My lower back doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s been hurting for seven years. I’ve been to chiropractors, physical therapists, fabulous massage therapists, who alleviate the pain for a day or so – and it feels so good to go to them and have them dig into that pain that never seems to go away — and it does go away for a while – but it always comes back. I kept Aleve in business just trying to get some temporary relief. I walked stooped over, and my son would laugh as I ran for the subway, telling me that I had that “old lady shuffle.” My back hurting made me look old and feel old and I hated it.

My back doesn’t hurt anymore. I almost don’t believe it myself, except that – there it is. I walk straight up, I exercise, I feel good all the time. It’s a miracle.  I know.  A lot of people don’t believe in miracles, but I believe in miracles – and that’s what counts.

A month ago, Pope Francis came to New York City.  I so wanted to go to the mass at Madison Square Garden, but my church had only 20 tickets and they pulled them out of a box, lottery style, and I wasn’t one of the winners. I was so disappointed. I thought I wouldn’t get to see him.

Nevertheless, I was excited that Pope Francis was coming – I love him. What he says and how he says it is so “Christ-like” – loving, compassionate, certain, but not demanding, humanistic and spiritual at the same time, raising us all to a new level of consciousness. What an amazing thing it would be to be in his presence!

My friend, Karen, posted on her Facebook page that she had two tickets to see the Pope in Central Park – did anyone want them? I was quick to say, “Me! Me, I want them!” And, so, I was going to see the Pope after all!

I called my friend, Victoria, with whom I have experienced many revelatory moments, spent many days with her in spiritual practice, and who I just love, period. I offered her the second ticket and she said “Yes.”

We made plans to meet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, near where our entrance to the park was to be. I guess we must have had visions of sauntering into the park, finding a spot to relax on the grass, and wait for a few hours for His Holiness to roll on by.

How naïve we were! We entered the beginning of the line on Columbus Avenue, a block from Central Park, thinking that we would just follow the line and walk on in. When the line reached Central Park West, we were both amazed to see that there was tape up, creating a maze of a line that wound back and forth about four times before ever reaching the security checkpoint at the Southern tip of the park.

Victoria had brought these foam covered floor seats, which had a back that you could pull up to create a back rest – Oh, how comfortable we were going to be when we got into that park! In the meantime, however, we had to carry them straight and unfolded, so that it looked like we were each carrying a three-and-a-half or four-foot long foam navy pillow. It tucked under my arm and almost hit the ground and there was only a little piece of fabric-flap to hang onto in case we wanted to switch the way we were holding them. The longer we carried them, the heavier they got until I felt prompted to say, hours later, that we were carrying our own crosses to Golgotha.

Yes, hours later. We were on line for FOUR hours. It was the longest four hours of my life, childbirth notwithstanding. And, for every minute that passed, my back was hurting more and more. I thought it was just me until Victoria announced that it was starting to feel like “back labor.” I nodded my head in agreement and said, “Yes, but just like back labor, you know that it goes away the minute you see your baby! So, let’s just think of this as the labor to see the Pope and, the minute we see him, this will all go away and become a memory.” People around us laughed, but someone told me later that they were motivated to go on just because I said that.

As we were waiting near the checkpoint, we started to see people pointing sky-ward and an amazed murmuring went through the crowd. I looked up to see the tiniest of rainbows, right over Central Park. There was no rain, and very few clouds, and it wasn’t really a full rainbow – it was just a little curved arch between two cloud streams that almost looked like tracks or curbs by the side of the road. From one curb to the other was this little “rain-arch.” Everyone was taking pictures. It was another miracle, surely.

We finally got to the security checkpoint and went into the park. Then we had to find a place in that sea of humanity to actually get a view of the road that the Pope would be traveling on – that was not easy. There were 80,000 people in the park that day, in three different sections, so easily there were over 25,000 people in our area.

We did finally find a spot that was high up on a mound of a hill and not too far from the gates that would keep us separated from him when he made his turn through the Southern part of the park, just before he turned out of the park to go down Seventh Avenue to say mass at Madison Square Garden.

