Every year the Dalai Lama sends groups of Tibetan monks out to travel the world and spread the message of LOVINGKINDNESS.
At Emory University in Atlanta during March 2015, their theme was PEACE AND HEALING.
The monks stay about a week in each place, building a sand mandala and teaching classes.
At the end of the week, they deconstruct the mandala in a deeply moving ceremony. Amid chanting, crashing bells and cymbals, and blasting horns the monks process outdoors to the nearest body of flowing water.
They pour the mandala sand into the water so that the grains can be carried along with prayers and blessings downstream to the sea, and thence to the entire world.
The monks pack some of the mandala sand into small bags and hand it out as blessings to participants in the ceremony.
In the same manner as pouring grains of sand into a flowing stream of water, these virtual grains pour into the cyberstream of the internet to be carried along with prayers and blessings to you, and thence to the entire world.
The surface of the lake is a shimmering mirror, reflecting trees and clouds and skies. It presents a smooth and placid surface to the passerby.
Underneath the surface, the lake teems with mysterious life.
The birds know it.
The turtles know it.
But the passerby might miss it without a closer look, a concentrated look that penetrates the silent surface to discover the tiny fish and mudworms that feed the birds and turtles.
We are like the lake. Our faces are mirrors, reflecting what is around us and concealing the turmoil and the beauty that lies within.
Those who care about us are like the birds. They know how to see through the mirror, to search the shores for our secrets, and that is what nourishes friendship.
God is like the turtle, equally at home above or below the surface, comfortably conversant with all the mysterious life that fills us. God plumbs the depths of all that makes us whole and watches it all, with love.
In the Georgia woods all is life, birds and squirrels and other creatures going about their daily business.
At the same time… one hears the sound of death.
A soft scratching underlies the birdcalls and squirrel chatter. A pine tree is infested with pine bark beetles, the sound of their jaws in the wood a rhythmic and persistent chewing under the bark.The tree stands tall, bleeding resin and sawdust. Its bare branches rise into the sunlight, but there are no needles left on those twigs. The tree is dying, slowly, eaten alive by the inexorable hunger of those tiny insect assassins.
The book I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed – Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams is a hoot, a tragedy, and an education… all at the same time.
Abrahams knows whereof she speaks, having been brought up in the strict tradition of this most particular denomination. Her childhood centered on the local Kingdom Hall and its many demands in terms of her time and devotion. The necessity of separating herself from non-JWs, those who according to her faith were doomed to die horribly at an Armageddon which could happen at any moment, put her at odds with the world around her and gave her a perspective which was at the same time reassuring and terrifying.
The unforgiving God of the JWs looms heavily over her childhood, watching suspiciously for the least infraction which could doom even a little girl to eternal damnation. This book brings home the trepidation of a child growing up under the unsleeping, all-seeing eye of Jehovah who stands ready to destroy not only all who do not subscribe to the “One True Religion” but even those who do subscribe but fall short of the exacting terms of His service.
Written with sharp wit and self-deprecating humor, Abrahams’ book outlines her journey through and finally away from the narrow Jehovah’s Witness way. You will laugh, you will cringe, but you will also learn to sympathize with those who find themselves trapped by birth and even those who knowingly choose this narrow and difficult way of life.
There is a forgotten place in the remote Upper Coastal Plain region of Georgia, a place that does not even exist on most road maps.
But if you drive through Brooklyn you can’t miss it because of an artist whose name may be unfamiliar but whose work stands out. Stands out on the highway, that is.
Floria Yancey is one of the last of a breed, a primitive roadside folk artist whose spirituality and painting are inextricably intertwined.
An ordained minister as well as an artist, Yancey’s church and gallery are marked by an exhibit of fading road art which acts both to catch the passing eye and to send it down the right road to Heaven.
Ordained minister as well as artist, Yancey’s church and gallery are marked by an exhibit of fading road art which acts both to catch the passing eye and to send it down the right road to Heaven.
