Poetry Post: Prayer on a Full Moon

Over the past two years, I have been developing classes in contemplative writing. One of those classes focuses on prayerful writing according to the rhythm of the moon. Experiencing the cycle of life with the phases of the moon is something all ancient cultures did. And it is an art we have lost in the modern world. We have lost our connection to the God’s expression in the natural world. Living and creating with this rhythm has been a powerful process for me in my own inner work. And it’s something I look forward to sharing soon with my students. 

Here is one of my recent full moon prayer-poems. 

 

Prayer on a Full Moon

On this moon of completion

help us to release old things,

heavy things which have outlasted

their purpose,

attachments and expectations

that are burdensome,

ancient,

and senseless to keep carrying.

Lift the weight of chain mail,

and unbind the shackles

that keep us from love.

 

Bless us with courage

to shed old ways,

and with faith

to believe we are enough,

and don’t need to drag

outdated furnishings

into a new home,

a home where you have plans for us.

 

Give us the conviction

to walk into a new room

in a new way.

 

Copyright 2017

Maria Grace Mandarino

09.06.17

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Turning the Corners

I have been asked to pray for a lot of people in this past week. People grieving loss. People dealing with serious illness. People facing paralyzing fears that come with major life transitions. People who are scared, overwhelmed, in pain, and fresh out of hope.

Then there have been names like Irma and Maria.

Places like Las Vegas.

How do you hold all of it? How do you pray for all of it?

As spiritual directors, we encourage our directees to seek out forms of prayer that call them into a more intimate relationship with God. Usually these are not the prayers found in a prayer book. Oftentimes we talk about body prayer. The labyrinth is one such form of body prayer.

This morning I attended a business networking function to promote my acupuncture practice. I don’t even think about the hat I wear as a Spiritual Director at these meetings.

And then a spirited woman sat across from me. We had a conversation about our respective professions. She complimented me on the Brigid’s cross that I wear. It opened a conversation and we talked about church, community, and serving others in need. She, like me, was an Episcopalian, and a former Roman Catholic. The odds of sitting across from this woman and having this conversation in this moment at a professional networking group were slim. And I suspected the movement of God was involved.

I am not a natural at networking events. I can do them. But I am an introvert. And after such extroverted activity, I find myself wanting to decompress, usually alone and in nature. But I had things to do at the office, and other appointments to get to later on.

On the way to my office though, I took a wrong turn. And I passed the Unity Church that is less than a quarter mile from my clinic. It houses a breathtaking labyrinth that I promised myself I’d visit once the triple digit summer temperatures dropped. I turned into the parking lot, expecting to spend maybe ten minutes there. The word “turn, ” by the way, is significant.

I spent a half hour there.

That half hour held the power of a weekend retreat. Alone, against the backdrop of an Autumn desert blue sky, with the warm sun on my back, I was in awe of the hummingbirds, butterflies, and honey bees at work all around me. I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth and thanked these creatures for allowing me to share this holy space with them. Desert flowers of orange, yellow, fuchsia and purple, framed in shades of sage green, framed the circular path. The sound of water from the large fountain behind me filled the space.

My heart was overwhelmed.

God was everywhere.

I began to walk. I usually walk a labyrinth at a medium pace. I like an even rhythm. On a walk. And in life.

The turns were hard today though. They seemed narrow. I was wearing a low heel. My balance felt off. The long spans were easy. But the turns threw it all off. I slowed my pace.

Slowing down was not enough though. I still bobbled at the turns.

I don’t like to bobble and I was uncomfortable.

On the next long pass, I knew I had to navigate the approaching turn differently. I stepped. And paused.

I waited longer. And I listened. To the sounds of the fountain, the honey bees, the birds. Even the train whistling in the distance.

In the Benedictine tradition that I am trained in, we are taught to listen with the Ear of the Heart. And so I listened in this way too. And I heard, “Step again. Then wait. Again.”

I did.

