Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Big Three on Christmas Day

Faith. Hope. Love.

Did you think I meant the American car companies?

In all traditions, religious or not, the top three spiritual values are faith, hope and love. St. Paul tries to tell us that the greatest of these is love, but I think they are a trinity, co-existent and interdependent and of equal value although one may predominate from time to time according to your personal situation.

The time of transformation and hope for something new to be born is central to all faith, to all people. Christians at Christmas see this at the birth of Jesus, Godde as little baby—hard not to love. (Well, there's chronic colic. Hard not to care for anyway.)

Faith, hope and love are called spiritual because humanity can't control them, only be open to them, experience them, and be grateful. Ever try to make yourself love someone you don't? Or make someone love you? Ever try to give faith to someone, or hope? You can't. (It's worse than trying to get your loved one to stop smoking. In that case you let go and pray for a triple dose of all three.)

I wish you my blog readers and colleagues the joy of love, the wealth of faith, and the inner serenity of hope at Christmas and beyond— in equal measure.

Hopes and Fears

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." So goes a line of the old Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

Hopes and fears. Where, how will they meet? Where is Bethlehem this year?

I feel stretched thin on the rack of hopes and fears right now. It's a messy mix to have swirling around mind and heart together. Neither one edges out the other completely; both are true.

I remember when my labor started for my first child I cried in fear anticipating the pain to come. I wanted it to stop, even prayed for that I think. At the same time I hoped almost to assurance that a little child would push its way with me through me out into the light. She did, a beautiful, hirsute, squawling baby girl, now 45 and still beautiful.

But I'd wanted to separate the fear from the hope, the labor from its fruit. I wanted to have one without the other. I still try for that.

I have labored over a manuscript— my vocational story of becoming a priest, my story of getting to know and love Godde and myself, my story of how I came to know that what happens to Godde happens to me.

I've labored. I wait. I labor to find a publisher. I fear my story is too insignificant and my timing lousy. I still hope for a publisher or some attractive alternative. Hope and fear together. I let them wrestle, watch my seesaw mood soar and plummet daily (no I'm not bipolar!—yet) Where and how will they meet?

The meeting of these two apparent emotional enemies comes for me in tears, tears that melt the tension.

When I began my labor I was afraid to be a "baby" and cry in fear. When I admitted this to my husband he gave me a hug and luckily didn't tell me how terrified he was.

When a friend recently wrote that somewhere out there there is a publisher who wants me I wept. Even a tired old cliche can be holy.

When hopes and fear come together and vulnerability is born I know the Holy is around, something new will be born.

Godde only knows what, who or when.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

MIssed Calls

Imagine: You stroll through a cemetery near your home, not because you have a morbid fascination with death but because you are lonely, the moon lights your way, and the stars like a crowd, move with you. Suddenly you hear a little tune. You stop, look around, hear it again. It's perky, friendly. It's calling you. Not easily frightened you now feel the hair on your neck bristle. No one is around. Are there such things as fairies and elves? You follow the sound to the ground. Yes, it's coming from one of the graves. You put your ear close to the ground and hear the faint tinkle again. Familiar. Yes, it's on the menu of cell phone ring tones. You almost chose it.

How far can technology go? Is this the latest way seances are accomplished? You're spooked?

So was I when I read the December 16th online report from MSNBC on burying people with their cell phones by their side. Activated! Mourners say it brings them comfort, like burying Granny with her precious dog's old collar or favorite recipe. I suppose if your dad or mother spent so much time with their ear attached to a bluetooth or a cell phone you might think they couldn't die without it. One woman buried her husband with his phone equipped with new batteries. She is still paying the monthly fee for the phone.

Is this madness or deep spiritual need? Surely it's a sign to take seriously. It's a symbol. Many people today are so strung out you can pluck them. They'd vibrate but make no music. Is the little cell tune music to their ears, music to salve their fear of disconnection, death?

Or is this something to laugh about as a friend did when she quipped, "I'd rather have them bury the phones than bring them into the restaurant where I'm having lunch."

As a Christian I think of the Holy Spirit as the Great Connector, the one who has no fear, who enters even the darkest corners of human need to bring faith, hope or love. The one whose signal never cuts out or breaks up.

A little boy goes off to kindergarten for the first time. He's scared. His mother gives him hugs and whispers sweet words into his ear. He goes alone into the classroom. Sometime during the morning the child feels the same fear he felt when he left home. Maybe the teacher frowned or another child shoved him. The boy just then remembers his mother's embrace of the morning. He feels the warmth in his body and hears her words in his inner ear, although mom isn't present. His fear is replaced— by love enough to know he is good, faith enough to know he is capable, and hope enough to know his mother will reappear in the flesh soon. He'll take it with him when he dies.

