Category Archives: epiphanies
I’m 83 and a widow living alone. I’ve recently had some health issues and had become depressed. But then I read a post called: “Choose Joy.” So, when I looked out my window at the gray day, I focused on the gold and violet pansies hanging there, savoring their rich colors, the contrast that speaks to me of the marriage of joy and sorrow, remembering their velvet softness, valuing their resilience in cold gray weather. I looked around me in my warm bright study, at a cork board of cards with beautiful pictures of birds from caring friends, a picture of daffodils that are my sign of hope, a picture of Jesus holding a child and laughing, a favorite one of my husband laughing with that sparkle in his eyes, our wedding photo with my family, my loving sons and daughter at various stages of their lives, my brother and his spouse Rick, who treat me like a princess when I get to visit them, me smiling just five years ago in a Cathedral in France. How blessed my life has been. How blessed it still is. The quiet joy of peace surrounds me like a comforter. And a tiny bubble of joy rises within me. Yes, we can choose joy!
Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow, restless with need for action. Feel the sorrow, take the action, but keep pressing the weight of joy against it all, until it becomes mindless, automated, like gravity pulling the stream down its course; until it becomes an inner law of nature. If Viktor Frankl can exclaim yes, to life, in spite of everything- and what an everything he lived through — then so can any one of us amid the rubble of our plans, so trifling by comparison. Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice. So often, it is a matter of attending to what Hermann Hesse called, as the world was about to come unworlded by its first global war, the little joys; so often, those are the slender threads of which we weave the lifeline that saves us.
Delight in the age-salted man on the street corner waiting for the light to change, his age-salted dog beside him, each inclined toward the other with the angular subtlety of absolute devotion.
Delight in the little girl zooming past you on her little bicycle, this fierce emissary of the future, rainbow tassels waving from her handlebars and a hundred beaded braids spilling from her golden helmet.
Delight in the snail taking an afternoon to traverse the abyssal crack in the sidewalk for the sake of pasturing on a single blade of grass.
Delight in the tiny new leaf, so shy and so shamelessly lush, unfurling from the crooked stem of the parched geranium.
I think often of this verse from Jane Hirshfield’s splendid poem-
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
Yes, except we furnish both the grains and the scales. I alone can weigh the blue of my sky, you of yours.
From the Blog: Make Believe Boutique- the Post: around the bend
Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
“Everything is energy including our thoughts and feelings. If strong and focused could they create reality?”
Maybe we help create what we focus on with either peaceful/kind or angry/violent thoughts and feelings. Maybe in times of national or world wide conflict we even effect the weather? What if when Jesus said we sin if we even look at others with lust (or hate?), he knew we effect all kinds of things with just our thoughts. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of thoughts and feelings that if acted on would put me in jail. Maybe I’m harming not only my own body, but together with others unwittingly creating havoc on a much larger scale? I have learned that resentment really damages my body. And I have experienced incidences where my forgiveness, even unexpressed, has freed the person I forgave at the time I managed it. Humanity, including in our understanding of both Scripture and the science of nature, as Paul told us, sees through the glass darkly. There’s more we don’t understand about nature, ourselves, and God than what we do know. Maybe like Jesus told us, it’s what’s going on inside us that needs cleansing, not just what we act out.
Maybe we are like children playing with electricity, unaware of its power.
I have been writing about my experiences with prejudice in the last month. I have realized that because of being eight when WWII ended, I had seen news photos of the war at the movies and then photos and stories of the concentration camps, so I had a prejudice against Germans. Then when in the 1990’s, I traveled to areas speaking German in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic in a wheel chair and experienced prejudice against the handicapped first hand, it triggered that prejudice of mine. There were several very hurtful experiences and I came home hurt and angry and with renewed dislike for Germans. In writing and reliving it, I finally realized that most of the people we encountered during those trips were kind and friendly. My prejudice was based on just a few very mean people. I think this is often the case. I personally am vehemently anti-Trump, but I know and love and respect people who are staunch Republicans that voted for him. I admit it’s difficult for me to understand, but I know these are kind and loving people. So, like Oscar the Grouch, I am praying and working on my attitude. Pre-judging based on a small vocal group within a group is simply wrong. There are both hateful and loving people in every group, whether it’s a political, national, ethnic, racial, gender, or even a religious group. Prejudice blinds us to the good in people. In these times it is particularly important to be able to hear one another and work together to preserve our shared country and world.
To do that, we have to overcome prejudices of every kind. Even prejudice FOR the underdog. As a prejudiced person, I know what a struggle that is. But with grace, like Jesus did with the Samaritan, the unclean woman, the lepers, and even the soldier of the cruel Roman conqueror, we can see through to our shared human vulnerability and need for love and grace. Let’s pray for grace and actually work at it. It’s important.
Today I checked out a blogger that started following me without comment. She is twenty-five and the first post I found seemed to be on masturbating. Actually, it turned out to be about the Love of God that doesn’t shame us no matter where we are in our journey to become the people God created us to be. She also admitted that she kept sorrow away by physical sports and running and that it had become an addiction to avoid her feelings. She proceeded in a just a few blog posts to share wisdom that it has taken me fifty years of my journey with Jesus to learn. I have been frustrated that I haven’t been able to communicate my hard earned wisdom to younger members of my family. Maybe I should have been listening.
Here are some jewels: 1. Jesus is about PROCESS and compassion. Well, yeah, but the problem is that for most of us it’s a very long process to become truly compassionate. Compassion includes everyone. We can disagree, but there’s no room in compassion for judging.
