Category Archives: Suffering

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

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(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

Religious Idols

One of my grandchildren asked me with horror, “Are you religious?!” She said the word “religious” like someone might say the word “pervert.” It broke my heart, but I understand it. Jesus was crucified by the “religious” leaders and their blind followers in his inherited religion.
Christians, we are doing it again. We have made Idols of our religions and in the process are crucifying again the one Albert Einstein described this way: “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….Jesus is too colossal for the pen of the phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates with every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance is the impression which we receive from a account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus….No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some of them have been said before, no one has expressed them as divinely as he.” *1
In another quote Einstein says, “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.” *2
If our “religion” is focused on form, on the power of a hierarchy, on a claim that any one narrow denominational tradition is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we are idol worshipers.
Christianity is about the Love of God for humanity fleshed out in Jesus. God is Love and God fleshed out that Love for humanity in a human, who as a human grew in truth and holiness……to show us that we also can grow and change through experiencing the Love of God. Jesus, in his humanity, first thought God belonged only to his own faith tradition and that his life of ministry was just for them. As a human he was heartbroken, even weeping, when he realized that their religious idols were closing their hearts to him and the Love of God , the God that loves us at our worst and helps us still grow at our best, because we are unfinished even then. Jesus, as a man, finally recognized, that a God worth calling a God, loves all His creatures and creation. This is the “Way” of Jesus.
Christians, we are missing the point of Christianity. It’s a personal relationship first, not congregational or dogmatic. It’s not a spiritual country club or an insurance policy. And it’s not about being finished in just one moment of choice, but about an ongoing transformation empowered by the Love of God and being shown the way to a lifetime of growth in truth and holiness by the life and death of Jesus. Look closer at the actual growth process of Jesus. Recognize the huge leaps he took from tribal religion to a God of Love for all when he was challenged by the human suffering of a hated Roman conqueror, an unclean bleeding woman, and even Samaritan heretics, all of whom had no religious credentials.
Christians, we are being called to let go of our need for religious idols and to trust in a God of Love, who can both nurture and prune us into people who can grow in Love for all humanity as Jesus did.

*1 (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein- A Life /John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996,/ pp277-278)
*2 (“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)

Does God Heal?

Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.

I Am Not You

The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)

A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.

Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.)  It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!

The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being.  It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.

The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots.  Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.

There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing.  It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But believe me, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.

Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time when the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.

What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.

What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.

Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world.  Then, it can also help us accept not only that our way is a gift to the world, but that it isn’t enough.  We then can begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value both ourselves and those who are very different from us.  It isn’t either/or.  And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.

Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me.  It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth.  My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!”  And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.”   As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me,  One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on.  And  Two:  Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved.  And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.

The MBTI isn’t gospel.  But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.

There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com” that offers greater understanding of the going with the flow of letting go and developing in new areas until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to let scary changes open my eyes to opportunities in my new life at eighty-two as a widow.

A Spiritual Journey: Ways of Being

There are four ways of being: thinking, feeling, doing, and creating.
Thinking usually involves questioning and problem solving.
Feeling, whether positive or negative, is usually in relationship to someone.
Doing often involves care taking of things or care giving of people.
Creating is about new possibilities and may involve any or all of the other three.
Life involves all of these and though none of us does all of them equally well, I’ve noticed that through the stages of our lives we seem to eventually be challenged by life to develop in the areas where we don’t have natural gifts. This applies to our spiritual lives also.
At different times in my life I have found grace through very different sources. In my twenties I began to question my religious upbringing and for a few years I made the world and its pleasures my focus, but my questions finally took me on a journey of studying various religions in a search for meaning. Then in my thirties, a friend helped me begin to relate to Jesus, not only as a Savior and Lord, but as a best friend, and prayer became a conversation with him. Starting to read the scriptures to get to know him better brought them alive for me and I began to see their connections to even small things in my daily life. Gradually, they opened my eyes to the struggles of people around me and I began to recognize things I could do to help them. Then to my consternation, the Scriptures ceased to speak to me and health issues put me in a wheel chair, dependent on the kindness of others. Then accepting love from the kindness of others became a source of grace instead of frustration. And worship and rote prayer became my way to inner peace and a sense of the presence of God. Taking up art as a hobby began to bring me the freedom to live in the present moment creatively and even opened my eyes to blessings of God in the beauty all around me. Somehow, all of these ways of being came together and I felt a hunger to share my sense of the love of God expressed in Jesus, the presence of God in all things, and our oneness with God and each other. That led me to worship where I could give what I call my sermons from the molehill at Sunday worship services. We are all on a Spiritual journey whether we know it of not. But it does not go in the same order or timing or tidy little stages for all of us. We are all different, so our journeys will be different. And the places best for us to grow and learn spiritually will be different. But I’ve become convinced that over our lives we will have challenges with opportunities to experience growth in all of these ways of being.  When we recognize these, we can accept them, instead of being threatened by change and resisting.  Then eventually we become able to recognize God in everything and each other. This is very oversimplified, but is the essence of what I’ve experienced in my spiritual journey.  The key to our personal spiritual journey is recognizing that the only thing in life that is not only inescapable, but  when accepted, is a source of grace, is change.