So Hum Vibrating

I Am

How I would love to reread what my friends wrote at our creativity circle (aka Jewels) recently. Would I dare ask them to type their pieces or perhaps send photos of them? The most I can bring myself to do is peck out mine.

So hum


Yo soy

Je suis

That in itself is amazing. Four languages sprang forth in two seconds. Each expression means “I am.” Some have said it is God’s name or the sound of God’s breathing. Only one ends with a consonant. And that one—hum—may even be synonym-like across languages.

Remembering Kelly who is quieter, sparkling and radiant. She led another group in a discussion about darkness, earlier in the week. Feeling responsible for the sad stillness in the room because I was the one who had chosen the reading prompt. Resisting a whimsical comment that would lighten things up, for God’s sake, the way I might have done….before Rob’s surgery, that is. Resisting, resisting. Knowing somehow I was at least willing to experiment when I had chosen the serious essay about suffering. Recognizing Kelly knew the dazzle of darkness so would keep us safe.

But, at the close, I felt disappointed. This was not the peace of resolution I had experienced at the end of the other group theological reflections. And of course, silly me, I did wonder if the others were disappointed too? And even crazier—so me, so human—I wondered if I was responsible for their melancholy? As if I, in my omnipotence (LOL), could make anyone feel a certain way.

And then rather nonchalantly, when I whispered to Kelly afterwards how hard it was for me not to try changing the mood, she said, “I love darkness. To me, as we sat there sharing a thought, an idea here and there, I could just hear the hum.” And she even said that nonchalantly (as I said), the opposite of how I had felt.

All this to say, that same word came up again two days later when we Jewels meditated together, “So hum, so hum.” My God, in Sanskrit it means “I am.” Sweet Jesus! I had thought words that end with vowels naturally reflect breath more than others because they continue into the air making them better sacred words for contemplation. Like Yahweh, for example.

“Mmmmmm,” a consonant, clearly also does this. And now I see it. The English version, “I am,” ends with an “m” too. How perfect! Silly, crazy, vibrating human me.








My body does not ever stop completely. I am never still.

When I am very quiet, I can feel myself moving inside.

When I am listening, watching, listening, imagining, hearing, I can feel others moving, including the air.

Sometimes the vibration is so slight. Sometimes the earth itself moves enough for me to feel it gallivanting.

I’m glad I waited patiently and long enough to find this word, vibrating (with the “ing”), to use as my word for the year…serving me and all creatures great and small in this year of clear seeing.

This Darkness I Cherish

Burned forest

Yesterday I visited a friend whose beloved had unexpected brain surgery and spent ten days in the ICU. Another friend’s husband was hospitalized after a stroke and is recovering his balance given rehab and PT. Our choir-mate can finally show his face again in crowds after a blood cancer diagnosis and stiff round of chemo. All these near-70-somethings have new understandings of their vulnerability. Their women, like me, are grappling, trying to love and care for these men we treasure, learning our “new normals.” Rob’s (and mine) is no longer the saddest, most recent, story of loss and change. I find I can be present in a new way.

I am grateful these tears can fall. That I feel soft. And prayerful. Still sad, confused, profoundly empty at times but, like the short days and long nights, the balance of my cup of feelings seems to have shifted, almost precisely in step with the sun. Most mornings now I wake and, as consciousness dawns, I wonder and check. I feel more settled and content than not. I startle myself more often with belly-aching laughter. Also I welcome the rippling tears, no matter how painful. Do I dare say I cherish them?

At one point in early fall, a doctor asked how I was sleeping. Blessedly, sleep/dreams/resting has not been a problem for me. Others have scolded me for turning down her Xanax prescription. Still I have wondered if my characteristic lightness of being would ever return.

I am definitely a fuller and more compassionate human being due to the intensity of Rob’s diagnosis, surgery and recovery. What I contemplate now about mortality and great love, is, how-to-say-this?, more grown-up? The earlier insults—depression in college when I was scared and trying to control (and of course failing to control) a bevy of freshman beauties as their RA, desperation again when my near-perfect family fell apart after learning about my sister’s sexual abuse at the camp I loved, grief following the long demise of my dear father before he died at 94, etc.—don’t compare. After all, Rob is close, practically flesh of my flesh; we became one, in sacred vernacular.

Frankly, I am impressed with the profundity of this latest journey with Rob—what it has opened up for me/us, the pain and fortitude I have witnessed, the miracle of healing anyway, recognizing none of us ultimately gets out of this alive, the place in my heart that would expect nothing less. Even though it hurts, I don’t want to swallow or ignore it.

Over the past decade I have assembled spiral notebooks full of good writing and artwork by others. I have never chosen a particular theme until, at the risk of dualism and pitting Light against Dark, I decided to create a notebook devoted to Darkness. This fall, when my brother-in-law died and the anger-sadness-bewilderment of Grief threatened to sink me, I noticed I gravitated toward poetry about heavy-ness, as in not-lightness. It helped to collect these gifts into one notebook, giving a nod to the newer deeper understanding and feelings I respected. Now, I appreciate myself too much, on this side of the worst of it, to go back to immature unknowing.

