Monthly Archives: July 2021
A dialogue of conflict about a post on face book: The Cosmic Dancer, which had described wonderful possibilities in life.
JLE: But all of the opposite things are also happening. I can’t get my head around it.
EON: Goodies/baddies; upside/downside; joy/sorrow……..flips sides of the same coin. This is school, not heaven.
JLE: I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell. Stories for children.
JLE: I’m sorry, that came out wrong and was impolite. I just get a little bothered when people assume everyone is Christian. There are many types of spiritual beliefs, including the lack of. We all should support each other’s beliefs. Again, I apologize.
EON: No need to apologize to me. I should not have assumed a belief in heaven. Particularly since I support keeping public prayer out of public schools, etc. (No one can stop private prayer of any religious orientation.) I once rejected all my Christian upbringing and wouldn’t let my children go to church and be taught myths and fairy tales. And I still constantly struggle with the dichotomy of good and evil. With a four-generation history of much-loved gay/trans family members, I definitely have issues with fundamentalist Christianity. I see everything in terms of evolution/growth in understanding and the capacity for loving even those different from ourselves. But over my 84 years I have discerned (or possibly imposed) a pattern of joy/sorrow, etc. in life.
Paradoxically, I have come to appreciate the pattern of openness to the challenges to change his religion’s and culture’s fundamental attitudes and prejudices on the part of the Jesus of the New Testament. I really see him as a leap in evolution from survival of the fittest to ability to care about and sacrifice for the physically, intellectually, spiritually, and ethically imperfect/unfinished. (I include myself among those imperfect and unfinished.) Jesus is central to my spirituality.
But there are others in history who have made this leap also. To me, many of the tenets of Buddhism say the same thing Jesus did. In fact, the mystics of all the world religions say the same thing one way or another: “We are all one. Everything is one. Whatever we do to anyone or our planet or universes affects everything.”
I have no idea what happens after death, but I think there’s an individual essence/awareness (?) that survives. I have a few experiential reasons for believing this, but nothing like proof. Spirituality is different from religion. Without a personal spirituality, religion becomes either a religious country club or an assumed insurance policy.
I did recognize fairly early that it was hubris on my part to assume because I didn’t understand something, it couldn’t exist. There is more that humanity does not yet know or understand than it does understand, even now.
It was very kind of you to apologize to me, but unnecessary. I suspect we would have great intellectual fun speculating on all sorts of things and share angst over the ongoing horrors in human history. Sorry! I’m an extravert and a widow who quarantined for almost a year and a half. So, I tend to get carried away when given a chance to dialogue with someone interesting and sensitive to others.
JLE: Awe, that was beautiful. Thank you. I’ve felt like a jerk since I wrote that first comment. You seem like a very interesting and amazing individual!!! I love unexpected connections! I hope you’re having a lovely day.
EON: Thanks! Yes, I’ve had a wonderful visit with my family. I wish a lovely day and evening also for you.
I have experienced and witnessed many miracles. Some that even the most atheistic among us would have to wonder about. However, I don’t believe they are technically miracles. We are just so conceited that we think we understand the limits of nature, of our body and minds, of all the science of the universes. What hubris and tragedy it is to limit life, never-the-less God, to our own understanding.
Jesus got it. Over and over, he stressed praying and trusting. He actually said he had to leave, so we would find and trust the Spirit within ourselves. I am still seeking to understand better how and when Jesus prayed and everything he said about prayer. And I’m really curious if his experience and understanding of prayer changed like his understanding of his call and ministry did.
I have had miracles and I’ve had suffering and my mother had a tragic dying by inches for fourteen years with Alzheimer’s. I do not understand it. But I do not limit God/life/prayer to my human understanding. I have experienced the presence of Jesus in suffering. I’ve found grace and glimpses of joy in suffering. I’ve also suffered until I simply could not have survived it without the grace of concrete answers to my prayers for relief.
