Bearing Witness

The more we can bear witness to another’s sacred story, the more we can heal each other and the world.” –Nicole Duenow, Healing House

It was a dark and gloomy night (not outside, but in the very depths of my soul). In the back seat of a car, abducted by strangers with my three-year old daughter, my mind raced to process what was happening and what would become of us. I engaged my captor in conversation to try and discern his motives, our destination, our chances. I knew our lives were on the line. As much as I had faith in God, I knew that many others, far more worthy than we, had perished without divine intervention. Oscar Romero came to mind. If God had not stepped in to save such a saint, I knew we had no guarantee.

Blindfolded, I could not look deeply into my captor’s eyes, read his face, his fears, his intentions, so I searched deeply in my heart, reached depths deeper than I knew existed, and found that place where we are all equals, divine creatures, that place called namaste. From that place I could see my captor through God’s eyes, listen deeply to his own story of woundedness and unexpectedly find these words: “I know why God allowed this to happen to us—it’s because He wanted you to know how much he loves you.” The spell was broken. I had stumbled upon the key that ultimately set us free from our would-be prison. At that moment, my captor’s motivation faltered, and together we began to plan how he could release us.

That experience forever changed me, in ways both powerful and devastating. When it mattered, I was able to connect deeply with love. In the ensuing years, I have also had to contend with panic, terror, fury and depression, all different facets of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. My journey to recapture the pieces of my spirit that were injured in that assault has taken over twenty years, and is not yet complete. My daughter, now a son, struggles with demons of his own, as do his brothers, who have been indirectly impacted by that event through my struggles with mental illness.

And yet we are so blessed. Life continues, and is full and good. My grandson, now four, son of that sweet little child who survived the unthinkable alongside me, is at that stage where he’s trying out new superheroes on a daily basis. He is endowed with infinite superpowers, and is forever engaged in galactic battles, sword fights and other impressive adventures.

“Grandma, what’s your superpower?” he asks me one day as we play together. It takes me a while to find my answer—I don’t usually think of myself as a superhero gifted with magical powers. After a moment it comes to me: “Love”, I tell him, a little bit surprised at my answer.  “My superpower is love.” In a rather disgusted, somewhat condescending voice he replies: “Grandma, you can’t kill with love.”

And suddenly I am transported back to that unforgettable night and remember. Remember and understand. That key that opened the door to set us free? Its name was love. It was love that saved our lives. It has always been my prayer that love may, in some unknown way, have saved our captor’s life too. And it is my greatest joy that after nearly thirty years, love has helped my wounded spirit find its way back home.


My Tribe

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us all work together.”

An Aboriginal Australian Woman, quoted in “How Coffee Saved My Life” by Ellie Roscher

Who knew? One of the unexpected bonuses of blogging is getting to read other people’s amazing writing. I found this piece today, and it has left me so much the richer.

It’s like raising children–that thing that nobody told you, you often learn as much, or more, from your children than you can ever possibly hope to teach. It’s humbling, it’s glorious–It’s the unexpected, and perhaps undeserved, gift.

I write because I love to write, because I can’t not write, I started blogging because I hoped to have something to say that might resonate with others. And, wonder of wonders, after searching for years in all the wrong places, I have stumbled into my tribe, my village. I have found my people. I have come home.



Spiritual Memoir

“THREE QUALITIES MAKE the genre of spiritual memoir unique: the spiritual writer uncovers, probes, and honors what is sacred in his or her life story; the writing process itself is a means to spiritual growth; and the end product makes the experience of the sacred available to the reader…

Every spiritual memoir reaches into mystery, attempting to place human life in a broad sacred context. Your task as a writer is not to shy from the unknown but to interact with it, to stretch your hand forward into the abyss. This is the second distinguishing attribute of spiritual memoir: The writing itself becomes a means for spiritual growth. Often the writer stumbles on this strange occurrence mid draft, discovering that the writing itself is an avenue for prayer, a means of wrestling with angels, or a form of contemplation.”

From: Writing the sacred journey: the art and practice of spiritual memoir, by Elizabeth J. Andrew

Writing helps me understand my spiritual journey–what tools help you make sense of yours?

Rest Stop

I’m halfway across Michigan, a third of the way to my second destination on what will prove to be a 3,600-mile road trip. I spent a good, long weekend with my son, watching the sun set over Lake Michigan, hiking, napping, playing mini-golf, and in between helping him get ready for summer study in Liverpool. I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time—the sad part is, I’m still uptight!

My stomach is tied in so many knots, the sea scouts would be proud! Square knots, slipknots and half hitches—they’re all in there. I left later than intended this morning, and am headed to my sister’s home just north of Pittsburgh. I am making good time, when a rest stop sign comes into view.

I (i.e. my bladder) do NOT need to stop at the moment; my soul, however, whose voice is getting harder to ignore, tells me in no uncertain terms that it is definitely time to “GET OFF THE ROAD. NOW!” Ok, ok, I get the message. Against my “better” judgment (the part of me that wants to make up for lost time) I grumpily make the exit.

I park the car and ask myself: “Ok, so NOW what?” I notice there’s an empty picnic table sitting in the shade. I get the sense that I need to write, to do some soul searching, or rather, some soul emptying. I take myself to the picnic bench, plop down with my journal, and take a look inside my knotted stomach.

And horror of horrors, it’s like a DUMPSTER in there! All this old, broken-down leftover junk, floating in a pool of toxic soup. Somebody forgot to take it to the dump!

Maybe I don’t have to “work through” all of it? Can I perhaps just get rid of it? Dump it off a cliff somewhere, bury it in a landfill, or maybe plug my nose and call in roto-rooter to suck out the sludge? I know the only way through is through, but is there a difference between taking a shortcut and just wallowing in the bad stuff?

AbruptIy, I get an image of an old man shining a lantern into the dumpster, shedding light on its contents. And I suddenly realize there might be some treasures hidden among all this old clutter and toxicity. If I simply give it the old heave-ho, I might throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, and what’s the use of a clean bathtub if I’ve thrown out its most precious contents?

There just seems to be so much nasty stuff in here as well—it looks like a daunting, if not insurmountable, task. Yet, I know at some level, at the level that’s a little older, wiser, and a few steps further along the journey than the rest of me, that, like eating an elephant (one bite at a time) or taking a journey of 10,000 miles, (starting with just one step) this task, too, must be undertaken slowly, painstakingly, piece by piece by piece.

All my life I’ve been straining toward whatever’s next, whatever is just beyond my reach. Surely I’ll learn life’s lessons, become mature, get my act together and THEN, magically, everything will flow and make sense, and I’ll be able to be truly happy.   But today I’ve learned something important. Life isn’t like school—we don’t graduate and THEN practice our profession. In life, every day’s a school day. There are lessons to be learned right to the very end. This I have learned this year from the passing of our fathers.

It’s taken me fifty-some years, but how liberating to finally understand that my goal in life is not to become a perfect person, but rather to figure out how to be fully human, wholly and unabashedly ME, warts and all, whoever she may be.

And I suspect, that if and when I finally do get to the bottom of my dumpster, separate the junk from the treasure, the wheat from the chaff, liberate the gold from the dross, then, and only then, will I receive my diploma and a roadmap for the next leg of the journey, the transition from life on earth into eternity.

My soul is done emptying for today. I climb in my car, pull back onto the highway, and head for Pittsburgh. I’ll be a little late, but it will be ok.




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