Connection: an essential service
In these days of endless discussions around what is an "essential service" and what isn't, I thought I'd write a bit about an experience that has been amplified for me since COVID: connection. I've been experiencing less separation and deeper connection in my relationship with myself, others, and Spirit, amidst the intense restrictions on being physically separate. The experience of connection lately feels like a divine combination of courage and vulnerability with a good dose of humility. Ah yes, humility is what I feel our entire world is being called to at a whole new level.
An example from this morning: I went to Walgreens to get some "essentials." Pulling into the parking lot, I noticed a large tent set up on the sidewalk, one I hadn't seen before. This always pulls at my heart strings. So much homelessness! Why can't we have more structures in place, more funding, better thinking around this issue so that it decreases, not increases? Just a few of the thoughts cycling through my head, as I walk into the store. The woman at the check-out is wearing a mask, as am I. With the large plastic barrier in front of the register and wearing the mask, I can feel the usual "wall" between us, as I stand and wait for the transaction. Then I look into her eyes and ask how her day is going, feeling the pull to connect with her. She shares about her mom riding the bus, with a cough that is from allergies, but those around her are anxious that she might have COVID. We both marvel at how different the world is now, how challenging it can be. The connection is brief but authentic, as we see each other and our common humanity amidst the COVID Craze.
As I'm leaving, I see a homeless man sitting outside. I imagine he lives in the tent I saw earlier. There are always homeless people at this Walgreen's, every time I come. Sometimes I stop, but usually I don't. "I donate to our church, which runs a shelter in the church basement, and that's plenty for now. I can't do everything!" This repetitive thought surfaces again about how I comfortably give to those in need each month. It's also one of the ways that I separate myself from being with the pain of humanity. I don't have to see their pain, their need, I can just send a check (this could branch into a longer commentary about upper-middle class white privilege, but I'll save that for another day). Once again, I felt pulled to connect, so I stop and looked into his eyes as he asks me for money. "Sure," I said, "I don't have much cash, since most places aren't taking cash these days, but I'll give you what I have. (I pulled out a dollar and some change). They do take cash here, so I hope you can get something with this little amount."
He thanked me, and I thanked him. "Thank you" just popped out of my mouth. I got into the car and started to cry. Such a simple, genuine interaction that I felt so deeply. I was humbled by this moment, overwhelmed by compassion. This can sound very patronizing, I realize, but in the moment, it was the opposite. There was an allowing of the connection to be there, raw and painful, real and present, without pretense or story. Person to person. So who is giving to whom in this moment? Is there a difference between us?
How often has fear kept me from connecting with others, with myself, my family, my community. and world? Fear of what? Fear of seeing this deeply, feeling this pain, of being this transparent, and being present to what is in this moment, no matter what is showing up. For me, these roots of fear go back to childhood trauma, which I've been healing through my entire life. We each have our own trauma, yes, and the layers keep unraveling, even after all these years. Old patterns limit us in ways we might not even recognize, until an experience brings them forward to be seen. But the deepest pain that each of us carries is that of being separate from one another, staying in the limited understanding that we are only this person, this mind, this body. Truth tells us that we are One, and when we follow the pull to connect in small or large ways, we will be led to this experience of Oneness. One without a second.
Rumi says, "There is a sun within every person."
Every person. Not just most people, or white people, or rich people, or those that strive to know Spirit. Every person. This is the sun of compassion, of love that binds us together. And when we follow this pull to connect, we are bringing ourselves closer to home, closer to Spirit that has created the trauma, and the wounds, and all the beautiful moment/s where we can heal from the wounds. What a miraculous gift from Spirit. With humility and grace, we can move from these moments into a deeper experience of Oneness, and from here we can truly serve humanity, whether we have a dollar to give, a check to write, or a moment to look into someone's eyes and see who they truly are...the same as us.
So Happy Anniversary to Myra and I!
We have numerous anniversaries. (One of the perks of being gay is that we get to keep marrying the same person, over and over!) This is the anniversary of our legal marriage, Sept. 21st, 2013, in Vancouver, WA. We decided since the Feds finally said we could get benefits if we were married, we would jump on board. My dad did the small ceremony with 25 friends witnessing. It was beautiful (picture above). It is also...
Happy Day of the Universal Booty Kick to Myra and I!