I call myself a devout coward. I am not joking or being modest or bragging. I am a wus. Lots of times my suffering is just from fear of suffering because of imagined future disasters. An imagination that does not limit us to what we have experienced can help us not only have empathy for others, but to even find new solutions to problems. But the downside is that we suffer needlessly through imagining bad possibilities also.
My whole point in this is that somehow, we are “God’s” junior partners through prayer. Through various stages of my spiritual journey, prayer has been a large, but changing part of my life.
Once while praying with a group for a young father who had been suffering and getting better and then suffering again for many months fighting cancer, I heard in my mind, “Trust me and let him go.” Several others in the prayer group had received the same message, so we prayed to trust him to God and let him go. Later that day, we heard that he had died at that time.
I pray for family, I pray for friends, I pray for myself, I pray for people who ask for prayer that I don’t know, I pray for the people whose cars are abandoned along the interstate and for all involved when I hear sirens. When I am waiting for someone in public, I pray for the people around me. Sometimes people I have known come to mind at odd times and I pray for them. I pray in great detail when setting out to drive on the interstate. I find it harder, but I add my prayers to those of others for world peace. But when the chips are down, I tell God if there’s a better way to achieve good, then His will, not mine.
Sometimes I have a strong sense of how to pray, but if I don’t, often now I pray this way: “God, be with this person and those they love. Meet their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that will help them become the person you created them to be. I ask this in Jesus’ name, because he told us to love others as You love us. Amen.” More than anything else, prayer keeps me aware of and connected both to God and people. At the age of eighty-four living on limited income, I can not do as much as I once was able to do for people. Many of my friends are limited physically and financially. I wonder if the limits of old age might be our call to pray. Who did you pray for today?
Centuries of Christianity playing out in changing cultures have led to eras of stressing different parts of the Gospels and ignoring others. The culture of Jesus’ times influenced his followers from the beginning. It is very difficult both to get free of the limits of our inborn personalities and to sort through the wheat and chaff of our particular times and culture. My prayer experiences show how slow I often have been in hearing God because of my personal and cultural assumptions. When we recognize the personality differences and the cultural challenges that Thomas, Peter, and Paul had, we begin to realize how much our individual humanity influences and even limits us. And it makes us aware of how important it is for us to hear the Spirit of God both within us and in others and in our circumstances. The tenth chapter of Acts’ Scriptural accounts of Peter’s difficulty in letting go of Jewish laws and his obvious conflict with Paul’s vision of their new religion, show Paul challenging Peter, the Spirit speaking to Peter in a dream, and then the Spirit falling upon Cornelius and his family as Peter was speaking, literally giving them gifts of confirmation to show Peter to Baptize them. That is why we need each other to help us keep our minds open. We also have to ask and listen for guidance, even being open to recognizing the Spirit where we least expect it, in those different from us.
My husband of sixty years and I were very different. As a new Christian I loved the Scriptures, but had some problems with Paul’s challenge, “Wives obey your husbands,” since though Baptized and Confirmed, my kind and honest husband had little involvement with organized religion, wasn’t familiar with the Scriptures, and didn’t pray. At one point in our marriage, we had to make a major decision that not only would drastically change our whole family’s life style, but would involve a large financial risk. He decided we should make the change. I had cold feet about it. I had read something that advised praying and then watching for the answer and expect it in three days. Over a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I prayed, read the scriptures, listened to the sermon, and read a chapter of a new book. On Monday morning, I was sure that I had not received an answer. But as I reviewed the things I had heard and read, I recognized that all weekend there had been a theme, “Wives obey your husbands.” As an automatic no arguing rule, I still rejected this, but had to admit that as far as this particular decision, the answer had been very clear. And in retrospect, I believe it was definitely the right choice, because even though there were many new challenges in our lives as a result, they were learning experiences that made a positive spiritual difference.
