A Thanksgiving Meditation

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Dropping into my heart space today. And with that, the affirmation that I live in gratitude.

Every day that I awaken and breathe, I am thankful.

Every day that I think a thought, and feel my heart’s stirring, I am thankful.

Every day that I am upright and whole, I am thankful.

Every day that a creative and productive idea becomes solid matter, I am thankful.

Every day that I face that thing of which I am most afraid, I am thankful.

Every day that I am given awareness of the smallest of beauties, the most unsung of treasures, I am thankful.

Every day that I am enlightened, given insight, have an epiphany, I am thankful.

Every day that I exercise compassion, understanding, patience, empathy, I am thankful.

Every day that I encounter another living creature and engage, I am thankful.

Every day that I can have some time to myself, for quiet and reflection, I am thankful.

Every day that I am hugged, kissed, loved, I am thankful.

Every day that I laugh, or make someone else laugh, I am thankful.

Every day that the people I love are healthy and happy, I am thankful.

Every day that my friends do well in the world, I am thankful.

Every day that I change someone’s life, or someone changes mine, I am thankful.

Every day that love is evident in my life, I am thankful.

Every day that I act out of anger, impatience, frustration, a broken heart, I am thankful. For each affliction offers an opportunity to learn about myself, and my fellow seeker.

Every day that brings me a challenge that tests my spirit, I am thankful.

Every day that I am humbled by a mistake of my own doing, I am thankful. Why else do our mistakes exist?

Every day that I am faced with seemingly unbearable odds, unrelenting trials, I am thankful. For the lessons learned, and the spirit strengthened by them, are more valuable to me than if I were living an effortless life.

Every day that I try, I am thankful.

Every day that I try again, I am thankful.

And when they ask me what’s new? I will answer, every single day.  Because every single day that arrives brings a sun, a moon, a breath, a surprise, a blessing, a song, whether sung or heard, and the spiritual ear to hear it, a world of love at my fingertips, a capacity for hope, a reason to smile, an opportunity to repair, restore, renew, and a heart full of gratitude.

And may my most powerful prayer from this day forward be … NOT … “Dear God, please give me …” But two words, and two words only:   THANK YOU.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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A Glimpse of Grace

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Last year at Thanksgiving I published an article about the song Amazing Grace, which seemed fitting for a holiday meant to honor gratitude.   This year, as we prepare our tables, I offer you a remembrance from one of my own Thanksgivings past.   A consummate illustration of grace.  And which, in whatever form, is always amazing.

Autumn, 1978.  The Jonestown massacre had just splashed across the nation’s newspapers, and my mother protectively drew her family into her bosom in an almost hysterical way.  She was due to be the keynote speaker at a conference in Atlanta just a few days after the coming Thanksgiving.  She often traveled for business, leaving us to hold down the fort, but this time decided that the whole family would go with her, take off early, and make a little vacation out of it.  On Thanksgiving morning, we piled into a roomy, rented twenty-six-footer RV mobile home, and headed east on Interstate 10.  I had just gotten my driver’s license, and my stepfather promised that I could have a try behind the wheel of the behemoth, probably somewhere out in the desert, where there would be fewer other cars for me to endanger.

My mother and her best friend Dolores (whose kids were with their father for the holiday, so she was joining) had packed the RV with all that would be needed to prepare a turkey feast, and with Dad at the wheel the women immediately commenced to cooking in the small kitchenette of the RV.  The plan was that wherever we were by the time dinner was ready was where we’d stop and have our Thanksgiving dinner.  The two of them took up the whole middle section, which included the kitchenette on one side of the RV and a large table for eating on the other, against a huge picture window, and which immediately got covered with all the food preparation.  My sister Pam, brother Mike, and I were mainly relegated to the back, an area that was much like a large restaurant booth and table, around which we sat with our many board games, and stared out of the large back window onto the vista of road behind us.  Above us were pull-out bunks for sleeping.  Mike ran back and forth between the stern to riding shotgun with Dad.  The women kept begging him find a spot and sit still.  Yeah, good luck with that.

The whole way across California, and by the time we hit the Colorado River, Mike and I had just about exhausted the adults with our impressions of bits from our favorite TV shows and hit songs, and I even shared some of my teen-angst poetry with Dolores, who seemed genuinely interested in it, though I’m pretty sure none of it was very good.  She was just great that way.  Pam had her head buried in a book, a constant place for my bookworm sister.

My stepdad was a bit of a video recording fanatic, so from the moment he invested in his new camera our family wasn’t given much peace or privacy.  On this trip Mike was in charge of the camera whenever Dad was doing the driving.  And while Dolores would shy away any time Mike aimed the camera her way, my mother was in her Norma Desmond element, always ready for her close-up.  Pam and I hammed it up whenever Mike aimed the lens our way, and Dad couldn’t help micro-managing Mike’s shooting technique from the driver’s seat.

