Okay Shaman Girls, here is our very first Lovey Project and we are starting BIG. Don’t know what a Lovey Project is? Then read up, and come on back to join us. Don’t worry, we’ll wait. Here we go!
My grandmother was extremely, devoutly Catholic. So why’s her granddaughter on a crusade to support a Buddhist priest?
Gram lived perched on top of Mt. Washington, a stone’s throw away from her church, St. Mary’s of the Mount. She blessed herself every time she started a car. She went to Mass several times a week. And she dragged my brother and I to 3am Mass anytime my parents deposited us at her house for the weekend. Yes, you read that right. 3am.
Gram spoke often of her favorite priests and went to visit the sisters – the nuns – regularly. She would bring them food or her infamous homemade chocolate chip cookies. She believed that it was her duty to tend to the priests and sisters who in turn tended to her close-knit, working class, Irish Catholic community. You’d be taken care of by the church when there was a death or illness or you were having a hard time feeding or clothing your children. You give and receive, a beautiful symbiosis.
When one of the priests, Father Anthony, returned to his native India, he and Gram corresponded by mail. I found it exotic and exciting that she’d receive letters from another continent from a holy man who still cared about her and her life. In one letter, Father Anthony tucked a transparent veiny heart-shaped leaf with a small cutout of Baby Jesus glued to its center. Every once in awhile, after I had left for college, she would tuck some religious artifact into my bags on visits home. Her gesture was touching, and also caused a bit of eye rolling on my part, as I was not religious or spiritual at the time. But I knew that Gram felt these talismans would protect me and the pretty, somewhat mysterious leaf intrigued me enough that I stuck it in an elegant frame and carted it with me from house to house through many, many moves.
Fast forward to a husband, a baby, a home of our own, a spiritual path, and several decades later…
My husband commented on the leaf. “You know that is a leaf from the Bodhi Tree right?” My mouth dropped open.
We had named our son Bodhi after the tree that Buddha sat under when he became enlightened – an enlightenment that followed a struggle. For days, Buddha was tempted by pleasure and pelted with lightening, wind, heavy rain, flaming rocks, evil monsters. Yet when Buddha was eventually still and arrows were launched at him, they transformed into flowers.
Bodhi. We loved what it meant: “enlightenment” or “awakening.” Hardship can be transformed into beauty. We can be at peace in the midst of challenge. We can look at life from many points of view. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who refuses to enter nirvana (heaven in my Gram’s terms) until all beings become awakened. Not too big a name for a newborn boy, right? Now I was holding my own little Bodhisattva in my arms, even though I had never seen a Bodhi tree or had any idea that I possessed a leaf from one from my dear Gram.
More years stream by and Joan Amaral, a Buddhist priest, appears on the scene in Bubbleville as the founding teacher of the Marblehead Zen Center. For those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting Joan, you know that she truly is a delight. She is wise and kind. And at any moment, she might burst into laughter over whatever just came out of her own mouth. She has that not so serious and yet deadly serious vibe about her.
There’s a buzz around town about her arrival and since I practice meditation, I decide to check out Joan and the Center. I have no idea what Zen Buddhism is, but I crave a quiet place to sit in community. I ask Joan if a “non-conformist” like myself is welcome and her merry laugh rings forth, “Absolutely!” Zen Buddhism is not my main path in life, and yet I am welcome,
with open arms and a big heart.
Joan’s laugh, her very presence, sends roots that start sinking into my heart and into the heart of many others in our community. She is that Bodhi Tree, where anyone can come with their troubles or heartache and find a welcoming ear or a few moments of peace. She is a Bodhisattva who sees the Buddha (God nature) in all she meets. Like so many others, I am grateful that Joan is in my life. Joan comes from her heart, sees the world through a beautiful lens, and is deeply devoted to alleviating the suffering of all beings in the world. Now it seems there was more than one Bodhi in my world.
Joan comes from another tradition than my Gram and has a different spiritual practice than myself. Yet this does not matter. What ignites me is seeing someone who has utter conviction in alleviating all suffering. I support that – in my own life and now I am on a mission to raise enough money to support Joan so that she can do her work without the pressure of having to “make a living” outside her calling. So, in the spirit of Gram and all of those people in our lives who have reached out and taken care of us or others, I say YES. Yes, let’s help support Joan.
Will you say yes to community and spirit and generosity and help grow another Bodhi tree? You can say YES by clicking on the PayPal button below. All money will go directly to Joan.
To make a ONE-TIME DONATION, click the DONATE button below and enter the amount:
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You can also say YES by passing the word onto others who might support our mission.
Whether you can donate $1, one time, or can contribute hundreds of dollars each month, our intent is to attract $1500/month to cover Joan’s living expenses. Then Joan can offer prayers, sit in silence, off Zen to inmates, hold support groups for people in recovery, and open the Zen Center doors to anyone who wants to enter for free.
Joan supplied the perfect end to this story when she recently nestled the Marblehead Zen Center in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, open to what might evolve between the two traditions, between Zen and Christianity, between my budding practice and my Gram’s faith. May we all be so open to wisdom, collaboration, understanding and respect.
Let’s rock this one, Shaman Girls. Open our hearts, send our love to Joan. We all deserve to be loved as much as our Loveys.
Many, many thanks from my heart. With hands palm to palm, I see the good and the God in you.
Yours in chocolate chip cookies,