Do You Believe . . .

 . . . in magic? I do.  

The earliest memory I have of magic is the way I felt at Grandma’s house at Christmas when I was a child — the tree, the presents, the family, and the midnight ham sandwiches because we all just wanted another excuse to be together, and it was Christmas, and the normal rules were suspended. It was a feeling not easily described with true emotional accuracy, and that’s either magic or poetry. 

My grandmother was the quintessential grandmother, the archetype of grandmothers.  She had a soft face and a perpetual smile. Her house felt safe, soft like her. She laughed readily and often. She loved with sincerity and gentleness. Grandma passed away in 1976, just a few months before my twelfth birthday. 

At some point in my early twenties, during a season of angst and despair, I stood out under a night sky, scanning the heavens until my eyes rested on the brightest star, what I once believed to be the North Star, but I now understand was probably Sirius.  Though I was at least a decade beyond my grandmother’s passing, she came strongly into mind as I stared at that star.  I decided the star was grandma, the one person who had always felt safe to me, the one person I believed I could have talked to about all my struggles, had she lived to see me through them.  And I poured my heart out to that star. 

This began a practice I have continued ever since. Problems spoken into a night sky transform into a magic that brings purpose to our challenges and healing to our wounds. They are met with answers, and if not answers, then a form of acceptance so deep and primal it feels like its own kind of answer.  And whether this magic comes from Grandma, or that star, or the simple act of breathing the air of the quiet darkness, it does indeed come. Sometimes profoundly, sometimes subtly, but it comes. 

This week is Halloween, Samhain in the Celtic tradition, followed by All Saints Day on November 1st for the Christian World and Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead in Mexican culture. All of these observances, to varying extents, involve the interaction of the living with those who have already passed beyond the veil.  In fact, that veil between the incarnate and the spirit world is said to be at its thinnest on October 31st.  

On October 28 of 2013, eight years ago, my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was an otherwise healthy 71-year-old man who had been hiking just that morning. He was lean and muscular, still cutting a dashing figure and able to scamper over the East Tennessee mountains like a billy goat.  He lived that way even on the last day of his life, and then he sat down in his easy chair and had a heart attack.  We held his memorial on October 31. Halloween. 

When my grandmother passed, I was a child. But I was a middle-aged adult when my father passed. The grief was full-grown. 

In many ways, I felt him around me more intimately than when he was alive. There were times I knew that I knew that I knew that he had paid me a visit or sent me a sign. And I could talk to him about things we wouldn’t have touched when he was alive, our differences far too profound on certain subjects.  But now I knew him as a father who loved me not through a veil of disappointments or expectations, but with unlimited compassion and understanding.  

He became the other inhabitant of the brightest star in the sky, and Grandma seemed happy to share. 

So, on Halloween, or the next full moon or new moon, or any night, really, when a problem is haunting you or a general unease is hovering about in your person, try stepping outside and talking to whomever you believe might live in the brightest star.  There’s plenty of room for them there, and they are happy to listen as long as you need.  

And through that conversation can come healing and release and understanding and peace. 

And I call that magic. 

Practice makes . . .

. . . better. Practice makes that which once seemed difficult easier.

In athletics, and even in playing a musical instrument, or doing any other action requiring motor skills, practice can create something commonly called “muscle memory.” The repetition of an action makes the action more natural and less dependent on intense concentration. An accomplished basketball player might be able to spin a ball on the tip of her finger, for instance, a skill I would find immensely difficult and even, at least currently, impossible.  The basketball player does it almost without thinking. 

Our spiritual journey can also benefit from repetition.  That’s the part we call “practice.” 

I think it’s important that we differentiate between beliefs and practice. Someone can have beliefs with no practice. It’s also possible to have a practice without specific beliefs. But when we combine the two, we create a spiritual life that is alive and growing and engaged and the source of a consistent river of peace and joy that flows through our lives.  Perhaps most important, it is the ongoing practice of our beliefs that strengthens our intuition and allows us to be the primary guide on our own journey. It’s how we become our own guru. 

