Awaiting Florence

(This blog is arriving two days early due to the fact that Florence is likely to snatch our power from us!)

One of my friends posted that waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.

Florence, whose reputation precedes her, is clearly strong, independent and willful. We’ve already seen her change her mind on a dime. She’s definitely a showoff. And she’s not even in town yet.

They say Florence could be the worst hurricane since Hazel in 1954. I remember Hazel. It was the only time my father smoked in his whole life. We lived two miles from the Delaware River which flooded doing massive damage. The damage that caused my father to temporarily take up smoking was the complete devastation of Freddie Trauger’s chicken farm. The men of the community gathered to help Freddie in the morose and stinky job of burying the dead chickens. My dad, a farm boy with a tolerant nose, said he never experienced a smell like that one. I sat at the kitchen counter innocently drawing pictures of pretty mountains and trees. I think I had even slept through most of the worst of the storm. Ah, to be nine again.

Florence has already caused me two sleepless nights because she has given me so much to think about. My good friends, David and Kelley, have a cottage on a southern North Carolina beach. Yesterday morning they left their home and their successful business behind. They walked away knowing they might never see that home or that business again. Once Florence departs, she might take most of their history with her.

“We didn’t even pile much into the car,” they told me. “Just the essentials.”

What would your essentials be?

If you had to leave behind every “thing” that you possess, knowing it might be destroyed in your absence, what would you take with you? Art work? Photo albums? Your grandmother’s rocker? The quilt your mother gave you for a wedding present? This is a fine exercise in prioritizing.

Obviously, I couldn’t take two of my favorite possessions, my piano and the ice machine in the refrigerator. So what would I take? What do we have that we need? I suppose I’d take my social security card and my passport. It would be nice to be able to prove who I am. But what else? So much of what we have is replaceable, and some of what is irreplaceable to us will be blithely disposed of by our heirs when we die. Like the books we love — no one else cares very much about the books we love — they’ll be donated to Goodwill. Our precious favorites.

My grandmother’s vegetable dish? My grandfather’s rocking chair?

How do refugees do it? How do they leave their coffee pot behind? They can’t carry their dress shoes or their softest sheets or their face wipes or cold cream.

My friends just got in the car yesterday morning and drove away from everything for which they have worked for twenty-five years. That takes courage. And you know what they said to me? “We’ll be fine if everything is destroyed.” And if everything you valued was destroyed, would you rebuild the same house and re-buy the same clothes and replace the coffee pot with another just like it? Would you keep re-buying until you had re-created your old life? Or would you do something different?

I said to them when we spoke this morning, “Driving away was a spiritual experience, wasn’t it?” They agreed.

When we face losing everything we value, we surrender to the spiritual truth that we are not in control. As we said last week, we are only in control of our attitude toward what happens. Would it be enough to have yourself left?

How much anxiety does this discussion create in your chest? How much sadness do you feel in the pit of your stomach? How much anger is making your head feel like it might explode? How attached are we to our disguises, our distractions, our status symbols, our accoutrements? The Buddhists advocate strongly for non-attachment. In fact, my favorite Buddhist teaching story is about just that.

So, the Buddha was sitting around with his followers in a clearing in the valley and a farmer ran up to them disturbing their meditation.

“Have you seen my cows?” He demanded.

They all looked at each other and shook their heads. “No,” the Buddha said to the farmer. “We have not seen your cows.”

The farmer ran off in anguish that he couldn’t find his cows. Soon he was back, once again asking if his cows had been seen.

Once again the Buddha paused in his meditation and told the farmer that the cows had not appeared.

The farmer ran off and the meditation commenced. Before long the farmer was back, more upset than ever.

This time when the farmer stumbled away the Buddha turned to his followers and said, “You see how lucky we are NOT to have cows.”

Now, few of us will ever be faced with having to drive away from our homes and our businesses to flea a hurricane. Few of us will lose everything we possess to a fire. But all of us would do well to think about enduring just such a catastrophe. We’d  be wise to evaluate what in life is truly precious. We’d reduce our anxiety, lift our depression and free ourselves from the chains of post trauma reactions if we practiced some of the Buddha’s non-attachment. I think Jesus said the same thing: look at the lilies of the field. One of the ninety-nine names of The Beloved in the Muslim faith is Ar Razzaq, The Provider. The Amish, the Quakers, the Mennonites, and the Moravians all choose a more simple life for a reason.