“You’re not doing it right. Here, let me show you.”

Mike ended up being responsible for lots of accidental vérité-like shots, but then, frankly, so did my stepfather, who often forgot that the camera was still on when he’d lay it on its side to go do something else.  The shot would be a thrilling twenty-minute study of an ant crawling across the sideways table.  Andy Warhol would’ve been proud.

And all the while, the women cooked.

Cooking was a calling for my mother.  If she was in the kitchen, we knew an old-fashioned jubilee was about to happen.  At home I had often watched her when she’d make her monkey bread.  And sometimes she’d even try to teach me a few things.  It would be an all-day affair.  Learning to scald milk, which is a delicate procedure that requires precise timing and a hands-on skill.  Feeling the yeast between my fingers and dipping it in the lukewarm water.  Adding just a pinch of sugar to the softened paste, then watching it dissolve.  Separating the egg whites from their yokes, and adding them to the yeast paste.  Watching the miraculous alchemy of flour and milk and yeast and eggs become dough, dusted then kneaded.  The sensual nature of my mother’s hands to the sticky white mixture, and the way she’d dip her fingers into the velvety flour in order to handle the doughy mound, was artful.  She never rushed it.

The soft mound was then left in a glass bowl to rise.  She would always declare the watched pot never boils edict to me whenever I wanted to stare at it while it rose, but all I wanted to do was stare at it while it rose.  And once it was ready to be brought back out to the wooden block, perhaps an hour later, she would knead it some more.  A rolling pin would lay it out large and flat, and the flick of her wrist was something to see.

Next would come that part of the ritual in which the whole family was encouraged to participate.  We’d each take a diamond-shaped cookie cutter, several of which she’d collected over the years, and carve out squares that we would then dip individually into a pot of melted butter, and place in a Bundt pan.

Layer upon layer of little buttered squares would fill up the pan, which would then be placed in the oven, until some forty-five minutes later the bubbling brown masterpiece, with the molten jigsaw puzzle resemblance, would be a most aromatic table centerpiece quickly devoured.

This age-old Southern-tradition side dish is called monkey bread because when it’s turned over and released from the Bundt pan onto a bread platter it merely needs to be pulled apart with one’s fingers, not cut with a knife, and that was an especially enticing notion for us kids.  My mother made a pretty spectacular monkey bread.

I loved watching her stand back and enjoy satisfying her family’s bellies, and I knew that this, for her, was a kind of sacred meditation.

So, though we were all having a ball driving through town after town, on this holiday mobile-home odyssey, singing songs, telling jokes, and either ducking or mugging for the video camera, my mother never lost her stride or focus in preparing our food.  Dolores was equal to the task with her revered soul-food pigs feet and hot-water cornbread, but it was my mother whom I’d watched and studied for more years than I’d ever put into homework, so her talent was palpable for me.

Before long, the RV cabin started to fill up with the aroma of turkey and oyster stuffing, and yams laden with marshmallows and brown sugar, and sweet potato pie, and collard greens and cabbage, and macaroni and cheese, and lima bean casserole, and the famous monkey bread (which was actually prepared at home, and brought with).  It was insane and inexplicable how Martha and Dolores had managed to accomplish all of this culinary breadth in the tiny kitchen of this moving tin-can.  And that fact was only a testament to their cooking prowess.

It was still daylight but inching toward dusk by the time dinner was called, and we were in the middle of the desert somewhere in Arizona.  I’d finally been given my turn to do the driving.  I hadn’t killed us, or anyone else, but I had made a few precarious lane changes that had my mother and Dolores yelling at me, for almost losing a bowl or a dish to the ground.

“Sorry!” I would yell, while secretly giggling and feeling my oats.

Dad filmed the whole thing, laughing at my cowgirl driving and Martha and Dolores trying to hold onto the pots and pans.

I continued to drive only until we spotted a rest stop with a cluster of picnic tables off the highway.  I parked.  We all stepped outside.  The air was cold and crisp.  Colder than we Angelenos were accustomed to.  We bundled up in our various parkas.   There was no one in sight.   Because who plans picnics at the threshold of winter?  In the middle of the desert?  On Thanksgiving?

