photo credit: Stephen E. Burt
”…I like to push the envelope…”
Author, singer, mentor, minister, the Rev. Denise DeSimone (ChIME 2009) creatively shares the wisdom and passion by which she lives. Her original theme song is:
Walk with me, talk with me.
Hold the hand of God with me.
Feel the power we share when we are One.
Ten years before coming to ChIME, Denise had already branched out beyond her sales and marketing career to include a private healing practice in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Then came stage four throat and neck cancer (2005) and ChIME (2007 to 2009), and by her ordination, Denise says, “I was doing things I never knew I’d be doing. Spirit was leading. I was paying attention.”
Denise’s ChIME senior project was a 22-minute multimedia presentation entitled Pray Peace, which she introduced to a live audience of 150 at Unity on the River in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Designed to inspire people to live and work for peace, it contains 85 moving images that can be viewed alone or in a group setting. Denise is now in her tenth year of offering Pray Peace evenings and weekends around the country, oftentimes at Unity Churches.
In 2011 Rev. DeSimone published her book, From Stage IV to Center Stage, detailing the story of how she “embraced,” rather than “battled,” her cancer. Ever since then she has been living cancer free and sharing her story with national and international audiences. During some time in Italy this year, she plans to put the finishing touches on a documentary film about her life and about “not battling cancer.” A GoFundMe link on her website invites contributions to finish the film, which also features many of the doctors whose treatment helped save her life. Every time her annual cancer screening check-up comes, Denise says, “I’m ready for anything, and grateful for nothing.”
Even before her cancer, Rev. DiSimone was interested in sound healing, a therapeutic modality that uses the vibrations of a variety of instruments to reduce stress, alter consciousness and create a deep sense of peace, well-being, and better health. By now she’s studied sound healing for 20 years, and every quarter she teaches this chakra-balancing technique to 20 cancer patients, free of charge. Anyone can sign up for a sound healing session with Denise near her home in Danvers, at Bella Salon & Spa, where she also offers reiki and reflexology. Denise will travel to offer sound healing workshops for groups, and she offers a CD, Make a Joyful Noise, which is a mini-version of her live sound healing workshops.
Denise plays a number of exotic instruments in her sound healing offerings, but “voice is the most powerful instrument in the world,” she says. “It’s a tool we always have with us.” Check out her voice at www.denisedesimone.com, where you’ll find her singing a stirring rendition of the national anthem, as the featured soloist at a Boston Red Sox game. She has twice sung the anthem at Fenway’s PMC Day, a celebration of the Pan-Mass Challenge, an annual bike-a-thon that crosses the Commonwealth to raise money for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. And in typical Denise fashion, she’s also biked the PMC twice—the day before her diagnosis and again two years later.
Living with full vitality is something Denise teaches, because she knows it very well. “Live in Full Expression” is an article of faith for Rev. DeSimone, and also a CD/Workshop series she offers on LIFE Transformation. She does teleclasses on this theme, and is branching into healthy, mindful eating with a course called “Who Else Puts Food in Your Mouth?”
Did Rev. DeSimone know what she’d do with her ChIME education before she enrolled? No, but she’d always thought she’d do some kind of ministry eventually. To prospective ChIME students Denise offers, “Even if you don’t know exactly why you want to enroll in ChIME, think outside the box. ChIME softens you up and opens you up—mind, body and spirit. You’ll get to know yourself better and find your way. I do weddings and funerals. I also play the drums and didgeridoo on my new CD, Spirts Soar. I never knew I’d be doing that! Pay attention. Let Spirit lead you.”
Stop! In the Name of Love…From Cha Cha to Chaplaincy
The Rev. Laurence Miller (ChIME ’13), moved with his husband from South Portland, Maine to Danvers, Massachusetts a year ago. Still he commutes to Portland every week to serve in a unique chaplaincy role at two skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long-term care centers.
