Monthly Archives: February 2013

Gifts of Age (Part Seven): Aging Like Fine Wine by Dancing in Our Hearts

Dance of Youth

New bottles seldom hold particularly fine wine. Likewise, the gifts of age don’t come in teenaged bodies. On the outside I’m a short, plump, white-haired old lady on a walker. But inside me still live all my younger selves. And the imp inside has gotten braver with the passage of time, so I challenge other little old ladies on walkers to races and to consider themselves armed and dangerous. I plan to get tee shirts that say, “Bare Toes Beware” and “I Can Do Anything You Can Do, Just a Whole Lot Slower.”
Being in my mid-seventies, not only means that I’ve run out of a future full of possibilities, it also means that I’ve actually seen the consequences of some of my major screw-ups in my younger years. And part of my spiritual journey has involved developing enough self-awareness to recognize a self-serving element even in the good things that I do. Parting with delusions is a painful process, but like most difficult things in life, it has an up-side. It eventually makes it easier to live lightly, unburdened by carrying pockets full of stones to throw at others. All those cracks in my façade make that quite hazardous.
Letting go of physical agility and mental acuity as major parts of our self-image is one of the most frightening challenges of this part of the spiritual journey. When I was young and lithe, one of my few natural talents was ballet. In fact, I often expressed my emotions through dance. Once, I danced in sheer joy at the awesomeness of God, while reading The Well Springs of Life by Isaac Asimov. He used several diverse sciences, that study both the macrocosms and the microcosms of the universe, to trace the incredibly orderly and unifying processes of evolution in all aspects of creation. Even such a small glimpse of the brilliance and glory of God was almost blinding. Verbal praise was simply not enough. This cried for praise with my whole self. I put the book down and danced to express my overflowing  joy.
I can no longer physically dance, nor do I have enough mental energy or short term memory to explore complex scientific descriptions of the glory of God in His creation. But age brings simple moments of grace that lift my heart and mind to dance on butterfly wings.
A grandchild whose journey through autism began with learning a few simple signs to ask for basic needs, now keeps me awake chatting past our bedtime. As I pray for energy to stay awake, I dance with delight in my heart at having this once unimaginable experience.
In another part of my series, Gifts of Age, I describe the timely sight of a cow-pile covered in golden Monarch Butterflies just as I was telling God that I was up to my neck in manure down here and asking where the heck He was in all this.  What a perfect symbol of grace.  Butterflies, the classic symbol of transformation, happen to need certain chemicals found in manure.  Problems that go beyond our human ability to solve can open us to God and the grace to grow.

And, believe me, old age is full of that kind of fertilizer.

Dwindling energies and a sense of time passing at warp speed force me to re-evaluate my priorities. Where do I want to focus my limited resources? On image? On possessions? On my aches and limits? On pleasure as a temporary distraction? On a past that I cannot change? On a future that may never come?  It seems more important now, to focus on recognizing the footprints of God in my daily life, on celebrating God’s presence in the small and ordinary, even in the heartbreak, and to share that awareness however I can.

No matter what our age is; today is the only day we actually have.  We can seize it, rejoice in it, and  dance in our hearts.

Sex is Highly Underrated. Part Four of Law And Pleasure

That may seem like a funny thing to say in a world obsessed with sex. However, when an Adult Sunday School Class was asked the question, “What’s a way you have experienced the presence of God?” and I answered “Sex,”  it went over like a lead balloon. There was a profound silence. I think the pastor just finally moved on to another question.

Evidently this is not the number one response.

For me growing up in the fifties and being a newly wed in the sixties created a sexual conundrum.  It meant coming into marriage with all sorts of taboos drummed into your conscious and unconscious, but suddenly hearing the feminists claiming equal fun for everyone. This led to being rather self-centered about sex. I did finally get the impression that men need the enjoyment of sex to feel good about themselves, but women need to feel good about themselves to enjoy sex.

After my encounter with the reality of God’s love expressed in Jesus, feeling loved became a given, so my enjoyment of sex improved exponentially. I was curious whether this was a usual perk for Christians.

After a women’s ecumenical prayer group one day, our older mentor ended up staying and chatting with me.  She was a lovely Baptist woman, grey-haired, probably in her fifties.  She was an old fashioned lady in the best sense of the word.  She was gentle, soft spoken, kind, and polite.  She wore skirts to mid-calf and high necked blouses with lace ruffs and a cameo at her throat.  I don’t remember how we got on the subject, but I mentioned that to me a somewhat surprising blessing of becoming a Christian was how much it improved our sexual relationship.  Her eyes lit up and she responded with great enthusiasm, “Oh yes!  Sometimes I just want to shout, “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!”