One year ago today, we were both laid off from our jobs. The same day, same hour. Myra was let go from her job at Columbia (a mistake they still regret, I'm sure). I was fired from my part-time job with Music Together (a job I loved, but needed to move on from and didn't have the courage to say goodbye). Amazing. Since then, we have laughed, cried, contemplated, danced and sung (well, I have anyway), written and talked our way into finding how Truth wants to be expressed through us individually, and together. Myra now works at Kaiser Permanente, where she can work from home as much as she wants, and I became a minister and gave birth to my second business, Heartfelt Unions. So today brings us full circle and it's amazing to see what has lead up to these changes.
When I had became ordained as a non-denominational minister last February, I realized that most people don't know my spiritual background that led me to the decision to become a minister. I'd like to give you an overview of my life so far, sharing the highlights that have lead me to this moment. My full name is Elizabeth Dake Lavenue, and my purpose in life is to know God and to lead others to know God. I'm a PK, a preacher's kid. My dad (aged 88) just recently retired from a lifetime of service to the Presbyterian and the UCC churches (well, he's not fully retired, he still preaches one Sunday a month). I am also a PGGGK, a preacher's great-great grandkid, and a PGGGGK, a Preacher's great-great-great grandkid. In addition, on my mom's side, my Uncle Denny is a Nazarene minister, as is his son Brad. I also have a great uncle somewhere in my mom's lineage that was a minister. That's a lot of preachers!
I was named after Rev. Vivian A. Dake, my great-great grandfather, who was a missionary for the Free Methodist Church in the US and Africa. As I was working with my therapist about the word "minister" and my relationship to it, I realized I needed to clear up my connection to my ancestors before I could embrace becoming a minister. I had disconnected from Rev. Dake as a teenager when my mom first showed me his writings (he also wrote music) since he was an evangelical preacher and I was opposed to this. When I recently went back to reading about his life and travels, I realized he was on Fire for God, just like I feel! I had a powerful healing around my relationship to him and opened into the energy of Truth that he embodied in his life and work. I still don't agree with how he went about his work, but the desire to know the Truth, and to speak the Truth has been passed down to me. For this I am grateful. Forgiveness is a powerful energy (forgiving both myself for being judgmental and for forgiveness for him), and as I opened to it, this huge weight was lifted from me. I knew I could fully embrace being a minister. Obviously it doesn't have to look the way he did it, or the way anyone else has done it. I've thought many times about going to Seminary, but it's never been the path for me. The studying I've done and the experiences of my life have been my Seminary. I am truly an omnivorous spiritual being. I can't fit into one spiritual box, even a Unitarian one (we belong to the First Unitarian Universalist congregration of downtown Portland). I decided to have an ordination for myself, which was a beautiful ceremony to honor this Calling to become Rev. Elizabeth Dake Lavenue. When a friend asked, "who ordained you?", I said God. When the longing for Truth is true, there is no denying the guidance from within.
I was born in Meadville, PA, on Dec. 2nd, 1968, amidst a sizable snow storm. No wonder I love snow so much! I am the youngest of four girls (yes, Myra and I are both the babies in our families). We were very active in the Edinboro Methodist Church growing up, since my dad's ministry was as a campus pastor at Edinboro State College, near Erie, PA. My mother was a nurse and became a nurse practitioner when I was 9. One of the many amazing things they did together was to start SEFA, Sex Education for All (the first of it's kind in the 70's for this small college), which met in our living room. My parents have always been advocates for change and acceptance of diversity. Thank you for showing me the way!
Coming from a family of musicians (my grandma was a piano teacher, my mom is a pianist/singer, all my sisters are singers), we would sing as a quartet often in various churches in the area. As I discovered my voice, I started doing solos, but I was really scared. So much encouragement from family and friends helped me to open up more and realize that I felt closest to God when I was singing. So I followed the path of music that was laid out before me, studying singing and performing often. We moved from PA to Utah when I was 11. Wow, was that a culture shock! My teenage years were full of the life in our small church in Utah: the youth group, Dad's next wedding or funeral, singing solos or going on camping trips together. The life of the church and my growing faith in God helped me navigate the ups and downs of living as a Christian among the Mormons. In 1986, I moved to Portland to go to Lewis & Clark College at age 17. I've lived here for the 33 years since. I have a B.A. in world religions from Lewis & Clark College, and minor in Music and a minor in SE Asian Studies.
After college, I did the usual number of part-time jobs, in addition to my singing jobs, but I never intended to be a professional musician. I was scared because I felt inadequate and young. But I was following the pull of the Heart, which kept me coming back to singing, moving through more and more fear around not being good enough, and not having enough money to put food on the table. Many part-time jobs saw me through it all, but I was never meant to be a waitress! I traveled twice to India (once as a student and once as the assistant trip leader at Lewis & Clark) to explore this amazing culture and spend time at the Siddha Yoga Ashram outside of Bombay. Over the past decades, I have deepened into my meditation practice and am grateful to my many teachers along the way.
