though for many people, this nostalgic feeling is a bit of a fabrication; wrought more from old TV shows-Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, The Cosby Show--than our own real experience of the holidays.

This year, Im determined to change that--to create a holiday season that celebrates all the blessings in my life NOW. A holiday that doesn't impose impossilbe expectations onto a messy day of imperfect encounters but celebrates them instead... accepting and loving each thing that happens AS IS.

That's what this year, and these holidays are about for me now.

Of course, I will remember...
Uncle David standing at the head of the table with his carving knife, cousins assembled along the table in Great Neck (at our house) or Schenectady (at Uncle Vernon's) or whatever restaurant Aunt Elaine has chosen when its her turn to host the annual family feasat. I remember fondly, and hungrily, my mother's brussels sprouts in brown butter, her cranberry orange relish and Aunt Esther's Foolproof Apple Cake. Remembering, I grow nostalgic for those family feasts my family built, and then, when children grew, and all went our separate ways, abandoned.

Holidays do this--bring to mind old friends, dear family members -- the parents who sheltered and raised us, the siblings with whom we wrestled, shared secrets and ganged up on those parents, the cousins who knocked us off the back of our grandmother's sofa (I am talking to you, Laura!). We remember those we've lost and those we have depended on all these years to "be there" for us. It's a time to remember, to remind ourselves of the ways that perhaps we might be more "there" for them.

But holidays also give us the chance, every single year. to make new memories--better memories. Holidays are a time when even if we don't say grace, grace is present. In truth, it's there every day. But during the holidays, we make the time to notice and say, "Thanks," through prayer or simply through appreciation of all the blessings of our lives--and that gives the holidays a little extra oomph, a little extra magic, a little more potential to move us toward being a little more aligned with what we REALLY care about.

This year I feel doubly--triply--blessed by our new President Elect and the vision with which he speaks, the invitation he offers to participate more fully in civic life (perhaps we are all now "community organizers"?); and the gratefulness (and blessed relief) of his leadership. Because of this brilliant, hopeful man, my 17-year-old daughter said to me: "I am so proud to be an American. I never knew what that meant before." This year, I am grateful, deeply, for that.

In that spirit-gratitude and hopefulness--I am adding two new practices to my Thanksgiving routine.

First, I am giving thanks for the jumble of feelings that come this time of year. Holidays are not easy. Old hurts are renewed as we're reminded of "that thing" a relative or friend always pulls; the way that one particular person always manages to hog the conversation or the sweet potatoes or the attention of the person we wanted to talk with. This year, I'm giving thanks for the people who "push my buttons" for they are mirrors, sent by grace (oh, yes they are!) to remind me of the places where I am not perfect (and may even be a little bit annoying) myself.

Second, I'm going to begin Thanksgiving Day with gratitude--for the joy of welcoming Max home from college, the pleasure I will take in preparing my contribution to the feast at my sister in law's home. (Green salad with pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta) I will be grateful for the car trip with my family--and even the traffic (Oh, bless the darn traffic, too!).

This year, I will sit at the table with my husband's big, loud family--and my quiet mother, whom they've so graciously swept into their fold and as I try really hard not to eat (too many) carbs, I will attempt to feel gratitude as long as I can--for the earth that gave us the food we'll enjoy, for the people who love and include me in their lives, for the people I cherish and all they bring to mine. I will give thanks to God and to the infinitely supportive universe in which I live each day. And when I climb into bed, I will end the day with gratefulness, the state of expectant "thank you", arms wide open for all that is yet to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!