Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2017

 

“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.” -Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, in Shanksville, Pa., in 2002

 

The night before 9/11 twenty-four Ireland travelers, registered for my first tour, convened at O’Connor’s Pub in Portland. The excitement was palpable as we made final plans to depart Portland on Friday, Sept. 14. I went to sleep that night with a big smile on my face, knowing everything was in place. The next morning the smile was replaced by a face that registered shock and devastation.

My stepson, 12 years old and about to start middle school, phoned us from his mom’s house. “Turn on the television,” he whispered. Together we watched in horror what unfolded over the next hour or so. At one point I asked him if he was okay. He replied, again in a whisper, “Is this the beginning of World War III?” I told him I didn’t know, while reminding him that he was safe. I asked him if he wanted me to come get him. “No,” he said, “I want to go to school.” That’s when I remembered I had to be at a Waldorf school at 9:00am for my weekly Life Lessons storytelling adventure with a group of second graders. I hadn’t a clue what I was going to say.

I somberly entered the classroom to find the children gathered around the feet of Mrs. Johnson, all with looks of devastation on their innocent faces. “Pastor Kate is here,” she cried out. “She will help us.” Suddenly I had my own little nest of baby chicks gathered around me, looking for guidance and meaning. My story went something like this.

Far back in time, when the first babies were born, the Creator gave each of them a heart. It would be the place where Love lives. (I invited the children to place their hands on their hearts.)

Like a drum, the hearts would beat, making a thump, thump sound, so we could hear them and remember Love. (We made the sounds together.)

At first the heart beats came at different times. But soon they came into rhythm. All hearts beat together, from the North Pole to the South Pole, from America to Africa, reminding us that we are one human family, created to express Love, together. Now, let’s close our eyes and feel the love coming from our hearts. (At last, smiles began to return to their little faces.)

But over time some grownups started to tie strings around their hearts. (In a pretend mean voice I asked the children to pretend to tie up their hearts, making mean sounds as well.)

Like a ball of yarn, soon some of these hearts were nearly covered up and invisible. And so was their Love. It was replaced by fear and hate. Show me what fear and hate looks like on your faces. (Imagine their expressions.)

And that is what happened this morning. Some grownups, with fear and hate in their hearts, caused great pain and sadness for many, many people, us included. I know I’m feeling sad, and a little bit scared. (At this point I invited the children to quietly say aloud what they were feeling.)

So here’s what our job is today. We must un-tie the strings of our hearts. Ready, get set, go! (Chaos ensued as the boys and girls ran and tumbled around the room, pretending to let fly the many invisible heart strings. Eventually we came back into circle.)

Now feel the Love in your heart. (Another round of thump, thumps.)

Can you feel the love again? (Cries of yes, yes, yes echoed through the classroom.)

This is what we must remember today. Most people are good and they let their love shine. But some tie up their hearts with fear and hate. Fear of people who are different than they are. Hate because of skin colors unlike their own. Or fear of different languages from around the world. Maybe hate because of different beliefs about presidents, countries, or even God. But what’s true is this. Every human has a heart, even the people who did the bad things this morning. The Creator intended the human heart to be where Love lives. Let’s make a pact today to let our Love shine, even if we feel sad or afraid. How about we all connect pinky fingers. Look around our circle. Are we one family? (“Yes,” they shouted in unison. Slowly I began to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” The children joined in. We separated that morning with big smiles on our faces and young hearts once again at peace.)

It wasn’t until I got home that morning that I wondered if the horrific events of 9/11 would cause the Ireland tour to be cancelled. As 9/11 unfolded, and then 9/12, I realized on 9/13 that the 9/14 tour departure would not happen. It was declared an international day of mourning. I felt horrible knowing I had to phone the twenty-four travelers with bad news. That’s when it occurred to me, my own Life Lesson. We were merely inconvenienced, while millions were devastated. We would not go to the airport on 9/14 and demand our flights to Ireland. Instead, I would encourage my travelers to join the world in prayer, reflection and contemplation.

On 9/11/01, and every 9/11 since, I remember that it’s a choice whether to see through the eyes of love or the eyes of fear. To remember that it’s not all about my needs or desires. To always pursue the deeper truth. Missing a tour date was an inconvenience. Loss of thousands of lives was devastation. True to the generous hearts of the Irish people, we were able to move the tour to spring, at no extra cost. The vendors in Ireland took the loss out of respect for their American anam caras, their soul friends.

My plan for today is to sing, whistle and hum “This Little Light of Mine” whenever and wherever it occurs to me to do so. Like the Waldorf second graders (now young adults) I will visualize the joining of pinky fingers, with skins of many colors, reminding us that We Are One, and that we’re all in this together.

Listen to the voice of children singing!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzmdNDf14Rg

Kindness

September 6, 2017

 

“Be kind to one another.” – Ellen DeGeneres

Remember the popular bumper sticker from the 1990s?

Since then it’s been a fun spiritual practice for me. At first it was adding coins to a nearly expired parking meter for the car next to me. On family vacations, we loved paying the bridge toll fee for the car behind us. We’d watch with eager anticipation to see the reactions. In traffic, I get joy by waving an impatient driver into my lane. Lest you think I’m perfect, I can get annoyed when someone doesn’t let me merge into their lane. Where did my kindness go, so easily and so quickly? For kindness to elevate from the occasional good deed to a way of life, it takes focus, willingness and commitment. Both receiving kindness and giving kindness.

Receiving Kindness: A few years ago I popped into a pizza place to get an ice tea to go. I gave the fellow my order, who in turn called it out to his co-worker. I asked the price. The man said it was free. I laughed. “Seriously, how much?” His reply, “Seriously, it’s free.” My reply, “Are you teasing me?” His reply, “Nope, just passing along the kindness someone extended to me.” I said thank you as I walked away smiling. I almost passed up a Random Act of Kindness extended to me. It made me wonder how much good I overlook when my focus is on what’s wrong in the world.

