Archive | August, 2009

Church of the Pacific

30 Aug

When I was a UCSD college student, my dorm was on the Muir campus. This was walking distance to the shortcut that took you to the cliffs leading down to Blacks Beach. I found this out the first weekend I was there when I was invited to a party where everyone watched the sunset from this vantage point (amongst other things). I had just returned from living in Indonesia for a year as a very cloistered exchange student; looking out at the Pacific filled me not only with awe but with an overwhelming sense of freedom, expansion and relief.

I was not necessarily a party girl but that party initiated me to the wonder that was my backyard during those formative years. College was a wonderful experience but both my parents were losing their bearings then; to keep mine, I trekked down to Blacks Beach almost daily. I had no formal religion anymore but one look at the beach and I knew there was something vastly Greater than me and that as long as I went to the beach and remembered that, I would be okay.  

The ocean was a regular part of my life from then on until I moved to New York and was promptly told at work that even though I was from California, it wasn’t okay to take my shoes off during staff meetings. I didn’t really think about the beach or home during those five years until something bizarre occurred. While in an intensive meditation training, I began to see images of the Pacific practically haunting me every time I closed my eyes. This lasted a week and every time I meditated and saw flashes of blue, I cried. I knew the ocean was calling me home but it made no sense. My life was in New York. Six months later, I moved back to San Diego. 

Once back, I made a point to live by the sea and vowed I would NEVER take living by the water for granted. I lived in Carlsbad and was pretty good to my promise. I went almost daily to the beach, even if it was to simply drive by it. I knew the water intimately in all its variations of colors and moods, depending on the season and weather. But like someone who has strayed from God, once I moved further inland, I stopped going to the beach. 

Thanks to the crazy idea to try surfing, the prodigal daughter is coming Home. In the water, I am finding myself Born Again; in touch with God in a way that I had forgotten about. In the water, I am tossed about but get to feel the Force of something beyond me; pushing me, working me, caressing me that is different than the static water of a pool. Prone to mental neurosis, the ocean casts this out like Jesus did demons.When I’m done spending time in the ocean, my mind is reset and my body completed expanded. It is an experience of unity; communion; perhaps the integration of spirit and matter – heaven and earth – that we get every now and then while stumbling along our journeys.

Flowers Turning Towards the Sun

28 Aug

In nature, flowers have a natural impulse to turn towards the sun. Like a beautifully choreographed dance, blossoms open themselves in the direction of the light to receive sustenance. I think of prayer as a similar phenomenon. When we seek the face of God, we are like flowers turning towards the sun.

My church just finished five days of prayer vigils. I attended every one and it was wonderful. It reminded me of when I used to meditate regularly in formal settings. Oddly, this did not burden my schedule. In fact, it was just the opposite. When I don’t pray, the craziness of my schedule swallows me up; if I pray, somehow I receive extra fuel, insight and rest. It is a weird phenomenon. 

In tonight’s vigil, the facilitator gave us permission to lie down anywhere in the church. I chose not to but as other people grabbed blankets and pillows, I had this incredible sense of deja-vu. I remembered being a child in my father’s home when things were good. When I was safe, loved, protected and warm. When sleep was easy and when things hadn’t turned tragic. And then I made the connection – I have finally found my Father’s home again. I finally feel the peace I experienced at times during my childhood and have found the family I’ve been so desperately seeking – my family is in the church. Tonight I felt my spiritual brothers and sisters off in their bedrooms while I sat up awake. And tears of joy filled my eyes as I realized that I have come Home.

During this hour of prayer I thought of loved ones deceased and oddly, sensed my own death, which is becoming a more recurrent theme during my quiet time. I don’t know what this means really. Perhaps at 40, I’m in touch with my own immortality or have a genuine premonition of my own death. Or, it may be that as I heal through God, the distinctions between the physical and spiritual worlds fade. Who knows. Only He knows when our work here on Earth is done but more and more I sense the only reason we’re here is to eventually get “there.” Then again, death can be symbolic of other things ending – chapters of our lives, habits, sins – all dying so that new life can emerge. 

A flower blooms, it dies and finds new life again.

