Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010.12.31 "December" by Garrison Keillor

I can’t imagine a more lovely way to end 2010 and prepare to enter 2011 than this beautiful poem by Garrison Keillor. It was posted on his Writers Almanac site, an inspirational way to begin or end each day with a poem and some story of people whose lives have been transformed and who tell it in word. Check it out. Google knows about it and it’s free! With Mr. Keillors’ permission I share his poem with you.

Grab a hand, sing, and walk into the darkness listening for angels.


A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalks shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

Garrison Keillor

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011.12.28 God's Midwife

This poem was sent to me at Christmas by an old friend, spiritual director and poet. I think it a lovely image of the feminine face of Divine Love. With love.

God’s Midwife

On a cold night
in a cold uncaring world
The Word becomes flesh.

In unselfconscious gratitude
A hungry infant
suckles contented at his mother’s breast,
Apprehending love
foreshadowed in
her womb’s deep darkness,
Now substantial
in light and air,
warmth and milk,
desire and satisfaction.

The midwife, also satisfied –
Her ministrations over,
the cord severed and knotted,
the afterbirth removed -
gazes upon this stranger and her child,
Savoring their new attachment,
intentional and tender,
Suffused with mother’s joy and
conscious gratitude,
Flush with the courage
of successful labor
and the remembrance
of caring, skillful hands
in an uncaring world.

She always takes this moment,
in quiet wonder
to contemplate the mystery of God
enfolding every birth -
And feels herself enfolded.

But it is time to go.
Softly she kisses Mary’s cheek,
the baby’s head,
And disappears into the dark.

Wendy Lyons
December, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010.12.22 Peace by Faithful Talk

I dedicate this review to the one Christians call the Prince of Peace born on Christmas day

I offer this review with prayers for peace worldwide in all religions and all cultures.

I remember a time when I had trouble understanding what felt to me like quite a severe rigidity in a good Jewish woman friend about Jesus. I didn’t expect her to believe in him but thought maybe he was prophet. “We don’t even consider him a prophet,” she firmly said. To my own astonishment I burst into tears.

We talked about it, even cried together. We shared our feelings. We are still friends—as women of faith. Our friendship transcended our religious differences. Why? We talked. That’s what women do.

The Faith Club, authored by three women, Ranya Idliby a Muslim, Suaznne Oliver a Christian, and Priscilla Warner a Jew, in the wake of 9/11, is a peace document as well as an engaging and accessible memoir, an effective blend of personal spiritual experience and objective information about each religion.

Imagine three women writing one memoir. That is feat enough.

But these three are all: accomplished women, academically and professionally, writers, and mothers, two centered in New York City and one in a nearby suburb.

Seeking to enlighten their children about connections among their three religions, they collided with their own differences. Before they could talk about points of connection they had to get honest about their own disagreements, assumptions, and fears.

Their process illustrates, it seems to me, one way women learn, a way they come to resolution and peace through conflict and without abandonment around an issue that has a high personal and spiritual value for each participant and is also an issue that takes nations to war.

Jean Baker Miller in her 1976 book Toward A New Psychology of Women opened a wide door to the understanding of how women grow emotionally and spiritually toward wholeness. Miller’s research revealed that women derived their selfhood not from developing an autonomous self but from developing a relational self. Women derive their selfhood and well being from relationships, from being in connections that were mutually growth-fostering.

Of course we all need autonomy but we survive and thrive best in mutual relationships, including intimacy with self, other and God. In relationships we do our most effective work to cooperate with divine grace to a world full of love, justice and peace come about.

It seems to me that this model of development toward emotional health is not exclusive to women, but may also be God’s preferred mode of operations.

Good relationships for peace are very hard work. Sacrifices of opinions, precious values, and even your pet idol must be made. Prayer undergirds the process. Abundant forgiveness, not in the moral sense of debt but in the spiritual sense of acceptance for the sake of love, flows. Mutuality is about respect and needs, not equality. You are mutual with a small child when you listen.

The Faith Club authors make no direct claim that their works provides a model for peace through understanding. They just act it out.

This book reveals the process of building relationships that grow into friendships. It also serves as the vehicle for a professional project with political potential beyond the personal. Readers learn a way of dialogue that cuts through tension for those willing to invest the time. The model could be useful in any group where conflict threatens.

