About nestinginwonder

Mabeth Hudson is a retreat leader, community builder, spiritual guide, and writer. After practicing law for the early part of her career, she joined with others to birth Well for the Journey, a spiritual wellness center in the Baltimore area. She continues that work by serving on The Well’s leadership team and chairing the Program Circle. Since 2001, she has overseen the curriculum development of Women at the Well, a small group signature program that provides spiritual nourishment for daily living. Mabeth holds a Juris Doctorate from Emory University School of Law and Master of Arts in Spiritual and Pastoral Care from Loyola University Maryland. She is married, has 3 young adult children, and lives on a farm north of Baltimore.

Reclaiming Areas of Peace

To read or listen to the news is to be drawn into a battle. The challenge is how to live and love in such a polarized, emotional time.

How can we honor the perspectives of others, no matter how much we may disagree? How can we stand up for what we believe is right, while not dehumanizing, belittling, or shaming others? How can we maintain relationships in middle of forces that want to pull us apart?

I profoundly believe that it begins inside each of us. Peace originates from within. We need to find ways to tap into the deepest part of ourselves – that Source of peace and love (the God-part) – that exists within each of us, and then share it with others.

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived and died in the horror of the Holocaust wrote:

“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

While working in the hellish Westerbork transit camp, Etty’s spiritual awakening transformed herself and others. She was able, remarkably, to look at the pain and suffering around her, the injustice and horror, and also delight in the goodness of life. Wow.

So, how can we reclaim areas of peace, grow more and more peace, and reflect it outward towards others?

After many years of working in the spiritual wellness arena, here are some suggestions that I offer humbly:

  • Choose to respond not to react. Learning ways to pause and reflect and get in touch with the Divine within can help you to respond thoughtfully and more peacefully. For me, a short centering time in the morning (even five minutes), can make all the difference in how I live my day. Even taking a few deep breaths when faced with a stressful situation can help to diffuse a stressful situation. (See mindfulness below).
  • Turn off the constant news cycle. The media seduces us into believing that we need to know everything, in real time as it unfolds. Thanks to smart phones, social media, and the nonstop twenty-four hour news cycle, our culture is addicted to news. Checking in once or twice a day is enough.
  • Try to know yourself. Become more aware of what makes you tick and what patterns of behavior and preconceived notions create blind spots that prevent you from truly seeing or hearing others.
  • Try to know “the other.” Be curious rather than judgmental. Try to have conversations that go below the surface of opinion and rhetoric. Listen with the desire to understand, rather than to respond. Remember that the other person is often doing the best that he/she can.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is both a practice and a way to approach daily life. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” A friend recently shared her simple definition: “paying kind attention.” Mindfulness becomes a way of life that keeps you in the present moment so that you don’t become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around you.
  • Compassion. Last, but not least, compassion can transform our world. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about (Shout out to my niece, Meg).

We have to change ourselves first before we can change the world. Let’s reclaim areas of peace and help them grow, bit by bit. Small things ripple out. We can each play our small but significant part.

Love,

Mabeth

Note: Etty died in Auschwitz.

Sources:

Etty Hillesum. An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. New York: Holt, 1996.Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994.

Love Poems From God

Have you ever considered that God has love poems for you? What experiences could be messages of love from the Divine? How can you listen for whisperings from The One Who Loves You Into Existence (one of my favorite names for God)? The inner cynic is each of us would have us quickly dismiss these questions. Please don’t.

As children and adults across the country are preparing Valentines for their classmates and sending flowers and candy to loved ones, the holiday of love is a time to remember that Love is breaking through all the time…every day, every moment.

A few years ago,  I came across Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. An assortment of writings from saints and mystics from eastern and western spiritual traditions, it includes “love poems” from writers such as St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Hafiz. It rattled my sensibilities (a good sign, by the way). In his introduction, Ladinsky writes, “Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring.”

Since discovering this book, I’ve been increasingly intrigued with remembering God’s love as an essential dimension of Valentine’s Day. We can celebrate by taking a moment to be grateful for the deep, ever-present, creative love that is at work in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Here is a short love poem for you from Ladinsky’s book that will likely expand your image of the Divine.

“I won’t take no for an answer,”

God began to say

to me

when He opened His arms each night

wanting us to

dance.

