Momentarily Like the Flame

"You know there are moments such as these when time stands still 
and all you do is hold your breath and hope it will wait for you." Dorothea Lange


There is a new patient in the dementia facility where I make my hospice visit each week, and he, in contrast to most of the residents who are often sleepy and quiet, has a lot to say. When I was there during the lunch hour on Tuesday, he shared, quite loudly, most of what was going on inside his head. He told the women working there that he was going to miss his plane; he asked where his wife was; he put his napkin on his head and told no one in particular that he wanted to "check into this lovely hotel!" At one point he looked in my direction and asked, "Is there any chance that God is going to take care of this?"

Which sent me into a fit of laughter because it struck me as a bright, shiny moment in the otherwise continual haze of unknowing and disorientation in which I'm guessing this gentleman lives. And also because it's actually a fair question: can we count on God to help us through all this madness?

On Sunday in church we mourned the drowning death of two elderly members of the community. How do things like this happen? One Sunday this loving couple, both in their 80s, are sitting in one of the pews, the next Sunday they are gone, having slipped from this earth, together, in the chilly water of a neighbor's pond. How are we to make sense of these kinds of things?

Perhaps we're simply not supposed to.


On Monday I attended the baby shower of my friend, Julianne, who is fairly bursting with new life. That baby is coming soon, and so there was a gathering to help her prepare. I arrived late, and was perplexed to find the house empty, so Coco and I followed our noses outdoors and around the corner to the greenhouse in the backyard, where we heard the dull clatter of conversation. I am still kind of reeling from what I saw when we walked inside: a long table -- perhaps 30 feet -- filled on all sides with women of every size, shape, colors and age. On the table were wooden bowls filled with warm sweet potatoes and salads. In front of each person was a serving of soup and water and wine glasses. There were sheepskins on the chairs and flowering cacti and baby onesies overhead. It was like something out of a dream; a rich, sensuous dream, filled with feminine power and grace -- a nearly incomprehensible feast for the eyes and heart. The immensely sad world of the day before felt suddenly turned upside down and filled to the brim with joy and promise.

Is there any chance that God is going to take care of this? I think so. As long as we are willing to take the hard with the soft; the loss with the gain; death with life; sorrow with joy, and to imagine the possibility that there is, beneath the surface of all this living and dying, something unfathomably bright.

Writer and atheist Barbara Ehrenreich, in her book, Living With a Wild God, recounts what she came to understand as mystical encounters she experienced as a teenager, one of which occurred "thanks to a severely underfunded and poorly planned skiing trip: I was sleep-deprived and probably hypoglycemic that morning in 1959 when I stepped out alone into the streets of Lone Pine, Calif., and saw the world — the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings — suddenly flame into life."

"There is no evidence for a God or gods," she says, "least of all caring ones, but our mystical experiences give us tantalizing glimpses of other forms of consciousness, which may be beings of some kind, ordinarily invisible to us and our instruments. Or it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame."