All Shall Be Well

I am eerily reminded this week of my experience during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Hunkered down here in my little house without power for days, the whole world seemingly stalled and subdued. There was no work and no technology, the roads were strangely as quiet as the airwaves. And no one knew how long it would last or how bad it might get.

At first, there was the natural reaction to kick against what I could not control. Worry and fret. Freak out. But then a calm settled in, a different pace than the norm, a day guided by the rising and setting of the sun.

Looking back now, I remember those quiet, restful days as blessings.

So here we are — on the edge of a storm we’re watching overtake everything we know as normal. And we are freaking out.

But the Universe is sending messages, if you listen. She’s there in the poem “Pandemic,” that Lynn Unger was inspired to write this week.

She’s in our daily prayers, if you are inclined, like me, to whisper on occasion:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

She even showed up yesterday morning in my meditation reading:

“We must except we are there and settled enough so we can be carried by the deep. The willingness to do this is the genesis of faith, the giving over to currents larger than us. Even fallen leaves float in lakes, demonstrating how surrender can hold us up…. In life as in water, when we curl up or flail we sink. When we spread and go still, we are carried by the largest sea if all: the sea of grace that flows steadily beneath the turmoil of events.” — Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

So listen for those messages.

Pay attention.

Do the things you need to do to stay safe and healthy.

Get rest.

Breathe.

“Just as fish can’t see the ocean they live in,” writes Nepo, “We can’t quite see the spirit that sustains us.” But it’s there.

2019: The Year in Books


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles W. Eliot


As the years winds down, I have a book in queue (The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler) and the manuscript for a dear friend’s new book in my lap. It’s my favorite reading time of year: this hot coffee, chilly air, fire in the fireplace, cat on the lap season that it is.

In this week’s in-box, the Goodreads “Your Year in Books” reports that I have read 51 books this year, and some 13,451 pages. The shortest, at 40 pages, was Wabi Sabi, a wonderfully collaged children’s book by Mark Reibstein; the longest at a whopping 545 pages was The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.

Speaking of pages, this was the year I instituted my 29-page rule: if I’m not all-in by page 29, I’m all-out. Life is too short to be half-in on anything, isn’t it?

Books with 5-star, all-in ratings this year included:

  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
  • Almost Everything, Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
  • Witchmark, C.L. Polk
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • Peony in Love, Lisa See
  • The Forest Lover, Susan Vreeland
  • Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk

Through no fault of her own, Barbara Kingsolver earned the only one-star rating this year for Unsheltered. My review said something like this: “I adore Kingsolver’s work and her commitment to helping us better understand the natural world and our environment, but…we. are. still. living. the. nightmare. I’m off to read some escapist fiction now. Thank you. And no hard feelings.”

Which could explain why I devoured Ottessa Moshgegh’s book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, in which the protagonist drug-sleeps her way through an entire year.

But who needs drugs when you have books? I mean, what better way to escape for a moment or week than to time travel (Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald), get lost in a mystery (The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton), consider other monsters (Melmoth, Sarah Perry), or just find solitude (The Salt House, Cynthia Huntington ).

What better way indeed?

Now, here’s some happy news with which to start your year…the new Ransom Riggs book, The Conference of the Birds, hits shelves January 14! I’m pre-ordered. Are you?

Happy New Year and Blissful Reading!

©2019, Jen Payne. IMAGE: The submissive reader, Rene Magritte

This Too Shall Pass

“There once was a king who was going to put to death many people, but before doing so he offered a challenge.

If any of them could come up with something which would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy, he would spare their lives. All night the wise men meditated on the matter.

In the morning, they brought the king a ring. The king said that he did not see how the ring would serve to make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy.

The wise men pointed to the inscription. When the king read it, he was so delighted that he spared them all.

And the inscription? This too shall pass.

— RAM DASS —

You Know You’re a Trekkie When…

Yesterday, I was sitting quietly, thinking about my Dad on what would have been his 76th birthday when the following prayer came into my head:

“I pray on this day of memories to speak to my father, the one whom the wind called Henry. Though I am far from his bones, perhaps there is a spirit in these unnamed skies who will find him and honor him with my song.”

If it doesn’t sound familiar, it’s probably because you’ve never watched Star Trek Voyager, or followed along on the spiritual practices of Chakotay, Voyager’s First Officer.

(Like the title of this post says, “You know you’re a Trekkie when…”)

With all apologies, though, to the more traditional prayers among you, this fictious invocation said exactly what I needed it to say — to the Universe and to my Dad:

Yesterday was a day of memories. And while I could not be near the places my Dad knew or visit the cemetery where he is buried, I would hope that whatever thoughts I did have on his birthday would be carried to his spirit – wherever and whatever that is.

I have sat through funerals during which anecdotal Bible passages were read and stood graveside during rote prayers. I’ve listened while priests and pastors have comforted the grieving with admonitions of sins and promises of future visits with loved ones. Once, I even heard a song sung that suggested my loved one wanted me dead, too, so I could be walking in heaven with them.

