G R A C E, a Name We Can All Adopt

A store clerk looked at my credit card last week and asked, “What does your name mean? Anita? It is so beautiful”.     I responded that I once knew,   but had forgotten… that I would google it.

Apparently, my name means GRACE and I couldn’t have been happier to learn or re-learn this little fact.   I have always loved that word.

While I was preparing for yoga with the ladies of the Phila. Federal Detention Center (FDC),  I decided to research the meaning of many of their names:

Donna- lady
Martina-warrior
Lee- shelter from the storm
Amy- beloved
Michele- gift from God
Gwen- blessed
Stacey -resurrection

I asked them to lie on their backs and after centering through breath to begin to repeat,   “I am …fill in your name” and after a few rounds, replace your name with the meaning of your name.  I spoke gently of “who” they are when they drop the unhelpful labels (like inmate) and false identities (like criminal).  I suggested we practice together in the spirit of honoring how we each share all of those strong and lovely qualities. Then,  I explain that in yogic terms how we speak of karma and what you put out into the world will have equal repercussions–like in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  We are taught to be careful and intentionally put out more good than bad into the world!!

But….

Along comes this thing called GRACE to upend this karmic concept; where all of us get a second chance and a third and a fourth.  No matter what crime or sin or evil we’ve committed, we can turn to the Light and allow it to overcome  or transform the darkness–   THROUGH GRACE.  Yes, it is a radical concept– Love interrupts the course of our karmic path and redirects us, not just onto a new path but we find we have a new and deeper understanding of who we are in relationship to God and to one another.  

My favorite, simple poem is Mary Oliver’s :

Pay Attention
Be Astonished
Tell About it

I continue to be astonished that it is by feeling an actual dying “within” the dark wound itself, that energy is released and converted.  Especially in stillness,  we find we can  surrender our wrongs and our trauma.  Infinite spirit uses them as raw material to create something new, an original melody meant to be sung in our voice alone.  We must die to the sad, same, old tune and  awaken to a new song in our hearst.   The beloved Maya Angelou passed away last week and left us with her incredible message of love,  personal empowerment and yes, transformation. Ms. Angelou said,

“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.”

Back in class it is now  3:15 p.m. and  time for final rest for the ladies of the FDC.  They recline into savasana and listen as I describe this as one of the most difficult poses because we are left alone to just “Be”.   There is no one instructing us,  no one encouraging, or guiding us any longer. How much self- trust and knowledge have we cultivated to “Be” here?  It’s brave and vulnerable and totally worth it to stay.

I suggest we might try resting in the knowledge that GRACE is personal and For us… Lest we might begin to think that all our effort, all our self-improvement was the reason for our shining, expansive heart.

Making Me a Channel of God’s Peace

Two and a half years ago I attended my first Centering Prayer retreat at the St. Francis Renewal Center with  a special group  of all ages seeking God’s friendship in the stillness.  I sat in one of the later sessions of the weekend and began pleading with God:

“I cannot do this on my own.  I do not know enough to teach this meditation in the prisons as you’ve called me.  Who am I to go forward in this way- I am a wife and mother and not an expert on this topic, by any means. I don’t know enough yet!!!”.

Through my shaking and tears, I began to feel God “breathing me“–
like nothing I had ever experienced
as my chest rose and fell–
as if by His spirit moving in me.

And then I very distinctly heard, “Go forward …you have MY LOVE. That is enough“.

I continued to practice almost every day and after a few set-backs and disappointments over the coming 6 months, I was invited to begin teaching a weekly class to the incarcerated men at the FCI. This was a moment of Divine intervention as I traveled by car to NYC with a prison warden I had never met and he agreed to let this inexperienced woman try her hand at teaching in his facility.  After a few sessions volunteering with 12 men on average, a second class in the minimum security was added. I was blessed by the honesty and compassion of these men week after week for an entire year. I quickly realized that as I served, I was the one whose heart was expanding and was blessed abundantly.

God had made true on His promise. His LOVE was always enough.

The men often shared how the practice was effecting their relationships with their families.  They felt less reactive, more open to believing change was possible and having a more positive outlook on utilizing their time away from their families as an opportunity for personal growth and knowing God in a deeper way.

They were able to connect to their “enough-ness” in a new and consistent way.

In October of 2013 the organization I volunteer with was offered an opportunity to teach the women at the Philadelphia FDC a combination of non-violent communication skills, yoga and meditation.  I have been there almost weekly since and again am encouraged at  the way that God has healed and opened hearts.

This practice has raised my awareness so that I am choosing which thoughts are helpful and which are hurtful.  Because I am choosing to operate wholly much more often, I am choosing love (both for myself and others) and I have found that this has brought me to a new level of self- acceptance and compassion.

The inner journey is now being mirrored in the outer world as I continue to enjoy a strong sense of purpose and meaning, sharing these tools and my personal story.  I continue to pray to be emptied for His use, a channel of His peace.   I am in the midst of my 200-hour yoga teacher training and doors are being opened each week full of opportunities to share with new, hungry, hurting people.

I pray that I be used well to serve in a way that continues to draw and heal hearts back to Our Creator, where one-ness and peace abide.

When He said LOVE your enemies

the enemy within
should not be discharged
after all,
she is your loyal soldier
and wounded healer,
i might add

the lusty dancer in  sweat-soaked silk shirt
desirous of …a legion of lovers
is not the adversary

and yes, the courtroom judge outfitted in
flowing black robes
trailing a whispered “how could you?”
behind

even that dummy in the corner
donning dunce-cap

and what about the jealous one
wishing for
high-powered divisions
in which people respond “how high?”
in reply to your–
“JUMP!”

i really love my small, snarky self
when she wants to arm herself with
your daddy and your sisters
into her own battalion
and wishes you would stop sabotaging both… for once

oh how I love her when she attempts to recruit the
extravagant and fanciful
into her service

as if those trappings could penetrate
and seep into
bones
and vessels
establishing residence
like a marigold seed planted
and prepped by the deluge
for spring’s blossoming

yes
i surely do love
the enemy within

she’s human and fallible,
imperfect and struggling,
participating exquisitely
and rebelling as necessary

i shall simply wrap her
cozily
in a knitted and yes, undeserved
blanket
and quench her
supposed need
for  gold stars and purple hearts
with a
perfect
cup
of
tea

volcano love

peak ascending skyward
stable and steady like rooted oaks
hot rocks spewing
temps rise
pink lava flows
as if blood mixed with tears
staining the surface
in a streaming fluid
releasing the pent up “strength”
oozing like ketchup squeezed
from plastic packet
until spent
empty
flattened
one with the earth
absorbed

transformed

sheds cocoon -like protective covering
expands colorful wings
north
then south
east
then west
testing legs
still wobbly
trusts an inner knowing

I can FLY
High as the volcano
beyond the rainbow