That's the work of the Great Connector. It's spiritual work. Cell phones feel like like hugs and sweet words in a busy world I admit, but get a hug anyway—just in case your battery runs out or you can't afford your monthlies.

I love my cell phone but I'm not taking it with me.

Friday, December 12, 2008


December 13th. St. Lucy's Day.

Lucy is know as the patron saint of people with poor or no eyesight. Her name means "light." Little is known historically about Lucy except that she died for her refusal to deny her Christian faith. Details include her defiance of an arranged marriage which inspired her angry proposed husband-to-be to betray her Christian faith to the authorities during the Diocletian persecutions.

You could call it martyrdom on Lucy' part, submitting to death for her ideals, or you could call it what else is new in the world of violence against women? Women are injured, abused, oppressed and, yes, killed, for their politics, religious beliefs or just plain femaleness. How dare we exist!

Perhaps Lucy saw beyond promises and assurance and obedience to the ways of her time. Perhaps she saw beyond what the physical eye could see into a spiritual death worse than biological death.

All Lucy wanted to do was give her money to the poor and her life to the service of Godde, a deity who created her free and worthy as a woman.

What I admire in Lucy is her courage to stand up and be counted at dire risk.

I think of Lucy's day as one of our personal family saint days, a day when three years ago, thanks to the courage of telling and hearing the truth in love, something transformative happened, something saving.

I think of a granddaughter Lucia (LuLu or Luci) who has bright eyes and the chutzpah to go with it. You know when she is around. She's only four and not afraid to be.

I think of a friend named Christie who is legally blind and has been able to design, implement, and raise money to support a day program for senior citizens she cares for and can't see.

Christie prays for the strengthening of her third eye AND the restoration of her actual vision which has been declared a medical impossibility. It takes guts to stand up and be counted before Godde with your honest desires. No fudging. No goody goody prayers like: It would be nice if I could see, but other people have it much worse off, and look at all the blessings I have; besides Godde has greater concerns and work than little old me.

Truth in prayer is as essential (not to outcomes but to the strengthening of your relationship with the divine) in prayertalk as it is in peopletalk. Lucy and all those we see as holy on church calendars and in our personal lives did that. It's why there are revered.

Thank you St. Lucy, Christie, Lucia and all of you who have sight beyond sight and are brave enough to tell it like it is even without hard visual evidence and guarantees.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Stop the World

Stop the world I want to get on!
In this hectic season and violent-crazed world most people want to get off. I'm tempted.
However, I don't want to be left behind, unless of course it's the biblical Rapture in which case I assert myself as a child of heaven-on-earth.
I'll go down not up.
I'm trying to keep up with the technological revolution. I'm wired for print and paper, not cyber-paper and electronic non-books. I'm wired for slow and steady not swift and simultaneous. It's a sea change.
I must be getting better (or worse) because I get impatient when my computer is out of date and responds like a tortoise not a hare.
But I need to understand the computer and its language for my vocation as a writer. And I want to get my memoir published at a time when publishing is in as much disarray as the auto industry.
Also I want to be able to understand my grandchildren's lingo, to stay technologically intelligent enough not to be shelved.
My twelve year old granddaughter has the lead role in her school play "Annie" this weekend and I want to "text" her, because "texting" is how she communicates. Even email isn't accessible and immediate enough. (As evolution goes, in generations thumbs will be long and thin instead of short and stubby. Thumbs for digital agility as well as for prehensile grasp.)
And young Will wants Grammy to play his latest video game with him. What about Wii? My eye/hand coordination is too slow. I'm grateful for the ones four and under whose games are Chutes and Ladders, Calico Critters or Peek-a-Boo.
Studies show that too much screen time can damage developing brains so I worry. But my brain probably needs the stimulation of new learning to forestall the damage of age.
That's my rant for the day. Any suggestions? Let me know. In the meantime I'm on board.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Grand Charlotte