And then I pivoted slowly to continue in the other direction.

I did not bobble.

I stepped again, two feet landing side by side.  I paused again.

I still did not bobble.

And then slowly and mindfully, I continued on in this way.

 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for life. I like predictability. When I strike a pace, on the physical path, or the spiritual path, I like to keep that pace. I appreciate patterns and rhythms. They comfort me. And they have always been where I’ve found God. But nothing about these past weeks has been predictable. Or comforting.  And I’ve felt a little disconnected from God.

In moments like these, when the old ways no longer work, you can either keep walking as you always have, or you can seek a new way.

 

I have not been able to pray easily this week because of the monumental sorrow of so many people around me.  As I prayed for these people as I walked today, the labyrinth taught me a new way to be with sorrow, and how  to make space for hope and the movement of God in what might feel like hopeless and spiritually vacant times.

When I became an Episcopalian, the Bishop spoke of the importance of turning. Turning away from the things that were not in alignment with the flow of God. The questions beg:  what do we turn away from? What do we turn toward? How do we navigate those turns? How mindful are we in making those turns? How slow? How fast? How willing? How unwilling? How patient?

In my walk today and in the hours that followed, I thought about the Bishop’s words and how significant the idea of turning really is on the spiritual path.

We are living in new times. We are all figuring things out, day by day, and often hour by hour. If your usual ways of prayer feel limiting, try a form of body prayer. While moving and praying, listen. Listen with your feet. Listen with your legs. Listen with your lungs. Listen with your heart. Listen for the voice on the wind. Stand there as long as it takes. Take off your shoes. Wait a few seconds. Maybe a minute, or ten. Then wait a little longer still. Step again. Pivot, with your feet, with your mind, with your heart. God is working in all those movements, in the stepping, in the standing, in the turning.

 

Blessings and peace on your journey,
Maria Grace Mandarino

Sacred Space Spiritual Direction

www.MariaMandarino.com/spiritualdirection.html

 

Blog Post: Alchemy and the Radical Transformation of Metal into Water

 

We are soon approaching the Winter Solstice, which in Celtic Spirituality is said to be a thin time, a moment when the spirit world is a bit closer to us, a time which celebrates the end of darkness and awaits the return of the light.  We cannot see it yet. But the promise of light is near.

In Five Element theory, we hold a similar idea. We leave the season of Autumn and the element of Metal as we progress toward the season of Winter and the element of Water. In the practice of acupuncture, we call this particular transition a radical transformation.

Consider the process. How can one transform Metal into Water?  Metal is hard, dense, and unyielding. Water is fluid, embodies movement, and life is born from it.  How can we logically explain such a drastic transition? The creation cycle of the other elements is clear: Water creates Wood. Wood creates Fire. Fire creates Earth. Earth creates  Metal (minerals).

But what of this radical transformation of Metal turning into Water? How does it happen? How can we apply laws of physics?

We can’t. This process involves magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

In Five Element theory, the shift out of Metal and into Water is said to be the movement of death into birth,  similar to the Celtic view of the Winter Solstice and moving from darkness into light. And so this is why the shift from Metal to Water is called a radical transformation. We must make a giant leap. A leap that science cannot explain.  A leap of faith. Hard and unyielding Metal will be affected so deeply by some inexplicable force that minerals will be turned into water and life will start anew.  It is a transition beyond the mind’s reach.

Magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

This transition involves a belief in a divine process,  in divine law, not man’s law. A process which requires us to make space in our lives for divine movement. This is the space in which God plays. And it is the space in which we wait and trust in our Creator’s deep love for us and in the belief that life will go on, despite what seems to be highly unlikely odds.

We experience this transition — this waiting between endings and beginnings — in times of grief and sorrow as well. In Chinese Medicine, it so happens that grief and sorrow are associated with the element of Metal. And the element of Water is associated with fear.

Ah, now, doesn’t this get a little more interesting?