Though this experience obviously brings an overwhelming sense of gratitude, it is not what I actually mean when I say that I have experienced God through sex. Sex is infinitely varied even in the same relationship.  Often it’s just plain fun, other times it’s tender, it’s consoling, it’s ecstatic, stress relieving, lighthearted, joyous, healing, loving, powerful.  All gifts from God, no doubt about it, but not what I meant.

My experience of God in sex came about one time, when I made a conscious choice out of love and affection, not duty,  guilt, or need,  to put my husband’s experience of joy first.  Somehow, that focus off myself freed me of my self, of the limits of self, and the experience was not only of oneness with my husband, but oneness with all creation and its creator both.  It was a loss of borders that seems impossible to describe effectively.  To me it was a powerful experience of God.

It is definitely different than an experience of the presence of Jesus and even different from the experience of  God’s love and its mind blowing joy.  It’s simply a oneness with everything.  A loss of the limits of self.

I am not good at contemplation.  But several times, in other ways than the sexual expression of love, I have also experienced that oneness.   Once was toward the end of a night of staying awake on a scout camp-out, keeping the fire going and scooting children in their sleeping bags back from the fire when they wiggled too close in their sleep.  Just before dawn, there’s a moment of quiet when the night sounds stop and the day ones haven’t started.  It’s like the earth holds its breath.  As I experienced that moment, it seemed to me that might have been like the earth holding its breath at the moment when Christ was born.  Suddenly, I had no borders, I was one with everything.  There was an Eileen awareness of everything, but no Eileen.  Again, that sense of oneness with all, with God.  A pure peace.  A silence. No self to protect, so absolutely no fear of anything.

Another time in the silence of fallen snow, on the top of a hill in darkness that seemed to make every star visible, I stood alone, simply listening to the silence and feeling the vastness of the starfilled sky, and once more I lost my self  into that vast silence, but gained the world and God.

It would seem that both love and awe can free us from the lonely walls of self.

Healing: Mind, Body, and Soul

I don’t think any of us are intentionally evil, but we are all blind. When Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he meant all of us. When Paul said, “We see through the glass darkly,” he meant all of us, including himself.
Without grace there is no way we can get beyond our limited perceptions. We are molded and even warped by our historical era, culture, climate, nationality, race, class, religion, education, genes, ancestors, parents, peers, personalities, bodies, health, and life experiences. We are all crippled and incomplete spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Only by dying to these limits, to our earthbound selves, can we become free to see, and then to love, as Jesus did. Since many of these influences are rooted in our unconscious, it takes times facing our demons in the desert to even begin to know ourselves and times spent in prayer on the mountain with God to be set free mentally and reborn spiritually and healed physically. There is a huge difference between praying, “God, if it is your will, heal me.” And saying, “God, heal me according to your will.” God wants us healed. Though mental, spiritual, and physical healing are connected, I have been with both the young and the old when they were at peace dying physically, because they had been healed spiritually and I have seen people healed spiritually by being healed physically. With God all things are possible. He is the same, but we are all different. There are no limiting rules, just the goal of bringing each of us home to live immersed in His Love forever.
The scriptures show Jesus approaching healing differently for different people. “Do you want to be healed?” “Your sins are forgiven.” “Stand up and walk.” “Go show yourself to the religious authorities.” “Your faith has healed you.” “Some things take prayer and fasting.” The question isn’t whether God wants us healed. The question is where does the process need to begin.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one word. Jesus struggling with his fears in the garden, feeling totally abandoned by his family and friends, his anguish so great that he sweat drops of blood, and finally being able to say, “Your will, not mine,” is what set Him free to rise again.
We are born again by recognizing and admitting we need to be set free, by putting ourselves in God’s hands, and then continuing to allow His Spirit to burn the chaff within us in life-long on going passiondeathandresurrections.
These things seem to me to be true: (I’ll get back to you later, when God tells me different.) 1.We all fall short: rich and poor, male and female, educated and uneducated, presidents and drug addicts, young and old, religious and non-religious, Republicans and Democrats. 2.Becoming is more important than achieving. 3. We can’t change anyone else. And the best way to help others isn’t by pretending to be a super person, but by sharing our struggle and our need for grace to become our best selves. (And that even our best selves may not be something to brag about!) 4. It takes a ton of grace and varying amounts of blood, sweat, and tears for each of us to grow closer to being the person we were created to be. (Some of us tend to make it harder for ourselves.)

Rediscovering my Muskrat Ramble Self

The challenges of old age and the feeling that time is running out have tended to bring out my sadder, wiser self.

