A Prayer

A Prayer
by Max Ehrmann

Let me do my work each day;
and if the darkened hours
of despair overcome me,
may I not forget the strength
that comforted me in the
desolation of other times.

May I still remember the bright hours that found me walking
over the silent hills of my childhood,
or dreaming on the margin of a quiet river,
when a light glowed within me,
and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the tempests
of the changing years.

Spare me from bitterness and
from the sharp passions of unguarded moments.
May I not forget that poverty and riches
are of the spirit.
Though the world knows me not,
may my thoughts and actions be such
as shall keep me friendly with myself.

Lift up my eyes from the earth,
and let me not forget the uses of the stars.
Forbid that I should judge others lest I condemn myself.
Let me not follow the clamor of the world,
but walk calmly in my path.

Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am;
and keep ever burning before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope.

And though age and infirmity overtake me,
and I come not within sight of the castle of my dreams,
teach me still to be thankful for life,
and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet;
and may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still.


Today’s Quote

stained glass

For a long time it had seemed to me
that life was about to begin – real life.
But there was always some obstacle in the way,
something to be gotten through first,
some unfinished business,
time still to be served,
a debt to be paid.
Then, life would begin.
At last it dawned on me
that these obstacles were my life.

~ Alfred D. Souza


Breaking News — The 300 Peace Accord

300 II

It’s taken me more than 6 months, but I finally reached what I suppose is a seminal point for a new blogger.

300+ followers.

328 people who actually have agreed to see an e-mail from me every day in what must be already overloaded e-mail accounts.

With views from 59 different countries.  Amazing!

I am grateful, to say the least.

When I first started this blog, it was because I had to take a time-out from work because of health issues, and I wanted to reach out to people from my home, since I was no longer doing it in an office.

My goal was simple – to inspire people, to offer hope, to let them know that they were not alone. To give them the chance to get to know some extraordinary people I’ve met along the way, either through my work, my volunteering, my reading, or my travels. Or to share a daily quotation that at some point in my life, may have spoken to me for a brief moment.

Or comforted me. Or inspired. Or challenged. Or teased. Or humbled.

And guess what? I was inspired.

I don’t know if I achieved my goal for others, but I was certainly inspired by those I’ve met in the blogging world. And the blogging world is simply a microcosm of the real world.

Where else can I speak to or read about or cry with people from other countries and other cultures without ever having met them?

Where else can I view photos (and very, very good ones, at that!) of hills and meadows, festivals and country markets, colorful flowers and exotic animals, mountain peaks and crashing oceans?

Where else can I read about feeding hyenas in Ethiopia or visit a fashion house in Paris or a tiny market on the streets of Pakistan?

Or see the purple flowers against the gray stone of a chapel in Ireland or experience the Northern Lights in Norway or read about the politics of Croatia or the struggle for freedom in Egypt as they happen?

Or get tips on how to take care of elderly pets or teach a cat how to walk on a leash or get a recipe for soup from Singapore or discuss photography with a retiree in Hong Kong or take notes on the latest fashion from a Latvian teen-aged boy?


I’ve offered prayers to people struggling with cancer, sobriety, paralysis, depression and all kinds of loss; exchanged hopeful thoughts in the quiet early morning hours when sleep was elusive; read poetry by young adults in India, Spain and Romania (thank goodness for Google Translate!) who feel the same things as the rest of us, no matter our age or geographic location; read about different faith traditions practiced in so many parts of the world; and shared my own thoughts about people, with people and for people across the globe.

Ask me about how Mumbai’s skyline glitters at night or how the mountains surrounding Islamabad look draped in mist or how the colors of a New Zealand autumn blaze and pop or how the light falls in sacred shadows across an abandoned church in Scotland or how it looks to skydive over Palm Island in Dubai, UAE or how vividly green the terrace farming is in Yemen or how the architecture sings at night in Barcelona.

Or how cheetah hunt or elephants grieve or eagles mate or dolphins swim or butterflies migrate.

Or how people the world over hate war, how they cry for the same reasons, laugh at silly jokes, help those in need, share food and water when they have little, offer hope when others have none, speak volumes without words in their photographs, allow us to visit inside their homes and hearts, show us their children and plans for the future.

We are different; we are the same.

We share stories; we share ourselves.

We reach out; we touch hearts and hands.

We speak in different languages; we speak the same.

We harbor faith not confined by religion.

We believe and we dream.

We inspire and we offer hope.

We are present and never alone.

We are connected.

We are One.

We shall bring peace.


So, in celebration, I would like to propose “The 300 Peace Accord.”

