When I’m not writing, I am creating something else. Or in the case of this blog, I’m also creating as I type because I’m listening to new musicians (at least new to me). The world is big and our souls even larger. In addition to valuing the creative spirit, I believe in the power and value of learning from others.
There are many ways we can learn. For me, it’s a mixture of listening, reading, and doing. Though my hope was to finish a book about dogs before year’s end, I’ve gotten engaged in painting again. Also, I’m working to bring two CDs to fruition. One is ready for mastering and it’s a CD of English Country Dance music played on guitars. The second is going to be a surprise I will tell you about when it is further fleshed out. This video is a kind of hint…
Painting is not something that comes to me as easily as music or writing. As a result, it takes me a long time to paint. I’m better at sketching, but there’s something rewarding in painting that is similar to writing. Just as I enjoy the feel of pen to paper, the feel of a brush painting color and bringing a thought or expression into being is healing.
“As we listen more deeply to suffering, we begin to notice non-suffering. The heart realizes its innate courage, strength, and invincibility. This journey through pain and suffering burns away the impurities, and what is revealed is something pristine, clear, and beautiful, like a moonlit pearl: the tender, merciful heart, and its infinite ability to receive the cries of the world.”
The past year has been challenging as me and my dog, Birdie adjust to this new place and living without my wife…or ex-wife now. Divorce is hard on everyone. Moving is hard on the one who has to move. Death never gives us a break. Then, there’s always the world of politics. Everywhere we turn as humans, there’s something challenging happening even if others don’t always see what’s happening in our life.
I like the above comment because it speaks of the power of creativity. We can let the pain and suffering of life grind us to pieces, or we can be like a grain of sand and become something beautiful. To write this is not to spout Pollyanna crap. Life is just damn hard sometimes and I’m not going to make it sound like a positive attitude can make things turn out as we want. However, with a positive attitude and determination, we can make the best of a situation.
Not all of us can paint, sing, or play an instrument. That doesn’t mean we are not able to create something good out of the strife around us. Regardless of what life brings or what humanity does, we can all choose to be the best of self. Leo Buscaglia in his book, Love, says this: when we go to meet our creator, we won’t be asked why weren’t we the best artist, musician, mathematician, teacher etc. Instead, we will be asked, “why weren’t you the best you?” Don’t focus on perfection. Just be you.
Last week, I was invited to speak to students at Pfeiffer University about faith and sexuality on Tuesday evening. Then, on Wednesday morning, we talked about living the life of the beloved. The Francis Center for Student Leadership co-sponsored my talk with the Pfeiffer Chapel.
The events planned for that week were ones to address diversity. Yet, they were also about the meaning of being a beloved community. In talking with The Rev. Maegan Habich (HA-bick), we decided to focus on the text from 1 John 4:7-8
“Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and the one that loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love, knows not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.”
1 John 4:7-8 (paraphrase is mine)
I was pleased to discover that the Imam Atif from Charlotte was going to speak to the students about Islam. His talk was informative and one that helped all who were there to get a realistic view of what it means to be Muslim. If you would like to hear his talk on Islam, please visit the page on Robin’s Radio: Imam Atif and Food for the Soul
It was exciting to have the opportunity to hear an Imam talk. My friend, Cary and I joined the talk. Since my talk is readily available for everyone, I recorded the Imam’s talk on Tuesday instead of mine.
Pfeiffer’s campus in Misenheimer is set in a rural community and was the main campus when I was in college in the 80s. Now, the Charlotte Campus has grown exponentially and Pfeiffer is preparing to expand more into the local communities. As the university grows, the school continues to reach out to the surrounding community with the students. The new programs through The Francis Center are teaching the students the value and importance of knowing the diversity surrounding us and that they have something to offer the community.
My talk to the students on Tuesday evening dealt with the challenges of being a lesbian and a Christian. They had thoughtful and serious questions and comments. The next morning brought back copious memories of life at Pfeiffer. The college was a beloved community when I went there in the 80s. It is more beloved to me to know that they are reaching out to the community to embrace diversity. The video below is my talk.