And process is simply another word for change. Ah, there’s the rub! It’s easy to see how others need to change and judge them when they don’t recognize it. I only lack compassion for people who lack compassion. Which is my first clue that I also need to change.
She writes about forgiveness of those who have wounded us and says, “We have all left scars on the people we love the most.” My response was, “Well, ain’t that the truth Ruth!” I’ve been writing a memoir of sorts in order to share some of what I’ve learned, but in writing the memoir, I’m recognizing some ways I’ve hurt others that I was oblivious about. I’ve admitted to enough already that this isn’t a surprise or particularly devastating, just a reminder that I can’t throw stones.
Here’s three things she says God asked her to do:
1. To give my heart a voice.
2.To walk with him alone for a time.
3. To let go of everything I’ve “known” Him to be.
These are three things I too have slowly recognized, but still find challenging. 1. I’m pretty good at recognizing problems, but not so good at letting my self experience the emotional pain. Unfortunately, that’s the narrow gate I don’t want to go through, but it’s the only way to healing.
2. To walk with him alone would seem to be easy while in quarantine, but I find it almost impossible to quiet my mind. Plus, I can escape the challenge by doing what I’m doing now, connecting with the outside world through face book.
3. I thought I did this when I recognized how Jesus realized that he had to change in his understanding of his saving mission as only to save the Jews. He was challenged to change by a woman who was “unclean,” by a heretic uncouth Samaritan, and finally by a soldier of the hated enemy power. Who is “unclean” or unacceptable in Christianity today? Who is a heretic in our mind today? And who is someone with power we hate?
I realize that there is still much I have to unlearn because each generation has new eyes to see what I have not questioned.
Alexis Williams says, “I have to become fully alive in who I am, so I can be who God created me to be.”
I might express it as, “I have to become fully aware of who I am and that I am known and tenderly loved as I am, so I can with the grace of that Love become the unique person God created me to be.”
Her blog is named “Do I Stay or Do I Go?”
Loving the books my friend Tracy loaned me for getting through this isolation. The author Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, says what it seems to me is crucial to experiencing the Good News. “Repentance is not what we do to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.”
A year ago, a friend of mine from church dragged a homeless person to my apartment to talk to me. He knew him from years ago as kids and later when the man had his own successful contracting company. Now he was in an advanced stage of alcoholism and literally living on the streets. As we talked, it became clear that as a soldier in the war with North Vietnam he had done things that he could not forgive himself for and did not believe God would forgive. We both tried to convince him that he was already forgiven, all he needed to do was accept it, be freed to begin over by the grace of that amazing love, and let God show him how to get on with his life.
He talked some about being Catholic, so I could understand why he felt that way since I was Catholic for most of sixty years. But even when I tried to tell him that the church had changed since Vatican II and even Catholics were understanding that all fall short of the glory of God, but Jesus died for our sins. If Jesus’ death didn’t redeem us, what was the point of it? The veteran couldn’t hear us. It was heart breaking. And he went on self destructing and finally succeeded.
I think we all sometimes forget that we were already forgiven before we even sinned, so we carry burdens of guilt over things we can’t undo. We see God as a Judge keeping count of our sins and we struggle under a debt we feel we owe, instead of letting the grace of that love continue to heal us and free us to change.
My very kind and loving husband, Julian, felt that way and couldn’t understand the freedom and joy I had from accepting that Jesus died so that by recognizing and accepting that incredible love and forgiveness, we would be freed to grow more loving. Forgiveness is the heart of love and God’s love cannot be earned. We are his beloved children. Period. Once we experience that love, it is so glorious that we want to let it fill us, heal us, free us, direct us, and empower us to somehow share it with others. It’s a taste of heaven. When I was more or less a “second hand Christian” having been brought up in the church, I definitely didn’t want to go to hell, but I could never imagine anything I’d want to do for eternity in heaven either, not even the things that gave me pleasure or made me happy. But once I experienced that mind blowing joy of being both known and loved totally and tenderly by a God who is Love, I knew I would be fine with an eternity of the joy of that Love. My Julian was not a verbal person. He thought mostly in images and related best to logical concrete things. One day Julian was driving to work and decided to test some of the things I said. So, he prayed as he was driving, “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us if we listen. So okay, I’m listening.” As he thought these words, a flashing light and siren started behind him. And a trooper pulled him over for speeding. When the trooper went back to his car to check on Julian’s credentials and fill out the ticket, Julian was thinking sarcastically, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about how God spoke to me!!” Then the trooper came to the window again and said, “Mr. Norman, while I’ve been working on giving you this ticket, every car that went by here was speeding, most of them more than you were. So, I’m going to tear up this ticket. You be more careful now.” And he literally tore up the ticket. When Julian got to work and called me to tell me this, all I could think of was, Romans 3:23… “since ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a GIFT through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” What a perfect image! Thanks to Jesus, we know that God tears up our ticket.
The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.
Many years ago, I began on the first of the four Advent Sundays to pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for Him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life. And most years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize His coming.
One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.
As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him (and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter here on the lake in town. When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve menu. As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.
For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked them what happened when Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”
It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family. So, when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction, “Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”
On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others. And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more in the heart of a child.
As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior, he was active in the Baptist Student Organization at Memphis University. He and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers downtown in the August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer.
After college David became a missionary teacher, first in Indonesia where he reached out to homeless teens by organizing soccer teams and coaching them. Then, in Afghanistan he taught in a school with two hundred students. It was in a compound, but three Afghan students who were siblings and one of their parents were killed by the Taliban for being Christians and the school was warned that there was a plan to bomb the school so it was closed immediately and the foreign teachers scrambled for flights home. His last three years out of the U.S. were spent teaching in Bolivia.
Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”