Imagine that you are an elderly, chronically ill and/or disabled woman or man living at the Barron Center, run by the City of Portland; or someone in long-term or memory care at St. Joseph’s Retirement Center, a traditionally Catholic facility now run by Maine Medical Center. Imagine that you need a walker, or a wheelchair, or a rolling assisted bed to get around the place. You hear that the chaplain is visiting today. Then you hear music. Then he invites you to dance. How can you refuse? Maybe you can’t get on your feet, but you can get on the beat.
“From Cha Cha to Chaplaincy” is how Rev. Miller describes his working life, which now includes more than 40 years as a professional dancer and dance teacher, and 7 years offering “Musical Chairs,” a trademarked program of dance adapted for the people described above. Where did he get the idea for this unique chaplaincy? To find the answer, we took an imaginary trip home with Laurence, and watched his eyes shine as he described elderly couples, including his parents, dancing at the American Legion in Baltimore:
A man walks onto the dance floor with his partner and his cane. He props the cane on a chair. He takes his partner around the waist. They glide around the floor, break into a swing type action, smiling and laughing during the whole song. Another couple joins them, more couples enter the floor. Before long, the floor is packed. Everyone bouncing and dancing fiercely. The music and camaraderie take them back to being young men and women again. Back to life without wrinkles. They forget they are old! The music stops and they return to their slow walks and the cane.
Laurence was not only a dancer when he came to ChIME. He was a Reiki master and was steeped in other forms of moving and still meditation, including Tai Chi for Arthritis. He had taught dance in other countries and on cruise ships, managed his own studio, and taught dance at Bates, Bowdoin and Colby Colleges. “I was burned out on dance, and wanted a change,” Laurence recalls. “I’d neglected my health, my relationships, and my spirituality, or so I thought. Later I realized that dance has always been how I expressed my spirituality. I just needed another way to share music and lead people into having fun together.”
A long-term care facility might not be the first place you’d think of for having fun, and when Laurence started as a chaplaincy intern at the Barron Center, he wasn’t having much fun, either. Dressed in black pants and shirt, Laurence recalls, he looked like “Assistant to the Grim Reaper.” Stopping into residents’ rooms, he found he was regarded more as the “Chaplain of Death” than the “Chaplain of Joy” that he wanted to be. Soon Laurence ditched the black clothes in favor of his signature colorful socks and bow tie. When the Activities Director suggested he “get the residents to move a little,” Laurence choreographed a dance number for the Christmas show. One of the dancers in the show had been a major dance teacher in Maine before losing her mobility and her voice. Laurence noticed that she bloomed because “all of a sudden she was included in something that had been her identity in the past.” Because she and the three other women on stage were clearly having so much fun, other residents wanted to join in the merriment. Thus, Musical Chairs was born. Participating in the group together helps residents move their attention off their mortality, and makes them more aware that they’re part of a community, Laurence says. At a recent Tuesday morning session, the group decided to rename themselves the Frolicking Fossils!
Before he got “swept away” by dance, Laurence says, he’d wanted to be a Catholic priest or spiritual leader/educator. In his ordination talk he said “I came to Chime to find a box with the name of a Divine Being and all the detailed information about that Being in it. It would answer my questions about the mysterious nature of God, and religions, and spiritual practices.” He found at ChIME, however, that the training is as out-of-the-box as he is.
Does dancing belong in a long-term care facility? Absolutely! Do crystal singing bowls belong in a traditional New England country church? You betcha. Rev. Laurence often serves as guest minister at the North Saco Congregational Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church in Saco Biddeford. Parishioners are treated to scripture readings as well as “dance, sacred gesture and learning diverse ways to pray and make prayer,” including crystal bowl meditations. Creativity and spirituality, Laurence now knows, absolutely belong together. “I love having the variety of options to express my Interfaith spirituality and I thank ChIME for these continuing moments,” Laurence says. “Belonging, invitation, and ways to pray: that’s what I bring with me wherever I go.”
Now that he’s been teaching dance in two long-term care facilities for many years, residents often ask Laurence to visit them—in their rooms—for spiritual companionship, scripture reading, prayer, or just a friendly chat. “What is important to me, as an Interfaith Minister,” says Laurence, “is to foster those desiring to learn about their own Spiritual Nature in their own language. Learning and conversing in one's own language can be all that is needed to carry on.”
