Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019.07.28 Do You Pray?

Let us pray. Let us pray. Let us pray. Oh God, let’s pray. Do you pray?

A teenage granddaughter once asked me, with a flounce of her head and a challenge in her voice: Grammy why do you pray? I was suddenly stunned and stumped and said the first thing that popped into my mind: I pray because I love. She made no comment but I kept on obsessing. Maybe I should have said I pray because GOD loves. Then I thought: Well, what is the difference? Aren’t we immersed in God’s love all the time? And God in ours? Is all Creation not God’s prayer?

Most prayer is lowly, earthbound, unsteady, even precarious. At the same time it deserves the highest reverence and the greatest praise. Sometimes I wonder if we take it for granted.

All living things pray in particular ways as everything reaches and stretches for love and life. Prayer is paying attention to that desire, noticing its variations, sinking into it, allowing its energy to connect you with what/who really matters to you and to God. 

Prayer, however, can be a touchy topic—loaded you might say. News commentator host of the WGBH’s nightly Greater Boston, Jim Braude, recently commented that to pray, as Speaker Pelosi did for our president and our nation in divisive times, was “smarmy.” Smarmy? I became immediately indignant and fired off a letter telling Braude his comment itself was smarmy and that he knew nothing about prayer.  I heard nothing back of course. Maybe he thought that all such prayer was condescending. How does he know?

Word nerd that I am, I looked up the words. Did you know that the Latin root for prayer is the same as the root of precarious?  Precarious prayer?  If I pray because I love, then it is precarious as hell, because love is precarious. I put my soul on the line when I really care, care enough to pray, to risk exposing my heart. And then what? I never know.

Abraham, for example, checks with God about Sodom and Gomorra. What’s God’s plan here? Is it really to destroy everyone in these putatively evil cities? Is God vengeful, wrathful? Some people today assume this is how God is too? Abraham “comes near” to God with his questions. NOTE: God listens AND responds as Abraham argues his case, over and over he asks: what if not everyone in these cities is sinful as charged? Abraham is assured that the God, who has made covenants of belonging and love, will not destroy everyone if just one measly righteous person is therein alive. We think God tests Abraham? No, it is Abraham who more often tests God.

Abraham’s prayer style is conversational, an inner dialogue. Mine is the same. I, like Abraham, learn something about myself, about love, and about God when I pray this way. Outcomes are rarely exactly as I pray. The same is true for Jesus. He taught his disciples to use the basic structure of the Jewish prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer. He also elaborated about love-on-the-ground: if your child or someone you love asks for fish would you give a snake? No. For the sake of love you’d bend heaven and earth to give what is asked, even if it has to be stale bread or peanut butter because you can’t afford fish. You give in the spirit of love as you pray like crazy.

You know how to work this ethic in your personal life. You know how to work this ethic in your politics. Prayer may be precarious as love is, but it is not loving when energized with the spirit of venom. Listen to Rachel Maddow. Listen to Rush Limbaugh. Their causes and goals differ, but the venom behind their “preaching” is the same.

Prayer is a precarious love song. Ask, incessantly for exactly what you want. Heck, even our  public communal prayers are direct and bold, in manicured language, yes, but still we ask: God save the world, heal the sick, love the sinners, bless the dead. These are down-to-earthly love prayers. Pay attention to what happens, however small and however obvious. 

One of my sons, John, moved recently into a new neighborhood. He has two children Phoebe, 11 and Dylan, 5. They all felt the initial awkwardness of being strangers in a brand new neighborhood. The children sat with TV and their tablets, and Dad wondered and worried. Then the doorbell rang. Phoebe jumped up and ran to open the door, Dylan hot on her heels. There on the front stoop stood a group of young children. They chirped in chorus: “Hi. Do you play?”

Do you pray? Do you let it be precarious, wholly true, bold and direct?  “God, please be with my newly divorced son. He didn’t want this. Now he’s grieving, and trying to be a single dad to two young kids who miss their one-and-only home and so wish their parents were together, and they can’t make it happen.”
Who knew God would appear at the door and say: Do you play? 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

2019.07.21 The Man In The Moon

Fifty years ago in July of 1969, I was thirty-one and the young mother of three children: two daughters, ages six and five and a son, age two. My then-husband and I were on Nantucket vacationing with some friends. All the children had gone to bed and were all, finally and mercifully, asleep at once. We adults, however, were more awake than we wanted to be after a drowsy beach-day in the sun. We sat huddled around a small radio, the only communication available in our rented cottage, and strained to make out voices through the static. It was barely possible to believe that the radio voices were speaking to us from the moon, the same moon to whom, or to which, we nightly bid “good night” reading the favorite bedtime story, Good Night Moon.
This night was not like any other night. It was so unusual that not one of us bedraggled parents was drinking a goodnight beer. Nor did we repair to the porch to gaze at the stars-and-moon show, which on a cloudless night was panoramically visible thanks to the absence of ground light.

