Ironically, as I sat down to write for the third part of this series on the album Sanctuary, I was brought into the challenge of the reality of this week’s song, Waiting to Be Met, by having to stop writing and spend 24 hours tending to my sick children.
Both of my children caught some sort of stomach flu and I was up all night doing laundry, rocking them, and dealing with fevers. They are both doing better now, and I am able to sit down for a moment to reflect on this song. I am mostly grateful, as they are rarely ever that kind of sick, and for the practices I have, to bear witness to the moments that are so challenging. I’ve begun a simple morning and evening Qigong practice that has been incredibly helpful, and the body trauma is not being so first in line to be in charge.
Life is the teacher, as they say. And, with this song, Waiting to Be Met, there are these lines,
what if I hide
and you don’t seek?
what if I show myself
and you look right through me?
how can I trust the mystery?
when that’s just what it is,
My children love to play hide and seek. They also adore being really seen, especially when they share a part of their day. These words about hiding and being sought, and showing ourselves to someone, are about that childlike part of all of us. And James Finley says, “that’s where God meets us”.
I always marvel at how, when I climb into bed to hold one (or both) of my fevered children and become conscious of my own breathing, I can hear their little racing heartbeat begin to slow to a more normal rhythm, and I can somehow sense when their bodies have reached homeostasis.
We’re all waiting to be met.
I recently saw a video with Charles Eisenstein talking about what he might say or do if he were to have a conversation with Donald Trump. He first asks the question: “what makes somebody into a narcissist?” And answers, “I think it originates in not being seen for who you really are. So you become addicted to making yourself seen. Making yourself the center of attention.” He goes on to say that he “would go into it with the intention of seeing him as he really is, of seeing him at the soul level”. Or as Rev William Barber said this week as he preached on Trump and Psalm 139, “I mourn for Trump,” and he goes on to speak of the dangers of how, “You can become your enemy.”
And, like that flicker of light left in the creature Gollum, Psalms 139 also says, “if I ascend to heaven you are there O God, and if I make my bed in Hell still you are with me”, "where can I go from your Spirit O God?". In other words, there is nowhere, where God isn’t. Or as Cynthia Bourgeault said in her essay from the anthology How I Found God in Everyone and Everything, “I am not a space in which God does not occupy”.
First of all, I want to be clear, in the way that James Finley is clear, later on in Sanctuary (in the track There is a Peace), that “we should never romanticize trauma with spiritual sayings. It matters that you get as free from it as you possibly can. But you can go through that evolving process in such a way, that it becomes a very mysterious place. Namely, the place in which your inner peace is no longer dependent on the outcome.”
This is radical thinking. And at first glance, it appears very dangerous to those of us who are working through trauma, and have spent much of our lives scanning our surroundings, looking for danger. (Last week’s recommendation comes to mind… be countercultural and move slowly.)
And, we also must confess that as a society, we’ve often believed and respected the perpetrators, and been more concerned about them, and are quick to come to their rescue, when events are twisted to look like an attack on them.
This is why, in the film Mary Magdalene, when the woman speaks to Jesus about the rape of one of her friends, she is challenged by Jesus with two things: that she must attempt to be free from the unforgiveness holding her in bondage, but also… and this is key… obey God over and above, obeying men. He was saying, “follow me/follow this path” even though your husbands, or fathers won’t let you. But forgive also, so you might be free. (And I will say here, that I believe that is exactly one of the things Jesus was doing.)
I hear this song today, at the more simple level, of really meeting my children in the demands of the day (which as many of you know, is not as simple as it sounds!)
But I also hear this song at a wider, radical level. So radical that it begs the question of what restorative justice could look like, if not over-simplified, in one direction or the other.
For instance, what I know of restorative justice is that it must always make sure the survivor is safe, and has the resources, and support to heal. And the survivor doesn't need to be in the room with the perpetrator. And sometimes, forgiveness needs to happen from a great distance, without making contact with the other person. But, restorative justice is also about the right people being with someone who has done a a wrong, sometimes a terrible wrong, in the hope that they too, might find their way back to homeostasis.