At the Barron Center, Rev. Miller has performed a very moving tiny wedding on short notice, for someone who didn’t expect to live long enough to attend her daughter’s formal marriage ceremony. He also loves to work with both gay and straight couples to plan an elaborate wedding that’s just right for them. On his website, laurencemillermaine.com, Laurence tells couples that “Your ceremony can … weave spiritual paths, family traditions, and cultural traditions into a beautiful tapestry for you to remember…Experienced in meditation and energy work, ceremony and ritual, I can help you express your exact spiritual wants and desires.”
The invitation that Laurence makes to couples is the same one that ChIME made to him all those years ago. Laurence says, “Chime met me where I was. And we were encouraged in our chaplaincy studies to meet folks where they are. I was able to refine and redefine my understanding of that Universal Life Force that some call God. I learned that the Divine is too big to be put in a box. And, this Blessed Concept is too expressive in all of Its mysterious personalities to have just one name. Chime modeled this for me.”
Recently Laurence offered a workshop at ChIME’s first Business and Spirituality conference. The Spirit of Your Gifts with Rev. Laurence Miller was popular with ChIME students because it promised to address making what you love work—developing a business, nonprofit or chaplaincy that is informed by Spirit and your particular gifts. Laurence glows as he describes watching ChIME students light up in response to these questions: What do I have? Instead of just thinking of traditional chaplaincy roles, can I take what is uniquely mine and make it something new, infused with Spirit, a new combination of ingredients, a new recipe in loving service? He says:
To me, Chime is a big loom, weaving all of the threads of my life into one tapestry. All of the threads belong, regardless of their weight or strength, fault or truth, past judgments or current emotion. The tapestry’s threads are my family, friends, spirit, life’s past journeys and of course the Divine. When we are at a loss for words to speak of the Divine, we can still feel the essence of all that is good in love and blessings. Chime has helped me hear this wordless presence.
“Wordless presence” is a great way to describe Rev. Miller in action. At the Barron Center recently, when Musical Chairs ended, the music didn’t stop. “He makes an amazing rapport so easily,” says current Activities Director Sarah Nute. “He just jumps in where he’s needed.” As the room slowly emptied of wheelchairs and a rolling assisted bed, Laurence was behind more than one chair, helping residents move towards lunch, joking with one, lightly tapping the shoulder of another. A woman in a motorized chair waited patiently for a one-on-one chat with the Chaplain of Joy.
As an interfaith chaplain to the homeless, Rev. Jeffery Logan '15 sometimes needs to lend support to those who have been incarcerated; read more below
An acupuncturist, an Interfaith street minister, and a Shakespearean actor walk into a bar. How many characters are in this scene? Actually, only one, the Rev. Jeffery Logan (ChIME 2015).
“ChIME trains people for weird kinds of ministries,” Jeff says with characteristic humor. “Because ChIME’s training is not for a settled ministry, it’s a good match for a world that's fluid, too. In ChIME you take the Internal journey first. It tears your heart open, and then you go out into the world with that ripped open heart and see what happens.”
For three years now Rev. Logan has been known as “Pastor Jeff” to hundreds of people who are homeless in Portland. Actually, Jeff says, the streets, the shelters and the soup kitchens are home to this ever-changing community of women and men, and he is their guest.
Jeff says that the homeless community is quite strong and mutually supportive in Portland. Although he is an outsider, because he’s not trying to fix people they share their stories with him – stories of shame, failure, and small triumphs. “I try to remember names, and people remember mine. It’s about mutual respect, and longevity. I just keep showing up. When it’s snowing. When it’s raining. When I don’t want to be there. And I listen.”
Over the years that Jeff has been working with Grace - Street Ministry, only a handful of the same people remain homeless in Portland. Some find housing. Some leave town. Some die in snowbanks, on park benches. Jeff offers prayers and communion, performs weddings and funerals. He gives out socks, warm hats, gloves, Dunkin’ Donuts cards, the occasional bus ticket, application fee for housing, co-pay for meds, or other low-ticket item that makes a big difference. And sometimes people seek him out to share the good news, such as “I got a place to live!” or “You got me a bus ticket to see my Mom when she was sick and she’s rallied.”