Extending Kindness: Last week I purchased a 2-quart container of Tillamook Vanilla Ice Cream to go with the fresh blackberry pie my husband had baked. I noticed a sale sign that said, “Two for the price of one.” I hate to pass up a bargain, but it’s not safe to have two containers of ice cream in my freezer at one time. As I started to walk away, I noticed a sweet young family in front of me. A dad, obviously pregnant mom and a 3yr old boy. I asked them if they like ice cream. All three sets of eyes lit up as they nodded in unison. I explained the “two for one” deal, and said that I wanted to gift them the second container. The little boy shouted, “Yes!” The parents paused and gave me a quizzical look. “Seriously?” they asked. “Seriously,” I nodded, wearing a big smile. The only down part of this encounter is they got coffee almond fudge and I came away with boring vanilla. I suspect we all stepped away with joy from this simple act of kindness.

With all that’s swarming around us right now—hurricanes, floods, wildfires, nukes, immigration, wars, cancer, you name it—I can easily slip into worry and despair. I allow myself to visit there, but I refuse to take up residence. And so I ask the Universe: What can I do to add kindness to the world, on this day, at this moment? Opportunity is everywhere, if you remain focused and willing, and then take action.

What will your next Random Act of Kindness reveal, as giver and/or receiver?

 

A meditative song for the smoky air and falling ash as a result of wildfires. Bring on the rain!

“I Dreamed of Rain” by Jan Garrett & JD Martin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muTABuD0ngA

It’s Just Numbers

August 6, 2017

 

“11:11 is the Universe knocking itself out to give you evidence of your alignment.”
~ Abraham Hicks

 

A few months back my beloved stepdaughter, who had just turned thirty, asked what number birthday it was for her paternal grandmother. I said that Oma had turned eighty last fall. Justine was stunned. “Eighty,” she gasped. “Really? EIGHTY?” I answered with a simple, “Yes,” and then added, “In fourteen years I will be eighty.” Again, she gasped in shock and awe. To which I replied, “Yep, and in fourteen years you will be forty-four.” This was met with absolute silence. And then we both laughed. It’s only numbers. Here are some “number moments” from my life story.

Weight – I remember the first time the number on a scale influenced my self-esteem. We were in 7th grade and getting weighed in P.E. class, in front of dozens of other girls. For the first time my weight went above 110 pounds. In fact, I weighed in at a whopping 117. I remember the shame I carried when another Kathy’s weight logged in at my previous number of 110. It was that day that I gave my power over to numbers on a bathroom scale. Fast forward several years to when I participated in Weight Watchers. They required a weekly weigh-in, with privacy. I recall the facilitator saying that the number on a bathroom scale is information only. Just feedback. It is up to me whether I give that number power. This revelation allowed me to release the story from the 7th grade weigh-in. I also released from mental bondage the P.E. teacher and the other Kathy, and every weight I’ve ever weighed.

Age – A friend in Ireland is so fascinated by my age, in her mind thinking I appear much younger, that she often asks her friends to guess. In front of me! You can imagine the discomfort this causes in the other, especially men. Usually they guess about ten years younger than I am. Then we all have a good laugh realizing that because I look younger than my age, I have a secret. The secret is that I am old. Suddenly, unbeknownst to those present, the joke implodes and I start to feel old. The real corker was a few years ago. My friend introduced me to her sister. They were both in their forties. I found out later that my friend grilled her sister about my age. She guessed fifty. I was at the time sixty-three years old. When the sister learned that she said, “Oh, I bet Kathleen was a fine looking woman back in her day.” This was, I believe, meant to be a compliment. All I could do was blink my eyes and smile, says she who is now sixty-six.

Numbers have been related to spirituality and religion since the beginning of time. Think of the Ten Commandments, the Twelve Stations of the Cross, the 8-Fold Way of Buddhism, plus the 12-steps of recovery from addictions. We humans resonate and align with numbers. So why not have fun with it?

If you’re on Facebook with me, then you know I occasionally like to post numbers. It’s become a spiritual practice. I type 8:11 when I see that on the digital clock. It was my house address growing up in Ames, Iowa. It always brings me a smile. When I see 9:11, I prayerfully pause to remember that fateful day in 2001. A friend, a night owl, likes to post in military time, like 22:22. Other favorites are 2:22, 3:33 and 4:44. And the best of all is seeing 11:11 on the clock and posting it.

The next full moon is Monday, August 7th, precisely at 11:11am, Pacific time. I’m going to set the alarm on my clock to remind me to notice. It might be a good time for me to step on the scales or starting planning for my 67th birthday. It’s just numbers.

Check out this website for information related to number sequences.

Number Sequences from The Angels
by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.

https://spiritlibrary.com/doreen-virtue/number-sequences-from-the-angels

Mary Magdalene

July 21, 2017

 

“A ministering priestess with a deep understanding of the thresholds of the spirit world.”
Jean-Yves Leloup, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

My first conscious awareness of Mary Magdalene was in 1971 with the debut of the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Super Star.” Shouldn’t it have been about Mother Mary instead? I mean, a prostitute gets a starring role in the life of Jesus? Little did I know that two years before that the Catholic Church quietly deleted references to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, probably because it’s not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. In 1969 she was restored as Saint Mary Magdalene. Where was the fanfare for this monumental shift?

Fast forward two decades. At that time I was in my first year of ministry studies. I recall the teacher of our metaphysical bible class speak of Mary Magdalene in a new light. In the Gospel of Matthew, “…a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.” The apostles were appalled, saying the money could have been given to the poor. To which Jesus replied (Matthew 26:13), “Why are you bothering with this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Those last four words found me speechless – IN MEMORY OF HER. I have shared that bible verse with many others who have been equally stunned. In memory of HER? Yes, that’s what the bible says. HER!!! Look it up.

