What Can I Expect at a Healing Service?

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Gentle Healing WordsTwo groups of people can typically be expected to come to a healing service:

Senior woman suffering from neck pain with eyes closed in the medical office1) Those in physical or emotional pain, sometimes with very serious illnesses and even desperate for anything that might help, and

 

 

Serene young woman with hands together in prayer pose  in the desert in China, silhouette, sun setting, profile2) Spiritual “seekers”, or those who are drawn to spiritually-charged environments where they experience Divine Presence, whether they are immediately concerned with healing a particular condition or not.

But really, do you know anyone whose life doesn’t “hurt” in some way? It may not be a physical need at all; sometimes it’s just an intense spiritual longing; longing to be free, to feel whole, to know God, by whatever name or form you recognize.

Whatever brings you into the room, there is one big question on the mind of most people who come to a healing service, event or retreat: “Will I get a miracle healing of my situation?”

This question comes with a whole lot of little questions dangling off of it. Questions such as: “I don’t know if I even believe in this—why am I here?” or

Everyone else will get something, but probably not me, right?” or

Why does this one get healed and so many others don’t? Why does someone experience instantaneous relief, and for others it may be a long process, and for some …’they died anyway.'”

Here’s what I want to say right at the get-go: I have no idea who will or won’t get healed, what level of healing they may experience, what is energetically initiated for them, and how it may play out in an individual’s life in terms of time. Unfortunately, “knowing” did not come with the job description. :-)

I wish I did know.

Every one who dares to be identified as a “healer” of any level of ability—whether being a healer constitutes a mommy-kiss on the bruised knee, being a medical doctor or even a John of God—all healers must ask themselves the same thing: why do some “boo-boos” heal and some don’t?  The truth is, we don’t really know why two situations that look very similar end up with different results, although it can be pretty enticing to make up fascinating reasons, which may or may not have merit, and there are some great books on the subject. We just surrender to Divine Will.

But I do know a few things.

I know that great miracles of healing  do indeed exist, and I’ve witnessed them and been a part of them; the long slow ones and the “miraculous” instantaneous ones. When it comes to the great healers, I’ve been with some of the Best in the World; those who heal publicly, and those who heal silently from a distance.

Rev. Nettie plays music for Padre Ron Roth & John of God in Brazil in 2004
Rev. Nettie plays music for Padre Ron Roth & John of God in Brazil in 2004

I know enough to know that with all that I do know, I don’t know much. (Say that one five times fast.)

Here’s what else I know: healing, by whatever means it happens, is a function of Divine Grace, not of the person through whom it comes. Grace means, hey, you may or may not deserve it, but here’s a gift from the Divine.

If you don’t get the gift you were hoping & praying for, then sometimes the gift is accepting that you’ve got some learning from the situation you’ve got.

Life is like PhotogI’ve been with enough spiritually amazing people who have died of cancer or had other disagreeable endings (at least from our physical point of view.) All have said to me or to others: “I would not trade what I’ve learned from this experience for anything.” That doesn’t stop me or them from desiring or praying for a different ending. Listen, surrender is difficult, and every time you think you’ve mastered it in one area, up pops the opportunity in yet another.

Surrender is like an ongoing game of Spiritual Whack-a-Mole.

whack-a-mole
And you thought you’d “handled” that one…

Here’s another thing I know: healing comes from the word for “whole”. Healing is, much as WE DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THIS, not really ultimately about making our arthritis go away or our cancer disappear—although, I’ll take all the physical healing I can get or give. God knows I’ve chased that kind of healing literally to the “ends of the earth” for myself and many others. I’m as agog as anyone else each and every time I hear of or witness a miraculous physical or emotional healing. It’s what I live for.

But that’s not truly Wholeness, is it? Because—brace yourself for this news—in this game of Life, nobody gets out alive. So healed today, gone tomorrow is still the unfortunate truth.

Then, wholeness means something else; healing means something else, beyond just bodily or  emotional healing.

Healing is about one thing only: healing that sense of being separate from your Divine origins; call it “separated from God, or Spirit or the Self.

When we recognize someone as “enlightened” or “awakened”, we are recognizing that they have healed that breech at the soul level. What happens then to the body is immaterial (pun intended). That is one reason why Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian saint of the last century, cared little when his devotees begged him to heal himself of the cancer that took him out; why I believe that Ron Roth spent two years in a wheelchair before finally exiting, and there are many other stories like this.

So what can you expect at a healing service?

Rev. Nettie blessing through the eyes.
Rev. Nettie blessing through the eyes.

On the pure physical level, the formats differ from healer to healer. In the legacy I’m a part of, there will definitely be a good deal of music and chanting to bring everyone into a sense of unity, community and raised vibrations. As Ron Roth used to teach us, all spiritual traditions start with raising the vibrations through chant, drum, music. There are some talks that are divinely guided in that they are usually inspired in a way that someone in the room needs to hear.  And then there are some organized hands-on healing prayers, where you may be lightly touched on the head.

