Category Archives: Suffering

Three Levels of Positive Response to the Quarantine


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.

“I Can’t Breathe.” by Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer
“I CAN’T BREATHE.” Those words give voice to the terror that has haunted black Americans since the founding of this country. They can also serve as a tragic tag for a political-cultural era in which life has been choked out of so many and so much.
“I can’t breathe” were the dying words of a black man named George Floyd, as a police officer kept a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground. They are words that thousands of lynching victims in this country might have said as they died, words that freedom-seekers now living in limbo south of our border could say as they watch their dreams and sometimes their children die. All of this is rooted in the racism that American “leaders” have long exploited as a path to power, to which too many whites have given silent assent. “I can’t breathe” might have been the dying words of the 100,000 + American victims of COVID-19 just before they were intubated, deaths that have hit communities of color the hardest. Fewer would have died if our “leaders” valued science above ideology, human life above money and power, and the public interest above their own. Their knees were pressed down on those throats.
“I can’t breath” represents a challenge to the moral credentials of white people—if we fail to speak and act against the racist forces that help fuel #45’s war on democracy. Some of us have been “gasping for breath” since the advance man for birtherism ran for president, polluting the air we breathe with his racism and his taste for fascism. (I do not use the “F-word” lightly, but with the gravity of a student of history. For evidence, see https://tinyurl.com/y5l8hnsj, a piece I wrote for On Being eight months before the 2016 election.)
In the wake of a horrifying week in America, what can we do? If you or I walked down the street and heard a stranger say, “I can’t breathe,” we’d dial 911. We’d stay with the stranger until help arrived and do anything we could, the Heimlich maneuver, or CPR, or a hand to hold. We would NOT walk on by as if nothing were happening. Please, let’s not walk by now. And let’s not indulge the self-serving delusion that there’s nothing we can do. For example…
Alone or with your friends, study articles like “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” at https://tinyurl.com/y7ou7rkd, and act on one or more of the suggestions there.
Use Facebook and other social media to let folks in your network know where you stand. What’s worse, being “un-friended” or failing to take a clear stand on the morally imperative issues of our time?
Speak to family and friends who support racist words and actions, however indirectly. Tell them that you find it hard to breathe in that space. Then take a deep breath, and tell them what you value. Speak the truth with love, but speak the truth.
If you belong to a faith community whose leaders have ignored or even supported the inhumanity so evident in our politics right now, speak up. Tell them that you need to hear muscular love, truth, and justice preached and practiced, not soothing piosity or faithless complicity.
When November arrives, vote for candidates who offer something better than the tragedy we’re living right now, no matter your marginal reservations. Encourage others to do the same. “When you govern with lies, the ballots will fly. Lead without soul, and we’ll defeat you at the polls.”
There’s much we can do. It starts with listening to all who are crying, “I can’t breathe.” Souls—theirs, ours, and and our country’s—depend on us hearing and responding in every way we can.

What in the World is Christianity About for All Christians?

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.

Go Tell It On The Mountain

For the last fifty-three years Jesus Christ has been very alive to me. He’s a real person who is actively involved in my life. This relationship is a reality that can be known and experienced by everyone. Many times in small personal ways I’ve felt that incredible healing love, a love from the inside out. It’s a love for the whole me, a kind of love that no one, including myself, can have for me because none of us know the whole me. Often that love has been shown in ways that seem supernatural, beyond chance, or imagination. The experiences don’t give me a feeling of pride, because they gently make me aware of my need for healing, yet being tenderly loved even in my brokenness.
There are still dry periods with lows and a sense of estrangement. It’s not a permanent press glow that never wrinkles. It’s not a heavenly or earthly insurance policy against pain and suffering.
But it’s a love that continues to deepen even more from times of pain and confusion. It definitely is not a blanket permission to remain selfish. Yet that combination of being both known and loved allows me to acknowledge those areas where I remain childishly selfish and frees me to begin to let go of some of my crippling ego needs. And even though I still cling to many, they will go. God is not finished with me yet.
I want to share these experiences of love with others, but often don’t, because they are inseparable from the process of Jesus saving me from my neediness and inadequacies. They are part and parcel of Jesus freeing me from that part of me that sees myself as separate from others, in competition with others, or even against them. It’s the part of me that will try to prove to myself that I am worthwhile by hiding who I really am and spending my life gathering acorns of affirmation.
The price of that need for image is too high. To be free to share the Good News of that tender, no small print Love with its amazing grace, I need to be willing to share who I was, who I am, and who God created me to become. I need to write it. I’m a devout coward, so I may never let anyone else read it while I’m alive. But I need to write it.

Spiritual Alzheimer’s

Face book sent me a memory of advice I gave a friend years ago. It spoke to my condition today. My spiritual director once told me I had spiritual Alzheimer’s. I thought that was a tacky thing to say, since I was caring for my mother who actually had Alzheimer’s. But it appears he may have been right. I think I need a tattoo of these on the inside of my arm!