What I Didn’t Expect From Surfing

20 Aug

Yesterday was my third attempt at surfing. (For more on this see “Lise’s Crazy Day in the Sun” below). And it was awesome. Thanks to an amazing lesson from my neighbor’s daughter (who has been teaching at Surf Diva all summer), a much better fitting wet suit and the seal that swam by us, it was one of those experiences where things work like magic. No traffic, easy parking, mild waves, warm water. Right board, right instruction, right wave. “Up!” Amanda coached, as she pushed my board in front of the wave and presto – I’m up. “Paddle, paddle, paddle, up!” and presto – I’m up. And it was beyond cool. 

What I didn’t expect from surfing were to have memories of my life come cascading like the waves crashing to shore. Yesterday, I showered and peeled off my wet suit – put on sweats and jumped into the car. While doing so, I had this odd deja-vu of being a college student showering at the beach, putting on dry clothes and jumping into the car. And then my thoughts turned to my dad on and off all day. 

I’m not certain the connection expect that Amanda, my neighbor’s daughter was such a good teacher and so was my dad. Each time I caught a wave, she thumb upped me, a big smile on her face. I remember my dad thumb upping me. Timing me on the track; coaching me for the 440 relay and half-mile. I remember my dad spending time with me. I remember my dad taking me to the beach. 

My relationship with my father was as complicated as the one I had with my mother. I adored him and he was good to me but in so many ways he set me up for heartache. A classic narcissist, the world revolved around him. When you were the golden child and an extension of him, that meant the world revolved around you too and in many ways I was treated like a royal princess. But when you become an individual in your own right, the narcissist ultimately stops seeing you and rejects you. Mix that in with drug abuse that toppled my dad’s law career and intensified his brilliant mind and you get trouble. And a little girl lost her father and her sense of orientation. 

I have been swimming my way back to shore for years. And how funny that as I do, the land that surfaces in the distance is the undying love I still feel for my father. How strong those bonds are and how deep the imprint of an adult who can attend to and teach a child. “Up!” Amanda coached. And I rode the wave. 

This week I had my recurring dream that my father’s three story house was back in the family and I would be inheriting it. I woke up to remember that he is dead and that we lost the house twenty years ago. But somehow the dream always feels a little like restoring Zion. A piece of my internal house reclaimed. I have a similar dream where I’m near the Big Sur and must pilgrimage there. 

How fitting that as I drove away from work last night, Jackson Browne’s song “The Pretender” played on the radio. I listen to KPRi – they don’t typically play “The Pretender.” Dad’s favorite song. That became about him. “Are you there? Say a prayer. For the pretender. Who started out so young and strong. Only to surrender…. Say a prayer for the pretender.”

Lise’s Crazy Day in the Sun

15 Aug

If you grow up in San Diego as I did, beach culture becomes part of your lifestyle. For me, jelly fish and Mr. Bubble were synonymous. When I inadvertently stepped on one (a jelly fish) as a toddler, I ran screaming to my mother that “Mr. Bubble bit me.” My mom didn’t have a clue what I was talking about until I dragged her to the scene of the crime. (The jelly fish was half dead, washed up on the shore but alive enough to get me). Days were spent playing in the waves and and I remember a sweet sixteen party where we all arrived at La Jolla shores in a hired yellow school bus.

In that environment, surfers were part of the landscape. As a UCSD student, I used to walk down with them every morning to Blacks Beach to run while they paddled out but it never dawned on me to try their sport. In my day, little girls didn’t enroll in surf camps. My dad taught me to body surf and bought me a boogie board but like an indoor cat, this was the extent of my territory.

But now I have a pastor whose every sermon references surfing and neighbors who hang their wet suits on my patio. Plus whenever I walk on the beach, I now see little kids in mini wet suits. It’s like standing and watching everyone dance or ice skate when you’re dying to join in too. It’s like being a teenager where everyone is talking about sex and you don’t have a clue. 

So I enrolled in two classes at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center to get my feet wet – no pun attended. What a HOOT! I knew it was going to be fun when I laid eyes on my very cute instructor who also turned out to be sweet and smart, although younger than me. My other classmate was a fourteen year old kid from Maine. (Thankfully, I was only old enough to be his mother and not my instructors’). We sat and learned about currents and tides, swells and breaks. And then we got into the bay for a swim test and some basic instruction before crossing over to Mission beach. 

