Monday, August 30, 2010

Angel in the Backyard

Randall looked hard at the beautiful young woman standing in his backyard. It had been four months since his wife died, and he continued to experience sleepless nights, bouts of depression and loneliness. But at 7:45 am on a Wednesday morning gazing out the kitchen window, he was as clear and alert as he had ever been, and that woman looked way too much like his departed and beloved wife.

Leilani and Randall were very much in love. When she came into hospice with incurable breast cancer, Randall began to detach from the outer world, spending all of his time with her. Leilani’s death, though long expected, was a stunning shock to him. His two sons were worried about their father, as his grief was overflowing into his family and work life.

Randall blinked twice, but the woman did not disappear. Finally, he got up the courage to walk out the back door and into the yard. For the first time, he noticed that the couple’s dog of 13 years was barking up a storm. Apparently the dog aptly named Bright Eyes saw the visitor as well. Randall’s walk toward his wife seemed to be in slow motion. Her whole faced smiled, seemed to glow, as he approached. It was Leilani! Leilani from 40 years ago, in the prime of her youth and beauty. Just as he had done thousands of times, he leaned over to kiss his wife. Surprisingly, she stopped him with her right hand, bending down instead to snuggle the now ecstatic Bright Eyes first. The couple then embraced and walked together toward the house.

Randall no longer questioned what was happening to him. If this were a dream, let it last forever, he thought. It was as real to him as the entire sixty years of his life on earth. As they stood in the couple’s living room, Leilani smiled and said, ‘Thank you; you finally fixed that picture frame.’ Indeed, with time on his hands and an overanxious mind, Randall had finally recrafted a wall hanging she had asked to be fixed over a year ago.

She stared into her husband’s dull eyes. ‘What’s wrong hon, you look so sad?’ ‘I’m worried, Leilani; I’m not doing well, the bills are not getting paid, and I can’t find work.’ She broke into the biggest smile he had ever seen. ‘Don’t worry my love, I guarantee that your problem will be resolved very, very soon.’ He nodded in disbelief. As Randall then moved to open the door, wanting to show Leilani some work he had done in the front yard, he turned to find himself alone in the house.

That Wednesday was strange and unsettling for Randall. He didn’t tell a soul about his experience. He wanted to relive it again and again in his mind before coming to a solid conclusion which he might then dare to tell others. He fell asleep on the couch after midnight. The phone rang early Thursday morning. A very happy voice on the line practically yelled to him, “Hey Rand, our troubles are over! I found us some good work. Our luck has changed my man!’

The first and perhaps the only person Randall saw on that Friday morning who he dared to share such a strange experience with was Leilani’s hospice nurse Cindy. By chance, he ran into Cindy at the little Seven-Eleven down from his house. It was the first time he had seen her since his wife’s death. When Cindy heard his story, she smiled knowingly and said, ‘I believe you Randall.’

That same Friday my friend Cindy shared Randall’s true story with me. I too had met his angel Leilani in her final days on earth, had seen the special glint in her eyes, had felt an unusual connection to her at first sight, and had been unsurprised to hear of her return. Cindy and I had heard these visitation stories before, when the love of those living and those ‘dead’ seems to break through the so-called reality of this earthly world.

I do believe. I believe that love can violate the laws which have violated the law of love.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Bird Whisperer

Today a small green bird flew through the open door of our hospice staff meeting and crashed into a sliding glass door to the outside. A gasp went up from the doctor, nurses, social workers and others who were discussing the deaths and dyings of our patients. Our volunteer coordinator Pearl quickly got up, gently lifted the dead bird and walked outside as several staff members made nervous comments. Was this a sign? Was it a reminder that death is all devouring and unexpected? Such reminders this group did not need.

Working in the hospice family, we see living beings declining, dying and passing away on a daily basis. Sometimes it seems to us as if everyone must be dying of cancer or emphysema or heart disorders. So when a non-human living being came flying into our weekly meeting in a death glide, no one was surprised, but everyone was a bit shocked and saddened. In fact, only moments earlier we had been mourning the loss of a hospice nurse from the other side of our Island. When death strikes so close to home, the stark black and white nature of life and death becomes even more traumatic.

After a minute or so, I left the meeting with the idea to do a quiet honoring of the passing of that small green bird. As a hospice chaplain, I have come to value life in all of its varied forms. I’ve been privileged to witness and support the passing of human beings of all cultures, races, religions and ages. And I find myself honoring departing spirits of non-humans as well. It seems natural and appropriate to me.