The other day I watched a movie, A Little Bit of Heaven, and glory be, there was my old New Orleans’ French Quarter Self, just dancing like crazy to Dixieland bands. And remembering and loving the diversity of the French Quarter: black Dixieland bands, the St. Louis Cathedral, drag queens, street corner evangelists, jazz and blues drifting out of clubs into the street,  pirate  hangouts, like Jean Lafitte’s blacksmith shop, Antoine’s, Brennans, Antiques Stores, Rock and Weed Shops, the Cabildo, where slaves were once auctioned, tourists of every shape and size from Kansas to Japan, a clump of Baptist Sunday school teachers, huddled together for protection from all that blatant humanity,walking so closely knit that they looked glued together, nuns in traditional habits, Voodoo artists hawking their luminous paintings and potions.

I love it! I love it! I love it!   All of it.

This is US,  people……this wondrous, awful, frightening, lost, saved, becoming, struggling humanity; one and all beloved by a God so huge, complex, and awesome that He/She cannot be fathomed, only experienced and celebrated.

Taste and see the Goodness!

The same movie gave me my funeral….out doors, Dixieland band playing When the Saints Go Marchin In, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, St. Louie Woman, and you got it, Muskrat Ramble.   Lots and lots of balloons, yellow flowers, wine, cappuccino, po-boys, shrimp, french bread, and everybody dancing.

I may need to have this before I die, so I get to enjoy it too.

It sounds weird, but I am excited about my funeral.

And I am so enjoying my old Muskrat Ramble self.

Since We’ve Done Away with Sin and Hell, What’s the Point of Christmas?

To be honest,  I don’t see sin the same way I used to and I’ve discovered that we make our own private hells on earth, when we refuse to grow past needing into loving.

A view currently popular is that a world suffering from some original ancient ancestors’ screwing up isn’t reasonable or just and that tiny babies come into the world innocent and lovable.

I agree with both.

BUT, all tiny babies come into the world Needy with a capital N. Ask any parent. And some are needier than others, through no fault of their own.  It’s just how nature is.

And NEED is the opposite of  love, in fact it prevents us from loving.

We  can’t experience the transforming  joy of Christmas, until we recognize our neediness.

Note: needing to please others or even getting pleasure from doing for others is not always love.  It can actually be a destructive enabling out of our own neediness.

At one point in my life, I recognized that I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants.  And I felt totally unable to truly love- anyone, even parents, husband, children. I was like Snoopy, I loved humanity. It was people I couldn’t accept.

The paradox is this: unless we know, with mind, heart, and soul, that we are loved unconditionally, we cannot grow from needing to loving.  But that requires recognizing and admitting with mind, heart, and soul that we are needy, not loving.

At the point when I recognized that I was too needy to love, I also recognized that there was not enough love in this imperfect world of imperfect people to free me .  Fortunately for me, that is what Christmas is about.

Perfect Love for all of us came as a baby with human needs and offered us a Love that can set us free.

And that is the transforming  joy of Christmas: Saving unconditional love that sets us free and gives us  illustrated instructions on how to grow from need to love.

Joy to the world, for Love has come.  Let us rejoice and open our hearts to receive it.

Come, Lord Jesus, free us to love.

Hungers of the Heart by Richard G. Watts (excerpts)

Hungers of the heart: to find a personal reason for being here, a purpose worth living for; hunger to shed our loneliness, to have honest relationships with one another; for a society that is more peaceable and fair; and a hunger to feel at home in a cosmos that we so briefly inhabit, a hunger that many people call God.
Regarding the words Spiritual and Religious, you might think of it this way: Spirituality is personal religion and religion is social spirituality. Both words refer to the human need to find our place in the overall scheme of things.
However, in virtually every field of human endeavor, new discoveries are praised. …In no other area of life is denial of progress held up as a virtue, except religion.
Carl Sagan was right: “Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
But often our skepticism doesn’t go deep enough, because both reason and science don’t go deep enough to satisfy the hungers of the human heart. And reason can be used to rationalize bad behavior and science can be used for destruction.
While rightly appalled by the evil done in the name of religion, do we picture a Jesus who would bash gays, cover up for priestly pedophiles, or beat the drums for a holy war?
Carl Sagan again: “Nearly every scientist has experienced in a moment of discovery or sudden understanding, a reverential astonishment.”
This sense of awe and wonder is the cornerstone of all authentic religion. But just as we have trouble describing or explaining the meaningfulness of music, art, love, beauty….so do we in explaining our trust in the meaningfulness of life, which is what faith means.
Religion or spirituality is a focused attitude of trust that moves us to an ethical lifestyle that becomes our thank you note for the gift of being here.