In our Dec 13th Service in Evanston, IL, Rev. Wendy Chojnowski and I will be working together. We’ve had that opportunity before in one way or another, and it’s always full of delightful spiritual surprises and amplified energy. Our styles are different, but we are sourced from the Same Place.

Wendy_02
Rev. Wendy Chojnowski in one of her healing moments.

In some way, we who function as the conduits open up to let a more powerful energy of Grace touch your life. That Divine Wisdom knows exactly how much voltage you can handle, what needs to be done, in what order, for the healing of your own life. You can relax, and rest in the fact that a Grace bigger than your small self can be in control, even if you can’t dictate the outcome. Powerful Healing Vortex

Sometimes people experience immediate releases of pain or find out within a short period of time that something troubling them in their life miraculously clears up. Some people notice incremental changes. And others walk away feeling “nothing happened.” And maybe in the moment, it didn’t in a way they wanted. From where I stand, something always happens when you open yourself to greater blessing energy. Maybe, five years later, they turn around and realize that some profound changes in their lives were initiated by someone’s Grace-filled touch at a particularly crucial moment.

What can you expect at a healing service? Expect the good. Expect a better, higher connection with God; another name for Good. Expect to open to more goodness and love in your life. Be willing. Be open. Open yourself to possibilities that you only dare to hope for. Ask for what you need. Ask to be Whole. And then, be grateful.creative-----flowers--gifs--Pebbles-1--BORROWED-picfor-me----flower--Pink-Only--butterflies-and-flowers_mediumjpgMore on that another time.

Join us in Evanston, IL on Dec. 13th for our Free Healing Service: Grace, Power & Miracles… from 4 pm to 6:30 pm at Unity on the North Shore

Details here: http://revnettie.com/healing-events/

Sign up here: http://www.meetup.com/Evanston-Free-Spiritual-Healing-Service-Event/

Download flyer: Dec13FlyerFInal3

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREE HEALING SERVICE: EVANSTON, IL: DEC 13th, 2014

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA945464_10201728973257726_620457057_nRev. Nettie & her colleague Rev. Wendy Chojnowski will be giving a Free Healing Service at Unity of the North Shore in Evanston, IL on Sat, Dec 13th, 2014 at 4 pm (till approx 6:30 pm).

This is a service especially for those with “difficult-to-heal” conditions: cancer, neurological conditions, chronic suffering of all sorts, emotional pain…those who feel stuck in their life: in beliefs and patterns that no longer serve them or bring them joy; and anyone who needs the touch of light, faith and hope in their lives.

Music by Rev. Janet Lee Kraft with special guest Rev. Mary Yankee, vocalist.Janartharp2

Download Flyer Here: Dec13FlyerFInal2

Full Details Here: http://revnettie.com/healing-events/

 

Namaste: Beholding & Projecting the Divine

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On my first visit to India for a world diversity conference in 1997, I made friends with Marisa, an Indian woman who lived in Mumbai. Though she was Catholic, she was quite comfortable in the Hindu culture surrounding her. While sightseeing in the city, she took me to a temple that, if it wasn’t actually ancient, was in enough disrepair to qualify it as such.

We took our shoes off at the designated place in the outer courtyard. Like many entrances to Hindu temples, there was a statue out front. It was a bronze cow or bull, (I wasn’t sure), that had been worn shiny by countless hands touching it in reverence before entering the inner sanctum. Suspended over it was a bell.

Come, let’s ring the bell, and let the gods know we are here,” she smiled, beckoning me to follow her example.

I kept looking at the shiny bronze cow, which in all its relaxed golden glory looked exactly like something Charlton Heston smashed with the original tablets of the Law in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”—just seconds before cartoon fire descended from heaven to consume all the “ye of little faith” crowd. (Those were top-of-the-line special effects back then, in the days before Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic.)

Despite my multi-cultural self, all my Jewish upbringing arose, and I couldn’t bring myself to touch that golden calf…er…cow…er…bull. (I did, however, follow Marisa into the temple).

Such is the power of cultural implants.

Perhaps the original derivation of the term “throw the book at them”

Judaism and Islam share something in common in this area: one is not supposed to make “graven images,” or represent God in any physical way. Art will express itself somehow, and from this proscription, you get the absolutely stunning Islamic calligraphy and decorative arts. (I think Jews were too busy being chased out of various countries around the world to develop a parallel artistic accomplishment on the same scale).

The point is, one didn’t paint pictures of God.