When we grieve, we hurt so deeply that we are convinced we cannot survive our pain. Grief is a momentary death of our spirit. We are at the end of the cycle of Metal. Water is on the other side. Grief checks us. Fear stares us down from the distance. We are afraid of what’s on the other side of sorrow and grief. We wait in darkness, immobile, resisting the alchemical shift from death into birth. We are at an impasse. We are terrified of living again, of feeling again.

On the other side of darkness though is emerging light. Always. The Celts knew this. The ancient Chinese knew this. Metal waiting to be turned into Water. Death waiting for rebirth.

Magic. Alchemy. The hand of God.

To consider rebirth though and to start this cycle again is to risk great pain. We clutch at the darkness. Darkness is at least familiar. It is not normal or sensible to want to feel pain.

Birth is painful. For the woman. For the child.

But it offers immeasurable joy too. Birth is the only path to the human experience. To experience joy means to eventually experience sorrow. You cannot have one without the contrast of the other.

As we move toward the Winter Solstice, ask yourself these questions:

  • What in me has died?
  •  What in me is waiting to be reborn?
  • Am I willing to take the radical journey of alchemy from Metal into Water?
  • Am I willing to make space for magic and trust in the hand of God?

And in the tradition of a woman who asks no one to take a journey she has not taken herself, I assure you that I am on the path of radical transformation as well, walking right alongside you.

Blessings and peace to you as we all await the light’s return,

Maria Grace Mandarino 


Blog Post: Still Points and Watersheds

There are these curious moments in our lives. Moments when we know we are poised on the edge of something that will forever change us. Sacred moments.

In literature we calls these Watershed scenes. A watershed scene is a high point, a dividing line, a place of pause and vision, where you can look back and see the place from where you came. And also look forward at what lies ahead. It’s that place where you take a great big breath, honor and bless the past, and get ready for the great adventure waiting.

In body work, there is something called the Still Point, a moment where traumatic memory ceases and quiet enters. In this moment, the body reorganizes. Integration happens so the past can be released and new life can begin.

In both situations, nothing going forward will ever be the same.

We’ve all had defining moments such as these. The one that always makes me smile began in 1997, when I was writing my first (and so far my only) novel. A lot of things were happening in my life back then. A year earlier, I had lost a childhood friend at the age of thirty. I knew nothing going forward would be the same. Almost a year to the date of my friend Eddie’s passing, I lost my grandmother and was present at her death. Just days later, I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and had a near death experience. Nothing going forward could ever look the same.

During my recovery from the accident, I decided to write the novel I had wanted to write. Writing kept me sane. It kept me busy. It gave me a feeling of purpose. And it gave me a creative outlet. These things were good for me in my healing. I was dealing with some pretty serious pain at the time. I was dealing with PTSD (at that point undiagnosed) from the accident and near death. And I was feeling deeply alone, separated from my spirituality, and misunderstood. There were very few people I’d allow near me. Creativity saved me.

It took me two years to write that novel and fifteen years before I would see it published. It sold a few copies. Feedback was positive. I had given people a chance to think about some things that were important to me. And all that made me happy enough. It was that thing I had always wanted to do that I finally did. I could check something off the bucket list.

I thought that was the end of it.

A year after publication, I had moved to Colorado from Arizona (coincidentally, my protagonist had done the same thing). I was opening a new acupuncture practice. A friend back in Phoenix insisted I needed to open a Twitter account to promote my business.

I hate Twitter. I told her no.

She persisted. And persisted.

A few weeks later, I acquiesced.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it was sensible to follow some gurus in the healing world. So I followed Deepak Chopra and Caroline Myss. A few  other suggestions came my way. I followed those too.

Then I got a suggestion to follow this mystical poet named Carl Barbarotto.

My grandmother’s sister, who had long passed, was married to a man with the same last name. I thought that was interesting. I checked out this guy’s poetry. I liked it. A lot. And so I followed him.