In 1999, our family experienced a trauma that has forever changed our lives. My mother was working as the Medical Officer for Peace Corps in Mauritania, Africa, and she fell two stories from a roof, becoming immediately and completely paralyzed. Living as a quadriplegic over the past 20 years, she had been in and out of the hospital numerous times, never being sure if she would make it home again. As I've moved through this emotional roller coaster, I've learned so many things: surrender, patience, compassion, the importance of team work and good communication skills, and faith that the Divine has a plan that I don't always see. I'd become more comfortable with intense hospital visits and a deeper ability to be present in the moment, knowing that each goodbye might be my last. On May 14th this year, my mom died. Today would have been her 84th birthday. Nancy Cheryl Fink Lower was an amazing being and if you would like to hear about her life, click here to watch her memorial. A slideshow is also available by clicking here.
Over these years, the longing to be doing deeper spiritual work has grown and grown. My spiritual practices continue to guide the pull to share truth with the community in a more active way. How can each of us generate more love and compassion for our world? How can we see the Divine's hand in every detail? What does it mean to be "present in the moment" and how can we teach this practice to our children, our family, and our world?
This fall, I will be opening a new studio on the top floor of our home. I'm staying open to guidance and following the pull towards these possibilities of work and play:
At my Ordination in February, I made these commitments. I, Rev. Elizabeth Dake Lavenue, commit to:
Clearly, this work is not being done in a bubble. I need this community more than ever, to listen, to inspire, and to grow right along with me. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for walking this journey with me, dear friends. I am honored to have you in my life.
This has been the Biggest Summer Ever for me, so it has taken some time to get back to writing. So much has changed, both inner and outer, in my world. First, congratulations to all of the 49,000 students that are back at school (here in Portland), and all the families, teachers, staff, and administration that support them. This is no small thing, teaching/supporting the youth of today, and I am grateful that you are taking on this challenge.
For me, today has been about integration. With so many changes over the summer, I am now able to land and find how all of these experiences are opening up my world now, in this moment. One major change that I shared earlier is that my mother, Nancy Lower, died on May 14th. Just this morning, I was taking some time to unpack a box of her jewelry that we had sorted when we were in Utah for her memorial (in July). I was feeling waves of gratitude, then grief, as I pulled out some of her beloved earrings and necklaces. She had a LOT of them---it was one of her passions, collecting jewelry. It really reflected her love of color, art, travel and God. As I sat and had a good cry, I noticed that one of the cats was trying to eat something on the floor. They love to eat anything and everything (brother and sister, turning two this Fall, so still very much kittens). I bent over to pick it up, discovering it was one of Claire's baby teeth! Omg. Really? I went right from crying to laughing. God/dess has such a sense of humor. A small, white tooth, I'd left on my dresser months ago, brought to me as a reminder of the impermanence of life, and to not take things too seriously!
So, how do we integrate and thread our lives together again after changes, large or small? We feel. We breathe, and we notice the Space that is created from feeling and breathing. The mind wants to create pictures and spin stories from the past or the future. We can watch the spinning and come back to the feeling/s. Easier said than done, no doubt. This is why it's called a practice: the more we practice returning to the Space, the easier it is to not get caught in the Story. The tendency might be to jump away from the feeling/s and move on to the next moment. Or it might be to judge the feeling/s for being there in the first place. Simply feeling the feelings, allowing them to move through us, and then noticing the Space that is created, is a beautiful practice of compassion, and patience. Be with the moment to moment awareness of ourselves as the Space that encompasses everything, the Stillness that holds all of the constantly changing experiences of the senses.
I've spent most of my life seeking the Truth. When I was 19, I became deeply aware of this seeking (more on that later), but I have memories of sitting in church, praying and crying to know God/Jesus, to be deeply connected to something that could be called God, even though I wasn't really sure what that meant. For decades, the mind has held onto the notion that if I'm "good enough," as close to perfect as possible, then I will feel better and better and eventually won't have to feel all of these crazy, challenging feelings at all. For most of these years, this tendency was not conscious. From childhood, there was formed an inner "holding," a waiting for the "good" feeling/experience/state that would then be maintained and uplift me above the Muck of Life (the painful, ever-changing emotions and sensations of the body).