Dome of the Hagia Sophia in Turkey

Someone failed to tell that to Michelangelo, however, and to countless other Christian artists before and after him. As we all know, the Catholic and Orthodox churches developed a sophisticated vocabulary of imagery precisely focused on statues and icons, thus giving us some of the greatest works of art in the Western world—which, as an art student all my young life, I imbibed with my milk and cookies (and later wine and cheese). Yet, like many outside that culture, worship that included images or even more disconcerting, statues, was beyond my understanding.


As I later got more and more immersed in teachings and culture of India, I got a different lens on the whole phenomenon. The Jungian writer, Robert A. Johnson, wrote in his biography Balancing Heaven & Earth:

Soul work, or inner work, takes place when something moves from the unconscious, where it began, into conscious awareness. The path is never straight and neat inside oneself, as if you could go to a library and do all your inner work there. Instead, when something is ready to move from the unconscious to the conscious, it needs a host or intermediary. Generally this intermediary is some person or thing.

In other words, a saint, guru, picture or statue.

Spiritually speaking, we need to project those divine qualities that are our birthright, that we carry within us, onto someone or something else.

Seen in a magnified way in another, it become easier for us to grow into those holy qualities, be they goodness, kindness or holiness itself. Indian tradition takes that a step further—a student literally worships the guru as God, with the understanding that the Guru is in fact a stand-in until the student can hold that Divine energy him/herself.

Ammachi at Devi Bhava (blessing from the energy of Divine Mother) Seattle, 200

I attended a ritual in the city of Madurai on my last trip in 2009. At the end of the nine-day Dassera festival came an evening devoted to the women. As part of that holiday’s ritual, a young girl was dressed up as a goddess Parvati, and the older women fed and tended to her in a worshipful manner. The beautiful girl accepting the devotions of her elders was graceful and stunning. At the core of the ceremony was yet another variant of that all-encompassing Sanskrit greeting: Namaste: the God in me beholds the God in you.

Young girl dressed as Parvati for the end of Dassera, Madurai, India 2009

When Mother Theresa was asked how she could embrace the most destitute and dying on the streets of Kolkata, she answered that when she looked at them, she saw Jesus. This, too, is the projection of the Divine.

In my home, I have little altars in most of the rooms. All around are pictures of Great Ones, statues, rocks; all triggers of remembrance. My daughter, when she was younger, used to complain that the house looked like a monastery, “with Bibles everywhere!” (The two Bibles I have were in my study.)

If we see the Divine outside ourselves enough, eventually we bring it home where it belongs, in the inner temple.

Where are your divine projections focused? Where do you think they come from? (People of different backgrounds see that divine seed differently.) How do you remember the sacred?

(If you are reading this on the Home Page, Comments links are at the bottom. If you are reading this as a single-entry page, the Comments link is at the top.)

The Inner Voice

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Healing Event at Olga's

Learning to trust the inner voice, (or Inner Voice) is natural to some people, but a learned skill for most.

In the beginning the Voice can seem like just another thought amidst the LA Freeway Traffic Jam of the Mind. Yet something about it catches our attention: perhaps the thought is novel in some way, or there is a body sensation that accompanies it, or it’s a thought that just keeps coming around for another turn, asking for attention. Learning the difference between the voice of guidance (“call that person!”) and the voice of the ego-mind (“go ahead, eat the chocolate cake!”) is a skill worth mastering. And, it’s a lesson that’s never over, Spirit keeps upping the ante.

Life teaches us about intuition, and for some it’s a slow learning process. “I had a feeling I shouldn’t have gone out tonight…” “I knew I should have called her…”  My healer friend Robbins Hopkins has an expression: “You get as many chances as you need.” It’s her gentle take on the reality that life will keep repeating the circumstances—both the tough lessons and the golden opportunities— till you step up and match the lesson being offered.

For some people, guidance comes in very strongly, in a clearly discernible way. Over decades, I’ve become one of those people. It wasn’t always as clear as it is now. Still, there are moments when I question, because it can be a thin line between your lower mind and your higher Self at times. Negotiating that line is one of the main lessons in life.

Just prior to a trip to California to do a healing/blessing event, when I received an inner message saying I should bring along a red silk sari I bought two years ago on a trip to India and had never yet worn, that little voice of doubt raised it’s volume for a few moments. Wearing a queenly red sari and playing the guitar at the same time could raise all sorts of questions in the minds of attendees, and did I really want to deal with that? (One of the participants later suggested I call it a “guitari.”)

But years of experience have taught me to trust and listen, and so I did. Upon arriving in CA, I found that my co-leader, Rev. Susi Roos, had also brought along her Indian garb, so we knew something was afoot.

That something turned out to be an evening devoted to the blessings of the Divine Feminine. Everything both of us had brought in our hearts and in our suitcases turned out to be perfectly synched, helping to create a powerful experience for the attendees and for us as well.