The mission of Grace-Street Ministry, co-founded by two United Church of Christ clergy in 2006, is to “offer a consistent, compassionate, pastoral presence to the homeless and marginalized in downtown Portland, Maine.” Jeff joined Grace as a ChIME intern, supervised by co-founding Pastor Mair Honan, then a ChIME teacher and now a member of ChIME’s Advisory Board.
Jeff had only been ordained a few months when he got the call to serve. Rev. Elizabeth Peterson (ChIME 2010) was leaving, and it was “moderately terrifying,” Jeff recalls, to start walking the streets on his own. But Mair reminded Jeff that ‘This isn’t about you. Just give it over to whatever your belief in the holy is. It will be interesting to see how they accept you.”
Although he loves his work, “I really can’t wait to get put out of business,” Jeff muses in response to a question about ending homelessness. “I’d love to show up and nobody’s there.” Through the Poor People’s Campaign and other social justice initiatives, Jeff bears witness to the economics of homelessness and the urgent need for affordable housing. As a rotating preacher at a Bailey Island chapel, he teaches about the gospel of Jesus the Christ, whose own ministry was to the outcasts and people on the margins of society.
With homeless people, Jeff notes, there are no distractions from the basic necessities of life --food, shelter and love. “It’s all a little twisted,” Jeff says, “but people are open to the message because they have so little else. They understand suffering, and aren’t afraid of it. Some people even say that ‘being homeless is the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s taught me compassion, understanding, and that this could happen to just about anyone.’”
“In a time of increasing poverty in the richest country in the world,” Jeff concludes, “when a full time minimum wage job doesn’t pay for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country and one in six Maine children live in poverty, there will always be work to do. Worship is easy, work is hard. Or to quote another Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean, on his deathbed, ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard.’ There but for the grace of God go I.”
Spirit is everywhere!
On Valentine’s Day 2017 my husband was suddenly let go from his job and the world shifted. We tried to see it as the crisis that was to become an opportunity but it wasn’t easy.
On June 29th I left my job at ChIME as planned back in January with very mixed feelings. Trying to stay open to new possibilities.
On July 1st my husband’s youngest brother was killed by a drunk driver in Jackson Hole, WY, and the world turned upside down.
We spent the summer and early fall grieving, helping his 86 year old mother and attending a Celebration of Life service that will forever stay in our hearts.
Late fall we decided that we would rent our house and the Universe opened for us the opportunity to live on a friend’s boat in the Caribbean for 7 weeks and then head to St. Croix to stay with another friend. We wanted to be of service to hurricane damaged islands and “give back.”
It has been an opportunity to reflect on how Spirit shows up.
Living on a 42’ boat, Spirit is evident in the wind, the waves, the sunrises and sun sets. The natural elements are key to living on the water and one learns quickly to respect her power and her gifts.
Spirit shows when being woken at 3:00 in the morning by unfamiliar noises on deck caused by extreme gusts of wind and seeing, in all her glory, the Southern Cross. A constellation only visible in the southern sky.
Spirit is in the eyes of the shy ten year old girl who when asked about her experience of hurricane Maria replied: “ I can’t talk about the hurricane because I wasn’t traumatized like my friend who’s roof was blown off. She has anxiety and PTSD, I am fine”.
Spirit shows in the face of the Librarian who shared that she thought the storm was winding down when suddenly “the noise grew to deafening sound and everything started flying”.
Spirit is in the determination of every one who said we WILL rebuild and Dominica WILL be beautiful again. Dominica STRONG.
Spirit guides us to meet amazing people who are doing incredible work… Harriet Lansky, Founder of Hands Across the Sea, a literacy program for the islands; Mr. Teddy Wallace, Principal of Roosevelt Primary School who told of surviving not one but TWO hurricanes as he traveled to St. Martin before Irma struck; (where we painted the entryway with other cruising families and local kids who were eager to help.); and the boat boys who greet sail boats as they come in and assure them they WILL be cared for.