Charlotte is 94 years old today. I saw her yesterday in the nursing home and forgot to say Happy Birthday Charlotte. So ... Happy Birthday Charlotte.
Yesterday Charlotte said something extraordinary to me. In talking about a friend who lives in the retirement community where Charlotte lives and to which she hopes to return after her post-surgical recuperating time in the nursing home, she told me that her friend had "pretty much given up," then added, "You know you just can't do that, give up like that. It ruins everyone else's life."
Today most of us think that "giving up" would ruin our own quality of life, but Charlotte in her famously blunt, matter-of-fact way is quite firm that such an attitude would ruin every else's life. How grand is that! How holy is that in a world gone so crazy with self-interest that it can't see its own worth and beauty let alone that of anyone else.
It's not that Charlotte has had a rose garden life, and it's not that her friend is older and in worse shape than Charlotte so we might justify her giving up. I don't know how people turn out like Charlotte. The usual rationales don't work. You know the ones like growing up all loved, having had advantages in life, one solid mutually loving, death-do-us-part marriage, successful kids, plenty of money, basic good health, on and on. Some of these things Charlotte has had and some not.
And, BTW ( that means "by the way" in email-ese) Charlotte's not one who slathers pink icing all over everything. Her patience isn't sterling; she mostly blurts out what's on her mind, political correctness be damned; she has physical limitations, cancer, tempers and moods, a gruff voice and a sharp wit you wouldn't call corny or sweet. There are days she feels like giving up too. But she doesn't—for your sake and mine.
I pray I can age with as much grace.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Safer in Church!

We went to the mall over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was a sanity test we failed, proving ourselves insane. We did find a parking space less than a two mile hike from the mall scene; we did remember to stop at 5 p.m. and put our name in at the new PF Changs where there was only a 2-hour wait; and no one died of anything but boredom. Still, I suffered a case of mall hypnosis, similar to highway hypnosis. After a while everything looked the same and every store sold the same merchandise, all of it essential to your wellbeing and all of it glittering.
We had just read the tragic story of the young man at a Walmart store in upstate New York who was crushed to death by crowds. It used to be that you could get crowd-crushed by sports mobs, then rock concert mobs, and now it's shopping mobs.

We knew about desperate shoppers, killer shoppers, even about inadequate secirity measures in retail stores, so what were we thinking of? Our granddaughters, 12 and 9, eager to visit Icing to examine and beg for the latest bauble or gee-gaw. At least we resisted their sweet shopper-dazed eyes and said NO, which made us feel a little sane, but not really because we could excuse our penury with "Christmas is coming." But we know we won't go back to Icing or any other mall store ever to get anything for anyone.
Are we too old? Or is it our affection for the beauty and new life offered by the Christian nativity story that is mocked by commercialization? We are almost-but-not-quite immune to the sound of Christmas carols, all muzaked in at the same brisk march tempo. Nuance is not a mall feature.
I conclude: You are safer in church. There you will not, at least in most mainline Christian churches in New England, encounter large frantic crowds; you will not be squished; you will find a seat; you will hear lovely choral and organ music, both traditional and not; you may tune in or out at will; you do not have to be a believer to join your personal experience to the Christmas story, whether you feel this year like an infant, a magus, an unwed pregnant young girl, her worried fiance, or just one of the onlooking stable animals. You may even hear some wise words from the bible or a preacher whose homily is concise, clear and ten minutes long. Last but not least you will not have to discern among millions of attractively packaged buying options. There's only one product and it's free.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Death on a Blog? Engage with Grace NOW