(Good Lord, please don’t beam me up there.)

I like Chakotay’s Native American approach honoring our loved ones. Which is problematic in itself, since neither the actor who portrayed him nor the writer who consulted on the program were actually Native American. Oy vey!

Man without a country, woman without a god?

Quite the contrary. I have many gods — god as the Universe meets me when I walk in the woods, and god as joyful song joins me when I sing out loud in my car. Quan Yin watches over those daily travels, Ganesh holds my visions, and Earth Touching Buddha grounds my yoga practice. A reclining Buddha protects me while I sleep, St. Anthony welcomes me every morning, and I like to believe that when I curse at my computer, somehow it’s actually a prayer to Jesus Christ to help me be successful in all of my endeavors.

This is what I feel: god is everywhere and in everything, and prayer is too. Prayer is in holy scripture and haiku, in Psalms and poetry, in song lyrics, and yes, even in an episode of Star Trek. And as Captain Kirk once said, “sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.”

Essay, ©2019 Jen Payne.

Bidden or Unbidden, God Is Present

The Prayers of Whatever and I Don’t Know

In a very unusual position for me, I found myself at the foot of the Virgin Mary yesterday, looking up with gratitude.

My visit to the surrounding gardens at Mercy by the Sea (Madison, CT) offered welcome respite from the hectic week and this damned busy brain of mine. More so, it provided a brief and overdue moment to gather thoughts after a recent period of turmoil and change.

As I got out of my car, a pileated woodpecker giggled from a tree nearby, as if to say: lighten up. Gatherings of spring robins flittered easily about in the grass. The blue sky streaked with mares’ tails whispered a promise of rain — or not. A labyrinth wove mysteriously through inkberry bushes, while nearby wind chimes sang in the cool shore breeze.

Waves conversed with the sandy beach below, a small secluded expanse of sand and shells and times-weathered stones.

This divine space rolled out alongside the beach, its grassy lawn interrupted only by random steps, small stands of trees, and solitary benches placed here and there for a view. One such bench, facing southwest towards a stone cairn and seawall, was inscribed with a small memorial plaque, “Bidden or Unbidden, God Is Present.”

Pushing aside my immediate resistance, I found I kind of liked the sentiment. In Latin, Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit, now inscribed on the tomb of Carl Jung who wrote: “It is a Delphic oracle….It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose?”

To what purpose indeed had I been called to this glorious space, and then there to the foot of the Virgin Mary?

Truth be told, I don’t call her that. I just call her Mary, and I appreciate her existence in the same way I do Quan Yin and Ganesh, and sometimes maybe capital-G god.

But Mary called to me yesterday from her alcove beneath the cedars in a halo of afternoon sun, and I found myself thinking about her outstretched hands.

Were they inviting me in, come here across the lawn? or come back to some old and out-grown belief? Was she praying, perpetually for all…or just for me that afternoon?

The position of her hands downward, palms open and facing forward is known as the “Position of the Distribution of Graces,” but they reminded me of my granddaughter Lia’s sweet “I don’t know” gesture and my own occasional I-Give-Up-Whatever shrug.

And then, in that moment — and still — I found myself wondering if maybe Mary’s gesture was actually one of resignation or acceptance — like Lia and me — just yielding to What Is.

What if the secret to peace and Nirvana — and God even — is in that surrender, in the “I Don’t Know” and “Come What May”?

And there it was, unbidden as promised: God.

Essay and Photo ©2019, Jen Payne. About VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT, source http://www.philipchircop.com/post/10569072976/bidden-or-unbidden-god-is-present. About Virgin Mary statue meaning, http://www.mother-god.com/virgin-mary-statue.html. Letter from Carol Jung, source: Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters: 1951-1961, ed. G. Adler, A. Jaffe, and R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, vol. 2.

Have Mercy

Where better to wander, mid-week in these early days of spring?

Mercy by the Sea is a spiritual retreat and conference center located on 33 acres along the shores of Long Island Sound in Madison, Connecticut. It has a small yet diverse ecology, ranging from wetlands and woodlands to landscaped grounds and gardens. There are many reflective spaces on the property including a garden labyrinth overlooking a private expanse of beach.

Aimless or looking for new directions, perhaps.

A limitless horizon…

…and so many possibilities for what we find next.

A moment to reflect on where we are…

…and where we might go.

Photos ©2019, Jen Payne, Mercy by the Sea, Madison, Connecticut.

Timely Reminder

When is it not a good time for a refresher course in Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements?

Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t Take Anything Personally: 
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t Make Assumptions: 
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best: 
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Photo ©2018, Jen Payne. Text from The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Gratitude

For this
this ground beneath my feet,
the signs of seasons, yes,
and change

forever change

footsteps
forward
focused

fortitude

ability
health
movement

fearlessness

solitude
communion

grace

god

greatness in small things
and large
this, this ground beneath my feet

holds everything
and me

spinning forward
across a galaxy
a universe

and She
of all things
in every footstep

here, this ground beneath my feet

(Poem + Photo ©2018, Jen Payne. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!)