‘When the powers of nature are the focus of your awareness and your thoughts, you come near to spirit, near to the source of all life. This is why most people love to walk in the woods or by the sea: they come close to the original source, and it is healing just to be in its presence. It cleanses you, brings peace of mind, touches your heart and brings you home to your soul.’
~ Chris Luttichau
The past few weeks I’ve been out of town. I was only gone for two weeks and it’s summer so I wasn’t worried about my condo. The dog went with me, so no worries about that either. Yet, here it is a week later and I’m still catching up on getting my home back in shape.
While gone, nature didn’t stop being nature. The bills and emails all those things that make up “daily life” at home, still happened. I don’t have a personal secretary (though my dog Birdie thinks she is my boss). There’s no maid that comes to clean.
I left my condo clean and in order so that when we came back, we could just pick right up where we left. My hosts and family allowed me to wash my clothing too so that when I got back, all I had to do was unpack. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? We go on a trip, have fun, see family and come home and everything works out perfectly. We might as well laugh at ourselves when we think anything in life works out perfectly.
Murphy’s Law is something most of us are taught at an early age. Yet, even at this age, I remain the idealist. If I plan it, it is so or will be so. No, that’s not really working for me for those who may ask. It means to continue facing disappointments. I remain hopeful nonetheless. Not hopeful that the world will turn as I plan or that life will stop with disappointments. My hope is in something hard to describe. Many call it faith.
As I write, my heart and mind are aware of the many who no longer want to talk about God or the church. It’s understandable because as a lesbian, there are those around me who still discuss my sinfulness. The irony of it all is how boring my life is when compared to most folks. That’s not to say we can’t be boring and commit sins. I just wonder how they know so much about the state of my soul.
Faith. We use the word willy-nilly at times in the Christian tradition. I say that because it’s one of those words all Christians are supposed to use. Perhaps we use it too quickly. One of my spiritual directors told me never to pray for patience or faith. We laughed about it because I had been praying for both. Why did she say what she did? Because in order to have patience, one has to learn to wait. In order to have faith, one must learn to endure trials.
Oddly enough, the writing that helped me embrace a more realistic way of looking at faith is Herman Hesse’s book, Siddhartha. If you’re curious, the link is an open source PDF for reading the book. I always prefer a real book rather than its electronic version. I like being able to hold it in my hand. That’s beside the point. What helped me look at my faith differently by reading the book happened BECAUSE it was outside of my tradition.
As I try to summarize what helped me in the book, I find that the BBC’s description of Buddhism best summarizes both the book and what I could see in Hesse’s writing:
“Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities.”
This sentence, in particular, strikes me,“…Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life.” This blog started out with a quote about nature and it’s because I think the natural world is one that best teaches about the blessings of
faith. A tree does what it does and it’s neither right nor wrong, but it just is a tree. The beauty of a tree reaching to the sky never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
Sometimes it seems that those of us who grew up in the church (and the South perhaps) think that if we have faith, nothing will go wrong in life. Some of the more fundamental Christian churches will preach that way. Perhaps it’s something that is the undercurrent in all of the churches in the South. I can’t speak for anywhere else.
Yet, we all know so many good people who have horrible things happen to them. Faith won’t make us be something else. Real faith as I now begin to see it means to accept what is and know that there’s a way through the trial. The way may not be fun and most likely won’t be pretty. When we have a community of loving and kind people, then we can have faith to get through the challenge.
In two or three weeks, life really threw me some curveballs. Nothing that means the end of the world for me, but there are trials with no clear way through. There are things happening to beloved family members and all I can do is be here and be me. I have no magic and I cannot take the pain of life away from them. It’s hard to watch someone you love suffer. My thoughts return to the tree. All we can do is remain a steadfast presence for those who need us.
Many of us know Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. I first heard of the book at some event in college. Some group was doing a skit of the story. I’ve read it and told the story many times throughout the years. I think of it when I walk among the wonderful trees in my neighborhood. There are many gifts the tree “gives” but the essence of the book throughout is the power of presence.
Faith does not try to make us something other than that which we are. As I talked with my priest about the challenges my family is facing right now, he said, “Just be you Robin. Just be you.” As my beloved aunt fades, my nephew and his wife walk through a dark valley, as my niece and her husband seek hope, I am helpless to DOanything. Yes, I can pray, but the larger part of praying is learning to BE PRESENT to the holy. Only once we are present can we know the act that is necessary.