Florence is due to land tomorrow. But we face other hurricanes and tsunamis and tornadoes every day. How to live with equanimity in the middle of the storms is one of life’s greatest challenges. As they say, “Don’t ask for no storms, learn to dance in the rain.”

Peace and love for the living of these days, Susan




September 13, 2018 at 10:42 AM 2 comments


Yes, again, Time five in the hospital, time four with the heart-stopping procedure. You may not know that your heart works a lot like your computer. If either is acting up, it has to be turned off, and then it’s likely to reset itself back in rhythm and harmony.

I have A-Fib, which on the list of genetic glitches is really one you’d want to choose if any of us had a choice. About every two years, my heart runs away with itself, and I have to go to the emergency room, get admitted to the hospital, try medication (which never works), and finally have a Cardioversion (which I just call stopping my heart so it can re-boot itself).

Like most of life’s other challenges, this bi-yearly excursion offers lots of lessons for those willing  to listen. (I am. I’m a listener. You are, too, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog which is all about listening, learning, loving, living.)

The number one lesson I learned (more precisely re-learned) this year was: I am not in control — not of my life, my heart, or my circumstances. I did everything I know how to do to will and woe my heart back into a slow, steady rhythm. A-Fib, like fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other medical conditions can be induced and exacerbated by stress, made more virulent by exhaustion or dehydration, but the CAUSE is medical, scientific, biological, hormonal, chemical — use what words are most appropriate to any medical condition, the theme is the same: it is not under your control.

I learned this about eight years ago and wrote about it in the last chapter of The Many Faces of Anxiety. Apparently, I had to re-learn this important lesson. I suspect those of you reading these words tend to forget, also, that we are not in control of a great many things. Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who survived the holocaust in a concentration camp and went on to write about his experiences in Man’s Search for Meaning, concluded that we are, in fact, in control of only ONE thing: our attitude toward what happens. Alfred Adler and many other specialists in mental health concur.

We frequently, usually, cannot control what happens to us. We can always control our responses and reactions to what happens to us. We do this by controlling our attitude. I worked with a man who insisted he was a victim of life. He insisted this for eighteen years. Then he heard a homily which changed his attitude and life. The title of the sermon was: What Legacy Are You Leaving? He decided he didn’t like the legacy he was leaving, and he decided to change it.

Lots of people don’t like going to work. Have you ever noticed that? I particularly noticed it at the hospital. Cranky, grim, low-energy, non-smiling nurses, doctors, cleaning people and aids were the norm. The exceptions totally changed my experience. At the shift change a nurse named Rose came into my room saying, “Susan, you beautiful human, you,” and she grabbed my foot, “we are getting you up to a room immediately.” I had languished in the emergency room for eight hours on the hard gurney with no amenities at all. In forty minutes she had me upstairs on a comfortable bed. The moment she had walked into the room with her smile and her “can do” attitude, I felt better.

Oddly, another bright spot was the vampire who woke me up at 3 a.m. to take my blood. He was the opposite of Rose. He was quiet and rather shy, soft-spoken and apologetic that his job was to wake sleeping people and draw their blood. He was soothing in how he did it, gently, kindly, talking in his soft voice.

A third bright spot was the nurse anesthetist who came to put me under for the “procedure.” Like the vampire, she was soft-spoken and incredibly kind. She smiled into my eyes, rubbed my arm, and assured me she’d be with me through the process and take great care of me. She inspired confidence because she connected with me.

Now I doubt the Emergency room nurse, the phlebotomist or the nurse anesthetist were any happier about going to work than every one else I met. But they took control of their attitudes. They connected with their patients as fellow humans  instead of treating them like objects to be moved or tended to so they could get back to their lives.

Talk is cheap, but kindness is free. Connecting to the people with whom we interact is such a small thing to us but such a big thing to the people with whom we’re connecting. I mentioned previously that my friend, Marsha, always reads name badges and refers to clerks and cashiers by name when she says, “Thank you.”

I always try to remember that I’m writing for people suffering from anxiety, depression and PTSD. As people who suffer from any of those, as well as medical conditions, auto-immune disorders, exhaustion, or anything else, we always hope people will treat us kindly. But, we have an opportunity, too. Maybe it’s even a responsibility. We can’t expect to receive all the kindness and consideration. We have to be giving it, too. Kindness works best when it flows, when we pay it forward, and, particularly when we give it back even when we haven’t received it.

There’s nothing like a dose of flat-on-your-back vulnerability to make you appreciate the little things and determine that you’re going to do a better job of being present to other people. This reminds me of the story I told a few weeks ago. I’ll re-tell it in case you missed it. It’s pretty cute.