About that same time I was introduced to Margaret Starbird’s ground breaking and controversial book: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail. A staunch Catholic and military wife, Starbird set out to prove that all the hoopla around Mary Magdalene was false. She was a prostitute. No way was she married to Jesus. It didn’t take long for Margaret’s research to reveal just the opposite. It is her belief, and mine, that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, and that Mary Magdalene was the Holy Grail. Consider the following:

  • Bible scholars call Mary Magdalene the Apostles’ Apostle. That implies that she had an elevated position, closer to Jesus than the traditional apostles we know about.
  • It was Mary Magdalene who first saw the resurrected Christ. It took convincing for the other apostles to believe her.
  • Within the four gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke & John-there are only five nearly identical passages. Four of them are about Mary Magdalene being the first to encounter Jesus post-crucifixion. Given the patriarchal writers of the bible, it tells us the she must have been very important in the life and story of Jesus.
  • It was Judaic law that young Jewish men must be married. Jesus remained a Jew, therefore he would have had to follow the law.
  • At the time of Jesus, only a High Priestess would have had the power to anoint, especially for burial. Perhaps Mary Magdalene was later called a prostitute because men would come to her in order to encounter the Goddess. These were holy rituals, not sordid encounters in the back seat of a car.
  • Take a long look at da Vinci’s famous image of the Last Supper. Who is that feminine figure sitting to the right of Jesus?
  • Look up Song of Songs in the Old Testament. The passion and erotic love component has been attributed to Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
  • In 1896 a papyrus book was found in Cairo. It contained what is believed to be the Gospel of Mary of Magdala. Her message affirms the teachings of Jesus to be a path to inner spiritual knowledge. In 1917 another 3rd century Greek fragment of Gospel of Mary was found in Egypt. In 1955 the first printed edition appeared in German. Her gospel is empowering, reminding us that we are all children of the one God.

With the traditional Christian hymn, “In the Garden,” the writer imagined that he was present with them (Jesus and Mary Magdalene) in the garden. More than a million recordings and printed copies of it have been sold. Here’s just one version.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAhsVqbV3pg
Joey+Rory – In The Garden (Live)

I find it interesting that both of my parents requested that this song be sung at their funerals. At the time I imagined them walking with Jesus in the garden of the afterlife, although neither parent was religious. It was only later that I heard In the Garden as a love song between the lover and the beloved, Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Metaphysically, each of us is the lover and the beloved. Divine Union is trying desperately to emerge. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the discord with our current administration’s approach to women. The last vestiges of patriarchy?

Saturday, July 22, is the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene. What does her life and ministry mean to us today? I suggest that she, with Jesus, is modeling the union of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. Together they are birthing the second coming: The Christ Consciousness. By that I mean honoring and following the principles modeled by Jesus. Love, compassion, respect, acceptance, forgiveness, connection, etc.

On this Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, I will walk in my own garden in the company of like-spirited women. We will wear red and carry with us an egg, both symbols of Mary Magdalene. The woman who will channel Mary Magdalene will anoint us with spikenard oil, what Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus with. We will do all of this In Memory of Her.

Interested in reading more about Mary Magdalene? Or perhaps host a book group in your home and learn about her in the company of others? Email Rev. Kathleen for suggestions: katheenverigin333@gmail.com

Save

Blessing

In recent months my prayers for people with cancer has grown to the point of needing a list to make sure I’ve covered everyone. My practice has been to say a prayer for each person, as requested, specific to their illness and desired outcome. With the ever expanding list, I realized I needed to pray differently. When I discovered that the July full moon is sometimes known as the Blessing Moon, I decided to simplify my prayer practice. I now bless each individual by name, within a general prayer for healing and wellness. It has brought me relief without lessening the intention of my spiritual support for others.

According to the late John O’Donohue, author of Benedictus: A Book of Blessings, released in the States as To Bless the Space Between Us:

“A blessing evokes a privileged intimacy. It touches that tender membrane where the human heart cries out to its divine ground.”

When I bless someone, it takes me out of my head and into my heart. I no longer struggle with saying just the right words. “Bless ____” becomes enough.

“In the ecstasy and loneliness of one’s life, there are certain times when a blessing is nearer to us than any other person or thing.”

When I bless someone, I feel closer to them. This is especially important to me when the one asking for prayer support lives far away.

“In the parched deserts of post-modernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.”

When I bless someone, my image of them blossoms and blooms. I more easily see their perfection and magnificence.

“Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.”

When I bless someone, I am reminded that we are all children of The One God. Every blessing I speak echoes in return. How can it not?

“May we all receive blessing upon blessing. And may we realize our power to bless, heal and renew each other.”

Singing is a great way to express a blessing. Here is one of my favorites. Enjoy. And, before I forget, God Bless YOU!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uz4h3nBToY
Blessed Always – Donna De Lory

Getting & Having

“Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.”
― Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) English poet, sage writer and cultural critic

 

A friend recently posted this on Facebook: Life is the waiting room for death. Sounds morbid, I know, but it did get me thinking. How has my life unfolded as I move closer to my own inevitable passing? I said to my Facebook friend, “Seems like I spent the first half of my life in fear of getting something, and now the second half of my life in fear of having something.” We both laughed, and then drifted into a sobering silence.

Getting

From childhood through my 20s, fear came in the form of “getting” something. I was afraid of getting polio or TB. From early church teachings, I was afraid of getting leprosy, or, as a virgin, getting pregnant out of wedlock. Who would believe me? My sister and I couldn’t go barefoot until after our dance recital in early June. This was because we were afraid of our precious feet getting hurt. At least that’s what our ballet teacher said. When I started my moon time, I was afraid of getting blood on something. I wore a girdle because I was afraid of getting too much attention for my feminine curves. In high school I worried about getting a date for an important dance. The idea of getting a prominent zit for the dance was appalling. In college I was again afraid of getting pregnant, but now for good reason. In my late twenties I was afraid of getting left behind by the married and/or mommy club. Once entering my 30s, in a job with a promising future, I was afraid of getting laid off. In my 40s, I was afraid of getting diseases I heard about on TV. In my 50’s the getting was about making myself get up and go.