A spiritual practice can be almost anything as long as it occurs with some regularity and is meaningful to you. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, mantra chanting, prayer, reading a spiritual text, listening to music that centers you — these are some of the more common spiritual practices. But a practice can also be planting flowers or looking up at the full moon or lighting incense or volunteering or acknowledging the four directions or making good use of that magic wand you bought on a whim at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  You give symbols their meaning, and whatever you decide is significant . . . is. 

The paradox is that it’s not the practice, but it is the practice.  Let’s break that down a bit. It’s not the practice in the sense that any physical action or practice we engage in within the temporal realm of ego and this physical existence is not inherently important. The Truth with a capital T is that the Divine Essence that you are remains the same regardless of any act you carry out.  Whether you meditate today or not, you remain the Presence of Divine Love. 

But, in this dynamic life, the life of time, the life of beginnings and endings, it sometimes takes a practice, even just a quick breathing exercise or making prayer hands, to remind us again, and again, and again, of who we truly are and what is truly real.  And in time, we create a spiritual muscle memory that helps us to live more consistently from the core of our being, the place where only love and peace and joy reside. 

That’s what practice can do.  It can help us uncover our Divine Nature, and it can help us live from that place more and more consistently all the time.  It can be the conduit to the the most important discovery of this life — the discovery of the Self. 

But there is one thing practice won’t do.  Practice won’t make perfect. Because it doesn’t need to. You already are. 

Why does God . . .

. . . allow suffering?  If you go to Google and type in “Why does God,” the first autofill answer you will get is “Why does God allow suffering?” When I clicked on that option, I got over 77,000,000 results in half a second.  It seems a lot of people have asked that question and almost as many have tried to answer it.  And they’ve been asking this question for a long time.  

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century BCE, was asking this question before Jesus even walked the earth and long before the Prophet Muhammad received his revelations. Epicurus drew a sharp line between the potential for God’s strength and the capacity for God’s compassion.  He asked, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.” In other words, a God that would allow suffering he is powerful enough to stop must be cruel.


On my Google search, the first page of the 77,000,000 responses comes from mostly Christian sources.  The “answers” put forth included “Well, God doesn’t cause suffering, but he allows it” and “Suffering is a way to enter into relationship with God,” and “The message of suffering is that life is hard, but God is good.” That last one especially seems it might be of little comfort when tragedy strikes. 

The best answer I found was one that recognized the compassion and unity that can result from suffering, but also acknowledged that it’s a mystery. Compassion and unity are vital concepts for a fully realized spiritual being, and it’s true that they often seem to rely on crisis and division to act as springboards for their creation. But an omnipotent God could surely find a way to inject my soul with compassion rather than through another’s suffering, right?  Though if no one ever suffered, would we even need compassion?  

Now, in full disclosure, I want to make it clear that I do not have the answer to the question of why God allows suffering. And, I would suggest that you proceed with great caution around anyone who claims to have that answer.  

I’ve had a few times of tragedy in my life, and I know that doesn’t make me special. It doesn’t make me different from you, and perhaps it even offers ground where we can meet. I may not know your pain or your story, but here are nine things I do know, and I can only hope they provide comfort, if not insight.

  1. I know that sometimes tragedy brings out the best in us. 
  2. I know that although there may not be an adequate reason we might accept to explain tragedy, no grand purpose birthing a trauma, there can still be great lessons and awareness that come from these events. 
  3. I know that although my pain is real, my pain is not me.  
  4. I know that it’s possible to be on a spiritual journey and be mad at God. In fact, it can be among the most transformative of experiences if we retain just an inkling of faith. A mustard seed, even. 
  5. I know that love is God, and the tragedy of my past is a prime contributor to the degree of love I can bring into another’s place of pain.
  6.  I know that my suffering has created compassion and tenderness and gentleness in me that I’m not sure I would have had otherwise.
  7. I know that, as the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield writes, “The question of human suffering is central to the journey of grace and redemption.” 
  8. I know that I would be nowhere without grace and redemption.
  9. I know that awakening to the awareness of our higher Self, our Buddha nature, our Krishna consciousness, our Christ consciousness, can bring freedom.