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.