Celebrating at the end of a beautiful event: Olga Llerena, Rev. Susi Roos, Rev. Nettie Spiwack, Bob Bearden

What messages have you received that you have brushed aside as silly thoughts, or that put you at risk of looking foolish? When have you followed that guidance and realized it was the Real Deal? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! (If you are reading this on the Home Page, Comments links are at the bottom. If you are reading this as a single-entry page, the Comments link is at the top.)

A Night to Remember

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Evicting Cancer Seminar & Healing Service Aug. 9th, 2011There are times in your life when you can see everything coming together in a way that is so perfect and so fluid that you can only stand aside and watch the pieces fall into place, knowing that only divine Grace could so direct the play.

Two years ago, on the night after my mentor Ron Roth died, I had a vivid dream visitation; a dream in which my friend Rev. Susi Roos and I were dressing in ministerial vestments in the vestry of a Catholic church. Ron Roth, in full priestly regalia, came charging down the aisle of the cathedral, holding his bishop’s staff and scolding us loudly in his most annoyed tone.

“Where are you, I’m WAITING for you!” he said impatiently.

He turned back toward the altar, and Susi and I fled down the aisle after him, practically running to keep up. He mounted the platform and we slid into seats behind him and looked out at a vast crowd.

Ron Roth blessing his spiritual daughter, Tania, during Mass at the Casa in Brazil in 2004

On August 9th, that dream came to life when Susi and I got into our ministerial vestments in the vestry of St. Catherine of Siena Roman Catholic church in Rialto, California. And though Ron was not there in body, he certainly was fully present for both of us and for the people of the parish in the San Bernardino area who came in droves to attend the seminar and healing service Evicting Cancer, which, two years ago when I had the dream, was not even a glimmer in either of our eyes.

When I first floated the idea for doing this interfaith educational and healing event past Fr. Steve Porter, whom I had met in Brazil, I did some rapid math in my head. I knew his parish was large, and I figured that among 9000 people, many lives must be touched by cancer. How many would turn out on a weekday or weeknight to hear two unknown female ministers was at best a gamble—I figured anywhere from 10 to 100. But the Holy Spirit had other ideas.

Unknown to me when we had first spoken of the idea was the fact that Fr. Steve has conducted regular healing services at his church for years, and had everything and everyone in place to hold a large-scale event that otherwise would have taken a huge amount of logistical arrangements if we were truly starting from scratch—which we weren’t. With Fr. Steve’s enthusiastic support, the first of two events that day had around 300 people in attendance at 10:00 a.m.

Rev. Susi Roos opens the Evicting Cancer event

A wonderful musical ministry team gave their time to support the services, and to provide translation during our talks as well. After we were introduced in English and Spanish by Fr. Steve, Rev. Susi, who works as both a nurse and a mind/body specialist at a leading cancer treatment facility, spent the first hour talking on the three biggest mistakes people make when addressing cancer, and gave easy and practical things people could do to greatly assist the effectiveness of their treatment. She put all the medical information into a spiritual context, touching on some of the concepts from her in-depth teleseminars and home-study programs.

Then it was my turn to open people up to a higher energy transmission through teaching and leading worship (something I’ve done many times on a scale larger than 300 people) and in the laying-on-of-hands healing (something I’ve done in smaller events).

Fr. Steve had arranged with one of the prayer groups to provide support, and in accordance with the way they conduct healing services at this church, every individual is personally escorted by a healing minister to come for laying on of hands; the minister stays with them if they go “down under the Power of the Spirit” (involuntarily fall gently to rest on the floor while healing is done on an unconscious level).

Rev. Susi anointing with blessed oil.

Our spiritual assistants also functioned as translators as the vast majority of those attending had Spanish as their primary language.

I knew one thing: don’t prepare too much, because whatever you think will happen, it will surely be something different. And so it was.

Rev. Nettie blesses at the evening service.

I was ready to lay hands on people in blessing, but shortly into the personal blessings I was led to look at them in the eyes, and as I did, thoughts would come flooding in, differing from one person to the next, such as “have courage!” or “you are loved…” There was clearly an energy being transmitted through the gazing, and all I had to do was get out of the way and let it happen. I also found myself clearing much “junk”—removing invisible energy blocks before passing people on to Susi, who then anointed them with oil. As she blessed them, many went down under the Power. Fr. Steve moved amongst the people and between us, lending energetic, logistical and prayer support.

The morning, scheduled to go from 10:00 – 12:00, continued till 1:00 p.m., as people waited patiently in line for their turn.

The evening event began at 7:00 pm, and saw many more people fill the church. This time it was clear to Fr. Steve that at least half were not his parishioners, but those who had heard about the opportunity through friends or through the local Spanish radio station, and had come with hope in their hearts, some bringing children, some with older people in wheelchairs, some holding pictures of loved ones.