*And*, as many people of colour will attest, restorative justice can often be romanticized, and over-simplified, when a person of colour forgives a white person. It doesn’t mean the forgiveness shouldn’t have occurred. It means people should not fetishize forgiveness. Forgiveness should never be pornographic… but it seems sometimes that, perhaps in order to distance ourselves from the painful tenderness of the forgivenesses tapping us on the shoulder, we plaster someone else’s forgiveness story on our newsfeed, a little too freely.
This all comes back to our own need for being met. It is a delicate dance. Learning how to share. As James Finley says, “that vulnerable moment, when someone comes out from behind the curtain”.
I say all this because, at the very risk of sounding like a cheap grace evangelist, I will not rule out any being on this planet in their need to be met. Hear it at that level if you have to, but what I’m really doing is teasing out the frequency at the edge of all sermons on grace, that hums, in spite of all rah, rah, Liminoid conversions, and also in spite of a very tired, often very mean, deconstructing cynicism.
“It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand.”
Last week, when I initially began writing my piece on grief deferral, much of the violence between the US and Iran had not yet occurred, but had just begun to arise.
Yesterday, as I encountered people, I could feel all around me that people are sort of soaked in the frenzy, even if they haven't been listening to the news.
Ironically, this week’s song, in the series on the album Sanctuary, is called Move Slowly, and is really about the tenderness of healing circuitously, and not trying to attack healing as something to achieve. As James Finley says, “it is necessary to go out into deep water because that’s where the pain is, but in order for it to be safe to do that, it’s so important first, to learn how to float in shallow water. Because to learn to float in shallow water, is to learn to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
But here’s what is so very challenging about that. We have to find time for healing. We have to find time for our practice. James Finley often likes to say, "It would be so easy to be a mystic if we didn't have to live our life." And he also likes to quote the contemporary Zen master Katagiri Roshi, by saying, “It would be so much easier if we were asked to live a simple life in a simple world, but we’re asked to live a simple life in a complicated world.”
But I have seen this what "move slowly" can look like in action. One time, when James Finley and I were working with some tech people for something, one of the people we were working with had a very anxious, intense presence, and was visibly and chronically stressed out. I have never witnessed such a contrast between two people in my whole life. Being the contemplative pipsqueak that I am, I was (and still would be), nearly caught up in the tidal wave of stress, as I have been at times when I didn’t know where to turn as a mother, during an intense toddler tantrum. But I looked over at James, and there he was, gently grinning, sitting there as though there might be some massage therapy music playing. And he looked at the tech person with unwavering, but totally sober, enduring love. I was witnessing the great art of what it means to be a true contemplative. James was not, by any means, “spiritually bypassing”. On the contrary… he was bearing witness to the incarnate nature of the frenzied person, and the incarnate oneness between the two of them, without invading, or abandoning him (or for that matter, being invaded or abandoned, himself).
At the time, all I could see was the contrast. In all my readings and heart comprehensions about the “unitive way”, I had never been so close to what unitive consciousness looks like, lived out, until seeing this sort of violently scattered person, not being able to sway the presence of infinite love being channeled through this unassuming man with a cane.
And we all completed the task at hand, and I was changed forever by bearing witness to the subtleties between the lines.
James and I worked a lot together for about three years. Of course, we found out that neither of us are perfect. I gave him quite a bit of technological support, and at times he would laugh and say of computer related issues, “It’s enough to make the Pope swear.” Humour… yet another misplaced art form in our discourse today.
I relay these stories to you, because if there was ever a time to understand what “move slowly” means in a fast paced, complicated world, it is our present moment. How do we act in such a way where we are not emotionally swept up by the intensity of political tantrums, and reactivity, that could have dire consequences? For goodness sake, I am still learning how to do this as a parent. Intensity is... intense! But see, the catch with parenting is the same catch as elsewhere, how I react, is how they behave. Or as Krista Tippet so beautifully put it in her course The Art of Conversation, "the nature of the question illicits the nature of the answer".
