30 Jul, 2014

Spirit Exists, and So! Heeding the Healer’s Call

30 Jul, 2014

Note: From a Recent Guest Sermon at Local Union Church

Some of you may know that I have shifted in the way I am approaching life’s journey, from, Life as Project Plan to Life as Unfolding Experiment. I’ve created a list, comparing a left-brain, cause-effect approach to life (from a Project

Planner’s perspective) to a whole-brain, multidimensional approach to life (as Unfolding Experiment).

And so, it is from this shifted perspective that I begin a story of Heeding the Healer’s Call.

Spirit Exists. (We know this. Our sacred text supports this. Hopefully our daily dance and constant conversation with God reinforces this.) And So! (What are we doing or who are being about it, right now in these times?)

During the dark January days of 2013, I began to be aware of a shift in my overall well-being. I became aware of a latent, just-below-the-surface, shimmering ANGER. Anger whose intensity I have rarely experienced. In that “unfolding experiment” sort of way, I paid attention. I began to notice – or perhaps to wake up? – to several realities: Honeybees are dying in record numbers; North America’s own Little Brown Bat has been infected by a devastating disease – White Nose Syndrome – and in only a few years, we have lost over 7 million bats important to insect control and pollination from this rapidly-spreading fungus. Our food production debate rages over Genetically Modified Organisms, with little common good thinking gaining hold. Indeed, there is a deep schism among us as we argue about organics, factory livestock, fishery depletion, aquaculture, yields, antibiotics, monocrops, universal healthcare, and chemicals.

We know that unprecedented changes are upon us. As Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History has documented in heartbreaking detail, we are on the verge of the sixth mass extinction event on this earth. Indeed, just last week, May 29th, 2014, a study was published by noted biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University (among others) in the peer-reviewed journal Science. It reports that species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 100 (and it could be as much as 1,000) times faster since humans have arrived on the scene. Folks, this is breaking news!

The Holocene extinction, sometimes called the Sixth Extinction, is a name proposed to describe this event occurring today during our Holocene epoch. Because we humans have destroyed or condensed the habitats of the feathered ones, the leafy ones, the finned ones and the slithering ones; because we humans have moved or exploited the four-leggeds without regard to their needs; because we humans have contributed to the “unstoppable” melting of west Antarctica’s ice sheet, and all of its associated impacts, the planet is experiencing a great threat to the very Life Force it tries to sustain.

“Our relationship to the earth is broken,” Linda Hogan writes in The Woman Who Watches Over the World”, and we see more evidence of this every day.

It is difficult to comprehend and to face head-on the violent toll civilization has taken and continues to take on the earth. Our connection with each Other is traumatically severed, as our modern society plunders the earth’s core for highly precious minerals required for our smart phones, our GPSs, our jewelry, and our hearing aids. Accordingly, brutal conflicts have proliferated over lucrative mining rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 8 million people have died in the past decade, and rape has become an instrument of war, with soldiers exhorting their supporters over the air waves to violate women and children in unthinkable ways.

Spirit exists, and so…. In those winter days, I did what I often do with my feelings: I wrote a song! On my new CD, there is a song amidst the loving ones and the joyful ones called, “Something’s Gotta’ Yield”. I call it my angry song. In it, I wrote, “We’re broken somehow. We’ve lost the key. But the doors would swing open if we’d see differently. We’re so deeply entrenched in our fathers’ blind ways. Sisters and brothers, let’s dream a new day! Because my mind’s staying angry while my soul it just wants to heal! Sisters and brothers, something’s gotta’ yield!”

And it’s true, isn’t it? Most of us just want the peace and serenity that comes from being in accord with the All That Is.

Around that same time in late winter, I began to have dreams. Vivid, unsettling, exquisitely detailed dreams. I mentioned one to a wise friend, who said, “Jenny, write those down! You forget dreams were an important way God sent messages to his people!” (As when Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19) sent an urgent message to him, encouraging him to free Jesus. Her message was prompted by a dream – more like a nightmare – in which she was convinced Jesus was innocent. Or when Joseph (Matthew 1:20; 2:13) was directed to take his family to Egypt so Herod could not kill Jesus, and then later to tell him Herod was dead so he could return home.)