As the evening went on, the Divine energy in the church became electric; people were open, full of devotion and enthusiastically ready to receive Grace. Reflected on many faces as they approached, was much fear, pain and suffering, and devotion as well. But just under the surface lay a hunger and thirst for love, hope, and most of all, peace—the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The service started promptly at 7:00 and didn’t end till after 11:00. Fr. Steve estimated that we had over 1000 in attendance and about 700 who came up to be personally blessed. I had no idea how many; I could only see the person in front of me, and Juvenal, the human angel who was assisting me, pointed me where I needed to go in the cases of the elderly and wheelchair patients.

This time, as the evening went on, as I looked at the person in front of me, I knew within seconds who was physically sick and who was there for emotional reasons. If I asked, they would verify the information and give a few words about their situation. As expected, there were many with cancers, but there were many other conditions as well, often advanced and serious, as well as those seeking help with emotional problems.

Rev. Nettie blessing through the eyes.

People come to healing services hoping for miraculous help. And what they mean is, on the physical level, they want their cancers to disappear; their ailments—many of which took years and years to establish—to vanish immediately. I’ve been in this world of healing long enough to know that this indeed happens at times, and I believe that when it happens it’s to build faith not only in that person, but in all who know them.

More often, a new kind of journey is initiated. Susi quotes her first patient in this field who begged for her help, sensing Susi knew things that could help her, even though the doctors had told her they couldn’t do any more: “You turned my death sentence into a healing journey,” she later said.

While I’ve experienced that journey in my own life and witnessed it in so many others—some near and dear to me—that night took everything I’ve ever been through in the world of spiritual healing to a whole new level.

I stood at the center of the healing vortex and I could see, feel and know that an energetic transformation had happened for many attendees; that infusion of Divine energy would revitalize them; some in the physical, some in the emotional, some in the spiritual, and some in all three.

An infusion of energy always alters that which it touches; it’s a physical law. What’s less well-known is that it is a spiritual law as well.

As a result, I know that not only the people who came were changed; I, too, am changed.

For almost 30 years I have resounded with the quote from George Bernard Shaw that starts: This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…

On August 9th, I was fully used by that purpose. There is no better place to be. For that privilege, I am grateful to God.

Our gratitude also goes to Fr. Steve Porter for making this event available to the people of his community, with whom we now share a profound sense of love and blessing.

Rev. Susi, Rev. Nettie & Fr. Steve, the day after the services.

Tired, But Happy

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The garden of our pousada in quiet time after cleaning

It’s an unusually cold night here in Abadiania, Brazil!

For the only time in my five visits since 2004, the town is almost empty. It’s Saturday; the day that many people end their two-week stay here at one of the B & B’s (pousada, in Portuguese) that host them when they come from all over the world to see the famous healer John of God at the Casa Dom Inacio—the House of St. Ignatius. Most people, particularly those coming with groups, arrive on Sundays or Mondays, so this lull is brief. Late August is often a busy time here, and I hear it’s expected to heat up, both the weather, the population, and, well, no experience here ultimately escapes that description.

Nettie with jetlag!

My sister-in-law Liz, here for her first visit, commented as soon as we stepped into the Brasilia airport how relaxed and non-frenetic the atmosphere was. She’s right—certainly in contrast to the environments of “do, do, and do more!” that pervade our lives; or compared to, say, arriving in Mumbai.

For those of you who know the crew at Irmao Sol, Irma Lua, the pousada that’s been my home away from home, there are a few new residents.

Joining Bono—the black mutt who has long been top dog here—are Max (see below) and a bevy of kittens who look to be about 6 months old.

Max, the new dog.

There’s an older white cat around who may or may not be there mother, but Max in particular has taken singular joy in chasing one very friendly (to us) kitten, literally up a tree. Several trees, in fact. The kitten seems well-used to it, and Bono, Max and the kittens lend the air of a cartoon-chase to the environs. But it seems to be a well-rehearsed routine, and none of them are immune to being distracted from the chase, by say, an interesting piece of chicken or the noise of the dogs in the street.

It was good to have this day to settle in. We’re both feeling—you know—the way you feel when you’ve kinda sorta gotten some sleep, maybe, not sure, for a few hours in an airplane. Liz took a sleeping aid on the advice of her travel-savvy husband, and was out cold, but woke up telling me she hadn’t slept all night. Imagine her surprise when I told her that indeed she had. We’re both ready to hit the hay, and it’s 7:40 p.m.

The adventures pick up steam tomorrow. Boa noite!

Liz with jetlag. Sleep? I did? What sleep?

Website revisions underway!

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Looking for me at http://www.nettiespiwack.com  

I’m in the process of domain name transfer from one host to another, and the website will be down for a few days. See you there in July! Meanwhile, keep up with me here! And you can always write me at revnettie at gmail dot com.