When I think of the end of my life tears immediately spring to my eyes. I am completely in love with life and the thought of leaving it behind with all its glories is sorrowful.
Nevertheless, today, Thanksgiving morning, I am inspired to join the "blog rally" and to speak of death in the spirit of the grace of this holiday. I invite my readers to join the Engage with Grace (www.engagewithgrace.org) project, begin conversations with friends, family, at a book club or online about how to end your life with the same purpose and love with which you have lived it—no, it's not about Dr. Kevorkian or the Hemlock society.
I read the front page story, "Talking Turkey about Death" in the Boston Globe, November 26.2008. Rosaria at 32 was dying of a malignant brain tumor. As she lay motionless, unconscious in her hospital bed, at home her beloved two year old daughter languished without Mommy. The child was afraid to touch her mother in the hospital setting. (I've been a hospital chaplain and I understand that fear.) Rosaria's medical team strongly advised the family to leave her in the hospital where she would be well cared for. They defied this authority and took Rosaria home to her own bedroom and bed. For the first time in a week Rosaria opened her eyes as her daughter snuggled in beside her mother. She died the next night at home.
Did this courageous family make the right decision? It seems so but they had to do it by guesswork. They had never talked about dying wishes. Have you?
I have a living will, health care proxy and other written directives, but at 70 I have never talked face to face with myself, my children or even my spouse about my feelings. We are a pretty open family. I guess it's felt almost tabu. Why introduce such an uncomfortable topic? Leave well enough alone.
As a priest I have sat with many a family engaged in agony and argument over what a loved one would want or not want. They care but they don't know! Believe me the discomfort of that struggle is far worse than any discomfort one may feel talking about all this NOW. And this isn't a one way conversation: from the old to the young. We all need to think, talk, and love each other into and out of ignorance. Rosaria was only 32!
Rosaria's sister-in-law Alexandra Drane started the Engage with Grace initiative and the word has spread throughout the healthcare community and beyond thanks to the internet. The website suggests ways to engage yourself and others in such conversations. Begin by asking yourself: On a scale of 1 to 5 where do you fall on this continuum, 1 being let me die in my own bed without medical intervention and 5:Don't give up on me no matter what. Try any proven or unproven intervention possible. I'm on the cusp of 2.5/3. (Other questions, links, resources and more information can be found on the site.) I invite you to check this out and spread the word.
Spiritually, is this taking your life in your own hands? Is it hubris, trying to control too much, not letting go, taking over for the divine will? I say, none of the above. A loving creator has given us minds, hearts, bodies and souls with which to discern how best to love ourselves and others right up to the final intake of breath. This effort is all about fulfilling the essential word of all the world's major religions: do to and for others what you would want done to and for yourself.

I love life enough to talk about its end with gratitude, grace and tears. Death may just be one of those spiritual lemons that you think is too sour to taste, but it could deepen your relationships right NOW, as well as in your last hours. So pucker up!

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Kinda Guru

There is a terrible and growing mess all over our front steps—orange shreds of pumpkin flesh and hundreds of strewn seeds. I should take a broom to it.
I've watched the demolition of our Halloween pumpkin at the mercy of the deft claws and razored teeth of squirrels. It's taken them days to get a breakthrough but at last this morning they, spelling one another, get all the way through to the juiciest innards. The chow line forms.
I grab for the digital and click away through the storm door. My favorite photo shows the tail end of one of the gray scavengers whose front body is completely submerged inside the pumpkin. She looks up every once in a while, sometimes to sniff— raised ears alert, eyes darting around, head aswivel, and sometimes to sit on her haunches and nibble to satiation, cheeks flapping, tiny jaws moving faster than she can fly from branch to branch—and that's fast.
As for me these silly gray rodents are my kind of gurus. A guru is a remover of darkness. The usual image of a guru is someone who embodies tranquility, evokes and emits energy from a still point at the center of the cosmos, a point that encompasses all things and also roosts in individual souls, a point called divine. A guru in any religious tradition is a wise soul who can teach you how to live happily in spite of it all.
My squirrels don't fit the bill. But they teach me this: be diligent after that which will feed you; pursue your passions working in teams; be watchful for dangers but do not let your fear keep you at bay for too long; when you have a breakthrough savor it, then share its juices; do not overeat; spit out pitts or other indigestibles; if you make a mess do it with joy; return often to visit the holy place.
I've felt dismal today, worried about many things. My gurus have lifted my darkness. I'm grateful. Maybe tomorrow they will topple the pumpkin and have a community Thanksgiving banquet.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Open Door Policy or Will and the Kingdom

When my grandson ( or one of them) was four (he's five now), he wanted to come see my church, "with no one there."
"It's the one where you get all dressed up on Sunday and give us bread," he says. I tell him he can come on Sunday, but he wants a private tour. So we go.
Will, always speedy with words and legs, runs in ahead of me and heads for the sacristy. "This is your special closet, Grammy," he says. The sacristy is where clergy, acolytes and other servers at the altar don robes for the service. Will wants to see all the scarves. He means stoles, long narrow, colorful strips of fabric clergy wear over their shoulders. Will wraps himself round and round in stoles—red, green, white, blue, paisley and more and asks me to open the door, "Grammy's secret entrance," that leads into the sanctuary. He hops up one step and into the high altar area, which in ancient temples used to be called the "holy of holies."
What happens next surprises me. I listen for Will's speed run around the altar area but hear nothing. Silence. Has he fallen? I go to see and find Will standing still, staring up at the reredos, the wooden carving that fits over the altar, an altar we no longer use. In our day it doesn't make sense to invite people to a holy meal in Godde's name and not allow them to gather round the dining table.
Will is still. His widening brown eyes roam the sculpture: a large wooden crucifix surrounded by niches in which stand Jesus' many followers stand, some looking straight out at us and a few, including Jesus' mother Mary, looking up at Jesus. I worry Will will be frightened by the image. Then I half expect him to drop to his knees and wonder if he has a vocational calling.
"Grammy, look," he finally says.
I look.
"Look. Look," he pulls my hand and walks me back and forth tracing the rows of niches with his finger. He see something wondrous. His eyes are alive with light. I wait.
"There are no doors," he says. "There's no doors."
Will is not at all interested in Jesus and has no questions about what must be an odd image to him. It is the array of saints in their doorless rooms that mesmerizes Will. I know he is learning about time-outs, and I know he is able to turn his temper around fast, repent and begin over, as long as his parents leave the door to his time-out room open.
No closed doors.
Before I can hug him he's off, dashing down the aisle, then hurtling his tiny body as fast as it will go in and out among rows of pews down one side and up the other and back again shouting to me, "Watch this. Watch this."
I watch. I clap. I think to myself that Jesus' wisdom about children was right: " It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." (Mark 10:13)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Young and Old Bodies Got Spirit

