Finding Paradise #23 Love Letter

Paradise is not simply a location, she said.
It is not just some place you go
or take a cruise ship to visit.
It is not something you earn or something you acquire.
It is not something you can buy or sell.
You cannot fly there, drive there,
or take a taxi cab.

But you can find it if you try.
And you can tell your friends how to find it.

How DO we find Paradise Grandma?
The little one said looking intently at the woman
who knew everything there was to know.
She loved to get Grandma to tell the Paradise story.

Grandma told it kind of like a riddle.

Well first of all, the Author of Life made it.
And everyone who chooses to can have it.
You use your imagination to find it.
It is not hard to find. And it is not easy to find.
But it is always here.

Can I have it right now? The little one wanted to know.

The Paradise we can go to right now
is something that happens inside of you.
It is something you be. Not something you just do.
It is something you practice, like jumping rope.
You get good at it.

Get good at Paradise?

Yes. God has given it to us as a gift.
It is free…
Did I mention that?
But we have to remember to go there
once we have chosen it.
The more we go there the better we get at going there.
Getting good at it makes it so that when we are sad,
we have somewhere bright and sunny to go.

What happens there?

Well, you get to go there to rest when you need to.
To see the beauty in things when you cannot find it.
You go there to find more love for folks
who make you mad.
You go there because there is no where else to go
to find peace when there is no peace.
When there is chaos, messiness and confusion,
you go to Paradise to be restored.
There is no sickness there. Only wholeness.
You go there to have a good time. And to think.
It is a Sabbath.

Does God live there?

I think so! Of course! Exclaimed Grandma
as if hearing it herself for the first time.

Can we eat Papaya and Mango and Coconut
from right off the trees?

Of course! And she took her Granddaugther’s little hand.

And there is enough for everyone else too?

Grandma smiled into her answer.
No one is hungry.
No one cold. No one left out. No war. No harm.
Paradise is Divine.
Paradise is your home and mine.
Finding Paradise is a part of finding God.
When you find God, who is always here,
you will find Paradise, which is always here too.
Do you feel it dear?

Grandmother told her the story
in many forms over the years,
always reminding her Granddaughter,
as her own mother had before her:
Paradise is your home and mine.
Grandma taught her Granddaughter how to visualize
and visit a peaceful paradise within her own heart.

And the Granddaughter grew in wisdom, was strong
and conscious and filled with faith and hope.
She never forgot the place
her Grandma taught her to go in times of trouble,
or in times of gratitude.

And when her Grandma was very old
and was crossing her final rivers –
the Granddaughter held her Grandma’s own little hand.

Grandma, there is enough mango for everyone.
There is no more hunger. No harm to anyone.
You don’t have to worry anymore.
God will show you the way.
Every day is a good day.
I know everything will be fine.
Paradise is Divine.
Paradise is your home and mine.

Painting and Poem By Shiloh Sophia McCloud
Dedicated to My Grandmother Eden McCloud, Age 96.

“Watching Grandma Breathe”

Writing From Reverend Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Port Townsend, Washington

When Grandma asked for her coat – my Mama Caron got her turquoise blue velvet coat out of the closet. When Grandma asked for her shoes, my Mama put her little blue slippers on her feet.

Grandma likes blue. Every color of blue.  The sheets she lays upon are blue and white flowers and she is surrounded by blue flowered pillows. She looks beautiful. And a bit frustrated.

‘I cannot believe I am still here’ – seems to be her communication at all levels. Well we can’t either.

Four weeks ago she was given ten hours to live – well Grandma has always been tough – but this journey has been her final show of tough strength.  Mind you, she is still here on earth. Most of the time. Mostly, my mom and I sit and watch her breathe.  She stops breathing for 30 seconds to one minute quite often, so it is an edge of your seat kind of experience.  Who would think it could be so fascinating to watch someone breathe for so many hours?

The first few nights my mom and I slept on a single bed in her room so we could hear her breathe.  But after a while it appeared it was not going to be just a few days. I have been here for 29 days. Praying. Watching. Anointing. Painting.

I administered her last communion and we celebrated Passover with my family.

She eats no food and drinks a little water each day.

Speaking of water, there is a lake outside her window that shines like diamonds and gives me strength. Watching the blue herons come and go and the first blooms of the rhodadendrums are signs of life.  Life everywhere. Side by side with death.  There is more water too – the whole room is hung in a show of my Grandmothers art – featuring oceans and beaches, and rivers and pools, waterfalls and castles with water flowing by.  She went to some of the places she illustrated in her thread paintings, but not all of them. As she progressed in years she began to tell others of her adventures in those places.  She lived in her pictures. She went to the paradise of each of those places with the blooming trees, the red rock, the wild horses, the cloud fluffed skies, the sandy beaches, the light houses and the blue blue water.  She traveled the world through her art. She hand died all her thread.  She, Eden McCloud, is an artist.