Travels with Angel

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The folks who make the Voyage-Air folding guitar have an Owner’s Club on their website and I was asked to contribute my experiences. That led to my written reflections on the place that each guitar that’s come into my life represented a place, a time and a memory, and my realization that I had never really selected my own instrument till a turning point that started with a dream. The article is at their website (link below), and I’ve reproduced it here with a few changes, edits and upgrades. Link to the article at the Voyage-Air site:   http://www.voyageairguitar.com/owners-club/featured-owner/505

Here’s my expanded article with more pix:

Sunday Service with my Voyage-Air at the Casa de Dom Inacio (home of John of God), Abadiania, Brazil 2011

Travels with Angel

Travels with Angel – My Journey to the Voyage-Air
By Rev. Nettie M. Spiwack

Jim Wolcott at Voyage-Air asked me to write a few words about my experiences with their folding guitar, that little marvel of which I was an early adopter.

For a musician, every instrument has its unique place in your history.

One night back in 2001 I had a dream about a guitar. As I came awake, the verses of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Old Beat Up Guitar” were in my mind:

She traveled with me always, through the alleys and the bars

The songs I sang and the friends I knew were a part of that guitar…

Jerry Jeff called his guitar “Angel,” after someone drew one on the top of it. Finding, losing and then finding her again in his travels features prominently in that song he recorded in 1972, and which I hadn’t thought of in a few decades.

Well, a traveling man has trouble holding on to all he owns

And in those years of traveling that guitar fell by the road

Then one night in New Mexico, I stumbled into a bar

And there lay Angel smiling at me on that old beat up guitar.

The dream was a message. I was about to go out to play music for a retreat in California, and I knew it was time to go find my Angel.

I had played many guitars in my life by that time, but in truth, not one of them had I selected and bought myself.

I started playing folk guitar early, in a wonderful setting that was right out of a cliché. I was nine years old; it was summer at Camp Johnny Appleseed where my mother was working that year in the camp office. With mom’s brown Favilla nylon-string guitar—bought in aspiration of her learning to play it, as my parents were part of the Hootenanny generation—I attended a group class, sitting on a porch in the Catskills and learned Woody Guthrie’s “Rambling Boy” with three whole chords in the key of A.

Mom’s brown Favilla became my guitar, the one I toted around in its cracked chipboard case—a glorified cardboard box, really—to group and then private lessons. Carrying my guitar didn’t represent too many difficulties because first of all, I was young, both the guitar and the case were light, no airplanes were involved, and no one around me then knew anything about humidity control, or if it was wise to take a guitar in a cardboard box on the NYC subways in winter. Soon, renditions of Go Tell Aunt Rhody gave way to the music of the Beatles and James Taylor and Crosby Stills & Nash.

1973, playing a borrowed guitar my first year at college. From the shape of the pick guard, I think it's a Gibson. It's not Dad's Harmony, but it looks about the same size!

By my years at the High School of Music & Art, I graduated to dad’s huge Harmony Sovereign grand concert. That guitar remains one of the biggest I’ve ever seen to this day. (Quantity, however, should never be confused with quality). Dad really never learned to play more than “You Are My Sunshine,” and turning his guitar over to me caused him no pain. It too, had a chipboard case, was a lot heavier to lug around, and I can still feel the indentation in my hand from the metal rings on the side of the plastic handle.

In the height of the folksinger/songwriter era, numerous other guitars had joined the family as my siblings and I played: my brother’s Guild 12-string, his Gretsch electric, my sister’s La Madrilena classical guitar, and a ¾ version of the same which my mother was determined to, this time, learn to play. (She didn’t.) There was always something to play and often someone playing it. I spent most of those years working out Joni Mitchell’s repertoire and figuring out an occasional open tuning for playing her songs.

I married a man with a Martin D-28, the gold standard of a serious player at the time. (I married up!)  He was trying to make it as a performer when we met, though that dream eventually got put aside, and both of us stopped playing for a long stretch. When years later, we parted, he was kind enough to let me keep his Martin on extended loan, for by that time I was starting my career in spiritual music, and guitar was once again front and center in my life.

The D-28 had its legendary sound, not to mention cache, but it had some drawbacks. First, it had tough action, and my hands had a touch of arthritis, which made bar chords on the very rounded neck painful to hold. And then, there was the case. This guitar had the heavy hardshell case with weighty gravitas to match its content. The problem was, I was now in my 40’s and lugging it around to gatherings near and far, and worse, through long airport corridors and onto planes, got harder and harder. Not to mention that my ex was not enthused about my traveling with it.

After that Jerry Jeff dream, I knew it was time to return the Martin to her rightful owner and to go find my own Angel to travel with me.

That first Angel was the Larrivee Mahogany Orchestra Model, which fit me and my hands to a “t”; which I loved and which I lugged with its big heavy hard case through airports, across the USA, and even through India. Angel was later joined by a Taylor 12-string, whose case is so heavy that she’s rarely left my living room.

