High-Speed Train

I rode the Eurostar from London to Paris, which I have never done before.  I dragged my suitcases from the Airbnb flat in Kensington to the Gloucester Road Tube station, got on the Piccadily line and thought vicous things about the cows who were sitting right near the door when they could have moved over three seats to the empty ones and let me sit with my big suitcases.

I use “cow” as an insult for all humans who lumber along in life without any awareness of those around them. I am hyper-aware of those around me and apologize profusely when I am selfish or inconsiderate when I should have realized that a simple action could have provided some relief to someone else. It’s not a sacrifice to scoot down a few seats. I hadn’t had any tea or coffee or food and I was cranky. Still, I judge. I most definitely do.  A bit of attentiveness costs nothing.

I got to St. Pancras and stood in line for security and passport control and I found my seat and stowed my luggage and got all settled on the train (window seat) and sat happily contemplating the next leg of my journey. I had a tremendously delicious latte at a stall called Source at St. Pancras, where I also asked for “some bread and cheese” and was sent on my way with an enormous container full of huge slabs of delicious cheddar and something soft and runny and a third kind of slightly tangy frommage and some toasts. A feast! I brought it to my hosts in Paris and we will be eating it all week.

As I sat in comfortable tranquility and watched the landscape whiz by I remembered traveling as a very young woman and becoming aware that my interior monologue was relentlessly frightened and self-critical. These were my first adventures in solitude and I became attuned to myself for the first time in a way that I suppose some adults never actually do. Solitude eventually emerged as my lifestyle, perhaps vocation? — and my internal monologue at this age is mostly concerned with things on the ministerial to-do list, thoughts about life, death and God, a bit of worrying and thinking about friends and loved ones (still a category of more insecurity than most others in my life), dog details and housekeeping. I am not rattled by insecure or self-critical thoughts although I have very little skill in dismantling them, whereas I have developed a fairly high level of skill in interrogating and untangling insecure and other-critical thoughts; particularly in catching myself catastrophizing or projecting.

I am grateful for that. Now, perhaps, I can learn some effective ways to disarm the monster who lives in my head who takes up arms against myself. That monster is so deeply hidden, I only hear rumblings when she is active. She tends not to speak in complete sentences, she just shrieks and throws things and is as irrational as my parents were when they were in their fits of rage or addiction.

But today on the train there was no monster and no anxiety or fear. I am an experienced enough traveler to think a few steps ahead and get where I am going — and by the way, I am not going to Venice as I had planned, because I trust my instincts by now — and I like myself as a traveling companion.

I recognize now that the extreme anxiety I experienced when traveling in my youth actually caused me to dissociate, as happened on the beach in Antigua when I was 18 years old and on a senior trip with three of my girlfriends. The three of them went horseback riding one afternoon and I decided to go to the beach by myself. When I settled myself in the sand, I experienced a jolting sensation of the world rocking and went blind for a few seconds, after which I saw shooting stars everywhere and felt that I no longer existed. It was one of the earliest memories I have of literally losing my mind and it scared me badly. I decided to patiently wait where I was until my senses returned, so there I sat on a beautiful tropical beach, a young, pretty teenager trying to stay sane.

I was probably dehydrated and God knows if we had been eating enough food. We were drinking like fishes, far away from home and on our own. I remember the trip very fondly in general but I have not forgotten the tilting earth and my momentary blindness. Stress, anxiety, a fragile psyche, I was a kid whose father had recently died and who was living alone at home with an actively alcoholic living parent and a kid brother, sitting thousands of miles away under a too-hot sun with only three peers to rely on if my brain didn’t start functioning right again. We got through it. I am still close friends with two of those three peers and I feel protected by their good cheer, their confidence in and love for me now as I did then.

This morning: navigate the Tube. Use the Oyster Card. Find the platform. Get the coffee, bread and cheese. Load the luggage. Take the journey.  Disembark, find the toilet. Learn the toilet cost .70 Euros. Locate the bank machine, obtain the euros. Return to the toilet with the help of a friendly nun. Protect the bags, the passport, the phone from pickpockets. Call an Uber.  Find the Uber, who is parked a block away. Find the apartment code. Load the self and the luggage into the tiny lift. Be received in warm, welcoming arms of friends. Eat dinner, have some wine, load the laundry. Plan tomorrow.