A few days later, I was chatting with my mother and I mentioned the interesting coincidence of this guy named Carl Barbarotto who wrote this incredible poetry.

My mother’s face drained. “He’s your cousin,” she said.

I laughed at her. Because I knew I didn’t have a cousin named Carl. And this guy lived in Washington DC and we didn’t have any family in DC.

She insisted. I showed her his picture. She screamed. “That’s Carl!”

I waited for her to let me in on just how I had this cousin  I had never heard of. It seemed when my grandmother’s sister passed away, we fell out of touch with that side of the family. Carl and I were too young to know about each other.

My mother still had Carl’s mother’s phone number and she dialed it. Miraculously, the woman still had the same number. And it turned out it was in fact the same Carl.

The next thing I knew, my phone rang. It was a male voice. “This is Carl. I understand we are cousins,” he said.

Carl and I spent nearly two hours on the phone, sharing (and marveling) at the coincidences in our lives.

But there was a watershed/still point moment beyond this.

I learned Carl had been in seminary and he left shortly before ordination.

This gave me pause.

My novel had a character named Carl who dropped out of seminary.

My character’s last name was Bonadonna — similar musicality to Barbarotto.

My character left the Roman Church and became a Buddhist.

My cousin left the Roman Church and embraced Unitive Consciousness, or what he calls the Zen Mind.

We talked more. A lot more. About spiritual beliefs, about our journeys. And then we came back to talking about my character Carl. I explained that I named him after Carl Jung.

That’s when my cousin Carl had his still point and watershed moment in the conversation.

My cousin Carl left seminary after an assignment in a class on Carl Jung, which led him to have a dream that gave him clear guidance that he needed to leave seminary. Jung remains one of his greatest inspirations.

My life was truly not the same after that Twitter encounter. That day on the phone Carl asked me if I was still Catholic. I said I was not and I didn’t quite know what I was. That put me on a quest to find out. I ended up at a contemplative service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood, Colorado. The service is called Nishma, Aramaic for “Vital Breath of God.”

In all honesty, I only planned to attend twice. One time to experience it. A second time to reassess and make sure I didn’t belong there. Because me and church never worked out.

Not only did I return a third time, but I became an Episcopalian eighteen months later. And I went on to help create the contemplative prayer stations at Nishma for quite some time. Some months after that, a church friend asked me to consider becoming a Spiritual Director, which I resisted with all my being. I was flattered, but my friend had the wrong woman. Six months later? I found myself submitting my application for the Benedictine Spiritual Formation Program at the monastery in Colorado Springs. I am five months away from graduating as a Spiritual Director and beginning a new ministry of service. I have loved every minute of it.

We all have watershed moments and still points like this. Sometimes they find us. Sometimes we seek them. However it turns out, they are moments which change us. Moments which define us. Moments where the Divine joyfully meets us.

What has been important in the unfolding of my nearly two decade long still point and watershed moment is understanding what was at work in those years when I felt lost and alone. The years while I was writing, while my body and spirit were hurting, and I felt abandoned by my Creator. When I felt overwhelmed and alone, when I found myself about to graduate from massage school while going through a divorce I never saw coming. Then the years that led me to Arizona, finding myself in acupuncture school, running a full time practice, exhausted and stressed out of my mind. Then two years later, taking boards while packing up my house and moving out of state again. So many times when I wondered when I could stop climbing stairs and finally get “there.” Where was God in those long scary weeks, months, and years when I was asking for guidance, feeling beaten and broken?

Where was God? God was clearly weaving a story. Weaving my path. Maybe not the path I was on in that moment, but surely the greater path…. the path I’m on now. God was silently at work. In the words of Carl Jung, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

My pastor says when we feel most alone God is never more present. He might be silent because the Great Creator is at work, doing what needs to be done so that when we reach our Watershed Scenes and Still Points, we can recognize them, embrace them, and celebrate them as the divine gift they are.

