Showing Up

May 17, 2012

Last weekend I led a retreat in Durango, CO, for a community that has been slammed by a siege of tragic losses over the past year. Sponsored by Mercy Regional Medical Center—an extraordinary new facility with soaring architectural elements, natural rock fountains and sculpture gardens, a meditation labyrinth and a free therapeutic touch service—our “day of reflection for those who have been touched by loss” gathered a balance of caregivers and bereaved loved ones.

We spent our time together building a container vast enough and holy enough to hold the full array of grief and loss. We did this through mindfulness practice and sitting in the fire of silence, lyrical readings from the mystics on the connection between the death of a loved one and longing for the Divine, and deep dialog about the sacred moments we have tasted when tragedy tears the veils from our hearts and an ineffable grace spills in. As always seems to happen when we make room for radical truth-telling, an unaccountable joy bubbled up and a room full of grieving people moved seamlessly between weeping and laughter.

My own heart had been heavy before I drove across that mountain pass between the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the San Juan National Forest with my brilliant and incredibly supportive intern, Kelsey. One of my closest friends, Fr. Bill McNichols, the iconographer with whom I had collaborated on Mother of God, Similar to Fire, and the only other person besides immediate family and my best friend Jenny Bird listed on the “favorites” section of my cell phone, was in a coma in the hospital. I had gotten the news while on my book tour in NY, and the shock made me feel as if the foundation of my world was collapsing. Fr. Bill has been my intimate soul friend for the past eleven years. Our dangling spiritual conversation has been essential—feeding me on levels no other connection could provide. I like to think its mutual, yet Fr. Bill is a saint, and I… am not.

As the days passed, and Fr. Bill’s condition shifted and shifted again between healing and dying, slipping away and returning, my heart had practice in letting go. My prayer moved from fury at the universe for taking him from me, begging God to give him back, and finally, exhausted by my efforts to direct the cosmos, surrendering to the mystery of love. My only prayer became, “I love you.” And now Fr. Bill is awake and breathing on his own, speaking and eating and walking a little, slowly re-entering the stream of life. I know he will be forever changed by his face-to-face encounter with death—he told me so in a dream a couple of nights ago—and so will I. This is what I tell my students about the path of conscious grief: it is not so much about consolation as transformation.

I am grateful not to be grieving my friend’s death, but soon to be welcoming him home. It could have gone either way. And either way comes with secret gifts, discovered only in showing up—with curiosity and tenderness–for What Is.

13 Responses to “Showing Up”

  1. Bob Corbin said

    I am happy for you that your friend is recovering.

    “conscious grief is not so much about consolation as transformation.” lovely.

  2. Liz said

    ‘And either way comes with secret gifts, discovered only in showing up—with curiosity and tenderness–for What Is’. … very true. This is the practice of detachment. When Fr. Bill is well on the way to recovery it would be interesting to hear how this experience has changed his outlook on life.


    • Thank you, Liz. It’s interesting to see how detachment is not what I used to think it was–some kind of cold, rational abandonment of feeling–but a courageous leap into the heart of the moment.

  3. Elizabeth said

    I am so very sorry to hear about you friend. As difficult as it may be, people are gifts given to us for a period of time. We need to cherish them while they are with us and understand that they do not belong to us but to God. I needed to learn this arduous lessen when my son died at the age of 22. He was my treasue and gift but I needed to surrender to the truth that he was a gift given to me for just 22 yrs. Although his death has changed my life, I recognize that he taught me so much during his short stay with me and one day I will see him again. I do hope your friend gets better.

    I enjoy all of your work and writings.


    • Thank you for your kind comment, Elizabeth. My heart is breaking for the death of your son, at the same time that I am in awe of your own courageous heart in the face of that sacred mystery. I bow to you.

      • Elizabeth Sifuentes said

        It is I who must bow to you. It is the wisdom of your interpretation of John of the Cross “Dark Night of the Soul” that provided me the insight I needed. I also am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved daughter. Only a Mother who has lost their own child can understand the intense pain another Mother feels when her child has died. You remain in my prayers daily….please continue your work, you bless others in ways you will never know.



  4. mariaalba said

    Thank you for your presence and the gift of your words.

  5. Elizabeth Sifuentes said

    Ms. Starr,

    I am in the process of writting a book on healing. My purpose is to share a special msg I have for all parents who have lost a child.
    I have a powerful msg for these parents that will lead them to living
    a passionate self-fullfiling life after their loss.

    I would like to know if you have ever edited, reviewed a manuscript and offered a developmental report, copy-edited or co-written a book (polished) a finished manuscript.

    My Spirit has been guiding me to you ever since I read your Interpretation of St. John of the Cross “Dark Night of the Soul.”

    Please let me know if you would be at all interested in joining me on this journey of healing.

    Respectfully yours,

    • Mirabai said

      Hello, dear sweet Elizabeth.

      I’ve just returned from a 2 month book tour, deeply weary. I’m afraid I cannot take on any involvement in your project, as I’m over-extended with work of my own. But please know that my loving prayers are with you every step of the way.


      • Elizabeth Sifuentes said

        Thank you so much for getting back to me. I understand you must be over extended, I want you to know that you will remain in my prayers and I look foward to reading your next book. You have been blessed with a great gift of communication thru your books and you need to know that. Your words touch and heal many people. I send you health, energy, love, positive energy, peace and all the wonderful fruits of the Holy Spirit.


  6. Dear Mirabai,

    I thank you for your words and your words–whether translations of ancient mystics or a divine understanding of grief as the unusal transformative blessing that it is (even and especially when it is equally soul breaking). The literary experience (writing or reading) have often been the “sermon I needed”; the whispers of God scratching out on the pages I write or on the notes in the margins of the books I read. Your translation of St Teresa (my namesake’s) book of her “vida” was so beautiful and authentic.

    It inspired the story I am working, slowly, on crafting called “Barefoot Sants” a historical fiction exploration of Teresa of Avial and John of the Cross; as a way to be an advocate for their voices through time and not in relation to a specific tradition but as a beautiful story of two lives that I feel have value n the present context.

    I thank you for everything you have written and continue to write and for sharing the beautiful and painful pathways of your own life. As a trauma survivor who recovered from 4 years in PTSD I know the journey back from the breaking pont and can only imagine the strain on the heart to lose a child.

    Your voice has often been the sermon I needed. I am looking forward to reading and writing about your new book GOD OF LOVE on which I plan to write a review once finished.

    Blessings and thanks to you and your mystic in the desert life; full of, so it seems, the excrutiating joy that comes from faith and God without limits.

    t.b. pasquale (also known as Teresa–named by nuns of the grey order in an orphanage below the equator)

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