Write. Remember. Thank God for the sound mind and body, for the accumulation of experiences, of years, of journeys.



Leaving American For A Bit

I posted this earlier today on my Facebook page:

Hi, friends. Today is the first day of my sabbatical. I am tying up loose ends and packing for my flight to London this evening. I am going to jump into Europe in full soul mode, holding nothing back from myself that might interfere with my ability to be in the right faithful place as a minister, as is my usual discipline. This means that I can go down, down, down into the places that are too intense, bloody, disturbing to share from the pulpit but that my psyche and my God beckon me to explore. I have always been an Underworld Girl – that’s why I did my master’s thesis on Persephone. I love my resurrected Jesus but I don’t live in the resurrection so much as I live in the laughing underbelly of irreverence, dirt and honesty. I need to be able to express both utter contempt and worshipful devotion and I intend to seek out beauty all the way. Most of all, I have to shake American flat-earth self-improvement, achievement and happiness off of me like the cheap garments they are. I’m going forth in some kind of pelt loaned to me by a creature that lived fully alive and often frightened, that ran wild and mated and ate and killed and then was killed by another animal, or the weather, or some other great force that it knew in its bones and respected.

So there it is. I almost feel like exploding, I need so much to be able to shriek with my hair on fire, Medusa Christ an old boyfriend once called me, and I can see it.

I want to talk about evil, disgust, the degradation of bodies that we can hardly tolerate imagining when they’re evoked by the headlines. The raping, marauding men at the top levels of power, the corrupt killers with badges, the monsters with guns who murder their wives and schoolmates, the vile boys who drive cars into protesters, the beasts who mock the dead — who wants to enter fully into their reality? I do not. I do, however, feel called to speak to the utter failure of our soft contemporary Protestantism, Humanism and New Age spiritualities to speak to the filthy perversions of human nature.

I’m leaving America for a bit. Going to Europe, where the reality of war and genocide and battles and displacement and blood feuds and cultural theft and slavery and racial hatred is integrated with the general understanding of history. Going places where depravity, immorality and corruption is recognized as part of the story of the city, the town, the opera house, the art work. Free from the tyranny of American denial, American smiley faces, American avoidance, American “I don’t see color” and “that was a long time ago” and “have you tried essential oils” and “happiness is a CHOICE.”

I removed my stole at the end of the church service on Sunday, folded it carefully and placed it on the altar table.

I am so grateful to be relieved of the burden and the honor of having to have something to say to the congregation for six months. What I have to say in the meantime is for me, because I have to get it out, and perhaps for you, if it speaks also to your soul.


Sprinters And Marathoners

It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and the birds sound beautiful but I feel wretched. I am writing through the pain and waiting for the Icy-Hot and the Topricin and the ibuprofen to kick in. The CBD oil that I have been using to manage this muscle pain for the past several weeks has ceased to be effective.

I send some writing out into the internet most days on Facebook but this post is going to be too long for that format because, as I said, I’m writing through the pain and I’ll be at this keyboard until it lets up and I can sleep.

What I think I have is simple muscular pain. I know my body pretty well at the age of 53, and what I know about it is that I localize tension in one section of it (lower back! feet! now my jaw!) for a season and then pain in that location resolves and moves somewhere else. Since June, and in conjunction with playing a very bizarre character in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins,” I have had deep aching in my legs and thighs. That’s where Sara Jane Moore lived in me, I suppose, and it’s where I stored all of the new stage fright that has plagued me throughout this production. I’ve been performing since I was six years old and I never imagined that I would be standing in the wings of a theatre at this level of experience psyching myself up for my entrance while a jittery part of my mind just one level below keenest consciousness relentlessly murmurs (but not unkindly), “You’re going to fuck this up.  Just think about all the ways you could fuck this up!”