We all unloaded the many suitcases that my mother had packed into the undercarriage of the RV, and dragged the heavy things out to one of the picnic tables.  While Mike and I immediately commenced to chasing jackrabbits, and while my stepfather found his challenge in keeping up with a camera perpetually glued to his eye, my mother, with Pam’s and Dolores’ assistance, began to unearth from the suitcases her prized Dutch linen table cloth, the eight matching napkins, her silk Damask table runner, crystal water goblets that had been carefully bubble-wrapped, silver place-settings and napkin rings, china, candles, and an ornate candelabrum.  I mean, this thing could rival anything that ever sat on Liberace’s grand piano.  It was like watching a magician pull the kitchen sink out of his top hat.  And she proceeded to transform the prickly, cactus-surrounded dust bowl of rough and tumble nature that we’d claimed as ours for the afternoon into a dining experience for kings.  And thought nothing of the peculiarity in the whole affair.

My stepfather managed to capture all of her nutty splendor on tape (though it is fairly heartbreaking that some nearly 40 years later that cherished video footage has been lost).

She then yelled for Mike and me to stop chasing rabbits unless we intended on capturing one to go with dinner, which had us screaming in mock horror, and she bade us help her unload the RV of the many hot platters and fragrant casserole dishes and steaming pots and containers, and we took them, in several trips, over to the finely dressed table.

And right there in the middle of endless Arizona horizon and desert stillness, save for the periodic lizard or tumbleweed that might scamper by, and as the sun began to set, leaving us with only a dusted dusk and my mother’s candlelight, we bundled up in our coats, we sat to a king’s spread, we bowed our heads, and we held hands as Martha prayed, “Thank you for blessing this food that we are about to receive, for the nourishment of our bodies, and for the love and communing of family.  Amen.”  We raised our glasses to toast the feast, dug in to ridiculously mouthwatering fare, and absolutely loved the crazy novelty of it all.

Grace was not a word often associated with my audacious mother.  But like catching a shooting star in one’s periphery, I would see, just here and there in my growing up, brilliant evidence of it.  Sometimes in only tiny, fleeting swatches.  At other times still, as with our never-to-be-forgotten wilderness Thanksgiving, it would scream out in bold strokes of wild color, like a magnificent comet.

 

 

From the upcoming “Fiercely Sweetly”
© 2014 angela carole brown

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

AMAZING GRACE : Have We PC’d the Marrow Right Out of It?

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As we prepare our tables for Thanksgiving and our hearts to be in a space and place of gratitude, a song that always rings in my head is Amazing Grace.  I’ve never known a song to express such humility of spirit, and perhaps the association in my brain is because humility is the first step toward gratitude. Gratitude is about accepting one’s present, as opposed to resenting one’s past or coveting a certain future. It is about humbling oneself to being moved by the great fortune of being alive and being loved. I believe that gratitude cannot and does not exist when one’s legs and knees are stiffened in a kind of pride and entitlement. It takes humility first to experience an attitude of gratitude.

So, in preparing my own symbolic table this year, I decided to read up on my favorite hymn.  Amazing Grace has often been associated with the American South, and I, for one, did think its origins were from the tradition of the Negro Spiritual.  It was, in fact, written by an Englishman.

But here’s where my own mental association wasn’t completely off-base.  John Newton was an English slave trader, trafficking thousands of men, women, and children from Africa to the auction blocks. In 1748 a violent storm threatened to sink his ship. Frightened for his life, he made a promise to God that if he survived he would change his ways. And sure enough around the age of 45, he had a crisis of conscience and became a minister and a composer of hymns. Yet it would be years later before he would give up his involvement in the slave trade, and a total of thirty-three years from the time of his “spiritual conversion” before he would break his long silence, a watershed moment in his life, and publish his brutal book on the subject, which included an apology for “a confession, which comes too late.  It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders. He promptly became a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery in England. As more years passed, Newton drew deeper and deeper inward to his monastic life, as he found himself haunted by what he constantly called his twenty-thousand ghosts. He bemoaned having been a part of the dehumanizing of these Africans who’d had beautiful names but were only ever referred to with grunts. He would say that while these captured were treated as beasts, it was the slave traders, him above them all, who had been the beasts.

It was fifteen years BEFORE his public confession, in the year 1772, that he had composed a hymn called Faith’s Review and Expectation.  It became one of the most recognizable songs in the history of the world, and the most recorded, a song now known as Amazing Grace.  And to have now learned of Newton’s spiritual journey and redemption, it is so clear to me that this hymn is his confession.

The song’s history has a wild and glorious path, as it has become associated with having the power to give hope where there has seemed none, and expresses a God of absolute mercy and forgiveness. Just a few points on the map of its presence in the hearts and minds of the global collective:

  • It was used as a requiem by Native Americans on their Trail of Tears (the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of Native Americans from the southeast parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830).
  • It was sung by Civil Rights protesters during the freedom marches and rides.
  • It held a prominent place in the proceedings when Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream on the steps of the Washington Monument.
  • It was played the world over when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison.
  • It was sung when the Berlin wall came down.
  • On 911, it rang out to comfort a world in mourning.