Performing with Soulfyre in Chicago, playing my Larrivee guitar, 2008. Photoart by Shirley Arendt

But as Angel and I made our way around over the next eight years I noticed that I wasn’t getting any younger, there’s never a roadie when you need one, the airport corridors got longer, and the airplanes fuller and fuller.

I needed another Angel. One I could travel with but that could still produce worthy sound. I was heading back to Brazil, to a retreat and healing center where I often end up leading music for hundreds of people.

I scoured music stores and the internet for travel guitars. It seemed that not much had changed in the years since I’d last looked. The choices were some sticks with strings, or perhaps a parlor-sized guitar. I had just about settled on a Baby Taylor, when I did one last search. And up popped the aptly named website, TakeYourGuitar.com.  When I saw the Voyage-Air’s folding neck, I thought: it’s too good to be true!  Then I realized, it’s like rolling luggage: once it was invented, you can’t imagine that no one had figured that one out before.

But how could I buy a guitar off of a website, never having played it or heard it?

Jim Wolcott patiently answered my many questions with great enthusiasm. His passion for the Voyage-Air persuaded me. My family and friends got together and gifted one of the Songwriter series to me for my birthday.

Welcome to the era of Angel II.

I was happily surprised by everything about the guitar…how good it sounded, how easy the action was, how well my hands could manage the (mercifully flatter) neck. And how light it was! Truth be told, I have many purses and totes that are far heavier!

Since 2009, this Voyage-Air guitar has traveled twice to India, several times to Brazil, and on countless trips around the USA. It’s been on every type of airplane, and by zipping off the computer case, I even managed to squeeze it under the seat on a small flight from Madurai to Bangalore when it looked like I might have to check it.

Playing for a ceremony at the end of the Dassera festival, Madurai, India, 2009

My Voyage-Air never fails to cause a stir. It’s still not widely known, and I’ve even had flight attendants ask me to open it so they could see it!

This summer in Brazil, a classical guitarist almost fell over himself when he saw me fold the neck down. He held it mesmerized, smiling, unable to believe the sound and the engineering.

Playing the Voyage-Air at an interfaith ordination in Brazil, 2011

My Larrivee, Angel I, now holds court in my house and steps out once in a while for local gigs. She’s enjoying her retirement, and truth be told, sometimes I look at her wistfully when I’m going on the road, thinking maybe this time I’ll take her. But Angel II always wins out.

Playing my Voyage-Air at a recent blessing event in San Mateo, CA, 2011

Now she travels with me always, through the alleys and the bars

And the friends I make and the songs I write are a part of that guitar,

Some nights it is my pillow resting underneath the stars

Day and night I stay alive with that old beat up guitar.

Well, being a minister and all, I’m neither in alleys nor bars, and I’m more likely to be sleeping on a plane than under the stars. But the spirit of my Angel is the same to me as Jerry Jeff’s was to him, which he captured so beautifully in that song.

Jim and I talk about my upgrading, and maybe at some point I’ll welcome Angel III.

Till then, if you see me at an airport with my Voyage-Air, wave hi!

Rev. Nettie M. Spiwack
Interfaith Minister
about.me/nettiespiwack
revnettie.com
www.nettiespiwack.com

“That Old Beat Up Guitar” by Jerry Jeff Walker, from Jerry Jeff Walker, MCA-37004 1972.

Missing Carla

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Carla at Ordination, June, 2004

As the weeks go by, the memory of how she looked at the end is fading. The steroids had rendered her an almost comic cross between Buddha and Uncle Fester. She’d long since lost her hair, and her features had all but disappeared into what was now a swollen and unfamiliar visage. I still see the last moments we were with her, as her eyes went back and forth from one to another of we “sister” friends who had come to say our goodbyes. She had a half smile on her face, at the same time her eyes were thoughtful. It was a quintessential Carla expression. At the time I thought she might have been confused. But Carla was always a thinker who needed time to process things inside.

I believe it was the moment she was really getting it. This was finally it, the road had come to a close. Her gaze caught mine for a long, long moment.

I have to go?” she half asked, half stated. Then she repeated it, as if to herself: “I have to go.

“You’ve been a great friend,” I had said to her a few moments before this last declaration.

It’s been a pleasure,” she replied with her eyes closed, a loving half-smile on her face.

Now that I remember it, I know where I had seen that expression before. It was on my mother’s face, 24 years ago, as I stood at her hospital bedside in her last conscious moments, listening to what were to be her final words. Her closed eyes had signaled: “I’m tired, I have to go.” The half smile as she spoke her last phrase, said everything else.

I was seeing that expression again, on the face of my friend.

The truth was, I hadn’t seen a lot of Carla in the past year or so since she moved from Westport further up the Merritt Parkway to a condo in Stratford.  Whereas during our years singing together in our group, Soulfyre, we had seen each other at least once a week, (often at her home), the same disease that had ended our group’s performing days eventually ended Carla’s social life as well. That isolation is where I think she suffered the most.

