In a dream, I am looking at a river. The sound of the river increases until it surrounds me with the intensity of the water flowing by. And then, I hear a heart beating. It is the heartbeat of the river. The river has allowed me to hear its heartbeat. Steady, ongoing, it continues.
In these times, I listen within and to the life around me. I listen while being with my grandchild, or while pruning the rose bushes planted by my father, or breathing the smoky air from the Northern California fires. And I wonder, is this a part of the river?
As the river has a source, do I have a source on which to stand so all can flow through me? Can I learn to hold change in my awareness in ever more difficult times, and to hold it in my heart? I know from my own life, how change first takes place in the inner world. So even if there are tears at night, or fear arises, we still need to do this work of holding, of prayer, of loving what is being born.
Sometimes I hear the heartbeat of the river in a story. A friend told me of her visit to a small village in Southern Bavaria. While she was in the house of a friend, a young Syrian boy knocked on the door and asked if he could play on her swing. He would come over regularly to work in the garden with her, or just to talk.
It turns out that just a few years ago, this village welcomed Afghani and Syrian people who had fled their countries. The church bought an old guest house where people can sleep and cook, and housing was offered in a nearby village. Local residents volunteer time to cook, or to go over homework with the children. The refugees learn German if they choose to do so, and train in skills to earn a living.
I was touched by this story. It reminded me of the words of Orland Bishop, an extraordinary man who has worked with inner city youth for many years. When I met Orland, he asked what I do. I told him about the circles we offer to women in shelters for those experiencing homelessness. He said: When people are not welcomed, they go to the edges of everything.
And so this welcoming, this natural and yet deep understanding of the sacred web of life is perhaps one of the green shoots that are emerging at this time.
A few weeks ago, when the fires first broke out in Northern California, I felt the suffering of those evacuated, the creatures, and the trees themselves. All this brought up the feeling of wanting to help in this situation. It is part of being human. We are so connected.
So great was the feeling of unease, of wanting to help, I left the house early that morning to take a walk. The streets were empty. Coastal mist, low to the ground, was so dense that I felt moisture on my face. I walked, and prayed.
On my way back, as I reached the top of the hill, I saw an elderly man looking at a pair of worn out shoes from a “Free” box on the curb. He returned the shoes back into the box. Impulsively, I called out from the other side of the street, “What size are you?” “Ten!” he called back.
I have a pair of size 10 shoes, I tell him, and did he want them? Yes, he said.
Walking together, back to my house, I asked if he lived around here, and he said that he moved to America from Mexico sixty-five years ago. In a quiet manner, he told me that he raised seven children, now grown.
When we arrived at my house, I ran in to get the shoes from the garage. They were sturdy, with red leather trim along the laces. Gingerly, he leaned over to put one shoe on, and then tied the laces. “Good,” he said. He put on the other shoe, and stood up.
I was glad that they fit, and told him so. He gave me a quick embrace, as light as that of a child, and then walked down the street into the mist. It felt unreal. This moment of opening, the love that suddenly poured into me, a kind of singing that remained all day.
And what stays with me is this: That the deep, natural devotion to the heartbeat inside of an ordinary day, that is our work. Welcoming the sacred in life, in the earth, and becoming part of the heartbeat of the river, steady but forever changing.