(If you have played Sara Jane, can we have a drink and vent about the RIDICULOUS number of complicated props she has to handle with split-second timing? The gun, the fried chicken, the joint, the lipstick, the dog, the bullets, the insane complexity of props in her verse of “The Gun Song?”)

While I was playing Ruth in “The Pirates of Penzance,” I got headaches so bad that pressure applied to a certain spot in my neck made me vomit (that wasn’t good for my voice but it did relieve the headache pain). When I played Emma Goldman, my ankles and feet froze into knots so debilitating I had to vist the chiropractor weekly so I could continue to perform.  During one cold Minnesota winter when I was in my mid-20’s, my feet cramped up so badly I couldn’t walk down a short flight of stairs until I had been awake for at least a half an hour. Since the only bathroom in the house was on the ground floor, this made for humiliating predicaments.

My body often acts out at the conclusion or during the aftermath of a big creative project or especially demanding and intense season of ministry. When I much more actively and perilously battled anxiety and panic disorder around ten years ago (I consider myself to be recovered, or perhaps recovering), my panic attacks would come in the days after I thought I was in the clear for breaking down from stress.

It was much the same when I was growing up: I inevitably caught a cold, or the flu or once a serious case of mononucleosis (leading to hepatitis) after closing one of the many musicals I performed in in addition to schoolwork and after-school jobs. I understand and accept by now that I am not a marathoner in this life but a sprinter, putting out intense bursts of energy and focus and then collapsing at the finish line while others keep trotting along in enormous, companionable phalanxes, waking early, setting out and staying hydrated throughout the day as they maintain a steady pace and retire at a reasonable hour when the sun sets.

It seems to me lately that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have thrown the sprinters and marathoners into a big ramshackle farmhouse together where we can keep each other up far too late into the night and wake each other up far too early in the morning conversing, reacting, agitating and goading.  I think sprinters may adjust to the relentlessnes  a bit more easily given our natural rhythms of intense engagement and withdrawal, but the farmhouse is just as often the set of a horror movie as it is a party.

So I’m returning to a longer-form communique at 4:51 this morning to slow things down a bit, to avoid being the wee hour *ping* on someone’s phone who follows my Facebook page, and to see how I feel about engaging in this slightly less ephemeral fashion than what is possible in Mark ZuckerbergLand. There are no ads here. The eye isn’t drawn to a thousand side comments. Maybe it’s a little more boring and a bit more peaceful.

I have heard that 3AM is the Mystic’s Hour, when the veil between the realms is most gossamer and those who are prone to commune with the gods are most likely to do so. I have very dear friends who are in the Iona Community in Scotland right now and I enjoy imagining them starting their day with a late breakfast at this hour.  Bangers and mash? Haggis? I just hope the coffee is good. I look forward to hearing whether the veil between the worlds at Iona is as permeable as reported.

Mystical union aside, three and four o’clock in the morning are also existential crisis hours when many who keep vigil over sick bodies, agitated minds, crumbling relationships and frightening life circumstances feel most alone and desperate.  I hope it comforts you, as it comforts me, to know that monastic communities all over the globe are keeping vigil with you and praying for your well-being and spiritual safety. You aren’t the only one awake.

I have now been writing to you for an hour, during which I have also tended to the dog and cat who awakened to prowl and sniff around me in concern. I have had  a blueberry smoothie. The neighborhood is waking up and the ibuprofen has kicked in. I no longer entertain myself with dire imaginings about what terminal disease might be causing my muscle pain (I am certain that it’s the terminal disease called life). My day ahead involves attending a legal hearing as an advocate, having a conversation with my outgoing board chair, attending a Zoom call about local immigrant advocacy and doing some funeral preparation.  A demanding day, so I am going back to bed.

Here’s a little beauty from the Universalist Book of Prayer, 1895:

O Thou from whose fatherly hand sleep falleth nightly on the eyelids of man, whereby his body forgetteth its toil and his soul its sorrow; Teach us ever to receive it with grateful hearts, and grant that lying down this night with our souls at peace, and fearing no harm which man can do unto us, we may sleep secure in the guardianship of thy love. Amen.