Category Archives: Moments of Wonder
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
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 we may have been by the multitudes, nothing has ever been more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God.
We need nothing more than to accept the unconditional Love of God with our whole mind, experiencing it with an open heart until our spirit is so filled with it, that we can pass it on by simply letting it overflow.
We glimpse this Love when we consider that the creator of the universe chose to walk in our skin, experiencing the frustrating and fearful limits of being human. Even being born into crushing political oppression as part of a scorned minority, experiencing physical exhaustion and bodily pain, feeling the heartbreak of being abandoned and betrayed by his friends. Not only suffering public ridicule and torture, but even accepting the darkness of death to show us there is more, all because of Love.
The Love of God can free us to see ourselves exactly as we are, fragile and unfinished. To then accept our need for forgiveness without guilt, just a true sorrow that sets us free from fear and shame and gives us grace to grow. It begins to not only free us to forgive ourselves, but also others.
The Love of God can heal the insecurities that come from being tiny vulnerable humans in a huge unknown universe, insecurities that stunt our ability to love. The Love of God is the grace that uses our mustard seed of faith to begin freeing us to die to self and live again.
The Love of God fleshed out in Jesus is personal, unconditional, and eternal. The Love of God heals us and opens our hearts to joy. All else fails. There is nothing as powerful and eternal as the Love of God, the Love of God for you.
The Love of God frees us to say, “I am yours, God. Take my life and help me become the unique person you created me to be.”
1. Many have stepped up their gratitude prayers or lists during the “Great Quarantine.” Which really is a wonderful attitude improving thing to do. When I really get into it, I can write numerous pages, until I have to stop for something else. I never realized I had it so good before starting this. This is something many of us experiencing the challenges of age have learned to do to help ourselves to keep on keeping on and to stop us from becoming curmudgeons.
2: The next level is praising God even for the hard parts. Though God doesn’t need the praise, it is an amazing way of connecting with God and experiencing grace, which not only transforms our situation, but eventually us.
3. The third level is to do both and then to develop the habit of reaching out to someone who is housebound by poor health, care giving or not being able to drive. Calls, cards, and asking if they need something when we plan to grocery shop all will help even after quarantine time.
Christianity is about loving people more than loving to be right.
Christianity is about forgiveness for every one.
Christianity is about experiencing the love of God and passing it on.
Christianity is about learning how to love from the life and death of a Jew named Jesus.
Christianity is about the awesome God of the Universe being within each of us.
Christianity is about realizing that we are all imperfect earthen vessels, each unique, but all slightly cracked, so though we are filled with the Spirit of God, we leak.
Christianity is about knowing Jesus is Risen and is a well where we can go to refill.
Christianity is about realizing that the Spirit of God works in diverse ways in different people: like a geyser, like a gentle bubbling brook, or a silent underground river.
Christianity is about valuing the fruit of the Spirit- peace, joy, love – in whatever wrapping or label it comes.
Christianity is about translating the words “born again” into experiencing the unlimited love of God with both our mind and heart and being freed to respond “YES” to God even when the going gets rough.
Christianity is about Jesus showing us that this life is not all there is.
These are summed up in First Corinthians, Chapter 13.
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.
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
My seven-year-old grandson sleeps just down the hall from me, and he wakes up a lot of mornings and he says, “You know, this could be the best day ever.” And other times, in the middle of the night, he calls out in a tremulous voice, “Nana, will you ever get sick and die?”
I think this pretty much says it for me and for most of the people I know, that we’re a mixed grill of happy anticipation and dread. So I sat down a few days before my 61st birthday,and I decided to compile a list of everything I know for sure. There’s so little truth in the popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things.
For instance, I am no longer 47, although this is the age I feel, and the age I like to think of myself as being. My friend Paul used to say in his late 70s that he felt like a young man with something really wrong with him.