At that point in time, I was not a feminist. Our problems mostly were differences in our upbringing, personalities, and spirituality. Over time, what I found was that arguing is different from discussion. Discussion is a dialogue where both consider each others reasons, while recognizing that there are no perfect answers. It is not just two closed minds butting heads. I also discovered that as an extravert introducing an issue to an introvert, I needed to bring it up and then walk away to give him whatever time he needed to consider it even before we began a discussion. (An introvert pushed into a fast decision will self protect and just say “NO!”) I found that when I would seriously consider his opinion and let him know that I understood his logic, often he would then be open to my opinion and even decide it was the best choice.
A couple is a team with different areas of expertise and experiences and values. Sometimes logic and values conflict. There is no logical reason for getting a kitten unless you have mice. While allergies do trump a longing for something cute and furry, love can free us to sacrifice our own convenience or preference.
Tradition has been influenced by culture. Even Christian tradition. In the first several years after my conversion, I was part of an women’s ecumenical prayer group. Once through having a “Christian” coffee, our group grew too large so we chose to divide into smaller groups. But between eight and twelve of us, we ended up with at least a Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Charismatic, and once Miriam, a Jewish Christian who still worshipped at her Synagogue. We didn’t clash over theology, because we focused on how to become more loving in our own lives. But one Holy Thursday, which is also the Jewish Passover, our Jewish Christian brought unleavened bread and wine. She suggested we read the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and pass the bread and wine to one another. This was a whole new ball game. The Presbyterian missionary next to me said, “I think we need an ordained minister to do that.” I immediately thought, “No, we need a priest.” And we all pretty much presumed we needed a man to do that. We decided to go ahead with our usual scripture reading and prayer and be open to what God wanted us to do. After our usual hour everyone agreed that they felt that it was a good thing to do. Miriam read the Holy Thursday Scripture and we each passed the bread to the woman next to us and then the wine and sat in quiet reflection afterward. Finally, someone asked, “Did anyone experience something unusual when passing the bread and wine to their sister in Christ. And one by one we all admitted that we had had a strong sense of Jesus standing with his hand on our shoulder as we did that.
This and other experiences have convinced me that whenever we gather together in God’s name, God is with us. God’s presence, our sharing God’s presence, is never limited to one person, one group, one place, any religion’s ceremony or any human rules that limit God. Our celebrations on Sundays should call us, remind us, and give us the grace to do this in memory of God and God’s love fleshed out in Jesus, whenever and wherever we can. This was how Christianity began and flourished even under the threat of death. It is not about power or politics or theological limits. God is not small or limited to our traditions or protocols. Mankind’s need to be in control has made God a prisoner through rules and traditions that attempt to cut God down to our size. It isn’t that God is not in our temples and tabernacles and attempts to worship, know, and serve. It is simply that God cannot be limited to them. And we are poorer for imagining we can.
These days we are becoming more aware that people are very different in significant ways. Most of us are familiar with the differences between outgoing extraverts and inward looking introverts. And we are also aware that each person may tend toward one, but to different degrees. And our work personality may be quite different from our private one. Many preachers, teachers, and even actors are introverts. They do beautifully “on the job,” but are exhausted and need to refuel alone after being “on stage.” The extroverts are energized by the audience and hang around for interaction with people.
Our spiritual styles will vary accordingly. I think, I, and many others have done damage when we have expected others’ spiritual journeys to be the same as ours. One thing I have witnessed in my eighty-four years, is people changing drastically in how they relate to God and even to people at different stages of their lives.
I’ve seen people who found spiritual riches in rote prayer and ritual, lose that source and then discover a relationship with a living Savior present in their personal lives. And in my own case, the riches of insight and relationship that I found for decades in Scripture simply stopped at one point. But I found peace and strength in ritual and repetitive prayer after panicking over my loss. I think this is a very personal journey, but with the differences being mostly in timing. It is to me a “dying to self.” But it isn’t permanent. The spiritual goal is wholeness. It’s beautiful really, because we finally understand people who were simply mysteries to us, even appearing to be in opposition to us.