Having

Two summers ago, at the ripe age of 64, I started receiving daily mail with ads about having aches, pains, ailments and diseases. Some ads were for having pre-paid burial plots or cremation. I recall saying aloud to my husband, “Oh, I get it. Age 65 is when you get ready to die.” Recently I started having fear around a lower back ache and leg pain. Maybe I was having discomfort because of osteoporosis or osteoarthritis. Or, like friends having hip replacement surgery, maybe my sore left hip was slowly disintegrating. Then I read an article about Olivia Newton-John who is having treatment for cancer, from which she was seeking relief for lower back and leg pain. OMG, I thought, am I having what she’s having?

From somewhere I just heard, “Step away from your thoughts, Kathleen, step away. In this dimension, you get what it is you have and you have what it is you get. It is your Being that transcends this dimension so that you might enter the Temple of Becoming. It is your birthright and your eternal home. Now, and forever more.”

Where’s My Zip?

June 9, 2017

 

The problem with lethargy is that doing nothing validates the fear that nothing can be done.
-Bill Crawford

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

The Zip in my Doo Dah has gone missing. It’s an odd place to be for someone known as a bright and shining Light. Lethargy has been dogging me for a while now. By definition, lethargy means “…the quality or state of being lazy, sluggish, or indifferent.”

  • Am I lazy when I don’t jump out of bed in this morning?
  • Am I sluggish when I don’t want to tend to the piles of clutter in my office?
  • Am I indifferent if I don’t watch every Breaking News event on TV?

Or, when I’m feeling lazy, sluggish and/or indifferent, am I in truth being True to myself? This is how I feel, like it or not. As I often say, all feelings are holy. It’s what we do with the feelings that matters. I call upon my three “bodies” for guidance. Can you relate?

PHYSICAL – What is my physical body telling me?
When I dwell in a slack tide, I recognize that fear is keeping me at bay. Until a few weeks ago. I finally dragged my behind to see a new doctor. Through blood work it was revealed that my Body Temple was seriously deficient in Vitamin D and my thyroid level was extremely low. Thanks to meds and supplements, I’m at the starting line, anticipating the Zip to return. I’m at the “ready” stage. “Get set” and “go” will, I strongly believe, follow quickly. I can feel it, and it feels good.

MENTAL – What is my mental body telling me?
When I think about the state of the world, fear arises. Is any place safe? I’m learning to give myself a break from trying to figure out what in the world is going on—quite literally. When someone says to me, “I can’t make sense out of the atrocities we are facing, at home and abroad,” my reply is, “Because these are senseless acts. We cannot make sense out of the senseless.” To still my monkey mind, I return to the breath. It’s amazing how one cycle of three deep breaths can restore my sanity.

EMOTIONAL BODY – What is my emotional body telling me?
I’ve never felt this level of fear, for my country and her people, and countries and people all over the world. Since last November’s election my feelings have been all over the map. I’m talking a 3-D globe and not a road map. It seems that my emotions swirl in a circular motion, without a starting or ending point. I can barely understand how we arrived at our present state of government, let alone dare to vision a future for our beloved United States of America. Staying in the present moment is what’s called for, because that’s in truth all that we have. At this moment? I’m feeling some Zip, and that’s a good start.

I believe it is my spirit that weaves through all three bodies. Although I separate them out, they are all part of the whole that is uniquely me. No one “body” has power over the other. When I acknowledge and bind the three together, my true Self returns. Fear no longer has power over my Zip. It’s okay for my Doo Dah to return. Ask yourself right now:

  • Where is fear dwelling in my physical body?
  • Where is fear dwelling in my mental body?
  • Where is fear dwelling in my emotional body?

When the three become one I am restored to wholeness. My feelings will continue to travel around the globe in a circular motion, but I can determine if it flows like a gentle breeze, or if it swells into a menacing tornado.

Remember my friend lethargy? The origin of the word relates to being forgetful. Today I remember to treat my physical body with respect. I remember that I control my thoughts. I remember that it’s important to feel my feelings. Only then can I address what is happening in and around me. Only then can I truly sing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah while getting on with this thing called Life.

Listening to this Disney song brought a smile to my face. May it do the same for you!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bWyhj7siEY
Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (Original)

The hit song from From Walt Disney’s “Song of the South” released in 1946 was “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, which won the 1947 Oscar.

Assurance

May 11, 2017

It’s more fun to experience things when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Louis C. K.

If Life came with a spiritual assurance policy, which plan would you choose?  The Fun Plan or the No Fun Plan? We all know people who are living life on the No Fun Plan. Always frowning. Constantly complaining. Finding fault with everything and everyone. A genuine Debbie Downer. Remember her? Check out one of the all-time best Saturday Night Live skits from 2004. I hope you find it as fun and funny as I do!

SNL Debbie Downer: Birthday Party (Dress Rehearsal)
https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/debbie-downer/n11842?snl=1

Imagine how low Ms. Downer would be living in 2017? It doesn’t take much effort to spot the gloom and doom swirling around us. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to stay on the bright side. For me, it’s all about choice. If I am not vigilant, No Fun slips backwards into my pre-paid assurance plan. I start to see the world through grey colored glasses. Stop!  It doesn’t have to be that way. For example, take this fun moment.

My Ireland tour had concluded and I was now resting and recovering in my favorite place in Ireland: Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. It’s a tiny village perched on Galway Bay in the west of Ireland. Some there think of me as the US Ambassador to Ballyvaughan. How fun is that?

After breakfast one morning, I took myself on a walk along the water front. I hadn’t slept well the night before. My arthritic feet hurt from days of walking on all sorts of uneven surfaces. Again, pain in my left hip kept me awake in the night. Emotionally I was recovering from the news of the death of a man I had gotten to know during my yearly travels to Ireland, plus news from home of the death of one of my husband’s longest friends. Shall I add that I also learned my beloved Ishka cat got out and went missing? Feeling “out of sorts” barely described how I was feeling.

This was a walk I’ve taken dozens of times but, this time something was different. A gigantic grey stone house, likely 200 years old, had been purchased. This after being derelict for over twenty years. It was an eye sore right smack in the center of the village. This particular morning I noticed scaffolding on one side and the front door wide open. Curiosity got the best of me so I crossed the street for a better look. That’s when two workmen, each in bright yellow vests and hardhats, stepped out of the front door.