Blessings and peace,
Maria Mandarino

For information about my novel: Neat Little Packages Maria Troia (Mandarino)

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Meeting God in the Patterns

090Last night someone at church had mentioned she made a church decision based on logic. Turned out logic was not the right choice.

I joked with her that logic is way overrated anyway.

It turned out the decision should have been made based on tradition. And tradition typically involves following a certain order and a patterned way of doing things, which isn’t often linear or logical.

Years ago, when I was a student observer in the acupuncture clinic, our supervisor, Dan Bedgood, had mentioned to a senior intern that a student had complained to the dean about his teaching style. The complaint? He did not teach in a linear fashion.

I could not help myself.  I blurted out, “But this isn’t a linear medicine.”

Student observers are meant to do just that: observe. They are not expected to speak. And if they are foolish enough to do so, it is assumed they do not have much to share worth listening to.

Dan’s head went up and he stared at me from across the table. It was probably the first time he heard my voice and possibly the first time he even noticed me. And I think we were very close to pointing a finger at each other as if we suddenly recognized something in the other,  about to say, “Atlantis, right?”

The truth is Chinese Medicine is not at all linear. It is based on patterns. Patterns that need to be observed, respected, and honored.  It works like this: if this happens, then that happens. BUT if THAT happens, then THIS happens. Or… if the wind is blowing, then THAT happens. But if it’s damp and cold, well then THIS happens. And if it’s dry and hot, well, look at what happens then! And let’s not even talk about whether you are standing on the sunny or shady side of the mountain, because that can uncover a whole other set of patterns.

It’s a story of patterns of potential. Not of a narrow and limited road.

Chinese Medicine is a medicine that always made more sense to me than Western Medicine for this reason. Seek the pattern and you are led to the answer. Pull the piece of yarn and watch the pattern unravel; each time you tug, a new skein of possibilities.

As a writer and a poet (and as someone who crafts with yarn), I have always interpreted life through metaphor. So of course I grasped the language of this ancient medicine easily. Once you figure out the patterns in Chinese Medicine, you have the key to everything: physical pain, emotional pain, organ disease. Find the pattern, find the key. Find the pattern, find the language of the Divine.

Think about it. God is not linear. How dull would that be? This has to happen before that can happen in order for this to happen. Wait and get on line and until you reach the destination point, it’s pretty much a process of drudgery. Kind of like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Look at the universe and tell me it’s linear. You can’t. God is a creative God. And She speaks in patterns. In the patterns and cycles of life, in the patterns of our experience, in the patterns of the people we meet, in the many synchronous gifts and mysteries that come into our lives. Linear thought says you have to go through 24 other letters to get from A to Z. With God, it’s possible to get there in a heartbeat. There’s no logic in that.

What are you on line waiting for? What are you expecting might take ten years and not ten days? What do you think needs to happen before the next thing can occur? Does God need that thing to happen, or do you need the logic of that thing happening first? How might life look if you shifted that view and let go of your brain’s need for reason? And control?

How might life look if you decided to not limit God to a linear process, and instead opened yourself up to the infinite patterns of Divine Mystery?

Blessings and peace on your journey,

Maria Mandarino

 

Blog Post: Spirit’s Promise

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I believe God speaks to us in the spaces.  In the moments of stillness. In the moments of connection.  I find all too often people are not comfortable enough,  trusting enough, or perhaps present enough, to listen to the guidance that comes to us in these moments.  And too often I’ve been one of those people.

Two summers ago, I had one such moment and a chance to live my life a little differently.  It was quite an extended moment, actually. And dare I say, it was a defining moment that has inspired me to find the courage to stand firm on my intuitive gifts.

My friend Kelly and I had been on the phone that day, talking about some training in equine massage that  I was contemplating doing.

And he said, “I think my heart would explode if I could work with horses.”

Our friendship is such that we don’t let each other get away with powerful phrases like that.  So I asked him what was going on.