Another layer of this misunderstanding was shattered recently when I was on retreat in Hawaii, and I could feel how this holding/waiting was based in fear and wasn't allowing me to be present with the ever-changing flow of emotions. Part of me was demanding that it all just stop, so that I could be wrapped in silence and stillness and stay there, protected from all the words, all the movement, all the changes, so that I could finally be free and know God. Fully know God. Even for a moment. Through self-effort (the retreat focused on timeless love) and Grace, I was able to release another piece of this "holding" and allow life to flow through and around me with greater ease. A subtle and powerful letting go, allowing the unfolding of the present moment to be perfect, just as it is. When the cat found the tooth, and the flow to emotion shifted, it was seamless, nothing that I was doing right or wrong or needed to change, since I was able to stay with the feeling. We ride our feelings back to the present, again and again.
When we are attentive to our own inner world more and more, we start to see the connections between our inner process and what is happening on the outside. There is no separation. Love wants to bring each of us back to itself, and is guiding us in every moment. So let's listen, deeply, to the guidance from within. Let's be honest with ourselves and with those around us. Let's notice the connections, the threads that Love is weaving (like the cat, the tooth, and the laughter). If we're getting too serious about "doing it right," or "getting it done," love will give us a wake-up call to Let Go and Let God!
Welcome to my Blog!
I am very excited to begin this journey with you. It will unfold over the months and years, but today is the launching of this new avenue of exploration for me, and a way for us to stay in touch. I've been wanting to write a blog for years, and now is the time! Thank you for following me and I hope to hear from some of you as you read my musings.
15 years ago today, I was at Providence Hospital getting ready to have my first baby! Happy Birthday to Aria Elizabeth Lavenue, born at 6.11 pm on 7/14/04. We are so blessed to have you in our lives and amazed as we watch you grow into a confident, smart, strong, talented young woman. May your next year be full of love and joy and exploration and maybe even a Driver's Permit (omg!).
I choose to name this blog Harmony because it is the beautiful combination of being fully myself while being fully balanced within my community, be that the family community, church, country, or the world. To create beautiful harmony, one must become absorbed in the overall sound that is created, not dwelling on one's own sound entirely, yet not abandoning it either. Harmony is the ability to hold my center amidst the constantly changing pulse of life. It is to live the balance of self and others, knowing fully that we are one and that my "part" is essential to the whole. It is honoring that on the path to Enlightenment, the small self (the ego) will come to know the the True Self (God) through connection to others, through the day-to-day details of this life, not just through personal spiritual practice.
In my early years of searching for Truth, I would fantasize about going to live at an Ashram (I spent some months at one while visiting India, more on all of that later) and felt that being there was the fastest ticket to knowing God. Through marriage and raising two girls, life has clearly presented a different path to knowing God, and through it I have grown in more ways that I could have ever imagined. The harmony in my life now has come through embracing the paradox that in my heart I feel I am a monk, a devotee who longs to know God through each action of each day, and in my day to day life I am a mom, a wife, a teacher, a sister, a daughter, a minister, a singer, a dancer, a healer, a meditator, and a regular person, just like everyone else. To know Divinity is to be fully human. Earlier in my seeking, I spent years just wanting Divinity only please, the humanity stuff was just too messy! Thank heavens that has changed.
My purpose in having a blog is to share deeply with my community how Spirit moves us toward love, over and over again, in small and large ways, and to do this with humility and humor. Topics may focus on music/sound healing, movement, meditation/mindfulness, mysticism, and how we can allow this to influence our lives during the Trump Era:
For many of us, the current political mayhem has brought us to hunger deeply for Truth. Truth in politics yes, but also a deeper Truth that is within us, to manifest in the world through our thoughts/actions. We can feel the tensions around us and within us, the tension of a world swimming in Duality: democrats vs. republicans, black vs. white, rich vs. poor, the list is endless. This is the playground where we play everyday. Yet there is something within that longs to heal these rifts, to bring people together to create harmony whenever and wherever we can. This longing has a million names, but I like to use the word Truth. It is impossible to capture God/Truth/Spirit in one word because it comes from a place that is wordless, so please substitute your favorite word for Truth, if need be, when you read along. It is to this Truth that I dedicate this blog. The Truth that has called me to be a minister, a singer, a healer, and to share my version of wisdom about how we can be in this world, with ourselves and others.
Stay tuned as this writing journey unfolds. And may Harmony tap on the door of your thoughts, or maybe nudge you in your dreams tonight....
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.