Victoria opened her seat and plopped down to claim her space and I opened mine too, but I was afraid to sit down for fear I’d miss him.

We heard the murmuring that he had entered the park in the North corner and shortly afterwards, there was this wild roar: yelling and applauding even before he rounded the curve into sight. The minute I heard the crowd, I couldn’t control how overwhelmed with emotion I was – I was crying and I felt as if I could not stand – but stand, I did. Victoria asked me if I was crying from pain or crying from Joy. “Joy! Joy! Joy!” I yelled out.

I saw him.  It was just as I predicted, the pain was gone and all I could see was this beautiful figure in white in his Pope-mobile, waving to everyone. The car curved around the southern end of the park where we were and pulled to the side of the road. Everyone started running to the wire fence, including me and Victoria, but I pulled her back at the last minute – I didn’t want us to be trapped against that fence if anyone pushed too hard.

There was a rock mound about ten feet from the fence and I pulled Victoria up there and we had a clear view of Pope Francis leaving his Pope-mobile to walk to his car for the drive down Seventh Avenue. He looked as if this white light was shining in Central Park that afternoon.  My heart felt so full that I thought it would burst. Yes, just like seeing my son for the first time.

Pope Francis passed out of Central Park and we heard the crowds along Seventh Avenue start to roar as he drove into sight there.   Victoria and I opened our seats and sat on another rock to wait until the crowd dispersed a bit. After all that standing, we didn’t want to have to fight our way through 25,000 people to get out of the park.

Everyone looked “in the glow.” I heard some people make fun of it — or of themselves: “Well, I guess I’m enlightened now, ha ha!” People were smiling and happy and Victoria and I were blissed out, for sure. At one point, she leaned over and whispered to me, “Do you think that they would have voted him in as Pope if they had known how ‘Christ-like’ he would be?” I don’t have an answer for that. What I do know is that there was a peace in the park that day that 80,000 people couldn’t put a dent into with whatever opinions, political views, or any other differences we all have as human beings.

Seeing Pope Francis changed me. No, it transformed me. I was a different person when I walked out of that park than I was when I walked in – my faith is deeper, my belief is stronger, my heart is bigger.

And, my back doesn’t hurt. It hasn’t hurt since that day. I sometimes feel stunned that it doesn’t after all those years of pain, and I find it hard to believe that the experience of  of all that pain, waiting to see the Pope —  and then seeing the Pope — should make such a difference.

All I know is that it did. I am pain free.

That whole day was a miracle, his whole visit was a miracle – the way he made people feel, whether it was a physical healing or the fact that people were nicer to each other, it doesn’t matter.

I saw the little rainbow over Central Park and my back doesn’t hurt anymore. Call it what you will, but I know that I stood in the presence of a Holy person – a great holy man — and that was a miracle.

Deliciously yours in the Love that is all, Linda


For the original post, “Confessions of a Darshan Junkie…” when I went to India and visited Sai Baba’s ashram, here is the link:

deep-purple-water-lilies-pictureThe priest was very stern with all of us that Sunday: “Don’t think that you can come to church and be pious; and, then, walk out of here and treat your brothers and sisters like dirt, that you can be mean and greedy and angry and selfish – and, then, waltz right back in here next Sunday – and feel that you are a good Christian. You are not.”

He was angry. I don’t know what set him off, but something did. This was the most vehement homily I had ever heard. He continued: “Your life is out there, outside these doors. That’s where you need to be a model of Christian behavior – that is where you will be seen, with your brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, the poor and needy, the grieving and confused. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ That is the Christ message and you need to do that to be a good Christian.”

He left us with this instruction: “Go out there and live your life as if God was watching every minute – because He is. When you meet someone who needs your help, give it. When you see someone who is in distress, comfort them. When you know that someone needs to know you love them, tell them.”

Finally – “Do not rest until someone says, ‘I see the Face of Christ in you.’”

What do you say to that?

I thought to myself, “No one goes around telling people that they see the Face of Christ in them. How on earth do I do that?”