The Love of God

The Love of God is the only thing
of any importance at all.
The Love of God is so incredibly different
and beyond compare
that it boggles our ability to believe in it
enough to accept it.
No matter how much we have been loved
by family and friends,
no matter how famous and wildly adored
by the multitudes,
nothing has ever been more than
a barely glimpsed shadow
of the Love of God.
The Love of God is all that is necessary.
We need nothing more
than to know the unconditional love of God
with our whole mind,
to experience it with an open heart
until our spirit is so filled
with it, that we simply pass it on
by letting it overflow.
We begin to sense this Love of God
when we consider
the possibility that the creator of the universe
chose to walk in our skin,
to experience the frustrating and fearful limits
of being human,
being born under crushing political oppression,
a scorned minority,
bearing physical exhaustion and bodily pain,
the heartbreak
of being abandoned and even betrayed
by his only friends,
publicly ridiculed, tortured and killed,
even taking the
leap of faith into the darkness of death
to show us there is more,
because of His Love.
The love of God can free us to see ourselves
exactly as we are,
to accept our own need for forgiveness
without guilt, just true sorrow
that brings a joy that sets us free from fear
and gives us grace to change.
The Love of God begins to free us to forgive
both ourselves and others.
The Love of God heals us of the crippling wounds
that stunt our growth in love.
The Love of God takes our mustard seed of good
and nurtures it with grace.
The Love of God builds our faith and sets us free
to die and live again.
The Love of God is
personal, unconditional, and eternal.
All else fails.
There is nothing greater than
the Love of God expressed in Jesus,
the Love of God for you.

My Introduction to Violence and the Miracle of Martin Luther King

About 1954 when I was seventeen, someone set a bomb off in our entrance hall. It was the night of an election with a black woman running for the school board in Houston, Texas. Segregation and the myth of separate, but equal schools were still firmly in place, and the black schools had never had representation on the board. I believe she was the first black candidate.
My father was a newspaper editor and had written editorials supporting her.
The bomb was not like bombs today. It didn’t destroy walls or knock down the door, but it had enough impact to cause the confetti packing and sharp pieces of slate to become embedded in the door and walls. It was set off about three in the morning, my father was still at the newspaper covering the election, and I was half-way down the stairs before I decided not to go to the door. That was my first personal experience of the human capacity for senseless violence.
Though my mother was from Mississippi and my father was from Louisiana, they had taught me that prejudging people on the basis of their skin color was not only wrong, it was ignorant. And ignorance was THE mortal sin in our family.
When I married and moved to Nashville, Tennessee our friends were mostly doctors and lawyers and college professors. In the middle sixties I decided to join the NAACP after one of my friends, who was a volunteer at a local hospital, informed us all angrily that, “There was no way in hell, she was going to carry that n_____ baby out to their car. And she told them that right then and there. She didn’t care who heard her.”  Obviously, a college education isn’t always a cure for ignorance.
So in 1968 I was working at the NAACP office when the Poor People’s March came through Nashville. There were many young blacks from out of town, who belonged to more militant organizations like SNCC and CORE, going in and out of the office where I was answering the phone. Their obvious strong hatred of whites, even those of us working for the NAACP, was frightening.
It seemed to me that America was headed for a bloody race war where many innocent people on both sides would be destroyed. I began to pray fervently for a miracle that would prevent that.
I have come to see Martin Luther King as that miracle. I believe whites should be as grateful to him as blacks.
I thank God for Martin Luther King.

bloggers-for-peace-badge                              Peace Begins Within

Conflict is not the same as hatred. Differences of opinion, conflicting needs, and misunderstandings are part of the human condition. But hatred is a whole other ballgame. And where there is hatred, there will be no peace.

Most, if not all, hatred and prejudice are rooted in a sort of primal human fear of being the least, of being at the bottom of our world’s value ranking.  Being at the bottom means being helpless and vulnerable to the ill will of others.

One way we assure ourselves that we are not the least valuable is finding others to consider inferior to us in some obvious way, perhaps morally.

Another way is to focus all our personal or group resources on developing a particular competitive talent or skill, so we can feel safely superior in that area and trust society to overlook our disdain for or even violence toward others.

Or, if intimidated by another person or group’s abilities, like the childhood bully, we can try to cut them down to our size with ridicule, or like Hitler, make them the scapegoat for everyone’s woes.

Hatred is a fear based response. It depends on denying our shared humanity with the “other.”
It allows us to demonize those we choose or are taught to hate, to project on them all the evil that we struggle to repress within ourselves.