I would suggest it as a book for religious groups to read, especially religious politicians. Who are they? Start with Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, all lovers of people but not naive about how hard politics for peace are.

Like "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson, The Faith Club offers a way toward peaceful relations— one through action involving all kinds of politics, the other through the active practice of intimacy, deep listening and sharing. One begins with the kindness of strangers who save one life; the other with an act or terrorism that threatens a beloved city and a whole country.

The structure is what keeps "The Faith Club" together and coherent. It is organized with short chapters each dealing with a topic about which each and all have concern and passions. Each topic has universal emotional implications.

Shared rituals, food, and prayers help connect. Each woman grows in her own faith. Each one realizes that she may dislike or not care about the ways of another’s religion, but that she now has a friend who does care, a flesh and blood fact that blunts opposition, indifference—and fear.

Catchy chapter titles like “In the Beginning,” “Stop Stereotyping Me!” “Could You Convert?” “Awakenings,” and “Faltering Faith,” highlight the process by which the women deepen their relationships and also write a book that may help others to understand rather than fight, flee, or freeze.

Chapters are not long. Most have a snippet of actual dialogue that highlights the tension in the subject. Then each author writes her own thoughts on the matter. Along the way each woman does some research and consults her Imam, Priest, and Rabbi.

Peace is accomplished through knowledge combined with understanding. Knowledge is helpful but does not require the compassion that understanding does. It takes both to make true peace. This book has both.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010.12.15 Biology of Goodness and Love

It’s nice to see that the secular world of science is catching up with one of most religions’ major platforms: love your neighbor as yourself or what you hate do not do to others.

The vocabulary come from the Bible but every religion has as its moral base: COMPASSION.

Too bad we have to organize a Choosing Greater Good project. And thank God we are.

It is now affirmed by American scientists and German scientific research that being big hearted and generous may trigger the brain’s pleasure centers. Giving feels good.

It is the giving season. Science says that “evolution has wired the human brain to promote helpfulness.” (Boston Globe, Nov. 29, 2010, G) The brain responds to cooperative behavior by releasing the feel-good chemical dopamine.

Evolution is another new name for God aka creative force for ongoing good. We get more and more innovative seeking names for a transcendent, mystical, benevolent phenomenon (energy) no one really wants to give up. A divine name change is called for— probably because of years of bad publicity in the church advertising God as monarch, judge, voyeur, failed Mr. Fix-it, and more. I stick with God, often spelled Godde, because that is the name by which I was introduced.

We project all our control issues onto God, then blame God for everything. Easy fix.

It is not biologically possible to be extremely anxious and very giving at the same time. It’s also not possible to carry your body with your head hung down and your eyes downcast and your step shuffling and feel happy. (The “let us pray” posture should be changed!) Giving helps with anxiety, lifts depression and can be a powerful “medicine” for those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders. I bet giving also helps people with addictions as long as they don’t celebrate the good feeling with a drink, a snort, pill, or a drag.

If the mall packed with shoppers is even a partial indicator science and religion are right. People plan to shop and give even in a shaky economy. Foolish, greedy or excessive it is still giving. There are unemployed people, people without homes, who will find a way to give.

Empathy is catching. It travels with Spirit.

Give yourself by volunteering, making a phone call or three, writing a letter (yes in your actual handwriting) take a child to see a show.

Look what happens in the wake of natural disaster or an accident or catastrophic illness. Cooperation and love. Yes, but why doesn’t it last?

And why does it take a catastrophe to get us to do what we were made to do?

My dopamine is released just by seeing that science and religion are on the same page about Love and Gift.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010.12.08 A Poem a Day

A poem a day is as good as a prayer a day, an apple a day, a great work of art or a cartoon a day to keep you centered, laughing and dizzy with awe.

These are the sensory nourishments that keep our hearts alive and deliver faith, hope and love, the staples of spirituality and open-circled religion.

by Glenn Shea

There among the aisles and chapels

it still goes on, the old life,

amidst the medieval racket

of post cards and sacred crockery,

the gabbled cloud of foreign tongues

and people peering at dark corners;

the old life persists, mostly among the old;

the woman leaning to kiss the Virgin's brocaded hem;

the murmur of the devout; white candles

and the clink of francs in the mission box.

A boy of eighteen knelt before the altar,

his face hid in his hands, the muddle

of the life outside pursuing him here as well.