I want to stress this because as I share my experiences of prayer, if those do not fit your experience, simply file them and ask God to show you when it’s time to be open to them.
My husband and I were opposites to the extreme in pretty much every way. Like Thomas, the Apostle, he was logical and loyal, but accepted the limits of his times’ understanding of reality. He played by the rules, seeing God as a judge. But he envied me my joy, so he said the prayer and began to read Scripture. I tried to get him to start with the New Testament, but that wasn’t the way his mind worked, so he began at the beginning and bogged down somewhere in Leviticus. One morning as he was driving to work he prayed. “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us. So, I’m listening.” As he said this, he heard a siren and saw flashing lights behind him. A police man pulled him over for going 40 in a 30 mile zone. As the policeman went back to his car to write out the ticket, my husband was thinking, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about this answer.” When the policeman came back he said, “Mr. Norman, while I was writing this ticket every car that went by was speeding and most were going faster than you were. I’m tearing up your ticket, but you try to be more careful along here.” And he tore up the ticket. My response was “All fall short of the glory of God, but because of Jesus, God tears up our tickets!” And Julian being such a concrete visual thinker, it seemed like a perfect answer to me. It was many years before Julian was able to be open to a relationship with Jesus that gave him joy, but finally he did.
Another woman who had grown up Baptist and had followed Jesus for many years was in my ecumenical prayer group. Betty told God one night, “Eileen gets all the miracles. Why don’t I get miracles?” The next morning as she was driving her new Buick home from taking her children to school, she didn’t realize that she was on black ice and when she started to turn she drove off the road and dropped about six feet into a group of trees. She didn’t hit any of them and the ground was muddy, not frozen, so she wasn’t actually hurt, just shaken. She got out and called a tow truck. When the driver got the car out and checked it out, he said, “Mam, it’s a miracle not only that you didn’t get hurt, but your car didn’t either. You can drive it home.” That night she prayed, “Thank you God for keeping me and even the car safe. But, it’s okay now. Eileen can have the miracles.”
I’ll continue with my prayer stories, but do remember our spiritual journeys are on different schedules and miracles are answers to problems. And some problems have reasons, instead of miracles. And sometimes we won’t know the reasons until we’ve reached the other side of life.
Chapter 1 was just high lights from fifty-four years ago. Looking back I can see God’s footprints in my life even when I was running from that reality. I now recognize God’s interventions in close encounters with death and in finding the right help when I needed it at a critical turning point. Whatever God is, once we open our eyes to that which is beyond our understanding, we recognize a power that is active within us unfinished people in an unfinished world. And that power is in the tiniest and seemingly insignificant and in the awesome and seemingly impossible.
I realize now what hubris it was to think that because I (or for that matter, anyone else) could not understand God, God couldn’t exist. We explore the universe, we grow ever more understanding of our bodies, we create awesome machines that mimic analytical thought, but what we don’t know or understand is exponentially greater than what we do. Guys, we don’t have a clue. And once we accept that, our hearts and minds can open up to an inner journey far beyond our personal human limits. And we don’t have to understand it to experience it and let it be used for good.
Prayer is one of our greatest mysteries. And all through human history and in our Christian Scriptures prayer has been our way to reach beyond our seemingly natural limits.
After I opened my heart and mind to the person of Jesus as the tangible expression of the unconditional love and infinite power of God, I began to experience answered prayer beyond anything I had ever expected. About a dozen of us from different denominational backgrounds began to meet to pray, read Scripture, and share our new spiritual journey. We were all experiencing new understandings and a closer relationship to a very present Jesus, but I was experiencing some things that others who had never questioned their religious upbringing were not. The fact is that rejecting pretty much everything religious I had been taught or even heard of, actually freed me to expect to experience the whole shebang we read about in Acts. I went from believing nothing to believing everything.