This night we strained to hear American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, deliver a newscast from the moon on which they walked, or more accurately toddled or wobbled in their moon-suits. We kept silence before, during, and after the broadcast was over for some time. No one commented at all, but our faces shone—alive with wonder. Then we went to bed without comment.

Who knew awe could be so unitive—electrifying and soothing at the same time? 

The next morning we told our children what we had seen. A daughter comment offhandedly: “Oh yeah, the man in the moon. I’ll have Cheerios.”

Details and speculations about further space research and travel are available and most beautifully presented in the 7/19 issue of National Geographic. I was fascinated to read about the array of meaningful earthly objects the astronauts took with them into space.
    -Alan Shepherd (Apollo 14) hid in a sock a six-iron clubhead, which he attached to a tool handle to hit two balls on the moon. [Wonder if they’re still orbiting, and if so does this count as an everlasting cosmic hole-in-one?] 
    -Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) brought a piece of the Wright Flyer’s wooden propeller. [Never forget those on whose shoulders you stand as you make advances into uncharted territories.]
    -Deliciously, John Young (Gemini 3) smuggled on board a corned beef sandwich to share with his crewmate, Gus Grissom, who stuffed the treat into his pocket when crumbs began to float around the cabin. [Not till after he got a huge mustardy bite, I hope.] 
    -Closest to my heart was the offering of Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11). He brought wine, bread and a chalice to celebrate Communion on the moon before he walked on it. NASA kept a lid on the gesture to avoid negative reactivity, and later Aldrin wondered if he’d done the right thing celebrating a Christian ritual in space. He wrote in his 2010 memoir: “We had come to space in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the Apollo experience than by giving thanks to God.”

Before Aldrin and Armstrong disembarked, Aldrin asked the ground crew on Earth to keep a moment of silence to contemplate what was happening and to give thanks in their own way. Many future space travelers have memorialized awe in words and gestures of their own traditions.To this day Lunar Communion Sunday is still celebrated at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston where Aldrin was an elder. Aldrin’s impulse is easy to understand. Only the small of mind and heart would think he was trying to colonize the moon for any one religion!

“In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.”  Aldrin wrote.  Here is the cup. Interestingly, he read the New Testament parable of the vine and the branches not the Last Supper  story.
To me his description of the wine's movement is just how the divine Spirit moves about in the world, curling slowly and gracefully—like a snake but neither biting nor poisonous, though it may nip a bit to make sure we are awake. 

Future space research and travel will continue I’m sure and, I hope, build a spirit of collaborative awe not competitive grandiosity. The National Geographic article interviewed Russian cosmonauts as well as Americans: “Interestingly, the cosmonauts I met in Russia seemed to share two perspectives with their American counterparts. First, their time in space made them profoundly more interested in protecting the Earth. Second, they think the idea of permanent colonization of space is bonkers.”  (p. 95)

Bonkers indeed. I’ll have Cheerios while I appreciate the lovely moon from right here on this  glorious Earth, praising human ingenuity right alongside divine creativity.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

2019.07.14 A Runcible Spoon Of Course No Less

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

   In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,

"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
   What a beautiful Pussy you are,
        You are,
        You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!"


Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
        His nose,
        His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.


"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."

So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
         The moon,
         The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

When I was a little girl I adored this poem. I still do. It feels like year-round, summer-like, whimsical nonsense that makes great sense for no good reason whatsoever.

Logically, I would have queried without ceasing about what a runcible spoon was, but I have no memory of getting stuck on “runcibility,” having figured that it was just a special spoon that we didn’t happen to have in our kitchen drawer. I looked. Besides, why would we, we were not owls or pussycats? [Clever silversmiths through the centuries have indeed designed made-up runcible spoons.]

Early on, my ginormous imagination, aided by expansive curiosity and self-help investigation, swallowed things whole or made them fit into my life’s schematic, including the outrageous idea of God. My mind was logically nonsensical. Still is. This can be a dangerous modus operandi, of course, but it can also be fun, and for me at least, it didn’t crush my soul, but gave me God along with many other wondrous mysteries.