A grass roots movement that starts with the 328 loyal followers of this humble blog, Soul Gatherings.

We’ve already shown that we have more in common than different.

We agree – we disagree – – we communicate – we listen – we share – we learn – we care.

Let all of us decide the fate of World Peace.

One person – one post – one follower – one blog – at a time.

We can do this. I can feel it. I can hear our voices, united.

The 300 Peace Accord.

Are you in?


Thursday Re-View — The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

When working with students, many times on their first visit to my office, they remark about how relaxing it seems. The colorful prints, inspirational wall words, plaques with favorite sayings, bubbling fountain and the hint of aromatherapy are a calculated effort on my part to not only relax the students, but myself. I also use some of these items as therapy aids when appropriate.

One of my favorite pieces is a unique wire sculpture that I found years ago at a flower show. It is a windblown tree made of twisted wire in a sienna brown finish. Its solid roots are thick and gnarled, leading into a sturdy trunk, filled with branches that are leaning in one direction, as if buffeted by a strong wind.

by Rob Hagarty



To me, that sculpture is indeed the “tree of life” we hear so much about in philosophical readings. The image represents the triumph of the human spirit that I see so often when working with clients in the often difficult therapeutic process.

The roots are our foundation – our family background, our experiences, our heritage – the basis of who we are and where we come from.

The trunk is our self, determined, always reaching up toward the light as we continue to grow, to heal, to seek.

The branches are our life journey, each twist and turn a major decision, whether good or not-so-good, that takes us off in another direction. Some branches are shorter than others, some more twisted, some joining or grafting together to lend strength, others growing in a convoluted route that seems impossible to follow, without a clear beginning or defined end.

It sounds like life, doesn’t it?

Whenever I offer my interpretation of its symbolism, people usually groan when I mention the branches being a map of their decisions. They’re probably remembering the ones that still loom as regrets; the ones, in hindsight, they wish they’d never made at all. But without those questionable decisions, our tree wouldn’t be as full, as beautiful or as complete.

That fullness affords us with hard-earned wisdom that we can pass on to others in need. That fullness gives us the power and stamina needed to withstand what ever life hands us – the gale force winds, the torrential rains, the searing sunshine and drought, the changing of the seasons. Yet that same fullness is flexible enough to lean with the forces of nature, yet not be uprooted.

Each season brings its own joy. Spring, with its beautiful blossoms that burst forth from tiny buds. Summer, with its sunshine and warmth. Autumn, with its colorful palette of bronze and gold, orange and scarlet. Winter, with the gentle touch of drifting snowflakes and a veneer of ice that glimmers like diamonds when brushed by the sun, its starkness a beautiful simplicity.

At any one time, the same tree might provide beauty, shade, food, heat, light, exercise, furniture.

A nesting place, a perch, a house, a climb, a landmark, a place to lean on or hide.

A groundedness, a permanence, a sense of time passing and history.

A quiet purpose, a meaning, a truth.

We can count on the tree, just like we can count on ourselves.

We are the tree, still standing, still growing, still providing, still seeking.

We are beautiful, we are natural, we are a gift.

A Tree of Life.

Angel Oak John Island, SC

Angel Oak
John Island, SC


In the Presence of Holiness


While I attended optometry school in Philadelphia, students worked on cadavers for our Head & Neck Anatomy class. I was apprehensive about how I would react to this new experience, but intrigued at the same time. My group was assigned to an 80-year old woman who was covered by a thin white sheet.

As I stood at her left side, I noticed her uncovered hand. It looked exactly like my grandmother’s hand – shriveled, marked by age spots, calloused and worn. A snapshot of her life.

In that moment, I saw her differently. She was no longer a cadaver, but someone’s mother, wife, sister, grandmother, daughter. She had loved and lost, hoped and dreamed, laughed and cried. A part of the human community, she mattered.

With a respectful air, I drew down the sheet and started the dissection. When I cut through the layers of muscle to the blood vessels, I paused. The branches of the arteries and veins were quite delicate and beautiful, laid out with a precise purpose in anything but a random, haphazard way.

I knew I was in the Presence of God, and of Holiness. All of Creation lay before me.

In the most unexpected and humble of places, I felt at One with the human race.

I will be forever grateful for the final gift that this woman offered. In her death, she taught us about the miracle that is life.

I named her Grace.

Circles of Grace. Sacred Ground.

Thank you, dear lady, for you.

May you rest forever in beauty and in peace.


Echoes of Darkness Sheathed in the Light

In Memoriam – Mom
April 25, 1928 – February 29, 1988

[written March 1, 2009]

I thought it had passed.