Outside I saw Pearl bent down, moving her hand over the dead bird and apparently praying. Ah, someone else who sees the value in memorializing a young bird’s departure, I thought. As she slowly got up I walked over to stand with her. ‘The bird’s dead.’ I stated. ‘I don’t think so,’ she whispered. As we watched, the bird moved slightly. In another minute, a small beak opened weakly. ‘Pearl, you brought it back to life!’ I marveled. ‘No, I just gave it ‘healing touch,’ she explained. We took the bird to a shaded, grassy and protected area to let it rest and hopefully heal enough to fly away.

As we returned to the meeting, I announced, ‘Pearl healed the bird; it’s alive.’ The hospice group clapped as one nurse deemed Pearl a ‘bird whisperer.’ Everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. A human colleague had died; an animal relation lived on.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Heavens Weep

Aunty Nona Beamer recently died in West Maui, Hawaii. Her achievements in music, Hawaiian cultural advocacy and spiritual inspiration are legendary. But the words used to describe her passing were simple: “Ue ka lani—the heavens weep—as we mourn the loss of our hulu kupuna, beloved Hawaiian treasure,” said a long-time friend. Aunty was the matriarch of the famous Beamer musical family, and she played her magical ukulele until the end. Her departure has caused much weeping in the Islands, as well the heavens.

Hawaii is not a perfect place. It has its share of greed and prejudice. But there is a special spirit here which deserves consideration. Aunty’s survivors included three sons and one daughter. Two of her sons were by blood; one son and her daughter are ‘hanai.’ Hanai means an unrelated child or adult who is so loved that they are ‘spiritually adopted’ into the family. Whereas adoption in the legal sense often has the result of distinguishing adoptees from birth children, my observation has been that hanai sons and daughters are not distinguished, at least in the way they are loved and treated, from other siblings.

On this year’s ‘American Idol Gives Back’ TV fundraiser, a famous actor and his wife looked on in disbelief as three African children lay down to sleep on a narrow dirty pad in a corner of their hut. These orphans, along with tens of thousands of others, live in hopeless desperation. While we complain of high gas prices and falling home values, many potential hanai brothers and sisters around the world live in abject poverty and helplessness. The actor and his wife wiped away real tears as they left the village.

If our inspirational leaders today turn out to be singers, actors and sports stars, so be it. Bono may be more relevant than Bush. Musicians, dramatists and athletes have inspired people throughout history to rise up in compassionate unity with others. The Greek tragedies brought people together as they recognized the universality of suffering. The ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ inspired a majority to break apart the institutions of slavery. A victorious black athlete named Jesse Owens at the ‘Hitler Olympics’ in 1936 predisposed the world to eventually reject the lies and deception of the Fuhrer.

It has become obvious that the political leaders and governments of the world are not up to the challenges of the 21st century. Not nearly. As always, hope lies with us—we the people. It lives within those of us who have the metaphysical vision to see that, spiritually, we are all hanai in relation to every man, woman and child on this planet. Can we save everyone from sadness, poverty and starvation? No. But we may be able to save one child, one brother or one sister.

Nona Beamer, the embodiment of aloha, is gone. Let us who remain wipe away our tears, and reach out a hand to our spiritual world family, hanai relatives of every race, creed, culture and country.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Starbucks Rendevous

Your ancestors will come into the Lodge; not the Lakota ancestors, but your own ancestors will come to be with you, to counsel you,” said the well-groomed Caucasian man to the Hawaiian businesswoman sitting at his Big Island Starbucks table. Before this statement, the two had been talking business deals, internet search engines and websites for the last hour and a half. They seemed to be client and consultant. Now, the conversation had changed: “We come together for a sweat lodge every Sunday morning,” he said. “We pray for grace and peace in the world and in our own lives. Come sweat with us if you like.” The woman seemed stunned for a minute. But she was intrigued and asked the man to continue.

He went on to describe his yearly participation in traditional Lakota sun dances on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It seems that he was no Indian wannabe, but a human being seeking guidance wherever he could get it.

Now they both spoke softly. “Yeah, I’m an atheist still, I guess,” he said almost apologetically. He talked about a father-scientist who had ingrained in him a cynical determination to accept nothing on faith alone. Then the man spoke of his discovery of quantum physics and its ‘unquestionable similarities’ with indigenous and mystical wisdom teachings. This new scientific paradigm was shaking up his inner world. “That’s nuclear physics, man,” he said to the woman, “not some new age voodoo.”

