Monday, December 28, 2009

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

It is no coincidence that the early church leaders moved the observance of the birth of Jesus from the summer to the winter, and specifically to coincide and compete with the pagan observance of the Winter Solstice. While the motive of the church is suspect (to eradicate the pre-Christian beliefs and ceremonies), they accidentally brought greater power and meaning to the observance of the coming of the Christ.

The gospel of Luke presents a stark and bitter picture of the circumstance surrounding the birth. We have the pregnant mother and attending father traveling a long distance at the order of the government. They are living under the harsh occupation of Roman governors and soldiers. The must take refuge in a barn because the usual doors of convention and tradition are closed to them.

We could compare our circumstance to theirs. Our country is in the midst of the darkest economic recession since the Great Depression. Our leaders are lost in directionless bickering and barking, greedily hoarding the empty comfort found in material strength and money. The neediest of our citizens are also the most neglected, while many of the wealthy and powerful work only to feather their own nest.

It is portentous that much of the country has been blanketed by snow and cold this holiday season; we have deeply felt the darkness, and into that void we experience now the coming of the light; that is the promise of Christmas. To paraphrase: "the light surrounds us, the love enfolds us, the power protects us, the presence watches over us." If we did not have the darkness we could not fully appreciate the light; so now we bless the darkness; now we are thankful for the experiences and circumstances that brought sadness and difficulty to our lives. Kahil Gibran writes that sorrow comes to burrow out a pit in our lives that then becomes a container for joy. The more heartbreak we experience, the more capable we are of holding happiness.

The gospels give us a Jesus who must grow into his Christhood. He is born with the same capability as us all, but he shows us the very real possibility of regaining our true selves. It is my best Christmas wish for you all that you grasp the spark of God within you, and become what you are meant to be.

Bring us a new year clearly
Bring it quickly and dearly
Fly your truth into our eyes
And fill the sky with white.

John Deakyne

(The photo is a picture of Sedona taken this Christmas week.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tara's Babies

Yesterday I finished the last leg of my second dog rescue. It has been a great privilege for me to hook up with the animal rescue group: Tara’s Babies. They were organized to rescue animals from New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Once all those dogs were reunited or adopted out, the organization realized the need for animal rescue was still very great.

Our local group maintains a sanctuary deep in the National Forest outside Payson, Arizona. My first trip to the refuge took me more than an hour over forest roads in a 4-wheel drive pickup, literally over the mountains and through the woods, not to mention fording streams and lumbering through a canyon. I later found out this route was the shorter one that is only accessible in good weather; the other route takes closer to three hours.

At the end of this trek my first view took in a string of prayer flags which were as welcoming a sight as anything I have seen. The sanctuary and rescue operation is managed by a small group of Buddhist monks who live with the animals far from civilization and completely off the grid. They do not even have a satellite signal for a phone or internet connection. They collect dogs from all over the country and even overseas that are scheduled for killing. Many of these dogs have been rescued from severe abuse and life-threatening conditions, so they come in traumatized and sick. In this place, healing occurs. The staff and volunteers are doing God's work.

My first mission took me out of Arizona, through New Mexico and the Texas panhandle to Oklahoma where one woman has created a shelter in a rural small town. Her small operation rescues animals from the countryside to a makeshift collection of kennels behind the small police station. Ironically, the dogs are housed where formally an officer would take an abandoned or stray dog to be shot.

Terri Lynn loaded me up with two Black Lab puppies, a mixed Terrier youngster, and a yappy Papillon who was left for days without food on a chain in a dirt backyard looking forward to a life of neglect and being used over and over to produce litters for the puppy farm / pet store industry. My friends Penny and Carol volunteered their home in Eastern New Mexico for a much-needed stop-over on my way back. The final leg of the journey was a very long drive along Interstate-40 through periodic blizzards and white-out conditions. When we finally arrived at the holding yard outside the Vet Clinic in Star Valley the puppies ran and jumped and played like they had never been confined in travel crates. It does a human heart good to see such care-free joy.

My latest rescue took me to southern Utah were I met Natasha, another driver bringing four dogs from Salt Lake City. This was a very different group of dogs: two Miniature Pincers; one an adorable and proper little girl and the other a chubby and in-your-face boy; an adult Pointer Hound with all his ribs showing rescued from a chain in someone’s backyard, and covered with open sores; the last one was a beautiful white Pointer with red spots who cowered at every sound and motion; who crept close to ground when being walked to avoid the hand or stick of whatever adult was near. Tama was also painfully thin and though she had obviously been starved, still eats very sparingly. I cannot imagine what this dog has endured to make her so afraid.

It has been said that one of the great gifts dogs give us is their ability to show us how to live in the moment; in the “Now”. This is evidenced by the puppies playing in the yard like they had never been kenneled. But, I also see how like humans they are. We may also experience pure joy and forget past difficulty. But, we also cower when we are visited by unwelcome thoughts of hurt and distress. We also bark at things that are not there. We also guard ourselves against the intrusion of the unwanted and the undesirable outstretched hand even when that may be what we most need.

What will save us and Tama from the fear that threatens to overwhelm? The only remedy for fear is its opposite: Love. We are saved by locating the part of us that is eternally lovable; and Tama will be saved by the unconditional love given her by the volunteers and staff at Tara’s Babies.

As humans we are capable of saving ourselves with the loving guidance of the divine. One way we heal ourselves is to be of service to “the least of these” others who may not have our innate capacity for self-love. In this Christmas season it is critical to be mindful of those in need; especially the animals who depend on us for their very lives. I should say that Tama began to open to me and stand a little more erect in the very short amount of time we had together. This is proof to me that she will become healthy and whole, and that is my wish for the rest of us.

Link to Tara’s Babies:

Click on “Adopt a Dog” to see many of the sanctuary’s residents. Three/Fourths of the dogs from my Oklahoma trip have already been adopted.