I've discovered something quite wonderful as I age— and it's not all my aches and creaks.
I watched my grandchildren, the latest one only six months old, begin to see, smile, sit, hitch, crawl, toddle, fall, run, skip, leap and dance. There is such joy in every bodily achievement. No need for a grade. The pure exhilaration of movement, praising Life itself, if enough.
Just recently I was privileged to witness the same bodily joy in a person age eighty two. She suffers from physical ailments all of which keep her a little depressed and mobile but with pain. But this day she came to see me with a smile. "I can walk!" She had always walked I thought.
She told me she'd decided to "take hold of her body and stop all this sitting around."
One of her loves is gardening. "I was afraid to get down there. I might never get up," she says. "But watch."
She did a demo—put the stool in front of her, rolled over it, got her one good knee positioned, curled her toes under, telling me she knew this move from yoga, braced her belly on the stool and stood up. She was overjoyed with the feat. "I'm walking better since I did that," she said as she strode, sort of, across the room as full of grace as a toddler in between falls.
Childhood and elderhood are ages of embodiment, times when the body's movements, not the mind's, are the chief source of and witness to soul. Maybe that's true in between too.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Post- is in!

So now we are in a post-election nation, if not world. Is that like post-modern, post-Christian, post-Bush or just plain post-American?
I don't know, but anything with post- prefacing it is over, done, finis. We've moved along. Yes, we've moved along taking all that went before along in different order. Change isn't pure.
Whatever comes after will always contain some of what went before. For example, I no longer suck my thumb, but when worried I can pout and go secret. Prayer has replaces thumb-sucking as my preferred practice.
I've written a memoir. In writing I realize that who I am now is in every way continuous and discontinuous with who I was. I was bossy, submissive and afraid, defiant, powerful, wise. I still am with different emphases. Older and wiser is true. But I'm still a composite of myself, a post-Lyn Lyn.

This nation is rewriting the American dream, moving from "you can be anything you want" to "you can be anything you want with a lot of consideration for your neighbors near and far." Independence and striving won't disappear but higher values will be interdependence and rest. Peace will become a more effective way than war. The ladder will look more like a broad stretch of highway.
Our President-elect Obama uses the pronouns "we" and "our" when he speaks of leadership, national goals, political policies and dreams. And he uses the word "slow" a lot and "taking time."
I like this post-American way. It is ours not Barak Obama's. He only got the vote. I'm not naive about the baggage that will blur the vision and even make violence, but I am hopeful that post- really means post-.
My hope is founded in election day's tears on many different faces.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Political Genetics