Launching the conversation, I said, “I come here once a year and have always been intrigued by this building. Will it be a private home or a business of some sort? The first fellow responded, “Seems it’s a family with 5 kids or so. Might be their home, or a vacation home. Hard to tell.”  What was hard for me to tell was what exactly he said. When you get out into the hinterlands of Ireland, accents can be very thick. I asked if I could look inside the door, something I’ve wanted to do for years. The inside was nearly gutted for the remodel, but I still got a sense history there.

“We should call one of those ghost hunter shows and have them bring a crew here,” I joked.

“Oh, aye, ‘tis haunted this place, some folk say,” he said through thick accent and missing teeth. “Some say they’ve heard voices in there.”

“Male or female?” I asked.

“Hard to say,” he replied. “Some have even heard a wee baby crying.”

I gasped, “Really?” We both stood frozen in silence when suddenly, from the back of the house, came a faint sound. “Waa, Whaa…” It was a baby’s cry!  The man and I suddenly turned towards each other in complete shock. That’s when I saw the glint in his eye.

“Hey, you. Where’s your fellow workman?” That’s when the second guy emerged from the back of the house. They had totally set me up. I was glad they did because it completely changed my attitude towards the day. We three stood together as we laughed, and laughed, and laughed. It still makes me laugh just remembering the encounter. It is one of the most fun moments of all my journeys to Ireland.

I’m not advocating that we put on masks and play Pollyanna. But I will say–enough the Debbie Downer-isms. Choose to see the best in others. Choose to be open to unplanned encounters that remind us to lighten up. Choose. It’s really that simple.

Mr. Michael O’Toole

April 2012

“Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible.”
Charles Haughey (1925 –2006) former Taoiseach of Ireland

 

Ballyvaughan is a tiny village nestled on Ireland’s west coast, overlooking Galway Bay. I adopted it as my home away from home, having enjoyed many stays there before and after my Ireland tours. That’s where I found myself in April 2012. Without a car at my disposal, and limited bus service, I discovered that I was getting a bit antsy, feeling kind of stuck. One day, while at the tiny market (which also serves as the post office and petrol station) a notice on the community bulletin board caught my eye. Every Tuesday morning in Ballyvaughan a 10-seater bus collects an assortment of seniors and delivers them to the closest big town of Ennistymon, and then returns them three hours later. Myself being a young 59, I wondered if I was suitable company. “Yes,” I was informed. Anyone could take the weekly bus to Ennistymon and back, for a mere two euro.

It was a soft weather day, meaning the temp was mild and the breeze light. I arrived at the market to find two elderly women chatting with each other. I inquired about the bus to Ennistymon. They assured me that I was at the right place, at the right time, and that the bus would arrive soon.

I was very much the center of attention on the wee bus, obviously new to the area and a couple of decades younger than most of the passengers. I loved being questioned, as I knew it was coming from a trait shared by the Irish—a lively sense of curiosity.
Together we sat in silence, until the Irish thirst for information got into one of the women. With narrow eyes and a tilt of the head, I was asked, “How do you come to be here in Ballyvaughan?”

I replied, “I lead tours to Ireland and like to take a break by staying on my own in Ballyvaughan.”

Both women looked at each other, somewhat shocked that a lady like me would be roaming about Ireland on her own. I gave them a smile and added, “I’m a Reverend, very interested in Celtic Spirituality.”

By their expressions, I sensed that I had passed a moral code of some sort.

“Did ye know of John O’Donohue?” one woman asked.

“Oh yes,” I replied, “He greatly inspired my ministry.”

“Johnny grew up here, you know,” a woman said, “just a wee bit down the road. Oh, his death was so shocking and sad.” With that both women nodded to each other, with hand over heart, followed by making the sign of the cross on their ample bosoms.

Friends at last, I learned their names were Mary and Maureen. They loved my Irish name of Kathleen and my mother’s birth name of Connolly. Together we bounced along as the wee bus negotiated the narrow roads full of pot holes. Already on board was an elderly gent, quite decked out for a casual trip into town. He kept to himself.

Suddenly Maureen announced, “This here lady is a Reverend from the States. She liked John O’Donohue.” Mary silently echoed with a vigorous nod. The old man replied, “You know Johnny grew up around here. Just down the road.” Now all four of us were nodding in agreement.

We traveled on in silence for several minutes, my eyes soaking up the beauty of this wild and rugged area of Ireland. Soon we made a stop in the tiny village of Fanore when on the bus hopped a jolly fellow more my age. He looked to be a rugged farmer type, with deep grooves on his forehead and red lines on his puffy cheeks. He nodded to the driver, to the elderly gent, then to Mary and Maureen. They all nodded back. Suddenly the new man, the one more my age, locked eyes with me. “Well, now, who are ye and where do you come from?”

Maureen blurted out, “She’s a Reverend from the States. She liked John O’Donohue.”

The newly arrived man chimed in, “Did you now! Well, Johnny grew up around here, just down the road. Fine lad he was. He used to do my religious home work for me.” With that he introduced himself as Mr. Michael O’Toole. We shook hands, and our bus ride continued. Mr. O’Toole interrupted my thoughts with his own inspired thought, “Ye know Johnny is buried in the cemetery up ahead.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, “I have visited his grave.”

Without a pause, Mr. O’Toole shouted to the bus driver, “Tommy, pull over at the cemetery where Kathleen here can visit John O’Donohue’s grave.” Mary and Maureen nodded in agreement and then chimed in, “Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely!”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I tried to graciously reply. “I’ve already been there. You needn’t pull over for me.”

Pull over, Tommy the driver did do. Everyone was staring at me, in eager anticipation. I slowly stood up, gave the obligatory nod, and disembarked the little bus.
I walked through the cemetery gate and then climbed up on the cement wall in order to make the trek to John’s grave. When I arrived, I turned and looked at the bus. All eyes were on me, peering through the windows like they were about to witness John’s resurrection.