Life is holy, sacred, and good. Yes, it can also be pernicious and in the worst of times, feel like hell. The power of presence is that our loving and kind presence can transform those hard times into gold. Not the gold we can sell, but the golden light of the soul. The light of the soul that comes from being present to yourself in life, being present to nature, being present to the Other.
Calling all heroes, it’s time to step up. At 57, I ask myself again, “What am I doing with my life?” It’s a question I’ve always asked myself and as a result, well, became rather results oriented. The first decision I made was in sixth grade. I was going to be a foreign missionary to India and teach music. I wanted to share the gift of church music in a foreign culture. From an early age, I was fascinated with India. Through Girls in Action (or G.A.s), I learned of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two main religions in India.
Though Hinduism was confusing to me with its copious list of gods, Buddhism sounded a lot like what Jesus taught to me. I was in elementary school at the time. Because I was supposed to see the “bad” in a religion that was not Christian, I did not tell anyone that I thought it very similar to Jesus’ teachings. I wasn’t sure how I would address it when the time came but was confident that God would guide me.
I went to college to study church music and music education. A pamphlet from the foreign mission board of the Southern Baptist church (where I was a member for that part of my life) pointed out the value of mission everywhere a person lived. As a result, I decided that I wanted to stay in church music in the US. I really didn’t want to be that far from my family.
Looking back, I can see that the idealist in me thought that somehow, I could play a part in saving the world. I’m using the word, “saving” in the manner more of saving a life from death than one of salvation. I was never a very good evangelist, even though I will quickly speak of all that God has done for me in this life. Free will. I want you to have it just as much as I want to have free will. Don’t tell me what to do and I won’t tell you what to do. You can see the challenges as you read that last sentence. The world is full of people who want to tell us the “right” way to live without any thought to the person in front of them. It always seems like we know better what is best for the other. In fact, nothing is farther from the truth.
Happiness happens when you fit with your life, when you fit so harmoniously that whatsoever you are doing is your joy. ~ Osho
We set goals that are formulated by our jobs, our faith community, or those around us never contemplating the implication our actions and choices may have on society at large. We are only a small part in the community, right? How can what I do affect the larger world? Many laughed at me when I chose idealistic paths and some may laugh at me still; calling me naive in the ways of the world.
What if those of us who are idealists are not naive, but prophetic instead? What if those who seek a common good for the world see the larger picture? What are you doing with your life? Are you living to be the best YOU that is possible? I can’t be you. I don’t have your talents, gifts, stature, power. You don’t have mine. And as small as I feel sometimes, there is always something happening in the world to remind me of the privilege I DO have. Here it must be admitted that there are times I am prone to pity parties. No one comes but me, so it’s never any fun. Then, always, God steps in and reminds me all that I do have and the blessings that have abounded in my life and I end up thankful and humble. Perhaps this is not unique to me and you too suffer in such a manner.
What we need to be reminding each other is that we are not alone? No matter what is happening in the world, we are here as presences. Presences that can change lives. When heroes are asked of their inspiration, it is almost always some humble person living a life of integrity that inspires the hero to become heroic.
Did I want to be a hero? You bet I did. At the time I wanted to be Batman. The “Robin” we grew up on was a dork. I never wanted to be a damsel in distress. Hell, I never wanted to be a damsel or a girl, though it felt better to be a woman than a girlchild; as though I had some kind of power. To be a woman is to hold power, but what kind of power? Our society is full of imagery that denigrates women and shows them as the weaker of the two genders. As many are beginning to address, gender is more fluid than a marking of genitals. Power is something that a human being fosters deep in the soul. There is power that is given because of birthright or wealth or politics, but true power is more than that.
True power comes from the center of one’s soul and is unique to each individual. When the lowly shepherd, David, was born, he was endowed with a power that God needed. This wasn’t something the parent or society gave the child or the growing boy. Yet, it was something God identified within the youngest child of Jesse. Once anointed, this small shepherd boy brought down a giant with his power. It wasn’t the power of an army or birthright, but the power of belief in his God-given abilities.