A little girl goes out to eat with her parents and the waitress asks her what she wants to eat. She says a hamburger, french fries and chocolate milk. Her dad says, “No. She’ll have roast beef, broccoli and white milk.” The waitress listens politely and then asks the little girl, “What would you like on your hamburger?” The little girl tells her, and the waitress walks away. The little girl stares at her parents and says, “She thinks I’m real!”

Let’s make sure we act like we’re real this week and treat everyone we encounter as though each of them is real, too.

Coming in the next weeks: WHY MEDITATE? and BLAMING THE VICTIM


Peace and blessings, my friends, Susan (I think YOU’RE REAL!)


September 8, 2018 at 9:20 AM Leave a comment

A Week At the Zendo

If you are like I was a week ago, you might not be sure what a Zendo is. It’s a room where people gather to practice Zen. Then, also like me, you might have a hard time explaining what Zen is. Zen is a type of Buddhism which concentrates on meditation. Enough introduction, let me tell you the story of my week at the Zendo.

I’ll start with my friend, David, trying to explain to his friend, Darlene, whom he visits in a nursing home. She asked him where he was going. He simply said, “Connecticut.” She demanded, “Why?” He answered as briefly as possible, “To pray.” She was flabbergasted: “Don’t you know God is everywhere? You don’t have to go to Connecticut to pray. You can pray right here.” She refrained from calling him ‘stupid.’

So, despite Darlene’s better judgment, off we went to Connecticut so my friend could do his fourth seshin and I could be introduced to the whole concept.

We spent the week in silence with forty-one other practitioners. We had 13 twenty-minute sits a day with eight 10-15 minute walking meditations, breakfast, tea, lunch, tea, and dinner interspersed. For me it was physically like bootcamp. I actually loved the luxury of silence.

We arrived Sunday evening, did three sits, two walking meditations and went to bed. At 6:30 the next morning we gathered for the first of thirteen “sits”for the day. We had a three hour break from 12 – 3, and since we were staying at Sisters of Mercy By the Sea, I went and sat by the ocean every day during that break. Monday I didn’t bother with mascara.

By Tuesday both my rollers and curling iron were put back in the suitcase. Zen includes suggestions for good practice which include mindful eating. I decided I’d put my fork down between bites. Then, as I was doing that, I realized that I was only doing to to impress the people who were sitting at the table with me. This was just one of the ego-busters I endured.

Wednesday my eyeliner never came out and I realized I was becoming more vulnerable, more naked, more real. Wednesday Roshi Robert Kennedy arrived. He is also a Jesuit priest. He is one of only four people in the world to hold both of those titles. (Roshi, from what I can tell, is revered Zen teacher.) So Wednesday night we had a short Catholic liturgy. All were invited to the communion table.

When Father Robert kennedy passed out the bread, he said, “Eat what you are.” We are always told in communion services that the bread is the body of Christ. Father Kennedy said, “You are the body of Christ. Eat what you are.”

Then the wine was sipped from chalices. He said, “This is the blood of Christ. If it is not the blood of Christ, what could it possibly be?”

Now Richard Rohr does a very inclusive communion service. We walk to a table placed in the center of the room and offer each other communion. It is empowering and humbling and moving.  The eucharist at Mercy By the Sea was equally empowering.

Most of you, I suspect, have been turned away from communion tables in Catholic Churches. I know I have been. I include these different experiences for the encouragement that not all Catholics, (or Protestants, or Buddhists) are exclusionary. I was a beginner at Zen. No one pointed at me or made fun of me or my questions or my doing of things out of order or differently.

Thursday and Friday I got into the rhythm of meditation. It is said that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. I had read from a fellow therapist that he learned more about himself in one Zen retreat than he did in all his years of giving and receiving therapy.  It takes a while, but finally the constant monkey chatter in your mind stops and you “come face to face with yourself.”  Maybe with no make up.

I had a chance to talk to Roshi Kennedy for a few minutes and I told him he could close down the pharmaceutical business if he told enough people, “Eat what you are.” If we are the Body of Christ, nothing and no one can harm us,and what possible reason do we have for anxiety or depression? We are a part of the Alpha and the Omega just as every individual drop of sea water is a part of the ocean. There is no reason for anxiety. There is no place for depression. The anger from trauma is a ridiculous response for one drop of sea water to hold toward another. The drops are going to rise up together in white foamy caps and be smashed together into the sand.