Move Slowly is a song relating to the personal healing journey… but I am pulling out a lesson within it, that as we move slowly in the personal healing arena, we can treat it as a practice, to move slowly when we are faced with the intensity of the world. And to move slowly when faced with the intensity of the world is not the same as spiritual bypassing. It is about drawing nearer to the incarnate nature of the suffering at hand, and not being drawn in by the strong mob-like frenzy at the surface of things.
That we have no common ritual grief practices, and no initiation into adulthood (service of the community), we should really expect no more from leftover chauvinism, than what we’re seeing in the political sphere today. All it knows how to do is fight to win, even to the point of not understanding that win/lose at this point, is lose/lose. There is a term floating around today, that claims that even the 100 billionaires will soon realize that their win and everyone else’s lose, is really also a lose for them. And there is the potential for what folks are calling “omni-win/win”. But this will not come about through the frenzied energy of condescension. It will be more like the process of titration.
I will say here, I think it is especially hard to move slowly with the task of healing, when there is the additional daily pressure of being constantly held suspect, or racially profiled. Trying to find safe spaces just to be imperfect, are hard enough to find, without having the insidious nature of racial profiling being added onto the perception of who we are. That being said, some of my greatest teachers in this art form of moving slowly amidst the fray, have been especially, indigenous elders.
Move Slowly is about learning to be safe and vulnerable at the same time. That’s the personal part. But how that looks in the collective part is, it that Move Slowly is also an energy thing. It is about having daily practices that build our “count to ten” muscles, that keep us from spending all of our energy, on half-baked reactions.
I’ve sometimes been asked why I don’t speak out about this event, or that event, and why I do about others. Firstly, sometimes when I do speak out, I regret how I do it later, because I did it in a way that unleashed my reactivity… and wow… does that ever bring on the reactivity in others and it feels like such a waste of precious energy! Secondly, I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on where to place energy, because energy is powerful, so I can always tell if I spoke out in a way that was immersed in wisdom.
In Richard Rohr’s now classic book The Naked Now, he says, “this ability to stand back and calmly observe my inner dramas, without rushing to judgement, is foundational for spiritual seeing.” And he also says, “the most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection - and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth.”
When I listen to the song Move Slowly, and apply the Big Picture to it, that is what I hear. What I see, is James Finley being present with the disorder and imperfection of a hyper-stressed out young man, and bearing witness to what was incarnate in him, just as he was.
It was the presence of real grace.
But we all have to start somewhere.
So… slowly… safely… and onward.
"I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell."
- Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
"The unwillingness to grieve makes people search for someone upon which to project blame for the feeling of loss they bear."
- Martín Prechtel, The Smell of Rain on Dust
“The war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis.”
- Thomas Merton, audio talk to the Gethsemani novices, on Sufism
I think it is safe to say that the shadow side of globalization has struck first. And maybe that is always the way of it. That change comes when we are thrown into crisis. Coalescing will come when we realize we don’t want 40 of the richest to be coalescing alone.
There are between twenty-seven to forty-six million slaves in the world today. And that doesn’t include people drowning in the impossible game of interest-bearing debt, who buckle under that system, and go out and buy things for themselves, and their kids, made by those slaves.
I speak of this, because I believe the reason slavery still exists, and the climate crisis exists, is because we have been collectively defering the grief that is ours to grieve, onto the next generations, for many generations. But I also believe there is a direct lateral impact from unhealed wounds, and ungrieved loss, and that lateral impact enslaves today.
I have met beautiful, well-meaning men who immediately put a mock look of strength on their face when they speak of a soldier’s duty, no matter how he or she might be trained to kill whatever is in front of them. A child. A grandparent. All’s fair. This entrainment of setting a courageous jaw, came from years of wondering if they might be one of the drafted. And some of them were the drafted.
The personal and collective woundedness and grief we all carry is the elephant in almost every room, whether the room is full of corporate CEOs, or anarchists, or grandmothers quilting blankets in church basements.