She made a quiet and spot-on observation about his personal dilemma. “You hit a nerve,” he responded to her suggestion that perhaps he was struggling between what appeared to him the irreconcilable domains of faith and reason. Then their conversation trailed off for awhile. I mused to myself, ‘Maybe his scientific father is coming back as an ancestor spirit from the unseen world to speak to him in the sweat lodge, to help him avoid the mistakes he had made in splitting apart science and spirituality?’

The business meeting turned ‘meaning of life’ conversation continued as they spoke of Jung, Heisenburg, and Pauli; religion, science and the Tree of Life. The man and woman at a Starbucks rendevous ended their conversation, exchanged cards and disappeared into the night. But they had gotten my attention for a few minutes, and my appreciation.

Two excited people at a little café in Hawaii spoke of changing attitudes and trends which may someday change the world. First I resisted listening in, struggling to stay on track with my writing project. Then I got an inner push and surrendered to the moment, finally memorializing in cyberspace the thoughts of two unknown people among millions of people who are envisioning a new and better world. A world where the scientist and the mystic acknowledge that they are looking through telescopes and meditation visions to find the very same Mystery.

And I lifted a quick, silent prayer to my own ancestors. We can all use support in that Search.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Faith in the Sun

I didn’t see the sun today on my commute down the coast. The rain was heavy; there were several small rock slides; the skies were dark. My daily morning prayers include the Gayatri Mantra, a prayer in praise of God Who manifests through the Sun to give us light and energy. But today my sun prayer “Om bhur bhuva svah…” was not visually connected to a sunrise. During the day I noticed that several of the hospice patients I visited were having a 'down day.' One of them noted that her moods seem to fluctuate with her ability to see and feel the sun.

This experience reminded me of some of my ‘bad days’ or hard times in life, when I could not see or feel Spirit, when God seemed to have turned away, when my faith slipped into the background or disappeared altogether for awhile.

I remembered one dreary day when the weather perfectly matched my mood. I had recently experienced a series of setbacks and disappointments. That day I was flying cross country with one of my teachers. As the plane lifted off it climbed through multiple layers of dark clouds. Visibility was zero.

Suddenly we were above the clouds facing a bright and powerful sun. I could see for miles. Although I had seen suns above clouds on other flights, that day something was different. The teacher looked at me with a knowing smile. No words were spoken, but we both ‘got it.’ The sun is always shining! We just don’t always see it. Faith is required, and, every once in a while, an experience of confirmation.

In the Upanishads, the mystical portion of India's Vedas, Spirit/God is compared to the spiritual sun which illuminates the universe of matter and the Universe beyond matter. The seers say that God is always there—shining, loving, giving, teaching, showing, forgiving, guiding, being. We do not always feel or see God, just as we don’t always see or feel the sun. But Faith tells us that God is there, just as the sun is there, shining brightly as always, above the clouds of doubt which cover our vision.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Messengers, part I: Speaking with an Angel

There was nothing unusual about that particular autumn morning fifteen years ago. I had stayed overnight in a little apartment above a friend’s garage, and got up around 8am to sit for awhile in a nice lazy-boy rocking chair. Out of the blue, a disembodied male voice spoke to me: “We are here for you. As you struggle with good and evil in your world, we too push against the dark forces in our subtle realm. We are here to help you.” I had not asked for this type of help as far as I could remember. I wasn’t expecting a ‘voice from above.’ But, there it was.

Like everyone, I have voices in my head which are speaking all the time. But those are my voices. This was clearly another being communicating to me. Although this had never happened to me before, there was absolutely no doubt that someone other than me was speaking inside my head. I assumed that he was an angel or some type of higher being because of the authority in his voice, the pure feeling of his presence and the content of his communication. And for some unknown reason, he seemed to have a message for me. Later, I learned that the word angel means “messenger.”

Surprisingly, I was less afraid or shocked than inquisitive. I had often thought about beings from the subtle realm. I believed in them, but wondered why they seemed to be so absent to most of us most of the time. So without thinking, I asked a question internally: “OK, but why do you make it so hard to get that help, to receive messages from you?” I was really thinking, ‘why don’t you just walk in, sit down, and tell us how we can do things better? Why do you seem so obscure?’