It started in small, but unexpected ways. One morning, I had already set up everything for an after school birthday party for my eight year old son, so I could go to my weekly bridge luncheon with friends. I dropped my children off at school and was coming back past my house on the way to the luncheon, when I simply felt a strong urge to stop and go into my house even though it would run me late. I started to ignore it, but thought maybe somebody was calling me about something serious (only land lines back then). So, I stopped and went in my back door where I discovered the kitchen door to the basement garage was open. As I hesitated, our six month old German Shepherd puppy and two other neighborhood dogs came running through the kitchen from the living and dining room where wrapped presents were on the floor, platters of cookies and bags of candy were on the low coffee table and a loosely covered cake was on the dining room table. The only thing disturbed so far were the balloons bouncing around the rooms from the racing dogs. As I coaxed the leaping happy dogs out of the house and secured it, I was literally in tears of gratitude. To my total amazement, I realized that God cared about the small stuff!
For months after my new spiritual journey began, I was overflowing with joy and wanted somehow to share that joy with others. One day I was raking leaves in my front yard and asked God for a chance to share the “good news” and I thought of a couple I knew who were having marital problems because of alcohol abuse. As I stopped raking to go visit them, a neighbor two doors from me called to me from her porch inviting me up for coffee. I apologized, asking for a raincheck since I was about to go visit the couple. The neighbor was a beautiful woman with two delightful young children and a banker husband who seemed very kind. She pretty much had everything. I went to visit the unhappy couple and they were not the slightest interested in the “good news.” The next day was Sunday and I was standing in my driveway waiting for some friends to take me to their Sunday school class to share my story. The same neighbor called down, again inviting me to come over. I apologized saying I was going to talk to a Sunday school class. She walked over to me asking what I was going to talk about. I told her that I was going to share about asking Jesus to be my Savior and Lord and what joy and new understandings that had brought me. As my friends pulled into my drive, she took hold of my arm saying, “Please, please come tomorrow and tell me about it.” I guess because experiencing rebirth wasn’t new to the Baptist Sunday school class, they were not very interested in my story, wanting only to ask why Catholics worshipped Mary. Since, I never had, I couldn’t help them with that. The next day when I shared my story with my affluent neighbor, with tears of joy she asked Jesus to be her Savior and Lord.
Sometimes when we have everything the world offers, we realize that it isn’t enough.
After this experience, I decided to invite my other neighbor over for lunch and to share with her. She belonged to a very large Church of Christ and my witness made her nervous. She was polite, but fled as soon as she could. The next Sunday afternoon, she came to see me wide eyed. She said, “Eileen, we had a visiting preacher this morning and he said all the same things you did!”
God really does seem to be in the timing.
But God doesn’t just rescue or use us. God is constantly teaching us. At Christmas my father-in-law always gave us a side of beef. Some friends with seven children were starting a business and money was in very short supply. So, my husband and I decided to share some of the beef with them. Now, I knew all the Scriptures about sharing and loving others as you loved yourself, but as I loaded a basket with hamburger, pot roasts, and some round steaks, every time my hand hovered over the sirloin, ribeye, and T bone steaks, I drew it back. I dearly love those steaks. I rationalized that the cheaper cuts would stretch further with seven children. So, I didn’t share any of the more expensive steaks.
The next weekend, we took our children to a state park that my husband had designed, since we could stay free in one of the cabins while he did a final inspection. I had left the garage door up a little over a foot so the cat could come and go. All seemed well when we returned until I went to freezer in the garage to get meat for dinner. The bottom two shelves where all the expensive steaks had been were completely empty. Nothing else was missing.
I got the message.
I asked God’s forgiveness, but also admitted that I would really, really like to know how He did it.
