Saturday, June 25, 2016

Breath and Heart

Even though our playing it so much used to drive Mama crazy, I'm pretty sure she was the one who taught me to play "Heart and Soul" on the piano. She and I used to play it as a duet, and later my sister and I would play it. What child learns to play piano without learning to play "Heart and Soul"?

Tonight I am thinking more about heart and breath, however, as my mom's heart rate gets slower and her breathing more slow and difficult. It is hard to witness, and yet I would not want to not be here for this time.

Tonight my aunt and I were marveling at the heart, how it works so well most of the time, and how it does everything it does without any of our own power or control. Not one of us creates our own heart or starts it beating.

I heard an author say recently that we are a gift given to ourselves. The idea that we are all about independence and choice and creating our own meaning is an illusion, or perhaps a delusion. We do not bring ourselves into existence, we do not give ourselves the amazing ability to be alive and to experience all the many parts of life that we experience.

Tonight reminded me of something I've been reading from Becoming a Healing Presence, by Albert Rossi, a psychologist. In one part he writes,

Awareness of our breathing opens a door to awareness of the presence of God, the giver of breath, and it is the very voice of God, guiding and encouraging us.

Not everyone believes that. And yet there is something very powerful about simply paying attention to our own breath and the wonder of it, and contemplating ourselves as receivers, as wholly dependent on a force beyond ourselves, outside ourselves, that brought us into existence.

No one, I hope, can witness their mother dying and continue to think of themselves as independent, as self-made, as autonomous, the way Western thinking would have us think. Not one of us would be here without a mother and a father. And our mothers and fathers had mothers and fathers, and on and on and on. Our very breath can remind us of how connected we are to all those who went before us, and for many of us, that means realizing our connection to "the giver of breath."

Other excerpts from the book that strike me as my mother is losing her breath, as her heart moves closer to the end of its physical work, are below. They strike at the heart of neo-gnostic thinking that would divide the physical and spiritual.

Tonight a group of us sang around Mama's hospice bed for 30-45 minutes, hymns from the hymnbook used in the church where we grew up. More than one song spoke of resurrection, that strange Christian belief that has been so much a part of my thinking for so long that to me it seems strange not to believe that breath and heart, spirit and body, will be reunited one day, that we will be alive again together in some new but also very familiar way.

It was hard to leave tonight, wondering if I will hear her breathing again in the morning. But no matter what people may say and think about orthodox Christians these days (or whatever they've said and thought for 2,000 years), I've seen over and over again, and have experienced over and over again, that the words written to the Thessalonians close to 2,000 years ago, are true--that "we do not grieve as others do who have no hope." We have great and beautiful hope.

"Within the heart is the antenna for the voice of God."

We grieve, of course, and we have great and beautiful hope.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Endings and Beginnings and The Last Battle

My mom is in the hospital after a fall and having a combination of health issues. My parents just celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this past Sunday, three days ago. I do not have many words right now but want to share something in the midst of this.

We never know how these things will go; doctors are not gods or purveyors of crystal ball predictions, and thankfully these good doctors helping us do not pretend to be. But in the stream of thoughts going through my mind as I looked at this photo taken in an earlier chapter of life, which my sister posted on Facebook earlier, C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle just came to mind, and I found this quote. It seems especially fitting, given the number of battles my mom has waged in her life and the faith that has sustained her and us through all of them:

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2016


Being able to walk in the mornings is such a blessing. Rain, early appointments, and being out of town have made my walks in the park less than routine, but last week I did make it over one morning.  And one of the wonderful parts of this park is that there are magnolias planted all up and down the streets on either side of the park.

Which means lots of shade to walk in when it's hot. And perfect trees for climbing when young friends are visiting. And the fun of pretending you're in your own little world while walking under the really huge trees, who branches touch the ground and form spacious little rooms where you are hidden from view.

And at this time of year, it means blossoms. Huge, white wonderful blossoms.

And it means the scent of those blossoms. With roses and gardenias, magnolias have the power to make you want nothing other than to stand still and keep your nose near their aromatic selves. At the park there are different varieties of the trees, so the scents are not all the same, but they are all lovely. 

When I lived in Croatia, there was a kind of tree with pretty big pink blossoms. I asked what it was and was told it was a magnolia. I thought that was interesting, because it was not at all like the magnolias over here.

What I didn't realize then was that we do have magnolias like that over here. And that they actually are related. But at that point in my life, all I knew, all i had ever seen, was the southern magnolia.

And as pretty as those pink blossoms are, I must admit that if I could have only one kind of magnolia, I would want the southern magnolia.

There's just nothing else like them.

I have vague memories from childhood of seeing them at this stage and being a little confused, because they reminded me of bananas....

Even the leaves are lovely. They almost look like flowers themselves when you see groups of them silhouetted against the sky this way. 

I read that they are some of the oldest trees, going back to a time before bees existed. That reach back into time seems right to me, because they conjure up for me early memories of my grandparents' house. The one in the front yard of that house was, I suppose, the first magnolia tree I ever knew up close. A wonderful hiding place, a good climbing place, a cool tent of shade on a hot day.

Now I have a whole bunch of them. And they may be old, but they never get old.

I'm thinking I'll have to get over there tomorrow and enjoy that scent again....maybe even celebrate my ever-improving foot by climbing a branch or two.