He shared that he has always loved horses.  Working on them was not within the scope of his license as a New York massage therapist.  He had thought about taking a course in animal communication instead.  Finances stood in the way. He never explored it.

I knew this wasn’t about money though.  A statement like that is never about money.  It’s about the soul remembering what it came here to do.  But what happened next defied any measure of logic. Let me say first, it’s not like I’ve never done something like this before, but I’ve certainly never done it  with this kind of connection, clarity, and velocity.

I said to Kelly, “I’m feeling a horse running toward me.  I feel it running right into my chest.  It rips my heart open.  There is a gaping hole inside.  And then the horse fills that hole.  And then there’s a pause.  I feel you now becoming the horse.  And I feel you and the horse, as one, tearing out of the gate.  The horse transforms you.”

The information kept coming, equally as fast:  “You’re going to work with rescue horses.  You’re going to heal the horses.  But there’s something else. Your work with the horses is going to heal you.”

There was a pause in the information and I waited to see if there was more. Then I got this: “And you will heal these horses so they can work with kids who have special needs, kids who need healing. So you will be the healer who heals the horse. But the horse is the healer who heals you. And you free this horse so it can then heal children.”

Then I said, “You need to volunteer somewhere where there are horses. Forget about money and the animal communication classes. That will come. For now volunteer. You need to just be around horses. Look on Eastern Long Island. Somewhere around Riverhead.”

Then I paused. Nothing else was coming. Except this: “I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when you get there. But Spirit will lead you.”

I paused and furrowed my brow because what I got next seemed crazy. But I said it anyway.

“And don’t be surprised if you meet a horse named Spirit.”

Here I was, in Colorado,  1,800 miles away from New York, where I had lived most of my life. I hadn’t been back home in ten years. I had no clue there was a rescue barn there. Yet I knew in the center of my being that somehow there was one. Exactly there.

What happened next was surreal. Kelly texted me in less than five minutes. He sent me the link to a rescue barn. It was not in Riverhead, but in Manorville, one town over.

The name of the rescue barn? Spirit’s Promise.

It was named after their first rescue horse: Spirit.

Spirit’s Promise doesn’t just rescue horses that have been abused and neglected. Once rehabilitated, these horses go on to work in their equine therapy program, helping humans heal. The horses work with people who have experienced various emotional wounds. Among them: cancer survivors, survivors of trauma and sexual abuse, and those who have been harmed by bullying. The horses are there to be healed. And then the horses become the healers.

What Kelly told me shortly after learning all this provided an added layer of validation for both of us. A few weeks prior, Kelly’s friend Danny had sent him a video link about an animal communicator and a leopard named Diabolo, who was sent to a wild life rescue facility. Danny told Kelly this was the work he needed to be doing, that he had this gift. No one in the rescue facility could handle Diabolo and so an animal communicator was brought in to determine what was distressing the wild cat. Through her work with Diabolo, the animal communicator learned that the leopard desired respect and wanted to be renamed.  Diabolo’s wish? To be renamed Spirit.

And so when I had told Kelly not to be surprised if there was a horse named Spirit, he paid attention. When he found the actual barn called Spirit’s Promise one town over from where I told him to look for it, he knew this was important enough to investigate.

He called Spirit’s Promise and learned there was a caretaker’s day scheduled in two weeks.  He signed himself and his daughter up. He immediately resonated with Marisa Striano Charles, owner of Spirit’s Promise. His story of how he found the rescue barn captivated her. Kelly described a magical day working with the horses, bonding with and learning from them. Kelly’s own spirit certainly needed to meet the Spirit.

But I was curious about something. The information I received that day began while I was sitting in my clinic, setting acupuncture needles in myself. The last bit of the conversation about finding the horse named Spirit happened on my short ride home, just down the hill from my office. This was not the first time I had received information for Kelly at that exact place on my drive home. Some months before, in that same location, I had a visual impression of Kelly scattering rose quartz crystals on the ground. I called him and asked why I might be seeing this. He texted me a picture of a piece of rose quartz, the size of a softball. He had just been meditating with it.