“Write them down,” she told me. “Pay attention! Dreams are an ancient way God communicates with us. In indigenous cultures, everyone had a role – some know how to find mushrooms and healing plants; others know how to read the signs of weather changes; others know how to dream, and they dream on behalf of their tribe, their whole community. Write them down.” And so I began to ask in my prayers each night for a dream to help me on my path; one that was sent in a way that I could understand and with a resonance that I could remember. And I developed the discipline of getting up and writing them down.

I share one of these dreams to illustrate the depth of what I believe is the Healer’s Call:

I am in a sprawling hotel complex at a business function and I am returning late from dinner. As I walk down the hall to my room, I am seeing a trail of bird parts and pieces, feathers, half-bodies, etc. all dead. “This is interesting.” I think, making my way around the debris [the word “carnage” only came to me upon waking. In the dream, it was “debris”.]

I opened my hotel door and there strewn everywhere were birds or parts of birds. Some were still moving. One who looked like a quail or baby owl was shaking all over. I was nonplussed. My concern was about whether there was a clear enough spot on the bed for me to sleep.

Inconvenient is the word that came to my mind in my dream. I think I even turned on the TV and was preparing for bed, totally unconcerned about the birds in all stages of death and dying around me.

There came a knock at my door and three official looking “rescuers” came in and very urgently removed what seemed to be a baby bald eagle, still alive. They said something about coming back for more.

Suddenly, I was looking around at all the quivering, injured birds and realizing I too could help in their rescue. I felt the beginnings of a stirring acknowledgement – Of COURSE I can help. Then I woke up.


One INTERPRETATION of this dream is that I/we am oblivious to the suffering of the birds/the natural world; I/we am putting off things that need to be paid attention to. Spirit wants me/us to know the extent and gravity of the situation. The sacredness of the natural world is in peril and I/we am inconvenienced.

So what is the Healer’s Call? I learned from that same wise friend, Anne Fitzgerald, about a woman named Deena Metzger, who had written a book called, “Entering the Ghost River: meditations on the theory and practice of healing”. Attracted to the title and listening to an inner call, I attended a week-long Healer’s Intensive last June in Topanga Canyon CA, where I met Deena, a Brooklyn-born woman of Jewish descent, who, after battling breast cancer, dedicated her life to understanding the wisdom of original people’s healing ways and of being “in balance” with the earth.

And I learned that a healer is, at its most elemental, someone who, in the moment, has something to offer, and is being called forth with the guidance of Spirit, to meet a need.  It’s that simple.  {Read this again}

What if we walked through the world listening more deeply, awake to hearing the unique and particular messages that express the voice of need?  What if we asked ourselves in each situation we are in, “What might a healer do?” Or: “How would a healer behave here?”

Deena says healing involves making both offerings and amends. An offering recognizes the interplay of the Divine at work in our lives. When we make an offering, we are acknowledging all that is holy and unseen. Picking up litter on the beach is an offering; picking up someone else’s dog’s poo is an offering. It says, “I revere this sacred ground upon which I stand.”  An offering could look like leaving bird seed at a resting place or creating a cairn from collected rocks. It could be helping a stranger in some way, or paying for the next person’s coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

In the Native American tradition, tobacco is revered. If you are given tobacco by an Indian, it is a sacred act. When I produced my second CD, I called it an offering, acknowledging the constant conversation with, and guidance from, Spirit in the making of it.

Get some good news? Make an offering. Get some bad news? Make an offering. A healer’s life is suffused with offerings; I suppose one might look at them like Stephen Covey’s “deposits” in the karmic bank account. Deposits you have no intention of withdrawing.

Amends are a different kind of offering. Amends are an intentional act to “set things right”, to restore order or beauty or balance. It is about taking personal responsibility for not only the things you have done, but for the things your ancestors may have left unfinished. One story I heard when I was at the Healer’s Intensive was of a young man who learned his ancestors owned slaves. Consequently, he chose to volunteer once a week at an inner city food pantry in Baltimore. In his small way, he believed he was making amends.

