I still have a little jewelry box I received at age nine, during a brief stay in the hospital. In it are the small, precious keepsakes of my childhood: a pink rubber cat I got at the dentist’s office, various toys from cereal boxes, incense (it was the ‘70s), a soap shaped like a rose, the Snow White and Seven Dwarves figures from my tenth birthday cake, and a pile of paint sample cards I must have picked up when my parents were painting our new house in Placentia. (It is fortunate that they did not allow me to choose the paint colors, as my tastes seemed to run toward shades with names like “Sun Glo” and “Ultra Purple.”)

What we choose to keep from our growing-up years — and what we discard — interests me greatly. In many ways, our spirituality is built in the same way. Spirituality takes root in the earth of our childhoods, in what we are taught about God and about ourselves. Do we feel loved? Then we can imagine a God who loves us, too. Do we feel safe? This, too, colors our perceptions.

Some of us grow up to reject the precepts of our childhoods. This, it seems to me, has less to do with the reality of God than it has to do with how we were treated by those around us. The most vehement atheists often have childhood traumas attached to faith and religion. (Or they grew up in England, which, with its centuries-old history of religious turmoil, could turn off the hardiest of souls.)

Which moral values and religious teachings you keep, and which you throw away, ultimately comprise your spirituality. Some things I’ve thrown out over the years: The idea of an angry, vengeful God; a God who thinks of women as “lesser” or “unworthy”; a God who only loves and saves a special, select group of believers, to the detriment of everyone not privileged enough to grow up Christian. My God has gotten bigger over the years.

I want you to remember the God of your childhood. Who was God? How has your understanding of God changed? Because I hope it has changed, except in one regard: The joy God gave you, the dizzying sense of greatness and love. I feel terrible for anyone who never had those feelings. But you know, it’s not too late. With God, we can always become children again. There is very little to do but let go. Open your heart and let God in. Of all the things you hold on to or discard, God is the ultimate keeper.

walking in the shoes of anotherI try not to make assumptions when I pray.  This means that when I pray for someone else, I try to leave the way open for God’s Will, not mine.  I try not to assume how to best solve the problem.

That said, every now and again it still happens.

Last weekend, we walked in the Crop Hunger Walk.  The point is three fold: to raise money to solve the problem, to raise awareness and to share the experience.  As the organizer explained, we walk because they have no choice. If someone is suffering from dangerous hunger, they are walking wherever it is they have to go.

But, said my silly brain, isn’t the hunger a lot more important than the walking?  (Cue ominous music.)

The problem started with my shoes. They may be good walking shoes but they are good for walking on a treadmill or a concrete floor.  With elastic bands instead of laces, they don’t tie tightly and your feet slip, especially when you walk downhill.  About half way through the three-miles, I knew I was in trouble but half way through three miles means that you have to walk just as far to get back.  I’ve never had blisters of any consequence before but this time I had one the size of a half-dollar on the ball of each foot.

At this point, I understood.  The people who experience dangerous hunger are also going to have badly fitting shoes, possibly bad foot health and more.  They may be in misery, but they are going to have to walk regardless.

Which matters more – the hunger or the walking?  At this point, I know better than to assume.

–SueBE

When I was nine, my best friend Teresa and I decided to count to one million. My family had recently moved, so we kept track of our progress through breathless play dates and eager letters: “I’m at 21,345!” “I’m at 33,590!” I knew Teresa would never lie about her progress — she was scrupulously honest, and I took care to track my count by making hatch marks in a spiral notebook, one mark for every hundred. We never got much further than one hundred thousand; I suppose constantly counting in one’s spare time became tedious, especially as I got acclimated to my new school. It was with misgiving that we decided, jointly, to quit.

Some things are practically impossible. Even if one approaches a task with great enthusiasm, the uphill climb may prove insurmountable. And then there are miracles, those wondrous earth-movers that can propel you from the “low thousands” straight up to a metaphorical million in one fell swoop.

I believe in miracles. (As I’ve said dozens of times, anyone with asthma must believe in them. How else to explain the panic of drowning, drowning, drowning, and suddenly emerging, porpoise-like, back to breath?) But miracles don’t always turn out the way we want them to. They are chimeric little things, insisting on their own mystery, only sometimes conforming to our wishes.

This does not make them any less miracles. I feel certain that miracles are softly showering us all the time; we simply don’t notice. We’re too busy under our umbrellas of busy-ness and rote activity (work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep) to take heed of the plethora of wonders landing like roses at the feet of an operatic diva.

Today, I want you to pay attention. Look up from your computer, your plate, your rake and see them: See the miracle of changing leaves, of toiling insects (do you suppose they recognize the miracles that are us, looking down at them?), of the gift of breath, warmth, love. Take heed of miracles. There are millions of them out there, right now, waiting for you.

kids' book cover image

Living in the past isn’t just a weight on the soul, it actually puts your present on pause so that, in a spiritual sense, you’re neither here nor there.

This is my fervent prayer today: O Lord, allow us to release ourselves from the prison of past pain.

