Today’s Word from Sheila Weidendorf
My daughter, Ada—age 17 and the last of my five children still in my nest—is something of an archivist. We both collect words and phrases, delighting in things people say that are unexpected, or that have never been said to us before. Like when one of my now-adult sons was maybe 12 and we were on a family road trip. He still wore his hair long then and had made a point of showering before we left. When we stopped for a snack along the way, I noticed his long golden locks were strangely greasy-looking for having just been shampooed. I asked him, “How did your hair get so greasy so quickly?” Without missing a beat, he replied, “It must have been the salami.” THAT was something no one had ever said to me before and thus is remembered to this day. (I’ll not take the time to explain but—trust me—it was hilarious. And DID involve salami.)
Back to the archives: My Ada literally keeps prolific notes on the strange, unexpected or amusing things people say around her. She found it hilarious and therefore noteworthy to add the following to the archives from another—recent—car ride in which this unexpected conversation happened. She was driving, while my cell phone rang:
“Who is it, Mom?”
“Jesus?” (maintaining a deadpan face)
“Why didn’t you answer?”
“How did he get your number?”
(Insert facial expressions of mutual, befuddled bemusement here.)
No, Jesus did NOT leave a voicemail but yes, he DID call back. This time—having composed myself—I answered. Turns out it wasn’t THAT Jesus but, instead, a man of Hispanic origin that had stayed with his wife in the B&B we used to manage (Hay-Soos’, not Gee’-zuzz). I had entered his contact info and forgotten in the intervening years—hence, my confusion when the phone rang that first time. And now, in Ada’s archives will live forever, “Jesus called; I panicked.”
Now—all humor aside—How is it that the Holy One finds us, seeks us out, presents itSelf to us? How do we discern the presence of the Holy One in our lives? How do we respond? I have come to realize in the multiple tributaries of my life—a tangle of rushes and eddies and dams and diversionary zones as these rivers, all, rush to the one sea—there has always been at play in the undertow what I call the Choiceless Choice.
We always have free will after all; we are always free to choose the path we wish to follow (yes there are parental/religious/political/ societal pressures along the riverbanks trying to insinuate themselves upon our free will and some are more vulnerable to persuasion than others but let’s leave that discussion for another time!). Our freedom to choose is an inherently human trait. Yet, I have found that some things present themselves to us as Choiceless Choices—pathways that cannot be NOT walked. Music for me is one such Choiceless Choice—I cannot NOT make music; it is a sort of soul mandate that cannot be ignored.
That’s what I mean by the Choiceles Choice—pathways, relationships, vocational callings, geographical shifts that feel as if rising up from the depths of the soul—some kind of calling of the Holy that is impossible to ignore—even when we might panic along the way. Just earlier today I was scrolling through my Facebook page when memories from 12 years ago popped up. I had taken my youngest two “up north” in Minnesota camping before school started up again. They were ages five and 11 at the time; my older three were all busy with their own lives and did not join the Littles and I.
Up North in Minnesota is glorious this time of year. Some of the leaves giving way to hues of gold and flame, the days warm and the sun still penetrating but the nights cold enough for heavy blankets and a fire. Late one night under a full moon, after the Littles had fallen asleep, I stood on a hill under the tall yellow pines, breathing in a mixture of sharply cold air (it fell to freezing under the clear skies) and pine needles and woodsmoke. I looked up at the moon and said—out loud—“I am ready. I am ready for my right life, my right location, my right vocation, my right partnerships. I am ready. AND I realize it might mean giving some things up but please, make things right within me.”
I literally felt the earth shift beneath my feet, and witnessed a cluster of shooting stars traverse the heavens. I wept. Then I got afraid. Really afraid—one could say I panicked. Because I knew in my heart that my entire life was about to shift and transform. Again. And it did. Six months later I was living with those two children on Whidbey Island, a most unexpected and unforeseen move.
Please understand that—at that pre-move time of my life—I was unhappy. I hadn’t been making music, not really, for almost 20 years since my physical and emotional/mental health had been derailed by a serious, violent assault from which I nearly died. My marriage was failing. I had been doing all kinds of good and interesting things professionally—all enjoyable and “true” to me—but I was not right within myself. And I had no plans to move 1800 miles away from the rest of my family and upset the apple cart of everyone’s life directly connected to mine.
But I had declared my desires and my readiness and my willingness to God and to the moon and to the pines. And within six months my entire life was different because—on some deep, unconscious level way before that fateful night on that northern Minnesota hill, I had already said “Yes” to the stream of my soul’s expression that carries me through this life. I had already said “Yes” such that, when new callings and landscapes and opportunities and challenges present themselves along the riverbank as I head toward the One Sea, they present as Choiceless Choices. Sure, I could say “No” in the immediate sense, but a grand “Yes” has already been said and so my little canoe keeps rolling down river. That’s how I meet the Holy in my life.
Now let me be honest. Moving here so suddenly, leaving my three by then adult children behind in Minneapolis, leaving behind every structure of familiarity and so-called “security” was not easy and upset many people, including me! But I have also witnessed along the trajectory of my unfolding life that what rarifies my soul, what calls me forward and transforms me into greater, truer versions of myself is always for the greater good.
One sign for me as I embrace the Choiceless Choice, the calling of the Holy, is fear. Yes—fear. If something presents and keeps presenting to me and there seems to be building “juice” behind it and it feels increasingly real—if everything is pointing in its direction and then I get afraid, I know I MUST do it. I HAD to move to this island in the same way I HAD to return to music when a crazy set of unforeseen circumstances put a challenging, terrifying opportunity in my path. There was only “Yes” to say; “No, not me, not this time, not yet” felt like a kind of inner death. This is one way I experience the Holy in my life.
One other thing I feel compelled to share, and that is about brokenness. I mentioned above that my personal and musical life was—completely! —derailed by a violent assault. I share this here because—and only because—that formative event has also become a way in which the Holy has found me and thus it deserves mention. Let me be perfectly clear here: Violence against another human is never ok and is never, of itself, an act of God. But in the healing from any kind of violence or trauma, Grace is always present. So healing, too, can be a kind of saying “Yes” to the Choiceless Choice of God’s grace within, between, and among us such that any time we are willing to bear witness to another person’s pain and to their healing, we are agents of the Holy for sure.
Let me also say this, and unequivocally, because trauma and tragedy linger and lurk in so many here on earth: There is no shame in having been broken, in having been battered about the rocks that lie in almost every river rushing to the sea. Instead, it is the battered and bruised places of the heart that can, with grace, grow and expand beyond our comprehension in SUCH love and joy and tenderness and compassion. As the late, great singer/poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” May we all, always, know this Light.
I am sharing two songs today. The first is Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” reminding us of our Light. Click HERE to listen.
The second is the Manhattan Transfer singing, “Operator…” Click HERE to listen.