From Hysteria to Reverence

Tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the last remnant left you after the hail, and they shall devour every tree of yours that grows in the field. They shall fill your houses, and the houses of all your officials and of all the Egyptians.
When morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts. The locusts came upon all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever shall be again. They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black; and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left; nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God? Looking out upon a ground that is black with creepy crawling swarm of locus, cockroach-like beings that fill the houses is the stuff of my nightmares, not my thanksgivings.

As a child, I did not like outside. I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. Brownsville, Texas to be exact. It was hot outside. All the time. It was humid outside. All the time. Playing outside for recess meant that I would come in with my face so red that my mother took me to the doctor, even though we never went to the doctor. He told her I was a ‘hothouse plant’; I asked her what that meant. She explained that I just couldn’t stand the heat. “Keep her inside,” he said. Now, I did not argue that prescription because, there were huge bugs outside; Palmetto bugs (cockroaches) grow the size of mice in south Texas. And they have wings. Wings enable flight. I’m sure my older siblings took delight to instill great fear in me regarding all creeping things for the sight of one made my heart race and my blood chill. It was a great maneuver on their part to keep a small bothersome sister out of their space which they assured me was filled with the dreaded beasts for that very purpose. Each night, I would remember waking up at some point from a night terror bombarded by the flying monsters, and in turn waking my parents to do battle with them on my behalf. None of us slept much for years.

As if to reinforce the point, one time while on the playground (the school did not buy the ‘hot house plant’ theory), we girls kicked off our loafers to climb the monkey bars. The bell signaling the end of recess sounded; I jumped down ran over and thrust my bare foot into my shoe. A cockroach monster ran up my bare leg. I became a hysterical mess. The great outdoors was my arch enemy and my greatest fear.

One memory that I do have of outside as a child was of Christmas Eve. Our family did not attend Christmas Eve services because our Southern Baptist church did not hold them. The house was filled with teenage siblings doing their own thing; mother was busy in the kitchen; dad sat with the newspaper after his retail store closed late. All fears aside, I made my way outside alone. In the quite of the night, I peered into the star-strewn sky. No, I was not looking for Santa Clause; he was not part of our family tradition. I did not know what I was seeking, but I knew there was Something beyond the walls and noise of inside on this sacred night. Something beyond me drew me outside -to touch the More- to hear the stars- Something that must have been even greater than my small fearful soul could imagine.

I grew up fearful of the things of nature, but I also grew in awareness of it as a portal to experience the Holy. My call to ministry came as God’s voice speaking as I sat upon the sun-warmed sand pondering the unending waves crashing along the shore of Padre Island. In the discerning process, I was directed to a retreat center called Lebh Shomea House of Prayer. Named from the biblical text (1 Kings 3:9): “Give your servant lebh shomea (a listening heart) so as to be able to discern.” The retreat center is located in the desert wilderness miles from anything except cactus, mesquite trees, rattlesnakes, and King Ranch cattle. It began in 1973 through donated land to the Catholic Church. After many failed attempts as other venues, the priests decided the “vast wilderness was not much good for anything except encountering God in silence and solitude.” With the exception of morning communion and Sunday noon meal, silence is maintained there at all times. Upon my arrival, a petite young woman wearing a nun’s head covering greeted me with a nod. She smiled and motioned me to follow her down a path to my hermitage for the weekend. She handed me printed instructions regarding meal times and expectations. We passed several small animals on the path. Then a wild turkey flew across a fence and landed in a nearby tree. A peacock strutted across our path then some white-tail deer looked up from nibbling tender green shoots and came near. I half expected a blue-bird to swoop down and perch upon my outstretched hand so it and I could burst into song like Snow White. Instead the young nun stopped and turned to look at me whispering, “My Lord is putting on quite a show for you.” My listening heart had much to hear.

After fifteen years of ministry, my heart sang during my sabbatical in Ireland. One day while driving along the narrow winding lanes, I rounded a curve and there before me the green valley stretched deep, and the blue Celtic Sea shimmered beyond it and my heart was open and the beauty of it all was almost too much; it brought tears to my eyes. I hiked the Glendalough mounts in Wicklow that day. I came upon a lake of clear water reflecting the mountains like a mirror. I bent down to touch the water in reverence. It was the water of my body; it was the water of my baptism, the water of my birth, the water of first creation. I began kayaking that summer: floating at the water’s surface, rising and falling with the breath of the ocean, gliding to look an eagle in the eye. My listening heart had much to hear. It still does.

I was on vacation last week in Florida. I got to kayak in the Gulf of Mexico. Floating by myself on the ocean’s surface one foggy morning, I saw dark fins slicing through the water approaching straight in front of me. A few minutes later, I heard the dolphin’s breath breaking the surface of the water beside me. I had much to hear

I gained a ton of weight on my vacation. I didn’t eat that much cookies or candy. I didn’t overindulge in caloric adult beverages. Actually, I ate mostly fish and salads, but must have I gained about 6 sextillion metric tons. The weight of the earth. I think I may be beginning to hear a little more what the stars and the birds and the oceans might be saying.

I am beginning to see that I am not just the flesh and bone mass standing here. I am not the sum total of the digital numbers that my bathroom scale displays. I do not end at the top layer of my epidermis, nor at the pinnacle of my head nor at the tip of my little toe. I am more than what is encased in this body. The atoms of my body are the atoms of the stars. The waters flowing upon the earth were the waters of my mother’s womb and they continue to circulate through me. My lungs breathe in as the 400 billion trees of the Amazon rainforest breathe. The wind blows the leaves of the trees and my hair flows about as well. The moon dances a lover’s sway with the earth and my body responds. I am not separate from the geese that are migrating overhead calling to one another for guidance and support. I am not distinguished from the dolphin whose breath is one with the sea. We share the spirit and the elements and the soul of the web of life, the tears of the heavens, the tree bark as wrinkled as my grandfather’s hands once were. I am much larger than this body if I am at one with all of Creation.

That which we fear, we destroy; that which we revere, we protect. My spiritual journey has taken me deeper into reverence and awareness of my connection to all living things and God’s presence in all. My journey has taken me from hysteria to reverence and it continues to challenge me to see my unity with all that is.

In the Gospel of Thomas, it is recorded that Jesus said, “I am the All. Cleave a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there.” Jesus calls us to awaken and realize that we are not isolated beings. We are not an isolate species broken and destined to destroy one another and our Mother Earth who nurses us in life.

If we can awaken to the life pulse of the world as our pulse- then can we possibly ever be alone or lonely again?

When we realize that the earth beneath our feet and the sky above us and all creatures share a spirit with us, and we are as much a part of them as they are of us, then all are sacred, and we are changed to live differently not in greed, apathy or hysteria but in thanksgiving, passion and reverence.

May it be so.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace be with you.