His simple answer surprised me, “Because you’re too rude.” It took me awhile to understand what he meant. I’m not sure even today that I know for sure. But what I concluded intuitively about that message is as follows. We, in this world of space and time, are usually very absorbed in dense matter energies. Our earthly cultures tend to accentuate the physical and minimize the ethereal. A person who is more interested in the subtle or the unseen world is generally seen as either having their ‘head in the clouds’ at best or as a strange or bizarre person at worst.

But apparently an angelic being was telling me that the reason I and others were not getting the help, guidance and support we could use down here is because of our rudeness, which I interpreted as ‘crudeness.’ I have thought about earth analogies to the angel’s answer over the years. For example, suppose a group of people have come to a gathering to discuss philosophical or spiritual matters. If an alcohol or drug intoxicated man stumbles into the room and attempts to join the conversation, there will be a problem. Even though the group may wish the man no harm, he will not be able to commune with them, to listen and receive the information being shared. In his crude state of awareness, it will be impossible to grasp and understand the subtle nature of the conversation.

We may be sincere in wanting to receive direct grace and guidance from subtle realms. But without cultivating higher consciousness, it will be impossible in most cases. Of course angels and other higher beings may intervene unilaterally, and sometimes they do in unusual ways. We may note, however, due to free will, that angels will not usually share unless invited by invocation, and by a requesting person who is in the proper state to receive their subtle messages.

The moral of my story is this: there are higher realms which interpenetrate our world. The ‘good beings’ of these realms are able and willing to give us messages and inspiration in our struggles for good on the earth. But, without qualifying ourselves by setting our spiritual antennae to a refined state of awareness, to a proper ‘spiritual frequency,’ we will be unlikely to receive the communications being broadcast for our benefit.

This is why the great teachers of our world spiritual traditions have encouraged us to purify our consciousness through prayer, pure thoughts and deeds, and various other religious practices. What we see, what we eat, what we think and speak, who we associate with, how we spend our time, what we surround ourselves with—all of these are not simply the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of an outdated morality.

These practices are instead pragmatic means by which we may qualify ourselves to enter into an ongoing communion with the angels, the devas, or other higher beings who act as messengers of God for our benefit and for the benefit of the world.

Messengers,part II: Looking for Us

I have come to believe that angels, or messengers from more refined realms, are out ‘looking’ for us--seeking to point us toward a heavenly home world, or at least to a more heavenly consciousness on earth. I have reached this conclusion from my own personal experiences as well as years of listening to people nearing death recounting interactions and communications with angels or higher beings. In most of these 'nearing death' experiences, higher beings offer to help human beings find their way back to the spirit world.

If we assume that messengers of Heaven are out looking for us, we may then return to the question of why it seems somewhat rare that these meetings take place (except for nearing death experiences). I suggested earlier that one reason the angels don’t ‘find us’ very often is our state of consciousness---we are too absorbed in earthly affairs, our 'line is busy’ talking about the things of the world so that heavenly callers can’t get through to us.

A metaphor may help us understand why these human-angel interactions are rare. Suppose a rebellious teenager leaves home. Perhaps she leaves Kansas and hitchhikes out to California to become a movie star. If that young woman wants to stay ‘lost’ from her parents and friends, there are ways that she can do it. She will not call or answer calls. She will not give an address or a location. She will become absorbed in California living and try hard to forget her life in Kansas. She wants to be free, independent, ‘on her own.’

Perhaps her parents could find her, but they know that she will only run away again. She is using her free will to remain lost. They hope that she’ll return home when her days of California dreamin’ have faded. One day she will see Hollywood for what it is, and return home to the ones who love her---to her family.

The Biblical story of the Prodigal Son tells a similar tale of a son who left his kind and loving father to ‘sow his wild oats.’ He eventually tires of his shallow life. He 'hits bottom' and returns home of his free will. The 'lost son' is immediately embraced by his joy-filled father.

These stories are appropriate metaphors for we who find ourselves having wandered from our home world of spirit, currently moving here and there within space and time, birthing and dying within the material universe.

There seem to be at least two types of souls who remain ‘lost’ from the spirit world: (1) those who are outright rebellious, embracing this world as their one and only home, and (2) those who feel orphaned, abandoned or unworthy, not believing that they have a higher home. Both souls have a form of spiritual amnesia, having forgotten their transcendent identity, temporarily thinking themselves to be only physical beings of the earth, rather than magnificent spiritual beings on a journey away from home.

So, here we are. Angels of God are out looking for us, ready to offer help to improve our lives here and guide us toward our home of perfect peace and joy at life’s end. The question is: do we want to be found?