What I want to point out most of all is the starlit sky at the top of my painting as well as the waves that are holding me. In this piece, they represent the net I found recently at the beginning of the last third of my life. They are painted in the final hues of the rainbow. The first two thirds of my life suggested some form of a net was there, initially with glitters represented now by my jewelry, then shifting to words that are less dense but still possible to solidify in books. Please bear with me. So much of my life has been consumed as a school psychologist that the phenomena of Show-and-Tell seems the best way to explain.
I am reminded of Ken Wilbur’s idea that we are all evolving into spirit anyway, both individually and collectively. The notion that these jewels then the words all eventually transforming, through liquid air, into an energetic net, makes sense to me. As I evolve into spirit, the rainbow tracks my progress to date.
So this pale lavender net I speak of is a safety net, not unlike a fisherman’s net. I had heard others speak of being lifted by prayers. Before, I have seen a net of fond thoughts collect, for instance around my sister Melissa and her husband via his Caring Bridge site as he struggled with pancreatic cancer.
For the first time though, during my husband Rob’s recent surgery, I allowed myself to feel that lift, rock in the faint grip of it, wave-like and steady. At one point in Overlake Hospital’s chapel, I extended my palm to push on the resistance that held me. I reflected on how we are all connected, invisibly and non-scientifically perhaps, but connected nonetheless. For ten weeks, I have rested in this tangible net, a net made of meals, flowers, cards and a shower of electronic messages from around the world. Quite extraordinary. I remember the metaphysical hints of the net’s existence that God has given me at other times in the past.
Some background about this man of mine first. I met Rob forty years ago in the mountains in an REI climbing class. He is my partner, my bright yellow sun, my solar plexus. We lived together in the heart of the city on a houseboat for ten years before our two children came. Time for lots of traveling, hiking, romance and no church to speak of. Still I marvel that when we created our wedding ceremony, we invited a clergyman to marry us and sang a favorite hymn for our recessional, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” [Show bracelet.] This gift from Rob—a multi-colored bracelet—represents the variety of memories we share.
The orange stripe is always pulsating. I remember my 20-something self being in a circle with others at Haven in the Canadian San Juan Islands. A vested priest is leading us as we come forward into the center where my younger sister Susan waits for our blessings and anointings with oil. She has Stage 4 lymphoma. At the beginning of our week together, Susan was folded up into a little ball squeezing her knees to her chest and peeking out at us. After a week of acupuncture, psychodrama, various forms of body work, we are all watching her heal.
Until Susan’s illness, my perspective on life was undisturbed, for the most part, pure innocence—happy family, good grades, all was well enough. But a significant part of her healing was unearthing memories of being sexually abused as a cult priestess at camp. My first published essay, “Embracing Gray,” was about the black mark of Susan’s memories, how they crushed my unblemished childhood illusion and simultaneously offered great value in shaking up my sense of reality.
I attended several courses at Haven and remember the first time I used my palm to touch energy; it was radiating from another person. I started sensitizing my hands then so that they could identify the web of prayers forty years later. This fiery stripe of capital-H Healing is best represented by my silver bell. [Show necklace.] I usually wear one side, the one with the cross, turned in and closest to my heart. The other side has a circle, symbolizing the more expansive humanistic interpretation of faith I found at Haven.
Eventually after this catatonic shift in my understanding of, well, everything, I began seeing multi-colored sparkles everywhere, nothing was ever just white or just black again. But first, what was this camp? Who was this Christ?
The red, my root, is my spiritual foundation. My native faith language is of Christianity. I was fortunate to spend summers unleashed with my sisters at a church camp where my parents worked as nurse and assistant director. Vespers among the trees every evening. Afternoons swimming and boating in the lake. Mosquitoes. Camp fires. Tetherball. During the school year we returned to the city. There I participated in traditional Sunday School, choir and youth group as well as many activities hosted by the nearby Presbyterian School of Christian Education—folk-dancing, clogging, ski-trips.
My father was a public school principal. In his quietly-activist way, Dad helped implement desegregation in the South. No white flight for our family. Instead I was bussed across town as a 12-year-old becoming part of my school’s 2% white minority. By high school, I had adapted but I was definitely in a new environment for those dark years of junior high, scared and lonely most of the time. I never thought to touch God’s net then, but it was holding me. This stretch, living with my family of origin, is represented by a simple wooden cross, made at camp. [Show necklace.]
To describe the middle lusciously green belt, I use the religious word, “Ministry.” Of course the associated chakra is my heart, my center. In the linear story of my life, it started 30-plus years ago when my son was a baby and Rob and I realized it was time to find a church home. Our families were far away in Virginia and Michigan and we knew this business of parenting was too important to do alone. From our houseboat, St. Mark’s was our closest parish and Thank God it had a giant organ and relaxed choir and band (for him) plus a family service complete with puppets for our toddler (and me too).
God spoke to me during our church search when we attended Compline (for the first and only time together). I came through the doors of the nave and saw it chocked full with another completely different group of people. God told me then, “This is it, Penny. Welcome home.” I use two items to represent this spiritual stretch—my heart necklace and The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeaut. [Show necklace and book.] Early on, I volunteered in Sunday School and on the education committee which led me to seven years of governance on our vestry and then the diocesan Standing Committee.
This middle band is characterized by both a piece of jewelry and a book because this is when I changed to being less literal, less linear, less defined by any religious form. I found the mystics. At first, I was mad as hell. These Christian men and women had always been there. Why hadn’t anyone told me?! I had been seeking these wise ones all my life; this middle way of contemplation and action fits for me. I agree with the words of James Finley, “When we seek what is truest in our own tradition, we discover we are one with those who seek what is truest in their tradition.”
I find the aqua swathe the hardest to explain. The best word I can come up with is “bridging.” Overall it stands in for four decades of my work in the world. Over the years I have been the transition specialist, the connector—making programs work for disabled children, traveling with a youth mission to Mexico the summer before college, lifeguarding at an inner-city pool where I was almost the only white person, trying to make sense of benefits for families living in poverty.
When I was working in a school district where more than 30% of the families spoke Spanish, my boss encouraged me to write about learning Spanish in middle age. [Show my book.] I had been traveling back-and-forth to Nicaragua, initially under the cathedral’s auspices “to learn how most of the world lives.” While I had published essays for religious purposes and overseen lots of technical writing, Bridging represents the first time I wrote, with God’s help, for both audiences—the church and the general public. Blue is also the color associated with the throat chakra. I see this period of my life as a time of opening my throat and freeing my voice.
I was led eventually to this rich indigo third eye period of my life. Writers, I’m told, should develop a web presence first. But my blog—alwaysbriging.com [Show business card.]—came after my book. After 30+ years of working on behalf of children and families, this website accompanied me on the long glide slope to my recent retirement. Three years ago, I committed to posting an essay with an illustration at least monthly. I am grateful to have a way to share my stories, for instance about volunteering with the nearby bilingual mission church, about my inadvertent racist remarks, about living with a Jehovah Witness family in Costa Rica and a Mormon family in Ecuador, etc.
Most recently I posted an essay called “Colorful Caregiver Meds,” the closest I’ve come to describing the net and the violet of the crown chakra. My guru Jesus the Christ together as God and Spirit, has made the net that holds me…and all of us…clear, clear and even palpable. For this, I am grateful.
*EFM Spiritual Autobiography for 2019. Prompt was “colors.”