I used Christian and Buddhist language to talk about this, but all languages will say the same thing. We are all one. We all belong.

Have you heard what the latest scientific research on trees is suggesting? There is only ONE tree at the center of the earth. Every other tree is connected to the ONE TREE SOURCE at the roots. It is just as Rumi suggested in the 1280’s: “Each branch sways differently in the breeze, but they are all connected at the roots.”

Peace, my friends. As Nelson Mandela said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.” (This is also attributed to Marianne Williamson.)

What is it that makes us so powerful?

Let your answer to that question take root in your heart.

Until next week . . .


September 1, 2018 at 11:39 AM 1 comment

August 25, 1889 – August 25, 2018



I grew up with a grandmother. Today is her birthday. She was a story-teller, a raconteur, like Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Unlike Estes, Gram was forced to give up her career at 24. In 1913, at least in Pennsylvania, married women were not permitted to teach school.

So Gram chose Grandad over teaching. In 1954, when he committed suicide, Gram moved into the other side of our double house in Durham, Pennsylvania. We had nine inseparable years.

Martha Leidich Hindenach taught me two invaluable lessons: to love stories and to listen. As every minister knows, the congregation remembers the stories. Had she not taught me the fine art of listening, I could never have become a therapist.

When I crossed through the cellar and up the basement steps to Gram’s “side,” she always gifted me with time. If she was cooking, she’d turn off the stove. If she was reading or working on her “correspondence,” down went the book or pen. We had our assigned seats – she in her green wooden rocker beside the kitchen window, me in the black vinyl kitchen chair that was closest. She’d elevate her feet, in the black-tied shoes with the squat, square heels, on the footstool; I’d tuck my bare feet under me. We were all set. She’d listen to my school-girl prattle; I’d soak up her heart wisdom.

The stories were about family – how Aunt Ruth cut off my mother’s beautiful, blonde curls one day when they were supposed to be napping. How my mother sliced through Uncle Lee’s hand with a hatchet while he was holding the wood for her to split. At my mother’s funeral, her ninety year old younger brother was showing people the scar and re-telling the story. It was sort of a badge of honor and connection all those years.

Gram remembered exquisite details about her few years of teaching: the boys bigger than she; the number of children who spoke little or no English; the impossibility of teaching twenty or thirty children from ages 5 to 15 with every variable of talent and capability. She fed me on tales of shared school lunches and terrified me with times she feared she’d forgotten to bank the fire at night and would arrive at school the next morning to find the building burned down. We weathered storms together, sleigh rides in the snow, laughter and games at recess, and lesson-planning challenges not yet named ESL or IEP.

Gram never talked about her mother or father. I doubt that she had a happy childhood. She was a brilliant woman and a creative artist placed in a life that demanded routine and plodding predictability.

She did talk about other family members. Uncle Marcus took a walking tour of Europe and subsidized her education at East Stroudsburg State Teacher’s College, which she entered at 16 and from which she graduated at 19. Grandma Melchoir, the minister’s wife and my father’s step-grandmother, took Gram under her wing and together they ran the Missionary Society, taught Sunday School classes and cared for the parishioners of Durham Lutheran Church.

I was an adult — a married woman [a teacher, imagine that!], a mother, a divorced woman, a single mom – before I realized what her stories were really about. They weren’t about the people of whom she spoke. They were about how those people, in general, and she, in specific, chose to live life. Gram’s stories were about making do, having faith, accepting what is, learning from everything, and embracing the ordinary. She taught me to re-dream when the old dreams got shattered and to reconnoiter when the original plans fell through. She taught me to keep going. She died at 96 with her mind and body still engaged. Only her heart finally “petered out,” as she would have said.

Happy birthday, Gram. You are alive and well in my heart!

Love, Susan

P.S. I am away from my computer, so my granddaughter is posting this blog for me.

How sweet is that?  As Harry Chapin sang: “All My Life’s A Circle”


August 25, 2018 at 2:29 PM Leave a comment

Narcissistic Abuse

I had not heard the term narcissistic abuse until last week. When I saw the term in print, here’s what it said: Narcissistic abuse is a cause of anxiety. Upon further research, guess what else narcissistic abuse is a cause of? Depression. Being the child of a narcissistic parent is certainly a cause of childhood trauma, causing a third group of narcissistic abuse survivors. It’s about time we took a look at this.

I found an article in Psychology Today written by Darlene Lancer. I had never heard of this marriage and family therapist who is also a lawyer, but she appears to be an expert on both narcissism and codependency. She says, briefly, of narcissists, that they really don’t love or like themselves and their huge egos are a cover for a being a person driven by shame. They learn to cope by becoming  abusive.