So I had asked Kelly if the name of the street meant anything. He said it didn’t. It took me a while to put it together. Since childhood, Kelly’s spirit guide has been the bear, the Native American symbol of courage. At the bottom of this hill is a creek. And that creek so happens to be called Bear Creek. Wild bear had once been hunted on this land. It is literally bear land.

Some days later, I told Kelly he needed to look for animal communication classes in his area. He called me back to tell me he found one. The school so happened to be named “Two Bears.” We both suspected it was the one. Kelly was sure he needed training. Danny and I were pretty sure he didn’t. Then a few months ago, I knew he didn’t.

My friend Jean’s Yorkshire Terrier, Fiona, was dying of liver disease. Fiona had been perfectly healthy and then suddenly turned jaundiced. The disease came from nowhere and progressed rapidly. There wasn’t much time left. Jean wanted to know what Fiona needed to be more comfortable in her last few weeks.

The animal communicator Jean had contacted was unable to communicate with Fiona. The reading didn’t really unfold. I asked Jean if she was open to me asking Kelly if he could try. She agreed.

Kelly was hesitant, but tried anyway. He felt he didn’t get much of a connection. But he was clear on this much. Fiona told him that she felt like she “wasn’t the princess anymore.” Kelly was solid on that, but he thought this was virtually useless information.

What Kelly didn’t know is that Fiona’s full name was Princess Fiona. She was literally Jean’s princess, her first Yorkie. Only months before, Jean had gotten a fourth Yorkie, a puppy named Duke. And Fiona suddenly found herself feeling  lost in the crowd. Jean knew what needed to be done: Fiona needed to be showered with love during those last weeks to know she would always be Jean’s princess. Such a simple and short message held tremendous healing.

It’s been quite a ride since I learned about Spirit’s Promise. There was healing in the message for Kelly that day; I could hear it in his voice. But there was healing for me in that message too. And validation…

Spirit.

Spirit speaks to us. Spirit is a powerful guide. Spirit , I believe, is love. And that Spirit — that love — wants to put us on the path of our destiny — back on the path to the Divine.

But that message was not just about one word. It was not just about Spirit. Spirit was found at a place called Spirit’s Promise.

Spirit offers a promise: Follow me. Trust me. Let me lead you. I promise, I won’t abandon you. Let’s take this ride together; I will lead you to blessings you can’t even imagine.

I have revisited this experience for over a year now, sitting with what I believe was a mini-miracle. A beautiful gift from God, shared between two friends. And shared beyond us too.  The story has touched so many. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Marisa Striano Charles on the phone. We both say we feel like we’ve known each other from another time. She feels the same way about Kelly. When I feel a little off course and when I need to deepen my connection to Spirit, I wear the wrist band that Marisa sent me, the one that bears her website name: www. SpiritsPromiseRescue.org. It serves as a reminder of the promise of Spirit and the many mystical ways in which God communicates and validates His love for each of us.

©2016 Maria Grace Mandarino

Blog Post: By Faith

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee,

preserve thy body and soul under everlasting life. Take and eat

this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on

him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

       –Book of Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist, Rite I

 

I have heard these words nearly every Thursday morning at the Rite I service I attend at my church. But last Thursday, time felt as though it were suspended, as my pastor firmly placed the communion bread into my palm as I knelt at the altar rail in our small chapel.

My pastor begins this prayer as he serves communion to the first person kneeling. And as he moves to the next person, he continues with the next line of the prayer. As he reached me, he was up to the words, “by faith.”

And faith was exactly what I had lost, only about a half hour earlier.