The Old Lady first met the Reverend Yancey after a wrong turn got her lost while she was looking for a nearby prison to try scheduling a blood donation event there. She stopped by again about a month later when she began a fearful drive up to Atlanta to see about her Mother who lay ill in Piedmont Hospital. That day she asked Rev. Yancey to pray for her Mother. The Reverend unlocked the small ramshackle church and took her inside where they stood together before the simple altar holding hands while the Reverend called for the power of God to help the Old Lady and her Mother. A blood transfusion got Mother out of the hospital a few days later, a transfusion of blood that could well have come from one of the Old Lady’s rare successful events. That is, one of the few where somebody actually did donate blood. The Old Lady was fired from that job very soon afterward, but counted the experience a gain for her Mother’s sake.
Seven years later, on the afternoon of Palm Sunday, the Old Lady stopped in Brooklyn again on her way to another job. The signs along the road had fallen into disrepair, and the church and gallery were deserted. In despair, the Old Lady was fixing to move on down the road when the Reverend Yancey rode up in the shotgun seat of a fine car filled with family. The Old Lady reminded the Reverend of that day seven years before. “I thought you looked kind of familiar,” she said, holding the Old Lady’s hand.
Further along the highway that day, the Old Lady passed Jesus on the road toting a cross. (See http://www.oldladyandpurpledragon.com/holy-week-pilgrimage-part-one/ )
The Old Lady heard on NPR news Easter morning that this year, 2014, the various calendars aligned so that the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christian observances of Easter fell on the same day… and, the Jewish Passover was observed at the same time. The NPR reporter in Jerusalem described a crowded street scene that included Christians seeking out their holy places, Jews hurrying to the Wailing Wall, and even a Muslim tour bus driver who, in the midst of the crowd on the sidewalk, lay out his prayer rug for the first prayers of the day before he started work.
The Old Lady ruminated on all this as she drove to her church which is located in a small south Georgia town.
And then, she saw a sign:
And a little further on, another sign:
And near the railroad tracks, another sign:
It struck the Old Lady that even in extreme south Georgia a diversity of faith is represented. Each has its own language, its own vernacular, its own way of expressing that faith.
And just as in Jerusalem, everybody is talking about exactly the same thing.
When the Passion Play was read in the Old Lady’s church this year, she was offered a choice of parts… and she chose Judas, since it is sometimes hard to get someone to play that part because they are wary of identifying with the betrayer. But somebody has to be Judas, after all; if there had not been a Judas to betray Jesus, there would not have been a Passion and all that it brings with it to the world. Judas is not representative of evil; even Jesus knew somebody had to do it and said to Judas, “Friend, do what you came to do.”
Cut to the night the Old Lady’s dear Mother died. Near the end her suffering was so intense that, even though Mother had consistently refused any pain meds, the Old Lady was so distressed that she tried to sneak a little liquid morphine from a dropper into Mother’s mouth just to ratchet things down a bit. Mother clamped her little lips closed and shook her head. The Old Lady felt ashamed that she had tried to violate her Mother’s resolve, and suffered guilt.
Then months later, during the Palm Sunday reading of the Passion Play, the Narrator got to the part where the soldiers “… offered Him drugged wine, but He would not drink it.”
The Old Lady had come to understand that her Mother chose to accept her suffering at the end of life in emulation of Jesus, whom Mother had striven always to follow. And now, months afterward, the Old Lady came to understand that to make the symbolic action complete somebody had to offer Mother the drug so that she could refuse it… just as Jesus had done.
Somebody had to play that part.
That somebody had to be the Old Lady. She played her part in her Mother’s Passion Play.
That’s why she doesn’t mind playing Judas.
Somebody has to do it.
The Old Lady was on the road Palm Sunday.
She and the Golden Dragon were flying high, enjoying the spring-green countryside of south Georgia, sniffing an occasional wisteria blossom… when what to her wondering eyes should appear?
Jesus, that’s what. Or rather, who. With cross. Walking south on US Hwy. 280, just outside of the Ft. Benning Military Reservation.
