Last month, my beloved dog Georgie (who is the keeper of my heart, without whose presence I simply cannot breathe), had a brush with death, or so it seemed. She has an abnormal bone growth thing happening on her front left forepaw and when the X-rays came back the doctor was white as a sheet. He said it could be three things, one of which was bone cancer, which is apparently so aggressive that no sooner is it diagnosed that the dog dies, in a matter of two or three months usually. I got the news on April 10th, 2017. For the next 22 days, until I met with a specialist in LA, I journeyed through a unique spiritual space where on the one hand I was in the throws of an agony so profound it would literally bring me to my knees, and on the other, I would be enveloped in a faith so deep that it felt like seeing God. Somehow I could sense that Georgie dying at this time was not in my cards and yet the doctors said to prepare myself--something mysterious was going on. We went to LA where I had to go to my residential session at school first, and where I had to hide my terror and apply myself to my studies. I'm amazed at my own resilience, but again, the whole time I kept feeling like there was a force holding me in safety, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, kept meditating, kept doing my work, kept the faith, literally. The night before we went to see the specialist who would know in an instant whether it was cancer or not, I stayed with my best friend Maryam. I was looking around in her room and noticed a few random items laying near her window on a shelf. They were totally random items and I was intrigued because she usually has things placed with purpose. One of the items was a silver pendant that had a vertical sword surrounded in the upper part of it by a circle and what looked like a family crest. There was a sideways lion and around the circle, it said in Latin "Deus Juvat." I wondered what it might mean, God what? I asked Maryam about it and she said that stuff just appeared out of nowhere and she didn't know what to do so she just left them there.
The next morning we went to the doctor and Maryam dropped me off while she looked for parking. My heart was pounding against my chest, I was so scared. Georgie and I checked in and sat waiting and Maryam came in a bit later and sat next to us. Then she jumped up and said she forgot her blazer. When she came back she was wearing the pendant on her blazer. I saw it instantly and immediately asked her about it again. I told her I looked at it last night and what the hell does Deus Juvat mean anyway? So she Googled it and it means God Assists. My heart jumped into my mouth at that moment, both of us were stunned, and waves of comprehension washed over us both. A few minutes later we were in the exam room and within a few more minutes the doctor was telling me that based on a series of facts surrounding Georgie's case, he didn't think it was cancer but that we should do the bone biopsy anyway to rule it out conclusively. I was transported and such deep and powerful faith arose in my heart. I felt like I finally understood all the stuff about God "testing" us. It's not that he's testing us, it's that he's generating in us the immense power of faith that can only be accessed through the experience of agony because the opposite of agony is mercy and you can't understand mercy until you are on your knees begging God for it. For some people, this kind of stuff is Christian-y and Bible-y, but it's not for me. I am not speaking here of a patriarchal Christian God. I'm speaking of a "currency of mercy" that runs through the world and is there for us if only we could see it. For me, this experience brought me face to face with God's mercy and I can no longer see things in the old way. When we got back home to Hawaii safely, I wrote this prose poem about my experience. Now, I go through my days as though flying on the wings of a majestic eagle, seriously, as cheesy as that sounds, I totally do. And every time I get scared or I doubt, I remind myself: Deus Juvat!
I went inside Mary Oliver’s poems and found my astonishment there. I became attentive to the dancing letters forming words, forming eternal oceans I could scarcely contain.
I contain multitudes? How?
Recently I saw God’s face inside a room inside a building inside a too big city. It was shining and bowling me over with endless waterfalls of laughter and freedom. I was tiny, being held up in God’s giant hand as more smiles than seem possible smiled and smiled and smiled upon me like ever expanding circles of love.
In the center of all the action, my best friend’s newly discovered silver pendant cried out joyfully: Deus Juvat! and the mysteriousness of confirmation swirled around and around.
All around me westerners praise Rumi and it gladdens my hairy goat heart, hear how it bleats and bleats with drunken joy! I tip toed through the landscapes of endless poems and had tea with radiance inside the reddest rose.
My red-haired guru The Virgin Queen sings to me softly about mercy and justice; across the sea, in another time, the one whose name is writ in water confirms it all, just as Shakyamuni confirmed his own self-nature when he placed the tips of his fingers on the earth’s body under the bodhi tree.
Radical beauty is the road through mercy—once you’ve seen it you never again long for the past or the future. You give up trying to know or understand or find out.
As Hafiz advises you make peace with the clouds of springtime, you join in the dance of dust particles in the ray of light, as Roshi says, you hold your practice lightly. Attention brings you back again and again to God’s infinite mercy. When you are finally old enough, you stop resisting, you make your bed right there inside the heart of mercy and you never leave again.
Paying attention to your own life you start to see everything. You stop feeling bad about your unique gifts. You stop diminishing your self. Little by little you purify so that a well written poem can fly around in the cathedral of your soul with ease. You lighten up and realize that the fiery voice of the ancient goddess has always been saying: Deus Juvat, you were just too self-obsessed to believe that you were never alone.