The Spirit of Truth

We have just witnessed a political narrative of enormous consequence in our country with the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stating that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. We cannot know the truth, because none of us was in that room when the alleged assault occurred. There are those who will say that they believe her without question, and those who say that they believe him without question, but none of us can know with absolute surety. There was a third person in the room, Mark Judge, who has denied Dr. Ford’s allegations.

In Christine’s testimony she said that several times during the assault she looked pleadingly at Mark to help her and he chose not come to her aid. Thirty years later, when Christine again looked to Mark to come to her aid, he chose not to support her allegations. If what Dr. Ford testified to having happened is the truth, then Mr. Judge was given two chances to right a wrong, and chose twice to decline.

Having watched both Dr. Ford’s testimony and Judge Kavanaugh’s defense, I lean heavily toward believing Dr. Ford, but I understand that I may never know the truth. And, though I believed that Judge Kavanaugh’s response to the allegations, his coming unhinged, his partisan rant should have disqualified him, the choice was made by the majority in the senate to allow this man the great privilege of serving the court, and I must accept this. This could be viewed as a win for those who wished for his confirmation. And, for those who did not wish for this man to be confirmed, it could very well be viewed as a loss. But I have to believe that if a win is based on a lie it is ultimately a loss, and that which is construed as a worldly win will prove not to be a win after all.

Just before Jesus departed the world he told his disciples not to despair, that he would send them the comforter, the Holy Spirit, that which he called the “Spirit of Truth.”

We might be tempted at times like these to believe that the Spirit of Truth is on holiday, taking a long nap, or worse. I don’t believe this. The Spirit of Truth is still very much alive. Indeed, I have found with my own wrestlings with the truth, and by observing others, that each time we are given an opportunity to speak the truth, and make the choice to bury it, the Spirit of Truth is given even greater license to find ways of exposing our falsehoods. These opportunities will come round and round in the course of our lives, and each time the opportunity is given us, it will be more painful for us to push the deceit back down into our spirits. Our spirits long to speak the truth. The truth sets us free from the bondage of living with a lie. I have also observed that each time we are given an opportunity to release a lie, the consequences of not doing so are greater. A lie will eat at our mental and physical health, our lives, our happiness.

Take heart, friends, the Spirit of Truth has suffered no wounds from this national narrative, it is still tirelessly working to set us all free.


Barking to the Choir

Barking to the Choir

by Gregory Boyle

I heard an interview on NPR recently with the Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle. For those who are not familiar with him, he was placed in the eighties as a parish priest in the poorest, gang-beleaguered neighborhood in LA. And, as a result, founded Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.
Greg told the interviewer that he was moved to become a Jesuit because he went to a Jesuit school, and he found the Jesuits to be the funniest people he knew. He is a very funny person himself, and his writings, and I understand his talks, are more stand-up comedy than one might expect, given his subject matter.
The radio interview was to promote his second book, Barking to the Choir, which I immediately downloaded as an audio book. I liked his voice. I only listen to audio books in the car, and so spent the next couple of weeks driving around in a state of heightened emotions, drowning in tears and explosive hysteria. Each trip to the grocery store was a lifetime’s worth of enlightenment. It is a story of true walking faith.
I have always believed that comedy was holy. Like music, it falls from heaven.
How else could we absorb such stories as the histories of those drawn and affected by gang violence, without falling into utter despair? This book does more than allow us to walk in the shoes of those in Gregory Boyles’ world, it lifts us into the luminous atmosphere of pure love. “Throw away all of your books on faith,” I wrote on his Amazon page, “and read this book!”

My Book Comes Together

Approximately nine months after I turned in my playwriting pen for one that I could use to write essays, I began to pray for an editor. As with many of my prayers, the longer I waited for the answer, the pickier I grew, adding all sorts of conditions to my original request. Among my list of qualifications were that this person be clear, firm, smart, (but not smart enough to refuse to take me on) and, most important, gentle.

At some point during this time I volunteered to help my childhood friend Boo pack up and move her mother Doris out of her apartment in Massachusetts. Doris had been my grandmother Jane’s closest friend. This grandmother is the one who painted the painting on the cover of this book, and who had such a positive influence on my childhood.

Boo and I allowed ourselves two days for packing and sometime during the afternoon of the first day we panicked. “We have to go out to get more boxes,” Boo said. “Yes,” I agreed, “but if we do that we will never be finished in time.” We proceeded to stare off in paralyzed lethargy. A moment later my editor Aina Barten walked through the door. Her husband followed with a stack of boxes. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that she was my editor. She was another of my grandmother’s friends and, I was to discover, worked at the time editing for Orion Magazine. Did my grandmother have a hand in orchestrating this encounter? I’m not sure how these things work, but I do know that Aina is the perfect answer to my fussy prayers.

This story was a precursor to that which I recently encountered after praying for a book designer for this project. After months of prayer and added embellishment, I began to lose heart. I wanted someone who shared similar sensibilities, who would create something lovely, but (and this is the tricky part), I hoped for someone I could work with in person.