It is something to be proud of, that at the time of her crossing over, all worldly possessions are gone, and the only thing that remains of her belongings is a room full of art. Her legacy for her family.

Being with her and my Mama during this most interesting journey has made me think of all the others who have walked this road. She does not speak in clear sentences much anymore, but yesterday Grandma said I gotta do what I got to do. She’s right.

We all gotta do what we gotta do and that means all of us live with the death, and the suffering of loved ones. And eventually our own. Witnessing her experience has gotten me to think about my own immortality and to strengthen my commitment to live fully now. And I mean, fully.

As we hang on her every word, listening for wisdom from the other world where she lives now most of the time, we find ourselves making meaning out of everything. I call it Grandma TV.  Recently, she said “she just has to many”  or

“just one more inch” or “this is the end of the river” or, when we told her she could go to Heaven when she wanted to, she said, “Where is it? I have to know where it is to get there.” We did not have an answer that was satisfactory.  We have said goodbye a hundred and ten times and continue to do so every time we see her and all day long. This could be the last kiss. Over and over.

She continues to try to get out of bed. She even told my stepdad Jimmie to pull the car around so she could get in.

Off with the glasses. Out with the hearing aid. Out with the teeth.

One by one she removes her layers. I open the window in her room in case she wants to fly out.

Being that I am a painter, and that I advocate creativity in times of hardship, I went to the canvas. My mom has an art studio in a charming building in the victorian village on the Puget Sound, Port Townsend. My first gallery, Color of Woman was here. I used to waitress at the once famous Coho Cafe in the early a.m. and go the gallery in the afternoon.  My first book, Color of Woman was printed here – all of our printing continues to happen in this little town.

My mother’s studio is filled with art, fabric and thread and a few paint brushes.  And her own wonderful art and poetry. And more recently, she has added the remains of Grandma’s fabric and thread  to her collection.  And so I set about my work of between the worlds painting time.  I spoke to Grandma much of the time and considered the location of Heaven. I sorted through her sewing things and jewelry boxes (Mamas too) and pulled some treasures out to include in the first painting, Come Unto Me.

A compass so she will know where to go next. Wooden buttons  from my mama and grandma’s clothing line way back when.  I stitched antique keys onto the canvas, I sewed on a giant rhinestone button and a crochet hook and a row of little Mexican mermaids. I glued on quilting fabric and glazed an old simplicity pattern onto the painting. Grandma was a pattern maker.  I added a map of Port Townsend, and put an X where she was located, on the Kai Tai Lagoon so God could find her in case God was real busy right now and figured she, and we, could wait a while longer.

I told God, and Grandma, I was ready for her to go now.  Strange thing it is, to pray for someone to go home know – and it made me think of all the people I know who expressed relief at the passing of someone they love who was indeed, ready for the journey, and perhaps delayed a little overlong in our eyes. We can say it is God’s timing. We can say she has unresolved work. You can say any darn thing you want to but in my heart I know that Grandma is a warrior.  My mother said this one morning as if this explained everything, and it stuck.  And warriors go fighting. Grandma is 96.  She does not have any illness besides ‘living so long’. She still recognizes us most of the time – and she will tell you I love you, if you say it to her first, real loud.

Being the contemplative artist that I am, I thought the painting might help her to make her journey. I would not have been a bit surprised if she passed during my painting process. But no. She has plans of her own.  Hospice has come in now, with all their concepts of comfort.  Each layer seems to take her further from us, and closer to home. Still my heart longs to see Grandma sit up and be herself now.  Tell us one of her stories.

And scold us a little bit.

Since she continues to live – I ask,

What is next for the artist to paint?

So I made another one, Finding Paradise.  Which has two alternate titles, Eden Restored, and Grandma In Paradise. I blissfully made this painting in honor of all of the Grandmas who would one day be restored, and who are going to be eating papayas in the Garden of Eden Paradise with blue butterflies resting on their shoulders. This time, I included two keys, a simplicity pattern and several small buttons.  I wanted it to be tropical and I wanted her to be in a state of wholeness, bliss, health, abundance, and most importantly, gratitude filled awe.