Spirit finds clever ways to remind me that I am never alone…when walking the beach feeling challenged, because wherever we go life goes with us, I look up to see a dinghy named: “bless up” and as I contribute to stroll chuckling to myself I see: “wisdom and patience” on the side of another small boat. (see photo).
And when I am challenged, scared or at my wits end due to extreme winds, Spirit is there to remind me to breath, let go and trust. The present moment is always the best place to return and She is always there to greet me.
“It’s a great journey going through ChIME,” says the Rev. Jon Gale, a 2017 graduate. “I’ve been challenged more academically, such as during my six years in a doctoral program at Boston University, but I’ve never come out of a program more changed than by ChIME.” Many philosophers, going back to Lao Tzu, have described the distance from head to heart as the longest journey of all, and Jon credits ChIME with allowing him to make that descent.
“When I’m asked to choose a slice from one of three pies, I always want a slice of each,” Jon says, describing the path that has led him to study speech pathology, counseling, biology, and curriculum theory, as well as becoming an Emergency Medical Technician and an Interfaith Chaplain after retiring from a school career that included 12 years as Superintendent of Schools in Pownal and being a school principal in Waterboro, Maine. Jon now serves the town’s Fire Department as both chaplain and EMT, while volunteering two days a week with Hospice of Southern Maine. Recently he had an opportunity to conduct a funeral and a house blessing in the town. People who knew Jon mostly through his superintendent role, or his stint as a town Selectman, now see their gentle giant in his most tender role.
“Often at the end of a four-hour shift at Gosnell House in Scarborough, where many people come to die, I’m walking out into the parking lot with tears streaming down my face,” Jon says. “It is such a privilege to be able to sit with someone in their last moments. Often there’s nothing that needs to be said. I recently held the hand of a priest as he died. What a gift.”
Starting out Catholic and coming to see himself now as a “secular Buddhist,” Jon says that the ChIME faculty and fellow students gave him the spiritual companionship he needed to go deeper into his lifelong pull towards serving people. “As a Buddhist meditator, I think about my death every day,” Jon says. “However, many people coming into hospice care haven’t thought much about death before getting a terminal diagnosis. As a hospice volunteer, I can hold space for them to have their reactions and their questions. This is a powerful time for them, and my mantra is to not take their power away.”
Recently Rev. Gale also completed an 8-week training as an End of Life Doula through the University of Vermont. Based in part on the work of Canadian psychiatrist Harvey Chochinov, author of Dignity Therapy, the program includes an opportunity for the doula to ask key questions of someone nearing their end of life, record their answers, and present them with a document that they can leave to their loved ones. “Through the doula program I’ve come to see myself as a ‘dying coach,’” Jon says. As I sit with my clients I ask myself, “How am I like you?”
Of all the paths ChIME graduates have taken to fulfill their callings, Marie Eastman’s stands out for her investment of time and treasure in becoming a board-certified chaplain affiliated with the APC (Association of Professional Chaplains). She serves a community hospital in Siddell, near the City of New Orleans, Louisiana. Since graduating from ChIME in 2008, Marie has obtained her Master of Divinity degree from Earlham School of Religion in Indiana, and has completed 7 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).
The yoga tradition offers a profound formula for realizing your heartfelt desires—without asking you to change who you are. It’s the practice of sankalpa (resolve).
Almost every New Year’s resolution starts with two words: “I will.” We summon our willpower and pledge to change not just what we do but who we are. We set goals and imagine how happy we will be when we get what we want.
But if there’s one thing yoga teaches us, it’s that there’s a world of difference between “I will” and “Thy will.” Most New Year’s resolutions spring from the misguided desires of the ego, senses, and conditioning.
There is a Hindu proverb that states “they who give have all things, they who withhold have nothing,” and from the highly spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous we get the phrase “You have to give it away to keep it.” It is a truth, as Mahatma Ghandi expressed it so eloquently, “The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.”
Where grace happens: How a corporate recruiter found meaning helping people in recovery.
"I couldn’t believe there was actually a place where you could show up and be absolutely
broken and be welcomed,” she says.