I’m sure the poet Edward Lear must have had a logically nonsensical mind like mine, although here he looks more eccentric, as one might expect of a proper Englishman born in 1812, than whimsical.
Lear was the penultimate of 21 children, raised by his eldest sister Ann, 21 years his senior, after the post-Napoleonic war and the resultant collapse of the family business. As if that weren’t enough to douse a soul, Lear suffered from epileptic seizures, bronchitis and asthma, partial blindness, depression he called “the Morbids,” and the pains and pangs of unrequited affections in attractions to both sexes. Still, or therefore, he made stuff up, and called his writings and illustrations: "nonsense literature for children." I was charmed as a child. I remain so as an adult.

Can’t you just picture the dancing duo off to a honeymoon by moonlight in a pea-green boat with honey and money and quince and mince, and a ring to seal the deal—forever and ever amen?
All this whimsy might augur a mystical moment, prescient of my early ascent toward sainthood. OR it might simply be the beginning of my slide into a deliciously runcible dementia.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

2019.07.07 Are We Free Yet?

America has just celebrated its big National Holiday. I hear the echoes of firecrackers and take in all the flags that suddenly popped out everywhere. We think it’s our birthday as a nation, the time we gained our precious national independence and identity. I celebrated with cookouts, friends, sitting by a pool, thinking of my children, loving the world, and feeling thankful and free. This flag image is rigid. I chose it for that reason.

Now that fireworks and celebrity have died down, I wonder: have we celebrated with integrity the spirituality of this great holiday/holy day? What IS the spirituality of independence anyway? How do we live it? Does it mean independence FROM one another? Or does it mean independence TO make local decisions that guarantee state’s rights. OR maybe it means that we have lost sight of our INTERdependence? Have we forgotten how to be ONE nation indivisible yet supple?

At a high school graduation we attended recently we all stood to sing the national anthem, and I wept—yes for the sheer sentimentality of it, but also with grief over our self image. Have we lived up to our song’s vision?  Or have we used it to justify making one more war somewhere? Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave of which we sing? Are we free to be who we say we are and want to be according to our national vision?

I think this holiday is stuck in its original historical context: winning the war and getting rid of Brit rule. We thought we were free. By proxy right now, we are cleansing ourselves of other foreigners and strangers in our midst, especially those who might threaten our political and legal stability, deplete our resources, and present a moral and spiritual challenge we do not have the courage to confront. 

We are stuck, it seems to me, in a rigid habit of thought. We think in opposites, personally and globally. Our mentality, reflexively, is oppositional, frozen-in-place. Whoever we imagine to be our opposite has power over us. We could think appositely. We could ask: what stance, position, or way of thinking is apt in the realization of our vision of collective freedom?

Here’s a word I just ran across: misandry.  It means dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men (ie the male sex). It’s pronounced MISS-andree from the Greek miso- (hating) + aner,  andr man—on the pattern of misogyny.  Hey, there’s a word I bet we all recognize: misogyny, the opposite of misandry. Misogyny is recognizably popular right now in church and state.

I’ve been tempted at times to nurture a bitter misandry, especially in this patriarchal world and church. But I don’t hate men. I love them, well, most of them. And I need them to compliment and to enrich my femaleness. Some of Dick's and my best marital moments grow out of our spats, which, ironically, serve to boot us from opposition to apposition. Really!

Whenever I’ve expended too much energy on hating men, using patriarchy as my cover, I’m not free to be FOR much of anything, including my self. Still, I admit the men I know and love are apposite to my religion and politics, not opposite. I hang out with the proverbial “choir”—appositely aligned.  Am I too afraid to find real opposites? Sometimes. 

America does not feel free to me right now, fireworks aside. Americans are stuck in spat mode, either FOR or AGAINST our current president. That’s how we think. It’s how we talk. It’s in the air and on the air. People talk about how to “cope.” Many opt out of the fray. Others fight. Some pray. Some get lost in cotton candy positivity. But few honestly pretend this is not going on.

My Christian faith helps me. Christ’s compassion has no borders—no borders on the human heart. Divine generosity is limitless, its signature vast. The spirituality of freedom and true independence is scandalous open-heartedness.

Yes, I know this spiritual vision is extremely demanding. I also know that we have no right to give God a nationality—ours.  Nor do we have a right to give God a gender—anyone's.

What do we dare to want for our birthday, America? What will be apposite to freedom?  How can we soften our flag, our souls, and our borders? With what gift?

Today I saw a small boy with his pregnant mom and another woman perhaps a grandmother. He was restless, shifting his weight around and clutching a towel and a set of goggles. I smiled at him and said: "Hi, you ready to go swimming?" "Yes, I've been waiting to come to this pool for years. This is my big moment."