~ St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Wishing you all the best dancing.

Love, Mabeth

Source: Ladinsky, Daniel. Love Poems from God: Twelve Voices From the East and West. New York, NY: Penguin, 2002.

Salutation to the Dawn

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This morning I awoke before the sun came up. I have much on my mind. Today is Caroline’s birthday. My youngest sister is 49 today. Thank you, God, for blessing me with such a wonderful sister.

There is much sadness in the air…and also so much beauty. Caroline’s husband has entered home hospice after a long, valiant battle with cancer. She, her husband, and their young boys are saying the long goodbye as he lives his last few months. Another friend’s husband will die within the next few hours, if he has not passed. Such bittersweet time filled with remarkable moments of beauty. Hanging over all of this is worldwide grief resulting from the horrific Orlando massacre, with so many young lives cut short. In the midst of it all we hear beautiful stories of the heroic compassion that emerged in the midst of the horror.

Help me, God, to stay in the present, holding the sadness and beauty gently. Help me live well in the present moment. Help me to love well. This is my prayer this day.

The morning sky was waking up. Gorgeous. I snapped a few photos of the vibrant pre-dawn sky just before the sun rose. Little did I know that it was going to accompany a gift from beyond. I welcomed the rising sun, forced to turn away as it got too bright.

After the sun was up for the day, I came inside and called my sister to wish her Happy Birthday. Afterwards I decided that I should send her dawn photo. While scrolling through my pictures on my phone, I discovered a photo of a poem that I captured off of a blackboard on a recent retreat in California. I re-read it again, and thought, Wow- this is good. What is the source? A quick Google online revealed its source. Ha! It is a Sanskrit poem called “Salutation to the Dawn.” What a God-moment!

Perhaps this poem is also a gift for you.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day

for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence
the joy of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory

and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well-lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

-ancient Sanskrit poem attributed to Kalidasa

With much love to you this day,

M

Death After Dinner?!

“And after dinner, our topic will be death.” Imagine you are on a weekend retreat/workshop and you hear these words. Those of us who found ourselves in this situation groaned and laughed nervously as we realized that our Saturday evening was going to be anything but typical. What happened to chocolate, wine, or even an after dinner mint?

I was recently in California for immersion training on “Conscious Aging,” a program designed to help us grow older in a positive way. The goal of this particular segment on death is to transform our fear of death so that we are able to live well and die well. A part of me dreaded what was ahead. It was NOT what I wanted to be doing on my Saturday night.

Hours later I found myself completely captivated while watching an award-winning documentary called “Death Makes Life Possible.” The film explores the mysteries of death and life from a variety of perspectives and world traditions, including agnostic and atheist. It features some of the world’s leading scientists, anthropologists, philosophers, spiritual teachers, and thinkers of our time. The imagery, stories, and insights were fascinating, including research about near death experiences, mediums that claim to communicate with the departed, and evidence suggesting the possibility of reincarnation from decades of research conducted by the University of Virginia. So intriguing!

One particular interview really resonated. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi is a Harvard neurologist who has done groundbreaking research with Alzheimer’s disease. He has impressive credentials and gravitas and was recently named one of “TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World.” He explained that from a scientific viewpoint, there are two approaches to consciousness, memories, and identity. First, there is the view that all consciousness is held by the brain and is purely physical. This certainly is what most of us have grown up hearing and adheres to conventional science. The other, an emerging theory, is that consciousness is part of evolution and eternal, not subject to birth or death. Having spent his career mapping molecules and studying the human brain, Dr. Tanzi has come to believe that consciousness – which he describes as “soul” – is the keeper of our identity, and that consciousness transcends the physical parts of us. I love when a scientist confirms something I believe intuitively.

At the end of the evening a few of us decided to meet together in one of our tiny bedrooms with wine and snacks (alas, no chocolate) to discuss this death thing further. We shared stories about our own experiences with death, including communication from loved ones who had passed. We asked each other questions, listened to each other’s stories, and offered our perspectives on what we believe happens to our souls after death. It was a comfort and a relief to be able to discuss this in a safe setting.

What is it about death that freaks us out so much? After all, it is going to happen to all of us. It is universal to being human. As my brother says, it’s happened to billions of people so far in our history. Yet, society treats death like it is a disease to be cured. What if we got intrigued about it and didn’t treat the topic like it was taboo?