Now, don’t stop reading. You may be thinking of a narcissist who is dominant in the news right now and saying to yourself, ‘I never lived with anything like that.’ Narcissists come in many degrees: malignant narcissists, sociopathic narcissists, and the more common variety of non-fatality causing run-of-the-mill, drive-you-crazy, cause you anxiety and depression narcissist, which is the kind you and I are likely to have tangled with.

My experience with narcissists — yes, I have some, although I never connected my anxiety with them — is that narcissists are SUBTLE. When you read the long list of methods narcissists use to ply their trade, please remember that many of these coping skills are not so much obvious and above board as they are subtle and on the down low. My descriptors of narcissists I have known (and loved) is that they are sneaky and sly. One of the phrases Darlene Lancer used in the article was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Narcissists use verbal abuse, like bullying, blaming, raging, name-calling, belittling and accusing. The name-calling, for example, might be something rather benign like “turtle,” or “little girl,” or “babycakes.” They’re just sweet nicknames, aren’t they? Or are they names which imply you’re slow or immature. The blaming might be equally hard to identify, like, “Oh, she can’t help herself. She is driving me to the poorhouse because she just has to have every little sparkly thing that catches her eye.” The belittling, too, might be subtle but stealthy: “God bless her, she really just can never make up her mind, so she’s never been able to stick to anything, but she never means any harm.” These comments are like sweet and sour candy — sweet on the outside with a whole mess of nasty, sour at the core.

Narcissistic manipulation might seem harmless, but it makes the recipient feel demeaned or under hostile attack. One of my clients was married to a master at this technique. Now that they are divorced, he will, for example, bring his daughter back from visitation at midnight and then report my client for not being able to get the child to school on time the next day. Or, he’ll call the girl at eleven at night and talk for a couple hours, and then, again, blame the mom for the tardy appearance at school. She once handed him a pen, and the ink side was down. It made a mark on his hand. He went to the police and told them his ex-wife had tried to attack him with a pen. The police actually came and arrested her and she spent the night in jail. Narcissists can be VERY convincing. They sound so sincere.

Emotional blackmail consists of threats and warnings. Remember, these are often subtle and suggestive, not overt and obvious. “You know,” says the laughing, smiling narcissist, often in front of others, so they’ll laugh and smile, also: “Wives who don’t put out are often put out.” Vague suggestions, sarcastic asides, and even hostile gestures which the narcissist says are just “play,” are ways narcissists abuse others. If you complain about such narcissistic abuse, you’ll be told: YOU’RE TOO SENSITIVE.

Darlene Lancer’s list of characteristics is rather frightening. I found a number of them very sobering because I had been the recipient. In addition to being sobering, there is a sense of understanding which I found, too. Ah, I thought, no wonder I felt so shaky or disregarded or, actually, endangered. I imagine when many of you read this list you’ll come to see that you have also been the victim of narcissistic abuse.

One point I have made to abused spouses for thirty years, and which is made by Darlene Lancer, as well, is: BE CAREFUL. Do not confront someone who is abusing you. Get safe first. Seek help. Just because the abuse has always been ONLY verbal or emotional doesn’t mean it can’t turn on a dime when confronted. (Even the cat I feed every day bites me sometimes. Just saying.)

Emotional blackmail consists of threats and warnings, usually non-specific and obscure. These create FOG, as Ms. Lancer calls it: fear, obligation and guilt. Gas-lighting is a way to make us doubt our own perceptions and intuitions. Competition is a pattern of one-upping another person. Male narcissists love to use negative contrast and often subtly put down the woman they’re with by comparing her to others. If she’s a blonde, the compared one will have thick, shiny black hair. If she’s slender, the compared one will be voluptuous.

The list continues with things that will no doubt sound familiar. All of us have our narcissistic moments. Don’t run away, screaming, unless these things are a consistent pattern of behavior. One snarky remark does not a narcissist make. A pattern of this behavior consistently will reveal a wolf in sheep’s clothing who may well be a narcissistic abuser.

Here are more of the tell-tale signs: lying, sabotage, objectification, withholding — withholding communication, like the silent treatment, or withholding money, or withholding sex –neglect, privacy invasion, stalking, snooping, economic dominance –lack of access to money, everything in the name of the narcissist –isolation, manipulation and broken promises.

