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Deaths and Resurrections

This from a favorite author resonates beautifully with my inner journey right now after the death of my husband of almost sixty years.

 

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Death and Resurrection
All Things New
Sunday, November 18, 2018

Behold, I make all things new. —Revelation 21:5
As I’ve recently faced my own mortality through cancer once again, I’ve been comforted by others who have experienced loss and aging with fearless grace. Over the next few days I’ll share some of their thoughts. Today, join me in reflecting on this passage from Quaker teacher and author Parker Palmer’s new book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.
I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about the fall and its sensuous delights.
Then I began to understand a simple fact: all the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as earth prepares for yet another uprising of green.
Today, as I weather the late autumn of my own life, I find nature a trustworthy guide. It’s easy to fixate on everything that goes to the ground as time goes by: the disintegration of a relationship, the disappearance of good work well done, the diminishment of a sense of purpose and meaning. But as I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the hardest of times.
Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the “Road Closed” sign turned me toward terrain that I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt as though something was dying, and so it was. Yet deep down, amid all the falling, the seeds of new life were always being silently and lavishly sown. . . .
Perhaps death possesses a grace that we who fear dying, who find it ugly and even obscene, cannot see. How shall we understand nature’s testimony that dying itself—as devastating as we know it can be—contains the hope of a certain beauty?
The closest I’ve ever come to answering that question begins with these words from Thomas Merton, . . . “There is in all visible things . . . a hidden wholeness.” [1]
In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight. Diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites: they are held together in the paradox of the “hidden wholeness.” In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other—they cohabit and cocreate in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, just as our well-being depends on breathing in and breathing out. . . .
When I give myself over to organic reality—to the endless interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising—the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so. Though I still grieve as beauty goes to ground, autumn reminds me to celebrate the primal power that is forever making all things new in me, in us, and in the natural world.

The Old and Forgotten

The barn’s worn grey boards lean
from the weight of forgotten decades
shrouded in weeds hiding rusty parts
full of empty echoes of dusty memories
long gone hay bales, children’s laughter
bright red tractor, bush hog, hay baler
once the heart of a family’s life blood
now, just nightly cat and mouse games
and a black snake brooding in the loft
just now and then, a golden butterfly
floating in on dust filled sunbeams
a sign of hope, perhaps a resurrection

I Pray for Grace

to get it right now that I am old.
to give love and joy, never heartbreak.
to hold all lightly, free to let go.
to seek God’s hand when I suffer.
to forgive others and be forgiven.
to have faith there is some great purpose,
an after- life better than this one.
to while still in dark, believe in light.
and to go with hope into the night.

Death Where is Your Sting? or The Dance of Eternity

In my seventy-eight years of life I have held the hands of those I love as they died, I have lived to walk again after years of a crippling condition, survived to laugh again after scary strokes, and suffered enough prolonged pain to free me to embrace the relief of death.  And I have, in turn, been freed by each of these to experience greater joy in living.
One of the gifts of age is learning not to take the smallest beauty, kindness, insight, or experience of love for granted. I can see the door from here, which reminds me daily that this moment may be the last of life as I know it now. Yet knowing that life’s greatest mystery lies on the other side of that door gives an aura of light around its darkness.
Though I realize that getting through that door may be terribly hard, sometimes I imagine all my atoms,  with my spirit now one with the Spirit of All within them, being freed from the limits of my body to join in the dance of eternity.  I can almost feel them shooting off joyously into the farthest embraces of the exquisite glory of pure beauty, truth, and love…..in other words, God.

The Self-Destruction of Christianity

Martin Luther didn’t plan to start a new religion. He hoped to renew the heart of Christianity. But from the time when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, the church had appropriated the power structure of empires and monarchies, claiming the God given right to rule, complete with the assumption of a monopoly on truth. The shepherd’s role was transformed into that of a tyrant with absolute power and no accountability. Christianity’s history quickly became one of violence against dissenters.

Even now, when violence is rejected, the lack of dialogue and openness to growth in our understanding of the gospel has become the root of the ongoing splintering of Christianity, So we continue to waste our time and energy fighting among ourselves.