What a HOOT! I couldn’t stop laughing every time I fell off my board. I suck at it. But it was absolutely delightful. I think tomorrow will prove more successful because we’ll be out there for two and a half hours but who cares?! With a wet suit the water isn’t cold and my God, I felt like I was five years old again. It was such a beautiful riot. The most absurd delight. 

I have no idea where I’ll go with this after tomorrow. I think if I made this a part of my regular life I’d never get anything done. I just want to curl up for a nap now and do nothing. I’m that relaxed. That tickled. I feel like a child again.

Here’s to the Church of the Pacific! I think God is raising Lise from the dead and helping her reconnect with the world again.

Why I Struggle with Facebook

8 Aug

Although part of me welcomes change, I have always struggled with it, particularly changes in technology. I would have fit in just fine during the horse and buggy days and have daily fantasies of living during a more slow paced time (as long as I could be English aristocracy living on an estate with lots of horses and books). 

So one of the technological trends of modern life of course is Facebook. Now I have resisted Facebook for a long time. I’ve simply had no interest in being a “friend” – (I have plenty) – or to have tons of people know what songs I like. It all feels so adolescent and superficial. But now I have a problem. Everyone is doing it. And less and less people are blogging so if I want to be in on discussions – philosophical or otherwise, I have to get on the bandwagon and join this massive network. 

Now the other part of the problem is that in order to view anyone’s Facebook profile, you have to join so it’s not like you can test drive the thing. They kind of lure you in that way. So I started making a profile and the whole thing just freaked me out. I felt like I was setting up an on-line dating profile. I just don’t want to be this public. Or this connected. I’m already too connected as it is. There are days when I want to unplug. Quiet down. I could see this Facebook thing taken me down a vortex of hours wasted that could be spent reading, praying, sleeping, yoga-ing. Or — actually spending time with loved ones – cultivating intimacy in the flesh!!!!!!!!! What a concept.  

So help me out. Any of you on Facebook – make a case for it, if you find it valuable. And if you know how to select privacy features so half the world doesn’t know how to find me. Or, if you Facebook and are starting to hate it, tell me why. And if Twitter is all the rage and you prefer it to Facebook, please share that as well. Knowledge is power. Thanks!!!!

31 Flavors

2 Aug

I remember once reading a brilliant essay in a news magazine about an American who travelled somewhere in Africa. While eating at a restaurant there with a native, the two were offered ice cream for dessert at which point the American shared, “In the United States we have an ice cream store where there are thirty-one flavors to choose from for an ice cream cone. “That is far too many,” the African said. “People shouldn’t have that many choices.” 

I was so struck by this. In many ways, we are inundated with choices, particularly from a consumer standpoint. I get lost trying to figure out which electronics and appliances to purchase (so I don’t) and even choosing what cereal to buy spins my head (I prefer Grape-Nuts). But on the other hand, I am grateful that in America we have choices: choices regarding our jobs, education, what religion we follow and who we date or marry. And because of this, I feel a moral responsibility to take advantage of my freedom. 

The flip side of choices entails responsibility. If I make a choice, I have to pay the consequences of my decisions. 

Whenever I’m faced with choices, I have a bad habit of asking for advice. While feedback often helps, it can be a cop out, buffing us from owning our decisions and from turning to God for guidance. So I have tried to embrace my choices, even if I initially ask a million people what they think. 

My friends often say I neurose (not sure if that is a word) too much over things. Related, I remember the dean at college saying to freshmen, “Don’t think too much about your major. Just pick something! Otherwise, you might stay in school on the ten year plan.” And yes, we can mentally masturbate over things. But I also find that when I obsess over something, I learn in the process. My values become redefined; something becomes clear that wasn’t. Or, emotions surface that show me the decision entails more than meets the eye. 

So although I typically like coffee or banana ice cream, occasionally I’ll venture out and try a different flavor.  Yet again, sometimes it’s nice not having too many choices and to go with what is reliable and familiar.

But I have learned that those roads less travelled that Robert Frost writes so eloquently about sometimes do make all the difference in our lives.