Again, don’t confront an abuser. It is not safe. Get help. Therapy is good. Trusted family and friends are good. Seeking police or legal help is tricky. No one is more convincing than a narcissist. Also, narcissists have the most disgusting ability to stay calm when authority is around, especially after they have driven the one being abused into hysterics or fits of rage. Don’t go it alone if you need to press charges.

Sorry for the heaviness of today’s blog. It’s an important topic and the way it relates to anxiety, depression and PTSD is something that convinced me we needed to talk about this.

Be safe. Be well. Knowledge is power.

Love, Susan

A sweet memory for you next week.


August 18, 2018 at 8:46 AM Leave a comment

The Line in the Sand

I am back from my last scheduled trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico and have graduated from The Living School, the two-year study program of The Center for Action and Contemplation ( Will this accomplishment give me an advanced degree or a new job with a six-figure salary? No, I have to laughingly tell you. This program gave me an amazing circle of supportive kindred spirits from Canada to Colorado to California to Alabama to Maine–oh, and Mexico, England and Argentina. This experience introduced me to Guido and Luigi and Theresa, Buddhists, Muslims, Quakers and other Christians of every persuasion. The studies have diminished the egos of everyone who did the work as well as changing the lenses through which we see the world. Our God is bigger and our need to control smaller. We have been introduced to concepts like quantum entanglement and unitive consciousness — both of which re-enforce what we know in our hearts and souls: We are all one, and we are all in this together.

Seven of us who had never met worked for months on a graduation project, our joint thesis, if you will: Barmen Today. The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a response from a minority of German churches to the erosion of morality in pre-war Germany. Barmen Today is our contemporary, contemplative response to the erosion of moral standards and humanitarian, egalitarian rights which is insidiously overtaking us in the United States now.  One important reason why we call ourselves contemplatives is because contemplatives do not attack and create resistance. When we listen to the republicans and the democrats we are bombarded by hateful, divisive speech which centers on how wrong the other is. As contemplatives we simply state the truth as our hearts and souls discern it: All persons are created equal, for example.

Okay, enough introduction. What we received in Albuquerque this week was the full endorsement of Barmen Today by the Center for Action and Contemplation and the whole-hearted support of Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault and Jim Finley, our three core faculty. As of this moment, 9:19 a.m. Saturday, August 11, 2018, 301 people have signed Barmen Today at the link listed at the bottom of the document and 134 people have joined Barmen Today on facebook. You are invited to see if this statement of truth to power speaks for you. As Richard Rohr said so eloquently when talking about Barmen Today at our graduation: “This is our line in the sand.”

In closing, I reinforce the relevance of this work to each of us suffering from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. PTSD folks: Don’t get angry, take action. Depression folks: Don’t be sad, take hope. Anxious folks: Fear not. We are in this together, and we have drawn our line in the sand.  Stand with us. We stand with you. And You. And YOU.

