Between Earth and Heaven

Fog-light driving to Eugene; angel card 011Fog-light driving to Eugene; angel card 004

Tonight I am walking between ordinary daylight and incipient twilight, beneath billowing clouds against a sapphire sky. Faraway stars shun the darkness. As if on a tightrope, I am moving just above inconceivable grief and below the swell of vertigo where there is no return. I walk in limbo, in the wake of atrocities, adults and children taken from their golden times, of happiness robbed, peace vanquished. Oh, all the families, friends.

The walking takes me into a whorl of anguish and gradually out again.

My old companion, interminable hope, lies low. But how it breeds in the deep of heart despite sorrow or outrage, unable to surrender. It stakes a claim in the fields of abundance or paucity. It talks back when silenced. It yields not to cruelty or grave error, or the pressure to exit. This hope, how it disturbs tonight with its strong back and blameless grace. Hope, like a lion, rests when unnoticed, then raises itself up with stealth and might when called upon.

It is hope that makes us vulnerable. It makes this life break apart with tenderness and recreates itself. It unfurls from many small spaces when there is nothing found to praise. When its power is denied we lose half our selves to these damaging times. Without hope we succumb to woundedness, that anchor that drives us down into cold depths. Even a small bit of it, even a whisper of hope, despite disbelief, will keep us floating. Will keep us close to its lifegiving heat. And so I hold the hope where it matters most, in the rich sinew of heart and that mysterious guide, the soul.

The walking propels me into a torrent of sadness, then brings me back again. May I keep holy the softness of compassion. May I be strengthened with even a thread of hope rewoven into this humaness.

I envision a circle of angels, such a circle as has no beginning and no end, and they are gathered round the world as it heaves and spins,  as it barters and bleeds. They make a ring of light and everything is aflame, their radiant tears streaming.  They are with us now, between this life and the next. Between earth and heaven. May hope look up again.

Angels Welcome at our Table

I was savoring salmon and salad at the table, looking over a wind-ruffled lake. The light was hinting at bronze and the air had the scent of fall on its tail. It was good to spend time with four family members. My oldest sister had just had a pacemaker successfully implanted and was smiling again. My brother-in-law had recovered from a debilitating illness he contracted when travelling in southwest Asia.  My other sister  and Marc, my spouse, and I had come to the Seattle area to visit for the week-end.

It had been a satisfying day spent at a botanical garden and the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Winding down, we talked about a little of everything with a comforting rapport, despite our varying views. It struck me that I had had a lifetime or a few decades hanging out with my family, yet they are still enigmatic. We each carry our particular experience in complex ways that no one can entirely comprehend or embrace. Spoken or written language carries us closer to understanding and touch speaks intensely. But there are frequent occasions of partial understanding with fewer moments of thorough comprehension of who we truly are and what we mean to offer.

Brother-in-law, R., laughed easily as he joked, then was silent a few moments as he dug into his seafood dish. Shortly, he sat back and said, “If there is one thing I do know, it’s that there are angels. You know I was a pilot in the Navy, landing fighter  planes on decks that are not nearly as big as you might think, not when you’re flying. Everything has to be precise. I was so exhausted a couple of times, I knew I was going to miss. Twice I would have died, it was a sure thing,” he jabbed the table hard with a forefinger, “but twice I was saved. I can’t tell you exactly what happened but I landed when I knew I could not. That plane landed safely each time and it was not my skill, anymore. I am certain angels were watching over me. I was being kept from death, allowed to live.”

R.’s voice was resonant with the vivid recollection, and his blue eyes sparked with the wonder of it. He leaned forward, elbows on the table. I studied him. R. is a strong-minded, debate-driven, somewhat crusty sort of guy. Having commanded small and large planes most of his life, he is not an emotion-based person, but he cares deeply. In his seventies now, he is fascinated by life as well as intrigued by what others have to say. So now he waited for us to respond.

We chimed in with appreciation that this had occurred. One story led to another, each of us telling a tale or two. Marc, for example,  spoke of diving off a fifteen foot cliff as a kid and somehow landing safely in the water below with no injuries. Afterward, it frightened him to think he had been so foolish. He felt he was protected by angels. I was impressed; I had never heard of it.

This is not such an unusual topic in my family. We chat as easily about religion, the physics of mysticism and God’s work in our lives as music, books, and choice facts or fiction about our family tree.

Finally it was my turn. My husband glanced at me. He knew what was coming. He thinks I walk a bit on the wild side of the spirititual life, and he just accepts it.

But my sisters know a great deal more about me. They were around much of the time I grew up, after all, although my oldest sister is thirteen years ahead of me and our middle sister is five years older than I.  We visit on the phone. We have been there for each other. We have yearly sister week-ends when we take off for somewhere fun, and at end of each day can talk into the wee hours. There was one year when we swapped stories of having seen or spoken with our mother after she’d passed on, and the motel room had fairly vibrated with our love and her essence. That was a powerful night.