Just yesterday, I remarked to my sister – “This is the first February in 21 years that hasn’t been brutal.”

Then this morning, just the mention of the phone call in the early morning darkness, when Dad told me you had died and I said, “Good” – (Good for who – me? You? The echo of guilt lingers still…) – brings back the grief like a wave crashing into rock, and I am pulled under in an instant, drowning.

The well of grief swallows me, the darkness returns, and I ache with loss – the emptiness – the missing of you – the longing for your closeness – (Me? The one who hated hugs? The one who now hugs all those in need, desperate for their/my/your touch?).

My right hand trembles, my teeth chatter, and I rock…I ache…I mourn.

My tears flood the emptiness with despair, until the well is filled to overflowing, and just when there can be no more left, the flood gates open with a rush of white-hot tears – searing, scalding, scarring – as they traverse the channels carved in my soul.

I escape then, but to where? A place of quiet, of gray, of nothing, where no one or no thing exists…where no one or no thing can hurt.

I am numb.

I cease to feel, to breathe, to mourn…quiet, waiting, collecting, remembering, forgetting. I want to stay in this nothing, where the past and present blend, simply waiting. I could spend eternity here, neither warm nor cold, neither black nor white – nothing.

But then a soft white light burns through the fog – slowly, steadily, purposefully – coming toward me. And when I turn from it, it envelops me with warmth, an embrace, a distant memory, a familiar voice, a whisper. It seeks, it flows, it permeates, it dissolves, it heals – slowly, completely. It restores breath into my lungs, it touches my hand and the trembling ceases.

The crying stops and I return. Depleted, yet complete, filled with the sense that love hurts and heals, devours and regenerates, erases then re-creates, takes away only to be made whole.

If I love, I risk.

cala liliesl

My losses seem legion, but my blessings lift me to a place I would not have seen had I not been buried. The tears that drowned me in their ending are transformed into the healing waters of a baptism, a beginning, a grace.

I hesitate – these wings have weight – do I want what they hold? A familiar stirring inside me – a blossoming – a peace – a knowing that this is right and good. The weight will be lifted when I surrender.

And I hear the whispered promise – “I will be with you, always.” – and I feel Your embrace lift me up, then release me. I soar back into life, toward the light and Your promise, and I know I am who I am because of You, because of Your love.

Of whom do I speak? Of my Mother? Of God? Of His Mother? It matters not; only that I return. Only that I remember Your voice as I reach out to those in need. That I am present in their pain – that I quiet their tears – that I wait in their darkness – that I am their light and their hope as You were/are/will always be to me.

Lift me up, so that I might lift them.
Love me, so that I might love them.
Give me hope, so that I might bring hope to them.
Guide me, so that I might guide them.
Give me Your words, so that I might speak them.
Give me Your hearing, so that I might listen to them.
Heal me, so that I might heal them.

Remember me, as I remember You.

I am who I am, because of You.


Related Post: Remembrance


An Autumn Blessing

National Geographic

National Geographic

An Autumn Blessing
Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

Blessed are you, autumn,
chalice of transformation,
you lift a cup of death to our lips
and we taste new life.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of the heart’s yearning,
you usher us into places of mystery
and, like the leaves, we fall trustingly
into eternal, unseen hands.

Blessed are you, autumn,
with your flair for drama
you call to the poet in our hearts,
“return to the earth, become good soil;
wait for new seeds.”

Blessed are you, autumn,
you turn our faces toward the west.
Prayerfully reflecting on life’s transitory nature
we sense all things moving toward life-giving death.

Blessed are you, autumn,
you draw us away from summer’s hot breath.
As your air becomes frosty and cool
you lead us to inner reflection.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of so much bounty.
You invite us to imitate your generosity
in giving freely from the goodness of our lives,
holding nothing back.

Blessed are you, autumn,
your harvesting time has come.
as we gather your riches into our barns,
reveal to us our own inner riches
waiting to be harvested.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of surrender,
you teach us the wisdom of letting go
as you draw us into new ways of living.

Blessed are you, autumn,
season of unpredictability.
You inspire us to be flexible
to learn from our shifting moods.

Blessed are you, autumn,
feast of thanksgiving.
You change our hearts into fountains of gratitude
as we receive your gracious gifts.