Love, Susan


“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Printed below is Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration. A statement of common purpose in a time of dire
common need, Barmen Today expresses a resolute commitment to equality, dignity, and opportunity for each and every living being, no
exceptions, offered in love and the belief that we humans are capable of more than we’ve achieved so far in fulfilling the spirit of each of
our faith traditions as well as the American dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all.
We hope you will read Barmen Today and join us in support of it.
It is our hope that you and others will gently, thoughtfully, and contemplatively share Barmen Today with your friends, talk about it, post
it in your office, write about it, discuss it in small groups, incorporate it in your daily meditation and/or prayer practices…. It is our hope
that you will help us move, one soul at a time, from a place of division, hatred and discord to a place of greater awareness,
understanding and dialogue; to a place loving and tolerant enough to include and transcend our many differences; to a place where we
live united by our common humanity.
Namaste, friends,
Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Cynthia Bourgeault, Lee Clasper-Torch, Leslye Colvin, Mary Ann Evans, James Finley, Roy Hoagland,
Louise McClelland, Scott McClelland, David Morris, Enrique Otero, Donelle Poling, Richard Rohr, Wendy Shafer, Susan Stocker, Jan
Taylor, Amari Verástegui
All of the signatories are faculty and students of the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation (
“Every forest branch moves differently in the breeze, but as they sway, they connect at the roots.” – Rumi
History is filled with moments which demand words and actions to define fundamental values and commitments. Such moments require
not only humble introspection consistent with contemplative practice but also the concurrent courage to speak prophetically, consistent
with such practice.
In 1934 in Germany, at a time when humanity faced the threats of the tyrannical and evil power of Nazism, when the state church of
Germany affirmed the actions and leadership of its nation to ensure its place of privilege in society, not all voices of opposition remained
silent. Those signing the Barmen Declaration spoke out as an act of “divine obedience” in resistance to the church’s unconscionable
moral compromise, proclaiming their allegiance to a Truth greater than temporal politics.
Time has revealed the Barmen Declaration to be a significant confessional document, a historical statement defining fundamental values
and commitments.
In contemporary America, we face parallel threats and affirmations as prominent and privileged leaders of America’s Christian churches
choose to closely and publicly support the policies and actions of our nation’s leadership – policies and actions irreconcilable with the
pursuit of peace and justice. Many of these policies and actions demean people of color, support hate-filled speech from white
supremacists, ostracize gender minorities, demonize refugees and immigrants, and ignore climate change realities. These policies and
actions embolden others to act similarly; polarize people within and beyond this nation; falsely cloak nationalism, fascism, and racism in
words of universal beliefs and values, distorting and undermining the very bases of many faiths, not the least of which is what it means
to be Christ-affirming.
As contemplatives of diverse ancestries, traditions, and faiths, we hold in common our witness to:
o Love and compassion
o Healing of division
o Promotion and protection of human dignity
o Stewardship of creation
In so holding, we honor and cherish the inherent Divinity existing within all of creation.
Our intention is to stand in unanimity and non-violent resistance to the very real threats to that which we hold in common. Recognizing
that actions of tribalism, fascism, isolationism, and similar divisive initiatives are now happening throughout this world, as citizens of this
nation, together, we seek to provide a common message to reject and resist the policies and actions of our nation and its leaders when
they run counter to our common holdings.
As contemplatives of diverse faiths, we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,”
warned Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Precisely because we want to remain faithful to both the
Divine which we seek to understand and the Love which we seek to live, we choose to not be silent. We choose to speak and act.
We have a common message in this time of common need:
o To the extent that our government affirms the basic dignity of all people and works deliberately to provide equal access
to law, economic opportunity, education, healthcare, and a healthy environment, we will be loyal citizens. But to the
extent it promotes factionalism, racism, fascism, unequal treatment in law enforcement, gender bias, or harm to the
poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the unwanted, the refugee, and the environment, we declare that we will nonviolently
reject and resist.
o Our security comes not from gun ownership or military might; it does not come from oppression of the many for the
enrichment of the few; it does not come from degrading others who are unlike ourselves. As contemplatives of many
faiths, we seek the welfare of all our brothers and sisters, including those of differing perspectives and opinions. But to
the extent that current policies and actions demand allegiance to the tyranny of the privileged and the few, we declare
we will non-violently reject and resist.
o We seek to speak the truth in love and to challenge the prevailing ideological and political convictions which do not
align with the Divinity of love. We understand that free speech, pursuit of happy and healthy living, and freedom of
religion lay in the Constitutional foundation of this nation’s history and in our hopes of securing and protecting the dignity
of all humanity. We believe in the full and equal exercise of these rights by all people. To the degree that our leaders
shun these rights and their equal exercise, we declare we will non-violently reject and resist.
o We embrace separation of the powers of Church and State and urge all to continue to embrace it. And while individuals
may vote as their conscience dictates, it is blatantly false to proclaim that any elected or appointed leader of this nation,
including the President, represents more than a person charged with the duty to serve all of the people of this nation;
it is blatantly false to proclaim that he is anointed or especially chosen of God to lead this nation; it is blatantly false to
conclude that he is somehow above the constraints of moral and legal scrutiny. To such positions, we declare we will
non-violently reject and resist.
Therefore, the undersigned hereby commit to avail themselves of contemplative, non-violent action and ask spiritual and faith leaders
and followers across the United States to join us in works of “divine obedience” in resistance against current and future policies and
actions which marginalize any human being of any color, class, race, religion, disability, or gender; which threaten the stewardship of
creation; which embrace evil rather than good and hate rather than love. We ask you to reject and resist the words, policies, and actions
of exclusion, denigration, hatred, fascism, and nationalism.
We invite all who are able to support Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration to hold it in a circle of unity of faith,
hope, and love, and to stand steadfast in non-violently rejecting and resisting until our nation chooses to serve all people and all of creation
with the Divine love to which all are entitled.
Nothing has ever been more imperative.
To join us and sign Barmen Today, click on this site:
We invite you to use Barmen Today as a way to engage in contemplative practice to increase compassion and decrease suffering, both
for yourself and others. Contemplative practices come in many shapes and forms, all of which provide access to communion,
connection, and increased awareness. Activist contemplative practices include bearing witness to social justice issues and generative
practices include varieties of prayer. Tonglen is an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion. To see a guided explanation of
Tonglen, go to
To learn more about the historical event of the signing of the original Barmen Declaration in 1934, go to and
If you have any questions or wish to share any thoughts concerning Barmen Today, please email us.