But some things I have not easily shared in a more public, casual manner, and not for the reasons one might think. I find it difficult to locate precise enough language to share what I have experienced not once or twice, but countless times in my life regarding angelic beings/celestial energy or simply God’s presence. For one thing, they may sound like rather dramatic events. (They seem familiar, natural to me.) For another, they often reflect times in my life that have been taxing. (I have fewer of those but they are often accompanied by extra-ordinary experiences.) And how does one explain what occurs largely beyond the confines of human language? How do I say: “These things–this and this and that–just do happen” and not have someone discount them or look away in embarrassment? Or ask a lot of questions I can’t answer? So I generally keep things to myself. It is enough for me that I get to live this life. It is what it is.

But this was my family. It was a pretty day, an afternoon of good food and lazy talk. So, I shared what I thought everyone knew by now, anyway.

“Well, I was lying in the back yard when I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, and looked up at the summer sky and there they were. I guess you would call them angels. I knew they were like my friends, but with brilliant clothing on, blinding, really, all sorts of colors, yet it seemed more like light than fabric. They were very large,  blotted out the sky. Sort of hard to see their features–they were just too bright, but they seemed like human beings, too. They stayed above me, up in the air. I could hear something like music but not anything we have likely heard here. It was like a chorus of millions singing, spine-tingling music. And they said, ‘Do not worry, you are not ever alone. We will be with you all your life.’ I didn’t hear them out loud. I just knew their words. Like a message. I felt so peaceful. It was a great comfort. I had been having very bad times then, so it was good to have them visit. I wanted them to stay but as quickly as they had come, they rose up and were gone. It was just a summer sky again. I lay in the grass awhile, then went inside. I told mom. She acted like it was not surprising but, then, you know mom was close to the thin places, to God.” I paused. “I have always known I was not truly alone, good times or bad. I have never forgotten they are with me.”

There were murmurs of assent. I felt the old emotions coming up, a mixture of joy and sadness; this often accompanies the telling.

I shifted in my seat, took a drink of water, then turned to my husband. “Another time you might recall was when I had that second stent implant in my artery. I was apparently asleep but not doing so well. I was drifting somewhere outside my body and looked down at a mighty, rushing river. Everything was sepia-toned, from where I was, but the other side was brilliantly-hued. I was excited; I could see crowds on the other side and they were waving to me. I was filled with relief when I saw mom and dad smiling at me, waving. Then, all of a sudden, mom said, ‘Why are you here now? Go back!” and then they disappeared and I came back to my body. I didn’t want to open my eyes yet. I wanted to go back to that river. I was irritated; Marc was shaking me. I awakened and he said, ‘You were so still, like you weren’t breathing! Are you okay? Stay awake now!’ But all I could think about was that river and everyone welcoming me. Once more, as I had often been over sixty years, I was terribly homesick for that other place.

I offered two more events that anyone sitting nearby might have thought were scenes from a fantasy or sci fi story. I looked down, felt this was enough telling. Everyone was quiet.

“There are a lot more than this, but…I don’t like to talk about it that much. Not everyone understands or cares to hear. It gets to sounding foolish to others, I suspect. So I keep it  close.” I looked into the distance at the tidy white-sailed boats. I thought, I have said too much.

But R. was leaning across the table and said, “You have to write about all this. You could help someone, your experiences could make a difference to others, inspire them, comfort them. You have to write it down and share it.”

I  smiled at him. “Well, really, I don’t think so. I mean, lots of people write about things like this, anymore. Times have sure changed…and I don’t know quite what I would say. This is only a very small part of what I have experienced. I have had a strange life. Hard at times. A few detours, as you know.”

“You’ve done some dumb things. But look what you have gotten to experience, anyway!”

“Yes. There has always been this constant, powerful awareness that God is with us every step, that we are here for so short a time. That heaven is close, so close. ”

R.’s eyes glimmered with tears. “But you need to share this with people. You need to write about it. It could make such a difference in people’s lives.”

His face shone with the intensity of his certainty, his feelings. He started to turn away a little, not accustomed to letting his tears fall before others. And in that moment I was allowed to see him, the man he is, his soul filled with compassion and courage, the complicated beauty of his life. The sacrifices he has made. The burdens carried and released. His devotion to his many friends and his family. His unerring and inordinate love of life.

“Thank you for saying that,” I said softly. “I’ll think about it.”

So here I am writing about things I have never planned on sharing with people other than my family. I may not ever do so again. I would have to tell the whole messy story, the most painful bits, in order to get to the miracles  known and witnessed, the treasures excavated. More likely I will continue to fictionalize some of it, slip in another God story here and there so you barely see it coming.

