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 http://www.leighmccloskey.com/index.htm.  Here is the full version:

CosmicChristArisingArtistLeighJMcCloskey

© 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.

Advertisements

hersheyschocolatebartornopenjpeg2

Everyone has so much they’re dealing with these days – if it isn’t money, it’s job and career or relationship or health or… Well, there’s a lot out there, isn’t there?

These are the times when good friends are so important. I find that if I keep it all in my head, it seems as if the world is coming to an end. But, if I reach out – when things seem so overwhelming — to one of my “committed listeners,” there is a comfort there that is simple and sweet in the “gathering together” of our shared humanity —  within which we are healed…

A perfect illustration of this is my story this week…   A story about two friends who merged in my life to create a lesson of love…

About five years ago, I went through a scary period, starting with suddenly losing my work in December and continuing through a time that certainly qualified as a “crucible of faith” over the following nine months – a roller-coaster ride of highs – when I’d have a great job interview – to the lowest of lows – when I would wonder, “What am I going to do now?”

This period was the most severe test of my faith and trust in everything I ever believed God was or is or ever would be in my life.

How that manifested for me is that — in the midst of all the worry about my own life —  13 people I knew died during a seven-week period from mid-May through mid-July – each from different periods of my life – each death a further test of my faith…

One, in particular, was the turning point in how I experienced God as always there for me…

I had a friend, Mari, with whom I had been very close many years before.   I met her because our husbands were business friends and we wound up going to dinner – the four of us – one night.  It was one of those kinds of meetings when you say, “Hi!” and you are instant friends.  I felt I had known her all my life!  

We became close – way beyond any friendship that our husbands had – we were like sisters, totally entwined in each other’s lives — and it worked out that Mari had a brother, Carmine, who was a hairdresser – Mari and I traveled to Nutley, New Jersey, every two weeks to have our hair colored and cut at his salon. Those drives were full of intimate, loving talks about relationships, our children, our careers, and our dreams…

It went on like this for years – our families spent time together, she and I met separately — when we couldn’t see each other, we were on the telephone, sharing what happened that day.  I loved everything about her – her loving nature, her honesty, her unbelievable energy!   Fred, my husband, always said, “That Mari is a ‘ball of fire!’”

And then – it wasn’t like that anymore. When my husband and I separated, I continued to talk to Mari and to see her for lunch on occasion, but – as so often happens when one couple parts – it changes things. It wasn’t so easy anymore to find time to get together. She had her life and I had mine – and so we drifted apart.

One day, I read in the paper that she had become a Vice President at Lacoste, and I decided to write to her. I soon received an email asking me to give her a call at home.  She said that she was working from there for a while…

I did – and it was just as it had always been…. we talked on the phone for an hour, sharing what had happened over those intervening years….

What had happened for Mari was that she had breast cancer….

We talked about our spiritual journey – mine having been birthed by the separation from my husband and my son growing away from me, my career shifting and changing in ways unpredictable and frightening; hers having intensified with her illness, offering her a comfort that she hadn’t realized before was even possible. We spoke our fears out loud and talked about what it meant to have God in our lives through such challenging times.

We planned a visit. I would come out to Long Island to see her and we could be together the way we used to be…

It never happened. She got weaker and weaker – until she could no longer come to the phone.  We communicated by emails and, occasionally, I would check in with her brother.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never speak with her again….

My own life took more unexpected twists and turns…. I took a consulting project in the fashion industry and it meant that I was busy and traveling…     Just before I left for India the following November, I called Carmine.  Mari had just gone into the hospital once again. I gave him my cell phone number – “Just in case…”

While in India, I went to Sai Baba’s ashram and brought back some Vibhuti for Mari –Vibhuti is the holy ash that Baba creates out of the air – it is used for prayer and healing. When I returned, I learned that, without warning, my consulting gig would end, and so I was plunged into my own fear for my life and future…. 

The Vibhuti stayed in its box and Mari was never called…

During this time, the friend who was MY strength and comfort was Victoria Moran, the author and spiritual teacher. She and I had come together in our own accidental way – she called me because she found me online and wanted to join the Peace Circle I was holding after 9/11.   By the time she called, I wasn’t doing them anymore, but I said to her, “I live on 55th and First. If that’s convenient for you, I’ll take your name and when I start doing them again, I’ll call you.”

As God would have it, Victoria lived across the street.  Literally.  Right across First Avenue – we could see each other’s windows if we looked out our own.

Victoria and I began a spiritual tag-team kind of friendship – we were each other’s spiritual listener. One time, we met for 15 minutes a day for a month to speak our dreams to each other – hers for that her book, “Younger By The Day” would become a best-seller (it did!) — and mine that I would have a brilliant new job  (I did!).

