Saturday, October 16, 2010


"The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment of unison with it, that was the miracle."
Anais Nin

Autumn has come to the Southwest, though not with flashy bright colors or gloomy, gray rain, but with a sudden crispness. The days have become cooler and the mornings and the evenings are cold. The sun hangs lower in the sky, and the length of the day is much shorter. I wake up before the sunrises and dinner is just about the end of time. Though some of the cottonwood trees are beginning to yellow, there is still some green in the valley. There are vibrant pink flowers in the garden at the center that still haven't died.

A few nights ago it rained and looming dark clouds and big winds have lofted through the valley since then. In the morning mist the peacocks casually perch on our neighbor's chain-linked fence as I jog onto the acequias towards the road with the neighborhood watch sign. The mountains look blue in the moist air and partial sunlight. Huge puddles fill the sunken parts of the street pavement.

Earlier this month, Albuquerque held its annual International Balloon Fiesta. One morning before dawn, Heather, Diana and I hiked to the top of one of the several inactive volcanoes west of the city. We huddled on a slab of black rock with peaches and croissants. As soon as the sun rose and colorful round specks began to fill the valley, we popped open a bottle of champagne.

With the changing of seasons I am beginning to recognize the most subtle change of my perspective.

In the community that I am apart of we gather together on Wednesday nights to discuss Non-Violent Communication. Judy Bierbaum, who most recently leads our discussions, is a psychotherapist who works with children in the areas of trauma and abuse. She has been to India, Latin America and Asia to work with marginalized people and has served two prison sentences for protesting against the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

When I first heard about Judy my immediate thought was "she is one of those types." And by "those types" I mean those activists who make you feel bad about the war in Iraq, for owning things, or for eating meat.

However, upon meeting Judy my opinoin of her was completely altered.

Judy is a petite women with a huge energy. With brown hair held loosely in a long pony tail, flowing skirts, sky blue eyes and deep crows feet, she greeted us with animated gestures and excitement. At the beginning of our class, Judy seated herself and entered into a more contemplative mode. Calmly she looked around the room as if to register each of our faces, to clarify the wall color and make note of every book on the bookcase. She invited each of us to breath, to feel our feet firmly planted on the floor and to listen to the wind beating against the adobe house.

She began by reading a poem by Hafiz.

"I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music
I am the concert from the mouth of every creature
singing with the myriad chorus

I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this

Judy closed the book and softly searched our faces again with great interest. "You all come with your own music," she said.

Then she told us her story. "When I was a teenager I decided that if I could learn how to love God and love others then I would be learning everything there was to know."

Judy went to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa in the 1980's and later to Gauetmala during their civil war to advocate peace.

"You can ignore poverty if you want to, you can. But I knew that If I went [to India, Central America & etc,) I could never go back to not knowing what is going on. But here is the Good News - we all have to wrestle with this. That verse took me on this journey, but the conclusion you reach may be different. It may take you in a different direction."

During our third time together, Judy asked each of us where we were at with what we were learning. While everyone spoke eloquently about how they were grappling with non-violence, when the time came for me to speak I had little to say.

It wasn't until I was walking through downtown Albuquerque one evening last week that what I had been learning finally struck me.

Walking on my own, my anxious thoughts began to surface. Is this guy following me? Oh it's fine, I could most definitely take these three guys if I had to...when I ripped my cellphone out of my bag like a warning to all who would approach me, a lightbulb flickered above my head.

I live this way all the time. I am constantly ready to defend myself, to fight back or shout back at any threat that may come my way.

But what if I allowed the next harsh word aimed in my direction to end with me? What if I ended the cycle by refusing to dig up a sharp, cunning or sarcastic comeback?

Giving up "violent communication" may be a notion as ridiculous as that time I tried to give up chocolate because I thought it was made by child slaves. However, in all my yearning for Christ to walk through some kind of a wall in my life, I'm beginning to realize that I may need to meet him half way.

With all the changing leaves and new coolness, I can't help but notice the sky. Without the hazy humidity of the Midwest, the desert sky is bright and a clear in a way that seems unique to the West. It is almost always sunny here, and so it is this constant blue that guides us through the seasons, stretching across the valley and the mountains, so protective and suggesting so much potential.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


The flower you hold in your hands was born today and already it is as old as you are.
- Antonio Porchia

The Navajo medicine woman wore a long purple skirt, a black vest and a turquoise chain. Her gray hair was held in a tight bun, bangled braclets hung loosely around the wrinkled brown skin of her wrists, and she peered with dark eyes from behind her spectacles. With hunched shoulders, she moved slowly down the halls of the little ranch house that were covered with that seventies floral wall paper. In one hand she raised a gray feather, while her sons chanted and she sang.

Grace followed with blonde bob, blue eyes, and only eight years, looking very Swedish and wearing a brown cowgirl dress. She solemnly brought the bowl of ground white and yellow corn, and sprinkled it in the air, in the doorways and down the halls.

A Navajo grandson came last with another gray feather which he dipped into a bowl of water and also sprinkled throughout the ranch.

There is more than one way to bless a house, to bless the creatures and the land, to realize what is sacred and to begin again, but in honor of the feast of St. Francis, and in the land of Red Mesas, we were Navajo blessed.

With the arrival of a new herd of sheep that are so dear to the Navajo people, we moved outside to the yard, underneath the desert sun and the slow moving clouds of the west. Grandmother and sons, grandchildren and Grace came with smoke, hot coals and ancient pipe, for more songs, more ritual, feathers, and blessing. People took the corn dust and sprinkled it on each other, like Ash Wednesday.

One of the Navajo sons stood up at some point and told everyone that while he was in Vitenam, his mother walked the hills daily, and in every direction that the wind hit her she said a blessing on his behalf.

Later, we feasted. A traditional Native meal: flat bread, mutton, corn and chocolate cake.

I sat next to an older man who traveled North for this Celebration. He told me that he had retired in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, once called Hot Springs. It was renamed after a popular radio quiz show in the 1950's. He also told me that he had a few pilgrimages planned and seemed extremely insulted when I referred to them as "little journeys." "A little journey is a trip down the road to Dairy Queen," he said scornfully. There were a few other things he mentioned that I didn't quite pick up on: a vision of Mother Mary, a nun trying to save his soul, and something about writing sonnets about his cat.

Then the wind picked up, and it rained. The group huddled together beneath a tent until the storm blew further west, and then we wandered to the Red Mesa, following the friar, a hitchhiker and Gracie. On the red rock walls there are prehistoric etchings, bear's feet, spirals, a man and a drum. Pieces of old pottery lay near the base, someone found a ceramic bowl.

I found myself subtly detached from the day. Appreciative, but distant. And so, a message from a dear friend came:

The great thing about prayer is not to pray but to go directly to God. If saying your prayers is an obstacle to prayer, cut it out. Let Jesus pray.

- Thomas Merton

I don't often pray when the wind hits me, in fact, lately I haven't prayed much at all. But I hope, in spite of my own cluelessness, wandering and fear, something can still happen on my own little journey - that the song will keep on being sung, the smoke will billow, and clouds will rain.