I found the collection’s cover art too, a piece by my cousin Paula Fong. In mid-October I visited her studio and found wonderful illustrations of bees, flowers, animals, trees all in their natural habitats. Yet, I was drawn to the one of a scorched forest. It had a magnetic-like hold on me and serves as the cover of my latest notebook. Fortunately there is a stream running through this scene. And sunlight peeks from behind a cloud. I recognize the gorgeousness of this depiction and its place in my own circle of life. I have lived with this heat, flaming to the point of almost burning me and my joy up. A fire like this one creates deep fertile loam. Rich nourishing ground of this sort eventually allows transformation and resurrection. I know this. I believe this with all my heart—for all of creation, myself included.

Thus I am grateful. I know transformation is coming. The water does flow. The sun does shine. I am standing in the middle of it and am better off for all of it. I am. It helps to have my notebook nearby to remind me.

(Artwork by Paula Fong)

When I’m 64

Today poem


My actual birthdate bordered on overwhelming, given the outpouring of love. Many know I have been through the fire and seen Glory, over and over again MCE (aka My Current Era, post Rob’s surgery).

Fortunately this 19th (four months MCE) included quietly reading one of my favorite picture books about angels—The High Rise Glorious Skittle-Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake by Nancy Williard—to a 6-year-old while we cuddled together on a comfortable sofa. Before that I facilitated a discussion about a more adult favorite—Wild Mercy by Mirabai Starr—with a group of dear friends, most of whom thought her book was a bit chaotic and just too wild. Does this sound like me and the Divine I know?

The next day, when I was 64 all day long, I welcomed friends to my blue room so we could pray and write and create together. The gentle advice my friend read, this time from a Buddhist mystic Danna Faulds, felt like a free gift—“When loss rips off the doors of the heart, or sadness veils your vision with despair, practice becomes simply bearing the truth. In the choice to let go of your known way of being, the whole world is revealed to your new eyes.” My response as the illustrated poem (above) was easily-created and freely-given. Now it is yours too.

I Am (2019)*

Melinda surfing

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.

SA show and tell

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— [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.”

Colorful Caregiver Meds


I tend to pay attention when a concept (e.g. a book or movie title or a travel destination) keeps surfacing especially when my legs tingle or the idea comes to me via three different avenues.

This summer my husband Rob had his bladder removed. During his surgery, week in the hospital and early recovery time at home, I was grateful to have stumbled upon a free 21-day e-series of guided meditations. Each was 20 minutes long and I was disciplined about listening every day. Well, usually I found such deep peace (some might call it sleep) that I don’t remember any of the guidance in terms of the words that were said.  I noticed that this form of resting was ideal for me at the time.

When our new reality began to set in and those free online meds ended, I continued my long-standing practice of journaling without fail but I was completely distracted during what might be labeled “Stillness.” I was not drawn to my usual mindfulness practice in the least. While I had finally learned to enjoy these quiet times no matter what happened during my 10 to 30 minutes of meditation (including falling asleep), I was disappointed to have no discipline whatsoever to simply come to the chair. Having taught these practices in our public schools for years before my (new-this-Fall) retirement, I knew that the welcome sense of calmness would be elusive without steady practice. I missed the stillness and I beat myself up too. Where was my self-compassion during this surreal, sad time?

Then, I attended one cancer caregiver support meeting about guided visualization. The facilitator led us through a body scan calling up colors associated with the chakras. I found myself anticipating the next color of the rainbow using the acronym ROY G BIV (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet). Rob had taught it to me years ago.

When our leader asked, “What happened during the visualization that you would like to share?”, my first thought was that for a change I wasn’t thinking at all about Rob and his cancer. However I was thinking about Rob and colors with great appreciation.

After group sharing, the trainer suggested we try to remember a fond memory from the past—fond as in “good,” “happy”—because next we would be imagining a place we could recreate and revisit whenever we wanted or needed to.  Immediately I wondered, “Could I possibly remember the very first time Rob taught me about our friend, Roy. Our house-haunting 30 years ago sprang to mind. I dressed up as the rainbow and Rob was my pot of gold. We invited everyone we knew to come over and help us bless our new home on Halloween night. I closed my eyes and the facilitator led me right back there.

When I came home after the session, I downloaded every free application I could find. This would be my way back to Still Calmness with the help of mentors, alpha-wave music and guided imagery. I would find deep and steady peace within myself again.

And the colors would continue flying at me. The second color blast came from a friend in the form of a beautiful “metta” prayer composed for Rob. Now it’s posted on my blog as one of the August Prayers.

And what do you know? I learned yesterday that this year’s prompt for our introductions during my theology class is COLORS. I will be telling my spiritual autobiography with Roy’s help again, perhaps adding a lot of colors to my journal and then painting using my new easel. Who knows whatever else will come my way given the bright rainbows within and around me.