I've been on the road for six weeks, traveling nearly 7,000 miles across the USA, and am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed in Culver City, CA, tomorrow night.
I've written this reflection because it's been 14 months since Kathleen "graduated" and July 20 would have been her 58th birthday; and I feel as if Kathleen has been with me throughout this journey of love.
I've been traveling in the ministry since Memorial Day, sharing with Quakers my concern about the interfaith movement and the Parliament of the World's Religions (see laquaker.blogspot.com).
It's been a long, physically exhausting, but spiritually rewarding journey. During the past six weeks I've given presentations in San Jose, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Colorado Springs, Denver, Billings (MT), Sioux Falls (SD), Minneapolis, Des Moines, Pittsburgh, Princeton, Roanoke, Nashville, Little Rock, and at Intermountain Yearly Meeting in New Mexico and at the Friends General Conference Gathering in Bowling Green, OH. Next week I plan to give presentations at Pacific Yearly Meeting in Claremont, CA, inshallah.
During this amazing journey I have learned a lot about my fellow Americans by staying in people's homes and learning first-hand what was happening in their region. Everyone I went I have been treated with generosity and kindness, for which I am very grateful.
I have tried to reciprocate this kindness by picking up hitchhikers along my travels. From them, I have had glimpses of what life feels like to those who are not as fortunate as we are. A month ago, not far from Flagstaff, I picked up a student exploring the US by hitchhiking (as I did when I left college), but most of those I picked up were middle aged men who are the itinerant underemployed--men with limited skills and educations, who take whatever odd jobs they can find, and have no permanent address. Odd jobs are scarce, and the police don't take kindly to those without a fixed domicile. Few Americans pick up hitchhikers these days and few seem to take seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 25: "As you do to the least of these, you do for me."
I am glad I picked up these itinerant strangers: they have all been good company who made my long hours of driving more pleasant.
Speaking of the homeless, please hold in your prayers Melissa and Shaun, the homeless couple in Torrance who was very dear to Kathleen and who have adopted me as their "father in Christ." (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEXJZ749_5g). Melissa just celebrated he 33rd birthday and is in good spirits, despite her worsening disability. I'm sorry to report her wheel chair needs new treads, and Medical won't cover the cost ($120), so help is needed. If you feel led, send a card to her PO box: Melissa Earnhart, 1820 W Carson St. #202 PMB 116 Torrance CA 90501.
Despite these economically hard times, I have good news to report about the interfaith movement. There are many signs that America has become a more tolerant and religiously pluralistic society. Even in small communities like Billings and Sioux Falls, there are interfaith councils and activities. In Nashville, Tennessee, the "buckle of the Bible belt," there are over 10,000 Kurdish Muslims and they have plans to construct a mega-mosque. Some who cling to the "old-time religion" are resisting this change, but many mainstream Christians (including the Methodists and Quakers) are supporting the Muslims.
I find it encouraging that many heartland Americans are making a real effort to reach out to people of other faiths in the spirit of friendship and cooperation.
There were other levels to this trek besides my interfaith ministry. Kathleen and I planned to make a road trip like this one during in the summer in which she was diagnosed with cancer. We had hoped to visit national parks and Friends as we wended our way to Pendle Hill, the Quaker center where we met and fell in love, and where planned to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
Since Kathleen shared my concern about the interfaith movement, I felt as if her spirit has been with me on this journey of interfaith. (I was also accompanied in spirit by a support group from my Quaker meeting, who kept in touch with me by email and phone, and held me in the Light, and for whom I am very grateful.)
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Kathleen's father in Eminence, MO. I was deeply moved by the gracious and loving welcome I received from my father-in-law and his wife Edibeth. I also received a gracious welcome from Ginger Woods, Kathleen's room mate at Smith College. I stayed with Ginger and her family in Haverford, PA. It felt wonderful to be shown hospitality and love by those who loved Kathleen, and to realize that such love can deepen after a loved one passes to the next stage of existence. It is as if Kathleen's spirit is drawing us closer together!
I want to honor Kathleen's memory by recommending two books that have helped me this summer by providing evidence that there is life beyond what we know on this material plane of existence:
"Surviving Death" by Scott Degenhardt. Written in a popular style, but encompassing a lot of research, this book is based on actual cases of people who have had brushes with death, and helps us to understand what the next life may be like. This book was lent to me by a Quaker in Nashville who shares my conviction that this life is a prelude to eternal life. It addresses many important questions, including why there are so many religions. (The simple answer, according to one who had an after-death experience, is that multiple religions are needed because people have diverse spiritual needs and temperaments.)
"Continuing life: the evidence of the survival of death through mediumship" by Angela Howard, a British Quaker. Her book is also based on experiences of those who have been in contact with loved ones who have passed. The intro is by David Hodges, a British Friend who founded the Friends Fellowship of Healing (which has produced a number of useful pamphlets on spiritual healing, grieving, etc.). Hodges is a biological scientist and was a university lecturer for many years and he obviously takes psychical research seriously.
I am wondering if any of you reading this have had experiences with loved ones who have passed. I'd love to hear your stories, and may use them in an article/pamphlet I am working on.
I have felt in touch with Kathleen spiritually over the past year and often commune with her in prayer and meditation. I know that my life has been changed as a result of her spiritual presence, just as the lives of Jesus' disciples were changed by his death and resurrection. I have been led to continue Kathleen's pastoral work and serve as clerk of pastoral care in my Meeting--a role I have never played until Kathleen's death. I have become a better listener and more able to discern people's spiritual states and conditions. I attribute this new sensitivity and calling to Kathleen's abiding spirit, and to God's amazing grace.
The most memorable psychical experience I have had occurred a few weeks after Kathleen's death. I went to the DMV to transfer the title of Kathleen's Honda into my name alone so that I could sell it. I arrived early and was first in line so that I could avoid the crowds. When the DMV opened, I entered the nearly silent office and the black woman who was supposed to serve me was singing a familiar hymn: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Deeply moved, I sang along with her! When we finished, I told her this was the hymn that my wife and I had sung every morning of her cancer journey. We both fell into a moment of silent reflection and felt a spiritual presence that could only have been Kathleen's. As we went about our routine business, we began to share from our spiritual lives. The black woman told her about the challenge of being a Christian and working at the DMV--how hard it was sometime to be patient, loving, etc. I shared with her some of my challenges after Kathleen's death. It was as if we were both in church, not in the office of the DMV!
I have had other similar experiences that have convinced me that Kathleen lives on, and continues to inspire me and others to live in harmony with God's boundless love. I hope that you also feel the presence of those who have passed on but are willing to inspire and guide us, if we need their help.
Yours in peace and friendship,Anthony ManousosNew home phone: 310-889-0784Mobile: 310-755-4497 New address: 3817 Albright AveLos Angeles (Culver City) CA 90066-1161New blog: http://laquaker.blogspot.com/"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the liveries they wear here make them strangers."--William Penn.