Four days prior, my dearest and oldest friend on this planet, Jim, a friend whom I consider an anam cara (soul friend in Gaelic) had suffered a massive heart attack. He is only 51 and in good health. He had been revived by medics. We were told he was without oxygen for ten minutes. He was in a medically induced coma. I was on the other side of the country and relying upon friends at a distance to get my updates. It looked grim for four days. No response. My friends, my family, and my entire church were all praying for Jim’s recovery. I could not imagine walking this earth without my soul friend at my side. I was distraught and steeped in grief for four solid days.

On Thursday morning there had been no change in Jim’s status. Before leaving for church, I sat on the floor of my bedroom and I spoke to him. Jim and I have certainly had “conversations” without benefit of a telephone connection before. I knew with Jim in a coma, his heart would feel my words now.

Gentle tears ran down my cheeks as I said, “Jim, I love you. And I will miss you. But if you need to go — if you need to be free — it’s okay to leave.” I sat there for some time, just being with the sound of those words and all they meant. Jim and I had talked plenty about death and dying and nearly 20 years ago we dealt with the tragic passing of a friend who was barely 30. We had had many “big conversations.”  I was sad, but I knew being kept alive on machines was not consistent with Jim’s idea of life.

I looked at the clock then and realized I’d be ten minutes late for church. And I thought perhaps God would understand if I skipped this week. And then I heard Jim’s voice inside my head. “Maria Grace,” (he only used my middle name when he was exasperated with me). “Get your ass to church.”

I froze in my tracks. It was so completely something Jim would have said. I paused in disbelief. Then, I heard, “And put on your goddamned green!”

It was Saint Patrick’s Day. I looked down at my sweater. It was mauve.

I glanced back at the clock. Changing clothes would mean I’d be an additional five minutes late.

I went back into my closet and pulled out a change of clothes.

I got to church just in time for the last part of the first reading.  During the sermon, our pastor was talking about how there can be no Easter without a Good Friday. I’m at the end of my first year of training to be a spiritual director. Throughout much of Lent we have been talking about the Pascal Mystery and the many transitions of life into death we experience on this earth. I peacefully sat with the pastor’s words, accepting that Jim’s time of transition was likely nearing and this was God’s way of preparing me. I was sad, but I was at peace with what seemed (at least clinically speaking) to be the obvious.

I had my phone set to vibrate in my pocket, something I would typically never do while in church. But this day I was so sure that within the hour I’d be receiving sad news, I could not bring myself to silence my phone. As the pastor was speaking about the Pascal Mystery, the phone vibrated. I silenced it immediately and I took a peek at the message.

It simply read: “He wiggled his toes on command.” It was beyond anything any one of us could have expected. He was in there. Tears of joy ran down my face. There was voluntary movement, he could hear, he could process information. I knew Jim. I knew the rest would come.

All clinical evidence and all physical world knowledge spoke against this moment.

And yet more the next day. Jim moved his knees. We had bilateral movement and recruitment of large muscle groups, which suggested that with therapy Jim would walk again.

Two days later, we  received confirmation that Jim’s personality was still in there. He had undergone a tracheotomy, but was communicating with his eyes. When he was asked what he had perceived as a stupid question, he rolled his eyes as if to say, “Duh.”

Small things become monumental gifts in times such as these. And these were gifts that were precious to us all.  They embodied hope.

Jim is still very much on a healing journey and likely will be for a while. I post this blog on Holy Saturday, a holy day of waiting. And appropriately, here we are, patiently waiting for more news about Jim’s continued healing.

Easter has always been an odd time of transition for me. It seems to come a bit too quickly after the darkness of Good Friday and the stripping of the altar. One day of waiting for the stone to be rolled away doesn’t seem to be quite enough time for me. The new-found brightness and the shift into celebration feels a bit shocking. I don’t feel prepared for such radical change. And I can only imagine the shock of Mary as she arrived at the tomb, finding the stone moved, as she made the transition from grief into joy. Such a large shift for a human heart to make.

Wishing you God’s blessings and the peace and joy of the Resurrection this Easter and always.

May we all walk by faith.

Peace,

Maria Grace Mandarino

©Maria Grace Mandarino  2016