For a very introverted person, Carla was a real social animal. She enjoyed the bustle of her grown kids coming and going in the chaotic household. She loved having us over for rehearsals and visits at 7 Loren Lane in Westport. She loved being a guest, too. My last good memory of her is her staying over after both Christmas and Passover this year. She made it down here on her own, but needed to stay over rather than drive home.

She loved to stay up late and talk on such occasions. And to watch movies. Carla was a movie-going companion, always up for going to a flick or watching one at home. She had her own little soundtrack: a habit of exhaling a deep audible breath whenever there was a moment of strong emotion on the screen; whether it was happiness or sadness didn’t matter. She was completely unaware of this trait till one day this year I told her about it. It surprised her, and made her both laugh and think about its source. Laughing and thinking, that was Carla.

Carla and I had many great kitchen talks over the years. They followed a pattern. She would share a dilemma of a perception in which she knew she was trapped, and she would plunge headlong into an inquiry into breaking down the limitations of that viewpoint. I would hear that emotional exhale of hers often in such interactions. She was determined to wrest out of me whatever perception would get her another measure of freedom. And many measures she did indeed win.

Carla knew I had something she wanted. She told me so right from the beginning in those words: “whatever you have, I want it,” she laughed. And she worked herself like hell to get it. She remade her interior self more dramatically than anyone I’ve ever known

I want some of what she had too. Her bravery. Her kindness. Her sensitivity to others. Her pitbull quality of holding onto something she wanted to have happen and not letting go. Her absolute fearlessness in facing her future, even if what she was facing would have cowed many a weaker soul—like mine, perhaps.

We didn’t see each other much recently, as I said. So not seeing her now hasn’t felt so strange. Just getting through the real “end” when it was finally, inescapably here was the hard part. Now, it’s almost back to life as it was before she passed.

Those last images are mercifully beginning to fade. And as they do, I find I miss my friend. The one who never stopped being a hippie, who wore the woven Guatemalan pants that I had tossed away when I outgrew them on my way up the scale, who had very few material desires other than the wish to travel, whom I had to gently tell, the day we went to the NY Philharmonic on Valentine’s Day in a blizzard, that it really wasn’t appropriate to knit during a concert, even if it was a rehearsal.

The Carla who is coming back now is the one who always arrived with a big smile and her special laugh, the one where she would toss back her head when something was really funny. I see her tending pots on the stove, cooking for her kids long past the age when they could take care of themselves, simply because she loved doing it—both the cooking and the caring. I remember how much she loved being with me in Brazil at John of God. Abadiania was the closest she ever came to the life she’d probably envisioned in the 60’s—a small town where people walked the streets with smiles and community, agragarian, peaceful. She had wanted very much to go back there and to stay for months, if not forever.

I asked her at that last hospital visit to find a way to let us know she was with us once she was on the Other Side. She nodded yes. I’m a medium myself, as a few of us from Soulfyre are. But I’m waiting for something really big. Something I know I couldn’t make up. And I know I’ll get it one day.

Because once Carla gets something in her head, something as small as death of the physical body certainly isn’t going to stop her.

So I’ll end with the words she said to me, back atcha.

It’s been a pleasure.

Weather You Like it or Not

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This confusing image is of my friend's car underneath the tree limb that smashed it.

In the first 24 years since I left New York City for the suburbs, there was only one time when we lost power for days. It was when my (then) husband and I had just moved to Armonk, NY and Hurricane Gloria passed through, forcing us to move in for three days with my parents in the Bronx since we had no power, water, etc.

(In those days there was no internet, and no cell phones, the fax had just been invented. The reality of being tied to devices in order to run business and life was still a decade away.)

In the scant two years since I’ve moved to my current location in CT, there have been four times when the power has been out for several days…up to four or more.

So, the Northeast was socked by yet another storm that knocked everything off kilter, worse than when Hurricane Irene came by in September. the leaves are still on the trees and a heavy wet snow fell; the weight of it brought down power lines and trees all over. There’s a state of emergency on in many areas around.

After spending a night in a very cold house in the dark, I packed up the perishable contents of my freezer and made my way around blocked roads to my brother’s house 40 minutes away. They have a generator and so had light and heat.

One gets very grateful for such “small” things. I didn’t think I’d get back to my house for a week or more, but they did our block quickly, so it was only two days this time.

Many of my friends, as well as my business place, are still without power and are camping out where they can with friends in the city, or are just making due. At least the temperatures went back up to “normal” fall levels.

In the midst of all this, the street was just clean enough by Halloween that the trick-or-treaters came out in force, including people who migrated here from other areas where power cables are still down and too dangerous.

Disruption of all kinds is the new normal. And with each one comes an increasing sense of vulnerability at just how dependent we are on this fragile infrastructure we call modern life.