I hadn’t a clue what to do. With my back to them, I said aloud, “Okay, John, I’m paying my respects. Again. I can see how loved you were and are, and not just by me.” I stood long enough to give my witnesses a thrill. Down over the cement wall and back through the gates, I again boarded the little bus to Ennistymon. My group of newfound companions remained silent the rest of the way, each wearing a smile as soft as the weather.

We arrived Ennistymon and parted ways for a few hours. While the ladies shopped, I enjoyed a luxurious foot massage at a fancy hotel spa. Ever mindful of the clock, I returned to the little bus several minutes before the declared departure time. I was surprised to find Michael already on the bus. Now my Irish curiosity kicked in. “So, Michael, I see that our elderly friends come to town to shop. What is it that calls you to Ennistymon?”

“Well, you see, it’s a bit of a tale,” Michael replied. “I was arrested for drink driving.” That’s Ireland’s equivalent of a DUII. With that bit of news, I tucked my chin, cocked my head and looked over my glasses as I said, “Ohhhh, so you don’t drink anymore?”

“Oh, hell no. I drink like crazy. It’s driving I no longer do.” He seemed very pleased with himself. “Next time you take the bus to Ennistymon I’ll buy ye a pint.” He punctuated the invitation with a wink.

With all travelers back on the bus, we began the ride back to my little village. Soon, Michael interrupted my wandering thoughts as he shouted to the driver, “Hey, Tommy, can ye make a detour and show Kathleen here where John O’Donohue grew up?”

Mary and Maureen thought this to be a fabulous idea. One of the women chimed in. “His mum still lives there. Oh, the sorrow poor Josie has had since her Johnny died. How she lives with a broken heart, I don’t know.” Again the two women shook their heads and crossed themselves.

I did indeed get a look at the O’Donohue homestead in rural County Clare. It was a little yellow house on a hillside covered with spring flowers and surrounded by miles of rock walls. It was an extra treat to realize we were driving on a very narrow road that John used to walk to school. Once again, I heard Michael’s story of forcing a young John O’Donohue to do his religious homework. It was obvious that the ladies did not approve of this behavior, and it was equally obvious that Michael got a kick out of it. With a grin he said, “Oh, I did him no harm, ye see. It was all good fun. But Johnny sure knew his Bible!”

We all sat in silence the rest of the way home. Arriving in Fanore, Mr. O’Toole stood up, made a grand bow, and proclaimed, “God bless ye all on this fine, fine day.” With another wink he was gone. In another ten minutes, I was back at my B&B in Ballyvaughan, wondering if I’d ever see Mr. O’Toole again.
 
 

April 2013

“The secret of forgiving everything is to understand nothing.”
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish writer

One year later I was back in Ireland, again enjoying private time at a quaint B&B overlooking Galway Bay. Mostly out of curiosity, I decided to take the Tuesday seniors bus into Ennistymon. I was delighted when I recognized Mary and Maureen, one up in her 80s, the other low in her 90s. Smart as a whip these two! I re-introduced myself. They remembered that I was from Oregon and that I loved the writings of John O’Donohue. When they called me Kathleen Connolly, I didn’t correct them.

Soon we made the stop in the coastal village of Fanore and onto the bus came a man looking a bit disheveled. I recognized him as Mr. Michael O’Toole from the previous year. “Oh, I see we have a visitor!” Michael shouted with glee. I said a proper hello and then reminded him that we had met before. “Oh, yes, it’s John O’Donohue that ye’d be after. He was raised here and is buried just up the road a ways. He used to do my religious homework for me. All it took was showing him a fist.” Michael gestured while I grimaced at the thought of John being bullied. “Oh, ‘tis only a bit of fun we were having back then. You see, Johnny boy loved the Bible. I’d like to think I helped him in his studies.” A sudden outburst of laughter rang through the little bus.

This year, on the ride back to Ballyvaughan, Michael asked me to sit where we could chat. That would be him chatting and me listening. Soon he told me that he had had three drink driving offenses. With the third he permanently lost his right to drive. “That was fourteen summers ago,” he said. He’s never driven since, and nor will he ever again. This is because the last offense put a young woman in a wheelchair for life.

Michael has carried this heavy burden every day for fourteen years, he says, and will for the rest of his life. Each summer he makes a pilgrimage by train to Dublin to visit Ann and her family. He brings them gifts and buys them supper. “Ann and her family have forgiven me,” he said. After a long silence, Michael shook his head as he spoke. “How they can do that I just don’t understand. I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I could have killed that young woman, and nearly did so. I have to live with that the rest of my life.”

It was then that I remembered something I was carrying in my purse. It was a round clay medallion with a spiral etched on one side. A friend made these for my Ireland travelers that year. Each received one upon arrival in Ireland.

All had words on the back that became literal touch stones for our journey. The leftover medallion was white. On the back was etched the word “forgive.” I took it out of my purse and showed it to Michael.

“I want to give this to you,” I said, “because now you must learn to forgive yourself.” He scoffed at that notion, saying it wasn’t possible and that he didn’t deserve it. Knowing that Mr. O’Toole was likely a devout Catholic, I subtly played the God Card, using a tone of voice similar to Roma Downey on the Touched by an Angel television show. I’m pretty sure a golden halo emerged at the tips of my black and silver hairs.

“Do you think, Michael, our Creator would want you to suffer like this? You were made in the image of Him. You are a child of God, just like me, just like Ann, just like the ladies on the bus with us. Ann is showing you that God has forgiven you through her. Now, can you Michael, just believe for a moment that God can forgive you so that you can forgive yourself?”

After a long pause, I then placed the white medallion in his hand. “Hold onto this, Michael, and remember this moment. Our healing sometimes doesn’t happen in a day, a week or even a year. But with God’s love moving in and through us, forgiveness is possible. Can you believe that, even if for a moment?”
Looking like a lost little child, Michael nodded his head. He clasped the medallion in both hands as if in prayer. “I’ll hold this every day until summer, and then I’m going to give it to Ann.” I added, “That’s a grand idea. Let it connect you as anam caras, as soul friends, as your buddy John O’Donohue wrote about.”