There really is no warden, no actual iron bars. Just the notion that we can only go as far as this confined space because of things that have happened to us.

Just the imaginary lines that hem us in and hang us up.  We think:

  • If we’ve been hurt before, by anyone, perhaps no one can be trusted.
  • If we’ve tried to pursue a long-cherished dream, and it didn’t work out, maybe that was our only shot. No point in trying again.
  • If we’ve been told we’re too – fill in the blank – □ old □ young □ sick □ poor □ fat □ thin □ ethnic □ timid □ hyperactive □ quirky…we have nothing to contribute in life.

We limit ourselves with labels to the point that we no longer even try. But there’s no need to set down roots in a patch of poison ivy.

So let’s dig into this thing that happened to you. You must know in your heart that you didn’t deserve that. Whatever it was, it wasn’t your fault, so it’s okay to let it go.  It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs in the past, where it can’t hurt you anymore. It belongs to God, who is “close to the broken-hearted and … those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18. It belongs in the sea of forgetfulness, so drop it in and let it go.

Free up space for God’s grace to enliven your life and settle into your soul. Free yourself from the prison you’ve never felt at home in anyway. Release the pain of the past, open your heart to what’s possible, and you’ll find yourself. Free.

silenceThis week, I tried something new in terms of prayer.  We are looking for apartments for my father, wrapping up my son’s swim season, visiting dad in the skilled nursing center, and I’m researching and writing a book. Me? Busy? Nah?

A week or so I read about using meditation as prayer. Instead of simply trying to empty your mind, you think of it as spending quiet time with God.  No requests.  No pleas.  Just be.

My wants and concerns are all pretty obvious right now – help Dad get through physical therapy, help us help him find an apartment, help us all work together, help me find time for my son and husband, etc.  I can fill more prayer time than I can possibly scrape together.

So why pick now to try this technique out?  Because I’m sick of feeling on edge and rushed.

Several times this week, I found the time to simply sit with God.  These times come in the morning when no one realizes I’m home by myself.  (High school starts really early, earlier than most people assume.)  So I sit and I take a deep breath.

I’ve done yoga so I know how to breathe.  I exhale all the way, emptying my lungs.  Then I wait a moment before breathing just as slowly back in.  I try to focus on one simple thought.  “Here I am, Lord.”

Try to focus.  That should tell you something. Focus and I have a dicey hit or miss relationship.  Sometimes I pull it off for 30 or 40 seconds.  Sometimes even less.  No matter how often I have to force my focus back to simply being with God, I do it.

What did I accomplish?  I can’t say that a host of epiphany rained down on me.  I can’t say that I have a new understanding of myself or my place in God’s Creation.  Who knows.  Any of that or something else altogether different may come in time.

What I did take away was a renewed sense of calm.  I felt more peaceful than I would feel at any other point throughout the day.

Whether or not you have specific needs, why not try to simply breathe deeply and spend some quiet time with God? You may not come away with any big answers but renewing your sense of peace and calm is surely worth a few minutes out of your day.

–SueBE

Have you heard? The synod of bishops (basically a “sampling” of bishops from all over the world, plus some other folks) is meeting at the Vatican to discuss “Family.” I could make a joke here about a large group of celibate men discussing marriage and family, but I won’t, because some very serious issues are on the table, including, divorce, annulment, gay marriage and more. The bishops are talking. People are talking.

Will the Church change? Can the Church change? Hope abounds, even as the Supreme Court has begun striking down laws that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Are we on the brink of a new awareness, a new embrace of people who have been marginalized for years? I surely wish it so.

The Catholic Church moves more slowly than the rest of the world, and understandably so. We must be cautious that we are not undermining the rich, deep and beautiful foundations of our faith. I completely understand trepidation. I do not, however, understand excluding people from the life of the Church based on marital status or inborn characteristics such as sexual preference.

My sister was married for more than 20 years. Then, one day, her husband came home and announced that he didn’t love her and never had. What does one do with a declaration like that? She is divorced now, but if she were to meet and marry a good, loving man, she would — as things currently stand — be denied access to the Eucharist, the very life-giving heart of Catholic life.

Of course, it is less likely that a person would be shunned for being remarried than for being gay. Many of us have heard about the two men who recently got married and were asked to leave their parish (of which they were active members) unless — and this is a big unless — they promptly got divorced and signed a paper saying that marriage is only right, honorable and sacramental between a man and a woman. That’s not a choice; it’s blackmail.

Some of the comments I read regarding this case made me angry. Some merely bemused me. “So leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian!” wrote several observers. Don’t they understand that people like me, whose Catholicism is in their blood and bones and woven so tightly into the fabric of their lives that it is quite inextricable, cannot leave the Church? Will not? Must not? “If you don’t like it, leave,” has never been a cogent argument to me. I am Catholic. I am the Church, the Body of Christ. I can no more leave Catholicism than I could tell my arm to drop off my body and onto the ground. And why should I — or anybody — have to?