Many people alive today posture themselves to hold back any grief tide, because the way we are marked with strength, is through our ability to get through our spouse’s funeral without crying. But really, getting through the funeral is also about not allowing the flood gates of all the deferred grief to be opened.
The same goes for the grief that might come if you are of white settler descent, and really understood the oppression your ancestors experienced… and then caused on others… in the story of leaving the "settled" old world, and “settling” the “new” world. To comprehend in your heart, the gravity of the situation, would open generational wounds. Because to weep about one thing, is to weep about another. Many of us would rather get defensive and say things like "we've all had things to deal with", or "I lost a lot as a kid too and you don't hear me complaining." Well, maybe finding someone to "complain" to, might do some good.
The healing path is a personal path, but it is also a collective one. We owe it to future generations to do the work, because this is a holistic problem. Our own personal healing, if it really is healing, always moves into the Larger Picture, and becomes about cultivating and giving the gifts that were being held back by the flood gates keeping the grief in.
I believe their are many healing paths. Indigenous practices around the world show that healing can be an embodied, musical, rhythmic experience. My husband was a part of a grieving circle that helped him grieve immense loss. I too have sought ways to heal in nature, as well as with therapy, including support groups.
The album Sanctuary is an album that explores the healing path from both a depth psychology perspective, and a spiritual perspective. It is a distillation of James Finley’s thesis on spirituality playing a role (for those who wish it to) in depth psychology, as a healing process. The album takes gentle steps, in a sequential way, and has been a worthy companion for many. It by no means should take the place of a therapist, or a circle, or other healing modalities you might put your trust in. We have always said, it really is simply a musical companion that some will find helpful.
I made Sanctuary because of my own healing pilgrimage, that I’m still on. I also made it because I wanted to capture James Finley’s work on healing in a musical medium. He is one of our great contemplative teachers, and is one of the great Wounded Healers alive today.
I also made Sanctuary because of the bigger picture I have presented to you here. Doing grief work, and doing healing work, is ecologically responsible. If it is true healing, it will also flow into healing the problem of racism. Having attended Truth and Reconciliation Commissions here in Canada, I know how powerful grief work and healing can be, when it comes to finding one's self very close to the fissures caused by domination of other people. It is profoundly tender work, and I don’t think I would have been ready to really listen to the stories I heard from indigenous people, if I hadn’t done some healing work in myself already. In other words, I think healing is also important so that there are enough listeners to hear and bear the sorrows caused by our nations.
Hippocrates said that “all healing begins in the gut”. And he meant that we need to eat in a way that we have healthy digestion. I would add, that we need to grieve in a way that, over time, we are able to have a healthy flow of holy tears.
Maybe world peace would be possible if we weren’t so spiritually, emotionally, economically, and physically, constipated. (I really mean that.)
Many people think that healing isn’t for them because they have a roof over their head, or they misinterpret what emotional sobriety is. But healing is for everybody.
I was once told by a healer, that the inflammation I suffer from in my neck, is carried 17 generations back through particular family members on one side of my family. I hadn't told her, but the very members she mentioned both have neck problems. I am learning more and more, that shame is a shallow game. To make peace with my ancestors is the deep game.
It might seem insurmountable, the healing that needs to be done. But as James Finley says, “little, by little, by little, breath, by breath, by breath”.
This is an imperfect patchwork quilt that we are all a part of. Our imperfection is our beauty. And what I mean by that is, perfection stands in the way of healing. Wholeness is not perfection. We can be a hot mess, and still be utterly whole in our brokenness.
But we can never attempt to be perfect and grieve at the same time, because perfection is a sort of violence we do to ourselves, when we don't know what else to do.
So... gentle now... this first song is simply about wondering where to start. Be respectful of yours and other's tender edges. And if you never have, perhaps there is a therapist, an al-anon group, an AA group, a healing circle, waiting to hear your story. Which is, a part of the great Story. Which needs healing.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.