With a grin, he replied, “Ohhh, that’s what John O’Donohue would say. You know he lived just up the road here. His mudder died a year or two ago. Dementia, a terrible thing.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mary and Maureen again shake their heads and cross themselves.

And on and on he went, sharing stories, pointing out landmarks in the rugged Burren landscape, and, occasionally, with a wink, showing me the clay medallion. I’d like to think that Mr. O’Toole was changed that day, but only he and God know that for sure. What I know is that I was changed by the encounter on the little seniors’ bus to Ennistymon. Mary, Maureen, Michael and I plan to meet up again on a spring Tuesday in 2014. Praise God, let it be so!
 
 

April 2014

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish writer.

One year later, for the third time, I again hopped aboard the little senior’s bus destined for Ennistymon. Maureen was there, greeting me with a grand smile. Mary, she said, was on holiday in England. Then Maureen proceeded to introduce me to a new lady I had not met. Maisy is a good friend of hers. The three of us enjoyed a good chat while savoring the sites of the lush and rocky landscape. It was a glorious day, spring effortlessly easing into summer.

I wondered if Mr. O’Toole would join us as in previous years. “Yes,” Maureen said, adding, “I hear he’s no longer drinking or smoking.” Tommy, the bus driver, let out a loud guffaw just as he pulled over. There was Mr. O’Toole, leaning against a rock wall, with cigarette in hand. He looked neat and tidy in a leather coat and dark sunglasses. Kind of movie star like. Mary whispered to me, “I’ll bet he’s into the drink again, too.”

So on the bus came Mr. O’Toole followed by a lingering trail of smoke. He nodded to everyone, including me, as if I was a local. “You’re back, just like ye said you’d be,” he said to me. I smiled and continued to enjoy the bus ride.

Later, when everyone had finished their chores in Ennistymon, we again boarded the little bus. This time I said to Mr. O’Toole, “Do you remember what we talked about last year on the way home?” He nodded, quickly adding, “And I still have the little coin you gave me with that word on it. I see it every day. Some days I pick it up and hold on to it like there’s no tomorrow. Other days I feel like throwing it. It’s a choice, you know. Do ye think that’s reasonable?” My reply was a simple nod of the head.

After a few bends in the road, I smiled and said softly, “You’re looking well. I can tell there’s something different about you.” He wanted details, so I continued, “Your eyes are brighter and your smile is softer. I can tell you’re no longer carrying the double burden of guilt and self-hatred.”

The rest of the journey home was filled with idle chatter and gentle laughter. It was like we were all lifted by Mr. O’Toole’s new found freedom. “To be honest with you,” he said before departing, “I did have a Guinness at the pub in Ennistymon, but look at me—I didn’t drive!” I asked for a photo. Just as Tommy the bus driver snapped the camera, Mr. O’Toole gave me a peck on the cheek. With a wink, he was gone.

Sometimes I wonder if Mr. O’Toole is real. Our brief encounters on the little bus to Ennistymon have been filled with unbelievable mischief and magic. I can’t wait to see what the next bus ride reveals.
 
 

April 2016

“If suffering brings wisdom, I would wish to be less wise.”
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish prose writer, dramatist and poet

My 2015 springtime travel plans for Ireland did not find me in Ballyvaughan. Having skipped a year, I wondered if, a year later, anyone on the wee little senior’s bus would remember me. Come to find out, I am quite memorable, as are the jovial and kind hearted seniors once again headed for shopping in Ennistymon. My trio of elderly lassies greeted me with glee. That would be Mary, back from London, plus Maureen and Maisy. Even Tommy the bus driver asked me how things were in Ore-e-gone.

As always, the enchanting landscape of The Burren captured my full attention. “Do you ever get tired of looking at where you live?” I inquired. All three agreed. “We never get tired of God’s blessing of this most beautiful place on earth to live.” Tiny little Mary squeaked, “And I’ve been here 92 summers.” I love how people in Co. Clare often measure time by the passing of seasons. It caused me to reflect on the many spring times that have passed since my first solo pilgrimage to Ireland in May 2000.

Before we reached Fanore to fetch Mr. Michael O’Toole, I was told that he was again into the drink. All heads shook in sadness to the tune of the soft clicking of the tongues. This time Michael looked disheveled but his spirits (not the drinking kind) were in full bloom. “Well, helloooo, Kathleen. Why were ye not here last year? We missed you and were worried about you.” I explained that my tour group concluded in the east of Ireland, therefore preventing me from my annual visit to the west.

There was the usual conversation about the late John O’Donohue. Remembering how Michael used to make John do his religious homework, I couldn’t help but inquire as to what stopped it. “Well,” he said, “It seems Johnny Boy’s mudder called my mudder and told her all about it. Oh, did I get a whupping that day! “

“So you stopped making John do your homework?” I asked.

“Oh, hell no. All I had to do was add a fist and he got the message.” With that Michael lifted two fists as if he were a world class boxer from Donegal. Again, laughter wafted through the little bus to Ennistymon.

This time, on the return journey, I sensed that there was something Michael wanted to tell me. “So,” I asked, “What’s new in your life?” His bushy eyebrows lifted as his lips twisted into a sly smile. “Shhh,” he whispered, “This is only for you to hear because you’re a reverend and will understand.” I calmly waited for whatever confession he was about to make.

“I’m seeing someone, all the way in Dublin,” he whispered.

“Oh, Michael, I think that’s fabulous. Why is it a secret?”

“Well, you see, her husband doesn’t know.” With that he threw his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed. I never did know if he was telling the truth.

We took another photo together and said our goodbyes. He again sneaked in a quick peck on my cheek. “Until next time,” he said over his shoulder as his disembarked from the little bus. That would prove to be my last encounter with Mr. Michael O’Toole.
 
 

April 2017

“Better pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.” – James Joyce (1882-1941) Irish writer

When my yearly tour concluded on April 30th, I returned to Ballyvaughan. A local business man once declared that I was the American ambassador to Ballyvaughan. I rather liked the sound of that. I arrived on a Monday feeling very tired, but I knew I could not pass up the nearly annual Tuesday bus ride to Ennistymon.