The Old Lady gaped as she passed, then turned the Golden Dragon around and went back. You don’t pass Jesus on the road without stopping to say hey, she told the Dragon, and the Dragon agreed.
The guy’s name is Dennis Barnard. He says he was saved when he was 50, and that he is 61 now. He says six years ago “the Lord put it in my heart to do this” and he does it every year at this time. He says every year he prays about where to start… this year he started in Phenix City, Alabama, just across the river from Columbus, Georgia… and walks to his home in Glennville which is a little west of Savannah.
He will be walking nearly all the way across the state of Georgia. He has a little wheel attached to the bottom of his cross so it’s easier to move, and all of his camping stuff strapped to the wood just above the wheel.
So, if you are driving through south central Georgia this Holy Week, watch out for Jesus.
Manatees terrify the Old Lady.
Even though she knows perfectly well that they won’t – can’t!- hurt her, their sheer size makes her tremble whenever she is near them in the water.
One time when she was swimming in the Crystal River a young manatee approached her. She knew he was a youngster because he was only about five feet long, whereas adults are much larger.
This was a lovely creature. Young manatees are not grey like adults but a luminous white, and this one fairly glowed in the light that filtered down through the surface of the river. The youngster was curious and came close to inspect this odd invader of his underwater world. He seemed friendly so the Old Lady stretched out her hand to touch him. She had been told that “They like being touched because people have these wonderful things on the ends of their flippers called FINGERS. Manatees are covered with algae which can make them slightly itchy, and their flippers are useless for scratching.”
This little guy loved being scratched! He kept swimming closer and closer so the Old Lady could keep on scratching his hide. As she scratched and petted he became increasingly playful, pushing against her as he swam. They started rolling in the water together and playing like he was a little dog. She was giggling through her snorkel until she could hardly breathe. He just couldn’t get enough!
When the Old Lady was exhausted she slowly swam back to the boat where she collapsed on the deck in the sun and laughed out loud with delight from the experience.
She was thanking God for sending her this marvelous creature when she suddenly realized: yes, God sent the manatee for her delight… but God also sent HER to the manatee for HIS delight! He wanted petting, and she wanted to pet him, and they both got what they wanted and needed. Yes, God gave us dominion over the animals… but He also gave us to the animals for our mutual love and joy.
Sometimes it takes the Old Lady some time to digest the really important, the really symbolic experiences.
So today, dear readers, she would like to revisit her recent trek to hear the Indigo Girls live.
Of course they were wonderful, the Jacksonville Symphony backing them was perfect, and the venue at the University of Florida was lovely… all of that has already been said.
And she has already mentioned that the song “Kid Fears” made her cry.
It was only this morning that the Old Lady finally understood why.
When the Old Lady first saw Amy & Emily live at the Van Wezel in Sarasota in the early ‘90s, she was accompanied by her first real partner. They’d been together for some years at that time. The Old Lady had advanced in her job to the point that she was getting comp tickets to primo performances at the finest performing venue in town. She was making enough money to take her girlfriend to dinner before the concert to one of the best restaurants in the culinary capitol of the Suncoast. And the Old Lady was in love.
She felt like a real grownup, for the first time in her life.
The self-titled album “Indigo Girls” became the soundtrack for that time in the Old Lady’s life. She listened to it a million times… especially the track “Kid Fears.”
Decades intervened. Reality raised its ugly head. Alcoholism, infidelity, and abuse eroded the Old Lady’s golden dream. Love died.
Finally, the Old Lady let go of everything she thought she had in those halcyon days, coming to the bitter knowledge that none of it was really hers anyway.
In the letting go came real freedom, and genuine happiness.
So when the Old Lady sat, alone, in the middle of the crowd at this 2014 concert and wept… she wept, not tears of sadness for all the losses, but tears of joy at all of the experiences: the good and the bad, the pleasure and the pain, the ups and downs and sideways of her life.
That’s why the Old Lady cried.