Skyline, Accompaniment - 2012

By Diane Pendola

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I am late in getting Spring Earthlines to you. My life has been full of that busy-ness which can drown out the "still, small voice" inside. In fact I have had more than a few days of feeling at sea, without aid of anchor, rudder or sail. Funny, isn't it, how one moment you are riding a wave and the next moment you are being pulled out to sea by an under-tow beyond your power to escape?

So, here I am at a Carmelite Monastery on Good Friday, writing this Earthlines to you. I feel some shore here, some ground. Here at Carmel there is "liturgy" from the Greek word meaning "the people's work". We sing psalms together, read from sacred scripture, enter the silence and emerge from silence nourished and known.

This common liturgy is so good for me now: to feel accompanied in my own sense of fragility and powerlessness; to feel the universality of suffering within each of its particular and very personal guises, intimately experienced at the center of each tender heart.

Teresa and I have attended this Holy Week Liturgy every year since she left this monastery 27 years ago. I always find Tenebrae, derived from an ancient Christian tradition of lamentation, psalms and scriptural commentary, to be particularly moving. This Good Friday morning was no exception. The psalms and the lamentations spoke to me, not only about the trial of Jesus 2000 years ago, but also about the court trials endured by the women I work with at the Central California Women's Facility:

You know the disgrace I suffer.
You know all my oppressors.
Reproach has broken my heart,
My strength is gone. (Psalm 69)

At this morning's Tenebrae, I put myself in their place, at a court trial where, whether I was innocent or guilty, the person being put on display for all the public to see was no one I recognized myself to be.

More than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Mighty are those who attack me with lies,
forcing me to restore what I did not steal. (psalm 69)

I imagined myself both innocent and guilty, under the scrutiny of those without compassion, without understanding of the suffering I've experienced in my life, without desire to know the depth of my pain.

How long shall evil triumph?
How long shall cruelty shamelessly prevail? (psalm 94)

The Good Friday liturgy recounts the trial of Jesus by the authorities of his day. It recounts his betrayal by his followers and the grief and despair of his family and friends. The death penalty was delivered to Jesus, a horrific death by crucifixion.

I lie forgotten in a cell/bars make shadows on my face/ while justice gags in fettered courts (lamentation)


Corrupted judges who do evil under cover of law
Who harass the good and condemn the blameless,
These can never be your friends. (Psalm 94)

Not that I call these women I work with blameless. Rather, I also feel the blame within myself, within the human community that leaves them feeling abandoned and without human worth.

I am strengthless now, Like one abandoned among the dead, Like the slain in their graves, Like those unremembered and cut off from your care. I am cast to the bottomless deeps. (Psalm 88)

So this morning I felt the suffering of my friends imprisoned at CCWF. I felt the suffering everywhere, my own included.

O my people. O my children. Look I hang upon a cross today.

During the silence, and in my room before and after liturgy, I practice Tonglen. Lest this Earthlines sound too delineated by a Christian frame, Tonglen is an ancient Buddhist practice of experiencing first one's own suffering- touching oneself with kindness, spaciousness and care- and then slowly expanding awareness of this suffering to include others who might be experiencing the same. Breathing in their suffering I realize that as I accompany them, I am accompanied. Suffering is not my personal property nor am I alone in the breaking of my heart. I become willing to give out all the warmth and love, compassion and forgiveness others need in order to feel free and whole and at peace. I practice this for my friends in prison and in the process I feel our common heart. When I am at the prison, I try to tell the women what witnesses they are to me of the strength, light, tenacity and divinity at the core of the human spirit. I'm not sure they believe me as I tell them what I see in them, how they have endured and found a way through the crucible of incarceration to the inextinguishable light within. I ask myself, "Have I even found that light in me"? I think maybe it is a false question because the "me" is the very construct that obscures the light which is not "me" but the very Life force that burns away all obstructions to itself.

meditation gazabo

I feel that this burning away of defense and obscurations is some of the reason I have felt at "sea" lately (to mix metaphors). But this moment, having washed upon this shore, I do not feel so fragile or anxious or sad or alone. On this Good Friday I feel accompanied. I feel part of a living community. And I feel in communion. There are reasons these ancient traditions endure. It is good to journey together.

©Diane Pendola, Spring 2012. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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