My pleasure at painting Finding Paradise is beyond words. I made it for all Grandmas and their Grand-daughters as a reminder -not of youth – but of the promise of wholeness.  I have never been big on reward based religion – even being a Christian has not lead me to a bunch of Heaven or Eternity talk. I know it is part of the bonus promised to believers, and that Jesus made it possible to live forever through his ressurection. I love this story, and I have chosen it as my path. And still it is the peace that passes understanding that He gave to us that I am interested in, and that I want most of all. And what I want everyone to have.

However, I must admit in painting Finding Paradise I found myself wanting to believe that Grandma would be restored in the next world.  That she would be able to dance again. When she broke her hip seven years ago, she said, “Does this mean I won’t be able to dance anymore?”. We are a dancing family. Why just today my sister Shannon sent my mom and me a u-tube of We Are Family and half way through my mom said, we have to dance – we cannot listen and not dance.  I want my Grandma to dance again. She loved her legs and she wore sexy blue dresses, sheer stockings and high heals and several opal rings on her fingers.

I want to dance with her when we find ourselves in Paradise.

She loved Elvis Presley. I am sure he will be there too.

Oh my dear Mama – who has never been without her mama her whole life! They lived and worked together all of their life, and never lived far apart. How do I console her?
We make art together. That is what we can do.  We are planning the rest of our lives – filled with excitement and ideas.

These paintings are a part of my personal journey.  And like all of my art, they become a part of the whole of life beyond my own. They enter the world soul as icons of the possible and are somehow no longer mine – while also being mine.  My paintings are narrative, in some ways, like Fridah Kahlo’s work they speak of the story of the artist, while reminding the viewer of their own story.  Fridah’s  paintings are offerings of a life lived fully through art. And in this way she is an inspiration to me that it is okay to share the suffering because others will be comforted by knowing they are not alone.

Both paintings are a record of my time here watching Grandma Breathe – and I offer them on the Altar of Life, to speak to whomever sees them, of hope, of rest, of possibility, of faith, of paradise.

My faith? Well it has not been shaken during this time, rather, how I live in my faith is being re-evaluated. Is God in the details, the tiny buttons of it all – or just in the broad strokes?  Asking the questions keeps my heart in an active dialogue with the mystery about this wonderous time spent here in the gravity of form.   Today I was mad.  Why is she still here when it is clear she is finished, and uncomfortable, and no longer living in the way she would like? There are no IVS – but there is the medicalness of death that we are trying to avoid at each pass.
It is the Sabbath and so my Mama and Jimmie and me sat around the kitchen table with the candle lit and talked about the nature of faith, religion and the Feminine Divine aspects within Christianity itself.  I have studied the feminine elements of my faith for thirteen years and I have found a most glorious ground from which to grow my personal tree of life as it relates to the MAMA Divine. Today, through talking about her, my faith walk, and reading Wisdom Scriptures my personal practice was re-ignited – this in addition to finishing the paintings – has renewed my spirit for the next part of this journey.

I reached to my Mother Divine, and in that reaching I found my own inner paradise again.  Explaining what that looks and feels like will have to be another writing all together.  And I got it again, that it is in seeking Wisdom, and getting Understanding that my path is revealed – and not in the getting answers, but in the seeking itself.

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

Of course, answers are good too. But when none appear to be found that can be fathomed by the human mind and heart – then it is in the seeking that the peace will be obtained. And if not peace, then at least a dialogue with the mystery. And if not a dialogue –
at least a yearning with no words.  And if not a yearning – then
we must force ourselves to reach outside of our known reality.
It is because of the yearning that the silent cry from the dry river beds of the heart are filled again.  Living water flows again. Our lips will be moistened once more with life, and we will sing praises to the Most High because new life has come again.

For Sophia Wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: for in her is an understanding spirit, holy, one only. . . For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty . . . And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she maketh all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God and prophets. For God loveth those that dwelleth with Sophia Wisdom.
Wisdom chapter 7 (excerpts)

Shiloh Sophia McCloud
Minister of Sacred Arts

For my Grandma Eden, and my family, Isaiah, Caron, Jim, Shannon, Rico, Brent, Brenda, Kirsten, Morgan, Haley, Bridget, Maia, Ezekiel, Janet, Gene, Lil, Bobby, Lael, Brian, Aleta, Gregory, Laurel, Geoff, Stephanie, John Henry, Helen, Cal and  Sue Hoya all their children all the way to the great great grandchildren and beyond.

Disclaimer: You know how there are un-plugged concerts? Well my writing is unplugged – no editors, no major re-writes, just words served up raw in the moment.