Imagine this! In the nation of jittery politics in the midst of a crucial national election to be decided TODAY, I learn that politics is in part controlled by genetics. I thought I was so good to get myself informed and as objective as I could to prepare to vote. But I might be kidding myself.
Catching up on the Sunday (11/2/08) papers I read in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe an article by Eve LaPlante about new brain research that suggests that political bipartisan politics, aka red or blue, is influenced, if not determined, by one's inborn response to threat.
Who knew? I thought I was a liberal Democrat because of my response to my parents' staunch Republican overkill, their FDR paranoia, and the like. I remember when I snuck into the Town Hall in Canton, CT. to change my voter registration from Republican to Democrat, I looked around every corner to make sure my father wasn't lurking there to see the heresy I was committing. I was even a little proud of my carefully reasoned rebellion.
There's a new scientific group called political physiologists. There isn't space here for much detail, but it seems that brain research studies indicate that so called political liberals react less vigorously to threatening stimuli and are quicker to provide a new response, read change. Conservatives, au contraire, are more easily startled by such stimuli and have more difficulty switching to a new response. It's all about "blink-startle" and sweat, both measurements of responses to stimuli.
In the old nature/nurture debate it seems that politics is more of an inborn instinct than we thought. Liberals tend to support less protectionist policies like abortion, gun control, open immigration. Conservatives tend to support more protectionist policies like capital punishment, school prayer, the Iraq war. and conservative. This I know, but I thought it had to do with culture, geography, religious leanings, and whatever your parents said.
As a liberal I of course love this new finding, no matter how inconclusive. Why? It leaves room for nuance, ambiguity, new life and, I admit, divine grace. Safety isn't the highest value. It expands the horizons; it douses worn out stereotypes, such as: liberals are soft in the head/touchy feely and conservatives are strong, steady and rational.
The other thing I find hopeful about this new complexity is that obviously we do need each other. Conservatives, for example, in the Church help the community preserve the finest art, or spiritual practices, or the most elegant old language for certain occasions; whereas, liberals can foresee atrophy unless some things die by choice to make room for new souls and new occasions. Instead we mostly call each other, silently or aloud, "dummies" and wring our hands.
It takes great grace not to try to make lemonade out of your own or your neighbor's "lemons"—just for your own comfort. But there is spiritual health in communities that can accommodate reds and blues in the same pews without loss of integrity and maybe a bit of love.
Talking and listening help.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What's Your Mask?

It's All Hallows Eve; aka the eve before All Saints Day, a time to honor and remember all those who have died but still live in our hearts and sometimes beyond; aka Halloween. It's a night for masks, scary masks. What's your mask?
I heard a beautiful de-masking story recently. I was touched. A friend told me of a woman who was a religious atheist and trusted only science but went to church with a friend—for the sake of friendship.
There she heard a voice speaking to her within herself and remembered the biblical story of the Hebrew prophet Elijah who had heard a "still small voice."
She thought: I have a still small voice within. I have it and therefore others have it, and that's a soul, and what is the purpose of a soul but to be in touch with God.
A rare kind of conversion but beautiful. Also an example of how the spirit of holiness comes to us in ways and words that we already know and love, in her case reason, scientific deduction. The spirit of holiness is within us.
My friend added that often what we most want we most scorn.
No masks can scare away the divinity in your soul. Dare to take off your mask and let your holiness show.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lemon wisdom

When I was a small child an auntie gave me a wee rocking chair all my own. I was told it was an antique and to be very careful with it. That bit of advice took hold and I treated it as if it were a sacred object, but not too sacred to sit in and rock, rock, rock.
The little mahogany chair became my perch. I would sit there, rock and absorb as much adult conversation as I could. Most fascinating were adult ways. I became an observer and later discovered that my totem is an owl. The dangers of being an owl are that you can be accused of rude staring and/or you can become so nocturnal that you never leave your branch.
Owls are traditionally associated with wisdom. In my little chair with my owlish ways I developed the gift of wisdom. For example, I noticed quite early that my mother wasn't all joy and happiness as she advertised; nor was my father all silent and martini-sipping as he advertised. They were much more than their ads. Mommy could be quite sad in her eyes and angry with a smile, and Daddy could be quite talkative and playfully humorous, not always sarcastic.
In my chair I learned that people were mixed and good in their mixedness. That I imagine was the source of the lemon wisdom I wrote about in my book years later. I learned that people want to make lemonade, want to pretend they are sweet and nice as life "should" be, but the truth is they can also be sour and nasty.
The funny thing about it all was that I decided I liked people just as they were and that Godde didn't want to destroy the truth of lemonhood by making something as fake as lemonade out of a good zestful lemon. The Godde I met didn't scold me either when I was in a mood or filled with childish pique at some offense. It was all me and it was all. That's lemon wisdom. I think it has something to do with integrity.
Sundays in our parish we sing a gospel troparian (a musical response to a biblical reading from one of the gospels, stories of Jesus' life and teachings.) The wise words, by Renée Miller, seem to me to be a definition of the Godde within. "Walk the way of ancient wisdom etched and patterned, deep within. Walk the way of holy freedom, find your soul made whole again."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Courtesy Offensive?