You have probably met people who seem to have a remarkable peace as they face death. I remember my mom telling me that after she confronted her fears of death and wrestled with them, she was able to tap into gratitude and live more fully. That peace allowed her to live her last years with a zest for life that was awe inspiring given her dreadful cancer diagnosis and the toxic effects of chemo.

So what can we do about this death concept? Death is not going away. What if allowed time and space to understand it better? I purchased a copy of the film to leave at Well for the Journey. Perhaps we could put together a “Death After Dinner” party bag with popcorn, and discussion questions so that people can gather their own group and explore these issues. You can supply the chocolate and/or wine. We certainly need one another to give us the courage to discuss these life and death matters. Stay tuned.

Resources:
Schlitz, Marilyn. Death Makes Life Possible. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2015 (book)

deathmakeslifepossible.com

Bryan Stevenson: “You Can Change the World”

Are there people who rock your world and inspire you to do something? Who touch some kind of nerve, challenging your thinking? Who tug at your heart or soul, stirring up a new kind of compassion? For me, it’s Bryan Stevenson: lawyer, human rights advocate, and holder of hope in the most dire of circumstances.

I’ve read, reread, highlighted, and pondered his award-winning book, Just Mercy (and recommend it to everyone I meet), listened to his TED Talk, watched his story on 60 Minutes, and recently traveled to Frederick to hear him speak. If he were a rock star, I would be a groupie. I keep going back to read his story and traveling to listen to him speak because he strikes a chord. He is calling me – and us – to a new way to treat each other as human beings.

So, who is this man? Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls him “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work and message are changing the landscape of compassion, justice, and mercy. Mr. Stevenson has spent much of his career in prisons, jails, and courtrooms fighting for the most vulnerable: the poor, the mentally ill, children, and those unjustly accused and convicted. He is working to transform our world, and invites us into that work.

He often begins communicating his message with some grim and startling facts:

• The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
• The U.S. comprises only five percent of the world’s population, yet it has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated.
• One in every 15 people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison. One in every three black male babies born in the century is expected to be incarcerated.
• Failed drug policies and the incarceration of low-level drug offenders are the primary causes of mass incarceration in the United States. While we treat alcohol addiction as a health issue, we treat non-violent drug offenders through the criminal justice system.

Please reread those facts. They are unbelievable. He invites and challenges us to be part of the changes that are desperately needed.

His best-selling book reads like a John Grisham novel. Tragically, they are true stories. He shares the stories of men, women, and children who are experiencing incarceration due to the most unfair, corrupt, and unjust circumstances. Remarkably, he is able to maintain hope, even when he is unable to save some of his clients.

I am in awe of Mr. Stevenson’s humility and gentle spirit that shine through his fierce advocacy for mercy and justice. In telling a story about a racist prison guard whom he encountered in the Deep South, he is able to look below the surface behavior and recognize him as a human being, rather than a racist. Reminding us that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” he challenges all of us to treat one another as human beings.

At his speech in Frederick on April 21, he framed his speech with the message: We can change the world. He set out four main ways that I now pass along to you:

1. Get Proximate. You cannot help others from a distance. He observed that many people offer opinions and solutions without getting close to the problems and the people impacted. You must get into proximity with those who are suffering.

2. Change the narrative. Our narratives must change. We buy into narratives of fear and anger that lead to harsh, unjust policies of all kinds. Also, we must change our narratives regarding race and look honestly at the effects of slavery on our country, our history, and our humanity. Our warped narrative has caused slavery to evolve into more subtle forms of oppression, humiliation, and injustice.

3. Be Hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. We need hope in order fight for a better humanity. In his book he explains that hope is not a pie in the sky type of optimism. Rather, it is an orientation of the spirit “that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power.” (Just Mercy, p. 219)

4. You have to be willing to do uncomfortable things. You cannot confront oppression and injustice while you are sitting comfortably on the sofa. Boom.

I’ll be going to hear him speak again on May 11 in Baltimore when he speaks to lawyers at an event benefitting the Public Justice Center. Yes, a groupie, I suppose, who desires to tap into his remarkable hope and vision for humanity.

If you are at all curious, please read Just Mercy. Perhaps we can be part of changing the world.

