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Something red flickered, gentling the branch of the viburnum shrub outside my study window: It was the cardinal, its feathered crest bespeaking authority. Mesmerized, I sought its spirit. For a split second, turned inside out in riotous colors, it happened. Then, I was alone, the branch slick with raindrops still trembling from its visitor.

I had been visited. Its import would be revealed. I’d just have to listen.

Earlier in the morning, I wondered whether I was still eligible for hospice, given Medicare’s second benefit period winding down. I was still performing my ADLs, albeit more slowly, still managing with helpers in my home, still content with new learning each twenty-four hours. Yet imperceptibly, I was still losing ground. The steroid, at first helpful with my symptoms, was less effective, rendering me weak and lightheaded. Breathing still limited my endurance, increased my need to pace myself, and messed with coughing up phlegm during the day.

“Of course, Liz, you still meet the criteria for hospice,” Alice said later as she wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my upper arm. “We’ve also gotten to know you these past months—you’re doing very well—and you know to call us whenever you need help with personal care.” Often, she had offered this additional service. I brightened with her words, seeping into vestiges of denial still lurking within my psyche’s depths.

So again it was about acceptance, deeper than previously experienced. I felt its sweet release. This was working out, literally one day at a time. I only had to show up and keep an eye out for the cardinal, my backyard companion and teacher.

Like savory stew simmering over a low fire, so does Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water – Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (2011) excite my appetite for deeper union with my God.

Decades of ministering to the afflicted, beset by stinking thinking, led this Franciscan priest to study the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous by attending meetings in the church basement across the alley from which he lived in the 1970s. No matter that he did not suffer from alcoholism, so easily did his new friends welcome him into their spiritual fellowship. Inherent within their practice of the 12 Steps were Gospel teachings of healing releasing them from the bondage of addiction and filling them with zest for life. Rohr seized upon this synchronicity and continued listening.

Further refinement of this paradigm led Rohr to equate the disease of addiction with sin: our divisiveness from God, others, and ourselves. He also saw the 12 Steps mirrored in the three paths of classical Western spirituality: Purgation, Illumination, and Union: willingness to name hidden sins in our unconscious, willingness to purge them from our thinking and choices, willingness to make amends to those we’ve harmed, and willingness to carry this message of deliverance to others.

This simple practice entails arduous work, given our slothful natures. Without the support of Higher Power’s influence within sponsorship and fellowship, we flounder.

“This book is for you,” reads the dedication page, and so it is. Our powerlessness before life on life’s terms—even the pandemic—makes this so.

A synchronicity of burgeoning occurs for those willing to look: Spring’s coloration and the pandemic’s menace. Both entail energy—one vibrates within jewel-tones of Beauty and the other shivers within denizens of Death. One exalts spirit; the other implodes terror.

Yet, even seeds of dismemberment blemish Spring’s unfolding as subsequent seasons evolve upon the demise of previous ones and address our mortality. Winter’s grieving can be intense, but it does not end there. Spring’s greening arrives with gusto. Such is experienced in Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (1717), a group of four violin concertos that quicken imaginations, that enfold spirits within Beauty’s kiss, that enrich sensibilities, that loosen rigidity, and catapult into deeper Life.

True, the pandemic and Winter snuff out life as we know it, but death in its myriad forms has always lurked behind our blind spots, just waiting. I used to say, “Since our mother lived to be ninety-nine years old, I don’t have to hurry to finish my book. It’ll get done.” But it didn’t work out that way.

Perhaps such burgeoning of energy begs a revision of our concept of God. In the prophet Isaiah we find an astounding revelation: I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 45:7

Certainly not that God wants our misery, given the miracle of birth and subsequent development. Joy does abound within the fabric of our humanness.

Contemplating such truth orients us to the deepest of mysteries where we experience ultimate Life and rejoice, far beyond our imagining.

 

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