My very fine poet friend, Hayden Saunier, who it turns out made a living for several years as a copy editor, fell easily into my team, willing to plod through my book, pointing out boo-boos and inconsistencies. A friend of Hayden’s suggested I take a look at a website based in England that connects authors and designers. I searched and searched the site with growing frustration. Most of the near 400 designers would have been a miserable fit, and those who vaguely resonated lived in Glasgow or Sidney. The next day my friend Carolyn Mercatante, the artist who took such care with the woodland illustrations for the chapter headings (also a perfect fit), offered to sit with me while I looked through the site. We combed and combed, with nothing even remotely speaking to us, when we stumbled upon Brooke Koven, and both heard the Halleluiah Chorus.

“Perfect!” we sang out. “I don’t care where she lives!” I added. We did look to see where she was located, out of curiosity, and discovered that her address was twenty minutes from where we sat. Kismet.

Of course, nothing ever seems that simple when one is anxiously hoping for answers. The few paragraphs above represent fourteen years, and buckets full of doubts. But, all the while, I can see that I was guided.

So, let me thank the one who guides me. Thank you Dear, for my Grandmother Jane who painted, for Aina who edits, for Carolyn who draws, for Hayden who proofs and for Brooke who designs.

I am all-aglow with gratitude.

The Child Door

I think it is time I introduced my beloved George MacDonald. Perhaps some of you might be familiar with his children’s literature. I began reading him as a child and have never let up.

MacDonald was born in Scotland in 1824, became a minister, and because of his honesty with his parishioners about what it really means to follow the teachings of Jesus, he was slowly forced out of his parish. Offered a lower and lower salary, as his wife produced more and more offspring, MacDonald was finally forced to retire. I say, thank God for this because it gave him the time and inclination to write. This he did with a fury for the rest of his life, piling up forty novels, many fairy tales, several children’s books and reams of poetry.

My first introduction to him was a book written for children called The Princess and the Goblin, the first of two books about Curdie, the son of a coal miner, who helps to rid his kingdom of goblins. The book is very beautifully written, and captured my heart.

There is a metaphor for God in the book, a mystical grandmother of sorts, which illuminates the ways in which God might work in our lives. I have read the book many times since a child, and memorably revisited it when I went through a particularly painful failure (or so I viewed it) of one of my plays in New York, when I was in my early thirties. Grateful to have my good friend by my side, I was much comforted, and learned to see the experience as instructive, a gift rather than a beating.

I’ve read this book so many times before and since this experience that it has taken up permanent residence on my bedside table.

There is a door, I believe, in each of us, that I will call The Child Door. It’s through this door that the simplest, purest philosophical thought will sometimes enter. This is the door that allows us to welcome truth without the weight of dogma, to begin to remember what we might have known before we came into this life. I hope to write a piece for Listen Well about the wisdom of keeping this door ajar, or if somehow it has been allowed to shut, to attempt to pry it open.

I would recommend, if you wish to invite these simple truths into your life, that you consider reading George MacDonald. You might begin with The Princess and the Goblin, and continue on to his collection of Fairy tales.

Happy reading,



Shout out to my agnostic peeps

Ok, so a Christian a Muslim and an atheist walk into a restaurant. One of them gives the waiter all sorts of hell, complains about his table, sends his food back, twice, and refuses to leave a tip. Do we care what the man’s theology is?

I would like to give a shout out to my atheist and agnostic peeps. I have known plenty of people who deny, or are unsure of the existence of a spiritual world, but whose daily practice of loving-kindness would astound. If I understand the basic teachings of Jesus correctly, anyone who treats his neighbor as he would hope to be treated is a practicing Christian. And, we are all just practicing our creeds, our philosophies. I would rather see the teachings of Jesus acted out in service than in lip service.

I am heaps more uncomfortable with the fundamentalist than the atheist, though it is possible to be a fundamentalist atheist, and these can be pretty frightening. Any philosophy can be twisted by a rabid mind.

I will not always recommend books whose authors wear their religion on their sleeve. There are some books that are written with such a loving pen, such generosity toward their characters, that I consider these books to be transcendent. I will try and recommend books that have taken me to a place where my mind has been lifted into the finer atmosphere of love.

One such book is The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer. The book is a memoir of the author’s upbringing on Long Island, raised by a single mother and the kindly regulars of local watering hole. “Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel close to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship,” writes Moehringer, of the bar where his uncle bartended, and where he found a group of fathering souls.

I fell in love with this book. I hope you will too.


The Land of Narnia

You might have noticed that the Listen Well site has undergone a shmancy new upgrade. At some point during discussions with my web designer it was suggested that I might wish to write a small blog.

“But, the spoken word pieces serve as a blog!” (or a blab, as I like to call it),  “Wouldn’t this be redundant?”

But then it occurred to me that I might use the space to do what I like most to do to my friends: nag them into reading the latest book that I have fallen in love with.

Continue reading The Land of Narnia