I believe the increased incidence of suicide among our soldiers comes from wars that now involve being up close and personal with those in the invaded countries, who turn out to be just ordinary people like ourselves.  Then our shared humanity and helplessness expose wars of today as being murder.  And while fighting for our survival might be noble, fighting for our lifestyle is not.

Scripture says that faith casts out fear. Faith in what? Not faith that we are the chosen and somehow better than others, but rather it is faith that we are all loved by our creator.   In the hymn Amazing Grace, ‘without one plea’ means we are loved for no reason other than being God’s creations, God’s children, not for being good, or right, or a certain religion, or nationality.

Jesus says such extreme things as, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ Does that mean that Jesus literally is in those we consider the lowest, those we ignore and avoid, treat condescendingly, or even hate and persecute?

He goes on to say that ‘in the kingdom of heaven, those that were last on earth will be first and those that were first will be last.’ Friends, I’m pretty sure the kingdom of heaven lasts a lot longer than our days on earth. It’s something to keep in mind when evaluating our priorities, particularly those that grow out of a need to not be the least or last in this world.

Paul’s treatise on love in First Corinthians 13 insists in no uncertain terms that without love, we are nothing. If we give everything to charity, if we become the poorest of the poor, but have not love, we are nothing. If we have great spiritual or intellectual gifts, but have not love, we are nothing.

Love is kind. Love is not arrogant, envious, boastful, rude, or resentful. Love does not insist on having its own way.
Wow.
When my need to be “somebody” raises its ugly head, I reread these words, and  I have to  quickly go mentally to the back of the line.

So who are the least of God’s brethren? Those that know that without God, they are nothing. Those that walk humbly with  God.

Mother Teresa was able to undertake and persevere in her calling because she experienced both the unconditional love of God and even His discernable presence in her life before she ever began her mission and also during the times of struggle with church authorities to be allowed to do what she knew God had called her to do. Toward the end of her life, Mother Teresa went through a terrible dark depression. She had succeeded in doing what God called her to do and she had even received worldly honors and fame. But at the last, she no longer experienced God’s presence. And compared to that, nothing else mattered, not success in her mission, nor worldly acclaim.  She felt bereft.

The least are those that know that without God, who is love, we are and have nothing of eternal value. But that with God, we need nothing else.  Only then do we not suffer from the illusion that we are, or need to be, better than anyone else.

Peace begins within each of us as we grow in faith in a God who is love.

Related Article: Bloggers for Peace

Hopes, Dreams, and Breadcrumbs

I’ve always struggled with unrealistic expectations and the depression that follows when I’m forced to face the realities of our human imperfections (including mine) and a seemingly hopelessly imperfect world.
One of my many disillusionments has been how imperceptible are the differences even the greatest of us makes. For every plague we cure, another one is born. From every war we win, the seeds of the next are sown. For every race or nation emancipated, we project our inner evil on another one. For every answer we discover, a new question arises.
I cling to the hope, that in the overall picture of eons of evolution, that there is progress imperceptible to us in humanity’s short history, but recognizable to God.
Sometimes in the crucible of my own struggle to become the person God created me to be, no matter how humiliatingly limited that potential may be, I get a glimpse of a tiny, almost imperceptible new strength, understanding, and freedom in my willingness to love. If I can resist being overwhelmed by the multitude of areas where I still fall short, I can focus on the next breadcrumb in the spiritual trail God has scattered for me in my daily life.
The key word for me is ‘tiny.’ My illusions are large with fairy tale size expectations.
My husband is a realist, who lives in the moment, and is able to focus on just the next task. I once had a dream in which we were at dinner on a river cruise. The waiters kept bringing small appetizer like courses, one after the other. My husband happily ate each one as it came, while I refrained, waiting for the main course. At some point I realized that there was no main course.
I cannot lie, it’s still frustrating. Sometimes, I have overwhelming dark days of discouragement. But they aren’t frequent, they don’t last long, and usually I can follow God’s bread crumbs out into the light again, feeling a tiny bit stronger and wiser and a tiny bit more able to love. Grace can turn dark times into what stretches us and increases our capacity not only for persevering, but for joy and love.
Some of those bread crumbs are found in blogs I follow. Among them (but not limited to these) are: Unshakeable Hope; Make Believe Boutique; Notes from the Bluegrass; Doctor Dad; Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane; Morning Story and Dilbert; Mridula; Dark Matter.
The many sources of bread crumbs vary greatly from Scripture, nature, friends, books, movies, TV, dreams, memories, and even the comic strips. When we look for God’s breadcrumbs, they are everywhere.