Victoria was there for me when I learned that my consulting gig was over – I didn’t even go home first…. I went straight to Victoria’s apartment and she listened as I tried to move out of my “deer-in-the-headlights” fear state… her presence and her listening were the love I needed to get through that awful day…. and in the days and months afterwards…

I emailed Mari over  the next few months, and although I didn’t receive any answers, I saw from the status report that they had been read.   Soon there would be cause to wonder who was reading them… 

On one of my better days in May, I woke up thinking of Mari. I hadn’t checked in on her with Carmine since I lost my job, and I suddenly realized how long it had been.  I picked up the phone and called her house.

When her husband answered the phone, I knew immediately that something was wrong – he sounded awful. I reminded him who I was and he remembered. It took a few moments — but finally, he seemed to realize something.  He said, “You don’t know…?  Mari died in January – January 27th – you didn’t know?”

My grief was immediate and profound – made even more so by realizing that these months that I had not been working and trying to get a new job – and, therefore, so very self-focused – had made me lose sight of Mari and her illness.

I hung up and called Mari’s brother. Carmine was gentle and caring on the phone. He told me that Mari’s last months were very difficult. From the time I spoke to him before I went to India, she continued to decline…

My unspoken question hung in the air, “Why didn’t you call me?”

He shared with me that she had died with great dignity at home — and that, in the days and weeks before  her death, she had called in her family and close friends, one by one, including her ex-husband, and had shared some private time with each one of them.    He told me that three weeks before she died, she had asked him to call me so that she could speak to me. He couldn’t find my number.  He was sorry, he said — he knew that she loved me and wanted to say “Good-bye.”

I thanked Carmine and got off the phone. I felt incomplete. I’ve never really understood funerals until that day. I needed to be with people, to talk to her family and tell them what she meant to me. I needed to hug someone and I needed to be hugged – to comfort and to be comforted. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I prayed to God, “Please help me with this!”  I waited for His answer.

I did the only thing I could think to do – I started cleaning and organizing. Two hours into this process, I came upon a notebook – the first page was dated “1991.” The book fell open to a page that said, “Mari Goldberg” at the top, with a notation that we had had lunch that day. There was a quote by her name:

“If you always want more than what you have, then nothing will ever be enough. But, if you are grateful for where you are now, then everything you have will be a gift.”

It struck me that this was a time when I was learning that lesson in my life in so many ways – not the least of which was this very situation! It struck me that she had come to me in that moment to tell me this once more – now that I was ready — and needed to hear it.

Later that evening, Victoria called me. She had just received my distraught message from earlier in the day when I had just spoken to Carmine.   She listened to me cry and berate myself for ever allowing the friendship to lapse those many years – and even to beating myself up that I had not sent the Vibhuti immediately upon returning from India.

When I said that Mari had wanted to speak with me but no one could find my phone number, Victoria jumped in with just the reminder that I needed:

“Linda, you are lost right now in the physical part of this – but your spiritual Self knows better. Mari’s in her eternal creative expression right now as a “ball of fire” with God – and maybe you are the one who is supposed to remember her that way for her family and for the the world. If you were meant to speak with her before she died, if you were meant to go to the funeral, your phone number would have been right there for them to find.”

She went on, “January was an awful month for you – how would you have handled losing your job and Mari’s death, too? God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle. You found a notebook — on the very day that you learned that she passed — that had her quote in it – a quote that has more meaning for you today than it did when she first uttered it. Your phone number would have been just as close at hand — if that was the way it was supposed to be.”

Lastly, Victoria reminded me, “Don’t forget that you got the opportunity – for those few months when you reconnected – to speak and to tell each other how much you loved each other. There’s the gift!”

Victoria went on to suggest that I get a recent picture of Mari from her family and make an altar with a candle and light it in memory of her every evening. She also offered that I could write letters to her family to tell them what Mari meant to me – with remembrances of her energy and spirit – a reminder of when she was a “ball of fire.”

God had come through once again — through Victoria – reminding me that there was absolute perfect-ness in my experience of Mari and how this had all transpired – that it was all in Divine Order just as it was – and that nothing was lost.

Mari’s altar sat in my window for a long time after that day… the same window from which I could see Victoria’s apartment — with Mari’s picture that her sister sent me, a candle, and Mari’s words beneath it, reminding me that I couldn’t have everything I wanted in this situation, but what I did get – Mari’s friendship for all those years, the months of reconnection with her – and now, Victoria’s comfort and wisdom…

…these are my gifts…

Deliciously yours in Gratitude always, Linda

“You do not walk alone. God’s angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless.”
                         “A Course in Miracles,” Workbook for Students, Epilogue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         victoria_photo1A special thank you to my dear friend, Victoria Moran — one of God’s angels, for sure. Victoria’s two new books are coming out now: “Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day,” and “The Love Powered Diet: Eating for Freedom, Health, and Joy.” Please visit her at www.VictoriaMoran.com.  

If you are in NYC on Monday, May 4th, at 7:30PM, Victoria is having a book signing at the Barnes and Noble Lincoln Triangle at  1972 Broadway in Manhattan. 

Victoria is truly a bridge over troubled waters in my life…  I am forever blessed that she is my friend…

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. 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 “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

%d bloggers like this: