A spiritual and religious journey
I remember when I was 8 or 9, sometimes on Sunday mornings before church there would be more of the endless conflict and anger in the house and I would be so incredibly miserable. I would feel like the misery of the world was in me and on me. I would feel like, I am that misery, that’s me (I didn't know that much at the time).
In high school I went to a church a few times late at night (amazing that they would be open like that) and prayed for a vision or healing or something. Nothing ever happened.
|She's one of the physicians at the REACH Clinic at CMC, where all pediatric|
sexual abuse cases in Dallas go for forensic exams and treatment.
In Vietnam, about 6-8 months into the thing I started thinking a lot about a girl with only one leg who lived a few klicks from our position. I was thinking all the time about just walking out of the perimeter, like a normal person, walk to where that girl lived and take her an adjustable crutch so she wouldn’t have to get around in the bent and twisted way she walked with her too short stick of a crutch. Later I wrote, “I’ve spent much of the past 40 years taking a crutch to that girl.”
|New Years morning at Big Bend|
My first spiritual teacher was Stephen Gaskin, one of the spiritual leaders of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. He taught that the visions were real and that trusting and following them could be a worthy path. I learned the Boddhisatva vow from him and I took it: To liberate all sentient beings (still working on myself, of course). There was a direct connection between the vision of Oneness and the vow and entering service to humanity.
|Island Lake in the Wind Rivers|
Reading the Bible, Tao Te Ching, Carl Jung, Be Here Now, Thomas Merton …
Going deeper into the dharma, working on loving kindness, first in hospice, then for many years with refugees and immigrants, and in other situations.
Living fairly simply, not wasting too many resources.
My third teacher was Dan Foster, a fellow traveler, a distinguished physician, teaching Christian living and theology, saying things like, “everyone/everyone’s life is a parable … high adventure … the storm always comes … blessed are the poor” and so much more (those are just things I carry with me all the time). Dan and his teaching lifted me up during some difficult times.
I’ve been in the same Bible study group for more than 20 years. We meet at 7am every Wednesday, rotating the leadership every week. Centering in the center of the week. Solid.
For me, the heart of Christianity is living according to what Jesus taught rather than doctrine or questions of what faith somebody else (like a denominational committee or the Apostle Paul) thinks people ought to have. I’m completely comfortable following my own visions and my own moral and ethical compass, supported and informed by Jesus’ teaching and Buddhist philosophy.
I love the old-timey Baptist hymns like In the Garden, A Closer Walk with Thee, Amazing Grace, and so on – and older music, like Missa Solemnis and Mass in B minor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpWY8UrYFJc
|The Agape Clinic waiting room - Hope!|
I’ve trekked deep into the high mountains, into the rock and wind and ice. I’ve slept in deserts where the stars fill the sky and silence fills me. I’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean, endless and blue. I’ve been in many a forest, mysterious and beautiful. I’ve walked in ancient temples. I’ve practiced Christianity and Buddhism. I’ve listened to preachers and teachers. I’ve studied and read and meditated. I’ve spent a lot of time with people who were sick, people who were suffering. I’ve been with people as they died – “watch with me.” I’ve prayed and I’ve sung sacred songs. I’ve danced beneath the starry sky. I’ve known many sinners and a few saints. I’ve meditated on my death. A lot has happened.
In the past few years I’ve reconnected with my tribe from years gone by. I’m in touch with only one of my original brothers, Jeff, and now he’s slipping away. But the thing about a tribe is that it’s a tribe, so here we are, together, dancing as the sun comes up.
|One of our hospice patients - so much pain|
Love is the doctrine of our church;
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humanity in fellowship,
To the end that all souls shall grow in harmony with the divine –
Thus do we covenant with each other.
I think that says it well for me.
A book about a knight and a girl
When I got to the end of the book, Between Two Fires, by Christopher Buehlman, I actually cried – not a common response from me. The book is about a knight and a girl during the plague years. Though there are many differences between us, I identified more strongly with the knight than any (literary or living) character I’ve encountered in many years. He had been stripped of his knighthood, excommunicated, and had lost his home and family. He joined a band of brigands and was wandering the countryside, stealing and killing. The bandits came upon a girl at a farm where everyone else was dead. Some of the bandits were getting ready to rape her, but the fallen knight killed them. He and the girl then set out on a quest, for what they didn’t know.
They journeyed through the plague-decimated countryside and towns guided by the girl’s visions. Along the way people helped them and hindered them and gradually, they encountered greater and greater evil. There were temptations and fear and pain and love and joy. In the end, there was a terrible battle, then peace; there was redemption.
It blew my mind the extent to which I identified with the knight, though I haven’t lost anything close to what he lost, nor done what he did. But I have been on noble quests; I have faced death squarely in battle and elsewhere; I’ve defended the defenseless, been face to face with evil, tried hard to do the right thing, had visions/followed visions. I have been redeemed.
In the past few days I’ve received these messages…
|Leslie doing what she does|
I want to thank you for being such a great mentor and inspiration to all of your students … for the life lessons and experiences I received while at the agape clinic and in community health. Aydrien
Thank you for sharing this gratitude with me! I'm so happy to share the special moments when we connected … I was so happy to introduce to you the most important beings in my life. Rachael