Here is an illustrative story Deena tells in her book, “At a conference on Navajo sand paintings, a Navajo anthropologist told me the following story. He was studying at the University of Arizona and was interested, but skeptical of, native ways of healing. He had had a rash on his neck for a time but could not find any effective treatment for it, so he used his illness as an occasion to consult a Navajo diagnostician. ‘The rash is a sign that you have offended the Red Ant People,’ the healer said, ‘Isn’t that true?’ The anthropologist was stunned. It was indeed true though he hadn’t recognized it. Some weeks before, he had thrown a sleeping bag down on the ground only to realize that red ants were surrounding his bed. In a fit of anger, he poured gasoline in a circle around the sleeping area and set the ants on fire. The lesion on his neck followed quickly thereafter.”

The offerings this man made to the Red Ant People, we were told, had to be commensurate with the injury he had inflicted upon them. Paradoxically, the practice of making offerings, so essential to healing, contains the dual goal of expressing gratitude and righting wrongs.

After reading this, some of you know that I began going around attempting to make amends to, and for, every-thing and every-being that I believed I had offended, disrespected or violated. [Mosquitoes and ticks were my exception!] “Oh my gosh, we have to make amends to the black carpenter ant people!” I told John, much to his dismay. Years before when we built our house, we discovered carpenter ants had had nests on our home site. They were infiltrating our home, and I worried that we’d have a lifetime of “ant problems”. I unleashed a shock-and-awe campaign on the carpenter ants around our property and obliterated them.

The funny thing is, the morning after I declared the need to make amends to the black carpenter ant people, I saw a black carpenter ant on my upstairs bathroom sink. We hadn’t seen one inside in years! “Okay, here is my chance to make amends!” I declared to myself. “I will rescue this one.” I was a bit scared at the quickness and size of the fellow, and tried to swipe him into my extended Kleenex. “I panicked, and it went down the drain!” “Oh No!, now I am in double deep trouble with the black carpenter ant people!” I bemoaned. And I began chanting, “Please be okay and come up from the drain; please be okay and come up from the drain,” like a crazy person!  And yes, you know what happened. That ole’ black carpenter ant came arising from that drain, and I latched on to him with the fervency of a person born again and ushered him outside. “Okay,” I told myself, “I can do this healer thing!”

I will close by asking, ‘Truly, what does Healing look like on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis?’ I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out. But it is about holding an intention to Heal, in the “making whole” sense of the word. And it is about recognizing the importance of living a life of authenticity, and in full reciprocity and in balance with the earth.

Whether Spirit comes to us through our still small voice; in our own artistic works – painting, writing, singing, listening; in remembering our ancestors; in dreams and in prayers; in nature or in the shower, there is indeed a Call to follow. I believe Spirit is calling all of us to be healers today; the need has never been greater.

How can we heal? Deena says, “We take someone in our arms. We rock each other. We pray. We lay on hands. We run energy through the body and restore harmony. We become family. We create community. We sing and dance. We weep, we wail.” And I add, “We take in a stray. We step aside from the kitchen window to let the skittish Cardinal eat from the feeder close to it. We keep bees and we make houses for the little brown bats. We sign petitions to stop the cruel trapping and baiting of bears.” Ultimately, there are no protocols. We tell our unique story again and again until we see the path it is revealing.

If I were to say, “The planet is dying.” What would be your response? An astro-physicist might say, “Of course! The planet was dying from the moment it exploded into being 4.5 billion years ago.” An inventor might say, “Oh what a great opportunity to create new solutions and file patents for them!” A climatologist might say, “Well, perhaps not dying, but many areas where humans and animals reside are in grave peril.”

Martin Luther King once said, “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree.” And a child might say, “No, the planet is not dying…. See that rock over there, under that great big tree? That rock, when I lift it, shows gazillions of creepy-crawlies… and have you seen how many seagulls fly over our beach, squawking and quarreling with each other? Or the way wildflowers rise up from the smallest pieces of dirt inside the cracks of a rock? No,…There is life and beauty everywhere I look.”

How does one hold and carry the enormous burden of knowing or seeing or experiencing all that has been violated and is broken in our systems, amongst our peoples, against all living beings? One puts on the robes and accepts the Healer’s Call.

Spirit exists, and so!



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