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We need holy shadows

The images after the shootings still burn.
There are times when we have no words.
This is easy to take personally, for my job, after all, is to find words.
Pain and violence and loss touch a raw nerve.

I know when I try to make sense of uncertainty, I can feel powerless, and so, try to protect myself. I close my eyes, I shut down and I feel my heart deaden.
Here’s my conundrum; I don’t want to run or hide from sadness, or the rawness. I don’t want to give way to anger or bitterness. I do want to embrace this invitation to be more human and fully alive.
While I ponder, I read, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

And I remember the Sufi story about a man who is so good that the angels ask God to give him the gift of miracles. God wisely tells them to ask him if that is what he would wish. So, the angels visit this good man, and offer him first the gift of healing by hands, then the gift of conversion by souls, and lastly the gift of virtue.
He refuses them all. They insist that he choose a gift or they will choose one for him.
“Very well,” he replies. “I ask that I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.”
The story ends this way: The angels are perplexed. They take counsel and resolve upon the following plan: every time the man’s shadow falls behind him it will have the power to cure disease, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow. As he walks, behind him his shadow makes arid paths green, causes withered plants to bloom, gives clear water to dried-up brooks, fresh color to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women.
The man simply goes about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light, and the flowers scent, without ever being aware of it. The people respecting his humility follow him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles. Soon they even forgot his name and call him “the Holy Shadow.”

No, I certainly cannot relate to the “so good” part.  But I do resonate with the notion that the bountiful gifts of life–love, compassion, wisdom, joy, courage, creativity and presence–happen when they spill from real and authentic lives.  When I first read this story, I wasn’t sure.  I could feel that tug of remorse for all the ways I fail to live up to my potential.  But I must confess that the word “holy” bumps up against the church of my childhood and the stipulation of piety.  In my mind I can still see scrunched faces, and people who walked leaning to one side owing to weight of all their merit badges.  (I’m not making this up; I had 13 years of perfect Sunday-school attendance, with badges to prove it.  Ask me if that makes me proud…)
There was no teaching (or invitation or permission or encouragement) to learn about my faith journey and life as spillage, from “just being Terry.” It was mandatory that I endeavor to become super-spiritual.  Or, in others words, to become something that I was not.
When I try to create or measure my value (my meaning) by how well I perform–when I capitulate to a world of competition, fear of failure, yearning for applause, receiving evaluations, reproaches and condemnation–it is all too easy to go off the rails.
And the permission to “just be”, is lost in the shuffle.

This is important: this story is not about an assignment or an obligation. It’s permission to give way to what is already inside. (“Oz didn’t give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have,” is playing in my head. Followed by Bruce singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”)
What makes you come alive? The question itself, is a paradigm shift. That even in places of pain and anxiety and rawness and uncertainty, we have the capacity to spill light. We can be Holy Shadow; a life not beholden to the narrative of fear, anxiety, or performance. Holy Shadow gives voice to all that is life giving; to dignity, to liberation and empowerment, to imagination and healing.

What’s the secret?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
And Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?  Are we going to be tested on this?”
Spillage begins when we give ourselves the permission to be at home in our own skin. We don’t wait until we have our act together.
There is power here. Now. We make a difference; we create and become sanctuary, a place of presence, renewal, empathy, inclusion and compassion.

As long as I need to orchestrate my life (not that any of us wrestle with that problem…), I require some equation for this Holy Shadow life. You know, instructions about what I must do next.  Or more certainly, what I lack that prevents me from living such a “holy life”.
Nothing crushes our joy like the unmitigated weight of some guilt laden recruitment ploy to “well-doing.”

But here’s the deal: I believe that every one of us casts a holy shadow.
And in a world where there is fear, we need holy shadows.
In a world where there is anxiety, we need holy shadows.
In a world where people are marginalized and left out, we need holy shadows.
In a world where people have forgotten that they are loved and cared for, we need holy shadows.
In a world where distraction keeps us from being at home in our own skin, we need holy shadows.