But the very best experience that autumn afternoon spent with my family was this: everything fell away from R., his heart was bared and his soul, oh, it shone–how, truly,  each and every one of them shone.

(The crew gathered during my oldest sister’s 75th birthday March 2012)

News from a Place Unnamed

It was the time of day when golden light beguiled and confounded. The lake’s surface shimmied as though a spirit danced but it was perhaps the wind, a swift freshening at end of summer. The fir trees ruled with subdued power as they always did. Birds alighted and sang within their branches; deer, squirrel and fox passed one another with barely a glance, then circled a massive cedar. A lone white butterfly looped around flowers and descended upon an inviting yellow petal. Light like a veil drifted between bushes and vines, mushrooms and ants, its glimmer reaching into the darkest crevasse. Roused from sleep, a luxuriant skunk emerged from its spot beside an ancient nurse log. Bright dust rose as a snake undulated across a trampled pathway. And there it stopped. Nearby a colony of ants ceased work. Three ravens closed their wings.

The air itself was still. All was captive in this moment, animal, plant, mineral.  Breath was withheld, sound made silent. And the opulent light reached far beyond itself, transmuting all so that everything-woods, water, creatures, sky-was an essence gleaming, and all of one thing.

From the distance travelled minute vibrations that stirred the earth; small and large creatures felt it move right through them like invisible sparks. And when it arrived in this place, the pulsing sound was unlike any that predators or prey had known. It rang out in a vibrant voice, but the voice was a kaleidoscope of music. It imbued the air as life permeated blood. Fragrance emanated from the sound waves, a strange, triumphant scent of all universal elements, an elixir spilled from some secret source unseen in these woods.

The light swirled the blues of the watery depths, and then, as though a magician’s hand at work,  revealed all colors known and unknown. In a flash of dark-to-light, a scrim fashioned of overlapping hues fell , and the greenness of the woods vanished. The trees rustled in agitation, then stilled again. Near the cedar, the lone deer dared to step forward, her eyes luminous, nose raised to the beautiful scent, ears flared and turning as though longing to hear the music once more.

And then she stepped closer to fox and squirrel, to snake, ant and skunk, her burnished fur grazing the cedar trunk. But her gaze held steady, even when a sleek white wolf appeared at the water’s edge. He turned his head to look at her, then lifted it high, his body perfectly at attention, proud and strong as a sentinel should be.

There, just above the water, they arrived, by fours and eights, by sevens and nines. Their caftans fell away from their tall radiant bodies as they gathered. They were indistinct from one another and yet they moved independently, each elaborate gesture like a sentence, while each unified movement told a bigger story. When beneath them a mammoth wooden boat skimmed the water’s surface, they descended to it. Their presence illuminated the spectral boat and the gentle waves it caused were limned with silver.

They were the Chalice Curators, travelers between all worlds, caretakers of the saddened earth, most esteemed teachers and messengers. Curates of life. Of souls. Many knew them as angels over the aeons–yet how they passed unnoticed until most needed was a mysterious thing indeed.

The wolf knew what the curates required, and so he walked to small wayside, a stick shelter erected opposite the cedar. He stood at the open doorway, head turned to a small person who now rose and stepped into the light. Q., the little one, the weaver. She was not much taller than the elegant beast who walked beside her. Her long hair was adorned with leaves and flower petals and her clothing made of softest moss. But she took sturdy, long steps; she was strong in this world, she knew that was often true. Still, it had been a trying year. The coming months would require much of her. Q. needed a little power.  A way to better see and do what she needed to do on this earth. For she loved it here despite the hard work, the confounding ways. She needed the liberating knowledge of the Chalice Curators, their most compassionate gifts. So Q. had called to them. And they had come as they had come once before, in the beginning of her days.

Q. grabbed the thick white fur and swung atop his back and he gathered speed, the rich, bright rushing past their bodies and softening their hearts. She saw the bemused deer and the others and waved to them. Then, as though it was the most natural event, wolf and girl rose and hovered over the water, then dropped into the travellers’ midst, into that flowering of light.

And the breathtaking brightness drew back across the lapping water. The air cooled. The countless trees adjusted their branches in the sudden shadows. The fox and all his companions melded into the inviting depths of the forest. But the deer ventured forth and stood at water’s edge, looking, looking. Nothing spoke or sang except the forest itself, and then the lake water and all the neighbors, friend and foe. She took a long sweet drink of the cool liquid, raising her head every now and then to see if the majestic boat would return, as it was so wonderful to see. But hours of earth time would pass before that happened, and the deer would be foraging in the twilight then.

The white wolf reappeared. He held back then stepped closer and drank at his leisure beside her. Quietly, they each went their separate ways and sought the comfort of the emerald forest. They would meet again when the Chalice Curators returned to them their young novice of Light.

(For my wondrous children and grandchildren)