The month of March is said to come in like a lion and out like a lamb, and as I write this, longing for lambs and warmth, the temperature with wind-chill here in the mid-Atlantic hovers in the low double digits, expecting yet more snow and the same dreary, cloudy, leaden skies that have pursued us all winter. I’m exhausted. Where is Spring? Where are the flowers and shafts of sunlight pouring into the depression of our souls? Usually the forsythia have bloomed since February, with crocuses peeping through the snow and teasing us with hints of warmer days. Today, it takes all my strength to maintain optimism, and now as I read of the tornado that devastated a swath of Alabama my heart twists in grief for people and for the helpless animals, hurt and harmed and killed, horses, dogs, cattle, cats. So I write today to remind myself of joy.
This is the season of Lent, when we are invited to enter a period of self-examination, which sounds like an invitation to self-criticism and abysmal rejection. But that’s wrong. It’s an invitation to remember that God is always calling to us, loving and caring. The question is, Can we hear? Pain is not the only microphone to God’s deaf world. God speaks to us in joy. Someone once wrote, “Pain is the touchstone of the spiritual life.” But I disagree. I think joy is the touchstone to the spiritual.
I will tell two stories of what I mean.
Thirteen years ago I bought my beautiful half-Arab mare. I met her when she was only three years old, and riding her that day in New Mexico, I—an experienced rider since childhood—thought how unusual she was. I had never met a horse so attuned to me, so willing, so trusting, so courageous. And so kind! Yet she was still a baby. I remember our small group cantering out on the magnificent wide mesa, when we came across the rotting carcass of a cow. The other horses, older and more experienced, lunged and snorted, backing and rearing, refused to walk pass the dead body. While Spring, my horse, stepped forward with ears pricked, frightened but trusting, past the rotten smell . The other horses followed. That impressed me.
The stable owner wanted me to buy her, but I didn’t want a horse. I live in Washington DC, and at that time spent only a few months a year in New Mexico. The horse would always be where I was not, whether I kept her in Virginia or in New Mexico. Instead, a young girl bought her. However, the young owner let me lease the horse when I was in New Mexico so I thought I had the best of all worlds, a horse with none of the responsibility.
One December morning, back in Washington, I woke up with a clear “knowing,” that Spring would be sold and move to Portland, Oregon. I would never see her again! I phoned the stable in New Mexico.
“If Spring is ever for sale,” I said, “please let me know.”
“Oh,” cried Katherine, the stable owner, in surprise. “Just yesterday her owner told me that she has to move to Portland, Oregon, and needs to sell Spring.”
I put down an option on the horse, and agreed to spend the month of February in New Mexico. At the end of that month I would decide if I wanted the horse. I rode her many times that February (the weather can be lovely in winter there), and over and over I came to the firm decision: “No. I pass. It makes no sense for me to buy a horse.” But no sooner was the decision made than I would feel that tap on the shoulder that I associate with the brush of an angel’s wing —Think again. That’s wrong! I was 68 years old. How long could I ride? How could I afford a horse? On and on the negatives blew about in my brain. Until one day I remembered: “All things are possible with God. If the Beloved wants me to have this horse, to keep her will be provided.”
I remembered another occasion, when years earlier I had been praying and praying for direction in my life: What was I to do? Where was I to go? I had felt myself at a crossroads, with no insight in how to be of service or even any use to anyone. On that occasion, too, I was at my little retreat in New Mexico, and I remember waking up one morning again with a clear “Knowing:” New York City, Six months! And the YES that I associate with the Voice of God. It was, of course, immediately followed by doubt: NYC! I can’t afford New York. What would I do there? And then I reminded myself, “Ok, all things are possible with God.” That morning I phoned the only three people I knew in that city. “I’m thinking of moving to NYC for four or five months,” I said, already negotiating the time. “I’m looking for an apartment to sublet.”
One friend told me to call her friend, Charlotte. I left a message on Charlotte’s phone number at work. It turned out that Charlotte was a realtor. That morning at the mailboxes in her building on 66th and Third Avenue, a woman saw Charlotte and introduced herself. “You’re in real estate,” she said to Charlotte. “My friend Mary just died and the family wants to rent her two bedroom, rent-controlled apartment for six months—if you know of anyone…” Charlotte went to her office, and there found my phone call about needing a rental for six months.
It was in New York City during those months that I learned about my gifts as a psychic and medium and began to give readings. I also became friends with Charlotte, a beautiful young woman, who, it turned out, was dying. We spent hours talking of spiritual matters and of what happens when we die. A few months later, she was gone. How do we know when we are in service, really?
This brings me to joy. I bought my horse, and she has given me more joy in the these years than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.
God speaks to me in joy. In a lift of the heart. In happiness and delight. If I have a hard decision to make, I place the alternatives in the palms of my hands. Then, eyes closed, I weigh my hands, palms up. Which feels lighter? Which brings a flood of pleasure to my heart? Which is dutiful, hard, difficult? Always I must choose the one with joy.
I know a woman who believed if she wanted something, God would reject it, and if God wanted it (whatever “it” was), the path would be painful, rough. She didn’t know that God puts desires in our hearts in order that we accomplish them. She didn’t know that the love of the Beloved is always expressed by gladness and delight. And if something is taken away—and life is full of loss of homes, of friends, of loved one, loss of ideals and ambitions, loss of dreams, loss on loss— always something comes thrusting up, like Springtime flowers, to offer us bouquets of joy. We have cavalries of angels surrounding us, helping, serving us. The point is, can we hear their siren song? And can we trust?
The path they offer us leads to joy. And it leads always deeper and deeper into love.
© 2019 Sophy Burnham