All the world's religious traditions have at their center the only wisdom we ever really need in life: Love Godde by whatever name; love your neighbor; love yourself. That's it. Simple. Not easy.
Recently I read an article in the Boston Globe that our beloved metropolitan transit authority (aka the MBTA, aka the T, aka the subway) was starting a "courtesy offensive." I thought aloud, "What the hell is that!? It doesn't make sense. Those two words don't go together. Offensive as a noun is usually a military term. Are we in such dire straits spiritually that we have to get aggressive about courtesy? How unmannerly is that?"
As I fumed I thought of my many T rides. I'd seen people shoving others aside to get on a crowded car; I'd seen people unconscious enough of their neighbors to sit buried in a book, ears plugged with ear buds taking in the latest musical enchantment; I'd once slid, almost lost my balance, on a newspaper someone had tossed on the floor as she exited the car. There does seem to be a painful unconsciousness of neighbors. The behavior on the T is a microcosmic. It's why we have wars and nuclear arsenals and border guards and great walls.
Now I see clever posters slapped up on the subway cars. They say things like "Don't dash without your trash" or "Be sweet give someone your seat." Courtesy-lite.
All this is a big fat spiritual and social ouch.
Then I remembered a day when I was getting smooshed on the late afternoon T out of Boston. A young attractive African American woman rose slightly, smiled and gestured to offer me her seat. I declined politely noticing that my jaw had clenched. I thought a much worse expletive than darn. I've arrived. I'm old, or at least I'm seen as older than I want to be seen as. I felt my temples as if I could discern by touch whether I had more gray hairs than I had when I glanced at the bathroom mirror this morning.
For days I thought about the woman and my age. I began to think of her small offering as a courtesy offensive without the offense. I think that is this kind of love is what all the religions talk about: courteous love—not amorous, not even liking or knowing or duty-bound. Just courteous. Having a warm heart and friendly smile is good. Having an action to go with it is better.
The woman's courtesy toward me I realized was more about her capacity for courteous love than about my age. What started as a seed of anxious irritability sown inside me was transformed and flourished into a deep appreciation for the woman and for people like her who actually notice their neighbors. It was about her love not my age.
So, as an old blessing prayer goes: Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts and minds of those who travel the way with us; so be swift to love and make haste to be kind. And the blessing of Godde be with you this day and always.

Friday, October 24, 2008

PGP-10:Gene Exposure?

I just read in the Boston Globe in Ellen Goodman's op-ed column that a group of scientists and entrepreneurs have joined in the Personal Genome Project (PGP). That sounds harmless enough, but this involves putting their personal genetic codes out there on the worldwide web for all to see. What price knowing and who should know?
There seems to be something twisted here. Last time I looked every time I went to any kind of medical appointmant I had to sign a form saying I'd read about and understood the privacy regulations. Medical personnel couldn't reveal anything without my permission, even if I were dead! Of course people have found ways and words around such rigidity. BUT now. . . not only what you have but what you may contract can be out there.
The PGP is the brainchild of geneticist George Church. (Love his name, being myself in favor of universal grace without condition for all.) Church thinks that privacy is an old-fashioned concept and hopes to create a public database of information. The larger goal is noble: speed up research as to causes and cures for genetic illnesses. But is this thought through? I can imagine worldwide panic and paranoia to say nothing of lawsuits looking something like defamation of genetic character or broken engagements, as in, I think I won't marry a potential depressive.
Goodman points out that it wouldn't be hard to lose sight of the distinction between a predisposition according to a genetic read and a prediction. And what is the distinction between a secret and a confidence? Keeping a big secret takes a lot of emotional energy. It can lead to lies. It takes energy away from living your life. Being sensitively confidential, however, is a practice that builds trust and makes for good human relations.
Thinking of things spiritual, I notice that many people are very private about their religious faith. Too private? Is it a secret? Or is it something to share with delight just as you would a great book you'd read or a new recipe or something that enriches your life? In our parish community we pray with and for each other. It's humbling just to know that people are praying for you in specific ways; that is, for your cancer to heal, for your wounded child to recover, for your beloved dog to survive dangerous porcupine quill removal surgery. Then they ask you how it's going; they care; they rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Perhaps Godde knows all about it from on high as some folks say, but I think it's not about knowing but about connecting. I may know, for instance, that you are hurting but until you open up to me I can't connect with you.
Still, there's no one "rule" for everyone in the game of disclosure. It's a matter of personal choice. I guess I'd have a gene portrait done if I were younger and if the information could foster prevention, maybe save or lengthen the quality of my life and the lives of others. But I would want it to be between me, my physicians, family, friends, and my praying community—not the "world," yet.
For now I cast my vote with pro-choice modesty.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Letter to Godde