I pray that the synod of bishops will hear what faithful Catholics are saying to them. I pray that they will work to include those who have been excluded, to fold them back into the fold. The world changes. Family changes. So too must our thinking — and the Catholic Church’s.

Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise.

Jeremiah 17:14 NIV

Gutman_Karakul_lake

For so many of us, dark nights of the soul can be isolating. It might seem as though no one else in the world understands what we’re going through.

The other day, I saw an interview with Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, in which he talked about his dissociative disorder.  It was amazing to hear someone in the public eye talking openly about mental health issues. Had to tip my hat to him. It was like a public service.

I’ve dealt with depression through the years myself. Things pile up on your psyche and you just can’t seem to see the light in life anymore. Sometimes you think, if only I had more intestinal fortitude to power through this.  I could buck up. Take it on the chin. I could white-knuckle through if I were stronger.

But the truth is, if you had a broken leg, you’d say, put a cast on it. You wouldn’t say, tough it out. You’d say, stay off that foot.  Fix it.  Let it heal.

Why can’t we acknowledge the fact that mental health issues matter just as much as obvious physical ones?

And just as SueBE wrote so powerfully in a recent post, it is possible to be stressed, even when you’re a person of faith. Many things can lead us into a depressed state, including the death of a loved one, as Lori wrote about with such poignancy.

For those of us who do believe, prayer is the first place we turn when we’re faced with a crisis. But faith doesn’t make a problem disappear. I think God expects us to use every reasonable means at our disposal to address issues that arise.

If stress becomes a daily issue, it’s imperative to look at the root causes. How can it be alleviated? Is it possible to leave an untenable situation? Would medication or counseling help? Talk about it. Don’t struggle in silence. Speak until you find what works for you.

Ask the questions, research solutions, and start by seeking God’s leading in prayer. Talk to your trusted clergy, unburden to close friends and family.  And as ever, keep the faith. Remember, you’re not on this road alone.

Move Your FeetLast October, our pastor introduced us to this proverb.  It caught my attention because I pray better when I walk — my ability to sit still is somewhat limited.

But the idea behind this proverb is that when you pray for something, you also need to DO something.  Don’t just pray for better health.  Make better food choices.  Don’t just pray for work.  Apply for jobs.

But what about when you are praying for someone else?  How do you move your feet to solve the problem of world hunger?  One way to do it is by literally walking.

Next Sunday, October 12, 2014, we all have the opportunity to put feet to our prayers and do something about global hunger.  October 12 is the Crop Hunger Walk. On this day, church groups around the United States take part in this Church World Services event.  They take pledges and get out and walk in our communities, making this issue more visible in areas where hunger may not be a huge problem.

I know how tempting it is to pass over an event like this.  Your schedule is packed.  You have so much to do, but do it.  Do it for those who hunger.  Do it for the babies and the mothers and the aunties.  You can find an event in your area on Crop Hunger Walk site.

As busy as we are, everyone who participated from our church is looking forward to doing it again this year, but there are also ways to participate if you can’t actually take part in the walk.  Walkers need financial support.  Many congregations need people to give Minutes for Mission to raise awareness.

Whatever your talents are, don’t bury them.  Get them out and get busy in prayer.

–SueBE

Romeo and Juliet…Pyramus and Thisbe…Eloise and Abelard…doomed lovers all. But they’re not the only ones. They’ve got competition from an unlikely source — right here in my house, where a cricket fell in love with a dryer.

This is how it all came about: My dryer started squeaking while in use, softly at first, then building up to a screeching, nails-on-the-blackboard, sonic ear-stab. Shortly thereafter, a cricket took up residence in our house. First, he took refuge under the refrigerator. Then he moved to the living room. Later, he set up shop in my office closet. All of these rooms are laundry room-adjacent. When I’d run him out of one room (by keeping the lights on or going hunting for him, as his insistent chirps were keeping me awake at night), he’d set up camp somewhere else — always suspiciously nearby. Finally, I figured out why. The horrible sound the dryer was emitting sounded a lot like a two-ton cricket. Our poor Lothario probably figured he’d hit the jackpot, lady-friend-wise. It was just his luck that “she” was diurnal and he nocturnal.

Such is love sometimes. The situation resolved itself when a repairman installed new bearings in my dryer. The lonely cricket was summarily offed by one of the cats, probably while he was out searching for his lady-love. In the end, their love was doomed to fail.

That’s what happens when you fall in love with things. Sure, we all want things — new clothes, new shoes, new car, new house. But when you put your stock in objects, you are sure to be left wanting. Things, however shiny and attractive, cannot love you back.

I look around me and see that I have far too many possessions. I like them, I’ve convinced myself I need them, but do I really? We could all do with a bit of autumnal “spring-cleaning,” divesting ourselves of what we do not truly need. I really believe that the more we let go of things, the closer we can be to God.

Instead of wasting our energy wanting objects, let’s invest it in wanting a deeply meaningful and spiritual life. Let’s treasure the people around us. Let’s value experiences over items from a store. The more we do this, the happier we will be. Because things can’t fulfill you, not really. But God can.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 164 other followers

%d bloggers like this: