Category Archives: spirituality

A Jesus Kind of Love

The most incredibly kind and gentle people I have met are the personnel at nursing homes. They are often overworked, because this is a ministry, not a job. Unless someone feels called to this, they don’t last. And if the administration of a nursing home is only about profit, not their patients’ whole physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves, even the called may have to find another place to minister. Which means that nursing homes are often short staffed.  At the Meadows in Nashville, where I was for therapy after my shoulder was broken in three places and now my husband is in Hospice care for terminal cancer, we have encountered amazingly loving care and a shared sense of everyone’s call to be a channel of God’s love.From the administrative and nursing personnel to the techs and maintenance staff and all in between, we have been surrounded by tender concern and care.  Old age’s infirmities wipe out the masks of image and appearances that separate us from one another’s core human vulnerability. When someone can wipe our bottoms with the same tenderness and love we gave our newborns, we know we are loved. When they take time afterward to hug us with a smile, asking if there is anything else they can do, we feel blessed, not humiliated. I think in Jesus’ time and culture, a man washing others’ dirty feet was this kind of love.

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Wrestling with Reality

It’s a monster size time of change and challenge with my husband Julian now in the nursing home on Hospice. Our almost sixty years together have been a normal human mix of happy and sad, easy and hard, comfortable and scary, tender and frustrating, but we have persevered and now it’s like we are both part of one imperfect, but whole person. He panics now, if I leave him alone. But bless our five children and grown granddaughter Carmen, who are so thoughtful and willing to give up their free time so I can have some down time. This weekend, I finally admitted that I need the down time, not just to go home to sort and clean there,. Writing and connecting with friends to sort out my feelings is much needed therapy. I think most extroverts need to express what is going on within to get in touch with it themselves.
Today, I realized that I am reacting emotionally to trying to make The Meadows a home and then coming back to our apartment where much of it is now in the unfinished process of drastic change. The garden outside the window at the Meadows is lovely and is kept up beautifully by a team of people. And yesterday, our family, with Julian making decisions, turned the room into a tiny apartment with everything but a stove. (I have my choice of three microwaves in all directions from our room anyway.) It has a wonderful homelike feeling.
Though it isn’t permanent and isn’t really ours, going there has been the right choice, because most days I am busy helping Julian and couldn’t manage to clean and cook like I would need to at home. Also, as he becomes weaker, I would not be able to take as good care of him alone. In an imperfect world, it is an amazing luxury, one that most people do not have. I am humbled by our good fortune and sad that all cannot share it. Though with our life in such a period of change, I do sometimes feel “homeless.” But at this moment, I am looking out at the pretty flagstones Steve put around our bird feeders, at the now healthy holly tree that I feared was dying, and a familiar bright cardinal in the lush greenery outside our windows. My small comfortable bedroom/office with walls covered with photos of all our family at different ages and stages feels so familiar, safe. and comforting. But even though family offered to take turns to let me stay home several days, after two days, I miss Julian so much, even in his grouchy or fearful moments, that I feel lost. And I realize that home is where he is.
Handling all the maddening business challenges of our situation sometimes gives me an almost overwhelming desire to curl up in a fetal position in my very own bed and suck my thumb and not answer the phone, the door, or open any mail ever again! But like now, a tiny wren sitting outside the window looking at me makes me smile and I rally.
The helpless feeling,when Julian wakes in the night and talks about how lost, confused and frightened he feels, leaves me speechless from feeling unable to console him. But sitting close and holding him until he calms some, I blow lightly in the wispy hair left on the top of his head. It’s something that makes him smile, bringing memories and a tiny moment of joy that heals us for a while.
And after a sleepless night alone in our apartment, when the first colors of the sunrise finally warm the world and my heart, I think of the words of the song, “And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind.” And I remember that both the dark and the light come and go. And thanks to grace all around me, I can let go and start again.

Authority without the Balance of Accountability Becomes Demonic

As an eighty-one year old who was an active Catholic involved in lay leadership roles for sixty years, I see the basis of the problem of abuse of authority as the irresponsibility of the people in the pews.  This is rampant in, but not  limited to, the very authoritarian Catholic Church. The same problems exist in all denominations and organizations where we idealize and thus idolize those in authority. Without accountability, those with all the power begin to value the structure more than the human beings it was created to serve.

The underlying dynamic in structures where authority is not balanced by responsibility and accountability is our human inclination to want father figures who will take on the work and discomfort of seeking truth and finding God for us. This is what creates the vacuum that allows these abuses to continue.

Blind faith is not faith, it is intellectual cowardice and spiritual irresponsibility. The spiritual writers of the Catholic tradition and the lives of persons considered saints, who have risked the insecurity of questioning and seeking and thus finding God, remain a rich spiritual resource for all of us. But blind faith in a structure such as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which declared itself infallible and above human question, is demonic, We who seek such childish comfort and allow it to rule unchallenged are responsible for its abuses.

Jesus is Lord, not the church or it’s hierarchy.  The heart of Christianity is an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus Christ as not only our Savior, but as our Lord. The accepting Jesus as Savior is the easy part. That’s accepting the visible physical expression of the unconditional Love of God.  Learning how to let him be Lord is a life time challenge. It is a relationship that only grows by our constantly seeking grace.  It can be encouraged and helped, but it is not controlled or accomplished by anything or anyone outside of us.

The church and its hierarchy are a human institution and as such are vulnerable to human frailties.  The church can be cleansed and renewed, but not from the top.  It has to start with the people in the pews first taking responsibility for their own relationship with God and then with God’s grace taking responsibility for the church. And just as our own personal spirituality has to be renewed over and over, so does that of the church.

 

Surrender

I call upon the Source of Life,
the Power within and without,
the Power that makes for
Being and Nothingness,
joy and pain,
suffering and delight.
I call upon You to calm my fearful soul,
to open me to the Wonder of Truth,
the transience of all things.
In Wonder was I conceived
and in Wonder I have found my being.
Thus I call upon You, the Source of Wonder,
to open my heart to healing.
In You I discover the mystery of Life
and the necessity of Death.
In You I see all things and their opposites
not as warring parties
but as partners in a dance
whose rhythm is none other
than the beating of my own soul.
Denial may come, but so too will acceptance.
Anger may come, but so too will calm.
I have bargained with my fears
and found them unwilling to compromise.
So now I turn to You,
to the Wonder that is my True Nature.
I abandon the false notions of separateness
and embrace the Unity that is my True Nature.
I surrender not to the inevitable but to Surprise,
for it is the impossible that is Life’s most precious gift.
My tears will pass
and so will my laughter.
But I will not be silenced,
for I will sing the praises of Wonder
through sickness and health;
knowing that in the end,
this too will pass.

Written by Rami M. Shapiro in his book
Accidental Grace Poetry, Prayers, and Psalms

The Gift of Laughter with Tears

by Sean Dietrich
It’s the day before my birthday and it’s cold in Coosa County, Alabama. Lake Martin never looked so good.

You won’t care about this, but fifteen years ago I didn’t know my purpose on this planet. Today, I’m middle-aged, and I still don’t know—only, now I have a bad back.

This morning, I ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel, it should be noted, doesn’t have the greatest biscuits, but in a pinch they’ll keep you alive.

An old woman and her daughter sat at the table beside mine. The woman was in a wheelchair, with messy hair. And talkative.

“That man needs to shave!” she hollered.

Several people in the room giggled.

Cute, I was thinking, looking around for an abominable snowman.

“He needs to SHAVE!” she shouted again, this time in my general direction.

“Mama,” gasped her daughter. “Be nice.”

I smiled at the old woman. And that’s when it hit me. This lady was yelling about me.

I am the Bigfoot.

And I became a middle-schooler again. It was like a bad dream, only without the corduroy pants and the Barry Manilow music.

The woman’s daughter apologized. But I told her it wasn’t necessary.

The old lady went on, “Your face looks like a big, fat bear!”

Precious memories. How they linger.

Eventually, she calmed and I finished breakfast in peace. She, more or less, forgot about me—until I stood to leave. Then, she noticed me again.

Her old passions reignited.

“Go shave your dumb face!” she hollered.

The daughter whispered to me, “I’m SO sorry, my mother has no filter.”

I got into my truck and took a few breaths. I looked into the rearview mirror.

I don’t know what that woman might be going through. Maybe she’s not in control of her mind. Maybe she’s had a traumatic experience involving too much hair.

Either way, all I could see in my mirror was a chubby middle-schooler who looked like Cousin It. I saw a boy I’d almost forgotten. A mediocre athlete, a redhead, a C-student, a face like a Pilsbury ad.

My birthday is on the horizon, I’m thinking, and some woman just called me ugly. In public. Repeatedly.

It started in my belly and went to my throat. I laughed. Hard. I don’t know why. The universe has a sense of humor, I guess.

Funny, what words can do to a man. Simple, little words. They can make you feel good. Or bad. Or they can make you feel like the mascot for U.S. forest fire prevention.

So my purpose in life. I still don’t know what it is. But I can tell you my aspiration: to be nice.

That’s it.

I don’t have any grand plan. No big ideas. I just want to be the fella who smiles more than he doesn’t.

If you ask me—which you didn’t—the world has enough people who have figured life out. They’re smart, prudent, with four-car garages.

That’s not me. I can’t even remember how to play Bingo. But I do know the person I want to be. I want to be the man who hugs strangers, pets stray dogs, and uses nice words. A man you might pass on the street, then say to yourself:

“Look, there goes a nice guy…

“Who just happens to look like Sasquatch.”

(I get Sean Dietrich’s posts on face book. They are all right out of his life and ours, simple, touching, funny, and inspiring. Not sure how to re blog so you can follow him also. I copied this. Hope you can find his site from his name. Believe me, I know my day is going to get better when I see a post of his show up on my face book.)

The Dangers of Advent by J.B. Phillips

Familiarity may easily blind us to the shining fact that lies at the heart of Christmastide.
What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance. For Christians believe that so great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man. Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day’s celebration we do well to remember that God’s insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility. There was no advertisement, no publicity, no special privilege; in fact the entry of God into his own world was almost heartbreakingly humble. In sober fact there is little romance or beauty in the thought of a young woman looking desperately for a place where she could give birth to her first baby. I do not think for a moment that Mary complained, but it is a bitter commentary upon the world that no one would give up a bed for the pregnant woman – and that the Son of God must be born in a stable.
This almost beggarly beginning has been romanticized by artists and poets throughout the centuries. Yet I believe that at least once a year we should look steadily at the historic fact, and not at any pretty picture. At the time of this astonishing event only a handful of people knew what had happened. And as far as we know, no one spoke openly about it for thirty years. Even when the baby was grown to be a man, only a few recognized him for who he really was. Two or three years of teaching and preaching and healing people, and his work was finished. He was betrayed and judicially murdered, deserted at the end by all his friends. By normal human standards this is a tragic little tale of failure, the rather squalid story of a promising young man from a humble home, put to death by the envy and malice of the professional men of religion. All this happened in an obscure, occupied province of the vast Roman Empire.
It is fifteen hundred years ago that this apparently invincible Empire utterly collapsed, and all that is left of it is ruins. Yet the little baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history. It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic can ever explain away.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.
We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him. J. B. Phillips
This is an excerpt I took from an excerpt published In The Plough Quarterly and offered as an advent devotional by them on face book.
It describes so well my own personal experience of Jesus fifty years ago and the power of it for me.
Each year my Advent prayer is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come and be born in our hearts.”

Love Makes Us Vulnerable

Love makes us vulnerable. But it’s a love that enables us to feel another’s pain, not a love that enables anyone’s destructive behavior. Suffering because we love is what Jesus did for us and he showed us there is a resurrection not only from suffering, but from death itself. If we aren’t willing to suffer because of loving, we end up alone without love. That’s the definition of hell.

Christmas is Like Humanity’s Birthday Celebration

I so hope everyone’s Holy Days bring the blessing of God’s love to them.
For me Christmas is humanity’s birthday celebration. So, I am always ready for the Christmas season.
It’s a wonderful time of year. I’d like at least a six month holy day season and actually wouldn’t complain if it was all year long.
I love the frosty air outside here in Tennessee because it makes the warmth inside feel so comforting and the hot Chocolate so delicious. But when visiting my brother in Texas around Christmas, we all might be wearing shorts outside, but the air conditioning is turned on enough to light a fire in the fireplace.
My spirits lift with all the music whether it’s Rudolf or O Holy Night. Children’s laughter and excitement are contagious for me.
And all the colorful decorations bring special beauty everywhere. I like seeing different Christmas sweaters and get a chuckle at people wearing Santa hats. I even enjoy a lot of the cheerful advertisements.  The beauty in nature, in people, and even in things people make gives me great pleasure.  I don’t need to own them to enjoy their beauty.
I love beautiful Christmas cards with scenes of birds in snowy woods, funny Christmas cards with Charlie Brown and Snoopy or even Maxine,  and of course, the tender ones about the love of God coming among us.
I can imagine the savory smells in anticipation of turkey and dressing and pies. And look forward to being amazed at the unusual creativity of our grandchildren making Christmas cookies. Well, why not have Christmas alligators and dinosaurs?
And I absolutely delight in our family laughing together and remembering funny things like a grandson’s expression when opening a box of rocks from me. 🙂 (He was supposed to open the paints first. )
I even love our annual messy marshmallow fight!
And I refuse to give up my satisfaction from sending elaborate meal planning emails to all the family, even knowing it’s an exercise in futility!
I enjoy lunch with my LOL (Little Old Lady) groups where we bring presents for children who may not have many and share our own hand painted Christmas cards and lovingly made pot holders with each other.
I love decorating, particularly watching my architect husband doing elaborate city planning of our ever growing Dicken’s Christmas village. The moment when we first turn on its lights at night is always magical. I still laugh at the tiny crime scene tape around a stout male figure lying down and a British Bobbie standing over him. (Our youngest son created that one year when no one was looking!)
I stop each day to step outside to check for snow flakes. And even smile at the fake snow in store windows and Christmas scenes, because it reminds me of the night I walked alone in thick new snow in our field on a hilltop. The silence was so profound, it created a feeling of total isolation and the night so clear that the stars blanketed the skyscape. At first I felt small and lost in the face of so much grandeur and such infinite space. Then once again, I experienced that sense of complete oneness with everything. And being even a tiny part of all of that made time seem liquid enough that death would be simply melting into eternity’s flow.
I revel also in the small kindnesses and good wishes from strangers. Sometimes, it’s experiencing a moment of kinship that’s real and meaningful.
I look forward to grandchildren’s Christmas concerts and pageants. And chuckle when I watch Sunday school enactments of Jesus’ birth, remembering the one my first child was in, where one of the shepherds kept hooking Joseph around the neck until a hand came out from behind the curtain and pulled him out of sight. 🙂
I treasure my special Christmas coffee cup that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season” because each morning when I have my first cup of coffee, it reminds me to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then come the joy of times when I recognize small and large blessings and the peace of the moments of sensing His gentle loving presence.
Recognizing and embracing the visible Love of God for all His Creation, including each of us in our imperfect unfinished humanity, is what makes Christmas also our Birthday Season. So, I wish you all a very Happy Birthday also in your Holy Days. May the Love of God erase our fears and free us to love one another.

