Most Scandanavians, particularly those who grow up in the upper mid-west, are Lutherans through and through.  It’s born and bred and a part of the gene pool, just something “we are” like having a sing-songy accent and Nordic features and a liking for pickled herring. It inhabits the community.  Even though I grew up in California, we were Lutheran.  You betcha.  In fact, if you are old enough to remember the Mrs. Olson of the early television commercials, she was our pastor’s daughter.  Really.  Or rather the actress who played Mrs. Olson.  That’s California for you.

We went to the local Lutheran Church until we went to the Presbyterian for a time.  And that was because it was just a few doors down on the corner and I liked to hang out with Reverend Hudson  who had a lovely Victory Garden by the side of the church and my best friend Peggy  went to that church, so we were in Sunday School and church camp and choir together. And it didn’t hurt that I won the essay contest when I was ten for writing the best piece on What Love Means and got a silver dollar from Reverend Hudson who read it out loud at the big service and Georgia Higgins had a hissy-fit because she thought for sure she would win.  But then we were back at Our Saviors where the ladies made lefsa each Christmas and Pastor Bjorke was an inspiration.  In Long Beach, I don’t remember another Lutheran Church except for the Missouri Synod which was where the Germans would worship.  Here in Fergus Falls there are 16!  SIXTEEN LUTHERAN CHURCHES!  You could spend four months of Sundays going around and sampling. That’s Minnesota for you.

I have always had a faith.  Just like my daughter, Noelle, I was just born with a natural yearning and fascination with all that is holy and mystical in the heavens and the earth.   And because I took it so seriously it was doubly disturbing to have my childish enthusiasm dashed to bits of embarrassment at an early age.

When I was seven or there-abouts we visited family friends who lived in what seemed to me an enchanted canyon in a remote area of Orange County, California.  Surrounding what had been an old rustic lodge were tree shaded and hedged walkways amid enormous aviaries. It was magical.  And inside the lodge they had created an Indian museum which commemorated the tribe that had once flourished in that area.  I was mesmerized.

The friends told me that the Indians of that sacred place had been shocked when they first saw the new people at the Mission (probably San Juan Capistrano given the proximity) go indoors and bow down to worship their god.  They believed that one must go into nature and raise their arms to the sky and look up into the heavens and let the sun and the rain touch them and say “thank you”.

I was stunned!  And my seven-year-old epiphany seemed enormous. It became so big in my mind, in fact, that I could think of nothing else all the way home.  And I couldn’t wait to get to Sunday School and reveal this new truth, and of course at that age I didn’t think in terms of Evangelical Enlightment or Divine Revelation – but simply that I  had something so big and exciting to tell.  So when the time came I wiggled in my seat as I remember, and my hand shot up and I stood and took a deep breath and told with all the enthusiasm of my being – this new thrilling idea and even, I fear, suggested we try it!

Given a more enlightened Sunday School teacher it could have been a “teaching moment”.  Instead I was left confused and dashed and embarrassed by my misplaced audacity and suddenly a bit suspicious of the whole religious experience.

But I persevered.  In my youth I even tried Catholicism for a time because it seemed so serious and sure of itself and steeped in history, although ironically it represented those very same Catholics who worshiped with bowed heads in the San Juan Capistrano Mission.  And then in  college I embraced existentialism with a passion and acknowledged the absurdity and uncertainty of life  (but always with the more positive slant of Sisyphus who kept rolling that rock up the hill no matter how many times it slid backwards).  And then I discovered meditation and my life for the past forty years has been influenced by a wide and universal range of esoteric thought and  practice.  So now I can go outside and raise my arms to the universe, sit in my little meditation nook AND shop around for four months of Sundays.

Just before we moved to Minnesota (and the whole point behind this tale of personal faith) I discovered through my friend Mara, a spiritual practice which I liked more than doing yoga or even Tai Chi. It’s about fifteen minutes of physical “moves” and a bit of chanting and Tibetan syllables and I simply felt the energy and peace and even got to raise my arms to the universe.  It’s called Shiva Garuda and Lama Nobu, the Tibetan monk who most beautifully raises his arms to the heavens, explains that in today’s world we face challenges and obstacles and inbalance in our self and in our world. One could confidently say something profound here like – “Duh”. That’s self-evident.  And he describes it as Dragon energy which must be transformed from turbulent to peaceful as symbolized by the great Phoenix Bird of myth and potent symbol of many cultures.  The Phoenix, we know, rises out of the ashes so that the old and turbulent will become new and peaceful.  And bear with me for here I’m not proselityzing, but merely setting the stage for a personal story of omen and faith.

The first day we arrived at Mt Faith, we were met by Laura, our real estate agent who after welcoming us, apologized for the strange, sort-of “creepy” mask that the previous  owners had left upon the wall.  I noticed it and first, thought it an unusual and inexplicable “discard”.  Gift?  Then I acknowledged and assured Laura that it was okay as I rather liked folk art.  I later, just for the fun of it thought to google Indonesian Masks and, here my heart pitty-pats a bit just to remember the moment – I discovered that this gifted mask happens to be the embodiment of the Phoenix and is called Garuda.  It is prominent in many cultures – Tibetan, Hindu, Asian in general, as well as Christian.


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