Please email Susan if you’d like a pdf of BarmenToday to share or send people to the link to read it as a petition. Thank you most sincerely.




August 11, 2018 at 10:28 AM Leave a comment

Staying Sane in Insane Times

“So, how can we hold onto our own mental health in the face of the” dangers being presented to us and the frenetic chaos in which we live? (I changed the end of the question to take the emphasis off one person. The author of this question is Bandy X Lee, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. Her particular concern, as a psychiatrist and the organizer of the Yale Duty to Warn Conference, is the mental health of the current president of the United States. I wanted to broaden our focus, though, because no one person, not even Donald Trump, can create all this chaos and insanity without a lot of help. We’ll concentrate, therefore, on how to stay sane in these insane days and times.)

I’ve been repeating my main theme every week now: Those of us who suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety are particularly vulnerable to the contagious contamination from the fear, guilt, nastiness, helplessness and hopelessness being shoveled onto us day and night by the media, both social media and news media. We are being hard hit, my friends. It is as though we were already up to our noses in the middle of a raging river and now an avalanche of more water is coming our way.

Dr. Lee actually has three specific ideas for how we can hold on, keep our heads, and continue to function under these adverse conditions. Interestingly, none of them include turning off the television. Last Thursday evening I watched Rachel Maddow, and then the hour of news following her, and then a half hour of the news that followed that news. I don’t know if any of you have ever had gel polish on your fingernails, but it is tough and indestructible. Well, in that two and a half hours, I picked the polish off six of my ten nails. At 12:30 on Tuesday I had paid $35, to get that polish put on my nails. It was supposed to last two or three weeks. Hm . . . .nerve-wracking to watch the news? Not to mention the computer news, which doesn’t even begin to compare to the traumatic absolutes of my email: SOCIAL SECURITY IS DEAD was one which particularly stopped my heart this week. Um, that is how I pay my bills. I was explaining to my granddaughter this week that since I started working at age 16 I have paid into a savings account with the federal government which is called Social Security. All those taxes which were taken out of my checks over the last 56 years are coming back to me now that I’m of an age where I might not be able to work  or might not have the abilities to continue doing my job. Those things aren’t true in my case, but I am the exception, not the rule. My “insurance policy” with the federal government, Social Security, is now the basis of my livelihood and the way I buy her Dr. Pepper and Haribou Gummy Bears. It is the way I pay for her brother’s trumpet rental every month and send Southern Poverty Law Center, the Environmental Defense Fund, Books for Africa, and politicians from Hawaii to Montana to Ohio donations because I believe them to be supporting equality and the values I hold dear: every living person counts and deserves equal respect, opportunity and dignity. NO EXCEPTIONS.

So here are the three ideas suggested for the maintenance of sanity:

#1: Don’t match the emotions running rampant with our own. If fear or lies or exaggerations or injustice come at us, we have to maintain our faith and truth and balance and justice. We cannot give in to or be swayed by what is wrong and does harm.

#2: Be clearer than ever about our core values, principles, and beliefs and rely on them for guidance and comfort especially when being triggered and fearful. Challenge every day the natural inclination to feel overwhelmed, fatigued or numb. Just because we hear something that is wrong a thousand times doesn’t make it right.

#3: Fear is our enemy. Hold on to realism and optimism. Never doubt that what is good and right and just and true will prevail in the end.

If you would like to read the entire article, here’s the link:….Inside the Mind of Donald Trump

If you would like to read even more, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump is the book that resulted from the Yale University Duty to Warn Conference.

August 6th through 10th I’ll be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is the final session of my two-year study program with Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. We Living School students were invited to create a final project to congeal what we had learned over the two years. Barmen Today, which you will be able to find and join on Facebook, will be unveiled during that week in Albuquerque. It is a statement of a moral floor below which we — many of the Living school participants, and most, if not all of you–will not sink. We refuse. On Saturday, August 11th, I’ll put Barmen Today on this blog along with the directions or link for you to join, should you so desire.

In the meantime, let us keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs. Faith trumps fear. Trumps, get it??

Love and encouragement to each of you, Susan






August 4, 2018 at 9:59 AM 1 comment

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