Psalm of Fifty-Eight Years Together

All these years of tenderness and love,
of fears and frustration and laughter,
there has been you.
Your love has always been my strength,
because I knew you would go with me
any where I went.
Now, in this new heart breaking time,
fearing the ocean of loneliness
that lies ahead,
I struggle to let go, to set you free,
to not make it harder to accept
whatever comes.
Grace comes at night when I turn to God,
who has been with us always through both
the pain and joy.
Then I know we’ll be together once more
with tenderness, and laughter, and love
at home with God.

Connecting with God in the Hard Times through Praise

For the fourth Sunday of each month, I prepare and give the welcoming and introduction part of our worship service. I study the Lectionary Scriptures for that Sunday and prepare a short reflection and prayers as the introduction to the service.
I always start preparing ahead of time and try to listen to the particular Lectionary scriptures for that Sunday as if God is speaking to my own heart and situation. My Sunday in May was a few days after my husband’s surgery for lung cancer.
The first reading was from Acts 1 after Jesus ascended into heaven leaving his disciples praying together as they wait anxiously for the coming of the promised power of the Holy Spirit.
These Scriptures describe Christianity being born. The disciples are trying to learn to trust God even when they can no longer see Jesus. But when things are going badly, they still become anxious. Jesus has asked God to protect not only them, but all of us that follow him. So we, just like our brothers and sisters from the very beginning, can bring our fears to God. The followers of Jesus, not just in church on Sundays, but even through our internet connections, gather through prayer.
The second reading, 1 Peter, tells us to rejoice when we are sharing Christ’s suffering for we are blessed by the Spirit of God, resting on us. And after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.
Letting go of fear of suffering is a challenge that I often don’t manage until I’m overwhelmed. But, when I do, I have found that I can let go of my fear by praising and thanking God for all He has done for me. It is much better when I don’t wait for times of obvious blessings to praise and thank God. When I actually praise God in the hard times, I realize that then suffering can bring me closer to him. That praise particularly connects me to God. God doesn’t need praise, we need to praise God. It changes our focus and gives us a new perspective that opens our eyes to the blessings all around us.
Here are some generic possibilities for praise and thanksgiving in hard times that I included in my reflection and prayers for Sunday worship.
God, our father, we praise your glory. You are perfect beauty far beyond what I have ever seen. You are truth that transforms my faith and fills me with your Spirit. You are the life changing power of grace that gives me inner strength. You are perfect love that can heal my heart, mind, body, and spirit.
Thank you for the reflections of your glory that I see in the beauty of nature. Thank you for your Spirit increasing my faith by opening my mind when I seek your truth in the Scriptures. Thank you for grace that strengthens me when I pray in times of suffering. And thank you most of all for your perfect love expressed in Jesus that heals and opens my heart to You.

Since I am a devout coward and a congenital worrier, I often miss God’s call to praise and thanksgiving and have to become almost bedridden with the pain of Fibromyalgia before I remember to cast my cares on the God who loves me tenderly and unconditionally. But when I not only praise in such general things, but move on to specific large and small blessings, such as our children who give us such wonderful support, the plethora of bright red cardinals outside my window, songs of praise coming from within that lift my heart and mind to God, even strangers in doctors’ waiting rooms and people who connect with me across the world through blogs, that pray for us and I for them, and  perhaps most of all, the powerful surges of the sometimes forgotten tenderness I feel for my husband, then the grace of joy bubbles up from deep inside me and my heart joins my mind in giving praise to God.