Our true person is outside of time and space, but looking at the paperwork, I can, in fact, see that I was born in 1954. My inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age. I’m every age I’ve ever been, and so are you, although I can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been helpful if I hadn’t followed the skin care rules of the ’60s, which involved getting as much sun as possible while slathered in baby oil and basking in the glow of a tinfoil reflector shield.
It was so liberating, though, to face the truth that I was no longer in the last throes of middle age, that I decided to write down every single true thing I know. People feel really doomed and overwhelmed these days, and they keep asking me what’s true. So I hope that my list of things I’m almost positive about might offer some basic operating instructions to anyone who is feeling really overwhelmed or beleaguered.
Number one: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive.It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
Number two: almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.
Three: there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way,unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world.They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them.It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway.
Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.
This brings us to number four: everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.
Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.
So God might mean, in this case, “me running out of any more good ideas.”
While fixing and saving and trying to rescue is futile, radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” just smile obliquely like Mona Lisa and make both of you a nice cup of tea. Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky, annoying self is home. It’s where world peace begins.
Number five: chocolate with 75 percent cacao is not actually a food.
Its best use is as a bait in snake traps or to balance the legs of wobbly chairs. It was never meant to be considered an edible.
Number six —
writing. Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honor. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little.When my older brother was in fourth grade, he had a term paper on birds due the next day, and he hadn’t started. So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book, paper, pencils and brads — for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads — and he said to my brother, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans and then write about pelicans in your own voice. And then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. And then geese.”
So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us,and that’s also why you were born.
Seven: publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and evil people I’ve ever known are male writers who’ve had huge best sellers. And yet, returning to number one, that all truth is paradox, it’s also a miracle to get your work published, to get your stories read and heard. Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can. So can singing in a choir or a bluegrass band. So can painting community murals or birding or fostering old dogs that no one else will.
Number eight: families. Families are hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. Again, see number one.
At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal –remember that in all cases, it’s a miracle that any of us, specifically, were conceived and born. Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself, and then you might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.
When William Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But I promise you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderella, you can do it,and you will be amazed.
Nine: food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
Number 10 –grace. Grace is spiritual WD-40, or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin and me exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild. Go figure.
The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world. To summon grace, say, “Help,” and then buckle up. Grace finds you exactly where you are, but it doesn’t leave you where it found you. And grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, regrettably. But the phone will ring or the mail will come and then against all odds, you’ll get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness. It helps us breathe again and again and gives us back to ourselves, and this gives us faith in life and each other. And remember — grace always bats last.
Eleven: God just means goodness. It’s really not all that scary. It means the divine or a loving, animating intelligence, or, as we learned from the great “Deteriorata,” “the cosmic muffin.” A good name for God is: “Not me.” Emerson said that the happiest person on Earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot and look up. My pastor said you can trap bees on the bottom of mason jars without lidsbecause they don’t look up, so they just walk around bitterly bumping into the glass walls. Go outside. Look up. Secret of life.
And finally: death. Number 12. Wow and yikes. It’s so hard to bear when the few people you cannot live without die. You’ll never get over these losses, and no matter what the culture says, you’re not supposed to. We Christians like to think of death as a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live again fully in your heart if you don’t seal it off. Like Leonard Cohen said, “There are cracks in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.” And that’s how we feel our people again fully alive.
Also, the people will make you laugh out loud at the most inconvenient times, and that’s the great good news. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. Grief and friends, time and tears will heal you to some extent. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize you and the ground on which you walk.
Do you know the first thing that God says to Moses? He says, “Take off your shoes.”Because this is holy ground, all evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truest thing I know. When you’re a little bit older, like my tiny personal self, you realize that death is as sacred as birth. And don’t worry — get on with your life. Almost every single death is easy and gentle with the very best people surrounding you for as long as you need. You won’t be alone. They’ll help you cross over to whatever awaits us. As Ram Dass said, “When all is said and done, we’re really just all walking each other home.”
I think that’s it, but if I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.
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.”