As I struggled to revamp last Sunday's recycled sermon on "The Still Small Voice", I was made acutely aware of my own spiritual desertland, the place I have inhabited for several months, maybe as long as I have been retired. I just haven't had a desire to go anywhere else but the desert. It hasn't felt like desert to me---I mean, there's the beach and the ocean and the new friends and the new activities and (at least for a few months) a new boyfriend (or, as Dr. Sheldon Cooper of BBT would say, "a boy who is a friend".
But I had been having pain ever since I moved here----in my teeth, on my skin, in my back, in my eye. Doctors and other practitioners fixed things pretty well----a root canal, a crown replacement, shingles medicine and ibuprofen, heat packs and massage, and five eye surgeries to salvage my dimming vision.
It took me until last Saturday night's Christmas concert in Cannon Beach for the obvious to strike: limited vision could mean more than just a detached retina. Five surgeries to get it fixed was significant, in that my rebellious retina seemed determined to get my attention---finally. What haven't I been paying attention to?
The sermon pretty well spelled it out as I revamped that old chestnut on spiritual growth, making it more up to date, more germane to my new location in life. It became obvious that my spiritual reservoirs were pretty well drawn down. The words penned years ago suddenly jumped out at me: transitions can do this to a person, can distract us with busyness and new adventures; grief can do this to a person, can tempt us to smother emotion with activities; changes of circumstances can short-circuit our ability to be mindful of the sacred moments in life. And pain, pain trumps it all.
How does the message become obvious? We may get sick, we may return to old negative habits or pick up new ones, our behavior seems a little out of bounds. Once we notice, we may be shocked. My limited vision was not just retinal in nature---it was more than that.
I have been distracting myself with a lot of stuff---the work I'm doing for the congregation, the classes I'm doing for ENCORE, the coffees on weekends with new friends, that sort of thing. None of these things are bad or hurtful. It's more that they keep my attention focused on externals, on Doing rather than Being.
This fall a couple of things cropped up that changed my focus. One of them was the Scandinavian trip with my sister. I began to look at my ethnic heritage in a new way, feeling more Scandinavian than I ever had. And I decided to get my DNA tested for its ethnic/geographical mix. The results were surprising and my reaction to the results was also surprising; I wasn't as Scandinavian as I thought---I was also Mediterranean and Southwest Asian. Initially, I even misread the results and proclaimed my Mediterranean heritage to be half as large as it actually was.
Then last Saturday night, I almost decided not to go to the concert, but my friends were singing and I wanted to hear the music. I was feeling less than Christmassy and hoped the songs would jumpstart me into a more festive mood.
During the first segment, pieces from The Messiah had my inner critic out in force-----how could anyone possibly still take the theology of The Messiah literally? The music and the harmony were wonderful, but the words? Good grief! I wanted to shout "you know, those words from Isaiah were probably written with King Hezekiah in mind, not Jesus!" which I'd learned in my Old Testament class in seminary.
Somehow I was able to recognize the damper that thought was putting on my mood and I breathed deeply, closed my eyes, and let the thought go away. In its place came the fragrance of something sharp and sweet, perhaps wafting from a person nearby. I saw in my mind's eye the vivid red and turquoise colors on a woman sitting near me. My brain moved from criticizing to noticing to feeling and I realized that for months I have put most emotional responses on hold. Most, that is, except for joy---which was easy to manufacture, given all the wonderful things about my new life.
I didn't let anger surface over the surgeries and the 20 round trips to Portland I had to make to get the eye taken care of, with the mounting expenses of dental care, with the pain of the shingles attack, or the end of the romance. I didn't let my frustration boil over during lengthy waits at the eye clinic; I just pasted on a smile and took a book. I don't have a partner to share these emotions with and the cats don't care, so I just pretended I didn't feel them.
It was confusing to feel the anger and frustration because of my deep gratitude to the docs and nurses at the eye clinic. They felt like guardian angels, making sure I came through each surgery in good shape. They were sympathetic and skilled. It didn't feel right to express my anger and frustration at them, so I swallowed it. And I swallowed a lot of extra food, too, so that I've gained back over ten pounds of the 40 I lost a couple of years ago.
When I had open heart surgery in 2000, my spiritual director Karin helped me see the surgery as a way of becoming literally more openhearted, more attuned to the meaning in each of life's events. When I recognized the retinal issue as possibly expressing the limited vision of my spiritual life, I had to ask myself---what am I not seeing?
It feels awfully good to be writing these things down. I am publishing them on the blog, because Ms Kitty's was the place I used to unload, discreetly but honestly. Take it from here, peeps.