A day later a friend who lived a couple of blocks downstream on the creek that ran through both of our yards called and told me excitedly about all the mysterious expensive steaks her dogs were happily devouring in her back yard. So, now I knew where the steaks went, but not how in the world they got there. But as I walked into our back yard to look around the creek, our next door neighbor came over and mentioned that she had seen the three-year-old from across the street crawling in and out of our garage over the weekend. Evidently frozen steaks make great boats to float in a creek and only the expensive ones were in her reach. I was so relieved she hadn’t managed to climb into the freezer, I didn’t even begrudge the dogs the steaks. And a couple of years later I gave the nuns at the Catholic school where I taught several nice steaks along with hamburger. When they tried to give me the expensive steaks back and just keep the hamburger, I assured them with great conviction that I really, really needed to give them the steaks too.
Sometimes, I do get the message.
Next Chapter: Much more complex, immediate, and mind boggling answers to prayers.
I have a lot of prayer stories. Some small and kind of insignificant to anyone but me. Some huge and amazing for both me and for others. Some that went unanswered about terrible things that broke my heart and if I hadn’t had so many really unusual answers to prayer, those seemingly unanswered ones would have broken my faith. This will be posts in installments. They will focus on actual prayers and answers, but this first chapter is a very condensed account of my journey before those.
C. S. Lewis is quoted as saying that it isn’t that we don’t believe in a God that wants the best for us. It’s that we are afraid of how hard the best will be. That pretty much nails it.
My journey went from being brought up Christian, to abandoning my faith in religion. And between disillusion with religion and some painful personal losses, I decided that if there was a God, I didn’t like him very much. And it was less scary to not believe in God, since God might not like me either.
I decided that humanity was on its own, so we would have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The short version is that first I tried to help make things better through politics. I supported a poor guy, because I thought he would work to help poor people. It turned out he had higher political ambitions, so he needed more money and kickbacks were his way of getting it. I next worked to elect the richest one running, thinking he had enough money that hopefully he wouldn’t need to rob the people. But it turned out he got his money that way and it was a habit now. So, the next election I voted for the first woman to run for a significant office, thinking that we hadn’t been in politics long enough to become corrupt. Wrong. She got caught before she even got elected.
I then decided to put my energies and time into working for civil rights. Going between working in the ghetto and socializing with my Southern upper middle class neighbors and friends made me realize it was going to take more than laws to change people.
So, I went back to college to study Psychology. And I found that while Psychology could help people change for the better, most people didn’t think they needed to change and even the ones that were miserable didn’t want to ask for help.
About this time, some friends decided to give up their affluent life style and secure job in the family business to work as missionaries to college students through a nondenominational organization called Campus Crusade for Christ. We thought they had lost their minds when they came to parties and not only danced with each other, but talked about Jesus. Most of us thought they would come to their senses pretty soon after a taste of their new life style and we tried to tactfully slip away when they started the Jesus talk. But a part of me envied believing in something enough to change your whole life.
After a year in their new life style, they came to town and asked some of us to invite our friends to a “Christian” coffee where several women would give short talks about changes in their lives. I invited friends promising the talks would be short and the food would be delicious. The women talked about asking Jesus to be their Savior and Lord and about the changes that came in their values and relationships. One then led the group in saying that prayer, which I did not join in saying. As I gathered china cups, most of the women were in tears and talking and hugging the speakers. The woman that led the prayer cornered me, asking if I had said the prayer. I said that I had not, because I didn’t believe in God and I thought Jesus was a good person, but delusional. She didn’t blink. She just asked if I would say the prayer, “Jesus, if you are the Son of God and our Savior, then I want you as my Savior and Lord. Please give me the grace to become the person I was created to be.”
When I thought about it, that seemed like a “win/win.” If he wasn’t, I didn’t have anything to lose. If he was, I really wouldn’t want to miss it. So, I said the prayer, then went back to playing Martha in the kitchen. As I washed dishes, I wondered if anything would change for me. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by sheer joy. I knew with both mind and heart that I was loved unconditionally even when I was denying God and Jesus. Driving in the car, I wanted to sing and the only thing I could think of was a children’s song. I drove with tears flowing, singing with all my voice and heart, “Jesus loves me.” And I realized that what I knew now, that I did not the day before was that simple and that amazing.