Sunday, January 10, 2016


Martin's Pond at sunset_Peacham VT_October 2015

Dearest Readers,
I’m two and a half months now in Portland. During this time, I’ve been sticking my toes in a few Sunday ponds testing the spiritual waters around my neighborhood. I’m a pilgrim on a path through life seeking transcendence. I was raised Irish Catholic and I still strongly identify with that heritage. A beautiful Catholic Church is a comfortable, familiar place, but I have trouble accepting many of the supernatural aspects of religion. I like ritual and a community of like-minded souls gathered to share values of compassion, and social justice. I’m committed to helping my neighbor and being kind. This is hard to do alone. (Hard to do–period!) In Vermont last year, I discovered the “Awe” of wild nature–the animals, mountains, weather, sky, water, and especially the trees. I could almost see that these natural, silent things stood in front of a vast “something” that underpins the cosmos. Words fail.

It’s more difficult in the city to see beyond the buildings, artificial light and human sounds to experience Nature’s transcendence. But here’s my path so far in order of spiritual preference. 
The Jesuit Volunteer Center in Portland

#1. The Jesuit Volunteer Center, is a non-profit Catholic storefront charity located in a low-income area near my home. I’m excited about this place and the Encorps program for seniors committed to social and ecological justice. JV Encorps is a program that I want to apply for this Spring. It offers to a select group each year opportunities for community service, and retreats for community and spiritual formation. More to come on that I hope…

Becoming a Tree No.8_oil on canvas_8.5in x 14in_2015

#2. My own personal path is through my artwork. My painting series “Becoming a Tree” explores my connection to wild nature and trees as portals to deeper understanding of my place in the universe. I have resumed this body of work.
Shrine Room at the Portland Shambhala Meditation Center

#3. The Shambhala Meditation Center of Portland is a short drive from home, located in a classic brick former public library, now an office building. 
Timory celebrating the birthday of Sakyong Mipham, the current teacher and leader of Shambhala Buddhism 

This is also a comfortable space for me. Shambhala is a network of Westernized Tibetan Buddhist centers in the USA and worldwide. I was a member of the Decatur GA and St Johnsbury VT Shambhala Centers. I like a meditative community that believes in humanity’s basic goodness, and the ability for world change through kindness and compassion. I do not believe in re-incarnation, but that does not seem to be a deal breaker in attending. I‘ve found peace through meditation and learned about that ineffable “Way” beyond what we see in daily life.
St. Andrew's Catholic Church_Portland OR
#4. St. Andrew’s Catholic Church is an easy walk from my home. It’s a beautiful American style gothic edifice and a welcoming congregation. Inside, the old and new blend in an open plan with plenty of lay involvement in the mass.

Sign reads: St Andrews–A Community of Justice, Compassion and Peace–All are Welcome

I especially like St. Andrew's dedication to social justice and Hispanic (neighborhood) inclusivity. St. Andrew’s offers support groups for women, for transgender, gay, and same sex couples. The congregation aligns itself with Pope Francis’ emphasis on serving the poor. This is right up my alley.

#5. I have a personal traditional ritual around the holidays of reading Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. I find a depth of meaning in this poem–a nugget of wisdom and simplicity. Frost lived in Ripton, Vermont, not far from Rutland where I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence. Reading this poem, I imagine Vermont woodlands, snow, forested mountain roads and the Yankee ethos of rustic, simple living close to the land. I read it quietly these days.

Exterior view
Interior view before members arrived

#6. The Center for Spiritual Living- This is an interesting nation-wide religious organization that believes in God, but not in Jesus’ divinity–only Jesus as an important spiritual teacher. I attended a service last Sunday that included a homily, music, singing and meditative prayer. 
Wall of religious tolerance at Center for Spiritual Living
Nancy–Greeter and Practitioner at Center for Spiritual Living
 Advanced “Practitioners” like Nancy above, are available for spiritual counseling. It felt like a Unitarian Church service attended by educated liberals seeking to do good deeds and have a community. Nice people, but not my kind of spirituality---too dry I guess is the word. They follow the teachings of their founder, Ernest Holmes who wrote the book,”The Science of Mind”.  I haven’ t read it, but I’m leery of science-based religious groups that have one venerated leader. I may be a hypocrite here, since I like Pope Francis, a former scientist and venerated leader.

In the old days as a Catholic child, choosing a religious base was easy. You were Catholic, so you attended your neighborhood parish where you found moral answers, community and often a school.

One thing I do know–the birth of all of my grandchildren and most recently the birth of Iva Mae Hazel Ercin on December 27th here in Portland have all been awesome, transcendent and spiritual experiences for me.

Welcome to this amazing world dear Iva Mae Hazel Ercin