The woman would finish my sentences. I’d stop speaking, stare at her and she’d laugh. She didn’t always nail my thoughts – just most of the time.
While studying Sufism, our spiritual teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault, (Also see: My Soul Doesn’t Fit Today) gave us space and time to contemplate our take on concepts presented by wise and ancient Desert Fathers. “Go deep and see what that’s saying to you.” she’d say.
I’d dig through layers of life’s sediment in hopes of reaching bedrock.
More enlightened people may say they lifted the veils layered over lives and grasped the clarity awaiting transcendence. Not me. I was still burrowing like a miner with a helmut light that flickered with unreliability.
Seemingly subliminally, Margaret sandblasted my newly-mined mutterings into dazzling gems before I knew what I was holding. ‘Damn!’ I’d think. ‘How could I feel ticked at someone who just made me look like a mystic?’
None of my strategies blocked her. She occupied some obscure chamber of insight and nudged me through spiritual portals. I dueled between abject intolerance and genuine love for this woman. I don’t think she ever knew. She centered on Love.
Margaret, a middle-aged plus, divorced, mother and grandmother, was connected with Girl Guides, UNICEF, Buddhism, monasteries, convents, Hospice and the Contemplative Society in a variety of ways. These insights only came into our conversations if I caught some intriguing tidbit she dropped in mid-sentence.
To me, she lived a simple life, generously offering her time to a few community-oriented activities. We’d run into each other at church, Hospice or grocery shopping. Our exchanges were quick and full of fun.
“I loved your mother, Amy!” Margaret frequently told me. “We fight over who is going to take her Holy Communion on Sunday afternoons. We think we’re going in to minister to a wise old gal who is homebound and needs some companionship. Ha! We walk out of that house floating. She turns the tables and ministers to us!”
“That’s my mom! She’s ruined me, Margaret. I don’t know how to live in this crass world after an upbringing of wisdom and justice!”
“Oh wow!” Margaret’s favourite response. Then she’d laugh with the same joy after finishing one of my sentences.
I had become curious about the Contemplative Society. They met every two weeks with Cynthia, the Society’s Spiritual Director. Cynthia was an Anglican Priest, Hermit, author and Professor who we somehow scooped from a Benedictine Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado and from the shores of Maine where she began life as a Quaker. Cynthia was teaching them the wisdom of the Desert Fathers.
Those under Cynthia’s tutelage came into the Parish office to pay for their copy of the book, “Living Presence” by Kabir Helminski. During a lull one day, I opened the book, scanned a few pages and was floored. This mystical Sufi path felt like “home”. Fortuitously, one final copy of the book remained unsold. Clutching it with one hand and writing a cheque with the other, I secured my holy grail of mysticism to devour, underline, tag, earmark, fold and adore.
One day, after reading the small book a couple of times, I said to Cynthia, “I long for a community of spiritually-minded people, but I’m not talking about a convent!”
“Come to our study sessions. Monday mornings. We’ll be doing Chapter Six”, Cynthia said.
Thrilled, I rushed home to do some homework. I opened Living Presence to Chapter Six – The Power of Being. It began with a quote from Rumi.
God has made nonexistence appear solid and respectable; and He has made Existence appear in the guise of nonexistence. He has hidden the Sea and made the foam visible, He has concealed the Wind and shown you the dust. - Rumi, Mathnawi, v, 1026-27.
I understood at a mind or surface level, but I knew the essence remained deeply and distantly buried, just outside of my inner range. I read further into the chapter:
We look for happiness, beauty, or pleasure in existing things, convinced that things will satisfy us or bring us desirable states. We hope to find well-being in a new car, a new place to live, or a new relationship. But the happiness produced by these things cannot be counted on to last, and we will need to find yet other things to stimulate further states.
I could grasp that concept! Off I went to join the Contemplative Society.
That’s when Margaret began stalking my soul. Little did I know Margaret would become one of the “other things to stimulate further states“.