Few institutional religions have adopted a democratic structure, so they become stagnant through lack of diversity and through power structures devoted to preserving the status quo. As chaotic as democracy is, it gives even the least of its members a voice and the hope of change, so that diverse people with extremely divergent views can remain united without the violence that tyranny provokes.

If humanity is evolving, so will our understanding of our relationship with God and one another. Jesus listened to diverse voices, not only responding to the needs of the outcaste and foreigner, but even allowing them to challenge his assumptions about his mission.

Unfortunately, the power structures with vested interests in institutional religion generally have kept Christianity as the rear-guard of the status quo, rather than as leaders in social change and spiritual growth in unconditional love. We still throw stones at the prophets in the name of God.

The tension between the value and rights of the individual and the good of the community calls for on-going dialogue. We witness the break-down of Christianity over and over as each new call for inclusion of those different from the majority occurs. Institutional Christianity has become about power and preserving the status quo. It is no longer the answer to our human search for meaning. Secularism isn’t destroying Christianity. Christianity is self-destructing.

Coming Apart and Getting It Back Together Again

I am paraphrasing some quotes that have proven true in my life:

Personal change and spiritual growth cannot happen without coming to peace with pain. (Michael Singer)

Emptiness and despair are not only experienced by those who have been traumatized, but also by those whose lives are full.

More than grief or fear, despair calls us to pay attention to and make meaning out of human suffering. It invites us to change our very selves by changing the way we see the world. When we persevere and don’t run away from our dark night, we can be moved to a muscular faith that has looked into the heart of darkness and emerged to affirm life. (Miriam Greenspan)

Twice over 76 years my inner life has come apart at the seams for no outwardly obvious reasons. I stayed functional, but slowed down my pace while I worked through it. Each time a counselor mostly just provided a safety valve and a non- judgemental listener, so I could hear myself as I read some relevant books, sorted out my pieces, threw some away, found new truths, new strengths, and pulled it all back together for a still imperfect, but more meaningful and personally satisfying way of being in the world. As painful and scary as these times were, they yielded wonderful fruit and I do not regret going through them. I don’t think I’m inferior because I needed that process. Everyone has challenges that they either struggle to conquer or they choose to deny and to settle for a safer, but emotionally and spiritually, poorer life. Eileen

(The Singer and Greenspan quotes were found on the Blog: Make Believe Boutique

Life is Like Boot Camp for Living in Heaven

Life is hard, but it’s liberally sprinkled with times of joy, love, insight, courage, hope, faith, and a peace that really does totally pass understanding.

It’s kind of like a boot camp for living in heaven. The hard parts are tests, but not pass or fail or get a grade tests, but tests that stretch us, strengthen us, teach us, even giving us amazing “Ah Ha!” moments where we get a sneak peak at what comes later, what life is about.

Life is about becoming willing and able to love like Jesus did. And Jesus was God’s love for us fleshed out, expressed so we could know it first hand, up close and personal.

God’s love is a love with no illusions, but also no limits. It’s unconditional love, humbling in a way, because we don’t and can’t earn it. And it seems like God has terrible taste, because He loves everyone, even those tacky, awful people we can’t stand.

God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.

Sometimes God’s love fills our heart with joy until we feel like we may burst.
But, God’s love also opens our hearts to suffer with those we love until the stretching makes our hearts feels like they are literally going to tear in two.
The joy of love and the suffering of love are two sides of the same coin. You do not get one without the other.

“There are faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

In fact, that’s the goal of the first two.

Being the Persons God Loved Into Existence

God made us precisely to be imperfect, incomplete and insufficient human beings. It is our neediness and feelings of helplessness that keep us depending on God’s grace and mercy….To be a saint means to be myself…..the problem of sanctity is in fact the problem of finding out who I am…my true self….God leaves us free to be real or unreal.” Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation.
“In no way does God expect us to act perfectly. We are challenged instead to accept ourselves with all our assets and liabilities; to be perfectly the imperfect people we are. God never seemed to want another perfect being. Prayer gives us the courage to confront our illusions……to embrace our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Without condoning our destructive behaviors, we can recognize them as opportunities for humility, forgiveness, and mercy…..To be who we are, the persons God loved into existence, implies the acceptance of grace, self-honesty, healthy self love, and a keen sense of humor.” Sister Maria Edwards, Spiritual Director and Author
1 Corinthians 1:18 —“The message of the Cross is foolishness to the world, but to those being saved, it is the power of God. God chose what is weak and rejected, so no one might boast. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”.
Romans 5:3-5 “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
“Hope is a series of small actions that transform the darkness into light…..Despair is an affliction of the memory. Hope depends on remembering what we have survived. Hope is the gift that rises from the grave of despair…..We can choose to persevere in hope through darkness.” Sister Joan Chisttister in Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.
“Faith is: a conviction that God can and hope that He will.” From Thomas(?) Greene in Bread for the Journey.
“But trusting and listening for what He is teaching, when he doesn’t.” Eileen Norman