I arrived at the usual pickup point on an unusually sunny and warm day. It was outside the only petrol station in the village, situated right next to the only church. To my delight, I discovered dear Maisy sitting alone at a picnic table. The sun was in her eyes as we greeted one another. “Hello Maisy. It’s Kathleen, the reverend from Oregon.” Her face lit up as we clasped hands. “Oh, Kathleen, you’ve come back to us. Mary, now 95, has gone back to England to live out her days. Maureen, thank God still with us, will be very happy to see you.”

Soon after that Maureen joined us at the bus assembly point. It was then I inquired about Michael O’Toole. “Will we be seeing him today?” I asked. I premonition told me that we would not.

Maisy began, bowing and shaking her head. “Oh, it’s very sad news. You see he died, last November, I think it was.”

Maureen chimed in. “Yes, I do believe it was November. A rather dark and breezy day.”

Tommy the bus driver confirmed it. “Yes, it was Tuesday in November. When he got off the bus he bid us all farewell. Those were likely his last words. His body was found the next day. They think it was a sudden and massive heart attack.”

I felt that drop in the belly that comes with sad news. “Oh, no,” I managed to say, adding, after a pause, “I hope his passing was swift and painless.”

“Oh, likely it was,” someone said. “But you know, Kathleen, that man lived a life of hell. It was his own pain and the pain he caused others.” This was followed by dead silence.

It was then that I realized I had only encountered Michael in the mornings, presumably before he had a first drink. That was on the way to Ennistymon. On the bus rides back, after a couple of pints, he was full of the craic, the Irish word for fun. He was, you know, the funny kind of drunk. But there’s nothing amusing about the pain and suffering caused by alcoholism.

In my four brief encounters with Michael, aboard the wee little bus for seniors, I always came away inspired.

First, by him taking responsibility for nearly killing someone due to his choice to drink and drive.

Second, by never again getting behind the wheel of a car, whether sober or drunk. I believed him.

Third, many times I imagined what it was like for him to make his yearly trek to Dublin—by bus—to make amends to the wheelchair bound young woman and her family.

Fourth, and finally, it’s that word: Forgiveness. Michael made it very clear that he hated religion for all the bad things it had done to good people. Forgiveness of the Church would never be uttered by his lips, he once told me, “…as long as I live.” Well, Michael is no living in human form, so I will utter that word for him.

I ask God to forgive you, Michael, for all of the transgressions you committed while alive. John O’Donohue, who passed as suddenly as you nine winters ago, forgives you for being a bully. The woman you maimed has already forgiven you. It is my deepest belief that now, in spirit form, you have finally forgiven yourself. I like to think that the medallion with the word “forgive” was your touchstone. To the past, to the present, and now the future of your eternal spirit. In memory of you, I shall gaze with wonder at the moon and bow in reverence to the dawn.

“Yes, I am a dreamer, for a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
Oscar Wilde, Irish writer

 

RIP Mr. Michael O’Toole

 

Written by Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin
May 4, 2017
Ballyvaughan
Co. Clare
Ireland

Religious Assumptions

April 10, 2017

“You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.”
Denis Waitley, American motivational speaker, writer and consultant.

 

STUFF I KNOW © Kathleen McKern Verigin

Someone told me that there are fifty churches in our new home town of McMinnville, Oregon. That’s a lot of worship centers given our modest population of 33,000. Upon our arrival last September, I thought it would be easy to find an open, inclusive and liberal congregation to join. This because our county skews conservative while the town of McMinnville skews liberal. After some research, the community that stood out was First Baptist Church. Baptist? Eeegads, I thought, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Baptist church. But then I kept noticing in our bi-weekly newspaper events that FBC sponsored. Like the former mayor of Silverton, a trans woman, speaking last September about LGBQ rights. At a Baptist church?

As I began to meet spiritual women who share my passion for earth-based and feminine respected spirituality, I again heard positive things about First Baptist Church. One woman said, “If you’re looking for liberal church, go check it out.” I was hesitant and put the idea on hold. Until I met my new chiropractor.

I noticed on his bio that his wife is the pastor at First Baptist Church. A coincidence? As I got to know the doctor, who himself seemed open minded and open hearted, I mustered the courage to inquire. He had all good things to say, reminding me that FBC is American Baptist, not Southern Baptist. I had no idea there was a difference! I thought all Baptists were holy rollers and conservatives, with closed minds and hearts. Wasn’t that loving of me?

 

Comparison of Southern Baptist & American Baptist Beliefs

By Janet Mulroney Clark

Southern Baptists follow a statement of beliefs contained in “The Baptist Faith and Message” as a guide for following Christ’s teachings. American Baptists embrace individualized worship not bound by creeds or statements of belief. They encourage diversity of thought in allowing a Christian to interpret scripture and develop a relationship with God.

The next Sunday found me at the First Baptist Church, sitting in a pew at the 11:00am contemporary service. It felt good to be there. Nothing offended me. Believe me, I tried to find reasons to be offended to confirm my righteous condemnation of all Baptists. It was then that my mind opened and my heart softened. I’d lived my whole life believing Baptists were bad, separate from My Loving God, and not worthy of my presence.

The word Baptist means “…one who baptizes.” At that first service I attended, I left feeling baptized, cleansed and forgiven for my error thinking. I was made whole again. My judgment was gone. I’ve returned a few times and each time my heart softens more. Palm Sunday was beautiful. I greatly look forward to Easter Sunday. Bottom line, I love and respect all beings who pursue a spiritual path that embraces and practices the religion of kindness, love and inclusivity. I don’t care if it’s Baptist, Buddhist or Bahá’í.

In closing, I apologize to all Baptists, and Christians in general, whom I have judged. I forgive myself for my assumptions. This Holy Week, may we all remember that We Are One, and we’re all in this together.

Want to learn more about the difference between American and Southern Baptist? Check out this website: http://classroom.synonym.com/comparison-southern-baptist-american-baptist-beliefs-5797.html