Room For Us All

February 10, 2011

In my new book, a collaboration with iconographer-priest Father Bill McNichols, Mother of God Similar to Fire (Orbis Books), we reach out to the Divine Feminine and affirm the paradox of the broken heart: it can hold more love.

This is my prayer to Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores (p. 39):

Mother of suffering,

you carry the grief of the whole world

in your boundless, shattered heart.

Please, carry mine.

I know that the broken-open container

of your Mother’s Heart

has room for us all:

for the women of Iraq and Rwanda,

Afghanistan and Bosnia,

Darfur and Burma,

Palestine and Israel,

whose innocent children are sacrificed every day

as victims of these senseless wars;

for parents in Los Angeles and Albuquerque,

London and Buenos Aires,

whose sons and daughters are killed in sudden car wrecks,

or die of lingering cancers,

or wrestle with the demons of addiction,

or languish in prison systems

specially designed to breed violence and hatred.

Your own sorrow has rendered you invincible, Mother.

I cannot bear these losses alone.

Please share them with me.

Last week, all the natural gas in northern New Mexico was cut off without any warning.  It was a Thursday morning and, following a snowstorm, the temperatures had fallen to 20 degrees below zero for two nights in a row.  The same cold front had assaulted West Texas, and apparently the gas consumers there had used up all the fuel in the pipeline before it could make its way to us.  Or something like that.  No one is disclosing the truth about how such a disaster could have happened.

All we know is that we spent six days without heat or hot water, our homes growing colder and colder, so that the floors and walls themselves began to radiate the chill into every cell of our bodies.  In the meantime, we were being assured that the gas company, supported by the Red Cross and National Guard, were doing everything in their power to restore fuel.  They just couldn’t be sure when that would be.  Our community rallied in the most beautiful way to support and care for its most vulnerable members.

At last, we were able to reconnect our natural gas and begin to thaw our heating systems and bathe with blessed hot water.  A little late for me: I’ve come down with a nasty flu.  Every joint aches as if I had been run over by a truck, and I am so congested I can hardly breathe.

I am taking all of this as good news.

At the risk of sounding like a self-sacrifice zealot, I would like to share why it is that this unanticipated fuel crisis and my subsequent ill-health have become welcome reminders of my inter-connectedness with all beings who suffer.

In the midst of the discomfort and anxiety of being unable to heat our homes, cook our food, or bathe our bodies during deep winter, it occurred to me that much of the world lives in a state of lack every day: lack of basic resources; lack of clean water; lack of essential nourishment; lack of a warm safe place to lie down and be replenished.  When I checked on Fr. Bill during the third day of the crisis, he expressed this sense of sacred interdependence when he said, “It’s okay.  This gives me a chance to participate in a small way with the suffering of the world.”  I stopped complaining on the spot.

Now, too sick to go about my regular business, I am catapulted into a kind of altered state – not unlike the disconnected feeling we get in the wake of a sudden death – and this affords me some fresh perspective.  I do not take this body for granted.  All over the world, people are suffering from life-threatening illness and debilitating pain.  Since I already feel so miserable, it is a small move for me to yield to my condition instead of fighting it, and open myself to the pain of everyone everywhere who is at this very moment enduring physical anguish.

In Tibetan Buddhism, this practice is known as tonglen: taking and sending.  When you experience pain, whether emotional or physical, you are invited to breathe it in, along with the pain of all beings who might also be suffering in this particular way, and then breathe out relief from suffering, for yourself and all beings.  In fully showing up for the experience of pain, we may find that we are able to carry our own and others’ suffering in a much more spacious, tender, and compassionate way.  There’s nothing like a disaster to present us with the opportunity to engage this transformational tool!

For great instructions about this practice, be sure to check out Pema Chodren’s teachings on Shambhala’s website:

Until next time, be well and warm.  I’m going back to bed.





2 Responses to “Room For Us All”

  1. I’m so glad you made it through the cold snap and the loss of heat. (I can hardly imagine what it was like.) Now I wish you a speedy recovery from that flu!

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