Speaking of holy shadows, RIP Toni Morrison. With courage and integrity, at home in her own skin, she spoke life-giving words. We say, “Thank you for the blessing of your witness…”
I’m home, and in my garden this week. Savoring the bounty, making fig jam and letting the garden work its magic.

Quote for your week…
It is in the shelter of each other that the people live. Irish Proverb
“ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine”

SM reflection questions and exercises are available for group and personal use. Let me know if you want to receive.


Today’s photo credit — Memory lapse… So grateful for whoever sent this my way… keep sending your photos… send to

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I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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Sept 9 – Oct 4–eCourse How to Harness the Power of Pause
Have you been pulled in so many directions that you don’t feel at home in your own skin? Join us… Discover and embrace the gifts from the power of pause.Join me on Facebook. And Instagram. Every Monday, Sabbath Moment. Every week day, a quote or two, to pamper your soul, and make you smile.

In the mailbag…
–Thank you for sharing this morning. This can’t sleep, weary 61 year old, too-humid-in-AZ in August woman is going to concentrate, this week, on being present in: “I am here.” “Yes, I am.” So grateful for your insight, wisdom and reminders of things we sometimes forget. Penny
–Playing, silliness, joy in movement all come so easily to children. At what point do we lose that? It is such a transforming way to live! To embrace this exquisite creation every day! I’m going to try to resurrect that childlike joy in myself. We all should. Thank you Terry for this eCourse. It definitely aroused my senses and I am grateful. Kate
–I find myself thinking about visiting my Sacred Space more often than I actually do. Still a work in progress. Barb
–Hi, Terry, I spent a week in reunion with my 3 brothers (and our spouses) in this beautiful part of Canada on the Sunshine Coast! Thanks for the stories about dancing today! Dancing is my most amazing grace. After recovering from West Nile Virus I have been able to continue teaching Line Dance the past 18 months. This gives opportunity to embrace that spontaneity, sharing, and openness to life’s possibilities; about which you speak so often. At 82, I try to squelch the fear my years of continuing this life-saving activity might be numbered! I find your Sabbath Moments inspiring me to make the most of every day and not worry so much about what tomorrow brings! Blessings in your hard days and your easy ones! Love, Marsha
–Terry, as always your Sabbath Moment is filled with spiritual food for the week. I like your, “I am here”. A few years ago, I was in the midst of cancer treatment and one of my mantras was… “I Am Here–It Is Now–All Is Well”. Blessings on every moment of your day. Sandi
–How often we of the “highly developed, totally sophisticated western societal cultures” are content to acknowledge others with the impersonal “hello “ or “hi, there”. How much more real and warm is the greeting: “You are here”, with the response: “Yes, I am”. Studies of the Native American culture show the same true feelings for others. Want to experience something heart felt, yet simple? Read the Navajo prayer, “Walk in Beauty”. Ken
–I sure am liking, no, loving, my Monday morning coffees with you Mr. Hershey. Waking up, raw from yesterday’s news but fresh cuz I’m still here. Sunrise puts us on a tipping point of gloom and doom and isolation, whether at you cubicle or the privacy of your own home, OR we can buck up, be yourself and find the happy, be kind… even thru those messy tears. Vanessa

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If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessings in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love; rather, we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature.
John O’Donohue

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience;
we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
–– attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Dawn’s scrim of sunlight
like last night’s lantern,
shimmer of candlelight
softening the glass;
my eyelashes,
rayed veil
reflecting iridescent golden light…
All is sheathed in light,
dipped and drenched.
Materiality transforms
we are rendered vehicles,
bodies wrapped around a breath,
walking each other home.
we are all going
dedicated to Ram Dass, Ida Rolf and folk trio The Once
Shauna Haugen 

The Almanac of Last Things
From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,
but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.
I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair–and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,
then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening
because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.
Linda Pastan

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