It was David’s belief in his shepherd’s ability to aim true that brought Goliath down. Saul’s entire army had been fighting against this giant with all their might. David brought the giant down with a stone because of his talent as a shepherd, not his talent as a warrior.
In our world, we have many giants we face. The giant may be a lifelong goal yet unachieved, or it may be merely a hurdle or mountain to cross in life. The political landscape of our world is in upheaval and it is unclear at times who or what to believe. Now is the time to claim your power. Now is the time that God calls upon all lowly sheepherders to embrace the goodness that you are and aim true.
Don’t try to be like someone else. David tried on Saul’s armor and it was bulky and made it hard for the young boy to maneuver. Saul could not have been David and as a result, Saul later tries to kill David out of jealousy. Perhaps we are like Saul and are older. It is time to step aside and allow the young warriors and young musicians to lead life to a better place. It doesn’t mean that we no longer have value, only that our power is shifting.
There is beauty in every moment of life. Embrace your current moment. What are you feeling now? What are your sure of NOW? Can you be kind to the person next to you? Then be kind. Can you lift up another’s spirit? Then be a light. Are you called to be a warrior when no one else is? Then choose to be a warrior with integrity.
The muses have been busy in my life. In addition to music, I’ve been busy writing. There are sketches too, but nothing I’m willing to share. For a while, it was overwhelming how fast things were coming to me. Trying to keep up with the creative flow while also trying to promote my new novel made it hard to decide where to focus for 2019.
After some time considering the next step in my writing journey, I’ve decided that I will be working on a book about dogs. The title is nothing fancy right now and so I’m not going to type it out. It may sound disappointing if you know its title is so um….not catchy.
Here is something really exciting I want you to know, however. The new book cover is going to be created by one of my favorite photographers, Pat Thomas. I met Pat while living in Sylva. Her wife bought City Lights Cafe and together they are making Sylva a fun place to be. While Bern keeps busy feeding people, Pat keeps busy encouraging dog owners and helping people find lost pets. She also helps everyone celebrate pets by sharing her artwork of pet photography. The only thing she asks is for the owners to make donations to her non-profit, Advocates for Animals in Jackson County.
Pat has started a new non-profit organization in Sylva that works to help keep pets and owners together. You can read more about her and her work in her bio. I just wanted to share the good news about her being willing to work with me. I can’t wait to show you the new book. You’re gonna love it!
Pat Thomas is passionate about all types of photography, but her love for animals motivated her to focus on pet photography. She began photographing pets through her involvement in animal rescue in Atlanta, GA, 10+ years ago and continues to contribute her photography talents here in Western North Carolina.
Pat has been supportive of many rescue organizations and has established an email communication network for pet placement, lost and found animals, upcoming pet events, etc. Extremely passionate about animals and animal welfare Pat enjoys donating her time and photography to the local rescue community. She was formerly on the board for PAWS Bryson City and has volunteered for ARF, (Jackson County Humane Society). She has also donated her time to photograph the dogs and cats at our Jackson County Animal Shelter. In addition, Pat donates her time to photograph local pet events, such as the Bark in the Park event in Sylva every year. Several times a year, Pat schedules photo shoots at different community businesses, where she takes special holiday and-or themed photos, including Valentines, Easter, summer beach photos, Halloween photos, and of course, the ever-popular holiday photos. From these proceeds, she always donates a generous percentage of her proceeds to a local rescue organization, another way she supports the rescue community.
In 2017, Pat recognized the increase in owner surrenders and abandoned animals, and decided to establish a non-profit group that would focus on pet retention, and Advocates for Animals in Jackson County was founded. Keeping pets IN the home has been the objective of this organization, by helping with pet food, unexpected vet bills, training, and fencing. AAJC has also helped with temporary boarding for domestic violence victims, and people that are temporarily homeless.
Pat enjoys doing private photo shoots on location, often at the client’s home, where the pets are most comfortable. If requested, she is happy to arrange the shoot at a local park or another location. Many people request posed shots, however, she has found some of her best photos have been the candid ones, where pets are just being themselves, and showing the personality their owners have come to love.