Today’s Quote


“The truth is that our finest moments
are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable,
unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is in such moments,
propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts
and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

~ M. Scott Peck


Thursday Re-View — “The Welcome Angel”



I met Dannie when her social worker discharge team brought her to my office after more than a year in a residential mental health facility. Probably in her mid-thirties, but looking much older, she was petite, wiry – all coiled muscle – with high cheekbones that validated her ethnic background. Her long hair was held back by a headband across her forehead. Her shoulders were slumped, her skin a pasty gray, with a shuffle in her reluctant steps. Her voice was deep and scratchy, the type that country music would describe as “whiskey and smoke.”

We had nothing in common.

She remained standing after I invited her to be seated, looked up for the first time, met my eyes with a spark in hers and informed me: “You have 5 minutes, and then I’m walking out of here.” Under the spark in her gaze was pain, made all the more marked by the deep circles under her eyes.

I was wrong; we had quite a bit in common.

As I worked with Dannie, I came to know of her struggles with addiction – to alcohol, to prescription drugs, to family conflict and to abusive men. Her present boyfriend was soon to be released from prison, and the rescuer in her struggled with letting him back into her life. I reminded her that if that was her decision, she risked losing the progress she had made with staying sober, not having another suicide attempt (she had two prior to our meeting) and remembering that she, as a human being, had value and worth.

I so hated to see this strong woman – the one who told me that this boyfriend was better than some of her others because “he always made sure to hit me where no one could see it” – lose ground in her healing and recovery. But I believe in the autonomy of my clients – and Dannie needed to feel in control of something, even though I believed that taking control in this instance would be to refuse his coming back to live with her.

Life, like therapy, is never without setbacks, and a new concern was a health issue that flared up, with a prognosis that offered only maintaining her present health and not letting it decline, rather than any type of cure. Coping with that, along with the depression, addiction and everything else, became a daily task.

One day, in Dannie’s latest update on her continuing family conflicts, she asked my opinion about something. Apparently when Dannie went to her mother’s grave site, she saw a wrought iron angel lawn ornament stuck next to the headstone, the word “Welcome” in big letters. Dannie was horrified and appalled, especially since she found out later that it was her very own sister who had put bought this for their mother, when her sister had a few too many beers. Dannie removed it and threw it away, only to return a week later to find another one in its place.

Wasn’t that terrible?

Welcome Angel

She looked at me, at once aghast, angry, yet expecting no less from her family. Then, I saw it – the faintest gleam in her dark eyes, that fiery spark that only Dannie had after a life filled with 10 kinds of despair. The edges of her mouth curved up a bit, and she looked down at the floor. But I could see her shoulders start to shake. I couldn’t help it – this therapist started to laugh, struggling to keep it private, since Dannie wasn’t looking at me.

Her eyes met mine and we both burst out laughing at the same time; a rollicking, easy, raucous laughter that, I found out later, had quite a few of the other offices in the hall wondering what in the world was happening in Theresa’s office. Dannie and I were bent over, laughing, until tears ran down our faces. An angel in a cemetery – okay; but a welcome angel?

The absurdity of it caught us both, and in that moment, for Dannie and me, there was nothing else but our sharing joyously in something macabre, yet somehow, in some way, making sense in the larger scheme of things. It felt good and it felt right; it was beautiful. We collected ourselves, then were able to segue perfectly into her own fears about dying, a topic which she had always skirted in the past.

Unexpectedly, I left that job to take another position that I felt called to, and with a month until my departure, I said my goodbyes to Dannie. I felt certain she would be in good hands with the therapist assigned to take over her case. Our 5 minutes that turned into a few years was done, and I was proud of her progress and transformation. When she thanked me for saving her life, saying that she’d never forget me, I answered that she did the work, and that it was a privilege for me to have been part of even a small portion of her life journey. I also mentioned that whenever I saw a wrought iron welcome angel, I would think of her and the laughter we shared.

Not long after, I heard that Dannie had passed away. “Oh no…” My sadness was immediate.

I was afraid to ask, but I had to ask, how she died. A suicide? No. An overdose? No. As a result of physical abuse? No. The answer – “of natural causes” related to the condition we knew about. Her body shut down; it was time.

I breathed a sigh of relief. At the time of her death, Dannie was sober and still living on her own, having refused to take back the abusive boyfriend. It was unfortunate, but it was a good death. Yes – a good death.

Now, whenever I see an angel lawn ornament, I smile, think of Dannie and send her a prayer. Sometimes, I can almost hear her laughter, but then I realize it was only the wind. (Maybe. Then again, maybe not…)

Thank you, Dannie, for the gift of your generous and strong spirit. You mattered. You made a difference. You shine in my heart, and in my memory.

Someday, find a way to let me know if you were met on the other side by a Welcome Angel…

Somehow, I think the answer to that is yes.