Where Hope Meets Justice

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Artwork by Becky Slater

“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all.”
-Emily Dickinson

John looked at me and proclaimed, “I am turning my life around. I’ve cleaned up my credit report, and gotten my driver’s license. This is the next step.” With those words, he picked up his pen and signed the paperwork to clear up his criminal record. John was hope in action.

I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of hope through my work at Well for the Journey, a center that offers innovative programs for spiritual wellness. Since leaving my law firm years ago, my energies have been devoted to developing programs and classes that help people lead more meaningful, centered lives. Hope is a motivating force within each of us that inspires and strengthens people to move into a better place. Hope is likely the catalyst that propelled me to dust off my law degree and begin volunteering with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to help in a very specific area of law: expungement.

Expungement is the legal process by which you can have criminal charges removed from public view. Governed by state law, the rules by which one may expunge charges vary from state to state. In Maryland, generally only those charges for which you have NOT been convicted can be expunged. This covers a fairly wide array of dispositions, including an acquittal (Not Guilty), and situations where police or prosecutors decide not to proceed further than arrest. Convictions for certain “nuisance” crimes (for example, open container and disorderly conduct) and those that are no longer crimes (such as possession of small amounts of marijuana) can be expunged under certain circumstances.

Expungement is a place where hope and justice meet.

To their credit, Maryland lawmakers have recognized the need for expungement to be more accessible and available. The last two years have brought welcome changes. First in laws that took effect in October of 2015, and recently as part of a criminal justice reform package passed in 2016. There are almost one million expungeable cases in Baltimore City alone, and that number will rise when new changes take effect in the upcoming months.

I first learned about the importance of expungement over ten years ago while serving as a job counselor with an organization called Genesis Jobs (which later became part of Goodwill Industries). The existence of criminal charges on one’s record is a monumental obstacle to employment. It was incredibly frustrating that good, qualified job candidates could not be find work due to their arrest charges for minor crimes, especially when they were never convicted of the charges! I kept mumbling that someone needed to do something about this problem.

Then came Baltimore’s spring, almost a year ago, when our city erupted. In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray and the uprisings that ensued, I wondered how I could help bring hope to those living in seemingly hopeless situations. What set of gifts and skills did I have to share? So many people living in or near Baltimore wondered what they could do to help heal our city and its people. There are no easy answers to the multi-dimensional problems that persist in our city- it will take a multitude of people playing unique, small parts. After months of praying for guidance about how I could contribute in a practical way, I came across a flyer for an expungement clinic and a telephone number to call for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers. Then I learned that lawyers got free training…there were no excuses. I gave myself a little pep talk, picked up the phone and volunteered to help at the clinic.

Hearing the stories of my clients has been humbling. Sometimes people have a few troubled years and then work hard to turn their lives around. Not surprisingly, addiction often plays a role in those bad years. I’ve met people, including a woman in her late seventies, who weren’t even aware that they had a record until they went to apply for a job. This can happen when someone close to you gets arrested and you are nearby and get rounded up too. Those charges remain on your record even if you are never prosecuted. Even when people have convictions on their record that they understand cannot be expunged, they want other charges expunged. One man said, “Hey, I take responsibility for that crime. But those others on there I want off my record- that was not me.”

While each person has a unique story, they share something in common: hope for a better future. I’m convinced that hope is manifested through relationships. Sometimes we are called to be with people in seemingly hopeless situations and be a sign of hope. We can help others believe in a better future, even when they can’t see it. To do this requires suspending- or moving through- our cynicism, judgments, and fear of people who are different than us. It’s not easy…but this is how we build hope together. This is how we move forward as a community.

As I shook hands with John and said goodbye, he commented on the beautiful spring day. I responded, “Spring is a time of hope, isn’t it? Good luck to you.”

NOTES:
1. If you want to learn more about expungement visit mdexpungement.com, a website developed by Matthew Stubenberg, a talented attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.

2. I am deeply inspired by Bryan Stevenson and his book, Just Mercy. Book review coming soon to this blog.

Your Personal Calling: Perspectives from The Alchemist

How can you live into your personal calling? What prevents you from realizing your dream? What kind of obstacles should you be prepared to encounter?