Singing in the Spirit: Perfect Harmony

When the world seems to be a giant simmering pot of hatred and violence, I am able to cling to the hope for peace, because of an amazing experience I had many years ago.

I was at my first Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. Though ostensibly Catholic, there were Charismatics (Pentecostals) from many mainline protestant denominations. This particular year there were 20,000 of us gathered for Worship in the football stadium. At one point during the sermon the worshippers responded by singing in the Spirit. Singing in the Spirit is when each person sings whatever the Spirit gives them. For some it may just be terms of praise in the believer’s own language, but to an unknown melody given them by the Spirit, for many the words are in a language unknown to the singer and at the same time to an unknown melody. The words, languages, and melodies are all different
For a few moments, I hesitated, since I had never experienced this and I found myself distracted by the differences I heard close to me. But suddenly my own song came bubbling up from deep inside and as more and more voices joined together singing completely different words and melodies, the awesome harmony brought tears of joy.
I cannot normally sing anything without following the lead of a strong voice next to me. But when singing in the Spirit, my own surprisingly high notes stay true to me, yet blend with the whole. That many people singing different melodies in different languages simultaneously in beautiful harmony simply lifts you out of yourself. Somehow, the God within each of us, that is the God of the Universe, bring us together as one body.
I may seriously doubt that any person could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, but I know first hand that the Spirit can.
And that keeps me praying and seeking and listening and learning to love, even when no country and no person, not even children, are safe from violence.

Hopes, Dreams, and Breadcrumbs

I’ve always struggled with unrealistic expectations and the depression that follows when I’m forced to face the realities of our human imperfections (including mine) and a seemingly hopelessly imperfect world.
One of my many disillusionments has been how imperceptible are the differences even the greatest of us makes. For every plague we cure, another one is born. From every war we win, the seeds of the next are sown. For every race or nation emancipated, we project our inner evil on another one. For every answer we discover, a new question arises.
I cling to the hope, that in the overall picture of eons of evolution, that there is progress imperceptible to us in humanity’s short history, but recognizable to God.
Sometimes in the crucible of my own struggle to become the person God created me to be, no matter how humiliatingly limited that potential may be, I get a glimpse of a tiny, almost imperceptible new strength, understanding, and freedom in my willingness to love. If I can resist being overwhelmed by the multitude of areas where I still fall short, I can focus on the next breadcrumb in the spiritual trail God has scattered for me in my daily life.
The key word for me is ‘tiny.’ My illusions are large with fairy tale size expectations.
My husband is a realist, who lives in the moment, and is able to focus on just the next task. I once had a dream in which we were at dinner on a river cruise. The waiters kept bringing small appetizer like courses, one after the other. My husband happily ate each one as it came, while I refrained, waiting for the main course. At some point I realized that there was no main course.
I cannot lie, it’s still frustrating. Sometimes, I have overwhelming dark days of discouragement. But they aren’t frequent, they don’t last long, and usually I can follow God’s bread crumbs out into the light again, feeling a tiny bit stronger and wiser and a tiny bit more able to love. Grace can turn dark times into what stretches us and increases our capacity not only for persevering, but for joy and love.
Some of those bread crumbs are found in blogs I follow. Among them (but not limited to these) are: Unshakeable Hope; Make Believe Boutique; Notes from the Bluegrass; Doctor Dad; Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane; Morning Story and Dilbert; Mridula; Dark Matter.
The many sources of bread crumbs vary greatly from Scripture, nature, friends, books, movies, TV, dreams, memories, and even the comic strips. When we look for God’s breadcrumbs, they are everywhere.