1. Remind myself that God loves me because of who God is, not who or what I am.

2. Pray the most used prayer: “Help!”

3. Reassure myself that struggle and dark times are a natural and necessary part of the process of living and becoming the person God created me to be.

4. Try to focus on the present moment and take the next small step

.
(PS I bribe myself into doing tasks I hate, by rewarding myself after I do them by doing something I like. That may not be wise, but I do it anyway!)

Suffering, the Door to Grace

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.
Spring
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.

God, Jesus, and Buddha

“If we are willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” I have experienced this, so I believe it. It’s from a book called “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun.
But she also says, ” Without GIVING UP HOPE–that there’s someWHERE better to be, that there’s someONE better to be, we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” I struggle with this some, but I think it’s another paradox. When I have realized that some of my failures to love come out of insecurity about who I am, it starts a process that after a gap of time frees me to accept the imperfect me , which then helps me to become more loving of other imperfect people.
I believe that my courage to do this this comes through having accepted the unconditional Love of God expressed in Jesus with both my heart and intellect, so I can face, forgive, and love both my imperfect self and others’. I explore my experiences of discomfort through journaling and sometimes dreams and pray for awareness and grace to grow more loving. But there’s always a gap where I have to accept living with awareness of that unloving part of myself before I finally recognize that I have been healed and freed in that particular area. And as nice as that is, knowing that more encounters with unpleasant realities will have to happen again, pretty much prevents pride in my part of the process. Once again, one of my strongest beliefs from years of experiencing this is: I am loved unconditionally at my worst and I am still unfinished at my best. But with the grace of being fully known and loved, I will be able to continue growing, though some times much more slowly than others.
This life is a journey along a path filled with uncomfortable challenges all along the way. And the love of God is the grace we need to carry us through. But also, some of the insights of the Buddhists are helpful tools in recognizing and accepting the hard parts of this life long process. And with healing through the grace of the Love of God expressed in Jesus, we can continue becoming new and a little more free to love each time.

Lonely with People

Loneliness does not come from having no people around you. It comes from not being able to communicate what seems important to you.  Carl Jung

Would You Want to See Like Jesus?

I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a very contemporary Church for his congregation . An amazing man, who even fills in for Protestant preachers and works with all sorts of other religions for the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting everyone,  even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water of bad Christian leaders and causing their own children to close their minds to the Good News. I don’t think I could bear seeing like Jesus. To see all those he loves on both sides of wars and economics and politics and religious fanaticism and all the other suffering in so many lives would simply destroy me. I can barely survive the suffering I see in my own family and other people I know and care about. Even when I love someone who is actually causing their own and others’ suffering, it is almost worse, because I don’t know how to help them get free of their destructive responses to the pain of life. Ultimately, we are helpless to save even those we love enough to share their pain. How heartbreaking it must be to see like Jesus.

Finding the Gold in the Golden Years

Whatever time is left

Use it up

Wear it down

Regardless how thin

The fabric becomes

It is rich with the sounds

Of laughter

Salty with tears and

Friends.

(From the poem Time on the blog: poetry, photos, and musings, oh my – by lea)

Six years ago, my ninety-one year old friend Barbara, who was on a walker from a painful hip surgery, expressed her despair from feeling useless. But as we shared lattes with a friend in her mid sixties, who had slow growing cancer, we laughingly imagined walkers for us like baby walkers with crinoline skirts to hide them, and small secret Porta-Potties built in. Then, in the parking lot as we attempted to help Barbara into the van, somehow she got stuck bent over half way in. We tried to gently boost her backside without hurting her hip, until the giggles overtook us. Frozen in place, the three of us laughed helplessly, humor overcoming even our fears of age weakened bladders. When I called Barbara the next morning to make sure she hadn’t been hurt, she started laughing all over again, insisting she had been laughing all morning just thinking about it, and even wished we had a photograph.

The next day, I visited my friend with dementia in a nursing home in Nashville. She had once again dreamed of her parents’ death as a present day event and had awakened overwhelmed by loss and frantic about funeral arrangements. Each time she grieved anew, I could only hold her hand and ache for her endless losses. But later, seeing the wonder in her eyes, when she listened to me telling one of the caregivers about her courage and faith and her kindness to so many in her life, I recognized a moment of grace even in the now worn fabric of our lives.

The following day, my alarm went off three hours too early and I had the coffee made before I finally noticed the actual time. Later, I realized on my first stop of the day, that I had my coat on inside out. That night at a my sister-in-law’s eightieth birthday celebration in an upscale restaurant, I somehow managed on my second trip to the bathroom, to go into the men’s room. Then when leaving, I couldn’t find my coat check number in my tiny purse. Since I don’t drink, I couldn’t even blame it on something temporary. At least it’s fodder for a blog post.

The Gold in the Golden Years are our friendships and shared memories, but perhaps most of all, the freedom to laugh at ourselves. Laughter is carbonated grace.

Wishing all of you a joyous Christmas season filled with laughter. Eileen