I’ve just finished reading one of my summer reading list books: Paulo Coelho’s classic, The Alchemist. This little novel has me thinking. It’s been translated into over sixty-seven languages and is one of the most widely read books in the world. What is it that appeals to so many readers?

The story is about listening to one’s dream and setting out to achieve it. In the forward, the author writes, “We all need to be aware of our personal calling…the path that God chose for you here on Earth.” Mr. Coelho explains that our dream is buried deep within our souls so as to be invisible. Many of us don’t have the courage to uncover our own dream, let alone work towards it.

He identifies and explains four obstacles that prevent us from living into our dream:

1. We think it’s impossible. We are told repeatedly that what we want to do is impossible, and layers of prejudice, fear, guilt, and cynicism bury our dream. It takes courage to disinter our dream. “Disinter” – a new gem of a word that I discovered in this book: it means to unearth, to unbury, to dig out, and to bring that which is obscure into plain view.

2. We are afraid of hurting or disappointing our loved ones. Once we dig out our dream, discover it, and consider it, we can become so concerned about the people we love that we stop there. We fear hurting them or abandoning those around us as we pursue our dream. We don’t realize that love actually is an impetus, and those who genuinely love us want us to be happy and will accompany us on the journey.

3. We fear failure and defeats. If we’ve done the work of #1 and #2 above, failures and setbacks cause great suffering. We can’t fall back on the excuse, “Well I didn’t want it anyway.” In fact, we really, really do want it and we’ve staked everything on it. We will face setbacks, struggles, and failures, but as Coelho advises, “The secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times.” We can’t be afraid of failure.

4. We believe that we are not worthy. If we have labored at #1, #2, #3, we may suddenly stop and abandon the dream for which we fought so hard. This stems from belief that we are not worthy of the dream. Often, this type of self-sabotage occurs just as we are on the verge of realizing the dream. Coelho explains that this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because “it has a saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.” He writes, “But, if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.” (WOW- powerful thought!!!)

The Alchemist centers on a boy named Santiago who is quite happy being a shepherd. But following several powerful dreams, he decides to set off in search of treasure buried in the Pyramids of Egypt. His journey takes him through challenging terrain, including the wild and dangerous desert. He encounters obstacles that test him, threatening to dissuade him from his journey. Key characters and events guide him on his way. Listening is central to Santiago’s journey-by attuning himself to signs (called “omens” in the book) and experiences, he begins to understand the importance of intuition and immersing oneself in the universal current of life.

Does Santiago’s journey sound familiar? It should. It is a journey that is common in myths, legends, stories, religious ritual, and psychological development. Consider Odysseus in The Odyssey, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, even Jesus or the Buddha in sacred stories. Psychologist Carl Jung identified this archetypal journey as key to psychological growth and maturity. Joseph Campbell calls it “The Hero’s Journey.”

Mary Oliver describes it in her poem, “The Journey”:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This archetypal journey also unfolds in our own lives, IF we have the courage to take it. At Well for the Journey (“The Well”), I’ve been privileged to watch and accompany others who are on this journey. People come to The Well for a variety of reasons, but often they have become aware that something is propelling them into unknown territory, and they seek guidance and encouragement. It is hard work, and, as The Alchemist reveals, we cannot do it alone. In small groups, ordinary people serve as gentle guides for one another, often unknowingly. We learn to listen to all of life, attuning ourselves to the Source of Life that guides, inspires, and loves us along our journey. Sometimes a piece of wisdom or a personal story is offered and it is just what another person needs to hear. It has been awe-some (in the truest sense), to watch others uncover their part of God’s dream, become more enthused and live into the fullness of life, and contribute their gifts to the greater good.

Are you intrigued? Maybe it’s time for you to read or reread The Alchemist. Maybe it’s time for you to listen in a deeper way to what’s inside your own soul. Find people around you to help you listen. If you need help, come to The Well or form your own community to help you listen. Ask God (or whatever you call your divine source) to guide you. You will be led. Be prepared to confront challenges and obstacles. Don’t give up.

Blessings on your courageous journey.

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Sources:

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Navato, CA: New World Library, 2008.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
Crowley, Vivianne. Jungian Spirituality. London: Thorsons, 1998.
Oliver, Mary. Dream Work. NY: Atlantic Monthly, 1986.