It is a song of such startling humility that I find myself privately conflicted whenever I’m obliged to sing it for jobs, as I recently did for one of the churches at which I periodically sing, and am requested to do the PC thing of changing the word wretch to soul . . . or something else, anything else! other than this awful word that only degrades us. That’s the subtext anyway. The reason I’m conflicted is because I maintain that wretch is absolutely appropriate, as it calls on, and calls out, the basest of our human instincts, to stand and be accountable, to bend our knees prostrate and humbly offer that we’ve been to Hell and back, or have given Hell to others (haven’t we all dealt, or been dealt, a little Hell at some point in our lives?), that we are human and therefore with flaw, and that ONLY in the owning of that truth are we able to rise, to heal, to transform and transcend.  By the instinct to couch and cushion our delicate sensibilities in more conciliatory words like soul, we are basically saying that we don’t have the ability or the humility to own up.

We are presently in an era where, in an effort to be removed from the dogma of more traditional practices (an instinct I’m inclined to embrace), our modern spiritual movements seem largely to have, as their agenda, a reliance on salves and unguents for fragile souls, but without the crucial first steps in any authentic spiritual work of courting the caves for exploration and excavation. I believe this is as important a part of a heart-centered practice as a room buzzing with namastes.  Yet as I make my way around the New Thought circuit (a movement I do regard fondly) as a vocalist, I find this particular feel-good bent more and more prevalent. The practice becomes precious rather than revolutionary.

And so, because I often find myself caught between self-governance and employment, both of which are important to me, I do sing soul instead of wretch when I am paid to sing the song, because it is the job required of me, but never when singing it for my own reward. I believe that John Newton understood the state of grace only because of how far down he had once sunk, and how much of a wretch he had been. He could not possibly have authored a more perfect set of words from any other internal place than his own lowest spiritual ebb.  Why do we SO fear the personal investigation of such states?  Isn’t that a fairly important step in the journey towards connecting to our greater god-realized selves? Joseph Campbell understood that when he said: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”  So, too, John Newton, when he composed an efficient set of stanzas as powerful, timeless, and iconic as:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Humility, grace, gratitude . . . these are all states of the heart and mind that we reflect on during this season. Frankly, it’s my favorite time of year, because I do tend to have a reflective sort of nature, and this song expresses the absolute largeness of that concept. And now I even know a little bit about its author, after all these years of singing it and loving it, which only makes me feel even more interconnected with this globe of beautiful, imperfect, sentient beings.

In any case, that’s my light bulb.  Here’s wishing for us all a few breathtaking insights, perhaps a stunning illumination or two, and some amazing grace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

A November Thought

Gratitude Flower

i live in gratitude

i live in gratiude

i live in gratitude

every day that i awaken and breathe

i am grateful

every day that i think a thought

and feel my heart’s stirring

i am grateful

every day that i am upright and whole

i am grateful

every day that a creative idea becomes solid matter

i am grateful

every day that i face that thing of which i am most afraid

i am grateful

every day that i am given awareness of the smallest of beauties

the most unsung of treasures

i am grateful

every day that i am enlightened

given insight

have an epiphany

i am grateful

every day that i exercise compassion

understanding

patience

i am grateful

every day that i encounter another living creature and engage

i am grateful

every day that i am hugged

kissed

loved

i am grateful

every day that i laugh

or make someone laugh

i am grateful

every day that my family is healthy and happy

i am grateful

every day that my friends do well in the world

i am grateful

every day that i change someone’s life

or someone changes mine

i am grateful

every day that love is evident in my life

i am grateful

every day that i act out of anger

impatience

frustration

a broken heart

i am grateful

for each affliction offers an opportunity

to learn about myself and my fellow man

every day that brings me a challenge that tests my spirit

i am grateful

every day that i am humbled by a mistake

i am grateful

why else do our mistakes exist?

every day that i am faced with seemingly unbearable odds

i am grateful

for the lessons learned

and the spirit toughened and strengthened by it

are more valuable to me than if i were living an effortless life

every day that i try

i am grateful

every day that i try again

i am grateful

every day that i can have some time to myself

for quiet and reflection

i am grateful

and when they ask me what’s new?

i will answer every single day

because every single day that arrives

brings a sun

a moon

a breath

a surprise

a blessing

a song

whether sung or heard

and the ear to hear it

a world of love at our fingertips

a capacity for hope

a reason to smile

and a heart full of gratitude

so when they ask me what’s new?

i will answer everything

at every single moment

and for that

i am grateful

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.