Dear Godde,
I’m just starting a new adventure into techie land. A blog of my own! Hence, I will need your good spirit inside me to keep me alert as I try to keep up with a world for which I wasn’t trained but in which I’m determined to delight till death do us part.
I won't write often, just when I'm feeling anxious, or when I embark on some mere change and want it to be spiritually transformative instead of burdensome.
I usually use the name I receive when I'm first introduced to someone; however, you may have noticed that I've changed the spelling of yours—
only the ending to make it softer and more open-ended. OK, more feminine, also more like the you I first met.
Do you remember the day we first officially met? I was three and you were ageless. I was disgusted with my parents' eternal cocktail hour, so I snitched some Ritz crackers from their cocktail tray and sought refuge under the big dining room table with the cloth that hung to the floor. Even though you were invisible I was impressed, because you seemed to listen and take my laments and prattlings seriously, unlike my three imaginary friends—also invisible but far less attentive.
It was there I learned that I mattered; that to be just myself was the right and only way to be, a lesson I forget a lot but one that seems to be more important than ever in 2008 with everyone posing and posturing trying to advertise themselves in glittering images, then forgetting who and how they are— really.
A lemon is a lemon is a lemon, right? And you? People seem to want you or something like an invisible divine presence.
Your name isn't popular though. Bad reputation because of human violence done in your name. Still, the you I met sneaks through in other names like light, higher power, the Universe, energy, Spirit, and more. (Not bad descriptors, but, as I said, I usually stick with the name by which I was first introduced.)
A wise mystic once told of a student, who, eager to achieve spiritual heights asked day after day, "Teacher, who should I be more like, Buddha, Jesus, the prophets, Mohammed, Krishna........." Finally one day an answer came: "I want you to be more like yourself!"
So, my godde of many names, keep on being a spirit of love and hope in people everywhere.
Thanks and love.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Lemon" Laws?

I named this blog SpiritualLemons because that’s the name of my first book, a collection of stories about biblical women from both testaments of the bible, stories that use ancient material to expose contemporary issues.
A “lemon”, besides being a sour fruit in its own right, is some thing not quite up to standard, a failure. We have lemon laws about such things, like the Ford Edsel, a car that just couldn’t be driven. It was a “lemon” and therefore you could turn it in and get your money back.
But a spiritual lemon is good, not sweet but good. It adds zest to your soul. You never ever make lemonade out of spiritual lemons! (A better but not the best alternative came on a card: "Remember when life hands you lemons...Tuck 'em, inside your bra! Couldn't hurt. Might help!")
Better than boob-enhancing is loving your spiritual lemons. They are feelings or thoughts about which you feel ashamed. Shame itself is a spiritual lemon, so are blue moods, temper, anxiety, anger, being a closet wimp, death, guffawing at just the wrong moment, and more.
Such feelings common to us all, feelings we sometimes hide because church and society label them unacceptable and worse, non-spiritual.
Spiritual lemons are, however, nothing to hide, because if you have courage enough to befriend your “lemons” you will find both divine grace and spiritual wholeness.
I went to a writing workshop once years ago, led by the late author, Madeleine L’Engle. She told us to think of someone in the bible who might be angry and write his or her story. I thought of the poor little snake in the biblical Garden of Eden story in Genesis. I thought what a cosmic bad rap the snake got and how afraid my mother would screech and run at the sight of a mere garden snake. I thought how furious I'd be if I were that snake, to be scapegoated for the whole human mess, for bringing death and mortality into the world, to be blamed for all time for one innocent little half-truth: you won't die if you eat of the tree. Adam and Eve grabbed onto the snake's tempting words as Eve grabbed hold of the "forbidden fruit." No apple mentioned by the way. I felt angry for Eve too and angry at this He-God throwing curses around. I suddenly wondered if there were a smidgeon of divine grace for this slithery creature—once a symbol of generativity.
So I wrote about the aging female snake complaining to her creator. In writing I remembered a time when a man I was dating once told me I was sexy. I thought that complimentary until he went on to tell me I was the “occasion of his sin.” If it weren’t for me he’d be pure and lust-free? Shame rushed through me like a tip-of-toe-to-top-of-head blush and turned into a curse.
"Grace for the Snake" became a story in "Spiritual Lemons." You’ll have to read it to see what happens between the snake and the Almighty, but for me I found blessing not curse in my own sexual shame.
Ever notice how lovely naked winter trees are? Stripped of their leafy dress they are unashamed and you can see their true shape.