Photograph by Joanne Arnold
Nearly 20 years later, Margo Walsh still remembers the moment, sitting in a rehab facility in Portland, Maine, like it was yesterday. Walsh was smoking a cigarette and thinking about her life — about the bruises on her body that came from falling down the stairs drunk, about her liver count, which she just learned that at 32 was that of an old man, and how it was finally time to admit, after drinking for more than half of her life, that she had a problem.
A tiny window in the room looked out on sky filled with steel gray clouds, and it had just started to snow. Suddenly, a shaft of light came through the window and flooded the room with a bright glow, and Walsh was overcome with a feeling she had never felt before. It was a feeling of great calm and of letting-go.
“I have never felt that absolute a sense of peace,” she recalls. “Christmas Day 1997, was my moment of absolute clarity.”
That’s when Walsh’s recovery truly began. It would be a long road, one that would involve her leaving a high-powered corporate recruiting career on Wall Street and finding her calling by starting a business helping people in recovery get back to work.
The men Walsh employs at her company, MaineWorks, are an entirely different clientele than the Ivy League graduates she used to recruit when she worked at Goldman Sachs. They are convicted felons and drug addicts, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I would rather work with the intensity of the broken place. The vulnerable. The outcast,” she says. “Because that’s where grace happens, at the absolute bottom.”
WHERE IT BEGAN
Walsh grew up in Cumberland, Maine, one of six children. Her parents were Irish immigrants who drank a lot. They were also medical doctors who cared about others.
“Both of my parents were very kind and altruistic,” she says. “I have an incredible sense of connection to humanity.”
From a young age, Walsh knew she wanted to help people. On family trips, she used to press her face against the car window and imagine the lives of the people inside the houses she passed. She read psychology books and dreamed of becoming a psychologist.
Her addiction also began in childhood. Sweets were forbidden at home, but she used to cram sugar cubes into her mouth and binge on candy.
“That is the basis of my alcoholism,” she says. “Stuffing an incredible amount of sugar, needing it desperately, and then going home and lying about it.”
At 15, Walsh discovered wine. She drank for the next 17 years, through college, during her time at Goldman Sachs and into her next role as a recruiter for a management consulting firm. She drank in the beginning of her marriage and after she had her first son, right up until one terrible drunken night landed her in rehab.
BUILDING A BRIDGE
After her moment of clarity in 1997, Walsh stayed sober and returned to her husband, young son, and corporate job in Connecticut. But she was a changed person. She had worked for years to create the life she had, but she was filled with feelings of shame and of being an “imposter” everywhere but in her recovery support meetings.
In 2000, Walsh and her husband moved their family to Maine so she could be closer to her ailing father. She spent much of the following decade as a stay-at home mom and as a volunteer leading recovery support groups at the local jail and at a shelter for alcoholics.
One day, Walsh heard a famous lawyer give a talk about the importance of hiring convicted felons, and she had the idea to use her recruiting skills to help felons and addicts transition to a more stable life.
She started MaineWorks in 2011, and chose her company’s logo very intentionally. It’s a bridge.
Walsh meets with
U.S. Senator Susan Collins to discuss the MaineWorks mission with her MaineWorks colleague
Kelly Murphy Luce in July.
Image courtesy of Margo Walsh
“I feel like my role in life is to facilitate transition,” she says.
And every weekday, Walsh fulfills that role by rising at 5 a.m. to drive those attempting to better their lives to work at construction sites. It gives her purpose and belonging.
“It replaces church,” she says.
Work in Progress story produced by Mio Adilman.
ChIME curriculum has several Required Reading books and assignments over the 2-to-3-Year Program. But we also have accumulated a Suggested Reading List for our students, over and above, since there is always more to learn. How many of these books have you read? Let us hear from you as you explore your spiritual reading this summer!
ChIME SUGGESTED READING LIST (click to view or print)
Newly ordained ChIME graduate Nonie Freeman discusses "Soul Matters" with her classmates and ChIME founding abbot Jacob Watson. Please watch and tell us what you think!
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