I left church that day and didn’t give it another thought. I was having a hard time that summer – it was all I could do to stay present to my own faith and hope and turning my life around as everything seemed to go wrong around me. I had rented my apartment and was staying at my brother’s farm in New Jersey until I could create something new for myself. But, it seemed that, everywhere I turned, something was falling apart. The last straw came when my laptop computer, from which I did all of my business, crashed and burned. That’s almost literal – there was a strange, smoky smell coming from it as it wound itself down into blackness.

I felt as if I had nothing more to lose.

That wasn’t true, of course. I had my son’s jeep for the summer and had called old friends to catch up – the ones who lived in New Jersey, anyway. Now that I had a car and could travel, I called everyone I knew and made plans to see them.

One of the people I called was my friend, Diane. I had met her on a trip we took to Cambodia in 2007 with a group of film makers who had created the documentary, “New Year Baby,” about a friend’s family that fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to settle in the United States.

It was a glorious trip, visiting all the temples out of Siam Reap, going on safari in the Cambodian countryside to see things most visitors don’t see – the old monks in the village who didn’t know how old they were, the young children running in the streets, trying to sell bags and jewelry to make enough money to go to school, the boat ride in the Mekong River where Cambodia and Vietnam meet, to see the people who live on the boats and almost never come on land.

One pre-dawn morning in Northern Cambodia, sitting on the stones at the bottom of a temple, up which all our fellow travelers had climbed to see the sun come up, I looked over at a tree – and I could swear I saw the side of the tree branches in the shape of Christ’s face. I called over to Diane and her cousin, Heather. They saw it, too. As the sun grew brighter, the face melted into the branches and was no more. The three of us looked at each other – we knew we had seen something special.  We didn’t speak of it to anyone.

In New Jersey, these years later, I called Diane to have dinner together. After much getting lost and traveling around in circles, we found each other and settled in at a restaurant bar midway between her house and my brother’s house.

We talked all night – we had both gone through a lot since we saw each other last. She had left New York City and was settled into a new job in Princeton and seemed happy. Throughout the evening, she had told me everything on her mind. I listened in a way that didn’t allow for that nutty voice in my head — you know the one —  figuring out what I would say next while she was talking. It was really quiet in my mind except for Diane’s voice. I felt so much love for her that it seemed to spill over onto the table and our barbequed ribs and salad and slid all the way over to her, glazing the way so that her face glowed in the candlelight at the booth table. She was beautiful in that light and I loved her.

When she was done, she grabbed my hands and squeezed them. “You are the Face of Christ to me, Linda.” The words seemed so surreal, I thought I imagined it. “What did you say?” She said that I was so full of love that she could feel it, that I was listening with so much compassion that she could sense it, that she felt safe with me, spiritually safe.

I didn’t connect it until I was driving home – that’s what the priest said on Sunday! So, I thought, “That’s what it takes? To be empty inside of my own self-centeredness, to listen with nothing else there, to love someone for Who they are – and Who they’re not?

Yes.  That’s what it takes.

Do not think this went to my head. I no sooner returned home than my brother got angry at me.  What went through my mind as he yelled at me was, “I guess he  doesn’t think I’m the Face of Christ.”  It got me in touch with my humanity.  I realized: sometimes we are – and sometimes we’re not.

It is not natural for me to be always loving, always listening from nothing, always compassionate, always forgiving. When I’m judgmental, when I’m impatient, when I’m justifying behavior – believe me, nobody does it better.

What I learned that night with Diane is that, if I’m vigilant for Who I want to be, Who I know I am as a divine child of God, how I can love more, listen more, serve more – that is the Face of Christ in all of us – whether you’re Christian or not.

We’re human – we rock ‘n roll back and forth between being that wonderful Face and being a jerk.

If I could just lessen the time that I’m a jerk – and increase my loving time… that would be something, wouldn’t it?

I could be the Face of Christ all the time.

Deliciously yours in the Wonder of it All, Linda

“To love another person is to see the face of God”  ~ Jan Valjean in “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo

The picture in the header is titled, “Cosmic Christ Arising” by artist Leigh J McCloskey at  Here is the full version:


© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Thank you.

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