For gems, the painted glass, and for choirs

the figures carved in stone;

Chartres stood their sketch of Paradise,

the place where, as best it could on earth,

time stopped. It was to be,
as an arch gives stone the power of flight,

the place where faith would give

the clay of flesh its flight,
a semblance 
whose stones would tug the heart towards prayer,

build in it the desiring of heaven.

I saw the boy again. At the west door,

beneath the rose of the Judgment,

he met a friend and took him to the font.

He put his fingertips in the holy water

and with them dripping made the sign of the cross

on the body of his friend:

touched his forehead first, the flat of his chest,

the left shoulder, then the right, and last

the slight swell of his belly.

The other in turn, fingers wetted,

touched the forehead of his friend,
the chest,
left shoulder and right shoulder

and belly. They turned to go,

the bead mark of water on their brows.

And when I knelt before the altar,

I prayed: abject as any man is

in the weight of his faults, scanted

of hope, but who had seen at least the image

of what he desired: another like himself,

whose flesh he might inscribe 

with the water of blessing.

"Chartres" by Glenn Shea, from Find a Place That Could Pass for Home. © Salmon Poetry, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Subscribe to The Writers Almanac to get a free"apple"—forbidden fruit turned savior.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2010.12.01 Pregnant With Boobs

It is well to begin the Advent season pregnant, willing to labor for something you have long wanted to birth.

What is your "baby" right now? Mine happens to be Jesus as his is the chapter of my memoir I’m at work to birth.

I first met Jesus, one Christmas in fact. My mother saved the evidence, a Christmas Eve church bulletin of 1946 with my eight year old small neat printing in its corner: Where did he come from? Some days I wish I had photographic evidence for Jesus. Some days I long to see what he really looked like. Some days I wish I could put him neatly between the pages of a scrapbook, saved forever. Men were short then. Maybe he looked more like Danny DeVito, chunky with a swinging perky gait, than El Greco’s long lean bearded version. One thing I’m pretty sure of is he wasn’t blonde! But maybe he looked like my Jewish grandfather I never met.

Thank God I am not pregnant for real. Only spiritually so. Pregnant with curiosity and wonder and a nagging occasional desire for proof.

But in the real world I am led back to remembering my own child birthings, not just the pain of labor and delivery but the thrill of giving it a big push and seeing a tiny bulge of slicked hair begin to emerge, followed by a squished up squinty-eyed little face, then a whole body about the size of a vole, naked and ugly except to parental beholders. A first draft.

In spite of your relief that it’s all over you can’t wait for it to begin, this new life you will love and share, hate and fight, worship and grieve. I have four children, now adults of wonder who belong to their own families and the world, not me.

The only grace birth doesn’t bear is beauty. There is nothing beautiful except in the eye of Love. It’s not a photo op beauty. The moment deserves to be spared advertisement. It deserves modesty. It’s a manger moment, but you don’t think the historical natural scene really looked like the icon do you? But that’s why we have icons to serve as windows into mystery, not reality shows.

So I am aghast that women in this process are being asked to smile for the little handheld devices pointed in their direction when they are sweaty, hair all stringed out, face stripped of all cosmetics. There is nothing glamorous about it, but everyone wants it on record.

Why? Because technology has provided a way that it can be.

Why not? Because this moment goes on record in the heart, not the camera.

What will we not trivialize next in 140 Twitter characters? What is sacrosanct from the eye of the touch screen? Where are the boundaries on techie addiction?

Leave the poor woman and her newborn alone please. Do not try to take away the holy from this picture by sending it out to 100,000 of your “friends” on Facebook. The kid doesn’t even have a real face yet? And his Mommy’s is streaked with strain and puffed with exhaustion.

And the same thing goes for breast cancer. There is nothing glamorous about it. OK so we’ve seen Demi More’s swollen belly and we’ve seen someone else’s noble scarred breastless space. Isn’t that enough showing off? Now we have to wear pink rubber bracelets that say I “heart” boobies, pretend that we are somehow proud to have survived the amputation or to still have intact nipples.

Ok, but only if all this display raises tons of money for research for cures and better treatments. Breast cancer is NOT a women's issue (not meant to be sarcastic)and deserves a campaign that is dignified, not tainted with sexist voyeurism.

Scandal of overexposure, immodest at best, exhibitionist at worst.

A woman priest friend would say, “Jesus would puke!” (Adult Jesus. Baby is entitled.)